Monday, December 24, 2012

J-Speaks: The Rising Los Angeles Clippers

When someone says the name of the other Los Angeles professional basketball team the Clippers, there are a lot of words that come to mind and they are not all that good. The words terrible, awful and bad come to mind. To put it in perspective, since coming to Los Angeles from San Diego back in 1984-85, they have only made the playoffs on only five occasions. Things have changed for them though a year ago thanks to some major acquisitions over the last two off seasons and this season they have taken major strides in becoming a serious contender in the Western Conference. On Friday, they set a franchise record versus their Pacific Division rival.

In their 97-85 victory over the Sacramento Kings, the Clippers (21-6) won their 12th consecutive game, setting a franchise record. The victory was also the Clippers second over the Kings (7-17) this season. They defeated them 116-81 in Los Angeles back on Dec. 1 and have won five in a row in the series, which includes all three meetings last season. Their last setback came on Nov. 26 when they lost at home to the New Orleans Hornets 105-98. They snapped a four-game losing streak and began this streak of 12 straight wins with a 101-95 win versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The team added to that winning streak bringing it to 13 wins in succession on Sunday with a 103-77 victory at the Phoenix Suns.

To put this streak in perspective, the Clippers have had a double-digit winning streak only one other time in franchise history. That came back in the 1974-75 when they were the Buffalo Braves and they won 11 games in a row. A major force on that team was Hall of Famer and current assistant coach with the defending World Champion Miami Bob McAdoo, who averaged 34.5 ppg and 14.1 rpg. Other teammates of his included longtime assistant coach Garfield Heard; Randy Smith, who set the NBA record for consecutive played in the regular season with 906 from 1972-1982; Jim McMillian, who was a part of the 1972 World Champion Los Angeles Laker team that won a then NBA record 69 win in the regular season; Jack Marin who is enshrined in the North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Duke Halls of Fame and former NBA head coach and longtime assistant coach to current head coach of the Denver Nuggets George Karl.

Current Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, who played 12 seasons in the NBA was just eight years old when that mark took place.

That team went 49-33 that season, which is still the franchise record for a team that has had talented draft picks like center Benoit Benjamin (11.4 ppg 7.5 rpg, 1.9 bpg) guard Terry Deere (8.0 ppg, 2.6 apg 41.1 FG%), center Michael Olowokandi (8.3 ppg 6.8 rpg, 43.5 FG%) who was the No. 1 overall pick back in 1998 and forward Darius Miles (10.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg 47.2 FG%).

The Clippers in their history have had 20 double-digit losing streaks, which includes a dozen that were of 12-plus games. Back in the 1994-95 campaign, they lost the final 16 games of that season. They followed that up by losing the first 17 games of the lockout-shortened season of 1998-99 and the final 14 games in the 1986-87 season.

The franchise record for futility is 19, which the Clippers set back in 1981-82 and equaled in 1988-89.

Two other times that the Clippers had a long winning streaks was back in 1979 when they won eight straight games when they were led by Hall of Famer World B. Free.

Their second eight-game winning streak in team history came back in 1991. That team consisted of the likes of Danny Manning, Ron Harper, Ken Norman, former New York Knicks Charles Smith and Glenn “Doc” Rivers, who is the current head coach of the Boston Celtics.

“Most of the guys have been here through tougher times,” Clippers guard Chris Paul, who had 24 points, 13 assists and five steals on 7 for 13 shooting, including 5 for 7 from three point range said after the game on Friday.

“I know Ron Harper really well. He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s excited for us. We just played against Corey Maggette [Detroit Pistons], and he was excited to see how it is now.”

There are number of reason why the Clippers have gone from futility to being in the conversation as a contender in the Western Conference with the likes of the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzles to name a few.

One of the reasons is last seasons acquisition Paul (16.1 ppg in 2012-13) who had 17 points, 13 assists and five steals on Sunday. He has given the Clippers something that they have not had in quite a long time. Stability, leadership and confidence to compete and play well in games, but a willingness and a selflessness to do the little things to win.

“He’s so efficient. He’s making all the right passes. All the right plays, but also what I like is he’s being that veteran helping guys out,” NBA TV analyst Steve Smith said.

“I like what he’s doing on the bench talking to young [Eric] Bledsoe getting him ready. Helping Blake Griffin stay engaged. I think when you start to look at Chris Paul, a coach has to love having a point guard like this.”


That kind of leadership and presence has helped the development of Griffin (18.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg 53.7 FG%) who had 21 points, 13 boards and two blocks on Friday. That was followed up with 23 points, 11 boards and four steals on Sunday at the Suns.

“I remember the year I go drafted. The season before that, they had only 19 wins. So what we’ve accomplished so far is great,” Griffin said after the game. “But the best thing about it for me is being a part of something that’s much bigger than Chris or I. It takes everybody from top to bottom--the GM, the coaching staff, the players, everybody. And from day one since I’ve been here, everybody’s been serious about changing.”

