SPORTS MONDAY 05/18/20

Welcome to another Monday of sports talk. Today we turn our attention for the first time to the NBA. Not because they’re playing games. But at least we’re using this pause to recognize and celebrate greatness.

I’m talking, of course, about The Last Dance, the just-concluded 10-Part documentary focusing on Michael Jordan and the last Chicago Bulls team to win a championship. ESPN hit the COVID-jackpot with the timing of this series, which was originally set to be broadcast during the NBA Finals.

For those of us of a certain age, this series was rich in memories, and brought back others. For me, it took me back to my formative days as a basketball fan.

The Rise and Fall of the Buffalo Braves

My family moved to a suburb of Buffalo, New York in the summer of 1969, the same year O.J. Simpson joined the Bills. The next year, the Buffalo Sabres began play in the NHL, a huge deal for a Canadian border town. And, in almost an embarrassment of riches for an 11-year-old burgeoning sports fanatic, the Buffalo Braves began their NBA existence the same 1970–71 season.

The Braves joined the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers in entering the NBA as expansion franchises. By the end of the first season, local businessman Paul Snyder had bought the Braves from an investment firm with few ties to Buffalo. His house was in one of the neighborhoods in our school district (my family lived on the “poor” side of town), as was O.J.’s and Jim Schoenfeld’s of the Sabres. These were very much “our teams.”

My friend Michael’s grandfather was an early and avid supporter of all three Buffalo sports franchises. His seats for the Braves were 7th row, center court and I occasionally got invited to games. We watched some exciting players on those Braves teams, starting with Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo. The team was getting better — the Braves made trips to the playoffs in both 1974–75 and 1975–76.

I went off to college outside of Chicago. That city was a real step up in terms of professional sports — Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks. And my school was in the Big 10. But they ALL SUCKED. Every single team was terrible. And then while all our backs were turned, Snyder was selling the Braves and moving it out of Buffalo. The eventual buyer, John Y. Brown sold the players as parts over the course of the 1977–78 season, then made an agreement that led to the Celtics’ owner taking the Braves to San Diego to become the Clippers and the Clippers’ owners taking over the Celtics. And that was the end of the Buffalo Braves.

From Celtics to Bulls to Warriors

I became a fan of those great Celtics teams with Larry Bird when I moved to Boston after college and kept that affiliation when I moved to the Bay Area for graduate school. That’s mostly because the Warriors SUCKED. Lol.

But I like everyone else was watching Jordan’s teams struggle from him not having a supporting cast. And I HATED the Detroit Pistons. Hated everything about how they played and the fact that they won doing it. So, it was easy for me to start rooting for the Bulls. They were the underdog, who I tended to favor anyway. You could see that ownership wasn’t getting Jordan enough help, and how hard he worked to get the most out of himself and his teammates.

And it was a joy to watch when the Bulls finally broke through. It was fun to root for role guys like Kerr, Paxton, Cartwright, Grant. Pippen and Rodman were problematic, but you had to accept where they fit on the team.

After that, it was root, root, root for the home team Warriors. Well, root is a strong word until the Warriors made a playoff run in emergence of “Run TMC” gave local fans something to cheer about in 1989–1991. Don Nelson, Baron Davis and crew gave us excitement 2005–2008. But I gave up on the NBA in the lockout season of 2011. As a college basketball fan, I found I didn’t miss it. The Warriors changed all that, of course. But it took a while for me to be convinced.

Settled: G.O.A.T

Which brings us back to the present and The Last Dance. We can line up history’s greatest teams and argue forever about who would win if they played. That debate will rage forever.

But the question of Best NBA Player Ever has been settled. With due respect to LeBron, he’s number two. And he’s never getting to number one. No shame in that. The difference? DEFENSE. Jordan was twice Defensive Player of the Year. Could LeBron have been that good if he concentrated on it? Maybe. But he chooses to play defense in spurts. And when you’re talking about the best of the best, you better be best of the best in everything.

WYNN’S 15 PLAYER ALL-TIME ROSTER

In the lead up to the Jordan series, ESPN celebrated the NBA’s 74th season by ranking the top 74 NBA players of all time. The top third at least is dominated by big men. But what if, I wondered, you had to form a balanced team out of these players? In fact, what would happen if you constructed an all-time 15 player NBA roster? Since I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, that’s just what I’ve done.

My goal was to create the three, best possible “traditional five-player lineups (C, PF, SF, PG, SG)” for a 15-spot roster out of a pool of ESPN’s top 25 rated players. That’s three Centers, six Forwards and six Guards. After dividing the list by position, I labeled the top 1–3 “No Brainers,” indicated with *. Those under consideration were given a ^. There was a problem at both the Center and Power Forward positions. In the first case, there were too many highly rated candidates. In the second, too few. As a result, I went back and moved a couple of players, working to balance the teams.

