Gameday Dish: Heat at Celtics Season Opener

The Heat and the Celtics have their eyes on the same prize: getting to and winning the NBA Finals in June. The Lakers will be showing off their newly acquired championship rings in a pregame ceremony at the Staples Center tonight and appear ready to threepeat for another title and more bling.

Rings, this game is all about championship rings: LeBron on the beach looking for that first ring; Shaq in Boston determined to get championship number five to keep up with his former teammate and now trophy rival Kobe Bryant.

The finals are a very long, arduous regular season away. But there’s the type of buzz surrounding the start of this season that we usually don’t encounter until playoff time. And tonight’s opener between the Celtics and Heat features two teams at the center of the drama as the Celtics’ Big Three Pierce, Garnett and Allen prepare to do battle with Miami’s newly formed triumvirate of James, Wade and Bosh for Eastern Conference supremacy

Tonight’s matchup will put into motion the many exciting subplots set to play out this season. Will D-Wade occupy seat 1 or seat 2? Will Rajon Rondo make the proverbial jump to superstar? How will Kendrick Perkins’ injured knee and his mid-season return to the starting lineup affect the Celts? Will Miami’s supporting cast surrounding the stars step up and deliver? Will Coach Doc Rivers be happy with his big decision to come back to the Boston bench after the heartbreaking Game 7 loss in last year’s Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. And how will second-year head coach Erik Spoelstra lead his new awesome threesome?

Did I mention LeBron James joining Dwyane Wade and the Heat?

The biggest star in professional basketball (professional sports?) leaves his almost-hometown team (the Akron Cavs?) via a prime-time television special and relocates to flashy, splashy Miami to join forces with D-Wade, Chris Bosh and Pat Boss, aka team president Pat Riley.

Some prognosticators have been throwing around the Michael Jordan-led 1995-96 Champion Chicago Bulls and their 72-10 all-time best regular season mark as a measuring stick for this Miami team. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman … James, Wade and Bosh – different eras, different players for sure, but similar expectations in many fans’ and even experts’ minds.

Anything less than a dominating start of the season in the wins column will be viewed as a letdown for this newer than new Miami Heat squad.  Expectations of success are higher than maybe any team has shouldered since those mid-to-late 90’s Bulls teams that won three titles back-to-back-to-back.

The Celtics on the other hand, having won the crown in 2008 with what was then considered a veteran team, are statistically the oldest team in the NBA and may be forgiven for some regular season stretches of sub-par play due to wear and tear.

However, Boston fans could taste franchise-record title 18 until the final, final moments of Finals’ Game 7 last year and are hungry for another championship banner to add to the Celtics’ collection in the rafters of the TD Garden.

The quest for the coveted 2011 NBA Championship ring starts tonight. Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and I have Miami Heat at Boston Celtics at 7:30 PM EST on TNT.

On the Road with Mike: Flight School Recap

It was great to get back to Michael Jordan Senior Flight School after missing a year due to the fact that Michael and the camp directors decided to take last summer off because of the state of the national economy. Noticeably absent was longtime staff member Chuck Daly, who passed away last May after battling pancreatic cancer for several months. We talked about Chuck a lot, remembering how great he was and how much he loved Michael’s camp.

Though Chuck was sorely missed, some fresh new faces invigorated this summer’s coaching staff including John Thompson III and Ben Howland. And our campers brought great energy to the camp as well. We enjoyed a very spirited and highly competitive atmosphere because of the influx of new, younger participants who fell in the 35-45 age range. We also had a number of veteran guys return who have been attending for the past 5-6 years.

Possessing a winning combination of veteran experience and young talent, my Blazers team was seeded number two going into Saturday’s championship tournament. Our opening game victory against the Nuggets (coached by Bill Self and John Thompson III) allowed us to advance to the final four. In the semifinals we were matched up against the Lakers, coached by P.J. Carlesimo. It was a very hard-fought battle, but too many turnovers and missed shot opportunities eventually took their toll on our offense. The Lakers defeated the Blazers, ending our hopes of winning the Flight School Team Championship.

