sportstapas
A little dishing on sports

May
17

LeBron’s early exit from the 2010 NBA playoffs is no doubt a tad inconvenient for David Stern, but it is already apparent that Christmas has come early for the media.  I typically avoid the hysterical musings of the tabloid cognoscenti as much as possible, but unless I want to restrict myself to the travel & leisure section of most publications…oh wait, I just saw an article on the ten best international locations from which LeBron could announce where he’s going to play over the next three years.  Scratch that last thought.

It is truly remarkable to me how quickly and emphatically a number of people have turned on LeBron based on basically one game in his career.  A little over a week ago, LeBron submitted a virtuoso performance, an effort all of us who have watched him over the last seven years expected, leading the Cavaliers to a 2-1 series lead.  Then Rondo dominates game 4, followed by LeBron’s worst game ever, followed by a stunning elimination for Cleveland in Game 6.  Now the guy’s a bum.

He’s the regular season MVP only.

He’s just a guy who’s never won anything.

Bill Simmons, in a bizarre and incomprehensible column, acknowledged that James has never played with a great teammate, cited Pippen’s emergence alongside Jordan in support of the commonly accepted view it takes at least two stars to win championships in the NBA, and then decided that it is some type of fault of LeBron’s that he hasn’t been able to win a championship even though he’s never had that second star or a good coach, concluding that LeBron is Julius Erving 2.0, because as amazing as Doc was, he wasn’t quite good enough to win a title until he was paired with the best player in the league.

I don’t understand the overreaction to what happened this week.  Again, this is a player who led a team comprised of Kukla, Fran, Ollie, Starsky and Hutch to the 2007 Finals, along the way contributing the definitive single game playoff performance of the decade. Since this game was apparently right around the time of the French Revolution, few people remember it.

Allow me to refresh your recollection.  The favored Pistons, winners of 2 of the previous 3 Eastern Conference championships, were battling the pesky upstart Cavaliers.  The series was tied at 2 and the veteran Pistons were poised to impose their will on Cleveland, win the pivotal game 5 at home and then close the series out in either 6 or 7 games.  Didn’t quite work out that way.  LeBron took the game over, forcing one overtime, then another.  At one point, he scored 25 consecutive points for his team and finished having scored 29 of the final 30.  No Cavalier other than LeBron scored in the final 12:49 of the game.  However, thanks to LeBron’s 48 point, 9 rebound, 7 assist performance (who was he passing to?), the Cavaliers won the biggest game of his career to that point and eliminated the Pistons a couple days later.  Here’s what Simmons himself wrote about that performance:

“Well, Thursday night was ultra-special. Watching King James take over Game 5 and finally earn his nickname, I felt like something substantial was happening. Like my life as a basketball fan was being irrevocably altered.

Hold onto your seats, everybody … it’s happening! LeBron James is making the leap!

If you care about basketball, you’ll remember where you watched this game 20 years from now. If you care about basketball, it meant something when Marv Albert blessed the night by calling it “one of the greatest performances in NBA playoff history.”

Simmons couldn’t contain himself from overreacting to how LeBron had overcome his difficult circumstances:

This wasn’t just about the improbable 29-of-30 points barrage down the stretch, those two monster dunks at the end of regulation, the way he perservered [sic] despite a crummy coach and a mediocre supporting cast, how he just kept coming and coming, even how he made that game-winning layup look so damned easy. Physically, LeBron overpowered the Pistons.

With any other player in the league substituting for LeBron, the 2007 Cavaliers were a lottery team.  With LeBron, they went to the Finals.

A year later, he almost singlehandedly rescued his overmatched squad in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semis, losing a classic game 7 to the eventual champion Celtics, but only after offering up a 45-5-6 with 19 free throw attempts.  In that game, LeBron connected on 14 field goals and assisted on 6 and his entire team managed only 10 other field goals.  By the way, for those who would blame James for failing to inspire his team to perform better, imagining it’s the first week of June in 1990 and you are reading about how the Pistons just eliminated Michael Jordan and the Bulls for the 3rd straight year, thanks largely to the fact that the second best player on Chicago, Scottie Pippen, was a virtual no-show thanks in part to a migraine headache.  Dennis Rodman led the league in migraines caused in 1990.  That was an unofficial stat back then.  It was commonly believed that the Bulls were still quite a bit short of being championship ready. Eight years and six titles later, that assessment has been relegated to the dustbin of the Internet.

In 2009, an Orlando Magic team, that’s turning out to be quite a bit better than we thought, upset the Cavs in the conference finals and this year, the Celtics stunned the Cavs in the 2nd round.

