In the 1980s, Bill Fitch led Boston to an NBA title. (Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO – These days Bill Fitch gets a special kick out of tuning into postgame news conferences and hearing players say they won’t really know what happened in the game they just played until they look at the video.
That’s because Fitch was sometimes mockingly called “Captain Video” in the early part of his 25-year NBA coaching career for using videotape to analyze opponents and scout talent.
But what was once a joke became a standard and integral part of the game, making Fitch a pioneer. That, along with his 944 career wins and penchant for turning bad teams around, has earned him the 2013 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association. He received the award Tuesday in a presentation prior to Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
“To be honest, I never really thought being known as Capt. Video was a bad deal,” Fitch said. “Other people could laugh and tease all they wanted. The truth is I was glad to that nobody else was doing it, because I thought it always gave our teams a big advantage.
“If you could see my closet today, it’s crammed full from floor to ceiling with old tapes and now with DVDs and I’m still doing film for different people. I still love the competition and the strategy.”
The NBCA Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award commemorates the memory of the Hall of Fame coach who won a pair of championships with the Pistons in 1989 and 1990 and led the 1992 USA Dream Team to the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics.
“I’ve always said that being a coach made me able to live a life where I never, ever felt like I had a job,” Fitch said. “Honest, it wasn’t about the money. It was about the feeling that I was never working, because I was doing something that I loved. It was about the competition all those relationships that were built.
“I guess what this means is that I’m 81 and going the wrong way. But seriously, anytime you get an honor from your peers it means a lot more. I’m humbled by it. It’s always great to be recognized by the guys you worked with or against. Coaching is the biggest fraternity there is and I’ve always felt like I’ve had more brothers than I could count.
“Chuck especially was a great friend and to get an award named after him makes me immediately think of all the experiences and stories we shared, some of them that could even be printed.” (more…)
This isn’t The Finals, but it’s the next best thing. The winner gets the opportunity to play for a championship against the San Antonio Spurs. And with how evenly played the Eastern Conference finals have been, it’s only appropriate that the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers play one game to decide who gets that opportunity.
This will be the 113th Game 7 in NBA history and the 33rd Game 7 in the conference finals (or division finals, as they were called before 1971). Of the 33, it’s the third straight that will be played on the shores of Biscayne Bay.
A year ago, the Heat beat the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. In 2005, the Detroit Pistons came to Miami and knocked off the Shaq-and-Wade duo in their first year together. That was one of only eight wins by the road team in the 32 conference finals Game 7s.
Here’s some more numbers regarding the history of Game 7 in the conference finals…
15 of the 32 winners, including four of the last six, went on to win The Finals.
14 of the 32 Game 7s were won by the team that had won Game 6.
While the Heat are 1-1 in conference finals Game 7s, the Pacers are 0-3, losing to the Knicks in 1994, the Magic in 1995 and the Bulls in 1998, all on the road.
Only twice in NBA history have both conference finals gone to seven games. In 1963, the Celtics and Lakers each won in seven, and in 1979, the Bullets and Sonics each won in seven.
17 of the 32 games have been decided by six points or less.
Yes, there have been some classic Game 7s in conference finals history. Here’s a rundown of the best (Home team in CAPS)…
June 6, 2005 – Detroit 88, MIAMI 82
The Pistons won their third championship in 2004 and the Heat won their first in 2006. In between, they played a tightly contested Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Heat led by six with less than seven minutes to go, but the Pistons went on a timely, 8-0 run, highlighted by a Ben Wallace dunk on Rasual Butler. Rasheed Wallace put the Pistons ahead for good with a pair of free throws with 1:26 left and then came up with a big tip-in on the Pistons’ next possession. Dwyane Wade went scoreless in the fourth quarter, missing all six of his shots and committing two of the Heat’s six turnovers.
Detroit went on to lose to the Spurs in seven games..
June 2, 2002 – L.A. Lakers 112, SACRAMENTO 106 (OT)
This one was the only overtime Game 7 in conference finals history and it wrapped up one of the craziest playoff series in recent memory, in which each of the last four games came down to the final five seconds of regulation.
