Lockdown Diaries – 1991 NBA Play-Offs – Philadelphia 76’ers at Chicago Bulls (ECSF – Game 1)

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This game was played on 4th May 1991, and was covered live on Screensport on a Saturday evening. The continuity announcers in the UK were Mike Shaft and Mike Carlson, with the game covered in the US by NBC with Marv Albert and Mike Fratello. I wasn’t able to watch this live as Millwall were away at Sheffield Wednesday and I didn’t get home until near the end. God bless mum who videotaped it for me. She was brilliant like that!

The Bulls had comfortably disposed of the Knicks in the 1st round, which was no surprise. The Sixers had swept the Bucks, winning both road games before completing the sweep at home. The Sixers worried the Bulls a little as they had taken three of the four regular season games between the two teams in the regular season. They had won both games at the Chicago Stadium. They had, though, won just 44 games in the regular season, good for the 5th seed, while the Bulls went 61-21. The Sixers were carrying injuries, especially with the star player, Charles Barkley, who played with a brace on his knee.

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The game got off to a bizarre start. The Bulls first basket was a remarkable tip in by Arman Gilliam, who, of course, was playing for the Sixers. This would not be a good series for the “Hammer” who needed to step up to support Barkley who Mike Carlson thought was playing at 60%. The Bulls would get out to a quick lead behind a barrage of early baskets by Bill Cartwright and Scottie Pippen. Both would get to double figures by the end of the 1st quarter, with MJ, of course, not far behind. The lead was 8-2, 12-4, 19-6, 21-8, 25-10, 27-10 until, at the high point, it got to 34-14 and you could really already call it game over. The Chicago Bulls had made a statement. Expecting a rough, physical defence, the Bulls just overwhelmed the struggling Sixers, shooting 16 of 23 for the quarter.

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So although Philly got it back to 34-20 (my copy is plagued with bad picture quality that affected the broadcast that night), with some late baskets, the hole was massive. But in the second quarter the Sixers scrapped, even though they really had just one offensive outlet. Barkley, defying the pain and the knee brace had 23 at the half, but the Sixers were even further behind. They did get the lead down to 10, indeed they started off the quarter with a Hersey Hawkins three pointer (just after his father had been interviewed by Ahmad Rashad), but Cartwright and Perdue still maintained decent scoring from the center position. Just as it looked as though the Sixers had stopped the bleeding, the Bulls ran off a 14-6 run to end the half, culminating in a steal and buzzer beater from Michael Jordan to seal the deal. At the half the Bulls held a 59-42 lead.

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The half-time interval for the UK (and European viewers had their own commentators as Screensport was also shown in Germany, Netherlands and other countries) was Shaft and Carlson going through each series. This Game 1 would be followed by a Game 5 between the Blazers (number 1 seed) and Sonics (number 8), which I have managed to locate highlights of. Two Game 5 contests would follow in the East the following day – the Celtics at home to the Pacers and the Pistons at home to the Hawks. I have the first game, but not the latter one. I’m not sure if it is out there.

For there to be any semblance of a contest, the Sixers had to start the second half quickly, but other than Barkley, they didn’t. The Bulls used the first three minutes of the third quarter to extend out to a 69-46 lead, and then hold the lead in that range for the rest of the quarter, having Marv on commentary bemoaning that there would be extended gar-BARGE time upcoming. Of the first 51 points scored by the Sixers, Barkley had 31 of them.

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The Bulls applied the coup de grace with their trap defence giving the Sixers’ outlet passers fits. Two successive turnovers as a result drained what spirit was left. At 81-59 when the second happened, I’m not sure there was much. At the half Jim Lynam, the Sixers coach, was bemoaning how soft his team had started. Rick Mahorn, the former Bad Boy, was an utter non-factor, and Cartwright had had his way with him. The Bulls had the game in the bag. At the end of the 3rd it was 83-63.

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Barkley and Jordan would not see action in a 4th quarter that was played just to see out time. Barkley had needed support from the other three potential scorers, Hawkins, Gillian and Anderson and in return had received a 6/27 shooting effort from them combined. Mike Shaft ridiculously, on one interlude, said the Bulls had been “lucky” which rather wasn’t supported by the action. The Bulls had been criticised as being a one-man team, but this was a Barkley and the Charlies effort from Philadelphia. Manute Bol, all 7 feet 7 inches of him, was the only other noticeable offensive factor, and that was because he was being treated as a comedy act.

So while Barkley had 34 of the 63 points on his exit, the Bulls had spread the wealth. Jordan got his, of course, with 29 on 8 for 15 shooting, while Pippen was excellent with 24 points on 11 for 16. Jordan won the Player of the Game from NBC which had Shaft spitting out his dummy. Carlson sort of talked him down, and rightly said that Cartwright had been very impressive at the highest leverage time, so there was an argument to make for him.

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The game finished in a not as close as even the score suggests 105-92. The Bulls had been ruthless, aggressive, quicker, sharper and better in execution than the Sixers and this did not bode well for the rest of the series.

Game 2 to follow some time this week. I have this downloaded, so looking forward to watching it because I don’t think I’ve ever seen this game before.

A run-of-the-mill play off win for the 91 Bulls. Never threatened, top players on form but with still that little bit more to give. Entertaining until it became a blow out, the Bulls got up early, stamped on the throat, and then eased off. Awesome stuff.

Box Score.

In the words of Hersey Hawkins sr, “I don’t think there is anyone in the world who can guard Jordan”.

 

Lockdown Diaries – 1991 NBA Play-Offs – Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks Game 3 (EC1R)

GAME NUMBER 3 – CHICAGO BULLS AT NEW YORK KNICKS – EASTERN CONFERENCE ROUND 1, GAME 3

Again, this game was not shown on UK TV, and I’ve not been able to download it either, for some reason. However it is on Youtube, and I will be describing based on the version on there. This game was shown on MSG Network with Marv Albert and John Andariese commentating. This game was played on Tuesday 30th April at Madison Square Garden. The coverage includes the limited pre-game show with Marv and John. They comment that this is a big game for Ewing after his disappointing fade from view in Game 2. Jordan has been “workmanlike” while not being up to his usual standards. We get the starting line-ups in the coverage.

The Knicks introductions were much to the surprise of Marv. They came out to Fanfare for the Common Man. The MJ pre-game interview had the memorable quote that he wanted to put the Knicks “out of their misery”.

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It was an entertaining start to the game, and quite free flowing. Gerald Wilkins started for the Knicks and had an excellent first quarter, scoring 11 points. For the Bulls, MJ got off to a slow start and the early load was carried by Scottie Pippen. The Knicks moved out to an early lead, even getting up by 10 early in the 2nd quarter (39-29). Scottie had 15 of his 21 points by 4 minutes into the 2nd quarter. When Kiki Wandeweghe netted a three pointer, the Knicks led 45-33.

