Posted: Tuesday August 4, 2009 1:33PM; Updated: Tuesday August 4, 2009 5:29PM
25 Things We Miss In Basketball
13. Marquette's Untucked Jerseys
The greatest sartorial flourish in college basketball history came courtesy of a player. In 1976, a few years after the NCAA banned the famous bumblebee-striped uniforms worn by Marquette for creating “a psychedelic effect” on opposing players, Al McGuire’s team did them one better. Star forward Bo Ellis was taking some fashion-design courses, and one day teammate Lloyd Walton asked McGuire if he would let Ellis design the team’s uniforms. Half-jokingly, McGuire agreed. But that night Ellis returned to his dorm, pulled out some colored pencils and designed a jersey that featured untucked uniform tops with MARQUETTE running across the bottom hem instead of the chest. The untucked jerseys were a hit, and they found a place in hoops history when Ellis led Marquette to the national title that season. Naturally, the NCAA banned the look a few years later. —G.W.
14. Rick Barry’s Granny Shot
You’d think at least one of the NBA’s notorious bricklayers would give it a try. But no, the underhanded granny shot -- perhaps the most accurate free-throw method there is -- left the stage when Rick Barry retired from the league in 1980. And boy, do we miss its elegant reliability. Flipping the ball in a backspinning parabola from between his legs, Barry made 90 percent of his free throws in his 14 years as a pro. (Only Mark Price and Steve Nash have bested him on the NBA’s career list.) Yet modern players who habitually flounder at the line -- hello, Ben Wallace, Shaquille O’Neal, et al. -- refuse to consider the granny shot. Much better to endure the racket of clank, clank, clank and the shame of being a liability to your team, apparently, than to be seen executing something so sissified. “I would shoot negative percentage before I shot like that,” Shaq once said.
Barry had resisted, too, at first. When he was a kid in New Jersey, his father, Richard Jr., a semi-pro, nagged him until he tried it. Once he realized how reliable the shot was, Barry became so adept he claimed he could make 80 percent with his eyes closed. He tried converting underachieving colleagues and once improved Warriors teammate George Johnson’s accuracy by 40 percent. Wilt Chamberlain, who shot 38 percent from the line for the ’67-68 season, tried the granny for a while and predictably improved, but his ego couldn’t take it. “I felt silly,” he wrote in his autobiography.More points, adding up to more wins. That is silly. —K.A.
15. Dean Smith
I only spoke with Coach Smith once. But when I enrolled at North Carolina, I, like every other Tar Heel, felt like he became a part of my family. From his ability to raise a player from a high schooler with basketball talent to a college grad with NBA skills, to his teddy-bear visage and calm demeanor, Smith embodied the true father figure. And from his players’ stellar graduation rate and his clean program to his promotion of desegregation (he recruited Charlie Scott, the school’s first black player, in 1966), he embodied everything that was right with collegiate athletics. And, boy, did he win. Seventeen regular-season ACC titles, 13 conference tourney titles, 27 NCAA tournament appearances, 11 Final Fours, two national championships, 879 victories, an Olympic gold medal and -- AND -- Michael Jordan. Smith was and still is UNC. The heart and soul of an institution. The reason we Tar Heels bleed Carolina blue.—Nicki Jhabvala
16. ABA Afros
All hail Darnell Hillman. The explosive dunker and shot blocker from the Indiana Pacers was given the league’s highest honor at its 1997 reunion when his peers voted the “Mushroom Cloud” atop his head as the “Biggest ABA Afro." Looking back, it’s easy to understand that flashy dunks and tri-color balls weren’t the only aspects of the ABA that drew onlookers’ attention. The true measure of a star was taken with an Afro pick. A bushy head of hair seemed to empower Julius Erving the way Samson’s locks added to his Biblical legacy. Not to be forgotten is Randy Denton. Known as “that one white guy with the big Afro," Denton, who played for six different teams, is said to be the real-life inspiration for actor Will Ferrell’s look in the ABA spoof Semi-Pro. — Kevin Armstrong
17. Conference Titles That Matter
Until college football swelled up conference sizes like steroid-fueled muscles, league championships mattered in college basketball. Each team played every other conference school in a home-and-home schedule, and the champion could celebrate a title won fair-and-square on a level playing field. Now that idea seems quaint, at least in the major conferences, a relic of the days when leagues had only eight teams (the Big Eight) or nine (the ACC) and the lucre of the pigskin had yet to scar the tradition of hoops. These days? Among the BCS conferences, only the Pac-10 continues to stage a full home-and-home conference schedule, crowning a champion that deserves its banner in every way. Meanwhile, supersized leagues like the Big East (16 teams) and SEC (12 teams) have “hard” and “easy” conference schedules -- and the lame league titles to match. —G.W.
