Tag Archives: Lebron James

2015 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference, Round 1

Listen. Listen. Listen. That’s how I’ve been taught to get people’s attention—just repeating the word listen. Are you listening?

It’s been a while since I’ve written basketball things, but, like, it’s NBA basketball season 2.0, the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that ends the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that is the NBA season in a burning blaze of glory. And I should have plenty in the tank so to speak, since I haven’t exactly availed of the aforementioned idiomatic tank in a veritable long ass time.

Atlanta Hawks (1) v. Brooklyn Nets (8)

Alright, so Kyle Korver narrowly missed being the only dude ever to make the 90-50-50 club (with a paltry 89.8 FT%, 49.2 3PT%, 48.7 FG%), but let’s be honest and admit that back in November, this was what we, the basketball elite, and Hawks fans from Macedonia to Decatur were positive was going to be the most memorable thing the Hawks did this year.

Yet somehow Coach Mike Budenholzer has orchestrated a magical season, turning a watery (pretty muddy water at that) lineup into a fine, 60-win vintage with notes of juniper berry that finish with savory, peppery undertones (read: Coach Bud is Jesus, which makes Greg Popovich God). Four of the starters made the All-Star game, only the seventh time in the history of the NBA. Collectively, they balance the 10th best offense that assists the second highest total in the NBA with the 5th best defense—all without anyone averaging more than 17 points or 33 minutes per game (both: Paul Millsap).

The Hawks have given us shades of the Spurs-East, and at times have been the most entertaining team to watch in the NBA (sorry I’m not sorry, Steve Kerr). This has been in large part due to the revelation Al Horford has been, putting up numbers not unlike The Big Fundamental Tim Duncan, himself.

               Player A: 18.0p, 8.4r, 3.8a, 1.5b, 53.8fg%, 21.4 PER, 8.7 WS

               Player B: 17.3p, 11.4r, 3.7a, 2.4b, 51.2fg%, 22.6 PER, 9.6 WS

Hold the suspense. Horford is Player A. Let’s keep in mind, Horford played only 29 games last season and 11 games two seasons before that.

Lastly, in your NBA playoff bacchanalia that I’ve been assured other people do as well and is a perfectly normal ass thing to do in celebration of the greatest sports event ever, don’t’ forget to pour one out for Thabo.

PREDICTION: Give me the broom. Give me the broom. *sung to Biggie’s “Give Me the Loot.” Hawks sweep.

Toronto Raptors (4) v. Washington Wizards (5)

This will be the second most intriguing matchup in the East. 2 things to watch out for besides the backcourt battle:

  1. Toronto GM Masai Ujiri launching another f-bomb in a pre-playoff game hype train spinning off a geopolitical beef with Paul Pierce that may or may not include POTUS, launch codes, and chants of Buck the FlueJays till infinite.
  2. What banal and innocuous hygiene tool will DRAKE! turn into one of the most brilliant marketing schemes of the year? What could possibly be better than lint rollers? Floss? Toenail clippers (wait, Steve Ballmer, did we just stumble into something together?!)? Hair curlers? Those tiny paper cups that fancy people keep in a dispenser for rinsing mouthwash? Indentured servants? Lest we forget, since DRAKE! officially partnered with the Raptors organization as “Trill Ass Global Skrilla Ambassador” or T.A.G.S.A., they have gone from a 34-win team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 5 years to one of the best teams in the shitty Eastern Conference to get bounced in the first round.

PREDICTION: Toronto will make it to the second round for the first time since 2001 and for only their second time in franchise history. It will take all 7 games, a whole goddamn country’s sheer force of will, and a Jimmy Brooks type effort.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v. Boston Celtics (7)

Kyrie Irving has never played in a playoff game before. Neither has Kevin Love. The Celtics are surging. Brad Stevens is a wiz. All true statements. There’s also this:

Oof, harumph, and bazinga. Lebron James in the playoffs has averaged 28.0p, 6.4a, 8.4r on a crazy 48.2 fg% in an inhuman 42.7 playoff minutes per game. 2013 Finals, Game 6:

2008 First Round, Game 1 (LBJ first career playoff game):

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7:

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1:

2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2:

2014 Finals:

He may just eat your babies:

PREDICTION: Cavs in 5.

 

Chicago Bulls (3) v. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

This matchup is super duper fun times for basketball wonks. The Bulls find themselves in a rare position where they’re facing a statistically superior defense come playoff time (although marginally so)—97.4 pts Bucks allowed per game v. 97.8 Bulls allow. Oddly, the Bucks score precisely the amount of points the Bulls allow—97.8. Jason Kidd has turned this band of long-armed avatars into the 8th best defense in the league with the most steals per game (9.6), all while sharing the ball at the 7th best clip with 23.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, the hustle J Kidd has inculcated into his young shapeshifters come at the cost of rebounds. They rank 24th in the rebounds while the Bulls tally the 3rd best rebounding rate in the NBA. Have I mentioned the Bucks height yet though? The starters come in averaging 6’9”, of which they’ll need every inch to corral Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, while staving off a deep and talented Bulls front court. The major storyline for the Bulls: emergence and resurgence.

Pau Gasol playing like it’s 2005, bumping Lil Wayne on his 512 GB iPod Shuffle on the way to a cool 18.5p on an alarming 49.5 fg% and even more alarming 46.2 3pt%—oh yeah, and there’s the career high in rebounding (11.8).

Nikola Mirotic making the case for Rookie of the Year and James (Harden) Beard Award honors averaging 20.8p, 7.6r on 44.1 fg% in just 30.8 mpg in March.

Jimmy Butler emerging as a go to offensive player in addition to the nightly guard-the-best-perimiter-player role he’s so dutifully filled the last few years; in addition to resurging this past month, following a few weeks of a bona fide injury scare.

Taj Gibson also coming back from injury in the last month to put up solid double-double-esque numbers.

Joakim Noah finally moving the floor like the 20something he is, running the floor, getting those assist numbers up from 3.5 in January to 7.2 in March.

Derrick Rose suiting up at all.

PREDICTION: Jason Kidd will find a way to get fined sans spilling drinks (though he’ll undoubtedly think about it), and it’ll be the most entertaining defensive slugfest you’ve ever seen. Bulls in 6

 

Doodads and Knickknacks

 

MVP for Lebron

Lebron James is a phenomenal basketball player and deserves the MVP award.

From a statistical standpoint, he scores more than Steph Curry but less than Harden. He assists more than Harden, but less than Curry. He outrebounds them all. He has the highest field goal percentage on the highest attempts. He is without a doubt the best defender of the group.

Then there’s the how-valuable-is-he-to-the-team wrinkle that gives blowhards like Colin Cowherd the leeway to say stupid shit on airwaves like Russell Westbrook is the second coming of Shaft and White Jesus.

But ultimately, I think it comes down to this: the Cavs we’re looking at now didn’t exist 12 months ago. The coach is new. Two of the three best players are new, and only four players remain from last season’s roster. Whereas the Golden State Warriors are effectively the same team. Even the Houston Rockets’ continued core brain trust of Kevin McHale, James Harden, Dwight Howard and those three other dudes that were also on the roster last season positively impacted this season’s record. If continuity establishes trust, which is the bedrock of the game within the game, the turnover and new environments must be considered. That James could perform comparably to Curry and Harden in brand new (old) conditions, points to his deservingness.

I tried to start this section with something like “Stephen Curry and James Harden have had prodigious years…” I really did try, and they totally have. But fuck that. I get it. Nobody likes to see the same person win everything for forever. But the shear amount of articles I get bombarded with about the closeness of this MVP race that don’t actually go into the argument for Lebron James is an insult. We only get Lebron for like another 5 years. Maybe. He deserves all of it. Everything.

