DALLAS - Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt’s End 12.18.20 …
*Twenty years later, the Dallas Mavericks are again chasing the Los Angeles Lakers. To win an NBA championship, after all, you first must survive the Western Conference.
In 2000, the Lakers were in the middle of their threepeat. At the center of it was Shaquille O’Neal, reigning MVP and by far the most dominant player in the NBA. Mavs head coach Don Nelson knew he couldn’t outmuscle Shaq, so he attempted to outsmart him. Tried to finesse him with Shawn Bradley. Pester him with Eduardo Najera and Evan Eschmeyer. Draw him to the perimeter on defense with guys like Wang Zhizhi and Raef LaFrentz.
Frustratingly, the Mavs never got to face the Lakers in the playoffs, falling in four consecutive years to the Spurs and Kings.
Now, in 2020, Nellie’s son – GM Donnie – is taking a stab at finding ways to match up with the defending champion Lakers. But these days it’s not with strength, but length. In winning last season’s title, L.A. didn’t start a player shorter than 6-foot-5. Long, lean and versatile at every position, they shrunk the court with athletic defenders. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that two of those defenders were named LeBron James and Anthony Davis.)
After re-shaping their makeup, the Mavs can now suit up a reasonable facsimile. Josh Richardson. Josh Green. James Johnson. Tim Hardaway Jr. Dorian Finney-Smith. All in the mold of the Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma, athletes able to defend the likes of Damian Lillard, Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard while protecting their stars.
Unless something’s really wonky and unforeseen, the Mavs will be better defensively. How much better? We’ll get an early preview of how they size up against the Lakers on Christmas night.
Asked if the Mavs made their offseason moves intent on getting tougher, improving defensively and insulating Luka Doncic with a couple of mean streaks, Rick Carlisle bluntly answered “Yeah.”
Somewhere in Maui, Nellie approves the pursuit.
*Follow me on this family flow chart: Turns out new Texas Rangers’ GM Chris Young’s sister, Erin, is married to Judd Garrett, former Cowboys’ running back and younger brother of former coach, Jason. I’m not real good with familial nomenclature, but doesn’t that make Chris Young and Jason Garrett … brothers in law? Or just famous friends in a family circle?
*Finally, some good news in 2020: Proud of ol’ friend and forever DFW media personality Wally Lynn. Had dinner this week and – after a couple of turbulent years – he has his life on the right track. Family and friendships being mended. Job waiting for him in San Marcos. Persona and hope reinvigorated. Just when we need more happy endings.
*When SMU pulled out of Saturday’s Frisco Bowl because of COVID, it cost superfan Paul Layne a chance to attend his 531st consecutive game. To watch his beloved Mustangs in person, he’s traveled to Tokyo and Hawaii, dodged COVID and (sorta) self-quarantined with chicken box. He hasn’t missed an SMU game since 1972. Of all the teams to devote your life to …
*Back in April, I began sharing the deep commitment and sometimes dark days of my long-time friend who is a respiratory therapist and adult critical care/trauma specialist at Dallas’ UT-Southwestern Clements University Medical Center. As a frontline worker in the fight against COVID, she’s experienced death on an almost daily basis for the last nine months.
Wednesday at 11 a.m., she took a COVID vaccine and will follow it with another shot in 21 days. Her reasoning? “I want to be part of the solution, not a continuation of the problem.”
She scoffs at skeptics afraid to take the vaccine because they don’t know what’s in it. “Those same people probably eat hot dogs, let their pets lick their face and follow some zany ‘five-second rule’ okaying them to eat food after it falls on the floor.”
*When the leading tackler in franchise history says the current Cowboys can’t tackle, it stings. Or at least it should. Right, Darren Woodson? Since his retirement after the 2003 season, the Cowboys have had only two Pro Bowl safeties – Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin – and none since 2007.
*So the Mavs’ dream of landing Giannis Antetokounmpo is dead. But, seriously now, who amongst us ever really thought it was alive?
*One day on The Fan, I blurted out that I could outrun a hippopotamus. Despite this story, I stand by the claim. To maul me, the hippo would first have to catch me.
*The gift that will never stop giving: 1985 Cowboys singing “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Can you name every player? (Keep reading for answers.)
*Promise not to panic if the Mavs start 0-3. Condensed training camp. Lotsa new faces. No Kristaps Porzingis.
I know they swept the Bucks early in preseason, but a brutal schedule starts them on the road against the team that went 8-0 in the bubble last summer (Suns), the defending champions (Lakers) and the team that beat them in the playoffs (Clippers).
*Greatest Canadian-born NFL player? Hmm. Don’t have to look any further than the Cowboys. Eddie Murray kicked here. Same for Mike Vanderjagt. But a case can be made for … L.P. Ladouceur. Sunday against San Francisco the long-snapper will play his 251st game, most by an NFL player born north of the border. Don’t look now, but L.P. is one of the most under-appreciated players in team history. For 16 consecutive seasons, he hasn’t missed a game – or a snap.
*Couple of updates from my old Fort Worth Star-Telegram alumni: Forever college basketball writer Wendell Barnhouse is hospitalized with COVID but says – characteristically gruff – “The doctors aren’t worried so neither am I.” And even-longer-forever baseball writer T.R. Sullivan announced his retirement this week after a 40-year career.
When I first joined the paper in 1986, T.R. was one of the mentors who showed me the ropes about writing and expense accounts. Good reporter. Great guy. Enjoy a world void of stress over Rangers-Mariners late-night deadlines.
