Michael Jordan is a Whiny Bitch

Like seemingly every other sports fan in America, I spent the last five Sundays watching the ESPN’s epic 10-part Michael Jordan infomercial, The Last Dance.  And while we may not have any more episodes to keep us entertained tonight, I’m here to offer you some biased analysis of the man, the myth, the legend.  And after 10 hours of Jordan love, there are two inescapable truths to be gleaned from the doc:

1) Michael Jordan is probably the greatest basketball player who ever lived.

2) Michael Jordan is a whiny little bitch.

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A Disclaimer

It needs to be stated here that I first started watching basketball during the Bad Boys era of the Detroit Pistons, and we hated Jordan and the Bulls more than perhaps anyone in sports until Patrick Roy and Matt Millen entered our collective hive mind. With the exception of a brief interlude that I’ll discuss momentarily, that hatred has not gone away, so it’s important for you to read this post with that information in mind.

Now, when I was 14 or 15, I told my dad I hated Michael Jordan. My dad had grown up outside of Chicago and harbored loyalties to that city’s teams, but with the exception of a soft spot for the ‘85 Bears, his loyalties had not passed down to me, largely because he had moved back to Illinois while I grew up in Michigan. We weren’t watching sports together, so my loyalties tended toward the local Detroit teams. Well, and the 49ers, but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, I told my dad I hated Jordan. I was a shitty 14- or 15-year-old, and my dad and I weren’t getting along particularly well, and my dad told me that telling someone you hate their team or their favorite player might be a way of telling them you don’t like them. I didn’t think it was fair for a couple of reasons – one, he’d never mentioned any particular affinity for the Bulls or Jordan (unlike his beloved Bears) and two, it didn’t show any particular respect for the rivalry that existed between my team and his.

Still, it made me think, and when I saw how happy my dad was when John Paxson hit the game-winner against Phoenix in ‘93, I found myself thinking, ok, I can do this. The Pistons’ mini-dynasty was done and I had a penchant for being a fair-weather fan, so why not hitch my wagon to my dad’s team?  I was never much of a Jordan guy even when I wanted to see the Bulls win – I was more of a Scottie Pippen guy and Dennis Rodman was an obvious choice when he joined the team – so I didn’t feel much when he “retired” in ‘93.

I don’t remember when or why I stopped pulling for the Bulls. I remember having no particular rooting interest during the ‘97 or ‘98 Finals, and only followed the NBA in passing until the Pistons re-emerged in the early-2000’s. But it felt like the mini-loyalty to the Bulls should be pointed out to my faithful readers. Both of you.

On to The Last Dance.

As everyone knows by now, ESPN managed to secure the rights to a 10-part documentary that looked back on Jordan’s career and the Bulls dynasty. Of course, in order to secure Jordan’s involvement in the project, they had to offer him final approval. Saying this was an objective look at the man is like saying Michael Moore is fair to the Republican Party. Michael Jordan is a bully, he’s got a chip on his shoulder that dwarfs the Rock of Gibraltar, and a 10-part documentary where he gives is sign-off was not going to treat his adversaries in a flattering light. I’m here to offer an opposing view.

Because whining about shit years after it’s happened is something a bitch does.

I know, I’ve done it.

Let’s see if we can look at a few examples.


The Pistons Walkoff

In the documentary, Jordan was kind enough to say that he wouldn’t have made it to the summit without the Pistons. It was their toughness and tenacity that inspired Jordan and his teammates to get in the weight room and dish it out as much as they took it. Of course, no one remembers that.

No, they remember the Pistons walking off the court without shaking the Bulls’ hands as the clock ticked to zero in the ’91 Eastern Conference Finals.

Oh, they’ll tell you the Celtics did the same thing to the Pistons in ’88. They’ll do that so they can show how magnanimous Jordan and the Bulls were in shaking the Pistons hands in defeat when the Pistons had knocked them out the previous three seasons. Because Jordan’s nothing if not a good sport. I mean, nothing screams good sportsmanship like shitting all over the guys you defeated 30 years prior.

You know what they didn’t show you? They didn’t show you Jordan and Phil Jackson declaring – before that series was over – that the Pistons were undeserving champions, that they were bad for basketball, and that the sport would be better off when they were gone. No, you can’t show that, because it doesn’t help the argument that they were being disrespected when that disrespect is completely justified.  It’s worth pointing out that this nuance was included in the 30 for 30 episode that ESPN aired on the Bad Boys.  Funny how that gets left on the cutting room floor when Jordan’s got final cut.

Considering the Bad Boys’ reputation, Jordan can consider himself lucky they just walked off the court. They should’ve smacked him in the mouth.


Blackballing Isiah

There’s some controversy over what initiated Jordan’s animosity toward Isiah Thomas. To the producer’s credit – and by extension Jordan’s since he had final approval – they let Isiah say his piece about his relationship with Jordan. There’s not much point arguing over who says what – Jordan believes that Isiah and a couple of other veterans froze him out at the 1985 NBA All-Star game. What Isiah says is largely irrelevant – it’s not going to change Jordan’s mind. The walkoff in ’91 didn’t help.

