Sports Guy Fixing the NBA Playoffs
Jun. 14, 2007 | feedback
We'll remember the 2007 NBA playoffs for seven reasons:
1. LeBron's 48 Special.
2. Oakland's dynamic crowds and Dallas' collapse during the Warriors-Mavs series.
3. The Stoudemire/Diaw suspensions and subsequent fallout.
4. May 22.
5. The day Kobe went schizo on us.
6. The greatest Spurs team of the Duncan era; and ...
7. A dreadful Finals that was so predictable and plodding, fans were much more interested in trade talk and draft speculation.
Now, I've already written about 1 through 6 (see the corresponding links). But No. 7 has to be one of the weirdest subplots in recent sports history. We've reached a point with the NBA when its offseason somehow became more interesting than its actual season. I have no idea what this means. I have no idea how to interpret this information. For whatever reason, people are more interested in figuring out how the Suns will win the 2008 title over how the Spurs are winning the 2007 title. They're more interested in wondering what the Celtics will do with the No. 5 pick versus the Duncan/Parker battle for Finals MVP. They're more interested in figuring out how Cleveland will find help for LeBron in 2008 than the help he's getting right now.
Here's the easy explanation: Anyone who understands basketball realized by the 10-minute mark of Game 2 that Cleveland was completely outclassed in this series. (Not to toot my own horn, but I tried to warn you before Game 1. All right, I guess that was some tooting. But I did try to warn you.) By the time the Spurs extended their lead to the high 20s and Mike Breen started sobbing on-air that he had been stuck with so many lousy playoff games while Dick Freaking Stockton got to call the Mavs-Warriors series, the 2006-07 season, for all intent and purpose, had been rammed with a giant pitchfork like the one Jason Voorhees used in "Friday the 13th 3D." So it was natural for everyone to start thinking about the summer, free agency, the draft and everything else.
At the same time, we've reached a point that the off-court stuff has become consistently more fascinating. Tuesday morning, I wasn't sure whether Game 3 of the Spurs-Cavs series would be good, but I definitely knew hoopshype.com's NBA Rumors page would give me 20-25 minutes of enjoyable links and rumors. When a buddy from Boston called, we spent 20 seconds talking about the Finals and 20 minutes talking about the draft. Late Tuesday night, I realized that I'm between 10 and 200 times more interested in seeing how the Suns will handle their luxury tax problems than how Mike Brown will solve Cleveland's scoring problems before Game 4.
When you think about it, there's really no parallel to this phenomenon in sports or pop culture. Baseball peaks with the playoffs and World Series. Football peaks with the playoffs and Super Bowl. Golf peaks with the Masters and the U.S. Open. Television peaks with the season finale of a show. Movies peak when the movie is released. Music peaks when the album is released. So when does the NBA peak? Certainly, not during the Finals -- the ratings keep dropping and we've had two genuinely entertaining Finals (2000 and 2006) since MJ retired. Couldn't you make the case that it peaks at the end of June, on the days leading up to the draft, when there's a flurry of trade rumors, mock drafts, free agent rumors and everything else?
Apparently, we've reached the point in the NBA that it's more enjoyable to watch GMs tinker with their teams than watching those teams actually play. Isn't this a major, major, MAJOR problem? You could even call it a crisis, right? When writers and radio hosts brought up the topic of blowing up the playoffs and changing the seeding process, for once, it didn't seem like one of those radical/inane/unrealistic suggestions that was thrown out there just to get people talking during a dead sports week. We need to blow this thing up and start over. We do. The current playoff infrastructure has failed.
Here are the three biggest problems:
1. Once the league's reckless (repeat: reckless) expansion pushed the number of teams past the mid-20s, it became too easy for one conference to be stacked with elite teams. David Stern has argued multiple times that this stuff evens out over time, but clearly, that's not true. We've had much better teams in the West for nearly a full decade; in eight of the past 10 seasons, the best two teams played before the Finals, and in four of those seasons, they played before the conference finals. Um ... that's not a major flaw in the system?
We saw this imbalance from 1980 to 1989, when there were always 3-4 great teams in the East (the Celtics, Sixers and Bucks dominated the first half, then the Celtics, Pistons, Bulls, Hawks and Cavs took turns in the second half) and the Lakers whupped up a different underdog in the Western finals almost every year. But here was the big difference: Because the league hadn't killed itself with expansion and there were so many salary cap loopholes, the Lakers were always really good. They went nine-deep with two franchise players (Magic and Kareem), an All-Star (Worthy), great role players and a rotating cast of accomplished veterans passing through for a ring. Because such a great/memorable/entertaining team was carrying the West in the '80s, nobody cared that the conferences were unbalanced. Now? We care. We don't have Magic's Lakers to salvage things.
