Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Rarely Root for ‘Laundry’, Story on First Time I Met Pat Riley (Jordan Draft Talk), and Mets Should Fire Minaya Too!

For the most part, I stopped—to quote ‘Seinfeld,’—rooting for laundry years ago. A lot of that, no doubt, is the result of what I do: I get the chance to know quite a few people in sports on a personal level and my instinct is to want to see those I like do well, regardless of who they happen to play for, coach or manage.

I grew up in New York a rabid Mets fan. But anyone who has ever known Joe Torre for 15 minutes can’t actively root against him. I enjoyed the success he had with the Yankees. Throw in the fact that I worked with Mike Mussina on a book in 2007 after knowing him for years and you can bet I wanted the Yankees to do well every time Mussina pitched.

On the other hand, it is probably fair to say the Mets couldn’t lose enough when they employed Vince Coleman in the 90s and I really never got excited about the Bobby Valentine-managed teams, even the one that made it to The World Series in 2000.

I still laugh when people assume I’m always pro-Duke (ask the people at Duke if that’s true) just because I went there. I do like and respect Mike Krzyzewski very much but I don’t think you need a Duke degree to feel that way. I feel the same way about Gary Williams and there’s never been anyone I’ve respected more than Dean Smith.

I’ll come back to that on another day.

In spite of all that, you never completely get over boyhood memories. There was never a period in my life more thrilling than 1969-1970 when the Jets stunned the world in The Super Bowl; the Mets came from nowhere to win The World Series and the Knicks won their first NBA title. I was at Shea Stadium when the Mets won game five of the World Series from the Orioles and in Madison Square Garden when Willis Reed made his dramatic entrance before game seven of the finals against the Lakers.

No one loved Willis Reed more than I did and there’s no doubting the impact he had on that game just by showing up to start. But it is kind of amusing when people call that “The Willis Reed game.” Willis had four points—he hit two jumpers to start the game. Walt Frazier had, if memory serves, 36 points, 19 assists and 13 rebounds.

I gave up on the Knicks years ago, not so much when they were bad but when Pat Riley was the coach. Riley is, quite simply, a bad guy—ask Stan Van Gundy, among others—and I simply couldn’t pull for a team he coached.

The first time I met Riley was at a dinner in September of 1984. He had flown into New York to watch the U.S. Open tennis for a couple of days and I was invited to dinner by my friends Dick Stockton and Lesley Visser along with Riley and Bud Collins. Stockton knew Riley well because he was the lead voice on the NBA at the time for CBS.

At some point during dinner, the subject of Michael Jordan came up. Jordan had just led the Olympic team to the gold medal in Los Angeles and was getting ready to start his rookie season in Chicago.

“The Portland Trail Blazers, “I said rather loudly (I’d been drinking) will now go down in history not only as the team that took LaRue Martin with the No. 1 pick in the draft but as the team that took Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan.” (I didn’t kill the Houston Rockets for taking Hakeem Olajuwon because while I would have taken Jordan it was clear Olajuwon had the potential to be great. Bowie, it seemed to me, had the potential to be injured a lot).

Riley gave me one of those condescending looks he’s so good at. “You see,” he said, “this is the problem with you media people. You just don’t understand basketball. Did you know that when Jordan was measure he was only 6-4 and a half, not 6-6 the way he’s listed?”

I looked back at Riley, trying to look condescending. “I don’t care if he’s FIVE four,” I said. “He’s the best college player I’ve ever seen. He’s going to dominate your league.”

I was probably shouting. Back then, I had come to really like Jordan personally and I thought he was beyond amazing on the court.

“You know something,” Riley said, pointing a finger. “You’re young and you’re loud.”

Well, he had me there. I was definitely both. I was also right.

Anyway, that’s not why I dislike Riley, but it’s part of it I suppose. This is all a long-winded way of saying how disgusted I was to read this morning that Omar Minaya tried to turn his press conference yesterday announcing that the Mets had FINALLY fired the despicable Tony Bernazhard into some kind of a referendum on Adam Rubin, a very hard-working and talented reporter from The New York Daily News.

Rubin is not, by any means, the only reporter—or person—who found Bernazhard to be a really bad guy. “He is a very, very bad man,” was the quote from Newsday’s Ken Davidoff on the radio a few days ago. Because Rubin had asked Minaya and team owner Jeff Wilpon about getting into player development a couple of times in the past, Minaya tried to claim Rubin had been trying to get Bernazard fired so he could get a job.

Oh please, that’s simply ridiculous. To begin with, it’s been a mystery to people in the Mets clubhouse—not the media—for several years how Bernhazard kept his job. He stabbed Willie Randolph in the back repeatedly and was generally a snarly, nasty guy.

What happened here is simple: at a press conference where he basically had to admit he’d made a mistake by hiring and hanging on to Bernhazard, Minaya tried to deflect the blame (somehow) onto Rubin. To be honest, if the Mets had any guts, they’d fire Minaya. They could have already fired him for doing a lousy job (how’s that Oliver Perez signing working out?). Now they should fire him for being a lousy guy.

The Mets playing poorly never makes me happy but when the people running the team act like a bunch of jerks, it’s just disappointing. At least the Jets have hired a mensch in Rex Ryan to be their coach. In that, I can take some comfort.


TJ said...

I'd love to see someone try and get Riley to admit that now.....fat chance.

PThomas said...

I'm obviously not in the media, but I find with age I stop following the rooting for 'laundry' moto. I don't know if its maturity, just mellowing with age or what, but following a team with blinders is starting to fade for me.

QTLAW said...

Love the Riley story. As a fan, never get to see the real side of the celebrity but he just looked wrong. Glad to see you were vindicated. As smart as Riley is/was, he never got the message, "don't kill the messenger (media)."

As for the Minaya matter, as much as I wanted to root for him, the Mets have been awful in building a sustainable franchise and that Bernazard thing is just ridiculous. Once again, blaming the messenger instead of facing the facts.

stephe said...

it's sad to watch pilot fish like you bite the hand that feeds you.