Tuesday, June 13, 2017

WNBA 2017: 4-Week Progress Report


During the prime of his Hall of Fame career, there was no defender who could disrupt Larry Bird’s game more than the Lakers’ Michael Cooper.

No surprise, then, to see Coach Cooper’s current Atlanta squad, while struggling mightily to score in the absence of their sabbatical-ing Angel, ranking among the league leaders in a variety of defensive categories. The Dreamgirls are No. 1 in “stops” per game; No. 2 in FG%, 3FG%, Points per Game, Points per Possession and Conversion Rate; and No.3 in TO%.

I notice that Cooper’s 23-year-old son is an assistant with the team – always a curious dynamic. Paul Silas, one of my all-time favorite players, coached with his son through some trying times in Charlotte several years ago – and hasn’t worked since, to my knowledge.

The “Mean” Performance (or should that be median?)

Through four weeks and 48 games, here’s what an average 2017 WNBA game looks like, numerically.

Possessions: 76.7
Points: 80.9  [PPP: 1.055]
FG: 28.7 – 65.7, .437
3FG: 5.53 – 16.84, .328
3PAr/Usage rate: .256
FT: 17.9 – 21.9, .818
(Off – Tot) Reb: 9.18 – 33.8  [OR% .272]
TO: 13.0  [TO% .147]

The following rankings reflect play through Friday, June 9. An explanation of the criteria is available here.


No. 1 Minnesota Lynx, 8-0 (8)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 1]

KK:  +5; (5 Road Wins – 0 Home Losses) / No. 1 overall
Flow:  +6.25; (45.6 stops OF opp [No. 3] – 39.4 stops BY opp [No. 3] / No. 1 overall
Striping:  +0.20; (+1.00) conversions [No. 4] – (+0.75) opp conversions [No. 7] / No. 5 overall
SPOR-t:  +160; (649 [No. 1] – 489 [No. 1]) / No. 2 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Lynx rank No. 1 in Conv. Rate (.518) AND opp. Conv. Rate (.437). What’s gonna happen when Ms. Moore starts making shots?

No. 2 Phoenix Mercury, 5-3 (12.5)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 7]

KK:  +1; (3 Road Win – 2 Home Losses) / No. 2 overall (tied)-4
Flow:  +3.88; (46.0 stops OF opp [No. 2] – 42.1 stops BY opp [No. 7] / No. 2 overall
Striping:  +1.06; (+0.75) conversions [No. 5] – (-0.31) opp conversions [No. 2] / No. 1 overall
SPOR-t:  +17; (506 [No. 11] – 489 [No. 1]) / No. 6 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Mercury went from worst (72.0) to first (94.0) in per-game scoring during Weeks 3 & 4.

ABACUS INFOMERCIAL
Masters of the Craft (Part 1)

Which teams are performing the rudimentary skills of the game most proficiently at both ends of the floor? Let’s consider six elements of play: FG shooting, three-point shooting, Points per Game, Offensive Rebounding, the matter of turnovers and the SPOR-t score of our ratings. These teams hold a Top Four rank offensively and defensively:

FG%: NONE
3FG%: NONE
PPG: Minnesota
OR%: Connecticut, Minnesota
TO%: Atlanta, Los Angeles
SPOR-t: Minnesota


No. 3 Washington Mystics, 6-3 (14.5)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 2]

KK:  +1; (2 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 2 overall (tied)-4
Flow:  +2.00; (41.9 stops OF opp [No. 6] – 39.9 stops BY opp [No. 4] / No. 4 overall
Striping:  +0.39; (+2.33) conversions [No. 1] – (+1.94) opp conversions [No. 12] / No. 3 overall
SPOR-t:  +41; (603 [No. 2] – 562 [No. 6]) / No. 4 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Mystics lead the league in Points per Possession at 1.119.

No. 4 Atlanta Dream, 4-3 (23.5)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 4]

KK:  +1; (2 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 2 overall (tied)-4
Flow:  +3.29; (46.6 stops OF opp [No. 1] – 43.3 stops BY opp [No. 9] / No. 3 overall
Striping:  -1.57; [-1.71) conversions [No. 12] – (-0.14) conversions [No. 1] / No. 12 overall
SPOR-t:  +29; (528 [No. 9] – 499 [No. 3]) / No. 5 overall
Abacus Revelation: During Weeks 3 & 4, the Dream played the league’s best 3FG defense even though their opponents ranked second in usage.


