Posts Tagged ‘Julius Erving’

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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Ref Bavetta got overruled on final call

After 39 years reffing games on NBA courts, Dick Bavetta is calling it a career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

After 39 seasons reffing games on NBA courts, Dick Bavetta is calling it a career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

It was time for another family meeting, no different from the annual confabs they’d had for the previous half dozen years. Every Fourth of July weekend, at their log cabin retreat in the Adirondacks of upstate New York, Dick Bavetta would put the question to his wife Paulette and daughters Christine and Michele:

What d’ya think? One more season?

“We usually put it to a vote,” Bavetta said this week. “And I don’t get a vote. They basically listen to what I have to say and then they vote. The last six years, it’s always been 2-1 to go back. Christine, who’s like our Wall Street wizard, she’d always say, ‘Daddy, why are you subjecting yourself to all this travel and everything?’

“This year when we met, it was 3-0 to retire.”

Whoa. That result rocked Bavetta in his chair, the idea that after 39 years running the courts of the NBA as one of its most durable and most visible referees, Bavetta would be done. But after a record 2,635 consecutive regular-season games — a streak that earned Bavetta attention and kudos rare during most of his working years -– along with 270 playoff appearances and 27 Finals games, now seemed as good a time as any.

Season after season, Bavetta was out there, a familiar face to players, to coaches and to certain diehard fans around the league who, whether they realized it or not, had become familiar faces to him. This season, he won’t be.

“I said, ‘What’s the thinking here?’ ” Bavetta recalled. “They said, ‘You’re 74 years old’ — and I say this with humility — ‘and you’ve pretty much accomplished everything there was to accomplish.’ ” (more…)

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.

Jack Ramsay: A game, a life, a vision

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Whether it was as an octogenarian fitness fanatic skipping rope in a hotel exercise room, those bushy eyebrows dancing above his piercing eyes as he discussed the game he loved or watching one of his teams pass and cut and blend in perfect harmony, the images of Jack Ramsay are all about movement.

The 89-year-old coaching legend who died of cancer Monday morning was relentless in his beliefs about physical training, mental preparation and the correct way to play basketball … and never stopped actively promoting them.

As a native Philadelphian just learning about the game, it was Ramsay’s overachieving St. Joseph’s Hawks teams that swooped up and down the court of the historic Palestra in the early 1960s that first captured my attention and admiration.

In my first year covering the NBA, it was Ramsay’s harmonious vision of the game — move without the ball, make the extra pass, play as one — that made his Trail Blazers of Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Bobby Gross, Johnny Davis, Lionel Hollins, Dave Twardzik and the rest NBA champions in 1977. They had such style and elegance and were in tune that you could almost close your eyes and hear music.

Those Finals were the perhaps the greatest contrast in styles ever, pitting Ramsay’s Blazers against the prodigious one-on-one talents of a 76ers roster that included Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins and Lloyd Free.

During one practice at The Finals, the Sixers, coached by Gene Shue, spent most of an hour jacking up jump shots, exchanging dunks and killing time. McGinnis took time out to smoke a cigarette in the bleachers. A short time later, the Blazers entered the same gym and began running though layup lines and precise drills as if they were in a Marine boot camp. (more…)

MVP only half the battle for Durant

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has more than just the MVP trophy on his mind this year

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant really was tired of being No. 2, finishing second, being a groomsman and never the … you get where this is going.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder star declared earlier this season that he was tired of leading a life filled with being second best, dating as far back to his prep days to Draft night and all the way through his first six seasons in the NBA, he meant every word.

Once the ballots come in for the KIA MVP Award, Durant should finally be able to shed that No. 2 label. He’s already achieved as much in our eyes, topping reigning back-to-back and four-time MVP LeBron James and the rest of a star-studded field for the No. 1 spot on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder.

Durant has already claimed his fourth scoring title in just seven NBA seasons. But has he played his way into that intergalactic category with some of the other universal superstars — James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Kevin Garnett rank among the active MVP or Finals MVPs still in business today?

Could be. He certainly has all of the credentials necessary for inclusion … well, everything but the official word that he is the most valuable player in the NBA. And even that might not be enough validation for Durant, who holds himself to a championship standard.

NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell agrees that Durant has only finished half the battle, provided he walks off with KIA MVP honors. Oh yes, there’s definitely more to be done this season …

Spoiler alert: Kevin Durant will win his first ever Most Valuable Player award.

Durant is average career highs in points (32.0) and assists (5.5) while shooting 50.5% from the field. K.D. winning the award may come as no surprise but the odds of him doing so in route to winning a title may shock you.

Since the inception of the MVP award (1955-56), the hardware has been handed out 57 times. There have been 36 players to win the award however only seven first time MVP winners went on to win a title in the same season.

​Surely Durant can make it eight but it’s been 20 years since we’ve last seen it done. The 1993-94 award went to Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon after which he led them to their first of two NBA titles. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the other six players to join Olajuwon in this feat are no doubt Hall-of-Famers (as seen below) but there are many other legends that didn’t make the cut.

First Time MVPs to win a title in same season
56-57–Bob Cousy (Celtics)
69-70–Willis Reed (Knicks)
70-71–Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as Lew Alcindor)- Bucks
83-84–Larry Bird (Celtics)
86-87–Magic Johnson (Lakers)
99-00–Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers)
93-94–Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets)

​Keep in mind 5-time MVP Michael Jordan was occupied with batting cages when Olajuwon won in 1994. As for Durant, former MVPs Tim Duncan and LeBron James still stands in his way.

