The cover threw me for a loop, the latest Sports Illustrated (“The Hypnotic Doug McDermott” / 3-17-04 / L. Winn).
At first glance it looked…different, not so busy, so threatening. Then I got it: it was a re-make.
Today’s SI magazine shell is usually cluttered with so many bait-hooks (topics) it takes a triple-take just to figure out what you’ve got in your hands.
But this Creighton coat, it’s a nice bank-shot. That’s throwback too, ‘case you wonder.
The young lasses (K. Begley & K. Saddoris) are pleasing to the eye and Mr. “McBuckets” proves fitting stand-in for feller from French Lick (“Explosive Larry Bird” / 11-28-77).
The leggy lovely on the right, though, she’s a tad tall for this shoot. Couldn’t have been easy for her to hold such a pose for this Kodak® moment. Ahh, the price of fame.
As for the ‘Larry Legend’ angle, don’t bank on it.
Bird & Mr. “Blue Jay Way” stand more than a few feet apart. Those Sycamore (’76-79) – Celtics (‘79-92) soles, Converse®, if I remember right, are some mighty big shoes to fill, even for as talented a fellow as Doug.
People, marketing, media, white folk, are still searching, pining for some collegiate star to fill-the-bill as the next Larry Bird, the great white hope.
I’ll concede, the Doug – Larry link ain’t the craziest notion I’ve heard lately, not like Rose for Cooperstown, “forgiving” Barry, de-trademark “Redskins” or shuttin’ down the fed on spite (Boehner – Cruz). Not by a long shot, or should I say, by a “4-pointer?” Oh weh.
Both men cut their teeth in history laden Missouri Valley (Doug Collins / Walt Frazier);
both are (were) power forwards (Doug: 6’8” – 225; Larry: 6’9” – 220); and
both prolific shooters (D: 21.9 pts (CU) / L: 30.3 (ISU)) with nose for the basket inside.
Some guys, Bob Pettitte, Big O, Jerry Lucas, Maravich, Austin Carr, David Thompson, Mickey Crowe (JFK Prep), Nash, Durant, Doug & Larry, they are the ball (“Danny, be the ball (“Ty Webb”)) and seem to hold an invisible arch guiding the orange to the hoop.
And like Doug, Larry didn’t bring it up court, as his 6’8” nemesis (later friend) Magic did w/ dominion. But like Larry, Earvin was multi-dimensional. When he wasn’t on point or forward, MJ was filling-in at center making hook-shots heard ‘round the world (‘87).
But this is where country legends part company.
The demeanors: Doug’s got the scream, fist-pump thing down, but Larry had a snarl.
The 70s – 90s were rough & tumble times, more than the structured formative years and combative compared to today’s somewhat more passive, occasionally apathetic NBA state. Defense is derided (coaches too), dunks unchallenged, the fashion show reigns (shoes / unis), tank-fraud tagged “rebuilding” and timidity (3-pt’er) is rewarded, all pushing play out to the perimeter, taking off the inside-edge and smoothed to a duller finish.
Bird played like he had entitlement to the ball and basket, something the greats possess.
“White Men Can’t Jump” seemed to fit Frenchy (Doug’s more fluid), but then spring & speed don’t rule the boards. Fire in the belly makes you want the ball, positioning gets it (L: 13.3 rbs (ISU); D: 7.5 (CU)).
Even in roost (stationary) Bird impacted the game.
Any good coach worth his / her weight will tell ya,’ quick hands, like boxers, is key. And it was that hand-eye coordination that made Bird one of hardwood’s greatest passers, and as much as any other skill defines his legacy (Larry (ISU): 4.6 ast; Doug (CU): 1.3).
Maybe it was Bird’s immense popularity, or fact he frustrated the myth that one need city flash & physical superiority to succeed in the NBA, or maybe it was his race that led some of his peers to expect pedestrian play in ‘79. When he didn’t cave, when he gave as good as he got and then excelled, some couldn’t contain their resentment and spewed forth.
Some still do.
Isiah Thomas’ racist remark after a tough playoff loss to Boston in ‘87 stands out.
If Larry were black, Isiah said, “he’d be just another good guy,” a remark he later claimed was made in jest (“Thomas Explains” / TNYT / 6-5-87 / R. Johnson). Funny guy, huh?
In time, as titles, accolades and visual wonderment piled up in the memory banks of those who watched, that resentment turned to respect in minds of many (Rodman & Spike Lee excepted (ESPN / 3-04)), an appreciation for Bird’s contributions was conceded and they gave him his due.
In a League where the minority player, as MLB in ’47, must prove they belong, there are two routes to staying rostered: 1) the specialist, i.e., Kerr & Paxson (3-pt), Dan Majerle (D); and, 2) dominate your position.
Walton, like Dirk & Love today, ruled his realm w/verve & touch, Cowens & Laimbeer on brute strength, movers Stockton, Price & Nash made the dish art-form, while the forward must master all facets: shooter’s ease, pedigree in the paint and smart ball movement.
Bird was just such a forward.
Slower of foot but possessing a clear court vision that put him one step ahead, LB had an unusual, almost odd ability to stand still yet affect the game‘s flow, like he had eyes in the back of his head. That’s a basketball superlative in any race, Mr. Lee.
And 2-3 years down the road, who might Doug McDermott most personify in his NBA play? Bird, Sikma, Laettner, Adam Morrison, or maybe it’s Kevin Durant or Kevin Love?
It’s always premature to hold a young star to a champion’s standard (See: early LeBron), but it’s what people do, it’s part of the program. It’s an honor and a burden. And the fact so few white players have crossed into Bird territory since his exit might make it that much more enticing a territory in which to venture forth.
But first, Doug, Dad (Bluejays’ head coach Greg McDermott) and Creighton’s finest need to take care of business in this 2014 NCAA. Dare I write, a title or Final Four would be a nice confidence booster for one who’s soon to embark on an NBA career…or sell insurance in Kansas City.
And don’t read too much into Creighton’s recent Big East tourney loss to the Friars (65-58).
You’d be hard pressed to find anything in sport more ill-advised, more greed-based, less worthy of existence than college b-ball’s ‘season ending, automatic NCAA bid-granting, Conference tournaments,’ where teams can play 3 in 3. A worthy challenger to the title? Conference-jumping for cash (See: Omaha-based Creighton U. to Big East (‘13)).
If Mr. Obama were as big a basketball fan as he claims…and enjoyed banging inside for those legacy boards, he’d have no problem weighing-in on those two greed-grabs. Seems the trend today, amongst politicos, anyway (See: Pelosi & Reid (“Redskins”)).
A Badgers (2) – Bluejays (3) bout in the West is intriguing, as the intra-state slugfest with Cornhuskers (11) or Elite Eight showdown vs. top-dog Arizona (1). Those cherries may not ripen in a tourney that’s always chock full o’ surprises but one thing you can bank on, Doug McDermott will be giving his best imitation of…Doug McDermott, of course.
Photo Credit: Doug McDermott / Google Images
About the Author
Written by Steven Keys
A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.