Okay, so I just woke up from my postgame nap after getting up at 6:30 this morning to watch TJ Oshie and USA hockey vanquish the Russkies on their home ice, and I’ve decided to get back in the saddle and end my blog’s ridiculous drought of posts. I’m overflowing with patriotism and after watching the NBA’s Rising Stars challenge last night and the rest of NBA All Star Weekend looming, I’m in the perfect mood to write a blog I’ve had on my mind for about a week now.
I was watching Olympics last weekend and I noticed that Norway was stocking up on medals in nordic skiing and gaining the lead in the medal count, and I thought, it’s such bullshit that a country being the best at a stupid fringe sport like cross country skiing gets to rack up tons of medals because of the multiple events in the same sport and multiple entrants in each event for the same country. I think we can all agree that it’s silly that a team sport competition like basketball (or hockey, if we want to be topical) takes about two weeks to determine a winner, and then that gold medal counts as one medal in the count. Lame. Unfair. Team sports absolutely should be worth more, but also there should be more events for basketball, which I guess 3 on 3 is on its way, but 1 on 1 should absolutely be an event, and you could even throw in 3 point shooting and dunk contest. If they can judge triple axels they can judge 360 windmills. Now, on top of adding these extra events, why should the US be limited to one team in basketball? We’re so much better than everybody else, why should we be forced to settle for one gold when we could easily sweep the podium and shut out the Spaniards, Argentinians and Frenchies. So here is my triple Dream Team, if you will, or as I called it in the title: The 3 Headed Monster of USA Basketball.
I should mention that in choosing these teams, I tried to keep the squads young, much like actual Team USA, but I kept the vets that have been playing lately. The other big thing is I assumed everyone is healthy. Obviously Rose, Kobe, Westbrook, etc. are battling injuries right now, but the hope would be that in 2016 they would all be 100% and good to go. This is a fantasy, after all, so I can make that rule. Okay, now, here are the teams.
|Team Red||Team White||Team Blue|
|G||J. Wall||Rondo||K. Irving|
|G||B. Beal||Korver||K. Thompson|
|G/F||L. Stephenson||Iguodala||Jimmy Buckets|
|F||G. Monroe||K. Leonard||Bosh|
|F/C||A. Drummond||D. Jordan||B. Lopez|
Tell me, how is Spain beating any of those teams? I know they would stack their roster while we’re taking the risk of wearing a bit thin, but the beauty of these rosters is that they’re structured with more natural pecking orders of who’s getting the ball in late game situations and I’ve even sprinkled in some specialists. Let’s analyze these teams a bit more.
Probably the most stacked starting lineup, thus, they have a less experienced bench. Even though LeBron is obviously the centerpiece of this team, I don’t think there’s any question that Chris Paul would assume the leadership role. Funny thing about this team is that we don’t have a true power forward in the starting lineup, but both Melo and LeBron are big small forwards, and LeBron can guard all five positions so this doesn’t concern me in the least. Here are a couple lineups I foresee:
Crunch Time: Howard, LeBron, Melo, Harden, Paul (with Stephenson/Harden exchanging defense for offense in certain situations)
Small Ball Sharpshooting: Aldridge, Melo, Parsons, Beal, Paul
Lockdown D/Full Court Press: Howard, LeBron, Stephenson, Wall, Paul
Big Lineup: Howard, Aldridge, LeBron/Melo, Harden, Wall
One thing about this lineup is it is lacking in shooters maybe just a tad, but Melo tends to be very efficient in international play, and LeBron James really covers up so many of a team’s deficiencies that I tend to not worry about much with him involved in any lineup. With this starting lineup, this team probably looks like the A Team, so I’ve given Coach K the reigns after his years of service to USA Basketball, even if he is the evil face of Dook basketball.
We’re getting the old dynamic duo of Phil and Kobe back together! If they can get 5 Larry O’Brien trophies why can’t they get one gold medal, right? Here are some lineups I like:
Crunch Time: Starters. Korver for George for free throws if we’re protecting a slim lead with the ball. Rondo for Westbrook potentially if Russell is being difficult.
Small Ball/Sharpshooting: Love, Leonard, Korver, Kobe, Lillard
Lockdown D/Full Court Press: Hibbert/Jordan, Griffin, 2 of Leonard/George/Iguodala for the 2 and 3 spots, Westbrook (Jordan for pressing, Hibbert ideal for halfcourt)
I could see Kobe and Westbrook clashing a bit at times since they both need the ball so much, but that’s why we have Rondo as a trustworthy caretaker of the offense if we have to give Russell the hook. I think Phil is far more capable of handling Westbrook’s dynamic personality than Scott Brooks anyhow, so I don’t worry too much.
My dark horse squad, the blue team. Can’t go wrong with the Slim Reaper as your go-to guy with the year he’s currently having. And D Wade is coming off the bench a la his magnificent Redeem Team performance. Let’s look at some lineups.
