Posts Tagged ‘Lenny Wilkens’

John Johnson, ‘point forward’ pioneer with SuperSonics, dead at 68

Already under the radar of NBA history, it’s unlikely that 12-year veteran John Johnson‘s passing at age 68 will do much to raise his profile among fans in this millennium.

John Johnson, a 12-year NBA veteran, won a title in Seattle in 1979.

Johnson’s peak professional moments came as a role player for a franchise whose archives have been relocated to Oklahoma City. And that’s too bad, because in addition to Johnson’s two All-Star selections and his role as a starter on the Seattle SuperSonics’ 1979 championship team, the 6-foot-7, 200-pound wing from Milwaukee and the University of Iowa was one of the NBA’s first “point forwards.”

Others have been credited as pioneers of that unofficial and, three decades ago, rather new-age sounding position. Among them: Golden State’s Rick Barry, Houston’s Robert Reid and Milwaukee’s Marques Johnson and Paul Pressey, evolving eventually into Chicago’s Scottie Pippen, Detroit‘s Grant Hill and most recently Cleveland superstar LeBron James and Golden State’s Draymond Green.

But Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkens, who played with Johnson in Cleveland and then coached him with the Sonics, made it clear in talking with the Seattle Times that Johnson did a lot of the same things from his small forward spot that Seattle’s backcourt stars accomplished:

“When I coached him I would tell Gus (Williams), Dennis (Johnson) and Fred (Brown) if JJ got the ball on a rebound you, guys take off because he will find you,” said Lenny Wilkens, the Hall of Famer and former Sonics coach. “He could do that, and he did it very well.

“Before they coined the phrase point-forward, he was like that. I have great memories.”

“I coached him, but I also played with him in Cleveland,” Wilkens said. “He was a fierce competitor. He was a guy that when he was on the floor, he wanted to win, and that was most in his mind. We had that in common.

“He was a better player than a lot of people realized. He was a guy that could handle the ball, and if you were open he was willing to make that pass. I loved that about him.”

Johnson died this week at his Bay Area home, according to the San Jose Mercury-News, and his death was confirmed by godson John Herndon. “He just didn’t wake up,” Herndon told the Mercury News.

The No. 7 pick in the 1970 NBA Draft, Johnson averaged 12.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 869 games. His biggest seasons individually were his first two, when he represented the Cavaliers in the All-Star Game while averaging 16.6 ppg and 17.0 ppg.

But after stints with Portland and Houston, Johnson landed with Seattle in October 1977 for a pair of first-round picks. His own stats yielded to the Sonics’ deep roster – he averaged 10.8 ppg and just 10 field goal attempts vs. 16.1 ppg and 14.6 FGA in his first five NBA seasons. Yet in his five years in Seattle, the Sonics went 241-179, reached the Finals twice and beat Washington in 1979 in a rematch of the 1978 championship series.

It was during those years that Johnson’s court vision and playmaking skills were put to use in Wilkens’ ensemble approach. A 2009 article in Sports Illustrated about former Louisville player Terrence Williams delved into Johnson’s past for providing something of a prototype for the way Williams played in college:

John Johnson’s role as a point forward began as an experiment in December 1977, after the Sonics lost 17 of their first 22 games and coach Bob Hopkins was fired. Lenny Wilkens, who had been the club’s director of player personnel, took over as coach believing that Seattle had all the right pieces but was playing them in the wrong places.

… Before Wilkens’s second game as coach—a road date in Boston—he overhauled the lineup, benching every starter but center Marvin Webster.

John Johnson won an NBA title with the Sonics

Rookie Jack Sikma, the team’s No. 1 draft pick, was inserted at power forward; two young scorers, Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson, took over the guard spots; and John Johnson started at small forward, with instructions to help distribute the ball on offense. “I knew JJ had a great understanding of the game,” Wilkens says, “and so, after he’d rebound, I’d tell our guards, Just takeoff, and he’ll find you.”

