Posts Tagged ‘ABA’

More Moses memories, pre- and post-NBA

VIDEO: Moses Malone career retrospective

It’s been a couple of days since Moses Malone died unexpectedly at age 60 Sunday in Norfolk, Va. Even in this era of 24/7 news coverage, some of the appreciations and remembrances of the legendary NBA center still are getting posted and published. One, from the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, provided some details of Malone’s passing and cause of death (hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease), along with a glimpse into Malone’s recent post-NBA life. Another, by L.A. sports columnist Mark Whicker, recalled the clamor-bordering-on-uproar generated when Malone, intensely recruited as a high school senior, decided to skip NCAA basketball entirely.

First from the Times-Dispatch:

On Tuesday, Malone visited a doctor in Houston, where he lived. Malone was working out when he felt his heart skip a beat. The doctor found nothing wrong, but gave Malone a heart monitor. When Malone was found Sunday, he was wearing his heart monitor.

Police and EMS responded, and they told [Malone’s best friend Kevin] Vergara that Malone probably died of in his sleep.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for Virginia said Malone died of natural causes. The cause of death was listed as hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

“He was always very health-minded,” said Vergara, who noted Malone didn’t drink or do drugs, and skipped sodas and fried foods in favor of grilled chicken, fish and salad. “He’s vigorous about working out.”

Even when Malone traveled, he frequently rose early and visited the hotel fitness center. So when Malone didn’t show up at breakfast at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, no one was worried at first. When he didn’t answer his phone, Vergara went to his room and knocked on the door. Still, there was no response.

Vergara obtained a room key from the front desk. He tried to open the door, but the latch was locked from the inside. That’s when he knew something was wrong.

The story, by Richmond reporter Eric Kolenich, also mentioned Malone’s girlfriend Leah Nash, their 6-year-old son Micah and his two older sons Moses Jr. and Michael. It also spoke of the Malone’s friendships.

“We talked every day, literally,” Vergara said. Even though Malone lived in Houston and traveled frequently, and Vergara remains in Hopewell, they kept in constant contact, often talking about Moses’ love of the Dallas Cowboys and Vergara’s love of the Washington Redskins. As Malone’s mother aged, Vergara cared for her.

And Vergara got to know Malone better than most. Malone had a reputation of not being very smart. But that wasn’t the real Malone, Vergara said.

“He is very smart,” Vergara said. “He was a shy person, but when he got to know you he opened up. And he knows the game. … He would have been a good coach.”

But that wasn’t the route Malone took. Instead, he spent retired life doing speaking engagements and playing in charity golf events. He was still under contract with Nike, which occasionally sent him on trips. He worked out, but he didn’t play basketball much anymore. Golf became his sport of choice.

On Sunday, he was scheduled to play in NBA referee Tony Brothers’ golf event to support single mothers. Malone had participated each of the past six or seven years.

Malone talked about operating his own charity golf event in Petersburg. Vergara says he might start one in Malone’s memory.

Whicker wrote about Malone as a highly sought prep star who ultimately disappointed all of college basketball by signing directly with the ABA Utah Stars. Within two years, he was tearing up the NBA, averaging 25.5 points and 14.1 rebounds through his first nine seasons in the league (1979-87), numbers that no player has matched in a single season since then.

Malone, elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2001, wound up as one of four high school-to-NBA stars who won both NBA championships and Most Valuable Player awards (three in Malone’s case). The others: Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. But in simpler media times, when word-of-mouth mattered, there was an undercurrent of excitement about Malone’s game and potential that stirred a frenzy among college coaches:

Malone somehow became as good as the college recruiters thought he was. New Mexico had a late-season game against Florida State, and assistant coach John Whisenant went from Tallahassee to Petersburg. And stayed. He was at the Howard Johnson motel until Malone signed in June, with Maryland.

Whisenant now works in commercial real estate in Albuquerque. Malone was his friend. After he signed, he drove to the hotel to tell Whisenant.

“I don’t know whose car it was,” Whisenant said Monday. “I know Moses didn’t have one. The whole thing was the most bizarre recruiting story you’ve ever seen.”

