Tuesdays With Jimmy
If I had any sense I wouldn’t have left…
The NBA Playoffs start this weekend and we couldn’t think of a better way to kick things off than an interview with the game’s biggest fan. No, not Jack Nicholson. Or Spike Lee. It’s Jimmy Goldstein, featured in SLAM 138. This past February, I spent an afternoon at his house and attended a game with him. Here’s what happened…
by Myles Brown/@mdotbrown
It’s gotta be the hat.
Try to encapsulate what distinguishes Jimmy Goldstein from his eccentric brethren and it comes down to the hat.
People will wear practically anything, anywhere, in Los Angeles. Sunglasses were made for indoors, underwear is optional and at times, underwear is outwear. But you still don’t see many hats. Particularly wide brimmed python hats. It’s the coup de grace of an assault on conventional wisdom.
Phil Jackson was quite the eccentric himself once. He had a hat too. He even wore it to a job interview.
He longed to coach in the NBA, but showed up in Chicago to interview for an assistant’s job with the Bulls wearing a Panama hat with a macaw’s feather, and then tried to explain the legend of the feather to his prospective boss, Stan Albeck.
“His eyes glazed over very early in the interview,” says Jackson, who did not get the job.
Upon the urging of Jerry Krause, Jackson left it at home for his second interview with the Bulls. He got the job. No one asks him about that hat anymore.
Phil Jackson isn’t known for his interests these days, he’s known for his accomplishments.
Jimmy had a job once too. Of course no one knows what it was. I didn’t bother to ask. Even if he told me where the money came from, does this make him accountable for how he spends it? I could care less. I was here to talk about basketball.
It takes a pretty interesting man to be known solely for his interests. He didn’t disappoint.
“I don’t think Ive ever heard anyone say that before.”
His response lingered for a second and its implication was clear. He’s been a season ticket holder since 1962. He partied with Wilt. He plays tennis with Clyde Drexler. He was just discussing the CBA with league executives at All Star Weekend. His not having heard it, essentially qualified my statement as either the foresight of a basketball savant or unfathomable stupidity.
And things were going so well…
The gate opened before I could say a word. He was expecting me. The winding driveway finally ended and I expected Shangri La, but there was only construction. Even paradise has its upkeep, I suppose.
There were no butlers and no handmaidens. In fact, there was no one. I let myself in.
There were trees, glass walls, a koi pond, and an abstract painting. There was streamlined concrete and leather furniture, a breathtaking view of Los Angeles and hats. There were plenty of hats. But no Jimmy.
“I’m in here.”
There were no formal introductions or awkward pauses, just a brief tour and some talking. Actually, lots of talking. We talked about his reading habits, his wardrobe and Gilbert Arenas. We talked about the Thunder and Mavericks game projected on to the wall of his screening room. We talked about how he seriously considered buying the Milwaukee Bucks before some guy named Jordan got involved. But as we settled in his kitchen, the conversation shifted towards LeBron James and well….he’d never heard anyone say that before.
I changed the subject.
Eventually, we started talking about the Lakers and I pressed record…
SLAM: Do you dislike the team?
Jimmy: No. On a personal level, I’ve got a lot of friends on the team. But since I started going to Laker games in the early 60′s, I’ve always pulled for the other team. One of the reasons being that the Lakers had been winning too much and I don’t root for the winner, I like to root for the underdog. And the Lakers have had huge built in advantages over the other teams because they make a lot more money, they’re in a city where all the players want to play and they always end up making one sided deals. The Gasol deal, getting Shaquille, getting Kobe…it’s been going on for almost 50 years and that makes me resent the Lakers. I start out as a neutral basketball observer, as I explained to you earlier, and then I go to a game and everybody is so one sided in rooting for the Lakers and criticizing the calls by the officials and everything else…All of that sends me to the other side. All of those things play into it.
SLAM: So is it the team itself or ‘the system’?
Jimmy: When I get to the game and the Lakers have the home court advantage and they have one of the best records in the league year after year, they’re almost always a heavy favorite to win the game. Well I don’t want to see a game that’s a lopsided win by the Lakers. So that makes me root for the other team.
SLAM: Showtime, the 33 game win streak, the three peat. Did you enjoy any of that, or did it just sour you on the team?
Jimmy: Well, I was pulling for the other team. The Showtime era, I didn’t like because most of the games were so one sided. So the ‘Showtime’ happened in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided. I didn’t care about seeing Magic Johnson’s fancy passes, I wanted to see a close game. If there was the occasional close game the same thing would happen every time: Magic would go to the hoop, go ‘Umph!’, get a foul called, make the free throws and the Lakers would win the game.
SLAM: When they met with Boston, did you have a rooting interest or you still just wanted good basketball?
Jimmy: I have the same feeling about Boston that I do for the Lakers, because Boston was winning all the time. So when Boston would play the Lakers in the Finals, that would be the worst. For everyone else it was the greatest Finals imaginable. For me, it was the worst because I didn’t like either team.
SLAM: You’ve seen so many eras of basketball. Is there one you’re more fond of or is it all the same?
Jimmy: It’s not all the same, but I’m one of these people that looks back and yearns for yesteryear. In everything I do, whether it’s my clothes, design, music, I try to move forward. That doesn’t mean I forget everything that’s happened in the past, but I don’t say, ‘Gee, I wish it was the way it used to be’. I keep looking forward to what’s coming next.
SLAM: Based on what you’ve seen in the past, looking forward, are there things that concern you?
Jimmy: There was period in recent years when defense had really taken over the game and I didn’t like that. I tried to come up with ideas that would restore the speed and athleticism, which is what makes basketball really special in my opinion. Now there’s still not as much running as there was in the 80′s, but it’s not like it was in the 90′s either.