The Sonics beat the Celtics that night and won 42 of their final 60 games, reaching the NBA Finals before losing in seven to the Washington Bullets. Johnson averaged 2.7 assists that season; it wasn’t until the following year that he truly became a point forward, leading Seattle in assists at 4.4 per game, while Williams and Dennis Johnson upped their scoring. They finished 52-30 and, in a rematch with the Bullets, won the finals in five games.

The etymology of point forward remains a question. Former Bucks star Marques Johnson says that he came up with the name when he played a similar role to Pressey’s for [coach Don] Nelson a few seasons earlier. … John Johnson, though, is adamant that Wilkens not only invented the position but also called it a point forward. “Lenny coined that phrase,” John insists.

Among the great players with whom Johnson was drafted in 1970 – including Bob Lanier, Pete Maravich, Nate Archibald, Dave Cowens, Rudy Tomjanovich, Geoff Petrie, Sam Lacey, Calvin Murphy – Johnson wound up ranked ninth in points (11,200), eighth in rebounds (4,778), sixth in assists (3,285), seventh in games (869) and eighth in minutes (25,681). His son Mitch, who played at Stanford, is an assistant coach at the University of Portland.

‘Hot Rod’ Williams fighting cancer

He grew up dirt poor in Louisiana and then battled accusations of point-shaving while in college to become a valuable rotation player during his 13-year playing career.

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 7: John Hot Rod Williams #18 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a foul shot against the Sacramento Kings during a game played on March 7, 1989 at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1989 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

John “Hot Rod” Williams.

But now, that’s well in the past for John “Hot Rod” Williams as he battles cancer. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto, who covered much of Williams’ career, the ex-center is on life support in Baton Rouge.

Williams, 53, was an important player for Lenny Wilkens and a valuable teammate for Mark Price, Larry Nance and Brad Daugherty. Those teams were among the NBA’s best for a good half-dozen years, and their only misfortune was playing during the era of Michael Jordan. The Cavs never beat Jordan in a playoff series — everyone remembers The Shot over Craig Ehlo — but routinely won 40-50 games and made the playoffs.

Williams had primarily a sixth-man role and the Cavs boasted an imposing front line with Williams, Daugherty and Nance. Williams finished his career in Phoenix, then moved back home in Sorrento, La., and became a community fixture.

He built a large home in town and stocked it with toys for his children, once explaining, “I never had any toys as a kid.” Williams was raised by a woman who found him on a doorstep crying as a toddler; he later built a home for Barbara Colar next door to his own. He was cleared of point-shaving charges at Tulane and soon fund NBA riches, partly due to a free agent contract extended to him by the Miami Heat, which made him the highest-paid player on the Cavs when Cleveland matched it. He averaged 13 points and seven rebounds with the Cavs.

In retirement, Williams formed a construction company and coached his children and their friends in Little League.

His agent, Mark Bartlestein, told Pluto: “It’s a very serious situation.”

Some of his former teammates are extending their support:

 

 

Smitty’s Mt. Rushmore: ‘Coaches’

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’ve spent years comparing eras and players, debating who ranks as the best of the very best, with a consensus always seeming to escape us in the end.

But what about the coaches? Who would make your list as the best of the best, the Mt. Rushmore of coaches of the NBA?

NBA TV’s Steve Smith, who stirred the player debate last season, is back at it again. And this time he’s shining a light on the coaches. Check out who made the cut on Smitty’s Mt. Rushmore for coaches 


VIDEO: Steve Smith picks his Mt. Rushmore of the “Greatest Coaches” in NBA history

Smitty’s list is solid and his reasons for putting Chuck Daly, Lenny Wilkens, Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson on the big rock make sense. But how do you compile any list of the top NBA coaches and not include Red Auerbach and Pat Riley?

My basketball sensibilities simply won’t allow it.

Go to NBA.com/rushmore to submit your own list of the legendary shot callers you think belong on Mt. Rushmore “Greatest Coaches.”