Whisenant would accompany Malone to high school all-star games, throughout the country, and then fly home with him. Malone would hang out at the motel before he went home. Together they watched Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run on TV. Sometimes Malone would bring his best friend Nathan, who was a manager on the high school team.

“They would sit there and sing,” Whisenant said. “Nathan was a great singer and Moses would do backup. They sang Motown songs. Sometimes I hear songs on the radio and think of those two.”

Malone and Nathan would take Whisenant to the Mouse Trap, the local nightclub, and Whisenant would sit there as the only white person in the place and think how far he’d come from Gore, Okla.

“I was trying to hold off the entire ACC,” Whisenant said. The Maryland people were everywhere. Lefty Driesell was an all-world recruiter. His obsessive assistant, Dave Pritchett, was known as Pit Stop. They would visit the hotel, too. That’s where Whisenant met an intense Detroit coach named Dick Vitale.

Sometimes Driesell would call Whisenant and imitate Malone, just for fun.

Driesell asked Malone who the toughest playground player in Petersburg was.

“Well,” Malone said, “there was The Milkman.”

Why did they call him The Milkman?

“Because he killed a milkman, man,” Malone replied.

The best part of that story is that it is possibly true.

Morning shootaround: Sept. 14

VIDEO: Remembering the great Moses Malone


Malone helped shape Olajuwon’s game, career | World Peace ready to return, but where? | A pressure shift in Miami from Bosh to Dragic | Moses the NBA’s most underappreciated great player

No. 1: Malone helped shape Olajuwon’s game, career — Moses Malone, who died Sunday at 60, was a pioneer, a teen phenom who would go on to become a three-time MVP, all-time NBA great and a Hall of Famer who ranks among the biggest and best players the game has seen. But who knew he served as a tutor and guide to another one of the NBA’s all-time greats, Hakeem Olajuwon, during the formative stages of The Dream’s Hall of Fame career? Our very own Fran Blinebury tells the story of Moses the mentor and the special bond between these two NBA titans:

It was 1982 and Malone had just won his second MVP award with the Rockets (he’d claim his third the next season). Olajuwon had just finished his first season at the University of Houston.

“Oh Lordy,” NBA veteran Robert Reid remembered years later. “The place got real quiet. It was on that play, at that minute, when a lot of us stood there and wondered, ‘What do we have here?’ ”

What a shrinking world had in this most unlikely union that brought together a made-in-America big man off the streets of Petersburg, Va., with a wide-eyed sponge from Lagos, Nigeria, was perhaps the greatest teacher-student class project in basketball history.

Malone, who died Sunday at 60, combined with Olajuwon to total 54,355 career points, 29,960 rebounds, 5,563 blocked shots, 24 All-Star appearances, four MVP awards, three Finals MVP trophies and two places in the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Theirs was a relationship born in the school of hard knocks and forged by the white-hot fire of mutual and insatiable competitive drive, out of range of the TV cameras, away from the prying eyes, where all that mattered was how much you had to give.

“I would never have accomplished what I did if I did not play against Moses at Fonde,” Olajuwon said before his own Hall of Fame induction in 2008. “I knew the rules. I knew the basics of the game and what you were supposed to do. But he is the one that taught me how to do it.

“With Moses there were no rests, no breaks. He was working every time down the court — scoring, rebounding or just making you feel his body. He would laugh when he slammed into you. If you tried to take a breath, he went by you or over you. There was no stop.”

They were opposite sides of the same coin. Where Malone would bump and grind and wear down an opponent with his sheer physical play and relentless pursuit of the ball, Olajuwon wore opponents out with an array or spins, fakes, double- and triple-pumps that were more varied and colorful than a painter’s palette.

“I usually couldn’t go through Moses, because he was just so strong,” Olajuwon said. “So I had to learn to use speed and agility to go around him. That’s how I built my game.”

*** (more…)

Hall of Fame weighing election change

By Scott Howard-Cooper,

The Hall of Fame has discussed ending some or all of the five categories that gave candidates an easier path to enshrinement the last four elections, an outcome that, if it happens, would most noticeably impact former players and coaches from the ABA.

