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

Thursday, April 07, 2022

NBA's 75th Anniversary Celebration Game Provided Stirring Trip Down Memory Lane

On Wednesday night, ESPN and ESPN2 did a simulcast of the Brooklyn Nets-New York Knicks game; ESPN did a regular broadcast, while ESPN2 presented an NBA 75th Anniversary Celebration game featuring old-school graphics from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, plus guest appearances from legendary players and broadcasters. Dave Pasch and Hubie Brown handled the ESPN duties, while Mike Breen, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy--each clad in 1970s-style yellow ABC blazers--hosted the 75th Anniversary Celebration Game. Normally, I would be glued to any broadcast featuring Brown, but I could not resist the stirring trip down memory lane provided by the 75th Anniversary Celebration Game. I have been following pro basketball since I was a young child in the 1970s, and this sport has been a huge part of my life: I love to play basketball, I love to watch basketball, and I love to write about/analyze basketball. The game changes and evolves, but my fascination endures.

Oscar Robertson was the first guest, as the first quarter of the 75th Anniversary Celebration Game focused on the 1960s. He talked about how competitive the NBA was when the league had just eight teams, and he mentioned playing each team 13 times per season. When Robertson was a rookie in 1960-61, his Cincinnati Royals were a Western Division team. The Royals played the other three Western Division teams--the Bob Pettit/Cliff Hagan-led St. Louis Hawks, the Elgin Baylor/Jerry West L.A. Lakers, and the Bailey Howell/Gene Shue-led Detroit Pistons--13 times each, and they faced the four Eastern Division teams--including Bill Russell's dynastic Boston Celtics stacked with future Hall of Famers, Wilt Chamberlain's Philadelphia Warriors, the Dolph Schayes/Hal Greer-led Syracuse Nationals, and the Willie Naulls/Richie Guerin-led New York Knicks--10 times each. 

Robertson also praised the skills of today's players, and he marveled at Kevin Durant's ability to handle the ball so fluidly at seven feet tall. 

Marv Albert was the next guest. He talked about the 1960s--when his career began--but he also discussed covering the 1992 Dream Team (the only real Dream Team; the other teams were Team USA, but not Dream Teams). Albert said that when he first did a Dream Team game at the Tournament of the Americas he got chill bumps as the players came on to the court, and he added that without question this was the greatest set of talent ever assembled on one team in sports history. Albert explained that his trademark "Yesss!" call evolved from the "gyrations" of NBA referee Sid Borgia, channeled through one of Albert's friends who would do play by play while he and others played pick up games. Albert recalled that he first said "Yesss!" during a broadcast after a Dick Barnett jump shot, that fans and players began repeating the line back to him, and he soon incorporated it into his routine--but only for spectacular shots and/or shots that happened at key moments.

The second quarter focused on the 1970s. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talked about doing the Mikan drill as a fifth grader, and how this practice helped transform him from a gangly, awkward player into a skilled player who wielded the sport's greatest weapon ever: the skyhook. Asked why more players do not shoot the skyhook, Abdul-Jabbar provided a very insightful answer: he said that coaches do not teach the shot properly, because after a player masters the Mikan drill fundamentals he should learn to shoot the skyhook in a way that fits his athletic abilities; Abdul-Jabbar insisted that it would be wrong to try to teach another player to shoot the skyhook with the exact same form that he used, because his form was based on his physical characteristics. 

Abdul-Jabbar said that Wilt Chamberlain was the strongest player he ever faced, but quickly noted that he never played against Shaquille O'Neal. He explained that both big men were physically imposing in a similar way, but with different physiques.

Another guest representing the 1970s, Bill Walton, was in typical form: he talked straight through his whole segment without giving anyone a chance to ask a question. He remembered playing against NBA players as a 14 year old high schooler, and he noted that Marty Glickman (who also influenced Marv Albert) helped him to overcome his speech impediment. Walton praised David Stern and Adam Silver as two NBA commissioners who have helped grow the sport. Stern was certainly a trail blazer, but I am much less impressed by Silver's legacy thus far.