Crunch Time: Starters, but I’d maybe go with Curry at point, and Wade at 2 if we want a little more defense in some games.
Small Ball/Sharpshooting: Bosh, Durant, Thompson, Curry, Irving (my favorite small ball lineup of all of them)
Lock Down D/Full Court Press: Chandler, Davis, Butler, Wade/Thompson, Rose
Big Lineup: Chandler/Lopez, Cousins, Durant, Thompson, Rose/Wade
I don’t see a single downside to this lineup. It’s probably the one that fits together the best with all of its pieces. Popovich is the perfect coach to tinker with those lineups, too. And much like Team Red with LeBron, any weakness you think you might see kind of fades away if you plug in Durant.
So who got snubbed? Deron Williams comes to mind. Josh Smith, maybe. Taj Gibson is a personal favorite that I left off. You can let me know in the comments.
So the final question is, who wins the gold? I think Team Red would be the odds on favorite in Vegas, but I personally would put my money on Team Blue. They’d probably be the best value bet and I just want to roll with Popovich and my guy Derrick Rose. But let me know who you think and vote!
22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” – Luke 15:22-24
That was what I thought of when it became apparent that Randy Moss, who is my favorite football player of all time, would be rejoining my favorite football team, the Minnesota Vikings. The analogy of the prodigal son is not a perfect one for the Vikings and Randy Moss, but the point is he perhaps acted ungrateful of what he had at home in Minnesota (even if he is from West Virginia) and so he tried to find happiness in Oakland and New England. But when he was underappreciated, he let everyone know, and now it has brought him back home to Minneapolis, where the state and fan base of the Vikings will collectively run to him, throw our arms around him and kiss him.
I could not be any happier, well, actually if that Favre guy was gone…but even that jerk old man can’t rob me of this joy. As much as I dislike Favre, I love Moss 10 times more. As I mentioned in My Worst Sports Heartbreaks post, I was devastated the day we traded Randy Moss, and so you can imagine that re-acquiring him would make me just as happy as I was sad that day we lost him. I’ll never forget where I was when I found out Moss could be coming back to Minnesota. My buddy Jizzy texted me while I was at work on Tuesday at 4:34 PM Alaska time with this:
“Strait cash homey, Randys comin home!!!”
My heart almost leapt out of my chest. I thought it was a joke or some mistake. I looked online for confirmation, and it wasn’t on the big ESPN headlines on the main page, but when I checked out the NFL page, there was a headline saying that the Vikings and Patriots were talking about a trade. Now I was in distress. I’ve gotten my hopes up for a lot of things before, and so if this turned out to be a tease, I was going to be upset. Well, before I went to bed that night, all of the reports had changed to say that the deal was all but done. I was now convinced he was coming, and when I laid my head down to sleep, it must have been 2 hours before I was unconscious, because all of the great memories of Moss in purple those first 7 years of his career were all coming back to me. Very final season of Lost-like. When I woke up the next morning, the deal was finalized, and I was so happy I could dance.
So now my season is suddenly salvaged, whether we make the playoffs or not. I was emotionally detached until this trade. Favre had broken my spirit with his putrid performances, and I was describing my feelings toward the Vikings as “legal separation” since they were cheating on me with Brett Favre. I wouldn’t get a divorce, but it was me or him, and once he finally was out the door I would be back living in the house with them as one big happy family. But the Vikings going out and getting Randy Moss is like buying me a big diamond ring. I know they’re still cheating on me with Favre, but I’ll pretend to not know or care because I’m a materialistic pathetic shell of a woman (fan) who is too emotionally invested to give up no matter how poorly my husband (team) treats me.
But let’s not make this about me, let’s instead make it about a player being redeemed and coming home to his family (or greatest fans, same thing right?) and a team actually getting the upgrade at the position they needed it most. We should be better in the passing game now, and I can’t imagine how good we could be when Sidney is healthy and we have both he and Randy running deep routes with Percy and Visante underneath. If you can’t tell, I’m getting really excited. I also really like the idea of a super-motivated Randy Moss. Let’s look at some of his upcoming games:
Week 5: @New York Jets – He returns to the scene where he murdered Revis’ hamstring.
Week 6: vs. Dallas – He always kills the Cowboys because of them passing on him in the draft and since they were his favorite team growing up. Go figure.
Week 7: @Green Bay – He loves to kill the Packers, too, and he’s especially lethal in prime time.
Week 8: @New England – Hmmm…I wonder if there could be any motivation here.
I could go on and on, but the 4 biggest games for him will be these 4 first ones, and I expect him to crush it. As long as Favre’s arm can get it to him, that is. For all of those critics of Randy who say he isn’t a team player, I would note that he chose to practice today rather than try and use the leverage he had to force a new contract extension. He wanted to get to work to help this team and himself be successful. Favre held out for more money and needed others to beg him to come. Moss shows up and works even when his quarterback gets the extension that he doesn’t get. He let’s everyone know when he’s not happy and isn’t appreciated, but he’s just being honest. His game, however, speaks for itself. He’s not perfect, and I can’t defend some of his off the field shenanigans, but I love him unconditionally.