So what did Jordan do? Nothing, if you ask Jordan. If you use basic common sense Jordan had Isiah left off the greatest basketball team in history, one that would’ve had extra meaning to Isiah.

When USA Basketball announced that NBA players would be playing in the 1992 Olympics, it was only a question of who would be on the Dream Team. Obviously, the first call was to Jordan. Jordan asked who was playing, and was told, “The guy you’re asking about [Isiah] isn’t playing.” Of course he’s not. If Jordan says, “If so-and-so is playing, I’m not,” so-and-so isn’t playing. You don’t select anyone over Michael Jordan in 1992. So for him to suggest this was anyone’s call but his is nonsense.

Oh, sure, everyone involved in that team is tripping all over themselves these days to say they didn’t want Isiah on the team. David Robinson said he wasn’t welcome because of his connection to the Bad Boys, which makes sense for about 2 seconds until you realize that the team was put together by the GM of that Pistons team and coached by the Pistons’ head coach. Magic Johnson was icing Isiah out because he believed Isiah was questioning the circumstances that found Magic contracting HIV, a belief that Magic apologized for when he was selling a book years later. Karl Malone had bad blood with Isiah and had no problem saying he didn’t want Isiah on the team. Karl Malone is the same guy who impregnated a 13-year-old when he was in college and said he didn’t want to be on the same court as Magic after he was diagnosed, but Isiah’s a bad dude.

Really?

There’s one other possible explanation. Isiah Thomas was the president of the NBA Players’ Association, an elected position that would seem to require a certain amount of likability in order to hold. During his tenure, he looked out for the rank-and-file players at the expense of the superstars. The superstars and their agents didn’t like that, so, led by Jordan’s agent, they had Isiah voted out and looked out for their own interests from that point on.

The same superstars who made up the Dream Team.

But yeah, Jordan had nothing to do with it.

Isiah said that he’s been in business settings with Jordan, had dinner with him, and figured all the water was under the bridge. Hell, in 2003, when Jordan was named as a reserve in his final All-Star Game, Isiah pushed Vince Carter to sacrifice his starting spot so the league could celebrate Jordan, a story that was not included in the documentary, naturally. And Jordan sums up his relationship with Isiah by saying, “There’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an asshole.” 

You know what makes the blackballing of Isiah Thomas even worse? Isiah was named to the 1980 Olympic team, but didn’t get the chance to play because the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics. He was ineligible in ’84 (when Jordan won a gold medal) and ’88. He was a long shot for ’96, where his replacement, John Stockton, won a gold. The 1992 Olympics were Isiah’s only chance to play for his country.

Jordan didn’t care.

Update, May 26, 2020: ESPN published a story showing that Jordan had in fact told Rod Thorn, a member of the USA Basketball selection committee in 1992, that if Isiah was on the Dream Team that Jordan wouldn’t play.  Thorn said that the head coach of the Dream Team didn’t want Isiah on the team, so it wouldn’t be an issue.  Curiously, the head coach of the Dream Team was Chuck Daly, who coached Isiah in Detroit, and there was no apparent animosity between Daly and Isiah.

It’s interesting that ESPN would correct the issue after the fact, but had no issue with the clear and blatant lie being allowed in the documentary.


“Retirement”

Jordan stunned the sports world in October 1993 when he walked away from the Bulls and “retired”. There are three possible explanations for this:

1) He was exhausted from the grind of three straight championship runs.

2) He was distraught over the murder of his father a few months prior.

3) His “retirement” was a quasi-suspension for the massive gambling debts Jordan had racked up.

To their credit, the producers addressed the suspension theory with the two people who mattered, Jordan and then-NBA commissioner David Stern. Of course, leaving it out would be like doing a documentary on the JFK assassination and not mentioning Sam Giancana. Obviously, both Jordan and Stern denied the allegations, so let’s take them at their word.

The murdered father theory would seem to make sense. But in the documentary, Jordan admitted that the night the Bulls clinched the 1993 title – two months before his father was murdered – Jordan and his father suspected he was done. He had accomplished what he wanted, he had gotten the 3-peat that Magic and Larry Bird had never pulled off, he was done.

Then why’d he come back?

Look, it’s probably not appropriate for me to discuss someone’s exhaustion or mental health. Thing is, I’m writing 3600 words on how much of a bitch Michael Jordan is, so I’m not exactly a model of propriety.

With that disclaimer out of the way, the standard set by Jordan has been applied to LeBron James basically since he was in high school. Those are impossible expectations to meet, yet LeBron’s largely met them. In my introduction I said Jordan was probably the best player of all time – LeBron is the only reason to say “probably”.

