Kawhi Leonard is 6’7” and weighs somewhere around 230 pounds. He wears his hair in cornrows and attended Riverside King in Riverside, California where he won a state championship and was named California’s Mr. Basketball. Since 1980, over 83% of the California Mr. Basketball recipients have been drafted into the NBA.
At San Diego State University, Leonard played for coach Steve Fisher who famously took over as interim coach at the University of Michigan in 1989 with just a week left in the regular season. The details of the previous coach’s dismissal are inconsequential, but entertaining. As interim head coach, Fisher led the team to the NCAA Championship which was played in the Kingdome in Seattle against PJ Carlesimo’s Seton Hall Pirates. Fisher’s team won the game 80-79 on a pair of Rumeal Robinson free throws in overtime. At the time of Robinson’s greatest basketball triumph at the Kingdome in 1989, Kawhi Leonard was not yet born. Carlesimo went on to win three NBA championships as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, Fisher ran into Kawhi at SDSU, the Kingdome was blown to bits, and Robinson spent six-and-a-half years in federal prison.
While at San Diego State, Kawhi Leonard listed his hobbies as “grinding.” The three words he chose to describe himself were “It’s grind season!” (That is the first time I’ve seen a Kawhi Leonard quote with an exclamation point.) Speaking of grinding, the hip-hop duo Clipse released a hit track called Grindin’ in 2002 when Kawhi was probably 11 years-old. One half of Clipse is Pusha-T. Push recently had vicious rap beef with hip-hop recording star and Toronto native, Drake. In addition to the money and fame afforded to Drake as a rap star, he’s well-known as a Toronto Raptors superfan. On July 18th, 2018, Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Raptors. In an Instagram post, Drake referred to Kawhi as a “poised clinical warrior.” Kawhi recently turned 27. He set all kinds of records in his two seasons at SDSU, but ultimately could not overcome Michael Cage’s rebounding records. Cage notably wore his hair in a jheri curl while in the NBA and is presently a broadcast analyst for the Oklahoma City Thunder where he offers insights with a shorn skull.
Kawhi has said he chose SDSU because he “wanted to go with who loved me first.” When he signed with the Aztecs, Doug Gottlieb, then of ESPN said, “one Pac-10 coach told me (Leonard) is better than anyone else who signed in the Pac-10.” 83% of California Mr. Basketballs make the NBA. Gottlieb played high school basketball at Tustin High School in California in the mid-90s when Leonard was probably in kindergarten. Tustin High is about 39 miles from Kawhi’s high school. Gottlieb did not win Mr. Basketball, Paul Pierce did.
Before he played an official game at SDSU, Coach Fisher, who also coached Michigan’s famed Fab Five group, said, “Kawhi has long arms and big hands and can be disruptive on the defensive end. He can play multiple positions and is someone that we believe can guard anybody from the one through four positions and eventually will be able to play all of those offensive positions.” In a story written by Tom Haberstroh for ESPN in February of 2016, it was revealed that Kawhi’s “hands are bigger than Anthony Davis’ … Of the active players who’ve gone through the combine since 2010, he has the widest hands on record, at 11 ¼ inches.”
Leonard is currently under contract with Nike’s Jordan Brand and “designed the Brand Jordan logo that appears on the back of his personalized sneakers. It’s 9 ¾-inch hand with the fingers forming ‘KL’ and his No. 2 jersey number notched into the index finger.” As of March of 2018, negotiations between Jordan Brand and Kawhi had “broke down abruptly.” Kawhi was 26 then and is now 27. (Personally, I dig the logo.)
On January 18th, 2008, Mark Leonard was shot multiple times at or around 6:15pm in Compton, California. He was pronounced dead at 6:44pm. Kawhi was 16 at the time and played in a high school basketball game the following night at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. Denzel Washington claims to have attended that game and recently told Bill Simmons that Kawhi “had about 29 points and 27 rebounds,” but the Los Angeles Times recorded Leonard had 17 points that night. The film He Got Game was released on May Day of 1998 when Kawhi was just six. In that movie, Denzel’s character Jake Shuttlesworth dons a pair of Air Jordan XIIIs as he embarks in a high stakes game of hoops with his son Jesus who’s played by NBA legend, champion, and amateur golfer, Ray Allen. The “He Got Game” XIIIs will be re-released by Nike this year to celebrate the movie’s 20th anniversary (Where does the time go?). On July 23rd, 1993, when Kawhi was two years-old, James Jordan was robbed and murdered. His son Michael didn’t play another basketball game until March of 1995. Kawhi and Jordan are two of three NBA players to win Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP. At the time of this writing, Kawhi is still 27.
JJ Redick once said of Kawhi, “More than his length, his strength, his quickness, that motherfucker is so … locked … in … I have no idea what scouting report they give him, but he knows every play, and takes no breaks.” JJ Redick won the Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year Award (a variation on California’s Mr. Basketball) not once, not twice, but thrice. 70% of Virginia Players of the Year since 2000 make it to the NBA though that number is skewed by prep basketball factory Oak Hill Academy which has accounted for half the Mr Basketballs to make it to the NBA. Kawhi Leonard did not attend Oak Hill Academy, he attended Riverside King where played Milwaukee Buck Tony Snell and won a state championship before going to SDSU, being drafted by the Pacers, traded to the Spurs, winning an NBA title, and then being traded to the Toronto Raptors on July 18th, 2018.
I can’t say my first intentional experience with Oklahoma’s Trae Young was as uninterruptedly studious as I would have liked. My face was thawing after shoveling snow in the frigid Iowa afternoon. My nearly-10-month-old son was bouncing, cackling at unintelligible noises I made in attempts to distract him from the teething pain that’s turned our house upside down the past couple days. In the middle of the chaos was my Samsung TV, mounted to the wall above a gas fireplace that doesn’t work, presenting Trae Young to me in all his evolutionary glory.
Young is a 6’2” point guard from Norman, Oklahoma. He just turned 19 a few months ago and has a wispy moustache and hair that makes me think he could be Persian. Or maybe Native American or Indian or Filipino. I can almost picture him astride a horse, speeding across the Norman prairies and parking lots, thinnish hair whipping in the Norman wind, on his way to a game. He’s flirting with a unibrow and while he has a slight build, his shoulders are square and look prepared to carry more muscle and mass. Conventionally speaking, he doesn’t look the part though “the part,” as embodied by Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, or LeBron James, is being rewritten by two-time-MVP and two-time-NBA Champion, Stephen Curry who happens to be the stylistic predecessor to Young.
My timeline is far from definitive, but the first time I recall seeing the trickle down of Currynomics was when LaMelo Ball, late of Vyautas Prienal-Birstonas of the Lithuanian Basketball League, became a sensation as a 15-year-old sophomore for Chino Hills High School during the 2016-17 season. He scored 92 points in one game and audaciously made a half-court shot just seconds into another game. Aside from these attention-grabbing highlights, Ball frequently took and made shots from NBA three-point range and deeper. If you strip away the outspoken divisiveness of his father, Lavar, there’s a supremely talented and skinny young basketball player in LaMelo. My first thoughts when I saw his highlights were of young kids seeing the rise of Curry, with his 30-foot jumpers and “California Cool” (H/T George Karl) approach, and misinterpreting what they saw. Ball, who pointed to his spot before canning the half-courter I mentioned, became a poster boy target of sorts for the get off my lawn crowd most notably represented by Charles Barkley. Barkley, a league MVP as a 6’4” undersized power forward, once claimed Curry was “just a great shooter.”
However far off-base Barkley’s assessment of Curry was, it stands as a representation of a perspective held by many former players, and likely present players, that Curry doesn’t belong at the table with other NBA greats. For Curry, the suspicion isn’t limited to style as I wrote about during this year’s finals, but are inclusive of race via skin color and class with him coming from a well-off, fully intact NBA family. Barkley’s comments and sentiments are coded in the sense that boxing Curry into being “just a great shooter” discount his generational skill level, advanced ball handling, finishing at the rim, his passing, his selflessness and on. By labeling him, or anyone like him, as “just a great shooter,” any threat to Barkley (or those who share his view and comprehension) is neutralized because Curry and his ilk become the “other.”
LaMelo Ball isn’t alone in seeing something in Curry that could be applied to his own game. About a month ago, I attended a high school basketball game in Des Moines, Iowa. For someone who hasn’t attended a high school game in over a decade, the experience of merely walking into the building and being swallowed by giddy teenage energy is one of adjustment. I packed into the doors of North High School with the rest of the human cattle being corralled towards concessions and the gym. If you’ve been away for a while, it’s disorienting to see a mass of teens from a 37-year-old’s eyes and see your former self moving through those crowds in complete normalcy. North’s point guard and their main attraction is a smallish 5’10”, 170lbs junior named Tyreke Locure who looks to be taller than his listed height due to a dyed bushy faux hawk – similar to LaMelo’s. He’s a mid-to-low D1 prospect who posted 56 points on 33 shots just a couple weeks after I saw him. In the game I attended, Locure and his North teammates exhibited a trigger-happy penchant for chucking deep threes. In my most Chuck-ish, I found myself criticizing the game plan until those bombs started falling – which probably says something about my commitment to a strategy. Collectively, they were quick to pass up half-court opportunities in exchange for deep, often contested, threes. Locure’s game did not appear to be defined by hash mark threes. I saw him looking for the small spaces to let fly, but within that were probing drives, dump-offs, and floaters, but the Curry influence was evident.
