Posts Tagged ‘classic sports’

Life in the 400s

Posted: December 4, 2013 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
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A few months ago we finally said goodbye to the 20th century and joined the current one when we bought a big flat-screen TV and ditched my beloved VCR for a DVR. When I finally deposited the VCR in the garbage in the basement of our building I thought I heard a faint whirring sound from the tape deck, the beast activating its rewind mechanism one more time for old-time sake, seemingly pleading with me, “Don’t you remember rewinding time and again when watching Magic’s hook in Game 4 of the ’87 Finals?” I gave one final salute but let the elevator door close.


The first games of an NBA season don’t carry the prestige of opening day in baseball or the opening week of the NFL season. There’s nothing poetic about them, no national celebration that includes new songs from our favorite country singers. The start of the NBA season is simply the first chapter in a book that can seem neverending.

Still, it’s always nice to welcome back the league. Answers to the big questions won’t come for months — can the Heat repeat, can Derrick Rose return to form, can Kobe do the same, can the Timberwolves make the playoffs — but there’s always a chance for memorable moments. As the 2014 season begins, a look back at some top opening nights from the past:


Andrew Luck seems like a nice enough guy and a good enough quarterback, but I was pulling for Peyton Manning when the Colts hosted their former star on Sunday night. It had nothing to do with cheering for the Broncos or being anti-Indianapolis. It’s just that when an old legend faces a young star I almost always find myself cheering for the elderly player. It’s not anti-youth but simply about now identifying more with the guy who’s been around forever or even guys who have been hanging around for too long. Does this happen to all sports fans, is it a natural progression? Probably. And that progression means it’s also an evolving view and wasn’t always this way.


Many people consider the Twins season a failure and by any statistical or intangible measure it most certainly was. Yet the Minnesota Nine did prevail in one key area: The franchise gave Mariano Rivera the coolest retirement present.

Every Major League city the great Yankees closer visited gave him a going-away gift, something to say thanks and goodbye. The Twins brought out a rocking chair made of the bats Rivera broke with his devastating cutter, which is the actual two-word phrase for his signature pitch. It was original, thoughtful, creative and fun.


ESPN doesn’t need to take programming advice from me. Even when an entire network is created to compete with the network, the ratings show that folks still tune in to what ESPN has to offer, no matter how often it  gets criticized. Variety reported that upstart Fox Sports 1 averaged 161,000 viewers in its opening week. ESPN got 2.17 million.

Still, if ESPN ever brings back the atrocity that was Dream Job, but this time offers the winner the opportunity to program the network, I have some ideas, all of them inspired by Keith Olbermann’s shocking return. If Olbermann — the napalmer of bridges — can come back and get a nice spot in Times Square every night, then why not these shows or broadcasters? Give us what we want, ESPN. Old shows and personalities for a new era. (Sorry, Australian Rules Football still doesn’t make it).


Forget about this current NBA draft, the real one. It’s a bunch of guys you watched for a year or have never heard of and the most excited people are South Dakotans and St. Cloud residents eager to see one of their own picked late in the first round or early in the second. We won’t know who’s good for a year or two and there’s no guarantee any of them will be great.

Instead, let’s visit an alternative universe. The bad suits remain, and David Stern will again announce every selection. We’re holding it in New York and people will boo. Who’s eligible? Everyone. Everyone who’s ever played in the NBA. When teams are considering who to take, they should evaluate the player’s entire career. So yes Bill Walton will be injury-prone. Yes, Magic retires after 12 seasons. Does Michael Jordan go first or do you go with a big man, the type of strategy that didn’t work for the Blazers in 1984 but has been great throughout NBA history — unless you want to argue against the resumes of Russell, Wilt, Kareem, and Duncan. Do older guys make the cut? In this fake world the teams — with their new legends — will play with their current guys (yes, things will get confusing). Could Mikan dominate or even compete?

Draft order was easy. No lottery, no conspiracies, unless teams have been tanking for 50 years in order to pick first. Worst all-time winning percentage picks first and on down the line. That means the Charlotte Bobcats own the first pick, the Lakers the last.  And these percentages take into account all of the teams that make up a franchise — the Brooklyn Nets’ record includes the New Jersey days, the Thunder were the Sonics and the Kings have been a well-traveled franchise.

