Thursday, April 30
1978 – Portland pulls to 3-2 in the Western Conference Semifinals with a 113-89 win in the Rose City. The Sonics take the next game in Seattle to win the series.
1980 – A year removed from winning the title, the Sonics lose 111-105 to Los Angeles as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scores 38.
1982 – Seattle falls 97-99 loss to San Antonio as George Gervin hits 15 of 31 shots.
1987 – A 129-98 triumph over the Mavericks caps a miraculous first-round upset of 2nd-seeded Dallas.
1989 – 109-97 win over the Rockets gives the Sonics a 2-0 lead in the Derrick McKey series.
1991 – Benoit Benjamin makes 14 free throws and Sedale Threatt pours in 29 (!) points as Sonics narrow series to 2-1 with a 102-99 win against Portland. Pete celebrates in Eugene by forcing all Blazer fans in Carson Hall to buy him a beer.
1993 – Kemp grabs 11 offensive boards, a Sonic playoff record, to go with 29 points and 17 total rebounds and Sonics upend Utah 99-85 to open their first-round series.
1994 – Seattle’s 97-87 win over Denver puts Sonics up 2-0 in first-round series. Things go sideways after …
1996 – After losing at home to Sacramento in Game 2, Sonic fans are anxious about falling behind in the series in Game 3, but Sam Perkins comes off the bench to score 17 and the Sonics capture a 96-89 win and begin their drive to the NBA Finals.
Wednesday, April 29
Well, maybe not.
If you're too busy to graze the articles, allow me to pull out some of the choicer quotes:
Karen Finerman, in reply to the statement that McClendon received such a massive bonus last year because he created unique opportunities for Chesapeake Energy: "That's his job. What else is he supposed to do?"
Chesapeake investor Jeffrey Bronchick (his firm holds 1.18 million shares), in a letter to the CHK board: "I have never seen a more shameful document than the Chesapeake proxy statement. If I could reduce it to one page, I would frame and hang it on my office wall as a near perfect illustration of the complete collapse of appropriate corporate governance.”
Aubrey McClendon, Shmuck: "Our [SEC filing] speaks for itself we believe."
Attorney Marc Gross, on CHK's purchase of $12 million worth of art from Aubrey: "There's no purpose served by an oil company buying art. It's not a museum."
Tuesday, April 28
Halberstam’s book profiles the season through the narrow viewpoint of the Red Sox and Yankees, going into incredible detail of the day-to-day activities of both rosters, from trainers to owners. Among the stories about the Dimaggios, Ted Williams, and so forth is the tale of Boston second baseman Bobby Doerr, a much-beloved player (by, among others, future commissioner Bart Giamatti) who would later enter the Hall of Fame.
Anyone who follows baseball closely knows the Doerr story – a classy man who parlayed solid defense, a strong bat, and good teammates into a ticket to Cooperstown. What they probably don’t know is that Doerr turned pro at age 16.
Yes, 16. While still enrolled in Fremont High School in LA, Doerr signed up to play professionally for the Hollywood Stars, meaning he spent the last two years of his high school years traveling around the west coast of the United States.
And yet, nobody made a big deal out of it. Doerr’s father, as part of the contract, insisted that the team allow Doerr to come back to complete his education, but it wasn’t as if the LA Times ran a huge story bemoaning how the Hollywood Stars were robbing the innocence of this poor young man. Bobby Doerr was a great player, a team wanted to pay him to play, and his family decided it was okay. End of story.
Today, though, we have developed some bizarre set of rules for our children. We allow them to watch horribly violent movies and video games seemingly from infancy and let our daughters wear clothes that hookers from 50 years ago would consider scandalous. But letting a 17-year-old get paid to play basketball in Europe? The horror!
Imagine if Jeremy Tyler had been offered a scholarship to attend school and play basketball in Amsterdam for a year. Would anyone care? Would any of us notice?
Of course not. And yet, for some bizarre reason, people such as Dick Vitale feel a need to criticize Tyler and his family for what they have chosen to do. I ask you, naysayers, are you as mad at Bobby Doerr’s family as you are at Jeremy Tyler’s? Do you think Tony Parker destroyed his life by turning pro before he could vote?
Further, why do you care? Who, exactly, is Jeremy Tyler hurting by doing this? Is he not better off than half or more of the African-American boys in this country?
Honestly, it’s not for us to say. It’s up to Mr. Tyler and his family. They’ve made their decision, and I suggest the rest of us just shut up about it.
The McClendon story is nothing altogether shocking - shareholders of Chesapeake are furious about McClendon's pay package, which is quite reasonable considering the performance of the company's stock in the past six months.
The Ward story concerns SandRidge Energy's sale of more than 15 million shares, including 3 million belonging to Mr. Ward himself, at a discount. This comes on the heels of the compay's announcement of a $1.3 billion first-quarter asset write-down due to crappy natural gas prices.
And, after reading all of that, you are free to bang your head against the desk whilst bemoaning fate ..... now.
Monday, April 27
"What business would come in and negotiate with the city and the state for three or four years and get all the details ironed out, and then three or four months after you're in the building have them say that doesn't really matter and then take your brand and rake it over the coals."
What kind of business? Well, there's this guy, who decided he didn't like his building less than a decade after it was built, and who tried to renegotiate his lease even though there was still close to five years left on it. Or this guy, who pulled a team out of town even though they still had a year left on their lease.
