It was just the other night. I was quietly taking in one of the Wolves home wins and it was a very good night to be at Target Center. Sometime right before the end of halftime, out of the blue, an engaged Wolves fan (and loyal SimonsSays reader I was told and might add) spotted me and wanted to visit. NO appointment. NO way out. NO getting out of this fan drop in.
He introduced himself as Marty and Mr. Marty wanted answers. Rapid fire. He was into hoops that evening and had some things to say.
Marty made it clear, he has his hoop favorites. Whether they are playing for the home team or throughout the NBA. Marty also wanted to know my faves. Marty wanted names. I didn’t go there but certainly allowed him to meander and muse about basketball. You read this each and every week and find me at a game; you likely will get that nod too.
So, fast forward to work just days ago. I’m sitting at my desk in the GOmedia studios down the street from Target Center. Housed in the historic Ford Center building in the Warehouse district, it’s in a great location and makes getting to all sort of sports events very easy. So, as I’m writing and preparing broadcasts, across the cube is “Stretch”. This young man is a FAN! An energetic, 20-something who’s a Minnesota sports fan through and through. Loyal like a dog. Not only is Stretch convinced that the Twin Cities will soon be a title town, Stretch will tell you that the Wolves and Twins will win Championships before he gets married. This kid is going to marry too.
Stretch strolls up to the desk and asks me, “What are you working on”? My reply was swift and without hesitation. “Stretch, who’s the best center you ever watched”? I wasn’t sure how he’d respond. I’ve never talked hoops with him, in depth, you know?! So, thinking for a moment he’d fire off a name like Darko or Benoit Benjamin, maybe Bill Laimbeer or maybe even Alton Lister, he says, “Russell”? I was thrilled! “Bill Russell”, I asked? Yep. That’s the Russell.
So, Stretch and this writer spend the next half hour comparing our All-Timers. He liked my list and it reads like this:
**Center: Much like trying to eat just one potato chip (it can’t be done), I can’t settle on just one big man. I was a very little guy and a budding basketball fan when I laid eyes on Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was awesome. The first headband wearing player I ever saw. Too young, I missed his Kansas days, his Globetrotting and even the 100-point game. But I vaguely remember the Laker days of Wilt, Jerry West, Happy Hairston, Jimmy McMillan, Gail Goodrich and even a hippy Pat Riley. Bill Sharman was the coach, they played at the “Fabulous Forum” in Inglewood, CA and the “Big Dipper” was the man. Wilt averaged 30 points/20 rebounds for his entire career. Don’t think for a minute he was playing chumps, he wasn’t. Wilt played against some of the games best. #13 is my first NBA memory.
I told Stretch that, for as good as Wilt was to me, there were two others I considered the NBA’s best Pivot-men. Russell has to be on anyone’s list, even if you didn’t see him and don’t like the Boston Celtics. You see, Russell was the reason the Celtics won 11-NBA Championships. Russ has more rings than fingers! That’s sick! At 81, Russell is treated as Hoop Royalty and for good reason. I’ll never forget being in the same Golf tourney with a long retired Russell while a Seattle sports anchor @ the Lenny Wilkens charity classic. I was in absolute awe. Russell was a 5 time MVP, played 13 years, played AND coached the Celtics for three of his final seasons. Stretch was nodding as I listed the accomplishments then he says, “Rod…ROD…so you have Wilt and Russell. Those guys are grainy black and white video now. How do you leave off Kareem”?! Well, you can’t.
For as misunderstood as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar might be these days to another generation, that cat was as bad as they come. That is, you take ANY NBA center today, get them on their best night and they’d never hang with a primetime Abdul-Jabbar. Stretch was nervously smiling, eager to hear this spiel about the game’s greatest center.
You see, Kareem had Wilt’s offense, could play “D” like Russell and at 7-1, was athletic and passionate, as gifted and driven as any player and fueled by a burning desire we might never understand. Abdul-Jabbar grew up Lewis Alcindor, a freakishly taller than all his other New York friends and when he played for Power Memorial High School, Alcindor’s team won 71-straight games. 71 straight! When fans remember the “Showtime” Lakers, Magic Johnson always comes to mind for the younger fans first. But make no mistake, Abdul-Jabbar was the building block of those Championship teams.
Abdul-Jabbar’s shot, that unmatched and unblockable Skyhook, is the key reason he is still the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points in 20-seasons. If you are a fan (like your host here) you gotta’ watch the Kareem documentary recently released called “Minority Of One”. It’s absolutely spellbinding.
