While playoffs continue, Magic is busy digging a bigger hole for the Lakers

As the Warriors were preparing to sweep Portland out of the Western Conference Finals to advance to their 5th straight NBA Finals, the Lakers were making news for all the wrong reasons.

Western Conference Finals

Before I delve into the dysfunctional organization in Southern California, let’s give some quick props to the pride of Northern California, the Golden State Warriors.  I was foolishly hoping for a 7-game series, maybe even a Blazers upset, but the Warriors proved way too talented, experienced, and better coached.  Even without Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins for the entire series, and Andre Iguodala for part of game 3 and all of game 4, Portland blew big leads several times in the series.  The Blazers actually led for more minutes during the series than the Dubs did, but could not close them out.

Stephen Curry and Draymond Green became the first teammates to record triple-doubles in the same playoff game.  The two carried the team in the absence of KD, with help from Klay Thompson, and support from an unlikely cast including Alfonzo McKinnie, Kevon Looney, and Jordan Bell.  Curry thrived as he was allowed to reprise his role as the team’s full time go-to guy.  Their reward is a nice long rest, while the Bucks and Raptors compete in the East.

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Magic Johnson on First Take

Lakers drama

Magic Johnson has referred to Jeanie Buss as “like a sister” many times over the years, but recently he has treated her more like a red-headed stepsister.  On April 9, Johnson blindsided the Lakers controlling owner and the basketball world when he announced his resignation as president of basketball operations.

Not content with fleeing a sinking ship he helped create, Johnson decided to air out some grievances on First Take Monday morning and further damage the once proud organization.  In doing so, he once again hit his “sister” without warning, criticizing her, general manager Rob Pelinka, and Lakers business operations president Tim Harris.

Since his resignation, Buss and Johnson had numerous conversations in regards to any dissatisfaction he might have with Pelinka or any other member of the organization.  On May 2, they went to dinner, and she posted a photo of the encounter on her Twitter account.  Reportedly, nothing was said in these conversations on Magic’s part.

This latest salvo came at a most inopportune time, landing on the same day Pelinka and the Lakers were introducing new head coach Frank Vogel.  While reiterating he quit because he wasn’t having fun anymore, he accused Pelinka of stabbing him in the back.  “You know how many agents called me and said, watch out for him?” he told the First Take panel.

“If you’re going to talk betrayal, it’s only with Rob.”

Johnson continued to air dirty laundry, confirming stories Buss had previously denied, in regards to shopping youngsters Kyle Kuzma, Brandom Ingram, and Lonzo Ball for All-Star Anthony Davis prior to the trade deadline.  Johnson confirmed the obvious, that they did not handle it well.  Magic First Take Interview

Johnson outlined what his plan would have been, going forward.  Pursue Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard in free agency.  He guaranteed a title for LeBron as a Laker, which seems a bit far fetched at this point.  He also was able to make excuses for his own shortcomings as team president.  He had a long and convoluted reason for his failing of Julius Randle.  He dismissed his questionable decision to trade young center Ivica Zubac.

Johnson blasted the Lakers for including ex-Lakers coaches Phil Jackson and Kurt Rambis in the decision-making process, suggesting “there are too many voices.”  Johnson’s interview served as yet another voice in the messy process.

I enjoyed watching Magic pour gasoline on the fire as the Lakers burn down.  It was entertaining and compelling.  The once beloved point guard of the Lakers Showtime era now seems hellbent on tearing down the franchise he helped build.  His actions have only been self-serving throughout this circus.  Instead of helping his public persona, it only serves to make him look small, petty, and bitter.

There is no denying the Lakers are a huge mess, and it starts with Jeanie Buss.  Regardless of the veracity of his comments, the optics for Magic Johnson are publicly damaging to a man who has done so much in the community and for the game of basketball.  In hindsight, Buss made a mistake hiring Johnson, who has too many other interests to fully devote his time to a team as president of basketball operations.

Going forward

The Lakers wasted a season in the career of aging future Hall-of-Famer LeBron James.  Now, they must figure out how they will find players who actually want to dive into this dumpster fire in free agency.

Los Angeles announced the hiring of Vogel as their head coach on Monday, and Pelinka was forced to devote time addressing Magic’s assault on his character and the organization as a whole.  In his defense, Pelinka took the high road and handled it well.  Vogel was offered the job only after Monty Williams and Ty Lue rejected the Lakers’ offers.  Vogel will have pressure from the outset, with assistant coach Jason Kidd waiting in the wings.

