SAN ANTONIO — To most Americans “Remember the Alamo” is a famous battle cry they learned in middle school.
For the Heat, it might simply be something they’re trying to do.
With the shortened lockout schedule wiping out their trip to San Antonio last season and coach Gregg Popovich letting the air out of a marquee showdown four months ago, tonight’s game (NBA TV, pregame 6:30 p.m.) at the AT&T Center will be the first meeting between the key players of the NBA’s top two teams in more than 14 months and the first trip to the Alamo City by Miami’s Big Three since March 4, 2011.
Manu Ginobili is already a scratch from the Spurs’ lineup after suffering a hamstring injury in the first quarter of Friday night’s win over the Clippers.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has indicated that since his team’s 27-game win streak has been snapped, he’ll be looking to get some rest for his key players before the playoffs begin in three weeks. He sat out starting point guard Mario Chalmers on Friday night against the Hornets.
But first, it’s likely that a pair of No. 1 seeds in each conference — clearly the two best teams in the league this season — will have most of their frontline stars on the court to circle, jab and try to deliver the kind of meaningful blow that might still be felt if the Spurs and Heat meet up again in the NBA Finals.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh vs. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, minus Ginobili still carries the knockout punch feel of a heavyweight fight in the most anticipated regular season game in San Antonio in years.
“We haven’t played each other a lot,” Wade told reporters after Friday night’s win in New Orleans. “And that’s the Eastern and Western Conference, you don’t get a chance to see each other a lot until hopefully you meet at the end of June.”
“They play with a higher pace and a higher energy level at home,” said forward Shane Battier. “It’s a tough place. But it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
What’s at stake officially is still the race for the overall best record in the league and home-court advantage all the way through the playoffs. Miami’s 57-15 record is two games better than San Antonio, but a Spurs win would slice that in half, give them a 1-1 split of the season series and the tie-breaker (record against the opposite conference) should they eventually meet up with the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the line.
“You play all year trying to get home-court advantage,” said Popovich, “because that’s where you always feel most comfortable. But having said that, you don’t win championships without being able to win on the road.”
You’d be lucky to get the stoic Spurs, always a reflection of their never-let-them-see-you-sweat coach, to even admit they knew the Heat were next up on the schedule.
It’s the approach taken by second-year forward Kawhi Leonard, who’ll draw the main assignment of guarding James, who is likely on his way to a fourth MVP award, which would put him in the select company of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan (five), Bill Russell (five) and Wilt Chamberlain (four).
“I don’t think nothing of it, really,” said the 21-year-old Leonard. “It’s how I’ve been playing my whole life, guarding the best player on the other team.”
Of course, the first Heat-Spurs stirred up more than its share of controversy, debate and repercussion back on Nov. 29 when Popovich showed his disdain for the NBA schedule-maker by having Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Danny Green fly straight home from Orlando and miss the last stop (and a back-to-back) at the end of a six-game road trip at Miami. It had been a much anticipated and highly promoted national TV game on TNT. The club was fined $250,000 and reprimanded by commissioner David Stern for the stunt and yet a collection of Spurs understudies pushed the Heat stars to the limit in a 105-100 loss.
“People say, ‘Oh, he’s resting them,’ but it’s not about rest,” said Popovich. “It’s about being as healthy as possible at the end of the year.
“Not playing that fourth game in five nights, if you’ve got Tim Duncan’s knee and you’re at his age, might make him more ready to go at the end of the year. At lot of guys play 40-plus minutes to win now. We’re more concerned with later.”
While Miami is 2-22 all-time at the AT&T Center and took a 125-95 beating on Mar. 4, 2011 in the only other visit to San Antonio since the James-Wade-Bosh trinity was formed, it is more curiosity and honing their own game that is on the minds of the Heat.
“It’s always good to play the best and play against the best,” James said. “It’ll be an opportunity for us. We just want to get better. The game Sunday doesn’t define our season or how we go from there. We just want to continue to move forward.”
Perhaps to a historic June rematch that would be as memorable as the Alamo.
HANG TIME, Texas -- The Hatfields and McCoys, Montagues and Capulets, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj have never had anything on the NBA. When it comes to feuds, there have been some dandies.
So when Pat Riley and Danny Ainge went lip-to-lip this week it was just the latest chapter. Here are just a few other memorable ones:
Danny Ainge vs. Tree Rollins
In a 1987 first round playoff game against Atlanta, the Celtics’ guard Ainge tried to tackle 7-footer Rollins of the Hawks. They wound up in a heap of bodies on the court and Ainge came out of the pile screaming with a gash that required two stitches from where Rollins had bit him.
The next day’s edition of the Boston Herald bore the headline: Tree Bites Man.
Joey Crawford vs. Tim Duncan
It was a 1997 playoff series when the bombastic veteran referee did not like that Duncan was laughing on the bench and challenged him to a fight. The league fined and suspended Crawford and banned him for working Spurs games for several years.
