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|Posted on April 23, 2016 at 12:56 PM||comments (26)|
Hall of Fame basketball player, George Gervin once said to me, “I can’t show you what he did but believe me, he did it.” He could do things that most players in today’s game can’t do. Oh, you could see glimpses of him by watching some of those who came after him: Clyde Drexler, Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, David Thompson and a young Charles Barkley come to mind. This guy made you happy just to watch him and only one scout came to see him play in high school. College scout, Howard Garfinkel said, “As a senior, he was 6’3” tall, and no one thought he would be that good.”
This guy may have invented the word, “style.” His hands were large, strong and he could palm a bowling ball. His “afro” was even bigger. The man was like Woodstock, everyone wanted to be there when he played. He owned dignity, class, presentation and cared about language. He spoke clearly and concisely, he changed the way black basketball players were viewed. Watching this guy with a basketball was like seeing “Babe” Ruth hit for the Yankees. He was the ABA’s biggest star that no one had ever seen. Professional basketball games were not televised until the leagues merged in 1976. Unless you have a ticket stub to prove it, you probably never saw him either. This fellow grew into a cult figure and was the coolest guy in your time zone.
There was a time when history was passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next. Some of the stories that got passed along became legendary. Sometimes legends are incredible, but sometimes the real story is even better.
Julius Winfield Erving, II, was born in East Meadow, New York, on February 22, 1950. As one of three children, their father was killed in a car crash when Julius was nine years old. His mother moved the family to Roosevelt, New York, when he was 13. Outside of the window of their house was a basketball court at Carmel Park, where Julius, his brother Marvin and a friend, Archie Rogers, spent countless hours. Julius and Archie would eventually join a local Salvation Army team. They were the only two African-American kids on a squad of 12 players. “I practiced trick shots left-handed and right-handed every day,” said Julius. Erving’s closest friend at Roosevelt High School was Leon Saunders. Julius called him
“Professor,” and Leon called Julius “Doctor.” By his senior year, Julius was 6’ 3” tall and wore # 42. During the summers, Julius Erving began playing at legendary Rucker Park, located in Harlem. It was here that his high school coach, Ray Wilson, witnessed Erving’s magic.
“One afternoon I was at Rucker Park, and Julius didn’t know I was watching. On a breakaway, his feet left the floor at the top of the circle. I closed my eyes because I didn’t think he would make it to the rim, much less make the shot. But he dunked the ball with one hand, and then he acted like it was no big deal. From that moment on, the secret was out,” said Wilson. For Julius Erving, gravity appeared to be overrated. Half man, half amazing, he jumped like he was 7’ tall. He was the coming of a new era in basketball.
Thanks to a phone call by Wilson, in 1968 Erving enrolled at the University of Massachusetts. The freshman who could fly would surprise a lot of folks. He grew to 6’ 7” by his junior year and averaged 27 points per game and 20 rebounds. His numbers would have been better if the NCAA rules had not limited his play. There was no dunking or three-point shot.
Meanwhile, back at home, his younger brother Marvin began to suffer from Lupus. After three months, Marvin was placed in the hospital, and a call was made for Julius to come home. Julius arrived in time to see his 16-year-old brother die. Erving, just 19 years old, began to withdraw from sadness, but took his brother’s spirit back to school with him. That summer, Erving returned to Rucker Park. He drew the largest crowd to ever see a game there. People sat on the apartment building rooftops, climbed trees and surrounded the court. He received nicknames like the “Black Moses,” “Houdini” and “The Hawk,” until he spoke up and said, “Call me Dr. J.”
In 1971, Dr. J. was offered a contract for $125,000 a year for four years, to play for the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association (ABA). He signed the contract and left UMASS one year early. It was with the Squires that I got to see Dr. J. play for the first time against the Carolina Cougars. In 1973, the Squires sold Dr. J’s rights to the New York Nets. There he would wear the #32 and would lead the Nets to two ABA Championships (1974 and 1976), while being selected the ABA Playoff MVP in the same two years. He was also selected the league MVP three years in a row (1974-1976), and he played in five ABA All-Star Games (1972-1976). During the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, a new event was added. They called it the Slam Dunk Contest. It was made for Julius Erving. Two of his opponents, David “Skywalker” Thompson and George “The Ice Man” Gervin, along with the rest of the world, still talk about it. Remember how this article started with a quotation by Gervin? Well, Dr. J. dunks the red, white and blue basketball from the foul line. When he leaves the floor, he is 15 feet away; the basket is ten feet high in the air, and the crowd goes crazy.
Julius Erving was in high demand. He joined the Philadelphia 76ers in 1976. They gave him uniform #6. After getting to the NBA Finals on several occasions, Dr. J, and the 76ers finally won an NBA Championship in 1983, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers. Erving explained it this way: “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good your team is,” said Erving. In comes Moses Malone to the rescue. Dr. J. and Moses, was like having peas and carrots. Erving was selected the NBA MVP in 1981, and he played in 11 straight NBA All-Star Games (1977-1987). He was also a two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (1977 and 1983).
