Los Angeles Lakers

('88 Record: 62-20)

It doesn't matter now, but what was Pat Riley's guarantee to repeat in '88 really worth? It couldn't have been a money-back guarantee. Who would pay the money back? Who would the money go to? To the fans who paid $10 and (way) up to watch them in the Forum? To the people who paid to watch them on cable? To the people who heard Riley's guarantee live?

When people make vague guarantees as Riley did, what we always seem to get is what was guaranteed. Karl Malone and Larry Bird both made brash guarantees with no conditions for failure in the playoffs and they both produced. Joe Namath made his famous guarantee before Super Bowl III despite very long odds. And he came through.

Car salesmen always spell out what we get in our guarantee when we buy a car. If our new car has trouble before 50,000 miles, they'll fix it for free as long as we have had normal maintenance. Sometimes the guarantee doesn't go into effect, but sometimes it does and we have to bring the car into the dealer, then drive a loaner for a week or two. It's a hassle, but, "at least we didn't have to pay for it."

What would happen if the car salesman said, "I guarantee you this car will run perfectly for 50,000 miles"? No conditions for failure. Just an open guarantee, a la Pat Riley. Would the car be better? Probably. It would probably also be a Rolls Royce. Would we pay $100,000 for the car? Probably not. That's too much to pay.

Riley's guarantee was free. No one paid him for that. Dr. Jerry Buss pays him to coach, not to be Lee Iacoca. The Lakers were going to perform for the whole world even though the whole world didn't pitch in to pay for the guarantee. A car salesman is never going to give away a Rolls Royce just to show it will run perfectly for 50,000 miles and to support his word. Riley put his word to the test for nothing. The Lakers' Repeat Championship Season was a real bargain.

The guarantee didn't prevent nervous moments, though. When the Lakers were slumping early in the season and James Worthy was hurting, some started to wonder where they could find a copy of that guarantee for their records. When Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper went down with injuries, that guarantee was about the only security fans had left. Then the Utah Jazz, hot off a Karl Malone guaranteed series victory over Portland, came as close as any team to trashing Riley's year-long guarantee when they were up 2-1 and at home for Game Four. The Mavericks also took their shots at the guarantee, but the built-in home court advantage clause held up. Finally, the Bad Boys from Detroit, where our cars of 5 year 50,000 mile guarantees are produced, tried to find out what was backing up the Lakers' power train. Down 3-2 in the series and 102-101 with fourteen seconds left in Game Six, the oldest part of the Lakers' vehicle, a part that isn't made anymore because it was built when things were made to last, came through to save the guarantee. When Game Seven was over and the Lakers were celebrating, The Man's words from a year earlier were as good as gold.

What would we have gotten out of the guarantee if the Lakers had lost? We'll never know. What did we get out of the guarantee in the end? Nothing really, except a good story to tell and some great memories.


Kurt Rambis: It's tempting to say he'd be a nobody without the rest of the Lakers, but that would be an insult as unjust as calling Magic Johnson 'overrated'. Rambis has been a very important part of the Lakers in the '80's. He's been very solid on offense, despite his no-offense label, with a high field goal percentage and low turnovers. He's run with the Lakers throughout his six years and repeatedly started the fast break with defensive rebounds or by inbounding the ball immediately after a made basket.

Probably most importantly, Rambis has embodied the hustle that has helped make the Lakers great. Rambis has often dived into the crowd to save the ball. He has always hurried back on defense and has often played the opposing center until Kareem got back. The Lakers hustle as much as any team in the league, even though they don't get the credit for it. You can bet that Rambis' play in past years and in practice has helped the team become that way.

Some people may call Kurt Rambis untalented or 'just a good bench player', but he has four Championship Rings in seven years. His value to the Lakers has been one that can't truly be measured. And even if Rambis has no talent, I still wouldn't trade him for Chris Washburn.

Last year, Rambis' minutes were cut drastically, playing the fewest minutes per game of his career. Despite the cut, Rambis' numbers were probably the best of his career. His field goal percentage was 55% (his career average), while his assists and free throw percentage were up and his turnovers were down. He also did better off the offensive glass. Looking back on the playoffs, it's hard to understand why he didn't get more playing time, especially with Mychal Thompson having his problems. In the minutes he did get, Rambis played well and the Lakers didn't lose anything.