“Let’s put it this way,” said Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the Springfield, Mass., basketball museum. “This year, for the first time, we brought that up, to say, ‘You know, when we did this, we said it’s not forever.’ The concept was we felt people had slipped through the cracks. This was a catch-up kind of a thing, so we’re not locked in. We need now to review it each year, to say maybe we’ve taken care of what needed to be taken care of in this category or that category. But it’s just too early to say what we’re going to do.”

The current format with the direct-elections will “probably” remain in place for at least one more year, Colangelo said, because the Hall would prefer to phase out categories rather than make an abrupt end. That leadership is having conversations now, though, indicates internal questions have already developed about whether enough deserving candidates exist for the specialized categories beyond 2015.

While eliminating the categories would make the path to enshrinement harder in most cases, it would not end chances. It would simply return to the days of all candidates needing two rounds of voting for induction, a contrast to the current plan of a single, smaller election for nominees in the Contributor, ABA, Early African American Pioneers, Veterans and International fields. Receiving the necessary support — currently at least 18 votes from a 24-member panel — would additionally become more difficult because most candidates would be weighed in the same North American committee against the biggest names from the NBA and NCAA.

International representatives could still have separate elections and would likely remain a regular at enshrinement ceremonies every summer. Certainly a winner from the Contributors category will be as voters salute important work off the court. A lot of the winners from there, including David Stern in 2014, are getting in with any selection process.

But not having its own vote would clearly be a blow to hopefuls from the ABA years after the category Colangelo created with the African American Pioneers in 2010 became the Springfield welcome mat for Artis Gilmore, Mel Daniels, Roger Brown and, this year, Bob Leonard. It has turned out to be an annual Pacers salute. In the greatest sign of the importance of the direct-elects, Gilmore had been removed from the ballot in the North America category from a lack of support before making it via the ABA.

That puts a lot of candidates on the clock if the current format is canceled after one more election cycle: Zelmo Beatty, Ron Boone, Mack Calvin, Louie Dampier, Freddie Lewis, George McGinnis, Doug Moe and Bob Netolicky, among others. One of the biggest ABA names, Spencer Haywood, is going through the North America committee and is a 2014 finalist.

In addition to the elections of Stern and Leonard announced in February, Sarunas Marciulionis made the Class of 2014 from the International committee, Nat Clifton via the Early African American Pioneers and Guy Rodgers from the Veterans. The inductees from among the finalists following a second round of voting for the North America — Tim Hardaway, Haywood, Kevin Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Nolan Richardson, Mitch Richmond, Eddie Sutton and Gary Williams — as well as the Women’s category will be announced April 7 as part of the Final Four.

We All Count Numbers But Do All Numbers Count?


Two weeks ago, Ichiro Suzuki of the New York Yankees rapped a first-inning single to left field off Toronto pitcher R.A. Dickey, briefly interrupting a game at Yankee Stadium that barely had begun and sparking a lively discussion among baseball insiders and fans.

The hit was the 4,000th of Ichiro’s remarkable career, which has been split between Japan’s highest professional league and the major leagues here in the U.S. Specifically – and bear with us here, this post will eventually be put in NBA context – the Yankees’ right fielder had 1,278 hits in nine seasons with the Orix Blue Wave from 1992-2000, before amassing – in 13 seasons with the Seattle Mariners (2001-2012) and New York (2012-13) – an astounding 2,729 through Wednesday night.

No one doubted that Ichiro had reached a milestone and made history of a particular sort. But was he on his way toward a record? Most folks agreed he was not. Pete Rose remains MLB’s “Hit King” with 4,256 and Ty Cobb – despite losing a couple of hits off his famous total of 4,191 due to clerical corrections through the years – is next at 4,189.

Predictably, the pugnacious Rose bristled at the interpretation that Ichiro was closing in on his mark. “He’s still 600 hits away from catching [Yankees teammate] Derek Jeter, so how can he catch me?” the 17-time NL All-Star, still barred from Hall of Fame consideration by his lifetime ban for gambling, told USA Today. “Hey, if we’re counting professional hits, then add on my 427 career hits in the minors. I was a professional then, too.”

But in their appreciation for Ichiro – who was 27 when he got his first crack at AL pitching – some witnesses blurred the line a little between hits here (as in MLB) and hits anywhere.

