Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jordan’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 174) Featuring Bob Ryan

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’ve been having these arguments for years. In barber shops and sports bars, basement man caves and back porches. No one ever wins or loses either, because the debate never ends. Would Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell be as dominant today as they were in their day? What about Oscar Robertson today or Shaq, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James back then? Whose game transcends time? Everyone will pick Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and other members of the NBA’s all-time elite. But for the rest of the mere mortals … who’s to say a great athlete in today’s game would automatically dominate a bygone era when athleticism was not at the premium it is now? No one can answer with certainty. Educated guesses are still the best anyone can do in this regard.  Unless, of course, you are Bob Ryan, the retired Boston Globe columnist and living and breathing basketball encyclopedia, a man who has literally seen it all, from one era to another and another and another. His new memoir, “SCRIBE: My Life in Sports” is a must read, by the way. He joins us on Episode 174 of the Hang Time Podcast to stoke the age-old debate we revisit often around here. Whose game could shuffle through time and remain as potent in one dimension as it would in another?   Dive into Episode 174 to find out where we all stand … LISTEN HERE: As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall. – To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Hakeem: Howard is ‘ready’ for an MVP-type season

Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (left) has seen Dwight Howard’s game mature and grow of late. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least one former MVP doesn’t think it should have taken a broken bone in Kevin Durant’s foot to throw the 2015 MVP race wide open.

According to Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard was already prepared to kick the door down.

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season when he led the Rockets in 1994 and pulled the wagon again as Finals MVP when Houston repeated in 1995. He and Michael Jordan are the only players to win all three awards in their career.

Olajuwon doesn’t believe there is any reason the Rockets, who finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Portland last spring, should fall back, even with the departure of rotation players Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“They have Dwight and they have James Harden,” he said. “That is two of the best players at their positions in the league. Those two can lead. Those two can do enough. You don’t need to have All-Stars at every position.

“The Rockets will need good play from some young players and from others who will be getting their chance to be key players for the first time in their careers. But when we won our first championship in 1994, we had Sam Cassell, who was a rookie, playing at the end of games and making a difference. When we won in 1995, we had Clyde (Drexler). But we also had Pete Chilcutt in the starting lineup and Chucky Brown and Charles Jones stepping up off the bench.

“When you have Howard and Harden, you have two players who can do much of the scoring. What you need are others to not try to do too much. Just concentrate on doing your job and coming to play every night.”

It begins and ends with Howard.

“We all know that center is the key position in the game,” Olajuwon said. “Everything should go through you — offense and defense and the right mentality. If the center is thinking about dominating, the team can go far, can go all the way.

“I played at a time when were so many players that could win the MVP each year — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. It meant you weren’t going to win the MVP every year. But you had to play like an MVP and have your name in the conversation. I believe that’s where Dwight is now. He is healthy. He is physically fit. He is strong. He wants to win.

“It is about attitude. He should have a season that makes everyone vote for him as MVP. If that happens, they should be contenders for the championship. I believe that. Now they have to believe it.”


VIDEO: Hakeem Olajuwon schools Dwight Howard on post moves back in 2010

Morning shootaround — Oct. 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Players support shorter season; MJ mystified by such talk | Report: C-Webb joins group looking to buy Hawks | Smith, Van Gundy talk 3-pointers

No. 1: Nowitzki, James support shortening season, not games; Jordan puzzled by such talk — This Sunday, the NBA will experiment with a shorter-than-usual game as the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics will take part in a 44-minute preseason contest. News of that upcoming game has led to debate all over the internet (and on this very site) about whether a shorter game would be beneficial to the NBA as a whole or not. Two prominent stars in the game — LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki — think shortening the length of the season, not games, would be the most beneficial change that could happen. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin and Tim McMahon have more:

“I think you don’t need 82 games to determine the best eight in each conference,” Nowitzki said Wednesday. “That could be done a lot quicker, but I always understand that it’s about money, and every missed game means missed money for both parties, for the league, for the owners, for the players. I understand all that, and that’s why I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon.”

James, speaking before the Cavs hosted a preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, was adamant the length of games isn’t what should be at stake. And he said most of his fellow players are in agreement.

“No. It’s not the minutes, it’s the games,” James said. “The minutes doesn’t mean anything. We can play 50-minute games if we had to. It’s just the games. We all as players think it’s too many games. In our season, 82 games is a lot. But it’s not the minutes. Taking away minutes from the game is not going to shorten the game at all.

“Once you go out and play on the floor, it don’t matter if you play 22 minutes — like I may be playing tonight — or you’re playing 40 minutes,” James added. “Once you play, it takes a toll on your body. So it’s not lessening the minutes, I think it’s the games.”

Nowitzki and James were piggybacking on the point made by Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra when asked about the league’s experiment with a 44-minute game, which will be played by the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics on Sunday.

…”Honestly, I never was a big fan of back-to-backs even when I was 20 years old,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old entering his 17th NBA season. “I think that you should never have to play at the highest level there is two consecutive nights and flying in between. You obviously make it work. We have the best athletes in the world, we feel, but I think it hurts the product some. Last year, some teams get here for the fourth game in five nights and we’ve been sitting here on rest and just blow them out.