The pair has since patched things up. However Duncan and teammate Manu Ginobili were photographed in October at a Halloween Party where they aimed fake guns and guest dressed up as Crawford.
Clyde Drexler vs. Jake O’Donnell
The final game of the veteran referee’s career came on May 9, 1995 when he ejected the Rockets’ Drexler in the second quarter of a playoff game in Phoenix. The league suspended O’Donnell and he never worked another game. Drexler claimed that there was no previous history between the two.
But league sources confirmed that Drexler had been ordered to send a written apology to the ref following a 1989 incident when he played in Portland and had threatened O’Donnell prior to a game.
Red Auerbach vs. Phil Jackson
It practically became a running joke. Each spring when the Zen Master would close in on adding another championship ring to his collection, some mischievous reporter would dial up the former Celtics legend and let him vent.
“Three titles in a row don’t constitute a dynasty,” Auerbach would rant. “He had Michael Jordan and Shaq.”
Of course, Red had Bill Russell.
Jackson usually responded with a bemused smile and a zinger and ultimately that cap with the Roman number X for his 10 championships when he passed Auerbach’s total of nine.
LeBron James vs. Dan Gilbert
All it took was James announcing on national TV that he was taking his talents to South Beach for the Cleveland owner to vent all of his frustrations in a letter that accused LeBron of selfishness and “cowardly betrayal” and promised that his Cavs would win a championship before The King.
Well, so Gilbert is a better venter than prognosticator. He has since admitted that his childish actions were wrong and, besides, all we be forgiven if LeBron opts out of his Heat contract and returns to the Cavs in 2014.
Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kobe Bryant
So how many more championships could the Lakers have won in the early years of the 21st century if the two giants of the court had been able to make their huge egos squeeze comfortably into the same locker room?
Kobe thought Shaq was lazy. Shaq thought Kobe was a ballhog.
So they both were right. Then things got personal and nasty and out the window went any chance of a “four-peat.”
We’re past the point now where the Heat can slip on their noise-canceling headphones and pretend the only beats they hear have been downloaded according to personal taste.
After 105-103 in Boston on Monday night, the drums are pounding louder than the “1812 Overture” all over the basketball world.
The Heat’s 23rd consecutive victory pushed them past the anomaly that was the 2008 Rockets and at very least tiptoes them across the threshold and inches them into the throne room with royalty.
Wilt, West and Goodrich. LeBron, Wade and Bosh. That’s a Hall of Fame red carpet that’s rolled out between them.
Make no mistake. It is all no more than a hollowed-out log if they aren’t standing under a shower of confetti and holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. Because that’s why you play the game. It is fine for the contrarian Jeff Van Gundy and stat geek Daryl Morey to point out that these serpentine win streaks that stretch from one month into the next are almost as rare as unicorns and therefore technically more difficult to achieve than championships.
But let me know the next time somebody hangs a win streak banner from the rafters or hands out rings for consecutive regular-season wins.
As Magic Johnson said: “I’ll take the diamonds.”
Heat upcoming schedule
Still, there is no denying that what is happening here is special. Even the usual facade of the ‘”We’re-above-it-all” Heat is slipping to reveal the emotion that’s building like the lava dome under a volcano.
A week ago, those in the Miami locker room still insisted that nobody was thinking about a double-digit win streak or rushing to flip ahead several pages in the record book. But a look at the expressions and the emotions that showed on the Heat faces in the fourth quarter at the TD Garden on Monday night showed just how much has changed. They were down 13 with eight minutes to play. Rather than appear defeated, the Heat were defiant.
It is prudent to note that they are just over 2/3 of the way from the record of 33 held by the 1971-72 Lakers. If the Heat were an individual player chasing Wilt’s 100-point game, they would have 69. Impressive, but still a long way off. Yet stepping over the flotsam of the Houston team that couldn’t even win a first-round playoff series in 2008 clears a path toward their own unique place in the game.
“It means a lot,” James said. “I am a historian of the game. I know the history of the game. I know almost all the teams that have come through the ranks. To be sitting in second place right now, with so much that this game has given to our fans and everything, for us to be there, doing it the way we want to do it, it means a lot.”
Back in the summer of 2010, in the aftermath of “The Decision,” James was ridiculed for ticking off the number of championships that the Heat could win — “not one … not two … not three … not four … not five … not six … not seven …”
But now that they’ve got the first title, and it seems reasonable to think there’s another in the pipeline, this could be their once-in-a-slam-dunking-lifetime opportunity to put an indelible stamp and stake a place in the NBA’s pantheon.
