Sports Outside the Beltway

Kevin Garnett Traded to Boston for 7 Players

The Boston Celtics transformed themselves from a lottery team to a playoff threat by trading Al Jefferson and a sack of magic beans to the Minnesota Timberwolves for superstar Kevin Garnett.

Kevin Garnett gives Boston a new Big Three that brings the Celtics much closer to what their old Big Three delivered — an NBA title.

Kevin Garnett Traded to Boston for 7 Players Photo Newly-acquired Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, center, stands with forward Paul Pierce, left, and guard Ray Allen during a news conference in Boston, Tuesday, July 31, 2007. The Celtics sent the Minnesota Timberwolves forwards Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes and Gerald Green, guard Sebastian Telfair and center Theo Ratliff, two first-round draft picks and cash considerations in the trade for Garnett. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The Celtics, who have 16 championships but have gone without one for more than two decades, obtained the former MVP and 10-time All-Star on Tuesday in a 7-for-1 deal — the NBA’s biggest trade for one player. Boston sent the Minnesota Timberwolves forwards Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes and Gerald Green, guard Sebastian Telfair and center Theo Ratliff, two first-round draft picks and cash considerations. Besides Ratliff, 34, the other four are 24 or younger.

With Paul Pierce and Ray Allen already on the roster, the Celtics have been transformed from a promising collection of youngsters who had the NBA’s second-worst record last season into an instant contender in the mediocre Eastern Conference.

“This is probably my best opportunity at winning a ring,” Garnett said. “It was a no-brainer.”

The Celtics won their last championship, the third with the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, in 1986. Two members of that club orchestrated Tuesday’s blockbuster trade — Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale.

But Ainge cautioned that it’s much too early to equate the two trios. “These guys will never be the Big Three until they win” a championship, he said.

Garnett signed a multi-year extension — Ainge wouldn’t say how long. He had one year plus an option year remaining on his contract.

The Timberwolves get the Celtics’ first-round pick in 2009, unless it is among the top three, and a return of Minnesota’s conditional first-round draft pick obtained in January 2006 when they sent Ricky Davis to the Timberwolves for Wally Szczerbiak.

The Celtics traded their future for a chance to win now. Given that all of their new Big Three are over 30, they’d better do it quick.


NBA Mock Draft

ESPN’s Chad Ford offers the Sports Leader’s take on the impending NBA Draft.

It’s almost draft day, and the picture is getting clearer and fuzzier simultaneously.

We’ve been able to narrow down the list of prospects that each team is considering, but two things stand in the way of getting a complete picture.

One, this is a time when many GMs are notorious for dropping smoke screens. A source in Memphis swears the team is taking Joakim Noah. Another says to bank on the Grizzlies’ taking Mike Conley. Someone is misinformed or bluffing.

Two, there is a flurry of trade conversation, starting with Memphis, Boston, Charlotte and Chicago all talking about trading away their lottery picks. Meanwhile teams such as Golden State, Phoenix and the Lakers are trying hard to move up. Others — like Portland, Indiana and Toronto — are trying to get in or grab another pick.

The talk in Phoenix about trading up in the draft has gotten so hot that the Suns have gotten Noah, Jeff Green and Corey Brewer to agree to a workout on Tuesday. They’ll try to add Brandan Wright as a fourth. That shows you how much players want to play in Phoenix — they’ll drop everything just for the chance. It could be the most competitive workout of the draft.

Their consensus draft board:

    1. Portland TrailblazersGreg Oden – C
    2. Portland TrailblazersKevin Durant – SF – Texas
    3. Atlanta HawksAl Horford – PF – Florida
    4. Memphis GrizzliesMike Conley – PG- Ohio State
    5. Boston CelticsYi Jianlian – PF – China
    6. Milwaukee BucksJeff Green – SF – Georgetown
    7. Minnesota TimberwolvesJoakim Noah – PF – Florida
    8. Charlotte BobcatsCorey Brewer – SG – Florida
    9. Chicago Bulls (via New York Knicks) – Spencer Hawes – C- Washington
    10. Sacramento Kings- Brandan Wright – PF – North Carolina
    11. Atlanta Hawks (via Indiana Pacers) – Acie Law – PG – Texas A&M
    12. Philadelphia 76ersAl Thornton – SF – Florida State
    13. New Orleans Hornets – Nick Young – SG- USC
    14. L.A. ClippersJulian Wright – SF – Kansas
    15. Detroit Pistons (via Orlando Magic) – Rodney Stuckey SG – Eastern Wash.

