Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Robertson’

MVP Ladder: Good Luck Catching KD!



VIDEO: Good luck trying to catch Kevin Durant on or off the court this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Is it too soon to declare this race over?

If Kevin Durant keeps it up, someone better find that checkered flag because no one will catch the Oklahoma City Thunder star on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder. And that includes Miami Heat star LeBron James, who like the rest of us has admitted to marveling at Durant’s exploits this season.

Durant has already established himself as the most diabolical scorer of his generation, an absolute assassin capable of destroying opposing defenses from basically anywhere on the floor. But his current run of nine straight games with at least 30 points, not to mention his preposterous 37.0 scoring average for the month of January, has helped vault him into the all-time great category alongside the likes of James, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, Nate Archibald and Oscar Robertson.

His coach, Scott Brooks, has even crossed sporting lines by comparing him to an all-time great from the NFL.

“Kevin Durant, Peyton Manning,” Brooks said Tuesday night. “You just look at the parallels between the two. They just come in, they do their job every day. They don’t have to tell the world what they do, they just do it every day and it seems to work perfectly fine.”

It certainly does!

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!


VIDEO: The Inside crew on the current state of the MVP race

Blogtable: A Personal Best For ’13

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


Fixing the lottery | A 2013 highlight | One bold prediction for ’14



VIDEO: Ray Allen’s shot

Give us a personal NBA highlight of 2013; a story, a laugh, a cry.

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati, Nov. 2013

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

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Great as the league’s current players are, there was no in-arena moment for me in 2013 that matched sitting down in a riverfront restaurant one day last fall to have lunch and chat for two hours with this guy. I had interviewed Oscar Robertson by phone in the past – and did sitdowns in a previous professional life with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Ted Williams – but meeting and talking with The Big O in person ranks high on my personal list. He is, at once, a giant from the NBA’s formative years, a plugged-in guardian of today’s game and a legitimate choice in barroom debates as GOAT. Three days later, the passion that I heard for Robertson’s status, in an over-the-phone earful from this NBA great clinched this as my 2013 highlight.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: My Christmas Day exchange with Ebenezer Popovich before Rockets vs. Spurs in San Antonio.  Me: “What did you get for Christmas?”  Popovich: “None of your business. And I’d ask you what you got, but I don’t care.”  Classic Pop snarling.  But I also got a wink a grin.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas, March 2013 (Glenn James/NBAE)

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas, March 2013
(Glenn James/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This is probably really obscure, but it’s a memory that has stuck with me. Residing in Dallas and being a former beat writer covering the Mavs, I’m around that team more than any other. Last season, Dirk Nowitzki and a handful of teammates made a pact in early February not to shave until they reached .500. They had been 10 games under, and seven under at the time of the pact. No player took the no-shave agreement — or the inner challenge to accomplish it — more personally than Dirk, whose 12-year playoff run was also very much in jeopardy. The 7-footer never trimmed the unruly mess and it just grew and grew and grew. He looked like the German cousin of Duck Dynasty. There was a home game in late March against the Pacers. A win and they finally shave. Mavs guard O.J. Mayo had announced that his barber, Omar, would be in the locker room ready to lather up. But the Pacers routed ‘em. With a somber expression, Dirk spoke solemnly to reporters, resembling a long, lost castaway (in a nice shirt) losing hope his ship will ever come in: “We lost to a team that is deeper, that is better in all facets of the game,” he said. “… Knowing the Lakers lost now, we had an opportunity to cut into their lead. And it sucks. It sucks.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: When a single shot changed history. Ray Allen guesstimated he practiced that look hundreds of thousands of times, but when he caught the pass in a real game, had the presence while backpedaling all the way from the lane to know his exact location in the corner, and hit the 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining in Miami, the Heat went from a 95-92 deficit in the game and 3-2 in the series to new life. They catapulted from that into an overtime victory and then a win in Game 7. Instead of another Finals loss, LeBron James rode in another parade. Instead of the public debate about whether management should break up the Big Three in South Florida, Miami kept the roster in place. Instead of another championship, the Spurs had months of despair.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Before the Heat played the Sixers on Oct. 30, I was in the pre-game scrum when Philly coach Brett Brown (formerly of the Spurs) was asked about facing the team that beat him in The Finals just four months earlier. He was brutally honest about how painful losing that championship was, saying that he had a feeling of “we’ve done it” as Manu Ginobili brought the ball up the floor after LeBron James’ second straight turnover in the final minute of regulation in Game 6. That game was obviously the highlight of 2013 and I doubt we’ll ever again see a team come so close to winning a championship and then lose it. It was incredible to be in the building that night, experience it first-hand and then be reminded of the Spurs’ pain again as the new season was starting. I shake my head every time I think about that sequence of events and how the entire season (1,314 games) came down to one rebound and one shot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’ll leave the emotional stuff to John Schuhmann and Lang Whitaker, they’ve been known to get the waterworks going on Hallmark commercials. Speaking of my stat-genius colleague, it was during the time we spent in Las Vegas watching some of the best young talent in the league (and a couple of college kids) working at USA Basketball’s Senior Men’s National Team’s mini-camp in July, that it dawned on me just how fantastic it’s been to watch the game’s driving forces evolve and connect across the board over the past two decades. I’m dating myself here, but I remember when the folks running the grassroots movement and the powers that be at the NBA and National Team level were all on different pages (and they still are from time to time on certain issues). It was an absolute mess and in the years that followed the U.S. teams paid for it during international competitions, losing face and games time after humiliating time against foreign competition. To see them all come together in the form of the under-25 group that we watched go to work in Vegas is a testament to the decision by all parties to think about the greater good and get their stuff straight. Not only did the best under-25 group assemble there, but the kids from all over the country were there as well for their annual pilgrimage to the big time summer tournaments at the same time the U.S. junior teams were working out. And while we stood in the balcony at UNLV watching the workouts with Hall of Famers like Pacers boss Larry Bird watching on one end and the top prep player in the country, Chicago big man and Duke signee Jahlil Okafor, watching from the other, it reminded me how important it is to the future of the game in this country and beyond to have everyone under the same roof (at least sometimes), so to speak.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Not sure I’ll ever be able to top being in the house (along with my main men Steve Aschburner and John Schuhmann) in Miami for Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. Funny story: When the Heat were down 5 with 30 seconds left, and a bunch of Heat fans headed of the exits, I started worrying about my flight home — I had a flight to New York reserved for the day following Game 7, three days later, and I was pretty sure our NBA Digital overlords would not be happy to cover the cost of me hanging out in a Miami hotel doing nothing for three days. So during one of those final timeouts, from there in the press seats, I went on Delta.com and started trying to change my flight home. I found a flight I could switch to the next morning for minimal expense, and I clicked the button to change my flight. I’m still not sure if it was the spotty internet connection in the American Airlines Arena, the inefficiency of Delta.com, or perhaps an intervention from the basketball gods, but for whatever reason it didn’t go through. Literally seconds later, everything changed. And as it worked out, my original reservation worked out just fine. It just meant I had to let Asch borrow my rental car so he could find a coin laundry.

