This is what makes basketball so unique, and so singularly engaging: Sometimes, it really only takes one player: the right player. It’s not a one-man game, no. One-man basketball teams fight. We’ve learned it since we opened our first Clair Bee or Frank Merriwell book.
But one player, the right player …
Look, 50 years ago the Milwaukee Bucks won an NBA championship. They weren’t a one-man team. In fact, there were two players in the top 15 of all time on that team, including a veteran Oscar Robertson, who still had a few tricks left. But make no mistake, the Bucks became the Bucks two years earlier when they won a coin toss and the right to draft Lew Alcindor. This is why Robertson wanted to come to Milwaukee in the first place.
This is why we should celebrate Julius Randle today. Has he made the Knicks a title contender alone? He has not. In fact, he was on this team last year when he resided among the scum of the sport. But he vowed to improve his fitness over the summer, to work hard on his game, to be a better teammate, to be a more well-rounded player.
And so he’s an All-Star. And just as no one outside of Tom Thibodeau’s immediate family possibly saw the Knicks as being over .500 at the start of the season, no one saw Randle coming, except perhaps Randle, Thibodeau and Tyler Relph, the offseason coach. by Randle. Thibodeau has done a masterful job with the Knicks, but he just wouldn’t have them at 19-18. He needed Randle to go from being an excellent player to the All-Star Game. Randle did that.
One player did that.
It is part of the charm of basketball, and also of its illusion. The Knicks really became champions thanks to the addition of a once-in-a-lifetime player, Dave DeBusschere, but it worked because he joined a cast of disinterested stars whose numbers now hang on the Garden rafters.
The Knicks became near-champions thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime player, Patrick Ewing, and that worked because he was a forever talent who never had the supporting cast. But it sure made a difference for a long time.
This month, forty years ago, St. John’s learned how important a player can be. The Johnnies had great players and great teams before that. They have had very good players and good teams since then. But in late March 1981, a phone rang inside Lou Carnesecca’s office, and the voice from Brooklyn on the other end of the line had a message carrying it all.
“Coach,” Chris Mullin said, “I’m coming.”
It’s a sign of simpler times that the news didn’t draw a single headline in New York City, even though Mullin had been spectacular in the state federation playoffs for Xaverian High School. The news nearly destroyed a coach, who flew to New York to watch the Wheelchair Classic high school game at the former Mater Christi High in Astoria.
Mullin had visited his campus earlier that winter, fell in love, and that was music to the coach’s ears because he needed good players and he needed them in a hurry. He came to New York to see if he could close the deal with Mullin. But before the game, on the layup line, he received devastating news.
“Coach,” Mullin said, “I’m going to St. John’s.”
Mike Krzyzewski was crestfallen. He knew the value of a player, the right player, at the right time. He would recover. He would find other players.
“But at the time,” he laughed a few years ago, “I thought the world was over.”
One player, the right player … can still get the pulse racing. St. John’s has never been the same since that phone call. A good local program became a national powerhouse and a Final Four team, and it is still a sleeping giant. A player. The right player.
Good Follow Up: We told you a few weeks ago how Dropping Dimes, an Indianapolis-based charity that helps old ABA players in need, had helped former Nets star George Carter in his final days. Recently, the man Carter was traded for, Julius Erving, joined DD’s advisory board, a high-profile addition to a board that already includes Bob Costas, Bob Netolicky, Nancy Leonard, Mack Calvin, Brian Taylor, David Craig, Peter Vecsey and Myles. Turner.
“Many of the best moments of my career were in the ABA,” said Dr. J, “and as players, we considered ourselves a band of brothers.”
As someone who grew up with starry eyes on the playground at East Meadow’s Prospect Park watching Matt Doherty set everyone on fire and then idolized him at Holy Trinity and in North Carolina, you better believe I absorbed every word from his new book “Rebound: From Passion to Pain: Leadership Lessons Learned,” and I strongly suggest that you do too.
I miss the Knicks. I miss the Nets. Let’s start the second half now.
It appears that Brett Gardner has played for the Yankees since the Yankees wore flannel uniforms.
Whack Back at Vac
Bill Miller: Thursday marked the 48th anniversary of the history of the wife swapping of Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich. That has to be in the discussion about the most interesting baseball trade ever.
Holidays: I always hoped that the proposed Matt Damon / Ben Affleck movie about that (when they were both young enough) was true, because I wanted to audition for the role of ex-Post baseball sage Maury Allen, in whose house, according to the The transaction was reportedly finalized after a 1972 Christmas Party.
Jim Jarczynski: It’s time for the Mets to retire Willie Mays’ No. 24. I know the Giants already did it, but Willie is loved by New Yorkers. He ended his career with the Mets. Willie will turn 90 on May 6 and should be honored before he dies.
Holidays: I’m in. Who says no?
@GoodmanHoops: The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that Mark Schmidt might be the best candidate for Boston College. Alum. You can train your [butt] off. Extremely dear. You can develop players.
@MikeVacc: I say this with all due respect to one of my favorite college basketball media personalities – go away, Jeff.
Alex Burton: You will never convince a certain segment of New York City residents that the state game is anything but Stickball. I offer you a Pennsy Pinky.
Holidays: In that vote, the stickball wins gold. Stoop ball brings the silver. Ring-a-levio takes home the bronze