“This is something, you don’t have to be from Japan, you don’t have to be a U.S. player, you don’t have to be a Canadian player, a Dominican player,” Ken Griffey Jr., his former Seattle teammate, told “You can just look and see how much time and effort and the things he’s done to perfect his craft. This is something that three people will have done, to have 4,000 hits. Those are Bugs Bunny numbers.”

This, of course, is and that is the point of this exercise.

With the explosive growth of professional basketball around the globe, with the acknowledgement almost every summer – whether in EuroBasket competition, the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics – that some of the game’s greatest players will spend part or all of their careers outside of the NBA, it’s a question worth asking: Should stats from leagues elsewhere in the world be counted in a player’s lifetime totals?

Look, this isn’t a matter of re-writing a record book. It’s not as if Luis Scola – who started playing professionally in 1995-96, logging 12 seasons overseas before hitting the NBA – or anyone else is bearing down on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time points record (38,387).

But maybe basketball fans would have a better sense of, say, Arvydas Sabonis‘ greatness if his “career” numbers weren’t limited to the 5,629 points, 3,436 rebounds or 964 assists he’s given credit for in his seven NBA seasons. All of them came after age 30, by which time the dazzling 7-foot-3 Lithuanian was a hobbled, heavier and lesser version of his youthful self.

Maybe Drazen Petrovic would be recalled in more discussions about the game’s greatest shooters if the Croatian marksman’s international stats were lumped in with his modest NBA numbers. (Maybe not, given Petrovic’s tragic death at 28 in a car accident in Germany clipped his career here at the other end.)

And it seems weird that an established NBA player like Andrei Kirilenko would have a hole gouged in his resume just because he opted to play the 2011-12 season back in his homeland, for CSKA Moscow, while the owners and players here hashed out their lockout squabble and patched season. Kirilenko was named Euroleague MVP and averaged better than 14 points and seven rebounds, but from his file on, you’d think he’d taken a sabbatical to touch llamas in Tibet or something.

One problem with counting statistics from foreign leagues is that, well, those leagues aren’t so good at counting them themselves. Reliable stats and records are hard to come by, such that Sabonis’ and Petrovic’s entries at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and on its Web site don’t have full and accurate numbers.

Another beef is that non-NBA competition doesn’t measure up, so stats compiled elsewhere might be inflated. That may, in some cases, be true. But it’s the same gripe that largely has kept the stats of the American Basketball Association (ABA) separate and not-quite equal 45 years after that rival league’s inception. More than a dozen Hall of Famers spent part or all of their careers in the ABA, and in the first post-merger All-Star Game (1977), 10 of the 24 players were former ABA-ers. But resentment of what the ABA meant, business-wise, to some old-school NBA owners lingered, in spite of the quality of many of its performers.

So what makes more sense: Listing Julius Erving as the No. 58 scorer in NBA history (18,364), just ahead of Glen Rice (18,336)? Or counting his ABA numbers and moving him to No. 6 (30,026) as one of the half dozen players who reached that 30,000-points level? In a sense, Erving is  the NBA’s equivalent of Ichiro, a mid-career pioneer who crossed some borders for his sport.

The Naismith Hall – as we’ll be reminded Sunday with the Class of 2013 enshrinement ceremony – embraces all levels of the game, from outstanding amateurs to foreign legends to NBA superstars, and looks at careers in full. This league rightly should maintain its record book however it sees fit, but citing combined numbers as milestones, accomplishments and bits of history is legit, too.

Big O: LeBron Would ‘Excel’ As NBPA Prez


LeBron James is said to be “mulling” making a bid for the presidency of the NBA players association.

Oscar Robertson held that post longer than any NBA player in history.

To this day, Robertson remains the biggest name to have served his fellow players in that capacity. And as one of the game’s true Olympian figures, Robertson cannot imagine a better candidate than James, who is on his way to similar heights.

“Yeah, he’d have to think about it — I think he would have an excellent situation,” Robertson said in a phone interview Thursday evening. “I think if he was president of the players [union], he would excel like he does on the basketball court. I guess, maybe now with all the advice and the consultants and things, it would be a different situation.”

