Posts Tagged ‘Red Auerbach’

Can you imagine Kobe as a Celtic?

VIDEO: Closer look at Kobe’s biggest moments against the Celtics

Two decades wearing just one uniform. All those years and games and shots and heroics and histrionics in the purple and gold of the team he grew up idolizing.

Is it even possible to envision Kobe Bryant as anything but an L.A. Laker?

Well, close your eyes, clear you mind and try to think of Bryant as a — gulp! — Boston Celtic.

After a sizzling pre-draft workout and an impressive interview that included none other than the legendary team president Red Auerbach, the Celtics gave serious consideration to taking the high school phenom out of Lower Merion, Pa. back in 1996. But head coach M.L. Carr eventually opted for Antoine Walker or history could have been completely different.

Baxter Holmes of details the conversations and how the choice was made in a story that even surprised Kobe:

“That’s like the coolest thing I’ve ever heard, dude, because I grew up watching Red! You know what I’m saying? I read books about Red.

“I’ve never even known that he knew of my existence!”

Never mind that he calls the 2010 win over the hated Celtics the favorite of his five championships and that he even had trouble putting on the shamrock green practice gear of the Celtics for the workout way back then. Bryant said if Boston had drafted him, he’d have spent the past two decades trying to emulate the other side of the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry:

“I would’ve tried to carry on Bird’s legacy,” Bryant says without hesitation. “Absolutely. I would’ve done it with a tremendous amount of pride and honor.”

Bryant’s reverence toward Bird might come as a surprise to some, given the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, but Bryant says he studied Bird just as much as he did Magic and Jordan.

Anything specific?

“Timing. Reading situations. Tenacity with his teammates,” Bryant says. “I’ve really studied. That’s like the holy trinity for me — Bird, Michael and Magic. I really watched everything about them.”

And of Bird, Bryant says, “You have no idea how much I’ve studied this guy. Oh, man.”

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28

VIDEO: Fast Break from Dec. 27


Suns in disarray | James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm | The decline of Dwight Howard | A warm reception for Kobe in Boston?

No. 1: Suns in disarray — One loss to the lowly and previously one-win Philadelphia 76ers destabilized things in the Valley of the Sun. And the hits just keep on coming. The news that point guard Eric Bledsoe would need surgery to repair a torn meniscus and would be out indefinitely was followed by the reported firing of two assistant coaches (Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sicthting) in an effort to shake up Jeff Hornacek‘s staff. And Hornacek, who took a towel to the face from Markeiff Morris last week, is also reportedly on the hot seat. Just two years ago Hornacek had the Suns were on the edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and now it all appears to be on the verge of coming apart, as Marc Stein of reports:

Sources told on Sunday night that the Suns are promoting longtime NBA guard Earl Watson and former NBA D-League head coach Nate Bjorkgren to the bench to work closer to Hornacek and will dismiss veteran assistants Mike Longabardi, who was heading up Phoenix’s defense, and Jerry Sichting.

Earlier Sunday, first reported that the Suns’ 5-15 nosedive, including a home loss Saturday night to the 2-30 Philadelphia 76ers, had put Hornacek’s job security under immediate threat.

It is believed that the Suns are taking this measure instead to give Hornacek, who is held in high esteem by owner Robert Sarver, another chance to turn the club around.

But that figures to be difficult after the harsh news Sunday that star guard Eric Bledsoe is out indefinitely and will require knee surgery Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Sources told that the Suns, despite the organization’s well-known fondness for Hornacek, have been forced to contemplate a coaching change far sooner than they hoped because of a slide that has dropped them to 12-20 and 11th in the Western Conference. There is also a growing fear within the organization that the team is no longer responding to its head coach.

Phoenix began the season with playoff aspirations after posting records of 48-34 and 39-43 in Hornacek’s first two seasons and the offseason signing of center Tyson Chandler.

But the Suns have dropped 15 of 20 games since opening 7-5, seemingly bottoming out in Saturday night’s home loss to the Sixers as Bledsoe also exited with his knee injury in the second quarter.

Adding to the sting of the Philadelphia loss: It was the first game on the Sixers’ bench for former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired recently by new Philadelphia chairman of basketball operations and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to serve as associate head coach to Sixers coach Brett Brown.

“Obviously, it’s probably a low point for us,” Hornacek told reporters after the game. “Now the confidence is lacking.”