With the number four pick in the upcoming NBA draft, LA can pick up an impact shooting guard, such as Jarrett Culver, a point guard in Darius Garland, or small forward Cam Reddish.  A franchise who was already going to find it challenging to entice star free agents to Los Angeles this summer, will only find it more daunting after Magic Johnson basically took a dump on the organization.

 

Sports Movie Monday

A weekly look at a sports themed movie of the past

Moneyball (2011)

Director:  Bennett Miller

This film is based on the book written in 2003 by Michael Lewis, which chronicles the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season under general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt).

In the movie, Beane, unhappy with his team’s loss to the New York Yankees in the 2001 American League Division Series, needs to assemble a competitive squad for the 2002 season.  This is a challenging endeavor, with star players such as Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen set to leave via free agency.  Making it even more difficult is Oakland’s limited budget to acquire new players.

Beane travels to Cleveland on a scouting visit and meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), whom he is so impressed with, he steals him from the Indians and hires him as his assistant general manager.  Brand introduces Beane to sabermetrics, which values on-base percentage over a player’s weaknesses.  The two utilize the approach to acquire such undervalued players as pitcher Chad Bradford, catcher Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), and an aging David Justice.

Oakland’s scouting department is furious with the strategy and Beane fires his head scout.  He also faces resistance from manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman).  Already entangled in a contract dispute with management, Howe ignores the new strategy and continues to play the lineup he prefers.  Howe’s insistence on playing Carlos Pena at first base over the newly acquired Hatteberg (a catcher by trade, with an injured shoulder), spurs Beane to convince owner Stephen Schott to trade Pena, forcing Howe to play Hatteberg at first.  He threatens Howe with more trades if he continues to show opposition to the method.

The A’s eventually go on a historic winning streak later in the season, clinch the American League West title, but then lose to the Minnesota Twins in the 2002 AL Division Series.

While the story is about baseball, and the infancy of the now common sabermetrics methodology, there are plenty of other story lines.  Pitt plays a middle-aged GM who was the first player picked in the major league draft coming out of high school, only to bust in the bigs.  He has a complicated relationship with his daughter.  He begrudgingly buys into the new approached introduced to him by Brand.  Pitt and Jonah Hill received Oscar nominations for their roles in the film.

As an A’s fan, I obviously enjoyed this movie.  I liked a young Chris Pratt’s humble portrayal of Scott Hatteberg.  I thought the movie portrayed Justice as a prima donna, and somewhat of a jerk, and Jeremy Giambi as a party animal who didn’t care that much about baseball.

Moneyball trailer

What I didn’t like about the movie

Manager Art Howe was cast in the villain’s role.  He was shown bickering consistently with Beane and seemed to be consumed by his own contract.  He was also played by Hoffman, who didn’t resemble him in any way whatsoever, and was far more overweight than Howe.

In a Houston Chronicle interview in 2011, Howe expressed his displeasure at how he was portrayed, saying it was “probably 180 degrees from what I really am, so that was disappointing….” He mentioned that he was consulted for about ten minutes for the book, that his contract squabble was fictitious (he left negotiating to his agent, stating none of the conversations with Beane ever happened), and that the book and movie have given people in baseball circles an unfair perception of him.

Howe further stated he was also disappointed with the movie not giving proper credit to standout players such as pitchers Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, MVP shortstop Miguel Tejada, Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito, or Fireman of the Year Billy Koch.

I always keep in mind that movies which claim to be true stories take some creative license to make the film more interesting, so I never take all the events as the gospel.  You always have to bear in mind Hollywood has its way of twisting the truth a little bit to sell tickets.  In this regard, Hill’s character, Peter Brand was not an actual person.  Beane’s actual assistant was Paul DePodesta, but DePodesta did not approve of the way his character was to be portrayed and did not want his name or likeness to be used in the movie.  The Brand character is a composite of Beane’s assistants.

The movie received the following ratings:

  • IMDB:                            7.6/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes:       94%
  • Metacritic:                   87%

 

 

Sentimental Saturday Part 1: March 9, 1985

I suppose I could have waited and posted this article as a 35th anniversary tribute, but it was on my mind to write it today.

