Tag: Scottie Pippen

Stop with the Comparisons!

Jordan, Kobe, Lebron. Lebron, Jordan, Kobe. Kobe, Lebron, Jordan. When will it stop? Why does there need to be such a constant comparison between the three? They are three of the best to ever grace the game. Each has brought something different to the court. You could even say that each has revolutionised how the great game of hoops is played. But do we really need to say who is the best? Personally, I’m over it. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to put the whole comparing thing to bed. Finish it once and for all so that we never need to hear about how so and so is the best.

The whole conversation reminds me of my childhood. You’d have your mates over for a party. Mum would make fairy bread. You’d drink so much soft drink you’d be physically ill. Lollies would be found in the dirt but you’d still force them down but as the day turned to night the conversation amongst the friends would become heated. As adults you never talk about sex, religion or politics at the dinner table. The equivalent for children was to decide who had the best dad. “My dad is better than your dad because he made me a sweet cubby house”. “Pfffft! My dad is better than your dad because he built our house”. “Whatever! My dad is better than your dad because he built Sydney. All of it!”. “Well my dad wrestled an elephant!” “My dad punched out Chuck Norris!” and so on and so forth. It was a discussion that could never be won no matter what anybody would say because you already had your mind set on your dad being the best and were determined to one up everyone else even if it meant stretching the truth. Jordan Vs Kobe Vs Lebron is exactly the same. Consider them your basketball fathers. Everyone has a favourite and it doesn’t matter what anyone else says your mind will never change. If anyone badmouths your basketball dad you come out swinging with stats and stories and whatever else you can think of and ignore what anybody else has to say.

All great players. But they cannot be compared. Each plays a different brand of ball. Lebron has size and muscle that the other two don’t, meaning Lebron can rely on his physical strength to get to the rack or back down a defender. Jordan would make every player around him better. Look at what he did for Scottie. Jordan made his weaknesses strengths. Critics said he couldn’t shoot. So he proved them wrong. Critics said he couldn’t play D but MJ worked as hard, if not harder at the defensive end of the floor. Kobe has his self belief as a massive strength. Kobe believes he can win in all situations.

But Lebron had to move to Miami to win his championships. Kobe couldn’t do it without Shaq. MJ couldn’t beat the Bad Boy Pistons. Kobe and Jordan stuck with the one team. Kobe only has one MVP. Lebron only gets awards because Stern loves him. Jordan can’t win without Pippen… Sound familiar?? I’m sure it does. It’s because of conversations like these that there will never be a consensus. Because there cannot be a consensus there’s no point to the conversation. It’ll just be a never ending circle of one upmanship of why your basketball dad is better than someone else’s basketball dad.

Nathan Darby 



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Sam Smith Interview

Image Source - www.sports.yahoo.com

Sam Smith covers the Chicago Bulls for http://www.nba.com/bulls/ and is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s spent the last three decades covering the Bulls for the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Bulls own website. He is the author of the bestselling book The Jordan Rules and one of the most well respected writers to ever cover the NBA.

I spoke with Sam on the phone for NBA Nation Australia and he had lots to say on all manner of things, including the Bulls past and present, Jordan, Pippen, Rose, his influences and his thoughts on modern media. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed speaking to Sam himself.

You started covering the Bulls full time in 1987, what were your first impressions of the team up close, prior to all the success they were to have?

Well I had been around the team since the early ’80’s, 83 I think, writing feature stories and filling in at times, basically since the arrival of Jordan. He was always viewed as such a terrific talent with an imperfect team, it was a team with a lot of turnover and uncertainty, a great player amidst a confused situation and so the question was going to be whether it could ever turn into a team and whether Jordan’s greatness and ability would be able to adapt to being a part of the team rather than feeling, cause he always felt, that they just weren’t good enough and he had to do so much.

The other part of the process was for him to accept and trust that his team mates would be good enough and they could help through times when he wasn’t at his best or the defense had concentrated on him so much to limit what he could do, so it was really an interesting and entertaining time of growth and uncertainty.

