Archive for the ‘Bill Russell’ Category

Could LeBron Be the Best Ever?

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

So LeBron James is going to be the MVP of the NBA.  A probability nearly as certain is that he will lead the Miami Heat to their second consecutive championship.  A year of debilitating injuries to guys who could influence games’ outcomes, e.g. Rose, Rondo, Westbrook, Nash, Bryant, Griffin, Gallinari and Lee seemed to align the stars perfectly for a Miami repeat.  Not that they weren’t poised for a repeat anyway, but if ever was there a year they could get by without Dwyane Wade at 100%, this one’s it.

Tomorrow’s MVP award will be his fourth, as many as Wilt, one shy of MJ and Bill Russell, two fewer than Kareem.  It will also be his fourth in five years, the string split by Derrick Rose, who, after taking the entire year off in order to be 100% when he returns, could pose a threat to both accomplishments (MVP and NBA champion) in the future.

Michael and Russ accomplished the duel feat a record 4 times, Larry and Kareem twice, and eight others once.  So, assuming the Heat live up to expectations, the championship would be theirs and LBJ would move into the company of Bird and Jabbar.  Certainly elite company but, as anyone who knows LeBron, or has talked to him, or has read about him, or has heard about him, . . . understands is that elite company is not his goal.  Unique is the level to which he aspires.

He turned 28 a little more than four months ago.  He’s in better shape than 98% of the guys he plays against and has enough resources to keep up with any new advances in science and technology, be they in nutrition, strength training, flexibility, cardiovascular or psychological.  How much longer can he play barring serious injury, at a championship/ MVP level?  Eight more years puts him at 36.  That’s a lot of hardware he could haul.

The obvious question then is: Is he the best player of all-time?  Maybe it’s my age or when I was involved with basketball at a level just below the NBA but my answer could lie in an old joke:

“George Washington was first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.  First president of the United States.  But he married a widow – which just goes to show, that no matter how hard you try, you can’t be first in everything.”

Kobe vs. LeBron – a Senseless Argument

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Since Michael Jordan turned 50 this past Sunday, talk show hosts (and several other media members) felt it was necessary to raise the unanswerable question of “Who’s the best player of all-time?”  Naturally, because they are the two best current players (with Kevin Durant nipping at their heels), the argument shifted to who’s better between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

All the comments were made – Kobe has five rings, LeBron is at his prime with many years left to play dominate.  The debate is a necessary one – if you’re ten years old.  Maybe fifteen.  Anytime past that age, if you continue to play the “who’s better/who’s the best game,” you need to at least realize that there are no winners (and plenty of losers.

Kobe is sensational – skill set, mind set, defensive ability, personal drive and (which can be a negative, depending on how strong or fragile your teammates are) ability to demand/produce the best in your teammates.  MJ shared the exact same qualities.  Which is why Kobe has them – because, from the day he entered the league, he has modeled everything he does like Jordan.  Not just his play, which is sensational, but his mannerisms, his dealing with the media, his gait … his being.

LeBron can’t match those two because his skills, body, mental aspect – nothing – is like those two.  He’s 6’8″ and willing to admit to 250, with rumors as high as 280, and negligible body fat.  For that reason, people have tried to compare him to Magic.  LeBron is no Magic either, if for no other reason than Magic was a point guard and LeBron is not.  LeBron is the epitome of what Don Nelson used to call a point guard.  Magic ran the show and, when he shot, it was a set shot.  He could drive, but it usually ended with a pass or a layup, seldom a dunk.  LeBron is the show, shoots (real) jumpers, and when he drives, the result is … louder.  It still obtains the same desired results as Magic – Ws.

Sure, you can get into “rings,” what we used to call championships but what now needs to be defined as something you can wear and show off, as opposed to a something you were part of, that only a selected few can actually claim they “be” (as opposed to “have”).  So when the trump card in the Kobe vs. LeBron debate is five rings to one, the line LeBron used (oh so obviously created by one of his publicists), that if rings are the determining factor, then Bill Russell must be the best because he has 11 and Michael has six.”  Then, others had to be brought in besides Russell, e.g. Wilt Chamberlain, Jud Bueschler, Charles Barkley, Robert Horry, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and a cast of characters from NBA past and present.