Pitchforks for Michael Jordan

I had the good fortune of stumbling onto the below beauty of a quote from the G.O.A.T., His Royal Airness Michael Jordan. In a 2010 interview with CNBC, Jordan prophesized, “Ultimately, if you can say that I’m a bad owner and we’re winning championships, I can live with that. But if we’re not making the playoffs and we’re spending and losing money, then I have to look in the mirror and say maybe I’m not taking the necessary steps to doing what it takes to run an organization.” If by some miracle, MJ ever happened upon this paragraph (he won’t), I want to maintain a semblance of respect and dignity (a first), so I won’t say the thing I really want to say (also a first). I wouldn’t venture to say eat crow, but maybe the lackluster performance as owner is having disastrous effects on the legacy of MJ? Pish posh and thimbles and stuff. We love you anyway, you gambling, self-aggrandizing, conceited, arrogant, bald, beautiful old-ladykiller, you.

Bitterness and Glee Reign, Man

Last night, Shawn Kemp hosted a party in celebration of the Thunder missing the playoffs. It was amazing. Or at least, I think it was. I have kids and was building a bunk bed from IKEA while everyone was getting turnt at Neumos. Thank god for Twitter:

A Tale of Two Videos: Tony Stewart & Ray Rice

Tony Stewart will not face charges on the murder, the vehicular homicide or the accidental death of Kevin Ward, Jr.

I’ve lost all hope in humanity.

The American justice system has failed yet again. I can only surmise Eric Holder’s recently announced resignation comes as a result of the inaction by officials to hold yet another a popular white “athlete” accountable for his crimes (see: Duke Lacrosse team, Oscar Pistorius, baseball players).

 »«

Two weeks ago, the last apparent last bastion of the fourth estate TMZ released a video of Ray Rice shamelessly knocking out his then-fiancé Janay Palmer.

Once revered as maybe the top running back in the world, Rice’s career as it stands appears unredeemable. The Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s contract, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. The NFL Players Association has since appealed on his behalf, sighting tired (but unfortunately, most likely true) slippery slope, two punishments for one crime arguments.

 «»

On August 9th in upstate New York a 43-year old man driving a 1400 pound vehicle at a speeds of nearly 140 miles per hour hit a 20-year man—a boy really. The young man with a long, bright future ahead of him died, almost immediately. It was caught on tape.

One would hope—given the above circumstances—that the full weight of the law and public reaction would fall on the culprit. One would imagine that said culprit would be collapse under the pressure, a charged and convicted criminal as the world celebrates the triumph of justice.

 »«

So here we are. The NFL is the midst of a once-in-a-generation scandal. Employees are answering to the former Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (the goddamn Director of the F-B-goddamn-I!), turning over communications, cataloging steps taken and not taken in an investigation completed or not completed. Even Commissioner Roger Goodell—the shoot-first sheriff, self-proclaimed judge and jury of the NFL when he ascended to power—finds himself in the unusual position of target practice.

Rice is at fault, and the NFL and Goodell screwed everything to hell.

«»

There is a video that shows Ward’s murder. It wasn’t shown on ESPN or your local news, because it’s a video of someone dying (as if all that war footage of rockets firing and landing on nightly network news weren’t). Watch it here—if you can bear it.

The 43-year old man—Stewart, let’s be painfully clear—is free. He woke up this morning to a loving family, doting fans, a dedicated racing team and a job that he loves.

Ward will never get a chance to realize the NASCAR dreams Stewart shamelessly tried preserved in his all-too-early return to the track.

But more than that, Ward will never get to find and marry the love of his life, to swell with pride as he watches his children stumble and get back up, to grow old and see the world change. Ward will never get to turn the ignition or choke the throttle of his beat up no. 13, joke around with his team or get angry at his opponents, relish in victory or rise again from a loss.

Ward graduated from high school two years ago. Two years ago. And will remain fixed in his family’s memory an eternal 20-year old.

 »«

The institution of the NFL has been turned inside out—and rightfully so—for countless reasons. Among these include: the culture of violence that has been absorbed by the players’ family members for years, the countless players facing even more countless charges of violent crimes and the apparent cover-up (or shameful ineptitude, if you’re an optimist) of the Rice incident—only the most recent indication of the NFL’s unspoken mandate to “protect the shield.”

Despite all this, last Sunday came and went. Hundreds of thousands of fans across the country flocked to their football meccas and millions tuned in at home. Billions of dollars were made in salary and advertising revenue. The testament of sport.

It would be pretentious, and in many ways wrong, to call for a boycott of the NFL—and not just because it would never happen. After all, most football players are by-and-large good people (I think) who understand that they’re not actually allowed to pulverize other people off the field.

I would hope that recent events have disrupted fandom—at least for a blip—causing unease and skepticism. There has been some reporting on this, but not nearly enough.

Football is good. Ray Rice is bad. And the NFL fucked up.

End scene.

«»

Ray Rice knocked someone unconscious—his partner nonetheless. He may never face judge or a jury, but he is being punished—by the league he belonged to, the team he was a part of and the American public at large.

Tony Stewart Killed a person. Where’s the indignation? Why hasn’t ESPN rushed to Ward’s aide with hours of outraged Olbermanns and Wilbons?

When we were talking about Ward’s death—for that brief two week period that quickly was swept under the rug the moment Stewart gloriously returned to the race track to bravely not lose his position in the Sprint cup race—we seemed to shy away from what actually happened. Our headlines never used the words like “killed” or “fatally struck.” Instead it was an unfortunate accident that happened to an unfortunately young person.

“…an on-track accident that left 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. dead.”

“…he was involved in an incident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.”

“Kevin Ward Jr.’s death…”

“A sprint car racing incident involving NASCAR driver Tony Stewart left another driver with fatal injuries…”

It’s no wonder that Stewart got away with murder. Our verbs hid him from the truth of it. I don’t know yet if that was for his sake or ours. Both are infuriating reasons.

Accidents and death are part of the machismo of racing. I get it. But Ward didn’t die in an accident. He died after an accident—when Stewart’s right front tire clipped Ward, throwing him in the air like a rag doll. As for machismo, the NFL certainly doesn’t lack in it, and they’ve still managed to hold individuals to a modicum of accountability—no matter how disjointed and backwards-ass the path is to get there.

Stewart Killed a person. It’s on tape. I’m still waiting for the Fury of God’s Own Thunder.

The Crossover: Greetings from Earth, Basketball is the Best I Ever Had

A product of thoughtful consideration (and content quotas!), I’ve begun email exchanges with a variety of luminaries across a range of professions and interests (this is hardly true). There is something to be said, however, about the implications of form qua blog and the enacting of discourse, but I won’t say it because it’s mostly doodoo. Academic and grounded in…something, but doodoo nonetheless. With that resounding endorsement, I present to you: The Crossover.

Shea Hurley:

Dujie,

Please respond to this email having something interesting to say about basketball. I’m a little bored. You’re probably not: congrats once again.

Michelle and me went to Leavenworth last weekend and climbed a proper mountain so it’s safe to say my ankle is mostly healed. I talked to your mom at the wedding, she said you felt at fault. I said you weren’t but that it was fine you going on thinking you were. So it goes.

Dujie Tahat:

I do feel at fault. You’d never played basketball really before and I should have warned you sooner that an ankle injury was inevitable if you didn’t get any basketball shoes. Unfortunately, yours was much, much worse than most (almost grotesquely so), and your subsequent employment was dependent on your physical prowess (not all of us can be 6’4”, a sinewy 215 and have a perfectly symmetrical face—so fuck you love you!) . Also, that was just one of the worst-sounding, -looking, gut-bending injuries I’ve ever been on a basketball court to witness. That definitely added to the guilt (for your stupid affinity for Tom Brady):

I’m over it now.

On this topic though, I have been meaning to ask you a question: what it was like to fall in love with basketball?

Yes. Love.