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Blogtable: Your all-time, all-lefty team

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rising second- or third-year player? | Playoff teams set to stumble? | Your all-lefty team



VIDEODavid Robinson’s career milestones

> Hall of Famer David Robinson turns 50 on Thursday. Perfect opportunity for us to ask you to name your all-time, All NBA Lefty Team (you can go as deep as you wish).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAs a lefty myself, this was a gratifying exercise, so I took my roster to the current NBA limit of 15 deep. A pretty impressive and, in my view, pretty unassailable list.

Guards: Lenny Wilkens, Nate Archibald, Manu Ginobili, Gail Goodrich, Michael Redd.
Forwards: Chris Mullin, Chris Bosh, Toni Kukoc, Billy Cunningham, Lamar Odom.
Centers: Bill Russell, David Robinson, Artis Gilmore, Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you say lefty — and I am one — I think of shooters. So let’s begin with my apology to Bill Russell.

Forward — Billy Cunningham: The athleticism and scoring ability of the “Kangaroo Kid” gets lost in the fog of time.
Forward — Chris Mullin: Oh, what a sweet, sweet stroke.
Center — Willis Reed: The jumper on those great Knicks teams was automatic.
Guard — Gail Goodrich: Lived in the shadows of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, but attacked the rim and could fill up the hoop on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Guard — Nate Archibald: Nothing “Tiny” about leading the league in scoring and assists in the one season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: David Robinson at center, Gail Goodrich and Lenny Wilkens in the backcourt, Chris Mullin and Chris Bosh at the forwards. My first big man off the bench is Dave Cowens (over Artis Gilmore and Billy Cunningham) and my sixth man is Nate Archibald. They’re coached by Phil Jackson and the First Fan is President Barack Obama.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comIn researching this answer, I realized that the top 35 scorers in NBA history are all righties. David Robinson is the first lefty on the list at No. 36, and Bob Lanier (46) and Gail Goodrich (48) are the only other lefties in the top 50. Of course, Bill Russell should be on everybody’s NBA Mt. Rushmore. Here’s my rotation…

Point guards: Tiny Archibald and Lenny Wilkins
Wings: Manu Ginobili, Gail Goodrich, James Harden and Chris Mullin
Bigs: Chris Bosh, David Robinson and Bill Russell

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: You start with a first five of Bill Russell, David Robinson and Chris Mullin in the frontcourt and Tiny Archibald and James Harden in the backcourt. My second unit is Dave Cowens, Willis Reed and Chris Bosh in the frontcourt and Manu Ginobili and Lenny Wilkens in the backcourt. Bob Lanier, Gail Goodrich and Artis Gilmore are getting jerseys, too. And we’ll figure out a way to get minutes for all of these stellar bigs. This group is a blend of old and new and I’m all about historical perspective, so I can see where Harden and even Ginobili might not make the cut for some people. But I’m a realist, they’d be monsters in any era. Manu’s a future Hall of Famer and if it weren’t for Steph Curry, Harden would be the reigning KIA MVP.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comHere are my picks …

Center: Bill Russell
Forward: Billy Cunningham
Forward: Chris Mullin
Guard: Manu Ginobili
Guard: Tiny Archibald

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogDo we count LeBron James, who writes left-handed? Leaving the King aside, here’s my squad: My all-time favorite lefty point guard has always been Kenny Anderson, throwing those one-handed dart passes off the dribble. At the two, I’ll go with Manu Ginobili, who should combine with “Mr. Chibbs” to form a dynamic backcourt. And for a lefty frontcourt, how about Chris Mullin at the 3, David Robinson at the 4, and Bill Russell at the 5? Off the bench, in no particular order or attention to position, but just southpaws I’ve enjoyed watching: Tiny Archibald, Stacey Augmon, Zach Randolph, Derrick Coleman, Mike Conley, Josh Smith and James Harden.

NBA’s Frantic Four trying to change history


VIDEO: Relive the biggest moments from the semifinals

There’s no official and catchy distinction for the last teams standing in the NBA semifinals, no Final Four or Frozen Four or anything like that, but here’s one that might best describe the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets: Frantic Four.

