Posts Tagged ‘Rudy Tomjanovich’

Throwing down wouldn’t be manning up despite pounding on Clippers’ Griffin

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters talk about the physical play on and from Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin doesn’t need my advice. Fact is, the way he has played this season for the Clippers, both with and without Chris Paul, he doesn’t need much more than the essential advice his new coach, Doc Rivers, gave him when he encouraged Griffin to rotate 180 degrees and face the basket, rather than backing down into the low post. That transformation has been responsible for the Clippers’ rise as a contender and vaulted Griffin into MVP discussions (for the Nos. 3-5 ballot slots, anyway).

But there has been an incessant chorus over the past two months – and this is my nomination for the NBA’s 2013-14 Damn Foolishness Award – that Griffin needs to go medieval on some of his opponents’ rear ends.

Pray that it does not happen.

Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and ESPN columnist Michael Wilbon all have encouraged Griffin to varying degrees to man up, square off and throw down the next time he gets a cheap-shot or abused physically in a game. That’s right, they’re advocating fisticuffs. Going hockey goon on his own behalf allegedly is the only way Griffin can put a stop to the occasional takedowns and extracurricular skirmishes that somehow, despite his monster season, are said to be retarding his growth.

Malone, who cut a chiseled figure not unlike Griffin during his 19-year Hall of Fame career primarily for the Utah Jazz, shifted that conversation into high gear last month while sitting in on an ESPN game broadcast. Said Malone: “First thing I’d do [is say], ‘Blake, the next time one guy cheap shots you, just lose your mind. I would pay your fine. Lose your mind, run roughshod.”

Sounds like a new-millennium version of Sheriff Andy Taylor giving Opie the bully talk, right? Don’t let him take your milk money, son, give him the ol’ knuckle sandwich. Except that those knuckles hang bare at the ends of long, rippling arms, on a guy who stands 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds.

Black eyes are one thing. Major reconstructive surgery and maybe even manslaughter are quite different.

There’s a romanticizing that goes on when former NBA players look back on their days in the trenches, on the abuse they dealt and endured and on the reputations some of them crafted as enforcers. Maurice Lucas often gets regarded as the league’s unofficial undisputed champion of mean, owing both to some legit skirmishes (Artis Gilmore, Darryl Dawkins) and Luke’s withering glare.

But anyone who remembers or has seen the footage of Kermit Washington‘s fist driving violently into Rudy Tomjanovich’s face in December 1977 still can feel in his or her gut the sickening aftershocks of The Punch. The Malice at The Palace melee in November 2004 between the Pacers and the Pistons remains a sore point and image problem for the league, a decade later.

And that wacky videotape of Barkley and O’Neal going WWE on each other under the basket – a staple of the “Inside the NBA” studio banter – would be rated NC-17 and aired far less often if Shaq’s big ol’ paw actually had smashed flush into the Chuckster’s mug.

Chuck might look a little more like Cher right now, too.

No ring, no gloves? No skates, no helmets? Then no way. Goading Griffin into mayhem – Wilbon likened it on his “PTI” show to a pitcher whizzing a fastball high and tight near someone’s ear hole – is reckless because the romanticism of how those moments have gone for some old-schoolers neglects the physics of how badly the next bout might actually go.

Griffin – who addressed his wise reluctance to muscle up on those who initiate the cheap stuff, in a post by our Jeff Caplan coming out of All-Star weekend – could wind up seriously hurting someone or getting hurt himself. Malone says he’ll pay his fine, but would The Mailman be willing to serve Griffin’s time (and pay his salary) if he got hit with a 5- or 10-game suspension? How ’bout if things got really ugly and the Clippers star wound up in jail?

Or worse still (gulp) ended an opponent’s career? Flailing some elbows or sneaking in rabbit punches (a Malone favorite) aren’t likely to achieve the desired effect of sending a league-wide message to “Back the bleep off Blake!” Yet balling up and throwing fists the size of canned hams could escalate it into something ugly and irreversible. No, Griffin’s best tactic is the one he’s been deploying: Bang away within the rules, bristle at any undue rough treatment so the referees are on notice, then laugh all the way to the free-throw line.

Griffin is not soft. He has nothing to prove in that area. And he, the Clippers and the NBA have plenty to lose if he heeds irresponsible advice.

Damn Foolishness, I tell ya. You got a nominee for this NBA season? Have at it in the comments below.

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.

