Tag Archives: Detroit Pistons

Jordan Books, Part II: The Jordan Rules.

 

Sam Smith's book gives the backstory on the Bulls' first championship.

Sam Smith's book gives the backstory on the Bulls' first championship.

It’s hard to remember now, but Michael Jordan was not always a six-time champion with an impeccable resume on his way to this weekend’s Hall of Fame induction.

In fact, he and the Chicago Bulls did not break through and win a championship until his seventh season.

Their major barrier: the Detroit Pistons.  Masterfully coached by the late Chuck Daly, the “Bad Boys” from the Motor City defeated Jordan’s squad three consecutive years from 1988 to 1990. 

Daly devised a special defensive strategy, called “The Jordan Rules.”  The goal was to ensure that Jordan did not beat the Pistons by frequently double teaming him and thereby getting the ball out of his hands and by wearing him down physically.

For a time, it worked. 

In 1991, though, Jordan had a vastly improved team featuring an emerging Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, center Bill Cartwright and the steady John Paxson in the backcourt.

This squad swept the Pistons and went on to beat Magic Johnson’s Lakers in five games in the finals. 

The victory led to the iconic image of Jordan holding the trophy in tears as his father James lovingly massaged his neck and shoulders. 

Chicago Tribune sportswriter Sam Smith chronicled the first championship season, as well as many before and after, and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the action in The Jordan Rules.

Smith’s title has a double meaning.  

In addition to the defense that Daly devised and his team implemented, it refers to the two sets of rules for Bulls during Phil Jackson’s tenure: one for Michael, and one for everyone else.

Smith’s book has a gossipy and prescient feel, as Jordan’s supernatural talent is depicted in descriptions and anecdotes guaranteed to bring a knowing smile to the face of Bulls’ fans.  

One such nugget has Jordan dunking on the far smaller John Stockton of the Utah Jazz, prompting a fan to yell at him to pick on someone his own size.

The next trip downcourt, Jordan flushed the ball over the 6’11”, 270-pound Mel Turpin.  

On the way back on defense, he turned to the fan and asked, “Is he big enough?”

The book also has a gossipy and prescient feel, as Smith shows Jordan already being somewhat of a prisoner of his immense fame and often treating teammates unkindly.  

Some of the less appealing moments come when he flashes a bunch of tickets in the faces of teammates who are unable to get any.  He psychologically destroys Brad Sellers, whom he deems unfit to play in the NBA.  His cruelty toward General Manager Jerry Krause, who contributes to his own humiliation by not understanding the boundaries between players and front office workers, comes through, too. 

The Jordan Rules is not pure snark, though.

Smith shows Jackson trying to expand his team’s horizons by talking about the first Gulf War-one that the former Craig Hodges opposes.

The book is also the story of team coming together and accepting their coach’s triangle offense and underlying message that they must trust each other in order to reach their ultimate goal.

One of the book’s most memorable scenes comes during a timeout in the final game of the championship series.

Jackson repeatedly asking Jordan, each time with increasing force and volume, who is open.

“Pax,” Jordan finally answers.

“Then get him the fucking ball,” Jackson replies.

Jordan does.  Paxson knocks down four jumpers down the stretch.  The Bulls become champions. 

The Jordan Rules is neither great literature nor even particularly high quality sportswriting.  Still, for fans preparing for this weekend’s induction and hungering for some memory of the days when the dynasty began, it may be just what they need.

Phil and Kobe return to the NBA Finals, Russ and Red’s friendship.

 

Bill Russell pays tribute to his coach, mentor and friend in this book.

Bill Russell pays tribute to his coach, mentor and friend in this book.

 

 

 

They’re back.

Just one year after losing Game 6 to the Boston Celtics by the largest margin in NBA Finals history, the Los Angeles Lakers returned to the finals last night by routing the Denver Nuggets, 119-92, on Denver’s home court. 

The Lakers put on an impressive display of team basketball.  

