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posted: Feb. 2, 2006  |  Feedback

As you probably noticed from my Glory Road piece, ESPN Mag expanded the length of my magazine column starting with this issue (hitting newsstands this week). This might not be a big deal to you, but it's a big deal for me.

Quick backstory: When they gave me the column in the summer of 2002, I had a whopping 690 words. There's a good chance that they were intentionally trying to end my career with that length, although you can never be too sure about these things. Eventually, the column was expanded to 800 words -- 150 less than Reilly and Rushin and 300-350 less than any newspaper columnist, but a little more acceptable since I could make a coherent point with that space. Sure, the column wasn't always entertaining, but at least it was coherent. Still, I don't think a single week passed where I didn't ask one of my bosses, "Please, for the love of God, give me more words in the magazine."

See, I'm wordy. I like to go on tangents. I like using parentheses. I like babbling. I like taking a few paragraphs to describe something that could easily be done in one. Conserving words has never been a strong suit for me. As you know. And that's what I kept telling them. After 43 agonizing months, I finally wore them down; they threw me a bone and gave me 1,250 words. Good times! I knew I could leverage that offer from High Times into something substantial. Of course, after I passed in that Glory Road column, I was talking to my editor, Neil Fine, and half-jokingly said, "Come on, couldn't you tell the difference? That was the first magazine column I've ever handed in that actually seemed like I wrote it!"

Neil's response: "I thought it felt like every other column you ever handed in for us, only it was 450 words longer."

Hey, maybe he's right. Maybe my 1250-word magazine columns won't read any differently than my 800-word magazine columns. Maybe this is all in my head. Maybe I just like to complain about stuff. But I think there's a lesson here, and the lesson is this: Annoy a group of people for a long enough time and you have a good chance of breaking them, no matter how powerful they are. I couldn't be prouder.

Some other quick notes for today ...

• Remember my point about Peter King and Jerome Bettis on Tuesday, how reporters and columnists make the mistake of thinking that readers care whether an athlete or coach is congenial to the press? Check out this column from the Hartford Courant's Jeff Jacobs from Monday. Sadly, I'm not allowed to make any further comments. • Three NBA-related links for you ...

1. On his NBA.com blog, Scottie Pippen wrote about Kobe's 81-point game and how something like that is much more prone to happen these days -- he makes some interesting points about how the defensive rule changes have allowed pretty much any scorer in the league to spring for 40-50 points if they're making jumpers. I'm with Scottie -- scoring 50-plus against a good team in the early-90's was the equivalent of scoring 65-70 points now. MJ would have sprung for 80-plus against a bad team with these current rules. Anyway, it's worth a read. I would love to know if Scottie wrote this himself or had some help.

2. Over the weekend, I did an interview about the Celtics with Celticsblog.com, my favorite Celtics-related blog for now, at least until someone finally plows ahead with the "Actual Quotes From Tommy Heinsohn During Celtics Games" blog.

3. In case you missed it, after my Doc Rivers column, the good people at 82games.com attempted to answer some of my questions in the column. Very cool read. So here's my next challenge to them, which I e-mailed them this week:

"I have a task for you guys if you're interested. I am convinced that Doc makes more substitutions per game and uses more lineups per game than any other coach in the league except possibly the Knicks. Is there any way to figure this out? And is there a correlation between a team's success and the frequency/infrequency of substitutions during a game? It just seems like the smarter coaches figure out their five best players, play them as much as possible, spell them when they get tired with bench guys, then make sure those same five guys are playing the last 7-8 minutes of the game. I don't think this is rocket science. But Doc shuttles guys in and out like an NHL coach. Please figure this out if this is detrimental to an NBA team or not. Thanks."

• After Tuesday's Cowbell, some Pittsburgh fans/readers pointed out that Bettis struggled in Denver because his asthma always kicks up in the high altitude. First, I have asthma, so I don't need to be lectured about it -- there's a thing called "an inhaler" that protects athletes from having asthma attacks when they play sports. I know this because I use one whenever I play any sport. So does anyone who suffers from asthma. Second, Bettis had 5 carries in the first half and 15 carries overall in Denver -- this wasn't exactly one of those 42-carry games out of the Earl Campbell Playbook. Third, and most importantly, he's noticeably overweight for a professional athlete (much less someone playing a skill position in the NFL). This is why he needed an oxygen mask in the second half. Jerome Bettis is very, very heavy. He's extremely large. When large people exert themselves physically, they tend to have trouble breathing and keeping their body at a normal temperature, as we found out during every Blues Travelers concert in the early-90's. If you suffer from asthma and playing in thin air, carrying extra weight makes any breathing problems you may have had about 10-20 times worse.

The bigger issue: He's a professional athlete, which means he only has three jobs: Show up on time, listen to his coach, stay in shape. Because he's a great guy who happens to be retiring after the season, these facts obscure the fact that he's not even remotely in shape anymore. For example, what if Super Bowl XL goes into overtime and the Bus can't play anymore because he's laboring like Chris Farley at the tail end of the Chippendale's sketch, so Cowher has to use Verron Hayes on a 3rd-and-short? Would this be acceptable? Or should we overlook it because he's a good guy? You tell me.

• Hey, remember that NBA.com Celebrity Fantasy League that I'm participating in despte the fact that I'm not really a celebrity? After 13 weeks, I'm 11-2 and breathing down Bernie Mac's neck (he's 12-1), thanks to Mamba's heroics and the efforts of Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and some others. I haven't lost in nine weeks. Well, apparently Bernie is sufficiently frightened because A.) he stopped talking trash on the message board, and B.) he tried to pull off the shadiest trade in fantasy history this week. Check this out:

1. Bernie is 12-1, Kenny Smith is 1-12. Have you ever heard of a league where a 1-12 team can trade with a 12-1 team? Me neither.

2. Bernie offered Richard Jefferson, Rashard Lewis and Kenyon Martin for Gilbert Arenas, Andrei Kirilenko and Keith Van Horn. Basically, it's a 3-for-2, with Bernie getting the best 2 guys in the trade (including Arenas, who's a top-10 guy) without giving up either of his top two guys (Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade).

3. Even though he's 1-12 and already eliminated from the playoffs, Kenny accepted the offer.

Now everyone in the league has to vote on whether it goes through. Obviously, I protested, but I'm relying on people like Star Jones and Pamela Anderson to A.) do the right thing, and B) care in the first place. Geez, how do you think this is going to turn out? Did you ever think you would see a shady trade in a league where the profits go to charity? Me neither. If this trade goes through, I'm writing a 2500-word review of "Mr 3000." And it won't be pretty.

• Finally, it's time to get the "Best Sports Books" series going again. Since it's Black History Month and all, I thought I would concentrate on sports books by black authors in February. Here's the first one: "Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man," written by Bill Russell and Taylor Branch (the same guy who just finished the epic trilogy about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). It would have been a thoughful, well-written biography even without the chapter called "Champions," the single-best thing ever written by a great player about the process of winning. It's just an amazing piece, with Russell dismantling his 13-year run with the Celtics and explaining why they won and kept winning -- not the game details, but how the personalities meshed, how they kept themselves motivated, how different players assumed different roles, how everything was about the team. Just the section on Sam Jones alone (how Sam would only occasionally take over games because he didn't want the responsibility of being the best player every night) is worth the read. And I loved how he messed with Wilt Chamberlain's head, among others. Nobody meshed the process of playing and thinking like Bill Russell did; there's a reason he has 11 rings right now.

Re-reading this book over the weekend, I was also struck by Russell's anger in the "Starting Points" chapter about black-white relations, certain racial stereotypes with athletes, even how he was treated by whites in Boston when he played there, culminating in the famous part where he jokes that if Paul Revere lived in Boston in the 60's, he would have ridden around screaming, "The niggers are coming! The niggers are coming!" Even 27 years later, you can still feel him bristling.

It's an affecting, important book, and if you were ever going to read it, this should be the month. Of course, it's impossible to find, so you'll have to resort to the usual suspects -- either your local library or leftover copies on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, E-Bay or any of those used book sites. Good luck.




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Bill
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February 2006
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