Posts Tagged ‘Pete Maravich’

Slick-passing big man Sam Lacey dies at 65

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Bob Lanier. Rudy Tomjanovich. Pete Maravich. Dave Cowens.

Those names now are part of NBA lore, the players revered for the brilliance of their skills and validated by championship rings, plaques in the Naismith Hall of Fame or both. That those men were stacked up at the top of the 1970 NBA Draft – Nos. 1 through 4, picked in rapid succession by the Pistons, the Rockets, the Hawks and the Celtics – only adds to their legend. So much skill, so many highlights, so much winning.

Kansas City Kings vs. Boston Celtics

Big man Sam Lacey was a talented NBA passer and scorer.

Well, the guy taken at No. 5 was no slouch either.

When the news of Sam Lacey‘s death broke Saturday, it hit hard for many who knew him or at least knew of his terrific basketball achievements. Here’s how the Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News framed it in a late-night report:

LAS CRUCES – And, then the celebration just stopped.

Moments after New Mexico State’s Aggies won the Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament, with a 77-55 victory Saturday against the University of Idaho, word came that former Aggie great Sam Lacey died. Lacey, 65, apparently died of natural causes…

Lacey was a hero of NMSU basketball, a 6-foot-10 center who led the Aggies to a 74-14 record in his three varsity seasons and their only trip to the Final Four in 1970. Lacey was a little overshadowed that weekend by St. Bonaventure’s Lanier, Jacksonville’s Artis Gilmore and UCLA’s Sidney Wicks, all future NBA stars. He was overshadowed two days later, going fifth in the Draft that also produced Calvin Murphy, Dan Issel, Randy Smith, Geoff Petrie, Gar Heard, John Johnson and the great Nate (Tiny) Archibald, who like Lacey was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals (who moved to Kansas City and became the Kings in 1972).

But Lacey more than held his own through a 13-season NBA career. In fact, no one from that 1970 Draft class played more games than he did (1,002). And of those four more-famous players taken in front of him – for all of Maravich’s fancy passes, Lanier’s skills or Cowens’ unselfishness – none passed for more assists than Lacey (3,754).

The big man’s prowess at finding and putting teammates in scoring position came up just two weeks ago in NBA circles, after Chicago’s Joakim Noah posted a triple-double against New York, passing for 10 assists in the first half on his way to a career-high 14:

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the most assists by a center since Sam Lacey had 14 for the Kansas City Kings on December 6, 1978.

Lacey also had 14 assists for the Kings in a 1977 game, giving him two of the four games in the past 40 years in which a center had at least 14. The other two: Noah and Bill Walton in 1975 for Portland.

The native of Indianola, Miss., who would have turned 66 on March 28, was Archibald’s center when the quick Kings’ point guard led the NBA in scoring (34.0 ppg) and assists (11.4 apg) – and minutes (46.0 mpg), by the way – in 1972-73. That earned Archibald the first of six All-Star appearances in his Hall of Fame career; Lacey got there once, earning an All-Star spot in 1975.

Over his first six seasons, Lacey was a double-double machine, averaging 12.8 points and 12.5 rebounds. Here’s the elite list of Lacey’s opponents who managed to average 12 and 12 in those same six years (1971-1976): Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Spencer Haywood, Paul Silas, Nate Thurmond, Cowens and Lanier.

As a passer, Lacey grew more adept over time. After averaging just 2.0 assists through his first three seasons, the big man boosted that to 4.8 per game over his next eight. In his 1974-75 All-Star season, he averaged 5.3 assists. Lacey dished 5.2 assists in 1978-79, 5.7 the next year and 4.9 in 1980-81, the season in which he turned 32.

With vision and generosity like that, it’s no wonder Lacey was popular with teammates, as noted in the Kansas City Star’s story of his death:

“He was the heart and soul of the Kansas City Kings,” said former teammate Scott Wedman.

And:

Early in his career, he played with the likes of Nate “Tiny” Archibald, and later in his career teamed with Otis Birdsong, Wedman and Phil Ford.

“He was the team captain during our best run, so that says a lot about him as a leader and teammate,” Wedman said. “He’d take the young guys like me and Phil Ford under his wing. He expected a lot out of you, and you didn’t want to let him down.

“And he was all about winning. A great defensive center. He went up against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens, Nate Thurmond and worked his tail off against those guys.”

Lacey, who made his home back in Kansas City, finished his career with 54 games with New Jersey and 60 with Cleveland. He retired in 1983 with 9,687 rebounds, which ranks 42nd in combined NBA/ABA history. He blocked 1,160 shots, good for 58th on the all-time list. And had he managed just one more steal – officially he finished with 999, though the stat wasn’t tracked in his first three seasons – Lacey would be on another short list: Only 22 players have managed 1,000 steals and 1,000 blocks.

Not bad for a guy who beat long odds, coming out of a small town in the Mississippi Delta to become an NBA All-Star, as he was quoted a few years ago:

“They say you have a better chance of getting hit by lightening than becoming a pro player,” said Lacey.

After his playing days, Lacey did some radio and TV work and reportedly took an interest in efforts to bring another NBA franchise to Kansas City. His jersey number (44) hangs in the rafters of the Sacramento Kings, where the Cincinnati/Kansas City club moved in 1985. In 2008, Lacey was one of the first players enshrined in New Mexico State’s Ring of Honor.

