Posts Tagged ‘Jackie MacMullan’

Reggie Lewis, We Hardly Knew Ye

Boston Celtics v Sacramento Kings

Many believe the Celtics’ Reggie Lewis was on the path to NBA superstardom. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Reggie Lewis, we hardly knew ye.

That’s an old form of tribute, spawned by a 19th Century British song that sardonically mourned the loss in war of a soldier who died, obviously, too young. Later, more somberly, it was famously applied to John F. Kennedy, whose Presidency and life were snuffed by an assassin’s bullet to the world’s shock and dismay.

But in the case of Lewis, the Boston Celtics guard who collapsed and died on July 27, 1993, from a confusing and ultimately lethal heart condition, the construction literally is true. As sad as Lewis’ death was to those throughout the NBA and across the sports world, its sheer impact was buffered by several factors.

First, the element of surprise was absent. Lewis had exhibited symptoms of a heart ailment – the eventual cause of death was deemed to be hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – in the preceding months, including his collapse in Game 1 of Boston’s 1993 first-round playoff series against Charlotte. He had been advised to retire, then got cleared for a return to the Celtics and had been shooting baskets at the team’s practice facility at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., when he collapsed and died.

This wasn’t Len Bias, the Celtics’ first-round selection and No. 2 pick overall in 1986, who died just two days after the Draft from a cocaine overdose. The franchise and Boston’s sports fans still were reeling from that when they tabbed Lewis the following spring at No. 22.

This wasn’t Hank Gathers, the Loyola Marymount forward who died in the middle of a WCC tournament game from the same conditions as ESPN cameras rolled. Gathers had shown symptoms, too, and had been prescribed medication, but largely was an unknown until his dramatic and public death (with current Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on the floor that day, a point guard for the University of Portland).

A search for context, and an understanding of why Lewis’ death didn’t resonate nationally the way it might have or should have or, certainly, would have now in a world of 24/7 Internet and social media, yields only guesses. It doesn’t soothe the pain of a young family man dying so young, no matter if he’d poured in points for the Celtics on their parquet floor or picked up towels in their locker room.

That pain remains for those who knew Lewis, loved him and followed his career most closely. Veteran NBA writer Jackie MacMullan‘s tribute piece on ESPN.com covers so much of that because she and the people she interviewed about Lewis were a part of the Baltimore native’s life and premature death. Such as:

Brian Shaw and Reggie Lewis planned to grow up in the NBA together. They shared an agent, bought their houses at the same time, picked out new BMWs just days apart. They even went out and bought life insurance policies together.

“I miss him,” Shaw said. “I miss the closeness of having a friend who was going through the same things as me.

“We used to talk all the time about how we wanted to be the breakout tandem, the Celtics backcourt to be reckoned with for a long, long time.”

Lewis was on his way. At the time of his death, he had averaged more than 20 points a game and led the Celtics in scoring for two consecutive seasons. He had played in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game.

But there was so much going on at that time for Boston and in the league, and frankly so many deaths and setbacks, that Lewis’ tragic tale wound up muted for a lot of NBA and sports fans.

Besides Bias and Gathers, there was James Jordan, the father of Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan. He went missing on July 22, 1993 – just five days before Lewis collapsed – and soon was found dead under first mysterious, then sinister circumstances that grabbed headlines for weeks afterward (a pair of young armed robbers shot and killed Jordan while he slept in his car alongside a country road).

Just 21 months before Lewis died, in November 1991, Lakers star Magic Johnson had been given what figured to be his own death sentence, announcing he had contracted the HIV virus and immediately retiring. His Boston counterpart, Larry Bird, was dying only an athletic death, but still – Bird played in only 45 games in 1991-92 and just four of 10 in the playoffs due to a worsening back injury that forced his retirement after that season.

The Celtics were in transition-slash-decline, still thought of nationally for what they were and who’d they be losing rather than any bounce they’d get from Lewis, Shaw or anyone else. They played in the 1987 Finals before Lewis arrived, then didn’t get back until 21 years later. In 1988, they lost the Eastern Conference title to Detroit, and from there, NBA casual fans shifted their attention to the “Bad Boy” Pistons, to Jordan’s quest for rings and to wannabes such as the Knicks and the Jazz.

Lewis wasn’t exactly his own greatest press agent, either. He had star talent but a role player’s personality, deferring to Boston’s legendary veterans personally even as the arc of their games crossed; in his final season, he played about as many minutes and took as many shots as Kevin McHale and Robert Parish combined. Fans at Boston Garden and league insiders recognized the budding star before them, but even at his best, he never cracked the Top 10 in scoring (15th in 1991-92, 16th in 1992-93).

