Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tales From The Retired

Ever since the day I heard Walt "Clyde" Frasier's confused and erroneous remark that newly-acquired Knick Glen Rice didn't have a post-up game, I've known that, oftentimes, past NBA greats don't always have their finger on the pulse of the current state of the game. Yet, because they're able to rest on past laurels, people look to them for opinions on today's game, with mixed results. For every brilliant-minded Hubie Brown, there is a stuck-in-a-time-warp Bill Walton (who, at last sighting, mused that the OKC Thunder can't use youth as an excuse if they don't win the championship, because his youthful '77 Blazers were able to climb the mountain to the promised land.  Never mind the fact that there hasn't been another significantly "young" team over the past 40 years to win a ring.  Or that his Blazers were a 3-seed, whereas this year's Thunder never looked to reach higher than 6th, a seed that has seen exactly 1 NBA champion, ever -- and are now positioned 8th, a seed that has never fielded an NBA champion.). For every coaching success ala Phil Jackson or Lenny Wilkens, there are the not-so-glittering forays by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

But, recently, the world was treated to some gems from the mind of Celtic great John Havlicek:

[Bill] Russell would run people down from behind, much like LeBron (James) does. LeBron's the only guy who runs people down from behind, it seems. He's made some incredible plays this year by doing that. Russell did that on more than one occasion almost every game. You don't see Dwight Howard running down a person from behind.
Come again? Are you serious? With all due respect Mr. Havlicek -- and plenty is due -- do you actually take the time to, I dunno, watch an NBA game or two? Or do you just catch up with the weekly top-10 plays on ESPN? An opinion so distorted would strongly suggest the latter. To imply that Dwight Howard doesn't get back on fast-break D and record some highlight-reel chasedown blocks is utter nonsense. To claim that LeBron is the only guy in the league doing it is, well,'s putting a strain on my thesaurus to come up with an adjective to properly describe the ridiculousness of such a claim, that's what it is. Off the top of my head, that basically means you've never watched a game with Howard, Chris Andersen, Josh Smith, Dwyane Wade, Gerald Wallace, Kevin Durant, or hell, even Shannon Brown. (Even Devin freakin Harris has multiple chasedowns this year! Multiple!) Meaning you haven't watched the Magic, Nuggets, Hawks, Heat, Bobcats, Thunder, or Lakers, among others, in the past 5 or so years.

And, given that fact, exactly what NBA basketball are you watching? I've long known that, when we use absolutes like "only", "always", "never", and the like, we're usually begging for trouble. No statement more clearly illustrates that than the above. Is LeBron the most well-known for his chase downs? Naturally. What would you expect; he's LeBron freakin' James. He could sneeze and have the most famous snot ever captured on camera in the NBA. But no one would suggest he's the only player that has ever gotten a stuffy nose.

Watch some games Mr. Havlicek; you're missing some great NBA basketball it would seem.

I now move from the unsupported and unsubstantial to the just-plain-out weird:

At times, [Russell] wouldn't even think about blocking their shot. He wanted to make them aware of his presence. Then during the latter part of the game, he would strike. There are times when he would decoy people to think that they were able to get their shot off. He might let them get the shot off so that they weren't hesitant. Then at the end of the game, he would say, 'Oh, this time I'm gonna get him.' He waited for his chances. He was so smart. Guys today just go up and block a ball.
Ahhm, come again? Did you just, essentially, imply that it's ok for guys to take a few plays off? To let guys score early in a game? To randomly give up points? That this is a good strategy? Is this from the Shaq school of mathematics, where 2 points in the first quarter are worth 5 in the fourth?

How about, oh I dunno, blocking a guy's first, second, and third attempt, so that, at the end of the game, he wouldn't even think about bringing "that weak stuff" in there? Thereby eliminating him altogether?

I mean, whether we're talking about help defense or one-on-one defense, if you stop a guy from even thinking about venturing into the lane, it allows the defender to D up even closer on him further away from the basket, all the way out to the perimeter, effectively removing him from the offense altogether. And to suggest that the league leader in shot blocks should deke a few guys early in the game doesn't even make sense from another perspective: do you think Stan Van Gundy would be ok with seeing Dwight let a guy shoot over him? You might as well pour gas on yourself and light a match if you're not worried about that coach seeing you take a play off. I can just imagine the conversation now: "oh don't worry coach, I'm just wink-wink tricking him into thinking he can shoot over me. Watch, when it's a close game in the 4th quarter -- close only because I spent half the game letting him score -- I'll send his shot back to his momma!"

Furthermore, is anybody really that stupid to fall for this ploy? You think there are players that get a shot or two off and begin to believe to that they're the one guy in the league who has block-proof kryponite in his hands? (Yea, Shaq, that's right, a Superman reference, and I ain't talking about you Bizzaro -- lol, I couldn't resist). Maybe 45 years ago, at least before the advent of video scouting, this would've been possible. At this point, I'm pretty sure it's safe to say: the secret's out, Dwight Howard is a shot-blocker (but just in case, keep it hush-hush, we don't want would-be lane-drivers to catch on...)

We always love, and are forever grateful, to the NBA greats for everything they've done for the game. Unfortunately, too often, those contributions don't readily extend into the realm of accurately commenting on today's game.

P.S. this blog post will self-destruct in 5 seconds, which, incidentally, is 4.8 seconds longer than it would take Stan Van Gundy to implode upon watching Dwight take a play off).

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