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Monday, February 16, 2009

NBA Legends Brunch Honors Phoenix' Rich Basketball History

The attendance at the NBA Legends Brunch on the Sunday morning of All-Star Weekend has grown by leaps and bounds since I first covered the event in Denver in 2005. The Legends Brunch provides a great opportunity to reminisce with and about the greatest figures in the sport's history, with a focus on the players and teams from the host city. This year, the Legends Brunch honored R. Steven Colter and Mark West with the Legends Humanitatian Award, Walter Davis with the Legends Career Achievement Award, the 1976 Phoenix Suns with the Legends Commemorative Team Award, Connie Hawkins with the Legends Lifetime Achievement Award, Jerry Colangelo with the Legneds Visionary Award, Wayman Tisdale with the Legends Courage Award and Kevin Johnson with the Legend of the Year award. There was a also a video tribute to deceased former Suns Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons and a moment of silence for the 15 National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) members who passed away in 2008. Commissioner David Stern also made a special presentation to Bill Russell to once again congratulate him for the honor of having the Finals MVP Award named after him.

The presentations for Hawkins and Tisdale were very poignant; Hawkins was not able to attend due to his battle with cancer, while Tisdale gave his acceptance speech from his table because he was not easily able to climb the stairs to the stage in the wake of losing one of his legs to cancer. Although Fitzsimmons is no longer with us, you could not help but smile when watching him on video dispensing wisdom and wit in his southern drawl, though the tribute did not include my two favorite Fitzsimmons' lines (as seen in old NBA Entertainment videos): "In my next life I'm going to come back as an official and straighten that mess out"; "He did a dance on you; I should know--I coached him" (referring to a player who Fitzsimmons thought had traveled).

Some tables at the Legends Brunch are reserved for certain high profile players and their families but most of them are available on a first come, first serve basis, which leads to some interesting mingling among legends, ticket buyers and journalists. My tablemates this year were an eclectic bunch that included Micheal Ray Richardson, three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Truck Robinson, Ira Terrell (who played for three NBA teams in a two season career) and Don Cronson, who worked as a sports agent for over 30 years and who represented Jones, Robinson and Terrell during their playing days.

I told Jones that I am a Cleveland Browns fan but that I rooted for his Cowboys in the Super Bowl because they played the Pittsburgh Steelers. I also asked him who his favorite basketball player was as a kid and Jones said Elgin Baylor. The 6-9 Jones said that as a big guy he liked the way that Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell played but that they were not as exciting as the flashy Baylor, who was the first NBA player to regularly incorporate the concept of hang time into his skill set.

I mentioned to Richardson that even though I was a big Sixers fan as a kid I have to give him respect for how well he played when his New Jersey Nets shocked the defending champion Sixers in the first round of the 1983-84 playoffs. I spoke with Terrell a little bit about his brief time being a teammate with Pistol Pete Maravich. I did not have an opportunity to say much to Robinson.

The best story teller of the group turned out to be Cronson, who regaled me with tales about being a frat brother of Dave Bing and Ernie Davis at Syracuse--but the most interesting story concerned the time that he skipped school to go watch high school stars Roger Brown and Connie Hawkins square off in Madison Square Garden, an event that I mentioned in my profile of Brown. Cronson says that he still has the bocscore from the game; Brown dominated individually while Hawkins fouled out but Hawkins' Boys High had a deeper squad than Brown's Wingate High, so Boys High won, 62-59.

After the awards were presented, fans had an opportunity to go to the stage and get autographs from some of the legends. Meanwhile, reporters interviewed various other legends. I spoke with Al Bianchi--Julius Erving's first coach in the ABA--for the first time and soon I will devote an entire post to his comments.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:10 AM



At Wednesday, February 18, 2009 8:50:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Always a favorite for me on Sunday morning on NBATV during AllStar weekend.


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