The Rise Of New Orleans’ Pelicans

Tom Benson (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Pelicans owner Tom Benson (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

NEW ORLEANS — While the geographic incongruity of the Lakers slam dunking near the ocean in Los Angeles and the Jazz playing pick-and-roll music in conservative Utah have become ingrained parts of NBA tradition, the feeling was that for pro basketball to finally thrive in southern Louisiana, a new name to match the region would finally help put down roots.

Thus were born the New Orleans Pelicans. Or, more accurately, a rechristening of the Hornets, arrivals from Charlotte, N.C. in 2002 and temporary refugees in Oklahoma City from 2005 to 2007.

Part resurrecting the banner of a beloved minor league baseball franchise (1887 to 1959) and part homage to the official and resilient state bird that appears on the state flag, seal and commemorative quarter, the new team nickname was an instant hit before the start of the 2013-14 season.

“Actually, it was funny that the reaction all over the country was surprised and, in some cases, not good,” said team president Dennis Lauscha. “Because as soon as the name spread around here, people got it. Immediately. The pelican means something in Louisiana.”

The name-change was the most public evidence of a total revamping and rebranding of the franchise since the purchase by Tom Benson in April 2012. Since the 86-year-old owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints spent a reported $338 million to buy the club from the NBA, there has been a full-court press to make upgrades to every level of the organization in a city that has had a mutually noncommittal love affair with professional basketball since the days after World War II. From the Hurricanes to the Sports to the Buccaneers to the Jazz to the Hornets, loyalty has often been discarded like a plastic beer cup on Bourbon Street.

“That’s why it was important for us to demonstrate right away that this, in no way, was stop-gap ownership,” Lauscha said. “The mandate from Mr. Benson was that if we were going to get into the NBA, then we were going to get in all the way and make the same kind of commitment that eventually produced a Super Bowl championship for the Saints.”

Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

That push is coming every day, more than eight years after the devastation inflicted upon the city and the entire Gulf Coast region by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the population within the city limits is 369,250, down from a 2000 high of 484,674. But there has been a gain of 28.2 percent since 2007. The greater metro area is now at 1.2 million, off just 8 percent from 1.3 million in 2000.

New Orleans, ranked 53rd, is the smallest television market in the NBA, yet the Pelicans have made significant inroads by finally getting distribution into the prosperous North Shore area of Lake Pontchartrain. The Pelicans had the largest increase in part- and full-season ticket sales in the league and ranked among the top third in merchandise sales coming into the 2013-14 season when the new name became official. Two weeks ago, the team announced a 10-year deal worth a reported $40 million to rename 14-year-old New Orleans Arena as the Smoothie King Center.

“There’s a new energy, a new sense of excitement around the team and whole franchise,” said coach Monty Williams, now in his fourth season. “When I first got here, all I heard was the reasons why guys didn’t want to come here. Practice site, location of the practice site. All these things that to me were excuses. Because you’re not in the game in the fourth quarter, about to shoot free throws and thinking, ‘Man, if we had a better practice site I’d make these.’

“All that stuff can be an excuse. But now I’m listening to people around the league. I’ve got players coming up to me during the game and saying, ‘Hey Coach, don’t forget me this summer.’ I wasn’t hearing that the first few years. Everybody just wanted to get out of here. I didn’t have a problem with that. They weren’t doing anything illegal. I just wanted guys to give it a chance. You can see the potential here. We’ve got an unbelievable fan base. We just need them to come to games more. I’ve been lobbying for that and I think they will once we give them a better reason to.”

Jack Sperling mid-wifed the team through the period when the Hornets were owned by the NBA. Then Mickey Loomis, also general manger of the Saints, became the head of basketball operations, and he and Lauscha undertook a plan that has produced a $10 million Pelicans practice facility that adjoins the Saints in nearby Metarie. It is state of the art and then some, the finest in the NBA.

“They showed me blueprints and plans last summer when I first got traded to the team,” said point guard Jrue Holiday. “I said, ‘OK, that’s nice.’

“Then I got down here for training camp and it was open and all you could say was ‘Wow!’ I think there is definitely a different feel. I’ll be the first one to tell you that two years ago I would say, ‘No, don’t send me down here.’ But now that I’m here and now that we have a new facility and, especially with the team that we have, the players, the coaching staff, it’s definitely one of the top places to be.”

The Pelicans are led by 2012 No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis, who in his second NBA season has posted unprecedented numbers for a 20-year-old. He is the hoped-for franchise anchor for the next decade.

“I can’t and won’t look way off into the future at anything that could happen,” Davis said. “But I’ve got to say that everything that has taken place with the team and around the team tells you that everyone in charge is doing all they can to make it possible for us to succeed on the court.

“I can’t speak for what the atmosphere or the operation might have been like before I was drafted. I can only say that I like my teammates, our coaching staff and the way every effort is being made to improve. And it’s great to play in New Orleans. Except for one trip in the NCAA Tournament in college, I was never here before I was drafted. But I feel at home here. The fans have opened their arms to me, to all of us.”

This will be the second NBA All-Star Weekend held in New Orleans in the post-Katrina Era, yet there is a noticeable difference from the last time in 2008. That game was a kind-of personal pledge from former commissioner David Stern, who wanted to demonstrate to the world that his league was fully behind the recovery effort. That was at a time when there was talk of the team relocating permanently to Oklahoma City. It was before the league stepped in and bought the team from George Shinn and ran it for more than two years.

“I had a sense just before we purchased it that there was not really the necessary effort and muscle to make that team successful,” Stern said. “It deserved a chance to be successful. So when we took over, we put a little elbow grease behind it, improved the business prospects and had some conversations with the mayor and the business community.

