Our International Basketball Voice
By Dan Peterson
I most certainly do know Danilo Gallinari, almost from the day he was born. His father, Vittorio, was my star defensive player for my nine years with Olympia Milan, 1978-87. Vittorio was later voted the greatest defender in the history of Italian Basketball and is, today, in the Olympia Hall of Fame. When I became GM of Virtus Bologna in 1988-89, my very first order of business was to acquire Vittorio from Annabella Pavia, where he had played in A-2 the year before. So, we were all there, in Bologna, when Danilo was born, 8 August 1988, or, 8-8-88, which is why Danilo wears number 8.
Now, it has to be understood that Vittorio was no offensive player and most certainly not a shooter, even less on free throws. He averaged just a little over one point per game in his career and fans would close their eyes and hiss out “Shhhh!” when he was shooting free throws. Of course, this made things worse for Vittorio. Danilo, on the other hand, is a natural-born scorer, with flawless shooting technique. So, having fun, whenever I see Vittorio, I say, “Gallo! Do we need a DNA test here?” He loves this, of course, and replies, “Don’t worry, Coach, he’s mine!”
Then, obviously, I have followed Danilo’s career right from the start, seeing him play in Series C-1 with Casalpusterlengo, where he began in the youth program and was playing with grown men in C-1 at the age of 16. I then saw him with Pavia in B-1 the next year, already dominating older players. The transfer to powerful Olympia-Armani Milan, in A-1, was a mere formality. He kept his number 8 jersey, as well (his father wore number 12) and played two excellent seasons for them, before being taken in the 2008 NBA Draft by the New York Knickerbockers.
Obviously, I feel a strong identification with Danilo and I follow his career with great interest. Of course, I’m tremendously concerned about this latest injury, which cost him last year’s playoffs (it happened in the 71st game of the year) and the entire season this year. It was a freak injury: he planted a foot wrong and, without contact, the knee caved inwards. He’ll need all the rehab, strength work, flexibility work, balance work and conditioning work he can withstand to get back to where he was. But, he’s a determined guy and I’m sure he’ll be back, as good as ever, this next season.
Yes, I know Marco Belinelli. Like everyone else, I saw him as a youngster when he came up to play for Virtus Bologna in 2002-03, impressing everyone with his potential. You didn’t have to be a high-paid talent scout to understand that he has all sorts of potential: Series A; National Team; NBA. No one had, as yet, envisioned him winning the NBA’s 3-point shooting context, as he did this year but, had that been open for discussion a decade ago, many would have said it was possible, as his upside had no real ceiling; the sky was the limit.
You also felt that he had the right personality to do well. None of this “I’m a super star” business. He was a normal kid, right from the start. He talked to you like a ‘normal’ player. He was easy to interview, always relaxed, yet sure of himself. He was also an excellent teammate, working well with the American players when he was with Fortitudo Bologna, the team he signed with after Virtus underwent an organizational and financial restructuring. In short, he was a young guy you really liked, the kind any coach would love to have on his team.
His NBA success is no surprise, either. In fact, many here in Italy thought the Golden State Warriors made a tremendous mistake in trading him away. His recent success with the Chicago Bulls, last year, and the San Antonio Spurs, this year, were foreseen by everyone here on the Peninsula. The fact is this: Some European players need a few years in the NBA to get the feel of things, to mature, and what have you. Just like the high school kids that came into the league needed time. Marco Belinelli just needed a couple of years to get his bearings. He has them now.
Another thing that impressed everyone here was the way he played his heart out for Italy in the 2013 Europeans, giving it his all on defense, carrying the load on offense. The first week, when the team was fresh, they were 5-0, beating powers like Greece, Russia and Turkey. But, having a limited number of high-quality players, they ran out of gas, as many of their players were playing 30+ minutes a game, including Belinelli. You can’t do that every day for 14 days. Seven days, yes, 14, no. Well, he and his fellow Azzurri should be at full strength for the 2015 Europeans.
Yes, of course, I know Andrea Bargnani. His playing career, brief though it was, in Italy’s Series A-1, with Benetton Treviso, came long after I had retired. But, I was able to follow him closely when I was working for SKY and we did Treviso’s games in the European League and in Series A-1. Naturally, his potential had everyone talking: seven feet tall, smoothly coordinated, nice footwork, a grooved three-point shot which he also got off quickly, a good pickup jump off the dribble, some pretty good one-on-one moves to get the pickup jumper or to get to the basket.
His coaches didn’t start him that often. They were going for important objectives and their coaches went with more experienced players. But he came off the bench and did that beautifully, a tactical factor for which other teams lacked any plausible response. So, yes, he was a game changer and his coaches used him as such and did so perfectly. There was no doubt he had NBA potential, though perhaps not as the number one choice, as that was a freak thing, coming in 2006, the first year high school grads could not be taken due to the NBA’s new 19-year old age minimum.
I’ve also followed him in the NBA, as our Sport Italia channel did NBA games and we’d often have his Toronto Raptors as our Game of the Week. I was sorry to see him struggle with high expectations, injuries, playing out of position due to necessity. He has been criticized for being too laid back, too detached, too unemotional in games. He gave those same impressions here in Italy but seemed to do a better job of dealing with all that here on the Peninsula. I will say this: I’ve interviewed him and, yes, he’s not a ‘personality’ type person, more low profile, but he was easy to work with.
His future is really up in the air right now. He was born in 1985, so he’s going on 29 years of age. A critical moment in any professional athlete’s career. And, Phil Jackson just took over his New York Knicks, so that puts his future really up in the air. If they think of him as a guy that can come off the bench and contribute, he may stay and may be a factor for them. The main thing is that he has to be healthy. His long history of injuries — often at the worst times — works against him. He has a lot of work ahead of him and basketball fans in Italy are pulling for him to make good.
Of course, I know Ferdinando Minucci, the most successful executive in Italian Basketball in the III Millennium. His work with Mens Sana Siena was remarkable. Siena is not a big city, like Rome, with 6,000,000 people in the greater metropolitan area, or Milan, with close to 4,000,000. Siena has less than 60,000 people. So, they have a much smaller fan base, power base, financial base than other, bigger clubs. Teams in the “provinces” are struggling with this reality today. But Siena won and won big in their setting, with one championship team after another.
My respect for Ferdinando Minucci’s work, however, did not begin with his success after the year 2000. It began back in the 1990s, when he took over a club that was having all sorts of trouble: weak teams that bounced between B-1 and A-2; small attendance figures; no major sponsor; no real club organization. Ferdinando Minucci brought order to that situation. He had the one basic instinct any outstanding executive must have: He knew how to pick people. On top of that, he knew how to help those people have success by helping them, every step of the way.
Then, he made the very most of his resources. He knew he didn’t have the financial wherewithal to out-big power teams for ‘name’ players, so he strengthened his scouting system and made it, most likely, the most efficient in Italy. Above all, his scouts combed Italy’s A-2 for players that would carry Siena to the top of Series A-1: Terrell McIntyre; Romain Sato; David Hawkins; Morris Finley. He also picked off top players from other A-1 teams that could not afford to keep them: Shaun Stonerook; Bootsy Thornton; Rimantas Kaukenas. No guesswork, only players proven in Italy.
Like every top executive, Ferdinando Minucci approached his work as would a coach: he was demanding but inspired confidence. He’s now the newly-elected President of Series A, so he is going to need every bit of his experience and acumen to get that ‘bus’ heading in the right direction. If his past work is any indicator, he will verticalize things, streamline things, pick the right people, get those people in the right jobs, increase research and development. The job will not be easy and he knows that all too well. The hopes of Italian Basketball are riding on his shoulders.
They will say that someone that keeps a low profile will ” … fly under the radar.” That was Vito Amato, General Manager of Victoria Libertas Pesaro for many years. In fact, early in my time here in Italy, we played Pesaro and he would say hello to me. I had no idea who he was. In those ‘emergency’ situations, I always say, “Ciao, Carissimo!” That is, “Hello, Dear Friend.” That always keeps me out of trouble. Still, I asked my GM of Virtus Bologna, “Who the hell was that?” He said, “Coach, Vito Amato, GM, Pesaro.” I went back to Vito, “Ehi, Vito, come va?”
By the time I came to Milan, Pesaro was back up in A-1 with us. But I still had not fully grasped how efficient Vito Amato was in his job. Then, in the summer of 1980, my GM, Toni Cappellari, told me: “Coach, Walter Magnifico has been sold to Pesaro.” I thought, “Pesaro? How did they beat us and everyone else for a great prospect like that?” One year later, Toni said, “Coach, Domenico Zampolini was just purchased by Pesaro.” What? Then, in 1983, it was Andrea Gracis. Then, in 1984, it was Ario Costa. I thought, “Well, they have the starting five of the national team!”
Sure enough, without saying a word to anyone, Vito Amato was collecting top young Italian players from right under the noses of all the rest of us. And, of course, that made them our most formidable adversary in the 1980s. We kept running into them. Playoff finals in 1982 and 1985; semi-finals in 1983; quarter-finals in 1987. Italy Cup finals in 1986 and 1987. They put us out of the Italy Cup in 1985. Then, semi-final of the European Cup of Cup Winners of 1983. After I left in 1987, they went on to win titles with that nucleus, in 1988 and 1990. Vito Amato had created a machine.
To make a long story short, I came to realize you could not underrate someone like Vito Amato because he was so quiet. As they say in Italy, “While you are looking the other way, he’s stealing your underwear.” Well, Vito Amato ‘stole the underwear’ of a lot of us. He stayed in the background while building a powerhouse that was a factor in both Italy and Europe for many years. Well, after I finally came to understand that the man was a master of his profession, whenever I talked with him, I shook his hand with my right hand and kept my left hand on my underwear!
Agide Fava was, truly, the ‘Godfather’ of basketball in Pesaro. That’s a term that gets used and, perhaps, over-used. But, in this case, it’s the only term that applies. His official title was that of ‘coach.’ But that doesn’t tell the whole story. He was the founding father, the deus ex machina, all things to all people. He began as coach of Victoria-Libertas Pesaro in 1946. That was a tremendous time in Italy. World War II had just ended and the nation was in ruins. There were no arenas and games were played outdoors, weather permitting. We won’t even talk about money and equipment.
