Also this week: Hawks try to pick up the pieces, a new No. 1 on our rankings and more
POSTED: Nov 24, 2014 11:28 AM ET
As the Sixers struggle on the court, many season ticket holders are trying to make sense of the long-term plan.
PHILADELPHIA — This is where the Grand Experiment faces Wiz Wit.
The fan is polite, but smoldering. The subject -- no surprise for a team that's gone 10-36 at home the last 13 months -- is season ticket prices.
"A couple of years ago, you guys raised the prices when Andrew Bynum came here," he tells the team's chief executive officer. "And that didn't work out. We paid for tickets, and then the [Jrue Holiday] trade happened. So we paid last year to watch nothing. And then this year, we bought tickets thinking we were gonna watch two lottery picks. The point is, we're paying the same prices other people are paying ... We're paying what everybody is paying, and we're watching three players out of 15 that would make [other] NBA teams."
The team's CEO, Scott O'Neil, is nonplussed. Well, honestly, he looks a little plussed.
He had started this meeting with 17 disgruntled season ticket holders -- 16 men and one woman -- with a little joke. Rebuilding, he says, "has been a breeze."
But this is Philly.
"For you, not us," comes the response from the crowd, loud, low and dead serious.
A few hundred feet away from this room, the Philadelphia 76ers are, desperately, trying to win their first game of the season after 10 losses. This is the game. They're playing Boston, a rebuilding team that entered the game with three wins itself. If Philly is going to win a game any time soon, it probably needs to be against the Celtics. The rest of the month shapes up like this: a home date with the Phoenix Suns, at the New York Knicks, followed by home games vs. the Portland Trail Blazers, Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks. The defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs, tip off the December schedule.
But in this room, O'Neil is on the front lines. In 2010, majority Josh Harris decided after buying the team that he would take it down to the studs and start over. He was trying to build a championship organization through the Draft -- and be painfully transparent about that choice. That move has been a source of great debate around the NBA the last two years, so much that it forced a vote in October by the Board of Governors on changing the structure of the lottery. The 76ers don't have any intention of winning until they can win big.
This is the acid test, though.
Celtics vs. Sixers
Brandon Bass scores 23 points, Jared Sullinger adds 22 as the Celtics send the Sixers to its 11th straight loss.
It's a cold, cold night in the Illadelph. You have to really want to be here to leave home to watch a 0-10 team that has no hope of contending anytime soon, and to pay as much out of your pocket as much as these people do. These are among the hardest of the hardcore Sixers fans.
These are fans whose gripes were louder than most, who got the attention of the team's sales staff. So instead of yelling at, say, rookie Nerlens Noel, O'Neil has them in to vent to him. Or, at him. And, in that effort to be transparent, he lets me watch it all.
He tries to point out the similarities between what the 76ers are doing and what other teams went through in rebuilding. It took the Oklahoma City Thunder four seasons to win with Kevin Durant, he says. It took the Washington Wizards four seasons to win with John Wall. It took the Toronto Raptors four seasons to win with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. LeBron James, he says, wasn't coming here. The Draft is the only way to build, O'Neil says. Unfortunately, it's the longest way.
More than a few of the season ticket holders are sympathetic. But more than a few aren't.
"I do understand the process," another says. "And the process makes sense. But in 37 years, this is probably one of the worst teams I've watched ... [for] those people that have endured these two years, and hoping we draft somebody that won't be in Europe next year, draft somebody we can see and watch, give people [something] that have been there just those two years. You say 'Together We Build.' Bottom line, we're trying to tank. Tank is probably a bad way to put it. But my thought is, cut to the chase."
Tanking, O'Neil says (he will refer to it later as "the T-word"), is probably not the way I'd put it.
"I'm struggling to get people to come with me," the man replies. "I've basically told my grandson, in fact, 'You have to come. That's your punishment.' "
The questions go on for 40 very difficult minutes. Why don't we have any veteran leadership on the team? How do you keep this team's failure from going viral? Can't the league fix its competitive model?
"In the NFL, you can go from worst to first," another fan says. "In the NBA, you can't."
Will Dario Saric be here next year?
How long should we wait?
What would have been wrong with keeping Thaddeus Young instead of trading him to the Minnesota Timberwolves?
An elderly man has the floor.
"Do we root for the team to win, or lose?," he asks.
"Win," O'Neil says.
"That contradicts everything you just said," the man replies.
"I don't understand; how does that contradict what I just said?" O'Neil continues. "We want them to win. I don't think there's any doubt in that. I'm not sure we're equipped to win a lot of games. I think we can all agree on that."
"But the goal is to lose games to get a better Draft pick," the man replies.
"I'd rather say it this way," O'Neil says. "I'm not trying to be, like, nuanced around words. But the way we talk about it is, we want to make sure that the young players get playing time and can develop, lift this franchise up. One of the results of that is what we'd like to have a high Draft pick."
It's a micro-thin distinction upon which a franchise's credibility rests.
This is rebuilding, step by excruciatingly painful step.
Rebuilding is putting together a staff of 101 sales people who are young by design, because kids tend not to be deterred by hearing "no," over and over, maybe 80 times a day. It takes a member of the Sixers' sales staff, on average, 50 days to close on a ticket or sponsor package. And it takes, on average, 11 phone calls to finalize the deal with a buyer. (When a deal closes, the staffer's name and picture are put on an electronic "scoreboard" in the sales office, a bell goes off, and the other staffers break out into applause and dancing. Really. Jake Reynolds, the Sixers' Vice President of Sales and Service, has a couple of the celebrations on his phone. For morale, one supposes.)
"So that means we're doing a lot of explaining, and teaching, and walking through the difference in Tony Wroten's jumper this year," O'Neil said before meeting the season ticket holders. "And we're talking about how Brandon Davies has made himself into an NBA player. We're talking about the nuances, because they want to know."
For example: In 2012, the 76ers traded Nikola Vucevic to the Orlando Magic in the Bynum trade. Vucevic leads the league in total rebounds and is third in the league in rebounds per game. That trade was not made on this front office's watch, of course, but that's a distinction without a difference when you're as bad as Philly currently is: People forget who did what.
Sonny Hill, the legendary Philly basketball player, community leader and mentor who is an executive adviser for the 76ers -- and who stands by O'Neil's side during the meeting -- points out that Vucevic wasn't playing while he was in Philly. If he was here now, under the team's current philosophy and mandate, he would be playing, and the 76ers would have a piece to build around.
