Bad Timing, Bad Credit, Bad Manners, Badass and Loving Tributes
By Peter Vecsey
About a year ago, 15 book editors thoroughly rejected my introductory (the operative word) submission—four expansive Michael Jordan chapters, three elongated on Larry Bird, a protracted section on Rucker Park, which deals essentially with Julius Erving playing four summers with my organized-and-coached Westsiders team (beginning after he left the University of Massachusetts and before his rookie year with the Virginia Squires) and descriptions of what else would be delivered.
Clearly, my proclivity for procrastination cost me dearly. Although I’d begun writing about Jordan years before ‘The Last Dance’ undraping, by the time I presented a proposal (with promises of revelations that I concealed for fear anyone casting eyes on such juicy substance could be tempted toward leaking and/or larceny), the prevailing feeling was people, though titillated and entertained, were marinated with Michael.
No hard feelings. Truly!
Except that people hadn’t read or heard nearly the whole truth concerning many issues raised (or not) by Jordan’s production plagiarists. So many of David Halberstam’s compositions were used without a speck of credit, as if it were crisp. And then you had a horde of hacks and stagehands pretending to be telling untold tales.
With one irrefutable exclusion! Sam Smith, who scripted The Jordan Rules! Minus his unpaid, copious contribution, ESPN’s credibility would’ve reeked exhaustively.
Equally enlightening, with all due immodesty, ‘The Last Dance’ was missing what I have on recall to disclose. Hence, the title of my unpublished database, “Save the Last Dance For Me.”
A few weeks following the unified brushoff, the most disapproving editor granted me and my agent a requested audience in the backyard of his Sag Harbor home. I asked him to illuminate the decision for his unembellished deficiency in enthusiasm.
The answer can be found by re-reading the second paragraph.
His additional message apropos to a reboot was a theme was required. Disconnected subject matter, no matter how regal or rambunctious its subjects, didn’t grab him…in spite of the plain fact the book was about my 50-year plus career covering professional basketball.
Seems like everybody I chose to write about can’t help but be connected. After all, my dots are my own, as are my news breaking stories complete with background congruency, behind-the-screen revelations about NBC, the Daily News, the New York Post, The National, TNT, NBATV, CBS, USA Network, and major mistakes I committed. I’d love to teach an unconventional ethics college course incorporating every lapse of judgment I ever made, as well as life as a columnist crisscrossing the blurry divider between work and working at being a playa.
Toward the conclusion of our cordial consultation that lasted maybe an hour or so, the editor firmly stated he found my manuscript suggestion of pure anecdotes purely unappealing.
Moments later, the editor and my agent gushed about their ardor for ‘Loose Balls,’ a compilation of outlandish behavior by ABA members on all levels.
Irrespective of whether all the stories are true or false, it hardly represented what the red, white and through league was all about, it says here, an appearance that outrages its prominent players to this day.
So, what does an aspiring author do with the goods publishers don’t know, yet don’t desire, anyway? He finds an outlet (NBA Retired Players Association), unseals the spigot and releases some spicy stuff, courtesy of Charles Oakley.
The 50th anniversary, a couple days ago, of the Ali-Frazier bout at Madison Square Garden, for distinct reason, brought to mind a 54-minute phone conversation Oakley and I had ten years ago, in which he recounted a succession of fight stories he excelled in as an active and retired player.
Some have been told, no doubt, but not in such coarse terms.
Try the time Oakley slapped Charles Barkley in the face during a union meeting in Atlantic City during the ’99 lockout. Barkley made the mistake of mouthing off to Oakley about his position, then failed to keep a safe distance.
“I told him I was going to get him and I did,” Oak said. “He has most people fooled, but he’s full of shit! Sure, he was a talent, but he wasted a lot of it by not practicing hard, being out of shape or partying all night before a game. He says some really dumb shit on TV and in the papers, but basically kept his mouth shut on the court ‘cause he knew there were people like me who would close it for him.
“He don’t know shit, really, and he’s an asshole. I heard TNT wouldn’t put me in the same studio with him because people were afraid I would do something. I don’t hate him, but don’t come and put your arm around me or come within my reach.”
Things got real physical one day with Oakley and Tyrone Hill, then with the Sixers, who hadn’t repaid a 20G debt.