The Lakers won Game 4 on Robert Horry‘s buzzer-beating three. The Kings won Game 5 on a jumper from Mike Bibby. Game 6 was the controversial night when the Lakers attempted 27 free throws in the fourth quarter and survived when Bibby missed a three with five seconds left.
Bibby tied Game 7 with a pair of free throws with eight seconds on the clock in the fourth quarter, and he gave the Kings a two-point lead with a jumper with 2:17 to go in overtime. But Sacramento went scoreless on its final six possessions and the Lakers won the game at the line. The Kings themselves made just 16 of their 30 free throws, while also shooting a brutal 2-for-20 from 3-point range.
Not only was this the only overtime Game 7 in the conference finals, but it’s the one where you can most clearly say that the winner determined the NBA champion. The Lakers went on to sweep the New Jersey Nets in The Finals.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — NerlensNoel, all 206 pounds of him, might not be the franchise savior you had in mind with the No. 1 pick in the June NBA Draft.
But you aren’t the Cleveland Cavaliers, winners of the right to choose first in the Draft, courtesy of their lucky spin during Tuesday night’s Draft lottery. You better believe Noel, the Kentucky big man whose lone college season was cut short by a knee injury, will be the focus of some team’s Draft night plans next month. He’s been on the radar too long to get passed up in what is generally considered a lukewarm Draft class.
Noel is just one of several college stars — Ben McLemore, Otto Porter, Trey Burke … just to name a few, are some of the others — being talked about as top picks in this Draft class. And who better to talk to about the lottery, these prospects and the history of the Draft itself on Episode 118 of The Hang Time Podcast than Ryan Blake, the Senior Director of NBA Scouting Operations and the son of the late and legendary Marty Blake, the father of modern-day NBA Draft process.
With a perspective that spans decades, Ryan Blake offers his analysis of not only this year’s Draft prospects, but also some of the more notable names in the history of the event, from immediate game changers like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and the high school-to-the-pros revolutionaries to legendary Draft snub victims like Paul Pierce and Danny Granger on to the alpha (LeBron James) and omega (Darko Milicic) of modern Draft day decisions.
What would have happened if the Cavaliers had listened to all of the so-called pundits who suggested that an international prospect like Milicic has more “upside” than James, who was a media superstar and Sports Illustrated cover boy before his senior year of high school?
What would have happened if high school stars like Lewis Alcindor, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Glenn Robinson and others had come up in an era where they had the option of bypassing college for the NBA?
We explore all that and so much more on Episode 118 of the Hang Time Podcast … which, of course, includes the latest installment of Rick Fox‘s season-long “Get Off My Lawn” rant!
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Dominique Wilkins is living life young hoop dreamers fantasize about. High school and college star, NBA superstar and eventually a Hall of Famer.
The Atlanta Hawks’ vice president of basketball joined us on Episode 116 of the Hang Time Podcast to talk about his journey as well as the path his Hawks are walking now as they embark upon a huge summer rebuilding project.
And he takes our advice and makes sure that Hawks GM Danny Ferry places a call to Phil Jackson (why not? Everyone else is calling the Zen Master these days), the Hawks could be on the cusp of the greatest stretch in franchise history. They’d have to pull off the stunner first, however, and actually get Jackson to take the call and even entertain the possibility of joining the Hawks in some capacity (which is longtime Hawks fan Lang Whitaker‘s hoops fantasy). And that would require some serious lobbying on the part of Rick Fox, who played on championship teams coached by Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep an eye on the playoffs and awards season and continue to debate which is more unpredictable. The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers both won Game 1 on the road in their respective Eastern Conference semifinal series, while the Memphis Grizzlies won Game 2 and the Golden State Warriors will attempt to match that feat tonight in San Antonio (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT). We discuss how big a deal the shakeup has been on LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony (the top three vote-getters in the KIA NBA Most Valuable Player race).
