Stanley Cup Tomorrow; NBA Finals Thursday
By TERRY LYONS
BOSTON – The email came in from a highly respected member of the Fourth Estate. I used to get a request like it, maybe once a week. Nowadays, I’ll get such an inquiry, a call for help, maybe once every month or two. I diligently read and consider them all, but they’re really tough to answer because the answer is usually … well … “No.”
There was something special about this one, though.
It was doable.
It involved a few of the best of the best the NBA has to offer. It was a request that was simple but complicated. The simplicity was the fact it was a basic “meet and greet, with a hoops element that made it fun.” It was complicated because of the logistics.
Here are the details, in shorthand:
- Former New York Daily News columnist and feature writer Wayne Coffey was hoping to do something very special for his brother, Frank.
- Frank Coffey lives in Southern California, loves the game of basketball and had a longtime “bucket list” wish to meet his favorite player and “shoot-around.”
- That player is no longer a just a player but instead, he is the head coach of the wildly successful Golden State Warriors. His name is Steve Kerr.
- There was an underlying issue as well, as Frank has been battling cancer and – while he’s been doing great fighting that fight – just like everyone on this earth, there was an element of time to be sure to get this done.
Here’s a list of the pros and cons, the facts of the matter, the so-called reality speech of getting something like a simple meet and greet done:
- FACT: The NBA schedule is relentless and ever-changing. While the game schedules are written and locked in stone, the travel plans, the practice schedules and locations, the ebb and flow of wins and losses, and quite basically, the mood and tone of every single individual involved can change like the tide of the Pacific Ocean.
- FACT: The Golden State Warriors are the best. They have the best team, the best players, the best front office, the best team president and the very best PR Director and PR department in the league.
- FACT: Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Warriors, is often in demand and his time is limited. He is also one of the most wonderful, nicest, smartest, funniest, most sincere and accomplished people that walk this earth. Kerr’s family story is as interesting as he is, but it is a story of humanity, of death/assassination, and should be read at another time by clicking HERE.
- FACT: When the Golden State Warriors travel on the NBA circuit, they do so as a road show, a draw, a traveling circus of activity. Everyone wants a piece of the Golden State Warriors and that factoid is expensive. It costs time, effort, energy and – if not managed properly and consistently, it most definitely can cost wins and losses, the NBA’s most precious commodity.
When we looked at the request and the logistics, it boiled down to a 50-50 proposition – would the Golden State Warriors and their coach keep a scheduled practice on the team agenda or not. It seemed quite likely they would, at least, do a “shoot-around” and use an hour of court time.
When analyzed in the simplest of terms, we needed three people to come together:
- Steve Kerr, the coach.
- Raymond Ridder, the PR man.
- Frank Coffey, the fan, the cancer survivor and the man who was merely hoping to shake Kerr’s hand and spend a few minutes of time between two people who value their time greatly.
Here’s what we were up against:
- At STAPLES Center, we’d be getting three people within 10 yards of each other at the right place, the right arena entrance, at the right time and that included getting to the court.
- Getting Frank in the right place through the arena entrance to the hallways and staircases to the court amidst the inevitable legion of fans, autograph-seekers, memorabilia hawks/dealers, groupies, and other road blocks who could all, without even knowing, derail our little plan.
- Avoiding any over-bearing security officials who’ve all heard, “I’m with the band” all too often.
- Luck. Damn, dumb luck. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. While the request was in, and examined and okayed in advance and everyone operates in a positive manner of goodwill and best intentions, sometimes it JUST DOESN’T WORK OUT.
About a calendar year ago, here’s what happened, as told by a combination of Wayne and Frank Coffey:
Here’s the background from the pen of one Wayne Coffey:
“In three decades as a sportswriter and author,” wrote Wayne, “I’ve endeavored to keep things professional at all times. You prepare thoroughly. You don’t cheer in the pressbox. You don’t waste people’s time asking inane questions, and you don’t ask PR guys for favors or freebies.
“But if I were ever going to violate my own code, this would be the time to do it. I thought about it for a second. It was all I needed.
“To hell with the code,” I told myself. “This is my brother. Who knows how long he will be here? If I can do something to bring some joy into his life, I am going to do it.
