Monday, January 25, 2016

Point Guards

Basketball has been part of my life for a long time. Sometimes my attention has waned, especially when I didn't have a dog in the fight, but we certainly have a dog in the fight now with the Golden State Warriors, né Philadelphia Warriors. The Warriors are a revelation, led by a basketball genius, Steph Curry, perhaps the best shooter there has ever been. No, not perhaps, the best ever, plus the rest of what he does. He is also the the best ball-handler I've ever seen. He is a genius.
The team, too, is a work of genius. Their passing is A+, they play a switching defense I love, and as we know, they shoot. Curry's three point shooting is so good that the paradigm of how to win games has changed. The Warriors can rely on the three-pointer. It's not all they do, so much of what they do is superb, but relying on the three pointer and not just including it, is different.
I've always loved to think, who are the best five of all time, who are the best ten? And now, the emergence of Dell Curry's son has prompted once again the debate, who was the best point guard of all time? As soon as Bruce Jenkins wrote his column on that subject on Saturday, January 16, my friend Bob emailed me. Bob has never forgotten the 1960 paper I wrote as a Harvard freshman for General Education AhF (whatever that stood for), or Freshman Writing. Title: “Mr. Basketball.” Subtitle: “Or Why I Hate Bob Cousy.”
So, today, we have email. It took me a while to find Bruce Jenkins' email address – the Chron's website is one of the worst in the world – but I finally found it, incongruously at the end of each article in the paper edition, although as I say you can't find it on the blasted website. So I took the occasion, encouraged by Bob, to email Bruce Jenkins, and to attach the original paper.
Here's the letter I wrote:
Hi, Bruce:
I caught your point guard article of last Saturday. I'm a long time basketball fan, and since I grew up in Philadelphia -- I remember being at my back alley hoop in the late 1940's (!) shooting and yelling "Joe Fulks!" -- I had to notice the inclusion of Bob Cousy in the list.  As a Philadelphian, I grew hating Bob Cousy and the Boston acolytes, our Warriors' rivals.  As a matter of fact, when I was a freshman at Harvard and was assigned a free topic paper for English composition, I wrote the now immortal paper, "Mr. Basketball, or, Why I Hate Bob Cousy."  For your possible interest and amusement, I'm attaching it.  Time flies.
When I was in high school I would finish my homework in time to go down to our pine-paneled den and watch Channel 12 from Wilmington, Delaware, which televised the Big  5.  There I watched Guy Rogers as a freshman on the terrific Temple team and fell in love with him.  If only he could have elevated his flat jump shot, he would have been more than honorable mention on your list!  His passing and speed were so, so good; the plays he ran look like the current Warriors.  I made a case then that he was better than Cousy, but the Celtics team was better than the Warriors, and that was the difference.
And just for the record, I think Oscar was the best guard ever, maybe the best player ever.  It's harder to rate position players in basketball than in baseball, say, because a first baseman is a first baseman, but positions in basketball are more fluid and team-based, so it's harder to compare.  The point-forward, for instance.  Basketball is to sports as jazz is to music.
Finally, quiz question -- when the NBA started, they had to get their teams from somewhere.  Do you know where the first Warriors team came from, what their name was?  If you reply to this email, you get to know the fascinating answer.
Very appreciative of your wonderful sports writing through the years, and I would definitely vote for a lifetime achievement award.
Best regards,

Budd Shenkin

Bruce Jenkins responded:

Budd: In studying the Warriors historically, I did know that they were originally the Philadelphia Warriors, beginning in 1946-47 as a member of the Basketball Association of America (BAA). But don't let that stop you from writing! I greatly enjoy recollections from past years. I vividly remember scoring an excellent seat for a Lakers-Royals game at the L.A. Sports Arena in the 1960s. Between them, Oscar, Jerry Lucas, West and Baylor must have score 150 points. I must confess, though, that I wasn't a Laker fan, rather devoted to the Russell-Cousy Celtics. Just because I was so moved by their sense of teamwork. Best -- Bruce J.

I'm now preparing to post the 1960 Mr. Basketball paper. Watch for it, and with any encouragement whatsoever, further basketball commentary.

Budd Shenkin

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