With North, I find myself needing to justify their liberal bombs by pointing to their success. Under their current coach, Chad Ryan, and with Locure as starting point guard in 16-17, they made the state tournament for the first time since 1991. MaxPreps currently has them ranked 7th in the state. The approach is working. And where instinct pushes me to find justification, intellect tells me question instinct. This is probably where my conventional way of thinking, some inner-Barkley, is running into my embrace of revolution, my inner-Curry/Steve Kerr.
Steph, Tyreke Locure, LaMelo Ball
Locure and Ball represent different points on a spectrum of who and how Curry has influenced a culture of ballplayers. Ball is probably at the most polarizing end of the spectrum. A kid whose game built on the notoriety that comes with being something of a Curry-clone – though that’s unlikely how he views himself. Maybe some of that is unfairly worded by confusing the son for the father. Locure and his North teammates, by contrast, have had the game opened by a combination of their abilities, their coaching, and (I’m mildly confident in this assumption) by Steph Curry whose influence has become omnipresent – from the California coast and the Hills of Chino to the tornado alleys of Oklahoma to the cold December gyms of Des Moines and a billion Instagram clips in between.
In April of 2017, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck wrote a piece making a compelling case as to why the quest for the Next Michael Jordan had been on the decline over the past few years. In the story, Beck refers to the present as “Generation Steph,” and writes of high school coach and former NBA player Penny Hardaway that, “he’s had to admonish his players more than once for launching from 30 feet, like a band of mini-Steph Currys.”
Curry would be difficult enough to guard if he was, as Barkley said, “just a great shooter.” He’d be Kyle Korver or J.J. Redick – which isn’t to discount their non-shooting skills. Instead, the range and his ability to attack off the dribble, to both find the open teammate or finish around the rim at an elite level, make him, at times, the most disruptive offensive player in the NBA. In Jack McCallum’s Golden Days, he writes about Curry being a revolutionary player in that he’s doing things with range and accuracy that we haven’t seen before. In his notes about the book on his site, McCallum quoted Curry and wrote:
“Nobody talked much about long shots until three years ago,” Curry says. “When my father [Dell, a sharp-shooter who retired in 2002 after 16 seasons] was playing, heck, there wasn’t even much talk about three-pointers at all.”
Well, you pretty much started that conversation, Curry is reminded. He shrugs. “It’s not something I consciously set out to do,” Curry says. “Most of the long ones come when the defense is back-pedaling and I’m in rhythm. I don’t really think about what the exact distance is. It’s basically where I feel comfortable from.”
That is the key word—comfort. When something is new, it feels uncomfortable. Despite the fact that the three-point shot has been in the NBA since 1979, it never became a real weapon until the last decade, and even that is stretching it. Why? Coaches were never comfortable with it. We can always work it closer to the basket, went the thinking. But once Curry demonstrated that he could make the looooong ones, Steve Kerr did grow comfortable with it, and “four-pointers”–those long-range bombs that demoralize opponents to the point that they seem to be worth an extra point–became a big part of the Warriors’ offense … not to mention a big part of the NBA’s entertainment package.
McCallum makes the argument that Kevin Durant or even LeBron James are doing things we’ve seen – scoring, passing, rebounding – but doing it with evolutionary physicality. KD is seven-feet tall handling the ball like a point guard. Bron is built like Karl Malone with the athleticism of MJ and the court vision of Magic. He writes, “I doubt that 30 years ago, even 15 years ago, we could’ve envisioned such a complete player at that (KD’s) size.”
I accept McCallum’s argument that Curry is a revolutionary player. He’s been able to push out the boundaries of what’s possible on an NBA court and do it in a way that’s about as effective as we can fathom. It doesn’t mean that players can’t expand their range further as we’ve seen with Ball shooting from half court, but that, at some point, there are diminishing returns or that the long distance becomes a means in and of itself, not, as Curry says, “something I consciously set out to do.”
It’s unfair to seek out the Next Curry in every long-distance shooting teenager just like was unfair to label every dunking shooting guard as the “Next MJ.” Instead of seeking out the Next Anyone, it’s more accurate to identify the traits of iconic players in the next generation and establish a stylistic family tree of sorts. In terms of a basketball lineage, Ball and Locure are inheriting some of the stylistic genes of Curry. As kids who aren’t yet of voting age, how their futures map out are wildly variable, but in each, the fingerprints of Curry are visible.
The future of Trae Young, at just 19-years-old, is much more clearly defined. In the midst of the madness swirling around me during the Oklahoma-TCU game, what I saw was a point guard bending an entire half of the court to his own will. Young scored 39 points and had 14 assists yet, for me, he didn’t even play a great game. While there wasn’t a single TCU defender who could keep Young out of the lane, on more than one occasion, he left his feet and without a passing outlet, was forced to hopelessly fling a shot at the rim. He shot 9-23 for the game, but six of those makes were from three. Inside the paint, he was 3-7. While he struggled with interior accuracy, all those forays into the paint helped push his free throw attempts up to 18. (For the season, he’s impressively averaging more than one free throw attempt for every two field attempts.) He was able to beat his defenders into the paint with a combination of speed, quickness, the threat of the deep ball (see his shot chart below), and a purposeful handle developed well-beyond his age. (Here he is functionally pulling off the Shammgod earlier this season.)
14 assists is nice and all, but Young easily could’ve had more. He frequently found open teammates both under the hoop and along the perimeter. They made plenty, but missed some gimmes too. That they were so open is testament to Young’s playmaking and vision, his teammates shot making (and occasional shot missing), and coach Lon Kruger’s pro style deployment of personnel around the perimeter. Young frequently had release valves in the corners that he didn’t have to look for; he knew they were there. He had full court assists, no-look wrap around passes, jump passes off slaloms to the rim. More often than not, he made the right decisions. And while the 3-7 in the paint and seven turnovers look ugly, the indefatigable pressure he put on the TCU defense was more than worth the trade off to a teammate or alternative pace of attack. The game was ultra-high pressure, decided by a single point, and yet Young played the entirety of the second half and only sat two minutes all game.
The passing and driving are great, even titillating, but his range and shot release time are where the Curry comparisons become inescapable. I have no idea exactly how accurate the shot chart below is in terms of distance, but it’s accurate in the sense that the distances match up with what I witnessed. There are tracking systems that can tell us how close defenders were, but from my distracted viewing, a couple of those bombs were with defenders in his space, but unexpectant. By the time the defender realized what was happening, Young was already too deep into his motion with a release they couldn’t catch up to. Like Curry, or any deep shooter, this ability opens up mega avenues for penetration.
I don’t know if people look for the “Next” because we’re lazy or have bad habits or because we see points of reference in players. Maybe it’s the never-ending quest for immortality through progeny. Penny was the Next Magic. Eddy Curry was the Next Shaq. Harold Miner was literally Baby Jordan. The excitement I felt watching Trae Young wasn’t in seeing the Next Steph Curry, but seeing the possible evolution of what Curry has brought to basketball. I caught just a glimpse, the kind of glimpse that people turn into Loch Ness Monsters and UFOs and Yetis. Maybe it was just a tease and Young is more Jimmer than Steph. Or maybe it’s the next evolutionary step in audacious offense. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen the future, but I’ve seen Steph Curry and I’ve seen Trae Young and I’m good with that.
We started with what could only be described as an audacious idea; a crazy idea that only whackos disconnected from reality, out of touch with the space-time continuum, stuck in a world of imaginary fantasy where Rick Barry can exist in the prime of his basketball heyday not just with a singular existence, but a dual existence right alongside his sons: Two prime Rick Barrys, one prime Jon Barry and one prime Brent Barry. But we somehow pulled it off with dynamic storylines mixing 80 years of combined NBA wisdom with caffeine-fueled fantasies to arrive here, at the Final Four of the NBA Fathers & Sons 2-on-2 tournament. If you’ve been following along since the beginning, we hope you’ve enjoyed the ride. If this is your first exposure to greatest 2-on-2 tournament in Naismith history, I’d suggest reading the initial post which laid out the concept that I was never sure we’d see through to the end.
And I’d be doing my cohorts and myself a disservice if I didn’t thank them for their more-than-generous contributions to this project. If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I usually fly solo, a one man parade as James Taylor would say. But with 31 games to cover, it would’ve been like hiking to Mordor by myself with nothing but a staff, a cloak and some corn nuts to get me through. So I solicited the assistance of my trusted friends and colleagues and thoroughly enjoyed the collaborative process of working with Jacob Greenberg from www.TheDissNBA.com (for those who were wondering, Jacob describes his hooping style as an Eric Snow-type of guard who sets sturdy screens and rebounds well for his position) and my old mates Bug and Hamilton (we go all the way back to Monroe-Rice Elementary so if you sense any chemistry, now you know why). But my co-conspirators have lives and careers and child and spouses and pets and partners and Golden State Warriors and seeing how they’d already donated so much of their time, I decided to relinquish them of their vows and finish the tournament on my own. (Logistically speaking, it was also easier to divide three matchups across one writer instead of four.)
