Bard Bluster

NBA Redux….

Like the husband who divorces his high school sweetheart after forty years of marriage, I don’t know when it was that I fell out of love with the NBA. Well maybe I do; and it came, as well, after close to forty years of being a devout fan.

From the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons to the Oklahoma City Thunder………. from the set shot to the windmill dunk………from guys named Max to guys named Darius……… from Bullets-Knicks in the 70’s to Magic-Bird in the 80’s, through Michael against everyone in the 90’s, I ate and breathed the NBA. There was a point in time when I knew where every player in the NBA had gone to college.

But beginning in the early part of this decade, I underwent a subtle change. At first, it was imperceptible. Soon it was undeniable. There occurred in short order a) the decline of the Knicks; b) the emergence of tattoos as required gear; c) an epidemic of arrests and other deviant behavior by star players (Chris Webber, Shawn Kemp, Ron Artest, Stephon Marbury); and d) a slew of max contracts to overrated players leading to outrageous ticket prices for a watered down regular season product.

During the past regular season, I watched hundreds of college basketball games and not one NBA game. The NBA and I were living apart.

But I put a big premium on nostalgia. And if anything could bring me back, it’d be a Lakers-Celtics final… And I’m back.

These teams embody the NBA. Between them they will have won thirty three of the sixty four championships. With the exception of the 90’s, when Jordan dominated the landscape, either the Lakers or the Celtics has made the most finals appearances in any decade.

This is the twelfth time they have met in the finals. The Celts lead 9-2. From 1962 through 1969, the Jerry West, Elgin Baylor-led Lakers lost to the Celtics six times, capped by Russell’s underdog triumph as player-coach in 1969 when a disgraced Wilt rode the bench for the final six minutes. The Lakers have been playing catch-up ever since; but since Russell’s Run, they’ve won the most league championships (10). West, who drafted Kobe Bryant in 1996 when he was President of the Lakers, is the bridge between past and present.

Since moving to LA in 1962, the Lakers have personified the glitz and glamour of their town. Boston has countered with toughness and tenacity. This contrast in style was no better exemplified than in the 1980’s when Boston employed roughhouse tactics to slow down the Lakers’ Showtime offense. It worked in 1984, but failed in 1985 and 1987. In 2008, the Celts again bullied their way to success.

This year’s match up continues the theme. To win, Boston must slow down the Lakers and beat them in the trenches. And they must shoot their lights out, as Ray Allen did in game two. But with Kevin Garnett on the wane and their other bigs lacking athleticism, Boston has to work too hard for its points. Despite the Celts’ gallant stand Sunday, the feeling here is that the Lakers’ length and athleticism will prevail against Boston’s will….. in six games.

The Unlistenables

John Wooden led as near-impeccable a life as any figure in modern sports history. He stands for every good quality in a player, coach, and educator. But his death Friday provided an opportunity for local sports hacks to revive the allegations that Wooden had unsavory ties with UCLA booster Sam Gilbert. Gilbert was rumored to have bestowed favors on UCLA greats during the Wooden era; and he probably did.

But neither Gilbert nor Wooden was ever cited for an NCAA violation; and under the rules in effect at the time, Wooden was virtuous.

Al Galdi, who chairs a Saturday sports show on ESPN 980, had the gall (or “Galdi”) to suggest that Wooden would not have been successful without Gilbert’s participation. He wondered why the press mentioned only Wooden’s good qualities, while others, such as Dan Snyder, were showered with negativity.

Steve Czabin, another dope, took more cheap shots at Wooden on yesterday’s “Sports Reporters,” gratuitously serving up the notion that Wooden “couldn’t win today.”

As any reader of this column knows, I have the lowest regard for Sportstalk 980. With the exception of the new 106.7 which, incredibly, has hired several Sportstalk 980 castoffs (Scott Jackson, Frank Hanrahan, and (choke) Brian Mitchell), Sportstalk 980 is the biggest assemblage of stiffs on the airways. But Galdi, in conflating Wooden with Dan Snyder, has taken the station to new depths. Such uninformed sputterings have no place on radio.