“So I called Terry Lyons, an old friend and my longtime go-to guy in all matters NBA. When Danny Ferry came out of Duke and decided to skip the NBA for a year and go to Rome, Terry connected me not only with Danny and his team, but helped me build an entire basketball junket around Italy, featuring stories on Micheal Ray Richardson, Bob McAdoo, Brian Shaw and, of course, Ferry. (Talk about a good gig.)
“Terry was no longer with the NBA, but he knows everyone, everywhere, on all continents. ‘I think you know me well enough to know I’d never ask for anything like this if there weren’t extraordinary circumstances,,’ I began.
“I told him about my brother, a lefthanded point guard who loves the game as much as anyone I’ve ever known, about his massive health challenges and five-year battle with cancer. I told him about how much he admired Steve Kerr as a man, as a player, as a three-point shooter.
“My brother isn’t anybody’s groupie, T,” I explained.
“He’s a serious student of the game, and he’s told me for years that if he could ever rebound for Steve Kerr, it would be one of the greatest thrills of his life. I know this is a huge ask, but do you think there’s any way this could happen?
“Terry got it immediately. He always does. He sent emails, made calls. Ray Ridder, the Warriors’ Hall-of-Fame caliber PR man, also got it. Ray must get 100 requests a week from people who want this, or that, who have wonderful causes or sickly children or a loved one in desperate straits. It’s impossible to accommodate everyone. I waited to hear. Ray talked to Steve.
“Steve said he’d like to meet my brother. The Warriors had an upcoming game on the road, against the Lakers. A whole bunch of arrangements were made; I don’t know the half of it. All I know was that I was wildly happy. I still hadn’t told my brother anything, because I didn’t want to get his hopes up.
“Now that the pieces were in place, I called him.
“What are you doing Monday morning?”
“No, nothing’s going on. Why?”
“Good, because you have an appointment at Staples Center to meet Steve Kerr.”
“Holy shit,” my brother said. “Really?”
“I told him the story, about Terry and Ray and Steve Kerr wanting to meet him. My brother, an erudite, sardonic fellow and a master of the witty riposte, said nothing. Ray had one of his trustworthy lieutenants at the shootaround to make sure my brother and Steve connected. Terry was guardedly optimistic it would all happen seamlessly. So was Ray.
“My brother isn’t a praying man, but I am. I live on the east coast. Around 1 p.m. ET, I knew the shoot-around would be starting imminently. I waited. I hoped. I prayed some more.
“When I hadn’t heard from my brother by 2 p.m., I wondered if things went okay. When I still hadn’t heard anything at 3 p.m., I started to fear the worst. The shoot-around was long over. Then it was 3:30. Still no text or call.
“I have to admit I was pretty damn gloomy.
“Well, even if things didn’t happen the way you hoped, you had good people trying to do a great thing. Maybe on the Warriors next trip to L.A. . . . ”
With that set-up, here’s what actually happened, as told by Frank Coffey:
It was the morning of December 18, 2017 when I showed up at the Staples Center, where the Warriors were busy doing their shoot around, preparing for that night’s game against the Lakers. The sounds of dribbling basketballs, squeaking sneakers and light banter echoed through the almost eerily empty arena. Despite the venue, it felt very familiar.
“A lifetime hoopster junkie, I’d been a serviceable high school player (hey, I scored my career-high – 20 points – in a losing effort against a Roosevelt High School team on Long Island that included one Julius “Dr. J” Erving), a marginal D-III-er, and a successful high school girls coach for a stretch. At age 70, after tearing up a knee in what turned out to be my last full court game, I loved the game no less, but shifted my basketball focus to shooting.
“Lots and lots of shooting.
“It is a part of the game that I was – and still am – pretty good at it. (The three-point line, had it existed when I was in college, would have increased my playing time.)
The plan for this December morning in Staples – hatched by my brother and made real via a couple of the NBA PR blood brotherhood, was to shoot free throws with Steve Kerr, one of my bball heroes – and the NBA’s all-time three-point percentage leader. After the shoot around, Raymond Ridder, the world-class PR director of the Golden State Warriors, brought Steve over to where this geezer was sitting. I expected a quick handshake, followed by foul shooting, but an unhurried appearing Coach Kerr plopped down next to me on a baseline chair, stretched out his legs, and asked how I was doing.
“Looks like we’re going to talk first, I thought.