I’ve babbled on long enough this Sunday morning. It’s time to stop waxing nostalgic and deliver what I set out to do:
In a matchup of highly-skilled perimeter players, the contrast is one of balance. The Bryants are top-heavy with Kobe being his usual dominant, fearless self and dad Joe acting in various capacities as a catalyst, instigator, button pusher, but most of all: a positive influence. Both Walker and Rose had seasons where they averaged over 20ppg and are the only father/son combination in league history to each score over 10,000 points. Their strength is in their balance, in the capability of each player to score from anywhere on the court or act as a facilitator if the situation demands.
Floating through the Cosmos
Despite the success of both of these #1 seeds, all is not copacetic on the courts of fathers and sons. Walker and Rose have been able to ignore the massive elephant in the room of their relationship: the fact that there is no relationship. Walker was absent during Jalen’s childhood and as much as the younger Rose wants to believe the relationship can come together through chemistry and cohesion on the basketball court, there’s too much that needs to be healed and as the game warms up, so too does Rose’s resentment of the man who failed to be present so many years ago. As for Joe and Kobe, while Joe’s always been a present and supportive father to Kobe, there’s a low level of resentment building here as well. The lack of symmetry between Joe’s career stats and his actual ability has always been a sore spot for the elder Bryant and playing second fiddle to his own son (regardless of Kobe’s worldly talents) has reopened some of the disappointments from Bryant’s lackluster NBA career.
And so the game begins with both father/son duos existing within friction. Jalen retreats into himself, passing up open shots and firing bullet passes to Jimmy who picks up on what his son is really saying with his passive play: You didn’t need me all those years ago, so now when you really need my help, forget it. On the other side of the ball, Joe’s forcing shots, attacking, not necessarily playing outside of himself, but focusing on proving to everyone, and especially himself, that he’s more than capable of carrying the Bryants when it matters.
The game opens with fits and starts. The crowd surrounding the court in bleacher seating is fidgety, picking up on the tension that’s led to a just a couple buckets in the game’s first several possessions. It’s almost as if there are two separate games going on in within the actual contest that everyone showed up for. Icy stares shoot across the court with more purpose than the shots that keep clanking off the rim. Jimmy’s stung by Jalen’s clear discontent, Jalen’s passive aggressiveness is giving him the attention he never received as a kid, Joe’s trying so hard he’s fumbling passes and missing everything. For once it’s not all about Kobe. He’s the only player on the court who’s focused on winning the game and his awareness of the on-court dynamics at play gives him an opportunity to start dictating and feeding Jellybean Joe the ball in places where he can be most successful. Kobe finds Joe on post-ups and pick-and-rolls; his one-on-one game is so great that even in this two-on-two scenario he draws the off-defender’s help and exploits the help to find Joe again and again. The Bryants are up 13-4 when Jimmy walks off the court.
It’s a painful moment for everyone. The refs don’t bother intervening in family business and stand around talking about Joe Bryant’s gold chain and wondering what the correct call would be if the chain somehow affected play. They come up with no conclusions. Kobe and Joe are nodding at each other with the younger Bryant kidding his old man about the forced start. Joe responds with an embarrassed smile, “Your old man can play. Sometimes I gotta remind folks.” “You ain’t gotta remind me. I saw you put up 50 in Italy. I heard em singing those songs about you. I know!” “That’s right…”
Jalen’s drinking Gatorade with a towel draped around his shoulders. He’s not thinking about the game. He’s not thinking about the Bryants. He’s caught somewhere between hanging onto his anger and/or sadness (he’s not sure) and walking across the court to extend a hand out to Jimmy who’s in in the middle of an impassioned conversation with his friend Dave Bing. Bing is directly honest, “You’re his father, Jimmy. His father. It’s on you man. You brought that boy into this world and never even met him before this tournament and now you the one who gets to be pissed off ‘cause he’s upset? You got some nerve, Jimmy.” Jimmy tries in vain to plead his case, to recite the laundry list of excuses for why it never worked with Jalen, but he doesn’t even believe it himself.
By the time Jimmy makes his olive branch-bearing way across the court, Kobe and Joe are chilling on the bench wrapped up in towels and Dri-Fit shirts provided by Kobe’s generous/capitalist sponsor. Kobe made a move to bitch about the delay, but was quickly hushed by his pops who recognizes “there are more than a few things in this world bigger than a damn basketball game, kid. I thought I raised you better than that.” In moments, Rose and Walker are moist-eyed, the pain of a lifetime of knowing a father through second and third hand accounts streaming down Jalen’s cheeks and a half-a-lifetime of guilt slowly lifting off Jimmy’s shoulders. They’re done, they don’t want or need to play in this 2-on-2 tournament anymore, but Bing and Joe Bryant encourage them to finish up even if it’s just for fun. After a few minutes of pushing, Rose and Walker agree.
The game resumes with the crowd and the refs and even the Bryants (to a very, very, very low degree) rooting for Jalen and Jimmy who seem like a couple that was committed to a painful split, but finally agreed on reconciliation and rejoice in the love they share for each other. The feel good story is good enough for a couple buckets and growing senses of hope to roll through the crowd like gentle waves of euphoria, but the Bryants are comfortable being the big bad favorites. They block out the boos, they block out the emotions and play a clean two-man game with Joe owning the inside and Kobe owning everything else. As much as we love to love and see love, love doesn’t conquer all tonight. The Bryants win an easy, if not emotionally taxing, game 21-13.
If there’s anything that this 2-on-2 tournament has revealed, it’s been the uniquely disagreeable disposition of Rick Barry. This arrogant basketball savant with his pro-basketball playing sons rolling out one-by-one like the Barry family was some sort of pro-basketball-player-producing factory with a trash talking patriarch. The Thompsons aren’t much different with Mychal acting as a strong guiding hand in the life of Klay and the Thompsons producing three basketball-playing sons with two going pro. Between the fathers in this matchup, five of their sons played in the NBA.
Mychal Thompson possesses the size and skill to harass Rick into tough, challenging shots, but Rick doesn’t give a damn about any Bahamian big man. Like any hunter, he knows to attack the weakest link in the Thompson family and physically and psychologically, that’s Klay. He tells Brent before the game: “You’re guarding Mike. He’s bigger, he’s strong and he’s gonna kick your ass, but you won’t feel a thing when we’re in the finals. I’m taking that soft ass Klay. He’s weak. Trust me on this and if you end up on him, beat him up.”
The other pre-game speech is also fatherly dominated with Mychal dictating to Klay exactly how the game’s going to go: “It’s the inside-outside, Klay. They can’t guard me and if they try to go one-on-one, I’m scoring buckets all day. If they even they turn their head on you, I’m kicking it out and you know what happens then: Splash!” Klay nods like he’s been doing since he was a little kid and to some outside observers, it seems like he still is a little kid.
The Thompsons start the game the way they’ve done all tournament long: They put their hands together and chant: “1, 2, 3, Thompsons!” Rick snickers and mumbles something about “fucking pussies.” The game is underway.
The Barrys get the ball first and Rick isn’t surprised to see Mychal guarding him. Brent occupies the high post, catches the first pass and hears his dad’s words ringing through his head: “Beat him up.” It’s not in his nature, but he makes a hard turn to face the hoop and his intentionally extended elbow catches Klay square on the jaw. The refs call the foul, but Rick is pleased. The tone is set, but Brent’s already feeling guilty and extends a hand to help Klay up only to find that hand swatted away by Mychal. “Sorry, Klay,” he says.
The first Thompson possession goes pretty similar to how Mychal described it before the game: Klay checks the ball, dumps it inside to Mychal, but the double team never comes. A pissed off and embarrassed Klay calls for the ball and Mychal kicks it back out to him a couple feet behind the line and where he pulls up in Rick’s smug, doubting face. Splash. Thompsons 3, Barrys 0.
The Barrys answer back with Rick easily beating Mychal for the bucket and telling the big man, “Get used to it.”
And so it goes back and forth with elbows flying, hip shots catching cutters, pushing, shoving, illegal screens, trash talk and hurt feelings. Numerous times the players have to be separated and Jon Barry’s incessant heckling of Klay leads to the refs having him removed from the court. As he’s being carried off by security, he’s yelling at Klay: “Make sure daddy gives you a fair cut of the winnings!”
Rick’s plan to attack the weaker Thompson has fueled the younger man who’s scored 11 of the Thompson’s 15 points and has been the best player on the court. With things all even at 15-apiece, Klay dumps the ball into Mychal who has perfect position on the much smaller Brent. A drop-step dunk later and the Thompsons are up 17-15 with the Barrys on the ropes for the first time all tournament. The Barrys run a pick-and-roll and on Rick’s roll, he sets a clear moving screen on both Thompsons, but the refs ignore the foul and Brent sinks an uncontested go-ahead three: 18-17, Barrys. Another Mychal post-up and Rick a jumper put the score at 20-19, Barrys.
Klay checks the ball and works his ass off to get free of Rick who’s deep in his chest and seems to be a step ahead of every Klay cut or attempt to get free. And this is one of the most frustrating aspects of Rick Barry. For all the trash talk and bullying, he plays hard on both sides of the ball and has consistently been one of the best players in this tournament; his play demanding the respect of his opponents. This Final Four match has been no exception and the defense he’s playing on Klay has the kid pushed out to near half court before he can finally catch his dad’s pass. Klay puts the ball on the floor in an effort to create space, but Rick’s long arms are able to reach in and tap the ball away. Klay recovers, but his confidence in his handle is gone. The last thing he wants to do is turn the ball over to lose the game. Instead he passes off to Mychal who’s at the three point line. And the world stops.