“32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ” – Luke 15:32
Yesterday, my beloved Golden Gophers stooped to yet another low by dropping their home opener to the Division I FCS South Dakota Cougars. While I wouldn’t qualify this as a heartbreak, since my expectations are so pathetically low for this particular team, it was still a big disappointment due to the embarrassment of it. So out of this shame, I was brought to the place where I pondered all of my past experiences as a sports fan, and I came up with my worst heartbreaks as a sports fan. I’ve had far worse heartbreaks as an athlete myself, but those are a completely different part of my life, so I’m not going to include any of those stories.
June 26th, 2010 – World Cup Round of 16 – Ghana 2, USA 1
I had all out World Cup fever after the exciting group stage that the USA actually won. It set up perfectly for us to be favored all the way to the final four of the World Cup, but the US stayed true to their colors by giving up an early goal in both regulation and extra time, and didn’t have enough fire power to overcome the deficit twice. My Saturday was a sad one after that.
April 7th, 2008 – NCAA Championship Game – Kansas 75, Memphis 68 OT
This is the only heartbreak that doesn’t involve any of “my teams”, but I was/am such a Derrick Rose fan, that I desperately wanted Memphis to win this game, and somehow I just could not shake the sick feeling I got when they blew that game. All they had to do was foul Mario Chalmers before he could get that shot off. Derrick should have just made both of his free throws.
October 7th, 2006 – Penn State Nittany Lions 28, Minnesota Golden Gophers 27 OT
You’ll find that this won’t be the last time that the Gopher football team will show up in this post, but this one just might be the most ironic. Justin Gianini routinely liked to miss extra points for our team when they usually didn’t matter. So of course the one time he missed an extra point in a tight game, it had to come back and bite us Gopher fans in the collective butt. Our team was trash that year, but we wanted that Liberty Bell. When we went up by a touchdown, we knew the missed extra point would come back to haunt us, but we just hoped it wouldn’t. On Penn State’s ensuing possession, we got a 4th down stop and seemingly won the game, but a phantom PI call gave them the 1st down they needed to go on and score, and you’ll never guess what happened: they made their extra point.
January 17th, 2008 – Indiana Hoosiers 65, Minnesota Golden Gophers 60
If it weren’t for the loss, this would have went down as my favorite night ever in the Barn. I’ve heard that place loud and rowdy, but that night in particular stood out for just how crazy it was even before tip-off. We were a quality team in desperate need of some signature wins over ranked opponents to make the tournament that year, and unfortunately we couldn’t hold on that night.
January 23rd, 2010 – Michigan State Spartans 65, Minnesota Golden Gophers 64
Just this last winter, the Gophers again needed to start getting some quality wins if they had post-season aspirations. Despite leading the entire game, we let Kalin Lucas break our hearts with a deep 3 from straight on to take a 1 point lead, and then couldn’t come up with a quality look at the basket afterward. All I wanted to do was forget that game, and I attempted to sleep it off. It didn’t work.
The Top Ten
10. “He’s Human After All” – May 7th-18th, 1995 – Orlando Magic Defeat the Chicago Bulls 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals
This is the only playoff series that I can recall Michael Jordan losing. I was too young to remember the days before the Bulls were winning titles, and in ’94 Jordan was off playing baseball, so if it weren’t for this series, I would think that Michael Jordan was incapable of losing a postseason series. Clearly, Jordan wasn’t fully back in his best basketball shape, as he had groomed his body to be a baseball player, but when I was 8 years old, I wasn’t smart enough to realize that. I didn’t care that we were the #5 seed and Orlando was #1. I just knew that Michael Jordan was the best basketball player of all time, and my beloved Chicago Bulls weren’t supposed to lose. I think I was more in shock than anything else. I wish I could have that kind of confidence about my teams nowadays, but I’ve seen too much. Let’s move on.
9. “The Un-Retirement” – August 18th, 2009 – Brett Favre Signs With Minnesota Vikings
From May to August, I nervously waited for some sort of definitive announcement about whether Favre would stay retired for the 2nd time, or sign with the Minnesota Vikings. I was against it from day 1 since I’m a big T-Jack guy, and I saw how Favre drove the Jets into the ground, but most of all, I could not accept my least favorite athlete of all time joining my favorite football team. I remember that when I was on a mission trip, I checked ESPN.com and saw what I had been waiting and hoping for: Favre announced that he would stay retired. My level of relief was comparable to this guy. This, of course, only made it that much harder to take when Favre “changed his mind” and signed with the Vikings 3 weeks later. The season saw us go on to win 12 games and get 1 game away from the Super Bowl, but it was tainted by the stench of old beer brats, cheese curds, and Miller High Life that Favre had on him from playing in Green Bay for 16 years. It’s also the reason why you won’t find Saints 31, Vikings 28 on this list, because quite frankly, I saw it coming. And of course, this nightmare isn’t over for me yet.