I’m on record as saying MJ is the G.O.A.T. but as far as Kobe versus LeBron, it’s too tough a call.  They’re waaaaaay different, each with their own strengths.  Kobe couldn’t have won as many without Shaq but Shaq couldn’t win as many without Kobe (even though they each did without each other).  LeBron couldn’t win without selecting his current teammates but, c’mon, he got to the Finals with the Cavs.  Have you ever checked that roster?  Closely checked it?  Had he won the whole thing with that group, the comparisons would be with Bill Walton and the Trailblazers.  Take LeBron off the Cavs and Walton off the Blazers and pit the remaining players against each other.  That finals would probably be the least watched in television history.  Definitely the most boring, lackluster series ever.

It’s been used before but John Harbaugh’s rule should be considered prior to anyone opening their mouth in the Kobe-LBJ discussion:

“I’ve got this rule.  We make no comparisons.  Somebody is going to be devalued.”

The NBA Finals Are the Best in Sports Entertainment

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Of course I’m prejudiced when it comes to feeling which sport is the most exciting to watch.  There’s no other sport that has more non-stop action, abundance of scoring and plethora of great athletes than basketball.  A friend of mine has been saying for years the NBA is the best entertainment because it’s the best of the best basketball players in the world.  While that’s true, then it must stand to reason that this NBA Finals would be the best of the best – teams.

This year’s finals has both great players and groups of guys who understand the team concept better than all the other professional clubs.  The first four games were, at the risk of making one of the greatest understatements of all-time, intensely competitive.  The fifth one exceeded the first, mainly because both offenses were nothing short of sensational.

The Dallas Mavericks are putting to rest any talk of them being a soft, offense-only club with little heart.  Throughout the playoffs, game after game, they’ve battled back from fourth quarter deficits.  Last night was another example.  As far as the Miami Heat. Game 5 disproved any notion that they are a selfish team.  Anyone watching the game, independent of which team they were pulling for, had to see an incredibly well-played game.  Other than LeBron James not making shots – and looking uncharacteristically lacking confidence (in his jump shot) – the game was everything a fan could have hoped for when he or she sat down to check out the action.

The ESPN studio crew of analysts began their post game dissection with unusual praise (Michael Wilbon saying these past five games were the best first five games of an NBA final he can recall seeing) but they soon lapsed into their”comfort zone” of negative comments.  At the beginning of each show, Jon Barry is lauded for his pre-game on the money predictions.  Of course we never hear those pre-game gems until the post-game show.  Do I think the guys are making up JB’s “brilliance?”  Well, to borrow a phrase from, for my money, the most annoying sports anchor on TV, Stuart Scott, “I’m just sayin’.”

Barry more or less ridiculed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra for opening the game by posting up LeBron James.  Following Game 4 Spoelstra was criticized for not getting James more involved.  Trying to post him early was a tactical move like any other coach makes – wise if it works, open to second guessing if it doesn’t.  Wilbon entered the fray by saying LeBron should have been rested more.  His reasoning?  It was necessary to play James when Dwyane Wade was out of the game but when he returned and was effective, Spoelstra needed to put James on the bench for a blow.  Forget that James never looks winded and that the suggestion reeked of “Wade and James can’t be effective together because each needs the ball.”  If ever a move would be fodder the armchair coach, that suggestion would begun more arguments than who was better – Russell or Wilt?

To top off the late night tomfoolery, Magic Johnson chimed in with the statement, “Rick Carlisle is out-coaching Erik Spoelstra.”  Now, Magic Johnson is one of the game’s best players ever, one of its greatest ambassadors and as charismatic an individual as has played professional sports, but as a coach?  On second thought, maybe it was an insightful comment because, after witnessing his brief foray into the field of coaching, he probably knows better than anyone what getting out-coached means.

The main point of this blog is, after such a competitive, well-played game, the best analysis would have been:

“Don’t hate; appreciate.”

Sloan’s Departure Just Part of the New NBA

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

When an NBA lifer calls it quits – in the middle of the season – red flags start flying.  Especially after the guy in question is Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and his abrupt resignation takes place suspiciously close to an altercation he had with talented point guard Deron Williams.

