"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Basketball

The General Who Never Was

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Sometimes a story comes along, jumps out at you, and won’t let go. Such was the case last year with Jeremy Collins’ beautifully-rendered memoir piece, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux.” It took a long time for the story to come together for Collins and when I finished my only concern was, “Maybe that’s all he’s got.”

Then he let me reprint an earlier variation featuring Sly Stallone and Rocky. It doesn’t have the same polish or control as the “Maddux” story, but it’s still really strong, proof that perhaps Collins is more than a one-trick pony.

Now comes his latest for SB Nation Longform, “The General Who Never Was,” a profile of the scoundrel Bobby Knight. It’s another beaut–told with precision and care:

What were the obstacles standing in Knight’s way of creating an enduring legacy? It wasn’t complicated. Zero-tolerance? Try common sense. All Knight had to do, in the words of former Indiana Trustee Ray Richardson, was “stop being a jerk. Try being a decent guy.” Or in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, a Hoosier who had seen war: “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

In the end, I’m not sure what Knight saw when he looked out into the faithful crowd of fans and followers. Maybe in the blurry smokescreen of self-regard he didn’t see us at all. Not once did he mention the power of reading or wish the high school students in the stands well. Barely once in the onslaught of self-sentiment could he even speak the name of our shared motherland: Indiana, In-dee-anna, Indiana.

Instead, he put his hand up in an oddly formal gesture of farewell and held it there. Just like at Dunn Meadow back in 2000 after he asked everyone to bow their heads and observe a moment of silence in honor of himself and his family.

Never good at goodbye, I shouldn’t have expected more.

My pal Glenn Stout, series editor of the Best American Sports Writing and longform editor at SB Nation, has done a stellar job of shepherding young storytellers these past few years. So far–at least to my mind–Collins is his best find, a true breakaway talent. Can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

[Photo Credit: Zach Long/AP]

Strong Men Also Cry

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Love Kevin Durant.

[Photo Credit: Sue Ogrock/AP]

Git

block I once asked a friend: “If you could do one thing in a major league game what would it be? Strike a hitter out, hit a home run, steal home?”

He said, “Rob someone of a homer.”

That hadn’t occurred to me.

I was reminded of this yesterday when Paul Pierce blocked Kyle Lowry’s shot in the final seconds of Game 7 in Toronto. It was a clean block. If the shot went in, the Raptors would have won. But Pierce blocked it–with his left hand–and the Nets won.

What a Boss way to end an opponents’ season.

[Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin/N.Y. Daily News]

When a Tree Falls

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On March 26th, the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers clashed in their ongoing battle for the first seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and the home-court advantage that comes with it. Indiana was not letting Lebron James get near the basket unmolested, and the officials didn’t see anything wrong with the extra attention beyond the nominal foul call here and there.

Lebron James, perhaps frustrated by a perceived lack of protection from the refs, rushed the basket in the fourth quarter with intent to make contact with whatever got in his way. Specifically, Roy Hibbert’s head got in the way. Lebron’s elbow felled the big fella. Hibbert crashed to the floor, attempted to get up, and promptly crashed down again.

Hibbert went to the locker room after the fall, but, by rule, was forced to re-emerge to take the foul shots resulting from Lebron’s flagrant. (The rule, Jeff Van Gundy instructed, was that Hibbert had to take the free throws or else he would be unable to return to the game.)

A few days later, April 2nd, he fell to the floor after a flagrant foul from Charlie Villanueva. He went to the locker room, receiving attention to his head and neck. He returned to that game as well.

Up to March 26th, Roy Hibbert had played in every Pacer game of the season. He shot .459 from the field, grabbed 7 rebounds and scored 11.3 points in his 30 minutes per night. Though not the most efficient big man around, this year’s numbers were in line with a career shooting percentage of .473 over 295 games through last year.

After March 26th Hibbert played in nine games, shot .272 from the field with 3.4 rebounds and 6.8 points in 26.4 minutes per game. In five more playoff games, he’s shooting .313 from the field and down to 3.4 rebounds and 4.8 points in just 21.9 minutes.