8. “The Collapse” – December 29th, 2006 – Insight Bowl – Texas Tech Red Raiders 44, Minnesota Golden Gophers 41
It’s funny how expectations can change so many times within a season, and even within a game. Those shifting expectations then, can also reflect the instability of someone’s job security. Glen Mason signed a contract extension before the 2006 season, and since Laurence Maroney had just left the program, his job would be safe as long as he had an average season with 5-7 wins. Check out the Gopher’s season schedule and results from that year. We took care of the easy non-conference opponents and lost a game on the road against a preseason #9 Cal team, so typical Mason team so far. We then lost 4 straight conference games, and when the up and coming North Dakota State Bison came to town, the entire student section was shouting “Fi-re Ma-son”. After we squeaked out a 10-9 win, we had to go to Columbus to get embarrassed 44-0 and be 3-6 on the season, and at this point, Mason’s job had to be in serious jeopardy. Somehow, Mason rallied the troops for 3 straight victories, including a 34-24 win over rival Iowa and a trip to Tempe, Arizona for the Insight Bowl. Surely, he had saved his job at this point. And now, Mason had zero expectations, as nobody thought our traditionally terrible pass defense could hope to contain the high octane Red Raider passing attack. But when the Gophers led 38-7 with 7:47 remaining in the 3rd quarter, it was assumed we would win. When our team went on to allow the biggest comeback in college football bowl game history, I was a mixture of angry, sad, shocked, and just empty. The next day, Mason was fired, and a new chapter of Golden Gopher football was weeks away from starting: The Tim Brewster Era.
7. May 21st-31st, 2004 – Los Angeles Lakers Defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals
Despite growing up a Bulls fan, after Jordan and Pippen left the Bulls and were no longer on national TV, I couldn’t really follow my favorite team anymore. So I adopted the Timberwolves as my second team, and since they’re in the Western Conference, I figured this wouldn’t really ever cause any Sophie’s Choice type scenarios. So by 2004, I was all in on the Wolves. Kevin Garnett was by far my favorite active player, and I was convinced that he was the best player in the world. I watched every single game that I could, and truly believed that our team was good enough to finally beat the hated LA Lakers. Despite the mismatch of Shaq against any one of our lousy centers, what hurt the most was that when we lost game 6 and were eliminated, reserve shooting guard Kareem Rush hit every big shot down the stretch, including 6 3-pointers, and was the guy that beat us. Kobe, Shaq, Malone, and Payton all were effective against us, but we let one guy who never seemed to be relevant before or after that series decide the outcome in the elimination game. It was devastating, and the Wolves never seemed to recover, as they haven’t returned to the postseason since.
6. “The Pick-6” – November 1st, 2008 – Northwestern Wildcats 24, Minnesota Golden Gophers 17
Tim Brewster fell flat on his face in his first season by going 1-11, including a loss against Div. I FCS North Dakota State, after promising so much that some fans actually thought he could take us to the Rose Bowl in year one. But in year 2, Brewster had seemingly turned things around. We beat the cupcake non-conference opponents, and besides losing by a couple scores to the powerhouse Buckeyes early in Big Ten Play, we were taking care of business. We were 7-1 on the year, including 3-1 in conference, and we brought a #20 ranking into what seemed to be a loser-proof game against the Northwestern Wildcats. Things didn’t go quite as planned, as backup quarterback Mike Kafka ran for some 200 some yards on us, and just made our defense look like fools. But by the end of the game, we were finally stifling the Wildcat attack, and had all the momentum to take into overtime. We got the ball deep in our own territory with under a minute left, but Brewster wasn’t content to play for OT, he wanted the win. Our quarterback threw a deep pass down the middle of the field to his go-to receiver, Eric Decker, and the normally reliable Decker let the ball bounce off his hands, and into the grasp of the Northwestern defender, who took it back all the way to end zone, with 12 seconds remaining. You have got to be kidding me. Much like many other years, the Gophers couldn’t come back from this type of loss, and they went on to lose the next four games after to finish the year 7-6. So much for Brewster turning the program around. By the way, that was my senior homecoming game, and I brought my parents, brother, sister, and another friend to the game that day. I simply said to my family after the game, “Welcome to the life of a Golden Gopher football fan.”
5. “The Trade” – March 2nd, 2005 – Minnesota Vikings trade Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for Napoleon Harris and #7 Overall Pick
I remember being in our family’s living room and I turned on Sportscenter. The news was announced that we had just traded our franchise player, and my favorite Viking of all time, to the Oakland Raiders. Never mind that it was a horrible trade since we ended up getting a pick that was wasted on Troy Williamson and linebacker Napoleon Harris, who never amounted to anything, but the fact that our organization would trade away a fan favorite, once-in-a-lifetime talent like Randy Moss is beyond any amount of certifiable insanity. I will never forgive our franchise for that. I felt so betrayed that day, but the feelings of betrayal truly came to fruition when the next season came and our offense no longer could move the ball at all. That trade killed Mike Tice’s coaching career, and Daunte Culpepper’s career as a quarterback. You can preach Herschel Walker, Pau Gasol, Babe Ruth, or whoever you want, but giving up Moss like we did, over a couple of stupid, blown out of proportion stunts, is the worst trade in the history of sports in my book.
