Tag Archives: Tim Duncan

NFL17 Pre-Play: Triumvirate Intact, Patriots Grip On Power Remains Firm

1 Jun

Hail the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft!

Never in the history of sport has a tightly-woven triad of money (owner), brain (coach) & brawn (player) so effectively organized and implemented an operation of success over such a long period of time and with so little apparent friction as have these three, compatible personalities.

Historically, the triumvirate has shown mixed results.

The ancient Romans, building blocks to Western civilization, triumvirated a couple of times (Caesar – Crassus – Pompey 60 BC / Antony – Octavian – Lepidus 43BC), without much claim to victory, save brief respites from war.

Jumping forward to the North American pro sport scene, you’d be hard-pressed to find the same owner, coach (mgr) and top player remaining together winning titles for anywhere near as long as the Foxborough Three have been doing it.

There were the Habs (1944-79), Yanks (1923-62), Celtics & Lakers, dynasties we’ve been talking about for generations but none a triumvirate of top-level talent staying intact for as prolonged a period as these Patriots powerbrokers.

There were the Lombardi – Green Bay teams where ownership (EC – BoD), coach and key offensive player in Bart Starr, the way under-rated Bart Starr, won lots o’ titles but in a much more concentrated timeline (1961 – 68). Condensed greatness is potent (70s Steelers / 80s 49ers) and terrific in its own way but not of the championship continuum on topic here and special too itself.

It’s in the NBA where is found the only real comparison to the Patriots trio-of-time-tested-title-takers, that being the San Antonio Spurs.

The trifecta of Peoria native and current owner Peter Holt (1993), coach Gregg Popovich (1996 >) and recently retired center and championship nexus in Tim Duncan (1997-16) garnered five NBA titles (’99, 03, 05, 07, 14) in sixteen seasons, though never back-to-back (NE: 04-05), requisite for the dynasty.

But that was then, this is now, and wow, the Foxborough Three are defending NFL champions again after their Swing Time SB51 OT win over the ‘gotta’ still be stunned’ Falcons, having made the grade even as their starry starter in Brady had to sit the first four on his Deflategate susp’n. The red, white & blue bunch have been setting and maintaining a standard of sport excellence unlikely to be matched for a long, long time. Never say never, right?

Detractors will bemoan, ‘Hey dingdong, don’t forget Spygate, you fool!’ Always class-acts, and never redundant, the bemoaner boys. Rules violations are wrong, some even bad, i.e., failing to cooperate with an investigation (destroying a phone). But the general public, those with no serious rivalry axe-to-grind or having little interest in promoting their own brand of team who seek ’The Greatest’ award (Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, 49ers), just won’t be too bothered by black-marks on a team’s historical ledger that involve spying or stretching of the rules, outside game-fixing and PEDs. Spys have helped us win wars. A bit off-track here but that’s how the more rationally-minded fan will think.

Can they keep it going? Not forever, they can‘t, as hard as that is to imagine in 2017. Someday Tom will hang up his cleats, Bill hand in his headset one last time and Rob just won’t care anymore. All three have accomplished just about everything they can in the business of football, personally and as a team.

With Tom and Bill both having set the new standard in SB tandem wins with five and the team having set the record for Super Bowl appearances last February in Houston with their ninth (9) (5-4) (Pitt – Dallas – Denver all at eight (8)), about the only achievement unattained is to match and then surpass the Steelers league leading six (6) victories in the Big Game.

But as long as Brady stays healthy and the Foxborough Triumvirate keeps itself amused, an NFL bound to get more amusing, and lengthy, if not better, with Raja Goodell’s kow-tow in relaxing celebration rules, Pats should keep winning.

If you’re expecting to read here roster depth-chart chatter, draft break-downs and musings on New England’s 2017 schedule, forget it. Trust, in Belichick & Company’s judgment and future performance, has never been more earned.

Besides, who’s gonna’ stop ‘em? Anyone in the AFC?