Center Pau Gasol put the full range of his considerable skills on display last night, dropping in left handed hooks and bank shots to the right, hitting outside jumpers and making probing passes to the healed and bulked up Andrew Bynum. Trevor Ariza continued his impressive playoff run, getting the Lakers off to a strong start with 10 first quarter points and dropping in wide open trifectas.  Lamar Odom was stroking the ball from inside and outside, and Luke Walton maintained his strong play off the bench.

Then there was Kobe

The ruthless, driven remarkably talented Bryant poured in 35 points on 12 of 20 shooting, driving, hitting outside shots with defenders draped on him and generally directing his team. 

This will be Bryant’s sixth trip to the finals, and Phil Jackson has been on the bench for all of them.

The nattily dressed Zen Master will be trying for the third time to break Red Auerbach’s record of nine NBA titles.  He and Bryant appeared to have ironed out the problems that existed during the tumultuous Kobe-Shaq era, which culminated in the 2004 defeat in the finals at the hands of the Detroit Pistons, whose triumph was heralded by many as teamwork trumping superstar talent. 

Jackson chronicled what was then his last year with the Lakers in The Last Season: A Team In Search of Its Soul, and the picture he painted of Bryant was not a pretty one.  While Jackson does show that he believes the conflict between his two megastars was unnecessary and drained the team’s effectiveness, he leaves little doubt that his sympathies were with his big man.

At one point, in fact, he tried to have Bryant traded to the New Jersey Nets for point guard Jason Kidd

Still, time off, winning and Bryant’s assuming full control of the team on the floor after Shaq’s departure does appear to have healed those wounds and differences, and Bryant and Jackson appear to be operating harmoniously together. 

If the Lakers defeat the winner of the Cavs/Magic series-NBA executives have probably secretly hoping for, and advertisers have been hyping, a LeBron/Kobe finals matchup for months-Bryant will have four titles. 

The man atop the championship summit, and arguably the greatest winner in American team sports history, is Bill Russell

Russell’s University of San Francisco teams won 55 consecutive and back to back NCAA titles before he joined the gold medal-winning Olympic team in Melbourne and then lead the Celtics to an unprecedented and unmatched 11 titles in 13 seasons.

 Auerbach was involved in all of them, either as a coach or an executive. 

Russell writes about Auerbach in Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend, a slender and heartfelt meditation on the bond that grew between these two fiercely proud and competitive men. 

Visually, the two made an unlikely pair.  But the lean, proud Russell, who hailed from Louisiana, and the short, feisty Jewish coach from Brooklyn were an enormously effective tandem on the court.  

Russell makes it clear that the bonds were not forged instantly, but rather they took years to build.  He acknowledges that he did not instantly trust Auerbach and that the two had to figure out how best to work with each other and their teammates.  Russell writes forthrightly about times when he disobeyed his coach’s instructions, yet part of Auerbach’s genius was that he could maintain one set of rules for his center, another for the rest of the team, and maintain team cohesion.

The trust that became the bedrock of the friendship was forged through adversity.  During one memorable brawl against the Philadelphia 76ers, behemoth center and Russell archrival Wilt Chamberlain threatened Auerbach.  

Russell had Red’s back. 

Readers of many basketball books, including John Taylor’s The Rivalry, which I blogged about in December, will recognize much of the on court material. 

Red and Me is about more than basketball, though.  

Russell says that he and Auerbach left things unsaid between them, but is confident that the deep respect and love he felt were mutual.  He shares how touched he was that one of Auerbach’s daughters phoned him shortly after his death in 2006 so that he wouldn’t learn of it through the media.  

And he talks about the people who formed his strong sense of self, of his gun-toting grandfather who refused to kowtow to white men in the Jim Crow South, of his father, who he knew only as “Mister Charlie,” and of his mother, who taught him never to back away from who he was and what he wanted. 

There are tender moments, too.  

