The NBA Dribbled Out

Here’s an old photo of the Houston Rockets Twin Towers tandem of Ralph Sampson and (H)akeeem Olajuwon standing in front of the Twin Towers. 
Today is the day Don Nelson, Reggie Miller and also Ralph Sampson will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. 
History hasn’t been that kind to the 7-4 Sampson from the University of Virginia. Coming out of college in 1983, he had already graced Sports Illustrated 6 times in just 4 years (here’s his first cover as a pro) and was easily the most anticipated professional big man of his generation. Expected to be equal parts Russell and Chamberlain, the lithe Sampson was an agile big man that could play from the perimeter before it was cool to do so. 
In his first two seasons in the NBA, he averaged over 21 p.p.g. and 10 r.p.g while shooting over 50% from the field. He also played every one of the Rockets regular season games. They would be the only seasons he did so over the course of a 9-year, largely disappointing career where he and (H)akeem never won a title—getting closest in 1986 when they reached the Finals after Ralph’s incredible buzzer-beater against the favored Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, but ultimately falling to Bird, Walton and that dominant ‘86 Celtics team in the Finals. 
Since it’s Hall of Fame week in a largely boring September for NBA fans, there have been a few posts about Mr. Sampson, largely debating whether he deserves inclusion in the Hall after such a lackluster pro career that didn’t even span a decade.
The best is probably Kelly Dwyer over at BDL, but Kurt Helin has some video highlights of Ralph at PBT, Slam republished their Q & A with Sampson(sonite) from Slam 41 and Scott Howard-Cooper talks about Sampson’s attempt to become a coach.

Here’s an old photo of the Houston Rockets Twin Towers tandem of Ralph Sampson and (H)akeeem Olajuwon standing in front of the Twin Towers. 

Today is the day Don Nelson, Reggie Miller and also Ralph Sampson will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

History hasn’t been that kind to the 7-4 Sampson from the University of Virginia. Coming out of college in 1983, he had already graced Sports Illustrated 6 times in just 4 years (here’s his first cover as a pro) and was easily the most anticipated professional big man of his generation. Expected to be equal parts Russell and Chamberlain, the lithe Sampson was an agile big man that could play from the perimeter before it was cool to do so. 

In his first two seasons in the NBA, he averaged over 21 p.p.g. and 10 r.p.g while shooting over 50% from the field. He also played every one of the Rockets regular season games. They would be the only seasons he did so over the course of a 9-year, largely disappointing career where he and (H)akeem never won a title—getting closest in 1986 when they reached the Finals after Ralph’s incredible buzzer-beater against the favored Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, but ultimately falling to Bird, Walton and that dominant ‘86 Celtics team in the Finals. 

Since it’s Hall of Fame week in a largely boring September for NBA fans, there have been a few posts about Mr. Sampson, largely debating whether he deserves inclusion in the Hall after such a lackluster pro career that didn’t even span a decade.

The best is probably Kelly Dwyer over at BDL, but Kurt Helin has some video highlights of Ralph at PBT, Slam republished their Q & A with Sampson(sonite) from Slam 41 and Scott Howard-Cooper talks about Sampson’s attempt to become a coach.

Since Don Nelson will be inducted into Springfield, Massachusett’s Basketball Hall of Fame tomorrow—with Reggie Miller and others—SI did a photo retrospective, which is presented here as a middle school elementary school level collage of my own making. 
Nelson sat down with Marc Stein at ESPN for a little Q & A about his illustrious time in the game as a coach (he won the coach of the year award 3 times) and player (he won 5 titles with the Celtics during the end of Russell’s reign in the late 60’s and those so-so Hondo/Cowens teams in the early-mid 70’s). Sam Amick also wrote about Nelson’s “‘storybook”’ career for Sports Illustrated.
Personally, I’ve always been leery of him after his Bucks squad (featuring post-cab driver-Dave Cowens) swept the Celtics in the ‘83 playoffs, but whatever—that’s probably on account of my old man’s influence.
Congratulations Don, you deserve it. I hope your Nellie ball offensive style continues to speed the game up and annoy lumbering low post players. 

Since Don Nelson will be inducted into Springfield, Massachusett’s Basketball Hall of Fame tomorrow—with Reggie Miller and others—SI did a photo retrospective, which is presented here as a middle school elementary school level collage of my own making. 

Nelson sat down with Marc Stein at ESPN for a little Q & A about his illustrious time in the game as a coach (he won the coach of the year award 3 times) and player (he won 5 titles with the Celtics during the end of Russell’s reign in the late 60’s and those so-so Hondo/Cowens teams in the early-mid 70’s). Sam Amick also wrote about Nelson’s “‘storybook”’ career for Sports Illustrated.

