Here’s my goodbye with many thanks to Dave’s Digital Domain visitors

Here’s my final post to Dave’s Digital Domain, a blog that started three years ago because those of us in the newspaper business have been pretty much told to blog or die.

I’m retiring this week after 40 years at the Palm Beach Post, so the blogging and the tweeting and all the other digital doodling will cease forthwith, at my choice, just like stepping away from a great company that has taken good care of me and my family since 1978 is my choice. Considering the way things have been going in the industry it’s a real pleasure to be able to say that.

Anyway, I’m hoping somebody enjoyed these posts. The numbers were always modest but this is not soul-crushing in any respect. Digital domination belongs to today’s generation of journalists. I am from another time, and here, in recognition of that, is a blog I wrote in 2015 about the passing of wrestling great Dusty Rhodes.

It has nothing to do with today’s news that Bruno Sammartino has also passed, but that report got some of us in the office talking about spectacular old wrestling heroes and villains and their touring shows, and this is where my mind drifted in response.

I was a kid when Dusty used to blow through our town, packing the West Palm Beach Auditorium like a one-man circus, and his name will always be a reminder of my youth and the fun I used to have with my knucklehead buddies and the joys of not worrying about much of anything but homework.

If you’ve been reading my work in the Post for a while, and bless you if that’s so, I like to think that we’ve all grown up a little bit together.


By

“The American Dream” is a fairly grandiose tag to hang on one man, but Dusty Rhodes, the 275-pound star of many a pro wrestling show at the old West Palm Beach Auditorium, enjoyed the challenge.

The American Dream Dusty Rhodes facing off against Ken Patera in Miami, circa 1978. (Photo: Michelle Bogre / Miami News)

Maybe you think pro wrestling is a joke. OK, Dusty would make you laugh strutting around the ring and sporting his curly mop of dyed-blond hair.

Maybe you were all-in on the blood and sweat and urgency of Texas death-match drama. Dusty delivered that, too, taking chairs over the head and nosedives through the ropes, but always climbing back up to keep the screaming crowds on his side.

Dusty, whose real name was Virgil Runnels, died Thursday at 69. One report said it was kidney failure. Could have been anything, really, considering the destruction that comes over a long career performing in dingy small-town arenas and Madison Square Garden and eventually back to the hinterlands again.

I dug Dusty, and so did all my middle-school buddies, getting dropped off at the West Palm Auditorium by parents who wondered exactly what was wrong with us. It was silly, sure, but it was fun, and never have I heard Dusty’s name spoken in all these years without a smile springing out from way back in the 1970’s.

Larry Mlynczak, my first sports editor at the Palm Beach Post back in the late ’70s, sent an e-mail at the news of Rhodes’ passing to remind me of how people packed that crazy teepee-shaped building to see Dusty. National Wrestling Alliance cards on Monday nights easily outdrew minor-league baseball and most other events around here, and because the same wrestling stars appeared each Saturday on television from Tampa, it actually gave a feel of something big coming to town.

Dusty Rhodes at the Miami Beach Convention Hall. (A.G. Montanari / Miami News)

These were the same people who fought at the Miami Beach Convention Center and in other major venues around the state. These were the same guys, too, who later would merge with the WWE wrestling universe and go nationwide.

We even ran a few paragraphs of the results in the paper, not because the competition was real, but because the interest was. Once Mlynczak dropped in to interview Dusty, just to see what would happen.

“Is wrestling fake?” Larry asked in a dressing-room interview, and Dusty Rhodes asked right back, “When I broke my ankle tumbling out of the ring, was that fake?”

Before long the conversation turned, as it always did around TV microphones, to Dusty’s rough upbringing in Texas. It was a story told by the son of a plumber who wanted to be so much more.

“I was a grave digger in West Texas when I was a teenager,” Dusty said. “I even put some in the ground. I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t know their names.

“I knew then that I wanted to be different. I wanted to have a name.”

That’s when Virgil started thinking about becoming Dusty. That’s when he started dreaming that American Dream.

An early birthday greeting for Jupiter’s Billy ‘The Bullet,’ the NBA’s oldest retired player

Got a nice letter the other day from my old pal Billy “The Bullet” Gabor, because that’s the kind of guy that Billy is.

Bill Gabor, photographed at his home in Jupiter on January 29, 2014, holding an engraved ice bucket. “When we won (the league title) in 1955, we didn’t get anything from the NBA,” he said. “The stockholders gave us this engraved ice bucket.” (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

The longtime Jupiter resident, whose 96th birthday is coming in May, has got old-fashioned manners and incredibly sharp memories to share. He’s the oldest living former NBA player, a star with the Syracuse Nationals in the days of George Mikan. I’m rolling out one my columns on him from 2014 because it’s one week until my retirement from the Palm Beach Post and I’m pretty much doing what pleases me most these days.

