Len Elmore: Athlete, Attorney and Advocate for Social Change
Len Elmore had a solid 10-year ABA/NBA career, but he never lost sight of his goal of becoming an attorney and urging athletes to develop self-reliance and community responsibility. He is currently the President of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) and in a recent interview he shared with me his goals for the organization:
"Increase our membership and in doing so there are a number of things that we have to do: make our benefits more visible, get guys to understand that this is a way that they can stay close to the game after retirement--but most importantly our involvement and our mission statement focuses on helping our own, which includes the guys who have not been as fortunate as some of us have been, helping them get on their feet and helping their kids to get an education, as well as helping others by contributing resources, manpower and influence to other organizations that help us carry out our mission, which is to spread good will through the game of basketball. Another thing is to increase the revenue and contributions to the organization, which will allow us to do these wonderful things. We would like to continue to grow the Dave DeBusschere Scholarship Fund. We’d like to be able to continue to keep the trust with the Legends Foundation, which provides emergency funds for needy players—guys who are certainly down and out. (We’d like to continue to) be able to fund organizations that use the game of basketball (to help others)--Playing for Peace, which is a terrific, global organization, or Bobby Jones’ group, 2XSalt, or some other organizations that are doing wonderful things in the community, particularly with kids."
You can read my HoopsHype article about him here.
As the article details, Elmore's 1974 Maryland team was denied an NCAA berth when the Terrapins lost to eventual NCAA Champion North Carolina State 103-100 in overtime in the ACC Championship Game. Talking about that game prompted Elmore to offer his opinion about the players who have had the most impact in college basketball history:
"It was a tremendous game (versus N.C. State), a tremendous series (N.C. State won the two regular season matchups by close margins). I think that David Thompson always made the difference, whether he was scoring or whether just his mere presence made other guys better. I consider David Thompson one of the three greatest players in the history of college basketball. He always made a difference." Asked who the other players on that list would be, Elmore replies, "I should have said top four," mentioning Thompson in the 1970s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) in the late 1960s, Oscar Robertson in the early 1960s and Bill Russell in the 1950s. Elmore notes that his selections are “based on impact," not purely on statistics.
One of Elmore’s Indiana teammates was Roger Brown, the subject of one of my earlier HoopsHype pieces (Roger Brown: Ankle Breaker and Shot Maker
). Elmore says, "Roger was one of those guys who always had fun with the game. That is what happens when you are a veteran toward the end of your career--you start to recognize what this game truly means and how much you should cherish the experience because it is not coming back. Roger was pretty much loose and happy go lucky. He certainly would be focused during the course of the game but he never took it so seriously that it was out of context. That was important for a rookie like me and also for Billy Knight, who was my teammate. We were a close knit team during my rookie year and a lot of that had to do with the veterans on the team. Roger was kind of the leader of that. He also had a calming effect to a great extent on our star George McGinnis, always joking with him and keeping him loose. As a player, you still saw flashes of the prime Roger Brown, with that killer crossover. Before Dwyane Wade or anybody else, it was Roger Brown who started breaking ankles with that crossover. He just had an uncanny knack for getting to the basket. Even at his advanced age in his mid-thirties he still found a way to beat people off the bounce and create opportunities. He didn’t play a lot of minutes but Slick—our coach Bob Leonard—found ways to insert him when he could be effective and sometimes even carry the team for a period of time coming off the bench. He was a very generous person with his time. He was kind. He was a father at that time; he had a little girl, Gail, who was very young then. He was a doting dad—just a guy who the community totally embraced and it is unfortunate that he was taken from us so early because there were a lot of things that he could add to the careers of young players today."
Elmore saw both the ABA and the NBA incarnations of Julius Erving, but his ties to Dr. J actually go back to when Elmore was a junior in high school and Erving was a freshman at the University of Massachusetts: “We played against each other at the Jack Donohue Camp in Saugerties (a Catskills resort in New York). The funny thing about that was here I was a center and Doc was the tallest guy on the counselors’ team. The tip went up and he won the jump ball. We started going up and down the court. As a center, I’m used to playing guys who are playing in the pivot and here is this guy who I’m supposed to guard who is running like a guard, who is running on the fast break, rebounding and pushing it up and it was an amazing eye-opener to see what a guy with his size and athleticism was capable of doing. Certainly, in the pros we know how great he was.”
