Archive for the ‘NBA History’ Category

bill-russell-march-on-washington

Justin Tinsley is a sportswriter who’s written for The Sports Fan Journal and The Smoking Section.

50 years ago this afternoon, perhaps America’s most recognizable speech and march took place in Washington, D.C. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” may or may not have been his finest oratory ever — his impassioned, yet physically taxing “mountaintop” speech given the day before his assassination hits home with the same intensity and forward thinking — however, what happened in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, became the focal point of a battle for equality still, in many ways, being fought today.

While King being in attendance is common knowledge, in close proximity was another titan of his own profession: Bill Russell, who stood just feet away from Martin. Ironically, the Celtics icon never figured the speech would be as revered as it is half a century later.

“When I heard the speech, I had no idea that the words of that speech would last as long as they did,” Russell told USA Today in 2011 as he received his Presidential Medal of Freedom. “It never occurred to me it would be quoted 50 years later.”

As a kid born 17 years after Russell’s last season in the NBA, Russell’s humility and sense of self have always hit closest to home. The books and articles I’ve read and the documentaries I’ve watched, they all paint a picture of a man cognizant of himself and the importance of forcing change in the era he lived in. Russell never did anything just to latch on to a moment. Instead, he, like so many other Americans on the front line of the civil rights battle, stood for equality, only to be combated with racial slurs and, even worse, death.

A lot can be made about Russell’s 11 championships and whether or not his era of dominance was “easier” than that of the larger-than-life stars who entered the NBA after him. Topics like that are debatable. What’s not, however, is the impact he had on civil rights. King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Fred Shuttlesworth and others were faces of the civil rights movement. But Russell’s advocacy — along with guys like Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and more — was just as imperative.

It mapped out for America that equality didn’t only result from being able to occupy the same bathroom or drink from the same water fountain. Equality was needed in places like basketball courts, too. Russell stood as one of the first celebrities to identify himself as “Black” when “negro” was still the popular term. On multiple occasions, he threatened not to play in games when fellow Black teammates were given inferior accommodations on the road.

Following Boston’s fifth consecutive NBA title and his own third-straight MVP honor, Russell found himself in a fit of rage — Medgar Evers was murdered in his own driveway while getting out of his car on the evening of June 12, 1963. Russell quickly sprung into action.

“Get down here,” Charles Evers, Medgar’s older brother, said to Boston’s superstar. “And we’ll open one of the playgrounds and we’ll have the first integrated basketball camp in Mississippi.” Russell did. With the Ku Klux Klan (including Evers’ killer, Byron De La Beckwith) following his every step, and with Charles barely sleeping while holding a rifle at Russell’s motel door for protection, Russell followed through on his promise.

Two months later, with the image of Evers’ assassination and the ghosts of Mississippi still fresh on his mind, Russell attended the “March On Washington” and even declined an invitation by King himself to stand beside him after meeting him the night before. Not because of any ill will, but because he understood the pain and tears it took to produce an event of this magnitude. ”He invited me to be up here, and I respectfully declined because the organizers had worked for years to get this together, and I hadn’t done anything,” said Russell at the March’s 50th anniversary.

Today, 50 years following a moment that forced America to open its eyes and recognize the bigotry it frequently spewed and potential it had to be more than a divided superpower, Dr. King will receive the bulk of the praise, as he should. He is perhaps the most recognizable American of the past 100 years, a man who had his faults, but gave his own life for a vision still being sought after in 2013. One of Martin’s most powerful and long-lasting quotes reads, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

The NBA and society as a whole is lucky that shoe never fit Bill Russell.

tracy-mcgrady-pre-draft

Tracy McGrady’s announcement of his retirement from the NBA yesterday closes the last chapter on one of the most tantalizing, exciting, and ultimately unsatisfying careers in recent pro hoops history. He won a couple scoring titles, went to a whole bunch of All-Star games and put up some incredible numbers over the course of his career — incuding a PER of 30.3 for the season in 2002-03, higher than any player not named LeBron James has posted in the 21st century — but for many, his career will still be defined by his failure to find team success, losing in each of his first eight playoff series, and only making it past the first round of the postseason as a garbage-time scrub last year with the Spurs. Consequently, everything about T-Mac’s hoops legacy remains under permanent debate, as evidenced by yesterday’s ESPN 5-by-5 about McGrady’s career, which predictably resulted in split decisions about his defining legacy and HOF chances.

