There are a lot of playground basketball legends who hail from New York but arguably Lloyd “Swee’ Pea” Daniels may very well be the greatest of them all. Daniels, who got his nickname because of his facial resemblance to the infant from those old Popeye cartoons, grew up in Hollis and was a star at Andrew Jackson High School in the early 1980s.
Those who saw Lloyd play as a youngster would have sworn that he was destined for NBA superstardom. Unfortunately fate was not that kind to him. His mother died when he was four years old and his father wasn’t around so he was raised by his grandmother. He played hooky from school and spent evenings on the basketball court. His lack of a proper K-12 education meant that he was unprepared for life in general and certainly for college.
It was after he was recruited by University of Nevada Las Vegas by then-head coach Jerry Tarkanian that his life fell apart. Tarkanian did try to get help for Lloyd to improve his literacy levels but he wasn’t interested in scholastics of any kind. Instead he discovered crack cocaine and wound being arrested in a Las Vegas police drug sting in 1987. UNLV immediately expelled him. Daniels passed the time playing in semipro and pickup games but his addictions grew worse. The nadir came on May 11, 1989 when he was shot three times in front of his Hollis home after a drug buy went bad.
Against all odds, Daniels recovered from that very near-death experience to be able to play close to six NBA seasons. However even then he couldn’t overcome his fondness for drugs, drinking, and the allure of the nightlife.
Daniels’ harrowing story is told in the new film, “The Legend of Swee’ Pea,” that made its debut at DOC NYC this past week, a festival that is now considered the Cannes of documentaries, since many recent Academy Award winners have been shown here.
First-time director Ben May shows a veteran’s touch as he was able to garner testimony from former NBA stars as John Lucas, Avery Johnson, and David Robinson as well as from the late Jerry Tarkanian who turned out to be the closest thing to a father figure that Lloyd ever had. It should be noted May probably got a little help getting these basketball VIPs to speak on camera from his executive producer, Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony.
Also appearing in the documentary are longtime Forest Hills resident and famed basketball scout Tom Konchalski as well as iconic Benjamin Cardozo High School boys basketball coach Ron Naclerio.
For better or worse, Lloyd is still a big kid in a big 48 year-old man’s body.
I spoke with Cleveland Cavaliers forward James Jones before Friday night’s Cavs-Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. Although he had been in the NBA 13 years, Jones is far from a household name. What does make him stand out however is that he was a finance major at the University of Miami who graduated with honors.
Jones firmly believes that college athletes should be compensated by their schools beyond the value of a scholarship. He doesn’t use the argument about how much revenue he made of for the U of M but rather the time commitment that he had to give to Miami’s basketball program. “My friends were able to study and get internships that led to lucrative career paths. I have been fortunate to play in the NBA but the vast majority of college basketball players do not get that opportunity.”
I also ran into former Knicks player and current NBA executive Kiki Vandeweghe before the game. Kiki was the head coach of the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets who were one of the worst teams of all time as they dropped their first 18 games of that season before finishing with a 12-70 record. He told me that he empathizes with current Nets head coach Lionel Hollins whose team posted a 1-9 record after finishing its first major road trip over the weekend. In fairness, the Nets took the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, who hadn’t lost a game this season up to that point, into overtime before succumbing 107-99.
Kiki has always had a good sense of humor about his one-year tour of duty as Nets head coach. “We won our first game when I took over and I wanted to quit while I was ahead!” he told me Friday. In the past Kiki told me that he felt that he accomplished his mission when the Nets won their tenth game that year meaning that they would not break the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers record for futility. That dubious record is still very much in play for this current Nets squad.
The first Nets superstar was Rick Barry who played for them during their Long Island days in the early 1970s. To this day I have never seen a better free throw shooter than Barry (yes, Calvin Murphy was excellent as well). His gimmick was that he shot his foul shots underhanded. Rick was a celebrity greeter at a booth at last week’s Javits Center hotel industry trade show, HX. I asked Rick why with so many poor free throw shooters in the NBA today why doesn’t anyone emulate his style. “They make so much money that they don’t care. ESPN’s SportsCenter never shows free throws. And then there is the macho thing about not shooting them underhanded,” Rick replied.
