Tag Archives: Michael Jordan

Talking up Phil and seeing if he’s down

So it has come to this.  In an attempt to bring some relevance to this team and legitimize its operation the Knicks have attached its most famous wandering son to a front office position.  Not that any deal is finalized, but something is in the works according to a Daily News report.  If Phil Jackson were to accept the offer made by the Knicks to come back to the team that introduced him to winning NBA championships, it would send several ripples throughout an organization that has been mismanaged from top to bottom for far too long.

To be clear, I don’t know if Phil Jackson would make a great executive.  We know he can coach.  We know he enjoys being in the spotlight.  We also know that he loves LA.  But my personal hunch is, from my detached far away from success standpoint, that people like Phil don’t just suddenly give up the opportunity to win.  Its why management often throws piles of money at guys who have seemingly past their prime as if there is a cut off age for everyone to stop what they are doing.  They know that while money is motivation, its the love of winning and perhaps just as important, the stench of losing that drives these men.

Larry Brown, Knick fans remember him, is 73 and he’s currently leading the SMU Mustangs to its first NCAA tournament appearance in more than 20 years.  Guys like Brown don’t just love the fame and the money, they love basketball for reasons that go beyond the superficiPhil_Jackson_3_croppedal.  I’m not waxing poetic on a guy like Larry Brown who’s been known to leave one place for greener pastures elsewhere, but one thing can’t be understated: don’t think its all about the money.

I sat thinking about three things in regards to this Phil Jackson rumor:

1. What would it take for Phil Jackson to come to the Knicks?

2. What would be the reason Phil Jackson took this position?

3. Why are the Knicks constantly coming to the well of the old master Phil everytime there’s uncertainty going on about the organization?

Let me preface this by saying I have no insider information and this is just one man’s humble opinion but Phil would need to be given certain guarantees in his contract to consider working for the Knicks.  Let’s first start with control.  If Phil were to come, it would be under the condition that he would have complete unilateral control of the Knicks which would be a huge give by James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks.  Its also a well known fact that CAA, the agency who has almost every big superstar in basketball signed to their company, has the ear of the owner of the Knicks as well.  More on them later.

No one knows who else has Dolan’s ear but its clear to almost every Knick fan that whoever does has zero interest in building a solid product here in the “basketball mecca”.  I always joke around that if the Knicks had an iota of intelligence in that front office, superstars would be lining up to play at the Garden.  Say what you will about how overblown the concept is to today’s NBA player, but the Garden is a recognized commodity within the basketball intelligentsia who saw more than its fair share of great high school and college games played here.  It was also the home to many sporting events outside of basketball that are forever a part of America’s storied sports past.  Basically the name rings out in the streets.  It is however, painfully clear that there are far too many voices in James Dolan’s head talking at once and he has to cede his control to someone he absolutely trusts.  Phil Jackson, for all we know, may be friends with Dolan and there may be a level of understanding between the two that go beyond just basketball.  But if there isn’t, Phil would need assurances that he would not be effed with when making a basketball decision.  And why shouldn’t Dolan cede control?  Its clear that even in the last decade of futility the Garden was making money hand over fist so there shouldn’t be a fear of losing money even if, at first, the Knicks may have to reset.

Phil’s health is also a major concern.  We don’t know how many surgeries Phil has had and whether he would consider relocating from Los Angeles where he lives with Jeannie Buss.  Would Phil give up 70 degrees year round for a foot of snow every so often in the Northeast?  More on that later.

The idea of Phil taking the position makes a ton of sense.  Like I stated earlier, guys like Phil Jackson don’t take jobs like this at this stage of their lives for the money.  Jackson’s legacy is set.  He’s won 11 championships as a head coach and won two as a player in New York.  If anything he could say that he achieved the task of winning in New York.  But for guys like Phil maybe the idea that his legacy isn’t complete eats up at him.  Maybe going back to New York would energize him and give him purpose.  I mean how long can you fly fish in Montana or ride your Harley in LA in perfect weather for?  Even if that sounds like a slice of heaven?  Ok, I’m not helping I know.

Finally, we all know why the Knicks are approaching Phil.  There’s plenty of reasons.  Look at the current Knick three game winning streak?  Maybe the players are under the illusion that Phil is coming and are viewing this time as an audition?  The Knicks aren’t a good team and yet are showing glimpses of the 54 win team they were last year.  There’s that Carmelo Anthony guy we’ve been hearing attached to Miami and Chicago recently.  His decision this summer will ultimately guide what the Knicks do next year.  If he leaves, they will definitely trade Tyson Chandler to a contender and try to carve out more cap space for 2015 even though merely letting Amar’e walk and not having a $23M cap hit on Carmelo would probably do the trick.  But if Phil comes Carmelo will feel like the Knicks are moving in the right direction because that’s what Phil represents.  He represents championships and winning and Carmelo can get down with that.  And you know who else can get down with that?  Other superstars who still view Phil in high regard.

While there are a ton of reasons why this would be good for the Knicks one thing is clear, the Knicks are star gazers.  Wishing on any shooting star that passes, hoping that their wish will come true.  This shooting star has a ton of questions surrounding his health and ultimately the power he will be given to make decisions.  Maybe he won’t be good at being a GM.  Look at Michael Jordan?  The power with being that good at one thing is that you start believing you’re good at everything and Mike fell into that trap.  He’s the guy who drafted Kwame Brown number one ahead of guys like Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Joe Johnson etc.  He’s the guy who has never produced a .500 or better team in his tenure as GM or owner.  Nothing is promised to guys who go on to try things other than what they are known for.  I truly believe God put us all on this earth for one thing, and one thing only.  Some, like Mike and Phil found their niche.  They worked hard and achieved the impossible.

In the end, I don’t think God put Phil on this earth to run the Knicks.  The devil put James Dolan here to mock all of us Knick fans for believing the rumors.

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Where is this all headed?

lebron-james-heat-1280x1024Its been a while but I just had a few thoughts on the Miami Heat and their streak going into Friday’s game against the Chicago Bulls where everyone has these grandiose dreams and expectations.

The Lebron conversation has been one of the most fascinating in all of sports over the last three years going back to the final game in a Cleveland Cavs uniform where he walked off the court, scratching his head, taking off his Cavs jersey and entering what would end up being the single biggest PR disaster of an offseason that anyone of his ilk has ever undertaken.  Since that time, Lebron has been to two Finals series, won an MVP, on his way to what should be a unanimous second consecutive MVP, won a ring, been humbled, has gone on the longest streak of consecutive wins since the ’71-72 Lakers who won 33 consecutive, and has regained his status as the most popular athlete alive.

Nike recently released an ad stating the obvious and perfect summation of what those much wiser and those who had spent more time on earth said way back in those early months: “winning takes care of everything.”  And win he has done.  You can read Zack Lowe of Grantland fame for the nitty gritty details about how Miami’s offense has evolved into the crisp machine that it was.  Lowe’s recent article detailing the Miami juggernaut says that the Heat stumbled upon the Lebron as the 4 in the most productive of Heat line ups as the single biggest reason for it but I think mentally a hurdle was jumped over that number crunchers even as great as Zack Lowe can’t quantify.

There’s something to be said to how much confidence one can gain from passing your greatest test.  A sense of relief?  Sure.  A confidence that is soaring and unable to be restrained? Definitely.  But what happened on that night that Lebron realized he was NOT going to win an NBA championship to secret rivals, the Dallas Mavericks had to have been the turning point.  The summer of 2010 was one of turmoil and constant roadside attractions that did more to take away from Lebron’s brilliant decision to team up with good friends Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to form the super Trio, than actually enhance it.  Why was the public so aghast at the idea that Lebron needed help?  Michael Jordan admits on nearly every occasion that he wouldn’t have been as successful if he didn’t have Scottie Pippen.  Magic and Bird had stocked teams to the max.  Isiah Thomas won with one of the five greatest rebounders in NBA history, Dennis Rodman, and Shaq won with Kobe, and Kobe won with Pau and Bynum.