Once the Knicks felt the Bulls coming at them, the lead eroded. The action got a bit bogged down, and the easier shots were not coming for the home team, and the Knicks started making mistakes (including Wilkins inbounding against the backboard for a turnover. There was an awesome dunk by Pippen on Ewing with 4 minutes remaining in the quarter. The Bulls reduced the arrears by the end of the quarter to 1. At the end of the quarter, MJ performed one of his iconic dunks that regularly appears in his greatest ever plays…

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Not the greatest screengrab, but what can you do? Here’s the Chicago coverage of it:

The half was reached with two shots being called no basket due to shot clock / game clock expiring. The Knicks holding a 54-53 lead. Pippen had 17 points and 8 rebounds in the first half. Ewing had only 6.

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During the half they showed some highlights of the other games being played, and updating the scores. The Knick of the Year was awarded to Patrick Ewing, which he look thoroughly bored by when it was announced. Detlef Schrempf was announced as Sixth Man of the Year pipping Dan Majerle by a single vote. An action packed few minutes.

The Bulls took an immediate lead on a Jordan basket denied by goal-tending. They dominated the third period, embarking on a 14-3 / 16-5 run in the last few minutes of the quarter. Michael Jordan had 15 points, out of his then total of 28, in the 3rd quarter, while the Knicks has just 17 between them. While Wilkins was still playing well, the rest of the team could not match him. The Bulls won the quarter 30-17. In truth, it sealed the sweep.

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The 4th quarter saw some spirit from the Knicks but they were truly outmatched. They did “win” the 4th quarter, but they were never close. Will Perdue was an unsung hero in this game with 16 points, Michael had 33, Scottie’s early work was key in his 21, and the Bulls had 13 steals. Ewing and Vendeweghe both scored 20 for the Knicks. The game, according to the MSG broadcasters, did not sell out. All in all, a routine road win against a dispirited team that was not massively outplayed other than in the first game, but as we know, when the Bulls won the opening series 3-0, they ended up winning the NBA championship (all six titles started with a sweep in the first round). This stat, displayed midway through the 4th rather gave the game away. The final score was 103-94.

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Box Score

The end of the game saw Marv tear the Knicks apart. There was little fire once the game went away. The players weren’t particularly keen on each other. They did not give off the impression that they have the fire in their eyes, and lack of chemistry. No perimiter game. Defensive deficiencies.

The Sixers finished off the Bucks in three games, culminating in a blow-out on the same night. They would meet the Bulls in the next round, a repeat of the previous year’s Eastern Conference Semi-Final. In the other half of the draw in the East, the two behemoths, Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics both went to five games, winning the last game at home against the Hawks and the Pacers.

The next game to watch will be the first game of the following series, which was shown live in the UK on Screensport. Time to go find it!

This was the most entertaining of the three games, but like the other two, it was a good team playing just about well enough, against a poor team who when the going got tough, did not have enough and folded. Much was made of their comeback from 2-0 down the year before against Boston, but this team lacked that spirit and it was only words. The Bulls had too much.

Chicago would roll on. The Knicks would not retain John MacLeod, who actually interviewed for the post at Notre Dame during the series (according to the Jordan Rules), and would hire Pat Riley as the new coach. The rest, as they say, is history. These two teams would meet four times in the next five postseasons. They would create memorable drama.

Baseball Trading Card #4 – Brian Bohanon

20200413_212011-01.jpegIt took a while in a room lit entirely by, well lights, to get one that wasn’t with a massive shadow over it. The card itself feels remarkably “new” and not 30 years old. This is, as you can tell, an Upper Deck card from 1990 (the clue is in the top right) and Brian Bohanon was a young pitcher (21 at the start of that year) making his way in the game. As you can tell from the back of the card, at the time he had “no major league experience”

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Another one who loved the outdoors and killing animals!

Bohanon made his debut for the Texas Rangers in April 1990, having been the team’s first round pick (17th overall) in 1987. He started six games that year, posting a 0-3 record, and with an ERA of 6.62. His debut was against the Toronto Blue Jays in the Skydome on the 10th April 1990, where he pitched a scoreless innings in relief of Charlie Hough. He had 22 pitches and walked two batters, but the damage had been done and the Rangers lost 2-1.

He was with the Rangers for 7 years, and in his career he then spent time at Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, before ending his career at the Colorado Rockies. His best year by stats was at the Dodgers where he posted a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts in his only year there, with a WAR of 2.4 (that wasn’t his high water mark on that stat), but must have impressed so much that they let him go at the end of the 1998 season to divisional rivals the Rockies, where he also picked up his first seven figure salary. The Rockies, well known for being the graveyard of pitching, wore him out as he posted ERAs of 6.20, 4.68 and a career-ending 7.14 in his three years at Coors Field. He was certainly a workhorse in that first year with 33 starts, and a 12-12 record. His best game that season was a complete game shut-out in Denver against the Phillies. But he also took his fair share of punishment. Somehow his less than stellar performances for the Rockies still got him placed Number 42 in a poll of greatest ever Rockies just three years ago. He does appear on a list of Texas Rangers draft busts, though.

Bohanon finished his career with a 54-60 record, and he also had a batting average above the Mendoza Line with three home runs. The three came in Montreal (off Dustin Hermanson) , against San Diego in Denver off future Red Sox pitcher Matt Clement and against the Brewers with a solo shot off Bill Pulsipher (who I confess, I’ve never heard of).

Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies great, hit his first career home run off Bohanon in 2001.

Not a lot on the news wires as to what Bohanon is doing now. If I find something, I’ll add to it.

Lockdown Diaries – 1991 – Chicago Bulls v New York Knicks – Game 2 (EC1R)

GAME NUMBER 2 – NEW YORK KNICKS at CHICAGO BULLS – EASTERN CONFERENCE ROUND 1, GAME 2

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This game was shown on NBC, with the commentators Marv Albert and Mike Fratello. There’s also the sideline reporter, Joel Meyers, who just doesn’t quite beat the Bulls switching off the lights for the home team introductions. This game was not shown in the UK, and was played on Sunday 28th April 1991. The version I have is on the Pick & Roll UK channel. My thanks to whoever they are for putting these games up. Terrific stuff.

The Knicks had been slaughtered in the first game, but had got off to a decent start. They made an adjustment from the first game where Oakley was put on Cartwright, but that didn’t seem to work early on. However, the Knicks went on an 11-0 run to lead 19-14 in the first quarter which was ended by an outrageous spin and flip shot by Michael Jordan that was just awe inspiring. Patrick Ewing outscored his whole first game scoring production in the first 8 minutes of this game. He scored 14 in the quarter, but for all that, and a miracle three from Cheeks, the Knicks still trailed at the end of the 1st quarter, as Pippen’s three with 3 seconds left put the Bulls 1-up at the end of 12 minutes.

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The Knicks kept it close in a disjointed second quarter, with the visitors actually going into the lead 44-42 at the half-time. Shooting was off, the game was scrappy, there were nose injuries, face injuries, and ragged execution. Ewing scored just two in the quarter, while Jordan had 11 at the half. The bench was not as effective for the Bulls, and the fragile relationship Stacy King had with the Bulls fans was exemplified by the booing he received!