Indiana did win the coveted first seed and home-court advantage, but they now face elimination by the lowly Hawks. Hibbert’s play has been so putrid, many have taken notice. Other pundits have gone so far to say his career may be over. Here’s one of many things Bill Simmons noted about Hibbert’s recent decline:

The Law of Mutombo tells us this: You never know when a tall center is about to lose it, but when they lose it, you know right away. Artis Gilmore gained the nickname “Rigor Artis” in the mid-’80s. Shaq turned into Mummified Shaq somewhere between Phoenix and Cleveland. Dikembe was kicking ass and wagging fingers right until the 2001 Finals, when Shaq turned him into a lumbering, uncoordinated, elbow-laden mass of uselessness. Even if Hibbert is only 27, what if this wasn’t a slump? What if the Law of Mutombo struck him early?

It’s been reported that Hibbert passed concussion tests on both March 26th and April 2nd. Still, statistcal collapse such as Hibbert’s demands that we consider the possibility of severe and sustaining injury. It appears further investigation to his condition is warranted – whether the man is jacked up or not, he’s playing jacked up.

 

Photo by Brent Drinkut / Indy Star

That’s Life

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Banned for life. 

[Photo Credit: Felipe Bertarelli via MPD]

We Interrupt These Playoffs…

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Over at Grantland, Charlie Pierce weighs in on the many problems with Donald Sterling:

But there is one problem that never can be solved. This is because what is a problem for you might not be a problem for the good old boy network of plutocrats that actually own the games into which you pour your devotion and your money. And, even if you decide to stop spending the latter to satisfy the former, it may not really matter. The odds are that, through the largesse of television and the legerdemain of modern accounting, you can’t solve it that way, either. There never has been anything you can do about a bad owner. That one is out of your hands.

Which is where we find ourselves today in the case of Donald Sterling, the alleged racist slumlord owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who was an alleged racist slumlord, and a confirmed terrible owner, for three decades before audio surfaced of a conversation that was reportedly between him and a woman named V. Stiviano, who appears to have James O’Keefe’d him. (Is there more? Of course there is.)

The league is investigating the audio, but by now, half the world has already weighed in, including the coach of his team, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, LeBron James, and the president of the United States. All of them agree — as does any advanced carbon-based life form — that if the recording is authentic, the comments show that Sterling is undeniably racist, undeniably revolting, and undeniably rooted in the mind of a man who would have to yield his moral pride of place to algae. There have been a number of calls for the league to strip Sterling of his franchise. This, I confess, makes me more than a little nervous. Taking someone’s assets because of what they think and say, no matter how grotesque it is, sets off all kinds of alarm bells in my First Amendment conscience. The league certainly is within its rights to suspend him, for as long as it wants to suspend him. There were also calls for the Clippers players to make some kind of public statement. Before Sunday’s Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors, they did just that, when they removed their shooting shirts at center court and turned their red warm-ups inside out.

Tip Off

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The NBA Playoffs start this afternoon.

Diggum Smack.

[Photo Credit: J.K. Hering]

Straight to the Hole like My Man Malik Sealy

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NCAA Hoops tonight and all weekend.

Have at it.

[Photo Credit: Joel Zimmer]

Marquee Master

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I’m a casual fan of the NBA. When I want to know the skinny I like to read Zach Lowe over at Grantland. Here’s his take on Phil Jackson and the Knicks.

Fun City

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This move by J.R. Smith last night made for Fun City at the Garden (well, for everyone except Anthony Bennett, the Cavs’ defender).

Bronx Banter Interview: Peter Richmond

Our pal Peter Richmond’s new book is out todayPhil Jackson: Lord of the Rings.

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I recently had the chance to catch up with him and chat about Phil Jackson and the craft of writing a biography.

Dig in to this holiday Banter treat. Then go pick up the book.

It’s a good one.

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AB: This is your sixth book and second biography—the first was on Peggy Lee. What was it like writing another biography?

PR: It was terrific because the first one taught me that to be a biographer, you’ve got to be a very different kind of writer.

AB: Different from being a newspaper or magazine writer?

PR: To write a biography, you have to become something of a different animal. You have to become a PhD in your subject. When Peggy Lee died, and I was asked to write her bio, I said to the editor “Thank you, it’s flattering but maybe you should get someone who knows the music of the ‘30’s, ‘40’s, and ‘50’s.” But he said, “No, we want you to come in from the outside. We think you’re a good enough writer to come in and surround the subject.” And that’s the only good book I’d ever written. When I was approached to write a Phil Jackson biography, and figured I wasn’t going to get him to cooperate — he was writing his own book — it freed me to surround his life objectively.

