Quick Takes


          If Phil Mickelson were a poker player, he’d be the poster boy for “bad beats.” He invents ways of losing “on the river.”


          I was really pulling for the Mavericks and the best owner in sports, Mark Cuban. It would have been great watching Little Caesar (you know him as David Stern) stumble all over himself as he presented Mark Cuban with the NBA Trophy. Could it be that Stern and the officials knew something we didn’t, like that was not going to happen period?  In any case, D. Wade is a special player!


          It was a tremendous Stanley Cup final series, but too few people know it. The TV ratings were terrible, and Edmonton vs Raleigh isn’t the most glamorous match-up ever. But the Carolina Hurricanes bested the Edmonton Oilers in seven exciting games to win the Cup. I became a hockey fan in 1968. Hockey is sports’ most passionate game.


          Winky Wright feels cheated in the draw decision against Jermain Taylor in their middleweight title fight Saturday night in Memphis. If he hadn’t taken a vacation in the 12th. round, he’d be the champion today. That decision was Wright’s own fault.


Story of the Week



    I wrote a feature story about the Wizard of Westwood on 10/11/01. But this article is far more graphic. Thanks to Pat Ross for sending it to me. The biased East Coast asses (fans, coaches and media alike) would do well to read this fine article by Chris Dufresne.


History On His Side

By Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 31, 2006


Any discussion of college basketball's greatest coaches should begin with John Wooden, but some apparently need reminding.


When North Carolina's Dean Smith surpassed Adolph Rupp to become college basketball's all-time victories leader in 1997, a young Southern sportswriter wondered out loud in the press room at Winston-Salem, N.C., if it was safe to pen that Smith was the best college basketball coach ever.

A writer on a cushy "West Coast" deadline (me), covering that NCAA second-round game, dared interject another possibility.

"Well, there was John Wooden."

"Oh yeah," the guy said.

How soon they forget, if they ever knew at all.

In a recent ESPN.com story, Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said Duke's run of nine straight Sweet 16 appearances under Coach Mike Krzyzewski was equal to UCLA's winning seven straight national championships."What Mike has done is certainly in the same category as what John Wooden did," Boeheim was quoted as saying.

Last year, before Michigan State played Duke in the Austin Regional, Spartan Coach Tom Izzo was asked to compare Wooden's 12-year run to Krzyzewski's success. "UCLA was awfully good," Izzo said at the time. "When you look at this modern-day era with the parity being so much better, it is more incredible what Mike has done there."

More incredible. Wooden's record in the Final Four was 21-3. Krzyzewski is 10-7. Dean Smith was 8-11. Wooden was 10-0 in title games; Krzyzewski is 3-4. Let's get a grip!

"It's absurd to say getting to the Sweet 16 equates to winning a national title," said Pacific 10 Commissioner Tom Hansen, who witnessed UCLA's budding dynasty as the conference's public relations director from 1960 to '67. "There's no question Duke's record of the past 15 years is impressive, but how many national championships have they won? Three doesn't equal 10."

The bulking up of basketball has distorted the record, much as steroids have so thoroughly skewed baseball bookkeeping that it's no wonder a new generation thinks Joe DiMaggio hit only 361 home runs; how good could he have been?

In Wooden's 27 years at UCLA, the Bruins never played more than 31 games in a season. Duke played 39 en route to its 2001 national title. In 1985, when the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams, it essentially handed the top-seeded teams a free pass to the second round. This year, for the 10th time, Duke scored a first-round win over a 16th-seeded team. The all-time record of No.1’s in this match-up is 88-0.

It's not surprising Krzyzewski and Smith zoomed past Wooden (47 wins) on the list of all-time NCAA tournament victories — Krzyzewski has 68 and Smith 65 — but what does it really mean?

Some hold it against Wooden that most of his UCLA teams had to win only four games to win the NCAA tournament — his 1975 team actually won five games — as if it were easier back then, when only conference champions qualified for the tournament.

Wooden won in the no-shot-clock era when opposing teams often tried to hold the ball; he did it before freshmen were eligible and before the best players left early for the NBA.

If you don't think the quality of basketball was better then, watch replays of last week's UCLA-Memphis regional final and the same teams in the 1973 NCAA title game.

In the 1968 NCAA title game at the Sports Arena, Smith put the Tar Heels in his "four-corner" slowdown offense in an effort to forestall the inevitable against UCLA. Smith lost, 78-55. "He couldn't play UCLA straight up," said Hansen, who worked the 1968 tournament as a media coordinator for the NCAA. Smith would not dispute this. "I decided our best chance to win would be to shorten the game," he wrote in "A Coach's Life," his autobiography. "I'm sure it wasn't a popular decision among our confident players, but it was still our best chance to win against a truly great UCLA team…. Afterwards I (Smith) said, "UCLA has to be the best basketball team ever assembled."

Even as time slips and powder blue uniforms fade, remember there are not two, three or four best coaches of all time. Wooden won't be in Indianapolis this weekend, but he sends emissaries in the form of modern-day Bruins. "He is the greatest coach in the history of basketball," UCLA Coach Ben Howland, an obvious partisan, said of Wooden. "What he accomplished at UCLA in terms of wins and losses will never be equaled again." The sad thing is that it even has to be reiterated.

•  Conclusion — There's no perfect formula for comparing records between eras, but by any measure, UCLA's 10 NCAA championships in Wooden's final 12 seasons represent one of sports' most remarkable coaching feats. Boeheim can’t bust the fact that John Wooden’s teams won 38 consecutive NCAA Tournament games. Even in the modern era, that translates to six straight NCAA championships, plus change. Also, John Wooden and Dean Smith were coaching contemporaries for 14 years. Wooden won 10 national titles in that span; Smith won none.


Last Week’s Trivia


          Wilfred Benitez is the youngest fighter ever to win a world title. He was only 17 when he defeated Antonio Cervantes on March 6, 1976 to win the WBA Junior Welterweight Championship.


Trivia Question of the Week


          Who are the two tallest players enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Who is the shortest one? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.