Ben’s a trooper but needs sideline help; Denver & Houston have D but the Os are iffy; Colts & Titans have Os but Ds are doubtful; Raiders Las Vegas engagement came at a bad time for a still maturing Carr; Harbaugh & Flacco know how but is owner listening; KC will play out the string with Reid & Smith; Miami has a good QB in Tannehill but no good game-plan and Cincy, well, they’re Cincy.

In the weaker NFC the Cards turned conundrum; Wilson has D but needs a plan from Pete, not protest (CK); Rodgers needs a run-buddy and a D; Saints showed spunk late; Bucs are rising; Cats didn’t claw back in 2016; Eli is locked-in (‘20); Cousins may’ve peaked and that leaves Atlanta who need to shake off the shame.

Maybe it’s like those other eras with one, or two, dominant clubs, Pack in the 60s, Pitt – Dallas in 70s, 49ers in the 80s: Until the big dog (NE) loses its bite, everyone keeps focusing on the leader of the pack, tripping over their tail at the worst possible times. Course, having a defense that can close the deal is key, its absence to continue to be the biggest issue for most teams in 2017.

But in every NFL season there is the unexpected, that turnaround team where everything begins to click (Falcons / Raiders 2016-17), or sustained success sprouts from where no special tillage had been undertaken (Dallas draft).

As long as Robert Kraft, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick remain together in good spirits and keep “calm(ing) the envious spirit” in those sporadic challenges to their predominance, efforts that will require a charmed season aided in no small part by a capricious Sporting God set (See; Carolina ‘15 – Dallas ‘16), this 21st century will remain the Patriots Period, period.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, wc.cca, Ixnay-Beao; Belichick-Kraft-Kerry, wc, US-Department-of-State, 4.25.15; T.Brady, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; W.Wood, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 6.1.17 @ 2:13p EST, edit 6.26; Copyright © 2017

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Tim Duncan: Spurs ‘Peerless Leader’ In the Paint

31 Mar

Roundball Recovery Act

They were giants of the sporting world, names like George Mikan, Bob Pettit, Bill Russell, Wilt the Stilt, Truck, Moses, The Enforcer, Mr. Mean, the Big O, the Big E and the Big Redhead.

Basketball’s leviathans in the low post.

Fans thrilled at their combination of size, strength and agility. The battles they waged under the boards defined the National Basketball Association and made sport headlines for over 50 years.

But change is the constant in a consumer democracy.

The Chuck Taylor high-tops and short-shorts are long gone, replaced with hideous foot-wear and a plethora of prison-yard tattoos. Historic but cramped old arenas gave-way to bigger & brighter venues with better seats, paint-happy hardwood and $14.50 nachos.

And no change has been greater than disappearance of the inside game. In particular, the demise of the dominant center and power-forward.

....Duncan.CC-BY-2.0.wc.12.05.thmDifferent from women’s basketball where the tall pivot player still has a place, the menacing man in the middle has become an endangered species.

Since the days Kareem Abdul-Jabbar donned the Lakers’ royal regalia you could count on two hands the number of big men who’ve dominated down low: Robert Parish, Larry Bird, Kev McHale, Bill Laimbeer, Shaq, Magic, Dennis Rodman, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard nearly fill out a very short list.

The culprit: NBA’s adoption of the 3-point shot.

The National was sitting pretty in the late 70s. In a State-sponsored legal structure that today embraces monopoly, the Assc’n siphoned what liquidity was left in it’s only competitor, the 10-year old ABA (‘67-76)), negotiated lucrative TV / merchandise deals but then started to get cute in the marketing department.

In 1979 they reached into their former rival’s bag of tricks (the ABA employed the dunk and the tres in 1968 “as marketing tool(s) to compete with the NBA (Wikipedia)”) and pulled out the three-point shot to prime the pump.

And b-ball’s never been the same.

There had been a symmetry, a yin & yang that worked a balance in roundball.

....Cowens.wc.1976.TSN.thm.R.KingsburyFans were treated to two theaters of play: one inside where bruisers like Thurmond, Dantley, Unseld, Reed, Walton, Lanier, Cowens, Maurice Lucas, Gilmore and Issel waged war; the other, out on the key where long-rangers David Thompson, West, Bing, Frazier, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, George “Iceman” Gervin, Brian Winters, James Worthy and Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson could heat up in a hurry. And then marvelous middle-men like Bobby Dandridge, Marcus Johnson and Bobby Jones who could seemingly do it all. A veritable smorgasbord of spectacular.