His summer of 2011 was vastly different.  He went into a hole, some had surmised brought on by his humiliating defeat at the hands of Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.  The Mavs partied on their turf all into the wee hours and for a majority of the NBA fandom who had grown tired of arrogant Lebron who had promised not five, not six, not seven rings in a parade that the Heat threw to announce the arrival of impending doom on the rest of the NBA (Which i’m sure 29 other fan bases and teams saw and didn’t really appreciate), it was a sweet victory for everything that is good.  Bad guy Lebron left that building understanding one thing: he needed to work harder, and keep his mouth shut.  So we didn’t hear a peep from him or the Heat during that summer of the lock out.  They would tweet out workout pics on occasion.  They would put up quotes of inspiration, more for themselves.  And when the season opened, nobody was more prepared for the grind of a lockout shortened season than them.  They played at a pace that was vastly different and superior to a majority of the competition.  But they still weren’t the dominant team that everyone expected and feared.

Then something happened in the playoffs.  I call it the Neo moment.  The Neo moment happens to a player in every generation in each sport or walk of life.  Its that part in the first Matrix movie (the only one really worth watching, though I give a thumbs up to the second Matrix movie too even if its not cool to do so), when Neo having been shot, gets up and stops the bullets and finally understands and takes on the responsibility of his immense talents instead of running away from his potential.  That moment happened in Boston, in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals when Lebron, tired of losing to the Celtics in every big spot and moment since 2008, decided that the Heat were not going to lose.  He dominated the game in the same way that Magic Johnson announced himself to the NBA world in 1979 when he led the Lakers to a championship by playing center and scoring 42 points in a game six win.  He scored 45 points pulled in 15 rebounds and the Celtics had virtually NO SHOT from there on out and neither did the rest of the league.  For the first time, Lebron let himself know that he was the best player on the court and he could dominate when he wanted to.  When his team needed a basket he could pull up and hit a three.  When his team needed him to facilitate, there he was to throw the right pass.  When his team needed him to crash the boards and eliminate second chance opportunities there he was again beasting and flying way above the heads of anyone and everyone to pull the loose balls down.

He was a man possessed and nobody, and nothing was going to stand in his way.  This season’s consecutive wins streak is a manifestation of that belief.  If this isn’t impressive to the casual NBA fan, then nothing will do it.  If this doesn’t signal that Lebron is competing against ONLY his own shadow at this point then nothing will do it.  Its not just his belief, its his teammates belief that no matter what the situation, being down double digits in Boston late in the 3rd quarter or being down 17 against the Knicks in the third quarter or going down by 20+ in Cleveland, where even their vitriol seems to have slowed to a halt (it may have something to do with the fact that Lebron left the door wide open for a reunion with his home town in 2014 when he may have accomplished everything he wants to in South Beach), it doesn’t matter.  At this point, Lebron does what he wants when he wants.

Tom Haberstroh another wise sage of the stat kingdom, spoke about the vertical spacing that Chris “Birdman” Anderson gives to the Heat.  But the point is, it all starts with Lebron.  It all ends with Lebron.  He’s the single greatest athlete alive in sports and everyone that doesn’t believe that is just foolish.  I’m old enough where I’m not as anti-greatness as I was back when Jordan was around.  I hated MJ for the routine beat downs he would put on my beloved Knicks and though my fandom overtakes me from time to time where I’m foolish enough to think that my Knicks have a chance against Lebron’s Heat, its just dumb.  Its the kind of talk that’s reserved for a few beers in me, while watching the Knicks dispatch the Celtics in Boston talk.  Its just all talk.  Lebron is a man amongst boys and when athletes come along and dominate on this kind of level you just wonder how anyone can compare?

Like most people my age, we hold on to this memory of Michael Jordan as the single greatest player ever, but I can say without any hesitation that we’ve NEVER seen anyone like Lebron.  Never.  Not a single person has combined his athletic gifts with a superior knowledge of the game in such a package.  And that package is rolling.  Its steamrolling through what looks like diluted NBA competition.  Its not making any pit stops, its just coming to a town near you, taking care of business and moving on.  Seeing the eternal glory that history can give to his team, Lebron has done the right thing.  He’s set his sights even higher.  He sees Michael’s six.  He sees his legacy and the player he’s always compared to for whatever reason we choose to do it, and he wants to beat it and good for him.  I’m tired of stubbornly refusing to engage in that conversation.  I’m ready to say it.  I’m ready to do it.  Lebron James is heading towards that lone spot on the mountain top.  Good for him.  Its time that a successor came to the Jordan reign.  We though we’d never see another Russell or Wilt, then Kareem came.  We thought we’d never see another Oscar Robertson and Jerry West till Magic and Bird came.  We thought we’d never see another Jordan and then Lebron came.  Yeah I’m saying it.  No hesitations.  If he continues down this path, he WILL BE THE GOAT.  PERIOD.

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The Writer and his script: the story of game 4 of the Heat/Pacer series

Maybe this was what was needed.  The superstar that is supposedly incapable of taking over.  The other superstar who had disappeared and then reappeared like the ghost of christmas past to spook his coach into making some cockamamie excuse for him post game and for his antics.  Maybe it was Lance Stephenson, the former prep phenom, becoming an internet sensation for the first time in his career delivering a choke sign hand guessture as Lebron James missed critical free throws in game 3.  Maybe that’s what allows the giant to come out.  Maybe that’s when enough is enough and great players assert themselves in a way that we expect them to.

The thing is, with Lebron and Wade and this Heat collabo, we’ve pre-written the story.  Well you can make the case that with the signing party they threw for themselves in Miami, they wrote their story.  We figure that this will all end in champagne and the inevitable “Here we go”  articles professing allegiance to the Lebron bandwagon fearing death if you resist.  We’ve been waiting for Lebron to show us what he’s capable of and he did that in game 4.  Call him whatever you want, but if there was anything about Sunday it was this: it was great.

It was greatness that we had all but given Lebron yet hadn’t seen in quite some time.  You see, Lebron is in the unenviable position of being born with otherwordly talents that we all can see.  There are plenty of people that dissect his performances and give grades based on complicated mathematical formulas that convinced me that if I had to understand this math crap, those guys had to hear Fran Drescher reading a book to you as you tried to sleep.  But the fact is, greatness is seen with two eyes and two ears.

The best is when it happens at someone else’s court.  I fondly remember the moments that Michael Jordan used to tear out the collective spirit of the Madison Square Garden faithful during the nineties or when Reggie went on his scoring barrages.  Or when Lebron went Cleveland (as the kids are calling it) on Detroit by scoring the final 25 points in what was essentially the first GREAT Lebron performance.  The crowd tries and tries to will its team but the look on the players faces tell it all: helpless, tired, and incapble of finding any answers.  Then you look out at the fans who have no answers.  Who have their hands on their heads.  Mouths are usually open.  Hearts are broken.  Tears are fighting to come out except foolish pride is keeping them in.  These are the expressions of futility.  Its a force of nature that you can’t stop and you hope it goes away without doing any more damage.

The Pacers had played from the tail end of game 2 till the second quarter of game 4 against a flawed Miami Heat team.  Basically they played against the Knicks.  A superstar heavy team with no other role players to speak of and basically 2 other guys you could semi-trust in a crucial spot.  The Pacers had enjoyed competing against this team because they knew they could beat this team but its funny when two of the five best players suddenly come out of the doldrums, realize what they are and act like it.  At one point during the third, and going into the fourth the dynamic duo had scored 38 consecutive points.  They came to the understanding that if they were to lose, it would be on their terms and not by any one else’s.

I had a foolish conversation the other day about the play that had Miami draw up a three point shot for Mario Chalmers.  The logic was sound: you give the three point shot to your BEST three point shooter.  Except, that’s if you do things by the books.  There’s an older book that must be brought into play whenever you have to make crucial decisions.  When you have the greatest player in the world, right now, you HAVE to allow him to win or lose the game.  Game four was proof.  There is no way you allow the ball to wind up in anyone else’s hands EXCEPT his.  He’s the force of nature.  He’s the carrier of his destiny and the one who shall write the script of how it all ends.

There is nothing to stop Lebron James and Dwayne Wade except themselves.  They pre-wrote their own script.  The only question that remains to be asked is: who wrote such a shitty game 3 episode?

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NFL Week 9 Lines and my thoughts on the NBA Lockout, and Michael Jordans role

On a day in which the NBA Players Union and Owners met to try and discuss a happy medium for both sides to figure out a deal, as much of these negotiations have gone, progress was interuppted by threats and ultimatums.  Conversations of gloom were being whispered about in the boardrooms and both sides pointed at the other as culprits of why there would be no basketball for the forseeable future.  Welcome to the NBA labor negoations which is in its fifth month of existence and seem to always move towards a darker future than a quick dissolution.

