History is often told by the victors. In the case of sports, history gets told through the lens of the winning team or the triumphant athlete. For basketball, the epitome of this can come in the final tenths and hundredths of a second. The NBA is frequently dubbed “a make or miss league” because at the end of the day that is all that matters. Just last summer Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors made their mark on NBA history following a winning shot in Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs that famously bounced around the rim for what felt like an eternity.
March 7th, 1989, produced one of the NBA’s most iconic game-winning shots ever. The images and video from the play are integral to the history of the game. It was the simultaneous victory of one of the sport’s greatest champions and the defeat of one of sports’ unluckiest cities. It wasn’t his first game-winning shot, and it wasn’t his most important, but Michael Jordan’s shot over Craig Ehlo is one of the most-watched single shots in NBA history. Jordan evades the initial defender to catch the ball on the right-wing, just inside the three-quarter court line. He quickly crosses the ball to his right hand with two ticks left on the clock. Directly in front of the basket, just beyond the free-throw line, Jordan rose up and kicked his feet backward. Craig Ehlo, the assigned defender, was draped all over him the entire time and rose as well. Ehlo and Jordan were the same height, and Ehlo’s outstretched arm raised higher initially than Jordan held the basketball. But, as the clip below famously shows, Jordan hangs in the air as if someone presses pause. Ehlo lands…. Jordan fires… “THE BULLS WIN!”
From the leap and celebration to the Nike Air on the sole of his IVs, Jordan’s moment was cemented in NBA history. Amidst other chaos that ensued, from Doug Collins and his 80s hair to the Bulls nearly getting punched running towards Michael celebrating, Craig Ehlo’s emotional and literal collapse on the court makes him famous for one thing and one thing only: Craig Ehlo is the guy that Jordan scored on. Forever the victim, the crumbling Ehlo is the “crying Jordan meme” over twenty years before memes were popular.
These images are back into the sports’ fan collective consciousness because of The Last Dance docuseries, and the resurgence of all of the real-life mythology surrounding His Airness. In the documentary, many sports fans saw or understood for the first time something lost in the history books: Craig Ehlo was seconds away from being the David to Jordan’s Goliath. Ehlo was the apparent hero for the Cavaliers, until he was the apparent butt of the joke.
In The Last Dance, former Cavalier Ron Harper claims he asked to, and should’ve been guarding, Michael Jordan in those final seconds. Harper and Ehlo both stand 6’6,” both were young, athletic defenders in 1989, and both two guards were vying for the starting (and in this particular instance, closing) minutes. Cleveland went with Ehlo that night, and traded Harper in the middle of the next season… after having clearly made their choice (for what it’s worth, Harper and Jordan were teammates for the second Bulls three-peat, so his opinions 30 years later may need a grain of salt).
Harper may still be bitter, but it’s hard to imagine any defender, from any era, could’ve contested the shot much better. Michael just floated there longer, and made the shot. It’s a make or miss league, MJ made it.
May and June of 2020, as a function of The Last Dance, have become time for celebrating His Airness and the great Bulls teams he led. Today, on May 7th, is an opportunity to celebrate the other guy in this story. Ehlo did, after all, make the shot, too.
Craig Ehlo is probably (ok, almost definitely) the best athlete to ever come out of Lubbock, Texas… A quiet town known more for the Red Raiders than for producing NBA talent. The son of a farming family, Ehlo is the only NBA player to ever graduate as a Plainsmen (yes, their mascot) from Monterey High. But even Ehlo needed to take an alternative route. Unlike many pros in the era, Ehlo attended junior college in Odessa, Texas. For reference, Odessa is another small Texas panhandle town most famously depicted in the movie Friday Night Lights. Finally, Ehlo was offered a chance to play Division I basketball for Washington State in the “big city” of Pullman, Washington. Though Klay Thompson is a notable and recent WSU Alum in the NBA, it isn’t exactly a basketball powerhouse. Ehlo was one of two Wazzu players drafted in 1983, the school had only produced six pros before that. The University produces a lot more agricultural researchers than “three and d” NBA players, even if that is what constitutes their two most famous alumni.
