[Ed. It’s rare for the brain trust here at halphillips.net to yield the floor. It’s rare for anyone to request such a thing, frankly. But Stephen McDermott Myers isn’t just anyone. He is my former Wesleyan University soccer teammate and the man who, over the course of 15 months, helped edit “Generation Zero: Founding Fathers, Hidden Histories and the Making of Soccer in America,” available for purchase July 1. He’s also the Bay Area native who has maintained, since February 2022, that a Celts-Warriors NBA Final would provide us the NBA finale we should have enjoyed in June 1976. And here we are, poised to watch Game 5 and Garfield Heard is nowhere to be found. Esteban, the floor is yours.]
By STEPHEN MCDERMOTT MYERS
The Celtics’ meritorious, take-it-to-the-brink, close-out victory in Miami over the much-compromised Heat set the Summer’s stage and has gifted to the Hoops World and its attendant Faithful an NBA Finals “for the ages.” What’s more, the way-it-played-out timing of Hal’s triumph with Generation Zero, due for splash-like publication at the end of June, coming after the still-warm success and enjoyment of collaboration across the arc of that project’s second half~ the Senator had composed and constructed the sea-worthy hulk, bulk of his book, complete with rigging, sails, captain, crew, before my role evolved “on the natural” (as intuitively-inclined old-timers put it)~ allows me this-here one-of-a-kind invitation-dime-welcome onto his enduring web-site.
Good Deal, Roundball Wheel.
We played Springfield College every season at Wes, somehow a match that carried extra oomph, meaning, what with that Massachusetts town being the renowned birthplace of basketball, and home to its Hall of Fame. One year, in a cold, heavy rain on their fast and slick astroturf (only field of that kind we ever dealt with), I badly botched a sudden, real chance at an open-goal, and some righteous midfield glory. Even-Stephen could have, should have, opted for a smart, first-time, behind-the-heel flick, to set up an on-running teammate and striker… one Hal Phillips~ who played right behind me at centerback (aka “stopper”), and who might very well have finished from those momentarily-makeble forty meters. Alas, I failed in the keep calm, be creative, and quick-witted Depts., too, in that moment. The mathematics of those bald, once-in-my-footy-career errors bother me without cease to this damn day. But, “we were never as good as we thought we were.” (That’s for sure.)
Sho’ hope I don’t blow this one. (See, Anderson, Nick.) A one-off, rare-air, ripest opportunity to mix up a Berkeley home-brew batch, write poetic, talk-smack, crack-wise on thatfavorite of the very many, fecund, crazy-fun athletic corners of SportsWorld. The one faaan-fucking-tastic. (To rudely employ the league’s superb, propagandistic slogan that Bluto and I grew up with, that spot-on phrase more fulfilling than a Mars bar.) NBA Ballers are the greatest athletes in the World.
We talkin’ here, Friends, ’bout the hardwood, Time-has-come, take-home-the-Goods, make-ones’-Names intersection of Boston/New England & San Francisco-Oakland’s Bay Area/NorCal; unbridled Public Lore (of The Commons, say); and the National Basketball Association. It is on. (Like the frickin’ Autobahn.)
The dynastic Warriors, who badly fucking want it~ that’s killer Steph/Chef Curry, Game Six Klay, story of the league, all-time Alpha Dawg Dray-Dray;with a Poole party, Andrew Wiggins coming-out party, plus Looney tunes from one no-longer the team’s “unsung” hero; a handful of well-picked, contented reserves at-the-ready, a true team (see, two-time award-winning Exec, Myers); and Steve Kerr chaser (Coach cum conscience-of-the-Nation)…. in imperial San Francisco [that’s Gray Brechin’s masterpiece, with tell-all title, from the esteemed UC Press; the author a long-time friend + ally, hereabouts], The City at last fittingly, properly debuting its spankin’ brand-new, billion-dollar price-tag, privately-financed, water-side, sports-and-circuses palace (the pure power of mamon and the decisive post-modern realities of “real-estate”~ location location location~ having usurped Oakland’s half-century plus place and pride as home to the Dubs; “and a date next week in San Francisco”, the previous network’s facemen never tired of stating, obnoxiously, during the latter half of the Eastern Conference finals~ as everyone East Bay-relatedout here noticed) ….
…. the absolutely badass, top-to-bottom, time-is-now excellent, shut-down Celtics, “team-of-destiny” writ all over ’em; with Udoka, Jason, and Jaylen nothing less than ascendant; plus award-winning point-guard Smart, heart + soul of the team; exemplary, record-breaking, peakHorford (riding a rare-air career-apex that may yield him the full Hall pass); an inspired, game-changing big-man, who boasts the best nickname heard in the league since Chocolate Thunder (bequeathed by Stevie Wonder, that, no less)~ [I am obliged to give a for-the-record nod to The Big Aristotle here~ but that wuz a Shaq-Daddy self-baptism, the Diesel’s auto-exceptionalism; at best, an asterisk]~ also, no small thing, he’s flying the playoff’s best hair style, Big Rob. (That ain’t the nickname. Hell, no. Hoops is better than horse-racing, and more than historic, bucolic baseball’s equal~ as befits “the city game.”) The Time Lord. Now that is a fuckin’ nickname. (Straight out of the Geeorge Lucas magic + special-effects shops, circa 1977 and their upcoming jumps-to-lightspeed shortly ahead, found to the north in Marin across the Golden Gate Bridge, embedded underground by the acre.)