“When you are talking about someone with the experience and the know-how and the connections in the city to make the franchise not just viable but very successful in the long run, of course, Tom Benson is the first name on that list in New Orleans.”

The octogenarian is a tireless businessman and promoter of his teams. He attends every Saints game, home and away, sits courtside for every Pelicans home game and has his calendar filled most nights of the week with appearances around town.

“I don’t know a lot about owner-coach relationships because this is my first time doing it,” said Williams. “But I hear some of the other things some coaches go through with their owners and I just sit here and think, ‘I don’t have that problem at all.’ I don’t have anything to say about Mr. B at all, other than he gives you everything you need. When you look at this practice site and the type of money he’s spent on young talent, he makes you want to win for him.

“He comes to the games. He’s talking about my wife and kids. He’s saying, ‘You were busy last summer. You were in Africa, Team USA.’ He’s talking stuff, he wants to win, no question. He’s tasted Super Bowl. What he’s done for us and for all of this to happen in a matter of two years, that’s phenomenal.

“My rookie year as a coach we went to the playoffs and this town, it was like we were in The Finals, and I want our guys to experience that. They haven’t yet. I got a taste of it in my rookie season. There’s no question that it can work here and it will.”

Avery Johnson is a New Orleans native, a graduate of St. Augustine High, who attended Southern University in Baton Rouge and watched his beloved Jazz move away to Salt Lake City in 1979. He spent 16 years in the NBA as a player, five as a head coach and is now an ESPN analyst.

“I always crossed my fingers and hoped for New Orleans, but I wasn’t sure about the NBA ever coming back,” he said. “Then the Hornets showed up, then Katrina hit and you had to figure it was all lost again.

“But now, with Tom Benson owning the club, man with all the contracts, the corporate infrastructure and the synergy that’s possible with the Pelicans and the Saints, I can honestly say for the first time that it’s possible for the NBA to be a success in New Orleans, a big success.”

There is work to do, plenty of it. Lauscha, a native of the area, has dreams of drawing fans from northern Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast region — to Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida.

“Football is in the blood of the people, but there is a lot of history of basketball in Louisiana — Bob Pettit, Bill Russell, Karl Malone, Willis Reed. Of course, Pete Maravich at LSU and with the Jazz.

“Its about tapping into that history and tapping into a sense of local pride and connecting this team to the city. I believe we can do that.”

Dell Demps has been the general manager since 2010. In that short time, he’s seen some great change.

“My first year here the team was in the process of being sold. The league took over the team in year two and part of year three. Then getting the leadership of the Benson family, Mickey Loomis, Dennis Lauscha, it gives us an stability.

“Then with the rebranding of the Pelican name, the symbolism of being the state bird and how the pelicans have been able to survive the hurricane, the gulf oil spill a few years ago. Just what that bird stands for — the resiliency of the state, the people, the city of New Orleans. It just gives us an identity that is our own. I think it puts us on the map with a whole new start.”

Are Jazz Primed For A Rare Stop In Western Conference’s Cellar?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The last time the Jazz finished last in the Western Conference was 1979-80, their first season in Salt Lake after the team packed up and left New Orleans. There’s been only a few close calls over the decades, most recently a 26-win, second-to-last finish in 2004-05.

But not dead last.

At 24-58, Utah finished the ’79-’80 campaign tied with Golden State at the bottom of the 11-team West and pulled up the rear in a Midwest Division that went Milwaukee, Kansas City, Denver, Chicago. The Jazz had a 32-year-old “Pistol” Pete Maravich, whose knees were so shot that he played in just 17 games and retired, and a 23-year-old Bernard King, who played in just 19 games and sought help for a drinking problem.

Future Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley, then 23, averaged 28.0 ppg and found a home in the NBA. Shooting guards Ron Boone (12.8 ppg) and Terry Furlow (16.0 ppg) provided the majority of the backcourt scoring. Duck Williams chipped in 6.6 ppg off the bench, ABA vet Mack Calvin averaged 6.4 ppg in 48 games and 24-year-old journeyman Brad Davis signed late and played 13 games before spending the next 12 seasons in Dallas, who retired his No. 15 jersey.

As this mostly unrecognizable and already banged-up 2013-14 team tumbles toward the starting gate, they could use any of those old guards — forget John Stockton — for a little backcourt help. With non-playoff teams like Minnesota, Portland, New Orleans and Dallas looking improved, and new coaches and philosophies in Phoenix (led by ex-Jazz assistant and legend Jeff Hornacek) and Sacramento, could re-booting Utah be in jeopardy of its first last-place finish in three-plus decades?

That might not be all that bad — or even, wink, wink, the plan — considering the anticipated bumper crop of the 2014 Draft. Even money is on the Jazz equaling the 24 wins of ’79-80 when Tom Nissalke‘s club averaged 102.2 ppg to also finish dead last in scoring in a much different 22-team NBA. Through five preseason games, Utah is averaging 87.0 ppg and 18.8 apg, both of which would have ranked last last season.

The Jazz certainly didn’t intend to lose top Draft pick and starting point guard Trey Burke to a busted right index finger in the preseason. He was averaging 7.0 ppg (on dreadful shooting) and 4.0 apg before undergoing surgery to repair the bone. He’ll miss 8-12 weeks, delaying his development. Plus, this team is not one built to endure injuries anywhere.