Ehlo was drafted in the third round to the Houston Rockets and in three years in Houston, Ehlo played in just 88 games. In the fall of 1986, in an effort to get more exposure, Craig Ehlo found himself in another small town, playing for another less than notable franchise: the Jacksonville Jets of the Continental Basketball Association. Jacksonville, Mississippi, is the largest city in the Magnolia State, but it pales in comparison to the bright lights of Houston and the 1986 Finals Ehlo was on the bench for just the summer before. In just six games Ehlo averaged an efficient 10.5, 3, and 3 before getting a few phone calls about moving back up to the NBA.
After signing with Cleveland in January 1987, Ehlo worked his way into an efficient sixth man and eventual starter. Ehlo ran into the Jordan playoff train five times in his seven Cavalier seasons, and his less than four seconds from victory was the closest they ever had to advance. One slight bounce, or a few less milliseconds, and Ehlo would have been the hero. Instead, Ehlo and Cleveland fell. Vanquished. For a single timeout, between his last shot and Jordan’s, he was the hero. Instead of being the humble hero from small-town America that led Cleveland to the next round, he was the face of defeat beneath Jordan’s sneakers.
History remembers the last shot from that night, not Ehlo or his career. Jordan’s sneakers from “The Shot” (Jordan IV “Bred”) are definitively more memorable than anything from Ehlo’s career…. But Ehlo was a true pro for 14 seasons. As a sixth man, Ehlo served as a sharp shooting spark plug in the same backcourt as Ron Harper and Mark Price. As a starter, he was a reliable double-figure scorer, tough defender, and three-point specialist. As a bench player, he proved to be a valuable locker room leader for Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkins, who coached Ehlo in Cleveland and Atlanta.
Ehlo’s career ended after being a bench player, in Atlanta, for a few seasons in the mid-nineties. Much like he did on May 7th, 1989, Ehlo came down to Earth a little early. He started 73 games in his last year in Cleveland and led the Cavs to the Eastern Conference Finals (yes, they lost to Jordan and the Bulls). He signed with the Hawks and started less than ten games for the rest of his career. Craig Ehlo’s time in the spotlight is as much in Michael Jordan’s shadow as can be. He collapses in the background of one of basketball’s most famous photographs. The despair is in knowing there wasn’t anything more he could’ve done. He made the shot on one end, and perfectly contested the shot on the other. Make or miss league… and MJ didn’t miss. Ehlo’s night on May 7th was the epitome of the ups and downs of sport. He was the hero, then the goat’s goat.
Ehlo’s life after basketball has taken similar ups and downs, from serious lows and a brief stint Narcotics Anonymous after addiction to working with Washington State University as a color commentator for the Cougar Basketball games. Much like a shot, sometimes life’s a swish sometimes it clanks. Sometimes you’re the hero, sometimes you’re the goat’s goat. Even the roundest roundball can take odd bounces, and bounces can carry consequences. While the NBA will always be a make or miss league, perhaps history shouldn’t be.
Zach LaVine Is The Missing Piece For The Sixers by Chris Allen
Zach LaVine is a 6’6 catch and shoot lob threat. This 25-year-old two-time slam dunk champion has spent his career trying to make it to the playoffs or keep the Chicago Bulls at 500. In contrast, he’s averaging over 25 points per game since 2019, per basketball reference. LaVine is bound to be an All-Star this year, having career highs in both points and FG shooting percentage. His skill set, and size, might be the missing piece for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 76ers have themselves projected anywhere from a 2-4 seed coming out of the Eastern Conference. Ben Simmons is the best playmaker and on-ball defender on the team. Joel Embiid is a beast in the post and spreads the floor. Tobias Harris is a solid shooter anywhere on the floor and can create his own shot. Out of the three, the most tradeable player is Harris in exchange for LaVine. Depending on management, you can make LaVine sign an extension or throw in Danny Green and Otto Porter Jr. to offset the salary cap.