I’ve spent nearly as far back as I can remember playing basketball and can’t remember what it was like in the early years/months. Of course, over that time, I’ve fallen out of favor with the game, and subsequently, recommitted myself. Even then, there’s a rush when I lace up for the first time in a long time. The distinct tightness and traction of basketball shoes, a mishandled dribble, the first swish, when muscle memory takes over, even the pennies and compression shorts— it’s thrilling.

In those moments, during games, I find myself in complete ambivalence–one of those truly unsettling moments where you’re equally culpable to opposing forces. One the one hand, I am reorienting myself to the logistics of the game: positioning, spacing, assessing my side’s needs and focusing on those (i.e. rebounding, shooting, etc. (not et cetera: those are actually the only two things on a basketball court I can actually do)). On the other hand, I fight to get in “the zone”—which is already a losing battle I think because the sensation has always felt more like finding “the zone.” As if I had drunkenly, haphazardly and accidently stumbled into that state of mind that I’d characterize by a sharp dullness, or a sluggish honing.

It is a strange position to be in—rediscovering something you know so well—holding both these necessarily contradicting thoughts in a singular mind, in a singular body, in a singular game.  One requires thought and analysis; while the other demands near-blankness.

xoxo

 SR:

My affinity for Tom Brady—the great protagonist of the American Dream—is childish, sure, but it is not stupid. Lupe Fiasco is stupid, so were running shoes and I should have known that much without needing to be told.

As for love and basketball, I’m a little hesitant to throw love around while talking about a sport so new to me. But there was definitely something pseudo-romantic going on. Playing basketball had the same kinds of insecurities as a new love. I knew I was going to have to stop for a long time very soon and I was reminded always that it was a risky way to get in shape. If basketball was a love interest it was a fem fatal minx. I was infatuated, I had everything to lose, and I knew that at any moment it could expose me as a klutz and a fraud. I just didn’t think it would be so dramatic, or have such severe consequences when it happened.

Generally speaking, it is a bad situation to be in when your employment is dependent on your physical condition. Sometimes the job is worth it—it seemed like it was to me—most of the time it’s probably not.

As it turns out the premier rappel and jump bases in the country are both on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest here in Washington. I asked one of the older hotshot guys why he never jumped and he told me to put a 100lbs pack on and jump off my house. That was why, he said. Needless to say aerially delivered fire-fighters get hurt constantly. A jumper a few years ago, seeing the rocks ahead of him, threw up in his flight helmet before breaking both his legs on impact. The point here is that an injury was likely all along, so no worries; I’d rather beef it in the gym in front of ten people than in the wilderness in front of, like, no one at all.

Anyway, back to basketball. They say if you’re new to something it is best not to be nervous when doing it and visa-versa, when you are skilled at something the nerves can heighten your senses and are generally good for performance. This was the pendulum swing I found myself moving through and I felt much more natural, even in the zone, while I was able to think less. Thinking less, of course, I can’t do consciously. When I was thinking more it was about what a big rube I must look like, with my tall socks, ticking-bomb shoes and general lack of basketball paraphernalia. Or maybe a ruse instead of a rube, like a big, cruel trick in the form of a rangy, althletic-looking body who you could be pretty sure played at least JV in high school but who was really completely inexperienced and (initially) completely unskilled. Brick, sorry. That’s the punch-line and the joke’s on you, teammates.

I only wish I found the game sooner.

stay dreamy

DT:

Lupe Fiasco is not stupid. He’s a God. Toe shoes are stupid. I mean for Christ’s sake, wear regular fucking shoes! Or go barefoot! Mostly just pick one—stop trying to do both!

Also Tom Brady is not, I repeat not, the Nick Carraway of the American Dream—way more like Gatsby, or our 21st century version:

I mean, sure, seventh round pick, career back up, turned his one opportunity into multiple MVPs and Lombardi trophies, but whatever: the dude benefitted from the most effective pro football system since Vince Lombardi’s 1960s patented “Our endzone is that way, idiot!” offense.

Tommy Boi went to private school, went to football camps led by former Atlanta Falcon (and ArenaBowl Champion!) Anthony Graziani and grew up in San Mateo, California, among the top 25 wealthiest counties in the U.S. (just under $83,000 per capita), and the third wealthiest in California. There’s only one paradigm in the American Dream that his ascendency captures: MORE!

(Also, thanks Wikipedia for not failing to prove my point. This time.)

As far as basketball goes, I hadn’t meant love in a romantic sense. An initial pass makes that seem way too limiting, but I think you might be onto something.

Upon further review, I realized that I recently married a woman I’ve been on and off with for six years. Our relationship bears many of the characteristics of the relationship I have with basketball: there’s a definitive muscle memory to our motions, reading and reacting, learned instinct, a general machinery and lines that dictates the parameters but that wouldn’t mean a thing without the sheer joy of improvisation and cooperative freeplay.

There is one undeniable difference though: primarily that all sport ends.

I don’t believe that any human relationship ends—especially one that bears love. It just changes form.

To that end, when does basketball end? Surely, Basketball does not.

I get great joy from watching—marveling, really—at professional basketball players whose whole livelihood, whose whole identity and techne are contingent on what their bodies can do, a physical limit. To them, basketball never ends. They are the closest thing there is to the embodiment of Basketball. And yet, their’s is a precarious agreement with fate. Their very existence is all a gamble, a tightrope walk. Thousands of jumpshots, rebounds and crossovers a season, not to mention practice, conditioning, playing with the kids, each an opportunity to cripple these giants of the game.

I mean, can you imagine, these guys as fragile?

I’ve said it before, you need to watch Hoop Dreams. Not only will it keep warm your fire for the hardwood, but it’s just a great fucking movie. It changed the way documentaries were made thereafter. I bring it up though because what could be harder than your employment relying on your physical ability? Probably that the only opportunity you’ll ever have at any social mobility relying on your body.

To preempt some of your certain criticism: Yes. It’s not fair. Big picture, it’s a social condition that needs to be addressed.

The fire fighter that jumps out of a helicopter with a 100lbs strapped to their back into a blazing wildfire is perhaps the perfect metaphor for those kids. They’re the elite of the elite, playing men, acting like men when they’re probably only still boys, carrying their families and communities on the shoulders into a situation that will almost certainly eat them alive.

One of the kids Hoop Dreams follows, William Gates, suffered from a debilitating knee injury just as he was turning on in high school and college scouts were starting to pay attention. In fact, he had gotten into private school on a basketball scholarship. He never made it. He got swallowed by the fire.

I was never that elite of an athlete at anything to merit that kind of attention or even fancy. We were poor but, my parents insisted on education as my way up the ladder. I guess in many ways I’ve been tremendously lucky. It almost seems like a crime to insist that I, too, had and hold onto my own Hoop Dreams.

xoxo

SH:

Fine Dujie,

Tom Brady went to private school in San Mateo. But any descent parents would send their kid to a school that good if they could, if only to buddy-up with the crowd. And I should hope that when hardworking parents succeed in supplying their children with this quality of upbringing they do not resent the child as you seemingly resent the adult for what he got. So what if he went to private school in San Mateo? Tommy Jr. didn’t have say in the matter. This is to judge the son by the sins of the father (which—tsk-tsk—is anti-enlightenment and un-American) and frankly a sin I think you would readily commit.

But say (as you do) that Brady’s rich and lazy, embezzling, glitterati parents managed to jostle him into the lowest tier of a public university’s football program. Let’s give him the debts and credits starting there. Remember when he got to Michigan he was a timorous figure in the long shadow of Brian Griese, was 7th on the depth chart and seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety. He had to claw for the starting job at Michigan and for his spot in the pros. As a football player, it doesn’t seem like he was given much of anything besides talent, a pure apprehension of failure and a work ethic to channel it. These characteristics, thank you for noticing also, do evoke shades of Jay Gatsby.

“The Child is the father of the Man” as Wordsworth put it, probably holds true for both figures. I imagine the newly invented penniless Jay Gatsby looked out at the copper-kahuna, Dan Cody from the shores of Lake Superior much the same way the young Tom Brady Jr. regarded Joe Montana from the aisles of Candlestick Park.