In the interim, the always game, if not so venerable, John Lucas III appears to be the Jazz’s starting point guard. The next game he starts will be his third entering a sixth season bouncing in and out of the league since 2005. He’ll pair in the backcourt with either Alec Burks or Gordon Hayward, who whether starting at shooting guard or small forward (Richard Jefferson has started three preseason games here), will have to be this team’s Dantley.

Backcourt depth isn’t inspiring. Brandon Rush has yet to play as he recovers from last season’s torn ACL. Undrafted rookie combo guard Ian Clark has managed just 11.8 mpg in four preseason games. Lester Hudson and Scott Machado are scrapping for minutes.

After Burke’s broken finger there were rumblings of interest in bringing back free agent Jamaal Tinsley. Considering the Jazz aren’t exactly worried about losing ground in November — this season’s writing is on the wall — they might be more inclined simply to ride out Burke’s injury.

Just don’t expect smooth sailing. The Jazz get something of a break in their first six games, likely missing Russell Westbrook in their Oct. 30 opener against Oklahoma City, Rajon Rondo at Boston on Nov. 6 and perhaps Deron Williams the night before in Brooklyn. In the other three games they’ll face Phoenix’s new tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe on Nov. 1, Houston’s James Harden and Jeremy Lin on Nov. 2 and Chicago’s Derrick Rose on Nov. 8. Then comes this six-pack of opposing point guards: Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Tony Parker, Steph Curry in a home-and-home series and Holiday again.

Ever-knowledgeable Jazz fans have shown a level of understanding as the franchise shifts directions and amasses Draft picks. Now comes the hard part — showing patience. They stand to witness more losses this season than since well before coach Jerry Sloan walked through that door.

Blogtable: It’s The Name On The Back

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.


Making Training Camp Count | Shaq, The Owner | It’s The Name On The Back


 

Pistol Pete Maravich jersey

Nicknames on jerseys? It wouldn’t be a first. This one was from 1973. (Dick Raphael/NBAE)

The NBA reportedly is considering letting teams put players’ nicknames — in a limited manner, we’d guess — on jerseys. Good idea or not? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comBad idea. Blatant pandering for replica jersey sales. Beyond that, though, nicknames are meant to be said, not spelled out and written down. They shouldn’t be crafted into jewelry, monogrammed onto fine linens or tattooed onto body parts, either. Nicknames are what other people call you, not what you call yourself – that almost veers into weenie, third-person-reference territory. Putting them on the backs of jerseys? That’s best left to beer softball leagues and frat-boy reunions. Even the old “Pistol” nickname on the back of Maravich’s jersey was back-in-the-day dumb.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comSounds like a publicity gimmick for a league that doesn’t need publicity gimmicks. If they want to put “King James” on the back of LeBron‘s jersey for a night, have at it. It’s doubtful it will one day make the rotation on NBA TV’s Hardwood Classics. Always remember, ladies and gentlemen, you don’t play for the name on the back of the jersey! You play for the name on the front of the jersey!

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s not a good idea or a bad idea. It’s just silly. Someone’s job is actually going to be to rule in what defines “a limited manner”? That nickname works, the other guy’s doesn’t make the cut.” It works just fine now.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI like it as something that each team does once or twice per season. It’s a way for fans to more closely identify with guys that are already the most visible athletes in the four major sports (smaller rosters, no masks, hats or long sleeves). Is it another marketing strategy to sell more jerseys? Sure. But nobody is being forced to buy a Chris AndersenBirdman” jersey. It just happens to be much cooler than one that says “Andersen.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As a one-game gimmick, this is fine. It won’t hurt my basketball sensibilities to see nicknames on the back of jerseys as a promotion for one game. But seeing guys with “Pookie” and “Shawty Red” (or other foolishness like that) on the backs of jerseys over the course of an entire NBA season is a premise that I simply refuse to embrace. Call me crusty, ol’ school or whatever you’d like. But I’ve always been a believer in the theory that the name on the front of the chest is far more important than the name on the back of the jersey. That said, if you’re going with a name on the back, it needs to be the name your momma or daddy (or both) gave you and not your Twitter handle.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I LOVE THIS. I want to be on the right side of history here, so I’m all-in on the nickname thing, early and often. The Fun Police will certainly be against this idea — “How can we replace last names with nicknames? Are personalities bigger than the team concept? Blah blah blah …” — but as a kid who would have given all the money I had to get an Atlanta Hawks number 21 jersey that said HUMAN HIGHLIGHT FILM on the back, I totally get the appeal. (And I still want that HUMAN HIGHLIGHT FILM jersey, NBA league office.) Perhaps replacing a name could undermine the team concept in a vacuum, but I don’t think LeBron having KING JAMES on his jersey instead of just JAMES is going to make him any lesser of a player.

Hanson Guan, NBA ChinaIt’s a brilliant idea. Bravo! Printing the player’s nickname on back of jerseys would be interesting and entertaining to fans. Also, it should boost the sale of NBA products. In my opinion, for some occasions — such as a particular celebration or player’s birthday — it is more meaningful for him to play with the special uniform. Of course, I will buy one, if they are available.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: Bad idea. I can’t see the point of this at all. I’m all for promoting ways to get the fans involved, but not this way. Shane Battier and Steve Kerr have already spoken out against this, among others. And I totally agree. Dear NBA, please don’t do this.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: I’ve heard about it before but it was not from the NBA, I think the plan is a brilliant idea if for only a limited manner. Marketing and sales-wise it will help bring more attention to the NBA. It would also be fun for the fans and players alike to see their nicknames while playing on the court.

