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.”
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.
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…)
. 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 withAhmad Rashad: Michael Jordan” at 8 p.m. Bill Simmons’ interview with Russell, “Mr. Russell’s House,” will follow at 9 p.m., and Ernie Johnson’s interview with Charles Barkley, “Sir Charles at 50,” wraps things up at 10 p.m.
Russell carved out some time in his busy weekend schedule to visit with NBA.com. Here are some excerpts:
NBA.com: On a weekend when all of the start of the NBA are out, past, present and future, what’s the most common question you get from today’s players when they come up and talk to you and spend time with you?
Bill Russell: Is anybody really that old [laughing]? I like to respect the guys that are playing now in the All-Star games. I watch sometimes three games in a single night on the NBA package. The thing I like, is I watch to see what their agenda is and how well they carry it out. That’s how you can enjoy the games. There are a lot of accomplished players playing now. I think more than ever. Just to get a chance to watch them is a joy.
NBA.com: What makes them so accomplished, the skill level? Have they come that far over the years in terms of size and skill?
BR: When you talk about skill level, you can’t say the way they played in the 1950s and 60s. Skill level is based on how the game is played today. There are different fundamentals. When I played there was never a 3-point shot. Going to the hoop and dunking is commonplace now. It was not commonplace then. According to the rules today, the skill level is off the charts. And if someone wants the skill level to be based on the way they played the game 50 years ago, they’re a silly person. If you take the time to understand the rules, the skill level is there.
NBA.com: When you look at the evolution of some of the positions now, do you agree with the suggestion of some people that the traditional big man is one that seems to have really changed with the stretch fours and 7-footers that don’t play on the low block?
LeBron James, Bill Russell by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
BR: That’s a fallacy. The way the game’s played, when you have a unique player, whatever his position is, that’s where the game is going. When I was a kid growing up there was a guy named Hank Luisetti played at Stanford and he’s the first player to shoot one-handed with great success. I remember reading something at that time where a coach said if he ever catches one of his players shooting with one hand, they’ll never play another minute. But things change. And if you get a great player at any position, the game is copycat. Nowadays, your star is always your shooting guard. But if you come with a center that can really play, the game will revolve around the center. Or if you have a [power forward] who can really play, the game revolves around him. So the game changes according to who is playing. I have this thought, you never get to a place where you ask a player to play against a ghost … past, present or future. You can only play against the people that show up when you play. And so how you dominate that era, that’s the only thing you can say. Now if you’re talking about scoring, you can’t get past Wilt Chamberlain, so what they do nowadays is they ignore what Wilt Chamberlain did. They don’t even bring it up. The fact that one season he averaged 50 points a game. His average. So you now you talk about guys scoring 30 points or 35 points. And that’s a long way from his average. You talk about assists, Oscar [Robertson] averaged a triple-double. And now they’re talking about a double-double. So what you are doing is choosing which stats you want to emphasize and make that most important. The people that decide that really don’t know what’s going on. You talk about rebounding. Wilt averaged 22.9 rebounds for 14 years. Averaging almost 23 if you round it off, for 14 seasons. Now the leading rebounder might have average 12 or 13. Wilt and myself had over 20,000 rebounds. That’s 20,000 one at a time. If you’re going to talk about numbers, it has nothing to do with anything. It’s about how you dominate your contemporaries in the game. People that say look at the numbers, that means they don’t know what they are looking at. A guy can play and almost never do his numbers indicate how good he is. You have to watch him and see what he does. Is he a positive part of the equation for your team?
NBA.com: You said you watch up to three games a night. Who is the most dominant player you see now in the game, in terms of the things you talked about, not the numbers but impact on the game?
BR: Well, of course, at this point you start with LeBron James coming off the championship year. He’s a great player. A really great player. I think the way Kevin Durant gets his point is a big help, because he’s not always the first option. That makes a lot of difference. Before he got hurt, I thought Derrick Rose was really an important player. But I like to watch all of these guys and see what they are doing and see how it impacts their team play.
