I just finished watching LeBron play a string of 20 straight games. It’s late in his fifteenth NBA season, and something hit me like a ton of bricks today. I think it’s time to say “King James” is the second best basketball player of all time. I could not be more objective on this subject. I’m not a “LeBron guy.” My buddy Russ used James as a weapon in arguments against my favorite players. I was built to hope LBJ did not succeed. Modern commentators (Nick Wright) that lie about Jordan, to build up James also annoy me to no end. If you saw Michael Jordan play in real-time at his apex, it would likely be obvious to you HE is the “GOAT.”
I’m a Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant fan. I have no horse in this race. I do not cheer for LeBron. If anything, I’d be the guy pointing out James said he would hit 80 percent of his foul shots for the first time this year, and that he’s currently at 72.6.
King was already in the argument as the second best ball player to live….then this season happened. He’s 53,000 total minutes into his career, and actually getting better. It’s not like he’s still an all-star or a superstar. LBJ is the best player in the world and it’s not close (and I AM a KD guy)! He’s adding onto his brilliance every single night. His turnaround jump shots have conviction, and they often resemble MJ and Hakeem. He feels himself from the three-point line. He’s thriving in odd team circumstances. James footwork is better, and his fakes have fakes. His post game is growing. I see more and more of his left hand. Even his missed shots are popping me out of my seat. If he’s lost foot speed or elevation, it’s a non issue. Coach Gordon Chiesa says he has “jack hammer power.” That muscle and finesse are a wonderful marriage. LeBron reminds me of Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, and Clyde Drexler. He is better than an amazing basketball player at this point, he’s a walking parade of greatness.
His level most times this season felt similar to Michael Jordan late in his Bulls career (1997-98 window). He’s abusing teams in the clutch, and doing it in a variety of ways. He will sometimes point to his pretend watch as if to say, “It’s time for me to close things down.” King is taking what he wants and his creativity and court vision are outrageous. He’s aware of his legacy and enjoying the ride. He’s smiling and laughing a lot. LeBron should be getting heavy legs, instead he’s somehow been reborn.
Let’s mention the guys we are all thinking about.
Jabbar remains more accomplished than James, but I would now put Kareem third all time.
I know you are the games greatest winner Mr. Bill Russell.
Wilt was so legit, I’d guess he would average 32/15/5 in today’s game.
Earvin had the perfect nickname in “Magic.” I’d trust him to make a goofy trick shot in pressure, more than I’d trust James to knock down a free throw.
Larry Bird. Larry freaking Bird!
It’s not that Kobe Bryant bailed LeBron and his teammates out in crunch time in the Gold Medal Game….it’s that James fans were texting me “give it to Kobe” when the game was on the line. Bryant was the “Killer” on the “Redeem Team.”
Shaq was that guy for a handful of years.
Hakeem was this level for a minute. Oscar? West? No.
Tim Duncan won a “few games.” He’s not LeBron.
I’ve seen enough. LeBron is second! His sustained excellence with what’s to come is a tough package to beat. While there are aspects of other players gifts I prefer more, James will have a resume that will look like it’s own mountain. I can no longer deny just HOW great the king is. I’m factoring in that I expect him to dominate for another half decade and win one to three more titles.
I envision James carrying the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals this summer. Once there, against a better TEAM I give him a coin flips chance to win it all. I think he can actually do it. He scares me that much. James is a little over celebrated for getting to Finals series and losing (he should get a complete pass for 2007). LeBron wants to be the best ever. We need to be stricter at holding him to “AirJordan” standards.
It’s hard for me to put him over Kobe and Magic. It is just a Sunday in late March when the Cavs won a road game in New Jersey. I don’t want to be right, I want to get it right. I also don’t want to be late. This LeBron storm is coming. If you can’t beat em, join em. James performance will back up my words, so it’s an easy claim to make.
Now, what will it take to catch that “ghost” Michael Jordan? Let’s talk about that after this season comes to an end.
I’m grateful to have grown up in the same city as the Utah Jazz. While they have yet to win a world championship, the story of the NBA can not be told without them. Larry H. Miller, Jerry Sloan and others have created a culture that has been emulated by many. Here is my version of the franchises 25 best players. I’m only factoring in each guys time playing for the Jazz (including New Orleans).
#25- MATT HARPRING (474 games) Harpring was a hard-nosed player who brought stability with 15 footers off of a curl play. Matt enjoyed irritating Carmelo Anthony.
#24- BRYON RUSSELL (628 games) Bryon was the 45th overall pick in 1993. His 32 minutes a game in a ton of post season contests is why he beat out Donyell Marshall and John Drew for this spot on the list.
#23- RICH KELLEY (497 games) Kelley’s most productive year for the Jazz came with him scoring 15.7 points. He was also second in the NBA in rebounds (12.8) and eighth in blocked shots (2.1).
#22- GAIL GOODRICH ( 182 games) After an excellent career, Gail played his last three seasons in New Orleans. He could still fill it up. His best ever field goal shooting (49.5 percent) came with the Jazz in 1977-78.
#21- TRUCK ROBINSON (125 games) Len “Truck” Robinson made his time with the Jazz count. He averaged 23 points and 15 rebounds in his two seasons in New Orleans. The 6’7″ Robinson was invited to the All Star game in 1978.
#20- DERRICK FAVORS (478 games) Favors is a stout presence protecting the paint. He has also has shown value at center. Derrick has very good hands and continues to seem like an x factor in the team’s success.
#19- AL JEFFERSON (221 games) Al Jefferson will not go down as the biggest of names in basketball circles. With that said, Al could score and rebound in any city. In three campaigns with Utah, he dropped 18.5 points and pulled down 9.5 boards a night.
#18- DONOVAN MITCHELL (55 games) Mitchell has arrived! Mature. Playmaker. Clutch player. His rookie awards won’t mean much long-term. This guy will end up in the Hall of Fame.
#17- MEHMET OKUR (474 games) Memo once put on a two month run of clutch shooting that would have made Larry Bird blush a little.
#16- JEFF MALONE (279 games) Malone had a remarkable ability to score, falling backwards. In his four years in Utah, Jeff shot 88.1 percent from the free throw line.
#15- PAUL MILLSAP (540 games) Paul was another drafting gem the Jazz can be proud of (47th overall in 2006). He’s the classic lunch pail player who has turned into a low-level NBA star.
#14- THURL BAILEY (708 games) Thurl was consistent. Old reliable. He was one of the best sixth men of his generation. Over the 1988 and 89 seasons he scored 19.5 points a night. Bailey made himself available in the community and fans in Salt Lake City love the man.
#13- RUDY GOBERT (301 games) The impact he makes on an NBA game is quietly all time great. The skill and the wingspan are outrageous. Rudy’s intense desire to compete is why the franchise trusts him.
#12- GORDON HAYWARD (516 games) In his seventh season in Utah, Hayward grew into one of the 25 best players in the world.
#11- RICKEY GREEN (606 games) I can still hear Hot Rod Hundley yelling, “the fastest of them all.” Green had three straight steals seasons of 2.3, 2.8, and 2.7 per game.
#10- CARLOS BOOZER (354 games) In May 2007, Carlos scored 35 points, and grabbed 14 rebounds in a game 7 at Houston. He also had memorable big game battles with Gasol and Odom where he held his own. I would often watch Boozer from 20 feet away. His high arcing baseline jumper was automatic.
