This week I greet you from the warmer-than-expected climes of sunny Seattle where my family’s visiting at full throttle with pints to be drunk and football matches to be seen. It’s acting as a welcome distraction from the Donald Sterling scandal which has cast a pall over what have otherwise been the best playoffs in recent memory. As my family sits in the sun, join me as I sip this soft Stella Artois and let’s get to the bullets:
Yesterday we said goodbye to one of my favorite NBA personalities of all time: Dr. Jack Ramsay. The legendary coach, teacher, TV and radio announcer, and NBA champion passed away at 89. He was like a Herman Hesse of the basketball world imparting his wisdom to different generations of fans and players and coaches and all while rocking plaid pants without any of that shitbag irony to which all of us have become so accustomed. Ramsay won his title with that Blazers group of 76-77 and was immortalized in the written words of David Halberstam’s masterful Breaks of the Game. By the time I came of age, Dr. Jack had coached his last NBA game and was comfortable courtside calling games for TV and radio. I have a fond memory of a boring late spring drive from Omaha to Des Moines with Ramsay making me forget the monotony of windshield time as he expertly called a Mavs playoff game. 89 is a long, full life, but I’ll still miss seeing Ramsay’s face courtside and hearing his unmistakable voice through staticky AM radio frequencies.
On a lighter note, today saw the final game of the Charlotte Bobcats. Beginning next season, the team reverts to the classic Hornets moniker which had been borrowed by the New Orleans franchise for the past several seasons. The Bobcats always seemed like an uncreative mascot with an oddball color scheme – second only to the bleh dullness of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Bobcats years have been largely fruitless and forgettable. Here’s to hoping the new Hornets can bring the buzz back to Charlotte. (I couldn’t resist, although the idea of a swarm of hornets attacking is more frightening than any other NBA team name I can think of with the exception of the Raptors.)
It’s been a Déjà vu of sorts watching this Oklahoma City team struggle to diversify its offensive attack. I’m having flashbacks to 2011 when their offense collapsed into an empty two-pronged Westbrook/Durant stabbing of sorts. Then there’s the Thunder’s third wheel, the enigmatic Serge Ibaka. How Ibaka fits into this Thunder offense is still a mystery to me, but what was recently stumbled upon is Ibaka’s rare 200 blocks/20 3s season. Ibaka has accomplished the feat twice and joins four other players who have pulled it off a combined ten times. The club includes versatile inside-out oddballs Andrei Kirlenko (twice), Josh Smith (thrice), Manute Bol (once), and Raef LaFrentz (twice). Comparatively speaking, Ibaka resembles none of the other players on that list. Still known as a great shot blocker, I don’t think Scotty Brooks has the slightest clue how to assimilate Ibaka’s full arsenal with that of Durant and Westbrook.
Lost in all this Memphian gritting and grinding fun has been the case of Grizzlies’ guard, Nick Calathes who was suspended 20 games for testing positive for the banned substance tamoxifin. Calathes, the former Florida playmaker who spent time in Europe before latching on with the Grizz, is going bald and I was going to make some poor snarky joke about it until I found this story pointing out that tamoxifin is found in Rogaine and speculating that Calathes was taking something to combat his baldness. Whatever the reason the substance turned up in his system, he claims it wasn’t using to gain a competitive advantage. In Major League Baseball, there’s an appeal process whereby a player can continue playing while suspension is reviewed. The NBA has no such policy and I’m not proposing they add one. What would be nice to see is a more collaborative partnership between the league’s drug testing wing and team doctors and/or players with the Player’s Union involved. If Calathes was using for hair loss, then prior to getting the prescription he works with a team doctor who works with the league to ensure requirements of the anti-doping policy are being met. There are numerous logistical requirements to consider including privacy, timelines, disagreements between doctors, and more, but if nothing else, this process would ideally limit the current Calathes scenario where a player’s attempt to make a case for usage in the court of public opinion.
A few days ago was the 20-year anniversary of David Robinson’s 71-point league-scoring-title-securing performance. (Robinson edged out Shaquille O’Neal by a few tenths of a percentage point: 29.79 to 29.35.) In a league so addicted to numbers and their meaning (this writer is fully aware of his tendency to create flimsy meanings where they may not otherwise exist) that history has seen the natural trajectory of games redirected in favor of individual accomplishment, Robinson’s 71-point game was a joke of sorts. In a meaningless last game of the season that the Spurs beat the Clippers by 20, Robinson played 44 minutes while just one other player in the game played over 30. Then-coach John Lucas was so hell bent on building a scoring shrine to Robinson that he instructed his players to intentionally foul late in the game to ensure his center had more scoring opportunities. It’s a quirky element of sports that we have suspect records (like Michael Strahan’s infamous “sack” of Brett Favre to get the NFL’s single-season record), but whether you apply an asterisk to the Admiral’s game or not, it’ll still be there in the record books, above Jordan’s greatest scoring feat and below Kobe’s for all NBA time. Also, some fun quotes included in Tim Griffin’s recounting of the game:
They said it, part V: “We certainly wanted Shaquille to win the title. But we didn’t make a mockery of the game like they did in Los Angeles.” Orlando coach Brian Hill to the St. Petersburg Times on Lucas’ late strategy, compared to his own for O’Neal.
They said it, part VI: “I heard they ran every play to (Robinson). If that would happened down here, I would have 70 points, too. I didn’t care,” O’Neal to the AP on the Spurs’ methods to enable Robinson to win the scoring title.
They said it, part VII: “I’m really fortunate to have scored over 70 points. I don’t really have that many opportunities to dosomething like this. It was fun. I had a great time,” Robinson to the Orange County Register on his big game.
They said it, part VIII: “Those guys were cursing me out on the floor and saying, ‘You’re not going to get it. You’ll never get it.’ If I’ve got to apologize for playing like that, there’s something wrong,” Robinson, to the AP about if his scoring title was tainted.
Nothing else is really happening in the league unless you consider one of the most competitive first rounds in memory unfolding before our enraptured eyes – much to the delight of league sponsors and network heads. The Pacers lost again on Monday and Roy Hibbert grabbed zero rebounds to accompany his zero points.