Let’s look at the first team. By moving Russell to PF, I could get ESPN’s top five players all in one lineup. Let’s stipulate that you’d need at least three basketballs to feed the needs of these guys to have the ball in his hands. Number indicates total rank out of 74.

First Team

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar C *
4. Bill Russell PF *
2. LeBron James SF *
5. Magic Johnson PG *
1. Michael Jordan SG *

First team stat line:
116.4 PPG, 54.5 RPG, 31.8 APG, 5.8 SPG
Note: BPG were not kept before the 1973–74 season

When those guys get tired (like that will happen), here comes the Second Team to give the team a “scoring lift” (can you imagine…). This one is a little more mix and match. Because the lineup started with Wilt, I need someone to play the Russell role. That’s NOT Tim Duncan, nor is it Hakeem, great as they were. With an embarrassment of riches at the center position, I decided to move Shaq to PF and pair him with Wilt. Again, lots of guys who need the ball.

Second Team

6. Wilt Chamberlain C *
10. Shaquille O’Neal PF ^
7. Larry Bird SF *
11. Oscar Robertson PG *
9. Kobe Bryant SG *

Second team stat line
128.8 PPG, 56.5 RPG, 24.9 APG, 3.1 SPG, 2.3 BPG
More points, a few more rebounds, fewer assists.

The third team starts with the guards. Steph and The Logo are the two no-brainers left. They’re also the only guards left. I really wrestled with Duncan. As good as the Big Fundamental was, I keep returning to Hakeem’s length, athleticism, ability to play above the rim and be a shut-down defender. So, he’s on my team, paired with The Mailman. I chose Dr. J over Durant because of the latter’s injury. He could knock Doc out of this spot. But today is not that day.

Third Team

12. Hakeem Olajuwon C ^
17. Karl Malone PF ^
15. Julius Erving SF ^
13. Stephen Curry PG *
16. Jerry West SG *

Third team stat line
121.5 PPG, 40 RPG, 21.1 APG, 4.8 SPG, 3.1 BPG
Lineup still generates lots of points but rebounds and assists fall off.

To get one of the following guys on the team you have to cut someone above. You going with Duncan over Olajuwon? Tim, Moses or Dirk over Karl? Durant or Baylor instead of Dr. J? Have at it.

Honorable Mention

8. Tim Duncan C, 19.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.2 BPG ^
18. Moses Malone C/PF, 20.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG ^
19. Dirk Nowitzki C/PF, 20.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.3 3s PG ^
14. Kevin Durant SF, 27.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 1.8 3s PG ^
22. Elgin Baylor SF, 27.4 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 4.3 APG ^

FINAL ROSTER

Here’s our team, including stat lines, separated by position:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar C
24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG
Wilt Chamberlain C
30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG
Hakeem Olajuwon C
21.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 3.1 BPG

Bill Russell PF
15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
Shaquille O’Neal PF
23.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.3 BPG
Karl Malone PF
25.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.4 SPG

LeBron James SF
27.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG
Larry Bird SF
24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG
Julius Erving SF
24.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.2 APG

Magic Johnson PG
19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 11.2 APG, 1.9 SPG
Oscar Robertson PG
25.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 9.5 APG
Stephen Curry PG
23.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 3.6 3s PG

Michael Jordan SG
30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.3 SPG
Kobe Bryant SG
25.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 3s PG
Jerry West SG
27.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.7 APG

Here are some fun combinations out of this roster.

All-Lakers Lineup (6)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Wilt Chamberlain
Shaquille O’Neal
Kobe Bryant
Magic Johnson
Jerry West

Shut Down Defense Lineup
Hakeem Olajuwon C
Bill Russell PF
Larry Bird SF
Oscar Robertson PG
Michael Jordan SG

Tall Trees Lineup
Shaquille O’Neal
Hakeem Olajuwon
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Wilt Chamberlain
Magic Johnson

6’6” and Below Lineup
Michael Jordan
Kobe Bryant
Oscar Robertson
Jerry West
Stephen Curry

Instant Offense Lineup (6)
Wilt Chamberlain C
Larry Bird SF
Julius Erving SF
Stephen Curry PG
Michael Jordan SG
Kobe Bryant SG

So that’s it! Let me know what you would change. And have a great week.

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Professional Communicator, Change Agent & Nonprofit Specialist. “COVID CHRONICLES” documents life under pandemic. Also write on sports, politics and life.

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Wynn Hausser

Wynn Hausser

Professional Communicator, Change Agent & Nonprofit Specialist. “COVID CHRONICLES” documents life under pandemic. Also write on sports, politics and life.

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