The new emails are in, and there’s talk about the NBA, recruiting and Mike Gundy.
Gary wrote about a passing reference to Wilt Chamberlain that I made on the radio: “I am old enough to remember the NBA when Wilt and Russell played each other. At that time, Russell was considered the better basketball player. How did the passage of time change that?”
Well, several things. First, I have no idea what people in 1962 thought. I was one year old. But I know what happened back then. Wilt always was considered sort of a villain. Bigger than everybody, so sort of a bully. A guy who left college early, which just wasn’t done in that time, to play for the Globetrotters. Then he didn’t win nearly as often as Russell did, though Russell played on epic teams. But Wilt’s numbers, in retrospect, are so outrageous, that it seems obvious that people at the time just didn’t know how to deal with them. So they were dismissed. Look at 1961-62. Russell’s Celtics went 60-20. Russell averaged 18.9 points, 23.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and no doubt blocked a ton of shots, though it wasn’t yet an official stat. Russell’s field-goal percentage was 45.7; he averaged 45.2 minutes per game, which is amazing. Tommy Heinsohn actually led Boston in scoring, 22.1. But that team also had Sam Jones at shooting guard and 33-year-old Bob Cousy at the point, where he still was an effective player. Frank Ramsey, 30 years old, averaged 15.3 points a game. K.C. Jones, 29 years old, was the backup point guard. Boston’s top six players, all but Cousy in their prime, made the Hall of Fame. Wilt’s Warriors went 49-31. Wilt averaged 50.4 points, 25.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists. He shot 50.6 percent from the field and averaged 48.5 minutes per game. On his team were two future Hall of Famers. Tom Gola, 29, and Paul Arizin, 33, who were both solid players at that time. Gola made the Hall of Fame primarily as a collegian. Arizin was a legit star, though nearing the end of his career. 1961-62 was his final season. Russell was voted MVP. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the home team won each of the first six games, setting up Game 7. The Warriors trailed 107-104 with 20 seconds left. Wilt made a 3-point play off Russell to tie it. With two seconds left, Sam Jones sank the game-winner to give Boston a 109-107 victory. That was Wilt’s burden to bear. He was the most dominant player the game ever has known. But he played against basketball’s Yankees, a team so full of talent (including the great Russell) that Hall of Famers came off the bench.
Leonard also wrote about the old days of the NBA: “Thinking about the old-time centers. Remember Zelmo Beaty? Long time ago, I talked with an ABA player by the melodious name of Lavern Tart at SMU’s Moody Coliseum. He played for the Nets from ’67-71. On the way out to the parking lot (no limos back then), I asked who was the toughest big man he played against. He told me he played with or against most of them either formally or informally. He said Nate Thurmond was the toughest. There were some great names and players who came through the ABA (and through Dallas fans) back then. Rick Barry, Lou Dampier, Dan Issel, Connie Hawkins, Dr. J, Iceman, Doug Moe, Larry Brown (saw him play as an older guy).”
Zelmo Beaty is a great history lesson for the younger crowd. He was a 6-foot-9 center out of Prairie View who joined the St. Louis Hawks in 1962-63 and played seven years before jumping to the ABA. In Beaty’s last two years with the Hawks, he averaged 21.1 and 22.9 points, and 11.7 and 11.1 rebounds. The NBA of 1969 was not the NBA of 1962; nobody was averaging 50 points a game. But Beaty is a great example of what Wilt went against during his prime. Almost every team had a quality center. Today, you see a quality center about once every five games. Teams are piecing it together with Nenad Krstic or Erick Dampier or Channing Frye. The NBA for the majority of the 1960s was a nine-team league. Which meant when Wilt played against Boston, he saw Bill Russell. When Wilt played St. Louis, it was Beaty. When Wilt played Cincinnati, it was Jerry Lucas, undersized but a ferocious rebounder. Lucas in 1966 averaged 21.5 points and 21.1 rebounds; Bobby Knight called his former Ohio State teammate the greatest player he ever saw. When Wilt played Baltimore, Walt Bellamy awaited. When Wilt played the Knickerbockers, there was Willis Reed. When Wilt played San Francisco (after his trade to the 76ers), there was Nate Thurmond. And in the late ’60s, Detroit had gotten Bellamy while Baltimore added the great Wes Unseld, a bull if ever basketball had one. Think about that. In 1966, the NBA had nine teams; six of the teams had centers who eventually made the Hall of Fame, and that’s not counting Zelmo Beaty. 77 percent of the league had quality centers, and that’s with a very high standard of quality. If Wilt Chamberlain came along today, it would take him 15 seconds to drop Dwight Howard to Jimmy Olson status.