As long as both theaters had direction there was a symbiosis and the houses were packed. No need to bait with famble (fantasy – gamble), no talk of tank and the game flourished for all ages.

By the mid-90s the physical, combative play which had made the sport so colorful simply vanished. Centers and power forwards devolved into mere supporting cast. Much of the action moved away from the paint and out to the key where guards and wannabes directed the flow and became the stars.

The spotlight swung away from bangers and over to finesse men like Erving and Jordan as the 3-pointer and un-contested dunk became signature plays.

As most NBA rookies are today on the 3-yr maturation plan they’ll not develop the wide range of skills that stylers like Dr. J and Michael would eventually learn.

“You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle (Seinfeld).”

.....Durant.thm.OKC.K.Allison.2.1.14.wcThey don’t sell the game anymore, they sell celebrity, air-time (TV / Twitter), gambling (FanDuel / DraftKings) and merchandise (cantaloupe-sized driver heads and wicked metal bats in Little League (Outside the Lines (Disney); 3.1.11)). If it generates a revenue stream then history, integrity, quality and sometimes safety it would appear, get swept aside until uproar begins.

When big-shots like Kev Love (6’10) and Kev Durant (6’9) spend half their time on the perimeter, averaging around 400 three’s per season, you know the game’s gone soft. Both should live inside 15 feet. Instead, recent seasons have seen a steady up-tick in their 3PAs, surprising, given the fine shooting touch both possess when not launching long ones (FG%: .444 (.360) / .483 (.380)).

Prime example of a tamer NBA: In a 2012 post-season game between the Lakers and Thunder (G2), with 6 ticks left and down by just one, rather than design a drive to the hoop for two, maybe draw the foul for three and even on a 2-pt miss, possessing good rebound capability (Gasol / Bynum), coach Mike Brown opts for the low-% 3-pt’er that Steve Blake rims out. Both got lambasted post-game but what the Lakers did was SOP in today’s basketball.

There are men who keep alive dynamic play in the paint like Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Kev Love (imagine if he‘d forget the tres), DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond and forward Blake Griffin: A dying breed.

.....Chance.1913.Bain-News.LoC.thmClosing in on 40 (4.25.76), the former Demon Deacon (See Also; Chris Paul) and U.S. Virgin Islands native has seen his scoring average dip under double-digits (8.5) and minutes below the 25 mark (24.9 (55g)) for first time in his illustrious 19-year NBA career. But like the original “Peerless Leader” in Cubs’ champion Mgr/ 1B’er Frank “Husk” Chance (1898 – 1914), the savvy & strength Duncan imbues in his Spurs team down the stretch, a roster with no shortage of experience in fellow gray-beards in Tony Parker (14), Manu Ginobili (13), Andre Miller (16), Kev Martin (11), David West (12), Matt Bonner (11) and Boris Diaw (11), may make-up for the decline in mobility & capacity that father time always exacts from the athlete who loves the game and goes long.

For the 3-pointer, it’s time it was bounced outta’ the building. Send it, along with dunk contests and home run derby back to Cartoon Country, i.e., Saturday morning TV. That’s not likely to happen but seeing as how the youthenized NBA has no use for the balanced game, maybe a new adult pro league would. Then watch the roundball renaissance begin.

Don’t ever forget this pointer: It’s their business but it’s our game.

.....straight_shooter.thmbSteven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credit: T.Duncan, wc, M.Sandoval, 1.28.07; Duncan, 12.05, CC-BY-2.0, wc; D.Cowens, 1976, TSN, R.Kingsbury, wc; K.Durant, wc, OKC, K.Allison, 2.1.14; F.Chance, wc, Bain-News, 1913, LoC; Straight-Shooter-produce label.
Posted: 3.31.16 @ 5;16pmEST; Copyright © 2016

NBA16: Curry Tres and How the ABA Got the Last Laugh

31 Mar

Poison Pill

A metaphorical meeting between the official ABA (Spaulding) and NBA (Wilson) game balls sometime in early 1976:

NBA: ‘Hey, ABBA, you look kinda’ down, like you need a needle & air but bad. You must’ve heard the news. It’s in the hopper, the merger’s set.

