Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lions’ Suh Wears NFL’s Black Hat, and the League Loves It

Ndamukong Suh was born about 40 years too late.

Suh, the Lions' defensive tackle with a fuse shorter than Verne Troyer, would have been right at home playing in the NFL of the 1960s and '70s.

Suh would have been just one of many players back then who had the disposition of a bear awoken during hibernation.

The league some 40-plus years ago was filled with defenders who bent the rules like a double-jointed thumb.

None of them got suspended.

Dick Butkus made no bones about his intentions. The Bears' middle linebacker didn't try to sidestep anything. He didn't try to vex the media with double talk and sugarcoat his motives. Butkus tried to hurt his opponents—physically and mentally. Usually the fear of the former led to the latter.

Butkus was interviewed by NFL Films early in his career and expressed his fascination with the film "Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte."

Butkus described a scene from the movie, and as he did, his youthful, cherubic face started to display an almost psychotic-looking smile.

"I kind of liked it when that head come rolling down the stairs," Butkus told Ed Sabol's camera. "I like to project those things happening on the football field. And not to me."

Like I said, there was no question about Butkus' mindset when he stepped onto the gridiron.

Butkus used to verbally taunt Lions center Ed Flanagan. Then Butkus would spit on Flanagan's hands as the center grabbed hold of the football prior to the snap.

There have been multiple stories told of Butkus' antics, like the ones they tell of Bonnie and Clyde, or Ivan the Terrible.

There are tales of biting, scratching, stepping onto torsos, eyes being poked; some of Butkus' opponents recall him literally growling before the snap.

Butkus was like so many of his brethren—the maniacal defender on the field who was soft-spoken and cerebral off it.

Defensive lineman Deacon Jones, another of Butkus's contemporaries, has been credited with coining the word "sack" in reference to leveling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.

Jones has also been tagged with the label of mad man on the football field. Jones wore the black hat and loved it. Deacon ate up the reputation—and even propagated it—of a dirty player whose intention was to maim.

Conrad Dobler was an eccentric, nasty offensive guard for the St. Louis Cardinals, New Orleans Saints and Buffalo Bills. Dobler, for several seasons, was widely recognized as the dirtiest player in the NFL for most of the 1970s. The things that Dobler did beyond the range of vision of the officials would have him up on charges in all 50 states.

Yet Dobler never got suspended, let alone arrested.

Neither did Butkus, Jones or any of their partners in crime. They didn't even try the political spin. Suh, had he played in those days, would have been held up as part of the NFL legacy of dirtiness, which is now folklore and winked at.

But Suh plays today and the NFL loves this kid. I believe that the more he transgresses, the more he's liked by the league.

Don't be fooled by the veneer of disgust and scorn that the NFL will publicly cast on Suh. Privately, the league can barely contain itself. The NFL, more than any of the four major sports leagues, subscribes to the words of literary giant Oscar Wilde.

"The only thing worse than being talked about," Wilde once opined, "is NOT being talked about."

The NFL welcomes all publicity—good, bad and ugly.

The league does a marvelous job of keeping itself in the public consciousness all year round. From the 24/7 NFL Network on TV to the games on Sundays, from January to December the NFL keeps itself on the forefront of its fans' minds.

It doesn't matter if the publicity is positive or negative. The NFL loves Ndamukong Suh because, for the first time in decades, the league has a Bad Guy.

Suh's entry into the NFL is the best-timed debut of any pro player since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird splashed onto the NBA scene in 1979. Before Magic and Bird, the NBA was scrambling for media attention. They were like the NHL has always been.

Prior to Magic and Bird, the NBA used to televise its Finals games on tape delay. No fooling.

The NFL has been desperate for a marquee name on defense for several years. The two guys who most fans think of when it comes to tough defense—Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis—are on the back end of their careers.

The NFL has wanted a shining light on defense for a long time—and it doesn't matter if that light has a dirty tinge.

The league is filled with high profile heroes on the offensive side of the ball. There is no shortage of quarterbacks, receivers and running backs who catch the fans' fancy.