Consider this, despite the greatness of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Jordan, Duncan and James, none of those luminaries were able to win a title the same year they captured their first MVP award.

​There’s so much energy exerted throughout an 82-game season, one can only imagine how tough it would be for a player to win the MVP award for the first time and have enough left for the post season. The edge for Durant may be his 2012 Finals appearance, which resulted in disappointment and ultimately the fuel needed to elevate his game to another level.

​Let me be the first to congratulate Durant and lead the applause on becoming the 37th different player to be named League MVP. It truly is an honor.

So prepare for your twitter mentions to hit a new high.

However, if @KDtrey5 can find a way to become the eighth player to win his first MVP award and a title in the same season, his mentions will far surpass social media.

#All-TimeGreats


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has put up fantasty-like numbers all season for the Thunder

Russell’s 80th Highlights Legends Brunch

VIDEO: Bill Russell tribute at the Legends Brunch

NEW ORLEANS – With so much talk leading up to and through the NBA’s 2014 All-Star Weekend about “Mt. Rushmore” candidates of monumental greatness, it was L.A. Clippers guard Chris Paul who gave the fun exercise a little spin. Speaking at the annual Legends Brunch on Sunday in the Great Hall of the city’s sprawling convention center, Paul set up his selection of all-timers as some sort of personal half-court playground game.

“If it’s a 2-on-2 game, it’s going to be me and Bill Russell,” said Paul, still wildly popular in the host city this weekend after spending his first six NBA seasons with the New Orleans franchise. “If it’s 3-on-3, it’s me, Bill Russell and another guy. If it’s 4-on-4…

“One thing for sure, Bill Russell is going to be on my team because all he did was win.”

Eleven NBA championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, to be exact, the most prolific winner in major U.S. team sports. Russell was honored with a special tribute at the Legends Brunch, pegged to his 80th birthday Wednesday. A big cake in the shape of “80” (green icing, naturally) was wheeled out at the end and the crowd stood to sing “Happy Birthday,” accompanying a trumpet player on the tune.

The five-time NBA MVP and the man for whom the Finals MVP trophy is named was front and center Sunday, feted not just for his birthday but because – as a native of Monroe, La. – he also fit nicely with the Legends tradition of acknowledging great players with connections to the host market. Three others with ties to the Big Easy and Louisiana were celebrated, including future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who burst on the scene as a freshman at Louisiana State. Three years later in 1992, O’Neal was the league’s No. 1 draft pick; he was named Legend of the Year Sunday.

O’Neal was introduced by new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, a lanky 6-foot-3 who nonetheless found himself scooped up and carried like a small child by the massive O’Neal. The 15-time All-Star, who played for six NBA franchises, stood 7-foot-1 and weighed somewhere in the vicinity of 325 pounds, reminded the audience that he was big even when he was little.

When he first met LSU coach Dale Brown, O’Neal was a 6-foot-9 teenager. The Tigers coach mistook him for a member of the military. “He asked, ‘How long have you been a soldier, son?’ ” O’Neal said. “I said, ‘I’m only 13.’ ” The big man pantomimed Brown in a state of shock: ” ‘What?! Huh?!’ He wanted to hide me from the other coaches.”

Hall of Famer Karl Malone, who grew up in Summerfield, La., and was something of a sleeper pick (No. 13) out of Louisiana Tech in 1985, was presented with the Community Service Award. In a nice touch to connect the NBA’s greats to its budding Legends of tomorrow, Philadelphia’s dynamic rookie Michael Carter-Williams introduced Malone.

“A long, long time from now, I hope to be sitting in the audience,” Carter-Williams said. “You guys have no idea how much this means to me.”

Malone, No. 2 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (36,928) behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), has been active with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and has traveled to Afghanistan and elsewhere to visit U.S. troops. “This honor is great,” he said of the award. “But it’s not about me. We’re a taking society. I try to be a little more about giving back.”

The third honoree with local roots was a HOF power forward who set the league’s standard for Malone and so many others. Bob Pettit – of Baton Rouge, LSU and the Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks – was honored with the Hometown Hero Award.

“I don’t have a lot of sympathy for your 50th birthday,” Pettit told Malone after the former Utah forward introduced him (Malone hit that milestone last summer). “I’ve been retired for 50 years.”

Then, referencing a video clip of his old-school game from the 1950s and ’60s that was shown on multiple screens in the vast ballroom, Pettit poked a little fun at himself. “You saw that hook shot? The first time I shot my hook shot against Boston, Bill Russell caught it,” Pettit said. “I retired that shot after that.”

Now 81, the trim, 6-foot-9 Pettit – Malone called him a “spry young man” – still ranks eighth all-time at 26.4 points per game, third at 16.3 rebounds per game, ninth in minutes (38.8 mpg) and seventh in player efficiency rating (25.3). He was an All-Star in each of his 11 seasons and the game’s MVP three times.