“I don’t think it’s good for the product, but I also understand that 82 games is where it’s at. It’s a business, and everybody’s got to live with it.”

James said more analysis on the potential impact to the business side seemed to be in order.

“It’s something that we definitely will have to sit down and try figure out if that’s the case, that may happen,” James said. “Obviously I don’t know the numbers right off the top of my head, but that would create less revenue. We all know that without even seeing the books that less games, less concession stands and less selling of tickets and all of that.

“But at the end of the day, we want to protect the prize and the prize is the players. We have to continue to promote the game, and if guys are being injured because there are so many games, we can’t promote it at a high level.”

Nowitzki would like the league to look at the possibility of allowing fewer timeouts, especially at the end of games.

“It’s such a fun, fast game,” Nowitzki said. “Then there’s one action and they score, OK, there’s a timeout and you sit for two minutes. There’s another action, they score, tie it up [and another timeout is called].

“There’s no other sport where it’s interrupted so much at the end. That’s something that I would look at. Both teams are like, ‘They have another timeout? Are you kidding me?’ That’s a little much, but other than that, I think the game’s great.”

After the NBA’s best and brightest of today had that to say about the schedule, the greatest player of the NBA’s last era, Michael Jordan, said he was shocked that superstars would want to play less games. ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard has more:

“I love both of those guys, but as an owner who played the game, I loved playing,” Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, told ESPN.com during a telephone interview. “If I wasn’t playing 82 games, I still would’ve been playing somewhere else because that’s the love for the game I had. As a player, I never thought 82 games was an issue.

“But if that’s what they want to do, we as owners and players can evaluate it and talk about it. But we’d make less money as partners. Are they ready to give up money to play fewer games? That’s the question, because you can’t make the same amount of money playing fewer games.”

Jordan also didn’t see the point in shortening games by four minutes.

He said the league informed its clubs of its intention to play a 44-minute game but that it was not presented as something the league is seriously considering instituting in the regular season.

“I would never shorten the game by four minutes,” Jordan said, “unless guys were having physical issues.”

Jordan said basketball players generally don’t incur the same long-term physical ailments as football players so he can’t understand the talk of a shorter season or shorter games.

“It’s not like football,” he said. “We don’t really have to worry about concussions and some of the physical damage that football players deal with after they retire. I can understand football players wanting to play fewer games from a physical standpoint. But basketball’s not the same. I’m not diminishing the fact that we go through a grueling season. But I wouldn’t want to shorten the game or play 15-20 fewer games.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki explains why the NBA should think about a shorter season

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 11


VIDEO: LeBron touches on Heat-Cavs in Rio and comments from Wade, Bosh

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron surprised by Heat talk | Parker: “I’m still hungry” | League plans aggressive marketing campaign | Ray Allen isn’t a lock for Cavs?

No. 1: LeBron caught off guard by former teammates’ comments — The Big Three that won two titles and played in four consecutive NBA Finals doesn’t seem so chummy anymore. Remaining Heat players Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have had some interesting things to say about what it’s like to play with the King while the Heat and Cavaliers are both in Brazil and will play an exhibition game Saturday. Apparently LeBron James has been surprised by their words. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal has the story:

RIO DE JANEIRO: Maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise to LeBron James that his former Heat teammates are upset at his departure. After all, he went through this the first time he left a team.

When James bolted the Cavs for Miami in 2010, Daniel Gibson and Mo Williams were two of the most hurt and outspoken about it. Gibson implied his friendship with James was over, and Williams appeared in front of the media before James’ initial return game to Cleveland wearing a Boston Red Sox jacket — the one and only time he wore a Sox jacket in all his years in Cleveland. Even those within the Cavs organization took it as a subtle jab at James, who is a big Yankees fan.

Now that James has spurned his Heat teammates to return to Cleveland, the bitterness has shifted to the other side. James said Friday he was caught by surprise by some of the comments from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in recent days.
“I know a lot of words have been coming out of their camp as of late, and some of it is surprising,” James said Friday prior to the Cavs’ practice at Flamengo Club. “We’ve got so much history together.”

The three stars guided the Heat to four consecutive Finals appearances and two championships. But Wade recently said last season wasn’t much fun and Bosh earlier this week said he hasn’t spoken to James since he left and he doesn’t have time for guys who aren’t on his team.

Bosh has since clarified those comments, but he also told Bleacher Report this week that Kevin Love will have to make a huge adjustment playing alongside James.

“It’s going to be very difficult for him,” Bosh said of Love. “Even if I was in his corner and I was able to tell him what to expect and what to do, it still doesn’t make any difference. You still have to go through things, you still have to figure out things on your own. It’s extremely difficult and extremely frustrating. He’s going to have to deal with that.”

Bosh explained how dramatically he had to change his game to adapt to playing alongside James, essentially cutting out his inside game to leave room for James and Wade to operate.

“It’s a lot more difficult taking a step back, because you’re used to doing something a certain way and getting looks a certain way,” Bosh said. “And then it’s like, ‘Well no, for the benefit of the team, you have to get it here.’ So even if you do like the left block, the volume of the left bock is going to be different.”

