Tag: Peter Vecsey

Black Mamba, Big Fundamental, Big Ticket and Rudy T

By Peter Vecsey

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020 enshrinement is set for Saturday evening, with honorees reminded to keep those acceptance speeches short as not to interfere with the start of the play-in playoffs.

The fact the long-delayed shindig is being held in a casino with Michael Jordan as a (Kobe) presenter is nothing if not coincidence.

     ‘Ahmad [Rashād], take my luggage to the room while I find a blackjack table.’

     Think Jordan had anything to do with Isiah Thomas being snubbed as a serial presenter? 

     Am I the only one to notice presenters for each inductee are about to outnumber team assistant coaches?  

   Before Jerry Colangelo steps aside for Junior Bridgeman, or John ‘Why’ Brown, perhaps he’ll consider using play-in presenters for the 2021 class, to be announced May 16th.

     In the meantime, a reminder that no inductee becomes officially legit until he/she is exonerated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

    The smart money is betting big on Bill Russell gaining entry as a coach despite the fact his record was 179-207 (6-9 in the playoffs) when he wasn’t coaching himself with the Celtics--three seasons, two titles. 

     It’s worth mentioning K.C. Jones managed to do okay for himself once he left Russell’s domain (522-252, .674 regular season; 81-57, .587 playoffs). Calmly and cunningly, he channeled the Bullets and Celtics to five Finals. 

     FYI: Jones and Russell are the lone African-American coaches to have won multiple (two) championships. One is being accommodated by the HOF. The other continues to be obtrusively overlooked by its unidentified cluster of committee members.  

    Therapy has alleviated my affinity for anonymity. Rick Adelman, Paul Pierce, Jay Wright, Marques Johnson and Michael Cooper were prominently printed on my uncounted absentee ballot. Since Satch Sanders’ initiation in 2011, I’ve rehabilitated my repentant judgment and converted to a passionate proponent of rewarding vital role players, and coaches who make a meaningful difference in developing players. 

     It says here, Springfield should’ve embraced Paul Silas five years after he retired from playing in 1980, certainly in combination with his later contribution/impact as an assistant/head coach wherever he went. 

    And who won more playoff games with last-second stilettos than Robert Horry? 

      I won’t even try to regurgitate my argument for Willie Wise, James Jones, Mack Calvin, Freddie Lewis, Ron Boone and Donnie Freeman, whose glory days were mostly served in the ABA. Colangelo snobbishly told me years ago, after Louie Dampier was voted to the HOF by his appointed seven-person ABA Committee, he doesn’t believe any others have HOF credentials. 

      I ‘decorously’ dissented. 

     Colangelo took exception. “If it weren’t for me, none of the players who played almost exclusively in the ABA (Roger Brown, Mel Daniels) would’ve gotten Hall of Fame recognition.”  

      “You mean, I’m supposed to thank you for doing what’s right?”

     Clearly, none of the above will reap definitive respect until Chairman Colangelo relinquishes his pompous command post.      

     As for this weekend’s revered group, Kobe and Garnett are the reason the NBA required a high-school diploma to seek employment, and I was forced to take an equivalency exam. 

     Almost from the jump, Bryant, an all rookie choice and an All-Star his second season, was well worth the price of admission, even for those of us who weren’t obliged to pay.

      So many subplots to sift through: 

    —Fans’ hostility/ harmonic convergence with Kobe; 

    —his love/hate/love connection with the Lakers; 

    —-his adulation/aversion for Jerry West;

    —his affection/disconnection with Phil Jackson; 

    —his feud and arranged TNT settlement with Shaquille O’Neal; 

    —his breakup and makeup with his parents, Pam and Joe;

    —his sexual assault arrest; 

    —his marriage separation and reconciliation with Vanessa; 

    —that 60-point unearthly grand finale;

    —and those five titles in 20 seasons, augmented by a procession of trappings, marvels and myths.

      Allow me to dispel a couple. Don’t ask me why I choose them exactly, except it’s interesting how Kobe was the same person at 18 as he was at 28 and 38….and how details get distorted. 

      As a rookie Kobe had improved significantly from training camp when he showed up limping from an ankle sprained playing pickup in Venice Beach. It kept him from seeing any daylight in his first game and limited him to five minutes in Game 2. Hence his first pro point occurred against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. One and done.

     Kobe remained an irregular throughout the season, but earned important minutes closer to the playoffs while chomping for additional responsibility. By the last month, he’d become a crucial component.

   In the final stages of their-win-or-get-wasted Game 5 of the ‘1997-98 Western Conference Finals against the Jazz in Utah, Kobe, by default, received an on-court commission. Shaq fouled out at the 1:46 mark, LA up 87-84. Horry had been ejected for allegedly swinging a fist at somebody (horrible call). Byron Scott was injured in Game 2 and Nick Van Exel-who’d downed 7-7 from beyond the arc in Game 2-hurt his foot with about four minutes left, now having trouble overcoming John Stockton’s defense. 

    Their bench depleted, the Lakers still hung tough to deadlock matters, 89-89. After Stockton tied it, Karl Malone missed a jumper from 15 and Greg Ostertag committed a turnover. Eddie Jones appeared to have an open layup to put LA up two, but Greg Ostertag came off Elden Campbell and snuffed Jones for his ninth block.

     Van Exel’s strip of Ostertag gave the Lakers the last possession. A time out was called with 11.3 seconds remaining. Kobe came straight to Del Harris and avowed, “Coach, if you let me have this shot, I’ll drain it for you.”

      What coach wouldn’t want to hear that! 

     “The thought that went through my mind was this,” Harris told me the following season. “I said, ‘the kid’s 18. This is a moment here. He is either gonna make it or miss it. If he makes it, it’s gonna do a lot for him. If he misses, he’ll at least know there was a white-haired guy who I thought didn’t know anything, believed in me.’

     “And I believed him. And I still believe him. And I’d give him that shot again. I just wanted to make sure we’d get the last shot of regulation. And I wanted a good shot. I knew Kobe could get one off and we’d have a chance to tip. Thing is, he waited too long and missed a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer from 14-15 feet .”

      The Jazz prevailed in overtime. 

     Decades later, memories fogged, people claim that shot by Kobe was an air ball and that he aired out four treys in overtime. 

     “Fact is, we got behind and Kobe rushed two but also scored our only basket (a layup) in the final five minutes.” Harris remembered recently. “He only aired two but was 0-6 for the game from 3-point range.”

     Legend contends, according to countless reports over the years, Kobe and his father found a gym after the season-ending loss hoisting hundreds of long-distance springers.

      That might’ve happened when the Lakers landed in Los Angeles (I never remembered to ask him), but there was no gym visit in Salt Lake City. There was a charter to catch. To this day, Harris doesn’t know if Joe attended Game 5 or met Kobe at the airport.

    On to Garnett, who toiled for years doing superior work with suspect support, not unlike my ‘staph’.

    I’m pulling punches, as the Counterfeit Ticket well knows. However, his acting was so real in ‘Uncut Gems’, I’m gonna momentarily bypass his grievous faults.

    Traded by Minny HaHa to Boston after 12 seasons, Garnett had a bit more success than Joe Kapp, winning one title. 

     This just in: Billy King believes Garnett should go into the Hall as a Net.

     Tim Duncan, as the standings bear out, made Gregg Popovich the smartest man in the room by being the smartest man in the room.

     Proof that a college degree is actually worth something, he hung around Wake Forest in time for the Spurs to win the lottery, lose Bob Hill and give Rick Pitino a valid excuse to return to college coaching.

    Here’s Duncan’s career in a nutshell: No words, no tats, no errors.

     The guy killed opponents and closed captioning at the same time.

    Between the three of them—Kobe, Garnett and Duncan--that’s 48 All-Star Games, or about the same number I’ve avoided watching.

     Which brings us to Rudy Tomjanovich — in under the radar as a coach, but a five-time All Star as a player (17.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) as well. 

     Won those two Chris Christie ‘bridge’ championships while Jordan was telling people to go fungo yourself.

     Had Tomjanovich actually coached Charles Barkley to a title, he would’ve been elected via Vatican white smoke.

      Contrary to common credence, Tomjanovich’s most impressive coaching did not occur in 1994 when the Rockets beat the Knicks in seven games after trailing 2-3. Nor in 1995 when they short-sheeted Shaq and the Magic, 4-0. Did not happen in the 2000 Olympics, when the United States won the gold in Sydney, Australia, though, granted, Rudy did have to overcome the incessant meddling of assistant Larry Brown. 

     It says here, and I underline, Tomjanovich long ago deserved to make the Hall of Fame off his National team’s third-place accomplishment in the 1998 FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Greece. 

    Because the NBA was in lockdown, the USA was prohibited from using its players. Rudy volunteered to coach and was joined by Del Harris and Lon Kruger. Tryouts were held in Chicago. With one exception (David Wood), those selected were exclusively former college players whose pro experience was gained in the CBA and Europe. Brad Miller, undrafted out of Purdue, turned the opportunity into long-term profitable NBA career. 

   The high scorer (10.7) was Jason Sasser. Last week, he competed at the highest level in a Masters Tournament (64 teams from all over the country) in Miami and Deerfield; his team, the Raiders, won the Over-40 tournament.

      Syracuse’s Wendell Alexis-who I favorably compared to Chris Mullin when they battled in the Big East-Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy King, Trajan Langdon & Co. won seven of nine, losing by two points to both Russia (on a controversial call, of course) and Lithuania. Yugoslavia (9-0) triumphed, Russia was second and Rudy’s 7-2 outfit convincingly beat the host Greeks for the bronze medal. 

        USA Men’s Basketball decision makers were so overwhelmed by Tomjanovich’s achievement, they put him in charge of the men’s team at the Games of the XXVII Olympiad. It was undefeated, 8-0. 

Thank you to Frank Drucker for his contributions to this post.

The Man, the Myth and the Logo

By Peter Vecsey and column castigator Frank Drucker  

"If there is one player, I would have liked to play against in his prime it would have been Jerry West. He was a great clutch shooter, he could jump, he was tough, and he was quick. I would have liked to test myself against him at his best."

“How would I have done?”

"We'll never know. From what I have read about Jerry and from what others have told me, he played the game a lot like I did. He was a great scorer, but he also played good defense. Could he have stopped me? I don't think so."

Could I have stopped him?

"I don't know. But it would have been a great matchup."  For The Love Of The Game: My Story By Michael Jordan. Edited by Mark Vancil. 1998

Huge thanks to column castigator Frank Drucker for digging through the treasure troves of stories and anecdotes on The Logo.    

Of the 75 seasons the National Basketball Association has been doing business casual, Jerry West has been intimately involved for 61 of them. 

A fly-by-night Lego Logo he isn’t. 

For West, who turns 83 later this month (May 28th), has made palpable palm prints over four franchises, the pair In Los Angeles sandwiching Memphis and Golden State. 

Where to begin in a six-decade sojourn with so many chapters, so many verses, so much wine and so much song…even when he didn’t always get along? 

West’s staggering stat sheet doesn’t require rehashing here. If you’re unfamiliar, take two aspirin and call Dr. Naismith in the morning. 

What has made the man so complex is that or all the time he’s spent either pursuing or achieving success, it seems there’s been just as much time being unable to enjoy it. 

Even going into a phone booth (dating myself, sue me) and morphing into the suave silhouette of the league is something West hasn’t embraced. 

As a Laker player non-pareil, it was the Celtics who were the bane of West’s existence. 

As a player, West went to The Finals nine of his 14 years. The Lakers lost eight, the first six to the Celtics.  

He then found a way to get even. As the Purple Reign’s general manager, he oversaw Showtime, then purloined both Kobe and Shaq, turning the Lakers into the bane of everyone else’s existence. 

However, West’s Laker tenure—as player, then coach, then GM—saw its share of acrimony. 

West feuded with then-owner Jack Kent Cooke toward the end of his playing career, admitting years later that had there been free agency, he would’ve hightailed it out of Hollywood. 

    In 1976-77, Lakers were 53-29. Won 7-game series v Warriors, Got swept in Western Conference Finals by eventual champion Blazers. Owned Portland in regular season. Didn't have Kermit Washington (dumped after punch decimated Rudy Tomjanovich's face) or injured Lucius Allen.

As GM, he had Bryant and O’Neal both want out, the latter eventually getting his wish (though after West left for the Grizzlies). 

During an historic 18-year run in the Lakers front office, both as general manager (1982-1994) and executive VP of basketball operations (1995-2000), West’s teams captured four NBA Championships (1985, 1987, 1988, 2000) and made eight trips overall to The Finals. Additionally, following his departure after the Lakers’ 2000 NBA title, the team that he'd built completed its three-peat by capturing two additional titles in 2001 and 2002. 

Overall, West was affiliated in one capacity or another with the Lakers for seven of their Championships in Los Angeles (four as an executive, two as a special consultant and one as a player). 

After leaving the Lakers in 2000, West joined the Memphis Grizzlies as the team’s president of basketball operations in 2002. Two years later, in 2003-04, the Grizzlies engineered one of the greatest turnarounds in league history, winning 50 games and making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Following that season, West was rewarded with the NBA’s Executive of the Year award for the second time in his career. Overall during his five-year stint in Memphis, the Grizzlies made three Western Conference playoff appearances, but did not a single game. 

A Force in the Playoffs: Jerry West's points in the 1965 playoff series v Bullets, Western Conference Finals: 
Game 1 - 49 

Game 2 - 52 

Game 3 – 44 

Game 4 – 48 

Game 5 – 43 

Game 6 – 42 

A trip down memory lane with an adoring son: 

Lakers legend gets own statue and tribute from son 

By Peter Vecsey 

February 18, 2011  

LOS ANGELES — One of the things I loved most about my father was him being unafraid to show me his faults once we became co-workers. 

For the first 16 years as a newspaperman, a N.Y. Daily News door my father opened when I was a junior in high school, we often would spend five days a week together on the job, in the car, eating out and playing cards. He had the amazing capacity to help every bookmaker in the building to run a profitable business. 

Because of those shared experiences, I like to think our connection was deepest of the five children. 

Ryan West, a Lakers’ scout, is the sole son of five — David, Mike, Mark and Jonnie — to have worked with his famous father. Because of all the time he spent with his dad traveling around the country scrutinizing college players, gushing basketball and being privy to private pain, he, too, likes to think his relationship is deeper than his brothers. 

Who better to offer close-quartered perspective on Jerry West as we celebrated yesterday’s unfathomably overdue tribute to the former Lakers’ player, coach and executive. His statue was unveiled outside Staples Center flanking Magic Johnson, Chick Hearn, Oscar De La Hoya and Wayne Gretzky . . . and flaunting the preposterous omissions of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor. 

Over the years, I have written many League Logo anecdotes — remarkable, hysterical and outrageous things I have seen or heard about him since the late 1950s when he and Oscar Robertson ruled college basketball. 

And then there are the emotional, heart-wrenching stories he has confided to me about teammates and his life growing up in West Virginia, the son of an angry, drunken, child-beating coal miner. 

Jerry’s soon-to-be-released autobiography — “West by West; My Charmed, Tormented Life,” written with Jonathan Coleman — will plunge into that darkness and much more. 

In the meantime, in an e-mail, I asked Ryan if he would be comfortable giving us an unfiltered look at his father. 

“Wow that’s a tough one, he’s so crazy,” he responded initially before sending me several follow-ups that evening and the following morning. 

“Well, he’s brutally honest, which at times can be tough and hard to hear,” he wrote. “But at the end of the day I appreciate the fact that he was straight forward with me. 

“I remember one time we were in New York on a scouting trip for the Big East Tournament and he asked me to meet him in the lobby at 11 a.m. I got out of the elevator at 10:58 and he was upset because I was late. He’s always on time, a complete perfectionist. 

“I remember the summer when he was trying to sign Shaq,” he wrote. “I was glued to his side throughout the whole process. If I was in my room and the phone rang I ran into his room and listened to every conversation. I saw him go through so many highs and lows that summer and when it finally looked like it was going to get done I’ve never seen him so excited. 

“And after they signed him I saw him drop down into deep depression because Orlando had accused him of tampering. I think of anything negative that ever affected him during his time as an executive that was probably the most hurtful thing because he is moral and honest and always followed the rules, and he was so hurt that someone questioned his character like that. 

“The funny thing with him is, he seems to function the best during chaos,” Ryan wrote. “When everything is cool and calm that’s when he goes crazy. 

“I think maybe the saddest thing for me to see was after the Lakers finally won the championship in 2000 after completely rebuilding the team when Magic retired. He couldn’t enjoy it. The stress and pressures of winning got to the point where he couldn’t take it anymore. 

“I will never forget when we won that year he did not come to Game 6 at Staples. My mom [Karen] and little brother [Jonnie, now playing for West Virginia] and I were at the game. We celebrated in the locker room after the game and the whole time I was saying to myself my dad should be here enjoying this, he put this all together. 

“After we arrived home hours after the game [we were trapped inside Staples because they were rioting outside], I ran upstairs into his room to give him a championship shirt and hat and he was in a horrible mood. He said nothing about the game or the riots. He looked at me and said I need you to run an errand in the morning and got back into bed. I wanted to hug him and share it with him, but he wanted no part of it. It was then that I knew that he needed to retire because he couldn’t enjoy winning anymore. All I’ve ever wanted is to see him happy and enjoy his life, and it’s hard because he’s so all over the place.” 

Ryan, 31, is too young to have seen his father run full speed up court, stop short, ascend to a high-priestess plateau and flick in a flawlessly formed jumper from wherever. Didn’t see him coach, either; Karen was pregnant with him when he was finishing up a mostly unpleasant 3-year commitment. 

