The Anatomy of a 400th Win Starring Doug Collins, Will Smith, Doc Rivers, Elton Brand, Trayvon Martin and Black Star
Rest in poetic pugilistic prominence Mr. Bert Sugar…
This is not a recap but a story. This is Boston vs. Philly. This is ESPN NBA Friday night. This is Will Smith. This is too close for comfort in the Atlantic Division standings. This is Elton Brand talking about Trayvon Martin. This is condemning the action before the reaction. This is my commentary. This is Doug Collins. This is Doug Collins emotional…after his team pulled away from the Celtics 99-86 and secured his 400th win as an NBA coach. Read without prejudice…
It was 80 degrees Friday. Seemed like one of those days. The drive into the city was relaxing. Good music. Chill thoughts. Serious thoughts. Sun roof popped. There was an anticipation of something dope. Black Star’s first offering was in the chamber. Re: Definition glossed my mind.
Mad traffic but it was cool. I don’t road rage unless I envision someone running my family off the road. It was nice to be out. The time was about 4:30 pm. Took me a half hour to get where I was going. This was an 8:00 start.
Pulled into the Wells Fargo parking lot and was excited to see an actual empty spot in the first row closest to the arena.
The bass of Definition was booming. It was time to document everything…no matter that this is really just another regular season game. I had no questions in mind but the soundtrack on the ride here gave a sense of clarity.
Walked into the media entrance, received my credential, heard the door buzz…open space. The underbelly of any arena pregame is how I envision the Stock Exchange sans millions of paper. Movement everywhere. Security. Ushers. Big bags with wheels trailing Dream Team members smelling of the smile on their faces. Front office folk. TV and radio announcers. Those responsible for everything necessary to make an NBA night happen.
The media room doors were closed so everyone here with ESPN could get something to eat before the nationally televised production. I checked to see where I was sitting in press row, grabbed a media packet and headed out to the floor. I couldn’t miss Jesus shoot…
Perfect timing. Ray Allen, nursing an ankle injury and not playing on this night does not disappoint and goes through his impressive pregame routine. He is always the first shooter out. All of the arena lights aren’t on yet. Allen hits shots until he has a lather going. Then a trainer counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…counting the made shots in succession that allows him to move to the next spot. Then 1-10. At one point it seems he hits 40 straight…near and far.
K. O. S. (Determination) is jazzing through my mind and trumpets every Ray Allen bucket like bass cracking a net. I’m inspired by Mr. Shuttlesworth’s most talented display that enabled him to become one of the best all time doing what he does…flinging the rock into an NBA another bucket made dimension.
He exits and on the other end I spot Sixers assistant coach Aaron McKie enter the court still looking as if he could put on some NBA 48 minute kicks. Before I hit the floor I see a buddy of mine I haven’t seen in at least 25 years…Mike Finnegan. We catch up and I head on over to McKie to see what’s been going on with him. We talk Trayvon. Emotions abound. I told him I guaranteed a win. He laughs. I sit court side. Trainers are working out players from both teams up and down the edges of the floor. Media members are talking to one another. The buzz begins and no fans are present. On both sides of the floor, players are laughing with folks they know in private conversations. This is their respite before their true respite. Elton Brand comes off. We chat. I give him a choice. He obliges…
(Photo credit: Larry Little)
Yes, I’m in there hoodie representing…
Michael Tillery: Black story captivating our nation. Young Trayvon Martin murdered. Black athletes will be asked to speak…
Elton Brand: “Black athletes…you know the pros…will be asked to speak because we’ve been there. Especially the ball players. I’ve worn a hoodie walking taking a short cut through a nicer area (he laughs) knowing what I know good. It’s sad to see this happen. It could have been any of us. It could have definitely been me as a young teenager.”
MT: You are a father. How does this hit you with that in mind?
Too real for you?
EB: “That could be my son. It’s heart wrenching. I’m not into law or anything so I don’t know what’s going on with the Florida state rules. I’m just hearing from the streets the guy (George Zimmerman) is not in jail and hasn’t been arrested. That really makes this crazy because he took a life.”
MT: Do you think white reporters should ask white athletes of Trayvon Martin or is this exclusively a Black story?
EB: “This is an American story. I think white journalists should ask white and Black athletes alike to see what their opinions are because I know it’s different. In some states guys are allowed to carry (licensed guns) openly. Stand your ground…whatever that law is…is crazy. I’ve never been around that growing up in New York, playing in Chicago…Philly and LA. I’ve never been in the south in different parts where those rules apply. So I think you should ask guys. I remember Chris Kaman…when I played with him…was a big gun advocate.
