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    The Audible: On the late Bill Walton, Ty Lue and Dave Roberts
    • May 29, 2024

    Jim Alexander: Lots of words have been written and spoken – including by the both of us – following the passing of Bill Walton on Monday at age 71. I referred to him as a “force of nature,” but that may just have scratched the surface. And the amazing thing about the last couple of days and the reaction to a death that was untimely – and, to those of us not in the know, unexpected – was that there were so many different ways in which his impact was measured: Basketball player, commentator, Grateful Dead fan, a joyously passionate human being, and – maybe most importantly – someone who was always looking out for others.

    Maybe my biggest takeaway was this: We are all multi-faceted creatures. He was just more willing than most of us to embrace all of those facets of his life, vibrantly and with gusto – and if you, the observer, didn’t get it, too bad. He truly did live his best life.

    Mirjam, you had the opportunity to talk to our friend Ralph Lawler, who called his games as a Clipper and later worked with him as a broadcaster. I’ve gotta believe he had some stories no one else had.

    Mirjam Swanson: Plenty. From whitewater rafting with Walton to helping him break into broadcasting, they were tight. My heart really goes out to Ralph – and everyone who knew Walton personally. What a loss for them, and for us all.

    One thing Ralph and I talked about that I’ve been thinking a lot about since: How unusual Walton was. Not only for his talent and success and that multi-faceted zest for life you’ve mentioned, but for his disposition.

    This guy’s athletic prowess put him on a pedestal from his earliest days and he wasn’t a jerk. On the contrary, he was a nice guy, aware and positive-minded.

    We’re in proximity to lots of powerful athletic figures and few are so generous with their time and thoughts and beings. And, to be honest, regular folks without any such skill or prestige aren’t always so well meaning, either.

    Here’s what Lawler had to say about that: “He was extraordinary from his early childhood. It was obvious he was going to be a great basketball player, and he was held on a special perch by all around him for all those years – and you have to credit his beloved mom and dad, they raised him right, and didn’t let him get things out of balance.

    “He just had a view of the world that few people are fortunate to have. I wish I had it, I wish more of us had it.”

    Jim: That’s what impressed me most – he was always looking out for or praising others.

    I made a reference a few years ago to the idea that his basketball commentary might drive some viewers – mostly the partisans – nuts, not only because he refused to be bogged down by Xs and Os but because he could seem to be rooting for both teams at the same time. But he was a purist, and he believed in honoring the game. That, too, was impressive.

    And now … usually we come into this with a rough idea of what we’re going to discuss, but here’s some breaking news: The Clippers have signed Ty Lue to a “new, long-term” contract. No length or dollars disclosed, of course, and while this may have been considered a mere formality in the Clippers’ offices, it is now one piece solidly in place.

    Also one less option for the Lakers to pursue, although the NBA’s gossip machinery seemingly has them fixated on JJ Redick. We’ll get to that another time, but your thoughts on Ty’s new deal?

    Mirjam: Looks like he’ll be making $70 million for five years, per The Athletic.

    He can’t say the Lakers didn’t take care of him, eh?

    I remember talking to people with the Clippers when they first hired Lue to replace Doc Rivers following the bubble collapse in 2020. What they told me was that they thought he’d be their Gregg Popovich or Erik Spoelstra – a long-term coach. At the time, you take that with a grain of salt – of course you’re saying that when you hire the guy, but let’s see what you say in four years when you haven’t gotten past the Western Conference finals?

    This is their answer.

    I like it. There are few NBA coaches better than Lue; it would be a nightmare to have to try to replace him. But also, with how fast the coaching carousel spins these days, and how all-powerful star players tend to be, a team with a leader with actual cachet goes a long way.

    Or could. And in this era of parity in the NBA, could is good – including for the star-crossed Clippers franchise.

    Jim: This is another reminder of how professionally run this franchise has been over the past decade. And we’re about to get yet another reminder with the FX series “Clipped,” which begins streaming on Hulu on Tuesday. It’s a recounting/dramatization of the events 10 years ago that drove Donald Sterling out of NBA ownership and ushered in a new era for the Clippers with Steve Ballmer’s purchase.

    Along those lines, I’m going back and listening to Ramona Shelburne’s 30 for 30 podcast from 2019, “The Sterling Affairs,” a four-part deep dive into Sterling’s eccentric (to be kind) ownership of the team on which this miniseries is based. Ramona, a former Daily News sports columnist and now a regular on ESPN’s weekday “NBA Today” show, is also an executive producer of this series.

    Going back and recalling that mess is a reminder of how far the organization has come, and how loyal the fans who have stuck with the Clippers all this way must be. Someday there’ll be a psychic payoff, right?


    Next … the segment of Dodger fans who can’t resist piling on Dave Roberts was at it again the other day. This was after Roberts walked to the mound in the eighth inning Sunday, after reliever Yohan Ramirez had hit two Cincinnati Reds and was just about to unravel. Roberts pulled the reliever in, gave him what seemed like a fatherly talking-to, and – after Ramirez got out of the inning with the very next pitch – noted that sometimes the best course is not to yell and scream at a player.

    That was posted on Instagram, and the responses included a flood of criticism that included the words “soft” and “participation trophies” and the sentiment that Tommy Lasorda sure wouldn’t have done it that way. Could Lasorda have dealt with today’s player? Maybe, maybe not.

    But I find it stunning that the manager who has the fourth-best win-loss record in the history of the game behind three Negro League managers (two of them in the Hall of Fame), and who has won a World Series – regardless of how much people try to devalue the championship in the 2020 bubble, it happened and every other team had the same opportunity to win it – gets so little respect from so much of his own team’s fan base.

    Mirjam: Unfortunately, I’m not nearly so stunned.

    Same folks who couldn’t believe Caleb Williams cried after a loss.

    Same folks who probably haven’t been around sports people who are that kind of incredibly invested. How emotional sport is. How people work.

    Same folks who talk a lot of nonsense on social media but couldn’t handle a fraction of the pressure as the people they’re critiquing do daily.

    I bet Roberts cares much less about what those folks are typing and more about what his players are thinking and feeling. That’s how he’s found as much success as he has so far, and how he’ll find whatever more comes the Dodgers’ way going forward.

    Keep doing you, Dave.

    Jim: There’s a reason why the job title is “manager.” It’s not just about managing a game but about managing people, an incredibly important facet of guiding a team through 162 games. Roberts does it as well as anybody.

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    I understand some of the criticism he gets about pitching decisions – I’ve indulged, myself – but you’ve got to keep in mind that he can only work with the personnel he has. Not every reliever is available every day unless you want to burn out their arms and shoulders, and at some point the front office has to be held accountable for selecting the pitchers he has to choose from. The idea that the player fails and therefore the manager deserves the blame? That’s lazy reasoning.

    And I wonder sometimes if the criticism goes deeper than mere strategic disagreement. (Remember, in the hours prior to the Dodgers’ Game 6 victory over Tampa Bay in that 2020 World Series some blogger threw up a post wondering if Roberts should be fired even if they won. In that case, “threw up” is the correct term.)

    Maybe it was that five-game losing streak last week that addled people’s brains. People forget it’s a long season.

    ​ Orange County Register