While Michael Jordan’s Bulls won six championships, it is the 1996 team that set a regular season record of 72-10 that stands above them all. The 1967 Sixers, led by Chamberlain, won a then-record 68 regular-season games and made their mark by ending the eight-year reign of Bill Russell’s Celtics. The 1983 Sixers vaulted from an overpowering 68-14 regular season to the pinnacle behind Moses Malone’s “Fo’, fo’, fo’ “ proclamation that they nearly fulfilled by running through the playoffs with a 12-1 record. And, of course, the Lakers ran off their 33-0 streak early in the 1971-72 season, won a then-record 69 games and made their claim as the all-time best team by closing the deal on the championship.
A singular achievement. That’s where the Heat are now, fully engaged and fully aware that this is now the stuff of legacy. It is what James and Wade and Bosh came together to do.
“We’re aware, and it’s a special opportunity that we have with this group,” said coach Erik Spoelstra. “And you don’t want to take it for granted. You want to treat every day as a special opportunity to be with this group, to share these moments together, but more importantly to take a step closer to going after our goal. And every day that we improve puts us in a better position in a quest where nothing is guaranteed for anybody.”
It is almost a living, breathing creature inside the locker room, one they’ve fed and fueled. It forces the Heat to look at themselves differently.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Before we could unpack from our trip to Houston for All-Star Weekend the news hit us all. Hall of Fame Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss lost his battle with cancer Monday.
It was a bittersweet start to the busiest week of the NBA season, what with Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline usually dominating the headlines and airwaves. And it should prove to be just as compelling as usual, with the rumors always outpacing the actual deals in terms of sizzle.
We did our best to squeeze all of that and more into Episode 105 of the Hang Time Podcast, which also features a guest appearance from recent Michigan Sports Hall of Fame inductee and NBA TV’s very own Steve Smith.
In addition to our chat with Smitty, we also got some quality time with the greatest winner in the history of the game, Bill Russell. The living legend and 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics (which should explain our penchant for referring to him as “The Lord of the Rings”), sat down for an interview during All-Star Weekend and shared some insights on the past, present and future of the game.
Do you agree with Michael Jordan‘s “five is better than one” choice of Kobe Bryant over LeBron James? What did Rick Fox say to Dwight Howard when they met face-to-face during All-Star Weekend? And where in the heck is Hawks forward Josh Smith headed, if anywhere, before Thursday’s deadline?
Check out all of that and more on Episode 105 of the Hang Time Podcast.
. HOUSTON – NBA All-Star weekend is the one time every year where the past, present and future of the game are all on full display.
Few stars of the past, present or future shine as bright as Bill Russell, aka “The Lord of the (Championship) Rings.” The Boston Celtics great and Hall of Famer recently celebrated his 79th birthday. The party continued over the weekend as he made his annual pilgrimage to the All-Star city and spent some time sharing his wisdom with the current stars who seek his counsel.
A five-time MVP, 11-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star in his 13 seasons with the Celtics, Russell was also a pioneer for African-American professional athletes, serving as a key voice and figure during the civil rights era.
The embodiment of the phrase “Barrier Breaker,” Russell will be featured in “Mr. Russell’s House,” the second of a three-hour documentary block on NBA TV Monday that begins with “One on One withAhmad Rashad: Michael Jordan” at 8 p.m. Bill Simmons’ interview with Russell, “Mr. Russell’s House,” will follow at 9 p.m., and Ernie Johnson’s interview with Charles Barkley, “Sir Charles at 50,” wraps things up at 10 p.m.
Russell carved out some time in his busy weekend schedule to visit with NBA.com. Here are some excerpts:
NBA.com: On a weekend when all of the start of the NBA are out, past, present and future, what’s the most common question you get from today’s players when they come up and talk to you and spend time with you?
Bill Russell: Is anybody really that old [laughing]? I like to respect the guys that are playing now in the All-Star games. I watch sometimes three games in a single night on the NBA package. The thing I like, is I watch to see what their agenda is and how well they carry it out. That’s how you can enjoy the games. There are a lot of accomplished players playing now. I think more than ever. Just to get a chance to watch them is a joy.
NBA.com: What makes them so accomplished, the skill level? Have they come that far over the years in terms of size and skill?
BR: When you talk about skill level, you can’t say the way they played in the 1950s and 60s. Skill level is based on how the game is played today. There are different fundamentals. When I played there was never a 3-point shot. Going to the hoop and dunking is commonplace now. It was not commonplace then. According to the rules today, the skill level is off the charts. And if someone wants the skill level to be based on the way they played the game 50 years ago, they’re a silly person. If you take the time to understand the rules, the skill level is there.
NBA.com: When you look at the evolution of some of the positions now, do you agree with the suggestion of some people that the traditional big man is one that seems to have really changed with the stretch fours and 7-footers that don’t play on the low block?