Yes, there’s more than a sense of desperation. These are four franchises that haven’t won an NBA title in a combined 162 years. Not since 1958 for the Hawks (based in St. Louis then), since 1975 for the Warriors, since 1995 for the Rockets and since, like, never for the Cavs. There are adult fans of those teams who’ve never known the thrill of the ultimate victory or seen a parade or felt the need to brag. In the case of the Hawks, they’ve never been to the East finals before, and once they beat the Wizards last week and advanced, Atlanta nearly reacted as though it won a real championship.

And so, with regard to these four teams searching for a change of fate, we examine their level of desperation for this 2015 title and rank them accordingly.

No. 4: Houston Rockets


VIDEO: Houston wraps up its second championship in 1995

In the midst of a celebration in June of 1995, Rudy Tomjanovich grabbed the mic and uttered one of the most memorable lines in NBA history: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” Rudy T was tweaking those who thought the Rockets were too old to repeat, which they did, but it’s been a 20-season long dry spell since. Evidently, everyone correctly estimated the staying power of the Rockets.

That two-time championship team died gradually. The Rockets tried to tape it together with an old and broken down Charles Barkley and that crew eventually made the 1997 West finals. But they had to watch as John Stockton sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 6 (in Barkley’s face) to send the Utah Jazz to The Finals. Then, in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they added another dinosaur: Scottie Pippen. Within four years, all of the important pieces of the championship era were gone, including Hakeem Olajuwon, looking grotesquely out of place in a purple jersey with a cheesy reptile in Toronto.

Houston did give it another go with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but injuries kept interrupting their time together and the Rockets advanced beyond the first round only once.

Since 1995, the Rockets have basically been a mixed bag, reaching the West finals once and then being mercifully teased by the T-Mac-and-Yao era. GM Daryl Morey then stole James Harden from OKC and signed Dwight Howard as a free agent and, well, here they are. In that span, they moved to a state-of-the-art downtown arena (Toyota Center) and enjoyed big crowds. Not exactly the picture of doom, which means, life without a title hasn’t been totally dreadful. (more…)

Sikma Wants Seahawks To Join ’79 Sonics

Jack Sigma revs up the crowd in the Seahawks' "12th man ceremony."

Jack Sikma revs up the crowd in the Seahawks’ “12th man ceremony.” — photo courtesy of Seattle Seahawks

Seattle will always have its Sonics — even though it no longer has its Sonics.

Between the two sports markets emotionally involved in Super Bowl XLVIII this evening in New Jersey, Denver has given its fans more of a payoff through the years. A pair of Lombardi Trophies (XXXII and XXXIII) for the Broncos as led by John Elway. A couple of laps around the ice (1996, 2001) by the Colorado Avalanche, with the NHL’s Stanley Cup held high by goaltender Patrick Roy. At least an appearance in the 2007 World Series by the Colorado Rockies before Boston’s sweep that fall.

But Seattle? Folks in that market have to go back to the 1979 SuperSonics to find the city’s lone championship (Big Four, North-American team category).

The Larry O’Brien trophy wasn’t even called that then. The NBA commissionership wasn’t even a glimmer in David Stern‘s eye. Michael Jordan? Heck, Larry and Magic weren’t even in the league yet.

Thirty-five years is a long time. How many Seattle sports fans are too young to remember that special spring? How many who lived it aren’t around anymore?

But Jack Sikma was front and center, making it happen, recalling it fondly ever since and basking a little in the glow and nostalgia during this Seahawks team’s push to the Bowl.

Sikma was the 6-foot-11 center on that Sonics title team, a sleeper out of Illinois Wesleyan in the 1977 draft widely remembered for his blond locks and signature “reverse pivot” move. As an obvious link to the city’s crowning sports achievement and a resident who makes his permanent home there, Sikma was a natural to be invited to participate in the Seahawks’ traditional “12th Man” ceremony earlier this NFL season.

“My niece works for the Seahawks,” said Sikma by phone Friday, taking a break from his NBA day job as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “They asked if I’d be interested and I told ’em, ‘Of course.’ My only qualifier was that it had to happen really early in the season, because we were going to start ours up.”

