20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

LeBron James All-Star Saturday Interview

My newest CavsNews article provides a glimpse into LeBron James' media availability session after Saturday afternoon's All-Star practice at the Jam Session Court:

LeBron James All-Star Saturday Interview

Labels: , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 11:00 PM

0 comments

links to this post

Tyreke Evans Earns MVP Honors as Rookies End Sophomores' Seven Game Rookie Challenge Winning Streak

For many years the Rookie Challenge provided compelling evidence regarding the value of experience: the Sophomores beat the Rookies eight of the 10 times that the Challenge used the current format, including the last seven games in a row--but top notch performances by several first year guards plus a 20-20 effort by DeJuan Blair powered the Rookies to a 140-128 win on Friday night. Fans voted Tyreke Evans as the MVP; he certainly put up great numbers--a team-high 26 points on 11-15 field goal shooting, plus six rebounds and five assists--but he received a lot of support from backcourt mates Brandon Jennings (22 points, eight assists, six rebounds) and James Harden (22 points, five assists, four rebounds). Blair amassed 22 points, 23 rebounds and four assists, topping all other rebounders by at least 16 boards! All five rookie starters scored in double figures: Evans, Jennings, Blair, Stephen Curry (14 points) and Omri Casspi (13 points). Russell Westbrook made a strong MVP bid even though his team lost: 40 points on 18-29 field goal shooting plus five rebounds and four assists. Westbrook shot just 2-8 from three point range but he is at his best when he plays like a "power guard," bullying his way into the paint against defenders who cannot match his strength, reminiscent a bit of James "Captain Late" Silas. Michael Beasley added 26 points and seven rebounds for the Sophomores.

Sophomore Coach Patrick Ewing was less than thrilled with his team's performance: "We got our butts kicked on every aspect of the game. They had 52 rebounds. They had 140 points. I know it's the All‑Star Game, but you know, we didn't play with enough pride in my eyes. They outplayed us. They outhustled us. They outscrapped us."

Except for a few spurts, defense was just a rumor throughout the evening, though fortunately matters did not reach the farcical level that they have in some of the previous years when the game degenerated into an informal slam dunk contest. In a sense, this kind of game gives a casual fan a glimpse into just how intense NBA defense usually is in the regular season (let alone the playoffs)--because when players with NBA talent get on the court and only defend sporadically you end up with a 140-128 score in a 40 minute game!

Instead of a conventional halftime show, the NBA staged its first ever "All-Star Dunk-In" as Demar DeRozan and Eric Gordon squared off for the right to be the fourth contestant in Saturday night's Slam Dunk Contest. Each player had two minutes to make two dunks, with misses not counting. Then fans determined the winner by either voting via text message or by logging on to NBA.com to make their selection. Gordon's made dunks were probably more impressive than DeRozan's but the problem is that Gordon prefaced those successful dunks with several misses that drained a lot of energy from his performance. In the end, DeRozan received 61% of the vote, a rout by Presidential election standards. DeRozan claimed that he held something back to use on Saturday, which suggests that he was very confident about his dunking skills vis a vis Gordon--or perhaps he is just trying to plant some doubts in the minds of Nate Robinson, Shannon Brown and Gerald Wallace; we'll find out in less than 24 hours.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 3:37 AM

0 comments

links to this post

News, Nuggets and Notes From Saturday's Media Availability Sessions

I have closely followed Kevin Durant's career from when he struggled to play shooting guard for Coach P.J. Carlesimo to when Carlesimo's replacement Scott Brooks wisely put Durant back at his natural forward position. Durant's production immediately improved after he started playing forward, so it has always puzzled me that anyone would deny that positional designations matter.

This season, Durant has emerged as an MVP level offensive player whose all-around game is continuing to blossom. The case is pretty much closed regarding just how important it was to put Durant back into his comfort zone but I decided to check in with him once again to hear his thoughts about the matter. I asked Durant, "How much did the position change shifting you from shooting guard to small forward benefit both you and the team?" Durant enthusiastically replied, "Oh, it's helped me out a lot and especially (helped) our team. It was tough for me playing shooting guard. I was guarding smaller players and smaller players were guarding me; that's what led to a lot of turnovers. Smaller players can get up under me when I dribble the basketball. It was tough but it was a learning adjustment and I think that by the end of my rookie year I learned how to play that position so now I can play multiple positions on the floor. From the two to the four--where (Coach) Scotty Brooks plays me a lot--it's helped me out, so I just have to continue to watch film and focus on what my coaches need for me to do to get better."

Durant is a very earnest, pleasant and soft spoken young man but beneath that unassuming demeanor he clearly has an enormous passion to learn how to master the game and broaden his skill set. Durant is often compared with George Gervin--for obvious reasons considering their respective skill sets and physiques--but it is important to remember that Gervin established himself as an All-Star forward prior to being moved to shooting guard; in other words, he first turned himself into a highly productive professional player at his natural position and this helped him to make a smooth transition from one position to another, which is exactly the process that Durant described in the above quote: playing forward returned him to his comfort zone and as a result now it is possible to situationally slot him in at other positions--as opposed to compounding the difficulties of being a rookie with the challenge of learning a position that he had never played previously at any level.

***

It was great to see Bill Walton at the Hall of Fame press conference, because he had been laid up for quite some time due to debilitating back problems that forced him to quit his job as an NBA commentator for ESPN. Walton spoke with a small group of reporters after the press conference, standing for quite some time before sitting down to continue the interviews. I missed most of what he said because I was interviewing Jerry Colangelo and Magic Johnson but I walked over in time to hear some interesting comments by Walton.

