Archives for posts with tag: Larry Bird

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON THIS PAGE IN 2013 and 2017.

What if?  It’s the saddest sentence in the English language that says so much yet nothing of substance at the same time.  Today is the 56th anniversary of the JFK assassination- if it were an actual person the assassination is now ten years older than the man was when he was killed.  Instead of wondering what the world would have been like had Kennedy lived, six ears ago I imagined a world with Lenny Bias living past that dark day of June 1986.

 

NOVEMBER 18, 2013—Len Bias turns 50.

 The University of Maryland honors its Basketball Hall of Famer with a star-studded evening…almost a “This is Your Life” at the Comcast Center (popularly called the “Driesell Dome”).

Lefty Driesell’s expected to make the trip up from Virginia Beach where he’s enjoyed retirement since stepping down in 2002.  After posting 696 wins over 32 seasons as Terps coach the longtime rival of Dean Smith left the game same time his constant nemesis did (Driesell joked that “Dean was done in ’97…but only stuck around so I wouldn’t have a crack at his record”).  Although Bias didn’t lead Lefty to the Final Four, he helped set the stage for the recruiting classes that finally did in 1991.  They’d lose to to Gary Williams’ Ohio State Buckeyes;  despite the disappointment it was something special to see Williams get the most out of top recruit Jimmy Jackson.  OSU would fall to Duke in the finals that year because the Blue Devils always got the calls then but the seeds were sown for an era of Terrapin dominance in the decade of the 90’s.  Lawrence Moten arrived on campus that fall and scored over 2,000 points (try imagine the unassuming guard with high socks pulling that act in the rough and tumble Big East)… and with Joe Smith dominating inside the Terps would reach the Final Four again in 1994 and ’95.  Smith and Moten would end their careers by beating UCLA for the championship in 1995.  This allowed Lefty to finally say that Maryland was in fact the “UCLA of the East”, to the surprise of absolutely no one.

Larry Bird’s supposed to fly in from Indianapolis…his back that gave him issues in the late 80’s after the Celtics’ third championship in a row needed more surgery this past summer.  Remember Boston coach KC Jones trademarking “Boston Three Party” and making a mint off the merchandising?  Savvy move.  Kevin McHale will be in town as well;  how about when as a rookie Bias stepped into the starting lineup so McHale could fully recover from foot surgery for the playoffs?  That not only allowed the Celtics to repeat as champs in 1987 but also kept McHale in prime shape for the ’88 and ’91 title runs.  Robert Parish may bring down the house with his deadpan wit (“the closest I came to smiling was watching Lenny play”).

Michael Jordan will be on hand as well.  The duo’s rivalry defined the decade like Bird & Magic or Russell & Wilt.  Jordan’s Bulls ended the Bird era by bouncing the defending champs in 1992…and although it took a while for the “Bias Bunch” to reload they were able to keep key cogs like Rick Fox and Brian Shaw on the roster to let the new talent know what it meant to be a true Celtic.  Titles in 1996, 98 and 2000 bookended Bias’ first three championships.  The last one was especially sweet as the Celtics beat a new generation of Lakers in Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant…especially with Larry Bird in the front office.  Bias probably kept Jordan from winning five or six rings.

And even though he coached a different sport, Bobby Ross will make an appearance…probably to bask in the 25th anniversary of the National Championship team that upset Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.  When Bias left College Park, Ross was fresh off guiding the Terps to a 9-3 season (with losses to eventual #2 Michigan, #3 Penn St. and #9 Miami)…and with a supportive Athletic Department Maryland was able to take things to the next level over the next decade.  Ross finally retired after the 2000 season, handing the program to Ralph Friedgen who promptly led the Terps to another ACC Title and an Orange Bowl in his first season.

What a celebration– and what a what-if.   It’s still too soon–over 33 years later.

What if?  It’s the saddest sentence in the English language that says so much yet nothing of substance at the same time.  Thirty-one years ago today Len Bias died from a drug overdose, sending his school and his future employer into separate spirals that clouded both the University of Maryland and the Boston Celtics.  Three and a half years ago I imagined what Lenny’s 50th birthday extravaganza in College Park would have been like.  It was a pleasant distraction from another 50th anniversary–the JFK assassination.  So we’re always imagining a better world.

 

NOVEMBER 18, 2013—Len Bias turns 50.

 The University of Maryland honors its Basketball Hall of Famer with a star-studded evening…almost a “This is Your Life” at the Comcast Center (popularly called the “Driesell Dome”).

Lefty Driesell’s expected to make the trip up from Virginia Beach where he’s enjoyed retirement since stepping down in 2002.  After posting 696 wins over 32 seasons as Terps coach the longtime rival of Dean Smith left the game same time his constant nemesis did (Driesell joked that “Dean was done in ’97…but only stuck around so I wouldn’t have a crack at his record”).  Although Bias didn’t lead Lefty to the Final Four, he helped set the stage for the recruiting classes that finally did in 1991.  They’d lose to to Gary Williams’ Ohio State Buckeyes;  despite the disappointment it was something special to see Williams get the most out of top recruit Jimmy Jackson.  OSU would fall to Duke in the finals that year because the Blue Devils always got the calls then but the seeds were sown for an era of Terrapin dominance in the decade of the 90’s.  Lawrence Moten arrived on campus that fall and scored over 2,000 points (try imagine the unassuming guard with high socks pulling that act in the rough and tumble Big East)… and with Joe Smith dominating inside the Terps would reach the Final Four again in 1994 and ’95.  Smith and Moten would end their careers by beating UCLA for the championship in 1995.  This allowed Lefty to finally say that Maryland was in fact the “UCLA of the East”, to the surprise of absolutely no one.

