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Carroll’s Column: Brooklyn Saga Ends, Nets Trade Irving & Durant

Image Credit: NBA/Twitter/Brooklyn Nets

NEW YORK– The NBA has shifted into a player-driven league with superstars demanding their way in and out of current regimes now more than ever before. Nearly every two-three months an All-Star caliber talent is rumored to have a falling out with their respective franchise. 

For example: Four-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell was traded from the Utah Jazz to Cleveland Cavaliers in September of 2022. Another, one-time All-Star Dejounte Murray, was acquired by the Atlanta Hawks from the San Antonio Spurs in June of 2022. The list goes on and on; however, not one example compares to the 2019-2023 Brooklyn Nets debacle. 

And coincidentally, it goes back to their Long Island times… 

The Nets have had a frustrating history with superstar players dating back to their days on Long Island when Rick Barry had to leave them to honor a previous commitment to the-then Golden State Warriors. A few years later, cash-strapped owner Roy Boe had to sell Julius Erving’s contract to the Philadelphia 76ers to afford the entry fees into the NBA following the merger with the American Basketball Association.

Last week the Nets decided to trade two probable Hall of Fame inductees, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant. Time will tell if the deals were good for them, or if they got pennies on the dollar in return for the assets they gave up, but it is hard to argue with Nets owner Joe Tsai or team general manager Sean Marks for pulling the trigger on the trades.

Image Credit: NBA/Twitter/Brooklyn Nets

One can devote several columns to Irving’s self-made controversies ranging from his declaration the earth is flat to his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 while saying it had nothing to do with health concerns to promoting an anti-Semitic documentary. Ironically, Irving had been playing the best basketball of his career and had been very low-key since that documentary brouhaha. 

That is why it came as a surprise (although nothing he ever does is truly shocking) Irving demanded the Nets trade him within a week before the NBA trade deadline. Brooklyn obliged Irving by sending him to the Dallas Mavericks for guard and popular ex-Net Spencer Dinwiddie, forward Dorian Finney-Smith and a couple of draft choices. 

Irving was frustrated the Nets did not give him an NBA maximum salary extension. They apparently were waiting until the end of the season to see how things played out with him. Irving is slated to be an unrestricted free agent then. He would have had a better negotiating posture with other NBA teams had he simply played out the season without drama for the Nets. 

Image Credit: NBA/Twitter/Brooklyn Nets

Four days after dealing away Irving, the Nets dispatched Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns for Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and four future first-round draft choices. Crowder was flipped to the Milwaukee Bucks for more draft capital. Durant had urged the Nets to trade him before this season started but rescinded that demand. He quietly asked them to move him again when Irving was traded.

Durant is obviously a great player, but some have questioned his leadership. There are some Nets fans who think he enabled Irving’s off-putting behavior by his refusal to confront him. Although Durant was not mentioned by name, a disgruntled James Harden had the Nets trade him to the Philadelphia 76ers because he grew tired of Irving’s mishegas. The Nets have a roster of very good players. The problem is, teams with superstars win NBA championships. 

“BILL RUSSELL LEGEND” AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX

When it came to NBA championships, no one had more rings than Boston Celtics center and coach Bill Russell, who passed away this summer at the age of 88. Netflix last week debuted a two-part biography titled “Bill Russell Legend.” 

Image Credit: Netflix/Bill Russell Legend

The executive producer of this documentary is former HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, who gives “Bill Russell Legend” the same detail and production values he gave for all of his many HBO Emmy-winning specials. Actor Cory Stoll serves as the chief narrator and he sounds like a dead-ringer for Liev Schreiber, who was the voice behind all of the HBO Sports documentaries. Fellow thespian Jeffrey Wright reads the passages from Russell’s autobiography, “Second Wind.”

“Bill Russell Legend” contains rarely-seen footage from the early days of the NBA, as well as the civil rights marches Russell took part in which put his life in constant danger. The documentary goes into detail regarding his love-hate relationship with the city of Boston; his surprisingly warm relationship with Wilt Chamberlain even though their politics were different; as well as his refusal to sign autographs even for his teammates. 