Give this a spin, for Billy’s sake. I think you’ll be glad.

*********************************************

(This column originally appeared in the Feb. 13, 2014 edition of the Palm Beach Post)

by Dave George

Post Columnist

History lessons learned
Jupiter’s Bill Gabor, 91, was an All-Star when the NBA was born.

   Only a high-caliber athlete could earn a nickname like “Billy the Bullet.”
“If you see me walk today, there’s no way you’d think that,” Bill Gabor, as in neighbor, says with a laugh.
Still, as steady as the tides, you’ll find Gabor hoofing the 1.5-mile distance from his oceanfront condo to the Juno Beach pier and back, every day but Tuesday, which is when this 91-year-old star of the NBA’s formative years does his volunteer work at the hospital.
This is not a story about slam dunks or preening Hollywood stars in sweet court-side seats or sneakers so flashy that they really should arrive at the arena in their own limousines. All of that goes with today’s NBA, and with an All-Star game to be viewed by millions worldwide Sunday night.
Gabor’s tale is worth telling, though, because he was there when the NBA was born, and he was among the earliest of NBA All-Stars, too, back when college basketball got all the headlines.
“I played in the 1953 All-Star Game in Fort Wayne, Ind.,” Gabor said. “Got a $100 war bond for it that I had to hold for 10 years to get the $100.”
It gets colder. When Gabor was a member of the NBA champion Syracuse Nationals two years later, there was no ring ceremony to commemorate the team’s greatness. Each of the Nats was rewarded with a metal ice bucket, engraved for posterity and presented by the team’s stockholders.
How’s that for a bucket-list achievement? It made sense way back then, just like it did for an NBA team to travel by ship from one game to another, and across a wintry Great Lake at that.
“We started to fly the last couple of years I was in the league,” said Gabor, who retired in 1955, “but one time we started out on the east coast of Lake Michigan and we wouldn’t land in Milwaukee. We didn’t have time to take a train around the bottom of the lake so we took a freighter across and it was very, very rough, with very limited passenger accommodations.
“You couldn’t go outside with the railings all covered with ice. Then they started cooking and a lot of guys got sick and were throwing up and lying in bed. We finally got to Milwaukee a little late and took taxis to the game but we beat them, so the papers in Syracuse ran the headline ‘Syracuse Sailors Beat Milwaukee.'”
Back, though, to the 1953 All-Star Game, which was staged in the newly opened Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
“Just an old bandbox,” that’s how Gabor remembers it, but on that January night, with a crowd of 10,322 exceeding the capacity and a giant-like 6-foot-10 George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers on display, Fort Wayne was as close to fantastic as it ever will get.
Gabor was such a high scorer that his number was retired at Syracuse University in 2009, yet in that long-ago All-Star game he was a reserve on the East team behind all-timers like Bob Cousy and Dolph Schayes. Also watching most of the game from the bench was Baltimore’s Don Barksdale, the first black player on an All-Star roster. Another bit of history: The West’s 79-75 win that night remains the lowest-scoring All-Star game.
Mikan was the game’s MVP, scoring 22 points with 16 rebounds and looking as intimidating as a lumbering man in thick eyeglasses can be.
“Mikan was very slow and he couldn’t jump like they do today,” said Gabor, “but he was so strong he would just turn around and shoot a hook shot and nobody could do anything about it.
“He was like Shaq, unstoppable, though I think they should outlaw the slam dunk. A guy like Shaq, he gets the ball, turns around and knocks the guy on his butt. What kind of a shot is that?”
Gabor, who was 5-11, made sure to get his own shots in, though. Set shots, mostly. The rest of the time he was stealing balls and fouling out a lot. What do you expect from a guy whose other nickname was “The Human Projectile?”
“Boston, they had some rowdy fans,” Gabor said. “We were playing a close game there one day and a fight broke out between some players. The referees broke it up but the fans were throwing debris on the floor and I was picking it up and throwing it back. The ref got hold of my teammate Paul Seymour and said, ‘Get that darn Gabor out. He’s gonna start a riot.’ ”
One day you may see this super senior driving down U.S. 1 in his Chevy Malibu, the one with the license-plate holder that says, “National Basketball Retired Players Association.” After 24 years in Palm Beach County, Gabor, as in neighbor, is truly one of us.
Imagine how shocked today’s soaring NBA All-Stars would be to learn that he is also one of them.

Whatever happens to Heat now, it can’t be worse than their opening 1996 draw against MJ’s merciless Bulls

 

There is one super player in the Eastern Conference but no super teams, which makes me feel kind of hopeful about the Miami Heat’s chances for getting past Philadelphia and reaching the second round of the playoffs.

