Before He was the GOAT: Excerpt from Tao of The Passing Big Man, and other Essays

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“When I first saw Michael play, I recognized there was a different era coming in. In my time, I believe the best all around player has been Magic Johnson. The best defensive player has been Michael Cooper. And in a few more years Michael Jordan will be the best player there ever was.”

Larry Bird excerpt from his autobiography, “Drive”

Even though Michael Jordan spent his final two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards, many fans’ lasting impression of number 23 is his jump shot over Bryon Russell as a Chicago Bull. It is easy to get blinded by the flashy dunks and dizzying highlights. Sure MJ had the Gatorade commercials, and the Nike and McDonald’s advertisements because he was such an exciting player to watch, but the reason Michael Jordan is held in such high reverence is because he really was the “Greatest of All Time”.

We can talk about his 6-0 record in the NBA Finals and six Finals MVP’s, his five regular season MVP’s, his ten scoring titles, and 14 All-Star appearances, but many people forget that he was also the best defensive player at his position. Jordan made First Team All-Defensive in nine of his seasons, led the league in steals three times, and during his 1988 campaign when he averaged 32 points per game, he was the defensive player of the year.

Before Michael Jordan’s ascent, the NBA was ruled by big men. Giants like Lew Alcindor, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain (and George Mikan before them) dominated the game. It was a conventional belief around the league that in order to win NBA titles consistently, you had to have a fixture at the center position to anchor your team. At 6’6, Jordan not only defied these conventions, he changed the league entirely; sparking the shift to a league full of wings and guards beating their defenders en route to gravity defying dunks.

Before he was hitting iconic game winning shots against Utah and Cleveland, he was hitting game winning jumpers to win NCAA games against Georgetown, Duke, NC State, and Maryland.

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Jordan himself says that there would be no Michael Jordan without Dean Smith. Jordan says that after his parents, Dean Smith left the biggest imprint on who he became. Many ignorantly say that Dean Smith was the only man who could hold Jordan under 20 points, but he averaged 20 his sophomore year in college, and his junior year he hit 19.6 points per game (There was no shot clock or 3 point line back then either for what it is worth).

Early criticisms of Jordan’s NBA career was that he was a great scorer, but couldn’t get his teammates involved. Although this was warranted, looking back it was hard to blame him. Jordan had a better basketball coach, and better teammates (even better workout facilities) at Chapel Hill than he did during his early years in the NBA. At North Carolina, Jordan played with future Hall of Famer James Worthy (the 1982 NCAA Tourney Most Outstanding player with 28 points in the championship game on 13 of 17 shooting), Jimmy Black, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, Kenny Smith (2 time NBA Champion), and Brad Daugherty (5 time NBA All Star). 

At Carolina, Jordan had arguably most talent he’d ever play with in the 1982 and 1984 seasons, and his passing skills really showed– he almost always made the correct basketball play even back then. It was at North Carolina where he mastered the fundamentals of passing, rebounding, moving without the ball, and defending. Not only did Jordan have Dean Smith as his head coach, but during the Jordan era, Coach Smith had an impeccable roster of assistant coaches in Eddie Fogler, Roy Williams (the man credited with recruiting Jordan), and Bill Gutheridge.

The Media and today’s fans like to debate, who was the greatest MJ, Kobe, or Lebron like hip hop fans used to argue Biggie, Jay-Z, or Nas. But there is no debate. Kobe Bryant (R.I.P.) was a notorious ball hog (who was actually a really good passer when he wanted to be one) who could be goaded into taking a slew of bad shots under the right circumstances. Although Lebron will amass many gaudy stats and break a lot of records, many fans will point to his six losses in the NBA Finals, and proclivity to wilt under pressure in key situations early on in his playing career (we might be having an entirely different conversation today about Lebron if not for a historic collapse by the Golden State Warriors in 2016, and a Ray Allen clutch 3 pointer in 2013). In short, Kobe may have been too selfish offensively and Lebron may not have been selfish enough.

There was no weakness to Jordan’s game. He was a prolific scorer, a lockdown defender, and an underrated passer. He could drive to the basket and smack the ball into the defender’s face after posterizing them, or stop short and loft a floater in the lane, or he could just beat people by shooting over them from long distance.

Looking at both Lebron and Kobe’s careers, it makes you wonder what would their careers been like had they even played at least one year in college. Kobe would’ve played at Duke for Coach K, instead of Del Harris, and Lebron would’ve played for Thad Motta at Ohio State instead of the legendary Paul Silas. It seems petty to even speculate how much “better” two of the most elite players of their generations could’ve been, but its necessary to illustrate the gap between those two first ballot HOF players and Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

It is a completely different conversation (for what it is worth, Kobe came pretty damn close) when you are talking about Jordan, and if you weren’t around to see him play in the 90’s then its not easy to understand. Statistics won’t tell the whole story about how truly dominant Jordan was and why he is is the elite among the elite. I think the biggest difference between Jordan, Kobe and Lebron, is that neither Lebron; nor Kobe had the tutelage of Dean Smith and Jordan did.

Jordan’s early development at the collegiate game was a direct testament to picking the right college and the right college coach in Dean Smith; who many consider the best teacher of the game in his time. Jordan most certainly would’ve still been the athletic freak that you see in his vintage highlight clips, but mentally and fundamentally, he may not have hit his apex had he gone to any other school in the country.

Quite often people reference the game winning jumper that Jordan hit during the 1982 championship game against Georgetown as if that told the whole story. Michael Jordan had 16 points on 7 of 13 shooting, but he also had 9 key rebounds, 2 steals and 2 steals. Even then, Jordan was focused on becoming a complete player. If he were just a scorer, he would’ve found it hard to even get off the bench during a championship game as a freshman, making it highly unlikely for a young player in that situation to find himself taking the game winning shot.