ABACUS INFOMERCIAL
Scoring Pace 24 games [48 overall]

100+ points: 3 games [3 overall]
90-99 points: 12 games [18 overall]
80-89 points: 10 games [28 overall]
70-79 points: 19 games [33 overall]
60-69 points: 4 games [13 overall]
<60 points: 0 games  [1 overall]


No. 5 Seattle Storm, 5-3 (25)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 9]

KK:  0; (1 Road Win – 1 Home Loss) / No. 6 overall (tied)-3
Flow:  +1.88; (40.1 stops OF opp [No. 9] – 38.3 stops BY opp [No. 1] / No. 5 overall
Striping:  +0.31; (+2.06) conversions [No. 2] - (+1.75) opp conversions [No. 11] / No. 4 overall
SPOR-t:  -68; (543 [No. 8] – 611 [No. 10]) / No. 9 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Storm top the league in FG accuracy at .488.

No. 5 Los Angeles Sparks, 4-3 (25)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 8]

KK:  +1; (1 Road Win – 0 Home Losses) / No. 2 overall (tied)-4
Flow:  +1.00; (40.1 stops OF opp [No. 10] – 39.1 stops BY opp [No. 2] / No. 6 overall
Striping:  -0.07; (+1.07) conversions [No. 3] – (+1.14) opp conversions [No. 9]) / No. 7 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -15; (568 [No. 5] – 583 [No. 7]) / No. 8 overall
Abacus Revelation: The pesky Sparks’ “D” creates TO’s at the league’s highest rate (.178).


ABACUS INFOMERCIAL
Scoring Differential

1-5 points: 4 games [11 overall]
6-10 points: 9 games [20 overall]
11-15 points: 4 games [8 overall]
16-20 points:  2 games [3 overall]
>20: 5 games [6 overall]


No. 7 Connecticut Sun 2-5, (26.5)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 11]

KK:  0; (2 Road Wins - 2 Home Losses) / No. 6 overall (tied)*
Flow:  -2.71; (42.1 stops OF opp [No. 5] – 44.9 stops BY opp [No. 11] / No. 9 overall
Striping:  -0.07; (+0.71) conversions [No. 6] – (+0.79) conversions [No. 8] / No. 7 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  +52; (569 [No. 4] – 517 [No. 5]) / No. 3 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Sun cut their TO’s from 15 to 9 per game over Weeks 3 & 4.

No. 8 New York Liberty, 5-3 (27.5)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 5]

KK:  -1; (1 Road Win – 2 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
Flow:  +0.88; (43.0 stops OF opp [No. 4] – 42.1 stops BY opp [No. 7] / No. 7 overall
Striping:  -0.19; (0.00) conversions [No. 10] – (+0.19) opp conversions [No. 5] / No. 9 overall
SPOR-t:  +57; (557 [No. 6] – 500 [No. 4]) / No. 2 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Libs protect their defensive backboard better than anyone else (.762).


No.9 Dallas Wings, 4-5 (32)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 3]

KK:  0; (2 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 6 overall (tied)-3
Flow:  -1.78; (40.3 stops OF opp [No. 8] – 42.1 stops BY opp [No. 6] / No. 8 overall
Striping:  -0.39; (+0.17) conversions [No. 9] – (+0.56) conversions [No. 6] / No. 10 overall
SPOR-t:  -10; (580 [No. 3] – 590 [No. 8]) / No. 7 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Wings’ .300 OR% ranks third in the league, Glory Be!


ABACUS INFOMERCIAL
Masters of the Craft (Part 2)

Are not the exceptionally inept worthy of some recognition? Here are the teams that hold a Bottom Four offensive and defensive ranking in our key elements of play: FG shooting, three-point shooting, PPG, Offensive Rebounding, Turnovers and SPOR-t.

FG%: NONE
3FG%: Indiana
PPG: Chicago, San Antonio
OR%: Los Angeles, Seattle
TO%: Chicago, San Antonio
SPOR-t: Chicago, San Antonio


No. 10 Chicago Sky, 1-7 (37)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 11]

KK:  -3; (1 Road Win – 4 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall
Flow:  -6.00; (41.4 stops OF opp [No. 7] – 47.4 stops BY opp [No. 12] / No. 12 overall
Striping:  +0.69; (+0.31) conversions [No. 8] – (-0.37) opp conversions [No. 3] / No. 2 overall
SPOR-t:  -98; (496 [No. 12] – 594 [No. 9]) / No. 12 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Sky take care of the ball better than just two other teams and shoot better than but one.