Personally, I’ve always been leery of him after his Bucks squad (featuring post-cab driver-Dave Cowens) swept the Celtics in the ‘83 playoffs, but whatever—that’s probably on account of my old man’s influence.

Congratulations Don, you deserve it. I hope your Nellie ball offensive style continues to speed the game up and annoy lumbering low post players. 

The above gif is from December 9, 1977, in a Sunday game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. The gif shows Kermit Washington’s punch of Rudy Tomjanovich 5 times. It’s the most excrutiating punch in NBA history, and I’d rather not watch it more than I already did while making it, so I refrained from looping it forever. 
Picture running full bore ahead and then getting cold-cocked in the face from the opposite direction. It’s a bit like two cars crashing head on into each other, but with Rudy’s face and Kermit’s fist as the cars. Kermit* was a very strong and muscular 6’8” 230 pounds; it’s probably more accurate to describe that fist as a Mack truck. 
“The Punch" was so bad Rudy almost died from the hit and it almost ruined Washington’s life in professional basketball. Rudy’s face was fractured about 8 mm (1/3") from his face, and he lay on the court in a pool of blood, unconscious. He did, later, get to his feet and walk off, but besides having his face fractured off his skull, he had a cerebral concussion, a broken nose, broken jaw, and his skull was fractured so that spinal fluid and blood leaked into his mouth. The doctor that performed surgery on him later said

"I have seen many people with far less serious injuries not make it."**

Washington was fined $10,000 and suspended for 26 games (at the time it was the longest suspension for an on-court incident in league history); SNL ran back footage of the punch multiple times as part of a gag about the incident; Walter Cronkite and CBS News investigated the punch and multiple columnists called for the lifetime ban of Kermit.  
Replay footage did not include the scuffle that percipitated the punch. Tomjanovich was running into the fracas to break up a fight between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Kunnert, but Washington thought Tomjanovich was going in to help his teammate against the bigger Kareem. Months earlier, Kareem had broken his hand when he punched Kurt Benson, so the Lakers’ players were anxious about guys going after their all-world big man.
Perhaps the most revealing writing about the incident and aftermath can be found in David Halberstam’s seminal basketball book,*** The Breaks of the Game. In it, Halberstam details what happened that night to Rudy and the ensuing backlash against Washington. Not two weeks after the “The Punch,” Washington was traded to Boston. He received death threats laced with racial epithets (remember this was the 70’s), and police warned him not to order room service when he was on the road because they feared he would be poisoned. His wife was 8 months pregnant at the time of “The Punch,” and they became so ostracized around the country, their obstetrician refused to help her because she was married to Kermit. 
I know I already blogged about the flagrant foul video earlier today and the Washington-Rudy hit was included, but this is just a reminder of what can happen when men the size of NBA players start throwing punches. 
Violence shouldn’t be extolled precisely because of what happened between Kermit and Rudy, but hard-nosed play should be applauded. There’s a difference, however slight, but the next time you see two NBA players square off then walk away, maybe you’ll understand why rather than crow about the fragile contemporary game.
*Kermit attended and played basketball at my alma mater, American University. His number was retired while I was an undergrad.
**page 273 of The Breaks of the Game. 
***The greatest basketball book ever written, in my humble opinion. 

The above gif is from December 9, 1977, in a Sunday game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. The gif shows Kermit Washington’s punch of Rudy Tomjanovich 5 times. It’s the most excrutiating punch in NBA history, and I’d rather not watch it more than I already did while making it, so I refrained from looping it forever. 

Picture running full bore ahead and then getting cold-cocked in the face from the opposite direction. It’s a bit like two cars crashing head on into each other, but with Rudy’s face and Kermit’s fist as the cars. Kermit* was a very strong and muscular 6’8” 230 pounds; it’s probably more accurate to describe that fist as a Mack truck. 

The Punch" was so bad Rudy almost died from the hit and it almost ruined Washington’s life in professional basketball. Rudy’s face was fractured about 8 mm (1/3") from his face, and he lay on the court in a pool of blood, unconscious. He did, later, get to his feet and walk off, but besides having his face fractured off his skull, he had a cerebral concussion, a broken nose, broken jaw, and his skull was fractured so that spinal fluid and blood leaked into his mouth. The doctor that performed surgery on him later said

"I have seen many people with far less serious injuries not make it."**

Washington was fined $10,000 and suspended for 26 games (at the time it was the longest suspension for an on-court incident in league history); SNL ran back footage of the punch multiple times as part of a gag about the incident; Walter Cronkite and CBS News investigated the punch and multiple columnists called for the lifetime ban of Kermit.  

Replay footage did not include the scuffle that percipitated the punch. Tomjanovich was running into the fracas to break up a fight between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Kunnert, but Washington thought Tomjanovich was going in to help his teammate against the bigger Kareem. Months earlier, Kareem had broken his hand when he punched Kurt Benson, so the Lakers’ players were anxious about guys going after their all-world big man.

Perhaps the most revealing writing about the incident and aftermath can be found in David Halberstam’s seminal basketball book,*** The Breaks of the GameIn it, Halberstam details what happened that night to Rudy and the ensuing backlash against Washington. Not two weeks after the “The Punch,” Washington was traded to Boston. He received death threats laced with racial epithets (remember this was the 70’s), and police warned him not to order room service when he was on the road because they feared he would be poisoned. His wife was 8 months pregnant at the time of “The Punch,” and they became so ostracized around the country, their obstetrician refused to help her because she was married to Kermit. 

I know I already blogged about the flagrant foul video earlier today and the Washington-Rudy hit was included, but this is just a reminder of what can happen when men the size of NBA players start throwing punches. 

Violence shouldn’t be extolled precisely because of what happened between Kermit and Rudy, but hard-nosed play should be applauded. There’s a difference, however slight, but the next time you see two NBA players square off then walk away, maybe you’ll understand why rather than crow about the fragile contemporary game.

*Kermit attended and played basketball at my alma mater, American University. His number was retired while I was an undergrad.

**page 273 of The Breaks of the Game

***The greatest basketball book ever written, in my humble opinion. 

Tom Ziller published the final 10 of the top 50 free agents in the summer of 2013.
His top 3?

3. JAMES HARDEN 
Harden is the most obvious threat to leave this list via early extension — there’s little chance, in my estimation, that the Thunder let Harden prove he deserves a full max by letting him play out the season. And he does deserve a full max. He’s possibly the best two-guard in the entire NBA right now, even though he comes off the bench and is the No. 3 option for Oklahoma City. A brilliant scorer, a heady ball-handler, an inspired if uneven defender, a consummate teammate, a magnificent beardsman. All hail Harden.
2. DWIGHT HOWARD 
Howard, the new Laker, hasn’t inked an extension, but should remain with L.A. long-term after arriving with such fanfare. But if things go poorly this season … you never know. As I have said before: never trust a grown man who can be bribed with jelly beans. Never.
1. CHRIS MFING PAUL 
After the last two seasons, I like to hope that the entire world sees what a marvelous point guard CP3 has been. There was that infamous series against the Lakers, and then the salvation of the Clippers. With Jamal Crawford (a credible bench scorer), a healthy Chauncey Billups (a devastating second point guard in the backcourt), Lamar Odom (a versatile scorer-rebounder-passer) and Grant Hill (a good defender and cagey veteran), this team is stacked, and CP3 might be on his way to threatening for the MVP award. The front office (whose make-up is a mystery, frankly) has done its job to build a winner around Paul, so you have to believe that he’s feeling good about L.A. right now … even though he won’t sign long-term until July. But remember as always that this is the Clippers. S—t happens. Stay tuned.

They’re all members of upper-tier playoff teams (the Clippers actually did pretty well this summer in free agency, but Ziller’s warning isn’t crazy since, unfortunately, Sterling is still the owner), and they’re all ostensibly free agents next summer. But even thought they’re all in good spots, they all might leave, too.
Harden is the greatest threat to leave since Ibaka has been signed and a small-market team like OKC can’t pay 4 contracts that size (Russ and Durant are locked up for another 4 years, near or at the max). Since Harden mysteriously disappeared in last year’s finals series (except for the first half of game 2), people forget what Ziller put down: he might be the best 2-guard in the league right now (yes, better than Kobe and Wade) even though he comes off the bench. He absolutely deserves max money, but OKC can’t pay that luxury tax. Sam Presti has his work cut out for him. 
Dwight, when he’s not busy taking ads out to thank the fans he doesn’t give a shit about, has even more pressure on his—now fragile—back  to win a title. It’s the 2004 Lakers all over again, but instead of signing two way-past-their-prime players like GP and the Mailman, the Lakers locked up a top point guard who can’t guard a chair, and the best center in basketball; plus, the best defensive player in all of basketball (sorry Tyson). Yeah, Dwight will probably re-sign because all of LA is hanging off his jock right now, but if they fail miserably in the playoffs next May and June, maybe not. Dwight is more fickle than Romney on abortion. 
Chris Paul is the biggest enigma because Sterling is so freakin’ crazy (plus racist!) and they still don’t have a GM (Vinny did a better job this summer as a pseudo-GM than he’s ever done coaching). All their work over the last couple months will be for naught if Paul bounces next year, but they have the igredients to push SAS, OKC and LAL in the playoffs. God, the West is sick this year. Maybe Paul will leave just to get out of the conference and get a chance to actually play for a title? Who knows, but the evil specter* of Sterling looms over all. 
*I just assume he looks like an eminently Caucasian ghost. 

