ESPN2 “First Take” commentator Skip Bayless, an Oklahoma City native, discussed his comments about the Oklahoma City Thunder and his Northwest Classen basketball career in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. Bayless is predicting that the San Antonio Spurs will face the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
Bayless has been criticized for tweeting that he started for a Northwest Classen team that lost in the state finals (1970 to Norman), although team statistics show he averaged only 1.4 points in 15 games as a senior.
From your comments on the show, I gather you don't think the Thunder will reach the NBA Finals. Is that correct?
I don't, but I want to make it very clear that contrary to unpopular opinion in the state of Oklahoma, I am a huge Thunder fan. I'm obviously a native Oklahoman born and bred, and when I die, I'll be Sooner dead. I still love the state as much as I love my mother who lives in Oklahoma City.
I root for the Thunder, and yet from the distance I offer constructive criticism. I don't trust the Westbrook-Durant dynamic in crucial playoff games. Russell Westbrook seems like a fine kid but he is a two guard masquerading as a point guard. I don't think he wants to do it, and I think in their heart of hearts, they don't want him to be their point guard, and it just happened and he has to try to be. And yet in pivotal situations, I don't trust his instincts because his instincts are mainly to shoot it.
I know Kevin Durant has criticized me and he continues to encourage Russell to shoot. The more he does so the slippery slope gets. The only way I can see getting to the NBA Finals, certainly this year, is to take the plunge and start James Harden at the point. He is a much better point guard than Russell every dreams of being. He's slicker with the ball. Better vision. Better instincts. Better handle. Has better slither through the lane. I think Harden even gets Durant cleaner better shots. When Westbrook is playing it's almost like my turn, your turn. It's hard to win big playoff games shooting that many jump shots in that many iso situations.
I picked before the year started the San Antonio Spurs by default (to win the Western Conference) because I don't just trust Russell Westbrook. I wanted to pick the Thunder. I thought they were close. I had no idea that San Antonio would add Stephen Jackson, Patty Mills and Boris Diaw at the trade deadline. Now they have become the deepest team. I knew Tim Duncan was in the best shape of his aging life and Tony Parker finally figured out how to be a pass-first point guard and (Manu) Ginobili is at least for the moment 100 percent healthy. As we saw in the last two meetings between San Antonio and Oklahoma City, the Spurs are just a little better right now. I think if it comes to Spurs-Thunder, the Spurs will take them to school one more time. And long term, I hope that James Harden gets installed as the starting point guard. Westbrook, you could even bring him off the bench. He is a wing player who is playing out of position.
Your comments about Harden being partially to blame for the Metta World Peace elbow created a stir out here. Do you stand behind that comment?
1000 percent. He (Harden) is a shrewd operator. I love that about him. He has been able to get under Kobe's skin. The other day on “Conan,” Ron Artest said that Harden has a habit of sort of accidentally on purpose getting in your way after a big dunk. I know that he was trying to disrupt Artest's home-arena celebration, just get in a way of it and stop it. I don't have a problem with that. It was a nifty little move, a veteran savvy move. It was about to work except that Artest is such a bull-in-a-China-closet that I'm not even sure that he knew what he was doing — he was so full of himself at that moment, pounding his chest — that he did not want to be interrupted because he was so enjoying the moment of having dunked over Ibaka and Durant that he just reflexively said, get out of my way, and he is sort of rambunctious and sometimes empty-headed that he tried to elbow Harden away and obviously sort of caught him in the upper neck. Thank God he didn't catch him in the temple or we might be having a different conversation.
Again, I do not condone the elbow, but I get what was happening that Harden got into harm's way. Again as a young team trying to make it's way, it was a neat move. I appreciated it. It probably would have worked on just about anybody but this wild man and then mayhem ensued.
Do you regret your tweet about your Northwest Classen basketball career?
Absolutely not. I know in your article (in The Oklahoman) Bruce Scott (former teammate) said if I had seen fit to transfer to John Marshall my senior year I would have averaged 18 a game. I would have. What happened was we were having an abbreviated summer league season. It seemed like about six games at the Downtown Y. Remember those teams were always ranked 1 or 2 in the state under the great Don Van Pool? I started every game because it was clear that I was going to be a starter. I would score a lot. Van Pool didn't like me but Van Pool couldn't coach those games. It was against the rules.
This reminded me after your piece came out there was one night against a kid named Dave Fisher from the old Edmond High School that I had 22 against him. So everybody thought I was finally going to relax under Van Pool and finally get the start that I deserved. I showed up the first day of school and he had transferred in his son Donnie Van Pool from Southeast High School, who was a year behind me and the handwriting was on the wall.
I started early. Pretty quickly was the sixth man, then the seventh man. It was a classic case that he just didn't like the way I played. But I agreed with Bruce. John Marshall was a run-and-gun team at that point. If I had gone over there, I would have scored a lot of points. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The irony was that I had in the original tweet. Bruce Scott and I, when we were 15 years old before we played for Van Pool, went to a camp run by the Iba family at Bishop McGuinness High School. Kids came from all over the state. They had a couple hundred kids there, some of the best players. On Saturday night at the awards ceremony, I was chosen the MVP and Bruce was chosen the most outstanding, which was the runner-up to the MVP. We went into the parking lot. My mom had taken me over because I couldn't drive yet and she didn't follow my career very closely. And Bruce's mom started yelling at my mom that Bruce should have won MVP. She was looking at me like “what is this about?” It's really competitive between Bruce and I. But Coach Van Pool loved Bruce and should have because Bruce was a perfect fit for him.
Van Pool was an Iba disciple. We were “pound the post.” We had 6-10, 6-8 across the front. I couldn't play that way. He tried to make me a point guard. I had no vision. I was Russell Westbrook. That's the irony of it. I wasn't that good. All I wanted to do was shoot. I was a pretty good shooter. We had an AAU select team the next year, with four kids that went on to play Division I basketball and football. I led that team in scoring, but not for Van Pool.