"Maybe one or two of these players will become Vucevic," Hill said. "And that's who we'll be rooting for at that point."
Rebuilding is thus convincing your fans that, no matter what the punditry or anonymous GMs think, the 76ers' plan makes sense, and if fans take the long view, they'll be rewarded in the end. The Sixers believe they're succeeding. Or, maybe they're just trying to convince themselves.
"The reality is, this market wants this," O'Neil said.
O'Neil says the team has sold 1,700 more full-season ticket packages this season than last, and that sponsorships are up 30 percent.
"The way we communicated was, and part of the reaction nationally, is very different from the reaction locally," he said. "Part of the reaction nationally is, 'How could you? How dare you?' And the reaction locally is, 'Thank you. Thank you for telling us what you're doing. Thank you for articulating a plan. Thank you for telling us that you want something as much as we do.' We're really passionate, emotional people, and most of us have our hearts on our sleeves."
This can certainly be dismissed as spin from a team employee. But, what do the fans really think? Are they as firmly on board with the plan as O'Neil, General Manager Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown?
Let's ask some of them.
You have to be careful with fan input. People that are at games have already crossed the Rubicon; they've made the decision to spend their money to come. There is no way to measure how many hundreds -- thousands -- of people made the conscious decision not to come, and that's the bigger problem for a struggling team.
Per ESPN.com, the 76ers rank 28th in attendance, averaging 15,178 fans per home game. If those numbers are accurate and held up, that would represent an increase of more than 1,300 people per game over last season, when Philly averaged 13,869 fans per home game. Against the Celtics on Nov. 19, they drew 12,701 fans to Wells Fargo Arena. But tickets for the Nov. 21 game vs. Phoenix were available on StubHub for $10.95.
On Wednesday, though, David Hogan is sitting in Section 214, Row 7, Seat 13, about 20 rows down from the highest seats in the house. He is here with about 70 students from the AVID Program (Achievement Via Individual Determination), a college prep program for middle school and high school students. A math teacher from nearby Wilmington, Del. (via Florida), Hogan says he attends "four or five" 76ers games a year.
What does he think about the process?
"One thing I can say is that the 76ers as an organization is one of the best run and professional organizations I've ever been around," Hogan said.
"I like the marketing aspect. I like the fact that this is something I can bring my family to, that I'm happy to come to. But it's something for the kids. My wife and I will enjoy it. Even if you're not here to see the Sixers themselves, they really do the best job they can to put a decent product on the floor. You see a competitive game. You see them bringing young players in and really playing and trying to do their best to win. Maybe that outcome doesn't happen, but I think every game -- even when Miami came in last year, San Antonio comes in, some of the upper echelon of the NBA comes in -- those guys know they're gonna get a game when they come to Philly."
Hogan says he spends between $30 and $35 per seat for two tickets in the upper bowl when he attends games. He goes to a few Philadelphia Phillies games every year, and also attended the Arena Football League's Arena Bowl here. The NFL's Philadelphia Eagles "are a little bit out of my price range," he says.
"I think the entertainment factor is high, very high" for 76ers games, he says. "I like the fact that they try to bring different artists in. They try to do a halftime theme. It's always something else in addition to an athletic event. They do stuff for the kids. They have their senior night. They make sure every demographic is here."
Maybe that outcome doesn't happen, but I think every game -- even when Miami came in last year, San Antonio comes in, some of the upper eschelon of the NBA comes in -- those guys know they're gonna get a game when they come to Philly.
– Sixers fan David Hogan
So, he's patient. To a point.
"I was just watching the guy, [Utah Jazz rookie] Dante Exum," Hogan said. "Supposedly they were going to get him, or they picked him and traded him. I'm like, that dude scored 28 last night! Hello? Hello? You've got to get him on the floor now. [Joel] Embiid has great promise and great potential, but he hasn't played a minute yet ... Philadelphia fans want to win. Now."
A few rows behind Hogan, in Row 11, C.J. Warner has two seats on the aisle with his sister, Kathleen. Both were born and raised in Philly. C.J. is here to see his daughter, a cheerleader, who is part of a pregame on-court routine with her squad.
If his daughter was not cheering, Warner says, he'd probably not be here.
"I do watch them on TV once in a while," Warner says. "I mean, they are exciting, definitely. I probably watch 20, 25, games ... I guess from the long run, to have a good, winning team, say, two years from now, I guess it would be good to get some young players, bring them into the organization, get them a feel of it, bring them up to where they want them to be, and then in a few years, hopefully have a good championship team."
Kathleen Warner is what is known as a casual basketball fan. She knows that many of the players the Sixers have drafted are injured, though. Otherwise, her main point of reference for the NBA is when Jimmy Fallon mentions it on The Tonight Show.
"But it's funny," she says. "I watch Ellen DeGeneres, and today, on the show, one of the guys wrote in to her. He said that he always watches her show, 'cause it always makes him happy. And he watches it with his grandfather, I think. It's one of the team players. And he said if you could, like, help us, maybe, because we're on this losing streak, maybe you can help us. He said everybody, help the 76ers. It was crazy that he did that today, and we were coming."
She was pretty spot on. The 76er in question was Michael Carter-Williams, who'd written a first-person account on the new website, The Players Tribune, about how he's dealing with all the losing and talk of tanking. Carter-Williams indeed noted how he and his stepfather (not grandfather) "pause the basketball talk" at 4 p.m. local to watch the long-running talk show. (DeGeneres read Carter-Williams' post and offered her own, quirky support for Carter-Williams and the team on last Wednesday's show.)
Still in the upper bowl, in Section 212, sit Frank Carpenter, a director of radiation and oncology for a cancer program, and his 10-year-old daughter, Nicole. They live in South Jersey, in Mays Landing. It takes them about 50 minutes to drive here.
Frank started taking Nicole to games a couple of years ago. She didn't like the Sixers much after they traded her favorite player, Holiday, in the deal that brought Noel to town last year. But in Nicole's first game with her dad -- ironically, against Boston -- Evan Turner hit a shot at the buzzer to give the 76ers the win in overtime. And Nicole was hooked.
Now, Noel is her favorite player.