Click the link for more in-depth analysis and for the second half of the draft.


Sports Legends Fade Over Time

Bill Simmons has an interesting piece in ESPN The Magazine this week asking, “Does greatness have a shelf life?”

He grew up a Celtics fan watching John Havlicek but realized during a recent television replay that he’d forgotten just how good Hondo was. He thinks this is a common phenomenon.

One of my favorite books is Wait Till Next Year, in which a sports columnist (Mike Lupica) and a Hollywood screenwriter (William Goldman) trade chapters about a particularly crazy year in New York sports. Writing as a fan, Goldman submits an impassioned defense of Wilt Chamberlain’s legacy, called “To the Death,” which is one of my favorite pieces. He argues that great athletes fade from memory not because they’re surpassed by better ones but because either we forget about them or our memories are tainted by things that have nothing to do with their career (like Bill Russell’s being a lousy announcer, or OJ’s being an, um, lousy ex-husband). Goldman writes, “the greatest struggle an athlete undergoes is the battle for our memories. It’s gradual. It begins before you’re aware that it’s begun, and it ends with a terrible fall from grace. It really is a battle to the death.”

This piece was published in 1988, when Bird and Magic were at the height of their powers and Jordan was nearing the same tipping point LeBron reached in Detroit. Already saddened that we’d be poking holes in them some day, Goldman predicted, “Bird and Magic’s time is coming. It’s easy being fans of theirs now. Just wait. Give it a decade.” Then he wrote an entire mock paragraph of fans picking apart their games in the year 2000, complaining that Magic couldn’t guard anyone and Bird was too slow. He ended with this mock quote: “Sure (Bird) was good, and so was Magic — but they couldn’t play today.” I remember reading that piece in college and thinking, Come on, that’s ludicrous. Nobody will ever forget Bird and Magic! Those guys saved the NBA!

Well, you know what? It’s 2007, and no one gives a crap about Bird and Magic anymore. Goldman was right. The phenomenon was in full swing after 48 Special — again, a magnificent event, but one that paled in comparison with a 20-year-old Magic jumping center in Philly, slapping up a 42/15/7, playing five positions and leading the Lakers to the 1980 title. Imagine if something like that happened today? There would be pieces of Skip Bayless’ head scattered across the entire city of Bristol.

So why do we pump up the present at the expense of the past? Goldman believed that every era is “so arrogant (and) so dismissive,” and again he was right, although that arrogance/dismissiveness isn’t entirely intentional. We’d like to believe that our current stars are better than the guys we once watched.

Why? Because the single best thing about sports is the unknown. It’s much more fun to think about what could happen than about what already has. We don’t want LeBron to be as good as MJ; we need him to be better than MJ. We already did the MJ thing. Who wants to rent the same movie twice? We want LeBron to take us to a place we’ve never been. It’s the same reason we convince ourselves that Shaq is better than Wilt and Steve Nash is better than Bob Cousy. We don’t know these things for sure. We just want them to be true.

There’s a much simpler reason that we’re incapable of fully appreciating the past. As the Havlicek broadcast proved to me, it’s easy to forget anything if you stop thinking about it long enough, even something as ingrained as “My favorite basketball team employed one of the best 20 players ever when I was a little kid.” Once upon a time, the Boston Garden fans cheered Hondo for 510 seconds. And I was there, in the building.

But that’s the funny thing about noise: Eventually, it stops.

I think that’s right. Aside from Jim Brown, who has a legendary status because he retired at his peak, it’s hard to think of a great athlete from the distant past who we consider the best of the best.

Most of us now think of Babe Ruth as a fat guy who couldn’t play with today’s athletes.

The list of great quarterbacks seldom includes anyone who played before Joe Montana. Terry Bradshaw? Roger Staubach? Who were they? And goodness knows we seldom hear mention of anyone who excelled before there were Super Bowls.

Who’s the greatest basketball player ever? Michael Jordan seems to be the consensus pick. Still, there’s hardly anyone from the distant past even in the discussion other than maybe Wilt Chamberlain.

Sports glory is fleeting.


College Athletics

Editorial Boards of college newspapers, even ones with good J-schools, are not often the place to begin a discussion of the merits and failings of the current revenue centric world of college sports. The University of North Carolina’s Daily Tar Heel took a stab at that topic in today’s edition. And they took issues with a son of Carolina without cause.

