As a card carrying Basketball Jones, I am excited about the proximity of the upcoming basketball season. (Perhaps you have seen me around campus, sporting the Hardwood Classic throwback jerseys. Incidentally, I am seeing more and more of the younger students doing the same-very cool!)
Since I am an older student, I grew up watching many of the all-time greats, both on television and in person. I often engage in good natured debates with my classmates about G.O.A.T.s (greatest of all time) by position and team. I asked the fine editors of MSM if I could secure page space to record the great players and games that I have witnessed, then compare them with YOUR favorites.
LeBron in Los Angeles? This could be the second coming of Showtime, when Earvin “Magic” Johnson no look passed the Lakers to NBA titles in 1980, 82, 85, 87, and 88. I find it interesting that Lebron, after Kyrie Irving left the team, brought the ball up himself ala Magic and ran the Cavaliers offense. Intriguingly, the Lakers are signing defensive specialists to match up with the Warriors, who are also in the Pacific division. This will make for an interesting regular season, as well as potential playoff masterpieces.
I suspect that Lebron is sizing up the Warriors as his nemesis, standing in the way of his goal-which has to be to match or surpass Michael Jordan’s six championships. James has three rings at this time, two with Miami and one with Cleveland. More on LeBron versus Jordan and Kobe Bryant later in the article- a real hot button topic!
The Boston Celtics are getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back from injuries, fortifying a team that went 55-27 and nearly reached the Finals last spring. Questions circulated over the summer about Haywards fitness after his injury; however, he was tweeting out his workout videos as the playoffs approached last year. Last week I saw a preseason clip of Hayward doing a chase down and block on an opponent’s fast break attempt-great news for Celtics fans.
The first Celtics game I went to was 1983, Atlanta and Boston in the old Garden. I remember the original “Big Three” of Bird, McHale and Parish in their prime. My friends told me to make the third quarter “Larry Bird time”, and focus on what he did with and without the ball. I was not disappointed, as Larry seemed to have his hand in on every play. There is no doubt in my mind that he would excel in today’s game.
The more recent “Big Three” featured Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (or “Jesus Shuttlesworth”, for the fans of Spike Lee films.) This version of Celtics green won a championship in 2008, and then lost Game 7 to the Lakers in 2010.
Junior Justin Maguire, a Marketing and Entrepreneurship major here at UNH, weighed in on his favorite team.
“My earliest Celtics memory is when I went to my first game in 2005 against the Atlanta Hawks when the team was struggling,” Maguire said. “Doc Rivers had just become the head coach, but seeing Paul Pierce was still something I remember.” “My favorite player right now-and even before he was on the Celtics-is Kyrie Irving,” Maguire said. “The way he handles the ball and finds ways to get to the net amazes me.”
One of my favorite sports books is A Thinking Person's Guide to Pro Basketball, by Dave Klein. (Temp Books, 1978). Klein, now 77, is one of a select few writers to have covered every Super Bowl. In this book, he gives his all-time list by position. This gave me the idea to interview UNH students for their all-time list.
Who is on your all-time lineup, Justin?
“Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the 5 (center), Larry Bird and Lebron James at forward, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson at the guard,” said Maguire. “As for the LeBron/ Michael Jordan/ Kobe Bryant question, I would have to say Michael Jordan. Although I did not see him play through highlights I see more killer instincts in Jordan. Also just the pure dominance his team had during his time in Chicago is something that is very hard to do and that has to be respected.”
Senior and Mathematics major Philip Garraud mentioned the Celtics of recent championship vintage as well. “My earliest Celtics memory is from 2008, it was Paul Pierce’s wheelchair game,” Garraud said. “He was carried off the court and came back to score 12 points (against the Lakers) in a matter of minutes. It was also great when they won the championship. Garraud weighed in on his all-time favorites. “I like Kobe better,” he said. “Black Mamba, Kobe system, enough said!" “As for this year,” Garraud said, “I expect the Celtics and (Philadelphia) Sixers to finish at the top of the East, and the Warriors and Rockets to do the same in the West.”