He began with the team in Series B, a highly competitive level because everyone is striving to make Series A, with the chance to have a big sponsor, a big arena, a bigger fan base, more exposure, and so forth. In his fourth year as coach of the VL, 1949-50, Agide Fave made that jump to Series A. What’s more, he kept them there for some 13 years before they dropped to Series B again. Three years later, in 1964-65, he brought them back up to Series A, where he left them when he retired after the next season. Whatever came after that derived directly from Agide Fava.
Those were what Italians call ‘heroic times.’ That is, people overcame incredible obstacles in their path and everyone did the work of five men. That was definitely Agide Fava. As said, his title was ‘Coach.’ But he was all things to all men: Coach, General Manager, fund raiser, trainer, traveling secretary, and a half-dozen other jobs. Today, a club like Pesaro will have 50 people working in its organization. Back then, Agide Fava was the equal of 50 men. He did everything but drive the bus and may well have done that, on occasion. He held it all together by himself.
Here’s all you need to know about Agide Fava: a square in Pesaro is named for him; Piazza Agide Fava. I’m not sure if any other basketball coach, ever, in Italy, has had a street or square named in his honor. Yes, a few coaches have had arenas named for them; the Pala-Pentassuglia in Brindisi is named for their legendary coach, Elio Pentassuglia. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another. So, when we talk about ‘impact,’ we’re talking about the total effect Agide Fava had on the City of Pesaro, its basketball program, its fan base. He did it all.
Yes, I knew Pieraldo Celada. I met him my first year in Italy, 1973-74, when he brought in his Series B team, Alessandria, to scrimmage my Virtus Bologna team. I was not familiar with how the Italian player market worked at this point in time but I’d soon learn that my club was interested in two players from BC Alessandria: 6’11″ Aldo Tommasini and 6’4″ Roberto Violante. No, not as starters but, rather, as people that could come off the bench and make a contribution. Both made an excellent impression that day and our club purchased them for the following season.
When he 1974-75 season began, I sensed something was not quite right with Roberto Violante. He was a great kid, a hard worker, a solid player that had athletic ability and could shoot. He also had a high basketball IQ. So, I liked him as a player. But, no matter how hard we worked on conditioning, he struggled to keep up. I wondered if he was, perhaps, not leading the life of an athlete off the court but that was not the case. I liked everything about him but something like running out of gas when you are a young man just doesn’t sit right with a coach. You know something is wrong.
We got into the playoffs. The first game, in Bologna, was against powerful Olympia Milan. They had super scorer Pino Brumatti, a 6’2″ scoring machine. We had to stop him and he was scoring on everyone. In a desperate move, I put Violante on him. A miracle transpired: In seven incredible minutes, Roberto Violante shut out the great Pino Brumatti and we won the game, 73-72. The game ended and I went to congratulate and thank Roberto Violante. He looked like he was going to die. He was perspiring, his skin had turned yellow and he could hardly stand up.
I told my boss, Gianluigi Porelli about this. We had a medical checkup: He had a serious problem. I felt like a criminal. I knew we should have had him checked earlier. It turned out OK for Roberto but his Series A career was over for medical reasons. Yes, Roberto knew but he wanted to play. Yes, Pieraldo Celada knew but he didn’t tell us. Porelli wanted to take him to court but it was called an ‘uncautious acquisition.’ We should have done our due diligence better, a huge, huge lesson and a costly one. But this was my introduction to Pieraldo Celada, who put one over on us, big time.
Yes, I knew Engineer Gilberto Boris, though just to shake hands. I knew he was the ‘Godfather’ of basketball in Livorno, the Tirrenean seaport city known for turning out a string of great players, like Sauro Bufalini, Dado Lombardi and Sandro Dell’Agnello. He took over as ‘big boss’ of Libertas Livorno in 1956-57 and saw them through good times and bad times, all the way to the still-controversial playoff of 1989, when Livorno’s winning basket in the deciding Game 5 has voided by the referees, several minutes after the game was over.
My first year in Italy, 1973-74, my Virtus Bologna team, in Series A-1, played his Libertas Livorno team, in B-1, in the Italy Cup. Back then, the Italy Cup was a wonder: Every team in Italy entered! Not unlike the FA soccer cup in England, which might find some Third Division team facing Manchester United in the final in Wembley Stadium, which has happened. Back then, the Series D teams faced the Series C teams. Then, the winners faced the Series B teams. The winners of those shoot-outs would then face us. We had to play them down there and it was a tough win.
Livorno native Claudio Limardi, today Chief of Communications for Armani Milan, says: “The Engineer was the deus ex machina of Libertas for decades. He was a ship-builider that loved basketball. He kept a low profile, never gave interviews, was seldom photographed but he was a demanding boss, that’s for sure. He convinced another big ship-building family, D’Alesio, to come in with him and, with that, the great Libertas team of the 1989 playoff finals was born. He was one of a kind, impossible to replace, impossible to follow. He built Libertas from the ground up.”
The thing that impressed me most was this: Though he was, truly, the ‘Godfather’ of Basketball in Livorno, he was a most humble person, never upstaging people, always flying under the radar, a true gentleman. And, he was an engineer, as the Ing. in front of his name indicates. Perhaps it was his college education and disciplined, detailed line of work that helped him do so well in the extremely difficult world of team sports. Whatever, he’s gone and all of Series A feels the loss. It hurts when the league loses an important city like Livorno and they lost it when Gilberto Boris stepped down.
I most definitely knew Giancarlo Gualco, who passed away just a couple of weeks ago. He was the big boss, the GM, of one of our biggest rivals: Ignis Varese. They were the team to beat when I came to Bologna in 1973 and still the team to beat when I came to Milan in 1978. In fact, when I arrived here in 1973, Varese was coming off a ‘Grand Slam’ season under the great Aza Nikolic: Italian title, Italy Cup, European Cup, Intercontinental Cup. I told myself, “Well, boy, if you plan on winning anything here in Italy, that’s the way your team is going to have to play.”
I received a lesson on how good he was early into my third year in Italy, with Virtus Bologna. Their super Americn player, Bob Morse, had retired and had returned to the USA. The team had two new American players that were not performing well. They were in our pre-season tournament in Bologna and we beat them by 20 points on the second night of the three nights. The third night, Gualco was not there. Where was he? He was flying to Philadelphia to talk with Morse. He got his man. On Monday, the club got 3-word telegram from him: “Bob Signed. Returning.”
When I came to Milan, I was given to understanding the heated rivalry between our Olympia and his Varese. We knocked them out in the semis of the 1979 playoffs, 2-1. We won Game 1 up there, lost in Milan, then won up there again. After Game 1, Gualco said to the press, in so many words, “Milan plays dirty basketball.” What? I had six teen-agers on the team! They had no idea how to play dirty. But it was a move to influence the referees and he got headlines with what he said. Sure enough, in Game 2, in Milan, the referees called the ‘whispers’ on us and we lost.
Well, he was a huge figure in the context of Italian Basketball. Very few GMs have won more hardware. None has won as many European titles and none has won as many Italian titles. So, his work pretty much stands as a benchmark for others to emulate. He was also a very tough guy. When I told him he was out of bounds in saying we played ‘dirty basketball,’ he just told me that’s that way it is. So, he was a GM all the way, 360° as they say. He was, almost certainly, the first full-time GM in Series A, the first professional. And his work is still there, for all to see.
Yes, I met Rino Snaidero .. several times. But, I can’t say I ‘knew’ him. He was the owner and sponsor of one of the teams in Series A, Udine, when I came to Italy. I encountered him a few times and we shook hands. That was it. And, upon my arrival in Italy, I didn’t fully understand the tremendous importance of sponsors in Italian Basketball. I thought they were just simply investors, hoping to get a return on their sponsorship in terms of exposure, TV time, lines of type, word of mouth, good will. I’m sure there was some of that. But there was more: These people were INVOLVED.
I came to realize they were the very sustenance of Series A and all divisions below us. With this, I came to have a great affection for the sponsors. Not just those that sponsored my teams but every sponsor in the league. To this day, if I can buy a product made by a former sponsor of Series A, I will do that. My kitchen is by Scavolini. My furniture is from Mobil Girgi. My ice cream maker is SIMAC. I patronize Phillips, Canon, Billy, Yoga, Simmenthal, SONY, Teorema, Il Messaggero, Olitalia, Filodoro (well, my wife buys their nylon stockings), Team System, Granarolo and others.
So, my appreciation of Rino Snaidero — and the Snaidero Family — was over the top. I also came to understand the very geo-politics of Italian Basketball: How important it was to have a team in northeast Italy. I realized that Rino Snaidero and his family … made that possible. There was a time when Series A had all three major cities in the Tri-Veneto Region: Udine, Gorizia and Trieste. None of those cities is in Series A today and the league suffers for this lack. That has just added to my conviction that what Rino Snaidero did in Udine was nothing short of monumental.
The name SNAIDERO appeared on the Udine jersey (and, for two years, that of Caserta) for a total of 27 years, second only to SCAVOLINI, which sponsored Pesaro from 1975 to 2013, some 38 years. Under Rino Snaidero, the club also construction the 4000 seat Palasport Primo Carnera, named for the former Heavyweight boxing champion from Sequals, not far from Udine. Well, there is really no complete and accurate way to explain the importance of Rino Snaidero for Italian Basketball. He built a castle in the desert, if you will. And it’s still standing, a testament to his efforts.
Yes, I most definitely know Toto Bulgheroni. We were rivals for many years, when I coached Olympia Milan and he was owner of arch-rival Varese, in the period 1981-87. But we worked together on any number of things after that. It was he that wanted me as telecaster for the RAI for Series A-1 games in 1995-96, as he was Vice-President of Series A at the time and had huge input regarding such matters. In this, he was quite ‘American’ in his ways, seeing beyond the game itself and knowing that you had to have marketing and sales if you wanted to survive in today’s climate.