The Lakers moved on to the finals, where they met Doc Rivers and the Bulls in a highly competitive and physical game. The Bulls led by one point with seconds remaining, but the Lakers had the final possession. When their last shot went up there was contact on the play, but no whistle. The shot missed so the Bulls held on to win by one point and secure the team championship.

Now all we can do, coaches and campers alike, is hope that we will have the chance to come back next year and compete once again. As we prepared to leave camp, the big question on everyone’s mind was whether the Class of 2010 would be the last to graduate from Flight School. With Michael taking full control over the Charlotte Bobcats, he will no doubt have to shoulder many more responsibilities in his new ownership role. So Michael is going to have to determine whether he can still afford to give the campers the time he’s given them in the past. His hands-on involvement is what has made Flight School so successful for all these years. Knowing Michael and the way he wants the camp run, if he has to cheat the camp he’s not going to do it. Michael and his staff have to get together and decide whether they can run the camp the right way and make it available to everyone for another shot at Flight School glory.

On the Road with Mike: Michael Jordan Senior Flight School

It’s already shaping up to be another memorable week at the Michael Jordan Senior Flight School camp at the Mirage Hotel and Casino Las Vegas. Eight teams comprised of 9-10 players will make a run for the chance to compete for the championship title on Saturday. And to the victor go the equally coveted spoils: a diamond-studded championship ring inscribed with the Jordan logo, the year, and the winners’ names.

What makes this camp special is that you have Michael Jordan there every day involved and interacting with the players. And you also have a number of Hall of Famers on this coaching staff as well as a number of current NBA coaches and rising great coaches at the collegiate level including P.J. Carlesimo, Jay Wright, Roy Williams, Doc Rivers, John Calipari, Ben Howland, Alvin Gentry, Bill Walton, Bill Self and John Thompson III. This summer, veterans of the camp will coach their own teams and some of the new guys will be partnered up with those of us who have been around for a while.

We drafted our teams last night. My team is the Blazers and we put together an outstanding group of guys with talent and a strong will to win. Our front line is anchored by 6’5” Gary Munson, a 245-pound explosive rebounder from New York. My other center Mark Taylor hails from Weddington, North Carolina and is 6’4”, 230 pounds. My wing players are James Malinchak (6’3”, 215 lbs) from Henderson, Nevada and Chris Dunne (6’2”, 205 lbs) of Denver, Colorado. At 6’2” and 185 pounds a guy I’m relying on to play multiple positions is Ryan Meier from San Diego, California. And in keeping with the NBA trend of going global, I drafted John Herrero (6’, 222 lbs) from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Mark Scura (5’11”, 165 lbs) from Concord, New Hampshire plays some point guard for us, some 2 guard, and he’s a good defender. Rounding out our roster are two grizzly veterans: David Hilton (5’8”, 185 lbs) from Woodlands, Texas and Paul Hertzberg (5’10”, 180 lbs) from Los Angeles, California. They add their wealth of knowledge and experience to our team.

Michael Jordan opened camp with a lecture to the campers this morning. He touched on strategies for playing offensive basketball and the thought process when you’re starting out one-on-one, demonstrating how to face up and attack the basket. Following 15 minutes of Q&A with Jordan we had our first team practice. Afterwards Hubie Brown gave a great talk to the campers, sharing a historical account of how the players today compare to players of yesteryear and his experiences coaching at the different levels throughout his Hall of Fame career.

Then it was time to test the waters. In our first matchup we faced the Bobcats coached by Roy Williams and wound up coming away with the victory. Though it was a good win for the Blazers, we played a sloppy game – missing way too many free throws and easy shots on the inside. We had a lot of work to do in our afternoon practice before facing the Suns, who are coached by Alvin Gentry and Bill Walton. With only one practice and one game under my belt I had a lot of figuring out to do.

Our practice paid off. We did a better job of shooting our free throws in this afternoon’s game and our team defense improved. Though we didn’t rebound the ball very well we came with a narrow victory over the Suns. We have a very difficult game coming up tomorrow morning against the Nuggets who are coached by Bill Self and John Thompson III. They have a couple very good players. We have to watch out for powerhouse Michael Hawk, a 6’3” 185-pounder form Mt Vernon Ohio and Mark Gott, their 5’8” bullet point guard from Mooresville, Indiana.

