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Red vs. Phil: Filling Out The Benches
"I think my starting five is a little stronger, Phil," says a confident Red Auerbach as he holds the door open for his counterpart.
"We shall see, Red. We shall see."
For much of the morning, Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach have been arguing over NBA legends and trying to determine once and for all who is, in fact, the greatest basketball coach of all-time.
Red’s team: Cooz, The Big O, Larry Legend, The Stilt, and Bill Russell.
Phil’s team: Magic, MJ, Scottie, The Dream, and The Diesel.
The match-up is shaping up more like a battle of past versus present. Auerbach stuck mainly to the game’s founding fathers, while Jackson selected the players who brought professional basketball to its status as a global economic superpower.
"You mean to tell me you think your upstart punks can hang on the same court as my legends?" Auerbach says.
"I can’t see how you think Cousy is going to match up with Magic."
"Yeah, that’s going to be tricky…"
Both men prepare their materials and ready themselves for the rest of the draft. Phil is up first.
"I guess I’ll take Jabbar. Just end the wait right now."
"Finally. I also can’t believe the Logo fell this far, so I’ll snag him. West will be my sixth man, my scoring spark-plug."
With Mr. Clutch off the board, Phil decides to turn the tables on Red with a little psychological warfare.
"I’ll take Hondo."
Red groans. Loudly.
"Damn it, Phil! You knew I was going to take him. What use do you have for Havlicek?" Auerbach’s face is turning red.
"You’re move, Red."
Auerbach is noticeably flustered. He planned to use Havlicek as his backcourt defensive specialist.
"Hondo is my guy! A Celtic, who bleeds green!"
"Sorry, Red, but I’ve already written him on my list." Jackson smiles as he shows Auerbach his roster.
"So, that’s how we’re going to play. Alright, now we’re going to play. Give me that Bryant kid."
Jackson’s smile quickly vanishes. He knows how Kobe will go out of his way to stick it to him for passing on him.
"You’re sure you want Kobe, Red? Didn’t you read my book?"
"Yeah, he’s just misunderstood."
Auerbach isn’t too thrilled about drafting Bryant, but he’s still upset about Jackson stealing Havlicek.
"Fine, Red. It’s your funeral."
Jackson’s turn. He begins thinking about his last title runs with the Lakers and the player he desires pops immediately into his head.
"I’ll take Tim Duncan."
"Great pick, Phil. I LOVE Timmy Duncan."
Jackson is pleased. He can’t imagine a circumstance where anyone could defeat a team with Shaq, Olajuwon, and Duncan on the front line.
"Well, if we’re drafting front-court players now, I guess I better take Malone," Auerbach says.
"Karl?" Jackson asks.
"Haha. No thanks. I’m taking Moses - the one that didn’t vanish in the Finals."
Now Auerbach is having the same train of thought, assuming that no team could ever defeat his front-court line-up of Russell, Chamberlain and Malone.
Jackson’s turn. He’s decided to load up on athleticism from this point forward, hoping that Auerbach’s slower, more deliberate roster will struggle to keep pace.
"Let’s keep this draft in Philly. I’ll take the Doctor."
"ABA or NBA Erving?"
"ABA, of course," Phil responds.
"It’ll be just like the old days, when Bird and Erving used to slug it out back in the Garden," Auerbach says, wistfully.
Auerbach looks through his remaining wish list, and decides on another Philly guy.
"Barkley. Yep…that’s who I want," Auerbach says.
Needing another scorer off the bench, Jackson decides to make it four Philly guys in a row.
"Iverson. Give me Iverson."
"Fine by me. I wouldn’t have taken him if this draft lasted six years!"
Jackson laughs. "It’s those kinds of comments that keep Iverson motivated. I have to tell you, his Game One performance in the 2001 Finals against us was one of the most remarkable solo performances I’ve ever seen."
"But Phil, the game is played five against five." Auerbach desperately wants to argue this, but Phil ignores him. He doesn’t even bring up Red’s Kobe selection.
"Your pick, Red."
Auerbach brightens up. "Great, I know exactly who I want. A guy who plays the TEAM game. Bill Walton."
Jackson’s face sinks. He forgot that Walton’s foot issues will not come into play in this competition.
"Red, that’s the steal of the draft. Fantastic pick."
"Thank you, sir." The praise prompts Auerbach to light another of his signature cigars.
"Hey, isn’t it a little early for that cigar? I’ve still got three picks, and not to mention, a vastly superior team."
Red silently puffs away on his cigar.
"Alright, give me Bob Pettit. I need a dirty work guy, and I definitely don’t want to draft Rodman."
Auerbach nods and takes another long pull on his cigar.
With his next pick, he utters just one word: "McHale."
Another legendary big-man hampered by foot ailments, McHale’s textbook footwork will provide an instructional-video-esque match-up against Duncan.
With only two picks left for each coach, the pressure begins to mount. Both men stand silently for a moment as they ponder who to select.
"I’ll take Jason Kidd," Jackson says to break the silence. "Need another point guard."
"Now there’s a ballplayer," Auerbach said. "Really knows how to run a team."
Speaking of unstoppable, Auerbach takes yet another player whose career was derailed by an unfortunate set of injuries.
"I need Bernard King. That was the only Eastern Conference guy we couldn’t handle. He was something else."
As Auerbach writes King into his roster, Phil pulls the ace from his sleeve.
"You know, Red, I seem to remember another Philly guy giving your team a whole lot of problems back in the day. I’m talking of course about the Boston Strangler."
"No. No, you wouldn’t dare." Auerbach is growing from concerned to agitated.
"Yep. I’m ending my draft with Andrew Toney."
"No!" Auerbach breaks his pencil and throws it across the room. "Anybody but Toney!"
"You’re move, Mr. Auerbach." Jackson is obviously pleased.
"Give me a minute."
Auerbach falls into his leather chair and contemplates his final selection.
"Well, I need someone athletic who can handle the ball and match up with Magic, since he’s going to kill Cousy. Wait…I know who to take."
Phil is concerned. "What are you thinking, Red?"
"I’m taking LeBron James. Yep. That’s my final pick. I know he’s young, and I know he’s not as established as my other guys, but this is the guy that’ll take me over the top."
Jackson shakes his head. "You know what? Good pick, Red."
The two men finish writing their rosters and shake hands.
Team Red: Russell, Bird, Robertson, Chamberlain, Cousy, West, Bryant, Malone (Moses), Barkley, Walton, McHale, King, and James.
Team Phil: Jordan, Johnson, O’Neal, Olajuwon, Pippen, Jabbar, Havlicek, Duncan, Erving, Iverson, Pettit, Kidd, and Toney.
At the end of the draft, both men realized the picked eight bench players.
"You want to take one guy off?" Phil asks.
"Eh, let’s leave it. Who says you should only have 12 guys on a roster? Besides, 13 is a lucky number, right?"
As they gather their materials and begin walking toward the door, they notice that nobody drafted Isiah Thomas, Karl Malone, Rick Barry, Elgin Baylor, etc etc.
"I was going to take Thomas, but calling Bird a creation of the white media never sat well with me," Auerbach said.
"I know what you mean. Jordan hated him, too. Wonder what they think about what Isiah’s doing to the Knicks?"
Both men laugh and continue arguing about the players they left off.
"Malone’s point total would’ve been nothing without Stockton," Jackson remarks.
"That’s who I wanted to draft! Stockton! Can we go back and re-do it so I can grab him?"
"If you get Stockton, then I want Gary Payton!" Phil exclaims.
And both men keep on arguing. And arguing.