Here I would like to recommend three other very cool basketball books that fans of all ages might enjoy. The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1981) reflects on the brief yet brilliant championship run of the Bill Walton Portland Trailblazers. It also illustrates how a struggling league received a boost from the arrival of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. This is a great historical capsule by the late Halberstam, who also wrote a brilliant Michael Jordan biography (Playing for Keeps, Random House, 1999). The other book is more recent, and many of you might be familiar with, is Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball (Random House, 2009). Simmons is not only statistically accurate in his historical details, he is nostalgic and sarcastically funny.
For the 2018-2019 NBA season, the Celtics do appear loaded for a title run. Challengers in the Eastern Conference have to include Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia Sixers. Last year the Raptors were 59-23, and lost in the Eastern semifinals to LeBron and Cleveland. The training camp edition of ESPN/ nba power rankings show Toronto in the number 4 spot, two slots behind Boston. While I frown on the departure of DeMar DeRozan (I felt the Raptors should have tried harder to keep him), the additions of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Greg Monroe will fortify the team. Leonard strikes me as a modern day Julius “Dr. J.” Erving, with slashing moves, huge ball controlling hands and defensive skills that include shot blocking and steals. I’m not clear what his issues were with San Antonio; I thought he would be the face of the Spurs moving forward.
The Sixers finished 52 and 30 last year, before losing to four games to one to Boston in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They are ranked number 7 in the ESPN preseason power rankings. They have added do it all forward Wilson Chandler to an already strong team. Joel Embiid (finally healthy and allowed to play) and Ben Simmons are great natural talents, and JJ Redick is veteran who has made himself a star through hard work.
While I am not a fan of what Sixers management call “The Process” (I call it tanking to stockpile draft picks, and clear salary cap space-just my opinion), I cannot argue with the results. Philly is in the conversation again, and seeing them play the Celtics brings back fond memories of titanic clashes in the 70s and 80s.
Any perusal of the Eastern conference has to include mention of the Milwaukee Bucks, and their freakishly talented forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although the Bucks lost in the first round of the playoffs (they took the Celtics to seven games), Antetokounmpo’s height is six eleven, and he has a seven-foot three wingspan. He impacts the game in so many different ways. Watch when he plays against LeBron; the two respect one another however are very competitive.
Meanwhile, my beloved New York Knicks suffer from an unpopular owner, and a Kristaps Porzingis ACL injury. Porzingis could be back by December, and the good news is that he has bonded already with new head coach David Fizdale. Also, talented rookies Kevin Knox (Kentucky) and Mitchell Robinson (Western Kentucky) really excelled during the summer league. Six foot eleven center Enes Kanter easily collects points and rebounds like he’s ordering a pizza, and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a real talent.
They were my childhood team, and hard to shake. When the Knicks were championship caliber in the late 60s to early 70s, teamwork, passing and defense were their mantra.
The Knicks also made the Finals twice in the Patrick Ewing era, first losing in seven games to Houston in 1994. They were a John Starks shooting slump away from winning that title, and it is this writer’s belief that they could have beaten the Spurs in 1999 with a healthy Ewing. The fans are so loyal that New York is still one of the highest valued franchises in professional sports. (According to USA Today, they are number one in the NBA at 3.6 billion!)
About four years ago I was walking along Main Street towards Holloway Commons, sporting one of my Knicks jerseys, when a pickup truck full of undergraduate young men yelled that “The Knicks suck!” Based on their record since 2013, I could not argue. I just want to see them contend again in my lifetime- Deliver us from Evil, Coach Fizdale!
Incidentally, I see that Fizdale is having Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier speak to the team’s guards during preseason. Frazier, a lock down defender and master of turning steals into offense during his heyday, might encourage Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson and the other young talented guards to ramp up the defensive pressure.
In a modern manifestation of “the rich getting richer”, the Golden State Warriors managed to sign 6-11 DeMarcus Cousins as a free agent this past summer. (There must be an embedded salary cap guru for the team, to manage all of those superstar paydays; whoever it is can do my taxes anytime.) This gives the defending champions a potential starting five of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and (when he returns healthy) Cousins. Both Cousins and Green are versatile and can be inside and outside threats from the 4 (power forward) and 5 (center) positions. I was a fan of the old Run TMC Warriors of 1989-1991 (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin). That team was always exciting, however Coach Don Nelson could not get them to the Finals. Back then any team relying on the outside shot usually fizzled in the playoffs. The current version of the Warriors are highly skilled shooters in the regular season and playoffs, to go with their other all around skills.