 

In your first few years of covering the Bulls they lost to the Pistons in the playoffs, did you feel as though they were destined to always fall at that final hurdle despite all the talent they had or did you think that elusive title would eventually come?

I didn’t know if they would get the title, I didn’t think they were that far away. The Pistons were beating them but I felt they were more talented, I thought the Pistons were just a better team and they were more physical and they tended to intimidate a lot of players on the Bulls. I felt that the Bulls players had to get past that and learn to stand up in these kinds of games and then they could beat them. I just didn’t know if they could though, Pippen was a young player, tended to get very intimidated, Grant at times as well and early on they didn’t really have a centre to match up until they got Bill Cartwright and then it was a matter of working him into the team. I did feel they were good enough because you would see them win a lot these games, they’d beat Boston or they’d beat the Lakers, they beat good teams and they played great games it’s just whether they could win the series.

 

The 1990-91 season was the biggest in the Bulls history at the time but it was also huge in your own career. You wrote the controversial book The Jordan Rules, how did the players react after the book was released? Was there any animosity and did it alter your relationship with the players negatively at all?

No there really wasn’t much at all, in fact the media was really angrier with me than the players were. The players had all 

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The Jordan Rules was on the New York Times bestsellers list for three months.

participated in the book, not that they were co-authors or anything but they knew what I was doing and they actually encouraged me to write the book because they had had difficulties playing with Jordan. Jordan was very critical of them and a lot of them didn’t feel they had the ability to address him and there were a number of players that had come to me over the years before that and said “you know Michael did this and Michael did that, you know you should write that” and I said “well I’ll quote you in saying that” and they were like ”no you can’t do that”. When the book came out, Jordan wasn’t happy about it, not so much because of what it said, I’m not sure he ever read the book but the media sort of piled on and he viewed it as an attack on him and it wasn’t. I didn’t write it that way and I think if anyone reads it now, they’ll see that it’s not. 

The other players greeted it well, the first time I went in the locker room after the book came out, I went over to Jordan and said if he had any issues with me, I’d be happy to address them and he had nothing to say and then BJ Armstrong kind of greeted me warmly, started talking to me as did Bill Cartwright, John Paxson and a couple of others, they were all fine, they never had any resentment and in fact when the book came out a lot media members were angry or jealous or whatever the case may be and they were writing that it would destroy the team and the day the book was released the Bulls went on the longest winning streak in franchise history so that kind of diminished a lot of that.

 

You knew Phil Jackson prior to him becoming Bulls Coach did having that relationship help or hinder you when covering the team?

It helped me quite a bit. I knew Phil a little bit from his days coaching in the CBA and when he came to the Bulls as Assistant Coach I got to know him well and he really did a lot towards helping me learn about basketball. We travelled in those days on commercial airlines, the team didn’t have its own charter or have its own plane and I would often try to sit next to Phil on the plane or spend time with him on the road. He wasn’t really close with Head Coach Doug Collins as he was hired by management, so he really didn’t have a lot of friends on the coaching staff and I’d question him a lot, asking him why coaches did what they did in certain situations and learned a lot about his philosophies. So when he became Head Coach, I had a good relationship with him, we would talk all the time and he would explain to me why he was doing what he was doing, so really it was my primary education about basketball spending time with Phil.

 

You were there for Michael Jordan’s three first games, rookie game, return from baseball and final stint with Washington and his last three games. Does any one of these particular games stand out in your memory and why?

Well obviously the last one in 1998, you know when he made the shot against Utah, that was probably what many people consider that to be his most dramatic game. He steals the ball from Karl Malone on one end as Utah’s about to send it to a seventh game, drove down the other end basically calls the shot like Babe Ruth, you know Babe Ruth’s famous called home run shot, whether it’s true or not, you know it was very similar, he took the ball, lined up his shot and posed with it, a game winner; it wasn’t to tie the game it was to win it, on the road. So there’s that one.