Former UNC baseball player Adam Greenberg was beaned in the head by an errant pitch in his first major league at-bat.

Suffering from vertigo and diminished hitting skills, he was sent to the minors in 2005. Greenberg chose UNC for baseball, switched to an easier major to accommodate practices, then turned pro before graduating.

That same year, Georgetown basketball head coach John Thompson III recruited Marc Egerson despite his 1.33 grade point average and an SAT score in the 600s.

Both of these indicate a problem in college athletics: allowing players to drop the “student” from student-athlete.

One problem is that when athletes coast through college, they risk losing it all if they become injured, as Greenberg was.

Adam Greenberg will become a very popular topic of discussion, thanks to the wonderful profile of him in the New York Times Magazine from March 25th. Alas, that profile has been walled off from the world of commentary but not before a few folks commented on it. Most marveled at Greenberg’s determination. Not a single comment on the piece that I found mentioned anything about him “losing it all” as the editorial board of the DTH implies.

In the interest of full disclosure, graduated from UNC-CH in 1997. I found the DTH unbearable then and it seems that even a decade removed, the ability to editorialize has not yet been discovered in the paper’s offices. I posted the point on their website, this morning, that Greenberg is more than just an athlete who sped through his time at Chapel Hill in pursuit of his career of choice – baseball.

There is much that is wrong with college athletics. The fundamentals of games are not taught in the major revenue sports, especially in basketball. And the graduation rates at many major programs have become more humorous than the editorials that attempt to decry them.

If the Editorial Board of the Daily Tar Heel wanted a real example of a player at UNC who gamed the college athletics system, they would have done a little digging to find Joe Forte.

Enters his sophomore season looking to improve on an outstanding freshman campaign • Is a preseason candidate for the Wooden Award and the Naismith Award, which are given to the National Player of the Year • Preseason first-team All-America, as named by Dick Vitale/ESPN • Joins Troy Murphy (Notre Dame), Terrence Morris (Maryland), Jamaal Tinsley (Iowa State) and Shane Battier (Duke) on the first team • Set a number of UNC freshman scoring records and was selected the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA South Regional • Scored 28 points in the regional championship against Tulsa to lead the Tar Heels to the Final Four • Showed remarkable poise and savvy as a young player, leading his team in scoring the entire season • The 2000 Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year

This Joe Forte

After a 2-year college career at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (highlights which included winning the 2000 ACC Rookie of the Year as well as 2001 ACC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year) that was marked by flashes of both brilliance and temper, he was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 21st pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. His most memorable moment with the Celtics came when he wore a Scooby-Doo shirt on the sidelines during the playoffs. In two seasons with the Celtics and the Seattle SuperSonics, Forte averaged 1.2 points and 0.7 assists per game, struggling to convert from his natural shooting guard position, to point guard. He was eventually waived by the Sonics due mostly to attitude and legal problems. While with the Sonics, he was arrested on gun and drug charges in Maryland, as well as an assault charge in which he allegedly punched a man in the face during a pickup game. After being released by the Sonics, Forte could not find a roster spot in the NBA.

Forte played two seasons in Chapel Hill. His failure in the NBA is hardly a surprise. Flashes of brilliance and temper are not the way to garner success in major professional leagues – even the notably dysfunctional NBA. When fusing vast sums of money with raw, immature young men, who have trouble with self-control, chaos is a natural fellow traveler.

A so-called success story is found in the more recent short term Tar Heel, Marvin Williams. His one season in the Southern part of Heaven ended with an NCAA title and a ticket to Atlanta when he declared for the NBA Draft after just one year in college. Marvin Williams, averaging 12.6 points per game in his second professional season. He turns 21 after this season ends in June.

Though his career is more of a success, Marvin Williams exudes the get out of school quick attitude that the Daily Tar Heel decries. Notice they overlook Williams in their list.

It’s problematic when athletes clearly aren’t enrolling in college to get an education. Increasingly the Kevin Durants and Carmello Anthonys of the world are looking to college basketball as a place to show off for NBA scouts instead of a place of learning. Athletes like these are sure to only increase in number with the new NBA rule requiring players to be at least 19 and a year out of high school before entering the draft.

But the problem doesn’t lie only with the athletes. The culture existing in college athletics denotes athletes as sources of entertainment, not as students at a university.