“I was born June 9, 1979,” he wrote. “The first time the Lakers ever beat the Celtics for the championship was on my birthday, June 9th, 1985. My mother was having a birthday party at our house during the game. My Dad was in the house watching the game and the cable went out I believe some time during the second quarter. Obviously, he was a nervous wreck. He had to listen to the rest of the game on the radio. 

“That was the only championship ring he would wear, because it represented the Lakers’ victory over the Celtics — we were not allowed to wear green in our house growing up. He is still haunted to this day by all those losses to Boston — on my birthday. 

“We were at the Chicago pre-draft camp when we were both working for the Grizzlies. Most of the time when we did dinner it was my dad and I, and all the Laker guys — Mitch Kupchak, Bill Bertka, Ronnie Lester, Gene Tormohlen. 

“So, we were at dinner and out of nowhere he gave this speech in front of everyone which was extremely embarrassing because I don’t like being the center of attention. He took his 1985 championship ring off and gave it to me. I was so touched it almost brought me to tears. After that day I have never seen him wear another ring.” 

West factoids: 

Jerry was the first ever draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers #2 overall, behind Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati's territorial choice. 

Exec of year with Lakers in 94-95 and Grizzlies in 2003-2004. 

Drafted James Worthy with his first pick as a GM in 1982. 

Selected Nick Van Exel in 2nd round,  37th overall in 1993. 

Drafted the often overlooked underrated star of his era Eddie Jones 10th overall in 1994. 

Drafted Kyle Lowry in 2006 with 24th pick, who was traded Feb. 19, 2009 as part of a 3-team transaction. Grizzlies dealt Lowry to Houston. The Rockts traded Rafter Alston to Orlando. The Magic trade Brian Cook to Houston. And Orlando traded Adonal Foyle, Mike Wilks and a 2009 first (DeMarre Carroll) to Memphis. 

Hired as executive board member and consultant by Warriors in 2011. Part of 2015 and 2017 title teams. Joined Clippers as Consultant June 2017. 

62 years old when he left Lakers in 2000.  

69 when he left Memphis after 5 years in 2007 

72 when he was hired by Warriors in 2011 

77 when he was hired by Clippers in 2017 

Turns 83 on the 28th of May

And the Oscar goes to...

By Peter Vecsey

November 25, 2007 | 10:00am

THE last time I spoke to Wilt Chamberlain, 13 months before he died on Oct. 12, 1999, out of nowhere he appealed: “Don’t ever let people forget how good we were.”

Oscar Robertson was one of those unforgettable, too-good-to-be-true players. While his much-saluted triple-double preeminence makes it impossible for contemporary (i.e. largely oblivious regarding NBA history) fans to overlook, the majority, having only witnessed his meticulous wide-ranging efficiency in grainy film snippets, can’t comprehend such greatness.

What’s more, their captivation with Michael Jordan forbids them from facing the unfathomable reality: There once was a 6-foot-5 guard – the league’s first big playmaker – who was as shrewdly competent and uncompromisingly competitive.

In the minds of many, Jordan’s six championship rings to Oscar’s one abruptly ends all comparisons. The disparity certainly seems to separate the two of a kind. Except for Scottie Pippen, Michael’s crowned Jordanaires were transposable. Oscar didn’t cash in until late in his career when he joined forces with Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Conversely, His Airness didn’t have to combat Bill Russell’s Celtics, or Wilt’s 76ers, or Bob Pettit’s Hawks. Meaning the more facts and figures factored into the equation, the more indivisible Jordan and Robertson become.

For example, if you combine Oscar’s first five NBA seasons, he averaged a triple-double. The Elias Sports Bureau has done the math – 30.3 points, 10.4 boards and 10.6 assists. He’s actually one-tenth of a rebound shy of averaging a triple-double for six seasons.

Additionally, “whomever he defended felt like he was bench pressing a California mortgage,” duly notes former Bucks play-by-play connoisseur Eddie Doucette.

This is why numerous antique dealers of league lore – Wayne Embry and Al Attles, to name two – unequivocally identify The Big O as the game’s all-time No. 1 passer and perfectionist as well as its supreme being.

As dumb luck would have it, I caught the full fragrance of Oscar’s majesty at his first recital at the old Madison Square Garden, 50th Street and Eighth Avenue. It was the 1957-58 season and he was a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati, in town to play Seton Hall. I was a high-school sophomore and had been given a ticket to see four college teams that meant nothing to me; the attraction was the stimulation of being at the Garden and the next day bragging to friends about being there.

Man, was that ever the place to be that night. Gushing points like an open hydrant, this guy I’d never heard of before saturated the stat sheet for 56 points. I had no idea a player could be so flawless in so many facets.

“Oscar was an illusionist in sneakers, so smooth and clever on the floor that it was difficult for the average fan to appreciate how accomplished he was,” recalls Doucette, who, just out of college, first saw Robertson with the Cincinnati Royals and later had the opportunity to call the final three seasons of his career in Milwaukee.

“I watched his every move from warm-ups to game’s end and never ceased to be amazed at how anyone 6-5 and 225 pounds could slip, unimpeded, through cracks meant only for shafts of light,” Doucette marvels still.

“There was no flash, no sizzle, no soaring dunks that would elicit ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs.’ Oscar was an economy of effort. You’d never see him work on shots in warm-ups that he wouldn’t use in games. Everything was 18 feet and in. He made his way to the hoop like a safecracker hopscotching a laser grid attempting to get to the vault.”

Attles’ first look at Oscar is indelibly etched in his memory bank. Both were 1960 draftees. Early in their rookie season there was a doubleheader in Syracuse – Celtics vs. Royals and Warriors vs. Nationals. Attles and Philly backcourt partner Guy Rodgers grabbed adjoining seats and focused on the already highly acclaimed Big O.

Almost immediately Oscar did something Attles had never witnessed before. As he came down court on a semi-break, K.C. Jones tried to intercept him, while a trailing Sam Jones tried to head him off at the pass from the opposite side.

Revved up by the recollection, Attles says: “Oscar dribbled by both of ’em. That got K.C. into a heated rush. Oscar quickly stepped in between them and quickly stepped out. Bam! K.C. and Sam banged heads. I’d never seen anything like it.

“I’m not telling you something I heard. I’m telling you something I saw.”

Turning to Rodgers, Attles groaned, “We’re going to have a big problem with this guy.”

Attles’ nickname is The Destroyer. Nobody, no matter how big and bad, wanted a piece of the Newark native. Manhandling opponents (teammates, too, when provoked) was the ticket he punched nightly to ride season upon season.

“But I never rattled Oscar. He never blinked at full-court, hands-on pressure,” Attles says in awe. “And I never blocked his shot. He was never concerned about his defender. He always looked straight ahead at his teammates.”

Robertson’s aplomb for getting teammates involved in the first three quarters played into Attles’ defensive game plan. He knew Oscar would look to score only four to six points in the first quarter, the same in the second and maybe eight to 10 in the third. If the verdict was in doubt in the fourth quarter, he’d go off for 12 to 18.

“If I was lucky, I’d be in foul trouble long before then,” Attles says. There was one time, though, when Attles and Rodgers trapped Oscar near midcourt and stole the ball to preserve a win.

“Listen to me,” Attles says, laughing. “Here I am talking about one incident. Once in my whole career I got the best of Oscar.”

If his grandkids know better, they won’t admit to getting tired hearing that story.

Embry vividly remembers Oscar’s outburst of 56 vs. Seton Hall. It was thoroughly expected. At the time Embry was playing for the Royals. For over a year he’d gained first-hand knowledge of Oscar’s oppression.

“If you were any kind of a player, UC was the place to scrimmage in the offseason or on off days. Typically, winners would stay on the court,” Embry says. “It didn’t take long to realize we needed to get our wins early before Oscar showed up.”

The leading scorer for the Royals when Robertson arrived on the UC campus was Jack Twyman. Shortly afterward, the future Hall of Famer challenged the unflappable freshman to a little one-on-one.

“Jack’ll kill me for giving you this,” Embry cackles, “but he hasn’t won a game yet. Oscar waxed us all.”

Embry and Robertson later became Royals teammates and roomed together. That is when Wayne really found out how driven Oscar was to excel and why he had total command of the game’s rudiments.

Oscar would carry a ball with him wherever he went. In fact, nobody but him was allowed to shoot his ball in pre-game warm-ups or practice, ever, honest.

Embry’s revelations about Oscar are endless. Each afternoon on the road he’d lie on the hotel bed shooting his ball into the air for a couple of hours, a perfect rotation and follow-through every time.

Flushing out every last impurity from his system was a prime objective. So was staying ahead of arch-rival Jerry West. When Oscar wasn’t contending on the court, he was contending off it.

Late one season Embry awoke from his afternoon nap to see Oscar studying the sports pages of the New York Post – in those days the only paper to carry a spread sheet of NBA stats.

“I know what they all think,” Oscar said to Embry. “They all think West is going lead the league in scoring. But I’ve figured out I need to get 48 points against the Knicks to pass him. You had better set me some massive picks tonight, big fella.”

In 1970, Embry became Bucks GM, the league’s first African American to have that position. His initial trade, instigated by owner Wes Pavalon, was for Oscar, who still dominated his position and controlled court proceedings more than the coach. He told Larry Costello what would work and what would be good for the team.

Costello liked Oscar but was uncomfortable with that arrangement.

“I told Coz to let it go,” Embry says. “I told him to let Oscar do what he does best and coach all the other players. I told him to be thankful he can walk into the locker room and see No. 1 in one corner and No. 33 in the other. It should make you feel good you’ve now got a chance to win it all.”

**********

Part 2:

November 30, 2007 | 10:00am

SO FAR, I’ve received 172 e-mails regarding Sunday’s Oscar Robertson column, the biggest reader reaction of 2007 exempting last June’s Bill Russell perspective. January’s name-dropping piece of players and coaches responsible for pushing me into this profession elicited roughly the same response from many people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

Clearly, we old folks have incurred little trouble making an Internet transition. My computer definitely helped to coordinate strewn thoughts, prolonging my attention span and enhancing my staying power on one subject.

What’s just as clear is that there are a lot of excitable basketball fans out there, not just the elder generation, mind you, with a craving for the history of the game.

This is precisely why NBA TV initiated a half-hour weekly series, “The Vault” which spotlights – with footage, interviews and studio viewpoints by yours truly, Gail Goodrich and Fred Carter – former players and title teams who may or may not get sufficient credit for their accomplishments.

Robertson and Elgin Baylor were first. The ’79 Sonics were next. This Sunday (6:30 p.m.) the focus is on Mark Price, Andrew Toney and Paul Westphal.

How’s that for a shameless plug? Lucky for you, had I not established a policy early-on in life never to read or a write a book, I’d probably be promoting a novel I just knocked off in this very sentence, or at least take out an advertisement for it on the same page.

But back to the Big O; I can’t put him away without sharing some interesting info that was sent my way off that column.

Thanks to John F. McMullen and Dick Vitale, my consciousness was reawakened to the fact Robertson had outscored Seton Hall, 56-54, the first time I saw him play as a University of Cincinnati sophomore. Numerous other readers swear they attended the doubleheader at the old Garden that momentous evening, too, and I believe ’em all, because each story offered vivid details.

Guess who else was present Jan. 9, 1958? None other than Long Beach High School’s Larry Brown, accompanied by his older brother.

“Cincinnati was recruiting Larry,” e-mailed Herb Brown, currently a Hawks assistant. “Following the game we went to the dressing room. Later we walked to the hotel with the coaching staff and Oscar, who was cradling a basketball. Connie Dierking, from Valley Stream, was the starting center on that team.

“The next day Jimmy Cannon wrote a ‘Nobody Asked Me But’ column about the game. He noted that only about 8,000 people were at the game, but in light of Oscar’s 56 points, every basketball fan in New York City will claim they were at the game.”

Oscar constantly carrying around “his ball,” and allowing nobody to shoot with it, is an enduring image rendered by those who knew him best.

On the first day of training camp of the 1965-66 season, a 12th-round draft choice (No. 88) out of Benedict College, S.C., rebounded Oscar’s ball and shot it.

“Hey, get your own ball, don’t shoot mine,” Oscar scolded Bob McCullough, fresh from scoring 36.5 his senior year, second in the country to Rick Barry.

“Whatcha mean, your ball? Your name Spaulding?”

Robertson and McCullough commenced to exchange harsh words. Wide Wayne Embry was forced to intercede on his teammates’ behalf. He explained to the rising rookie the Royals’ facts of life, but McCullough didn’t want to hear it. This was not the law of his land on the asphalt jungle of New York City, where loose balls and women were up for grabs. He was waived the very next day.

McCullough went back to Harlem and eventually succeeded the deceased Holcolmbe Rucker as tournament commissioner and started Each One, Teach One, a free-of-charge instructive clinic for children.

Each summer in the late ’60s, early ’70s, Embry, who’d become an NBA GM, visited the playground on 155th Street and Eighth Avenue to scout street and ABA talent.

“I’d always make a point of needling Bob,” Embry said, laughing. “I’d tell him, ‘Imagine the pro career you could’ve had if you’d only thrown Oscar his damn ball.’ ”

In August 1987, I had the pleasure of experiencing Oscar’s purist spirit directly. I had been invited to suit up for the annual Maurice Stokes benefit, old-timers only (a first for a writer), at Kutscher’s CC.

Oscar and Pete Maravich, 40 and frisky, was the starting backcourt of our squad. Cazzie Russell, Bob Cousy, Bob Davies and Kevin Loughery were on the other side. Midway into the first period coach Dolph Schayes sent me in for Oscar. You should’ve seen his face contort at the blasphemous substitution.

“No (bleeping) way am I going to be replaced by a sportswriter,” Oscar steamed as he stormed back on the court. “No (bleeping) way that’s gonna happen.”

I understood perfectly.

However, had Satch Sanders not gone out on the floor and cajoled Oscar to the sidelines, I would’ve been deprived of the biggest thrill of my sporting life . . . besting the surreal split second in the Rucker (Harlem Professional) Tournament when I delivered a no-look pass on the run to Julius Erving for a bombastic aghast.

Late in the second half at Kutscher’s I found myself on another fantasy fastbreak, a sportswriter and Pistol Pete skipping the night fantastic, with only one man to beat.

Maravich delivered a pass only his kind of showmanship could provide, and he hit me square in the hands in textbook stride with an around-the-back pass; I thank God to this day I was able to convert it into a lefty layup.

“Don’t ever say I didn’t give you anything,” Pistol said.

Five months later, Jan. 5, 1988, while playing pickup ball in Pasadena, Calif., Maravich died of heart failure.

Slick Stories - In Memory of Slick Leonard

By Peter Vecsey

Damon Runyon was a Slick Leonard character.

     I should probably stop right there. Daring to amplify and illuminate that declaration when Slick is not here to deny or confirm the stories I’m about to blab, could get me in trouble with his immediate family spread densely throughout the state of Indiana. 

     At the same time, anyone who knows anything about Slick knows everything you’re about to read is unassailable. Still, many may feel it’s too soon following his passing last Tuesday at 88 to exhume the 98-proof quintessence of the man. 

     On the other hand, I can opinion with complete certainty Slick would not only unequivocally approve of toothsome stories about his life being re-told in some cases, divulged in others, he’d encourage the courage to do so.

     How can I be so sure? Robin Miller supplied proof positive when we spoke Sunday. At 19, with no journalistic background, he began covering the Pacers for the Indianapolis Star after a year of answering phones in the sports department. 

     Been there, done that, and so has everyone in the Vecsey family.

     During that year of manning phones, Miller, not knowing his place, would call Slick at home (“841, 1520”) and question him about the last game, or the upcoming one. “I’m 18, what I know what I’m supposed to do or not supposed to do. Even though it was an off day, and I asked him countless dumb questions, he always talk to me for ten minutes or so.” 

     That formative relationship rapidly developed into the real deal when Miller began hanging around the Pacers on a regular basis. The hallowed Hoosier welcomed ‘Jimmy Olsen’ into his company, and the cub reporter was given free rein to enter the locker room at halftime. He even sat in on two team meetings. 

    “Slick taught me how to read a racing form, took me to my first strip club, and I learned how to use the word fuck as a noun, a verb and an adjective.” 

     A few years ago, Miller authored ‘We Changed the Game’ (with Bob Netolicky and Pacers’ founding father Dick Tinkham) about the team’s nine-year existence of mischief and misconduct. He stayed in constant touch with Leonard. 

    About a week before Slick died, Miller, undergoing cancer treatment in a clinic, called him in the hospital where Leonard’s long-damaged heart was functioning at 40 percent capacity. 

    “Hey, Robby, need any money? You gotta take care of your grandkids. How come I didn’t have this kind of (pension) money when I could’ve spent it on something worthwhile? Doesn’t do me any good now. 

      “I got an idea, Robby; when you’re finished with your treatment, why don’t you pick me up and we’ll go to the races in Anderson. You can drop me home at night.”

     When Roger Brown died, his eulogy was held at Market Square Arena. George McGinnis was first to speak but stopped abruptly when he began to cry. Mel Daniels got up and cried even more. It was Miller’s turn. 

     As he was about to get up, Slick mockingly asked, “You’re not gonna start crying, too, are you? We’re here to celebrate his life. Let’s put some life into this.” 

      At last, the evidence I initially promised. 

      Given Slick’s unrestricted permission, Miller told a story that’s supposed to stay in the locker room. About the time a beautiful woman emerged from the stands before a game and approached Brown, who was on the layup line, so to speak. 

     “If you take the first shot of the game, I’ll know we’re going to get together later tonight,” she said suggestively.

      Off the opening tap, Miller recounted, Brown “hoisted a 40-footer…an air ball.” 

     Last week, as Miller was getting ready to hang up, Slick said, “I love you, Robby."