LeBron James, Bill Russell by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
BR: That’s a fallacy. The way the game’s played, when you have a unique player, whatever his position is, that’s where the game is going. When I was a kid growing up there was a guy named Hank Luisetti played at Stanford and he’s the first player to shoot one-handed with great success. I remember reading something at that time where a coach said if he ever catches one of his players shooting with one hand, they’ll never play another minute. But things change. And if you get a great player at any position, the game is copycat. Nowadays, your star is always your shooting guard. But if you come with a center that can really play, the game will revolve around the center. Or if you have a [power forward] who can really play, the game revolves around him. So the game changes according to who is playing. I have this thought, you never get to a place where you ask a player to play against a ghost … past, present or future. You can only play against the people that show up when you play. And so how you dominate that era, that’s the only thing you can say. Now if you’re talking about scoring, you can’t get past Wilt Chamberlain, so what they do nowadays is they ignore what Wilt Chamberlain did. They don’t even bring it up. The fact that one season he averaged 50 points a game. His average. So you now you talk about guys scoring 30 points or 35 points. And that’s a long way from his average. You talk about assists, Oscar [Robertson] averaged a triple-double. And now they’re talking about a double-double. So what you are doing is choosing which stats you want to emphasize and make that most important. The people that decide that really don’t know what’s going on. You talk about rebounding. Wilt averaged 22.9 rebounds for 14 years. Averaging almost 23 if you round it off, for 14 seasons. Now the leading rebounder might have average 12 or 13. Wilt and myself had over 20,000 rebounds. That’s 20,000 one at a time. If you’re going to talk about numbers, it has nothing to do with anything. It’s about how you dominate your contemporaries in the game. People that say look at the numbers, that means they don’t know what they are looking at. A guy can play and almost never do his numbers indicate how good he is. You have to watch him and see what he does. Is he a positive part of the equation for your team?
NBA.com: You said you watch up to three games a night. Who is the most dominant player you see now in the game, in terms of the things you talked about, not the numbers but impact on the game?
BR: Well, of course, at this point you start with LeBron James coming off the championship year. He’s a great player. A really great player. I think the way Kevin Durant gets his point is a big help, because he’s not always the first option. That makes a lot of difference. Before he got hurt, I thought Derrick Rose was really an important player. But I like to watch all of these guys and see what they are doing and see how it impacts their team play.
NBA.com: When you take a hard look at the players off the court, in terms of what they deal with as professional athletes, how drastic do you think that difference is compared to what you and your contemporaries had to deal with during your playing days?
BR: I have a lot of respect for these guys that are playing now because I look at the world they inherited. For example, to hold them to what happened when I was a young guy and what’s happening now is totally unfair. The world has changed. It’s changed completely in a lot of different ways. So to say, “Well, if those guys did this to make a way for you,” hey, the second and third generation, you can’t hold them to standards that are obsolete. All you can hope is they build on what went on before them and not just relax with it. Because if you relax with it, it’ll go away. (more…)
HOUSTON — Vanilla vs. Chocolate. Less Filling vs. Tastes Great. Ginger vs. Mary Ann.
Maybe Michael Jordan was trying to light up a little rivalry fun on the eve of blowing out his 50 birthday candles on Sunday. Or maybe he’s just bored with his Bobcats on their way to another worst-in-the-NBA record (12-40).
For whatever reason, Jordan decided to weigh in on the hoop debate of our currents times and said in an NBA TV interview that he would take Kobe Bryant over LeBron James.
The deciding factor? Championship rings.
“Five beats one every time I look at it,” Jordan said. “And not that (James) won’t get five. He may get more than that, but five is bigger than one.”
It is, of course, the kind of classic debate that long has been the reason they put stools in bars and truthfully you can’t be very wrong with either choice. At this point Kobe has played 17 seasons in the league to collect his five championships, while LeBron seems to be just coming into his own in his 10th season in the league.
As a consensus choice as the greatest player of all time, we’re not here to question Jordan’s credentials on the topic. But we do have to wonder about his overly simplistic reasoning.
While championships should certainly figure into the overall evaluation any player’s career, should they be the difference makers?
Is is really fair to compare the breadth of Bryant’s 17 seasons to James at a time when he seems to be gathering confidence and might be starting a run of titles?
Five is bigger than one. We can’t argue with the math.
But by his own reasoning, that means Celtics’ immortal Bill Russell clearly gets the nod over Jordan himself. Eleven is bigger than six.
And while we’re at it, that happens to put Jordan behind Robert Horry. Seven is bigger than six, too.
OKLAHOMA CITY – The historic impact of the supremacy of LeBron James and Kevin Durant is impossible to ignore. Legends are being made before our eyes, and before All-Star weekend arrives, the NBA gives us the final regular-season meeting between two of the most uniquely gifted players compiling two of the most individually intriguing seasons ever.
No, it’s not a stretch to make such a pronouncement about two players dominating individually and who also have their teams positioned for ultimate goal: a potential NBA Finals rematch in June.
James, built like a bull at 6-foot-9 and 25o pounds and defying every traditional position on the floor, is averaging 27.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 6.9 apg. He’s shooting 56.5 percent overall and 42.0 percent from beyond the arc. The Heat (35-14) have won six in a row and lead the Eastern Conference by three games.
