A GRIP ON SPORTS
One of the sad parts of growing older is losing your heroes. Today is another of those sad days. Read on.
• Jack Ramsay, the former coach of the NBA champion Portland Trailblazers and one of the better basketball analysts ever, died today at age 89. The Oregonian has an obituary of Ramsay (pictured) online already but an obit rarely tells the whole tale of a man's life. As a lot of basketball fans in the 1970s, I was introduced to Ramsay via the Trailblazers' champion season of 1977. Led by Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas and Lionel Hollins, the Blazers were one of the five best NBA teams ever, right up there with the best Bulls teams, the top Celtic squads, the Lakers of 1973 and anyone else you want to name. The Blazers defended, sure, no team with Walton in the middle wouldn't. They ran, sure, as Walton and Lucas (pictured below) were beasts on the boards and Hollins was as quick as any guard ever. But the best part of that Blazer team was how it played half-court offense. Ramsay's offense. So fun to watch. Cut, screen, fake a screen, backdoor, pick, pop, move. Everything a motion offense is supposed to be. So fun to watch. Walton was the key, of course. A great low-post scorer, he was even better as a passer. A point-center if you will. So fun to watch. But an NBA season is anything but fun. It is made up of games, work and people. People who are as different off the court as they were efficient on it. As a callow college student in 1977, I didn't understand that. As a sports journalist a few later I still didn't, until I read quite possibly the best sports book of all time, David Halberstam's "The Breaks of the Game." I was familiar with Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist that had already written the definitive book on Vietnam-era politics. But I fell in love with his work when I read "The Breaks of the Game." Pure genius. The first behind-the-scenes sports book that made me feel I was really there, even more so than "Ball Four." You learned what was going on with Walton's foot, why Lucas was such a stud, how Kermit Washington had felt after he punched Rudy Tomjanovich. Halberstam was so thorough, you felt as if you knew all the players. And most of all you felt as if you knew Ramsay. I was enamored with Ramsay's offense. Had been since 1977. But the book helped me realize an important lesson: There are two sides to every person. Don't confuse the athlete or the coach with the person. It was a lesson every naïve young man – I was certainly in that category – needs to learn and the sooner the better. There is the face you see in public. And there is the person's true face. Ramsay was a hell of a basketball coach. That doesn't mean he was anything more than that. A great coach, a great athlete, a great anything can be a great person. Or maybe not. The two are separate. They are people just like you, me and the folks next door. I'm sorry to say Halberstam is no longer with us. Now neither is Ramsay. The combination of the two helped shape my understanding of another eternal truth. Through sports.
• One last word on Ramsay. It's really sad he passed when the Blazers are on the brink of something special, something they haven't done in a while. The franchise's legacy has been pocked with potholes since that 1977 season. This year's team might be ready to change that legacy. After all, it is now the Clippers who might be taking up the mantle of the star-crossed franchise.
• WSU: Though the spring game was Saturday, Jacob Thorpe still had some things to cover yesterday and he did that in this story. ... It was not a good Sunday for the WSU baseball team in Seattle. ... ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog summarizes the weekend's spring games, including the Cougars'. ... A Utah basketball player with a great name is transferring. Wonder if he'll go to a certain Ivy League school.
• Idaho: The hits just keep on coming for the Vandals, as one of their better wide receivers was reportedly arrested over the weekend. Josh Wright has more in this blog post.
• Seahawks: Michael Robinson was cut last year. But the veteran fullback re-signed with the team late and helped on the Super Bowl run. Now it seems he's resigned to his fate and may call it a career. But what a way to go out. ... How important at Marshawn Lynch to the Hawks' offense?
• Mariners: Can one at-bat change a season? It sure seems one of Kyle Seager's did. The one he had last week, a 10-pitch AB that ended up in a home run, seems to have broken his slump. He's as hot as anyone in baseball and proved it again yesterday with two more homers, including another game winner in the M's 6-5 comeback victory over the Rangers. ... The M's lineup is in a state of flux these days. And that might not be a bad thing. Some of the changes seem to be working. ... Robinson Cano has a date in New York.
• And that my friends is my column for today. Have a good week. Until later ...