Let’s assess what the issues are shall we?  BRI which is Basketball Related Income is the biggie.  In their previous deal which expired, the Players had received 57% of it while the owners only enjoyed 43%.  The owners obviously want a bigger share.  Why?  Because the owners have been doling out huge guaranteed contracts to players that have neither lived up NOR played out their contracts because they either suck or they got their big contract and decided it wasn’t worth it to try anymore.  I call it the Eddy Curry clause.

The Players have argued, and fairly enough, that they should not be penalized for mistakes the owners have made and don’t feel that their revenue should be affected by it.  The owners have complained that the NBA has been in the red for the last 4 years.  The NBA showed the players side the books and the players argued that the figures they were shown were innacurate and made to seem like the NBA was losing money when it was only a few small market teams.

Which bring us to those small market teams.  Much of the hard line stance has been taken up by these small market owners.  They fear that they will not be able to compete in this new NBA if several system changes are not made to penalize big market teams.  They want those teams to pay a luxury tax of 1.75 per every $1 they go over the cap.  So for example, the Lakers last year went over the cap by $20 million.  They paid an extra $20 million in luxury tax.  In this new deal offered by the owners, the Lakers would pay $35 million in luxury tax.  The owners also want big market teams to not be able to execute sign and trades which would allow teams to gain flexibility.  They also want to lower the amount of mid level exceptions for big market teams that go over the salary cap from $5 million to $2.5 every other year and only give them the option to hand out 2 year deals.

This means that there is a fraction within the ownership group .  But according to Stern, there is unanimity that these changes must take effect for the greater good of the game.  Small market teams will not be able to compete with big market teams because their owners will not be able to afford to be in the same ballpark as their other owners.  You may be wondering “why not?  Aren’t all these guys billioinaires?  Why can’t they spend like the big market teams?”  Because at the end of the day, what made them billionaires still holds true.  This is a business for them, so if they don’t see revenue to match the big salaries they are committing to (remember these are guaranteed contracts, so once they are signed, there is no going back.  See Curry, Eddy) they won’t spend.  The bottom line IS the bottom line and that’s what rules.  They won’t overspend JUST to overspend unless your name is Mark Cuban and you actually care for the product.  Most owners are just rich people who love having extravagant toys so that when they go over each other’s yachts they can sip $1,000 champagne glasses yucking it up over their sports franchises.  Its true.  I read it somewhere in some magazine.  That’s what these people do.

But the owners of these small market teams want to be able to compete with big market teams and protect their own superstars from pulling a Lebron or worse pulling a Carmelo.  Lebron held the Cavs hostage for two years.  Dan Gilbert invested heavily into the Cavs and yet his reward was the Lebron Decision special and watching his star player bolt for richer pastures in South Beach.  Carmelo Anthony, craved the big market and big lights and was able to finally leave Denver after they decided that it best to receive a group of complementary players than watch Carmelo appear on national television with a Knick jersey and so they made a deal which they certainly didn’t get equal value in return JUST to avoid the whole “you let him leave for NOTHING?” arguments that would’ve started.

Unfortunately big market teams will always have that allure and always have that ability.  Dwight Howard has already intimated in recent interviews that he feels Orlando may not be big enough for what he wants to accomplish in his future which goes back to the whole small market problem.  Players want to be featured and want to be shown on billboards and take their brands global.

This of course is the biggest problem the NBA has and Stern has only himself to blame.  Unlike the NFL or NHL or even baseball, the NBA markets its players above the team.  It has helped players earn so much more money than their actual basketball income and has allowed them to explore options outside of the hard court and has made them so much more business savvy. They are seeing the creation of that culture with Lebron James whose company has marketed itself has a player friendly company that allows them to build their own empire under their own watch.  This is very important for players who want to build value for themselves long after they leave the court.

All of this was started by one guy: Michael jeffrey Jordan who has had the most interesting affect on this labor lockout.  During the last labor lockout he was a player advocating the players side and even telling the Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin (former owner) that he should probably look into making better decisions.  Ironic now given Jordan’s own inability to make good decisions (see Brown, Kwame number one draft pick under Jordan’s watch) and his inability to get his own franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats out of the mire that is mostly his own doing.  Jordan emerged over the weekend as the biggest voice among a contingent of owners wanting an exclusive 50% deal to be put in front of the players as a take it or leave it kind of talk after more rumors had emerged that there was a group of players now looking into decertification and the process.  Jordan’s stance seems hypocritical in some respects but his actions this weekend during the lockout negotiations spoke volumes about him as a player and person.

During negotiations, players were ready for Jordan to speak and say something, ANYTHING so they could fire back at his hypocrisy but he said nothing.  When it came time for Jordan to open up he didn’t.  He knew that it was a battle he was unprepared to fight and unable to win and thus he never tried.  This has always been true of Jordan.  I said this before and I’ll say it again, Mike is good at being Mike.  He isn’t good at being Muhammad Ali or anyone else with a platform that has been outspoken on issues pertaining to his people OR to anyone else.

Mike has always looked after number one and that, more than anything has been evident.  Jason Whitlock wrote a scathing article depicting Mike as a sellout.  I’m not prepared to call him a sellout to his own people but I’ve always knew one thing about Jordan: he’s not the guy you should look to when the things get really sticky outside of a basketball court.  He’s never been.  When a person of color gets a platform to speak out about atrocities or injustices happening around him, he/she is given unnecessary pressure to do something or say something about it.  It doesn’t mean that Jordan, in this instance, is FOR the injustice or FOR the wrongdoing that is going on, it just means that he would rather not come out publicly about it to protect himself from unnecessary collateral damage.  He’s protecting himself and his empire.  Jordan’s always done that and always been cool for it.

We would rather imagine Jordan in a basketball uniform dunking and holding form in Utah in Game Six of 98 Finals.  We don’t want to picture Jordan outside of a courthouse in a suit because that’s not the brand he sells.  Jordan sells basketball shoes not courtroom suits.  He’s protecting his image and doing a great job at it.  But there will always be people who expect more from Jordan.  Bill Simmons this weekend wrote a great article about Eddie Murphy’s career and wrote that by early 90’s Jordan had wrestled the title of the coolest black dude alive title away from him and Michael Jackson.  But the fact is, when their apex was done, there was nothing lasting for us to remember them by.  They didn’t take a single stance worth remembering or do anything worth conserving.  If in a 1,000 years someone were to utter their names, what would be their legacy?  Would they even be remembered that far down the line?  I bet only Muhammad Ali would because of his greatness on the court and the life he lived off it.  His story and fight for racial justice is far more important to a greater segment of the population than Mike’s ability to hit a jumpshot or Eddie Murphy’s ability to make us laugh.  In a 1,000 years people will remember Ali’s struggle and his fight for equality far more than either of them.

And that’s a shame to some.  Years from now people will remember Bill Russell as the greatest center alive and as one of the greatest basketball players alive for his ability to fight racism and win as much as he did.  Magic will be remembered as a pioneering player who played center in Game 7 of an NBA finals in his rookie year and then go on to be a huge proponent of AIDS/HIV awareness.  These people impacted society.  Michael Jordan won championships and sold shoes.  His reach only goes to the poor neighborhoods whose message has been “Be like Mike”.  But if you’re going to be like Mike, does that mean make a lot of money but don’t do anything for your community?

I don’t think that’s Mike’s role in these labor talks but I find it comical that he would even be mentioned as a vocal leader of a group  of owners who want sweeping change.  THIS is not the arena in which Michael wants to make a stand.  When I read the reports I said to myself that this couldn’t be.  Mike always liked to play it safe when it came to really important stuff.  He was going to be outspoken NOW?  When it could come back and bite him in the ass and hurt players who work for him?  Really?  So it didn’t surprise me one bit that he came to his senses and didn’t utter a peep.  Nothing.  Not a word.

Its this legacy that forever will remain with Jordan.  When it came time to say something, he didn’t.  He sat quietly in a corner as people with real balls to do something actually did something.  Jordan’s greatness on the court isn’t to be questioned.  He’s the greatest basketball player that has ever graced the courts.  But when it comes to being a leader off it, he’d much rather let people who have more to lose do the losing.  He’s a winner and the more he stays quiet and allows this process to be led by other people the more he wins.  He’s still idolized and revered and not lumped in with the owners who want to greedily take away the players money.

