No sex appeal
Hiring Woodson won't get folks in Atlanta excited about hapless Hawks
Posted: Tuesday July 6, 2004 2:33PM; Updated: Wednesday July 7, 2004 12:55PM
Here we go again. At some point the Atlanta Hawks -- my Atlanta Hawks -- will announce that Mike Woodson is their new coach.
According to Hawks general manager Billy Knight, the interviewed everyone from Del Harris to Mike Fratello to Kenny Smith. They chose Mike Woodson. (When I contacted the Hawks late Monday night, they declined to comment publicly, but Hawks sources confirm Woodson has accepted the job and will endure a press conference later this week.)
All together now: Sigh.
I got sucked in early. As a kid growing up in Atlanta, the Hawks were owned by Ted Turner and anchored by Dominique Wilkins. For awhile they were really good -- never great, but good. After the '87-88 season, when the Hawks found themselves not potent enough to beat the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals, despite a 48-point performance (on 19-of-23 shooting) from 'Nique, they splashed some cash, getting Moses Malone and Reggie Theus and his hair. But things were never the same.
Before achieving their current level of failure, the Hawks briefly dabbled in mediocrity, as if to tease their fans into believing that they might just get it together. In the mid-'90s, after trading Wilkins, they put together five consecutive playoff appearances, building their team around Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Smith and Mookie Blaylock, but never really adding any other impact pieces. It was as if the Hawks were hoping the rest of the league would suddenly suck.
Then GM Pete Babcock finally decided to shake things up in 1999, trading Steve Smith for Isaiah Rider. I had always loved Rider. Even with his spotty history, he always seemed close to being a superstar. Rider had talent and charisma, and the conventional wisdom was that he just needed some structure, which Coach Lenny pledged to provide. We suspected things might be shaky when, after skipping his introductory press conference, Rider refused to fly to training camp on the team's small charter, declaring: "I don't ride no crop dusters."
I was working for Atlanta's weekly newspaper at the time, and was charged with writing a cover story on Rider. Upon introducing myself, I asked if I should call him Isaiah or JR. "It's JR for the ladies," he said with a sly smile. He was always great to me, and the rest of the players loved him. Management, though ... that was another story.
Rider was eventually waived, and the Hawks went with a youth movement, and have since finished seventh, sixth, fifth and seventh in the Central Division. Of all those high draft picks, the only ones who are left are Jason Terry and Boris Diaw, who is the best French inbounds passer Atlanta has had in years. Right now the Hawks have five players under contract. Currently, the team sucks, and I have embraced this.
We officially got new ownership late last season, after Sports Illustrated's parent company, Time Warner, sold the franchise, and the new group, a mysterious consortium called Atlanta Spirit, moved in. They've promised to rectify things, and while we're in the honeymoon period, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.
What's disconcerting is this: The Lakers needed a coach, so they went after Mike Krzyzewski. Yes, he turned them down, but the effort was there -- they tried for the best person available. For all I know, Woodson could turn out to be an amazing hire and win 10 straight NBA titles -- but hiring Woodson won't get people in the South to stop talking about why Chipper Jones is flirting with the Mendoza Line or who Georgia will use to replace the injured Tony Taylor. The Hawks need a splash. Instead, we keep getting water torture.
My favorite sports book of all time is Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, which details Hornby's lifelong obsession with the London soccer club Arsenal. When they finally win a trophy, after decades of losing, Hornby writes:
"I am a part of the club, just as the club is part of me; and I say this fully aware that the club exploits me, disregards my views, and treats me shoddily on occasions, so my feeling of organic connection is not built on a muddleheaded and sentimental misunderstanding of how professional football works."
The same goes for me, and all true sports fans. Before every season starts I throw my full support behind the Hawks, and I believe it when the coach or GM says that this group of players could be really special. And then they crap on me every time.
Hey, not that they mean to. I'm sure Atlanta players, coaches and staff go into each season with that same positive attitude. Things just never work out. Still, I watch every Hawks game, scream at the TV when JT doesn't recognize where the double team is coming from, wonder aloud about the substitution patterns.
And now here comes Mike Woodson, fresh off a championship run with the Pistons. We have new owners, and we just picked up Josh Childress and Josh Smith, two highly regarded draft picks. Hey, Hawks fans -- this could be the year!
At least that's what I'm clinging to.
Quote of the Week
"You can't put a slug out there at first base and expect him to make plays." -- John Kruk, on Baseball Tonight, after Eric Gagne's consecutive-saves streak was ended on a grounder missed by Dodgers' first baseman Olmedo Saenz
Stat of the Week
Braves stalwart Chipper Jones has never been on a team that missed postseason play in his entire life -- from Little League to high school to minors to the majors.
Game of the Week
The greatest compliment I can give any video game is that it will ruin your life. I review all the games for SLAM, and occasionally something comes along and sucks you in, addicting you and keeping you from doing much else (this means you, Splinter Cell). This isn't a console game, but it's undeniably addicting. You'll see ...
Million-Dollar Idea of the Week
Whenever sports are on TV they always urge you to press the "SAP" button on your remote if you want to listen in Spanish. Well why can't the Spanish-language stations (Telemundo, Galavision, Univision, Fox Sports Espanol, ESPN Deportes) have the programming in English on the SAP button? I know they'd have to pay a little bit for translators, but wouldn't this make their possible audience size much bigger? Besides, I'm dying to know what they talk about on El Gordo y La Flaca. Also, it seems like every time I flip past Univision, I see a fat guy in a bee costume. What's that about?
The Has It Really Been That Long Link of the Week
Great stuff here from Mike Wise, who catches up with William Gates and Arthur Agee, the two kids from Hoops Dreams. Want to feel old? Gates has a 15-year-old daughter, and he and Agee have eight kids between them.
Completely Logical Link of the Week
Former Survivor winner Amber Brkich has donated her bikinis to the Beaver Area Historical Museum.
Surprising Citation of the Week
During his speech at the recent Nato summit in Istanbul, President Bush used former Pistons center Mehmet Okur as an example of a Turk who has contributed to American life.
Anti-climactic Link of the Week
With Greece winning Euro 2004 on Sunday after boring Portugal to death for most of the match, here's a recap of the best goals of the tournament. In print. You know you're running out of colorful language when you use the word "smote" as a verb.
The Week Ahead
The Amazing Race 5 -- Yes, I like some reality TV, and I urge you to check out CBS' Amazing Race, which has historically been up there with Survivor and American Chopper as the best of the genre. The new season debuts tonight on CBS.
The Tour de France -- Don't let those commercials with a screaming Jason Lee scare you off. The Outdoor Life Network airs daily live coverage of the Tour every morning from 9-11 ET. OLN needs to send that Samurai Sportsman dude over there.
Strikers -- The U.S. National Men's Soccer Team takes on Poland in Chicago on Sunday (ESPN2, 6 p.m.). Check out America's best teenage soccer player, Eddie Gaven, as he makes his full national team debut. (Sorry, Freddy.)
He gives this column his full endorsement
The official first baseman of The Links, Fred McGriff, can't find his stroke, going 1-for-15 with no home runs this week. He's still stalled on career homer No. 493. If this keeps up I'll leave him alone -- perhaps the white-hot spotlight generated by The Links is simply too much for the Crime Dog. If leaving him alone doesn't work, I'm sending him Baseball World's Dynamic Practice Organization on DVD.
Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine. He hopes to someday see the Hawks win a title.