The Nets will have a presence again in Long Island beginning in the fall of 2017 as they will field an NBA Development League team, the Long Island Nets, in the refurbished Nassau Coliseum.
One of the problems that plagued the Nassau Coliseum was that it was poorly served by mass transit. According to Nassau County County Executive Ed Mangano there will be shuttle buses that will take patrons between the Coliseum and either the Hempstead or Mineola LIRR train stations for all events. Mangano added that he is confident that the Nassau Coliseum will attract an American Hockey League team although he doubted that the Islanders would relocate their Sound-Tigers AHL affiliate from Bridgeport.
Knicks executive Allan Houston is very pleased with how his team’s NBA D-League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks, have been drawing and he looks forward to a rivalry with Long Island Nets. The Westchester Knicks have a very marketing slogan with “This close!” which relates to both how close a number of the players are to the NBA as well as how close every seat is to the action.
The NBA Development League will have its second annual Showcase in Santa Cruz, California from January 6–10. It is a chance for basketball fans to see every D-League team in action in that very hip and artistic Northern California seaside town that is an hour south of San Francisco. Santa Cruz is one of the few California cities that has a boardwalk along its beach.
While the media understandably made a big deal about Rex Ryan’s return to MetLife Stadium to face the Jets. What bothered Jets fans most was not that Ryan came away with a victory but rather how flat their team looked against the Buffalo Bills who are a division rival and are battling for a wild card playoff spot just as the Jets are.
It was Bills kickoffs that did the Jets in. Devin Smith, a thin-as-a-rail wide receiver, who has no business running back kicks, fumbled a ball that was immediately returned for a Buffalo touchdown in the second quarter. A few minutes later, with only six seconds remaining before halftime, Zac Stacy, a nondescript running back, tried to return a kickoff deep in his territory. Instead of just falling on the ball and letting the clock expire, Stacy tried to make a play. He wound up getting a broken ankle and needed season-ending surgery the following day.
Great job by the CBS camera crew to capture Giants head coach Tom Coughlin’s frustration after Patriots’ place kicker Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 54-yard field goal with one second left in the game to give New England a 27-26 win over Big Blue.
It appears that Mets playoff hero Daniel Murphy, who was the second-longest tenured Mets player behind David Wright, will be moving on in 2016. He turned down the Mets qualifying one-year $15.8 million offer in order to seek a long-term contract. The Mets are hoping that Dilson Herrera will be ready to take Murphy’s place.
HBO’s “Real Sports” profiled Isiah Thomas in its last episode. Bryant Gumbel did not hold anything back in grilling him. Isiah admitted that he did a lousy job as Knicks head coach and general manager but he continued to deny that he ever harassed Anucha Browne Sanders despite losing a lawsuit that cost Madison Square Garden owner James L. Dolan $11 million. In a rare move, Dolan also spoke with Gumbel on camera.
Thomas can take pride in the fact that he did a fine job as president of the New York Liberty who had their best season in years. It would have been nice if Thomas had given some credit to his star player, Jamaica’s own Tina Charles.
The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is always the first major business event in the calendar year and this year it gets underway January 5. The Consumer Electronics Association held a press preview in New York last week. Adidas has created for soccer players, a Smart Ball, which tells a player where he struck the ball, the force of impact, and the direction through sensors in the ball and an app on a player’s phone or tablet.
Comic Tracy Morgan, who has made a marvelous recovery from a serious car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike less than a year ago, and did a great job hosting “Saturday Night Live” last month, has taped a humorous commercial for Foot Locker.
Queens’ hometown airline, JetBlue, will begin nonstop service between JFK and Palm Springs beginning January 14. Tennis fans who miss the excitement of the US Open can check out arguably the second most important American tennis tournament, the BNP Paribas at Indian Wells (a town adjacent to Palm Springs), which runs from March 7-20. Eight days later the LPGA’s first and biggest event, the ANA Inspirational, which used to be known as the Dinah Shore Classic, takes place in nearby Rancho Mirage.
Last week’s annual Kosher Fest held at the Meadowlands Expo attracted not only Manischewitz and Streit’s and other food vendors but also a new toothpaste manufacturer, SprinJene, that takes pride in being certified Kosher. SprinJene contains not only fluoride but Israeli black seed oil as well.