Posts Tagged ‘Connie Hawkins’

Happy 80th, Elgin Baylor!


VIDEO: Relive the storied career of Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor turned 80 Tuesday, which means the NBA’s love affair with verticality unofficially is approaching its 56th birthday. The Hall of Fame forward – whom Lakers teammate Jerry West considers the most underrated player in league history – arrived in Minneapolis as the No. 1 pick in the 1958 draft. He brought with him a style Doc Naismith couldn’t have imagined back when he hung up his first peach baskets.

The lineage of acrobatic, balletic, above-the-rim basketball players can be traced back through Michael Jordan and Julius Erving and Connie Hawkins, directly to Elgin Baylor. With shoulder fakes, a rocking dribble and a head twitch that some labeled a tic, the 11-time All-Star forward baffled opponents and invented moves nightly. At 6-5, he snatched rebounds like men a half-foot taller.

“If Julius Erving . . . is a doctor, then Elgin Baylor was a brain surgeon when he played,” teammate Rod Hundley said.

That’s an excerpt from a February 1994 profile of Baylor I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The NBA All-Star Game was headed to the Twin Cities that winter, 34 years after Baylor and the Lakers had left town for sunny California. Baylor, then 59, was the last active member of the Minneapolis Lakers when he retired in 1971 and, long before Timberwolves Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love, he remains the greatest NBA star to slip away from the league’s hinterlands.

If only Baylor had logged a couple more seasons in Minnesota, the NBA’s and the Lakers’ futures might have been dramatically different, given his game and his gate appeal:

Baylor played in the second NBA game he ever saw, and scored 25 points in the season opener. He had an uncanny ability to make adjustments in mid-air. He manipulated the ball with one hand at a time when most players still used two and, foreshadowing Moses Malone, he often grabbed his own missed shots for second and third chances. Always he was cool, never revealing his emotions on the court.

“Elgin Baylor has either got three hands or two basketballs out there,” New York’s Richie Guerin griped after a game at old Madison Square Garden. “It’s like guarding a flood.”

The Lakers began the season on financial probation, with the NBA threatening to take over the franchise if it didn’t average $6,600 in home gate receipts. It never happened; the team’s attendance soared from 2,790 the year before to 4,122 in 1958-59. The Lakers’ record improved to 33-39, and they reached the Finals for the first time since 1954. Baylor was Rookie of the Year, averaged 24.9 points and 15 rebounds, scored 55 points in one game and shared the MVP award in the All-Star Game with St. Louis’ Bob Pettit.

In that ’94 interview, Baylor talked about the concept of “hang time,” and how his horizontal might have been more impressive than his vertical:

“I think this: I’ve watched Jordan and Julius and everybody,” Baylor said. “I don’t think anyone stays up in the air longer than anyone else. When you’re driving to the basket, it’s a broad jump instead of a vertical leap. . . . And a lot of times, you get the guy to commit himself and he’s up in the air, and you’re just getting ready to go up. It’s the illusion.”

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Hot jersey, but LeBron needs a number

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – LeBron James‘ new Cleveland Cavaliers jersey is flying off the shelves.

Only that’s not completely accurate. For the time being, LeBron jerseys are still kind of on the tarmac, awaiting takeoff.

lebron6The NBA Store’s website and phone lines are ablaze with demand for LeBron goods. The NBA doesn’t release sales figures outside of its regularly scheduled reports, but a league source provided this glimpse into recent demand for all things LBJ: Since James announced his return to Cleveland on July 11, his Cavs replica jerseys (all three color versions: home, road and alternate) are the top three best-selling items on NBAStore.com. Eight of the top 10 items sold overall since then are LeBron Cavs items.

The store initially sold out of all LeBron jerseys, but it’s now restocked in just about every size. The problem: When shoppers buy their LeBron jerseys, they get this message in red type:

“This item will ship within 2-4 weeks after the player has officially signed his contract and is assigned a number by the NBA.”

Ah, yes. LeBron picked his city. But he has yet to pick a number.

Of course, the NBA won’t assign the King a jersey number, like he’s some 7-year-old at the YMCA.

COACH: “Here you go son, got No. 18 for you.”

LeBRON: Hmm … Got 23?

COACH: “I got 18. Youth medium.”

A week ago, James summoned the aid of his 13.75 million Twitter followers:

lebron23James wore 23 during his first seven seasons in Cleveland, the number he picked as a prodigy at Akron, Ohio’s Saint Mary’s-Saint Vincent’s in honor of his hero Michael Jordan. When James took his talents to South Beach in 2010, he ditched 23 for 6, the number he wore in the 2008 Olympics.

Neither number seems like a proper fit for The Return. His first number, 23, still invites all those insufferable comparisons to Jordan. And 6 would just feel weird in Cleveland after all that’s gone down since the original Decision. It should stay in Miami.

With James winding down a Nike-sponsored tour of China, maybe picking a number will soon become top priority. Right behind getting Kevin Love. (For the record, Love wears 42, in honor of the uniquely gifted former NBA star Connie Hawkins. In Cleveland, Nate Thurmond‘s 42 is retired in the rafters.)