Dr. J. retired at the end of the 1986 season. His #32 has been retired by UMASS and the Brooklyn Nets. His #6 has been retired by Philadelphia. He has also been selected to the NBA’s 35th and 50th Anniversary Teams. Dr. J. was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993 and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Today the word “Legend” gets over-used, but not in the case of Julius Erving. They say the game can get along without you, but that may not apply to Erving. Dr. J. made it a point to dunk a basketball every year on his birthday, until he turned 60.
|Posted on April 23, 2016 at 12:43 PM||comments (15)|
“Incoming.” That’s how it must have felt in the beginning as issues were constantly being lobbed like mortar shells into the game. But like a good soldier, located behind enemy lines, he adapted and moved forward. The National Basketball Association was a complete mess in the late seventies and early eighties. Lack of respect was rampant. The league was full of drugs, and violence had permeated a game of grace and skill, in the locker-room and on the court; even the NBA Finals were tape-delayed. The league was just trying to survive as Larry O’Brian stepped down at the end of the 1983 season.
Enter David Stern, a Manhattan New York Knicks fan who had grown up to be a lawyer. Stern always loved the game. Stern reminisced about going to the Knicks games with his dad at the original Madison Square Garden. The cost of seat in the upper deck was fifty cents. “It was a time when you could improve your seats by tipping the usher,” said Stern. As a lawyer, one of his firm’s clients was the NBA. “In 1978, my job became to protect the client,” laughed Stern. In 1984, Stern eventually became the Commissioner of the NBA. His body of work speaks for itself. On February 1, 2014, at the age of 71, Stern stepped aside as he completed his 30th season as commissioner.
When David Stern came into the league, there were 23 teams valued at 400 million dollars total, and the league office employed 24 people. Today, the current 30 teams are valued at 19 billion and there are 1,100 employees in 15 different offices around the globe. There are also an unprecedented 92 international players on the rosters. The secret to Stern is that he understood that this sport was capable of influencing people worldwide. The NBA is truly a global game. “There was no such thing as sports marketing until Michael Jordan came along,” said Stern.
Stern is also very proud of the diversity of his sports players, coaches, owners, and front-office people. He jokes that his nickname is “Easy Dave,” but don’t tell Mark Cuban that. “In sports, our product is the players,” said Stern. “My job is to grow the game so the players and owners of all 30 teams make money.”
When you ask him about his favorite player he defers to a list. The names of Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, and “Dr. J” come up. His least favorite and most favorite memories both include Magic Johnson. “When Magic announced he was HIV positive, I thought he was going to die,” said Stern. “We were so uneducated about HIV at the time.” His favorite memory occurred in Orlando at the 1992 NBA All-Star Game. Stern allowed Magic to play and of course Magic had a huge night, hit the last shot of the game and became the MVP. I was there, center court with my friends from Miller Brewing Company. Bob Lanier sat in front of us. Buddy Ryan sat to our right about four seats away, and Jerry West sat behind us. I was in basketball heaven. All-Star Tim Hardaway had offered to let Magic Johnson play in his spot. Commissioner Stern gave the okay.
Stern loved draft night except when he had to pronounce names of overseas players. “I loved being a part of these kids’ journey and the accomplishments of these players and their families,” stated Stern.
“It has never been personal with Mark Cuban. I have never been upset with him; he just has his own way to communicate,” said Stern. “And I have mine.” In fact, it was Stern who cast the deciding vote to approve Cuban as an owner. Ted Turner was one of Stern’s biggest thorns in his side. “He would break things for fun,” laughed David.
“You do not enter the stands,” said David Stern. The display of violence in The Palace at Auburn Hills by players and fans was embarrassing. Stern had no problem being judge and jury with fines and missed games handed out like candy on Halloween. He has worked hard to remove the fisticuffs from the games.
“My most prize possession is an autographed book sign by ‘Red’ Auerbach,” said Stern. “It says, ‘To the best commissioner in my lifetime and a fan of the NBA.’” “I loved him, he was a complete gentleman, a fiercest competitor and a good friend,” stated Stern. Stern also has one of the original posters commemorating the Fifty Greatest Players in NBA History hanging in his home. It is signed by all except “Pistol Pete” Maravich, who had passed away earlier. “It was like we still had Ruth, Gehrig, and Cobb still alive,” said Stern. “I really don’t have much stuff at my house,” said Stern, “Just the memories.”
I met David Stern in Phoenix, Arizona, at a luncheon during the 1995 NBA All-Star Game. He signed my program and let me take his picture. One of the things he said that impressed me, “The best seat in sports is courtside at a basketball game.” I believe that to be true. “He leaves a footprint that is much bigger than his shoe size,” said Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Stern has excelled as an ambassador, judge, marketer, and fan.
David Stern was replaced by Adam Silver who has worked side-by-side with Stern for 22 years. “So far, so good,” said Silver.
|Posted on April 23, 2016 at 12:42 PM||comments (19)|
Cherish these final games as Vince Scully closes out his 67th year on the air, broadcasting baseball games for the Dodgers. Yes, that would be the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. Some say he’s older than the ivy on the wall at Wrigley Field, but not the voice. I can close my eyes and hear him all over again. Scully loves broadcasting; he didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid, he went back for seconds.
His voice just sounds like play-off baseball. It was as if he had magic in his microphone. Listening to him is like opening a pack of old baseball cards; the players just seem to come alive. You can smell the fresh-cut grass; feel the brown dirt under your feet. This guy has made baseball fun for millions of fans. “How can you not like baseball?” said Scully. Baseball always finds a story and a place for all of us. Vin just showed us the way in. Baseball fills a need for belonging. It’s like being young again.
There are two secrets to baseball. One is that you get to play virtually every day, so redemption is but 24 hours away; and the second is the pace of the games allows stories to be told that lend unique perspective about the players and the game. Scully’s preparation is flawless because he reads endless amounts of material.