We aren’t suggesting that athletes be required to graduate from college. Clearly that isn’t an option for everyone. The allure of the NBA, NFL and MLB and their million dollar signing bonuses is hard for a poor college kid to turn down. The problem arises when college teams become farm teams.

The reality is that NCAA basketball is an enormous revenue generator. If the Daily Tar Heel wants NCAA basketball to cease to be a developmental farm league, it will require colleges to forego the cash from the heavily marketed and wildly successful tournament. Good luck getting that changed.

Athletics are a means to an end for many college attendees. The players use the universities for exposure. The universities use the players for their talent. Both use each other for the money that their union generates. Fans get the benefit of entertaining rivalries and another entertainment option on a winter’s night or a Saturday afternoon. As such, the fundamental purpose of college basketball and football has become a cog in the world of sports marketing, instead of a part of a university community. The athletes, due to their fame, are isolated from their fellow students, accorded special privileges, and held to a lower standard. Once athletes were students. Many still are.

But for all the failure, there are many successes. In spite of the disparaging comments about Adam Greenberg’s academic achievement, Greenberg has been very smart with his investments and business options outside of baseball. Even if he never gets back to the show, he has much to look forward to going forward with his life, post-baseball. Similarly, Brian Barton, a graduate of the University of Miami and minor leaguer in the Indians farm system, stayed for his entire college career with the University of Miami, earned a degree in Aerospace Engineering and interned at Boeing for good measure. His contract, as an undrafted free agent called for $100,000 in salary and $100,000 for his education.

The success or failure of a team often comes down to abilities of the players and the skill of the coach. So is it with the sports we watch. If teams and leagues and Athletic Associations are eager for short term payout without serious development of their sports, they will suffer in the long run. The NBA has been diminished by an emphasis on talent over character in the game, leading to the dysfunction I alluded to before. One hopes college athletics chooses not to follow that path, but it is their game, their moneymaking venture and their choice. We the fans as always will vote with our wallets and our time.


Greatest NBA Centers Ever

For Shaq’s 35th Birthday ESPN saw fit to rank the top 10 centers of all time and I can’t disagree with #1 at all.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

As for his achievements: 1967-68 USBWA College Player of the Year; 1969 Naismith Award; Six-time NBA MVP; Six-time NBA Champion; Two-time Finals MVP; NBA Rookie of the Year (1970); and NBA Hall of Fame (1995).

Like no other player, Abdul-Jabbar embodied the maestro team brilliance of Bill Russell and the individual excellence of Wilt Chamberlain. His NBA cup runneth over: six championships, a record six MVPs and a Finals MVP award … at 38 years old!

Possessed the single most unstoppable shot in NBA history — the sky hook — but more than that, he was clutch, consistent and underrated in the toughness department.

He was the starting center on six championship teams and had the presence of mind to cohabitate with stars like Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

He’s the all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points; was named to the All-NBA Defensive team 11 times; and is the only modern era player to lead the league at least once in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, minutes played, field-goal percentage and PER.

However, in their explanation of choosing Kareem as #1 I believe they left out on of the most amazing things about Kareem’s career. His expected arrival in the college ranks led to directly to a preemptive rule change by NCAA when they banned the dunk after the 1967 season and reinstated it shortly after his departure from UCLA. No other player that I can think of recieved the same treatment. While the rule was made mostly to limit his size advantage, it didn’t slow Kareem down as UCLA went 88-2 while he was a player.

The other thing to ponder about this list would is where Bill Walton would be if he hadn’t the chronic injury problems.

As for the complete list:
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
2. Wilt Chamberlain
3. Bill Russell
4. Shaquille O’Neal
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
6. Moses Malone
7. Bill Walton
8. David Robinson
9. George Mikan
10. Patrick Ewing


Former NBA Player Dennis Johnson dead at 52

He was a part of three NBA Championship teams I remember Johnson when he played for the Celtics. The mid-eighties being about the only time I followed basketball. After his playing days were over, Johnson was an NBA assistant coach and for 24 games the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers. RIP Dennis.

AP- AUSTIN, Texas – Dennis Johnson, the star NBA guard who was part of three championship teams, died Thursday at 52. “He is deceased and is in our building. He will be autopsied,” said Mayra Freeman, a spokeswoman for the Travis County medical examiner’s office.

Johnson, a five-time All-Star and one of the great defensive guards, played on title teams with the Boston Celtics and Seattle SuperSonics. He had been coaching the Austin Toros of the NBA Development League.