Pettit – also on hand this weekend to remind current players of the 1964 All-Stars’ near-boycott of the showcase game, a tactic to earn their union clout with the owners – won the league MVP award in 1956 and 1959 and finished as low as sixth in the balloting only once. In 1957-58, he averaged 24.6 points and 17.4 rebounds – and scored 50 points in the Game 6 Finals clincher – to help St. Louis beat Boston and win the only NBA title the Celtics didn’t from 1957 through 1966.

And here’s a fascinating what-if: He was two years into his career when the Hawks drafted Russell with the No. 2 pick in the 1956 draft. They traded him that day to the Celtics for eventual Hall of Famers Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley, but still…

Russell sat, nodded and occasionally cackled that famous laugh of his through a steady stream of stories and tributes Sunday. Rev. Jesse Jackson talked about the Celtics star’s career in terms of “knocking down walls and building bridges,” less as a pro athlete than as a civil rights activist marching at the elbow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A panel of other NBA greats – Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Clyde Drexler – also shared impressions and tales about Russell. Abdul-Jabbar, for instance, said that through studying Russell’s style of play he realized how it was possible for someone to dominate from the defensive end of the court.

Johnson said he chased Russell in terms of championships won (he fell six short) and now chases him for impact away from the game. And Erving spoke of the friendship the two have had dating back to 1970 or so, when the man later known as Dr. J still was at the University of Massachusetts. At 19, Erving said, “I sat down and talked with him for three or four hours about everything but basketball.” The two eventually stayed at each other’s homes and became golf buddies.

Russell admitted that he never much enjoyed participating in All-Star Games because, in his heart, he only played basketball for the Celtics. But in 1963 in Los Angeles, he invited his father to the game and told him, “We’re going to win and I’m going to win MVP.” The next day, Russell did just that with 19 points and 24 rebounds in a 115-108 East victory.

His father’s reaction? “I didn’t know you were that good.”

“I never talked about basketball with my family,” Russell said. “But my father was my hero. He taught me to be a man by being one.”

And now, when Russell sits in the stands to watch the game’s current elite performers in the All-Star Game? “I hate to admit it,” he said, revving up for another cackle. “My thought is, I can kick his ass.’ “

Hang Time Q&A: Oscar Robertson On Turning 75, Triple-Doubles And G.O.A.T


VIDEO: Oscar Robertson career retrospective

Oscar Robertson on his NBA beginnings, lawsuit | Robertson on 3-pointers, big men and today’s NBA | Robertson on race relations in the 1960s | Who is the greatest of all time? | Robertson on his life & legacy

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played with or against many of the NBA’s most legendary players in a Hall of Fame career that spanned 20 seasons, was asked recently for his take on the simmering Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James greatest-of-all-time debate.

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati, Nov. 2013

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati, Nov. 2013
(Steve Aschburner, NBA.com)

“LeBron is awesome, MJ was awesome, but I think Oscar Robertson would have kicked them both in the behind,” Abdul-Jabbar said on ESPN radio. “He had all the skills. He could rebound and box out guys four and six inches taller than him. He was ruggedly built. He had fluid, quickness, and just understood the game. No flair, he just got the job done every night. Who’s going to average double figures in points, assists and rebounds?”

It was a rhetorical question because, in the 52 years since Robertson became the first NBA player to average a triple-double – in his case, 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game – he remains, famously, the only one to do so.

Ask Robertson who the most neglected great player in league history is and he’ll tell you Elgin Baylor, whose moves and above-the-rim bursts made him a precursor of Julius Erving, Jordan and the rest. Ask plenty of others, though, and the name that bounces back is Robertson’s, a.k.a., The Big O.

That was an easy one for Wayne Embry, NBA lifer as a player, team executive and Springfield, Mass., inductee himself as a contributor.

“Look, there’s no question about it: Oscar Robertson is the greatest basketball player of all time,” said Embry, now working with the Toronto Raptors after his years with Milwaukee (as sports’ first black general manager) and Cleveland. “No disrespect to Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or LeBron James, but I want people to remember this: Oscar Robertson played in a time where we didn’t have ESPN and this and that, but look at his achievements.

“Nobody [else] has averaged a triple-double, and that was with 30 points by the way. And he also averaged 11 assists. Combine the two, how many points does that equate to for your team? In the age of analytics, you want to factor in that he averaged 12 rebounds on top of that. Now who in the history of the game has done that?”

This is an appropriate spot to note that Embry was Robertson’s roommate during their years together on the Cincinnati Royals in the 1960s. Still, stats are stats, and giant steps are giant steps. Robertson did spread that triple-double across 1961-62, the same season in which Wilt Chamberlain averaged his mythic 50.4 points.

Impressed? Hold on. If you take Robertson’s first six NBA seasons – 460 games played from 1961-1966 – he averaged 30.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 10.7 assists. Those numbers are staggering at a time when doubling up in two of those categories can earn a player $20 million annually.

As Robertson’s 75th birthday approached – the milestone is Nov. 24 – we sat down at one of his favorite haunts, the Montgomery Inn Boathouse, on the riverfront in his adopted hometown of Cincinnati. He passed on the ribs for which that restaurant is known, but skipped little else in a wide-ranging, part-cantankerous, part-charming, relentlessly honest and insightful two-hour conversation.

The following is excerpted from that:

.

NBA.com: This place is decorated with jerseys of famous Cincinnati and Ohio sports stars, but I don’t see anything of yours on the wall.