Karan Madhok, NBA IndiaRay Allen. Game 6. NBA Finals. The shot that changed history. No moment in the NBA in 2013 was more powerful or memorable. Jesus Shuttlesworth gave us a 3-pointer that would be etched in basketball lore forever.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Man, so many to pick from! I’ll pick two. On the court, the triple-OT playoff battle between the Nets and Bulls. I began watching that as just “due diligence” and as a way of passing time before going out to cover a UFC event, but the game kept going and going and getting more exciting. I threw it to my Game Time app and went to work literally with one eye on the sidewalk and another on the mobile screen. The preliminary card was already going on and I barely paid attention to it. I can’t remember what was the fight of the night, but I can remember every big bucket Nate Robinson hit. Off the court, I was very proud of Jason Collins for coming out, and even more of NBA players’ reactions to it. It took a lot of guts. I’m disappointed by the fact that he’s not in an NBA roster right now, but I can’t and won’t accuse anyone of passing on him because of homophobia — I’ll give teams the benefit of the doubt.

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


VIDEO: Oscar Robertson career retrospective

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

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

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati, Nov. 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following is excerpted from that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

NBA.com: Is the game better coached now?

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


VIDEO: Some of Oscar Robertson’s best plays

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

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

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

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

On crowds and race relations in the ’60s


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

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

NBA.com: Did it ever get racial?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

On the Greatest of All Time and the greatest today


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

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

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson in 1974

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Robertson: You tell me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA.com: You a fan of instant replay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On life after the NBA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LeBron: On His Way To G.O.A.T.?

Editor’s note: As the NBA embarks this week on a new season, Miami Heat superstar LeBron James stands as the league’s most iconic figure. In today’s final installment in our three-part series on James and his place in the league, we weigh in on where James stands in the greatest-of-all-time argument.

In Part One, we looked at the people who have helped shape James into an international marketing force and a difference-maker for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. And in Part Two, we examined how James’ on-court game has changed since he burst onto the scene straight out of high school in 2003, and how his early failures shaped the player he is today. 


VIDEO: The LeBron Series — G.O.A.T?

Perhaps it would all be different if LeBron James had not come to our doorstep prepackaged and hermetically sealed, all but tied up with a pretty ribbon and bow.

The Chosen One.

We generally like to pick our own heroes and villains, so as the media hype machine began to serve him up when he was still a teenager too young to drive to school at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s in Akron, Ohio, it was only natural that some would instinctively turn up their noses as if he were a heaping serving of broccoli.

Wilt Chamberlain was an overwhelming, almost indescribable giant. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was towering, majestic and aloof. Oscar Robertson was angry and unshakable. Magic Johnson wore an endearing, embracing smile that could light up a thousand nights. Larry Bird was a good ol‘ boy caricature come to life. Michael Jordan was transcendent as a competitor and a cultural icon.

Yet now, almost despite all that hype, the argument — joining so many others that seem to constantly swirl around him — can be made that James is indeed on track to go down as the best of them all.

Just the mere suggestion that he could one day soon lay claim to the label of Greatest of All Time — G.O.A.T., as it’s known in the vernacular — will bring baas of protest from the anti-LeBron crowd. They’ll call him a preener, a whiner, a shrinker, a choker, a deserter, a pretender, a poseur.