Now, I get it.  LeBron was terrible in game 5, injury or no.  I also understand that he hasn’t won the championship, an accomplishment which has provided insulation for Kobe from criticism for his woeful performance in game 6 of the NBA Finals in 2008, which was quite comparable to LeBron’s stinker this year.  And how about Game 5 against the Pistons in 2005 for Tim Duncan?  If Robert Horry hadn’t worn the cape that year, the Pistons would’ve won back-to-back titles and Tim Duncan’s resume would be a little thinner right now.

I don’t know how the remainder of LeBron James’s career is going to play out.  I do know that he’s been great before and I have no reason to believe he won’t be great in the future.  He is going to win championships as soon as Mo Williams is no longer the best player he’s ever played with.  For all the critics out there ready to kick the man when he’s down, just remember that a man that big and strong hits back hard once he gets up.

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May
12

I would like to use this broad forum (What up, Fat Al?) to thank LeBron James for using last night’s game to bolster my recent post in which I was fairly critical of Frank Isola’s position that he would take Kobe over LeBron.  Now, the post was primarily targeted at the idea that Kobe is single-minded in his pursuit of championships – which I still believe is absurd – while LeBron is not particularly committed.  And obviously, one bad game is not going to undo my opinions after observing the man for the last seven years.

But my gosh, what a stinker LeBron put up last night!  I am willing to accept that after the epic beatdown he handed the Celtics in game 3 that they were able to make adjustments and keep him in relative check in Boston in game 4.  But how does one explain last night’s game in which deep into the 2nd quarter, LeBron was zero for three from the floor?  How does the league’s best player allow himself to get only three shots (plus a couple of unofficial shot attempts on plays where he got fouled) at the rim in a game his team is losing?  I’m all for staying within the team concept and trusting the gameplan and your teammates, but LeBron has got to be more assertive in getting his team going.

The easy explanation is that his elbow is bothering him more than he is letting on.  Of course, this feeds directly into Isola’s point that he can use the elbow as an alibi for poor performance in a big moment.  For the record, that still doesn’t make sense to me, given that LeBron is no rookie; he has already led his team through a number of tough games and series, including getting a ragtag bunch into the 2007 Finals.  I have to say, though, I saw a disturbing lack of urgency from LeBron last night.  The game actually reminded me of Game 6 of the 2008 Finals, when Kobe seemed resigned to defeat at the hands of the same Celtics team that is now tormenting the King.  Maybe it’s not health at all.  Maybe it’s that when the Celtics are healthy and they toss egos aside, they are a maddening defense to crack for a team so reliant on one superstar player.  Maybe LeBron knows that slapping together Shaq, Jamison and a bunch of other pieces just isn’t good enough to beat a determined team clicking on all cylinders.

Maybe LeBron realizes that he’s gone as far as he can with this group of teammates and that it’s time to move on to a team and a city that’s big enough to play alongside him as he scales formidable challenges.  Maybe LeBron is already picturing himself in the orange and blue, exiting the tunnel to thunderous applause as 19,763 root, root, root him on to victory.  Maybe LeBron is already a New York Knick and all that iss left his to get his signature on the contract.

I can hope, can’t I?

Just one thing, though, LeBron.  That 3-for-14 crap ain’t gonna play in New York City, so you better step it up.  Frank Isola’s going to be watching you closely.

May
08

A few months ago, Daily News columnist Frank Isola wrote a piece in which he made the spectacularly idiotic assertion that Kobe Bryant was a superior player to LeBron James, “by a lot, actually.”  I apologize for not linking to it, but I haven’t been able to find it.  You see, I remember it vividly because I started a blogpost in which I was going to argue against his position, but abandoned it because it felt a bit like arguing that Shaquille O’Neal is taller than Nate Robinson.

I accept that Kobe was considered the better player for a  number of years, but I simply don’t see how any rational person could have made the argument, two months into this year, that any individual was playing the game of basketball at the high level LeBron had reached.  Here is a guy with Magic Johnson’s court vision, Michael Jordan’s athleticism and Karl Malone’s body.  He is a force of nature.  He can get to the basket anytime he wants, has a good and improving perimeter game and guys bounce off of him like he’s Jim Brown, when he gets into the paint.

And that’s not the best part of his game!  LeBron made a pass from the left side of the foul circle and as I watched with the benefit of, you know, supposedly being able to see everyone on the floor since I was watching on television, not to mention retrospectively being able to rewind the action, I had no idea where he thought he was throwing that pass.  All of a sudden, J.J. Hickson materialized – I swear he hadn’t been on the court – and caught the pass and went up for the dunk.  How did he see him?  No, really, how did LeBron see him!?  LeBron had 651 assists this season.  Every player who had more assists is a point guard.  No non-point guard came within 150 assists of his total.  This from a guy who is 6-foot-9 and 240 (yeah, right).  LeBron has done, is doing and is capable of things no other player could ever dream of doing.  Have I mentioned he’s now established himself as a great defender?

