I’ll be as quick to criticize David Stern as anyone, but he unquestionably deserved to be in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and Friday night handled his induction speech well.
Stern didn’t make a lot of “I” statements and rather turned the spotlight on others who helped him along the way, who shared his vision, and who in some cases lifted the league up and would have done so no matter who was commissioner. It was a self-effacing speech that focused on the organization, not the man running it.
Stern simply seemed to get that the institution was bigger than the man… at least he did on that stage Friday night. We can debate whether he did most days at the NBA office another time, but Friday night Stern hit all the right notes.
How Reggie, Cheryl Miller used to hustle playground games
By the end of Friday night, Reggie and Cheryl Miller will be the first ever brother/sister combination enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. In fact, Cheryl will be on stage presenting Reggie when he makes his speech.
That gives me a good reason to tell my favorite Miller family story, one Cheryl Miller first told to People Magazine back in 1982 and Reggie recounted in his 1990s book “I Love Being The Enemy.”
The Millers grew up in Riverside, Calif., which is in the Inland Empire about a 40-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles (if there is no traffic, and good luck with that). He and Cheryl grew up on the playground games in that area (Reggie says shooting over Cheryl’s length led to the rainbow arc on his shots).
“Back in the fifth and sixth grades, we’d go to the courts at John Adams Elementary or Hunt Park and hustle two-on-two games. We had it down to a science. It was the best hustle scam in Riverside, California.
“I’d tell Cheryl to hide in the bushes, and then I’d go up to a couple of older kids and arrange a game. ‘You guys want to play?’ I’d said. ‘I’m by myself … unless you count my sister.’
“Then I’d whistle, and Cheryl would come out from behind the bushes looking like she didn’t know a thing about basketball. You could see the two other guys looking at each other like, ‘Oh, my God, this is going to be easy.’
“We’d play for ten dollars; the first team to 10 by ones would win the money. Then we’d get down, 5-0, double the bet, and then take care of business. I’d look at Cheryl, she’d look at me, we’d wink, and then … 10-5 us, and on our way to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal.”
Miller was clutch even then. Really, Millers. Both of them.
I just love that story.
Meet the new Basketball Hall of Famers: Jamaal Wilkes
Legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn used to call Jamaal Wilkes baseline jumper a “20-foot layup.” It was that automatic. Magic Johnson would drive the lane, kick it out and you knew it was two.
And that shot, with its eccentric form that would make Shawn Marion wince — Wilkes swung the ball behind his left ear and shot it from basically behind his head — was how we often remember Wilkes.
But he was a lot more than that. He was a great player on both ends of the floor seemingly always overshadowed by being on the team with some of the best and most flamboyant ever — Bill Walton in college at UCLA, Rick Berry first then Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA. Wilkes never really drew attention to himself, on and off the court. His nickname was “Silk” because he was that smooth.
Pat Riley said Wilkes’ shot “was like snow falling off a bamboo leaf it was so smooth.” That would probably be the most poetic line Riley ever uttered, but it is true.
You never really noticed Wilkes during the game, yet you’d look up at the end and he’d have 25 points.
Look at it this way: When you talk about the great individual games every played Magic Johnson’s 1980s Game 6 in the NBA finals comes up — Magic scored 42 points and played all five positions that night, scoring 42 points with 15 rebounds and 7 assists leading the Lakers to the NBA title.
Wilkes had 37 points and 10 rebounds in that game, including 16 points in a crucial third quarter for the Lakers. But as always, he was crucial to the win but would be overshadowed in history.
He put up impressive career numbers in the NBA — 17.7 points and 6.2 points per game — but the accolades say why he is getting inducted: three-time NBA champion (one with Golden State, who drafted him No. 11 overall), three time NBA All-Star, NBA Rookie of the Year, two time NBA All-Defensive team member. And as the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame covers all levels of a person’s career we can throw in two-time NCAA All-American and three time NCAA champion.
Come this weekend, he will not be overshadowed. It is Wilkes deserved time in the spotlight. And in the basketball Hall of Fame.
Don Nelson says he got small ball idea from Red Auerbach
Don Nelson will enter the Basketball Hall of Fame as the coach who has won more games than anyone else in NBA history. He will go in as an innovator, a team builder, a guy who colored outside the lines and that worked for him.
One of the things Nelson liked to do was play small and fast — small ball. Run the other guys out of the gym with your athletes and tempo.
Look around the NBA right now and you see the Heat winning a title once they went small with Chris Bosh at center. You see Boston trying to challenge them by going small with Kevin Garnett at center. You see big men who are a little smaller and a lot more mobile being the guys teams covet.
Don Nelson was at the start of that. But he told CSNBayArea.com he got it from legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach when Nelson was a Celtics player (via TrueHoop).
”It all happened in the Celtic practices. What Auerbach would do when it got to midseason and practices were drudgery, was he would play big guys against the small guys and the smalls would always win. You put Bill Russell on the other team and everybody else big, and put the smalls on the other and it wasn’t a close game as long as it was a full-court game. Now half-court you couldn’t do that. But full-court, the smalls always won, so I’m sure that was the start of it.
“I could never understand why small players could never rebound and big players couldn’t dribble. They can. They just don’t do it. But in practice big guys can dribble and do a lot of things. Guys like Magic Johnson proved that – 6-8 point guard – that it could happen if they believe they can do it. So I always asked my small guys to be rebounders and my big guys to handle the ball and dribble and get into the open court and feel comfortable there.
“I think it all started from those practices. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we had John Havlicek on our side in small ball. But the big guys couldn’t get the ball up the court. It was always like 10-2 – small guys always won.”
The old basketball adage that “tall and good beats small and good” is being challenged. Which is good for us as fans — up tempo, slashing teams are a lot more fun to watch than plodding defensive ones.
And we have Nelson to thank for that. And Auerbach.
Don Nelson now a Hawaii businessman, done as NBA coach
These days, he’s Nellie, the entrepreneur. From his new shaved ice stand, to coffee plants and koa trees, to all his rental properties and a wedding venue in the works right off the beach, the 72-year-old Nelson is about as far removed from his old basketball life as he could be…
“I invested my fortune on Maui,” he added with a smile. “Those are the fun things I’m doing.”
Mmmm… Hawaiian shave ice… (read that out loud in your best Homer Simpson voice).
Good for Nelson, who never struck me as the kind of guy who could just spend retirement playing 18 every day then swapping stories in the country club. He needed to be more active. Not that at the end of the day he isn’t having a having a scotch while watching the sun set over Maui. You can bet he is.