The difference of course is that Brady does not come from piss-pot North Dakota. He did get his Daisy: the far-flung, sylphlike wonder of femininity Gisele Bündchen, and hasn’t yet suffered tragic decline and demise by the careless lies of careless people. Not to get too far ahead of myself though, he does play for the NFL, and with Junior Sau in mind, he might shoot himself in the chest before it is all over.

As for Lupe, I wouldn’t want it thought that I set myself up (and what a set-up it would be) so I will be short: He has paranoid delusions about the government of the United States, which is pitiable in its way, but also annoying because of his swollen following of credulous discontents who will take a junk-theory over the facts in plain view, if only to distinguish themselves from the presumed naiveté of cow-eyed parents and classmates and I guess whoever else.

~ ~ ~

Long break here. Work sleep work sleep work.

~ ~ ~

At age ten, I was deposed of my spot—middle back row—on class-picture day because I wasn’t any longer the tallest kid in class. It hurt then like no bad grade ever had or could. I feel a pathetic now remembering it, but I was young, and regarding at least my height, I grew up. Priorities, anxieties and pressures all changed. Problems might have arose if they didn’t, and games are a good example because maintaining skill at them becomes increasingly less practical as time goes by.

I’m not like William Gates (is the irony of that name addressed in Hoop Dreams?), who might have turned fragile athleticism into a career (i.e. a person for whom the game is practical). That was made clear to me early on. Time to go? Okay then, won’t have to tell me twice. The problem is with people hanging around after they should have left like drink-spilling old men at college bars: It’s just not going to happen these people and they’re the only ones who can’t see it.

Gates is exactly the kind of cautionary, all-eggs-in-one-imploded-basket-tale that 17 year-olds are hard wired to ignore in lieu of stories of guys who made it. If you can dream and not make dreams your master… If only. Outliers is bunk by the way.

Speaking of practicality and dreams and the boy being the father of the man, the image of the adult offered by the NBA—by pro sports in general—is not in the least bit practical. It provides a select few, a pre-selected few even—because DNA transcription is really more important here than anything that might follow—a chance to be rich and eccentric and idolized while it strings everybody else along.  Right now there is a guy just down the way on a barstool lamenting his wretched heap of a life to some poor stranger all because, he says, coach wouldn’t put him in, or his knee went out, or Ms. Bitch English teacher failed him out of eligibility. You’ll notice that when you chance upon this tedious foe (you have, and you will again and again and again) he is reliably incapable of prompting your sympathy.

The owners of the NBA—here I invite you to pause and muse with me on the oatmeal colored folds and gathers of Donald Sterling’s collapsing face—are nothing if not shrewd capitalists. Having an underclass of snowflake-or-bust kids who are made to think their endeavors on the court, or the field are more likely to repay their efforts than what they do in the classroom is agreeable; friendly; face-sucking, hand-under-shirt, over-bra simpatico to the status quo. The status quo being, of course, that the kids are without skills or footing and people like Sterling (who has excess money in almost exact proportion to excess skin) go on selling them hoop dreams. Dreams which are, to borrow a phrase nothing but net.

As I realize there is a Macklemore song about this I fill with self-loathing.

Talk to me

Shea

DT:

You did a whole thing there where you grew up and became a cynical old curmudgeon in the span of your last five ‘graphs. Good for you!

I’m going to try and keep this under 3000 words because I turn into a pumpkin after that.

Very quickly on Tom Brady: I would send my kids to private school. I hope to. But let’s not amplify the narrative. His ascendancy is limited to football—which, frankly, isn’t a mountain he could climb without coming from an upper-class, white, privileged family. I take no offense to his unlikely (sports) myth. As a fan of sport, I cannot help but to admire it. I do take offense to calling it the American Dream, and him the main character of it. America is no longer just a sea of pretty white boys (bad news for you). The American Dream connotes there is no alternative. His life wasn’t on the line and neither was the socio-economic outcome of his children. With or without football, Tommy Jr. probably would have still been rich, and his kids would still have their trust funds.

191 words to go.

The Brady discussion seems the perfect digression for the irony of William Gates’ name.

You are unassailably right about how the NBA is structured and capitalism in general. It sucks to be a Plebian. It’d be way cooler to wear a toga and admire little boys. But it sucks much less to be a Pleb that has mastered—or at least gets the daily opportunity to master—a craft as endlessly surprising and infinite as basketball.

Gates is a cautionary tale. There are a dozen of him for every Jimmy Butler. But you can’t blame people for doing what they’re good at, and hoping to achieve the highest form of success doing it. Anyone who can commit to that, seems to me, is the true “protagonist of the American Dream.” Failure is part of the equation. Much less talked about (makes a less inspiring poster), but completely necessary.

I know you’ve probably got some cheeky rebuttal, but this email exchange is my thing, so you’re going to have to hold onto it until next time.

xoxo

The Enlightened One: Lebron James Going Home (Part 1)

“What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react?”

-Lebron James, “I’m Coming Home”

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] L [/dropcap] ebron James has been “The Chosen One” since he was in utero. It’s a good moniker, no doubt. But his style of play—his insistence of team, his vision, his willingness to defer in the right situation—has repeatedly shown that more than anything, James is “The Enlightened One.”

With his essay published on Sports Illustrated website announcing his move back to Cleveland, James is perhaps (hopefully) elevating his off-court persona to match his on-court game.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] I [/dropcap]  was saddened when James made his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. In the months between his announcement and the 2010  season, the sadness of “The Decision” fixated on its showiness of it–excacerbated by SportCenter and every other sports media outlet, it festered into full-blown animosity.

I didn’t burn jerseys, publicly try to humiliate James (or myself in the process) or really anything beyond bear an unfounded resentment for the guy. Still, to Lebron James and his family:

I am profoundly sorry for the intensity, acrimony and utter absurdity of the feelings I felt.

[There are many things wrong with the preceding statement. I know that. It brings up lots of questions about the rights I have as a fan to place expectations on an athlete, where the ownership of performance/achievement lies and the inequitable selfishness inherent in a fan-celebrity athlete relationship. In practical terms, this apology serves nothing insofar as no one, I repeat no one, in the James clan will ever read this, so it doesn’t really matter except that it matters to me that this is written somewhere, recorded somehow and declared publicly. Something tells me James would appreciate this latter notion.]

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] W [/dropcap] hat I love most about James’ recent decision is that he wrote an essay. He didn’t tweet it. He didn’t have a lackey leak it (although Rich Paul might have). He didn’t even play coy with the media.

The greatest player in the world publishes a humble and revealing missive on the sports equivalent of the Washington Post.

In the essay, James writes about and gives us all-too-short meditations on family, the idea of home and the realistic expectations of winning and playing in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform again with the team as it is presently constituted.

If anything, the essay demonstrates that for James, Miami clearly was “like college for other kids.” Shown for all to see is a deliberate maturity that, in prowess, matches only his physical gifts and basketball talents, and perhaps more pointedly, it’s a maturity that just wasn’t there four years ago.

There is no greater metaphor for that than the fact his essay exists.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] L [/dropcap] ebron James is the best basketball player in the world. It’s been well-documented, and he’s earned his stripes and accolades and then some. But hidden in his essay is James’ basketball philosophy, the one we’ve been guessing at since we saw More Than A Game.

“I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.”

James gets it: the game above the game.  He understands roles, spacing, teammates’ abilities, opponent’s tendencies and can calculate his next move in less time than it takes us to say “Erik Spoelstra is the luckiest coach on the planet!” James is a basketball genius, and his aim is to conduct, facilitate and generally be the embodiment of a higher state—the vipassana, if you will—of basketball. He plays basketball; his aim is Basketball. There is no real measure of this, no data point we can boast or visual we can capture. The Heat’s 27 game win streak in the 2012-13 season is probably the closest thing. James knows that better than anyone.

