Posted Sep 9, 2013 11:03 AM
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- First, my sincere thanks to our four Guest Tippers -- Steve Kerr, actor Steve Schirripa, citizen of the world Jimmy Goldstein and superfan Larry Kelly -- for stepping up to the plate while I was on vacation. This year's group, I think, was the best of the bunch so far. Some great stories, some good ideas, but each brought what I had hoped they would bring -- the passion for the NBA specifically and basketball in general that all of us who love the game so much share. (Read each of them, again, at your leisure.)
The summer, though, dwindles, leaving this weekend's Hall of Fame induction as one of the last events of the offseason before camps start at the end of the month. And what a scene the birthplace of basketball provided, yet again.
"This is the best three days of my life!" said Oscar Schmidt, the legendary Brazilian star, on Saturday. (It was Oscar who, having never met a shot he wouldn't take, said of his less-heralded teammates: "Some people, they carry the piano. And some people, they play the piano.")
Yet the story of Hall of Fame weekend almost always is as much about the people who never played as the men who did -- their friends and families. The typical (and atypical) fights, resentments, most of those things are forgiven, briefly, shared with the memories of a lifetime of going to practices, and games, and all that these men achieved.
I can't forget Charles Barkley bringing his dad, with whom he'd had a contentious relationship for most of his life, here a few years ago, when it was the Chuckster's turn to be inducted.
And that's why it was no surprise to hear that Gary Payton had invited his ex-wife, Monique, this weekend. Or that he'd given her his Hall of Fame ring that he got Friday.
"I think she deserves it," Payton said Saturday.
Payton brought "40 to 50" people to Springfield for his big day. There was his family, including his sister, Sharon -- a dead ringer for him facially and in demeanor; former teammates including Nate McMillan and Sam Perkins, his fellow Oaklanders Jason Kidd and Brian Shaw, and his Oakland crew: Milton Jackson, Marty White, Trevor Pope, Danny Buckley, and his cousin, Glen King.
The crew was one of the original NBA "posses," which became shorthand among many for moochers and leechers, guys that got paid to do nothing and who would disappear when the paychecks stopped coming.
To be sure, the largesse flowed, largely, in one direction. Payton's money funded most of his friends' lives. They worked, at first, exclusively for Payton and his family; security, picking up, dropping off, being available to travel with Payton on the road. But they did so without causing him any trouble off the court. There were no headlines or breaking news bulletins.
All of that came, in large part, for the same reason that so much more went right in Payton's life instead of wrong: the base set up by his parents, Annie and Al. They raised five kids hard by the turf of one of East Oakland's toughest gangs -- the High Street Bank Boys. The line between the good and the illegal was known by all of the Paytons, who would have had to face the wrath of Al, known to one and all as "Mr. Mean," if it was crossed. Whole neighborhoods were scared of Al Payton. But in a good way.
"He never smiled," Shaw, now the Nuggets head coach, texted Sunday night.
"You just didn't want to let him down because he pushed you to the limit," Shaw said, "and challenged you to be the best you could be."
So, when Payton was taken second overall in the 1990 Draft by Seattle, Al Payton, who worked multiple jobs so that his kids would have enough money to not be tempted by the streets, laid down the law.
"My daddy took 'em all in, in the beginning," Payton said, "and he said, 'Listen here. You're going to be around my son, and I raised you, too. If I find out you're doing something to take down my son, I'm gonna come up there and I'm gonna take you back to Oakland.' So a lot of my guys grew up around my daddy. They were coached by my dad. They stayed at my house a long time with my dad. A lot of them were scared of my father, and they knew I wasn't gonna go for that, anyway."
Now, look: That doesn't mean Payton didn't get in the occasional scrape. But for the most part, he got in bigger trouble for what he did on the court than what happened when the games were over.
"If we wanted to get in trouble, I'd tell them: Go in the house," Payton said. "I have everything you want in the house. If you want to smoke some weed, if you want to drink, drink it in the house. Don't drink it in the car and then get caught, and then the police ride up on you. I had some smart guys with me. They're all here ... and I'm very proud of all of them."
Today, White sells real estate. Jackson is an executive for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, with a degree in political science. Pope works for the Department of Corrections, with a sociology degree. And Payton, now an analyst on Fox Sports 1, is well into his retirement. He's still got more than enough money to live on (and more is on the way, with Nike bringing back one of his old shoes, the Glove II, next month).
"Three or four of them could have been doing something else really bad," Payton said. "And they're not doing it because they're going, 'OK, my boy done come and saved me. He saved me. So let me reward him by doing the right thing, and working.' I put all of them through college. They all graduated. And I'm very proud of that. We all had to get away from what we did."
It's one of the hardest and toughest things for pro athletes to do: evolve. It doesn't mean you forget where you came from; it means you can't be the same person that you were 20 years ago. You have to grow, and change -- and, sometimes, leave. Payton lives in Las Vegas, where he started buying land early in his career, and where his kids went to school.
