I grew up in Maryland — 13 miles up Route 1 from the University of Maryland and about 25 miles around the Beltway from Kevin Durant’s hometown of Seat Pleasant — arguing about the stuff the Washington Post’s Mike Wise wrote about today: Who’s the best basketball player in Washington, D.C. history?
This was back is in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Len Bias was close on Michael Jordan’s heels and when those I was debating — teachers, parents, coaches — actually saw Elgin Baylor play in high school.
It was a generational debate. Baylor (1950s), Dave Bing (1960s), Adrian Dantley (1970s), Bias (1980s). I left Maryland to go to college in Oklahoma, and moved on to other arguments.
But Wise — a true wise guy who in a press conference yesterday asked Durant if he was better than Greivis Vasquez — stirred an oldie and a goodie today, asking wise heads like ex-Georgetown coach John Thompson and legendary DeMatha High School coach Morgan Wooten where KD ranks in D.C. hoops history.
Think about that for a second. Baylor, Bing and Dantley already are in the Basketball Hall of Fame. And yet there’s a legitimate argument that Durant could soon become the greatest player to come from the nation’s best high school basketball hotbed. (That’s right, I said it).
I grew up going to University of Maryland basketball games and attending Lefty Driesell’s basketball camp. At age 8 I went to another camp that started with a clinic at Baylor and Dave Bing’s home gym — Springarn High School in D.C. The first speaker was an old bald-headed guy with a rough way of talking. I went over and asked my mom, “Who is this guy.” Her reply: “Red Auerbach.”
So I once knew, and still love, what I referred to as Beltway basketball. Here’s my take on how Durant compares on my list of Beltway greats.
Durant > Grant Hill (Oak Hill Academy, Va.): Injuries robbed Hill of a Hall of Fame career. Sad.
Durant > Dantley (DeMatha, Hyattsville, Md.): KD’s already a better scorer and is the leader of a NBA Finals team. Dantley’s teams were good not great, and a little too Dantley-focused if you ask me.
Durant > Bing: A regal guard now the major of Detroit, Bing was as perennial NBA All-Star on bad Pistons teams.
Baylor < Durant, for now: Imagine KD leading the NBA in scoring playing on weekend passes while serving Air Force reserve duty at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. That, essentially, is what Baylor did in 1961-62 when he averaged 35 points for the Lakers in 48 games.
Elgin Baylor is the best ever from D.C., at least for another week or so.