Posted May 12, 2014 12:24 PM
He wore black to what he believed was his own funeral.
Yes, Mark Jackson was thumbing his nose at his bosses before Game 7 of the Warriors' first-round series with the Clippers. Yes, he was whistling past the graveyard. Yes, he knew the cameras were rolling when he spoke in the huddle about how people thought he was through, and was going to be summarily fired as the team's coach.
Gee, I wonder where he'd get such a cockamamie idea?
The great tragedy of Jackson being fired last week by the Warriors -- after winning more regular-season games this season than last, despite having more injuries, with greater expectations placed on him and the team by owner Joe Lacob -- is not the simple fact that Jackson was fired. Coaches, and lots of them, get fired every year in the NBA, many in head-scratching turn. George Karl got fired last year, the same month he was named NBA Coach of the Year. Lionel Hollins and Vinny Del Negro got fired, after accomplishments no other coach of their respective franchises achieved.
Joe Lacob and his partners spent $450 million to buy the Warriors. They have the right to hire and fire whom they like, and they have the right to have a hierarchy with which they're comfortable.
The tragedy is that Lacob is setting himself up. Hoisting himself up on his own petard, if you will. And he's taking the fans who have waited so long for a winning team up for the ride as well. Because of insecurities -- Jackson's and Lacob's.
It's so, so hard to win consistently in this league. You need great, dedicated talent, and great coaching, and more than a little luck. I'm not saying Mark Jackson was yet a great coach. Others have noted what they viewed as poor substitution patterns and decisions. And Golden State played some clunkers at home, in front of what's the NBA's best home crowd.
I'm saying he got his team to buy what he was selling, and that's all coaching in the NBA is. Do they buy in? Do they believe? It doesn't mean they have to like you, but they have to respect you. (I don't think every Chicago Bull likes Tom Thibodeau. In fact, I know that. But they respect the hell out of him, and they bust their butts for him.)
The Warriors, with Jackson coaching, won more the last two years than they had in any season in the previous 20. Jackson's players respected him. They went out of their way to go to bat for him. That should have told Lacob something. Players are the ultimate BS detectors; if they think a head coach is full of it, they drop him like Olive Oyl dropping a 20-pound weight.
That did not happen at Golden State. From Steph Curry on down, almost all -- not all, to be sure, but many among the team's core -- praised Jackson. David Lee praised him. Klay Thompson praised him. Draymond Green praised him. Harrison Barnes may not have, given that he couldn't get the minutes he wanted after closing last season with a bang. But that decision was not Jackson's alone; the team opted to give Andre Iguodala big free-agent dollars last summer, though it was Jackson's call to move Barnes to the bench.
In firing Jackson, Lacob and general manager Bob Myers -- who, Lacob took great pains last week to say, made the call -- have ground the slow, steady progress of the last three seasons to an abrupt halt. They may well find the coach they believe can get them to the next level, and maybe Stan Van Gundy or Steve Kerr or someone else can do what Jackson didn't. But the west is murderous, and it's not going to be any easier next season. The Spurs aren't going anywhere. Neither is OKC. Neither are the Clippers, despite the events of the last fortnight. Houston's still got room to add another meaningful side to the Harden-Howard two-piece this summer. With Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers are going to be very good for a long time. Dallas and Memphis are too well-coached and too veteran-laden to fade quickly. Phoenix and New Orleans are coming on, fast. The Lakers are down, but no one expects that to last for very long. And we don't even know who's going to wind up with what young, dynamic piece(s) in the Draft. It is hard to win, and sustain winning.
Why, then, did Lacob/Myers do it?
I'm going to type slowly, and repeat myself, so there is no misunderstanding.
I do not think Joe Lacob, or Bob Myers, are racists. I do not think Mark Jackson was fired because of his race.
Let me repeat that.
I do not think Joe Lacob, or Bob Myers, are racists. I do not think Mark Jackson was fired because of his race.
And, once more.
I do not think Joe Lacob, or Bob Myers, are racists. I do not think Mark Jackson was fired because of his race.
I know Bob Myers a little, and I know his reputation more. It is sterling. A former big-time agent, the protégé of uber-agent Arn Tellem, Myers was the rare agent with whom teams actually enjoyed working. (I don't know Lacob, other than a couple of conversations last season -- when Jackson's lack of coaching chops was held up by Lacob as a refreshing break from the past practices of hiring retread after retread. Lacob, not me, compared his hiring of Jackson to when the Celtics hired Doc Rivers out of the TV booth. Lacob was a minority owner in Boston before buying the Warriors.)
But I do think there were parts of Mark Jackson, including his race, that made Golden State's front office uncomfortable. Not in the sense that they didn't like or respect him because he was black, but that they didn't understand him, where he was coming from, what may have made him uncomfortable. And while they may think they tried to understand, it is very hard, sometimes, to understand where people of different backgrounds are coming from.