"When he came, I didn't like him at all, because Jrue Holiday left, and all my favorite players left, Evan Turner and everything," she says. "And so I wasn't a big fan of his, because all of my good players got traded [for him]. But I met him, and he was really nice and he was a good person."
The Carpenters had a 10-game plan last season, but went all in this season -- a full-season package. It costs $2,600, but they've got first row seats in the upper bowl. Frank will occasionally buy more seats if Nicole wants to bring a friend or if his dad or wife wants to come, but many nights it's just him and his daughter. Bonding time.
"We know they stink," Frank Carpenter said. "They're terrible. It's more about the entertainment value you get from coming to the games. Basketball is non-stop action, for kids, especially. You can come out [and] there's always something going on. A lot of entertainment between the games. A little expensive, with what they're charging you to watch a grease fire of a team, which is what it is. I mean, this is a HAZMAT spill we're watching. But what you've got to look at is they have a plan. Some people may agree with the plan, and some people may not agree with the plan. But at least Sam Hinkie has a plan."
Nicole doesn't play basketball; she's a swimmer. But she thinks basketball is the "nicest" sport. "It's fun to watch," she says. "There's a lot of stuff going on at one time. It's just fun."
I mean, this is a HAZMAT spill we're watching. But what you've got to look at is they have a plan. Some people may agree with the plan, and some people may not agree with the plan. But at least Sam Hinkie has a plan.
– Sixers fan Frank Carpenter
Frank Carpenter isn't crazy, though, about what he has to shell out on top of the tickets.
"They still charge you $20 to park," he says. "They're still charging you $15 to get a hot dog and a soda, which is ridiculous. I wish they'd step up and realize that the product they're putting out there is not what they sold. It's like they keep getting a redshirt team. Basically, we got Noel last year; he was redshirted. This year, we've got Embiid and Saric. They're both redshirted, and Saric is probably redshirted for two years. It's a little bit hard to swallow that they can still charge what they charge for all the amenities."
Ironically, $20 is what Corey Wingo paid for a seat in Section 108, on the baseline, in the lower bowl. He spent another $20 to bring Chris Davis, who is in town from Greensboro, N.C. They both work for Bissell, the vacuum and cleaning company ("when people say we suck, it's a compliment," Davis says). The price point is exactly right for him to come in from the cold. And the tradition of the past, especially Allen Iverson, still carries sway.
"I'm from Virginia, too," Wingo said. "And you've got Mike Vick, who just exited [the Eagles]. It's one of those things. But as far as drawing me? Price. Absolutely."
Davis grew up in Roosevelt, Long Island, "where the Doc played," he said. "The New York Nets played right down the street at Nassau Coliseum. The Sixers, you look at the history, you look at Iverson, who was probably the top penetrating guard, he got it all started. The Sixers, they're known for having a good franchise over the years. [Two years ago] they were in the playoffs, with Doug [Collins] ... you get vapors from all this. It's all connected, man."
The bond is still powerful. But it can't be taken for granted. That's why Brown speaks to groups of season ticket holders before every home game, and invites others out to dinner during the season via handwritten notes.
What does Brown hear when he's out and about?
"Surprisingly positive," Brown says before tipoff. "I don't know if they just don't want to say it to my face." It's a bulletproof line, and draws laughs.
"I realize there's a timeline on this," Brown continues. "I understand that. I've been doing this for a while. We hope that people see the timeline, they see small examples for the patience they're showing. I think that from time to time you see one of the young guys do something, or we can string a few periods [together] or come close in games, be in position to win games. It keeps hope alive. And it keeps our team's and the city's spirit alive."
But, that timeline cuts both ways. Philly fans have seen the best of the best through much of the last five decades -- Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Dr. J, Collins, Mo Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Charles Barkley and Iverson, among others. This is a franchise that has had great success, and a franchise that has never been this bad. Isn't there a limit to trying the patience of fans -- especially here? Won't fans disengage and simply not care about the Sixers if this kind of losing festers?
The 76ers open their game versus Miami with some flair.
"There's always that fear," Brown said. "I hope we don't let it get to that stage. If we keep fighting, get some wins along the way, they see daylight. They watch our young guys grow before their eyes. We've got a bunch of track stars that we're trying to polish up to be basketball players. And it's really, if you shrunk my world down to something very basic, I hope my team plays hard, and I hope they pass the ball."
Brown has to convince people like Benjamin Shackleford to stay in the fight.
Shackleford, from Northeast Philadelphia, drives a trash truck for a living. He has to be up at 3 a.m. to get ready for work. He's got a wife who doesn't understand why he keeps going to games, a son who doesn't want to come to the games and a daughter in college who calls every couple of weeks, as college kids do, asking for some walking around money.
But Shackleford paid $3,800 for two tickets in Section 122, about 15 rows from the floor, behind the visitors' bench. He is a lifetime 76ers fan. He's had tickets for 16 years. He's got the old 76ers' fight song from the '70s in his phone. Like Spike Lee did with the Knicks, Shackleford worked his way from the top of the arena -- in Shackleford's case, the Spectrum -- to the floor. Tonight, he is in agony, sitting alone.
"Dealing with this, it's hard," he says in the first quarter. "I think we're going in the right direction, but it's taking too long. Because the way we're playing, we lose by 53 one game, then lose by 25, then we lose to the Rockets by one, when you've got Noel on the bench with five fouls. You've got [center] Henry Sims in there, you know James Harden's going to get the ball, you already know he's going to the lane. So why is Noel not in the game?"
Brown had actually answered that question before the game; he didn't want Noel, generously listed at 228 pounds, to have to try and keep Dwight Howard off of the glass or keep Harden from successfully tossing a lob Howard's way. Better to take the chance that his other players could keep Harden in front of them and away from the front of the rim. It was a decision that did not pan out.
Shackleford does not know this. All he knows is that there was a rare chance to actually win a game, and Philly came up short, again.
"They're giving games away, like they're not trying," he said.
To keep himself sane, Shackleford wrote a pledge before the season began, and signed it. It reads: "It is Year Two of a Five-Year Rebuild Plan for the Sixers. The plan for 2013 was to tank. 2014 is going to be a tank season. 2015 we will make the playoffs. 2016 we will be in the conference finals. And in 2017, the Sixers will win the championship. And that is your five-year rebuilding plan."