Part of this is because he’s fluent in English, which helped him cement his close relationship with David Stern, former NBA Commissioner. With that, he picked up early on the American way of doing things and used it to his advantage as owner of Varese. When big sponsors ran out, he formed the league’s first ‘consortium,’ a pool of sponsors, winning his fight with the league to have more than one sponsor’s name on the uniform. Today, Series A jerseys have multi-sponsors, not unlike Formula One or NASCAR. That all started with Toto Bulgheroni at Varese.
Toto Bulgheroni’s success has been built on two words: Trust and Loyalty. That’s why so many of his choices of coaches and General Managers were coaches he had played for or teammates he had played with; Coaches like Vittorio Tracuzzi, Dick Percudani, Riccardo Sales; Teammates like Joe Isaac, who became his coach in Varese, and Marino Zanatta, who became his General Manager. None of this ‘nation-wide search’ business. He knew his people. He was loyal to them and they were loyal to him. With that philosophy, he seldom guessed wrong.
I’m in touch with Toto all the time; and he receives my Blogs every day. He’s also a true friend. If I need advice on some matter, I know I can call him and get his counsel on the matter. I’ve given Team Building talks to his Lindt Chocolate firm. Of course, I get ‘mad’ at him when he tells me he ‘has’ to go to Augusta for the Masters Golf Tournament, as he’s a big shot with the Italian Golf Federation. He loves this, of course. Well, no team ever had a better owner than Varese with Toto Bulgheroni. Every team in Series A should have him as owner for just one year. They’d learn plenty.
I definitely know Giorgio Seragnoli. When I came to Bologna to coach Virtus in 1973, he was just 23 years old and a die-hard fan of our cross-town rival, Fortitudo. Bologna is a small city, only about 500,000 people. But, inside the wall that surrounds the city, much smaller. You can walk from any gate in that wall to the farthest gate in about 25 minutes without having to hurry your steps. So, running into people you knew was an everyday occurrence. Then, most basketball fans frequented many of the same restaurants, whether they were Virtus or Fortitudo.
With that, I met Giorgio Seragnoli my first year in Bologna. He let me know, most politely, that he hoped my team would lose every game, especially any ‘Derby’ between the our teams. This was all in good fun, of course, but we knew where we stood with each other. I didn’t see him very much after that first encounter but I would see him if Fortitudo was playing at home and we had an open date. I never recall seeing him at one of our games, be that in Series A or in any European Cup. He may have been there but I don’t think so. People would have noticed and would have mentioned it.
I began to see more of him when he took over Fortitudo and I was doing the Series A and Euroleague telecasts for Tele+ and, later, SKY. He didn’t like to give out interviews, preferring to stay in the background. Of course, once the game started, he was a true fan: on his feet, cheering for his team. He’d be there with his family, and they were all die-hard fans as much as he was. He was, in essence, living the dream of every fan; owning and running the team he loved. That made him a formidable owner, one that poured resources, acumen and passion into Fortitudo.
He did all this while running a substantial part of the Seragnoli empire, where he was one of those top executives that was featured in CLASS or Business Week. He brought all that to Fortitudo with him. He re-styled the old Palazzo dello Sport. He brought in partners, sponsors. He ripped up the playing surface and tore down the scoreboard. Basically, he brought Fortitudo into the 21st Century in terms of marketing, merchandising, publicity, public relations, community relations, etc. In fact, their attendance went from rock bottom to sold out. He covered it all.
No, I never coached against 6’4″ Carlton Myers. Lucky me! The guy lit up scoreboards like Christmas trees. He was just getting started as I retired, in 1987, when he was just 16 years old. But I had heard plenty about him. The youth level national finals, at all levels, are extremely difficult, not unlike the NCAA Tournament. Well, Carlton Myers and his B. B. Rimini team just tore those events to shreds at every level at which they played. They were the perfect storm: excellent coaching; a nucleus of players with futures in Series A; and the super star in Carlton Myers.
Of course, I’ve seen him play more times than I can count. That was with Scavolini Pesaro, Fortitudo Bologna, Virtus Rome and Mens Sana Siena. And, believe me, he was the go-to guy in every game I saw. I even thought they might have gone to him too often, as being the terminal player on every play takes its toll on you physically. Your legs get tired and your body takes a beating from fighting off your defender and a help defender. So, yes, he missed a few last-ditch shots in a few games but he was the reason his team was in a position to win the game on the final shot.
He played with great confidence. His body language said: “You can’t stop me.” And opposing coaches assigned an American player to guard him almost every game. No matter. He scored 25-30 points on anyone and everyone, no matter if they were Italian or American. As a matter of fact, you only had to look at him to know he WANTED to be guarded by a great player. So, he had that extra competitive instinct that only the great players have. When he was with Fortitudo Bologna, his duels with Sasha Danilovic of rival Virtus Bologna were the stuff of legend; true shoot-outs.
Last year, at the All-Star Game between Italy’s National Team and the US All-Stars, they had a 3-point shot contest and Myers was a guest participant. Of course, he won the contest, easily, at age 42. Watching him, everyone said the same thing: “That guy could still score 20 a game in Series A.” Not much doubt about that. Not bad for someone that started out as a musician, an accomplished flute player, and came to the game late, as a teen-ager. Could he have played in the NBA? Yes. Of course, with the normal ‘adjustment’ period. But he was an NBA player, all the way.
I certainly do know Walter Magnifico. He was a constant thorn in our side during my last seven years as coach of Olympia Milan: 1980-87. He had just been purchased by Scavolini Pesaro from Fortitudo Bologna in the summer of 1980, a 19-year old with potential but an unknown upper limit. Well, he showed us all that upper limit right off. That first year with Scavolini, they beat us all three times they played us … and he was the key player. We just simply did not have anyone that could stay with him. My power forward, 6’9″ Vittorio Ferracini, just didn’t have the foot speed to stay with Magnifico.
The next year, 1981-82, they caught us early in the season, down in Pesaro, when we had three starters out for various reasons: Dino Meneghin with knee surgery; John Gianelli disqualified for the game by the Italian Federation; Vittorio Gallinari because he had not, as yet, signed his contract. They crushed us, 110-65. That’s +45, if you’re doing the math. They just ran all over us. Yes, we beat them in the playoff final, for the title, 2-0, in games, but they are still talking about how Pesaro hung up 110 and +45 on us. To this day, people still ask me what happened.
What happened was that they had a great team, were beautifully coached by Petar Skansi, had purchased Mike Sylvester from us, had the best player in Europe (Dragan Kicanovic) running their team, and had Walter Magnifico taking care of everything you would care to mention. He scored points, blocked shots, got rebounds, set screens, ran the floor, made passes and did just exactly what the team needed. When we played them again, after that terrible beating, I had John Gianelli guard Magnifico, and it’s not often a coach would use an American player to guard an Italian player.
What really hurt us was his tactical sense. He would post up smaller men and drive around bigger men. It was impossible for teams to find a man capable of guarding him. At 6’10″ or 6’11″ tall, with long arms, he posed a match-up problem in terms of his height. But, when you factored in his elevation, quickness, speed and reaction time, you now had an NBA-level player to guard. On top of that, he had an excellent outside shot, a smooth pickup jump shot, a running hook and an assortment of moves to get to the basket and operate inside. I never really figured out how to stop him.
Oh, I most definitely know Antonello Riva. He was one of those rare players that force your hand as a coach. His Cantù team knocked us out of the 1981 playoffs in a heart-breaking semi-final, 2-1. It was the greatest playoff series ever in Italy. Cantù won by +2 in Milan in Game 1; we one by +2 in Game 2 up in Cantù; they won the deciding Game 3 in Milan by +1 after two overtimes. That remains, to this day, the most difficult loss of my career, along with the 1-point loss to Real Madrid in the final of the 1984 European Cup of Cup Winners.
Antonello Riva was the reason Cantù beat us in that series. We just did not have anyone that could match up with him. He was a powerful 6’5″ tall and weighed at least 200 pounds, if not 210 pounds. I was trying to guard him with Franco Boselli, a fine player but just 6’3″ tall and only 175 pounds. Riva could also jump over anyone, so it was all just too much for Franco. That summer, we purached Roberto Premier from Ginnastica Gorizia to have someone that could physically match up with Riva, as Premier was a powerful 6’6″ tall and 220 pounds of spring and energy.
The idea was not that we were going to ‘stop’ Antonello Riva. That was out of the question. The idea was to make him work harder on offense against a bigger and stronger physical entity; and to make him work harder on defense against Premieri, a former center that would take opponents under the basket and just crush them, leading the Universe in 3-point plays. Riva still scored his 25-30 points against us but Cantù never finished ahead of us again. Still, that move speaks volumes about the great ability of Antonello Riva. Your entire game plan was: “OK, what do we do with Riva?”
The thing that drove me crazy about Riva was that he’d make a 3-point basket on a catch-and-shoot … without looking at the basket! Or so it seemed. He’d come around a double screen, take the pass and be rotating his body in mid-air and shooting, all at the same time, his eyes not yet on the basket. He did this so quickly that his defender did not have the time to bother his shot. The shot would be out of his hand before he completed his body’s rotation. It was the most unstoppable shot I ever encountered as a coach. Every game against him was a nightmare.
Yes, I most certainly do know Sergio Scariolo, one of Italy’s finest coaching products ever. He’s a native of Brescia, about an hour east of Milan, and used to come to observe our practices when I was coaching Olympia Milan in the 1980s. He was also an instructor at my NBA Basketball Camp in Salsomaggiore. So, I had a chance to see his potential early on. We had many of our instructors at that camp go on to become head coaches in Series A-2 and A-1. I’d estimate 25-30, perhaps more. The only one to win a national title in Italy was Sergio Scariolo. And we saw it coming.
Of course, we were all impressed when he won Italy’s Series A-1 playoffs with Scavolini Pesaro in 1990, when he was just 29 years old. But what struck me after he left Pesaro was that he had the good sense and the humility to re-cycle himself down in A-2, with Aurora Desio. Many — perhas most — coaches might have thought: “Hey, I’ve won a ‘Scudetto,’ so I’m an A-1 coach and I’m not going to take a demotion to a lower division.” So, his ego didn’t get in his way. He saw Desio for what it was: a chance to work with a club that had a solid project. And he did well there.
