SEVENTH? Really?

ESPN has been doing a countdown of greatest players in basketball history. While I knew they’d eventually draw my complete disrespect, I couldn’t believe how early they did it.

Somehow, for what must surely be considered an extreme bias toward recent happenings over history, Bill Russell, my absolute argument as #1, is ranked # 7. He is ranked 7 behind the following players, in an as-of-yet unreleased order: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and LeBron James.

A man with 11 rings is finishing behind folks who have, respectively, 6, 6, 2, 5, 3, and 2. In other words, take JUST RUSSELL, and you have to select Kareem and Jordan together to exceed his ring total. In fact, if you were to take Chamberlain, Bird, and LeBron together, you’d be four championships short of Russell.

So let’s think this over. Russell won 11 of the 13 championships he competed for. LeBron has already lost in the Finals four different times (Cavs in 2015 and 2007, Heat in 2011 and 2014), whereas Russell only lost one Finals and one non-appearance.  LeBron has lost as many championships to #8, Tim Duncan, as Russell EVER LOST.

Bird’s presence on the list ahead of Russell is obscene, given that each of the men played for the same franchise. Bird delivered three titles. Russell did that in his first four years.

Did Bill Russell hit 3 pointers? No. Did he score 100 points in a game? No. Did he win dunk contests, and shape marketing for the NBA? No. No, he just won basketball games.

Except that that’s understating what Russell was. He set the stage for the modern NBA. In the days before civil rights, he was proving to be the standard by which all other players were measured. He opened the door for African-American coaches – being the first African-American professional basketball coach, and being the first African-American professional basketball coach to win a title, and did that as a player-coach. LeBron was whining recently about wanting to play for a coach who had actually played in the NBA; he should realize that Russell is a big part of the reason for that.

Russell wasn’t a media darling. Well, neither was Abdul-Jabbar, who I have number 2 on my list.

So – in honor of Russell’s finishing 7th on the list, I’d like to announce my selections for top networks that know more basketball. Coming in at #7 is ESPN.

Coming in at 1 through 6 – in an as-of-yet unspecified order – are TNT, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and the general populace of the Internet.

There is a reason the NBA Finals MVP trophy is the Bill Russell trophy.  Not the Michael Jordan trophy.  Not the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trophy.  And DEFINITELY not the LeBron James trophy.

Note to ESPN: Winning COUNTS. And if winning counts, EVEN DOWN TO HOW HE DID IT, Russell – like in all but two years – wins.

Sportsmanship Matters

I agonized over a decision this evening.  I have a bad cold, and even took a day away from work to try to get over it.  Those of you who know me know that I have a great deal of trouble breathing in cold weather, especially after playing basketball.  And the Carfax team is very important to me, especially considering the friends I have on the team.  But I decided against playing.

What wasn’t up for debate was whether or not I’d be at the game.  I was.  In uniform.  And ready to play *IF* it came to that.  I have great teammates, and they didn’t need me;  they picked up for me when my health let them down.  I didn’t face criticism, but support.  That’s what REAL teams do.  You see, sportsmanship starts at home.

The last three years have been the three best years the Carfax team has ever had.  We have better chemistry than ever.  We like each other more, and we respect each other.  I’m not going to pretend that we’re as good of sportsmen as we need to be, but we’re better than we’ve ever been about respecting our teammates.

How fitting it was this weekend in watching NFL football that we got to see the failure of POOR sportsmanship.  I watched a significant part of the Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati game – notably, the end of that game.  Cincinnati took poor sportsmanship to its ultimate conclusion – a loss.  And it didn’t take an entire team to get to that, either.  When it comes to sportsmanship, one rotten apple *DOES* spoil the barrel.

We have a saying on the teams I coach:  “Sportsmanship puts REAL POINTS on the scoreboard.”  It does it because sportsmanship allows other folks to help you along toward your goals.  Sportsmanship gets other folks to share their secrets to success with you.  Sportsmanship makes you the recipient of knowledge, instruction, inside information, and support.

Poor sportsmanship leads to resentment.  It leads to things like we saw in Cincinnati.  My personal favorite was the tirade Pacman Jones threw afterward.  He fired off a profanity-laced complaint about a coach being on the field.  And you know – he might – just might – have had a point.  But we’ll never know, because when Pacman Jones saw someone who wasn’t supposed to be where he was, Pacman Jones decided to bump them.  Apparently Jones must know some football rule that I’m unaware of, namely that “it’s okay to push someone if they’re somewhere you don’t think they should be.”

Folks today think that sportsmanship means you shake hands with the other team’s players after the game.  A few might even shake hands with referees.  It will be the rare one that thanks the folks running scoreboard and the clock.  But if that’s as far as your sportsmanship goes, then you’re not going much of anywhere.

Sportsmanship is an attitude that you adopt and wear for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (366 in leap years).  The sportsman acts as a protector and custodian of the game itself, and that’s a lot harder than people think!

Kobe Bryant recently remarked that if he had to advise his younger self, it would be about compassion and empathy.

In the meantime, the legacy Kobe Bryant leaves is one of typical poor attitude toward teammates – a franchise in decline.  By failing to have real respect for those folks he played with, the team around Bryant has declined;  those who could have stayed and helped him are long gone.

But in Golden State, they’re celebrating, being led by the 2010-11 Joe Dumars Trophy winner (awarded to the NBA’s best sportsman) – Stephen Curry.  Curry won that award his second year in the league.

The Greyhounds have a sportsmanship trophy that we call the Hamilton Trophy.  I believe it’s important for folks to be recognized for being great sportsmen, because I believe this is truly one of the notable character qualities necessary for sustained high performance.

Exercise your sportsmanship.  Accept the brotherhood that basketball offers with your fellow players, and do your part to enhance and strengthen it.  These qualities will not only make you a better player, but a better person.

Did our Carfax team win tonight?  No.

But we did score our season’s high in points.

Sportsmanship puts REAL POINTS on the scoreboard.