Jordan is finally going to the craps table and just standing by while others gamble their good names away.  He’d much rather stand and watch that happen.

In the end, this labor deal will get done.  In one way or the other.  My prediction is that this ultimatum will be taken off the table because it won’t matter.  Players will accept a 50% deal with projections that allow them the 51% or 52% they seek as the NBA does better.  The owners know that they have to appease them and more importantly Stern knows.  Stern’s biggest task is to convince these owners that allowing some of these concessions is imperative to keeping a season.  Having a season off the one we just had is SO IMPORTANT.  In the end if these talks break down and the league ends up not having a season over what is being described as 1 measly percentage point then BOTH sides will be looked at as greedy and failures.  Right now, no one cares because football and fantasy football is keeping us busy.  But if people still don’t care when February comes, then the NBA will know they have a huge problem.  Remember, come February, spring training will begin so the public will be distracted by that as well.  How long can the NBA and its Players continue to play this game of chicken until they realize that what is happening is already affecting them long term?

More so than the threat of the next group of offers from the owners being worse due to projections of lost revenue thanks to the first month of games being lost, the threat of people not really caring should be the biggest worry for both sides.  Get a deal done.  Stop worrying about public perception of who won or lost because both sides are headed to big fat L’s if they don’t bandy their respective groups together to come to a happy medium.

But for people like MJ, does it really matter? As long as his name isn’t dragged through the mud.  The sad part of all this is that MJ could do wonders if he spoke up in the owners group and forced the owners to give an actual offer that would appease the players and appease the owners.  A happy middle ground.  Have an economist draw up numbers so that MJ could present it to the owners.  Imagine what would happen to his reputation then if it came out that it was MJ who went in front of the owners and spoke as a player as to the importance of keeping a season alive and keeping this great momentum they have.  Imagine what would happen to MJ’s stock if he was the guy that got the owners to present a very good deal to the players.  Imagine the pressure on the players to accept a deal then.  Michael could come across as the hero, an unfamiliar role for a guy who has never seen any type of success in his life as an NBA GM/Owner.  This would be his biggest victory and a lasting legacy.  The guy who allowed the NBA to continue its growth.  The NBA has enough really good young players to take over once Kobe/Nash/Dirk retire.  They have enough young talent to take over that’s exciting.  To build upon all the success that Jordan helped continue when Bird and Magic helped to revitalize the NBA in the 80’s.  This would be Jordan’s legacy.  His shoebrand and empire empowered this generation of kids to be more business savvy.  That generation is now seeking its own financial security and its own step forward.  Michael could help it.  Mike needs to be Mike in this case.  Mike needs to invoke his name and reputation and use it for good.  Mike needs to step up.  Mike needs the ball.  The clock is ticking.  Who else would you rather see with the ball in his hands?  Yep, its time for Mike to step up and hit the shot to bring us back an NBA season.  Let’s see if he can do it.

 

Here are the Picks for Week 9:

Falcons (-6.5) over COLTS

SAINTS (-8.5) over Bucs- No way the Saints get beat again and lose the way they did last time.

TEXANS (-10.5) over Browns

Jets (+2.5) over BILLS

CHIEFS (-4) over Dolphins-  Seriously, if the Dolphins decide to compete, I would be very upset with them if I were a Dolphin fan.

49ers (-4) over REDSKINS-  if the Niner offense were explosive this would be a double digit line.  But the NIners run a conservative offense thus, only 4.

Seahawks (+11) over COWBOYS- The Seahawks have a sneaky good defense.

RAIDERS (-7) over Broncos

Bengals (+3) over TITANS

CARDINALS (-3) over Rams

PATRIOTS (-9) over Giants

Packers (-5.5) over CHARGERS

STEELERS (-3) over Ravens

EAGLES (-7.5) over Bears

 

Enjoy Week  9 Folks.

 

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Seriously Lebron- What’s up?

52 to 11.

That’s Dirk Nowitzki’s fourth quarter tally and that second number is Lebron James.

I am going to preface this by saying I didn’t watch all of Game 5 but the beauty of social networking websites and 24 hour sports news networks and league specific channels running on an all day clock make it so that you NEVER have to kick yourself for not setting your DVR.

A few days ago I wrote an article questioning what was eating Lebron James.  What could possibly be weighing on his mind that could possibly cause a second consecutive crash and burn for the self-appointed King James?  If you believe the internet, then its Rashard Lewis.  But Mike Wise had a great line in his Washington Post article which says it best:

“After boxing, nothing affords a naked-eye view of a supreme talent like basketball. Viewers see James’s mood swings, interpret his body language, see the fidgety nibbling of his nails, the primal roar after a malicious slam, and they instantly feel they know him in a way they could never know a helmeted free safety or a masked goaltender.”

And we all feel that instant connection to Lebron James, the most televised athlete in the history of the game.  Lebron the phenom came up at just the right time, as social networking was exploding, as tv cameras were following child prodigies around, everyone carrying around smartphones so we would never miss a score, and as DVR’s made it possible for people to NEVER miss an important sports game ever again.  So his connection with us is instant.  We see everything even this unbelievable footage of Wade and Lebron clowning Dirk and acting as if he were putting on a performance with the reports of a sinus flu.

Yet, the biggest act has been this Lebron James.  Whoever this Lebron James is.  Is the real Lebron the guy who torched Boston and absolutely destroyed Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls?  Or is it THIS James, on the biggest stage of his career and looking about as lost as a kid who walked into the wrong classroom on the first day of school.*
*= not like that ever happened to me 

For James haters this is best case scenario: the Heat losing, and Lebron being a shadow in the fourth quarter shrinking under the weight and burden that his talent brings.  Who is Lebron James?  He’s the most televised athlete of our generation and yet we have no clue what he is.  But we will find that out in Game 6 and perhaps Game 7.  The law of averages for a talent of his kind suggests that he will get it together, put his skirt away and bring his man pants to American Airlines Arena in Miami on Sunday and help the Heat reclaim some of the lost momentum.

Of course, if they don’t, Lebron may never recover.  The camera tells the whole story.  Nail biting.  Lebron looking around for someone to get this hot potato we call a basketball away from him.  The pathetic display of emotion when he creates a turnover.  You know, the “I gotta show something here so that fans don’t think I don’t care” look of half ass incredulous-ness.*
*= yeah, I just created a word right there- deal with it! 

But if these last few outings have proven anything its this: we now have a clear understanding of who’s the man.  Its almost universal that Lebron James is the better player than Dwayne Wade.  But perhaps even that discussion is changing and shifting.  Because its what have you done for me lately and lately James hasn’t done diddly.  Wade, with bruised hip and all, sitting a quarter managed 23 points.  Lebron happy to play stat-sheet killer threw up a triple double and still the haters were in full force.

His supporters will run to that argument: are you kidding me? He had a triple double.  What else do you want him to do?

The only problem with that argument is he came to Miami because his supporting cast was infinitely better here.  Yes, I’m even giving Chris Bosh some props because I can’t be more impressed by him.  He can’t fall on that safety crutch that his teammates suck like he could in Cleveland.  Dwayne Wade has consistently shown up.  He will get the Finals MVP if the Miami Heat win.  Chris Bosh has been better than I EVER expected on the glass and he’s been consistent with his jumper.  But everyone’s waiting for Lebron to show up.

Don’t count him out either.  With his kind of talent you never want to give a guy like that motivation but the Mavs have consistently given him that motivation throughout.  Deshawn Stevenson said he quit.  Jason Terry dared him to think he could guard him for the next five games like that.  These threats should’ve fueled Lebron to have a monster games 4 and 5 and yet, it seemingly deflated him even more.  The thought process here is this: what’s going on that Lebron can’t seem to focus?  Where is Lebron James when his team needs him?

Physically its tough to miss him, mentally he’s miles away.  In his mind, the Heat have won the title and he’s playing pick up games with Jason Kidd and Jason Terry.  He probably hasn’t seen the huge banner that reads FINAL on it.  This is it Lebron.  Make or break.  Its about that time.

Oh wait, he said that too.