Why am I bringing up LeBron? Through his age 29 season, LeBron James had played 1000 games across the regular season and the playoffs. Jordan had played 879 games in the regular season, playoffs, and college. LeBron had 3 more seasons of the NBA grind (and the 82 games as opposed to roughly 35 in college). He’d played 47 more playoff games than Jordan had at the same age; even if you include Jordan’s NCAA tournament games, LeBron had still played 37 more “high stress” games at the same age as Jordan had. He’d been to the Finals 4 times and won 2 titles (to Jordan’s 3/3). And you never heard a word about LeBron walking away for exhaustion.

And people call LeBron soft.

One of the overarching themes of The Last Dance was that Jordan and his teammates couldn’t understand how Jerry Krause, the Bulls’ GM, could tear down the team after the 1998 season. Of course, that’s not exactly what happened. Krause announced before the season started that Phil Jackson wouldn’t return, even if the team went 82-0. It was a questionable decision, but he hadn’t made any decisions or pronouncements about the makeup of the team. Jordan immediately announced that he wouldn’t be playing for anyone but Jackson, and thus it was Krause’s fault he wouldn’t be coming back.

It’s never explained why it was ok for Jordan to decide when a team’s run ends but not the guy who has to rebuild the team after all the championship pieces are gone.  So what led him to walk away in ’93?  Was it exhaustion? A suspension? Overwhelming grief over the loss of his father? An overwhelming desire to ride the bus through the minor leagues? Whatever it is, LeBron’s taken more shit for compiling a mega-team than Jordan did for walking away from his team.


1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals

The producers of the series spent a decent amount of time on the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals.  Trouble is, the focused on the wrong game.

In Game 3 of that series against the Knicks, Phil Jackson drew up a final shot for Toni Kukoč.  This pissed off Scottie Pippen – who’d had an MVP-caliber season – who wanted the shot and refused to enter the game.  The doc spent a fair amount of time on this, with Pippen curiously admitting he regretted the decision but would do it the same if he had to do it again.

Wait, what?

Anyway, Kukoč would hit the shot to get the Bulls back in the series, they won Game 4 to even it up, and had the lead in the closing seconds of Game 5 when the refs made an atrocious call that allowed the Knicks to take the lead in both the game and the series.  Pippen was called for a foul on Hubert Davis with 2.1 seconds left, a foul that one of the officials later admitted was terrible.  Davis hit the free throws, the Knicks took the game and went up 3-2.  They would take the series in 7 and eventually lose the NBA Finals to the Rockets in 7 games.

That call didn’t make it into the show.  Why not?

Look, I’m not that smart, so I can’t take credit for this analysis – I believe I found it on CBS Sports, but couldn’t locate the article to share.  Of course, a skeptic would say this is me shifting blame for a stupid take, so you’ll just have to take me at my word.

Say the refs don’t blow the call and the Bulls are able to close out the game to go up 3-2.  They’re now hosting Game 6 with a chance to win the series.  Let’s assume that reality holds and they win that game to win the series in 6.  They would’ve then faced the Indiana Pacers with home court advantage in the conference finals.  The Bulls went 4-1 against the Pacers in the ’93-94 season, so let’s assume that they continue their dominance against Indiana and advance to the NBA Finals.

It’s difficult to assume that the Bulls would’ve won that series against Houston, but we’re assuming that they would’ve won a series against a Knicks team that, in reality, were up 3-2 on the Rockets and took the Finals to 7 games.  Hakeem Olajuwon was having an MVP-caliber season, and Patrick Ewing matched up better against Hakeem than anyone on the Bulls, but the idea they they could’ve beaten the Rockets and taken their fourth straight NBA title – without Jordan – isn’t ridiculous.

(I’ll add the obvious caveat that there’s no guarantee that the Bulls win Game 6 or Game 7 if they’re up 3-2.  Maybe the Knicks play with more urgency and are able to take Game 6, maybe the Bulls win the series but the Pacers pull an upset and go to the Finals, where the Rockets make mince-meat of them.  But with what we know, it’s safe to say that if they get the call in Game 5 there’s a damn good chance they go to the Finals.)

So why didn’t they leave the blown call in the story?

Because it’s Jordan’s story.

Jordan had no issue shitting on Pippen throughout The Last Dance.  He expressed skepticism about the migraine that hobbled Pippen during Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference finals.  He had no problem calling out Pippen for the selfish decision to pull himself out of the game when Jackson ran the play to Kukoč.  He whined about the back spasms that limited Pippen in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals and compared his inability to play hurt to Jordan’s “Flu Game” in 1997.  To Jordan, Pippen was a sidekick, nothing else.

If Pippen is able to take a Bulls team that Jordan walked out on to the NBA Finals and potentially win the title, in a season in which Pippen finished 3rd in the MVP voting, that diminishes Jordan’s view that he is the team.  Jordan’s spot in history was already well-established, but you have to think his importance to the team takes a hit if they can be a legitimate championship contender without him.