2. Once upon a time, the NBA created conferences to cut down on everyone's travel -- not just to save expenses but to save the bodies of its players (all of whom were flying coach). Even now, it's a reasonable strategy for the regular season. But for the playoffs? Not nearly as reasonable. Everyone's flying around in charter jets, for God's sake! If we adopted the 2-3-2 format for every playoff series -- which should happen, anyway -- travel time and days would be cut back. So you can't play the "too much traveling" card. Not in 2007.
3. There's a rigid predictability to the playoffs every spring that we don't necessarily need. For instance, one of the reasons the Mavs-Warriors series was so much fun was because it came out of nowhere. Shouldn't we be searching for that "what a goofy matchup!" variable every spring? Why do we want to subject ourselves to a solid decade of Cavs-Bulls or Cavs-Heat series in the East? Isn't the unpredictability and randomness part of what makes March Madness so great?
Anyway, Warriors announcer Bob Fitzgerald made two radical proposals in his blog recently: One for realigning the conferences (not as pressing of an issue), and one for turning the playoffs into a straight 16-team bracket, almost like the Sweet 16 for March Madness, where seeds are awarded by win-loss records (so Dallas would have been No. 1 this spring, Phoenix would have been No. 2 and the Clips would have been No. 16). Please know that (A) I loved this idea and will always be ticked off that somebody else thought of it, and (B) John Hollinger beat me to the punch on Monday with his own version of how he'd handle the reseeding. Anyway, I chewed on the concept, chewed on it some more ... and decided that I'd tinker with Bob's renegade idea in the following ways:
• The top six teams from each conference still make the playoffs, only because we need the conference alignments to mean something.
• The team with the best record gets the No. 1 seed; the best team in the other conference gets the No. 2 seed. Every other seed is up for grabs. For this season, Dallas would have been No. 1, Detroit No. 2, Phoenix No. 3. and San Antonio No. 4. None of those teams could have played one another until the conference finals. Now that, my friends, is a good thing.
• For the No. 13-16 playoff spots, the league adopts my antitanking idea (from my April 23 magazine column):
"Shorten the regular season by four games, guarantee the top six seeds in each conference, then have a double-elimination tourney for the seventh and eighth seeds between the remaining ... teams. I suggest this for five reasons. First, it would be entertaining as hell. In fact, that's what we'll call it: the Entertaining-as-Hell Tournament. Second, I'm pretty sure we could get it sponsored. Third, the top 12 teams get a reward: two weeks of rest while the tournament plays out.
"Fourth, a Cinderella squad could pull off some upsets, grab an eighth seed and win fans along the way. And fifth, with the Entertaining-as-Hell Tournament giving everyone a chance, no team could tank down the stretch without insulting paying customers beyond repair."
Is there any downside for that idea? Lottery teams couldn't tank down the stretch and sideline their best players with dubious injuries. Playoff teams get two weeks of rest and practice so they'll be running on all cylinders in the playoffs. And if that's not enough, the Entertaining-as-Hell Tournament would be entertaining as hell, wouldn't it? Then, when the real playoffs started, we'd have a wide-open, 16-team bracket in which (A) the top-four teams couldn't play each other until the conference finals, (B) the matchups would be completely unpredictable, and (C) the bracket even would lend itself to a few illegal office pools (with the Finals MVP as the tiebreaker).
In fact, I can see one reason why this would never happen, and only one: if David Stern and the rest of the NBA decision-makers were too stubborn to admit that we need a radical change. Well, we do. Anyone who doesn't believe this should be sentenced to watch the game-deciding play of Game 3 -- you know, the one during which Anderson Varejao thought it was a good idea to attempt an out-of-control spin move against one of the best defensive players of the past 15 years -- on an endless loop for the rest of the summer. Cleveland had no business being in the 2007 Finals. None. That's why I'm one of the 19 biggest basketball fans on the planet and, yet, I care more about the 2007 draft than the 2007 Finals.
We need to fix this. Immediately.