Big-game worthy of the unfortunate, central Truth (pun there), this fellow Williams’s all-time all-NBA nickname, The Time Lord~ sooo bloody good it is, like both these two teams, their franchises and figures (Cous, Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Len Bias, Reggie Lewis; Wilt, Nate the Great, Chris Mullin, Mitch the Bitch, Don Nelson), their legion fan bases~ that this one, young, obviously-brave Black Man’s physical health and effectiveness will likely be the factor to decide “the fate of” this fabulous series.
‘Tis a Team-of-Fate, these most-remarkable Celtics. (The Dubs, too~ albeit quite distinctly.) This self-same team which sported an astonishing, shameful, eighteen-and-twenty-one record last December. Bluto, during a concurrent Zoom-by-yah sesh on GZ’s narrative that we knocked out, was actually “beside himself”~ suitably ashamed, oh yeah; but more, barely recognizable. The Senator was reduced to stammering for a minute there; he begged off, retired from the subject. Almost uncharted territories. [What’s next, ffs? Eating?] The whole Ainge-Stevens Era, the various experiments with draft picks, the bet-the-house, two-fer wing-stars thang, wuz in the shitter. As well, the Eastern Conference reborn as Beast.
The truth, in fact, waited just-around-the-corner. The Story-of-the-League~ true that~ this New England Gang Green. They’re gonna win it, too, if the series plays out as deserved. (I do fear, though, that The Time Lord‘s bad-luck bum knee might well rob Celtic Nation of its banner parade, and this special team and Black Man coach~ not to mention Hal himself, authorial mvp of this 21-22 season~ of the bawdy, undying benefits of American sporting posteriority.) Let’s all hope~ all of us who love pro hoops~ that Big Rob can get some Baby Yoda-type healing/PT for that crook wheel.
Cuz: it is a fact that Y’all Celts can’t do it anymore, can’t win it all, without a great Golden Bear in the lineup, in the post-Larry hoops-world. Hello Leon “the Show” Powe. Oaktown Homey, extraordinary person, pride of Oakland Tech.
[One in a looong line of absolutely amazing young-man alumni. Submitted for your consideration, dear Reader: Panther Huey Newton; renassaince runaway, zeitgeist-whisperer, millions-seller Rod McKuen; Frank Oz~ there’s Yoda himself!; Curt Flood (he of the Supreme Court, the Majors’ one-man black-list, all American pro athletes’ “free-at-last”); ’80s Carmel mayor Clint Eastwood (see Lawrence, D.A.: “The essential American Soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”); congressional, anti-apartheid champion Ron Dellums; cultural champion Marshawn Lynch; Mr. Ted Lange (that’s Isaac, of Love Boat fame, Friends, who did “the Moor of Venice”, Othello, too [detailed in depth to me by his beloved Brother, Michael, who did everything in Oakland~ another true Renaissance Man, tragically deceased way too early~ a great mate of Flood’s, as well, who related to me many an all-star game story straight from his heroic friend’s mouth], whose family is Oaktown “royalty”, as is said, including their magnificent Mother, Geraldine]~ along with a John Brodie chaser, on-air and on the links, Rickey on color commentary and in the basepaths, the Pointer Singers singing back-up. How they roll in The Town.]
Downtown Jaylen Brown will come through, everybody. He already has. Kudos, too, to Trader Danny~ truly an elite athlete, he, let’s remember; also, the “funniest-looking” third-basemen, in early, expansive Toronto Blue Jay baby blue, ever seen on a big-league infield: damn near two meters tall in cleats and built like Olive Oyl, a true Canadian goose long before they got their Gossage knock-off. Real kudos for Ainge, and Stevens, let it be said, read into the record.
Bluto and I have engaged passionately about this NBA season since last Fall, our Zoom-based observances, asides, exchanges on the immediate states of the hardwoods, our teams in particular~ Hal has two, in fact~ liberally ladelled out one to the other before, during, and after our disciplined, semi-regular, privately-coded sessions on the Text. Same, the previous season.
Since becoming mates at Wes in August ’83~ voluntarily entrapped in the young-man labors and hierarchical dynamics of collegiate soccer, the both of us uncommonly big-mouthed and self-possessed~ we’ve been rhapping non-stop with real, informed, often heartfelt interest + zeal on Sport, big-time, medium, and small.
We in the bloody Big Time, Y’all. A dream match-up; potentially a pantheon Finals.
That’s why I’m sitting here, trying to hobble together, hash out sumpin’ decent, potable, potent, intelligible…~ and worthy of my Boy’s estimable standards.
After all, he’s kept us his audience very well-fed, superbly amused, and frequently enlightened for a coupla few decades now with the far-ranging fruits, caramelized hints, rough-hewn harvests of his bear-pawed keyboard act. That’s real talk. I trust that somewhere, an admirer-hoarder has retained a phat stash of the modest ~ think Hearstian, dear Reader, sized petite~ unforgettable Harold Herald. (His wonderful Mother, maybe?) Bravura, hit-it-out-the-park craic. Not quite Tony Perez with the Leephus, let’s agree~ there has never, ever been anything like that: I watched at home on 14th between Lake and California doubly awed~ no, trebly, for having seen the Spaceman’s first one earlier in the series, too. No, not Doogie..; but Jolt Cola, I daresay (“all the caffeine and twice the sugar”, remember), compared to the ’90s crapola, junk-food, Seinfeld/Truth or Dare fare.