Durant is listed at 6-foot-9, but everybody knows his 235 pounds (probably a stretch) are spread out over a near-7-foot frame and boasts a ridiculously wide wing span. He’s averaging 29.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 4.4 apg. He’s shooting 51.9 percent overall, 43.2 percent on 3s and 90.4 percent from the free-throw line. The Thunder (39-13) own the league’s best point-differential at plus-9.1, although they trail San Antonio by one game in the loss column.
When it comes to LeBron and KD, no matter the era, the numbers don’t lie.
“They’re two unique bodies and two unique styles of play,” said former Atlanta Hawks great and 1986 scoring champ Dominique Wilkins. “Totally different, but with the same efficiency. The thing with these guys is you rarely see them take a lot of bad shots. That’s why they shoot the percentages they are. When guys have great shooting percentages, they limit their bad shot attempts. That’s what both those guys have done.”
James floats into Thursday’s game at Oklahoma City (8 p.m. ET, TNT) on a run for the ages as the only player in NBA history to reel off six consecutive 30-point games while shooting better than 60 percent in each. And forget about 60 percent, James is 66-for-92 in those games for a blistering, almost unbelievable, 71.7 percent.
It’s the kind of stretch that has practically assures him of joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to twice win consecutive MVP awards. And if he does win it this season, James and Bill Russell will be the only players named MVP four times in five seasons. Oscar Robertson – perhaps the player James most resembles — stopped Russell’s run at three in a row in 1963-64. Russell followed the next season by winning it again.
Derrick Rose‘s awesome 2010-11 MVP season stopped James at two straight and Rose could ultimately prevent him from being the first player to ever have won it five consecutive seasons.
Still, a fourth MVP would already give LeBron, at age 28, more than the three won by Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone, while tying him with Wilt Chamberlain andmoving him one away from matching Michael Jordan and Russell at five. A sixth would put LeBron with Abdul-Jabbar on the mountaintop.
In any other season, Durant would be the frontrunner for his first MVP. As it is, he’s locked in a battle with Carmelo Anthony for a fourth consecutive scoring title — both lead the league at 29.0 ppg. Only Wilt (1959-66) and Jordan (1986-93), each with seven consecutive scoring titles, have won more than three in a row.
Durant is one of just five players to claim three straight: Jordan (1995-98), George Gervin (1977-80), Bob McAdoo (1973-76), Neil Johnston (1952-55) and George Miken (1948-51).
If Durant — who is also on pace to notch the ultra-rare 50-40-90 season (50 percent field goals, 40 percent 3-pointers, 90 percent free throws) – claims the scoring title, he will tie Allen Iverson and Gervin — the player Durant is most often compared to because of his slender frame and cool demeanor — with four.
Even if Durant doesn’t pick up his fourth in a row, at only 24 years old, he’s still lined up to threaten Jordan’s unprecedented, and once thought to be untouchable, 10 scoring titles.
HANG TIME, Texas – It starts out like the beginning of an old joke.
You know, somebody says that as great as Bill Russell was in winning 11 championships with the Celtics, he’d have difficulty winning even one against today’s class of NBA athletes.
Of course, goes the punchline, Russell will turn 79 on Tuesday.
But Antawn Jamison wasn’t kidding when he told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com that Michael Jordan could still play effectively in the league right now.
Jordan turns 50 on Feb. 17, coincidentally the day of the NBA All-Star Game.
“I wouldn’t doubt that in the right situation with a LeBron (James) on his team or with a Kobe (Bryant) on this team, he could get you about 10 or 11 points, come in and play 15-20 minutes,” said Antawn Jamison before the Lakers played the Bobcats on Friday. “I wouldn’t doubt that at all, especially if he was in shape and injuries were prevented and things of that nature.”
That’s saying a lot, considering Jamison has Bryant on his team, and only averages 8.1 points per game in 20.5 minutes per game and he’s “only” 36 years old.
Jordan averaged 20 points in 37 minutes per game in his 15th and final season in the league before retiring for good at age 40.
Would it ever happen? Could it ever happen? Other than Larry Bird actually sprouting real wings, is there anything you might imagine that is more preposterous?
Remember, it was Jordan himself who raised the possibility near the end of his challenging, often vitriolic speech at the 2009 Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50,” Jordan said. “Oh, don’t laugh. Never say never. Because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”
We know that on the court there were never any limits or fears to Jordan, only challenges — some real, some imagined — that he used to constantly lift himself to a higher plane.
That is precisely the reason I have a standing bet with my good friend Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that was made when Jordan hung up his Wizards jersey. I said then I didn’t believe His Airness was finished and one day we’d see him back on the court in an NBA game. At the start of each new season, Jonathan tries to get me to surrender. Then along comes word that the owner of the Bobcats showed up at practice one day in December to show them how it’s done. Or maybe just to feed his ego.