I wanted to share a few of my favorite Vin Scully stories with you. I was watching and listening to Scully on Friday night, April 15, 2016, Jackie Robinson Day, as the San Francisco Giants came to Chavez Ravine to play the Los Angeles Dodgers. The pitching match-up was “one for the ages,” as Scully would say: “Madison Bumgarner against Clayton Kershaw, the best they have.” During the game Scully told a story that had been originally written about Bumgarner, by Tom Verducci in 2014, for Sports Illustrated. Scully read the words verbatim. “This may be the best Boone-like tale about the man they call ‘Mad Bum,’” said Scully. “One day during spring training this year in Scottsdale, Bumgarner and his wife were roping cattle when Madison was startled by a large snake he figured was a rattler. He quickly grabbed an ax and hacked it to pieces. When Ali, an expert field dresser, examined what was left of the snake, she found two baby jackrabbits inside pieces of it and extracted them. A short while later the Bungarners noticed that one of the rabbits had moved slightly. It was alive. Ali brought the rabbit back to their apartment and for the next few days kept it warm and bottle-nursed it. The rabbit soon was healthy enough for them to release it into the wild,” exclaimed Scully. “Think about how tough that rabbit was,” Bumgarner said. “First it gets eaten by a snake, then the snake gets chopped to pieces, then it gets picked up by people and it lives. It’s all true.”
The second story is about the hole in the centerfield wall. “During the 1956 season, Bill Veeck owned the Miami Marlins, a Triple A team located in Rochester, New York,” said Scully. “To increase attendance, Bill signed the great Satchel Paige, who had to be close to 50 years old, to pitch for his team. Veeck was known for his crazy promotions. Former player and manager, Whitey Herzog, was an outfielder on this team. According to Herzog, the centerfield fence in Rochester had a small hole in it. Veeck had a promotional signed attached to the outfield fence that said, if you hit a ball in the air and through the hole, you would receive $10,000. Herzog said, ‘I got a bucket full of balls and tried as hard as I could, but I never came close.’ “Herzog eventually told Satch about the hole and bet Paige a bottle of bourbon that he could not throw a ball through the hole in the fence. Paige only asked one question, ‘Wild Child, will the ball fit through the hole?’ Herzog answered, ‘Yes.’ ‘I’ll take the bet Wild Child,’ said Satch. “So, the next day before batting practice, Herzog marked off 60’ 6” from the fence and gave Satch a ball. To Herzog’s amazement, Paige threw the ball and it went into the hole and then popped out. Paige’s next throw went right in the hole,” laughed Scully.
The final of my favorite Scully stories includes Yogi Berra. The New York Yankees were in Kansas City playing against the A’s, before they moved to Oakland. “Everybody loved Yogi,” said Scully. “But, one night in Kansas City, there was a big fight between the teams. There were lots of punches thrown and blows landed, but in all the pictures in the newspaper the next day, Yogi wore his facemask during the entire struggle,” laughed Vin. “And they all thought he was dumb.”
I’m missing Vin already.
|Posted on April 23, 2016 at 12:41 PM||comments (256)|
A quiet, private man, he once confided to a friend that it had cost him $10,000, yet 75 years later, we still revere his accomplishment. His spread-eagle stance was very unusual, but it worked for him. His teammates reported that he rubbed his bat with olive oil and swore he never broke a bat, he simply wore them out. I once wrote in one of my earlier books entitled, In the Company of Greatness, the real magic of Joe DiMaggio was that nothing looked hard for him when playing baseball. Make no mistake, he knew how good he was and, after his retirement, he demanded that before each of the 47 Old-Timers Day games he attended, he would be introduced as “The Greatest Living Yankee Player, Joe DiMaggio.”
There is no question that “Joltin’ Joe” began to cement his name in the history books on May 15, 1941. That day, Joe managed only one hit in four at-bats, in a 13-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. What followed is considered by most baseball historians to be one of the most famous records in baseball. In fact, most sportswriters believe it’s also the purest record in the game. Joe would record a hit in each of the next 55 games in a row, a total of 56 consecutive games.
During the streak, DiMaggio had been the subject of every newspaper, newsreel and radio broadcast in America. The streak completely captured the imagination of the public. The question, “Did he get one?’ (a hit) was repeated over and over. In fact, Lou Gehrig, “The Iron Horse,” passed away on June 2, 1941, and nobody seemed to notice.
The streak would eventually come to an end on July 17, 1941, in Cleveland against the Indians. Indians’ third baseman, Ken Keltner, made two splendid backhanded stops on hard-hit ground balls and threw DiMaggio out at first, each time. There is a little-known story that DiMaggio and pitcher, “Lefty” Gomez, shared a cab to the ballpark in Cleveland that day. The cab driver told Joe that his streak would end that day. Gomez became enraged and blasted the cab driver. The cab driver’s prophecy came true. Since that afternoon, this record has never been really challenged.
There are many interesting side notes that occurred during the streak. I wonder how many you might know about. DiMaggio hit .408 during the streak (91-for-223), with 15 home runs and 55 RBI’s. Believe it or not, Joe also hit 56 singles and scored 56 runs during the streak. With all the shifting of players being done today, it’s interesting to note that DiMaggio never bunted for a hit during the streak. The streak almost came to an end on June 24th, against the St. Louis Browns. In Game 35 of the streak, Joe was hitless when he came to bat in the seventh inning. Browns’ Manager, Luke Sewell, ordered his pitcher, Bob Muncrief, to intentionally walk DiMaggio. Muncrief refused, Sewell relented, and DiMaggio lined a single into left field. The streak continued. During the streak, DiMaggio faced four future Hall-of-Fame pitchers: “Lefty” Grove, Hal Newhouser (twice), Bob Feller and Ted Lyons. Last but not least, when the streak began on May 15, the Yankees were 14-14, 5 ½ games behind the Cleveland Indians in fourth place. After Game #56 of the streak, the Yankees were 55-27 and in first place, with a six-game lead over Cleveland.