While the stars for the Clippers have played to their All-Star greatness, the Clippers have won at this high clip because of contributions from other key players.

Those key players include center DeAndre Jordan who is averaging a career-best 9.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 1.6 bpg; off-season acquisition forward/guard Matt Barnes, who is averaging a career-best 10.3 ppg and 5.1 boards and he had 13 points, five boards and two blocks on Friday. In the contest on Sunday, Barnes scored 15 points and had eight boards off the bench going 5 for 7 from the floor, which included a 3 for 4 effort from three-point range. Guard Jamal Crawford, who also was signed this past off-season is averaging 16.3 points per game off the bench and on ten occasions this season has scored 20 points or more. The tenth came on Sunday when he scored 22 points going 8 for 12 from the floor, including 3 for 6 from three-point land in 25 minutes.

While these role players have made a difference so far, the Clippers as they continue through this season hope that they can get even more contributions from the aforementioned players as well as from two other very key veterans. Guard Chauncey Billups, who is coming back from an injury that cut his season short a year ago and has only allowed him to play in just three games so far this season and forward Lamar Odom, who despite having a solid game on Friday with eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks off the bench, has just averaged 3.3 ppg and 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 apg. Those numbers are a far fetch from the 13.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 3.8 apg that he has averaged in 13 seasons. On top of that forward Grant Hill, who Clippers also signed this off-season has yet to play this season because of a knee injury. Hill who as averaged 17.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 4.2 apg hopes to be back on the court in mid-January according to the Los Angeles Times report that came out four days ago.

The other key for the Clippers to be a serious contender when we get to April is can they play the kind of defense that gives you a chance to contend for a title?


If Friday’s victory was any indication, despite the fact that it was the Kings, than the Clippers are well on their way.

The Clippers outrebounded the Kings 53-32, which included 16 offensive rebounds. They held the Kings to 41.8 percent shooting from the field, had 13 blocks and had 13 steals.

On Sunday at the Suns the Clippers outrebounded their opponent 44-41. They had 12 steals, seven blocks and forced 16 turnovers.

For the season, the Clippers offensively are scoring 101.2 ppg (9th NBA) and allowing just 91.6 ppg (4th NBA). That point differential of +9.6 is the best in the NBA. They also rank 2nd in the league in assists at 23.3 per contest and Paul is second in the league at 9.6. The Clippers are No. 1 in the league in steals at 10.7 per contest and 7th in shot blocking at 6.5 per contest. Paul leads the league in steals at 2.7 per contest.

The one weakness in the Clippers game that could hold them back from maybe winning it all this season is their shooting at the free throw line.

While as a team, they are shooting 73.7 percent from the charity stripe, Griffin this season is shooting just 61.8 percent and for his career is just a 52.5 percent free throw shooter. Jordan this season is shooting just 42.2 percent from the foul line and for his career is shooting just 43.8 percent.

It has been a long hard road for the Clippers to gain traction in Los Angeles. They have had so much turnover from players and coaches and finally they have stability with coach Del Negro. Stars in Paul and Griffin who put in the work to be great on the court and they have one of the deepest benches in the league.

That has resulted in the quickest march to the 20-win mark and only the sixth time they have accomplished that feet, which includes last season when the team was 20-11.

This is a far cry from the 19-63 record that they had back in 2008-09 and nobody knows how far they have come better than coach Del Negro.

“You have to have players. You have to have talent. You have to have guys believing in what you’re doing, and find ways to win and be consistent,” Del Negro said on Friday.

“I think the guys are learning and understanding what it takes to play at a high level consistently. It’s a good thing to have a target on your back, but that also brings responsibility to play at a high level as often as possible.”

Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 12/22/12 7 a.m. edition of NBA TV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla, Steve Smith and Sam Mitchell; Sporting News 2006-07 Official NBA Guide; article “Clippers Set Franchise Mark with 12th Straight Win” and “Blake Griffin, Chris Paul guide Clippers to 13th Straight Win;”;;;;;

J-Speaks: Detroit Lions’ Receiver Calvin Johnson Makes History

When you say the name Jerry Rice, what follows in how he can be described is the word G.O.A.T. Meaning he is one of the greatest of all-time. Were talking about the all-time leader in receptions with 1,549, touchdown receptions with 197 and a total of 208 and receiving yards with 22,895. He also had a work ethic that was second to none which allowed him to play at the Hall of Fame level that he did and allowed him to become the Hall of Famer that he is today. One of the main records that he has held for 17 years is the single-season mark for receiving yards which he set back in 1995. On Saturday night a Detroit Lion wideout out of Georgia Tech who has just about the same work ethic as Rice did placed his name in the National Football League history books.