And yet the resume James has compiled in his first decade in the NBA has not only lived up to the advance billing, it’s exceeded it.

Consider that if he were to fulfill the expectations of most of the experts and be voted the league’s Most Valuable Player again in 2013-14, James would join Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Bird on the short list of three-in-a-row MVP winners. If the Heat play for the championship again next June and he is named MVP of The Finals, he would equal a feat only achieved before by Jordan (twice) and Shaquille O’Neal.

And if James were to claim his third straight regular season MVP, third straight championship and third straight Finals MVP, it would be a first in NBA history.

“He has four MVPs already, before he’s 30,” said long-time foe and close friend Jermaine O’Neal. “He has a lot of confidence and I think the sky’s still the limit as long as that same drive is still there. And I think it will be. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. Sometimes, after the first MVP or whatever the achievements are, people tend to cut the motor down a little bit. But I was talking to people and they said he’s better than he was last year. Pretty difficult to be.”

A desire to get better



VIDEO: LeBron goes global with visit to China

That drive, to constantly put down every outside challenge and thrive on the fires from within, forged Jordan’s reputation as the ultimate big game warrior, practice scrapper, teammate-fighter and I’ll-gamble-on-anything competitor. Jordan would let rivals see the perspiration on that gleaming shaved head, but he’d never shed a drop of sweat from worry or doubt.

James is different. He’ll sit in front of his locker or behind a post-game microphone and admit that he fell short and pledge to do better.

Jordan entered the league as a tongue-wagging, gravity-defying, splay-legged phenom that played with the frisky abandon of a colt that leapt the corral fence. He gave us Air Jordan and taught us to fly while he played basketball in the movies with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. He sold sneakers, burgers and sports drinks. Everybody wanted to be like Mike.

James’ arrival was more of an orchestrated corporate sales pitch, pushing a man-child built like a locomotive that barreled down the tracks on the strength of a $100-million endorsement deal with Nike. It seemed a boardroom-drawn image. His game, early on, seemed more manufactured muscle than magic. No one could be King James.

Yet LeBronmania delivered in both form and function. Immediately. He became only the third rookie in NBA history — behind Robertson and Jordan — to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.

“I thought he’d be OK. I thought he’d have a little bit of a learning curve,” said former NBA forward and current Chicago Bulls assistant coach Ed Pinckney. “But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone come in with that much hoopla and perform the way he did.

“Magic and Bird, similar. But they were older. Not a high school kid. He came in and hit the ground running.

“I asked Earl Monroe pretty much the same question. And he said, ‘There was a time when a high school kid coming into the NBA, physically, could just not play. Maybe he’d have a good game or two, but not sustain it.’ Where was the rookie wall [for James], all of that? He just busted right through it.’ This was Earl Monroe saying it.

“For an 18- or 19-year-old kid coming in to the league and performing the way he did, on a nightly basis with all the pressure of handling a team, I think he handled it great and he continues to.”

James’ offensive repertoire keeps expanding, and his four MVP awards in the past five seasons are matched only by Russell (1961-65). Another championship this season would give him three by the age of 29. Jordan won his third at 30.

Tuning out the noise

James has been delivering at such a high level, under such intense scrutiny so consistently and for so long,  that many are expecting a fall. Surely, The Decision to jump from Cleveland to Miami and all that came with it still resonate for many who will never let go of the grudge. He is reminded of it every day in a social media world of instant and constant criticism, where every missed shot and misplay is bitterly dissected. That did not exist for Jordan.

Another debate may still rage — mostly out of Los Angeles — but the truth is, James has clearly surpassed Kobe Bryant as the best player in the game today.

“Nobody with a brain would even begin to argue that,” said one league executive.

James’ Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 31.6 last season was more than three whole points better than runner-up Kevin Durant (28.3) and was the second-highest single season ever behind 31.7 by Jordan in 1987-88.

In the annual NBA.com poll of the league’s general managers, James was an 89.7 percent choice as the single player they would sign for their team and a 66.7 percent pick as the player that forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments. He was voted most athletic and most dangerous in the open floor.

Still, James’ game has its flaws, at least according to some. In an ESPN the Magazine poll of 26 anonymous players, Jordan was named by 88 percent as the man they’d want taking the final shot with the game on the line. Bryant received 12 percent. James didn’t receive a single vote.

James, though, is universally regarded as more of a natural playmaker than those two, more able to draw defenses to him and more willing to make the pass to a teammate for a better shot.  Former coach Jeff Van Gundy told ESPN:

“When I think of a closer, it’s a guy who can beat you with the pass or the shot. I’d take LeBron James to close it for me.”

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham recently told Dan Patrick in a radio interview: “If there’s any player in the NBA who could come and be a complete superstar in the NFL, it’s LeBron. He would be the man.”

Jordan vs. James

If Jordan is considered the G.O.A.T. now, James can’t be far behind. The career stat lines of Jordan and James are strikingly similar. And James is only 28, perhaps just entering the meat of his career.