The Doctor: How A Legend Was Born

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It was in the autumn of 1976, just a few hours after news had leaked out that basketball’s hidden treasure was finally making the jump to the NBA when a man strode up to the ticket window at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, slapped down his weekly paycheck from Ford Motor Company and said: “Gimme all you got for The Doctah!”

The oft-told story may be apocryphal, but it accurately describes a time when the greatest legends still grew and traveled by word of mouth and every up-and-coming, next-great-thing sports star wasn’t identified and overhyped before he left junior high.

To the national consciousness, Julius Erving seemed to swoop down out of the sky like an unexpected alien invader. However, the tales of his mind-bending feats had traveled the lines of the basketball tribal drums long before he went mainstream with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The NBA TV documentary, The Doctor, which debuts Monday night at 9 p.m. Eastern, reintroduces the player who changed the style, image and direction of pro basketball to a new audience.

There is at least a generation of fans that has grown up probably thinking of Erving in only two images that are shown in the opening montage for each game of the NBA Finals. There is that float along the right baseline with arm extended, finding his path blocked by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, seeming to change direction in midair and coming out on the other side of the basket to flip in a bank shot. And there is that steal and the drive in the open court, the rise into the air, the sneer on his face and the helpless look of defender Michael Cooper as Erving eventually finishes with a windmill slam.

These are the grainy YouTube images that endure in a high-res, 3D world. The 90-minute documentary tells the fuller, deeper story of a young man who was struck by tragedy early in life and went on to rise above it, or maybe was inspired by it.

The NBA TV Originals crew, led by executive producer Dion Cocoros, has unearthed rarely seen footage of Erving not only playing in the boondocks of the old ABA, but also treasures of highlights from the world famous Rucker League in Harlem, where the legend of The Doctor was born.

The clip of Charlie Scott launching a heave from behind the half-court line that is snatched from midair by a young Erving and slammed home with two hands is like watching Michelangelo sketch out his first ideas for the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Seeing shots of school kids and adult fans crowding rooftops and sitting in trees to get a glimpse of Dr. J at Rucker Park demonstrate the height of his popularity and legend.

“When you show some nice moves at the Rucker League, they show you their appreciation,” says a young Erving in the film.

His father was killed in a car accident when he was nine years old and his younger brother Marvin, 16, died of Lupus when Erving was a freshman at the University of Massachusetts and those two events seemed to make him more introspective in his formative years and as a young adult.

It was the basketball court where Erving cut loose with his emotions and expressed himself, eventually taking the wide open style of the playgrounds into the pro ranks.

He was the marquee attraction, the driving force, the star that kept the ABA afloat for more than half of its nine-year existence, waving that red-white-and-blue ball in his giant hands as he seemed to defy gravity and attacked the rim from every angle imaginable.

“My brother was the first one to tell me about him,” said the flamboyant Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins. “This kid Erving, man, he’s a bad boy.”

From that tall Afro that seemed to blow backward in the breeze as he soared toward the rim to those Converse sneakers that were his endorsement of choice and trademark in the early days, to stylish hats and the fur-collar jackets and platform shoes, The Doctor was always cooler than the other side of the pillow.

He understood his place as the star of the show in the ABA, where he won two championships with his hometown New York Nets on Long Island and he embraced a role as the NBA’s ambassador and maybe even savior when the made the jump to the Sixers just a few days before the start of the 1976-77 season as the two league’s merged. It was a time when two-thirds of the NBA’s teams were swimming in red ink and a time when newspaper headlines screamed the 75 percent of the players were using drugs.

“From the standpoint of a young, African-American man who was patriotic and believed in the American dream, I embraced that duty to be a role model,” Erving said. “If it meant spending extra time withe media or going out of my way to promote the league and the game, I felt it was a duty.”

At the same time, it was a natural instinct to enter a league where the likes of Earl Monroe and Pete Maravich were showing flashes of individualism and lift it up and slam it home into the mainstream.

“The freewheeling, playground style of play, that’s where I felt most comfortable and where I wanted to go,” he said.

It is the style that built on his predecessors in Elgin Baylor and Connie Hawkins and was handed down to Michael Jordan, LeBron James and is on display every night in the NBA of today.

The fine film shows Erving’s often frustrated pursuit of an NBA title with the colorful, ego-filled Sixers that included George McGinnis, Lloyd (pre-World) Free, “Jellybean” Joe Bryant, Doug Collins and Dawkins, to name a few and his finally teaming up with Moses Malone to grab the brass ring with Philly’s sweep of the Lakers in 1983. It was one of the most dominant seasons in NBA history.

You can turn on dozens of TV channels every day in the 21st century, download images to your smart phone and feed on a steady diet of YouTube clips today that make flying to the hoop as routine as riding a bus.

But there was a time when such things were only the talk of legends.

“I always thought you never know who’s watching,” Erving said. “So you can do one of two things: Assume everybody’s watching or act like you don’t care.

“I always like to assume that everybody is watching. I’ve been far from perfect in my professional and private life. But what’s important is to have goals. I wanted to be good, to be consistent, to be dedicated.”

The Doctor shows how.
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Griner Wouldn’t Be Longest Draft Reach

HANG TIME, Texas – Never underestimate Mark Cuban’s knack for attracting attention. And who could blame him if the idea was to draw it away from his underperforming team that is ironically keeping a team of barbers on hold at the same time they’re about to cut off their string of consecutive playoff appearances at 12 years?

Should the Mavericks draft Brittney Griner?