Sports Guy Blog: Clips, links and e-mail
Jun. 5, 2007 | feedback
We're long overdue for some major housecleaning (links, e-mails and follow-up thoughts), but before we get to that, I have three thoughts from the weekend, including one about "The Sopranos," so get ready for a spoiler alert:
1. It seems like the Pistons have reached a fatal point -- they've gone as far as they can go with their current nucleus, they can't retool with lottery picks or major free agents, and they're probably going to get 10-15 percent worse every year unless they blow things up and head in another direction. Right now, they're a pretty good team that finished better than they should have because the East was so crappy this season; they're coming off a series in which a flawed Cavs team conceivably could have swept them 6-0 if two plays had gone differently; and they were blown out in consecutive our-season-on-the-line games (never a good sign). They don't have the right personnel for the Nash-era NBA, they don't get fast-break points, they don't have anyone who can create slash-and-kick baskets ... I mean, do you realize that the biggest lead they had in that entire Cavs series was eight points?
Clearly, they need to move Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace -- both of whom should have significant value to younger teams looking for one veteran to get them over the hump -- then build around Hamilton (who has a team-friendly contract), Tayshaun Prince (ditto), Jason Maxiell, Amir Johnson (major sleeper), the 15th pick in the 2007 draft and whatever they can get for Billups and 'Sheed (whether it's young players, picks or cap space). It's the only move. For instance, let's say they make the following moves:
A. Sign-and-trade Billups to the Clippers for Corey Maggette, Sam Cassell (expiring contract) and the 14th pick.
B. Deal Wallace (two years and $26 million remaining on his deal) in a three-way trade in which 'Sheed goes to Washington, Antawn Jamison (expires in 2008) goes to Portland and Zach Randolph goes to Detroit. ... Or they could just deal 'Sheed for Jamison straight up if they wanted the cap space.
The other option? Re-sign Billups, hope McDyess and C-Webb come back, hope to get lucky at No. 15 with the likes of Rodney Stuckey, and waste their entire free agent exemption on this year's Nazr Mohammed. Face it, Detroit -- your window to win another NBA title this decade, for all intent and purpose, closed for good on Saturday night. As Greg from Detroit pointed out in a "we need to blow it up" e-mail last night, "Please help us, we have officially become the Atlanta Braves of the NBA."
2. Speaking of windows, the Red Sox left the window slightly ajar in Fenway by giving away that Yankee game -- first, Lugo gives away an insurance run with the dumbest slide of the season, then Paps leaves an 0-2 fastball over the plate to A-Rod in the ninth. Bad loss. Believe me, I'm not panicking ... it just seemed like they were one more win away from ramming a giant pitchfork into the Yanks. No matter how many problems they're having, the Yankees are like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees in that you never feel totally comfortable until you see their heads get chopped off. You don't want to leave them "bleeding to death" but breathing. You just don't.
3. Wait ...
***** SOPRANOS SPOILER ALERT *****
All right ...
Sunday's episode was so tense, I almost started smoking again. Unbelievable. But why am I terrified that Paulie Walnuts is in cahoots with Phil Leotardo? Doesn't it seem fishy that Phil went after Tony, Silvio and Bobby but ignored Paulie, or that Paulie was in charge of Phil's whacking but it got "screwed up"? I'm fearing the Paulie backstab-out-of-nowhere, as scripted by Vince McMahon.
By the way, I enjoyed this e-mail from Kevin P. in Austin, Texas: "In regards to tonight's second-to-last episode of 'The Sopranos,' I truly believe A.J. finally surpassed Fredo as the most sniveling and pathetic Mafia-related family member of all time. He was on the cusp in the last episode but I felt he officially grabbed the reins tonight at approximately 8:46 CT."
One more thing: Between the "Lost" finale and the way the "Sopranos" is wrapping up, it's hard to remember a greater stretch of TV. Two of the 10 greatest TV shows ever slinging 99-mph heat at the same time. Fantastic.
***** END OF SPOILER ALERT *****
All right, time for some long overdue clips and links:
1. Eugene from San Antonio is trying to turn me into an alcoholic: "Check out this article that appeared in the San Antonio Express News on Sunday. David Robinson actually considered not signing with the Spurs to wait for Boston or L.A.!"
(P.S.: I'm a huge fan of Robinson as a person and believe he's one of the best role models in the history of professional sports ... but wow, has there ever been a dumber decision than Robinson not just waiting two years and putting himself in the open market instead of signing with the Spurs just to pick up an extra $1 million per year for two years? If he liked them that much, couldn't he have waited two years, gotten an insurance policy to cover the contract he could have gotten, allowed the open market to drive up his price and signed with them then? ESPN needs to create a show called "The Top 50 worst business decisions in sports history." That's a lock for the top five.)