Shackleford likes K.J. McDaniels, the second-round pick from Clemson. He doesn't think much of Davies, the 6-foot-10 forward from Utah. "And number 30, I don't know who he is," Strickland says. (It's Drew Gordon, another rookie, from New Mexico.)
"I called my sales rep and told her, this is unacceptable," Shackleford said.
The 76ers did not rally to win Wednesday against the Celtics. They did not rally to win Friday against the Suns. They did not rally to win Saturday against the Knicks. They begin play this week 0-13, three losses shy of the franchise record for losses to start a season, five losses shy of the league record -- 18 straight by the New Jersey Nets. They are 19-76 in their last 95 games.
Wroten to McDaniel Alley-oop
Tony Wroten finds K.J. McDaniels with a perfect alley-oop pass for a massive throwdown.
In the same room where O'Neil held court, Brown meets the media an hour later.
"We have to keep our guys believing that if they don't cheat days, if they really come in and they invest in what we're selling, then we believe we have a chance of finding some wins, of keeping the group together, of having a chance to develop our young players," Brown said. "That's all we have."
Fortunately for Noel, while veterans like the Dallas Mavericks' Richard Jefferson have told him to keep his head up, he doesn't have too much contact with the natives. "I live in the 'burbs," he said. "It's quiet. I don't hear nothing." But he has faith that the rebuild plan will work, if only it gets enough time.
"I know that Philly has our back and knows what's coming," Noel said. "I feel it, too. We just have to continue to work hard and develop ourselves, and in no time, we'll be a team to be reckoned with."
This is when you are reminded of the old joke about the old man whose job it was to clean up after the elephants in the circus. One day, his friend said, 'Aren't you sick of this job? Don't you want to do something else, something more meaningful?'
"What, and give up show business?," the old man asked.
The Sixers may stink, historically so. But they're still in the NBA. Right?
I had asked Shackleford if there's anything he wanted me to pass along to O'Neil.
"Tell him, I'm suffering," Shackleford said. "This money I'm spending out here, I could be giving my daughter this money for college. I've got a daughter that's a freshman in college, that calls me every other week: 'Dad, can you give me some money so I can wash my clothes?' This is what I choose to do with my money. Look where I'm at, man. When my daughter could use this money. They keep talking about, 'We're trying.' Like, we're losing fans, man. Come on, man."
This is rebuilding -- one section, one row, one fan at a time.
(Last week's record in parentheses; last week's ranking in brackets)
Clippers vs. Grizzlies
Marc Gasol scores 30 points and grabs 12 rebounds as the Grizzlies drop the Clippers in Memphis.
1) Memphis (3-1) : Grizzlies haven't had the toughest schedule in the world so far, but they smacked around the Clippers Sunday after throttling the Rockets on Monday.
2) Golden State (3-0) : Warriors checking all the boxes so far this season: first in the league in offensive rating, second in defensive rating.
3) Houston (1-2) : Gutsy effort Saturday night, without Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones, to beat a hot Dallas team.
4) Toronto (3-0) : Raptors already had one of the best benches in the league. If Lou Williams is back for real, it's the best.
5) Dallas (3-1) : Loaded at all positions.
6) Washington (2-1) : Kris Humphries, one of the Wizards' less-heralded offseason pickups, has been a godsend off the bench.
7) San Antonio (4-0) : Telltale sign the Borg is back up to dominant speed: Danny Green again scalding (14 of 25) on 3-pointers.
Trail Blazers vs. Celtics
LaMarcus Aldridge records 20 points and 14 rebounds, Chris Kaman adds 16 points as the Blazers defeat the Celtics.
8) Portland (3-0) : Another long-term injury for second-year guard C.J. McCollum (broken finger; out a month).
9) L.A. Clippers (2-2) : Is Blake Griffin diversifying his game a little too much? Just askin'.
10) Chicago (1-2) : Astonishing stat via the Chicago Sun-Times: Bulls have been at full strength just twice this season.
11) Sacramento (2-1) : Monster numbers from DeMarcus Cousins -- and the Kings' won-loss record -- ensure he'll be making his first All-Star appearance in New York City in a couple of months.
12) Phoenix (4-0) : Isaiah Thomas must be all that -- everyone on earth knows he's going left, and he gets there, anyway.
14) New Orleans (2-2) : Brow goes for a career-high 43 points Saturday against the Jazz.
15) Atlanta (1-1) [NR]: Hawks nowhere near their normal form, but Jeff Teague starting to pick up his game.
Dropped Out: Cleveland (7)
Toronto (3-0): Huge wins over Memphis on Wednesday (OK, almost half the Grizz was out with the stomach flu), and a come-from-behind rout of the Cavs on the road Saturday, leave no doubt who the best team in the East is at the moment. Raps truly buying in to Dwane Casey on the defensive end; now fifth in the league in defensive rating, seventh in points allowed.
Cleveland (0-4): Cavs' defense came apart this week, but so did their offense: 68 turnovers in four games, averaged just 89.5 points per game in losses to Nuggets, Spurs, Wizards and Raptors.
How does a team make things right with a city scorned?
You should know something about Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver.
He is not a mercenary. When he arrives in a city to play basketball, as he has for 11 seasons now, he sets down roots in the community. He does not do things for their PR value.
When he played in Chicago, he helped collect 2,700 winter coats for kids. In Atlanta, cold weather is obviously less of an issue -- so, here, he's gathering thousands of socks for needy kids. In Utah, where he played from 2007-10, his foundation has built more than 100 wheelchair accessible ramps for residents, free of charge. And, through the foundation, he continues those drives even though he no longer lives or plays in Salt Lake City or Chicago, and he's trying to find ways to make each of them self-sustainable.
Korver is a student of the game, too. He played for Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan in Utah and Tom Thibodeau in Chicago. And it was Danny Ferry who convinced him the Atlanta Hawks were a team worth buying into.
"When I first came to Atlanta, I did not want to come here; I got traded here," Korver said on the Hawks' practice court Saturday. "Everything I knew about the culture and how things operated here, coming from the teams before that I'd been on, I'd come from structure, I'd come from mature locker room, professionals focused on winning games. I honestly, really didn't want to come here.
"After a year of Danny putting in the pieces that he was putting in, and the vision he shared with me on how we were going to play and what we were going to do, and the potential of Atlanta as a great basketball city -- this is a great city to live in. People live here all the time in the offseason; we're just trying to get them to come here during the season. I had opportunities to go other places [and] I chose to come back here [signing a four-year, $24 million deal in 2013], and a large of that is because I thought Danny was doing a great job.