After the Finals, Rambis was asked if he was going to be playing with the Lakers next year. He responded with, "I hope so." For the Lakers, losing Rambis wouldn't be a tragedy, but they would be losing a productive bench player, three years younger than Mychal Thompson and rather tough to replace.

(Late note: Rambis has now gone to Charlotte, where he'll probably play 35 to 40 minutes per game and suffer as many losses as he's suffered in the last three years combined.)

Mychal Thompson: A candidate for basketball's answer to Bob Eucker, but Thompson's too good a player. Thompson always has something to say and it's usually of the strange humor variety. When the Lakers picked him up in the middle of the '86-87 season, he fit right in with the offense and with the players off the court. With his personality and with L.A.'s love for weirdos, Thompson has become a fan favorite and a media darling in only a year and a half. If the Lakers had to get the approval of the fans and media to trade Thompson, he would be a Laker for life.

That, however, would probably be a mistake. Mychal Thompson's best playing years are behind him and, at 33 years old, he doesn't have too many decent playing years ahead of him. Even though Kareem is finally tiring and his offense is the worst of his career, replacing him with Thompson would hurt the Lakers. Unless the other Lakers pick up the slack, the offense would probably become only a little better than average.

In Thompson's year and a half with the Lakers, he has been a big help to the team despite his offensive problems. Before Thompson arrived, the Lakers had no second string center. That hurt mostly on defense when Kareem took a rest. Either 6'9" A.C. Green or 6'8" Kurt Rambis or, sometimes, 6'9" Magic Johnson got the call to play defense on the opposing center. Acquiring a taller and stronger player like Thompson, who was used to playing centers on defense, really helped shore up the defense. That was a big help on both drives to the Championship.

If the Lakers think he'll adequately replace Kareem, though, they have a rough time ahead. They will need another scorer, whether it's Green or someone else, four good scorers are the best way to have an offense.

Michael Cooper: As a third round pick out of New Mexico in '78, not much was expected from Coop. Not much was produced his rookie year either: three field goals and a steal in seven minutes. The following year, he became productive as the first man off the bench, a role he has held ever since. That was Magic Johnson's rookie year and, with Cooper's lack of playing time the previous year, the Lakers essentially had two rookies and a third year man, Norm Nixon, forming one of the best backcourts in basketball.

As he gained experience, Cooper began to show how versatile he was. He had to learn to play some point guard when Magic missed half the '80-81 season with a knee injury. That experience helped his development in '83-84 when Nixon was traded. Between '83-84 and '85-86, Cooper averaged over five and a half assists per game off the bench. He started getting recognition for his defense in '81 when he was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team. Every year since, he has been named to the All-Defense Team - and deservedly so. Cooper has also consistently gotten three to four rebounds per game, often starting fast breaks with his defensive boards.

In '83-84, Cooper developed the three point shot for which he is now widely recognized. Before that season, Cooper was a 50% shooter from the field, but has since shot under 50% for five straight years. It's difficult to say whether becoming a three point specialist has hurt Cooper's offense, although the first tendency is to say it has. Last season, he shot only 39% overall from the field, adjusted to 45% when extra credit is given for three pointers. Both are very poor numbers. His turnovers have gone slightly down, which compensates a little, but that drop may actually be from general experience rather than from the increase in three pointers. His free throw percentage has also improved since he's gone to the three pointer, which also helps his offensive efficiency a little. And of course, it seems that Cooper always hits a three when the Lakers need it. Chick Hearn has been known to wait for a Cooper three pointer before closing the refrigerator on a Laker victory because of how the crowd comes alive and how the opposition usually calls a timeout immediately afterward so that it can hang its collective head. Remember Cooper's three pointer in the fourth quarter of Game Seven against Detroit? It gave the Lakers a 15 point lead and the Pistons called timeout right away. I wasn't listening to Chick, but odds are that he started his refrigerator routine, "The refrigerator's closed. The light's out. The butter's getting hard. The eggs are cooling and the jello's jiggling."