Now, I don’t mean to sell Kobe short.  He’s a 4 time champion, a former MVP and one of the mentally and physically toughest players ever in the NBA.  He’s even a member of my All-Stockholm Syndrome Team.

He’s put together a body of work that unquestionably places him among the absolute greatest players in NBA history.

He’s not better than LeBron right now.  It’s not close.  Yes, Kobe’s team is defending the championship and has made back-to-back trips to the Finals.  But a brief comparison of the relative situations of LeBron and Kobe helps explain why the playing field has been sloped toward Kobe.  First, Kobe’s coach, Phil Jackson, is unquestionably one of the top 3 NBA coaches in history.  LeBron’s coach, Mike Brown, may yet prove his greatness, but hasn’t done it yet.  Second, Kobe’s supporting cast is among the best in the league.  Lamar Odom comes off the bench for the Lakers!  Derek Fisher is one of the best role players of his time.  Andrew Bynum is already one of the best centers in the league (and yes, I’m aware that injuries have limited his contribution).  But Kobe also has Pau Gasol, who Jeff Van Gundy argued could have been 1st Team All-NBA this year.  He’s certainly among the best dozen players in the league.  In short, Kobe has a lot of help.

LeBron, on the other hand, went to the Finals in 2007 with a team that would have come in 3rd in my YMCA rec league without him.  Stop for a second and look at the key contributors on that team.

Are you back?  Good.  Do I even have to explain what a monumental achievement it was for LeBron to have lead that team to the NBA Finals?

That same year, in the admittedly tougher Western Conference, Kobe Bryant was unable to get out of the 1st round with at least as much talent as LeBron had around him. Two years earlier, Kobe’s Lakers finished 14 games under .500 and failed to make the playoffs at all. Hard to imagine a LeBron led team failing to make the playoffs in his prime, even with me running the point.

Enough background, though.  I write today because of Frank Isola’s blogpost Thursday arguing that he’s always favored Kobe because Kobe’s always been all about winning titles. By all accounts, Isola was serious.

Look, Kobe is a great competitor.  There’s no question he wants to win.  The problem is, Kobe wants to win on Kobe’s terms.  Even now, 14 years into his career, he still gets valid criticism for not being a willing passer when the situation calls for it. It has even been asserted that Kobe gets into “snits” when complaints start about him shooting too much. Phil Jackson criticized Kobe years ago in the book The Last Season for his lack of maturity and understanding of team concept, even asking management to trade Kobe during his prime. Moreover, regardless of how you want to assess blame, clearly Kobe had some role in blowing up the burgeoning dynasty the Lakers were building at the beginning of the last decade.  Is there another elite player who would have willingly taken dynamite to a team that was coming off of a three-peat?  Six years into his career, Kobe had three championships in his back pocket, was playing for the best coach in the league, with the best center in the league and a great bench and he wasn’t happy.  If he was all about winning titles, wouldn’t he have found a way to make that situation work?

Isola also wrote that while LeBron “Boobie Gibson is the 2nd best player on our team that went to the Finals” James says he’s all about winning titles, Isola gets the impression that he only says that because that’s what a superstar player is supposed to say.  Um, okay.  The trigger point for Isola’s post was Game 2 of the Cavs-Celtics series during which James appeared to be bothered by an elbow injury that is said to be worse than the team is letting on.  His subpar performance contributed to a blowout loss at the hands of the Celtics, turning the tide of the series in Boston’s direction.  In fairness, how could Isola know that LeBron would come out and slap down a 38-8-7 on the Celtics in Game 3, including 21 in the first quarter, during which he served notice that he intended to get home court back for his team – and did?  I mean, besides the seven years of LeBron’s career, what evidence exists to suggest this was even possible?!

Frank, you need an alibi.  I suggest a tweet arguing that Dan Shaughnessy hijacked your blog. You’ve gotta do something because you certainly don’t want to be held accountable for the garbage you’ve written about LeBron.

May
04

I tried so hard not to post on Ben Roethlisberger.  I figured there was really nothing for me to add to the hysterical discourse that always takes hold whenever something happens to or with a famous person.  I was prepared to leave it alone and let Pittsburgh fans and their outrage stand as the last word on this topic.  I was.  Really.  And then I read Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback.

King published a letter from Roethlisberger’s attorney, David Cornwell, that was designed explain why professional athletes who establish themselves as massive tools believe they can continue to be massive tools without repercussions.  Okay, I’ll accept that this was arguably not the primary purpose of the letter, but that has to be at least a secondary goal, right?  How else do you explain this:

While Ben’s sexual activities may offend some, anyone would have been hard pressed to predict that Ben’s actions would have resulted in such vicious and false allegations. Ben bears exclusive responsibility for the consequences of his choices, but that does not mean that these particular consequences were foreseeable. Whether it is in the privacy of a hotel room or in the more risky environment of a semi-public restroom, a false allegation of rape simply is not within the zone of the foreseeable consequences of consensual sex.