Now all this is making sense.  Lebron wasn’t teaming up with Wade, he was running to Wade.  Lebron said it perfectly: he was taking his talents to South Beach to be Wade’s lackey.  It makes sense that Scottie Pippen, always jealous of Michael Jordan and never able to do what he did, would dis Michael to give props to Lebron.  Because he sees everything in him that he saw in Lebron.  He wants everyone to make THAT comparison.  Lebron is Scottie 2.0.  And ya know what Scottie?  You’re right.  He is.  He’s Karl Malone 2.0.  He’s freaking Shawn Kemp 15.0 (i mean he has a lot of baby mama drama doesn’t he?).  Yep, he’s the evolution of the talented Superstar with one glaring thing missing: that ring.

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What’s eating Lebron James?

Honestly, when the question was asked about Lebron shying away from the big moment in crucial situations, even I was a bit taken aback by it.  I felt bad for Lebron who I reminded myself quickly should NOT be a person anyone feels bad for.  Not after the offseason and not after the preseason parade.  But I was a bit puzzled by his question.  Sure, Lebron is allowed to have one bad shot or one bad quarter which is all fine and well.  But if you want to be the best you have to earn it and for Lebron there is no other end game.  If he becomes anything less than better than Michael Jordan when all is said and done consider his career a failure.

Seriously.

Its not that I think being better than MJ is going to be easy by any stretch.  The weight of that title can crush any normal man but Lebron hasn’t been trained to be normal all his life.  His teenage years, his adolescent years have all been spent under the watchful eye of the television camera and so there is no hiding for Lebron.  He’s made his life one big Truman show so we can all enjoy and bask in the life and times of a great basketball player and before I say anything about his Game 4 performance let me repeat: Lebron James is already a great basketball player.

But game 4 was atrocious.  From beginning to end.  He looked like a rookie navigating his way around his first playoff game.  He looked like a kid in a toy store for the very first time.  He was there for the ride and happy to be there.  Unfortunately that’s not Lebron’s job.  Lebron is supposed to be everything and nothing that Michael Jordan was.  He has to take over fourth quarters.  He has to score the game winning basket.  He has to get the big steal.  He has to make the big defensive play to turn the tide.  That’s what HE has to do.

There is however, the problem of having someone on your team that can rival your own talent and skill set.  After all, isn’t that why Lebron and Wade joined forces?  Lebron never had the kind of band mates he has in Miami in Cleveland.  It was about winning and forming the best team possible under NBA free agency rules.  So if that IS the case. why should anyone care if Wade does the heavy lifting?  If Wade carries the team once in a while.  I mean, it was Lebron who carried the Heat against the Bulls.  Shutting down Derrick Rose on one end and then hitting clutch shot after clutch shot on the offensive end.  It was the fulfilling of the prophecy moment for most Lebron fans.

But Wade’s disappearance throughout the Bulls series was not due to failure of trying.  We never questioned Wade’s effort like Lebron’s clearly was after Game 4.  Lebron looked confused.  He looked uncertain.  He looked scared.  He looked lost.  He looked nothing like what we expect and what we expect is MJ.  What we expect are memories we have of Michael Jordan.  Sure we acknowledge the push off on Byron Russell in 98 but we remember the hand staying in the air as he posed for what SHOULD HAVE BEEN his final game.  An artist so sure of what to do in critical moments.  A different being in critical situations.  What was so crazy about LBJ’s performance was this: we saw it in his eyes.  He wasn’t in the game.  He wasn’t so much involved in the goings on of this crucial game 4.  Another game in which they held a 9 point advantage with 7 minutes to go and faltered again.

There are really two sad things about last night’s game:  If Lebron had looked anything like his normal self, the Heat win this running away.  They are up three games to one and on their way to either a five game win or six for added celebratory effect in downtown Miami.  They lost by 2 because for some reason Lebron just wasn’t himself for the entire game.  Dirk Nowitzki outscored Lebron James in the fourth quarter alone.  In 90 career playoff games no one had ever held him to single digits in points and yet on the Finals stage, in a game where I was blown away more by Dwayne Wade’s ability as the BEST two way guard in the game* than Lebron’s no show until I started looking for Lebron on the court like a parent who just remembered they had a kid with them.  Panic set in and I was wondering if Lebron was even in the game and then I saw him turn it over.  I went online looking at his stats and was confused.  6 points?  Are they only showing me the points for the quarter?
*= seriously if there is any argument I’d like to hear it because Dwayne Wade’s block of Tyson Chandler and his 32 points and his Finals MVP showcase performance are all you need to know to end any argument anyone has.  He’s the best 2 way guard in the game.  Better than Kobe.  Better than everyone.  Forget it.   

It was beyond me.  But that’s only because my expectation of Lebron is so much higher than perhaps he has of himself.  Maybe he’s unsure.  Maybe he got a text message from Delonte West and noticed he had checked into Akron, Ohio near his mom’s house.  Maybe the lingering Jordan debate is just too much for him.  Who knows what was bugging him, but what we do know is that for the Heat to win this series, Lebron has to be himself.  Lebron has to rise above his below mediocre self and become that guy from the Bulls series.  How can anyone think that Jason Terry can guard him?  Credit the Mavs D from taking the ball out of Lebron’s hand and making him throw passes to players wearing blue jerseys.  But also you have to consider that Lebron is fading from this series for altogether other reasons just like he did when he quit on the Cavs last year against Boston.

You have to wonder, what’s eating Lebron James?

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Dealing with Game 1 ramifications

Don’t quote me on this but: its over ya’ll.

It has been for a while but we never wanted to admit it.  We talked ourselves into adjmustment periods.  We talked ourselves into the whole “these guys can’t close”, “they aren’t clutch” arguments.  We even went as far as to say “they aren’t THAT good.”

Gulp.

They are.  If these playoffs have been anything its been the Heatles last song in a season long concert of hits.  Some were dicey and murky but in the end, these guys figured it out and have made it work.

Remember when we wondered who would be taking the last shot?  That debate is now moot because it doesn’t really matter.  Lebron and Wade seem to tag each other in in close moments and will their team to victory.

Last night was Lebron’s first Finals victory of many presumably.  If they can lift this squad of ho hums and nobodies then imagine what will happen when they fill out this squad with more talent.  How many Juwan Howards and Mike Bibby’s will forego extra dollars just to ride the James-Wade express to a championship?

This is only beginning folks.  When Dirk Nowitzki lifted up his finger to show the torn tendon that he suffered in the third quarter going for a strip of Chris Bosh- it might as well have been the white flag he was waving.

Jeff Van Gundy said it best: “the difference between the Mavs and the Heat are that Miami has Lebron James and the Mavs don’t.”. Simply put he’s the great game changer.  He pulls 60 regular season victories out of his hat.  He shows great feel and poise for the game.  He has incredible range as evidenced by his third quarter fall away three at the buzzer.  He now has added fourth quarter closer to his reportoire.

There is no place left for any Lebron hater to go.  His game is that good- we’ve always recognized that.  We have nitpicked and enjoyed his misery when he misses but those are Jordan like qualities he possesses.  He’s so good, he makes us hate him but marvel at the same time.

When I was growing up Michael Jordan consistently put an asswhooping on my beloved Knicks when it mattered.  In the playoffs he could not be beat.  It wasn’t close.  In the regular season he was human though he tried not to show it.  The Knicks would beat the Bulls and Knick fans like myself had this false sense of superiority that eventually came crashing down when Mike would eventually turn it to a level that John Starks, Patrick Ewing and Co. could only dream of.

Look at the teams Lebron has vanquished.  It was like his teams never beat the Celtics.  The season series was 3-1 in favor of Boston.  0-3 versus the Chicago Bulls.  Both series went in 5.  Finally the Heat were 0-2 against Dallas this season but after game 1, its 1-0 in favor of the MoHeat-os.

As a Lebron hater its difficult to view him as anything but a coat tail rider and prima donna and every other nasty synonym of loser I can conjure up.  But as a basketball fan I’m in awe.  A great one is forging his legacy before our eyes.  He’s asked for this attention, and gotten it, his whole life.  Now on his sport’s biggest stage he’s teaming up with his friend D-Wade to claim the last bit of relevant gold he has yet to put his stamp on: the NBA championship.

Of course the comparisons to Michael will only intensify.  In the aftermath of these Finals, it will go from Lebron winning his first championship to talk to me when he wins six.  After that, what will Lebron haters like myself do?  Will we ask him to lead his team to a better than 72-10 mark?  82-0?  Hey Lebron, betcha can’t score more than 100 in a game.  Yo Bron, nice triple double but can you do that over an entire season like the Big O?  What will we have?