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Half-time came and the recording I have has the NBC show on it. Pat Riley, who was, of course, to take over as Knicks coach for the following season, is on it. I don’t know if I was reading it right but the chemistry between him and Bob Costas didn’t seem right. I’ll never know. They showed clips of the Pacers beating the Celtics in Game 2. There doesn’t seem to be a copy of that on the internet, but I might actually have it (I’ll need to check).

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Walker, Quinnett, Ewing and Jackson on the bench

The third quarter started very scrappy, and the Bulls could not find any sort of rhythm. At the 5 minute remaining mark, the Knicks held a four point lead, and each team’s jump shooting off. It was till 59-55 with four minutes remaining. The main difference you see with today’s game and that of 1991 is the propensity for the 91 teams taking long jump shots, often long 2s, which the statisticians and analysts frown on in the modern game. However, the other major difference was the defence. These games were massively physical and this game certainly was in the 3rd quarter. The game is intense and tough to score in. Shots were contested and scoring was harder. It is going to be a common theme, but the way New York played in this game was a portent for the series between the two teams to come. The Bulls called their defence “fire alarm” or “unleashing the dobermans”. It was often great to watch. The Knicks lead 63-61 at the end of 3.

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The Knicks scored first in the 4th quarter to extend to a 65-61 lead. In the first timeout the NBC reporter interviews Dave Checketts, who pretty much tells you John MacLeod isn’t coming back next year because he made no attempt to say “yes”. With two minutes gone in the 4th quarter, the lead is still three for the Knicks, with no sense that the Bulls would find rhythm. Successive offensive fouls by MJ and Pippen added to the frustration. A fast break and funky lay-up by Pippen narrowed it to a point lead, the noise went up, Ewing air-balled, a fast break ensued, and BJ Armstrong was fouled on a lay-up. Armstrong made both to take the lead. The Knicks turned it over and Armstrong is fouled again. The crowd noise rises more.

Jordan is rested at this stage, and scoring calms. Ewing ties it with a free throw to tie the game at 66. Craig Hodges drains a three to extend the lead (his only points of the game), but Cheeks hits a long two to cut it to 69-68. This was the score at the time-out with 6 and a half minutes remaining. Out of the time-out, Jordan sets Horace Grant up for a lay-up. 71-68. Cheeks missed on a wild three attempt. MJ drives, floats up a jumper in the lane, and swish. 73-68. 5:50 remaining. Cue the song by an artist we certainly allowed to talk about…rock and roll…rock and roll! Ewing misses a jump shot out of the time-out, Oakley gets his 5th foul on the rebound. Bulls shoot two as Knicks are in the penalty, and Horace Grant drains them both. 75-68. Vandeweghe hits two foul shots to bring the deficit to five. MJ is fouled next time down, and hits both foul shots. 77-70.

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Ewing misses on another jump shot, and after a miss and offensive rebound, the Bulls call time with 4 minutes left. Jordan is fouled again out of the timeout, and Jordan gets both shots, and it is 79-70. It becomes a free throw contest, as Vandeweghe is fouled and gets both (he’s a 90% free throw shooter). 79-72. A beautiful pass for BJ, allows Armstrong to lay the ball in for an 81-72 lead. Oakley makes 1 of 2 free throws to bring it to 81-73. Cartwright nails a jumper as the shot clock expires to make it 83-73 and pretty much seal the deal.

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“The Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund”

The Bulls ran out with a workmanlike 89-79 win to take a 2-0 series lead. The Bulls limited the Knicks to the shots they (the Bulls) wanted them to take, while not playing to their thrilling best, MJ shot 9 for 16 for 26 pretty quiet points, with Pippen, Grant and Cartwright all getting to double figures. Ewing got off to a flyer, but after the first quarter he went for 1 for 11 – Marv Albert described him as going “jump shot crazy”.

Box Score and Stats

A pretty turgid game, which the Bulls never let get away, while the Knicks fought very hard to square the series. The Bulls defensive intensity raised the temperature, the Knicks got into foul trouble in the 4th quarter, the Bulls milked free throws to amp up a narrow lead, and ended up winning with some comfort so that the last couple of minutes were relatively stress free.

The game can be found here.

The one thing that makes me chuckle through the broadcast is that Marv Albert, as the main commentator for the Knicks network, being really hard on the visitors, and Ewing in particular. He used to do this as an NBC commentator.

On to Game 3 in New York. I hope to have time to do this tomorrow.

 

Baseball Trading Card #3 – Dave Leiper

After a nearly four year gap I thought, why not do another baseball card and see what I might find out. So as I sit here with an old Red Sox game playing on my spare room TV, the wife sound asleep, the dog prowling around as he does in the first part of the night, I pulled out one of the cards that my wife brought back from the last visit to the States, and it is the chap:

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This is a Topps card from the 1989 season. He was born on 18 June 1962 in Whittier California, and was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers, then the San Francisco Giants, before finally being selected by the Oakland As in 1982. In that draft he was a first round pick (at number 22). His career is curious. He reached the major league level in 1984 with the As, did not make that level in 1985, then played for a season and a half before being traded to the Padres during the 1987 season as one of the “players to be named later” in an earlier deal for Storm Davis. There’s a name.

Leiper was a relief pitcher, it appears, and not one that impressed many of the teams that hired him. This card comes before his last season with the Padres. In 89 he had a poor season and finished with an ERA over 5 and negative WAR. He was released by the Padres after 22 relief appearances that year, and then disappeared from the major league mound for another 5 years before he returned to the As (he had stops as free agent pick-ups at a number of clubs in the intervening period) and then spent two years bouncing from one club to another, splitting 50 innings in relief for the As and Expos in 1995.

There doesn’t appear to be a lot out there on the internet about Dave Leiper. I did find this amusing – a six degrees of about a back-up catcher for the 2018 Minnesota Twins to… Jackie Robinson!

Bobby Wilson to Jackie Robinson

Bobby Wilson played with Vladimir Guerrero (2008-2009 Angels)
Vladimir Guerrero played with Dave Leiper (1996 Expos)
Dave Leiper played with Goose Gossage (1987 Padres)
Goose Gossage played with Moe Drabowsky (1972 White Sox)
Moe Drabowsky played with Don Zimmer (1962 Reds)
Don Zimmer played with Jackie Robinson (1954-1956 Dodgers)

I love the internet. Digging a bit further, the 1989 season was a triumph for Leiper because, as this LA Times story from 1994 indicates a major problem with his health.

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-08-04-sp-23483-story.html

Leiper was 9-3 with a 3.94 ERA during 155 major league games with Oakland and San Diego from 1984-89. Better than most, however, he knows there is only one really important statistic: Still breathing.

When doctors surgically “disconnected some faulty wiring” from his heart to cure Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (an electrical disorder that causes a rapid heart rate) in April, 1990, Leiper never even bothered to ask if he could play baseball again.