If that doesn’t sound like much of a goal, or even if you’re feeling a little sorry for this team devoid of dominating stars, think back to Pat Riley’s first season in Miami.

In his role as head coach and master of everything, the Godfather worked deals that

Dennis Rodman fouls Alonzo Mourning. Photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post.

brought Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway to the Heat. Together they went 42-40 in the regular season, not much different than the results we’re seeing now, but then came a first-round matchup with the 72-10 Chicago Bulls in the 1996 playoffs.

Here is a column I wrote at the end of that horrible mismatch, a three-game sweep by the Bulls in which the closest game was 17 points. Dennis Rodman’s spicy autobiography “Bad As I Wanna Be” was released right then, too, which made the whole series feel like a promotional tour for the Worm and a fruitless exercise for the Heat.

“We played hard,” said Miami’s Rex Chapman, but they are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”

Things are so much better now. Even if the Heat had drawn LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the first round this weekend, it couldn’t have been as dismal. They’re plenty they can do against any team in the East these days. So let the 2018 playoffs begin, but not before this reminder of what life was like for Miami and everybody else under the inviolate Jordan Rules.

 

(From the May 2, 1996 edition of the Palm Beach Post)

By Dave George

Post Columnist

        A PRIMER ON HOW TO BE GREAT

The Miami Heat took their medicine sitting down Wednesday night, their celebrity coach never leaving his chair in the fourth quarter of a 112-91 loss and their sellout home crowd reduced to gawking at the greatness of the Chicago Bulls.
The Heat weren’t just swept in this best-of-five opening playoff series. They were vacuumed up, bagged and left by the curb of Miami Arena. Total domination, Pat Riley called it, and so it was. Michael Jordan headed for the locker room early, and Scottie Pippen called for his ice bags on the bench. Had this blowout lasted another few minutes, he would have called for his pipe and slippers, too.
“I know one thing I’m going to aspire to next year,” Riley said, and a roomful of reporters leaned forward for a philosophical pearl. “I’m going to make sure the playoff seed has to be six through three. It cannot be seventh through eighth.”
It cannot, in other words, bring the Heat anywhere close to Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs. The No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference is for sparring partners, not contenders. Miami can move up based on the progress made after the great February trade-off. Wednesday, however, was too wobbly to use as a foundation for anything but a fire drill.
“We ran into a good team,” said Rex Chapman, who scored 39 points in a February upset of the Bulls here but only six Wednesday. “We played hard. They are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”
Jimmy Buffet did his best to make this Game 3 worth playing. He sang the national anthem and 15,200 fans, armed with giveaway clacker noisemakers, provided the passionate percussion. This will be remembered, however, as the night the music died. Miami trailed by 31 points at one point and pretty much went through the motions while Chicago’s benchwarmers piled it on.
Chicago will at least get a fight from the New York Knicks. All Miami provided was a vacation.
So overwhelming is Chicago’s power over the masses that all it takes is one Bulls player to make a low-profile team like the Heat an irrelevance in their own building. Wednesday’s pre-game sideshow centered on Dennis Rodman and his bawdy book, advance copies of which are beginning to make the rounds.
On the cover is a photo of the Worm in the nude, holding a basketball where the sun don’t shine and the fig leaves don’t grow. There is a chapter devoted to the intimate details of Rodman’s brief fling with Madonna, which is surprising only in that Madonna didn’t strike first with this subject matter. NBA Commissioner David Stern, at Miami Arena Wednesday to monitor the storm around Chicago’s playoff run, said Rodman “is a phenomenon, maybe the best media creation of his own image that I’ve ever seen.”
Rodman, meanwhile, sat at his locker before the game saying whatever he believed would shock reporters most. “Pat Riley’s time has passed,” he said, and “the Knicks have a yellow streak down their back.” Of Alonzo Mourning, Rodman asked “$15 million for what? He hasn’t accomplished anything to me.”
Rodman wears controversy like a crown, always willing to take the lunacy to another level. Miami counters with a seriousness that is deadly. Zo screams. Riley preens. And all the while the Bulls are laughing.
Blaming Mourning’s lack of production, a popular rationale in the first two blowouts at Chicago, didn’t even fly this time. Zo had 20 points by half time, more even than Jordan, and finished with a game-high 30.
The Bulls, meanwhile, were their usual brutish selves, piling on at every opportunity. Did Rodman really slam home a reverse dunk in the second quarter or was that a preview for his upcoming music video? At some point it ceases to matter.
We have come to that point, of course, and surpassed it. The glorious debut season of Pat Riley has ended in the manner of Kevin Loughery before him.
Sitting down and looking up at the merciless Chicago Bulls.