Brent’s mind shoots back to research he had done a few weeks before when he saw the bracket and thought: “Hm, I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up playing the Thompsons.” And he went to Mychal’s basketball-reference.com page and saw the elder Thompson shot 1-12 from three for his career. Brent, in a rare show of the gambler’s mentality steps back, arms wide open, staring Mychal directly in the eye: “You ain’t got shit.” Rick laughs, Klay says nothing as he fears Brent is right: Mychal ain’t got shit from out there.
Mychal can’t resist a chance to be the hero and lets it fly despite having not taken a single three all tournament long. It’s a brick that Brent chases down. The Barrys now have the ball and any bucket will seal the deal. They toss a few passes back and forth, feeling the rhythm of the game. Brent takes the ball at the high post and Rick runs off the screen created by Brent’s position. Klay tries to go over Brent, knowing an open Rick jumper will end it all. Mychal, unable to see if Brent’s handing the ball off or keeping it himself, cheats to help Klay, but little does he know Brent’s keeping it. Both Thompsons are chasing the decoy Rick and Brent turns, takes a single step and elevates for the game-winning dunk: 22-19, Barrys. A few halfhearted “fuck yous” are exchanged, but no one’s really too upset about this game. The Thompsons shake their heads and go get some ice cream.
After that, I could use some ice cream as well. Or maybe a beer. I can’t stress how unplanned these outcomes have been. While it’s not surprising that the two best players in the entire father/son tournament (Rick Barry and Kobe) have made it to the finals, the routes these teams have taken and the unexpected twists, turns and modes of attack have been completely improvised and arrived at organically.
The finals will be covered in the next few days and it’ll be a fun battle between a pair of highly-skilled, versatile father/son combos. In a universe where Kobe’s Achilles is still fully intact, we’ll find out if he can do enough to will the Bryants to father/son glory or if the brash Rick Barry can overcome one of the greatest all-around scorers in league history and what roles will Brent and Jellybean Joe play in the game? Check back in a couple days to find out.
We started so many spring weeks ago with a list of 52 NBA father/son combinations and through a series of contentiously competitive and occasionally antagonistic two-on-two battles, we’ve arrived here in mid-April with a list of eight families that we’ll be chopped in half by the end of this post. We always knew we’d arrive here, but there’s still a surreal element to it; the Final Four of Fathers & Sons. If this is your first time joining us, we welcome you with the open arms of loving fathers. And if you’ve been following the tournament since day one, welcome back, take a seat, enjoy yourself and let your imagination take you on a journey to neverlands and alternate basketball universes where everyone’s frozen at their peak in a basketball stasis of sorts.
The first matchup today is brought to you by Hamilton (@rh_asme), who was the best man in my wedding and as a 5’11” (maybe 6’0” on a good day) shooting guard dropped nine threes against North High School in his senior year:
Rick/Brent Barry (1-seed) vs. Rick/Jon Barry (2-seed): (total disclosure: in this neverland I described above, Rick Barry can exist on multiple teams at the same time. That’s the beauty of this tournament and universe—we know very few constraints. And as you read this, if you find it difficult to figure out which Rick Barry’s being discussed, just imagine how hard it was for Jon and Brent in the game):
Rick and Jon advanced by beating the 6th seeded Bibbys in round two. They’ve had a better on-court relationship than Rick (we’ll call him Barry, for clarity’s sake) and Brent because Brent wants to get his shine on too, while Jon, always a daddy’s boy, has allowed Rick hog the glory. Brent and Barry got here by defeating Kevin and Stan Love in a fun, insult-laden game that saw Barry go for 19 of 21 points.
The prevailing thought going into this game was that the Jon versus Brent matchup would be crucial. To some extent, the Ricks could cancel each other out. All four players knew some version of this was true.
Just before tip, the teams went over final strategy. “Look,” Barry said to Brent, “you’ve always been my favorite son. Jon … he’s just so damn judgmental. I don’t know where he gets it from … All you gotta do is play Barry ball and we got this game.” Meanwhile on the other side, “Brent’s soft. He might have dunked from the free throw line and won a couple rings, but you!? You’re an asshole and you’re my favorite son. That’s what we do! You follow my lead, and we’re moving on.”
Brent and Barry were awarded the ball first. Rick checked the ball to Barry and said, “You know something, you’re a really pretty guy … Real cute. But you’re not getting a damn thing on me today.” Barry being Rick Barry, had to come back at him, “That’s the thing. I won’t have to. You got the weak link on your team. Everyone knows Brent plays more like me than Jon does. Jon’s a scrub. Drew is better.” Barry passed to Brent and tried to go back door. It failed as Rick was in perfect position to recover and cut off the passing lane. Brent, intent on keeping his dad happy, took a couple dribbles and found Barry for an open jumper. Good. Brent and Barry on the board first.
Brent checked the ball to Jon and gave him a half step of space. He knew if Jon got by him, Barry wouldn’t slide over to help. He’d rather verbally abuse a teammate than help out and risk leaving his man open. Jon tossed the ball to his dad who had gotten good post position on Barry and cut to the basket. Rick dropped a quick bounce pass, but Barry got a hand on it and came away with a steal. It was becoming evident that the Ricks were indeed going to make it hard for each other to get comfortable on offense.
Much to the Rick Barrys disgust, neither one could shake the other. “If you weren’t so damn handsome, I’d put trademarks around your fucking eyes. I’m so tired of seeing you right in front of me every time I get the ball,” Barry remarked to Rick. “I told you a long time ago, fella. I’m the greatest Barry. I’m the one who taught the fish how to swim,” Rick arrogantly replied.
Back and forth the game went for several possessions. This, after all, was a 2-on-2 game that had occurred countless times in the past. Each Barry had a good idea of what the other Barry was thinking, what he might do next, where he liked to shoot from and how his shots would likely come off the rim. Brent was more than a spectator tonight. Following Barry’s jumper to open the game, Brent accounted for 10 of his side’s next 16 points going 2-3 from three and 2-4 on twos. Jon for his part scored 8 early points before a visibly frustrated Rick began to force the issue.
Crisis of Being
Down 18-14, Rick called for a ball screen. Once Jon was set, Rick took one dribble, stepped back and let fly. All net. Not even Barry could believe that Rick had taken, and made, that shot. The score now was 18-17, Brent and Barry in the lead.
Barry, eager to respond took a pass from Brent and drove to the lane. As Jon collapsed to help, something odd happened. Rick Barry passed the ball in a big moment. A chance to respond to himself, to his own ego, and he passed the ball. From under the rim he found Brent all alone at the top of the key. Brent elevated, his form was true, and so was the shot. Straight cash. Brent and Rick won, 21-17. Barry looked at Rick and shrugged his shoulders, “What did I tell you before the game? Jon isn’t that good. If there was ever a question about which Barry son was better, this settles it.”
Brent and Jon shared a roll of the eyes and gave each other a hug. “You know what?” Brent asked, “They don’t even realize my team won the game because dad got me the ball; let me shoot. It feels better than I imagined it would.”
The final stats: Brent Barry: 2-4, 3-4, 13 Rick Barry: 1-3, 2-4, 8; Jon Barry 3-4, 0-1, 6; Rick Barry 1-4, 3-7, 11
Glory be to the Brent and Rick Barrys; the first Final Four qualifier in the father/son tournament. The next matchup was witnessed (or imagined, I’m not sure) by Bug (@bugfoster515). Bug was a 6’0” wing and the best defender on our 1997-98 high school team that went 23-1 and lost the state championship on a whistle at the buzzer. If it feels like I’m living in the past, then it must be true.
It’s no surprise that the top-seeded Bryants made it to the final game of their own quadrant. It’s been a relatively easy path for them to advance to this point in the tournament. They’ve steamrolled both the Davis duo and the Maravich crew to arrive at a showdown with the Rivers’ with a trip to the Final Four of the Father/Son Tourney on the line. The Rivers’, on the other hand, have had to scrap and claw their way to this point by battling through huge size disadvantages against the Horfords and Ewings.
The Rivers’ know they have a tall order dealing with Kobe, so Doc wants to make sure they get to the game a little early to go over strategy to at least try and slow down Kobe. As they get out of the car to make their way to the courts, they’re so focused on their strategic conversation that they don’t notice the small crowd already surrounding the court. As they get closer, Doc notices that Austin isn’t paying attention to him anymore. Instead he’s watching Kobe, who is already on the court dripping with sweat; the young Rivers has a deer in headlights look on his face. Doc sees what’s going on, and tries to re-focus Austin, but the damage is already done (word quickly spread that Kobe had been there since 6am putting up shots). Austin is shook, and Kobe can sense it.
As the game starts, Kobe is in his zone, right in Austin’s ear from the jump. Joe Bryant mumbles to Doc as he checks the ball “ooh wee, y’all in trouble today.” Not only did Kobe relish the challenge of shutting down the younger Rivers, he completely humiliated the kid and figuratively ripped out his heart (think of that scene in Temple of Doom). With Austin unable to get off against Kobe, the Rivers’ just didn’t have enough scoring punch to keep up. Austin’s confidence was completely shattered early on, and Kobe delivered the death blow by going on a 13-0 run all by himself to close out the game. The Bryants dominated 21-6 with Kobe scoring 19 of the 21 points. Austin, meet Mamba…Mamba, this is Austin.
