Thursday, January 24, 2008

David Friedman: The Mixed Legacy of Bobby

David Friedman is a freelance writer specializing in professional basketball. His work has been published in several magazines, including Hoop, Lindy's Pro Basketball, Basketball Times and Basketball Digest. He has also contributed to, and and his articles are frequently reprinted at Legends of Basketball, the official website of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA). He wrote the chapter about the NBA in the 1970s for the anthology Basketball in America (Haworth Press, 2005). He provides NBA commentary on a weekly basis for both The Biz of Basketball and

By the way, David is also an avid chess player, a USCF member with an expert rating.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bobby Fischer's Mixed Legacy

I was surprised and saddened to learn that former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer passed away on Thursday at the age of 64. Actually, I was also a little surprised by how saddened the news made me. I never met the man and it is difficult to forget the glee that he expressed about the 9/11 attacks. I greatly respect Fischer's artistry and brilliance as a chess player but it's been a long time since he publicly displayed those qualities and it seemed doubtful that he ever would again.

So why did I feel so sad to hear of his death? Emotions cannot really be explained or justified but after reflecting about this I think I understand the causes for my gut reaction: Bobby Fischer's death closes the book on any possibility that he will either play brilliant chess again or that he will recant some of the despicable comments that he said about America and Jews. Of course, from a purely rational standpoint it is easy to see that the likelihood of either of those things ever happening was exceedingly remote but now that he is gone his legacy--for better or worse--is complete.

The "better" part of Fischer's legacy--his contributions to the game of chess--will never be forgotten. He set many records and achieved many incredible feats, including becoming the youngest Grandmaster ever (age 15; that mark has since been broken by youngsters who train with computers, an advantage that Fischer did not have), becoming the youngest U.S. Champion ever (age 14), winning eight U.S. championships while losing only three games total and achieving a remarkable 11/11 result in the 1964 championship, winning 20 straight games against elite level Grandmaster opponents and winning the World Championship in 1972 by defeating Boris Spassky with a 12.5-8.5 score that included a game that Fischer forfeited by not showing up because he was not satisfied with the playing conditions.

Fischer's record for the highest rating of all-time has since been broken but when Fischer was the top rated player he was further ahead of his contemporaries than any chess player has been in at least the past 150 years (dating back to when Paul Morphy, the first great American chess player, dominated the chess world briefly before he, like Fischer, faded into obscurity); the rating is just a number that only has meaning in comparison with other ratings and Fischer's dominance over even the other elite players of his day is amazing.

Here is the full article.

I have a question for David: What does it take to fix the aweful Knicks, once a proud franchise? I used to see the Knicks at MSG all the time and now it pains me to see how badly they are doing. Mr. Dolan, are you listening?
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Anonymous said...

Isiah must go for the Knicks to win. Dolan should bring Kiki or Chris Mullins back as GM. That would be a good start.

Anonymous said...

Nice article David. Read some of your stuff but never knew you play chess.

Anonymous said...

The Knicks are hopeless until Marbury's contract expires.

David Friedman said...

Obviously, fixing the Knicks won't be easy. My first recommendation is to get rid of Marbury: trade him, buy him out, do whatever is necessary. Even team he has gone to has gotten worse and every team he has left has gotten better. My second recommendation is to then acquire/develop a true point guard who will distribute the ball and play solid defense. An underrated aspect of the Lakers' improvement this season is the subtraction of Smush Parker combined with the addition of Derek Fisher.

There are some talented players on the Knicks roster and we have seen the Knicks show flashes of playing well. The addition of a solid point guard to the mix would help a lot. The next step would be to instill a defensive mindset that the players buy into and consistently employ. Those steps would stabilize the team and make the Knicks competitive on a nightly basis. Then, other things could be evaluated, such as whether or not Curry and Randolph can truly coexist on the court, etc.