There is merit to Bosh’s claims. He sacrificed the most of his game during the Heat’s Big Three era. But losing James clearly cripples the Heat’s odds at another deep playoff run, which could easily explain any lingering frustration among those teammates left behind.

By tipoff Saturday night, the Cavs and Heat will have spent more than 100 hours together in Rio, yet neither James nor the Heat players made any effort to see each other off the court this week.

While a handful of Cavs players joined a few Heat players on Thursday for a joint NBA Cares project, James was not one of them. Friday’s schedule provided a huge window between practices, so the Heat (which cut practice early) were long gone before the Cavs arrived at Flamengo Club.

“We don’t dislike each other or anything like that, it’s nothing like that,” Bosh said Friday. “On the court, he’s about the Cavs, we’re about the Heat. That’s where it ends.”

***

No. 2: Tony Parker isn’t satisfied yet — In a wide-ranging interview with Yahoo! France, Spurs point guard and four-time NBA champion Tony Parker talks about becoming a father and getting married, says he feels great physically and that it feels like he’s living a dream. Pounding The Rock delivers the translation of the French interview:

Question: You’re a father now, how has it changed your life ?

Tony: It changes your priorities so you don’t look at your life the same way. I’m very proud that he’s [Josh Parker] here and I hope that we’ll help him to grow up and be a good person.

Question: Do you take part in the parental tasks?

Tony: Yeah, sure. I am a father who’s involved in all the tasks. I like to help with the diapers, all of that… I like to be aware of what’s going on.

Question: You also got married. Is this important for you?

Tony: I think it is important for your balance. I’ve always been well supported. There’s always support behind every top sportsman from their family and friends…You can’t succeed all alone. I have always been very close to my family and it’s been important for me to have my parents and my brothers by my side throughout my career.

Question: How can you stay a bit French, which we’re proud of, considering that you’re more and more American?

Tony: I regularly come back to France to play with the national team, to work with my sponsors, or to help with my foundation. I’m also an ambassador for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I host my basketball camps in Fécamp, Normandy, which is the place where I started to play basketball. I always have a foot here.

Question: You’ve become a symbol of success in France. How do you handle that?

Tony: I always try to be a good representative of my country in the United States. You know, I left when I was a very ambitious 19 year old with “The American Dream.” I’ve always been a big dreamer. I’ve always had an entrepreneur-like approach and I wanted to succeed both on and off the court. I wanted to be an ambassador for French basketball.

My idol growing up was Michael Jordan. He was the perfect example for succeeding on and off the court. So at my level – of course I’m not going to compare myself to MJ – I want to do the same for French basketball.

Question: What is the reason for your success? Work?

Tony: I don’t want to sound too cliche, but yes, you’ve got to work hard. You have to be disciplined, take care of your body and watch what you eat. All of the things that you’re told about when you’re trying to become a pro athlete, all of that is true. There are many guys who are very talented but not disciplined enough. Partying too often is an example. There are many little things that can make the difference between a good career and a great career.

Question: At 32, sports wise, where do you think you are? At the top?

Tony: I feel really good physically. I don’t feel like I’m getting old or like I’m slowing down. I’m still hungry, even though I have won everything in my career. I want to continue to be challenged, and with the Spurs, we’ve got a great challenge now: try to repeat, which we have never done.

With Team France, there’s the Eurobasket 2015 tournament and getting to play it in your home country is huge. Defending the title is not going to be easy. And then, there’s an Olympic medal. For me, the perfect ending would be to win the European championship in France in 2015 and meet the US in the Olympic finals in 2016. That would be great.

Question: Do you feel like you’re still improving, or like you have reached your apex?

Tony: I feel like I reached the apex. Basketball players are commonly thought to have their best years between 28 and 32. Because you have the experience but you’re still strong and fast. So I think I reached the apex. Then, you can always try to improve, to become a better shooter, a better defender.

Question: Frankly, when you think about it… Four NBA titles [is quite an achievement]

Tony: I can hardly believe it. Sometimes I must pinch myself because I feel like I’m living a dream. When I see the names I have surpassed on the various lists – best scorers, best passers…and all of the things I’ve accomplished with Tim, Manu and Popovich…It feels odd.

***

No. 3: Following new TV deal, NBA targets casual fans — The league’s new chief marketing officer says it is increasing the marketing budget and planning to be more aggressive with its marketing to attract a larger fan base. The NBA debuts its new season-long campaign, “Everybody Up” tonight. E.J. Schultz of Ad Age has the inside look:

The National Basketball Association, which recently inked a lucrative media rights deal, will increase its marketing budget as it looks to lure more casual fans, according to the league’s new chief marketing officer.

Some of the new spending will back the league’s season-long campaign, which debuts Saturday and will run on a broader set of networks than in years past, said CMO Pam El, who joined the NBA in August after stints at insurance companies State Farm and Nationwide.

“We are going to be much more aggressive with our marketing. We want to go after a larger fan base,” she said in an interview.

While she declined to reveal spending figures, she said the new campaign, called “Everybody Up,” will run on news and entertainment networks such as BET, CNN, TBS and VH1 “just to name a few.”