As for that game winning jumper, even Jordan admits that is when everything changed for him. He is quoted as saying “after that shot, he went from being Mike, to Michael Jordan”, and the rest as they say, is basketball history.

 

 

BM

 

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found in the KDVS studios making on air playlists. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

 

 

Season Preview 2018-2019 A-Z

This is officially the final season preview in the final season of This A Good Ass Game. Our philosophy at Full Sass of course, if its to be done at any sass level, then it must be done to its fullest, and unfortunately I don’t have the time (or the manpower) to keep this site going. I did however, find it crucial to give it one last go just for old time’s sake. So for the final time, I bring you this season’s most compelling NBA story lines, A-Z for the 2018-2019 season–the abbreviated version.

Are the Golden State Warriors going join the short list of dynasty and get that 3-peat?Whether or not they hoist that trophy up again depends on their role players and how healthy they are heading into the playoffs.

Boston’s Depth. They go ten deep this year. Eastern Conference is theirs for the taking. I’d be shocked if they didn’t make the NBA Finals.

Competitive Balance or nah? Lebron and Kawhi moving eastward opens up a vacuum in the Eastern Conference. Who wants it?

Denver finally will get into the playoffs. But everyone will be too stoned to care.

End of an Era. Only two active players left who were drafted in the 90’s. Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter.

Folks were sleeping on the Spurs, and maybe they were right to be. Who knew their backcourt would get ravaged with injuries before the season even began?

Grizzlies got their fangs back? On paper they got some good players, but what happens if Mike Conley and Marc Gasol get hurt again? And they are still paying Chandler Parsons just to practice.

Houston regresses, but only slightly (of course this changes if they somehow trade for Jimmy Butler). They got slower, and older,but at least they got rid of Ryan Anderson’s contract.

Indiana won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year. 

Jamal Crawford getting signed this season? Philly? Golden State? Indiana?Portland?Houston? Anyone?

Kawhi’s new home or just a jump off?

Lebron’s new locker room. Lavar Ball, Javale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, and Lance Stephenson all in the same locker room? I’m all in on this.

Mavericks finally entertaining again (and I’m not talking about the off the court lawsuits). Luka Donkic might be this generation’s Andre Miller (and believe me that is not meant as a diss).

New Orleans is about to feel the heat. Anthony Davis signing with Klutch sports? He is good ass gone.

Opportunity knocks for Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee. Bucks made a great pick with Mike B. for their head coach. And yes I still think Jason Kidd can still be a good head coach somewhere.

Playing time for Nerlens Noel. I hope he can parlay this into a big contract. Don’t mess this up Nerlens.

Quiet Loans Arena…………..crickets…crickets………Kevin Love is about to experience some Deja Vu as his career is going to bookend with a bunch of L’s and empty stats.

Rookie of the Year goes to……… of Deandre Ayton, Luka Donkey-Kong, Marvin Bagley, and Jaren Jackson, Jackson is the only one with a legit shot to see playing time in April. My dark horse money is on the son of a former Spur.

Sixers will disappoint this season. Their bench is thin and are you really sure that Fultz, Simmons, or Embiid can stay healthy the entire year all at the same time? Yea me neither.

Thibs’ is f*$kin’ up! NBA front offices, do yourselves a favor: No more dual roles for head coaches. It just doesn’t work.

Utah is worth hating on again. Greyson Allen and Quin Snyder are both Dukies. Rudy Gobert is French, and Joe Ingles looks like some average schlub at the 24 hour fitness court. I do mess with Donovan “Spidey” Mitchell though. That dude goes hard.

Vince Carter can still contribute to a playoff contender. Philly, or Miami should trade for him if they can swing it.

Will this finally be the year the Trailblazers fans revolt?  Paul Allen died today so I don’t want to speak ill of the dead……..BUT Portland fans have been so happy just to have a team that they have no standards. As long as Blazers fans are simply  satisfied just o make the playoffs and get knocked out in the second round, then ownership will never have an incentive to field a championship roster.

X-ray results of my ankles. Am I ever going to be able to play full court basketball again? Tune in next week on the next episode of Kaiser’s Crusades.

Youthful Injection. Kevin Durant was in the 2007 draft and is considered a vet. Only four active players are left from the legendary draft of 2003. The NBA has gotten younger and there is a whole wave of young studs ready to fill that vacuum after this Warriors and Celtics championship wave is finished. [Eye’s Wide Open Emoji]

Zhaire Smith’s bad luck. I had high hopes for the swingman out of Texas Tech. I desperately wanted him to fall to the Spurs. Philadelphia drafted him, and he’s gotten all kinds of bad luck and freak injuries since. Poor guy. Get better soon Zhaire. Best of luck!

 

[Update 10/16/18] Pre-Season Predictions

 

Eastern Conference

1.Boston

2. Toronto

3. Indiana

4. Milwaukee

5. Philadelphia

6. Washington

7. Miami

8. New York

 

Western Conference

1. Houston

2.Golden State

3.Utah

4.Los Angeles

5.Portland

6.Memphis

7.Denver

8.San Antonio

 

MVP: Lebron James

Rookie Of The Year: Jaren Jackson

Sixth Man of the Year: Dirk Nowitzki

Most Improved Player: Markelle Fultz

Eastern Conference Finals: Indiana vs Boston

Western Conference Finals: Houston vs Golden State

NBA Finals: Golden State vs. Boston 

NBA Champs: Golden State (winners in seven)

 

Enjoy this season folks. Stay tuned for more updates.

 

BM

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found in the KDVS studios making on air playlists. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com