#9- ANDREI KIRILENKO (681 games) “AK-47” was an exotic talent. He was like an elastic band being shot out of a cannon. Kirilenko’s help defense and shot blocking made him a league wide stand out. Some of his all around talents, left him in statistical categories only he and Hakeem Olajuwon share.
#8- DARRELL GRIFFITH (765 games) The 1981 NBA Rookie of the Year, Griffith was an offensive star for five seasons before an injury. Darrell and his chain were 1980’s cool. His athletic play and rainbow jumpers are a popular memory in Jazz lore.
#7- MARK EATON (875 games) He was never appreciated by Jazz fans while he was active. Mark was the Defensive Player of the Year twice, and made five All-Defensive teams. He led the NBA in blocks four times. Eaton’s 5.6 rejections per game in 1984-85 is the best shot blocking season in NBA history.
#6- JEFF HORNACEK (477 games) His handles made Stockton’s life easier. Jeff’s sweet passing was over shadowed by his ability to shoot. Hornacek had the gift of ridiculous, crafty shot making.
#5- DERON WILLIAMS (439 games) For a small window of time, Williams was the best point guard in the NBA. I always trusted his outside shot. Deron’s level in Utah, landed him on the Olympic “Redeem Team” in 2008.
#4- PETE MARAVICH (330 games) Arguably the most important model of showmanship the game has ever seen. “Pistol Pete” added an artful texture to basketball’s history. It’s awesome he played for the Jazz.
#3- ADRIAN DANTLEY (461 games) AD would spin the ball in his hands, rock you to sleep, and score buckets for a living. He averaged 29.6 points on 56.2 percent shooting from the floor in his Jazz career. Dantley carried the Jazz organization before they were a true contender.
#2- JOHN STOCKTON (1,504 games) I loved to watch John think the game. His decision-making was so good, it seemed tangible. Most would be surprised John scored just under 20,000 points and hit 51.5 percent of his field goals. Stockton crushed bigger people’s bodies fighting through screens for two decades.
#1- KARL MALONE (1,434 games) “The Mailman” led the Western conference in scoring six times. Malone may be the best player ever, without a ring. Red Auerbach said of Karl, “He’s a 6’9″, 260 pound monster, who runs the break like a deer.”
Trying to compare LeBron James to another player I’ve seen is impossible. There has never been anyone quite like him in pro basketball. He’s so unique it took these six great players to explain how I see him.
KARL MALONE (25%) Have you ever seen the 6’9″, 260 lb. Karl Malone filling the outside lane on the fast break? Scary! His body was a weapon and nobody delivered at the rim like “The Mailman”. When you look at LeBron in transition you see something similar. He’s a freight train and it might be smart to move aside. I watched Karl score 37,000 points and many of them were playing “bully ball” like James has. They each seal defenders off down low, and guys bounce off their muscles. They both hit about 74% of their foul shots. LeBron is durable and sometimes seems bionic. He will get hurt, and will be running full speed a few minutes later. Malone played 80 or more games an incredible 17 times.
EARVIN “MAGIC” JOHNSON (30%)
Among the greatest passers, my favorite was Magic. He was the ultimate conductor and it seemed like he had four guys on a string. LeBron, like Magic before him is obsessed with making his teammates better. They both lead with joy and a brain for the game. James was a share first guy from day one, and is one of the elite passers in his own right. He comes up with crafty stuff, especially getting the ball cross court. The King and Magic are also a perfect match as rebounders. LeBron seems to go the Finals every year, a place Johnson found himself 9 times over 12 seasons.
SCOTTIE PIPPEN (15%)
It’s the point forward thing. Mostly it’s that Scottie Pippen was a defensive terror with athleticism and length. He could matchup all over the floor. LeBron can check anyone in the league in a pinch. His defensive versatility is arguably his most impressive trait.
MICHAEL JORDAN (20%)
Michael Jordan took what he wanted when driving to the hole. He’d pull up and go glass, go around you, over you, and even through you. LeBron James is unstoppable driving to the basket. Finesse and power come together in harmony. Nobody had energy like Jordan. He only slept four hours a night during his prime. Dropping 22 in the final quarter, while shutting down his man was just another Tuesday night for Mike. King James is producing a new kind of energy. He has a body and a skill set that has him on pace to be great at an older age than anyone in NBA history. In his 15th pro season, LBJ is slapping father time in the face.
Jordan is the greatest player I’ve ever seen. It was not because he was 6-0 in the Finals….He actually just played basketball better than everyone else has. As LeBron ages, he reminds me more of Michael now than ever.
CLYDE DREXLER (5%)
LeBron also has a smooth side. I think of Clyde “The glide” at his best. Drexler would spin and lay it in pretty. He may dunk it from 10 feet out, or swoop in for a timely finger roll.
DWYANE WADE (5%)
On a professional and personal level LeBron and D Wade are close and share a lot of beliefs and history inside the game. Both guys are explosive scorers. Their similar styles were evident in the alley-oop connection they displayed in Miami. King James is a much better clutch player than his reputation suggests.
The original “Dream Team” remains the greatest, most impactful group in basketball history. They are so iconic, they have cast a shadow over a team that could have hung with them on the floor. The 1996 version of Team USA was on the level of the 1992 squad. They are not given much credit for their sensational roster. Even “The Redeem Team” in 2008 gets more love because of their storyline. “Dream Team 3” is the most underrated basketball team of all time.
1992 VERSE 1996 THOUGHTS
I’ts close. I’d guess the 1992 squad would be a two or three point favorite each time. The reason would be Michael Jordan and Earvin Johnson, who was still Magic enough. It should be noted Larry Bird had a broken NBA body and was doing Americans a favor by suiting up. Christian Laettner (a good pro) as a rookie would be the worst player on either squad.
1996 UNITED STATES MEN’S OLYMPIC BASKETBALL TEAM
CHARLES BARKLEY (Age 33)
KARL MALONE (Age 33)
JOHN STOCKTON (Age 34)
DAVID ROBINSON (Age 30)
SCOTTIE PIPPEN (Age 30)
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL (Age 24)
HAKEEM OLAJUWON (Age 33)
PENNY HARDAWAY (Age 24)
GRANT HILL (Age 23)
GARY PAYTON (Age 28)
REGGIE MILLER (Age 30)
MITCH RICHMOND (Age 31)
COACHES: Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Bobby Cremins, Clem Haskins
“Dream Team 3” had five players from the 92 group. Then add Shaq at his peak of running fast and jumping high. Next is merely Olajuwon who had just been the best player in the world for two years. Penny and Grant Hill were superstars, right in the middle of putting their versatile stamps on the NBA. Gary Payton was at the top of his game. Reggie Miller had already proven he was a clutch legend. Oh my goodness Mitch Richmond could ball. They won by 32 points a game on the way to gold. This team got lost between the “Dream Team” breaking ground and the “Redeem Team” having to overcome struggle. For how good the 96 team was, it’s like they hardly exist in fans memories.
I’M ONLY RANKING THE PLAYERS I HAVE SEEN IN MY TIME OF OBSESSIVELY WATCHING NBA BASKETBALL (1987-2015). The years noted next to the players are the span of time they played, not necessarily the exact seasons. Guys that are active are still climbing an ever-changing list like this one. There are a handful of players I saw play, but count them for this list. I did not see them enough or at their best.