Something sinister – with a villain?  Apparently, the answer to that depends on . . . your date of birth.  Old timers yearn for the days when the coach called the shots – even if Red Auerbach had to privately meet with Bill Russell and ask him to play along when Red yelled at Russ at practice because if he did, the rest of the guys would see Red was the boss.  This was in the day when winning took precedence over everything – including contracts, no-trade clauses, endorsement deals, personal stats.  Of course, Auerbach’s and Russell’s Celtic teams won every year so that strategy paid off handsomely – for one team in the league anyway.

Back then, there were no halftime extravaganzas, Kiss cams, tattooed players or agents.  Of course, there also weren’t chartered flights, three-point shots, NBA television network and smoking was allowed in the arenas.  In short, they weren’t the good old days as much as, merely, the “old days.”  It’s up to the individual to decide which days are good.  Or better.

What’s most disappointing about the Sloan situation is the post-announcement posturing, led by the coach himself who took the high road, a stance somewhat inconsistent with the way he normally confronted issues.  Definitely different from the way he played.  Jerry Sloan never backed down from a good battle.  Then again, maybe he was being completely honest, that it was “his time.”  Maybe the new breed of superstar (or even average player for that matter) had simply worn him down to where he realized these confrontations were no-win options.

That’s the indication the fan on the street gets when former players like John Stockton and Karl Malone make public statements regarding how highly they think of their old coach.  Each said they were surprised by his move and felt the word “quit” was something they’d never associate with their old boss.  Certainly not in the middle of the season.  Malone, when questioned about verbal player-coach battles when he was playing, openly admitted there were many, but maintained every player on the team knew who was in control and that person was the coach.

Woodard and Bernstein coined the phrase “non-denial, denial” when they reported on Watergate.  After hearing Williams’ response to Sloan’s retirement, that was the exact phrase that came to mind.  He didn’t deny the verbal disagreement he had with Sloan but claimed that, in no way was he attempting to give management an ultimatum.  Most damaging to Williams’ non-denial, denial was ESPN’s Chris Broussard, who has made his bones as the NBA’s leader in spreading gossip – and the nastier, the better.  Broussard, doing his best Stephen A. Smith impersonation, said that the removal of Sloan from the Jazz bench would be welcome to Williams, as would the promotion of assistant Tyrone Corbin who, as Broussard said, recommended different plays during games than those that Sloan did, but which Williams thought were better.  If ever something defined the difference between the old NBA and the new, that statement was it in a nutshell.

Fans of today’s NBA are witnessing superior athletes than those of yesteryear, yet a game that’s less team oriented than it was decades ago.  Some of this is due to rules changes and some of it is due to a change in culture.  Which is the better product is left to the viewer.  In the case of young fans, they don’t know any other style and seem to enjoy the game as much as their parents and grandparents did at their age.

When Pat Riley coached, he used to forbid his players from even talking to opponents before a game and actually fined them if they helped up an opposing player up after knocking them down.  Chatting it up when the teams take the court prior to formal warm ups is common place today.

Which side is right in the Jerry-Sloan-stepping-down argument?  As well respected as Jerry Sloan is, there certainly are many who will say that today’s players just don’t respect authority.  The flip side are those who state, as Thomas Jefferson (definitely classified as an old-timer) did:

“If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”

Check the Facts Before Making a Statement

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Loyal reader – and friend – Clarence Gaines posted a comment regarding my lesson #3 of what we can learn about LeBron’s decision.  I said, “He simply doesn’t realize that a true superstar has the courage to take whatever hand (or roster) is dealt him and make them into not only big winners, but champions, a la MJ and Larry Bird.”

My point was that, although MJ and Larry joined down franchises, they stayed with each until they won multiple championships.  Clarence’s research revealed that, while the Celtics won only 29 games the year before Bird got there, they won 61 games in his rookie season – and then acquired McHale & Parish which ignited their championship runs.  His comment was that Bird didn’t really suffer through several seasons with inferior talent.  Point made.

His comment jarred my memory of a quote I heard a couple days ago, but had forgotten until it was replayed last night on SportsCenter.  It was by Dwayne Wade regarding all the criticism directed toward the newest Big 3.  Before repeating his quote, let me bring up another statement made by D-Wade.