Or, maybe, this kind of business, the kind which promises to let the mayor of the city in which it resides of a phone call if it decides to move, then gets 15 moving vans to load up in the middle of the night and haul ass for Indianapolis. Sorry, Bob, but people who pull that kind of stuff don't get the right to act sanctimonious.
Sen. Ed Murray and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles have issued a statement relating to the life of SB 6116.
“If the Legislature goes into a special session sometime during this year, we will continue conversations around SB 6116. We will work with the opponents of this bill and try to reach an agreement.”
Coming on the heels of Murray's amendment that eliminated all non-KeyArena related portions of the bill (i.e., Husky Stadium), it is painfully clear that Murray and Kohl-Welles are doing everything they can to bring professional basketball back to Seattle.
Whether their passion for the subject can persuade enough of their fellow lawmakers remains to be seen.
According to The Seattle Times, the governor is still undecided as to whether a special session will be required. As of this moment, the bill - which would enable King County to utilize an existing sales tax for funding - among other things - the renovation of KeyArena - remained unpassed, leaving Seattle for now without any prospects for professional basketball.
Further, by not passing the bill during this session, it takes Clay Bennett off the hook for a $30 million bonus he was to have paid the city were the legislature to act on improving the Key. However, were the bill to pass during the special session, Bennett would still be obligated to pay up the cash, assuming Seattle were not to receive a basketball team in the near future.
Got all that?
Of note, the governor issued a statement which noted the following (via The Spokesman-Review):
"The 2009 legislative session completed the most difficult regular session in a generation with a balanced budget, very significant transportation improvements, and other important agreements, but work remains to be done with respect to a few items.
“I will meet with legislative leadership shortly to determine when the Legislature will reconvene.”
The big word being WHEN and not IF the legislature reconvenes.
Friday, April 24
McClendon did, however, find a willing buyer for some of the
The Times Online reports that McClendon was lucky enough to find a buyer who would pay him $12 million for an assortment of maps, paintings, etc., which turns out to be $8 million more than he paid for them.
The buyer, you ask? Chesapeake Energy. Why a natural gas company that lost $800 million needed to spend $12 million on a bunch of paintings is beyond my grasp, but I'm sure they can come up with a good explanation. (Naturally, CHK would not comment to the Times on the story).
Anyhow, I'm guessing the negotiations between Aubrey and Chesapeake went something like this:
AM: Self, how much will you pay me for these maps and paintings of Native Americans?
AM: I will pay you $5 million.
AM: No, that won't work. Try again.
AM: Okay, self, how about $10 million.
AM: That's not bad, but I can't part with them for that price. Look at the fine texture, the beautiful expression ... no, $10 million is an insult to me.
AM: Fine, $12 million, but that's my final offer to me.
AM: Done. Nice doing business with me.
Tune in tomorrow when Aubrey tries to sell his $20 million estate in Bermuda to Chesapeake as a "Research and Development Facility."
What if Carlos Boozer had stayed in Cleveland?
It's a lot to imagine, certainly, but the thought of Boozer being an option at the 4 instead of Ben Wallace, and thereby allowing LeBron James just a bit more freedom, well, it makes you ponder just how incredible LBJ's stats would be then. It's been five years since the contract shenanigans of the summer of 2004, but as the Cavs get closer and closer to the Finals, having someone with Boozer's skills at the power forward position would certainly be nice to have.
You don't want state money going to Husky Stadium? Fine, I'll create an amendment that not only forbids the University of Washington from getting funds, but Washington State as well.
You can smell the burning anger in Murray's voice when he tells the Times' Jim Brunner, "I have heard the message loud and clear, state taxes should not be used for sports."
What does this mean for the bill, still living in purgatory in the State Senate? It's now a bit more likely that passage is possible, in that any WSU supporter with an ounce of common sense knows that passage of Murray's amendment would seriously cripple the renovation of Martin Stadium in Pullman, in that WSU athletic department currently receives in excess of $2 million per year from the university, money that would dry up and float away should Murray's amendment go through.
WSU fans: Wake up - this is not a UW vs WSU thing, here. This is a Seattle vs. Clay Bennett thing. By opposing this bill, you are supporting Clay Bennett. Ask yourself: Is that really the side of the equation in which you want reside?
Thursday, April 23
“I don’t think it’s right for an entrepreneur to ask another entrepreneur for a gift.”
Herb Simon, 1997
This past weekend, Cory Schouten put together an insightful story for the Indiana Business Journal about the Simon family’s close-knit relationship with Indianapolis and the massive piles of money they have received in the name of urban renewal.
In many ways, you get left with the question: Where does Indianapolis end and Herb Simon’s family begin?
Schouten impressively details how the Simons:
- Received an estimated $400 million from the city for various real estate projects over the course of the past decade.
- Use the maintenance of Conseco as an excuse for financial help, while the city is actually the one footing the bill, to the tune of $3.45 million per year. (Of note, the city paid $62,000 to outfit the Pacers’ employees and $15,000 on NBA Fastbreak pinball machines).