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AB: He’s got a library of books he’s written himself.

PR: If you go into Barnes and Nobles to the sports section there’s seven categories – baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, boxing and Phil Jackson. Maverick and Sacred Hoops are worth reading. Mine might be, too.

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AB: Don’t be so modest. It is. What have you learned as a writer since the Peggy Lee book that allowed you to do the Phil Jackson story in a way you might not have previously?

PR: That you should never judge anyone, or their actions, or their legacy, before doing everything you can to try and see the events of their life through their own eyes, from their own perspective–but then use that perspective as only one of your lenses. Phil had left behind his books, and gave his approval for friends to talk to me. I’d interviewed him several times in the past and we were cool. I had every lens available to see the guy’s life objectively and thoroughly.

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AB: What was the difference between writing a bio of a dead singer, whose career arc had already ended, and someone who’s still got a few chapters left to go in his career?

PR: Peggy’s role in history had been predetermined. She was the only white top 5 jazz singer of all time. With Phil, everybody had ideas about him, but nobody had out them all together for an objective portrait. Some think he’s overrated because he coached Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaq and Kobe. Then there are those who say, “No, the man is a genius.” Nobody had ever gone in and found the middle ground, the third space. The truth is never black or white. And freed of his subjective perspective, I was able to enter this gray Twilight Zone where I could assemble the pieces that led to assembling the puzzle of the most successful coach in the history of sports — if you go by numbers, anyway, which I do. As Earl Monroe says in the book “Sports is a strange animal, in that you can make all the money in the world, but if you haven’t won the championship, you don’t have the same respect.”

AB: At the same time, Jackson briefly played with a guy named Neal Walk who was comfortable with himself even if he didn’t win. If he lost, he was like, “Oh I’m the first place loser.” Wouldn’t you believe that Neal Walk was a guy who was happy even though he didn’t get a ring?

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PR: Oh, God yes, absolutely. Neal Walk and Eddie Mast were his blood brothers on the Knicks, and neither put all their stakes into winning. Those were the people who were saying to “Phil, dude, cool out, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose the game. You’re a Buddhist. It’s the journey not the destination.” Phil seems to be possessed by an almost surreal degree of competition. He needed Walk and Mast as early role models to temper that mania.

AB: But he was able to combine the two.

PR: You got it. He managed to incorporate and meld all of those ingredients. Here’s the bottom line: He never stopped questioning what’s real and what counts in this very short lifetime. Native American Indian culture, Buddhism, Christianity, mysticism — he kept exploring and he kept questioning.

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AB: And that’s authentic right? That’s not an act.

PR: Completely authentic. None of his former players that I spoke with said it was for show. Burning sage in the locker room, giving his players books. Every one of them was affected. Whether it was 10% or 90% they were affected.

AB: I thought it was interesting that for some of them, the gesture was enough, it didn’t even matter if the book spoke to them or not. It was the act of him being thoughtful in that way that did have a certain meaning for them.

PR: Exactly. For a few it was both of those things. I’m thinking Craig Hodges, the three-point shooter who was showed up at the White House after the Bulls’ second championship and chastised George Bush and was blackballed from the game — until Phil Jackson brought him back to be the shooting coach of the Lakers. Hodges told me that the book Phil gave him—The Passive Warrior—changed his life. So yes, it was all authentic — and that’s why I actually wrote the book. I would never have written this book if I thought that Jackson was inauthentic in any way shape or form.

AB: You write about Jackson as a teacher, a searcher, and a survivor. How much of that resonates with you at this stage in your life?

PR: It felt as if it were time for me to write a biography of a guy who, in a weird sort of way, was paralleling my own life, at least in terms of trying to never lose curiosity about everything when you reach Act III of your life. In a way, as I wrote, I sort of thought that not talking to him almost didn’t matter, because the more I read his books and interviews over the last 40 years, and the more people I talked to, the more I recognized this innate need for searching, the more I seemed to understand him. Obviously, I’m not comparing myself to him in terms of career success, but I came to quickly sense that we shared a few psychological things in common, both on the ultra-competitive side and the intellectual-searching side. Which gave me the confidence to write the book authentically and truthfully.

AB: Would you have had to force this book had you written it 15 years ago?