The first ad of the campaign (above) is called “Roll Call” and will first air on Saturday during the Miami Heat vs. Cleveland Cavaliers preseason game that will be played in Rio de Janeiro and air on ESPNews. The ad is by Goodby Silverstein & Partners and features narration by hip hop artist Common.

Previously, the league had mostly confined its early-season campaign to ESPN and TNT, which both carry NBA games, Ms. El said. The league will still air ads on the two networks, but “we are going to branch outside of that media to reach not only the avid fan, but also our casual fan,” she said.

***

No. 4: Ray Allen’s still in no hurry to sign — While many assume Ray Allen will play this season and like do so with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge isn’t so convinced. A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast Sportsnet has more:

BOSTON — You can count Danny Ainge among those not convinced that Ray Allen will sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers … at least not right now.

“Ray can really help them, but I anticipate that Ray will wait and see the landscape of the NBA,” Ainge, the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations, said during his weekly call-in to 98.5 the Sports Hub. “I just think he might wait and see how everybody’s clicking. There’s a handful of teams that would love to have Ray on their team right now that are trying to win a championship.”

In addition to the Cavaliers, Chicago, Oklahoma City and defending champs San Antonio are among the teams that have reportedly expressed interest in bringing in the former Celtic who has won NBA titles in Boston (2008) and Miami (2013).

“He may wait until All-Star break or January,” Ainge said. “And just see what teams are playing well, which teams are the healthiest and which team that he thinks that he might fit in, just in the style of play. With new coaches at some different places, he may just want to see how it unfolds before he makes a decision.”

Ainge, who won a pair of NBA titles (1984, 1986) with the Celtics, said he has no issue with veteran players choosing to latch on with clubs that they believe are title contenders.

“The rules sort of indicate that’s what you can do,” Ainge said. “Ray’s probably, if he goes to one of the contending teams he’ll be making minimum salary. He’s been a max player a couple times in his career. That’s his right, to try and win a championship. It’s just the way the collective bargaining agreement is structured. It’s different than how it was structured back in the ’80s and ’90s. I don’t blame a player like Ray, right now, for wanting to find a perfect fit for him as he finishes his career.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Thunder’s Reggie Jackson left Friday’s game with a wrist injury … Ankle injury will sideline Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving for tonight’s preseason game against Miami in Brazil … Under new TV deal could salary cap reach $100 million? … LeBron still the one most GMs want to start a team … Lakers weren’t good enough to attract Carmelo Anthony … Mavericks guard Raymond Felton left Friday’s game with a sprained right ankle … Spurs forward Boris Diaw can earn an extra $500,000 my maintaining his weight throughout the season … Kevin Durant isn’t interested in giving up guaranteed money as a trade-off to do away with max contracts.

Boston’s Ryan shares stories from press-row seat in ‘Scribe’ memoir


VIDEO: Bob Ryan recaps the surprising end to the 2013-14 season

Bob Ryan covered 11 Olympics in his sportswriting career, as well as dozens of World Series, Super Bowls, Stanley Cup finals and NCAA championships across multiple sports. He spent 44 years, give or take, chasing and breaking stories big and small for the Boston Globe, worked in local TV in that sports-crazed market and still entertains, informs and cracks wise on a global stage as a frequent ESPN contributor.

But he set a standard for NBA coverage during his years on the Boston Celtics beat and, later, as a Globe columnist that arguably never has been surpassed. And while Ryan’s new memoir, “SCRIBE: My Life in Sports” (Bloomsbury USA), set for release Tuesday, cuts across all the sports he has covered in his career, it returns again and again to pro basketball. And the Celtics. And the NBA.

“The NBA was the centerpiece for me,” Ryan said in a recent phone chat. “It launched my so-called career and it gave me the chance to make a name for myself. I grew up playing basketball – it was the one sport I could play through prep school.

“If I’d been presented with the opportunity in 1969 to cover the Red Sox, I’d have been a very happy baseball writer. … But I’m very proud of my basketball-writing career and, frankly, I think I wrote game stories as well as anybody wrote ‘em.”

Game stories, for fans who might not be familiar with them, were newspaper accounts of what actually transpired in the previous night’s game. Now it is assumed that everyone already knows that from TV and the Internet, so writers working a game wind up spinning forward a little mini-feature or quickie analysis instead.

Newspapers? OK, for fans who might not be familiar with them

“I’m so glad I did it when I did it,” said Ryan, who retired from the Globe in 2012 and spent eight months of 2013 working on “SCRIBE.” “I’m grateful. There’s no way it’s as enjoyable now. Because of the relationships and the access.”

Ryan, 68, did some MLB coverage, columnist duty and TV work in his early-to-mid career but returned time and again to the Celtics beat in Boston in the 1970s and ’80s. Back then, he could chat up players in the locker room before practice, then sit in the gym to watch the entire workout. Teams flew on commercial flights same as the writers back then, so a delay or cancellation would keep them elbow to elbow in coffee shops or airport lounges. And the players’ six-figure salaries didn’t dredge the moat between them that exists in an eight-figure sports salary world.