- Artfully dodged the truth about their lease when they went to the press this past month. In reality, the Pacers’ renegotiation of their current lease is not as trouble-free as they would lead us to believe. According to Schouten, the team is able to renegotiate only if the team fails to meet certain profit margins, and the team would only be able to leave if it paid a substantial penalty.
How substantial? Try anywhere from $50 million to, gulp, $144 million, depending on when the team decides to pack up. (As an aside, I urge you to read this article from the Ogden On Politics blog, detailing the fleecing of Indianapolis taxpayers by the Simon family, a prediction from five years ago about how this year’s events would transpire, and how Herb Simon’s continual lying about the economics of Conseco Fieldhouse are all too familiar to those of us in this region). ((I’m not sure where else to put this, but this second aside is as good as any. Herb Simon is currently working on wife number three, a former Miss Universe 1988 from Thailand. They were introduced by Simon’s niece, who was once her, yep, college roommate. Her first name is Porntip. Yes, Porntip. Back to the story)). (((One last note – guests at the wedding included George Hamilton and Rob Lowe – who gave a speech. I’m unaware if Simon requested funding from Indianapolis for the construction of the buffet table.)))
Schouten’s piece is thoroughly researched, and indicative of the situation in a large number of cities across this country. I find it promising that Seattle, Indiana, and now Milwaukee (hat tip, True Hoop) have taken a different approach to the inevitable city-vs-team thunderstorms. Rather than capitulate the instant team ownership threatens to move, these cities asked for an honest discussion of the economics. Sure, Herb Simon may be able to convince cities to erect new buildings for his minor-league baseball team, but the number of cities willing to fork over hundreds of millions for an NBA arena are dwindling faster than a pile of chicken wings at a Fortson family barbecue.
Interestingly, Simon had a conversation with the IBJ last year, at which time he announced his intention to take over the reins of the team. At the time, the Journal asked him what he considered the “tipping point” for when the team began to run into trouble:
IBJ: Can you identify a tipping point where things started to go south for the Pacers franchise and its relationship with the team’s fans?
Simon: Well the tipping point everyone points to—and we don’t like to talk about it anymore because we want to talk about positive things—was probably the Detroit incident and the incidents that followed. That seems to be the tipping point.
And yet, one year later, Simon told the Indianapolis Star that the Pacers had lost money “9 of the last 10 years,” meaning that the Malice at the Palace was, essentially, irrelevant, in that it occurred far after the financial problems began. Simon, or, rather, his spokesman, also claimed the family had lost $200 million during their ownership tenure, further indicating that these problems had taken root far in advance of Ron Artest donning a Pacers jersey.
Incredibly, Simon even commented that he would like to go back to 2000, as “the year 2000 is a good year for me.” And yet, in comments his spokesman made to the Star, the Pacers claim to have lost money in 2000, making me wonder: Were the losses offset by the glory of the Finals, or were there ever any losses to begin with?
Later on, Simon – and, remember, he said this in 2007, less than 12 months before his spokesman told the media the Pacers had lost money nearly every year they’ve been owned by the Simons – told the IBJ:
We face the challenge of a small market. We always will. But we’ve been profitable before and we hope to be profitable again.
Look, Simon is married to a former Miss Universe, has at least six houses on three continents, and had his honeymoon (for his third marriage) in Switzerland, Bora Bora, and Thailand. And he’s crying to the city that he needs help to keep the Pacers afloat? At what point do cities start to say, “You know what? Bite me. If you don’t like how things are going here, sell the team. If no one steps up to buy them, then we’ll talk. But if you put them up for sale and a half-dozen buyers show up, then you figure it out.”
In the past, teams treated cities like a star player treats his groupies. Free to extort cities at their whim, they knew all along that other cities were lined up, just drooling to take them in. These days, in tougher economic times, those extortion tactics no longer work so well, and NBA team owners are finding the situation is a bit stickier than the one to which they have grown accustomed. With decreasing tax revenues comes increasing budget scrutiny, and just as Clay Bennett found the Washington legislature less than thrilled with his $500 million arena boondoggle (whether because of budget constraints or inherent hebetude), fellow NBA owners may find other legislatures equally thrifty when it comes to throwing tax dollars at similar projects.
It’s about time.
And, with that in mind, it was surprising to read Sen. Ed Murray's comments in this morning's Seattle Times. Murray told reporter Jim Brunner, "The bill is dead for the session. Really dead." Seattle officials begged to differ, urging that until the session is officially over, nothing is dead.
At this point, it is painfully obvious that state represenatives and senators are facing a difficult fight to get this bill passed. On the one hand, the KeyArena improvement plan is fiscally sound (or as fiscally sound as this sort of project ever will be, anyways), and in this time of economic disaster, would prove a helping hand to struggling businesses in the area as well as construction companies.
On the other hand, the state is pondering increasing classroom sizes, forcing teachers to take a pay freeze for the foreseeable future, and cutting benefits to thousands of people. With that sort of activity taking place, it becomes politically untenable to support funding for professional sports, regardless of the merits of the project.
Still, I believe Murray's comments came more out of frustration than out of a cold, hard assessment of the facts. Bearing that in mind, if you're in favor of re-doing KeyArena, I suggest you phone the state's hotline at 1-800-562-6000 to express your support for SB 6116. 48 hours from now, all of this may be moot, and Seattle's chances of ever watching NBA basketball again will become even more remote.