Elmore’s 1981 Milwaukee Bucks lost a hard fought seven game series to Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers. Elmore did not play much that season, but he had a good view of the Doctor operating in that postseason battle: “The thing that just knocked me out again was how focused Julius was throughout those seven games. Defensively, they were always a gambling bunch with he and Bobby Jones on the wings; they created some turnovers and got the best of us. But we still had to be proud of the guy who essentially changed the game a little bit, became the human highlight and brought people’s focus back (to the NBA). They talk about Michael, they talk about Larry—and that’s true—but always looming there in the early and mid ‘80s is Julius and what he brought to the table. I think that in many instances he does not get enough credit for helping to revitalize the NBA.”
posted by David Friedman @ 3:15 AM
Team USA Smashes Puerto Rico 114-69
Team USA routed Puerto Rico 114-69 in the State Farm Basketball Challenge, played at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. This was the first exhibition game for the U.S. as the team prepares for the FIBA World Championship. Puerto Rico is ranked 11th in the FIBA rankings, but did hand the United States an embarrassing loss in the 2004 Olympics.
The international game is very different from the NBA game and even the best players require some time to adjust. FIBA basketball consists of four 10 minute quarters, disqualifies players after five fouls (instead of six in the NBA), allows offensive interference/goaltending and utilizes a trapezoid lane and short three point line (20 feet six inches compared to the NBA's 23 feet nine inches). The officiating is also different, which is why I was surprised that two of the three State Farm Basketball Challenge referees came from the NBA. I don't know the logisitics involved, but if it were possible I think that USA Basketball should have arranged to have three FIBA referees call the game.
The U.S. started Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade at guard, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at forward and Chris Bosh at center. Puerto Rico countered with guards Carlos Arroyo and Elias Ayuso, forwards Antonio Latimer and Carmelo Lee and center Daniel Santiago. The U.S. quickly broke out to leads of 6-0 and 9-2, but Puerto Rico fought back and even briefly led. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 29-26 U.S. Anthony had 11 points. The U.S. forced six turnovers but shot only 43% from the field, while Puerto Rico took advantage of excellent dribble penetration to create high percentage shots, connecting on 53% of their attempts.
The U.S. shot 0-6 from the field to begin the second quarter and Puerto Rico took a 33-29 lead. Then the wheels fell off for Puerto Rico, as the U.S. forced numerous turnovers and went on a 19-2 run to close the quarter. By halftime, the Americans led 48-35 and had scored 19 points off of 14 first half turnovers by Puerto Rico.
A 12-0 run to start the third quarter gave the U.S. a 60-35 lead and Puerto Rico never made a serious run the rest of the game. Puerto Rico shot 1-12 from the field in the third quarter as the U.S. really turned up the defense.
Carmelo Anthony led the U.S. with 18 points and Antawn Jamison had 16. Dwyane Wade had 14 points and four assists, while LeBron James contributed 10 points, five assists and four rebounds.
So what does all of this mean? After all, the U.S. soundly defeated Puerto Rico in an exhibition game in 2004 before losing the one that counted in that year's Olympics. I saw three things in this game that I liked for the U.S. One, the defensive energy and intensity were very evident. Shane Battier dove on the floor for a loose ball, Brad Miller flew into the Puerto Rico bench to try to keep a ball in play and the U.S. had many steals and blocks. Two, the U.S. seems to have a better understanding of how to react to the high screen and roll plays that international teams love. Puerto Rico, Argentina and other teams killed the U.S. with those plays in the 2004 Olympics but in this game the U.S. bigs and the U.S. guards were positioned much better and did not give up so many wide open threes. Three, the U.S. used pressure defense and their superior depth to wear down Puerto Rico and create high percentage fast break opportunities. That is how the original, real Dream Team played. The question now is if this U.S. team can continue to do those three things when the games count against the very best international teams. I like the way this team is being coached and the way the players are responding to the coaching.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:19 AM
NBA Rules Changes for 2006-07
The NBA Board of Governors announced several rules changes that will take effect this season. Quoting directly from the league's official press release, the new rules are as follows:
1) The first four seeds in each conference will continue to be given to the three division winners and the team with the next best regular season record, but these four teams will now be seeded in order of their regular season records. Among other things, this change will ensure that the two teams with the best records in the conference will not meet earlier than the Conference Finals.
2) If a team has two 60 second timeouts left in the last two minutes of regulation or in overtime, one of the timeouts will be shortened to a 20 second timeout.
3) Instead of having three 60 second timeouts in overtime, teams will have two 60's and one 20 second timeout. Teams will no longer be permitted to carry over a 20 second timeout from regulation into overtime.
4) Playoff roster size will be expanded from 13 to 15 players, with each team designating 12 active players and up to three inactive players prior to each game.