The Celtics, their opponents and MacMullan knew how good Lewis was – and was becoming – even if his national profile was low. Having written about him when he was at Northeastern, having known him as a rookie, MacMullan – a longtime Boston Globe reporter – saw the evolution in Lewis’ game. She revisited it in her ESPN.com piece, focusing on a 1991 matchup against the Bulls and Jordan:

In that March 31 game, as Jordan pulled up for his patented fallaway — one of the most feared weapons in basketball — Lewis waited patiently for MJ to launch himself, then stretched his arms and timed it so he deflected the ball just as Jordan released.

The block surprised Jordan, whose otherworldly elevation usually negated any chance of a rejected shot.

Most players weren’t athletic enough to literally “hang” with Jordan. Lewis was one of the exceptions.

“He was a tough matchup,” Jordan said. “He had those long arms that really bothered me.

“I was trying to be aggressive with him. I was trying to take advantage of his passive demeanor, but he didn’t back down. He never relinquished his own aggressiveness.

“He shocked me a little bit.”

And:

MJ dismissed Reggie’s initial block as an anomaly. When it happened again, this time on a pull-up jumper, Jordan became irked. The next time, he became concerned. And by the fourth time, on a lefty drive to the hoop, Jordan was irritated — and somewhat spooked.

“His length confused me,” Jordan conceded. “Every time I thought I had him beat, he’d recover and get up on me. When you have the skills to break someone down on defense and you can’t, it makes you tentative offensively.”

Here’s where we pause for a moment to understand the magnitude of what Jordan is saying. The most dynamic scorer in NBA history is now admitting two decades later that he was shocked by what Reggie Lewis did to him, confused by his length and made tentative offensively.

How many other NBA players can lay claim to making Michael Jordan feel that way?

The answer: Too damn few. One of whom was gone way too soon.

Ainge On Doc, Read Between The Lines …



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Danny Ainge didn’t have to say it for folks to connect the obvious dots about the departure of Doc Rivers for Los Angeles and the fact that Ainge wanted no part of the transaction.

Sure, he said all the right things Tuesday night while trying to answer the questions of the assembled media and talked fondly of Rivers, his nine-year stint in Boston and their fantastic working relationship that ended officially earlier Tuesday when Rivers was announced as the Clippers’ new coach and senior vice president of basketball operations.

You could tell it’s eating him alive, that no matter how many times he insists that it was a “win, win, win” for all involved, he knows that the Celtics are losing much more than just a coach.

Ainge said he’s been around long enough to know that “everyone is replaceable.”

But you don’t lose your partner in crime for nearly a decade and not feel it deep down.

The friendship between the two of them appears to have remained intact. How else do you preside over a deal where Rivers is allowed to leave his three years and $21 million remaining on his contract for the same deal with the Clippers?

Ainge could have made things as messy as he wanted to for Rivers if there wasn’t an underlying trust and true friendship between the two of them. Ainge wouldn’t bite when asked repeatedly if he was disappointed in Rivers or if he felt Rivers had “quit” on the Celtics after they had shown him the money with that five-year, $35 million deal he signed two years ago.

He made it clear that leaving was what Rivers wanted, that he wanted to chase new opportunities at this stage of his career, which is his prerogative. He holds no ill will toward Rivers, and expressed his sentiment that fans in Boston follow his lead.

And the feeling is apparently mutual, based on what Rivers told ESPNBoston.com‘s Jackie MacMullan:

“I always knew when I took the job with Boston that I would love the Celtics,” said Rivers, in his first public comments since he entered negotiations with the Clippers. “I knew I would love the tradition and the players. But I had no idea how much I would fall in love with the city and the people in it. Honestly, I get emotional thinking about it. I will cherish every single moment I had in Boston.”

All the emotion aside, Ainge still seemed stunned that he was sitting behind that microphone. He knows the business better than most. He recognizes how fickle the true superstars, coaches and players, can be when it comes to what motivates them (money often tops the list) and what inspires them (championships always top the list).

Rivers attained both with the Celtics. So it wasn’t ridiculous for Ainge to assume he’d avoid the coaching search that a dozen other franchises have had to deal with or are dealing with these days.

That makes it easier to answer some of those obvious questions that we all had when the presser began.

Was Ainge on board with the move?

Absolutely not.

Did he want Rivers to steer the ship through whatever rebuilding process is to come?

No doubt.

Did he believe as recently as Sunday that Rivers would indeed be the Celtics coach for the duration of his contract?

He certainly did.

The Celtics’ crew of Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce might have strolled off into the sunset together (Ray Allen escaped a bit earlier, joining the Miami Heat for their championship run this season). There was a chance the Celtics’ Big 3 era would get the proper send off.