Oscar Robertson: I’ve got a college jersey here some place. I don’t know where it is now. Nothing from the NBA, nothing form the Royals.

NBA.com: Is it odd living in Cincinnati after all these years, when the city hasn’t been an NBA market in more than 40 years.

Robertson: Yes it is. Because I have to wait late at night to get the scores. Newspapers don’t write anything about it. You can watch some games on television but it seems to me, have they forgotten basketball here? They’ve got football and baseball and that’s all they write about, the Bengals and the Reds. But there are other teams!

Also in Hang Time
West praises former rival Robertson
Hall of Famer Jerry West discusses what it was like entering the NBA and matching up regularly with Oscar Robertson, the trials they both faced in trying to overcome the Celtics to win a championship and the early years of the NBA.

Pro basketball is never mentioned around here. They don’t mention when the Pacers are playing, and the Pacers don’t do anything about advertising over here either. That’s an hour-and-a-half ride. They should have a bus, picking up 40 or 50 guys and taking ‘em over to games.

NBA.com: You played in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, and you had no control over your playing whereabouts thanks to the Draft and the lack of free agency back then.

Robertson: You can be the greatest player in the world, but if you’re with a team that’s going nowhere, you’re not going anywhere either. You can play great but if the players around you don’t complement what you do, you don’t go anywhere.

NBA.com: Hardly anyone did if they didn’t play in Boston back then. Was it hard falling short against the Celtics year after year after year?

Robertson: Not really, because I realized we didn’t have the talent. We didn’t have the bench. We didn’t have management. We didn’t have athletes on our teams, even our starters. Then you’ve got to make the right trades sometimes. No team has won without making a trade.

NBA.com: Now teams have free agency, which you know a little about. [The "Oscar Robertson lawsuit," a class-action case brought by Robertson and other players against the league, opened the door to basketball free agency when it was settled.]

Robertson: I think the Oscar Robertson case made guys into movie star-type athletes. Big money and personas about them, people following them around and wanting to meet and greet them. But still, if owners did not want to try to get that player, you still couldn’t go anywhere at all. Owners will say a lot of players are greedy and all they want is a lot of money. But they’re there to give the money out. Without the owners, this never would have been possible.

NBA.com: If that case had been brought earlier and been called the “Sam Jones lawsuit” so you might have benefited from it, would you have looked to leave Cincinnati?

Robertson: I probably would have. … I realized after I played a few years, we were not going to win anything in Cincinnati. Great guys. But like anything, it takes talent. It takes a good bench. It takes people not [just] liking each other but playing well together, which is a real key.

NBA.com: Some would say these days that it takes two or, in Miami’s case, three stars to win a title.

Robertson: That’s always been the case. you look at championship teams. The Lakers, Boston, they had more than one star on their team. They had two or three stars, sometimes four. That’s how you win basketball games.

NBA.com: So those great Celtics teams led by Bill Russell – were they great because they were stocked with Hall of Fame players or did their players get to the Hall because of how much that team won?

Robertson: I’m sure because they won, a lot of guys went into the Hall of Fame. But even the Hall of Fame, it’s changed over the years. It’s not because of your talent or how good you were that gets you in anymore. It’s a lot of different things. If someone likes you and thinks that what you did is a credit to the game of basketball, they can put your name forward and really broaden the campaign for you, and you can get in. I like football because … a lot of people go into [football's] Hall of Fame but during that induction ceremony, it’s only the players. And they don’t have any year where there are no players who go in.

NBA.com: Did the ABA ever come after you? You would have been a tremendous “get” for that league.

Robertson: Yes, I talked to them at one time. It wasn’t that big a deal. I spoke to the Indiana Pacers once because I’m from Indianapolis. It wasn’t anything I was looking forward to. It was a decent league. It had some good players in it. It was almost a dunk league, a show-me league, a big-time-play league. I guess I didn’t realize that it [four ABA teams merging into the NBA] eventually was going to happen anyway. It’s like the NFL and the AFL, it was going to happen.

NBA.com: Is there anyone who’s not in the Hall of Fame who ought to be?

Robertson: Probably Guy Rodgers [who played 12 seasons, 1958-1970, mostly for the Warriors, Bulls and Bucks]. He did a great job for many, many years. Handled the ball well. I think he should be in the Hall of Fame. Excellent leader. For the people who vote for a guy to be inducted, I don’t know if they understand what happens on the basketball court. I think maybe they read a lot of stats. … You should have some basic knowledge of the game other than saying, “I saw this guy play and he averaged 25 points a game.” But what about the other things that happened? Could he play any defense? Could he get a rebound? Were there [other] factors?

On 3-pointers, big men and coaches in today’s NBA

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VIDEO: A look back at Oscar Robertson’s career awards

NBA.com: What jumps out at you about the NBA today?

Robertson: There are no good inside players anymore. The offenses don’t work off the pivot anymore either. So it’s just a different game. If you can’t score from outside, you’re not going to win. The 3-point line is great, but it’s backed up much of the game. Even though you score a thousand points – the other night, I think the Clippers had 37 3-pointers. But the other team was 10 behind ‘em. I think you’ve got to get inside. If you’ve got decent inside people, you’ll do well.

NBA.com: Are the best big guys born or made?