PR: Absolutely. It would have been forced even five years ago, truth be told. But now, somehow, researching his life not only vibed with some of the exact questions I was asking myself, but I was finally mature enough to accept the validity, the intent, of some of his teachings and searchings and questions. That’s not to say I lost objectivity; just that, in a way I was finally receptive enough to learn from his philosophies — which only enhanced the book.

AB: Speaking of teaching, one of Jackson’s most important teachers was his coach with the Knicks, Red Holzman.

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PR: Absolutely. Red taught Phil just about everything he ever learned about coaching, on the court and off. Phil couldn’t be on that first championship team because he had had back surgery that season, so he was Red’s defacto assistant coach—back then you couldn’t have an assistant coach. Red knew Phil had something going on, intellectually. In the locker room after games, after Red had given his post-game talk, he’d turn to Phil and say, “Did I do alright tonight?” Red knew.

AB: Now, you first covered Jackson when he was coaching Albany in the CBA.

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PR: And before that, when I was a weed-smoking teenager and lover of sports, a rebel without a cause, fan of the Knicks, I just loved Phil Jackson. I loved the way he looked, I loved the way he tried so hard, I loved that he was clumsy, I loved that he was different. I’d read those same New York Post columns that I quote in the book. Everyone was so attracted to this guy who clearly didn’t fit the paradox. Fast forward to 1986 when he was coaching the Albany Patroons and I was working for the New York bureau of the Miami Herald. So we met for a column, and I could immediately sense that he was just a normal guy. Unlike any pro coach I’d ever covered. He was so normal, I became normal — not a writer, just a guy I was talking with. I wasn’t there as the sports writer trying to get something and he wasn’t there as the coach trying to give the right answers. It was like a couple of hours “Let’s talk about stuff.” I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool. I hope it works for him.”

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AB: Was it that he was necessarily charming?

PR: Oh no, he wasn’t charming–I mean unless we’re all charming, unless you and I are being charming. He was being human and social and friendly.

AB: Did you ask him how come the Knicks hadn’t called on him after he’d won a CBA championship?

PR: Yes. He said, “I don’t know. I’m not political enough, I guess. I don’t say the right stuff, But hey, do you want a chocolate chip cookie?” He was getting ready to leave the CBA, and had no idea what he’d do next, which happened to be opening a health club in Montana. He was thinking of the law, or the ministry. Then, a few months later, the Bulls called. A few years after that he was the head coach. So I profiled him again, for the National Sports Daily, during his first season, and hung around Chicago for a couple of days, and wrote a piece whose gist was basically, “How bizarre! An actual person is a really good NBA coach. A real person you could have a conversation with about philosophy or the triangle or Bill Bradley or Wounded Knee was actually a good coach.” You could tell, just from the way Jordan and Pippen were listening to him.

AB: One of the things that’s interesting to me, you alluded to it already, here’s this guy, he’s a seeker. He’s a curious guy and he’s interested in all these different kinds spiritual pursuits. But the other part of him enjoys throwing quips and keeping people — essentially the press–off balance, as if even that were a competition.

PR: I came to understand him as a man trying to reconcile those two pulls, the pull of the peaceful “mindfulness” and the pull of the competitor. I think he was smart enough to see that when he was questioning all of reality — spiritually, intellectually, philosophically — he also had to succeed in a corporate world, and the fact that he was able to reconcile the two to the degree that he could is what really intrigued me. I think he knows that there’s a third space where it can all work out. Ultimately, the he was able to incorporate that corporate trope, that philosophical trope, that spiritual trope, and communicate it all to his players. He coached hundreds and hundreds of players for many years and every one of them, with a few exceptions, would say “Phil looked at me as if I was an individual” — and that, for me, is the road map for success in life. My guess is that Phil would say he’s a teacher. Not a coach but a teacher.

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AB: You didn’t talk to some of the superstar guys, though. Before we get to that, I want to know why you didn’t speak to Jackson’s children or the women in his life.

PR: I didn’t want to.

AB: Why is that?