My favorite NBA decade is the 1980s. In 1981, Julius Erving, after winning three ABA regular season MVPs and two ABA Finals MVPs, became the first non-center to win an NBA regular season MVP since Oscar Robertson (1964), and two years later Erving teamed with Moses Malone for a glorious, record-setting championship run. The Bird-Magic rivalry was outstanding, and the Isiah Thomas-led back to back champion Detroit Pistons remain underrated. Michael Jordan's incredible NBA career began in the 1984-85 season, though he did not start winning championships until 1991.

The third quarter guest who discussed the NBA in the 1980s was Dick Stockton, who is one of the most gracious people I have ever had the privilege of interviewing. I have an indelible memory of the first time I met him: "When I approached Stockton face to face--without prior notice--at a Cleveland Cavaliers game and asked him if he could take a few moments to answer some questions for my upcoming Andrew Toney article, he could have politely--or impolitely--declined: he was a big-time national TV star who had no idea who I was. Instead, Stockton warmly agreed to my request and he enthusiastically answered my questions. I bumped into him on a few subsequent occasions at other games and he always gave me a friendly greeting. I can assure you that this is not typical behavior in this business."

Stockton shared his memories of covering the great Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals in the 1980s. He made two interesting points: (1) those series were competitive, but often the individual games were blowouts as first one team asserted its will over the other, and then the situation reversed in the next game; (2) CBS marketed team matchups over individual matchups, which Stockton liked because he firmly believes that basketball is a team game. Breen recalled that Stockton influenced his style by telling him that broadcasting is about reaction and not just preparation; Stockton said that viewers will react a certain way to what happens during a game, and if the broadcaster is not in tune with that then he loses credibility. Stockton deflected some of the praise directed toward him by making a point of lauding Sandy Grossman, Pat O'Brien, and the rest of the NBA on CBS crew, stressing that it was a team effort and not just about the announcers.  

My favorite NBA broadcasting duo of all-time is Dick Stockton doing play by play alongside analyst Hubie Brown; they first teamed up at CBS, and then they later reunited at TNT. Stockton talked about Hubie Brown's meticulous preparation and attention to detail. Stockton has such a great grasp of what it takes to have a top notch NBA game broadcast: he is right that the play by play announcer must have the ability to react to game flow changes, and he is also right that no analyst matches Brown's ability to not only prepare for a game but to then seamlessly weave into the telecast the insights that he gained from his preparation. Stockton noted that Brown talks to the viewer like he would talk to a player who he is coaching. I will always remember Brown telling me that he never talks down to the viewer but rather attempts to help the viewer understand basketball's strategic nuances. 

Several of the guests talked about how blessed and fortunate they feel, so I must say that I feel blessed and fortunate that I have had the opportunity to interview Robertson, Erving, Stockton, Brown, and so many other legends.

In the fourth quarter, guest Bob Costas recalled covering not only Michael Jordan's six NBA titles, but also having a close-up view of the excellence of the other stars of the era--many of whom played on the Dream Team. Costas noted that the standard set by the Dream Team led to the emergence of international players on the NBA stage. Asked to weigh in on the ubiquitous Michael Jordan-LeBron James comparisons, Costas said simply, "Statistically they be may be equal, but Jordan was greater." Costas explained that Jordan has had a greater impact on the game by virtue not only of winning more championships but also having more iconic moments, from winning the 1982 NCAA title at North Carolina all the way to the Dream Team and his six NBA titles. Costas emphasized that taking Jordan over James is not a knock on James, comparing this to a baseball historian taking Willie Mays over other great players.

Breen asked Costas about starting his career not in the NBA but in the ABA. Costas is an ABA guy through and through, and it was great to listen to him add some much needed ABA flavor to the telecast. Costas recalled serving as the play by play announcer for the Spirits of St. Louis from 1974-76, and he talked about the noteworthy "in perpetuity" deal executed by the team's owners, the Silna brothers; in exchange for giving up the right for their team to join the NBA via the ABA-NBA merger, the Silna brothers received a share of NBA TV revenue "in perpetuity," which turned into a windfall worth at least several hundred million dollars.

The NBA has a rich history that has produced indelible memories, and it was tremendous fun to revisit so many of those great moments.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 1:06 AM



Post a Comment

<< Home