Tag:Kevin Durant
Posted on: June 16, 2012 11:37 am
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NBA's All-Time Best, Plus Teo

With the word “legacy” being tossed about in these NBA Finals like it’s the only reason for living, I got to thinking of those players who set the legacy-bar in the pro game.

Those memorables who’ve became the standard by which every aspiring superstar will eventually come to be measured.

Aspirants in these Finals would be the reigning MVP LeBron James, ring-holder Dwyane Wade and their up-start opponent, NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant.

And then there’s Russ Westbrook. An asset when he plays Scottie Pippen, second fiddle to OKC’s version of Michael Jordan, Mr. Durant. And if Russ hits the right notes at the right times, like Scottie, he just might get his ticket punched to Springfield, too (HOF).

Why just five all-time greatest hoopsters? Ever since Letterman made the top-ten list a national pastime it’s been run into the ground (ESPN).  And those top-100 lists were tiresome & tacky from the start (NFLN). Besides, picking the top five is a slam-dunk. After that, it gets a bit dicey.

5) Michael Jordan

Everyone’s #1 in the 40 & under group. I won’t get on that bandwagon. Mike comes in at #5. Cons: he never faced greatness in the Finals. Competition matters, a lot. Bulls beat a past-prime LA (‘91), Blazers (‘92), Suns (‘93), Sonics (‘96) and Jazz (1997-98). Then there’s Phil. Mike was more than a tweak away before Jackson arrived. The NPR coach is a basketball genius and deserves a share of the credit, winning in NY, Chicago and LA.

Pros: Two, back-to-back-to-back championship runs, an armful of MVPs and an unquenchable thirst for winning once he got a taste for it, all put him in this select group.

4) Larry Bird

Being half of the second greatest match-up in history gives you cachet. Three NBA titles (‘87 got away) and three MVPs gives you substance. Some would say his being the best white player of the past 35 years worked a bias, but Bird was no ‘great white (hype) hope.’ He had the shooting touch of Oscar Robertson, passing skills of Bob Cousy and rebounded like Dennis Rodman. And all these results with a chronic bad back, in the most competitive decade in NBA history, the 1980s. Before that back went out and Phil arrived in Chicago, head-to-head, Bird & Boston always had Jordan’s number, even when he put up 60 points.

3) Wilt Chamberlain

If the prize for ‘greatest player ever’ were awarded solely on talent, Chamberlain would get the nod easy. But as it stands today, titles have become the litmus test for greatness. He claimed the prize twice, first as a 76er, besting Boston along the way (’67), then in LA (’72). Coaching was the crux early on but when it finally coalesced in Philly, change came again. Though his shipment to LA formed a super trifecta (Baylor / West), all were winding down. Wilt’s best remembered for his individual feats, persona and battles with Bill.  He may've been his own worst enemy, albeit in a time of great culture clash.  Had his earlier career benefited from the team-stability enjoyed by the other four greats, Wilt the Stilt may’ve had a ring for every finger.

2) Bill Russell

Still #1 for fans-over-fifty, Bill’s the safe choice, given his ring-laden hands (11). Makes you wonder how Jordan can get the votes (6). Bill’s one of the great ‘might have beens’ (for St. Louis): drafted by Hawks (’56). Wilt-supporters (fans) always point to Bill’s team-talent as the winning-edge. With the likes of Sam Jones, Bob Cousy and Hondo Havlicek, it’s a fair point. But in their day, key battles were waged & won down low, in the paint, giants fighting for dominance. And no player (coach ‘66-69), then or since, has dripped more determination onto the hardwood than Mr. Russell.

1) Earvin “Magic” Johnson

Change is good, at least that‘s what we‘re told. I’m not a big fan, no one really is, but in this case, it’s apropos. It’s time Earvin was moved into the top spot. If Bill was Mr. determination, Magic was, well, magical. Nobody seemed to love the game…the GAME of basketball more than Earvin Johnson. America first saw that big smile when he ran the court as a Spartan and for the next 10 years it would light-up the NBA, receding only when he faced nemesis Bird and finally with his shocking AIDS announcement (’91).

Bill doubles-up Magic on titles and MVPs but the gold-standard (rings) is weighted by its karat-count: competition. Russell v Chamberlain was the battle-royal for posterity, but Magic and Lakers faced a more formidable field than did the 60s Celtics. The 80s had four great teams: Lakers, Celtics, 76ers and Pistons, with Bulls, Rockets & Bucks close behind. It’s why the introduction of professionalism into the Olympics (Dream Team) has been nothing more than a marketing money-grab and a farce.

Taking the O’Brien Trophy in his first NBA season (’79-80), subbing for Kareem in ‘87 (hook-shot heard ‘round the world) and even getting his weary Lakers back to the Finals one last time in ’91, all put Mr. Johnson on the highest pedestal. Congrats, Earvin.

Plus Teofilo 

As oddly loud as the sport pages have been recently with whining on the Bradley v Pacquiao decision (even Manny’s judge had it close @ 115-113), they’ve been as oddly quiet on the recent passing of another ‘greatest’ in sport. On June 11th it was announced Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson had died of a heart condition at the age of 60.