Ok, so let me get this straight: it was not foreseeable that a famous 28 year old man might encounter some trouble after going to a college bar, getting hammered on booze, plying young, possibly underage women with booze, and then retreating with one of those women into a restroom where the two engaged in sexual relations?  On what planet is trouble not foreseeable on those facts?!  Note, I have not and am not suggesting that Roethlisberger did anything illegal on the night in question, though under the facts most favorable to him, he walked right up to the line of illegality, didn’t he?

  1. He bought booze for women who may have been underage.
  2. He may have directed his bodyguards to physically intimidate two women to keep them away from his friend
  3. He may have physically prevented a woman from leaving the bathroom of the bar
  4. He may have had forcible sexual contact with a woman

Again, maybe nothing Roethlisberger did that night was illegal, but to suggest that his troubles were not foreseeable is asinine at best.  A big, tall, rich, famous guy walking around college bars getting drunk and preying on women basically screams, “I really want to be victimized tonight.”  Maybe Roethlisberger should stay away from the zone of foreseeable consequences and play a little man-to-man for a while.

My other favorite part of the letter was Cornwell’s suggestion that the bathroom in which the sexual contact took place was “semi-public.”  I mean, I guess it was semi-public in the sense that only patrons of the establishment were welcome to use it.  So if Ben had engaged in sex on the bar that would have been a semi-public encounter as well.  Sex on his front lawn?  Semi-public.  Sex against a goalpost at Heinz Field during a game?  Semi-public!

Cornwell, in looking out for the best interest of not just Roethlisberger the football player, but Roethlisberger the person, also added the following classic:

I cannot fathom how a suspension or any other form of traditional discipline will help Ben make a better choice the next time he decides to have consensual sex. The difficulty that Ben had in articulating a distinction between the risks associated with private and semi-public sex is the product of the undeniable similarity between the Reno and Georgia accusations, even though one event occurred in the privacy of Ben’s hotel room and the other in a semi-public bathroom.

As you consider your options, I hope you will focus on an approach that establishes a direct nexus between your response and the issue to which it responds. Whether I am considering these options as Ben’s advocate or as the person who has had the privilege of engaging in frank discussions with you unburdened by our professional affiliations, I am unable to discern a link between a suspension and any useful lesson or message that would tend to alter Ben’s conduct in the future.

Well, of course.  How can anyone expect punishment of Ben to adequately communicate the wrongness of his behavior, when the fact that he’s supposedly an intelligent adult who has graduated from college and risen to the top of a difficult profession have obviously taught him nothing.  Ben struggles articulating distinctions between stuff.  So I hope that young woman was very clear in what she wanted out of her encounter with him.  We wouldn’t want Ben articulating parts of his body in places where they were unwelcome, would we?

I agree with Cornwell about one thing.  I am also unable to discern a link between a suspension and any useful lesson or message that would tend to alter Ben’s conduct in the future.  A boot stuck up his ass for 15-20 years, though?  I’ll bet that would alter the hell out of his conduct.

Apr
11

Over margaritas at brunch yesterday I asked my wife for her thoughts on what my next post should be.  Her response: “How about Tiger Woods?”  I furrowed my brow and answered that I’ve already written about Tiger’s lack of accountability; Tiger’s pitiful first apology; and Tiger’s miraculous recovery from sex addiction.  Unless Tiger coins a new definition for “hole-in-one,” “birdie,” bogey” or “dogleg” during the final round of the Masters, I am not writing about Tiger Woods again anytime soon.

“Fine,” my wife said.  How about a post on “that scumbag, Tiki Barber?”  My immediate reaction: My wife appears to be fixated on black celebrities who have cheated on their wives.  I really hope this blog doesn’t hit big because I definitely don’t want to become a celebrity.  Then I thought to myself, “Is that the right lesson to take from this?  Maybe I should ask my wife.”  I glanced over to her happily knocking back her pomegranate margarita and instinctively decided that maybe I should figure this one out without her.  Chi’s will counsel me.  Anyway, I digress.