2. From the YouTube files ...
• Kelly from Baltimore: "One man's interpretation of the Yellow Ledbetter lyrics."
• An anonymous Kansas Jayhawks fan: "If this brawl were to happen today, all that would be televised is the negative influences of pop culture, thugs in the NBA (well, this was college) and such. But videos like this show that nasty stand-clearing brawls are nothing that's unique to the post-1990 era."
• Ken from Tarzana: "Check out a classic cameo by David Letterman on 'Mork and Mindy.'"
• Luke from Richmond: "If you have a YouTube account, check out this clip from a movie called 'Undefeatable.' (Note: the clip can only be accessed by 'mature users' for some reason but it's totally fine.) I had to cover my mouth I started laughing so hard at work. Its pretty high on unintentional comedy. One of the best slow motion punches ever."
• Josh from Brooklyn: "Funny link to my twin friends playing the theme song to '90210' on the same guitar ... described by some as incestuous homoeroticism, but it invokes a few smiles. Pop culture at its finest."
• From Sully in Boston: "This is absolutely classic. I haven't seen acting this bad since Mike Brown playing the role of coach for Cleveland."
• KRob in Santa Cruz, Calif.: "In your LeBron article on Friday, you made a small reference to Pele. Whenever my friends and I start getting into the argument of the greatest athlete of all-time, I have one friend that drops the Pele hammer, hard, every time. I didn't really take him seriously until I saw this. Now I drop the Pele hammer as well ... hard. I highly recommend watching the whole 10 minutes."
• Jordan H. in Elmira, N.Y.: "Had to write in about that Johnnie Morton fight! I couldn't stop laughing because it was so funny (here is the link if you missed it). Watching this makes me think that Jay Leno could have knocked him out after Johnnie called Jay out after the Lions won a game that year."
• Josh from San Fran writes, "Check out the Top Moments in NBA Draft Lottery history on NBA.com (scroll down to the bottom). It's an instant classic. My favorite part is No. 10, when it takes Elgin Baylor a good two seconds to figure out that he just got the No. 1 pick. Doesn't that explain his career in a nutshell? Also, we get Jerry Krause's epileptic fit when he got the Elton Brand pick (No. 8) and everyone around him begins to retreat. We have the look of horror on Jerry West's face when losing out on LeBron (No. 5)."
(Note: I forgot how hilarious Krause's reaction was. One of the all-time funniest NBA moments. Watch that 20 straight times and see if you're still not giggling on No. 20.)
4. Speaking of the lottery, before the tragedy of 5/22, Josh from New Castle e-mailed an article containing details from every lottery the Celtics have ever participated in. What a grisly list. I loved that we sent Kenny Anderson for the draft that ended up getting Jerome Moiso. Perfect. Also loved the desperation of sending Milt Palacio in 2001 because he hit that miracle shot against the Nets. Somebody needs to come up with a "Top-25 Worst Ideas For Lottery Representative" list.
5. The readers seem to be split on how we should name LeBron's Game 5 performance. Old friend Jason Whitlock sold me on "LeBron's 48 Special" but a host of readers think it should either be called "LeBron's 29 for 30" or "LeBron's Leap." Maybe we should make this an ESPN.com poll.
While we're here, two leftover Game 5 e-mails:
• Dave F. in Brooklyn: "That performance was truly insane. I was sitting in my living room giggling. It was like one of those kung fu movies in which Bruce Lee is fighting 30 guys, but they only send one at a time for some reason."
• Jake in Vegas: "One of the things you didn't point out was TNT panning the Palace crowd during their postgame show. The looks on the faces of the Pistons fans is the one thing that I think I will always remember about the game. I've never seen anything like it in sports. They were COMPLETELY shell-shocked, just sitting there with blank looks on their faces like they had just survived a back-alley encounter with Keyser Soze. And its not like this was even the series-clinching win, either. Most times when they show the fans of the losing team after a tough home loss, they are either trying to ward off the trash-talking from the opposing teams' fans or just trying to make their way out to their cars. The Pistons fans just sat there like they didn't want to go home so they wouldn't have to go to bed with nightmares of King James dancing through their heads."