How would the 76ers offense and defense schemes work? In theory, depending on matchups, Simmons would play the four on defense for the most part and alternate with LaVine or another guard to play the one. This allows for more explosive offensive firepower surrounding Simmons and still creates space for Embiid to operate in the post or stretch the floor. This open space leaves room for your slashers, Simmons and LaVine.
With all the movement and attention on the central core, spot up, catch and shoot three-point shots will thrive. Matisse Thybulle, Seth Curry, & possibly Porter Jr. offer the Sixers solid shooting on the floor to make this a solid offense. Simmons at the four on defense allows him to turn into the point guard as soon as he gets the rebound hitting LaVine on the fast break for quick transition points.
LaVine can do something that Simmons can’t do, which is the ability to shoot from outside the paint. Whatever position you put them in, they could cover each other’s weaknesses and keep Philadelphia’s offense potent. Philly still has depth with Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey for guards if Simmons and LaVine ran as your forwards.
No one wants LaVine to have career numbers on a struggling team. Simmons and Embiid are rare in their skill set. They could use an independent scorer to take away attention and get a bucket when needed. With LaVine holding the ball more, there’s less talk about where Simmons sits in the offense with his lack of shooting. With the trade deadline coming, it will be interesting to see whether LaVine will stay a Bull or find himself with a contender for a ring.
Damian Lillard Named Cover Athlete for NBA 2K21
There aren’t many players in the NBA that are as exciting to watch as Damian Lillard. The Portland Trail Blazers point guard can drop 50 points on any given night, putting up statistics only seen in video games.
Due to his gaudy play this year, Lillard has been announced as the first of three players that will grace the cover of the NBA’s premier video game franchise, NBA 2K.
Lillard was in the midst of a remarkable season prior to the league shutdown, as he averaged a career-high 28.9 points and 7.8 assists per game. If the season resumes next month, Lillard will look to close a 3.5 games gap across an eight-game schedule to get his Trail Blazers into playoff position.
Regardless of how this season ends for Lillard though, it will still go down as another incredible campaign for the five-team All-Star. One worthy of his first selection as the cover athlete on 2K.
Lillard will be on the cover of NBA 2K21 for all the current-gen gaming consoles including PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC and Google Stadia systems. 2K still needs to announce another cover athlete for the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles.
For the 29-year-old point guard, this honor is very gratifying as it continues to solidify his status as one of the game’s most elite players.
Due to the continued fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still unclear whether NBA 2K21 will be released at it’s regularly scheduled drop-date in September, or if it will be pushed back to accommodate the league’s changed schedule.
If the season is played in it’s entirety, many don’t expect the 2020-2021 NBA season to start until late November, if not some time in December.
Stephen Jackson: Journey Man
Nearly two months ago, when the NBA announced the 2020 Hall of Fame class, and in the midst of having no sports to televise, ESPN ran a series of important games from Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan’s careers. For Duncan, ESPN played his near quadruple-double to seal the 2003 NBA Finals. In the fourth quarter, when the Spurs needed buckets, the New Jersey defense collapsed in on Duncan, who kicked to a wide-open, third-year NBA player named Stephen Jackson. Jackson hit three big three-pointers, Spurs win. For many, some combination of that performance (being the secondary star in a non-primetime, 17-year-old basketball game) and his All The Smoke podcast with Matt Barnes was the most thought given to Stephen Jackson in quite some time. Jackson went on, after a brief stint in San Antonio, to play for six franchises in eleven years before retiring in 2015. Many would call him a journeyman for his travels in the NBA, and assumed his life would settle down after that.
Last week Stephen Jackson put himself, and his cause, in front of everyone. Following the brutal murder of George Floyd by four police officers, Jackson took to his Instagram to let the world see and hear the pain he had for his lost friend. Floyd grew up in Houston, Jackson in Port Arthur. For those not acquainted with Texas’ geography, the two went to high school just over an hour apart. Many in Port Arthur residents, like Jackson as a child, go into the city of Houston when they need things you’d find in the city. Port Arthur is a tough-minded oil town that functions as both a suburb of the city of Beaumont and the city of Houston. It’s produced the likes of Jimmy Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Pimp C, and Bun B… but Stephen Jackson is the only notable NBA alum that cites it as home. You can see Port Arthur’s toughness in Johnson, Charles, and Jackson. You can see its swagger in Pimp C, Bun B, and Jackson.