I was intrigued by the idea of writing about Tiki Barber, but hadn’t yet thought through what the proper approach would be for a blog post about the guy.  I mean, I remember Tiki as a Giant.  Here are his stats for his last five seasons:

G GS Att      Yds  Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Avg Lng TD FUM Lost

2006 16 16 327 1,662 5.1 55T     5    58 465    8.0    28    0        3     1

2005 16 16 357 1,860 5.2 95T     9    54 530    9.8    48    2        1     1

2004 16 14 322 1,518 4.7 72T     13  52 578    11.1  62T  2        5     2

2003 16 16 278 1,216 4.4 27         2   69 461    6.7    36   1        9     6

2002 16 15 304 1,387 4.6 70      11   69 597    8.7    38   0        9     6

Yikes!  Tiki Barber was a superstar!  He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2004 and 2005 and over the entire four year period between 2003-2006.  In 2005, he became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,800 yards and have 500 receiving yards in the same season.   Admittedly, the Giants were a mixed bag during Tiki’s Glory Days – I probably shouldn’t be bringing up Bruce Springsteen here, right? Oh well.  But Tiki Barber compiled numbers that have rarely if ever been seen in the NFL for one of the most loyal and appreciative fan bases in sports.  He was a clutch player, saving one of his greatest games for the weekend after the death of beloved Giants owner Wellington Mara, literally carrying the Giants to victory over the rival Redskins.   Tiki worked hard, he never missed games, he was the one constant on the offense over the years, and he was also ubiquitous.  He didn’t get lost in the shuffle the way quieter stars like Rodney Hampton and Carl Banks had over the years.  You would think a guy who was this good and who had this high a profile would be beloved by Giants fans, right?  He wasn’t.  He was respected.  His skills were admired, but Tiki Barber was never loved.  Why?  Because we knew he was a sleaze.  Let’s be honest.

Tiki Barber came across as a selfish, elitist jerk.  From the time in 2002 when he criticized teammate Michael Strahan for not coming to terms with the Giants on a contract to the time he criticized his coach, Tom Coughlin, saying he had been outcoached in a playoff loss.  I should note that before Coughlin changed Tiki’s approach to carrying the football, he had a reputation as a fumbler, death to any NFL runningback.  It was the new style – and the ability to hold on to the football – that elevated Tiki to elite status as a runningback.  Of course, that didn’t stop Tiki from criticizing Coughlin or former teammate Eli Manning’s leadership skills after Tiki retired and went to work for NBC.  Eli responded, of course, by leading the Giants to a memorable Super Bowl victory just three months later.  Nice commentary, Tiki.  It wasn’t just that Tiki was critical, it was that there was such detachment, such lack of compassion and humanity in the way he spoke that was disturbing.  You would never sense that lack of passion in the way Jerome Bettis talks about the Steelers or Rodney Harrison talks about the Patriots.

Knowing that I, like most Giants fans really didn’t like Tiki, I asked my wife, who hates football, what she thought of him.  She said she didn’t really know Tiki.  She had seen him on The Bachelor the season former Giant Jesse Palmer was on the show and said he came across “as an arrogant man, but no more so than most professional athletes.”  She’d seen him once or twice on other programs, but never gave him much thought.  Then this week happened and it came out that Tiki was not only having an affair with a 23 year old former Today show, but that he left his 8 months pregnant wife to shack up with this young woman.  That, my wife says, proves he’s “inherently evil.”  I thought about responding that if you’re going to do that at least have on your resume that you starred in the best movie of the last ten years but I thought the better of it since she was ordering her second margarita, which meant it was no time for jokes.

Instead, I will simply agree with my wife, which is how all of these debates end anyway since I’m not an idiot.  Tiki Barber is inherently evil.  There’s nothing left to discuss.

Apr
05

Can you believe the New York Yankees have failed to win a World Series in 152 days – and counting?!  I have to admit, I had not given that little statistic much thought until my Road Dawg, Fat Al, ranted about Chan Ho Park’s performance for the Yankees last night and how it promises to be a “long year” for the Bronx Bombers.  It’s painful to consider, but since Al was born, 132,756 pints of ale ago, the Yankees have only won 7 World Series titles and appeared in the ALCS a mere 10 times.

How do Yankee fans manage to soldier on, knowing that on average they are going to have to wait, gasp, 4 years between World Series appearances?  I know that as a lifelong Mets and Knicks fan, I can hardly relate.  I’m sure Cubs fans and Padres fans and Indians fans and SF Giants are nodding as well.  We are all so mellowed by success that we hardly find it worth reacting when our team loses on opening night, even to a hated rival.

Fat Al has been forced to resign himself to the likelihood that his team will struggle to win 100 games this year, probably only after spending millions on a player who will shore up some area of weakness on the team like their crushing need for a left-hander who can get the second out in the 5th inning of an interleague game in a stadium named after a bank on August 1st.  Oh, how I’m sure Fat Al longs for the consistency the Mets have in being able to run Oliver Perez out there every 5th day, rather than having someone who is, you know, good.  I have polled remaining Mets fans and we are by consensus anticipatorily disdainful of the August 29th deal the Yankees are going to make for that right-handed bench player they are going to obtain just in case they face a really tough left-hander in the postseason AND Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira suddenly retire to join the Men’s Professional Volleyball Tour AND Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada are detained indefinitely in rural Georgia after a night of clubbing with Ben Roethlisberger.  I mean, won’t that shatter the confidence of inevitable May acquisition, Albert Pujols?

