NBA Layup Drill; Stephen Curry; Wilt Chamberlain; Joe Kapp/Craig Morton; Manny Ramirez
THE NBA Layup Drill, a.k.a. the All-Star game, was scheduled opposite the Oscars on Sunday, another brilliant move by clueless commissioner David Stern. No matter. It’s the worst of the All-Star games (I’m excluding hockey, which I never watch) and getting worse. If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell thinks the Pro Bowl was bad because there was no defense, he should watch this exhibition. A total of 300 points was scored. I forget who won. Does it matter?
Here’s how I’d rate the three All-Star games, in reverse order:
--The NBA game, which is just a sideshow to the dunking contest, which shows you exactly how much the game has deteriorated. The college game is more interesting because there is some diversity among teams, some coaches preferring an all-out offensive show and others concentrating on defensive stops. Putting in the 30-second clock eliminated the stifling “five corners” offense favored by Dean Smith, which basically meant a virtual stall through much of the game, but college teams are free to use man-to-man defenses or zone – or a mixture of the two, as Cal’s Mike Montgomery prefers. The zone defense is outlawed in the NBA, another stupid decision by a commissioner who does not know basketball.
--The Pro Bowl. I can’t say this has declined because it was never any good. Football is such a vicious game that you can’t expect players to go all-out when nothing important is at stake. Players have always viewed this as a paid vacation, especially since it’s played in Hawaii or Florida. Goodell can fume all he wants but nothing will change that. I think those watching, whether at the game or on TV, know exactly what to expect, so live with it, Roger.
--Baseball’s All-Star game has declined from what it once was, but it’s still by far the best of the three sports. Bud Selig, another commissioner who doesn’t get it, has tried to make it meaningful by declaring that the winning league will host the first two and last two games of the World Series, which only makes a bad situation worse.
There are two reasons the game has declined: 1) The real stars used to play most or all of the game. I’ve often used the example of the first All-Star game I saw in person, at Candlestick in July, 1961, when the winning National League rally in the 10 inning involved Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente, all members of the baseball Hall of Fame. Stars of that stature seldom stay in the game now beyond the fifth or sixth inning, which makes it a glorified spring training game; 2) The establishment of free agency means that players owe their allegiance more to the agents who get them big contracts than either the team they play for or league they’re playing in. Before free agency, star players usually stayed within one league. Now, they move back and forth so the difference between leagues has been obliterated. Next year, it will be almost non-existent, as the Astros move in the American League and the two leagues adopt an uniform style of playing, including the Designated Hitter.
NFL COMBINE: For all the publicity it receives, the combine is of limited use to most teams, though Al Davis loved it because he could use 40 times and weight lifting numbers to put together his draft selections. For other decision-makers, it’s not much help because few football activities are included.
Team scouts and executives are aided more by the interviews they conduct with players and the Wonderlik test players take, though there have been good players who scored poorly on that test. And, you’ll seldom see any publicity on either of those mental activities, so the “news” coming out of the combine doesn’t help a fan much in knowing who their teams might draft.
Another problem with the Combine: Many top stars either skip it or defer testing of their specific skills. This year, for instance, both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin showed up at the combine to be tested in the 40, but each deferred their passing tests for “pro days” at their schools, so they can work with receivers they know.
Of course, the combine also keeps the NFL in the news, and that’s the biggest reason it will continue.
AS IF THE Warriors didn’t have enough problems, Stephen Curry is hurt again, with still another foot problem, this one unrelated to his previous ankle turns, which necessitated offseason surgery.
Former Warriors great Rick Barry suggested the other day that the Warriors shut Curry down for the season, so he can get a full recovery for the foot and ankle. I’d second that because I fear that if Curry keeps trying to play for the rest of the season, he’ll just further weaken the foot, causing endless problems for him. He wants to play and I understand that, but he’s doing no favors to himself or his team by continuing on this on-again, off-again pattern.
The reality is that the Warriors have no chance of making the playoffs – again! – because they’re basically a team of complementary players, as I noted in a recent show on Comcast. If you look around the NBA, the best teams are those who have at least one dominant player who can take over a game. The Warriors have nobody like that. Monta Ellis is probably the closet, and you had to love that fallaway jumper he hit to beat Phoenix last week, but Ellis is not highly regarded around the league, as you can see by the fact that he was totally ignored in the All-Star selections. David Lee is having a nice season offensively but he’s not a strong defender; he’d really be better as a sixth man.
To be a playoff team, the Warriors badly need a dominant player but no free agent will come here. The continued talk about Dwight Howard, whose contract with Orlando is up after this season, is farcical. Howard has declared that he doesn’t want to come to the Warriors. Even if they were to trade for him, he’d leave when the season was over.
The Warriors’ best hope is to get that kind of player in the draft. This will be an especially good draft year because many top college players stayed in school after last season, rightfully anticipating a shortened or even lost NBA season.
But, as everybody knows, the Warriors will have to surrender their first round pick to Utah, the result of a 2008 trade, unless it’s one of the first seven. So, the best thing for the Warriors right now is to finish with a bad enough record that they have a legitimate chance to be at least No. 7, maybe even higher, in the lottery.