We also got off into a heated debate about the merits of each candidate in the Coach of the Year race and whether George Karl’s runaway win makes sense with his team already gone fishing and other worthy candidates such as Tom Thibodeau, Mike Woodson, Mark Jackson, Lionel Hollins and others still working this season. (Trust me, it gets plenty messy … especially when we try to rationalize Vinny Del Negro getting a first-place vote and finishing ahead of both Doc Rivers and Scott Brooks).
You get all of that and much more, right here on Episode 116 of the Hang Time Podcast …
James earned the right to do and say whatever he wanted. But it wasn’t his words that stopped me in my tracks. It was Heat president Pat Riley who forced me to pause when he uttered these words:
“Over these 46 years, I’ve had an opportunity to see some great players — and all the ones I’ve observed, watched and have seen, they’ve always gotten better. In my humble opinion, I believe the man right here is the best of them all.”
The best of them all?
Let that sink in for a minute. Roll that statement around in your head and consider what Riley has seen, who he has coached and who he has coached against, and then say it out loud again.
“The best of them all.”
That’s a mouthful coming from a man who has seen and done what Riley has throughout his nearly half century in the game. He’s been immersed in the league longer than I’ve been alive, so I’m not here to refute his humble opinion or even to debate whether or not we should wrap our heads around the fact that LeBron has evolved — in a decade, mind you — into a player worthy of such high praise.
I’m here strictly to examine Riley’s words, to see if there is any way to scan the past four-plus decades of the league and rank LeBron ahead of the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and so many others.
This is a man who played on the Lakers’ 1972 championship team alongside Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. So his humble opinion comes from a very particular place (player, coach and executive who has won championships), one where few men in the history of the game can draw from.
And yet I still needed time to digest his high praise of LeBron.
He watched Magic revolutionize the game, from the inside.
And Sunday he called LeBron the “best of them all.”
Riley’s Lakers teams battled Larry Bird and the Celtics and, later, he took on Jordan. When Riley coached the New York Knicks, his teams battled Jordan’s Bulls when Jordan was at his zenith. Anyone involved with the league during Jordan’s glory years, teammates and foes alike, tends to show him the proper respect and admit that he’s the greatest thing they’ve ever seen.
Riley retired Jordan’s No. 23 in Miami for Naismith’s sake. And Sunday, he called LeBron the “best of them all.”
The same declaration from almost any other man would mean little to most. Everyone has opinions about who the true G.O.A.T is and most of them are framed by a generational bias that is hard to shake. But when a man with a breadth of experience that travels through time, or at least the past 46 years, points a finger at someone, it wakes you up.
Now, there will be cynics who insist that Riley is simply doing his duty as the Heat’s boss and making sure to dollop the proper praise on his star. After all, Riley is going to need LeBron’s signature on an extension soon to keep the Heat’s current run going.
But Riley doesn’t waste his words. And he certainly doesn’t seem like the type who will pander to a superstar’s ego in that way or on that stage, not just for soundbite’s sake.
Riley has competed with or against and coached or coached against many of the players who make onto the short list we all use when discussing the “best of them all.” For 46 years, he’s been in the middle of the mix in one way or another, well before anyone even knew what analytics were and the advanced-stats craze reshaped the game.
So when he speaks on a topic like this, one that crosses all of the generational lines most people avoid during these discussions, it’s hard not to take his words to heart.
And even if LeBron still trails Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Shaq and many others in the championship rings race, is it so far-fetched to believe that he really does rank at the very top as a truly unique and once-in-a-lifetime basketball talent?
OKLAHOMA CITY – With 90 points in his last two games, Carmelo Anthony is a making a hard charge at Kevin Durant, who can become the first player to win fourconsecutive scoring titles since Michael Jordan won seven in a row 20 years ago.
Entering tonight’s Oklahoma City Thunder game against the San Antonio Spurs (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT), Durant leads the league at 28.3 ppg. The sizzling Anthony has climbed to 28.1.
How does Durant feel about this little development?
“He can have it,” Durant said flatly after OKC’s Thursday morning shootaround.
In the nine games that Anthony has played since missing three in a row and six of eight with a bothersome right knee, he’s been lethal, averaging 31.4 ppg and shooting 48.1 percent overall and 40 percent from 3-point range. To no coincidence, the Knicks are riding a 10-game winning streak.