And it looks like David Stern is making his way to the podium…


I didn’t see the first airing of NBA TV’s new documentary on Julius Erving, but I’ll watch it soon. Some of their movies perhaps rely on mythologizing the subjects a bit much, but the network has a nice track record of putting together films, digging up old footage that people assumed was lost forever. Their documentary on the 1992 Dream Team featured some highlights from the famous scrimmage between Michael’s team and Magic’s team. And the new piece on Erving contains numerous clips from his younger, bigger-hair, higher-flying days.

I want to see it because by the time I started watching the NBA, Erving was still a superstar but those earlier days are what truly made him a legend. It’s hard to imagine in today’s world — where a single block by LeBron is up on YouTube 20 minutes later, with five angles — but for the stars of yesterday, many of their most eye-opening deeds took place before every shot, pass, and dunk was saved and distributed to millions.


I can already see how this Game 7 between the Pacers and Heat is going to go. You probably have similar visions. LeBron comes out and hits an 18-foot jumper. Pacers miss some early layups. Dwyane Wade gets an early layup, looking more Flash than Shell. Bosh hits a jumper, screams. Chalmers knocks down a 3. Lance Stephenson dribbles around aimlessly. Timeout Pacers, it’s about 11-2. The Heat never really sweat and cruise into the Finals.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe Wade and Bosh struggle again — why would the final game be any different than the previous six? The Pacers again pound the Heat on the glass and make it ugly. They lead by 2 at the half and it’s tight all the way, with Paul George finally making a clinching 3 in the final minute in front of a very tanned, and very quiet crowd.

Or it stays close and without six minutes to go LeBron takes over for good, scores eight straight, blocks a Hibbert layup, dishes out to Mike Miller for a 3 that puts the Heat up 14, helps the South Dakota native up after he tears an oblique on the shot. I actually still can’t see the Heat losing but that’s because I don’t want to get too excited about the possibility. Still, with Wade sounding more and more like Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum when it comes to needing to get involved in the flow of the offense, his excuse for being terrible, the Heat certainly aren’t the same team that won 27 in a row (it is amusing that when a Lakers player makes comments like Wade, it’s seen as proof that Kobe’s not a team player; I doubt we’ll see similar sentiments about LeBron).

Game 7s are the most exciting games in sports, no matter the league. But each one is different, even if the themes are always the same.


The Fury household in Janesville always holds some surprises. Old science papers, bizarre medical books, magazines that are a century old, records with Cheech & Chong skits that my parents pretend they never listened to.

On my current trip I discovered another relic — and another example of my nonexistent art skills. In my old bedroom, sitting under some printing paper and scrap paper — which was underneath a red clothes hanger — was a scrapbook I created in 1987 and finished in 1991. It was my Lakers scrapbook and contained clippings that heralded their 1987 title and run through the 1989 playoffs. It ends in 1991 because Magic Johnson’s career ended in 1991.

But let’s start at the beginning.


Editor’s note: The first in an ongoing series (well, hopefully) that will look at the final games of sports legends. Everyone remembers their careers and great moments but the end is usually mundane, forgettable, if not difficult to watch. The player is usually slower, tired and well past their prime. Their whole careers — and most of their lives — have been spent practicing or playing games. All those passes and free throws and catches and hits and pitches. And then, finally, it’s over. There’s one last basket, one last touchdown, one last game. It ends. It’s not the most memorable chapter in their careers but it is an important one — because it’s the final one. Today: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stood above everyone else from the time he stepped onto a basketball court as an unusually tall Manhattan schoolboy. He was the best high school player in the country, perhaps the greatest college basketball player ever (depending on your views of Bill Walton) and the most prolific scorer in NBA history. He dominated from his days at Power Memorial in New York to his legendary first game on the UCLA freshmen team, when he led the first-year players to a rout over the varsity Bruins, who happened to be the defending national champs. He arrived in Milwaukee and led the Bucks to a title in his second year. He won five championships with the Lakers and even at the age of 38 he won the Finals MVP in a six-game victory over the Celtics in 1985. At 39, he was voted first-team all-NBA, in a league that included a young Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. In 1987 — now 40 but looking fierce with a newly shaved head — he scored 32 points in the clinching Game 6 of the Finals. The next year, as the Lakers saw their attempt at becoming the first repeat champion since Russell’s Celtics slipping away in the final seconds of Game 6 against the Pistons, the Lakers dumped the ball to him on the right block as they trailed by 1. Kareem went up for the hook for the millionth time in his life, drew a questionable foul on Bill Laimbeer and drained the two free throws. They repeated in Game 7. He was always The Man, from the time he was a boy until he was the oldest man in the league.

Then came the 1989 season.