So on Sept. 22, with Jacksonville in town, Sikma made the trek up to the upper rim of CenturyLink Field as guest hoister of the team’s “12th Man” flag honoring the fans. “You’re at one end of the stadium, way up top,” he said. “The whole stadium is turned toward the flag pole just before kickoff, and the crescendo starts. You’re waving the flag and whipping up the crowd, and that goes right through the kickoff. It was pretty cool.”

Seattle Seahawks vs San Francisco 49ers;

The 1978-79 Sonics qualified as cool, too, getting all the way back to The Finals after a seventh-game loss to Washington the year before and then beating that same Bullets team in five games. Seattle had all  its pieces in place that season: Sikma in the middle, a dynamic backcourt led by Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson and (Downtown) Freddie Brown, Lonnie Shelton and John Johnson up front, a rotation that included Paul Silas, Wally Walker and Tom LaGarde and head coach Lenny Wilkens.

The biggest change from the previous squad was Shelton, arriving as compensation from New York after the Knicks signed free-agent center Marvin (Human Eraser) Webster. Sikma had played power forward as a rookie but shifted over, with the burly Shelton slotting alongside him.

The Sonics had the NBA’s top defense (100.1 rating) and ranked 14th of the 22 teams offensively (102.7). They won the Pacific Division with a 52-30 record, beat the pre-Magic Lakers in five games and came back from a 3-2 deficit to get past Phoenix. Williams (19.2 ppg) led them in scoring, John Johnson (4.4) in assists, Dennis Johnson chipped in 15.9 ppg and Shelton, Silas and LaGarde combined for 30.1 points and 21.5 rebounds a night. Brown was the deep threat and instant offense off the bench, while Sikma averaged 15.6 points and 12.4 rebounds.

“The pressure was really to give ourselves another chance at The Finals,” Sikma recalled, “especially since we were so close and lost the seventh game at home – it wore on you. We got there and we actually played our best basketball probably all year long. We got up and down [the floor]. Defensively we really closed down the paint. It happened, and the town went nuts. And I’m sure if the Seahawks win, it will be bedlam.”

Seattle’s small-town feel, particularly 35 years ago, meant that many of the team’s sports stars cross-pollinated, attending each others’ games. The Seahawks were an expansion team in 1976, the Mariners began the following spring – and Sikma was pretty young himself. He was single, with time on his hands, and mingled with fans constantly, security far less prevalent than now.

He also learned that team success wouldn’t always come so readily. Sikma played 12 more NBA seasons (another seven with the Sonics, then five with Milwaukee) but never made it back to The Finals.

“I wouldn’t say I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was and try to understand how hard it was to do what we did,” he said. “But the guys who had been there – Fred Brown had been in Seattle [since 1971] and really didn’t have a team that ever challenged. John Johnson hadn’t had that opportunity or Dennis Awtrey. They were later-on in their careers. I’m sure it meant a little more to them.”

While not getting back stung, getting there early actually helped him, Sikma said. “I got my money’s worth in those two years,” he said. “My experience under the pressure of it, and just the focus and the preparation, boded well for me for the rest of my career. The confidence that came from that, I couldn’t imagine any other way to gain it.”

Sikma was a seven-time All-Star. He retired having averaged 15.6 points and 9.8 rebounds, and ranks 30th in rebounds (10,816). In fact, as one of just nine players to have at least 17,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 1,000 blocks and 1,000 steals (since blocks and steals began being tracked in 1973), Sikma has a decent case for Hall of Fame consideration. Seven are in (Abdul-Jabbar, K. Malone, M. Malone, Olajuwon, Ewing, Parish, D. Robinson) and one (Kevin Garnett) is active.

Sikma, however, always will have that 1979 championship. He’s rooting for the Seahawks to join the Sonics as ring-bearers – rooting so hard, he’ll watch the game at home alone, he said, to avoid the distractions of a party. “I really respect that organization,” Sikma said. “[Owner] Paul Allen has built a great stadium. They have a rabid fan base and they have solid people like John Schneider running their organization. When you put those things together, usually, you have a high level of success.”