But after taking on some of his kids — Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo — in a little one-on-one, it’s always clear that the competitive spark is just below the surface and the skills are still there.
“He’s still got it. He can still shoot,” Henderson said. “I don’t know about his defense, but he can still score.”
Biyombo: “He’s pretty good.”
So we mark down Biyombo for understatement of the year, consider the opinion of Jamison and ponder the possibilities.
I once asked Hakeem Olajuwon, who just turned 50, if he thought he could still play in the league.
“Not full-time. But for a few minutes, yes,” he insisted. “ I’m in shape.”
When a 50-year-old Clyde Drexler was asked the same question, he nodded his head. “Absolutely. I could go out there and run up and down the floor with those guys one night,” he said laughing. “Then the next day I’d be in traction.”
So what do we do with the Jordan question? Could he? Would he? Should he, as the old Nike slogan said, just do it?
I’ll tell you one thing I’m not doing: Paying off Jonathan. Yet.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –LeBron James is a student of the game, has always been aware of his place in the history of the game and is engaged in the ongoing saga that is his life in basketball.
And yet, when the Miami Heat star plays the way he did Monday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, his actions flow as if he’s in “The Matrix”, free of anything else but his maniacal desire to do whatever it takes to make sure his team wins.
Placing his work in the proper historical context is simple, given how few have done what he’s done and are capable of doing what he can do any night.
LeBron isn’t the first player in NBA history to have a 30-plus point game with eight or more rebounds and assists while also shooting 90 percent or better from the floor, the way he did against the Bobcats. But he is the first to do so since Wilt Chamberlain did it this month in 1967 (Wilt actually pulled it off twice before that, in January of 1967 and February of 1966).
Think about that line for a second … 31 points on 13-for-14 shooting, eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and five turnovers. And his numbers could have been even more ridiculous had he been more aggressive with his own shot instead of playing with his usual court awareness, as he explained to Michael Wallace of ESPN.com‘s Heat Index:
“I’m aware,” James admitted. “But I’m more aware of time and score, team fouls, who has it going, who doesn’t have it going. I’m aware of all of that kind of stuff, too. So with myself, I just let the game flow. I’m not one to — even though I had one of those games tonight — I always look at it afterward and say, ‘Why didn’t I take more shots?’ But that’s just who I am. I had some more looks, but my teammates had better looks. That’s what it’s about.”
That 46-year gap represents more than just several generations of NBA stars and fans, it also signals the gulf between perhaps the two most dominant physical specimens at their respective positions (Shaquille O’Neal was a similar physical freak of nature during his era, though there were more skilled 7-footers around during Shaq’s glory days than what Wilt faced during his).
History will determine LeBron’s place and overall impact, same as it did for Wilt, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and every other NBA great.
If LeBron hung his kicks up today, he would still belong somewhere in the conversation of the game’s true greats — wouldn’t he?
I argued about that this morning with an old head who was raised on Wilt and has managed to stay plugged into the game the past four decades. He agreed that LeBron, Shaq and Wilt are the most physically imposing players he can remember seeing in the NBA at their respective positions.
“I won’t sit here and tell you I’ve watched as much NBA basketball as the folks who are paid to do so,” my old head said. “But I’ve been watching for a lot longer than you and some of these other loudmouths I see on TV and I’m telling you, [LeBron] is something I’ve never seen before. He’s got the size and all the skills. The athleticism is what’s just off the charts. I’ve been courtside before at games, years ago and here in recent years, and I’ve just never seen anything like him. Magic was the last player I remember seeing move like that and play like that at LeBron’s size. It’s unreal.”
Funny, James describes performances like the one he delivered against the Bobcats as basically routine. Surely, he stopped surprising himself a long time ago.
What LeBron has done in the past few years of his career is round out of his game in ways that even his biggest critics have to admit they weren’t sure he could. His ability to play inside and out, when needed, combined with the raw physical advantages he still has over any foe presents a pretty impossible package to stop.
“I’m an all-around player,” James told the Heat Index. “I can do whatever the game presents. I can make shots from the outside. Of course, I can make shots from the inside. But I don’t let the game determine my game. I go out and figure it out and just play the way I need to play to help our team win. So, I don’t know, I’m very confident in my ability and I just go out and try to make things happen.”
Criticize him all you want, and Naismith knows he has an abundance of haters. But make no mistake that there is one player, and only one player, in the NBA capable of making the sort of “things happen” that LeBron does.
Bob Pettit wasn’t sure what to call this date: Dec. 12, 2012. Take the short version – 12/12/12 – and it looks like a triple-double. Or a triple-dozen anyway. But for the NBA’s legendary power forward and Naismith Hall of Famer, it mostly is known as his 80th birthday.