John wrote about Dana Holgorsen: “Nice article on Gundy’s hiring of an offensive coordinator. I agree that this is the most important recruit for OSU this year. OSU is not going to pound the ball on the ground and be in a competitive game with OU or Texas or any of the big-time programs. Sure, if they had another Barry Sanders or OU or Texas was in a down year, then OSU could possibly control the line of scrimmage, but how often does that happen? Texas Tech has had much better success with OU, Texas and Texas A&M than OSU has had, so maybe by spreading the field OSU can be more competitive. It also wouldn’t hurt if their quarterback was not counted on to run so much, which lends itself to injuries. It was interesting that Bob Stoops said much the same thing yesterday in regard to preferring to keeping the OU quarterbacks from running so much.”
You know what is left unsaid, by me or anyone else? What Gundy really is saying is this: he’s changed his mind. He once thought this and now he thinks that. He once thought the best way to win was the no-huddle, spread, multiple offense of Larry Fedora. Now he thinks the best way to win is the no-huddle, spread, short passing game of Mike Leach. And there’s nothing wrong with that. All kinds of great coaches have made philosophical turns, because of trends or personnel or just realizing something might be better. Bob Stoops changed his offense in 2002, without really saying so. Bill McCartney changed his offense in the early ’90s with a dramatic decision to change it for the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl. Chuck Fairbanks changed his offense in 1970 during an off week.
Greg, a big OU fan, wrote about OSU, too: “Good article on Gundy’s best recruit. A great move to improve on a segment of the team which is not exactly broken to begin with. I truly want Gundy to be very successful. Certainly, if OU is not to win the conference championship and go to the BCS national title game, I want this plum for Mike and OSU. The best thing I see for OSU right now, they have not had in my lifetime a head football coach who sees OSU as the last stop/New York Yankees managing job.”
You know what would be interesting? If Gundy was put to the test. Let’s say OSU ran off some really outstanding years. Let’s say a four-year run of 11-2, 10-3, 12-1 with a Big 12 title, 10-3. Maybe another South Division championship in there somewhere. And let’s say Georgia or Alabama came calling. Offered him the job. Would he take it? I don’t know. Everyone at OSU would say no, and they might be right. But it’s easy to say this is your Yankees job when it’s pretty clear the Yankees aren’t going to offer you their job. By the way, I guess we can thank Joe Torre for the whole “Yankees job” term. Not too long ago, the last job in the world you wanted was the Yankees job. A Yankees job reference meant you had NO job security. From Ralph Houck’s 1973 retirement until Buck Showalter’s 1992 hiring, the Yankees made 18 managerial changes. That’s one a year. Billy Martin was hired FIVE times in that stretch. I am not making that up. Finally, Joe Torre arrived in 1996 and turned it into a Yankees job, staying a dozen years. The Dodgers aren’t as bad as the Yankees – who is? – but those franchises have sort of reversed. The Dodgers in Brooklyn had seven managerial changes from 1946 through 1954. Jackie Robinson must have wondered what he had gotten himself into. But in ’54, the Dodgers hired Walt Alston, and the revolving door stopped. Alston managed into 1976, an amazing 23-year run, and turned over the job to Tommy Lasorda, who held it 20 years. That two’s managers from 1954 until 1996. Since then, of course, LA has become just another franchise. Bill Russell, Glenn Hoffman, Davey Johnson, Jim Tracy and Grady Little all managed the Dodgers until 2008, when LA hired Joe Torre. Maybe Torre will do for the Dodgers what he did for the Yankees.
Don: “This is the FIRST TIME I have ever read a blog. The term itself is annoying. Can you tell I may be a senior citizen? I enjoy your stories and comments. I would prefer to read them in the paper. It is difficult holding this computer screen in my lap and reading it while I have my morning coffee.”
I have a suggestion. Use a table.
I had several emails about Scott Hill, after writing about the recruiting trip he took me on 25 years ago. Dan: “Thanks for the memory. I was an acquaintance of Scott during those times. Can you tell me what he is doing today?”
Scott is doing well. He’s in private business in OKC. Involved in some athletic endeavors, too. Same personable guy he always was.
Gary: “Nice yarn about Scotty. He was in my journalism classes at OU. I’m now a reporter here in Florida. Didn’t realize Scotty was that highly thought of, to be the next head coach. Like everyone, I was stunned about the recruiting violations (over nothing, or so it seemed at the time). But whatever happened to Scott? Is he OK today? I still remember our photography professor, Ned Hockman, who embarrassed Scott by introducing him to the class as the man who put the greatest hit ever delivered in an OU game. Scott turned so red, you could have lit a cigarette off his face. Remember when he went virtually parallel and nearly wiped out Tony Dorsett vs. Pitt in 1975? It was the smack heard ’round the football world. I think Dorsett was so shook up, he only gained about 20 yards in the game.”