The disorder was originally diagnosed in the winter of 1988 and Leiper suffered two rapid heartbeat episodes when he was with the Padres in 1989.

“The second time almost knocked me out on the mound,” he said. “My heart was beating so fast, it was (in spasm) and I got real light-headed. I had tests and they put me on medication.

“Then, when I was back with Oakland in spring training in 1990, I had another episode and that really scared me, because the medication was supposed to control it. That’s when we decided on surgery.”

Wow. That he played again was a triumph. Leiper injured his elbow in 1990 and missed a year through elbow surgery. After his heart surgery he described this as a “minor nuisance”.

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Lockdown Entertainment – Watching The 1990s Bulls Play-Offs – Part 1

Bulls 1991

GAME NUMBER 1 – NEW YORK KNICKS at CHICAGO BULLS – EASTERN CONFERENCE ROUND 1, GAME 1

Why not? Let’s see how far I go. I’ve just finished the book Showtime about the 1980s Lakers, and it has encouraged me to delve back into time and watch some old basketball.

As part of the weekend organisation I have tried to collect together all the Chicago Bulls play-off games I have, or are on the internet, to watch and review. A number I have on DVD as I converted a large part of my Bulls back catalogue from video before that old DVD recorder failed, and there wasn’t another VHS to DVD converter on the market at the time. A number of the others are from Pontel, the main way European subscribers could keep up with all the games. Again, many were converted from VHS and others from originals on DVD (like the 1991 Finals). Finally there are those games that are on Youtube. I saw a load of them a few years ago, and downloaded them, but made the fatal error of not backing them up and my hard drive I stored them on malfunctioned. I lost them all. But piece by piece I am getting them again, and backing them up. Thanks to all those that provide them, it’s a brilliant resource.

These won’t be match reports, just some thoughts on each game and any information I can find on them. This first game was shown on satellite TV in the UK. There was no internet. There wasn’t even text, so you watched these games “as live” unless you caught the result somehow or other (and mainly it was on CNN News’s Sports Report, which often gave the result, but couldn’t show the action). I really, really miss these days – information gathering was half the fun.

Saturday night, Easter Saturday, I found my copy of Game 1, which was covered in the UK (and Europe) on the late, great Screensport. The coverage I have is from TNT. Commentators are Ron “Too Much French Pastry” Thulin and Jack Givens. The game was played at Chicago Stadium on Thursday 25th April, and was broadcast on the following day in the UK.

Box Score and Stats

The game itself was a walkover, with the Bulls winning by 41 points. It wasn’t a blowout from the start. The Knicks had an early lead, but they fell apart in the last few minutes of the first quarter, and the beginning of the second (when MJ was on the bench). The Bulls were up 29 at the half, and the second half was an extended practice session. Jordan top scored for the Bulls with 28 points, including 3 for 4 from behind the three point line, and Scottie Pippen was immense with 25 points, and the key focus of the second unit that blew the game properly open in the early part of the 2nd quarter.

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Patrick Ewing had a terrible game, scoring just 6 points, and picking up five fouls, plus a technical, before the end of the 3rd quarter. While he got into foul trouble and Bill Cartwright gave him fits he wasn’t the only problem. The Knicks had a contagious bout of turnover-itis in the opening half of the game, often sparking the fast break.

Even as the game went on there were constant references to John MacLeod, the then Knicks coach, being on thin ice with his future. They did have some old dinosaurs roaming the floor for them, including Maurice Cheeks and Kiki Wandeweghe. This didn’t seem a Knicks team that should have that sort of record. Mark Jackson, who would come back to give the Bulls issues later in the decade, was a bit part. John Starks was a role player off the bench. Charles Oakley was a rebound presence. Ewing looked lost. This didn’t look like a team that, in the next five years would, arguably, be the Bulls strongest foe.

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The Bulls had gone 61-21 and held the number 1 seed. They were strong favourites to reach the finals (Portland were equally strong favourites in the west) and this drubbing of the only team with a losing record in the play-offs (the Knicks had gone 39-43) emphasised their strengths. The Bulls pummelled the Knicks on the fastbreak, punished the turnovers, took advantage of poor shooting, and even in garbage time, kept the Knicks in check. All this after the Bulls had a very slow start.

The Bulls took the 1-0 series lead. As a game it was a procession. Not the most entertaining, and I’m writing this up as the game is in extended garbage time – so extended, Dennis Hopson has just come on the court. Armstrong and Hodges combined for 34 points off the bench. This was a laugher.

During the coverage two other games were in process. The Philadelphia 76’ers were winning Game 1 at the Bradley Center against the Bucks – 99-90 – and the Warriors were giving the Spurs a fright in Game 1 at the old HemisFair Arena, with Willie Anderson scoring 38, a game decided in the 3rd quarter which the Spurs won 36-19. The Warriors scored 49 in the final quarter, to no avail (games 2 and 4 are on the internet from that series). Game 2 of the Bucks v Sixers is also on youtube… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoolEbV0Om8

Towards the end of the game there was a very hard flagrant foul by Jerrod Mustaf on BJ Armstrong. Which got me thinking, whatever happened to Jerrod Mustaf. I’ll bet the world that I was the only one thinking that today on a basketball front. According to wikipedia, he had a very interesting back story.

On July 22, 1993, Mustaf’s girlfriend at the time, Althea Hayes, was murdered by Levonnie Wooten, Mustaf’s cousin. At the time, Mustaf was considered a link to her murder, but not necessarily a suspect. However, it was alleged that Hayes didn’t want $5,000 for an abortion and Mustaf paid Wooten for the murder, claiming that he owed Wooten a favor. Ultimately, Mustaf settled with the Hayes’ family’s lawsuit in 1998, paying them $50,000–$100,000.

Hmm. Let’s come back to that.

Last thing. Here is the excerpt from The Jordan Rules….

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That’s all folks. Hopefully I can spare some time to watch Game 2 tomorrow. That one has been downloaded and so I have it. Game 3 is on Youtube, and not able to be downloaded yet.

All That Is Golden….

I keep meaning to write a piece on the current baseball season, but the NBA keeps stealing its thunder, and if you pardon the pun, the Thunder have had something pretty major stolen in the last 24 hours.

I was on a train home last night when the Awful Announcing Twitter feed dispensed the news. Kevin Durant was leaving Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors. In many ways I was shocked, but logical brain wasn’t. Kevin Durant had never said he was definitely staying, and when a player faces unrestricted free agency there is always the chance his head will be turned. Durant had always said the right things, that he believed that OKC were the favourites to sign him, but he never said he would definitely stay. That’s crucial.