Asked to handicap the 2010 NBA playoffs, Walton declared, "The Lakers are far and away the class of the West. Far and away. The other teams, they can dream...Right now, the Lakers are the champions. They have the best coach, they have the best player--one of the two best players: it is very difficult to differentiate between Kobe and LeBron...The Lakers have every base covered. The Lakers have five players who in any game--in ANY game--can be the best player in the game, between Kobe, Gasol--who is the best big man in the game today--Artest, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum. Five guys who in any game played today could be the best player. That is how good the Lakers are--and they play as a team."

I recently did an in depth examination of the "supporting casts" for Bryant and James respectively; since I wrote that post, the Lakers won three straight games without the injured Bryant and Bynum, while the Cavaliers extended their winning streak to 13 games (best in the NBA this season) despite being without the services of injured All-Star guard Mo Williams. I stand by everything that I said regarding Cleveland's great depth but I would like to examine Walton's statement in the context of refining some of what I said about the Lakers.

I agree with Walton that the Lakers are the "class of the West"; if the Lakers are even reasonably healthy during the playoffs (i.e., Kobe has two functional legs and at least seven semi-functional fingers and either Bynum or Gasol is available throughout the postseason) then they will at the very least return to the NBA Finals. I also agree with Walton's nuanced and reasonable comparison of Bryant and James; contrary to the popular belief since midway through last season, James has not decisively passed Bryant for best player in the game status. The two are still quite close; Bryant still has the more complete skill set, while James is more athletic and--at least this season--more durable.

Walton's statement that the Lakers have five players who at any given time could be the best player in a game is interesting; clearly, Bryant and Gasol fit that bill without question. Artest can be the best defensive player in a given game and he is also a skilled passer and good three point shooter but--at least at this stage of his career--he is rarely the best overall player on the court. He is averaging 11.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 3.1 apg this season; while I would be the first to note that a player's statistics can be deflated on a good team and inflated on a bad team, it is more than a stretch to classify Artest as an elite player right now. As for Odom, it is true that he can be the best player in a given game, primarily because he is capable of grabbing more than 20 rebounds while also scoring in the teens or 20s--but, to paraphrase Iyanla Vanzant, all potential means is that you aren't doing anything right now. Lamar Odom was averaging a triple single for most of this season until the past three games lifted his scoring average to 10.1 ppg and his rebounding average to 9.9 rpg. He is shooting .451 from the field, his worst mark since 2003-04. Realistically, just how likely is it that Odom will be the best player on the court in a given game? Andrew Bynum has certainly shown flashes of dominance, some of which even last for a few weeks, but he has yet to prove that he can be healthy and consistent for an entire season. Again, this is where Vanzant's words of wisdom come into play. If and when Bynum proves to be a 20-10 player over the course of the better part of an 82 game season then he will fully deserve the kind of praise that Walton lavished on him.

Walton's comment also ignore the fact that the Lakers' roster markedly declines in quality after you get past those top five players. That said, it is impressive that the Lakers beat three playoff teams--including a hot Utah squad--sans Bryant and Bynum. How can I reconcile those performances with my assessments? I tend to not overreact to small sample sizes; look back and you will find that after the Cavs started the season slowly I did not waver from my contention that they would prove to be the best team in the East. Similarly, I am not yet fully convinced that the Lakers' bench (specifically Farmar and Vujacic) will continue to perform well with increased minutes. Odom has always been a sporadic player, so regardless of when Bryant returns Odom will have his ups and downs. Gasol has been very impressive but it is not unheard of for an All-Star to string together three excellent games. In short, I am somewhat surprised that the Lakers went 3-0 without Bryant--and I definitely thought that they would lose to Utah--but I still trust that in the long run my skill set evaluations based on years of watching all of these players will prove to be accurate. Naturally, unfolding events could prove me wrong and if that happens I will have no problem admitting it--but a three game sample size does not invalidate years of research.

Unfortunately for Lakers fans, that sample size could end up increasing. Although Bryant told the assembled media on Saturday that he "hopes" to play in the Lakers' first game after All-Star Weekend, he admitted that the decision to skip playing in the All-Star Game--the first time that he has ever had to do so--was not even close; when he tried to practice he simply could not push off with any force using his injured ankle. Bryant said that he could play through other injuries because he knew that they would continue to heal whether or not he played but "If I play with it (the sprained ankle), it won't get better." Bryant and the Lakers' training staff have not yet been able to get the inflammation under control. Bryant has always been a fast healer with a high pain threshold but he is also a 31 year old in his 14th season, which means that the treads on his tires have a lot of wear on them.

By the way, Bryant's take on the Lakers' three game winning streak is that his absence has forced the other players to play with a greater focus and sense of urgency. He even said that his injury could be a "blessing in disguise" provided that the other Lakers "stay in that pocket" of awareness after he returns. Bryant added that he is not concerned that the Lakers have not consistently displayed such focus; he said that every team that is trying to win repeat championships has struggled with this and pointed out that even last year's championship team did not fully buckle down until the Denver Nuggets posed a serious threat in the Western Conference Finals.

***

Right when I walked over to West Coach George Karl's table during the media availability session he said that some members of his Denver Nuggets coaching staff are already comparing Golden State rookie Stephen Curry to two-time MVP Steve Nash. Karl hastened to add that he is not quite ready to go there yet but that Curry is a very impressive player who already makes excellent reads that cause coaches to rewind game tape to marvel at his decisionmaking and court vision (Karl said that the three previous players who inspired that reaction were Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Steve Nash). While some people once compared Curry unfavorably with J.J. Redick--who actually is performing solidly as a backup guard after struggling during his first several NBA seasons--I evaluated Curry's skill set when he was still in college and concluded:

Curry can pass off of the dribble, he can drive to the hoop and finish with a dunk, he has quick hands and he can slide his feet well enough to at least be adequate defensively at the NBA level. Curry can also dribble down court at full speed, stop and shoot a step back three pointer, which--combined with his ability to handle the ball and drive to the hoop--means that he will be able to get his shot off in the NBA; in other words, his game is very similar to his father's, though I would say that Dell Curry was a bit bigger and stronger while Stephen is quicker and a bit more clever as a ballhandler. In addition to the aforementioned similarities with his father, Stephen Curry also reminds me a bit of Jeff Hornacek, a lights out shooter who could play point guard in a pinch.