PLAYERS I WATCHED THAT I DID NOT COUNT FOR THIS LIST: Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Moses Malone, Adrian Dantley, Bernard King, Mark Aguirre, Alex English, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish, Rolando Blackman, Fat Lever , Ricky Pierce, Xaiver Mcdaniel, Tom Chambers & Larry Nance.
HONORABLE MENTION: Gilbert Arenas, Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Tim Hardaway, and Derrick Coleman.
THE 60 BEST PLAYERS I’VE SEEN AS OF JULY, 2015:
#60- ANTHONY DAVIS (Active) I’m giving Davis an early ticket on this list. Like Shaquille O’Neal being voted a “top 50 player” too early, sometimes you can give credit for upside. Most NBA insiders think Davis is THE next guy. It’s obvious he’s going to be in the conversation.
#59- JAMES HARDEN (Active) For all that he has yet to do, it’s clear Harden’s impact level is here to stay. His step back jumper allows him to get shots off with little space. James is a master at drawing contact. I did not think he would ever end up second on an NBA MVP ballot.
#58- KEVIN JOHNSON (1987-2000) Many think of the images of the 6-foot-1 Johnson hammering it on Hakeem Olajuwon and Mark Eaton. The mayor could ball! In 105 playoff games KJ averaged 19.3 points and 8.9 assists per game.
#57- DERRICK ROSE (Active) Derrick is the youngest player to ever be named NBA MVP (22). It may be difficult for Rose to get back to that level again. I’ve seen enough to know he’s one of the most explosive, determined guards to play the game.
#56- LARRY JOHNSON(1991-2001)If healthy, Larry Johnson would have been a Hall of Fame player. He had elegance in his power game. Johnson hit one of the biggest shots and free throws in New York Knicks history.
#55- RUSSELL WESTBROOK (Active) Russell charging at a defense makes me think of back peddling in a panic. Former player Antoine Carr described his reason for liking Westbrook, “He seems to play angry every night man.”
#54- CHRIS BOSH(Active) After his last season in Toronto, I thought Chris peaked as the 12th best player in the NBA. His contribution was a huge reason the Heat went to four straight Finals and brought home two rings. Bosh plays outstanding pick and roll defense.
#53- MANU GINOBILI (Active) The 57th overall pick of the 1999 draft has become an unforgettable gem. Manu is the perfect combination of showtime and grit.
#52- CHAUNCEY BILLUPS (1997-2014) Basketball people love Billups. He went from a hard-working journeyman to a five time NBA All-Star and a Finals MVP. With a name like “Mr. Big Shot” we can assume this guy did alright.
#51- BUCK WILLIAMS(1981-1998)Before I saw him play Buck had five 1000 plus rebound seasons. I remember when he competed in 58 playoff games with the Blazers over a few year stretch. He could bang with someone like Karl Malone and make it a fair fight in the toughness category.
#50- DIKEMBE MUTOMBO(1991-2009)Mutombo made his name with smothering defense and a cool finger waggle. He was an eight time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year.
#49- AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE (Active) Amar’e was an exotic talent. He was a better Blake Griffin. Stoudemire was at his best during the Western Conference Finals versus San Antonio in his second season. He dropped 37 a game in dominating fashion. I thought then he was the third best player on the planet.
#48- SHAWN KEMP (1989-2003) Kemp was the first player I ever thought of as a “man child”. Even raw and young, he would explode off of the television. Shawn helped the 1996 Seattle Supersonics to 64 wins and the NBA Finals. As an older player in Cleveland he started burying the outside shot from the elbow.
#47- RASHEED WALLACE (1995-2013)Rasheed had great extension on his shot and range that stretched deep. Wallace was unstoppable when he was aggressive. He is the most gifted, reluctant player of his time (Odom is number two).
#46- TONY PARKER (Active) The longer Tony keeps his dribble alive, he seems to get more dangerous. His 17 foot jumper and his floater are staples that have helped his teams win four World Championships.
#45- CARMELO ANTHONY (Active) The media loves to talk about the holes in Carmelo’s game. I gained my respect for Melo watching his Olympic play in 2008. When he’s on your side it’s easy to see his scoring prowess. His mid range game is butter, and he can be trusted in crunch time.
#44- VINCE CARTER (Active) Vince was an aesthetically pleasing player to watch. His aerial game left you waiting for his next new move. Carter became a weapon from the three-point line and has a 50 point playoff game to his credit. His transition to excellent role player in his later years is a the bow on his Hall of Fame caliber career.
#43- JOE DUMARS (1985-1999) Rolling with a group of “bad boys”, Joe was the face of class and integrity. He shot it well, passed with precision, and was cool late in games. Dumars deserves the label of “combo guard.” Michael Jordan admired the challenge Joe presented him.
#42- PAU GASOL (Active) His mix of length and skill are transcendent. Gasol was the lead guy in Memphis on a 50 win team. He was the difference maker for Kobe’s Lakers teams that played in three straight Finals series. As a Chicago Bull in the 2015 campaign, he had the most Double doubles in the NBA with 54.
#41-DWIGHT HOWARD (Active) Dwight has become so overrated, hes underrated. His body and athleticism have aided him in being a historic defender. Howard has been the league leader in blocks five times. For all of those that dump on him the last few years, don’t forget Dwight is a 19.5 point, 14.1 rebound, and 2.6 block guy in 84 playoff games.
#40- MITCH RICHMOND (1988-2002) Richmond’s great play was a little under the radar in Golden State and Sacramento. Mitch finished strong at the cup. He scored 21 points per game or more in 10 straight seasons and hit 85 percent of his career free throws.
#39- CHRIS MULLIN (1985-2001) Chris watched the 1988 All-Star game from rehab. A year later he was playing in the 1989 All-Star game in Houston. He went from 30 pounds over weight to being part of “Run TMC” and leading the league in minutes twice. Mullin had super vision.
#38- DENNIS RODMAN (1986-2000) Rodman made hustle sexy. His energy seemed tangible and it drove his teams and his home crowds. Dennis led the league in rebounding over seven consecutive years, pulling down an eye-popping 16.7 a night.
#37- RAY ALLEN (1996-2014) When Ray Allen was in town I would always show up early to watch his pre game shooting routine. It was more than spectacular. It was a front row seat to the reminder that being great does not happen on accident.
#36- CHRIS PAUL (Active) He wears how bad he wants to beat you on his sleeve. Chris has led the league in steals per game five times in his 10 seasons. Although CP3 has not advanced to a Conference Final, the shot he hit to beat the Spurs in game seven (2015) should validate him the same.
#35- PENNY HARDAWAY (1993-2008) Penny had it all in his game. He was a big guard who had hops, could post, and was a suburb show passer. On a desperate Orlando team in 1997, Hardaway scored 42 and 41 points in back to back playoff wins.
#34- REGGIE MILLER(1987-2005)His constant motion was as much his staple as his long distance shooting. He was so difficult to chase it consumed teams. Miller would embrace pressure. He was always willing to dare the moment, which made for great theater in the clutch.