No. 2: James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm — Back-to-back losses has a way of raising the dander of LeBron James in the way little else can. As the leader of the superstar band in Cleveland, James never shies away from delivering critical analysis about his own crew. And after losing to the Golden State Warriors on Christmas and the Portland Trail Blazers a day later, LeBron vented his frustrations about his team’s lack of rhythm. Joe Vardon of has more:

The Cavs still lead the East at 19-9, but they’ve had a bad week, with problems deeper than perhaps their 2-2 record would indicate.

You could chalk it up to the knuckleball effect, which is, after trying to hit a pitcher who throws knuckleballs, it can take a big leaguer days to catch up to 95 mph fastballs again.

The Cavs hosted the 76ers – who won their second game this season – last Sunday. They haven’t played well since, needing to hold on for dear life at home against a Knicks team sans Carmelo Anthony and then suffering through consecutive porous shooting performances in these two losses.

Cleveland followed up its 89-83 loss to the defending-champion Warriors – in which the Cavs shot 31.6 percent – with a 28-of-77 clunker against the Blazers.

James is shooting 14-of-39 in his last two, with the 4-of-13 effort for 12 points he turned in Saturday night.

“Offensively we’re just in a funk right now,” James said. “We just got to find our rhythm.”

There’s that word again, rhythm.

James used it after the Cavs lost to the Warriors, when he said “it’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm.”

wrote in Oakland Christmas night to monitor this – James calling for Blatt to bring clarity to the Cavs’ rotations.

Last Sunday (when the Cavs faced the knuckleballer 76ers) was Kyrie Irving’s first game back. Iman Shumpert returned, too, after missing a game with a groin injury. The next game, against the Knicks, was Mo Williams’ first after two absences because of a thumb injury.

With all these players at Blatt’s disposal, the Cavs look discombobulated. No one disputes it and both James and Blatt said it’s to be expected, to a certain extent. And Irving didn’t even play against the Blazers, per the team’s decision to protect his surgically repaired knee from the rigors of games on consecutive nights this early in his comeback.

But Blatt said he spoke with his coaches after the loss Saturday about the impact the changing lineups was having on the team, and James had already taken it a couple steps further after the Warriors game, mentioning the lack of rhythm and continuity because of the uncertainty in Cleveland’s rotations.

Now, consider what James said about this very same topic on Saturday:

“For the first eight weeks we had built chemistry, we knew who was playing, we knew who wasn’t playing,” James said. “We had rotations, coach had rotations down, so we got to get back to that. We have no rhythm. Guys are, we have some guys who don’t know if they’re going to play, or if they are going to play, and it’s hurting our rhythm a little bit.”


No. 3: The decline of Dwight Howard The slow, physical erosion of the body and skills of one of the league’s best big men is real. Dwight Howard, the man formerly known as “Superman” to an entire generation of NBA fans, is no more. So says TNT and NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who lived through a similar fade during his star-studded career after he crossed over from young physical freak to mere mortal. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

The decline of Dwight Howard is one of the NBA’s most compelling developments. The onetime self-proclaimed “Superman” was for years a physical freak, the model of how a center was built and how a center defended.

Now 30, Howard is slowing down, bothered by years of back and knee issues. He doesn’t have the offensive effectiveness of past years and his durability has waned. So, what happens when physically gifted players lose a step, are no longer able to soar as they once did or defend above the rim?

Former NBA star and current NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who was a superb athlete coming out of Michigan two decades ago and played until he was 34, offered his thoughts on Howard.

“I wouldn’t just say this for Dwight, I’d say this for all players, me personally, I learned it from Karl Malone. You cannot stay in this game without skill,” Webber said. “Because after five years in this league you will no longer be the most athletic at your position. It’s impossible. That’s including injuries. You have to have more skill, you have to create value for those times you’re on the court.”

Webber said there are ways to compensate for a decline in athleticism by using intelligence.

“You have to maybe help defensively a little bit earlier since you can’t go up and get the blocked shot,” he said. “Some guys start taking charges or some guys just get out [farther] on the floor since they can’t move laterally anymore, maybe develop an 8-foot jump shot. You can learn how to make a move without dribbling because now you can’t just dribble by everybody anymore.

“You have to think the game through and just be that much more efficient. You won’t get the number of looks you have anymore. Mentally, you have to change and hopefully your skill set will allow that. If not, the game will pass you by.”

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for any NBA player is the deterioration of physical skills. For some it’s sudden, for others it’s gradual. The result is never easy to digest.

“It’s especially tough, for me going to Philly, a place that had a different [playing] style, that means you have to learn all over again,” Webber said. “If you’re Tim[Duncan], he’s one of the greatest players to have ever played this game, but because he’s allowed to age in a system.