Back at Wes, in Prince Hal‘s especial case (of obsessive sporting expertise), his acquaintance meant, centrally, learning of the fabled Bruins; the tragic Sox; Sugar Bear Hamilton; heaps of college hoops. [Which brought, too, in the oral tradition, the Legends of Jammin’, half man, half Mass myth, a fellow as mysterious~ to say it plain~ as Sasquatch. (I myself can offer a convincing argument that the infamous “Jammin'” doesn’t actually exist; but is, in fact, our gifted, inspired, burner-sportswriter’s literary device/invention: a long-running, Gonzo-esque partner-in-crime, with a jones for Providence, Rhode Island and the Big East tourney, Hal’s own, make-believe Moonlight Graham.)].
Above all, from Bluto’s mouth: the Celtics. Then nightly transcendent, courtesy the Hick from French Lick, Larry Legend~ greatest basketball mind ever~ and his Hall of Fame, All-Star company: Chief, McHale, Tiny + DJ, Ainge + Max, calm K.C (he of USF’s Fifties’ college dynasty with Russell); then, too, Walton, who’d come not merely to complement, but rather consummate, that ’85-’86 season~ an elongated zenith of the sport’s history, to this day~ his renewed good health rendering the whole damn exercise of the season unfair.
The Celtics above all from my perspective: that franchise fully very legendary. His team, lucky bum. Power to him.
(Bloody hell: how lucky were we, his college mates, to get a real-deal, in-the-flesh Bluto~ our pretty-darn-good Wes team’s most brilliant and voluble and physiologically, sartorially freakish futbolCardinal. (The man had “no wrists”, a sprinter’s speed, plus strongman strength. As well, Hal was never seen on campus~ outside the hockey rink’s lockers~ absent a dark overcoat. Curious in extremis.)
I brought back East with me from The City a full complement of Bay Area allegiances (minus hockey, mind you), plus a hearty, familial dose/inheritance of all-things Cal. The University of California at Berkeley~ where Wad/Pilgrim Tom of Wellesley, distinguished supporting actor in the pages of GZ and life of the author, had the good sense to matriculate for his college journey through the woebegotten Eighties. And I took Dr. Harry Edwards’ “Sociology of Sport” class in ’85’s long, hot summertime. (And, have too much family-tree to begin to mention.)
Far too much of my San Franciscan, private-schooled, sports-centric youth focused around the exploits of the Niners + Raiders, the Giants + A’s, the Pac-10 Golden Bears (up from eight, after that body gobbled up the Arizona desert), and the NBA’s Warriors: beside a television or radio when possible; often, out at the maligned, beloved ‘Stick, and across the Bay Bridge at the warm, cozy Oakland Coliseum/Arena, or high up in Memorial Stadium (or, higher still, on Tightwad Hill) beneath the glorious Strawberry Canyon; and everyday in smudge-free print upon the green-dyed pages of the Chronicle, our morning daily.
Growing up in the Bay Area throughout the Seventies gave the sports-loving kid and adolescent fanatic~ alike to an adult aficionado~ the most marvelous among all American canvases of sporting theater, superstardom, entertainment. Think Mays, McCovey, & Marichal at windswept Candlestick, mercurial Bobby Bonds batting leadoff. Those mustachioed, World Series winning, green and gold Athletics of Reggie, Rollie, Rudi, Vida, Catfish, Campy, Blue Moon, Holtzman, a mule, a track man pinch-runner,and the whole, hirsute lot fronting for amusing (orange baseballs?), abusive, Ebeneezerish Charlie O Finley.Recall, too, the lightning-strike arrival at decade’s end of Oaktown homeboy Henderson and eponym/native-son’s mind-blowing Billy Ball. (Ohmygawd, wuz that shit “awesome”, as we loosely talked the talk in ’70s Cali-speak.) Never has the modern baseball-diamond seen anything, before or since, like what the charismatic, tortured Martin~ who went to Berkeley High with my Aunt and that gentlemanly, class-act scribe Ron Fimrite, some few years ahead of my Father~ what Billy daily cooked up. Post-haste, the A’s then-keen management shelled out for an ingeniously realized television ad campaign. (Check ’em out on YouTube some day, if a Baseball Lover.)
Remember, too, the oversized personages of Al Davis and John Madden, the Snake and the Stork, Upshaw and Shell, Old Man Blanda, sticky Fred Biletnikoff, Ringo-pal Tooz, and the Silver and Black’s “Just Win, Baby” modus operandi giving way~ erm, leaving town (!); suing the league and winning in court (!!), to employ the apt Phillipsian term up-front~ leaving and taking flight (no more three-yards-and-cloud-of-dust stuff) into the Bill Walsh Era of modern American football, its by-now grossly metastasized asset-drafting scrutiny, prescription play-scripting, and such the norm, the rule. The ruthlessly expansive NFL today is hegemonic (Phillipsian, again.) He had it perfectly clear, did Walsh: the work-force did not retire, did not “go out” on its own terms. The Bay watched, and never-endingly relived, every bit of the birth, rise, and fabulous reign of a Debartolo-owned, Montana-to-Clark-to-Rice-to-Young, RogerCraig-CharlesHaley-Ronnie’s-a-Legend 49er “dynasty.”