“The two biggest things to ruin life for the beat writers were charter flights and the Chicago Bulls,” Ryan said. “The charter flights are self-evident – you no longer traveled with them. The Bulls, because they became the rock-star team that traveled with security and then they built the Berto Center [practice facility] where you could no longer even figure out where their cars were. And because they were successful, naturally, everybody wanted to follow suit. That changed everything and it’s never going back.”

Ryan’s memoir is more thematic than chronological, though the early chapters track his youth and steps toward scribe-dom in straightforward fashion (“Trenton Born,” “Boston College,” “Becoming a Reporter”). He devotes chapters, too, to baseball, football (“I Can Hardly Believe It’s Legal”), hockey, golf, ESPN, the Olympics and major college sports (“Smitten By a Lady of Low Repute”). He saves room near the end to write about music, another of his great passions alongside hoops and his wife Elaine.

Dave Cowens (left) battled with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (right) and other powerhouses in his era.

Dave Cowens (left) battled with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (right) and other powerhouses in his era.

But Ryan’s embrace of the NBA permeates the project. He gives Red Auerbach, the Dream Team, Chuck Daly, Bob Knight and the 2008 Celtics title season their own chapters. And there is no mistaking the topics addressed in those entitled “This Guy Ain’t No Hick” and “Michael v. LeBron.”

Former Celtics center Dave Cowens, however, gets both a chapter of his own and the prologue. Ryan starts the book with the tale of Cowens’ unexpected decision to retire at age 31 in October 1980. Cowens wanted Ryan’s help editing his retirement statement and he wanted it to run in the Globe:

The truth is it was very nicely and powerfully written, which did not surprise me because this was not the first time I had recognized his writing ability. …

“I’ll need some time,” I told him. “Maybe an hour.”

He was heading out the door when he turned around. “Do you mind if I call Red first?” he inquired.

Excuse me? Do I, Bob Ryan, mind if he, Dave Cowens, calls the hallowed Red Auerbach, Mr. Celtics, on my phone to inform him he is retiring from active duty in the National Basketball Association, effective immediately?

I gave him my blessing.

“He’s the most interesting person I’ve covered by far,” Ryan said of Cowens on the phone. “I love Larry [Bird], Larry and I are friends, and watching Larry play was a joy. But watching Dave play was an other-worldly experience and watching him compete against [Kareem] Abdul-Jabbar and [Bob] Lanier and [Willis] Reed and everyone else, spotting those guys size and running them into the ground and being their equal and very often their superior was a fan-inviting experience.

“But knowing him was the payoff. For his world view on basketball and on other things… He’s one of those guys who is a standard of something that people try to compare others to and find the next one, and in vain they have not found the next Dave Cowens.”

Ryan considers the Celtics’ John Havlicek to be the most underappreciated player he covered. “When he first retired, there was no issue, he was a demigod,” the writer said. “But Jordan comes and now LeBron, other guys come, and when the dust settles 36 years later, he’s still the greatest forward-guard, two-position player there ever was – and don’t give me Scottie Pippen.”

Given Ryan’s press-row seat before, during and after the dual arrival of Bird and Magic Johnson in 1979, he can attest that the NBA was in trouble for several years prior to that. “A down period artistically and every way,” he said.

“The great fallacy is that Bird and Magic instantly saved the league,” Ryan added. “They stopped the slide. They focused attention on the game, the passing was great and they revived Kareem, which was good. It’s interesting to think how [Abdul-Jabbar] would have been regarded if Magic had gone to another team and he stayed in that [bored] attitude that he had in the late ’70s. I think he would have quit probably two or three years into the [’80s] and gone on to do something else.”

Here is Ryan at one point on Bird:

For me, his arrival was as if I were an art student and into the classroom walked the new professor – Michelangelo. Who could be prepared for that? … I had been covering the NBA for 10 years. … I didn’t expect to be surprised and educated and thrilled by anything new.

And Ryan on officiating:

I came to realize that in any given game the referees had an influence that made them the equivalent of a good player, if not necessarily a great one. Referees decide who will stay on the court and how the game will be played. They cannot be ignored. I didn’t reference the officiating every night, and not all references were negative. But I was always on the lookout for exceptionally smooth, well-officiated games.

Then there’s the serendipity of his own career, which began at age 11 with his self-published column “The Sportster” growing up at home in Trenton, N.J.:

I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time on many occasions. I received a Globe internship interview when my roommate turned it down. I was handed the Celtics beat at age 23 because there was no one else in the department with either the interest or the basketball feel to take the job. They got very good after one year and I rode the wave. I lucked into doing a TV show because the guy who bought it was an old friend.

Had someone else taken over the show, he would have hired his friends. Some great things have happened to me over which I had zero control.

Michael who? Ryan says he prefers to watch LeBron more.

Michael who? Ryan says he prefers to watch LeBron James play more.

As for Ryan’s take on the growing debate of Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James, you can read the book in search of his answer. Over the phone, Ryan just said: “Do I think that Michael is clearly a ruthless competitor and his six championships will stand the test of time in the non-Bill Russell category? Yes. But I’d rather watch LeBron play. I just love the full scope of his game.”