The next matchup is all mine. In case you’re wondering, I’ve always been an undersized “big” at 6’1”. In translation, that means I was just above average height but highly average skill. My game has often been referred to as “old man” in nature and the older/heavier I’ve become, it’s become an older, more horizontal game.
I don’t know where to begin with this matchup. In boxing, we say styles make fights and if there was ever a stylistic contrast, it was here where the gritty streets of Detroit meet the sprawling sandy beaches of the California coast. The black Walker/Rose vs. the white Waltons. The street game vs. the gym game. Freewheeling Fab Five vs. hyper-structured UCLA. Father/son strife vs. Father/son cohesion. But for all the contrasts between these dads and their sons, the uniting features of both teams are their innate feels for the game. Rose and Luke Walton are, and have always been, tremendous passers with 360 degrees of vision. Walker was a scorer extraordinaire while Walton combined an earthy feel of all things with a scholar’s understanding of the fundamentals and nuance of the game. For all of Jalen’s chatterbox tendencies, he’s locked in and focused from the opening check-ball of this one with Luke guarding him. The Waltons, with John Wooden and Jerry Garcia acting as their spiritual and basketball yogis on the sideline, have decided to take a fully democratic approach to defense and guard whoever’s closest with no static matchups. The quickness, as Wooden discussed with the Waltons beforehand, was going to be a mismatch for father or son so the strategy was to give a slight cushion on 3s, but let Walker/Rose shoot the mid-range jumpers all day.
And it began with the seriousness of a heavyweight fight. The Bryants and Barrys (all four of them) sat in the stands watching while Wooden calmly asked Garcia to stop playing his guitar and “please Jerry, focus on the game.” The teams traded haymakers and blows. With every layup Jalen and Jimmy put in, the Waltons looked inside to Bill whose long red locks bounced with his drop steps and jump hooks, up and unders and lobs. It wasn’t a lack of effort on the defensive end by either team, it was just terrible matchups. Luke was easily the least-talented player in the game, but despite fans heckling him and accusing him of riding his dad’s coattails, he played his secondary role with seriousness and passion, cutting at the right times for easy layups on passes from pops and busted his ass on defense where Walker/Rose continually abused his slow feet.
The fans, even the father/son combos in the stands, were worn out from this marathon matchup that sat at 23-22 in favor of the Waltons (reminder: games are to 21, win by two or first to 25) with the ball in the hands of Walker/Rose. The Waltons knowingly defended the three ball, willing to cede any penetration. Luke was matched up with Jimmy who wasted no time attacking the young Walton with a quick inside-out move that shook Luke off balance and forced Garcia to cringe (“whoa man!”). The lane was wide open for a layup and Bill refused to help off Jalen (this had been Jimmy’s goal), but Jimmy passed on the layup and sprinted out to the far corner (Jalen and Bill were at the top of the key) as Luke chased after him. Bill turned to body Jalen and Jimmy let it fly …
The shot was just long, but Luke was soaring through the air to contest and was out of position for the rebound which fell in Jimmy’s hands. Bill instinctively took a couple steps away from Jalen to help, Wooden squinted nervously at the bit of daylight given to Jalen. Everyone saw it unfolding, the Walker pass zipping through the air, Jalen stepping into his shot just as the ball arrived, Luke swinging his backside into Jimmy in a textbook box out, Bill extending that impossibly long frame, hand and fingers outstretched attempting for all the world to disturb the Jalen’s concentration, a flock of birds flying overhead paused in midflight, hovering over the court to watch Jalen’s lefty release just a tic before Bill’s arrival, Jerry Garcia’s slow disintegration …
And splash … the net caught fire and the Waltons hung their heads. Jimmy and Jalen nodded at each other cooly. The long ice age of their relationship still unthawed. Congratulating each other, Bill embraced Jimmy and whispered in his ear: “You got a good kid there, don’t be afraid to tell him you love him.”
Walker/Rose 25, Waltons 23
The final battle is covered by the west coast’s own Jacob Greenberg (@jacobjbg). I don’t know what Jacob’s basketball game consists of, but I do know he’s one of my favorite bloggers on the planet and is not prone to trite platitudes or thoughts.
For the first time in the tournament, the Schayes were confronted with size to match their skill sets. Both Dolph and Klay are 6’7” combo scorers, while Danny (6’11”) matched up nicely against Mychal (6’10”). As such, the crowd was treated to one of the more balanced and enjoyable 2-on-2 matchups this side of the Mississippi. While the pivot battle between Danny Schayes and Mychal Thompson was entertaining, the real show was Dolph vs Klay. Where Dolph played inside-out — backing up to the basket and stepping back for jumpers, or foot-workin’ for up-and-unders — Klay played outside-in. the teams traded baskets until 20-20. Win by 2! At this point, it was the modern team’s game. After Mychal rebounded a short lefty hook from Danny (who had a respectable game, 9 points and 16 rebounds) and kicked it out to Klay from behind the arc, everyone knew it was over. Silky smooth jumper from Klay ends the instant classic 23-20 in favor of Mychal and Klay.
Man, I feel like I just lived through a war with these matchups. We’re down to a Final Four that consists of all #1 seeds and while the predictability of a top-heavy Final Four would normally cause me some sort of consternation, I’m extremely comfortable that the best teams are here and the matchups have been quality since the opening round. The tournament’s scheduled to wrap up this weekend so let’s all grab a couple beers and ruminate on the battles to come.
Here we are in mid-April and the first ever NBA Father/Son Two-on-Two tournament is in full swing. As we head into the second round of this once-in-a-lifetime imaginary five-round tournament, we’ve been privy to teasing, taunts, familial rivalry, allusions to cannabis consumption, controlling parents and meanderings deep into the digitized vaults of Youtube.
16 teams remain and by the time you get done reading this post we’ll have cut that list in half and arrived at the Great(est) Eight father/son combos as contrived by this batch of misfit writers.
A couple of shot-taking, head-faking, basket-making sons steal the spotlight here. I remember being a kid and watching a biopic about a young Pete Maravich, The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend. My memories are of a sappy, Hollywood flick and a little white kid with a crew cut who would walk through the entire town spinning a ball on his finger. It doesn’t matter if this actually happened or not; the point was clear: the myth of Pistol Pete was greater than Maravich could ever actually be. And so it is in this father/son battle where Kobe finds himself being motivated by a combination of Jordanesque perceived slights and the surprisingly shrewd prods of his father who tells Kobe before the game, “I heard the Pistol saying you’re not even top-10 all-time….in Lakers history.” Kobe’s appalled, incensed, bites at his jersey, thrusts out his under bite, flares his nostrils while Jellybean grins to himself relishing the skills he picked up as a WNBA coach. Press Maravich is a non-factor and the Maravich family is destroyed by Kobe’s fury and the Bryant’s superior athleticism. The number one overall seed advances: 21-10.
In the first game we saw a couple of sons take the spotlight, but in the later game, it’s a pair of dads from the 80s that dictate the flow which escalated into a war of sorts between Glenn “Doc” Rivers and former teammate Patrick Ewing. As a master motivator, Doc is in his son’s ear throughout warm-ups. He pokes, prods, he encourages, he’s builds up and up and up: “You played more games in your first month in the league than Patrick’s kid played in his entire career.” Young Rivers’ confidence is visibly growing while young Ewing shrinks—and this is before the game. No one, especially not this observer, was surprised to see Austin Rivers attack Ewing Jr. from the opening check, but what stood out was the physicality with which Doc delivered on Ewing Sr. The Ewing game-plan was painfully obvious: dump it into Sr. and let him work. Old Patrick got his buckets, but he had to earn every one as Doc reached, stripped, hacked, hipped, bumped and reminded Patrick of why he loved that turnaround so damn much. In the end, the speed and quickness of the Rivers’ was enough to pull out the tournament’s first overtime victory: 23-20 on bomb from 25-feet from Austin. After hitting the game-winner, Austin, mockingly asked, “Patrick!?!?!”
This time around, Jacob (@jacobjbg) tackled the surreal Barry quadrant:
Going into the match, there was some uncertainty about whether the Barrys could hold seed and defeat the upstart Loves. Kevin was balling out of his mind, and despite Stan’s limited skills, mind and mustache game were both formidable. But it was all over from the very start. As Stan checked the ball in to Rick, he committed the cardinal sin: trash talking an insecure San Francisco resident. “Yeah, you may have averaged 25 points per game for your career, but you didn’t even crack single digits in the sack for your career total!” Stan’s taunts rang through the gym, reverberating through tense silence. “Know why you didn’t get laid, Rick?” Stan asked. Rick stared back at him, hard. “It’s because you were bald around both your heads! Ya dig?!” Stan shouted gleefully, spun around disco-style, stroked his awesome mustache and got into a defensive stance. That was that. Rick calmly lined up a three, drained it, and stared back at Stan. “Three-nothing, you nobody,” Rick hissed. It was on. A man possessed, Rick had a game for the ages: 19 points, 17 rebounds, and one begrudging assist to a frazzled Brent on their way to 21-15 victory in a game that was never close. Never trash talk a Top-50 All-Time player, especially about their follicle regions.