“I mean the stuff he’s doing right now, every time he touches the ball it looks like it’s going to go in,” Durant said. “He’s having a nice run right now and his confidence is high. I’m sure he’s going to take over. If it happens, cool.”
Anthony’s scoring blitz is even more spectacular over the last five games: 33.6 ppg, 52.5 percent from the floor and 52.4 percent from beyond the arc. He poured in 50 Tuesday against the Heat without LeBron James (fourth in scoring at 26.9 ppg) and Dwyane Wade, and followed up with 40 Wednesday night against Atlanta.
OKC and New York both have eight games left. Thunder coach Scott Brooks has already said he has no plans to rest his starters down the stretch as they battle San Antonio for the West’s No. 1 seed. The Knicks are locked in a struggle for the East’s No. 2 seed with the Indiana Pacers.
“I coached Carmelo for three years (as an assistant coach at Denver), that’s probably not something that he wants,” Brooks said of the scoring title, which would be the first of Anthony’s 10-year career. “He wants the championship just as much as KD does. But it is exciting. It’s always exciting when you get down to the last week of the season — who gets the scoring title, who gets the rebounding title? Those are minor things. Kevin’s worried about the big picture.
“But, it would be cool; definitely would be a great opportunity to be his age and have it four straight years.”
It would be historic.
Durant can win four scoring titles in his first six seasons and before he turns 25 (which he will in September). He’s already the first to capture three consecutive scoring titles since Jordan did it in his return from baseball from 1995-98. Only Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain can claim scoring titles in more than three consecutive seasons. Chamberlain also won it seven times from 1959-66.
“Don’t get me wrong, I never want to take stuff like that for granted, but if it happens, it happens,” Durant said. “I’m just going to play my game. I’m not going to force it too much and think about it too much and try to get it. But if it’s meant to be then it will happen.”
Durant is also shooting for a most enviable double-double of sorts as the first player ever to win the scoring title and join the exclusive 50-40-90 club — 50 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the arc (Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki are the others and Bird and Nash are the only ones to do it multiple times).
A down tick in Durant’s scoring and shooting since the All-Star break — 26.1 ppg, 47 percent overall and 35.1 percent on 3s — recently put him in jeopardy of dipping below the first two thresholds. But he’s gained a bit of wiggle room over the last six games while averaging 27.8 ppg on 51.4 percent shooting and 52.9 percent from beyond the arc. Entering tonight’s game, Durant’s percentages line up like this: 50.5, 41 and 90.8.
The long and lanky Durant is the far more efficient scorer compared to Anthony. Durant has played in 13 more games, yet has taken eight fewer total shots than Anthony (1,322 to 1,330) — about four fewer attempts per game — and has made 78 more (668 to 590).
Anthony’s 44.4 percent overall shooting this season is a notch below his career average (45.5 percent), but his 37.8 percent from 3-point range would tie for the second-highest mark of his career.
Former Knicks and Nets guard Ray Williams, whose life was turned upside-down after his 10-year playing career by bankruptcy and homelessness, died Friday at 58.
Williams, a native of Mount Vernon, N.Y., had been battling colon cancer at Manhattan’s Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Drafted 10th overall out of Minnesota in 1977 by the New York Knicks, Williams played 10 seasons that included two stints with the Knicks. He signed with the Nets as a free agent in 1981 and then was traded to the Kansas City Kings. Williams, who played two seasons with current New York coach Mike Woodson, was traded back to the Knicks in 1983. He then bounced around the league to Boston, Atlanta and San Antonio before being traded to the Nets where he finished his career after the 1986-87 season.
“I was just with him last week at the cancer hospital,” Woodson told the New York Post earlier this month. “Awesome. Physical. Tough. Knew how to play.
“He was a prototype combo guard because he could play the one, could play two and could guard the three because he was so physical. To see him in the hospital like that, you don’t wish that on anyone.
“We talked about fond memories. We have a lot of fond memories. A year here. A few years in Kansas city. We laughed about a lot of things. It was kind of nice.”
