Addition by subtraction. It was all the rage Wednesday.
The Minnesota Vikings tried to make themselves better by trading their best player, Randy Moss, to the Oakland Raiders for the seventh pick in next year's draft and linebacker Napoleon Harris, who played for a Raiders defense that was 31st in the league. The trade can't be completed until Wednesday because of league rules.
Later in the day the Sacramento Kings tried to make themselves better by trading away their longtime star Chris Webber and a couple of backups to the Philadelphia 76ers for a trio of journeymen.
My money's on it working in Sacramento. I'm a little more doubtful about Minnesota.
And by that I don't mean to insult Webber, who is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate who, about to turn 32, can still play. Just as the trade of Webber to Washington in 1994 was the signal move of the demise of the Golden State Warriors, his acquisition by the Kings in 1998 put that franchise on the map. Immediately upon his arrival, the Kings ended a string of 15 straight losing seasons, dating back to their last two years in Kansas City.
And like I said, Webber can still play, even though he's been slowed by knee injuries. He's contributed 21.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, both within one of his career average, and his 5.5 assists are a career high. He'll help the 76ers, a mediocre team with a chance to win the lousy Atlantic Division, by complementing Allen Iverson and drawing some defensive attention away from him.
But the Kings simply had to get rid of him. And not just because his attitude had soured and he couldn't get along with Peja Stojakovic.
Last year showed that Sacramento had matured to the point that it not only didn't need to rely on Webber, it was better off without him. With Webber on the shelf following knee surgery and then a suspension following his guilty plea to contempt of court charges in a perjury trial, the Kings sprinted to a 43-15 record. Then he returned, everything slowed down, and the Kings went 8-12 and got bounced in the second round of the playoffs by the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team the pre-Webber Kings would have blistered in a playoff series.
This year, more of the same. Webber still thought he was the team leader and criticized his teammates for their lack of effort and for not getting him the ball at crunch time, a total misreading of his own strengths even when he was in his prime. But where Webber's passing, rebounding and improvisational abilities were once perfect for the Kings' high-flying offense, his new game, still effective but more of a regulation big man who can shoot approach, serves as a brake.
On his Web site 82games.com, Roland Beech has a stat called the Roland Rating, which measures players' contributions to a team by comparing how the team fares with that player on or off the court. (Remarkably similar to this column's baseball invention, the Neifi Index, except that it's actually useful.) As of last week, Webber's rating was severely negative, meaning the Kings are much better with him on the bench than they are with him on the floor.
Now he'll be off the floor permanently, and the Kings get the bonus of Corliss Williamson giving them some decent minutes off the bench. Good trade for both teams.
I'm not so sure about the Vikings. Like Webber in Sacramento, Moss had worn out his welcome in the Twin Cities, only in spades. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who became a star throwing to Moss, recently said, "He's my good friend, but you almost get to thinking that maybe enough is enough. And maybe the Vikings organization has had enough."
Imagine if they weren't good friends.
But Moss was still the Vikings' best player, and it's not as though his well-documented antics have hurt them. It's a simple fact that the Vikings were a better offensive team with Moss on the field than without him. Moss changes games.
It's possible, though not exactly likely, that a game-changing player can be had with the seventh pick, and I bet the Vikings are hoping former USC receiver Mike Williams slips that far. But even if the Vikings are able to replace Moss, or at least most of him, they'll still be the Vikings, whose biggest problem hasn't been Randy Moss, it's been mediocre coaching -- including the inability to manage Moss properly -- and lousy defense.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, Moss figures to find more tolerance for his eccentric behavior, but not more wins. He and Jerry Porter will make quite the receiver tandem. If only they had a quarterback like Culpepper to get them the ball.
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Globetrotters tell their story on PBS [PERMALINK]
"For many of us the Harlem Globetrotters mean confetti, buckets of water and basketball magic," Chuck D says in his role as narrator of the new PBS documentary "The Team That Changed the World," which focuses on the late 1940s and early '50s, a crucial period in the history of both the Globetrotters and race relations in sports.
The hourlong show airs Thursday night on most PBS stations, and it's an hour well spent.