ABA: Merger? That’s cute. More like leveraged buyout, no? I’m just sick over it, like I was bounced around a discothèque for days. Ten years, good times, sustainable profits, the Nets could take Rick Barry and those Warriors easy, hell, the Celtics in six. What was it all for?

......ABA.J.Hadnot.1967.wc.323k.Oaks.thmNBA: For? Are you kidding me? So we could close off avenues of profit and pick your bones clean for expansion, that’s what for. You know the score, competition will not be tolerated. Look at baseball, the WFL, it’s the American way: Monopoly. Didn’t you see Rollerball? The Suits & Skirts in DC are trained seals, the Robes, too. Throw ‘em some smelt ($), give ‘em a bouncy ball to perch on and it’s all set.

ABA: What about the Founding Fathers, The Wealth of Nations (A.Smith), competition in the marketplace, Lincoln, FDR, democracy?

NBA: That‘s political. This is business, baby. Whoever has the jack gets to make more jack. And the faux fan, he doesn’t even care. And he’s majority. They wouldn’t make a peep if it meant missing McDonald’s or a Starsky & Hutch. Laverne & Shirley, maybe. When’d you fall off the rubber truck?

ABA: At least some of us will ♫ survive ♫. Of all four clubs, Spurs, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, I figure the Nuggets…no, the Nets…the Nets will really shine in the National. They’ve been a dynasty here since 1974. Watch n’ see.

NBA: Maybe. That Dr. J is something else, David Thompson, too.

ABA: Could you do me one favor, Nash, it’s no biggie.

NBA: Name it, amigo.

.....ABA.R.Taylor.wc.thm.WA-Caps.1969ABA (Sniffle): Could you take something on, something we in the American have really taken pride in, something that set us apart.

NBA: The ball, that red, white & blue pom-pon? You gotta’ be kidding? Sorry, no offense, ABBA, you know I love you, all balls, any shape, size or color, but c’mon.

ABA: Are ya’ done? Geez. No, not the ball.

NBA: What then!?

ABA: The 3-point shot. It’d mean alot to us. And it’s kitschy.

NBA: Kitschy, huh? Kind of a gimmick I‘d say…hey, take it easy, ABBA, here’s a Kleenex®. Okay, I’ll pitch it to Larry (O’Brien). He doesn’t even watch. Loves The Rockford Files and Kojak. But I’ve got his ear. If I want it in the game, it’ll happen. Bank on it (‘79).

ABA: Thanks, friend (wink).’

Curry Conundrum

This gimmick, some’ll call it an innovation, has never been bigger than in 2016.

With reigning MVP and NBA champ Steve Curry sinking 3-pointers as often as you’ll hear ‘awesome’ uttered in a 24-hr time span, and a finesse heretofore unseen in World NBA, the shot that turned the game into a near non-contact sport has never been more matterful to players & coaches and noticeable to those who monitor basketball’s ebb & flow.

.....Curry.wc.4.6.14.N.Salzman.thmbBut on-the-whole the game’s b-ball beacon has never luminated on such a weak signal. And for that you can thank the tres.

For starters, it’s a long-distance launch that for all practical purpose is almost indefensible. The phrase ‘defending the 3-point’ is downright oxymoronic.

The Curry conundrum is a mindset of indecision: Defender either plays the 3-pt shooter tight, creating back space big enough for a tractor-trailer while risking the 4-pt play (and momentum swing) too easily afforded in these quick-whistle / phantom phoul times; or, he / she opts out of trying to stop the tres altogether after running the cost / benefit analysis which, to the Curry class, is an open invitation with near 50% likelihood of success. Excellent odds for a fat swish.

Steve found his niche and perfected the play (his coach Steve wasn’t too shabby himself). Credit Curry for that. He and others before him took the manner of game given and after a few decades of practice are making the most of it. Now every kid on the block can be a hero. And isn’t that wonderful?