18. George Gervin’s Finger Roll
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook may have been the most feared offensive weapon in NBA history, but no shot was more beautiful than George (The Iceman) Gervin's finger roll. Not only could Gervin let it fly from nearly anywhere on the court -- which is what made it such a dangerous offensive weapon -- but it also just looked so smooth, so silky, so ... sophisticated. "One thing I could do is finger roll," he told the world in an early '90s Nike commercial. Damn straight.
Gervin's signature shot stood in stark contrast to anyone else's finger roll. Wilt Chamberlain, who introduced the move to the NBA, lunged at the hoop with his. Other players would half-toss their shots to the hoop. Not Ice. Whether he beat his man off the dribble or was surrounded in the paint, the 6'7", 180-pound Gervin didn't have the strength to challenge the tall trees at the rim. So out came the finger roll. Gervin would flick his wrist and the ball would slide off his fingers in a gorgeous, elegant arc and tantalizingly out of the reach of a potential shot blocker who could only watch helplessly as the ball slid through the net.
In today's play-to-the-camera NBA, you'd half expect a player to cock an eyebrow at the camera and adjust a set of imaginary cufflinks if he pulled off a reasonable facsimile of Gervin's patented move.But if Gervin played today, do you think he'd do that? Nah. He'd just run back down the court knowing he had frozen another defender. Few did cool better than Gervin. After all, it's practically his middle name. —Rob Peterson
19. Five-Star Camp
Believe it or not, there was a time in grassroots basketball where the word "camp" still meant something. In this ice age, when the players took the court they didn’t just compete in games that were basically a single, continuous fast break. They were put through real drills run by instructors with real expertise. Instead of being given bags of equipment and promises of trips to Vegas, they were charged a fee to participate. If they couldn’t afford the fee, they bused tables in the mess hall.
The best of the old-school summer schools was Five-Star Basketball Camp, which operated at two locations in Pennsylvania. The camp’s signature feature was its 13 instructional "stations," which were implemented at the suggestion of Bob Knight back in 1968. Knight was one of hundreds of college coaches and assistants who came of age by working as counselors at Five-Star, which gave credibility to director Howard Garfinkel’s boast that it was “the best teaching-instructional camp in the history of the world.” Yes, players came to Five-Star because they wanted to be discovered. But mostly, they wanted to be taught.Though Five-Star is still in operation, it has been usurped by more glamorous recruiting showcases sponsored by Nike and Reebok and is no longer the must-stop on the summer circuit it used to be. Garfinkel, the legendary figure who prowled the grounds with either a cigarette or whistle dangling from his lips at all times, sold his share in the camp four years ago. He is 79 now, and if he misses the time when Five-Star set the standard, the game of basketball misses it even more. Five-Star’s decline has left the world of grassroots summer camps much less campy, and American basketball less fundamentally sound. —S.D.
