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NBA Throwback

NBA Throwback

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There’s a lot of stuff going on in my life right now.

My parents are in town. Making them comfortable is a priority.

My wife is on bed rest for awhile. Inconvenient, but well deserved.

I’ve been cooking full family meals for everyone, which I’m sure surprises the hell outta both grandpa and grandma. And I get stressed out from the time the ingredients come out of the cupboard/refrigerator until the last plate is fixed and on the table.

My little ones are moving 100 miles an hour all day, and Harrison is constantly interrupting my sleep at night by climbing into bed with Tabitha and I, kicking me in the face, and getting up considerably earlier than I prefer.

My older kids, while acting low maintenance, still require my attention whenever I get a free moment. They just don’t often say it out loud.

With all this stuff going on during the day, and hardly a moment to myself, (exaggerating, but it feels that way) my mind keeps coming back to one thing…

Old school NBA.

Oh, how I miss my ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s NBA viewing experience.

Every new NBA season I’ll sit down and watch a little here and there, but all it does is make me long for the old days of…

Jordan, Bird, Magic, Isiah, Stockton, Rodman, Shaq, Kobe, KG, John Starks, Reggie Miller, the Bad Boys, the ‘Jail Blazers’, Sean Elliott, Barkley, George Murhesan, Reggie Lewis, Clutch City, Penny, Kings/Lakers, the Dream Team, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Iverson, Jesus Shuttlesworth, God Shammgod, the Admiral, Yinka Dare, Run TMC, Arvydas Sabonis, Clyde the Glide, Kerry Kittles, the Charlotte Hornets Starter Jacket, Avery Johnson, Vernon Maxwell, Thunder Dan Majerle, Vinny Del Negro, Dana Barros, Craig Hodges, ’86 Celtics, Rick Fox, Vinny Del Negro, Dee Brown, the Human Highlight Reel, Steve Nash, Vinsanity, Dell Curry, the Glove, Mo Cheeks, Detlef Schrempf, Spud Webb, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, NBA Action: It’s FAAAANtastic, Xavier Mcdaniel, Del Harris clapping, Scott Skiles, Dirk, Big Country, the Spurs, Muggsy Bogues, Spree, Joe Kleine, Bill Laimbeer, Rod Strickland, T-Mac, Manute Bol, Mookie Blaylock, Kendall Gill, the Killer Crossover, Tom Gugliotta, Jerry Keil on his chair taking it all in—bitching about the referees having too much influence over the game, Tim Donaghy, John Tesh and the NBC intro theme song, announcers like Hubie Brown, Marv Albert, Mike Fratello, Bill Walton, Steve “Snapper” Jones, Doug Collins, Ahmad Rashad.

They were all there. So many menu items to choose from.

Did you know Michael Jordan once won the Defensive Player of the Year Award? He was also first team NBA All-Defense 8 times in his career. Nobody ever talks about that. He was also 6-0 in the finals and led the league in scoring 10 times. How are there people who still dispute he’s the best player of all time?

He also played in 99 games where he scored 45 or more.

Did you know John Stockton is the NBA all-time leader in assists and steals?…Despite saying at his hall-of-fame speech he played 30 years of competitive basketball and was never once the best player on his team.

He also hilariously stated “Out there [in the crowd] there’s a large group of people that traveled over 1000 miles, some from Hawaii some from Alaska, just to support me and I have to laugh there because I think they actually came to see Michael [Jordan, who was inducted in the same class.] He makes one big shot and everybody thinks he’s kinda cool, I don’t get it.”

Did you know on a cold February night in Portland, Larry Bird played an entire game left handed? At least that’s the story.

The facts are he scored 47 points, had 14 rebounds, and added 11 assists with the Celtics winning in overtime. I’ve heard the legend of this game for years. I finally watched it on youtube and by my count he scored 20 points left handed and 27 right handed, including 2 free throws. But still, impressive.

Also hilarious is another youtube hit that comes up featuring Bill Walton talking about that game. He swears he remembers every play…and defiantly says Bird scored all of his points left handed that night.