March 9, 1985– Los Angeles, CA

It was an exciting time in my high school’s history.  I was a junior and my basketball team, from a school of about 300 students, with not a single regular over 6’1″, had improbably won our league and section championships, then traveled to the Los Angeles Sports Arena (home court to the Clippers and USC at the time), to defeat San Diego Lutheran for the CIF Southern Section Division III title. Having not cracked coach Reed’s seven man playoff rotation, I found myself buried on the bench during the section playoffs, becoming increasingly discouraged at my lack of playing time, so I had low expectations for this contest.

My memory of that day is surprisingly vivid after all these years.  The locker rooms were nicer than any dressing area we had been in.  The walk down the tunnel into the huge arena stirred up butterflies. Van Halen’s “Jump” blared over the speaker system as we hoisted our pre-game shots from behind the NBA 3-point line.  It seemed like the entire town made the three hour trip to watch us play.  The atmosphere was electric.  Once the lineups were announced I settled into my spot on the bench, or rather in a padded folding chair.  At least I would watch the game in comfort.

A funny thing happened that Saturday morning.  Early in the game, as I sat in my comfy chair talking and joking with my teammates, coach Reed called my name.  I didn’t hear it at first, because I had stopped listening for it.  He yelled it a second time with some irritation in his voice and I bolted up and shed my warm ups.

My first move when I got in was usually to shoot as soon as I touched the ball.  After spending hours a day shooting in my backyard, scoring from the outside was my strength.  So, when I received my first pass on the wing, I let it fly.  I don’t remember if it was nothing but net, but I do remember the ball went in, and the crowd went wild. I could feel a surge of confidence.  By the time the game had ended, I had done enough to earn an Southern Section All-Tournament plaque.  Considering I sat during the entire previous game with my shoes untied, I was as shocked as anyone! And we had earned a trip to the state finals!

img_2333Junior Seau

Because we were the first boys team to play, we were able to watch the Divisions I and II games.  There was much to see: Undefeated Washington Union with future Fresno State star Jervis Cole squaring off against Oceanside, who had an already muscular sophomore starter named Junior Seau (D-II); in D-I, undefeated Southern California juggernaut Crenshaw, the No. 2 team in the nation, featuring several future college Division I players, including Stephen Thompson (Syracuse) and Dion Brown (Washington).  The Cougars were matched up with Edison High (Fresno) and their collection of future Fresno State and New Mexico State players. We were treated to a track meet full of dunks and athleticism unlike anything we had seen before, as Crenshaw ran the Tigers out of the arena by thirty-eight.

img_2341Future Washington Husky Dion Brown vs. Edison(Fresno)

When you’re from a small town, basically in the middle of nowhere, before social media, before YouTube, before 400 channel cable packages, the trends from LA and San Francisco tend to take months to reach you.  So, a trip to the city could be exciting and eye opening.  I saw my first drinking water dispenser.  That’s right, we didn’t have those in my town, so when I dropped my quarter in the slot, I expected a cup to drop down and fill my cup.  I didn’t realize you needed your own container and a gallon of liquid would shoot down.  I wasted a gallon of water that day.

Each player was given meal money.  I believe it was 12 bucks, but you could stretch it out back then.  It was so cool that coach was handing us each an envelope with cash in it!  I recall we stayed in a Hilton if I’m not mistaken.  Certainly not the kind of hotel my parents took us to on our vacations.  We were Motel 6 people.  We spent an afternoon at Magic Mountain, where I saw odd hairstyles and fashions that still hadn’t made their way to the Central Valley.  Our team was treated to a game between USC and Oregon State at the Sports Arena.  Future Laker A.C. Green was a standout on that Beavers team.  That trip was memorable for so many reasons.  A half-day ride on a school bus with your friends, teammates, and cheerleaders was actually fun, made even more enjoyable by the Dazz Band playing in my Sony Walkman.  Okay, it wasn’t Sony, it was Panasonic, but you know what I mean.

We had another trip coming up the next weekend, this time to Oakland, but I’ll revisit that experience in Part 2.

Flashback Friday: Disco Demolition Night

On July 12, 1979. the powers that be in the Chicago White Sox organization decided it would be a grand idea to hold a promotion titled Disco Demolition Night.  Fans could attend a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers at Comiskey Park for just 98 cents if they brought a disco LP record to be destroyed in an on-field explosion between games.  What could possibly go wrong?