SLAM: Do you think it was the hand checking?
Jimmy: It was also a mental philosophy. Phoenix, up until the Steve Kerr era, was unquestionably my favorite team. I have to say that was one of my favorite teams ever, because the style of basketball they played.
SLAM: How did you feel about Nash’s MVPs? Were they deserved?
Jimmy: First of all, I have to tell you that I’m not wild about awards that are voted on. The MVP is the worst one for me because nobody defines what the MVP is. I wish they’d call it ‘The Outstanding Player Award’ and then there wouldn’t be all this stuff about ‘ He makes his team better’…’His team didn’t win the championship, therefore we can’t consider him’…that kind of stuff.
SLAM: What does it mean to you? If you had to set the criteria, what would it be?
Jimmy: If I had my wishes, it would be called the Outstanding Player Award and it would go to whoever is the best player, regardless of whether he leads his team to the championship or not. Certainly the ability to pass the ball and set up your teammates is part of that. But this goes back to the debates of who was better between Russell and Chambelain. Everyone who was a Russell fan says that because his team won so many championships, he was the greatest player of all time.
SLAM: He had a better team.
Jimmy: Yeah. The whole team made the Hall of Fame. That has to be taken into account. I don’t like the recent methodology of choosing the All Stars where if a player isn’t on a winning team, then he has no chance of being named to the All Star team. I just think that’s very unfair.
SLAM: Are you familiar with Bill Simmons?
SLAM: Have you read his book?
Jimmy: I’ve bought it, but I haven’t read it yet. I ran into him in Dallas.
SLAM: I read some of it on the plane out here and he tackled the Russell v. Chamberlain debate. It’s hard to take his word 100% because of his Boston slant, but he tried to debunk some of the myths surrounding Russell. He said that Russell was a better player than he got credit for because of his passing. He may not have scored as much, but he always put them in a position to score with his picks and passes.
Jimmy: I’ve never heard anyone say that before. Bill wasn’t around during those days.
SLAM: Hey, I’m just the messenger.
Jimmy: You weren’t around either. I don’t recall that aspect of his game. In those days it was a completely different game. You didn’t have double teaming and Bill Russell certainly wasn’t feared offensively, so it wasn’t as though someone was leaving his man to cover him. Whereas Wilt did make up his mind one season that he was going to lead the league in assists and he did it.
SLAM: That was another thing Simmons touched on, saying that Wilt was too preoccupied with individual awards and statistical glory rather than team success.
Jimmy: I don’t disagree with him on that, because Wilt was a good friend of mine during those days-we used to hang out after the games-and he was overly concerned about what writers would say about him. He was very anxious to protect his record of never fouling out of a game and other things like that.
SLAM: In some respects I do understand that, because these writers do essentially write your legacy. However you can’t get so caught up in that and lose sight of what’s truly important.
Jimmy: His free throw shooting was a function of that. Him feeling the criticism. Because he could make free throws in practice. It was a mental thing.
SLAM: Was it the same with Shaq?
Jimmy: He was very sensitive about the criticism that he received about his poor free throw shooting, so that definitely psyched him out during the games.
SLAM: Do you have a favorite player? All time? Currently?
Jimmy: I can’t narrow it down to one player. I have good friends and that enters into it, so I’d rather not single out one player whether it’s today or all time.
SLAM: I ask that because this is a player’s league where there’s so much free agency and trading and whatnot, so it seems like it’s hard to maintain a rooting interest for just one particular team.
Jimmy: I agree with that. I don’t think many other people have an outlook on the game the way you and I do, but that’s definitely the way I feel. And I have favorite teams from year to year based on the style that they play, makeup of the team, and I feel like the players are changing teams and I have the same right to change teams.
SLAM: Do you have a favorite team over all of this time?
Jimmy: Since my allegiance to Phoenix disappeared a few years ago, I don’t have on specific team. But this year, the teams that have caught my fancy have been Memphis and Oklahoma City.
SLAM: What about all time? Out of all of your years of watching basketball, is there one team that you can say definitively, ‘This is the best team I’ve ever seen’?
Jimmy: Well my favorite was probably Phoenix of the earlier part of this recent decade. As far as the best team ever, it’s hard to argue with Chicago’s record of 72 wins, but when you break it down on an individual basis, they didn’t have great players at every position. I’ve been following the NBA almost 60 years. The game has been played so differently during different times of that lengthy period. You asked me if Oscar and Wilt would have been as great in today’s game and I said yes. But if you bring the entire team from the 1960′s into this century, the game was so different. How do you analyze that? They may have been the greatest team of that era, but to compare them to a team of this era is so difficult. That’s why I hesitate to answer your question.
SLAM: The game does move forward, not backward. With that said, would you say that Michael is the best player you’ve seen?
Jimmy: I would say he was the best all around player, but again, I don’t like to compare players at different positions and say who was the best. I don’t think it’s appropriate to compare a guard to center and say the guard or the center is the best player of all time, because they’re playing different positions and have different roles in the game.
SLAM: I’ve come to that conclusion myself and the only thoughts I have from there are that the guard is in control of the ball, whereas the center is dependent on his teammates. So a dynamic guard would be slightly more valuable because it’s for him to create his own shot and create for others.
Jimmy: So you would limit your choices to guards?
SLAM: As a matter of preference, yeah. The best center as far as I’m concerned-not in terms of stats or rings-is Hakeem Olajuwon, because of his versatility and I think that game from having the flair and skills of a guard.
Jimmy: I’m glad you picked him, because he’s a personal friend, he’s been here to my house and you could almost say I was part of the Houston teams that won those two championships. I was at all their practices, traveling with the team and that’s one of the thrills of my basketball career, being part of that. I’ll tell you a story about my experience with Hakeem, but it’s 6:00 now, we should go….