Thursday, June 13, 2002

WHICM MAN'S ACCOMPLISHMENT OF 9 NBA TITLES IS GREATER: PHIL JACKSON'S OR RED AUERBACH'S? It is always tricky to compare accomplishments from different eras. But let's break it down.

Auerbach won 9 NBA titles in 16 years, but 8 straight from 1959-1966. Jackson has just won his 9th NBA title in 12 years. Red had to build a squad in Boston, whereas Jackson stepped into situations where the stars were already there and mostly developed. Red's 8 straight is also unequaled in professional sports. Still Jackson's 9 in 12 years is a higher precentage than Red's. I'd call this one a draw.

Auerbach, as Jackson recently noted, only had to win 2 or 3 series to win a title. Jackson has had to win 4 series for each of his 9 titles. Advantage Jackson.

Auerbach, as Jackson also noted, only had 10 to 12 teams in the NBA to compete against during his run. Jackson seems to be saying that this made it easier for Red. This is where Jackson's logic breaks down and Red gains the advantage.

Clearly having fewer teams (10-12 compared to 27-29 during Jackson's title span) means that talent was more concentrated making for better teams. So for Red it was more difficult to have an advantage over other teams if you happened to have the top player or players in the league, like Jackson has had with both the Bulls and Lakers. (You can easily argue that Jackson has the top 2 players in the league in Shaq and Kobe Bryant. With the Bulls that argument is harder, but not out of the question with Pippen alongside Jordan).

So in a league with diluted talent and with a game where only 5 play at once per side and can play the entire game, having a player or players that are clearly superior to all others is an enormous advantage. Auerbach never had this with the Celtics. There is no debate with Jackson's Jordan or Shaq like there is with Auerbach's best player, Bill Russell. To this day the debate is: who's better, Russell or Chamberlain? Russelll had more championships but Chamberlian had the better stats and the more dominating presence. And you can't even say that Bob Cousy was the best guard in Red's title years -- not with Oscar Roberston entering the league in 1961. With Jordan and Shaq there is no debate: they were clearly the best over Jackson's 9 titles. So Red wins on having tougher teams to play and not having the dominant player or player(s) on his team.

Ultimately it is for this reason that I give the nod to Auerbach. He never had the luxury of leaning on a transcendent player to lift his team by sheer superiority of skill. Bill Russell is a great player, one of the best in history. But he also competed against one equally as good, or better, in Wilt Chamberlain. Shaq and Jordan have no equals. Jackson has learned how to get the absolute best from these two and for this he's due tremendous credit and admiration. It's just that it's not quite as impressive as what Red Auerbach did.

REPEATEDLY WE HEAR THAT AMERICANS aren't interested in the World Cup of Soccer. I think I know why -- not enough scoring and not enough scoring chances.

If you boil down football and hockey the number of touchdowns and goals scored aren't that much greater than the number of goals scored in soccer. More for sure, but not much more. The difference is in the number of chances for goals -- that's what creates excitement. Soccer under FIFA World Cup rules doesn't create enough scoring chances. What can be done?

I actually think that one simple rule change would create alot more scoring and open the game up: only allow the goalie to use his hands within the Goal Area, the smaller box within the Penalty Area. (http://www.nfhs.org/PDF/Soccer/soccerfield.pdf)

Currently the goalie can use his hands on the ball anywhere within the Penalty Area if touched by the opponent. This Penalty Area is 18x44 yards -- quite a large area -- whereas the goal area is only 6x20 yards.

As it stands now, the goalie can range within this large Penalty Area to grab crosses from the wings and can come out on breakaways and cut down angles. This eliminates scoring chances and discourages a wide-open game of speculative runs for a more methodical and plodding advancement of the ball. Reduce the hands-allowed area to the 6x20 Goal Area and scoring will increase and the game will be more exciting.

I've heard suggestions for widening the goal to putting in a "shot clock", to putting in time limits for getting it over your half of the field, eliminating the offsides rule.

To me these all miss the mark. The appeal of soccer is the simplicity in its rules. Any rule change should be made my eliminating existing ones or working within the current structure of the game.

The one complicated rule in soccer is the offsides, yet you need this rule because without it you lose the appeal of soccer, which is skill in tight, fast and fluid situations. It's the same reason hockey has the blue-line offsides rule and the two line pass rule.

Another idea is to reduce the number of players to 10 on each side. Back in the 90's, I saw an international game between Holland and some other team, I think Brazil. They each were down to 10 men and the impact to the game was immediate: more open space led to more scoring chances and more excitement.