Tom Ziller published the final 10 of the top 50 free agents in the summer of 2013.

His top 3?

3. JAMES HARDEN

Harden is the most obvious threat to leave this list via early extension — there’s little chance, in my estimation, that the Thunder let Harden prove he deserves a full max by letting him play out the season. And he does deserve a full max. He’s possibly the best two-guard in the entire NBA right now, even though he comes off the bench and is the No. 3 option for Oklahoma City. A brilliant scorer, a heady ball-handler, an inspired if uneven defender, a consummate teammate, a magnificent beardsman. All hail Harden.

2. DWIGHT HOWARD

Howard, the new Laker, hasn’t inked an extension, but should remain with L.A. long-term after arriving with such fanfare. But if things go poorly this season … you never know. As I have said before: never trust a grown man who can be bribed with jelly beans. Never.

1. CHRIS MFING PAUL

After the last two seasons, I like to hope that the entire world sees what a marvelous point guard CP3 has been. There was that infamous series against the Lakers, and then the salvation of the Clippers. With Jamal Crawford (a credible bench scorer), a healthy Chauncey Billups (a devastating second point guard in the backcourt), Lamar Odom (a versatile scorer-rebounder-passer) and Grant Hill (a good defender and cagey veteran), this team is stacked, and CP3 might be on his way to threatening for the MVP award. The front office (whose make-up is a mystery, frankly) has done its job to build a winner around Paul, so you have to believe that he’s feeling good about L.A. right now … even though he won’t sign long-term until July. But remember as always that this is the Clippers. S—t happens. Stay tuned.

They’re all members of upper-tier playoff teams (the Clippers actually did pretty well this summer in free agency, but Ziller’s warning isn’t crazy since, unfortunately, Sterling is still the owner), and they’re all ostensibly free agents next summer. But even thought they’re all in good spots, they all might leave, too.

Harden is the greatest threat to leave since Ibaka has been signed and a small-market team like OKC can’t pay 4 contracts that size (Russ and Durant are locked up for another 4 years, near or at the max). Since Harden mysteriously disappeared in last year’s finals series (except for the first half of game 2), people forget what Ziller put down: he might be the best 2-guard in the league right now (yes, better than Kobe and Wade) even though he comes off the bench. He absolutely deserves max money, but OKC can’t pay that luxury tax. Sam Presti has his work cut out for him. 

Dwight, when he’s not busy taking ads out to thank the fans he doesn’t give a shit about, has even more pressure on his—now fragile—back  to win a title. It’s the 2004 Lakers all over again, but instead of signing two way-past-their-prime players like GP and the Mailman, the Lakers locked up a top point guard who can’t guard a chair, and the best center in basketball; plus, the best defensive player in all of basketball (sorry Tyson). Yeah, Dwight will probably re-sign because all of LA is hanging off his jock right now, but if they fail miserably in the playoffs next May and June, maybe not. Dwight is more fickle than Romney on abortion. 

Chris Paul is the biggest enigma because Sterling is so freakin’ crazy (plus racist!) and they still don’t have a GM (Vinny did a better job this summer as a pseudo-GM than he’s ever done coaching). All their work over the last couple months will be for naught if Paul bounces next year, but they have the igredients to push SAS, OKC and LAL in the playoffs. God, the West is sick this year. Maybe Paul will leave just to get out of the conference and get a chance to actually play for a title? Who knows, but the evil specter* of Sterling looms over all. 

*I just assume he looks like an eminently Caucasian ghost. 

LeBron posted a pic to his instagram, with the caption, “Don’t miss this boat life.”
It reminded me there’s no such thing as “too good” for a keg cup.  

LeBron posted a pic to his instagram, with the caption, “Don’t miss this boat life.”

It reminded me there’s no such thing as “too good” for a keg cup.