Tag: Legends Blog

K.C. JONES

By Peter Vecsey

On September 25, 2019, John Purcell received the highest honor a street baller never imagines receiving. The outdoor courts he called home (familiarity with half moon baskets provided a distinct advantage over non- residents) would now bear his name.

     Playground 9, near the First Avenue Loop, across the street from where he lived, became officially known as The John “Butch” Purcell Playground.

     In 1968, Butch and his wife, Mary, became the sixth black family (I’d thought mine was the first) to break a hardcore racial barrier that existed since the Stuyvesant-Peter Cooper community—stretching from New York City’s 14thstreet to 23d, and First Ave to Avenue C--was built almost exclusively for returning white World War II servicemen.

     An estimated 350 friends and neighbors, many whom ran the court early on with Butch and later matched basketball and baseball trivia wits with him, turned out to express their reverence. 

     I’d driven from Arizona explicitly to show ultimate respect for my co-coach of our deified Dr. J-Rucker Park team that won two out of four summer flings in the early-to-mid ‘70s.

     I got to Long Island the day before, caught a 6 a.m. ferry from Shelter Island the next morning, and figured I’d have no problem making it on time for the 9 a.m. ceremony. But traffic was terrible. I panicked. Though alone, I veered into the HOV lane, and was pulled over almost immediately.

     “I gotta hear this,” the policeman said sarcastically as I rolled down the passenger side front window. “What possible excuse do you have for pulling into the express lane with me in plain sight?”

     I tried the truth. 

     Told him about driving back from Arizona (had the plates and the papers to prove, so far, no lies) to celebrate a playground being named after a friend of plus 50 years. Told him I was scheduled to speak and had to be on time. The risk of being ticketed overweighed the price in terms of license points and a stiff fine. 

     The policeman took my license and registration and went to his car. A couple minutes later, he was back at the open window. “I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt,” he said, returning both. “Congratulate your friend for me.”  

    Eight paragraphs into today’s column, I’m finally ready to make my point, the same one numerous friends made to Butch during the weeks that followed the dedication; about 30 of us had thrown him a surprise tribute at Walt Frazier’s Restaurant months before that. 

     “Amazingly, you’ve been honored twice while you’re alive and still coherent. So many others are honored posthumously.” 

       Today is the first anniversary of Butch’s sudden death. I spoke to him the day before as he watched the NFL playoffs. He was 74.

                                       *****

        I can’t think of a more empty feeling than being honored posthumously. Family and friends may savor a belated salute to some degree, but who cares?! There’s only one appropriate time to acknowledge a person’s abundant accomplishments and that’s when they’re able to bask in the glory and enjoy the renown.

      I felt strongly about that in 2014 when I was part of a Naismith Hall of Fame committee that voted for ABA candidates. George Gervin, David Thompson, Rick Barry, Hubie Brown, Bob Costas and the column’s staph writer, could have elected any number of players, coaches or executives. I pushed to pick Slick Leonard, 82 at the time, because he was in piss-poor health. Six years later, he’s still toasting his induction.

     Conversely, K.C. Jones, 88, died Christmas Day following an unbearably long ordeal battling Alzheimer’s. Inducted into the HOF as a player in 1989, K.C. also warranted enshrinement as a coach while capable of comprehending the standing ovations were directed at him. By any scale and statistic known to voters, he deserve should’ve been the fifth to double dip, joining John Wooden, Bill Sharman, Lenny Wilkens and Tommy Heinsohn. 

     Has anyone ever demanded an explanation from HOF czar Jerry Colangelo why K.C. isn’t in Springfield as a coach? Has Jones ever so much as been nominated to the point where the Hall’s initial 9-member committee votes on him? 

     If so, has he ever reached the final plateau, which I’m informed now consists of seven anonymous electors as opposed to 24, the number for decades?

     If not, pray tell me what could possibly be the rationale? 

     Before concentrating entirely on K.C. Jones as a coach, who reading this realizes he’s the owner of more championship rings (a daunting dozen) than anyone in NBA history? That’s right; he flaunts one more than Bill Russell and Phil Jackson, 11 with the Celtics (eight as a player), two as their head coach (‘84 & ’86), and two as an assistant, one with the Vitamin C’s in ’81, and one as a Laker in ’72.