Did you know In the 1980s, every NBA Finals featured either the Celtics or the Lakers? Three times they played head to head. Also from 1984 to 2005 there were only 6 different NBA champions…Celtics, Lakers, Pistons, Bulls, Rockets, and Spurs. Many argue there would only be 5 on that list if Jordan never retired the first time.

Oh the 90s. So many stories within the stories. Many not surfacing until significant time passed due to the lack of social media. I’m sure a lot of behind-the-scene stories never came out. Thank God for the ones that did…

Did Latrell Sprewell really choke his coach in practice? Did he really come back 20 minutes later, after being in the locker room ‘cooling off’, and try to do it again? And did the media only find out because one of the beat writers asked a random, smart ass, question to P.J. Carlesimo after his daily availability to the press session was over? Something like Hey coach, what happened? You forget how to shave and cut yourself? when he saw the marks on his neck as the coach was walking away? Un-fucking-believable.

Did Sprewell really get docked a years pay for that?

And years later, when offered a contract extension from the Minnesota Timberwolves for 3 years/21 million, did he really say ‘I got a family to feed,’ and turn it down? And ultimately never play in the NBA again? You’re kidding.

You can’t make that stuff up.

Speaking of which, that whole Kobe Bryant thing in Colorado…holy shit.

The details on that, some disputed, some not, are unbelievable. There’s no way Kobe gets involved in something like that in the modern climate and survives it…certainly not to the extent of the ‘Mamba Mentality’ brand/hero he’s perceived as today.

This guy hated Shaq so much that during one of the many interrogation hours he entered into without a lawyer said he wished he would’ve just done what Shaq always does…pay his affair partners to be quiet.

Imagine someone being on your mind so much that you bring him up at a time where your career and freedom hangs in the balance with every word you say, in a situation that has absolutely nothing to do with him.

I recently read ‘Three Ring Circus’ by Jeff Pearlman. He dedicates an entire chapter of the book to the Kobe situation in Colorado. The main investigator in the case, as well as many others with knowledge of the events that took place, remain certain Kobe Bryant was headed to prison if his accuser didn’t flake out, and ultimately settle for an estimated 2.5 million dollars in a civil suit.

Bryant rebuilt his reputation over the next 16-17 years, repairing his marriage, fathering four daughters, and was an advocate for women and women’s sports at the time of his death.

(And never stopped being annoying.)

Speaking of women and the NBA…

I got into an interesting hour long back-and-forth via text with one of my buddies about how Wilt Chamberlain would look if he played in the 80s, 90s, and modern eras. My argument was Shaq would overpower him, good centers like Ewing, Robinson, and Olajuwon would have no problem with him, and average centers would have a tough time with him. His stance was Wilt is too strong and more athletic than anyone in history and would have no problem with Shaq or anyone else.

A truly great discussion.

Then we had another text-off about if Steph Curry could play in the 90s NBA.

Safe to say we had differing opinions.

I think Steph would be similar to Reggie Miller in that era. Only stronger. Miller was a rail. Curry is consistently underrated in toughness and his ability to get to the basket. His athletic prowess and his ability to create space would net him plenty of scoring chances in the ’80s and ’90s.

My buddy thinks he would be more of a roll player in those eras because he wouldn’t get to the free throw line as much.

Another awesome discussion. I didn’t care who won or lost the arguments. The fact that they were taking place was good enough for me.

Unfortunately modern era NBA topics leave me feeling somewhat hollow.

I don’t wanna have the Lebron is the G.O.A.T discussions.

I want James Harden out of my life.

I’ve never cared what Kyrie Irving thinks about anything.

Why is Ben Simmons considered one of the top players in the league? How? He can’t shoot. That’s not even my opinion. It’s well known.

How come every time I watch Giannis Antetokounmpo he is either missing a three, missing a free throw, or driving to the basket, taking an extra Eurostep, bulldozing into someone, and somehow getting the block call when it’s clearly a charge? I have no clue how he has won the league MVP the last two years.

And how many different teams has Rajon Rondo played for now?…While somehow being called great at every stop. I heard some jackass a couple years ago say he reminds him of Isiah Thomas (the Pistons legend) and couldn’t believe my ears.