Cooper symbolizes to me the modern three point specialist. Many of the statistical characteristics Cooper has taken on since his conversion to three point man are typical of young three point maniacs. First and most obviously, his field goal percentage has gone down. With that, there has also been a drop in his two point field goal percentage. As three pointers have increased in frequency (and percentage), two point field goal percentage has oddly gone down. This has applied to both individuals (there are suspicious exceptions) and the league in general. Another characteristic is an increase in free throw percentage. Before '83-84, Cooper's best free throw percentage was 81.3%. Since then, his worst free throw percentage has been 83.8%. Danny Ainge, Byron Scott, Craig Hodges, Gerald Henderson, and others tend to follow this trend of three point shooters. From Cooper's stats, there also seems to be a slightly negative correlation between offensive rebounds and three pointers. In other words, the more three pointers a player shoots, the fewer OR's he'll get, which makes sense. This also seems to be the case for teams, which doesn't make sense because most everyone agrees that long shots are easier for the offense to rebound than short shots.

At the beginning of last season, I was worried about the overuse of the three pointer taking down the dynasties of the Lakers and Celtics, leading to a period of great parity similar to the mid '70's. Looking back on that, it makes some sense. The three pointer is a gamble, one that can pay great dividends and one that can break you at a bad time. It's been paying great dividends for the Lakers and Celtics for a few years now. Sooner or later, both teams are going to go broke unless they walk away while they're still ahead.

It is about time for Cooper to start spending time in the gym working on two pointers. They might not be as impressive, but they might save some tension by putting a game away early instead of having to make three pointers at the end.

A.C. Green: Of the Lakers' starters, three were drafted as undergraduates, three were drafted with the first pick, three led their college teams to national championships, and four were acquired directly or indirectly via a trade. A.C. Green is the oddball in all this. Johnson, Worthy, and Scott were all drafted as undergrads. Johnson, Worthy, and Abdul-Jabaar were number one picks; Scott was picked #4. Johnson, Worthy, and Abdul-Jabaar all led their college teams to championships and won Tournament Outstanding Player Awards doing it. Abdul-Jabaar was acquired in a trade with Milwaukee. Scott was acquired in a trade with the Clippers. The draft picks used to get Johnson and Worthy both were acquired in trades. Green is the only Laker starter who wasn't a highly touted rookie hotshot and the only starter who wasn't on the All-Rookie Team. Green was the Laker first round pick, the 22nd pick overall, out of Oregon State in '85.

Despite being overshadowed coming out of college, Green has been a very important part of the Laker lineup in his three years. His rebounding has made up for the drop in rebounding of Abdul-Jabaar and his offense hasn't hurt the Lakers at all the last two years. His ability to handle the ball takes some of the heat off Magic and he can fill the lanes on the break when needed. He does everything he's asked to do, including take the open jump shot when left open as the Pistons did, and he does everything pretty well.

If the Lakers have any chance to win it all again next year, it's going to have to come from Green. Psychologically, Green and maybe Scott are the only two starting Lakers who still have something to prove in the playoffs. These two are the hungriest for another Championship so that they can show that they earned the rings as much as Magic, Kareem, and Worthy did. Scott raised his game a level last year. Next year, Green has to raise his game to another level, especially if Worthy doesn't fully recover from the knee problems he had last season.

Can Green become a scoring threat? In terms of efficient scoring, he already is good. But in '86-87, when he wasn't quite as active offensively, he was better, indicating that the more he has to score, the less efficient he becomes at it because he forces shots. It's hard to say if that is actually true, but there is that little bit of evidence.

There are a couple things hindering Green's development as a scorer. One is quickness. He is not really quick, nowhere near as quick as Worthy and not quick enough to guard Adrian Dantley or to go by Dennis Rodman. The second thing is that he isn't big and strong enough to score points like Buck Williams, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone do. They get offensive rebounds and then put a strong shot back up using their 'wide bodies'. If Green can 'learn' to be quick or to play bigger, he might become a serious scorer. To do that, though, he'd probably have to spend all summer in the gym and that's hard to do after nine months and over a hundred games in gyms all around the nation.

Up to this point, Green has done just about everything he's been asked to do. If Riley asks him to score more, he might come through, but it doesn't look promising.