And now, you can see him representing Port Arthur, and making a difference.
Everyone ended their Memorial Day weekend watching the same horrifying viral video. It hit everyone differently. For some, it was a wake-up call to the deadly realities of police brutality. To others, it was an anger-inducing “another one?!” To still others, it was horrifyingly close to home, with a mirror-like reality. And to Jackson? It was his lifelong friend. His “twin.”
Jackson and Floyd have known each other since childhood. Both were active athletes from similar neighborhoods and backgrounds, but the “twin” moniker came not only because they were figuratively brothers, but because they look eerily similar to one another. The two played pick-up basketball in the Cuney Homes housing complex of Houston’s Third Ward. (Jackson has, in the last week, really done an intentional job of pointing out how talented of an athlete Floyd was. To be frank, it is very important. The difference in Floyd’s life cut short and Jackson’s life in the NBA can come down to a few breaks or ball bounces here and there.)
While much of the nation’s initial anger over George Floyd’s murder was in their own homes for the initial twenty-four hours, Stephen Jackson’s was cast for the world to see.
In the following days, Jackson continued to post homage to Floyd while he made his way to Minneapolis to lead protests. Once there, he made his message clear: no one was going to diminish Floyd’s name. No one was going to rest until action was taken. Change was coming, and Jackson was ready to work for it.
Jackson was surrounded by the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie, actor Jamie Foxx, Houston area rap artist Trae the Truth, amongst other protestors. After speaking to the crowd, Jackson and others went outside marched to the Hennepin County Government Center.
Protests and marches have been commonplace all over the United States of America this week. In an effort to combat police brutality, communities are banding together to have their voices heard. Both in-person and online, at the forefront of these protests continue to be high profile athletes and celebrities. In North Carolina, Dennis Smith Jr. and J. Cole were mixed into the marches like everyone else. Jaylen Brown did the same in Atlanta. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote an op-ed for the LA Times. It clearly did not take being connected to the situation like Stephen Jackson to take the lead in the community.
In the week since publicly sharing his pain, Jackson has become the face of NBA players involved in the protests, and his movements are seeing results. Within hours of his statements in Minneapolis, the police officer who murdered Floyd was arrested. Protests have continued, calling for both the arrests of his three partners who watched him idly, and for their four convictions. Since Jackson spoke out, major shoe brands, EA Sports, and even Adam Silver have come out in support of the protests. Jackson, who made a career as a reserved tough guy, pushed much of the NBA world to the point of speaking up. While COVID quarantine certainly helped further the cause (everyone is stuck at home with little other distractions, searching social media), Jackson’s activism is the inspiration we look for.
What’s both fascinating and disturbing is George Floyd was not the first unarmed black man murdered on camera. He wasn’t even the first of such since the COVID quarantine started, and the violent reaction to the protests imply he won’t be the last victim of police brutality either. But, his name and case are pushing people to a protesting brink at a national level. There are several factors, but Jackson and the ensuing NBA involvement is certainly a big one.
The murder of an unarmed person at the hands of the police shouldn’t need celebrity grief to become a tragedy. NBA players shouldn’t have to remind the public they’ve been wearing “I CAN’T BREATHE” tee-shirts since 2014. The news should sting on its own and, if you’re paying attention, it always does.
However, in Jackson’s grief he helped elevate this particular case. The NBA, and pro sports, can humanize black people for many white audiences that otherwise don’t get to interact with people that don’t look like them. For decades neighborhoods, schools, and public spaces have been (intentionally or unintentionally) segregated through various means. As pointedly illustrated in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crowe, these systems can perpetuate cyclically and lock people into only being around folks that look like them. Humanized professional athletes can bring new faces into white neighborhoods, as they connect with and idolize people on their team. Jackson is one of those faces, and he isn’t just “involved” in the ongoing fight in Floyd’s name. In his own words, he’s “all in.”