Jordan’s First Retirement, 20 Years Ago, Hit NBA Hardest

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It was 20 years ago today, Michael Jordan said he wouldn’t play…

Hmm, nothing very lyrical about that. More like Sgt. Peppers Broken Hearts Club Band.

As anniversaries go, this one may have lost some oomph after two decades because, sooner rather than later, it lost its exclusivity. Jordan, the consensus pick as the greatest NBA player of all time, eventually would make that same statement again, and then again. But when he dropped the news on the sports world and the American culture on Oct. 6, 1993, that he was retiring from the Chicago Bulls at age 30, no more pebble-grained worlds to conquer, as far as any of us knew, he meant it.

That was it. One and done.

“I didn’t understand it,” Hakeem Olajuwon said a few days ago, looking back across time. Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets’ Hall of Fame center, and Jordan were born 27 days apart. They famously entered the NBA in the same 1984 draft. When Jordan stepped away, it was Olajuwon’s Rockets that stepped up to win consecutive championships. As the 1993-94 season approached, the two stars were in their primes, nine seasons into their treks to Springfield, Mass.

“It was more of a drastic decision,” Olajuwon said, “where I couldn’t imagine that he was comfortable to walk away for life. So I was surprised.”

Jason Kidd was a 20-year-old sophomore at Cal, one more college basketball season away from being drafted into the suddenly Michael Jordan-less league.

“As a guy you looked up to and wanted to be like, here he retires,” said Kidd, also Hall-bound and now the Brooklyn Nets’ rookie head coach. “Now you’re saying ‘The best has left the game,’ and you’ll never get to guard him or play with him. That was disappointing.”

Jordan’s decision to quit the NBA after capturing three consecutive championships with the Bulls from 1991 to 1993, earning three MVP awards and three Finals MVP trophies and winning seven scoring titles was harder to absorb and believe than it was, upon reflection, to understand. He had lived life, for most of his pro career anyway, at a fever pitch, with nonstop basketball commitments, the pressures and obligations of being the game’s most dominant player, the Olympics and other offseason endeavors, and the time and commercial demands generated by his unprecedented rise as a marketing icon and corporate pitchman.

Added to that, in barely a month after the Bulls’ ’93 title, was the loss of his father James Jordan, murdered in a roadside robbery. Then there was the ongoing speculation about Jordan’s golf and casino-style gambling habits, and his alleged association with unsavory characters who might have dragged down not just the player’s integrity but the league’s.

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Hall of Fame Debate: Tom Heinsohn

Tom Heinsohn is already in the Hall of Fame. That is, as a member of the Class of 1986 in tribute to 18.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, eight championships and six All-Star appearances in nine seasons as a Celtic, along with three starring years at Holy Cross.

The 2013 bid, now at the second and final stage of voting, is for his coaching career, which changes the dynamic of the debate.

Simply: Should Heinsohn join John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens, originally elected as players and later as coaches, as the only individual double inductees?

The 24 anonymous voters – former players, executives and college athletic-department administrators, media members, other “contributors to the game” – are charged with deciding based only on the category in question, not other work by the candidate. In Heinsohn’s case, his coaching credentials should be the singular issue, not whether he deserves to be in the elite sub-section with Wooden and Wilkens.

Whether the secret 24 stick to the singular issue, though, will never be known in a process that always includes the weighing of intangibles. Maybe the idea of putting Heinsohn in that rarefied air becomes an additional hurdle to clear. Maybe not. Maybe continuing to have a presence around the league, as a Celtics color analyst, does the trick. Maybe not.

Maybe he will be in trouble if his coaching record is judged on that alone.

Heinsohn was on the Boston sideline from 1969-70 until being fired 34 games into 1977-78. He won championships in 1974 and ‘76 and was voted Coach of the Year in 1973. The lifetime mark of 427-263 (.619) includes five Atlantic Division titles.

Having two titles and one Coach of the Year will obviously be mentioned prominently as votes are cast in advance of the April 8 announcement of the inductees. But, of the 16 former NBA coaches in Springfield, Mass., only Johnny Kundla of the Minneapolis Lakers (423-302) totaled fewer wins, and he won four championships and also coached the University of Minnesota for nine seasons. Tex Winter went 51-78 with the Rockets, but was enshrined in 2011 based on his work in college and as an NBA assistant.