Let cranky Geno Auriemma be outraged and throw bricks. Let former greats of the women’s game Nancy Lieberman and Ann Meyers Drysdale offer their words encouragement to the Baylor star. Let Griner give even the most outrageous hope and dreams to any little girl who has ever dribbled a basketball.

Let’s face it. The Mavs selecting Griner wouldn’t be the first unusual pick in the history of the NBA draft. And before you snicker, remember that somebody took Pervis Ellison, Greg Oden, Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi No. 1. Here’s a reminder of a few others off-beat choices down through the years:

JIM BROWN (Syracuse Nationals, 1957 ) – The Nats didn’t have to reach outside the city limits to take a flyer on the guy who would become perhaps the greatest player in NFL history. Brown played four college sports — football, basketball, lacrosse and track — at Syracuse. He even averaged 15 points a game for the basketball team in his sophomore year. But even though there was little doubt that Brown was bound for a career on the gridiron, the Nats made him a ninth-round pick.

Other notables in draft: “Hot Rod” Hundley (No. 1 overall by Cincinnati, traded to Minneapolis); Sam Jones (No. 8 by Boston).

FRANK HOWARD (Philadelphia Warriors, 1958) – It wasn’t just his physical stature at 6-foot-8, 275 pounds that caught the attention of the Warriors in the third round. He could really play and was an All-American in basketball at Ohio State. But baseball was Howard’s first love and he signed with the Dodgers and had a 15-year career in the majors, hitting 382 home runs with 1,119 RBIs.

Other notables in the draft: Elgin Baylor (No. 1 overall by Minneapolis); Hal Greer (No. 13 by Syracuse).

BUBBA SMITH (Baltimore Bullets, 1967) — Long before he became known for playing the role of Moses Hightower in the Police Academy movies and starring in Miller Lite commercials, the 6-foot-7 Smith was an All-American defensive end at Michigan State. His height attracted the attention of the Bullets in the 11th round of the NBA draft, but Smith was the No. 1 overall pick of the NFL Colts and a champion in Super Bowl V.

Other notables in the draft: Earl Monroe (No. 2 overall by Baltimore); Walt Frazier (No. 5 by New York).

BOB BEAMON (Phoenix Suns, 1969) – Who could blame the Suns for taking a flying leap? After all, they were coming off a 16-66 record in their expansion season in the league and Beamon had just shattered the world long jump record by more than a foot at the Mexico City Olympics. Beamon had grown up playing street ball in New York, but was strictly a track and field athlete in college at Texas-El Paso. The Suns picked him in the 15th round of the draft, but he went back to school and graduated with a sociology degree from Adelphi University.

DENISE LONG (San Francisco Warriors, 1969) — The 18 year old out of Union-Whitten High in Iowa was the first woman ever drafted in the NBA, taken in the 13th round. She had averaged 69.6 points and had a single game high of 111 points in her senior year. NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy voided the pick, calling it a publicity stunt by Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli and also noted that high school players weren’t eligible at the time. Mieuli brought Long and other female players in to play before Warriors home games.

Other notables in the draft: Lew Alcindor (No. 1 overall by Milwaukee); JoJo White (No. 9 by Boston); Mack Calvin (187th by L.A. Lakers).

DAVE WINFIELD (Atlanta Hawks, 1973) – It wasn’t just the Hawks who were trying to get their talons on one of the greatest all-around college athletes ever with their fifth-round pick. He was also drafted by the Utah Stars of the ABA and the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL, but went to baseball when the San Diego Padres chose him as a pitcher. In college at Minnesota, Bill Musselman once called him the best rebounder he ever coached. But Winfield did quite well in baseball, a 12-time All-Star with 465 career homers.

Other notables in the draft: Doug Collins (No. 1 overall by Philadelphia); Kermit Washington (No. 5 by L.A. Lakers).

BRUCE JENNER (Kansas City Kings, 1977) — Before face lifts and the Kardashians, there was a time when Jenner was known as the “world’s greatest athlete” after taking the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and the Kings made him a seventh-round draft pick. He never played in college and the closest Jenner ever got to basketball stardom was when he sank a shot during the singing of YMCA in the 1980 movie Can’t Stop the Music, which starred the Village People.

LUSIA HARRIS (New Orleans Jazz, 1977) – Here’s the real forerunner to Griner. A 6-foot-3 pioneer of the women’s game who led Delta State to three consecutive national titles, Harris was the second female ever drafted by an NBA team when the Jazz made her a seventh-round pick. Just imagine the show if she had been given a chance to team up with Pete Maravich in the backcourt. Harris showed little interest in her selection and declined a tryout invitation from the Jazz. It was later revealed that she was pregnant at the time.

Other notables in the draft: Bernard King (No. 7 overall by New York Nets); Jack Sikma (No. 8 by Seattle).

TONY GWYNN (San Diego Clippers, 1981) — After he set the San Diego State assist records for a game, season and career, he was hardly a reach for the Clippers in the 10th round of the draft. Gwynn said that dribbling strengthened his wrists and helped with bat speed and his on-court quickness made him a better base-runner. It all added up to a Hall of Fame baseball career with 3,141 hits and eight N.L. batting titles.

YASUTAKA OKAYAMA (Golden State Warriors, 1981) — Tallest player ever drafted by an NBA team? Not Yao Ming or Gheorge Muresan or Manute Bol. Try Okayama, who was 7-foot-8. He earned a second degree black belt in judo in his native Japan and began playing basketball at age 18 at Osaka University of Commerce. Okayama attended the University of Portland (Ore.), but did not play there. He was a member of the Japanese national team from 1979 to 1986. He never signed with the Warriors or attended a camp.