Ask yourself: Do the Sonics matter to me? If the answer is yes, I'd suggest you pick up the phone.
Wednesday, April 22
"Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, prime sponsor of Substitute Senate Bill 6116, said he gives it a 50-50 chance of passing. But he predicts it will come down to the wire. 'It's a budget bill so it can hang out here til the end.'
"Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, who has worked on a similar proposal in the House, put the odds at just 30 percent."
Perhaps the two gentlemen's lack of faith in the bill's passage could be related to the King of Olympia, Frank Chopp, whose penchant for stalling was seen last year, the year before ... and this year as well. Whether the insertion of funding for low-income housing is the magical ingredient to get Chopp to go along with the bill remains to be seen, but Hunter and Murray's inside information - and their negative assessment of the bill's success - can't be too reassuring.
We may all be Sonic fans, but getting us to agree on something isn't a given. Best player? Some might say Payton, some would choose Kemp, or perhaps Haywood, or even Sikma.
Best coach: Wilkens or Karl? Best team: '95-96 or '78-'79?
We can all agree on this, though: The toughest moment in Sonic history was watching the Sonics lose to the Denver Nuggets in 1994. Up 2-0, the Sonics dropped three straight. And it wasn't just three straight to some random team - it was three straight to the home of the Denver Broncos and their horse-faced quarterback.
If you ask any Sonic fan the most haunting image in team history, it's the image of Dikembe Mutombo lying on his back, squeezing the basketball between his massive palms, a look of sheer joy mixed with exhaustion on his face.
For 15 years, I've hated that moment, but today, with news that Mutombo's career is over after a knee injury last night in Portland, I'm relaxing my attitude a bit.
Mutombo's career - an amazing 18-year journey - is now over. In a few months, maybe I'll go back to hating this moment again, but today, viewed through the prism of watching this giant man seeing his athletic career end, well, I'm filled more with a feeling of happiness for his success than I am with intense disappointment at a Sonic failure.
Congratulations on a remarkable basketball career, Dikembe. If one man had to symbolize the Sonics' most disappointing failure, I'm glad it was you.
Tuesday, April 21
Thanks to a $77 million bonus/extortion in December, the co-owner of the Sonix pulled down an estimated $112 million in 2008, putting him #1 on the list of overpaid jerkoffs who ruined the American economy and will force my grandchildren to make socks for their Chinese overlords ...
Whew, sorry about that. Anyhow, Ben Casselman of the WSJ reports that McClendon's haul puts him above such noteworthy performers as Sanjay Jha/Motorola ($104 mil), Robert Iger/Disney ($49.7 mil), and Alex Rodriguez/Yankees ($28 mil +/- Madonna).
In an unrelated piece of news, Chesapeake Energy posted a net loss of $866 million in 2008.
Close to 30 years ago last night, April 20, 1980, the Seattle SuperSonics and Milwaukee Bucks were matched up in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals, in a series so close it could have gone 70 games.
It is a forgotten parcel of Sonic history, but shouldn't be.
It was a clash of two superb teams, including names like Williams, Johnson (4 of them! John, Marques, Vinnie and Dennis), Sikma, Silas, Brown, Lanier, Bridgeman, and Moncrief. True, it wasn’t a Boston-LA epic involving dozens of Hall of Famers, but it could possibly be the greatest almost Hall of Fame Game ever.
The two head coaches involved – Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson – now stand first and second in wins all-time, and are both members of the Hall.
Game 5, in Seattle, had an announced attendance of 40,172, the largest in 41 years of Seattle basketball.
In seven games, the two teams combined to score 1,424 points; 716 for Milwaukee, 708 for Seattle. Of the seven games, two went to overtime and six (!) were decided by five points or fewer.
Milwaukee had won the Midwest Division that season, while the Sonics were second to the Lakers in the Pacific. Fresh off a title the year before, the Sonics drew 890,713 folks to their games that season, which ranked first in the league.
By a lot.
The next closest team – Boston – saw 596,349 attend their games, nearly 300,000 fewer than the Sonics.
Neither team was loaded with popular stars, and neither team had a league leader in any NBA category. True, Dennis and Marques Johnson earned spots on the All-NBA second team, Jack Sikma, DJ and MJ made the All-Star team, and Dennis Johnson (first) and Quinn Buckner (second) both played their way onto the All-Defensive Team, but this wasn’t Kareem, Magic, Bird, and Dr. J. Not by a longshot.
What this was, though, was a classic series. The Sonics, buoyed by Gus Williams’ 30 points, beat Milwaukee in overtime in Game 1 – by one point. The Bucks matched them in Game 2 with another overtime win – by two points.
The Bucks would go on to win two of the next three games, meaning the Sonics, down 3 to 2, faced a must-win contest at Milwaukee in Game 6.
And win they did, earning a nail-biting 86-85 win before 10,938 at MECCA Arena. With the series now deadlocked at three apiece, it was back to Seattle for Game 7. With Mike Parrott dueling Pete Redfern at the Kingdome, the Sonics returned to the Colisseum, meaning they would not have the benefit of 40,000 green and gold-clad fans to cheer them on.
With the Lakers waiting in Los Angeles for the victor, the Sonics finally put an end to the series with a 98-94 win, as Gus Williams poured in 33 points and Lonnie Shelton grabbed 15 rebounds.