For kids of my generation and probably even a little older, especially white kids like me, the Globetrotters meant even less than confetti and buckets of water. They were a fixture on "Wide World of Sports," and I loved watching Meadowlark Lemon -- "Stop him! Stop him! Stop him!" -- Curley Neal and all the others making fools of those pathetic Washington Generals and, especially, the hapless referees. I was in my 20s before I learned that it was actually possible to try to do a fancy trick with a basketball without humming "Sweet Georgia Brown."
But by my teens, the Globetrotters were making embarrassing "Gilligan's Island" TV movies and cookie-cutter Saturday morning cartoons. It was easy to forget about them, ignore them, relegate them to the memory pile with such dated childhood delights as Wacky Packages, Zotz and the Real Don Steele on 93 KHJ.
I was surprised to find myself watching highlights of famous Globetrotters routines zip by in the opening minutes of "The Team That Changed the World" and getting a little choked up over memories that I thought hadn't meant much to me in the first place -- and thinking how I can't wait until a couple of years from now, when I can take my kid to see them.
The Globetrotters got in there a little deeper than I thought they had, and that's with my not knowing much about their place in history. Chuck D continues: "But this is the story of a team that played serious basketball and faced even more serious opponents: Racism, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism."
Anti-Semitism? The original owner of the team, which of course was from the South Side of Chicago, not Harlem, was Abe Saperstein, a North Side Jew.
The movie is framed by two major events, the Globetrotters' victory in a serious game against the powerhouse Minneapolis Lakers in 1948 and their appearance at Berlin Stadium in August 1951, where, in an atmosphere of Cold War anti-Americanism, a crowd of 75,000 cheered them and gleefully welcomed Jesse Owens back to the scene of his Olympic triumph and his famous snub by Adolf Hitler.
In this period the Globetrotters went from a barnstorming team playing exhibitions in Jim Crow America to an entertainment juggernaut touring the world, consistently beating a team of college all-stars and outdrawing the NBA, which was integrated in 1950 when the New York Knicks signed Globetrotter Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton.
The movie probably overstates the extent to which the Globetrotters proved to white America that blacks could compete equally on the athletic field. That's not surprising considering it was commissioned by the Globetrotters. We know that, while prejudice obviously persisted, black American athletes had been doing their proving on big stages for a half-century from the story of Jack Johnson, from "Hot Potato," a fine book by Bob Kuska about early black basketball in New York and Washington, and from the history of the Negro Leagues in baseball.
As "The Team That Changed the World" acknowledges, Jackie Robinson had completed his rookie year with the Dodgers before its story begins. Still, the Globetrotters were important.
"I'm not sure the NBA would have lasted long enough to ever integrate if the Globetrotters hadn't played games" against NBA teams, historian Ben Green, author of a forthcoming history of the Globetrotters, says in the movie. Frank Deford adds: "The NBA needed the Globetrotters more than the Globetrotters needed the NBA."
Deford is among an A-list of celebrities and athletes who comment in the movie, including Bill Cosby, Phil Jackson, Sen. Barack Obama, Henry Kissinger, Bill Bradley and several former Globetrotters, most notably Geese Ausbie, a longtime star, and Mannie Jackson, a lesser player who bought the team in 1993 and has managed and marketed the enterprise skillfully.
"The Team That Changed the World" suffers a bit from indulging in the sports documentary fashions of these times, way too familiar from pregame-show features. You know, the shot of the darkened gym, with an American flag, a basketball and an old photo artfully arranged in a shaft of natural light at center court, with soupy music on the soundtrack.
But overall it's a half-court hook shot, a free throw on a string, a Marques Haynes dribble. Great stuff, and an important story that's been underappreciated. Check your local listings.
And you know what would also be fun? A documentary about those pathetic Washington Generals, who are now the New York Nationals, and who of course came not from Washington or New York but from Philadelphia. Red Klotz, the longtime owner, coach and -- until his 60s -- point guard for the Globetrotters' victims, deserves an hour all by himself.
Previous column: NBA's dumb playoff formula
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