“Before he got another sentence out I found myself sharing with him that I’d made a 122 foul shots in a row in a contest back in the day. I lamely wanted him to understand, I think, that I wasn’t some old fart who’d just fallen off the turnip truck. That I was … a player.
“Good grief, what was I thinking? Steve Kerr makes that number with a blindfold on. Embarrassing start. After I stuffed my ego back into my chest, we talked. For at least a half hour. On a game day. The convo topics veered towards health, for understandable reasons. Steve was battling some extremely lousy side effects of back surgery, I’d just finished another round of chemo and radiation for stage IV colon cancer. We talked about shooting Js and the wonder of the Warriors and the glorious Steph Curry, and a little bit about the loathsome man in the White House.
Finally, Kerr stands up and says, “Want to shoot?”
“Um, yeah. I do. (More than anything in life.)
“We’ll shoot ten, two sets of five, okay?”
“Yeah, sure.” (YAY! YAY!! YAY!!!)
“Long story short: Kerr made 10 out of 10. I didn’t. Sucking wasn’t part of my plan. But I did. In desperation after a particularly egregious clank, I glared at my hands and muttered something about my chemo-induced neuropathy not being good for accurate shooting.
“Kerr, from the foul line, clearly full of himself after his runaway victory over an aging cancer victim, raised his arms skyward and with a straight face said, “So the excuses begin.”
“What a guy.
“After he walked with me out of the Staples Center, and fans descended on him, we shook hands and said goodbye. But not before I claimed to a burgeoning group of autograph seekers than I had just “totally” schooled Steve Kerr. Some of them, the youngest ones, actually seemed to believe me.
“Thanks a lot, Frank,” remains locked in my memory as they were Steve’s parting words.
“Later that day, the Warriors would beat the Lakers in OT, 116-114. I don’t think I ever rooted for a team harder than I did for Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors that night.
“I’ve had three seizures and a second brain surgery since Kerr trashed me on that December morning. My poor showing and Kerr’s wise-guy comments notwithstanding, it was one of the best days of my life. And I want to get it out there right now: I am ready for a rematch, Coach Kerr. No more chemo, my hands are fine, my schedule open. I see myself nailing 10 for 10. And Kerr rimming out on his 10th.
“Let the excuses begin.”
Editor’s Note: Frank Coffey informed me during the process of putting together this column that he is utilizing this piece to publicly acknowledge for the first time to a number of friends and family as to the fight he’s been fighting against the dreaded disease of cancer. … I lost a brother, Timothy F. Lyons, and a few of my dearest friends ever, Bobby Rose (Keswick Americans goalkeeper), Shelby Strother (writer/columnist), Corky Meineke (reporter) … So sadly, I could go on remembering many others and reviewing the past. The future is different. The science is better. The future is brighter. We have to work harder … and Frank Coffey is my guy! I’m behind him 100% and we are now all-in on fighting together. … Frank asked only one single thing of me during the creation of this column. He asked me to end the story with two words: “Go Warriors!”
Here Now The Notes: The Stanley Cup Finals begin on Monday, May 27, aka Memorial Day in Boston with Game 2 on May 29. The series will head west for games on June 1 and June 3. If necessary, Game 5 would take place on June 6 back in Boston, with Game 6 set for June 9 in St. Louis and a possible Game 7 at TD Garden on June 12. … As a reminder, the NBA Finals start in Toronto: May 30, June 2 (switch cities) for June 5,7 in Oakland then return to Toronto June 10; back to Oakland on June 13 and finish on June 16, if need be in Canada. … The NBA Draft is June 20th in Brooklyn. … The Athletic has made a bold move to cover the WNBA by hiring a beat reporter for every WNBA franchise. … Meanwhile, in Boston and serving neighboring New England, the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun cut a deal with the New England Sports Network to televise 23 Sun games on NESN and NESNplus during the 2019 summertime season. NESN will begin televising games on Tuesday, May 28 at 7pm (ET) when the Sun host the Indiana Fever at Mohegan. … Former veep Joe Biden has “kicked off” his 2020 Presidential campaign more often than Sebastian Janikowski has kicked off NFL games. … Paul Rabil’s Premier Lacrosse League named its Most Valuable Player award after NFL and lacrosse legend Jim Brown. The first-ever PLL MVP award will be presented during the league’s first championship weekend in Philadelphia on Sept. 21. … The long arm of the NBA strikes again as Getty Images partnered with the World Surf League as exclusive