If a 16 seed added LeBron James to its roster, would it win the national championship? My older brother Brian Kahn and friend Lee Joffe join me to debate that scenario. We share our Final Four favorites and I amaze them with the statistical anomaly that is Oakland’s Max Hooper. Subscribe and rate on iTunes!
If you could become any basketball player for a day, whom would you choose? Jordan? Magic? Shaq? A few years ago, this would have been a more interesting question. Did you want to score? Distribute? Dominate inside? Now, you don’t really have to choose. One player gives you all of these things.
I asked a bunch of my hoop-playing friends who they’d like to become. There were conditions: the transformation would be similar to how the aliens become the Monstars in Space Jam—you’d get your chosen player’s size and skill but maintain your personality and facial features. And you’d only get those attributes for a day. In other words, it’s all about ball, not fame or fortune.
Continue reading LeBron for a Day
I, like LeBron James, thought it would be easy. When he took his talents to South Beach to team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, I accepted their domination as inevitable and resorted to saying it wouldn’t be very rewarding for them given the way the team was assembled.
But something unexpected happened last season: The Miami Heat did not win a title. Suddenly, we—not to mention the Heat players—realized it wasn’t easy. In this year’s NBA Finals, Miami lost Game 1 in Oklahoma City. In the 48 hours before Game 2, those familiar questions popped up: Was this experiment a failure? Who would coach the Heat next season? Should they trade Wade or Bosh?
Continue reading LeBron James, Miami Heat, Win NBA Title
Someone should check the water in the Biscayne Bay. First the Miami Heat organization goofed and celebrated a title prematurely. Yesterday The Miami Herald did the same thing, running an ad selling Heat championship apparel the morning after the Dallas Mavericks had captured the crown.*
The Heat’s celebration took place last summer, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh giggled like school girls on stage in front of a Miami crowd more raucous than it was during Sunday night’s game. The Not Big Enough Three liked the spotlight a lot less this June than they did last July, when “King” James declared he’d taken his talents to South Beach to win not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, and not even seven championships! We can’t say he was wrong. After Year One, the count stands at zero.
The concern some had when this trio came together was whether the other Miami players could provide enough. At that introductory celebration, the emcee concluded by telling the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh—your Miami Heat!” It was clear from the start this was not a team. It was James, Wade, Bosh, and The Other Guys. Could three star players beat a well constructed team?
We don’t know yet. Miami’s role players weren’t terrible. The Heat’s downfall was that its stars, particularly James, didn’t play like it. James’ plus-minus in the deciding Game Six was -24. If you were thinking he was nonexistent, you’re giving him too much credit. That number suggests he was actually detrimental to his team.
|Even those who live in alternate realities sometimes get mad. (Credit: Keith Allison)|
For the last few years every basketball writer and fan on the planet has played psychologist, trying to get inside LeBron’s head. Maybe this task has proven to be fruitless because there just aren’t many sensible thoughts floating around in there. After Game Six, James was asked whether he is bothered by all the haters.
“Absolutely not,” James said. “All the people that were rooting for me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They got the same personal problems they had today. And I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do.” He added that people can get a few days or a few months of happiness over the Heat’s loss, “but they’ve got to get back to the real world at some point.”
That’s right, LeBron James does not live in the real world. His haters do, but he doesn’t. Statements like this are the reason why the LeBron jokes have been flying across the internet:
Why did LeBron skip college? Because he never shows up for the finals.
Today is LeBron James Day in Cleveland schools. Students can leave 12 minutes early.
And, my personal favorite: If LeBron wanted rings he should have stayed in Ohio and bought them from Terrelle Pryor.
James’ off-court reputation has been lost forever. He is the most hated athlete in sports and I don’t see the public embracing him again. But the book on his basketball legacy is certainly not closed. Perhaps only multiple championships can turn the story positive, but that’s not an unreasonable expectation. Anyone claiming the Heat should blow up the roster is not thinking clearly. Dealing Wade or James makes no sense; dealing Bosh for two or three quality pieces would likely be beneficial for Miami, but I’m not sure what team would offer that for a guy clearly not capable of being “the guy” on a championship team. Let’s not forget, this team lost in the NBA Finals, not the first round.
The Dallas Mavericks reminded us that you can’t win a championship—let alone seven—overnight. As Dan Gilbert tweeted, “There are NO SHORTCUTS.” Winning titles takes a lot of hard work. The real world is tough. LeBron wouldn’t know.
