A rabbi, a priest and a penguin walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says “What is this, some kind of a joke?”
So a Lakers fan, a Spurs fan, a Kings fan and a Knicks fan walk into a bar. No, seriously, that happened. Not a joke. You can guess which fan is me.
Just like in the Before Times, we got together Thursday night in a Santa Monica bar to watch the Warriors - Lakers game. I was very worried that it would be impossible to meaningfully watch this crucial game in the bar setting, and I was right. The sound was not on, the screens weren’t big enough, and it was impossible to watch the game how I normally do — every shot, pass, foul, rebound. As a former coach, I know that any moment can be the key play of the game. At a bar with good friends and no sound, you are as likely to miss that key moment as to catch it.
But for Thursday’s game, that was just fine. Actually, better than fine. I had a great time, either because I was lucky to have and be with such great friends, or because the game was a blow-out in favor of the team I wanted to win. Or both. The food was also outstanding.
It was fun sitting with three other guys, all former or present hoopers, each as passionate about the game. The Kings fan is also a big Steph Curry fan (except during the prior series), and he desperately wanted to put Steph on the Mount Rushmore of players. (Kings fan correctly observed that a hoops Mount Rushmore would have five on it, not the four presidents on the real Mount Rushmore.) This led to a debate as to whether Steph was a true point guard, because if he was, he could not take Magic Johnson’s place on the side of that South Dakota mountain. We then tried to slide Steph into the shooting guard spot, but MJ’s spot was secure.
This then led to a debate whether Steph has now passed Kobe Bryant on the all-time great list. Perhaps based on recency bias, we all answered yes, except our Lakers fan. But the Knicks fan went to the books (actually his phone). Kobe was first-team All-NBA eleven times, Steph four times. And Kobe has more rings (at the moment). Just like the ball, the numbers don’t lie.
Next we discussed Shaquille O’Neal’s spot on the list. I argued that his peak was high, perhaps even higher than Tim Duncan, but Shaq’s game dropped off suddenly in his mid-30s. I contrasted that with LeBron James, and of course the Great Duncan, both of whom were (or are) excellent players at 38. (I did not mention, though I should have, that Kareem was Finals MVP at 38.) When Shaq was 38, he was a part-time player with the Cavs and and averaged 12 points per game. Does anyone even remember Shaq in a Cavs’ jersey??
When we looked back up at the game, Klay Thompson had drilled yet another three-pointer. He wound up 8 for 11 from three, which led to another talking point about great shooters. I asserted that Klay may be the streakiest great shooter ever, as for every 8 for 11 game, he is as likely to have a 2 for 11. Of course, he winds up at 10 for 22 combined over those two games.
Best shooter discussions always start with second place, as everyone recognizes that Curry is far and away number one. Our Laker fan nominated Ray Allen for second, but once again the Knicks fan phone shot down that theory. Allen’s career three point percentage was 40%, Klay is at 41.6%. We assumed that percentage was even better than Curry’s, but once again the numbers don’t lie: Curry is at 42.8%, even with all the extremely difficult shots he has taken (and made!) through the years.
Two of our group had a long drive home after the game, which meant we broke up early in the fourth quarter when the lead grew to 30. (Why was Curry still in the game?) On my much shorter drive home, I thought about whether the all-time lists we all discuss put enough weight on how good a teammate each player was. MJ and Kobe were not good teammates and did not necessarily make their teammates better (other than by their individual greatness), but both were widely recognized as great by their peers. Similarly, Shaq’s teammates recognized his greatness, but they were surely frustrated by his conditioning, or lack thereof.
Contrast that with Curry and Duncan, universally recognized and revered as great teammates — on and off the court — as are present stars Jrue Holiday and Damian Lillard. Other players who were not superstars, such as My Man Manu Ginobili and DannyGreen!!, extended their careers by being great human beings — everyone wanted them to stay around even as their skills declined.
The next time we get together, I might ask my Knicks, Kings and Lakers fans to start a Mount Rushmore of best teammates. Or we might add a rabbi and a rabbit to the group so that it makes for a funnier joke.