So, when I heard that the race was between the Celtics (up and coming, but still rather limited even with Al Horford, who I think makes an average team good, but not a good team great), the Warriors (will they have too much firepower) and the Thunder (Western Conference finalists, but unable to get over the last hurdle to the finals) logic would suggest going to the team almost guaranteed to win the most. The contract is interesting – two years at $27m per year, with a player option at the end of one (when free agents can expect an even bigger boom in their pay packets – it is almost certain Durant will opt out then) so there can be buyer’s remorse in a short period of time if this doesn’t work out. According to this site Klay Thompson is signed through another three seasons, Draymond Green through four, and the crux of the matter comes next season when Steph becomes a free agent, as does Andre Iguodala. Next summer is going to be fun in the Bay Area.

So what of this year? Well there are two clear precedents in the theory of the nuclear arms race in the NBA and neither were successful in year one. Perhaps the closest fit is the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers, who added Karl Malone and Gary Payton, two superstars at the end of their careers, chasing rings with Shaq and Kobe. Of course, that ended in a Finals flameout against the Detroit Pistons, amid recriminations and regret. The other is the LeBron James sweepstakes as he and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach to join Dwayne Wade to win championships. The first year ended in failure at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, before two seasons of championship basketball ensued. With Durant added to Thompson, Curry, Green et al, this looks like a very serious team. However, maybe all is not assured. While an effective trade for Durant means giving up Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, and that looks great on paper, there are questions about the Warriors size. When challenged physically in the play-offs, the Warriors looked to be completely out of the comfort zone, and they are going to need to secure rebounding talent to assist this star-studded line-up. Either that, or Draymond Green is going to be knackered in a fortnight.

If you want a less assured response to the trade, then the comments on Fansided seem to go over the top. They start with the proper antidote to some of the nonsense about how this means the Warriors are expected to win 75 games next year (utter hokum) because you don’t just add Durant’s points to the total the Warriors got this year, as we all know. There’s still only one basketball between the two teams playing. But some of the conspiracy nonsense is out there:

Adrian Wojarnowski of the Vertical said that the sole reason Nike wanted Durant in Golden State was to take away Stephen Curry and Under Armour’s shine. This is what Durant will do, he will come in and get 20 shots per game. Curry’s points per game will decrease, Klay Thompson’s points and shots will decrease and Green will be lucky to score 14 points per game this season.

Really? Woj is great, but is this really a thing? Can we take this seriously? As many point out, Steph Curry is the most popular player in the league, probably since Michael Jordan, because of the flashy, showy player he is. Durant has always been really well respected, a fundamentally sound player, but does he push the entertainment buttons. Isn’t it a bit like comparing Tim Duncan to Kobe Bryant?

The final impediment could be expectations. With Durant’s move the Warriors became the 2010-14 Miami Heat on steroids. It isn’t good enough for the Warriors to win the championship but they will be expected to win 75 plus games and go 16-0 in the playoffs next season. Those are lofty expectations, though the Warriors have shown they can handled pressure.

That’s silly. Expectations, yes, but the Warriors hold that record now, the Spurs may be on their tails, but no-one else really is as the Thunder have lost their best player, and the Clippers seem to be stuck in mid-range stasis. So while you could probably put your house on a third Warriors v Cavaliers Finals next year (outside of major injuries to stars, of course), the coast hasn’t got rougher for the Warriors, but probably easier. I don’t expect them to win 70. I think Kerr will rest players more, and the Warriors might coast quite a bit of the Regular Season. So I don’t think that fear is there. As for the 16-0 in the play-offs? That’s being daft.

Durant to the Warriors makes them the favourites, but I’d suggest they were that anyway this season. I think chasing 73 wins, a tough play-off series with Curry never consistently at his best post-injury and a refocussing would have put them over the top with the Cavaliers. I think, if anything, that the Durant move poses some questions. The chemistry and depth of the Warriors was their strength. They have given up a key, if limited, defensive player to acquire Durant, who bangs around in the paint. KD is many things, but he isn’t a down in the trenches player. They need one or more of them to compensate. KD does stretch the offense, but as many have found, getting players their shots is important, and Green stands to lose most (and he’s not known as the most level-headed guy). Also, KD and Steph are two alpha-male players with beta-male attitudes. That they co-exist, while not forgetting Klay and Draymond, is going to be a serious coaching challenge. It’s set to be amazing.

Bulls Secure Rondo

So the Bulls have lost Joakim Noah to the Knicks and Pau Gasol to the Spurs, after the farewell to Derrick Rose. In their stead, and presumably to give the illusion that they are trying, the Bulls have recruited Rajon Rondo on free agency from the Sacramento Kings. Now, the 2008-9 era version of Rondo would have been a “yes please” acquisition, but I think it fair to say that the media are pretty convinced that’s not who they are getting.

Sports Illustrated let them have it in a magnificent diatribe! http://www.si.com/nba/2016/07/03/nba-free-agency-rajon-rondo-chicago-bulls-grades

Some excerpts:

To anyone paying attention, and to any front office with a reasonable solution at point guard, Rondo is no longer worth the hassle. Although he shot a career-best 36.5% on threes and posted a respectable 16.9 Player Efficiency Rating for the Kings, he again failed to translate his own individual production into team success. Sacramento’s offensive efficiency rating was higher with Darren Collison on the court rather than Rondo, in large part because the latter is a flow-killer thanks to his ball-stopping and a floor-cramper thanks to his shaky jumper and reluctance to attack the hoop in search of his own offense.

Any other complaints?

Defensively, Rondo hardly resembles the player who earned four All-Defensive selections while in Boston. He alternates between reckless gambling and inexplicable ambivalence, ranking 30th among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and posting a terrible 106.8 Defensive Rating for a Kings defense that ranked 23rd in Defensive Efficiency. Chicago’s other top point guard option, the 34-year-old Jose Calderon, played such poor defense last season that it was the subject of tabloid headlines. Nevertheless, Calderon posted better marks in both DRPM and Defensive Rating than Rondo. That’s remarkable and, frankly, tragic.

OK, I’m guessing you don’t think there’s an upside here?

Even Rondo’s most stubborn apologists—those who delude themselves into thinking his triple doubles are significant, point out that his numbers have recovered since a serious knee injury in 2013 and buy into the notion that he’s merely “eccentric”—had to question their support during his ugly incident with referee Bill Kennedy last December. Not only did Rondo cross way over the line during the confrontation with Kennedy that led to his ejection, he first issued a muddled statement that fell short of an apology. Finally, after ducking the media and setting off a firestorm of criticism, Rondo issued a second statement that included an apology.

The Kennedy episode was the latest example of Rondo being his own worst enemy. At the end of the 2014–15 season, Rondo bailed on the Mavericks during the middle of a playoff series after butting heads with coach Rick Carlisle at multiple points during the season. Before that, Rondo drew three suspensions in 2012 (for throwing a ball at a referee, for making contact with a referee and for engaging in a fight) and another a suspension in 2013 (for bumping a referee again). While Rondo was a key member of the Celtics’ 2008 title team, doing very well to keep a loaded cast of stars on track, he hasn’t played in a postseason win since 2012.