How Heinsohn reached the finalist stage while Rudy Tomjanovich failed to make it out of the first round of voting will also remain a mystery. Heinsohn was 427-263 with two titles, “Rudy T” was 527-416 (.559) with two crowns in Houston (plus a gold medal in the Olympics and a bronze in the world championships), and yet only one of them advanced. Dick Motta (935-1,017, one title, one Coach of the Year), Bill Fitch (944-1,106, one title, two Coach of the Years) and Del Harris (556-457, one Coach of the Year) also failed to receive enough support in the initial balloting.

If Heinsohn gets in, the Tomjanovich candidacy for future years becomes much, much stronger.

The First 50 Years With Sir Charles

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When you walked into Charles Barkley’s little slice of the locker room, you might as well have stepped into a whole different world. It was a world where heads were shaved, complimentary tickets distributed, insults hurled, jokes told, social commentary delivered, reporters sent away sated and one of the best basketball players on the planet had to prepare himself for the next game. All of it seemed to occur in the space of five minutes.

“There will never be another player like me,” Barkley once said. “I’m the Ninth Wonder of the World.”

You know? He was right.

Here is Barkley, 13 years after lacing up his sneakers in an NBA game for the final time, more popular than ever as a television personality, opinionator and, well, just plain liver of life.

If Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday on Sunday felt like a royal occasion with seemingly everyone in the basketball world taking time to genuflect in the throne room, then Barkley’s, coming just three days later, has all the trappings of the morning after a keg party. In other words, a lot more fun.

The Chuckster’s persona — and at times, even his person — has almost grown large enough to be one of those floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and that’s actually the perfect image, full of hot air, constantly changing course with the wind and barely tethered to earthbound reality.

He says so many things, and it is our job to figure out which ones he really means. For in these ongoing best days of his life, it seems that everybody still wants to know the real Charles Barkley. Trouble is, the answer has always been a lot more complicated than the question.

During his playing days, was Barkley the obnoxious, overbearing sort who once charged toward the stands to spit on a boorish fan and wound up hitting an 8-year-old by accident? Or the sincerely apologetic type who responded by buying season tickets for the little girl and her family?

Was he the nit-picking critic that found fault in every single thing done wrong by his teammates? Or the selfless, ideal team players who charmed the socks off everybody in the locker room and at the same time lifted them to heights?

Is Barkley the fun-loving fellow who likes to joke and cajole his way through encounters with the media? Or the guy who would always tackle the tough issues of race and child-rearing with his whip of a tongue?

Remember the stir he created with a simple phrase: “I’m not a role model.”

How out of touch is that view today in an era of Tiger Woods, Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius?

His was the first voice you normally heard upon entering the locker room and usually the last you heard on the way out. And truth be told, for all the the times his teammates would roll their eyes at some of the things he said, that role of spokesman/court jester was one they needed him to fill almost as much as the slot as one of the greatest power forwards of all time.

“I know a lot of people say a lot of things about Charles Barkley,” his former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich once said. “But I’ve never seen a guy who loves this league more than he does. He follows the game. He loves the game so much.”

Who else but Barkley could sit there on the TNT set week after week on Thursday nights and be so outrageous? And who else but Barkley would constantly take the wildly popular show to new heights by allowing himself to be the constant butt of jokes.

There was the time Kenny Smith played the role of a bouncer controlling the velvet rope outside the “Champions Club” and kept taunting the ringless Barkley about the partiers inside.

“Hey Chuck, Zan Tabak’s in here,” Smith said laughing. “Look it’s Jack Haley, Chuck. Jack Haley!”

And, of course, there was Barkley paying his “I’ll kiss your ass” bet to Smith when the rookie Yao Ming hit the 20-point mark in a game.

Smith showed up the next week with a donkey in the studio, but only Barkley would have unthinkingly believed he had to actually pucker up to the back end of the four-legged ass.

He could have an MVP season and carry the Suns to the 1993 NBA Finals, grab a career-best 33 boards in single game (more than the entire opposing team) and, at an honest 6-foot-4 1/2, toil away to be the shortest player ever to lead the league in rebounding.

Mostly, Barkley could be himself.

Once, when pondering such a milestone birthday, he said: “I just want to be living the day after I turn 50.”

In that case, check in tomorrow when The Chuckster will still be living turribly large.

Olajuwon Honored At Legends Brunch

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HOUSTON
– It was Michael Jordan‘s birthday Sunday – in case you’re the one who hadn’t heard that by now – but it is Hakeem Olajuwon‘s “year.”

