Tuesday, May 12, 2020

People aren't always what they seem

I was watching an ESPN documentary on the Lakers-Celtics rivalry in the ’80s. I watch a lot of TV these days.

As a Lakers fan I hated Kevin McHale. First of all, he was an exceptional player for the dreaded Boston Celtics. He could also be a bully. There’s a famous play where he just clotheslined Kurt Rambis of the Lakers. Trust me, Lakers fan still remember.

Then in 1991 in season ten of CHEERS, David Isaacs and I wrote an episode called “Where Have All the Floorboards Gone?” in which a Celtic shows up at the bar to give Norm a jacket for his birthday and gets caught up in one of those stupid bar discussions. This one involves how many bolts are on the storied Boston Gardens parquet floor? The gang winds up going to the Garden to find out, which causes comic complications (as things like that usually do).

We wanted a real player and were able to get Kevin McHale. I was not looking forward to shaking his hand.

But Kevin arrived and proved to be the nicest guy in the world. This caused real mixed feelings. But those were resolved when Kevin also turned out to be really funny. He sold his lines and got every laugh. I’m here to tell you, for a professional athlete, that’s RARE.

Kevin was so good we just kept giving him more to do during the week. And we even brought him back for a second episode.

Besides that, we got to go to Boston to film the scenes at Boston Gardens. That was amazing.

We also went back to Boston for the CHEERS 200th episode and Kevin invited us to watch a shoot-around before a game and got us tickets to the game.

How can you not love this guy?

When you’re young and you’re a sports fan it’s easy to get really riled up. You find yourself genuinely hating opposing players who broke your heart on the field or court.

When you get older or you’re lucky enough to meet these athletes in person you often find they’re not villains at all. The hatred turns into respect. Besides, today there are real villains that have a direct effect on your life. Kevin McHale is a good guy. I bet Larry Bird is too.  Probably. 


Kevin from VA said...

"People aren't always what they seem". Unfortunately, as the past 3 plus years have shown sometimes they are.

Mike Barer said...

Reminds me of Chuck Nelson. Chuck was a kicker for the Washington Huskies. He would never miss a field goal. I was a long suffering Cougar fan. In the Apple Cup, which pits Washington against Washington State, Chuck Nelson missed a chip shot field goal and the Huskies, who were on their way to great things, lost to the Cougars in a huge upset.
Fast forward about 15 years, I'm volunteering at a celebrity Golf tournament that our telecom company was putting on and who should offer me a ride in his golf cart? Chuck Nelson! We had a great talk about his pro career, etc. What I didn't tell him is that I used that missed field goal of his to mock the Huskie fans.

Jim Grey said...

I went to engineering school in Terre Haute and lived in that city for five years after. Larry Bird's name was EVERYWHERE, and you would not believe the love for that guy all over town. Larry Bird put Terre Haute on the map. If you've ever been there, you know it's not that much of a town. Terre Hauteans were incredibly grateful to Bird for what he did. But that was just 10 years removed from his time at Indiana State and he was still playing in Boston, albeit wrapping up his time there.

But sure, if you were a fan of the Celtics' rivals, you had an entirely different view of the man!

Baylink said...

"Just business."

Anonymous said...

Kevin McHale was a competitor.
He came from a Celtic tradition that dated before him and actually date from the Brooklyn playgrounds of the 1920's and 1930's.
No easy baskets.

Andrew said...

Friday question:
I saw this clip of Frank Stiller, on being cast in Seinfeld, and I'd love to hear your take.

My impression is that you would normally be against an actor changing the words on the script, and revamping the personality of his character. But in Stiller's case, it was permitted. He was able to reinvent Frank Costanza, which benefited the show. Would you ever permit such a thing? How would you draw the line for actors who think too highly of themselves, and are not as talented as Stiller?

norm said...

Larry Bird will fool you!
He grew up in my part of Indiana (south) and he was pretty much Mr. Hot Stuff.
When he played softball during the summers, he couldn't stand to lose, even when his team has consumed the most beers, while playing. Nuff said.