“Let’s say with a Dwight Howard, his numbers are still incredible but you need a system around him that allows him to do that and those not just be wasted numbers. That can be wasted numbers on a team that doesn’t suit his system.”

The Rockets are one of the league’s more confounding teams, with a record hovering near .500 after reaching the West finals last season.

“Houston is the most disappointing team that we have in the league, more disappointing than the Philadelphia 76ers, and I don’t know if anybody can thrive in that system,” Webber said. “I definitely know it’s tough to age when the system does not include your age in the system.

“If I’m [Howard], I’m trying to offensive rebound a little bit more. If I’m him, I’m running right down the middle of the lane on a secondary break, posting up in the middle, and turning for a jump hook because you’re going to foul me. I’m going to put myself in positions where you have to get me the ball, and when I get the ball I’d be stupid to pass it back out. There’s ways, and he’s one of the best big men in the game still. He should be the second-most-targeted player on that team.”


No. 4: A warm reception for Kobe in Boston? The farewell tour for Kobe Bryant has had some interesting stops, to say the least. And nowhere is a fading Los Angeles Lakers’ legend loathed more than in Boston, where Kobe will visit for a final time (as a player) this week. But instead of a vicious chorus of boos, might Kobe be in for a much warmer reception from the Celtics loyalists? Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sets the stage:

It’s only Monday but already worth asking in a horribly mundane Lakers season: How will Kobe Bryant be received by fans Wednesday in his last game in Boston?

With Philadelphia out of the way, it could be the most attractive road game left on his farewell tour.

The setup started a few days ago, when Bryant revealed he listened daily to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” for two years because he wanted to remember the depth of the Lakers’ embarrassment in the 2008 NBA Finals.

Fans couldn’t stop singing it after the Celtics‘ 39-point Game 6 victory, so Bryant couldn’t stop listening to it.

He found his revenge two years later in the NBA Finals. Will Celtics fans be salty?

Lakers Coach Byron Scott, who battled Boston in three memorable NBA Finals in the 1980s, predicted a warm reaction.

“As much as the Celtics hate us and we hate them, I think the Celtics fans are some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world. I think they’ll give him the same type of respect that he deserves and that he’s been given everywhere else,” Scott said.

Perhaps a precedent was set when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played his last game in Boston in 1988. Abdul-Jabbar, 41 at the time, was given a framed slab of the Garden’s parquet floor by Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

Abdul-Jabbar also received a one-minute, 35-second standing ovation from Celtics fans that night. Scott was there as Abdul-Jabbar’s teammate.

“It wasn’t a standing ovation for [his] 20 years, but it was a standing ovation when he decided to retire,” Scott said, developing a one-liner. “Maybe that’s because he was whooping them so much.”

Fans cheered Bryant loudly in Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit and Toronto. They weren’t so kind in San Antonio, but he has another game there before bowing out.

He had not announced his retirement when the Lakers played in New York last month. Other notable road games for him include Sacramento on Jan. 7 and San Antonio on Feb. 6.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Clippers needed Paul Pierce to turn back the clock with Blake Griffin out for two weeks … Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon, 83, diesBradley Beal is expected to resume basketball activities this week for the Washington Wizards … The Golden State Warriors will get a first-hand look at the new and improved Sacramento Kings tonight … The future remains bright for Glenn Robinson III in Indiana …

Smitty’s Mt. Rushmore: ‘Coaches’

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

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

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

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

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

My basketball sensibilities simply won’t allow it.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I gave him my blessing.

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Ryan at one point on Bird:

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

And Ryan on officiating:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heat seek to join ‘three-peat’ history


It is a familiar part of the lexicon now, one used to distinguish the greatest of our sports champions.

A term coined by Byron Scott in 1988 and trade-marked by Pat Riley, it slides across the tongue as smooth as a scoop of ice cream and defines a dynasty as readily as a crown atop a monarch’s head.

But there is nothing at all easy about the three-peat.

When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat take the court Thursday night, they’ll be attempting to become only the sixth team in NBA history to go back-to-back-to-back as champs.

Here’s a look at Fab Five:

Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54)

“Geo Mikan vs. Knicks.” That was the message on the marquee outside Madison Square Garden on Dec. 14, 1949. It succinctly said everything that you needed to know about George Mikan, the man who was the NBA’s first superstar. In an Associated Press poll, the 6-foot-10 center was voted the greatest basketball player of the first half of the 20th century and he was later named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in league history. Mikan was such a dominant individual force that the goaltending rule was introduced to limit his defensive effectiveness and the lane was widened from six to 12 feet to keep him farther from the basket on offense.

