The NBA Draft Lottery held last week at the Disney Studios in Times Square determined the order of selection in the 2013 NBA Draft, scheduled for June 27 at the Barclays Center. The participants were all from NBA clubs that did not qualify for the playoffs, which meant that for the first time in years, neither the Knicks nor Nets were involved. Nevertheless, there were a number Queens-related stories.
Ernie Grunfeld, the greatest basketball player in Forest Hills High School history, was at the lottery as president of the Washington Wizards. Ernie has the unique perspective of having been a former first-round draft choice himself, as he was chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1977, and now is in the position of selecting a player for that honor. I asked him about his memories of being selected by an NBA team after finishing his four years at the University of Tennessee.
“The NBA Draft back then isn’t what it is today with all of the pomp and circumstance,” Grunfeld said. “I was taking a nap in my parents’ house in Forest Hills when they got a call from the Bucks informing them that they had chosen me.”
Ranking right behind Grunfeld in terms of great hoops players coming out of Forest Hills High is Orlando Magic forward Mo Harkless. Jacque Vaughn, the coach of the Magic, told me that he was very happy with the caliber of Mo’s play.
I mentioned to Vaughn that Harkless never seems comfortable around sportwriters and is legendary for his one-word answers to media queries in the locker room.
“We’ll work on his interview game!” a knowing Vaughn responded with a hearty laugh.
Harkless could learn a thing or two from fellow Queens NBAers Royal Ivey and Charles Jenkins, who graduated from Benjamin Cardozo and Springfield Gardens high schools, respectively, and now play 100 miles from home for the Philadelphia 76ers. Sixers PR director Michael Preston praised them for their genial personalities and willingness to engage the press. That is not very common in the NBA.
Former Knicks player and ex-Nets coach Kiki Vanderweghe is now an executive with the NBA. He had the dubious distinction of coaching one of the worst teams in league history, the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets, who wound up with a 12-70 record.
The ever upbeat Vanderweghe told me that he treasured the experience. I asked him how relieved he was when the Nets won their 10th game that year, meaning that the 1972-73 76ers would remain the worst team in NBA history. “I can leave now, I thought to myself. Mission accomplished!” Kiki admitted with a big smile.
New Orleans Pelicans (formerly Hornets) owner Tom Benson told me at the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery that he was livid at the Newhouse family’s decision to cut down the print edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune to three days a week.
“The following day I went over to the Conde Nast Building in Times Square and I met with Newhouse executives and offered to buy the Times-Picayune,” he said. “They refused to sell.”
Benson may have lost that battle but it appears he has won the war. A few weeks ago the Times-Picayune announced that it would resume a seven-day-a-week publication schedule. “That is probably because the Baton Rouge Advocate started coming into New Orleans to fill the void,” a very satisfied Benson told me.
Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love is the nephew of Beach Boys singer Mike Love, who shows no signs of curtailing his grueling concert schedule.
“My Uncle Mike has great energy. What a lot of people don’t know about him is that he is a physical fitness buff,” Kevin said proudly.
I then asked him if Mike still practices transcendental meditation. “He really does and he has wanted me to try it but I have not done it so far despite his prodding,” Love said.
NBA Commissioner David Stern was asked his thoughts about three of the league’s smallest markets, San Antonio, Memphis and Indianapolis, making it to the semifinals. “It shows the success of our collective bargaining agreement with the players. All of our teams can now be both profitable and winners on the court,” Stern said, somewhat predictably. My guess is that neither David Levy nor John Skipper, top executives with the NBA’s two national television partners, Turner Broadcasting and ESPN, respectively share Stern’s professed joy.
Congratulations to Bryant Gumbel, the host of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” for winning a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcast journalism last week.
Keith Hernandez and Bernie Williams, Mets and Yankees legends respectively, were among the celebrities and dignitaries at the christening of Delta Airlines’ new gigantic JFK home, Terminal 4, on Friday. Delta has long been the official airline of both the Mets and the Yanks, so it was not surprising that they were guests of the airline at the dedication of T4, which, according to Delta CEO Richard Anderson, cost over a billion dollars to construct.
Delta had long sponsored the Delta Dugout promotion at Madison Square Park during Subway Series weekends. Fans loved the baseball county fair atmosphere, where they could test their throwing velocity as well as take a few swings in a batting cage. On top of that, they could meet former Mets and Yankees players. Of course, my favorite aspect was the free snacks that get dispensed during flights.
This year the Subway Series shifted from its traditional double-weekend format at each team’s park to a weeknight pair of games this week in the Bronx and Queens. Delta decided to drop the Delta Dugout this year, but the airline will have a major public presence in our city for the 2013 Citi Field All-Star Game, promises Gail Grimmett, senior vice president of the airline’s New York operations.
The Mets may not be getting any closer to the Yankees in terms of on-field performance but they are making great strides in the all-important Press Dining Room Subway Series.
The Yankees charge the media $13 for a meal but it is a veritable feast that puts a lot of weddings and bar mitzvah celebrations to shame, thanks to a wide array of entrees, sides, detailed salad bar, tasty soups and desserts.
The Mets charge $9, but for years the four-dollar discount meant a sizable reduction in both quantity and quality that made one long for Yankee Stadium. A pre-game Mets meal brought back memories of lunch in the high school cafeteria. There was little ambience, and to use an old Borscht Belt joke, “The food was awful and such small portions too!” The meat dishes served by Aramark (the Philadelphia-based sports venue caterer used by the Mets) were, more often than not, tough and fatty. Instead of green vegetables there were only high-carbohydrate selections as pastas, potatoes and rice.
Things have improved dramatically, thanks to Regina and her hardworking staff. Recent entrees have included broiled flounder, grilled mahi-mahi, lean brisket and tasty chicken wraps. The salad bar could use some tuna but at least kidney beans have been added in the last month. Now if only Aramark could add some soup and put back the soft-serve ice cream machine that used to be in the Shea Stadium press room.
New Era did a nice job designing the camouflage caps that all Major League Baseball players wore on Memorial Day to honor those who have fought to defend our country. A percentage of the proceeds from the sales of these hats will benefit Welcome Back Veterans, a nonprofit whose mission is to help military personnel transition back to civilian life after they complete their tour of duty. Incidentally, Mets Chief Executive Officer Fred Wilpon has long been a supporter of this fine organization.
It is understandably hard for Mets fans to cheer any member of the Atlanta Braves, but they may want to keep the boos down for their fine young outfielder Jason Heyward, since he has Queens roots.
Prior to last Friday’s game with the Mets, Heyward told me that his mom is from Rochdale Village, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Heyward’s parents met when they were students at Dartmouth University, and after they married, they moved to Georgia.
Mark Twain once famously wrote that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. If you want to corroborate his statement, take Queens’ own JetBlue from JFK to San Francisco International. The America’s Cup Yacht preliminaries run from July 4 to Aug. 30 in San Francisco Bay. The finals will take place in September. The Blue & Gold Fleet will be running boats out of Fisherman’s Wharf, for those who want to see the world’s most competitive sailing races. Be sure to bring a heavy jacket.
Manhattan’s hip Times Square hotel, the Yotel, is offering guests complimentary use of a Strada bicycle. Queens hotels should offer a similar deal to their customers in light of our numerous parks and the bicycle lanes on many of our streets.
Shipwreck! Pirates and Treasures is the latest exhibit at Discovery Times Square. It is a fascinating look at the lives of such buccaneers as Captain Kidd and Edward “Bluebeard” Teach, as well as the various items of value found at the bottom of the sea by the recovery ship Odyssey.