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Background of the culture

Before we actually get into the events of that evening, let us first address the climate of popular culture in the late seventies.  Disco music originated in the early ’70’s in inner-city New York, with its dance-oriented style rooted in Latin American, African-American, and gay culture.  Rock music fans were not impressed.  They loathed disco music.  A segment of the population were opposed to the lifestyle associated with it.

The dance-oriented music gained nationwide popularity after the release of Saturday Night Fever.  My mom took me to see that movie when I was 11 years old.  About 5 minutes in, she was regretting the decision, but I loved it!  I’m not ashamed to admit I had a pair of Angel’s Flight trousers and some ridiculous looking silk “disco” shirts, as my brother and I called them.  I still remember me and a bunch of my sixth-grade friends quoting John Travolta’s Tony Manero character at school, dropping F-bombs left and right.

Background of the White Sox

Chicago owner Bill Veeck had a long, colorful history in baseball, starting out as a minor league owner in 1940 and buying his first major league team, the Cleveland Indians, in 1946.  Forced to sell the Indians to fund his divorce settlement, Veeck bought a majority stake in the St. Louis Browns in 1951.  After the 1953 season he sold his stake in the Browns, and in 1959 headed a group that purchased the White Sox.

Among Veeck’s many memorable feats:

  • In 1948, he signed the American League’s first black player, Larry Doby.
  • In 1949, he signed Negro League legend Satchel Paige, making him the oldest rookie (42 yrs old) in MLB history.
  • He hired Max Patkin, also known as the “Clown Prince of Baseball”, as a coach.  Fans loved it, but league officials, not so much.
  • On August 19, 1951, Veeck sent Eddie Gaedel to the plate as a pinch hitter for the Browns.  Gaedel holds a record that will likely never be broken.  At just 3-feet-7, he is the shortest player to ever appear in an MLB game.  The number on his uniform: 1/8.
  • Grandstand Manager’s Day allowed thousands of fans in the crowd to vote on various strategic decisions during the game.  The Browns won that day, ending a 4-game losing streak.
  • In Chicago, Veeck introduced the first “exploding scoreboard” to the league.  Sound effects and fireworks filled the air after a White Sox home run.
  • He signed Minnie Minoso in 1976, so that he could play in four decades.  He signed him again in 1980 so he could play in a fifth, at the age of 54.
  • Veeck also was responsible for the team wearing shorts, debuting on August 8, 1976, giving them the look of a slow-pitch softball team.
  • On April 10, 1979, he offered fans free admission the day after the Toronto Blue Jays blasted his team, 10-2 on Opening Day.

Disco Demolition Night

Disco hating DJ Steve Dahl organized the event and promoted it on air for months leading up to the game.

Expecting around 20,000 fans to show up, an overflow crowd of nearly 50,000 people squeezed into the stadium.  Management had only hired enough security for 35,000.  After becoming aware thousands of fans were entering the venue by climbing fences, crawling through open windows, and jumping turnstiles, security personnel was directed to the stadium gates to stem the tide of illegal entry.

The beer was flowing that night, and the legal drinking age at the time was 19.  Many of the records were not collected at the gate, and with the field now unattended, drunken fans decided to throw the records like Frisbees onto the field.  The hooligan fans also threw firecrackers, empty liquor bottles, and other objects onto the field, forcing several stoppages of play.  With the scent of marijuana wafting through the park, and LP-fueled bonfires in the parking lot, I can only imagine the game felt a lot more like a music festival.

At the conclusion of the opener, Dahl, accompanied by two others, drove a Jeep the perimeter of the field, while getting pelted with beer and firecrackers.  He stopped the Jeep in centerfield, where the rabid fans were led in chants of “disco sucks”.  Players watched from the dugout in batting helmets to protect them from projectiles.  Fans who sensed the chaos to come, and wished to flee the madness were met with challenges.  Security had padlocked all but one gate in an effort to keep intruders out.

After a brief announcement, Dahl detonated the explosives.  Not only did the blast destroy the records, it destroyed the outfield grass, tearing a large hole.  With security staff still redirected to the front gates, virtually no one was patrolling the playing field.  Taking advantage of the situation, up to 7,000 people rushed onto the field, causing players to take refuge in the clubhouse.  Some attendees climbed the foul poles, others ripped up grass, or set other fires.  The bases were pulled from the ground and the batting cage was destroyed.  Meanwhile, a bonfire burned in centerfield.

