Baseball playoffs start soon. NFL's three games into the season. College football going strong.
Perfect time to look forward to the NBA. The Finals ended about 25 minutes ago and it will be nine months before the next champion is crowned, but in a little more than a month the season begins. Teams have started training camp and I've started training my vocal cords for another year of screaming during Lakers' games. In preparation, some links to the NBA's past and present.
Start with one of the most unique players to ever play in the NBA. Manute Bol was the tallest player in league history. Early in his career, Bol was a legend for what he did before ever setting foot on a basketball court. Bol grew up in Sudan and the story of how he once killed a lion with a spear followed him to the league. After his career, Bol became both a heroic figure, and then a tragic one. He established a charity that helped Sudanese refugees. He supported human rights throughout Africa. But in 2004, he was severely injured a car accident. And last June he died at the age of 47 from kidney failure and complications from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. On the court, Bol became one of the best shot-blockers in NBA history. That made sense. Improbably, he also became one of the fans' favorite 3-point shooters in league history.
Here's Manute blocking four shots in one possession, including one by Stanley Roberts, who at the time weighed about three Manutes.
Some more Manute, including several of his 3-pointers, where he looked like Jamaal Wilkes on stilts.
For fans of acid, here's the 1967 Sports Illustrated preview issue, featuring your funky New York Knicks.
The Sixties were an odd time, especially in New York, and especially for SI designers in New York. The Knicks appeared on the cover again in 1969. Those red dots are not blood stains, they're part of the design. Their message? They convey the "fury" that marked the Eastern Conference that year.
A moment for some Lakers nostalgia. Here's SI's 1986 profile on the most famous NBA fan, Jack Nicholson. Red Auerbach's quoted in the story as saying, "I've seen a lot of fans in my day and to me, there's a difference between being an ass and being a fan. When a guy goes up and moons to the crowd, well..."
In the 1960s, people also said there was a difference between being an ass and being a coach, though that wasn't always so obvious on the Celtics bench.
Here's Wilt at 17.
Here's an older Wilt, going against a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This is one of the most famous regular season games in league history, the day the Bucks snapped the Lakers' astounding 33-game winning streak.
Kareem scored 39 points and attacked the offensive rebounds like Moses Malone, a startling sight for those who remember the Kareem of the 1980s. The skyhook? That was always there. Milwaukee won 120-104.
And finally, as the new season starts, a look back at the final night of the past season.
Still not as weird as those Sports Illustrated covers.