Dorsett had either 17 yards on 12 carries, or 12 yards on 17 carries, I forget which. Hill told me that years later, someone set him up with a lunch meeting in Dallas with Dorsett. Dorsett said he never knew Hill’s name, but he never forgot his number.
Mike: “Interesting article. It would be nice to get a chance to do that in these times. Probably only get to see it when coaches write their memoirs years after we care.”
Here’s what I’d like. I’d like to follow Bob Stoops around for a week. I don’t really care about the recruiting. I’d just like to follow Bob around and see what he’s really like, because the side he shows the public is so different from the side he shows in private, from what friends say. Maybe they’re right. I’d like to find out.
Jim: “Loved the recruiting story. I recall Switzer was trying to recruit a kid in Illinois, and they talked into the evening, and when it was bedtime, Barry just kicked off his shoes and went to sleep on their couch. The guy could recruit.”
The halfback you’re talking about was Alvin Ross, from Aurora, Ill. Not a bad ballplayer.
Jeff wrote about the NFL: “I have heard a lot of talk about John Elway and Bradshaw and Manning and even some on Brady being the best QB of all time. I may be out in left field on this, but the No. 1 guy on my list is Joe Montana. Montana won four Super Bowls. Now, it did help he had the greatest receiver ever for three of those, but he was undefeated in Super Bowls. Elway was not. I think if Peyton Manning wins this one, he has to be included in the discussion. Manning and Montana both are just calm, cool and collected in the pocket. Montana could put the ball between three defenders and right in his receiver’s hands like no one else could. They both manage the game in similar fashion. Montana beat Elway. Elway had chances to win some more Super Bowls but could not get it done. I do think that once Montana went to the Chiefs that he was past his peak. Tell me if I am crazy. Here is my list of the top five all time, based on championships, touchdowns, yards, big games won, manager of the field. 1. Montana. 2. Manning. 3. Brady. 4. Bradshaw. 5. Elway. What do you think?
I think you’re crazy. Oh, I didn’t mean that. You’re not crazy. But I disagree. No way would I put Montana ahead of Elway, for the best of reasons. Primary source. I saw them play. Elway was better. Throw better, lead a comeback better, scramble better. I think Elway was the greatest quarterback of all time, and it’s a little bit of the Chamberlain argument. If we’re going to let team success dictate the greatest individuals, then the discussion is over. And Ben Roethlisberger is better than Brett Favre, Bob Griese is better than Jim Kelly and Joe Theismann is better than Dan Marino. I choose to keep the debate alive and not let Jerry Rice and Bill Walsh decide for me.
Bill wrote about baseball: “How did some of the old time pitchers keep from throwing out their arms, especially Walter Johnson or Cy Young? I’ve seen two short clips of Walter Johnson throwing, and it makes me wonder how he lasted. Did they have the conditioning that they have now? I had seen the stats of a pitcher called Silver King who pitches in the 1880s. He had four fantastic years, then he was pretty much through. I don’t know how they did it.”
This one is easy. Pitchers didn’t throw as hard. Bill James has written about this, how old-time pitchers didn’t unleash on every pitch. They held back. Played sort of an inside game. Everyone sort of had an unspoken agreement. We’ll play it easy until crunch time. Hitters didn’t swing big on every swing. Then one guy changed everything. Babe Ruth. He came along and said, I think I’ll just hit the ball over the fence every time, and soon enough everyone was pitching hard and swinging hard.
Cindy wrote about OSU basketball: “I’m writing to vent about Mike Holder. I can not believe he would not open up Gallagher-Iba to the students for a small price to fill the basketball arena up! A lady sitting next to me told me about some friends that are season ticket holders calling that afternoon to the ticket office for additional tickets, only to be told they were sold out for Big Monday. Bull! There were so many seats still available, and it is embarrassing to be on national TV and the place is nowhere near sold out or full. I understand there are people that hold tickets and don’t always come, but after some time during the course of the game, you can see they are a no show and let the students in. We could have used their enthusiasm in the second half. And I understand Holder has stated he will not open up to the students for three other games which have to be the OU, Kansas and Nebraska. I think he is the one single person trying to destroy the basketball program. Travis Ford is on the right track, but apparently Holder jumped off! Honestly, what would it have hurt to have opened the doors later in the game to the students, and if they have to charge a fee, then do so but at a much cheaper price. Maybe I’m wrong, but I still find it embarrassing we can’t fill up for the games when in the past it has always been filled to capacity.”