Brian Fies said...

A Letterman writers' assistant named Mike McIntee used to write a blog about life at the "Late Show" and told a story that stuck with me. As I recall it, he'd seen an NFL playoff game between the Giants and 49ers that was rough and tough and the 49ers beat his beloved Giants. So he hated the 49ers with enormous raging fiery passion until a few weeks later he happened to catch 49er Joe Montana and Giant Lawrence Taylor playing a charity golf tournament on TV, laughing it up and acting like old friends. And he realized that if he was more upset about the game than two guys who'd actually been in it, he needed to adjust his perspective.

I liked that.

Michael said...

Someone once told Dizzy Dean that an opposing player was really a nice guy if he'd get to know him. Dizzy replied, "Why bother?"

brian t said...

It's a good thing you got McHale, considering that Larry Bird is a Doofus from French Lick, Indiana.

Unknown said...

Jay Moriarty said...

Reminds me of the Maude episode where ultra-liberal Maude meets conservative icon John Wayne.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Here's an article from a man who is exactly what he seems. I wish Kareem was president.


Mike Bloodworth said...

As a lifelong Lakers fan I certainly do remember that play! It is permanently ingrained in my brain. And as I understand it that play is what instituted or at least inspired the NBA's "Flagrant Foul" rule.

Even back then many of us knew that you could HATE a team and/or players and still have a grudging respect for them.


Unknown said...

Hey cuz- I recall telling you that when McHale was coach of the T-Wolves & I travelled with the team to games when the team was a client of my firm, I mentioned I was your cousin.
He fondly remembered his stint on Cheers & said nice things about you.

blinky said...

Sports gives you the right to hate or love an athlete for any reason. It is the perfect outlet for bottled up aggression. I was working for NBC in SF during Super Bowl 50 and all the famous ex-players came by the studio. Bret Favre, Gronkowski, Theisman and the 49ers nemesis: Richard Sherman. He was known for being a total asshole. But guess what? He was the nicest guy I have ever met! He remembered my name and thanked me when he left. I asked for a selfie and he enthusiastically did it over and over until we got a good one.
Very different from when I met Reggie Jackson at the height of his career at the Yankees Ft Lauderdale spring training camp when I was working for ABC. I asked him if I could take his picture. He say: I don't give a fuck what you do man.

VincentS said...

This metamorphosis also occurs when a player on a rival team you "hate" gets traded to your team. I hated Roger Clemens until they came to the Yankees.

Brian said...

Jerry Stiller who played the role of George's father on Seinfeld passed away.

Tim Cabeen said...

Great piece. The bar war episode with McHale is one of my favorite of the series. The way he said, "Maybe it's Laimbeer" when seeing the xray of the gorilla is hilarious.

Andrew said...

Oops. My Friday question was in reference to Jerry Stiller. I called him Frank of course because of his Seinfeld character. Mea culpa.

Tyler said...

Those McHale episodes were great. As a Lakers fan, I too hated the Celtics but they were funny nonetheless.

The only thing that really bugged me was that one of them, can't remember which one, had McHale wearing his green "road" jersey for a home game at the Garden.

May have been a conscious choice, as I'm sure the green "popped" more than the plain white ones, but it still made it feel wrong to me.

Andy K said...

It is even worse when you think the world of someone and they turn out to be rotten when you meet them in person. I hope all the stars you wrote for and directed were decent people and pleasant to be around. Someday you'll have to tell me about working with Maris!!!

scottmc said...

ABC just aired a very good program devoted to Garry Marshall. About an hour was devoted to his television work and an hour to the movies he directed. It was nice to see the actors talk about his directing abilities and his ability to create a wonderful environment on the set. Worth watching.

John Hammes said...

Life is short. People are nuanced. At best, and when possible, it is far more rewarding to get to know the real person ("soul", "spirit", "the person inside", call it what you will). At worst, and when unavoidable, it is certainly far more interesting. It happens.

Anonymous said...