Top-shelf craic, all that. Our announcers, too, let it be said, read. It wuz always something “off-the-chain” for Us in the Bay Area’s sporting world….
I am talking here about Vida Blue, aged twenty-two (todo un puto fenómeno, ten years before Fernandomania single-handedly redeemed the demolished Latino communities of Chavez Ravine), appearing on the cover of Time magazine~ as Impressionist painting. Those three straight titles, the five straight division crowns, and, short years later, crowds of mere hundreds creeping into As games. Seen it~ and listened in to far-away box seat conversations, eerily~ with my own eyes. At Giants games, too. The infamous Oakland nadir came in April, 1979, when they sold 677 tix to the game~ and 250 folks came. Front-page news, one big-league town to another. The Giants ourselves got so damn pitiful/desperate, we had multiple seasons of one-dollar bleacher-seats and half-price days. Friends, that meant fitty-cents to see the Majors. In the Bay-side house that Mays built, ffs.
FFS, the Immaculate Reception vs. Pittsburgh! (Hal taught me that acronym. This is not my fault.) That incredible Sea of Hands catch versus the Dolphins? (I took it in, aged nine, at Sears Roebuck, then the largest building in The City, in front of fifty TVs, crouched in an aisle amidst an earnest, nail-biting male horde, having ditched the Grandmother, Brother, Sister.) The Ghost to the Post in Baltimore~ complete with upper-deck plane-crash, post-contest (!)~ proved contrasted by and connected to Stabler’s absurd last-sec pitch in San Diego, so ably kicked and dragged forward by Casper to paydirt. The Raidah Way, Davis was always pronouncing, like a mob-boss. Darryl Stingley~ Peace be upon him~ connected to Jack Tatum, confessional author, “assassin”… who contrasted to the renewed, avuncular Madden, become the vast continent’s next, folksy, rambling-road American Sage, whilst moon-lighting as Everyman NYT’s best-seller. (Nice work if you can get it.) No one didn’t like Madden. Which brings us to that earlier, AFC to ABC, crossover superstar…
The Juice! Handsomest Heisman winner, Guiness Book relay-runner, Hertz hurdler, father-figure in Roots, SNL host~ wearing a conehead for his opening monologue, no less~ original Potrero Hill Homeboy and integral 1990s spectacle~ Orenthal James Simpson. I taught my share at the public school next to his childhood projects, and, over my twenty years in the SFUSD, worked heaps at his high school, Galileo (where my Mother, too, did an impressive stint as a struggling ’70s single-mom).As well, Ihave an absolutely kick-ass private story from the Summer Os in B-town, ’92, in which I called him out, told him off, to his face. (Sudden-death OT, as the elevator doors closed. The game had started in Reebok’s hospitality room, sharing a table alongside pockmarked Will McDonough, just the three of us.) The one-and-only OJ, freed at last from Buffalo, came home to The City and the Niners in Seventy-Seven. A hobbled, Hail Mary-ploy, really, quickly become doomed on the ‘Stick’s rock-hard astroturf. We sucked. (Not, though, Boss Eddie D’s first-ever public appearance in town, yet shy of thirty, which came wrapped in an overnight-infamous, full-length, multi-colored mink coat. Can’t make this shit up. Googleit, and see for yourself. Clearly inspired by Ohio’s renowned autumnal foliage.)
McCovey’s return, reign, Dodger Stadium retirement played out as epic. Always, close-by, stroderegal,majestic, Buddha-like Willie, the Say Hey Kid as Elder and “greatest living ballplayer.” [Eclipsing North Beach’s favorite son, infamous skinflint, “worst centerfielder in the family”, the great Dimag. I got a great story with him, too, Joe Dimaggio, who I turned beet-red with ire~ having duped him to tap his brakes, a fraction of a second~ one fine Christmas morning in the Presidio. Me, shoulder-to-shoulder with my best Homeboy mates, after a yearly toss-the-football reunion thing we did. Nobodyelse on the streets~ “not a creature was stirring”~ no one else in sight. Lordy, how we hooted and hollered and howled with delight and laughter, after he drove by in his modest Japanese sedan~ one fist raised with a fury to brain me, his face flushed a full scarlet~ as we all shared a Gift-of-a-Lifetime double-take. ( W-t-F ? ) What a prick, Mr. Coffee. The whole world’s heard this. Trust me, Gen Z: ’tis a truth unvarnished. (It wuz Xmas fucking morning.) Soon, presided owl-grey Genius Walsh. Can’t-top-this contents: our Bay Area constant.