And just for kicks, a postgame e-mail from Game 6 from Brandon in L.A.:
"I love the NBA. Can you think of any other avenue in life in which a 22-year-old black kid from Akron, Ohio, would excitedly jump in the air and lovingly embrace for a good 20 seconds a 7-foot-3, 31-year-old from Lithuania?"
6. Speaking of Bron, Kevin from Cleveland passed this along: "Here's a link from the News-Herald, a local paper just east of Cleveland, in which sportswriter Roger Brown puts you at No. 3 on the list of the six people who have done the most damage to their reputations since the Cavs-Pistons series. Here's what he wrote:
"Simmons spent months ripping and mocking James as an overhyped fraud -- and gained lots of national attention in the process. But after James' historic Game 5 performance, Simmons scrambled to save face in embarrassing fashion. He wrote a column on LeBron that was more slobbering and fawning than a 13-year-old girl writing a fan letter to Justin Timberlake."
Sorry, I have to respond to this one. First of all, if Roger can produce anything I've ever written that called him LeBron an "overhyped fraud," I will send him a $200 check to double the salary that the News-Herald is paying him every week. I think he has me confused with Charley Rosen.
Second, I love the idea that me "ripping" LeBron gained me national attention ... really? From who? Did I happen to be in a coma at the time? I criticized him in my Anna K. column from Miami (and rightfully so, Bron mailed in a game on national TV); my All-Star column from Vegas (where Bron's lack of enthusiasm for the season was a major topic, and if you don't believe me, check out the ESPN.com column by Brian Windhorst from March once LeBron started playing hard again, and this from a writer who's covered LeBron for his entire career); when LeBron made the absurd "global icon" comment; and a couple of times during the playoffs when Bron-Bron didn't seem properly enthused by the proceedings (and he wasn't). I don't regret a single thing I wrote about LeBron in the past year. Everything still stands.
And third, before Game 5 of the Detroit series, I picked the Cavs to win in 6 and wrote an extended section about LeBron showing signs of turning the corner and getting it in Games 3 and 4, to the point that I had my hopes up for Game 5 because there was a chance something truly special might happen. Here's the exact quote:
"The fact remains, No. 23 happens to be the only interesting thing about this painfully disjointed Pistons-Cavs series. ... Like many others, I'm looking forward to Game 5 solely because of LeBron. Like many others, I want him to shift into fifth gear, hush the crowd, rip Detroit's heart out and make the Vivid Video face after everything's said and done. Like many others, I will be disappointed if this doesn't happen."
Bottom line: If you're going to rip another writer, make sure you've actually read the guy first.
While we're here, my ESPN colleague Colin Cowherd mocked my seven trade scenarios for Kobe on the radio last week without reading the entire column or even attempting to understand its premise, namely, that the trade options for Kobe were limited because (A) he needed to go to a big market for a team that could contend right away, and (B) nobody pays 100 cents on the dollar for a team looking to unload an unhappy superstar.
And if that wasn't bad enough, Cowherd embarrassed himself by not understanding basic NBA trading principles like "it would be valuable for L.A. to swap Vlad Radmanovic's contract for Bobby Sura's expiring contract in a T-Mac/Kobe deal because Sura's contract expires in 2008, which would buy them some cap space down the road."
Look, I know the radio business lends itself to hosts lazily skimming other people's columns and blogs ... but seriously, Colin, in the words of Mark Jackson, you're better than that. Your show's on for three hours a day and you get four giant commercial breaks per hour. That leaves you plenty of time to research your segments so you don't come off as misinformed. No offense.
7. All right, how did I miss this? How did I miss this???? Anthony from Gloucester, N.J., explains:
"I doubt you caught the Reebok Grand Prix on CBS this past Sunday. Track and field is only exciting every four years for the Olympics -- except when Gus Johnson takes the helm. I watched him call the 110-meter hurdles for some guy named Liu Xiang (apparently the best hurdler in the world). Gu-Jo got me on my feet and the race lasted only 13 seconds. Just another example of how CBS has the X-Factor over the other networks when it comes to sports telecasts."
Speaking of missing things, I can't BELIEVE nobody sent me this clip before a few days ago -- it was like finding out that there's another view of Shannon Tweed's nude scene in "Hot Dog: The Movie" or something. Patrick R. from Holyoke, Mass., explains:
"Inexplicably, this YouTube clip has less than 10K views, but it's a treat -- silent footage from right-center of the Roberts steal, steady as it has to be and no less fun for the passage of time."