Of course, I am joking and I hope Fat Al will forgive my lack of sensitivity.  I’m sure he’s still bitter that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Merrill Lynch all got moved and the Yankees didn’t get any of them.  At least they’ve got LeBron James.  Or do they?

The poor New York Yankees, with their $3 billion payroll, new ballpark, classic logo, unrivaled baseball tradition and iconic uniforms are in for a tough stretch.  You’ll just have to accept that Yankee fans.  It’s the price you pay for sticking with your moribund franchise through thick and thicker.  I’ve been looking at the upcoming schedule and I don’t see how the Yankees get to the All-Star break with more than a 4-5 game lead at the most.  That’s factoring in the grim reality that Chan Ho Park is on the team.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is Justin Verlander just closed on his new home in Westchester.

Mar
29

As a blogger searching for material, there is something really refreshing about sports columnists who spout mind-numbingly stupid opinions in a futile search to post enough copy on their magazine websites.  Take for example, Dan Shaughnessy’s really, really silly column today for si.com.   How silly is it?  Oh, I am so glad you asked.

Shaughnessy wrote the following: “Then again, learning that Duncan is only the fourth player in NBA history to scored [sic] 20,000 points with 10,000 rebounds, 2,000 blocks and 2,500 assists (alongside Kareem, Hakeem and Shaq) makes me take him much more seriously.”

That sounds reasonable, you say.  I suppose.  But later in the column came the following:

“Except for 2001-02 when he scored 25.5 points per game, Duncan has always averaged between 18 and 24 points per game. The Spurs have been good for 53-63 wins in each of his seasons (save for the 1998-99 season that was cut short with the lockout). He’s won four championships, been named MVP of the Finals three times and earned league MVP honors twice. He’s the first player in NBA history to be named All-NBA and All-Defensive teams in each of his first 12 seasons.”

And then there’s this paragraph:

“I’ll admit that the more I scour Duncan’s numbers, the better he looks. He’s a 7-footer who plays great defense, makes the perfect outlet passes and uses the glass like no one else his size. He’s won his whole career, and he’s done it quietly. Too quietly for his own good, maybe. Playing in a small media market has disguised some of his greatness.”

Those are just facts, you say?  How can anyone dispute these points, you ask?  Right? Right?  Maybe I should start from the beginning and tell you that Shaughnessy wrote the above paragraphs in a column arguing that Tim Duncan is not one of the ten greatest players in NBA history.  I know, and I have no idea why Shaughnessy passed up what could have been one of the great legal careers of all-time for a lifetime of sweaty locker rooms and cold coffee in press row.

Is it just me or did Shaughnessy just describe a career so astounding by every metric that every argument against its greatness was eviscerated by his words?

  • Lead a team to championship? Check.  Um, 4 times
  • Statistical dominance? Check
  • Excellent at the intangibles? Check
  • Consistently recognized greatness?  Check
  • Individual accolades?  Check
  • Groundbreaking success? Check

So what is the argument against Duncan being top 10 all-time?  Here’s where it gets tricky.  I mean, I understand the first part where Shaughnessy rattles off 7 names of guys he believes would have to be on that list: Wilt, Kareem, Russell, MJ, Bird, Magic, Shaq.  I might quibble with Shaq over Duncan – compare their careers as contemporaries, paying particular attention to who Shaq played with and who Duncan played with and how they fared head-to-head and you tell me if Shaq is, as Shaughnessy put it “non-negotiable” over Duncan.  But let’s leave those seven for a minute.  Even if you accept that list, it leaves Duncan as number 8, right?

According to Shaughnessy, not exactly.  Why?  Because Oscar, Jerry West and Cousy are “the holy trinity of old guards.”  Whatever that means.

Look, I’m not here to bash those three great guards, all of whom would have to be on any sane person’s short list of the greatest players of all time.  What I’m saying is, I think even knowledgeable sports people have severely underrated Tim Duncan’s NBA career.  There’s no question he belongs in any discussion of the top tier of players ever in the league – and he’s certainly in the top 10.  Shaughnessy spent two paragraphs talking about all the evidence that suggests Duncan belongs in that group and then dismisses it because, well, I’m not sure why.

But here’s what we know about Duncan.  A decade after drafting one of the great players of his time, the San Antonio Spurs had still never come close to winning an NBA championship.  Two years after Duncan arrived, they won one.  Then they won another, and another, and another.  In the shot clock era, here’s the list of players who have been the top guy on 4 or more NBA champions:

Bill Russell

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Michael Jordan

Tim Duncan

In fairness, Magic and Shaq, and maybe Kobe (since he was the 4th quarter guy for the Lakers 3-peat) could make the argument that they were top dog, but take a close look at the list above.  Extraordinary, isn’t it?