Importantly, nay crucially, we Northern Californians/Golden State fans had also been to the Basketball Mountaintop. Owing to the Warriors’ surprising, superb, take-no-prisoners run to the championship in 1975. Specializing in come-from-behind victories, that diverse squad regularly featured all eleven men on the roster. A team in the fullest sense~ inclusive of having embodied in one man the league’s best player (apologies to Abdul-Jabbar: this wuz a one-season wonder) and most hated man, the magnificent, supremely arrogant Rick Barry. (An actual, on-court preecursor to the matchless Bird, believe it or not.) We swept the heavily-favored Bullets for the league title, coming back to win each game. That is: Been there, done that, writ large. Our lasting takeaway, cliched: we Warrior Fans take a back seat to none. For instance: just dig on those funky underhanded free-throws. Our back-up center~ a complete stud, George Johnson~ shot ’em, too. For instance, our Coach will kick your fuckin’ ass~ right on the court, time on the shot-clock, Game Four of the Finals, if need be. (See, Riordan, Mike. Who annually sends a Thank You card to former teammate Wesley Unseld, that especially large and strong big-man who saved his punk-ass bitch face, his off-season, his enduring reputation, right there and then.) [See the Phillips Influence, showing itself again.] Coach Attles~ the only man-in-charge ever to witness his team’s title-winning game from the locker-room television, expelled~ wuz gonna destroy him. The Way-we-roll-in-The Bay, indeed.
So it went, year-round. Year after year. Like I said, for a sports-mad child growing up in San Fran across the Seventies, the cup ranneth over. Those de facto opiates of the masses, so damn appealing~ atavistic breads, circuses itching and scratching our bellies’ tribal instincts~so damn thrilling (and, in baseball’s case, so bloody deep, formerly “the National Pastime”, let’s please recall)~ can simply consume you. Especially a young, gifted jock. Bay Area sports kidnapped me. (Including also our iteration of World Team Tennis, my individual dedication as athlete. We got Brit Virginia Wade, did the Bay, in the Warriors’ Coliseum digs. Very cool. Chris Evert and Nasty were exiled down in L.A. )
But not hockey.
Come the mid-80s, however,whenHal and I fell in as friends in Connecticut~ from practice fields to keg parties, the lockerroom at the hockey-rink an anchor; to renting the same off-campus apartment on High St. as lucky, cheeky sophomores~ Oakland’s and our brightly-colored Warriors had become decidedly sad-sack, so-called “laughingstock”, a blah, NBA wasteland. Mr. Mean Larry Smith’s nightly ferocity on the boards? Sleepy Floyd? (He would get his fifteen minutes, in fact.) Purvis Short’s oh-so-sweet rainbow-jumper?? Once in a while I’d declaim some lusty, justifiable NorCali pride whence runnin’ hoops/talkin’ shit in the “Small Gym”, pick-up hoopsters’ regular beat at Wes. (Hell, I watched Purvis go for fifty-seven against San Antonio one night, my only game that year, back home over Xmas break; drove over and back with my Mother in the orange-juice Volvo. With a coupla minutes left, the victory and half-century in hand, Purvis pulled up at high speed in front of the three-point line on a fast-break~ decades before the pull-up 3. “That ball went so high it came down wet!” [Oh yes it did.] So what?, came back the stare, sophomoric, mute.)
No one back there knew him, knew any of them, knew us. Nobody gave a shit about Golden State. A once-great team, an always unique franchise, hardly worth a bloody conversation. Absolutelybrutal, those years.
Most especially in (mutha-f—–)New England.
After all, the Bird/Celtics champions of those early ’80s~ (with that righteous, elongated pinnacle, sierra, dream-time of ’85-86~ forty-and-one at home, for goodness sakes; in central CT’s Middletown, fortunately, I got to see lots of that~ “coming soon”/ in-the-pocket)… those halcyon teams… had been built… on the ri-di-culous, “almost criminal” transactional fleecing of the Dubs~ bloody fucking highway-robbery~ baldly perpetrated by notorious, cigar-smoking Red Auerbach against our comparably innocent (read, incompetent) organization. The date was June 9th, 1980. (It needs be reported like an earthquake~ 10/17/89, say~ or other natural disaster. “When the meteor hit.”). That damnable pre-draft trade that sent our stud seven-footer, Robert Parish (a 30-30 game in his four-year Warrior resume, this man who would play twenty-one total seasons, finishing a runaway first, The Chief, well out front of Alcindor, Kareem) and #3 draft pick~ soon to be the unstoppable, hilarious, shut-down, Hibbing-native McHale~ eastward to Massachusetts, in exchange for “the right” to draft Joe Barely Cares and fellow frontcourt immortal Rickey Brown.
Good fucking Grief !! (As die-hard Bay Area sports-fan Sparky Schulz mostly put in the mouth of Charlie Brown… over decades. ) What’s more, Auerbach~ like some suave, schoolyard bully; he of CBS’s half-time, corny, appealing “Red on Roundball” routine, all dressed up in those cool, official Celtic sweats~ had robbed another first-round pick from us a mere year and a half before: mid-season in January, ’79, when he somehow convinced our astute front-office to take on an over-the-hill Jo Jo White. We of Dub Nation~ having known the top-shelf, sublime, then grown rapidly accustomed to mediocrity, piss-poor~ could clearly see in his play what a great player Jo Jo was. Three, four years before. The Warriors’ rapid decline at the end of the ’70s became a free-fall.
