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Sports Then and Now



Waiting for the Weekend: Old Fuddy Duddy Watching the NBA Draft 9

Posted on June 23, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Markelle Fultz was selected with the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft after playing only 25 games at the college level.

Markelle Fultz was selected with the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft after playing only 25 games at the college level.

I have decided in this column to serve as the old “fuddy duddy”, which is defined as being old fashioned and fussy.

Last night was the NBA Draft and I must admit, my 11-year-old son had a much better grasp of the players being selected than I did. Not only because he is significantly closer in age to them, but also because in today’s electronic world, he is much more familiar with their exploits than I am. Though most of the top players played roughly 30 games at the college level, if you are interested and tech savvy, you can find all their highlights on YouTube.

Sorry to sound dated and bitter, but I fondly remember a day when players being drafted into the NBA were familiar to fans not because of a YouTube video, but because we had watched them play through usually three or four years of college. Even in a time when cable television was not yet prominent and not every game was available to watch, we still had ample chances to enjoy the top players for quite a while before they moved to the NBA.

When Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984 he had played 101 games as a college player, not to mention being on the 1984 Olympic team. While I don’t recall there necessarily being discussion then that he was going to be the greatest player of all-time (such labels weren’t really all that important in a time before sports talk shows), there was no question that he was a great player and would be a successful pro.

You can say similar things about all the other top draft picks from the 1970s and 1980s. In most cases, they were familiar to fans across the country because they had been showcased in college for multiple years.

Now not every great college player in the past panned out in the NBA. As is the case today, there were many players in past generations who were great college players, but just didn’t translate to the NBA. But even in those cases, you had four years to watch them play at college and the number of top picks who didn’t have at least some semblance of an NBA career was pretty minimal. Read the rest of this entry →

Waiting for the Weekend: Back from the Abyss 2

Posted on June 09, 2017 by Dean Hybl
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant each have been in the conversation about the greatest player in NBA history.

LeBron James and Kobe Bryant each have been in the conversation about the greatest player in NBA history.

When I started Sports Then and Now in 2009, one of the regular features of the site was a weekly Friday column in which I took a more in-depth look at a couple hot button topics in the world of sports. You may remember that in 2009 the country was struggling with unemployment at a level unseen for many years and I, like many others, was facing a time of being under-employed and had a bit more time to share my perspective about the world of sports.

Fortunately, my battle with under-employment was short lived and now as a country our unemployment levels are at all-time lows. While I have managed to find the time to continue Sports Then and Now as a web site, I have not had the same level of time to focus on the site as I did in 2009. Though I have been fortunate to have some quality articles written either by myself or in many cases other talented writers to keep the site going, things like my weekly Friday column became a victim of my busy life that not only includes a full-time job, but two kids and right now multiple youth sports coaching gigs.

However, I recently decided that I miss having a weekly platform to share some of my musings about sports. While I admit I may have a greater affinity for my work than deserved, I hope that my nearly 50 years as a sports fan as well as my training as a journalist makes my efforts at least somewhat entertaining.

Regardless, I have decided that beginning with this week, it is time to bring “Waiting for the Weekend” back after a seven year “sabbatical.” I promise to weekly give some thoughts and ideas about the current happenings in the world of sports, tie them to sports history when I can, and make them as entertaining as my talents allow.

So, without further delay, here we go:

Is LeBron the Greatest Ever? Does it Matter?: Even though it appears that LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to fall short of a second consecutive NBA Title, the fact that LeBron is appearing in the NBA Finals for the seventh straight season has necessitated the obligatory discussions about whether he is the greatest player in NBA history.

While I have my own opinions regarding LeBron’s historical status as well as the current talent level of the NBA, the question I have for anyone who fuels the discussion is why does it matter? When I was a kid we heard stories about the greatest from the early generations of NBA history including George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson. In the 1970s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving ruled the day. In the 1980s it was Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The 1990s were dominated by Michael Jordan with Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Karl Malone among those earning honorable mention. In the 2000s it was Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal ruling the land before LeBron took over.

The point is that regardless of what generation you connect with, there were NBA players who stood out above the crowd and were the best of that era.