Johnson played 14 seasons, retiring after the 1989-90 season. He was the NBA Finals MVP in 1979 with Seattle, with his other titles coming with Boston in 1984 and 1986.

He averaged 14.1 points and 5.0 assists. When he retired, he was the 11th player in NBA history to total 15,000 points and 5,000 assists. Johnson made one all-NBA first team and one second team. Six times he made the all-defensive first team, including five consecutive seasons from 1979-83.

Johnson was born Sept. 18, 1954, in Compton, Calif. He played in college at Pepperdine and was drafted by Seattle in 1976. Johnson was traded to Phoenix in 1980 and Boston in 1983.


Larry Bird Turns 50

Larry Bird Turns 50 Larry Bird turns 50 today.

Happy birthday, Larry. Although I really don’t need yet another reminder that I’m getting old.


Red Auerbach Dead at 89

Arnold “Red” Auerbach, the most storied coach in NBA history, died Saturday of a heart attack.

Red Auerbach Consumate Coach ESPN Banner

Red Auerbach, the Hall of Famer who guided the Celtics to 16 championships — first as a coach and later as general manager — died Saturday. He was 89. Auerbach died of a heart attack near his home in Washington, according to an NBA official, who didn’t want to be identified. His last public appearance was on Wednesday, when he received the U.S. Navy’s Lone Sailor Award in front of family and friends at a ceremony in the nation’s capital.

Auerbach’s death was announced by the Celtics, who still employed him as team president. The 2006-07 season will be dedicated to him, they said. “He was relentless and produced the greatest basketball dynasty so far that this country has ever seen and certainly that the NBA has ever seen,” said Bob Cousy, the point guard for many of Auerbach’s championship teams who referred to his coach by his given name. “This is a personal loss for me. Arnold and I have been together since 1950. I was fortunate that I was able to attend a function with him Wednesday night. … I am so glad now that I took the time to be there and spend a few more moments with him.”

Tom Heinsohn, who played under Auerbach and then coached the Celtics when he was their general manager, remembered his personal side. “He was exceptional at listening and motivating people to put out their very best,” Heinsohn said. “In my playing days he once gave me a loaded cigar, and six months later I gave him one. That was our relationship. We had a tremendous amount of fun, and the game of basketball will never see anyone else like him.”

Auerbach’s 938 victories made him the winningest coach in NBA history until Lenny Wilkens overtook him during the 1994-95 season.

“Red Auerbach was the consummate teacher, leader, and a true pioneer of the sport of basketball,” commissioner David Stern said on “The NBA wouldn’t be what it is today without him.”

Auerbach’s nine titles as a coach came in the 1950s and 1960s — including eight straight from 1959 through 1966 — and then through shrewd deals and foresight he became the architect of Celtics teams that won seven more championships in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Red was a true champion and one whose legacy transcends the Celtics and basketball,” Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts said. “He was the gold standard in coaching and in civic leadership, and he set an example that continues today. We all knew and loved Red in the Kennedy family.”

Auerbach was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969. The jersey No. 2 was retired by the Celtics in his honor during the 1984-85 season.

“He was a unique personality, a combination of toughness and great, great caring about people,” said author John Feinstein, who last year collaborated on a book with Auerbach on the coach’s reflections of seven decades in basketball. “He cared about people much more than it showed in his public face, and that’s why people cared about him.”

Red Auerbach Cigar Photo

I’ve never been more than a casual basketball fan and Auerbach’s coaching era ended when I was in diapers. I have, however, heard many interviews with Auerbach and people who knew him well, like Feinstein and ex-Georgetown coach John Thompson, who briefly played for Auerbach. He was an incredibly impressive man who could have been an inspirational leader in any walk of life he’d chosen. Even well removed from his coaching days, he continued to teach and motivate. He will be missed.


Pittsnogle signed by Boston Celtics

BOSTON — Free agent Kevin Pittsnogle signed a two-year deal with the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.

Pittsnogle, a 6-foot-11 center who is West Virginia’s career 3-point leader, was passed over in June’s NBA draft along with Mountaineers teammate Mike Gansey. Both played for the Miami Heat in a summer league, and Gansey signed a two-year deal with the Heat.

Nice to see members of that West Virginia team getting work in the NBA. With some molding, I think Pittsnogle could be pretty good. However, I know next to nothing about basketball, so who knows. If he does turn out to be a force in Boston, we will once again get to tell people that they have been Pittsnogled, which will be totally worth it.



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