Robertson, the NBA’s legendary “Big O” during his Hall of Fame career in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, served as president of the National Basketball Players Association from 1965 to his retirement in 1974. Those were some of the league’s, and the union’s, most tumultuous years, when the two sides hammered out the makings of today’s so-called “player-owner partnership” mostly by colliding repeatedly into each other.

Big O key in early labor battles

Organized by Celtics great Bob Cousy in 1954 and further established by his Boston teammate Tom Heinsohn from 1958-65, the union in 1965 still was fighting for what now would be considered bare essentials: pay for preseason games, better medical care, the concept of an All-Star “break,” modest bumps in meal money and pensions, and a boost in the minimum player salary — out of FOUR figures. All of the strategies and jargon that were in play during the 2011 lockout, like cancelled games and filings with the National Labor Relations Board? Those were in play in the 1960s, too, when the NBPA’s power base was a lot more tenuous.

“Actually, I was naïve when I started,” Robertson said. “I didn’t know anything about it.  Sometimes it’s fate, what happens. So I just got involved. I didn’t know anything about the union whatsoever — I knew what it was because I was in it, but as far as how to run it, it was on-the-job training for me.”

The American Basketball Association (ABA) sprang up in 1967, exacerbating tensions between the NBA’s owners and the players. By 1970, with salaries bid ever higher and the two leagues in merger negotiations, the union filed an antitrust lawsuit to block such a move, given its impact on their employment and freedoms. The players sought to abolish the college draft and the option clause in standard contracts that bound them to their teams in perpetuity. Acrimony spiked, and a lawsuit in the matter soon became known for the union president’s name attached to it: the Oscar Robertson suit.

“I’m glad that I was a star,” Robertson recalled Thursday. “Because if I was a mediocre player, I wouldn’t have lasted very long. Because in those days, the league hated you as a player rep and they wanted to get rid of you.”

Robertson, now 74, wasn’t just a star. He was the LeBron James of his day (or vice versa). Many people know of him as the master of the triple-double — in 1961-62, he famously averaged at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for an entire season. What too many neglect, of course, is that Robertson averaged 30.8 points along with those 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.

Even fewer realize that the 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard averaged a triple-double over his first five seasons in the league: 30.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 10.6 apg in 384 appearances from 1960-61 through 1964-65.

Robertson’s game gave him a voice, not unlike James in Houston at All-Star weekend in February. On that Saturday, at the union’s membership meeting at the Hilton, James commanded the room by probing and leading the discussion of NBPA executive director Billy Hunter’s job performance and ethics, outgoing president Derek Fisher’s role, the members of the union’s executive committee and the very future of the association.

James and veteran Jerry Stackhouse, through their comments, questions and actions that afternoon, reportedly imposed order on a group spinning out of control. Stackhouse, who recently told that the union hopes to name a replacement for Hunter (and acting director Ron Klempner) sometime after Christmas, isn’t expected to be active as a player this season.

But James’ star power as a possible NBPA president could boost the union’s credibility and impact.

Stars have tradition of taking NBPA spotlight

The star-driven NBA has had, for more than a decade, a union driven by role players. What Cousy, Heinsohn and Robertson began, others such as Bob Lanier, Isiah Thomas and Patrick Ewing continued. But since 2001, Michael Curry (2001-05), Antonio Davis (2005-06) and Fisher (2006-present) have headed the NBPA.

Through the union’s first 47 years, 10 players served as president; seven wound up in the Hall of Fame and the 10 combined for 75 All-Star selections. In the past 13 years, Davis’ 2001 All-Star appearance stands alone. None of the last three presidents is headed to Springfield.

That didn’t preclude them from being effective — Fisher worked tirelessly and often thanklessly through the prickly lockout two years ago. But the clout that comes with star status — James has two NBA titles with the Heat, four MVPs, Olympic gold and more — can help immensely, Robertson said.

“I felt I commanded a lot of respect from a lot of different ball players, when you say something to the guys,” Robertson said. “And if you’re friendly with ‘em, other than playing basketball, it will help also.”

Finding NBA stars willing to take on the role, while sacrificing time and outside earning opportunities, has gotten more difficult. Robertson thinks it has something to do with the stakes these days.