“I’m not promising a championship.”

James also knows how hard championship trophies are to earn. And he’ll spend the next few years ply his young, new teammates with the genius-wisdom it takes to achieve the highest state of basketball ever conceived.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] “I [/dropcap] feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously…I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile.”

And with a nod towards himself, the preeminent figure in all of basketball returning to Ohio, James is returning home to lead by example:

“Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

When James bounced to Miami, it was in the midst of the recession. Ohio did not take it well. Just before “The Decision,” Forbes listed five Northeast Ohio cities (Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown, Akron, Canton) among the 20 most miserable in the US—including James hometown.

With downtown revival and having recently earned the bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, Cleveland seems to be on the rise (there’s a joke to be made about the RNC here, but low-hanging fruit and all).

James return not only signals that resurgence but bolsters it. How many things can you put Lebron James face on and the phrases “I’m coming home” or “#OH” or “I’m baaaaack”? There are millions of dollars of revenue returning to NE OH with Lebron.

“I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown.”

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] “I [/dropcap] ’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted.”

Lebron James wrote this essay. Sure Lee Jenkins helped—probably cleaned up the language and focused the ideas—and it could very well be that what’s on SI is dramatically different from what James started with. But I have to believe—ardently and fully in my own made-up narrative of the man—that after James made his decision to go to Cleveland and made the subsequent decision to publish his personal, written decision, he sat down at a computer and hammered on a keyboard until it all made sense.

The essay reveals so much about James’ rationale and where his heart lies. It was measured and thoughtful. But nothing is more revealing than his choice to write the essay in the first place.

I can’t wait till he writes the next Life on the Run and runs for office.

 

Melo le Bro, Mellow Lebron: The Rise of Player Power

“Being able to have flexibility as a professional, anyone, that’s what we all would like.” –Lebron James

“The grass isn’t always greener.” –Carmelo Anthony

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] T [/dropcap] he stage is set for The Decision 2.0. And you can’t throw a cat a sports blog without it digging its claws into a juicy cramping Lebron calf—which is to say, it’s been covered.

In this free agency, everyone seems bizarrely prepared for any outcome. The shock of James leaving Cleveland in 2010 so thoroughly rocked the sports-voyeurism world that, at this point, everyone is prepared for any possible narrative: betrayal, redemption, a new chapter, the second coming, locusts.

Since James’ agent announced his intention to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat, Bleacher Report has posted 81 click-baiting click-stravagant click-shows ranging from the 24 Hair Styles Pat Riley Wore That Reveals Everything Was Not Fine In Heatlandia to the 17 Instagram Posts From Miami Strippers Promising Lebron Will Return To South Beach (only one of those is made up).

On the flip side of the same coin, suddenly half the NBA teams seem like they’re in position to court the King, and GMs the league over are logging 17 hours a day on ESPN’s trade machine, discussing with Ray Donovan their options for disposing of Emeka Okafor/Roy Hibbert/Kris Humphries’ dead bodies.

Needless to say, free agency has changed. At the very least, it is at an inflection point. It has gone from desperate clamor to full on frenzy.

James bailing on the Cleveland Cavaliers was among the greatest things to happen to NBA players (I never thought I would write that sentence seriously). Such a public display from the best baller in the world—while causing much pain for some—put the power squarely in the hands of players: a striking divergence from the long, sordid history of rich white NBA owners and David Stern! getting richer, older and whiter at the expense of players getting blacker, younger and (markedly less) richer.

Whilst in the shadows of the last throes (he said, hopefully) of owners self-inflating their resources into magnanimity—or worse, benevolence (read: Donald “But I love Coloreds!” Sterling)—the emergence of player power seems be making its strongest case ever.

Don’t get me wrong. Steve Ballmer and Mark Cuban aren’t suddenly making way for players at their super-secret ultra-exclusive billionaire masquerade sex balls or even the pantheon of Forbes lists they find themselves on the top of. But the money bags are no longer the greatest determinant of the basketball landscape (never thought I would see that sentence outside of the Luckswing #BREAKING section).

The two biggest influencers of the NBA’s immediate landscape are James and Anthony.

That’s a good thing.

Self-aware players are a good thing. Self-awareness leads to self-determination. Marquee players are the tent poles of the NBA, and so long as they make these self-aware decisions in relation to that, the NBA’s future is truly in their hands. Ever conscious of their role in the NBA—and, to a grander extent, popular culture—players are untethering from the traditional moors of money, big markets and money. Hopefully.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] A [/dropcap] s Carmelo Anthony earned his comeuppance in the NBA, he was often labeled selfish.  A criticism he fought to shake in New York.

By all accounts, ‘Melo is ready to win now, to sacrifice pay and stats, to, in short, kick it with the bros. If he signs with a team outside the Knicks, he leaves $39 million on the table and an extra year of job security (a premium considering he’ll be 34 at the time).

Unfortunately, at his peak this last season, he had the least amount of help. Tyson Chandler got hurt, then old. Raymond Felton thought he was Gilbert Arenas—and then carried guns places. Iman Shumpert’s plateaued. The Andrea Bargnani experiment was a colossus of a failure.  J.R. Smith kept doing J.R. Smith things. Rasheed Wallace, Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries weren’t there to save New York (this sentence, I was prepared for).

Couple that with never having been a true free agent before and of course Melo’s gone on the biggest, baddest wine and dine tour outside of American electoral politics.

Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement born of the 2011 NBA lockout, teams have more money and player contract longevity has decreased. Technically, this is called “player sharing,” but for 2K addicts, this is Fantasy Draft activated in Association mode.

Among the frontrunners, here are the teams he should go to, the one he won’t and the one he will:

The Dallas Mavericks

Rick Carlisle: one of only a handful of coaches that move the needle/maybe the second best coach in the NBA.

Dirk Nowitzki: one of the greatest power forwards of all time.

Monta Ellis: Monta ball can be made to succeed, anything can be made to succeed.

Tyson Chandler: buddy.

Texas: big hats, no state taxes.

Mark Cuban: you’ll be set for life.

Vince Carter’s Knees: a path to follow as ‘Melo ages.

No state taxes.

The Chicago Bulls

Tom Thibodeau pushes his players to the brink. He labors his stars with so many minutes that they miss multiple seasons, allowing them to casually get injured while running routine plays.

Sorry, Chicago, that I’m not sorry.

Joakim Noah not-so-jokingly told his coach he’d hate him if they weren’t winning. ‘Melo is north of 30 now. Being a Bull would shorten his career by three years.

The New York Knicks

New York is home. And there is something to be said about being the hometown hero, and being the guy championship teams are built around. It sounds silly, but can you imagine what it’s like to score 62 in Madison Square Garden? (you don’t because no one has ever done it) Drag a subpar team to the playoffs in the city you grew up in? Be the best player on the first team in NBA history in the state that made you a college basketball god?

Sure. These are pie-in-the-sky aspirational narratives, at best. Seeing this things to fruition requires tremendous risk and work. But Phil Jackson is a persuasive man, and he’s hellbent on doing the Pat Riley thing—but, like, with Zen.

Also (and I hate to admit this), Melo kind of fits the mold of the great players that have never won. George Gervin, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins make way on the Mt. Rushmore of Losers!

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] L [/dropcap] ebron James is staying with Miami. I want to indulge in the circus display of what he ate today, but not really.

The Heat are a second playmaker and a combination of serviceable point guard/center away from pushing the Spurs to seven—if not winning it all.

It’s hard for me to admit. I want more than anything for James to accept the role of mercenary. There has never been an all-time great mercenary. Imagine, for a moment, a universe wherein LBJ took six teams to the NBA Finals, winning eight Larry O’Brien trophies only to recuperate his image spending the last three years of his career in Cleveland as an elder statesman of basketball.