No, definitely not a fan…

Defenders of this move will point to the fact that the Bulls can simply part ways with Rondo next summer. As the Kings discovered during their circus of a season, it’s never quite that simple, is it? SI.com gave Sacramento an “F” last summer for its decision to ink Rondo, and nothing that has happened since then indicates Chicago deserves more favorable treatment.

The occasional breathtaking assist simply comes at too high of a cost. Even Vlade Divac managed to figure that out. Grade – F

The portents aren’t good. There’s still a feeling that the Bulls are shopping Jimmy Butler and about to embark on a full-blown rebuild, but from what I’ve seen that has to be resisted. I wouldn’t put John Paxson and Gar Forman in charge of rebuilding a garden shed, let alone a franchise which undermined the best coach it had had in a generation. The Bulls are set to be in the wilderness for a long time, without star players, deluding themselves that there are loads of stars tripping themselves to follow in the legacy of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen et al. They soon get tired of all that, and in the case of Rose, almost desperate to leave. Rondo seems quite a fit when you consider it like that.

 ——xxxxxxxxx——-

The offseason may calm down a little after this, but the earthquake around Durant will reverberate around the league. Screamin’ A Smith, a man who certainly doesn’t like being ignored, call his move “the weakest by a superstar in league history”, berating Durant for taking the easy option, and daring anyone not to compare it to LeBron’s move to Miami. Screamin’ is a rabble rouser, and no-one should pay any heed to his wibble, but the suspicion is there that Durant may have taken an easy option. After all, it was Durant who didn’t particularly like LeBron moving to Miami all those years ago……

But this is boom time for the Screamins and Skips of this world. Of course, Bayliss is moving / has moved on but Screamin was doing the rounds yesterday with his nonsense. In any other sport a player going to a potentially win now situation is given barely a glance. I know how I felt when players went to the Yankees in the 2000s, and that’s what make its sweeter to beat them. It’s not weak of Durant, it’s common bloody sense. Westbrook may well be gone next year, and then what. Durant and the Stiffs? No. He saw a great chance now, and the Warriors would have been daft to let it go. It’s not weak, but sadly it is the most logical. Scream on Screamer.

Baseball Trading Card #2 – Tim Flannery

 

Flannery front

The second baseball card drawn out of the pile I acquired has provided me with a player that has a ton of material to review. Indeed, my delay in actually writing about him is due to this mass of information. I’ve sat through him doing a quiz competition on MLB TV, a tribute to him retiring as a 3rd base coach for the Giants from the Manager, and all other manner of stuff. I drew out Tim Flannery, a baseball coach, pundit and player. What is there to say?

Well, let’s start with this Deadspin article!

http://deadspin.com/former-padres-player-and-coach-tim-flannery-rips-the-or-1758434459

The card I have is from 1987 and Flannery was playing for the Padres. Never a great player, he appeared to be a fan favourite, and yet. And yet. Here we are, earlier this year, with Flannery taking to Facebook to have a right old go at his former club’s fans. I’m sure it must be tough for divisional rivals to watch one of their former favourite sons win three World Series in five seasons while your own team is a relative irrelevance, but Flannery’s riposte is really funny. You know, when you respond to the fans, you sometimes have lost the battle, but not in this case! If you put “Tim Flannery San Diego Padres” into Google, you get post after post on this one incident. So maybe this is going to be tougher than I thought.

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/oct/12/padres-manager-search-tim-flannery-1090-interview/

Seems he’s burned his bridges with San Diego.

Tim Flannery was a Padre for his entire MLB career. Born in 1957 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he was selected in the 6th round of the amateur draft in 1978 and made his Major League debut on 3 September 1979 against the Giants. In that game he batted lead off, getting a hit and an RBI on his third at bat against Ed Whitston in a 3-0 win for the Padres. Judging by the stats, Flannery was a light hitting batsman, totalling 9 home runs in his entire MLB career, and finishing it with a .255 batting average (he never topped .300 in a season) and a best OPS of .738. In the modern era it is doubtful whether these sort of numbers would have resulted in a ten year career, but in the 80s, the Padres appeared to hold Flannery dear to their hearts. A career Win Above Replacement (WAR) of 6.7 indicates that he had a career only slightly better than a call-up.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/flannti01.shtml

So let’s go to Wikipedia, that unimpeachable source.

It took Flannery five seasons to hit his first home run – in 1983 he hit one off Chuck Rainey of the Chicago Cubs. Flannery has his own musical collective (The Lunatic Fringe). He made four plate appearances in his only post-season of 1984, three in the NLCS and one in the World Series (where he went for 1/1 with a hit off Jack Morris – who I have an autographed baseball from). When he went to the plate in San Diego he was accompanied by the Ride of the Valkyries. He is an MLB Network Analyst, which he took up after retiring from the San Francisco Giants coaching staff.

Despite what looks like an undistinguished record, the Padres seemed to love Flannery in his playing days…

His retirement announcement in 1989 resulted in an outpouring of gifts and attention. In his final game, the sellout crowd greeted his first plate appearance with a standing ovation so prolonged that the umpire had to stop play,[11] and following the game, there was discussion on at least one call-in show of whether Flannery’s number should be retired.[9]

He seemed to want to make a statement with his retirement. The attached article goes through the way he decided to call it a day, two days early, forever to remain a Padre as a player. His only club.

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-09-29/sports/sp-28_1_tim-flannery-s-thoughts

This is terrific about superstition in baseball:

Wade Boggs thinks superstition is the key to life. Tim Flannery isn`t so sure anymore.

Flannery recently was reminiscing about the longest hitting streak of his career. It went on for 11 games. There were extremely compelling reasons that it didn`t go on longer.

“The problem was, I`m very superstitious,“ said the San Diego Padres second baseman. “The day after it started, I ate Chinese food and drank tequila. So I didn`t switch.“

Think about that for a second. Think about 11 straight days of that.

“The streak had to end,“ Flannery said, “or I was gonna die.“

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1987-09-10/sports/8703080628_1_wade-boggs-tim-flannery-switch

There’s friendship with the Grateful Dead. There’s winning three world series as a 3rd bench coach. There’s not being interviewed for the Padres job. It’s a many, varied career.

Flannery Back

As for the season of the Trading Card, which is a Fleer one, it was before the 1987 campaign. In it, Flannery’s strength and weaknesses were assessed in the where he hits ’em bit – showing he liked the ball up, and not down! It wasn’t a vintage year for Tim. There were no home runs, which wasn’t a surprise, and just one triple (against the Cubs at Wrigley on 1 May 1987). In 326 plate appearances, Flannery managed 42 walks, 20 RBIs,  63 hits for a batting average of .228. Vintage it wasn’t – http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=flannti01&t=b&year=1987

So, finally, to a couple of clips.

Tim Flannery and Lunatic Fringe:

MLB piece on Flannery and Bochy

http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/0/v37115087/tim-flannery-and-bruce-bochy-are-the-odd-couple

There’s a ton out there on his post-playing career…

https://www.google.com/?ion=1&espv=2#q=Tim+Flannery+mlb&safe=off&tbm=vid

But if you know, or have anything else, please let me know. And let’s see if I draw a Padre AGAIN next time.