He had all types of guns. AR 15’s. He goes hunting. He has big guns. Twitter pics of guns. If I took a twitpic of a gun it would be a different story so I think we should show both sides. ”
Please do not misconstrue EB’s words. Imagine if he or other NBA Black players created the video above. How would that be perceived? Neither Elton nor I are saying Chris Kaman is involved in anything illegal. This isn’t about Chris but more about the perception. A perception that continues to be. A Gilbert Arenas perception that blankets the league. A Black man off the court perception. How do we change this? How do we show America that innocent Black men are not to be killed like it’s nothing? How many cases have we seen where white folks have gotten away with murder? In our community, we grew up seeing images of Emmett Till’s bloated body after he was senselessly killed in 1955. We see Oscar Grant’s murder on video. I was pissed we cared more about The Decision of LeBron James more than the Oscar Grant verdict the very same day. When will this stop? Why are Black folks in jail for lesser crimes and George Zimmerman is walking free? How will we as Black people begin to understand we have to come together and stop the killing of our own by our own? Yes, even in the context of Trayvon’s death there must be perspective.
As Elton spoke above, I’m no law scholar, but since George Zimmerman has not been charged and no forensic evidence exists, how will he be convicted? I’m asking folks to understand this potential fact and prepare yourselves emotionally now. You know what’s coming down the pike, so please judge yourselves accordingly. Anger will be there, but please…all of us…remain or try to remain…productive and let’s all devise a plan to counteract these detestable killings of our future. The gun laws aren’t helping.
Is this really necessary?
White folks…and others…who care just as much to see justice served, you are no enemy. Please don’t assume you are. Understand why Blacks are upset (this is disturbing). Think of how much you would be upset if Trayvon Martin was your son. See it in those terms and nothing else. Please. That young Black men are gunned down without much national outrage outside of the Black community is part of the reason why Blacks were so upset when Mike Vick received two years in jail. Do you understand how illogical that is? Please stay there and think about how this would appear if Black men everywhere were gunning down young white kids and getting off. Why shouldn’t Blacks be upset?
How can we get past this?
The NBPA released a statement Friday regarding Trayvon. Since it has been reported Trayvon was trying to get home to watch the NBA All Star game before he was killed, will the NBA itself release a statement as well? How about Mars…the parent company of Skittles? The candy is getting a lot of free press. What statement…if any…will they make? I hope both the NBA and Mars does the right thing but will they? Get down there in Sanford Florida and offer some sort of presence. No one is talking empty token dollars. See this through. NBA we are watching…
Locker rooms open. The Celtics don’t generally talk pregame (when I walked up to one player I could see at least six of the younger cats watch me like hawks), but I speak off the record with a few players who state because they have been on the road and haven’t watched TV or read papers, they know nothing of Trayvon. I explain to them that they will be asked questions and to do research. This is why some athletes shouldn’t be asked social questions. It is logical that because of the encapsulated 66 game season that many NBA players have no idea what’s going on in the world. Games are played and sleep happens…barely in their own beds. Half the games have been played, so routines are clock work…but…If they didn’t know, now they know.
OK…at this point I’m in desperate need of Respiration…
Doc Rivers is speaking to a throng about his son Austin. It’s been reported he’s declared for the upcoming NBA draft. Very unique situation forthcoming being Doc i’s one of the best NBA coaches and his son is so highly touted. Doc is engaging. I go in:
MT: Have you thought of the possibility of him (Austin) being a Celtic?
Doc Rivers: “That would be interesting (everyone laughs). I don’t think I’m legally allowed to say anything about his decision or else I’d get fined…talking about my son (we crack up again because of Doc’s sarcasm).”
The conversation shifts to Doc being at the top of the technical list this season and why Ray Allen pulled himself out of this game after the shoot around I earlier spoke of. Mickael Pietrus starts in his place. I wanted to get Doc’s thoughts on this game so I ask an obvious question:
MT: Is there an importance in this game being you and the Sixers are so close in the standings?
Doc: “Yeah yeah. It’s an important game. It’s important for both teams. But you know…like I always say…it’s important right now. It’s important during the game but after the game it’s one game. If it was the last game of the year and the winner wins the division then it’s a huge game. If we win tonight and then don’t take care of business the rest of the year? It’s the same with them but the season series is always on the line when we play each other so every time we play each other it’s important.”
MT: Considering how the season has gone, do you see yourself in a good position?