Though Rick would never tell you himself, he greatly preferred playing with Jon over Brent. There was a reason Jon worked for ESPN: he was a shill. He’d do whatever his superior said, no questions asked. Always hard working, and simple in a sort of lovable way. Though Jon can shoot, he knows his dad can shoot better. And his dad, still feeling sort of miffed about the shenanigans of Stan Love, is all too happy to keep shooting. This time the shots don’t fall as freely — Barry yells “Goddamned shame!” each time his shot clanks off the rim — and the Bibbys are able to use their speed to penetrate and get buckets. It’s a close one, but in the end, Jon gets enough second chances under the rim over the smaller Mike Bibby to snag the win, 21-18. Rick finishes with 17 points in this one, but an even tougher choice: which son will he choose in the finals?
In round two, Bug (@bugfoster515) gets the Walker/Rose bracket:
After breezing by the David Vaughns in the first round, the Walker/Rose duo faces a much stiffer competition in the second round against the Brewers. The Brewers come in with confidence oozing from their pores after a mild upset of the Smiths in their first round. There’s no advantage physically as the dads and sons measure up equally from a size and athleticism standpoint. The clear advantage lies in the offensive firepower of Rose/Walker. The Brewers, known as role players/defensive stoppers, just can’t keep up offensively enough to pull off another upset. Ronnie does a good job keeping Jalen in check, but once Jimmy Walker starts putting on his moves the Detroit duo pulls away for a 21-15 win.
And call this name dropping all you want, but basketball sage Peter Vecsey (@petervecsey1) picked Walker/Rose as his greatest father/son combo of all-time:
Luke/Bill Walton (2-seed) vs. Jim Jr & John/JonPaxson (6-seed):
No one expected the Paxsons to be here after facing off against the Mikans in the first round, but like the great sport of boxing, matchups make fights. The Paxsons find themselves in a similar matchup against the Waltons. They’re at a huge disadvantage in the size department going against one of the NBA’s all-time great big men in Bill Walton, so they will once again rely on outside shooting to attempt pulling off another upset. Unlike the slow, prodding Mikans, the Waltons can move on defense and bring much more offensive diversity. Any true hoops fan that has read The Breaks of the Game, knows that Walton in his prime (on the rare occasion he wasn’t injured) could carry a team and do it all. The Paxons were able to hit a few threes to keep it close early, but Jim Paxson Sr. (only played two years in the NBA before going into the insurance business) trying to guard Bill Walton was almost as silly as Mark Cuban drafting Brittney Griner to play in the NBA. The Waltons basketball IQ and overall skill level was too much for the overmatched Paxsons. Waltons keep truckin’ to victory with a 21-13 win.
And Hamilton (@rh_asme) gets one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the second round: Schayes vs. Currys:
This second round matchup featured the top seed in the quadrant, the Thompsons, squaring off against the 5th seeded Hendersons. The Thompsons feature the truest inside-outside threat in the field and set out to utilize Mychal’s size to their advantage. With an array of pick and rolls and slips, the Thompsons looked like a machine oiled up for a long run. Klay’s 3 point shot at 6’7” with Mychal’s length and strength allowed them to cruise to an easy 21-12 win. As one might expect, the Hendersons competed on both sides of the ball but were simply outgunned. This was a bad matchup for 6’2” and 6’5” Gerald and Gerald and the upset just wasn’t meant to be.
This wasn’t the first matchup of contrasting styles in the father/son field and it probably won’t be the last. The Currys are always confident in their shooting and for good reason. Coming off a 7-10 3-pt performance in round one it was clear going into the game that the three-ball would be the Currys’ biggest advantage. Predictably (though not in a bad way), the Schayes focused on playing the game as close to the basket as possible. On each of their offensive possessions, Dolph checked the ball and backed his Curry into the paint (Mark Jackson style) before deciding upon shot or pass. It was one of the oddest two man games you’ll see, but it was effective. As noted earlier, the Currys intended to replicate their round 1 game plan by focusing on their three-point shot, pulling the defenders away from the paint and spacing out to allow room for each other to drive. Unfortunately, when teams live by the three, they die by the three. And tonight, the Currys father/son title hopes died on a 4-14 3-point shooting performance. After the game, Danny Schayes said, “We knew they’d be willing to trade 2s for 3s, so we had to make sure we finished in the paint and contested their shots. Luckily from us they weren’t as sharp as they were in round one … this could have easily been a different game.” Final score 21-14, Schayes advance to the Great(est) Eight.
Pistols aren’t the only father/son who can spin a ball
True to NBA form, upsets have been fleeting. Just a single under-seeded team has advanced to the quarterfinals: The Rivers’. Nothing was too surprising coming out of the second round except the contrasting motivational techniques used by the Doc Rivers and Jellybean Bryant. One propped his son up while the other motivated through chopping down. As we step into the semi-final round the most intriguing matchup in the bracket is the Barry family quadrant where Rick/Brent will face off against Rick/Jon. We’ve seen a lot of Barry-fueled aggression already so I can’t wait to see how Rick Barry deals with the complexity of Rick Barry. Other questions to ponder as you lie in bed struggling to doze off at night:
·Can the tenuous relationships of the Bryants hold?
·Will the Walker/Rose combo confront issues of abandonment?
·Will Jerry Garcia magically leap forth from the afterlife to support the Walton boys?
·Is Mychal Thompson capable of allowing his son the freedom necessary to develop into his own man?
These questions and more will be answered next week when we play out the semi-finals of the greatest of Two-on-Two tournament this side of White Men Can’t Jump.
As we enter into the Father/Son quarter-finals, I think it’s worthwhile mentioning some of the shenanigans that have gone on behind the scenes of this ongoing battle for familial pride. The day of the first-round of games, fathers and sons showed up in an a variety of ways: Dads driving sons, sons driving dads, moms driving fathers and sons, fathers and sons arriving in separate cars, chauffeured rides, etc. There were even a few sketchy scenes like the one below which was recounted to me by one of the tournament officials:
These two guys show up and you can tell one is clearly wearing a wig. And, well, I’ve been around the game a long time, long enough to know Horace and Harvey Grant when I see them—even under that corny wig. So the Grant twins are there and they’re already looking sneaky, but looking guilty and nervous, you know? Horace was wearing some goofy-colored goggles, you know those rec-specs he used to wear? Meanwhile, Harvey’s in the back, peaking out around a corner and this silly wig keep dropping down into his eyes. I’m thinking, what’re these knuckleheads up to? So Eddie Rush is managing the registration and he knows all these guys too. You know he started officiating back in the 60s. He knows the Grants. I swear; I don’t know what these guys thought would happen, but here’s how it goes down:
Ed Rush: Horace, is that you?
Horace, (in a voice that obviously wasn’t his natural voice): Nah, nah, this ain’t Horace.
Rush: Take off those goggles.
Rush: What you trying to do?
Horace: I got me some chumps in this father-son tournament. Let me get by.
Rush: Get the fuck out.
Horace: Alright, look man, you need some twins. There are some crazy fathers and sons in this tournament … lot crazier than me.
Rush: No. Everyone knows there’s no father-son Grants. You think I’m stupid? You think all these people are stupid?
Harvey Grant, walking up from behind a corner where he’d been observing the interaction: Come on, Horace, let’s go.
The Grants, before their failed attempts to enter the Father/Son Tournament
The Grants sauntered off dejectedly with some of the father/son tandems (named the Currys, Mychal Thompson, and Rose/Walker) sparing no expense to clown them on their walk of shame out of the gym. Subsequent calls to the Grants and their representatives have either been ignored or rejected with a curt “No Comment.”
I had this dark moment on an airplane a few days ago where I lost all faith in the Father/Son idea as a blog post. It was some combination of plastic cups with red wine and sleep deprivation that shook me up, but damn it, I said we’d power through this imaginary tournament and power through we will. Today’s post looks at what happened in the first round of father/son play and spells out the rules/parameters of the games:
Single-elimination. You lose and you’re out. No running it back, no best out of three, no pissing, no moaning (looking at you Kobe and Rick Barry).
Referees will be included. There was some discussion around keeping this more of an informal, park-type game a’la White Men Can’t Jump (part of me wishes the title was in singular form: White Man Can’t Jump; like it’d be this specific guy. Perhaps there’s room in our culture for Black Man Can’t Jump? – sorry for the digression), but the thought of current and former NBA players calling their own fouls was too much to bear. Kobe’d shoot 100% because he’d be calling fouls every time the ball didn’t go through the hoop. So refs are involved.
Games are played to 21 points with twos and threes. It’s win by two or first team to 25.
There is no make-it-take-it rule. Imagine the Currys, Dell and Steph, bombing away from 25 feet and winning a game 21-3.