But on defense? Not so much.

Suh is a villain in the eyes of his colleagues, who recently voted him as the dirtiest player in the league. He's a villain in the eyes of the hypocritical media, who will lambaste Suh out of one side of their mouth, and privately ask their colleague, "Isn't this great?" out of the other.

Suh is even a villain among the fan base—some of them Detroit Lions supporters, newly on board the "Suh is Dirty" train after his shameful behavior in Thursday's nationally-televised game against the World Champion Green Bay Packers.

But here's the rub: it doesn't matter if the aura surrounding Ndamukong Suh is negative in nature. The league only cares that there is an aura.

Suh has people talking. He has people sneering in disdain. He even has folks who had previously defended him calling for suspensions in the wake of his stomping on Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, which got him booted from the Thanksgiving Day game.

Suh will likely get suspended for his actions, even though Butkus, Jones, Dobler et al never did and they committed worse atrocities, more often, than Suh has so far in his young career.

The NFL will publicly assail Suh for his lack of anger management. Then the league will retreat to its private bunker and be positively giddy with the realization of what they have.

The NFL has a big name on defense who no one can stop talking about. The fact that the reason no one can stop talking about him is because of his violent, almost criminal behavior, is of no concern to the NFL.

The NFL has its new Dick Butkus.

The difference between Butkus and Suh is that Butkus didn’t offer up delusional, lame excuses for his sadistic ways, as Suh did after Thursday’s game.

If you think the NFL is legitimately outraged by Ndamukong Suh’s out-of-control behavior then you’re almost as delusional as Suh is.

The league loves this stuff. They have a Bad Guy on their hands and no one can stop talking about him. And he plays defense.

Ndamukong Suh, in a twisted way, is good for business.

Don’t you think otherwise.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lions' Smith A Story Too Good To Be True?

The Lions have a shiny 7-3 record because of a quarterback who came to Detroit after 0-16 and a defensive tackle who came a year after that.

The Lions are 7-3 because of a GM who followed the abysmal Matt Millen and began cleaning up almost as soon as Millen was fired.

The Lions are 7-3 because of a head coach who came from Tennessee, where he learned under the consistent and tenured Jeff Fisher.

The Lions are 7-3 because of three successful drafts and some deft personnel moves by the aforementioned GM.

The Lions are 7-3 because they have infused their roster with talent not seen in Detroit since the jolly Wayne Fontes coached here.

The Lions, though, are not 7-3 because they make it a habit of signing re-treads and bringing back reminders of that ghoulish 0-16 record.

Kevin Smith, you could say, is both of those things---a re-tread and a sour reminder of that dreadful 2008 season.

Smith, the running back who ran wild over, around and through the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, was a Lions rookie in 2008---the season of OH! and 16.

A couple weeks ago, Smith was a running back in training, and a doting father. He was watching the Lions from his sofa, like so many of us.

On Sunday, Smith was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Lions.

You could practically hear the Lions fans weeping in thanks.

A running game!

Smith gashed the Panthers for 140 yards on 16 carries. That's an 8.8 yards per carry average. The last time a Lions running back had numbers like that, he was wearing no. 20 and taking our breath away.

Smith scored two TDs on the ground and a third via pass. He was heaven sent, really. It's an old joke: the Lions have wanted to run the football in the worst way---and that's exactly how they'd been running it (cue rim shot).

I've had my eye on Stephen Jackson, the bruising runner for the pathetic St. Louis Rams, a team beneath his talents. Jackson is someone who would look delectable in Honolulu Blue and Silver.

But that's food for thought sometime in the future. Next year, maybe. For now, Kevin Smith looks to be the man lugging the football for the Lions the rest of the season, with Best apparently nowhere near ready for clearance.

If Sunday was any indication, the Lions may not miss Best at all.

Smith isn't as quick or explosive as Best, but he can run between the tackles better and the man looks energized and fresh---which you would expect of someone who has been playing with his kid, not with a football.