And, that, essentially, was the last glory day for the late 1970s Seattle SuperSonics. The team which earned consecutive trips to the Finals would never again advance to the Conference Finals, not until the roster had been completely purged, the coach let go, and all remnants of the Brown/Sikma/Williams/Johnson/Wilkens era completely dissolved.
For one night in April 1980, though, they were still a talented team, one capable of returning to the promised land one more time. A Game 1 win over the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals proved to be an illusion, however, as the Sonics dropped four straight and watched the championship series on their television sets.
That summer, Paul Silas retired, Gus Williams held out for the entire season, and Dennis Johnson's continuing problems with Lenny Wilkens proved to be too much for the Coach/GM to handle, prompting a trade to Phoenix for Paul Westphal.
That season, with their defensive stalwart now long gone, their spark plug point guard holding out, and their conscience in retirement, the Sonics failed to qualify for the playoffs, and the glory days of the greatest professional sports team in Seattle's history were over.
Monday, April 20
The bill still must be passed by the full Senate and the House before it becomes law, and it is this last aspect of the process which may prove to be the most difficult.
There is, as always, a time crunch involved. The legislature will adjourn at the end of the week, and if the bill has not passed by that time, Clay Bennett will breath a $30 million sigh of relief, the amount of money the Sonix owner agreed to pay the city if NBA doesn't send a new team to KeyArena by 2013.
Honestly, folks, if you're interested in seeing the Sonics back in Seattle, or if, rather, you like seeing Clay Bennett pay for things he'd rather not, then perhaps you ought to call your House or Senate representative.
Friday, April 17
Funerals are sad in and of themselves, and the younger the deceased, the tougher they are to take. The fact Marvin’s mother will be in attendance is hard enough to swallow, let alone the fact he was only 56.
But think about this for a moment – 31 years ago tomorrow, on April 18, 1978, Marvin’s team, the Seattle SuperSonics, was in Portland to face the TrailBlazers in the first game of their best of seven Western Conference Semifinals.
Remember, the Blazers were defending NBA champions. True, they were missing Bill Walton, but they were still the defending champs. The Sonics? The Sonics were a team that started out the season 5-17 and finished 11 games behind Portland in the Pacific Division standings. It was a 1 seed versus a 4 seed; no contest, right?
You couldn’t tell the Sonics that, or Webster, either. That night, 31 years ago tomorrow, Marvin Webster stood in against 12,666 Portland fans and poured in 24 points as the Sonics jumped out to a 1-0 lead, thanks to a 104-95 win. Seattle earned wins in 3 of the next 4 games, taking that series as well as the next one against Denver before ultimately losing to Washington in the Finals.
How did he feel that night? A young man, on the precipice of his greatest professional accomplishments, Webster would go on to lead the NBA in minutes played, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, and blocks, and finished second in defensive win shares and total win shares during the playoffs.
It was 31 years, but a lifetime ago.
In light of today’s service, I thought it might be a kind idea if those with memories of Marvin might post them in the comments for this article. Whether you saw him play in Seattle, New York, Denver, or as a collegiate athlete, pass it along. If enough people contribute, I’d like to put the thoughts together into a booklet and mail it to Marvin’s mother in Baltimore, so that she might see how many lives her son touched during his lifetime.
Thursday, April 16
Daniels quotes local politician Margarita "Renton, Baby!" Prentice that the KeyArena/Husky Stadium renovation bill is "very, very doubtful" to see any success during this legislative session, meaning Mr. Bennett will NOT have to cut a check in the amount of $30 million to the City of Seattle.
Like sports, anything is possible in politics, but it would appear that the current economic catastrophe has combined with a distaste for the NBA to create a bitter arena soup the legislature is uninterested in eating.
However, with so many franchises in financial peril these days (Indiana, Memphis, New Orleans, the Sonix, etc.), I wouldn't be panicking if I wanted to see the NBA back in Seattle. True, every year which passes makes it more and more unlikely to see a return of pro hoops, but Seattle still has to rank at or near the top of the list of destinations for destitute owners, right? Right?
And, with the grotesque aftertaste of the Bennett Era still lingering in our mouths, who can blame us for not following the league all that closely this year? Sure, all sorts of folks are pointing to the last couple of years as indications of another golden era of NBA basketball, but you’d have a tough time selling that line of crap in Seattle these days.
Anyhow, assuming that you, like me, have allotted more of your evenings to watching the Oceanic Six than you have to following the Western Conference in the past few months, you’re probably a bit nervous about Saturday-afternoon-BBQ banter in the coming weeks. Hey, no self-respecting man wants to be in the dark about the NBA when talk turns to hoops. Sure, those smart-aleck remarks about Rousseau and the Hydra Station are all well and good for the office metrosexuals, but they won’t cut the mustard on your overcooked hot dog when you’re holding a sweating can of PBR in your hand.
So, allow me to compare the 16 contenders for the NBA title with their most closely identifiable companion on Lost. We’ll start with the characters most likely to survive until the end of the series and progress to those least likely to survive. Then stir, apply NBA teams, measure for likelihood of winning the Finals, bake, and voila, you’ve got space-filler for a Thursday afternoon.
