Because weekends always make me feel old these days, I'm feeling a need to connect with the past. And do something with having finally finished Breaks of the Game—yes, I read slow, rarely finish books, and don't hesitate to canonize them prematurely. I blame all of this on the Internet, somehow.
So the open-ended post that will be up here all weekend, unless LeBron leaves Team USA to go fly a fighter plane for his new pals in Russia, is this: Who from the game's fairly distant past should all this site's readers be aware of? Let's assume we all lived through the 1990's, and most of the 1980's. And not bother explaining why Dr. J, Elgin Baylor, or Oscar Robertson help our cause in various ways. I'm talking about cult figures that spread mayhem and left us all wondering. Such as. . .
Jack Molinas: I was hell-bent on writing a screenplay about his life, until I found out that Spike and Tuturro have been on that for years. Everyone knows that he was a great Jewish sportsman, the original talent-squanderer, and a criminal mastermind. But what makes him amazing to me is what Hubie Brown said about him in Charley Rosen's Molinas bio:
"Molinas was a perfect player. And by that I mean he wasn't a specialist. He could handle and pass, play defense if he wanted to, and reobound if a crowd if he wanted to. He had an assortment of head fakes and ball fakes. He was a savvy player with great timing, and his extra edge was his phenomenal hook shot the best hook shot ever. There was nothing Jacki Molinas couldn't do on a basketball court."
"Flat out, Jack Molinas was one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball."
So there, the original Positional Revolution player was a Jew who liked playing on Black courts and had too restless a mind to content himself with just being the best. And whose compulsive gambling was far more neurotic than macho. Sidenote: I've always found it fraught that, however accidentally, Molinas seriously screwed up the career of Connie Hawkins, another player whose game seemed to know no bounds and knock over all the chairs in the room.
Marvin Barnes: An absolutely no-brainer. Lots of you have read Loose Balls, so you know the stories. But Barnes was like Tarpley times ten million, and with a swagger that 1980's degeneracy was sorely lacking. While I've never seen clips of him, I get the sense that he was a power forward who could drop 50 on anyone while nodding off on the bench, then charm everyone, then pop back in and score 30 more once the game had already ended. Barnes also set the tone for those Spirits of St. Louis lovingly memoralized in multimedia, grab-bag fashion by Remember the ABA and this dude. There even appears to be a jam band named after the most absurd Marvin Barnes anecdotes, which probably hurts my cause (if not his). Oh, and I truly believe that Bob Costas is how he is because he spent too many formative years around Barnes.
Billy Ray Bates: I'm going to let Halberstam take this one away—even if, as with "Marvin Barnes Time Machine," it might do some far-reaching damage to the FD brand:
There was, on that day in Portsmouth, a young black kid from Kentucky State named Billy Ray Bates, and he had been dazzling, a player of awesome, almost completely undisciplined talent. The crowd had immediately adopted him as its favorite. He seemed to go up for dunks and hang in the air, and then hang some more, and then dunk over much taller players. He touched something deep in [Blazers assisstant] Buckwalter, who could look at him and instantly see all the natural ability and then, with his practiced eye, see all the things the young man had never been taught, all the things other kids with better luck would have learned by their second year at Indiana or UCLA or North Carolina. Bates was to Buckwalter terribly poignant, a stepchild on the court. He felt a sadness that so much talent was being wasted, and then, secondly, a coach's fascination, for Billy Bates was everything a coach could want in a player, at once so terribly untutored and so talented.
Bates came up in abject, sharecropping poverty in rural Mississippi, was sheparded through high school by a coach who refused to lose with him, got D-1 offers but wanted to stick around his area, finally agreed to attend Kentucky State, dominated but made scouts suspicious. Cut from the Rockets, after his agent stupidly demanded guaranteed money for the fourth-rounder, and beyond an illustrious on-again, off-again stint with the CBA's Maine Lumberjacks—LOCAL LEGEND. Signs with Rockets, gets cut but paid, back to Maine, Blazers take a chance on him during a lost season and he becomes a star.
Then everything falls apart, so he heads abroad.. . to the Philippines, where he's reborn as "Black Superman."
If I were Ricky Davis's agent, this is the career path I would've recommended. Minus the part where, after retiring, Bates does time for armed robbery of a TEXKKKACO station. He's out now and, according to Wikipedia, "living in the Camden and Trenton areas of New Jersey. He and former 76ers guard Earl Harrison are trying to start a basketball skills coaching clinic." Also, Marvin Barnes is supposedly clean and kind of together.
Other suggestions? I'm planning to invite them to our book events.