Mark Jackson is an African-American man, from New York City, who is deeply religious. All three of those characteristics played a part in this. How much? We'll probably never know. But you can't tell me they weren't factors.
First, the elephant in the room. Black coaches do better in the NBA than in any of the other major team sports played in the United States. Of late, black coaches who've failed at one stop get second (and, sometimes, third) chances to be head coaches. But black coaches -- especially those who weren't stars -- still feel like they have to wait longer, and get fewer plumb jobs, than their white counterparts. You may not like that, but it's the truth. You may disagree with them, but that's how many -- not all -- of them feel.
Jackson waited a long time after he retired as a player before becoming a head coach. He had to wait, in part, because he was adamant that he wouldn't start his coaching career as an assistant, like almost all ex-players of all races have to do as they break into the ranks. When you asked him about it during his ABC/ESPN days, he would always have some variation on the sentence, "Danny Ainge didn't have to be an assistant." The inference was clear: Ainge got the Suns' head coaching job two years after he retired as a player, having never before been a coach at any level. If he was good enough to step right in as a head coach, Mark Jackson certainly felt he was good enough to do the same.
And when the Warriors gave Jackson the job, he believed the same rules should apply. So, if he didn't listen or take suggestions from management, well, he was the head coach, and he thought the chain of command should be the same whether it was Golden State or San Antonio. You never heard about Peter Holt suggesting things to Gregg Popovich, did you? And if it wasn't the same, why wasn't it the same?
Take the now-infamous disclosure (by those unnamed "sources" that everybody in the organization swears isn't them) that Jackson told Jerry West, the Hall of Famer working as an adviser for the team, not to come to practice. I doubt it was said in that manner. My guess is Jackson made it clear he would rather not have people, even in the organization, watching him work. Regardless of what actually was said, no one is denying that Jackson was uncomfortable with West being at practice. The question is, why?
Was it because it was Jerry Freaking West, the Logo? Who has never been shy about expressing his opinions? Who is, occasionally, very frank with his opinions? Is it possible that a young coach might be just a tad nervous or apprehensive about working with his players with one of the top 20 players of all time sitting up in the stands? You may say, hey, why wouldn't you want to have someone of that magnitude to bounce ideas off of? Why not pick the brains of the best? Is it possible that a young African-American head coach may not have viewed having Jerry West at his practice as benignly as many white people would view it?
Again: you can think a black person who's a little nervous or apprehensive about such things is reaching, is crazy. It doesn't mean they are because you think they are. (If you want to read someone who really threads the needle about race and Jackson and the Warriors, read Marcus Thompson's take in the San Jose Mercury News. This is first-rate stuff.)
I would say Mark Jackson was, and is, learning how to be a head coach. Maybe the next time, he'll be more accommodating. I don't think it was a fireable offense. I don't think moving Darren Erman's parking space, reported ad nauseum, was a fireable offense. I don't think Jackson living in Los Angeles while coaching in Oakland, while unusual, is a fireable offense -- unless Joe Lacob said, "Mark, you have to move to the Bay Area for me to feel comfortable retaining you," and Jackson said, "No."
Is Jackson insecure? Probably. Name me a first-time head coach who isn't. For that matter, name me any coach whose last name isn't Popovich who isn't.
Jackson is from New York. I love New Yorkers. I'm related to many of them. But they have no problem not only telling you why they are right, but why you are wrong. They are not shy about expressing themselves, forcefully. Jackson has no problem doing it, either. He did not acknowledge mistakes easily or quickly. And I don't doubt that, on occasion, he could be abrupt with people that he didn't feel knew as much about pro basketball as he does -- including people in the organization. Again, water is wet. Did Phil Jackson welcome Jerry Krause's opinions? I can't recall.
Jackson is, also, a born-again Christian. And this may be the touchiest part of all. It is impossible to talk about religion without someone being greatly offended. I don't think the Warriors are anti-Christian. I do think, because I've spoken with many Evangelical Christians, that they feel their views are often distorted and maligned by those who are not Evangelical Christians. In this context, Jackson's less than complete embrace of Jason Collins after Collins disclosed he was gay last year may have been taken badly within the organization -- which has, for a long time, been among the best in the league at embracing gay causes and events.
God, we haven't even gotten to Scalabrine yet.
Jackson was criticized most for how he dealt with assistant coaches, starting with Mike Malone (now the Kings' head coach) last year, and Brian Scalabrine and Erman this year. It was not a secret last year that Jackson didn't mind Malone leaving to take the Sacramento gig. Malone clearly had designs on being a head coach and was just about ready when Golden State hired him as Jackson's top assistant. Jackson bristled at the suggestion that Malone was the "defensive coach" responsible for the Warriors' jump in most of the defensive metrics last season. (Degree and form: Malone got the same kudos and rose petals while Mike Brown's top assistant in Cleveland during the LeBron days. If Brown minded, he still hasn't said so. Different people think differently.)