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In a bit of trivia:  The late actor Michael Clarke Duncan, twenty-one years old at the time, was one of the first people to run onto the field.  He slid into third base and stole a bat from the dugout.  

Attempts by announcer Harry Caray to restore order via the PA system were unsuccessful.  “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” blared over the speakers while the scoreboard flashed a message imploring fans to return to their seats.  In true Woodstock fashion, some fans danced in circles around the burning albums.

Finally, eighteen minutes after the mayhem had escalated into a dangerous free-for-all, Chicago riot police arrived.  Many on the field made a beeline for the nearest exit.  Thirty-nine people were arrested for disorderly conduct.  There are no accurate estimates on the number of injuries.  The second game was postponed and eventually ruled a forfeit, due to unplayable field conditions.  Disco Demolition Night newsclip

The aftermath

Bill Veeck was heavily criticized for the debacle, but he was already on the way out, and sold the team in January 1981.  His son Mike, the front-office promoter, suffered for years.  He resigned in late 1980, then was out of baseball for several years.  He would eventually become owner of a minor league baseball team.  In 2014, Veeck held a promotion destroying Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus merchandise.  As far as I know, order was maintained.  Steve Dahl is still a radio personality in Chicago and is owner and operator of the Steve Dahl Network, a subscription-based podcasting network.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I think it sounds like it would have been a terrifying evening to be a kid at that game.  As a middle-aged adult I would be headed for the exits.  But if I was a young twenty-something go-hard, and it happened today, I suppose I would have my phone out, along with everyone else in the stadium, to record the action.  I’ve seen some documentaries on the subject, but I don’t think a movie has ever been made about it.  Count me in if anyone ever decides to put this story on the big screen!

 

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday- 1987-88 Warriors crappy season

Chris Mullin

Long before fans piled on the Golden State bandwagon, there was the Warriors team of 1987-88. It was the organization’s 25th year in Northern California’s Bay Area. That was about the only thing they had to celebrate.

The Warriors finished with a 20-62 record and head coach George Karl resigned with 18 games remaining in the season, after going 16-48. Ed Gregory finished the year.

Golden State’s defense was among the most generous in the league, ranking next to last at over 115 ppg. Fans didn’t exactly flock to the Coliseum Arena that year, as attendance ranked 19 out of 23 teams.

Sleepy Floyd and future Hall-of-Famer Chris Mullin led this disappointing group.

Floyd averaged 21.2 points and 9.9 assists per game. The 24-year old Mullin scored at a clip of 20.2 ppg. Rod Higgins was a solid defensive presence and averaged 15.5 ppg.

7’4″ Ralph Sampson had come from Houston in a trade, playing in 29 games. At age 27, knee injuries had already reduced one of the greatest college players of all time to a shell of his former self.

Joe Barry Carroll aka Joe Barely Cares teamed with Sampson to give the Warriors less than stellar inside play.

Twenty-one players suited up for the Warriors that season, including such journeymen as Tellis Frank, Steve Harris, Dave Hoppen, Dave Feitl, Mark Wade, Tony White, Kevin Henderson, and Ben McDonald.

Chris Washburn was also a member of this team. Arguably one of the biggest coke-addicted wastes of talent in league history, the 6’11” Washburn averaged 4.1 ppg, a full point above his career average!

On the bright side, the Warriors made the playoffs the next season, going 43-39 under new coach Don Nelson.

There’s some history for those of you Dub fans who thought the team didn’t come into existence until 2012.

Wayback Wednesday- The Big Red Machine

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1976 World Series MVP Johnny Bench

The year was 1976.  I remember as an 8-year old boy, the excitement of the bicentennial celebrations, particularly July 4th.  I don’t know if patriotism was at an all-time high because I’m not qualified to make that assertion, but I do recall a whole lot of red, white, and blue that summer.

Another thing I remember is the Cincinnati Reds.  There was just something about that team.  Even their uniforms were cool.  Simple.  Nice hats.  The players were guys we idolized and emulated as we played wiffle ball in the backyard.

Cincinnati rolled through the National League West at 102-60 under white-haired manager Sparky Anderson.  Joe Morgan, the little 5-foot-7 second baseman, won his second consecutive NL MVP award, batting .320 with 27 home runs and 111 RBI.  He swiped 60 bases.  He led the Major leagues in on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage, and runs produced.