Other notables in the draft: Mark Aguirre (No. 1 overall by Dallas); Isiah Thomas (No. 2 by Detroit).

CARL LEWIS (Chicago Bulls, 1984) — It might have been the year when Michael Jordan earned his first gold medal, but Lewis was definitely the biggest star of the L.A. Olympics, tying Jesse Owens’ record of four track and field gold medals. Though he never played basketball in high school or college, a West Coast scout recommended drafting Lewis in the 10th round because he was “the best athlete available.” That same year the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the 12th round as a wide receiver. Lewis stayed with sprinting and the long jump to become arguably the greatest track and field athlete ever.

Other notables in the draft: Hakeem Olajuwon (No. 1 overall by Houston); Michael Jordan (No. 3 by Chicago); Charles Barkley (No. 5 by Philadelphia); John Stockton (No. 16 by Utah).

25 Years Ago: Pete Maravich Dies At 40

 

The best anniversaries get celebrated. Others get commemorated, observed or simply remembered. This is one of those.

Twenty-five years ago on this date, “Pistol” Pete Maravich died suddenly after a pick-up basketball game in Pasadena, Calif. He was 40 years old.

Lots of great things in NBA history happened on Jan. 5. Wilt Chamberlain scored 50 or more points on that day for four consecutive seasons (1960-1963). Magic Johnson dished 22 assists against Philadelphia on Jan. 5, 1983, then Nick Van Exel (1997) and Rajon Rondo (2011) pushed that to 23. Hall of Famer Alex English was born on Jan. 5, 1954 and four-time All-Star Spencer Haywood made his NBA debut on that day in 1971.

Maravich’s plans for Jan. 5, 1988, though, were hardly memorable, his expectations low, as Bill Dwyre writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Everything seemed normal that morning in the gymnasium at the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena. Maravich had flown in from his Louisiana home to do some radio work with James Dobson. Maravich had become a born-again Christian. Dobson was the nationally known head of Focus on the Family …

Dobson, 6 feet 5, was then 51, loved sports, was once captain of the tennis team at Pasadena City College and put together morning pickup basketball games at Nazarene on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This was a Tuesday, but it was a special day.

The guy with the scraggly hair and floppy socks was joining the game.

Maravich had been out of the NBA for eight years, his dazzling professional career curtailed after 10 seasons by knee injuries. But when he played, and particularly when he felt healthy, there was no better show and few more effective scorers: Across seven seasons – from his third with Atlanta through his fifth with the New Orleans Jazz – the scrawny, 6-foot-5 gunner averaged 26.1 points with 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.4 steals in 38.7 minutes.

He also averaged 23.1 field-goal attempts – a significant drop from the 38.1 he launched in three seasons at LSU, when he set the NCAA career scoring mark of 44.2 points. Maravich was a five-time NBA All-Star who became the youngest person elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1987, and he still ranks among the NBA’s top 100 in several career categories (field goals, shots, free throws, assists per game), including 20th at 24.2 ppg.

None of that, however, even scratches the surface of the showmanship Maravich brought to the court as a ball handler and passer. “A white Globetrotter,” Dwyre called him. And there was this:

He could spin the ball on his fingertip and dribble between his legs and behind his back as routinely as he could walk. His shooting range was anywhere inside the gymnasium.

A recent article by Yahoo.com’s Jeff Eisenberg quoted former Georgia guard Herb White on the challenge of guarding Maravich, especially with the myriad screens set by LSU teammates.

“It was like trying to catch a housefly in a really dark room full of refrigerators,” White said.

No one harbored ambitions like that when Maravich, Dobson, former UCLA center Ralph Drollinger and three others picked sides for some 3-on-3 action in Pasadena.

“Pete was the same,” says Drollinger, who was 34 at the time. “Droopy socks, floppy hair. I always said you couldn’t guard him by watching his hair. It always went the opposite way of his body.”

They played three-on-three for about 20 minutes and took a break. Drollinger walked to a drinking fountain and then Maravich — standing near Dobson, and just after proclaiming “I feel great” — collapsed. There were a few seconds, Drollinger says, “when we all thought he was faking, just joking.”

You can’t fake foaming at the mouth, and soon, Dobson and Drollinger were doing CPR.

Maravich was gone. The trip to St. Luke’s Hospital and two-hour wait was a formality. An autopsy, Dwyre wrote, revealed that Maravich, that whippet-thin court magician, had racked up all those minutes and highlights without a left coronary artery in his heart. His right coronary enlarged and ultimately gave out.

When the NBA named its Top 50 players in 1996, all of the league’s legends were alive – George Mikan, Dolph Schayes, Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Chamberlain and on and on – and most of them showed up at the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland. Except for Maravich, who was represented by his sons.

The Top 50 team was linked to the NBA’s debut a half-century earlier (1946-47), part of an anniversary that truly was celebrated. The one on this day in 2013 is better off commemorated or simply observed: “Pistol” Pete Maravich, R.I.P. (June 22, 1947 – Jan. 5, 1988).

Offended By Needless ‘Big Mac’ Points? Find A Way To Stop ‘Em Earlier

CHICAGO – The problem with the end-of-game, scoreboard-related promotion at United Center isn’t that fans can turn their ticket stubs into Big Macs after any game in which the Bulls score 100 points.

The problem is that a giveaway more in line with the team’s character would be better suited. Say, fans qualify for said burger whenever coach Tom Thibodeau‘s hounds hold the opponent to 85 points or less.