It is obviously still too early to make definitive conclusions but Curry so far has performed pretty much the way that I predicted above. By the way, Curry recently joined a select group of all-time greats who posted a 35 point, 10 rebound, 10 assist game as a rookie (Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and Jason Kidd are the others).

When I covered the ABA Reunion during the 2005 All-Star Weekend various ABA players regaled me with many great stories about their experiences in that league, not all of which I have had the opportunity to publish yet. One of them involved George Karl. Joe Hamilton told me that when Karl was a rookie Karl played like an absolute madman, diving all over the court and taking charges. One time, Karl tried to take a charge on George McGinnis--a 6-8, 235 mountain of a man--and McGinnis about knocked Karl into the next week. Hamilton and the other veteran players told Karl he would not last long in the ABA if he kept trying to take charges against McGinnis. After Karl made brief, nostalgic mention of his ABA days--and lauded Artis Gilmore as a Hall of Fame-worthy player who was a "Shaq-like force, a Wilt Chamberlain-like force"--I asked him, "What memory sticks out most for you from your ABA playing career?" I recounted Hamilton's story and Karl looked at me wide-eyed before asking me "Where the hell is Joe Hamilton?" I explained that Hamilton was not in the interview area and that I had heard the story several years go. Karl then replied, "Yeah, that's true. I had my testicles taped off my legs for a week. It was a hell of a hit, a hell of a hit." When I reminded Karl that Hamilton and the other veterans had teased Karl that he would not last long playing that way Karl immediately said, "I lasted long enough--tore my knees up." I thought that maybe Karl was taking the story the wrong way--I'd never spoken with him before--so I said, "I know that you did but you probably didn't take charges like that again from McGinnis." Karl good-naturedly insisted, "I liked taking charges" but he conceded "McGinnis was huge--and he was trying to hit me." I then asked Karl my original question again and he answered, "I just was amazed at how many good players there were. Here is the NBA and everyone is saying that we (the ABA players) weren't any good but the best player I ever played against was a guy named Jimmy Jones who was an All-Pro guard in Utah for many years. He got into the NBA and his first year he tore his knee up--but by far he was the best guard I faced. I couldn't last 10 minutes--he would light me up, trick me. He and James Silas from the Spurs were actually from the same little town in Louisiana (Tallulah). They grew up in the same little town. So I remember Jimmy Jones. The ABA, for me, gave me the privilege to play. I probably wouldn't have been able to play, on the court, in the NBA; I could have maybe made the roster but it gave me the privilege to play the game at a high level. We played many exhibition games against the NBA and I got the honor of fighting with Pete Maravich--being the only guy to ever throw a punch at Pete Maravich. So, you know, we got fired up for those games; I don't know if they (NBA players) got as fired up for those games as we got fired up. It was always fun whenever we got our paychecks to see everyone run a little faster to their cars and race to the bank; there is no question that was on our minds, the bouncing of the checks. We started one year with like 10 teams and ended with seven; the schedule got changed in the middle of the year."

I asked Karl, "Did you get to see Roger Brown at his best or had he already started to decline by the time you came into the league?"

Karl answered, "Probably a little down, a little decline. He and Willie Wise were kind of at that veteran stage, not playing above the rim as much anymore--well, Wise never really did play above the rim. All those guys--Connie Hawkins, Roger Brown, Doug Moe--came from that scandalous time (the NBA banned them for alleged associations with gamblers, though none of those players were ever convicted of any crimes or even credibly implicated in any wrongdoing). What's kind of funny is that not a lot of people know that David Stern was in charge of settling the lawsuit (pertaining to ending the NBA's ban against those players). Doug Moe always told me the story about how Stern was negotiating with him all the time when Stern was just a lawyer for the NBA. Doug said he was cussing at Stern all the time."

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 1:35 AM

0 comments

links to this post

Friday, February 12, 2010

Jerry Colangelo Pledges that Hall of Fame Will Recognize Worthy Players Who Have "Slipped Through the Cracks"

This morning the Hall of Fame announced the names of this year's 19 finalists but the highlight of the press conference was a statement that may have farther reaching implications than the selection and induction of any one particular Hall of Fame class: Jerry Colangelo, the Chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Board, acknowledged that some players and teams have "slipped through the cracks" and have not been accorded proper recognition by the Hall of Fame. Colangelo pledged to do everything in his power to correct these injustices, starting with the recent restructuring of the Hall's governing structure. Colangelo said that, contrary to popular belief, there is "no limit to the number of people who can be inducted" in a given year and that if the 24 member Honors Committee decides that all 19 candidates are worthy then all 19 should receive the 18 votes that are required for induction.

Colangelo also promised to make the voting procedure more transparent. When several media members interviewed Colangelo after the press conference, he indicated that he would even be receptive to enabling fans to have some input in the process, perhaps by polling them and then assigning the fans a weighted vote in the final balloting.