     Following that fabled season in Los Angeles under Bill Sharman whose Lakers conquered 33 straight opponents, still a league record, and captured the NBA championship, their first such success since relocating from Minneapolis in 1960, spanning seven consecutive calamities in The Finals, K.C. became the San Diego’s Conquistadors’ original head coach in August ‘72.

     Pay strict attention now; after a losing season with the Q’s (30-54), K.C. never suffered another losing season, three with Washington, five with Boston and two with Seattle. 

     His Celtics’ teams attained The Finals four out of five seasons, the Bullets one out of three. 

     His NBA regular season career winning percentage was .674 (522-252). His playoff percentage was .587 (81-57).

      Until 1996, when Pat Riley pulled even, K.C. was the lone coach in NBA history to win 60 or more games four times…yet never once won coach-of-the-year. The media determined award was inexcusably given to coaches with far inferior records. Prime examples are Phil Johnson (44-38) with the Kings in ’74-75, and Frank Layden (45-37) with the Jazz in ’83-84. 

     K.C. also was the lone coach to win 60 plus games with two different teams—Bullets and Celtics--until Riley did it with the Lakers and the Knicks.

    Jones’ disdain for the voting process was registered May 14, 1986 in a Knight-Ridder article by Jere Longman.

      “When Lenny Wilkens took over in Seattle (‘77-78) the Sonics were 5-17. They finished with the second best team in the league. He got one vote. It’s all politics.”

     Warped judgments regarding how easy it is to coach top talented teams is much more responsible, I submit. 

 How often are we subjected to alleged experts of the round claiming anybody can coach superstars?

      “You always hear stuff like, ‘My mother could coach the Celtics.’ Hey, why fight it? You can’t do anything about it,” K.C. sighed. “As long as we win games and the guys perform to their abilities, that’s enough reward.” 

     At the same time, candid coaches will own up in a jiffy it’s as hard to coach a great team as it is to coach a poor team. “The hard thing about coaching a great team is not over-coaching…” Dave Wohl stressed in the same article.

     That requires the laid back personality of a coach comfortable with himself. K.C. Jones’ sphere, in other words.  “He doesn’t try to force his ego on the players,” Larry Bird praised in an ancient Hoop du Jour column. “We already have enough egos around here.”

     K.C. was a master of managing egos, impeccably illustrated by the manner in which he dealt with Dennis Johnson, whom the Celtics had acquired from the Suns for Rick Robey. 

     Decades later, Bird revealed his initial reaction: “We heard what people said about D.J. in Seattle (Wilkens branded him a cancer a couple seasons after he’d won Finals MVP when the Sonics won the ’79 titles). 

     “We heard there was friction (with coach John MacLeod concerning D.J.’s practice habits) in Phoenix. 

     “We heard he was difficult to get along with. Heard he was moody. So when we made the deal, I wondered how he’d fit in with us. But I figured if he couldn’t get along with K.C. Jones, he must really an asshole.”

      D.J.’s bad practice habits continued to be a coaching challenge as a Celtic, but were counterbalanced by his demonic defense when the score was kept. Already a 4-time All NBA First Team defender upon arrival, he added two more in that category with Boston, and made All Second Team another three times.

      The situation was win-win for player and coach. D.J. found himself idyllically relocated under the auspices of a man whose college, Olympic and NBA playing days were spent alongside revolutionary rim protector, Bill Russell. The same man--pay strict attention now—who was frequently given scrimmages off by Red Auerbach.  

    D.J. (like Russell) wouldn’t want to practice the day after playing a lot of minutes, Bird said. “When we wanted to run hard, K.C. would isolate him, tell him to take a seat on the stage. Otherwise, he would’ve disrupted practice. D.J. would be laughing, thinking he got over on us. But we were a step ahead of him.”

    Call it superior, egoless, winning! Which is what K.C. Jones was all about his whole life as a player, a coach and a person! 

     Shamefully, such a realization never dawned on Jerry Colangelo and the anonymous acolyte Hall of Fame voters—and still may not—while K.C. Jones would’ve been around to appreciate the accolades. 

      I’m publicly putting them on notice not to be that erroneously egregious in the future. 

