Old Testament Pertinence & Impertinence
By Peter Vecsey
Joe Barry Carroll, beneficiary of two exceptionally-mean nicknames I don’t care to revive in this space, enlisted Julius Erving, to (hopefully) broker a truce over dinner after a Warriors game in Philadelphia.
Neither one of us knew the other was coming until it was too late to back out.
As one might expect, the atmosphere at the table was a tad tense throughout the first course, but by the second loaf of bread, we were actually on speaking terms.
JBC had a lot on his mind, whereas I was hard-pressed to talk about things unrelated to basketball.
I remember he said he was reading Howard Cosell’s book, which had only been on the shelves a short while.
“Who gave it to you?” I asked.
“What do you, man, who gave it to me? I bought it!” he harrumphed
“Before it came out in paperback?” I asked suspiciously.
“Why should that surprise you? Have you read it?”
“No, I haven’t. “
“You should. Did you know Cosell mentioned you in the book?”
“I doubt that. If he had, I think I would have heard about it.”
“No, really, he mentioned you. It had something to do with a column you once wrote where you knocked boxing.”
“That wasn’t me,” I explained. “You’ve got me mixed up with my brother, George. He writes for the New York Times.”
Joe Barry was visibly stunned by that information. After a few moments of dead air, he composed himself, leaned forward in his chair, and gasped, “You mean, there are two of you mother fuckers!!!”
Many a coach, in trying, perhaps subconsciously, to justify his existence, has the tendency, as Yul Brynner might have said, to make a silly complication of a pleasant simplicity.
Instead of merely dialing his superstar’s number when the team desperately needs help, certain coaches attempt to win the hard way, by diagramming elaborate potential game-winning plays for unconventional heroes.
Until Larry Bird asserted himself in the huddle and demanded the ball, this was precisely what K.C. Jones was planning to do during a timeout with two seconds left on the game clock when the Celtics trailed the Blazers by one during the 1985 season.
Instead of running his ‘need play’ for Bird, who wasn’t being paid $1.8 million (remember, this was ‘85) to be a bystander come the crucible of crisis, Jones was scheming to win or lose with Cedric Maxwell.
There’s no doubt this scenario would’ve outwitted a lot of people...in all likelihood, even Jones himself.
Bird calmly restored reason to Jones’ impromptu arrangement. He simply demanded the ball when Dennis Johnson inbounded it. So much for fancy floor plans, second or third options, or excuses if he missed.
With Jerome Kersey and Clyde Drexler wearing Bird like clam sauce, Larry Legend retreated to the dark corner of the Parquet Palace, faked, leaned in with his left shoulder, and let it fly as he backpedaled out of bounds.
The horn sounded before his 47th and 48th points softly settled in the macramé.
It isn’t often a player is permitted to take control of a huddle like that. Then again, it isn’t often you’ve got a species like Bird to depend upon. It was a credit to Jones that he listened to reason, then be man enough to admit he’d been overruled, sorta.
That reminds me of a similar scene during the final overtime moments in (deciding) Game 5, ‘84 playoffs between the Knicks and Pistons.
Badly in need of a basket, the Knicks called a timeout. Everyone gathered around Hubie Brown for directions. Instantly, he had his mechanical men breakdancing across his clipboard on a baffling maneuver. From the looks on his players, the Pistons weren’t the only ones about to be confused by Hubie’s brilliantly-conceived strategy.
As Hubie furiously explained things, a frantic Bernard King pulled Rick Pitino aside. In essence, he pleaded with the assistant coach to tell Hubie to just get him the ball and for everyone else to clear out.
Pitino quickly relayed the message.
“Okay, listen up,” Hubie instructed. “Run my stuff for 15 seconds, then give the ball to Bernard and clear out.”
For the record, Bernard’s shot counted for two.
As Yul Brynner might have said, “That’s why the Knicks were hailed, ‘The King and Them.’ “
Carmine Calzonetti was a starting guard for St. John’s in the late ‘60s on a team that boasted three future pros—Billy Paultz, John Warren and Joe DePre.
He recently recalled a story that starred (imagine that!) Kareem, whom, before relocating eight years ago, lived down the block from him on 120th street in upper Manhattan, otherwise known as Harlem.