His career was one of alterations. He was supposed to go to St. John's and play for Lou Carnesseca, but Looie got cold feet and didn't come through with the scholarship. He went to Oregon State, where Hall of Fame Coach Ralph Miller got him to think defense first, creating an alchemy of arms, smarts and non-stop trash talking that made Payton a one of a kind presence on a basketball court.
Payton struggled his first two seasons in Seattle playing for K.C. Jones, which is why he holds the late former owner Barry Ackerley and his family in such high regard. Ackerley fired Jones in 1992 and brought in then-Real Madrid coach George Karl. Karl, in turn, brought Tim Grgurich from UNLV (Payton believes Karl hired Grg because he needed "somebody to come in here and relate to these city guys"). Grgurich, whose rapport with players is the stuff of legend, convinced Payton not only to play Summer League, but to use his body for more than just ripping guys.
With assistant coach Bob Kloppenburg putting in a trapping, pressing, near-zone that was tailor made for Payton's skills, the Sonics became a lethal defensive unit. With the rapid development of Shawn Kemp and with vets like McMillan, Detlef Schrempf, Perkins and Hersey Hawkins, Seattle became a force in the Western Conference, winning 63 games in 1993-94 and 64 games in 1995-96, making The Finals. And Payton was the team's unquestioned leader.
But the Sonics' rise in the West ended abruptly. Seattle gave free-agent shot-blocking center Jim McIlvaine a $34 million deal after The Finals. This enraged Kemp, who wanted his own new contract as a result.
He never got one -- in Seattle, anyway -- and was traded to Cleveland a year later in a three-team deal which brought Vin Baker to the Sonics. It was the beginning of the end of the Sonics as a contender; McIlvaine was gone by '98, the damage to the franchise already done.
Payton doesn't blame McIlvaine.
"People don't understand -- Shawn had just redone his contract the year before," Payton said. "And they weren't going to keep redoing contracts. Owners are not silly. You can't keep coming to them every time something happens. The guy [McIlvaine] got lucky. I think a lot of guys are getting lucky now."
Kemp's demise was the first, faint hint of long-term trouble for the Sonics in the Emerald City, but there was an unmistakable downward shift after the Reign Man sulked and ate his way out of town. Seattle won 61 games with Baker in his first season with the Sonics (1997-98), but the franchise never was a real contender again. Karl was fired after the '98 season, and Payton never meshed with his replacement, Paul Westphal.
Not willing to give Payton a contract extension, the Sonics traded him and Desmond Mason to Milwaukee for Ray Allen and others in 2003. The decision to deal Payton was made by the Sonics' new owner, Howard Schultz, who bought the team from Ackerley in 2001. Eventually, Schultz sold the franchise to Clay Bennett, and you no doubt know the rest of the story.
So it was somewhat fitting and a salve for Seattle that Payton got into the Hall this year. The city's bid to take the Kings from Sacramento fell short in May, leaving it with an arena plan and $500 million or so but no team to buy. There may not be a team to buy for a while.
So Payton -- who will not agree to have his No. 20 jersey retired until there's a team again in Seattle -- is the good news. He may have won his ring in Miami with the Heat in 2006, but there's no question as to where his loyalties remained.
"People had the gall to ask me what I was going to go in as," Payton said. "'They were saying, 'You gonna pick the Lakers?' How many All-Star teams did I make with the Lakers? Did you know me with that team? I'm glad that you're saying that, but listen. You seen me 13 years playing for them Seattle SuperSonics. You didn't see nothing else but Seattle on my jersey. It's really gratifying for Seattle. I can't disrespect them."
Flip Saunders is down to player intros.
Having addressed all of the Timberwolves' on-court concerns in a whirlwind three months since officially replacing David Kahn, Saunders -- the team's new president and part-owner -- is rapidly moving toward trying to improve the game-night experience for fans at Target Center.
Coming off a 31-51 season, with the team in the bottom third of attendance in the league, suggestions are welcome.
"The most positive thing when you come into an organization in this role is, when you come in, you critique everything, from the beginning to the end," Saunders said by phone Sunday morning.
"I believe that whether it's your game introductions, or the music that's played, that it have a purpose. And you have to understand your fan base and what really makes them go ... We want them to have the kind of experience that when the fans do come in, they come back."
Back with the franchise where he led the Wolves to eight straight playoff appearances as coach, Saunders now has the 25,000-foot view rather than the coach's "there's a game tonight that I want/need to win" approach. Minnesota does need to start winning, to be sure, as the clock is ticking toward All-Star Kevin Love's opt-out after the 2014-15 season. But the Wolves, on paper, look to be in much better position to chase a postseason spot.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor didn't hesitate to bring Saunders back in a management role after Saunders spent a year working at ESPN. This after Taylor fired Saunders in 2005 and made Kevin McHale, then the Wolves' GM, come down to the bench. And he OK'd opening up the checkbook.