Washington, there was a lot of build in the sense that this would be the last time we see Michael Jordan play basketball, he still threatened to come back but we were all pretty sure he wasn’t going to. That was going to be the last time anybody ever saw Michael Jordan play in a competitive basketball game so it was more of a sentimental kind of situation.

In ‘93 none of us knew he was leaving, it was a surprise, obviously when he decided at the end of the summer, after his father died and everything that he wasn’t going to play and so none of us really looked at that as a last game with Paxson hitting the shot in ‘93.

When he came back in ‘95 there was tremendous anticipation, he had been away from the game so long but he hadn’t had a chance to practice all that much with the team which meant it wasn’t exactly Jordan at the highest level.

I’d probably have to say that ’98 game was the most amazing because many people consider that one of the greatest moments.

 

Do you have a favourite Michael Jordan moment?

I really don’t and I’ve been asked that, it’s sort of like your kids, not that I have that many but it’s hard to choose among your favourites when you love so many of them. I saw virtually every one of his great games, scoring 69 points, but what’s probably the most dramatic for me was the shot against the Cavs in ’89 over Craig Ehlo. The Bulls were on the verge at that time of either going somewhere or not, and Cleveland was being viewed as the team of the future. Magic Johnson that season declared that the great competitor coming out of the east was going to be Cleveland, he never mentioned Chicago. Cleveland finished ten games ahead of the Bulls that year and they looked set up as the team of the 90’s, if they were going to be the team of the 90’s Michael Jordan wasn’t going to have that great of a career and who knows what would have been if he’d have stayed with the Bulls, he would have no doubt been growing very uncomfortable about a lack of success. Being able to beat that team in that game with that shot, that’s probably my favourite that I remember.

 

Do you think Scottie Pippen has been under rated as a player since he will always be regarded as Michael’s sidekick of sorts or conversely do you think MJ made him a better player?

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I think Jordan made him a better player, I don’t believe that without Jordan, Scottie would have become the player he did. Michael took an interest in him and Scottie was a player who needed the pressure off him because he wasn’t a great shooter, he wasn’t the kind of player who could create offense on his own, if he’d gone to a bad team I don’t know what sort of career he would have had.

He was probably, I wouldn’t say the greatest, but one of the greatest role playing stars of all time because he wasn’t a big scorer but I think he was one of the best, if not the best perimeter defender of all time and was one of the best, if not the best passing forward of all time, maybe not as good as Bird but very good. He could do a lot of support things, he just didn’t do the main thing and he had one season where he sort of verged on it when Jordan left but then again his personality led himself to emotional outbursts and that following season he began to melt down again.

I really think, even though he did a lot for Jordan and the Bulls, I think Jordan did more for his career in that he is considered a top 50 player. I don’t say he wasn’t a great player, he was a great player but I don’t believe he would have become the great player he is considered to be without playing with Michael Jordan and Michael Jordan being the player he was, that he could take the pressure off Pippen so Pippen wouldn’t have to be a scorer, he could have bad scoring games and nobody would notice.

 

It’s always difficult to compare eras but what’s your thoughts on today’s NBA compared with the 1980’s and 1990’s era. Is the game more or less exciting and would you say the talent level has improved?

Well I think the ‘80’s may have been the greatest era. In part because the talent was less watered down, expansion always waters down talent when you divide up the stars. Nowadays if you have a team with two stars, like Miami, you’re practically a dynasty, the Bulls did in the 90’s as well but that era in the 80’s when you have the great Boston teams, you have the great L.A teams, where you have three and four hall of fame level players on each team going at each other and then teams that you even forget about like Atlanta with Dominique Wilkins those sorts of guys they had. You had an era of really tremendous depth of talent that you had to get by so many teams and Miami hasn’t had to get by so many teams in recent years to win their titles.

While players in this era have tremendous talent, LeBron James may be more talented than anybody who played in that era, but I think in that era they were much greater teams and there were not as many weak teams as there are now. I don’t take anything away from anybody who wins in any era as that’s a difficult thing to do but probably the 80’s was the greatest era in the league because, not only the players coming in, but also the talent they took in from the ABA in the late 70’s, where you had Julius Erving and all those guys coming into the league and you had the young, great talent of Bird and Magic and there’s still guys like Kareem around. There was just a pretty amazing array of high level talent around.

