710’s classic picks: Sonics shine, 2001 MLB ASG and more from Brent Stecker
We’re still covering the sports world at 710 ESPN Seattle, even though it’s been weeks since any sports have been played and it’s going to be more than weeks until they return in some form or fashion. Yeah, it’s super weird.
I, like just about every sports fan in the world, have been turning to other ways to get my sports fix, mainly going back to my favorite memories and sports movies to fill the void.
The thing about sports is we like to share our experiences with others. So in that spirit, we’re starting a series here on 710Sports.com where 710 ESPN Seattle’s hosts, writers and producers share their recommendations for sports fans to get through this odd time without sports.
Here are my five picks – two games, an extended highlight video, a movie and a documentary.
I was an obsessive kid, and the first sports team I was obsessed with was the Seattle SuperSonics. Need proof? My 8-year-old summer was completely and utterly ruined by watching this unfold in front of my very own eyes.
I was also obsessive when it came to my favorite player: Shawn Kemp. I begged my parents for his signature Reebok shoes (thank you and sorry, Mom and Dad). I hoarded his trading cards. I had shirts with his giant face printed on them. And I watched this videotape a billion times (once again, thank you and sorry, Mom and Dad).
So when I pulled up Game 5 of the 1996 NBA Finals on YouTube the other night, I expected to find my memories of the Reign Man to be a little overblown. There’s no way he was as good as I remembered, right?
Boy, was I wrong. He was better than I remembered. He scored Seattle’s first eight points in the game and was the best player on the court that night, an 89-78 win that was probably the only time in the series where it looked like the Sonics had a chance of knocking off Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and the rest of a Bulls team that won a record-setting 72 games that regular season. Kemp finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, and he absolutely took over the game at times – which was basically his whole thing.
There’s plenty of other entertaining things to catch in the old NBA on NBC broadcast, including the awesome starting lineup introduction in front of an hysterical KeyArena crowd, a sitdown interview where Gary Payton throws shade at His Airness because, you know, he’s Gary Payton, and the sights of Detlef Schremph, Sam Perkins and other fan favorites doing their thing in a Sonics uniform (it’s been far, far too long). Oh, and you can tell that even though the Bulls won the first three games, the Sonics’ Game 4 win had them shook. Their comments relayed throughout the broadcast make that loud and clear.
As a proud son of the east side of the Cascade Mountains, I’m a longtime Zags fan. And maybe it’s recency bias, but I don’t know if I’ve had more fun watching an individual Gonzaga performance than Brandon Clarke absolutely owning Baylor in last year’s NCAA Tournament. He took over the game, dunked all over the place, and… oh, OK, I see it now. It reminded me of watching my old childhood favorite, Shawn Kemp.
Baylor had no answer for Clarke’s athleticism in the low post, so the Zags just kept feeding him the ball. And even when they didn’t, he was there to clean up around the basket, either coming down with an offensive board or slamming a putback dunk down. It was one of the best single-game showings in Gonzaga’s storied history – 36 points (on 15 for 18 shooting!), eight rebounds, five blocks, three assists, two steals and just one turnover – and a sign of the impressive NBA rookie season that was to come for Clarke with the Memphis Grizzlies (he averaged 12 points and 5.8 rebounds in 50 games).
Unfortunately there isn’t video of the full Gonzaga win over Baylor on YouTube, but there is a pretty good 10-minute extended highlight video. Even more unfortunate: Gonzaga and Baylor were respectively ranked No. 2 and No. 5 when the 2020 tournament was called off, and both spent significant time ranked first in the country during the season. I sure would have liked to have seen them face off again in this year’s tournament – maybe with the title on the line.
Man, the 2001 Mariners season was a ton of fun. The highlight of that year for me has always been the All-Star Game hosted by Seattle, which seemed so perfect that it lined up the way it did. The M’s were the toast of the town, the clear best team in the majors on their way to an incredible 116 wins. They had a team-record eight All-Stars, and a couple of big plays from the game stick out in my mind: Ichiro beating Randy Johnson to the bag for a leadoff infield single for the American League squad, then Mike Cameron legging out a hustle double on a blooper that landed in shallow left-center.
The game is most remembered for two non-Mariners moments, however: Cal Ripken Jr. clobbering a Chan Ho Park offering for a homer in his final All-Star Game (earning him MVP honors), and a then-73-year-old Tommy Lasorda for some reason coaching third base for the National League and ending up on his backside after being hit in the solar plexus by a Vladimir Guerrero broken bat (it’s OK to laugh, he got right up).
