Posts Tagged ‘2015 Hall of Fame’

Richmond, Marciulionis entering Hall together is a fitting outcome


VIDEO: Sarunas Marciulionis gives his Hall of Fame acceptance speech

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The so-called introduction miles in the air led to South Korea, then Oakland, then to Jim Petersen throwing up an excessive amount of food and drink, then Sacramento, then to a connection that reached Eastern Europe, and then, finally and forever, to New England last week.

Why Mitch Richmond and Sarunas Marciulionis were reunited here in late-summer 2014, after all the decades and all the vodka that had gone before them, was certain: their membership in the same Hall of Fame induction class in a wonderful time collision made better for Marciulionis by the enshrinement of former commissioner David Stern, the man who turned the NBA into a global brand. How they arrived here together was far less clear.

Richmond and Marciulionis could have, and maybe should have, been life-long adversaries. A shooting guard from South Florida, a JC in Missouri and a university in Kansas, a shooting guard one year older to the month from Lithuania and the national team of the Soviet Union. The first time either saw the other was when someone in the Soviet traveling party handed Marciulionis a magazine during a plane ride. He doesn’t remember who gave it to him or where the flight was headed, only that it was 1988 and Kansas State’s Richmond was on the cover.

“This big guy with the pretty smile,” Marciulionis said.

They were face to face the first time months later, on Sept. 28 in Seoul, the semifinals of the 1988 Olympics in the first meeting since the controversial outcome at the 1972 Munich Games. The Soviet Union won 82-76 as Marciulionis scored 19 points. And then, starting in fall 1989, they were Golden State teammates going for minutes at the same position.

Richmond had the advantage of one season of NBA experience under coach Don Nelson, and one big season at that, the run to Rookie of the Year at 22 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Plus, Marciulionis had bad habits to break in the transition to the best league in the world at a time when a player coming from Europe, and especially from behind the Iron Curtain, was a curiosity. But Marciulionis was also fearless when he arrived in Oakland, a physical player backing down from no one.

Those practices. There was no tension amid the international intrigue, no carryover from the Olympics — “Sarunas is too nice of a guy,” Chris Mullin would say in 2014, still close enough to each former teammate that both asked him to be their presenter at the Hall induction ceremony. “He’s such a sweet guy. Two different people, on the court and off the court. On the court, yes, maybe. Tunnel vision and total focus, and Mitch is like that too. But off the court, you couldn’t be mad at Sarunas. There’s no way.” And the Warriors were a tight group that loved to be in the gym anyway, with Mullin and Richmond on board and Tim Hardaway added via the 1989 draft. But Marciulionis and Richmond head-to-head was a sight.

“Guys would say, ‘Man, we thought you guys were fighting on the court,’ ” Richmond said. “I mean, we would go at it. It was just the competitiveness in both of us that we made each other better…. We pushed each other. We fought like we didn’t like each other in practice. But after that, you might see me and Sarunas going to lunch. You might see us hanging out somewhere. But when we were between those lines, man, we played like we hated each other.”

“Sarunas was the toughest guy I ever coached and Mitch was one of the most talented,” Nelson said. “Same size, same position. They just competed and both got better because of it.”

It went on like this for two seasons of ferocious battles one minute, mostly behind the scenes at practice, and friendship the next.

“I had so many things to change and improve because my fundamentals were so far behind NBA teaching, and I came over when I was 25,” Marciulionis said. “Some habits and some basics were missed because our basketball, especially the defensive end, I can’t say were unimportant, but I guess not really explained to me…. During those workouts, practices, they were schooling me all the time. I had to learn how to defend, how to keep the man close, running around those picks all the time — so many details I had to learn the hard way. I was frustrated many times, but that was very, very good training for me.”

The split, for the entire Run TMC era in Golden State, came when Richmond was traded to the Kings with Les Jepsen and a second-round pick for rookie Billy Owens at the start of 1991-92, a deal Nelson would later call one of his basketball regrets. Marciulionis played two more seasons with the Warriors, was traded to Seattle, spent one season there, and became available again. When Richmond heard, he said, he lobbied the Sacramento front office for a reunion.

That happened in 1995-96, but lasted just one season, before Marciulionis was traded again, this time to the Nuggets for what would become his final season. He returned to Lithuania, which gained its independence from the crumbling Soviet bloc in 1990, opened a basketball academy and became a businessman involved in real estate, a hotel and a sports bar among other projects.