Just given the physical evolution of the game and the methods of physical fitness, there is no question that LeBron James has a level of physical ability and skill that is unmatched in basketball history. However, that doesn’t necessarily make him the greatest player ever or conversely ensure that he isn’t the greatest of all-time.

Though by the time I was old enough to follow the NBA Wilt Chamberlain was better known for making car commercials with jockey Willie Shoemaker than he was for his basketball dominance, during his peak, Chamberlain was as dominant in terms of physical ability and skills as Jordan in the 1990s or LeBron today.

However, some would argue that because Bill Russell and a Boston Celtics roster filled with stars routinely kept Chamberlain from winning a title, Russell was better and Chamberlain was flawed. Read the rest of this entry →

Vintage Video: Michael Jordan Becomes MICHAEL JORDAN 1

Posted on May 07, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Lifting the Bulls over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1989 NBA Playoffs helped propel Michael Jordan to NBA Super stardom.

Lifting the Bulls over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1989 NBA Playoffs helped propel Michael Jordan to NBA Super stardom.

Prior to the 1989 NBA playoffs, Michael Jordan was already known as one of the best players in the NBA.  He was a three-time NBA scoring champion and had already earned his first NBA MVP Award. However, Jordan didn’t yet have a signature playoff moment. That all changed 28 years ago on May 7, 1989.

After first round playoff exits in each of Jordan’s first three playoff appearances, the Bulls had finally advanced to the second round in 1988. However, they lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Detroit Pistons.

Facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the opening round of the 1989 playoffs, the Bulls were on the brink of being eliminated in the first round for the fourth time in five years. The best-of-five series was tied at two games each and the Cavaliers led by a single point (100-99) when Jordan and the Bulls broke the huddle with three seconds remaining.

It was in those three seconds that Jordan started his rise from NBA star to all-time legend.

Taking the inbounds pass, Jordan drove to the foul line and then took a jump shot over the outraced arm of Cleveland guard Craig Ehlo. As the ball fell through the next, Jordan jumped in joy and pumped his fist as the Bulls celebrated.

Though they eventually lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan was now established as a clutch player and the legend continued to grow.

Two years later the Bulls won their first NBA title and Jordan was on his way to being known as the greatest of all-time.

Conversely, the shot by Jordan proved to be a dagger for the Cavaliers. The struggled the next two seasons before reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 1992 (losing to Jordan and the Bulls). While the Bulls went on to win six NBA Championships, the Cavaliers never advanced out of the Eastern Conference while losing in the opening round six times between 1989 and 1998.

Check out video from the first defining playoff shot of Jordan’s career.
Read the rest of this entry →

Can Magic, Larry and Michael Dominate the NBA Again? 1

Posted on March 02, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson were teammates during the 1992 Dream Team, but have been competitors for most of their careers.

Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson were teammates during the 1992 Dream Team, but have been competitors for most of their careers.

Of the 19 NBA seasons between 1979-1980 and 1997-98, only three times did the NBA Finals not include at least one of the trio of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan (two of which none of the trio played an entire season). With Johnson now joining Bird and Jordan leading an NBA franchise, can this trio again dominate the NBA?

The easy answer would seem to be no, but given the determination of all three NBA Legends, anything is certainly possible.

Michael Jordan’s track record leading an NBA Franchise has been a bit less than earthshaking. He had a dubious front office start by drafting Kwame Brown with the first pick of the 2001 NBA Draft while serving as Director of Basketball Operations for the Washington Wizards. He was ultimately fired by the Wizards following the 2003 season.

He became a part-owner of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2006 and as part of his role was the primary decision maker for basketball operations. Jordan became the majority owner in 2010 and has maintained that role through the name-change of the franchise back to being the Charlotte Hornets.

During the past decade, the Bobcats/Hornets have not been particularly impressive on the court. They have managed only three winning seasons and in each of those years lost in the opening round of the playoffs. The 2011-2012 team posted a 7-59 record during the strike-shortened season for a winning percentage of just .106.

Last season the Hornets had an impressive 48-34 record, but were again knocked out in the opening round of the playoffs. Expected to be a contender this year, they are currently 11th in the East with a disappointing 25-33 record.

Given his competitiveness, you can bet if Jordan sees Magic Johnson come in and return the Los Angeles Lakers to past glory, it will light an even greater competitive fire under the best player in NBA history.