I actually consider the level almost like the late 50’s, early 60’s when the black players finally got to come into the NBA, Bill Russell and all the Celtics, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson and only nine or ten teams, you have so much great talent on so few teams even though it still wasn’t fully integrated. That was the first real great wave of talent and the 80’s was really the next great wave of talent.

 

Getting to the current Bulls team, what are your thoughts on the upcoming season, do the Bulls have a good chance of taking the title this season and your thoughts on Derrick Rose’s return so far?

I think the Bulls are going to be very good, I think they have a chance to win a title but I have a chance to win the lottery, there’s is a little better but I probably won’t. They could because Derrick Rose is back, they’re good enough to win but I wouldn’t consider them a favourite and I wouldn’t say that they will win but I think now that they can win.

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I did believe, the season that Rose got hurt in the playoffs, I believe that was their best team and they would have won that season if Rose hadn’t got hurt. They had strength at centre with Omer Asik, they were really big, where that’s Miami’s fatal flaw, size, and now the Bulls are not nearly as big at centre. They still have Noah but he’s been hurt periodically since then. I think that was their best chance and even though people won’t give them much credit because Rose got hurt, I thought that was the year they were clearly better than Miami and would have beaten Miami.

Rose has come back at a remarkable level, I don’t think anybody ever has come back from that injury to play like this, partially because there’s basically never been a point guard who’s played like Rose has played with speed and explosiveness at that level and then to come back from that surgery and play like he has, we’ve seen him in six games so far but he’s been looking every bit like he did 18 months ago when he got hurt and that’s amazing.

When you have a player like that on your team, that gives you a chance automatically, plus they have two other All Stars who were picked by the coaches in Noah and Deng, so they have other high level players and they’ve added Jimmy Butler who looks like a legitimate starting shooting guard, they won 62 games two years ago with Keith Bogans playing 82 games at shooting guard. So they’ve upgraded their starting line-up and may be the best defensive team in the league and so all those factors give them a really good chance and everybody says well if they’re healthy but that’s the same with anybody. If LeBron James gets hurt Miami’s not going to win, if Paul George gets hurt Indiana’s not going to win, if Kevin Durant gets hurt and so on.

They’re definitely in the mix this year and definitely have a chance because of Derrick Rose’s comeback and the way he’s playing thus far and its only preseason and they haven’t played back to back games yet but Rose has been looking extraordinary, as good as any player in the league. You could make a case that he’s back to being a contender for the MVP award again.

This is a team who went to the second round last season, won 45 games, probably could have won 50 if Noah and Gibson hadn’t missed the last month of the season and you add an MVP talent to that level of team, with stability, because they’ve basically had the same core they’ve had, and one thing that’s overlooked is some of the injuries but those four players, Rose, Noah, Deng and Boozer playing together are 50-9, they’ve only played together 59 games in three seasons, since the summer of 2010 but when they’ve played together they have won more than 80% of their games.

So with them being back together and all of them in a good situation and motivated and hungry, they’re definitely in position to give Miami a strong challenge.

 

What would you consider your greatest achievement as a sports writer, would it be the bestselling book, the Naismith Hall of Fame 2012 Curt Gowdy media award for print media or the years spent covering the Bulls for Tribune?

Well I’m very proud of the hall of fame award, I think that’s an award for what I believe is for longevity and that’s sort of what I’m most proud

Sam Smith receiving his Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Sam Smith receiving his Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

of. The fact that I’ve been able to work for such a long time and have an enthusiasm for the game, I still love watching the game, I still love working and I’m very lucky and feel very fortunate to be in this situation and to still be able to write and write about the game and work with the people in the game. I’m proud of that award for what it recognises, because that’s what I’m most pleased about, to have longevity in the business and to be able to work in sports and basketball for more than three decades now.

