Weekly Countdown: Making sense of the feud between Magic, Isiah
"I saw things differently," said Magic in the book. "Our relationship was changing."
When Isiah and Magic kissed each other on the cheek before each game of that series, it was a gesture meant to suggest that their friendship dwarfed the competition between them. But that turned out to be false. By Game 5 Magic was resorting to a cheap-shot elbow to the kidney of Isiah as he drove to the basket; Isiah responded by throwing the ball at his best friend and lunging at his throat.
"I did target Isiah," acknowledges Magic now. "[Coach]
The big news from the book (to be released Nov. 4) has been Magic's accusation that Isiah was spreading rumors about his sexuality after Magic was diagnosed with HIV in 1991. But that happened three years after those NBA Finals. The mistrust between them -- the failure of their friendship that enabled the disagreements to come -- developed first of all because they both wanted to win the championship more than anything else.
But at the highest levels of the NBA, the desire to win devours all else. For a couple of hours on the floor Russell would respect Chamberlain as an enemy, as opposed to the friend Chamberlain was at all other times. The brotherhood between Magic and Isiah has turned into a backbiting rivalry.
In recent decades the NBA has grown to look more and more like some kind of Hollywood show in which the players appear interested mainly in exploiting their celebrity and riches. That cynical dynamic exists among the lesser players, without a doubt. But the elite NBA stars have achieved their status because they want to win above all else.
It's not the first time we've seen that kind of behavior. Isiah's Pistons walked off the court without shaking hands with
LeBron was criticized for poor sportsmanship last spring, but I viewed his exit as a healthy and impulsive display of what matters most to him. As much as he may want everyone to like him, his priority is to win championships. Without that bottom line there would be no larger interest in him or the NBA.
But they understand better than anyone the mistakes they made. Look what happened after they broke up. Each instantly began to chase more championships, whether it was
Imagine the triangle of emotions if Kobe should arrive at the NBA Finals to defend his championship against former partner Shaq and newfound rival LeBron. As much as the marketeers will be spewing millions of dollars out of that showdown, their work will be of secondary importance in relation to the all-out battles on the court.
Throughout his career Jordan profited as the NBA, corporations and even Hollywood reinvented his character so it could be sold to the public. He was cast as a kind of athletic superhero, an inoffensive gentleman who could be seen as all things to all people. When he entered the Hall of Fame he finally let people know what he was all about, and to me it was refreshing to see him reading from his own script as opposed to one written for him.
The truth that drove him to his six championships against bigger and stronger rivals is that he carried grudges, invented enemies and took great joy in punishing his victims. All of the great winners have those qualities to some extent. Kobe has been criticized for his ruthlessness over the years, but that's in part because he hasn't been as adept at hiding that ruthlessness as his peers.
Eventually Magic and Isiah may resolve their issues and have a heart-to-heart conversation as the friends they once were. Maybe their differences can't be fixed. But if they trace their breakdown all the way back, they'll probably realize that all of their problems began because they both wanted the same thing: To win a game.
While it's a no-brainer to go with LeBron as league MVP for the second straight year, it's going to be difficult for him to win the defensive award this season. First of all he must displace
But if the Cavs should win the championship with LeBron making big defensive plays along the way, that could vault him into position to be recognized as the league's most important defensive player the following season.
I don't think so. The Lakers and Spurs have as much firepower offensively, and both teams are better up front than Dallas. It's not impossible -- Orlando made the NBA Finals last year after Garnett was injured -- but something will have to go wrong for the Lakers and the Spurs to make room for Dallas at the top of the West.
His players defend for him, therefore they respect him. But most NBA coaches (except for the likes of
There are four active coaches with championship rings: Rivers,
• There were a lot of responses to Denver vice presient
I don't think so. In one of those years when an elite talent is available as the No. 1 pick (equivalent to LeBron or
I agree that teams would still be liable to tank the last month of the season (even though the lottery doesn't necessarily reward that behavior). But at least the worst teams and their fans would have something to anticipate over the otherwise dreary closing weeks of an otherwise lost season.
There is no brilliant way to lift the cynicism that hovers over teams while they try to improve their position in the lottery. Would this proposal improve the current state of things incrementally? At least some people in the league think it's worthy of discussion.
I'm pretty sure Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and
"A lot of times you don't see college players developing their post moves because they're facing zones in college, and it's hard to get the ball into them. Sometimes we'll get big guys in for pre-draft workouts and it turns out they've got more skill in the post than what they showed in college, and the reason they didn't have the chance to do it was because it was so crowded in there. But at the same time, I don't see why more players wouldn't want to put in the time to emulate the things Jefferson does."
The 35-year-old new Spur spoke to me in the preseason.
"People ask me that all the time. The answer is I really don't. I didn't play basketball, I didn't run up and down the court. But mentally, that physical therapy all day for two or three years was a strain for my body, honestly. I was working hard. Personally I don't feel any younger. But I do feel I got a lot more in my tank to help this team out, to win a championship.''
"He made it perfectly clear to me he wasn't playing center. He said, 'You know I'm still the 4.' " I said, 'I can't argue with you.' I'll play center, I'll play 4, it don't matter to me. I think he just likes the title [of power forward].
"He's so humble, like you won't even think Tim Duncan's got four championships, because he'll treat everyone the same and he'll expect everyone to be treated the same. I would think Tim Duncan is like, 'Hey, this is my team,' and have an ego that way. But he doesn't."
There may be more to come. U.S. Rep.
It is understandable that Olympiakos president
Stern also must be wondering what this has to do with him, because his owners -- to their fiscal detriment -- pay NBA players in full whether they're worthy of the salary or not. Then there is the Euroleague, which may be threatened with garnishment of its payments to Olympiakos even though in recent years it has raised the standards of its 24 clubs -- including Olympiakos -- with the result of far fewer allegations of unpaid contracts.
But none of this changes the bottom line: McLaughlin and Morris currently have a default judgment that permits them to collect their money. Not only does McLaughlin insist he will keep working to collect it, but that he'll also counsel more former players who say they are owed money by other European clubs as well.
So other European clubs may yet face similar claims. Sooner or later, European basketball and the NBA will have to deal with the issue of the former players' contracts. Otherwise it will limit their ability to grow the game together.