Larry Bird’s supposed to fly in from Indianapolis…his back that gave him issues in the late 80’s after the Celtics’ third championship in a row needed more surgery this past summer.  Remember Boston coach KC Jones trademarking “Boston Three Party” and making a mint off the merchandising?  Savvy move.  Kevin McHale will be in town as well;  how about when as a rookie Bias stepped into the starting lineup so McHale could fully recover from foot surgery for the playoffs?  That not only allowed the Celtics to repeat as champs in 1987 but also kept McHale in prime shape for the ’88 and ’91 title runs.  Robert Parish may bring down the house with his deadpan wit (“the closest I came to smiling was watching Lenny play”).

Michael Jordan will be on hand as well.  The duo’s rivalry defined the decade like Bird & Magic or Russell & Wilt.  Jordan’s Bulls ended the Bird era by bouncing the defending champs in 1992…and although it took a while for the “Bias Bunch” to reload they were able to keep key cogs like Rick Fox and Brian Shaw on the roster to let the new talent know what it meant to be a true Celtic.  Titles in 1996, 98 and 2000 bookended Bias’ first three championships.  The last one was especially sweet as the Celtics beat a new generation of Lakers in Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant…especially with Larry Bird in the front office.  Bias probably kept Jordan from winning five or six rings.

And even though he coached a different sport, Bobby Ross will make an appearance…probably to bask in the 25th anniversary of the National Championship team that upset Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.  When Bias left College Park, Ross was fresh off guiding the Terps to a 9-3 season (with losses to eventual #2 Michigan, #3 Penn St. and #9 Miami)…and with a supportive Athletic Department Maryland was able to take things to the next level over the next decade.  Ross finally retired after the 2000 season, handing the program to Ralph Friedgen who promptly led the Terps to another ACC Title and an Orange Bowl in his first season.

What a celebration– and what a what-if.   It’s still too soon–31 years later.

Did it have to end this way? Couldn’t the Caps have not turned things on with an 11-1-1 April? Couldn’t they have dropped one of the two overtime games that they wound up winning-only masking a team that didn’t lead in regulation after the 12:50 mark of the first period of game three? Meaning after game one the Caps led for exactly 8:44 of the final 377 minutes and 24 seconds. The summer of discontent begins with questions, comments and concerns in Caps Nation.

Seventh Hell?– the Caps fall to 3-9 lifetime in Game Sevens…and 1-8 at home (the only win coming in 2009 over the New York Rangers). Their history of misery began on the night before Easter in April 1987 when they lost in four overtimes to Pat LaFontaine and the New York Islanders– I had to get up at 6am the following day to go to church to play handbells. Let’s just say Eggs Benedict on 4 hours sleep does not work wonders-especially with bells clanging repeatedly.

Southeast Mirage– while the Capitals made their run, they were loading up (15-3) on a weak Southeast Division–the only division to send just one team to the playoffs and one that boasted three of the four worst records in the league. Next winter they’ll be realigned into something similar to the old Patrick Division-making their path the postseason much more difficult but perphaps will better prepare them for when they get there.

Penalties Posing Problems– 14 more penalty minutes brought the Caps’ 7 game total to 76. Every try to sprint after laying back on your heels for an extended period of time? When you spend one out of every six minutes trying to hold off a power play…it’s tough to generate offensive flow and momentum. There were a few mystifying penalties. And there were some stupid ones. Cleaning them up in the future when games matter most will be a priority.

Lundqvist Lays Down the Lumber– It’s tough to consistently outshoot your opponent yet consistently come up empty. The Caps were stonewalled again by Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist– 62 saves over the last two games…the Rangers in their duck and dive defensive style were able to limit quality chances. While there’s no shame in losing to a hot goaltender, Caps fans have to wonder when they have the standing on his head goalie again. Is Braden Holtby that guy? He had played superbly until Monday’s defeat…and in looking at the longview is the best netminder this current Caps generation of players has had behind them.

Mister May?– with apologies to baseball HOF Dave Winfield and the late George Steinbrenner, it’s actually a good thing to be sort of a Mister May in the NHL Playoffs. After scoring a league-high 32 goals in the lockout-shortened regular season, Alex Ovechkin tallied 1 goal and 1 assist in the series with the Rangers. Usually a producer in the postseason (first four years averaging more than 1 point a game, with a high of 10 goals and 11 assists in 14 games in 2009), the Caps captain posted 9 points over 14 games last sping…and saw that production decrease this May. He’s got to go home and have a summer like Larry Bird did in 1984 when the Celtics got swept by Milwaukee…the legend came back focused and on fire en route to the three best years of his career. Does Ovie have the aptitude and attitude to maximize his altitude?

It takes a Village– now while we acknowledge the importance of having your best players play their best…hockey is the one sport where the dominant stars have the least overall influence. A quarterback handles the ball on every play. A pitcher determines every pitch. And a great basketball player can touch the ball every time up the floor. Ovechkin is only on the ice for 35 to 45 seconds at a time… and relies on his teammates as much as if not more than other sports’ elite players. Martin Erat’s injury midway through the series undercut the second line… and Brooks Laich’s season long struggles hurt the team as well. What moves will need to be made to maintain the nucleus that coach Adam Oates desires yet improve the overall talent so next May there’s a second or even third series to think about?

Cruel Summer– this season began in late January due to the lockout, many marveled at how long the offseason was. Truth is, after experiencing just enough playoff success to think of it as a probability instead of simply a possibility–every offseason you’re not playing for a Cup (let alone playing for playing for a Cup)-is a long, cruel summer.