Sikma also would like to see another NBA contender in Seattle some day. The league’s power brokers know all about demographics, disposable incomes and TV market size; Sikma knows the people there.

“It’s a crime there’s not a basketball team there anymore,” he said. “People come out and they root. They’re participating in the game as a fan. There are a lot of young professionals that kind of fit the NBA’s fan mold who live in Seattle. It’s become a very urban city, both Seattle and across the way in Bellevue.

“I sure hope it happens and, if it does, it would be great.”

Funny, but he said exactly the same thing about Seahawks vs. Broncos.

The World, NBA Lose A Friend In Mandela


VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses the legacy of icon Nelson Mandela
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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — As the world mourns Nelson Mandela, the basketball world feels that pain deep in its collective soul, having lost one of its greatest ambassadors.

The anti-apartheid leader and former President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 died Thursday. He was 95. Mandela leaves a legacy as a global icon and activist who helped bring about seismic change in his native South Africa as the first black South African to hold the office. He was the first President elected in a fully representative, multiracial election and was a symbolic figure for freedom, democracy and change the world over.

The Mandela-led government was at the forefront of dismantling the legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality while fostering racial reconciliation.

Mandela was the President of the African National Congress (ANC) and spent 27 years in South African prisons for his political views. He distinguished himself in all walks of life, earning global admiration. A passionate sports fan — he was a true believer in the power of sports uniting people of all walks of life, both in South Africa and around the world — Mandela was instrumental in the NBA’s partnership with South Africa, a mutually beneficial relationship that dates to 1993, some 10 years before the league’s Basketball Without Borders program made its initial foray into Africa.


VIDEO: Former and present NBA players remember life of Nelson Mandela

Players like Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing, John Starks and coaches Wes Unseld and Lenny Wilkens joined forces with NBA Commissioner David Stern and then NBPA executive director Charlie Grantham for the first of two groundbreaking trips to the continent, helping to open doors for the NBA in that part of the world and allowing South Africa to show the rest of the world what it means to be transformed from a nation that epitomized racism into a democracy led by one of the greatest leaders the world has seen.

The NBA opened an office in Johannesburg in the spring of 2010, with former Dallas Mavericks executive and Amadou Gallo Fall, a native of Senegal, heading up that effort as the NBA’s vice president for development of the NBA in Africa.

Said Stern on Thursday:

“Nelson Mandela was one of the most powerful and inspirational leaders in the world and a great friend of the NBA.  He led his nation to democracy at incredible personal sacrifice, and in rebuilding it, he understood how to harness the power of sport to inspire and unite people of all backgrounds.  Our thoughts and hopes are with the Mandela family and the people of South Africa, and while we mourn his passing, we know that his legacy and quest for equality will endure.”

Celebrating Cousy As Player-Coach

Legendary Celtic Bob Cousy went on to be a player-coach after his Boston days.

Legendary Celtic Bob Cousy went on to be a player-coach after his Boston days.

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When you think of Bob Cousy, a man celebrating his 85th birthday on Friday, you think of black & white photos, grainy film clips and a “Leave It to Beaver” world. Cousy’s Hall of Fame career largely played out in shades of gray — he led the Boston Celtics to six NBA championships and appeared in 13 consecutive All-Star Games, all before retiring after the 1962-63 season.

The Kennedys were in the White House. Cousy’s signature shoe was a P.F. Flyer canvas high top.

But on the occasion of Cousy’s 85th birthday Friday, it was worth remembering that the legendary point guard made himself relevant again as a player — for a brief time — in living color, in the age of Aquarius, with “Laugh-In” on the tube and space junk on the moon.

On Nov. 21, 1969, at age 41, the rookie head coach of the Cincinnati Royals stepped on the floor against the visiting Chicago Bulls. Cousy scored three points, his first in more than six years, in a 133-119 victory, before a crowd of 3,450.