Why? Because we’ve waited for MJ’s successor for so long.  Because we wanted Lebron to be that dude.  No matter what we say, Lebron is the closest thing we have to MJ.  Maybe not better Scottie, but close enough.  He’s the next version of the MJ type.  The successor, the evolution of the Jordan gene.  We don’t want to admit this but this is what we want.

We want someone to take the reins and ride the horse.  We want to witness greatness and marvel and hate on it.  We want Lebron to be what we know he can be: the best.  Period.

Last night’s late game pull away has been like a script the Heat have acted to perfection this postseason.  Line for line, scene to scene, it was a virtuoso performance by 2 of the best players, and Chris Bosh, who has done a more than serviceable job cleaning up the boards and tip ins that he’s managed to be very good but that’s as far as I’ll go in praising him.

The Heat have never looked like they weren’t in command and their defense has been the catalyst.  The Heat’s speed and ability to cover ground force Dallas’ shooters to not have the kind of open looks and opportunities they’ve been used to seeing these playoffs.  Terry, Peja, Deshaun Stevenson all had hands in their faces as soon as the ball reached them.  One by one they lost their confidence and they folded under the Heat of Miami’s defense.  The Mavs were supposed to be the deeper team, but it was the Heat who gained steam as the game went on.

It all adds up to a Heat game one win and a preview of things to come for several years.  The Heat are only going to get better folks.  Admit the inevitable and just enjoy the ride.

Gulp.

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the Inevitability of the NBA Finals

I dont know if Dirk Nowitzki knows this or not, but he’s the last line of defense.  He’s the last thing that stands in the way of Lebron James and inevitability.  The last stand against the great army that marches from the beaches in the South.  This aint Normandy but its imperative that Dirk and Co. storm that bleep.

History may say different, but for me personally and everyone my age, there has NEVER been anything like this.  In fact, let’s go one step further: there has NEVER been anything like this.  Imagine the best player in the sport holding it hostage over a year period prior to his free agency and then well into the summer until finally announcing his decision on a nationally televised “fundraiser”?  You can’t.  It has never happened.

Even Lebron can admit somewhere that the “Decision” was a misguided endeavor put together by friends and people who advised him to do this.  People who have constantly given him this sense of entitlement that rules don’t apply to him.  What else could be the cause of a human being putting on such a show?  It doesn’t make any sense.

The fact is, the Lebron James Summer culminates in these Finals.  I don’t expect anything less than a raucuous atmosphere in both American Airlines arenas.  I watched the game at Tonic last Thursday and the waves the fans were riding with each Lebron shot in the Fourth Quarter, in which he destroyed the league MVP in much the same way Michael Jordan did to Karl Malone when Malone won in 1997, was incredible.

We constantly compare Michael to Lebron but criticize Lebron for taking a much different path.  Michael didn’t let down an entire city because before he had to make a “Decision” the Bulls had drafted Scottie Pippen and had assembled the necessary pieces to make a run.  Michael had his shoe deal and hype coming out of college.  Lebron had his starting at age 13.  Michael went to North Carolina to learn his craft, Lebron played in front of a very demanding home town crowd who expected nothing but great things out of the kid from Akron.  Michael scored, and scored and scored but Lebron has had to score for his team, set up the offense and grab rebounds.

Consider the stat that STILL blows me away about Lebron James: he’s led his team in points, assists and rebounds, all three categories in the same game 19 times.  19!!!!  Nobody in NBA HISTORY has done it more than 3.  Let that sink in before you start cursing out Lebron.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still hate the prick for choosing to take his talents to South Beach over coming to the big city and taking on a real challenge but think about the even bigger challenge he created.

He brought this incredible weight and pressure on himself.  He chose to do go through with the Decision.  He chose to dis Cleveland as their owner said in his dis letter of record to Lebron.  He decided to join his friend Dwayne Wade in Miami and throw a big championship parade prior to the season and declare his intent of winning “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six…..”  He’s the one that made everyone pissed off at him to the point that we laughed at every failure.

I remember a sense of unbelievable pride when the Knicks came back and beat the Heat.  Suddenly I fooled myself into thinking that this regular season game was bigger than what it was.  I remember believing the Knicks were better than the Heat.  That’s what Lebron did for the game of basketball.  He made EVERY single game matter.  Every loss was vindication for Heat haters.  Every win was greeted with cynicism; “only won by 15 eh?  WEAK!”

The Jordan comparison got to be ridiculous.  Jordan would’ve NEVER done this, never done that.  Jordan would’ve made that game winning shot.  Jordan would’ve passed there.  All this because we hated Lebron and those of us who had seen Jordan at his apex remember what a dominant figure he was capable of winning games by himself.  “Lebron can’t win by himself.  Look, he ran to Wade to get help.  He’ll never be number one.”

But after the last two rounds of these playoffs you tell me who’s team the Miami Heat is?  Who’s carried the Heat down the stretch hitting clutch shot after clutch shot?  The Heat trailed the Bulls in the last two games of that series and yet there was Lebron bringing them back.  I clenched my fist and held my tongue.  Finally, we were witnessing.  Finally, with a decent supporting cast, Lebron James was providing us with the magic that we were all promised from the moment he arrived in the public consciousness.

I won’t forget watching the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals Game 5 where Lebron scored 25 points down the stretch of the fourth quarter to will his team over a still formidable Pistons team.  Lebron James went on a rampage and could not be contained and THAT moment convinced me that he was special.  He was better than any player.  Nobody could stop him.

Throughout this entire playoffs I’ve been a third hating him, a third marveling at him, and the final third just being mad that he wasn’t taking over.  He’s had this ability all his life and he didn’t seem to understand how to harness it.  It came and went and when it wasn’t there he looked like a guy who didn’t care and as an NBA fan when you see a guy that big, that strong, that fast not able to post up Muggsy Bogues you’d be mad too.

I’ve always seen Lebron as a guy who could be, can be, and should be.  He isn’t.  Yet.  The scary part is, if he figures it out, he could go on a Jordan like run.  A run which the NBA hasn’t seen the likes of since Jordan himself.  There’s that name again.  A few days ago Scottie Pippen drew the ire of every basketball fan when he dared to suggest that Lebron James could be better than Michael Jordan.

Physically, its possible.  Mentally is what separated Jordan from the pack and even there I think Lebron has a feel for the game that very few have.  By NO MEANS am I a Lebron fan.  I want the Mavs to win because I think Mark Cuban being handed the Larry O’Brien trophy by a pissed off David Stern is must see t.v..  Because I think Jason Kidd deserves to win a championship and because I think Dirk Nowitzki will NEVER be appreciated if he doesn’t win one here.  Because the 2006 Finals were such a complete and utter disgrace officiating wise that karma MUST reward the Mavs with a title over this star laden team.

But if Lebron does win, I’ll be happy as an NBA Fan.  Amazed that one man put himself in such a hole and in such a bad way and can somehow still come away with a victory with a majority of the NBA fan base so violently rooting against him.  Against the inevitable.

 

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New York and the NBA after “The Decision”

New Yorkers are incredibly resillient.  That much I’m sure of.  So recovering from the mess that was Lebron took only a few hours.  We’re a city that moves so quick that tourists complain about our rudeness.

We’re not walking fast, you’re just walking slow.

So no wonder that yesterdays press conference to announce 4 new players to the Knicks roster was met more with answers of what was to come than what wasn’t.

Allan Houston, the Knicks GM-in-training, knows about defeating the Miami Heat.  He lives on in New Yorkers hearts for his teardrop shot to shock the Heat during the 99 season. A season where an 8th seed like them beat a 1 seed like the Heat, a scenario that the Knicks could find themselves in this season.

Projected records so far have the Knicks winning between 38-42 games which would be, at best, a 12 game turnaround.  Its entirely possible that the Knicks could be the surprise team if you buy into all the doomsday theories of the Knicks going back to irrelevance now that Le-Bum spurned New York’s advances.  If we had anything over the past two years, it was hope that Lebron was on his way like a knight in shining armor to save the day.

But that prince turned into a frog instead.  He became Hollywood Hogan and went AWOL on the good guy list.  Now he’s the villain universally.

My question is..was that…a good thing?  Hear me out Knick fans.  Maybe I’m just sipping from the kool aid a bit too much but I’m thinking pretty clear, I promise.

