March 23, 2011
Jack Ramsay is the kind of basketball lifer that some might say has forgotten more about the game than most of us will ever know. Of course, for that to be true, we'd have to have evidence that he's actually forgotten any of it — the Hall of Fame coach, who racked up 864 wins on NBA sidelines and led the venerated 1977 Portland Trail Blazers to a world championship, is still dropping knowledge for ESPN Radio at the tender age of 86, delivering the same brand of killer commentary that's long made him a special listen.
Another thing that makes Dr. Jack a special listen? Asking Joakim Noah(notes) before his Chicago Bulls took on the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night the amazingly direct question of whether the University of Florida product is surprised that he can, y'know, effectively play professional basketball. Or his making fun of a famously ugly shot is equally as good.
John Pitarresi caught the pregame interview on the radio and recapped the brilliant bit of conversation, "as best [he] can reconstruct it," for the Utica, N.Y., Observer-Dispatch:
Dr. Jack: "[Joakim] Noah, are you surprised you can play in the NBA?"
Dr. Jack, in his tenor voice with precise diction: "Well, I am, with that two-handed shot of yours. I never thought you could, the way you squeeze it out of there."
Noah: Silence for a few seconds, then, "They call it 'The Tornado,' so beware!"
Dr. Jack: "Well, you make it with consistency."
Dr. Jack: "Do you know you've lost nine straight times on this court?"
Noah: "I didn't know that!"
Dr. Jack: "Well, you did."
Pitarresi notes that one of the perks of reaching the age of 86 is that "you can say things that [push] the envelope a bit, and get away with them." I'm not sure if this particular interrogation stems from the prerogative of age, Ramsay's wry wit or something else entirely, but I do know that, on balance, the whole thing strikes me as pretty great.
Brief ruminations on five specific things about this that are great, after the jump:
1. Dr. Jack leading with a tough, awkward, off-putting question. You're trying to learn something new about your subject — enough of this "what are the keys to the game?" guff, already! — so give him something new to deal with. Classic Klosterman steez, which is not surprising, because Dr. Jack used to front a better-than-you'd-expect art-noise band in Grand Forks.
2. His willingness to ease off the gas a bit and cop to Noah making it with consistency, although one could quibble with the good doctor's definition of "consistency" — Noah connects on the J at a 44 percent clip when shooting from between 10 to 15 feet away from the basket, and just 35 percent of the time from beyond 15 feet, according to Hoopdata. Still, though, he lets Noah warm back up and re-enter the conversation. Very professional interviewing.
3. The matter-of-fact thunk of the nine-straight-losses stat. It's true that yes-or-no questions are not great interview tactics, generally, which kind of undercuts the "very professional interviewing" compliment I just gave Dr. Jack. That said, Ramsay clearly views interviewing as a full-contact sport, and asking the starting center of a 50-win team that's won nine of its last 10 and is battling for the top seed in its conference if he knows about a crummy losing streak against tonight's opponent is tantamount to sneaking in a rabbit punch while the ref's not looking. No points deducted here.
4. That Noah came to play, too, showing continued support for the "Tornado" nickname, which prized Bulls assistant Ron Adams coined during Noah's rookie season of 2007.
5. That Noah wants Dr. Jack (and, by proxy, the listening audience) to fear and respect the jump shot, formulating a "Beware the Tornado!" slogan that suggests he thinks of his jumper like it's basically a Batman villain.
I guess what I'm trying to say is: Always, always more Jack Ramsay, please. Especially if he's talking to Joakim Noah.
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