An interview with Skip Bayless will be posted when he gets back from vacation. I didn’t want to post it while he wasn’t on First Take. Any thoughts? Trust me, it’s sicker than ya average (Skip’s int.).
I wanted to save this piece in case these teams face each other in June, but since the NBA has been full of surprises this season, I thought I’d give it to you now. This runs because the Los Angeles Lakers swept both Boston and Cleveland recently and look to be the best in the NBA. As you well know, they didn’t win on this day.
As I exited the green line North Station stop in Boston my face went Philly rough because I didn’t know what to expect this being my initial visit to Boston. The trip up was long but gave me a chance to absorb every second and process the experience frame by frame.
This was Lakers Celtics.
Take a moment and visualize years of all time great clashes these historic franchises slammed through history just when the time was right. The NBA is different than other leagues, for just when you think it’s no longer epic a KG scream smacks you back to reality with the violent love of a Griff dunk (yeah…growl like it). I was pretty upset the day or so before not getting on the NBA Finals conference call with Magic and Larry, but that feeling of frustration was now grounded in child like giddiness mixed with professional anticipation.
I wanted to be comfortable on the ride up, so I rocked a black T with a huge likeness of the late great, Black Frank White, Biggie Smalls.
I’m defiant in that kinda way. I can’t help it. I try, but I always treat life as an experiment. I want to see the minds through the eyes when potential prejudice has a chance to boil to the surface. I wanted to see if the city’s reputation was accurate.
I expected the worse which was unfortunate, but it gave me a sense of awareness. I’ve heard many stories regarding how Blacks are treated up south.
To my surprise and rightful embarrassment, many people smiled and when I needed directions, the first person I asked gave them succinctly. I was very impressed.
I could hear the distinctive Boston accent as I passed pub after Irish pub on the way to the TD Banknorth Garden. Some voices were drunken, but happy, for this moment felt special. The city knew it was on the brink of another banner and sucked in the moment from the not too distant past. My steps felt like Barry Bonds rounding second thunder as he caught his Reggie Jax stride. That’s what it felt like, time travel. That’s how the city struck me. I felt like Manny stepping out of Cleveland, Bucky before the on deck circle, Coach Don before the Pedro mug.
Enough of the hype…
First stop was the media trailer to pick up my credential. I could feel my eyes go cat like as I approached a security check point. The media present waited in line and behind me I could hear the recognizable voice of Bill Plaschke from the L.A. Times. I hadn’t met Bill, so I introduced myself, told him I would speak to him later inside, picked up my credential and continued into the building.
I needed to change, so I found a empty office and got fresh dressed (no Polo cologne). I could feel the arena rise as the moment grew near. Hmm this is gonna be hot I thought to myself.
Lemme see what’s happenin’ on the floor…
What? Seemed like everyone I saw was familiar. Jo Jo White was speaking to Cornbread Maxwell near the scorer’s table looking jazzy chill just like the player he was. There were luminaries everywhere. I didn’t know if I was comin’ or goin’. Who to talk to? I gripped my recorder so tight I almost crushed it. Camera men were everywhere.
First stop was a lady cop who was just too fine…
“Uh. Good gosh Mrs. officer.”
“Can I help you?”
“I think this is too good to be true…like I’m robbing something. Can you put my hands behind my back?”
“(Laughs) You’re not from around here are you?”
“No, but I could be. You are outstanding. Like my boy AG says…supa tough! You sure you are a policewoman?”
“(Giggles) I’m not sure that’s a compliment or not. Yes I am sir. Thank you. You have a nice evening.”
“You do the same.”
I chuckled and…
bumped into Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe. Gotta get him on the mic and wax rivalry nostalgic…
Michael Tillery: Bob, you’ve seen all of this. This right here. Is this going to be disappointing for the fans if the series doesn’t meet the fans expectations?
Bob Ryan: Everyone is going to be disappointed if this isn’t at least a six game series and something memorable…something to talk about. It’s the ideal ’08 match up of a great offensive team and a great defensive team, best player in the game and the best story in the game which is the rise once again of the Celtics. Throw in all the history. The history is fun for you and I in the media Michael, but these guys have to make the new history. This is the best stylistic match up.
Mizzo: Obvious question. I’m sure everyone has asked you this leading up to this very scene, but what is your favorite Boston/Lakers moment?
Bob Ryan: Well it depends on whose eyes is viewing it and from what side.