Everything else came as a consequence of that. Anyone that has no fear of dropping to A-2 will not be afraid of taking on a project in another country. And that was another thing that impressed me about him. As they say, “He always had a bag packed.” With this, he went to Spain. Not just Spain but northern Spain, Basque Country. He did so well there that he was hired by mighty Real Madrid, not just as coach but as Head of Basketball Operations. With that, he revamped their arena, with larger-than-life posters of former Real stars lining the corridors.
Finally, he took on the ultimate challenge with Spain’s national team. They were coming off a brilliant silver medal finish in the 2008 Olympics under Alejandro Garcia-Reneses, called ‘Aito,’ but Sergio Scariolo did not hesitate and did outstanding work with ‘Los Rojos,’ as well. His two seasons with Olympia Milan, back in Italy’s Series A-1, were not easy: playoff final his first year and a difficult season his second year. But Sergio Scariolo never stops moving and he’s back with TAU Vitoria, though under the name of another sponsor today. His bag is always packed.
Beppe DeStefano was one of the quietest people ever in Italian Basketball. When they talk about ‘keeping a low profile’ or ‘flying under the radar,’ well, he was the master of all that. He stayed in the background, never trying to upstage anyone, never looking for the spotlight. He left that to his coaches and his players. But, as is almost always the case, still waters run deep. Beppe DeStefano may have been a figure that kept in the shadows but, from that vantage point, he missed nothing. He knew what was important, from coaches to players, from politics to finances.
Yes, he did wonderful organizational work in Turin and in Treviso but his best move may have been in 1974, when he chose to let his Auxilium Turin team play in the newly-formed Series A-2. Understand, they had every right to stay in A-1, as they had taken a solid 6th place in 1973-74. They were a well-coached team under Lajos Toth. They had a solid American player in 6’10″ John Laing. They had up-and-coming Italian players like 6’5″ Romeo Sacchetti, 5’9″ Carlo Caglieris, and others. But Beppe DeStefano wanted to make ends meet financially, so he opted to drop to A-2.
That was a matter of not only excellent planning, vision and programming, but also extreme good business sense. Other clubs, with less humility, have committed technical and financial suicide in order to stay up in A-1. Well, Beppe DeStefano knew what he was doing. He developed his youngsters, balanced his budget and came back up to A-1 when he was good and ready. Once he did that, he began to think big and hired Sandro Gamba as coach. That brought Auxilium Turin back into A-1 at the end of the 1977-78 season and, with that, they began a decade-long run of success.
Benetton Treviso recognized his exceptional skills and hired him to put their house in order. That move paid off with the Italian Series A title in 1991-92, with Vinnie Del Negro and Toni Kukoc as the two allowed ‘foreign’ players. In that, again, he moved step-by-step: first solidifying his positon in A-1, then hiring coach Petar Skansi, then Vinnie Del Negro, then Toni Kukoc. He never over-stepped his limits. Yes, I knew him and saw him often. But I never had a real conversation with him. He kept to himself, seldom granted interviews, and kept his eyes open. And saw everything.
I most certainly do know Simone Pianigiani. I had observed him when he was youth team coach with Mens Sana Siena. That’s where he studied under the outstanding head coaches that he served under: Valerio Bianchini, Ergin Ataman, Carlo Recalcati, others. All the while, he learned his lessons, coached his teams to outstanding success and bided his time. When Carlo Recalcati resigned in 2006, club President Ferdinando Minucci did not hesitate to hand the reins to Simone Pianigiani. Never was an executive decision repaid with such interest, as Pianigiani ran the table for six years.
Yes, the year I came back to coach Olympia-Armani Milan, in 2010-11, we faced his Big Green Machine, here in Milan. We were up by +10 but they came back to beat us with great authority. Yes, they had a powerhouse; yes, they would make the European League Final Four; yes, they would go on to win it all in Italy. But they were also beautifully coached by Simone Pianigiani, who excels in keeping everyone calm in the moments of greatest difficulty. And we had them in a bit of trouble. But he did a great job of pulling them back. I knew I had faced a truly great coach.
That’s why I’m so glad to see he’s the coach of Italy’s national team. The Azzurri could not have a better coach, both in terms of his overall program, which reaches down into the lowest youth levels of Italian Basketball, and in terms of the work he does with the big club. It broke my heart to see them run out of gas in the 2013 Europeans. They were 5-0 in the first round, beating powers like Greece, Russia and Turkey. In the second phase, they beat powerful Spain. But they were missing three great players — Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Gallinari and Daniel Hackett. That was too much to overcome.
Italy was the only team in those Europeans to have a player average more than 30 minutes per game … and they had THREE. With just one more player, they would have finished in the top seven and would have qualified for the 2014 Worlds. But, they dropped the last three games, all by narrow margins, to take 8th place. They simply ran out of energy. They didn’t have enough quality players to play 9 games in 14 days. Well, he’s building to have a deeper roster for the 2015 Europeans. It’s a project and he knows it. But if anyone is capable of pulling it off, that’s Simone Pianigiani.
Yes, I knew Angelo Rovati and knew him well. I came to Bologna in 1973, at the age of 37, to take over Virtus Bologna as coach. That same year, Angelo Rovati, just 28 years old, retired as a player with Libertas Fortì to become General Manager of cross-town rival Fortitudo Bologna. Fortitudo was David and we were Goliath when it came to name, tradition, prestige, history, fan base, economic means and political power. But Angelo Rovati performed some minor miracles with Fortitudo and showed he had what it took when it came to making tough decisions.
That first year, 1973-74, Fortitudo lost a post-season shoot-out and was headed to Series B. But Angelo Rovati had some political clout of his own, as one of his owners was powerful politician Giancarlo Tesini. They held a league meeting and formed Italy’s Series A-2, which could keep the one foreign player allowed per team. It turned out that was not necessary to ‘save’ Fortitudo and they were in A-1 the next year, 1974-75, losing their American to a back injury and, this time, dropping to A-2, all under supreme coach Aza Nikolic, who was Rovati’s greatest hire.
They came back up in 1975-76, all under Nikolic, and took us into overtime in the Playoffs before we rallied to win, 84-81. Nikolic left and Rovati hired my assistant, John McMillen, who had played for me at Delaware and had assisted me in Chile. Rovati came to my office to talk at length about John. He asked, “Does he have the stuff to be a head coach?” I said, “No one can say that. You’ll have to give him the team, help him all you can and see what happens.” He hired John and they had a great year in 1976-77: 3rd in Italy; 2nd in the Korac Cup, their best finishes ever.
His later success — as a sports executive; as Series A League President; as a valued political consultant — came as no shock to me. He had that perfect combination of brains and toughness. He harbored no doubts on anything. He spoke his mind. I was Consultant to the Series A President, Giulio Malgara, in 1993-94. Angelo Rovati dominated those meetings because he had great charisma, great personality, great logic. He’d say; “Why are you wasting time? Do it this way!” He was right every single time. I told Malgara … “That guy is on a totally different level.” And he was.
Oh, I definitely know Lello Morbelli. And not just because we have the same January 9th birth date … though he was born in 1923 and I was born in 1936. We were adversaries, he as the GM of AP Cantù; myself as coach of their main rival, Olympia Milan. In our respective roles we told each other where to go on many occasions. We accused them of being holier-than-thou, preaching how righteous they were while they were stealing us blind. We called them the ‘Priests.’ In Italian, Pretoni. That’s ‘big priests.’ I was not alone in this, by the way. Everyone called them that.
We’d fire off a few insults before, during and after games. Invariably, having learned Italian insults all too well, I would hit him with “Lello, up yours.” He would come back, “Dan, it’s always good to see you are such a gentleman.” I would say, “Lello, you guys are so politically corrupt that it makes me sick.” He would counter with, “Then, Dan, you should see a doctor immediately.” So, it was awfully hard to go one up on him. He was used to these attacks and had his answers ready. But I knew he was part of a winning organization … our arch-rival.
One day, in 1986, my GM, Toni Cappellari, said to me: “Coach, you will never guess who will be our new President.” That role had been held by owner Gianmario Gabetti, who was stepping aside. I had no clue. Toni said, “Morbelli.” I called Lello and could not resist zinging him: “Lello! You just granted my biggest wish!” He said, “Dan, what is that?” I said, “I’ve always wanted a dishonest President!!!!!” He loved this, of course. I knew all too well it was better to have a killer like Lello on your side and not with a rival team.
Everyone says Lello is the biggest ‘liar’ in Italy. Each year, Flavio Vanetti, writer for il Corriere della Sera, gives out the Morbelli Award to the biggest ‘liar’. He once said, “Coach, we now know everything. We ask Morbelli. Whatever he tells us, we know it’s the opposite!” I ‘complained’ I never got the award. Vanetti: “Coach, you’ll never get it; too transparent” Then, two years ago, they gave me award: I’d said I’d never coach again and then came back. It was the cheapest trophy ever and I had to give it back after one year. Vanetti and Cappellari presented it. Lello was proud of me!
No, I never had the honor and the pleasure of meeting Enrico ‘Rico’ Garbosi, a legend in Italian Basketball folklore. He died on 6 January 1973, just 57 years old, and I came to Italy nine months later, 3 September 1973. But I heard plenty about him, as he had been a revered figure, both as a coach and as a general manager. Two of my Virtus Bologna players had come over from his All’Onestà team, where he was GM: Gianni Bertolotti and Renato Albonico. They spoke of him with all due respect, saying a conversation with him was like getting a Master’s Degree at some university.
I spoke with one of his prized pupils, Antonio ‘Toto’ Bulgheroni, who also played at All’Onestà when Garbosi was GM but was also called up to play in Series A at the age of 16 when Garbosi coached Varese. Toto Bulgheroni would later become owner of Varese and, as well, President of Italy’s Series A. He says: “To speak of Rico is to touch a myth. He coached us dressed out in coat and necktie. We thought he had just come from a big-time card game and that may well have been the case! He believed in the fast break, a quick-striking offense and working for the easy shot.”