(Note: Isn't there a way for someone to take that video, then match it with the audio of the game?)
8. After getting sent roughly a kajillion A-Rod jokes and e-mails over the past few days, the one I enjoyed the most was a relatively simple e-mail from New York reader Bjorn C.:
"I don't know if you've been following the whole A-Rod strip club scandal, but this quote from the New York Daily News (which put on its investigative hat and interviewed strippers at A-Rod's favorite clubs) absolutely made my day:
"A petite stripper at the Hustler Club said A-Rod 'likes the she-male, muscular type.'"
"Oh man. That's hilarious. I'm gonna paste it again.
"A petite stripper at the Hustler Club said A-Rod 'likes the she-male, muscular type.'"
"Somehow, this never stops being funny."
(Couldn't agree more. We're about 40 months away from seeing A-Rod re-enact Eddie Murphy's 5:30 a.m. "just being a good samaritan" car ride in Hollywood.)
9. Well, I've been pushing for a TV show with Corey Feldman and Corey Haim since 2002 (scroll down to the Corey Haim section) ... and I'm not sure what's more incredible, the fact that they're both still alive, or that it's finally happening.
(Speaking of old columns, Jake from NYC read my running diary of the 2002 Spelling Bee and points out that the famous "euonym" moment that I wrote about in that column has now been immortalized on You Tube.)
10. Kudos to Lissa in Attleboro for digging up LeBron's Bo Jackson shot from 2006 that I mentioned in Friday's column: "Your description made me go looking for the video. I think you owe it to all your fans to share it; and please, please give me credit so I can brag to my boyfriend that I got published by the SG before he did!!! Clip starts after the commercial, 46 seconds in."
11. Jared B. in New York wonders, "I don't know if you've mentioned this, but did you ever look at how many guys are on the payroll for 2006-07 for the Philadelphia 76ers and not playing for them? They are paying Chris Webber, Jamal Mashburn, Todd MacCulloch, Aaron McKie and Greg Buckner. For a total of $45 million, too. There has got to be some kind of conspiracy theory here how Billy King still has a job."
12. Some dopey-but-fun links:
• Dan from Chapel Hill, N.C.: "I send this baby name site to all my friends who are expecting. It's fascinating."
• Nick Holle from Minneapolis: "What did Ray Allen say when he heard about Kobe's trade demands today? Hint: It starts with 'I' and ends with 'told you so.'"
• A million people sent me this and it's been floating around the Web for a solid week, but in case you missed it somehow, Noah from Indiana explains: "'This package includes: A one-hour coaching session with the New York Knicks head coach, Isiah Thomas, at Madison Square Garden.' Are you kidding me? Shouldn't they just call this 'Learn how to sabotage your AAU or high school team in one hour or less.'"
• Really enjoyed this link from Lindsey in K.C.: "I know you like Joe Posnanski so here is a GREAT column he wrote about Bo Jackson. I got chills a few times remembering some of those things he did!"
• More good reading: Tim McG from Evendale writes, "In case you haven't seen it yet, good article on the sub-culture of Dunkin' Donuts." And Mike in N.J. adds, "As a baseball fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this feature about Kerry Wood. As a Cubs fan, it made me throw up in my mouth a little."
• This feature on Durant/Oden made me think that it's not a lock Oden goes first. Hmmmmmmmmm.
• From Mike in Boston: "You have to include this in your links section. I wish I could say this was a joke, but what a spin job by the Hawks. Do their fans really believe this!?!?"
• Had to pass along this N.Y. Daily News report on Hal Steinbrenner (George's youngest son) potentially taking over the Yankees because of the overwhelming Vito Corleone/Michael Corleone parallels.
I never wanted this for you ... you were supposed to be Senator Steinbrenner, Governor Steinbrenner ...
• Finally, ESPN Books released an "uncyclopedia" called "23 Ways to First Base" by Neil Fine and Gary Belsky. Two whopping disclaimers: First, ESPN Books published my Red Sox book, and second, Neil Fine has been editing my magazine column for the past five years. Could you perceive a major conflict of interest here? Yes. Absolutely. But they mailed me this book last week and I was thinking, "Crap, now I have to think of a way out of plugging this thing without hurting anyone's feelings because there are too many conflicts here" ... and then I started thumbing through it and realized within about three minutes that it's one of the top-10 toilet books of all-time.
I can't even really properly describe the book other than to tell you that ...