Los Angeles - Jack Shephard
Clearly the most important person/team, but neither are sans flaws. Further, no one really wants them to succeed outside of their devoted, bandwagon fans. Like Jack, the Lakers have seen a paradigm shift this season: Bynum’s absence seemingly had little effect on the team’s record, and now he’s back. Can he, like Jack, take a secondary (or even tertiary) role? Plus, is Phil Jackson really Christian Shephard?
Cleveland – Hugo ‘Hurley’ Reyes
A surprising comparison, but bear with me for a moment. Think of all the title contenders, then ask yourself this question: As a neutral fan, for which would you be the most likely to root, assuming your team’s front line was waylaid by a batch of infected hookers? Cleveland, right? It’s the same with Hurley – everybody likes the guy. No, he doesn’t have the depth of the other leading players, but neither do the Cavs, and, yet, here they are. Plus, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Hurley have the same time in the 40.
Boston - John Locke
Amazingly, both are equally likable – for determination - and detestable – for annoying righteousness. Granted, it’s not Paul Pierce’s fault his fans are holier-than-thous who believe the NBA only exists as a pedestal to prop up their glory, but who else are we going to blame? You could also add that KG is as beat up as Locke, but, like Locke, the team seems to have some all-knowing powers that keep them afloat. Finally, I ask you, whose resurrection was more surprising this season: John Locke’s or Stephon Marbury’s?
Houston - Sayid Jarrah
Perfectly efficient, and perfectly content to lurk in the shadows – an apt description of either the Houston Rockets or Sayid. Houston’s most famous player is an enigma who we simultaneously know everything and nothing about. Their most cult-like fan favorite (Battier) earned his fame from a piece in The New York Times, not exactly SLAM magazine. They’re smart, mysterious, and dangerous. Hey, I’m not saying that the Rockets have someone on their roster who would be an ideal assassin, but who would you rather see at the end of a dark alley, Sayid, or Ron Artest? Yeah, “none of the above” for me, too.
Orlando – Sun-Hwa Kwon
No one expected much from either of these two, but they’re slowly making believers out the skeptics. You can never underestimate: 1) a shot-blocking behemoth or 2) a woman looking for her husband. And while I would probably bet on Sun in an offensive rebounding contest with Rashard Lewis, he’s probably prettier.
Denver – Kate Austen
The sexy pick, but one that is routinely driven to self-destruction. Kate is completely capable of running the show on Lost, but she always manages to screw things up for herself. Likewise, the Nuggets have a great starting lineup, an interesting bench, have risen to the second-best record in the conference … but is anyone really expecting Denver to make it to the Finals this season? Put it this way: Faced with two options on which to bet $100, 1) Denver making the Western Conference Finals or 2) Denver losing in the first round, which would you take?
San Antonio – Benjamin Linus
For the longest time, both the Spurs and Ben dominated the scenery, but this season the world has changed, and they’ve both had to accept the fact that the younger fellas are running the show. Oh, sure, San Antonio might scare someone in the first round, and, yes, Ben is always capable of manipulating certain events to his benefit, but, ultimately, neither of them are the Alpha Dogs anymore. And, honestly, no one’s crying about it. Don’t forget, too, that Popovich looks like he’s spent the last few years hanging out at the Orchid.
Portland – James ‘Sawyer’ Ford
Not so much because of the con man elements, but because both Sawyer and the Blazers seem to be having a helluva good time. If you add in the fact that the only thing as multi-faceted as Sawyer’s fake identities is Portland’s roster, it becomes pretty simple.
Dallas – Jin-Soo Kwon
I’m punting on this one, with this caveat. Neither Dallas nor Jin are all that relevant to what happens at the end of the season.
New Orleans – Walt Lloyd
Forgotten despite freakish abilities, Walt and New Orleans are primed to punish. Granted, this season may not be the time for either of them to reach the pinnacle of their abilities, but that time is coming very, very soon.
Miami – Miles Straume
Not especially well liked around the country, but incredibly talented nonetheless. As an added bonus, given his ability to converse with the dead, perhaps Miles could do the Heat a favor and conduct an interview with Jermaine O’Neal.
Atlanta – Juliet Burke
Young and intriguing, but not going to be around much longer.
Chicago - Desmond Hume
My favorite character on the show, and one of my favorite teams in the league. You’ve got to love Rose’s incredibly abilities, and while the Bulls haven’t exactly set the league on fire this season, they – like Desmond – are intriguing regardless.
Philadelphia - Daniel Faraday
Because this season, while promising, has left Philly fans with more than their share of bloody noses. Plus, I’m guessing at least 75% of those fans would like to invent a time machine which would take them back to 1982.
Utah - Richard Alpert
Because both Alpert and Jerry Sloan are apparently ageless.
Detroit - Charles Widmore – Detroit
At one time, they were both crucial players. That was a long, long time ago, though. Now, they’re just watching and waiting for the end of the season, with hopes that next year will bring an opportunity for increased relevance.
Wednesday, April 15
Tuesday, April 14
In addition to Wilkens, such renowed Seattle names as Zaid Abdul-Aziz, Otis Sistrunk, Lorenzo Romar, and James Donaldson will be honored at the event, held at The Outback Steakhouse. Ticket information for the event can be found here. According to the foundation's website, the AAESHOF is dedicated to the development of opportunities for young, less fortunate youth to gain exposure to positive aspects of life, and to broaden the public's understanding of African American/Ethnic history and the role of diversity and cultural tolerance in the growth of professional sports.