In Jordan’s eyes the Bulls were a plucky upstart who managed to survive the loss of his services and make it to the second round of the playoffs.  In reality they were a 3-seed with an MVP contender who got screwed out of a chance to play for the title.


Jerry Krause

I realize this post has run very long, but you can’t talk about The Last Dance without discussing Jordan’s relationship with Jerry Krause.  Krause is an unsympathetic character – his decision to not renew the contract of a man who’d coached the team to 6 of the last 8 NBA titles was curious, to say the least.  But he never made any decision on the composition of the team until Jordan “officially” declared he wouldn’t be returning when Jackson wasn’t retained.  The 1998-99 Bulls were not the same as the 1993-94 Bulls.  Everyone was 5 years older (duh…math), a new crop of talent was coming into the league, and it wasn’t a safe bet that the Bulls would be the favorites even if Jordan returned.  With Jordan retiring again – seemingly for good this time – it was as good a time as any to tear the team down and begin the rebuild.  It’s probably not what I would’ve done – flags fly forever, so I’d hold off on the rebuild until someone took us out – but the strategy wasn’t crazy.

Jordan has no problem expressing his disdain for Krause throughout the series.  Jordan hated Krause so much that he made sure to point out that he didn’t invite Krause to his Hall of Fame induction…during his speech.  Krause’s insistence that organizations win championships was ludicrous to a guy who made sure everyone knew that “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’, but there is in ‘Win’.”

Here’s the thing though: Krause wasn’t wrong.  Jordan without Pippen was an elite talent on a mediocre team.  He never dragged bad teams beyond what they should’ve been capable of, like LeBron James did with the ’07 Cavaliers, or Allen Iverson with the ’00 76ers.  In the 3 seasons before Pippen entered the league, Jordan’s teams went 108-138 (87-95 in games he played), and lost in the first round of the playoffs all three years, winning a total of 1 playoff game.

And of course, it was Jordan who told Krause to draft Pippen, right?  Or maybe it was Pippen – an unheralded prospect out of an NAIA school – who refused to sign with the SuperSonics and demanded he be traded so he could play with Michael Jordan.  No, that was Krause.

Krause drafted Pippen, Horace Grant, and B.J. Armstrong.  He traded for Bill Cartwright.  He hired Tex Winter, who installed the triangle offense, then replaced Doug Collins with Phil Jackson.  He signed Toni Kukoč and traded for Dennis Rodman.  Ask Jordan how many championships he’d have if Krause hadn’t made those moves.  Hell, ask Jordan what it takes to win a championship as an owner or GM.  Charles Barkley called out Jordan for his ineptitude at running a team, and Jordan hasn’t spoken to his former best friend since.

To close, I come back to the Bad Boys Pistons.  Their GM, Jack McCloskey – the same guy who was tasked with building the Dream Team – was known as “Trader Jack”, and did the same thing Krause did with the Bulls, building his team from a laughingstock to repeat champions.  When the Pistons were awarded the trophy, the players had McCloskey front and center to celebrate with them; Krause was nowhere to be found when the Bulls celebrated.  To Jordan (and, to be fair, the rest of the Bulls of that era), Krause was the short fat kid that they let tag along on their ride.


Look, obviously I don’t like Michael Jordan, but to deny his talent is ridiculous.  I’m prepared to be called out for my bias, but the simple fact is, if you’re building a team composed of players in their prime to play one game to save your life, and your first pick isn’t Michael Jordan, you’re clearly suicidal.  A friend – who, it should be noted, is perhaps the biggest fan of Detroit sports I’ve ever met and hates Jordan almost as much as I do – maintains that his significance in American sports can only be rivaled by Babe Ruth; I don’t completely agree, but the comparison isn’t crazy.  His career merits a documentary, maybe even a 10-part documentary series that saves America from the nightmarish hell that is 74 days (and counting) without sports.

But Michael Jordan is not a good guy.  ESPN and the basketball-loving public can slobber all over him and declare that he just behaved that way because he was so competitive, that he never asked anything of anyone that he wouldn’t do himself.  But in my eyes, he’s what’s wrong with America today.  Hard work can get you far in this country, but ultimately you’re probably not going to reach the pinnacle if you don’t hitch your wagon to someone who is going to stomp people into the ground if that’s what it takes to get there.  And not only are those people going to ground people into dust on their way to the top, they’re going to make sure to remember every slight and make sure to play the “Woe is me” card to alter the narrative.

And I’m calling bullshit.

 

The Detroit Sports Czar’s Viewing Guide to the Coronavirus Shutdown

Folks, it’s been a while.  But we are living in bizarre times, with all sports shut down for the first time since 9/11, and the Detroit Sports Czar is here to fill the desperate sports viewer’s void.

Detroit’s had plenty of rewatchable sporting events over the last few decades, and with the leagues opening up their League Pass apps for free during the shutdowns or offering games on YouTube, now is the perfect time to catch up on some classic games to give you yours sports fix.