As for the presentation of the first round; the quadrants have been divvied up amongst the four of us:
Hamilton gets the Bryants quadrant
Bug gets the Thompsons
Jacob gets the Walker/Rose
I/Fenrich get the Barrys
And the Barry bracket is where we’ll begin:
Rick/Brent Barry (1-seed) vs. Eric and Walt Piatkowski (8-seed):
On the one hand, we’ve got one of the top father/son combos in NBA/ABA history in the Barrys. Rick was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, NBA champion, league scoring champ, and all-around antagonistic ass (for more information on this, read Barry’s section in Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball). He’s paired with his dunk contest-winning son, Brent “Bones” Barry; a lanky wing with his father’s build and athleticism, but not quite the skill. Meanwhile, the Piatkowskis, a couple of tall wings who attempted to make a living on jump shots and grit. It worked for son Eric, but not father Walt who appeared in three seasons of pro ball, but ultimately left to become a paper salesman. In this game, the paper salesman and his son simply can’t compete with the multi-skilled Barry’s who run pick and pops and give and go’s en route to a 21-9 victory. Much of the game is spent cringing at the paper salesman barbs slung from Rick in the direction of Walt. Clearly embarrassed, Brent Barry immediately walked off the court following the victory; despite his dad’s calls for him to “come back” and “celebrate like a winner.”
Stan Love is such a swanky ass name. Can’t you picture a man named “Stan Love” strolling through clubs and lounges in the 70s with huge lapels on his leisure suit, spouting out cornball lines to any woman in earshot while flashing a massive smile and introducing himself as “Dr. Love” or “Stan the Man, but ladies call me the Doctor of Love.” That’s what I picture and then I see what Stan Love used to look like: A 6’9” brute with a Fu Manchu-style furry moustache. And the height matters here. The elder Love only appeared in four seasons, but the Loves are just too big and versatile for the slightly built Dunleavys who go 6’3” (dad) and a lean 6’9” (son). The Loves get the boards and pound the ball inside and out while Stan’s brother, Beach Boy member, Mike Love, strolls along the baseline singing ad-libbed songs about how Love conquers all, especially the Dunleavys. It was a mostly tactless move by Mike Love, but the laid back tunes and 60s throwback lyrics had most fans and even the players in a California state of mind. Loves, 21, Dunleavys 15.
The Wilkins’s have a clear size and athleticism advantage over the shorter, slower Bibbys, but the pedigree of the Bibbys (one of three father/son combinations to win NCAA championships) had fans and analysts wondering how the Dunleavys received a 5-seed while the Bibbys got a 6. Seeding aside, the little Bibbys (both 6’1”) had to rely on their superior perimeter shooting and point guardish sleight of hand. Wilkins to Wilkins on lobs (straight over the little Bibbys), post-ups and penetrations were flashier than the Bibbys perimeter approach, but in the end, the slower, sleepier combination of Mike and Henry got the upset with a 21-18 win.
If Brent Barry acts as a balancing weight against his dad’s irascibility, brother Jon is the lighter fluid on the flame. Jon and Rick go back and forth stirring the pot with one another in a way that makes it hard to understand if they’re secretly motivating each other or intentionally needling one another. It doesn’t matter much in this game against the taller, but overmatched Ferrys who’ve made more of an impact on the game as executives than players. Rick’s on the attack from the opening ball check and proceeds to score 19 of the 21 Barry points. The Ferrys seem confused about whether they should utilize their size or do what comes natural—drift to the perimeter. The confusion and inability to defend Rick are the key reasons they lose: 8-21.
Up next is the Bryant bracket which was closely observed by Hamilton (@rh_asme):
Being the #1 overall seed comes with the weight of pressure, expectation. It’s easy to see how a group of amateurs between the ages of 18 and 22 might fall victim to that weight; but not the #1 overall seed in this tournament – the Bryant tandem of Joe and Kobe. Everyone knows Kobe’s bio … Joe (Jellybean) is probably mostly known, even as a player, for being Kobe’s pops. But the dude could play some ball too. The Davis duo is made up of current Memphis Grizzly Ed, and his old man Terry. Ed Davis has his moments, but aside from those, his ceiling is likely a rotation player. Terry and Ed Davis go roughly the same size at 6’9 and 225. Terry played from 89-01 (no shit?), mostly for Dallas and never on a playoff team. Jellybean measures up a lanky 6’9 at 185. Jellybean was a member of the 76-77 Sixers that lost in the Finals to Walton’s Blazers. He and Kobe know how to win, and easily do so here, 21-5. Kobe’s tenacity and Jellybean’s length make the Davises uncomfortable on offense. Kobe scores a breezy 16 of the 21, but Joe’s tip slam over Ed to secure the win is the highlight of the game. Jellybean proudly skips off the court yelling “LaSalle! We up in here!”
Ernest Maurice Vandeweghe Jr and Ernest Maurice Vandeweghe III make up team Vandeweghe. Peter (Press) Maravich and Peter Press Maravich are the 4th seeded Maravichs. Two names shared amongst 4 men – this could get confusing. The elder Vandeweghe goes by Doc (he is a physician) and the younger shall be Kiki. The Maravich’s answer to Press and Pistol. Doc played for the Knicks during the NBA’s infancy from 1949-56 and averaged 9 ppg over his career. His greater contribution to athletics was as chairman of President Ford’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports where he was instrumental in the development and passage of Title IX and the Amateur Athletic Act. Kiki was one hell of a player despite a strange career arc. Press only played his only season of pro ball in 1947 for the Pittsburg Ironmen of the Basketball Association of America (side note: The BAA merged with the NBL in 1949 to form the NBA we know and love today). Pistol is the gem of this matchup and Press is content to stand back and watch his son execute all the things he coached him up to do. Even though Kiki has the most size in this game, he fails to use it to his advantage just as he did in during his pro career (6’8 and only 3.4 rpg) and Pete’s wizardry prevails. Final score: 21-18, Maravichs.
Size vs. speed? It’s an age old basketball question, and great points can be made for the supremacy of either one. In a full court game, speed is the stronger trait. But this is half court 2 on 2 and as such, speed is less of an asset. The advantage for the Rivers team is the three-point shot. Austin loves to chuck but doesn’t do it efficiently. Doc coaches like he played: smart, prepared, even tempered. As teammates, he and Austin are a yin and yang of sorts. Austin’s brash scorer’s mentality and Doc, with his steady thinking man’s approach, have evident chemistry. The Horfords on the other hand are lumbering post players – basketball zombies in this setting. Al has had the misfortune of playing center his entire career when he could do much more as PF. Tito is 7’1 and might appear next to the word stiff in certain dictionaries. He played a mere 63 games over three seasons and is the weakest player in this matchup. The Rivers boys are happy to trade 2s for 3s and utilize the defensive cushion the Horfords must yield to get clean looks. The result is a 21-14 win for Doc and Austin.
Patrick Sr. was a beast around the rim before he fell in love with that baseline jumper. He knew going into this matchup that he’d need to make Wally and Walt pay for showing up in smaller bodies than his. Patrick Jr. is an athlete but doesn’t have a great deal of skill. Wally and Walt are similar players. Both like to shoot A LOT and both are prone to getting real fussy. Walt was notorious in the Long Island pickup circuit for calling phantom fouls on his shots. When he saw that this tournament had real referees, he knew it didn’t bode well for his steez. In the most bizarre game of this quadrant, Wally became enraged over Walt’s excessive shooting and helped Patrick Jr. execute a fundamentally sound double team on his father. The result of that double team was an easy dunk for Patrick Sr. to seal the deal. Spectators could be overheard remarking that they’d never seen Wally give that much effort on a defensive possession. The dysfunction started early, but was over quickly, as Patrick and Patrick moved on with a 21-8 win.
Jacob (@jacobjbg) reached deep into the recesses of his imagination to take on the Rose/Walker bracket:
Walker/Rose (1-seed) vs Vaughns (8-seed):
Internet research yielded little information about the David Vaughns, except that David Jr. went from being an NBA champion (he was on the 1997-98 Bulls) to being homeless. So there’s that. Instead, we can (and probably should) look at the basics here: the David Vaughns are plodding journeymen power forwards (Senior is 6’11’’, Junior is 6’9’’) who have six years of professional experience combined, and never averaged double figures in anything, while Jimmy Walker and Jalen were both quick, dynamic scoring guards who could penetrate and shoot from the outside. I feel fairly safe giving this game to Jimmy and Jalen (provided they’re on speaking terms; Jimmy played no role in Jalen’s upbringing). 21-10 Walker/Rose.
N/D Smith (4-seed) vs Brewers (5-seed):
This seems like it would be the most entertaining matchup in the Walker/Rose bracket; a high-flying, quick-paced guard-fest. Derek would likely have to carry Nolan on offense, who has not found his stroke in the bigs. Derek, as it turned out, was averaging nearly 24 points per game for the 1985 Kings before he blew out his knee. Ron and Ronnie Brewer would perhaps be in a similar situation (his dad averaged a little over 10 a game for a few seasons), so it’d be scrappy and fun. In the end, Ronnie will shut down Nolan, and the Dad-off will produce a 21-17 victory for the Brewers. Upset city!
Mikans (3-seed) vs Paxsons (6-seed):
I remember playing YMCA ball back in the day. The coach’s kid was on the team with me, and he wasn’t all that great as a basketball player. Of course, Coach Dad ran him at the point, and drew up a bunch of plays for him, none of which really ever worked. You could tell the kid really didn’t like playing basketball; it must’ve been something that his dad forced him to get into, and here he was, 10 years later, still getting shouted at by Coach Dad to care about something that clearly was an incidental – perhaps even forced – interest. You almost see the same situation in the Mikans in this tournament. Father George was the Shaq of his era; the first modern pivot whose dominance led to the widening of the lane and the shot clock. Son Larry played one year of pro ball with the Cavs, averaging 3 points per game in about 10 minutes per game. There couldn’t be a bigger talent (and motivational) gap possible. So, you can imagine the ire George would show when the 6th seeded Paxsons – a renegade family of sharpshooters – step up and beat the Mikans 21-19, with George scoring 18 of their 19 total points. It’s gonna be a quiet, tense ride home in the Mikan Chevy Windstar.