Image Credit: NBA/Twitter/The Players Tribune

I remember reading Russell saying autographs were demeaning and that is the reason he stopped giving them. He said he would gladly shake your hand and have a conversation with you, which is a far more meaningful experience. He could not understand the value of a signature on a piece of paper or even a photo. I fully concur. Yet, this was not stated in the documentary. Russell was married four times, yet this was not broached either. 

Despite these shortcomings, “Bill Russell Legend” is well worth the investment of your time. Additionally, 94-year-old Basketball Hall of Fame member, and former Andrew Jackson High School hoops star, Bob Cousy, is featured prominently. He deserves to have his life story told in a documentary. 

43RD ANNUAL THURMAN MUNSON AWARDS DINNER

The 43rd annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner took place last Tuesday at the Pier Sixty Restaurant at Chelsea Piers.. The late Yankee captain’s widow, Diana, has worked incredibly hard to raise nearly $20 million for AHRC NYC, a local nonprofit which assists children and adults who have cognitive disabilities to lead full lives.

As per custom, many sports luminaries attended the Munson Awards and spoke to the media before the ceremonies began. Annika Sorenstam, arguably the greatest female golfer of all-time, was hopeful the gap could be closed between interest in men’s and women’s professional golf just as it has between men’s and women’s professional tennis. That probably won’t happen unless the LPGA can negotiate better television deals. 

Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka hopes to get a degree in mechanical engineering after his playing career ends. He had been taking classes at Orange Coast College in Southern California but did not have time to do so this past off-season.

Kyle Higashioka – Image Credit: Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

Popular former Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda filled in for current right fielder Brandon Nimmo at the ceremony. Swoboda spoke about the passage of time. “I am now four years older than Casey Stengel was when he managed me in my rookie year!” Swoboda looks a lot younger at 78, than Stengel did at 74. 

NELSON FIGUEROA BECOMES LONG ISLAND DUCKS PITCHING COACH

Ex-Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa served as the pitching coach for the Atlantic League’s Staten Island FerryHawks in 2022. He is moving to Central Islip, Long Island, to serve as the pitching coach for the Long Island Ducks, who are managed by another former Met, Wally Backman. 

“I don’t know which will go first, my lungs or my liver!” Figueroa joked about working with the hard-charging Backman.

Image Credit: Long Island Ducks/Fairfield Properties Ballpark

Figueroa told me the FerryHawks were so short of pitchers last summer that he was pressed into action to start a game against the Gastonia Honey Hunters. Although he was 48, he acquitted himself well. I laughingly asked Figueroa if he considered pitching for Team Israel in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. 

“Although my parents are Puerto Rican, my wife is Jewish, and I went to both Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn and then Brandeis University, so I think I would qualify!” he said with a smile. 

2023 KOSHER WINE & FOOD EXPO

The 2023 Kosher Wine & Food Expo took place the day before at Pier Sixty. Stoudemire Wines, the Israeli winery formed five years ago by former Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire displayed five of its varietals. They are a bit drier than better known kosher brands as Carmel, Baron Herzog, and Manischewitz.

Sourdough bread has never been associated with Jewish cuisine the way rye and challah have, but a Brooklyn-based bakery, Crave Sourdough, is trying to change that. It may be an uphill battle because a loaf of the tasty delicacy retails for around $19. 

Queens was well-represented at the Kosher Wine & Food Expo. The Rego Park restaurant and caterer, Marani, was giving out samples of its popular dishes. Bicerin USA, a company started a decade ago by Bellerose native Michael FitzPatrick, was showcasing its various Italian liqueurs. 

TRIBUTE TO BURT BACHARACH

Forest Hills High School alum Burt Bacharach was the personification of cool and debonair. If James Bond had been a musician, he would have been Burt Bacharach. 

As a composer, Bacharach had a few peers. Even fellow legendary songwriters Carole King, Brian Wilson, and Paul McCartney were in awe of him because of his many catchy, yet sophisticated songs. 

While most know Bacharach’s big hits for Dionne Warwick and BJ Thomas, my favorite tunes of his were more obscure. I never tire of hearing the Pointer Sisters’ “The Love Too Good To Last,” El DeBarge’s “Love, Always,” and Kenny Rogers’ “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To.” He will be missed.

You can read more of Lloyd Carroll’s columns posted weekly on The Queens Chronicle.

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