And we’re moving closer to apples & oranges in species of basketball.

The former game fashioned by founder Jim Naismith (1891) was exciting enough to keep fans fascinated for five generations. At it’s core fueling the fun was the symbiotic “association (The Triangle, 1.15.1892 (JN))” between inside – outside games: Power & positioning around the basket contrasted with daring drives to the hoop and swish artistry from the perimeter, all of equal value.

.....Naismith.wc.Evdcoldeportes.thmIt’s now given way to a new millennial form of play termed by this writer as ICBM: Inter-Continental Ball-istic Mode where the 3-point threat pulls most the action away from the frontcourt (paint & post) and into the back, out on the arc (wings) far from the rim and into a nether region of uncertainty. The tres may account for under a third of a game’s total point output but impacts the entirety.

The big guys don’t really know where to post anymore: Up top, down low, somewhere in between (no-man‘s land). Because of that we’ll never know just how good LeBron James could’ve been in the true power-forward position.

Is this what Commissioner Larry O’Brien & Co. foresaw for the NBA when they instituted the 3-point shot in the ‘79-80 season, a basketball game where the once celebrated center spot has lost so much significance it doesn’t even rate mention on the annual All-Star ballot? At first blush I’d answer, no, they did not.

On deeper reflection, however, the prevailing mood amongst guardians of the game may’ve been to seek a change in tempo and temper

In wake of the devastating punch Lakers’ Kermit Washington threw at Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich in a 1977 on-court fracas, a slug so severe it collapsed his face and required multiple surgeries to repair the damage, NBA owners may’ve been seeking a means to calm the game, to a degree, by rule change.

Whether that was a true motive or not it’s calming effect has been so certain it turned the game prosaic where the defensive pulse is so weak the doctor would pronounce the basketball patient comatose.

.....Horse.carosuel.12.30.12.Dinkum.wc.thmSide-effect has been an activity that more resembles a game of running H.O.R.S.E. than a battle on the boards, where every trot down court is merely set-up for matching long-range lift-offs: Low contact, no designed plays, create a space, feed me the ball and watch it fly. Whoop-dee-frickin-do.

Surprisingly, or not, it’s the women’s game (WNBA / college) that is the truer form of roundball in 2016. The strength and torque, as it were, are lesser with the ladies but the synergy between shooter skill and physical fortitude in the paint still thrives to maintain a harmony and a verve that bests the big boys.

Clearly, NBA overlords did not fully consider the gradual but inescapable game-changing impact this ABA osmosis would have on the National and b-ball in general, to the great detriment of the tremendous inside – outside dichotomy that had defined the game from its inception and made it a captivating show.

Perusing my 1983 paperback edition of The Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball (Z. Hollander), the NBA 3-pt shot was slowly mastered and adapted into play where 100 attempts was fairly rare for most shooting guards in the early 80s and the top takers like Mike Bratz (CLE 138a – 46 (82)), Mike Donleavy (SA 194 – 67 (83)), Joe Hassett (214 – 71 (82)) and Darrell Griffith (257 – 92 (85)) only rarely reached the 200 plateau. The championship clubs of the day like the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons (80s), Bulls and Rockets (90s) were still seriously symmetrical working both inside and outside games.

Might the 3-pointer go the way of the dodo bird? Doubtful. Love it and leave it (in place) probably says it best. It’s now the central component to today’s distant cousin of the Naismith game, even as fan interest ebbs low. Sad to think for those who love the rich, full flavor basketball that had thrived for 100 years.

.....straight_shooter.thmbSteven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credits: ABA, Darden-Moe, wc.cca, 1970; ABA, Oakland, J.Hadnot, 1967, wc; ABA, R.Taylor, DC-Caps, 1969, wc; S.Curry, 4.6.14, N.Salzman, wc; horse-carousel, Paris, MoFA, Dinkum, wc, 12.30.12; J.Naismith, wc, Evdcoldeportes; J.Naismith, wc; Straight-shooter, produce-label;
Posted: 3.31.16 @ 12:24pm EST; Copyright © 2016

 

NBA15 Tip-Off: Top Storylines

29 Sep

“An old Indian game. It’s called put-the-ball-in-the-hole (“R.P. McMurphy“ to “Chief (One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest (’75))).”