     “I love you, too.” 

                                    *****

Front row left to right: Darnell Hillman, Derrick McKey, George McGinnis
Back row left to right: Bob Netolicky, Ted Green, Robin Miller, Davey Craig

In Ted Green’s six-year-old must-devour documentary (‘Heart of a Hoosier’) about Slick Leonard, Hall of Fame coach Branch McCracken insisted his Indiana University players do not smoke, drink or gamble. 

     “Those were Bob’s three favorite occupations,” wryly noted Green, the narrator. 

     One night, a game of quarter and a half stud poker was underway at a den of iniquity when a police raid took place. Everyone made a mad dash for the exit except Slick. “I stuffed the quarters and half dollars in my pocket.” 

      The next morning’s paper listed the rounded up participants. Leonard’s name was not among them. His sigh of relief wasn’t exhaled before McCracken arrived at his room. He ordered Slick to be in his office at 3 o’clock. 

     “He tore me apart. He really reamed me,” Slick recalled in the doc. He said, ‘If I ever have to call you in here again, only one of us will walk out.’ 

     “And you know which one that’ll be,” Slick retorted “as I took off. I know he was laughing after I left. From then on, I was the team leader.” 

     In 1953, Slick converted the free throw that ultimately decided a 69-68 win over Kansas (think Dean Smith) for the NCAA title. At the 27-second mark, he’d been fouled driving to the halo. He claimed to be a decent free throw shooter, but gagged the first try. 

     “The pressure was on for the first one. I thought the pressure was really on now.” 

      Nothin’ but macreame!

     A misfired corner shot with two seconds remaining elevated the two-time All American to pinup status. Interviewed at midcourt, McCracken said Slick had “ice water in his veins.” Slick chuckled. “It felt more like warm water running down my leg.”

                                      ****

     Bob Netolicky played on two of the three Pacer championships coached by Slick. Like many of the players, he tested Leonard, physically and verbally. 

     The most aberrant skirmish between the pair occurred in Duluth, Minnesota soon after Slick replaced Larry Staverman 13 games into the ’68-69 season. Wielding a hockey stick found in the locker room, Slick chased Neto, accused of cruising in the first half. 

     “I escaped by locking myself in the bathroom. He broke the hockey stick against the door.” 

     Another season, Slick, decked out in his customary leisure suit (only its color changed day to day), wrestled with Neto in the mud and the scrubs outside a hotel in West Hempstead as the team checked out. 

     Decades before Latrell Sprewell twice choked P.J. Carlisemo at Warriors’ practice, Slick engaged in a shoving match with an especially reluctant George McGinnis outside a bar. McGinnis pushed Slick so hard to the ground, his comb over flipped sides, says an eyewitness. No problem. Slick got himself upright and returned to the bar with McGinnis and resumed drinking. 

     Incensed by something Slick said at practice, Mel Daniels pinned him against the wall by the throat until he lost consciousness. 

     Yet, to Mel’s dying day, he pledged unending allegiance to Slick. If ever needed, he vowed to do anything, or be anywhere, for him. 

         Same for McGinnis, who says Slick was like a father to him. George’s dad had died in a construction accident. Slick shouldered the role and expressed his love for him. 

    Meanwhile, Neto was so happy the Pacers reacquired him he eagerly accepted backing up McGinnis, being steadily berated by Slick and trying unsuccessfully to drink him off the barstool for money, a bet Daniels failed to cash either.  

     “Foster Brooks got all his routines from Slick,” Neto maintains. “If we were on a losing streak, he was likely to stop in a bar before a game and have a few pops or more. 

     Billy Keller remembers what happened when the Pacers lost a few straight. “He’d have sunglasses on, and hang out far away from us at the end of the airport terminal. Then he’d come late to the bus, and wouldn’t talk to us. He let us know he wasn’t happy.”

      Slick’s competitive spirit would be fable fodder except there was nothing imaginary or exaggerated about it. Keller recalls an exhibition in Slick’s birthplace, Terre Haute, against an NBA team. 

      “He was real angry at us and didn’t mince words. Then he kicked the chalkboard so hard it tipped over and reversed itself. It hit him in the head. He was about ready to fall. After helping him, we got the hell out of the locker room cause he started throwing balls.”

     Netolicky vividly recollects the Pacers losing three or four straight and the upshot. Slick felt the players were panicking. He had them dress early for a home game, and they just sat in the locker room while he read them the riot act individually and collectively.  

    “We’re a family, and we’re getting away from what life is all about,” Slick seethed. “Starting tonight, we’re going to have a team prayer. We’re going to pray for each other. Understand?! Now, bow your mother fuckin’ heads.’” 

     It’s not like Neto is revealing secrets. Slick drank (and smoked) a lot almost to the end of his life. Then again, he probably stopped only when Nancy was on patrol. He also fought a lot throughout his playing and coaching careers. Furthermore, often drank with the person he’d just fought, friend or foe. 

     I’m unsure of the exact year, 1973, perhaps, but I’ll never forget the brawl in Indianapolis pitting the Pacers against Al Bianchi’s Squires. It raged so out of control, the police were forced to get intimately involved. They took their lumps. Which got Bianchi and several players arrested and escorted downtown to get booked. 

     Pacer executives futilely tried to intercede. David Craig, the Pacers’ long-time team trainer, told me “Slick went to the police station and tried to bail out his friend Bianchi. He no doubt wanted to have a drink with him.”  

     Craig was hired by Slick shortly after graduating college. They met at Sandy’s Pound Tavern, 38th& Collins, directly across from the Pacers offices.

      “Do you know who I am?” Slick asked. 

       Craig assured him he did.  

       “Well, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m from Indiana University, and I’m thinking about hiring a kid from Purdue. Let’s have a drink. Not long after, he informed Craig he’d been hired. 

       “Be here tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.”

      “Will you be there?” 

       “No, that’s why I’m hiring you.”

       Craig wound up working 38 years for the Pacers, 35 as head athletic trainer, and three in the front office.

      “Slick was one of the most natural leaders I ever met. Players knew he cared. That’s why he could get the most out of them. He pushed them hard. And he loved them. 

      “He’d give you hell, and then buy you a beer,” Billy Keller said. 

     Craig said it best: “Slick had an ability to put an arm around a player’s shoulder, and one foot up his ass.” 

                                  ****

     One shoulder Slick declined to massage was Rick Mount. From the start of training camp, the Hoosiers’ remarkable guard seemingly had it in for the state’s and Purdue’s all-time seamless shooter. Even before, actually, at the off-season press conference to announce his signing. 

     Team president Mike Storen drafted Mount (3,800 season tickets were sold overnight) over the obstreperous objections of Slick, intent on keeping his championship rotation in tact.

     “I asked Storen why Slick didn’t attend,” Mount told me in an interview in September 2017. “I was told he didn’t want me here. Then I don’t want to be here.”

       Storen refused to trade Mount. Then went to Kentucky and “left me holding the bag.”

    Mount said he came to camp in great shape, but  pulled a hamstring. In 66 games, he averaged a mere 12.6 minutes. “I could’ve gone to Seattle. Lenny Wilkens saw me play in an all-star game in Memphis and said he wanted someone he could pass to. I wanted to stay home.” The Sonics instead drafted Downtown Freddie Brown.

     In Mount’s first rookie scrimmage, “I hit six threes. After each make, Slick would say, “We’re not at Purdue now, Mount.

    “What does that mean?” I asked. 

     “You’re gonna sit here and eat shit?”

     “Why?”

      “You’re just gonna sit here and eat shit.”

       “I’m in trouble now, I said to myself.”

        Still, the following season, Mount averaged 14.3 points and 2.9 assists in 27.3 minutes, playing a vital role in the team’s title.

      Mount was traded to Storen’s Kentucky in year three (14.9 ppg).

     “People say, ‘let it go.’ Mount told me during our 2-hour lunch in 2017, an hour from Indianapolis where the ABA was conducting its 50threunion. He had not! Rick refused to attend, knowing Slick would be there. 

                               *****

       David Benner worked eight years as a Pacers’ beat writer. The last 27 he has been the team’s publicity director. 

      “As a kid, my father would take me to a Pacers’ game every once and awhile, and I’d say to myself, ‘Man, I wouldn’t want to play for that guy.” 

     That guy being Slick, a ranting, raving tyrant. 

     “Once he was done with coaching, and joined the broadcast side, Slick became the sweetest human being ever. ‘Hey, Benny, how you doing?’ And he’d give me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. He was that way with everyone.”

     “Slick never met my mother or father,” Benner said. “But he took the time to come to both their funerals. Obviously, we were friends. Friends do that. Still, it says something about this guy, who is a legend in this state, and, obviously, without him, we don’t have the team we have today. It says everything you have to know about Slick. 

      “My family wasn’t the only one he cared enough about to come and pay his respects. When he passed, when we got the news, for me, and a lot of other people were in tears. Thinking about stuff. Thinking about his philosophies on life. How we continued our education being around him. The sincerity of it all.

      He was quite a character.

     McGinnis, Neto and Darnell Hillman, were invited by Nancy Leonard to speak at Wednesday’s small family ceremony.

                             ****

     Afterthought: If we’re gonna write about Slick Leonard, we gotta talk to someone who actually saw him play. That would be Del Harris, born in Plainfield, IN, five years later than Slick in Terre Haute. 

    “I definitely saw him play in college, during Indiana’s championship year. He had a step back (I copied as a kid) that transitioned into a set shot. He had great footwork. He’d jab step with a bounce in, then create space by faking right foot, right hand, step backward and shoot two-hander. The defender had to give a little or else he’d go all the way. He also had kind of a jump shot, where he’d fold his legs, a ‘50s and ‘60s thing, not like the straight legged shooters of today.”

     Just thought I’d throw a little basketball in there since this is supposed to be a basketball column.

                                  *****

     Gail Goodrich turns 78 April 23. Today marks five years since the passing of Brooklyn's own Dwayne Alonzo "Pearl" Washington. Pearl would've been 57. 

Puttin' The Rock In The Hoop

Today's Hoop du Jour is presented by Peter Vecsey (brain drizzle), Frank Drucker (author) and Jason Javaherian (researcher).

Later this month (April 22, 1989) marks the 32nd anniversary of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s final regular-season game.

The Lord of the Rims went 5-6 from the Fabulous Forum floor for an efficient ten points.

Thus ended his ‘regular season’ stats, the point total a nearly-symmetrical 38,387.

That hasn’t been surpassed since. Though, it says here, one or more prolific pursuer might’ve purloined the perch had an influx of impairments not arisen.

Hell, even ‘Cap’ wasn’t immune.

Let’s go there first.

Coin-flipped from Westwood to Wisconsin, then-Lew Alcindor made his NBA regular-season debut October 18, 1969 at the age of 22…barely 48 hours after the Mets won the World Series.

He went for 29 (and 19 rebounds) in a coming-out party at the expense of the Pistons, a decent start to an ‘irrelevant’, two-decade (six Milwaukee, 14 LA) career.

A deacon of durability, the Centrifugal Force only went AWOL twice of note, missing 17 games (1974-75) largely from unsanctioned bout with a basket stanchion during preseason and 20 (‘77-‘78) after his fist organized a meet-and-greet with Kent Benson’s face in the season opener. 

 At the time, a Lakers’ source informed me Kareem Did Not break his right hand when he coldcocked Benson in retaliation for elbowing him in the solar plexus. I was told it happened in his Milwaukee hotel, the Pfister.

According to the source, Kareem busted up the room, including a television set and table. His injury was sustained during that outburst, which was covered up by team officials and hotel employees. 

Take those 37 games and multiply them by Abdul-Jabbar’s averages during the two seasons (30 and 25-ish, respectively) and we’re at about 1,010 points.

Add those to the aforementioned 38,387 and we’re at a hypothetical 39,487.

...and lest we forget Kareem did not have any season short-sheeted by a strike, lockout, rule changes, pandemic, dog ate his homework, etc.

Playing until 42 wasn’t bad, either.

Cap’s curse takes control from here on in.

Karl Malone (36,928) sits at No. 2 on the hit parade. The Mailman, another who rarely recoiled from his appointed rounds, as in at least 80 games in 17 of his 18 full (the operative word) seasons.

Speed-bumps...a 50-game lockout season (‘98-‘99, he played in 49) and his fairly-forgettable finale--42 ring-chasing games for ‘03-‘04 Lakers, ‘lowlighted’ by a MCL tear and subsequent misdiagnosis just as Malone was bearing down on Kareem

Give Malone his nearly 24 points per game for 32 games during the abbreviated assemblage and that’s an additional 768 (37,696)

I adamantly refuse to remember his Lakers loitering, so there.

Feel free to speculate the stats had common-law court mate John Stockton hung around for another year, perhaps enticing Malone to stay put.

Then again, we could argue that Malone’s penchant to use varying opponents as elbow macaroni should’ve sent him to deserved detention for far longer than one game at a time, seven total. 

Think about it, Malone was suspended a single game and fined 10G for fracturing the face (40 stitches, Dec. 14, 1991, shelving him for three games) of Isiah Thomas with an errant (no such thing) elbow. Today’s sentence would be ten or more games. 

LeBron resides at No. 3 (35,283) though has hit pause at the moment due to a right ankle sprain he probably would’ve shook off overnight a few years ago. His current age is 36 years, 103 days. 

James’ journey began with the chronological straight-outta-high-school advantage. He needs 3,105 points to abdicate Abdul-Jabbar, or about 1½ seasons’ work at a shade over 25 points per game.

...or longer.

...or not at all.

This already-truncated (72 games) season has seen LeBron miss 13 and counting. Reports have him out another three weeks or so. Only two seasons removed from taking his talents to Tinsel Town, and missing gaggles of games with a groin malfunction (I hate when that happens), duress and desire are about to intersect.

No disrespect, but Father Time and AARP have placed courtesy calls.

Still, LBJ may very well overtake Kareem even without full health, as long as it’s nothing crippling. But he must produce a high scoring standard in the next three seasons. The 3,105 can be had even if he averages a mere 41 games a season at 25 ppg. A fourth year, one in which he will turn 40, with the same number of games he has played (41) this year would put him at 39,383, roughly a thousand more than Kareem.

At the same time, nothing is guaranteed at 40, unless you’re Kareem.

Sitting at No. 4 (33,643) is the late, great Kobe Bean Bryant.

As with James, Bryant arrived having taking no college prep courses, leapfrogging from Lower Merion into the unwanting arms...

...of the Charlotte Hornets. Briefly. 

Stymied at the start of his career (seven starts his first two seasons), Kobe’s career began with a DNP against Phoenix. Next, at home versus Minnesota...six minutes, no points.

It wasn’t until the bright lights of New York City when Kobe was able to score. He converted a free throw at the World’s Most Famous Arena, every kid’s dream. 

There were four times in a six-season stretch (‘99-00 to ‘04-‘05) that he maxed out at 68 games played.

Of course, the Lakers were three-peating during that time, but that’s not the issue here.

Bryant’s bandwagon was derailed in mid-April of 2013, tearing an Achilles against Golden State.

Subsequently, he played in just 25 percent (41 of 164) of LA’s games the next two seasons.

If you want to buy the premise of a healthy Bryant playing 70 games in each of those seasons and averaging 27.3 point (his previous full-season number), that’s 3,822 points.

Then subtract his actual 865 points and you get 2,957. Add that to his above total and the ‘new’ figure is 36,600.

Kobe flaunts the greatest disparity in league history—59 points—between his free throw at the Garden and the 60 he manufactured in his go-away game, and it’s guaranteed to be his to forever have and hold. 

Other Non-bandage blockades...A pair of work stoppages (‘98-99, ‘11-12) caused the league to forego 48 (32 & 16) games. Of the 116 games during those seasons, Bryant appeared in 108.

Sitting at 32,292 points, some guy named Jordan resides at Number Five.

As the leader of the six-ring circus, his career has been thoroughly analyzed by those of us in desperate need of thorough analysis.

What if his minutes hadn’t been massaged upon returning (after missing 64 games) from a broken foot three games into his sophomore season?

What if he hadn’t bolted to the Birmingham Barons, thus missing 1¾ after the Bulls’ third title?

What if Chicago management hadn’t made 1997-98 so uncomfortable for Phil Jackson he was compelled to leave?

What if Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause had not dismembered The Jordanaires after that second three-peat?

What if His Airness hadn’t hibernated a second time, missing a trio of years before taking a Wiz for two?

Hitting .202 for the Barons in 1994 cost Michael 4,763 points We arrive here using his ‘92-93 season average (32.6) and the average games played (81) in his eight healthy seasons.

The lump sum would have given M. J. close to Kobe’s projection of just about 37,000.

That’s still 1,300 or so points shy of Kareem, but with Jordan, there’s always more to the missive.

Jordan’s second retirement came after he played back-to-back-to-back 82-game seasons, averaging 28.7 points in the Last Dance. 

Had he come back the following season(s)—Chicago clothing or not—an 82-game season at 28.7 would’ve meant 2,357 points, leaving him at the top spot with a thousand-point cushion. 

Wait, there’s an Air Jordan asterisk afloat. The ‘98 lockout would’ve reduced (for this purpose) him to 1,435 points (50 games). 

But to truly do Jordan right, let’s take away the 3,015 points he earned with the Wizards and proceed as if he hadn't stepped away a second time. 

Remember, he put up those numbers after three full seasons absent from action. If we give M. J. the 1,435 in the lockout-shortened year and give him the full year of 82 games (1999-2000), that’s another 2,357 points. 

Jordan then would have hit 37,832 at the end of ‘99-‘00, 555 points shy of the record. 

He then would have needed to play a third season (2000-2001), as opposed to the two closeouts in the District. 