During the Rachel Nichols interview, Wade made the rather bold statement that he LeBron and Bosh are “arguably the best trio who ever played the game of basketball.”  Whoa!  A little too much Miami heat?  How about 1) Magic, Kareem & Worthy, 2) Bird, McHale & Parish, 3) Russell, Cousy & (pick one of the Hall-of-Famers: either of the Jones, Ramsey, Sharman, Havlicek, Heinsohn), 4) West, Baylor & Chamberlain?  Sure, the last trio never won a championship but that wasn’t the question.  Plus, Wade’s nominee hasn’t won a game yet.  Putting Rodman in with MJ and Pippen might be a stretch, just as including Duncan, Parker & Ginobli might be reaching, but to anoint the Heat threesome to number one all-time is quite premature.

Oh yeah, Wade’s quote regarding the “haters”?

“I just don’t like false reports . . . At least get it right.”     

The MJ-Kobe Debate: More Similarities Than Differences

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

When the question of who is the better player: Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, the results are usually easy to predict.  The older generation picks MJ, while today’s younger fans say Kobe.  When each makes their case, the obvious bias always shines through.  “The players now are better than those from Jordan’s era (as if he played in the ’50s).  That’s why I think Kobe is better.”  “Michael has six rings.  Until Kobe has that many, there’s no argument.  It’s MJ.”  Can you guess which speaker is older?

In an attempt to keep everything as equal as possible (which is never going to happen when comparing teams or players from different times – even times as close as these are), let’s look at a number of intangible categories since comparing stats is too mundane.

#1 Each player has a focus all his own.  Game’s on the line, who takes the last shot?  MJ then, Kobe now.

#2 Each has a versatility to his game – power dunker in the earlier years, maintained/s ability to go to the hole; neither can be ignored behind the three-point line and both them have fantastic mid-range games (a trait in its own right that separates them from most of basketball’s other “superstars”).  Both are primarily 2 guards,  each can take over the point if necessary.  Yet each has an unstoppable post up game.

#3 Each demanded/demands to guard the opponent’s best offensive player and was/is a shut-down defender.

#4 Each has shown no hesitation to get in teammates’ faces in order to elevate their games and each made/makes his teammates better.

#5 Each has personal flaws (this just in – as spectacular as they are on the court, they are human).  MJ has a reputation as somewhat of a womanizer and a heavy gambler.  While Kobe doesn’t have the gambling rap of MJ, Michael was never subjected to the public humiliation of Kobe’s “post-Colorado” press conference.

#6 As marketing icons go, MJ might own a higher business acumen (has his own brand), but Kobe’s younger and has the identical global appeal Michael did at that stage of his career.

#7 Each has won multiple championships, Jordan 6 (MJ is 6-0 in title series) to Bryant’s 4 (Kobe’s 4-2), BUT Kobe’s career is not yet complete and, if championships is the end-all barometer, what if Kobe ends up with 7?  Is he automatically the better player?  It’s not that simple.

#8 Each had incredible discipline when it came to personal work ethic.

#9 Interestingly enough, the fact I don’t hear when this debate is raged is that both were coached by Phil Jackson, a remarkable coincidence when comparing two players.  Nowhere else is this the case.  Russell-Chamberlain?  Mays-Mantle?  OJ-Sweetness-Sanders-Smith?  Howe-Orr?

As far as differences, Michael went to college (and was mentored by Dean Smith), whereas Kobe’s education was growing up in a foreign country and is the son of a former NBA player.  MJ was an immediate starter; Kobe began his career coming off the bench.

As a math teacher, I understand that answers and solutions mean the same, so when someone wants to know if there’s an answer (solution) to the “Who’s better” question between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, I refer them to Marcel Duchamp’s quote:

“There is no solution because there is no problem.”

The NBA Regular Season & NBA Playoffs Have NOTHING In Common

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

During the NBA’s regular season, there is so much talk about the travel and how it wears on the body, back-to-backs with an opponent in both cities, simultaneous game preparations for multiple opponents by the assistant coaches and about how players just have to play through injuries.  Then the playoffs roll around.

Travel to one site and stake out for as long as a week.  Back-to-backs?  Only if you count playing the same team over and over.  Throw out coaches working on their preparations and make it a team effort – all the coaches (and scouts) game prepping for the same opponent (whom you may play seven times in a row)!  Play a game and have at least a day, usually more, to rest and recover.