* * * *

NBA 2015-16 is about to take the court.

Camps have opened with pre-season play beginning on October 2nd. The regular season is slated for tip-off at month’s end (27th). The opening act is a cross-country twin-bill pitting last season’s Finalists against a pair of playoff opponents, both with new head coaches.

The reigning champ Warriors get to unfurl their championship banner in hosting 1st-Rd foe New Orleans (0-4 (Alvin Gentry)), while the Cavaliers head due West to face the Chicago Bulls (Fred Hoiberg) at the banner-filled United Center.

1) Golden State Warriors

You can’t pen a piece about an upcoming season without first giving the champs their due. It’s made easy by the fact that the Warriors are expected by many to get back into the Finals, given the woeful competition and barring the dreaded injury influenza.

What 1st-year head coach Kerr and team accomplished still feels a bit fantastic.

His court leader in guard Steve Curry took regular season MVP honors and became the first 3-point specialist to lead his team to a title. All pretty special stuff that must’ve left victory parade participants Al Attles (coach) and Rick Berry (superstar) beaming with pride (’75 NBA title).

But a smoother roadway to title-town hath never been paved.

The Warriors breezed by the Pelicans (R1 4-0), did get tested by Memphis (4-2 (R2)) but then swept hot-house orchids Atlanta (4-0) and faced a Finals opponent in the Cavaliers who were without their #2 in Kev Love and hobbled elsewhere. LeBron James is special but he ain’t that special. Even Magic (Jabbar-Cooper-Wilkes-Worthy) and Larry (Parish-DJ-Maxwell-McHale) needed their buds.

2) Cleveland Cavaliers

Love re-signed in the off-season. What else do you need to know, except that LeBron James (2y ext’sn) is, if not giddy with optimism, fairly content with State of Cavalier-land and should fully expect a return visit to the Finals next May.

Mr. Blatt was a little shaky in the playoffs (“Not alot you can do (Curry)”), but then Eric Spoelstra came under frequent fire before guiding the Heat to a couple of O’Briens. And the East is pretty barren of serious contenders these days, the West not much better. That points to a quality of competition issue that was in all likelihood absent from everyone’s agenda this off-season. And that’s a shame.

3) Kobe Bryant

He’s denied having decided this’ll be his last run as a player, in opposite of GM Kupchak‘s public musings. Instead, Bryant speaks of a personal renaissance (“rebirth“). He did live in Italy. But Kobe’s body may have more to say about the decision than does his desire. And then planning on a final season absent formal annoucement may simply be his way of forgoing what he and many fans disdain, that being the “farewell tour,” aka, attendance-enhancer & memorabilia-booster.

Like the pantheon of pinstripers populating the long, mostly successful history of the Yankees, Kobe’s been a part of a similar near unbroken chain of great Lakers links since big George Mikan (d.‘05) and “Kangaroo Kid” Jim Pollard (d.‘93) were filling the peach-basket (it was steel rimmed) in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Some nicknames have surfaced over the 19 seasons he pounded NBA hardwood after enlisting straight from high school (Lower Merion, Ardmore, PA (‘96 R1-13 (Hornets-to-Lakers)), “Black Mamba” being the oddest. But like Wilt, Yogi & Cher, the worldly lad from Philly has always been known by one name, Kobe.

Suffice to say Bryant has scored lots o’ points and garned plenty o’ personal hardware in his long NBA tenure (MVP, All-Star, etc.), but it’s the title haul (5), equaling 80s Showtime, that will define his b-ball legacy.

To his character, well, let’s just say the sexual assault arrest (‘03), then case dismissal (‘04), a Bryant apology (sans admission of guilt) and final civil settlement, will likely afford the Lakers great the privilege of not having a statue erected outside Staples Center (x6) in his honor. Then again, these decisions aren’t cast in stone: 2030?