Sure, the 2003 Vikings weren’t going to win the Super Bowl, and you could say we got what we deserved for not wrapping up the division weeks before, but when the Vikings choked this game away, it was absolutely surreal. It looked like it was out of a movie. You couldn’t make it up. I distinctly remember not being able to sleep that night, and neither could my brother, and so we decided the only way we could possibly attempt to forget about the loss was to watch Dumb & Dumber. It didn’t work.
3. “41-Donut” – January 14th, 2001 – NFC Championship Game – New York Giants 41, Minnesota Vikings 0
Only 2 years removed from the best Vikings team I’d ever seen, this team stumbled to the finish and held on to the 1st round bye by finishing 11-5. They looked sharp for the first time in over a month by dominating the Saints in the divisional round, and so all of sudden I, along with all the other Viking fans, were supremely confident that we could go into the Meadowlands and push the Giants around. Things didn’t go quite as planned. We didn’t even need to make the trip to New York. To not even manage a single score was just embarrassing, and I just want to forget it. Why did I decide to write this post again?
2. “The Muffed Snap” – October 15th, 2005 – Wisconsin Badgers 38, Minnesota Golden Gophers 34
Once upon a time, I was a wide-eyed freshman who knew nothing about the heartbreak that would come hand in hand with being a Gopher football fan. I already knew that I didn’t like the Wisconsin Badgers because they are our biggest rivals, and I already hated the Packers, so I figured they had a lot of the same fans. I was going to learn what it meant to truly be a Gopher fan that day, and it would only fuel the fires of disdain for the University of Wisconsin. Our team built a 10 point lead with about 2 minutes to go despite missing our starting quarterback that day, and then went on to purely choke it like only the maroon and gold could. It was all capped off by a perfect snap being muffed by our punter Justin Kucek, and then his attempt at a punt was blocked and just barely stayed in the end zone for the Badgers to recover for the game winning touchdown with under 30 seconds to go. Just like the Northwestern loss in 2008, my team never recovered, and finished the year 7-5, when before that late game collapse, we were 5-1 and ranked in the top 25. As I left the stadium that day, I felt so miserable that I just went home and took a nap. The hundreds if not thousands of Badger fans all around our campus were constantly flashing choke signs at us, and just couldn’t contain themselves. I was scarred that day, and have said many foolish things about Wisconsin since that I’ve learned were wrong and have come to regret. Okay, just one more to get through.
1. January 17th, 1999 – NFC Championship Game – Atlanta Falcons 30, Minnesota Vikings 27
There’s no cute little nickname I could give this game. It really doesn’t need one. I am far too young to have seen any of the Vikings’ 4 Super Bowl losses, so this game is the standard all other heartbreaks are measured against for me. I always thought of this team as the greatest team to not win the Super Bowl, but perhaps you could say the 2007 Patriots have taken that title now, so we’ll easily give the Vikings the greatest team to not even make the Super Bowl. When I think of that team, I just smile because of the joy they gave me. I remember even in the preseason, that I was certain it was “our year”, and that nobody could stand up to us. Randy Moss was that final, essential piece of the puzzle that would transform our offense from a good one, to a top 3 offense of all time. I can play the “ifs and buts” game all day for that game, but that just hurts even more. Gary Anderson gets an unfair share of the blame, but that being said, there’s no excuse for missing a 38 yard field goal, and keep in mind the guy didn’t miss a kick all year! We won the toss and had the ball twice in OT. I guess we just tightened up under the pressure or something like that. If you’re a Vikings fan, and you want to remember the good old days of ’98, check this out. But I’m warning you, it might make you cry. (I’m not a crier, but I get really emotional when I watch it.)
Well, there you have it. Those are my heartbreaks. But don’t feel too bad for me. I have seen my favorite basketball team win 6 NBA Championships (4 of which I can actually remember). Even if I don’t have any other titles to my name as a fan, I’m so blessed to have seen the number of great games that I have. Some day, I’ll write about my greatest sports memories, but that will have to come after a team of mine takes me to that place. We could be waiting a while.
