Quick Take



Jackie Robinson is the only player whose uniform number was retired throughout Major League Baseball. It happened in 1997, the 50th. anniversary of Jackie’s rookie year in Brooklyn. Thirteen players were wearing #42 at the time, and were allowed to retain the number. Now there’s only one, Mariano Rivera of the Yankees. When he retires, that’s it!


Rivera’s teammate, Robinson Cano, the super Dominican 2B, was actually named after Jackie. Cano, a rookie in 2005, wanted #42, but Rivera had beaten him to it by 10 years and refused to part with it. So Cano did the only logical thing left; he wears the number in reverse, #24.


Story of the Week



The article below was written by Harvey Araton after Game 4 of the NBA Finals. At the time, the Lakers had a 3-1 lead on the Magic. What caught my eye was Araton’s brief piece on Red Auerbach. As Araton points out, Auerbach, who died in 2006, never had to deal with free agency and salary caps, especially the former that contributes so strongly to the already giant egos of modern-day jocks who all-too-often feel they have more power than their coaches and managers. Since the Araton article was written, the Lakers won the NBA title in five games, as if you didn’t know.


Make no mistake about it:

This one is Kobe’s most prized. He did it without Shaq, and justified the Lakers’ confidence in him by keeping him and unloading O’Neal. Add to it the fact that Kobe has much more mileage left, while Shaq is close to empty, and Phoenix knows it. Bryant is totally focused on leading his team, and winning, and is absolutely the best player in the NBA today. 

This one is Jackson’s most prized. He separated himself from Auerbach with his tenth title. He achieved the immortality he deserves as the stand-alone greatest pro basketball coach ever. Unlike Auerbach, Phil Jackson is total class! After his victory Sunday night, Jackson praised Auerbach’s accomplishments. Auerbach and his giant ego never gave Jackson his due.  


Here’s to my favorite basketball team. I determined that laying the long 260 line on the Lakers to beat the Magic in the series was prudent, and I therefore made the largest sports bet I’ve ever made in my life. What I did took balls, but not as big as the two three-point balls Derek Fisher tossed up in Game 4 that ‘unofficially at the time’ sealed the series deal. After it’s all said and done, there’s still only one Magic, Johnson that is!!


By Harvey Araton

Sat., June 13, 2009


Phil Jackson on verge of immortality.


A victory on Sunday would give Lakers coach record 10th NBA championship.


ORLANDO, Fla. - In the moments after what looked like a Lakers miracle, someone asked Coach Phil Jackson to describe what has kept Derek Fisher gainfully employed as his starting guard, despite flaws that for so many others would forever be fatal.


Too old, at 34. Too small, at 6-foot-1. Too slow and stumpy at 200 pounds.


Jackson nodded slightly, an eyebrow rising, his mouth forming his trademark half-grin.


“Well, it’s character,” Jackson said. “We’ve always said that character has got to be in players if they’re going to be great players. You can’t just draft it. It’s not just about talent, it’s about character, and he’s a person of high character.”


From one character to another, Jackson’s assessment could have passed for a personal reflection as much as it served as a nod of approval.


Once upon a time, when the heart of pro basketball beat steadily in Midtown Manhattan, Phil Jackson was a tall man’s Derek Fisher, a role-playing lefty with a strange-looking gait and an even more inelegant game.


He was a winner, though, a long-armed nuisance wherever he roamed in Red Holzman’s defensive rotation. Action Jackson was the kind of intangibles-endowed player the old coach could really respect because, as Holzman would say, he could see the game.


He would coach someday.


With the right mix of players, he might even win a championship ring.


But only a certified lunatic would have served up the prophecy of Jackson, the ultimate in choreographic imperfection, coaching his way to the perfect championship 10.


“Every championship is so dramatic and so hard-earned that each one singly stands out,” Jackson said late Thursday night, on the threshold of another after Fisher’s southpaw 3-pointers saved the Lakers in regulation and strangled the Magic in overtime, 99-91, in Game 4 of the N.B.A. finals. “But the multitude, two handfuls, is ridiculous. I know that.”


Jackson made sure to say he wasn’t counting his 10th championship before it hatched. But the series went unofficially terminal when the Magic’s Dwight Howard clanked two free throws with 11.1 seconds left, Jackson smartly chose to inbound at three-quarters court after a timeout to space the floor and to make fouling more difficult, and the ball quickly found its way from Kobe Bryant to Trevor Ariza to Fisher.


Jameer Nelson retreated one step and Fisher buried the shot from the right of the key with 4.6 seconds on the clock. Mind you, on a night he had already taken five 3-pointers, missing them all.


“That’s what the journey’s about,” Bryant would say, sounding positively Jacksonian. “You’ve got to have guys step up and make big shots.”


With 31.3 seconds left in overtime, Fisher unknotted the game with an even longer shot, as Nelson left him to double-team Bryant.


The next deadlock to die will be the one entangling Jackson and Red Auerbach. When it does, a protégé of New York’s Red will stand alone, to the unbridled dismay of Celtics loyalists, leprechauns and those who still foolishly call Jackson a superstar caretaker more than the most credentialed coach.


On this subject the skeptics were always as wrong-headed as the late Auerbach, who considered Jackson a good handler of players but complained that he never took on the risk of a team without all the championship parts included in the assembly kit.


As a coach, Auerbach was dominant for almost a decade but he never dealt with free agency and salary caps. He kept his players hungry with the threat of a trade to Cincinnati, to Syracuse, a city barren of hard playoff currency.


True, Jackson inherited the ringless Michael Jordan in Chicago and later Shaquille O’Neal in Los Angeles. But as Jim Cleamons, a longtime Jackson assistant, said: “Every situation that Phil has coached in, the team hadn’t won before he got there. That, too, is a fact.”


As is this: Kobe is primed to prove he is of title timber without Shaq, but not necessarily without the man Jeff Van Gundy once derided as Big Chief Triangle.


It was a comical play on Jackson’s triangle offense, by way of its creator, Tex Winter. But nobody was laughing when the Bulls rode that system to 55 victories in 1993-94, after Jordan walked out on the eve of training camp.


I always believed that Jackson, with three titles at the time, certified his greatness that season, when his Airness-less team might have gone to the finals had a referee, Hue Hollins, not made one of the worst bailout calls (for the Knicks’ Hubert Davis, against Scottie Pippen) in the history of the sport.


Ancient history now, with this new edition of the Jackson-cultivated Lakers on the cusp, thanks to the man they call Fish.


“Some of the credit does belong outside of myself in terms of my teammates, also Phil and just the way he’s willing to stick with certain people that he believes can help get the job done,” Fisher said.


Trust the guy who sees the game, who walked into the locker room after Game 4 and reminded the young Lakers they haven’t closed the deal yet, and who, one day, with the right mix of players, just might win another ring or two as a championship coach.


But 10 rings? Two handfuls? Ridiculous. Can’t happen in a modern, moneyed, me-first sport.


“That would be something,” Jackson said.


Possibly even the end of the journey.