Dribbles 'N' Quibbles

From Palookas On Ice To Guys Who Aren't Nice

By Tom Danehy

THE NATIONAL BASKETBALL Association kicked off its 51st season last Friday, barely five days after the World Series ground to an end. This, of course, isn't the NBA's fault. Baseball screwed up yet again, and they had to play three games in frightful weather just to get done in late October.

But since nobody cares about baseball anyway, we'll stick with the NBA. A fluke of the calendar caused the league to start in October for the first time in several years, and it won't happen again until the next millennium. Besides, the dorks in the Boxing On Ice association known as the National Hockey League started their season in early October and won't be done until early June (as though anyone who can say "about" without it sounding like "uh-boot" gives a flying puck).

Danehy I get a lot of grief from a small group of acquaintances who just love hockey. They call me a snob and other really mean names like that. They think I don't understand the nuances of the game, as though a sport in which at least one fight breaks out in every game could possibly have nuances.

They give me all this nonsense about it being a physical sport and fights being inevitable. I counter with football, a much more physical sport where there is almost never a fight. Hockey fans are little more than Canadian versions of redneck NASCAR fans who go to see not the races, but the crashes.

I told my friends I'd reconsider if they could show me a tape of one NHL game in which there wasn't a fight or a shoving match or a squaring-off confrontation. Just one. I made that offer three years ago. They're still searching.

As for the NBA, the season opens with lots of new faces, an intriguing shuffling of old faces, and one big old nasty question: Can anybody beat the Chicago Bulls?

Actually, there are several smaller nagging questions, which I'll answer before I shrug to the first one.

What's the biggest surprise among all of the NBA team rosters?

Ed Stokes is on the Toronto Raptors roster. Yes, Ed Stokes, the Sears Tower of the Tucson skyline, if you'll pardon my mixed architectural metaphors. Ed Stokes, the master of the blown dunk. Missed more two-footers than Ray Charles at a celebrity pro-am golf tournament.

Of course, he's hurt as the season begins. But being hurt in Canada is almost as good as being hurt in the United States. And it's way better than being hurt in Greece.

Stokes is one of 10 former Arizona Wildcats on NBA rosters. Ray Owes got cut by Golden State, and Ben Davis was dropped by the Phoenix Suns, but Sean Rooks continues to defy all odds by staying in the league for another year as the highest-paid coat rack in pro sports history.

Will Larry Bird do okay as a coach?

I hope so. I hated Larry Bird when he was starting out with the Celtics, but he earned my respect over a brilliant career as a player who had some ability and then just outworked everybody and refused to lose.

Over the years, great players have generally had a tough time making the transition to coaching. Magic Johnson was awful, Jerry West got frustrated, and Willis Reed was desperately bad. Perhaps it has something to do with great players being unable to translate their ability and desire to lesser-skilled athletes.

It's usually the mid-level players who become great coaches. Guys like Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkins, and Phil Jackson show a great knack for getting all of their players to work within a team concept. This is the key to success in a league full of incredibly talented individuals.

Nudging his way among the coaching elite in the league is Charlotte's Dave Cowens. While playing at Florida State in college, Cowens, who's white, was joined by four black fellow starters in a lineup dubbed "The Busted Flush." His career with the Celtics was good, but not great. His work on the Hornets' bench last year came as a huge surprise to league observers who figured Charlotte would take a nosedive after losing several key players, but instead won a team-record 54 games.

Who's the worst player in the NBA?

Well, I don't want to talk about Ed Stokes again, so I'll tell you who the worst player for the NBA is. Without a doubt, that falls to Allen Iverson again this year. The worst pick as Rookie of the Year in however many years they've been doing that is back to distort the beauty and truth of the game with his me-first, team-last style of play and thug attitude.

The reason he uses the 2L spelling for his name is so one "L" can stand for "lout" and the other for "loser."

Phillip Gibson, a neighbor kid who lives down the street, was outraged when he read that I dogged Iverson, and therein lies my disgust. Phil's a great kid and a good athlete. That he would attach his dreams to a loser like Iverson is disturbing.

Phillip, the best point guard in the NBA is John Stockton. I know he's white and he can't dunk, but he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. If you want somebody a bit flashier, go with Gary Payton. He plays defense, a word Iverson has only heard in court.

What will be the surprise team in the league this year?

The San Antonio Spurs, without a doubt. They went from 59 wins the year before to only 20 wins last year. Don't be surprised if they bounce back to 50 wins this year.

Unfortunately for our beloved Sean Elliott, the Spurs are notoriously soft underachievers come playoff time.

Will Rick Pitino take the Celtics to the playoffs this year?

Boy, did you buy into the hype! The Celtics may play an up-tempo game, but they're going to get rocked. It'll be a surprise if they finish anywhere but last in the Atlantic Division. Yes, last, behind the New Jersey Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Okay, can anybody beat the Chicago Bulls?

No dammit, and stop asking. I'm depressed enough as it is. TW

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