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]

 

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]

Kevin Love opens up on The Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project that is working well

 

You’ve read some stinging criticisms of Derek Jeter in this space from time to time, all of them dealing with his disconnect when it comes to Miami Marlins fans being fed up with the team’s constant teardowns.

I’ll give Jeter credit, however, for recognizing that athletes often have a deeper story to tell but don’t really trust anyone else in the telling of it.

FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2018, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love watches from the bench in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis. Love disclosed in an essay for the Players’ Tribune on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, that he suffered a panic attack on Nov. 5 in a home game against the Atlanta Hawks. He was briefly hospitalized at the Cleveland Clinic and the episode left him shaken. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

We’re talking about The Players’ Tribune, a website founded by Jeter in 2014 and expanded since then with videos and podcasts to augment the written content provided by sports celebrities.

The latest buzz created by this site is an essay written by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. He reveals that he had a panic attack during a game in November but at first wanted to keep that information from teammates for fear that they would consider him weak.

“Everyone is Going Through Something” is the title of the essay, and in it Love writes “No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside.”

Would a player feel comfortable talking about private reflections and personal issues with a member of the traditional sports media?

Some have, like Ricky Williams, and with full knowledge that they might be misconstrued or ridiculed or marginalized. Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan took all of those risks last month in an interview with the Toronto Star about his ongoing problems with depression.

For most, though, it figures that truly opening up to a reporter in the locker room is way outside the comfort zone.

If you only see that reporter ever now and again, how do you make a connection that is solid and believable? And if that reporter covers the team every day and strikes up something like a friendship with a player there, sooner or later he or she will wind up writing something that offends the athlete because it points out an error made to lose a ballgame or is perceived to be taking the wrong side in a contract negotiation with the team.

Honestly, if I had the blessing of athletic skills worthy of millions of dollars on the open market, it might just be easier to keep spouting clichés in interview settings. That’s pretty much what Jeter did in the high-profile position of New York Yankees captain. He made no enemies that way and he tried, other than what happened on the field, to make no news.

Are these Players’ Tribune essays ghost-written? Surely, in some cases, they are crafted and edited and packaged by people who are writers by profession. Since the athletes approve every presentation before it is published, however, this shouldn’t bother anybody all that much. If it’s a genuine expression of their feelings on a particular matter, they are saying what they want to say.

Not journalism in its strictest sense. More like journal writing, and then passing that journal around the room for anyone who is interested to read.

Jeter is a smart guy to figure all this out. We all need to know each other a little better, and any forum that makes that possible is a benefit.

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

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

[Wade’s return strikes every emotional touchstone for Heat fans]

Dwyane Wade’s return strikes every emotional touchstone for Heat fans

Group hug, everybody.

Short of winning another NBA title, Thursday’s wholly unexpected trade bringing Dwyane Wade back to Miami is the greatest emotional touchstone this franchise could strike for its fans.

Think of all you get here.

  • The most decorated player in Heat history, seemingly lost forever in the foul tide of free agency, is returning to AmericanAirlines Arena for what certainly will be the last stop of his NBA career.
  • Wade no longer is a teammate of LeBron James, a temporary arrangement that unsettled stomachs around here much worse than the side of D-Wade in a Chicago uniform.
  • The wall that existed between Wade and Heat godfather Pat Riley has been torn down and a beautiful garden of memories can grow again where it once stood.

That’s a whole lot of payoff for one deal involving a 36-year-old guard who started just three games for Cleveland this year, but Wade has never been about the numbers alone.

Heat president Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade. (Miami Herald file photo)

He’s a symbol of so many good things for Miami, and that predates The Big Three phenomenon.

What happens now for the Heat of 2018 is less glorious. With Wade they will find a way into the playoffs and find their way out pretty quickly. It would have been the same, to be honest, without him.

How much fun will it be, however, to break out those old No. 3 jerseys from the back of the closet, the ones with mustard stains from that concession-stand hot dog wolfed down before Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals, the night that Wade scored 42 points to start Miami toward its first title, as well as tear stains from July of 2016, when he signed with the Bulls feeling unappreciated by Riley?

The only thing left to hope for is a first-round playoff pairing with Cleveland.

Dwyane and LeBron are still best buddies. In fact, they both reportedly were consulted on Thursday’s trade, a chance to get Wade the kind of playing time that was being denied him while a Cav. Maybe there’s even a chance to like LeBron a little bit again if that’s true, but only after the hoped-for opportunity to boo him and cheer Wade at equally ridiculous decibel levels in the crucible of the postseason.

