Back when the NBA was part of the real world

Wilt Chamberlain had no patience for criticism about his abysmal foul shooting. (AP file photo)

Observations, insinuations, ruminations and unvarnished opinions . . .


FOUND MYSELF reminiscing about the good old National Basketball Association this week as season openers were officially scrubbed.

It is more and more likely there will be no NBA basketball played in the 2011 portion of the 2011-12 season.

Owners want a 50-50 split of the billions. Players want a 54-46 cut. Don't any of these guys read the Wall Street Journal?

You can understand how the lordly A's and bottom-feeding Phillies were able to coexist here for so many years before World War II. Baseball salaries were so low you could pay the help out of a cigar box containing the day's gate receipts. Hell, I have eight strips of four 1964 Phillies World Series field level box seats. They cost $12. That's $384 for 32 tickets. Club seats for Game 1 this year in St. Louis were $518. That works out to $16,576 for eight strips of four tickets. That's not an economic disparity, it's the Grand Canyon.

And you can check this out with one of the thousands of American Autumn protesters flooding the nation's cities: There are a whole lot of folks out there who can't pay $16,576 for 32 baseball tickets. In fact, they can't pay their mortgages, auto loans, utilities, student loans, their taxes if they are lucky enough to be paying them on anything more than the unemployment dole that has run out on millions of Americans, along with their health insurance.

I wonder if the NBA's players and owners have given 1 second of thought to what is happening out there in the real world of underprivilege. Maybe David Stern should organize a caravan of tinted window Escalades and Humvees and drive through the Las Vegas suburbs to see the forest of For Sale and Foreclosed signs, then wheel past the banks that will go down because they can't move all that bad paper.

So, anyway, here is my NBA moment from a time when there were just nine teams in the league and each one of them had at least one superstar. Elite teams like the 76ers and Celtics each had a handful and many of the games between them were masterpieces. You would pay to see Oscar Robertson play with four playground recruits.

When I moved from the Evening Bulletin to this newspaper in May of 1965, the writer who replaced me was a young and driven comet of a Holy Cross grad named Joe McGinniss. Before he became the best-selling author of controversial books with a reputation for hanging his subjects by using off-the-record material, Joe raced through sportswriting at the Bulletin and a city column for the Inquirer.

At one point, he went after Wilt's abysmal foul shooting. In the '66 playoffs, the Celtics took the Eastern Conference champs out in five games. Wilt was brutal. McGinniss wrote a column ripping Chamberlain for failing to show for an open-date shoot-around. I helped cover the next game at Convention Hall. Afterward, Wilt went after the slender McGinniss, who was waiting in front of The Dipper's locker.

I made a serious mistake. I weighed about 225 at the time and tried to get between them. With one mighty shove, one of the strongest athletes who ever lived stuffed both of us into his locker, McGinniss first, me second. Tinned Irishmen.

I would not have missed that most excellent NBA adventure for all the bling in the Miami Heat locker room.


Is Florida Baja New Jersey?

Baseball's No. 2 prospect behind Bryce Harper is not from Tampa, Miami, Oakland or San Diego. He is not from San Pedro de Macoris, Caracas or metropolitan Tokyo.

Nope, Mike Trout hails from Millville, N.J. The Angels took him late in the first round of the 2009 draft. Last summer, the five-tooler was dominating the Texas League when the Angels called him up. At 19, he was in the majors.

Lower Cape May turned out two-sport star Matt Szczur, who helped Villanova win a national football title, then was drafted on the fifth round by the Cubs. Matt had another year of football eligibility, so the Cubs promised him a $500,000 bonus if he chose baseball over the NFL. He opted for baseball, the Cubs tore up the contract and gave him $1 million instead. Szczur was recently rated the No. 8 prospect in the Florida State League and is fast-tracking up the minor league ladder.

Bill Rice, an outfielder with speed to burn, signed several weeks after attending a Phillies open tryout in 2010. He had been overlooked in three straight June drafts after leading No. 14 seed Washington Township to the 2007 Group IV state title, then having monster seasons at Gloucester County Community College and USC-Aiken. Rice was double-jumped to Lakewood last July and was the Blue Claws' leadoff hitter the final month of the season.

Tabernacle's Dan Grovatt, another fleet outfielder was a Sally League All Star.

Trout. Szczur. Rice. Grovatt. Billy Rowell. Jim Birmingham. Kevin Comer.

So what is it? The succulent corn? The cranberries? The tomatoes?

How about some props for the instruction. Baseball academies have proliferated in South Jersey. And they have been organizing their pupils into leagues and traveling summer teams for both baseball and softball.

The faculties are impressive. At Washington Township's Tri-State Elite Academy, the staff includes former Phillies hitting coach Milt Thompson, World Series catcher Chris Widger, former Phils starter Brandon Duckworth, former Braves Triple A star Billy McCarthy and a teaching staff that includes former college and area semi-pro stars Dan and Gary Barbara, Pete Conlin, Mike Modica and Bob Shannon.

What's missing in the South Jersey baseball explosion? A few more scouts coming around would help.


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