To all parties concerned, sorry about the mixup.
Thursday, April 9
Shawn Kemp - Which, of course, you already knew.
James Donaldson - Who will, possibly, be the next mayor of Seattle.
Gar Heard - Former Sonic who became known as the coach of one of the worst teams in NBA history, the '92-'93 Mavericks, as well as for his famous desperation shot in the NBA Finals while with the Suns.
Dave Corzine - Nothing famous about Corzine, although his nickname of "Lumber" was certainly apt.
Joe Forte - A miserable career with the Sonics, during which he became more renowned for his off-court troubles than his on-court production. The fact the Sonics allowed someone to wear this number after Kemp left is an unspeakable disgrace.
Tim McCormick - Now a TV analyst for the Big 10 Network, McCormick combined the grace of Dave Corzine with the fluidity of Alton Lister.
Russ Schoene - His forgettable career will no doubt pale in comparison to the notoriety he will receive from Kevin Pelton's SCHOENE projection system.
Mike Bantom - Little known in Sonic history, Bantom has gone on to become the NBA's Senior Vice President of Player Development.
Marvin Webster - RIP.
John Brisker - A fantastic, albeit fiery, player, Brisker disappeared in Uganda in 1978. Was he killed by a firing squad bent on vengeance against Idi Amin's regime? Is he still alive? It's really anyone's guess.
So there you have it. A famed shot-blocker now gone, a top NBA executive, a man-child whose face graced posters across the country, the name of a top statistician's projection system, a possible future mayor, and a man (maybe) killed in the jungles of Africa.
If nothing else, it's certainly an interesting group.
The first comes from the great Harvey Araton at the New York Times. Especially moving is this snippet:
At the time, I was the Knicks beat reporter for The New York Post. To celebrate, in part, and to interview him for an article, I took him to lunch in Chinatown. He mostly wanted to talk about his son, who, he said, would play in the N.B.A., just like him.
The second comes from Ken Murray, at the Baltimore Sun. Murray's story explores the lives that Webster touched as a collegiate star for Morgan State University, and how tragedy seemed to find him far too often. Murray also lets us know that Marvin's father, Edward Webster, passed away in February, which could not have helped the son's mental state any.
I can't help but feel for Marvin's mother, who is still alive. She's already lost a teenaged grandchild more than a decade ago, and now, within the span of two months, she's lost her husband and her son. Time may heal all wounds, but don't try telling Dorothy Webster that this Easter.
Wednesday, April 8
Though the 7'1" center was an overlooked part of Sonics history, his lone season in Seattle was an exceptional one, especially when one considers his playoff numbers. Webster averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks a game over the course of 22 playoff contests, leading the Sonics to their inaugural appearance in the NBA Finals. While that series ended in a Game 7 loss to the Washington Bullets, it appeared as though the rain clouds hovering over the franchise were a thing of the past. Unfortunately, at the end of the season, Webster and Sonics owner Sam Schulman failed to reach a consensus on his contract demands, and the budding young star bid Seattle farewell and signed a lucrative (well, lucrative in 1978 NBA dollars) deal with the Knicks.
For a variety of reasons, Marvin Webster faded from the memory of Sonic fans, but for one brief season, he was an essential part of a fantastic team. How instrumental? Well, an article from the Wages of Wins Journal estimates that Webster contributed 15.7 win shares to the Sonics in 1977-78, nearly twice as many as the closest Sonic (that would be Gus Williams).
In a very sad way, though, Webster's career - and life - seems to have peaked at that moment in 1978, a fact he reflected upon later.
"I remember the locker room after the final game—how the champagne was on ice, guys with tears in their eyes," Webster told Sports Illustrated. "I loved being on that team. I had no idea I'd be gone so shortly."
As a young man who had led a team nearly single-handedly to the NBA Finals, and one of the top centers in the league, Webster had no trouble finding suitors, and he inked a five-year deal with the Knicks, seemingly poised for superstardom. The son of a Baptist preacher, Webster surely must have thought his prayers had been answered.
Instead, tendinitis and hepatitis (the latter an affliction he had suffered as a standout player in college) struck Webster down, and he never fully recovered. With health issues dogging him at every turn, the big man's life spiraled downward, resulting in bouts with depression and eventual departure from the league.
Divorce eventually followed, forcing Webster's son, Marvin Jr., to be raised by his maternal grandparents. But that wouldn't be the end of Marvin Sr.'s disappointments, as his son - a 6'11" center - enrolled as a prize recruit at Temple University, then died of a heart attack as a sophomore before ever playing a game.
It was a crippling blow to the now-retired Webster. Beset by all of this pain, and his failing health now further complicated by diabetes, you have to imagine that in the last decade of his life, Webster must have endlessly wondered how it all went wrong. It's an achingly painful story, one which ends with a former basketball star dying, alone, in the bathtub of a Tulsa hotel.
There are dozens of beautiful basketball stories, of players who overcame adversity to achieve greatness, of coaches and parents who give selflessly to help young men and women. It is those stories which draw us into the comforting life of a sports fan, and they sustain us when people such as David Stern and Clay Bennett stick their noses into our entertainment.