If you’re scoring at home (get help), going off the 28.7 a game, a 37-year-old GOAT would have broken the streak in the twentieth game of the 2000-2001 NBA season. You can look up who “they” played. 

Had Jordan played every game that season (as he did as a 40-year-old his actual last), he would have padded the record by 1,779 points and become the first ever to 40,000. 40,166 to be not-quite-exact.

Speed bumps...Did you not just read this?

Whew, my abacus and I are tired.

As a bonus, current contenders/pretenders...

Kevin Durant (23,530). He’s 32, going through an injury-plagued 13th season after missing all of the last one.

He’d need seven 2,000-point seasons to come close to Kareem. To give you an idea of what that takes, two seasons ago, a healthy Durant played in 78 Golden State games (age 30), averaging 27 points. His point total was 2,027. 

Durant thus would have to play supreme ball over complete seasons, averaging 2,000 a year post-Achilles. A freshly-turned 39-year-old Durant needs to play into that 20th season, score 2,000 (77 games 27 ppg), to sit at 37,530. 

That’s still 800 shy of the Sky Hook.

James Harden (22,022). At 31, he’s 11 months younger than Durant, 1,500 fewer points in one less season. 

In 12 years, Harden has put up beaucoup numbers, making a run at another 2,000-point season now, though may come up short with ten fewer games on the schedule. 

This would be his seventh in a row. He dropped 2,818 points in 2018-2019, winning the MVP the prior season with 627 fewer points. If Harden averaged 2,200 a year the next five (11,000), he’d enter the season turning 38 at 33,000 or so points, needing an additional 5,500 to pass Kareem. 

His current streak of 2,000-plus points certainly gives him a boost, but he will most probably, like many before him, need a miracle in the stretch run.

Did you know?

Most of us view the greatest assist and steals man the league has ever seen to be just that, but John Stockton ranks 52nd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 19,711 points. 

In 53rd place, with 19,655, Bernard King.

LEGENDS MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT TO EXPAND PETER VECSEY’S ‘HOOP DU JOUR’ CONTENT TO PODCAST FORMAT

- Debut Episode Tips Off April 13 and Will Feature NBA Legend and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee Julius “Dr. J” Erving -  

Chicago, ILL. April 8, 2021 - The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) announced today that veteran NBA columnist, renowned basketball insider and Legends Media & Entertainment’s own Peter Vecsey and his Hoop du Jour content will be expanding to podcast format on April 13. The Hoop du Jour podcast will join the Hoop du Jour weekly blog as featured content for Legends Media & Entertainment (LME) - the NBRPA’s 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 2020 and has seen record growth since launch. 

Beginning April 13, and featuring special guest Julius “Dr. J” Erving, the Hoop du Jour podcast will stream new episodes bi-monthly and highlight Vecsey’s opinions, insights and quips about the game’s illustrious past and provide exclusive in-depth conversations with some of the most legendary names in basketball history. Frank Drucker, Vecsey’s inimitable ‘column castigator,’ has also been summoned to add his share of caustic wit and wisdom.  

Fans can follow the Hoop du Jour podcast, the Hoop du Jour blog as well as all LME content on social media at @NBAalumni on TwitterInstagramYouTubeTwitchFacebook at NBA Alumni or at our Legends of Basketball website. The Hoop du Jour podcast will also be available wherever fans get their podcasts by searching “Legends Studios.”    

“Since joining Legends Media & Entertainment, Peter and Hoop du Jour have reinforced why they are must-have content for all basketball fans,” said Scott Rochelle, President and CEO, NBRPA. “Peter’s unique storytelling style, hilarious anecdotes and insights are a perfect fit for our podcast series and we are eagerly looking forward to hearing NBA and ABA Legends tell their favorite stories as only they can.” 

“I’m thrilled to be able to expand on my weekly blog to help amplify the stories and recollections from some of the most dynamic and interesting athletes ever,” said Peter Vecsey, LME columnist. “I’m looking forward to having some good-natured back-and-forth with them and hearing them tell their stories and show a younger generation what is was like to be a hooper back then.” 

Vecsey, a long-time columnist for the New York Post and analyst for TNT/TBS, NBC and NBATV, is a native New Yorker and has been enshrined in four Halls of Fame, including Naismith Basketball (Class of 2009), NYC Basketball, Rucker League and Archbishop Molloy. 

About the National Basketball Retired Players Association:
The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) is comprised of former professional basketball players from the NBA, ABA, WNBA and Harlem Globetrotters. It is a 501(c) 3 organization with a mission to develop, implement and advocate a wide array of programs to benefit its members, supporters and the community. The NBRPA was founded in 1992 by basketball legends Dave DeBusschere, Dave Bing, Archie Clark, Dave Cowens and Oscar Robertson. The NBRPA works in direct partnerships with the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. Legends Care is the charitable initiative of the NBRPA that positively impacts youth and communities through basketball. Scott Rochelle is President and CEO, and the NBRPA Board of Directors includes Chairman of the Board Johnny Davis, Vice Chairman Dave Cowens, Treasurer Sam Perkins, Secretary Grant Hill, Thurl Bailey, Caron Butler, Jerome Williams, Shawn Marion, David Naves and Sheryl Swoopes. Learn more at legendsofbasketball.com. 

To follow along with the NBRPA, find them on social media at @NBAalumni on TwitterInstagramYouTube and Twitch or on Facebook at NBA Alumni.  

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CONTACTS: 

Julio Manteiga, NBRPA, jmanteiga@legendsofbasketball.com, (516) 749-9894

Cooz & Erskine – Tales of Old NY, New England and the Deep South

By Peter Vecsey

   I’ve always liked older people. 

   Old people, actually. 

   Always liked being around them as a kid. Cutting their lawns, shoveling their steps and driveways, walking their dogs, listening to stories about their lives when they were young.

   I’ve always gravitated toward old people. I don’t mean people perceived as being old, like we did as youngsters when we thought men and women in their 30s were ancient. I’m talking about people who needed a ride home after a game or from Queens/Long Island to the city for weekly chemotherapy sessions.

   To this day, I savor nights of hanging out with old timers at the Friar’s Club, Toots Shor’s, the Copacabana, Wally’s. Remember every tale they told; being at Yankee Stadium when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit back-to-back homers--an inside-the-park job by Gehrig; seeing Pete Reiser crash into the Ebbets Field outfield wall in pursuit of a line drive; witnessing the warfare between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell in the first game of a doubleheader at the old Garden; recalling how an infinitely respectful young coach, Bob Knight, after dining with Clair Bee, Nat Holman and Joe Lapchick would give a lift home to whomever needed it.

   Now that I’m authentically old testament, I appreciate the company of citizens my senior that much more, well, their phone voices, anyway. 

   Lately, though, my old-folks fascination has advanced to a peculiar phase. For the last several weeks, I’ve interviewed nothing but nonagenarians, all astonishingly cogent! Not a cane for the brain among them!

   You know about Harold Gifford, age 97, the pilot who saved the Lakers’ team from instant extinction—or even a single injury for that matter—in 1960 when he landed a damaged DC-3 at night in a Carroll, Iowa, cornfield during a snowstorm after five hours and 40 minutes in the air without a radio, heat or lights from the git-go, only a prayer.

   ‘Giff’ and I have communicated a lot recently. I even received a delightful Lacquie Lawson Easter ecard from him. As soon as it’s safe to visit him following my second vaccine shot, the plan is to fly or drive to Minneapolis.

   “If you drive, you can stay with me,” he said. “If you fly, I’ll pick you up at the airport, and you can use my Lexus while you’re here.”

   I’m gonna take a wild stab that the car ain’t old.

                   ****** 

   Another nonagenarian I’m in touch with on a recurring basis is Carl Erskine,  94, the last living member of Roger Kahn’s ‘The Boys of Summer’.

   In the conceivable future, you’ll be reading many memories in this space from the right-handed pitcher, who lives in his hometown of Anderson, Indiana with his high school sweetheart, Betty Palmer. His son, Jimmy, whom doctors early on decided wouldn’t last till 30 due to Down Syndrome, turned 61 last week...

   ...unless I decide to hoard them for a chapter in The Book I’ll Never Finish. 

   OK, OK, I’ll share one. 

   During Erskine’s 12-season career with the Dodgers (122-78, including a pair of no-hitters) the batter he faced most was Stan Musial. 

    “I had a good won-lost record against the Cardinals, but Musial was the most difficult hitter I ever faced. He was a pure hitter, hit to all fields. 

   “Of the 164 at bats, in over 300 innings, I struck him out four times.”

   Erskine said Musial loved telling people, “Carl had a great curveball. Neither he nor I could figure out how I hit him so well.” 

   After they’d retired, Erskine and Musial got acquainted in an unusual way. Both were invited to a private party. Al Hirt, purportedly the world’s meanest trumpet player, was the orchestra leader.  

   When dining at Musial’s St. Louis restaurant, Stan the Man told Erskine he was going on stage to play the harmonica. 

   When Hirt ate there, he often spontaneously entertained guests and Stan wanted to return the favor. 

   “Too bad I didn’t bring my harmonica,” said Erskine, who played the national anthem at roughly half-a-dozen Pacer games over the years. “I’d go up there with you.”

   Musial reached into his pocket and produced a second harmonica. Afterward, Erskine told him, “You’re a lot easier to play with than against.” 

                     *****

   Bob Cousy, age 92, is the third nonagenarian I was exceptionally privileged to go one-on-one with of late, for an hour or so.  

   In my early teens, I’d jump the fence at a nearby schoolyard, and pretend I was both Cousy and Dick McGuire (and mimic Marty Glickman doing the play-by-play), the two greatest eyes of the cutters during the ‘50s and ‘60s, maybe ever. 

   McGuire played for St. John’s, then the Knicks before being traded to the Pistons. After getting cut his freshman and sophomore years, Couz played 1½ seasons at Andrew Jackson High School in Queens. I grew up a few miles away in Holliswood. 

   Universally acclaimed as the Houdini of the Hardwood, Cousy, 15 years older, greatly influenced my feeble around-the-back dribbling, look-away passing style (which habitually pissed off Archbishop Molloy coach, Jack Curran: “Who do you think you are, Bob Cousy!” he’d screech) as he did for thousands upon thousands of other impressionable kids. 

   How could we not want to be like Mr. Basketball? Cooz made First Team All-NBA ten straight years, was the MVP (1957) season, led the league in assists eight consecutive seasons and played on six championships teams during his 13-year career with the Celtics. 

   Naturally, if you’re reading this, you already know everything there is to know about Bob Cousy. Every accomplishment in college (a freshman on the Holy Cross ‘47 NCAA championship) and as a pro is duly documented in books, magazines, newspapers, in stone and sonnets by the best in the sports writing business. The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize author, Dave Anderson, wrote he  majored in Cousy” while they were classmates at HC, where he was sports editor of the school paper. 

   Still, I always feel there’s a story or two to be told no matter how many times someone’s been interviewed. Or maybe there’s more to a story that’s been frequently told. Or maybe there’s a topic interviewers have been reticent to broach. 

   Like Cousy’s lisp. “I talk funny, no doubt about it. I was in my mother’s stomach when my parents migrated from France through Ellis Island. I spoke only French the first five years of my life. 

   “I learned English in the street. Couldn’t pronounce my r’s. I rolled them. Was it a speech impediment? The kids called me ‘Flenchy’. That’s what kids did, trade ethnic insults, part of the street ethos, identifying people by their flaws.

    “I finally learned to live with it. When I moved to New England, the situation got more prominent. New York slang coupled with New York twang. Words came out sounding like goulash. 

   “It was very hard on the ears, especially all those years I worked as an analyst on TV. English teachers would send me ‘Get out of the business’ letters. My articulation was painful to their ears.

   “Well, here I am 92, and I still speak funny. And I don’t give a shit anymore! Never been insecure about it, honestly.” 

   In 1950, Cousy was a rookie, as was teammate Chuck Cooper, one of the NBA’s first three black players—Earl Lloyd and Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton—to enter the league that season. They roomed together.

   “I don’t think anyone knew we were rooming together except Red (Auerbach). We didn’t do it for any political reason. We bonded. We simply had a lot in common. The same interests. Liked the same movies. Liked slow, quiet jazz. Liked the game. 

   Three years later, the Celtics were in Raleigh, NC, for an exhibition game. The hotel wouldn’t let Cooper stay in the same hotel as the team. Auerbach raised a fuss and was prepared to call off the game.

   “We told him not to sweat it,” Cousy said. “Let’s play the game and we’ll catch a train through New York. We’ll see you in Boston.” Red went along with it. A 12:30 AM sleeper was booked.

   Back in those days, Cousy said, “We didn’t snort, inhale, inject funny substances, or take un-prescribed pills. However, we did drink a lot of beer.”

   Cousy and Cooper got to the station a couple hours ahead of time and drank till “we had to take a whiz badly. 

   “Chuck was from Pittsburgh, and thought he was pretty cool. I’m from New York and fancied myself as being sophisticated. But neither of us had ever seen a bathroom sign pointing to ‘colored’ one way and ‘white’ the other way. I teared up. I was ashamed to be white.”

   Cousy and Cooper searched for another relief option. “We went out on the end of the platform. There might’ve been another person at the other end. We peed alongside each other off the platform. A real Rosa Parks moment. I haven’t told that story very often.

   “This was 1953,” Cousy said, laughing. “If some redneck cop had seen us, he could’ve shot both of us and gotten away with it.”

Elgin and the Lakers’ Cornfield Angel

By Peter Vecsey

While the masses clustered to venerate Elgin Baylor’s glorious game in death after decades of habitually omitting him his rightful residence among the elite players in planet history whenever the topic was raised and reasoned, I choose to look at his passing from an incongruent angle. 

My paramount thought upon hearing Boneaylor had transitioned was, if not for pilot Harold Gifford’s inestimable expertise and experience, the 6-5 inflight gymnast, owner of the NBA’s third highest scoring average behind Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, would’ve perished 61 years ago along with everyone else on a Lakers’ gas-drained, lights-out DC3 charter forced to land during a snowstorm in a Carroll, Iowa, cornfield.

“Yes,” Gifford concurred when contacted at his home outside Minneapolis. “I had something to do with Baylor completing his legacy and enjoying everlasting fame. But I benefited, too.”

Gifford is 97, a categorically coherent 97. Numerous times he put me to shame with his fine-tuned faculty to name names, only occasionally pausing to dig deep into the distant past.  

“I’m still perking, and I still have all my original parts,” he responded to my compliment about his impeccable memory bank. 

During several extended conversations we’ve had over the last few days, he bombarded me with dozens and dozens of details of that five-hour and 40-minute scramble that began in distress upon takeoff from St. Louis after a loss to the Hawks en route to Minneapolis, and came within Gifford’s ripened reflex of calamity when he scarcely avoided treetops. 

“Elgin was a very private person,” Gifford said when asked what, if anything, he recollected about Baylor. “I was never able to contact him over the years.”

Gifford does remember him being very apprehensive about flying. Remembered him coming into the cockpit and asking how high they were flying, or where they were. Chicago, or some such distinguished place was pointed out, and he’d return to his seat. 

Was that something Baylor often did? 

“Frequently,” Gifford replied. “That night we were up 17,000 feet, I didn’t hear anything from him.” 

There were usually two pilots for each charter, though there were three on that fright flight. Vernon Ullman was the captain; more about his suspect role later. Jim Holznagel, 21 and fresh from receiving his pilot’s license--now 82, and living in Fairbanks, Alaska--was ‘working’ his first trip for Gopher Airlines. He sat in the cabin’s jump seat. He did not get paid. It was a get-the-lay-of-the-skies free trip. 

What a score!

If the pilots wanted to see a Lakers’ game on the road, they were given team equipment bags to carry into arenas to make them look official. They’d sit in back of the players, where flocks of team assistant coaches currently perch three rows deep.

Gifford remembers being behind the Lakers’ bench in the old Madison Square Garden watching Baylor dribbling up the sideline. “Just before he shot, his head would slightly swivel right or left as if he he had a twitch. 

“The guys would kid him, saying Elgin developed it from cheating in card games,” Gifford said.  

“I don’t remember too many distinctive things about Baylor, but I do vaguely recall him outside the plane in the deep snow that night looking up at the stars and praying, thanking God.”

A seamless segue, I submit, for another overriding thought of mine following the news Baylor had passed at 86.  Think about it; if not for Gifford’s unruffled bravado to take control of a terrifying situation when the captain’s capacity to make decisions malfunctioned (see below) the Lakers’ franchise would’ve very possibly ceased to exist. 

True, the NBA probably would’ve conducted a dispersal draft involving the league’s remaining seven teams to restock the Lakers. Nonetheless, the talent would’ve dramatically lacked consequence to justify their relocation to Los Angeles the next season, the first team to go farther west than St. Louis. Moreover, the reconstructed Lakers would not have had the appeal to transform people unfamiliar with professional basketball into paying customers.

Don’t tell Jerry West (a rookie in 60-61) I wrote that.

     Who Knows? Minus the Lakers, winners of five titles  (49-54), the struggling NBA may have become such a Humpty Dumpty league it might’ve folded.

                                         *****

Four years ago—nine after I’d written a piece about the Lakers’ near fatal expedition--I received an email from Harold Gifford, whom I had not interviewed; I’d focused strictly on learning players’ accounts. 

Peter

 I was co-pilot on the Lakers flight in 1960. Jim Holznagel was the third pilot. He and I are still alive and well. There had been an avalanche of misinformation about the flight so we decided to attempt to set the record straight by publishing a book, "The Miracle Landing", available on Amazon and Kindle. If you care to hear our story my # is … and Jim's is…. Jeanie Buss wrote a forward for the book and we have remained in contact. Jeanie often suggests the story would make a compelling movie. Several years after the landing, Verne Ullman died of a brain tumor. It has been suspected that his erratic behavior prior to and during the flight had been a result of the lingering problem. 