While Jordan’s tenure as an executive has clearly been below par, Larry Bird has had some stretches of success leading the Indiana Pacers.

Bird served for three seasons as head coach of the Pacers from 1998-2000 and had an overall record of 147-67. He guided the Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.

He became President of Basketball Operations for the Pacers in 2003 and in 2011-2012 was named the NBA Executive of the Year. He left the team for a year from 2012-2013, but since 2013 has again served as President of basketball Operations for the Pacers. Read the rest of this entry →

Happy 80th Birthday Jim Brown 2

Posted on February 17, 2016 by Dean Hybl
Happy 80th Birthday Jim Brown!

Happy 80th Birthday Jim Brown!

Though it has been 50 years since he last carried a football in the NFL and most of his records have long been broken, Jim Brown still stands among the greatest ever to play professional football and is arguably still at the top of that list. We wish this legend and American treasurer a happy 80th birthday!

When he retired following the 1965 season at the age of 29, Brown held the NFL record with 12,312 career rushing yards. Though his mark was first passed by Walter Payton in 1984 and has since been eclipsed by seven other players, Brown remains the only player in NFL history to average more than 100 yards rushing per game (104).

Brown was the epitome of a player retiring at the peak of his greatness. In his final NFL season, Brown rushed for 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns as the Cleveland Browns reached the NFL Championship Game.

In the 1963 NFL season, Brown rushed for 1,863 yards, which was the NFL single season record at the time. The following season, he gained 1,446 yards rushing and then had 114 yards to lead the Browns to what remains the last NFL Championship for Cleveland.

During his nine NFL seasons, Brown led the NFL in rushing an amazing eight times. At the time of his retirement, Brown’s career rushing total was nearly 2,600 more than second place Joe Perry. He also scored a then record 106 career touchdowns.

In the ensuing 50 years since he last wore an NFL uniform, Brown has spent time as an actor, but most importantly he has been a vocal leader in civil rights and supporting inner city youth. It is amazing to think that not only was Brown a great football player, but he was also one of the best college lacrosse players of his era. He was recently prominently involved when Hampton University, a predominantly African American school in Virginia, recently started a varsity lacrosse program.

It is interesting that arguably the greatest player in NFL history shares a birthday with the greatest player in NBA history, Michael Jordan. In fact, when ESPN ranked the top athletes of the 20th Century, Jordan was first and Brown fourth. Read the rest of this entry →

Basketball Classics: Jordan Usurps Magic In The 1991 NBA Finals 2

Posted on June 07, 2013 by R. Hoyal

Jordan vs Magic

The ’91 NBA Final was the defining series for the future of the NBA for the next decade. The best player in the league would learn how to win on basketball’s biggest stage. Michael Jordan and the Bulls would win six titles including the ’91 affair. The Lakers would not see glory again until they retooled for the Kobe and Shaq era. This series was certainly a definitive passing of the torch moment.

The first stage was part abdication and the rest annihilation. The Chicago Bulls finally vanquished their long time nemesis the Detroit Pistons in a convincing sweep. For three years leading up to this moment, the Bulls made continual progress towards usurping the Pistons dynasty. Each successive time they met in the playoffs, the Bulls came closer to beating them. Finally in 1991, the Bulls overcame their most bitter of rivals. Many notable Pistons left the court with eight seconds left, in a last gasp show of defiance.

While the conference finals featured Chicago overcoming their most bitter rivals, the NBA finals were a changing of the guard on a national scale. The Los Angeles Lakers were at the end of their “Showtime” dynasty. James Worthy and Magic Johnson were at the end of their storied careers. The stranglehold the Lakers had in the Pacific Division, ended this year as Portland finished first in the division. One last run was on the plate for these Lakers, as they triumphed over Portland in six games.

Read the rest of this entry →

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    • Joe Cronin: Player-Manager
      October 1, 2017 | 8:21 am
      Joe Cronin

      Joe Cronin

      In recognition of the start of the baseball playoffs, we recognize as the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month a man who managed pennant winning teams in Washington and Boston and spent more than decade as a player-manager.

      When the Boston Red Sox acquired Joe Cronin following the 1934 season they didn’t just get an All-Star player, they also got a new manager.

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