#IMHO: Michael Jordan, Stockton and the Mailman, Draymond Green and the return of the NBA

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

 

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Tuesday, May 12, 2020 at 11:42 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike,

As we head into the home stretch of “The Last Dance,” I have to admit I’ve enjoyed watching it way more than I suspected I would. This is partially because I felt I’d been there and done that—like you, I grew up during the Jordan era, and I remembered all that stuff the first time around. But I think I’ve found myself drawn to “The Last Dance” even more because it’s such great footage, even better than I thought it would be. For instance, I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the sight and sound of MJ laying on the training room floor sobbing after winning a title on Father’s Day in 1996.

It can be kind of tough to follow the narrative at times, as the story bounces back and forth between different time periods, but one benefit of that is it gives us the opportunity to look at some of Michael’s competitors and reconsider their legacies, even as they remain in the shadow of MJ. We’ve seen a bunch of different teams in there—the Kemp/Payton Sonics, the Ewing/Starks Knicks, the Barkley/KJ Suns, the Stockton/Malone Jazz, even the Shaq/Penny Magic.

So this week, let’s start with this: Which of the teams Jordan had to get through to win his titles do you think was the best? Which one was most deserving of a ring that they were never able to get?

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, May 12, 2020 at 12:41 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

The first team that comes to mind is the Utah Jazz, with Karl Malone and John Stockton leading the way. When you add it all up, those are not only two Hall of Fame legends, but two of the top-five most productive players at their respective position in NBA history. Then you factor in Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and a superb supporting cast for the Jazz. Utah was good enough to push through the West twice, in consecutive seasons, to get to the Finals and lose to Jordan’s Bulls in six games. If the Jazz had faced any other team in the East either of those seasons, they’d have won at least one—but likely two—NBA titles.

Secondarily, I believe the Knicks were good enough to get through in the East. In fact, the year after Jordan retired the first time, Pat Riley was able to get those rough and rugged Knicks to the Finals against Houston. As “The Last Dance” documentary showed, Jordan and the Bulls were reeling against the ropes in that series against the Knicks a couple of seasons later, when Charles Smith missed like 5 point-blank contested layup attempts that could have won a pivotal game in the series for New York. Instead, the Bulls escaped and dispatched the Knicks yet again.

And in the West, Portland was also a really strong team back then in the early 1990s. They got to the Finals twice behind Buck Williams, Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler and crew, losing first to the Pistons and then to the Bulls. They may have been the most balanced and deep team in the league both of those runs, but lacked the take-over star in the clutch to carry the Blazers home. So, any notion that Jordan didn’t face any really good-to-great teams in his run as champ is absolutely ludicrous to me.

Lang, the biggest buzz around the league causing debate came from our old buddy Shaquille O’Neal, who told USA Today that the NBA should just get it over with and cancel the season and come back ready to play next year. He caught some heat from both sides of the coin on this one. But does he have a point? The longer this pandemic sidelines the NBA, the more it seems unreasonable to simply pick up a season to finish, then step away briefly and come back to start another one. The typical NBA offseason lasts three months from the end of the Finals to the start of players returning to get ready for training camp. We’re already past two months with this current COVID-19 league hiatus.

 

John Stockton and Karl Malone Utah Jazz

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Tuesday, May 12, 2020 at 5:57 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

Shaq might need to tell the youngsters to get off his lawn, because a report tonight from Yahoo said that a bunch of the current NBA players (including LeBron, Giannis, KD and Kawhi) are all in favor of getting back to business. Which I am in favor of as well. We came this far, completing three-quarters of the season, I’d love it if we could finish this thing off.

The problem, of course, is that you can’t just flip the switch. NBA players haven’t played competitive ball in two months, and they can’t just get back on the court and play. So besides building in some kind of protocols to ensure safety, as tough as that is right now, we’ve got to get everyone back in game shape, and get teams used to playing together, and… well, there’s a lot to unravel.

Which is why I don’t envy the task ahead of the NBA decision-makers. There’s clearly an appetite for sports right now—my Grizz Gaming guys are about to make our season debut on ESPN2!—but the trick is figuring out how to take the huge traveling circus that is the NBA and slowing it down to make it stationary and stable. And above all else, making it safe for everyone.

Mike, I saw this week where Draymond Green made headlines, again, by saying his Warriors squads would have been able to handle Shaq and the Lakers. I don’t want to get into that debate, but I am curious about Draymond. He’s clearly mastered the art of manipulating the media, and generating headlines that get eyeballs, like others who have come before him and will come along after him. I can easily see Draymond popping up on the desk on NBA Countdown or TNT when his career winds down.

Since you spend most of your time with the home team, which current member of the Grizzlies do you think could have a career in broadcasting when their playing days are over?

 

Draymond Green press conference

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, May 12, 2020 at 6:35 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I’ve got two nominations for the most loquacious and quotatious Grizz players—it would come down to Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson. Both of those guys have all the skills it takes to be great on a sports debate desk or NBA broadcast show. Dillon just has so much swagger and brutal honesty that he won’t hold back from saying uncomfortable things while also being engaging, intelligent and entertaining all at once. And Kyle is smart, funny and has plenty of stories and pop culture and/or sports history knowledge to always have a point to make.

The thing about Draymond is that he’s never met a microphone or reporter he doesn’t like. He takes advantage of every opportunity to share his thoughts. And sometimes, he goes overboard. That’s what makes his beef with Charles Barkley so funny to me. Both of those guys are outrageously outlandish and unafraid to speak their minds. They have more in common than they know.

Lang, we’ll get out of here on this one: I just want to make sure we don’t overlook the fans in this equation when it comes to sports coming back. This is all about the health and safety of everyone, fans included. Many players I spoke with recently want the season to resume, but aren’t sure they’re good with doing so until fans are able to be a part of the experience. Fans make the atmosphere of sports what it is. You could get away with Golf, Tennis, NASCAR and maybe even MMA or Boxing without an audience. But when it comes to the NBA, NFL or even MLB—sports that rely on momentum and emotion from play to play—it’s hard to imagine games without fans.

You’ve attended thousands of sporting events as a media member, but also a huge chunk as a fan simply checking out a game. Set your media credential aside for a second. At what point as a fan would you feel comfortable attending a sporting event again?

 

Korean Baseball Stadium with no fans

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, May 13, 2020 at 10:57 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

Well, considering I still don’t feel comfortable going to the gas station or grocery store, I’m not sure when I’ll feel comfortable being around 15,000 strangers. I watched the Korean baseball league game on ESPN the other night—let’s go NC Dinos!—and while it was cool to watch live sports, it was pretty odd seeing carboard cutouts filling the stands.

Part of attending any event—sports, concerts—is that shared experience, right? Sure, it’s great when I’m alone at home watching a game on my couch and Ja Morant goes up and dunks on Aron Baynes, but not having anyone around to high five other than my dog is kind of a bummer.

That’s why we like attending sports—it’s a shared experience where we all get to celebrate (and complain) en masse, as part of something bigger than ourselves. That’s probably why Twitter has become such an essential during live events, because we can all join together and laugh and joke about what’s happening.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. At this point, we still haven’t figured out how to get sports back, much less the fans. That, to me, is step one. First, let them give us something to talk about. Then we’ll figure out the next step as we get to it.