Thursday, December 14, 2000
Updated: December 15, 11:24 AM ET
In Denver, Vancouver, blame the players
By Frank Hughes
Special to ESPN.com
I finally figured out what Gen X stands for.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that Dan Issel needs to be held responsible for
the bungle he created in putting together the Denver Nuggets.
And I still feel that way. But I didn't mean like THIS.
I didn't mean player insurrection. I didn't mean revolution. I didn't
We saw this a few weeks ago in Seattle, when the theatrics of Gary Payton
and Vin Baker eventually led to the firing of Paul Westphal.
But judging from reaction around the league, this is worse. Much worse.
Boycotting a practice? All 14 players?
That, to most memories, is an unprecedented step in the history of the
NBA, a step that has many people scared about what direction, exactly, the
league is heading.
It's one thing for a player or players to get a coach fired because of
personality conflicts. Magic Johnson did it. Michael Jordan. Penny Hardaway.
Payton and Baker.
But for an entire team to take the step of an organized strike because
they didn't like being yelled at, even if it was only for a day, that is
taking the power struggle to a new level, completely usurping the power of
the individual who is supposed to be in charge.
What's next? Players don't like what is being served on the team plane,
so they don't show up to travel to the next city. They don't like what their
uniforms look like, so they don't dress for a game. They don't like their
arena, so they'll only play at away games.
And the fact that Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke has kept Issel around only
suggests this Denver team is going to go through more turmoil before things
How is Issel going to coach now? He can't say anything to his players. He
has to completely change his coaching style in the span of 24 hours, and even
then he will be looking over his shoulder each time he says something to make
sure he doesn't offend one of his players' fragile egos.
Bobby Knight could not do it. And Issel, a notorious screamer, is not
going to be able to do it. Or, if he does, he is not being true to himself,
and he might as well get out anyway.
But this is where I get confused. Because we have two completely opposite
stories happening in different cities at the same time.
This is what Nuggets team leader -- i.e. lead insurrectionist -- George
McCloud said the day after the team decided it could no longer have its ears
tormented by Issel's rants:
"Dan's way is to motivate a player through yelling ... He realizes that
now, more than any other time, he has to back off somewhat," McCloud said.
"You're never too old to learn. To accept it and convey it to us gives us
more respect for him."
Only a few hours away, in Vancouver, players are saying that Sidney Lowe
needs to yell at them.
There has been a lot of criticism recently that players are too soft in
Vancouver, there is no leader, nobody to take charge.
Point guard Mike Bibby was asked if he should be that person, and this
was his response:
"I don't know if that's my position to do," said Bibby. "I feel everybody
out here is a grown man and if you come at a person a wrong way, they might
not take it right. And it might worsen their game, get in their head. They
might be worried about me, instead of being worried about the game.
"I'll go over there and talk to them about it. As far as getting in
somebody's face and yelling at them, I'm not going to do that. If it's
anybody, it should be Sidney."
So in Denver, you've got players who want their coach to stop yelling,
and in Vancouver, you've got players who want their coach to yell.
Maybe the Nuggets and Grizzlies should just exchange coaches.
Here's the problem with that: It probably isn't the coaches. It's the
And then what is the scapegoat when players continue to lose, and they
have the coach they asked for?
Because that is going to happen. The bottom line is, there is not enough
talent in either one of these cities to consistently win. Doesn't matter if
you have Joseph Stalin coaching the team, or Tiny Tim.
At some point, players need to take responsibility for playing.
It doesn't matter if I scream it or if I say it in a quiet murmur:
Stop politicking and start playing.
Around The League
Utah Jazz center Olden Polynice is telling confidantes he is angling for
Stu Jackson's job.
Jackson is, after all, the NBA's top cop, and Polynice has a fine history
of police work.
The San Antonio Spurs better hope they don't draw the Phoenix Suns in the
first round of the playoffs.
San Antonio's loss to the Suns Wednesday night was the sixth time they
have lost to Phoenix in the last seven meetings.
Shaquille O'Neal putting his college graduation ceremonies ahead of
Friday's game is yet another reason why I am a huge fan of O'Neal's.
Having said that, you also have to give the Lakers credit for allowing
him to go.
The NBA needs more stories like that.
They do not, however, need more stories like Isaiah Rider's.
In a pretty humorous account of the life of J.R, the L.A. Times sent a
reporter who happened to be a college pal of Rider's to the Bay Area to do a
feel-good story about Rider's return home to Oakland, and the way in which he
Rider consented, and even made up the itinerary: a trip to the
neighborhood barbershop, then a visit to Rider's mom's house for some grub,
then to the Coliseum for a game against the Warriors.
Only one problem: Rider stiffed his buddy. At the game later that night,
Rider told the reporter: "I needed to get away from the world for a while."
Frank Hughes covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune. He is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.