Richmond estimated he talked to Marciulionis three or four times a year across the miles, as Richmond played until 2001-02, established a permanent residence near Los Angeles and last season joined the Kings front office that was headed by former Warriors executive Pete D’Alessandro and included Mullin as a top advisor. It helped that Marciulionis would come to winter in San Diego every year, making it easy to swing by Oakland.

“I think we’re pretty close,” Richmond said. “When we see each other, we sit down, laugh and talk and joke and talk about the stories of Sarunas Marciulionis when he used to invite us over to his house (in the Bay Area) and drink that Russian vodka. Ohhhhh, man. He had this thing, when they drink, him and his friends, they liked to box and do crazy things. Who can take a punch in the face and (stuff) like that. Oh, yeah. Oh, they were crazy. They’d be punching each other.

“He had this game where you get one punch. He’ll let you punch him first. You’ve got to punch him anywhere around here,” Richmond said, motioning to the top of his stomach, near the rib cage. “You’ve got to brace yourself. It’s got to be a quick jab. I remember we went over to the house and he was like, ‘Anybody want to do it?’

” ‘No. No. We do not.’

“(Teammate) Jim Petersen says, ‘I’ll do it.’ We’re sitting around and Jim Petersen hits him. Rooney was like, [growling sound] ‘Errrrrr.’ He just turned all red. ‘My turn. My turn.’

“Man, he hit Jim Petersen [high in the stomach.] I thought he threw up everything he ate for two years. Oh, my God. I told my wife, ‘All right, it’s time to go. Everybody, let’s go. It’s time to go.’ That’s how he was. He loved those type of games.”

Suddenly it was Friday night in Symphony Hall, Richmond at the podium with Mullin standing nearby as an official presenter and noting the opportunity to be enshrined with Marciulionis, then later Marciulionis getting his turn and likewise acknowledging the fortunate timing, also with Mullin on stage. All the years, all the countries and all the Jim Petersen regurgitation had led them here, to an unlikely place. It had led them back to being together, now forever.

Horry’s HOF scale … does it exist?


VIDEO: Robert Horry, a seven-time NBA champion, earned his nickname “Big Shot Bob” the old-fashioned way!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Whenever his name is mentioned, the words “NBA legend” usually accompany Robert Horry.

How else should one refer to a man who in 16 NBA seasons collected seven championship rings, played alongside some of the game’s all-time greats, earned the nickname “Big Shot Bob” for his clutch shooting heroics on the biggest stage and has become a cult figure with his own measurement for big shots (All Ball’s famed Horry Scale)?

Horry piled up championship experiences during his playing days that many of his more celebrated contemporaries would trade All-Star nods for. And perhaps even some of that cash they made. What would you want more, the adulation, fortune and fame — all of which inevitably fades over time — or the timeless prestige of seven, count ’em seven, championship rings?

I’d have to think long and hard about that one, really!

The purists have every right to laugh off the Horry belongs in the Hall of Fame argument. He never averaged more than 12 points per game during any season in his career, and he didn’t reach double digits once during his final 12 seasons in the league. Horry only started in 480 of a possible 1,107 games he played in during the regular seasons of his 16 years.

Still, few players were feared the way Horry was with the ball in his hands late and the game on the line. And therein lies the dilemma for a specialist, a role player extraordinaire like Horry. There is no metric available that would bolster his case for entry into the Hall of Fame, his individual numbers (a ho-hum 7,715 career points and nary an All-Star bid) just do not stack up to the Hall of Fame water line. And yet you feel like there has to be some sort of recognition for someone who has accomplished the things Horry did during his career.

He was eligible for consideration with the 2014 class and didn’t make the cut. Horry will join a deep pool of carryover candidates for the 2015 class, headlined by newcomer Dikembe Mutombo, and a star-studded group that includes the likes of Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Spencer Haywood, Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway. They all have stronger individual cases than Horry but possess none of the championship hardware he brings to the party.

Horry reminds me of the NFL specialists who have struggled for years to gain entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It took Ray Guy, arguably the greatest punter in football history, forever to crash through that glass ceiling.

Complicating matters for Horry and others is the fact that the recognition in the Naismith Hall of Fame isn’t just about what a player has done during his professional career. It’s a culmination of an entire life in the game, from high school to college and all the way up to the very top of the heap.

Horry played a significant part in Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers like Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant gobbling up the championship rings that highlight their respective credential lists. If you don’t believe it, ask Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich, all-time great coaches who know the worth of a truly game-changing role player.