I called my psychic, and Cleopatra told me that James is waiting on the Heat to sign someone who moves the needle. Tops on the list, Lance Stephenson.

Ya. That guy. Stephenson would be a perfect fit for the Heat. He’d effectively be Dwyane Wade’s replacement, with better defense and passing.

Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Steve Blake, Jerryd Bayless, DJ Augustin, Patty Mills, Greg Monroe, Jodie Meeks, Luke Ridnour, Chris Kaman, Xavier Henry, Brian Roberts, Spencer Hawes, Nate Robinson, Channing Frye, Pau Gasol, Greivis Vasquez, Mo Williams, Shaun Livingston, Emeka Okafor are all viable options across the pay scales. Adding any two of these guys would make the Heat that much more dangerous.

#BREAKING: CHRIS BROUSSARD ADMITS TO INVENTING PERSONA TO SAY ALL THE THINGS HE REALLY MEANT TO SAY ON SPORTSCENTER

According to sources inside the ESPN organization that are familiar with the situation (and are definitely not part of the entourage/pulling things out of their ass), Chris Broussard has invented a twitter persona @LetMeBGreatt to say all the things he wants to say on Sports Center, but isn’t allowed to say per company policy, FCC regulations and the general unspoken laws of polite human interaction.

Sources confirm that immediately following a segment wherein Broussard confirmed a source confirming insider confirming an agent confirming Lebron James willingness to stay with the Miami Heat, Broussard lost his shit.

“Fuck this!” Broussard allegedly told his social media intern. “These white people are too fuckin’ stuffy with their J.J. Beane catalogs and New England sensibilities.  I gotta let my motherfuckin’ freak flag fly on this motherfuckin’ social network site, bruh!”

Following in the footsteps of Jonny Manziel, Broussard admitted to our sources that he had gotten fed up with being forced to pretend to be so buttoned up, and in a recent self-rediscovery binge watched Boyz N The Hood, Above The Rim and Juice, simultaneously rekindling his love affair with Dead Prez, Wu Tang and Immortal Technique.

Recently the account claiming the handle @LetMeBGreatt popped up with sharp criticism of the sports-media-circus-complex:

Y’all swear y’all know how NBA players think

— $corpio ☕️ (@LetMeBGreatt) July 3, 2014

 

Then Broussard got nostalgic:

My Kobe jersey I got when I was like 13 is my pajamas tonight & still fits

— $corpio ☕️ (@LetMeBGreatt) July 3, 2014

 

Then it got personal:

 

In a twist worthy of a Steve Soderbergh flick (and perhaps fearing that his secret would be found out), Broussard turned the sharp sword of his avant garde twitter nom be plume on himself:

#BREAKING: ERIK SPOELSTRA LOANS LEBRON JAMES OUT TO US MEN’S SOCCER TEAM

According to sources close to the situation and totally not wasted on Copacabana Beach, Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra has loaned out all-NBA forward Lebron James to the U.S. National Men’s Soccer Team.

The surprising act of patriotism comes in response to the uncertain condition of U.S. striker Jozy Altidore.

Spoelstra was spared a few minutes of his daily flagellation from team owner and czar Pat Riley to speak to Luckswing’s sources (who is, again, deeply embedded in the Heat organization and definitely, definitely not drinking his ass off in Brazil somewhere).

“PatI mean I. Did I say Pat? I meant I. I call the shots. Me, Erik Riley. Shit. I mean—Pat Spoelstra. I know my name—REEK!!—I call the shots! All of them! Pat? No. Pat who?”

After a few more minutes of an apparent mind-melting existential breakdown, Spoelstra went on to say, “we’ve played Lebron, like, a bazillion minutes in the last four years, not including the Olympics and the playoffs. I’m absolutely sure he’s totally fine. He’s like a superhuman breed of things that are better than humans.”

Upon hearing the news, U.S. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann shit his pants and kissed the closes man to him who was apparently a naked Clint Dempsey. 

Minutes ago, James tweeted his response: “Fuck. #classicSpo”

Why We Play: NBA Finals Coverage Pt. 2

“There is another world, but it is inside this one.” –W.B. Yeats

“It makes last year okay.” –Tim Duncan

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The pinnacle of basketball achievement. The crown of buckets. The chef-d’œuvre of the hardwood. The Pink Panther diamond for the Inspector Clouseaus of the NBA world. The highest holiness of hoops.

Last night capped a thrilling—if somewhat surprising—2014 NBA Finals.

For the casual observer, Tim Duncan hoisting his fifth Larry O’Brien trophy and the youngest player ever to win the Bill Russell Finals MVP was just another cool thing that happened in the landscape of the ever-cool NBA. And it was. Cool. Really, really, really cool.

But it was also more than that.

From the moment the NBA Finals ended last year, the San Antonio Spurs have diligently, unwaveringly been working to craft all of what this past season would be about for them (if this sounds familiar, read: crush a narrative, little narrative, roll a narrative, take a narrative). Like a mantra or a basketball bouncing in an empty gym, you could hear it reverberating with every pass, every swish, every bank: Run it back.

Since June 20th, 2013: run it back. After watching the Heat celebrate on their court: run it back. For 361 consecutive days: run it back. From the start of training camp: run it back. For every practice: run it back. To every reporter’s question: run it back. The 20 regular season games they lost: wait till we run it back.

Last night the Spurs finally paid off that promise uttered countless times on pick up courts the world over.

As the simple three word phrase flatly implies, “run it back” is a statement of ego. A dare, a provocation, a challenge to the opposing player, the opposing team to score on me, win it all—again.

Anyone with half a brain, who has seen any Spurs games over any period of time in the last 12 months could see in the way they played, they were “Run it back” mode.  And until Tim Duncan’s post-game sideline interview with Doris Burke, I never gave much thought to the Spurs’ reaction—other than the almost obligatory, “This team is ridonkulous. They’ll probably get what exactly what they want and make the Finals again.”

But in Tim Duncan’s disarming quietness, in his unflinching and somehow original expression of trite sports clichés in the face of an aspirationally awkward first question, he unearthed something deeper than ego, truer to the condition of humanity, necessary to the human psyche.

          Burke: How does your team climb the mountain back to NBA Champion?

          Duncan: Great coaching. Persistence. Drive. Love for the game. We remembered what happened last year and how it felt in that locker room. And we used it and built on it and got back here, and it’s amazing. It makes last year okay.

Did you hear that? It makes last year okay. He hesitates, then lets it spill. It makes last year okay.

Up until that moment, I had never thought forgiveness (true forgiveness, not the good-sportsmanship-I’ll-help-you-out-after-that-flagrant-foul-slash-flop-city forgiveness) had a place in the world of sports—professional or amateur.

In the testosterone driven, ultra-competitive sporting arena, it’s no surprise we use the metaphors of war: our athletes are warriors and we expect them to battle. Yet Duncan—demonstrating true bravery and more than any other professional athlete today—stands as a vanguard for the kind, the loving, the sensitive—the warrior with feelings. He has always been a great teammate. The way he holds Tony after a victory, or goes forehead-to-forehead with Manu speaks volumes on Duncan’s passion and reliability.

What makes this particular confession from Duncan so startlingly profound though is the subject of his forgiveness: himself and his team (but mostly himself).

If forgiveness is “the release of all hope for a better past,” then that moment, that hesitation was the release. And without the past driving his actions, Duncan was finally able to  (perhaps for the first time all season) be present, live and experience that moment of joy.

Even in that definitive moment of triumph, wherein he had all the right to say some shit about We The Champs or Being King of the World (read: Kevin Garnett), Duncan—as he has consistently, and more so as of late—acquiesces into an apparently honest expression, letting slip the profound humanity of basketball.

Basketball is the most team of sports (I’m pretty sure I’ve written that a dozen times now), and within these lines, positions and roles, there is and always has been another game happening (the most important one). That game within the game relies, fundamentally and absolutely, on the relationships and understanding built from the players involved.