Byron Scott: No one has a better looking jump shot than Scott. No one even comes close. His shot is so quick and so fluid that he shoots it well from the wing of a fast break, off a dribble, coming off a pick, using the glass, or just swishing it. Jerry West knew what he was doing when he got Scott.

The '87 Finals supposedly weren't that good for Scott. Especially while on the road, he took a lot of heat for not being productive in the big games. Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum really ripped into him, essentially saying that the Lakers won despite him. I saw it quite differently. Scott did go into the series a little tentative, but he was fired up after Game One. During that game, it seemed that after every shot he made, he got extra congratulations from his teammates building his confidence enormously. He was left in the game during garbage time and made some amazing plays, showing the first signs of the quick first step on the drive that he used a lot in '87-88. When he left the game, he got lots of high fives and his confidence continued to grow.

Game Four in Boston was when Scott proved to me that he was ready to become another Laker star. Coming off a very bad Game Three, Scott never lost his intensity in this game. He went to the boards a lot and, though he didn't shoot well, he seemed to be telling himself that he knew the shots would eventually fall. My impression was that Riley, Magic, and Cooper sat down with him before the game or before the series and convinced him that they knew his shots would eventually fall, and Scott finally started believing it, but still had some doubts.

Whether or not it was the '87 Finals that did it, Byron Scott went into the '87-88 season with tremendous confidence and came out as the leading scorer on a team with plenty of great scorers. Throughout the season, Scott was the most reliable scorer on the Lakers, not to mention the most durable. When Magic and Cooper were out, he had to share the backcourt with Wes Matthews and Milt Wagner, neither of whom could be mistaken for legitimate starters. Scott found himself playing a little bit of point guard when Riley used a lineup of Scott, Worthy, Rambis/Thompson, and Abdul-Jabaar and didn't do badly, but he was glad to return to shooting guard when Magic returned.

Just browsing through the stats, you'll see that Scott set career highs in more than just scoring. His '88 stats for free throws made and attempted, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocked shots also were career bests.

In this year's Finals, Scott showed he belonged with the best. In the early part of Game Two, with the other Lakers flat, Scott came out to hit two three pointers and score the Lakers first nine points. He also started out Game Three well, then finished it well, taking advantage of technical fouls to complete a four point play and to score seven points in the fourth period. In Game Six, he hit a crucial 12-foot jump shot with about fifty seconds left to bring the Lakers within one. He later melted under the pressure at the free throw line with three seconds left, but the second miss was more of a blessing than a blunder. In the third period of Game Seven, when the Lakers outscored the Pistons 36-21, Scott (not Worthy) led the way with 14 points and some good defense. Scott showed that he is no longer a choker.

A lot was made of the Basketball Digest article rating top backcourts in the NBA and their rating of Dallas' over the Lakers'. Supposedly, Scott kept a copy with him to keep him motivated. No matter how well the Lakers' backcourt did, Basketball Digest stood by its rating, yet there was no doubt which backcourt did better in '87-88.

No one in his right mind would argue that Derek Harper has been a better point guard in any year than Magic Johnson. Saying that Harper has even been close to Johnson is stretching it. Rolando Blackman has been one of the NBA's best shooting guards for the past five years, shooting well and rarely making mistakes. Last season was his worst in a long time and it still was enough to keep him among the top five or six shooting guards in the NBA. Byron Scott's '87-88 season was his best yet, but it would be impossible to rank him higher than Michael Jordan or Clyde Drexler without causing riots. Compared to Blackman, Scott was a little better in most every category, including defense, and, at absolute worst, could be called Blackman's equal. As a matter of fact, it's hard to see much difference in the teams if Blackman played with the Lakers and Scott with Dallas. If you take into account age or intangibles like playing on a Championship team, Scott obviously is the more valuable player going into next year, which would make the Lakers' starting backcourt better than the Mavericks by a score of 2-0.

James Worthy: In a running game, there's no one better on the wing than James Worthy. You have to wonder how many of Magic's 7000 assists have been to Worthy on fast breaks. In the early years, '82-83 to '85-86, when the Lakers were running more, the two things that scared opponents the most were Kareem's hook shots and Magic leading the break with Worthy on a wing. Just unstoppable. Picture perfect. Grace and efficiency that only special athletes with tremendous desire could exhibit. That was the best offense I've ever seen.