A. It's an absorbing and valuable collection of relatively useless/helpful sports information -- stuff like "What are the lyrics to the Canadian National Anthem?" and "Who were all the No. 1 baseball picks since they started the draft?" and "What were the names of every player on 'The White Shadow'? and even "What are the best percentages for Texas Hold 'Em hands?"
B. The book has a hard cover, but it's compact, which means it fits perfectly on the top of any toilet. Just trust me, it's useful for this purpose.
C. I'd never recommend something that costs money unless I thought it was worth it.
So there you go. Buy the book, don't buy the book, I don't care. Just telling you that I liked it.
Sports Guy Blog: Crowning King James SLOTTED1
Jun. 1, 2007 | feedback
Around 8:15 p.m. on the West Coast, I called a buddy who works for the Celtics and left him the following message:
"It's 91-91 and heading to overtime just wanted to say, you better hope the Cavs lose this game because there's no stopping LeBron if he pulls this off. They're gonna own the East for the next 10-12 years. We're done."
Within 35 minutes, the fork was officially shoved into the Celtics and everyone else in the East. Our worst fears had come true. LeBron decided to make LeLeap.
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 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. This was like watching a light-heavyweight battling a middleweight for eight rounds and suddenly realizing, "Wait, I have 15 pounds on this guy," then whipping the poor guy into a corner and destroying him with body punches. The enduring moment was LeBron flying down the middle for a Dr. J retro dunk and Tayshaun Prince ducking for cover like someone reacting to a fly-by from a fighter jet. The Pistons wanted no part of him. They were completely dominated. They didn't knock him down, they didn't jump in front of him for a charge hell, they were so shell-shocked by what was happening, they didn't even realize they should be throwing two guys at him.
This differed from vintage MJ simply because Jordan was never an overpowering physical presence. At 6-foot-6 and built more like a wide receiver, when Jordan took over games the recipe centered around 20-foot jumpers, slice-and-dice drives, putbacks off rebounds, turnaround fallaways, hang-in-the-air layups to draw contact, maybe even an occasional dunk on somebody's head. He compensated for his size in three ways: by maintaining a level of intensity that overwhelmed everyone else; by working his butt off defensively to get easy baskets off turnovers; and by creating an inside/outside scoring attack that answered every possible defensive strategy. And with all that said, guess what? He was still a middleweight. Isiah's Pistons gained an edge for a couple of years by knocking Jordan down every time he attacked the rim. When Riley's Knicks took this ploy to another level, the NBA overreacted and changed its contact rules, eventually leading to the wussified sport we're watching today. (Example No. 5,767: Antonio McDyess' ejection.)
This is what Bill wrote about LeBron in a column from last spring:
"At least once a game, he does something so explosive, so athletic, so incredible, you can't even believe it happened. The last time I remember feeling this way about a professional athlete was Bo Jackson, who wasn't just great
he stood out. I attended a spring training game once when Bo scored from third base on a 180-foot pop fly -- standing up. It was awesome to watch. Well, LeBron reminds me of Bo. On those plays when he says, "Screw it, I'm scoring" and heads toward the basket like a runaway freight train. He's like a young Barkley crossed with a young Shawn Kemp crossed with young Magic, but with a little Bo thrown in. Out of anyone in the league, he's the only player who can cripple the other team with one monster play.
There's a perfect example that Hollinger wrote about on Sunday, but screw it, I'm retelling the story. On Saturday afternoon, I TiVo'ed the Nets-Cavs game because the Nets had won 14 straight and officially reached "record all our games" territory. LeBron completely took over the game in the fourth, capped off by one of the most startling plays I have ever seen: Trailing in the final two minutes, LeBron seized some open space in transition and pulled the Runaway Freight Train move, careening toward the basket as one Net reached in and hacked him, followed by another Net on the other side reaching in and fouling him, and then a third guy just to make sure he wouldn't score. LeBron was cradling the ball, taking two giant steps toward the basket and absorbing those karate chops. BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. Any normal human being would have either lost the ball or lost their balance and tumbled to the ground.
Well, LeBron kept going -- almost like a tight end bouncing off three safeties in the open field. As the last guy walloped him, LeBron jumped in the air (where did he get the strength?!?!?), regained control of the ball, hung in the air, hung in the air for another split-second, gathered the ball (at this point, he was drifting under the right side of the rim), and finally unleashed a righty layup that banked in. The shot was so BLEEPING INCREDIBLE, the referee practically jumped in delight as he called the continuation foul. The Nets were done after that. He ripped their hearts out, MJ-style. Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it.