But the lying in wait on the flip side of those heartwarming stories are the stories of such men as Marvin Webster. Webster watched his career disappear, watched his marriage evaporate, watched his son die as a college sophomore, and then watched his health deteriorate to the point he died before reaching the age of 60.
In that same SI article, Webster mentioned Marvin Jr., who at that point was about to enroll at Temple. "They call him Eraser Jr.," Webster said. "One day he calls me up, says, 'Dad, everybody here knows who you are.' I smiled. Not all former athletes admit it, but I will. It's nice to be remembered."
Rest in peace, Marvin.
Tuesday, April 7
I really had little interest in this year's tournament (its boringness has been dissected elsewhere), but when Williams and UNC appeared on the screen Monday night, well, it was quite easy to find a rooting interest.
At one time, there were NBA coaches who generated that sort of animosity (this guy for one; maybe him; and this fella bugged a few people a decade ago, but not so much anymore), but that era has sort of ended, no? Of the 30 coaches working right now, is there anyone who gets people riled up?
Monday, April 6
After slogging through the first quarter of the book, I came to Yergin's analysis of World War I, and how oil played a role in that horrific bloodbath. I was especially interested, in that I had spent the past year reading every book I could on WWI (don't ask; I get obsessed with weird topics sometimes).
Sadly, Yergin's focus on tanks and supply lines was totally out of whack with the facts, and it ruined the rest of the book for me. While previous to that point of the story I was swallowing everything he wrote, all subsequent chapters came with hesitation in my eyes. After all, if he could be so wrong about the section which I knew alot about, how wrong was he about the rest?
That's a rather long-winded reference to this piece from ESPN's Tom McKean at TrueHoop today. McKean compiles a list of teams that failed to win championships despite posting phenomenal regular season records over an extended period of time.
And, yes, your favorite basketball team is right there, sandwiched between the Blazers and the Knicks. I won't repeat everything McKean wrote (you should read the article in its entirety), but I will copy this portion:
In 1996, Seattle reached the NBA Finals, but fell to the Bulls in 6 games. During that era, to be the best, a team most likely had to go through Chicago, and the problem was that Seattle was 4-12 against the Bulls between 1991-98 when Michael Jordan played, including playoff games.
To which my astonished inner reader responded, "Uh, come again?" Is his contention that the reason the Sonics failed to win a championship during George Karl's tenure was Michael Jordan?
Think back to that time frame. When Wally Walker canned Karl, was it because he lost to the Bulls in the NBA Finals, or because the Sonics imploded in the first round so often? Obviously, it was the latter, right?
I don't mean to belittle McKean's article, and I'm sure he spent a considerable amount of time culling together candidates for the story, but, as I did when reading The Prize last year, I was left with a slightly bewildered and disappointed feeling after I read it. If he can be that wrong about a crucial element of the Sonics' failure, how wrong is he about the rest of the article?
In the new book When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball, author Seth Davis takes a look at the game that put basketball on the map: the 1979 NCAA championship match-up between the Michigan State Spartans and the Indiana State Sycamores.
The book starts out with a group of TV execs arguing about how to cover the big game. After some angry words, they finally agree to focus almost exclusively on the two stars of the game, Michigan State's Magic Johnson and Indiana State's Larry Bird. Unprecedented at the time, this kind of "superstar" promotion was soon picked up by the NBA (something David Stern is always quick to take credit for) and the rest, as they say, is history.
Davis does a great job of not only delving into the behind-the scenes shenanigans, but also taking a closer look at Bird and Magic during an era when few of us knew them.
In the book, Davis also mentions how in 1979 no one was paying attention to basketball, and even the NBA Finals were shown on tape-delay. Yes, the Sonics' only championship was relegated to the late-night realm of infomercials. Sigh.
Despite this depressing history lesson, When March Went Mad is a terrific book and highly recommended for hoop nerds of all ages.
Friday, April 3
Luckily, C. Vivian Stringer, the Rutgers women's head coach, made it in. You know, because it would be a shame if the coach of a team that couldn't beat the majority of varsity high school teams in the country was barred from receiving an honor from the association which honors the best basketball players and coaches in the world.
No word yet on if Don Imus will introduce Stringer.
Monica Guzman of the PI with the story of Barry Hayes, a former Sonic season-ticket holder who placed a curse on the Sonix, and now believes it has something to do with the the team's (and, perhaps, the ownership's) poor performance in the past six months.
Cue overly defensive comments from Oklahoma residents in three ... two ...
Wednesday, April 1
"I figured if that Donaldson dude could run for mayor, I could easily be Governor," explained Kemp. "I mean, that guy was 7-2 and could barely dunk! I'm the Reign-Man, (expletive)!"
Despite being a five-time All-Star, Kemp is a political unknown. When pressed on his policies, Kemp summed up his views in two words:
"Legalize it. Seriously, why are we still putting people in jail for pot? Do you know how much tax revenue this country could bring in from the Trailblazers alone?"
Kemp, who spent the past decade battling weight, drug and alcohol problems while attempting a prolonged comeback to the NBA, has not ruled out a return to basketball.
"I've still got game. I just beat Patty Murray in a little one-on-one last week, and have no doubt I'm up to the task of dunking on Gregoire."
"Also, did you know that Donaldson was born in England? Seriously, what's up with that?"