Abdul-Jabbar was SO dominate in his career and what many fans don’t realize is that KAJ played against even better competition/postmen than Russell and Wilt. As Abdul-Jabbar joked in his movie role (in the classic “Airplane”…another must see), Abdul-Jabbar did drag his butt up and down the court against Bob Lanier and Bill Walton but also did against so many more. In the early days, when a young Lew Alcindor came into the NBA from UCLA, he’d match up against big Walt Bellamy, former Louisville & Baltimore Bullets great Wes Unseld as well as Wilt among others. It was test time every single night and no one wanted to be topped by the hot shot kid named Alcindor.
Stretch was stunned. He didn’t know about the documentary. Didn’t know about Power HS. Stretch thought KAJ was good and even better as a retired NBA center turned Wisconsin commercial pitchman. Oh, how wrong was Stretch. Just ingest these KAJ numbers. 6 NBA Championships (1 in Milwaukee and 5 with the LALakers), 3 NCAA titles while with John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins and KAJ played with a heavy head. You see, at 24-years old while playing in Milwaukee in the early 1970’s, Alcindor made a faith based decision and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. KAJ stunned the NBA and people all over the USA by announcing his conversion to the Muslim faith. Can you even imagine the heat Abdul-Jabbar took at the time, looking back?! WOW.
Stretch was silent. I was speaking at such a rapid pace, so emotional and with such bravado that my young colleague was rendered speechless. But his eyes told me he wanted more.
The Irondale native (class of 2002, #youngster) nodded over and over in agreement and then he blurted out and asked, “but you have left so many off your list”. Have I, I asked?
Sure there is Shaquille O’Neal and Moses Malone. There’s Walton and Hakeem Olajuwon but as great as they were, they were not in this elite triangle. And OMG, those four players were amazing in their own right. But they were not Wilt, Kareem or Russell.
Stretch and I continued to discuss our favorite forwards and the greatest guards, we believed, ever graced the NBA. In the coming weeks, I’ll get to those names of which some you will agree and likely challenge. That’s great. I’m hoping you will read this and send your thoughts along so we can celebrate some of the best memories of our lives. I promise to share some of the letters and continue the conversation as well as weigh in on our improving T’Wolves.
So, I’d love to hear from you. Communication is a two way street so if you have something to run by us, drop me a note at rod@gameONtvMN.com and we’ll check it out. Remember, keep your Game ON! and do not be a “casual” fan. Jump on board and keep the faith! See you on TV!
The NBA is going to have a great All-Star weekend in Toronto. Look for the Wolves to represent as the NBA has announced that T’wolves sophomores Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins, along with rookie Karl-Anthony Towns will participate in the 2016 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. LaVine and Towns will team up on the U.S. Team and Wiggins will suit up for the World Team. Zach will be back to own the Slam Dunk Championship too!
If you don’t have it, download this basketball fan must-have! The Wolves mobile app gives fans instant access to exclusive Wolves content and live game coverage. Fans can download the free app on iOS and Android devices by visiting Timberwolves.com/mobile.
The official Timberwolves app offers fans the ability to follow live game content including the score, stats, shot charts and related social media conversations via the Game Tracker. The
app also allows fans to seamlessly check the team’s schedule, roster and conference standings. Fans on the go can stay engaged and updated with the team by accessing Wolves articles, photo galleries and original videos through the app. New features including ticket sales integrations, fan experience modules, exclusive membership content and more will be
added to the app in the near future. The app is another step the Wolves have taken to accommodate the continued growth of mobile web use.
**Got something to say?!
If you are a serious Timberwolves fan (and even the casual fan is allowed), drop me a note with your thoughts. Write me at rod@gameONtvMN.com.
**SimonsSays on TV/PODcast:
I’d love for you to catch my TV show GameON!. GameON! is well into its 4th season and continues to showcase the
Timberwolves like no other broadcast show in the region. GameON! is broadcast in High Definition and can be found on ITunes, on demand via our new GameON! App (free and available for Apple/Android) and online @ www.gameontvmn.com. Don’t miss an episode of the Emmy winning GameON! @ 10am this Sunday morning on FOX’s My29 and throughout the weekend regionally on MidCo Sports Net. We’d love for you to “like” us on Facebook @ GameOnTvMN.GameON! is also seen in North & South Dakota and Western Minnesota on MidCo SportsNet several times a weekend. We reserve the right to use your e-mails here in SimonsSays @ Timberwolves.com. We talk Wolves. Every day. High’s & lows. We’re there because we’re fans, just like you! Keep your GameON! See you soon!