"Get up at 7 a.m., train till noon, play with my son," Smith told the media afterward about his daily regimen this autumn, before the Lions brought him in for a workout during the bye week.

Unless that kid of his hits like a 265-pound linebacker, you had to be surprised to see what Smith did on the gridiron on Sunday.

"I think the NFL would be hard-pressed to come up with a better storyline than Kevin Smith," Lions coach Jim Schwartz told the press after Sunday's game, in what surely must be considered a candidate for Understatement of the Year.

This performance of Smith's was about as unexpected as Clam Chowder served on a Tuesday.

But this is the NFL, which has a shelf life of seven days. The league is as crazily unpredictable as it's ever been. A team can look wretched one week and then look like Super Bowl contenders the next.

The NFL might not hear of Kevin Smith the rest of the season. In the Lions' remaining six games, Smith's production may turn pedestrian and insignificant.

Sunday's game might be it for Smith as far as productivity. Who knows?

But if it's not, and if the Lions have stumbled upon a Godsend here, then all of a sudden the team's one-dimensional offense in Jahvid Best's absence isn't so one-dimensional anymore.

If the Lions can somehow turn Kevin Smith from Flavor of the Week to the Special of the Month, then the running game may be solved---or at least just good enough to make Matthew Stafford and his receiving crew dangerous enough to be playoff-ready.

Which means that despite all the Lions' offensive weapons, their playoff fortunes might be resting on a player who was running Daddy Day Care just two weeks ago.

The NFL is a funny, funny league.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Former Lions Guard Utley Determined to Do His Own "Walk-Off"

I don’t know if it’s in the front of the NFL player’s mind, the middle, or the back, but it’s in there somewhere. The idea that when you run onto the field, you might not run off is in there somewhere. It has to be.

The NFL is 60 minutes each week of locomotives running into each other at breakneck speed—sometimes literally.

But it wasn’t a high-speed collision that changed Mike Utley’s life. It was just another play in just another game, on just another Sunday.

It happened 20 years ago this past Thursday.

The Lions were hosting the Los Angeles Rams, and moving the football down the field. Utley, a guard, was doing his thing as part of the five-man chain gang that is an NFL offensive line.

Blocking, driving, lowering himself for leverage. Whatever it took to gain an advantage over his defensive counterpart.

The chain gang was succeeding. The Lions were moving the ball. They were nearing the so-called red zone—that prime real estate that lies 20 yards and closer to the goal line.

Then it happened—on just another play on just another drive in just another game.

Utley, a mountain of a man listed as 6’6” and 288 pounds, was pass blocking when he lost balance. His pass rushing opponent, David Rocker, was winning this particular down, and Rocker kept driving in his effort to reach the quarterback.

Utley fell awkwardly and onto his head, breaking his fifth, sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae.

If you ever want to hear how quiet a sports venue can be, try a pro football game with a player lying on the field, unmoving.

It’s a horrible, intestine-twisting silence.

Utley, after many pained minutes, was finally loaded onto a stretcher. Only when it was wheeled away did anyone in the Silverdome exhale, let alone make a sound.

But the Lions fans did indeed make a sound. It started as nervous applause, then as the stretcher made its way to the players’ tunnel, the applause turned into a small cheer, then eventually into a roar.

Utley then made one of the most famous gestures in Detroit sports history.

His life certainly flashing before his eyes, his fear of his own well-being no doubt palpable, Utley nonetheless thought about the fans and his teammates.

He managed to work his right hand into a position of hope.

Thumbs up!

The gesture just about brought the Silverdome down. The image was beamed onto the big JumboTron screen above the end zone scoreboard, so that the fans could see it, just as those watching at home on television could.

Thumbs up!

Utley’s message of hope became the rallying cry for the Lions, who didn’t lose another game the rest of the year until they succumbed to Washington in the NFC Championship game in January.

November 17, 1991 is a date forever etched onto Mike Utley’s brain.

It’s been 20 years, and still there is some unresolved business.

Utley intends to, once again, walk off an NFL field.