The first change comes from the "Maybe having the teams with the two best records meet in the second round is not a great idea" department. Reporters brought up this possibility--and possible format changes to avoid it--to Commissioner David Stern during his press conference at All-Star Weekend. I believe that part of the initial resistance to making the change was that it supposedly diminishes the value of winning a division title, but that is ridiculous. Teams can still hang a division championship banner in the rafters of their arenas if they so desire but such flags have nothing to do with how to properly seed the playoffs. There was also some thought that "things sort themselves out" and that (1) the worst case scenario would not happen and (2) some equally bad scenario might also happen under a different format. Of course, the worst case scenario did in fact happen--the teams with the two best records in the West met in the second round, with the Dallas Mavericks eliminating the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in what would have been a great Conference Finals matchup.
The timeout changes are an obvious effort to speed up the game. Some fans complain that the last few minutes of an NBA game take too long but I have always thought that the problem is much worse in the college game--incessant fouling and constant timeouts are much more rampant there. In any case, since the NBA previously made a change to allow teams to advance the basketball with a 20 second timeout, I don't think that coaches will much rue the loss of 40 seconds; often those late timeouts are called primarily to advance the ball (which is why Dallas would obviously not want to use its last timeout after Wade's first free throw in Game Five of the Finals but, as Mark McGwire might say, we're here to focus on the future, not the past).
Increasing the playoff roster size simply brings the postseason rule in line with the way things are already done during the regular season.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:30 AM
Mario Elie on the "Kiss of Death" Shot and His Long Road to the NBA
Mario Elie took the long road to the NBA after averaging 17.8 ppg and 8.4 rpg at American International College. Elie was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1985 but the Bucks cut him before the season began, sending him on a five year journey through various minor leagues and foreign countries. The tremendous work that Elie did to improve his game and transform himself into an NBA player is another great example of the importance of what Philip Ross called "effortful study" in the Scientific American article that I cited in my July 27 post Basketball, Chess and Boxing, Part II.When Elie received a second chance to play in the NBA in 1990-91, he made the most of it, enjoying an 11-year career while winning two championships in Houston (1994-95) and one in San Antonio (1999). After retiring in 2001, Elie spent one season as a Spurs assistant coach. Since 2004-05 he has been an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors. Elie never averaged more than 11.7 ppg in a season but he often took (and made) the big shot -- and perhaps none were ever bigger than his oft-replayed “Kiss of Death” shot, so that was a natural place to begin my interview with him.
Friedman: "What are your memories of your famous ‘Kiss of Death’ shot in the 1995 playoffs against the Suns? Was that gesture something that you thought of in advance?"
Elie: "It was just a spur of the moment thing. That’s me growing up in New York shooting and thinking that I’m Sidney Moncrief or Magic Johnson. That’s every kid’s dream. I remember Danny Ainge doubling off of me, so I got to the open spot. Robert (Horry) did a great job of spotting me. Kenny (Smith) did a great job of hitting Robert when he got doubled in the backcourt. Robert spotted me in the corner; the pass was sort of high and I remember thinking, 'Let me make sure I catch it.' I caught it and I saw Danny Schayes guarding 'Dream,' and he’s like, 'Mario Elie or Hakeem Olajuwon?' so I thought that was the easiest decision—he stayed with 'Dream.' Once I got set and let it go, he then tried to break out to contest my shot but it was too late. As soon as it left my hand it felt so good. I’m glad it didn’t bounce around; it went all net and the first person I looked at was Joe Kleine and I blew him the 'Kiss of Death.' We were sort of just messing around during the series blowing kisses to each other but I got the last kiss. It was just a great moment in front of everybody—game seven on the road and I think that shot helped us to win the second title."
Friedman: "What you bring out in your description of that play is how much of that really involved teamwork. You mentioned how many others contributed to that moment. A lot of people don’t understand that it’s not just one guy doing it."
Elie: "No, it’s not just one guy; it’s just being ready to deliver. The good thing about our team is that it could have been Sam (Cassell) or Robert (Horry). We had guys who were not scared to take those shots. That is what made our team special. We had a dominant big man who demanded a lot of attention and that is what enabled me to get that shot. Danny Schayes was like, 'I don’t want to leave 'Dream' but should I give Mario Elie the open shot?' He decided to leave me open. Fortunately, he made the wrong decision and I made the shot. It was just a great moment for me and I’ll always cherish that. I watch that game now and then but I always fast forward to the last two minutes. It’s just a great feeling every time I see it. When the Suns play the Rockets they always show that game on 'Classic,' so I’m always watching that game."