4) Spurs Forever?

There’s been discussion recently as to whether or not the Gregg Popovich Spurs have constituted a true dynasty. My initial view was that five titles in sixteen seasons was qualification aplenty and denial of such was stingy (P.Jackson).

Thinking more on it, a reflection triggered by the baseball Giants failure to once again defend their World Series or even Pennant titles, I’ve come to the belief that San Antonio’s inability to win back-to-backs or even get back to a Finals the season following a championship may very well disqualify them of the dynasty tag. No big whoop.

What owner Peter Holt (‘93) and his Spurs have accomplished since they took their first title in ‘98-99 may be more significant than achieving the dynasty thing: a space-time continuum (Poe). Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but weighty matters seldom do.

The core for 4 of the 5 O’Briens, Tim Duncan (C), Tony Parker (PG) and Manu Ginobili (G), all return for one more season as the Argentinian hints this one will be his last. When any of the three exit it won’t be long before the others follow.

Can the Spurs hold form and fashion one more title run in this staggered 2015-16 season? The infusion of more young talent with the vets didn’t take them too far last spring, bowing out to the Clippers in R1. But the door to title-town is wide open in this NBA and the humble Spurs seem to never stop learning.

5) Commissioner Adam Silver

Commissioners rarely rank high on those most-admired lists. Making money for the owners (and college Presidents), presiding over draft events and dolling out player punishment is what they devote majority of their time. Rarely, one will take the job to heart and go beyond the money rake (Landis / Giamatti (MLB)).

But don’t include Mr. Adam Silver in that select group. The name is apropos.

What can you say that’s inspirational about a point-man Silver who seeks to co-mingle gambling with sport (“good for business”) and handled the sad, multi-sided Sterling matter with all the finesse and courage of a corporate raider? He’s a media darling?

It can’t be an easy job, Commissioner of a major sport. But some leaders are more suited to the task than others who have no more love for the game than the politician who dons whatever ball-cap the campaign whistle-stop dictates.

Bold moves like paring down of an excess of franchises that might pump life’s blood in quality of competition back into the sport, and elimination of gimmickry like the 3-pointer (ABA) that’s destroyed b-ball’s dichotomy, could work wonders for a popularity of that’s ebbing at lowest in decades. Odds on that: 1000 to 1.

6) Team Potentiality

Before the 2015 Conference finals, if you asked me to name-off teams likely to contend for next season’s showcase venues, I’d have included the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks with no hesitation. That was four months and “a 1000 years ago.”

Both front-runners flamed-out in their respective CFs, winning one measly game between ’em both (4-0 (ATL v CLE) / 4-1 (HOU v GSW)).

While the Grizzlies and Clippers didn‘t advance as far in 2015 post-season play, both showed something to build upon. Los Angeles’ addition of wily vet Paul Pierce may be the binding-agent they truly need to become a cohesive crew.

Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credit: S.Curry, wc.cca, 2.24.15, K.Allison.
Posted: 9.29.15 @ 2:18pm EST; Copyright ® 2015

And Moses Led Philly-steens to NBA Promised Land

14 Sep

Moses Malone (1955 – 2015).

Back in the day (70 – 80s) that name struck fear into the hearts of basketball fandom from coast to coast. So just imagine what hearing it did to his peers who had to do battle under the boards with the towering figure from Virginia?

It’s a funny word (“peers”) to use when talking about one of the most dominating centers the game of professional basketball has ever known. Maybe the last true, great center in NBA history, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal notwithstanding.

Peers were far and few between for Mister Malone who died in his sleep on Sunday at the age of sixty from what is believed to have been a heart attack.

The true center, the super-terrific variety, was beginning to go way of the buffalo. Not quite extinct (Cowens, Abdul-Jabbar, Parish, Laimbeer, Sikma, Olajuwon), but no longer ruler of the range of roundball.

The numbers on Malone’s 20+ years in pro ball (ABA (’74) – NBA (’95)) are impressive but don’t completely capture the essence of this large figure in the history of basketball.

