Game 14

Game 14

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Game 14: Wells Fargo Center
Nuggets 108, Sixers 104 OT

PHILADELPHIA — It’s not unreasonable to believe that David Stern is the greatest commissioner in the history of American major league sports. A lawyer by trade with a background in marketing, Stern took over the NBA from Larry O’Brien—the James Buchanan of commissioners—and ushered the game into a new era.

Actually, Stern had plenty of help. It just so happened that Stern became the commissioner just when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were coming into their primes, plus, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and John Stockton entered the NBA during Stern’s first year as commissioner.

But give the guy credit for not sitting idly by. Under Stern’s watch, the NBA went from being a league that only serious basketball fans followed to an American-based Premier league of sorts. Internationally, the two most popular team sports are soccer and basketball and that comes in no small part from Stern’s ability to market his league.

That doesn’t mean the league is not without its flaws. After all, since Stern took over the NBA, labor peace has been virtually non-existent. In fact, there have been four player lockouts, including one in 1999 that left the league with a 50-game regular season and this year’s lockout that has teams playing 66 games in four months.

So when Stern turned up in Philly for a media session before the game against the Nuggets, one of the biggest topics was the condensed season and players’ health.

“I can tell you that we had the same short training camps in the last lockout, so I don’t think that’s the problem,” Stern said during the press conference. “As for the injuries, I reserve the right to see how things play out over the next few weeks before I draw any conclusions. I will take a look at the data and then I’ll call you.”

The idea when creating the condensed schedule was to come as close to representing a full, 82-game season without playing 82 games. When the league had its 50-game season, it was too short.

“When we got together with the player representatives and made the deal, I knew that if we got it done that (Thanksgiving) weekend, we could start on Christmas and we could play 16 games every 28 days, rather than 14 games every 28 days,” Stern said. “To us, the two extra games, to get in as much as we could of the season was important, so people wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, it isn’t a representative season.’”

Stern says fans love the condensed schedule. Coaches must hate it because of all the injuries and beat up players left in the wake, but this NBA season feels like a baseball season in that there is a decent game on every night. In fact, Sixers’ coach Doug Collins told us before the game in New York that he felt like a baseball manager with all the travel and games, but so little practice time.

“You win and you lose,. People say, ‘You have too many games,’ or, if you go to 50 games, as we did before, then you get told that you are not having enough,” Stern said. “We thought the 66 games were do-able. It seems to be doing OK. We’re pretty pleased with it. From the fans’ perspective, I’ve had people telling me, it’s great, you go home and there are all these games on League Pass, and so our fans are loving it.”

From a journalists’ perspective, the season is a blast. There is tons of action and when we get home from the arena, the west coast games are burning up the TV.

However, it’s no fun writing about injuries and it’s also not much fun to see ballplayers gimp around in the locker room before and after games. Sometimes, a players’ health dominates the news end of things and we get stuck writing speculative stories about when someone will return.

Injuries are also a drag on the quality of play, too. At its best, basketball is unlike any other sport. Sometimes a basketball game is a prize fight, a ballet and a chess match all rolled into one and when players are injured, it takes some of the fun out of it. 

Dennis Rodman could have been better

Rodman It’s kind of ironic to note that Dennis Rodman was a second-round pick of the 1986 NBA Draft. The fascinating part about this that in the most doomed draft in history, some unknown dude from some college called Southeastern Oklahoma State University would go on to have the best NBA career.

To look at the 1986 NBA Draft in the moment was to see the deepest and most talented collection of players assembled at one specific time and place. And yet between the death, personal destruction, addiction and the misplaced expectation, the entire group seems linked as if some sort of perverse Shakespearean tragedy.

How could so much go so wrong for so many people?

Just look at the list of names of young men who were headed for the NBA during June of 1986. At the top of the list were Brad Daugherty and Len Bias. Daugherty, of course, was supposed to be drafted by the 76ers, but, as the legend goes, former team owner Harold Katz had the No. 1 pick over to house to play some hoops on his indoor court and thought he was, “soft.” Because of that, Katz traded the rights to Daugherty, Moses Malone and Terry Catledge, the draft picks that turned out to be Georgetown/UNLV product Anthony Jones and Harvey Grant, only to get back Roy Hinson, Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson.

It very easily was the worst day of trading by the Sixers, ever, and that’s before we figure in the fact that Daugherty averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds a game for his entire career.

The story of Bias, of course, we all know all too well. Of course the one part of Bias’ death that is often overlooked in the long form pieces and documentaries is that without him, the Celtics were in disarray for a solid decade. Moreover, his death also sacrificed significant chunks of the careers of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, whose declines came much quicker than if they had Bias to lean on.  

There were others, too. The No. 3 pick, Chris Washburn, lasted just 72 NBA games over three seasons and struggled with addiction for more than a decade. Big East superstars Pearl Washington and Walter Berry turned out to be casualties of the east-coast hype machine, while top 10 selections Kenny Walker, Roy Tarpley, Brad Sellers and Johnny Dawkins, had middling careers in the league, at best.

Even some of the players drafted behind Rodman were met with tragedy. Drazen Petrovic was killed in a car accident on the Autobahn nearly a decade before his posthumous induction into the Hall of Fame. Three years ago, Portland’s big man Kevin Duckworth died of congestive heart failure at age 44.