I have often written about The ABA's Unsung Heroes, insisting that Roger Brown, Artis Gilmore and Mel Daniels are great players whose ABA numbers should be made "official" and who should have long ago been recognized by the Hall of Fame. Two years ago--before Colangelo was the Basketball Hall of Fame Chairman--I asked him about the great ABA players and coaches who have not been inducted by the Hall and he said, "I am hopeful that over a period of time these people will be recognized for their contributions."

Now that Colangelo is actually in a position where he can take steps to make that happen, I asked him, "You talked about some players who 'slipped through the cracks,' as you put it. Would you include Artis Gilmore and some other ABA players in that group and is there any consideration for having a special committee--like you have a veteran's committee and so forth--devoted to the ABA to focus attention on those players specifically?" Colangelo replied, "I'm not sure about an ABA committee but I will tell you that there are definitely a number of those players who slipped through the cracks. That is a good example of the kind of people that need to have reconsideration. Some of them have been nominated in the past but after being nominated so many consecutive times you kind of slip away and now it's time--if I'm fortunate enough to make the change that I want to make--(for them) to get another shot at it."

I then asked Colangelo, "Can you talk specifically about what that change will be? If there is not going to be a new committee then how will those players be brought back into the fold?"

Colangelo said, "It will be done through the (existing) committees but I'm not sure that there will be an ABA committee to address that issue."

It has been suggested that one way to clean up the Basketball Hall of Fame voting process would be to publicize the names of the members of the Honors Committee but Colangelo shot down that idea as soon as I mentioned it: "I don't think that's really--in order to have a process that's clean, you can't have people knowing who's on the committee, in my opinion, because you don't want people soliciting votes. I think that's unhealthy--that really is. I'll know who is on the committee and it will be in my judgment how we get the kind of transparency that I think we need."

Roland Lazenby mentioned to Colangelo that former Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause fervently believes that the rigidity of the Hall of Fame's category definitions of coach, player and contributor may be part of the reason why someone like Winter--who has spent most of his career as an assistant coach but designed the offensive system used by 10 NBA champions since 1991--has yet to be inducted. Colangelo agreed: "He makes a good point. We may really have to look at the number of committees we have and where they come from. For example, if this (press conference facility) were the Hall of Fame here there should be--in terms of the history of the game--a room just on the history of the ABA (Colangelo nodded in my direction as he said this) and all of its contributions. There should be a room on international basketball and the contributors from the international game, etc. So, we are kind of reevaluating and that's what I'm trying to do--I want people to start thinking broadly about things to improve the Hall of Fame. Same old, same old is not good enough for me."

Colangelo later added that although there are physical limitations in terms of how many actual rooms that the Hall can build, technological advances make it possible to create new exhibits in other ways. I asked him if this meant that perhaps the ABA-themed room could be "an online component" of the Hall and Colangelo said, "Oh, yeah. Sure. There is so much to do and it will be fun trying to go at it."

Labels: , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 5:20 PM

2 comments

links to this post

Dream Team, Top 50 Players Malone and Pippen Among 19 Hall of Fame Finalists

The 19 Finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2010 include three members of the fabled 1992 Dream Team, plus that team collectively (only six teams have been inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame); Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen--who were both selected to the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List--join fellow Dream Teamer Chris Mullin in a star-studded group that also features NBA players Richie Guerin, Gus Johnson (who had many legendary battles with Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere), Dennis Johnson, Bernard King and Jamaal Wilkes. The other Finalists are WNBA player Cynthia Cooper, women's coach Harley Redin, the All-American Red Heads (a women's team founded in 1936), international coach Vladimir Kondrashin (best known for leading the Soviet team that controversially beat Team USA in the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal game), Brazilian player Maciel "Ubiratan" Pereira, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, high school coach Robert Hurley, Sr., NBA coach Don Nelson, Triangle Offense innovator Tex Winter (who also was the 1958 NCAA Coach of the Year, becoming the youngest person to win that honor) and the 1960 U.S. Olympic Team, which is arguably the greatest amateur squad ever assembled. None of the Finalists came to the press conference, a departure from years past but perhaps not surprising considering the inclement weather and also the fact that some of the honorees who have previously been Finalists may not relish having to go through the process again only to possibly face disappointment.

After the 19 Finalists were announced by NBA TV's Marc Fein, Magic Johnson (Hall of Fame Class of 2002 and a member of the Dream Team) made some brief remarks. Johnson said that the passing of Chuck Daly last year makes it a "bittersweet moment" for the Dream Team to be a Hall of Fame Finalist but Johnson is sure that Daly is smiling in heaven. Johnson contended that some people initially "underestimated" the Dream Team because they thought that several of the players would feud over shot attempts or minutes. Johnson insisted that this was never an issue because the players had only one goal: dominate the opposition. He said that they felt like if they did not have at least a 30 point halftime lead in each game then they were not doing their job. Johnson also reminded everyone that Charles Barkley was the "best player" on that team (Barkley led the Dream Team in scoring), while Michael Jordan and Larry Bird provided great leadership. Johnson said that he still savors the relationships and bonds that he and other players formed off of the court during that time, noting that Bird and Patrick Ewing went everywhere together and that he (Johnson) played countless games of cards with Jordan, someone who he previously did not know that well.

Johnson said that it was a "blessing and honor" to represent the United States in international play, that he was very pleased to see last year's Team USA earn respect not just for the United States but for the game of basketball itself by playing the right way and that he hopes that all future members of Team USA maintain that kind of mindset.

Johnson answered questions for a large media throng well after the press conference ended, much like Julius Erving did last year. He said that while he was playing for the Dream Team he and the other members of the team did not really think about the historical ramifications of what they were doing, reiterating his earlier comment about dominating the opposition: "We didn't really talk about history. What we talked about was dominating. Because we dominated it became historic. You can't really talk about it. You have to be about it. We were about showing the world that this team was great and that this collection of All-Stars would come out and play together and would blow out every team in the world--and we did that, but we did it with style and class and so I think that is why the world enjoyed this team. We just kept coming at them but we did it with style and class; we never talked trash. We just played basketball at a high level."