Robertson: I don’t think they’re coached right. I don’t think anyone takes time to teach the centers how to pass out of the pivot. How to make a move off the pivot. You don’t make cuts off the pivots anymore. There are no back-door plays. No weak-side plays at all. Those things are so important to spreading the floor out, keeping the floor covered.

Dwight Howard is a great athlete – doesn’t have a shot off the pivot. See, [Tim] Duncan could score off the pivot. Duncan is simple. He just gets it down. But you don’t have a [Bill] Russell, Wilt, Nate Thurmond, those big centers. It’s all gone. And the guys you do have, they don’t seem to be able to play defense off the pivot. I’ll never forget the first time Wilt faced [Walt] Bellamy, he must have blocked his first seven or eight shots.

NBA.com: That was mentioned in some of Bellamy’s obituaries [the Hall of Famer died Nov. 2].

Robertson: Wilt was trying to prove a point to him. And Walt was averaging 31 points a game and 19 reobunds, which goes unheard of anymore .Wilt want to prove who the top dog was. Fortunately you don’t play against Wilt every night. No one could handle Wilt. Wilt saved basketball when he averaged 50 points a game. For TV or what-not.


VIDEO: Take a look back at Oscar Robertson’s exceptional rookie year

NBA.com: Is the game better coached now?

Robertson: No. You have one little play [pick-and-roll]. Hope somebody tries to double-team you, throw the ball to the guy in the corner, he makes a long 3-point shot, something like that. I don’t think there’s much coaching at all, because players today are such gifted athletes, they do that without thinking about it. “I pass you the ball, I pick your man off, try to roll off” – that’s just natural play when you don’t know anybody. Whether you’re playing in the park or in the All-Star Game, you did those things without thinking about them. It’s great, if you can score without a lot of movement – if you can score. If you don’t score, everybody else stands around and watches you.


VIDEO: Some of Oscar Robertson’s best plays

NBA.com: Do you believe in the concept of “clutch?”

Robertson: Could be. Here again, I think that what happens at the start of the game is just as important as what happens at the end. Jerry West was called Mr. Clutch because he got the ball at the end. And he should have had the ball. Fortunately for him, he made those baskets. If you don’t get the ball where you’re in position to make a basket or miss it, you’re not considered clutch. Some players don’t mind having the ball at the end of the game, when there are seconds on the clock. Some players don’t want that. [For more on Jerry West, click here]

NBA.com: You took those shots on your teams?

Robertson: Some of them, not all of them. But I’d been in so many big games when I younger, in high school and college, it didn’t bother me. No pressure at all. I just wanted to make the shot. If it happens, it happens. [If I missed] it didn’t bother me at all. I think the game of basketball is up and down. You’re not going to win every game. In sports, they think it’s a life and death situation but it really isn’t.

On crowds and race relations in the ’60s


VIDEO: Oscar Robertson talks about the off-the-court challenges he faced
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NBA.com: What were the crowds around the NBA like, when you played?

Robertson: Some were very nasty. Boston. Philly had nasty fans – they’d yell insults at you a lot. Chicago had tough fans at times. I think they wanted their teams to win, so if you came in and defeated them, they didn’t like that at all. Sometimes it was a personal jealousy thing. But you get used to that.

NBA.com: Did it ever get racial?

Robertson: Oh hell, back then? That goes without saying. Being born in the south [Tennessee], growing up in Indianapolis where the Ku Klux Klan actually built our high school [to segregate black students] – Crispus Attucks – and being segregated in an all-black neighborhood, some things you get accustomed to. Not that you liked them, but you got used to them.

It’s almost like animals out in the wild, where they teach their young how to survive. Our parents were like, “You can’t go here. You can’t go there.” If you go to visit your parents and grandparents in Tennessee, you ride on the back of the bus. You don’t go into a restaurant anywhere along the route to get anything to eat. All those things. You learn that over a period of time, more or less so you can exist.

NBA.com: People have praised sports for breaking down those types of barriers. Is that overstated?

Robertson: No, it’s not. My high school had an all-black team and a lot of our friends were white guys, and they’d come to the park and we’d play together. The Olympics is a prime example of what athletes can do not only in their country but in the world.

I’m sure all the players I played with didn’t like black people, but we were in a setting where we had to work together in order to win. Then people got to know you and you got to know them.

I always said, on a team, you don’t have to come home and live with me. We just have to play together for a couple hours. Most of the guys were great guys. During my playing career, I never felt I had someone I disliked.

It’s like a soldier fighting in the war. Some guys from the deep South don’t like blacks, some blacks from up north don’t like whites. But you get in a foxhole, it’s a different story. Then when they left their foxholes, they’d still go their separate ways.

As a race, there was so much going on. It was so volatile – the right to vote. Right to go into a restaurant or a movie. Sit where you want to sit on a bus. Be able to go from this side of town to that side. Or get a job. A lot of whites didn’t think about that, where it concerned me or other black people.


VIDEO: Oscar Robertson talks about the racial aspect of playing in the NBA

NBA.com: So what is your take on the Miami Dolphins’ locker room controversy?

Robertson: When I heard that, I almost couldn’t believe it. The young man [Jonathan Martin] was a starter. But you have a lot of people in football who think that type of attitude is what makes you a good player. I don’t think that – it’s whether you can play or not. But for them to blame everything on that [Richie] Incognito, as if the coaches didn’t know anything about it? Some coaches knew all about that stuff. Then you hear black players say, “How can that guy turn in a player?” He ain’t no player to me.