However, Mikan still flourished and when he was teamed up with Vern Mikkelsen, Jim Pollard and Slater Martin, his Lakers rolled to three consecutive championships. The Lakers beat the Knicks for their first title in a series that was notable for neither team being able to play on its home court. Minneapolis’ Municipal Auditorium was already booked and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was at the Garden. With Mikan double-teamed, Mikkelsen carried the Lakers offense to a 3-3 split of the first six games and then in the only true home game of the series, the Lakers won 82-65 to claim the crown. The Lakers came back to beat the Knicks again the following year 4-1 and the made it three in a row with a 4-3 defeat of the Syracuse Nationals in 1954.

VIDEO: George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers dominate the early NBA (more…)

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.


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!

Ainge-Riley Feud Joins A Long NBA List


HANG TIME, Texas –
– The Hatfields and McCoys, Montagues and Capulets, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj have never had anything on the NBA. When it comes to feuds, there have been some dandies.

So when Pat Riley and Danny Ainge went lip-to-lip this week it was just the latest chapter. Here are just a few other memorable ones:

Danny Ainge vs. Tree Rollins

In a 1987 first round playoff game against Atlanta, the Celtics’ guard Ainge tried to tackle 7-footer Rollins of the Hawks. They wound up in a heap of bodies on the court and Ainge came out of the pile screaming with a gash that required two stitches from where Rollins had bit him.

The next day’s edition of the Boston Herald bore the headline: Tree Bites Man.

Joey Crawford vs. Tim Duncan

It was a 1997 playoff series when the bombastic veteran referee did not like that Duncan was laughing on the bench and challenged him to a fight. The league fined and suspended Crawford and banned him for working Spurs games for several years.

The pair has since patched things up. However Duncan and teammate Manu Ginobili were photographed in October at a Halloween Party where they aimed fake guns and guest dressed up as Crawford.

Clyde Drexler vs. Jake O’Donnell

The final game of the veteran referee’s career came on May 9, 1995 when he ejected the Rockets’ Drexler in the second quarter of a playoff game in Phoenix. The league suspended O’Donnell and he never worked another game. Drexler claimed that there was no previous history between the two.

But league sources confirmed that Drexler had been ordered to send a written apology to the ref following a 1989 incident when he played in Portland and had threatened O’Donnell prior to a game.

Red Auerbach vs. Phil Jackson

It practically became a running joke. Each spring when the Zen Master would close in on adding another championship ring to his collection, some mischievous reporter would dial up the former Celtics legend and let him vent.

“Three titles in a row don’t constitute a dynasty,” Auerbach would rant. “He had Michael Jordan and Shaq.”

Of course, Red had Bill Russell.

Jackson usually responded with a bemused smile and a zinger and ultimately that cap with the Roman number X for his 10 championships when he passed Auerbach’s total of nine.

LeBron James vs. Dan Gilbert

All it took was James announcing on national TV that he was taking his talents to South Beach for the Cleveland owner to vent all of his frustrations in a letter that accused LeBron of selfishness and “cowardly betrayal” and promised that his Cavs would win a championship before The King.

Well, so Gilbert is a better venter than prognosticator. He has since admitted that his childish actions were wrong and, besides, all we be forgiven if LeBron opts out of his Heat contract and returns to the Cavs in 2014.

Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kobe Bryant

So how many more championships could the Lakers have won in the early years of the 21st century if the two giants of the court had been able to make their huge egos squeeze comfortably into the same locker room?

Kobe thought Shaq was lazy. Shaq thought Kobe was a ballhog.
So they both were right. Then things got personal and nasty and out the window went any chance of a “four-peat.”

Pop The Rock Rolls Up On Win No. 900


HANG TIME, Texas — It’s no wonder most NBA coaches are constantly moving on the sidelines. Theirs is a peripatetic lifestyle, usually with one hand gripping a suitcase and one foot out the door.

Among many other things about his worldly background and his puckish personality, it is his stability that makes Gregg Popovich unique.

With a win tonight at home against the Jazz (8:30 ET, League Pass), Popovich will become the 12th coach in NBA history to win 900 career games, but will be the first to claim each and every victory with a single team.

Over the past 17 seasons, the Spurs have been Pop as much as much as they have been David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and the other 130 players who have worn the silver and black uniform.