“I knew Kareem since college and we would often see each other in the neighborhood,” Carmen said. “He did not have a car so, occasionally, he’d ask me for a lift for small errands.”
One errand entailed buying a TV for Kareem’s guest room since he was expecting visitors. So Carmen picked him up and they went to a Best Buy on 86th Street. They found parking nearby (it was Sunday, after all).
“We walked into the store, and I think everyone in it swarmed Kareem, and began taking photos, a good 40 people.
“Kareem kept his head down, picked up the TV and went to the cashier. He put the TV on the checkout counter, and handed the woman his Black Amex card. The crowd continued to surround him, along with the store manager who asked if a photo could be taken of both of them.
“The woman at the register picked up the card, looked him in the eye and said, ‘Do you have any identification?’
There’s a common theme here, or not...
Definition of a schoolyard player: A guy who doesn’t want teammates involved in his game at all. For instance, if you offer him a screen, he’ll go the other way into traffic, as Kobe did in his first (‘98) All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Karl Malone set a pick for him and he waved him out of the way.
Johnny Johnson contended Sonics’ teammate Freddie Brown was ambidextrous. Downtown Puget Sound denied it. “I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous.”
Dick Motta claimed, “The worst thing to get in an NBA game is a 20-point lead at halftime. No one listens to you in the locker room.”
And then there was a pre-Covid game in which the fans coached poorly, the coaches did a poor refereeing job and the players performed as if it were a spectator sport.
Don Nelson was asked about George Johnson’s condition when he reported to the Bucks’ camp. Was the St. John’s forward out of shape or overweight? “He was so out of shape,” Nelson said, “I don’t think he could’ve even walked during the summer.” Johnson claimed he came in underweight. “He couldn’t have done anything physical,” Nelson contended. “and that includes eating.”
Walt Frazier took a vow of silence when the New York media turned on him at the end of his time with the Knicks. Ira Berkow, author of ‘Rockin’ Steady’, the biography on Frazier, suggested to Clyde he talk to reporters the following season. “Just don’t read what they write.”
Kurt Rambis was the only starter in NBA history who also played at garbage time.
Larry Costello was only a perm and a pick away from relating to his players while coaching the Bucks and Bulls. What would you expect from a guy who got his hair cut in a subway barber shop?
I apologize for what’s coming next.
Unlike the vociferous masses, I didn’t get upset with Tree Rollins for munching on Danny Ainge’s finger while tarmac-fighting during a (1983) Hawks-Celtics playoff game.
That was considered perfectly acceptable and very manly in my neighborhood. It only went to prove that Tree’s bite was worse than his bark.
Cotton Fitzsimmons used to say, “I never beg for blackjack when I go to Vegas, I just want to win. Just once I’d love to be in position to say my club stunk in posting our 59th win.”
While Spud Webb was in the league, 37 or so centers were drafted, and he dunked on every one of them.
My description of Chris Mullin during his playing days: poetry in place.
During a long-ago exhibition season, the Bullets were losing big late in the game when Motta inserted Nick Weatherspoon. Almost at the scorer’s table, Spoon doubled back in his distinctive manner, backpedaling to Motta. “Want me to stay with the offense, coach, or do you want me to get some points?”
Maurice Lucas maintained the refs were so atrocious one game, “I hated them despite the fact all the calls went my way.”
When Cavalier Cliff Robinson beat the Pistons one night with a three-pointer at the buzzer, teammate World B. Free exclaimed, “That shot was so good, for a moment, I thought I took it.”
I’ve always questioned the IQ of players who exploit opponents with a low threshold for defense right from the jump. If they had any smarts, they’d kill them softly and milk them for all their worthlessness.
Bill Russell on how the Celtics managed to amass so many titles in the ‘50s and ‘60s: “You must like each other and you must tolerate each other.”
April 5, 1984, against the Jazz in Las Vegas, the night Kareem Abdul-Jabbar surpassed Wilt Chamberlain as the NBA’s all-time scorer, everything he wore became a collector’s item. His uniform went to Springfield’s Hall of Fame, his Adidas sneakers went back to the company, Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss requested and procured Kareem’s goggles and PR director Josh Rosenfeld got his jock.