PR: Because I’m not a writer first, I’m a human being first and I just don’t want to go places where I’m not invited. I wrote a book about Phil Jackson because it seemed like the right book to write and I got offered money for it. But I have rules. I don’t compromise humanity. There’s something in me that just doesn’t allow me to step from person into journalist. I just can’t do it. I’ve been told that it has hurt my career. Somebody once told me, “Oh man, you’re such a soft core journalist, can’t you be a hardcore journalist?” And I said, “No I can’t because I’m a person, period.” If I can make money writing books about Phil Jackson and the other people I’ve written books about, that’s really cool, but don’t ever ask me to stop being who I am. Phil Jackson doesn’t want me to find his first wife. I could have tracked her down but I wasn’t going to find her because whatever happened with Phil and his first wife is between them. Am I a biographer of Phil Jackson? Yup. Am I a biographer of Phil Jackson on my own rules? Yup. Does that mean my books aren’t going sell as many? Yup. Do I care? No.

AB: As a reader, do you like reading those biographies that are lured in that kind of person detail?

PR: Absolutely.

AB: So this is about knowing who you are as a writer?

PR: How old are you?

AB: 42.

PR: Alright. I’m 60, so when you get to 60 you’ll realize what I mean. There comes a point later in life where you realize that exploiting somebody else’s life for your own advancement is not only stupid, it’s destructive. I have my agenda, the reader has their agenda, but in between, there is a space where you can tell the truth and when you do that, people are going to buy your books, people are going to give you advances to write your books, and you don’t have to break news or have sensational stuff. There’s a point where if you’re just telling somebody’s truth or maybe your own, it works. I really feel as if I surrounded Phil Jackson. I really feel as if I understood him and could show the readers why Phil Jackson could be both a Buddhist, spiritualist, off-the-wall guy and the most competitive insane asshole ever and therefore won 11 rings–the combined total Vince Lombard and Pat Riley. I feel as if I am the first guy to tell it right but I don’t think I compromised any of my inner ethical rules writing the book.

AB: How much of an obstacle was it that you didn’t talk to Jordan, Pippen, Shaq or Kobe?

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PR: The two best stories I ever wrote for GQ were about Ray Carruth, who took out a hit on his pregnant girlfriend, the number one pick of the Carolina Panthers, and Jason Williams, the former Net who shotgunned his driver to death. Neither of them talked to me. What I was able to do was approach their stories without them and that’s the best way to approach any subject. To answer your question, at the top, I had an editor who didn’t care that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin wouldn’t talk to me. “This is your book,” he said. “I don’t care about what Scottie Pippin thought about him or John Paxton or Kobe, just tell me what the hell is going in Phil’s brain.”

AB: Stars don’t generally give the most insightful interviews, either.

PR: You’re exactly right. In this case, none of the superstars would have told me anything about Phil that they hadn’t already told a hundred other writers. The last guys on the bench are often more valuable for a writer. They’re all looking at their coach to see what they could learn from the guy — about the game, about what it is to be successful. They take notes in their head. I could go on and list the number of people who have been his 11th and 12th player who have gone on to tremendous success as athletes, as athletic directors, as high school coaches, as really enlightened individuals. Unlike Michael Jordan, who is clearly the unhappiness man on Earth. Do you think we’ll ever be able to talk about how happy Kobe Bryant is? I don’t think so. But talking to those who had seen him through a truly authentic lens—and that includes Diane Mast and his old friend Charley Rosen—I think I was able to get to why he was the most successful coach ever. Anybody who is truly a success is a guy who inspires people to follow him and I think every guy Phil ever coached was willing to follow him. They wanted to follow him out of the foxhole because he treated them as equals.

AB: There’s a great story you tell about Jud Buechler. Jackson asked him how his wife was doing and Buechler was blown away because no coach had ever asked him anything personal about himself. It seems like such a common gesture. It made me think how impersonal and screwed up the world of professional sports is.

PR: If you get a new job at Wall Street at Morgan Stanley, does somebody sit you down and ask you if your wife is happy that she’s moved from Indiana to Manhattan and Westchester, and how’s the school district? Phil did, and he didn’t do it because that’s what you’re supposed to do — because clearly that’s not what you’re supposed to do. He did it because clearly that’s who he was. That’s the point of the book. Phil was a guy who was guided by what you and I are guided by, which is that we’re all part of the same social fabric. If Jud Buechler becomes the 12th man on a team that includes Scottie and Michael , Phil wanted him to know not only that it’s important that he knows his role on the team, but to know that I consider him an equal as a person. That’s a gift, a gift that most people in charge of corporate entities never consider bringing into the equation. I’m not sure that’s why he won 11 rings, but I can’t think it wasn’t part of it.

