While most memories tend to be vague and fade over time, certain moments become cemented in our minds forever. Most of us can vividly recount our first kiss, our 21st birthday, and the birth of a child. Unlike those personal memories, others have a broader reach. In particular, we each can say, “I remember exactly where I was when I heard about ______.” Depending on your age, you can fill in the blank with President Kennedy’s assassination, the Challenger explosion, or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With respect to the world of sports, the sentiment applies to the USA Hockey Team’s victory over the USSR in the 1980 Olympics. This post explores why the death of Len Bias also seems to be one of those unforgettable moments.
While the NBA generally has relied on the principle that “worst picks first” when determining draft order, the league has always altered this principle with assorted gimmicks. As described in my previous post, the NBA originally allowed teams to declare a territorial preference as a way to trump draft order. After eliminating this preference in the mid-1960s, the league began using a coin toss to award the #1 overall pick to the worst team in the East or the West. The draft order for the remaining teams was determined strictly based on the inverse order of how each team finished in the prior season regardless of division (or conference). The coin toss system was considered acceptable for almost 20 years, but NBA Commissioner David Stern decided to scrap it before his first anniversary on the job. This post will review the NBA Draft during the “Coin Toss” Era.
Oscar Robertson arguably was one of the top five or ten players in NBA history with extraordinary talent as a scorer, rebounder and passer. As an indication of his all-around ability, he is the only player to have averaged a triple double for an entire season. Less well known, but perhaps even more impressive, was his achievement of averaging double digit points, rebounds and assists over the first five years of his career. As an aside for stat junkies, he was 0.05 rebounds per game away from doing it through his first six seasons. For as incredible as Robertson’s “triple-double season” was, however, it might be overrated. To start, the infrequency of triple doubles today (on average, one occurs every 36 games) skews our perspective of it. Furthermore, the concept didn’t exist until five years after his retirement so the accomplishment was the product of retroactive data mining. If the NBA had recognized the stat in the 1960s, who knows how many triple doubles Robertson would have recorded. Then again, who knows how many other players (e.g. Wilt Chamberlain) would have had as well.
Do you root for players in the NBA but teams in the other Big 4 sports? Does your favorite basketball player not play for the NBA team geographically closest to you? Prior to 1980, your answers likely would have been different. However, something “magical” happened since then. In this post, I discuss the early days of the NBA Modern Era when television stations aired playoff games on tape-delay. Starting with superstars like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the league made a conscious decision to promote its stars more than its teams. Fortunately, players like Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron have been able to take the game to the next level. In fact, they helped drive the game’s tremendous international popularity. The NFL is set, but perhaps MLB and the NHL could learn something from their younger (and smarter) brother.