No. 11 San Antonio Stars, 0-8 (40)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 12]

KK:  -4; (0 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 12 overall
Flow:  -5.00; (39.3 stops OF opp [No. 11] – 44.3 stops BY opp [No. 10] / No. 11 overall
Striping:  +0.13; (-0.25) conversions [No. 11] – (-0.37) opp conversions [No. 3] / No. 6 overall
SPOR-t:  -89; (525 [No. 10] – 614 [No. 11]) / No. 11 overall
Abacus Revelation: The out-gunned but spunky Stars rank No. 6 in offensive rebounding.

No. 12 Indiana Fever, 4-5 (40.5)
[2-week Abacus Rank: No. 6]

KK:  -1; (0 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 9 overall (tied)
Flow:  -3.11; (37.0 stops OF opp [No. 12] – 40.1 stops BY opp [No. 5] / No. 10 overall
Striping:  -0.67; (+0.61) conversions [No. 7] – (+1.28) conversions [No. 10] / No. 11 overall
SPOR-t:  -75; (545 [No. 7] – 620 [No. 12]) / No. 10 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Fever defense allows opponents a league-worst 1.153 points per possession.


Abacus Revelation for the Road / Random Ranking – 3PAr (usage rate for 3FG’s)

Washington .321 [196 3FGA’s in 610 FGA’s]
Phoenix .310 [161 3FGA’s in 519 FGA’s]
Seattle .310 [146 3FGA’s in 471 FGA’s]
Dallas .262 [160 3FGA’s in 610 FGA’s]
Minnesota .260 [143 3FGA’s in 550 FGA’s]
New York .250 [132 3FGA’s in 529 FGA’s]
Atlanta .235 [116 3FGA’s in 494 FGA’s]
Los Angeles .233 [106 3FGA’s in 454 FGA’s]
Chicago .225 [126 3FGA’s in 560 FGA’s]
Connecticut .208 [107 3FGA’s in 515 FGA’s]
Indiana .205 [118 3FGA’s in 576 FGA’s]
San Antonio .203 [106 3FGA’s in 521 FGA’s]

Monday, May 29, 2017

WNBA 2017: 2-Week Progress Report


The opening fortnight of WNBA play (May 12 – 25) offered a slate of 24 games. An average team performance during this span featured 28 for 66 shooting (about 42%) and included five or six successful three-pointers in 17 tries. About 17 of 21 free throws fell, while teams were snatching 33 or 34 rebounds (of which roughly nine came off the offensive glass) and turning the ball over a perhaps unlucky 13 times in 77 possessions.

The “flagship” Minnesota Lynx have wrapped up 15% of their schedule unblemished in their quest to regain a title they’ve understandably grown to think of as their own. But early returns can be deceiving in chaotic and at times nomadic world of elite women’s basketball.
And even with its imperfections, women’s basketball doesn’t get any more elite than Ms. Borders’s North American summer league.

Here’s how the teams rank at this early stage. Will the Delle Donne / Thibault tag team ride their early flair to post-season success?

The Grading Scale

“Flow”: this calculation puts a number to a team’s unsuccessful possessions (i.e. the other guys’ “stops”). Just take their missed field goals (attempts minus makes), subtract the offensive rebounds, and then add the turnovers. The “scores” represent per-game performance.

“Striping”: this calculation measures the impact of missed free throws and made treys. By subtracting the former from the latter [3’s minus missed FT’s], we identify a team’s gain or loss in points through “specialty shooting.” Again the “scores” are per-game. (A further division by two converts “points” to “conversions” – thus they can be combined with the “Flow” score.)

KK: Karl Kount – named for George Karl – is a way to measure a team’s grit and savvy through its ability to defend its home court and win on the road, a simple calculation for generally reliable info.