As for Erik Spoelstra, the former assistant coach who worked directly with Wade on his jump shooting skills when both were kids, this is the end of wondering who will take the last shot in Miami’s close games. Wade does that. For good or for bad, and remember that this season Wade is nearly 90 points shy of his career-best .545 shooting percentage, closing is what he was born to do.

What is the best that could come of this?

Well, in Wade’s rookie season he led a 42-40 Heat team to the second round of the playoffs, and that team had one fewer All-Star than this one does in Goran Dragic.

I’m not counting on anything like that, nor is it logical to expect that anyone in Cleveland is feeling particularly wounded by Wade’s departure. The Cavs will go on without him, and they’ll be better equipped to win a title following Thursday trades that did not involve Wade at all.

For now, let’s just say that the best thing that could come out of this reunion has already happened, and in an instant. It’s the burst of enthusiasm it already has sent through Miami’s fan base, and the sheer joy that will come with seeing Wade back in the Heat lineup Friday night at the arena.

It’s the perfect salve for sore attitudes during a five-game losing streak, and the ultimate answer to why anyone should be investing additional energy in a team that is not constructed to do much damage this spring. For the alternative emotion, imagine if the addition of Luke Babbitt had been Thursday’s only Heat transaction.

Getting Tim Hardaway at the trade deadline in 1996 was a bigger deal for Riley, but this transaction is a better one for the overall psyche of the franchise.

Miami-Wade County has its mayor back, and now, finally, he is unanimously proclaimed as mayor-for-life.

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/06/dwyane-wades-top-five-miami-heat-highlights/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/15181/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/dwyane-wade-by-the-numbers/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/dwyane-wade-miami-heat-not-the-only-messy-breakup-in-south-florida-sports-history/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/16/pat-riley-says-dwyane-wade-exit-was-his-fault/

 

[Where was Derek Jeter 25 years ago when his Marlins franchise was born?]

[There was a time, gulp, when the Heat played in the Western Conference]

[Please, NFL, takes us back to the days when a catch was a catch]

 

There was a time, gulp, when the Miami Heat played in the Western Conference

 

Imagine if the Miami Heat were in the NBA’s rugged Western Conference, how much more difficult mounting a legitimate playoff run would be.

Wait a minute. They actually were a Western team, back in Miami’s expansion season of 1988-89, and the results were not pretty.

1988 AP file photo of Miami Heat coach Ron Rothstein shouting encouragement at his team during a game against the Denver Nuggets in Miami.

Maybe you’ve heard of the franchise’s 0-17 start that year against a sprinkling of Western and Eastern teams.

That had coach Ron Rothstein and company scrambling for the slightest taste of success, and they finally got it in mid-December with a groundbreaking 89-88 victory over the Clippers at the old Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Grant Long, Pat Cummings and Billy Thompson contributed 15 points each that night.

Along the way to 15-67 were some truly horrendous happenings and some ridiculous road trips. As a member of the NBA’s Midwest Division, Miami’s closest division rival was about 1,000 miles away in Houston.

One trip crossing from December into January included games at Seattle, Denver, Portland, Golden State, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Those stops were part of a 10-game losing streak and it wasn’t much better when the Heat were home.

Magic Johnson, James Worthy and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers scored a 47-point victory at Miami Arena that season, for instance. That was nice for Pat Riley, who was their coach at the time, but it should be pointed out that the West wasn’t even the toughest conference back then.

The Lakers were swept by Detroit in the 1989 NBA Finals and that set off a five-year championship run by the Pistons and the Chicago Bulls of the Eastern Conference.

What was Miami doing out west in the first place? It was all part of the NBA’s effort to work in some expansion teams and make all the numbers work in the process. Miami and Charlotte came in first, followed by Minnesota and Orlando the following season.

The Heat spent just that one season in the Western Conference, finishing 36 games back of Utah in the Midwest and 42 games behind the top-seeded Lakers.

It took a while, but Miami eventually won three NBA titles. Keep that in mind when today’s Heat team lays an egg like that loathsome 111-109 home loss to Orlando on Monday night.

Remember, too, that just about most every NBA team looks fairly hopeless from time to time.