The 6-foot-3 Williams had career averages of 15.5 points a game and 5.8 assists a game. From 1979-82, he produced three consecutive seasons — the first two with the Knicks and the Nets — of averaging at least 19.7 ppg and 5.5 assists. His best season was his third with the Knicks in 1979-80 when he averaged 20.9 ppg and 6.2 apg.
Williams’ life took a dramatic swing once he retired. Financial issues plunged him into bankruptcy and homelessness, ultimately leading to his wife and children leaving him. He reportedly bounced around odd jobs in Florida and was ultimately able to get back on his feet with the help of former Celtics teammates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, who helped him financially, according to a January article written by Ben Hohler in TheBoston Globe.
Doctors reportedly discovered the tumor in Williams’ colon after he was given a free colon-cancer screening offered through the NBA Retired Players Association. According to the Post, Knicks owner James Dolan reportedly paid for Williams to be flown from Florida to be treated at Sloan-Kettering.
Ray Williams (here in 1984) was the 10th pick in the 1977 NBA Draft. (by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)
HANG TIME, Texas – It starts out like the beginning of an old joke.
You know, somebody says that as great as Bill Russell was in winning 11 championships with the Celtics, he’d have difficulty winning even one against today’s class of NBA athletes.
Of course, goes the punchline, Russell will turn 79 on Tuesday.
But Antawn Jamison wasn’t kidding when he told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com that Michael Jordan could still play effectively in the league right now.
Jordan turns 50 on Feb. 17, coincidentally the day of the NBA All-Star Game.
“I wouldn’t doubt that in the right situation with a LeBron (James) on his team or with a Kobe (Bryant) on this team, he could get you about 10 or 11 points, come in and play 15-20 minutes,” said Antawn Jamison before the Lakers played the Bobcats on Friday. “I wouldn’t doubt that at all, especially if he was in shape and injuries were prevented and things of that nature.”
That’s saying a lot, considering Jamison has Bryant on his team, and only averages 8.1 points per game in 20.5 minutes per game and he’s “only” 36 years old.
Jordan averaged 20 points in 37 minutes per game in his 15th and final season in the league before retiring for good at age 40.
Would it ever happen? Could it ever happen? Other than Larry Bird actually sprouting real wings, is there anything you might imagine that is more preposterous?
Remember, it was Jordan himself who raised the possibility near the end of his challenging, often vitriolic speech at the 2009 Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50,” Jordan said. “Oh, don’t laugh. Never say never. Because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”
We know that on the court there were never any limits or fears to Jordan, only challenges — some real, some imagined — that he used to constantly lift himself to a higher plane.
That is precisely the reason I have a standing bet with my good friend Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that was made when Jordan hung up his Wizards jersey. I said then I didn’t believe His Airness was finished and one day we’d see him back on the court in an NBA game. At the start of each new season, Jonathan tries to get me to surrender. Then along comes word that the owner of the Bobcats showed up at practice one day in December to show them how it’s done. Or maybe just to feed his ego.
But after taking on some of his kids — Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo — in a little one-on-one, it’s always clear that the competitive spark is just below the surface and the skills are still there.
“He’s still got it. He can still shoot,” Henderson said. “I don’t know about his defense, but he can still score.”
Biyombo: “He’s pretty good.”
So we mark down Biyombo for understatement of the year, consider the opinion of Jamison and ponder the possibilities.
I once asked Hakeem Olajuwon, who just turned 50, if he thought he could still play in the league.
“Not full-time. But for a few minutes, yes,” he insisted. “ I’m in shape.”
When a 50-year-old Clyde Drexler was asked the same question, he nodded his head. “Absolutely. I could go out there and run up and down the floor with those guys one night,” he said laughing. “Then the next day I’d be in traction.”
So what do we do with the Jordan question? Could he? Would he? Should he, as the old Nike slogan said, just do it?
I’ll tell you one thing I’m not doing: Paying off Jonathan. Yet.
Kevin Garnett, drawing on the muscle memory of tens of thousands similar movements, leaped high and spun around for yet another fadeaway jump shot. It was the same as so many before it — and completely different and special too.