 “SPOR-t”: SPOR-t stands for “Shooting Plus Offensive Rebounds minus turnovers.” Add a team’s FG percentage and its offensive rebounding percentage (o. boards divided by the sum of those o. boards and the opposition's d. boards). Then subtract the percentage of a team’s possessions lost to turnovers. For example, a team shoots field goals at a .488 clip, offensive rebounds at a rate of .199, and commits a turnover on .143 of its possessions. So its SPOR-t is (488+199-143) or 544. Once again, our measurement will be the difference between the SPOR-t scores of a team and its opposition.
                                                                                                                                                                                           
We’ll rank the teams from 1 to 12 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings. Low score wins, naturally.
No. 1 Minnesota Lynx, 5-0 (10.5)

KK:  +3; (3 Road Wins – 0 Home Losses) / No. 1 overall
Flow:  +4.00; (46.6 stops OF opp [No. 3] – 42.6 stops BY opp [No. 6] / No. 2 overall
Striping:  +0.20; (+0.50) conversions [No. 6] – (+0.30) opp conversions [No. 6] / No. 5 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  +95; (588 [No. 3] – 493 [No. 3]) / No. 2 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Lynx 9.2 point per game differential tops the “W” handily.

No. 2 Washington Mystics, 3-2 (12.5)

KK:  +1; (1 Road Win – 0 Home Losses) / No. 2 overall (tied)-3
Flow:  +3.40; (42.2 stops OF opp [No. 6] – 38.8 stops BY opp [No. 3] / No. 3 overall
Striping:  +0.20; (+2.60) conversions [No. 2] – (+2.40) opp conversions [No. 10] / No. 5 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  +140; (640 [No. 1] – 500 [No. 4]) / No. 1 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Mystics are the league’s best defensive rebounding team.

No. 3 Dallas Wings, 2-1 (20)

KK:  +1; (2 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 2 overall (tied)-3
Flow:  +1.33; (42.3 stops OF opp [No. 5] – 41.0 stops BY opp [No. 5] / No. 6 overall
Striping:  -0.33; (-0.50) conversions [No. 9] – (-0.17) conversions [No. 3] / No. 8 overall
SPOR-t:  +81; (627 [No. 2] – 546 [No. 7]) / No. 3 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Wings rank third in overall shooting (.449) but last (.214) from behind the arc.

ABACUS INFOMERCIAL
Masters of the Craft (Part 1)

Which teams are performing the rudimentary skills of the game most proficiently at both ends of the floor? Let’s consider six elements of play: FG shooting, three-point shooting, Points per Game, Offensive Rebounding, the matter of turnovers and the SPOR-t score of our ratings. These teams hold a Top Four rank offensively and defensively:

FG%: NONE
3FG%: NONE
PPG: Dallas, Minnesota
OR%: Washington
TO%: Indiana, Los Angeles
SPOR-t: Minnesota, Washington

No. 4 Atlanta Dream, 2-1 (21)

KK:  +1; (2 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 2 overall (tied)-3
Flow:  +6.67; (50.0 stops OF opp [No. 1] – 43.3 stops BY opp [No. 8] / No. 1 overall
Striping:  -1.33; [-0.83) conversions [No. 11] – (+0.50) conversions [No. 7] / No. 12 overall
SPOR-t:  +8; (500 [No. 10] – 492 [No. 2]) / No. 5 overall
Abacus Revelation: The aggressive Atlanta defense creates a league-best 50 “stops” per game.

No. 5 New York Liberty, 2-2 (23)

KK:  0; (1 Road Win – 1 Home Loss) / No. 5 overall (tied)-4
Flow:  -2.50; (41.3 stops OF opp [No. 8] – 43.8 stops BY opp [No. 9] / No. 9 overall
Striping:  +0.50; (+0.50) conversions [No. 6] – (0.00) opp conversions [No. 4] / No. 3 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  +22; (522 [No. 8] – 500 [No. 4]) / No. 4 overall
Abacus Revelation: The grind-it-out Liberty are one of only two squads to both score and yield fewer than 80 points per game.

ABACUS INFOMERCIAL
Scoring Pace

100+ points: 0 games
90-99 points: 6 games
80-89 points: 18 games
70-79 points: 14 games
60-69 points: 9 games
<60 points: 1 game

No. 6 Indiana Fever, 2-2 (25.5)

KK:  0; (0 Road Wins – 0 Home Losses) / No. 5 overall (tied)-4
Flow:  -1.50; (37.3 stops OF opp [No. 12] – 38.8 stops BY opp [No. 2] / No. 8 overall
Striping:  +0.88; (+1.62) conversions [No. 4] – (+0.75) conversions [No. 8] / No. 1 overall
SPOR-t:  -68; (580 [No. 4] – 648 [No. 12]) / No. 10 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Fever defense allows opponents a league-worst 53% conversion rate.

