On the eve of our annual two-week R & R break here at this address, we clear the decks of assorted flotsam and jetsam with which the kingdom of sport routinely abounds. It’s custom, you know.
At the risk of belaboring both the obvious and the overstated, there’s no better place to begin than the “Restoration.” Their triumph was stunning; made the more so because it achieved redemption for almost all of them. Only the G.M. Brother Ainge who probably emerges as the true MVP of this improbable caper, had ever been to the Mountain before. Reputations were sealed in this giddy prance and not only in the matter of the ruling triumvirate of Messrs. Garnett, Allen and Pierce. None was more deserving than the nicely unassuming coach, Doc Rivers.
And yet sometimes -- even at the highest level of championship play -- it’s hard to tell whether it’s a case of one team being wonderful or the other simply being lousy. This was such an occasion. The Lakers were not of championship character, a fact their coach, the accomplished Phil Jackson, rather affirmed with his air of tired resignation at the end. It is only surprising it took the Celtics six games, one of them being an utter Laker meltdown that bordered on disgrace. We may be further thankful the proceedings put to rest for all time the irksome contention that Kobe Bryant can be logically mentioned in the same breath with a Cousy, Robertson, or West let alone a Michael Jordan. Over the years, there were a half dozen Celtic teams Bryant would have struggled to start for.
Whatever, it was nicely done. Although the town’s reaction seemed excessive. Sometimes we act as if we’d never been there before, if you know what I mean. May I politely take exception with one more point. That would be the analysis offered by the gentleman of the Globe, who is acknowledged to be the absolute last word on the subject of basketball if not indeed the game’s de facto commissioner. One could no more argue basketball with this chap than debate theology with Pope Benedict.
But he’s dead wrong when he rates this latest coup, ending in a victory over a flawed and flat Lakers’ team, as the second greatest moment in Celtics’ history while rating their first championship 51 years ago as being no more than their eighth greatest moment. That is sheer and total nonsense. The gentleman has it backwards. Had he also been there that magical day -- April 13, 1957 -- he would understand.
Analyzing the NHL draft is a fool’s errand so we won’t go there. But it’s worth noting that the Bruins choices raise no hope of any meaningful contribution for at least three seasons, according to the fools who make a living assessing the teenagers who get drafted. I tried to read every learned comment on their number one pick -- a huge center iceman who is said to be timid -- and not a one of them was terribly optimistic, although several stressed the kid is, after all, very young.
On the other hand, the Bruins’ draft this year was probably made before it happened when they landed a very promising and rugged winger named Blake Wheeler. The fifth player drafted a year ago, Wheeler spurned Wayne Gretzky’s foundering Phoenix franchise and -- wonder of wonders -- opted to sign with the Bruins when he had the entire league to choose from, all of which was interested. He’s a big kid at 6’4” and 220; a potential power-forward with a scoring touch who might even be ready next season. This is the sort of break the Bruins have not been getting over the last generation, or ever since Harry Sinden was at the top of his game. The gurus of amateur hockey claim Wheeler is a terrific prospect. But then they are an anonymous lot and hardly accountable.
The Bruins have yet another possible trump card up their sleeve. He’s Carl Soderberg, a large, reputedly skilled, and highly touted Swedish center iceman obtained from the Blues for the once hot goaltending prospect, Hannu Toivonen. The Blues parted with Soderberg, a very high pick two years ago, because it was widely assumed he’d never leave Mother Sweden. Happily for the Bruins the kid had grown up. He reports in September.
If Wheeler and Soderberg are the real deal and Patrice Bergeron rebounds from the dreadful injury that leveled him last season the Bruins might be only one premier defenseman removed from contention, which is the next step up from the respectability they achieved with intense labor last season. There’s only one place to find quality defensemen and that’s in the free agent pool, which means ‘‘big bucks.’’ There are two who might meet their needs; Brian Campbell, ex of the Sharks, and Wade Redden, ex of the Senators. Campbell would cost at least seven million per while Redden, who at 31 is two years older and chancier, might command about six. They can easily fit one of them under the cap.
Your move, Jeremy Jacobs.
If indeed he’s played his last game, is the Big Lug (as Dan Shaughnessy has eternally tagged him) worthy of the Hall of Fame? The question may dog us the next five years with much of the orchestration coming from the Lug himself.
The answer from here is “No.” That is unless Bert Blyleven, Tommy John, Jim Katt, and especially that most deserving pair, Luis Tiant and Jack Morris, get elevated first. They are all equally worthy and have already waited too long. To elevate Schilling because he was a terrific “big game pitcher” while continuing to spurn Morris and Tiant, who were every bit as huge in the clutch, would be ludicrously inconsistent. Although I’m sure the Lug would disagree.
Of Woods and Baun
Pain is relative nor would I wish to appear to be minimizing the grit of Tiger Woods let alone the brilliance of the incomparable fellow’s achievements. Nonetheless, the harrowing accounts of the grave suffering he endured while winning the U.S. Open struck one as a bit much. Clearly Tiger played hurt with an injury that was hardly trifling and it took character to prevail. But isn’t all of that the measure of a first-class athlete?
In the more rugged contact games, playing in pain is the ticket of admission. In the NFL playoffs last winter, seven San Diego Chargers gallantly tried to stem the Patriots tide playing with broken bones and little was made of it. One vividly recalls Bobby Orr playing with nary a whimper a whole season with his ravaged knee reduced to bone on bone. But the all-time hockey example is Bobby Baun, a laconic Toronto defenseman. Baun played the entire seventh game of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals with a broken ankle.
If you can come up with a comparable example from the game of golf, dinner is on me. Oh by the way, it was Baun who scored the winning goal against Gordie Howe’s Red Wings, claiming the Cup for the Leafs in overtime.
The irrepressible Billy Werber
He’s the only man alive who can say he ran with Babe Ruth, played bridge with Lou Gehrig, was managed by Connie Mack, drank with Jimmie Foxx, and brawled with Paul Derringer. He’s the last five foot nine inch basketball All-American produced at Duke University. A brilliant fellow, he became an insurance mogul after his playing days. In one year he made more money selling insurance than he made in 11 seasons playing in the majors. That alone illustrates how much the game changed in the lifetime of Billy Werber, who broke in with the Yankees 78 seasons ago.
Billy turned 100 years of age this week, having buried his entire generation of baseball buddies. Never greatly skilled, he survived on his wits and he’s still a pepperpot. Happy Birthday, Billy! As was famously observed, living long is the best revenge.