But not now. Not with Rivers trading in his gig working with the aging stars he loved coaching and bonding with for the challenge that awaits with the Chris Paul (presumably), Blake Griffin and the same DeAndre Jordan who was rumored to be on his way to Boston in a deal for Garnett that certainly won’t happen now that the NBA has forbidden the Clippers and Celtics from conducting any other business with each other until this time next year.

Ainge said the wound is still so raw that he hasn’t even spoken to any potential candidates who could replace Rivers. He said the shock of it all being over hasn’t really hit him yet.

When asked if he wants Garnett and Pierce back next season, Ainge’s answer said it all.

“I love Paul and KG,” he said, “and we haven’t made that decision yet.”

Make no mistake, decisions made or not, this era of Celtics basketball is officially over.

Celtics: ‘Not Trying To Trade Rondo’





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That was swift, the Celtics’ squashing of the rumors that they are aggressively seeking trade partners for All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

Both team boss Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers addressed the situation in their own ways Thursday, refusing to comment on specifics but sending a message (whether it was intended not) to Rondo and Celtics fans that whatever the franchise will look like going forward (sans the Big 3), it won’t necessarily have Rondo-free look (despite reports to the contrary):

Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com explains:

Doc Rivers spent an hour and a half with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge before Wednesday’s win over Milwaukee, but the Boston Celtics’ coach says they never discussed trading point guard Rajon Rondo.

“In all that time we did not talk once about any trades,” Rivers said. “There was not one single thing about Rajon Rondo that crossed my desk.”

Rivers said Thursday afternoon he is irked by reports the Celtics were aggressively shopping his mercurial point guard and frustrated that his relationship with Rondo is being cited as one of the reasons Boston is willing to part with him.

“My relationship with Rajon is as strong as it has ever been,” he said. “Our communication has never been better. I want him here. I can say with almost 100 percent certainty he will be here with us when the season ends. I’m tired of this stuff. It’s not fair.”

Ainge called Rondo the team’s “best player” and reaffirmed on Thursday during his weekly call to Boston sports radio WEEI that he’s not actively trying to trade the 26-year-old.

“He’s our best player, he’s the most important part of our future,” said Ainge. “There’s no way we’re actively trying to trade Rondo. That makes no sense, no logical sense.”

Ainge went on to note that another team could always bowl over the Celtics with an offer to obtain Rondo’s services and admitted he couldn’t turn down one that made the Celtics better, but concluded, “I’ve made zero calls to try to trade him, and I won’t.”

This sounds a lot like what both Ainge and Rivers said in December, when they had to calm the chatter down when rumors spread that the Celtics were trying to move Rondo for Chris Paul, before Paul went to the Los Angeles Clippers.

With the March 15 trade deadline fast approaching, they all have just a few days more of this craziness before it’s all over …

The Big Author (Uncut) Reflects

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Appreciation for days like this one, Veterans Day, were forged years ago in Shaquille O’Neal, the son of a father who served in the military.

Preparation for the days like this one and the many ahead has been a part of O’Neal’s thought process for years, long before he began his 19-year journey in the NBA.

Unlike countless others before him, O’Neal didn’t wrestle with the idea of what he’d do when his playing days ended. He’s already kicked off his career as a TNT analyst (check him out talking lockout with several of his new colleagues). His biography, “Shaq Uncut: My Story,” with Jackie MacMullan, hits the shelves Nov. 15 and will include an extensive book tour where fans will no doubt want to hear more about some of his legendary battles, on and off the court, with some of basketball’s biggest names.

“Going into the next phase of my life never worried me,” O’Neal said. “Growing up and watching everybody else’s successes and failures, I’ve prepared for this. I even talk about it in my book. My father came home one day and hit me in the back of the head with a book. He said, ‘read this.’ And it was Kareem‘s book on how he lost all his money. And my father told me, ‘it’s never going to happen to you.’ It’s all about having a plan. And that’s how I got here.”

That doesn’t mean he spared anyone or anything in his book. With an extensive history playing with and against some of the biggest names in the game — including the league’s three biggest current stars, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — there will be plenty for fans to chew on once they get their hands on more than just the excerpts that have already circulated.

“The worst thing about the world we live in now, is there is more than one outlet that people respect. Back when we were coming up if it didn’t come from ESPN, NBC, CBS or ABC it didn’t have that stamp. But now, people are just taking excerpts and putting them out like they have the whole story,” O’Neal said of early criticisms, particularly his relationship with Bryant. “In the long run, it’s only going to help me have a No. 1 bestseller. Look, a lot of this stuff is just me reflecting on what’s already been out there and what’s been said. But a lot of guys that don’t have any creativity, guys like Bill Plaschke (of The Los Angeles Times) and Ric Bucher (of ESPN The Magazine), they don’t have any creativity to come up with their own stories. So to keep people paying attention and respect what they do, they keep bringing up old (expletive).

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