So I, just like every other NBA fan, was waiting ever so anxiously to find out where LeBron was going to end up for the next 5-6 seasons, and now we have our answer. Perhaps I was blinded by loyalty to the Bulls, or even too much faith in LeBron, that he wouldn’t do what he did and go to Miami. Clearly I was wrong. As it turns out, LeBron wasn’t “The Chosen One”, and he certainly shouldn’t be allowed to refer to himself as “King James” any longer. In my opinion, LeBron just conceded that Dwyane Wade is a greater player than him, and thus, he might as well join forces with him and Bosh on D-Wade’s team to just try and get as many titles as possible. What is LeBron’s greatest motivator? Does this decision tell us that it’s winning, because he thinks with these two guys the 3 of them will be unstoppable? Or is it living a beautiful life in Miami and hanging out with two of his best friends in the league and just having as much fun as possible? We know one thing, whether he thinks this is the best for his legacy or not, history will forever look at him as lesser than Jordan, Kobe, Russell and now even Wade because of this one decision. When Jordan struggled to beat Detroit, he didn’t join his friend Barkley in Philly to beat them. He knew he was the best and in time he would figure it out to be the greatest champion of them all. If the three of them had all teamed up in New York or any other “neutral” franchise, we could still say that this is LeBron’s team, but him going to Miami clearly puts Wade ahead of him. He just put a self-imposed limit on his own career’s ceiling, and I think that is the most disappointing thing for NBA fans, especially when we’ve seen how close he’s gotten to breaking through these past few seasons. I feel robbed. Cheated. LeBron dropped the ball on this one, and either he doesn’t realize this, or deep down he’s too scared to realize his own potential for greatness.
Now, before you start accusing me of contradicting myself because you may have read my post before free agency began, allow me to defend myself and my position. I really wanted LeBron in a Bulls uniform, because I thought the team around him would have been so perfect and my favorite team would have flourished. And even though I hate admitting this, LeBron would have been the clear cut #1 guy in Chicago, and my boy Derrick Rose would have been the #2. I also defended LeBron’s possible choice of Miami, as well, because I said that he probably wouldn’t win any titles if he stayed in Cleveland, and so who wouldn’t want to play with your buddies and run the league? So what I’m trying to say is, even though I feel cheated as a basketball fan, and disappointed as a Bulls fan, I defend LeBron’s decision. He really thinks that this will give him the most titles, and so I didn’t understand why people could be so angry with him for wanting to win? (Hold on for a sec, I’m about to go back and forth on this one a couple of times) I understand why Cleveland fans would be upset about him leaving. I’m a Minnesota sports fan, and so I’ve seen Moss, Garnett, Ortiz, Santana, Hunter, and Culpepper all leave my teams (not all the same scenario as this, I realize). It stinks to lose your favorite players. That being said, I think it’s ridiculous for their fans to hate him so much. The worst was Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert’s letter to Cavs’ fans. I don’t think he understands the concept of free-agency and that it was the rules of the NBA that gave LeBron the right to choose his team. Dan Gilbert just made a ton of money off of LeBron, and that’s how he repays him? Unbelievable that he could have that reaction. It was the logic of a pre-schooler. Now again, Cleveland fans and fans everywhere are now turned off to him for a better reason, and that is that LeBron had to have a one hour special on ESPN to make his announcement just as a way to let everyone know just how big we’ve allowed his ego to balloon over the years, and worse yet, he tries to make it okay by hiding behind his attempt at charity work by giving the money that came from it to the Boys & Girls Club. For this act, there is no defense. My best guess is that this guy is completely without any self-awareness. He’s clueless. And the funniest evidence of this is how he continuously refers to himself in the 3rd person.
So let me in conclusion say that even though we can all be appalled at LeBron’s ego and that everyone outside of Miami is disappointed that LeBron is giving up on greatness, people that think like Dan Gilbert need to grow up and realize that LeBron is a man that has every right to sign with whichever team he chooses. If you wanted to move to a certain city, should you have to gain the approval of millions of other people to do so? That is his choice and his choice only. No one has the right to say where he goes other than himself.
Now that it is all over, I’m somewhat glad that LeBron did go to Miami. This move makes me realize he’s not a true champion, and so why would I want him on my team? Plus, there is a big villain in the East now, and Chicago quietly is using all of their unused cap to get a lot better. I think my team is in good shape, and since chemistry and having a pecking order are such important things in the game of basketball, perhaps the Bulls will be the better “team” and the big 3 in Miami will blow up in their faces. At least, this is what I tell myself as a Bulls fan. As a Timberwolves fan, well, we’re just happy that we got Michael Beasley for nothing thanks to this LeBron signing. We still need a good shooting guard and Ricky Rubio to show up, though.
I do know one thing, it’s going to be fun to root against this team the next few seasons. However, I might find myself rooting for the Lakers in the Finals again, and that would stink.
Well the NBA Finals have come and gone, and somehow I was able to correctly predict the Lakers would win in 7 games. After I went and wrote a blog entry about how Kobe had started to win me over (not to actually root for him, but to be in awe of him) Kobe went on to play a pretty lousy series thanks mostly to the great defense of the Boston Celtics. Since the series was such a see-saw battle, and nobody played consistently great throughout the seven games, the Finals MVP Award was given to the default, best player on the winning team, Kobe Bryant. But I was completely underwhelmed by Kobe’s performance all series long, and it felt just wrong to give the MVP to a man who shot 6 for 24 that same night. The only problem to my refuting Kobe as MVP argument was that nobody else seemed to stand out all series either, but when Ron Artest hit that unbelievably clutch 3 to answer Sheed’s 3 and put the Lakers back up by 6, it hit me much like Ron hit that jerk Turtle look alike Pistons fan that Artest deserved the Finals MVP award. He was the one that came up the biggest in the biggest spot of the series, and plus, he gave that beautiful double hand kiss and look to the sky afterward. I know that this is kind of crazy since Boston obviously centered their defense around making Kobe’s job of scoring extremely difficult, and they left Ron wide open, begging him to shoot. But Ron hit those shots when it mattered, and Kobe struggled. Simply put, Ron did his job better than Kobe did. Let’s look at some numbers, shall we.