The undefeated, classy fighter settled for ‘greatest amateur,’ choosing to never turn pro after winning three Olympic heavyweight gold medallions, his first coming at Munich in 1972. By remaining loyal to Fidel Castro and Cuba, Teofilo created another big ‘might have been’: the Stevenson v Ali super-fight. And it would’ve been tremendous. The bad rap on TS: an unproven record. But those critics never saw him fight and then, in his era, the Olympics were the proving ground for prominence, catapulting names like Clay (Ali), Frazier, Foreman and Leonard. Fans of boxing history will remember Teofilo Stevenson.

Steven Keys
Posted on: May 22, 2012 12:25 pm
 

How the Tres Tamed the NBA

They were giants of the sporting world: names like Mikan, Pettit, Russell, Wilt the Stilt, Truck, Moses, The Enforcer, the Big O, the Big E and the Big Redhead.

Basketball’s leviathans in the low post.

Fans thrilled at their combination of size, strength and agility. The battles they fought under the boards defined the NBA and made sport headlines for nearly 40 years.

But change is the constant in a consumer democracy.

The Chuck Taylor high-tops and short-shorts are long gone, replaced with hideous foot-wear and a plethora of prison-yard tattoos. Historic but cramped old arenas gave-way to bigger & brighter venues with better seats, paint-happy hardwood and $12.50 nachos.

And no change has been greater than disappearance of the inside game. In particular, the demise of the dominant center and power-forward.

Different from women’s basketball where the tall pivot player still reigns, the menacing man in the middle has become an endangered species.

Since the days of Kareem Abdul Jabbar you could count on two hands the number of big men who’ve dominated down low: Bob Parish, Bird, McHale, Laimbeer, Shaq, Rodman, Magic, Olajuwon, Duncan and Karl Malone nearly fill out a very short list.

The culprit: NBA’s adoption of the three-point shot.

The National was sitting pretty in the late 70s, having absorbed what remained of a monopolized ABA (1976) and negotiated lucrative TV / merchandise deals. But a dramatic rise in player salaries gave some jughead in a Suit reason to get creative.

In 1979 they reached into their former rival’s bag of tricks (the American employed the dunk and the tres in 1968 “as marketing tool(s) to compete with the NBA (Wikipedia)” and pulled out the three-point gimmick to prime the pump.

Basketball’s never been the same.

There had been a balance, a symmetry, a ying & yang in roundball.

Fans were treated to two theaters of play: one inside, where bruisers like Nate Thurmond, Dantley, Unseld, Reed, Walton, Lanier, Cowens, Gilmore and Dan Issel waged war; the other, out on the key where long-rangers Jerry West, Bing, Frazier, Maravich, Gervin, Winters and Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson could Heat it up in a hurry.

As long as both theaters had direction there was a symbiosis and the game flourished.

But by the mid-80s the physical, combative play which for years had made the sport so colorful…vanished. Centers and power forwards regressed into mere supporting players or disappeared all together. Much of the action moved away from the paint and up to the high-post where guards and guard-wannabes directed the flow and became the stars.

The spotlight swung away from bangers and over to finesse guys like Julius Erving and Mike Jordan as the 3-pointer and un-contested dunk became signature plays of the NBA.

If you see a guy in the low-post today chances are he’s only waiting on an alley-oop or mesmerized as an opponent dunks on his head. Post game both will hug & laugh about it.

As most NBA rookies are today on the 5-year maturation plan, they’ll never develop the wide range of skills that even stylers like Dr. J and Jordan would eventually pick-up.

“You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle” (Seinfeld).

They don’t sell the game anymore, they sell celebrity (endorsements), air-time (TV / Twitter / fantasy) and merchandise (cantaloupe-sized driver heads and wicked metal bats in Little League (Outside the Lines; 3/1/11)). If it generates a nice revenue stream, then history, integrity and sometimes safety, it would appear, all get swept under the rug.

When big-shots like Kevin Love (6’10) and Kevin Durant (6’9) spend half their time on the perimeter you know the game’s gone soft. Both should live inside 15 feet. Instead, the past four seasons has seen a steady up-tick in their 3PAs. It's surprising, given the tremendous shooting touch both possess (FG%: .457 / .468) when not launching 3s.

So much for pumping-up the offense.

In comparison, the newly-crowned MVP LeBron James has seen his 3PA% decrease each of the past three seasons: 25% (‘09-10); 19% (‘11); 13% (abridged ‘12). That’s growth.

Prime example of the tamer NBA: With 6 ticks left on the clock and down by only one vs OKC (PS G2 '12), rather than design a drive to the hoop for two, likely draw the foul, and even with a miss and no whistle, ball’s in play for a rebounded score (Gasol / Bynum), Lakers Coach Mike Brown opts for the thrilling, unnecessary, low-percentage 3-pointer that Steve Blake rims out. Blake & Brown are lambasted but what the Lakers did was SOP in today’s b-ball.

There are men who keep the spirit alive with dynamic play in the paint. A few of the standouts: centers Tim Duncan, Howard, Pau Gasol, Bynum and Joakim Noah; forwards Blake Griffin, Garnett, Cousins, Humphries and Atlanta’s Josh Smith.

It’s time to bounce the 3-pointer outta’ the gym. Send it, along with the dunk contest and home run derby over to where they all belong: Saturday morning TV.

Then watch the roundball renaissance begin.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com