The longest hitting streak since DiMaggio established the Major League record, is 44 games by Pete Rose. Hitting streaks were nothing new for DiMaggio as he once had a 61-game hit streak in 1933, while in the Minor Leagues with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. That streak is the second-longest in Minor League history, second to Joe Wilhoit (69 games in 1919).
That season, DiMaggio was voted the American League MVP over Boston’s Ted Williams, who hit .406, the last time any Major League player has hit over .400 for a season. It’s funny, you can say the numbers .406 or 56 to a baseball fan and he will know exactly what you’re talking about. Here’s another interesting tidbit. Did you know that Joe DiMaggio wore the #9 during his rookie year, 1936, the same number as Ted Williams? He changed his number the following year, making the #5 famous for the New York Yankees.
I admit that the 56-game hitting streak may never be broken, but for me there is one other statistic owned by DiMaggio that in my opinion is more magnificent. During his 13-year career, Joe DiMaggio hit 361 home runs, while batting .325; and he only struck out 369 times.
The $10,000 that DiMaggio said he had lost was an endorsement from The Heinz Corporation, that would have been used to promote their Heinz 57 Ketchup.
DiMaggio left us on March 8, 1999, at the age of 84. Even though he was immortalized most of his life, I still don’t think we knew or understood the real Joe DiMaggio.
|Posted on April 23, 2016 at 12:40 PM||comments (6)|
My oldest grandson, Matt, is a huge San Antonio Spurs fan. Matt lived with his parents Harry and Tina, here in Corpus Christi when he was younger. He grew up running around our house watching sports and fell in love with the game of basketball. He spent many days in the driveway shooting baskets with “Pa Pa” (that’s me). Eventually Matt’s sister Hannah was born while they lived here near Grandma and me. Harry would move his family, after Hannah was born, to Missouri to take another job, but Matt carried his love for the Spurs with him. Over the years, Grandma and I would save different things about the Spurs and send them to Matt.
In May of 2008, Matt visited Grandma and me. The Spurs were playing in the Western Conference semi-finals against the New Orleans Hornets. I called my pal Richard Oliver, who worked in the Spurs media department and asked if he could get me access to tickets to Game Six to be played on May 15, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. I wanted to surprise Matt as he had just recently turned 21 years of age. The answer came back “yes.” You should have seen the excitement on Matt’s face when I told him the news.
It’s about a 150-mile drive from Corpus to San Antonio, and we left early. We arrived early enough to find a great parking spot and entered the building early. I told Matt that I would purchase him one jersey of his choice from the team store for his birthday. He chose #20, Manu Ginobili. “He’s my favorite player,” said Matt. As we made our way to our seats we purchased a program. Guess who was on the cover, Manu Ginobili.
Our seats were outstanding and part of media row in the north end of the stadium, right below the TNT Television Center. Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Magic Johnson were on hand. But the best part was sitting between, Craig Sager on my left and Matt sat on my right. “Sags,” Craig’s nickname, was working for TNT and doing pre-game, halftime and post-game interviews. Between interviews he sat with us and watched the game like anyone else. I introduced myself and Matt, and then Matt had Sags autograph his program. We took a picture of Sags and then had Richard Oliver take a picture of Matt and me.
This was Game Six, and the Spurs were trailing the Hornets three games to two. A win that night would tie the seven game series. A loss would knock the Spurs out of the playoffs. The game was contested from the start. The Spurs were led by Tim Duncan, while the Hornets relied on Chris Paul to run their offense. Interestingly, both players played at Wake Forest University, Duncan from 1993-1997 and Paul from 2003-2005. Both would have loved to play with each other while in college, but now they were taking their shots at each other for an NBA title.
But this night belonged to Manu Ginobili who led the Spurs by scoring 25 points, while holding Paul to 21 points for the Hornets. The Spurs won Game Six, 99-80 to tie up the series, three games apiece. The Spurs would go on the beat the Hornets in Game Seven and face the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Now as a writer I always look for the story behind the story. Here’s why I wrote this article. Besides being a good story and a great memory for Matt and me, I turned to Matt with about five minutes to go in the game and the Spurs ahead by 16 points. I said, “If we leave right now, we can be in the car headed home and hear the end of the game on the radio. Or we can stay until it’s over and it will take us 30 minutes or more to get to the car and we will not be home until between 2 and 3 PM.” “Let’s stay,” said Matt. So we stayed. Matt must have known something I didn’t. Guess who the player of the game was? Yep, it was Manu Ginobili.