But we live in a big-round-numbers world, so scoring 100 points it is. Which, in the aftermath of the Bulls’ 99-93 home victory over Orlando Tuesday, shouldn’t be any problem at all – or source of controversy — for Chicago or center Joakim Noah. Or, for that matter, any Magic personnel who have their shorts in a bunch.

So Noah launched a needless 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the victory (he explains what went wrong with it above), rather than letting the clock run out. So he was embarrassed, maybe, over missing a free throw 20 seconds earlier that could have clinched the fast-food menu item for the 21,216 sellout crowd – and the fact that teammate Kirk Hinrich missed two foul shots with 10 seconds left to further disappoint the fans.

So the Orlando Sentinel sought out Magic players like J.J. Redick, who felt Noah’s heave was “unnecessary.” And Ish Smith, who said the Orlando players “noticed.”

So what.

Noah apparently got an earful from Thibodeau, though the coach wouldn’t tell reporters after practice Wednesday what was said. After the game, Noah — who plays passionately and connects with fans in ways many of his peers do not — already was sounding more sheepish, as per an ESPNChicago.com report:

“I got caught up in the moment,” Noah admitted after the game.

Despite the fact the Bulls had won, many fans booed the team as the final buzzer sounded.

“I regret it a little bit,” Noah said. “It wasn’t a good shot.

“You have to respect the game because you never know what can happen in a game. I just got caught up in the moment and I was trying to get the people a Big Mac. They really wanted a Big Mac [judging by how loud the crowd was getting] and I felt like, not only did I take the shot and miss the shot, we didn’t even get the Big Mac. Next time, I won’t take that 3-pointer.”

That’s fine. That’s a personal call or might even qualify as a team rule — though some fans surely will boo and go home grumpy after that decision, too.

What isn’t needed is scolding or chiding of Noah or any other player who similarly “goes for it” at such a silly scoreboard threshold. Management cut that 100-points sponsorship deal for a reason. The revenues it brings in from McDonald’s all go in the big pile of money of that NBA owners, staff, coaches and players divvy up. This isn’t anything new, by the way; this correspondent attended a Suns-Jazz game in New Orleans in 1977 where the Superdome crowd began chanting “FRENCH fries! FRENCH fries!” when Pete Maravich & Co. got close to what back then surely was 120 points or so as the goal.

It gives fans who pay royally for tickets something extra for which to cheer — especially in games where injuries keep Derrick Rose or Jameer Nelson and other names out.

In this case, it all backfired, as noted in The Point Forward blog on SI.com:

The funniest part here: Noah goes home with everyone mad at him. The Magic think he’s a poor sport. His coach thinks he should know better and show more professionalism. And, perhaps most importantly, Bulls fans go home upset that he didn’t even hit the shot to deliver the goods. Brutal.

Enough, though, with these so-called “unwritten rules” designed only to save face for the losing team. They stop trying, so the winners are required to stop trying as well? Yeah, that’s great competitiveness.

If a team puts such a promotion in — and cashes the checks — it ought to honor and go for it. Keep the fans’ feeling a part of things, and throw ‘em a burger for their troubles. As for the Magic or any other losing side getting all sideways, they’d do well to heed the view of a longtime respected NBA coach.

Asked how he felt about the alleged insult of a late 3-pointer in a lopsided game – or any perceived attempt to run up a score that no longer matters – his response was: “Stop ‘em then. You ought to feel worse about the points that got them there.”

Orlando lost again 24 hours later in Minnesota. It got beat by 15. But at least the Timberwolves only got to 90.

Wilt Stamp Takes Lickin’, Keeps Tickin’

***

It probably would be seen as a cheap shot to write something like, “Contrary to NBA Hall of Famer Karl (The Mailman) Malone, the United States Postal Service is failing to deliver …”

Those of us here at the Hideout never would want to (ahem) antagonize any situation by assigning blame for anything. So let’s just say that, like a lot of husbands who wind up sleeping a few nights on their couches, the USPS is about to let an anniversary slip by without acknowledgement.

Less than two months from now, the NBA and hoops enthusiasts around the globe will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the most astounding single performance in league history: On March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain led the Philadelphia Warriors past the New York Knicks on a neutral court in Hershey, Pa., 169-147. Al Attles and the other Warriors combined to score 69 points. Chamberlain got the other 100.

It is a record that stands to this day – a grand, round number for one of the biggest performers ever in sports (never to have run in the Kentucky Derby, anyway). The Dipper’s Herculean feats and outsized personality seemed ripe for him to be honored by casual fans and the culture at large, and what better way than to put his image on a first-class U.S. postal stamp?

That was the passion that moved Donald Hunt, longtime sportswriter at the Philadelphia Tribune in Chamberlain’s hometown, to throw his support into a campaign to get the big fella so honored. An online petition sprang up to lobby the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee at the USPS’s own hideout in Washington, D.C. Stories appeared here at NBA.com, as well as in USA Today, the mainstream Philadelphia media and elsewhere.

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Wolves Set Up To Howl Once Again?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If you put your ear against the wall outside the Target Center, you can still hear the calliope music coming from inside. The Timberwolves’ merry-go-round continues.

Ricky Rubio is coming and Kurt Rambis might be going and that means the latest redevelopment project in downtown Minneapolis is back on track, assuming that general manager David Kahn doesn’t take another point guard in the Draft.

But seriously, after two years of running in a knee-deep snow with back-to-back records of 15-67 and 17-65, is it possible that Kahn’s vision for the Wolves comes from some place other than acute hypothermia?

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