When Garnett’s shot dropped at 8:07 of the second quarter Thursday in Boston’s blowout victory over the Lakers at TD Garden, it boosted him to 25,000 points in his NBA career. More than that, by reaching the latest in his mash-up of big number thresholds — at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 1,500 blocks — Garnett joined an elite class of … one.
Just him. That’s it. With a hat-tip to Celtics radio play-by-play man Sean Grande for his swift Tweet noting the achievement, the fact is no one else in NBA history has bundled all those milestones into one illustrious career.
Let’s pause here to consider whether Garnett, thus, might rank even higher on the list of all-time greats than we might previously have pegged him.
(Silence. Pondering. Reflecting historically.)
“I’m sure someday when I’m rocking in a rocking chair, having a cigar or something, thinking about what I’ve done, I’m sure it will make some sense to me,” Garnett told reporters after the game.
OK, if he won’t do it now, we will: Garnett has combined longevity, durability, production and versatility like no one else in league annals. And scoring — where he now ranks 16th on the all-time NBA list — was in some ways the least of his skills or priorities, given his passion for boyhood idol Magic Johnson‘s pass-first approach (assists) and the intensity with which he embraces defense (rebounds, steals, blocks).
Across the six truly prime seasons of Garnett’s career, from 1999-2000 through 2004-05, he averaged 22.6 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He topped 20-10-5 each year — only Larry Bird did it as many as five times — but he did it in Minnesota, in flyover country for national media, as a 7-footer, on Timberwolves teams that surrounded him with limited help.
Was he a stats monster? Yes, but out of necessity, not merely for show. Garnett lugged the Wolves to eight straight playoff appearances from his second year in Minnesota through his ninth. At no point during his 12 seasons there did he underperform his contracts, not the controversial six-year, $126 million one that served as fuel for the 1998 lockout nor the nine-figure extension that followed.
Only when Garnett got to Boston, on the dark side of 30, did his workload lighten and his focus shift. With Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and eventually Rajon Rondo around — the highest-quality teammates he’s ever had — Garnett could focus on defense and offensive flow. He earned his precious championship ring in his first season as a Celtic — who can forget his goofy, post-Finals elation? — and was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. As his minutes dipped, he went for surgical impact rather than total game domination.
Now he stands alone atop a mountain range of stats.
Or nearly so.
The NBA portion of the record book is clear: No other player has amassed the numbers in those five categories that Garnett has. Some legends miss because they played all or part of their careers prior to 1973-74, the first season steals and blocks were recorded. Elgin Baylor might have been a candidate but he retired in November 1971. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit four of the five milestones but got no credit for steals for his first four seasons. He finished with 1,160 — and had 397 in 310 games in his fifth through eighth seasons.
Wilt Chamberlain? Though the Dipper led the NBA in assists one season and averaged 4.4 over his career, he ended with 4,643.
Hakeem Olajuwon was short on assists (3,058). Tim Duncan won’t make it in either assists (3,546) or steals (857). Oscar Robertson, the ultimate triple-double man, didn’t get any steals or blocks until his final season and didn’t reach 10,000 in rebounds (9,887).
Bill Russell didn’t score enough. Michael Jordan didn’t board or block enough. Bird and Baylor didn’t play long enough. Admittedly, Garnett got an early start coming right into the NBA from high school, but that just earns him props for guts (to do it) and good health (to last this long).
LeBron James? He has the same preps-to-pros advantage as Garnett. But halfway through his 10th season, James has blocked 621 shots. Double that for a 19-year career and he still would be 258 swats short.
Upon further review, however, there is one man who can stand toe-to-toe, if not eye-to-eye, with Garnett at this particular summit. The trick to finding him is to switch out the qualifier from “in NBA history” to “in NBA/ABA history.” And there he is – Julius Erving, a completely different player from Garnett but with comparable numbers and matching milestones.
Erving’s NBA-only stats are solid: 18,364 points, 5,601 rebounds, 3,224 assists, 1,508 steals and 1,293 blocks in 11 seasons. But The Doctor spent his first five seasons interning in the ABA, playing 407 of his eventual 1,243 games. And his numbers there were staggering: 28.7 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.4 spg, 2.0 bpg.