"So, those things happened. And I don't believe Danny's a racist. I think he messed up. And like anyone else, when you mess up, you should get punished. What's that punishment? That's not for me to decide and I'm not even going to share my thoughts on that. But I was hopeful that the vision and the culture that he began to set was going to keep on going. That's why I'm here, you know?"
GameTime: Ferry Under Fire
The GameTime crew gives the latest update on the fallout in Atlanta and Luol Deng comments on the Hawks controversy surrounding him.
Only Ferry, the Hawks GM, knows why he said what he said on a conference call with his team's ownership group last June. That's when Ferry said rising free agent Luol Deng "has a little African in him," a racial slur implying that Deng -- one of the most respected players on his Chicago Bulls team for eight-plus seasons -- could be a con man toward management on certain issues.
Ferry is gone, having been put on leave by the team in September, and the likelihood he'll ever return to the Hawks is microscopic. Majority owner Bruce Levenson is on his way out, having pledged to sell his interest in the team after the disclosure of a two-year old e-mail in which he lamented the lack of high-income white fans at his team's games at Philips Arena. In his e-mail, he was hypothesizing that the majority black crowds for Hawks games scared away white fans, that there may be too many black cheerleaders on the dance team and that there wasn't enough of an affluent African-American base on which to build.
The fact that two years went by before Levenson's e-mail -- which he sent to Ferry and partners Ed Pescowitz and Todd Foreman, and was surely not a secret to others in the organization -- is indicative not of moral outrage, but of the infighting among the team's ownership group, which has been going on for years. Minority owner Michael Gearon, Jr., wanted Ferry, who had been hired in 2012 by Levenson, fired.
But the sale of the team is likely to take several more months, even though the team has hired Goldman, Sachs and Inner Circle Sports to handle the transaction. That leaves the Hawks in a lurch, with coach Mike Budenholzer adding Ferry's basketball operations duties to his day job. It has also made CEO Steve Koonin the public face of the franchise -- and of the franchise's attempts to repair its relationship with the city.
What I learned through all this was the word 'feet.' (As in), I heard your mouth; now I want to see your feet. Fulfill the promise. Walk the talk. Go do the things with the community.
– Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin
Koonin, an Atlanta native, came to the Hawks from the corporate world -- Coca Cola, and then Turner Broadcasting (which employs me). Television is cutthroat in its own way, of course, but when you reach the high executive positions he did in the company, the biggest crises usually involve, he noted Friday, "when somebody says, 'We don't think your comedy is funny.' " This was not that.
The Hawks hired the law firm Alston and Bird to conduct an outside investigation into what happened, and brought in Edelman Crisis PR to shepherd the franchise through the first couple of weeks. But, ultimately, the team had to own the fact that it had been asleep at the switch.
"Because of the subject matter, and because there was ownership involved, we were kind of on an island," Koonin said. "I didn't know what to do, except listen. I had three kind of guiding principles -- trust my instincts, be transparent and truthful, and communicate with [NBA commissioner] Adam [Silver] and the league. And I felt if we did those three things, we might survive it."
Have the Hawks survived? The jury's still out on that.
"My whole thing was to make sure I got all the facts straight, like everybody else," said the Hawks' All-Star center, Al Horford. "I was in disbelief. I didn't really believe that stuff. When everything was confirmed, I was surprised.
"But I've gotten a chance to know Danny, and he's a great person, high character person. I believe he acknowledged he made a mistake, and he's dealing with it. With the owners, I was surprised about that. Every time that I've been around them, it's always been a good experience, what I've seen, because I've always been looking from afar."
GameTime: Future for the Hawks
The GameTime crew discusses the situation in Atlanta and the future of the Hawks.
Very few people in the league, including many African-American teammates and executives, believe Ferry is a racist. But his words were bigoted, and grossly insensitive, and greatly damaged the Hawks in the city, which was still 54 percent African-American as late as the 2010 U.S. Census.
The team has meandered through the first part of the season, with a 6-5 record (though, in the East, that currently puts Atlanta square in the middle of the playoff pack). Its relationship with the city is improving, but still tenuous, as it attempts to put in reforms across the board designed to increase the organization's diversity at all levels and to be more engaged with the community.
"Everything we did has made us better and smarter," Koonin said. "Every mistake we made, and we made plenty, we learned from. We're humbled, but we're not apologizing. We apologized. We're building bridges through basketball to connect to the community."
Part of that bridge-building is ongoing conversations with civil rights and religious leaders in the city. The groups first met in late September, after the Hawks, again, stepped in it with a last-second cancellation of the originally scheduled meeting.
"When the Hawks canceled abruptly, that was a major offense, that I did not understand," said the Rev. Markel Hutchins, the local minister and civil rights leader who has served as a spokesman for the 11 other civil rights groups and representatives that met with the team.
Koonin says the franchise was in the midst of working out Ferry's leave and was waiting for Levenson's decision while also trying to set up the meeting.
"We had to get our own house in order before we could meet with anybody," Koonin said. "And so, while we agreed to meet with the civil rights groups, quite candidly, we didn't really understand what it meant."
The Hawks soon met with former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, along with other civil rights leaders. They realized they had much more to learn.
"This isn't an instant, it's going to take time, and it's going to take trust," Koonin said. "What I learned through all this was the word 'feet.' [As in], I heard your mouth; now I want to see your feet. Fulfill the promise. Walk the talk. Go do the things with the community."
For years, Atlanta has underperformed as an NBA city, despite its demographics and its standing among NBA players as one of their favorite cities. (The reasons for that were and are varied, from going to Friedman's Shoes on Mitchell Street, which has advertised and sold "big sized shoes for large feet" for generations, to the, uh, nocturnal activities that are available in The City Too Busy to Hate.)
Atlanta was the second-highest ratings market for last year's NBA All-Star Game, and the fourth-highest market for last year's Finals. The team's internal research shows that while 61 percent of people in Atlanta are NBA fans, only 14 percent of that number are Hawks fans. That is the demo Atlanta will target, along with millenials.
But the team hasn't been as involved with the city in other areas. It has given less to local non-profits and charitable groups than the civil rights groups believed it could. It has done little advertising in Hispanic and African-American media. That will be changing.