I must be on another planet.

It’s possible Isiah was one of the top 2-4 point guards to ever play the game. He was clutch, he was a leader, a killer, and he’d do anything to win a game. Has Rondo ever scored 25 points in one quarter of an NBA Finals game, while hobbling on one foot? No. Has Rondo ever been the best player on his team? Nope. Has Thomas ever had to play a ‘prove it’ season, signing for the league minimum, with the Sacramento Kings when nobody else wanted him? No. And Thomas could hit a jump shot. End of discussion.

And I don’t want to talk about anymore manufactured ‘big threes.’

Throw out all the Bosh, Wade, Lebron Heat teams and all the Irving, Love, Lebron (notice a theme here?) Cav teams.

Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett won one title in how many years together??? AND Rondo was on those teams??? Please…outta here with that.

My big three’s are mostly organic and come in the form of McHale, Perish, and Bird. Magic, Kareem, and Worthy. Or Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. I would also like to throw in my personal favorite big three of David Robinson, Sean Elliott, and Tim Duncan. All homegrown.

I had so much fun watching real basketball being a Spurs fan growing up, thanks to those three, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobilli.

I also loved watching NBA Superstars 2 in the 5th grade. It’s one hell of a VHS tape.

While in the middle of writing this I found it online and watched it again. It has inspired me to go find game 5 of the 1991 Eastern Conference first round playoff series between the Pacers against the Celtics and watch it. Chuck Person vs Larry Bird.

That was an amazing series. You got an aging, injured Bird, out there battling with a bad back, slamming his head so hard off the parquet floor of the Boston Garden that it pretty much knocked him out. While in the locker room with the training staff he was told he was done for the night. In typical Bird fashion he nodded in agreement, and when the training staff wasn’t paying attention, he slipped out and headed back to the floor. He finished the game in heroic fashion, inspiring the Celtics to comeback from a small deficit and win, behind several key shots and passes.

And that’s just what I know without watching it back yet.

I remember I was of elementary school age at the time and I was over at Bob Nebel’s house watching the game.

Which is ironically also where I was months later when I first heard Magic Johnson had HIV. Bob’s mom came outside and told us Magic was retiring from the NBA because he was sick. I remember thinking, if you’re sick you just take medicine and rest for a couple days, why retire?

Magic then started in the 1992 all-star game. Even though he didn’t play a single minute that season for the Lakers, the fans still voted him in as a starter after the NBA chose to leave his name on the ballot. He stole the show and took home MVP honors.

He then played on the Dream Team that summer. The single best collection of talent on one team the game has ever seen.

He won five NBA titles and made it to the Finals nine times in his career.

But my favorite Magic Johnson stories aren’t about championships, no-look passes, or even his courage and inspiration in his dealings with the HIV virus.

I like the not-so-Magic-al tales.

I like that he tried to coach and failed. I love that he tried his luck at late night tv with a show called The Magic Hour and it flopped. I like that he tried a comeback in 1996 as a player and it was a disaster…A season in which he was famously unable to adapt to the way the game had changed and the attitudes of the modern day players.

Let’s go one by one here. Because all these things deserve some context. Again, much like the Sprewell and Kobe stories, I can’t imagine how different the coverage would have been on this stuff had social media existed at the time.

Magic became head coach for the Lakers a year and a half after he retired from playing. With 16 games to go in the season he took over a lack-luster L.A. team in 1993-1994. Almost instantly it was a bad match.

The cliche of great players don’t make great coaches exists for a reason.

The story I love the most goes like this…

Magic was frustrated with not being able to identify with the younger half of the team, and the veterans he once played with had lost their fire and desire.

During one team meeting Magic went on a rant, telling players they just wanted to be Lakers for the parties and the girls. He told them all their jobs were in jeopardy because they were not taking care of business on the floor and next year all the girls would just be interested in the next crop of guys to wear the Laker uniform.

As he’s going through all this, a beeper goes off. Remember this is 1994, cell phones weren’t around.