 

 

Ben Simmons – A Number 1?

Tonight Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner, will announce the first pick in the NBA draft. Assuming the 76ers do not trade that pick away, it seems almost certain that the name announced will be Ben Simmons, a one-year college player from Louisiana State University, born in Melbourne, Australia and he will be off to Philadelphia. This has been pretty much set in stone for most of the year, as Simmons is seen as one of those rare talents that may, and I repeat may, turn into a franchise player. A superstar to define a generation. It’s also been set in stone, subject to lottery conditions, that the Sixers would be most in line to get him. Simmons has been number one all year. A can’t miss. A man with rare talents.ben-simmons-ftr-lsu-090115_9s371xdq80yvzudoznpwh51p

But then, I’ve heard this before. I heard it about Andrew Wiggins. While Wiggins is definitely a star player, he’s currently playing for a Timberwolves team that has young talent in abundance, but not making the postseason (in a sport where more than half the participating teams do). Wiggins was packaged in a trade for Kevin Love, thus missing out on the Cleveland Cavaliers / LeBron James show, indicating that there was no room for a major 19 year old talent in the James homecoming. Wiggins entered his freshman year as the putative number one draft selection, and indeed, maintained that despite a less-than-dominating college career at Kansas (if one year is a career).

Ben Simmons has had to carry that putative number one tag all season, but it is one he isn’t scared of, or even shy of admitting. It’s one he almost seems to expect. I was reading the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine last night and there is a large article on Simmons. It was a fascinating read. In my view, Simmons doesn’t come off well at all, despite the author of the article almost framing it as a celebratory piece. Simmons, to his credit, doesn’t pay lip service to his NCAA career. All indications are is that he saw his one year term at LSU as an inconvenience he could have done without – he would absolutely have put his name into last year’s draft as a High School athlete, but the NBA rules do not allow that to happen. Simmons makes no bones that he skipped classes because he was turning pro. Simmons makes no bones that he has the trappings of fame, despite not earning a dime at college. Simmons makes no bones that he was part of something bigger than a bad season at LSU – his entourage, his attitude to female approaches, the texts from LeBron. It’s the prime example of the hypocrisy in college sports. Simmons is no more an amateur than I am in doing my paid work. The NCAA get to fill out college arenas to watch a talent like Simmons, while not paying him a cent. Simmons doesn’t have any intention of securing an education, because he knows where he is going. Why carry on this pretence any longer? But that’s for another article.

You can’t have a draft, where there appears a standout number 1 pick, and have nothing to talk about. So there are people out there suggesting that Brandon Ingram of Duke might be taken. The 18 year old has a huge “wing span”, played quite impressively in his year of college ball, and interestingly, has a better shot at this stage than Simmons. The rub on Simmons is that although he averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists per game, his jump shot is non-existent, and that the NBA (with the Warriors style in vogue right now) is a shooters league. The appearance of this lack of shot is intriguing to me. I read a lot about this on the way into the office – people saying Michael Jordan wasn’t a polished jump shooter in college was a particular favourite – and this doesn’t seem to be a red flag in drafting Simmons. You’d have thought a number one pick, a talent known for years, and an individual who said he aspired to this and worked towards this, might have shown more on a major skill he is going to need. It certainly interests me that this issue doesn’t prevent the hype.

The Sixers, though, are giving off all the signals that they will select Simmons:

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nba-ball-dont-lie/report–76ers-promise-to-pick-ben-simmons-at-no–1-in-2016-draft-172303219.html

This is an interesting article, not so much for the Sixers indicating that Simmons is their man, but the rigmarole surrounding a choice. Simmons has a new shoe deal, Simmons won’t work out in Philly, Simmons would prefer LA (I don’t think this has ever been said publicly, but who wouldn’t have their head turned by the glamour of the Lakers), Simmons agent wouldn’t allow him to work out unless he was the number one pick etc. etc. This is real world sports, not those of dreamers and romantics. A highly structured, highly organised campaign by LeBron’s management company and a family who know what they want.

So what allures teams to a man with a work-in-progress jump shot? Here’s Draft Express (http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Ben-Simmons-61928/) :

He has ample size at 6’10, and a sturdy frame at around 240 pounds. While he does not possess great length, with a wingspan measured between 6’11 and 7’0, he is one of the most fluid and coordinated athletes you’ll find. 

Simmons has superb quickness, incredible body control, long strides and can operate at different speeds in a nearly unprecedented way for a player his size. Few players in recent memory are as effective at grabbing a defensive rebound and igniting the fast break as Simmons is, and a sky-high 26% of his offensive possessions comes in these situations according to Synergy Sports Technology.

In the half-court, Simmons is much more of a mixed bag. He saw some success operating with his back to the basket this season, but struggled when asked to act as a primary ball-handler and facilitator in pick and roll and isolation situations, partially due to LSU’s very poor spacing.

Simmons’ best traits in the half-court revolves around his tremendous ball-handling and passing ability, as he has outstanding court vision and a knack for finding open teammates with bullet passes. He’s one of just five players (Luke Walton, Danny Ferry, Nick Thompson and Jerald Honeycutt) in our extensive NCAA database to average over 5 assists per-40 minutes while standing 6’9 or taller, and is the only one to do so as a freshman.

While Simmons doesn’t show much range as a shooter, he has excellent touch with either hand around the basket, being highly creative and acrobatic with the way he can finish plays, sometimes above the rim with a head of steam. His average length and propensity for avoiding contact around the rim hurts his percentages as a finisher inside the paint (he converted a just-decent 55% of his attempts here in the half-court), but he is such a mismatch at his size that he’s able to draw a huge amount of fouls and free throw attempts (9.8 per-40) to compensate.

He also shows some ability to score inside the post with right-handed jump hooks and excellent footwork. He is devastating operating in isolation situations from the mid-post area as he’s simply too quick and too creative with the ball for most big men to stay in front of. College opponents negated that somewhat by putting smaller players on him as the season moved on and double-teaming the post, but things could be different in the NBA with better spacing, superior teammates and more creative coaching adjustments than we saw this season.

That’s quite a resume, and there appears little doubt that as a passing big man, he has few comparisons. But much of what I read says how great he is in “transition” (for those not as up to basketball terminology, it’s the basketball equivalent of a rapid counter-attack in football) and not as good in the half-court (your more “normal” style of play). Philadelphia are a struggling team, a club who have stock-piled high end draft choices, in the hope that they can land the sort of transcendental talent that can lead to victories and long play-off runs. To a degree they had this in the late 90s with the selection of Allen Iverson (and an appearance in the 2001 NBA Finals), and they need Simmons to be that sort of star or else the years of fallow play will be a total waste.