To me, the best argument for Finals MVP, is who did the most for his team to help them win, and actually came through in big spots. So here are Kobe and Ron’s numbers for games 1, 3, 6, and 7, since those were the games that LA won.
Kobe: 27 ppg, 37.2% FG, 15.8% 3pt FG, 87.5% FT (35 makes), 10 reb pg, 15:11 A/TO, 8 steals, 4 blocks, and +31 +/-
Ron: 13 ppg, 44.2% FG, 40% 3pt FG, 85.7% FT (6 makes), 4.5 reb pg, 3:7 A/TO, 7 steals, 3 blocks, and +39 +/-
At a quick glance, Kobe just produced way more. But look at the efficiency of Ron, save for assists/turnovers. Kobe handled the ball far more than Ron, and thus he got more assists and more turnovers, but he also was given far more assist opportunities since people would double him. So as long as he found the open man, it was a good assist opportunity. While Ron, was left wide open to shoot jumpers a lot, and people sagged off, leaving him less assist opportunities. But the numbers that swing this argument even more in Ron’s favor, is when we look at his defensive assignment, Paul Pierce, and his numbers in those same games.
PP: 17.5 ppg, 40.7% FG, 40% 3pt FG, 5.5 FTA pg, 10:11 A/TO, -37 +/-
Pierce was Finals MVP in ’08, and the possibly the biggest reason why Boston won that series is that “the Truth” outplayed “the Mamba”. He got it going a little this series, most notably in game 5, but when LA won, it was because Artest put the clamps on Pierce. Meanwhile Kobe got to sag off of Rondo most of the time and try to jump passing lanes, block people from their weakside, and grab easy rebounds, thus inflating some of his defensive stats over Artest’s. Ron had to work his butt off on defense to stick with Pierce, while Kobe had to mainly concentrate on offense, and yet Ron was still more efficient offensively. I think the quintessential point of my argument, is that Kobe’s best offensive game of the series was his 38 point game 5 with that huge 3rd quarter, that ended up being fruitless in the win column. Ron played poorly in the Laker losses, but he rose to the occasion in their wins.
Now I realize that this is still a bit preposterous, but I thought it was fun to look at the numbers. Also, besides the improved D on Pierce, the other biggest turnaround from ’08 for LA was that Gasol won his matchup with KG this time around. I think that’s a really good argument for why Pau could have been Finals MVP. Basically, this is just more reasoning why Kobe is not a top ten player of all time. His biggest shots of the series seemed to come in LA losses, while Fisher took over in the 4th of game 3, and Gasol, Fisher, and Artest all came up bigger in the 4th of game 7 than Kobe did. If you want to go with the +/- stat, Lamar Odom was a whopping +43 for the 4 Laker wins. It’s just not fair that a guy that good could be coming off the bench for LA. You maybe could have dug in the stats to find where Jordan didn’t lead his team in +/- for some of his titles, but you could never find a series where Jordan was the 3rd or 4th most clutch guy on his team. Despite the Lakers winning this title and Kobe being just 1 away from MJ now, the argument for Jordan is only getting stronger. Respect the history of the game and actually look at the numbers, and you will find the truth.
Anyhow, these were my two least favorite teams in the league this year, but at least the slightly lesser of the two evils prevailed. I am very happy that Ron Ron got his ring, even if Kobe had to get his 5th. I’d like to thank my hood, and even more so, my psychiatrist, for allowing me to relax so I could write this blog post to the best of my ability. Queensbridge has left the building.
These last 7 1/2 weeks or so have seemed to blow by so quickly, because my favorite tournament in the world (the NCAA tournament is more exciting, but don’t kid yourself, the brand of basketball is so much worse that the NBA has this one hands down) has been playing out, and even though I don’t always like the outcomes, I love everything about the NBA Playoffs. It’s usually more fun in the first two rounds, because there is so much more basketball to watch, and you’ll get the occasional triple- or even quadruple-header on a Saturday or Sunday and just soak in all the great basketball. However, as we get into the conference finals the cream has definitely risen to the top, and the quality of basketball is unbelievably good. My only complaint about the playoffs these past few years is that my teams don’t seem to do as well as I’ve hoped. The Timberwolves have been no-shows since going to the Western Conference Finals in 2004, and the Bulls have only won one series since the Jordan era, and still haven’t been a true contender. At least the series they played with Boston last year was one of the best playoff series of all time, and showed me so much about what the future of the team looks like with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah being playoff warriors. (It also helped me realize that Derrick Rose was my favorite current NBA player by a long shot.)