In 2000 and 2001, Riley failed even to get Miami to 60 points in a couple of bad losses, and those were 50-win Heat teams featuring Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

[Please, NFL, take us back to the days when a catch was simply a catch]

[Eagles went from losers to champions in one year, but what about Miami?]

[Dan Mullen predicts a national title for Gators but doesn’t say when]

 

There’s nothing left for LeBron James to do but coach himself

The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t going all that great at the moment.

Ten losses in the last 13 games, and a reportedly angry team meeting the other day that hardly washed out all the toxins. If LeBron James wasn’t a Cav and if Cleveland wasn’t bound for the NBA Finals in spite of it all, this could be some pretty serious stuff.

SAN ANTONIO,TX – JANUARY 23 : LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers acknowledges the crowd after hitting his 30,001st point during game against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on January 23, 2018. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

As it is, everybody just watches LeBron a little closer to see how he will react. Will he want different players added to his entourage? Is he fed up with head coach Ty Lue, who continues to juggle lineups at this late stage? Is he willing to take some of the blame for Cleveland being no better than No. 3 in the Eastern Conference’s overall standings and just barely ahead of Miami?

“Just get me to the playoffs,” is LeBron’s answer to those questions and just about every other when doubts arise during the regular season.

The man is still a monster at 33, and knows it. Who else would congratulate himself on social media for joining the elite 30,000-point club? Who else would say something scripted and sanctimonious like “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” instead of just announcing his free-agent choice of teams?

So if LeBron really is so brilliant in basketball strategy and mental preparedness and roster analysis and leadership skills, why not just cut to the chase?

Let King James try his hand at being the Cavs’ player-coach. There hasn’t been one of those in the NBA since Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics 39 seasons ago, but several Hall of Famers have done it.

Bill Russell won two NBA titles as player-coach of the Celtics. The Cincinnati Royals asked Bob Cousy to do it all and the result was a 36-46 season that was tiresome for everyone involved. Richie Guerin and Lenny Wilkens worked more than 300 games each as player-coaches. Bob Pettit tried it for about a week.

LeBron already runs the huddle when he doesn’t like how a play is set up in the final seconds of a big game. He has final say on all kinds of major decisions in Cleveland, whether it’s official or not.

It would be fun to see him stand before the cameras and do more than roll his eyes when asked about what is wrong with the team.

It would be fine to see him rally the troops and not just rise above them.

I think he probably would be pretty good at this. LeBron has been good about everything else in a game he was born to boss around.

He’s a trendsetter at heart, always looking to put more power in the hands of players, at contract time and at crunch time. What better way than to coach his own team, and to make a two-pronged success of it?

It’s the difference between being His Highness and His Oneness, and LeBron is exactly the type who would revel in that distinction.

[Player-coach is the only thing left for LeBron James to do]

[Eagles’ coach Pederson once saved Don Shula’s bacon as backup QB]

[Philly is only conference finalist that Dolphins don’t play in 2018]

 

 

Would LeBron ever consider coming off the bench like Dwyane Wade is now?

Two things came to mind with the news that Dwyane Wade has asked to come off the bench at Cleveland, thinking that may be a benefit to him and to the team.

First, would it have been possible for the most popular player in Miami Heat history to return to the franchise if he had come to that sort of career conclusion a little sooner? Yeah, probably, and that would have been fun for everybody.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dwyane Wade, left, and LeBron James have a discussion during a game against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Leah Klafczynski/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS)

Second, has LeBron James, the monstrous talent who drew Dwyane back to his side with the Cavs, ever forfeited his spot in the starting lineup to someone else?

I was surprised that the answer is yes, but just barely.

Going into Tuesday night’s game with Chicago, LeBron had suited up for 1,281 NBA games and started in 1,280 of them. That includes 217-for-217 in the postseason, from the age of 19.

The one exception, when LeBron stayed on the bench for the first 5:59 of a game in December, 2007, was sold as a favor for a Cleveland teammate.

Anderson Varejao was feuding with the Cavs over a new contract and sat out that season’s first 21 games as a restricted free agent. Eventually he signed an offer sheet with the Charlotte Bobcats, which the Cavs matched in order to keep him, but the idea that Varejao didn’t want to be in Cleveland raised the possibility of a negative reaction when he returned to the court at Quicken Loans Arena on Dec. 11.

That also happened to be LeBron’s first night back after missed five games with a sprained left index finger. Nobody knew quite what to make of him staying on the bench in his warmups as the game tipped off, but later, after a 118-105 victory over Indiana, LeBron explained.