Olajuwon, the Hall of Fame center who spent nearly his entire career in the host city for the 2013 All-Star Weekend and led the Rockets to two NBA championships, was honored at the National Basketball Retired Players Association Legends Brunch as its “Legend of the Year.” He didn’t blow out any candles, but he did hear the applause and feel the appreciation of more than 1,000 attendees of the burgeoning event, sponsored by the retired players association now for 14 years.

Oh, and Olajuwon not only was selected No. 1, two spots ahead of Jordan, in the 1984 Draft. He beat him to 50 as well, hitting that milestone on Jan. 21.

The 6-foot-10 native of Lagos, Nigeria, who set standards for grace and footwork among the NBA’s great big men, Olajuwon famously transferred some soccer skills to hardwood when he picked up a basketball at age 15. In an acceptance speech that lasted more than 17 minutes – so much for “The Dream’s” image as a man of few words – he talked of his development under respected coaches such as Guy Lewis at the University of Houston and Bill Fitch and Rudy Tomjanovich with the Rockets.

But he also paid tribute to Ganiyu Otenigbagbe, who essentially discovered and molded his game in secondary skill. “I did not know the rules of basketball,” Olajuwon said Sunday, “but he gave me his job description: ‘Stay in the paint!’ “

The Legends Brunch traditionally honors former NBA players and coaches who worked in, hail from or shared some other connection with the All-Star city each year. The others honored for 2013:

Ambassador of the Year: Yao Ming. Yao’s foundation and his partnership with NBA China has enabled him to “build a bridge” between his homeland and the U.S. The 7-6 native of Shanghai, whose eight-season career was interrupted and cut short by foot and leg injuries, was introduced by current Rockets guard Jeremy Lin.

Humanitarian of the Year: Dikembe Mutombo. The shot intimidator and blocker who spent the last five of his 18 NBA seasons in Houston is renowned for his charitable works, particularly in his native Republic of the Congo. Mutombo credited Olajuwon, who preceded him to the NBA by eight years, with being the “key of our continent.” “You’ve become The Dream for winning championships,” Mutombo said, addressing his friend from the stage, “but you’re a dream for so many African players.”

Hometown Hero Award: Robert Horry. Horry, known as “Big Shot Bob,” was part of the Rockets’ title-winning teams in 1994 and 1995, then won five more rings with the Lakers and the Spurs. In an ironic twist, the former teammate who was supposed to introduce Horry – Sam Cassell, known for his motormouth tendencies on and off the court – needed an assist from TNT announcer and emcee Ernie Johnson because Cassell lost his voice somewhere during All-Star festivities.

Houston Rockets Lifetime Achievement Award: Tomjanovich. A five-time All-Star as a rockets player and coach of the two championship teams, Rudy T joked that when he was drafted in 1971, the NBA ranked fourth in popularity in Houston behind football, baseball and “bull-riding.” “Now the city is hosting its third All-Star Game,” he said.

Pioneer Award: Calvin Murphy. The flamboyant 5-foot-9 Hall of Famer took the stage after a video montage of career highlights was shown on screens in the ballroom, then said, “Boy, I was good.” The point guard from Niagara turned longtime Rockets broadcaster noted the difference in prestige that came with former NBA players no longer being referred to as “Old Timers” but rather “Legends.”

Lifetime Achievement Award: Clyde Drexler. Drexler, a 2004 Hall of Fame enshrinee and member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team,” grew up in Houston and gained initial fame teamed with Olajuwon in college on the “Phi Slamma Jamma” University of Houston team in the early 1980s. He returned to the city and to Olajuwon via trade in for the 1995 title run.

Drexler was the guy whose rookie season of 1983-84 in Portland was so promising – he had 10 All-Star appearances in his future – that the Trail Blazers opted to draft Kentucky center Sam Bowie at No. 2 behind Olajuwon, passing on you know who. That means Drexler, for the record, turned 50 last June 22.

A large number of familiar NBA names – from other Hall of Famers to role players – attended the brunch, including 2000 Sixth Man award winner Rodney Rogers. Rogers, 41, required the use of a wheelchair and ventilator after being paralyzed in an all-terrain vehicle accident in December 2012.

History Says Lakers Play Long Odds





History says the Lakers probably had to do something to save a season that was slipping away.

History also says that in making the switch from Mike Brown to Mike D’Antoni they might just as well be expecting to hit one of those half-court shots to win a car than to be hosting a victory parade next June.

Yeah, the odds are long.