#33- TRACY MCGRADY (1997-2012) In his Orlando days, Tracy was an athletic phenom. He was like “Kobe East.” As a Rocket he remained a scoring expert, while his ability to pass the ball cross court was on full display. McGrady was a two-time scoring champion.
#32- ALONZO MOURNING(1992-2008)After a December 2007 game in Salt Lake City, I asked Mourning “what is the number one thing you have learned about yourself over the last few years?” He took his time cutting his last toe nail, looked up and said, “that I’m a tough son of a bitch.”
#31- GRANT HILL (1994-2013) Grant burst onto the scene as the new age point forward. He was a smooth and dynamic ball player. Late in a career full of injuries, Hill developed a reputation as a good defensive player.
#30- JAMES WORTHY(1982-1994)He would wave the ball above his head, palming it like a grapefruit. If Worthy didn’t get you with his first step, he would feel the defenders and quickly spin to the rim. “Big Game James” went 15 for 22 from the field in game seven of the 1988 NBA Finals.
#29- STEPHEN CURRY (Active) He’s only a puppy, and showing us things we have never witnessed before. His handles and shot are arguably the best we have seen. His ability to shoot off the dribble and the pass is seemingly effortless. This makes him the leading man in the long distance shooting era.
#28- JASON KIDD (1994-2013) Kidd was the unselfish play maker of the day. His ability to pass and hit the boards made him a triple double threat every night (his 107 is 3rd all time).
#27- PAUL PIERCE (Active) Pierce thrives in pressure moments. He is in the closer’s club. Paul is a Boston Celtics legend whose playoff career will be the roots of his legacy. Defensively Pierce created a hurdle for LeBron James. His nickname “The Truth”, was given to him by Shaquille O’ Neal.
#26- GARY PAYTON (1990-2007) When I think of “the glove”, I picture him in his defensive crouch. His palms out, his head rocking side to side, and chewing his gum like the cockiest man alive. Gary Payton was also awesome at basketball.
#25- KEVIN MCHALE(1980-1993) His odd framed body combined with all of his pet moves made McHale a back to the basket wizard. Charles Barkley said about Kevin, “He was almost an impossible cover. I would just stand there with my arms raised up as high as I could get them. Then you just hoped he missed.”
#24- KEVIN DURANT (Active) He has the unique physical tools, the strong mental makeup, and the drive that makes him a lock for greatness. KD will begin his prime years of play this winter. Durant has already been the league MVP. He has finished in second place in the voting three times.
#23- DOMINIQUE WILKINS (1982-1999) Dominique Wilkins was left off the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team in 1996. Wilkins became the popular name missing from the top 50 list. Magic, Bird, and Jordan quickly made the point Nique deserved the same honor that they did. His 1988 playoff performance with 47 points remains a record for a game seven.
#22- CHRIS WEBBER(1993-2008)In my opinion, Webber was the top player in the NBA for the first half of the 2000 NBA season. Chris had good patience under the rim. He had amazing hands and caught everything. At the time C Webb was the best front court passer since Larry Bird.
#21- SCOTTIE PIPPEN (1987-2004) Pippen is the most disrespected star of my lifetime. He is perceived as a player that was carried to his success. The reality is, Scottie won six Championships while ranging between the 3rd and 12th best player on earth. He was a lock down defender and as well-rounded as they come.
#20- PATRICK EWING (1985-2002) He was the prize of the 1985 draft and did not disappoint. Patrick had all of the rugged traits with an iconic turn around shot from the baseline. Ewing was named “Player of the Month” 5 times.
#19- ALLEN IVERSON (1996-2010) Iverson destroyed defenses with his relentless play and blinding quickness. He was constantly on the floor sacrificing his body. Allen led the league in average minutes seven times. A guy that scores 30 points in the opening half of his first NBA Finals game, is obviously not scared.
#18- STEVE NASH (1996-2014) Steve had excellent balance and footwork. He was a degree of difficulty shot maker, and did it shooting elite percentages. His style could seem chaotic but Steve was in complete control. Teams were built around his unique abilities.
#17- DIRK NOWITZKI (Active) I’ll never forget his 2011 Finals performance. It was among the greatest efforts where one man carried a group. You could see his experiences paying off in the fourth quarter. Dirk slowly out matured the Miami Heat when it mattered the most.
#16- CLYDE DREXLER (1983-1998) I can see Drexler dribbling full speed ahead with his head down. Clyde was traded to the Rockets in 1995. Some teammates resented him because they missed Otis Thorpe. After dropping 41 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists in a playoff game down two games to one to Utah, ended questions over the trade. Kenny Smith said, “we remembered quickly he was special.”
#15- ISIAH THOMAS (1981-1994) Isiah played the game like he knew he was being watched. He was a crowd pleaser and was a difficult player to upstage. His 1,123 assists remain an Eastern Conference record that will be hard to touch.
#14- KEVIN GARNETT (Active) KG was an animated character. At his best, he could guard every player on the court. Garnett was so wound up in his early years, he would not let the ball go in his teams hoop even after the whistle had blown.
#13- DWYANE WADE (Active) The self security Wade showed in how he handled James and Bosh in Miami was vital to the bond and the winning. His hesitation dribble sets up his beautiful drives into the paint. The 6-foot-4 Wade has 717 blocks in only 781 games.
#12- CHARLES BARKLEY (1984-2000) There was nobody quite like Charles. For his size, his rebounding numbers are epic. He shot 58 percent from the floor over his first six seasons. Being the standout player on the original “Dream Team” is his coolest accomplishment.
#11- JOHN STOCKTON(1984-2003)Stockton was so good at making decisions he made me think and guess the game as a viewer. John scored 19, 711 points shooting 51.5 percent on field goals. On the side, he was busy crushing opponents physically in the pick-setting part of the game. Only three players have produced a 1,000 assist season. John accomplished that feat seven different times.
#10- DAVID ROBINSON (1989-2003) “The Admiral” was chiseled, mobile, and cat quick. The last quadruple-double in the NBA was February 17th, 1994. Robinson had 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks against the Pistons. After the height of his individual glory, he tutored Tim Duncan which paid off with two Championships.
#9- KARL MALONE (1985-2004) One of the most impressive sights in modern basketball was the 6-foot-9 inch, 260 pound “Mailman” running the outside lane on the fast break. Backing his guy down in the paint, Karl would seal the player on his hip and it was over. Nobody was stronger and he was not going to be outworked. Malone made the ALL-NBA First Team 11 times.
#8- HAKEEM OLAJUWON(1984-2002)At his apex (1993-97), Hakeem had the most impact on offense and defense in harmony than anyone else I’ve seen in the NBA. He mowed down beasts of the game to win his two titles. “Dream” remains the only player with over 200 blocks and 200 steals in the same season.
#7- LEBRON JAMES (Active) James is the finest combination of power and finesse the game has seen. He is as unselfish as an elite scorer can be. His defense is wildly versatile. LeBron’s on the level where being the best ever has to be his goal.
#6- SHAQUILLE O’NEAL (1992-2011) Phil Jackson coaching Shaquille O’Neal in his prime created a monster. The motivated, refined version of Shaq was so dominant, it made us all think of Wilt. O’Neal was the most automatic bucket in the NBA. He led the league in field goal percentage 10 times.