“A man walks on the field of battle, and he walks off the field of battle,” Utley explained last month to

Utley has to do the walking off part yet—and without the benefit of braces, a walker, or anything else.

“I can walk with ankle braces, I can walk with crutches or a walker,” Utley says. “The problem is, it’s not really functional, as in to be independent, to be able to go to the grocery store. It’s still more feasible and—safety-wise—it’s more productive for me to be able to transfer into my chair and go to the mall, go shopping, get groceries, clean up around the house.”

Utley has no doubt in his mind that one day he will walk again, sans accessories.

It’s one reason why Utley, along with his wife Dani, started the Mike Utley Foundation—to find out more about spinal cord injuries and to help others battling paralysis. And, of course, to ultimately find a cure for such horrendous injuries.

Utley has the will, but he needs the science...and the dollars.

It’s among the biggest of moral victories, that Mike Utley can do as much as he can, considering from where he came on November 17, 1991.

But Utley is an NFL guy at heart and in the NFL there are no moral victories. You either win, or you lose.

You either walk...or you don’t.

So it’s up at 5 a.m. on most mornings in suburban Seattle (he attended Washington State University), pushing himself in physical therapy twice a week and lifting four times a week.

Normally, I don’t care for the athlete or the celebrity who talks about himself in the third person, but Utley is an exception.

“Mike Utley will walk off Ford Field, his game plan is today,” Utley says. “If it’s not today, it will be tomorrow.”

Since Utley’s injury, which was preceded and then followed shortly thereafter by other horrifying incidents, the NFL has become much more conscious of protecting players—especially when it comes to anything in the head or neck areas.

So you’d think that Utley, through his Foundation, would be totally on board with the rules changes the league has implemented.

“No,” Utley immediately says when prodded about potential drastic rule changes such as linemen beginning every play in a standing position. “Listen, let the fellas play. You want the best players in the world to get on that gridiron. You want the fastest and the best athletes. Let them play.”

OK then.

Meanwhile, between pushing himself to the limit physically in the pursuit of walking, Utley tirelessly raises money for the Foundation, speaks and encourages. It’s not uncommon for the NFL to bring Utley in to talk to players facing the ends of their careers due to injury, though they didn’t suffer the same horrific end that Utley suffered.

Utley, after all, was once read his last rites, when blood clots that formed after the injury almost killed him.

But slowly he made progress. In 1999, Utley stood up and moved his feet for the first time with the assistance of braces on his legs.

But it’s not enough. Just another moral victory.

Utley, to hear him tell it, will walk off Ford Field someday, finally finishing his unfinished business. And then?

“(I’d like) to be able to walk with the wife on the beach. Something as small as that,” he says.

Thumbs up!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stafford Must Be Fixed For the Lions to Compete for Playoffs

Maybe Matthew Stafford wore gloves so as not to leave any fingerprints as he committed crimes against football humanity.

If so, that idea backfired---as did the entire Detroit Lions offense---as Stafford and his offensive teammates (you can pronounce "offensive" with the emphasis on the second syllable if you'd like) laid an ostrich egg on the Soldier Field turf on Sunday.

This was an homage to Lions teams of the past. And when I say past, I mean the first eight years of the 21st century.

Watching the Lions' 37-13 dismantling at the hands of the Chicago Bears was like watching a twisted compilation reel of the Marty Mornhinweg and Rod Marinelli years.

All of your old "favorites" were back: pick-sixes; fumbles; bad special teams coverage/strategy; inopportune personal fouls.

They all came roaring back---no pun intended---in one game, and after a bye week, no less, when teams are supposed to be fresh and re-focused.

Stafford was a mystery, yet again.

The Lions' franchise QB was a ghoulish mix of Joey Harrington and Ty Detmer. He was far from the confident young gun that led the Lions to a 5-0 start. In the current 1-3 slide, Stafford has too often looked confused, beaten and devoid of confidence.

The 45-10 pummeling of the Denver Broncos propelled the Lions to 6-2 going into their week off, and they had set themselves up nicely for a second half playoff run. Stafford looked like he had solved whatever had troubled him in consecutive losses to the 49ers and the Falcons.