Are there no standards for Sportstalk hosts? Can any goof with a resonant voice and a working knowledge of sports get his own show? Is there a retired ex-Redskin who is not qualified to appear on the radio? Have you listened lately to Lavar Arrington or Brian Mitchell speak? How about a grammar test for these guys? The next, succinct declarative sentence these two ex-footballers utter will be their first.

I know Sportstalk 980 is hard-up for programming because on weekday nights when the Orioles don’t play, they re-broadcast the morning Tony Kornheiser show from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. If you happen to have listened to Kornheiser earlier in the day, this is a somewhat stale offering.

Then again, when you compare it to the musings of Al Galdi and some of the other local hosts, the Tony reruns don’t look so bad.

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The Cabinet of Dr. Calipari

Also chiming in to discuss his relationship with Wooden was John Calipari, who related a conversation he had during the NCAA playoffs with the Wizard. Wooden, Cal said, reminded him to limit his rotation to eight players. Notwithstanding Cal’s claim to friendship with Wooden, it’s hard to imagine two coaches more dissimilar in their approach.

Wooden bred doctors, lawyers, and professionals. Calipari breeds “one and dones.” His 2009-2010 Kentucky squad lost four freshmen to the NBA, including Daniel Orton, who hardly played. Prior hereto, no team had lost more than one freshman in any year to the professionals.

Calipari has demonstrated an uncanny ability to recruit the nations’ best point guards and big men. But it seems only a matter of time until his unsavory approach to academics does him in. Last week, it was alleged in the New York Times that outgoing Freshman Eric Bledsoe received improper financial and grade assistance during his senior year in high school.

Word is that Calipari has opened his recruiting cabinet and produced another outstanding freshman class for 2010. It remains to be seen whether damaging information about this group eventually leaks out of his woodwork.

An Imperfect Affair

Overlooked in the uproar surrounding Jim Joyce’s blown call at first to cost Detroit’s Armando Gallaragga a perfect game was Austin Jackson’s incredible catch for the first out in the ninth inning. Jackson ran to the deepest part of left center to haul in Mark Grudzielanek’s blast with a basket catch and his back to the plate, a la Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series.

Jackson, of course, came to the Tigers in a winter trade with the Yankees who received back Curtis Granderson. Once the top outfield prospect in the Yankee organization, Jackson is leading off for the Tigers and batting .325. “If he continues his work habits, he’ll be a great center fielder,” said Detroit skipper Jim Leyland. Jackson will earn 400K this season, Granderson 5.5 million.

With Granderson slumping and Brett Gardner demonstrating the ability to hold down center field, the Yankees might have been better off had they trusted their farm system and stood pat.

Even if Joyce had made the correct call, there’s a chance that Bud Selig would have invalidated the perfecto for another reason…….it was against the Indians.

Less than three years removed from leading Boston 3-1 in the ALCS, the Tribe has won fewer games than any team in the Majors other than the Orioles, who may have a better everyday lineup. Austin Kearns, who batted .217 and .195 for the Nationals in 2009 and 2009, respectively, bats third for the Tribe.

But all this losing should not come as a surprise. Their manager is Manny Acta, who in two plus years at the helm in Washington and Cleveland has a .385 winning percentage.

Speaking of Willie Mays, James Hirsch’s recently-published biography of the Say Hey kid “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend.” is one of the best sports biographies ever written, providing a lucid portrait of the complicated Mays and a vivid description of race relations during the 50’s and 60’s.

From the How Times Have Changed Department, Hirsch recounts how Mays broke up a 1963 16-inning duel between Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal with a home run. Both Spahn and Marichal threw more than 250 pitches. Mays is the only major leaguer to have hit a home run in each of innings one through sixteen.

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2 Responses to “Bard Bluster”

  1. barb gordon Says:

    ike. I enjoyed reading allthis even if I didn’t grasp it all. When will Cleveland win the World Series. I guess no time soon.

  2. Scott Jackson Says:

    For the record I was no castoff from 980 I left on my own for another job. Thanks for the mention.

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