#5- TIM DUNCAN (Active) Tim is arguably the best player during his time in pro basketball. Duncan is a five time NBA Champion whose teams have won 50 or more games in 16 straight years. He’s everyone’s favorite model of poise and consistency.
#4- LARRY BIRD (1979-1992) Bird had an intimidating swagger about himself. He seemed to be playing cat and mouse with his opponents. He made an art form out of crafty play. Larry was the leader of arguably the greatest team of all time, the 1986 Boston Celtics (40-1 at home).
#3- KOBE BRYANT (Active) I believe Bryant is the greatest, fundamentally sound offensive player in the history of the game. His footwork and tough shot making ability are incomparable. Kobe once out scored the Dallas Mavericks 62-61 through three quarters. Dallas had played three more minutes than him.
#2- MAGIC JOHNSON (1979-1996) Magic smiled while he humiliated people. He always seemed to have his four offensive teammates on a string. Johnson had an incredible feel for what his team needed. He played in 9 NBA Finals. If you needed a 50 foot shot to win the game, Magic would give you a solid chance. He has the most fitting nickname in sports.
#1- MICHAEL JORDAN (1984-2003) Jordan is the best team sports athlete I’ve ever seen. He often owned the game and seemed to take what he wanted on the floor. He was asked to live up to “Jordan standards” every night. It’s amazing how often he would match or exceed those expectations. Michael scored 40 or more points in a game 37 times…in 1987 alone.
We lost one of the world’s great people just over one year ago. As missing him continues and even increases, it’s also getting easier to understand the impact he had on my life. I’m learning to have a friendship with my memories of him. Outside of his loved ones, sports was Rusty’s number one passion. I’m excited to share more of the things that made him tick.
#1-KARL MALONE WAS HIS FAVORITE NBA PLAYER OF ALL TIME: He used to study Karl on VHS tapes rewinding them over and over. He especially loved Karl’s post moves. Rusty loved his defense and his over the shoulder pass. He would boast “nobody runs the floor and rips down the rim like Karl.” In high school he signed his name Rusty “the mailman” Riggs.
#2- HE TAUGHT ME HOW TO THROW THE BALL IN THE POST: The first time we played in the “Roundball Ruckus” (3 on 3 basketball tournament) I blew our last game. I was being smothered on the perimeter and kept turning the ball over as Russ begged for the ball down low. We lost the game because of this and Russ was pissed. In rare form he gave me a personal jab over me “not being able to make a simple post pass.” It hurt to let him down and needless to say by the next year, I was a master at the variety of ways to pass the ball in the post. I got Rusty the ball, he scored 16 of our 20 points and this time we won. He pushed me with joy and yelled, “that’s how you pass the ball in the post boy!” That moment meant a ton to me. Every time I make a post pass, it’s him.
#3-RUSS HAD AN EXTRA GOOD REASON TO FOLLOW DEREK SMITH’S CAREER: Rusty played on the same field with Derek Smith in ninth grade. Riggs knew exactly how tough and good Derek was from that experience. Rusty watched him play every snap of his high school career. We were blown away how good Derek was at football, especially on defense. After Snow College Derek had gone on to play at Arizona State. One night in 1996 I got a call from Russ saying “Derek Smith is dominating against one of the best teams in the country.” That was when we realized Derek was really on his way. Derek played 12 seasons in the NFL against and with people that were larger than life to Rusty and I. Smith was a starter and one of the best tacklers in pro football. Derek gave Rusty a great deal of inspiration.
#4- HE WAS A DALE MURPHY FAN: Russ took a lot of pride in the fact that Dale Murphy was a Mormon. He would always bring up his back to back NL MVP awards and liked to mention how close he was to being a Hall of Famer. He was annoyed his guy was two home runs short of 400. I spent a couple of hours with Murphy in 2002. He was such a nice guy. I told Dale how much Rusty admired him.
#5- HE LIKED TO SAY GOODBYE TO THE VISITING NBA TEAMS: One of his favorite things to do after going to a Utah Jazz game was watch the visiting team leave on their bus. Russ was a die-hard fan. He would have no problem waiting an hour to catch a glimpse of the players. It wasn’t just him being in awe, he wanted to be close to something he knew he could be a part of as a future media member. He loved that we were flipped off by a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
#6- HE WAS GOOD AT MAKING PREDICTIONS: He seemed to be on fire for about a decade predicting games. It became a bother for me because he would use it as argument leverage. If he didn’t agree with me on something he might go, “look here little Jaybird, you don’t have to watch any NBA playoff games this weekend. I’ll just tell you what will happen and save you the time.”
#7- HE WAS SO HAPPY JARED AND I WORE IDENTICAL SHIRTS: For months Rusty had been anticipating meeting, and playing basketball with my buddy Jared. I can’t remember why, but I ended up making the horrible decision of wearing the same t-shirt as Jared. The shirts had a cartoon face of Michael Jordan. This was like handing Rusty comedy dynamite. For about twelve years he made a phone books worth of jokes over this.
#8- HIS NAME BECAME “RUSS” IN THE HOT SUMMER OF LOUISIANA: When he left on his LDS mission in early 1994, his name was Rusty. In the community of Algiers ( New Orleans) he came away with a different name. He was playing basketball on a hot summer day. Coming from Highland Utah it was culture shock for Rusty and his companion to be the only white people among 25 guys. Rusty described the competition as “unbelievable”. He said the best player there was a 6’8″ black guy who had played at the University of Houston. The guy was cool to Rusty as he dominated everyone. As Riggs started to perform some guys started calling him “Utah.” The stud ball player started calling him “Russ.” He adopted the name from there with pride. It was important for him to earn the respect of these guys.
#9- HE ADORED MARCH MADNESS: He could sense the NCAA Tournament coming each year. He bragged about teachers in high school that would play the tourney on t.v. during class. Rusty would go to the games anytime they would be in Salt Lake City. His biggest selling point was how popular March madness was. I eventually caved to its popularity which made him happy.
#10- HIS WADE/LEBRON ARGUMENT WITH ME BECAME LEGENDARY: It started in the spring of 2006 when I said, “right now Wade is as good as LeBron.” Russ freaked out over my statement. From that time on LeBron James versus Dwyane Wade was a factor in our friendship up until four days before Russ passed away. It would probably rank as one of our eight greatest sports arguments. I had several niche advantages in this debate, but he won this one with the safe choice of James on his side. He would often make remarks like, “Wade in a little back pack on LeBron’s back like Yoda and Luke.”
#11-RUSTY HAD GREAT APPRECIATION FOR MARSHALL FAULK: August 10th, 1992: He was there to witness San Diego State getting their first ever win in Provo. Marshall gutted the Cougars for 299 rushing yards and three scores. That game was burned into Rusty’s memory and he followed Faulk for his entire NFL career.
#12- HE HATED THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH: He believed hating the school on the hill was part of his life’s job description. I felt like he put 80 percent of the energy into hating Utah as he did loving BYU. If someone walked by with Utah gear on it’s as if he was smelling an enemy from a strange planet. Utah wins hurt him. Utah losses made him feel great. Utah beating BYU was a nightmare, and beating Utah was like winning the Super Bowl for Russ. When BYU quarterback Max Hall verbally ripped Utah to shreds after a 2009 win, I’ll never forget Rusty’s words. “To say everyone at the University of Utah is classless is obviously not true. It was crazy for him to be so harsh with the microphones in his face. Part of me loves him more for ripping them so bad though.” He was unapologetic for feeling this way about the U of U.