Ryan’s memoir gives you the full scope of his game, from filing stories by wire with a young Chris Wallace (future news anchor) at a Western Union office in Harrisburg, Pa., to his appearances on “Around The Horn,” from his very modern squabbles with the analytics crowd over their beloved WAR theories to the irritated phone call he received one day from Amelia Earhart‘s sister.

Said Ryan, “I was thinking 37 years was the statute of limitations.”

First Team: KD evokes MJ in MVP season

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

There’s a sense Kevin Durant still hasn’t peeked at his peak. His length is unfair. His angel-hair pasta build is a rebellion against the MUSCLEWATCH movement that dominates the NBA. Myth has him closer to being 7-foot than his listed 6-foot-9. All of this leads to a virtually unblockable shot (don’t tell James Johnson!) that allows him to get a clean look whenever he wants.

The results:

1) NBA MVP
2) Five All-NBA first teams
3) Four scoring titles
4) All-Star MVP
5) Olympic gold medal
6) A host of honors too long to list here

Yet Durant is far from a finished product. There’s that untapped post game that Charles Barkley keeps hammering about. Can he win seven more scoring titles to surpass MJ? Could Durant, who turns 26 next week, snatch the top scoring spot from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by the time it’s all said and done?

Last season, he dropped at least 25 points in 41 straight games to top His Airness’ modern-day record (only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain have more). The night his streak was “broken,” he scored 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 31 minutes, then went on to rip off another eight straight at the 25-point level. He hit that mark in 63 out of his final 65 games.

In addition to scoring and playing more minutes than anybody else, he dealt a career-high 5.5 dimes per contest. He even tied for the league lead in technical fouls (16). The only thing Durant was missing last season was a nickname that stuck.

Here are his top games last season:

Jan.17, 2014 — Striking Down The Warriors

The Line: 54 points on 19-for-28 shooting

The Quote:He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great.” — Warriors head coach Mark Jackson


VIDEO: Kevin Durant carves Warriors up for career-high 54 points

As he did for most of the season, Durant was playing without Russell Westbrook this night, giving him carte blanche with the rock. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green did what they could, but the easy truth about basketball is this: Great offense trumps great defense every time. On this night, Durant put it all together for a career night.

Jan. 21, 2014 — Extinguishing The Blazers

The Line: 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting, 6 3s

The Quote: “The way he was playing, he probably could have scored on Jesus.” – Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams


VIDEO: Durant goes for 46 points in lighting up the Blazers

The eighth night of The Streak was Fan Night on NBA TV. KD had his 25 by the end of the third quarter, but his team nursed a two-point lead going into the fourth. Without Westbrook and a tough Portland team promising to make matters difficult, his plate was full.

So Durant ate. First off a deadly mid-range game, then with a 3-point light show at the end, including a coup de grace over Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.

Jan. 27, 2014 — Just Another Night

The Line: 41 points on 15-for-25 shooting, 3 blocks

The Quote: “He’s going to be an MVP candidate until he decides to retire.” – Thunder head coach Scott Brooks


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clips Hawks with game-winner to cap 41-point night

With no Westbrook again, Durant donned the hero cape. On the defining play of the game, the double team came from the left. Durant started right. Three hard dribbles later, with three Hawks in the vicinity, he confirmed another moment in a season full of them. Another game winner, another vicious January performance. Just another night, his 10th straight reaching 30 points.

Durant used January to make volume efficiency his M.O. For the month, he put up 36 points on 55 percent shooting, 44 percent beyond the arc. That. Is. Insane.

Feb. 13, 2014 — Rally On The Road

The Line: 43 points on 14-for-33 shooting, 19 in fourth quarter, 7 assists

The Quote: “He is one of the best I have seen in terms of really just playing through anything and everything.” – Thunder guard Derek Fisher


VIDEO: Kevin Durant ends first half with 43-point performance in L.A.

Durant’s final game before the All-Star break didn’t start auspiciously. He clanked his first eight treyballs and his team fought uphill all game. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Thunder were down 13 to a Lakers team that had lost its previous six home games.

But ‘Mr. Unreliable’ took over, almost outscoring the Lakers by himself (19 to 21). He topped the 40-point mark for the eighth time, matching the previous season’s high set by Carmelo Anthony and Kobe. No better way to end the best first half of his career.

March 21, 2014 — Making Fossils Out Of Raptors

The Line: 51 points (38 in second half and two OTs), 12 rebounds, 7 assists

The Quote: “It looked good when it left my hands and God guided that thing in the basket. That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.” — Durant


VIDEO:
Kevin Durant finishes off Raptors in 2OT with game-winner, 51 points

What does a man have to do to get a double team? No matter how many times Amir Johnson stood on an island guarding the best scorer in the league, help never came. But you know what? It probably wouldn’t have mattered. Forces of nature are inevitable.

Down eight points with 49 seconds left, the Thunder ended the game on a 9-0 run. Who was responsible for those final points? Do you even have to ask?