Mizzo: Granted. I’m looking at it from your eyes and you being from this area presently. I know you are from New Jersey.
Bob Ryan: You are a good man for knowing that son.
Mizzo: It’s my job.
Bob Ryan: Glad you take it seriously. Yes, I grew up in New Jersey and I was a neutral for a long time. I knew that…No, I believed that the most satisfying moment for any long time Celtic fan–who lived through the ’60’s…and the ’80’s…through ’69. Beating that team in ’69, Russell’s last game. Beating Wilt, Jerry, Elgin…Keeping the balloons in the ceiling. Winning that series with a team that finished 4th in the conference…and was clearly spending the whole season getting ready for the playoffs…saving its energy. To come out and beat the Lakers, that’s the most satisfying one…without question.
For the 80’s? Clearly ’84. And you could cite individual memories of ’84.
The seventh game was anticlimactic. It wasn’t as good a game as Game 2. The best game was Game 4…
Game 5 was the game that was 97 degrees (on the floor). That was Bird’s great game…many memories.
If you are a Laker fan? I’m pretty sure…I’m willing to bet your favorite memory was Magic’s hook ’87 Game 4.
Mizzo: The junior, junior, junior sky hook?
Bob Ryan: Yes.
I would like to hear a Laker fan’s perspective. Now if you are a real sentimentalist, the idea of Kareem being the MVP in ’85 at age 38 and bouncing back from an atrocious Game 1 to play so well the rest of the series and get Sportsman of the Year out of it. That has to be a highlight for any Laker fan.
Mizzo: When you see a player like Dr. J walking around here (crazy, but I see him out the corner of my eye talking to Kobe on the floor. I don’t know how I kept my composure to finish this interview), do you think he had a hand in the development of Magic and Larry being they had to go through him?
Bob Ryan: When Larry was a rookie, the reigning figure in the game was Dr. J. That was his benchmark player. I can assure you. I know this to be true. That’s the player he felt awed by and the player he wanted to compete with in the league. Dr. J was the standard in 1979 so absolutely you are to be true. Great question young man. They lost to the Sixers in the 1980 playoffs in five games. It was a major major break through for them to win in the ’81 seven game series coming from 3-1 down. One of the most emotional games as a fan as I’ve covered in 38 years was Game 7 in ’81.
Down nine, with four minutes and change to go…
Mizzo: I’m from Philly, so you are killing me right now.
Bob Ryan: Sorry.
Well, they kept their whistles in their pockets as if to say go ahead boys, duke it out. The Sixers got one point in the last ten possessions and that was on a free throw that they didn’t earn…bad call. It was a charge or block on Cheeks and Henderson. Bird hits the go ahead basket on a banker, breaks the tie…after they mauled Darryl Dawkins. Three guys did. No call. Beating them was a great win. So absolutely! Dr. J and the 76’ers were the benchmark for Boston. That year when they defeated the Houston Rockets in the Finals it was almost anticlimactic.
Mizzo: One more Mr. Ryan. Could this arena here ever get the respect of the old Boston Garden? Even when I say the name, I get chills and I’m a Sixers fan.
Bob Ryan: No modern arena with all this extraneous irrelevant nonsense, will be as good as the Boston Garden, the old Madison Square Garden…either MSG, Chicago Stadium or the old Spectrum with Dr. J. That was when it was just basketball. People brought their own excitement. They weren’t told when to cheer. They didn’t need cheerleaders. They didn’t have all the exploding stuff and noise and flames and smoke. People made more noise than they do now. Now they are programmed.
Mizzo: Can Kevin Garnett become a Celtic in the sense of A Rod not becoming a true Yankee?
Bob Ryan: I don’t think he’s facing that rap. I think people love Kevin Garnett. They are happy with what he’s brought here…swiftly to turn it around defensively. He’s had a great year. They question with him…is…will…he break out of the selfless team guy a little more often in the big moments and stop passing the ball to people when he should be shooting it?
He keeps doing that. It’s not because he’s afraid. He just totally avoids it to a fault.
Mizzo: Yes, it’s his respect for the game.
Bob Ryan: Yes. There’s no other rap. None. He’s very respected and liked here.
Mizzo: Thank you so much sir.
Bob Ryan: No thank you. I enjoyed this. Good luck…
That was peace getting something from a true Boston legend but my attention turns to the floor. Everything slows down to deep baritone molasses. Balls bounce to the same beat. I just so happen to have 1-9-9-9 echoing just so Rawkus like all through my brain which prepared me for the scene I was about to enter.