As noted elsewhere, Jackson didn't care much for Scalabrine. The Warriors' front office did -- he wasn't fired from the organization after his last confrontation with Jackson, but reassigned to the Warriors' D-League team. He was still listed as an assistant on the team's media notes during the Clippers series, while Erman's name was removed. I think both Jackson and management have some truth on their side: It is not good for a head coach to constantly have problems with his assistants, for whatever reason. It is not good for assistants to think they can challenge the head coach when they themselves are not the head coach.
That's the problem here. Everyone wants a villain identified. To his detractors in the building and their media allies, Jackson was a stumbling charlatan who had next to nothing to do with the team's meteoric rise from 23 to 48 to 51 wins. To his supporters in the building and their media allies, Jackson was the only thing saving Golden State from certain Lotterydom, and Lacob was Steinbrenner incarnate -- a dilettante meddler in a world he didn't belong.
And that was the problem with Mark Jackson and Joe Lacob. They fought a proxy war instead of going down the hallway to the other guy's office, closing the door, and figuring out how the hell to coexist with one another until each had more experience at his respective job. It's not easy. But it does happen. The Heat didn't give up on Erik Spoelstra when Miami lost the Finals to Dallas in 2011, even though winning the title was the only reason Riles brought LeBron and Wade and Bosh together. They stuck with him. Spoelstra grew into the job, changed how he used James, and the rest is history. Every championship team in every sport, from the Yankees to the Patriots, the Penguins to the Lakers, has some level of creative organizational tension. When it works to the ultimate, you win rings and have parades down the Canyon of Heroes.
In fact, you really can't win without it.
Joe Lacob is about to try. Good luck with that.
Last week's record in parentheses; April 28th rankings in brackets
1) San Antonio (3-0) : Tony Parker rightly gets a lot of love, but Tiago Splitter has been sensational on D for the Spurs against Cousin LaMarcus.
2) Oklahoma City (2-2) : When Russell Westbrook is hunting shots for teammates and using that maniacal energy on D, it's almost impossible to stop the Thunder.
3) Miami (2-1) : Shane Battier climbs out of the crypt one last time in the spring to terrorize opponents.
4) L.A. Clippers (2-2) : Jamal Crawford a very deserving Sixth Man of the Year.
5) Indiana (3-1) : Hasn't been a fishing trip this productive since Chief Brody and the boys went out on the Orca to bag that porker that was messin' around off Amity Island.
6) Brooklyn (1-2) : Bench finally makes a mark in the series against Miami Saturday.
7) Washington (1-3) : Bigs have come up short against Pacers after dominating the Bulls in the first round.
8) Portland (0-3) : No shame in getting immolated by the Borg.
9) Houston : Season complete.
10) Toronto : Season complete. Smart to give Dwane Casey a much-deserved three-year extension; hear it's for just under $4 million per.
11) Memphis : Season complete.
12) Dallas : Season complete.
13) Golden State : Season complete. Stan Van Gundy looks like the clear leader in the clubhouse at the moment to succeed Mark Jackson.
14) Charlotte : Season complete.
15) Atlanta [NR]: Season complete.
Dropped out: Chicago 
San Antonio (3-0): Part of the beauty of the Spurs is not only do they use almost their entire roster, each guy on the roster comes in thinking he will be productive when he plays, no matter how long it's been since he was out there. Witness Aron Baynes coming into Game 2 last week against Portland and looking for all the world like a 25-minutes-per-night guy.
Portland (0-3): Damian Lillard is a great offensive player, but he's getting schooled by Tony Parker at both ends of the floor through the first three games. It's going to be a great experience for Lillard, though.
What will the Wizards conjure up next season? (Sorry.)
For a minute there, it sure looked like the Wizards were going to skip a step.
Washington arrived in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, with a team led by 23-year-old John Wall and 20-year-old Bradley Beal, and promptly outplayed the more veteran Bulls in the first round, winning in five games. Then, the Wizards started their second-round series against floundering Indiana and took Game 1 on the road. The Chuckster declared the series over, and he didn't sound crazy; the Wiz Kids were playing with house money, but they didn't look overwhelmed.
Then came Game 2, and Intermittent to Heavy Whelming.
Washington led the Pacers in the fourth quarter, with a chance to put Indy down and out. But down the stretch, the Wizards forced threes when they didn't need to, and let the Pacers off the hook. Then came a lost weekend in D.C., with a putrid game-long performance in Game 3 giving Indy home-court advantage back. Then came the coup de grace, blowing a 19-point second-half lead, letting Paul George run wild all over Verizon Center and stumbling and bumbling again in crunch time, losing 95-92 Sunday night. Indy's now up 3-1 with a chance to close things out Tuesday at Bankers' Life Fieldhouse.
