Stephen Curry, Jarrett Jack, David Lee; Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Rich Gannon, Bill Romanowski; Stan Musial/Earl Weaver; Phil Mickelson
MONDAY’S GAME between the Warriors and Clippers was the first NBA game I’ve watched from beginning to end this year and I picked a great one, back and forth the whole game until the Warriors pulled it out with great three-point shooting by Stephen Curry at the end.
That game gave the Warriors a 3-1 edge in the season’s series but, no, it doesn’t mean they’re the better team. Right now, the Clippers look like the best team in the NBA and they’d be my choice to win it all – if Chris Paul is healthy, which he isn’t at the moment. Blake Griffin is an unstoppable force who finds an open teammate when he’s double covered – eight assists in Monday’s game.
But, it’s also clear that the Warriors have a good shot at making the playoffs, with or without Andrew Bogut. The Warriors tried to rush Bogut back at the start of the season, issuing misleading information about his health, and finally had to back off and let him heal properly. He’s been working into shape, finally able to do full-out sprints of the court.
Because they’ve been winning without Bogut, there’s been no urgency to get him back, but it’s also obvious that they would be a better team with a healthy Bogut, who would give them a low post scoring threat they lack now. (So do most NBA teams, a puzzle to me, because I started watching NBA games when Wilt Chamberlain was battling Bill Russell. Nothing like that today, and the game suffers, IMO, because of that.)
There’s a lot to like about the Warriors, starting with Curry. Is there anybody left who thinks the Warriors made a mistake by building their team around Curry and trading Monta Ellis? Since that trade, Ellis has virtually disappeared from the NBA landscape while Curry has just gotten better. It’s not just his scoring. In that fourth quarter run on Monday, he made a classic bounce pass to Jarrett Jack between defenders, so Jack could get an uncontested layup. Bounce passes seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur, but Curry realized instinctively that only a bounce pass would get through. That’s the type of play you can’t coach. Give credit to former Warriors general manager Larry Riley, who spotted that trait in Curry and drafted him, even though it seemed an odd choice at the time, with Ellis on the team.
Jack is another reason to like this team. He’s absolutely fearless when it comes to taking his shot in crunch time. There aren’t many players like that in the NBA. Warriors coach Mark Jackson, an excellent point guard in his day, realizes that, and he’s made good use of Jack in the fourth quarter of close games.
Last year, I wrote that Jackson couldn’t be judged as a coach because he didn’t have the players. This year, general manager Bob Myers, probably with help from Jerry West, has put together a strong and deep roster, and Jackson has used that talent to win games.
Jackson has also emphasized defense and rebounding, and strong forward David Lee is scoring, rebounding and playing defense, which was not part of his game before.
As an organization, the Warriors also deserve credit for recognizing the importance of the Martin Luther King holiday. This is the 21st day they’ve had games on the holiday, and they have numerous tributes to King, replaying his speeches and using speeches from present-day players talking about how much he meant to them. It’s a poignant reminder of how important King is in the history of this country.
ONE OF the most ridiculous stories in recent sports history was the claim by former Raiders receiver Tim Brown that Bill Callahan, then the coach of the Raiders, changed the game plan just two days before the January, 2003 Super Bowl so that his friend, Jon Gruden, could win the game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Jerry Rice backed up Brown’s charge, but that was probably because not enough passes were thrown to him, which was always the way Jerry judged game plans.
On the other hand, team captains, Bill Romanowski and Rich Gannon, both refuted Brown’s claim. I believe their opinions carry more weight, especially Gannon’s, because he was the one calling plays.
There’s another point which I haven’t seen raised: Al Davis was very involved in everything that happened with the Raiders. Does anybody think that Davis would have allowed a radical change in the game plan just two days before the game? He knew that, if Tampa Bay won, he would be heavily criticized for “trading” Gruden – which is exactly what happened.
That doesn’t mean I’m supporting Callahan. I thought he was a terrible choice as head coach. He hadn’t even been much of an offensive coordinator because Gruden had designed the offense and Gannon had run it perfectly, adding his own impromptu choices.
When Callahan became head coach, Gannon ran the offense and Romanski ran the defense, paying little attention to the supposed head coach. The next year, both Gannon and Romanski were injured early and the Raiders collapsed, starting their NFL record streak of consecutive seasons with double-digit losses.
THE NFL continues to have its collective head in the sand when it comes to serious head injuries.
Finally, the league has been forced to keep players with concussions out of games because of a lawsuit brought by former players. But, they still haven’t addressed the core issue, the steroids which have allowed players to bulk up and yet get faster, creating more and more damaging collision.
The family of Junior Seau has joined the lawsuit after a post-death autopsy of Seau’s brain showed multiple examples of brain damage caused by concussion. The 43-year-old Seau committed suicide last year.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Fred McNeill, a first round draft choice in 1974 who played 12 years in the NFL. After his playing career, he went to law school and had a successful legal career – until he had early onset dementia which forced his retirement. At 60, he is under the care of health care professionals and his family.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard coaches say a player “got his bell rung”, which we now know translates to concussions. It wasn’t until the ‘90s that NFL people started to take concussions seriously. Leigh Steinberg was a leader in pushing for better testing and one of his clients, Steve Young, was told by doctors that he needed to retire after he had a concussion in the 1999 season. That was the last thing Steve wanted to do, but he realized he had no choice.