But the bye week wasn't refreshing at all. Instead, it set football back three years in Detroit.

The defense played OK. Ndamukong Suh and Company only surrendered 16 of the 37 points, and no back breaking big plays, either.

The Lions still would have lost, though, even without all those returns for TDs, because the offense with Stafford at the helm was a frightful blend of slapstick and masochism.

Please, sir, may I have another turnover?

You almost hope that something is wrong with Stafford physically, because the alternative is too disturbing to consider.

It's only one game, but is it?

Is it a one-game clunker, or is it part and parcel of a four-game rut?

The Lions beat who they should have in the past four games, and lost to three teams who are in the upper echelon of a suspect conference.

That, also, smacks of Lions teams of the past---even in the Wayne Fontes years when the Lions would fatten their record against the NFL's dregs then play brutal games against "real" teams.

A bottom feeder comes to town next week---the Carolina Panthers. The Lions should handle the Panthers, with their rookie QB, at Ford Field.

And unless they lose to the Panthers, I suggest that you look at it this way.

Did you truly have the Lions winning yesterday, in Chicago? With the Bears thirsting for revenge for what happened on Monday Night Football? And with the Bears desperate to stay in the playoff race?

I didn't.

So if the Lions win Sunday against Carolina and go into the Thanksgiving tilt with Green Bay at 7-3, that's OK with me. It will just be the Lions following suit---you know, when you play that schedule game of "WIN" and "LOSE" before the season as you tick down the list of opponents and where the game is being played.

There's no question that the way the Lions lost to the Bears far overshadows that they lost.

As Sparky Anderson said about a particularly bad Tigers loss back in the day, "There's not enough perfume in the world to make that one smell good."

But it was just one loss---and the first egg they've laid, and we're in mid-November.

That in of itself is an improvement. Usually we've had four or five of these abominations by now.

But someone has to get Matthew Stafford right. And fast. There's no Dave Krieg 1994 or Eric Hipple 1981 standing by. The only way backup Shaun Hill starts is if Stafford is hurt---there's no QB controversy here.

Stafford isn't right. His sluggishness extends back to the 49ers game on October 16.

The Lions have to fix him, or none of this playoff talk will mean a Hill of beans.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Paterno's Self-Suppression of Power Protected Wrong People

The irony is, Joe Paterno could have covered the spread easily.

He had home field advantage. He had all the weapons at his disposal. It was a cupcake on the schedule. One of those pre-conference games against an opponent whose only goals were to get out of town with their wits and a cool paycheck from the gate.

Paterno could have swatted this one away with hardly breaking a sweat.

When you’re Joe Paterno, iconic football coach at a big time university, you can do some things. It’s like a playbook on 2nd and 1. There are options not available to a lower profile coach.

Football coaches like Paterno, who’s been at Penn State since the Lyndon Johnson administration, don’t walk around campus—they are the campus. They get things named after them—streets, buildings and practice facilities.

They make friends in high places. They show up at a restaurant and the staff can’t seat them quickly enough.

Coaches like Paterno, if they appear in a commercial for a dry cleaners, can put all the other dry cleaners around campus out of business.

Paterno, 84, looks like someone Al Pacino is set to play at the drop of a hat.

Lombardi had the gap-toothed grin.

Bear Bryant had the checkered hat.

Bo Schembechler had the sunglasses under the baseball cap with the block M.

Woody Hayes had the white shirt and the skinny black tie.

Paterno has the big glasses and the big nose and the raspy, New York accent. Pacino could play him in his sleep.

Paterno is as iconic as it gets in the world of college athletics—forget just football.

So let’s be real.

Joe Paterno wasn’t at any disadvantage, when presented with evidence that his defensive coordinator had sexually assaulted a young boy—in a Penn State football facility, no less.

Paterno—his name ironically so close to sounding like “paternal”—could have snapped his fingers and the weight of the university’s tradition, standards of excellence and integrity would have collapsed onto coach Jerry Sandusky like a 16 ton weight.