Born in Baton Rouge, La., on this day in 1932, the lanky, 6-foot-9 big man became the prototype at his position, a precursor to fellows such as Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, Charles Barkley and eventually Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. A three-time All-America pick at LSU, Pettit was the No. 2 pick in the 1954 Draft behind Frank Selvy. He went to the lowly Milwaukee Hawks, was named Rookie of the Year in 1954-55, then moved with the club to St. Louis. He helped the Hawks reach the playoffs in nine of the next 10 seasons, in 1958 winning the only championship the Boston Celtics didn’t from 1957-1966.
After making the all-NBA first team in each of his first 10 seasons, Pettit “slipped” to second-team status in 1965 – and that was that. He made good on his plan to retire, stepping into a banking career at age 32 and never looking back. He was inducted into basketball’s Hall in 1971, then named one of the NBA’s Top 50 players in 1996. Over the weekend, Pettit – whose wife Carol died in 2010 — gathered a few days early with his three children, 10 grandchildren and friends to celebrate another big round number. He spoke Tuesday with NBA.com about a life well-lived:
NBA.com: You went home to Baton Rouge when you retired in 1965 and moved to New Orleans in 1970. How much attention have you paid through the years to the city’s two NBA franchises, the Jazz and the Hornets?
Bob Pettit: When I first moved to New Orleans, the Jazz was here. When they left, I actually didn’t give it any thought. The franchises moved around, even when I was playing. They’d pick up and leave a city and go to another one. I left Milwaukee and went to St. Louis [with the Hawks] after my rookie year.
NBA.com: Were you surprised when New Orleans got the NBA again?
BP: I’m not surprised at much of anything, let me start with that. I was delighted that they were coming here. And I think New Orleans has supported the team pretty well. The fans have taken to it, they’re interested. It’s been a big addition to New Orleans. [New owner Tom] Benson has purchased the team and he’s committed to keeping it here, so I think that’s worked out extremely well. They have the nucleus, a very young nucleus – their No. 1 draft pick [Anthony Davis] has not been able to play much, but the papers said he’s supposed to come back this week. So they’ve got a bright future.
NBA.com: So what do you think of their proposed new nickname, “Pelicans?’
BP: There was a minor league baseball team here for years and years, the Pelicans. This was going back to probably the ’50s, but a lot of major league baseball players played here. And they had spring training here. It was the New Orleans Pelicans. So that is a name that is familiar to people here.
NBA.com:After leaving LSU, you were the No. 2 pick in a draft class that included a high number of NBA “lifers,” men who spent their entire careers in or around the league as coaches, front-office executives or broadcasters after their playing days ended. Guys such as Richie Guerin, Slick Leonard, Larry Costello, Al Bianchi, Red Kerr and Gene Shue. But when you left at age 32, you were done. How come?
Bob Pettit (right) averaged 16.2 rebounds a game, third in NBA history behind only Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell (left) – Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images.
BP: I never was interested in doing that. I had something else I wanted to do. I had a job waiting for me when I retired [at American Bank], something that was exciting. I did the television game of the week in the SEC for a couple or three years, games on Saturday as a color analyst. And I just said, “I don’t want to do that anymore.” I’d had enough.
I think the unusual part is, I’ve enjoyed my life after basketball as much as I enjoyed playing. I don’t know how many former professional athletes can make a statement like that. I’m very fortunate.
NBA.com: Well, maybe that’s because it’s hard to replace that lifestyle, that paycheck, that attention.
BP: It is for a lot of players. Fortunately in my case, it wasn’t hard to replace. I was in banking, I stayed in banking for 20 years-plus. Then I went into partnership with two or three other guys and formed an investment consulting business, and I did that for 20 years, and I loved that. I worked in the offseason my last three years in the NBA. I told [Hawks owner] Ben Kerner two years in advance. I said, “Ben, make your plans. I ‘m leaving in two years. I’m retiring and going to work in the banking business in Baton Rouge.”
NBA.com: Didn’t you face a big drop in pay?
BP: Oh sure. A drop, why certainly. But I figured in the long run, it would be to my benefit, that a couple of extra years working might have been worth a lot more at the end than staying and playing basketball. And I could feel that my skills were starting to deteriorate. I’d told the owner before that that I was leaving, but it just so happened I had two or three injuries – I broke four bones in my back. My last year, I hurt my left knee pretty badly. So I had started to get injured some. But I just felt it was time to get out. I didn’t want to hang around. I was happy with my skills when they were at their peak and I thought I was playing very well, and I didn’t want to play at less than that.
NBA.com: Yet you averaged 22.5 points and 12.4 rebounds your final season. You were your team’s leading scorer and the Hawks went 45-35. That’s “deteriorating?”
BP: [Laughs] If I’m making $20 million, I might have a different attitude.
NBA.com: You were quoted in a 1967 issue of Sports Illustrated, two years after you left the NBA, about the shock some retiring players face when they have to get “a real job.” Now, many don’t have to do that.