Yet, the NFL lags behind MLB, which recently reached an agreement with the players union to allow blood testing, which will find the human growth hormone which is undetectable by urine testing. Baseball is doing that only because fans and many writers think statistics are sacred, which is beyond comprehension to me. Football fans don’t have the same regard for statistics, so there isn’t the pressure for blood testing, but it is the NFL which needs it the most.
Perhaps if the retired players who are suing the league win a big settlement, which is quite possible, it will finally force the NFL to realize this problem and do something meaningful.
TWO MEMBERS of the Baseball Hall of Fame with wildly different personalities, Stan Musial and Earl Weaver, died Saturday.
I worshipped Musial from afar. My National League team was the Cardinals, in part because I loved their uniforms (still do) and they always seemed to be battling the Dodgers. For some unknown reason, I never liked the Dodgers – except when they were playing the Yankees, a team I always hated, in the World Series – which made it easy for me to continue disliking them when they moved to Los Angeles.
Musial had started his baseball career as a pitcher but shifted to the outfield when he injured his arm in the minors. He quickly rose to the majors because he was an outstanding hitter and a good left fielder in his youth, because of his speed. He had a very unusual stance; he was once described as looking like a young boy who was trying to look around a corner. But, like all good hitters with unusual stances, everything came together when he swung the bat. He claimed he could tell when the pitch was approaching the plate whether it was a fast ball or breaking pitch. Whatever it was, he hit it. He didn’t have quite the power of contempories like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio but he hit 475 homers in his career.
I never saw DiMaggio, except on television for the 1951 World Series, and the only time I saw Williams in person was in a 1957 exhibition game at Seals Stadium against the Seals, then in the Red Sox farm system. I never saw Musial in person, either. In 1963, I had come to The Chronicle in April and I did sidebars that year on some Giants games but none of them involved the Cardinals. Just as well. That was Musial’s last season and it was a dismal one, as he hit just .255.
I did meet Musial the next year. He had joined the Cardinals front office and was traveling with the team. I sat down with him at a pre-game dinner in the Giants press room and found him just as friendly and unassuming as everybody had said he was. He was a perfect match for St. Louis, a Midwestern type of guy (though he’d been born in Pennsylvania) who never wanted to leave. I can’t think of another superstar who played his entire career with one team and stayed in that city for the rest of his life. His contemporaries, Williams and DiMaggio, certainly didn’t.
I only had limited exposure to Weaver, too, an occasional group interview after games, but what I remember most about him was a recording the A’s Billy Beane played for me. Weaver was famous for believing in the three-run homer and not believing in the running game at all. He was asked once by a writer why he didn’t have his players stealing bases, the recording Beane played for me. He unloaded on that writer for 10 minutes with a profanity-laced tirade. I’m guessing that writer never asked Weaver that question again.
SACRAMENTO MAYOR Kevin Johnson is working very hard to keep the Kings in Sacramento, though the team’s owners, the Maloof brothers, have already made a deal to sell the team to a Seattle group.
Of course, Bob Lurie also made a deal to sell the Giants to a group of Tampa Bay businessmen and they’re still in San Francisco. Johnson says he has a group willing to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento, and I hope he’s successful.
Frankly, the Maloof brothers have been the worst owners this side of Lew Wolff and John Fisher. They’ve let the team decline and slowly, attendance has eroded – but the Kings earlier had 479 straight sellouts, even though they often had losing seasons in that stretch. Sacramento fans don’t deserve to lose their team.
Having spoken to Sacramento groups in the past, I know the passion resident have for sports. Many fans drive to Candlestick for 49ers games or to the Coliseum or AT&T for A’s or Giants game. They’ve certainly proved they can support an NBA team with the right ownership. I’d hate to see the Maloofs rewarded for their incompetence and, yes, I realize I’m being idealistic in that.
FAN INTEREST: The Bay Area has gone absolutely crazy over the 49ers, as it did for the Giants when they made their World Series run, but I was reminded of the difference between West Coast and East Coast teams when Nancy and I watched “Silver Lining Playbook” last week. In that film, cast in Philadelphia, everybody seemed to be crazy about the Eagles, even though the successful moments for that franchise have been few and far between. Their last NFL championship was in 1960.
That kind of ardor for a losing team is inconceivable on the West Coast. We have too many other good things to do if our teams are losing. Makes sense to me.
POOR PHIL: Phil Mickelson complained this week that he figured that with all the taxes levied on his income in California (he included Social Security, which is a federal program), he was losing 62-63 per cent of his income.
Mickelson made $60 million last year, because he’s a superb golfer. If he’s truly losing that much, he’d have somewhere around $22 million left.
Yeah, I know. Tough to live on that.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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