[Felipe Alou, the Dominican baseball legend, has deep Palm Beach County ties]

[Golden Bear’s grandson thrills Masters crowd with an ace of his own]

[Amendola is another Texas Tech tough guy, like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker]

 

Felipe Alou, the Dominican baseball legend, has deep roots in Palm Beach County

I’ll be meeting with Boynton Beach’s Felipe Alou this week for a column on his new book, “Alou: My Baseball Journey,” and a celebration of his long ties to Palm Beach County.

As an appetizer, here is something I wrote way back in 1991 about a West Palm Beach Expos team that Felipe managed to the Florida State League championship. What happened to them on the bus ride home from the title series in Clearwater is a classic tale of life in the minors.

(A column from the Sept. 11, 1991 Palm Beach Post)

By Dave George, Sports Columnist

MINOR CELEBRATIONS CAN’T DAMPEN MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

   Sirens blared in the streets of West Palm Beach Tuesday, heralding the
arrival of the newly crowned Florida State League champions. A police car led the West Palm Beach Expos‘ bus down Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and into the
Municipal Stadium parking lot, the triumphant conclusion to a return trip from Clearwater and the deciding game of the league championship series.
Somewhere, a dog barked, his echo bouncing off dark buildings. Perhaps a

Felipe Alou around 1991 as manager of the West Palm Beach Expos, a job he held for seven seasons before moving up to manage the Montreal Expos and San Francisco Giants (Palm Beach Post file photo)

drifter stirred drowsily on a bus stop bench. If anyone else other than a
handful of loyal fans was aware of the Expos‘ victory parade, which lasted
from approximately 4:28 to 4:30 a.m., they could only have been on their way
to make the doughnuts.
By 5:15, most of the Expos‘ clubhouse was stripped of personal belongings, the parking lot cleared of players’ cars. Six hours earlier, these young
dreamers had been hugging and laughing and whooping it up over a league title that was 138 games in the making. The celebration, however, didn’t make it to sunrise. The real world had lurched back into action by then and the Expos had resumed their offseason lives, each group oblivious of the other.
“There are lot of West Palm Beach Expos in Alabama and Mississippi and
South Carolina right now, all of them headed home,” said Expos pitcher Doug
Bochtler, a former John I. Leonard High School star.
Rest assured that none of them are traveling by bus. Never again will they board one of those rolling bricks voluntarily.
“I guarantee you that if a major league team wins the World Series, their plane doesn’t break down on the way home like our bus did last night,”
Bochtler said.
SOME VICTORY LAP
Stranded on I-95 near Blue Heron Boulevard, the champions dealt with one
last dose of Class-A confusion. Still riding the high of the franchise’s first league title in 17 years, philosophy won out over frustration.
“When the bus kicked out, I guess it was just fate, something to keep the team together a little longer,” said Ron Colangelo, the Expos‘ radio voice.
Move over, Pops Stargell. Here is a real baseball family, playing for
minor league scraps rather than bonus playoff money. Playing like there may be no other games to play, next season or any other. For some of the
overachievers on the roster of manager Felipe Alou, there won’t be.
“A couple of the guys came by my house around noon to say goodbye on
their way out of town,” Bochtler said. “The way everybody left showed the
biggest key to us winning the whole thing. This wasn’t a traditional handshake and good luck thing. There were guys hugging and saying thanks. We all know
this could be our only chance at winning a championship.”
Bochtler never won a baseball title before, despite being good enough to
share the FSL lead in victories (12). He was 7-2 with an 0.72 ERA as a Leonard senior, but didn’t experience the team success of a district title. Same goes for his American Legion Post 47 team or Indian River Community College.
Taking the field in Clearwater Monday night, all the emotions bubbled up
at once. The Expos were playing for the league title, but they were doing so
in front of just 292 fans. Also, even though West Palm Beach was about to win it all as a wild-card playoff entry, not a single Expo name was called as FSL President Chuck Murphy announced the league all-star team before the game.
Minor slights, these were, when the team was sized for championship rings a
few hours later.
“That was the greatest feeling ever,” Bochtler said. “Even if I make it
some day to pitch in Montreal, that ring won’t come off me.”
MOM KNOWS BEST
All the rainouts and rescheduled doubleheaders should come with some
reward. The Expos have a loyal following, averaging nearly 1,800 at home games in 1991 to rank second in the league. But in the end, it’s up to the players
to find their own motivation. They won the opening game of the FSL
championship series at home before a crowd of 480. They won for themselves.
Alone.
“People who don’t get involved with this team don’t know what they’re
missing,” said Louise Hiers of West Palm Beach. “These are just young kids a
long way from home, some of them for the first time.”
Louise, 65, is known as “Mom” by the Expos. She has been at almost every
home game for the last 18 seasons. Monday night she was with them in
Clearwater, and when the team arrived at Municipal Stadium early Tuesday
morning, she was there again, kissing and hugging each player as he stepped
off the bus.
Thus, Mom sent her family to the four winds. A championship team dissolved into the dawn, just like all beautiful dreams.

