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Thursday, January 9, 2003
Updated: January 11, 11:26 AM ET
One-on-one with the readers

By Charley Rosen
Page 2 columnist

I was called everything from a "genius" to an "idiot." I heard from readers in England, Australia, the Netherlands and Hong Kong. And I was asked questions about the old-time NBA and the new school of hip-hop hoopsters.

Last week, I invited readers to ask questions about anything in the world of pro basketball, and I was met with more than 400 queries. Here are my responses to the best of the lot.

Allen Iverson
You catch a break this time AI, but you still need to practice.
Is there any reason why I should care about the NBA? Most of the players are thugs, punks, and slimeballs. Most of the teams go to great lengths to cover up their players' bad character and behavior. -- Joseph Blowski, Lazear, Col.

The game is bigger than the players. Just because Picasso was a selfish, sexist pig doesn't diminish the value of his art. The beauty of ballet with defense; the real live, unfakeable drama; the evolution and devolution of the players and coaches; the three-dimensional human chess game; the grace or failure under pressureall of these things transcend personal frailties.

The NBA is jam-packed with incredibly amazing plays virtually every night. What single play in NBA history do you feel was the most spectacular? -- Paul T, San Mateo, Calif.

A first-quarter shot that won a championship: Friday, May 8, 1970. The Knicks versus the Lakers in Madison Square Garden in the seventh game of the NBA finals. During the regular season, the Knicks' center, Willis Reed, had initially injured his leg playing on the rock-hard court at Georgia Tech that served as the Atlanta Hawks' home base. Reed had reinjured the leg in the fifth game of the series and was thought to be for out the duration. But the man the Knicks called "Captain" wouldn't let himself be counted out.

While his teammates were warming up for the deciding game, Reed remained in the locker room to get a cortisone shot. Witnesses describe Reed howling with pain as the huge needle was plunged into his leg. Reed finally hobbled onto the court just before the tipoff and the hometown crowd went nutso. Of course, Reed started the game -- so hobbled and one-legged that Chester from "Gunsmoke" could have run rings around him. Reed's opposite number was the wondrous Wilt Chamberlain, but then Reed hit his first shot -- a plain ol' jumper from just past the foul line. Nothing spectacular by itself, but fraught with meaning. And Chamberlain was through -- intimidated by Reed's courage. Reed hit his second shot from nearly the same spot, Walt Frazier had a stupendous game, and the Lakers went belly-up, losing 113-99.

Reed went on to have one more good season, and then, at the tender age of 31, his wheels fell off in a hurry and he had to retire. Sure enough, he sacrificed three or four prime-time big-money seasons for a gold ring. The Captain.

Saw this tidbit in the LA Times on 12/30 in an article by Tim Brown: He reports that he saw you seated behind the Lakers bench during their 12/17 game at New Jersey when you stood up and began "waving schoolgirlishly at Jackson & Finally, Jackson returned the wave, ending the humiliation and allowing Rosen to take his seat with the rest of the Pulitzer winners." Is this true? -- Saul Goldfarb, Oak Park, Calif.

Phil Jackson
"Um, security? That dude waving is freaking me out."
I have many faults, but pandering to celebrities is not one of them. This is what actually occurred: As I painfully watched one of the Lakers selfishly ignoring his teammates and repeatedly forcing (and missing) inappropriate shots to begin the game, I happened to catch the eye of one of the Lakers' assistant coaches. In reality, my "girlish waves" were a series of loose-wristed approximations of that player's self-serving jump shots and were meant to signal my disgust. The assistant coach nodded his agreement and sadly shook his head. My message thusly received, I sat down.

To quote the immortal Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, "It is to laugh."

Is John Stockton the best pure point guard to ever play the game? -- John Hancock, Savannah, Ga.

Let's see -- Bob Cousy, Tiny Archibald and Isiah Thomas were all scorers. Magic was a part-time pivotman and full-time scorer. Oscar scored, rebounded and defended. Even Jason Kidd has significant scoring responsibilities. That leaves the likes of Dick McGuire, Slater Martin, Andy Phillip and Stockton. Of these, my vote goes to Stockton.

What are your criteria for the NBA's MVP award, and who are your frontrunners so far? -- Joe Olson, Kansas City, Kans.

I pay no attention to the MVP award, simply because role players are just as important to a team's success as its "stars." However, the players do care about the award because of the prestige, the contractual bonus bucks and the increased bargaining power. As for me, I call it the Most Visible Production award, and see it as a manufactured contest adjudged by media types, who are unduly influenced by numbers.

