October 5, 2006

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LONGSHOTS: James’ gang riding into town to face the Celtics
by Dave Long

So Lebron James is coming to Manchester. Hard to believe this is his fourth year in the NBA already. I mean, what would he be if he hadn’t gone hardship? A senior in high school? Not really; it just seems that way, I guess, as in his whirlwind senior year he was in more hot spots than Paris Hilton.

James and his posse, which others call the Cleveland Cavaliers, will be at the Big V, as my friend the Big F likes to call it, to face the Celtics on next, gulp, Friday the 13th. It’s their latest visit to the Verizon and this time they bring along the NBA’s biggest draw. And it’s not just his game, which is sweet. Kind of like Magic Johnson with a jump shot. It’s also the same prodigy thing that made Tiger Woods such a curiosity when he first flashed on the scene as people wondered how someone that young could be that good.

The only high school basketball player to make a similar stir that I’ve seen was Lew Alcindor when he played at New York City’s Power Memorial way back in the 1960s. You might argue Damon Bailey was similar, being recruited by Indiana while in the eight grade, but he wasn’t close. Yes, he did get major pub and become a curiosity after it was reported in A Season On The Brink, which John Feinstein wrote after spending a season with onerous Bobby Knight. But no one in their right mind thought he’d be anything close to an NBA star. After all, who besides Isiah Thomas has turned out to be even close to an NBA star after playing for Knight? Kent Benson? Scott May? Calbert Chaney?

OK, maybe Moses Malone caused a big stir, but at 7’2” Alcindor was ready to step into what most old folks recall as the NBA’s center-devoid days in the 10th grade. Days when guys like Darrell Imoff were capable of holding Wilt Chamberlain to 100 points in a night, as he once did in March of 1962. But that’s not quite true, as in a nine-team league Bill Russell was there, as were Nate Thurmond and Walt Bellamy, whose 31.6 scoring average in his rookie year nearly mirrored the 31.4 James scored in 2005-06. Are 50 percent of NBA centers now playing in the caliber of those four? No. And after changing his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Alcindor went on to play for 20 years and score more points than anyone in NBA history.

So you can see I put James in pretty good company. Now he still hasn’t won much yet, but Jabbar was three years older than he is now before he won an NBA title. Ditto for Larry Bird, who was a five-year man in college before winning his first ring in year two with Boston. As a rookie Magic did win one in what would have been his third year if he came straight from high school. So he’s one up on LeBron, but I’m pretty sure he’ll win at some point. So in our event-driven culture you probably couldn’t get a more compelling figure to come to Manchester. Although let’s try.

Now that everyone is back on the bandwagon after Sunday how about Tom Brady? How’d you like to see Angelo Mazzella’s face after being told Bob Kraft’s new Arena team will bring in Brady and a contingent of rehabbing Patriots to work out the kinks in an early pre-season game? Not likely, but think Jimmy Buffett as tickets go on sale. Of course this year we saw A. J. Burnett do a rehab start at the Dot. But, while they did have a nice crowd, the Blue Jays hurler doesn’t have the same star power. What if Tiger played in Billy Leberge’s Tourney at Derryfield CC someday? What do you think the over-under would be for him driving the par fours? I’ll take six. He’d reach one, five, nine, 10, 15 and 16. No, make it seven. Almost forgot 13 (probably with a four iron) as heck, even I can reach 13, but ... I digress.

Anybody in hockey? I think the only chance might be if the Kings played the Bruins, but since the only L.A. guy I know is Tim Gleason, who just got traded, that probably won’t work. Maybe a legend like my beloved Andy Bathgate, though besides for me and Mrs. Bathgate I don’t think he’d draw. Is ageless Gordie (and) Howe still playing? Was the last time I checked and he was in his 50s, making him kind of a poor man’s Julio Franco. Or is it the other way around, since Howe was great and Franco just lasted a long time? So hockey’s probably out, although Sydney Crosby may do it in a few years, which I mention just to let you know I do know a thing or two about hockey.

Next year maybe Tim Duncan comes when the wily Tim Bechert brings in San Antonio now that Matt Bonner is stuck with the Spurs. The quiet but great Duncan is better than Lebron but, again, doesn’t have the star power. So I guess we’re stuck with LeBron. Although if I want to get my hands on some of that amazing garlic bread Bechert serves on Fridays in the owner’s box, a better way to say it might be: he’s worth the price of admission. As barring injury he and Dwayne Wade will be the face of the NBA for the next 10 years in the way Larry and Magic were in the days fans around here still yearn for – which coincidentally brings me to the point of my long-winded diatribe.

Fresh off my triumph in the “Antoine Walker will never, ever be on a team that wins an NBA title” debate, I expect young Celtics like Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes and Kendrick Perkins to take a big step forward on the way to being NBA factors in two years. To me, they’re worth the price of admission. So I’m curious: which are you more interested in seeing, Lebron or the up and coming Celtics?

Not a bad choice either way.

Although I think the garlic bread might top both for me.

Dave Long can be heard on Sports Night with Dave Long nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. on 610 WGIR-AM


09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat