Two the Gull Way


Sometimes, you get an email so pure in its intentions, so rippling with information and connections, that you can basically steal it and make a post from it. So thank you, longtime reader Ian Ross, for bringing the following facts to my attention.

-Apologies if I'm late on this -- I kind of got sick of reading every single thing every single person in every single city touched wrote about LeBron -- but David Hyde column from the Sun-Sentinel, dated 7/11, has some real stunners in it. At least for someone who recently finished working on a book about NBA history. It's about not the evil players fooling the fire department, but Riley's persuasive powers. Central to all of this is his use of the Russell/Auerbach Celtics as a rhetorical device, even point of inspiration. The key passage:

"The Celtics won 11 titles in 13 years,'' he said. "That's the one dynasty."

Riley began throwing out names centering around Bill Russell on those Celtics teams like Bob Cousy and Jungle Jim Loscutoff. Sam Jones. K.C. Jones. Tom Heinsohn.

But the one name he left off, the one that began as coach and ended as team architect, is the one Riley's team and personal legacy chase now. So among the questions percolating around the Heat now, add this one: Will Riley go down as the Red Auerbach of the YouTube generation?

I left that last part on just because it sucks and isn't accurate, and shows how much this column buries its own quirky, if not brilliant, lede. Or, to be more exact, Riley's. I've written much about de-Jordan-ing Bron, which as Ian Thomsen has said, might be for the best for the league and its paradigm factory; many folks have pointed out that great teams all were deep as fuck. But no player has been as single-mindedly deconstructed in the name of winning as Russell, and no pox of talent more sublimated than the Celtics dynasty. Also, the Jungle Jim reference is so weird we should remember it forever. Paul Flannery told me this morning that his name -- just his name -- is retired, because someone more important (don't have time to cross-check, sorry) wore the same number.

No one's ever accused Bron of being a Kobe-like history buff, which is why it's so funny that Riley would mention Loscutoff, an enforcer who clearly didn't give up greener individual pastures by playing for team in Boston. But the genius of Auerbach's teams was that they were stacked to the point of congestion. And yet everyone put ego aside. It's the most extreme case of this ever, and from a bygone era. I want to know, though, why it would be totally invalid here -- and if we would mock James for wanting to be Russell to Wade's Sam Jones and Bosh's Heinsohn (that one needs work).

Okay, from same dude:

In the More Than a Game documentary, exactly 18 minutes in, Sian Cotton is talking about the decision to go to St Vincent's over Buchtel, and goes, "The African-American community had wanted us to bring our talents to Buchtel, and felt like we were traitors."

Also unnoticed (as far as I've seen) is the fact that the chapter in
Shooting Stars where he and his friends decided to go to St. Vincent's is called "The Decision."

This really leaves you puzzled, doesn't it? The much-maligned "take my talents to" could be either a local, or hyper-local, or among-friends, idiom ... yet it's been picked apart like a political speech (whether or not LeBron should have been more careful, anticipating that reception, is another question). At the same time, that move and the title of the chapter suggest that hey, James has done this before. What was it about then? Camaraderie? Opportunism? I don't know. I'll go with "some of each", and make it the subtitle to my forthcoming LeBron James stop-time claymation epic.

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At 7/28/2010 12:17 PM, Blogger J.F. Keating said...

According to Basketball-Reference.com Jungle Jim and Dave Cowens both wore 18 for the Celtics. I am assuming Cowens is the more important one.

At 7/28/2010 12:49 PM, Blogger djturtleface said...

Wasn't there an article out there somewhere written by a psychiatrist who said that the whole Decision phenomenon was LeBron trying to recreate and relive his high school days, because when you look at what he's said and done, he has taken more pride in his time at St. V then in the NBA?

At 7/28/2010 4:08 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

@djturtleface--not sure if that was an article, but I do remember seeing someone making that comment somewhere (like it was the commenter's wife-psychologist who said it).