 

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

Morning Shootaround — September 7


VIDEO: FIBA World Cup: Round of 16, Day 1 Wrap

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA routs Mexico | Spain keeps rolling | No Parker, no problem | Melo wants to be the ‘digital athlete’

No. 1: Curry lifts U.S. into quartersStephen Curry finally found the hot hand and blistered Mexico from deep, scoring 20 points and leading Team USA to an easy win and a spot in the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith was there:

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

***

No. 2: Spain stays on collision course with U.S. — Senegal kept it close in the first half, but Spain’s superior players took charge in the second half. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is in Madrid:

Spain’s 89-56 victory was a foregone conclusion from the tip and never got very interesting. But Senegal did keep the game within single digits for most of the first half and may have exposed a couple of issues for what has been the best team in the tournament.

The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have been mostly terrific over the eight days. But they had some trouble keeping Senegal’s bouncy bigs off the offensive glass in the first half. The only African team that made it through to the knockout rounds grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, with Spain securing only 13 of their opponents’ 26 missed shots and free throws.

“They’re a long team and they crash the boards,” Pau Gasol said afterward. “They chased their rebounds well and they gave themselves opportunities.”

Senegal converted all those second chances into only four points. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, lacked size in the backcourt and didn’t get much from the Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng on Saturday. He shot 1-for-9 and scored just six points. Dieng and his countrymen were a feel-good story in Group B, but were also the worst team that got through to the round of 16.

The U.S. is obviously a lot more skilled. And they have as athletic a frontline as anybody, starting Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis at the four and five. The U.S. was the fifth best offensive rebounding team in group play.

***

No. 3: Evan Fournier lifts France — The French, the reigning European champions, don’t have Tony Parker in the World Cup, so any lift they can get from Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier is welcome. He shook off a slow start to the tournament to carry France over Croatia and into the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was there:

Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s off-court dreams and on-court plans to retire as a KnickCarmelo Anthony, with the help of a business partner, launched Melo7 Tech Partners this summer. The company invests in startup firms specializing in digital media, Internet consumer ventures and technology-based operations. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports on Melo’s ambitions:

“I want to brand myself as the digital athlete,” Anthony said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in Manhattan. “Nobody really took that place. There’ve been athletes that came before me that were doing what I’m doing and there are going to be people after me that are doing what I’m doing.

“But I really want to be the pioneer for that digital athlete, and when it comes to tech I want to be the face of that space,” said Anthony, noting the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and David Beckham became known worldwide for their business ventures.

But none is known as the guy for the Digital Age. Anthony nominates himself.

“At the end of the day, we all know what’s my day job: basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s what my brand is built on, but I’m trying to take my brand to the next level, make it bigger, make it stronger.”

And there is no better place to start up a venture capital firm than New York, Anthony claimed. So add that — and Phil Jackson — as driving forces behind what kept him with the Knicks. He signed a five-year, $124 million deal ending his free agency adventure.

It was a process, Anthony stressed, that he never wants to go through again. He did five years, not two like LeBron James.

Yes, Anthony might make more in two years. He gave up about $5 million (“relative to the contract I got, it’s not a lot of money,” Anthony admitted) in staying with the Knicks. And he wants to stay put.

“I plan on ending my career here, so it wasn’t for me to go out there and try to strike a two-year deal and then have to go through this situation in two years. I’m not doing that ever again. I would never do that again. I would advise no one to ever do that,” Anthony said. “I experienced it and it’s behind me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says everyone needs to take a step back on Derrick RoseHeat meet with center Ryan HollinsKings part ways with Jeremy TylerJared Dudley said knee pain hampered him last season with ClippersGustavo Ayon prefers to play in NBA over Europe next season.

After pocketing a free-agent payday, these players must prove their worth

Will Chandler Parsons run with a new, All-Star, crowd this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You are what your salary says you are in the NBA.

There’s no way around it. All the stats, traditional and advanced, in the world won’t change that fact. An All-Star playing on a rookie contract is a bargain. That same player with a max contract, or something in that neighborhood, suddenly become overpaid and a burden on his team.

The expectations change when the compensation increases, even if the player’s game doesn’t change. With most of the dust settled from this summer’s free-agent frenzy, we can see a clear picture where the marquee players are concerned.

Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to get max dollars wherever they decided to play. That was a given, just like the pressure that comes along with being at the top of the superstar food chain in the league.

It’s the other guys, those guys who are making the transition from bargains to paid handsomely for their services, who will be in the crosshairs as the 2014-15 season draws near.

Five free-agent pick ups who have to live up to the hype this season, now that they compensation and expectations have reached franchise-player levels:

Luol Deng, Miami Heat


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks with Heat.com about his goals in Miami

Chris Bosh got the No. 1 option money (five years, $118 million) from the Heat this summer, but it’s Deng who has the biggest shoes to fill. He’s the replacement in the starting line up for LeBron, an unenviable task if ever there was one. The Heat got Deng for a relative bargain (two years, $20 million), given the money that was flying around in free agency this summer. Deng, however, will not get a pass from anyone. Heat boss Pat Riley needs a player who can become an instant impact player and Heat fans, fair or not, are going to compare Deng’s immediate contributions to what James delivered the past four seasons. Deng has shown throughout his career that he’s more than capable of being a solid contributor, All-Star caliber even, on an elite team. So while Deng’s compensation hasn’t changed dramatically, the expectations have soared.

Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat put on a show in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

Gortat was the first big-money free agent to agree to terms this summer, signing on for five years and $60 million to anchor the middle for an up-and-coming Wizards team. He’s facing the crucible of increased individual expectations as he’s on a team that enters 2014-15 with an entirely new set of expectations. The Wizards have all the pieces in place for a continued ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll need Gortat to play his part, though. He and Nene looked like a dynamic 1-2 big man punch in the 2014 playoffs. They’ll have to do it nightly with the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal drawing tons of attention from opposing teams from now on. There can be no off nights for Gortat now that he’s being paid like the elite big man he appears to be. (more…)

MLB strike in ’94 brought Air Jordan back to his familiar day job


VIDEO: Michael Jordan recorded his famous “double-nickel” game in 1995

Michael Jordan didn’t leave baseball. Baseball left him.

Twenty years ago, on Aug. 12, 1994, the owners and players of Major League Baseball tested the patience and allegiance of America’s sports fans with yet another full stop – the eighth work stoppage since 1972, at that point.

Little did they or anyone else know that they inadvertently were doing a great service to the NBA. The MLB strike that brought that sport to its knees, grinding to a halt some of the most exciting team and individual seasons ever, helped propel Jordan out of baseball’s minor leagues and back into uniform with the Chicago Bulls. Once restored to his primary athletic pursuit, Jordan won three more NBA championships in perhaps the most successful comeback in pro sports history and establishing his legacy as the league’s GOAT.

All because the baseball guys couldn’t sort things out in fewer than 232 days.

It was bad enough that the summer game threw itself into winter just as pennant races and statistical chases were heating up. The Montreal Expos were both MLB and the National League’s best team (74-40) on Aug. 12 in their best chance yet at a World Series. In the American League, the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians all had legitimate shots at 100 wins.

San Diego’s Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 in the latest, greatest shot at .400 since Ted Williams did it in 1941. San Francisco third baseman Matt Williams was going after Roger Maris‘ record of 61 from 1961 four years before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa staged their performance-enhanced show. Frank Thomas crammed a full season (38 home runs, 101 RBI, 106 runs, .353 BA and 1.217 on-base plus slugging percentage) into two-thirds of the schedule.

Meanwhile, that Jordan guy was plugging along with the Class AA Birmingham Barons in the Southern League. Showing up early, staying late, humbling himself in search of a new (or at least renewed) skill set. Jordan was riding a bus – admittedly a spiffy luxurious one, paid for by revenues he helped generate – and struggling to keep his batting average above .200 for the Barons when the big leaguers walked out. He was 31 years old, spending his days and nights with a crew of recent high school and college kids.

And from many accounts, he was having the time of his life. One of them, anyway.

“When MJ was with us, it was kind of a whirlwind,” said Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who was the Barons’ skipper in 1994. “It had all the makings of turning into a circus, but it never did. I think that was mainly because of the way Michael handled things. He respected the game of baseball so much. He was so eager to learn, even the lingo and how the guys talked. And he understood … what the players weren’t making and how hard they had worked just to get to the Double A level.”

Francona recalled how coachable Jordan was that summer in a video for the Barons’ Web site earlier this season. “I think it’s kind of fashionable to maybe come down on MJ for playing baseball. … And I always wanted to be very protective of him because of how respectful he was of the game.”

Jordan’s so-called dalliance with baseball – or his exile, if you bought into rumors that the NBA had considered an investigation into and possible suspension for Jordan’s gambling associations – was driven in part by his late father, James, and his love of that sport. And it might have continued if only the big leaguers had found labor peace more quickly.

Jordan had batted .202 in 127 games for Birmingham, with 17 doubles, one triple, three home runs, 51 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 48 tries. He committed 11 errors in the outfield. But he went to the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .252 as his long, loping swing evened out and he learned to protect his rather large strike zone.

Jordan reported to spring training a week early in February 1995 ready to resume his grand crossover. Only, the MLB strike persisted. Jordan did not want to cross the players’ picket lines, nor was he willing to be considered as a “replacement player” simply as a way for the owners to sell tickets. (The Barons had shattered their home attendance record, drawing 467, 867 fans at Regions Park and even more (517,318) on the road.)

So on March 10, with no end in sight to the strike, Jordan announced his retirement from baseball.

On March 18, Jordan faxed his now-famous “I’m back” statement, announcing his return to the NBA. He played for Chicago the next day, scoring 19 points on 7-of-28 shooting at Indiana.

Baseball reached a collective bargaining agreement to resume on April 2. Three nights later, Jordan scored 37 points in a 108-101 victory at New Jersey. The Bulls got eliminated by Orlando from the Eastern Conference playoffs, but roared back for a second three-peat of championships. With a renewed, more teammate-oriented Jordan leading them.

“I don’t know if baseball took away from his legacy, but the coming back was so dramatic,” Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2013. “[That] caused him to spend the next summer working out like a madman, bringing in players from all over the country to play with him. And if you remember the next season, we were 72-10. He was on a mission to prove something. Maybe playing baseball contributed to that.”