The team was truly a machine when it came to offense- the Reds scored 232 more runs than any other team in the NL West.  They led the NL in runs, batting, hits, doubles, triples, homers, steals, walks, OBP, and slugging.

Perhaps the most popular player on the 1970’s Reds was Pete Rose.  In 1976 Charlie Hustle led the NL in hits with 215, doubles with 42, and runs with 130.  We all imitated his crouching batting stance, from both sides of the plate.  Only the brave dared to imitate his head first slides.

George Foster smacked 29 home runs and drove in a league-leading 121 runs.  On a side note, I met the man (or tried to) at the Cactus League in Arizona in 2018.  Anyone who makes the trip down there knows some retired players sign autographs in the concourse.  There were no other fans around and I attempted to speak to him, to let him know he was one of my favorites growing up.  I thought about buying an item from him for my collection, maybe get a handshake and a picture.  I mean, that is why they are sitting at those tables, right?  I figured the least I could do as a fan who grew up idolizing some of these big leaguers who toiled away before the big money contracts became commonplace, is help them out.  Mr. Foster ignored me and wanted nothing to do with me, and I walked away, feeling slightly embarrassed.  I decided to keep my hard-earned money that day.  But I digress…….

Johnny Bench is considered one of the best catchers of all time, but in 1976 labored through shoulder issues, which limited his production.  First baseman Tony Perez made the all-star team, finishing with 19 homers.  Other unsung players on that team included rightfielder Ken Griffey, who hit .336 and stole 36 bases, centerfielder Cesar Geronimo, who hit .307 with 22 steals, and Dave Concepcion, considered one of the better defensive shortstops at the time.

With the Big Red Machine firing on all cylinders, there wasn’t really a need for dominant pitching, which is a good thing, because they had a rotation that ranked close to the middle of the NL in ERA (5th out of 12).  Seven different pitchers posted double-digit win totals.  Gary Nolan led the team in wins (15) and innings pitched, Pat Zachry led the team in strikeouts and had the best ERA of the starters.  Rawly Eastwick led the bullpen with an 11-5 record, 26 saves and a 2.09 ERA.

In the NLCS, Pete Rose hit .429 to lead the Reds to a sweep over the Mike Schmidt/Steve Carlton-led Philadelphia Phillies.  In the World Series, the Reds swept the powerful New York Yankees, outscoring them 22-8 in the four games.  Bench rebounded from his tough regular season to earn the MVP trophy, hitting .533 with two home runs and six RBI.

That 1976 team was regarded as the best edition of the Big Red Machine, and one of the greatest teams of all time.  That team certainly brings back fond memories for me.

 

A look back at the 1985 NBA Draft

Conspiracy theories

We all love a good conspiracy theory.  History is full of them.  Fake moon landing, JFK assassination, the Roswell UFO incident, the Illuminati, and many more.  With tonight’s 2019 NBA draft lottery just hours away, let’s go back to the most controversial draft in history – the 1985 NBA Draft.

Oh yes, the ’85 draft. There are people who were involved with the league who still believe the draft was rigged so that Patrick Ewing would become a New York Knick.  One claim was that a lottery envelope was chilled so that it could be identified by touch.  Another was one envelope contained a crease.  But before we delve into that, let’s take a closer look at the events leading up to, and surrounding that draft.

The Prize

The reward for drawing the number one envelope was the right to draft the highly coveted Patrick Ewing out of Georgetown.  Back in 1985, the thinking was that a big, talented center was the centerpiece of a championship team.  Think Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Walton, Moses Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Ewing was the most dominant center to come out of college since Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) left UCLA.  He led the Hoyas to three NCAA finals, winning once.  He possessed a myriad of skills for a seven-footer.  He could score down low, defend, block shots, grab rebounds, and hit the medium range jumper.  He was going to be some team’s savior.

The Players

At the time, seven non-playoff teams each had an equal chance (14.3%) to land the top pick.  The players in this game of chance:

  • The Golden State Warriors were the league’s worst team, and hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1977.
  • The Atlanta Hawks had nearly made the playoffs, but some theorized that they tanked to land in the lottery.
  • The Seattle SuperSonics had Jack Sikma and Tom Chambers, and not much of a supporting cast.
  • The San Diego Clippers were owned by Donald Sterling, then 50 years old, and already disliked by his own employees.  The team sent letters of apology to their season ticket holders after the season.
  • The Indiana Pacers were 22-60 and had given up 114.5 points per game.
  • The Kings had just completed their final season in Kansas City before relocating to Sacramento.
  • The New York Knicks were coming off their worst season in twenty years.  Their lone bright spot, Bernard King, had missed 25 games, and fans were not flocking to Madison Square Garden to watch this bunch.

