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Tag: david halberstam

The Big Fella

David Halberstam was not a sports writer but he wrote about sports often. He was rarely vicious though, which makes this Page 2 column on Patrick Ewing stand out:

Well, how great a player was Patrick Ewing?

First, let me stipulate one critical ground rule: I do not believe that you have to win a championship to be a great player. There are — especially from the days before free agency, when a player had less control over his career — great players who never had the right players around them, and therefore did not win rings. Jerry West was a great player, and near the end of his career he finally and deservedly won a championship. But if Wilt Chamberlain had not leveraged his muscle into forcing a trade to Los Angeles, West might easily have finished his career kingless.

Still, I most emphatically do not think Ewing was a great player. His statistics are awesome, he will surely make the Hall of Fame, and I know for a fact that he is listed among the league’s 50 all-time best players included in the book published by the league itself on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. After all, I wrote the forward.

Is he a very good player? I guess so. The Knicks in the years of his prime were always going to be respectable, though they were never going to surprise anyone. In the end, I came to hate watching them play: It was all so heavy and slow and predictable. I find him the most puzzling of players, talented, hard-working and, in the end, limited.

Ewing was a great player in college and if he wasn’t a great pro, he was damn close, flaws and all. Anyhow, read the entire piece. Sure to provoke a reaction.

Magnum Force

Sad news from the world of basketball: Maurice Lucas is dead.

Charles Pierce remembers Lucas in the Boston Globe:

Thirty-nine years ago this fall, I moved into the 11th floor of a 12-story dormitory at the corner of 16th Street and Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was a freshman at Marquette University. (The dorm, McCormick Hall, is round and shaped like a beer can, which is remarkably appropriate in more than the metaphorical sense, and the building has been rumored for almost 40 years to be sinking into middle Earth.) Not long after I moved in, I found myself intrigued by the music coming out from under the door of the room next to mine — music which I now know to have been “Eurydice,” the closing track from Weather Report’s astounding debut album. (Mmmmmm. Wayne Shorter!) As I was listening, an extremely large man came out of the room and introduced himself. “Pretty cool, isn’t it?’ he said.

And that was how I met Maurice Lucas.

For the next couple of years, we talked about music, at least as much as Luke talked to anyone, him being what you call your campus celebrity and all during the glory days of Warrior basketball and the high-sun period of Al McGuire Era. Whatever I know about any jazz recorded after the big band records to which my father listened — Mmmmmmm. Basie! — I learned from Luke, with whom I don’t believe I ever exchanged four words about basketball.

Later that same year, when I was practicing with the fencing team in the basement of the old gymnasium while the basketball team practiced upstairs, Luke came out of the shower wearing only a towel. “Hey,” he said, “show me how to do that.” I handed him a foil and we squared off, I in my full regalia with a mask and Luke in a towel. I touched him once, lightly, in the ribs. He slapped my blade out of my hand and about 20 feet back down the hallway, hitched up his towel, and went off chuckling.

Lucas was one of the memorable characters on the Blazers’ championship team in the ’70s. I remember him later in his career–he was a professional tough guy and a fine player.

If you’ve never read David Halberstam’s “The Breaks of the Game,” you should. There’s some good stuff on Lucas in there. Did I mention that he was tough?

Before the NBA, Lucas played with the infamous Marvin “Bad News” Barnes for the St. Louis Spirits in the ABA. Spirits announcer Bob Costas told Terry Pluto in Loose Balls:

It was interesting to watch Lucas develop. Early in his rookie year, he was coming off the bench. One night the Spirits were playing Kentucky in Freedom Hall and Lucas was trading elbows with Artis Gilmore. At 7-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Gilmore just towered over Maurice. Lucas’s only chance was to beat Gilmore to a spot on the floor and then try to hold off Artis. Despite his enormous size and strength, Gilmore was never known as a ferocious player and he seldom was in a fight. But all of a sudden, Artis just got sick of Lucas’s bodying him and you could see that the big guy was really hot. Gilmore took a swipe at Lucas and missed. Lucas put up his fists, but he was backpedaling like any sane man would when confronted by Gilmore. It was almost slow motion–Gilmore would take a step, then Lucas would take a step back. It was obvious that Lucas didn’t want to fight and was trying to figure out where he could go. Finally, he was trapped in the corner; he had run out of court. He didn’t know what else to do, so he planted his feet and threw this tremendous punch at Gilmore, and it caught Artis square on the jaw. It was a frightening sight. Artis hit the deck. Lucas was going crazy. Now he really wanted a piece of Artis. Guys were holding Lucas back and Artis was still down. For whatever reason, from that point on Lucas developed into a helluva player.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Lucas.

C’MMMMMOONNNNN (That’s a Terrible Call)

The Pat Jordan pick of the week is a profile he did on the ol’ red-headed Deadhead for the New York Times Magazine back in 2001. Here’s Bill Walton’s Inside Game:

Back at the house, Walton goes to practice his piano while his sons go outside to play one of their fierce two-on-two basketball games. Nate and Bruk Vandeweghe, who has lived with the family for 20 years, team up against Chris and a friend. Luke, limping from an ankle sprain he suffered in one of the boys’ recent games, sits in a chair and mimics his father broadcasting the game that is filled with rough play and profanity.

Nate fakes under the basket and tosses in a hook shot. “Nice utilization of the body,” Luke intones. Chris immediately hits a long jumper. “But Chris will not go away,” Luke says.

Chris drives toward the basket and tosses a pass behind his back that goes out of bounds. “A good look,” Luke says, “but a little too fancy.”

Nate and Chris dive for a loose ball and bang heads. Chris screams a profanity at Nate, and Nate curses back. As play resumes, Walton hobbles out on his crutches to watch. “What are you doing here?” Nate says. The boys’ game is deflated. They continue to play, but without their previous fury; no more curses, just a lot of uncontested jump shots until the game expires.

After the game, Vandeweghe sits by the pool and talks about his life with the Waltons. He acts as their unofficial manservant, serving drinks, giving the boys massages on the living-room table and running errands. “This house is in a time warp,” he says. “Like a monastery. Still, there’s a lot going on here you don’t know.” He smiles. “Bill wants everyone to have a good time. At his parties, there are three girls to every guy. Bill lets you do anything with girls as long as you don’t talk about it in front of Lori. She’s subservient, like a geisha. She serves her purpose for Bill. She’s thrilled to be with a star.” He says that the Waltons’ divorce was hard on Susie. “She was like my second mom. She can’t lie. Bill can’t talk about her because he knows she’s right.”

At that moment, Nate, furious, comes out of the house toward Vandeweghe. “Same old garbage!” he snaps. “I told Bill I was gonna see Mom, and he says he wants to talk to me for five minutes, and it goes on and on, nowhere.”

Not everybody loved Jordan’s story. Here is a letter the Times published on November 25, 2001:

In the 20 years since I wrote about the Portland Trail Blazers in an earlier book, Bill Walton and I have become good friends, and I have spent a good deal of time with him and with his sons (Pat Jordan, Oct. 28). The relationship between father and sons has always struck me as loving, supportive and mutually generous; I think it is not unimportant that in a home where the father let all of his sons follow their own stars, all four wanted to play basketball. More important, what Pat Jordan missed was the story right in front of him: the rarest kind of courage and exuberance on the part of an athlete, once gifted, whose ability to maximize the uses of his body is so critical to his psyche but is now so seriously jeopardized by the cruelest kind of injuries to both feet.

David Halberstam
New York

Clearly, Pat never read How to Wins Friends and Influence People.

[Photo Credit: L.A. Times]

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