It should come as no surprise that feelings, aspirations, being sensitive to others needs and desires play a critical role in the formulation of a basketball team. After all, they mean a lot to our day-to-day lives and the narrative we impose on them. They—along with ego, forgiveness, joy, heartbreak and the like—are a necessary part of navigating the world, and being, you know, human.

Yet yesterday, thanks to Tim Duncan, I discovered—maybe re-remembered—yet another layer of this sport that I have loved for so long. Every facet of humanity has a place and, more importantly, belongs out there on the court—even forgiveness, self-forgiveness.

And so it was with an ambivalent heart that I celebrated a San Antonio victory last night.

Despite my fanatical impulses, I still feel like I managed to take this NBA season for granted—as if I hadn’t milked every possible triumph and tragedy, small or large, out of it. I had expected the Finals series to last at least six, probably seven games—I would milk another couple blog posts and few more thousand words out it.

But that wasn’t the case, and as giddy as the season began, it ended.

Here are the five things from the five games worth remembering in five years:

The Spurs Were Better Than the Heat

It seems so obvious. But all too often in our headline-driven sports world, the biggest characters dominate the narrative—even if they don’t deserve it (see: Johnny Manziel, Jimmer Fredette). Maybe this time will be different (it won’t) but I hold out for the 2014 Finals being remembered as one of the greatest demonstrations of excellence exhibited by any team ever, not the Finals were Lebron cramped, Wade showed his age, or the last run of Miami’s big three.

In the last three games, the Spurs played the kind of basketball that makes coaches wet themselves. Ball movement, team defense, ball movement, excellent shot selection, ball movement, off-ball screens, ball movement, fantastic shooting, ball movement.

They passed so much, it made heads spin. In last night’s stupor, I did manage one coherent thought: I will not spend the off-season disparaging the Miami Heat for their generally crappy play.

They lost their losses badly—by the margins of 15, 19, 21 and 17. Their only victory came by one possession.

In a twist of fate architected by the forces responsible for Benjamin Button, the Heat looked older, slower, and unfocused down the stretch.

Pretty much the exact opposite of Brad Pitt:

Lebron seemed to the only player who was trying—until Michael Beasley came in. Thank God for Michael Beasley, I remembered thinking.

(WHAT THE HELL! AT ONE POINT, I ACTUALLY FOUND MYSELF WONDERING IF MICHAEL BEASLEY IS THE ANSWER TO ALL THE HEAT’S PROBLEMS. THAT’S HOW BAD IT GOT, THAT WE’RE WRITING SENTENCES LIKE THAT!!)

No. The Spurs played a brand of basketball barely conceivable by a single human mind. They made honest yet another trite sports cliché: that a true team of solid players can beat one truly great player. This off-season shall remain a celebration of San Antonio.

The Duncan Shot

I’ve already waxed poetic on Tim Duncan. I could almost certainly continue for another thousand words, but instead:

(How many words are gif worth?)

Duncan was among the first to criticize his missed “bunny” shot in last year’s Finals that would have sealed the deal. Given the weight of the last eleven months, this prevails as the only Duncan shot in the Finals that matters.

The Karowning of Kawhi

At the start of the month, Greg Popovich told everyone, Kawhi Leonard was the “future of the Spurs.” Pop failed mention, however, that “the future” meant two weeks from now.

Heralded now and for the rest of his life as the youngest NBA Finals MVP ever, Kawhi took over games four, five and six. No doubt, Kawhi led the Spurs team, and he did it entirely in deed, averaging 23.6 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals on a ridiculous 69% shooting over the least three games. In that stretch he also lead the team in both minutes played (112) and +/1 (+59)—an incredibly difficult feat.

More impressive than Leonard’s obvious statistical effort was his abrupt lack of deference. It was as if he suddenly flipped the switch for a well-spring of confidence. On two-on-ones (which he earned fairly often post-steals), instead of passing the rock up, or worse, hesitating, Kawhi would determinedly put his head down around the free throw line and take it to whoever happened to be in his way—if there was anyone there at all:

His hand checking defense is almost as fun to watch:

Then there was this…

I was holding my six month old son when Sugar K Leonard happened all over that put-back. It may have been the metric ton of baby food he just ate, but he literally shit his pants.

Another angle (including Duncan’s reaction—only adding to the list of reasons he’d be fun to play with):

Ultimately, the question with Kawhi going forward will be what kind of leader will he become?

In his first two NBA seasons, even in his last three games, he didn’t have to be the vocal leader. With the triumvirate of mentors and Pop at the helm, he only had to bring the passion, meet their words with play (which is, alone, an incredible feat for anyone, much less a 22 year old).

Sugar K clearly has the skill set, but the person he chooses to be on the basketball court will most likely be the biggest self-determinant to his hoops success. Will he continue the tradition of the quiet and sensitive Duncan? Will something snap in the depths of his psyche that turns him into Gary Payton? What happens if, somehow beyond reason, Kawhi changes teams, changes coaches?

Fortunately with Pop on the side line, K’s got quiet the safety net to experiment with.

Old man got game, not old man game

I’ve written a lot about old man game. I have a special affinity for old man game. That’s because I have never played near the rim, much less above it, so I only know how to play with old man game.

My fault in talking about NBA practitioners of Old Man Game is that I often cheer on their methods, forgetting entirely that those players didn’t come into the NBA ancient. Fortunately, a couple almost-40-somethings wore their Marty McFlies and reminded the world that the 90s were not that long ago. I swear.

First there was Ray #Jesussaves Allen:

Then Manu turning back the clock—clearly inspired by fellow Argentine Lionel Messi’s goal earlier that day:

Then again there’s Duncan. He’s 38. And I’ve already written a novella about him in the last month.

Zero to hero: A Spurs Rite of Passage

In the 2013 Finals before the Heat went nuts, I thought the Spurs had found the future big three in Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, and Danny Green. Silly me.

Neal parlayed a pretty okay playoff run into a $3.25 million check signed the Milwaukee Bucks. Green returned to Earth and saw his production and minutes decrease (which is sort of a non-sequitur for the Spurs).

Entering the off-season as a free agent, Mills is poised to follow in Neal’s footsteps.

  2013 Finals Neal: 9.4 p, 0.9 a, 2.4 r, 47% 3pt, 41% fg

          2014 Finals Mills: 10.2 p, 1.6 a, 1.4 r, 57% 3pt, 54% fg

Make it rain, Patty. Make it rain.

Since Tony Parker was sidelined for 14 games and Mills stepped into the starting lineup, all he did was play out of his mind.

In a blind player comparison for these Finals:*

Player A: 24.2 p, 3.8 a, 3.3 r, 57% 3pt, 54% fg

Player B: 15.9 p, 2.7 a, 4 r, 34% 3pt, 44% fg

Player C: 18.4 p, 4.7 a, 0.4 r, 42% 3pt, 48% fg

Player D: 18.1 p, 5.5 a, 3.8 r, 42% 3pt, 50% fg

*per 36 minutes

Can you guess which one is Patty Mills? In order: Patty, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

By all accounts, Mills seems to be a pretty funny Aussie, too, so he’ll probably end up sticking with the Spurs. Let’s hope so.

 

#BREAKING: ADAM SILVER FIXES GAME ONE OF NBA FINALS, INDUCES CRAMPGATE

Sources working in the Samsung Galaxy S5 maintenance department of the AT&T Center recently revealed that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was single-handedly responsible for the suspiciously high temperature on court for game one of the NBA Finals.

The conditions resulted in Lebron James’ inability to finish the game due to cramps, and the subsequent stupid people party on Twitter (as per the norm). #crampgate

Widely lauded for his recent swift and decisive action against raging racist team owners, an apparently half-naked Silver was found in one of the facility’s air vents in possession of a monkey wrench and “an unnatural look in his eye.”