So, now the word comes that Craig Sager has cancer and has been battling for his life for more than a year, while still trying to do what he loves best, covering NBA basketball. Prayers for Sags when you hit your knees tonight.
|Posted on March 11, 2016 at 2:30 PM||comments (5)|
He was a terrific high-school basketball player who played his college ball for N.C. State and UNC. From 1940 to 1946, he starred for the Washington Capitals and Boston Celtics of the NBA. Horace “Bones” McKinney looked exactly like his name sounded. Tall, lanky, slumped forward a little, and as white as tissue paper. At 6’ 6” tall and weighing only 180 pounds, he reminded you of a buzzard sitting in a tree. Ichabod Crane comes to mind. Thinning hair, volatile, he wore glasses and was an ordained minister before becoming a college basketball coach at Wake Forest University, located in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Bones coached at Wake Forest from 1958-1965 and took the Demon Deacons to the NCAA Final Four in 1962. Does the name Billy Packer ring a bell? Packer was the star guard for that Wake Forest team. Unlike today’s game, where coaches can walk up and down courtside and some even come out onto the floor, there was a time that if a coach left his seat anytime except when there was a timeout, it was an automatic technical foul.
Bones stayed in trouble because he simple could not stay seated. Bones was up and down so often that his assistant coaches came up with a plan. At courtside, one of them would sit on each side of him and put their hands in his pockets, in an effort to keep him seated. Of course that didn’t work. So, a fan of the team that owned an automobile garage devised a seatbelt that could be attached to his chair at courtside. That worked fine for a while until he forgot about unbuckling the seatbelt and at times would stand up out of anger with his seat attached to his backside. The fans roared, the TV folks had a story, and Bones continued to receive technical fouls from the officials.
One night during a 1961 NCAA tournament game against St. Bonaventure, in Charlotte, a Wake Forrest player was called for a foul, as the teams played at the other end of the court. At that time only two referees per game were used in college basketball. Bones disliked the call and jumped up off the bench, while kicking his foot hard against the floor in disgust. His shoe flew off and landed near the foul line. The officials had not seen his reaction so Bones walked out on the court to retrieve his shoe. As he bent over to pick up his shoe, several ink pens fell from his shirt pocket and he had to go back and get the pens. The crowd laughed hysterically, which called attention to Bones. Meanwhile, the possession of the basketball changed hands, and St. Bonaventure players began running towards him. To the crowd’s delight, Bones began to play defense. It was here that the ref noticed Bones was on the court, so they stopped play. Bones explained he was just removing debris from the court. He did not receive a technical foul, but he probably should have. You can’t make this stuff up.
Another story finds Bones coaching his Deacons against the Flyers of the University of Dayton, Ohio. A woman seated directly behind the Wake Forest bench is giving Bones booth barrels of choice words. He heard her, but did not want to turn around and acknowledge that she was being heard. So, Bones asked one of his players on the bench exactly where she was sitting and then positioned himself in front of her. Then he tossed a cup of water over his shoulder, directly into her face. That ended the confrontation.
One of my favorite stories about Bones was a night when things were not going well for his Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Bones thought his team got a bad call and, as the referee ran by him, Bones said “You’re either blind or a crook.” With that the referee turned and said, “You are out of here.” “Why?” screamed Bones. “Because you called me a crook,” said the ref. Bones hollered back, “No I didn’t, I gave you a choice.”
|Posted on March 11, 2016 at 2:29 PM||comments (35)|
Clinics were his specialty. It was said he carried a piece of white chalk in his pocket all times. “You never know when you need to explain a new offense or defense,” he said. This coach loved to press on defense and attack with the fast break on offense. The man was consumed by the game of basketball. The game meant everything to him. He often said that when his days were over, he wanted to be buried with a basketball by his side. His haircut placed him in the dwindling company of Johnny Unitas, Pete Rose and Earl Morrall, the only sports figures still wearing a flat-top. When he got excited, his voice sounded like a 78 rpm record playing on 45 speed. At birth, he descended from Yugoslavian parents who named him Petar, pronounced Peter, but he changed it to Press when he began to deliver newspapers as a kid for the Pittsburgh Press. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he played basketball in the streets, shooting a tin can stuffed with paper and wrapped with black tape, into an apple basket. He was very proud of his new name. “I changed my name to Press, because Peter was a fistfight name,” he said. Before Jerry Tarkanian of UNLV and Guy V. Lewis of Houston, there was another coach who made a habit of chewing on a towel while coaching basketball. His name was Press Maravich. That’s right, the father of “Pistol Pete.” Press was an excellent coach, who turned around a poor Clemson team, won big with the N.C. State Wolfpack, and parlayed his success and his son Pete into a package deal with the LSU Tigers.
Press played basketball at Davis & Elkins College located in West Virginia. He then played professionally with the Detroit Eagles, Youngstown Bears and the Pittsburgh Ironmen of the National Basketball League. This league eventually became the NBA. Afterwards, he coached in high school, and in any summer basketball camp he could find. Press also did some scouting before he joined the Clemson Tigers as head coach, for the next six years. In 1957, after taking over a Clemson team, where the recruiting had been suspect for several years, he claimed, “I believe I would give my right arm for a big man. No, I’ll change that. I’d give both of them.” By 1962, Maravich had marched the Tigers to the ACC Championship Game against Wake Forest, with an all-sophomore lineup. Clemson beat NC State and Duke to get to the championship game. The Tigers lost that night but they had not won a post-season game in 23 years. It was enough for others to notice.