The Golden Bear’s grandson thrills Masters crowd with an ace of his own

Jack Nicklaus probably thought he had seen everything in golf, and then something happened on Wednesday afternoon that brought a tear to his eye.

Gary ‘G.T.’ Nicklaus, Jr., far right, celebrates hitting a hole-in-one on the ninth tee with his grandfather Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2018 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2018 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Jack’s grandson G.T. Nicklaus, who was caddying for the Golden Bear in the Masters Par-3 Contest, stepped up to the tee on the final hole and tried his luck, just for fun. Of course, the ball sailed over a broad lake, landed safely on the green and then trickled and tracked and after the longest while plopped into the cup for a hole-in-one.

Shocking? Sure, but G.T., the 15-year-old son of former PGA Tour player Gary Nicklaus, Jr. and a freshman at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, has played before crowds before. In the PNC Father/Son Challenge with his grandfather as a playing partner. In the Florida state high school championship tournament, too, where he shot an 85 as an eight-grader a few years ago.

“You always want the best for your kids and your grandkids,” Nicklaus told ESPN. “But when you’ve got a grandson who comes along and the kid makes a hole-in-one at the biggest venue in the world on day when he is caddying for his grandfather…Wow.

“This is very, very special…One obviously I’ll never forget.”

Back in December, when Jack and G.T. teamed to finish 15th at the PNC Father/Son Challenge in Orlando, Jack said “He likes being in front of people. I always looked at playing golf out in front of people as fun, and I think he has pretty much the same attitude.”

The Masters Par-3 is designed to be entertaining for players and their families, with little kids bopping along in tiny caddy outfits and teenagers, like G.T., sometimes playing a shot or two.

For one of the kids to outdo the pros, however, and get the loudest cheer of the day, is almost too much to ask. G.T.’s ace turned into a bigger story than the fact that Tom Watson, 68, won the nine-hole event with a score of six-under-par 21. He’s the oldest champion in the history of the Par-3 and played in a group with Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Here’s one last quote from Jack last December about G.T., one of his and Barbara’s 22 grandchildren.

“G.T. is a big kid and has the potential to be a very talented player,” Jack said. “He is already a nice player, and his game should only get better as time goes on. So only time will tell whether he will be and wants to be a really good player. For now, I just want him to enjoy this experience, just as I will enjoy it.”

On Thursday morning Nicklaus and Player will tee off at No. 1 as honorary starters for the first round of the Masters. Will G.T. carry his grandfather’s bag? Might be a good idea, for good luck.

[Wade’s return has not significantly improved Heat in stat that counts most]

[Wildest man in March Madness once coached CBA team in West Palm]

[Like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker, Amendola is a Texas Tech tough guy]

Dwyane Wade’s return has not significantly improved the Heat in the only stat that really counts

It was so much fun getting Dwyane Wade back last month, but now you have to wonder. Are the Miami Heat any closer to making some real noise in the playoffs with this 12-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP on their roster?

The numbers say no, and they suggest there’s an early playoff exit coming no matter what.

Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade (3) shoots over Washington Wizards’ Mike Scott (30) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Miami. The Heat won 129-102. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami was 29-26 when Wade, the most productive and popular player in franchise history, returned to the Heat in a Feb. 8 trade with Cleveland. Since he joined the team, Miami is 9-7 in all games and 7-6 in games that Wade has played. Nothing special either way.

At different times in a Heat uniform this season Wade has been everything from brilliant (27 points in a 102-101 win over Philadelphia), to mediocre (4-for-13 shooting in a close loss to the same team) to inactive (a hamstring strain has kept him in streetclothes the last three games).

Of course, there are other moving parts that must be considered when it comes to the team’s overall record. Hassan Whiteside plays like an All-Star some nights but doesn’t on others and lately he hasn’t been playing at all. Different players take the scoring lead in different games, a reflection of Erik Spoelstra’s lack of a true closer without Wade in top form. Injuries continue to change the chemistry and the rotation every week of the season, too.

Overall, it feels good to think that Wade is saving up some of his steam at the age of 36 and will begin to dominate parts of games once the postseason gets here. He’s still capable of getting some big shots to go and of stealing or blocking a ball in critical situations.

There just doesn’t seem to be anything truly transformational about it, though. Wade is working hard to contribute and making no complaint about coming off the bench. He probably has a few 20-point explosions in him, too, if he isn’t pushed too hard in a string of consecutive games, and there’s always the wealth of experience and leadership he brings to help the Heat through the tight spots to come.