#13- RUSS, HALLOWEEN, AND LAMAR ODOM GO TOGETHER: I have a random but clear memory of Halloween night 2008. I was driving on Redwood Road and on the phone with Russ. We were arguing about Lamar Odom. He claimed Lamar was not going to get any better while I stated he could still improve by a level. We must have gone on about this for an hour. That was the same call in which he told me about his families Halloween tradition to eat donuts and chili. He laughed when I said it was weird yet made perfect sense. Odom went on to get better, but not enough for me to ever bring it up again.
#14- HE HAD TO KNOW THE SCORE NOW: When he was in the rare situation of having to work during a BYU football game, he was not going to wait until later to watch on tape in its entirety. We were broadcasting a football game at Davis High School years ago. BYU was playing at the same time. Every time we went to commercial he yelled “score?” Russ ended up buying a student dinner to keep him updated throughout the night. On the drive home he said he was going to go re watch the game. I asked him if he was sure Ruth had taped it? He said, “bro, she’s a professional at this point.”
#15-HE GREW UP ON NFL FILMS: We always shared common ground here. It makes sense that he loved “NFL Films.” Ed and Steve Sabol captured the art of football in a very romantic light. It was about the sights, sounds, and by far the best view of the National Football League. It’s no surprise Riggs dug this part of pro football. He was a very sentimental person.
#16-HE LOVED HIS GAME DAY ROUTINE: BYU game day Saturday’s were his greatest reward in the life of being a sports fan. He would only allow college football talk on the radio. It’s the only time I remember him never listening to his R&B music. He was feeling joy as he heard scores from other games around the country. He always parked in the same neighborhood. I often said, “are you sure you can park here?” He’d always respond, “my family has been parking here for 25 years dude.” He would often park in tight spaces, weird angles, whatever it took. He was parking in this little semi-circle no matter what.
#17- LAVELL EDWARDS STADIUM WAS HEAVEN ON EARTH TO RUSTY: He always wanted to be there early. We would walk down the North side of the stadium when we arrived. As Russ got near , his religious type experience would begin. You could almost hear “Rudy” music as he would soak in just how happy he was to be there. Russ thought this stadium was a hallowed NCAA beauty and he felt lucky it was like his back yard. He would often go to an intersection to sell an extra ticket. I initially struggled to realize this was legal. He would constantly make fun of me for it. He would go “Jay, scared to cross the road.”
#18- HE WAS NEVER LOYAL TO AN NFL TEAM OVER THE LONG HAUL: He liked the 49ers as a kid and then later on as he followed Steve Young. He spent some time cheering for some of Andy Reid’s Eagles teams. He was never really attached to an NFL team. He knew it would be over load with the energy he put into BYU and Utah. The April before he died he claimed, “I guess I’m cheering for the Detroit Lions now.” The Lions had two BYU players ready to make an impact.
#19- BYU OVERMIAMI WAS HIS FIRST BIGGEST WIN AS A FAN: September 28th 1990: Rusty was there to see his Cougars beat the number one ranked Miami Hurricanes 28 to 21. On his mission tape in 1995 he describes this day. “At the time I’d never been so pumped up for a game. When Miami came onto the field with all their glory and cockiness I got a rush and lost a little breath. Ty threw for 406 yards, and we beat them! I’ll never forget the embrace with my dad and just going crazy. This was my “1984.”
#20- RUSS WAS VERY GOOD AT BASKETBALL: American Fork High School had a large student body and was one of the best basketball schools in the state of Utah. He was in the last group of five guys that did not make the varsity team his senior year. He was a star on his “city league” team. Of the 20 or so people we hung out with over a few year window, he was the best player of the group. He was a solid defensive player, but awesome on offense. Bigger guys who would play physical (i.e. Alan Owens and Kevin Franson) could give him fits, but Russ scored points. He had several pet moves in the post including a tricky hesitation drive he was proud of. He could shoot outside and developed three-point range in his early twenties. An inside player who would get hot shooting outside is nice. Remember that he was six feet four inches tall. Rusty scored buckets. He got hot and usually stayed hot. I was very proud of the basketball player he was.
#21- HE WAS ABLE TO INTERVIEW JERRY SLOAN: While working for the ‘”Davis County Clipper” Russ had the opportunity to interview Jazz legend Jerry Sloan. Jerry is a hard-nosed man and I was curious to ask Russ what his first question was? He said, “right before I opened my mouth I thought don’t say anything stupid, think defense.”
#22- RUSTY SPENT MANY HOURS TALKING ABOUT TONY ROMO: Because of my interests, Russ spent more time talking about Tony Romo than I’m sure he would have chosen to otherwise (Steve Riggs and Dan Merrill got a taste of these talks). Russ was a master at arguing. He knew how to jab me with Tony’s failures but keep me on board by praising his talent. The last play Russ saw Romo make was a season saving, fourth down pass to beat the Redskins in 2013. Russ text me, “and with a hurt back? That’s pretty impressive Tony.”
#23- A LOOK AT THE LAST 3 BYU FOOTBALL GAMES HE WATCHED: The last home game he saw was a 59-13 victory over Idaho State. The last regular season game was a 28-23 win at Nevada. The last BYU football game he ever saw was a 31-16 loss to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl. The game was December 27th, 2013. When BYU lost it hurt Russ. At 38 years old he had gotten good at knowing how to handle it.
#24- RUSS WAS AN ALLEN IVERSON FAN: He didn’t love him right away. Over time he saw a guy tough enough to live diving on the floor, and brash enough to take on Jordan. Russ was mesmerized by Iverson’s quickness. He backed him the entire way during his 2000-2001 MVP season.
#25- HE BAILED ME OUT AT DAVIS HIGH SCHOOL: He and I were broadcasting a High School football game on TV. He got several of these little gigs over a few year period and always asked me to join in. This was being taped beforehand and would be played later in the night. We had to do a shot of ourselves on the sideline before we went up to the booth. I kept screwing it up. I was stumbling on the line and messed up for the third straight time. I walked away in disgust as the camera guy seemed a bit surprised. Russ bumped me and said, “compared to what you have done, this is like goofing off in the back yard. This is too easy for you bro. You got this.” I calmed down and made it happen. His support was like a jolt of excitement. As the play by-play guy he nailed his job like always.
I miss my brother Rusty. He was born 40 years ago today. I’m thinking of all of you who loved him. At this time of year he and I would be talking and arguing with each other every day about the NBA. Sports were everything to him. I dedicate this piece to his children Madalyn, Jayden, and Samantha.
#1 DON CRIQUI WAS HIS FAVORITE FOOTBALL ANNOUNCER: He had attachment to Paul James and Greg Wrubell. He really liked Keith Jackson. His favorite announcer was Don Criqui. While Russ was growing up Criqui was a play by play guy for college and pro football. Russ would say, “his voice is classic bro.”
#2 HIS FAVORITESPORTS SHOW WAS “INSIDE THE NBA” ON TNT:He always looked forward to Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley. He developed a sentimental attachment to the show and thought it was a perfect way to end an evening. Russ enjoyed the segment “gone fishin.” He thought Barkley was hilarious and would note how sad he was every year after the last episode.
