The NBA All-star Game has come a long way.
I know most of you will have a very hard time believing this, but the first one in 1951 was part of a Boston Garden tripleheader that also included the Boston city high school championship game. It was quite conceivable that some people left when that one was finished. I covered my first one 19 years later in Philadelphia. Everyone arrived the day of the game. There was a luncheon, and that was it for any pomp and ceremony. There was a snowstorm which held up the arrival of the participants. I had gotten an early ride to the Spectrum. For some reason the West’s Dick Van Arsdale had likewise gotten early transportation, and was the only West player in the locker room before the game for quite a while, and we sat and talked. I would not expect him to remember this, but I can assure you it’s true. That was the Year of the Knicks and Willis Reed earned the first leg of his MVP trifecta, winning the MVP Award that would later be augmented by the league and Finals MVP.
Things are a bit different now. It’s All-Star Weekend and it’s an extravaganza. The game nowadays is part Dunkarama, part Bombs Away with the three. I’’m not going to indulge in an teary lament for the Good Old Days, because, truth be told, they weren’t always so good. The East beat a totally disinterested West, 104-84, in 1973, for example. Can you imagine 84 points being scored by the losing team this coming Sunday? At the half, maybe. It wasn’t much better the next couple of years, either. Things did get juiced up in Milwaukee’s 1977 game because that was the first one played after the NBA-ABA merger.There were nine former ABA players in the game and they wanted to show the world what they were all about, The West won a scintillating game, 125-124, but the MVP was the East’s Julius Erving, an ABA expatriate.
Spare me the outrage over Jim Harbaugh’s latest recruiting stunt. It’s simply big-time college sports as usual. It seems the ever-entertaining, ever-scheming Michigan football mentor has arched many an eyebrow by hiring an assistant named Michael Johnson, until now the head coach at The King’s Academy in Sunnyvale, California. Hey, I’m sure he’s a good football man. He is also the father of what is being described as “the best dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2019,” that being Michael Johnson, Jr. I wonder where Michael Johnson, Jr. will be attending school? Of course, nothing could be more synthetic. The only thing is, this is nothing new. Many a college basketball coach has found room on his bench for the coaching father of a top prospect. Exhibit A: Ed Manning. Ed Manning was a journeyman forward of the 60s and 70s. He averaged 5.9 ppg in a career that took him from the Bullets, to the Bulls, to the Trail Blazers, to the Carolina Cougars to the Nets and, finally, to the Pacers. When he retired, he disappeared off the basketball radar screen. But Ed Manning had a tall son you made have heard of. First name: Danny. And guess whom the enterprising head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks, a guy named Larry Brown, thought was just the man to fill out his coaching staff when that young man was being recruited by Everyone? As my mother would have said, you get three guesses and the first two don’t count. Danny Manning came to Kansas and the rest was history, as they say. And a grateful Larry Brown took Ed Manning with him when he left Kansas to take the San Antonio job. Let the record show that Ed Maning never coached under anyone other than Larry Brown. I’m just sayin’.
In case you didn’t know, the Wall Street Journal has become a great — I might even go so far as to say indispensible — source of interesting sports information. Thursday’s tidbit was the revelation that if Major League Baseball goes through with its proposal to do away with there necessity of actually throwing four non-strikes to implement an intentional walk by waving the batter down to first, the documented savings would be 14 seconds a game, or, as writer Michael Salfino points out, “just a few seconds longer that it takes a batter to score from first base on a double.” Another tidbit: last year 64.4 percent of all intentional walks we’re issued in the National (or DH-less, pitcher-batting) League.
The larger sports story is that more and more sports are getting very concerned about pace and the time it takes to play. They think the millenials just don’t have the patience there elders have always had. This even extends to golf. I am going to quote from the Thursday New York Times:
“This week in Australia, the Perth World Super 6 is debuting a format never before used in professional golf. While the first three days of the tournament will be conventional, each with 18 holes of stroke play, the final day will feature a series of six-hole matches to whittle the final 24 to a champion. Matches that are level after six holes, including the final, will be decided on a specially-built 90-yard hole. Should the players still be tied after that, both players will hit a single shot; whoever hits the ball nearest the pin will progress to the next round.”
No, I’m not making this up.
Said Stephen Ayres, chief commercial officer for the PGA Tour of Australasia, “We’re trying to appeal to a wider audience, particularly a younger audience.” Discuss among yourselves.