Who benefits from such a change?  Older, experienced, talented teams, that’s who.  Think I’m referring to what’s going on in this year’s playoffs?  Well, yeah, somewhat.  I mean this isn’t the History Channel blog.  But, . . . think back, if you’re as old as I am, to the 1969 NBA championship when the aging Boston Celtics and their player-coach Bill Russell limped to the end of the regular season with a 48-34.  That mark barely got them into the tourney, but they caught fire (or was it stopped traveling and got healthy) and won Big Russ’ 11th title in 13 seasons – and then promptly retired.

Fast forward, or in the case of the New York Knicks, crawl forward to 1973 when they finished 11 games behind division-leading Boston, yet beat the Celts in a seven-game series, then went on to take care of the Lakers in five.  Both the ’69 Celtics and the ’73 Knicks were old (in basketball years), experienced and talented teams.  They also wound up as champions.

So for all those Cavaliers fans who bemoan the fact that they had the best record but the older teams reaped the benefits of the “system,” just hold onto LeBron for a few more years and your club will be the beneficiaries of this format because:

“All that’s old becomes new again.”

Questions Abound As the NBA Playoffs Begin

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

After 82 games (many of those last week being played by guys who won’t see much action from here on out, so the key guys would be well-rested), the NBA playoffs are finally here.  It sure seems like a long season just to eliminate less than half the teams.

The final week of the NBA schedule was like training camp – it gave most teams a chance to see some of its “prospects” in game action, even though the games meant nothing.   Except for the Bulls and Raptors (and with Chris Bosh’s season-ending injury, it was much better for all concerned the Bulls got the 8th spot) and, maybe, a few others jockeying for a chance to move up a spot, most of the teams were resting for the playoffs (or the lottery). 

Now, the level of play will certainly ratchet up several notches (except for Joakim Noah, Chris “The Birdman” Anderson and Edjuardo Najera who are always ratcheted up) and interest in the NBA will increase in direct proportion.  I know many basketball coaches who won’t watch a pro game until the playoffs.  Ask them why and they’ll say they’re bothered by the less-than-all-out effort during the regular season.  Ask them why they like the playoffs and the answer’s usually, because then, we get to watch the greatest athletes in the world.

When the season began, and even as it progressed, many thought a Lakers-Cavs showdown was inevitable.  Now, there are diverse opinions as to whether either or both may not even be there when the finals roll around (in June, as amazing as that sounds).  Will Shaq’s return raise the level of Cleveland’s game (after all, he is one of the greatest players to ever put on a uni and has four championships on his resume) or will his presence slow them down, clog the lane and mess with what’s been pretty good chemistry to date?  He’s allegedly been working out during Cavs’ games – even on the road, where he burns a game’s worth of calories by riding the bike and working out in the weight room, on the road as well as home.  Supposedly, he’s in the best shape of his career and totally focused on fulfilling his promise of bringing a championship to Cleveland.  Shaq has been known to blow smoke every once in a while, however.

How about LA?  Is Kobe’s finger healed?  Don’t ask him.  We know what that answer will be – even if he comes out to shoot with only four of them on his hand.  What about the addition of Ron Artest?  He’s a lightning rod for controversy, but has also been a lockdown defender – and if his head is right, he’d be an major asset.  Incredible as it sounds for someone of his talent, all he’s expected to be is a role player, albeit a significant role.

Consider the potential road blocks for these two along the way.  Although Boston occasionally looks old, the every other day off format of the playoffs aids veteran teams.  Think all the way back to the Celtics when Bill Russell was at the end of his career and the Knicks a few years later.  Because of KG’s injury last season, the Celts still consider themselves the defending champs, i.e. no one’s beaten them when they’ve been at full strength.  As for their X factor, Rasheed Wallace has a bad rep with officials (and deservedly so), but, throughout the league, he’s known as a great locker room guys and is as crafty as he is talented.   Plus, now is the time Doc Rivers is at his button-pushing best.  The flu bug has hit Boston (mainly Rajon Rondo and Glen “Big, But Don’t Call Me Baby” Davis), but what could cause Boston to be really sick is if Dwayne Wade takes over the games, as he is able – and prone – to do.