Despite falling to the Atlanta Falcons(13-2) 31-18, who are the National Football Conference South Division champions of 2012 and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs on Saturday night, Lions (4-11) wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s 11 receptions for 225 yards gave him 1892 yards for the season and broke the record for receiving yards in a single season.

To understand the meaning of this great accomplishment, although it came in defeat, prior to Rice’s 1848 receiving yards 17 years ago, the previous record was by wideout Charley Hennigan of the Houston Oilers who had 1,746 receiving yards in 1961. Ten years prior former wideout Elroy Hirsch of the Los Angeles Rams and the then Chicago Rockets had the record of 1,495 yards.

Also on Saturday night, Johnson set the NFL record for consecutive 100-yard receiving games with eight and consecutive games with 10-plus receptions with four. He also tied Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin of the Dallas Cowboys for most 100-yard games in a season with 11; entered into a tie for second all-time for the most 200-yard receiving games in NFL history with four and set the record for most receptions within a calendar month with 44 catches in the month of December. That ties Rice (1985-95), Hennigan (1961-62) and former Green Bay Packer Don Hutson (1942-44).

“It’s a huge accomplishment to take one of those records from the great Jerry. All the work that we put in this year is I guess you can say well deserved,” Johnson said after the game to ESPN’s Lisa Salters.

What makes this record setting performance, all be it in a loss, which was the Lions seventh consecutive, is the fact that he has been able to have the level of consistency and each defense that he is going against is geared to stop him.

It also has not helped that some of the other wide receiver on the Lions like Titus Young, Nate Burleson and rookie Ryan Broyles as well as tight end Brandon Pettigrew were missing in action on Saturday due to injury.

What has also helped Johnson become a great player is his work ethic.

One constant that is talked about around NFL circles is the fact that the man who goes by the nickname “Megatron,” which was given to him by former Lion wideout Roy Williams is that he takes great pride in his craft. What you see on Sundays is the result of preparation consistent work at his craft in the off-season and the work that is put in during the week of the regular season.

It is that kind of work that began at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, GA, where in his sophomore and junior years he had 74 catches for4 1,382 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was rated in the top 10 of wideouts and one of the 1op 100 players by nearly every recruiting analyst. He was the No. 1 rated football player in the state of Georgia, the No. 12 rated player in the Southeast and the No. 37 rated player in the nation according to at that time.

At Georgia Institute of Technology where Johnson played for current Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey used the same great work ethic that made him into a great high school football player into and amazing football player in college.

In his three seasons as a Yellow Jacket (2004-2006), Johnson recorded 2,927 receiving yards. He became a two-time All-American (2005, 2006). He was named to the First-Team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in all three years. Johnson was ACC Rookie of the Year in 2004 and was named ACC Rookie of the Week four times. He saved his best for last in 2006 where he won the Biletnikoff and Paul Warfield Awards for the best wideout in college football. He also finished 10th in the Heisman voting last season for his 76 catches for 1,202 yards and 15 scores.

In the classroom Johnson also excelled. In the summer that same year, the management major with a background in building construction was given the option of working on either constructing environmentally friendly luxury condos or doing a project building solar latrines to improve sanitation in Bolivia. Johnson chose to latter as he wanted to help the less fortunate.

With a career in the NFL waiting in the wings, Johnson made his decision on Jan. 8, 2007 to enter the draft that year. He was hyped as one of the best athletes to come out of the draft and he was rated No. 1 on most draft boards.

He did not disappoint at his workout as he was clocked at an unbelievable 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro-day at Georgia Tech. He clocked in at 4.33 seconds at a mid-February workout with speed and conditioning coach Mark Pearsall.

When the NFL Draft came that April in 2007 the Detroit Lions selected Johnson with the second overall pick.

The next day, he was invited by the city’s professional baseball team the Tigers to throw the first pitch.

After holding out for eight days of mini-camp, Johnson signed a 6-year $64 million contract with $27.2 million guaranteed.

In his rookie season, Johnson finished with 48 receptions for 756 yards and five touchdowns. The next season, he really made a name for himself with 67 catches for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns. His best season all across the board was last season when he posted 96 catches for 1,681 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns (Lions record for a season.

Like all great players, he saved his best for last at the end of that regular season where he recorded a career-best 244 receiving yards in a 45-41 loss to the NFC North Division arch rival Green Bay Packers.

Despite the loss, the Lions made the playoffs for the first time since 1999 going 10-6, finishing second in the NFC North. Their first playoff appearance would be a short one as they lost at the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card game 45-28. Johnson played well in the game catching 12 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. In defeat he also broke the record of 150 receiving yards in a postseason game that was previously held by Brett Perriman and Leonard Thompson.