“I thought it would raise the intensity of the fans, having me, Larry (Hughes) and Andy (Varejao) come in at the same time — and it worked,” James said. “I thought by coming in with Andy it might stop some of the boos Andy might get. Just protecting my teammates.”

LeBron told reporters that was the first time he had not started a game, going back to high school and earlier.

“That was one and done for me,” James said. “I will not be coming off the bench anymore.”

And he hasn’t, and he won’t. Unlike Wade, LeBron’s ego would not be able to process the concept, much less to propose it to a head coach.

He will always see himself as the best player in the building, or else he won’t enter the building at all.

[It once was the same thing in Chicago with fans favoring Cutler’s replacement]

[Hoping for a little churn at top of NBA and not another Cavs-Warriors Final]

[Even UM’s greatest teams learned how murderously tough it is to run the table]

 

 

Hoping for a little churn at the top of the NBA and not the seemingly inevitable Warriors-Cavs rematch

 

Surely in the minority here, but I’m glad Dwyane Wade is with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the simple reason that it makes the 2018 NBA Finals worth watching.

It’s going to be Golden State vs Cleveland again next June. You know that. Every other team in the league knows that, too, though they will try to convince themselves otherwise as the new season kicks off this week.

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant defends Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Does this make the 82-game regular season that stretches before us a crashing bore? Of course not. There will be all kinds of drama. Sensational and courageous playmaking. Comebacks and upsets and teams, like the Miami Heat last year, playing absolutely out of their heads for significant stretches.

In the end, though, it we wind up with Warriors vs. Cavs again, for what would be the fourth year in a row, it will be abundantly clear why fans get so worked up about the free-agency signing period each summer. It’s the only time when competitive conditions across the league are subject to real change.

Come to think of it, even that has become a bit of a wash in recent years, with all kinds of great talent going all kinds of interesting places but the Warriors negating that collective energy by taking Kevin Durant for themselves.

Which new talent grouping interests you most? My choice is Oklahoma City, with Billy Donovan trying to find a formula that works for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Fascinating stuff, but again the Thunder aren’t expected to measure up to the Warriors in the Western Conference, so there they go again.

Trying not to be so cynical here, but a little churn at the top keeps the interest going stronger and longer for me.

Even with all the talk of Tom Brady and New England dominating the NFL, the last 10 Super Bowls have been won by eight teams. Two each by the Patriots and Giants, and the rest spread around among Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle and Denver. That grows hope in more fan bases. It makes the regular season count for more than just playoff seeding.

As for baseball, here’s one that surprised me. There hasn’t been a World Series rematch since the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 1977 and again in 1978. And here we are looking at the Warriors and the Cavs for a possible fourth year in a row?

Thanks goodness it’s a league and an industry driven by stars because the teams alone seem to be fairly ordered.

As for the Boston Celtics winning eight NBA titles in a row from 1959-66 and a total of 11 in 13 years over the same stretch, we won’t go there, hopefully, ever again.

[What Miami will get from Syracuse, the team that lost to Middle Tennessee?]

[Flying high again with the ever-changing Central Florida Knights]

[Even greatest UM teams learned how tough it is to run the table]

 

 

Heat return to FAU, and we take a look back at their inaugural game there in 1988

The Miami Heat are returning to the Florida Atlantic University gym next week for training camp, which always brings back memories of the team’s first-ever exhibition game there 29 years ago.

Until the night of Oct. 14, 1988, Miami’s NBA expansion franchise had only practiced and played intrasquad scrimmages. It was totally new and exciting when head coach Ron Rothstein actually put on a business suit and brought his guys out to play the Seattle Supersonics with Heat partner Billy Cunningham alternately looking on and signing autographs.

1988 AP file photo of Miami Heat coach Ron Rothstein shouting encouragement, or something, at his team.

Were you there? Don’t lie. The box score says only about 4,000 people were, and at that time a mere 4 percent of the Heat’s season tickets had been sold to Palm Beach County residents.

That was a long time ago, though, before the Sonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder, before all of South Florida fell in love with the Heat’s championship ways.

Fun to look back, after three NBA titles, to the franchise’s beginnings. What follows here is my column from the night of that exhibition debut, a 116-107 Seattle victory, with apologies to one original Heat player for writing that he “had all the finesse of a front-end loader.”