Direct your energy to the guys on the field you’re playing against. If you feel like you want to call a guy the N-word and he’s as big as you and he’s across the line from you, then it’s a different story. You get an immediate response. It’s a different story then. But if I’m playing on your team and I hear you calling this guy a name that I don’t like? Damaging, to say the least.

NBA.com: Some people say that the 1960 U.S. men’s Olympic team on which you played might have challenged the more famous 1992 “Dream Team.”


VIDEO: Oscar Robertson reflects on playing for the 1960 U.S. Olympic team

Robertson: We went out to Denver for the trials. I think you had, I’m gonna say, 10 teams and you played a game every night for seven nights to get into a championship round. So we picked our team. My starters were myself and [Terry] Dischinger at forward, [Darrall] Imhoff in the pivot, Jay Arnette and Jerry West at guard. And Bellamy came off the bench.

[Coach] Pete Newell played Imhoff because the starting team that won was [our] first team in the Olympics. He was telling me how he had such a hard time with AAU getting Bellamy on the team, which you really needed to win in Rome. AAU was so powerful then. They put four or five guys on the team. Actually, AAU was more powerful. But we won, so we got to place our first team on the Olympic team.

On the Greatest of All Time and the greatest today


VIDEO: Oscar Robertson leads the Bucks to the 1970-71 championship

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NBA.com: What do you make of Kareem’s comments about you in relation to Jordan and James?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson in 1974

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson in 1974
(Dick Raphael/NBAE)

Robertson: I appreciated him saying that. You know what happens today in sports: With the advent of all the ads and things, it makes players much bigger than they really are.

To say this guy could outplay that guy, it’s ridiculous. I could play against anybody. Elgin Baylor, they never even mention his name, they couldn’t handle Elgin Baylor on the basketball court. None of these guys playing today.

Everyone thinks because a guy can dunk a basketball … [that] doesn’t mean he can play. Can he make a play? Can he set a pick? Can he roll to the basket right? Can he help out in the right position? All of which has nothing to do with … it’s what TV is today. Highlights. They want the sensational windmill dunk – the guy who hits the jump shot never gets a look. Oh, the one [Ray Allen] hit for Miami, they’ll throw that in, because it was a pressure shot and he got it in the basket.

NBA.com: How high should Kareem rank on these G.O.A.T. lists?

Robertson: Russell was great. Wilt was great. Kareem was great. Just because you can say he didn’t do this or that … no one could stop Kareem off the pivot. I don’t think Bill or Wilt could stop him from shooting that sky hook off the pivot.

NBA.com: The Internet would blow up if someone averaged a triple-double over his first six seasons in the league. Was that a big deal for you to do that?

Robertson: Not at all. I thought everybody played the same way. That’s the way I learned to play: Pass the ball, shoot when I got open, rebound if I’m inside.

An assist was different when I played. “A pass that leads to a basket.” Now I can throw you the ball outside, and you can dribble eight or nine times and shoot, that’s an assist.

You see guys throw alley-oops to players – how in the world can a guy get an alley-oop? If I’m guarding somebody, OK, the first time you get an alley-oop on me. The next time you’re not gonna get it because I’m going to play defense on you. These players seem like they go brain-dead when it happens. How can a guy score four or five of these things on you in a game?

Say you’re a good 3-point shooter and you hit the first one. I’m not gonna get off of you anymore. Just like when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points – I’d have fouled out. He might have got ‘em on the foul line but not shooting the ball. It seemed like they got out of his way.


VIDEO: Oscar Robertson’s trade to Milwaukee reshapes the NBA

NBA.com: Which player today do you enjoy watching?

Robertson: There are a lot of good players. I like the guard at Cleveland [Kyrie Irving]. I like to see LeBron play. I love San Anotino’s team — they actually come down and run plays. Indiana has come on. They have a collection of good athletes who make plays.

A lot of team can’t do that at all. I don’t think Miami’s very good, other than [Dwyane] Wade and LeBron. Seems like the other guys can’t even dribble the ball two or three times and get a shot off. Now this is me looking in.

And they blame Carmelo [Anthony] for the demise of Denver. I thought he played great out there. Other guys couldn’t get a basket, they threw it to him and he put it in the basket – and they didn’t like him for that? Isn’t that something.

NBA.com: Who do you want taking the shot at the end of the game?

Robertson: You tell me.

NBA.com: I think that’s Carmelo’s greatest skill.

Robertson: You can say that again. He can really shoot it, can’t he? But other guys are good shooters like that. At Indiana, very good shooter, Danny Granger. And this kid from San Antonio, he made so many one night against Miami it was unbelievable. Danny Green. Then the next night, he doesn’t get a smell of it.

NBA.com: Any thoughts on the one-and-done college rule?

Robertson: I’ve spoken to [Kentucky coach John] Calipari about that a little bit. He says there’s nothing to be done about that. It’s what the players want to do. But why one-and-done? You can go to the Army when you’re 18. Why shouldn’t you be able to play [pro] basketball and football if you have the ability to play, and someone will pay you? You shouldn’t have to say, I’ll go to college for a year. That doesn’t make sense. … Then they want you to play well but they don’t want you to play well enough so you’ll leave.