Back, though, to the original question of how much difference Wade makes in potentially pushing Miami through the first playoff round against Toronto or Boston or Cleveland and into something more serious.

The answer, or at least my answer, is not enough of a difference.

The Heat are tough and versatile and capable of digging very, very deep, as demonstrated in Monday’s epic double-overtime win over Denver, a win that came without Wade or Whiteside.

I would have said all those things about Miami before Wade’s return, and it’s a mouthful. There is little more to be said, however, with Dwyane at Spo’s disposal, other than it is comforting to have him around, and that every little bit of emotional strength counts at this anxious stretch of the season.

And if there’s more to it than that, we’ll probably know it March 27, when LeBron and the Cavs come to town. That’s the kind of challenge that brings the best out in Wade, and if he’s healthy by then, it will be a good showing of what his best is these days in terms of production and emotion and turn-back-the-clock magic.

[March Madness star Eric Musselman got his break with West Palm CBA team] 

[Like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker, Amendola is a Texas Tech tough guy]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

The wildest man in March Madness may be Eric Musselman, who once coached a CBA team in West Palm Beach

There are too many crazy stories in the NCAA tournament to track right now but here’s one with a strong tie to West Palm Beach and a bit of a loose cannon at the center of it.

Nevada’s coach, the one who has the Wolf Pack in Atlanta for a Thursday night Sweet 16 matchup with Loyola-Chicago, is Eric Musselman. He’s 5-feet-7 and celebrates big wins like his team’s upsets of Texas and Cincinnati by screaming and shouting and jumping around like a grade-schooler on a trampoline,

NASHVILLE, TN – MARCH 18: Head coach Eric Musselman of the Nevada Wolf Pack directs his team against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the second half in the second round of the 2018 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

which makes for great television. Oh, and he frequently rips his shirt off, too, during locker room celebrations, which is a little more dangerous for television because that’s when the coach has been known to launch into wild-eyed speeches that are best bleeped out altogether.

If any of this rings a bell, perhaps you were here 20 years ago when Musselman coached the Florida Beachdogs of the old Continental Basketball Association.

The CBA was around for more than 60 years and served as a feeder system for the NBA until the big league came up with development teams of its own in 2002. Phil Jackson once coached in the CBA, and so did George Karl and Flip Saunders and Bill Musselman, Eric’s dad.

Bill Musselman coached everywhere, the NBA, the ABA, the NCAA, and for a time was filled in as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the early 1980’s when Chuck Daly got fired there.

At the age of 5 Eric famously brought the house down with a pregame display of dribbling and ballhandling at the University of Minnesota, where his dad was the head coach. By 24, Eric was the general manager of the Rapid City Thrillers of the CBA, and he made half a dozen trades on his first day of work.

In 1996 the Thrillers moved from South Dakota to West Palm Beach, where Boca Raton businessman Rick Rochon set about spending millions of dollars trying to make the franchise a success. His coach was Eric Musselman, then in his early 30’s, and he prepared his Beachdogs for games against the Yakima Sun Kings and the Fort Wayne Fury and the Grand Rapids Hoops with the kind of intensity that other men bring to the NBA Finals.

It was never going to work here. South Florida has always been too much of a major-league market to go for minor-league sports other than baseball, which doesn’t draw well but has the industry’s full backing.

Besides, the West Palm Beach Auditorium, where the Beachdogs played their home games, was being prepared to be sold by the city. There were no plans to build a replacement, and in the years since the old auditorium on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard has been spruced up and put to use as a Jehovah’s Witnesses assembly center.

All the same, Musselman put together an ever-changing roster of players from the various pro leagues around the world and got the Beachdogs to the best-of-seven CBA championship series in 1997. Home attendance averaged 2,898 that season, or at least that’s the number the team announced, and there were fewer than that on hand when the Oklahoma City Cavalry won the title in Game 6 by a score of 92-82.

There were no more Beachdogs games after that. Musselman was preparing to leave for Uruguay and an assistant coaching gig with one of USA Basketball’s youth teams when he got the news that Rochon was pulling the plug after reportedly losing $4 million as the team’s owner.

It seems, however, that Daly, the Hall of Fame coach, had caught a few Beachdogs games as an offseason Palm Beach County resident and he struck up a relationship with Musselman. He asked Eric to come along as a scout with the Orlando Magic, the team that Daly was coaching at the time, and from there other opportunities came.