Doc: “No, I would rather be in their position. Give me the position where you are on top. Always…because it doesn’t matter how and when you win during the season. It matters that you win more than any other team. So if you win them all at the beginning of the season and struggle down the stretch and still win your division, you still win your division. So, I don’t think it really matters.”
This is fun with Doc because as I said earlier, he talks to us. The topic now is hard fouls NBA then and NBA now.
MT: What’s the happy medium between the old game and how it is now?
Doc: “I don’t know. Disadvantage, advantage. That’s what I’ve always argued. You know when it’s a tough foul. It doesn’t do anything to affect the play. If it affects the play then blow your whistle. I think that’s simple. It’s easier. I think it’s hard for the officials. I really do. I’ve said it in their defense. They have so much to call now. It’s very hard on them. They have a hard job.”
MT: The outrage over Jason Smith’s foul on Blake Griffin…
Doc: “Outrage? Who is outraged?”
MT: We shouldn’t be but it seems like there’s a lot of attention…
Doc: “Listen, we don’t see that often anymore. You don’t want anybody getting hurt. You never want that in our league but sometimes physical play is physical play and you just get up and keep playing.”
I’m of the belief that Jason Smith’s foul was nothing. He got Blake before the take off and if the leaper can’t handle such a foul that’s his problem. What happened to the no layup rule?
Remember this “No layups!” hilarity by the then named Ron Artest?
Mickael Pietrus comes out of the locker room and I remind him about a convo we had a few years back about his unmistakable resemblance to sick lyricist Jay Electronica shortly after Victory Is In My Clutches dropped. He laughed after remembering and says he’s a fan and that “Jay is his twin”.
Yeah then there was a game. The crowd of 19,583 was hungry for a Sixers win after so many recent losses. That this game was also on TV gave the fans even more reason to see the Sixers win in front of a nationally televised audience. Games vs. the Heat and Bulls in similar circumstances resulted in losses and fans would not react kindly if the Atlantic Division leading Sixers lost their lead to Boston on ESPN. Had many conversations with fellow writers John Mitchell and Devon Givens about the game and the Sixers current state before taking our seats in press row. The Celtics came out hot. Kevin Garnett, Black Pharaoh to the TSF faithful, wanted this and so did Paul Pierce. The two veterans and probable Hall of Famers had to make up for the absence of Ray Allen…another Hall of Fame player waiting to happen. Sixers were down in the first quarter and gave up 32 points in the frame…a season high. When the aforementioned Mickael Pietrus…Allen’s replacement in the starting five…threw one down over Spencer Hawes, we didn’t know what to expect in press row.
It was a dunk that definitely got a rise out of many green shirts in attendance. That is always an interesting sight in Philly because even to this day Boston is seen as the Cowboys are to the Eagles…just as hated. Since this rivalry is finally heating up as both teams play to the middle in seemingly ascending and falling paths, it will be interesting how Philly responds when the Celtics come into town. The new ownership has gotten the good word out and for the most part, fans are claiming seats in ways we haven’t seen since Iverson sped up and down the floor and into the 2000 NBA Finals.
When Will Smith entered the arena, crowd noise went to another level. He and Jada are part owners in the franchise and seeing him in the building lit up facebook and twitter like no other games before the Smiths bought a stake in the team. Will’s bodyguards and also Sixers ushers had a hard time keeping fans away from the Fresh Prince and you could also see that the Dream Team positioned close by was also excited. Fans wanted pictures of the hometown son made Hollywood good and Will for the most part granted the wishes of those getting past security. He smiled, he laughed with Charlie Mack…the first out the limo and clapped whenever the Sixers played great. When the unfortunate injury to Pietrus happened with 5:08 left in the half, there was obvious concern. The game was delayed for 10 minutes and the only thing we were told on press row was that Pietrus suffered a closed head injury as he was carted off to an awaiting ambulance.
Pietrus has since been diagnosed with a concussion. Scary moment and hopefully he’ll return to the court soon. In the last minutes of the half, both teams tried to get it back but the play was sloppy. After halftime, the Sixers shot out of the tunnel like a team wanting and needing to stay in first place and outscored the Celtics 37-17 in the 3rd quarter. Elton Brand had 14 of those points and as the game became a sure Sixers win, the only outcome in doubt was if the Sixers would score 100 so everyone in attendance could get that free Big Mac. It was not to be as the Sixers stalled at 99 and sure to Philly, the crowd booed as if they lost a Game 7 in a really ugly way. Doug got his 400th win. Doug Collins is just as emotional as Dick Vermeil was when he was leading the Eagles and later the Rams to Super Bowls. Doug wanted this win bad and despite last night’s loss in San Antonio and Boston’s win in DC, the Sixers still cling to the Atlantic Division lead by a half game. They play the up and coming Cavs here Tuesday.
Three more short locker room stops and this is a wrap. First up is one of the Sixers guards who handles the rock, Evan Turner. He’s surprised many this year with his get after it floor personality. I wonder if he knows of the rivalry that is Celtics/Sixers?
MT: You all are new to this. Has it began to sink in…the Celtics/Sixers rivalry?
Evan Turner: “I didn’t know it was a rivalry to tell you the truth but we’re focused on winning games and playing good basketball.”
MT: You all came out at the half. Talk about that third quarter.
ET: “Coach told us at halftime we needed to focus on playing well and not messing up and keeping the pressure on them.”
MT: Ohio State is moving into the great stages of the NCAA tournament. You up on March Madness?
ET: “A little bit. More focused on my job but of course I hope we win them all. When it comes to a Final Four situation, it’s all about how the ball rolls. Hopefully we show up and play great basketball.”
Ohio State surely did…
Next up is Thaddeus Young. He’s the do everything player for the Sixers who really doesn’t care about any deserved shine coming his way. It’s good talking to the young fella after a win. I also wanted to get from him what it’s like to play a game with Kevin Garnett on the floor.
MT: There was a specific play in the third where you got your hand in between ball and man that ignited that huge run.
Thaddeus Young: “Those plays start runs. They are energy plays. It’s big for us. We are a team that thrives off energy and getting out on the break in transition. I know I can do something just by helping guys out when they need that help.”
MT: What’s it like playing against Kevin Garnett on the floor? Is he a different type of player regarding what he’s speaking to his teammates, what he’s doing and what he’s saying to you?
TY: “He’s definitely one of the most vocal players I’ve ever played against. He’s always talking and directed guys on his team offensively and defensively. He’s talking stuff that’s for sure. He’s the player you want to shut up but you respect him a lot because of some of the things he’s done throughout his career. You also respect him because he’s still proving he can do it by making shots to put his team in a great position to win.”
MT: What will you say to the player you go up against when you become Kevin Garnett?
TY: “When I become Kevin Garnett, I’m definitely telling that younger cat to be scared. Be very scared of me (we crack up). I’m gonna try to make it easy on myself when I get old so a player knows what’s up. KG is that dude because he gets the job done. I hope I’m able to do the same when I become his age.”
Last up is Elton Brand. He of the 20 point game Elton Brand. He wanted this win for his coach. He wanted this win for himself and more importantly, he wanted this win for his teammates.
MT: Last time I was here we talked about watching the standings. It was before the Knicks game you lost. How important was it to get this win here tonight?
EB: “We gotta watch these games. We have to stay ahead of those guys. We don’t want to slide behind them. They are too good. It boosts our confidence and our psyche staying ahead of them.”
MT: When I saw you go after a board, you went after it. The shots you took were in rhythm and with serious confidence. Something bigger was in mind tonight it seemed.
EB: “Yeah. Yeah. It was to win this game. The goal was to win this game. There was a playoff intensity out there. They wanted this game and we had to go take it from them. They are a veteran laden team and are not going to give us anything.”
MT: How important is it to have Will Smith here?
EB: “It’s great having Will here. He brings a lot of excitement and a lot of fans. Fans come just to get a glimpse of him. It’s good to have him here. Especially when we get a win.”
Finally the Sixers got out of Friday with a victory and the last track on my mind was the one below and it brought the night to a chill close.
With so many emotions running through our minds, it was a peace way to end the night. It was a night to congratulate Doug Collins but sports it seemed are still farthest from my mind. In the coming days, we’ll see how many athletes will speak out on behalf of Trayvon Martin. Now we must remember it’s their choice because to be honest, that athletes are the most visible citizens in the Black community doesn’t sit right. Come on people. Get up and get out. Before the anger takes control, be perceptive. Use your voice. Talk to your kids. This is all of us. Everyone should see and understand this is a very critical time and while death is inevitable, that it happens sooner than expected should wake us all up to how we settle the aftermath. Be careful out there if you live or enter a Stand Your Ground state. This is a time for us all to learn so make it happen on and off the game of life floor.
Two tributes…Hip Hop is making the right noise…
“The message is only White life is protected in America!” – Jasiri X
Who is next? Step up! Fear is a construct of the mind…