HBD, Bill Russell — Melo’s heat check — Scouting legend passes away

Friday, Feb 12th, 2021


  The Opening Tip

  • It’s Bill Russell’s 87th birthday today. 
  • Carmelo was a vintage red last night. 
  • The basketball world lost a unique New Yorker earlier this week.

1. An Eastern & Western Conference snapshot a third-of-the-way through the season

Eastern Conference:

  1. 76ers, 18-8
  2. Bucks, 16-9
  3. Nets, 15-12
  4. Celtics, 13-11
  5. Pacers, 13-13
  6. Raptors, 12-14
  7. Hornets, 12-14
  8. Hawks, 11-13
  9. Heat, 11-14
  10. Knicks, 11-15

Western Conference:

  1. Jazz, 20-5
  2. Lakers, 20-6
  3. Clippers, 18-8
  4. Suns, 15-9
  5. Trail Blazers, 14-10
  6. Spurs, 14-11
  7. Nuggets, 13-11
  8. Warriors, 14-12
  9. Grizzlies, 10-10
  10. Kings, 12-12

Three things: 

  1. Reminder: There is a play-in tournament this year between seeds No. 7-10. (Here’s how it works.) If, for example, the Knicks make the 10th seed and lose in said tournament, does that snap their postseason drought? Is there a new banner in MSG next season?
  2. Remember when the Heat were a sexy candidate to miss the playoffs? Miami’s won four in a row since Jimmy Butler’s return, and is now 2.5 games from the fourth seed.  
  3. Our one guarantee* on Wednesday flopped, because the Suns came back to beat the Bucks by one point. Phoenix has now won seven of its last eight games and looks like a real candidate to host a first-round playoff series. 

*Remember: Our guarantees are not guaranteed.

2. Daily GIF: Carmelo Anthony > Nerds

Whenever Carmelo Anthony has a good game -- and last night was one of them -- we harken back to one tweet from an Aug. 20 night that defined late-career Melo better than we ever could.

From @LaJethroJenkins:
 

“Melo hit that big three and all I could think about is how much basketball he missed because a (person) with a calculator said he couldn’t hoop anymore.”

Melo, who, as LaJethro said, missed a year of his career because some … Ivy-Leaguer … with a calculator said he couldn’t hoop anymore, dropped 17 points in the fourth quarter last night, including this improbable bank shot and the game-winning free throws.

Because of him, Portland beat the 76ers, 118-114. The Blazers finish the season 2-0 against one-seed-in-the East Philadelphia, with Melo scoring a combined 46 in both games.

It makes you wonder -- if the nerds were wrong about Melo, which other 2000s-era scorers still have something left? Monta Ellis? Corey Maggette?* Joe Johnson? Ty Lawson?

*OK, he was done in 2008.

3. Trivia time

There are seven players in the 30,000-plus-point club.

Who are they?

Answers at the bottom.

4. Happy Birthday to Bill Russell, America’s greatest living human

Bill Russell turns 87 today. Because of his very active Twitter account, we are afforded a comforting and intimate window into his life. (Here he is getting the vaccine. Here he is sending well wishes to Marcus Smart. Here he is yelling at Ted Cruz. Here he is saying goodbye to Tommy Heinsohn.)

The NBA is fortunate to have so many of its early legends still alive -- Russell, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Bob Cousy, Kareem, Sam Jones, Willis Reed, and so on.

But, at some point, they won’t be. So let’s appreciate Russell while he’s still here and still tweeting things at Chuck.

Need somewhere to start? Here’s a compilation of his incredible laugh, and here’s an old talk show appearance when he was at his intellectual sharpest.

Also: There are dozens of books written on and by Russell, but we cannot recommend Gary Pomerantz’s “The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End” (2018) enough.

It’s advertised as a biography of Celtics great Bob Cousy, but its main purpose is to weave the two lives of Cousy and Russell -- the first great Celtics players -- and their relationship and friendship that was stilted by race.

The book crescendos with Cousy’s wish to speak with Russell one more time before it’s too late (“the last pass”), hoping to apologize for not supporting Russell enough in his struggles for equity and against racism in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s touching, periodically heartbreaking, and will help you understand both remarkable men better.

[SEE IT: Rare photos from throughout Bill Russell’s life]

5. Tom Konchalski, a vital basketball shadow: 1947-2021

We had never heard of legendary high school basketball scout Tom Konchalski until earlier this week, when news broke that he had passed away at 74 from cancer. From all of the tributes from players and media, though, it’s obvious that he was your favorite players’ favorite basketball scout.

Here’s what he ascertained about his life from all the things written about him:
 

He was a tall, unusual man who lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, who never had a driver’s license. He made it his goal from early on in his life to help New York City-area kids get basketball scholarships, and spent 50 years as a scout. He would take the train across the city to see everyone from Lew Alcindor to Kenny Anderson play high school hoops. When he’d seen enough, he would go home to Forest Hills and use his typewriter to bang out his self-published “High School Basketball Illustrated” newsletter, which college coaches across the country subscribed to and took as gospel. He was a one-of-a-kind man from a different world, who sounds more like a folksy movie character than a real person. 
 
“He was the most influential, the most respected and most loved high school basketball scout in the country,” said Mike Breen on the Knicks’ broadcast on Tuesday. “He helped 1,000s of young men, 1,000s of high school basketball players, achieve their dreams of playing college basketball and beyond, and every single day he did it with kindness and humility.” 

Konchalski is up for a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor. It’s a shame he won’t be around to see his life’s work recognized at the highest level.

[LISTEN: Dan Wetzel, Pete Thamel and Pat Forde remember Konchalski (35-minute mark)]

[READ: Tom Konchalski made basketball better. The sport won’t be the same without him.]

6.  Quick hits

  • Enes Kanter took a monster elbow to the face, started bleeding, got stitches, came back, and finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds last night. You can’t phase a man whose home country wants him dead. 
  • Steph Curry made 10 3-pointers last night but the most impressive shot was the one he made after the game was over.  
  • Also: Juan Toscano-Anderson’s premature celebration for a Curry 3 shows you what kind of zone Curry is in right now.
  • The Celtics-Raptors game last night had one of those unbelievably long stretches of incompetent basketball. 
  • BTW, the Toronto Raptors are now the Tampa Bay Raptors for the rest of the year. What a sports season for Tampa. 
  • Kevin Durant pondering how Shams Charania gets his NBA scoops is funny.

7.  Off the press

  • Why Payton Pritchard is the most important player you've never heard of [ESPN]
  • Juan Toscano-Anderson still can’t believe he’s on the Warriors [The Undefeated]
  • How the behind-the-back pass became so common, yet unnoticed [Yahoo Sports]

Trivia answers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant. Michael Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki, Wilt Chamberlain.


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