In 1963, Press joined the architect of the Dixie Classic, Everett Case, at N.C. State, as an assistant. Press would take over for Case during the 1964-1965 season. Case retired after two games into the season. Maravich led the Wolfpack to a 21-5 record and won the ACC Tournament over Duke, 91-85, their first ACC Tournament title since 1959. Larry Worsley, Eddie Biedenbach, Les Robinson, Billy Moffitt and Larry Lakins became household names in the Purvis family. I was 14 years old and in the eighth grade. Eddie Biedenbach was the first autograph I got as a kid. His nickname was the “Wild Horse.” Years later, I saw Eddie again in Houston at the 2011 Final Four. I introduced myself and told him about his being my hero and about getting his autograph when I was 14. He turned to several other coaches standing close by and joked, “You see, I told you I was a good player in college.” At the time, Biedenbach was the head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Press Maravich was the father of “Pistol Pete” Maravich, one of the finest college basketball players of all time. Pete, meanwhile, was wearing #20 and playing at Raleigh Broughton High School. It was here that he acquired his moniker, “Pistol,” because he shot the ball from his hip as if he were drawing a gun from a holster. Press Maravich’s success landed him at LSU with his son, Pete, who led the nation in scoring with 3,667 points and 44.5 points per game average, in 1970. He did so without the 3-point shot. Pete played ten NBA seasons and was a five-time All-Star. It was not until Pete and his dad, Press, found peace in their faith that they achieved true happiness. Press later coached at Appalachian State University. Press fought a battle with cancer in his later years and died on April 15, 1987. His son, Pete, collapsed and died on January 5, 1988, while playing in a pickup basketball game. Pete was 40 years old. Before Pete died, he did an interview where he disclosed that when his dad was buried, he no longer needed a basketball by his side, as he had found Christ.
I will leave you with a smile. The story goes that once, about 3 a.m. following an ACC Tournament game in Raleigh, Press badly wanted a cup of coffee. When he got to the lobby of the hotel he noticed it was raining so he called for a cab. Minutes later, Maravich dashed through the rain to enter the cab, slammed the door behind him and told the driver to take him to the all-night diner, directly across the street. You have to have a sense of humor to coach college basketball.
|Posted on March 11, 2016 at 2:28 PM||comments (9)|
He could be as tough as rawhide, or as gentle as a grandmother. He was fierce yet kindhearted, cantankerous but reasonable. He remained independent, thoughtful, and hard-fisted all of his life, but was known as completely lovable as a coach--John the Baptist in tennis shoes. He was the kind of guy you didn’t mind getting stuck in a submarine with, and the cover of his playbook may have had only one word, “Attack.” I guess you could say he was easy to like but hard to know. He succeeded in a profession where even tough guys finish second. Basketball was not only his livelihood, but his life. Loyalty had always been one of his basic tenets. Some said he may have invented recruiting. He owned dark circles that hung like bunting beneath his eyes, and he had been known to chase a referee all the way to the dressing room. If you had the opportunity to visit one of his practices, you would come away with three ingredients for winning: you need good players, who could be physical, and who could push the ball in an up-tempo style of offense. He took his game all around the world, as he visited countries such as China, Germany, Spain, England, Korea, the Philippines, Japan, Brazil and Chile. Yet he always said, “There’s nothing like returning home to Houston.” My pal, Buck Showalter, Manager of the Baltimore Orioles, once said, “It’s not that I like to win so much; I hate seeing somebody else win.” That reminded me of basketball coach extraordinaire, Guy V. Lewis. A teacher at heart, he was some kind of basketball coach.
In 1985, I moved my family to Corpus Christi, Texas. The company I had joined and worked for at that time, known as Texas Pizza Corporation, had purchased the Pizza Hut franchises in El Paso and Corpus Christi and the surrounding markets. My job as Vice President of Operations was to oversee both markets and return them to profitability. The advertising agency we chose to use to help market our restaurants was known as the Winius-Brandon Agency. They were located in Houston, Texas. This agency was owned and operated by Art Casper. I later found out that Art had another passion, college basketball. For 28 years, Art had been one of the radio broadcasters for the University of Houston Cougars’ basketball program. So every year, Art would send me the Cougars’ schedule and allow me to pick three or four home games where I would join him in Houston, courtside at the scorers’ table. There I would chart rebounds, fouls, turnovers, or whatever Art wanted me to do. It also gave me a chance to meet some of the greatest coaches of the games, along with national broadcasters. Ray Meyer and his son Joey with DePaul, Don Haskins with UTEP, Denny Crum with Louisville, and “Digger” Phelps with Notre Dame were some of the best. Terrific broadcasters like Bucky Waters, Don Crique, Gary Bender and Cheryl Miller were on hand for nationally televised games.
Being from North Carolina and growing up enjoying Atlantic Coast Conference basketball, I naturally looked for ACC teams coming in to play Houston. On this occasion, the team was the University of North Carolina, coached by Dean Smith. It was a nationally-televised game and I was excited, to say the least. Former basketball coach and Houston legend, Guy Lewis, was in attendance and sat a couple of rows behind the U of H team. Lewis had retired after the 1986 season. I asked Art to introduce me to Lewis before the game. I had no idea that Art would set me up in front of this great coach. As we met, Art said, “Guy, I want you to meet a good friend of mine, Andy Purvis, who knows everything you would ever want to know about ACC basketball.” Lewis looked straight at me with disdain and said, “What in the hell would I want to know about ACC basketball?” I was so stunned I almost swallowed my tongue. Then Lewis smiled and stuck out his hand as Art started laughing. Lewis had taken five of his teams to the Final Four but had lost twice to ACC teams: UNC in 1982 and N.C. State in 1983. Those losses still didn’t sit very well with him. Art would never let me forget the look on my face that day.