In a league that is teeming with exceptional coaches — Denver’s George Karl, Boston’s Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, Memphis’ Lionel Hollins, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra — Popovich stands a step apart and above.

He is always the first and usually the last to tell you that it’s all about the players, but to a man, they will tell you he is the one whom they are all about in the way the prepare, work and attack every game and play.

When he sat at a makeshift table for a news conference last spring when he was named Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, Popovich’s face turned different shades of red. But it wasn’t for the usual reasons of screaming at a referee or boiling at another question from a reporter. He was, in short, embarrassed with the attention.

Pop’s Way. That’s what they call it around the executive offices and on the practice floor and in the locker room.

“It’s about us, not me,” he said, sheepish from the attention.

But year after year, season after season, it has been about him getting the most out of his team by being willing to change the pace of play — from slogging, powerful inside ball to Duncan to a microwave fastbreak that is sparked by Parker — but never his principles or his own personal style.

He just wears suits, doesn’t model them.

“They’re not Italian,” he told an inquiring mind years ago.

He doesn’t do TV commercials or endorsements.

“I refuse,” he said another time. “I’d rather spend time in other ways.”

Pat Riley, the Hall of Fame coach and stylist, once said the Spurs are “the most emotionally stable team in the league.”

That’s because it is a team in Popovich’s image. He picks the players, he builds the team, he molds them and has constructed a franchise that has always eschewed endearing to be enduring. It’s all added up to the best record in the Western Conference again, an NBA record 14 consecutive 50-win seasons, 16th straight trips to the playoffs and puts him on the doorstep of history, all in one place.

After 900 wins, Pop won’t be going anywhere but straight ahead. (more…)

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

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 Here are some excerpts: 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. 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. 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? 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. 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…)

Blogtable: Does A Coach Really Matter?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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.

Blogtable Week 3: The new-look Lakers | Does a coach matter? | Are the Clips legit?

How much difference can a good coach really make? It’s the players, right?

Steve Aschburner: The advanced-stats crews can probably decipher that a coach is worth somewhere between 3.6 and 11.2 victories per season, depending on their weighting of factors such as Xs & Os, offensive/defensive ratio, interpersonal skills and wardrobe. I think it’s more intangible, yet huge. A coach sets a team’s tone, and more important, establishes its edge and demeanor on and off the court. It’s like my old pal Al McGuire used to say, “A team reflects its coach’s personality — my team is obnoxious.” I believe that certain coaches are builders, others are closers, and you’d better have them matched up correctly with the right rosters. Yes, it is a players’ league. Yes, some coaches are accidental winners thanks to the talent around them. But fitting the right coach to the roster, to management and to the market is vital. Relatively rare, too.

Fran Blinebury: You’re kidding, right?  There really is more to it than unlocking the doors to the gym and rolling the balls onto the court. Philosophy, system, organization, motivation. Ask anyone who every played for, oh, Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley, John Wooden. If anyone could do it, I’d be firing wisecracks at Craig Sager during timeouts like Pop did instead of typing answers.

Jeff Caplan: I think a lot. Look at Rick Carlisle in Dallas, for example. So much of coaching is relating to players, running schemes that put them in position to succeed and allowing them to be who they are. Coaches who figure this out are very successful with different personnel groups. I think Rick Adelman is another. Look how he kept Houston competitive through all those Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady injuries and what he’s done with the banged-up Timberwolves.

Scott Howard-Cooper: Coaches make a difference, more than a lot of people realize. Sometimes it has to do with Xs and Os, sometimes it has to do with communication and motivation. Bad coaches can squeeze the life out of a locker room and fail to get players to execute. Good, or great coaches, can make the difference between a lottery team and a playoff team or even a playoff team and a championship team. It’s not just a roll-the-balls-out world.

John Schuhmann: It depends on the situation, because some teams need more coaching than others. Ultimately, talent is more important, but a coach can make the most of whatever talent is on the roster. Tom Thibodeau, with how he’s kept the Bulls afloat without Derrick Rose, is a clear example of how important coaching can be. But there are also certain kinds of players — a point guard like Jason Kidd in his prime or a defensive anchor like Kevin Garnett — that can make the same kind of impact on the floor.

Sekou Smith: A decent coach can make a huge difference, depending on the talent on his roster. But it’s not necessarily about a “good” coach but more about the “right” coach. We all know Doug Collins was and is a good coach. He just wasn’t the right coach for those Chicago teams that Phil Jackson led to six titles. Good coaching is one thing. Great coaching is another.