AB: How did Jackson grow in his second go around with the Lakers?

PR: I’d like to think the time off made him examine how he fucked it up the first time around. He had great players and everything fell apart. He understood when he came back that teaching is a two-way street, and I think Kobe was finally willing to listen to someone who could teach him. He’d grown up, too.

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AB: And Shaq was gone.

PR: I don’t think its coincidental that once you lose Shaq, you’ve got to completely reconstruct the entire paradigm. The second generation of Lakers he took over wasn’t as stable as his first go-round but he had Kobe. He needed Kobe to be the guy to hold the shit together. Phil went back in after writing a book that ripped Kobe as uncoachable. But when the two of them came back together, and then produced more championships, that was an example of both of them learning and both of them growing up. The two of them had an understanding and got to a place and that to me is what is great about Phil Jackson. He’s still willing to learn.

AB: I love the thing from the Lakota Indians, where one of the guys said, “Phil saw that for us, spirituality is everything in life — that spirituality is everyday life.” That sort of spoke to me about what Jackson seems to be about.

PR: The difference between Vince Lombardi and Phil Jackson is that Lombardi would wake up every morning thinking, “How do I game plan to win next week?” Jackson wakes up and asks, “How can I understand why I’m here?” Weirdly enough, the guy who asks “Why am I here?” every day winds up statistically a greater winner than Lombardi, Joe McCarthy, Red Auerbach or any of them.

AB: That’s funny.

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PR: This guy whose entire life who has been built around non numbers, about how you cannot quantify success, happiness, whatever, ends up statistically winning more championships than anyone in professional sports history in the United States of America. At that point you say to yourself, “Why is it that a guy who can’t even show up on the radar of all the barometers and quantifiers of coaching success in American sports, how is it that a coach who doesn’t need any of those things turned out to beat everyone at the one statistic we worship? Is it a coincidence that Phil’s thinking outside of the box and treating his players as people as opposed to product resulted in him winning the marathon? Is that coincidence? That’s why I wrote the book. The guy never stops thinking. He simply doesn’t close his mind to anything.

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Go here to order Phil Jackson: Lord of the Rings. 

[Photo Credit: N.Y. Times, Albany Times Union, L.A. Times, SI, ESPN. Drawing by Michael Pitts]

True Identity

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Strong work from Howard Bryant:

Even with a Harvard-educated black man occupying the White House, the conception of black masculinity still revolves around the primal, not the intellectual. The first skill any African-American man learns in navigating the white world is how to make white people comfortable. He must be nonthreatening. Before he can profit from the snarl, he must first soften them with a smile. These tactics predate Matt Barnes’ tweeting of the N-word; they predate the NFL, Jay Z and the Civil War.

Yet no matter the tactic, no matter how powerful or savvy a black man might be, manipulation of his image remains a shadow currency. LeBron James was the first black male to gain the cover of Vogue, in 2008. His portrayal conjured images of King Kong — it was him roaring at the camera with a white woman, Gisele Bundchen, in his arms.

These old constructions, very much alive, were returned to light by Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. Here was a case in which a white man used racial slurs to a Stanford-educated teammate who comes from a two-parent, Harvard-educated home. And more than anything else, the root issue was the eternal difficulty this country has in allowing black men to live in full dimension. Martin didn’t look the part. He didn’t conform to the accepted code of black masculinity, exposing the fault line that has always run underneath the American soil, transformative president or not.

On the Dolphins, Martin wasn’t seen as a real man. Uncomfortable with the strip clubs, he wasn’t trusted as one of the boys. And because he represented the images of scholarship and manners, of dignity and higher education — reputable qualities generally associated with white mainstream America — he was inauthentic in the eyes of black players, but no more authentic in the eyes of whites. His teammates preyed on Martin’s economic class and demeanor, viewing each as weakness, his education as a mimicry of whiteness. (It’s telling that John Elway and Andrew Luck, also Stanford grads, have never been accused of being soft.)

[Image Via: The Starting Five]

Too Soon

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I remember coming home from school for lunch the day Len Bias died. I fixed myself something to eat, turned on the TV, and heard the news.

Bias would have been 50 today. Here’s Dave Zirin.

Take 2

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Well, Game 1 was revolting now, wasn’t it? Cards win tonight and they’ll have taken care of business. But they were shook last night and dammit if this whole postseason doesn’t have a bad vibe about it.