In closing, and with apologies to Jake Brigance from A Time to Kill, forget who this post is about, close your eyes and have someone read to you those three paragraphs I cited as written by Shaughnessy.  Ok?  You with me?

Now imagine he played in L.A.

Mar
25

In the summer of 1985, the resurgent Mets were playing a crappy Pittsburgh Pirates team, before they got good, before they got crappy for a generation and counting.  On the hill for the Pirates was the immoral immortal Larry McWilliams; for the Mets, Doc Gooden.  I was 16 at the time and Gooden was in the midst of a season every sixteen year old fan should have the opportunity to experience.  I always loved the Mets, but the feeling of warmth and pride that washed over me that year, watching the Mozart of the Mound, a pitcher so preternaturally gifted as to seem too good to be true, is something I will never forget.

That summer, Gooden was on his way to a 24-4 season with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts.  And no, I didn’t have to look that up.  He carved through teams both good and bad, but on a night like this, an evening game against the pathetic Pirates — Gooden was always markedly better in night games — all knowing fans were on high alert for something special.

McWilliams, who was kind of a poor man’s Ed Lynch, couldn’t throw a baseball through a damp paper towel, but for some reason, he decided that he would retaliate against Gary Carter for homering off of him earlier in the game.  Williams drilled Carter with a pitch, Carter got a little ticked, but ran to first and the game went on.

It just so happened that the bottom third of the Pirates lineup was up in the next inning.  Gooden, working with surgical precision, dispatched the first two hitters with nary a foul tip, bringing McWilliams to the plate.  Doc buzzed a 95 mph heater under McWilliams’s chin with his first pitch, putting the sorry journeyman on his butt, then fired three blazing fastballs by his befuddled opposite number.  What he did next gave me chills.  In the first indication – other than the cold-bloodedness of his work that inning – that Gooden was retaliating in any way for his catcher having been plucked, Gooden nodded subtly to Carter as he walked off the mound looking like a cross between Jay-Z and James Bond, and never mentioned the incident again.

That was the moment I decided that the career possibilities for my new hero were limitless.  A 30 win season; 400 wins; 4 or 5 World Series MVPs.  Anything was possible for that super talented teenager.

How did we ever get to yesterday?

Mar
21

I just watched the most recent ESPN 30-for-30, which profiled Reggie Miller and the Knicks-Pacers rivalry and of all the things that were of interest to me in the alternately exciting, exhilarating and mortifying documentary, my big takeaway is that I have a newfound appreciation for Patrick Ewing.

As many of you know, I’ve been highly critical of Patrick Ewing over the years, in this blog and out.  And most, if not all of my friends have been right there with me.  So let me make clear, I’m not retracting my criticism of the following Ewing shortcomings:

  1. He was one of the worst post passers in NBA history, a significant liability for a guy who got doubled as much as he did;
  2. His on court leadership was poor at best, which was a huge problem considering the fact that he had two of the biggest knuckleheads (and I write that with affection, especially if Anthony Mason reads this blog — notice I’m not even taking any chances with Charles Oakley) in the league in Starks and Mason in his team;
  3. He was a selfish player, as best evidenced by his unwillingness to yield some of his offensive responsibilities in Don Nelson’s offense despite the fact that he had to drag his leg down the court like a treasure chest in the last few years of his career.

I have to concede two things that I was aware of at the time, but frankly didn’t appreciate the significance of as I watched the Knicks during their Bronze Age (it sure wasn’t Golden) in the 1990’s.

  1. Showtime notwithstanding, Pat Riley had to have been one of the worst offensive coaches ever, and Jeff Van Gundy was barely better.*
  2. As alluded to before, Ewing was far more hobbled by injuries by the midpoint of his career than I even remembered.

The defining play of Patrick Ewing’s career has to be his missed finger roll against the Pacers at the end of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semis.  Next to “Charles Smith” and “Game 5,” more expletives have been uttered by Knicks fans in reference to that shot than any other play in New York in the last 30+ years.  Here are two things I had forgotten about that play:

  1. Ewing caught the ball in the middle of a double-team, 22 feet from the basket and with less than 5 seconds left in the game.  He had to – this is our 7-foot center I’m talking about – beat the double-team and then the help and make a shot, all within 4.7 seconds.

*See Point 1 above about Pat Riley’s offensive coaching.

  1. Ewing was so encumbered by braces, sleeves and other medical equipment to aid him with the various leg injuries he’d suffered, that he looked like something that would more likely be found in a tomb than on a basketball court.