PAUL WESTPHAL

By Peter Vecsey

Peter Vecsey, Jerry Colangelo and Paul Westphal at GCU vs California Baptist (2/21/2019)

             To laugh often and much;

             To win the respect of intelligent people

             And the affection of children;

             To earn the appreciation of honest critics

             And endure the betrayal of false friends;

             To appreciate beauty;

             To find the best in others;

             To leave the world a bit better

             Whether by a healthy child 

             A garden patch

             Or a redeemed social condition;

             To know even one life has breathed easier

             Because you have lived.

             This is to have succeeded.

               Ralph Waldo Emerson

                       (1803-1882)

    Paul Westphal’s astonishing dismissal as Suns’ coach 33 games (14-19) into the injury-pockmarked 1995-96 season was unreasonable to all, exempting decision makers, Jerry Colangelo and Cotton Fitzsimmons. His previous three ascendant productions had resulted in 177 regular season victories (59 average), 25 playoff wins and five series successes, bejeweled by an introductory excursion to The Finals in 1993 versus the Bulls that dissolved in six games. 

     Abruptly!

     Less than one minute away from defying the defending champions to beat them in Game 7 before their howling homers, the Suns’ 4-point lead was halved when Michael Jordan appropriated a Frankie Johnson aborted jumper, weaved the length of the court, and logged a strikingly uncontested layup-line-like basket. 

     “Wasn’t anybody ever taught to stop the dribbler?” I couldn’t resist texting Westphal upon seeing the replay of Jordan’s unruffled jaunt in ‘The Last Dance’ May 4, 2020. He had to be watching, I figured. 

    Correctly! 

    “Sigh,” he responded.

    Almost instantly!

    In real time, that ill-fated evening, Westphal had jerked backwards on the bench and manifestly moaned. 

    On the Suns’ ensuing possession, Scottie Pippen caught Dan Majerle’s short-armed corner catastrophe. Down two, the Bulls had the ball with 14.1 seconds left. During the time out Westphal was heard commanding that Jordan, and everyone else, be stopped from penetrating. 

    Jordan inbounded to B.J. Armstrong from the end line who rapidly returned to sender. The ball crossed midcourt in three seconds. Suffocated, Jordan passed to Pippen who promptly passed to Horace Grant. Though covered, Grant was within ten feet of attempting to tie matters. He never so much as gave the basket a shooting glance. John Paxson was by his lonesome above the 3-point equator. Grant found him for the flushed finish. 

    Years later, the summer of 1994, to be exact, during my exclusive interview with Jordan in his Orlando hotel room following his Birmingham team’s baseball game, Michael mocked Grant’s hot potato moment. “Horace always complained about not getting enough shots and then passed up a chippie.” 

      Not surprisingly, Jordan conveniently failed to give Grant credit for stripping a driving Kevin Johnson on the Suns’ last second gasp. 

      Westphal’s soaring credit rating lasted a whole two seasons, fertile ones, I again stress, before being appallingly discarded after several essential players had the audacity to get hurt. 

    Nobody hurt more than Westphal. He’d been guaranteed security. Fitzsimmons promised he was not in job jeopardy and swore, contrary to faint rumors, he had no intention to replace the 4-year assistant he chose to succeed him on the sidelines. 

    Westphal contended Cotton’s coaching ensembles had been taken out of the closet and dry cleaned in anticipation of his hostile takeover.

     Fitzsimmons, an all-time favored friend, finished 40-42; but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Sonics, three games to two. 

     FYI: It took the Suns until 1999 to win a series, beating the Spurs, 3-1. Prior to that, they’d been eliminated four straight times in the opening chamber, and captured a grand total of one series victory over eight seasons, coached by Cotton, Danny Ainge, Scott Skiles and Frankie Johnson.

    Westphal felt so bitterly betrayed he abandoned Arizona—returning to his home state of California--and severed relations with a Suns organization…a franchise he exceled for five straight Hall of Fame seasons (‘75-‘80), averaging 22 points and earning First Team All-League three times and Second Team once.

     Paul Westphal was the Phoenix Suns!

     Knowing how much I loved the area, he offered me sweet deals on his home in Paradise Valley, as well as one of the last, if not the last vacant lot on the Marriott Camelback Inn golf course. I already had a holy home on Long Island. But shame on me for not concocting a plan to buy the lot. It sold for 500G. A house was built on it within a year and sold for $4 million.