Saunders spent $28 million to get free-agent guard Kevin Martin from Oklahoma City and shore up Minnesota's need for perimeter shooting. He signed Corey Brewer, who the team dealt away as part of the Carmelo Anthony mega-trade in 2011. He re-signed forward Chase Budinger for three years and $16 million, and center Nikola Pekovic for five years and $60 million. And he turned the ninth pick overall in the Draft into rookies Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng in a deal with Utah.
The result is a deeper and more versatile team for Coach Rick Adelman. There's no guarantee Minnesota can punch through in the West, of course, but a starting five of Ricky Rubio, Martin, Budinger (or Brewer, or maybe Derrick Williams, the second pick overall in 2011), Love and Pekovic, with Alexey Shved, J.J. Barea, Budinger, Brewer and veteran Ronny Turiaf off the bench is worth exploring.
Saunders also revamped the Wolves' front office, officially hiring Wizards vice president of player personnel Milt Newton last week to be Minnesota's general manager. The long-rumored deal follows the addition of veteran center Calvin Booth as the team's Director of Player Programs and former WNBA player Kaayla Chones as Manager of Team Operations. Ex-Wolves player Bobby Jackson will soon come aboard in a front office role. Saunders retained veteran Director of Basketball Operations Rob Babcock, promoting him to a team vice president.
Saunders will still have the final say, but there will be a lot more voices in the room than there were under Kahn, whose reign was, to the say the least, controversial. On the plus side of the ledger, Kahn brought in Rubio and Pekovic and Budinger, and hired Adelman.
But there were minuses -- lots of them. With four first-round picks in 2009, Kahn got Rubio ... but also took Jonny Flynn (who lasted less than three seasons in Minnesota) one pick after taking Rubio fifth overall. Minnesota took yet another point guard, Ty Lawson, with the 18th pick, but had arranged a deal to move him to Denver. Leaks about trade talks with the Wolves were rampant, driving other teams crazy. And Kahn had to bring in Adelman to replace Kurt Rambis, who flamed out in three seasons.
More crucially, the team's relationship with Love, who chafed at the four-year, $62 million deal he got instead of a five-year max deal (hence the early out), was, to say the least, strained. Saunders wanted to diversify the team's thought processes when it came to player acquisition. A small-market team like the Wolves should have a more level playing field these days with the increased luxury taxes the big-revenue producing teams have to pay, but it still can't make mistakes.
"They had -- not saying it's wrong -- but they had, he had made a decision that they were going to go more like baseball, where they had a lot of satellite scouts, and the scouts were pretty much scattered pretty much around the country," Saunders said. "Talking with Glen, I believe there was more organization in the places where I'd been, like with Detroit and Joe [Dumars], and other places that I'd been.
"I'd already been looking at Chicago back through their heyday. They had people that were there. And they had contact every day with the management, and also with the team. So going out scouting and looking at players, they had a better understanding of what the team needed."
Newton may not have played for the Spurs, but he is as much a member of the San Antonio mafia as anyone who has, having played at Kansas on Larry Brown's 1988 national championship team. He was teammates with Kevin Pritchard, now the Pacers' general manager. R.C. Buford, now the Spurs' president of sports franchises and general manager, was an assistant coach for the Jayhawks.
Despite the Wizards' record the past few years, Newton is well respected around the league. Other teams had inquired about him over the years. Saunders obviously saw his work firsthand while coaching the Wizards from 2009-12. Newton will be one of a handful of GMs and executives of color in the league, joining Billy King (Brooklyn), Masai Ujiri (Toronto), Dumars, Rod Higgins (Charlotte) and Dell Demps (New Orleans). Doc Rivers has decision-making authority with the Clippers along with his coach title.
Saunders offered Newton a chance to be involved in the decision process in Minnesota.
"He's going to have a lot of responsibility," Saunders said. "Where he was at, he was ready to make the step to have more responsibility, maybe have more influence in what happened, both with the day-to-day and also with the vision of the team. I believe in him and Rob we cover a lot of areas with the management team going forward."
First on everyone's to-do list is Love. Kahn made the determination that the Wolves should keep their designated player (five-year max) contract available for Rubio. It was a reasonable decision, but it nonetheless left Love cold. He expressed his displeasure with the Minnesota organization last year in interviews with Yahoo! Sports.
"I've probably had as much communication with him as any player that I've had, over the course of the summer," Saunders said. "I know there have been a lot of things said about him. But he's been extremely committed to the organization. We've asked him to do things from a business standpoint, meeting with different sponsors and different things, and he's been readily available to do that ... I communicate with him, I'd say, three times a week, just to see how things are going."
Love is, as he has the past couple of years, working like a madman with trainer Rob McClanaghan in California, along with Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and other star players. He's incorporating yoga and Crossfit training into his regimen and has "taken his personal training to a whole new level," according to Saunders.
He insists he didn't have to mend any fences with Love.
"A lot of people say that," Saunders said. "I don't know if there's fence-mending. I just kind of came in with myself, and I knew Kevin a little bit from before. I was just very point blank with him about expectations I have for him within the organization. He was very receptive and very open to that."