As illustrated in the book it was you that ignited the spark that revived the story. I have been wanting to talk with you for a long time. I am nearly 93 and no longer do I buy green bananas. 

   Harold Gifford  

                                      *****

    Before delving into the ‘avalanche of misinformation’, first the column I wrote in the New York Post February 8, 2009…  

                                       *****

    CHARLES Lindbergh carved out his hallowed highland in aviation history by becoming the first to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger awed mankind on Jan. 15 by belly-flopping U.S. Airways Flight 1549 onto the Hudson River, saving all 155 people on board.

Forty-nine years before, almost to the day, retired Lt. Col. Vernon Ullman, who saw action in World War II and Korea, and co-pilot Harold Gifford set down a twin-engine DC-3 in heavy snow in a Carroll, Iowa, cornfield.

Who?

The pilots lacked a radio, defroster and lights and had almost no visibility. Ten Minneapolis Lakers, nine others in their traveling party (including four children, one of whom was head coach Jim Pollard’s 11-year-old son, Jack) and three crew members rushed completely unscathed from the utterly undamaged aircraft.

Say, what?

In late December, I was in Los Angeles interviewing Elgin Baylor about his extraordinary playing career when suddenly he swerved into an astonishing account of his Minneapolis Lakers team’s near fatal landing during his second NBA season.

A few weeks later, Sullenberger makes the save of the century.

Hold on; not so fast.

No disrespect, but compared to what Ullman and Gifford accomplished and the five-hour-40-minute ordeal their human cargo suffered, the US Airways’ matter-of-minutes West Side miracle was for the birds.

On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 17, 1960, despite Baylor’s 43 points, the 13-20 Lakers lost, 135-119, to the Hawks in St. Louis.

“We were a picture of instability,” recalled Tom Hawkins, a rookie on that Lakers team.

     They were the franchise’s stepchildren, having inherited the unpleasant legacy of the league’s original dynasty – George Mikan, Slater Martin, Vern Mikkelsen, Whitey Skoog and Pollard – that won five titles from 1948-54.

“We had some good names (Baylor, Hot Rod Hundley, Frank Selvy, Slick Leonard, Rudy LaRusso, Dick Garmaker, Larry Foust, Jim Krebs, Boo Ellis) and some good reps,” Hawkins said. “But people weren’t buying this interim unit. Everything was in upheaval.”

     Lakers owner Bob Short, former undersecretary of the Navy and president of Admiral Transit, a trucking firm, was in dire financial straits. At the time, the furthest west the eight-team NBA had expanded was St. Louis; Short was angling to move to Los Angeles. He did so the very next season and was drawing capacity crowds (14,505) in no time flat.

    On Jan. 2, 1960, Lakers coach John Castellani resigned; he’d coached Baylor two years in college at Seattle. The previous season, he had replaced John Kundla, the brains behind the empire. Shaking off a 33-39 mark to reach the playoffs, the Lakers upset the Hawks in six in the Western Division finals, only to get swept by the Celtics in the championship round.

  “We drove to Game 4 in cars packed with our belongings in order to get a head start to where we lived during the offseason,” Slick Leonard said, giving a pragmatic shrug.

   Pollard took over as coach of the 1959-60 Lakers when they were 11-15. His coaching column read 2-5 when the Lakers –minus LaRusso, home with an ulcer – arrived at St. Louis airport. Due to a light snow and icy conditions, departure was delayed several hours. During that interruption, referee Earl Strom opted for another means of transportation to Minneapolis. 

   Jim Krebs, a good guy but swathed in doom and gloom, told teammates from time to time he wouldn’t live beyond 33, Dick Garmaker recalled. Baylor and Hawkins couldn’t remember Krebs without an Ouija board. In the terminal dining area, the board predicted the Lakers would have a plane accident. “He kept telling us we should not fly that day,” they harmonized.

   At 8:30 p.m., Short’s DC-3-owned craft--cheaper to fly than commercial, decades before it dawned on the Pistons and Bulls to charter--left St. Louis in light snowfall bound for Minneapolis. About five minutes after takeoff, the specially-rigged card table that accommodated eight players was erected in the front aisle.

  “We thought someone was fooling around because the lights began flashing from bright to dim, and then went off altogether,” Baylor said, allowing, “We were in the dark.” Both generators had shut down from overuse while grounded. Everything electrical was lost.

  “The only sound was the whir of two spinning props,” Hawkins recounted.

   Devoid of verbal direction from the control tower, it was impossible to return to the heavily trafficked, jet-busy airport. So the plane climbed to 8,000 feet to escape the snow and headed for home. After 15 minutes, the rapidly intensifying storm overtook and encircled the plane. All optical contact vanished.

 Flying by a manual compass, the aircraft ascended higher and higher in an effort to climb above the blizzard. Then even that instrument failed; the wind and weather caused the compass to gyrate madly. Taking a bearing on the North Star, Ullman and Gifford were obliged to rely exclusively on celestial navigation. Judging by the twists and turns, the pilots apparently were disoriented.

   Because a DC-3 is non-pressurized, it should never go beyond 15,000 feet. Exceeding that altitude numerous times resulted in gasping for breath and the children becoming ill. The floor began to freeze. Thin blankets and winter coats provided futile warmth.

  “It was horrible!” Hawkins said. “The cold and the fear and the lack of oxygen triggered uncontrollable twitching and constriction in the throat. Yet, amazingly, nobody panicked, not even the kids.”

 Hawkins and Leonard recoiled in the last two seats. “I’m a rookie and scared as hell,” Hawkins said, “thinking to myself, ‘This is what I wanted my whole life, to play pro basketball, and here I am flying blind to who knows where.’

“I asked Slick if he thought we were going to make it. He said, ‘Don’t worry, man, we’ll come out of this OK.’ He was very reassuring. He was my mentor and was like that, very positive. Meanwhile, we were bobbing and weaving. I don’t think I believed him.”

That probably was because Hawkins saw the pilots don goggles and stick their heads out the small side panels in order to see. Ice encased the front windows. It was 12:30 a.m. or thereabouts on Jan. 18. They’d been airborne four plus hours when one engine began failing. The pilots decided to come down, but could find no bottom to the storm clouds. According to an altimeter they read by a flashlight held by Jim Holznagel, they had dropped to 200 feet.

Ullman, his face and hands frostbitten, came out of the cockpit and told the passengers there was roughly 30 minutes of fuel remaining. The plane had to be taken down lower still in order to look for a place to land. The lights of a town below abruptly lit up the sky. The Carroll police had phoned residents, the team later learned, and asked them to turn on their lights in the hope the pilots would see the airport. Ullman and Gifford never knew one existed. They had no idea they were in Carroll, Iowa.

At least once, maybe more, according to various descriptions of subsequent close encounters with catastrophe, the plane unexpectedly veered upward to avoid a blacktopped road, a grove of trees, hot wires and an oncoming 18-wheeler.

“Finally,” Ullman was quoted in the Carroll Daily Times Herald, “we spotted this corn field and decided to set down there because the standing corn showed up dark against the snow background, and that gave us visual reference.”

Both pilots had farming backgrounds. Gifford had flown crop dusters. Knowing there were no ditches or rocks and that the field was in neat rows, the prevailing feeling was it’d be the best option to land. After circling twice, Ullman rolled the flaps out and throttled down to an airspeed of 70 knots, toward a slight incline in the standing corn.

Frank Selvy had a 4 1/2 month-old girl, Leslie, and a wife, Barbara. “I was thinking this is a helluva way to go,” he told me.

“I was petrified, but I was afraid to show it because the kids were so calm,” Garmaker admitted when contacted.

“I don’t think everyone was as scared as you’d think,” Boo Ellis claimed.

“We still had a chance. The plane was not out of control. Our biggest concerns were low fuel and not being able to see.”

Yup, other than that, the landing figured to be a breeze.

Baylor told me he left his seat and positioned himself on the floor in the rear, hooking his arms and legs around seat bottoms on both sides. “I’d read the back was the safest place to be,” he said. “By then my fear of dying was gone. If I was going to go, then let it be. But I really felt we were going to be fine.”

The emergency landing, on a farm owned by Elmer Steffes, occurred around 1:40 a.m.

“We practically pancaked in and the plane rolled about 100 yards after we touched down.” Gifford told Stew Thornley, author of “Basketball’s Original Dynasty: The History of the Lakers.”

Inadvertently, the tail wheel had hooked on the top strand of a barbed wire fence, helping the plane to stop. “It was like landing on an aircraft carrier,” said Gifford who flew many missions during World War II.

For more than a few seconds there was total silence.

“When we realized we were safe we erupted in cheers,” Hundley passionately recalled. “We jumped out the back and were like little kids. We threw snowballs at each other and the pilots.”

Upon landing, Garmaker said, Hundley jumped up and shouted, “I live to love again!”

Hundley claimed Garmaker, an offseason insurance agent, sold teammates polices during the flight.

“I wish I were that clever,” Garmaker said, laughing long and loud. “It’s not true. But, please, leave it in; don’t take that part out.”

One of the first people the Lakers stumbled upon when their feet hit the knee-deep snow was the town undertaker. “I’m not shucking you,” said Hawkins. “The guy declared, ‘Thought I had some business tonight, boys.’”

Fire engines, police cars, trucks, and autos lined the field. The 22 passengers and crew were transported to the Burke Motor Inn, owned and managed by Robert A. Wright. Last to leave the site, Pollard rode up front and upright in the hearse.

On the coffee shop placemat was a map and a picture of an ear peeled back. In bold letters it proclaimed Iowa the Tall Corn State. Hundley boasts two placemats (now laminated) signed by team members and the two pilots. Hawkins has one, but isn’t sure where it might be.

There were no telephones in the rooms, so Pollard and his players lined up in front of three pay booths outside the office. Loved ones needed to be notified what had happened, and that everything was copasetic.

Dubbed “Desert Head” by Hundley because he was balding, Larry Foust was known for imbibing a few after games and telling cockamamie tales to his wife, Joanie.

In the adjacent booth, Hawkins overheard Foust say, “We just had a forced landing in an Iowa cornfield.”

On the other end, Joanie reportedly grumbled: “I don’t think that’s the least bit funny. Call me back when you’re sober.” Then she hung up.

Foust turned to Hawkins and said, “Ah, would you mind asking Doris to call Joanie and tell her we really did land in an Iowa cornfield.”

Foust was traded the year of the crash to St. Louis. He played a dozen seasons, averaging 13.7 points and 9.8 rebounds. Drinking and smoking took its toll; he died in 1984 of a heart attack at age 56.

Pollard, the initial Kangaroo Kid years before Billy Cunningham inherited the nickname, and a Hall of Famer, was 71 when he passed on Jan. 22, 1993. He played eight years (13.2, 5.7) and coached the Chicago Packers (18-62) after being short-circuited (14-25) by the Lakers.

LaRusso played 10 seasons (15.6, 9.4) and was 67 when he died on July 9, 2004, from Parkinson’s disease.

Krebs retired (averaging 8.9 and 6.2 for seven seasons) after the 1963-64 campaign. He died May 6, 1965, three years younger than his self-fulfilling prophecy. Asked by a neighbor to help with a half-fallen tree, they cut it and leaned it against the house. As Krebs walked away a gust of wind blew it down, crushing his chest and skull.

Ellis, who had been a freshman at Niagara when Hubie Brown was a senior, played two seasons (5.1, 5.2) for the Lakers. He continued to compete in organized tournaments (winning senior Olympic, national, state and sectional titles) until almost 70, when he moved in with his daughter three years ago in Indianapolis.

Selvy, who’d scored 100 points in a game for Furman, hung tough (10.8, 3.7 and 2.8 assists) for 11 seasons. He fathered three bonus babies after Leslie, has nine grandchildren and is raising the 13-year-old in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Leonard played seven seasons (9.9, 2.9, 3.3) and coached the ABA Pacers to three titles. In his 24th year as the team’s radio color commentator, he’s committed to one last full schedule.

Hundley’s 8-season tenure as a Laker (8.4, 3.3, 3.4) was surpassed by a broadcasting career, five with New Orleans, 35 with Utah that earned him the Curt Gowdy award. With nothing left to accomplish, he’s retiring to Arizona at season’s end.

Hawkins played 10 seasons (8.7, 6.0) before becoming an NBC announcer, both nationally and locally in Los Angeles. His jazz show is rated No. 1 in the country and No. 1 for its time slot. He serves on boards, consults and does speaking engagements. “If it moves, I talk to it,” he said.

Baylor was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977 after averaging 27.4, 13.5 and 4.3 over 14 seasons. Only Wilt Chamberlain’s boasted more extravagant statistics. Enough said!

Garmaker (13.3, 4.2, 3.2 in seven seasons) lives in Tulsa, Okla. Ten days after the landing, he was traded to the Knicks for $25,000 and Ray Felix, allowing Short to make payroll that month. Some 20 years later, Garmaker’s real estate company was buying apartments in St. Paul, Minn. With the weekend looming, the guy who needed to close the deal left the city for home.

Told by a secretary her boss would arrive there in 45 minutes and to call him then, Garmaker inquired, where he’d be calling? “Carroll, Iowa,” she replied.

When the two men finished their business, Garmaker asked: “By the way, do you remember hearing about a plane that went down 20 years ago in your area?”

“I sure do! Jeepers, you landed in my cornfield!” Steffes blurted.

No one’s quite sure exactly when, but the Lakers honored the Ullman, whose wife, Eva Olofson, was the plane’s lone stewardess, at a subsequent home game. Short presented him with a plaque that cost about $15. Its inscription: “To Colonel Vernon Ullman: May You Have Eternal Safe Landings.”

For their part, the players contributed $50 apiece, in those days, the price of a gift of life.

I’m unsure what’s more mind-blowing, the achievement of the two pilots or the FAA suspending Ullman’s license following its investigation. Prior to landing, the pilots debated whether the wheels should be up or down.

Regulations specified a belly flop in such a situation, which very well may have precluded the wheels from hitting the wire.

Ullman ordered wheels down instead to avert skidding into a potential highway or other unknown complications. The next day, the team bus to Minneapolis passed the cornfield. Around 75 yards in front of the ‘unsullied’ plane was a steep ditch to disaster.

Less than a week later, several hundred people watched as a bulldozer cleared the cornfield to stubble. The FAA had commissioned another pilot to fly the DC-3 back home. Ullman fought that command decision. Again he prevailed against all odds.

“I put it in there,” he said. “I’m going to take it out.”

Ullman died of a brain tumor in March 1965.

                                     *****

As it turned out, I only knew peripheral details about what actually happened in the cockpit before and during those critical minutes leading up to the laser landing. Had not Gifford reached out to me, I’d still have it distorted all these years later.

For now, let’s deal exclusively with the core of the crisis, as Gifford is alternately ascending and descending to escape the ice, or get below the cloud of snow in hopes of spotting a judiciously safe place to put it down. 

Ullman had been a Lt. Colonel in the Navy. Gifford had been a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force, flying fighter jets, then a B29 during World War II. His plane flew overhead the U.S. S. Missouri while Japan signed its surrender on Tokyo Bay, Sept 2, 1945.

Despite their worsening, directionless, flying-on-fumes circumstances, Ullman wanted to continue to find an airport. Gifford wanted to get as low as possible to find an improvised L.Z. Holznagel manned the flashlight and read the altimeter to inform Gifford how many feet they were above sea level.  

Holznagel let Gifford know when they were at 1000 feet, then 700, then 600. Abruptly, he alerted Gifford they were at 100 feet. 

“You don’t have far down to go when you’re at 100 feet,” he notified me yesterday, chuckling.

“Suddenly, there were trees right in front of my face, and I pulled it up. We were right back in the soup. That definitely gave me an extra blast of adrenalin. 

“You know, Peter, strange thing, I’d been flying tours of 30 days at a time not long before. I’d flown planes twice as big as a DC3 throughout Alaska, Panama, Puerto Rico, Bermuda and Newfoundland, and I was always able to find the bottom of the clouds in any kind of weather. I didn’t have a lot of fear until those trees. 

“However, I was still l confident in what I was doing. I saw a farm light. I had dodged down for more visibility, and saw barns, silos and windmills. The moon was bright. The snow lighted up the night and we could see ahead. I said, ‘Boy, if there’s anyone up there overlooking us, I could sure use some help. A little later, I saw a Pabst beer sign, and I gave a little thank you above. And then all of a sudden, the town lit up after we’d circled ten times.” 

Ullman wanted to touch down on a road they found. Gifford was opposed, because he couldn’t see the power lines. Ullman thought he saw a lake and wanted to land on it. Gifford had spotted a cornfield he felt would provide a cushion. 

“I’d flown a crop duster as a kid. I knew the land was flat and there were no rocks, and the stalks wouldn’t hurt the plane.”

Ullman insisted they land on the road. Gifford felt for the cornfield made more sense. Pollard spent a lot of time in the cockpit throughout the flight. He told Ullman to listen to Gifford. 

A couple players claimed the plane bounce landed. It did not. Hawkins stated it was the smoothest landing he’d ever experienced. 

“We held off telling the way it was for years because we didn’t want to embarrass Vernon and his wife,” Gifford said. “After they died and left no children, we felt it was time to tell what happened. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

On March 7, Holznagel visited Gifford in Minnesota.

“Every time we get together, we give each other big hugs and thanks for saving our respective lives.”