BP: No, and I think they miss a lot. I don’t know that, at age 34, if you retire and you have all this money in the bank, how happy you are over the next 40 years. I was very happy – I was building something. And I was involved. Would I have rather made $20 million than $20,000? Certainly. But I’m not the least bit unhappy that the salaries were not as much as they are today. I went on and loved what I was doing. It was exciting and interesting, and that’s why I say the rest of my life was as exciting as my life in basketball.
NBA.com: What was your top salary with the Hawks?
BP: About $60,000. I started at $11,000 my first year.
NBA.com: It wasn’t as if you and other players had much leverage.
BP: Actually I was very interested in AAU basketball. The Phillips [66ers] and the other teams in the AAU league. The salaries weren’t quite what they were in the NBA, but they offered you a career. If you looked at a company like Phillips 66, the chairman of the board and the president were all former basketball players. They offered you a great opportunity, and I came every close to doing that and not playing in the NBA.
You look at Clyde Lovellette, he went to the Phillips Oil Company and played there before he played for the Minneapolis Lakers. Bob Kurland [a 6-foot-10 two-time Olympian and Naismith Hall of Famer] was a great player – he played at Phillips. There were the Peoria Caterpillars, there were teams in Cleveland, in Houston, in Denver. It offered you a very substantial career, which we were all interested in because we all had to work.
NBA.com: You played 11 years and played in 11 NBA All-Star Games. What was the key to that?
BP: I don’t have any idea. I was fortunate no life-threatening injuries. I had broken arms and a broken nose, busted teeth and all that. But I played as hard as I could play every night.
NBA.com: In fact, Bill Russell said you were the reason the term “second effort” got introduced to the NBA.
BP: I played hard. That’s the one thing I look back on, I played as hard as I could play every single night. I had bad nights but it was never from lack of effort.
NBA.com: If not for that famous Boston-St. Louis trade in 1956, you could have played with Russell on the Hawks. Do you ever think “What if …?”
BP: No, I never do. But I will say this: I think he’s the greatest player who ever walked on the court. There are a lot of guys you could say that about, but in my mind, I would start my team with Bill. In his prime, he was the best I’ve ever seen. He had a great desire to win and to destroy you. And his defense and his rebounding – his defense was incredible. They say [with 11 championship rings] he’s the great winner of all time. Why don’t they just say he’s the greatest player of all time? That’s what the game is about.
NBA.com: Ever think you just had the bad luck to be born in the same era?
BP: No, it was great. It was challenging. I loved playing against him. They had an incredible team and you’d better be at the top of your game to be able to play them.
NBA.com: You played on some terrific St. Louis teams, winning the NBA title in 1958 and reaching The Finals three other times between 1957 and 1961. Do you feel as if you or your teams weren’t given their due?
BP: I don’t feel overlooked at all. It doesn’t bother me if I read about my name or I don’t. I had 11 great years, a wonderful part of my life, and I’m very happy with the way things have turned out. I have no negative feelings at all about the money or the publicity or the television going on today. I think it’s a great evolution that’s happened in all sports.
I don’t think about it.
NBA.com: OK, then how about some of the players you played with or against?
BP: I don’t read much about Elgin Baylor. Elgin Baylor was an incredible basketball player. Anytime, anywhere. Does that make me sad? No. You’re asking me. I don’t read much about [Bob] Cousy. I guess that’s a natural thing, because we’re a part of the history of the NBA. But the emphasis has to be on the players of today and the teams today. Most of your readers weren’t even born when we played. You read about Wilt [Chamberlain] and his 100 points. I played against Wilt when he averaged 50 points – we’d sit in the locker room and say, ‘OK, we’re gonna let Wilt have his 50. Then we’re going to try to stop [Paul] Arizin or [Tom] Gola.’ The guy was going to score 50 whatever you did.
NBA.com: You put up amazing numbers too. You never ranked lower than seventh in scoring, you were the first player to reach 20,000 points, and you still rank seventh in scoring average and third in rebounding average. In fact, according to what’s known now as “player efficiency rating,” you rank eighth in NBA history (25.3). Any thoughts on the ways basketball is using numbers now, the advanced stats movement?
BP: I’m technologically insufficient. I can’t turn my computer on hardly. I know in my case, the thing I’m proudest of was my rebounding. I was fortunate to average a little over 26 points a game, but what I’m proudest of is that I averaged 16 rebounds a game for 11 years.
NBA.com: Behind only Chamberlain and Russell.
BP: They were in a league by themselves. But I’m proudest of that. That’s just a lot of hard work, to rebound, and a lot of second effort. I thought I did a good job of rebounding – offensively as well. I’ll bet I scored five or six points a game off the offensive boards. And I’m pleased that I went with a last-place team that let me play every minute of every game, no matter how bad I was or how much it was a learning experience. I learned in one year what a lot of these players who would go to the Celtics or the Minneapolis Lakers and sit the bench would need two or three. Fortunately I was able to fairly well keep up and continue to improve. I went to the worst team and it worked out well.