[Unable to resign Jamaal Silk Wilkes and future Hal favorite Gus Williams~ and we never had a chance with either. Barry had fled to Houston~ destined to make his telling, everlasting mark on the airwaves: about colleague Russ, no less, sitting right there as professional partner, the greatest of all the sport’s greats, understandably shocked and perfectly offended by that matchless prick’s incredible, nee impossible, racist remark. Which~ absolutely unbelievably (we need an adverb to modify an adverb for this jaw-dropping episode)~ Barry continued to carry on about. (This writer caught it live, aghast.) League-prototype, two-way 2-guard Phil Smith~ great guy and All-American as USF Homeboy and worthy all-star starter (twice; second-team All NBA, explosively, in his second year)~ whose very kind father Ben drove the 3 Jackson bus-line that often rode us “privileged” white-kids to school, lost his athletic greatness and in the end his career to horrendous bad luck and the dreaded knife (in that pre-scope epoch) on a normal, left-handed drive to the basket~ certain to be a bucket~ at start of the ’79 season. (Truly sadly~ there’s that double again~ Smith was taken by cancer twenty years ago, at a way-too-young fifty.) I watched in horror and heartbreak on independent, Oakland-based KTVU, Channel 2~ the future Fox locale~ non pareil Bill King on the call.
Being a Golden State fan during those early to mid-80s seasons~ trapped in green-clad, elitist, dynastic New England~ was painful, pitiful, pathetic. Even-stephen embarraskin’. (Think Chris Washburn.)
There was also~ always in-play for me~ back in those Reagan Years with Bluto, an enormously interesting what-if?, which has stubbornly “stood the test of time.” (See Williams, Ted. That splendid man, fan-favorite, splinter. Google, too, “cryonics”.) Until now. The bitterly lingering and endlessly irksome, very little discussed, “fantasy” fenomeno of those Seventies hardwoods, lost to the country, to hoopsters everywhere, and the annals of Sport. That what-could-have-been…on that most-famous parquet floor…. which united, imaginatively, the Warriors and the Celtics, Hal and myself, and our respective, impassioned Loves “for the Game” and ” for Team”… : the epic 1975-76 Finals.
Which, erm, did not happen.
The last season before the Merger, remember. That seismic, society-altering infusion-introduction of the ABA’s massive, popular talent pool, inventive, non-traditional play, important, irrepressible Negritude, new metropolitan frontiers + fresh, in-the-majors-now fan bases… into the NBA’s comparably staid, establishmentarian style, structure, failing corporate and strategic game-plans. Things would rather quickly grow, blow out-of-control, most especially cocaine use and fisticuffs (the latter damn-near encouraged by the league. “Enforcer” ain’t a real position in basketball, folks.) Myself, I watched many a crucial playoff match-up or Finals game on 11:30 tape delay, PST, the house “little tv” (b + w, natch) smuggled up from the kitchen to the end of my bed. (Ahoy!, legendary Blutarsky fave Billy Ray Bates. Whose poster~ better than Gervin’s; better than everyones’s~ is our man’s pride + joy, and was the single greatest artifact to be found on the Wesleyan campus. Maybe the state entire.)
That late-night activity was exigent. For instance, to watch Larry’s first title series, humorless Bill Fitch taking a knee, when he took down Moses’s makeshift crew, a losing team in the regular season. (Bill Willoughby, who jumped from high school to the pros like Malone; the aging Rudy T. and Billy Paultz, the young Robert Reid (more from him later versus the Celts) and Allen Leavell (him, too); distinguished lifer + sire Mike Dunleavy; Major Jones, best named of a big group of NBA big-man bros.; and above all on “the big stage”, midnight show, that ass-kicking, nat’l-champ baton-twirler, free throw marksman supreme, college legend, The Pocket Rocket from Niagara, andHall of Famer from Norwalk, Ct., five-foot-nine Calvin Murphy. Saw him positively scorch us one season on Ch. 2, my faulty memory having always told me that he got to fifty.
[I do vividly remember Moses going off against us for 50 in another televised game, around about the time, during an earlier MVP campaign of his~ there were only about ten Warrior dates per year on TV, each a precious “window of opportunity”~ coupled with an ungodly rebound total of the kind that only he accomplished those days. Comprehensive low-post dominion, domination. Awesome to behold. (Hell, he positively destroyed Kareem in the ’83 Finals, to consumate Doc’s career, and his own.)
The prodigious, unprecedented, equally dominant Bird, ceaselessly surprising as hardwood savant~ “two steps ahead” of the lot of the rest, including his own mates~ was accompanied to the crown by those hoops’ incomparables, Nate Archibald, Cornbread, and Rick Robey. (Cutting it short here, purposefully.) That last, the elegant bloke who would of course yield Celtic Nation~ [in terms of trade equity, a deal not-unlike our classic, hardball, 1966 Black Hat botch-job supreme, Baby Bull Orlando Cepeda to the Cards, straightaway champs in ’67, losers to the Tigers the next year, for Roy bleedin’ Sadecki]~ the anti-Toney (himself, The Boston Strangler): Dennis Johnson.
DJ, ffs! Better than McHale, if you ask Bird. (How did he fucking do it,that sonuvabitch, Red?)