                                         ****

     Last night, I received another email from Gifford: 

    This may not be of interest but in 1937 my brother, Quentin 4 years older than I, had joined the Navy and served on the Battleship, USS Oklahoma. In 1940 I left high school to work on a dairy farm due to the severe depression. That summer, Quentin was home on leave and before returning to his ship, he visited me at work, and asked me to promise I'd return to school, and work hard, and when leaving the Navy he promised to find a way for us to attend college together. I had kept my promise. From then on we were in frequent contact ,and he proudly followed my football and academic activities. Come Pearl Harbor, Quentin went down with the Oklahoma and I KEPT my promise. My hard work had resulted in passing tests to become an Air corps Cadet and left for duty Feb 3 before graduating. I became a pilot and officer in 1944. These events led to a career in Aviation I would not have had if I had not honored my promise to Quentin. My point is, had these events not occurred who would have saved the Lakers? Talk to ya later. Giff

Coach Albeck - Forever Stan-din Tall

By Peter Vecsey

Almost instantaneously upon taking over the ABA Denver Rockets from Joe Belmont 13 games into the 1970-71 season, Stan Albeck got initiated into the unstable head-coaching fraternity and its susceptibility to the impulsive, repulsive, compulsiveness of others.

The profession’s unadulterated wackiness, whims and whammies would surface soon enough.

Spencer Haywood, by far the ABA’s most dominant player and already one of the game’s most rousing above-the-cylinder contortionists at the tender age of 20, was withholding his services due to a contract dispute with the Ringsby trucking family.

Out of Detroit’s Pershing High School, and two years at the University of Detroit, the 6-9 funky forward had signed a long-term pro contract the previous season for $1.9 million thanks to Al Ross, a hot-spit young Beverly Hills lawyer/agent from Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Ross pushed hard to gain a landmark court decision that essentially decreed that a certified “hardship case” couldn’t be deprived of his livelihood, date of birth notwithstanding.

Haywood’s winning streak continued when he captured the MVP and rookie awards. He also polished off the scoring and rebounding titles, averaging 30 points and 19.5 boards during the regular season, 36.7 and 19.8 in the playoffs. Instead of being everlastingly grateful to have such superiority on their side, though, Bill Ringsby and son, Don, attempted to devalue the deal, insisting they be permitted to invest his money in a fashionable 10-year plan, er, scam.

Ross warned them, “Either honor it, or we’re out of here.”

Pre-Christmas negotiations to resolve the matter appeared to be going well when the Ringsbys requested a brief recess. They walked into an adjoining room and accidentally (on purpose?) left the door slightly ajar.

“There’s nothing I hate worse than dealing with a n….. and a Beverly Hills Jew,” Ross overheard old man Ringsby blurt – a decadent remark passed down through the decades. Several days ago, Ross, 68 and still in no danger of being downgraded from a hurricane to a storm, confirmed the bigoted remark word for word.

Haywood jumped to the NBA six weeks later, struttin’ his stuff (33 games that season) for Sam Schulman’s Seattle SuperSonics. The Ringsbys were made richer by $1 million in compensation, paid by Schulman. Albeck, meanwhile, learned that a coach is only as good (27-44) as his talent-- minus the league’s mightiest magnet.

The ABA was out of luck and, come the end of that season, Albeck was out of work. Not until eight years later, following shifts as an assistant under Hubie Brown (Kentucky Colonels), Wilt Chamberlain (San Diego Conquistadors) and Jerry West (Lakers), did he get another chance controlling the joy stick.

Bill Fitch, the Cavaliers’ original coach since 1970-’71, had quit after the team again hit the skids in ’78-’79. Owner Nick Mileti offered Albeck the job. He could’ve had more than one year, but preferred to prove himself to his employer before entering into anything long-term. His first move was to call on his good friend Chamberlain, whom he’d covered for during most practices during the ’73-’74 season (37-47), losing to Utah 4-2 in the Western semis.

“He was this close to coming back,” Albeck said haltingly, his speech (but not his legs or travel throughout the world) still limited by a stroke suffered at 2:35 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23, 2001 in the Raptors locker room in Toronto.

As I sat with Stan and Phyllis, his wife for 53 years (they met at an Illinois high school tourney in 1949), during an extended visit to their San Antonio home last week, he held up two fingers, one millimeter apart.

Chamberlain, 43 at the time, hadn’t played since the ’72-’73 season, threatening to come out of retirement each subsequent year for years to come.

“I told him I just wanted him to rebound,” recalled Albeck, now 74. “He said, ‘The hell with that, I want to shoot threes.’ I told him, ‘Fine, shoot all the threes you want.’ ”

Cavs GM Ron Hrovat, a basketball neophyte, was entrusted with the responsibility of hand-delivering the contract to Chamberlain’s palatial home in Bel Air. Nobody was there when Hrovat arrived, so he stuck the contract in the gate. By the time Chamberlain showed up, the papers were strewn around his yard.

Chamberlain immediately got Albeck on the phone. “Forget it, Little Man,” he said, using his endearing nickname for Albeck. “I can’t play for a team that handles its business like that.”

In spite of such negligence and the disappointment that Walt Frazier (three games and out; the lone Cavalier not to play in the opener) had reached the end of his career, you’d have to say Albeck was fairly successful that season; the Cavs finished 37-45 and made the playoffs.

But you would have to overlook Albeck’s orchestration of a trade with the Lakers that secured Don Ford (known more for marrying Sharon Tate’s sister than for anything meaningful between the lines) and a 1980 No. 1 pick (Chad Kinch) in exchange for Butch Lee and an ’82 first-round pick that would be translated into James Worthy. 

Ouch!!!

Before that deal, and before the Cavs were sold to the buffoonish Ted Stepien, Mileti rewarded Albeck with a three-year contract. Indians GM Gabe Paul had warned the Albecks that Stepien was loco in the sombrero when they bumped into each other that summer at an Angels game in Anaheim. On their first day back in Cleveland, they happened to hear Stepien tell radio host Pete Franklin his first order of business was to renegotiate Albeck’s contract.

The Spurs bailed them both out. That September, GM Bob Bass, who’d left Denver just before Albeck got there, offered Stan a three-year deal. Nothing like a simonized superstar, George Gervin, to bring out a man’s slickest strategy. In three years, Albeck amassed 153 wins against 93 losses, once earning the NBA’s top coaching honor.

Albeck completed his head coaching tour in Chicago. Bulls GM Jerry Krause recruited him away from the Nets (at the cost of a second round pick), following a successful two-year stint there. 

That ’85-’86 campaign was basically a bummer, polluted by poor play, bad luck and an injury to Jordan that shelved him for all but 18 games, compounded by his acrid frustration that his minutes were fiercely restricted by owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The toxic cloud lifted a little in the first round. Despite getting swept 3-0 by the Celtics, the Bulls, and Air Jordan’s rapidly multiplying supporters, salvaged their sanity, if not the season, when M.J. averaged 43.7. His 63-point eruption even prompted Larry Legend to gawk and gush.

Most observers believe Albeck was fired for ticking off Jordan by removing him from winnable games, as per instructions from above, after he’d played the designated time. Truth is, Krause got angry because Albeck stopped taking his incessant calls at home during the last two months. Albeck didn’t discoverer ‘consultant’ Doug Collins had tailgated the team the last few weeks on the road, until the day before being dismissed.

When asked for his most treasured memory of his coaching career, Albeck didn’t hesitate, Jordan’s 63. Second place also went to Jordan, for nicknaming Krause “Crumbs.”

Albeck’s next cherished memory was the Nets’ 1984 upset of the defending-champion 76ers, in the opening round. Each team won twice on the road. The deciding fifth game was on the Sixers’ home court.

“They are not going to win [the series] in Philadelphia,” Julius Erving proclaimed. “You can mail in the stats.”

“Oooh,” Phyllis Albeck cooed. “Those were fighting words to Stan. He really used them.”

U.P.S. did not deliver. Dr. J capped a substandard series with 6-of-16 shooting and four turnovers. Micheal Ray Richardson, on the other hand, notched 24 points to give New Jersey its first NBA playoff series victory, 101-98.

Ever!

Whoops, we have another winner, suddenly perked up Phyllis, as perky as they come.

“I should have reminded you of the Cavs’ quadruple-overtime win over the Lakers with Kareem and Magic and Nixon and all the rest.” 

So many Cavs fouled out that Bill Willoughby had to play center and actually blocked one of Kareem’s sky hooks in the fourth OT, she distinctly recalled. Right after that, Kareem got called for his sixth foul with about a minute and a half left. Mike Mitchell won it with two free throws and Cleveland prevailed by one.

“I think the refs were getting tired and wanted the game over!” Phyllis deduced. 

The Albecks have Joe Tait’s play-by-play on cassette and when they take long auto trips (Stan is always putting on the imaginary brake, Phyllis says, which drives her crazy), they listen to the game and enjoy reliving every detail.

That victory was particularly sweet, Phyllis stressed, because Jerry Buss paid no attention to Albeck as a coaching candidate when West left the sidelines.

“That was so early in Stan’s career, we forget about that as one of the memorable moments,” Phyllis said. “Like picking the first girl you see, and then you see a dozen more beautiful come along … but the pick has already been made.”

Gone But Not Forgotten

By Peter Vecsey

For years, Dutch Garfinkel and I were part of a regular dinner group –– Larry Doby, who broke the American League color barrier, Fuzzy Levane, Larry ‘The Scout’ Pearlstein) hosted by then Nets’ owner, Joe Taub.

     Dutch and Fuzzy were teammates on pro basketball’s original Fantasy Team, Les Harrison’s 1946 BAA champion Rochester Royals —Bob Davies, Al Cervi, Red Holzman, (Browns QB) Otto Graham (catcher), Del Rice and (The Rifleman) Chuck Connors.

     Restaurants should’ve charged an entertainment tax. Every meal was a skyscraper of stories. Like Harrison discovering Levane wasn’t Jewish and asking him to find one. Fuzzy found two, Holzman and Dutch. How much extra did players receive for winning the title? They threw a blanket out on the court after the clincher and the fans went to their pockets for roughly $200. 

     Shortly before Dutch, 95, passed, we spoke for the last time. He admonished me for retiring too (69) young in 2012. After a long pause, he sorrowfully wondered, “Who’s going to write my obituary?” 

    From July, 30, 2013, through April 30, 2014, the NBA lost 16 family members. No expanse of writing experience provides the know how to express how privileged I feel being entrusted with accentuating their positives, discovering untold stories, and being so fortuitous to put to rest Dutch’s fear of dying forgotten.

     What were these people best known for? Proudest accomplishments? How do their wives, children, teammates, friends and opponents want them remembered? The hope is to cut to the core of the extravagant character and unreasonable will to win and live that connects and cements the 16. 

     Ossie Schectman (March 30, 1919--July 30, 2013): Memorialized as the guy who scored the first two points in NBA history for the Knicks in Toronto. Captaining each team—Tilden High School, Long Island University, Knicks--he played for is an achievement often talked about with his two sons, Stew and Peter. An injury while diving for a loose ball, unintentionally mangled by Max Zaslofsky, kept his career from advancing beyond his rookie year. By all accounts, he was the team’s best player at the time. 

     Ossie’s athletic prowess, which carried over to softball, where he continued to dive for loose balls, on cement to beat a throw, awed Peter, 12, who used to stop bouncing the ball 250 feet away and marvel at his father’s fluidity, fierceness and fielding skills as a hard-hitting third baseman. 

   However, “just as profound to me, and in my reality much more important, my dad never pushed me in basketball, allowing me to develop if I could or if I wanted to,” Peter recounted. “I knew at a young age his competitive nature always burned in his belly and he excelled by playing sports hard, with purpose, and to win. Yet he knew I never possessed that same desire and graciously and lovingly avoided the pitfall of pushing a sensitive youngster too far.”

     Jack ‘Dutch’ Garfinkel (June 13, 1918--August 14, 2013): Informally acknowledged for inventing the no-look pass and being the best at that skill until Bob Cousy and Dick McGuire emerged.

     His most gratifying moment, underlined his son, Rich, was the September night (’92) he was inducted into the NYC Basketball Hal of Fame with Marty Glickman, Sihugo Green, Richie Guerin, Sonny Hertzberg, Joe Lapchick, Frank McGuire, Willis Reed, Satch Sanders and John Isaacs. 

    Beyond belonging to such an exalted class, the greater honor was Pop Gates and Isaacs, of New York Rens eminence, inviting Dutch, long accredited for being colorblind, to join them at their table for some birthday cake. 

     Dean Meminger (May 13, 1948--August 23, 2013): Until 1973, the Celtics had never lost a Game 7 home playoff game. He is best remembered for spearheading the end to that insolence of invincibility. Replacing Earl Monroe in the second quarter of the Eastern Conference Finals, the nuclear sub held Jo Jo White scoreless in the second half while notching 13 points. The Knicks beat the Lakers for the title.

    Overcoming human issues was infinitely more challenging, one tormenting conflict at a time…though you’d never know it by his six-pack, Dean Jr correctly noted. “He took pride in his physical appearance. He wanted to look sharp and be physically fit.” 

     Even in his 60s, Meminger always seemed to be bouncing a ball. You’d hear him coming before you could see him, his daughter, Miesha, smilingly remarked during the exceedingly uplifting celebration of Dean the Dream’s life at Harlem’s St. Charles Borromeo Church—his No. 7 jersey hung on an altar and photographs showing Meminger at Rice HS, Marquette University and the NBA.

    “Most people only know my father as Dean the Dream,” Dean Jr said. “They don’t realize he was a philosopher and great debater on policies relating from religion to politics. He knew real stuff, not just athletics. He was multi-faceted. He came from that era, when everything was being questioned. 

    “He was much more than Dean the Dream. He was definitely Dean the Proud Father. And Dean the Proud Grandfather, with another grandson on the way. He and my sister’s father-in-law were always teasing each other about who would have more time with the new baby.”

     Zelmo Beaty (Oct 25, 1939--August 27, 2013): Irrefutably, one of the game’s roughest customers to take care of business in the occupied area. One of its shrewdest also. 

     “Z couldn’t run. You could beat him down court, but before you took off, you’d pay a price,” Mel Daniels vividly recalled. 

     “Z couldn’t jump. He didn’t have to, ‘cause he’d lock you up with brute strength and studied subtlety,” the HOF center attested.

     “I wish I had thanked Zelmo for everything he taught me,” Daniels closed.

     And, despite being barely 6-7½, ‘Z’ stood unflinchingly erect against some of the greatest centers of all-time for a dozen NBA/ABA seasons (17.1 points, 10.9 rebounds), snatching the MVP award by its thyroid gland in the Utah Stars 1970 championship run.

     How did Beaty become so tough? Bill Downey, 90, a Prairie View A&M alumnus, and Beaty’s most faithful  advocate, supplied the answer upon being tracked down. 

     “When Zelmo came to school, he was milquetoast. Coach Leroy Moore told Johnnie Walker, whose body appeared to be built in a laboratory, to beat up on him every day at practice. He left a monster.” 

      Willie Wise’s ultimate respect for his Stars’ roommate of four years embodied his on-the-court work ethic (“Lazy was a word he couldn’t even spell”) and human rights activism.

     “Slim was greatly influenced by Martin Luther King and became a staunch proponent for equality in all arenas, especially education. That’s why he became a substitute teacher. He went into the unruliest schools in Washington State because he wanted Afro American kids to have a chance to learn.”

     Don ‘Monk’ Meineke (Oct. 30, 1930--Sept. 2, 2013): Best known for winning the initial (1953) NBA rookie award. The 6-7 center was equally pumped for leading the league one year in disqualifications,” Don Jr chuckled. “Losing his front teeth was a badge of honor.”

      Tom Blackburn’s Dayton program (inherited by Don Donoher) was tops in Division I throughout the ‘50s, when Monk gained national recognition for the Flyers, and the ‘60s. The winning was certainly meaningful, for a moment. The camaraderie established as teammates lasted a lifetime. 

     “Dad was most proud of being a Flyer,” Don Jr said. “Those relationships have remained unbroken for decades.” 

     The uniqueness of the Dayton teams of the 50's is illustrated by the circumstance that a lot of those guys-- Meineke, Arlen Bockhorn, Pete Boyle, Carmen Riazzi and Jim Paxson Sr--stayed in the Dayton area. As a result, their kids kind of grew up together and wound up playing for Archbishop Alter HS. Two Meineke’s, one Bockhorn, two Boyles, a Riazzi and John Paxson teamed to win the ’78 Ohio State title. 

     Last August Meineke entered Bethany Lutheran, the same Ohio nursing home/assisted facility where the arthritically afflicted Paxson still resides. Monk’s heart was failing.

      “Jim was very protective the short time he was there,” Don Jr said. “Numerous times, he wheeled himself over to dad’s room in the nursing section to offer encouragement. And he’d bring cookies. Later, he’d call and tell me I had to do something because dad had stopped eating. Jim thought he was giving up.” 

      Joe C. Meriweather (Oct. 26, 1953--Oct. 13, 2013): The  6-10 center was so skinny (215) when the Rockets drafted him in 1975, he had to remove one ‘r’ from his name so it could fit on his uniform. Drum roll, please.

     Upon turning pro, nothing made him swell with satisfaction more than taking care of his mother, Hattie Meriweather. She was able to retire from working in a Columbus, Georgia cotton mill and move into the home he purchased for her.

     Joe and Gail were married 16 years. For the 12 since being divorced, he never missed a Christmas or a Thanksgiving with his ex and their two children, Jonathan and Jillian. Moreover, each morning, he’d send them a text message containing “today’s scripture”.

     “He was an excellent father and a great friend,” Gail said. “He had opportunities to move away from Kansas City, but wanted to be around for his kids. Joe understood how important that was.”

     So much so, Joe started a Fatherhood Program and helped inmates at Leavenworth Prison. He also taught tribal children in Arizona and North Carolina about sports and other life skills.

