Mar. 8, 2013

The NBA Season is a true marathon. I have had a lot of people tell me it is unwatchable unless you have a dog in the fight. I agree. It is hard to watch two teams you don't care about play, knowing that a 25-point lead can disappear in an instant.

My Lakers were down 25 points in New Orleans the other night and came back to win by 6 points. If you are a Laker hater, that must have been hard to swallow. If you don't care about the Lakers, you might shrug it off as a sidenote to the Miami Heat being on their way to a second straight Larry O'Brien Trophy.

That well may be true, but the Heat have currently won 16-straight games themselves. That is one short of the Clippers December tally. There are interesting stories, you just have to care. Most people don't. Football is still the number one sport in America, despite it's bad press lately.

Baseball season is on it's way. That is a regional sport as well.

Back to the NBA. Miami, Knicks and Bulls look dominant. Miami will prevail with a few bumps in the Eastern Conference. Thunder, Spurs, Clippers & Lakers (YES THE LAKERS) could come out of the west. 

The Lakers are still a very interesting squad. They are on the verge of getting into that 8th spot. I look for them to finish 7th in the conference. If you are a Laker Hater, you probably are looking right past them, BUT they have far too much talent and will thrive in a defensive half court setting that a playoff series offers. Mike D'Antoni is slowly winning the locker room over. Dwight Howard looks a little healthier as the games progress. Kobe Bryant HAS to be put in the Top 3 for MVP consideration. Lebron James WILL be the MVP, but Kobe certain;ly deserves honorable mention in his old age (34-years-old and 17 years in the league). Bryant has average over 27 points per game throughout the season, even with several weeks off to facilitate his team and collect multiple 10-assist games.

When all is said and done Oklahoma City and Miami will likely square off in the finals again, but this season we saw improvement from the Clippers, Nuggets and Knicks in the league and maybe they will be formidable in the coming years.

Feb. 21, 2013

I am almost 53 years old. I have been a basketball fan since the 1971-72 NBA season when my Lakers won 33 straight NBA games. That team had Jerry West, Elgin Baylor (who retired during the season) Gail Goodrich, Jim McMillan and Happy Hairston and Wilt Chamberlain.

Wilt Chamberlain was a force of nature. He dominated the NBA for 14 seasons. He led the league 7 times in scoring, 9 times in shooting, 1 time in assists and MANY times in rebounds. Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain still holds 90 NBA records.

He is by far the best I ever saw. I have been blessed to see West, Magic Johnson, Shaq, kobe, MJ, Dr. J, Kareem, Larry Bird, Lebron...You name it, I've pretty much seen them all and Wilt has no peer. 

You can try to make the argument that he was a giant among mortals. You would be right, BUT I watched him absolutely manhandle Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in that 1971-72 season in person. Kareem was his equal in stature and Kareem was in his prime. The date was November 21, 1971 at the Fabulous Forum. The defending champion Bucks came in to try and stop the Lakers 10-game winning streak. 

Kareem scored 39 points that night, but was blocked several times by Wilt at key points. This is what makes Wilt so memorable as a player. He was asked by coach Bill Sharman at the beginning of the year to forego scoring and focus on defense and passing. Chamberlain was able to dominate Jabbar while letting Jabbar take a TON of shots and score a bunch of points, yet the Lakers won each regular season game against a great team.

The Lakers handled the Bucks 4-2 in the Conference Finals that year with Chamberlain continuing to NOT score a lot. He dominated on defense and passed the ball. The Lakers had their greatest season and first championship in Los Angeles.

Wilt Chamberlain was able to score at will throughout his career, but it wasn't until he had taken enough beatings by the less-athletic Bill Russell (11-time Celtics champion) and bought into coach Sharman's plea to give up his usual game for the betterment of his team.

I was an 11-year-old kid getting to witness REAL sports history, going to 3 games during that 33-game win streak. I never have seen anyone so imposing on a basketball court. Kareem and Shaq were both truly great in their own right, but not like Wilt.

Bill Russell figured Wilt out and his Philadelphia team only managed to defeat them one time in 1967.

Please keep in mind that Wilt averaged 50 points, and 25 rebounds in the 1966-67 season. He scored 100 points in one game against the Knicks in 1962. In my opinion, that is the single greatest feat in sports history.

Don't just take my word for it:

"When I started to play with him, he helped make me a better player. We seemed to have a real good feel together, I think it translated into a confidence with him. All players are generally judged by the number of championships they won. Unfortunately, he only won two. His greatness as a basketball player can't be questioned. He was fun, we used to laugh at him a lot, some of the things that would happen. I once told him, no one roots for Goliath." – Jerry West

"Wilt was one of the greatest ever, and we will never see another one like him." – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who broke Chamberlain's record to become the NBA's leading career scorer.

"Wilt is playing better than I used to -- passing off, coming out to set up screens, picking up guys outside, and sacrificing himself for team play."
-- Bill Russell

"If [the referee] is calling [the game] loose then everyone gets away with more. So, you have to handle your own man accordingly, unless it's Wilt Chamberlain. Him, you just don't handle. He's too strong. The best you can do is make him work hard."-- Bill Russell

"I don't think it's fair to compare players in different eras, but he was about as dominant as any one player could be in any sport. I looked at him like he was invincible." -- Larry Brown

Feb. 15, 2013

You may love the Lakers like me, or despise them, BUT...You don't have to know the history of Dr. Jerry Buss and the Lakers to appreciate a true sportsman in love with his team and his sport.