The fact that he beat the double-team is simply remarkable!  Expecting him to then rise up in traffic and dunk on legs less sturdy than Lindsay Lohan’s grasp on reality is well beyond unfair.  I have to say that I’ve never particularly blamed Ewing for that miss anyway, nor have I blamed Charles Smith for Game 5, but it was amazing to see with the benefit of time, how much greater the degree of difficulty was on that shot than I remembered.

I also think not enough attention has been paid to how poorly the Knick offenses of the Bronze Age were constructed.  I recognize that they didn’t have the most gifted players, but it’s abominable that on some of the key offensive plays of the time, the Knicks got the following results:

1993 – Game 5 vs. Bulls – Down one on the last possession, John Starks aborts a jumpshot for a pass to Ewing who attempts to beat Stacey King off the dribble, stumbles and bumbles, and is forced to shuffle the ball off to Charles Smith for his ill-fated attempt to make a layup…four times.

It takes a lot for me and my old friend Fat Al to write off a bar, but there’s a place on Greenwich Avenue that will never have either of us step foot inside its doors again because that’s where we watched the single darkest moment of my time as a Knicks fan.

1995 – Game 1 vs. Pacers – Leading by three with 16.4 seconds left, Anthony Mason, the man Jeff Van Gundy called during the documentary interview, “our worst inbounder,” throws a pass in the general direction of the prone Greg Anthony that is picked off by Reggie Miller leading to his second straight 3-pointer, tying the game up.

Later in same game – Knicks have 7 seconds left to take the ball the length of the floor and get a shot trailing by 2 and Greg Anthony dribbles into the front court before apparently getting ankle tackled by Dwight Freeney, rendering him unable to get a shot off.

Then there’s Game 7 that year as discussed above.  There are quite a few others, but you get the idea.  Given Ewing’s shortcomings as a player, which have been chronicled ad nauseum, it was probably unreasonable to have expected him to also overcome a coach who couldn’t diagram a play unless Magic Johnson was in his huddle.

Watching Ewing hobble around like House M.D., though, makes me really appreciate that whatever I think of him as a player and a person, the man gave everything he had on the court and never complained that he wasn’t 100%.  Patrick Ewing, I appreciate you.

Do you think he limped like that at The Gold Club?

Mar
20

I don’t mean to beat a dead Hoya horse, but I have to reiterate my previous thought on the relatively woeful level of basketball competence on the Division I collegiate level versus the NBA – and I’m a Knick fan.  I was bored out of my mind watching the collegians on Thursday and Friday except for the few minutes at the end of close games.  At least in most years there are super talented guys you can watch dominate the amateurs and project their success on the pro level.

I remember the first time I watched Kevin Durant.  What a revelation!  Arms so long he could play basketball and trumpet for the school band at the same time.  I was practically giddy the last two years watching Stephen Curry, becoming finally convinced of his pro potential last year when Duke guarded him with everyone but Jim Spanarkel and he still dropped thirty on them, without ever forcing a shot or in any way compromising his team’s offense.  The one thing I knew was that Mike D’Antoni was watching him and seeing Steve Nash and that even though he was project as a low first round pick, the Knicks would use a lottery pick on him.  And then he kept scoring.  And then he became an excellent college point guard.  And then he worked out for teams and didn’t even miss shots when Stacey Dash suddenly entered the room in a tight skirt.  Then I knew he had played himself into the lottery and the Knicks wouldn’t get him.  What a depressing day draft day was when we missed him by one pick.

Aww, crud.  See, even when I try to write a post about the crown jewel of the college basketball season, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, I’m too bored by it to maintain a train of thought.  Where I was going with this was that in most years there are elite college players worth watching who I expect to be outstanding pros and therefore merit my attention during the course of the tournament.

Last year, for example, Blake Griffin dominated games like a 21st century Karl Malone, except with the ability to perform in the clutch.  And I believe my precise reaction when I saw Tyreke Evans for the first time was, “Holy Micheal Ray!”

Who’ve we got this year?  Sure, the commentators are trying to talk us into the Evan Turners and John Walls, but we all know they aren’t really that good.  John Wall looks like a poor man’s Baron Davis to me and Evan Turner is a really nice college player, but do I see superstardom for him.  No.  Although, admittedly, I would’ve said the same of Dwyane Wade 7 years ago, and he didn’t earn any points with the spelling of his first name.

I suppose I’m just cranky, which seems ridiculous on the nicest weather day of the year.  I blame the new blog I’ve been reading, The Half-Empty Glass.  Those guys make Larry David seem like Rachael Ray.  Not to mention they’ve got me singing “Cool It Now ” all the time these days.  As if I’m not traumatized enough by seeing Bobby Brown on the weight loss show on VH1, the name of which I refuse to learn.

Oh well, back to the mediocrity of the NCAA tournament.  At least a couple of them can dunk.