#3 HE GUESSED RIGHT ON JASON ELAM: Russ told me, “keep your eye on this kicker Jason Elam. I’m not into kickers, but you’d want this guy.”Elam played 15 years in the NFL. He won two rings, played in three pro bowls, and once kicked a 63 yard field goal.
#4 HE HAD TO GO IN THE BYU BOOK STORE NO MATTER WHAT: Before every BYU home game, Russ had to stop in the BYU book store. It didn’t matter if he had a thousand dollars on him or no money at all. He thought it was duty to hang out in this store where people are piled in like sardines. He may buy another t shirt or hat, or he may just exchange something. He would make fun of me on the times I decided not to go in. We would meet in the hall and he would say something like, “Jay, scared of the book store.”
#5 KOBE BRYANT TOOK UP A LOT OF RUSTY’S TIME: Because of his battles with me, Russ was consumed with Kobe Bryant conversations for about 12 years. I can not stress to you how much of his time was spent talking about this athlete. My favorite Russ/Kobe moment came in the middle of the night in the gold medal game for the “Redeem Team.” It was August 24th 2008. The situation was unique because Russ and I were cheering for the same team but we always had personal agendas. His guy LeBron and my guy Kobe were on the floor together late in the game. The game was very close and only a few minutes remained. Russ texts me: “If Kobe is the best player in the world, this is on him.” I wrote, “that’s unreal and unfair of you.” He wrote “GIVE IT TO KOBE.”Bryant did come through as the hero in the end with multiple buckets, and Team USA won the game. It was classic Russ to hedge his bets. He had him self set up that if Kobe was the hero he could say, “See, told you Kobe should shoot.” But if Kobe failed he could prove how serious the failure was. We fought about Kobe to no end. This was one of few I felt like I won.
#6 TY DETMER WAS HIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL HERO: Rusty took that Heisman trophy personal. In his room he had a blue “Heisman Ty” on his wall. He claimed he was a bigger fan of Detmer after three years than I was a fan of Magic Johnson after seven. Russ thought Ty was the greatest college football player of all time.
#7 A NEARLY DROPPED BASKETBALL CARD GAVE HIM COMEDY GOLD: In late 1991 Rusty, Chris, and I were trading sports cards in my room. Chris was trying to walk across the room and fell backwards in clumsy fashion. All Rusty and I saw was a leg and a hand in the air holding up a valuable card. We heard Chris go, “I didn’t drop the card.” Rusty was in tears laughing. You did not want to do anything that Russ would perceive as “uncoordinated.” It was too valuable to his comedy storage. This moment was funny to Riggs the rest of his life.
#8 RUSS SPENT COUNTLESS HOURS TALKING ABOUT THE DALLAS COWBOYS: What I provided Russ in a listening ear for his BYU games, he provided me with his Dallas Cowboys takes and mostly support every morning after Dallas had played. He knew it was my passion so he gave a re cap over several messages every single time they competed over the last 20 years. In the first 10 years of knowing me he was a bit more against Dallas. Being a Steve Young fan was a factor in that. Over the last 10 years he was more supportive regarding my team. I believe it was his way of thanking me for supporting his Cougars.
#9 HE FOLLOWED THE 1993 AMERICAN FORK HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM UP CLOSE: Rusty proudly stood behind the gate right near the field of every game of his senior season. The team was very good on defense and Russ was it’s biggest fan. In class, he would tell the players things to keep them motivated. He always took his teams serious. He had full access to this one.
#10 HE MADE JOHN BECK TALK AND THEN SAID NOTHING: By cool circumstances Russ and I were both assigned to do some interviews after a late summer BYU football practice in 2004. We were interviewing a young John Beck and only Russ and I remained. We turned our recorders off. Russ said to John, “Dude you know your’e better than these guys. I expect to see you starting soon.” Beck went instantly to his level and said, “ya coach has told me in private I’m the guy and I just have to put on a happy face.” As we walked away I told to Russ what a story Beck had just handed us. Russ said, “ya, I’d never do anything to hurt the team.”
#11 HE WAS A BIG PATRICK EWING FAN: He was a “Ewing guy” while I was an “Olajuwon guy”. Russ loved the big mans ability to turn and shoot. He would use a couple of Ewing’s pet moves when he played. We were stoked Patrick and Hakeem went head to head in the NBA Finals in 1994. I came out on top as Olajuwon out dueled Ewing and won in a classic seven game series. Russ (who was a master at any argument) used for the rest of our lives that the battle between those two players meant less in our arguments because Russ did not see it because he was on his mission. If Ewing would have won, it would have counted 100%.(FYI)
#12 LEBRON JAMES WAS HIS FAVORITE NBA PLAYER THE LAST 7 YEARS OF HIS LIFE: Russ called LeBron “the most unselfish super star of all time.” He enjoyed his blend of power and finesse. He also used James as a weapon to battle with me over Wade, Bryant, and even Michael Jordan.
#13 RUSS BELIEVED NCAA FOOTBALL WAS THE BEST, THE BADDEST, PERIOD: He adored college football. He loved the tradition, the names and mascots of the schools, polls, bands, and the rivalries. Even as college football developed more flaws, he would defend it at all costs.
#14 HE WATCHED OSTERTAG OUTPLAY DUNCAN UP CLOSE: Russ sat in the second row as promising big man Greg Ostertag out played future legend Tim Duncan. Rusty always used this as his “every dog his day” example. As the years went on Russ thought it was cool how close up he was to the action.
#15 HE COULD THROW A FOOTBALL: Playing football was not his forte like basketball was. Russ threw a nice football. I saw him many times jump into four on four football games, and play QB for both teams. He would start hot and end hot. He remembered every pass I’ve ever dropped in his presence.
#16 HE BELIEVED BEING AT THE GAME WAS BETTER THAN TELEVISION: He looked at being at the game as a badge of courage. He thought if a fan lived within a reasonable distance of a stadium and had the means to go, there was no excuse to not be there.
#17 RUSS GAVE ME CRAP ABOUT MY “NBA LOYALTY”: He was a true Utah Jazz fan. I’m a fan of individual players. I loved Michael, Hakeem, Wade, Stockton and others so my NBA love is distributed different than most. He thought my thinking here was complete garbage. Two of my favorites are Magic and Kobe so I spent a lot of time invested in the Lakers. He went out of his way to let me know, “you are not a Lakers fan, you are a Lakers observer.”
#18 HE WAS ON THE BLAKE GRIFFIN BANDWAGON FOR THE LONG HAUL: He said early in 2012 “Blake Griffin will be more than a show dunker. He will be a super star, mark my words.”
#19 HE WOULD NEVER FORGET ABOUT MY BAD SPORTS PREDICTIONS: I’ve made so many bad predictions. He remembers them all. I said Brian Griese would be a Hall of Famer. While Griese was a competent pro, I missed badly. Any time in later years Russ did not like what I was saying in an argument he would often go, “what’s that Griese?”
#20 FOR FASHION, EVERY TEAM WAS HIS: Remember his big, poofy Atlanta Falcons coat? How about the Orlando Magic or Howard University cap? He once saw a random Kendall Gill jersey down town he thought about for years. For him to own Lakers shorts screams how un bias he was when it came to fashion.