NBA.com: Did you work under year-to-year contracts or multi-year deals? We hear that a lot of guys played hurt back then.

Robertson: Mostly year to year. Sure, you had to play. Plenty of times. The year we beat Baltimore, the final game [1971], I was hurting so bad, I was up all night. I had a bad groin. I was hurting like crazy. I put heat on it all night long. It got to the point, I’m getting close to game time, I told ‘em, “Look, I’m gonna go out and try to play. If I can’t go, I just can’t go.” I went out there and started running and running, it stopped hurting. I just got used to the pain, I guess.

I had a broken finger one year, I just taped it up. Achilles tendon messed up one year, I kept playing, knotted up. Hamstring pull. If you play enough, you’re going to get hurt.

NBA.com: You a fan of instant replay?

Robertson: To get it right? I think it slows the game down. Make the call and if you miss it, too bad. Players adjust. Why don’t they have someone else there at the game look at the call? You can tell in one second who knocked the ball out of bounds.

NBA.com: There’s a question that gets asked around the NBA: “Steve Nash or Steve Kerr?” In other words, would you rather have multiple MVP awards and the All-Star career that Nash has had or multiple championships as a role player.

Robertson: Russell won with a lot of different people in Boston. The kid [Robert Horry] who played for Houston, played with the Lakers and San Antonio … he’s got seven or eight rings himself, doesn’t he? [Horry has seven.] So just because you win a ring … not demeaning Bill’s ability, but does that say you’re the greatest player? Bill played great for the Celtics, no doubt about it.

Different people have different thinking about it. Steve Nash played great for Phoenix a few years ago, won MVP a couple times. I don’t think he should have won two. You’ll see writers anoint someone before a season starts. I don’t know who they’re going to give it to this year. It’s not going to be LeBron. They want to pass that award around.

NBA.com: Never mind multiple rings, how different would your career feel to you if you hadn’t managed finally to win a championship in Milwaukee.

Robertson: It wasn’t any big difference-maker for me. I didn’t even think about it. Because we had a little better team. We had a great bench. That’s how we won. The next year they traded almost all our players away. You’d have to ask the Bucks management about that. I could not understand how they could do that.

The start of my last year, to start practice, you’d run three laps around this [gym]. Being a veteran, I took my time going around. Kareem would always outrun everybody. [Milwaukee beat writer] Bob Wolf wrote in the paper, saying I was too old and couldn’t play anymore. I called him up and said, “All right, you can write what you want. But I don’t want to do another interview with you.” This is practice, man. We hadn’t even started playing yet.

NBA.com: You sounded a little like Allen Iverson.

Robertson: [Laughs] But I think the Bucks set it up for me not to play anymore after that year. If you look, my last year, I was playing [35] minutes a game. But I was gonna quit anyway.

NBA.com: Did you still have some game in you?

Robertson: Oh sure. I could play with those guys. But it got to a point where they kept on making trades, bringing in the wrong people each year. It wasn’t working at all.

On life after the NBA

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NBA.com: Once you were done playing, you worked one season as a TV analyst. But you often have said that your lawsuit against the league led to you being blackballed because owners resented your involvement as the head of the players’ union and as a big-name player.

Robertson: I got involved with CBS, which was a joke. They decided that, because of the lawsuit, I was an adversary. It really was a blackballing when it happened. But the players association didn’t do anything about it. Over the years, I’ve thought about it a lot. But when the NBA said they were going in another direction, I said, “Fine.”

The NBA has done a lot of things over the years. A lot of great things but that doesn’t mean they haven’t done some things they shouldn’t have been doing. At first they didn’t want any black guys coaching. Then they got Russell – he wouldn’t have played for nobody else. That’s when Red [Auerbach] named him the coach.

NBA.com: Was the lawsuit worth it to you?

Robertson: It had to be worth it. I was involved in a situation when I first got there, I didn’t understand it but I grew into it. I saw some of the situations that were happening to players. When I first started playing, we got $8 a day for meals. Didn’t have a trainer. You flew on the first [commercial] flight going.

Look what that lawsuit did for basketball. Propelled them to the atmosphere. Beyond the moon. And they talk about great things that changed basketball. Not because I was involved – I was with some other guys, Wes Unseld, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere – it changed basketball. It made guys millions of dollars. You see entourages they have with them, limousines going to games, guys making $20 million. Now they get shoe contracts that make them superstars.

NBA.com: It shifted the balance of power to the players.

Robertson: No, it really shifted the power to the owners. Say you had a real good team and you needed Wilt. … If you were outside your contract, you could go. It made a lot of teams different.

NBA.com: It’s been said that you’re only old when your regrets outnumber your dreams. Do you still have some dreams?

Robertson: Sure, I have things I still want to do. Especially in business, which I haven’t gotten there yet.

NBA.com: Your business ventures might surprise some people. You founded Orchem, a chemical manufacturer, in 1981. You also put your business degree to use, too, through Oscar Robertson Solutions, a document management and consulting firm. I know you’ve had some challenges, financial and otherwise, in those endeavors. Does business scratch the same itch as basketball, in a competitive sense?