A young LeBron James meets Michael Jordan in 2003

A young LeBron James meets Michael Jordan in 2003
(David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

James has averaged 27.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists, shot 49 percent from the field and 40.6 percent on 3-pointers for his career.  Jordan’s numbers were 28.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 49.7 from the field and 32.7 on 3s. Jordan was a lockdown perimeter defender in his day and James is an elite defender at four positions. James is bigger, stronger, much more of a brute force than Jordan, but still can soar with a jaw-dropping 40-inch vertical leap. Jordan was the long, rangy, sinewy embodiment of the ultimate basketball player. James is an athletic anomaly, a virtual tank with the speed of a motorcycle.

As much as the anti-LeBron crowd will protest, it is probably already down to just a three-man debate. And, if you set aside Chamberlain’s gargantuan feats in terms of sheer numbers and records set from a long ago era as too far off the charts to even compare, it comes down to James and Jordan.

Jordan clearly has the edge in the ability to simply pile up points, get buckets when they’re needed. But the analytics crowd will tell you that today’s game is about being able to do more than score. James is the better passer, rebounder, has deeper range and can defend more places on the court.

Jordan dragged his teammates along to championships with the sheer force of his talent and his will. James plays a style that actually makes his teammates better.

On the all-time list of PER, Jordan sits at No. 1 with a career 27.91 rating. James is second at 27.65 and closing.

Want more numbers? How about the Cavaliers winning three out of every four games (61-21) with James in 2009-10 and then losing three of every four (19-63) the next year without him. That’s having an impact.

For all the credit he gets raising his performance for the Heat in back-to-back title drives over the past two seasons, it may have been James lifting an otherwise anemic Cavs roster onto his shoulders and carrying them to the 2007 NBA Finals that was most Herculean.

“Jordan was never able to do anything like that with those Bulls teams before [Scottie] Pippen arrived,” said an NBA general manager.

“I would have to say Bryant and Jordan had that same ability to defend from the perimeter spots, score and make plays from that position, but they never put up the assist numbers that he has,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “He’s more of a hybrid-type guy and you don’t normally think of all-time great players as being hybrid-type players. The truth is he’s Magic Johnson, but much faster and much more dynamic athletically. Really all that’s left to be determined is how many championships he’s going to win. That’s an honest assessment.”


VIDEO:
Would LeBron James have been a star in the NBA of the 1990s?

The measure of the G.O.A.T.

If it’s the counting of the rings that matters, then James still trails Jordan’s six and Bryant’s five. But again, he is only 28. At that age Jordan had just one.

And, really, should that be the measure anyway?

“When anybody says you measure guys by rings, that’s a crock of [bleep],” said Robert Horry, who won seven with the Rockets, Lakers and Spurs. “That’s like saying I’m better than Karl Malone, I’m better than Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. We all know that ain’t true. You can’t go by that. You can’t measure guys by their rings. It’s just ignorant. Having said that, I don’t exactly think LeBron’s done collecting them yet.”

After settling in comfortably in Miami over the past two years, embracing more of the role of alpha dog and learning to enjoy the responsibility and reap the rewards, it is not hard to envision a more relaxed, more confident James climbing higher.

“The story is how far LeBron has come in the last two years on every level,” said TNT analyst and former Jordan teammate Steve Kerr. “Where he was three years ago with The Decision, his play in the Finals against Dallas, the way he handled the post-game interview after Game 6 and the comments he made? He was really at a low point.

“What he has done the last two years is remarkable. He handles himself with grace and class. He’s elevated his game. He is now a champion, he carries himself like one. I think it’s fantastic to see the resilience, particularly in modern society with what he faces. I love what LeBron has done and I have a ton of respect for him. He’s on his way.”

Perhaps closer already to the top than so many think, or will admit.


VIDEO:
LeBron James’ top 10 plays from 2012-13

The Big O(verlooked) No More …





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When the elders speak the rest of us need to listen.

Don’t always assume that what they are saying is lecturing rather than enlightening. Sometimes they are just trying to school us, as best they know how, on the things we might have missed or may not completely understand.

So when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a man whose list of accomplishments in basketball from adolescence to the highest level rank at the very top (right alongside Bill Russell‘s as far as I’m concerned), insists that Oscar Robertson is being overlooked, it’s worth investigating.

Kareem went all-in for his former teammate — they won a title together in Milwaukee — ranking him right up there with Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the greatest players the pro game has seen (courtesy of ESPN’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd and Lakersnation.com):

“LeBron is awesome, MJ was awesome — but I think Oscar Robinson would have kicked them both in the behind,” said Abdul-Jabbar when asked about James and Jordan. “Absolutely. Oscar was awesome. He had brains. [...] He had all the skills.

“He could rebound and box out guys four and six inches taller than him. He was ruggedly built. He had fluid, quickness, and just understood the game. No flair, he just got the job done every night. Who’s going to average double figures in points, assists and rebounds?”

I placed a call to one my most trusted sources, a man who has watched and studied the game since the 1950s and has a keen eye for the evolution of the game throughout the ages. And he concurred with what Kareem said on the television and radio airwaves Thursday. The Big O has long been overlooked, overshadowed even by guys like Kareem, Russell and Wilt Chamberlain during that era. Never mind that he was ahead of his time in every way.

