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Friday, February 28, 2014

Basketball Hall of Fame Finally Honors Bobby "Slick" Leonard

I am delighted that the Basketball Hall of Fame's ABA Committee has made another fine selection, tapping Bobby "Slick" Leonard for induction in the fall of 2014. Leonard led the Pacers to three ABA titles (1970, 1972-73) and five ABA Finals appearances. Leonard's Pacers were the Boston Celtics of the ABA and they had the upper hand in their "Interstate 65" rivalry with the Kentucky Colonels, winning three of their five head to head playoff series. Leonard's coaching accomplishments alone merit Hall of Fame induction, but it is worth noting that Leonard also twice earned All-America honors as a player at Indiana University and he starred on their 1953 NCAA championship team. He enjoyed a solid NBA playing career, averaging 9.9 ppg in seven seasons (including a career-high 16.1 ppg in 1961-62), before becoming a coach.

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Chairman Jerry Colangelo deserves credit for living up to his pledge to recognize worthy individuals who "slipped through the cracks" and did not get inducted when they should have been. Under Colangelo's watch, the newly formed ABA Committee has finally inducted Artis Gilmore plus Leonard's Indiana Pacers' stars Mel Daniels and Roger Brown.

For the past 29 years, Leonard has been the color commentator for the Pacers' radio broadcasts. His signature "Boom, Baby!" call is one of the most famous catchphrases in pro basketball. Whenever I cover a Pacers' home game it is always a treat to speak with Leonard about pro basketball past and present. The stories he told me about Sam Jones, Gus Johnson, Roger Brown and James Silas enriched the articles that I wrote about those players.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:35 AM


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kobe Bryant: "I'm a Difficult Person to Deal With"

In an All-Star Weekend interview, a reporter asked Kobe Bryant if his reputation for being a "difficult teammate" might hinder the Lakers' rebuilding efforts. Bryant replied:

No, not necessarily.  I'm a difficult person to deal with.  For people who don't have the same kind of competitiveness or commitment to winning, then I become an absolute pain in the neck.  Because I'm
going to drag you into the gym every single day.  If you need to be drug in, that's what I'm going to do.

And for players that have that level of commitment, very, very, easy.  And we can wind up enhancing the entire group and elevating them to that type of level.  But if we don't have that commitment, man, I'll absolutely be very, very tough to get along with.  No question about it. 

Bryant may be a "difficult teammate" but it is also rewarding to be his teammate; his impact on the Lakers goes far beyond what statistics can measure: many players have championship rings only because they were fortunate enough to play alongside Bryant during Bryant's prime--and many players had their best individual seasons while playing alongside Bryant, including Shaquille O'Neal, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum.

If I had been blessed with the opportunity to play in the NBA, I would not have found it difficult at all to play with an MVP-caliber player whose main goal is to win championships--but I would have found it very difficult to play with Carmelo Anthony or Gilbert Arenas or Stephon Marbury or any other All-Star caliber player who only gives consistent effort at one end of the court and who often seems to have an agenda that is focused on something other than winning (playing in a big city, getting paid, being quirky, etc.). I don't understand a guy like James Harden; he probably could have won multiple championships playing the Manu Ginobili role for the Oklahoma City Thunder but he preferred to force a trade to Houston so that he could get paid and "prove" that he is "the man." If you are "the man," then beat out Russell Westbrook for the number two role on the team--or, better yet, do whatever it takes to win a championship (a la Ginobili with the Spurs) and don't worry about who gets the credit or who gets paid. The Thunder have not missed a beat without Harden and the Rockets had to acquire the best center in the NBA just to move one step up from battling for the eighth seed. 

Harry Truman was renowned for "giving hell" to his opponents but he said, "I never did give them hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell." Bryant, like Michael Jordan before him, tells his teammates the truth: if they are not playing hard or if they are making stupid plays, he lets them hear about it in no uncertain terms. That may seem "difficult" or feel like "hell" but it also creates a no excuses, no slacking allowed environment. When Bryant plays with an avulsion fracture in his finger or other injuries that would force most players out of the lineup, he sets an example that no one should be visiting the trainer's room unless that player is at death's door. 

The Lakers face a challenging rebuilding task not because Bryant is "difficult" but rather because Bryant can no longer carry the Smush Parkers and Kwame Browns of the world into the playoffs; with Bryant injured or absent, all of the Lakers' weaknesses are exposed and there is no relief in sight: that was true during the 2013 playoffs even when the Lakers had a twin towers pairing of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and it is true during this season even though the Lakers have at least as much talent now as they did circa 2006 when Kwame Brown and Smush Parker became two of the most improbable playoff starters in NBA history.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:32 AM