Bulgheroni continues: “He was a demanding coach. If you made a mistake, you were going to hear about it. He would question your basketball intelligence in front of everyone. But you wanted to play your heart out for him. He knew how to use his player, guys like Tonino Zorzi, Vinicio Nesti, Guido Carlo Gatti, Lajos Toth and Giovanni Gavagnin. I owe him so much. He put me on the floor as a baby, in Ignis-Motomorini, in 1958-59. We won, 83-82, and I recall it like it was yesterday. I’d need many days and nights to tell all there is to tell about this great man.”
When your former players speak of you with such reverence, everything else — numbers, titles, trophies — pass into second place. And, Toto Bulgheroni is not alone in this. As I said, Renato Albonico and Gianni Bertolotti spoke of him in hushed tones. When I came to Olympia Milan in 1978, people with out club spoke of him with the highest possible consideration, as a coach, as a General Manager, as a person. We had the great Cesare Rubini and the ‘Other Milan’ had the great Enrico Garbosi. It was impossible to tell which club was prouder of their legend.
I most certainly did know Nico Messina; I took over for him as coach of Virtus Bologna when I came to Italy in 1973-74. Now, he is not to be confused with legendary Italian coach Ettore Messina, presently the coach of powerful CSKA Moscow. No relation. I can tell you this: I heard plenty about Nico Messina when I landed in Bologna. In fact, the working press, who loved Messina, was most definitely not in love with me at the start of my five years there. Messina wooed them beautifully: “I read everything you write and I agree with everything you say!” How can you beat that?
What amazed me about Nico Messina was how the guy could talk so much with the press without ever putting his foot in his mouth. He was never misquoted. He never had a controversy for something he said. He never had a negative article written about him. I say that with all due envy; he was light years ahead of the rest of us. Like the press, I had a great affection for Nico Messina. The day of my first press conference, in 1973, he was there to get his picture taken with me, to shake my hand and to wish me well. So, I had great respect for him from Day One.
Of course, I was not so happy to see him when his Girgi Varese beat my Virtus Bologna in the 1978 Playoff Final, 2-1. Yes, he had a great team, well prepared after four years (1969-73) with Hall of Fame coach Aza Nikolic and four more (1973-77) under Hall of Fame coach Sandro Gamba. Nico Messina knew a good thing when he saw it and, basically, went with the schemes and defenses of his predecessors. With that, he took over without a ripple on the waters. I happen to think that takes great logic. I followed his example when I came back to take over Olympia Milan three years ago.
Well, he was a first-class character. Everybody liked the guy. He loved basketball and was a presence in the stands at lots of Series A and Series B games. Of course, the photographers and journalists would flock to him after the game. Why not? I’d have done the same thing. As one writer told me, “Hey, he gives you the headline, the sub-headline, the article and the sidebar.” That says it all. Of course, he had the greatest of all nicknames: “The Tiger.” Who wouldn’t want to be called The Tiger? He was all that, a guy that fought and worked and scratched for everything.
I most definitely knew Beppe Lamberti, as he had been coach of cross-town rival Fortitudo Bologna up until the Spring of 1973 and I came to take over Virtus Bologna in the Fall of 1973. A mutual friend took me to meet him, at the downtown office of his booming insurance company, offices which occupied the entire top floor of an important building on an important square in the city of Bologna, with a huge sign, “Lamberti Assicurazioni” placed on the roof of that building. He had dozens of people working for him. I was mightily impressed with that and with him.
Then, late in that year of 1973-74, Beppe Lamberti came out of ‘retirement’ to take over APU Snaidero Udine. Who did they play in his debut game? Virtus Bologna. What’s more, it was on a neutral court, as we’d had our court suspended for some fan intemperance the previous home game. Udine had been floundering, playing badly, before his arrival. All of a sudden, they looked like the Boston Celtics and we were lucky to win, in two overtimes, 90-88, with two free throws by our Loris Benelli after time had expired in the second OT. That’s what it was like to face Beppe Lamberti.
Yes, I was 5-2 against him, so I should talk about the two losses. The first was up at Udine the next year, when he had them playing great and had 7’1″ Jim McDaniels, former NBA star, playing center. We had 6’11″ Tom McMillen but they out-played us and he out-coached me. I’d had the bad idea to start 17-year old Marco Bonamico for the first time. In five minutes he had three fouls, three turnovers and three missed shots. He went on to become a two-time Olympian but I rushed him in that game and got us behind. We couldn’t catch up and lost to Udine, 88-76.
The worst though, was in 1976-77, when he had Gira Bologna and had brought them up from A-2 to the A-1 playoffs. The quarter-finals were four teams in a 6-game round robin. We opened with them at home and lost, 79-75. Lamberti, anti-Virtus by nature, exulted: “They said they were the 10-man team with the winning mentality. Don’t make me laugh!” What could I say? They had won; we had lost. He’d out-coached me with an A-2 team; I couldn’t beat him with the national champions. We did knock them out in the return game but Beppe Lamberti left some scars on me, that’s for sure.
Elio Pentassuglia was, without question, the most popular basketball coach in Italy. That included everyone: his colleagues, his players, the fan base everywhere he went and in other arenas, and the mass media. He was, as they say, a beloved figure. He was a widower, having lost his family in an automobile accident early on. With that, and a knee injury that closed out his sports career in basketball and volleyball, he dedicated himself to coaching, no easy task, as his weight ballooned due to cortisone injections as part of his injury rehabilitation in those dark days of sports medicine of the 1950s.
He would joke about his size: “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Pentassuglia, the ‘biggest’ coach in Italy.” He transmitted calm and confidence to his players. They knew he was not afraid of anything, so they played with convinction. He had a deep, booming voice, but he never yelled at his men. He was a positive coach, one that smiled even during the heat of the game. My teams were 9-4 against his teams but it was a battle every time. The first time we faced each other, in 1973-74, I had Virtus Bologna and he had Partenope Naples and they edged us by one, down there, 61-60.
Stories on ‘Penta’ abound. One was when he was at Naples. Late in a home game, score tied, his man is fouled and he has the choice of shooting the free throws or in-bounding. He elects to shoot. His player misses both, the game goes into overtime and Naples loses the game in OT. The press tears him apart for his choice. Next home game, same situation: score tied, option to shoot or in-bound. He elects to in-bound. His man makes a bad pass; an opposing player intercepts and lays it up to win the game at the buzzer. The press tears him apart again, twice as bad as before.
Next home game, unbelievably, the very same situation: score tied, time running out, his man is fouled and he has the choice to shoot or in-bound. With all due calm, he strolls over to press row and, hands on his hips, says, “OK, what do you suggest?” Obviously, no one in press row came forth with a suggestion. He was the only coach in Italy that could have or would have pulled off such a stunt. But that was Elio Pentassuglia. Space limitations do not permit a total recounting of stories involving the ‘biggest coach in Italy.’ You’d need a couple of books for that.
I most certainly do know Achille Canna, the friend of all friends. When I came to Bologna in 1973, two people associated with the Virtus club really took me under their wing: Achille Canna and his brother-in-law, Giancarlo Ugolini, whose sister was Achille’s wife. Achille and Giancarlo were both part-owners of the team, each with 11% of the shares. But they did not take care of me because I was an investment. This was real friendship. Their daily help was instrumental in any success I had with Virtus. They had their own business to tend to but always had time for me.
Achille and Giancarlo could not have been more different. Achille was laid-back, low-key and quite serious. Giancarlo was a first-class personality, a gambler with the nickname of “Charlie Nebraska.” Both of them were teen-agers in Bologna during World War II. I asked them what they did, as 13-year olds, during that period. Giancarlo, with all due frankness, said, “Coach, we stole, like everyone else.” Somehow, I couldn’t see Achille stealing anything, though I could definitely envision Giancarlo carrying off a truck, if given the opportunity.
Achille was one of the first people I saw upon my arrival to talk about the coaching job in 1973. He drove the car from Milan’s Linate Airport to Bologna. He was going 220 kmh the whole way, about 160 or 170 mph. I was shaking like a leaf when we arrived. There was no radar on the Autostrade back then, no policemen, no State Patrol, no speed limits. It was like a Formula One time trial. We must have set some sort of land speed record for the distance. It’s usually about a two hour trip but we must have made it in one hour. Achille was as good as Mario Andretti, believe me.
He was often the executive allowed to sit on the bench during games. Well, just to the side of the bench. When I coached Virtus, he was never more than two people away from me and suffered through the games just like the rest of us. He was a quiet guy but I sensed this about him: If a fight should break out, Achille will be the last man standing when it’s over. He had that quiet, charismatic, self-assuredness about him that told you he would not back away from trouble. Well, he’s still a friend and I see him every chance I get when I’m back in Bologna. Mr. Virtus.
Yes, I knew Antonio ‘Nino’ Calebotta, Italy’s first truly talented big man. He had closed out his Series A career with Virtus Bologna in 1968, some five years before I took over that team in 1973. He was still living in the Bologna area, a big name in the pharmaceutical supply industry. By the time I met him, he was more famous for the fact that his three daughters were said to be the three most beautiful girls in Bologna and my players talked about nothing else! In fact, one of my players, Piero Valenti, “The Robert Redford of Italian Basketball,” married one of those daughters!
Nino Calebotta was also a bit of a talent scout for Virtus. He only recommended one player but that was Gigi Serafini, who was 6’11″ tall and lived in the hills outside Modena. With all due calm, Nino informed the club: “There is a big kid living just outside Modena. He doesn’t know the game but you can teach him that.” The club signed Serafini and Gigi played in two Olympics for Italy and was the starting center for Virtus for all nine seasons he played for them, 1968-77. We won the Italy Cup with Gigi in 1974 and the national title in 1976. I still thank Nino for that help.