Magic just assumes the beeper belongs to one of the younger players on the team. He begins hunting around for the muffled beep sound, can’t find it right away, and grows more and more frustrated. As he approaches Vlade Divac, whom the teammate telling this story describes as having his hand in his pocket trying desperately to turn it off the whole time before Johnson made it over to him, he can tell it’s his. He tells Vlade to give him the beeper.

Magic then holds it up and says ‘this is exactly what I’m talking about!’ and fires it into the wall. The device shattered into pieces, but the beeping didn’t stop right away. It went on for several more minutes, with Magic getting so fed up with the noise he had to relocate the team to the court to finish the meeting.

The same teammate described Vlade as ‘a fish on a dock’ as he watched his beeper being smashed.

What Magic failed to realize was it was 7:20 am, and even the biggest of philanderers wouldn’t be getting paged at that time. Divac had been keeping in constant contact with his family from Serbia. The conflict in Yugoslavia was raging at that time, and Vlade made sure to check in with family multiple times a day.

Oooops.

So while it might have been exactly what Magic was talking about within the team dynamic, it certainly didn’t pertain to that particular incident.

(Vlade was seen outside, inconsolable, smoking cigarettes, shortly after that meeting. It was well known in NBA circles that Vlade like to puff on a few ‘heaters’ before and after games.)

As far as Magic Johnson’s coaching on the court, it wasn’t much better.

Magic went 5-11 in 16 games as the leader of the Lakers. He was even thrown out of one game for running onto the court and arguing with an official. His Lakers missed the playoffs for the first time in 18 years.

Is there anything not to like about that story?

Well then, how about his comeback in 1996 for an encore?

That year Magic met with Jerry West and told him he wanted to come back. West said he had to meet with Del Harris, the coach at the time, to discuss it and it’d ultimately be up to him. Harris said he could come back if he agreed to three things: He could not be the point guard, he could not be the shooting guard, and he shouldn’t expect to start.

Starting guards Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones were both described as emotionally fragile at the time.

So Johnson agreed and came back. Packing on an extra 27 pounds in the years since his playing days, it was decided he would be used as a power forward.

Then the circus began.

Joining a roster with the likes of Jones, Van Exel, Elden Campell, Vlade Divac, Anthony Peeler, Corie Blount, Cedric Ceballos, and George Lynch, Magic’s Lakers were quickly buoyed by his arrival and went on an eight game winning streak.

In his first game back Magic scored 19 points with 10 assists and 8 rebounds.

But the Lakers Magic joined weren’t the Lakers he left behind. While players like James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were always willing to overlook Johnson’s propensity for the spotlight, his modern day teammates were not.

To these guys Magic seemed to be more of an obnoxious uncle than peer.

See Also

From the time Magic joined the team until the end of the season the Lakers would experience the following:

—Magic saying he deserves to be on the ’96 Olympic team.

—Magic saying should the comeback not work out with the Lakers he’d be interested in playing for the Heat or Knicks the following season.

—Magic boldly reclaiming his old locker, then occupied by George Lynch and filled with the third year player’s belongings. He didn’t ask, or offer any money. He just took it.

—When teammate Cedric Ceballos went awol for five days, in large part because of the frustration of losing minutes due to Magic’s arrival, his Laker teammates bemoaned the affect that his absence had on the team. But Magic expressed anger over how the affair had impacted him. Stating it was ruining his comeback season. In short, basically saying it was taking away from his moment in the spotlight.

—When asked if the above was true he said “This is the worst time for all of this to happen. I’m really sick and tired of it. Maybe I won’t throw myself back into next season. I don’t know. It’s hard for me to deal with all this. I’m too old.”

—When Van Exel was suspended for 7 games after shoving an official in a game against Denver, Magic wasted no time berating his teammate to the media for not keeping his cool. Two days later Magic was suspended three games for bumping an official in a game against Phoenix.

—When the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs 3-1 in a non-eventful best of five series against the Rockets Magic criticized the team for never being on the same page, never acting as one, and said “the ship had too many holes.” Magic then defiantly declared he’d be back the following season, saying “we have to get this thing solved in L.A.” Two weeks later he announced his retirement, for good this time.

(Jerry West wasn’t gonna take him back. He was too busy hatching the next dynasty…The following season the Lakers would employ Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.)