Worthy has always elevated his game in the playoffs. His career field goal percentage and scoring average are both considerably better in the playoffs than in the regular season. The last two years, he's gone to another level higher in the last game of the Finals. In '87, he scored 22 points in the clincher and made a critical diving steal that led to an open slam dunk for Magic, which put the Lakers ahead to stay. In '88, he turned in a final game performance that was reminiscent of Rookie Magic Johnson's Game Six show versus Philadelphia in 1980. Both won the Playoff MVP Award on final game accomplishments that stood out as two of the greatest individual games in Championship history. Abdul-Jabaar in '80 and Magic in '88 could have been the MVP's with their play in previous games, but when someone turns in an extraordinary game to end it all, it's hard not to give him the award.

The Pistons knew how to beat the Lakers, but they just couldn't pull it off. The slow-down game was the most effective tactic the Pistons had, but they couldn't keep it slow throughout. When Adrian Dantley was in the game, the Pistons were beating the Lakers. When he was out and the Pistons' 'speed team' was in, they had their troubles. Especially in Game Seven, when Dantley played only 31 minutes, the Lakers were running any chance they had, sometimes forcing the break when it didn't appear to be a good option. With Dantley on the wing in isolation, the Pistons took their time offensively, forcing the Lakers to spend a lot of time playing defense, something that takes the legs right out of a running team. Games One and Five were two of the slowest games I've ever scored and two games the Pistons won easily. The other game the Pistons won, Game Four, was faster, but in the third period, when they outscored the Lakers by 11 to put the game out of reach, they kept it slow.

In the quicker games, Worthy was very active doing everything. He was shooting twenty times per game (as opposed to 15 times per game in the regular season), getting ten rebounds per game (5 rpg in the regular season), and just wanting the ball at every occasion. He committed five turnovers in each of the last two games, but that meant that he was heavily involved in the offense, the Lakers were running, and that things were going well, not that Worthy was a bumbling fool.

Next year, if his knees heal, Worthy will probably get the call from Riley to score more. With Kareem finally starting to play like he's 35 instead of 30, the Lakers will end up going to Worthy as the first option down low in the half court game. Adrian Dantley would be an ideal model for him to study as their half-court styles are very compatible. People have said that Worthy could score 25 points per game on most teams and, while he assuredly won't get that on the Lakers, 21 or 22 ppg next year seems reasonable...if his knees heal.

Kareem Abdul-Jabaar: I look back on some of the NBA's greatest players like Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, etc., and I wish I'd seen them play. I wish I could see more than five second film clips of them on occasional Sundays during the NBA season. In five years, even just two years, that's all we'll see of Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. The five year olds who will be just learning the game will never see more than a few of his famous sky hooks in their whole lifetimes.

I've had the pleasure of watching Kareem for ten great productive years, yet I wasn't even born until just before his senior year at UCLA ended with another NCAA title. I missed his super-productive years in the early '70's while I learned how to walk, talk, and eat without spilling. Now, twenty years after he first hit the NBA, Kareem is shooting the sky hook and making clutch shots, things that people tell me he was doing in high school back when the Beatles invaded America. Through all the changes basketball went through in twenty plus years, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar just never went out of style.

Wilt Chamberlain said during Game Six of the Finals, "Kareem should have retired maybe five years ago."

I think Wilt just resents having his records broken.

Kareem has stayed in the NBA for the past five years because he has been the best scoring center in the league in that time. Until '86-87, no center was really close to him. Kareem shot so well, passed so well, and committed so few turnovers for the number of times he had the ball that the Lakers built their half court offense around him. What made the Lakers' offense so great, especially in '85, was that they ran both the fast break and the half court offense better than most everyone in the NBA. Forcing a slow pace against them didn't hurt their offense because it just saved Kareem's legs. Forcing a quick pace was suicide because they had Magic running the break.

Kareem has scored so well the past five years that his rebounding deficiencies haven't really hurt. Akeem Olajuwon, known for the past three years as the best center in the league, only this year finally approached Kareem in terms of putting the ball in the basket. Olajuwon has never been and probably never will be as good a scorer as Kareem has been. If you compare best seasons, Kareem makes Olajuwon look like CBA material.