I see the Warriors as not indestructible. In fact, Green’s Game 4 shenanigans and subsequent suspension for Game 5 in the 2016 NBA Finals gave LeBron and the Cavs (at the time down 3 games to 1) a chance to reestablish themselves and win that title. Add to the current team the highly talented yet sometimes volatile Cousins, and Golden State makes for an interesting mix. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is going to earn his salary this year.
Last year the Houston Rockets seemed to be a Chris Paul hamstring away from toppling the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They are adding Carmelo Anthony to a high octane offense that has James Harden and Paul driving, dishing and drilling threes.
In the Western Conference, New Orleans with Anthony Davis and Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns could make things difficult for Golden State and Houston.
Now more on the LeBron/ Kobe/ Michael Jordan discussion.
Having watched Michael Jordan live and on TV for his whole career, including his 1982 NCAA championship game winning shot versus Ewing and Georgetown, I retain him as my choice for number one all time. Jordan had two sets of three consecutive championships. I will say that Scottie Pippen was a huge help to him from 1989 to 1998. LeBron had Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami for four years; then he teamed up with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland for three years. One could argue that Jordan had better teammates for a longer time period.
What LeBron did last year was off the charts. While I do not subscribe to what I heard a sports analyst say during the 2018 playoffs- “LeBron dragged a bunch of corpses to the Finals”-too harsh! - I feel that James cemented his legendary status with his incredible all-around effort. And like Jordan did near the end of his career, he is adjusting his off-season conditioning to extend his prime. (MJ averaged 20 points per game in his final season, while nearly leading the Wizards to the playoffs. He was 40 years old.)
Kobe Bryant, while also coached by Phil Jackson, had three and then two NBA titles. I have many memories of Bryant; perhaps his playoff performance in 2010 was when I saw him at his most clutch. I read a Sports Illustrated article a couple of years ago that described Bryant’s youth basketball leagues. By his own admission, he was not very good as a kid. He is clearly an example of how far hard work can take a player; a true superstar.
UNH students recently weighed in on the debate.
“Michael Jordan was and is my all-time favorite player, and also my brother and Mom liked him,” said UNH Senior Caitlyn Fulton, a Mathematics major. “The best way I can describe Jordan, is that he had stage presence. I can remember watching him play growing up; also I really liked that Space Jam movie.”
“I remember something cool also,” Fulton said. “My mother made a bed stand decoration for my brother, with the Bulls logo on it. Also my brother had the Jordan shoes and apparel.”
I want to now provide my opinion based list of all-time greats by position.
Starting five: Point guard (1) Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Shooting guard (2) Michael Jordan. Small forward (3) Larry Bird. Power forward (4) LeBron James. Center (5) Bill Russell
My bench: Tim Duncan (Power forward-center), Julius “DR.J” Erving, (small forward), Rick Barry (small forward), Kobe Bryant (guard-small forward), Walt “Clyde” Frazier (point guard), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (center), Scottie Pippen ( small forward-guard).
So many great players to narrow it down! I want to invite any members of the UNH community to forward me their list and comments:
Speaking to the younger students at UNH, I discovered that many of them-while embracing individual sports-still appreciate the concept of team athletics.
In closing, I want to quote former Knick and Hall of Famer Bill Bradley. In Life on the Run (Vintage Books, 1976) he speaks about basketball as a microcosm of life and community.
“I believe that basketball, when a certain level of unselfish team play is realized, can serve as a kind of metaphor for ultimate cooperation,” Bradley said. “It is a sport where success, as symbolized by the championship, requires that the dictates of community prevail over selfish personal impulses. An exceptional player is simply one point on a five-pointed star. Statistics-such as points, rebounds, or assists per game-can never explain the remarkable range of intersection that takes place on a successful pro team.”
Enjoy the season, everyone!