Even though Scottie Pippen has received a lot of accolades, I have contended for many years that he is overlooked and underrated. I asked Johnson, "What sticks out in your mind about playing against Scottie Pippen and, particularly, what are your memories of the 1991 NBA Finals when he matched up against you defensively?" Johnson answered, "Playing against Scottie was tough because he was fast, quick, long and tough-minded. He was a guy who didn't let you get to the spot you wanted to get to. He always put pressure on you. He was pressuring me full court; from baseline to baseline he had an advantage with his quickness and his length. So, I give him a lot of credit--and he did that against everybody. That is the one thing I would say about Scottie: he was probably the most versatile player to ever play. He could play guard, he could play forward, he could defend any of those type of guys--and he did it well."

I asked Johnson if Pippen is underrated and before I could even get the words completely out of my mouth, Johnson flashed his trademark megawatt smile and declared, "Oh, of course, of course. Of course he's underrated. When you have a super, super, super star like Michael (Jordan) that overshadows you, you are going to be underrated." Then Johnson chuckled, looked right at me and concluded, "But us basketball players, we know how great Scottie Pippen was and how great he played every single night."

When Kobe Bryant was a young player he faced an older Pippen who had already been through multiple surgeries on his back and feet. People constantly talk about Jordan versus Bryant but I always thought that Bryant had a certain glint in his eye and bounce to his step when he played against Pippen, as if Bryant were really trying to prove something and that he considered the matchup to be a personal challenge or measuring stick. I asked Bryant about those matchups with Pippen and Bryant acknowledged that my perceptions of how he viewed those battles were quite correct: "Had to be (a personal challenge); I had to have another bounce in my step, because if not there was no way that I was going to get around him. He was one of those guys who was ultra-competitive, as Michael was, and he wanted to win, would do everything to win. So when you played against him you had to make sure that you were on your 'A' game."

Labels: , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 4:30 PM

0 comments

links to this post

Dreary Weather Does Not Put a Damper on the Start of All-Star Weekend in Dallas

Global warming has definitely not reached Dallas, Texas. Those of us who left the Eastern and/or Midwestern regions of the country to cover All-Star Weekend found a disturbingly familiar sight upon arrival in the Lone Star State: snow falling from the sky, snow piled up on the ground, slick roads/sidewalks and minimal visibility on many roadways. I am not big on reading/watching weather reports, so I did not receive my first warning of trouble until I boarded my connecting flight from Atlanta to Dallas; my seatmate had been stranded in Atlanta because his American Airlines flight never arrived from the East but he was fortunate enough to be provided a seat on this Delta plane. He contacted his family to let them know about the delays and he found out that Dallas already was blanketed by several inches of snow, with more on the way. Ground transportation from the airport might be a problem, he warned me as we sat in a huge "traffic jam" waiting for takeoff (four planes were ahead of us and at least that many were behind us). I naively asked why the Dallas authorities would not have the roads plowed by the time we arrived but he replied that Dallas is completely unprepared for this type of weather.

The strange thing about air travel these days--besides the fact that a tube of toothpaste may be confiscated as a potential weapon of mass destruction--is that the airlines are so desperate to avoid having flights classified as late that they rig the schedules to allow far more than the necessary time to reach a given destination; thus, my Atlanta flight took off a half hour late but still arrived five minutes "early"! Between the wacky scheduling, the time zone change and the bizarre sight of a snow storm in Dallas it truly felt like I had ventured through some warp in the space-time continuum.

I read somewhere that the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport is bigger than the city of Manhattan, so I had this nightmare vision of wandering around for two hours before being able to leave the premises but fortunately my plane landed at a gate right next to the exit for ground transportation; I walked out the door and immediately encountered a limo driver. I asked him the going rate to ride to my hotel and he offered to take me in his limo while only charging the normal rate for a cab (I knew that the number he cited for cab fare is reasonable because I researched it prior to making this trip). As we walked to his car I asked him how unusual it is for Dallas to get this much snow and he thought for a moment before saying that he believes that it has been close to 20 years since Dallas last had a winter storm like this. He pulled out of the airport and despite driving at a very reasonable speed we slid gently into a curb--the streets in Dallas are extremely slick; he got out of the car to inspect the damage and promptly slipped and fell. I was about to get out to check on him when he stood up and came back in to the car; the car was undamaged but he had suffered a bruise between his pinkie and ring fingers when his hand got caught on the front bumper as he braced his fall. Visibility was extremely poor during the 20-25 minute drive to the hotel but we arrived safely without any further incidents.

After checking in, I hailed a cab for the short trip to American Airlines Arena to pick up my credential; the credential facility is a nondescript trailer that you could easily miss if you did not know exactly where to look for it but I managed to find it without too much trouble. Unfortunately, the NBA does not provide shuttle bus transportation to All-Star venues until Friday, so media members who arrive earlier are left to their devices; last year in Phoenix that was hardly a problem: the weather was great and the credential facility was located right across the street from Jam Session. However, in Dallas none of the venues are within walking distance of each other, so I stood in the trailer with credential in hand but no readily apparent way to get to Jam Session (which is located this year at the Dallas Convention Center)--but then I overheard another media member asking about Commissioner David Stern's upcoming appearance at the opening ceremony for All-Star Weekend, so I mentioned to him that this would take place at Jam Session at 4 p.m. and I asked him if he was heading that way. He immediately told me that he would be glad to drive me there.