*I always love watching players don championship t-shirts on the field/court immediately following victory because I have this idea that all the apparel commemorating the losing team is shipped to some third world country. This means that the people of, say, Somalia believe LeBron just captured his second title. They think the Buffalo Bills were a dynasty in the 1990’s and Butler won the last two NCAA basketball titles. However, even Somalians know the Pittsburgh Pirates stink.
After the Miami Heat eliminated the Chicago Bulls to advance to the NBA Finals, Sports Illustrated writer Richard Deitsch wrote the following on Twitter: “We are all Dallas Mavericks now.”
My informal, unscientific poll confirms this. The Miami Heat has been the villain since LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach this past offseason. Now, Miami is in the finals, which start tonight. The opponent doesn’t really matter, but it is the Dallas Mavericks.
The question I have is whether we’ve ever had a championship in which such a large majority rooted for one team. My estimate is 90 percent of viewers will be pulling for Dallas. Not only do fans of others teams hate the Heat, but Miami itself doesn’t have a strong fan base. They’ve pretended to care this season, but you should know better than to believe that. The franchise didn’t exist until 1988, a huge part of the reason for the lack of support (likewise, the Marlins came into existence in 1993, while the far more popular Dolphins have been around a lot longer, since 1966).
There is no way to answer this definitively, but it’s easier if we have some parameters. For starters, let’s only consider the three major U.S. professional sports: baseball, basketball, and football. Secondly, we’re only looking at the past 20 years.
|Generally, fans aren’t thrilled with this pairing. (Credit: Keith Allison)|
So, do you agree, or can you think of any instances in which there was even more lopsided support? Sound off in the comments section. Make your case for whatever team you’d like, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me of any title game in which the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Lakers appeared. The Yankees (who have been in the World Series seven times in the last 20 years) are an iconic franchise that has fans—and haters—across the country. Any time they take the field, there is going to be a large number of people rooting for—and against—them. The same goes for the Lakers.
The NBA: Where Choking Happens
There have been several comebacks during this postseason that have ranked among the all-time greatest in NBA playoff history. All three have involved the teams playing for the title, so perhaps we haven’t seen the last of the memorable collapses.
In the opening round, the Mavericks led the Portland Trail Blazers by 23 points in the third quarter and by 18 entering the fourth. It would be just the third time in the shot clock era that a team lost when leading by at least 18 entering the fourth. Portland’s Brandon Roy scored 18 in the final quarter as the Blazers outscored Dallas 35-15 to win Game Four 84-82.
In Game Four of the Western Conference finals, Dallas was on the other side of the comeback. Trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder by 15 with five minutes remaining, Dallas went on a 17-2 run to tie the game at 101. The Mavs did not claim their first lead until overtime, where they dominated to win 112-105.
In the East, the Chicago Bulls were in prime position to send the series back to Miami for Game Six. But the Heat closed with an 18-3 run in the final 3:03 to win 83-80.
I have no idea why 2011 has produced so many wild comebacks. The three-point shooting seems to be especially good (which makes it easier to mount a comeback), but that is purely anecdotal—the statistics don’t support that. Once again, I’m asking for your opinions: Any thoughts on why this year’s postseason has been full of comebacks?
It’s no secret I’m not a big NBA fan. One reason is I have no favorite team. I’ve lived in New York all my life but have no allegiance to the Knicks. Certain players draw me to certain teams—Jordan to the Bulls, Duncan to the Spurs—but I don’t root for one exclusively. I think that makes it harder to be a fan.
Another reason is I like college hoops a lot more. Nobody sat me down at a young age and made me choose between the two, but I think it’s very difficult to be a dedicated fan of both college and pro basketball (that is, and maintain any sort of life outside of watching basketball). They play on the same nights during the same months. (I prefer college football over the NFL, too, but the Saturday/Sunday games make it far easier to follow both.)
I have a few friends who enjoy the NBA, including a college friend named Larson who is always questioning my disinterest with the league. He, like many others, tells me the NBA is a collection of the greatest basketball talent in the world, as if I didn’t realize this.
What’s interesting is how people like Larson constantly sell the NBA. At first, people are curious, wondering if not being a fan is against my religion or something. Then, they feel bad for me, because I am missing out on great entertainment. Usually, they get angry, frustrated that I don’t get it.
On one hand, it’s admirable, and their passion shows how great these people think the NBA is. The problem is, that passion can’t be transferred from one person to another.