I only saw Nino a few times at our games. He was one of those ex-players that made a complete break from his sport once his playing days were over. His work kept him away from the arena, as did his hobbies: sailing and his seven Dobermans. But he was well-remembered by the fans of Virtus and the working press of the city. Champions like that are never forgotten, never far from their memory bank. I believe he was there the night we clinched the title in 1976. Every living player off the previous title team, of 1955-56, was on hand that evening. He was no exception.
I used to have long talks with my Italian assistant coach, Ettore Zuccheri, about old-time players. He told me that Calebotta was the most elegant big man he’d ever seen play in Italy or in Europe. He said, “Of course, the big men from the USSR were taller and heavier and more athletic. But none possessed the class and skill of Calebotta. He had leared the fundamenals at CUS Milano and, then, with out coach, the great Vittorio Tracuzzi, the John Wooden of Italian Basketball for being a stickler for the basics of the game. It was fun to play with him, the wonder of his time.”
Corrado Pellanera was, if you will, the Russell Westbrook of his generation. No, he was not as big and as powerful as the Oklahoma City Thunder star but this was 50 years ago, when athletes were not as big as they are today. Corrado Pellanera was 6’2″ tall and 175 lbs. But he had speed and elevation comparable to someone like Rajon Rondo today. No, I never coached against him. He ended his career just as I came to Italy. He closed out with Fortitudo Bologna in 1972-73 and I came to coach Virtus Bologna in 1973-74. So, I just missed him by one year, either way.
Perhaps it’s just as well. My shooting guard those first two years in Bologna was Renato ‘Cip’ Albonico, about 6’1″ tall and a tremendous athlete. I asked him about Pellanera. He said, “Coach, I like to think I’m a good athlete but there were two guys that made me want to cry. One was Manuel Raga at Varese and the other was Corrado Pellanera with Fortitudo. You know, I could stay with them pretty well on a horizontal plane, running back and forth. But, when they went up in the air … and stayed up there for such a long time… that was just embarrassing.”
I talked with my assistant coach, Ettore Zuccheri, about Pellanera, as he’d been his teammate with Virtus in the early 1960s. He said, “If he got out on the fast break, he was gone. He could actually outrun other players while he was dribbling and they were running without the ball. We talk about ‘acceleration,’ the ability to increase your speed with each step. How many guys can do that? Very few. Well, he was one of the few. He just left people behind. And, of course, he could out-jump anyone and that included the big men. So, he was a threat on offensvie rebounds.”
Of course, I know Corrado Pellanera, who later became a coach in A-2 with Pordenone. He was also a frequent presence at our games when I was coaching Virtus Bologna. He was a quiet, reserved person but everyone respected him. He had great charisma with people. When he’d come to see us play, Ettore Zuccheri would rush to shake hands with him. Even though he had crossed over to play for arch-rival Fortitudo his final playing years, the Virtus fans recalled him with great affection. Fans never forget a true warrior and that was, most definitely, Corrado Pellanera.
No, I never had the honor to coach the great Mario Alesini, nor to coach against him. He ended his playing career in 1964-65 and I came to Virtus Bologna eight years later, 1973-74. Though he was a native of Varese, he had played ten years for Virtus and remained an ‘adopted son’ of the city. He came to see an occasional practice but was a fixture at the games, a true fan of the team. In all this, he was reserved and discreet, not wanting to be invasive. I was saddened to learn of his passing away in 2001. He was a revered figure in the history of Virtus Bologna Basketball.
Though I never saw him play, I heard a lot about him, especially from my assistant coach, Ettore Zuccheri, who had played with Alesini on those Virtus teams of the early 1960s. Ettore said: “Alesini was one of those ‘true’ players, a ‘real’ player, a guy that was there in the big games. He was tough to guard because he had the inside-outside game. If he could post up a smaller player, it was all over, because he was big and strong and had the skills. Then, against bigger men, he’d play in the high post and hurt them with his set shot. He was a smart tactical player.”
Other basektball people I talked to in Bologna said this: “He was a great player to watch in action. First of all, he was a very good athlete and would do those things only exceptional athletes can do. Then, he was a very tough guy and every fan likes to see his players go about their business with a hard-nosed attitude. Finally, he had a certain elegance in his style of play, pleasing to the eye, easy to watch. He was one of those players that had fluid movements, that made everything look easy, look natural. He was a guy you could rely on, a solid, dependable player.”
Achille Canna, co-captain of Italy’s 1960 Olympic team and a teammate of Alesini with Virtus, said this about him: “He had a great, happy spirit about him. He was a happy-go-lucky guy until he got on the floor, where his fighting spirit came out. He was a skilled player because he had learned the fundamentals under the great Vittorio Tracuzzi, so he make very few mistakes.” Mario Alesini came from what Italians call the ‘Heroic Times,’ when men played sports for the love of the game and not for any contractual obligations. That was Mario Alesini, a hero in his time.
I most definitely knew Germano Gambini. For five years, I was coach of Virtus Bologna and he was the ‘deus ex machina’ of cross-town rival Fortitudo. I knew he had been pillar for Virtus as a player, for ten years, 1951-61, and had then gone over to Fortitudo for his last two seasons, 1961-63. There was still some fallout from that. I wasn’t sure how he’d accept me but I needed a pair of glasses and his optical store was the best in town. I went there and he took care of me personally. I could see why he was so successful in his work: he had great charisma and the personal touch.
In the five years I coached Virtus, 1973-78, we played Fortitudo twice each year. We were 9-1 against them but that did not change our relationship. As a former athlete, he knew that you were going to lose some. I know it bothered him to lose to us but he was a gentleman every time. Of course, I am still sick about the one Derby we lost, 83-67, and I don’t even have to look that up, as it’s imprinted on my brain, in the 1974-75 season, after a hallucinating round trip to the USSR to play Spartak of Leningrad. We were simply wiped out, mentally and physically, for that Derby.
As his store was in the heart of the city, and a town of just 500,000 people, I passed by ‘Ottica Gambini’ almost every day. We’d talk about things, mostly basketball. Every time he made an observation, it was right on the money. If his team had lost, he pinpointed exactly why. The same with wins. He also knew the fans of both teams. He told me: “Dan, if Virtus loses, your fans will not watch the game on TV the next night. It we lose, our fans will watch it to know exactly why we lost.” He was right. Our fans could not suffer through a loss twice; Fortitudo’s fans could.
He was a tremendous sportsman. When we won the title in 1976, he was there, as a former player with Virtus, who had won the last two titles the club had won, in 1954-55 and 1955-56. They were all there: Germano Gambini, Achille Canna, Mario Alesini, Nino Calebotta, others. As the clock wound down and we were up by +25, they were so overcome with emotion that they went outside together and cried like babies. Yes, he was Fortitudo all the way but, that one day, he was our guy again. It’s hard to lose when people like that are behind you.
The level of play of NCAA Basketball is down with respect to the past. But, with the NCAA Tournament and all its drama, they have a ‘captive audience.’ But drama does not always translate into quality. The average fan, or alumnus, is mistaking heart-stopping games for high-level play. They are trading off: cardiac arrest for talent and skill. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is what used to be Junior College Basketball. Why not? The age average is like 19-20 today and it used to be 21-22. That’s a two-year difference.
Here’s one reason for much of this: One-and-done. Duke has Jabari Parker, the most-recruited high school player last year? How did that work out? Not so well. But Parker is not alone; All of the top prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft have been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. Had Duke kept all its early-exit players over the past three years, they’d have crushed Mercer. But Mercer had this going for them: five seniors on the floor! So, Mercer’s average age was 21-22 and Duke’s was 19-20. As they say in Italy: Mathematics is not an opinion.
I’ve also said this before: Past NCAA powerhouses would beat today’s teams. Am I off when I say that the great Ohio State team of 1960 would win it again today? Hey, two Hall of Fame players in Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, plus three others who played in the old, 8-team, NBA in Mel Nowell, Joe Roberts, Larry Seigfried. How about the great Cincinnati team of 1962, with several NBA players: Tom Hogue, Tony Yates, Ron Bonham, George Wilson, Tom Thacker? Or the great John Wooden teams at UCLA, with Lew Alcindor, then with Sidney Wicks and finally with Bill Walton?
Cinderella teams like Harvard, Mercer, North Dakota State deserve all the recognition they are getting. But they are the barometer of the level of NCAA play today. So, here’s the question: Could Duke or Syracuse beat the teams I mentioned above? I don’t think so. But that’s not the point. The point is this: the Dukes and ‘Cuses of today should be able to blow away teams from 30, 40 and 50 years ago. I ‘blamed’ this on the one-and-done situation but there is more to it than just that one factor. So, here is the reality: The King has no clothes, so we’re watching Cinderella.
Oh, I definitely coached against Claudio Malagoli. My first three years in Italy, with Virtus Bologna, we faced his APU Udine team, sponsored by Snaidero Udine. We were 8-1 against them but that one loss, up at Udine, in 1975-75, was a shoot-out, and he shot the lights out. We could not stop him. They beat us, 88-76. Malagoli was in a ‘zone,’ as they say. He was 6’7″ tall, could jump with Dr. J (well, almost) and had a perfect jump shot with the ball high above his head, impossible to block. Block? You could not even defend it. You could only hope he missed.
We faced him my first year here in Milan, 1978-79, when he was with MECAP Vigevano. We were 2-0 against them but we had the second-best team in Series A-1 (we went to the final) and they were dead last in the standings. But the time he hurt us most was my fourth year with Olympia Milan, 1981-82, when he was playing with Bartolini Brindisi. Yes, we were without half our team but they upset us, 74-72, with Malagoli making such clutch baskets. We were 2-1 against them that year and we went on to win it all and they dropped to A-2. But, that night, they were the better team.
So, it’s nice to say my teams were 12-2 against his teams. Most likely, we should have been 14-0. In all 14 games, he was the player we had to stop. Yes, his teams had American players, and good ones. At Udine, he had Al Sanders, Jim McDaniel, Bob Fleisher. At Vigevano, he had Clyde Mayes. At Brindisi, he had Otis Howard and Clifton Pondexter. He also had excellent coaches: Beppe Lamberti and Mario DeSisti at Udine; Richard Percudani at Vigegano; Rudy D’Amico at Brindisi. And, he had other good players around him. But he was the player we had to stop.
