Game 11

Game 11

Friday, January 13, 2012
Game 11: Wells Fargo Center
Sixers 120, Wizards 89

PHILADELPHIA — There is nothing as intoxicating as promise. Better yet, there was nothing as great as the unknown. Nearly 20 years ago basketball fans were drunk off the idea of a Eastern European basketball player plying his trade in the NBA with the best players in the game. In fact, the thought of this great unknown playing on the same team as Michael Jordan was like the formation of some sort of super team.

But for every Robert Altman ensemble piece, there is an Ishtar lurking stage right. To that regard, Toni Kukoc wasn’t exactly an NBA flop, but he wasn’t the Jordan of Europe, either. No, Kukoc was a decent NBA player… nothing more or nothing less.

In 13 NBA seasons, Kukoc averaged 11.6 points per game. At 6-foot-10 he became the stereotype for the Euro-styled basketball player. He was tall, but rarely went down to the low post. Instead, he worked out on the perimeter where he could be a playmaker—he was the quintessential point forward.

After earning three rings as the second scorer on those epic Bulls teams, Kukoc landed in Philadelphia in a three-way trade involving the Sixers, Bulls and Warriors and names like John Starks, Bruce Bowen, Larry Hughes and Billy Owens. It was a pretty exciting time for Sixers’ fans because coach Larry Brown was turning things around and Kukoc seemed to be ready to encore his act as the other scoring option with Allen Iverson.

The thing is, however, Iverson always preferred to work alone.

Kukoc lasted just 90 games with the Sixers (including the playoffs) and was dealt away to Atlanta for Dikembe Mutombo. In other words, Kukoc was integral in helping the Sixers win the Eastern Conference in 2001.

More than that, Kukoc could be the last of the great unknowns. Because of the proliferation of the media, players like Kukoc, Arvydas Sabonis, Oscar Schmidt, Sarunas Marciulionis, etc. are no longer unknowns.

Halladay the latest to join greatest era in Philly sports history

Presser Sometimes it’s easy to get excited about the littlest things. Maybe it’s a new episode of a TV show, or a favorite meal. Or it could be a small gift or a short trip to a favorite place.

You know what they say—sometimes it’s the small things that matter the most.

So when the team you’ve written about for the past 10 years gets the game’s best pitcher who just so happened to be the most-coveted player on the trade/free-agent market, it should be pretty exciting…

Right?

Yawn.

Sitting there and listening as Roy Halladay was being introduced to us media types during Wednesday’s press conference in Citizens Bank Park, a different feel pervaded. Usually, during such settings it’s not very difficult to get swept up in the emotion. After all, teams usually trot in family members, agents, front-office types and other hangers-on. In rare cases, like Wednesday’s Halladay presser for example, the national cable TV outlets turned out to aim cameras at the proceedings.

But when a team introduces its third former Cy Young Award winner since July after trading one away, there’s a tendency to become a little used to big events like introductory press conferences. Think about it—this year the Phillies have added Pedro Martinez, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. That’s five Cy Young Awards right there.

At the same time, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Charlie Manuel, Jayson Werth and Ruben Amaro Jr. all got new contracts since the Phillies won the World Series. Not to mention, the team signed Placido Polanco, Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez and, of course, had that little parade down Broad Street.

In other words, you can see why it was easy not to get too worked up over Halladay’s arrival. That’s doubly the case considering the Flyers fired a coach and the Sixers welcomed back Allen Iverson within the past two weeks. Add in the facts that the deal for Halladay took three days to come together after Amaro spent the week in Indianapolis denying involvement of anything and it’s easy to get a little jaded.

Wait… is Ruben denying he was even in Indianapolis now?

Of course with success comes boredom. In fact, a wise man once told me that championships were boring and bad for business. Perhaps he is correct, because while people are excited about the recent developments with the Phillies, they also are expected now. It’s not quite complacency, but during the past decade every Philadelphia team has been in the mix to acquire the top players on the market. Sure, we’re still getting used to all of this largesse and therefore go a little wild for guys like Halladay, but really…

Been there, done that.

That brings us to the grand point—this is the greatest time ever to be a Philadelphia sports fan. Ever. Since 2001, every team but the Flyers have been to the championship round of the playoffs and every team has made gigantic, stop-the-sports-world acquisitions.

Just look at the list of names:

Roy Halladay
Pedro
Cliff Lee
Jim Thome
Larry Bowa
Jeremy Roenick
Chris Pronger
Peter Forsberg
Chris Webber
Elton Brand
Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo
Terrell Owens
Asante Samuel
Jevon Kearse
Michael Vick

If the team wants them, they are pretty darned good at getting them.

Certainly that wasn’t always the case. A friend’s dad often tells the story about how he and his friends were amazed that a Philadelphia team could get a player like Julius Erving, and I remember watching on TV when Pete Rose signed his four-year, $3.2 million deal with the Phillies. The fact that the Pete Rose signing was on live TV proves how big it was because, a.) there weren’t a whole lot of channels on the dial back then. Just 12 and none of them offered all sports programming. Cable? What?

And, b.) I didn’t even live in the Philadelphia region when Rose signed. Hell, I didn’t even live in Pennsylvania.

Oh, there were other big deals, too. Like when the Sixers traded Caldwell Jones to get Moses Malone, for instance. But they were few and far between. For every Moses, there was always a Lance Parrish lurking at the podium ready to take questions about how he will deliver the championship.