I walk on the court and almost bump into Kobe Bryant who is warming up. My bad Beans…
The Lakers pr guy (not John Black) is going crazy (dude was trippin’) because right behind Kobe, Doc is being interviewed by about ten journalists. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. Doc was joking with Kobe in true Grandfather like fashion and made the moment a diamond mine even though this dude was hatin’.
I know he’s doing his job, but Doc? Kobe? Finals?
Stop trippin’. This is once in a lifetime. I’m getting this interview no matter what.
Lakers PR guy: I’m stopping this right now! I can’t have this here!
Mizzo: Respectfully, but do you understand how profound this moment is?
Lakers PR guy: The team is warming up. I can’t…I can’t have this!
Mizzo: Ok man! Chill. Wow how come I’m the only one talking? What am I the bouncer (Journalists laugh)?
Julius Erving: Come on fellas, let’s get it (to his credit, the pr guy relaxed).
He’s asked about the traditional NBA franchises–notably the Knicks…
Doc: Philadelphia hasn’t been to the Finals in 25 years…well they’ve been to the Finals, just haven’t won them. Boston hasn’t been to the finals in 21 years. They’ve won more than any franchise in history, so for the Knicks to have lean times. They’ve only won two championships. So are all the other years lean times? It’s all or nothing in New York. They want to win every year. They’ve won twice in 60 years. I wouldn’t be so hard on them. Just like I wouldn’t be so hard on Isiah’s tenure there.
On Boston Game 7’s:
Doc: We had seven games in ’82 where we won and seven games in ’81when they won. They had the home court advantage in ’81-’82. We got a split, went home and won two. They won here and won there (Philly). We came here for game seven with the exact same script, but with a different ending. That’s where we heard the “beat LA” chants. I was shocked by it. Individually there was always a red 6 up there (painted in the stands because of Doc’s collegiate years at the University of Massachusetts) and the fans were always kind to me individually.
They were never kind to the Sixers or our wives, girlfriends or compatriots. When that happened it definitely had shock value. Really, we didn’t know what they were saying. Then it sank in.
Mizzo: Doc, do you think you had a hand in the personal development of Magic and Bird because they most likely had to go through Philly at some point of and on?
Doc: Their story began with their NCAA clash.
When they got to the pros, that first year Magic had to go through the 76’ers. Subsequent years Boston had to go through Philly or Milwaukee. Certainly we had a hand. Every great player…Magic and Larry were two of the greatest ever…is great because of who they compete against. It’s not just about how talented they are and how they look when they are performing but who they are performing against. Greatness comes out of players by competing at the highest level.
Mizzo: Do you think they appreciate that when they came into the league you were in the twilight of an amazing career and when they left, Mike was there. Now it’s Kobe. We talked about this when you were in Philly. Could you elaborate more on that historical connection?
Doc: There are certain players in the history of the league…when you mention their name…Elgin would be in that category…the Hawk (Connie Hawkins)…Dr. J…Michael Jordan…Kobe Bryant. You are talking about the individuals more than the teams. Their individual approach to the game certainly overshadowed the team.
It’s so important for players of that gift to find a way to adapt and adjust and make less more. Kobe has done less this year so the team can do more. They don’t need him to score 81 points any given night. It still might happen over the course of the season, but if it happened in one of these playoff games they probably wouldn’t win that game.
Mizzo: With that being said Julius, you didn’t have to develop a jumper as early as Mike and certainly not as early as Kobe. Is that because the team dynamic has changed over the years?
Doc: My game evolved in three different stages. Obviously the first five years in the ABA, then the first five in the NBA and then the last six years. I was almost three different players because I had to adjust and adapt. Obviously when we got Moses in ’83, there was a significant adjustment, but I always played the same position of small forward.
Michael moving to the back court and Kobe who played swing man, those guys were viewed as guards, so hence the evolution. Guards control the game now.
I was the first guy since Oscar Robertson in 1965, who was a non-center to win the Most Valuable Player Award. There was a time in there where the forwards…myself, Bird, Magic to a degree because he was a big guard who played all the positions…were the focus of the league and its championship teams. They had to have that guy, but now it’s the guards.
Magic spearheaded that. Michael moving to the back court and developing a three point shot adding range to his game. In his first five years he posted up more, played the wing, played the corners.
When I was in the ABA I shot threes. I was all over the court. It was a freewheeling and different scenario.
