I'm resigned to the fact I probably won't get to watch another live NBA game for about five or six months. Normally when October rolls around and the nation's sports fans are focused on the NFL or Boston or New York or one of those other cities that are home to Major League Baseball franchises that are recognized by Bud Selig but not Fox Sports, I'm gearing up for the NBA season. I'm ordering the NBA TV package. I'm scouring message boards or debating on Lakers forums about whether it really would be in the best interests of the team to trade Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol for a future first-round draft pick. I'm throwing out everything that's green - including money and recycling bins - in our household in preparation for another year of Celtics hatred.
But this year, thanks to the lockout, I'll probably do none of that. And with nothing in the present and a bleak future, I'll retreat to the past. There I'll find old NBA tapes tucked away and discover magical YouTube clips. Or, like I did tonight, I'll spend four hours watching NBA-TV and classic games from the league's past.
Tonight the network carried several "playoff gems," games that included a vintage performance from George Gervin, a Randy Breuer sighting in a Bucks-Sixers playoff game and Vinnie Johnson's unbelievable scoring binge against the Celtics in the 1985 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Ah, the NBA in the '80s. There's still nothing quite like it, even though I, unlike many others, still love the league as much today as I did back then. But now, let's roll back the videotape, pull out the history books, and in the voice of that guy who narrates the formerly omnipresent VH1 shows, let's rediscover why we loved the '80s. A potpourri of hoops from the glory days.
* The Vinnie Johnson game was amazing. He scored 22 points in the fourth quarter in Game 4, against the defending champs. This is why he was the Microwave. For the game he hit 16 of 20 from the field, most of them on tough jumpers with that odd form from that oddly shaped body.
A few months later, Vinnie's effort led to one of my favorite narration scenes in NBA history and surely the most awkward. I've written extensively on the Return to Glory video before. My campaign to have it win a retroactive Emmy remains in full effect - I'll send another letter to the committee after this blog goes up. It's all about the Lakers finally defeating the Celtics, the begoggled wonder, Worthy's dunks and Magic's passes, paired with creepy, inspiring music from the 1980s. But early on in the video, while recapping the Celtics-Pistons series, Dick Stockton describes the action by well, talking about a lot of Johnsons. I won't embed the video for fear of violating obscenity laws in 22 states. Here's the link. Go to the 5:20 to 5:52 mark. And here's the transcript:
"For Chuck Daly, Johnson was right on target. Johnson's heroics also baffled the Celtics, for it wasn't Detroit's three All-Stars who evened the series, but an unheralded, happy-shooting man named Johnson. Appropriately, the Celtics had a Johnson of their own. Dennis Johnson, another guard who sparkles in the playoff limelight. DJ's aching wrist made him miss the morning practice. But no injury could slow him down from a 30-point evening. Daly turned to his own version of Johnson."
* That game also featured the work of Kent Benson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1977 NBA draft. That previous sentence is completely accurate, though perhaps the word featured is a bit much. But the Milwaukee Bucks really did take Benson No. 1. The former Indiana star averaged 9 points and 5 boards in his career. He also famously used his mug to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's hand when the Captain's fist struck the young center's face. Benson's face should have been suspended. That's not the only time the word bust was used in connection with Benson. The next seven players taken after him had higher career scoring averages. Some of the guys taken after him? Otis Birdsong, Marques Johnson, Walter Davis, Jack Sikma, Bernard King, Cedric Maxwell and Norm Nixon. Yes, it's safe to say Benson didn't work out as well as Milwaukee's previous No. 1 overall pick - Kareem. The Bucks had a thing for overachieving Hoosiers who underachieved in the NBA. A year earlier, they took Benson's old teammate, Quinn Buckner. Somehow they avoided Scott May.
* As I mentioned on Twitter, it was odd watching the 1986 Bucks-Sixers game. The Sixers crew handled the broadcast. The analyst had a familiar voice but I couldn't place it. I finally figured it out - Doug Collins.Then I also realized why it took me so long to place him: I'd been watching for 20 minutes and not once had he mentioned he coached Michael Jordan.
* On NBA-TV it was a big night for tall white guys from the Midwest. The Bucks game also gave a glimpse at the giant Minnesotan, Randy Breuer. The Lake City legend battled under the boards against Charles Barkley. At one point, after a collision in the lane, it appeared, just for a second, that Barkley might be capable of snapping the skinny Breuer with just a bump from his ample ass. By the way, big Randy is no longer the all-time leading scorer in Lake City history. That honor now belongs to Lance Meincke. Still, Breuer did lead the school to back-to-back state titles. Unfortunately, there weren't a lot of people videotaping Minnesota prep games back in the late '70s. There were people videotaping NBA games in the 1980s. And here's one of the few online clips of Breuer as Michael Jordan viciously dunks in the tall fellow's stunned face - or, if you prefer, posterizes him.
* What's America's longest-running punchline? Historians can help me out here. What's something that could get a laugh decades ago and still could today? My vote: The San Diego/LA Clippers. If it seems like you've been making fun of the Clippers forever, it's because you have. Fathers pass the jokes down to their sons who pass it on to their sons who pass it on to their sons. At some point, daughters get in on the joke. The Clippers. They've changed cities, but rarely their fortunes. And guess what? In the 1980s? They were really bad.
1987: 12-70 (!!)
1984 (San Diego) 30-52
The most frightening thing about that 1987 season is that the Clips started it 3-3. So they finished a tidy 9-67. They actually dropped from 3-3 to 3-15, lost 12 in a row. And how about this? After they won to snap the losing streak, the Clippers then lost 16 in a row. So a 1-28 stretch. They also finished the season the way you want to finish it if you're really trying to make a mark as being one of the worst teams in NBA history - they lost the final 14 games of the year. Of course, since they are the Clippers, they pulled off the Timberwolvesesque achievement of missing out on the first pick in the lottery, which turned into David Robinson. Instead they took Reggie Williams with the fourth pick. He failed to change the franchise's fortunes.
* The 1984 season ended in heartbreaking fashion - at least for Magic Johnson and 9-year-old Shawn Fury. In Game 2 of the Finals, Magic forgot how much time remained in regulation and the Lakers failed to get a shot off, while Kareem stood on the block, arm raised, waiting for a pass that never came as the Lakers waited for a title that never came. But before that, the Lakers benefited from someone forgetting about the scoreboard. In this case that player was young Dallas guard Derek Harper, who, in Game 4 of the Western semis, thought his team led the Lakers even though it was tied. The tough-to-watch footage - even for a Lakers fan it's hard to watch someone publicly shamed like this, perhaps because we now know what was down the line for Magic - is here, starting about the 3:40 mark. Yes, the Lakers won in OT. Just like the damn Celtics did a few weeks later.
And since I can't end on a downer about the Lakers and Magic, there's this: