ESPN Classic is the greatest. So was Muhammad Ali. ESPN Classic has recently brought us films of Ali’s fights against Liston, Chuvalo, Foreman, Frazier and others. In watching Ali’s fights, I marveled at his great physical condition as the fights wore on. Ali took all kinds of blows while his opponents tired greatly in the latter rounds. Never was that ploy more obvious than his KO of George Foreman in the eighth round of their 1974 championship fight in Zaire. All of this is no doubt to the credit of longtime trainer Angelo Dundee. Muhammad Ali, regardless of his ability to KO his opposition, was a boxer first in the truest sense. And regardless, too, of how many dance steps he took during his fights, his gas tank seemingly never hit empty. Credit is given Sugar Ray Robinson for being the greatest pound-for-pound fighter ever. I’ve always felt so as well. But Ali could well deserve that distinction, too, along, of course, with the great Robinson.
This just in! George Steinbrenner is negotiating with the Washington Nationals to trade his entire ball club to Washington for their entire team roster. Steinbrenner has agreed to pay the Nationals $250 million if Washington agrees to the swap. It’s all contingent on the great Frank Robinson agreeing to return to the playing field and being player-manager of the Yankees. What you just read could well be the story you’ll be reading in November if the Nationals make the playoffs this year------and the Yankees don’t!
Story of the Week
THE ONGOING SAGA OF THE LAKERS
It’s 3AM on Wednesday. I couldn’t sleep. I thought about the very interesting feature story I had written for this week about the origin and history of Astroturf. I suspect you will find it interesting as well, but right now it pales by comparison to the developments this week of the Lakers. So I’m moving the story about Astroturf to July 14 to make room for this, the basketball drama for the ages.
Since moving to L.A. from Minneapolis, the Lakers have enjoyed three great championship teams. The first one featured Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. (No fault of his own, but the great Elgin Baylor retired before L.A. won the NBA title.) That team was all for one and one for all. No guns blazing in the locker room or in the media. They took care of business period.
The second great Lakers team featured Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and a cast of thousands. I maintain that this was the greatest basketball team ever assembled. That team was all for one and one for all. No guns blazing in the locker room or in the media. They took care of business period.
The third and last great Lakers team featured Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. It was managed by Phil Jackson, the same coach who was quite instrumental in building a great team in Chicago around one legendary player named Michael Jordan and a much lesser star ingredient named Scottie Pippin. Jordan is considered by many to be the greatest player in basketball history, and he was while he played, so he had every reason to be vain and demanding like no other. But he never showed the great ego he conceivably possessed. What he did was always done for the good of his team. He loved and respected his coach, and that speaks volumes to the credibility of Phil Jackson.
Back to the recent Lakers dynasty. Yes, they won titles, but the two egomaniacs on the court couldn’t compromise their respective positions on the team. And Jackson told owner Jerry Buss that he could not coach Kobe, and if Kobe stays, he, Jackson, could not. So Buss kept Kobe, Jackson left, and the Lakers shipped off the most dominant center in the league to Miami.
That brings us to now. On Monday of this week, Kobe was asked if he could co-exist with Jackson if Phil came back. His immediate response was “We’ll see when he gets here.” That was a stupid-ass reply, and one that made me think Shaq may not be all that bad.
On Tuesday of this week, Jackson agreed to a three-year deal to come back to the zoo to coach the Lakers. That evening, Shaq was interviewed on ESPN, an interview that was replete with stupid-ass comments by O’Neal, an interview that made me think Kobe may not be all that bad. When asked if he planned to phone Jackson to congratulate him, Shaq stated he will not because Jackson is no longer in “neutral waters,” but he wishes him well. When told that Jackson signed a three-year deal for a reported $10 million a year, Shaq arrogantly told the ESPN reporter that he could have gotten Phil $12 million a year from the Maloof brothers. When asked if he ever envisioned sitting down to talk with Kobe in the future, Shaq childishly stated that he wasn’t familiar with the name “Kobe Bryant.”
*I can’t stand Shaquille O’Neal. Shaquille O’Neal has an ego bigger than his body, a body that couldn’t produce a title in Miami this year, and as his body gets older and bigger in the future, the chances of the Heat winning a title with Shaq diminish.
*I can’t stand Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant has an ego bigger than Shaquille O’Neal’s body. There are several Bryant-type players in the NBA, and he is not of the Michael Jordan ilk in more ways than one. And I wouldn’t want the responsibility of coaching him and trying to make him understand that TEAM is not spelled KOBE.
*I’d love to make $10 million a year; it’s slightly more than I earn right now. But Phil Jackson is going to earn every penny of it. Jackson is as great a basketball coach as anyone who has ever stepped on a court. He owns no fewer than nine championship rings that speak to his coaching genius. Don't give me that pompous Red Auerbach-East Coast media crap that Phil's great teams in Chicago and L. A. had all those star players. Yes, they did, but before Jackson, they won nothing. However, he is inheriting a team that does not have anywhere near the potential of his prior teams in either Chicago or Los Angeles. The team he is inheriting has one star player, and lots of gaping holes everywhere. He will not win a title during this reign if Kobe Bryant remains a Laker, and I will go so far here as to state that he will not be the Lakers coach for the full three years of his new contract if Kobe stays, and if I'm correct, it will be Phil Jackson's decision to take that final hike.
*There would not be all this craziness, this ludicrous drama surrounding the Lakers, had Jerry Buss recognized what he had in Jerry West, namely the greatest executive basketball brain of all time. I am convinced that Jerry West would have found a way to keep Phil Jackson and his two men-children together, and keep on winning titles. If Lakers fans want to point fingers, as Harry Truman said, the buck stops in the top office period. Those fingers should be pointed at boss Buss.
*Finally, this is an absolutely brilliant article, and I deserve a fricking Pulitzer for it!
Last Week’s Trivia
Warren Spahn of the Braves and Juan Marichal of the Giants pitched that 16-inning scoreless duel in 1963 before Willie Mays ended it with a homer, 1-0.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who is the only boxer to fight both Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.