All this number talk shouldn’t be shrugged off. A player’s number is a key part of his identity. It typically holds a special meaning.

So we’ve been busy mulling a third number for Phase Three of James’ career. We want his fans to get their jerseys sooner rather than later.

The old flip-flop

32: Obviously it’s the reverse of his original 23, which wasn’t an original at all. James wore No. 32 as a freshman in high school apparently because 23 was already taken by an older kid who didn’t quite yet recognize James as the King. There’s a larger hook here. The player James is most compared to stylistically is not Jordan but Magic Johnson. There’s been a lot of big names to wear 32, which might or might not motivate James to pick the number: Bill WaltonShaquille O’NealKevin McHaleKarl Malone, Julius Erving with the Virginia Squires and New York Nets and one of my personal favorites, Seattle’s “Downtown” Freddie Brown.

The old flip-a-roo

9: Flip the 6 and what do you get? Yep, 9. Makes sense. Plus, James already has done 9, so it makes even more sense. He wore the number for a season as an all-state receiver in high school before giving up football to focus on hoops. Last summer James purchased new Nike uniforms for his alma mater’s football team. For the arrival of the new gear, James actually showed up in full uniform, pads and all, and surprised the gathered crowd. The number he chose for his jersey? Yep, 9. There’s some standout players currently wearing 9; Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo. Old-time great Bob Pettit wore it, too.

Honoring the Big O

14: Forgive me for bringing up Mount Rushmore, but it was LeBron who started the whole thing when he said Oscar Robertson would be on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore (along with Magic, Michael and Larry Bird). LeBron’s game can also be favorably compared to Robertson, the original triple-double machine. Robertson wore 14 with the Cincinnati Royals for a decade. He averaged a triple-double in his second season and darn near did it three other times. Bob Cousy, Sam Perkins and LeBron’s Cavs teammate on the 2007 Finals team, Ira Newble, also wore No. 14. This would be an intriguing choice and would once again shine a worthy spotlight on the Big O’s amazing career.

1: When Cincinnati traded Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson, the Big O traded in his 14 for 1. LeBron choosing 1 could have dual meaning, paying respect to Robertson while proclaiming to world, “I’m No. 1.” A lot of No. 1s have come and gone in the league, but the list is short in terms of all-time greats. Tiny Archibald wore it before he got to Boston, then there’s Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups and, of course, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks.

King Football

84: It seems every year we hear fantasy stories about LeBron joining an NFL team and instantly becoming an All-Pro receiver. Hey, at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, who’s gonna get in his way? So why not buck traditional NBA numbers for a traditional NFL one? Since James was an All-State receiver in Ohio (we covered his No. 9 above) it makes sense that he pick a traditional NFL receiver’s number (between 80 and 89 and 10 and 19). My first inclination is to pick 88 because of LeBron’s love for the Dallas Cowboys and the lineage of players — Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and now Dez Bryant — who made the number famous. Only three NBA players have ever worn 88 and one currently does: Portland forward Nicolas Batum. So, scratch that. If we narrow the numbers to tight ends, the position LeBron would likely play in the NFL, he’d probably choose between two Cowboys greats, No. 84 Jay Novacek and No. 82 Jason Witten. One has more titles than LeBron. Go with Novacek. Only one NBA player, Chris Webber, has ever worn 84 and for only one season (2007 with Detroit). No NBA player has ever put on 82 (according to basketball-reference.com).

Alternatives:

29: It’s the sum of LeBron’s first two numbers, and it’s a pretty rare one in the history of the NBA with Paul Silas being the most famous 29.

33: It’s just a great basketball number worn by such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Bird, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Scottie Pippen and the underappreciated Alvan Adams.

40: This comes with an eye toward some serious goal-setting, as in 40K, as in 40,000 career points. No player has ever reached it. Abdul-Jabbar remains the league’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points. James, 29, has scored 23,170 points in 11 seasons. It is doable.

The Doctor: How A Legend Was Born

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It was in the autumn of 1976, just a few hours after news had leaked out that basketball’s hidden treasure was finally making the jump to the NBA when a man strode up to the ticket window at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, slapped down his weekly paycheck from Ford Motor Company and said: “Gimme all you got for The Doctah!”

The oft-told story may be apocryphal, but it accurately describes a time when the greatest legends still grew and traveled by word of mouth and every up-and-coming, next-great-thing sports star wasn’t identified and overhyped before he left junior high.

To the national consciousness, Julius Erving seemed to swoop down out of the sky like an unexpected alien invader. However, the tales of his mind-bending feats had traveled the lines of the basketball tribal drums long before he went mainstream with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The NBA TV documentary, The Doctor, which debuts Monday night at 9 p.m. Eastern, reintroduces the player who changed the style, image and direction of pro basketball to a new audience.

There is at least a generation of fans that has grown up probably thinking of Erving in only two images that are shown in the opening montage for each game of the NBA Finals. There is that float along the right baseline with arm extended, finding his path blocked by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, seeming to change direction in midair and coming out on the other side of the basket to flip in a bank shot. And there is that steal and the drive in the open court, the rise into the air, the sneer on his face and the helpless look of defender Michael Cooper as Erving eventually finishes with a windmill slam.