“All things considered, the Big O was a 6-foot-5 guard that changed the game,” my source said. “I don’t go along with that, ‘Who is the greatest?’ conversation and all of that sort of stuff, but he helped change the game. The Big O was the man, but like anything you have to take every guy in his time and place him in the proper context. You can’t deny what anyone has done but the Big O was the Jordan and LeBron of his time.”

An oversized point guard or undersized power forward, and perhaps just a cosmic blend of two of the greatest players we’ve ever seen …, a walking triple double (during the 1961-62 season and almost did it four other times during his Hall of Fame career)!

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!

Big O: LeBron Would ‘Excel’ As NBPA Prez

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LeBron James is said to be “mulling” making a bid for the presidency of the NBA players association.

Oscar Robertson held that post longer than any NBA player in history.

To this day, Robertson remains the biggest name to have served his fellow players in that capacity. And as one of the game’s true Olympian figures, Robertson cannot imagine a better candidate than James, who is on his way to similar heights.

“Yeah, he’d have to think about it — I think he would have an excellent situation,” Robertson said in a phone interview Thursday evening. “I think if he was president of the players [union], he would excel like he does on the basketball court. I guess, maybe now with all the advice and the consultants and things, it would be a different situation.”

Robertson, the NBA’s legendary “Big O” during his Hall of Fame career in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, served as president of the National Basketball Players Association from 1965 to his retirement in 1974. Those were some of the league’s, and the union’s, most tumultuous years, when the two sides hammered out the makings of today’s so-called “player-owner partnership” mostly by colliding repeatedly into each other.

Big O key in early labor battles

Organized by Celtics great Bob Cousy in 1954 and further established by his Boston teammate Tom Heinsohn from 1958-65, the union in 1965 still was fighting for what now would be considered bare essentials: pay for preseason games, better medical care, the concept of an All-Star “break,” modest bumps in meal money and pensions, and a boost in the minimum player salary — out of FOUR figures. All of the strategies and jargon that were in play during the 2011 lockout, like cancelled games and filings with the National Labor Relations Board? Those were in play in the 1960s, too, when the NBPA’s power base was a lot more tenuous.

“Actually, I was naïve when I started,” Robertson said. “I didn’t know anything about it.  Sometimes it’s fate, what happens. So I just got involved. I didn’t know anything about the union whatsoever — I knew what it was because I was in it, but as far as how to run it, it was on-the-job training for me.”

The American Basketball Association (ABA) sprang up in 1967, exacerbating tensions between the NBA’s owners and the players. By 1970, with salaries bid ever higher and the two leagues in merger negotiations, the union filed an antitrust lawsuit to block such a move, given its impact on their employment and freedoms. The players sought to abolish the college draft and the option clause in standard contracts that bound them to their teams in perpetuity. Acrimony spiked, and a lawsuit in the matter soon became known for the union president’s name attached to it: the Oscar Robertson suit.

“I’m glad that I was a star,” Robertson recalled Thursday. “Because if I was a mediocre player, I wouldn’t have lasted very long. Because in those days, the league hated you as a player rep and they wanted to get rid of you.”

Robertson, now 74, wasn’t just a star. He was the LeBron James of his day (or vice versa). Many people know of him as the master of the triple-double — in 1961-62, he famously averaged at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for an entire season. What too many neglect, of course, is that Robertson averaged 30.8 points along with those 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.

Even fewer realize that the 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard averaged a triple-double over his first five seasons in the league: 30.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 10.6 apg in 384 appearances from 1960-61 through 1964-65.

Robertson’s game gave him a voice, not unlike James in Houston at All-Star weekend in February. On that Saturday, at the union’s membership meeting at the Hilton, James commanded the room by probing and leading the discussion of NBPA executive director Billy Hunter’s job performance and ethics, outgoing president Derek Fisher’s role, the members of the union’s executive committee and the very future of the association.

James and veteran Jerry Stackhouse, through their comments, questions and actions that afternoon, reportedly imposed order on a group spinning out of control. Stackhouse, who recently told FoxSports.com that the union hopes to name a replacement for Hunter (and acting director Ron Klempner) sometime after Christmas, isn’t expected to be active as a player this season.

But James’ star power as a possible NBPA president could boost the union’s credibility and impact.

Stars have tradition of taking NBPA spotlight

The star-driven NBA has had, for more than a decade, a union driven by role players. What Cousy, Heinsohn and Robertson began, others such as Bob Lanier, Isiah Thomas and Patrick Ewing continued. But since 2001, Michael Curry (2001-05), Antonio Davis (2005-06) and Fisher (2006-present) have headed the NBPA.

Through the union’s first 47 years, 10 players served as president; seven wound up in the Hall of Fame and the 10 combined for 75 All-Star selections. In the past 13 years, Davis’ 2001 All-Star appearance stands alone. None of the last three presidents is headed to Springfield.

That didn’t preclude them from being effective — Fisher worked tirelessly and often thanklessly through the prickly lockout two years ago. But the clout that comes with star status — James has two NBA titles with the Heat, four MVPs, Olympic gold and more — can help immensely, Robertson said.