#21 HIS FAVORITE PRO FOOTBALL PLAYER WAS STEVE YOUNG: Detmer was his favorite pro, but Young was so good Russ had no choice but to become attached to Steve’s journey. Russ knew Steve made BYU look good. He celebrated the 49ers beating the Chargers in the 1994 Super Bowl. It was a huge deal that Steve Young had gotten out of the shadow of Joe Montana. Russ was in sheer joy.
#22 HE WAS ALWAYS INTERESTED IN LOCAL SPORTS RADIO: Even though Russ was not in awe, he was always so curious of local sports radio happenings. If someone was changing a time slot, or someone new was hired at a station he wanted to know or to tell me. He was like the “TMZ” of caring about it.
#23 IF ATHLETES WERE OUR AGE, HE WOULD FOLLOW THEM: He was bonded to athletes that were our age. It’s like he was tracking his athletic mortality. I often heard the names Alan Iverson, Ray Allen, and Alex Rodriguez as his examples.
#24 HE LOVED A SHOW CALLED “SPORTS BEAT SUNDAY”: It used to come on Sunday nights on channel five at about 1035 pm. It was a 30 minute show that ended with a segment called the “Highlight Zone.” It was hosted by Craig Bolerjack. Russ loved the beginning where Boler would say, “pull up a chair.”
#25 IF YOU MADE HIM MAD, HE WOULD PULL THE “MAILMAN” SIGNATURE MOVE ON YOU: On the basketball court Russ was a pretty calm character. When he got involved in an occasional trash talking session with someone or the competitive juices were extra high, I have a distinct memory. Russ would usually win and in the end of finishing someone off he would put his hand behind his head in cocky fashion before laying the ball in the hoop (like Karl Malone would).
#26 HE CALLEDIT EXACT ON BEN ROETHLISBERGER: In April of 2004 he called and left me a voice mail about Ben Roethlisberger who had just been drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Hey bro, since we both know you know nothing about college football, I wanted to give you a heads up. Ben Roethlisberger will be a Hall of Famer 10 years into his career.” Russ was right.
#27 A GAME CALLED STRAT-O-MATIC WAS KEY TO HIM: A game he played as a teenager called strat-0-matic helped shape how he judged and rated players. He would play this game with his Father, Spencer Smith, Ryan Standifird, Aaron Ellswood, MiKael Renae, and John and Gavin Jensen. He was way into this game. It was his video game, before video games.
#28 BEATING UTAH WAS ALWAYS IMPORTANT, BUT 2006 WAS HIS FAVORITE: November 25th, Salt Lake City. It was John Beck’s last chance to beat Utah. On an amazing play that seemed to last forever, John Beck hit Harline in the end zone. This was one of the top victories in this rivalry. Russ stayed after the game as long as they would allow him to. He celebrated with the players and said some meaningful things to them. He was happy to admit he cried. This was the victory I heard Russ talk most about.
#29 HE WANTED TO THROW THE BASEBALL WITH HIS SON: In his last couple of years Russ was having health issues. He would say, “I want to play catch my with my son. Baseball and a couple of mitts are all we need.”Russ and I were way more likely to have a football or basketball in our hands. He kept saying “I need to throw a baseball with Jayden.”
#30 HE ATTENDED THE FIRST EVER NBA ALL STAR JAM SESSION AND HELD IT CLOSE IN MEMORY: February 19th and 20th 1993. We left school at 11a.m. on Friday. We picked up my brother Jared Adams on the way to the Delta Center and attended the NBA’s first ever Jam Session weekend. Russ was in NBA heaven! The entire city was everything pro basketball.We met Julius Erving, Will Smith, and Jaleel White (“Steve Urkel”). Most importantly for Russ he met his favorite singer of Boyz 2 Men Shawn Stockman. Rusty said , “I need that second album baby.”Shawn pulled Rusty’s shirt with affection and said, “you gonna love it big boy.”
#31 THE 1992 DREAM TEAM IMPACTED RUSTY: The Summer of 1992 was Rusty’s most memorable summer. The Dream Team was at the center of the sports universe and attracting an entire globe to the game of basketball. We thought it was cool John and Karl were playing with Magic and we could not get enough coverage. We would also collect everything regarding this team. Russ claimed I liked to collect the McDonald’s Olympic cups for “an extra place for Jay to take a leak.” He felt lucky to witness a documentary on the Dream Team that was made in the summer of 2012. It was a nice rarity for him to say some good things about Scottie Pippen.
#32 HE GAVE HIS DAD CREDIT FOR HIS LOVE OF SPORTS: Rusty told me on his mission that his dad was the main reason he loved sports. Initially he brought up going to BYU football and basketball games with him. He went on to say that his dad participated in everything. From attending his games at school or church or playing together, Steve was always part of it.
#33 HE HAD A COOL CONNECTION TO CRAIG BOLERJACK: A few times after BYU basketball games we would wait after the game and talk to TV star Craig Bolerjack. We would get advice from him. The third time we met him it was almost like Russ was saying “I’ll see you in the business someday my friend.” Russ became a TV anchor and always had a soft spot for Boler.
#34 RUSS WAS A SPORTS ANCHOR AND HE WAS AWESOME AT IT: Have you seen Russ do his sports broadcasts in New Mexico? He was as smooth of a pro as you can get. I am so proud when I see him do this work. He was born to do it, and proved it.
#35 HE WOULD END UP IN POST GAME LOCKER ROOMS: As paying fans, Russ used to lead us down to the locker rooms after BYU home games in the Marriott Center. We would literally devise plans, have excuses ready for security etc. We would get down to the locker room and usually come away with a coaches stats sheet and gum that had been intended for players. Years later we spoke of how dangerous that was and that these days you would not get away with it. Russ just wanted to be around it. He loved it so much, just standing where the team had been moments earlier. Of course he did not eat the gum, it was something to remember his memory.
#36 THE LAST NBA GAME HE WATCHED WAS MAY 31st, 2014: The Spurs beat the Thunder 112-107 in overtime. He text me by mocking that Kevin Durant had fallen down and the Thunder had lost. He liked KD, but was programmed to compete with me through our favorite athletes or predictions etc.
#37 HE WANTED TO HEAR MY INTERVIEW STORIES OVER AND OVER: He enjoyed hearing the encounters that I’d had with NBA players. He loved the NBA so much that he had no problem hearing a cool story for the ninth time. He knew me meeting these players was him meeting them as well.
#38 RUSS HAD A NICE RAY CLAY IMITATION: Ray Clay was the public address announcer for the Chicago Bulls. Russ had a staple imitation, “Starting at center, “BIIIILLLLLLL CARTWRIGHT!!!!!!”
#39 HE WAS A FAN OF THE YOUNG VINCE CARTER: When Vince won the February 2000 slam dunk contest Russ called me as hyped as he could be. He was screaming per the air show Carter put on. Russ then adopted Carter to challenge me with two things…The hope Carter could become better than Bryant, and that Carter was a better dunker than Jordan. Russ loved the NBA as much as he loved competing with me.
#40 I REMEMBER A FUNNY THING HE SAID ABOUT MARK JACKSON: I was starting to appreciate Jackson as passer and told Rusty, “I am starting to like Mark Jackson”. He quickly responded, (laughing) “Liking Mark Jackson is the same as liking lettuce. You don’t really need to tell me.”