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One for defense

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Michael Angelo S. Murillo

Give And Go

For someone who took to liking playing defense during his younger basketball days, I certainly dig the list of finalists for possible enshrinement this year in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

During the start of the All-Star Weekend festivities in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week, 13 names were released as potential members of the Class of 2019 of the Hall, including four hoops personalities who made a name for themselves for playing defense, namely, Bobby Jones, Sidney Moncrief, Ben Wallace and Teresa Weatherspoon.

Having my formative years in basketball in early ‘80s, one of my favorite players in the National Basketball Association was Jones, who was then playing for the Philadelphia 76ers along with legends Julius Erving and Moses Malone.

He was a steady offensive player during his American Basketball Association (ABA) days but when he got to Philly he made his presence felt on the other side of the floor, which he did quite well.




While most of my friends and basketball buddies would go crazy over the exploits of “Doctor J” and “Big Moe” — and quite understandably — in the few and far in between times we got to see an NBA game (no 24/7 NBA then, kids), I was admiring Jones, who was a picture grit and hard work on the floor.

While he never received a Defensive Player of the Year award, he was, however, a member of the All-Defensive Team eight straight times from 1977 to 1984, earning four All-Star appearances along the way.

In 1983, he was a key piece in the championship run of the Sixers because of his tremendous play on defense, culminating in the sweep of the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals, and him earning the first-ever NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.

Moncrief, meanwhile, was part of the solid Milwaukee Bucks teams in the 1980s.

He was actually a two-way player who could make opponents pay in 10 years with Milwaukee in an 11-year career that included a stop in Atlanta on his final year in The Association.

Moncrief was back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year (1983 and 1984) and was a staple in the All-Defensive Team until 1986.

His steady play on defense throughout his run with the Bucks, where he was also a five-time All-Star (1982-86), helped made his team become a tough customer each time for then resident Eastern Conference powerhouse teams Boston Celtics and Sixers.

Then there was Wallace of the Detroit Pistons in the 2000s, who was arguably the face of defense in the NBA during that stretch.

I was not really huge fan of “Big Ben” but I surely admire how he played the game.

He was undersized at 6’9”, could be smaller than that, for the center position but it did not stop him from wreaking havoc on opponents, be they Shaquille O’Neal or Allen Iverson.

Wallace did not have a great start in the NBA with the Washington Bullets and Orlando Magic in the late ‘90s but when he found his niche on defense in “Deeeetroit Basssssketball,” his star just skyrocketed.

He was a four-time NBA Defensive player of the Year (2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006) and a four-time All-Star from 2003 to 2006.

I vividly remember picking Wallace and the Pistons in a friendly bet with an office mate during the 2004 NBA Finals over the powerhouse Lakers and they did not disappoint me on their way to the sweep and the NBA title.

Weatherspoon, for her part, made watching from my end the early years of the WNBA enjoyable.

Amid the newness of the women’s league in the mid-‘90s, one familiar, and comforting, sight was the defense of Weatherspoon with the New York Liberty.

She was practically all over the place, scrambling and hustling to become one of the early stars of the WNBA.

Weatherspoon led the league in steals for two straight years (1997-1998) where she was also the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year.

While in basketball offense will take the spotlight most of the time, defense, nonetheless, is a big part of the game and deserves its due recognition as well.

I like the defensive bent that the Naismith Hall of Fame has shown in this latest list of enshrinement finalists. Hopefully more of the hardworking men and women on defense in basketball are recognized.

 

Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.

msmurillo@bworldonline.com