NBA.com: When you take a hard look at the players off the court, in terms of what they deal with as professional athletes, how drastic do you think that difference is compared to what you and your contemporaries had to deal with during your playing days?
BR: I have a lot of respect for these guys that are playing now because I look at the world they inherited. For example, to hold them to what happened when I was a young guy and what’s happening now is totally unfair. The world has changed. It’s changed completely in a lot of different ways. So to say, “Well, if those guys did this to make a way for you,” hey, the second and third generation, you can’t hold them to standards that are obsolete. All you can hope is they build on what went on before them and not just relax with it. Because if you relax with it, it’ll go away. (more…)
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.
SAN ANTONIO – For nearly two decades, there have been many different ways to describe the enduring success of the Spurs.
In the Alamo City, it’s known simply as Pop’s way.
It’s contentious and cranky, irascible and irreverent, insightful and often inventive.
Year after year, more than anything, it’s just winning.
Gregg Popovich was named the 2011-12 NBA Coach of the Year, the second time he has won the honor, once more validating a style and an attitude that permeates the Spurs organization.
“That’s probably overblown I’m sure,” Popovich said. “When you win a lot of things get attributed to you that you shouldn’t get full credit for and when you lose you get a lot of things you shouldn’t be blamed for.
“We’ve just been blessed with people who understand their priorities and are very team and community oriented. Our organization has also been blessed, as I’ve said many times, with incredible good fortune. If you can draft David Robinson and follow that up with Tim Duncan, that’s a couple of decades of very, very possible success unless you just screw it up.
“It’s hard to take credit when the circumstances have gone your way so consistently. There are a lot of people who have been in circumstances that have not been in their favor that would be just as successful in this situation, but just didn’t have the opportunity. So we don’t pay much attention to that.”
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.
But that’s the easy task. We here at Hang Time will do the heavy lifting and boil that down to our Top Five, including some changes:
No. 1: 1996 Chicago Bulls – Nobody’s really going to argue with the consensus top choice, are they? Michael Jordan fresh out of retirement and at the top of his game, joined by fellow future Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, the Bulls set the NBA record with 72 wins and outscored opponents by an average of 12.2 per game. These Bulls knew they were going to win every time they walked onto the court and usually were right.
Did you know about the Lakers’ humbling trip to the airport after being blown out in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals? I didn’t until I read this:
The Los Angeles’ title hopes had disappeared with one last embarrassing loss in the NBA Finals, leaving those on board the team’s bus to sit in stunned silence. As the bus started to leave the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston on that night two years ago, chaos quickly broke out around the Lakers. Boston Celtics fans had filled the streets to celebrate the franchise’s 17th championship, not far from a statue of longtime patriarch Red Auerbach smoking a victory cigar.
With traffic snarled and no police escort to take them to their hotel, the Lakers could do nothing but sit and stew. Before long, someone recognized Phil Jackson sitting in the front seat, and then the rocks began to fly. Revelers pelted the bus and shook it, mocking the Lakers at their lowest moment.
“It was painful,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “It is a feeling that I want to keep in my mind for every single minute that I’m out there playing them.”
This series won’t need any artificial drama enhancers added.
This is the Celtics-Lakers we’re talking about. The league’s two flagship franchises squaring off for the title for the second time in three years is a ready-made storyline in itself.
When it’s done, either the Celtics or Lakers will have won a title for the 33rd time in 64 title championship series.
Kobe Bryant and his crew know what’s at stake. You know Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the boys know what’s on the line.
It’s bigger than just this one series, this one title. It’s bigger than championship coaches like Jackson and Celtics boss Doc Rivers and All-Star players like Rajon Rondo and championship ring collectors like Derek Fisher.
It’s about etching your name and your team in the history books of not only these two franchises but the annals of the basketball.
There are already plenty of Hall of Famers that have put their signatures on the books in this rivalry.
We’ve gone from Russell and Cousy and West and Baylor to Jabbar and Magic and Bird and McHale.