The other interesting part is that I never do this with non-college hoops fans. I realize there are a lot of schools, and December games may not intrigue you, and the quality of play can’t compete with the NBA. Especially if you didn’t attend a school with some hardwood tradition, I can easily see why you wouldn’t be too interested. But for whatever reason I never feel the need to sell the game. It’s incredibly entertaining—nothing beats March Madness, I say—and if you’re not paying attention it’s your loss. Maybe I’m a bad friend for not pushing it more. Or maybe I’ve realized that for those who don’t care, it’s a lost cause. That being said…
I watched a fair amount of the action this past weekend, including all of the Chicago Bulls-Indiana Pacers game. The Bulls posted the NBA’s best record; Indiana was eight games under .500, though they played better since firing their coach in late January. Most figured the Bulls would coast to the second round, needing only four or five games to do it. That’s still very possible, but the favorites trailed by 10 with 3:30 to play in Game One.
That’s when Chicago point guard Derrick Rose, who had been awesome all game, took his play to an even higher level. In consecutive possessions, he fired a missile to Joakim Noah on a fast break for a dunk to cut the lead to four, converted an and-one basket, knocked down a jumper to tie the game, then drew multiple defenders and kicked out to an open Kyle Korver for a go-ahead three with 48 seconds left, Chicago’s first lead.
Anyone who has seen Rose play (at any stage of his playing career) knew before Saturday that he was a stud. He’ll likely win the MVP award this season, his third in the league (at 22, it would make him the youngest MVP in NBA history). Had voting occurred after the playoff’s opening weekend, Rose may have been a unanimous winner.
|That jersey number seems awfully appropriate. (Credit: Keith Allison)|
I’ve written before about athletes who are worth the price of admission, and while the bar rises with ticket prices, Rose definitely belongs in that category. As my friend Griffin says, Rose is like LeBron, just a few inches shorter (6’3). In other words, he’s a physical freak who can blow past the defender and challenge two more at the hoop, twisting around one and taking contact from another, all while switching the ball from one hand to the other in mid-air and making the basket.
In Saturday’s game alone it was amazing to see how many times an Indiana defender set up for a charge only to discover Rose had managed to avert contact altogether. His body control is equaled by few, and his ability to take contact (especially impressive considering he’s only 190 pounds) and still finish also puts him among the league’s elite.
Rose’s outside shot became more reliable this season (his three-point percentage was a respectable 33 percent; last year it was a dismal 20). His free throw shooting jumped nearly 10 percentage points, up to 85 percent, important considering he has the ball in his hands in key moments and repeatedly draws fouls (Rose was 19-of-21 from the line on Saturday). Defenders will still sometimes play off him, and if he’s not feeling confident in his shot, his amazing quickness allows him to drive past them anyway.
The only player to rank in the top 10 in both scoring in assists this season, Rose is an eye-popping talent that even casual pro basketball fans will certainly enjoy watching. I know I have.
NOTE: The NBA needs to change its playoff scheduling format. I understand money drives all decisions, but the non-travel off days and extended layoffs for travel are ridiculous. Every series in this opening round takes at least one day off between every game. All but three have two days off between Games One and Two.
Major League Baseball is just as greedy as the other professional leagues, but it realized (I imagine) that fans lost interest as the off days piled up. There should be no days off when the teams are staying in the same city, and one day for travel when the series shifts to the other arena. That is what MLB did this past postseason, and it helped the playoffs sustain their momentum. Hopefully the NBA will follow suit next year, if there is a season next year.
Ten middle school kids go to the park after school to play basketball. Like any group of children, some are better than others. Lucas and Devin are two of the best players in the neighborhood. Charlie is a notch below those two, but still a starter on the school team. The other seven kids vary in ability but none are standouts.
They shoot around for 10 or 15 minutes, chatting about TV shows, girls, and video games, before Lucas finally says, “Let’s start. I’ll make teams: Me, Devin, Charlie, Marcus, and Patrick.” Marcus and Patrick look at each other and smile. The five who were not called look at each other also, equally surprised but far less excited.
“Sounds good to me,” Devin says. “Me too,” adds Charlie.
Lucas says “ball in” and the game begins. His team dominates, as expected, but they don’t make new teams for the next game, or the one after that. Some other local kids show up and challenge the winners. On this beautiful spring afternoon, they play for hours.
Over the course of the day, the Lucas-Devin-Charlie trio wins more than it loses, but does lose a few. After the losses, the feelings are obvious: Lucas and his teammates are in shock, while the opposing players slap hands in celebration, discussing in detail specific plays that led to the victory.
After the wins though, the reactions are far less telling. The losing team certainly wishes it had won, but there’s no bickering among the teammates. But how does Lucas’s squad feel? It’s impossible for an outsider to know. You’d have to ask them.