Add the totals to his NBA work and Erving’s line is: 30,026 points, 10,525 rebounds, 5,176 assists, 2,272 steals and 1,941 blocks in 16 seasons.
Erving, somewhat neglected himself in “all-time” talk, is remembered as one of the game’s great artists and ambassadors, revealing a nasty streak only at the end of his highlight throw-downs. Garnett is known as one of the most competitive, cantankerous and crude blast furnaces to roam the NBA’s courts, with a far greater defensive inclination.
It elevates both of them to share this particular achievement.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –LeBron James is a student of the game, has always been aware of his place in the history of the game and is engaged in the ongoing saga that is his life in basketball.
And yet, when the Miami Heat star plays the way he did Monday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, his actions flow as if he’s in “The Matrix”, free of anything else but his maniacal desire to do whatever it takes to make sure his team wins.
Placing his work in the proper historical context is simple, given how few have done what he’s done and are capable of doing what he can do any night.
LeBron isn’t the first player in NBA history to have a 30-plus point game with eight or more rebounds and assists while also shooting 90 percent or better from the floor, the way he did against the Bobcats. But he is the first to do so since Wilt Chamberlain did it this month in 1967 (Wilt actually pulled it off twice before that, in January of 1967 and February of 1966).
Think about that line for a second … 31 points on 13-for-14 shooting, eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and five turnovers. And his numbers could have been even more ridiculous had he been more aggressive with his own shot instead of playing with his usual court awareness, as he explained to Michael Wallace of ESPN.com‘s Heat Index:
“I’m aware,” James admitted. “But I’m more aware of time and score, team fouls, who has it going, who doesn’t have it going. I’m aware of all of that kind of stuff, too. So with myself, I just let the game flow. I’m not one to — even though I had one of those games tonight — I always look at it afterward and say, ‘Why didn’t I take more shots?’ But that’s just who I am. I had some more looks, but my teammates had better looks. That’s what it’s about.”
That 46-year gap represents more than just several generations of NBA stars and fans, it also signals the gulf between perhaps the two most dominant physical specimens at their respective positions (Shaquille O’Neal was a similar physical freak of nature during his era, though there were more skilled 7-footers around during Shaq’s glory days than what Wilt faced during his).
History will determine LeBron’s place and overall impact, same as it did for Wilt, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and every other NBA great.
If LeBron hung his kicks up today, he would still belong somewhere in the conversation of the game’s true greats — wouldn’t he?
I argued about that this morning with an old head who was raised on Wilt and has managed to stay plugged into the game the past four decades. He agreed that LeBron, Shaq and Wilt are the most physically imposing players he can remember seeing in the NBA at their respective positions.
“I won’t sit here and tell you I’ve watched as much NBA basketball as the folks who are paid to do so,” my old head said. “But I’ve been watching for a lot longer than you and some of these other loudmouths I see on TV and I’m telling you, [LeBron] is something I’ve never seen before. He’s got the size and all the skills. The athleticism is what’s just off the charts. I’ve been courtside before at games, years ago and here in recent years, and I’ve just never seen anything like him. Magic was the last player I remember seeing move like that and play like that at LeBron’s size. It’s unreal.”
Funny, James describes performances like the one he delivered against the Bobcats as basically routine. Surely, he stopped surprising himself a long time ago.
What LeBron has done in the past few years of his career is round out of his game in ways that even his biggest critics have to admit they weren’t sure he could. His ability to play inside and out, when needed, combined with the raw physical advantages he still has over any foe presents a pretty impossible package to stop.
“I’m an all-around player,” James told the Heat Index. “I can do whatever the game presents. I can make shots from the outside. Of course, I can make shots from the inside. But I don’t let the game determine my game. I go out and figure it out and just play the way I need to play to help our team win. So, I don’t know, I’m very confident in my ability and I just go out and try to make things happen.”
Criticize him all you want, and Naismith knows he has an abundance of haters. But make no mistake that there is one player, and only one player, in the NBA capable of making the sort of “things happen” that LeBron does.