Those post-Merger Times… : Someone oughta write a book. (Hal could do it best. Mark my Word.) The leap from eighteen to twenty-two franchises, including a second for New York. (OK~ Jersey.) Faster, quicker, blacker, higher-flying basketball~ “the purest sport of bodies”, as New Hampshire poet laureate, great American man-of-letters Donald Hall (of Dock Ellis fame, and baseball-canon immortality “in the Country of Baseball”) entitled the sport in an essay~ Naismith’s peach-basket innovation. Like gridiron a decade before, ceaselessly increasing top-shelf, bottom-line stakes “came into play”, going forward from those times. (Young ‘uns Magic and Isaiah, prodigies of assists, ball-handling, team-building, proved it, point-guard embodiments: they didn’t need more than a second year of NCAA hoops; L.A.’s Lakers, moribund Detroit needed them, both March college champs.) “Marches toward Bethlehem…” ~ New York City’s Madison Square Garden is named “the Mecca of Sports”~ … Dr. J, for chrissakes. Dick Cavett would pull off a winning interview with Julius and Pistol Pete Maravich in gym shorts, the three of them alone at center court formally shooting the breeze, the fellas casually showing off, spectacularly.
The NBA wuz fantastic, for-real. Always will be. With the international components so far advanced by now~ no list of European-continent superstars, nation-defining figuras, statistical enumeration needed here, and I won’t bother, wouldn’t insult the Sport~ basketball is the World’s runaway silver-medal sportive opiate, entertainment, favorite, male and female, it long ago become clear.
The Fall of 1976 brought “a new brand” of basketball into view, into being, into motion, onto the American sports scene. Ice Man, Big Mac, Big Z, The Whopper, Special K; Moses, Artis, ill-fated James Silas, Dan Issel, the bellwether Skywalker, David Thompson, in mile-high Denver. Thankfully, and at long last, touched ground the afore-mentioned, mind-expanding, salvific good Dr., landingin red-white-and-blue Philly. (Hello, UMass.) Heck, yes, that exaggerated blurb alludes to and delights in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. Saw it at the Alexandria theater on Geary Blvd. + 18th with my best Homeboy mate and his innocent Brother, an authentic athletic genius and future teammate of Wad’s at Cal, to boot (!), and their beloved, boddhisattva Mother from Iowa, if Memory serves right. Who in their right mind did not adore The Doctor?
[Only one guy in the country~ maybe the whole World~ now that I think on it. Larry, of course. The only guy fit to call Michael Jordan God. (Bird owned Jordan, FFS.) I wuz in the bleachers at Fenway Park, on my maiden visit~ having driven up from Middletown that sunny New England morning in a trusty yellow stationwagon with my great Wes friend, Mass native Miranda Hope (now there’s a Name!)~ when MJ’s highlight-reel, immortalized sixty-three point playoff game was going down, live. Audible and remarkably long-lasting~ inning after inning after inning~ hovered an actual “buzz” all around us out there (not “proverbial”). It came carried on breezes and capricious gusts of wind~ no shit. Whatever was happening~ which was never entirely clear~ palpably spread across that enormous bleacher on rumored, amorphous palaver and lingered past the last out. That Fenway pilgrimage was a wildly providential, wonderfully welcome portion of sporting Good Luck for me (unable to watch the riveting game at the Garden on tv). Come Barcelona, during the Olympics, the Dream Team were bigger than The Beatles, and Michael Jordan a living, breathing Black Apollo, arrived across the Mediterranean from Mt. Olympus, it seemed. (Ask me how I know.)
‘Twas hugely fortunate for me (who don’t like Mike, not at all, no) to have witnessed from up-close, quite uniquely, two of his signal, noteworthy apotheoses. (Got meself into the first Dream Team game, ingeniously.) Should the Warriors somehow manage to defeat Udoka’s inspired men, we will exceed the Bulls in total titles as a franchise, to stand alone in the league’s annals in the third position. We’ll bloody take it/Bully that.
The Finals of that spirited Spring of ’76 witnessed and were “the end of an era.” Hoops-wise, SportsWorld-wise, momentous and monumental developments presently rushed forth in the Basketball World…~ between the lines of the court and the contours of the culture. (Worthy of a very good sports-book’s depth, breadth, dedication to detail, and elucidation, it bears repeating.)
Again, and always, I will argue~ no matter Westphaul, Adams, Cotton Fitzsimmons et al, and Heard’s actualities~ that that important and historically significant iteration of the Finals shoulda-woulda-could have been the Warriors versus the Celtics.
Us: The defending champion, boasting the league’s best record, the best offense, the best defense. On-point, the most fearsome, respected coach in the game, Alvin Attles, Sr., in playing days called “the Destroyer” (sole fellow who could man-up Oscar, the Big O. Also: possessor of the deepest Voice in the World. [Ask me how I know.])The on-court league Alpha, Barry (very soon doing commentary next to Brent Musberger as the self-same Robertson’s sub/ replacement, a side-job truly rare for an active player.) Team Strongman and Soulman, Clifford Ray (whose personal battle with Cowens might have spilt blood, in a very memorable twilight of the beast-mode, six-nine center.) As well, our bearded, eccentric owner, backwards Franklin Meuli (courtside, in deerstalker cap), and our remarkable, silky-smooth, reigning league Rookie-of-the-Year, Jamaal (the former Keith, who had arrived already famous as a title-winning Wooden Bruin; was an odd draft choice by us in the first place, occupying the same position as Barry, small forward; who had defended Elvin Hayes straight-up the year before, demonstrating surprising “grown-man strength”; and would be destined to fill the lane indefatigably and run the baseline with panache as all-star Laker across many a Boston June).