20. NBC’s NBA Theme Music
In 2003 the NBA handed over its broadcast rights to ABC and ESPN, and a little piece of me died. Not because of any personal animus toward ESPN, but because it meant no more Roundball Rock, the iconic NBA on NBC theme that ranks among the greatest soundtracks in sports. Before it came along, sports jingles were mostly chintzy productions, all synthesizer and no soul. But John Tesh’s Roundball had strings, had horns, had bongos -- had gravitas. Like a horn sounding the arrival of the king, it bestowed a sense of occasion to the proceedings. Maybe that’s because it trumpeted so many NBA dynasties: Isiah’s Pistons, Jordan’s Bulls, Shaq’s and Kobe’s Lakers -- Roundball feted the NBA at its absolute best.NBC revived the song last year as a commercial bumper during its Summer Olympics basketball coverage, but that tease only reinforces the need to bring the song back permanently. Despite superstar players and a quality of play that’s as good as ever, the NBA struggles to stand out in a crowded sports landscape. And if you ask me, that’s because it doesn’t have a song like Roundball to toot its horn. —Andrew Lawrence
21. Manute Bol and Muggsy Bogues
During their one-season run together in 1987-88, the tallest and shortest men to ever play in the NBA combined for 2,764 minutes played, 569 points and three magazine covers. But their cooperation was only notable inasmuch as it highlighted their differences. Manute and Muggsy, then a rookie, were separated by 116 steals (Bogues’ 127 to Bol’s 11), 205 blocks (Bol’s 208 to Bogues’ three) and most remarkably, 28 inches (Bol’s 7'7" frame towering over the 5'3" Bogues). Together they also brought fan and media attention to an otherwise forgettable 38-44 Washington Bullets team. Today, life-sized photos of them standing side-by-side appear in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. But at one time, you could see the game’s two most lovable physical freaks together in the flesh. —J.C.
22. NBA Jam
Which pairing was your favorite: Derrick Coleman and Drazen Petrovic? Harold Miner and Rony Seikaly? Detlef Schrempf and Shawn Kemp?The best basketball video game ever made featured two-on-two tandems that often complemented each others’ skills. Shooting streaks were awarded with “on fire” graphics that showed flames coming off the rotating ball. Emphatic slams left the rim shaking. How good was Michael Jordan in the game? No one knows. Midway through production, the game’s developing and manufacturing company was unable to secure rights to include His Airness, but Scottie Pippen’s go-go-gadget arms and Incredibles strength sure seemed to compensate. No matter the system (arcade, Gameboy or Sega), fans got more than their money’s worth each time they started controlling the players and their exaggerated motions. —K.A.
23. Four-Year College Basketball Stars
The college game now seems like a one-year way station for 18-year-olds intent on becoming NBA millionaires by 19, but sticking around for Senior Day used to signal something other than a failure to boost your projected draft status enough to have left school earlier. Senior All-Americas like Tyler Hansbrough are a rarity nowadays, but the four-year plan used to give us superstars like Steve Alford, Christian Laettner, and Danny Manning. Players actually cottoned to the chance to spend more than a timeout or two with some of the best coaches in the game, pro or college. By staying on campus long enough, they had the chance to become beloved by fans, creatively taunted by foes and, at the very least, remembered in college basketball lore as something other than a quick blip on the radar. —N.M.
24. Knee Socks
They were once an integral part of the basketball player’s uniform. Baseball had stirrups, hoops had tube socks. They were the closers, the final touch that added flair, a stroke of pizzazz to otherwise drab uniforms. And who knew hosiery could good look so damn good on a man?
Tube socks made the players and the teams back in the '60s. Jerry West and the Lakers rocked the sandwich-stripes (purple slashes in between blocks of yellow and white), the Celtics wore the all-whites with green bands near the knee and in college vertical streaks weren’t uncommon.The variety, the creativity -- all but forgotten anymore, as the NBA requires players to wear the league logo on their socks, resulting in some pretty lame duds (nice try, Jason Terry). —N.J.
25. Jim Valvano
James Thomas Anthony Valvano was both a man and a force, a tide of energy and passion who grabbed everyone he encountered and pulled them, awestruck and smiling, into a world where the jokes zipped like chest passes and encouragement flowed like a fast break, where all minds were at ease and no ears were at rest, where everything inevitably centered on the fast-talking, belly-laughing magnet, the one they called Jimmy V.They were drawn to the man because in him they saw the power to do anything. At 17, he scribbled his life’s goals -- play college hoops, become a head coach, win a national title -- onto a notecard. By 37, he had achieved them. When given the reins to a program (North Carolina State), he could turn it into a giant. When faced with a giant (Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma), he could turn it into a runt. When forced out of coaching by accusations of impropriety, he could transition to the broadcast booth and maintain the love, the joy, and the mystique that had made him Jimmy V in the first place. He could do it all -- until tumors invaded, cancer took over and a lifetime of possibility dwindled into a few short months. But Valvano didn’t give up, didn’t ever give up. He made a moving ESPY speech that still resonates today. And 16 years after the man lost his fight with cancer, the force –- in the form of the V Foundation for cancer research -- remains. —J.C.
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