“I felt I commanded a lot of respect from a lot of different ball players, when you say something to the guys,” Robertson said. “And if you’re friendly with ‘em, other than playing basketball, it will help also.”

Finding NBA stars willing to take on the role, while sacrificing time and outside earning opportunities, has gotten more difficult. Robertson thinks it has something to do with the stakes these days.

“That’s always been [an apathy] problem with some guys,” he said. “But you look at it over the years, with all of the problems they’ve had, a lot of players because they’re making money, they just don’t get involved. They don’t need to — it might hurt you selling a pair of shoes or a headband or something.”

Robertson: NBPA prez a job of ‘sacrifice’

People can debate the merits of a union president who dominates All-NBA teams vs. one who relates (and earns similarly) to the league’s middle class. Either version will wind up logging long hours. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s a sacrifice,” Robertson said. “Especially if you do a good job. If you do the job [the way] they’re going to have confidence in you, sometimes it gets a little lonely. Until something happens.

“I didn’t think about whether it was hard or not [to make time]. It was an opportunity. There was an awful lot going on when I was with the players association, a lot of changes that needed to be done. Some we did right, some we didn’t.”

Robertson is proud of the gains achieved by the NBPA during his tenure. The Robertson lawsuit triggered negotiations that led to free agency, as well as a settlement that paid more than $4 million to then-current players and another $1 million in union legal fees. Pensions improved and the minimum salary tripled on his watch.

Only a handful of his peers or players since have thanked him for his service, Robertson said (“But I didn’t do it for that anyway”). He also said he paid a professional price. Robertson was dropped after one season as color analyst on the NBA’s network telecasts because, legend has it, some owners bristled at such a prominent role for the player who sued them.

On the other side of the ledger, however, Robertson points to the strides they all made. “Look at the money guys are making now,” he said. “Look at the [charter-jet, luxury-hotel] travel. There’s an orthopedic doctor at the games. You get better meal money. You have a right to go to other teams if you don’t have a valid and existing contract with your team.

“There’s no doubt about it — we were there during some [pivotal] years for the NBA.”

So there are some of the pros and cons, in Robertson’s view, as James mulls a potential candidacy: The time commitment, the opportunities skipped, the politics involved, knowing when to delegate and so on. The Hall of Famer said he would be willing to advise James, if asked. Also, Robertson’s old friend Jim Quinn — the attorney who worked on the lawsuit four decades ago and helped broker the lockout settlement 20 months ago — is again working with the NBPA in its search for Hunter’s replacement.

The union’s greatest challenge now? “Getting rid of personality tiffs. That kills you,” Robertson said.

“Somebody gets upset … because somebody doesn’t like what you’re doing, and they start this current going against you. A lot of players, when they start to make millions of dollars and they get agents who also are afraid to have their little nest egg cut off, that’s what happens.”

James, through force of personality and basketball superiority, might be the right choice to stem that.

The Time Is Now To Beat The Heat


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Can’t you picture the Hornets, Spurs, Knicks, Bobcats and Sixers salivating already?

It’s time to jump on the Heat while they’re down, exhausted, spent after a 27-game winning streak that lasted nearly two full months.

Despite what the Miami players have been saying, that kind of long period of excellence takes a toll, mentally and physically.

Who says?

History.

After the 1969-70 Knicks of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley had what was then an NBA record 18-game win streak snapped by Detroit, they bounced back to take three straight, but then lost four out of five to add up to a 4-5 stretch over a period of 17 days.

  • Nov. 29 vs. Pistons, lost 110-98.
  • Dec. 2 vs. Sonics, won 129-109.
  • Dec. 5 at Baltimore, won 116-107.
  • Dec. 6,vs. Bucks, won 124-99.
  • Dec. 9 at Cincinnati, lost 103-101.
  • Dec. 10 at Milwaukee, lost 96-95.
  • Dec. 11 at Seattle, lost 112-105.
  • Dec. 13 vs. Sixers, lost 100-93.
  • Dec. 16 at Atlanta, lost 125-124.

The very next year when the Bucks of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson set a new record with 20 consecutive wins, their streak ended with a double-overtime loss at Chicago and they lost three straight and five of the last six games to close out the regular season.

  • Mar. 9 at Chicago, lost 110-103 (2 OT).
  • Mar. 13 at New York, lost 108-103.
  • Mar. 14 vs. Suns, lost 125-113.
  • Mar. 16 at Phoenix, won 119-111.
  • Mar. 18 at Seattle, lost 122-121.
  • Mar.19 at San Diego, lost 111-99.

The legendary 1971-72 Lakers of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich came along the very next season to hang the record so far out there at 33 in a row that it still eluded the Heat 41 years later. But even that Hall of Fame trio couldn’t avoid a letdown. After the streak was ended by Kareem and the Bucks, the Lakers lost three of their next five.

  • Jan. 9 at Milwaukee, lost 120-104.
  • Jan. 11 at Detroit, won 123-103.
  • Jan. 12 at Cincinnati, lost 108-107.
  • Jan. 14 at Philadelphia, won 135-121.
  • Jan. 21 vs. Knicks, lost 104-101.
  • Jan. 22 at Phoenix, lost 116-102.