"We all see the value for the city of Atlanta and the role that the city plays for the nation in having the Atlanta Hawks franchise remain in Atlanta," Hutchins said over breakfast Saturday. "So nobody wanted to do anything, and we still don't seek to do anything, that would harm the brand of the Atlanta Hawks. Instead, we want to do what's right."
Hutchins said he made it clear in his first phone conversation with Koonin that he and the other civil rights leaders came from a friendly place.
"The idea is not to destroy the brand, but to make sure the interests and cause of justice and equality -- and a level playing field -- is perfected through this process," Hutchins said. "I tried to impress upon Steve and his leadership team when we did meet, and in our first conversation, that in these situations where you have crises, you can allow it to do one of two things: it can break you or it can make you. You can view it as a detriment, or you can view it as an opportunity."
The civil rights groups believed that, while Silver quickly resolved the Clippers' ownership situation by banning former owner Donald Sterling for life, and that the league fostered the sale of the team to Steve Ballmer, the end result was still that Sterling and his family got $2 billion -- "a golden parachute for engaging in bigotry," Hutchins said. "We weren't going to allow that to happen in Atlanta. If [Levenson] sells the team, we're going to do something to make it a better team, and make them an example for the rest of the National Basketball Association."
Some issues won't be resolved until the team is sold, and Hutchins said that he and the community understand that is a private business transaction. But some things can be done now.
"We had an excellent meeting," Hutchins said. "The follow-up has not been what I'd hoped it would be. We talked about some very specific things. And I think that ... it's not come as quickly as I'd hoped. Now, in all fairness to the Hawks' organization, I think a lot of that delay in being responsive to some of the things that we talked about in the meeting has everything to do with the fact that the Hawks have not been able to sell the franchise."
The Hawks have put 1,500 tickets in Philips on sale for $15, in all sections of the building, for all games, including big draws like the Cleveland Cavaliers and L.A. Lakers. (Young told the Hawks this was an economic as well as diversity issue, and if you build community through accessibility to the games, you are better capable of withstanding problems.) Their opening introduction videos and effects were designed for fans sitting at the top of the arena, not on the floor.
Though the Hawks have not come sprinting out of the gate, attendance through Friday at Philips Arena was up by more than 2,400 (averaging 16,782 per game) compared with last season, the highest total number and percentage increase of any team in the league. Through their first 10 games, the Hawks' viewership numbers on their cable network SportSouth were up 30 percent from last year's regular season in the Atlanta market.
More importantly, the Hawks have finalized hiring a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, one of the priorities of the civil rights groups. That hire is expected to be announced next week.
"We're about to become the shining star of diversity and inclusion, because that is the generation that we live in today," Koonin said. "We're going to take the lessons that built the airport, that built the stadiums, that built the amphitheatres, the city coming together and creating a win-win situation, and execute that here."
Said Hutchins: "That is a major win. Again, I've got to tell you, that from the very beginning I thought of this more globally than I did locally. For a major sports franchise to name a Chief Diversity Officer, it's groundbreaking, it's trailblazing, and it looks like progress on every level."
Meanwhile, Budenholzer, a Type A guy to begin with, has even more on his plate. He now has decision-making authority on trades and other transactions.
"The allotment of my time is slightly different, but not as significantly different as people might think," Budenholzer said. "I think we did so many things collaboratively and discussed everything as a group, and made decisions as a group. Those same group discussions are taking place, that same collaboration is taking place, and collectively, we're trying to make good decisions and manage the roster, manage the season, and all the little things that go into just day to day operations. But fortunately, I was heavily involved this past year, and now, obviously, going forward."
He's leaning a little more on his assistant coaches, assistant general manager Wes Wilcox and senior adviser and longtime NBA executive Rick Sund. The Hawks already used their assistants to take the lead in player development, a lesson Budenholzer brought from his days as a Spurs assistant coach.
"I just said, 'Hey, we're all going to have to do a little bit more. I'm going to need more from you guys,'" he said Saturday. "I think they're taking, kind of, the lead in practices and drills. All of us have more of a comfort level, so it's probably good. I couldn't imagine this [happening] last year."
Pistons vs. Hawks
Jeff Teague scores a season-high 28 points as the Hawks recover after blowing a 19-point lead to beat the Pistons 99-89.
Training camp was tough -- "It was at the front of everyone's minds," Korver said. "But then life keeps coming, and the games start coming. We've got plenty of other things to put our attention on. Bud's done a great job of really locking us into the games and what we're trying to accomplish as a team, and we'll talk about it if we need to, if something comes up."
Horford, who missed the last three months and 50-plus games of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, has been on a 32-minutes per game limit.
"Part of it is I don't feel great as far as my shape goes," Horford said. "Physically, I'm fine. I feel good physically. But just my conditioning. I've just got to keep feeling better and keep pushing through it."
The Hawks have not yet found their defensive chops. They're currently 23rd in the league in defensive rating, after finishing 14th last season. They've slipped from 19th in opponents' effective field-goal percentage last season to 22nd this season.
"I see the talent we have, and I expect us to be an elite group -- not mediocre, not .500," forward Elton Brand said. "You see Toronto getting off to a great start, and Chicago, even with their injuries, they're playing pretty well. I already know Cleveland is gonna come together. David West will be back for the Pacers; Dwyane Wade is gonna be back for Miami. So we need to handle our business now. We need to get focused and we need to win some games."
As for Ferry, the likelihood that he'd return to his old role for a new owner is something even he doesn't believe is possible, according to league sources. He has met with numerous individuals and groups to try and make amends for his words and seems, by all accounts, to be genuinely remorseful.
But it will likely be a long time before he's working in the NBA again.
Lakers vs. Hawks
Kobe Bryant scores 28 points, Carlos Boozer adds a double-double as the Lakers hold on to defeat the Hawks.
"There were some things that were discussed confidentially, and I will leave those things confidential," Hutchins said. "Let me say it like this. I would be extremely disappointed if Danny Ferry returned. The decency and the patience with which both of us in the civil and human rights activist community have dealt with the Hawks would probably be suspended if Danny Ferry returns. Not because we believe that Danny does not deserve a second chance. But because we believe that there should be some consequence in engaging in that level of bigotry."