Love has been pleased with Minnesota's moves. Keeping Pekovic was crucial, and getting production out of the two guard spot was essential after Minnesota gambled and lost on Brandon Roy being able to get another year out of his knees. Martin, having played in Adelman's system in Sacramento and Houston, was the clear and obvious target for Minnesota.
The jury is still out on Williams, but it's getting close to telling the judge it's ready to come back into the courtroom. Minnesota hoped Williams could play the four; he couldn't, at least not consistently -- and it doesn't matter if he could, with Love around (although Williams could play some at the four if the Wolves go small, but he'd need to improve his 3-point shooting). Williams' best hope at sticking in Minnesota is to be able to be more productive at the three.
"He's made a big push this summer to lose weight and be quicker, and hopefully be able to play some three," Saunders said. "We'll see over the next three weeks, and into training camp, that month, what this offseason has done with him, and what losing weight and being a little quicker has done for him. His biggest thing is, can he guard threes? The way Coach Adelman plays, he'll be able to fit him in offensively."
At the least, Minnesota shouldn't be dependent on Williams this season. He'll get what he can earn. Adelman now has lots of options from the two through the four.
Rejuvenating the Wolves would obviously mean more to Saunders than most. He came to Minnesota in 1995 out of the CBA, and grew close to both McHale and Taylor. The franchise grew along with its wunderkind, Kevin Garnett, and added enough vets around him -- Sam Mitchell, Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell -- to eventually make a playoff run. But that was almost a decade ago.
Saunders wants to return to that kind of clarity. The reason he became interested in coming back was that Taylor finally decided he didn't want to sell the Timberwolves, even to local investors, as he had been trying to do for a couple of years, and pulled them off the market.
"When I was here, earlier, along with myself and Kevin [McHale], we had a definite vision of what we were going to try to do, and how we were going to go about doing it," Saunders said. "Coming in, I think they've been more reactive than proactive. My thing was to try and be a little more proactive coming in. And I think the biggest thing was that Glen Taylor, over the last few years, maybe hasn't been as much involved. I believe that now, he's gotten more involved like he was when I was first here. Glen was very involved in the organization. And I think that's where he is again. When your owner is really tuned in and locked in, and excited, and enthused, you can accomplish a lot more things in the organization."
Saunders is determined to lay his own mark on the franchise, too. As a coach with the Pistons and Wizards, Saunders couldn't lay down the law. Even as the Pistons made the Eastern Conference finals, he clashed with Rasheed and Ben Wallace. That proud team had won a championship and was set in its ways.
In D.C., Saunders couldn't do anything but watch as Gilbert Arenas sank Washington's nascent team, yet Arenas was brought back the following season after serving his suspension for bringing a gun into the locker room. Nor could he lower the boom on players like Andray Blatche for being out of shape or not on the same page with the rest of the team.
Here, Saunders is the boss.
"I hope that what I give Rick is that I give him the type of general manager that I would want to have over me," Saunders said. "Someone that's always going to give you great support, but is going to set the lines on players. And that basically, no matter what, what they're going to do is, the message that the coach has is the same message that I'm giving to the players. They don't say, 'Well, there's the coaches, and there's management.'
"They look and they say those guys are running together. I think over the summer, I think that's what Rick and I have really started creating. We believe the game should be played the same way. We like the same type of players. We were both coaches that gave players opportunities and let them play. And players like playing for coaches who are like that. When you're dealing with players, there's a fine line. There's no question that when you're the president of the organization and you're also part owner, you have a little bit more opportunity to get across how the players are going to act."
With a five-year deal, Saunders is likely going to stick in Minnesota longer than Adelman, who is year-to-year as he deals with his wife's health. Mary Kay Adelman suffered seizures during last season and Adelman took several weeks off to be at her side. Her condition has stabilized and Adelman will coach the team next season. But there are obviously no guarantees.
Which begs the question of whether the 58-year-old Saunders could, some day, get back on the bench if and when Adelman decides to stop coaching for good. At least for now, the answer is no.
"I'm extremely happy where I'm at," Saunders says. "I never get into hypotheticals or what ifs, or what coulds, because you never really know. But I'd say when I'm just talking to people, I don't think I've been any more relaxed, happier. I'm in a perfect situation. I can really mold the team. I have a lot of input on how a team can be formed. And I don't think about coaching because Coach Adelman has been very open to me.
"We talk about a lot of things. We talk about defense. We talk about offense. It's always like we're having a coaching clinic. He's been very open to me that he wants me to be very open to him, and if I see things, don't ever feel slighted about giving him advice. I said I'll do that, but you have to coach the team the way you want to coach it ... so I don't see myself coaching right now."
How hard is it to bring a man to life who has been dead for 36 years?