In the previous 66 years, only three in-season coaching changes have produced an immediate championship. Then again, twice it happened for the Lakers, in 1980 and 1982.

However, if the focus is a little farther down the line — and D’Antoni is the right choice — the payoff could be down the line. There have been seven different replacement coaches and eight teams that eventually claimed NBA titles.

1956-57 — Alex Hannum, St. Louis Hawks — The Hall of Famer is more popularly known for leading Wilt Chamberlain and the Sixers in 1967, ending the string of Bill Russell and the Celtics at eight titles in a row. But Hannum replaced Red Holzman and interim coach Slater Martin as player/coach midway through the season. The Hawks lost to the Celtics in The Finals that year. But when he retired and went to the bench full-time, they beat Boston to win it all the following year. He was the only coach to beat Boston in the playoffs during Russell’s 13-year career.

1977-78 — Lenny Wilkens, Seattle SuperSonics — The Hall of Famer took over the reins for Bob Hopkins after the Sonics got off to a woeful 5-17 start that season. He put the spark back in the game with an 11-1 start to his regime and took the Sonics to The Finals, where they lost to the Bullets in seven games. The team featuring Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma and Fred Brown came back to claim Seattle’s only championship by beating the Bullets for the 1979 crown.

1977-78 — Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 76ers — Gene Shue’s talent-laden Sixers were upset by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1977 and then staggered out of the gate the following season with a 2-4 record. A Philly favorite as a Hall of Fame player, Cunningham got the first coaching experience of his career when he took over the controls. The Sixers with Julius Erving lost to the Bullets in the Eastern Conference finals in his first year, were beaten by the Lakers in the NBA Finals in 1980 and 1982, but finally broke through and it all when Moses Malone led a 4-0 sweep of L.A. in 1983.

1979-80 — Paul Westhead, L.A. Lakers – First-year NBA assistant coach Paul Westhead moved into the main seat 14 games into the season after head coach Jack McKinney suffered a serious head injury in a fall from a bicycle. The Shakespearean scholar got to cap of an amazing debut season when a fellow rookie named Magic Johnson jumped center, then piled up 42 points, 15 rebound and seven assists in the Game 6 Finals clincher at Philadelphia.

1981-82 & 2005-06 — Pat Riley, L.A. Lakers, Miami Heat – When Magic became disenchanted with Westhead and nudged him toward the door 11 games into the season, the Lakers plucked the former player turned broadcaster from behind the radio microphone to begin a Hall of Fame career on the bench. The untested Riley guided the Lakers to another NBA Finals win over Philadelphia, then won three more titles in L.A. in 1985, 1987 and 1988. After his cross country move took him to New York and then Miami, Riley the G.M. replaced Stan Van Gundy following an 11-10 start in 2005-06. Seven months later, Riley and Dwyane Wade for the Heat out of an 0-2 hole to beat the Mavericks in The Finals.

1991-92 — Rudy Tomjanovich, Houston Rockets — A year after he was named Coach of the Year, Don Chaney’s Rockets were stuck in a 26-26 rut and he was fired on Feb. 18. A reluctant Tomjanovich, then a team scout and assistant coach, had to be talked into taking the job. A season later he became the first coach in NBA history to take his team from the lottery to a division title in his first full season on the job. The local legend Rudy T then put enough spot-up shooters around Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to produce back-to-back championships for Houston in 1994 and 1995.

1996-97 — Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs – It was 18 games into the season when G.M. Popovich pulled the rug and fired coach Bob Hill. It was a move that was considered presumptuous and unpopular in some corners of town. But all was forgiven when he took a team with David Robinson and second-year forward Tim Duncan to the championship in 1999. Since that time, he has added Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to the lineup, three more titles and the beloved and cantankerous “Pop” is almost as much a part San Antonio lore as the Alamo.

Spurs See Tough-But-Teachable Moment




SAN ANTONIO – Gregg Popovich is always interested in teachable moments. But even he cringed that the lesson learned by the Grizzlies in blowing that whopping fourth-quarter lead in Game 1 to the Clippers.

“Every coach in the league talks about one of the worst lessons you can get is a big lead in the first quarter or the first half, because it’s a 48 minute game,” Popovich said following the Spurs practice on Monday. “We all know anything can happen and it’s happened to all of us. Every team has gone through something like that. It’s sometimes your worst nightmare.”

However, it can also a real teachable moment, a galvanizing experience that can pull a team together, redouble the focus and lead to better, bigger, even grander days.

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