Even though they went to different schools, Guy Lewis met the love of his life, Dena Nelson, while attending a high school dance in the 1930’s. They married in 1942 and had three children, Vern, Terry and a daughter Sherry, who died early at the age of 63. Sherry’s son, Noah, also survives the family. Dena passed away in June of 2015, five months before Guy. They had been married almost 73 years. Vern Lewis went to junior high school with my pal Ronnie Arrow, but they ended up playing at different high schools, each winning a Texas State title in basketball: Vern Lewis played for Houston’s Austin High School whose team won the state title in 1964. Ronnie Arrow played at Houston’s Jones, whose team won in 1965.
Guy V. Lewis left us on Thanksgiving morning, Thursday, November 26, 2015. He died of natural causes with his family by his side. Lewis had suffered in recent years from a stroke which occurred in February of 2012. He had been confined to a wheelchair and stayed out of the public spotlight. He was living in a retirement home in Kyle, Texas. Lewis was 93.
Guy V. Lewis’s story was a masterpiece as he was much more than a basketball coach. A wise man, Anatola France, once said, “To accomplish great things we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.” Lewis had them all, in spades. I’m very glad I got to meet him.
|Posted on March 11, 2016 at 2:27 PM||comments (19)|
Nearly all of the 4,000 in attendance stormed the court. Grown men were crying and others acting like children. The impossible had happened in the city known for chocolate, Hershey, Pennsylvania. The problem was there were still 46 seconds to go in the game.
The early days of the NBA were not quite as stringent as they are today. If you could scrape up $3,000, you could pay a team to come play you at a different location. There was no shot clock or three-point shot. Hershey was the training camp site for Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia Warriors. Their opponents this night would travel from New York City and call themselves the Knickerbockers. It was March 2, 1962, and a ticket for the game could be had for $2.00.
Wilt was 25 years old and lived in New York City, even though he played in Philadelphia. So, he drove to Philly and then rode the team bus to Hershey. “I was tired when we got there,” said Wilt. No one was prepared to experience what would happen that night, especially the Knicks. Since the game was played in Hershey, only one reporter showed up, Harvey Pollack. He was also the scorekeeper. Wilt made virtually every shot he took that night. He had 23 points at the end of the first quarter. Knicks’ center, Darrall Imhoff, was no match for Wilt, so the Knicks fouled him. Wilt made 13 of 14 free throws and had 41 points by halftime. Warriors’ coach, Frank McGuire, spurred his big center to continue dominating.
By the end of the third quarter, Wilt had 69 points and the fans became restless. It made no difference who guarded Chamberlain. Wilt set the new NBA scoring record when he reached 79 points in the fourth quarter. Everyone realized what could happen, and the Knicks became upset and were trying to save face. So, New York slowed the ball down and tried to stall. McGuire realized what was happening and instructed his team to foul so they could get the ball back, back to Wilt. With 46 seconds left on the clock, teammate Joe Ruklick passed Wilt the ball. Wilton Norman Chamberlain turned and scored his 100th point of the night, the first and only time it has been done.
The game was eventually finished and Wilt retired with his team to the dressing room. Harvey Pollack borrowed a piece of copy paper and wrote 100 in big numbers. He gave the paper to Wilt and asked him to hold it up for a picture. History had been made.
What happened to the ball has been debated all these years. One fan claims to have stolen the ball from Wilt during the celebration and said he took it home. Pollack, the reporter, claims he got it. The myth continues. Interestingly, Wilt hitched a ride with a couple of the Knicks’ players back to New York. It’s a wonder they would even speak to him.
How quickly we forget the past. Just a week removed for the NBA All-Star Game, you would think that the game had been invented by today’s players. How ridiculous. Wilt should be easy to remember. Here are a few facts to help you remember. During the 1961-62 NBA season, Wilt played every minute of 79 of the 80 games scheduled. He missed only eight minutes in one game, after being ejected. Wilt averaged over 50 points per game. A bad night for Chamberlain was 44 points. Michael Jordan scored 50 or more points 31 times in his career. Wilt did it 45 times that season. Anything was possible for Wilt. Chamberlain once blocked 26 shots in one game against the Detroit Pistons. On one rainy night, Wilt hauled down 55 rebounds against Russell and the Boston Celtics. He won seven scoring titles, eleven rebounding titles, and even led the league in assists, one season. Wilt left the NBA in 1973 and he still holds 90 NBA records today, even though he hasn’t played in 43 years. How’s that?
During the NBA All Star game in Toronto, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers had scored 41 points for the East All-Star squad, in what was seen as a “playground game” void of any defense, whatsoever. Gregg Popovich, Head Coach of the San Antonio Spurs and coach of the West All-Stars was aware that Wilt Chamberlain owned the All-Star Game scoring record by an individual at 42 points. To protect Chamberlain and NBA history, Popovich placed two guys on George to make sure he did not get the record “on the cheap.” “Pop’s” move worked.
“The Dipper,” the nickname his dad gave him, played at Overbrook High School, located in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and once scored 90 points in 28 minutes. During Wilt’s senior year, he was recruited by more than 200 colleges and universities. He would attend the University of Kansas and score 52 points in his first game, still a record. Kansas played the University of North Carolina for the 1957 NCAA title. After losing the final, 54-53 in triple overtime, Wilt left Kansas before his senior year and joined the Harlem Globetrotters, in 1958. A year later, he joined the Warriors of the NBA. Chamberlain versus Russell would become one of the most anticipated match-ups in history.
Wilt Chamberlain played against Bill Russell 142 times during their career and changed the way basketball would be played forever. Other players found themselves watching them, instead of paying attention to their own assignments. “Oh, we were competitive and everybody thought we hated each other. That was far from the truth,” said Bill Russell.