The highlight is the ongoing journey and it’s been a great journey and very few people get to have that, I’m really proud of that.

 

What are your thoughts on the current shift in sports writing to more online coverage compared to print media?

I don’t want to sound too much like the grumpy old man but I’m really disappointed in what’s become of journalism, sports and otherwise in this era as I still believe in depth and reporting. Where I work I’ve had a lot of latitude in working for the Bulls website, that’s why I left the newspaper business because the newspaper business, other than a few exceptions like the New York Times, doesn’t have the interest or whatever the case might be for depth.

I think that’s why The Jordan Rules was a popular book, people want to know what’s going on behind the scenes and even though there’s more information available now I think it continues to lead to a dumbing down of society, that people primarily get their news from little bursts of information, whether its Twitter or Facebook or whatever other social media vehicles are available and we spend a lot less time because it’s not available, newspapers are not making it available, magazines are basically out of business, and I’ve always been a practitioner of the belief in long form, wanting to know not only what happened but why it happened and what it meant. You can only determine that by not only being there but spending the time with the people who did what they did.

It’s one thing to watch a game, people talk about momentum etc but there’s a way in which that play has been run, the exact play that occurred, the strategy on defense, what have they tried to do, who have they tried to stop and those little elements are important as that’s what leads to the final result. I think reporting in sports has just gotten terrible and not because of the writers, the writers are still very talented but the editors and organisations are focusing on quantity of internet hits or however they’re counting economics in their business, and its gone away from depth and content to more instant information, very little of which can have any depth or substance because it’s so instantaneous.

The information business has gotten way, way worse and I know that people always say that when they get older that their time was better and I don’t believe that the past is always better, I believe that now is better with more technology and opportunities available, it’s just in my business, the journalism business, the book publishing business, those businesses have come across bad economic times as a result of change. I rarely read any newspapers anymore, I spend more time reading books, I read the New York Times but it’s become very difficult to get depth of information, which I try to do and I’m able to, and I credit the Bulls for realising that and I’m able to do that on the Bulls website and write in depth. People say well you work for a team and you’re probably limited but I do have a lot of freedom and ability to get into depth about what the team’s been doing.

Everybody has an opinion these days, there’s too much opinion as opposed to reporting. It seems like there are one per cent of the writers doing reporting and the other 99% are commenting on what’s been reported.

 

As far as writing is concerned be it sports or not, who would you say has influenced you and who are your favourite writers?

The late David Halberstam, he influenced me most into writing The Jordan Rules, he was a great writer in politics and history and he wrote a lot of sports books too. He did a sort of diary kind of book on the Portland Trailblazers in the late 70’s, he happened to show up a year after Bill Walton got hurt so it wasn’t as successful, commercially successful, as my book but it was better than my book. That influenced me about a book in the sense that I always felt that if I ever could write a book, that I would want to write a book like that, because that told you that he was always writing about being able to do what I said earlier, tell me why things happen and about the people who were making things happen, why they were doing what they were doing and what the stories were behind the curtain, so that was very influential for me.

I had editors who were influential, my first newspaper editor Ernie Williams, he helped me with The Jordan Rules, I was an investigative reporter when I started in journalism and I wrote some damaging stuff, a lot of civil government scandal type stuff, getting people in trouble. He made a point to me which was very hard to do initially, that when I wrote a story about someone that was very critical, the first thing I had to do on publication was go there and see them, he said you always have to stand behind your work. If your work is honest then you have nothing to apologise about so there’s no reason you can’t do that. I did that with Jordan the first day after the publication.

I don’t have a great respect for a lot of reporters who write stories, sort of gossip stories, hit and run stories and never show up to talk to the people or be around the people again. I always wanted to think I was more proud, like with The Jordan Rules, I was never leaving, I wrote that book and I came back to cover the team. I always stayed around the team so anybody who sort of looked at that should have understood that I couldn’t be in a position of fabricating anything because I was going to be there, so he taught me that, Ernie Williams. You always have to stand behind your work and its sort of something I’ve worked and lived by that whenever I wrote about somebody and it was a tough story I went to see them right afterwards. If they had any problem I was there so that was very influential to me early on.

