By Ray Ratto
Special to Page 3
So if we follow the hip-hop and hoops theory to its logical conclusion, we're left with this:
Allen Iverson gets the Wu Tang Clan, which leaves Larry Bird with Delbert McClinton, Magic Johnson with the Ohio Players, Kevin McHale with U2, Bill Russell with John Coltrane, and Jerry West with Ernest Tubb.
In fact, this has the makings of a deliciously weird yet very tavern-ready bar game. Name a player, and name the artist that most reminds you of that player.
Of course, this trivializes the social and cultural links between the hip-hop generation and its most skilled basketball practitioners being made elsewhere on this, your favorite non-pornographic Internet site.
But, well, why should the kids have all the fun? Did the old-timers, your Syracuse Nats, Rochester Royals, Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, Baltimore Bullets and Chicago Zephyrs not listen to music? Was it all libraries and YMCAs on the road in the old days?
Of course not. Music is a constant (just ask anyone driving a teenager back and forth from soccer practice), as much a constant as America's dominance in international baske... oh, damn. That's right.
But even allowing for the latest results, this does not mean that salsa and bouzouki solos have replaced Usher and Ludicrous as the sounds of the sport. It just means that the jukebox (sorry, MP3 player) has room for more than one play list.
Then again, it always has. It's just that nobody was listening back then.
Buddy Jeannette had his Dorseys and Glenn Miller. George Mikan had his Frank Sinatra. Chuck Cooper, the first African-American player in the NBA, surely had his Jackie Branson and Louis Jordan.
And on, and on, and on. True, Rosemary Clooney never tried out for the Indianapolis Olympians the way Percy Miller tried to make the Denver Nuggets, and we're still waiting on that first Louis Prima/Bob Pettit video.
But that's just technology not being up with the ballers. In a parallel universe somewhere, everyone's got headphones and all the vertical leap a person could want. It's just a matter of mixing and matching.
Wilt Chamberlain? Thelonious Monk.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Miles, who else?
The '60s Celtics built around Russell? James Brown's Famous Flames.
Dave Bing: Smokey Robinson. No, not just Smokey. The whole damned Motown machine, from the Four Tops all the way down to Chris Clark.
Pete Maravich? The Allman Brothers Band.
Bill Walton? Please don't make us say. It will only get him started.
The entire ABA, except for Billy (The Whopper) Paultz? Sly and the Family Stone.
And Billy (The Whopper) Paultz? A rathskeller oompah band, complete with accordions, tubas and leather shorts.
Now, there are some truly great players who don't make a popular band of the time leap immediately to mind. Oscar Robertson doesn't seem like the Jimi Hendrix type, except that like Hendrix, the Big O dominated his stage and commanded constant and piercing attention.
Or Elgin Baylor. His game was so silky and airborne that one could imagine something Phil Spector-ish, but we don't know if that would have been his choice, and David Stern wasn't around at the time to tell him what his choice should be, marketing-wise.
Or the '60s Lakers as a whole. So close, and yet never close enough. Sort of the British Invasion after the Beatles and Rolling Stones already seized the high ground.
As for the Beatles themselves? Nothing jumps out, except that in one way they could have been the '67 76ers, who still have the single most dominant team ever. Five Hall of Famers, including sixth man Billy Cunningham, crushing all before them like the bugs they are, and then going into the studio thereafter as the aging Celtics caught and passed them once again.
And for the post-Celtics champions? The Knicks, the Bucks, the Sonics, the Blazers, the Warriors, One-hit wonders, by and large, until the Celtics and Lakers put down '60s revivals in the '80s, and then the Bad Boy Pistons (MC5, with a hint of Prince), the Bulls (ad jingles for Jordan to hum while he was cutting the league into strips), then the Rockets of the Chicago interregnum and the Spurs that followed them (Stevie Ray Vaughan).
In short, it's all out there somewhere, music to
Like, say, the U.S. Olympic team. A bassoon solo through a fuzz box. A weird beat, and so far nobody's dancing to it. We're giving it a 35.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com