HOUSTON — Spencer Haywood was an MVP in the old ABA. He was a two-time All-NBA first teamer, four-time NBA All-Star and a member of the champion Lakers in 1980.
But nothing ever did had the impact of Haywood v. National Basketball Association, 401 U.S. 1204 (1971), a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled, 7–2, against the NBA’s old requirement that a player may not be drafted by a NBA team unless he waited four years (which meant playing at the college level in most cases) following his graduation from high school.
Haywood is the reason that the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard were able to jump straight from the prep ranks into the NBA.
“They don’t know that, not most of the players today,” said the 63-year-old Haywood on the day that he was named a finalist for the Hall of Fame Class of 2013. “I was kind of thinking they were a little remiss here. I thought it would be talked about as that case.
“That was horrible, hard time. I went from the lower courts to the state court all the way to the Supreme Court and that was some pretty serious stuff there. Two of us were in the courts at that time and (baseball player) Curt Flood lost his case and I won my case. It was powerful.
When you see all these players today, even the older ones on this stage with me — Bob McAdoo, Clyde Drexler, Dominique Wilkins — they all fell under my rule. But those older guys all know.”
What perhaps the younger generation doesn’t know is that Haywood led the U.S. to the gold medal in the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 and then played a spectacular sophomore season at the University of Detroit, averaging 32.1 points and 21.5 rebounds per game. That’s when he decided to turn pro, was first turned away by the NBA and signed on with the ABA Denver Rockets.
“This feels tremendous,” Haywood said. “It’s hard to put in words in terms of how I feel. I’m this poor kid from the cotton fields of Silver City Mississippi, population of 100 people. To be on this stage and possibly on my way to the Hall, just being a finalist, it is tremendous, just something very, very special, beyond anything I could ever imagine.”
There an argument to be made that the honor should have come much sooner.
“No,” Haywood said. “I let everything happen on God’s time and not on my time, because, of course, I would have said years ago. But this is a good time, this is the right time and this is on time.”
HOUSTON – Sometimes the announcement of Hall of Fame candidates is routine. Sometimes there are surprises.
Then along comes a day like Friday when the voters for the Hall have a chance to right a wrong, correct an omission.
Two decades after Bernard King finally stopped terrorizing defenses as one of the greatest 1-on-1 scorers of all-time, the former great was named among the finalists for the North American committee.
It was a day and a step forward that many current Hall of Fame members said was long overdue.
“Bernard King. Bernard King. Bernard King,” said Dominique Wilkins. “I’ve been saying that for years. Bernard King. There should be no debate about it. Bernard King should be in the Hall of Fame.
“I don’t understand why he isn’t there yet. I tell you, I never feared anybody that I ever played against, but I lived in fear of him. The guy was a machine. You could not guard him 1-on-1. You can ask any of the greats of that era. You could not guard him 1-on-1. It was impossible.”
King averaged 22.5 points per game and shot .518 from the field over a 16-year NBA career. The 6-foot-7 small forward set a Nets rookie scoring record, was an All-NBA first teamer in 1984 and 1985 and led the league in scoring (32.5) in 1985.
In 1984 King gave one of the greatest Christmas Day performance ever, playing for the Knicks he scored 60 points, including 40 in the first half.
But somehow King has managed to get lost in the mist of time and slipped through the cracks of the Hall of Fame for the 15 years that he’s been eligible for induction in the Hall.
“Bernard King,” said Bob McAdoo. “I always said that I couldn’t figure that out. I would scratch my head. I’m glad he finally got nominated and now I hope he gets in. Man, Bernard King, he was the truth.
“I don’t know he’s not in already. That’s how it is, I guess. I have people that tell me all the time they don’t understand why I wasn’t (voted) in the top 50 in 1997). When they research they find I was the only MVP and only scoring champ that didn’t make it.
“It seems that sometimes are overlooked. I think that’s what happened. Man, Bernard King was the truth.”
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.
MIAMI –Magic Johnson and Larry Bird duked it out in the NBA Finals three times in four seasons, although it seemed more like a million glorious battles. The two regular-season games between the rival Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics throughout the 1980s were must-see TV as those teams and their transcendent stars swept up a generation of new fans.
Michael Jordan followed as arguably the league’s greatest solo act with no equal to challenge him during the 90s.
Tuesday’s Christmas Day Finals rematch between the pillars of their respective conferences, LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant, the Miami Heat vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder, reminded just how riveting last season’s title series was and the undeniably tantalizing prospect of more to come, of an emerging Magic-Bird, Lakers-Celtics-style rivalry.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, a teenager during that great period, and assistant coach Bob McAdoo, a Lakers reserve for two Finals series against the Celtics, saw the makings of a modern-day rivalry between dueling MVP candidates and their championship-chasing teams last June.
“Both teams have multiple, once-in-a-generation players,” Spoelstra said prior to the Heat’s 103-97 Christmas Day win, referring to the Heat’s Dwyane Wade and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook as supporting superstars. ”You don’t see that too often, but we remember when we were in the Finals last year, the speed, athleticism, and competitiveness of that series, what we talked about was probably similar to what you saw in the 80s with those Celtics and Lakers teams. Coach McAdoo even said it reminded him of that because it was a force of nature of two teams of young, talented future hall of famers in their prime, and multiple ones on each team. That was a fierce, fierce series, and the five games did not properly tell how competitive that series was.”
The Heat won Games two through four by a margin no greater than six points. Tuesday’s intense matchup made it four of the last six between the two decided by six or less.
“Of course that’s a sexier matchup, as far as LeBron and me and Russell and D-Wade, Serge [Ibaka] and Chris Bosh, of course that’s the matchup everybody wants to see,” Durant said. “But you never know. We never try to concern ourselves like that, we try to take it a day at time, but it does play on last year, everybody talks about us building a rivalry. So, you know, if it does happen, that’d be fun, that’d be something great to be a part of.”