Magic’s late night tv show was a disaster from the start.

In the book “What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History,” author David Hofstede ranks the show number 26.

The Magic Hour started in June of 1998 and was canceled in September of the same year. Magic blamed the lack of success on black celebrities refusing to appear on his show, saying “Their managers and agents keep them off the black shows.”

Critics say The Magic Hour was canceled because of its rigid flow, Johnson’s awkward interview style, and his lack of chemistry with any number of sidekicks they tried out.

I was able to find one episode online and it was unwatchable. I turned it off after a few minutes.

No one remembers any of this stuff about Magic Johnson’s career, and I think they’re his most notable attributes. Certainly the most entertaining.

What people will always remember about Magic though is his competitive nature.

That’s one thing that’s missing from today’s NBA.

From Dr.J to Magic to Bird to Isiah to Jordan to Duncan to Kobe and Shaq, to Dirk…the NBA was about enemies, not frenemies.

Magic was famous for saying “Friendship? We can always be friends after the series is over,” after he clobbered Isiah Thomas coming down the lane with an elbow to the chest/face in the finals. The two men had been close friends before that.

Dr. J and Larry Bird famously came to blows in an early season game after Larry was called for an offensive foul. Bird complained to the ref about the call, Dr. J said something to the effect of quit whining, Bird pointed out to the good doctor that he had 42 points, while Julius only had 6, and away they went. It turned into a brawl. Charles Barkley, Moses Malone and others famously got involved as well.

Everybody hated Bill Laimbeer and the ‘bad boy’ Pistons.

Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan couldn’t stand each other. And still can’t.

Now a days the current players are all lovey-dovey before, during, and after the games. It doesn’t matter if its during the regular season, playoffs, or the finals.

Nobody has to be tough anymore.

It’s one big fraternity.

There are only two guys in the league right now who possess the talent, killer instinct, and old school spirit that I like watching. Jimmy Butler and Damian Lillard. You better pack a lunch when you face off against these two guys, and you won’t see any secret handshakes or good luck wishes pre or post game either.

They’re all business.

These two players make me wonder how good the modern game could be if players still hated each others guts.

There are some massive talents I enjoy watching in the modern NBA. Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, Jason Tatum, Bradley Beal, Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, and Devin Booker, to name a few.

There’s also a ton of talent that I can’t stand watching…Harden, Lebron, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Paul George, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis, and Chris Paul, just off the top of my head.

But whether I enjoy watching these guys or not, none of them have that raw hatred players had back in the ’80s and ’90s for each other.

Imagine how good the game would be if Lebron hated Anthony Davis with a passion and vice versa? Now imagine Davis being good enough to carry a team of his own on his back and do something about it? Maybe meet Lebron’s team in the finals and knock him off…

Not join up and go for a stroll to the finals together every year.

Where are the rivalries?

Where is all the hatred?

They made an entire documentary on the Knicks/Pacers rivalry in the mid 90s. Those two teams couldn’t stand one another, and they battled in back-to-back 7 game series in ’94 and ’95.

Reggie Miller, John Starks, Ewing, Oakley, Anthony Mason, Rik Smits, The Davis brothers, Marc Jackson.

Good god man.

What happened?

I want my old NBA back.

View Comments (9)
  • Todays athletes would dominate most of the guys he mentioned. I don’t understand why older sports fans don’t get that.

  • Yeah but the overall product suffers. The guys today don’t care as much. Their just in it for the power and money and they don’t care about winning or always playing hard. Thats what he’s saying.

    • So Steph Curry, Kwhai Lenoard and Lebron James don’t car about winning? Yeah. OK dude. They have a combined 9 rings but don’t care about winning at all. your a genius dude.

      But Vin Baker, Shawn Kemp and Gary Peyton Did Right? How’d all that caring work out for them?

  • I watched the dream team documentarty and stockton was walking around with the crowd and no one knew who he was and the rest of the dream team members couldnt go anywhere without being mobbed. Him and his family walked around the entire time time full vacation mode. That’s the best right there. All time leader in assists and steals just gets to walk around while all those black giants have to stay on the bus and hope it dont flip over.

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