It puts the players, coaches and many in the front office in a difficult position. Almost all of them, including Budenholzer, were hired or brought in by Ferry, who got an unprecedented six-year deal in 2012 to run the team, with complete control of basketball operations.
The idea, whether anyone articulated it openly or not, was to turn Atlanta into San Antonio East, with the same culture and expectations. The trouble was, there's currently no Tim Duncan on the roster. The Hawks hadn't had much success luring free agents like LeBron James, Dwight Howard or Chris Paul in Ferry's first two years, but he'd maneuvered them to be in position to try again next summer.
No matter what they think of what he said, he was, and remains, friends with many in the organization.
"I think that that's the most important thing," Budenholzer said. "At the end of the day, he's somebody that's been a good friend to me for a long time. We continue to share with each other. I think in that sense, in supporting each other, he supports me, and hopefully I can find a way to support him, and hopefully both of us work our way through this."
It is hard to push organizations forward. Inertia is a company's greatest problem -- or, depending on what those in power desire, a welcome ally. But the Hawks cannot conduct business as usual anymore. The whole world may not be watching, but the city that produced Martin Luther King, Jr., and a generation that followed his teachings is surely paying attention.
"We need to move," Koonin said. "The public doesn't get a vote on who the owner is. The public votes after the owner's in place. And I'm very hopeful, and I'm going to do everything in my power to convince the owner of the mistakes made in the past, and how you have to invest in the community and understand the marketplace."
Inside the NBA: Bulls Injuries
The Inside crew discuss how the Bulls and Derrick Rose are handling his injuries.
Present and accounted for, sir. From Olek Rajch: I always read your articles and I think you're one of the best NBA commentators. However, I must partly disagree on your point about Derrick [Rose]. In my opinion the thing here is about his mindset. I have no problem with players resting and curing themselves as long as they are doing it thinking about basketball future. If he had said "I want to rest and take myself a bit lighter to be maximally healthy for the playoffs, because I want badly to win a championship" or "I want to rest from time to time to play top basketball form for as my years as possible" (as Spurs do) nobody, or at least much less people than now, would have problem with that. Of course I don't expect anybody to sacrifice life but not to play hard in afraid of pain in knees after being 50 years old!? The point is he as a professional basketball player, paid $20 million yearly is not thinking about his job, which is to play and do everything to win, but about business meetings in two thousand thirty-something.
Aldridge responds: If Derrick's focus was consistently elsewhere other than the present, Olek, he would be doing a disservice to his teammates. I just think humans are capable of having concurrent, and even contradictory, thoughts. I love my kids, love spending time with them, and I would die for them. I also can't wait until they're a little older and more mature, so my wife and I don't have to constantly monitor what they're doing. Does that make sense? So I can see where Rose, while totally committed to doing everything in his power to help the Bulls now, also knows that every athlete has a shelf life, and that he'll have to live another 40 or 50 years on this planet after he's done playing.
On the other hand ... From Travis Jones: I wanted to voice my support for Derrick Rose and his desire to protect his long term health. Now I'm not really a big Derrick Rose fan, I support the Golden State Warriors and have done so since the Run TMC days (its been a painful journey but things are looking positive right now), so my support isn't for some bias desire to uplift a personal hero. What I do feel is that Derrick Rose is a visionary and pioneer of this time.
The Beat: Rose's Dilema
K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune joins the show to discuss Derrick Rose and his injuries and availability.
Not only do I agree with you with respect that we as fans are sick of the old sport cliches and demand our sports heroes to be more real with us, only to punish them when they do. I feel we as fans through our idolization of our sporting heroes demand what we perceive to be heroic acts as a matter of course and when that narrative doesn't go to plan we lash out with severe criticism. While I have always been a keen sporting fan across many sports my idolization of sporting heroes has always been somewhat subdued, I don't prescribe to losing myself in adoration for particular athletes to the point where they affect my day to day life. I do relish and appreciate what some have achieved and marvel at their ability, but for me it stops there. I think for others the idolization of sporting heroes becomes a bit much and it's in that psyche that we expect too much for human beings that are sometimes viewed as gods ...
Yes, Derrick Rose earns a lot of money. Yes, it's more money than the vast majority of the population will ever see. Yes, that means Derrick Rose will have to face criticism and be expected to do things other mortals are not. That's all fine, but let's put things in perspective. All the money in the world cannot right severe health problems, it can do very little in terms of the quality of life that Derrick might face in the future. I think we, as fans, should be trying to empathize with our athletes a bit more and let them know that heroic acts are ones we cheer but stupid acts are not worth the consequences.
Aldridge responds: The word "fan" comes from "fanatic," Travis. I am a fan of certain teams, too, and I am not rational when it comes to them. I understand. But being irrational when it comes to other people's decisions about their bodies and their future is not supportable, especially when Rose has, by all accounts, been a Spartan in his rehab trying to come back the last two years.
One Adam-12, One Adam-12, possible trade in progress. From Lee Wynn: Question: Adam Silver has proven to be an engaging commish so far. Very fan-oriented, embraces technology, and quick to act-and act sensibly. Do you think he would have vetoed the Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade that David Stern did as the "owner" of the New Orleans Hornets years ago? Though the trade had a degree of separation to many events in the league (no more Donald Sterling, Anthony Davis in NOLA), there's no way Stern could have seen (or taken credit for) these things. Would Silver have "meddled" in such a way?
Aldridge responds: We'll never know, Lee. My guess is no, but it's just a guess. Stern has never elaborated on why he thought the proposed Lakers' deal for Paul wasn't in the Hornets' (now Pelicans') best interest, but I think even the most vocal of The Commish's critics would say that he's probably been proven right.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and...Dear God, that's a lot of snow to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
(Weekly averages in parentheses)
1) James Harden (20.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5 apg, .432 FG, .857 FT): The Beard got credit from Kevin McHale, and rightly so, for his solid defense on Dirk Nowitzki in the waning seconds of Saturday's win over Dallas.
2) Marc Gasol (23.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, .576 FG, .773 FT): GM Chris Wallace told us on The Beat last week that re-signing Gasol next summer is the team's top priority, and he sounded confident the Grizzlies would be able to do so.
3) LeBron James (18.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 7 apg, .412 FG, .667 FT): Says his team is "fragile," and has been all season. But he's not putting his stamp on games like he usually does, either.