     Jonathan, 28, played one year in Australia (he was invited to a workout with the Lakers’ Development team). He’s now with Ford, completing his MBA in financing. Jillian graduated cum laude from Harvard with a Social Studies degree, has a masters from UNLV and will be pursuing a Phd. 

     “Though Joe passed under that threshold far too soon, I’m secure knowing he’d been so close to his children,” Gail said. “None of this would’ve happened if they didn’t have both parents moving in the right direction.”

     Bill Sharman (May 25, 1926--Oct. 25, 2013): Of all his accomplishments in his non-seeking limelight life as patriot, official scorer for the first four Celtics’ champions teams, proud father of four children, reverential husband, animal lover, shrew manipulator of megalomaniacs on three title teams in three leagues, savvy executive, adroit athlete for all seasons, creator of the shoot-around and 3-point make, brains behind a record 33 straight Laker wins, one of three (John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens) HOF inductees as both coach and player, one stands out in Joyce Sharman’s wifely eyes.

     Earl Lloyd was the first African American to play (Washington Capitols) in the NBA, Oct. 31, 1950. Before they folded 35 games into the season, the rookie was greatly touched by Sharman, also a rookie. In an essay about his influences and lessons learned about dignity, perseverance and humanity called ‘Handprints’, Lloyd proclaimed appreciation for his former teammate (and others) who risked denigration by supporting him when Sharman could’ve laid low without anyone catching on.

     “In my life, there were many good people who restored my faith in human nature. Bill is one I will never forget.”  In those days, he would drive into the hood and take Earl back and forth to practice and games, and if a restaurant turned him away, Bill would go, too. 

     “DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Lloyd emphasized. If he hadn’t, no one would have criticized him…” 

     A framed copy of those evocative words, compliments of a Lloyd care package, as a token of his love, respect and high esteem, hangs prominently in the Sharman’s den. 

     “I think what Earl wrote about Bill was so important because none of us know how we effect someone else's life by saying a kind word or giving a helping hand,” Joyce said.

 “Bill was the kindest person, genuine through and through. And I think what he did for Earl shows that better than anything else that ever could be said. It was complete kindness and compassion...and that is who Bill was. He never knew Earl would pay him such a profound tribute until many years later. And to have it come from someone like 

Earl makes it even more emotional for me because he is such a great man. How blessed I feel to know both of these amazing men!”

     Walt Bellamy (July 24, 1939--Nov. 2, 2013): Regrettably, he’s best known for being packaged with Howie Komives to the Pistons for Dave DeBusschere, permitting Red Holzman to rearrange roster roles and positions, leading to two Knicks’ title: 

     Rather than being hailed as a ten-or-better Hall of Fame center; or the centerfold for the original Olympic (’60) Dream Team; or for consistently producing at an elite plateau (20.1 points, 13.7 rebounds, 51.6 FG%, 13 seasons) while playing for four different franchises/teammates and many systems, an indelible testament to his career.

     The consequences of that trade, I submit (or maybe it was just being unlucky to play at the same time and being overshadowed by so many great centers) also cost Bellamy in the minds of Top 50 voters 

     “I’m glad you brought that up,” said Helen Bellamy, who would’ve been married to Walt 54 years come July 11. “He never said a word about it or the trade. But it hurt me. I’m not an envious person. And I’m not selfish. But Walt was better than some that made it. I had to turn it loose.

    “Walt loved the NBA. Loved his family. Loved his mother (Theo died a few months after him), who lived with us for 21 years. And loved me. We never had an argument. If I wanted the moon, Walt would get it for me.”

     Vern Mikkelsen (Oct. 21, 1928--Nov. 21, 2013): Minnesota’s macho (bruiser on the court, gentle giant off) HOF forward on four title teams. He also happens to be the career never-to-be-broken (six fouls now v five then) leader in disqualifications, 127. 

     Raised in one of the smallest of small towns in northern Minnesota, Vern lived out a dream come true without sidestepping values. Coach John Kundla knew whom to count on by asking him to have Elgin Baylor’s back when so many people messed with the rookie, especially on the road. Not long ago, he unearthed Elgin’s original numbered shorts and called him to say he would send them. Baylor was ecstatic. He said he planned to frame the shorts and give it to one of his children. 

     In 2008, after Big Mikk suffered a stroke, Little Mikk came from Santa Monica to care for his dad, for a while, he thought. He never left. His dad refused to quit. 

     “He’d had double hip surgery. Had prostate cancer for 13 years. And now he couldn’t use his right hand. But he never complained. He always had a good thought for some one else,” said John; Vern called him by his middle name, Pete. 

      Big Mikk was getting more fan mail in those years than ever before. So, he learned how to write (and eat) with his left hand. It took him ten painstaking minutes to sign one autograph. He’d do three a day, never wanting to turn down a fan. The next day he’d wake up and exclaim, “Hey, we got another day. Love and gratitude. LG, Petey, LG. Here’s to us.” 

     Marv Wolfenson (August 13, 1926--Dec. 21, 2013): Together with lifelong business partner, Harvey Ratner, they returned Minnesota back to NBA relevance, paying $32.5 million for the rights of the 1989 expansion Timberwolves, and financing the Target Center’s construction for 94M.

     “Getting into the NBA was quite a departure from the under-the-radar reality he lived before that,” said his daughter, Ellyn, sister of Ernie and David. “But he grabbed onto it like everything else. Whatever he did, he really loved. And whomever he did it with, loved him back.

     “My dad loved going to work, the excitement and invigoration of his business life was a thrill to him, but he always told us, ‘Don’t fall in love with your business, fall in love with your family.’ He lived that principle every day. 

      “The Timberwolves were an incredibly thrilling time for all of us, but my dad made it perfectly clear the five of us at home—a winning, functional, happy ‘5-man’ team--was the most important one he ever built.” 

     Fifteen years ago, Wolfenson had a stroke after hip surgery. Walking and talking were difficult. He apologized to Ellyn for having trouble communicating. “I have so much more to tell you,” he said.

     “Dad was a fabulous athlete his whole life. Early on, he was a star basketball and baseball player. Later, he became an excellent tennis player and golfer. He survived so long because he was so competitive. He was just not a person who quit. 

     “Dad always chose life, no matter what. Even in sickness. Even in his last breath, he wished he could’ve lived longer.”

     Conrad ‘Connie’ Dierking (Oct 2, 1936—Dec 29, 2013): Fifty-seven years after the 6-9 slender center played for Cincinnati, he still holds the school’s single-season rebounding average, 18.8 and single-game mark, 33. Yet, the man is far better known for being partial payment in a trade for Wilt Chamberlain 

     “There were five of us. As the oldest, Connie had the toughest time of all,” said Fred Dierking, who followed his brother to UC and helped win back-to-back NCAA titles after Oscar Robertson and Connie graduated.

     “My father was a laborer. He didn’t understand the value of an education. He felt you should get a job and keep it. Connie had to sneak out of the house to play ball and sneak back in afterward.”

     In ten seasons, Connie’s scoring average was 10. So, when he drained 45 one enchanting evening against none other than Chamberlain, a big deal was made by all. Dippy even signed the game ball, which became the centerpiece on the Dierking’s living room mantle.

     Looking for a ball to play H.O.R.S.E in the backyard, and unaware of the leather treasure’s significance, Kammy, 8, took it. Next thing she knew, it had rolled down the hill and into a creek, never to be seen again. 

     “My mother had a conniption, “Kammy recalled. ‘Oh, my, God, what did you do!’ “But when my dad got home and heard the news, he just shrugged, ‘Oh, well,’ and laughed. That was him. He didn’t care about stuff. He’d always tell us, ‘It’s people and memories that matter.’”

     Tom Gola (Jan. 13, 1933--Jan. 26, 2014): Scrabble should’ve named the blank in its set after the near 6-6 portable player, who capably clamped down on college centers and serial scoring guards alike. 

    The NCAA’s all-time leading rebounder (2,201; as well as 2,462 points) carried upstart LaSalle to NIT (’52) and NCAA (’54) championships, and was runner-up to Bill Russell’s Dons in ’55. In ’56, he joined lowly Philadelphia and figured out how to best serve in an understudy capacity to shooting stars Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston during the Warriors’ title crusade. 

     “Tom was one of the game’s all-time intellectuals,” Sonny Hill testified. “Almost an Oscar Robertson type. He’d place teammates in their strength positions and, without getting in their way, do whatever else needed to be done.” 

     Gola was recruited by 200-plus colleges, but loved the Christian Brothers, his HS teaching order. “Tom was very confused. He had no one to guide him,” said Caroline, his wife since ’55. “So, he went to see the president of LaSalle and they spoke for 20 minutes. That was it. He felt comfortable there and got a great education.” 

     That flawlessly summarizes Gola; easy to understand, no fuss, no muss, no favors, no nonsense, no bringing the game home, win or lose, no regrets, Caroline expounded. 

     On the flip side of his prayer card picture, Gola’s fundamentally pure words say it all: “I am a contented person. I gave it my best in all that I did, in sports, in businesses and in public office. I would have never second- guessed myself.”

    In 2013, the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Legends, in its inaugural ceremony staged at Brooklyn’s Barkley Center, honored Gola, who was inducted into every imaginable basketball HOF and has LaSalle’s arena named after him. 

     He was bedridden for the last 8½ years of his life, and thus unable to attend. Caroline substituted. Another recipient, Monk Meineke, introduced himself. “I have to tell you a story when I was a senior and Tom was a freshman,” she related. “Dayton played LaSalle for the NIT championship. Before the game, I said, ‘Dear Lord, he has three years to get better and this is my last game. Please let me win.’”  

      Sam Lacey (March 8, 1948—March 14, 2014): In 1970, after signing with Cincinnati, he spent part of his bonus on a Canary yellow Grand Prix, drove it to Indianola, Mississippi and gave it to Andrew Brown, his Gentry HS coach.

     Otis Birdsong maintains ‘Slammin’ Sam’ was “the unequivocal leader” on a Kings team that had very strong personalities, Cotton Fitzsimmons and Phil Ford, for example. “He was all-out aggression, all the time, to compensate for his lack of height and bulk. He was always on the march forward.” 

     The seeing-eye center was also the best passing big man Birdsong ever played off. “He’d find me on cuts for three or four layups a game.”

     Gretchen Lacey said her dad was a very private person, but you’d never know it. “A hundred people would line up and he’d talk to all of them. He was generous with his time, almost to a fault…

     “…Sam would often sing to Gretchen’s daughter, 11. He’d come into the house, stick his head through her door and say, ‘Alyvia, I heard you gave away my hugs.’”

     Peyton turned 13 in May. “It’s so strange to watch him play, passing, passing, passing,” Gretchen said wistfully. He had switched from Sam’s No. 44 to Walter Payton’s 34. Devastated when Sam died, Peyton asked for his old number back to “make grandpa proud.” 

     “He’s really shining right now. He sees the floor and threads the needle like Sam did.” At an April game, every other word out of the mouths of Gretchen and her husband, Brent Downey, was, “Wow!’”

     Lou Hudson (July 11, 1944—April 11, 2014): The obsession to succeed, to overcome any obstacles blocking ambitions that great athletes brandish is not a characteristic lost when applause dies. 

     Much is known about Sweet Lou’s simonized springer that earned him six All-Star appearances, a 20.2 average and the rare retirement of a Hawks number (23). Clearly, scoring 17,940 points is not done by being passive, or lacking fighting spirit. 

     When Hudson broke his right wrist one season, he played in a cast and averaged 18 points shooting lefty. When he suffered a stroke in 2005, confining him to a wheelchair, he made public appearances as an “ambassador’ for the “Power to End Stroke” organization.

     Four years later, Hudson, whose condition had improved very little, was brought to Atlanta for an event. Former teammate Jim Washington picked him at the airport. On the baggage belt were Lou’s golf clubs.

     “I started to say, ‘why did you bring your…’ until it dawned on me, this was his way of saying, ‘I’m going to get better. Next year, I’ll be out on the course with you.’ So, I switched up and said, ‘you could’ve used mine.’

     A couple years ago, Hudson moved back to Atlanta from Park City, Utah. Each day he’d work out three times, 35 minutes per. He declined an offer of a motorized wheelchair, and the promise of greater mobility and independence. In his mind, it would’ve meant giving up. 

     Following another stroke in late March, upon being removed from life support, Hudson lasted two weeks in hospice. Normally, it’s one.

     Michael Heisley (March 13, 1937—April 26, 2014): “I’ve always admired people who are charitable and don’t want the whole world to know about it,” Jerry West said. “That’s what I’d like people to know about Michael. “He did so many great things for people. Anytime there was a cause, he was there, yet never wanted credit.”

     West had plenty of prosperous years with the Lakers. “Probably the happiest” was his second year (2004) as GM with the Grizzlies when he hired Hubie Brown to coach and they made the playoffs. “It was definitely my proudest moment.”

      Heisley desperately wanted to win, West said. “He’d tell me, ‘I just want us to make the playoffs one year.’ “I guaranteed him we’d make it more than that. He was thrilled beyond description when we made it. The enthusiasm in the building was fantastic. It was one of the highlights of my life to see him so happy.  

     “People often misread Michael because he was unbelievably honest and could sometimes be irascible with that big, old booming voice of his,” West said. “That’s the side most people saw, his toughness because he was self-made, taking companies on their death bed and turning them around with his unique leadership qualities. But he was so different. 

     “I never had anyone in my life treat me like he did. I’m not talking financially. The more I was around him the more I felt something special. He was one of the people I liked the most.” 

     Jack Ramsay (Feb 21, 1925—April 28, 2014):Who didn't Dr. Jack touch as a husband, father, friend, World War II veteran, general manager, coach at the college & pro levels, broadcaster, fitness/fashion freak and cancer patient who never retreated, whose unflinching faith in God enabled him to retain his spirit, vibrancy and NBA voice almost to the end of a multi-decorated life lived decorously.

     Who wasn’t touched by him?

     No one, consensus attests, suffered defeat harder. Which partially explains why Dr. Jack remained unconquerable for 15 years despite eight different forms of malignancy that swamped his body. 

     “Losing would destroy him,” said Magic executive Pat Williams 46 years after Ramsay gave him his first NBA chance, handling business for the 76ers, so Dr. Jack could concentrate on his return to the sidelines after leaving St. Joseph’s two years earlier due to retina trouble related to stress.

      Why Ramsay’s eyes didn’t succumb to NBA stress remains a mystery. “I remember losing in Chicago Stadium. Not a good place to leave unescorted ” Williams related. “Jack waved off the bus. He walked back to the hotel.”  And made it unscathed.

     “That’s how bad things are going,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t even get mugged.”

     When your best player is coachable and reinforces everything you say, it’s easy to be successful, Dr. Jack would underscore. He and Bill Walton enjoyed a fervently committed relationship. He often reminisced about it, as he did the Blazers’ 1977 championship season and its selfless components.

    After each team pre-game meeting, Walton would say, “Come on, now, let’s go out on the floor and do what coach taught us.” 

     Let’s go.

     The above tributes were written for the 2014 NBA Finals program.

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.  

                     ***** 

    FYI:  

    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. 

All Star Remembrances

By Peter Vecsey

It’s All-Star (Reader’s Digest) time. Hence, another trip down the Memory Lane (Violation) of observations and anecdotes from exhibitions gone by.

     Interest of full disclosure, Michael Jordan froze me out of many memories, so I’m putting a fair amount of faith in Al Gore’s Internet.

     I was much younger and smarter back in ‘64 when icons of yore, led by Tommy Heinsohn, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and others decided the show didn’t have to go on.

     This was at the old Boston Garden, but the arena paled in comparison to the agenda. The players’ union reps, backed by many of the participating All Stars, took a stand vs. a knee less than an hour before the NBA’s first made-for-TV All-Star Game. 

    Create a pension fund, Norma Rae declared, or we’re outta here! 

    One can’t forget that back then, test patterns and civil-defense drills had more television exposure than the NBA. So, when ABC decided to give the league a shot by airing the All-Stars, it was ankle-breaking news.

     Not wanting the humiliation of airing dead air, J. Walter Kennedy, only months into his inaugural season as commissioner, placated the rancor and file despite owners’ uncompromising position against complying and on-the-scene threats to ban the leaders from ever playing again in the league.


     Kennedy huddled with the player reps in the dressing room and promised he would convince the owners to start a pension plan. They took his word. Within months, it was approved.

     By virtue of 26 points, The Big O was judged the game’s MVP in leading the East to a 111-107 win, though it failed to cover, according to well-preserved IOUs to my least favorite bookie.

     Robertson, West and Russell all played 42 minutes, a feat matched by Nate Thurmond’s feet in 1967, but never surpassed.

     Fifty-five years ago (1966) was the game of Adrian Smith’s career. Playing at home in Cincinnati Gardens, the Royals’ reserve, in his lone Star soirée, went for a game-high 24 points in 26 minutes. 

     The car (’66 Ford Galaxie; shade under 60,000 miles as of Jan. 2016) remains in his garage; at least that’s what every feature I’ve skimmed, scanned or browsed maintains.

     Back in 1973, inside Chicago Stadium, the East won, 104-84. Those 188 points may very well be a first-quarter total when the defense parade rests come Sunday in Atlanta. The West’s figure was the last time either side failed to crack triple figures.

     For some strange reason, the West took 25 fewer shots. A vicious rumor has it players broke a sweat back then.

     In 1975, Walt Frazier was awarded the MVP in Phoenix where the ‘best’ hotel was Del Webb’s Town House, owned by the former co-owner (ex-partner Dan Topping died the year before at 61) of the Yankees. 

     The sole spot to eat afterward for famished players was a diner-like restaurant. At the table to my left was Tiny Archibald and a beautiful woman named Jean. At the table to my right was Frazier, decked out in a full-length fur coat. 