VIDEO: The Beat crew talks about Oscar Robertson’s legacy

Robertson: Yes. Sometimes it’s a little more difficult. Because in sports, you’re out there and either you do it or you don’t do it. People could say anything they wanted until I hit the floor, then it was up to me. But in business today, it’s up to a lot of people.

I just wish I had played a little later [at a bigger salary]. Then I could have gone into what I wanted to go into. When I was with the players association, we talked to [late head of the NBA players union] Larry Fleisher one year about groups of players getting together and buying car dealerships in every NBA city. It didn’t work out – couldn’t get the financing. But it would have been great. In every city, you set up a Ford and a Chevrolet dealership? Man!

NBA.com: Generally it sounds like you’re OK that you played when you played and were paid what you were paid.

Robertson: I didn’t make a million dollars in 14 years. But times are different. I just think that players today are instantly gratified to be making the money. Some don’t appreciate that they’re making what they’re making. They take it for granted.

NBA.com: How would you like to be remembered?

Robertson: I have no idea. It doesn’t really matter that much to me. People are going to say what they want to say anyway. Like one [reporter recently] asked, “Do you think you could play in the game today?” I said, “It’s obvious you don’t know anything about basketball or you wouldn’t ask me that question. So I have no comments for you at all.” I just walked away from him.

Did he think, if they had eight teams, how many guys wouldn’t be playing now? Or 12 teams or 16 teams? How many guys would not be playing [in the NBA] now?

NBA.com: You’ve never been shy about speaking your mind.

Robertson: My wife [Yvonne] gets on me. She says, “Don’t tell ‘em all these things.” I say, “I won’t. But if they ask me, I’m not going to lie about it.”

We All Count Numbers But Do All Numbers Count?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iverson: The Uncomfortable Answer

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HANG TIME, Texas – He stood there at mid-court cradling the Most Valuable Player trophy and the transformation was complete.

Not quite a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, because Allen Iverson never would be described as something so light and delicate. But just as dramatic and, maybe, just as natural.

It was as jarring a sight that night at the 2001 NBA All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., perhaps, as seeing Mike Tyson in a set of tights with the Bolshoi Ballet or having the chiseled visage of Richard Nixon join the great ones high up on Mt. Rushmore.

Yet this was the way it had to be if his game, his league, his sport was to have continued hope to grow and flourish. For 14 seasons, people said Iverson was the changing face of the league — and that was not always meant in a good way.

But tattoos are only skin deep. Hairstyles change and grow, just like people.

The recent news that Iverson planned to announce his official retirement brought back a sudden rush of so many memories of the will-o’-the-wisp guard who broke ankles, broke protocol and broke the mold of what a little man could do.

He was Rookie of the Year (1997), MVP (2001), a four-time scoring champion, three-time steals leader, three-time All-NBA First Team member and twice was given the top prize at the All-Star Game. The first time, the award came for his performance in the nation’s capital when Iverson showed that behind the hip-hop persona of a modern player was an old-fashioned pro who simply lived and loved to compete.

The player whose reputation would a year later become eternally stamped by a rant about “Practice!?” was the ultimate gamer who brought the Eastern Conference from 21 points down in the fourth quarter of an exhibition game because, well, if you’re gonna play, you might as well try to win.

Iverson’s style was always far less an artistic display and much more a competitive exercise, as if there was something to prove. And there was. The guy who had been called “Me-Myself-and-Iverson” spent much of his career, as he’s spent most of his troubled life, listening to people doubt not only his motives, but what’s inside his heart.

He came into the league wearing tattoos and cornrows and bandanas and traveling with his posse. He put himself into the center of a storm with his caught-on-national-TV microphones slur about sexual preference to a heckling fan in Indiana.

Iverson was as far removed image-wise as one could get and still live on the same planet as two of the three players who preceded him in winning his first All-Star MVP trophy — the quietly purposeful Tim Duncan and the regal Michael Jordan.

He was the foam on the front of the new wave.

“I’m one of them,” Iverson said, “but I’m also me.”

For just over a decade that’s who the demanding, discriminating Philadelphia fans got to see: the fearless competitor, the tough nut that wouldn’t crack, the lump of coal that used the intense pressure to transform himself into a diamond.

A few months later, Iverson would willfully, sometimes it seemed singlehandedly, drag the Sixers to the NBA Finals and earn his due respect from the public at large. However, it was that game amid other All-Stars when he demonstrated to the masses what, behind the perception, was his reality.

In those flashing, brilliant final minutes when Iverson was everywhere on the floor, making steals, setting up fast breaks, scoring on twisting, jack-knifing drives, he could have been a player from any era, no different from Bob Cousy, Bob Pettit, Julius Erving, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and the other greats who had been introduced to the crowd at halftime.

He looked and acted different, this new kid, like new kids always have. They make us uncomfortable, force us to look at things from a different perspective. But what it was about that day was showing that many things never change on the inside, no matter how they’re packaged. Competitors compete.

Sometimes the torch is passed and sometimes it is a wild spark that burns down the forest to make room for new growth.

He was never going to be Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell. You were asking too much to replace that. They laid the foundation, established the game in the consciousness of a worldwide audience. They made it possible for the next generation to follow in their footsteps even if it meant never wearing their shoes.

The question, of course, is always: What comes next?

Allen Iverson was always The Answer, even when we didn’t know it yet.

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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