     Naturally, we stayed very much in touch over the years, closer, of course, when he coached the Sonics and Kings. Both jobs presented insurmountable problems—Gary Payton and Vin Baker in Seattle, and DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento. 

    Westphal knew he was in acute trouble the first time he met in private with Baker. Vin vowed there would be no reoccurrences of previous incidents. He pledged allegiance to his new coach. Then broke down weeping. 

     Paul went home that day and told his wife, Cindy, this would be a short tour of duty. “When you look up power forward in a basketball dictionary, I doubt there’s a photo of one crying.”

    Still, Payton proved to be far more difficult to deal with than Baker, Westphal told me long after being terminated following two seasons and 15 (66-61) games. He often showed up late for practice, disrupted it frequently by playing half-assed, provided backtalk from the backcourt on a regular basis, and persistently presided over Disorder on and off the Court. 

      “How Gary says things in the parameters of his personality is not always going to remind you of Henry Kissinger,” Westphal wryly noted in Hoop du Jour in mid-madness. “But, we wouldn’t trade him for Henry Kissinger, either.”

     In mid-January 2019, I drove from New York to Phoenix with my dog, Oliver Twisted. The notion was to rent for several months, get to know the present-day Suns, dine with Legends-turned-TV commentators (Dominique Wilkins and Walt Frazier, for example) when they came into town with their teams, and very possibly bed down for the duration. 

      Revitalizing my relationship with Westphal, who’d returned to North Scottsdale for winters not all that long before, was something I looked forward to doing more than any of the above. 

      Soon after arriving, I received the following text from Westphal, who had no idea I was in Phoenix.

      “If you get this, thanks for all your HOF mentions over the years. Looks more possible than ever now. Best regards, Paul.”

     I apprised Westphal of my situation and asked about dinner and a Suns game. Because he was away for a couple weeks, we didn’t meet until Feb. 21. He chose the Texaz Grill, where he pigged out once a week, he confessed, to compensate for eating wholesomely the rest of the week.

     “The place is OK if you don’t mind comfort food. If you want something healthier we can pick a different spot.” 

     Westphal also elected to eyeball a game involving Grand Canyon University, coached by him to the ‘88 NAIA title. Majerle was now its coach. When Dan spotted us walk in, he greeted me with a Thunderous handshake and shit-eating smile. The last time I’d seen him was years before at his restaurant nearby the Suns’ arena; he and radio analyst, Tiny Tim Kempton, sprung, sorta, from our table to break up a brawl.

     As I learned at our pre-game meal, Colangelo maintains a forceful connection with GCU, and had advocated Majerle for the position after the Suns bizarrely bypassed their ultra popular assistant for the head job vacancy. I’m not even sure he was granted an interview.

     Westphal told me he’d reconciled with Colangelo. The truce paved a friction free relocation to North Scottsdale. 

     Having informed Westphal I was pissed off at Colangelo for too many reasons to explain here, he impishly asked during halftime intermission if I wanted to accompany him to see Jerry at his half-court seat. 

     A few minutes later, I look up and Colangelo is standing in front of me. “Paul tells me you don’t want to see me because I’m angry at you.”

     “Paul’s got it wrong. I’m angry at you.” 

     Next thing I know, Colangelo is sitting alongside me and we’re making small talk, laughing for no good reason about who knows what, and participating in a photo shoot. At one point, Jerry wondered if I’d be interested in teaching a Sports Journalism course at GCU. I was. So he took out a little pad and diligently jotted down my pertinent information. The call from a school official has yet to come.

     The game was lots of fun. Additionally, the college kids in the stands staged extremely entertaining rhythmic shows throughout. The evening’s highlight, however, was hanging on Westphal’s every word; absorbing his stories as an active player, coach, peripheral observer and astute analyst of today’s strategies and rules vs our younger days when everything was infinitely better, if no other reason than we were younger.

      I wondered why Tommy Heinsohn didn’t give him more minutes subbing for JoJo White and Don Chaney the three seasons he played for the Celtics. Apparently, it was because he wasn’t deemed fast enough by Heinsohn to run an accelerated break. Hence, the Celtics’ motive for trading Westphal to Phoenix for Charlie Scott, advertised as speedier than amphetamines. 