Not only have my favorite teams failed to deliver come playoff time, but rather some of my least favorite teams and players have been successful. In the past 10 years, the Lakers won 4 titles, the Spurs won 3 titles, and the Pistons and Celtics each won a title. Those teams are probably all in my top 5 of most despised teams in the league. On top of that, players that I don’t like too much got to win titles, and in some cases, earned multiple rings, most notably two of my least favorite players: Shaq and Kobe. They each have won 4 rings in the past decade, and it was a big disappointment for me each time they hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Of course, the two redeeming things to come from those Laker titles in the early 00’s were this, and this, thanks to the Carlton Banks of the NBA.
So since Shaq and Kobe were so successful together, and now the Lakers are stacked again, Kobe Bryant’s career accomplishment’s are now beginning to pile up to put him up there with the greatest players of all time, and almost undoubtedly make him the greatest player of his era. I’m not a Kobe fan, and I never have been, but I did always favor him over Shaq almost infinitely. I like everything about his game and how hard of a worker he is, but I’ve always thought he was a bit overrated, was a jerk, possibly a rapist, and just the beneficiary of two really good situations (Shaq-era Lakers, and now Gasol-era Lakers). Obviously Shaq isn’t the easiest guy to work with, because he’s constantly throwing former teammates or coaches under the bus, but if Kobe was truly as motivated by winning, and not by being the best player on his own team, than he could have and should have won about 6 or 7 titles with the Shaq-era Lakers. Instead, he was a big reason why the Lakers broke up and caused them to become irrelevant until Gasol showed up. Actually, I think everyone has forgotten that Kobe was practically demanding a trade earlier in the same season that they ended up getting Gasol on the cheap and ended up going to the finals. I’ve always relished rooting against him and seeing him fail, but unfortunately, he finally broke through and won a title without Shaq last season, and that started bringing up all the silly comparisons to Michael Jordan. You’d hear things like, “he’s now been to just as many NBA Finals, and he’s only 2 rings away from Michael” and “with that team, he could pass up Jordan, and then the argument is over”. People, please settle down. We’ll get back to this “argument” in a moment.
Now these playoffs are the first time where Kobe has finally caused me to actually admire him somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, I was still rooting against the Lakers every step of the way, but the way he played in the Utah and Phoenix series’s made me, for the first time, think that he could be a top 3 guard of all time. He’s never once made me think that before. But after he hit that shot in game 6 against Phoenix and tapped Alvin Gentry on the butt, he gave me a little bit of that feeling that, “this guy can’t lose”. In the past, I always assumed Kobe would fail, even if that was an unfounded assumption, it was there. But after that shot, that notion was gone, at least temporarily.
So that’s why I was probably just as dumbfounded as the Laker fans on Sunday evening when Kobe didn’t will his team to victory. It looked like he had done what he needed to do when he made that great steal and deep three before the half, and then his team grabbed the lead not too far into the third, and the see-saw battle waged on from there. But down the stretch, Boston made all the big plays, and Kobe was just not great. Gasol and Bynum both had better games. I know Kobe was the victim of a couple questionable calls, but a great player that wants to be mentioned with Jordan should play smarter than he did. So don’t give me that. He just wasn’t good enough.
So now, back to the Jordan comparisons. Win or lose this series, people will probably start the comparisons again. If he wins, even more so. Good. Let everyone make comparisons. I hope they all take a long hard look at the facts, and if you do, you’ll find that Kobe is still no match to Jordan. I don’t care if 11 year olds in LA think that Kobe is better than Jordan ever was. Everyone who actually knows something about basketball and is capable of being objective, knows that Jordan still has him beat by a long-shot. And if you want to go the route of championships, then the number for Kobe is 1, because that’s how many rings he has where he was the best player on his team. Jordan has 6 Finals MVP awards, and he was definitely the best player on his team for all 6 titles. And if you actually look at statistics, Jordan is in another stratosphere than Kobe. If Kobe wants any shot at giving Jordan a run for his money, he HAS to win this series. If he loses his third NBA finals, he could win 8 titles and he still wouldn’t be as good as Jordan, because Jordan never lost an NBA Finals, and he left two on the table by playing baseball instead. It’s like John Elway and Joe Montana. Sure, Elway had an unreal career and eventually got his two rings, and he even went to more Super Bowls than Montana, but Joe was 4 for 4 in the big game. When it was time to get the job done, Joe did it, and that’s why he’s the greatest quarterback of all time (in my opinion) and Elway isn’t.
As for a Finals prediction, I think I’ll get it wrong no matter what I say, but I think it’s a good series, and I’ll say Lakers in 7. I’m also hoping for that, because the only team I dislike more than the Lakers is the Celtics, and I want as much good basketball as I can get.