After watching the tribute that Braves manager Bobby Cox received following his series-ending loss to the Giants earlier tonight, I couldn't help but compare his exit to that of recently-departed Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson. You can debate the merits -of retaining or releasing Nelson, argue about his offensive-oriented philosophy, but given his contributions to the NBA for the better part of five decades, he deserved a more gracious finale. He leaves - oh-so-quietly - with the most coaching victories and five championship rings as a player with the Boston Celtics. And when you talk to NBA types, even those who are not Nelson fans, they acknowledge his defensive influence on the game during his early years coaching the Milwaukee Bucks, and more recently, his offensive innovations with the Warriors and Mavericks. He went from favoring isolation plays (to exploit new defensive rules) to virtually despising the one-on-one style. I'm with him on that. One-on-one play is ruining a game that, at its best, is fluid, graceful and athletic, featuring ball and body movement. I still don't understand Nellie's late-in-life aversion to defense, but he certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, which could very well happen next year.
As for Cox, who retires as Braves manager at age 69: I was part of the Atlanta Constitution's coverage team during the Braves' great run in the 1990s, and from a professional perspective, the experience ranks among my favorites. The clubhouse that included Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Terry Pendleton, David Justice, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Mark Wohlers, Jeff Blauser, Mark Lemke, Rafael Belliard, Pat Corrales, Mike Stanton, John Schuerholz, etc., was unique, dynamic, entertaining, professional. The players/coaches were enlightening and consistently accommodating. It reminded me of the NBA in the 1980s, when Magic Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics would share their thoughts for hours, filling our notebooks, sharing anecdotes, and routinely, critically dissecting their performances before we could.
The cerebral, exacting Maddux - known as "Doggie" -- offered tutorials at his locker. Justice would deliberately say something controversial to keep things interesting. The thoughtful, good-natured Glavine - who completely understood our jobs and our deadlines - would sneak into a side room and give pregame interviews on days he pitched --- violating tradition; he laughed when anyone suggested he throw inside once in a while. (The Braves' approach is to pitch away, away, away, away).
Once, I arrived at the stadium about four hours early and noticed Cox leaning against the railing near the dugout, staring blissfully at the empty field. "Ms. Voisin," he said, smiling, "how can you can not enjoy this life?"
So, here's to Bobby, for an incredible run. We won't even mention that he only won one World Series with a starting rotation of Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz. He needed a closer, period. And here's hoping ... Nellie gets his day.