No. 7 Phoenix Mercury, 2-2 (26.5)

KK:  -1; (1 Road Win – 2 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
Flow:  +3.25; (47.0 stops OF opp [No. 2] – 43.8 stops BY opp [No. 9] / No. 4 overall (tied)
Striping:  +0.50; (-0.50) conversions [No. 9] – (-1.00) opp conversions [No. 1] / No. 3 overall (tied)
SPOR-t:  -67; (413 [No. 12] – 480 [No. 1]) / No. 9 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Merc’s top-ranked defense allows a conversion on but 43% of opponent possessions.

ABACUS INFOMERCIAL
Scoring Differential
1-5 points: 7 games
6-10 points: 11 games
11-15 points: 4 games
16-20 points: 1 game
>20: 1 game

No. 8 Los Angeles Sparks, 2-1 (28.5)

KK:  0; (0 Road Wins – 0 Home Losses) / No. 5 overall (tied)-4
Flow:  +0.33; (37.7 stops OF opp [No. 11] – 37.3 stops BY opp [No. 1] / No. 7 overall
Striping:  -0.50; (+2.67) conversions [No. 1] – (+3.17) opp conversions [No. 12]) / No. 9 overall
SPOR-t:  +4; (568 [No. 5] – 564 [No. 8]) / No. 6 overall
Abacus Revelation: The defending champs are the league’s most accurate FG shooters (.515) in the early going.

No. 9 Seattle Storm, 3-1 (30)

KK:  0; (0 Road Wins – 0 Home Losses) / No. 5 overall (tied)-4
Flow:  +3.25; (43.0 stops OF opp [No. 4] – 39.8 stops BY opp [No. 4] / No. 4 overall (tied)
Striping:  -0.75; (+2.13) conversions [No. 3] - (+2.88) opp conversions [No. 11] / No. 11 overall
SPOR-t:  -41; (534 [No. 6] – 575 [No. 9]) / No. 8 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Storm take 8.25 more free throws per game than the opposition, the largest differential in the league.

ABACUS INFOMERCIAL
Masters of the Craft (Part 2)

Are not the exceptionally inept worthy of some recognition? Here are the teams that hold a Bottom Four offensive and defensive ranking in our key elements of play: FG shooting, three-point shooting, PPG, Offensive Rebounding, Turnovers and SPOR-t.

FG%: Dallas
3FG%: NONE
PPG: Chicago, San Antonio
OR%: NONE
TO%: Seattle
SPOR-t: Chicago

No. 10 Connecticut Sun, 0-4 (31.5)

KK:  -2; (0 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall (tied)
Flow:  -6.25; (40.5 stops OF opp [No. 9] – 46.8 stops BY opp [No. 11] / No. 11 overall
Striping:  +0.75; (+1.62) conversions [No. 4] – (+0.88) conversions [No. 9] / No. 2 overall
SPOR-t:  -19; (513 [No. 9] – 532 [No. 6]) / No. 7 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Sun stand No. 2 in three-point shooting (.403).

No. 11 Chicago Sky, 1-4 (40.5)

KK:  -1; (1 Road Win – 2 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
Flow:  -6.60; (42.2 stops OF opp [No. 6] – 48.8 stops BY opp [No. 12] / No. 12 overall
Striping:  -0.10; (0.00) conversions [No. 8] – (+0.10) opp conversions [No. 5] / No. 7 overall
SPOR-t:  -98; (487 [No. 11] – 585 [No. 10]) / No. 12 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Sky rank dead last so far in 3-point usage.

No. 12 San Antonio Stars, 0-4 (42.5)

KK:  -2; (0 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall (tied)
Flow:  -3.50; (39.8 stops OF opp [No. 10] – 43.3 stops BY opp [No. 7] / No. 10 overall
Striping:  -0.62; (-1.00) conversions [No. 12] – (-0.37) opp conversions [No. 2] / No. 10 overall
SPOR-t:  -79; (532 [No. 7] – 611 [No. 11]) / No. 11 overall
Abacus Revelation: The scrappy Stars rank No. 4 in defending the three-ball.

Abacus Revelation for the Road / Random Ranking (per-game missed free throws)

Washington 2.40
Indiana 2.75
Seattle 3.00
Los Angeles 3.33
Connecticut 3.50
Dallas 4.00
Chicago 4.40
New York 4.50
Minnesota 5.00
Phoenix 5.25
San Antonio 5.50
Atlanta 6.67

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Legacy of the Detroit Destroyer


I’m not quite sure which particular manner of 12-yeay-old nagging proved successful, but I somehow “whined” my way to Fenway Park the last Saturday evening of June in 1969.