With all the production that Johnson has had, especially in the last two seasons, it is not possible with a prolific passer to get the ball to him and he has that in Matthew Stafford. Johnson knows better than anyone that all that he has accomplished is not possible without him.

“It’s half his too. He’s the one delivering me the ball every week,” Johnson said to the media after the game.

What has made Johnson a special player besides his production on the field and the work ethic he shows that allows him to excel on the field is the humility that he shows off of it.

There are a lot of great wide receivers in the NFL today and there have been a great many for as far back as we can remember. A lot of them though have a lot of flamboyance that they show that turns a lot of people off, especially when they score touchdowns. Those are things that Johnson rarely has shown in his NFL career and as mentioned before he is willing to put the work in at his craft. It is something that has earned him a great deal of respect from his team as well as his peers around the NFL.

“I’m a fan. I really am. He’s an unbelievable player. One of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met and couldn’t have happened to a better person,” Falcons signal caller Matt Ryan said of Johnson after the game to Salters.

“If somebody would’ve told me at the beginning of the season that the record of 18 something then I would’ve put my money on him to break it,” Stafford said after the game.

“He’s a pleasure to throw the ball to and obviously a pleasure to be a teammate with. Just the way he carries himself and the way he works.”

In a season where everything has gone wrong for the Lions both on and off the field, Calvin Johnson is the reason why a glimmer of hope remains in the Motor City. This great player is not only talented but he cares about his team, the city he plays for and the person he is. It would be very easy especially the way this season has gone after so much promise last season, but Johnson has shown what a true pros is supposed to do, prepare and produce.

That preparation has led to the production of the aforementioned single-season receiving record of 1892 yards this season. It is also how he became the first player in NFL history to have consecutive seasons of at least 1,600 receiving yards and have a franchise record of three seasons with 10-plus touchdowns. On top of that it is what allows the team to sign you to an eight-year $132 million contract extension, with $60 million guaranteed.

It is this type of work ethic and commitment to your craft that allows rewarding moments to have a chance to knock at your door and is something that earns you the respect and places you in the same conversations among the best that have played or play in the NFL It is something that Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has seen as an NFL fan as a kid and as a coach.

“I grew up in Baltimore [MD] with Hall of Famers like Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry and a lot of great players in the history of the National Football League. I’ve coached for 19 years in the NFL, I’ve never seen a better player than Calvin Johnson and I’ll say what I said when we signed him in the spring to that contract extension. As good players as you see on the field, he’s a better person. He’s a better teammate,” Schwartz said.

Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 12/22/12 ESPN Special Edition of Monday Night Football with Mike Tirico, John Gruden and Lisa Salters; 12/22/12 11:30 p.m. edition of ESPN “Sportscenter” with Jay Harris and John Buccigross;;;;;;;;

J-Speaks: The Passing of Great on the Gridiron and The Silver and Small Screen

There are very few people who can say that they were great in two different jobs in their life. This gentleman from Gary, IN was one of them. He first came to notoriety on the gridiron where he was an amazing player at the University of Iowa and then played for 12 seasons in the NFL and he then followed it up with an amazing career on the big and small screen. Unfortunately in his later years of life, he suffered several health problems that came from playing the game that he loved and made him special. This past Wednesday this man who went from being one of the most feared defensive lineman on the gridiron, to an outlaw with a heart of gold on the big screen, to a touching father on the small screen and had his story come to a conclusion.

On the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 10, former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras, who also played George Papadapolis on the television sitcom “Webster” and Mongo in the Western comedy “Blazing Saddles,” passed away at his home in Los Angeles, CA from complications from kidney failure. The 77-year-old passed on surrounded by his family according to his attorney Craig Mitnick.

Karras is survived by his wife of 32 years Susan Clark, who also played his wife on “Webster.” They first met while filming the made-for-television biopic Babe for CBS. They had a daughter together. He was also married to Joan Jurgensen for 17 years and they had five children together. They divorced in 1975.

According to the Oct. 11 edition of Newsday, Clark had said that Karras began showing signs of dementia over 12 years ago. She also said that his quality of life deteriorated because of many injuries to his head that he sustained during his playing career. It had gotten so bad that he could no longer do everyday things like drive a car. Karras could not even remember some of his favorite Italian and Greek dishes that he would cook on a regular basis.

Back in April, Karras became the lead plaintiff in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, PA. He was one of 3,500 retired NFL players that accused the league that gave them the chance of a lifetime not doing a better job of protecting them from head injuries.

“Alex Karras was an outstanding player during a time when the NFL emerged as America’s favorite sport,” the NFL said in a statement.

“He will always be remembered as one of the most colorful characters in NFL history.”

Karras was born on July 15, 1935. He is the son of Dr. George Karras, a Greek immigrant who graduated from the University of Chicago and got his medical degree in Canada. In Canada is where he met and married a Canadian woman Emmeline Wilson. George opened a medical practice in Gary, IN, but passed away when Alex was 13 years old.