My points are all purely circumstantial so I have nothing to stand behind but a hunch.  What if Chris Paul’s reported announcement of his own big 3 wasn’t all talk?

If you haven’t read the newest rumor to drive Knick fans crazy, here it is.  Marc Berman, the Knicks beatwriter for the New York Post, said that in a speech during friend Carmello Anthony’s wedding, which James was also in attendance for, said he, Melo, and Amare would form their own Big 3 in New York to challenge the one in South Beach.

How much truth lies in that statement remains in question.  Remember Knick fans, Lebron started flirting with coming to New York two years ago too.  So let’s hold our horses and not get set up again.

Ok, so let’s start imagining a scenario I’ve been thinking about since this newstory leaked.  What if this Big 3 forming in Miami sparked an idea in the minds of all free agents to be that the only way to assure yourself of greatness is to be teamed with a really good squad and form your own super team?  What if guys like Chris Paul and Deron Williams (both free agents in 2012) want a championship badly enough that they would let statistics be damned and join forces to make it happen?

It makes sense now that the discussion on the superstars are changing.  If stars no longer care about competing against each other then expect more super teams to come together.

So now the only relevant topic left is to scout potential landing spots for that kind of star power and all signs point to New York being the last glamour spot left in the NBA for stars to really shine on a huge stage.  The Knicks and Nets can basically play up the image part of being a champion in New York now that its become clear what this generations stars are after.  Its not about individual glory.

Which brings us to David Stern’s comments regarding Lebron’s exit strategy.  He said his decision making was poor and he wished he had informed Dan Gilbert, the crazy owner of the Cavs, sooner than he had about him leaving as opposed to a nationally televised audience.  The interesting part is how Stern views this shift.  Its bigger than you think.

Stern’s marketing made his stars huge.  In the early 80’s basketballs ratings were so poor that the Finals were shown on tape delay on CBS.  Magic and Bird brought the NBA back with their rivalry and MJ took it to a whole other level.  Basketballs popularity skyrocketed with MJ’s emergence.  The marketing job they did on Jordan and helping take his accomplishments and multiply its importance was and remains why we view Jordan the way we do.  Stern always had a star to build around.  Like the sun to the rest of the planets orbiting around it.

Its why when Jordan left, the discussion was where the NBA would find its next Jordan.  How could you follow that act up?  It took years and years before fans were able to accept that there was no next Jordan.  Remember Harold Miner? T-Mac? Vince Carter?*  All good players but never nearly as great as we as fans thought they’d be.
*= I especially hate Vince Carter because I was almost positive he was the next best thing.  He came from Jordan’s alma mater, North Carolina, and he had all the easy athleticism that made Jordan so enjoyable to watch even though he was beating my franchise down.  But his injuries never seemed genuine and he quit on the franchise that invested in him.  I just had very little respect for a man who I felt was wasting his talent and not using it which is why I suppose this Lebron “Decision” irks me too.

If championships are the only category to worship then Russell is the champ.  If its scoring ability its Kareem.  But because of his flair and the commercials and the aura he built with the marketing dollars, we all ceded that it was Jordan.  I believe Jordan was the greatest because you just knew when you were watching him that you were going to be treated.  A singular talent like him shined brightest on the bright stage as if he did it without a supporting cast, as if there was no Pippen.

Need a more contemporary example?  Everyone that watched the Finals know that Gasol outplayed Kobe in game 7, but Kobe, with a 6/24 shooting performance won the series MVP.  Why?  Because Kobe is the biggest star.  Kobe basically had to show up in order to win the MVP.

The NBA is a star’s business and Stern was a master in pushing his sports top athletes.  He understood that and he made it profitable.  So when he sees Lebron make a business decision personal to join friends in search of championships, he’s seeing his biggest meal ticket ruin what could be millions more in branding and other things.

Now Stern has to sell the team to fans as opposed to two separate entities.  He can’t just market Lebron by himself.  He has to market him with Wade.  Wade and Lebron are close enough to assume sporting headlines in matchups against each other.  Remember the NBA on NBC ads? “Jordan and the Bulls vs Ewing and the Knicks.” Who but the Lakers can match in star power?

Stern’s anguish was evident during the press conference.  He looked like he went to happy hour a few hours prior to the presser.  He looked tired and stressed like he’d been on multiple conference calls to sort out the mess that he knew he was in.  Imagine having crafted your business one way and now having to change it even slightly not because of your customer base but because of your employees.

Stern doesn’t have his heir apparent to Kobe.  It could be Wade but he had Lebron fitted for that crown.  Now its up in the air and Stern has to wonder what it means for the future of his stumbling league if stars are leaving smaller market teams to join together and form super teams then Stern will have an even bigger problem.

Guys talking about joining together publically?  The biggest star in the game coming out of this with more trash flying at him than Hulk Hogan when he made the heel turnV  Stern now has a PR and business problem at hand.

But Stern’s loss may end up being New York’s gain.  What if the summer of 2010 ended up shifting the thinking among young stars.  If a guy like Lebron cedes he can’t lead a team by himself then everyone may begin feeling the same and by the time your done in a few years you have 5 or 6 really really good teams and a bunch of bad ones.  Its natural to assume that the NBA will be in trouble and Stern should be worried about how this summer has gone but you think Miami Heat fans are worried about the state of the NBA?  Well if it benefits New York then neither should we.  New York is resillient, we will get through the hate.

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Lebron’s decision: the day after.

The one thing that I knew going into last night’s announcement was this: no matter what happened, Lebron James was now going to be universally disliked.  The last few months were unlike the NBA has ever seen or ever will see.  His “Decision” special was filled with as much drama as a Yankees/Twins series.  The outcome had been there for days and this growing sentiment that the three men had arranged this together seemed fitting.  But still, it was something that came off as unsettling and almost pitiful even as a fan of one of the hopeful teams.

As a Knicks fan after much sulking, I looked at it from a rational standpoint and I understand why he did it.  Lebron did it to win championships and nothing else.  At the end of the day that’s what this game is about and for the winners go the spoils and for losers go nothing.  There’s no such thing as second place.  Lebron understood that better than anyone.  As a man expected to carry his team to the championship these last two years it was a colossal disappointment that he never accomplished that goal for his home state.  Despite all the rumblings the fact was this, Lebron wanted the championships and naturally one would expect the glory that comes with it.

I get it.  I even get the need to have two very talented men to support you and help shoulder the burden of bringing a title to the resume.  Even as he’s teaming up to become part of this (un) holy triumvirate, make no mistake this is all about Lebron which explains why he didn’t go the simple route and join Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade at the podium for their announcements (which of course makes the cry of ego maniac ring truer but we’ll get to that.).  I get why he would want to play with his friends and build a dynasty with them.  I get all of that.  In fact, me and my buddies from high school always joke about each getting a place on the same block and growing old together.

Even then you didn’t expect it.  Even then you held out hope that perhaps this whole Lebron to the Heat was just smoke screen for either his eventual return to Cleveland or escape to Chicago or New York which both wouldn’t be as universally destroyed like this move is.  Don’t get me wrong, leaving the Cavs makes him look like a jerk.  Leaving the Cavs for South Beach makes him look like a doubting-his-own-talent jerk.

I don’t buy that this is bad for the NBA.  In fact, all this Lebron speculation cost ESPN a lot of its credibility and almost destroyed Twitter.  It was THE TALK of the internet and everyone and I mean even the President had an opinion on the matter.  This is fantastic for the NBA in a time in which ticket sales are down and the league is losing money in the hundreds of millions.  All this hype over the super team will draw huge ratings.  Quick prediction about how many Heat games will be shown on national television?

I don’t even buy the talk that this immediately vaults them to the top of the pack in the NBA.  The Lakers still have Kobe, Artest, Gasol, and Odom and a very good supporting cast which the Heat will have to address in the coming days.

But there are some negatives here in the immediate future that must be discussed, and other points but before I do that I just want to throw one last conspiracy theory because these Lebron rumors have been so fun:  David Stern facing sagging sales and a tough economic future, send an email to every big name free agent over the next two seasons to begin forming super teams.  The NBA will push through outlandish trades and create 6 or 7 elite teams filled with two or three top 20 players in the league and approve an unbalanced schedule where these teams will meet once a week on TNT and ESPN.  Don’t put anything past Stern.