This was the task of the Henderson family of Washington, D.C., and Falls Church, Va. For almost a decade, they told, and re-told, the story of the family patriarch, Edwin B. Henderson -- a teacher, player, coach, historian and the man who brought basketball to black America at the turn of the 20th century. And, finally, someone heard them. Of all the great stories of this induction weekend in Springfield, Henderson's touches me the most.
He was inducted into the Hall Sunday out of the Early African-American Pioneers of the Game Committee, established two years ago to honor black players and contributors to the game before 1950. Henderson was a direct electee last April; like the Hall's ABA Committee, also established in 2011, the Early African-American Committee directly elects its honorees to the Hall.
His was among the longest of long shots. While Henderson played, and played well, his teams are, other than on historical websites like blackfives.com, almost forgotten. He coached, but not for very long. Yet his contributions to the game are immense.
Getting him here was a labor of love, led by his grandson, Edwin Henderson II, and his wife, Nikki Graves Henderson. They fought the ennui of time and the lack of historical curiosity to make people see E.B. Henderson. They speak of him often in the third person, as if to give him three dimensions, make him more than just a picture in a book.
"One of the big things we were up against was that the collective memory of the public is only so long," said Edwin Henderson II. (Because we're dealing with three men named Edwin B. Henderson, I'll refer to the Hall of Famer from here out as "Henderson," or E.B., to his son as Edwin, Jr., and to E.B.'s grandson as Edwin II.)
"Once that window is open, a generation, usually, nothing happens within that generation," Edwin II said. "They're lost, until someone brings it back. And that's what we've done. That's what we've tried to do."
Henderson was the first person to teach the game of basketball -- which had only been invented 13 years prior, by James Naismith -- on a wide scale basis to African-American players, in 1904.
Henderson learned the game at a clinic at Harvard from a man named Dudley Allen Sargent, who had taught the game years earlier to a student named Luther Gulick. It was Gulick who gave Naismith, who joined the Springfield, Mass., YMCA faculty as a physical education teacher in 1891, the task of coming up with a game that YMCA members could play in the winter.
The line is thus fairly direct -- Sargent to Gulick to Naismith ... and, through Sargent, to Henderson.
Henderson, a teacher in the Washington, D.C. school system who also played baseball and football, returned from Harvard in 1904, certified as the first African-American man to teach physical education in the public schools, and began showing the game to local students. (Years later, one of Henderson's students in D.C., Charles Drew, whom Henderson taught in the early '20s, became a doctor and revolutionized the method for storing blood that allowed transfusions to be made up to a week later by separating the plasma in the blood from the liquid blood.)
Henderson led the YMCA 12th Streeters, one of several teams of African-American players who were not allowed to play against white teams, to the 1910 World Colored Championship. He formed the first all-black game (1905) and the first league for black players, the Inter Scholastic Athletic Association (1906).
He was the catalyst for Howard University, the predominately black school, absorbing his YMCA 12th Streeters into the school, as Howard's first official varsity basketball team. He formed alliances for black referees and officials; often in those days, black refs were overlooked for assignments by even black leagues, who often fell victim to the perception that white officials were superior.
But Henderson was also a prolific writer, and it is here that he may have made his greatest contributions.
Tirelessly chronicling the efforts of black athletes, in newspapers, journals and books, Henderson was the first true historian of the black athlete, gathering records and scores through scouring old newspapers from the black press, and then following up on the occasionally spotty stats from the papers by calling up the teams themselves and filling in the blanks.
He co-authored the Spalding Athletic Handbook, beginning in 1910, which was one of the first publications dedicated to chronicling the achievements of African-American athletes. He wrote a widely distributed and read article in the black community for the NAACP's Crisis Magazine, in 1911, "The Colored College Athlete." And Henderson's 1939 book, "The Negro in Sports," was one of the first comprehensive academic notations of black achievement in athletics. (The book provided much of the information used by future scholars that wrote about the early days of African-American athletic achievement in the States, including the late Arthur Ashe's book, "A Hard Road to Glory.")
"He compiled all of that through original research," Edwin II said. "Through newspapers, the black press. Not because there were any books to go to -- there weren't any. You couldn't find it in books."
Basketball wasn't the only sport in which he had an historical interest. Among Henderson's other possessions was a letter from Josephine Bruce, the widow of Blanche K. Bruce, the first African-American to be elected and serve a full term in the U.S. Senate. The letter detailed the exploits of the Washington Mutuals, a black baseball team that played in the city after the Civil War. Two of the sons of abolitionist, scholar and civil rights pioneer Frederick Douglass played for the Mutuals.
E.B. Henderson also sought integration of public facilities in D.C., including the old Uline Arena, which was the first venue in the States in which the Beatles played, in 1964. He organized the first rural branch of the NAACP, in Virginia.
Henderson died in 1977 at age 93. Giving his life and accomplishments a fresh look all these years later was not an easy task, especially in an era where we complain about everything on our cross-country flight -- you know, the trek that used to take a month by wagon train, and which killed half or so of the people that were going east to west, or vice versa. (H/T to the comedian Louis C.K., one of my favorites, for pointing out how absurdly spoiled we have become in the Internet age.)