Rick Monday could have rescued my sister from drowning, kept my brother from a life of crime, flew my mother back to Ireland for her mother's funeral, given my dad a job for life AND gave me my first dog....and he would STILL be the devil!

An Old Expos Fan

MikeN said...

Maybe you got over the rivalry, but Kevin did not.
As GM, he traded Kevin Garnett to Boston over a better offer from the Lakers.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

"Kevin was so good we just kept giving him more to do during the week. And we even brought him back for a second episode."

Hold up! "Where Have All the Floorboards Gone?" in season 10 was Kevin McHale's *second* guest appearance in CHEERS. His *first* appearance was in season 9's "Cheers Fouls Out" (one of the Gary's Olde Towne Tavern episodes).

And yes, being so pedantic as to point this out, I do feel like the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

Frank said...

I too, like Ken went to UCLA and pursued the world of minor league baseball broadcasting. Living in the LA area, I was a fervent Dodger fan.

In the 1970s, the rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants had waned some and the rivalry instead was with the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds won the West Division (yeah Cincinnati in the eastern time zone was in the West Division) in 1970, 72-73, 75-76, 79 and LA won in 1974,1977-78. There were no wild cards; win or go home.

Joe Morgan was the Red's player you respected, George Foster, the one you feared. Johnny Bench was the one you knew was a future Hall of Famer. But Pete Rose was the one you booed.


There was that way he carried himself on the field. Running out walks. Spiking the ball following the last out of the inning. The stupid Aqua Velva commercials.

So what changed?

Once I started working in the game, you would see guys sit out a game because they were "tired." Guys who wouldn't run out ground balls on hot day games.

Think about it. Have YOU ever had a day where you kind of mailed it in? Went home early because you had a bad night sleep? Rose NEVER mailed it in. Sure Cal Ripken got the record for consecutive games played but Rose played in 162 games 6 times. And get this, he played in 163 twice. And in 1972 he played in 154 which still led the league because of a strike-shortened season.

He played in 163 in 1979 at age 38 and somehow that didn't even lead the league as somehow Frank Taveras managed to play in 164 (for two different teams).

Multiple times he changed positions simply because he knew it made Cincinnati (and later Philadelphia) a better team so clearly he wasn't all about ego.

The more I thought about it, it made me wonder what I didn't like?

Forget about the gambling (that came later) and the other character flaws he may have had. But trying finding someone who day-in, day-out matched his enthusiasm and effort.

I figured if I could put in half the effort in my line of work that he put in day-after-day, I can likely be successful.

No one ever said he was baseball's most talented player. But he's the only guy alive with 4000 hits.

As he once said to another player closing in on 3000 hits: "The next 1000 is the toughest."

Jahn Ghalt said...

Bloodworth wrote:

Even back then many of us knew that you could HATE a team and/or players and still have a grudging respect for them.

Yup. As a Laker Guy I always admired but never really liked Bird (except when he was "our guy" - see below.) This morning I saw a clip of Bird commenting on Magic after a finals loss to the Lakers:

"He's the best I've played against. I don't know what to say"

OTOH, Jordan on The Last Dance (ESPN documentary) speaking about Lambier:

"still hate him"

Grey wrote:

I went to engineering school in Terre Haute (where) Larry Bird's name was EVERYWHERE, and you would not believe the love for that guy all over town.

I went to "Rose", too - but while Bird was still playing for ISU. They were undefeated his Senior year until Mich. State and Magic knocked them off in the NCAA Final. He was "big" in TH then, but interesting that he got even bigger.

Neumann said...

I wish McHale had been such a competitor when he was running the Timberwolves into the ground. He was also cheering on camera during a Trump rally in Duluth. Maybe if I'd met him I'd feel better.

MikeN said...

Timberwolves' best season, both point guards got injured, denying them a championship.
When Kevin McHale coached Al Jefferson after the Garnett trade, the Timberwolves were very competitive, going 9-1 before Al got injured.

Kevin Kozoriz said...

If I recall this episode, it ended with the gang still counting the bolts. Did you ever get an official answer from the Garden? Just how many bolts are used on the floor?