The Pacers finally look again like the team that steamrolled the East for three months and that was thought to pose the only real threat to Miami. They've had to dig deep and rely on the experience of making the postseason four years in a row to get themselves untracked. Wall and Beal are just getting started down that path. It looks like, as with most teams, the Wizards will have to experience the sting of losing in the playoffs in order to grow.
"We've matured and grew up faster than people thought we would in these situations," Wall said last week, before the two home losses.
Wall certainly looks like he'll make many more All-Star teams after getting there for the first time this season, and Beal possesses one of the game's smoothest jumpers. Yet promise is hardly a guarantee of future success; so many teams with great promise have come and gone since the Wizards were last relevant in basketball, almost none of whom accomplished anything important. That's just a fact.
Think about it: just in the last decade, the Hawks had a core of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford that they hoped would challenge in the East. The Rockets had Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. The Pelicans, nee Hornets, had Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler. The Jazz had Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. The Blazers had Greg Oden and Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Clippers had Elton Brand and Chris Kaman and Shaun Livingston. The Nuggets had Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin and Nene. None of those teams made a Finals appearance; Utah and Denver each made one conference finals and were quickly shown the door.
Consider Andre Miller. He's had, by anyone's reckoning, an outstanding NBA career. In his 15th season, Miller is ninth all-time on the league's assist leader board, and has made being underrated almost overrated. Anyone who knows the game knows how good Miller has been for a long, long time. Yet, until the Wizards beat the Bulls, Miller had never gotten out of the first round. In nine previous tries. His first time came in 2004, when he played on a Minnesota team with Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell (see?), who is now a Wizards assistant coach. He's been on some really good Denver teams over the years. Nothing is promised.
But the Wizards' young duo has given a town that's grown used to .400 or worse basketball year after year something to latch onto. Finally, the Wizards are past Gilbert Arenas and his guns.
"I'll roll with John," center Marcin Gortat said last week.
There was immense pressure on Wall this season after the Wizards gave him an $80 million max contract before this season. Only the NBA's elite playmakers were making what he'd be making in a couple of years. But he's proven the doubters, starting with me, wrong. Wall's improvement as a shooter has been remarkable. Two years ago, he famously made 3 of 42 3-point attempts, and possessed a ghastly, inconsistent shot. But after hooking on with personal trainer to the stars Rob McClanaghan, and being healthy last summer, Wall finally found a shot he felt comfortable with. He finally learned to change speeds, in a totally different way than pitchers in baseball, but just as necessary.
There's still some fine tuning. After Game 2 against the Pacers, McClanaghan sent Wall a text. "Everything, like 'You're not standing on balance, you're not following through,'" Wall said. "The simple things that I need to do. And that's what he's here for."
Wall made a big three Sunday night. But he passed up on another open look with less than two minutes left and Washington down three. He will probably always have to prove the jumper isn't suspect.
"Every point guard comes into this league as a questionable shooter," Miller said. "We all have to continue to work on that. Even with John, teams go under him, and he has to find ways to get the ball to the basket, or find ways to perfect his 15- to 20-footer. That's what I did early, and that's what he's doing, shooting the ball well from three this year. All that does is make the team better, gives them a lot of confidence."
Wall also, infamously, started his career alongside Arenas before Arenas was sent to Orlando, and then had a team filled to the brim with inexperienced knuckleheadedness: Andray Blatche and Nick Young and JaVale McGee. (Of course, If you look at it from their point of view, they didn't have any role models to latch onto, either. Blatche has become a solid role player for the Nets, Young has toned down some of his crazier antics and McGee played well for Denver in 2012-13 before being limited to just six games this season with a leg injury.)
There were times those first two seasons when Wall wondered if it would ever happen for him in Washington, which took him with the first pick overall in 2010. They gave him the keys to the franchise, but he didn't know how to drive.
"To be honest, when things is going [bad], you get your fans booing against you, I never had that playing basketball," Wall said. "So, that was tough. And then you're looking, you're dribbling, and you're like, 'I don't want to take this shot, 'cause if I miss, I'm booed next.' It was times like that. But that comes with fans that really support you and care about you as a team."
General Manager Ernie Grunfeld gradually weeded his roster of the inexperienced and inexplicable and replaced them with vets who knew what the heck they were talking about: Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster in 2012, Gortat (whom Washington acquired just before the start of the season for the injured Okafor and the Wizards' 2014 first-round pick) and Al Harrington and Drew Gooden and Miller this year. The vets have made up for the injury-riddled 2013 first-rounder Otto Porter's unproductive season and allowed Grunfeld to save face by jettisoning Jan Vesely, the sixth pick overall in 2011, who was as close to a bust as you can be without posing for hours and being bronzed by a local artisan, to Denver, as part of the three-team deal that netted Miller at the trade deadline.
"Obviously, John, the bad thing is he started in a bad environment, unfortunately," Gortat said. "He started in a bad environment. He didn't have really true role models to tell him what to do, and how to grow as a leader, and how to grow as a good basketball player. People like Goran Dragic in Phoenix, he had Grant Hill and Steve Nash. I mean, Lord. I mean, what else do you need?"
Above all others, the point guard is responsible for everything. If he's playing with force and purpose, like Russell Westbrook has done for the Thunder in the last three games of their series with the Clippers, the whole team is energized. But Wall, after going just 8 of 26 combined in Games 2 and 3, was extremely reluctant to shoot in Game 4. His defensive energy waned. The Wizards sagged.
But Wall has Randy Wittman's full backing. Wittman is still using much of the verbiage and vast playbook of his predecessor, Flip Saunders. (Miller, in D.C. since February, is still trying to master all of the calls.) There is never a play off for the point guard, who must pay more attention to detail than anyone. He has to become a master of angles, of pace, of keeping his team in an offensive rhythm.
"The film never lies," Miller said. "Afterwards, you're getting criticized about your mistakes. You kind of want to have that in the back of your mind. You want to play well, because the next day, the coach is going to point a lot of things out. So I kind of, that's what I used to do to keep myself paying attention to every play that's going on."
The offseason will bring less uncertainty for the Wizards. But they are certainly not a finished product. Both Ariza and Gortat will be unrestricted free agents, and each will have a number of suitors. The Wizards think they can get both re-signed, but it will be tough, and will likely mean the loss of at least a couple of vets. Washington probably still could use a stretch four who could help keep the floor spread. Beal has to work on his ballhandling; he's prone to turnovers when pressured. And there's no young help likely coming through the Draft.
But the Wiz have had their fill of youth. They've got two great young pieces around which to build. The hope is that Washington, often favored by players around the league for its social possibilities, will now become a free agent destination. The rock is finally moving forward.
"I can definitely say the fans are excited, and definitely happy to have the playoffs back in D.C.," Wall said. "We're excited. We know what this team is capable of. We still are a very confident team, an underdog team. But it's more exciting to see when you come to the arena, it's packed, and the fans that have been supporting us have been getting there early ... This is everything I've been waiting for, and you had to give it time. You have to be patient. The organization did a great job of drafting, and getting veterans, and making trades."
As you might guess, we got a few letters about Donald Sterling. Go.
It is Look at What the Constitution Actually Says Week. From John Wages:
What happened to freedom of speech? The old guy should know better but it is his right to say whatever he wants as long as it does slander or hurt anyone.
He did not use (God forbid) the N word nor did he say he hated all blacks or anything close to that. People have to get over their sissy little selves and what they perceive to be hurtful. Poor babies.
NBA has now officially joined the ranks of the sissies, weenies and do-gooders. For God's sake just play ball, keep your jerseys on and keep your mouths shut -- your (sic)making a freaking zillion dollars a year. If you don't like someone's comments then quit! None of you have to play basketball -- there are other professions. The sportswriters and so-called news outlets feed the flames anytime the race baiters are out, unless it is Jesse Jackson or his other reverend cronies and they can get away with murder, call white people crackers, racists or whatever and no one gets upset with them. It is definitely a one way street. Makes me sic (sic).
I am very tired, John. But when you can get a sic (sic) line in, things are looking up!
Nothing happened to freedom of speech. Mr. Sterling is still free to say just about anything he wants, other than yelling 'fire' in a crowded theatre when there is none. The First Amendment to the Constitution reads, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. That's "Congress shall make no law," John. Not "Private companies shall make no law." The NBA is not the government; it is a private business, with its own rules, which each person has to follow. Lawyers and judges will ultimately determine whether Sterling indeed followed the NBA Constitution. But the NBA can make whatever rules it wants as a condition of ownership.
You usually only stretch this much after you've pulled a muscle -- an important muscle. From Marijan Galovic:
With all due respect Mr. Aldridge, have you listened to the extended version of the audio capturing the conversation between Mr. Sterling and his ex-girlfriend before writing an article concerning it?..The reason I ask is because I find it hard to believe an intelligent African- American man such as yourself would knowingly perpetuate the torment of this man. After listening to the audio, I believe that Mr. Sterling not a racist, but a person who does business with racists who made calls to him after seeing pictures of his girlfriend with Magic Johnson. He was only concerned with her publicizing her relationships with African- American people because of the pressures he is under from racists he is associated with. My question is who are the real racists and why are they racist? This is shining a light on the very real issue of racism and they are using Mr. Sterling as the scapegoat. It is clear there is a conspiracy against him. In the midst of this the NBA has shown how spineless they are, not concerned about racism but only protecting their own interests.
So, I shouldn't concern myself with the man who said, 'Don't bring them [black people] to my games,' only with his other, nameless, racist friends? How about we deal with one thing at a time, Marijan? If any friend of Sterling's wants to come forward and confirm your theory that he was being used, and they're really the ones to blame, let's hear from them. In the meantime, I'll continue to condemn the actual racist stuff I actually heard from him. (And, yes, I listened to the whole tape before writing the column.) And, of course, the NBA is protecting its own interests. That's what leagues do.