provider of imagery from the WSL’s global calendar of events. Additionally, Getty Images will now represent roughly 70,000 historical WSL images, dating back to 2000. What does the NBA have to do with that? WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt cut her teeth as an exec with NBA Global Marketing Partnerships at the same time as Getty’s head honcho for sports, Carmin Romanelli was heading up NBA Photos. … While the July 20th title fight between Keith Thurman vs. Manny Pacquiao, a schedule 12-round bout for Thurman’s WBA welterweight title, will get the headlines, the interesting fight of the night will be the first “real, big” fight for former Notre Dame’s business school phenom Mike Lee. Lee rose to prominence in Chicago and once trained with famed boxing great Ronnie Shields. Lee will fight Caleb Plant in a scheduled 12-round bout for Plant’s IBF super middleweight title. The event will take place in Las Vegas at MGM. … According to published reports, OTT juggernaut DAZN has more than a million subscribers in Japan and while the company won’t reveal its worldwide totals, Forbes estimated John Skipper‘s boxing-friendly OTT exceeds 4 million subs, well ahead of the 2 million-plus Walt Disney reported last month for ESPN+. … The American Gaming Association released its “Responsible Marketing Code” just prior to last week’s ICE N.A. Sports Gambling Conference. The headline grabber was “no sports gambling advertising to college campuses.” All good with that, except the ship sailed a few decades ago.
Marquee Sports Network named former MSG Network and St. Louis Blues exec Michael McCarthy as general manager. As a key member of the network’s senior leadership team, McCarthy will be responsible for driving the success of Marquee Sports Network set to launch in February 2020 in partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group. … Dallas Mavericks guard-forward Luka Dončić and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young were unanimously selected to the 2018-19 NBA All-Rookie First Team. The question now, which one will be named NBA Rookie of the Year? … Leaders held its Leaders Sports Summit (aka #LeadersWeek) in New York this past Tuesday. By all reports, the seminar is one of the best of the European efforts organized in the USA each year. Hope to attend in London or in NYC next year. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern was among the speakers this week in NYC. … CBS Sports Network will be airing World Team Tennis matches this summer, starting with a July 21 match-up between the Vegas Rollers and the Philadelphia Freedoms. … Tennis great Billie Jean King is no longer the Commissioner but retains an ownership interest in the “Freedoms.”
After turning double plays in each of the first two innings of Wednesday night’s game in Houston against the Astros, the Chicago White Sox outdid themselves in the 3rd inning with the first triple play in the majors this season. … The New York Mets dumped seldom-used OF Keon Broxton to the Orioles. … Recently retired defensive end Chris Long – aka “Son of Howie” – recently admitted to using marijuana as an NFL player, saying that the league should move toward a place where testing positive does not result in a suspension. “I certainly enjoyed my fair share on a regular basis throughout my career. I was never afraid to say that, but I’m able to say it more explicitly now,” Long said of his marijuana use on The Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday. “Listen, if not for that, I’m not as capable of coping with the stressors of day-to-day NFL life. A lot of guys get a lot of pain management out of it.” Long, 34, announced his retirement a week ago Saturday.
It’ll be Virginia against Yale on Monday’s NCAA Lacrosse national championship game from The Linc in Philadelphia with a 1pm ET start. Great event. Tune-in this year and I highly recommend you attend next year. The NCAA Lax tourney owns Memorial Day weekend. … Psst. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. It’s not an “Integrity Fee,” It’s a real-time “Stats Fee.” … See? Click HERE.
Digital Sports Desk posts this once-a-week Sunday Notes column, entitled: “While We’re Young Ideas.” The column is a tribute to the late Dick Young, of course, but the obvious Rodney Dangerfield connection connotes the style and humorous nature I’ll be seeking to provide as Spring turns to Summer. We’ll see where we stand on Labor Day before I try to break any ground that Jimmy Cannon or Young walked upon.
Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the attempt and it will become worthy of a Sunday Morning read and share. I’ll welcome the feedback by connecting “While We’re Young Ideas” with Digital Sports Desk (@DigSportsDesk) and (@WhileYoungIdeas). Please follow those two Twitter accounts, along with @terrylyons