Without further ado, I present you with the DSC’s Viewing Guide to the Coronavirus Shutdown.

(Some of these may require you to sign up for free access to Leagues’ Game Pass websites, but otherwise these are games that you can access for free.)

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Detroit Tigers

Tigers 4, Yankees 3 (2006 ALDS Game 2)

We’re kicking things off with a couple of dark horses.  The Tigers have had plenty of rewatchable games over the years.  We could go back to 1984 and show you Game 5 of that year’s World Series.  Or Game 162 in 1987.  Or Justin Verlander’s no-hitters, the Armando Galarraga perfect game, or the Magglio Ordonez pennant-clinching home run.  You could even go with 2009’s Game 163 if you hate yourself (a truly classic game, but not exactly one that Tigers fans would be too eager to re-live).  But we’re going with a game that quite possibly changed the history of the Tigers’ franchise.

In 2006 the Tigers took the baseball world by storm, jumping out to a huge lead in the AL Central before a late-season collapse landed them the Wild Card spot and a Division Series matchup with the New York Yankees, owners of the best record in baseball (although only 2 games in front of the Tigers), spoiling some of the excitement of their first playoff birth in 19 years.  After their late season swoon and a Game 1 loss at Yankee Stadium (which followed some rain delay shenanigans on the part of the home team), most Tigers fans were hoping only to escape that season’s playoffs without getting swept.

That pessimism felt justified after a Johnny Damon home run in the 4th gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead.  But the Tigers clawed back, cutting the lead in half on a Curtis Granderson sac fly in the 5th and tying it up on a Carlos Guillen home run in the 6th.  When Granderson tripled in Marcus Thames in the 7th to give the Tigers the lead, Detroit went wild, realizing the Tigers could win the series without going back to New York.  They did just that, finishing off the victory in Game 2, kicking off a 7-game winning streak that would only be stopped by a 9-day layoff before the World Series.

If the Tigers don’t win Game 2, a sweep is not out of the question, and it’s questionable how much of that season turns out to be a fluke.  Owner Mike Ilitch was a spender in those days, so it’s likely his moves don’t change much in the ensuing offseasons, but there’s no question Game 2 helped put the Tigers back on the baseball map.

Detroit Lions

Lions 38, Browns 37 (2009)

Look, finding a rewatchable game for Lions fans isn’t easy.  Their last playoff win was 28 years ago, and that’s their only one since they finished their run as the Team of the ’50s in 1957.  Any memorable game the Lions have been involved in found them on the losing end, and we don’t want to spend our quarantine being any more miserable than we have to be.  The best bet here would be to just share a highlight reel of Barry Sanders runs, and hell, why not just to be safe.

But in 2009 they won a game that a YouTube video proclaims to be “The Greatest Game That Nobody Watched”, and having been at the game, it’s hard to disagree.  Usually I wouldn’t guide you to a game between two 1-8 teams, but it’s one worth watching.  The Browns jumped out to a 24-3 first quarter lead, only to watch the Lions tie it in the 2nd.  The Lions got the ball back down 6 with no timeouts and under two minutes to go, and rookie Matthew Stafford led the team to the Cleveland 32 with 8 seconds left.  Then things got weird.

Stafford scrambled the remaining 8 seconds (plus an additional 4, just for good measure) off the clock, threw an interception in the end zone, and absorbed a vicious blow that dislocated his non-throwing shoulder.  Game over, right?  Nope.  The Browns got flagged for pass interference in the end zone, nullifying the interception and granting the Lions an untimed down (those don’t typically turn out too well for the Lions).  Stafford had to come out of the game because of the injury, but after the Lions were (correctly) granted an injury timeout, Browns coach Eric Mangini called a timeout of his own to throw a temper tantrum, the Lions were able to put Stafford back in the game even with the injured shoulder, and he threw a touchdown pass to fellow first round rookie Brandon Pettigrew, allowing the Jason Hanson kick to win the game with no time left.

Truly a classic that hardly anyone ever talks about.  Most of the classics we talk about come in the playoffs or between contenders, but sometimes the best games come between two bad teams on a random November Sunday.

Detroit Pistons

“The Block”

The Pistons have played plenty of classics over the years, but a fair chunk of them, like the Lions, saw them coming out on the losing end.  The last 2 games of the 1988 NBA Finals were undoubtedly great, but the Pistons got the short end in both (both literally and figuratively, as the officiating was…less than top notch).  There was Isiah Thomas scoring 16 points in 94 seconds to send a clinching playoff game to OT, but again the Pistons came up short.

So we’ll go with “The Block” in Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals.  Down 1-0 to the Pacers, the Pistons clung to a 2-point lead in Indianapolis when they turned the ball over with 23 seconds left in the game.  Indiana picked up the loose ball and Jamal Tinsley found a streaking Reggie Miller racing towards the basket.  But instead of an apparent easy layup for Miller, Tayshaun Prince came out of nowhere to block the shot, with Rip Hamilton corralling the ball rather than setting up an inbounds play for the Pacers.  The Pistons would win the game, take 3 of the next 4 to win the series, then score one of the biggest upsets in NBA history when they pulled off the “5-Game Sweep” of the heavily favored Lakers.