     “I couldn’t guard JoJo in practice,” Westphal volunteered. “Nobody I ever went up against was quicker than JoJo. I just couldn’t do anything with him.”

     Meanwhile, Westphal stole the ball from JoJo in the closing seconds of regulation in Game 5 of Boston’s epic triple overtime win in the ‘76 Finals…stole it, got fouled and completed 3-point play that tied the score at 94. In OT, he also made a crucial theft at John Havlicek’s expense with mere seconds to go to give Phoenix a 1-point lead. 

     On June 15, 2004, The Finals opener between the Lakers and Pistons was held in Los Angeles. Rather than scrutinize the game on site, I flew to Phoenix to watch it at the home of JoAnn and Cotton, who’d been diagnosed months before with lung cancer. Nurses told him he was the first person ever to show up early at the hospital for chemotherapy. 

     Good food was delivered. The conversation was upbeat. The fact we hardly looked at the TV did not prevent me in any way from imparting expert testimony about Game 1 in my next column. Before the month was out, he’s suffered a critical setback. 

     By then, the Pistons had been crowned champs and Dwight Howard was selected No. 1 by the Orlando Magic. In early July, I flew from New York to Phoenix to be close to Cotton in his final days, which turned into weeks. As ghastly as his condition was, his remarkably strong heart obstinately refused to stop beating. 

    Each day a new group of visitors representing every component of basketball, rushing in from surrounding states by the caravan. And each would get the okay to file into Fitzsimmons’ bedroom, monitored by JoAnn and nurse Georgia Johnson, Kevin’s mother, to voice quivering goodbyes. 

      I stood frozen at the top of the bed, powerless to reach out and touch Cotton. I thanked him for his friendship and expressed my love for him. He dimly nodded recognition.

     On July 23, Fitzsimmons unmistakably was approaching death. Charles Barkley made a command decision and called Westphal in Southern California. “He told me I should hurry here before it’s too late,” Paul recounted at dinner. “I believe I was the last allowed inside his room to see him alive.”

      Cotton was comatose when Westphal arrived on the 24th. His left hand was limp. Paul knelt beside the bed and held it. “I prayed for him not to be afraid, that his pain was ending, that he’d soon be with Jesus.” 

      Paul then told Cotton “I forgive you.” 

     Cotton softly squeezed Paul’s hand. 

     Westphal got exceptionally emotional reliving that vision. “It was the most impactful moment of my life.” 

                                       *****                   

      Westphal died Jan. 2 from brain cancer. I urge anyone who hasn’t heard his Hall of Fame speech to do so on YouTube.

     “What’s better than a person rooted in humility and gratefulness?!” writes Maureen Andariese, who placed Emerson’s above essay on a mass card for John, her husband-broadcaster when he died four years ago. 

     “The essay is about a person like Paul (John). He no doubt got ‘it’. I love when any human being can ultimately have the pleasure of arriving at the doorstep of truth and understanding about what is important in life, what matters most, what we’re here for. Whatever the question, love is the answer. 

     “God rest Paul’s beautiful soul and may his family find comfort and peace in every happy memory of him.”

By Jerry Milani at The Daily Payoff

The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) announced today that veteran NBA columnist and renowned basketball insider Peter Vecsey has joined its content team, sharing his thoughts via his popular Hoop du Jour platform each week. Hoop du Jour will be featured content for Legends Media & Entertainment (LME), the multifaceted story-telling platform producing, distributing and quantifying the wide-reaching stories of many of the NBA and WNBA’s biggest stars that was launched in September and has seen record growth since launch. Athletes First Partners represents the NBRPA in its marketing endeavors and is working on engaging with brands on the platform as well.

Vecsey, the long-time columnist for the New York Post and analyst for TNT/TBS, NBC and NBATV, is one of the most connected and engaged media members in the sport. His opinions, insights and quips about the game–both past and present–have long been required reading for anyone involved or interested in basketball.

The native New Yorker has been enshrined in four Halls of Fame, including Naismith Basketball (Class of 2009), NYC Basketball, Rucker League and Archbishop Molloy.