At that time is when Alex began his football journey where he went from playing in the parking lot near his childhood home to becoming a four-time Indiana all-state selection at Gary Emerson High School.

His brothers Lou, who became a future member of the Washington Redskins and Ted who later played for the Chicago Bears and Lions had played at Purdue, but he transferred to Indiana.

When it came time to select where he wanted to go to college, several coaches from the Iowa to Karras to Spencer, IA away from rival recruits and convinced him to sign with the Hawkeyes.

While he struggled in the beginning of his college career in both the classroom and on the field, he hit his stride when he befriended a Greek theater owner as well as his teammates Cal Jones and Bob Cummings.

One signature moment of his college career came in his junior season of 1956 when he sealed a 6-0 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes when he sacked the quarterback on the final play of the game. The victory clinched the Big Ten title for Iowa and its first ever Rose Bowl berth, in which they went on to defeat the Oregon State Beavers 35-19.

In the team’s final game of that season was against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, which they defeated 48-8 and Karras called the game his biggest college win, saying, “The Karrases have always had a rivalry with Notre Dame. The school was just 60 miles down the road from our home and we wanted to beat ‘me at anything.”

In his senior season, Karras was the most dominant lineman in the nation, winning the 1957 Outland Trophy and was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.

To put this in perspective, the only lineman ever to win the Heisman was Notre Dame defensive end Leon Hart, who accomplished that great feet in 1949.

After a great career at Iowa, he would enter the 1958 NFL Draft and was selected with the 10th overall pick by the Detroit Lions.

In his 12 seasons in the NFL, Karras made the Pro Bowl on four occasions and was a three-time All-Pro selection. He also received recognition from the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was selected to the All-Decade Team of the 1960s. The Lions during that time period as a team were over .500 six times, but they made the playoffs only once. That was in 1970 when they went 10-4, which was Karras’ final season. Aside from 1970, the Lions two other great seasons were in 1962 when they went 11-3, allowing just 177 points that season, which is an average of 12.6 ppg. In the 1969 the Lions went 9-4-1, surrendering just 188 points that season, an average of 13.4 points per contest. In 1970, the Lions surrendered 202 points that season, a 14.4 per game average.

In all three seasons, the Lions ranked second in the NFL thanks a great deal to the stellar defensive line of Karras and his sidekick Roger Brown.

That great defensive in the divisional playoff game in 1970 against the Dallas Cowboys, the Lions did not allow a touchdown they lost 5-0. It was Karras’ only appearance in the playoffs and it was the final game of his NFL career He retired at age 35.

His time in the NFL was not smooth sailing though as he had a number of run-ins. One of them included being suspended for the entire 1963 season by then Commissioner Pete Rozelle because of his involvement in a gambling probe. Karras insisted that he only put wages on cigarettes or cigars for friends.

While he made a name for himself on the gridiron in both college and the pros, Karras gained the hearts of Americans as an actor on the silver and small screen.

In 1968, he played himself in the film adaptation of George Plimpton’s nonfiction sports book “Paper Lion.”

He really made a name for himself to the world at large in Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles (1974),” where he Mongo, a night the brightest bowl in the China shop, but physically strong outlaw who slugged a horse.

He is best known in the movie for the very classic line, “Mongo only pawn in game of life.”

In that same year, American Broadcasting Company (ABC) brought him in to replace Fred Williamson as a commentator for “Monday Night Football.”

He worked his role in the booth for three years before leaving after the 1976 season. He is best remembered for his comment in his first game when he joked that bald Oakland Raiders’ lineman Otis Sistrunk, who never went to college was from “the University of Mars.”

When Karras returned to acting he was able to secure roles that include playing Sheriff Wallace in “Porky’s” and as western settler Hans Brumbaugh in ‘Centennial.”

In 1982 he played James Gardner’s closeted gay bodyguard in the Blake Edwards’ movie “Victor Victoria.”

In 1984 he played Hank Sully, the right-hand-man of villain of James Woods character Jake Wise in the film “Against All Odds.”

Karras also appeared on “M*A*S*H” in the episode ‘Springtime,” “The Odd Couple” and he had a brief run on “Match Game 75.”

Karras rose to greatness in the 1980s on the hit show “Webster,” where he played the adoptive father George Papadapolis to Emmanuel Lewis character “Webster.”

He and his wife Susan Clark not only starred on the show, they were also producers of the show through their Georgian Bay Entertainment production company.

“I have a very heavy heart this morning and I did not know why. I understand now,” Clark said back in October. “Rest in peace, my friend.”