Friedman: "That’s the thing with that moment: you live forever--you’re forever in that moment of being young and hitting that shot, that championship moment. Talk about the long road you took to get to the NBA. There were about five years between when you were drafted and when you actually played in the NBA."
Elie: "First and foremost, coming from a small college I was not really prepared for what was going on at the next level. I got drafted and I thought that I was just going to go out there and play. I had not seen how these guys work out and train. I didn’t do any working out. I just expected to go out and play and got a rude awakening—two a days and after the first day I was dead tired. That is probably the only time in my career that I hoped to get cut. I felt that I wasn’t ready. I was a small forward but I was the second shortest guy in camp! I just felt that I wasn’t ready and I went back home and regrouped. A guy named Lou from New Jersey put me on a college tour team. We played against other colleges. I was dominating and a team from Ireland was looking for some talent. They looked at me and said they’d like to bring me over. I figured, 'Why not play ball, go see the world and make a little money?' So that’s how the odyssey began—I went to Ireland, had a great time over there, averaged about 39 ppg and the scores were like 141-140. There was no defense over there. Then I came back home, relaxed a little bit before going to Argentina. Then I played in a 6-5 and under league."
Friedman: "Was that the World League?"
Elie: "Yeah, the World League."
Friedman: "Which team were you on in that league?"
Elie: "Youngstown. We won the championship that year (1990). We had a very good team—Fred Cofield, Mark Wade. Then I went to Portugal for two years. I had a great experience over there and got a chance to play with one of my buddies, Dwayne Johnson, who went to Marquette. We had two great seasons over there and after that I felt like I should make my move and give the CBA a try, so I played in the CBA for one year. I felt that I should have gotten called up (to the NBA) that year but the next year I was on a real mission. George Karl came in (as coach of the CBA’s Albany Patroons), which was a blessing. He saw something in me that nobody else saw. He and Terry Stotts really worked with me to help me get to the next level. Then I got the call from Philly that Christmas. Philly was my first call up. I really didn’t get a chance to play, which was unfortunate. (Coach) Jim Lynam was great. The first two games I sat on the bench and just played in garbage time. Then Lynam came to me before the Utah game and said that he was going to give me a shot and throw me out there for 20-25 minutes. I was so excited that afternoon I really couldn’t sleep. Then I got to the arena and was told that Philly had made a trade and they would have to cut me. I had to just hop on a plane. I felt that during practices I held my own against those guys, so when I went back to the CBA I really, really took my game to another level. George brought me off of the bench my first two games back but I still had 30 and 36. My confidence level was so high that I just felt that it was a matter of time. (Sarunas) Marciulionis went down, I got picked up by the Warriors and the rest is history."
Friedman: "You said that when you got drafted that you found out pretty quickly that you weren’t ready for the NBA. What was the difference between the NBA and college that you didn’t understand until you got to the NBA?"
Elie: "The level of conditioning, the physical nature of the game and, at my size, having to learn how to dribble and shoot better."
Friedman: "You were playing inside more in college?"
Elie: "Yeah. I was a 3-4 in college, going to a Division II school. I was dominating and that’s how I was in high school; I was always a 4 man. So when I got to camp I realized that I had to develop a jumper and my ball handling. So I took my experience overseas. These guys work out twice a day, so in the morning I would dribble/shoot, dribble/shoot religiously. Then when I came to the CBA after my travels I was a 2 guard and I shot the ball very well and I dribbled it very well and I thought that really helped me out. Eleven years later, three championships later, I came out of it with a great career. I credit the hard work and my persistence and my family support for hanging in there with me."
Friedman: "Earlier you mentioned that one of the players you admired growing up was Sidney Moncrief."
Elie: "My prototype players were Moncrief and Magic because they did everything—they rebounded, they assisted, they guarded, they scored. That was the type of player that I liked, even though I think that Michael Jordan is a great talent. Those two guys excelled in all facets of the game and they were who I really wanted to pattern my game after. When you play in this league, sometimes you are not going to be a scorer, so you have to do the other things—rebound, defend, pass, be unselfish. I tried to pattern my game after those two guys."
Friedman: "People don’t know about Moncrief anymore because he had the injuries, didn’t win a championship and played in a small market. All those things conspire against him in terms of being well known to people today but he was a great, great player."
Elie: "Yeah. I was a big NBA fan and I really enjoyed watching Sidney Moncrief and also Paul Pressey, a guy who could guard bigger guys and handle the ball at 6-6, 6-7, making great decisions. Moncrief was just hard. I was a big defensive guy and Moncrief would play both ends of the court. I really wanted to be a complete player."
Labels: Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets, Mario Elie
posted by David Friedman @ 2:12 AM