With guys ranging from ages 35 to 66 our Blazers squad possesses a blend of youth, veteran expertise and a tremendous desire to win. I have one championship ring from when Mike Krzyzewski and I coached a team together some years ago. Would love to return home with another.

Mike Looks Back: ATL HAWKS 1986-87

Head coach Mike Fratello of the Atlanta Hawks calls out a play and argues a call during an NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California in 1987. Photos by Mike Powell and Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Head coach Mike Fratello sees how he measures up against a Tree Rollins height chart during the 1986-87 season.

During the 1986-87 season, my fourth year as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, we won 57 regular season games to finish first in the Central Division and second in the Eastern Conference behind the mighty Boston Celtics, who would ultimately lose to the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

That year we set the franchise’s best record for regular season wins, which has since been matched by the 1993-94 Hawks team, though it has not yet been surpassed. Dominique Wilkins was among the 20+ Hall of Fame players who competed during the “Golden Era” of NBA basketball. Nique made his second of nine total All-Star appearances that year.

I came across this New York Times article published on April 19, 1987 about our team: “Pro Basketball; Hawks Fulfilling Tall Order” by Ira Berkow

WHEN Mike Fratello – who says he is 5 feet 7 inches (though in a pinch could probably pass for 5-6), and is short enough to have once been turned down for a National Basketball Association head coach’s job because of his height – when Mike Fratello, now the coach of the Atlanta Hawks, stands next to Tree Rollins or Kevin Willis, both of whom are 7 feet tall, and gives them instructions, it looks as if he’s calling up to the second floor . . .

You can read the rest of the article here.

ATLANTA - 1987: Doninique Wilkins #21 of the Atlanta Hawks squares off against Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics during the 1987 NBA game at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

That season I also made my first and only music video appearance. The local Atlanta band Tom Grose and the Varsity released a 45 rpm record for the Hawks titled “Nothing Can Stop Us, We’re Atlanta’s Air Force.”

Who knew I’d wind up joining my buddy Marv Albert in the broadcast booth for the NBA on NBC several years later.

Dominique Wilkins #21 of the Atlanta Hawks and his brother Gerald Wilkins #21 of the New York Knicks are interviewed by Marv Albert before a 1987 NBA game played at the OMNI Coliseum in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Hawks center “Tree” Rollins towered at 7 ft 1 inch tall, while point guard and 1986 NBA Slam Dunk champion “Spud” Webb stood only 5 ft 5 inches small.

Guard Anthony (Spud) Webb of the Atlanta Hawks leaps to victory during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Photo by Stephen Dunn /Allsport

Tree Rollins #30 of the Atlanta Hawks stretches by the bench during a game against the Lakers. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Mike’s Memorabilia: Red Auerbach Trophy

Red Auerbach Trophy for Coach of the Year – 1986: One of the highlights and tremendous honors of my coaching career was being named NBA Coach of the Year for the 1985–86 season.

It was my third year as head coach and going into the season the outlook was bleak. We were the second youngest team in the NBA. We had only won 34 games the previous year and my contract was up at the end of the season. Somehow I had to convince our guys that we could bounce back and turn things around.

Led by NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins and point guard Doc Rivers we went into the playoffs on the back of a hard-fought 50-win season. We beat the Pistons in the first round but unfortunately we were defeated by the Celtics in the second – they would go on to win the Championship.

Beyond our team’s success, Wilkins led the league in scoring with 30.3 ppg and made his first All-Star appearance. Spud Webb (one of the few players I could look in the eyes without a step stool) won the NBA Slam-Dunk Championship – becoming the shortest player ever to win the contest. I was named Coach of the Year and the Hawks signed me to a four-year extension. We went on to have three consecutive 50-win seasons. It was a magical year.

Check out this Hawks Highlight Reel from 1986.

Mike’s son admires his Coach of the Year trophy in 1986.