Then where I grew up in New York City, the sportswriters from local newspapers, be it Leonard Koppett, Dick Young or Milton Gross. I was an avid reader; there were seven daily newspapers when I grew up. I delivered papers, I delivered the World Telegram, I delivered The Daily News and The Daily Mirror, Pete Hamill was a writer there, Jimmy Breslin, all those guys were an influence on me, not that I ever thought I would be a writer because that was to me, like being a professional athlete, I just never imagined I could be in a job like that. I wasn’t a particularly great student so it was sort of a fantasy world.

I’d read about these writers who were travelling with the team and I remember the year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and the writers were not particularly fond of him, they preferred Micky Mantle, I remember all those issues.

So those writers and then Bob Ryan in basketball and those that came before me were writers who got behind the news, about how the game worked, who the players really were, those were some of the writers that I followed and that I admired.

 

With the season about to start what are you most looking forward to this NBA season?

I don’t know if I may be normal or abnormal but I love every NBA season, even when the Bulls were bad. Every season is a mystery and a journey and each seasons a story. It’s much like a novel in that it sort of starts out with these characters, we learn about the characters as we go along and then we find out about certain characters who are going to stand out above the others and they’re all racing to a conclusion.

So it’s always like the first page of a novel when every season starts and this season has a lot of storylines we’ve discussed with Derrick Rose coming back but also Miami going for the three-peat, which I saw twice with the Bulls, and how difficult that third season was. Some of the old players from Boston going to Brooklyn and what that will be, then several teams in the Western Conference, Dwight Howard going to Houston and Doc Rivers going over to the Clippers, Clippers surpassing the Lakers in that area in L.A .

I also think a number of players will be traded, Omer Asik, maybe Rudy Gay, some top players on the move and the potential free agency at the end of the season with Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, even though I don’t think they’ll move but those will be issues.

Then there’s the rookies, the very high level rookie class potentially coming into the NBA with Wiggins from Canada, considered such a high level player and a couple of other kids at Kentucky, Chicago and Duke. I think there’s a lot of teams like Boston and Philadelphia kind of blowing off the season, Utah as well, trying to get that high pick and that next star who could make a difference and sort of the next LeBron James, the guy to change the landscape of your team.

I think it’s a great season, potentially, coming up because there’s more teams this year that can win the title than any time in the last ten or fifteen years. I think there are eight to ten teams that you can make a case for winning the title this year.

Thanks for reading and if you’re interested in keeping up with Sam’s work this season, you can read Sam’s blog and check out his podcast at http://blogs.bulls.com/ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Back To Back

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It’s always a tough ask to win an NBA title but it’s even tougher to back it up and win the following year. Every team is gunning for you, wanting to beat the top dog and you never get an easy game. So with the Miami Heat winning their second consecutive championship this week, I thought we would have a look back at some of the NBA’s other back to back title winning teams.

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Flagrant! Flagrant! Flagrant! – The NBA’s Moments Of Mayhem

We all love the game of basketball and everything that comes with it…

Players play hard night after night, but occasionally some get lost in the moment and….. BLAMMM!!

Emotions fly high, tempers ablaze, there’s a lot at stake and players will do whatever they can to get the job done.

Here we compile some of the hardest, grittiest, and downright ugly moments of the NBA.

Kevin McHale Decapitates Kurt Rambis

Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals and the Lakers are leading the Boston Celtics 2-1. It’s the 3rd Quarter and the Lakers are up 76-70 when Abdul-Jabbar pulls down a rebound, launches a quick pass up court to James Worthy, who lays off to Kurt Rambis who charges through for what should be a standard lay-up. Until… Kevin McHale rips through and completely clotheslines Rambis to the floor and causes all sorts of mayhem on court. It was the moment that really heated up that series and the violent physicality took off from that point. Some say it was an effective turning point for the Celtics as they went on to win that Game 4 129-125, and then took the next to games to win the 1984 Championship 4-2.

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