“If there is any media member who knows our players and our audience, it is Peter Vecsey,” NBRPA President and CEO Scott Rochelle said. “Hoop du Jour was a business and lockerroom must read for decades. Peter’s ability to tell stories in his own style will certainly resonate not just with our current audience, but with a growing number of new fans who love basketball and its personalities. We are confident it’s going to be a must-read and must-follow as our other content has become this fall.”

“The men and women who make up the NBRPA were, and are, the most engaging and interesting athletes anywhere,” Vecsey said.  “I’m looking forward to having some fun with them, telling and retelling their stories, and showing a new (and not-so-new) audience just how much noise we can make in this space.”

The first Hoop du Jour can be seen here: https://www.legendsofbasketball.com/hoop-du-jour-2-0/

The NBRPA represents over 1,000 former NBA and WNBA players, making it the largest agency of its kind in basketball. In three months LME in both audio and video has drawn almost 600,000 views and listens, more than three times the combined numbers of audio and video around the players in the previous nine months. Viewers and listeners have come from over 20 countries, and have enjoyed content from some of the most unique storytellers in the history of professional basketball. The key unified elements of LME include: Legends Magazine, Legends Live, the All-Access Legends Podcast and the NBRPA’s social media strategy and content.

Hoop du Jour 2.0

By Peter Vecsey

I've been referred to as many things and in many ways over the decades. 

     Shockingly, some of the things that were said, written, threatened, intimated, deposed, attached to a brick, contract hit, etc., were not always warm and fuzzy...

     ...and that was just from friends and family.

    I've been given names that wouldn't cut it in the family hour, not even if the family was Manson.

    What I've never answered to, however, is the nom de plume I'm now giving myself...

     ...Lazarus of the Laptop, because I've returned.

     In a year where nothing's gone right, allow me to multiply the misery.

     Displaying marginal sense, the good folks at the NRBPA and I have decided to dust Hoop du Jour for prints, reprising all the wit, wisdom and snark, though now with 40 percent less cholesterol.

     Knowing where my whole grain bread is I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Buttered, I'm gearing this incarnation of HDJ to the NRBPA's rank and vile.

     Toward that end, Uncle Petey wants your stories, your ideas, your pickpockets of knowledge.

     Gimme the funny, the frivolous, the poignant, the pithy, either from yesterday or yesteryear.

    I don't care if your ankle bracelet now matches your MedicAlert bracelet. That's not what I want to write and that's not what your brethren want to read.

     Reach out me at pvecsey@legendsofbasketball.com.

     Together, we can make this go-round of Hoop du Jour something truly worthwhile to write and read.

     First time for everything.

                                              *****                                     

    Looking forward to receiving updates on your lives after active pro duty, preferably by phone, so we get to know each other better, or for the first time. I want this blog primarily to tell stories you’re comfortable sharing, short or long, sad or upbeat, old or present. 

     I want young fans to recognize your names and discover how your careers began, at a time (for many players above 60) when there was maximum competition for a minimum amount of jobs…when players needed off season work to stay one step ahead of bill collectors.

      I want young fans to understand what they’re witnessing in wonderment, for the most part, is nothing new. 

      I want young fans, and the portion of the media that seemingly believes the NBA started in 1979 when Magic Johnson and Larry were drafted, or in 1984 when Michael Jordan was a rookie, or, more troubling, when Kobe Bryant (1996) and then LeBron James (2003) arrived in force, to acknowledge and appreciate your contributions to the game… for building its current financial and global success. 

      In the meantime, until this blog gains momentum, I offer some stories to give an idea of what I’m hoping to harvest. 

                                     *****

        Dave DeBusschere was one of a limited number of exceptional athletes to play professional basketball (Pistons & Knicks) and baseball (White Sox). After he retired, No. 22 would occasionally participate in evening pickup games at assorted borough gyms. 

     One night, an elderly janitor was sweeping up at one end of the floor while six of us played at the other. 

     “I know who you are,” the janitor, pointing at DeBusschere, suddenly shouted, 20 minutes into the workout. “I know who you are.” 

      This went on sporadically for about ten minutes. Finally, DeBusschere turned toward the guy and said, “OK, who am I?”

      “You pitched for the White Sox,” the janitor replied. 