It turns out that my Good Samaritan is Cedric Bailey, a Dallas-based editor, reporter and radio personality. Only when we arrived at Jam Session did I realize that Bailey had not actually been heading in that direction; he went out of his way to help me because he said that if he had just arrived in a strange city he hopes that someone would provide a similar kindness for him. Bailey is a man of deep faith and it is clear that he felt that there was a reason I encountered him precisely at that moment in the credential trailer. Bailey gave me a copy of La Vida News--the Black Voice (he is the paper's sports editor) and I look forward to seeing him again during All-Star Weekend.

Despite the delays and the snow, I actually arrived at Jam Session about an hour before it opened to the public--but with my media credential I was able to go inside and give myself an unguided tour. As I have mentioned in several previous All-Star Weekend reports, Jam Session is a perfect and economical way for you to really get the flavor of All-Star Weekend if you are in town but unable to get tickets for the "main" events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Jam Session includes over 40 different exhibits, stores and/or activities, plus many food and beverage options--Taco Bell even provides free food at regular intervals.

The All-Star Weekend Opening Ceremony featuring Commissioner David Stern started about 10 minutes late--presumably because of the inclement weather. Commissioner Stern declared "North Texas is the capital of the basketball world" for this weekend and that Jam Session is the "nerve center" of that capital. Perhaps those words sound like hyperbole but they are nevertheless true: All-Star Weekend does in fact bring together the legends, the current NBA stars, the WNBA players and the future stars and it is possible for fans to interact with players from each of those categories by visiting Jam Session's various games, autograph sessions and player exhibitions.

The Panini Company recently bought out venerable card manufacturer Donruss and now owns a license to produce NBA trading cards. In the past few years, trading cards have lost a lot of the youth market due to escalating prices, market saturation and the appeal of other hobbies like video games and Yu-G-Oh!. So Panini has countered this trend with a savvy strategy, lowering the price to $1 per pack for the new Adrenalyn NBA cards (available at the NBA Store, located right in front of the main Jam Session entrance); the cards can simply be collected like any other trading cards but they can also be used to play the new Adrenalyn game, either face to face or online. Even better, if you visit Jam Session you can spin a Wheel of Fortune-style wheel free of charge, after which you receive a pack of cards plus one special Panini card embossed with the All-Star 2010 logo (the card you receive depends on where the wheel's pointer lands). The Panini folks also supply a free game board, plus the opportunity to practice playing the Adrenalyn game. The creator of the game explained to me that the simple board version of the game is geared toward kids aged roughly six to 11 but that the online version can be played in a more complex fashion that should appeal to fans of fantasy sports; also, if you play online you can accumulate points and Panini is running a contest so that the person who gets the most points will have an opportunity to meet Kobe Bryant face to face and play the game against him! Bryant is the official endorser of the Adrenalyn cards and he is scheduled to make an appearance at Panini's Jam Session station on Saturday. I had this conversation before finding out that Bryant will not play in this year's All-Star Game due to his sprained ankle, so I am not sure if that will change Bryant's plans regarding Jam Session; as you likely have already heard, Bryant will be replaced on the West All-Star roster by Jason Kidd, while Allen Iverson--who will miss All-Star Weekend due to an illness in his family--will be replaced on the East All-Star roster by David Lee.

I proceeded straight from the Panini station to Center Court to watch the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Classic; this is the fourth straight All-Star Weekend that I have covered the NWBA All-Star Game--for me it is a can't miss event (here are the links to my coverage of the game in 2007, 2008 and 2009). I really enjoy watching the game and trying to give my readers some sense of the flavor of the event. This year, 22 players participated, selected by the NWBA coaches and divided into two teams of 11 players each. The game lasted 40 minutes (two 20 minute halves with a running clock). The West team took a quick 6-2 lead after David Gonzales of the Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks went coast to coast for a layup but David Kiley of the Charlotte Rollin Bearcats nailed two straight midrange shots to put the East up 26-25--and he just missed hitting three in a row, as his third shot looked true before bouncing in and out. The teams battled to a 31-31 halftime tie as Kiley led the East with eight points while Gonzales scored 13 for the West. The East relentlessly pounded the ball inside early in the second half, with Curtis Lease of the Chicago Wheelchair Bulls and Willie Hernandez of the Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks each scoring on nice drives to the hoop (Dallas had seven All-Stars, four who played for the West and three who played for the East). After Lease pump faked and made a shot off of the glass from just inside the free throw line the East led 45-37 and seemed to be in control--but then the West ramped up their defensive pressure, forced several turnovers and repeatedly scored on quick drives off of nifty feeds by Jason Nelms of the Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks. The West regained the lead with a few minutes left and held on for a 61-53 win. Rodney Hawkins earned MVP honors for the West on the strength of a fantastic all-around box score line--13 points, nine rebounds, four assists and seven steals--while Kiley's early sharpshooting and his deft playmaking throughout the game (five assists) were rewarded with recognition as MVP for the East. Gonzales finished with a game-high 23 points, while Kiley and Jeremy Day (Orlando Magic Wheels) led the East with eight points each. Nelms had a game-high six assists.

The Legends Shootout followed the NWBA All-Star Game. Detlef Schrempf attempted to defend his 2009 Shootout title but even though he looks to be in excellent condition he finished last with just two points (the players had 45 seconds to shoot three pointers from three racks of four balls each--two on the baseline and one at the top of the key--with the last "money" ball counting as two points instead of one). A.C. Green scored six points and Mitch Richmond tied Bruce Bowen with seven points, necessitating a tiebreaker round under the same rules. Richmond went first and appeared to be fully warmed up, having a Run TMC flashback while blistering the nets for 12 points (out of a possible 15); Bowen slumped to just three points, unable to consistently nail his trademark baseline treys. The four players ribbed each other good-naturedly throughout the event and then concluded the proceedings by autographing t-shirts and throwing them into the stands, providing some nice souvenirs to the enthusiastic and grateful fans.