Isn't Kobe Bryant the best all-around player in the NBA? -- VJ, Atlanta

Absolutely. However, because of his reluctance to fully embrace the triangle offense, he disrupts the Lakers offense and minimizes the value of the team's role players. Even worse, Kobe's stubbornness is bound to get him into trouble. One of the basic tenets of the triangle is to always move away from defensive pressure -- what young Kobe does, instead, is to always challenge that pressure. By insisting on doing things the hard way, and constantly thrusting himself in the shadow of the basket where the big men reign, Kobe is putting his body at risk. Sooner or later, somebody six inches taller and 100 pounds heavier will nail him. Sure, contact cannot be avoided, but ask old-timers Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen and MJ how much punishment the triangle has spared them.

Do you think the Lakers will make it four straight? -- Andrew Thornton, Beloit, Wisc.

I wouldn't bet my mortgage against them. All they have to do is win the very last game of the season.

Kerry Kittles, Kenyon Martin, Jason Kidd, Dikembe Mutombo, Richard Jefferson
You can't hurt your team with Dikembe in the paint.
The Nets have been on an absolute tear since Dikembe Motumbo went down. What should they do when the "Old Man" returns? -- Jared Wiskind, Atlanta

The obvious temptation is to send him to the glue factory. Better to keep him around, however, and bring him off the bench in the (likely?) event that the Nets encounter a primo-scoring center in the playoffs. Because of his experience, the refs will let Motumbo push, shove and use his hands on defense. Besides, having an extra six personal fouls at the team's disposal won't hurt.

I grew up in the Netherlands, and most of the NBA basketball that was available was focused on the Chicago Bulls' dynasty. Scottie Pippen was my favorite player during those years. He seemed to be doing all the little things (help defense, the pass before the assist, off-the-ball defense) as well as scoring and rebounding. Why has his game diminished so greatly since then? -- Wichert Kuijt, The Netherlands

The triangle offense was made for versatile players like Pippen -- the constant movement, the quick reads, the various cutting angles, etc. Tex Winters' brainchild maximizes players' abilities and minimizes their flaws. Consider all the other contributing members of the Bulls' six championships -- Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Randy Brown, Jason Caffey, Jud Buechler, Dickey Simpkins, Luc Longley, Scott Burrell, Scott Williams, B. J. Armstrong, Will Perdue, et al. Only two ex-Bulls ever won a championship with a subsequent team -- Horace Grant, who did it playing the triangle with the Lakers, and Steve Kerr, who saw limited time with the 1999 Spurs.

What happened to the Milwaukee Bucks? Only two years ago they were challenging for the Eastern Conference crown, now they're in lottery land. -- Matt, London, England

First of all, the Bucks were never as good as they were hyped to be. Too many shooters and not enough solid defense. (Their helter-skelter double-teamings are only effective when encountered once every few weeks.) Also, Sam Cassell is only 6-3, 185, and Ray Allen is 6-5, 205 -- and both are quick and tricky perimeter players. Because the aptly named "Big Dog" Robinson is 6-7, 230, and can always create a shot for himself when stationed in the pivot, George Karl usually called Robinson's number in the clutch. Too bad -- Robinson rarely delivered. Looks like Karl and his players have lost trust in each other. Time to back up the truck and clean house.

Is Kenyon Martin a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate? It seems that from KG to Rasheed Wallace to Jermaine O'Neal, opposing power forwards tend to have quiet nights against the Nets. -- Justin, New Jersey

Yes, indeed. During his first two years in the league, Martin tended to be a bully. Committing dangerously roughhouse fouls seemed to be a point of pride, a cheap way of asserting his manhood. The results were too many flagrant fouls and the ire of the referees. At the same time, he overreacted whenever another player fouled him harder than he thought necessary. This year, he's toned down his macho-madness, and the refs are honoring his commitment to play serious defense by letting him bump and grind. Martin's not there yet, but if he can maintain his focus and avoid calling attention to himself, someday soon he'll be a contender.

What do you think of Cedric Ceballos trying to make a comeback by playing with the Globetrotters? Also what are your thoughts about Will Perdue? -- Andres, Chicago, IL

The Globetrotters don't exactly play the kind of basketball that can rehabilitate a drug-using, layup-missing player like CC -- it's more of a go-away than a comeback. I agree with the Chicago Bulls' assessment of Perdue -- their nicknames for him were "Perdork" and "Per-do-do."

My buddies and I have a running argument about how effective Wilt Chamberlain would be if he were playing today. My friends say he would never average as much as 30 and 15, and I maintain that he would be a dominant player. What's your opinion? -- Michael S. Saldarriag, Palisades Park, NJ

Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt would have made Shaq the second to LCL.
The game was vastly different back when Uncle Wiltie was averaging 50+ points and 20+ rebounds. Even though Wilt was matched up against the likes of Bill Russell and Nate Thurmond, team defenses were much cruder and centers were rarely double-teamed. (How many points would Shaq score playing one-on-one?) I heartily concur with old-timers like Tex Winter and Bill Sharman who believe that Shaq has more offensive weapons than Wilt ever did -- and Shaq certainly has more of a killer-instinct. Before his knee surgery, however, Wilt was more nimble-footed and consequently a better rebounder and shot-blocker. I'd also give Wilt the edge in passing -- in 1967-68 he led the league in assists (702 total; 8.6 per game). If my opinion is the deciding factor, then you win.

With Kevin Garnett eating so much of the team's salary cap, are the Timberwolves doomed, or do you think they can build a contender around him? -- E. Sorenson, Minneapolis, Minn.

Not so long ago, a high-ranking member of the Timberwolves' organization said that Garnett was unreliable in the clutch and was not -- repeat, not -- a bonafide franchise player. A powerhouse, high-scoring, high-priced center would certainly help. So would the improbable resurrection of Terrell Brandon. Otherwise, despite the exceptional efforts of Flip Saunders, the current incarnation of the Timberwolves may, indeed, be just good enough to break their fans' hearts.

What is the most underutilized fundamental in the NBA game today and what player bucks this trend the best? -- Jeff Gill, Topeka, Kans.

Boxing out. Charles Oakley.

Is Lenny Wilkens the most overrated coach in history? It seems that he has the most career wins only because he's been around so long. -- James, Toronto

Wilkens was and still is a terrific coach. When he coached the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team's offensive spacing was in the same class as the triangle. When he coached the Atlanta Hawks, his offenses were also things of beauty. In Atlanta, whenever the offense couldn't churn out an acceptable shot, the fail-safe was always a screen/roll. But the impatient and immature players on that team routinely aborted the carefully crafted offense and went right into the S/R. Even back in his heyday in Seattle, however, Wilkens was always more comfortable coaching (and playing) veterans. In addition to the Raptors' overall lack of talents, too many of the players are mere hooplings who have no concept of how the game should be played. With the NBA getting younger every year, perhaps Wilkens' better days are behind him.

Do you think the Knicks would ever consider hiring Mike Jarvis of St. John's? -- Charles Manfield, New York

The Knicks most likely won't be able to attract a headline-type coach until they've turned their team around. If and when that does happen, I would hope they look elsewhere, since Jarvis is perceived by his peers to be something of a con man.

Mike Bibby
That's right Mike, you've made Mr. Rosen's top 10.
Who are your top 10 favorite NBA players? -- Michael Pulikunnel, Ontario, Canada

In alphabetical order: Mike Bibby, Kobe Bryant (yes, I just love his athleticism and competitive attitude), Tim Duncan, Matt Harpring, Richard Jefferson, Jason Kidd, Andre Miller, Steve Nash, Shaquille O'Neal and Ben Wallace.

Why does everybody who talks about the Lakers' problems this year ignore the No. 1 cause? Dr. Jerry Buss. Talk about short arms and deep pockets! His frugality has caused him to gamble on guys like Rider and Richmond instead of spending whatever it takes to bring in players who could really make a difference. Isn't Buss the real root of the problem here? -- Dre Marcellin, Brooklyn, NY

Amen.

Though Kobe's physical talents are enormous and the comparisons to MJ warranted, I've never heard anybody mention the one physical trait in which Kobe will always fall short -- hand size. Kobe's hands are much smaller than MJ's and prevent him from easily palming the ball the way Jordan can. This is most noticeable when Kobe tries to finish a drive to the hoop. Because he can't match MJ's gripping power, he often has to release the ball too early. The result is more missed shots in the lane and less creative range. Are you aware of anyone calling this disparity in hand size to attention? -- Carl Peay, Chapel Hill, NC

As far as I know, you're the first to notice this -- and I certainly agree with you. Thanks for pointing this out.

Charley Rosen, a former coach in the Continental Basketball Association, has been intimately involved with basketball for the better part of five decades -- as a writer, a player, a coach and a passionate fan. Rosen's books include "More Than a Game," "The Cockroach Basketball League," "The Wizard of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed the Game of Basketball," "Scandals of '51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball" and "The House of Moses All-Stars: A Novel."