There are those who feel Orlando will repeat in the East (and they have the best chance to take down the Cavs) but they have to get through Charlotte first.  Larry Brown is as good as any coach at game-planning and now that he has quelled the rumor that he’s headed to the Clips or the Nets (for at least a week), the Bobcats and Magic series is an intriguing one.

Forget even attempting to handicap the West.  The Mavs had a terrific season, got the number two seed and their reward is they get to play the Spurs.  All the other match-ups in this division are just as compelling.  In a best-of-seven series, it’s usually the better team that wins.  Yet, with all the injuries this year, no one’s sure which is the better team!

The games start today, so as far as analyzing the NBA playoffs any further, it’s time to follow the advice from the Al Pacino-Robert DeNiro movie, Heat, in which the famous exchange ends with the line: 

“Yeah, stop talking, OK, Slick?”  

Just In Case You Get the Chance to Coach Superstars

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

On last night’s Lakers-Bulls telecast, they showed the “retired jersey” of Phil Jackson in the rafters at the United Center.  As always is the case, mention was made of Phil winning all those rings but . . . how he always had great players.  First, Michael & Scottie, then Shaq & Kobe and then Kobe and the cast of characters from last year’s team (with the emphasis on Kobe). 

It seems Phil Jackson’s championships can’t be mentioned without someone bringing up the “Yeah, but he had great players” line.  While it is true, there have been many coaches with great players who have failed to win championships – at all levels (remember the Phi Slamma Jamma Houston Cougars of Guy Lewis)?  It takes more than just great players.  And the way championships are won differ with the different personalities of the coaches who lead those talented squads.

There’s Phil and his Zen approach.  Imagine getting NBA players to understand Zen, much less embrace it?  There was a story of how he tried it on one of his early championship Bulls’ teams.  He told the guys to sit quietly and close their eyes.  The legend goes that a few (or more) of the players peeked – and saw Michael Jordan sitting with his eyes closed – and that sealed the deal.  Moral: Get your best player to buy into your philosophy and the others fall right into line.

Doc Rivers coached a team put together by Danny Ainge (with help from his best friend, Kevin McHale) which initially had perennial all-star, but perennial also ran (as far as his team went), Paul Pierce.  Ainge added Ray Allen, one of the best shooters in NBA history (and in case you haven’t noticed, scoring is more important in basketball than any other team sport) and superstar, but also mired on a mediocre team, Kevin Garnett.

Doc knew he had an abundance of talent, but none of these guys had ever won.  He came up with the rallying cry/mantra, “Ubuntu” which (some thought meant “Help me, I’m in my contract year”), but actually, according to none other than Nelson Mandela, meant a concept made up of traits like unselfishness, caring and enabling others.  They rode it to a championship, to the point that when many of the Celtics were asked what their championship secret was, they claimed, “Ubuntu.”  That’s buying in.

Speaking of the Celtics, Red Auerbach had his run of championship after championship.  Bill Russell wound up with more rings than fingers.  What Red did was clever.  He made everybody else hate him, thus taking all the pressure off his guys.  It’s not like he had a bunch of slouches, but the shenanigans he pulled at the old Boston Garden (dead spots in the floor, turning up the heat in the visitor’s locker room, no hot water, and the piece de resistance – the victory cigar).  Plus, he did subtle things, like going to Big Russ and telling him not to pay attention when he yelled at him in practice, but if the rest of the players saw Russell getting an earful, they’d have no right to complain when Red jumped their cases.

The master of massaging egos (and in the NBA, there’s no shortage of that commodity) was the late Chuck Daly.  He took a team and gave it an image.  The “Bad Boys” aka the Detroit Pistons won back-to-back championships with nasty (dirty?) Bill Laimbeer; tough guy Rick Mahorn; bordering on lunatic, Dennis Rodman; if-you-need-a-score, call-me, Vinny Johnson; classy Joe Dumars (how did someone so respected, with so much class become a – vital – part of this team?) and Mr. Hidden Agenda, Isiah Thomas. 