The 1986 Draft was so bizarre that one of its best standouts, Arvydas Sabonis, had to wait for Glasnost in order to make his way to America almost 10 years after he was taken as the last pick of the first round. By the time he got to the league he was already at the end of his prime and had many wondering what might have been.

But then that’s the overreaching theme of the entire mix from ’86.

So this was the backdrop from which Dennis Rodman entered the league. Moreover, given the demons he battled off the court it’s amazing that the one player from that draft to play a complete career and then gain induction to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is The Worm, Dennis Rodman.

According to reports as well as Rodman himself, the 6-foot-7 defensive and rebounding specialist got the votes needed amongst the 12 finalists to gain enshrinement. Word is Tex Winter also will be a Hall of Famer, along with Chris Mullin and former Sixers player and coach, Maurice Cheeks. Philadelphia University head coach and shooting guru, Herb Magee, was one of the 12 finalists. Considering Magee has more wins in NCAA basketball than any coach in history, he has a pretty strong shot to get in, too.

The official announcement is scheduled for noon on Monday.

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What, Gilbert worry?

Gilbert Arenas heard the shouts long before Tuesday night’s game started at the Wachovia Center. In town with the Washington Wizards (nee Bullets) to take on the Sixers in a matchup of struggling teams, Arenas took some of the friendly advice offered by the Philly fans literally.

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”

So Arenas dished out a season-high 14 assists and came one short of tying his career record.

Don’t shoot? Don’t give him any ideas.

Arenas, the loquacious and sometimes controversial All-Star for the Wizards, showed up in Philadelphia for Tuesday night’s game a day after he met with law enforcement officials regarding the incident in the team locker room where Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton allegedly drew guns on one another.

You know, just a couple of guys horsing around with glocks.

But the word out of Washington is that a grand jury is about to convene and a possible season-long suspension from NBA commissioner David Stern could be levied. Needless to say, Arenas (and Crittenton) probably broke all sorts of rules and laws simply by keeping a gun (or guns) in the workplace. Moreover, if Arenas is convicted of a crime the Wizards could void the remainder of his contract.

That’s four years and $90 million wiped out for a little goofing off.

 “I wanna say sorry if I pissed anybody off by us havin’ fun,” Arenas Tweeted after talking to the press following the Wizards victory over the Sixers. “I'm sorry for anything u need to blame me for right now.”

Certainly if Arenas is worried about going to jail, losing his job and a potential $90 million, he didn’t show it on Tuesday night. Along with his 14 assists, Arenas did shoot (the ball, that is) a bit, filling it up for 19 points on 6-for-15 shooting from the floor. He played especially well during the Wizards’ run in the second half where the team overcame an 18-point deficit to win going away.

What, Gilbert worry?

“It’s been easy for me,” he said. “If I believed all the stories, of course it would be hard. That’s why we’re so upbeat, because we know what’s out there is way far from the truth.”

Upbeat? How about giddy? After the pregame introductions, the Wizards’ circled around Arenas while he pretended to pick them off with his fingers mimicking six-shooters. He said his teammates asked him to do it.

After the game he apologized for that, too.

When asked if he had learned anything from the controversy, Arenas said that he had and that he doesn’t, “have any guns anymore.”

Arenas “I feel bad for the situation where I’ve taken them out of my house to get away from my kids, but I bring them to my locker and put all my teammates at risk, even though they weren’t loaded,” Arenas said. “That’s somebody’s kids, too. So I’m sorry for all the parents of my teammates.”

Another apology.

Nevertheless, while it might be fun and games for Arenas—at least externally—the Wizards’ star has been expected to contribute on the court. Just because his antics could lead to a grand jury hearing and a year-long suspension doesn’t mean that Arenas can just coast along on the court while his life is in disarray. And all this a day before his 28th birthday, too.

In fact, when coach Flip Saunders felt that Arenas was being too passive on offense he called a timeout and chewed him out.

“I thought he was very passive early in the first half,” Saunders said. “I called a quick timeout in the third quarter and told him I was sick and tired of looking at three-point shots off the dribble on transition. He apologized to the team and didn’t do it anymore.”

Again with the apology.

Though he looked like he was having fun with his teammates, the Philly fans and the media in Philly on Tuesday night, and has no worries about his interview with the police on Monday, Arenas is more than a little pensive about his upcoming showdown with Stern.

“He’s mean,” Arenas said, noting that the NBA’s commissioner is likely feeling pressure to hand out a suspension.

Oh, there are meaner people out there than David Stern. Arenas could meet a few of some real meanies if the grand jury decides his case should go to trial.

Mean and nasty. Like those Philly fans that heckled him all night.

Or maybe even his former coach. When asked about the mess that Arenas is in, former Wizards and current Sixers coach Eddie Jordan talked only about basketball.

"The impression I have him is he’s a heckuva three-point shooter, he drives to the basket and he hurt us a lot down there the last time we played them, and he’s an assassin on the floor—he’s a really good player and that’s what we have to prepare for," Jordan said.

As he walked away, Jordan thought for a quick second and said to no one in particular.

"I probably should have used another word than 'assassin.'