You would NEVER accuse Dr. Buss and his family as coming from "leave It To Beaver" or "Father Knows Best," but he is a true family man in his own way. ALL of his children either work for or have worked in the family business.

Buss, the high stakes poker-playing, former chemist-turned real estate mogul, bought the Lakers in 1979, along with the hockey Kings and Fabulous Forum from Jack Kent Cooke for $79 billion. Needless to say even after selling off the Kings and then the Forum, the Lakers are worth a lot more 34 years later.

Buss brought in Magic Johnson, Shaq, Kobe, Phil Jackson to spearhead the salad days of the franchise. Buss has 10 Larry O'Brien Trophies for good reason. He has brought the sport forward by keeping his team on the cutting edge throughout the past several decades. There have been VERY few seasons like thius one (2012-13) when they weren't a top dog in the league. They will be fortunate to even make the playoffs this year and Dr. Buss is VERY sick with cancer. Many former and active players have visisited the ailing owner in the hospital.

We know his illness is most serious for ONE precious fact. Buss has not attended even one game this season yet. He is usually up there in his luxary suite with a couple of blondes and poker buddies. I hope he is able to be at Staples Center when Shaq's jersey is retired April 2. Shaq, despite his uneasy history with Buss in the past will go down as a Laker great and enter the Hall of Fame as a Laker. That says a lot about Jerry Buss. He is a class act. 

He has handed the team down to his family and they are struggling to find their way right now. I hope they do VERY soon. It would be nice to see Dr. Jerry Buss get one more ring before he checks out.

Feb. 4, 2013

Muhammad Ali once known by the slave name Cassius Clay is my favorite athlete, public figure and personality of all time. He will not be around forever and I want to write something about what he has meant to me and millions of fans around the world for five decades.

He first came to the world stage in Rome, Italy as a light heavyweight from Louisville, Kentucky. He was brash and exciting as he won the Gold Medal in those Olympics. He got back home and went to a food establishment with another African American friend. Clay threw his Gold Medal into the Ohio River as a matter of principle after they were refused service in that all-white-only establishment.

This was just the first inkling of Clay's (Ali's) moral compass.

Skip ahead to Ali refusing induction into the military service in 1967 in Houston. He would not step forward when his name was called.“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” Ali was stripped of his title and had little means of support throughout his exile until 1971. The Supreme Court overturned his conviction 8-0. I would say THAT episode took a lot of guts for an athlete to determine his status as a minister of teh Nation of Islam was MORE important than a heavyweight title.

Ali associated with some VERY controversial figures in the 1960's. Elijah Muhummad was the leader of the Nation and he was allegedly responsible for the death of Malcolm X (who Ali also hung out with). These were violent times and Ali's views (which have evolved) were seen as radical to mainstream Americans at the time.

It wasn't until many years later (1971) that Ali became more beloved by war protesters and mainstream America when he unsucessfully tried to win back his stripped heavyweight title from Joe Frazier. In 1974 he did regain that title from George Foreman and cemented himself as an icon for all times.

Ali has stuck to his Muslim practice every day of his life since 1964. He is a man of principle and not convenience. Ali has never traveled the easy road and mankind throughout the world treats him with reverential status. 

He is physically debiltated by taking too many punches in his long career and is not expected to inhabit planet earth for too much longer.

I really wanted to say my piece about him as a man more than a great athlete. He always has been and always will be "The Greatest" to me and many more like me.

Jan. 30, 2013

The answer is a resounding "Yes."

Let me cut to the chase. The Lakers players have taken over the asylum.

After the recent win over the OKC Thunder, Pau Gasol was asked how coach Mike D'Antoni's system was working for the team?

"We are running our own system," said Gasol.

That is a major statement coming from a veteran player of Pau's stature. There has been no love lost between Pau and D'Antoni, but I believe Gasol coming off the bench IS the right move for this squad. He is thriving and Earl Clark has been spectacular as a starter.

Kobe Bryant had 39, yes 39 assists in a 3-game span. This is a huge development. Those are Magic Johnson-type stats. The team is winning and the once league-leading scorer earlier this year has sacrificed his BIGGEST weapon as a scorer for the betterment of his team and they look great.

It has allowed Bryant to dish to Nash, who in turn has hit several big 3-pointers. Having two of the best assist guys in the league on the floor is very dangerous. Did I just say that? Yes. Kobe is so talented, even at 34-years-old at everything on a basketball court. He can pass as well as anyone when he sets his mind to it. He rebounds, he scores. Kobe Bryant may well end up being league MVP when all is said and done. The writers will come to the same conclusion as the season progresses.

The unwatchable Lakers of November-December-and most of January is NOW Must See TV.

Kobe, the passer makes Earl Clark and Antoine Jamison dangerous cutters to the basket. Dwight Clark is free to play anywhere on the offensive side of the court, as is Pau Gasol.

This will be a very tough beat in round one of the playoffs. I really like the Lakers chance in the western conference. Their defense is getting better each game.

Mike D'Antoni has had to grow as a coach during this transition. He now knows he has a veteran squad that knows a hell of a lot more how to win a championship than he does, Kobe has 5 rings, D'Antoni ZERO.

To quote one of my favorite childhood movies The Bad News Bears: "Let Them Play!"