Friday, December 11, 2009

Triple Threat

Georgia Tech’s “Lethal Weapon 3” team of 1989-’90 can actually lay claim to being ahead of its time.

Hollywood’s version wasn’t released until 1992, when Kenny Anderson was already teasing New Jersey Nets fans, Dennis Scott had adjusted to the NBA three-point line with the Orlando Magic and Brian Oliver was playing his way out of the Association.

The Platonic ideal of the “Big Three” had already been established with the Boston Celtics in the 1980s, but Yellow Jackets coach Bobby Cremins had to maintain a happy balance among a trio of perimeter-based personalities.

The filmic “Lethal Weapon 3” had an established structure to plug into. Loose cannon Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and perpetually put-upon Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) would stumble into a big case, which they would solve with the help of wisecracking former federal witness Leo Getz (Joe Pesci). The plot is essentially secondary, just throw in a vaguely Aryan villain, some “cop killer” bullets and whizbang pyrotechnics. But the real fun is in the characters’ rapport.

Anderson, Scott and Oliver didn’t have two blockbusters under their belt when they hit the court for the first time together, but the chemistry was apparent.

Anderson was the Riggs: the fictional cop with natural instincts for the detective game and a flair for the dramatic. He was trained from a young age to be a killing machine. As far as research indicates, Anderson lacks manic depression and did not have a wife that died in a car accident. However, the point guard prodigy arrived at Georgia Tech as an established New York City legend with ball-handling legerdemain and the court vision of a soothsayer.

Scott played the Murtaugh role, forced to adjust his game with the addition of a new partner. Scott slimmed down about 20 pounds before the season and also established a low-post game to pair with his textbook outside shot. Scott was never quoted as saying “I’m too old for this shit” but he did bolt the Yellow Jackets after the 1989-’90 season to enter the NBA draft.

That leaves Oliver as Getz. Both are the forgotten face of the franchise. Both were versatile actors, capable of carrying the load in dramatic moments but comfortable not being the alpha dog.

Cremins handled Richard Donner’s duties, making sure each player was happy with his scenes and pushing the right buttons. The results were impressive: an 11-0 start, an ACC Tournament victory and a Final Four berth. The triumvirate averaged over 20 points apiece, the only time that has happened in the ACC.

Georgia Tech had one of the more memorable NCAA tournament runs in recent memory. The Yellow Jackets dispatched a loaded LSU team that boasted Stanley Roberts, a young Shaquille O’Neal and the scoring artist formerly known as Chris Jackson, then scored a controversial victory against Steve Smith and Michigan State (Anderson’s overtime-forcing shot appeared to come after the buzzer sounded). “Lethal Weapon 3” gave Georgia Tech its first Final Four berth with a 93-91 victory over a tough Minnesota team as Anderson, Oliver and Scott combined to score an astounding 89 of the Yellow Jackets’ points.

The ride ended at the hands of Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels juggernaut. No national title. “Lethal Weapon 3” did brisk business in Hollywood, earning an estimated $145 million at the box office, but also fell short of earning any major award. But it was an explosive ride.

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