We’re not going to attempt to pass judgment on T-Mac here, though. Rather, we’re just going to present the 25 YouTube clips, in roughly chronological order, that best tell the story of his career: the incredible highlights, the tremendous disappointments, the great expectations, the revealing press conferences and the other most indelible moments of Tracy McGrady’s 15 years in the Association. Come to your own conclusions if you want, but if not, just enjoy reliving the highs and lows from one of the most endlessly compelling careers of the last few decades.

And if you see one of the Free Darko guys on the street today, give them a sympathetic hug and an understanding pat on the back.


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robin-ficker-yelling

Because it’s August and nothing is happening in the NBA, NBATV Canada has been playing a whole bunch of old Chicago Bulls games, which came in handy when my wife flew home for a quick family visit and I was left with a weekend of time to fill. And while I’ve seen such legendary games like Game 1 of the 1992 Finals or Game 6 of the 1998 Finals what feels like a million times, I’m pretty sure I hadn’t watched such lesser known gems like Game 6 of the 1992 Eastern Conference finals and Game 1 of the 1993 Finals in 20 years.

It’s from the latter of those two games, Game 1 of the 1993 NBA Finals, that the following story comes from, via ESPN’s Page 2 from a million blog years ago:

[Robin] Ficker speaks from experience. He once irked then-Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson by reading out loud from Jackson’s basketball memoir, “Maverick.” During a game. While sitting behind the Chicago bench.

“Jackson said he was going to have the referees come over if I kept reading,” Ficker said. “What got him so upset, I don’t know. If he didn’t want to hear passages from the book, he shouldn’t have written it.”

At the request of Charles Barkley, Ficker even traveled to the 1993 NBA Finals in Phoenix, where he razzed Michael Jordan about a series of gambling allegations.

“Barkley got me a seat behind the Bulls bench, so I brought these huge playing cards, dice and a bunch of dollar bills,” Ficker said. “During the game, I’m dealing [Jordan] a hand and asking him what he wants to bet. And he’s turning around and holding up three fingers. It was fun.”

The best part, which isn’t mentioned in the Page 2 article, is that Ficker was ejected from Game 1 of the Finals so quickly that NBC already had footage of him being talked to and escorted from his seats by stadium officials midway through the first quarter. That is some serious heckling, if you screaming so much that you can’t even last 12 minutes of game action before you’ve angered someone so much that they insist on your removal.

But when you hear this quick description of Ficker, via USA Today by way of the DC Sports Bog, you’ll believe it.

“Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls threw a basketball at him. Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons threw a shoe. The Golden State Warriors, en masse, doused him with Gatorade. Former Utah coach Frank Layden spit on him.”

Yep, that’s the guy Charles Barkley decided to give an all-expense-paid trip to Phoenix to show up at Game 1 of the Finals and yell like crazy, which he did before being promptly kicked out for doing so. Oh, and the Suns lost that game too. Money well spent.

Tracy McGrady is retiring after 15 NBA seasons, one Chinese Basketball Association season — where McGrady may return in the future — and a pretty sizable “Career highlights and awards” section on Wikipedia. It was a good, slightly sleepy run.

And while many people will remember Tracy for never winning a playoff series when he mattered as a player, his 13 points in 35 seconds or for being Vince Carter’s kinda sorta cousin (but only when they were playing together, since it never gets brought up these days because no one cares and it seemed to be a tenuous connection in the first place), I’m going to choose to think of him as the all-time best at throwing the ball off the glass to himself for a dunk. Anyone can do it in an All-Star Game, but T-Mac did it in real basketball games. That’s awesome and it’s the kind of thing I’m going to tell my kids.