Thome_cryAs far as those big moves go, the mid-season trade for Dikembe Mutombo was the first major move for us at the CSNPhilly.com site. We had three people on the staff back then and the trade came down on a snowy February afternoon that kept us cooped up in our little corner of the second floor in the Wachovia Center. Better yet for the Sixers, the deal for Mutombo was one of the few that worked out as designed. Mutombo gave the team the defense and presence in the middle it lacked and made it to the NBA Finals.

With Shaq and Kobe in mid dynasty, a trip to the finals for a team like the Sixers was as good as winning it all.

Jim Thome’s arrival was bigger yet. Not only was Thome the biggest name on the free-agent market, but also he was a symbol that there were big changes coming. Of course the unforgettable moment of Thome’s first visit to Philly was when he popped out of his limo to sign autographs and pose for pictures with the union guys from I.B.E.W. who held an impromptu rally outside the ballpark to try and sway the slugger to sign with the Phillies.

Moreover, Thome’s introductory press conference was memorable because the big fella was reduced to tears when talking about the switch from the Indians. It was a scene that hadn’t been repeated in these parts until Allen Iverson got a bit weepy when talking about his return to Philadelphia.

Oh yes, Philadelphia will make a guy cry.

Or maybe even do a bunch of sit-ups in the front yard.

Maybe in a different era, the acquisition of Roy Halladay would be a bigger deal. Maybe when the contract plays itself out—potentially five years and $100 million—we’ll view it differently. Until then he’s just another big name in a veritable cavalcade of superstars that seem to wind up in our town.

Time to ‘man up’

Cole HamelsOne of the topics missed yesterday was Cole Hamels’ three-inning outing in which he was held to a tight pitch count. The outing was Hamels’ first start in 32 days and needless to say, he wasn’t as sharp as he would have liked.

But the bigger issue wasn’t that Hamels lasted just three innings and gave up three runs. The bigger issue was that the young lefty used up his 54 pitches in just three innings. Certainly that puts a heavy burden on a bullpen that doesn’t need any extra lifting, though perhaps this is a bad time to be faulting Hamels for being rusty in his first time out in over a month. After all, the relievers ended up allowing just one run in 11 innings in the 7-4 victory in St. Louis.

Still, if Hamels is going to make two more starts he’s going to have to be a little more efficient. Sure, he will probably throw approximately 75 pitches in Sunday’s start at RFK, but these days the Phillies need the starters to make the game shorter for the ‘pen. With 10 games to go, there will be more than enough heavy lifting to go around. If Hamels is serious about pitching this season, he should grab the big end. There will be plenty of time to rest up in the winter.

Besides, manager Charlie Manuel says it will take 89 to 90 victories to get into the playoffs. At 82-70, the Phillies will have to be pretty darn good in the final 10 games. At a minimum they have to win every remaining series…

They can start with a sweep in The District.

On the road again
Dikembe Speaking of The District, RFK is sure to be overrun with Phillies fans this weekend. In fact, I’ll wager that the Phillies fans outnumber the Nationals fans – if there is such a thing.

So for those making the short drive from the Philadelphia area to DC, and looking for something to do before the ballgames, well, you don’t need me to tell you about the museums and the monuments.

But for those who like to get off the beaten path and stay away from the touristy-type places, it’s always fun to meander through Georgetown. Here’s what to do: go get breakfast/lunch at Billy Martin’s on Wisconsin and then weave in and out of the tree-lined neighborhood streets.

Do you want to know who lives in some of those houses? No. 3307 N St. was where JFK and Jackie lived until they moved to the White House in 1961. No. 3018 on Dumbarton Avenue is where a Supreme Court Justice (Felix Frankfurter) and two Secretaries of State (Henry Kissinger and Cy Vance) lived. Alger Hiss lived at 2905 P Street, which was a half block down from a house JFK rented at 2808 P Street. Cold warrior and former secretary of state Dean Acheson lived across the street at 2805 P.

For more notable G-town houses, check out this Flickr site. Sadly, I still can’t locate the M St. bar where Dikembe Mutombo asked his famous question when he was still a Georgetown undergrad. In the meantime, the location of Felix Frankfurter’s crib will have to do.

Like opening for Hendrix
Typically when professional athletes wax on about serious issues, I always end up hearing Chris Tucker recite his famous line from those movies he does with Jackie Chan.

Nope, I didn’t see it either.

Anyway, I rarely have had those Chris Tucker moments during Donovan McNabb’s many chats with the local press over the years, but the recent bit over his comments on HBO and the aftermath got it going.

But I’m hardly an expert on Donovan McNabb or the Eagles, so I’ll leave the analysis over his on-the-field and off-the-field issues to smarter people. However, it was quite poignant to note that the McNabb piece on HBO’s “Real Sports” was followed by a segment about an up-and-coming runner who was one of the Sudanese Lost Boys.

I can just imagine that production meeting:

“Hey, what do we follow the whiny, overpaid jock story with?”

“How about the story about the runner from Sudan who was orphaned when government troops attacked his village and killed his family? That should be an interesting contrast.”

I suppose the parallel was lost on a few folks.

Floyd update
Yes, the word on the Floyd Landis case is expected to come down by Friday (or Saturday… maybe Sunday). To help lighten the work load (we have an extremely small staff here at CSN.com) I’ve been writing ahead, which could be a bad idea if the result is the opposite from the way I have been shaping the story.

There’s no point here. I’m just sayin’.

***
More coming from DC…