Bob Bass, the NBA Executive of the Year with the San Antonio Spurs and again with the Charlotte Hornets, died last week. He was 89.
When you said something with which Bass, for nine seasons Charlotte’s general manager, disagreed, he wouldn’t rip you for it. He didn’t have to go that far.
I remember writing a column about the talents of point guard Kenny Anderson, the former New York City star whom I admired at Georgia Tech.
I ran into Bass in a Charlotte Coliseum hallway.
“So you like Kenny Anderson,” Bass said, not really asking.
“I do,” I told him.
“Because he’s fast, right?” Bass said.
“OK,” Bass said, walking away.
The exchange was civil. And Bass, as was his custom, was so right. Anderson did play one season for Bass and the Hornets. He was fast.
Bass didn’t see pieces of a game or a player or a franchise. The rest of us watch as if from courtside. It was as if Bass were in a plane, high above, seeing not pieces, but everything.
The Hornets have never advanced as far as the NBA Finals, but in 2001, they had a beautiful opportunity. They led Milwaukee 3 games to 2, led by 10 points at the half and were playing at the Charlotte Coliseum, the building full of passion and noise. If the home team wins, it plays the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference final.
But Milwaukee caught the Hornets in the third quarter, and outscored them by 7 in the fourth to win by 7.
The finale in Milwaukee was anticlimactic. Glenn Robinson had a big game with 29 points, Ray Allen added 28 and the Bucks won by 9.
The plane ride back to Charlotte was almost devoid of noise. They would not play Allen Iverson and the 76ers in the next round.
As was his custom, Bass sat on the flight next to the team’s physician, orthopedic surgeon Glenn Perry. Bass was quiet, and then finally began to speak.
Would he talk about the loss in Game 6 in Charlotte, Perry wondered, or the Game 7 loss they had just completed.
“I had no idea Kobe Bryant would be so good,” said Bass. “I went up there (suburban Philadelphia) and watched him. I saw him. I didn’t know.”
The Hornets traded the rights to Bryant, whom they would select with the 13th pick in the 1996 draft, to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac. They cut the deal days before the draft.
Looking out over that black sky on that black night, Bass might have been the only passenger that did not think about the Game 6 or Game 7 losses. He thought about a 5-year-old trade he botched.
He saw the big picture, all of it.