Sandusky would have been ruined—much sooner than he now is, and before untold numbers of additional boys were harmed.

Paterno could have rained hell down on Sandusky, had Paterno wanted.


“In hindsight I wish I would have done more,” Paterno said in a prepared statement he released last week, when the tempest of the disgusting news swirling around PSU’s campus began to release its stench.

Paterno was referring to his role in the allegations—the role where he was told about Sandusky’s assault of a boy in a shower, and merely passed the charge on to the athletic director.

Paterno could have gone in for the kill. He had the other guys on their heels, in the shadow of their own end zone.

But Paterno chose to keep all of his power sheathed. It was a kneel down, a mercy job.

Sadly, Paterno chose to protect the wrong person.

A man of Joe Paterno’s stature doesn’t pass stuff like this along. He doesn’t treat charges of sexual abuse like a bag of peanuts in the middle of a row at a ballgame.

A man of Paterno’s importance at Penn State, just as with Bryant at Alabama, Schembechler at Michigan, et al, needs to be Harry Truman, not a middle man.

The buck should stop with them.

It’s an age-old debate.

Who is more culpable for certain heinous behavior?

The perpetrator, or the man who could have stopped him dead in his tracks?

Paterno should have done more than simply pass on the eyewitness account of Sandusky’s sick actions to his supposed boss. And Paterno knows it. He knew it long before he issued his milquetoast statement last week.

In hindsight, Joe? Really?

You needed hindsight to tell you that keeping inordinately quiet in the wake of such disturbing information was wrong?

Again, I ask, isn’t that worse, in a way, than what Sandusky allegedly did to who knows how many kids?

Paterno failed that child in the shower. And his willful suppression of his own powers failed subsequent kids.

Legally, they say, Paterno is in the clear. He did what he was legally obligated to do.

That may be, but I’m surprised Paterno has gotten a wink of sleep since.

You think all of this salacious behavior has been going on around Paterno without his knowledge? For almost 10 years?

The university did the right thing in firing Paterno and the school president, effective immediately. They saw Paterno’s offer to retire after the season and raised it.

They had to.

It was the only thing they could do and still salvage some of Penn State’s integrity.

A football program shouldn’t define a school, but it does in many people’s minds.

A football coach shouldn’t define a program, but he does.

And a terribly poor choice of judgment shouldn’t ruin a man forever, but it can, and it has.

Jerry Sandusky is small fish here, really. That sounds outrageous, because he’s the child predator, not anyone else in this story.

But see how the actions—or lack thereof—of someone like Joe Paterno can overshadow even a person with as vile of character as Jerry Sandusky?

Some say that this vile situation should put college football in perspective.


The bully pulpit of big time college athletics should have been used, by Joe Paterno, to put an end to Jerry Sandusky’s abhorrent acts against kids.

Paterno had everything at his disposal to stop the monster that might be Sandusky.

He took a knee instead.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Do I Miss the NBA? Depends!

Right about now, if the Hatfields and the McCoys had been able to settle their differences (that would be the players and the owners, or vice versa), the NBA season would be just underway.

The season would have tipped off after weeks of exhibition games, during which time the Miami Heat and LeBron James would have been unmercifully mocked and taunted for losing in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks. Followed by an entire 82-game regular season of the Miami Heat and LeBron James being unmercifully mocked and taunted for losing in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks.

The Pistons would be just starting out under their new coach, Lawrence Frank, not long after stubbing their toe on him.

Do I miss the NBA?

Yeah, the same way I miss a root canal, Vanilla Ice and New Coke.

Do I miss looking at tattoos that make a player’s arm look like a 19th century treasure map? Do I miss shorts that go to the ankles?

Do I miss the NBA, you ask (or even if you didn’t)?

Do I miss wall-to-wall games on Christmas Day, the one day of the year in which the television should be turned off?

Do I miss Kobe Bryant? Do I miss the Charlotte Bobcats at the Palace on a Tuesday night?