[Photo Via: Gu Photography]

 

F is for Fugazi

Charlie Pierce on NBA free agency:

Is there any good reason for anyone to believe anything Dwight Howard says at this point?

He’s on the market again. On Monday, as the bell announcing the opening of the free-agency market was still pealing, he was being romanced by Houston and it was said that the Rockets were attractive to him at least in part because Texas has no state income tax. (This is a nice perk if you’re Dwight Howard the ballplayer, who will be making a gazillion dollars and can afford your own private police force. It’s a bit of a drag if you’re Dwight Howard from the Third Ward who’s trying to get him some public services.) Yao Ming Skyped in to pitch the team, and Howard’s also met with Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, as well as with James Harden, who likely will not be joining them in Springfield. He’s going to take the grand tour. Howard will be meeting with Golden State and Dallas, too, before deciding whether he wants to pick up the great burden of being a celebrity athlete in L.A. again.

Is there a bigger fake in this league? Seriously, the guy came into the NBA with a smile on his face and Bible verses on his shoes, and there hasn’t been a player in my memory who’s dived for every nickel with the enthusiasm this guy has demonstrated. (Dwight? Rich man. Camel. Needle’s eye. Google these terms along with “New Testament” and get back to me.) He can’t help being injured. He can help being miserable, though, and this guy is simply never happy. He wasn’t happy in Orlando. He wasn’t happy in L.A., and he’s not going to be happy wherever he ends up next. This would be tolerable if he brought championship ball with him. (Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t always a field of buttercups, either.) But the guy doesn’t necessarily help you win. He looks great — not good. Great — in the uniform. At the baggage carousel, there’s nobody more formidable. On the court? Not so much. He couldn’t really mesh with Kobe Bryant and he never really got along with Mike D’Antoni, and now he’s back running the grift again. Please, Houston, sign this guy. Moses Malone will come back from retirement just to kick his ass.

Then there’s Chris Paul, who has condescended to return to Los Angeles now that the Clippers gave him 107 million good reasons to be coached by Doc Rivers. This is another guy with a costume-jewelry résumé whom the league nonetheless slobbers over. You have your analytics and I have mine, but if you’re a big-money point guard, the basic metric is whether you can get your team to win anything and, right now, Paul’s got one division title with L.A. He, however, has fewer rings than Rajon Rondo or Mario Chalmers. But he gets to hold up the Clippers to the point where they raid another team for its coach, throw the league into an uproar, launch a brawl between my favorite person in the NBA and my, uh, boss, and all so that Paul won’t take his stylish, couldn’t-beat-the-Grizzlies-with-a-hand-grenade hindquarters somewhere else in the league. The barstools are full of point guards who guided their teams to a loss in a six-game playoff series.

[Picture by Greg Guillemin]

New York State of Mind

Will Leitch on the Knicks trade and why New York teams fail:

The Knicks, essentially, not only took a contract albatross off Toronto’s hands — new GM Masai Ujiri was desperate to rid himself of the failed first overall pick — they paid the Raptors for the privilege. If the trade were just Camby and Novak for Bargnani, it would be a wash, two teams handing over each other’s soiled linens. But the Knicks threw in three draft picks because … well, because in New York, the future isn’t just something that doesn’t matter, it’s something to be actively avoided.

This has always been a thing in New York. For whatever reason, there is this sense among sports owners in New York City that rebuilding — or, rather to say, the process of compiling and amassing talent and resources that can be used to sustain perpetual success — is something that the fanbase will just not stand for. If your team is not competing for a championship that very year, obviously your franchise is a failure and unworthy to wear the words “New York” on the front of your jersey/uniform/sweater/hot pants.

This mindset leads to lunacy like just about every free agent acquisition the Mets have ever made — with the ironic exception of Carlos Beltran, the one many fans were the most angry about — or the Yankees giving Alex Rodriguez a 10-year contract or the Knicks trading for someone like Andrea freaking Bargnani. The logic behind the Bargnani trade, behind so many New York sports teams’ moves, is that if the move makes the team even slightly better today, it’s worth mortgaging whatever possible future there might be. Is having Bargnani on the team for the 2013-14 season better than having Camby and Novak? I find that an arguable point, but if the Knicks think so, and they do, then why not throw in three draft picks do make sure the deal goes down? We weren’t using them anyway! They’re draft picks!