In Philadelphia…especially with Gene Shue…it was a major adjustment. I was willing to do that for the good of the team. We won fifty some odd years in my first year in Philly and went to the Finals (losing to Portland). It validated that it was the right thing to do even though individually I could score at will and on anyone but resting in the fourth quarter was not an option.
Mizzo: Doc I talked to Mo that same day and asked him why he didn’t pass you the ball on that last basket in ’83. What do you think he said?
Doc: (Laughs) I don’t know because I was most definitely calling for it. What did he say he didn’t see me? He just…(laughs more). He didn’t see me. I was yelling.
Mizzo: Yeah, he said he didn’t see you.
Doc: Usually, you didn’t have to yell at Mo. Darryl Dawkins…(Kobe interrupts to whisper something to Doc)…said Mo had the “Doc eye”. It wasn’t working that day (laughs). I didn’t know he could dunk like that.
I like you bridging the love. I’m really interested in talking of this more with you. I can give you some stories. Gimme a call.
Mizzo: (trying not to stutter) Yes sir. I most certainly will. Thanks so much.
As I walk away with a smile straight cheese, the moment was a little bit bittersweet. Under the basket in skivvies was Andrew Bynum. AB was visibly upset he wasn’t able to participate and I don’t blame him. I assume he was diggin’ the whole scene of Doc being interviewed and his mates settling into game mode getting hype in the layup line. I asked him if he wanted to say anything, but he was too upset, so I let him be (we spoke of it later here) and kept it moving.
I’m dead serious when I say I almost broke my recorder because I was gripping it so hard. I felt like I had a million bucks in my hand. After that, it didn’t matter if I didn’t get another interview or watched a minute of the game (who was I kidding?) so I headed up to get something to eat. I walked into the dinner area and spot David Aldridge sitting alone so I walked up to him and told him just how instrumental he was in giving me a sense of confidence. Earlier he announced he was leaving the Philadelphia Inquirer and honestly it was a sad moment. Anthony Gilbert and I spoke of him often because he made the entire game experience comfortable simply being present. He didn’t have to say a word, but DA always greets you with dap and a smile. I just wanted to tell him how important he was to anyone beginning their journalism travel and he always made himself accessible. I am more in awe of him than most players, but DA is grounded in a true sense of humility and professionalism.
Another writer wanted to speak with him, so I headed up to where they were serving dinner (surf and turf), got my plate and sat down in a room where no table was empty but mine. I looked around for Scoop Jax because he said he was coming up but he was no where to be found.
All of the sudden I hear a woman’s voice. She asked, “Where do you want to sit…Kareem?”
I shouted out “Here, he can sit here!” like Ralphie telling his Mom what he wanted for Christmas. When she said OK, I knew this day was too good to be true. I threw my hands up. Man this day was incredible. Every moment fit perfectly.
As Kareem and his assistant sat down next to me all I wanted to do was not make a fool of myself. Should I talk or not talk?
Kareem opened up first. He introduced himself and made the moment peace. We talked about everything basketball. I asked him about coaching. I asked him about Wilt. I asked him about Oscar, Magic, Doc, Pat Riley–with my recorder off. I didn’t want to ruin the moment being some overzealous journalist…there’s a fine line.
He was a little ticked off because he actually had problem getting through security which was absurd but at least he could laugh at himself. He answered everything I asked and was so chill. We had a comedic moment when he spoke of Michael Olowokandi that I can’t elaborate on despite how funny it was. I got so many stares from people who wondered who the hell I was and why was I sitting with the Captain. He’s a really funny cat. We talked about jazz which gave him the opportunity to mention his audio book. His assistant reached over and gave me a copy of On the Shoulders of Giants: An Audio Journey through the Early History of Basketball and I felt like it was Christmas. His assistant then told him he had to hurry because they had a television interview, I thanked him for his conversation, we exchanged contact information and that was that.
Scoop then walks in, I finish up my food, he introduced me to Rob King and I head to my assigned seat to prepare for the game. Spoke with J.A. Adande (need that link J.A.) on the elevator and also met ya boy Jason Whitlock.
You get the picture, it was the Finals, so everyone was there. Just setting the scene.
After James Taylor sang the National Anthem, the intro gave me goosebumps.
What a game it was. Probably the best game I’ve witnessed personally because of its magnitude.
When Paul Pierce went down, the crowd shrieked, but when he returned it gave a great day a great ending.