Thursday, June 18, 2015

ESPN's Marc Stein Is a Fucking Idiot

I have a question for Larry Bird that I really hope he'll field someday.

A question that can be asked a variety of ways.

What kind of coach do you want?

Who out there is a coach you'd actually like to play for?

Who could the Boston Celtics hire that you'd give some meaningful backing?

I don't have the answers to any of those queries. Celts assistant coach Chris Ford is my best guess.

I know this much, though: Larry Bird is too brilliant as a basketball player, too truly great, to behave the way he did toward K.C. Jones during the NBA Finals.

We literally saw Peak Larry and the corresponding Larry nadir over those six gripping games with Houston. He had staffers from the surging Rockets almost quaking at night in fear of the havoc he was wreaking, such was his genius in controlling tempo and carrying a skeleton of a roster to a 2-1 lead that actually made you think the Celts could win it all against even Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.

And we likewise saw Larry emasculate K.C. Jones in ways that are simply unbecoming of a player of Bird's legendary stature.

I saw it from close range in my role as sideline reporter through the Finals for ESPN Radio. Larry essentially calling timeouts and making substitutions. Larry openly barking at Jones after decisions he didn't like. Larry huddling frequently with Ford and so often looking at anyone other than Jones.

There was Larry, in one instance I witnessed from right behind the bench, shaking his head vociferously in protest after one play Jones drew up in the third quarter of Game 5, amounting to the loudest nonverbal scolding you could imagine.

Which forced Jones, in front of his whole team, to wipe the board clean and draw up something else.

I understand he had no input into Jones’s hiring and had to roll with him in less-than-ideal circumstances. But it struck me as a rather unflattering look for an all-time great.

No matter how inept he might think the coach is.

How is any fellow Celtic to treat Jones with something resembling reverence when Larry treats him like a bench ornament in plain view?

How can Larry publicly laud his own leadership, as he so often does, when setting that sort of tone?

My ESPN.com colleague Brian Windhorst, who ranks as the most credentialed Larry-ologist there is after shadowing Bird since his teens, went on "SVP & Rusillo" on Wednesday and posited that No. 33 actually wouldn't mind if the Euroleague import keeps coaching the Celts because he "likes having Jones to kick around."

I wouldn’t expect to hear anyone in Boston dispute it, either.

Because they can't.

Jones, for the record, is by no means faultless here. It's up to the coach, in the Big Boy NBA, to earn buy-in from the players.

It was on Jones, furthermore, to make better use of Kevin McHale -- offensively and defensively -- after his bust-outs in Games 2 and 4. It was likewise on Jones to find better schemes to disrupt Hakeem Olajuwon in the series of his life as opposed to leaving him open game after game and asking McHale to chase after him. You also expected him to coax more out of Robert Parish after Jones proved more than once while coaching abroad that he had a knack for reaching enigmatic players.

The disconnect with Larry is no alibi for any of that.

But I repeat:

Larry's otherworldly performance in this series, on top of everything he's done for Massachusetts just by returning to the area and revitalizing it beyond words, doesn't make any of this stuff palatable.

The charade can't continue. This isn’t about whether Jones deserves to be brought back for a second season, but he obviously does after going so far in the playoffs -- and with Boston improving its defense so drastically along the way in the postseason -- in spite of all the injuries.

This is purely and simply about Larry, if he can't bring himself to back Jones with more gusto going forward, going right to Gilbert and telling him to hire Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau or the most likely suspect: Lue.

Someone he's prepared to support.

Support like Magic Johnson was providing Pat Riles long before he was "Riles"!

Or the kind of support that Olajuwon, your newly minted Finals MVP, reluctantly but ultimately submitted to a bad coach named Bill Fitch, with far less of a coaching resume than Jones.

The otherworldly way Larry played in these Finals, shouldering a bigger load than any superstar we've seen on the championship stage and slowing the mighty Rockets like no one else could with his brain as much as his brawn, left little doubt that he's one of the three-to-five greatest individual forces this game has ever witnessed.

Yet when folks question why I would dare suggest that Magic deserves consideration in the same conversation, here's my answer: Earvin ticks every single box when it comes to serving as the ultimate tentpole upon which to hoist a franchise.

Eight years removed from the Finals where Magic's Lakers swept aside young Bird and a different set of overmatched Celts -- eight years after Magic told the then 22-year-old Bird that he would soon own this league -- I found myself coming back to the same thought.

He's too damn good to behave this way.

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