Coach Mark Jackson and his players can’t think that way, of course, because they have to keep trying to win. But the more often they lose, the better their chances for future success. That’s the reality.
THE WARRIORS have been celebrating one of the big nights in their history, when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a 1962 game for the then Philadelphia Warriors.
There was surprisingly little attention paid to it at the time. Part of that was, though the opponent was the New York Knicks, the game was actually played in Hershey, Pennsylvania, so the media representation was small. Another factor was that critics of the game thought scoring was out of hand. One New York columnist wrote at the time that 100-point games would soon by commonplace. I can only hope he was more accurate on other predictions. Nobody had even exceeded 80 points since until Kobe Bryant scored 81, with 21 of those coming on three-point shots.
And Wilt himself had almost numbed fans and media by his incredible scoring. In his rookie season, he averaged more than 37 points a game, a record. In the 1961-62 season, he averaged more than 50. When I was on a road trip in the early ‘70s with the Warriors, Barry had a 50-point game and Bob Feerick, who had coached Wilt in that earlier season, told me, “It got to the point where you just kind of went ho-hum when Wilt scored 50.”
Chamberlain was a great athlete, who ran the quarter mile, high jumped and shot putted as a collegian. The first time I saw him was when Kansas came to Berkeley and played Cal in a pre-conference game in 1957. Several of us who were working on the Daily Cal came out to watch the Jayhawks practice that afternoon. Wilt was standing at half court shooting – and hitting a good percentage of his shots. None of his coaches ever had him do that in a game, but he did play guard for the Globetrotters for a year when he left Kansas after his junior year. (Players could not join the NBA then until their college class had graduated.)
Franklin Mieuli was often criticized for trading Wilt and getting little in return, but he had no choice. The home team kept all the gate in the NBA. Wilt was a tremendous draw on the road, but Mieuli got none of that. At home, few fans showed up for the repetitive games.
Wilt famously said, “Nobody loves Goliath,” and that was certainly true for him. Many felt Bill Russell was superior because his team, the Boston Celtics, won so frequently, but when Chamberlain was surrounded by the kind of talent that always surrounded Russell, he won, too. The 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers are often regarded as the best ever, and the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, with Jerry West and Wilt, not only won a championship but set a record with 33 straight wins in a season.
There has never been anybody quite like Wilt. I doubt there ever will be.
AWWW: There was a cute picture in The Chronicle on Sunday which showed Manny Ramirez kissing his wife while their two sons, nine and six, respectively, stood with them. The six-year-old had his hand up to cover his eyes and you could read his mind: “Mommy and Daddy kissing. Gross!”
OSCARS: There were some positive aspects for the awards ceremony for me, namely an Oscar for Meryl Streep, who deserves one each year (it’s a crime she didn’t get one for “Julie and Julia”) and an award for best original screen play to “Midnight in Paris.” I knew the movie had no chance to win the big award but it was a delightful, inventive story, weaving famous writers and artists into the present.
Apparently the Academy voters agreed with me on the fraud that is “Moneyball,” since it got exactly the number of Oscars (zero) it deserved. I don’t object to sports movies which are fables, like “The Natural” and “Fields of Dreams” because nobody ever contended that they followed the facts. Same with “Major League,” a comedy which I enjoyed immensely, as I also did “The Natural.” But “Moneyball” was about a specific period of time and a plan, and it deviated from the actual facts enormously.
Of course, movies like this have an out: That message at the beginning which says they”re “Based on a true event.” Very loosely in this case, but it’s not the worst. Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” which proposed that the CIA schemed to assassinate Kennedy, was even less plausible, but the conspiracy theorists, whose number is large, swallowed it whole.
I GOT AN offer this week that I had no trouble refusing: A host for a Twitter site said he could funnel hundreds of fans tweets to sportswriters. I told him the Twitter world seemed to be doing well without my participation, and I’d like to keep it that way.
JOE KAPP: I’ve been in e-mail contact this week with a Santa Monica writer who is considering writing a screen play on Joe Kapp, whose colorful life is certainly worth one.
Though I’ve known him since the fall of 1956, when he was a sophomore quarterback at Cal and I was a junior working on the Daily Cal, I think my favorite Joe Kapp story is one I heard from Craig Morton two years ago, when I was working on his bio for induction into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.
As a senior quarterback at Campbell High, Craig was highly recruited by both Stanford and Cal, with Kapp very much involved, though unofficially, in the Bears’ effort. Craig eventually made the right decision but at one point, he announced that he had decided on Stanford. That afternoon, his mother told him, “Joe Kapp is in the backyard. You should go out and talk to him.” Craig told her, “Are you crazy? He’d kill me.”
Morton had reason for concern. Even now, in his early ‘70s, Joe is still very combative, getting into a fight with as former opponent at a Canadian Grey Cup dinner. The other guy started it, but Joe didn’t back down. He never has.
CHANGES: The Examiner was sold at the end of November and the new publisher has let three columnists go, with only Art Spander and I surviving. So, the website is changed. The best way to access my column is through the link at the bottom of my Home Page, which takes you to the Examiner sports page. If you don’t see my column, click on “Sports”. My name and Spander’s will come up as columnists. If you then click on my name, the last 10 columns I’ve written will appear.
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