Mom and Dad had already set up residence in the small cottage they’d over a decade earlier purchased/mortgaged – on “deeded” rather than leased land, as Pop liked to boast – along the short stretch of coastline claimed by the state of New Hampshire.

Maybe Dad’s work schedule “fit,” perhaps Mom wanted a break from the beach ahead of the looming Fourth of July drop-ins and such.

Somehow I found my way to Tom Yawkey’s old ball yard … but it was punches – along with a few chairs – rather than pitches that were being thrown. The crown jewel of the diamond that night was a ring.

Long before Vince McMahon invented Wrestlemania …

Well before the ambitious Mr. McMahon bought out his Dad and “barnstormed” the Territories in a whole new way …

Even before Vince and Linda were “promoting” Maine and booking Blue Oyster Cult concerts at the Cape Cod Coliseum …

The Red Auerbach of the Boston Professional Wrestling scene, Abe Ford, conjured up a collection of titanic clashes and special attractions that was just too big for the Gahden … midgets, ladies, a Battle Royal, a wild-man heel vs. wild-man heel Steel Cage Spectacular. The headliner for the evening was a Stretcher Match for WWWF supremacy.

An “undefeated” Young Lion of that day, Victor Rivera, was pitted against a returning tough guy nicknamed the Detroit Destroyer. I guess the match was “lower mid-card” and didn’t require a lot of time. The one-sided beat-down featuring the blatant – to all eyes but the referee’s, of course – use of a foreign object served to springboard this Michigan marauder to a July title opportunity.

That inconclusive donnybrook led to an August Tag Team Grudge Match where the Destroyer was partnered with the “Killer” who’d come up short in the Fenway main event. Naturally, these two wild-man heels were soon at odds and ultimately settled their score inside a steel cage in early November. In the run-up to that match, Walter “Killer” Kowalski offered these perhaps prophetic thoughts:
When I’m through with him he won’t ever be known as the ‘Animal’ or the ‘Detroit Destroyer.’ He’ll be known as the cute little puppy dog.
Kowalski emerged victorious and continued challenging newly-minted ruffians like Ernie Ladd on future Garden cards.

His vanquished challenger would not be seen again in Boston for nearly a year. Again a one-sided win – this time over cagy old veteran Red Bastien – evoked a title shot. The Destroyer’s clean loss to the long-standing champion dropped him down the August card, facing a local kid who called himself John L. Sullivan and would later package his skills and persona as Luscious Johnny Valiant.

Then he vanished once more. This time the “Animal” was absent for two years, until July of 1972, and was in the main event against the new champ come the Dog Days of August.


Back in 1967, during the year he turned 30, an aspiring high school teacher and coach from Madison Heights, Michigan named Jim Myers latched on with a pro wrestling promotion based in Pittsburgh. Coach Myers would earn his way into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame and see his alma mater’s football field renamed in his honor in 2012.

When school was not in session, Jim morphed into the villainous George Steele, appearing regularly in the Northeast/WWWF area overseen by Vince McMahon, Sr. and Willie Gilzenberg, and promoted by guys like Abe Ford.

I don’t know what kind of money Jim as George was commanding in those days … no doubt a good bit better than a summer teaching gig would have paid.

Steele’s in-ring game was pretty much straight-forward brawler, shortcuts (like a foreign object) a specialty. His finisher was the Flying Hammerlock, in which the only thing that left the ground was the hapless victim – and a hold which an aging George seemed to have more and more difficulty applying safely.

The landscape of professional wrestling was already beginning to change in 1972. Abe Ford was an old-school, grass-roots style promoter. When ex-champ Bruno Sammartino unexpectedly missed a main-event match due to injury, Ford not only “juiced up” the card on the fly, but offered a full refund to anybody who so chose.

I’d purchased a program – for a whole 50 cents – the first time I went to see the matches. Therein was an offer to receive a free program through the mail for all Garden shows in perpetuity – which turned out to be three years, ironically through George Steele’s challenge for Pedro Morales’s WWWF championship on August 12, 1972.

My final piece of correspondence from Mr. Ford was a post card advertising a December card – also teasing the sale of a 16-page souvenir booklet on sale at the event.

Around the same time, familiar faces, voices and venues for the weekend TV matches and promotional interviews were being replaced – quite often by the tuxedoed, pompadoured presence of a very baby-face Vince McMahon, Jr.