I’ll say it again: He had the potential to play in the NBA. Especially in today’s NBA, with outside shooting being so very important. In Italy, I thought they should have kept him on the National Team. In International play, you MUST have a great shooter that can come off the bench and make shots. That was Malagoli. I also thought he could have played on any top-level club in Series A-1. I know I would have been glad to have a shooter and player like that on my team. His shooting skill would have opened up the floor for everyone else. The pure shooter.
Someone might wonder, “What’s a trainer doing in a sport Hall of Fame?” Anywhere else, that would be a legitimate question. But, when it regards Sandro Galleani, everything changes. He is the trainer of all trainers, to start with, a man whose lessons on taping are classics, a man who has put athletes back on the floor in record time, a person that has put on clinics in any number of foreign countries, someone that has worked not only with Italy’s national team but, also, that of Japan, and a man
that brings respect, credibility and great human warmth with him.
Of course, I know Sandro Galleani. He was the trainer for Varese during my coaching career here in Italy. As the attached article says, he was trainer for Varese for 38 years, 1971-2009. I was on the scene just a fraction of that period, just 14 seasons, 1973-78 with Virtus Bologna; 1978-87 with Olympia Milan. Varese was, of course, a tremendous rival for my teams during that span. So, I ran into Sandro Galleani often. He was already widely respected when I came to Italy. Everyone talked about him, about his ability, about how advanced he was with his techniques.
But there was another reason I liked and respected Sandro Galleani: He was there not only for Varese but for everyone. If one of my players was hurt during a game, he was on the floor to lend a hand to my trainer, if needed. Like any great trainer, he did not want to see any athlete down with an injury. I had a Basketball School for a couple of years. We went up to Varese to teach the players and the coaches about taping. Who did I ask to give that lesson? Sandro Galleani, of course. I thought I knew a lot about taping until I saw that lesson. It was humbling, to say the least.
Another thing I admire in him is the love he is able to inspire in other people. When he was inducted into the Italian Hall of Fame in January, they also inducted the 1980 Olympic team .. of which he had been trainer. You cannot imagine how every player on that team went directly to him, to shake his hand, to embrace him, to congratulate him, to simply talk with him. They fed off his banter, his good humor, his laughter, his smile, the anecdotes he never fails to recount like a great stand-up comedian. Like they say: They threw away the mold after they made him.
I most definitely coached against Valerio Bianchini. He was, without doubt, the coach I faced the most times here in Italy, the one that gave me the most losses, and the one that dealt me the three toughest eliminations of my career. Those three KO punches came in the space of four seasons, when I was coaching Olympia Milan: he beat us, 2-0, with Gabetti Cantù in the 1980 Series A-1 playoff semi-finals; beat us, 2-1, with Squibb Cantù, in the 1981 Series A-1 playoff semi-finals; and he beat us, 2-1, with Banco di Roma in the finals of the 1983 playoffs.
The 1981 loss still bothers me because it was my fault. They were a much superior team and came into Milan to take Game 1, 79-77. We then went up to Cantù and upset them, 64-66. They took the deciding Game 3 here in Milan, 85-84, after two overtimes. We were up +1 with 10″ to go in regulation when my player, Dino Boselli, was fouled. I had the option of shooting the free throws or in-bounding. I told him to shoot the free throws. He missed the first, made the second, and they made a shot at the buzzer to send it into overtime. I still have nightmares about this.
Valerio Bianchini was much like me: a little guy that was no big deal as a player. But, he had several things going for him. One, he was absolutely fearless and that rubbed off on his teams. Two, he was a fighter and THAT rubbed off on his teams. Three, he was a very smart guy, with a degree in philosophy, and that gave him a great tactical sense in games. Four, he kept things simple for his team, with a few basic plays that were perfectly executed. Fifth, he was a superb bench coach, able to read the game and go with what was hot and set aside what wasn’t working.
As his profile and record say, he won titles in Italy’s A-1 with three different teams, a record: Cantù (1981); Rome (1983); Pesaro (1988). He also took 2nd with Fortitudo Bologna in 1997. He also held another record, since broken, as the first coach to win the European Cup of Champions with two different clubs: Cantù in 1982; Rome in 1984. Every coach knows when he is up against a tremendous adversary. I had that feeling every time I faced Valerio Bianchini, because I knew that anything less than our very best game was not going to be good enough that evening.
Yes, I saw Catarina Pollini play, the first time when she was just 16 years old and was already dominating women’s basketball in Italy and in Europe. She was from Vicenza, in the Veneto Region, an area known as a talent pool and for turning out great women’s club teams. The list of top women’s players from Vicenza and the surrounding area is a long one. Well, the best of those was, without question, “The Czarina.” I mean, the first time I saw her, I was just not prepared to see a 16-year old girl that was 6’5″ tall that could move and play and score with such ease.
I didn’t see her again for a number of years. Of course, I read about her and saw her on TV now and then. Later, in the early 90s, when I was no longer coaching, they had a European Cup final right here in Milan, at the legendary PalaLido Arena. Some poor team from Germany had made it all the way to the final only to run into Catarina Pollini. It was awful to watch. Here was the second-best team in Europe and they were absolutely helpless, powerless, to stop her. Stop her? They couldn’t even slow her down. She went over them, around them and through them.
Comparisons are made between her and Italy’s number one women’s player: 6’2″ Liliana ‘Mabèl’ Bocchi. It’s like trying to compare Michael Jordan (Bocchi) to Bill Russell (Pollini). Each was tops at her position. No question but what Bocchi was the more complete player, as she could have played point guard or center, or any of the five positions. Pollini could not have done that but that’s just ‘bar talk.’ No one was asking either to play all five roles. Both were incredible athletes, smart and tough. Tough? They went after rebounds like men go after rebounds.
I’ve only seen a handful of Italian women’s players that played like men, with that fluid coordination men have, with that combination of strength and quickness that men have. The few that played that way were: Rosi Bozzolo, Lidia Gorlin, Bianca Rossi, Chiara Guzzonato, Mabèl Bocchi and Catarina Pollini. I might be forgetting one or two but that’s a restricted number. I never saw those women unable to do something because of a lack of strength or athletic ability. The biggest of all of them, of course, was Pollini. She was the Wrath of God.
I certainly do know Carlo ‘Charlie’ Caglieris. I had the honor and pleasure of being his coach for my last three years with Virtus Bologna, 1975-78. We were criticized by the local press and our fans for purchasing him for Virtus Bologna in 1975. When we started out the regular season 1-5, we were being ripped daily in the mass media: myself, Charlie and our GM, Gigi Porelli. They called us “The Bermuda Triangle.” And worse. And Charlie wasn’t helping. In a 1-point overtime loss at Forlì in the second game of the year, he had a record 14 turnovers. Some point guard.
Porelli and I knew something wasn’t right. As I relate in the attached text file, we had Charlie examined by our medical staff. They found a venous angioma in his right wrist (and he was right-handed). It was hyper-sensitive. If he took a slap on that wrist, he lost all feeling in his right hand, making it nearly impossible for him to dribble, pass or shoot with any sort of chance of doing well. We had that operated during the season and Charlie started improving and we won the next 9 games in a row. But something else was wrong: He ran out of gas after just a few minutes of play.
We had him examined again and found he had all sorts of respiration problems, including a deviated nasal septum, which meant oxygen was not getting to his lungs in full quantity. Poor Charlie! Over Christmas, we had him operated to correct his breathing problems. Charlie was great about it: “Oh, no more exams with the doctors! Every time we do that, I’m under the knife!” No, no more exams or operations! Charlie’s breathing was improved markedly and his endurance was equal to that of anyone in the league. He was ready to go and he just tore teams apart.
Charlie ran our fast break and we led the league in scoring, thanks to him. Every so often, I see a film clip of those old games and I see Charlie just crush teams by pushing the ball up the floor or by launching a court-length pass to a cutter behind the defense. With that, I know he could play today. As he started to win, he became a more savvy player and cut his turnovers down to almost nothing. No more forced passes. He became like a surgeon on the floor, opening up the other teams with his vision and play-making. Coaching him was more fun than I could ever explain.
I most certainly do know Renato Villalta. Our paths crossed many times. When I first came to Italy, in 1973-74, his name was already being mentioned as the next great Italian player, though he was just 18 years old and playing in Series B for Duco Mestre. He was a little over 6’8″ tall but had a flawless inside game … in Series B. His coach, Augusto ‘Gianni’ Giomo, had done a marvelous job of teaching Villalta the slide moves, the wedge moves, the power moves, the step-round moves, the spin moves that would make him an unstoppable inside scorer, as he won Series B with Duco.
That Series B title brought Duco Mestre up to Series A-1 the next year, where we faced them twice. We were the better team and won both games. They finished next-to-last in A-1 and would drop to A-2 the following year after a 3-way shoot-out vs. Blue Star Rome and Fortitudo Bologna. Villalta would light it up in A-2 as he’d done in A-1, close to 30 points per game. We then purchased his rights for a record transfer fee in the summer of 1976: £400,000,000. That was about $200,000 back then. We loaned Duco two players for two years and paid £250,000,000 in cash.
As I mention in the attached text article, I knew Renato could not make it in A-1 as a 6’8″ center, so I had to make a position change. He moved out to forward, facing the basket, a new world for him. But he never complained. I didn’t start him until the playoffs, to keep the pressure off him. He put in extra practice sessions. His scoring dropped from 28 ppg the year before to just 8 ppg with us. Through all this, he never once complained. The next year, he became a forward, even adding an outside shot to his repertoire. He took us to the finals in both of those years.
I only coached Renato Villalta those two years, leaving for Milan in 1978. That meant I had to play against him! No fun at all. He beat us — and I mean he beat us! — in two playoff finals, in 1979 and 1984. He was the Dave DeBusscher of Italy. An indication of his greatness was his 29 points against Yugoslavia in the gold medal game in the 1980 Olympics, in Moscow. Yugoslavia took the game, 86-77, and the gold medal. But Renato had taken Italy to its first medal ever in the Olympics, a silver, and would take them to the gold in the 1983 Europeans. He was a true champion.