     I laughed out loud when Phil Jackson referred to Dennis Rodman as a maverick in a segment of The Last Dance. Who else remembers that ‘Maverick’ was the title of Jackson’s first book of many authored by Charley Rosen? Though I covered the Knicks for several seasons while Jackson was still active, my last name was butchered in the book. Not to mention my street cred was seriously questioned. Jackson accused me of thinking only black players could play. 

     When Willis Reed was Nets GM, I surprised him after a game with a framed photo of him sitting alongside Jackie Robinson. They had been judges at a beauty contest. Reed got emotional. He had never seen the photo. Naturally, I had a duplicate on hand and asked him to sign it. That photo is part of my photo shrine to Jackie, whose treasured autograph was placed in the frame along with two 1956 World Series tickets. 

     When southern born and raised Larry Kenon turned pro after Bill Walton destroyed Memphis State (44 points on 21-22 from the field, plus 13 rebounds) in the NCAA title game won by UCLA, he came to New York for the summer and played for my team at Rucker Park. We were walking in my downtown neighborhood one day when Kenon stopped at a blacktopped playground to watch a softball game. He was both hypnotized and mystified. What’s the matter, I asked. After a couple second pause, he replied, “How do they slide?” 

     If not for Super John Williamson’s second half exploits in Game 6 of the Finals (16 of his 28 points were amassed in the fourth quadrant; Julius Erving did not score a field goal in the 12 minutes), the series would’ve shifted to Denver and the Nuggets very likely would’ve beaten the Nets. 

     As a rookie, the self-anointed ‘Super John’ beat out George Bruns (based on a one-on-one match, arranged by Kevin Loughery) for the fourth guard spot on the roster. Following a 9-game losing streak, which followed four wins to start the season, Loughery replaced John Roche with Williamson in San Antonio. At some point during the first quarter, Rich Jones, a certified rough customer, welcomed Super John to the league by ‘bowing him in the back of the head. A few minutes later, the 6-9 forward got worse from the 6-4 Williamson. The losing streak ended. “What goes around, comes around,” Super John said in the locker room. It was the first time I’d heard the biblical expression. 

       After Rod Thorn, a Nets assistant under Loughery, had been Bulls GM for a while, he hired his long time buddy (they’d also played together in the NBA) to coach. The previous season, Reggie Theus had averaged 23 points and made the All Star team. Chicago fans adored him. Loughery immediately benched him, thus terminating his consecutive-game playing streak at 429. Except for a couple minutes here and there, until the mid-February trade deadline nearly expired, at which time he was shipped to the Kings for Steve Johnson, Theus was kept in dry dock. 

     To this day, nobody (other than Loughery) knows a reason for the coldblooded decision. Was it because Reggie held out for two weeks? Was Theus’ defense deficient? Was it because ownership interfered by expressing disapproval to the media? Or were the fans responsible for constantly chanting, “We want Reggie”? 

     “What a shame,” Theus told me recently. “I was fifteen minutes away from playing with Michael Jordan the next season. Hey, I could’ve been John Paxson.” 

     When Rick Barry played for the Warriors, his four sons often got to be ball boys. It was Brent’s turn on this particular night when Rick became outraged about something or other and got ejected. As he was leaving the court he grabbed Brent around the waist and carried him toward the locker room. Brent, eight or nine, loudly protested. “Put me down! You got thrown out of the game, not me!” 

     Billy Paultz once told me that when Wes Unseld turned his back on him under the basket it was like playing against a handball court. In 1978, the Bullets beat the SuperSonics in seven games. It was the franchise’s one and only championship. Unseld converted a crucial missed shot of his to take the lead and iced matters with two critical free throws after missing a pair shortly before. Brian McIntyre, the league’s PR director, asked me to vote along with four other members of the media for the MVP award:

     Unseld and Elvin Hayes both had two votes when I verbally cast mine for the handball court. 

     Years later, Unseld, one of two players ever to win the NBA’s top rookie award and MVP in the same season (Chamberlain is the other) told me he didn’t feel appreciated. “But I stopped trying to please people long ago. All I cared about was that I was making a living.”

    In that case, I informed the captain of the All Worst Interview Team, you owe me a few good quotes because my vote broke a 2-2 deadlock in Sport Magazine’s MVP balloting in the 1978 playoffs. “You got a new car and a better contact.”

    “Owe you? I’m mad at you!” Unseld retorted. “Because of you, I’m in a higher tax bracket.”