@Shoals--Many have pointed out that all great teams were stacked, but it's still like no one wants to recognize that, particularly when it comes to those Celtics teams. When it's addressed, the point of differentiation seems to come down to, well, that happened with those other teams "organically", it wasn't forced by the players. Which is really just an argument that process is more important than result. That's bunk on it's face, and I've yet to read anyone explain why it's a substantive distinction. Plus, it's kind of a celebration of craven shirking of responsibility.

It's a point I hit on here.

(Apologies for linking to my own nascent blogging effort, which I usually dislike when others do it. And for aping your style. I'm still trying to figure out how I want to do this blogging things, if I want to do it at all.)

At 7/29/2010 2:49 AM, Blogger 曹初帆張武茜 said...


At 7/29/2010 4:42 AM, Blogger Zach B said...

I'd argue that Bill Russell had a great supporting cast because of Bill Russell. The fact they couldn't even make a Finals before he showed up, couldn't make the Playoffs after he left, lost the only Finals he didn't play every game in, and had multi-game losing streaks whenever he was hurt kinda backs me up on this one.

At 7/29/2010 4:57 PM, Blogger SpoonyBard3000 said...

@Mr. Six-- What makes it a substantive distinction is that people don't like the idea of players having that kind of off-the-court power, although you'll probably never get anyone to admit it. Even for fans who idolize an individual player there seems to be an attachment to the idea of the team itself being somehow fundamentally superior (ever get stuck in an elevator with a fan of the Lakers/Yankees/Duke Blue Devils/St. Louis Cardinals?). I think it's easier for most fans - even those with a sense of history - to incorporate Bill Russell into the larger mythos of "The Celtics" than it is for them to accept that the players ultimately held the power. Something about humans being fallible and therefore less appealing as sources of identification, I'm guessing.

I still don't think that Lebron actually changed the dynamic of the NBA power structure in any meaningful way - but his choice was still a very distasteful reminder to all the homers of the world that any good team is ultimately just a collection of individuals making individual choices.

Or something.

That's a kind of substantive, right?

At 7/29/2010 10:53 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

@SpoonyBard3000--It's a kind of substance but not an argument that I think much of. It boils down to disliking people who have power actually using their power. Since I think the result in this case is pretty cool--an expansion of the power of free agency and the expansion of player imagination about what they do with it--why would I be upset at LBJ?

Upon reflection, I think maybe I chimed in too quickly initially and missed part of Shoals's point, which is about the weird beauty of selling arguably the best player of his generation on the idea of overwhelming talent achieving greatness through sublimation. I wonder, however, whether that's reality of those Celtics or the myth. It seems just likely to me that the won not by putting ego aside but by each fully exercising his ego and talents. It seems like an un-Riley thing to do, but I like the idea of him telling Bron that the path to dynasty lies in an accumulation of talent all bringing their egos fully to each play.

At 8/01/2010 12:46 AM, Blogger Roachbeard said...

@Mr. Six--Of course athletes do it for themselves. They also do it for the team. That's what sublimation is: the transmutation of intense personal desires into ones seemingly more socially sanctioned. Think of the entire campaign as a macrocosm for the way players move on the floor. Guys variously make decisions to get their own or get other people theirs for the sole purpose of making buckets--as a team. Kobe gives up a bucket to make an assist that leads to the consolidation of loyalty from a role-player who sees that this amazing talent is obviously not just wanking out there. All of this is to win. Over the course of the season, people rise to the fore for certain periods, belligerent elements are suppressed, scorers become something other than that, and, generally, rapport and rhythm emerge as the most vital aspects (leaving aside execution) of a winning side. So, yeah, it's ego, but it's also sublimation. Pure talent teams only win with coaches who will yank their chains HARD (à la Alex Ferguson et al in soccer) and substitute their asses if their "egotism" doesn't produce; stacked teams also win in high school. A stacked team is usually likely to win in pro sports because successful athletes like to win and most know how to be unselfish when they need to be.

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