The Process

Back in ’85, the NBA was not the super-power it is today.  Though Magic and Bird had started to revive the league and Michael Jordan was an exciting rookie, the NBA still suffered from poor attendance as a whole and was trying to recover from rumors of rampant drug use by its players.

It was no secret the NBA would benefit most if Ewing landed in the Big Apple, in the league’s largest market.  The New York Times wrote before the lottery, “There is a strong feeling among league officials and television advertising executives that the NBA will benefit most if [Ewing] winds up in a Knicks uniform.”

One anonymous high-ranking team executive reportedly was quoted as saying, “He’s going to the Knicks.  It’s all arranged.”

One of David Stern’s first actions upon promoting to commissioner in 1984 was to institute the lottery.  Then, he decided to televise it.  That was a pretty novel step considering a number of NBA playoff games weren’t even aired on national TV at that time.  Stern had to pay the USA Network $40,000 one year just to televise it.

In 1985 Stern pulled out all the stops.  The draft was held in Manhattan at the Starlight Roof of the Waldorf Astoria on the 18th floor.  Seven envelopes, each measuring one square foot, were placed in a large, clear plastic ball.  On stage, representatives from the seven teams sat restlessly in their seats.

The Pick

Stern took the stage.  What transpired next has been the topic of much debate and continues to be debated to this day.  Stern explains the process.  An older gentleman from the accounting firm of Ernst & Whinney tosses seven envelopes into the large plastic orb, pausing briefly before throwing in the fourth.  It hits the interior of the ball, creasing the corner.  The league’s head of security spins the drum five times.  Stern reaches into the drum for the first choice, the one everyone is anxiously awaiting.  He fumbles around, feeling the envelopes, turning them over.  He then lifts out the “golden ticket”, an envelope with a creased corner.  Coincidence?

The commissioner pulled out six more envelopes and placed them behind the first one, then began the verbal countdown.  The seventh pick went to Golden State.  Under the previous season’s rules this team would have been guaranteed at least the number two pick.  Al Attles, the Warriors GM and former head coach looked as if his dog had just died, his car was stolen, and his wife left him, all at the same time.

Stern continued the countdown.  The Kings, followed by the Hawks, Sonics, and Clippers.  Only two remained,  Indiana and New York.  As if to heighten the drama, Stern encountered difficulty opening the envelope.  Finally, he managed to open it and announced, “The second pick in the 1985 NBA draft….goes to the Indiana Pacers.”

Knicks GM Dave DeBusschere pounded the table forcefully with his fist.  Pacers co-owner Herb Simon simply looked dazed and confused.

Was it fixed?

A New York tabloid reported that Ernst & Whinney was also the auditing firm for Gulf & Western, which happened to own the Knicks.  Rumors surfaced claiming the envelope had been frozen, so Stern could pick it out easier.  Of course Stern still denies such shenanigans to this very day.  View the video and make your own determination.  1985 NBA Draft Lottery

The aftermath

Ewing went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Knicks, leading them to several playoff appearances and one NBA final, but no titles.  The Warriors made the best of their seventh pick, selecting Hall of Famer Chris Mullin.  Wayman Tisdale went on to a productive career with the Pacers and Kings.  But plodding big men such as Benoit Benjamin, Jon Koncak, and Joe Kleine went in the top 6, and were busts, while future all-stars such as Detlef Schrempf (No. 8), Charles Oakley (No. 9), Karl Malone (No. 13), Joe Dumars (No. 18), A.C. Green (No. 23), and Terry Porter (No. 24), were passed over.

The present

Zion Williamson is a once in a generation type talent.  By now everyone has seen his 360 slam dunks, his head at rim-level, his amazing physique, his maturity.  All experts agree he would have been the number one pick a year ago, if the rules still allowed for players to go to the league straight out of high school.