There was, obviously, no video of Henderson, no first-hand accounts or tributes. There were just his words, in long-yellowed clippings, books and periodicals.
But the Hendersons had advantages. Throughout the D.C. community, in academia and elsewhere, the family was reminded what a central role their grandfather had played in the development of the game, and everyone said the same thing to them: he really should be in the Hall of Fame.
Edwin, Jr., had taken his role as family historian seriously, keeping many of the articles and pictures his father wrote and that were taken of him. Edwin II picked up the mantle after his father passed, and took up the cause of getting his grandfather elected. It was a quest that soon enveloped his then-girlfriend, Nikki.
"Ed and I were dating," she recalled, "and he repaired my computer for me. And the condition of him repairing my computer was that I would create some kind of brochure for E.B. Henderson."
Over the next eight years, the family made its case to anyone who'd listen. They started with a media packet they put in translucent envelopes, which displaced a picture of Henderson from the 1910 YMCA team. (They figured people would look at the picture and be intrigued enough to open the envelope, which listed "Seven Reasons why E.B. Henderson Should Be in the Hall of Fame." And some did -- including me.)
It pained me that here was the story of a man whose achievements I did not know -- a fellow Washingtonian who was the first to teach black kids how to play the game I now covered on television, and which had made most of the black men who played it and coached it multi-millionaires.
"After that, we created a 38-page document, letters of support," Edwin II said. "Letters that he had written from his archives, or that had been written to him -- one of them was a letter from the Hall itself, in 1974. But also, we reasoned, how many people are going to look at this booklet? We had a dear friend of ours produce a film."
The seven-minute documentary, from filmmaker Beverly Johnson and funded in part with seed money from Edwin, Jr., featured Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and the current president of the WNBA's Washington Mystics. Bill Cosby, who was the emcee at the 1974 ceremony when Henderson was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame, wrote a supporting letter endorsing Henderson's candidacy for the Naismith Hall.
The Hendersons got other supporting letters from their grandfather's fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, the historically black athletic conferences -- the SIAC, the SWAC, the MEAC -- from the late historian John Hope Franklin, sportscaster James Brown and former players Phil Chenier and Earl Lloyd -- the first African-American to play in the NBA.
They talked about Henderson at schools in the D.C. area, and had panel discussions, including one with John Isaacs, the late, legendary Harlem Renaissance star, and the leader of the Rens team that won the first World Professional Basketball Championship in 1939. The Smithsonian Institution and Howard gave them backing.
"It was really a matter of trying to raise the level of awareness, so people knew who he was," Nikki said.
Their campaign, however, didn't pick up a lot of traction. Years went by with no improvement in Henderson's candidacy. Family tragedies sapped the collective enthusiasm for the campaign; both Graves and Edwin, II lost a son, and Edwin II's father died. There was a more fatalistic attitude toward their grandfather's chances of making the Hall.
Others, though, were still championing Henderson, including Claude Johnson, the founder of Black Fives, the website that he founded to properly honor the dozens of black basketball teams that played prior to 1950, when the game was segregated. Mannie Jackson, the former Globetrotter who now owns the celebrated team, offered to help. So did dozens of others.
"There were many times that, not that we forgot or wanted to forget, but there were times when life got in the way and zapped that passion for a moment," Nikki said. "It's been a process where people have been sent into our lives at different times, to push us, to guide us."
The tipping point finally came in 2011, when the Hall formed the Early African American Pioneers Committee. Its first electee was Globetrotter legend Goose Tatum; the committee selected Don Barksdale, the first African-American to be named a consensus All-American in basketball (1947) and to play on a U.S. men's Olympic basketball team (1948), last year.
Edwin II's son died in February. In April, Edwin II was walking his dog when he finally heard the news that he had been waiting to hear for almost a decade.
"It picked me right up," he said. "'Cause I was about to wear that dog out."
They are not happy with me in the Wasatch. From Colin Johnston:
Let me begin by saying that I agree with the really poor ranking of the Jazz's offseason acquisitions (29/30!) They did not add anyone of real value (excluding the Draft, and that is definitely still TBD), and they lost some good players to free agency. Here is a point that I think you miss too by not mentioning it: while next year looks grim, I love what the Jazz are doing strategically and I am actually really excited about them for the first time since Deron Williams was traded.
The team is clearly in tank mode for next year, along with four or five other teams, banking on a high Draft pick in this incredibly deep draft (eight [!] potential all stars, according to some analysts). The difference between the Jazz and these other teams is that they have acquired five (Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter) potentially very good and very young players already. There is some data out there to suggest that the key to young players developing their potential is playing time in the NBA. By not signing anyone, the Jazz has afforded all five of these guys starters' minutes.