While I’m not ready to argue that Horry deserves to be immortalized in Springfield the way the best of the all-time best have been and always will be, and deservedly so. I do think there needs to be some sort of special recognition for a an elite specialists like Horry, a guy whose accomplishments, even in a supporting role, are unparalleled by anyone else during his era.

Can’t he get a plaque or commemorative brick or something to acknowledge his unique contribution to the game?

Ultimately, Horry might have to settle for the scale, the universal love he gets from all corners of the basketball galaxy and the knowledge deep down that there are plenty of men already in the Hall of Fame and on their way who would do anything for just one of his seven rings!

Morning shootaround — Aug. 11


NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA cut motivates Wall for 2014-15 | Ginobili’s international playing days likely done | Who will be in HOF come 2015?

No. 1: Wall has his motivation for next season — Washington Wizards guard John Wall has had his fair share of doubters throughout his NBA career, although his being a part of Team USA’s training camp and his All-Star nod last season has quieted some of that chatter. Wall, though, was cut last week by Team USA in the first roster pare down and tells Ben Standig of CSNWashington.com he will use that as his motivation in 2014-15:

The NBA leader in total assists this past season spoke with CSNwashington.com on Saturday at his charitable foundation’s “Back2School” event for children in Washington. Asked if he was given a fair shot to make the final 12-player roster, Wall said, “Nah, I don’t think so, but it’s a part of the game. I’m just happy to have the opportunity to be there and represent my country. I wish them the best of luck and hope they can win gold.”

Wall, who had treatment on his knee last month, stated he was pleased with his performance during the week.

“It was cool. It wasn’t bad at all,” Wall said of his left knee. “I got through the whole week. I thought I played pretty well. Things didn’t go in my favor. But, we’ll (get) past it.”

Several players from the initial group of 28 passed on competing internationally this summer, including point guards Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams. Those absences combined with Wall’s breakout performance in his fourth NBA season led to the invitation.

Wall didn’t use the relative lateness of the invitation as an excuse, especially since he’s shown plenty in the past.

“I’ve been (around) for four years in a row. I think that’s enough time,” Wall said. “Everybody had the same fair amount of time as far as being (in Las Vegas) and playing. I think [Team USA] already had kind of in their mind what they wanted to do and what decisions they were going (to make).”

 

As the odd man out, Wall now has a new source of motivation heading into the upcoming season.

“Yeah, definitely, always. You want to make every team you try out for. When you don’t, it’s more motivation for me.

“Not even (against) just those (Team USA point guards), but the NBA, period. I guess I’m overlooked again. I guess have to prove myself one more time.”

(more…)

Mutombo tops first-time Hall candidates


VIDEO: Basketball Without Borders: Africa

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The look-ahead at the candidates with NBA ties eligible for the first time for the Hall of Fame’s potential Class of 2015 requires no squinting into the distance. It does not require looking at all, come to think of it.

That voice. No one mistakes the sound, part thunder, part Cookie Monster, often accompanied by a fog horn of a laugh.

The visual is so unique, though. No need to see the face, in smile or the scowl of an intimidating defender, or the imposing 7-foot-2, 265-pound frame or the signature No. 55 that followed him through 18 seasons and six teams. Only one form of ID is necessary.

A finger.

An index finger poked into the sky, wagging back and forth a few times, a windshield-wiper admonishment to whatever foolish, naïve opponent with an obvious need to be embarrassed tried to take the ball to the rim against Dikembe Mutombo.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year, eight-time All-Star and college standout at Georgetown is not only the leading candidate for enshrinement among players eligible for the first time to be nominated, he is the only candidate. Not officially, of course, because the likes of Bruce Bowen and Brent Barry are among candidates beginning with the Class of 2015. But realistically, there is Mutombo alone among peers who last played in 2008-09.

Sitting in the audience Friday night at Symphony Hall as longtime friend Alonzo Mourning was inducted — along with, among others, former commissioner David Stern, a prominent supporter of Mutombo’s years of humanitarian work — may also have been Mutombo getting an advance look around. At the very least, he should breeze through the first round of voting, with results scheduled to be announced at All-Star weekend in New York, before an additional second balloting necessary for candidates in the North America and Women’s categories.

Several NBA carryover contenders will have strong cases, most notably Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway and Spencer Haywood. Bowen, Barry, Bobby Jackson, Matt Harpring, Tyronn Lue, Mark Madsen and others are now options. And Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway and Robert Horry could join the field after not being nominated for 2014 enshrinement despite being eligible. Mutombo, though, is the only new name with a chance to make it all the way to Springfield at the earliest opportunity, finger in tow.