Put it this way: They won't need to change the rules to protect LeBron. If Jordan was a receiver, then LeBron is one of those scary tight ends who runs a 4.35 40, outsprints safeties and occasionally carries five tacklers into the end zone just to see if it can be done. Physically, he's the most imposing perimeter player in the history of the league. Nobody else comes close. Even last spring, when he was only 21 years old, I described a specific LeBron play in an NBA column that was unlike anything I'd ever seen (check the sidebar). For comparative purposes, the only athlete who worked was Bo Jackson. And that's been the challenge for LeBron these past 12 months -- finding his inner Bo, learning how to channel it, figuring out the right times to unleash it.
When he passed up the game-tying dunk in Game 1 for an ill-fated pass to Donyell Marshall, in retrospect that turned out to be the most important lesson of his career. He needed to take the abuse, needed to hear the questions, needed to hear everyone call him out. Both Detroit losses hardened him, leading to his transcendent Game 3 and another focused performance in Game 4. You could see him harnessing his considerable gifts. Every fledgling superduperstar needs one of these moments -- Jordan had the series-winning shot in Cleveland, Tiger had the '97 Masters, Magic had Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, Bird had the banker in Game 7 of the '81 Philly series -- when they can say to themselves, "I came through when it mattered, I can do it again." LeBron was one crowd-killing game in Detroit from pushing himself to another level, almost like someone completing a mission in "Grand Theft Auto."
Above everything else, that's why this game mattered. Down the stretch, LeBron turned into a cross between Bo and MJ -- he seized the moment, made it his own, took everyone to a higher place. As a reader named Billy Carter e-mailed me afterward, "Watching LeBron finally enabled me to understand the Pele speech that the cook gave to Louden Swain in 'Vision Quest.' When the game was over, I wanted to wrestle Chute."
Me too. Like so many other diehard fans, I watch thousands and thousands of hours of sports every year hoping something special will happen, whether it's a 60-point game in basketball, a no-hitter during a Red Sox game, a seven-run comeback in the ninth, a back-and-forth NFL game, a boxing pay-per-view or whatever else. Occasionally, it pays off. For instance, two Saturdays ago, the Pavlik-Miranda undercard of the Spinks-Taylor fight was special. Last January's Colts-Pats game was special. Every Oakland home game of the Warriors-Mavs series was special. Maybe there are degrees of the word, but still, every time we're clicking on a television or heading to a ballgame, deep down, we're hoping something special happens.
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." If you care about basketball, you enjoyed TNT's postgame show, when a giddy Barkley was so hyped up that he could barely sit still in his seat. If you care about basketball, this game immediately joined the Bird-Dominique Duel, The Flu Game, MJ's Last Shot, Magic's Sky Hook, McHale's Clothesline, the Sleepy Floyd Game, MJ's 63-Point Game, the Bernard-Isiah Duel, the '87 All-Star Game, the Suns-Celts Game, Bird's Steal, Havlicek's Steal, West's Half-Court Shot, the Miller/Spike Lee Game and every other classic over the years that can be described/remembered/rehashed in three or four words. We'll call this "LeBron's 48-Point Game" someday. 'Nuff said.
After it ended, I had a reader compare it to a player catching fire in the old "NBA Jam" arcade game, when every jump shot would result in the basketball being on fire. I had a Pistons fan named Duane e-mail me, "Watching LeBron's performance in Game 5 made me feel like Ron Burgundy. LBJ pooped in my refrigerator, ate the whole wheel of cheese and I'm not even mad. That was amazing." I had a reader compare LeBron's performance to the "No F-ing Way Game" in Madden, when the computer makes the executive decision, "Look, you're not winning this game." I had a reader named Justin Jacobs e-mail me, "After LeBron single-handedly beat the Pistons tonight, I looked at my 10-year-old brother and told him, 'You just bore witness to one of the greatest performances in NBA history.' You know you're seeing a great moment in sports when you're happy that your little brother was there to see it."
I don't know where we're headed with the LeBron Era -- how high he'll go, what he has in store for us down the road, even whether Game 5 will end up being an aberration along the lines of Vince Carter's 50-point game in the Philly series six years ago. But for the first time, I feel confident that we're headed for the right place. Even if that place includes Cleveland dominating the Celtics and everyone else in the East until my kids are in junior high.
(On second thought come on Detroit!)