While the shot only kept the Pacers from tying the game and there’s no guarantee they win, if the Pacers win that series they take a 2-0 lead and are heavily favored to win the series.  A win against the Lakers was not guaranteed but also not unlikely.  The Pacers were among the NBA’s contenders in the 2004-05 season, derailed only by the Malice at the Palace.  But with a possible title under their belt, it’s reasonable to think that the brawl never happens, Indiana isn’t depleted, and the Pacers and not the Pistons spend the next few seasons going to the Eastern Conference finals (if not further).

(The NBA has opened up their League Pass site during the shutdown, but the classic games are shockingly sparse, so I had to find video of this play on YouTube.  Sorry I couldn’t do better.)

Detroit Red Wings

“The Brawl”

I tried to keep to recent history with these teams, but the Red Wings’ recent history has been…less than ideal, shall we say.  So we’re going back to the game that really started the Red Wings dynasty.

The Wings had really become contenders in the late-’80s/early-’90s after years of being known as the Dead Things in Detroit, but by 1997 they’d become the Buffalo Bills of the NHL, failing to live up to their potential in some memorable playoff flameouts.  By 1997 it was thought that their window had closed and passed on to others, with the Avalanche winning the Cup in 1996 in their first season in Denver.

Colorado – and Claude Lemieux specifically – had kicked off the rivalry when Lemieux checked Kris Draper into the dasher, breaking his jaw, nose, and cheekbone, and giving him a concussion, in Game 6 of the prior season’s Western Conference Finals.  Lemieux was ejected from the game, but the Avalanche would win the game and the series, and go on to win the Stanley Cup against the Panthers.  The hit was not forgotten, and when things got chippy in a late-season game in Detroit, all hell broke loose.

The game had seen a couple of fights, but the real fireworks started when Igor Larionov and Peter Forsberg (not exactly well-known brawlers) went at it late in the 1st period.  It wasn’t long before Darren McCarty made Lemieux answer for the Draper hit, sending him to the ice in a turtle position while throwing shots relentlessly.  Patrick Roy left the goalie crease to help his teammate, leading to a memorable collision between he and Brendan Shanahan and eventually the rare goalie brawl between Roy and Mike Vernon.  At the end of the game the teams had racked up 144 penalty minutes.

Thing is, the Avalanche had the Wings’ number, having won the all 3 games up to that point between the two teams, so the brawl meant nothing if the Wings couldn’t get the win.  Luckily, McCarty was able to play the hero in more ways than one, netting the game winner in OT.  The game propelled the Wings into the playoffs and another matchup with Colorado, with the Wings winning the conference finals in 6 games (blowing out the Avalanche 6-0 in another brawl-filled Game 4).  The Wings would sweep Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup Final, with McCarty scoring the Cup-clinching goal, ending a 42-year title drought for the Red Wg ings.

(Another video not available on YouTube, but some pretty good footage of the fights in the March 26 game.)

Michigan State Football

“Trouble with The Snap!”

Our college teams give us a much lengthier list of memorable games to choose from, and we’ll start with Michigan State football.  Do we go with “Little Giants”, with Mark Dantonio calling one of the gutsiest play fakes in history with the overtime touchdown pass by his punter?  Or the Hail Mary against Wisconsin in 2011?  Perhaps you like the Northwestern comeback in 2006?  The 2014 Rose Bowl?  Negative 48 yards rushing by the defense against Michigan in 2013?  Or the Ohio State game or Big 10 championship games in 2015?

But no, this one’s simple.  It’s the 2015 Michigan-Michigan State game.  The Spartans had won the game everywhere except where it mattered, beating the Wolverines soundly in both first (20-10) and total yards (386-230).  MSU had cut it to two with just under 9 minutes left in the game, but a late attempt to get into field goal range had failed with 1:47 left on the clock.  Michigan State had a timeout left and was able to force a punt with 10 seconds left, but all Michigan had to do was get the kick off and the game was over.

Except, they couldn’t pull it off.  Punter Blake O’Neill bobbled a low snap, the ball popped free as he was trying to get the kick off, right into the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson, who ran it back 38 yards to win the game as time expired.  Michigan State stayed undefeated, would go on to beat Ohio State with their backup quarterback, survive a late loss at Nebraska, and win the Big 10 championship game to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff against Alabama.

(We won’t talk about what happened there.)

Michigan State Basketball

Michigan State 68, Duke 67 (2019 NCAA Regional Final)

This was a tough one.  When you’ve got games where your school won a national title, it seems logical to go that route.  Parades are forever after all, and the 1979 championship game remains iconic.  But there’s just something about beating Duke…even if it doesn’t happen all that often.

