ROHNERT PARK — In the 20 minutes Bill Cartwright spoke Thursday to the SSU men’s and women’s basketball players, not once did he mention Michael Jordan’s name, even though he was Jordan’s starting center for five years in Chicago. Must brag on that, having played with the greatest player in the NBA history. Right?
Not once did Cartwright mention he is a five-time NBA champion. Most guys with that resume would hand out business cards with that information. Right?
Not once did Cartwright mention he played 16 years in the NBA, averaged 13.2 points a game and could have repeated what Hall of Fame coach Hubie Brown once said of him — “Every coach should have a Bill Cartwright on his team.” Right?
Phew, some of the SSU kids had to be thinking, did this guy really play in the NBA, an acronym for Nothing But Attitude? He was polite, well-spoken, quiet even. Where was the ego? The greatness lies within, somewhere. What will it take to bring it out into the open? It was an innocent question that did it.
“What was your toughest matchup?” a men’s player asked.
“I would never ever think of my opponent that way,” said Cartwright, now 59 and director of university initiatives at the University of San Francisco. “I’d want him to think like that about ME. ‘I’m coming at you. Get ready. So I’m coming and I’m coming at you really hard.’”
Cartwright paused. The crowd was set up for the punchline.
“The first time I played Bill Laimbeer (of the Detroit Pistons) I broke his nose. The first time I played Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) I fractured his eye socket.” As they say, a hush came over the crowd. Cartwright may be 59 years old and own a balky left foot that has been fractured four times and walk slowly because of that. But those two sentences unmasked that civility and humbleness.
Cartwright was, is, a warrior of the first order, the relentless aggressive who didn’t have to say a thing to get another player’s attention.
That’s why I paid close attention to what Cartwright had to say about the Golden State Warriors.
A little background is necessary at this point. Cartwright does not throw out thoughts casually. Cartwright promised his mother, Marie, that he would graduate from college first before entering the NBA. So after one of Cartwright’s All-American seasons at USF, Milwaukee Bucks coach Don Nelson called Cartwright daily. Leave college early. We love you. We’ll make you rich. Please, Bill. Cartwright refused. He promised his mother he’d get his degree first.
Cartwright’s not given to flippancy or an idle, unfiltered opinion. He’s given considerable thought to the Warriors and — take a breath, Golden State fans — the next sentence you read will require some elaboration.
“It’s bad basketball,” Cartwright said.
It’s the preoccupation with the three-pointer.
“Why do you have the best-scoring center (Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins) in the league on the perimeter as an outside threat?” Cartwright said.
That’s an easy answer. Because it’s the current hot thing. The Warriors have turned the three into an art form, a game changer, like that 28-2 run they had the other night against the Kings.
“No question, it’s (the perimeter game) entertaining,” Cartwright said. “No question. But right now there are two positions missing on the court. There’s no center. There’s no point guard.”