Two nights later, he would play again, making a scoreless cameo appearance against Phoenix in another 14-point Royals victory. This time, 2,866 fans were on hand at the Cincinnati Gardens. He would play five more times as the Royals’ player-coach that season, scoring only two more free throws, partly as backup to the great Oscar Robertson, partly as an intended gate attraction.

The Royals finished last in the league in home attendance in 1969-70 — for the third of five straight seasons — averaging 3,800 per game. Cousy’s bosses were paying him more than $100,000 a season, so the novelty of selling a few tickets to see the old “Houdini of the Hardwood” made marketing sense. Cincinnati GM Joe Axelson, after four months of negotiation that began in the summer, finally pried Cousy’s playing rights from Boston’s Red Auerbach by sending injured forward Bill Dinwiddie to the Celtics.

But the brainstorm didn’t work. Of Cousy’s five “home” appearances, only New York’s visit on Nov. 28 generated much buzz — and that game was played in pre-Cavaliers Cleveland, where 10,438 showed up to see the championship-bound Knicks of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and the rest go to 23-1 that day.

Still, Cousy’s return to action — after six seasons coaching at Boston College, with a team other than the Celtics, as the latest in a considerable line [at the time] of NBA player-coaches — made headlines.

He scored only five points in his seven token appearances, none in the last four. He added 10 assists to his Boston total of 6,945, which stood as the NBA record until Robertson passed him in 1968-69. And he remains the only player-coach to step back onto the court after such an extended gap from his legit playing days.

The NBA had a rich history of player-coaches in its first three decades or so, with something like 40 men handling both jobs at one time or another.

Richie Guerin, one of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013 inductees, logged 372 regular-season games and 43 more in the playoffs in that dual capacity for the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks from 1964-1970. Bill Russell, Cousy’s great Boston teammate, took over for Auerbach in 1966 while still playing, and became the NBA’s first African-American coach. By the end of the 1968-69 season, he was the only player-coach to win multiple championships.

Lenny Wilkens, who won 1,332 games as a coach, got 159 of them as player-coach for Seattle [1969-72] and Portland [1974-75]. Dave Cowens was NBA’s the last player-coach, guiding Boston in 1978-79 late in his player career. And of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players chosen in 1996 to commemorate the league’s 50th anniversary, seven — Cousy, Russell, Wilkens, Cowens, Dave DeBusschere, Bob Pettit and Dolph Schayes — pulled double-duty for some period of time.

Since the arrival of the salary cap, the NBA’s collective bargaining agreements between the league and the players association have not allowed for player-coaches. But Jason Kidd’s hiring by the Brooklyn Nets this summer generated some chatter on the topic, not so much involving coaches returning to the court but veteran players who might be capable of steering their teams through an NBA season.

Kobe Bryant? LeBron James? Kevin Garnett? In a league driven by stars, some might argue that the best and biggest-name players already run their teams. But what has Chris Paul been, if not a “coach on the floor” for the Clippers [beyond any snide remarks about former boss Vinny Del Negro]?

Kidd, for as much as he played for the Knicks last season, might have been able to handle both jobs, especially on a team with more modest ambitions. Some would say the same thing about Chauncey Billups at this stage of his playing career, which takes him back to Detroit this season before, should he want it, a coaching role in the near future.

What Cousy did nearly 44 years ago, though, remains special — one of his many magical accomplishments in lifetime 85 years young now. Happy birthday, Cooz!

Coaches Honor Fitch With Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award

Bill Fitch

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.”

Fitch ranks eighth on the all-time win list and his 2,050 games coached is third. He is a two-time Coach of the Year winner (Cleveland in 1976 and Boston in 1980), led the Celtics to the NBA championship in 1981 and, after moving to Houston, took the Rockets to The Finals in 1986. He was also named one of the NBA’s top 10 coaches of all-time in 1996-97.

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…)

1,000: Adelman Celebrates Milestone

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — It took longer than expected during this difficult season marred by an onslaught of injury and a family illness, but Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman reached 1,000 career wins Saturday night.