Waltons (2-seed) vs Mannings (7-seed):
This would probably be the best game in the bracket if soft tissue, ligaments, and bones didn’t exist, and we were all Rubber Men instead. Both Bill and Luke Walton lost partial or entire seasons due to various ailments in their backs, knees, ankles, shoulders and feet. And though Ed Manning seems to have been fairly durable, Danny’s disappointing career (considering he was the #1 overall pick out of Kansas) was due to a series of blown out knees. So we’ll all cringe and look away as Waltons and Mannings smash into each other, joints creaking and bones clattering, all the way to a spirited 22-20 victory for the Waltons on a sneaky little jumper from Luke Walton. Father Bill will say “this was the greatest two-on-two match in the history of basketblog fantasies” and then go off to find some ganj.
Bug (@bugfoster515) had the final quadrant and after spending an evening downing beers with him, I walked away convinced he’ll be the first person I know to purchase a Dolph Schayes jersey and spent the evening asking anyone with even a shred of basketball knowledge, “What’s your opinion on Dolph Schayes?” My morning was capped off by his text message referring to Schayes as “Bill Russell minus the defense.” Likely an absurd statement, but it does a great job conveying Bug’s newfound fondness for Dolph.
The Thompson’s possess one of the most potent inside/outside combos in the tournament, and they come into this matchup as heavy favorites. The 1978 #1 overall draft pick, Mychal, is a physical specimen with an athletic 6-10 frame, while Klay provides a silky shooting touch from downtown. On the other side, Rex is no slouch either. He was a two-time dunk contest entrant and dropped 39 on Jordan and Pippen (and got a W) in the midst of the Bulls 72-10 season. His father, Wayne’s career as a pro was short-lived, but he had great success coach winning two NCAA D-II championships. The Thompson’s gameplan was clear from the opening check, let Mychal do work on Wayne. The 6-10 giant is simply too much for the 6’6” Wayne to handle in the paint. They didn’t even need Klay’s shooting to roll to a 21-7 victory. Never the one to pass up a chance to teach his son to do the right thing, Mychal gave Klay an advance on his weekly allowance to treat the Chapmans to a couple of Gatorades after the game.
Tim/Tim Jr. Hardaway (4-seed) vs. Gerald/Gerald Jr. Henderson (5-seed):
His anti-gay comments aside, Tim Hardaway was one of the best PGs in the NBA during the 90s. The fact that the Hardaways still got a 4-seed despite the fact Tim Jr. hasn’t been drafted yet speaks to the level of his game. Little did the Hardaway’s know, they were in for an all-out war against the fundamentally sound Hendersons. The Hardaway’s jumped on them early with a barrage of 3s, but Gerald Sr. (a starter on the ‘84 Celtics championship team), and his son would not go down without a fight. They clawed their way back into the game with solid defense, and a slight mismatch in Gerald Jr.’s favor against the leaner Tim Jr. With the game tied 19-19, Gerald Sr. comes through on the defensive end like he did in the 84 playoffs, strips Tim Sr. on a pull-up attempt, and hits a cutting young Gerald for the 21-19 victory.
Dell/Steph Curry (3-seed) vs. John II/John III Lucas (6-seed):
Insulted by the 3-seed they received, the Currys came out breathing fire to prove a point against their first opponent, the Lucas’. The Currys come equipped with the most lethal outside shooting touch of all the father/son combos, and the smallish (5’11”) Lucas III is just too small to bother either Curry’s stroke. While John Lucas II’s turnaround from drug addict to NBA head coach was a feel-good story in the 90s, there was not a happy ending for the Lucas’ in this one. The Currys put on a fireworks show going 7-10 from deep to roll to a 21-10 victory without attempting a single shot inside the 3-point line. This game was a blowout, but at least we got to check out Dell’s wife, Sonya, on the jumbotron between points.
The Matthews’ come into this matchup with a distinct advantage in the speed and quickness department, while the Schayes’ overwhelming size advantage (6’1”/6’5” vs. 6’7”/6’11”) is their biggest weapon. Dolph is one of the best forwards in NBA history as a 12-time all-star and Hall of Fame inductee, and his son Danny was also 18-year NBA vet who went to battle in the paint against the likes of Olajuwon, Ewing and David Robinson in his day (although nowhere near their skill level). Despite the Schayes’ enormous size advantage in the paint, Dolph caught the Matthews’ off guard with his outside shooting skills by using his patented 50s-style two-hand set shot that he releases without lifting his feet off the ground (like some shit straight out of Hoosiers). The only way the Matthews’ have a chance in this one is if they use their perimeter skills and quickness, but the Schayes’ know that Wes Sr. has a sketchy outside jumper (career 23% from 3) and dare him to shoot all game. The plan worked to perfection, and the Schayes’ rolled to an easy 21-9 win.
To be completely honest, I’m surprised with the outcome of some of the matchups. I thought for sure the Vandeweghes would advance and the Paxsons over the Mikans was a stunner, but these are the breaks of the father/son two-on-two tournament. The most intriguing matchup of the second round looks like the patented Curry marksmanship vs. the mismatch of the Schayes’. Vegas doesn’t have odds yet, but it’ll be fascinating to see if the length and versatility of Dolph and Danny can throw off the momentum of Dell and Steph.
As I sit down to write this introduction, I can tell you with the utmost honesty that I never intended to create an imaginary bracket during March Madness. I actually considered pushing this out into the off-season, but some ideas grab hold and refuse to let go and that’s what’s occurred here.
The premise is this: In NBA history, there have been some 50-odd father/son combos including a few dads that spawned more than one NBA-playing son (looking at you Rick Barry and Jim Paxson Sr). I started wondering what would happen if those father/son combos laced up the kicks for a good old fashioned two-on-two tournament. There are a lot of questions you have to ask yourself when embarking on an endeavor like this, but I decided to keep it simple: 32 teams, single elimination tournament.
The participants: Due to death, mortality and the plain impossibility of a real-life father/son tournament, the whole thing has to be played out in the minds and imaginations of actual, living human beings. I’ve invited a couple long-time friends of mine: Hamilton (@rh_asme) and Bug (@bugfoster515 – he doesn’t really know how to tweet though, so don’t bother following him) and new friend: Jacob Greenberg (@jacobjbg) from www.TheDiss.com.
The approach: We started with a list of 51 NBA fathers and sons plus Tim Hardaway and his son, current Michigan Wolverine, Tim Hardaway Jr. The list also includes Rick/Brent Barry and Rick/Jon Barry, but not Rick/Drew Barry. Likewise, the Paxson family actually has three players and rotates in sons Jim Jr. and John. The task at hand was to whittle this list of 52 down to 32 which was more difficult than one would think. I’ve followed the league since the late 80s and have always been a fan of the history. I consider myself to be relatively well-versed in players who’ve come and gone, but the list of dads led to a lot of basketball-reference and Wikipedia lookups. Hamilton, Bug and I each ranked the top-32 teams. This was a completely subjective process so if you feel that say, Brian Cook and his father Norm should’ve made the top-32 and you think we’re nuts for leaving them out, we acknowledge that you know something about Norm Cook that the stats (27 career games, 2.4 career ppg) didn’t tell us. And this was the case at times (see the David Vaughns). Once ranked, I did a simple aggregate to arrive at a final rank which indicated the overall seeds you’ll see below. For teams that weren’t ranked, I assigned them a completely arbitrary rank of 37 just to balance the overall aggregates. The table below includes all 52 father/son combos, the individual rankings and the final aggregate for each father/son:
Again, the process of ranking the father/son combos was more challenging than I thought it would be. Along the way, I learned some random information about dads (Nolan Smith’s dad Derek died of a heart attack at the age of 34, Ernie Vandeweghe [father to Kiki] was a pro basketball player, an Air Force pilot and a physician, Gerald Wilkins’s nickname was Doug E. Fresh), but mostly learned that guys like the aforementioned Derek Smith and LeRoy Ellis were strong pros that were either overshadowed by bigger names who came along at the same time or were just forgotten over time.
Jacob’s Rankings: Per my email instructions, Jacob selected 32 teams to be included in the tournament, ambivalent of ranking/seeding. The result was a handful of teams on Jacob’s list that didn’t appear on anyone else’s and thus wouldn’t have impacted the overall seeding at all with the exception of the Mays (Scott and Sean). Depending on how the Mays would’ve been ranked and how Jacob would’ve ranked some of the lower teams (the Piatkowski’s, Davis’s, Vaughn’s or Chapman’s), things may have turned out a bit differently, but for the sake of our exercise, I won’t make any changes here. Just know that The Diss is well-represented and involved.
After all that methodology talk, let’s move onto the brackets and the first round matchups:
Stay tuned for a deeper analysis of the first round matchups, recaps, father/son dynamics, teamwork challenges and so much more in the follow-up edition to the NBA Father-Son Two-on-Two Tournament. And if you’re familiar with any of the dads on the list (aside from the obvious Ewings, Waltons, Barrys, etc) and have stories or specific details, let us know.