    Milwaukee hosted the 1977 classic. It was Julius Erving’s initial NBA appearance as a 76er. His MVP award (30 points, 12 rebounds, four steals, three assists) was controversial in that the West rallied late behind Paul Westphal to win, 125-124. 

     “I’ve seen him almost every game this season, but this is the first time I’ve seen him play,” hissed Turquoise Erving, rebuking Gene Shue’s constrained coaching of her then husband.

     John Havlicek’s last All Star presence occurred in Atlanta in 1978, his retirement season. Doug Collins paid homage by yielding his starting East spot to him. Randy Smith (11-14 FG, 27 points) led a late comeback offensive and dominated MVP voting. 

     I did not look it up, but I’ve got to believe he was the last All Star to earn five or more fouls. Whoops, copy editor Jason Javaherian happened to look it up. Turns out, I’m wrong, exceptionally so. 

     Rick Barry actually fouled out of that same game. Then Hakeem Olajuwon fouled out of the ’87 Game in Seattle. MVP Sonic Tom Chambers got whistled for five fouls, as did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

    Since, no one has fouled out. 

    Before, there were many. Bobby Wanzer was first to six in ’54 at Madison Square Garden. Bob Cousy did it twice. Barry had six in two different decades. Walt Bellamy and Richie Guerin had six each in ’62. Russell had six in ’65, as did Johnny Green. Kareem fouled out in spectacular fashion his rookie year; took him 18 minutes. Willis Reed had six that game as well.

     From 2009-2019 nobody had 5 fouls.

      From 2001-to-the-present, in reverse order, James Harden had five fouls last year. Before that, the last guy with five was Chris Paul in 2008, Amare Stoudemire in 2007, Kobe and Shaq in 2006. Kobe did it in 2005 as well, three times, actually, in 2003, too. Dikembe Mutumbo had 5 in 2001. 

     I’m in fact, repentant for bringing up the subject.

     A most intense retention of the 1982 All Star Game in East Rutherford involved Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien and coach Bill Musselman. I had branded them ‘Septank’ and ‘Musselhead’ and unremittingly used their nicknames in columns. They asked to talk with me in private. I walked vigilantly alongside them into the bowels of Brendan Byrne Arena, fully expecting swings to be swung. Instead, they politely asked me to stop using the nicknames. So I did. 

    Indianapolis was the site of the 1985 All-Star Game. For Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas it was their homecoming. For rookie Michael Jordan, it was his unveiling. At halftime, Thomas’ agent, Dr. Charles Tucker, alerted me on press row to an alleged ‘freeze out’ of Jordan, which I broke the next day in the New York Post. Supposedly, Thomas was its organizer. 

     If anything, it was not a freeze out, but collusion by Tucker’s clients, two of them opponents, George Gervin and Magic Johnson, the purported objective being to show up the sensed showoff; Nike had him adorned in a flashy warm-ups and a shoe the NBA was opposed to him wearing. 

     The real intent, I submit, may very well have been to make Michael honor the chain of command and respect his accomplished elders. Gervin flushed his first six shots being defended by Jordan, and finished 10-12. Magic, I’m convinced, felt Jordan was undeservingly stealing his commercial and publicity thunder. Thus he pounced on the East squad as if it were a playoff game, and pushed the pace (15 assists), which had Jordan backpedaling on the break, and staggering into screens. 

     Any way you wish to view it, Jordan’s debut was a dud. He was 2-9 (seven points) from the field and committed four fouls in 22 minutes. 

     Thomas, meanwhile, injured his hamstring at the end of the second quarter after recording 17 points. He played sparingly thereafter, yet managed to notch 9-14, nourish Bird, Moses Malone and Erving (five assists) and hypothetically neuter Jordan.

       “Just go back and examine the game,” Thomas challenged me years ago when his would-be principal role in the debate was discussed at length. “People say, ‘you could have passed to Jordan, but you passed to Bird or Erving.’ That’s right! But those were the guys you’re supposed to throw the ball.” 

     Those same people, Thomas professed, “forget that Jordan wasn’t Jordan then. What he was in the ‘80s, was not what he became in the ‘90s. He was one of many. Not the dominant guy!” 

     What’s more, he underlined, all the starters got roughly the same number of shots. Bird hoisted 17, Erving 15, Thomas 14, Malone ten, and Jordan, who saw the least amount of daylight, nine 

     “It’s preposterous to think I had the clout to orchestrate such a scheme. To say, we need to do this or that. I was not one of the top guys then.”

      However, he was. The previous All Star game in Denver, Thomas won the MVP. He also won it the next year in Dallas. In his fourth season, he had already become one of the NBA’s celestial beings. That doesn’t mean he coordinated a conspiracy, of course, but it also doesn’t liberate him from being a lead participant in one. 

     “I believe Michael just had a bad game,” Thomas resolutely decided.  

     Jordan has been quoted in later years saying he doesn’t believe there was a freeze out. There’s not a lucid person alive who believes him. 

     Years ago, Rod Thorn told me in a long interview at the league office, where he was VP of Violence, felt from his vantage point in the stands as then-Bulls GM that something troublesome concerning Jordan was going in the game.  

     Conversely, Jordan did not pick up the scent of scandal until the next day when papers blared the story. Bulls beat writer, Sam Smith, wrote in the Chicago Tribune Michael was both furious and embarrassed. Whether it occurred or not, he determined it had. He told reporters it made him feel small, that he felt like crawling in a hole and hiding and not coming out. 

     “I was very quiet when I went down there (Indy),” Jordan said. “I didn’t want to go there like, ‘I’m a big shot rookie and you must respect me.’ And then they try to embarrass me out of jealousy?”

     At practice back in Chicago, Jordan fumed about the situation, and fumed about Thomas. As destiny would dictate, the Bulls played the Pistons two days following the All Star game. 

     In a 139-126 overtime win, the Bulls’ record reached the equator. 

     Jordan detonated for 49 points (19-31 FG, 11-13 FT), 15 rebounds (seven offensive), five assists and four steals. 

No Rest for the Weary

By Peter Vecsey

 I don’t know about you—it’s not a concern of mine, actually—but I never tire of presenting accounts and descriptions of Larry Legend without the express written consent of the NBA. 

   In Game 1 of the 1981 Finals, the Rockets lost by three points in Boston, largely on a blood shot off a rebound that caromed to the right side of the backboard and was retrieved in the air by Bird. He caught it and drained a fall-away with his left hand in the last minute before alighting out of bounds.  

   There was no way Bird could have shot it, much less converted it, with his right hand! OK, so he is a natural lefty, but really only goes that way with a pen, a fork or spoon, or if guarded by a Trail Blazer.  

   Red Auerbach called it the best shot he had ever seen. I was there and categorically second that stance. 

   Moses Malone is another luminary whose exploits and escapades deserve to get routinely revisited. Specifically when they harmonize with Bird in the same series. 

   In Game 2, two days later (May 5th for the record; in the last 20 years, this date falls in the second round), the Rockets already were jammed up in a must-win situation…and in the early going, were getting maltreated.  

   Realizing the gravity of the rapidly unraveling situation, coach Del Harris resorted to unwarranted measures. He called a time out and scolded Malone, the centrifugal force behind Houston reaching the Larry O’Brien Round. 

   The league’s perennial MVP contender had scored a scrawny 13 points in the opener on 4-for-17 shooting, though to be even-handed, he had tracked down his usual 15-rebound allotment, a fair number were flagging his own misdeeds. 

   Moses was the Rockets’ whole kit and caboodle (I never used that banality before, but couldn’t control an urge to do so). Harris almost never had to get on him. Malone’s work ethic and competitive edge were above admonishment, and that was on the pre-game layup line. 

   Still, after telling the team what had to be done, Harris closed with, “And Mo, you have to get on the boards, man!" 

   “F - you, coach!” 

   “Mo,” Harris reacted, “We can talk about our sex life after the game, but right now I need you to get some rebounds!” 

   The players cracked up. Their tension croaked. Mo surged for 31 points and 15 rebounds, leading Houston to a 94-92 win. 

   Next, just some odd information relative to the way playing time is doled out by today’s coaches. 

   Games 3 & 4 of that series were played in Houston, back-to-back, Saturday/Sunday, May 9th & 10th. For the kiddies under 50 in this audience, this happened every post-season in prehistoric times. 

   The Rockets got trampled in Game 3. The next afternoon, Harris only used a six-pack of players...spontaneously, I later learned, not the plan, as the game flow seemed to dictate that. 

   Mike Dunleavy was on a roll with 28 points and six assists, while Tom Henderson had to be on the court to guard Tiny Archibald, Clinton (Bronx, NY) high school alumni going at one another. 

   Calvin Murphy, a superb sixth man, and Houston’s second-leading scorer, had tweaked a leg in Game 3, therefore, there was no run for him. 

   Allen Leavell, a solid player, also saw no daylight. Bill Willoughby was the sole sub. Poodles contributed eight points.  

   Malone played all 48! He amassed 24 points and 22 rebounds, as the Rockets won, 91-86, before the largest NBA TV (not to be confused with NBATV) audience of the season.  

   Unfortunately for the sixth-seed Rockets, that was the end of that. The Celtics won Games 5 & 6 by a combined 40 points, raising another banner to the Rastafarians. 

   The point I wanted to make with regards to the minutes of the meeting is that this was at a time of commercial flights.  

   There were no charters (except the Knicks, who often hired a plane on the rear end of back-to-back nights on the east coast), extra staff for training and nutrition, psychologists, masseuses, skills guys, 29 assistant coaches and 15-man rosters, as is the case today.  

   Moreover, the 82-game schedule was somewhat condensed (early October to late March) as compared with nowadays.  

   Of course, there were only 23 teams then, and seven-game series were just for three rounds. Additionally, the division champs earned a bye in the first-round, three-game miniseries. 

   Regardless, the Rockets played a half-dozen back-to-back-to-back sets that season, which is outlawed today. Malone averaged 41 minutes and played 81 games. Houston’s top eight Minutemen missed a total of 32 games. 

   But here’s the soccer-style kicker for those who think you have to have minutes and games controlled by a ‘coach’ who hall monitors such things... the Celtics’ top eight missed a total of one game all season. 

   Cornbread Maxwell was the sloth that missed that game; it gave a youngster named Kevin McHale his lone start. Bird averaged right at 40 minutes, and averaged 39 even in his 11th season. Archibald, who’d suffered two torn Achilles before becoming a Celtic, averaged 35 at age 32; he had averaged as many as 46 one season. Malone averaged 35 in his 15th year. 

   Load management, anyone? 

   The solo qualification re: the Celtics missing a single game is that they only had one set of back-to-back-to-back, which was in February at Philly and Milwaukee and back home (Indiana).   

     Eastern Conference teams had easier travel in any case, but still had to go the full 82 games. Houston had a geographical disadvantage in travel as did all teams on the western front. The Rockets had a game at Phoenix on a Friday, were home vs. the Knicks Saturday and another the next afternoon in Denver. Delays forced the players to dress on the bus. 

   The Nuggets had not scored fewer than 100 points since Nov. 26, and this was in February. In fact, Doug Moe would coach the last 51 games of that season and this was the lone game they failed to score 100. The Rockets braked and won, 98-97.  

   Earlier that month, Houston had beaten Utah at home Thursday, 117-103, then won at Dallas Friday in OT, 124-120, before going to Denver Saturday, where they lost, 134-132.   

   In fact, the Nuggets scored over 130 frequently in Moe’s first season with them and often thereafter. They had a high of 162 that season against Portland, and went over 140 on four other occasions. Alex English and David Thompson logged the most minutes per game on that team, and missed but five games total. English averaged 38 in 81 games, Dan Issel 33 minutes at age 30.  

  The players back then rarely rested, thus I rest my case. 

   Some even got angry when coaches took them out.  

                     ******  

   Many, if not all, NBA connoisseurs are convinced, I’m convinced, that George Gervin dreamt up the finger roll. Overtime to get a firm grip on reality. 

Larry Bird’s Hall of Fame induction occurred in 1998. An hour or so before the ceremony was to begin, there I was, a nobody from Hollis, Queens, hanging out in an enchanted forest teeming with premium players right off the pages of basketball history. The reverential mingling instantaneously deviated into locker room humor the moment Wilt Chamberlain lowered his head through the door of a private room. 

     “George Gervin!” he bellowed at the first target trapped in his sights. “If it isn’t the world famous Iceman!” 

     Wilt’s affectionate mocking fissured Gervin, sending him into hysterics. It was an honor (and a hoot) to be saluted by the NBA’s most daunting constellation even if the tone was irreverent. 

     “What’s happenin’, Dipper. What do you know?” hailed Gervin as Wilt sidled up for some conversation to a small group that included Bob Lanier. 

     “I’m not at liberty to tell you that,” Wilt huffed. “But I’ll tell you what I’d like to know: 

     “How come you’re doing all the commercials, making all the money, and getting all the credit for the finger roll, and I’m not making a dime? And I’m the one who originated it! Can you explain that to me, please!” 

     It seemed like a good time to get sufficiently nervous, but that would’ve conflicted with the Iceman’s style. Anyway, he was laughing too hard to get tense. 

     “You right … you right ... you the man,” Gervin squawked in between gulps for air. “No question, Dippy, you originated the finger roll. But I perfected it!” 

    Undoubtedly, those same fervent followers of the NBA swear Tim Hardaway originated the crossover, and that World B. Free originated the step-back.  

   In fact, Archie Clark created both designer displays, which is how he earned his nickname. 

      Shake and Bake: The Life and Times of Archie Clark—a collaborative effort with Bob Kuska-- is the story of one of ‘70s most respected versatile guards. He’d routinely stagger defenders with a customized crossover dribble, and is credited by peers as the stylist of today’s illustrious step-back. 

   A third-round (U. of Minnesota) 1966 draft pick by the Lakers, Clark’s growth spurt was swift and adroit. Midway through rookie year, he was starting alongside Jerry West.  

   As competent as Clark was on the court, he was correspondingly combative off it. A deep-thinking pioneer for players’ rights, he often challenged coaches and owners on principle, much to the detriment of his career valuation. 

   However, as one of the torchbearers of the Player’s Union, his legacy is lasting. A litigant (along with John Havlicek, Wes Unseld, Bill Bradley and others) in the 1970 seminal Robertson vs. NBA antitrust case—settled in 1976--it ended the player reserve system and laid the foundation for the modern NBA. 

   Do yourself an educational favor and assimilate ‘Hard Labor’ by Sam Smith. 

   Clark was the major part of the package offered by the Lakers to the 76ers for Chamberlain. First, however, he was the stumbling block because his contract had concluded. In order to finalize the seismic transaction, LA owner Jack Kent Cooke had to re-sign him. Despite lacking representation, Clark exploited the circumstances to squeeze a contract that broke the $100,000 barrier, an immense deal for anyone not named Chamberlain, Bill Russell and West.  

   What’s more, Clark got the insufferable Cooke to pay most of his salary for two seasons in Philly.  

     FYI: his rookie one-year contract was a standard $11,000 unguaranteed for anyone not drafted in the first round, making him awfully vulnerable. In fact, the Lakers almost cut Clark to keep John Wetzel. Why? To maintain “racial balance,” according to the book’s authors, another term for the NBA’s unwritten quota system. Luckily for Clark, the Lakers, “and my book writing,” Kuska underlines, Wetzel broke a wrist he’d fractured months before at the end of training camp, after a hard whack from Darrall Imhoff, a.k.a., The Ax.)  

   How did Clark develop the step-back move? That’s what I wanted to know. In the summer of ‘67, Archie became friendly with Woody Sauldsberry, whose playing rights had been sold to the 76ers in 1957 by Globetrotter owner Abe Saperstein. 

   Ten years later, his NBA career was in jeopardy because Russell was allegedly jealous that the woman of his desire preferred his once-trusted teammate. Russell waived him out of Boston.  

   Clark and the long-armed, 6-foot-7 Sauldsberry worked out all that summer and Archie developed the step-back maneuver to get off his shot. According to Archie, nobody was using this evasive maneuver back then, a claim supported by others. 

   During Black History Month, Sauldsberry is also an interesting figure. An informal NBA tradition had emerged in the 1950s that black veterans should look out for their team’s black rookies, teaching them the ropes. 

   Among the most-outspoken were black veterans with a Philadelphia connection, including Sauldsberry, Guy Rodgers, Walt Hazzard, Ray Scott, and others.  

   In an age when “locker-room lawyers” got waived out of the league, these Philly guys would talk amongst themselves about the business of basketball. It was Sauldsberry who taught Clark how to negotiate a contract and, as mentioned above, eventually outsmart Cooke. 

   Clark became a part of this tradition, befriending Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (nee Lew Alcindor). He also taught his 76ers teammates how to buck the system and get bigger contacts. It was Clark who told Spencer Haywood that his deferred-drenched ABA contract with the Denver Rockets was inequitable, leading to his groundbreaking suit against the NBA that ended the four-year college rule, confirmed in the book by Haywood. 

   Check out the tome here.

                                    ****** 

   The minister who spoke at last Sunday's service for Harthorne Wingo at the cemetery in Tryon, N.C., told a story about how the 6-8 forward nearly wound up driving to California in 1968. He and two high-school teammates checked out the possibility of staying for a while and eventually moving there permanently. 

   It was going to be a three-day road trip. Everything was arranged, starting with departure date and time. The three met at a prescribed place and each threw a small bag into the trunk. Wingo got in and got out almost immediately. “This not going to work, I’m going to New York,” he declared.  

   The rest is Knicks’ History. 

   Bill Metcalf, one of Wingo’s high school teammates, corroborated the story. He said the vehicle was a Volkswagen! 

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.