*If you believe in trends – dare I say, analytics – Sunday looks ominous for the Cowboys. In three games after a victory this season, they’re 0-3 and have been outscored, 117-57. Seems preposterous that they’ve dared to get fat and/or happy, but I rest my case.
*If you believe someone is simultaneously a “criminal mastermind” and “sleepy”, I suggest you’re wrong on both accounts.
*In 1980, some 40 years ago, the Rangers traded for one of the most entertaining and successful starting pitchers in franchise history, Gaylord Perry. Even for old-timers, that seems eons ago. Shocking, then, that the man who engineered that deal – former Rangers’ GM Eddie Robinson – is still with us. Robinson, who began his career in baseball playing for the Cleveland Indians in 1942, recently celebrated his 100th birthday, making him baseball’s oldest living ex-player.
*He has 10 more catches than CeeDee Lamb. He has 191 more yards than Michael Gallup. He has only one less touchdown than Amari Cooper. Regardless of the Cowboys’ talented receiving trio, yeah, they could still use Cole Beasley.
*We put a man on the moon, invented a remote control for our televisions and can fit a zillion songs onto a pin head, but we remain as defenseless against bank robberies as when Bonnie partnered with Clyde? Just walk into a bank lobby. Hand the teller a note. Walk out with a bag full of cash. I mean, he’ll be caught eventually (but, far as I can tell, hasn’t been yet). But I just assumed were more advanced.
*Rangers’ Globe Life Field took a lot of shade in 2020 for its barn-like exterior. But the place successfully hosted a World Series during a pandemic, partially why it was awarded “Best Sports Facility Debut” by Sports Business Journal. The stadium also hosted the rodeo finals this month and, come next November, will transform into a football field for an Army-Air Force game.
*Remember way back when everyone rooted for Jaylon Smith because of his warm-’n-fuzzy comeback story? Me neither. Because these days the linebacker – despite being praised for his community service as the Cowboys’ NFL Man of the Year nominee – is a favorite bullseye for all that’s wrong with this team.
Smith blows assignments. Misses tackles. Gives love taps to opposing runners after first-down runs. And, of course, never ever never misses an opportunity to hog the spotlight and do his silly “Swipe” celebration after a rare highlight play.
People who know Jaylon (including our own Mike Fisher) swear by him. But ... The damning consensus is that Smith cares about himself more than fans care about winning and losing. Ouch.
He did little to change this perception Thursday when asked if it bothered him that the Cowboys were flexed out of primetime this week.
Said Smith, “If the owner ain’t trippin’ we good.”
No, Jaylon, we ain’t good. In no way, shape or form is 4-9 “good.”
*Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his Texas Inaugural Committee spent most of 2019 fighting to keep secret the details of their record-setting $5.3 million inauguration. The Texas Tribune sued to get the truth, and now we know why. Six-figure bonuses to already-wealthy donors and – gulp – $1.7 million for a performance by country music legend George Strait.
*Jason Garrett has tested positive for COVID and will miss Sunday night’s Giants game against the Browns. Here’s hoping he can successfully “process” his way back to health.
*Another sign we’re preparing for a long, cold winter: Lifetime Fitness is ramping up COVID precautions by removing rims from backboards and shutting down its basketball courts. Can’t decide if that’s a sign we’re headed in the wrong direction or right direction?
*On my side, I’ll gladly boast the support of science and the Supreme Court. If you’re against me, who or what exactly is on your team?
*Recount, indeed. Because it’s apparently “woke” in 2020, Major League Baseball is cool with dumping Cleveland’s “Indians” and re-writing its record books to finally include Negro League stats. With Elias on the case, Josh Gibson’s .441 will be the new single-season batting average record. Historians say Gibson hit 800+ homers, but fuzzy record-keeping will likely allow Barry Bonds’ 762 to stand.
*Remember back in April when some of us were trumpeting the Cowboys producing three 1,00-yard receivers? Yeah, ain’t happening. Mostly, of course, because of the injury to Dak Prescott. With three games remaining, Cooper (needing 58 yards) will get there. Lamb (258) might. Gallup (353) has no shot.
*With apologies to Dr. Anthony Fauci, President-elect Joe Biden should name NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to his cabinet as COVID Avoidance Czar.
After navigating the bubble last summer with zero COVID cases, the NBA has returned only one positive among 549 players tested since training camps opened in early December.
*Anyone else disgusted by the sight of jovial Michael Vick playing cutesy catch with Curt Menefee on the FOX NFL Sunday set? I know he served his time, but treating animals the way he did is impossible to forget and extremely difficult to forgive.
*Cowboys’ only shot to make the playoffs: Go 3-0 while Washington goes 0-3. Forget it. Like the 2020 Presidential Election, it’s over.
*I fondly remember a world where Christmas bonuses were a thing
*So who are those Cowboys in the cheesiest, greatest Christmas video of all time? (They went 10-6 and made the playoffs in ’85, so of course they were joyful.) I got ’em as (left to right, front row to back) 1st: Tony Dorsett, Danny White, Dexter Clinkscale, Mike Renfro; 2nd: Mike Saxon, Everson Walls, Jeff Rohrer, Bill Bates, Ron Fellows; 3rd: Todd Fowler, Tony Hill, Phil Pozderac, Doug Cosbie, Howard Richards. Cameo by Rafael Septien. Smack dab in the middle of course – exchanging his trademark Fedora for a Santa hat – Tom Landry.
*This Weekend? Friday we’re gonna try one last round of 2020 golf. Saturday we’re taking Big Brothers Big Sisters lil’ bro JaJa Christmas shopping. Sunday, because we kinda have to, we’re watching Cowboys-Niners. As always, don’t be a stranger.