Who could have seen this coming? Try, 'everybody'? From Noah Guthartz:
Is this episode a strike against David Stern's legacy?
Some have described Sterling's comments as 'shocking', but are they? Even the casual observer of NBA history, news, and culture should have by now heard some at least equally appalling things about Sterling (from his comments about wanting to foster a 'plantation type culture, ' to his settlement regarding his discriminatory business practices as a property owner, to his comments to Rollie Massimo way back in Sterling's infancy as an owner). Now Silver and the BoG are forced to react to a flimsy audio recording of a presumably private conversation, which, while offensive, is nothing compared to the court record from his settlement, or the thought of the professional culture that has been endured by every player, coach, trainer, arena employee etc in the Clippers organization past 20+years.
So back to my first question...is this something David Stern should have nipped in the bud years ago?
The answer to both of your (similar) questions is yes, Noah. The league has tried to say that there was no smoking gun and only accusations against Sterling in the past (including the settlement to which you referred, in which neither Sterling nor his wife made any admissions of guilt). I continue to think they preferred not to deal with it on Stern's watch because it would be ugly and messy and not at all a certainty they'd be able to take the team from him -- just as it's turning out.
You know, complaining about my analogies is just like ... wait. From Ayinde O. Alakoye:
I generally like what I read and hear from you but I don't think that you do justice to the injustice when you reduce racist behavior to the musings of "that crazy uncle." I've heard white people dismiss racist behavior in their own families this way for years and it's not acceptable then either. We need to call racism what it is (in any family). It is heartbreaking, "sinful," deplorable behavior that even "crazy uncles" know is wrong.
Well, they don't know it's wrong, Ayinde, or they don't care. Neither is acceptable. The point is that many people don't say anything when those they know, and maybe love, say horrible things. They rationalize it by reducing the person to a "crazy" relative instead of confronting it. The NBA, in my view, did the same thing for years with Donald Sterling. Owners and the league office certainly knew Sterling's reputation, but never confronted it -- in part, I believe, by reducing the Clippers to a joke, a franchise not to be taken seriously. Finally, Adam Silver has taken Donald Sterling seriously.
Whataboutism, Defined. From David Witkus:
I think the NBA is full of hypocrites. This Sterling has been slapped on the wrist for his worst offenses and drawn and quartered for the least of his offenses. You fine, slap the wrists, of Hibbert, Bryant, and Noah for their racist remarks, which were aimed directly at human beings, but where is their ban for life? Silver is a coward. The league knows about Sterling for 20 years but does nothing, and now that there is public passion, then a statement of "we will not tolerate this ignorant racist" comes forth. If the league had balls, they would not wait for this politically correct point in time. In 1776 some guy said, I may disagree with what you say, but will defend, with my life your right to say it. I guess that does not hold true in the NBA. Sterling made billions at minorities expense, for which he should have been prosecuted....now careers are being made at Sterling's expense.....the irony is pathetic.
It is fair, David, to point out that the penalties against anti-gay speech to players have not included lifetime bans. I think of myself as fairly supportive of gay rights, though, and I don't think Roy Hibbert should be banned for life for what he said. It was dumb and bigoted, but a) there's been no pattern of using anti-gay slurs by Hibbert, or Kobe -- just those single instances. And b) they don't own a team! They're employees, David -- very well-paid employees, to be sure. But, still, employees. Advertisers, of course, are free to pull their business from those respective teams, and if they did, maybe the league's reaction would have been different and more severe, I grant you.
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(Weekly averages in parentheses)
With the regular season MVP officially going to Kevin Durant last week, it's time to transition to rewarding the best player of the postseason. (Un)remarkably, the list of top contenders is pretty much the same as the regular-season version.
1) Kevin Durant (28.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, .4.5 apg, .506 FG, .818 FT): Scored the quietest 40 points you'll ever see in Sunday's come-from-ahead loss to the Clippers.
2) LeBron James (24 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.7 apg, .563 FG, .833 FT): Wanted the Cowboys to draft Johnny Manziel, but if he knows what's good for him, he'll recommend Johnny Football stay in Cleveland for a long, long time, never, ever testing free agency. (Is that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam reaching for the Comic Sans?)
3) Tony Parker (26 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 8.3 apg, .524 FG, .750 FT): Giving a clinic in postseason point guard play so far, averaging 21.7 points per playoff game on 48.9 percent shooting.
4) Blake Griffin (24.3 ppg, 7 rpg, 3.3 apg, .471 FG, .816 FT): You don't appreciate how much pounding he takes on a nightly basis until you see him in the playoffs on a nightly basis.
5) Paul George (22.8 ppg, 8 rpg, 4.3 apg, .415 FG, .871 FT): Rocketed into the discussion on the strength of Sunday's monster 39-point effort in Indy's breakthrough win at Washington.