Reportedly, Silver was only discovered after he had banged away the entire bass line to Katy Perry and Juicy J’s “Dark Horse.”

Upon being discovered, Silver screamed “Gotcha motherfuckers!” and sprinted off muttering something about cocktails with Bill Belichick and the Chinese Minister of Sports…

7-7-7-7-7: How Did We Get So Lucky?

After a weekend of five game-7s and a first round of eight overtimes, the past 48 hours of NBA basketball has been pretty boring.

Washington beat Indiana by six—though it was never really that close. The Clippers trounced Oklahoma City by 17—though it wasn’t really that close either. Miami soundly beat Brooklyn by 21. And San Antonio thoroughly outclassed Portland by 24.

Fear not, basketball fans. As the Prince of the Peanut Gallery, the High Priest of the Punditry, the Baron of Bloviators and Admiral of NBA Analysts Charles “That’s Turrible” Barkley would wisely warn us, “Let’s not overreact to Game 1.”

Well Sir Barkley, give me a subpar screen play, stick me in a middling production and call me Nic Cage:

BLOWOUTS! BLOWOUTS!! MORE BLOWOUTS!!! THE WINNERS OF GAME ONES WILL ALL BE IN THEIR RESPECTIVE CONFERENCE FINALS!!!!!!!!! ASDFKLASMDLBMAOWASDA;’SADFA/]ASVASCAXLKJUHNV!!!! REALLY THOUGH I’M NOT EVEN THAT CRAZY—CAPS LOCKS JUST MAKES ME SEEM LIKE I AM—LIKE BAD MOVIES MAKE CAGE LOOK GENIUS!!!

San Antonio v. Portland

This has barn burner written all-over it. They split the season series, and there is a possibility these teams offenses will literally set one or both of their arenas on fire. Portland had the most efficient offense in the first round, scoring 111.8 points per 100 possessions. While San Antonio had the highest effective field goal percentage (54.3) of any team in the first round. Together, they combined to take 282 3-pointers, sinking  over 37% of them.

While Portlandia was riding high on Damian Lillard’s sacrificing of Chandler Parsons on the altar of the scorer’s table:

the Spurs kept them kitsch by putting a 24-point bird on it.

Rip City seemed to try the switch-on-everything defense that the Dallas Mavericks used pretty effectively. Unfortunately, their bigs can’t contain Tony Parker (neither could the Mavs really), who torched the Blazers for 33 points and 9 assists.

LaMarcus Aldridge will continue to have a killer playoffs. He (along with the rest of the team) started off slow, but last night’s 32 and 14 was no aberration. He’s owned San Antonio’s power forwards all season, shooting 23 of 38 (61%) against Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw.

(Then again, if Pop can continue to get double digit contributions from the likes of Aron Baynes, then LMA’s contribution is effectively neutralized.)

Every facet of the San Antonio Spurs franchise has, at one time or another, had a place in every basketball wonk’s spank bank. From their ageless giant wonder to their too-good-for-your-shenanigans head coach, the Spurs are the Raquel Welch of the NBA. They have almost even managed to hold up (perhaps get better?) over time.

They’re still the one seed. They still won 60+ games this season. Their offensive schemes are still beautiful to watch. And their team defense is still unflappable.

That said, Rip City has been forged in the crucible of the Western Conference, Damian Lillard and LMA are the real deal and the Spurs were pushed to 7 by the significantly less talented Mavericks. The Blazers’ fit the underdog ethos, and will keep San Antonio honest.

The Spurs in 7.

Miami v. Brooklyn

Miami’s vice no more.

Prior to last night’s beat down, some held out hope that Brooklyn could really beat Miami. They did after all sweep the regular season series!

Except three of those games were last second, one-point victories, and the fourth, a double overtime slugfest. Which is not to say they were flukes. Entirely.

Mikhail Prokhorov and Billy King put together this team for this playoff moment against the Heat. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have a history with Lebron James, and the Heat have a history of wavering in the face of wisdom (see 2011 Mavs, 2013 Spurs). Prokhorov’s purchase of the Nets must have come shortly after he emerged from his Serbian underground cryogenics chamber because he seems to have forgotten the symptoms of age—mainly that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko were getting slower and could no longer jump as high as in their hayday.

Whereas, Miami has the best combination of talent and athleticism on this Earth in James.  They also have that unseemly extra gear that they turn on in the playoffs when they’re in trouble. It’ll prove problematic in the Finals, but while they are in the East, they should be just fine.

The Heat in 5.

Los Angeles v. Oklahoma City

First of all, if you have not watched Kevin Durant’s MVP acceptance speech yet, stop reading this and invest the seven minutes. It’s worth it. It’s a bit heartbreaking to write the following after such a thoughtful and unselfish outpouring from one of the Supersonic greats, but….

The LA Clippers has been Doc Rivers’ opportunity to resurrect the ‘08 Celtics. Boston won 9 more games than LA this season, but just take this ride with me for a moment. Here are the anonymous player splits (per 36 minutes via basketball-reference.com):

clippers celtics

The numbers don’t matchup perfectly. You could probably guess whom most of the players are, but it takes a thoughtful minute.

Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick (only played 35 games and averaged 28.2 min/game) and Chris Paul are the better had better stat lines than their counterparts—Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. Deandre Jordan’s defensive acumen is not quite on par with Garnett’s, but despite scoring half the points KG did, he still produced over a third more blocks and rebounds.

Doc Rivers has always been a great motivator. In Boston, he united an entirely new roster around the philosophy of Ubuntu—as critical a component of their championship run as any of those individual players.

In this first year with the Clips, Rivers never seemed fully content with the unity and heart of his team. They clearly have got the talent to win it all. But in a glitzy Los Angeles market, with his best players fronting for corporate America in series of national commercials and a squad too young to really be hungry (with the exception of Paul), Rivers never seemed to have his players performing at the selfless and courageous level that he knows is at the core of a true champion.

Enter Donald Sterling.

In their three victories since the Donald-Sterling-Is-Fascist-Bigot-Gate, LA has averaged over 120 points in each of their contests. And more importantly, they look like had champion’s heart and fight. They played with a fire that makes even the casual observer step back, and say, “Damn. Those guys mean it!”

Their beating of the Oklahoma City Supersonics put the world on notice. And yes, they mean it.

The Clippers in 6.

Indiana v. Washington

Washington is only technically an underdog here. The Pacers are still debacling, despite their first round victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

At this point, the Pacers are only a slightly better version of the Chicago Bulls (though I’m not entirely convinced of that—giving a slight edge here in deference to seeding), whom the Wiz pretty easily dismantled. And if Jeff Teague gave Indiana fits last round, I’d like to introduce you to John Wall:

and Bradley Beal:

These young men are 23 and 20 (that’s right BB can’t even drink alcohol—legally), respectively, dynamic ballers that enjoy long walks on the beach and candle lit dinners. They’ll be accompanying your nightmares, or dreams, for the next couple weeks.

The X-factors (or Z-factors, if you prefer) are Trevor Ariza and Nene. Both bring deep playoff experience and have played balls to the wall this post-season. Ariza is shooting a ridonkulous 55.9% from behind the arc on just under six attempts per game. While Nene has increased nearly every statistical category from the regular season and generally looked spry and dominating against a hapless Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.

On the other end of the court, Ariza and Nene will be charged with guarding Paul George and David West, respectively—the most consistent and necessary cogs in the Pacers offensive contraption. In the regular season, Ariza held George to 8 of 26 shooting. Conversely, West is much better than the Boozer/Gibson duo that Nene had had his way with previously, and the big Brazilian isn’t exactly renowned for his defense. Hopefully, West will find his rhythm and his stroke—he certainly deserves it.

Randy Wittman (who I’m pretty sure is another D.C. leader and baller Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s night gig) has got his guys playing really good ball. And in the end, this fast, shooting, magical fellowship of “pretty good” guys will stop the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm Pacers in their tracks:

The Wizards in 6.