I was working at the University of Toledo (less than an hour from Detroit) during those championship years and a little known fact is that the Pistons’ owner, Bill Davidson, made his early (and big) money in glass – and Toledo was known as the Glass Capital of the World.  We’d get choice seats (Mr. Davidson’s own – right behind the basket at the Pistons end of the floor) because there were many people in Toledo who were quite friendly with Mr. D. 

One of his confidantes told me a story that was not allowed to be leaked (so how did I find out)?  Mr. Davidson was so fond of Thomas that he pledged to him a million dollar bonus if the team won a championship.  Imagine what that kind of dissent that would have caused if it got out.

That’s how good Chuck Daly was.  Because he knew and, yet, had the ability to mold this apparent group of misfits into not one, but two championship teams.  His main strength was that he possessed so little egoWinning was his goal and he focused on working individually with each player on the team. 

Many people have said he knew how to handle players, but as Wilt Chamberlain told his new coach, Alex Hannum, when the coach said to the Big Dipper, “I heard you’re hard to handle.”

“You don’t handle people.  You handle animals,” said the player who caused more rule changes than any other in the history of the game.  Talk about making a statement early in a relationship.

When it comes to winning championships, sure, great players are needed, but as the late & great coach Chuck Daly (coach of the Original Dream Team – talk about egos!) said:

“It’s harder to take a group of really talented players and make them a championship team than it is to take a group of average guys and make them competitive.” 


If You Think It’s Impossible to Compare Players from Different Eras,…

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

A week or two ago, on the ESPN show, PTI, co-host Michael Wilbon emphatically stated that Tiger Woods was a better athlete than Roger Federer.  This occurred shortly after Federer won at Wimbledon, passing Pete Sampras for the most wins in tennis’ four major championships.  Wilbon, never short on opinion, said there was absolutely no argument that Woods was the better athlete.  What would possess Mike Wilbon to say this?

Could prejudice be behind his absurd comparison?  Certainly, but prejudice of what kind?  Racial?  Hardly.  He has more respect for the sport of golf than that of tennis?  Possibly.  He knows Tiger and is more influenced by his enormous endorsement income and international celebrity than Roger’s?  More likely.  To boost the show’s ratings?  Even more probable.  Because he has irrefutable proof?  Impossible.

Debates about who’s the best is one of the American fan’s favorite pasttimes.  Wilt vs. Russell, Mantle vs. Mays, Brady vs. Manning are fun for many to argue.  Kareem vs. Shaq, Butkas vs. Ray Lewis, Pele vs. Beckham may also be, but are more in the foolhardy category because of the time difference between their careers.  But athletes from different sports?  Ridiculous.  Enjoy their dominance.  Envy their superiority.  But to attempt to place one above another?

Examine some facts regarding Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and their respective sports.  One competes against humans, while the other also has a field of human competitors with which to contend, but in reality, is playing against a course.  One competes against opponents one at a time and is favored in every match (with the possible exception of Nadal at the French), yet could lose to an opponent who happens to have a “career day.”  Should one of the other’s competitors have such a remarkable day, it only accounts for 1/4 of the tournament score.

A tennis player can lose a set here and there (actually one or two per match) and still capture the championship, while a golfer doesn’t have to win any of the four days, but can still be the champ if his overall four-day total is better than anyone else’s.  In one of the sports, a player can catch a break if a rival is beaten and hence, is knocked out of the competition. Nothing like that happens in the other sport.  One of the two sports requires tremendous physical conditioning, where the other is much more mentally taxing, mainly because there’s so much more time to think – especially about the bad shots

Both can overcome a bad day, although it usually only takes one to crush the hopes of winning the title – the rest of the competition, at that elite level, is that good.  In tennis, Roger can win if his opponent plays poorly.  Tiger doesn’t have that luxury.  But, on the flip side, Federer can do something to cool off a sizzling hot opponent, whereas in golf, Tiger can only watch the leader board (or his playing partner) as the competitor’s score goes deeper and deeper into the red numbers.  Finally, in golf, more than any other sport, one thing for certain, you lose more than you win.

But to say the (arguably) greatest golfer of all-time is better than the (arguably) greatest tennis player of all-time is both foolish and something that will get a totally unknown blogger to stay up way too late posting a response.

The only statement that can be said regarding golf and tennis than can’t be argued is:

“It takes bigger balls to play tennis than it does to play golf.”