So the next time you see someone throw themselves an off-the-glass self-oop in a real game, just remember Tracy McGrady. For my money, that’s his greatest legacy.

derrick-and-dwayne

Justin Tinsley is a sportswriter who’s written for The Sports Fan Journal and The Smoking Section.

There’s pride in accomplishment, but pain in missed opportunities. The artists formerly known as the New Jersey Nets have both.

Head to any location where legit hoops conversations normally take place. The barbershop, where every barber and/or customer is the next coming of Hubie Brown. Or the bar, where the old-school WWF-equivalent to “hell in the cell”-type debates happen. Wherever the location, ask people to name their greatest “What If?” NBA team of the ‘90s. Chances are the most common answers revolve around the Shaq/Penny-led Orlando Magic and the Gary Payton/Shawn Kemp-era Seattle SuperSonics. Both choices come with their heavy share of logic, yet there’s one team largely dubbed an outcast. Who remembers the complicated story of the 1993-94 New Jersey Nets?

On the surface, the squad is immortalized largely for the tragic death of Drazen Petrovic following a car accident on June 7, 1993. And in a sense, it is the most important factor in realizing why the team derailed. Digging below the surface, however, finds a unit marred by lack of trust, mismanagement of talent and several additional storylines that have since been tossed to the wayside in the two decades since.

Let’s break down the known facts surrounding the 1992-93 squad:

  • These Nets went 43-39, good for third in the Atlantic Division.
  • They lost their first round matchup against Cleveland 3-2, in a series many figured would be a sweep by the Cavs prior to Game 1.
  • Of the team’s three best players -– Petrovic, Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson  — the oldest was 28.
  • Chuck Daly was the head coach.
  • Both Drazen and Coleman made the All-NBA third team.

The team was beginning to find its own identity apart from being type-casted as the Knicks’ sideshow act in Jersey. They experienced the bumps and bruises teams need when acquiring that playoff grit all championship-caliber teams would need in future seasons. Everything appeared to be on the up and up. Then, the season ended.

For as bright as the immediate future held for the Nets, it was equally as murky, if not more. Then second-year guard out of Michigan Rumeal Robinson revealed in May 1993, “I’m outta here. I can’t take this anymore. I’m leaving. There are other teams that will treat me right.” He didn’t want to return to being Kenny Anderson’s back up once he recovered from a wrist injury that shortened his ’92-’93 campaign.

Another hurdle in the road presented itself in the form of Derrick Coleman’s contract negotiations. The New York Times dubbed Coleman as the most important player to his team not named Michael Jordan during the second half of the ’92-’93 season, where he averaged 20.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Larry Nance dubbed him the game’s best power forward, high praise coming from a guy who was an All-Star power forward ahead of D.C. during that very season. Chuck Daly saw him as a top five-or-six player in the league. Coleman wanted compensation, and while no one knew it at the time, his demands ultimately prove to be a first class ticket out of Jersey.

And yet, here’s the nugget that’s so often forgotten — Drazen Petrovic was very serious about not returning to the Nets for the ’93-’94 season. It’s the reason why Coleman was reluctant to sign a long-term extension that summer. He wanted to see what general manager Willis Reed and the Nets would do with Petro and fellow free agent Chris Dudley.

“Nothing has changed,” said Petrovic weeks before his death on a phone conversation from his mother’s house in Zagreb, Croatia. “I still want to see all the options I have, but I’m not coming back to the Nets. This is the place where I would be most happy. This is my home.”

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No wonder your dad loves Larry Bird so much. And no wonder your dad is always trying to throw those tricky passes that aren’t really open but sometimes work. It all makes sense now.