Adelman’s Minnesota Timberwolves got the job done at home, knocking off the Detroit Pistons, allowing the home crowd to join in the celebration. In attendance was Adelman’s wife, Mark Kay, who was hospitalized during the season with an illness that still has no definitive diagnosis. Adelman, 66, took time away from the team to care for her and he has contemplated retiring after the season to stay by her side.

For the moment, through a tumultuous season full of disappointment, Saturday’s victory provided a rare chance to smile and reflect on a tremendous coaching career. Adelman’s career record stands at 1,000-703 (.587). In his 22nd season, Adelman became the eighth coach to reach 1,000 career wins (joining Don NelsonLenny WilkensJerry SloanPat RileyPhil Jackson, Larry Brown and George Karl) and he is the fifth-fastest to reach the milestone

“Glad we got it done tonight,” said Adelman, one of the game’s most innovative if also most understated coaches, said after the 107-101 victory. “It was tough game; they played well. Our guys hung in there and made some plays down the stretch to win the game. Like I said earlier, it’s a great group of players who stayed with us all year long and never stopped playing. They kept battling it through; the coaching staff too. It was good to get it here especially at home.”

Here’s Adelman in his own words, courtesy of The Wolves’ media relations department:

On moment with Mary Kay making everything worthwhile…

“She had to be part of it. I told her I was going to bring her down. She wasn’t very happy about that but she has been there all the years. When you go through a job like this in situations and you move and raise six kids and everything else; if it wasn’t for her I couldn’t have done it. So I’m really glad we did it here. It relieves a little bit of stress. Like I said to you before the game, I think it was in some ways when I look back, it was good for this group. We have had such a tough time that you are just trying to scrap wins out. When you have something like this that you are actually working for there is expectations; there is a little bit more pressure and I think that is good because this group we have to learn what that is all about. To be a good team that’s where the expectations are. It’s not just to win a game, it’s to keep going. I’m really happy with the way they have played the last week.”

On the list of coaching names he has joined…

“It’s special people. Some of the names up there, it’s incredible. I never ever expected to be with that group. But like I said before, I have had some really special situations and we were able to stay a couple of places for a long time, which doesn’t happen in this league very often. To get that many wins, there are good players involved and good coaches staffs involved and good organizations involved. It was special to get this.”

On it being more special to have his sons on his coaching staff…

“That was one of the big reasons why I came here. You always want to win, you always want to have good situations to give yourself a chance because it’s a tough job, but I learned in Houston when we lost Yao [Ming] and lost Tracy McGrady and a bunch of guys that busted our tails every night. It was a lot of fun coaching that group. When I looked at this group this year it’s the same thing. I think there is other ways to get enjoyment. Everybody talks about how you have to win; yeah that’s part of it, but to get around a group of guys you can coach you see them grow individually and as a team, that’s also part of it. And to have my two sons involved, yeah it’s special. That is a huge reason why this was an attractive situation to me. They just didn’t tell me about April before this year that it was so hard to win games in April. I think we have a really group. Like I said, they have really maintained this whole year.”

On where this milestone ranks…

“It’s way up there. Now that it’s done you think about all the years and everything else. It’s pretty special. This has been a difficult year. You have to give credit. You have to thank Glen, David and the whole organization for staying behind me because it was a tough situation. There was never a doubt that I was going to be able to do what I thought I needed to do because of their support.”

On the journey to get here and knowing son Ricky and Derrick weren’t born when he got his first victory…

“Well thanks a lot (laughs). I feel older. I feel older. There is a thousand wins that everybody keeps talking about but I don’t know how many losses too. [He’s told 703] Yeah, okay thanks. I knew you would know. I didn’t know (laughs). It is something that you learn as you go on in this league. Like I said, great situations where you walk on the court and you know you have a great chance to win every night. This situation it was tough going out there every day. You learn that it’s a tough business. You have to learn to handle that as well as you do the wins. I think the players have to learn you can’t accept it. It’s part of your job and we got thrown a really tough curveball this year with everything that happened. Even last year at the end of the year. But again, I compliment them for staying with it and hopefully we can get some more before the season ends.”