“We knew each other from Cleveland. He’s from Ohio (Cincinnati), I’m from Cleveland. He didn’t owe me the money from a card game as some writers wrote. I lent it to him when he couldn’t cover a bet in a dice game I was watching. After a while I got tired of listening to his excuses.
“The last straw was when he told me he couldn’t come up with the cash because he was going through a divorce. I told him you’re going to be going through a lot worse than that if you don’t give me my money.
“When we were in Philly soon after, I hit him while he was on the layup line. Then I had a ball boy deliver flowers to the locker room with a note that his mother had sent them for his funeral. The next time we played each other he called in sick. Larry Brown got hip to what was going on and made him pay me the 20G. He should’ve paid interest. I told him I should be doubling it.”
The best was yet to come. About five or six years after they’d retired, Oakley agreed to play in a pickup game in an Atlanta church. Normally, he wanted no part of such games because of all the complaining that goes on. Tyrone Hill was on the opposite team.
“We were killing ‘em, 8-1. Ty called for the ball on a play, claiming he was fouled. I told him ‘it’s not happening.’ He walked up on me like he was gonna do something and I hit him four or five times. Then you know what he did? He went to the people who ran the church and had them call the police.
“A warrant was issued for my arrest. They came to my apartment. He wanted them to put me in jail. It went to court and I had to pay the court costs, his lawyer ‘s fee and mine. A restraining order was issued and I was forbidden to come within 200-300 yards. The next summer I’m with M.J. at a Miami club and we’re 15 deep. And we spot Tyrone across the floor.
“Please do not touch that man, Jordan pleaded. “Please, do not touch that man.”
A fight with teammate Sidney Green occurred on a Knicks’ charter. There were roughly 30-35 people on board. Eddie Lee Wilkens and Pete Myers are in the back, and they start throwing grapes at Sidney, who’s in the front reading a book, Oakley related. “He gets up and comes to the back. ‘The next time I get hit I’m gonna come back here again and fuck you up,’ pointing his finger at the group. No sooner did he sit down then Pete fired another one and Green came storming to the back. I hit him a bunch of times. He returned to his seat bloodied. ‘When we land we’re going to finish this!’ Sid warned.
“We were headed to the team bus when here comes Sid, and he starts punching Pete, who’s taking some shots, but mockingly laughing all the same. ‘You weren’t this tough when Oak was whoopin’ your ass.’”
Anthony Mason and Oakley were good once they retired, but when they were Knicks teammates, they got into it all the time.
“He was always complaining about everything, always,” Oakley stressed. “The coaches couldn’t control him. This one day I told him to shut the fuck up. I wasn’t going anywhere. We fought the whole practice. Nobody tried to break it up, just let us go.
“Once during a Bulls playoff game, I told him during a time to shut the fuck up. Mase was tough but anybody ever see him take a charge?”
Oakley also reported when Don Nelson briefly coached the Knicks, sometimes he would play blackjack with Patrick Ewing, Chris Childs and Oak. Once, he won 100G at a single sitting. No, it did not factor into Nelson’s dismissal despite the team’s 34-25 record.
The primary reason was Ewing’s displeasure about Nelson making Mason the focal point of each offensive play, allowing him to decide where the ball was passed/shot.
Born yesterday, 99 years ago: Harvey Pollack
Today, four years ago, Ben Jobe passed.
March 4th was 24 years since Roger Brown died.
Scott Skiles and Reggie Williams celebrated their 57th birthday March 5th. Each played ten years in the NBA. Scott 600 games, Reggie 599. Scott, 16,789 minutes, Reggie 16,013. Scott, 11.1 ppg, Reggie 12.5.
Leroy Ellis was born March 10, Jim McMillian the 11th. Both attended Thomas Jefferson HS in NYC. They were teammates on the ’72 Lakers title team whose 33 straight wins record still stands. Ellis died June 2, 2012; he’d be 80. Jimmy Mac passed May 16, 2016; he’d be 75.
March 4th was 24 years since Roger Brown died.
So, there it is, a column featuring bad timing, bad credit, bad manners, a badass and loving tributes to some lovely people.
You couldn’t have enjoyed it more if you were actually paying for it.