I met “Wilt the Stilt,” a name he hated, in Houston at a memorabilia show at the Astros-Hall, next to the Astrodome. Bob Feller was also on hand. Wilt signed the photograph attached to this story for me. Standing 7’ 1” tall, his voice was incredibly deep, and his legs were too long for his body. He walked gently, from many knee surgeries. His #13 has been retired by five different teams.
Only one guy in the history of the game has scored 100 points in a single game, and don’t you forget it. His name is Wilt Chamberlain; he should have lived to be a hundred. Wilt left us on October 12, 1999, while sleeping. He had suffered from several heart problems, and his death was officially ruled a heart attack. Bill Russell cried.
|Posted on March 11, 2016 at 2:26 PM||comments (6)|
He was trouble from the very beginning, growing up a bully and a renegade before he turned 16. Stealing cars, muggings and robberies were the specialties of his New York City gang; they called themselves “The Gladiators.” “One night I got lowered down from the roof inside a grocery store and I was going to rob the cash register. They were lowering me down, and one of those big guard dogs, you know, like Rin Tin Tin, came running out barking at me. I started screaming, and they pulled me up in the nick of time, and we ran for our lives,” he exclaimed. Bobby Cremins’ teammates called him “Cakes” because of his thick Bronx accent. When he spoke it sounded like he had a mouth full of cake.
Cremins was born on Independence Day 1947, into a poor Irish immigrant family, the third of four children, in the South Bronx of New York. His father was a longshoreman and his mother a housewife. Luckily he enjoyed playing sports, especially basketball, as much as he did theft. Full of energy and drive, he owned guts, determination, and arms so long he could touch his kneecaps with his fingertips, without bending over. He played well enough to receive a basketball scholarship to All Hallows High School. Never a great scorer, at six-feet tall, he played center and once played against a kid named Lew Alcindor from Power Memorial High School, now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Cremins was injured his junior year and transferred to Fredrick Military Academy for his senior year. It was here that South Carolina Head Coach, Frank McGuire, spotted him. Cremins was headed to Columbia, SC, provided he could score 800 on the college entrance exam. Like he had most of his life, Bobby breezed by with an 801. While in Columbia, Cremins did not go unnoticed. In 1966, he was arrested for hitching a ride on the back of a city bus. He borrowed a teammate’s car and while not owning a driver license, Bobby accidently drove it through the front of a house. He was arrested again, as the car was damaged and the house demolished. When his first-year mid-semester grades were published, Bobby had earned four F’s and a D. It was discovered by the coaching staff that Cremins had not purchased any books for his classes.
More than anything, Cremins was a competitor. “He was all heart,” said McGuire. It was 1970 and with players like John Roche, Tom Owens and John Ribock, senior point guard Bobby Cremins and the USC Gamecocks went through the regular season undefeated, 14-0, but lost to NC State in the ACC Tournament Championship Game, 42-39. At the end of the game, Cremins had brought the ball across half court only to have it stolen by Ed Leftwich of the Wolfpack. Bobby had chased Ed down the court as Ed made an uncontested layup to seal the win. A dejected Bobby Cremins left USC without a degree or an ACC Championship. While Cremins was there, the Gamecocks won 61 games and lost 17.
After being cut by the Pittsburgh Condors and the Carolina Cougars of the ABA, Cremins headed to Italy for a year of hoops. He returned to New York City, where he worked as a bell-hop and earned enough money to return to USC to get his degree in marketing. His love of basketball never left and he took his first coaching job in 1972, at Point Park College in Pittsburgh. PA. Afterwards, he became the assistant coach under McGuire at USC, for two years. In 1975, Bobby began coaching the Appalachian State University Mountaineers. They would win three Southern Conference Championships in the next five years. Bobby won the Southern Conference Coach of the Year Award four times, (1976, 1978, 1981, and 2011).
Cremins was hired by Georgia Tech at the end of the 1981 basketball season. Before he left in 2000, he had been chosen ACC Coach of the Year three times (1983, 1985, and 1996) and the Naismith College Coach of the Year in 1990. On March 10, 1985, Bobby Cremins stood outside the Georgia Tech locker room at The Omni Center, in Atlanta. Wet with sweat, his blond hair disheveled, he looked like he had seen someone with two heads. His Yellow Jackets had just won the elusive ACC Championship Game that he had so dearly wanted. They had swept Kenny Smith, Brad Daughtery, Joe Wolf and the Tar Heels, during the regular season, and had beaten Dean Smith and Carolina, 57-54 that night. It had taken him 15 years to make things right.
His teams won the ACC Tournament Championship three times (1985, 1990, and 1993) and they also won the Regular Season ACC Championship, in 1985 and 1996. Although Cremins was a terrible free-throw shooter as a player, the guy sure could recruit. Players like Mark Price, John Salley, Dennis Scott, Tom Hammonds and Kenny Anderson, all made their way to Atlanta. Jon Barry, Travis Best, Stephon Marbury, Jason Collier and Matt Harpring all followed. In 2000, after 25 years, Bobby stepped away from coaching; he was exhausted.
In 2006, a refurbished Cremins returned to coaching at the College of Charleston. There he would not only restore their program but as mentioned earlier, he won another Southern Conference Coach of the Year Award, in 2011.
I met Bobby Cremins at the 2011 NCAA Final Four in Houston, Texas. I was introduced by my pal, Ronnie Arrow, who was coaching at South Alabama at the time. I could feel the intensity in Cremins’ handshake. Bobby Cremins retired from coaching March 19, 2012.