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Killer Crossover

August 27, 2013

The other day, as I was viewing some back footage for a scouting report, I came across a commentator who referred to a spin move as “killer.”  A killer spin move?  Hmm.  As all fans who came of age before, say, 2000 know, that is not the true killer maneuver.  Mirror, mirror on the wall, what’s the best killer of them all?

The killer crossover.

Let’s review some of the great NBA crossovers from the last few decades in all their glory.  Fasten your seatbelt, though:  we’re going to examine crossovers from all sorts of angles and some of them aren’t pretty.  You’ve been warned.

The coach crossover

Let’s run a quick poll:  how many of you know that Lenny Wilkens is only the third individual ever inducted to the NBA Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach?  Pretty impressive, no?  How about this other fact:  Wilkens was named as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players and 10 greatest coaches in 1998 for the NBA’s 50th anniversary.

Blazing trails, indeed!

Blazing trails!

Wilkens finished second to Wilt Chamberlain in MVP voting in 1967-68 and retired behind just Oscar Roberston in total assists.  (He has since been passed by several other players.)  He could have rested on his laurels.  Wilkens, however, seamlessly crossed the playing-coaching boundary.  He began as the player-coach in Seattle and Portland before transitioning full-time in the mid-1970s.  He led the Seattle Supersonics to their first and only championship in 1979.  He took on middling teams in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.  (Take a hint, Phil Jackson.)  In pop culture terms, Wilkens is a crossover star in the vein of, say, Dr. Dre:  he performed well and then took his first-hand knowledge into the back-end to re-produce the experience for new generations.†

From the NBA court to the courts of law (sort of)

As we continue to examine players whose skills on the court translated into strong post-playing career skills, we shift to two cases of politician players.  Or rather, players who became politicians.  Let’s begin out west with Sacramento’s mayor, Kevin Johnson.  As noted in an earlier post, Johnson is currently married to Michelle Rhee, and some people—I joke not—know him only because of this connection.  However, Johnson’s training in the backcourt—learning how to massage personalities, create plays, and make tough decisions—have prepared him well for his mayoralty.  Johnson has adeptly re-created a second career by understanding how his transferrable skills (resume buzz phrase!) from the NBA make him a successful mayor.

Padding his resume with assists.

Padding his resume with assists and buckets.

This great image from Sports Illustrated for Kids says it all:  kids, play well on the court and you’ll be successful no matter how your sports career turns out.  (In Johnson’s case, even if MJ denies you.)

For political nerds and NBA history fans, though, Johnson pales in comparison with one of the truly phenomenal athlete-politicians of the 20th century:  Bill Bradley.  Bradley attended Princeton and was a top basketball prospect; he was a Rhodes Scholar; he won an NBA championship with the New York Knicks; and then, since that wasn’t enough, he went into politics and was elected to the US Senate.  Bradley’s meteoric rise faltered in 2000, though, when he lost the Democratic nomination to Al Gore.  Perhaps he just couldn’t stand being upstaged by another Rhodes Scholar; Bill Clinton also was, although a few years after Bradley.  However, he hasn’t ruled out running again, and as we all know, retirement doesn’t actually mean retirement.

The comeback crossover

Bradley hasn’t attempted a comeback (not yet, at least), so we turn to another rising star of yesteryear whose career was cut tragically short.  Jay Williams’ budding future ended abruptly at the end of a lamp post in Chicago, but after worries about his state—psychological and physical—Williams has rebounded.  He is now moving into consulting after some positive signs in the sports analyst industry.  Williams completed the difficult crossover that is the flipside of professional sports:  creating a career and healthy post-sporting life, particularly when sports didn’t pan out.

The athletic switch

As a kid, Bo Jackson’s talents in football and baseball fascinated me.  Jackson is still the only athlete to play in All-Star games in two different major US sports.  However, NBA players emulated his multi-sport prowess.  Scott Burrell was drafted in the first rounds of both the NBA and the MLB.  Danny Ainge played professional baseball before entering the NBA.  Maybe if he had improved his .220 batting average he would have played in the MLB All-Star game.  (Ainge was a one-time NBA All-Star.)  And of course, there’s the case of Charlie Ward.  Like Jackson, Ward won the Heisman Trophy and was a highly touted football prospect.  Ward, though, stuck with just basketball.  A question might lurk in various readers’ minds that these players were not true crossovers.  However, I enjoin such readers to contemplate the difficulty of learning the ins and outs of two sports at a highly competitive level.  HT salutes them for their crossover ability.

The failed crossover

Two words:  Baseball.  Retirement.  Who comes to mind?  Michael Jordan.  It’s appropriate to juxtapose his experiences with those of the names above.  Unlike them, Jordan, the consummate competitor, tried hard and failed to make a dent. Furthermore, while Jordan has made many savvy moves over the last 30 years, his recent business moves and his choice of Kwame Brown as the #1 pick in the 2001 NBA Draft point to further failures or, at the least, signs of bad judgment.  Jordan exemplifies the dangers of stepping away from one’s strengths and the true difficulty of crossing over.

I miss basketball.

I miss basketball.

The clothing crossover

Such a discussion would be incomplete without mentioning the lighter sides of crossing over.  Various NBA players have, over the years, donned clothing not traditionally worn by male players.  A handy publicity stunt, certainly, but also a bold political statement in the post-1960s navigation of US social norms.  I’ll let the photographs of some favorites, Dennis Rodman and Larry Johnson, speak for themselves:

Just don't ask for marriage advice.  No, seriously.  Don't.

Just don’t ask for marriage advice. No, seriously. Don’t.


But do ask your grandma for b-ball advice!

But do ask your grandma for b-ball advice!

Were these true crossovers?  At least in Johnson’s case it was not, but the jury is still out with Rodman.  And who knows?  Maybe HT will have to update this post at some point with Rodman’s diplomatic endeavors as he continues his wacky crossing over behavior into a whole other avenue.

The original killer crossover

For all those HT fans who have been waiting with bated breath, the original killer crossover has not been forgotten.  Tim Hardaway popularized the move, which made him one of the most explosive and unstoppable players on offense.  Hardaway crossed over and left defenders in the dust.

And now we see the killer in action:

† However, to date, Wilkens has not signed a headphones contract.

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