10.78 -- Earned Run Average for Tracy McGrady, after the former NBA star gave up two runs in 1 2/3 innings in his pitching debut for the independent Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters Saturday night . The 34-year-old McGrady gave up a homer and threw 35 pitches in his stint. No word on whether Roy Hibbert Tweeted that he gave up fewer hits than McGrady.
138 -- Playoff games for Kevin Garnett before he failed to score a point in a postseason game. He was held scoreless in 16 minutes in last Monday's second-round opener against Miami.
1 -- Times that Spurs President of Sports Franchises R.C. Buford has been voted NBA Executive of the Year by his peers. Incredibly, that first time came last week, despite San Antonio's four championships and five Finals appearances in the 12 seasons Buford has been the team's general manager/other big titles.
1) It should be remembered, in the future, as, simply, "KD's Speech." It should be required viewing in college communications classes, showing how someone can, through his words and inflections, connect not only with the people that are actually in the audience listening to him speak, but to people watching on television or online. And it is a tribute to Kevin Durant that there were only a few morons out there who bleated impotently about how real men don't cry, and other such nonsense. What a remarkable 25 or so minutes.
2) Sages is taking a bat to leukemia. It's a tough and nasty opponent, so we all should remain prayerful. But hearing Craig is out of the hospital already and back home is wonderful news.
3) A great oral history of the Lakers-Kings rivalry last decade -- and, yes, it includes Game 6 of the '02 Western finals -- by Jonathan Abrams. (I was most impressed how Abrams got former referee Ted Barnhardt to speak so frankly; he didn't accuse his fellow refs of bias in Game 6, but he didn't think they were very good, either. And Abrams found Barnhardt in a 21st-century reporter's way -- on Facebook.)
4) Yes, she's adorable.
5) Michael Sam got drafted. The University of Missouri linebacker, who is gay, got taken in the seventh round Saturday by the St. Louis Rams, and good for them -- not for taking Sam, because he will sink or swim as a football player on his own merits. But for having given it some thought before taking him, and not blinking when the moment of truth came. There were the usual "ooh, ick" comments from a few trolls after Sam kissed his boyfriend on national TV. But I am reminded of the end of the wonderful film adaptation of "A Soldier's Play," in which the white officer, as World War II neared its end, remarked to the African-American Captain Davenport, brought in to solve a murder that he'll have to get used to "Negroes with bars on their shoulders ...You know, being in charge." To which Davenport replied: "You'll get used to it, Captain. You can bet your ass on that. You'll get used to it."
1) There are people out there who still think this business between the NBA and the Sterlings is going to be all wrapped up in a neat little bow by the Draft, or the Vegas Summer League. They are wrong. Dead wrong. This is going to go on for a long, long time. And what on earth will agents recommend to their clients when the Clippers come calling this summer?
2) The first round of the playoffs was sensational. The second round of the playoffs has been ... not sensational.
3) Don't know yet what I think of the Kings welcoming fans to rate and analyze potential Draft picks on a dedicated website. I'm not down on it; I just haven't had time to really think about it. That's why it's here, for now. Let me ponder it. I may well be Feelin' it after giving it more thought.
5) RIP to Harry Weltman, the former general manager of the Nets and Cavaliers, who passed away last week at age 81. His son, Jeff, is an executive with the Raptors.
Point Four. The words rip through the hearts of Spurs fans, and warm Laker fans' cockles. Ten years ago Tuesday, the two teams, who fought for the Team of the Decade mantle throughout the Aughts, engaged in one of their greatest battles, in the Western Conference semifinals. Tied at 2-2, the pivotal Game 5 was played in what was then the new A T & Center. The Spurs trailed by 16 late in the third quarter before putting on a furious rally that gave them the lead late in the fourth. Kobe Bryant's basket with 11 seconds left in the game put L.A. up a point, but Tim Duncan then hit what may have been the shot of his career -- a twisting jumper over Shaquille O'Neal's late contest. By the time Duncan hit the floor, the building erupted, with the Spurs now holding a one-point lead with ... zero point four seconds left on the clock. NBA folk know what happened next: Derek Fisher, beforehand a very, very good player who'd helped the Lakers win three straight championships, entered the league's lore by somehow catching, shooting and making a fadeaway shot over Manu Ginobili as the horn sounded, giving the Lakers an incredible 74-73 win. As Al Michaels, ABC's play-by-play guy, tried to describe what just happened, Fisher hightailed it off the arena floor, seemingly ready to run all the way back to L.A., where the Lakers finished the Spurs off in Game 6. Like so many memorable shots, though -- Jerry West's heave to tie Game 3 of the 1970 Finals comes to mind -- Fisher's Miracle did not propel the Lakers to the title; L.A. made the Finals but got soundly beaten by Detroit in five games. Still, Fisher, who went on to win two more rings in L.A. before playing for Utah and Golden State and Dallas before winding up in Oklahoma City, will be remembered for that one moment above everything else in his career, which included his just-finished stint as president of the Players' Association. Last week, Fisher recalled the moment of truth.