In '87-88, Kareem definitely lost his edge. The great scorer fell down to just above average, ranking about equally with Brad Daugherty, Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, and Steve Stipanovich. Because Kareem doesn't rebound as well as these others, he now isn't a very good NBA center and, as promised, should retire at the end of next season.

In '88-89, Kareem will probably get the same grand tour that Julius Erving got when he retired. And in every round of applause he'll get, there will be a great variety of people paying their respects. The applause will come from people 80 years old, who saw Lew Alcindor dominate games at Power Memorial High School. The applause will come from ex-teammates and ex-opponents now playing in Old Timer Games. The applause will come from current teammates and current opponents who can only dream they'll get the same sendoff. The applause will come from kids who never saw the full greatness of the man. The applause will come from everyone who ever made a hook shot in the playground, then cheered, "Ka-reeem!"

But the Captain still has one year left to play. He ain't retired yet. For all we know, Kareem may turn on the juice for another 100 or so games to bring a third straight title to L.A. Whatever has kept him going for this long is something mere mortals can't understand and thus shouldn't be underestimated.

Magic Johnson: David Robinson and Danny Manning are being hailed as future saviors for the clubs that signed them. Patrick Ewing, Akeem Olajuwon, and Ralph Sampson were all seen as future saviors. Since Magic and Bird came into the league in 1979, a lot of owners, general managers, coaches, and fans, have been hoping to draft players who could do for their teams what these two have done for the Lakers and Celtics. It will happen sometime in the future, but it may be several more rough years ahead.

There's nothing I can say about Magic that hasn't been said before. There are magazine articles everywhere featuring him. Newspapers do an occasional piece on him, especially the Los Angeles papers. Books on the Lakers usually devote at least one chapter to him. If you want to read about Magic Johnson, head down to your local library or bookstore and browse a little.

Actually, there is something I should say. Regarding all the Celtic fans who write in to magazines to say that Magic is an overrated crybaby who doesn't play defense: Anyone who won't acknowledge that Magic has been the best player of the '80's, along with Larry Bird and now Michael Jordan, either (1) has absolutely no knowledge of basketball, which wouldn't be anyone reading this, (2) rates players by the way their uniform fits or how their hair matches the floor tiles, or (3) has a head so hard and pointed, it's been used to cut the diamonds on Magic's Championship rings.

Magic, by the way, does play defense. He may not be as active as Michael Cooper or Jordan, but he is among the top ten in career steals and has led the league twice. Part of Magic's defense that hasn't been recognized much since he entered the league is his height. At 6'9", smaller guards can't easily lob passes into the post or shoot over him, forcing extra perimeter passing and repositioning of the post men. Also, Magic can play good defense against a lot of forwards in the league, which allows the Lakers to play three guards without suffering against taller teams. He also has a tremendous advantage on defensive rebounds, which has translated into plenty of fast breaks on the offensive end. Magic's height advantage sort of makes his defense 'defense by default', but that is mostly what Mark Eaton's defense is and he is the most dominant defensive force in the league.

Pat Riley: The only individual award he'll ever get is one from the American Association of Mental Health Specialists for the psychological methods he's used to keep the Lakers motivated. With four NBA Championships and the best coaching record in NBA history, though, Pat Riley probably doesn't care about the individual awards.

A friend of mine who is a tremendous sports fan and very bright, but is also somewhat of an eccentric nut case when excited, has come up with several 'revolutionary' ideas for the sports world. He's thought of setting up a warm-up hoop on the sidelines of the basketball court so that reserves can be ready when they go in the game. He's thought of putting strategically placed mini-trampolines on basketball courts so that more players can compete with Michael Jordan for 'Best Player Who Plays in the Air'. He's thought of making the beanball in baseball legal, causing the batter to be out if hit. He's proposed that all baseball games be played in Wrigley Field or, at least, that the 25 other stadiums be torn down to be replaced with Wrigley Field replicas. He would be very dangerous as a commissioner of any sport, but someone like Bill Veeck would love him.