There are very few people in this world that can say that they made a great name for themselves in sports and as an actor. Alex Karras can say he was able to do both. He was tough on the gridiron and he was sensational in front of the camera. He is also one of many examples of how the game that brought him to greatness ended up leading to the end of his life years later. It is because of his passing why the NFL and football in general is under a serious microscope and why the game that has become the best in the nation has made changes to protect players better.

Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of and Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 Newsday article in the Obituaries section “Detroit football great and sitcom dad Alex Karras, 77” by Larry Lage of The Associated Press.

Monday, December 17, 2012

J-Speaks: Kobe Bryant Reaches A Historic Milestone

From the moment he came into the NBA back in 1997 Kobe Bryant has had a flair for greatness. A will to get better everyday and a relentless determination to get the job done. As a result he has made multiple all-star teams and has won multiple championships. He has also been able to score a incredible amount of points and back on Wednesday Dec. 5 he joined some very special company.

In the Los Angeles Lakers’ 103-87 victory at the New Orleans Hornets, Bryant scored on a runner in the lane with 1:16 left in the second quarter surpassed 30,000 points making him the fifth player in the history of the National Basketball Association to reach that mark. He also became the youngest player at 34 years 104 days at the time to reach that milestone.

He joins Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points), Karl Malone (36,928 points) Michael Jordan (32,292 points) and Wilt Chamberlin (31,419 points).

To really understand the true value of this great accomplishment, Bryant became the youngest player at 34 years and 104 days old to reach the 30,000 point plateau. He was also the youngest player to reach the 20,000 point plateau. Chamberlin though reached this milestone in the shortest amount of time needing just 941 games. Jordan did it in 960 games; Abdul-Jabbar in 1,101; Malone in 1,152 and Bryant in 1,179.

In the month of December alone, Bryant who scored 34 points on 12 for 21 from the field in a 111-98 at the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday is averaging 34.2 ppg on 45.8 percent from the floor in the month of December. He is the first player in NBA history to have six consecutive 30 point performances at age 34 or older. He currently leads the NBA in scoring at 29.5 points per contest and has scored 30 points 398 times in his career.

“It’s just a tremendous honor,” Bryant told reporters after the game where he scored 29 points in the victory and is the only time in the last nine Laker contest that he did not score 30 points or more.

“Whenever your hearing those kind of names, you think about the amount of players that have played this game and to be in that kind of company is always extremely special,” Bryant told reporters earlier this month.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, who witness 30,000-point milestone of Abdul-Jabbar was on hand at New Orleans Arena to witness Bryant’s accomplishment.

“Kobe has such an extraordinary run playing at the highest level for so long with the championships to prove it in a league that is extremely competitive,” Stern said to reporters before that game.

Bryant was very complementary of Stern as well when he said, “He’s done a lot for the game and obviously this kind of being his last in office and so forth. It really means a lot.”

One other very fascinating fact about this exclusive quintet is that four of the five players play or played for the Lakers at one point in their amazing careers. It is something that is not lost on Kobe Bryant or his backcourt mate who came into the league with as rookies back in 1996.

“Its amazing to think back in 1996 when we were both rookies and what Kobe has accomplished in his career. What he’s been to the city of L.A. To the Lakers fans. Its amazing,” said former Laker guard and current member of the Dallas Mavericks Derek Fisher, who played for the Lakers from 1996-2004 and 2007-2012.

While Bryant has had a great season individually up to this point, the team as a whole has underachieved. Despite a big win at the aforementioned Sixers on Sunday, the team is currently 11-14 on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

On top of that their victory over the Sixers was just the second time this season the Lakers have won back-to-back games. Prior to the last two victories when Bryant scored 30 points or more, the Lakers were lost 10 of those 11 opportunities.

They have played almost all of this season without their prized acquisition in the off-season, point guard Steve Nash because of an injured fibula. The team’s second best frontcourt player Pau Gasol has missed the last eight games with tendonitis in both knees. The other prized acquisition in Lakers received in the off-season center Dwight Howard, while has put up solid numbers of 18.2 ppg, 11.9 rpg and 2.6 bpg has yet to be the difference maker many hoped he would be.

They hope that their last performance at the Sixers is a sign of things to come as Bryant played well scoring an aforementioned 34 and Metta World Peace had 19 points, a career-high 16 rebounds, four steals and two blocks. Howard had 17 points 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Rookie guard Darius Morris had 15 points going 5 for 8 from the floor, including 3 for 5 from three-point range. Starting lead guard Chris Duhon had 14 points hitting 4 for 10 from three-point land and Jodie Meeks added 12 points off the bench.

The Lakers shot 48.8 percent from the floor and went 14 from 34 from three-point land. This on the heels of shooting 45 percent and hitting just eight threes on 29 attempts in their 102-96 victory at the Washington Wizards.