Little known outside of Utah, Hayward put up Paul George-like stats last year (seriously, look it up). Favors was a defensive menace against a very good San Antonio team two years ago in the playoffs. Kanter has a lot of upside and already shows strong potential defensively and with rebounding. Add a year of development to these young guys where they are getting a ton of NBA experience and playing time, then add a Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Aaron Gordon, and we are talking about a seriously scary team in three or four years. I believe that management realized this last year, and that is why no one traded Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson. They didn't want anything back for them, since they wanted to give the kids time to grow.
I don't disagree with either your analysis or Utah's long-term planning, Colin. But the rankings were a measure of what the Jazz did this summer, not next year. By letting two of their top three players walk for nothing, and laying back in free agency, Utah couldn't get a good grade. But I certainly understand why the Jazz did what they did; the team has high hopes for Favors, it got a potential starting point guard in Burke, and as you mentioned, Hayward has become a solid player.
Nor are they thrilled with me in the Middle East. From Dan Caspi:
I live in Israel and I'm a huge NBA junkie and a big fan of yours.
First of all, I don't understand what the Pelicans and Detroit are doing at "The Middle 10." I really do think they've done some great moves. With Detroit putting a very nice lineup with Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe, and have a solid chance in getting into the playoffs (which is a big step towards rebuilding this franchise). And the Pelicans now have a young base with the additions of Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday (which I thought was a steal) joining Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon which they can definitely build on.
Now I'm gonna be a bit mean ... cause ... how in the name of God did Charlotte made your top 10?!?!
The first thing I thought of when I heard they signed Al Jefferson for a 3 year, $40.5 million contract was: "Jordan did it again!"
I mean ... the only thing they got is probably a few extra wins next year which will only result in a lower Draft pick in next year's loaded Draft in which they could have finally landed some superstar potential ... plus, cutting down their cap room heading into next year's crazy free agency.
I'll stop here cause we both know you're not really going to read this ##@!..
Why do you dare me, Dan? Why? Not only did I read your ##@!, I published it! As to your points, again: I don't expect everyone to agree. I thought New Orleans and Detroit made solid moves, but in the long term, I don't know if they were significant ones. We'll see. As for Charlotte, I gave the Bobcats credit for recognizing they had to go out on a limb to add to their talent base, and for convincing a player as good as Jefferson to come there. The Bobcats probably overpaid for him, but their fans have overpaid for those season tickets the last two or three years, too. Charlotte is just fine as far as future cap space, too; per Mark Deeks, the Bobcats only have a little more than $41 million committed for the 2014-15 season, after shaving $18 million off this coming season's cap with the expiring contracts of Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions.
He did not get the memo in which it is made perfectly clear that Sam Presti is infallible. From Bruce Bell:
Could you people please stop with OKC as the standard-bearer for building through the Draft!! If by that you mean get lucky enough to not only have a once-in-a-generation and once-in-a-decade players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook IN a Draft, but also luck into drafting them, then I guess it is the model to follow LMAO. You could also put "The Beard" (James Harden) in there as a once-in-a-decade player also. Where would they be if Durant and Russ didn't exist? Also they now have nothing to show for trading arguably the second-best two-guard in the league. I will bet you a dollar that barring LeBron James getting hurt or something catastrophic happening to a couple of teams or somehow OKC pulling off a huge trade, that OKC WILL NOT WIN A TITLE IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS! That's if Durant stays in OKC.
That's an awful lot of "barring," Bruce. And I can't agree with your basic premise. No, it wasn't genius to draft Durant second in '07; I suspect almost every other team in that position would have done the same thing. But everything else the Thunder's front office has done is, indeed, a testament to building through the Draft -- starting with trading Ray Allen on Draft night in 2007 for a package centered on Jeff Green. There was a lot of debate among NBA teams before the '08 Draft about Westbrook, centering on whether he could play point guard effectively in the pros. Not only did OKC take him fourth overall (instead of, say, Kevin Love or Brook Lopez), but it gave him the ball and let him run the team. Following that up with Harden in '09 was not "lucky," it was smart. You also left out OKC's taking Serge Ibaka with yet another first-rounder Presti wrangled in '08, then having the patience to let Ibaka play overseas for a year. And during those first two or three years, OKC took a whipping in the won-loss record, yet didn't make a panic trade or use up its cap room for a short-term fix. The Durant piece may have been "luck." Nothing else was.
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$339,329 -- Amount that Knicks guard J.R. Smith will lose in salary while serving the five-game suspension at the start of next season levied by the league for violating rules in the NBA's substance abuse program. Smith will be in the first year of his three-year, $18 million contract.
292 -- Reported weight of Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum after six weeks of working out in Cleveland to get back in shape. Bynum, who signed a two-year, $24 million deal with the Cavaliers (but only $6 million of that is guaranteed) told reporters in Cleveland in July that he hoped to play next season in the 280-90 pound range.
1) Reason 4,832 that I think the world of Caron Butler.