I take it all back. I said I thought the lower-level NBA teams were ‘tanking’ — losing games on purpose to finish lower in the final regular season standings, to enhance their chances of a high selection in the upcoming NBA Draft. Oh, those teams may be happy to finish dead last or near there. But they don’t need to TRY to lose. Why? Because they are truly bad teams. I saw highlights — or lowlights — of the Philadelphia 76ers the other day, a team that has lost 20 consecutive games. I thought, “Well, they are probably tanking.” No, they are just a bad, bad basketball team.
In this film clip, I saw the worst play I have ever seen in the NBA. Guys missed dunks but, hey, that happens. What doesn’t happen is guys falling down; guys blowing little lay-ups right under the basket; guys making charging fouls; guys passing the ball to a spot where a receiver is supposed to be … but is not there and the ball sails into the stands. It was the worst exhibition of professional basketball I have ever seen. Their coach said they may not win another game this year. I thought that indicated they were tanking. On the contrary, the man called it as he saw it.
They say the worst team in NBA history was the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 9-73, the fewest wins and most losses ever by an NBA team. I saw that team play a couple of times and that was a bad, bad team. The coach, Roy Rubin, went 4-47 before being let go. Player Kevin Loughery moved up to take his place and went 5-26. But, you know, there were some names on that team: Tom Van Arsdale, Bob Rule, Bill Bridges, Mel Counts, Leroy Ellis, Hal Greer, Kevin Loughery, Don May. But scoreboards don’t lie and they were just simply awful.
Well, I believe this present 76ers team is much worse than that team. All of this brings me to a subject broached by David Stern a few years ago: Contraction. That is, reduce the number of NBA teams from 30 to, let’s say, 24. The ideal number is 16 but that is not going to happen. Too many owners have put too much money into their franchises to let that happen. But their ‘product’ takes a hit every time a pitiful team, like the 76ers or Milwaukee Bucks plays. Well, this opens discussions about ‘One and Done,’ about the D-Rule, about a lot of things. That starts tomorrow.
It’s March Madness. Well, March and April. April Apoplexy? Good a slogan as any, I guess. By the way, though the NCAA thinks they have the sole rights to the term ‘March Madness,’ I can assure you that I heard it in Illinois long before the NCAA began using the term. I’m talking about the late 1940s. Well, you have to understand: Our State Tournament is the oldest in the USA, starting in 1908, and the NCAA only began its tournament in 1939. They talk about ‘Hoosiers’ and the Indiana State Tournament but that began in 1911. Anyway, March is truly Madness.
I see Michigan State stopped Michigan to win the Big 10 Tournament. That means my Northwestern Wildcats were taken out but the eventual winners of the tournament. Small consolation but we know it took the best to do us in. Michigan had beaten State twice in the Big 10 regular season. But, as they say, beating the same opponent three times in one year is no small task. Then, when it’s your in-state rival, even more difficult. Then, State coach Tom Izzo is no stranger to tournament play, with NCAA and Big 10 trophies clogging the shelves in his office.
Who is going to win the NCAA? Please. No one can be sure of that. You have to win 6 straight games to take it all. Well, seven straight if you are in the play-in phase. One bad shooting night, one bad call, one missed free throw and you are out. Still, I do think Florida has a strong case. Their coach, Billy Donovan, has won a couple of NCAA titles, putting him in the elite class of college coaches. But Rick Pitino of Louisville has won it at two different schools: Kentucky and Louisville. I tend to go with the more experienced and proven coaches at tournament time.
I’m not as into the NCAAs as I used to be. Now, my oldest son, Bill, will probably see every game played, either live or by tape. He loves the opening round of 32 games, when everyone is still ‘alive’ and has a chance to win it all … theoretically. I think the level of college basketball has dropped in recent years. No more Jerry Lucas or Lew Alcindor playing four years of NCAA Basketball. If they ever eliminate ‘One and Done’ and get back to ‘Four and More,’ let me know and I’ll be glued to the TV screen as in the past. But this one is wide-open, Far West. And everyone is ‘packing.’
So, they have noise that reaches 137 decibels in Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, a ‘domed’ arena. They used to have this in baseball in Minneapolis. Pardon me for being a stick-in-the-mud but I think 137 decibels is over the top. Jumbo jets don’t make that much noise. Now, Kansas City has its ‘open’ stadium and they make just about as much noise. Oddly, I have nothing to say about that. Hey, it’s outdoors. Make all the noise you want in an outdoor stadium. Indoor football or baseball stadium? I have to wonder about ‘unfair advantage’ or ‘damaging the product.’
Now, this may sound strange, coming from a former basketball coach, whose teams ALWAYS played indoors! And, yes, I have heard a lot of noise in some of those places. Maybe not 137 decibels but enough that I could not make myself understood by my players at time-outs. But, I have no comment on that because ALL basketball arenas have a roof! That is, it’s the same for every game. There is no ‘unfair advantage.’ In fact, I adjusted my play-calling system to all visuals, just to avoid my point guard not being able to communicate in a noisy arena. So, no problem there.
But, football is a little different. They call plays in football and call audibles at the line of scrimmage. That is impossible if the crowd ups the noise level. Again, if that happens in an ‘open’ stadium, so be it. But, if it happens in a ‘closed’ stadium, I really wonder about the so-called ‘level playing field.’ Understand, there is nothing that can be done about this. The NFL would look pretty silly if they said, “OK, Seattle fans, quiet during the other team’s huddle and when they are calling audibles at the line of scrimmage.” That would get them laughed out of their offices.
Here’s the question I have: Has this so-called ‘home dome advantage’ meant that Seattle has gone ahead, while a better team has been eliminated? I don’t want to say that’s like ‘fixing’ a game but we’re on the edge there. Well, coach Jim Harbaugh and his San Francisco 49ers had better be able to communicate plays in the huddle (hand signs?) and at the line of scrimmage (foot position?) when the two teams square off this weekend. If Seattle wins, I’ll hold my tongue. They have a great team and a fine coach in Pete Carroll. It should be the Game of the Year.
Put ‘Is Dennis Rodman … ” up on Google. Back comes a long list of possible answers: Is Dennis Rodman sick? Is Dennis Rodman broke? Sober? Bisexual? Dead? Going to die young? On that last one: What is young? The man is 52 years old. You can even find every sort of psychological profile on Rodman. Just put up “Dennis Rodman psychological profile.” You’ll have more reading than you can handle in a year. Yes, I have two minors in psychology but, as I’ve said before, that adds up to almost nothing. All I can do is identify behavior. Here’s a try on that:
1. Attention-seeking devices. That’s a term I remember from one of the first psych courses I took. This pretty much sums up Dennis Rodman. From this, we get a man that has dyed his hair, tattooed his skin, pierced his body, worn dresses and written (well, dictated) a tell-all book. And, trust me, this guy has a lot to tell. So, we have someone that is constantly looking for attention, whatever that takes. Let’s add in the possibility that he may also ingest or otherwise assume substances that are considered out of bounds by the NBA and out of order by the Law.
2. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. That is, vanity: Look at me! Being the center of everything, no matter what. If he does something crazy on Monday, he can’t do that on Tuesday. People will say, “Hey, that’s old. He did that on Monday.” So, the guy has to ‘top himself.’ If Monday was a 50 on a scale of 1-100 for craziness, well, on Tuesday, he has to go to 51. That way, on Wednesday, people will say, “Hey, did you see what he did yesterday?” But, sadly for these people, they eventually run out of ways to top themselves. That’s when they become dangerous to themselves, as in …
3. Self-destructive behavior. Well, no one will ever be able to talk Dennis Rodman back from the ledge. He likes it out there. It fits his pattern of what is known as self-destructive behavior. Well, as one of the articles I saw said: “It’s time to stop paying attention to Dennis Rodman.” Amen to that. Of course, the media feeds off this sort of zany behavior. They don’t really come out and say, “Dennis, do something crazy for us, so we’ll have something to write about.” No need for that. All they have to do is be patient. Dennis Rodman will give them title, story and sidebar. Every other day.
Everyone has seen the semi-circle under the basket in NBA (and FIBA) games. It’s said that the rule was put in, in 1997, to make the game ” … safer and easier to referee.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think it was put in to let the great dunkers …. dunk. I’ll get specific: to let Vince Carter dunk. The rule is this: if a player (Vince Carter) takes off at the free throw line for a spectacular dunk, well, if some clever defensive player steps into that semi-circle to draw a charging foul …. hey, it’s not a charging foul! So, Vince Carter, dunk to your heart’s content.
What was the result of this? Safer? Hardly. Guys are getting killed going for dunks. Then, my opinion, it stunted Vince Carter’s growth as a player. Why? He saw he could go for the dunk on almost every play, so he looked only for that. He became a ‘limited’ player. He no longer had to be a smart player. A smart player makes good choices. What choice was there for Carter? None! So, he tried too many dunks and got some blocked, missed some, got blind-sided on some. People thought of him this way: “Great talent but you can’t win with him.” Amen to that.
Let’s back up. Did you ever see Julius Erving, the supreme dunker of his time, miss a dunk shot? No. Never. Did you ever see him get a dunk blocked? No. Never. Why? One, Dr. J was a smart guy, so he picked his spots for his dunks, rarely, if ever, forcing one. Remember the clinching dunk for the NBA title, vs. the Lakers, in LA, in 1983? Erving intercepted a pass and had nothing but hardwood and daylight in front of him. Did he windmill or tomahawk it? He could have! But, did he? No, he put down the easiest 2-hand dunk of his life. Game over. Title won.
I could ask the same questions about Michael Jordan, who never missed a dunk and never had one blocked. Well, Erving and Jordan knew how to play basketball. They knew this: “If I go for a dunk here, I’ll charge.” So, they opted for the pickup jump shot. There was no semi-circle dumbing them down. They had to be smart, so they were. We hear complaints about how dumb players are today, about how many dunks they miss or get blocked. Well, take out the semi-circle and you’ll reverse that trend. Just my opinion. But, you know, I’ve been right before.