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A few things I’ve managed to remember, along with some for which I wish…
1. The Cavaliers’ big frontline from the Lenny Wilkens era — Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance and John “Hot Rod” Williams — in their chairs in the locker room before a game against the Chicago Bulls.
The three big men, all 6-foot-10 or taller, were talking about, you guessed it, Michael Jordan.
The topic of discussion the size of Jordan’s hands. Though “only” 6-6, Jordan had the hands of a much-taller man.
“I don’t know what to do,” the 7-foot Daugherty lamented. “He comes in there and he’s got the ball behind his head so far, it’s like he’s got a grapefruit in his hand. And when he tomahawks it in your face, you can’t help but foul him.”
“He’s got bigger hands than me,” the 6-11 Williams said, shaking his head.
Here’s the late Gene Siskel talking to Jordan about his hands:
As the elder statesman of the group, Nance, the NBA’s Slam Dunk champion in Denver when the league held its first contest in 1984, offered some perspective.
“The only guy I saw who had bigger hands than Michael was Doc,” the 6-10 Nance said, referencing Julius Erving. “Michael is like Doc in that he attacks you, he wants to embarrass you.”
Ironically, Nance defeated Erving in the aforementioned 1984 contest, though only after Erving missed his penultimate attempt.
Erving, by the way, won the famous ABA dunk contest in 1976, also held in Denver.
2. Speaking of Williams, he was one of the nicest guys to ever play in the league, which made his death on Dec. 11, 2015 at age 53 after a battle with prostate cancer so tragic.
Coming from terribly humbling beginnings in Louisiana, Hot Rod starred at Tulane, but was implicated in a point-shaving scandal that resulted in the university disbanding the men’s basketball program 1985 though 1988.
That didn’t stop then-Cavaliers GM Harry Weltman from drafting Williams, who was forced to sit out what would have been his rookie season because of the scandal.
Eventually, though, Williams was cleared and spent nine seasons with the Cavaliers, 1986 through 1995, before finishing his NBA career in 1999 after stints with Phoenix and Dallas.
His agent, Mark Bartelstein, described Williams as a man of “great character.”
“For people that really understand the story of what happened at Tulane, he was taken advantage of by people who were far more sophisticated, but there was a reason he was proven innocent and it’s because he was,” Bartelstein said. “Nobody cared about winning more than Hot Rod Williams. I represented him his whole career. His teammates know that. If you know the man, it’s not even fathomable he’d be involved in things he was accused of.
“He was a very simple guy who loved the game.”
Cancer sucks, by the way… just sayin’.
3. Back to Jordan, no one was happier with the Cavaliers trading Ron Harper to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 16, 1989 than Jordan.
Though he never said it in front of us on the record, one of Jordan’s teammates relayed MJ was thrilled with the trade that sent Harper to the Clippers because it allowed him to rest on defense when playing against the Cavaliers, at the time, one of the biggest rivals of the Chicago Jordans.
Harper’s replacement as the Cavs’ starting shooting guard, Craig Ehlo, was a fine player in his own right, but wasn’t the player Harper was. And the trade proved disastrous for Cleveland as Harper went on to win five NBA championship rings, three while playing with, ironically, Jordan in Chicago, then two more with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Former Cavaliers GM Wayne Embry is blamed by most for the Harper trade, but he was only following orders from owner Gordon Gund, who flat out told Embry, “If you don’t get him out of here, I will.”
Once it became known Gund wanted Harper gone — supposedly for actions of the crowd with whom Harper sometimes ran — it became almost impossible for Cleveland not to get fleeced.
And fleeced is exactly what happened to the Cavaliers. When the 26-year-old Harper was traded, he was averaging 22.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.2 blocked shots in 39.1 minutes in 35 games.
While the trade has gone down in infamy as Harper for Danny Ferry, in truth, it was Harper for the rights to Ferry, who was playing overseas at the time, along with Reggie Williams.
Oh, and since the entire league knew of Gund’s mandate to trade Harper, the Clippers also received:
* The Cavs’ 1990 first-round draft pick.
* Cleveland’s 1991 second-round draft selection.
* The Cavaliers’ 1992 first-round draft pick.
So the deal amounted to a 23-point scorer, two No. 1s and a No. 2 for Ferry, one of the nicest guys around but who averaged double figures only twice in a 13-year NBA career, and a stiff like Williams.
Meanwhile, it helped clear a path for Jordan around one of his team’s biggest rivals. Cleveland, by the way, was one of only two NBA cities where Jordan was booed, the other being Detroit.
Many, including this guy, believe those Cleveland teams would have won at least one NBA title had Gund not dictated Harper being sent packing.
Don’t agree? Check out these clips of Harper’s 36-point, 10-rebound, 6-assist, 4-block effort in the 1989 season opener, featuring the Cavaliers and Jordan’s Bulls (and, yes, that is Warriors coach Steve Kerr playing for the Cavaliers):
Harper, who played collegiately at Miami of Ohio, agreed.
“I think we would have won more than one ring,” he said. “We would have had to beat Chicago, we would have had to beat Detroit, we would have had to beat the [Boston] Celtics. There were a few teams we would have had to play against, but I felt that we were young enough and naive [enough] to feel that we were that good.”
He admitted the trade devastated him.
“I was so mad,” he said. “But I wasn’t mad at the guys on our basketball team. I wasn’t mad at the head coach. Me and them, we were always on the same page. I was mad at the Cleveland Cavs, but, then again, it’s a business, and so they thought they made the right move and I had to move on.”
1. The late Howie Chizek could still be the public-address announcer at Cavaliers games as he did first at the Richfield Coliseum and then Gund Arena, now known as Quicken Loans Arena, for its first season, 1994-95.
How good was Chizek, who also spent 38 years doing his own radio show at Akron’s WNIR, at his job as the PA voice of the Cavaliers?
None other than Jordan referred to Chizek as, “The voice of God.”
Chizek died after suffering a heart attack June 16, 2012 on a trip to Orlando.
2. Every NBA team had two uniforms, one at home and one for road games. And wore white at home, dark on the road.
Nowadays, it’s almost as if teams empty some paint buckets against a wall, have a flunky take a look at it and say, “Hey, let’s make a uniform out of that.”
3. The hand-check rule was brought back. Going back to the days when the hand-check was permitted would make today’s game much more enjoyable for it would actually give defenders, you know, a chance.
Today’s game is so focused on offense, guys with the basketball are treated akin to how quarterbacks in the NFL are. Players with the basketball, like NFL QBs, might as well have a sign saying, “Can’t touch this!” taped across their chests.
4. Joe Tait. See item No. 1… ’nuff said.
5. The NBA would go to the red, white and blue basketball the ABA utilized. Almost everyone when I was a kid had one of those awesome balls and the NBA uses it as the “money ball” during the 3-point contest at All-Star Weekend.