It took another 36 years until the 2007-08 Rockets tried to make a run at the record. But their fate was no different. After their 22-game win streak was smashed by Boston, Tracy McGrady and the Rockets were hammered the next night by the Hornets as they went on to lose four of their next seven.

  • Mar. 18 vs. Celtics, lost 94-74.
  • Mar. 19 at New Orleans, lost 90-69.
  • Mar. 21 at Golden State, won 109-106.
  • Mar. 22 at Phoenix, lost 122-113.
  • Mar. 24 vs. Kings, won 108-100.
  • Mar. 26 vs. Timberwolves, won 97-86.
  • Mar. 30 at San Antonio, lost 109-88.
  • Apr. 1 at Sacramento, lost 99-98.

Of course, the good news for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the gang is that all of those teams except the Rockets gathered themselves in time for the playoffs and went on to win the NBA championship and the Heat will still be the heavy favorites to do that in June.

But for now, history says it’s time to watch for a case of the Post-Streak Blues.

And for every team coming up on the schedule to pounce.

Defense Grew Rockets’ 22-Game Streak

 

HOUSTON — As far as seismic shifts in the landscape go, there was no tremor, no low rumble of an earthquake’s warning and it never hit with the fiery blast of a volcanic eruption.

When the Rockets went 49 days — seven full weeks — without a single loss in 2008, it grew quietly for the longest time like an oak tree’s roots growing up through the cracks in a sidewalk until one day it was busting apart the concrete.

The 22-game win streak, second-longest in NBA history, is the outlier in the record book, the one that nobody, even themselves, saw coming, and many, even in hindsight, can still not comprehend.

Before the defending champion Heat, led by the three-headed juggernaut of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, joined the club, only three teams in history had won 20 in a row. The 1971-72 Lakers with their record of 33 consecutive wins and a star-studded roster of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich went on to win the NBA title. The 1970-71 Bucks, led by Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, ran off 20 straight on their way to win it all.

In fact, of the top eight win streaks ever in the NBA before the Heat, five of those teams won championships. Only the Rockets did not get out of the first round of the playoffs.

“Our names will be mentioned with Hall of Fame people,” said point guard Rafer Alston. “We have something to tell our kids.”

Shane Battier, now with Miami, has called the Rockets’ streak “organic,” part of a process that evolved over time.

It wasn’t often flashy or pretty, but it was effective, like seeing a boa constrictor slowly squeeze the life out of its prey.

The Rockets were led by Tracy McGrady’s bundle of offensive skills, but they survived the loss of Yao Ming and they won and won with a growing confidence and surging defense. During the 22-game streak, they held 19 of their opponents under 100 points and 13 under 90. They won 14 games by double figures, an average margin of 12.36, and had only three games decided by fewer than six points. They won 15 games at home and seven on the road.

The Rockets even won the last 10 without their All-Star center Yao, whose season was ended by a stress fracture in his left foot on Feb. 26.

“Every time a team gets a chance to come close, the streak comes up,” said forward Luis Scola, now with the Suns. “It was a great stretch. It was a good team. If we lose any of those games it wouldn’t change that fact. But maybe that team wouldn’t be as remembered.

“You know we were playing well. It was a fun team to play with. The momentum that we had going. We were playing very well. We were beating teams just because we were good…That month and a half was great. I remember it was a lot of fun.”

The Rockets were 15-17 on Jan. 2 and 24-20 when they beat Golden State 111-107 on a night when Yao was dominant with 39 points and 19 rebounds. They were fighting for their playoffs lives, sitting precariously as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Two nights later, they went on the road to win at Indiana 106-103 and ran off seven straight wins where they never gave up 90 points.

“What we’re developing is a great team like the Pistons,” said McGrady. “A great defensive team going out there and playing together and not relying on one or two people to score the rock.”

No. 8 was their narrowest escape, needing Steve Novak to come off the bench to hit a 3-pointer — his only field goal of the game — with two seconds left to rescue an 89-87 win over the Kings.

The streak continued through trades. On the afternoon of No. 10, they sent Bonzi Wells to New Orleans and Kirk Snyder to Minnesota, yet didn’t miss a beat in thumping Miami. They attracted real notice around the league when they whipped the No. 1-seeded Hornets in New Orleans.

When the Rockets took the floor on Feb. 26, the word was out that Yao was lost for the season and the fears inside Toyota Center were palpable. But with 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo blocking shots, waving his finger and filling the middle, the streak rolled on.

“You could probably check this, but I’m thinking all the way to the 17th or 18th game of the winning streak we still were in the eighth spot or the ninth spot or something like that,” Scola said. “It was a really tough year for the West. The playoffs were in jeopardy.” (more…)

Q&A: NBA Icon Russell Chimes In On Fundamentals, Big Men And More


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HOUSTON – NBA All-Star weekend is the one time every year where the past, present and future of the game are all on full display.