These are the grainy YouTube images that endure in a high-res, 3D world. The 90-minute documentary tells the fuller, deeper story of a young man who was struck by tragedy early in life and went on to rise above it, or maybe was inspired by it.

The NBA TV Originals crew, led by executive producer Dion Cocoros, has unearthed rarely seen footage of Erving not only playing in the boondocks of the old ABA, but also treasures of highlights from the world famous Rucker League in Harlem, where the legend of The Doctor was born.

The clip of Charlie Scott launching a heave from behind the half-court line that is snatched from midair by a young Erving and slammed home with two hands is like watching Michelangelo sketch out his first ideas for the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Seeing shots of school kids and adult fans crowding rooftops and sitting in trees to get a glimpse of Dr. J at Rucker Park demonstrate the height of his popularity and legend.

“When you show some nice moves at the Rucker League, they show you their appreciation,” says a young Erving in the film.

His father was killed in a car accident when he was nine years old and his younger brother Marvin, 16, died of Lupus when Erving was a freshman at the University of Massachusetts and those two events seemed to make him more introspective in his formative years and as a young adult.

It was the basketball court where Erving cut loose with his emotions and expressed himself, eventually taking the wide open style of the playgrounds into the pro ranks.

He was the marquee attraction, the driving force, the star that kept the ABA afloat for more than half of its nine-year existence, waving that red-white-and-blue ball in his giant hands as he seemed to defy gravity and attacked the rim from every angle imaginable.

“My brother was the first one to tell me about him,” said the flamboyant Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins. “This kid Erving, man, he’s a bad boy.”

From that tall Afro that seemed to blow backward in the breeze as he soared toward the rim to those Converse sneakers that were his endorsement of choice and trademark in the early days, to stylish hats and the fur-collar jackets and platform shoes, The Doctor was always cooler than the other side of the pillow.

He understood his place as the star of the show in the ABA, where he won two championships with his hometown New York Nets on Long Island and he embraced a role as the NBA’s ambassador and maybe even savior when the made the jump to the Sixers just a few days before the start of the 1976-77 season as the two league’s merged. It was a time when two-thirds of the NBA’s teams were swimming in red ink and a time when newspaper headlines screamed the 75 percent of the players were using drugs.

“From the standpoint of a young, African-American man who was patriotic and believed in the American dream, I embraced that duty to be a role model,” Erving said. “If it meant spending extra time withe media or going out of my way to promote the league and the game, I felt it was a duty.”

At the same time, it was a natural instinct to enter a league where the likes of Earl Monroe and Pete Maravich were showing flashes of individualism and lift it up and slam it home into the mainstream.

“The freewheeling, playground style of play, that’s where I felt most comfortable and where I wanted to go,” he said.

It is the style that built on his predecessors in Elgin Baylor and Connie Hawkins and was handed down to Michael Jordan, LeBron James and is on display every night in the NBA of today.

The fine film shows Erving’s often frustrated pursuit of an NBA title with the colorful, ego-filled Sixers that included George McGinnis, Lloyd (pre-World) Free, “Jellybean” Joe Bryant, Doug Collins and Dawkins, to name a few and his finally teaming up with Moses Malone to grab the brass ring with Philly’s sweep of the Lakers in 1983. It was one of the most dominant seasons in NBA history.

You can turn on dozens of TV channels every day in the 21st century, download images to your smart phone and feed on a steady diet of YouTube clips today that make flying to the hoop as routine as riding a bus.

But there was a time when such things were only the talk of legends.

“I always thought you never know who’s watching,” Erving said. “So you can do one of two things: Assume everybody’s watching or act like you don’t care.

“I always like to assume that everybody is watching. I’ve been far from perfect in my professional and private life. But what’s important is to have goals. I wanted to be good, to be consistent, to be dedicated.”

The Doctor shows how.
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All-Time All-Star Team

ATLANTA – Please join me as I take a step down fantasy lane wearing hi-top Converse and also a sleeve on my shooting arm. Yes, this is about combining the old with the new and coming up with the Ultimate All-Star Game, pulling players from the past and present.

Not every great player makes a good All-Star Game participant, though. I put a premium on the entertainers: the passers, the leapers, the dunkers of course and the improvisers. There are dozens of Hall of Famers that I don’t want near the game. Mainly, the gravity-challenged centers. I’d want Bill Russell, for example, if I’m trying to win a championship, but wouldn’t even give him a ticket to watch my Ultimate game, let alone play in it.

That said … here are my two squads, with some choices fairly obvious.

West Team:

Pete Maravich. The Pistol is, quite simply, the model All-Star Game guy, worth any price of admission. It would be fun just watching him pull up his floppy socks.

Magic Johnson. How about Pistol Pete and Magic on the break together? That’s a match made in YouTube heaven.

Kobe Bryant. It’s the only game where Kobe passes the ball.

David Thompson. Perhaps the ultimate finisher the sport has ever seen.

George Gervin. Because that’s how we finga-roll.

Connie Hawkins. Here’s the progression: Hawkins>Dr. J.>Michael>everybody else.

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