SPORTS DIGEST: Sporting world says farewell to two of its greatest

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Over the years, the sporting world has introduced a new acronym to the lexicon. GOAT now stands for Greatest Of All Time.

I first heard it used to describe Muhammad Ali. Later, Michael Jordan became the GOAT. Nowadays it’s Tom Brady.

The sporting world has lost two of its GOATs this week. Iconic broadcaster Vin Scully died Aug. 2 at the age of 94. On July 31, Bill Russell, the greatest winner of all time, died.

Russell was the center for the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and 60s. During his 13-year career, the Celtics won 11 NBA titles, including eight straight between 1959 and 1966.

Before he reached the NBA, he won two NCAA titles with the University of San Francisco. Those teams won 55 consecutive games, a record that stood until John Wooden and the UCLA Bruins shattered it, winning 88 straight games between 1971 and 1974.

He also won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1956.

That means that from 1955 to 1969, Russell’s teams failed to win whatever title they were playing for only twice. That’s greatness.

Russell wasn’t the greatest basketball player ever. That title belongs to either Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Jordan.

But he was good enough to win five NBA most valuable player awards. He also led the league in rebounding five times and averaged more than 20 rebounds a game 10 years in a row.

He never scored more than 18.9 points a game in a season, but those Celtics teams didn’t need him to score. He played defense, blocked shots and grabbed rebounds, which allowed the Celtics fast-break offense to kick into high gear.

When Celtics legendary coach Red Auerbach retired after the 1965-66 season, Russell became the first Black to lead a professional sports team. He served as a player-coach his last three seasons in the NBA, winning his last two titles.

Like Chamberlain, Russell also was a world-class athlete in track and field. Chamberlain was a quarter-miler. Russell was a high jumper, leaping 6-feet, 9-1/4 inches at the West Coast Relays in 1956. He was ranked seventh in the world that year in the high jump and probably could have made the Olympic team in that sport, if he had tried.

After retiring from coaching, Russell tried broadcasting, working for CBS and TBS. He said he wasn’t very good at it.

“The most successful television is done in eight-second thoughts and the things I know about basketball, motivation and people go deeper than that,” he once said.

While Russell may not have been good at broadcasting, Scully had no equal. He served as the voice of the Dodgers for 67 years, from 1950 when the team was in Brooklyn, until 2016 when he finally retired.

Like many a child in Southern California, I grew up listening to Scully on the radio. The way he called a baseball game allowed this young fan to visual the game as if I was there.

In 1959, the Dodgers’ second year in Los Angeles, they won the National League pennant in a playoff against the Milwaukee Braves and then defeated the Chicago White Sox in six games to win the World Series.

KMPC, the Dodgers’ radio station at the time, put out a record album of season highlights to celebrate the championship, highlighting several of Scully’s memorable calls that year.

The album started and ended with the last play against the Braves.

“Big bouncer over the mound, over second base. Up with it is [Felix} Mantilla, throws low and wild. Hodges scores, we go to Chicago.”

In between, it had several other noteworthy calls — Scully describing the scene on Roy Campanella Night when the Dodgers honored their former catcher who was crippled in a car accident before the move to Los Angeles; Sandy Koufax striking out 18 Giants to tie a major league record in a game that wasn’t won until the bottom of the ninth inning when Wally Moon hit a three-run homer; a rhubarb with the umpires in a Dodgers-Giants game and Scully calling the Dodgers game in front of him and relaying information on the Giants game that was being played 400 miles up the coast at the same time.

It was vintage Scully and my brother and I wore that album out like I later did with my Beatles albums.

Growing up in Los Angeles, we were blessed with some of the best sports announcers ever. Besides Scully, we had Dick Enberg doing the Rams, Angels and UCLA basketball; Chick Hearn at the mike for Lakers games; Bob Miller and the Kings. All masters of their craft. But Scully was the best.

When Dodgers fans were asked to pick their top all-time Dodger in 1976, Scully won over Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Don Drysdale and Tommy or Willie Davis.

If you conducted that poll again today, he would win again.

When he retired in 2016, I wrote that Scully has a way of bringing the listener into the story the way an artist brings a viewer into a painting or a songwriter pulls a listener into the lyric or melody of a song.

That voice has now been stilled. But the memory of that voice — and the stories it told — will last forever.

DEADLINE DEALING: The Dodgers did a little roster tweaking at the trade deadline Aug. 2. With an 11-1/2 game lead over the San Diego Padres and several key players slated to return from the injured list between now and playoff time, they didn’t need to do much.

They did add another left-handed bat in outfielder Joey Gallo from the New York Yankees, yielding only a pitching prospect in the deal. Gallo will fill the roster spot vacated by Jake Lamb, who was sent to the to Seattle Mariners.

The Dodgers also sent pitcher Mitch White to the Toronto Blue Jays and left-handed reliever Garrett Cleavinger to the Tampa Bay Rays in roster-clearing moves to make way for injured pitchers who are almost healthy.

Gallo is a power-hitting outfielder who was having a horrible year for the New York Yankees. Think Max Muncy.

In 82 games with the Yankees, he was hitting only .159. He did have 12 home runs, but he has struck out 106 times in 273 plate appearances.

He figures to see action as a spare outfielder and designated hitter.

The Dodgers didn’t acquire an all-star outfielder or an all-star closer like the San Diego Padres did, but then they didn’t have to.

On the other hand, the Angels waved the white flag of surrender, getting rid of starting outfielder Brandon Marsh, starting pitcher Noah Syndergard and closer Raisel Iglesias for a handful of prospects.

The Angels did hold on to Shohei Ohtani. If things don’t change soon for the Angels though, Ohtani will be next year’s Juan Soto.

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