“The thing I’m most happy about is the energy that were playing with. Even though we’ve beat Washington and its Philadelphia and its not a Oklahoma [City Thunder]. Its not a San Antonio [Spurs], were playing with a better spirit. Were playing with more energy. That’s what I like,” Bryant said after the game on Sunday.

Kobe Bryant came into this league with a splash. He started at the 1997 NBA All-Star Game in 1997 when he won the Slam Dunk contest. He finished his rookie season making the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Since then he has made 14 all-star teams, starting each one since his second year in the league and has won the Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) in the game four times (2002, 2007, 2009 and 2011). He ranks third and fifth on the NBA’s all-time post-season scoring and all-time regular season scoring list respectably. He has been named to the All-NBA first team 10 times; All-NBA Second Team twice and the All-NBA Third Team twice. He has been selected nine times to the NBA All-Defensive First Team and to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team three times. He was named MVP of the NBA in 2008. He is the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers.

While all of those individual accomplishments are great, the two which are without question the most important to him are the five titles he has helped the Lakers win and the two Olympic Gold medals he garnered with Team USA.

Lakers broadcaster Joel Meyers said it best when Bryant scored his 30,001-point, “Kobe Bryant, the greatest player in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers has just joined some very elite company.”

He would like to make some more history this June as if Lakers do win it all, Bryant would garner his sixth ring, which would tie him with the player that he is most compared to, Michael Jordan. He understands for that top happen though, Nash and Gasol must get back on the court and the team must grow into the cohesive unit that many expect to be.

Information, quotations and statistics are courtesy of 12/16/12 5:30 a.m. edition of NBA Action on NBA TV; 12/17/12 1:30 a.m. edition of NBA TV’s Gametime with Rick Kamla, Brent Barry and Steve Smith; Dec. 7, 2012 article “Kobe Bryant Youngest to 30,000” by Dave McMenamin;;

Monday, December 3, 2012

J-Speaks: The Loss of A Legend of the Collegiate Hardwood

There are very few coaches that can say they put a product on the hardwood that produced year in and year out. This man did it and he did it for 25 years. In that period of time, he only had one season where his team did not finish with a winning record. While he was making sure his teams were ready to compete on the hardwood in 23 of those 25 seasons this great coach battled heart issues. Two weeks ago, the health of his heart became so serious that he was forced to resign his head coaching position with the Saint Louis Billikens. Two night ago, this great coach and former college basketball analyst for ESPN lost that battle.

On Saturday night in Los Angeles, former college basketball coach Rick Majerus passed away from heart failure in an L.A. hospital. He was 64 years old. He is survived by his sisters Jodi and Tracy Majerus.

In his 25-year as a college coach at Marquette University Warriors, now Golden Eagles, Ball State University Cardinals, Utah Utes and Billikens, Majerus compiled a 517-216 record. He had only one losing season in those 25 years, which was a 12-19 in St. Louis in 2010-11 season.

Along the way, he claimed so individual honors. He was the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Coach of the Year five times (1991, 1993, 1995, 1997 (media), 1999. District Coach of the Year four times (1991, 1993, 1995, 1996); United Press International (UPI) Coach of the Year and Basketball Times National Coach of the Year in 1991; Utah Sports Person of the Year in 1992 and 1997.

“He was a unique guy. He’s one of the great teachers of the game of all-time. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw how emotional he was last year at the press conference at the NCAA tournament,” ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Faschilla said on Saturday.

“He could be demanding. He can be at times crude, but ultimately the vast majority of his players loved Rick because he got the most out of them.”

The Rick Majerus journey began Sheboygan Falls, WI on Feb. 17, 1948. After graduating from Marquette University High School in 1966, he attended Marquette University, where he tried out for the basketball team as a walk-on in the 1967 season. While he did not make the team, he stayed on as a student assistant.

Three years after he graduated with his degree in history, Majerus began coaching eighth-graders at St. Sebastian Grade School in Milwaukee, WI. He then moved on to coach the freshmen boys basketball team at his high school alma mater.

From 1971-83 he was an assistant coach at the his alma mater Marquette under mentor Al McGuire. He would get his first chance as the head man of Marquette in 1983 taking over for Hank Raymonds. In three seasons Majerus went 56-35.

At Marquette one of the players that played there back then was a man who would go on to play 13 seasons in the NBA for the Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs and followed it up by being an excellent head coach in the NBA. That player was Glenn “Doc” Rivers, the current head coach of the Boston Celtics, who he helped guide to an NBA title back in 2008.

“It’s a tough one for me. He’s the one who gave me my name,” Rivers said after the Celtics lost 91-88 at the Bucks on Saturday night.

“I knew before he wasn’t going to make it through tonight…”

He then moved on to be an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA) under the leadership of Hall of Famer Don Nelson. The Bucks went 50-32 that season and lost to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics in the Conference Semifinals in seven games.

