|Once they were almost Kings|
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
How basic is basketball?
How basic? As basic as the Ten Commandments, handed down not by Moses, but by John Wooden ...
Basic No. 1: "It's not winning that matters so much as trying your best to win"
C-Webb found he could still breathe, and oh, the fierce light in his teammates' eyes when he did that! The Kings tied it in regulation, Webber on O'Neal; then Webb took O'Neal outside, hit the J that gave Sac-town a 102-100 lead in OT. Webber proved out. He grew. He gave his all, his last full measure. Hedo threw a bad pass at the end. In the end, it was that simple. God has a plan, and it included Hedo missing Webber's hands in the lane. But Webber wrote his name on the stone tablets with his effort in Game 7.
Mike Bibby? Bibs? Bibster? We don't even want to talk about Bibby, do we? Wasn't just the 29 points -- it was the way he got them, drawing fouls from Shaq, taking Kobe Bryant off the bounce, putting the fear of God into Dr. Buss, Phil Jackson and all Los Ange-e-les.
Did you see all the Lakers coming up to Bibby as he was being interviewed on-court right after the game, not caring or even knowing Jim Gray was there, coming up to Bibby just to touch him, just to say to him, "Hey man, you're a bad man ... you nearly killed us man ... call me, man"? Did you see Kobe weaving wearily over to Bibby, his body drained of all resistance and electrolytes from 52 minutes worth of trying to beat the Kings off, grabbing Bibby, hugging him, not letting go, filling up his ear with respect, even gratitude. "Thank you for showing me what I'm capable of ... thank you, dog ... damn ..."
It's good to win. Only one team can win. Everybody can compete, give up his all. Everybody can grow from the experience, no matter the final score.
Everybody can be recognized. And respected.
It hurts to lose, but it hurts worse to be disrespected.
The Kings didn't get their W, but they may have gotten something better. They got their respect, and not just for themselves, or their ballclub, but for their entire league, their brotherhood -- for basketball itself.
There's winning, and then there's winning.
That's what Coach John Wooden meant.
Basic No. 2: Be quick, but don't hurry
Basic No. 3: Don't Reach
Basic No. 4: Swing it
Basic No. 5. Recognize
Basic No. 6: Visualize: What you do if the ball comes to you
Basic No. 7: Stop the ball
Basic No. 8: Jump the high screen & roll
Nobody had to say it. It was just there.
"It doesn't get any better ..."
Basic No. 9: Let the game come to you ...
Basic No. 10: Keep your poise ...
If you can learn and do these basics, these Elements of Hoop, at the highest level in the world, the way the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers did them on Sunday night June 2, 2002; if you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs, clanging cowbells, bodies and 3-point attempts off the rim; if you can face down two players in their primes with the skills of the Dipper and Air on one team, or of Russ and Cooz on the other, if you can make the other team look lucky to win, play so well you seem unfortunate to lose -- then you're a squad. You're the real hook-up. Part of history. Word.
You've represented the best of what human nature and healthy competition are about; you mature as human beings, become capable of teaching, capable of great drama, capable of depth, and no one with any sense can blow you off as meaningless ever again.
So if you must die, in a competitive sense, die trying. Like men. Like heroes. Like the Sacramento Kings did June 2, 2002, when hoop was like life once again.
How Basic Is Basketball?
Put it this way. A good man and great teacher named Coach John Wooden must've slept well last night.
Basic No. 11: It's not the destination, but the journey
Now ... let's see what the Nets have got.
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."