“That’s always been [an apathy] problem with some guys,” he said. “But you look at it over the years, with all of the problems they’ve had, a lot of players because they’re making money, they just don’t get involved. They don’t need to — it might hurt you selling a pair of shoes or a headband or something.”

Robertson: NBPA prez a job of ‘sacrifice’

People can debate the merits of a union president who dominates All-NBA teams vs. one who relates (and earns similarly) to the league’s middle class. Either version will wind up logging long hours. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s a sacrifice,” Robertson said. “Especially if you do a good job. If you do the job [the way] they’re going to have confidence in you, sometimes it gets a little lonely. Until something happens.

“I didn’t think about whether it was hard or not [to make time]. It was an opportunity. There was an awful lot going on when I was with the players association, a lot of changes that needed to be done. Some we did right, some we didn’t.”

Robertson is proud of the gains achieved by the NBPA during his tenure. The Robertson lawsuit triggered negotiations that led to free agency, as well as a settlement that paid more than $4 million to then-current players and another $1 million in union legal fees. Pensions improved and the minimum salary tripled on his watch.

Only a handful of his peers or players since have thanked him for his service, Robertson said (“But I didn’t do it for that anyway”). He also said he paid a professional price. Robertson was dropped after one season as color analyst on the NBA’s network telecasts because, legend has it, some owners bristled at such a prominent role for the player who sued them.

On the other side of the ledger, however, Robertson points to the strides they all made. “Look at the money guys are making now,” he said. “Look at the [charter-jet, luxury-hotel] travel. There’s an orthopedic doctor at the games. You get better meal money. You have a right to go to other teams if you don’t have a valid and existing contract with your team.

“There’s no doubt about it — we were there during some [pivotal] years for the NBA.”

So there are some of the pros and cons, in Robertson’s view, as James mulls a potential candidacy: The time commitment, the opportunities skipped, the politics involved, knowing when to delegate and so on. The Hall of Famer said he would be willing to advise James, if asked. Also, Robertson’s old friend Jim Quinn — the attorney who worked on the lawsuit four decades ago and helped broker the lockout settlement 20 months ago — is again working with the NBPA in its search for Hunter’s replacement.

The union’s greatest challenge now? “Getting rid of personality tiffs. That kills you,” Robertson said.

“Somebody gets upset … because somebody doesn’t like what you’re doing, and they start this current going against you. A lot of players, when they start to make millions of dollars and they get agents who also are afraid to have their little nest egg cut off, that’s what happens.”

James, through force of personality and basketball superiority, might be the right choice to stem that.

Duncan Appreciation Day

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Getting a glimpse of Tim Duncan‘s first NBA basket reminds you of many of the nearly 8,000 other shots he’s made during his Hall of Fame career.

No flash or anything extra, just a man doing his workmanlike best to get the job done. It’s a shame we need to be dazzled to take notice of greatness.

It pains us that we only step back and appreciate Duncan’s exploits when he passes a milestone the way he did Friday night in Utah, becoming the leading scorer in Spurs’ NBA history with 20,810 points — to old school hoops heads Duncan is still  2,792 points behind “The Iceman,” George Gervin, who dropped 23,602 points during his Hall of Fame career that three seasons with the ABA Spurs.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich summed it up best:

“There’s no flash, no beating the chest. Just go up and down the court, go home and get a sandwich.”

Duncan’s big night was celebrated appropriately, they won in Utah for the first time since April 2009 and improved to 10-1 for the first time … which was perhaps the most surprising development of the night.

And history will be much kinder than we are to one of the game’s truly all-time great talents. Whatever Duncan lacks in sizzle he makes up tenfold in substance.

When you pass up the likes of Gervin and David Robinson on the career list for anything, you know you’re in elite company. And that’s why we’re going to spend the 24 hours after Duncan’s fabulous Friday night celebrating him the way he should be celebrated. Why wait until he’s done to show him the proper respect he deserves?

So we’re officially declaring this Duncan Appreciation Day here at the hideout (we make up our own holidays around here), a day when we sit back and enjoy a guy while he’s still getting it done.