The consensus is that Simmons is a potential superstar, but the level of certainty that this will happen is perhaps not as widespread as it was maybe six months ago. Will he adapt his game to suit the NBA, will he develop a jump shot, will he show the attitude and aptitude to get through the grind of a season with a team that has serious deficiencies and which he will need to make his own? Questions turn to his attitude and to what people saw of Simmons at LSU. Reading between the lines, and reading his own words, I’d be worried if I was drafting him number one and hoping for that.

Sport is a funny beast, and personal tastes and fandom are funny things. Readers of my cricket blogging will know I am a huge fan of Kevin Pietersen. He is a polarising figure in the game, and undoubted talent, but maybe not the best team man of all time. But he wins you games with his batting and he is so entertaining when on song, it is always better to take the rough with the smooth. He also revels in social media, he loves the contact with other stars, and to a degree, went above England cricket. If he hadn’t performed, he wouldn’t have had those things and he’d be another flashy sportsman with nothing to show for it. I think the nearest in US sport that I could pin to that is Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals. He appears very self-confident, very individually driven, and, perhaps, not the greatest team man. But he’s an immense talent, producing lots of good stuff for his team. He’s also had fights with his team-mates. The thing with both of these stars is that they’ve earned their stripes through performance. Simmons, depending on who you read is a great team man, a player who makes others better, but unable to carry a college team, or a selfish, didn’t want to be there, user of LSU who abused the system and now reaps his reward. I’ll go a bit more into that in Part 2, when we’ll know if he has been picked.

The D-Parting Of D-Rose

The whatsapp notification from my good mate Martin came through last night.  “Derrick Rose traded to the Knicks”. I must admit, I didn’t see that coming. All I’d seen yesterday were potential deals involving Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. Not that. Maybe I wasn’t looking. Maybe I was lying to myself.

(Images from The Bull Show – www.thebullsshow.com)

I was a big fan of Derrick Rose. He was the first big superstar player to grace the Bulls post-Jordan. A number 1 pick with flair. His energy and ability seemed to get better performances out of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. The first series he played in the post-season, against the Boston Celtics in the 1st round will go down as an all-time classic. He energised a moribund franchise, pining for the glory days, and even, briefly, threatened the juggernaut Miami Heat (I’m still mad about that Game 2 in 2011). Rose was Chicago. When he was announced it wasn’t “from Memphis, at guard, Derrick Rose” but “from Chicago….”

The story is well known. Having done enough in the strike-shortened season of 2011-12 to secure the number 1 slot, the Bulls faced the 8th seeded Philadelphia. Towards the end of Game 1, which the Bulls had put away, Rose went down, clutching his knee. The prognosis was not good. He’d torn his ACL and was out for a year. That that injury rehab took more than the “usual” 12 months grated on a lot of people. Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season, including the play-offs, while his team-mates scrapped and fought to make the play-offs and then stun the Brooklyn Nets before losing to the Heat. When he came back at the start of the next season, he suffered another season-ending injury and the thoughts were that this was the beginning of the end for the Bulls’ talisman.

When Rose commenced playing again in the 2014-15 season, there were high hopes that his reintroduction to the line-up would regenerate the Bulls, with a new star in Jimmy Butler evolving, and that they might challenge LeBron’s new outfit, the Cavaliers. But noises coming from Rose indicated that all was not well. While it is easy to see the impact of a knee injury physically on a player, the mental scars are not visible and may not heal. Rose talked about not being physically incapable of picking up his kids, of not wanting to risk a lifetime of incapacity for the game of basketball. While players might think that, it’s not something they should ever vocalise in the macho world of sports. Once a player’s desire is questioned, the stories pretty much right themselves.

Rose appeared to “lose a step”. His game, pre-injury, was predicated on laser sharp, rapid drives to the basket, for either spectacular finishes or offloads to his wingmen on big men. Post injuries, that was much less on show. His somewhat flaky jumpshot had to be his go-to weapon, and on many occasions it misfired. His confidence in making and taking those shots had not diminished but without the regular sorties into the paint that defined his game, he wasn’t the player that had energised the city. Rose was vital, but not as vital. Butler was an increasing force. Pau Gasol was a key offensive weapon. The Bulls should have been able to make a better fist of things. So while they qualified comfortably for the play-offs, they would need to play Cleveland in the Semi-Finals. They won Game 1, with the offense in synch. They lost Game 2 after a lamentable start. Won a classic Game 3 on Derrick Rose’s game-winning three (which was banked in) and then lost Game 4 on LeBron’s riposte (and that will set Martin off….). That Game 4 loss took the wind out of their sales, Game 5 was comfortable for Cleveland, Game 6 the word was the Bulls had quit. Thibodeau, the only coach Rose had known in the pros was gone, and the “window” was closing as Joakim Noah showed the miles on his clock.

The less said about last year’s nonsense the better. Even with injuries, even with a new coach, the Bulls had more than enough talent in a weak Eastern Conference to make the play-offs. But Rose, who needed to be good, was not. For his salary he was an expensive millstone around the Bulls necks. He started with blurred vision, it ended with the trade to New York for an assortment of pieces that won’t be selling Bulls Season Tickets.

I collect/wear a load of US sport stuff, and I have a Bulls vest with the #1 on. Rose was one of the few players I would do that for. I love re-running those early, pre-injury days, and watching the carefree Rose play with abandon. At the time some were saying he was another Allen Iverson – fun to watch, would score a lot, but in the end, wouldn’t win you anything. They were right, but for the wrong reasons. Rose changed due to an ACL injury and then another torn meniscus, and he lost a step. One day the basketball fundamentals might compensate for that loss of explosiveness, but it does need to catch up. Rose in full flow is brilliant fun. I would watch him every time I could. But now, with his departure, as a Bulls fan, you sort of think “it’s probably for the best”.

Rose was an MVP. Rose was the spark that lit up Chicago. Rose brought Bulls fans joy and excitement. But in the end, it wasn’t for long enough. Maybe he’ll do this in New York, but I think we all feel he won’t. The Bulls can now be taken forward on the form and ability of Jimmy Butler. I don’t think it will be a particularly successful one, as the Bulls will not do anything unless they somehow lure a major free agent to the team, but they have turned the page. Rose had one year left on his contract. Would he have stayed beyond that? I doubt it. The Bulls front office never seemed that happy with him this year. The stats put out there in casting doubt on the deal said that Rose was the 3rd least valuable point guard out there – out of 33 . I read this last night and do you think I can find that article now?). The Pro Basketball Blog summed up the trade from the Bulls perspective:

Because of his contract and health, there was almost no market for Rose. They were going to have trouble getting a rack of shoot-around basketballs for him. To land Lopez, Calderon and Grant is a quality haul. Lopez is the key — the Bulls are losing Gasol and Noah for sure (that has been obvious since before the season ended, it was confirmed with this deal), this gets them a quality defensive big who can be an anchor in the paint. Calderon and Grant can be quality backup points, but the Bulls still need a starter.

The only person who doesn’t like this deal for Chicago is Benny the Bull.

And maybe someone who hoped, against hope, he might get there again. Sport. Eff it.