Magic-Bird Borders on Perfection

Magic-Bird Borders on Perfection

Caught the Bird-Magic documentary on HBO the other day. All I can say is: Terrific, absolutely terrific.Watching it I was reminded just how fast time goes by. Hard to believe that Michigan State-Indiana State was more than 30 years ago. Scary to think that Bird and Magic were in their NBA primes 25 years ago.I wasnt a Celtics fan growing up, but I became one after I started watching Bird. I had never seen anyone play like him, and likely wont ever again. Ditto for Johnson, but he was on another coast.I studied Bird. I just kept track of Magic.The Bird-Magic documentary took me back decades, and made it seem like it all happened yesterday. Watching Bird-Magic reminded me of just how once-in-a-lifetime that rivalry was Bird and MagicCeltics and Lakers.The best thing about Bird-Magic was that it not only brought back memories of the players themselves and the games they played in, but I was also reminded of where I was during those times. And what I was doing.I remember where I was - Doug Kubinaks basement - when the Celtics beat the Lakers in Game 7 in the 1984 Finals. I remember the time I drove 15 hours - from Reading, PA to Pontiac, Mich. - to watch Game 6 between the Celtics and Pistons in the 1988 Eastern Conference finals.And because Bird and Magic were so inextricably linked, I remember where I was -- an office building in downtown Oakland - when I heard Johnson had contracted the HIV virus.Everything came together, not just that we were dealing with two great players and two great teams. But there was so much more to it. There was the race issue. There was the fact that one guy was doing it on one coast and the other on another.There was the wonderful commitment both guys had to passing and teamwork, which came at the perfect time to a league in trouble. There was Bird, who was quiet and kept to himself. And there was Magic, who was upbeat and outgoing.There was blue-collar Boston against Hollywood Los Angeles. There were the seeds of the rivalry, planted while both were in college.Watching the Bird-Magic documentary made me realize theres nothing like that today - in any sport. It was a rivalry so fierce, and so clearly between the two best players and teams, that you paid attention even if basketball wasnt your cup of tea.Lets face it, theres never again going to be anything like Bird-Magic. Never. Thats what makes the Bird-Magic documentary so good: It takes you back to a time when basketball was as close to perfect as it can ever get.-- Matt SteinmetzWhat's your take? Email Matt and let him know. He may use it in his weekly Mailbag.

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice


Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both guys were given a day off, one scheduled earlier in the day. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime comes a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.”

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing


Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio put out a statement Tuesday explaining why he fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

He went into greater detail Wednesday afternoon, his first time facing the media since a change was made

Specifics will be discussed further down this story. We don’t, however, want to bury the lede.

Del Rio’s main message wasn’t about Norton. It applied to all in Silver and Black. This season has not met lofty expectations. That is unacceptable.

“I know one thing,” Del Rio said. “Nobody should feel comfortable, because what I’ve been watching is not good enough.”

Del Rio didn’t absolve himself from blame. Norton got fired, but everyone has played a part in this disappointing 4-6 record.

“It’s always shared,” Del Rio said. “A change was made, obviously. We all share in it, all of us, starting with me. It’s coaches and players. It’s a team game, and we’re all in it together. And nobody is coming to help us.”

The Raiders must look inward to start a prolonged winning streak they’ve shown little evidence they can create.

The seat will be warm under players and coaches alike, even if only one change was made. Expect further shakeup on the coaching staff after the season, if vast improvements don’t come down the stretch, possibly with several position coaches being shown the door. More than a few higher profile players could be cut or allowed to leave, especially on defense.

While Del Rio has taken more heat the past month than at any other time in his Raiders tenure, expect him to be around a longer term. He was given a contract extension in February, and has significant capitol built after changing the culture in Oakland and re-teaching this team how to win. One bad year, even if this season continues heading downhill, shouldn’t erase that.

Del Rio was looking to shake things up, and Norton was the obvious move. Experienced play caller John Pagano was on staff – he was Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-2016 – and firing the popular Pagano’s style could create some new waves and looks that any offensive Norton would make an impact in the locker room and prove this story’s opening quote, that no one should feel comfortable.

Del Rio hopes firing Norton will be a shock to the defense’s system.

“I really felt like I needed to shake things up,” Del Rio said. “We couldn’t continue doing what we’ve been doing to this point. So I made the call. The whole idea is to change what we’re doing and make sure…what I’m looking for at the end of the day is for us to play fast on defense. We weren’t playing fast enough. We weren’t playing confident enough.”