Jackson’s activism can bring those conversations into white homes, neighborhoods, and families. It can help force the issue and conversation. Recent generations of NBA players have been very socially active, and time after time we see the issues they take up carry significant weight. It’s sad to admit, but in many ways it’s vital. It makes the stories human to more people, because Jackson is a human known by more people.
Jackson has spent the last week publicly riding an emotional roller coaster. He mourned the loss of his friend, was firm in pursuing justice, and was open in sharing his story. As we enter week two of Jackson’s journey, he has accepted being the leader of the current athlete activists.
“Like, I’m honest with you: I did not expect to have the role and to have so many people waiting to see what I have to say and what’s the next move,” Jackson told ESPN. “Like, I didn’t ask to be in this position, but I’m embracing it. I’m embracing it.”
But what does that mean? What does embracing it look like for Journey Man Jackson?
“We got to vote,” Jackson continued. “I’m not just talking about the president. I’m talking about the local city council. I’m talking about your police chief, your fire chief. We need to vote for all that type of stuff because all that stuff’s going to matter at the end. And what we’re doing now as far as protesting everywhere around the world, we got to use that same energy when it’s time to vote.”
“Coming into this, I’ve seen so many situations not pan out right,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen the impossible happen also. And I think this is that situation. I think this [is] going to be the change. My brother’s death is going to be change. I think we’re going to get convictions for all of them. I think they’re drawing it out right now because this is the typical system. That’s why we got to change the rules — they look out for each other. They try their best to look out for each other. So this is expected by me.”
“But we’re going to fight. This is a marathon. And we’re going to continue this fight, and we’re going to outfight them. We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep this thing going. They’re going to get tired of hearing about George Floyd. They’re going to get tired of hearing his name.”
The word “journey” carries a lot more positivity than “journeyman.” A journey can be life-changing, and it can be historically impactful. A journeyman is a wanderer; he’s lost or he has no home. A journey is going to be important. Calling someone a journeyman implies they weren’t important enough to stick in one place.
However, in the NBA journeymen are often beloved by other players because they have to be good teammates to survive. Journeymen change clubhouses frequently, and they’re more appealing to more teams if their past teammates can attest to their characters. But to fans, and outsiders, they tend to be the periphery of the storylines of the league. Sure, Stephen Jackson hit a barrage of three-pointers in the 2003 NBA Finals, but they were off of Tim Duncan’s assists. He’s an emblem of toughness, but Jackson never stayed in the same organization for more than two complete seasons (though he did have two separate two year periods in San Antonio).
Players love Jackson, that’s evident in his podcasting and TV appearances. But he was never integral to the NBA’s story throughout his journeyman-days. He was always going to be remembered as the guy who scored on Duncan’s kick out, or the teammate that got traded, or the veteran on a one-year deal. If you watched the NBA in his 14-year career, you knew who he was… but his playing days didn’t indicate he’d be an unforgettable piece of the story of the league.
But as the latest chapters of Jackson’s story is being written, he’s looking more like a man on a journey than a journeyman. If you persist he is a journeyman, he’s clearly chosen to focus on the breakdown of the word regardless of your perception.
And his leadership has proven far more than necessary in connection to the story of America in 2020 than it ever was in connection to the NBA.
If you have the means to, or would like to donate to help the cause Jackson is at the front of, please consider the following places to start:
Football8 months ago
Patrick Mahomes Signs Largest Contract in Sports History
Basketball1 year ago
Rockets’ All-Star Duo Puts Out The Heat 117-109
High School Basketball1 year ago
My Brothers Keeper: Andre and Marcus Jackson
High School Basketball1 year ago
The 2019 Pangos All-East Frosh/Soph Basketball Camp
Football11 months ago
Robby Anderson Signs Two-Year, $20 Million Deal with the Carolina Panthers
Football12 months ago
Cleveland Browns Sign OT Jack Conklin, TE Austin Hooper and QB Case Keenum
College Basketball1 year ago
Texas Tech Stuns # 1 Louisville at The Jimmy V Classic
College Basketball1 year ago
Duke wins 2019 Empire Classic