Derek Fisher: Mmm. Ten years. And I have an 11-year-old daughter. A lifetime, basically.
Me: What are your memories?
DF: The reaction, obviously, people still get a kick out of, which is something I learned in high school. We used to go on the road in Little Rock, and when you won a road game, you had to leave the building pretty quickly in order to get on the bus and get home safely. That's why I ran out of San Antonio as fast as I did. From there, though, just the reality that the game is never over. That's pretty much what sums it up. The game is never over. We saw Damian Lillard with point nine seconds left this year make a play to help his team advance. You've just seen great players do things over the years in situations you've never expected to be. That's what I think about -- this game's never over. And I'm thankful. Gary Payton never gets the credit he deserves ...
Me: For the pass?
DF: For the pass. A lot of guys, in that situation, would have forced the ball to Kobe, or forced it to Shaq, or thrown it to anybody else but Derek Fisher, with that kind of star power. So I always have to give GP some love for trusting me with the pass.
Me: What was the play call?
DF: The play was to loop Shaq around, standard line play that most teams run, loop Shaq around to the front of the rim to see if you could get the lob to Shaq. Karl Malone turned and set a screen to get Kobe open. And when Kobe went up top, Robert Horry, I think, was guarding the play out of bounds. He jumped to deny Kobe the ball. And that left a wide open alley for me to release and flash to the open spot. And being left handed, it was just perfect. And like I said, GP trusted me with the pass, and the rest is history.
Me: Did you see the basket? Did you find it as you were letting the ball go?
DF: Yeah, I found the basket as I was letting it go. But the momentum, and how fast I had to turn to shoot it quickly, I felt I was falling back. And when I let it go, I felt like, man, that was too hard. And it's probably gonna sail over the basket. But about halfway towards the rim, I said, 'Uh oh, we've got a chance.' And that thing touched the bottom of the net, and like I said, the reaction was engrained a long time ago, and we got out of there.
Me: Over the years, do you still hear it when you go back to San Antonio?
DF: The boos are very personal in San Antonio. Some boos are not so personal; it's just that I'm on the wrong team. But in San Antonio, it's personal. So, who knows? Maybe I'll get another chance at it real soon.
Me: What did that play do for you, and your sense of history and your place in it?
DF: I think I still struggle to accept that, in terms of NBA history and what it meant. I always kind of curb myself that we didn't win the championship that year, so, man, it was a great shot, but...But I'm often reminded at times by others what a special moment it was, people remembering very specifically what they were doing, where they were. Even Russell Westbrook, who was a kid, obviously, at that point, remembering running out of his house in L.A., running down the street, just celebrating like he was on the team with us. And so when I hear others describe it, it brings it home for me, and makes me feel, like I said, mostly thankful to be on great teams, with great teammates and great players. A lot of people did a lot of work to help put me in that position to have a great moment. So, it's special.
Me: You mentioned where you are in your career. Have you mapped out what the post-career is going to be like?
DF: Not in a very specific, like this is the thing. I'm very focused on finishing this season and really trying to help this organization win a championship, and then I'll get to that part. I'm viewing it as just being very fortunate to maybe have a few options. And that's something my dad taught me as a kid a long time ago, to handle yourself and to treat people with a certain level of respect, and do things in a way that will give you options in life, that people will want to work with you or be with you or support you. So, I haven't written down that one thing. But this game has been good to me, and I love it. It'll always be in my system. So it could be in the game, or out of the game, or anything.
Me: Mayor Fisher?
DF: (Laughs) I think Kevin Johnson has that one. He's doing that just fine.
Russell pants NOOOO
-- Celtics forward Jeff Green (@unclejeffgreen), Friday, 8:29 p.m., after seeing his former Thunder teammate, Russell Westbrook, show up at Staples Center before Game 3 with the Clippers in his latest sartorial splendor. That's....wow.
"I know I'm one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it'll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things."
-- Greg Oden, in a Grantland piece by his former teammate and current Oden chronicler Mark Titus. The story focused mainly on how Oden has had to get used to not playing in the postseason for Miami after spending the entire regular season preparing for the playoff grind.
"It's bizarre to have a venomous snake in your locker room. I don't know if that's happened before. That sounds like an ABA story."
-- Blazers Coach Terry Stotts, after Portland's Thomas Robinson discovered a live rattlesnake in his visitor's locker at San Antonio's A T & T Center before Game 2 of the Blazers-Spurs series last week.
"I'd rather eat paint chips."
-- Kobe Bryant, during an appearance last week on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," when asked by the host if he'd watched his teammates play down the stretch of the regular season after he'd been shut down by the team while rehabbing his knee injury.
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