Plus, we still retained that veritable plethora of skilled, difference-making reserves (CJ, Charles Johnson, “instant offense”; superb distributor Charles Dudley; badass stud Derrek Dickey; top rebounder Dwight Davis; old man Jeff Mullins; and the afore-mentioned shot-blocker Johnson, the league leader by rate, a “physical specimen” taller, longer, and more athletic than Big Rob Williams, believe it or not. Better hair-style, too. Let us not forget sui generis Gus, that future champ in Seattle (next to DJ) and all-NBA speedster who simply couldn’t be harnessed. This 59-win Warrior team was trying to go “back-to-back”~ which no one could do. (Famous Knicks, Bucks, Lakers, Celtics titlists? No dice.) We were trulymadlydeeply a great fucking unit. It was “ours-for-the-taking”, that damn title.
Them: Auerbach’s formidable, tight-knit, Tom Heinsohn-led Gahden men, title winners two years before in ’74. Russell’s umpteen banners in those lofty, famous rafters. Starring the league Tough Guy (and ex-MVP, Cowens); the league Hero (Hondo); present and future “sixth man” difference-makers, two long-time heavyweights in the Association already (Nelson and Paul Silas, both destined for much increased, well-deserved esteem). Also, those savvy, all-star backcourt studs, Jo Jo and Charlie Scott. Courtside somewhere, imperious Red himself presided, damn cigar in a pocket, one supposed. An anthologic match-up, the Warriors against this Boston Celtic iteration~ I’m selling them way short here, no doubt; Hal could fill-in this paragraph superbly~ to mark the tidal-changing age.
The Barry-John Havlicek Venn Diagram, in particular, that could have been put together before just such an awaited, highly anticipated clash~ Hal’s always said, over the years: “That’s who we expected: Golden State”; then closely amended with journalistic note-taking throughout the would-be, imagined series; later expanded to book-length by a heady, capable muckraker of a reporter and knowledgable hoops fan, like Halberstam (or Hal)~ this is well before Feinstein established a genre [nod to paper-lion George Plimpton]~ could have also produced a lasting sports-book broader, sharper, more significant than Bill Bradley’s, say. Revealing of athletic Truth, athletics’ Justice, and the American Man, the American Way, to literary effects later discovered and revealed in Breaks of the Game.
Not an original thought, this~ I’m cognizant of the excellent tennis-based book by John McPhee, Levels of the Game, about a single, late-60’s big-tourney match between Arthur Ashe Jr. and Clark Graebner, yes~ but swiped/borrowed analogously, and expanded, from an idea articulated in C.L.R. James’s justifiably famous Beyond a Boundary. An imagined tome that the famous Marxist and cricket-lover had long considered undertaking. In which would be examined, through thorough character-studies, international cricket’s~ and most-especially his brethren, the star West Indian cricketers~ greatest-ever batsmen, in a novel literary effort/innings that he felt confident could, would help parse, define, divine… nothing less than the Human Spirit. (Whew.)
Smashing stuff such as this might have been borne from this dreamy Finals fantasy. All purely fanciful.
Such a sport book, behind Barry and Hondo, choc-a-bloc with biography and “hard-bitten” reportage, could yet be done, and prove “classic”, lastingly significant.
But this is The Age of Steph. Also: Tatum’s Time has come. (Best to look forward, not back.) That dude is G.Hill 2.022, with updated tweaks on the game and X-factors of almighty T-Mac throw-in. He’s an ideal, model player, Jason Tatum, a basketball Tesla, certain to become one of Hoops’ best-ever. Hell, he already is. The still-young Brother does things intermittently that haven’t been seen by another. Under Udoka~ (who reminds of the NFL’s Parcells, prowling on the sideline, and will have soon the ring to prove it if his squad can keep cool and stay intact)~ the Celtics are set, and could win two rings. Even-stephen a few. (I’m a Warrior Fan. Ask me how I know.)
Instead, Barry inexplicably, vengefully abandoned his teammates, and the Warriors botched the Western Conference’s finale at home on the Coliseum floor, plainly out-done, as Celtic prodigal-son Paul Westphaul’s star rose, supported by Ricky Sobers and others and especially Alpha-rookie Alvin Adams’s springy, startling in-the-paint elan: the Suns shocked Us, stole the trip to Beantown. (“Turnaround is fair play”~ as well understood in D.C. Where the Big E and Big Wes were far from done.)
Very soon, the helter-skelter, triple-OT, madhouse/delay/back-out-from-the-locker-rooms/wtf?/Garfield Heard fadeaway/”greatest game ever” that did, in fact, ensue of the ’76 Western Conference finals, erased from any and all widespread, popular thought the notion of what could have been the dealio. Could have been Hoop Dreams. Should have been the roundball Finals for-the-ages. Boston versus Golden State~ not lucky, risen Phoenix~ to bring a close to the pre-post-modern era. To superbly stamp the pregnant, overlarge Bicentennial Summer. To “live forever” in the public’s Memory. [Akin to what would happen come October, in that phat annus’s World Serious, when baseball yet ruled the nation: the Big Red Machine vs. NYC’s Damn Yankees, Bench v Munson behind the plate, Sparky and Billy on the bench, Riverfront and The Stadium at full-throat.) Nope. No Such Luck.
No matter. It is what is~ that phrase from the streets, the ‘hood, downright theological~Right Now. As some of us seriously appreciate… at long last.
Go Celtics. Go Dubs. Hot damn.
It is bloody fucking on. The Purest Sport of Bodies…