Here is my official Q&A session after winning Sports Illustrated’s NBA Ultimate Draft. In it, 10 SI writers held an open draft where every NBA and ABA player (in the prime of his career) was available. Those teams were then run through a Strat-o-Matic league. And, well, yeah, the Cleveland Spiders won the championship.
My team, you might note, is the Cleveland Spiders.
I did not do any interviews during the season because I did not want to distract my players from their mission, and because I was too busy debating whether or not to fire my coach, Bob Knight. So this will serve as my lone interview.
Opening statement: Before beginning question and answer part, I want to say, first and foremost, how happy I am for the city of Cleveland. This championship was a long time coming. True, it took getting Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, John Havlicek, Isiah Thomas, Dirk Nowitzki and a bunch of other all-time greats to get that championship to Cleveland. And true, the Spiders almost a blew a three games to none lead in the Finals. But we got it done. We don’t have to refer to the ’64 Browns any more. The 2011 Spiders are champions.
I know one of the questions you guys will ask is: Did it make it sweeter to beat LeBron James’ team in the Final. I have two answers for that. One, we never worried about who we played. I mean, every team in this league had all-time great players. This was an all-time draft, right? Every team was loaded. Chris Ballard’s team did not just have LeBron James. They had Bill Russell and Charles Barkley too. We had to beat Alex Wolff’s team with Chris Paul, Michael Jordan and David Robinson in the first round. We had to play better than Richard Deitsch’s team with Tim Duncan, Bob Cousy and Hakeem Olajuwon just to get into the playoffs. Heck, Jack McCallum’s team went 22-50, and it had Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor and Kevin McHale.
This league was loaded with talent, and so we would have been foolish to concentrate too much attention on any one player, even a player as great as LeBron James.
Two, yes, it was sweeter to take LeBron out. Are you kidding?
OK, let’s open this thing up to questions:
Q: Is it true that Bob Knight threatened to throw you through a plate-glass window.
A: Oh, it’s going to be this kind of interview session? Well, what is said behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. I think everyone here knows how much respect I have for Coach Knight. I hired him because of that respect. He’s a basketball genius and a great motivator. Also, it’s not so easy to find plate glass windows.
Q: How realistic do you think it is for a team with Wilt Chamberlain to defeat a team with Bill Russell in the NBA Finals?
A: Well, it just happened, didn’t it? My feeling about Bill Russell is that he was a winner, pure and simple. He also had ridiculous talent surrounding him throughout his career. That doesn’t diminish what he did, but when you spend a career playing with Cousy, Sharman, Heinsohn, Havlicek, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Frank Ramsey, Arnie Risen, Clyde Lovelette, Bailey Howell, (not to mention John Thompson and Wayne Embry) — well, put it this way: Every single player I just listed, all 12, are in the Hall of Fame.
Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest scoring and rebounding machine in the history of basketball. The narrative of his career was that he couldn’t beat Russell, but I don’t think his teams were nearly as good. Give Wilt a surrounding cast, as I tried to do, and I think he could beat anybody. Wilt scored 45 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the seventh and decisive game against Russell. It didn’t surprise me.
Q: How worried were you when Ballard’s team came back from a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7?
A: I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t worried … and, of course, that’s when the alleged “plate glass” conversation happened. We should have swept. We were leading Game 4 going into the fourth quarter — but for some reason we could not stop Arvydas Sabonis, who made 10 of 12 shots. I was very disappointed, especially in our defensive stopper Dwight Howard. Havlicek was also off his game a bit. Anyway …
So, sure, I was worried. And I was especially worried when we got blown out at Ballard’s place in Game 5, and then blew another big lead in Game 6 in Cleveland. I thought our guys looked a little tight. But they’re winners. In addition to Wilt, Dolph Schayes played a great Game 7. There were some who wondered how Schayes’ game would translate in modern times. But he was such a great pure shooter, I thought he’d play well.
Q: Overall, how well did Bob Knight coach this team?
A: Well, we won the championship, didn’t we?
Q: Follow up: Will Knight be your coach again next year?
A: We’re going to re-evaluate everything after we enjoy this victory.
Q: One more follow up: Do you think Knight …
A: Bob did a fine job. Let’s move on, please.
Q: A lot was made of the fact that you were just about ready to take LeBron James in the draft when Ballard took him one pick earlier. In the end, do you think that worked out in your favor?
A: Well, I was able to draft Julius Erving with that pick, so it certainly worked out well for us. The Doctor played amazing basketball for us all year. People tend to remember him for a couple of moment — the cuff-dunk, the float under the basket shot and so on. But he was a force of nature. He fit our team beautifully. LeBron James is also great player. We just happened to beat him. It’s time to go on with our lives.
Q: We all know how great Wilt Chamberlain played and Dr. J and John Havlicek. But that was expected. Who played better than you expected? Who didn’t play as well?
A: Well, the draft obviously happened long before Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks to their NBA title … so I was able to get him in the fifth round, which was steal. I knew it was a steal at the time, but it became even more so as we watched him take over games throughout the playoffs this year.
My favorite pick was my eighth-round choice of Mark Price. There is no question in my mind that Price is one of the most underrated players in basketball history. He was a great shooter — one of the best in the game’s history — and a great passer. He was small but quick. He could get pushed around a bit defensively but he played with ferocity. In this league of leagues, he was a very effective player and he did a great job spelling Isiah Thomas at the point. He also made 43% of his three-pointers.
As for disappointments, well, I thought Jerry Lucas would be more of a factor than he was, especially with his old Ohio State teammate Knight coaching him. But he never seemed to get in the flow of things, though he did provide some rebounding off the bench. OK, last question.
Q: There have been some owners — we won’t name any names — who claim that this whole thing was ridiculously unrealistic. Your response?
A: They are certainly entitled to their opinion. The champagne still tastes sweet.