- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Durham, N.C. Duke vs. North Carolina for last season's ACC regular-season title. Tar Heels start the game holding the ball. Blue Devils stay back in the zone. "Nerve warfare," a referee calls it. The Heels shoot once. Air. Shoot once more, from midcourt—an end-of-the-period, desperation prayer-ball. More air. NCAA record; least iron in a half. At the intermission Duke leads 7-0.
Birmingham, Ala. Second-night doubleheader in the SEC tournament. Kentucky's Kyle Macy and Truman Claytor, unconscious, shoot slingshots from a mile away for 47 points; Alabama's Reggie (Mule) King muscles for 33 inside. 'Cats win 101-100. Following which Georgia and Auburn, the seventh-and ninth-place teams in the league, play through four implausible overtimes. Tigers win 95-91.
Salt Lake City, the 1979 NCAA finals. Up in the Indiana State section a guy named Curtis Franklin wears a funny bandanna and runs through the aisles waving a huge paratrooper's boot painted silver. Franklin is 5'10", 240 pounds without the boot. The Sycamores are 33-0 with the boot. The section erupts. "Boot Head! Boot Head! Boot 'em outta here!" The Sycamores finish 33-1.
Wherever, along about the Ides of March I figured out why college basketball is a much better game than pro hoops. Oh, there was never any doubt in my mind that at the college level basketball is a happier event, more vibrant, colorful, exciting; that it is better—if not more skillfully—played, better coached and, yes, better officiated; that it is more enthusiastically followed by its fans and more artfully covered by television; that it is esthetically superior, technically more correct, often inspirational; that it is more meaningful than its counterpart. What brought the comparison into sharper focus was that on the rare occasions last spring that I could steal away for a college game, something invariably would happen that was spontaneous, adventuresome. Something would happen that was imaginative, different. Something would happen that was fun. Quite simply, something would happen.
The bottom line with the pros is, of course, money. But the basement line on the pro game is that nothing happens. There must be a correlation somewhere. The other day in Kansas City when Darryl Dawkins, Chocolate Thunder himself, went out and, in fulfillment of his lifelong ambition, got himself a glass backboard, did you hear what he said? Daddy D, the most innovative conversationalist in the NBA, said, "I ain't got no comment." And do you remember what the follow-up story was? It was how much money the 76ers would be billed for the damages Dawkins had wrought by shattering the backboard as he dunked.
Here was the first real happening in the pros since—zzzzzz, zzzzzz—Chamberlain-Russell, and Dawkins was sulking while Kansas City was screaming for money. Lord! What else, truly now, happens in the NBA?
A little background is in order. For the last four seasons, I have been exiled in pro basketball, subjected to the sufferings caused by, among other horrid things, Pacers-at-Pistons, Lloyd (All-World) Free, loose-ball fouls (whatever they are) and the numbing proliferation of the word "role," as in "nobody knows his role around here."
I always thought a basketball player's role was to be a basketball player. But nooooooooo. In the NBA they've got their "backup" center and their "power" forward and their "off' guard, not to mention their "lack of intensity." Old Lack is a star in pro ball. Especially when he knows his role.
This year the pros say their game has turned the corner, passing the intercollegiate brand, what with the arrival of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and the three-point bucket. Terrific. Taking third things first, NBA gunners have been unloading—and missing—those preposterously long rockets for years; they just haven't counted three points before. So no change there. Besides which, the best faraway down-range shooter of them all is still on campus in the person of little-known Brian Magid at George Washington. Magid could give All-World a three handicap from 30 feet and win laughing.
As for Bird and Johnson, isn't it ironic that after just a few weeks among "the greatest players in the world" the Bird Man's patently college style had propelled the previously lost and abandoned Celtics to the NBA's Atlantic Division lead, while the Magic Man—who is after all nothing more than a college junior—had singlehandedly turned the Lakers around and was merely the biggest drawing card in captivity?