The new collective bargaining agreement, with its harsher luxury tax penalties, might ultimately determine the fate of this rivalry. The Thunder are in excellent position to contend for the foreseeable future. They made the difficult decision to trade James Harden before the season after locking up its young core of Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka at manageable salaries through 2016.
“We’re excited about where we’re going, but still we want to win a championship now,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re not playing for next season or the next season after. We’re like every team, if you have a chance to win you want to win now.”
Heat owner Mickey Arison got one title with his dream-team trio and the Heat are prohibitive favorites to repeat. But, he’ll will have to commit to paying stiff luxury taxes to keep James, Wade and Bosh together to fulfill LeBron’s “not one, not two, not three…” prophecy.
The three All-Stars are under contract through 2016-17, but all three have early termination clauses after next season, and whispers of a James departure for the Lakers are already coming in like the warm Atlantic lapping the South Beach sands at low tide.
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Ray Allen: Best pure shooter the NBA has ever seen? If not, who’s your favorite?
David Aldridge: I never thought I’d say anyone was a better pure shooter than Dale Ellis — when Dale was on, the net didn’t move — but Ray is. Reggie was a great, great shooter but I think Ray has him beat, too. Everyone has their favorite spots on the court but it seems like Ray is more comfortable in more places than anyone I’ve seen (and I didn’t see the likes of Jerry West or Sam Jones in person).
Steve Aschburner: I’m always leery of superlatives in a public forum, because the moment you proclaim anyone or anything to be the “-est” in some category, someone or something pops up whom you neglected. Also, our culture’s collective memory goes back approximately 37 minutes, so it’s easy to forget or underrate someone from way back when. I can’t say with certainty that there’s anyone who was a better pure shooter than Allen, but I can produce a list of fellows who’d be in the discussion. Such as: Drazen Petrovic, Jeff Hornacek, Peja Stojakovic, Glen Rice, George Gervin, Ricky Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Rick Barry, Chris Mullin and of course Reggie Miller. Then there’s my favorite, especially as the stakes went up: Larry Bird.
Fran Blinebury: Jerry West, Rick Barry, Pete Maravich, Bob McAdoo, Freddie Brown, Dale Ellis, Reggie Miller and Ray Allen are one helluva hallelujah chorus when it comes to making the nets sing. But front man will always be Larry Bird — for the form, the clutch makes, for the cold-blooded confidence. At the 1988 All-Star Weekend in Chicago, he walks into the locker room prior to the 3-Point Shoot-out and asks: “Who’s going to finish second?” ‘Nuff said.
Art Garcia: Since I can’t include Jimmy Chitwood — the question does specify NBA — I’ll go through some of my favorite marksmen over my years watching the grand game. In no particular order other than rough chronology, I’d throw these guys into my list of faves: Larry Bird, Dale Ellis, Mark Price, Steve Kerr, Allan Houston, Glen Rice, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Peja Stojakovic. But above all, I’m going with Ray Allen. The release, the timing, the fundamentals, the temperament. All pure.
Scott Howard-Cooper: I’m not sure he’s even the best in the game now, never mind ever. Part of the debate is defining “pure shooter.” Does that mean strictly a catch-and-shoot guy? Dirk Nowitzki is a special talent, but with a repertoire that spans from the dangerous range of a spot-up shooter to fall-aways. Steve Nash is historically good as a perimeter threat, but never will never be among the scoring greats because so much of his focus has been getting the ball to other people. Allen definitely has the pure-shooter element, though, with the lightning release and feathery, arcing shot. He’s definitely very high in the discussion, along with Reggie Miller and others. I’m just not sure he’s ahead of Larry Bird.
Shaun Powell: Strictly from a visual standpoint, Allen’s form is so perfect, it should be a logo. The levitation, the soft yet secure grip, the fingertip release and follow through, so velvet. Best pure shooter? Best I ever saw. I notice you didn’t say best all-around shooter, though. While Ray could probably knock a tangerine through a loop earring, give me Steve Nash, whose career numbers are 90 percent from the line and 43 from 3-point, all the more impressive because of the added burden of ball-handling. And his hair often obstructing the view.
John Schuhmann: When I was covering the Heat-Celtics series last April, I showed up a few hours early for one of the games at American Airlines Arena. When I got there, I walked out to the court and encountered the Heat dancers warming up to my right and Ray Allen shooting to my left. And when it came to deciding which of the two to sit down and watch, the former NBA.com Dance Team Bracket champions were no match for the greatest shooter ever. His form is perfect, he’s shooting better than ever, and he’s been ridiculously clutch since arriving in Boston.
Sekou Smith: I’d love to hand Ray the crown since I’ve watched his entire (future) Hall of Fame career play out. But someone I know and trust, someone who has seen roughly 40 more years of basketball than I have so far in my life, warned me against calling anyone the “best ever” without careful examination. It’s easy to hand Allen the title right now because all of the other contenders can’t make a live impression upon us, since they’re no longer playing in the league. Allen is no doubt the best pure shooter of his era and certainly in the conversation for the best pure shooter the league has ever seen. And there is no doubt that he will finish his career as the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history. But I think this is a question that requires more than just a casual conversation. We’d need to slice and dice this topic in so many different ways (best from distance, best from the mid-range, best off the dribble, on the run, etc.) before we could come close a conclusion. There have been too many great pure shooters to come through the NBA for me to hand the title to Ray Allen, or anyone else, right now. As far as my favorite, I’ve always felt like Larry Bird’s stroke was sweeter than anything I’ve seen.