In 2002, Musselman became the NBA’s youngest head coach at the time, taking over the Golden State Warriors at the age of 37. A few years later, after that fizzled, he was hired to coach the Sacramento Kings. Since 2015 he has been at Nevada, rebuilding a program for NCAA tournament readiness, but those days in the CBA, where he earned an overall record of 270-122, are not forgotten.

“It turned out West Palm Beach was the perfect place for me at that time,” Musselman said in a 2002 Palm Beach Post story that marked his first NBA head coaching job. “Without going to West Palm Beach, I don’t think I’d ever have met Chuck Daly, who had a house in Jupiter. If I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have ended up in Orlando, and I probably would still be coaching in the minor leagues.”

Several career rebuilds later, he is trying to get Nevada into the Elite Eight for the first time. Musselman still has the passion, just like his late father.

It was Bill Musselman who famously said “Defeat is worse than death. You have to live with defeat.”

[Amendola joins long list of Texas Tech tough guys to join Dolphins]

[Players’ Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives athletes freedom to open up]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

 

Danny Amendola is latest Texas Tech tough guy to join Dolphins, following Zach Thomas and Wes Welker

Finally the Miami Dolphins have figured out a way to put the pinch on Tom Brady.

By signing Danny Amendola to a free-agent contract, the Dolphins deny Brady the use of one of his most reliable targets and a key member of the NFL’s top offensive unit.

Can’t call Amendola invaluable, of course. If Bill Belichick thought that term applied to

Former New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) makes a catch between Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Koa Misi (55) and Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (52) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 15, 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

the slot receiver, New England would have outbid Miami for his services. Already, Amendola has taken some $10 million in paycuts the last three offseasons in order to stay with the Patriots.

Think, though, of the toughness Amendola brought to the Patriots’ huddle, and the leadership he will bring to Miami’s locker room. See if any of this fits the new “culture” that the Dolphins and coach Adam Gase want to build, albeit three years late.

Amendola signed with the Patriots just as Wes Welker was leaving them, a demonstration of his willingness to take on a big challenge.

He started only half of the Patriots’ 2017 games but had such a rapport with Brady that he was targeted more times (86) than anyone but Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski.

Amendola caught just two touchdown passes during the 2017 regular season, nothing dramatic, but then he caught two more in the fourth quarter of New England’s comeback win over Jacksonville in the AFC title game. Altogether, in 13 playoffs games with New England he caught six touchdown passes.

What’s more, according to the Boston Herald, Amendola kept on playing through a torn groin in 2013, knee and ankle injuries in 2015.

Not bad for a guy who went undrafted out of Texas Tech after playing there for Mike Leach, one of the most inventive coaches around.

Matter of fact, I’m going to suggest that the Dolphins look to Texas Tech more often in the talent searches of the draft and free agency.

That’s where linebacker Zach Thomas played his college ball on the way to a great Dolphins career that featured seven Pro Bowl selections.

And how about Welker, another Texas Tech star who the Dolphins didn’t really prize until he had left them and, in a New England uniform, transformed himself into the NFL’s leading receiver.

Jakeem Grant, 5-feet-7, is another little hardhead from Texas Tech. He and Amendola will be playing together now in Miami and maybe even sharing time in the slot position, unless Adam Gase decides he only needs one of them.

Will Brady be able to keep his offense moving without Amendola? Of course. He never slows down, no matter who is running the routes.

This addition of Amendola, however, will return to Ryan Tannehill some of the third-down certainty that was lost with the trade of Jarvis Landry to Cleveland for money reasons alone.

This may not work out so well if Amendola, 32, continues to have trouble with a bad knee that’s been bothering him the last few seasons. Can’t blame the Dolphins, though, for taking what Brady wants.

At least make the Patriots work a little harder on their way to the Super Bowl. At least make them do that.

[Not feeling confident about Gators, Canes and Noles in NCAA tourney]

[Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in world gives Honda Classic another boost]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

Not feeling very confident about Florida’s 3 teams in NCAA tournament

So who goes the farthest in the NCAA tournament among our state’s three entrants?

Not sure it’s going to matter since I don’t expect the Hurricanes, Gators or Seminoles to make it out of the first weekend. Each has flaws, though Miami does a better job of masking them. Each is prone to lay a major egg every now and again.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga reacts during a game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

If we’re assigning personality traits, FSU is tough, Florida is soft and Miami is smart. Any of them could surprise, like the Gators did last year in advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, but you could say that about most tournament teams from major conferences.

So we’ll go by who got the best draw. That’s always a good place to start.

The Gators get the break of knowing their first opponent, a No. 11 seed, won’t be coming in fresh. St. Bonaventure and UCLA are in a play-in game Tuesday night, and the winner will have to travel to Dallas and turn everything around pretty quick. That’s a potential plus for Florida, or at least it’s as much of a break as any No. 6 could ask to have.