The 2001 Naismith enshrinee (HOF) scored alot of points, grabbed bushel baskets of rebounds, won three MVP awards, led two teams to the Finals (HOU / PHI), one of them, the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA championship in 1983 (their last) and played for nine different clubs including two stints in the City of Brotherly Love.

What set Malone apart from other big men of his era was his powerful presence.

.....Malone.wc.L.Witter.10.10.9.USMC.tmStanding at 6’10” and weighing in the low 200s, there were bigger, more muscular ball-handlers than MM, but few had a mental strength, a determination like the guy from Petersburg High School who in 1974 signed as a teenager with the Utah Stars of the former American Basketball Association.

He was neither a brute nor a bully, yet his menacing, almost brooding demeanor, tremendous skill on both ends of the court and possessiveness of the terrain under the basket made him one to be feared and was surely frustrating to opponents who were too often befuddled by this player with such a complete game.

His passing-on at a relatively young age engenders sadness from those who still vividly remember his playing days, while there is a bit of irony to it’s timing in that another NBA star of the time in Darryl Dawkins died recently just a few weeks past ((‘57) – 8.27.15).

It was Dawkins, another college-skipper (Evans (Orlando, FL)), whom Malone replaced at the center spot on the talent-laden but flawed 76ers squad in the early 80s, proving the key cog in the engine that drove Philly to the 1983 NBA title.

The mid-70s marked a rebirth in the Philadelphia scene, a franchise that had not supped champagne since the days of Wilt, Greer, Cunningham & Walker (’67).

With purchase of the team by Fitz Dixon (‘76), the 76ers, already well stocked with a stable of stars in Collins, McGinnis, Dawkins, Mix, Free, concomitant acquisition of Nets’ superstar Julius “Dr. J” Erving from the transitionary ABA ball-club and later key adds in Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones (‘78) and Andrew Toney (’80), the team looked set to be popping the bubbly for years to come.

But the fizz still failed to fly.

.....basketball.M1LF.Reisio.wc.06.tmbPhilly would make two NBA Finals (’77 (Shue) / ’80 (Cunningham)) in the Dixon days and with the sale to Harold Katz in 1981, another (’82), but would be bridesmaids in each (2-4), first versus Walton’s Trailblazers, then Magic’s Lakers and again to LA in the ’82 showcase. Center duties were handled by the tandem of Caldwell Jones and Dawkins, both skilled big men but lacking in that rare ability to carry a team on their back.

In particular, Darryl seemed to typify the new breed of ball-player who too often put a premium on form (dunk) over substance. High-flying aerialist Erving, though a small-forward, was cut from the same cloth.

And then arrived 76ers’s savior in the man Moses Malone.

With the exits of Dawkins and C. Jones and arrival of former Houston Rocket and fierce playoff opponent Malone to start the 1982-83 NBA campaign, the tide was about to turn for Philadelphia.

In a nutshell, Malone was blue-collar ‘ball all the way.

Down (not dirty) in the paint and possessing a shooter’s touch on a soft fadeaway, MM was an adherent of contact b-ball, the way it was intended, keeping the game honest and the beautiful inside – outside dichotomy alive, before 3-pointers tamed the game touchless (‘79) and moved the action out to the perimeter.

The 76ers would finally uncork that nearly frozen champagne by exacting revenge on their Western nemesis, sweeping the Lakers 4-0 in the ‘83 Finals.

Moses would win series MVP going away (25.8 / 18.rb) but would leave Philly at the end of the 1986 season, continuing on with his traveling ways in playing with nine teams in all (PHI x2 (’93)), closing out in San Antonio in 1995.

To his family & friends, I send along my sympathies.

To Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and Caldwell Jones who died a year ago next week (9.21.14), my wish for good journeys in the unknown hereafter and a hearty thanks for giving sport lovers the best of the game.

......straight_shooter.thmbSteven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credits: M.Malone, wc.cca, Cpl.L.Witter, 10.10.09, USMC; Malone, wc, L.Witter, 10.10.09; basketball, M1-LF, Reisio, wc, 06; straight.shooter, produce-label.
Posted: 9.14.15 @ 7:53pm EST: Copyright ® 2015