So should the Yankees trade Robinson Cano, or what? They won’t but it’d be the ballsy move.

[Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]

The Agony and the Ecstacy

The Yanks lost cause they only scored three runs, Andy wasn’t great, and Joba and Boone served up a couple of homers as the Rays beat ‘em but good, 8-3.

But the story of the night in sports was Game 7 of the NBA Finals (and so long David Stern). The Spurs were valiant and the game was close but Lebron James had his best shooting game of the series, Shane Battier finally showed up, and that was the difference. Heartbreak for Tim Duncan and the Spurs.

“Missing a layup to tie the game,” Duncan recalled. “Making a bad decision down the stretch. Just unable to stop Dwyane  and LeBron.  Game 7 is always going to haunt me.”

Back-to-back titles for the Heat.

[Photo Credit: Yahoo]

Bang!

Next Up: Game 7.

[Photo Credit:  Larry W. Smith/EPA]

Under Pressure

The ballgame in the Bronx was called tonight. They’ll make like Ernie Banks and play two tomorrow (1 p.m. and 7 p.m.).

Meanwhile, there’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals. These two teams have been trading bolo punches all series so logic would have the Heat winning tonight and forcing a deciding game. They’ll put up a good fight but it says here that the Spurs win their 5th title. I’m rooting for them though part of me wants to see a Game 7 for the pure drama.

Anyhow, enjoy the evening you guys.

[Photo Credit: Greg Nelson/SI]

Break it Down Like This

So LeBron James hasn’t played especially well in the first three games of the NBA Finals. He was particularly bad in Game 3. So I asked a friend who knows from basketball for his take. And this is what he e-mailed back to me:

He’s been held under 20 points all three games. There’s two sides to this.

The Spurs have a sound scheme. The Pacers gave the Heat trouble with their two bigs, and the Spurs are doing the same (except they have more offensive firepower). They’re laying off Lebron, tempting him to shoot jumpers, but he’s got a drive-first mentality that’s mostly good bball instinct but partially a hangover from the last series. The Spurs’ wings, Leonard and Green, are a great first line of defense, and with Duncan/Splitter in the middle, it’s really hard for him to find room. Leonard in particular is staying on his feet and not sending Lebron to the line. The Pacers let Lebron post up Paul George one-on-one and got burned, but the Spurs aren’t letting him back down for several seconds. So Lebron’s only option is driving and dishing, which means good assist numbers but not enough to combat that shrinking feeling that good defenses create. On top of that, the Heat rely on transition baskets– they either have to force turnovers or break off the defensive board. But the Spurs are shooting well AND Lebron & Co aren’t battling hard enough for the rebounds. (Mike Miller has to be playing for his 3s, but he’s almost as much of a defensive liability, somewhat due to lack of playing time.)

So the Spurs are doing what they should, limiting Miami’s strengths and magnifying their weaknesses.

But Lebron is clearly discouraged. He has lost confidence in his teammates, at both ends, and it’s affecting his effort. And he’s not getting the calls he’s used to, which will be especially true away from home. I think he thinks if he really asserts himself again and goes pure alpha-dog for stretches, he’s going to alienate them. And asserting himself means quick possessions, and it means launching long bombs and/or taking on three guys on the way to the rim.

I’ll tell you this. If the Heat are going to win a game in SA, Lebron’s going to have to have a 4-to-6-minute run where he does everything.

Then I asked him if he thought James would overcome these obstacles and he replied:

In the world where Tony Parker is hampered by a flukey hamstring injury, as he might be? Absolutely. Lebron would seize on that advantage, the unsteadiness it would create in the Spurs’ young guys, lead his team to ramp up defensively, and grab the momentum.

But if Tony Parker’s fine? I think Lebron’s going to have a couple more aggressive games, but it won’t be enough. Parker and Duncan and Leonard are too calm, and Pop’s got too sure a hand. They won’t get rattled.

That being said, Lebron is among the great ones. And what defines the great ones isn’t that they win all the time, no matter what. It’s that, despite superhigh expectations, they manage to surprise on the biggest stage. They face that moment when “isn’t he able to do more?” becomes “no, it’s not possible he can rise above this”, and they go ahead and do it. And I will gladly leave the door open for greatness.

Then I read this from Michael Wallace at ESPN. Tonight should be interesting.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver