Thursday, December 7, 2000
Updated: September 13, 6:12 PM ET
Brown, thugs & harmony
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
I was out in L.A. hanging with Road Dog when Superfine paged me. She's a thick, beautiful woman, a tight trial lawyer who thinks the Laker Girls have gotten anorexic since the days of Paula Abdul. And she had Lakers-Spurs tickets. So, Road Dog was history, for a minute ...
Segue to the Staples Center. After I dropped a down payment on a house for a couple of Cajun dogs and two beers, we sat and watched Kobe drop 43 on the Spurs. As Kobe was wheeling, Superfine said, "Imagine being Kobe Bryant. Twenty-two years old, best at what you do, world at your feet ..."
I said, "Probably just as good to be Derek Jeter in New York. Or Tiger Woods anywhere."
Superfine pursed her lips. She gets into enough arguments at work. By the end of the game, I'd come to Jesus, or at least to Kobe. "You're right, counselor. You're always right. Why aren't you in Florida picking our President?"
What was interesting was, we didn't include Allen Iverson in the Must Be Great To Be Him Debate.
A few days later, Road Dog wanted to talk about the effect of hip-hop culture on Iverson, Larry Brown, Philly's Sixers and the NBA. By then Kobe and the Lakers had opened up a can on the Sixers 96-85, and Kobe's 37 had looked a whole lot easier than Allen's 27.
"It's about The Flow, all right, Dog, but the Flow as in the Run. It's not about a CD. Shaq didn't block 13 CDs. The NBA needs Allen and Larry Brown, and it needs 'em bad, in the Finals, against the Lakers."
"Allen Iverson and his bling-bling, Larry Brown and his holler-ring? Real stormy romance," Dog said.
"A real stormy romance of two near-geniuses, Dog."
"Who said Iverson and Brown were near-geniuses?"
"When did Mike say that?"
"He said it to you, Dogster. Remember back when Jordan was playing and people took the league seriously? Remember when Air faced Air Apparent? Allen had Jordan iso-'ed at the top of the key and laid the bomb crossover on him. It's a football move. No way to defend that. Allen takes a jab step to his right. You gotta give, you gotta move your feet or you're done, he'll blow by and the ball's laid up or dunked, and there you are, broke all down, unless you got Shaq cleaning up behind you.
"So you move your feet that way, but it's just a jab step and he has gone back left, gone the other way faster than flesh is supposed to go, carrying the rock, literally palming it, but it's a trick he does, like when Pearl Monroe cupped it as he spun. It's so sweet ain't nothing there to call, really -- that's just Pearl, or Allen. Really, there's a lot of football player in Allen. He's tough enough to go to the rack time and again against huge dudes with elbows like helicopter rotors whirling around his head at bone-splintering speeds. Allen can duck, adjust, spin, avoid the kill shot, like a great runner with a football.
"Remember what Michael told you about that move, Dog?"
"He said, 'You can't expect a 6-6 man to guard a 6-0 man.' That's what he said, R-Dub."
"Yeah he did. And that's as close as Jordan ever came to admitting he couldn't guard somebody.
"Now, remember on that same day when you asked Jordan if he could play for any other coach in the league besides Phil Jackson? Remember how at first he grunted as if to say, 'Phil? I love Phil, but I don't play for Phil. We share.' Jordan was around 35 at the time, had killed off his fair share of Kevin Lougherys and Dougie Collinses, but he'd broken in Phil, and they were cruising to a second straight threepeat. Remember when you asked him if he could play for Van Gundy and Jordan laughed like Dracula, then you asked him if he could play for Pat Riley and he looked at you like you were crazy?"
"What did he say when you asked him if he could play for Larry Brown?"
"He said, 'I'd play for Larry Brown in a heartbeat.' "
"Exactamundo. Put it together, Dog. Jordan admitted he couldn't guard Allen Iverson and that even he, Jordan, Pharaoh of the NBA, could play for Larry Brown. So what is out there now to stop Iverson and Brown from joining forces and going to the NBA Finals and taking on the Lakers and giving us something to watch?"
"What's to stop them? Circumstances, R-Dub. Circumstances are a bitch sometimes."
And, of course, the Dogster is right. Let's start with Iverson. He has a tougher road than Michael did or Kobe does. First, Michael had two parents. So did Kobe. Neither family was broke as the Ten Commandments, like Allen's mother was. Michael's mother didn't seem to need the spotlight in the same near-desperate way Allen's mother seemed to.
Mike eventually got Scottie Pippen. Kobe has Shaq. Allen might have already blown help, but they were both too young when 2 Larry, Larry Hughes, hit town and began to unconsciously shape himself in Allen's image, as Pippen did in Jordan's. The problem was, Hughes was shaping himself after unfinished product, still flawed, still forming. Together they became insufferable to the Sixers instead of to the other teams in the NBA Leastern Conference.
So the Sixers dished Hughes to Golden State for Kukoc. Like trading an IBM ThinkPad for a No. 2 pencil. Kukoc used to be reliable as far as it went in Chi, nice quiet third option who wasn't going to stick his nose in there and get it broken. And now he has made his fortune so it's all arc all the time for Toni. Larry Hughes? Could've been the truth. God only knows what Hughes and Iverson might have been able to do one day, in the right kind of professional environment.
Larry Brown's problem is time. Jordan went through two coaches growing up before Phil came along at the right time in his career. Larry Brown was grey when he got to Philly and Allen and 2 Larry.
Hoop, like hip-hop, is a young man's game.
Once, Larry Brown was one of the very best coaches ever at reaching players. But time waits for no man or coach. Even John Wooden retired at 65. Still, for my money, Larry Brown is one of the best coaches in the NBA. Has the feel, the knack. First picked up on him 25 years ago when Brown had David Thompson in Denver. Think Allen is the first to come along with transcendent ability and social challenges? David had sick, mad, crazy, screaming game. Brown was coaching David when he dropped 73 points in a single NBA contest. But Brown couldn't sub for David in real life. David piped his ownself out.
Twenty years ago, the same Larry Brown took a short, untalented UCLA team to the NCAA title game against Louisville. How they got there with a 6-6 center named Mike Sanders, a lead-footed shooter named Kiki Vandeweghe and Brown's acumen was way past me at the time. They took the NCAA championship game right down to the numb, but with a few seconds left, UCLA too far behind, and the team gathered around him, Brown, on his haunches, looked up at them, and won me over with what he said, smiling, when there was nothing left to say: "Don't give up on me now. Somethin' funny might happen."
After that, Brown took the L.A. Clippers to the playoffs, the hoop equivalent of turning water to wine; won an NCAA at Kansas with a star named Danny Manning who pretty much disappeared in the pros; kept hope alive for the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs year after year in spite of the fact Reggie Miller and then Jalen Rose never revered him; has led Philly's Sixers to the best record in the NBA so far, while just as unquestionably they do not have the best talent in the NBA. But they have Allen Iverson and Larry Brown.
Jewelz and 1 Larry, if you're flowing at home.
"So yeah, Dog, the NBA has issues, but a rap CD ain't the big one. Take a nap and that'll blow over.
"But what won't blow over is that NBA needs an Air Apparent, a great rivalry. Drama.
"Can't be all about Kobe. Not yet. Kobe has to defer to Shaq, and Shaq, as unstoppable as he is, does not hold us in thrall. Who would you rather watch, the Dipper, or the Pearl? Shaq, or ...
"Allen Iverson and Larry Brown. Jewelz & 1 Larry. Brown, Thugs & Harmony.
"THE ONE GREAT EDGE BROWN & IVERSON HAVE IS EACH OTHER!
"They are the best at what they do, and deep down inside, they know that about each other.
"They need each other. And that's the problem.
"Ever needed anybody? Then you know what I mean."
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."