Russell shares that Auerbach felt demeaned and stripped on his entree to returned phone call during the ill-fated Rick Pitino era when his title of president was removed.

In the end, the two men connected by watching the game that had brought them together and provided the basis for their bone deep friendship.  The book’s final photograph shows Russell sitting a row behind Auerbach in the stands as they take in a game. 

I wrote yesterday about my father turning 75 years old.  Russell, too, was born in 1934, hitting the same milestone in February.  One can sense in the book an impulse toward reflection and sorting out his life journey-forces that have motivated him to pay tribute to the man who influenced him mightily on and off the court. 

As great as Kobe’s skills are, and to whatever degree his relationship with Jackson has healed, it’s almost impossible to picture him writing a book like that. 

Will the Lakers win the championship?

Is Jackson a greater coach than Auerbach? 

Was Russell a greater player than Michael Jordan because of his 11 championship rings?

Story Behind LeBron James and the Cavaliers’ Resurgence

Brian Windhorst and Terry Pluto have great material that they don't completely utilize in The Franchise.

Brian Windhorst and Terry Pluto have great material that they don't completely utilize in The Franchise.

Life is good for the Cleveland Cavaliers these days.

Coming off a franchise-record 66 wins in the regular season, the 2007  Eastern Conference champions have earned the overall top seed in the league and accompanying home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

In the first round, they are on the verge of sweeping the once-mighty Detroit Pistons, with a possible collision against the battered but proud defending champion Boston Celtics looming in the conference finals.

Attendance has continued to climb since the beginning of the decade, and superstar LeBron James’ jersey is the top selling item in the league.

It has not always been this way.

Despite a solid period in the early to mid-90s, where the Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Larry Nance, Ron Harper and Hot Rod Williams-led teams coached by Lenny Wilkens gave fans plenty to cheer about and Michael Jordan’s Bulls a worthy adversary, the Cavaliers had generally had a dismal history.

As anyone who has ever heard of a pick and roll knows, the Akron-born James is at the heart of the Cavaliers’ improvement, popularity and championship prospects.

Just 24 years old, the muscle bound MVP favorite continues to elevate his game and to add previously unseen dimensions to his seemingly limitless abilities.  This year, he has gained mention for Defensive Player of the Year after having a more casual approach to defense earlier in his career.  

In The Franchise: LeBron James and the Remaking of the Cleveland Cavaliers, sportswriters Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst chronicle the Cavs’ history, how they landed James, and the process by which general managers Jim Paxson and Danny Ferry and owners Gordon Gund and Daniel Gilbert assembled the team that challenged the San Antonio Spurs for the 2007 NBA title.

For hoops fans, much of the information contained in The Franchise will be review-the Cavaliers’ dark years under owner Ted Stepien, the bright spot in the 90s, the questions about whether they tanked during James’ senior year so as to get a high position in the lottery and thus have a better chance of landing-and there is some new material. 

The negotiations with Nike about a contract that eventually totaled $100 million was informative and entertaining.  So, too, was reading about Gilbert’s 21 aphorisms for business success that he initially struggled, but ultimately was able to apply to the basketball. 

The book falls flat in its writing.  

It opens with what to this point has been James’ defining performance-his “Jordanesque” performance against the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals in which he scored 29 of his team’s last 30 points on an array of dunks, drives, three-pointers and jumpers to lead his team to an overtime victory.

James’ performance is a gift to any sportswriter. 

Not only was it one for the ages, not only was it his official emergence as a transcendent superstar, not only did it bring his team all the way back from an 0-2 deficit, and not only did it show the team surpassing its former tormentors, but James scored his points in the flow of the game. 

Little of this comes through in The Franchise.  Instead, the description of the action reads more like the recounting of a box score than providing the color, drama and excitement that the moment created.

Still, if you are looking for a quick informative read rather than on a search for inspirational writing, The Franchise could be the right read.  It will take most readers about as much times as James and the Cavaliers will need to dismantle the Pistons this afternoon.