Oh, just my dad? OK, never mind.

(via John Schuhmann)

malice-cup

Here is a fun and possibly fake internet story, via Redditor “salmon10″:

It was 3 days before my 20th birthday. What better a gift than a Pistons game that was bound to be a tug of war rematch of the previous year’s titanic Eastern Conference Finals. Myself, my girlfriend, and my best friend from college had scored amazing seats, in section 115, row CC. Three rows behind the Detroit bench. It was heaven (In a twist of fate, I’ve sat in that exact row now 4 times since then..). The game itself was a slight disappointment, for a victory wouldve been an excellent early present. I remember Rasheed and Darvin Ham had a particular great game. I despised the Pacers, but respected them utmost. Hell, I was and to this day an enormous Artest/World Peace fan. I think he would’ve made one hell of a Piston in fact.

Fast forward to the moments after The Shove. The Detroit bench was surprisingly hostile, and I remember clearly Elden Campbell heightening the situation by making crying sounds, trying to entice Artest or whomever. It was strange, considering I always thought of him as a gentle giant. Anyways, Artest starts to calm down and decides to lay upon the scorers table, about 25 feet from myself and my company. Both benches are standing and shouting at one another. It was getting pretty damn grim. My girlfriend and I were panning the audience, the little that had remained, and everyone’s look was that of worry and clairvoyance, as if we all knew that things were going to come to a head. As I was looking to the left of me, one section over and maybe 6 rows back, I witness very obviously a man in blue Pistons garb throw his drink toward the court.(This man has since been identified as John Green). The timing, and aim, couldn’t have been more devastating. My girlfriend had seen him toss the cup the exact same time I did. What happens next is one giant cacophony of regret and shame on the part of the mob-mentality fans and players. When Artest started to lunge upon the fans, I recall Rick Mahorn, who was doing the local TV play by play, leap out of his seat and go after Artest and pulled fans away. Mind you this was all occurring no more than 30 feet from us. All the meanwhile the security had hardly any control of the situation, and fans were already entering the court. The entire time, I never took my eyes off the Cup. It was repeatedly kicked and swatted, with no one as much thinking to jump upon it. At one time, when Jermaine ONeal had just slide-punched one fan, he was being restrained by Johnathan Bender and other teammates. During this melee, one of them had managed to kick it (along with many other things that were thrown upon the court) clear across the court and right in front of Larry Brown, who at this time was trying to comfort his son whom was the ball boy.

Fast forward to about 4 minutes after the players had left for the locker rooms. Mason, the announcer, and other police/security guards were demanding we all leave in a calm fashion as quickly as possible. I had to retrieve that Cup. I had in my mind the idea that if I myself were to get it, I would be pepper sprayed or some sort of force would be taken upon me. So, being the kind hearted gentleman I am, I asked my girlfriend to lunge for it. She obliged immediately, and simply walked down to the court and picked it up. At this point, security was not within 100 feet of us, and the Cup itself was still laying where it had been for a good 10 minutes. She picks it up, still with traces of liquid in it, which was not alcohol but definitely a soda of some sort. She hands it to me, I tell her to place it in her purse. The three of us leave with gusto.

Now it resides at my father’s home. No markings of the chaos, no real authenticity of the event. Just the story that can be vouched by other people, and just maybe video somewhere out there. To this day I refuse to watch footage of the Malice. Just thinking about it makes my eyes well up, I get a lump in my throat and I am overcome with remorse. A lot of things changed that night, most for the better, but the images and stories I ponder from that night will live with me forever, as will this mundane yet infamous article of NBA history.

Well, even though Darvin Ham threw up a pretty Darvin Ham-ish zero points and one rebound in 11 minutes, Rasheed Wallace did have a nice 19-10 outing, so I guess this story which is impossible to verify holds up. I mean, Rick Mahorn is definitely in the mix once things get crazy, plus this cup certainly does look exactly like the Ron Artest chest cup.

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