Here goes.

 

HEAT UNWRAP AN NBA VISION OF A TEAM DRESSED IN BASICSOct. 14, 1988By Dave George, Post Sports Columnist

   Until Friday night, until a fairly full house at Florida Atlantic
University watched a somewhat significant exhibition game against a semi-tough NBA opponent, the Miami Heat dangled somewhere between fantasy and fact.
  Like a papier-mache pinata, the concept of a major league basketball franchise in
our own backyard was beautiful but no one had taken a whack at it yet.
South Florida’s last taste of suspense this sublime was when Christo the
artist promised a masterpiece of floating fabric surrounding a handful of
islands off Biscayne Bay. Would the Heat be similarly fluffy, presented in
pleasing pastels for the discerning Floridian but lacking in substance?
    Any fear of that was ended with the first glance at Miami’s shock-troop
entry to the domain of Magic and Isiah and Kareem and Larry Friday. Maybe
storm troops would be a better word, since the NBA’s most mod squad debuted in black uniforms, insufficient to shake the veteran Seattle SuperSonics but a
fashion statement of great note.
The Heat’s new palace in downtown Miami may be pink but the players who
take the first halting steps toward tradition there won’t be. A ghastly green, perhaps, but definitely not pink.
   No squad with Pat Cummings in the paint,
moving with all the finesse of a front-end loader, could ever be so. No coach whose last official sideline bark came in the NBA Finals ever would allow it.
  “I’m sort of pleased but not satisfied,” Heat coach Ron Rothstein said
of the 116-107 loss his junior achievers suffered in their first dry run
toward the apocalyptic Nov. 5 season opener. “It’s going to be a long, drawn- out process but I hope people appreciate how hard the guys played.”
Appreciate it? These folks ate it up, howling like Lakers fans with $50
Forum seats. In truth this was only the FAU gym, a distant little dot on the
map for the fans who have invested the most in the belief that Artis Gilmore
and Art Deco both belong in Dade County.
   Heat Managing Partner Lewis Schaffel estimated Friday that only 4 percent of the team’s season tickets have been bought by Palm Beach County residents, one percentage point ahead of the number sold to New York City residents. Those 4 percent were in the gym when the game started at 7:30 but by 8:15 the faithful had arrived, filling all but the far corners of the stands.
Joining them there were Stu Inman, Miami’s director of player personnel,
and Billy Cunningham, former NBA star and one of three partners in the
franchise. They scattered themselves in the bare spots of the bleachers to
watch the game, doing everything physically possible to complete the crowd and thus present the most pleasing face possible for this first date.
They needn’t have worried. The Heat may be only tepid today but there is
steam in the furnace. Let’s get crazy here, in honor of the moment. Miami
won’t win just a dozen games in its opening season. The Heat will win 14. No, make it 15.
      Why fight the feeling when it feels so good?
The possibilities are endless. Consider for a moment that the Heat went
through the entire opening game with just two basic offensive sets, signaled
by various point guards with a shout of “fist” and “thumb up.” That leaves
four fingers completely unexplored, and that’s using just one hand.
Consider also that Rony Seikaly sat the bench for this one. Sure, every
center in the NBA won’t melt in his shadow like Dwayne Schintzius did but
they’ll have more trouble with him than Seattle’s big men did Friday with
Scott Hastings.
And chew for a moment on the fact that this fresh mixture of mice and men actually led at halftime, 55-54. The Sonics walked to the locker room in
confusion over this exhibition aberration, rationalizing to themselves, “It’s not the Heat, it’s the humidity.”
There even was a point midway through the third quarter when Miami led by 11 points, cause for celebration even in a practice game. Exuberance was in
the air, rivaling the gush of a public address announcer who earlier had
introduced Tony Karasek to the crowd as a member of the Heat.
   Karasek was cut on Wednesday.
The 21-4 run that the Sonics used to reinstate the natural order of the
universe quieted the crowd only for a moment. And it never stopped the Heat
from hustling. Chief among the survivors was rookie Kevin Edwards, who
established himself on opening night as the talent on a team that had
difficulty even getting the ball across half court against Seattle’s full-
court pressure.
Still, how could you hate them? On they went, racing up and down the court like fireflies. A flash of brilliance here, a dark spot there. Sure, it’ll take time but now that the Dolphins are playing like veterans again, there is room for a pack of rookie renegades.
This may work out after all.