First negative: Immediate fall out in Cleveland was bad.  So bad that all you saw were Lebron jerseys being burned, young white women crying, and empty bars perhaps symbolizing Cleveland’s economy now that Lebron isn’t there.  But the icing on the cake was a half drunk/half crazed letter by super fan/owner Dan Gilbert destroying Lebron’s reputation and basically saying everything that any Cleveland fan would.  In all of this, Cleveland is the biggest victim, but are they?  If the fix was in from jump street and Lebron, Wade and Bosh had planned this all along, then yes Cleveland is victim.  But if not, if this were an actual decision and Lebron heard out every camp’s proposal how could New York be bashed for its proposal and not Cleveland?  Everyone’s biggest complaint about New York’s presentation was that it was all about New York and very little about the roster and about the players it would surround him with.  Well, Cleveland had a 60 win team with no cap flexibility to add pieces unless it had a sign and trade set with a player but Chris Bosh, the player that many had earmarked as Lebron’s pick to roll with him, refused to play in Cleveland (I don’t blame him).  Other than that, Cleveland did nothing else to show Lebron that they were serious suitors other than to play on his emotions of staying at home.  While the Cleveland roster was better than the Knick roster, in time we’ll see how much Lebron elevated that roster to a 60 win team.  Lebron on last year’s Knicks could’ve made them at least a 50 something win team in the East if they were capable of winning 29 on their own.  The point is that Cleveland made nothing more than a half hearted attempt at keeping their star player on their roster.

Which brings us to the Heat’s first game at Cleveland which should bring more than just fireworks.  I legitimately am worried for Lebron’s life.  What he did by screwing them over and doing it on national television was embarrass a town that didn’t need another reminder of how sports-cursed they are.  He gave them 7 years of his heart and yet in the end, all anyone will remember is Dan Gilbert’s assertion that he quit on the team in his final 4 games and took the cowardly way out.  That will lead to bitter resentment.  I was listening to talk radio this morning and they were trying to find a perfect comparison of how he would be greeted by fans in Cleveland and the best they came up with was Vince Carter who’s every shot for years was met with resounding boos.  This was for years and he’s not even from Toronto.  Lebron’s exit is a little more personal and he’s already eclipsed Art Modell as the most vile sports figure in the Cleveland area.  That’s no easy task but Lebron found a way to do it.  Also, the poetry in the fact that every cruel Cleveland loss is just one word: the Fumble, the Drive, the Shot and now, the Decision.    Lebron couldn’t have been that cruel could he?

Second Negative: It sets precedents on several levels.  What does it tell small market teams like Cleveland that they can’t even keep one of their home grown stars?  Sure, on the same day Kevin Durant resigned with the Thunder quietly via Twitter, but he’s a shy kid who’s on a pretty loaded roster.  There will be more guys that go the Lebron route and leave for flashier pastures and it sets a precedent on another note as well.  Lebron’s one of the biggest basketball stars on the planet and his decision became a nationally televised event.  What will the next super talent do to upstage the self titled King?  How will technology affect this change and how much has unbridled access destroyed the mystique of star players?  Imagine we hadn’t been put through this charade?  If Lebron knew where he was going all along it seems rather selfish and egotistical to do something like this and stretch this out for his own sense of self worth doesn’t it?  What was he promised?  How hard was he laughing inside while Mikhail Prokhorov made his business pitch?  What does Jay-Z think of him now that he made his choice to join D-Wade and Bosh?  I’m sure he won’t be thrilled if he finds out that he had made up his mind a long time ago.  Point is, our society seeks answers and requires access at all times and doesn’t seem to have a sense of boundary to them.  If Princess Di’s death marked the explosion of the term paparazzi, then what will Lebronapalooza be the start of?  Technically Lebron gave us what we now crave.  Everything.  We want to be the fly on the wall.  I wouldn’t be surprised if a documentary detailing everything will be released with extra footage of them discussing this plan months in advance giving us the answer we pretty much know.  They planned this and they strung us along for the ride.  Whatever new era in media we are entering its uncharted waters and Lebron is making history.

Third negative and I can’t come to call this a negative, because its more selfish on my part.  The biggest question mark coming into this whole thing was motivation:  What was Lebron really after?  Was he out to be the greatest of all time?  Was he out to be the home town kid makes good storyline play out?  Was he out to be the kid from the sticks makes it big in the Big City?  Was it legacy?  Was it about pride?  What was it?  Selfishly all the hype about Lebron had made us come to expect something uniquely incredible.  We were all convinced that he would do something that had never been done before on an NBA court before all was said and done and that may still be the case but its a very long shot now.  By taking his services to South Beach he’s joining Wade’s team.  He’s now fully inserted himself into shot gun mode and decided to lower his game and his possible stature as the game’s greatest to help Wade become a multiple time champion.  Sure Lebron stands to gain but not as much as previously thought.  Forget his brand and what it will do to it financially by becoming just another piece.  His legacy is lessened by joining forces.

I’m sure Lebron will tell you a good story about sacrificing for the greater good of championships and all that and frankly I’ll believe him.  At the end of the day he couldn’t deal with the weight and burden of being THE MAN at one spot.  He couldn’t imagine failing in New York or Cleveland or Chicago because in those three places he would’ve certainly been the undisputed number one.  He goes to one of three places where he’s the undisputed number two.  It was a tough choice and one made with the understanding that he will be seen as a lesser player but with the knowledge that that sacrifice will be forgotten in the stream of championships this Heat team will compete for.

We all want to compare players to Jordan and I’ve never thought that it was a fair comparison but I get why people do it.  We all need a reference point, something to judge another person by and the only way to do that is by comparing that person to one of equal talent.  The fact that Lebron was continuously compared to Jordan without any rings tells you what people see in his potential but now, in my opinion, he has to go above and beyond to jump back into the conversation.  Say what you will about Jordan and how he played in a different era, but even if Jordan, Bird, or Magic were in the place of Lebron they would’ve never joined forces.  They had too much hubris and pride to do that.  They all wanted the recognition and worked hard to get it and they could never handle being upstaged by their own teammates.  Jordan would’ve went to a place that he could own or stayed in Cleveland to finish the job.  They had a certain pride that kept them from walking away.  You knew those guys would eventually get rings because that’s all they wanted.  But talk of being a billionaire clouded Lebron’s head and clearly his mind.  He was busier setting up his post-basketball life than focusing on the task at hand.

I guess its selfish on our part to see a person not see his potential reached.  I would’ve rooted for Lebron had he stayed in Cleveland.  I would’ve understood had he went to Chicago and I would’ve been positively thrilled had he come to New York.  But Miami still makes no sense to me from one stand point: Why not do it unless you wanted no parts of the responsibility?  If we had billed you as our best player how come you weren’t ready to accept that responsibility?  I guess that’s the main word: responsibility.  Is it his responsibility to us as fans or to himself that he should pay attention to?  We were told that we were witnesses, but what are we witness to now?

Just like last night, he’s taking much of the mystery of the next few seasons out of it.  Its almost expected that the Heat will win the title for the next few seasons.  They will be the biggest attraction the NBA has ever seen since they broadcast the original Dream Team’s games back in 1992.  Nobody can deny the talent level oozing from this team but one can imagine the blame that will fall on the Heat if they dont fullfill the prophecy.

Maybe Lebron walked into an even greater challenge than he left.  I mean, to lift Cleveland to a championship filled city was tough enough but to do so on a team where everyone will watch with a microscope and wait for failure could be even more trying.  Maybe the thrill of being the team with the big target on their back, a traveling team of all-stars will motivate them to show up on every single night.  The need for fans to be treated to a show will make them work harder to give them one.

But let’s step back and take a breath for what last night was: a self centered 25 year old embarking on the next chapter in his not so secretive life.  A guy who couldn’t handle the big city lights of New York, or walking in the shadow of MJ, or lifting his home town team to championship glory, but rather chose a path less traveled with two of his close friends.  I’m not saying that he made the wrong decision, that answer will reveal itself with time.  I’m saying that his decision could’ve been handled better by a kid we all thought knew how to handle it.  But maybe we don’t know a thing.  Maybe Lebron will win and we’ll eventually forget and Cleveland will get another superstar to bring them that elusive championship that city seeks.

But one thing will always bug me:: how on earth did Chris Bosh’s insignificant ass convince both Lebron and D-Wade that he was the key in all of this?

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