I could talk about this movie for days. DAYS, I tell you!
It’s a very early-1990s plot – a 12-year-old boy inherits ownership of the Minnesota Twins from his grandpa, makes himself manager, and hilarity and life lessons ensue.
This is not to be confused with “Rookie of the Year,” a movie from the previous year in which a 12-year-old boy becomes a star pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, although that one is also great if for nothing other than Gary Busey playing an aging Roger Clemens type (and kinda looks like Jack Morris) who really likes his airplane Salisbury steak.
Where was I? Right, “Little Big League.” There are two characters I want to go in-depth on.
First is initial Twins manager George O’Farrell, played by the late, great Dennis Farina, who 100% belongs in the Sports Movie Hall of Fame. That’s because he proved so good at portraying an overbearing baseball manager that a few years later he did basically the same thing in the basketball movie “Eddie,” where he played the overbearing New York Knicks coach who gets replaced by a superfan played by Whoopi Goldberg.
The other great character is Lou Collins, the first baseman played by Timothy Busfield. This was actually the second baseball movie Busfield was in, but unlike in “Field of Dreams” where he was heartless and played zero baseball, this time he proves to be a very convincing left-handed hitter. In fact, I think he’s up there with Charlie Sheen’s Ricky Vaughn from “Major League” as one of the most convincing actors playing a baseball player in any movie.
As any sports movie worth its salt, “Little Big League” has its share of memorable quotes. My favorites both have to do with burly, mustachioed relief pitcher John “Blackout” Gatling, who was played by actual former big league hurler Brad Lesley. The quotes:
• O’Farrell to “Blackout” Gatling: “I didn’t trade for you for your curveball. I don’t like your curveball. As a matter of fact, I hate your curveball. You know why? BECAUSE THE (darn) THING DON’T CURVE!”
• An exasperated “Blackout” Gatling: *Sticks fork into a plate of food* “I hate fun.”
Oh, and did I mention that Mariners legends Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Lou Piniella and Dave Magadan – yeah, I said Dave Magadan – all make their major motion picture debuts to take on the Twins in the climatic final game? Well, they do.
The “30 for 30” series was a godsend when it began. Who knew we needed a whole bunch of new sports documentaries from ESPN every year? Now it’s odd to think of a time before we could count on a new movie always around the corner.
My favorite is “Elway to Marino” because of the myriad of stories it tells by covering all of the picks taken between No. 1 selection John Elway and No. 27 selection Dan Marino in the 1983 NFL Draft. Of course, the two main storylines are those of Elway, who was doing his best to end up playing for any team other than the Baltimore Colts, who had the first pick, and Marino, who was trying to prove to teams that he was a star in the making and not a giant red flag (seriously).
Multi-sport star Kyler Murray made it clear that he would only play football at the pro-level.John Elway wasn't as direct when he was drafted in 1983.
Posted by ESPN 30 for 30 on Friday, April 26, 2019
Oh, and the best part: They had the same agent. That would be Marvin Demoff, whose copious notes from the time help tell a very detailed story.
Fun fact about Demoff is that he was also the agent of two NFL players who have since gone on to be 710 ESPN Seattle hosts: Dave Wyman and Brock Huard. An even more fun fact about Demoff: One time many years back, Brock and Salk had him on for an interview. They asked him one question, he talked for about eight minutes straight, and they thanked him for his time. After that happened, I couldn’t help but wonder just how long it took the team that made “Elway to Marino” to cut down the interview footage they had of Demoff.
Honorable mention: SB Nation’s “Dorktown” series on the history of the Seattle Mariners, which is currently two episodes into its six episode run. It is fascinating. Here’s the first episode.
More 710 classic sports picks
• Shannon Drayer’s connections to “All I saw was purple” and “Field of Dreams”
• Movie time and Duke fandom with Dave Wyman
• Brandon Gustafson on Wilson vs. Mahomes
• Jessamyn on Shaq and ‘Remember the Titans’
• Paul Gallant on Clowney’s insane HS highlights
• Groz on ‘Slap Shot,’ 1986 Masters, books and more
• Tom Wassell’s way-back machine
• Jim Moore will set you straight on WWE wrestling
• Danny O’Neil on Ken Griffey Jr. and Bobby Knight