This friend of mine, while watching the end of Game Five of the Dallas-LA series, came up with another one of his typically loony ideas. This time, he wanted to rate the sporting cities of the United States: "Tell you what...I think what they should do is take baseball, basketball, and football and intertwine the sports so that a win in football is equal to a win in basketball...Actually, we should weight them!"

He immediately proceeded with his study. First, he wanted to identify all the cities that have all three sports. He came up with eleven, including the New England Patriots with the Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics, the Golden State Warriors with the San Francisco 49ers and San Francisco Giants, and the Green Bay Packers with the Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers.

Then he devised a way to numerically rank teams. He said that every win in baseball would be worth one point. Every win in basketball would be worth two points. Every win in football would be worth ten points. This system of weights came from the number of regular season games played in each sport: 162, 82, and 16, respectively. If a team was perfect in any sport, it would get approximately the same number of points as a perfect team in another sport. This method of scoring lost its justification when my friend said that playoff games would be weighted the same. If a city had more than one team in a sport (i.e. the Lakers and Clippers, Mets and Yankees, Cubs and White Sox), then the average of their scores would be taken for the sport subtotal.

Once he was satisfied with the method of scoring, he needed data. He got me to rattle off the basketball stats he needed. He was using the win totals for the '87-88 season and assumed that both the Lakers and Celtics would win the Championship (!) because the playoffs weren't yet over. "You have to make some assumptions in situations like this," he explained with an amazingly straight face. Then, he found a copy of the '87 baseball results and assigned the scores for that sport. With football, he ran into a problem finding current data, so he picked up an almanac that had the results from the '85 season and used that.

In the end, he produced a ranked listing of 'the top sports cities', which used numbers from somewhat arbitrary seasons and a weighted scoring system that wasn't particularly fair to all three sports. At the top of the list was Chicago, which was odd because my friend happens to be from Chicago.

How do the writers and broadcasters determine who should be Coach of the Year?

Do they sit down with some stats and look at improvement and 'talent' (or the lack of it) and overall record? It's doubtful. Any who do try that could put together nothing more sensible than my friend's study on sports cities. It may make some sense superficially, but too many inconsistencies and silly approximations are often (or must be) introduced to produce 'accurate results'. In the end, the Coach of the Year is usually a media favorite who meets some generally accepted, but somewhat vague criteria.

In the history of the Coach of the Year Award, the voters haven't been too good at picking winners. Since '71-72, the Coach of the Year has been a consistent flop in the playoffs. In most cases in that time, Coach hasn't even lead his team to the Conference Finals. He never got his team to the NBA Finals, much less winning them. In '71-72 and before, the voters picked three winners and just missed on a fourth. But in the past sixteen years, they've picked a bunch of guys who couldn't coach their teams real well in crunch time.

Red Auerbach spoke in a similar tone last year: "One of the stupidest things about this league is how nobody who ever wins a championship wins Coach of the Year. They've overlooked Billy Cunningham, they've overlooked Pat Riley and they've overlooked K.C. Jones." (Sports Illustrated, Nov. 9, 1987)

I honestly can't suggest a good way to rank coaches. Someone has proposed a way. Inside Sports or SPORT magazine featured an article in which the author suggested a method for ranking football coaches. The results were pretty impressive and the method seemed to make sense. If it could be converted to basketball coaches, it probably would be a good guide for writers and broadcasters to use in their voting.

One suggestion I can make is that Coach of the Year voting be done after the playoffs. The playoffs seem to be a better indicator of how good a motivator a coach is and of how good a strategist he is as he has to beat better teams three or four times in less than two weeks, then do it again afterward.

Pat Riley could have been Coach of the Year last year, but, somehow, the voters credited Doug Moe for the 16 game improvement at Denver when such an improvement was completely expected by the stats. The stats also say that Denver will drop off to 45-47 wins next year. If Denver wins 55+ games next year, then give Moe the award because he currently doesn't have the talent to do it. Unfortunately, the stats say that the Lakers will fall next year, too, which would automatically eliminate Riley from the award.

Any coach who would motivate his team by guaranteeing a repeat championship is either stupid or brilliant. Pat Riley isn't stupid.


Basketball Hoopla, 1988, L. Dean Oliver