2) We'll see how all the Bucks' personnel moves work out this season, but one thing that I have no doubt about is that coach Larry Drew has put a first-rate staff together. Bringing in the criminally overlooked Jim Cleamons, Phil Jackson's longtime right-hand man in Chicago and Los Angeles, to go with Bob Bender, Nick Van Exel, Scott Williams and Josh Oppenheimer, creates one of the league's deepest and savviest staffs.
3) Something feels different this September. Oh, yes: This is the first time in three years that there hasn't been a work stoppage by one of the major team sports. As the GEICO camel would say, 'whoop-whoop!' (Dirk! I see you!)
5) CP3, you need to jump on this, pronto, and get this group hooked up with the NBPA.
1) Let me be clear: it does not matter to me in the least if Lamar Odom ever plays another basketball game, or appears in another episode of his "reality" show. He needs help, and I hope he's getting it, because he's been through quite enough in his life, thank you. Like most everyone who's ever met him, I like Lamar and I want him to have some peace in his life.
2) There's not enough space here to write about the career of Allen Iverson, who reportedly made the decision to retire while I was away. That will come another day, in another column. But if this is the end for A.I., respect must be paid. It remains a miracle, given the circumstances of his youth and childhood, that Iverson is walking the earth at all. And that is not hyperbole. That he became a legendary NBA player that, in ways good and bad, was the catalyst for the hip-hop era of the NBA, is merely icing on the cake. My wish is that Allen can find relief for the well-reported demons that still reside within him, and come to grips with the fact that time, eventually, beats all of us.
3) Ditto Tracy McGrady, who also called it quits last month. He was a great, great player for a half-dozen quality seasons in Orlando and Houston, before injuries robbed him of his game. There was a time not too long ago where there was a real debate about T-Mac and Kobe, and McGrady had more than a few supporters.
4) So many things happened while I was away, but one of the biggest happened in pro football, when the NFL settled the class action lawsuit filed by more than 4,000 former players alleging the league knew the impact of concussions on its players, yet did little or nothing. The players will receive direct payments of more than $750 million, and with the league agreeing to pay court costs and to fund baseline medical exams for retired players who fear they've suffered debilitating illnesses as a result of playing. My sympathies are with the players and their families, many of whom needed money now to pay massive medical bills. I understand their desire to settle as quickly as possible, to get as much relief to as many people as possible. But there is the overwhelming sense that the NFL took advantage of that suffering to cut a deal that will work out to less than $30 million per team for the payments to the players. Yes, the league will pay more than $1 billion when you factor in all of the costs. It is a $9 billion per year industry. It can afford to write the check.
5) More football: in an otherwise excellent reduction of whether large media outlets should continue using the word "Redskins," ESPN's ombudsman, the great Bob Lipsyte, notes discourse within the Four-Letter about whether banning the name on the networks' airwaves would cause retaliatory limiting of access to players and coaches to ESPN reporters by the team. Please. If anyone thinks an NFL team is going to stiff ESPN for any reason, you haven't been living on this planet the last 20 years. There's a cavernous difference between the NFL pressuring ESPN to bow out of a documentary on concussions with PBS and teams walking away from the seemingly limitless PR tentacles ESPN's seemingly limitless NFL programming provides.
When you've had steak, it's hard to go back to canned tuna.
-- Suns guard Kendall Marshall (@KButter5), Saturday, 7:35 p.m.
"The Suns were devoted to Michael Beasley's success in Phoenix. However, it is essential that we demand the highest standards of personal and professional conduct as we develop a championship culture."
-- Suns president Lon Babby, last Tuesday, after the team released the troubled forward, who'd been stopped by police in early August in Scottsdale, AZ, for a traffic violation but then charged with marijuana possession. It was Beasley's latest brush with the law since being taken second overall in the 2008 Draft.
"I just didn't know how to ask her to marry me. We had never lived together and while she comes from a home with parents who have been together forever, my family experience with marriage had been negative and painful. There was no happy ever after."
-- Heat forward Udonis Haslem, in a detailed New York Times piece on his longtime courtship of and ultimate marriage to his wife, Faith.
"In absolute terms, Charlotte performs relatively poorly in terms of social media metrics. However, when we adjust for team performance and market size, the team does fairly well. This indicates that the Charlotte market has fairly resilient fans, and likely speaks to the potential of the market if a consistent winning team is developed."
-- Emory University professors Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, who authored a "social media equity" study of all 30 NBA teams to determine which team's fan bases were most engaged, based on a statistical model that factored in market size, and using Twitter and Facebook likes as starting points. The Bobcats finished fourth overall, behind the Lakers, Heat and Celtics; surprisingly, the Nets were 24th, the Knicks 27th and the Clippers dead last.
Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
|Open Court: Coaches|
The panel talks about the difference between a good coach and a great coach.
|Open Court: Rebounds|
Grant Hill talks about why he always wanted to hit the boards.
|Open Court: Assist|
Isiah Thomas breaks down when you should shoot and when you should pass.
|Open Court: Nice Shot|
The panel debates who shoots the prettiest shot.
|Open Court: Imitation|
The Open Court panel talks about who they imitated when they were growing up.