Thursday, April 28, 2005

Sleepy Floyd

My Dynamics professor gave a "pop quiz" in class yesterday. The fun part is, the only reason was that half the class was skipping, o the question was "Who is your favorite sports figure?" I chose Sleepy Floyd. For those of you (all of you?) who have never heard of him, I direct you to this reproduction of a column from ESPN Page 2 by Bill Simmons. This is why Sleepy is awesome:

And then there’s No. 12, forever known as the Sleepy Floyd Game, as well as the reason for this column. A few things you need to know:

# Sleepy Floyd had a good career. Not great, but good. He played in an All-Star Game but never averaged 20 in a season. He had a herky-jerky style handling the ball — high dribble, stutter steps, dangerous first step — so he was tough to guard and nearly unstoppable in transition. But there’s a reason they called him “Sleepy” — he had a reputation of drifting in games and only intermittently giving a crap. He always left you with the nagging feeling that he should have been better.

# Meanwhile, the ‘87 Lakers were one of the best teams of that decade. Worthy and Magic were in their primes. Kareem still had something left in the tank; this was the final season before he shaved his head and calcified. They had the best defensive player in the league (Michael Cooper), as well as quality role players (Mychal Thompson, Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott) who would have started for just about anyone else. So this wasn’t exactly the 2001 Raptors.

# Sleepy’s teammates included Joe Barry Carroll, Larry Smith, Greg Ballard, Jerome Whitehead and Terry Teagle. Chris Mullin was riding the bench because he was still boozing. Even the immortal Chris Washburn was involved. These guys weren’t exactly the ‘83 Sixers. They were down 3-0 in the series and headed for a sweep. On the bright side, they were playing Game 4 at home, and you couldn’t ask for a more loyal, knowledgeable, appreciative group of fans than the ones in Golden State. So if somebody randomly decided to spring for 34 points in 11 minutes against the future champs … well, let’s just say we’re in the right place here.

Fast-forward to the end of the third quarter. The Warriors are trailing by fifteen, 98-83, with one minute remaining. Sleepy has 17 points. He’s playing with Ballard, Whitehead, Teagle and Carroll. He’s being guarded by Byron Scott, who’s playing with Magic, Worthy, Kareem and A.C. Green. If this were a pickup game, somebody would have uttered the words “Let’s switch ‘em up” by now.

G-State spreads the floor. Sleepy blows past Scott and scoops in a righty lay-up in traffic. Three-point play. On the next possession, he beats Scott again and makes two free throws. 22 points. The Warriors still trail by 14 heading into the fourth. There is no reason to believe that anything memorable is about to happen.

The fourth quarter starts. Sleepy misses a running floater over Green. He won’t miss again for the entire fourth quarter. We don’t know this yet. Coming back down, he beats Cooper off the dribble and sinks a running one-handed scoop shot. Then he beats Cooper again, executes a gorgeous spin move in traffic, draws a goaltending call AND a foul. Three-point play. Sleepy has 27 points. Suddenly it’s 102-93. And by the way, nobody goes by Michael Cooper like that. And it just happened twice.

Now the crowd is involved. After a Magic turnover, Sleepy cherry-picks the other direction for a fast-break dunk. Timeout, L.A. .Sleepy just tied his playoff career high. 29. Remember that number.

After the timeout, Sleepy drives left on Cooper, stutter-steps, beats him baseline — repeat: beats Michael Cooper baseline — and lays it in. Seconds later, he converts a fast-break layup off an LA turnover. 33 points. The Warriors are down by three, nine minutes remaining. And yes, Sleepy has just scored 16 points in less than four minutes, none from more than six feet.

He’s just killing Cooper at this point. It’s unfathomable. This time, he beats him off the dribble yet again, glides down the middle and lays it in. You would think Kareem would be helping out at this point, but that was always the thing about Kareem — he was a giant ninny who didn’t play defense. Don’t forget this. Not for a second. There’s a reason they joked about it in “Airplane.” It was true.

Next possession: Sleepy zips downcourt in transition, never changes speed, crosses over on a backpedaling Green and gets another layup. 37 points. Then he outhustles Magic to a loose ball, gets fouled and makes both free throws. 39 points. The Warriors take the lead.

Sleepy isn’t done. He steals an entry pass, goes coast-to-coast, beats Scott off the dribble and somehow makes a one-legged, 10-foot fall-away over Kareem (who may or may not be awake). 41 points. On their next possession, he beats Scott again — notice how many times I keep writing that — slices down the middle, changes hands in mid-air to avoid Kareem and somehow makes a twisting lefty layup. Incredible. The crowd is ready to charge the court. 43 points for Sleepy.

Let’s take a breath. With 6:49 remaining and the Warriors leading 111-108, Sleepy just scored 26 of the last 28 Golden State points, all on layups, scoop shots, dunks and one-legged fall-aways … and he did it in six minutes.

Sadly, Sleepy is now exhausted. It’s tough to score on every possession for a solid half-hour. He doesn’t shoot the next two times down, then gets called for an offensive foul. Looks like the run is over.


On the ensuing possession, Sleepy beats Cooper in transition, takes him to the rack and makes a double-clutch layup in traffic. 45 points. Now he’s feeling it again. Next time down, he stutter-steps Cooper, stutter-steps him some more, then buries a step-back jumper at the foul line. His longest basket of the streak. 47 points. That one also ties Isiah for most points in a quarter — 25 — which just happened two days before. Go figure.

Sleepy is now running on fumes and solar power. He can barely get up and down the court. OK, I’m exaggerating. But he’s tired. No points the next three possessions. Sensing a window, the Lakers climb within two points with just under three minutes to play. So Sleepy takes over. Again. Carroll sets him a pick and Sleepy drains a 15-footer. 49 points. The crowd has officially run out of new ways to make noise.

Following a Warriors offensive rebound, Sleepy drives full-speed into a terrified Kareem and gets fouled. My favorite play of the game. Kareem may have been 15 inches taller than Sleepy, but that didn’t stop him from looking like a guy jumping on a counter to avoid a mouse. What a wuss. God, it’s fun to hate Kareem. Anyway, Sleepy makes both free throws, giving him 29 points in the quarter and 51 for the game. And there’s still 1:58 to play.

Now here’s the weird thing …

Sleepy never shoots again. He gets a couple of assists, gives the ball up on one 2-on-1 fast break, leaves the game with 13 seconds remaining, hugs a chubby Mullin and soaks in the heart-felt ovation from the fans. He could have gone for 55, maybe even 60. But he just wanted to win the game and go home. That’s why they call him “Sleepy.”

To recap: Sleepy scored 34 points in 11 minutes. During that stretch he went 13 for 14 from the field and 8 for 8 from the line. He didn’t shoot a single three or anything from more than 15 feet. He made eight shots from inside three feet, six of them in traffic. He single-handedly brought his team back from 15 down and saved their season. And he did it against Cooper (the best defender in the league) and Scott (one of the top five or six), the two stoppers on a team that would eventually win back-to-back titles.

That's why Sleepy rules.


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