Michigan State enters most NCAA tournaments contending for the title, and 8 Final Fours in the last 21 seasons backs up that resume (even if their Final Four results have been less than stellar).  But Duke was the favorite last season, with the top 3 in the ESPN 100 starting (plus #17 and #41 for good measure).  MSU fans groaned when they saw Duke on the top line of their bracket, but stranger things had happened.  The tables looked like they might have turned, as MSU had won their first 3 games by an average of 16, while Duke had survived their 2nd and 3rd round games by a total of 3 points.

The game was close throughout, with the Spartans managing to turn a 9-point first half deficit into a 4-point halftime lead.  The second half was a nail-biter, with the game separated by no more than 6 points.  Duke held a 1-point lead with 50 seconds left, when Kenny Goins was able to pull down the rebound on an R.J. Barrett jumper, then hit the go-ahead 3 with 34 seconds left.  Duke had their chances, with Barrett going to the line with a chance to tie with 5 seconds left.  He missed the first, then hit the second when he was trying to miss and force the rebound.  Michigan State was able to inbound, Duke didn’t have enough fouls to send MSU to the line, and the Spartans were off to Minneapolis.

(We won’t talk about what happened there either.)

Bonus: 2000 One Shining Moment

Now, my faithful readers will know that the Detroit Sports Czar is a devout Spartan, but as I said at the outset, we’re in bizarre times, and I’m not above showing solidarity with my readers who may be faithful to Michigan.  I’m not going to give you a write-up for these games, but there’s some entertainment to be had for the Wolverines out there.

Michigan Football

The Braylon Edwards Game

I know the “Trouble with the Snap” game is painful for Michigan fans, so I’ll give you one that was just as painful to us.  MSU blows a 27-10 lead, Braylon Edwards catches 3 TD, and Michigan wins the first overtime game in the rivalry’s history.

Michigan Basketball

Michigan 87, Kansas 85 in OT (2013 NCAA Regional Semifinal)

I could’ve gone with the 1989 NCAA title game, but I’m trying to keep it relatively recent.  Michigan rallies back from 14 down with 7 minutes left, then Trey Burke hits a 30-footer with 4 seconds left to send the game to overtime.  They knock off top-seeded Kansas and advance to the school’s first title game in 20 years.  Wait…make that 24.

(Had to.)

Bonus: 1989 One Shining Moment

Things have been bad on the Detroit sports scene in recent years.  The city’s last playoff win was five and a half years ago, our college teams have not lived up to expectations, and only the Pistons were not in last place at the time the world closed (and they were only half a game up on the Cavaliers).  But this town loves our sports, and we were just as sad to watch the games end as people in Boston, or Milwaukee, or Dayton (ok, maybe not Milwaukee or Dayton, as they’d had legit title teams shut down).  If watching these games can bring just a little happiness to your world in these dark times, I’ll consider that a win.

Blame Dick Vitale

We’re in the middle of summer right now, with MLB’s Home Run Derby currently airing on ESPN, so naturally we’re going to focus on a truly timely matter.

Dick Vitale and the election of Donald Trump.

dick_vitaleThe Detroit Sports Czar is a huge fan of “what ifs”, so imagine my surprise when, during a conversation with a friend a few weeks back, I discovered it wasn’t that hard to draw a line between an ill-fated trade entered into by Dick Vitale and the election of our current president.  Sounds ridiculous, right?  Well follow along.

Bob McAdoo

The tale actually starts with John Y. Brown, who overruled Red Auerbach and dealt 3 first round draft picks to the Knicks for Bob McAdoo, supposedly because his wife was a fan of McAdoo when he played in New York (to be fair, his wife was a sportscaster, so this isn’t quite as ridiculous as it sounds).  Auerbach was rumored to be so livid that he almost followed McAdoo to New York, but he stuck it out to rebuild the Celtics while Brown was run out of town to become the governor of Kentucky.

Which brings us to M.L. Carr and Dick Vitale.

Detroit Pistons

After playing in Europe and the ABA until the league folded, M.L. Carr played for the Pistons until becoming a free agent after the 1979 season.  Auerbach scooped him up, which required the Celtics to offer compensation to the Pistons.  McAdoo was miserable and injury-prone during his half season in Boston and Auerbach never wanted him in the first place, so he offered him to the Pistons and their head coach, Dick Vitale.  Vitale was ecstatic, but as a negotiator he was Donald Trump to Auerbach’s Vladimir Putin, and so he gladly handed over the Pistons 2 first round draft picks in the 1980 draft.  Trouble was the Pistons sucked, one of those draft picks turned out to be the first overall pick, and Vitale was long gone by the time the draft rolled around.

This is where the tale starts to turn.