He will truly change an entire franchise.  He will be an organization’s savior.  The world is a lot smaller now than it was in 1985.  YouTube, social media, and ESPN make it much easier to be seen, to be famous.  It really doesn’t matter which franchise Zion goes to, he’ll get massive amounts of exposure regardless.  His team will be on the major networks so much it won’t be funny.

There have been many scenarios floated out there about what teams would look like if they happen to get the top pick.  Once again, the Knicks await their fate in the draft lottery.  Their franchise is stagnant and they need a revival.  They are still in the biggest market.  Zion in New York would be good for the league.  Sound familiar?  Conspiracy theories are fun.  We’ll never know if the ’85 draft was rigged, but what if the Knicks pull out the number one selection tonight?  They have a 14% chance at No. 1 along with Cleveland and Phoenix.  Is it possible in 2019 to rig the system? To pre-determine the outcome to benefit the league?  If the Knicks win the Zion sweepstakes, let the rumors fly!  Tune in tonight at 5:30 PST.

 

 

 

 

The 2019 NBA Draft lottery, aka the Zion sweepstakes, takes place this evening at 5:30 PST.  The top four spots will be determined by the lottery process.  

Weekend Recap

Here is what you may have missed this weekend:

NBA

Unless you live under a rock, you saw or heard about Kawhi Leonard’s improbable game-winning shot that propelled the Toronto Raptors to the Eastern Conference finals.  His 41 points sent the 76ers packing. Next up:  Milwaukee on Wednesday.

It was overshadowed a bit by Leonard’s heroics, but there was another Game 7 played earlier Sunday.  On a day Damian Lillard struggled with his shooting, CJ McCollum scored 37 points to lead Portland to a come-from-behind victory at Denver.  The Trail Blazers will face Golden State in the Western Conference finals starting Tuesday.

In another example of why nothing good happens when professional athletes go to the club, Kristaps Porzingis of the Dallas Mavericks was involved in a “bloody altercation” in his hometown in Latvia.  Though he didn’t suffer any significant injuries, he did suffer a bloody gash to his head.

MLB

Saturday– Oakland won in walk-off fashion on Ramon Laureano’s short fly to beat Cleveland 3-2….. Willson Contreras hit a homer in the 15th inning to give the Cubs a 2-1 victory over Milwaukee….. Albert Pujols homered twice to bring his career total to 641 as the Angels defeated Baltimore 7-2….. Gerrit Cole struck out 12 and Aledmys Diaz hit a grand slam to lead Houston over Texas 11-4….. Gerardo Parra hit a grand slam in the 8th inning to help the Nationals beat the Dodgers 5-2.

Sunday– J.D. Martinez hit two home runs and the Boston Red Sox downed Seattle 11-2…. George Springer went 5 for 5 with two homers and 4 RBI, leading the Astros to a 15-5 win over Texas, and a four-game sweep….. Josh Bell drove in 5 runs to lead the Pirates over the Cardinals for the third consecutive time, 10-6….. Charlie Blackmon socked two homers as the Rockies held off San Diego 10-7…… Hyun-Jin Ryu carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and Corey Seager hit a grand slam as the Dodgers beat the Nationals 6-0.

Felix Hernandez (1-4, 6.52 ERA) was placed on the injured list by Seattle with a strained right shoulder…… Oakland traded RHP Edwin Jackson to Toronto, his record-setting 14th major league team.

NFL

After numerous injuries derailed his career, WR Doug Baldwin, released last week by Seattle, announced his retirement…… Former Kansas City head coach and Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham died Saturday at 72……. Philadelphia signed QB Cody Kessler.

 

The shot heard around Canada

Kawhi Leonard received the inbounds pass with 4.2 seconds left, dribbled to his right and drove to the corner. He rose up and released a high arching shot over 7-footer Joel Embiid. For what seemed like an eternity everyone in the arena was frozen in anticipation as the ball hit short, then bounced on the rim three more times. It seemed like I had time to go make a sandwich and still be back in time to see the ball fall through the net. The Toronto fans erupted and the Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated, losing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

It will go down in NBA history as one of the biggest clutch shots ever. It may not quite compare to Joe Carter’s game-winning homer in the bottom of the 9th to win the Blue Jays the 1993 World Series, but it certainly will have its place in Canadian sports lore.

Leonard’s 41 points were also memorable, as he took it upon himself to carry the team from the opening tip. For that matter, he carried the team through the whole series.

The Raptors will now travel to Milwaukee to take on the top-seeded Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.