Interview with Kam Williams
A man long associated with March Madness, Len Elmore is currently appearing on CBS for his 12th season as an analyst during the network’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship coverage. In addition, he has served as a basketball analyst for ESPN for the past 13 consecutive years, calling ACC and Big East games, including the Big East Tournament.
Elmore is an 8-year NBA veteran, having played with the Indiana Pacers, Kansas City Kings, Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks. He spent two seasons with the ABA’s Indiana Pacers in 1975-76 before the franchise joined the NBA.
Elmore is a 1974 graduate of the University of Maryland where he was a three-time All-ACC player as well as an All-American his senior year. In 2002, the 50th Anniversary of the ACC, he was chosen as one of the ACC’s Top 50 Players of all time.
Elmore also earned a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987 and began his law career as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y. He presently serves on The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics Reform, on the University of Maryland Foundation Board of Trustees, as well as on the Board of Directors of both 1800Flowers.com and Lee Enterprises, Inc. Plus, Elmore has served as President of the National Basketball Retired Players Association.
Born in the Big Apple on March 28, 1952, Elmore still resides there and was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. Here, he talks about March Madness and about his extraordinary careers on the court, behind the microphone, and as an attorney.
Kam Williams: Hi Len, thanks for the interview. I’m also born in 1952 and grew up in New York, so I’ve followed your career since high school when you led Power Memorial to the city championship and the number one ranking in the nation.
Len Elmore: Thank you, Kam.
KW: With everyone filling out their March Madness brackets in office pools right now, let me start by asking who you think has what it takes to win the NCAA Tournament this year?
LE: Boy, there’s not just one team. Obviously, there are the favorites like Syracuse, and certainly Kentucky, a good young team. We could also look at a team like Duke which has enjoyed a resurgence. After being up and down during the season, the Blue Devils finished strong enough to be considered for a number one seed. Then, there are those teams that people haven’t really spoken about much, like Kansas, which has played very well, as has Missouri. And there are others with plenty of potential, such as Michigan State which worked its way into a number one seed. Most people didn’t have this level of expectation for them after they finished .500 in the Big Ten last year. But The Spartans have really redeemed themselves with a lot of youth, although they also have a terrific veteran in Draymond Green. Ohio State sort of has to overcome some of their issues, but they’re very capable of going all the way in a six-game series. And North Carolina is definitely built to go the distance in the tournament. So, those are the teams I think we should be looking at, but in the end, I really believe that Syracuse and Kentucky are the two teams that have shown very few weaknesses.
PHOTO: former New Jersey Nets forward Len Elmore (44) goes high to shoot over the outstretched arm of Indiana Pacers forward Louis Orr, left, during first half action of their NBA basketball game, in Indianapolis, March 20, 1982.
KW: When filling out my brackets, I tend to consider coaching, point guards, injuries and momentum.
LE: Syracuse is uniquely set up in terms of all those variables, especially the point guard situation. But we’ve seen them in that position the last couple of years, and they still went out early, because of a tough matchup against teams who were able to handle them really well. So, your strategy might work some of the time, but you may as well throw stats out the window if some magic dust has been sprinkled on a Cinderella team.
KW: I think March Madness makes for the most exciting and compelling spectacular in all of sports. Why is that?
LE: The beauty of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament is in its structure, a one and done situation, which includes so many teams not considered serious contenders who nevertheless have the potential to overcome their shortcomings and rise to the occasion. You also have the fallibility of a heavy favorite who might make a few fatal mistakes in a game and find itself facing elimination. Those are the components of the drama that make March Madness.
KW: This question is from the Michael Reichwald, President of Yorkson Legal, who is a great March Madness fan:
Do you feel a special bond to Jeremy Lin, as you both attended Harvard?
LE: Not necessarily a Harvard bond. I went to Harvard Law school, not the undergrad, so I can’t say I’m as capable as he is. The bond I do feel with him has to do with his persevering in developing the fundamental basketball skills he’s displayed. It’s almost an indictment of NBA players how fundamental skills can become an equalizer of great talent. Lin approaches the game with an unselfish attitude, wanting to play with and for his teammates. That’s where his success lies. Yes, he might not be as talented as many of his opponents.
Yet his teammates are better and play harder with him out there on the floor because of his unselfishness. By comparison, we’ve all too often witnessed NBA stars who attain a certain level and only play for themselves. We’ll have to see whether Lin can sustain this level of play long term, but I think his will always be a success story regardless, simply because he’s demonstrated an attitude that ought to be adopted by more players.
KW: Gail Marquis says that back in the Seventies, you were teammates at Maryland with John Lucas, Tom McMillen and Tom Roy. All of them had been top high school players in their respective states. She would like to know how your coach, Lefty Driesell, blended those diverse talents, and how you got along as a team, race relations-wise?
LE: That’s a pretty interesting question. Coach Driesell was the architect of a system designed to get the most out of our individual talents. And he made sure that everybody had a chance to room with each other to break down barriers. But as far as our actually meshing as a team, that was up to us. That was based upon both how we were raised as individuals and on our desire to become a unit. In terms of race relations, we were looking for unity, to coalesce, and to cross cultural bridges. We were so close that we’d find ways to socialize together. We lived, hung out and ate together. And our love for each other and development of bonds was so deep that we’re all still friends to this day.
[For part two of this interview with Len Elmore, click HERE]