I’m all for criticizing Mike Holder for a variety of things. The financial gambles he took were disastrous. This life insurance deal is the just latest, and it’s all Boone Pickens’ call, well, that doesn’t speak very well of the AD, either. But no way can Holder be jumped for not letting in students after the game starts. Are there students who want to come to the game after it starts? Is there a clamor by students for extra seats or lower prices? I haven’t heard much of it. The problem Monday night is the same problem all year. Ticket holders aren’t using their seats. That’s the answer to OSU’s problem. Get people who already have shelled out the money to use the tickets. Ticket prices might be the problem, and that’s a Holder deal, but telling students to wait outside to see if other fans show up, then you can come in at a reduced rate, that doesn’t sound like much of an option to me.
Jeff: “I was watching SportsCenter recently, and Neil Everett was one of the anchors that day. The highlights for the Thunder game came up and Neil never said Oklahoma City, he referred to the team as ‘the team formally known as the Sonics.’ I didn’t think much of it, but then I was watching on another occasion and noticed he did it again. I went to the ESPN web site, and Mr. Everett is from Washington state. My issue is that Mr. Everett needs to get over it. The city of Seattle had their chance to keep this team, but refused to do anything to keep them. I don’t appreciate the ESPN management allowing this guy to do this on the air. He can keep his personal opinions to himself while he is on the air. Maybe the state of Oklahoma needs to stop watching ESPN for a week and write to program management and give their opinions about Mr. Everett.
Or how about this for a solution. Just laugh when the guy says it, knowing in April and May, if not this year but certainly next season, he gets to talk that nonsense during a playoff series when the rest of the country is wowing at Kevin Durant and wondering why this guy has a 2×4 stuck up his kiester. I guess I’m wired funny. I don’t understand all this need for validation from national media. Who cares what some jokester in Bristol, Conn., says? There’s a good chance he’s never been to Oklahoma and there’s a good chance he’s never had to make a payroll, so what the heck does he know? If he talked glowingly about OKC, would that make everyone feel better? He wouldn’t be any less of a fool.
John wants schools prepared should the Big 12 crumble: “If all those numbers of payouts are correct with Texas and Oklahoma dominating the game, I just hope the Big 12 has a plan to put in place immediately. If even one shoe drops like Colorado going to the Pac 10, I would bet Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa State will make a super conference in the rust belt. Forget trying to preserve the Big 12. OSU, OU, Texas A&M and UT all need to make the play for SEC membership. It fits with the SEC’s east/west axis theory. They would have South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Georgia in the East; OU, OSU, UT, A&M, Arkansas, LSU, Vandy in the West. Ten conference games. Three games out of division each year. Frankly, you can keep the tradition of playing Nebraska and put it where the sun doesn’t shine. It is cold there all the time. They’re recruiting in a new area, not having any conference games in Texas, as will also affect Missouri. Great. The pie gets cut fewer directions. See how fast the Missouri and Nebraska programs, not to mention Colorado, fall when the main focus of their recruiting dries up. For this fan who loves going to the away games from the FLORIDA panhandle, comparing campus environs in the SEC with the current array of Big 12 is terrible. No more Lubbock, no more altitude nightmares in Boulder, no more cold weather in Lincoln or Ames, or for that matter, Boulder or Columbia. Let those mothers freeze their ass off in State College or Heinz Field in November. I lived in Pittsburgh. If someone in Ames or Lincoln thinks they would have a climate advantage now, all of those teams play in that mess all the time, and most important, no Texas opponents. Their ability to recruit in Texas will drop through the floor. And that is just fine. Maybe Nebraska thinks they can outrecruit Ohio State, Michigan, Pitt and Penn State in Ohio, Michigan or Pennsylvania.”
It’s fun to think about, but not going to happen. The SEC is not going to admit OSU. Probably not going to admit anyone, but especially not a school that doesn’t increase the TV market. That’s what makes it tough on OU, OSU, Texas and A&M. If OU or Texas wanted to bolt, legislative pressure would likely force them to make a package deal for their in-state school. I could see the SEC taking both Texas and A&M at some point in the future, but not OU and OSU.
Jim wrote about a Sunday of sports television: “Watched most of the PGA from Torrey Pines. Who are these guys and who cares? Mickelson does not cut it. The tour needs Tiger, love him or hate him. Attendance looked way down for this tournament. Also, I did not watch any of the Pro Bowl, where they are playing touch football, from what I read. They might as well have a punt, pass and kick contest. They must have given away 70,000 tickets. Who would be foolish enough to pay to see that game? The Pro Bowl has never been very good. Maybe they should have it as the first game of the season or not have it at all if they are afraid to get hurt playing the game.”
I like the latter suggestion. But fans keep coming and watching. I know people who hurried home Sunday evening to catch the Pro Bowl. I don’t know anyone – except maybe my brother-in-law – who hurried home to watch a Tigerless golf tournament.