4) Anthony Davis (30 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 2.3 bpg, .608 FG, .857 FT): Simply, a monster. PER is off the charts, leading the league by a mile. Rick Fox said this on GameTime the other night: Davis isn't close to becoming the best big man in the league; he's close to becoming the best player in the league.
5) Stephen Curry (18 ppg, 5 rpg, 10 apg, .449 FG, .800 FT): Immediate benefit for GSW: Curry only had nine turnovers in four games last week, compared to 40 assists. More important: Warriors 10-2 for the first time in franchise history.
Dropped out: Blake Griffin, Klay Thompson
10 -- Years since the Brawl at Auburn Hills, the on-court fight between the Pistons and Pacers in the waning seconds of an early regular-season showdown on Nov. 19, 2004, that spilled into the stands, with Indiana's Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) going into the crowd to fight a fan that threw a cup of water on him. Several of his teammates, most notably forward Stephen Jackson, followed him into the stands and also traded punches with fans. Artest was suspended for the remaining 73 games of the 2004-05 season by Commissioner David Stern, who also suspended Jackson for 30 games. Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal got a 25-game ban (later reduced to 15 games by an arbitrator). Detroit's Ben Wallace, who began the Brawl with World Peace on the floor, got six games. Indiana guard Anthony Johnson received a five-game suspension. Indiana's Reggie Miller, along with Detroit's Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman, each got a one-game suspension for leaving their respective benches. The fan who threw the cup of water at World Peace, John Green, was banned from the Palace for life along with another fan who got involved.
Warriors vs. Thunder
Marreese Speights scores 28 points off the bench, Klay Thompson adds 20 points as the Warriors hold on to defeat the Thunder.
51 -- Games last season that the Thunder played before their 12th loss of the year, on Feb. 7. Of course, OKC had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook available for most of those games. Without them again, the Thunder fell to 3-12 this season after losing to Golden State Sunday night.
52 -- Total games over two seasons that Andrei Kirilenko played for the Nets. His days in Brooklyn appear over, following reports last week that the Nets were ready to trade or release him, after he'd been beaten out for playing time. Kirilenko signed a controversial two-year, $6.3 million deal with Brooklyn in 2013, giving up a guaranteed $10 million from Minnesota to become a free agent. Rival executives suspected under the table payments to make him willing to give up that money, though a league investigation into Brooklyn's negotiations revealed no wrongdoing.
1) If the NBA was going to be viewed as seriously addressing domestic violence issues among its players, it had to come down hard on Charlotte swingman Jeff Taylor, and it did. The union certainly has to represent the interests of its players, so there was nothing wrong with Executive Director Michele Roberts being critical of Adam Silver's decision. But it would have been tone deaf, with the sea change that's taken place in this country when it comes to challenging domestic violence, to make a defense of Taylor's behavior based on a legal argument about the league's authority to issue such a harsh punishment.
McGee Steals A Kiss
JaVale McGee dives into the stands and lands on a fan's lap, then surprises her with a kiss.
2) Heartwarming, and just in time for the holidays: JaVale makes a friend.
2A) Speaking of which: it may be temporary, but the Nuggets pulled their season out of an early death spiral just in the nick of time last week. Still a lot of ground to make up if they're going to make a move in the West, though.
4) Very smart hire by the NBPA to bring back Chrysa Chin for an executive position in the union after she spent the last 17 years working for the league as EVP of Strategy and Development. No one has worked harder to accomplish more for more players and has more respect among the rank and file.
5) That was a pretty incredible catch Sunday night, Odell Beckham, Jr.
GameTime: Cleveland's Woes
LeBron James sounds off after the loss to the Raptors. GameTime breaks down what's wrong with the Cavs.
1) Cleveland. Clippers. Something's wrong with both of their rosters. It may not take a huge, multi-player trade; they both seem to be short a player or two who aren't stars, but do a lot of grinding and get things done with a lot of dirty work. A hundred years ago, the Cavs had a guy named Mike Sanders who played with Mark Price and Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance. A few years ago, Quinton Ross played alongside Elton Brand and Sam Cassell for the Clippers. Today, they each need that kind of guy on the roster.
2) What has happened to the Hornets' defense?
3) Man, Eric Gordon is snakebit.
4) "I'm just gonna go get the paper, honey. Wow. Looks the Sox are gonna sign -- Holy Caddyshack!"
5) I am going to talk now about Marion Barry, the former Mayor of the District of Columbia, who died early Sunday morning at age 78. Chances are, you've made up your mind about Barry by now, and if you aren't from D.C. or of a certain age, you may well have reduced Barry to shorthand, and caricature -- the Crackhead Mayor. And nothing I write will likely change your mind. He did get addicted to crack, and he did go to jail because of it. But Marion Barry was a lot more than that to the African-American citizens of the District. He was the first elected Mayor in the city's history -- and a byzantine history it was, with the city basically run by Southern, racist members of Congress for a hundred years before home rule. Barry, a veteran of the civil rights movement (and, I'm sure, the only one with a Master's Degree in Chemistry), changed all that. He brought businesses back to downtown D.C. -- but insisted they hire minorities to help build their buildings. He put people of color, women, gays and lesbians in positions of power, with budgets, for the first time in the city's history. He demanded the elderly get better access to more affordable housing. And he gave thousands of teenagers their first jobs, through his Summer Jobs for Youth Program. I was one of them. And I can't tell you the sense of pride I gained in myself when I saw a check, with my name on it -- compensation for the work I had done. Marion Barry did that for me, and I will always be in his debt because of it.
"It's like my swag just rubbed off on everybody."
-- Lakers guard Nick Young, discussing his return to the lineup last Tuesday, which coincided with L.A.'s second win of the season. I always wonder what the average temperature is on Swaggy P's planet.
"Ultimately, I don't think he should have lost his team. I don't like the idea that someone could record a secret conversation and that a person could lose their assets from that, even though I think what he said was awful."
-- Comedian Dave Chappelle, asked in a GQ interview about what he thought of the aftermath of the Donald Sterling controversy. (Because I am a Chapelle fan, here is the link to the interview. Fair warning: decidedly NSFW.)
"Channing is my boy, but he ain't Dirk."
-- Wizards big man Marcin Gortat, asked Tuesday about the challenge of guarding stretch fours Channing Frye -- his former Phoenix Suns teammate -- Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Love in consecutive games.
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