Do I miss the NBA?

Do I miss that goofy, dotted half-circle under the hoop?

Do I miss a league where 95 percent of the players can’t execute a bounce pass? Or even know what one is?

Do I miss the NBA?

Do I miss four guys on one side of the court while the fifth dribbles the ball for 15 seconds, looking up at the shot clock?

Do I miss the final 30 seconds of a close game taking 30 minutes to play?

Do I miss the NBA?

Do I miss wondering on whose sidelines Larry Brown will turn up next?

Do I miss the latest season-ending injury suffered by Greg Oden?

Now, let me tell you about the NBA I do miss.

I miss shorts that went mid-thigh.

I miss the 24-second clock on the floor, in the corners.

I miss three-to-make-two.

I miss a final score of 132-127 that was played in regulation, not five overtimes.

I miss names like Coby Dietrick and Zaid Abdul-Aziz and Tom Boerwinkle.

I miss coaches like Doug Moe and Frank Layden, who were worth the price of admission just for their post-game comments. That, and Moe wore leisure suits and Layden looked like your tax guy.

I miss backcourt fouls and jump balls to start each quarter.

I miss every basket worth two points, even if you nailed it from 30 feet away.

I miss Pete Maravich and how he wore “Pistol” on the back of his jersey instead of his last name. And, of course, I miss his ball-handling skills, which even the Harlem Globetrotters would have been hard-pressed to match.

Do I miss the NBA?

Well, yes, if that NBA included arenas like the HemisFair and Kemper and the Fabulous Forum and Cobo.

I miss referee Earl Strom, the animated, Ron Luciano of the NBA.

I miss best-of-three playoff series.

I miss this oddball division: Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and PHOENIX.

I miss the year the Bullets were the Capitol Bullets—between being Baltimore and Washington.

While I’m at it, I miss the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.

I miss first round playoff matchups like Golden State and Chicago.

I miss the Vancouver Grizzlies, because how cool was it that the NBA was silly enough to put a team in Vancouver?

Do I miss the NBA?

I don’t miss Pau Gasol but I miss Swen Nater.

I don’t miss Phil Jackson the coach but I miss Phil Jackson the player. Oh, those shoulders.

I don’t miss Billy Hunter the players rep but I miss Billy Knight the scorer for the Pacers.

I don’t miss Gilbert Arenas calling himself Agent Zero but I miss John Williamson being called Super John.

Do I miss the NBA?

I don’t miss 6’11” small forwards but I miss 6’7” centers.

I don’t miss Nike but I miss Chuck Taylor. And I don’t miss leather but I miss canvas.

I don’t miss Jason Kidd but I miss Ernie DiGregorio.

I don’t miss the New Orleans Hornets but I miss the New Orleans Jazz.

I don’t miss Charles Barkley the commentator but I miss Charles Barkley the player. Because who wouldn’t miss someone dubbed “The Round Mound of Rebound?"

Do I miss the NBA?

Well, if you’re asking if I miss Gus the Dancing Vendor, hell yes. But if you’re asking if I miss the Automotion dance girls, hell no.

Don’t draw any conclusions from that, by the way.

I miss Leon the Barber.

I miss World B. Free, Harthorne Wingo, T.R. Dunn, Harvey Catchings and Joe C. Meriweather.

I miss David Thompson leaping from the free throw line for a dunk.

I miss the Buffalo Braves.

I miss smoke in the arenas drifting to the lights above.

I miss when basketball players were called “cagers.”

I miss 20-second injury timeouts.

Do I miss the NBA?

I don’t miss three days off between playoff games—in the same city.

I don’t miss Bill Walton the commentator, and I really don’t miss Bill Walton the player all that much, either. Except for his headband.

Speaking of headbands, I don’t miss them on today’s players but I miss them on Slick Watts, who was bald.

I don’t miss Kevin McHale coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves but I miss Bill Russell coaching the Seattle Supersonics.

I miss saying Seattle Supersonics.

So, do I miss the NBA?

Which one you talking about?