If Florida advances, it probably will be Texas Tech waiting in the next round. The game would be in Texas, which makes that neutral court a little nastier, plus the Red Raiders won at Kansas in January. They’re well able to establish dominance in any setting.

Put it all together and I’ll give the Gators a 40 percent chance of advancing to the Sweet 16 round, and that’s only because Florida has mixed in some big wins here and there, including two over Kentucky, one over Cincinnati, a No. 2 seed, and one over Gonzaga, last year’s national finalist.

Miami’s first opponent is Loyola of Chicago, the Cinderella pick of all the national blabbers. The Ramblers are a legitimate threat, with a 10-game winning streak right now and a road upset of Florida in December, back when the Gators were feeling their oats at No. 5 in the AP poll.

The Hurricanes certainly can handle Loyola, a No. 11 seed, on a good night. Just a few weeks ago Miami beat North Carolina, a No. 2, on the road. Even if this potential trapdoor is avoided, however, it’s likely that Tennessee comes next, and in my opinion any team at the top of the SEC is a potential powerhouse.

Nobody but the Tournament Selection Committee seems to remember that the SEC had three teams in the Elite Eight last year, or that South Carolina, a No. 7 seed, reached the Final Four. As it is, a record eight SEC teams are in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Only the regal ACC has more.

So I’ll give Miami a 33 percent chance to making the Sweet 16, because there are not one but two difficult wins between here and there.

As for FSU, there are two things to know and they’re drawn from the same game, a 59-55 loss to Virginia in February.

First, the Seminoles led what might be the best team in the nation 32-22 at halftime and hung tough to the end, outrebounding the Cavaliers and playing great defense. Second, Virginia won by showing the kind of versatility you expect of a No. 1 seed and locking down to stifle FSU in the closing minutes.

That tells me FSU is dangerous enough to watch closely and good enough to beat Missouri in an opening 8-9 game, but then comes No. 1 seed Xavier, and nobody needs to be bumping heads with them so early in the brackets.

Make it a 25 percent chance, then, on advancing to the Sweet 16, and recognize that if the Seminoles beat those arbitrary odds, it will be from the bonus any ACC team gets playing against consistently rugged competition inside the league.

Overall, Florida has two national titles, back to back in 2006 and 2007, and five trips to the Final Four. FSU’s only Final Four appearance was in 1972 and Miami has never been.

You’ve got to be in it to win it, right? Having three state schools in the tournament field is a mad dash no matter how it turns out. Would love to think it will last beyond this weekend for fans of the Hurricanes, Gators and Seminoles, but then you’ve already read my predictions about that and you’re already mad so I’ll just shut up now and watch like everybody else.

[Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in world boosts Honda Classic again]

[Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives Kevin Love an important platform]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in the world further boosts Honda Classic’s reputation

Honda Classic champion Justin Thomas almost made it back-to-back victories on the PGA Tour, finishing second to Phil Mickelson Sunday in a playoff for the World Golf Championship event in Mexico.

What does this mean? Well, JT is red hot, for one thing, and he’s earned a break after three top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in the space of three weeks. Thomas is skipping this week’s Valspar Championship near Tampa, an event that otherwise is loading up on more stars than usual with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth in the field.

Justin Thomas reacts to winning the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on February 25, 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

In the longer view, the upward trend in Thomas’ game seems to have no end.

Two wins already this season, including October’s CJ Cup in South Korea. Seven wins in the last 33 events. Seven top-10 finishes in the last 13. Second behind Dustin Johnson in the Official World Golf Rankings.

This is looking every bit as dominating as the run that first lifted McIlroy to No. 1 in the world. The year was 2012 and Rory followed up a Honda win with three more Tour victories, including the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

McIlroy was 22 when he won that Honda and first climbed to No. 1 in the process.

Thomas, 24, is every bit as ambitious. The way he’s going, he’ll be a threat to win at the Masters, where a tie for 22nd is his previous best. Overall, there’s no reason to think that JT won’t eventually match McIlroy’s running total of four major championships.

To have both of these young men based in Jupiter is a gift to the Honda Classic. Now if we can just get world Dustin, another local, to return to PGA National. Haven’t seen him in the Honda since a missed cut in 2015.

Top-ranked golfers and Palm Beach County’s PGA Tour stop really should go together. Since the Honda moved to PGA National in 2007, three players who at one point topped the world rankings have won the tournament. They are McIlroy, Ernie Els and Adam Scott.

Thomas figures to make it four, either this year or soon thereafter, when he makes it to No. 1 as well.

[Kevin Love opens up on The Players’ Tribune, a Derek Jeter project]

[Jim Kelly astonished a Boca Raton crowd with his cancer story]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training camp 25 years ago was a blast]