Abe Ford and Pittsburgh play-by-play man Bill Cardille were among the first victims in Vinnie Mac’s not-so-baby-face, empire-building takeover of the territories. The Michigan football and amateur wrestling coach fared better in this budding world of Sports Entertainment as a green-tongued simpleton smitten with Miss Elizabeth and turn-buckle “dressing.”

And while George was running amok in McMahon Land to the extent that his scholastic responsibilities allowed, Jim Myers was raising three children with his wife of SIXTY years and serving in loco parentis to a village.

Here’s to “The Animal” in all of us – and RIP William James Myers.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

“Snoot” Suit Required for Puttin’ on the Ritz?



“We’re all alone, no chaperone
Can get our number
The World’s in slumber
Let’s Misbehave!” 

Steve Perry’s zany Cherry Poppin’ Daddies resurrected that wonderful Cole Porter tune – along with 13 other show tunes from the Roarin’ Twenties and Depression Era – about a year or so ago for a release they cleverly entitled Boop-a-doo.

The “De-Lovely” Mr. Porter covers a lot of ground in his lyrical celebration of surrender to one’s carnal instincts, un peu d’amour from the Garden of Eden to the (love)birds and bees.

“They say that bears have love affairs
And even camels
We’re merely mammals
Let’s Misbehave!”

On another Boop-a-doo track, Perry and his Politically Imperfect Parents ponder a different sort of surrender:

“Oh who treats his sweetie to
High-brow drinks and oyster stew
Though he knows quite well his stash
Eats six days of warmed-up hash
High spots tonight they’ll borrow
Dry spots will come tomorrow
But nobody cares
For now they’re all millionaires.”

Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle didn’t quite make it to that part of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” during their classic “Young Frankenstein” song-and-dance number.

Nor did an outfit named Taco, who enjoyed their fifteen minutes of fame during MTV’s infancy via a clever video rife with tuxedos, tails – not to mention a couple of performers sporting black face paint whose presence was deemed unsuitable for a 1980s audience and promptly edited out.

Taco’s excessive (?) seasoning aside, there didn’t seem much that was controversial or offensive about this little ditty – a happy song about the minor, all-too-human vice of some occasional self-indulgence, overspending for a big night on the town.

The experience is presented as a communal activity – come let’s “mix” where the Rockefellers go to live it up. Everybody’s doin’ it! Don’t get left out of the fun.

But as originally conceived, composed and performed (in a 1930 film of the same name), Puttin’ on the Ritz was more spectator sport than block party – and was infused with the racial overtones that were common for that time.

Maybe the poetic license being exercised in Taco’s video was not merely gratuitous.

For example, the original setting for this “romp” was not Park Avenue “where fashion sits,” but rather Lennox Avenue “where Harlem flits.”

And just how pray tell does Harlem "flit," and who exactly is “Harlem”?

“Spangled gowns upon the bevy
Of high browns from down the levee
All misfits.”

(Did they get bored “shufflin’ along” waitin’ for the Robert E. Lee?)

“That’s where each and every Lulu-Belle goes
Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus
Rubbin’ elbows.”

It should be noted that Berlin’s “representative name” for a member of this apparently transplanted population is not without significance. Around the time that ol’ Irv was scribing this little morsel of lyric poetry, one of the more popular plays on the New York stage (it was made into a movie in the late ‘40’s) was named “Lulu Belle,” whose protagonist was – you guessed it – a prostitute. Perhaps that accounts for the plural noun “beaus” in the subsequent line.

A clever guy like Berlin could have easily re-phrased the previous line so as to require the verb form “go,” huh? ("That's where all the flashy Lulu-Belles go"?)

(A weird irony here is that the original stage version of Lulu Belle was among the first major New York theater productions to feature an integrated cast.)

“Come with me and we’ll attend
Their jubilee and watch them spend
Their last two bits.”

So, in its original form, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” was not about diverse revelry at all, but rather privileged derision … the proof lies in the pronouns, the “us” and “them” has no overlap.

I’ve long admired the “brass” of the CPD; Mr. Perry and the boys tell it like it is.



(Full disclosure: I’m not sure Irving Berlin deserves credit for the “Sweetie / High spots, dry spots” verse of the song. I’ve seen/heard it nowhere else.
British crooner Robbie Williams also uses the original lyric in another recent (2013) version, but forgoes the oyster stew.)