After pausing to get a bite to eat, I spent the rest of the evening exploring as much of Jam Session as I could. Windows has a cool exhibit of the new Windows 7.0 program, a free copy of which they raffled off every hour on the hour. Next to the Windows exhibit is "NASA Launch Pad," where you can see scale models of various famous NASA spaceships--including the Space Shuttle and one of the Apollo rockets--and watch interactive videos about the history of man's exploration of the Moon. You can also touch a 14 gram fragment of an 8000-plus gram Moon rock that astronauts brought back to Earth decades ago; the Moon rock has been carbon-dated to be more than 3.7 billion years old, older than virtually anything on Earth! The rock probably arrived on the Moon via a collision with an asteroid or other celestial body. The NASA folks also have some nice free handouts, including a 3D viewfinder about "the amazing future in space" and a pair of holographic information cards. One card lists the many ways that NASA technology has led to the invention of consumer products that we take for granted, including home security systems, flat screen TVs, scratch-resistant glasses and cordless power tools; the other card notes how NASA technology has impacted the sports world by improving everything from stadium materials to shock-absorbing athletic shoes to tennis rackets to pool purification.

If you have appropriate gear with you and are not afraid of being embarrassed then you can test your skills versus the "ballers" at the adidas Court; "the ballers"--several players with college and/or low level professional experience--play three on three to five points (by ones) versus all comers. Be warned that if your trio beats the "ballers" then the "ballers" automatically get a rematch to prove that your win was not a fluke. Taking on opponents ranging from little kids--against whom the "ballers" charitably extended the length of the games by dribbling around as opposed to just scoring instantly--to some pretty solid players in their late teens/early 20s, the "ballers" unofficially compiled a record of 30-2 on Thursday and have yet to be defeated twice by the same team. The "baller" called "Maurice" is my favorite: he has very quick hands and tremendous dribbling skills.

The inclement weather likely prevented many ticket holders from making it to Jam Session on Thursday, so the NBA will be opening Jam Session two hours early (2 p.m.) on Friday; fans who bought a Thursday ticket with a 4 p.m. entry time will be permitted to enter Jam Session at 2 p.m. on Friday, while fans who have Thursday tickets with an entry time of 5 p.m. or later will be permitted to enter Jam Session at the corresponding time on Friday.

Labels: , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 1:05 AM

0 comments

links to this post

Monday, February 08, 2010

Honor Roll: Pro Basketball's Most Decorated Players

A slightly different version of this article was originally published in the April 2003 issue of Basketball Digest.

Barry Bonds, who won his record fifth NL MVP last season, is a member of the elite fraternity of athletes who have earned at least three MVPs. Unfortunately, most reports of Bonds' accomplishment neglected to mention that Julius Erving also belongs to this group. Erving won three ABA MVPs and one NBA MVP. The NFL recognizes AFL statistics and the NBA should do likewise with ABA statistics, including MVP winners and members of the All-League Team.

These statistics and awards are important for accurately assessing a player's place in basketball history, including worthiness for induction in the Hall of Fame. While Erving spent 11 of his 16 seasons in the NBA and easily did enough during that time alone to earn induction, many great players spent most or all of their careers in the ABA and deserve to have their achievements accorded full and proper recognition. The 11 players who won multiple regular season MVPs and the 12 players who earned at least nine All-League First Team selections represent the crème de la crème of pro basketball history.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leads the pack with six MVPs and trails Karl Malone by one with 10 All-League First Team selections. Abdul-Jabbar has the most total All-League selections, edging out Malone 15-14. Only the "magnificent seven" of Abdul-Jabbar, Malone, Bob Cousy, Erving, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dolph Schayes and Jerry West made the All-League Team at least 12 times. It should be noted that Malone and Olajuwon's totals are augmented by one and three Third Team selections respectively; the NBA added a Third Team to the All-League roster after the 1988-89 season, by which time four of the five other players had retired and Abdul-Jabbar had just completed his final season.

Elgin Baylor, Cousy, Michael Jordan, Bob Pettit and West matched Abdul-Jabbar with 10 All-League First Team selections. This is a truly remarkable accomplishment, because it means being recognized as one of the two best players (or the best player in the case of the lone center selected each season) at guard or forward for an entire decade worth of seasons. Nobody gets 10 First Team nods by a fluke or accident.

Bill Russell and Jordan are tied for second place on the MVP list with five each. Russell's rival Wilt Chamberlain and Jordan's predecessor in flight Julius Erving are next with four apiece. Chamberlain and Russell enjoyed a stranglehold on MVP honors for over a decade, claiming nine of eleven between 1957-58 and 1967-68. Two-time honoree Pettit and the versatile Oscar Robertson each took one MVP during this period.

The 1961-62 season featured perhaps the greatest quartet of performances to ever vie for the award in one year. Robertson finished second despite becoming the only player to average a triple-double for a season (30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 11.4 apg). Chamberlain scored a record 100 points in a game, set another mark by averaging 50.4 ppg and paced the league in rebounds (2052; 25.7 rpg) but came out third in the voting. Elgin Baylor's 38.3 ppg and 18.6 rpg (albeit in only 48 games due to military service) were only good enough for fourth place. The MVP went to Russell, who finished second in rebounds and was the driving force behind the Boston Celtics' league best 60-20 record and fourth straight championship (a string that would not be broken until it reached a remarkable eight in a row).