Few stars of the past, present or future shine as bright as Bill Russell, aka “The Lord of the (Championship) Rings.” The Boston Celtics great and Hall of Famer recently celebrated his 79th birthday. The party continued over the weekend as he made his annual pilgrimage to the All-Star city and spent some time sharing his wisdom with the current stars who seek his counsel.

A five-time MVP, 11-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star in his 13 seasons with the Celtics, Russell was also a pioneer for African-American professional athletes, serving as a key voice and figure during the civil rights era. 

The embodiment of the phrase “Barrier Breaker,” Russell will be featured in “Mr. Russell’s House,” the second of a three-hour documentary block on NBA TV Monday that begins with “One on One with Ahmad Rashad: Michael Jordanat 8 p.m. Bill Simmons’ interview with Russell, “Mr. Russell’s House,” will follow at 9 p.m., and Ernie Johnson’s interview with Charles Barkley, “Sir Charles at 50,” wraps things up at 10 p.m.

Russell carved out some time in his busy weekend schedule to visit with NBA.com. Here are some excerpts: 

NBA.com: On a weekend when all of the start of the NBA are out, past, present and future, what’s the most common question you get from today’s players when they come up and talk to you and spend time with you?

Bill Russell:  Is anybody really that old [laughing]? I like to respect the guys that are playing now in the All-Star games. I watch sometimes three games in a single night on the NBA package. The thing I like, is I watch to see what their agenda is and how well they carry it out. That’s how you can enjoy the games. There are a lot of accomplished players playing now. I think more than ever. Just to get a chance to watch them is a joy.

NBA.com: What makes them so accomplished, the skill level? Have they come that far over the years in terms of size and skill?

BR: When you talk about skill level, you can’t say the way they played in the 1950s and 60s. Skill level is based on how the game is played today. There are different fundamentals. When I played there was never a 3-point shot. Going to the hoop and dunking is commonplace now. It was not commonplace then. According to the rules today, the skill level is off the charts. And if someone wants the skill level to be based on the way they played the game 50 years ago, they’re a silly person. If you take the time to understand the rules, the skill level is there.

NBA.com: When you look at the evolution of some of the positions now, do you agree with the suggestion of some people that the traditional big man is one that seems to have really changed with the stretch fours and 7-footers that don’t play on the low block?

LeBron James, Bill Russell by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron James, Bill Russell by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

BR: That’s a fallacy. The way the game’s played, when you have a unique player, whatever his position is, that’s where the game is going. When I was a kid growing up there was a guy named Hank Luisetti played at Stanford and he’s the first player to shoot one-handed with great success. I remember reading something at that time where a coach said if he ever catches one of his players shooting with one hand, they’ll never play another minute. But things change. And if you get a great player at any position, the game is copycat. Nowadays, your star is always your shooting guard. But if you come with a center that can really play, the game will revolve around the center. Or if you have a [power forward] who can really play, the game revolves around him. So the game changes according to who is playing. I have this thought, you never get to a place where you ask a player to play against a ghost … past, present or future. You can only play against the people that show up when you play. And so how you dominate that era, that’s the only thing you can say. Now if you’re talking about scoring, you can’t get past Wilt Chamberlain, so what they do nowadays is they ignore what Wilt Chamberlain did. They don’t even bring it up. The fact that one season he averaged 50 points a game. His average. So you now you talk about guys scoring 30 points or 35 points. And that’s a long way from his average. You talk about assists, Oscar [Robertson] averaged a triple-double. And now they’re talking about a double-double. So what you are doing is choosing which stats you want to emphasize and make that most important. The people that decide that really don’t know what’s going on. You talk about rebounding. Wilt averaged 22.9 rebounds for 14 years. Averaging almost 23 if you round it off, for 14 seasons. Now the leading rebounder might have average 12 or 13. Wilt and myself had over 20,000 rebounds. That’s 20,000 one at a time. If you’re going to talk about numbers, it has nothing to do with anything. It’s about how you dominate your contemporaries in the game. People that say look at the numbers, that means they don’t know what they are looking at. A guy can play and almost never do his numbers indicate how good he is. You have to watch him and see what he does. Is he a positive part of the equation for your team?

NBA.com: You said you watch up to three games a night. Who is the most dominant player you see now in the game, in terms of the things you talked about, not the numbers but impact on the game?

BR: Well, of course, at this point you start with LeBron James coming off the championship year. He’s a great player. A really great player. I think the way Kevin Durant gets his point is a big help, because he’s not always the first option. That makes a lot of difference. Before he got hurt, I thought Derrick Rose was really an important player. But I like to watch all of these guys and see what they are doing and see how it impacts their team play.

NBA.com: When you take a hard look at the players off the court, in terms of what they deal with as professional athletes, how drastic do you think that difference is compared to what you and your contemporaries had to deal with during your playing days?

BR: I have a lot of respect for these guys that are playing now because I look at the world they inherited. For example, to hold them to what happened when I was a young guy and what’s happening now is totally unfair. The world has changed. It’s changed completely in a lot of different ways. So to say, “Well, if those guys did this to make a way for you,” hey, the second and third generation, you can’t hold them to standards that are obsolete. All you can hope is they build on what went on before them and not just relax with it. Because if you relax with it, it’ll go away. (more…)