Majerus then moved on to coach at Ball State where he helped lead the Cardinals to a 43-17 record in his two seasons. He led them to a first place finish in the 1988-89 and they lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The next year he moved on to Utah where he would make his name as a basketball coach.

It did not start well in the beginning because after just six games in his first season on the bench, Majerus took a leave of absence to undergo heart surgery. The team went 4-2 in those first six outings and they were coached by assistant Joe Cravens the remainder of that season.

Majerus came back the next year in good health and the Utes went 30-4, going 15-1 in WAC play and finishing first in the conference. They lost however in the Sweet Sixteen. In six of the next eight season, the Utes under Majerus finished first in the WAC and made it to the NCAA tournament.

His best season at Utah came in 1998 where his third-seeded Utah Utes defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks, Arizona Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels in the NCAA tournament to reach the national championship game. While they held a 10-point lead at intermission, they lost to Kentucky 78-69 in that national final.

The loss greatly affected Majerus to the point that he claimed to be able to recall the final six minutes of play in that title contest from the first second right down to the last.

Majerus would never reach another title game and after 15 seasons on the Utes sideline and 323 victories, he departed because he wanted to get control of his health. Back in 1989 he underwent seven vessel bypass surgery to his heart.

On Dec. 15, 2004, Majerus was hired as the head coach of the University of Southern California Trojans basketball team.

At the introductory press conference, he said, “I hope I die here. I hope I coach here the rest of my life.”

In order to take the position though, he needed to buy himself out of his contract to be a college basketball color analyst for ESPN.

Majerus out of the blue resigned just five days later sighting during a very somber press conference that his health and fitness were not up to the stage that would allow him to perform his head coaching duties noting, “ I wanted this job so bad I was in denial where my health actually is… I realized [USC] wasn’t getting the guy they hired. I came to the conclusion myself. I’m not fit for this job by my standards.”

Years later Majerus said the true reason he changed his mind was that his mother, who passed away on Aug. 6, 2011, requested that he not take the job because he would have to relocate to L.A., which is very far from her home in Wisconsin.

Majerus took the gig with ESPN where he worked as an college basketball game color analyst as well as a studio analyst.

On Apr. 27, 2007 Majerus left ESPN to become the head coach at St. Louis University accepting a six-year contract.

Unfortunately Majerus’ Billikens did not have the kind of success that he had in his first three stops. The team while they did finish above .500 in four of those five seasons, they only made the NCAA tournament once, which occurred last season and they lost in the third round. The team went 95-69 in those five seasons.

On Aug. 24, 2012, Majerus announced that he would be taking medical leave and would not coach this upcoming season.

Back on Nov. 16, it was announced that Majerus would not return at all to the coach at St. Louis.

When we look back on the memory of coach Rick Majerus, it is clear to say that he was different. He was funny, emotional, caring and he loved coaching the game. He had a way of being the kind of person who could laugh at himself and had no problem wearing his emotions on his sleeve.

With all of that said, he was a very competitive person who wanted to put a team on the hardwood that would compete and win when the time came.

“He could be very demanding. He can be at times crude, but ultimately the vast majority of his players loved Rick because he got the most out of them,” Fraschilla said on Saturday.

Three players who benefited from coach Majerus’s coaching were Andre Miller, Michael Doleac and Keith Van Horn who played for him at Utah and became first round picks in the NBA Draft. Van Horn was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1997 playing nine seasons for the New Jersey Nets, 76ers, New York Knicks, Bucks and Dallas Mavericks. Doleac was drafted 12th overall and played 10 seasons for the Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves. Miller was drafted 8th overall in the 1999 draft and is currently in his second tour of duty with the Nuggets. He previously played for the Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers.

“Majerus is by far the best coach I ever played for,” Doleac told Sports Illustrated, according to a Dec. 3 New York Times article.

“He’s got an unbelievable ability to see the game. If you coach kids for a week, after a while you get tired of correcting them. But he never lets go.”

It is sad that one of the best of the college hardwood Rick Majerus is gone, but his influence is still alive thanks in part to the coaches who worked alongside him in his career are still coaching.

Porter Moser is the head basketball coach at Loyola (Illinois); Dick Hunsaker is now at Utah Valley; Alex Jensen is coaching the Canton Charge of the NBA Developmental League, who also played for Majerus at Utah and was his assistant at St. Louis; Jeff Judkins is coaching the BYU Lady Cougars and Kerry Rupp is the interim head coach at Utah.

Information, quotations and statistics are courtesy of 12/2/12 5 a.m. edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter” with Cindy Brunson and Adnan Virk;;;;;SportingNews Official 2006-07 NBA Guide. Dec. 3, 2012 The New York Times article by Richard Goldstein entitled “Rick Majerus, College Basketball Coach, Dies at 64.”