Interestingly, the writers and broadcasters who selected the All-League Teams frequently had a different perspective than the players who voted for MVP (writers and broadcasters later took over MVP voting duties as well, starting in 1980-81). Chamberlain made All-NBA First Team in 1961-62 and generally placed ahead of Russell for this honor. Chamberlain finished his career with seven First Team selections and three Second Team nods, while Russell's numbers were almost exactly opposite: three times on the First Team and eight times on the Second Team. They are the only two members of the ten man Associated Press All-20th Century pro basketball team to not have at least nine All-League First Team selections.

Robertson earned his only MVP in 1963-64, when he averaged a near-triple double (31.4 ppg, 11.0 apg, 9.9 rpg). Robertson's selection that year is important because a non-center would not claim the NBA MVP again until Erving won the 1980-81 award.

Erving is significant historically not only as a four time MVP--an elite distinction in its own right--but also because he won his MVPs in an era dominated by centers and he claimed more MVPs than any non-center in history until Jordan came along. While other non-centers did win MVPs in the ABA, which featured a more wide open style of play than the more established league, Erving was the only non-center to win multiple ABA MVPs and he was the only non-center to "validate" his ABA trophies with an NBA MVP. In fact, his trailblazing win in 1980-81 not only "validated" his earlier MVPs but also foreshadowed the emergence of Bird, Magic and Jordan as non-center MVPs over the next two decades.

It is impossible to say how many MVPs Erving would have won if only one pro league had existed at that time but the evidence suggests that in his case it depended more on the style and coaching philosophy of his team than the level of play of the league. When New York Nets' coach Kevin Loughery made Erving the focal point of the team the Nets won two ABA championships in three years and Erving was the MVP three years running. After Erving joined the Philadelphia 76ers he deliberately sublimated his game to blend in with his teammates (including forward George McGinnis, who shared the 1974-75 ABA MVP with Erving) and did not win the MVP immediately, although he was still an All-League player.

Billy Cunningham replaced Gene Shue as 76ers' coach early in 1977-78, Erving's second season with the team. Injuries and personnel turnover hampered the team for the next couple seasons but by 1979-80 the Sixers were clearly built around Erving. He carried the team to the Finals and finished second to Abdul-Jabbar in MVP balloting. The next season Erving won his fourth MVP in eight years.

After Cunningham restructured the team around Erving, the Sixers made three Finals appearances in four years, finally winning the title after adding Moses Malone (another multiple MVP winner) to the mix in 1982-83 to counter the Lakers' combination of past (Abdul-Jabbar, Bob McAdoo) and future (Magic) MVPs.

Erving bridged the gap between Robertson and Bird-Magic-Jordan. His MVP caliber play helped keep the ABA viable and sparked interest in the NBA for a merger to enable the established league to showcase his unique talents. If his MVPs are not counted and listed alongside those of the other greats of the game it is a disservice not only to Erving but to basketball history itself.

The same reasoning applies to All-League Teams. When Erving and Rick Barry's ABA totals are included, each earned nine All-League First Team selections, tying with Robertson, Bird and Magic on the all-time list. This is an accurate reflection of their status in the game, as each of these five players was the preeminent individual at his position for an extended period of time. Barry is the only one of this group to not win an MVP, although some feel that his unpopularity among his peers cost him the 1974-75 trophy. He won Playoff MVP that year after leading Golden State to a shocking 4-0 sweep of the powerful Washington Bullets in the Finals.

One should not assume that players who made the All-ABA First Team would not have attained that honor if only one league had existed at the time. Several players earned All-League First Team recognition in both leagues, including Erving, Barry, Cunningham, Connie Hawkins, Spencer Haywood and McGinnis. Barry began his career in the NBA, sat out his option year to jump to the ABA and then returned to the NBA. In his first 10 seasons (six NBA, four ABA) he made All-League First Team nine teams and was a Second Team selection once.

At least Erving and Barry are both in the Hall of Fame and have secure places in basketball history. Mel Daniels, a two-time ABA MVP and three-time champion with the Indiana Pacers, was a perennial rebounding leader and tough scorer whose best days were past by the time the leagues merged. He is one of the top playoff rebounders in pro basketball history and earned as many MVPs as the more celebrated Pettit and Karl Malone, but he is a largely forgotten figure.

MVP and All-League Team selections are significant not only as recognition for great play during a given season but also as career defining achievements. A great player's legacy is measured in no small part by how many MVPs and All-League Team selections he garnered. Ignoring ABA award winners not only short changes many elite players but also distorts basketball history.

Pro Basketball's Honor Roll

Most Reg. Season MVPs


Player MVPs


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 6
Bill Russell 5
Michael Jordan 5
Wilt Chamberlain 4
Julius Erving 4
Moses Malone 3
Larry Bird 3
Magic Johnson 3
Bob Pettit 2
Mel Daniels 2
Karl Malone 2

Most All-League Selections







Player Total 1st Team 2nd Team 3rd Team





Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 15 10 5 0
Karl Malone 14 11 2 1
Bob Cousy 12 10 2 0
Julius Erving 12 9 3 0
Hakeem Olajuwon 12 6 3 3
Dolph Schayes 12 6 6 0
Jerry West 12 10 2 0

Most All-League 1st Team Selections



Player 1st Team



Karl Malone 11
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 10
Elgin Baylor 10
Bob Cousy 10
Michael Jordan 10
Bob Pettit 10
Jerry West 10
Rick Barry 9
Larry Bird 9
Julius Erving 9
Magic Johnson 9
Oscar Robertson 9

Notes: The NBA MVP was first awarded after the 1955-56 season; the All-NBA Third Team was first selected after the 1988-89 season.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 1:02 AM

0 comments

links to this post