1980 NBA Draft

Let’s not fool ourselves, Red Auerbach was a basketball genius.  He built 16 NBA championship teams, so to say he wouldn’t have been able to do it again without swindling the Pistons is likely nonsense.  But for the sake of our “what if”, lets just pretend this draft swung the balance of power in the East.  Because in the 1980 draft, Auerbach took the Pistons’ 2 draft picks – again, including the #1 pick – and traded them to the Golden State Warriors for Robert Parish and the draft pick that would eventually become Kevin McHale.  And I think we can all agree that building the Celtics dynasty of the 1980s is substantially more difficult without McHale and Parish.

Here’s where our little thought experiment requires a bit of a stretch.

Gerald Henderson Trade

Now, what takes this trade off the basketball court and down the line to the Oval Office was the Celtics drafting – and subsequent death – of Len Bias.  And without the trade of Gerald Henderson to the Celtics, the Celtics don’t have the #2 pick that allows them to draft Bias.  While Henderson was with the Celtics in 1979, without his contributions to 2 championship teams, including a pivotal steal and layup that allowed the Celtics to steal a game against a superior Lakers team in a series they won in 7 games in 1984, it is unlikely he would’ve demanded the trade that found the Celtics holding the #2 draft pick in 1986.

We’ve now established that there is no Celtics dynasty in the 1980s, which means the 1986 Celtics aren’t one of the greatest teams ever.  They also don’t hold the #2 draft pick that will allow them to draft a player many expected would challenge Michael Jordan as the best player in the 1980s.

Now we start to get serious.

Death of Len Bias

As mentioned earlier, many expected Len Bias to be one of the best players in the NBA from the minute he was drafted.  That doesn’t change because he gets drafted by the SuperSonics instead of the Celtics.  Unfortunately, what also likely doesn’t change was the fact that he overdoses two days after the draft.  What does change is the political circumstances of his death.  If Bias is drafted by Seattle instead of the reigning NBA champions, he’s just another #2 draft pick, a sad footnote mentioned alongside such immortals as Sam Bowie, Hasheem Thabeet, Darko Milicic, and Steve Stipanovich (obligatory mention of such NBA immortals as Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, etc.).  More importantly, his new fan base is not located in the Congressional district of a Speaker of the House who is trying to keep control of the House in the upcoming midterm elections.

 The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986

Shortly after Bias’s death, it was widely reported that he had overdosed on crack.  It wasn’t true, but that didn’t stop the story from spreading; Jesse Jackson even lamented the scourge of crack at Bias’s funeral.  Crack was becoming an epidemic in the inner cities, and Bias’s death was the final straw that saw Congress – and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill out of Massachusetts – implement a law that required mandatory minimums that were harshly skewed against crack “dealers”.  The law required mandatory sentencing of 5 years in prison for 5 grams of crack, but 500 grams of powder cocaine.  The mandatory minimum rules decimated the black inner cities and helped contribute to the 1992 L.A. Riots, which did nothing to help the image of minorities by White America.

“Super-predators”

At a 1996 campaign speech in New Hampshire – one of the whitest states in the nation – Hillary Clinton referred to young black male criminals as “super-predators” and said that they needed to be “brought to heel”.  Clinton was defending her husband’s crime bill, which was designed to curb street crime in the black community.  Unfortunately, analysts have now determined that the bill was a major factor in the Era of Mass Incarceration, and Bill Clinton’s defense of both the crime bill and his wife’s super-predator comment during the 2016 campaign did not help the issue.  The super-predators comment was not as significant to her campaign problems as her email server was, but to say it didn’t help is an understatement.

2016 Election

Finally, we come to the 2016 election, which found a well-established racist running against the woman who uttered the super-predators comment 20 yeas before.  And how did the black community respond?  They stayed home.  While  Barack Obama’s inclusion in the 2012 election helped the black voter turnout rate reach an all-time high that year, the fact remains that 765,000 fewer black voters showed up at the polls in 2016.  Considering 88% of blacks voted for Clinton in 2016, and the election swung on roughly 80,000 votes in 3 swing states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan with their significant black populations, it’s not difficult to pin the election result on the decreased voter turnout in the black community.

So there you have it folks.  John Y. Brown overrules the greatest executive in NBA history to acquire Bob McAdoo.  Red Auerbach suckers Dick Vitale out of the #1 draft pick, which Auerbach then flips for 2 future Hall of Famers.  Those 2 Hall of Famers contribute to the Celtics dynasty of the 1980s.  Auerbach flips Gerald Henderson for the SuperSonics’ 1986 first round draft pick, which they use on Len Bias.  Bias overdoses on cocaine two days after the Celtics draft him.  Boston’s Congressman overreacts and helps push through anti-drug legislation that dis-proportionally punishes the black community.  Hillary Clinton refers to the victims of that legislation as super-predators, which the community never forgets.  And then the black community stays home on Election Day 2016, allowing Donald Trump to eke out a narrow victory.

There are any number of people to blame (or thank, depending on your point of view) for the presidency of Donald Trump.  I’m blaming Dick Vitale.