Basketball At It’s Finest

I love the game of basketball. It’s a great game; A game of strategy, intelligence, talent, athleticism and teamwork.

I started watching the pro and college games in 1980 when the Showtime Lakers won their first championship Magic Johnson’s rookie year. Though I am a Laker lifer, I’ve always enjoyed watching other good teams play. I remember the Milwaukee Bucks of old with Moncrief and Pressey, the 76ers with Doc, Toney, Moses and Bobby Jones, the Celtics of course and so on. These teams were fun to watch and watching them taught me how the game was played on the highest level.

The resurgence of the NBA was ushered in by the rivalry of the Celtics/Lakers series and of course the duality of Magic and Bird. Basketball came up again and drew many fans from many demographics. The Michael Jordan apex happened at a time when cable TV and the 24 hour sports expansion of media and marketing went to a new level. As great at Jordan was as a player, in so many ways the game itself suffered as many of the upcoming players only focused on Jordan’s individual one on one exploits. They rarely took notice of his all-defensive team selections, or the genius of the Triangle Offense. Those things are affective and essential to winning championships, but the NBA doesn’t market the game this way. They continue to focus on personalities and individual glamourized talent. They want us enamored with LeBron James, but not Tim Duncan. But you see Tim Duncan has four championships, and LeBron has none.

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This is what I thought of yesterday as I watched Game 2 of the Western Conference finals between San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

For me the “Triangle,” when executed properly is probably the most poetic and fluent offense that I’ve witnessed. It gives multiple options to each of the five players on the court. But what I saw last night for the first three quarters from the Spurs was nothing short of basketball perfection!

You talk about mastering the pick and roll, spacing, dribble penetration, drawing the defense in, making the extra pass, then making shots to a point of making the game look like an award winning work of art.  The Spurs were like an orchestra owning the stage and captivating the audience. I was awed by what I saw.

What Tony Parker did to Russell Westbrook was a crime. It was an execution. Parker basically took Westbrook over his knee and spanked him for thinking he could compete on his level at playoff time. Watching Parker was like watching Pete Sampras and Roger Federer at Wimbledon during their hey-days. If it were a play they would have called it, “Murder at the Alamo!” Westbrook like the basketball child he is, failed to see the irony of what was happening to him and tried to dribble and one on one his way out of his whooping.

By the way… James Hardin is a way better basketball player than Russell Westbrook. I’m just sayin. But I digress!

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This is what basketball is up against. TEAMS win championships, but individuals are marketed and packaged to sell the game more than they should be. It’s not like I can’t appreciate the talent LeBron and others have. The problem is that they feel they have to rely on that talent alone to prove their perceived worth to those of us watching as well as those reporting.

I see this as a basketball official. At lower levels a talented individual can definitely win some games for you. But I witness more than I can count the number of teams that I see who can simply pass, shoot, rebound and defend as a unit methodically crucifies the teams with better individual talent.

Look at Spurs coach Greg Popovich; He’s been with the same team his entire career, has won, lost, and now is winning again. Unlike other coaches, his voice has never worn on his star veteran players. I think that speaks volumes for veteran guys like Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. What about the job RC Buford has done with the personnel? They have managed to add Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw to a group of savvy veterans and ultimate team players to make this run. It’s amazing. Yet the league will not sell them to the public.

You need not be a rocket scientist to see what is going to happen here. The Heat and the Spurs will be in the Finals. And the Heat, even with the greatness of Wade and the talent of James, don’t have a chance!

I just hope that young people who play this game are paying attention.

The Grinch, CP3 and the End of a Lifetime Love Affair

NBA1

My love for NBA basketball goes back 32 years, along with with my love for the Los Angeles Lakers.  I watched it flourish from the drug infested rep it had during the 70s, through the resurgence with the help of Magic, Larry, and Isaiah; the glory years of Jordan, Hakeem, and finally Shaq, Kobe, Duncan and D-Wade.  The current NBA has plenty of stars to peek the interest of old and new fans.  As bad as “The Decision” was for LeBron and The Heat, the NBA had its peak year of interest, and then like a hammer, the owners imposed another lockout!

This was the first blow to my love for the NBA game.  Not that the owners wanted more cheddar; that’s just the American way.  But the way they went about it, with their various threats to cancel the season.  After a blockbuster year for everyone, they acted with an arrogance that clearly showed many owners cared nothing about the fans that pushed their popularity to where it is, so that their revenue could be as substantial as it’s been.

I had it in my mind not to care whether the season was cancelled or not.  I felt that for the sake of labor, the players should get a fair deal that reflected the value they bring to the franchises.  If the owners wanted to bluff or cancel the season, then let them.  And then see if the game ends up like the NHL.

hunter fisher

With Christmas and it’s primetime schedule looming, the players and the owners were able to get a deal done and cram a 66 game season in just a few short months.  Initially the stain of the lockout was still in my mind.  I knew it would take me a little while at least to become interested in the league again.  I was more excited to continue watching NFL football and college hoops.

Once the deal was agreed upon and the moving and shaking began where clubs and players would be changing places, the buzz peeked my interest a bit more.  Chris Paul to the Lakers?  Tyson Chandler to the Knicks;  Pau Gasol to the Rockets, Lamar Odom to the Hornets, damn!  Talk about blowing up some teams!  I knew the Lakers needed to make some changes but Odom and Gasol?  That sounds drastic!  (Unless they were going to gun for Dwight Howard but still that was no sure thing!)

I said to myself, Del Demps (the GM for New Orleans) is no joke!  He’s sitting with a team that is owned by the league and where no one seems to want to go, and yet he just set himself up to have a strong team for this season with Odom, (the reigning sixth man of the year), Luis Scola (a double-double man), and guard Kevin Martin! This core gives a potential owner a very competitive team to begin with.  The Rockets having Gasol would make them instant playoff contenders since Yao Ming retired.  And as I said about my Lakers, it helped our backcourt tremendously but left our front line very light with a heavy load being put on Andrew Bynum’s knees.

Del Demps

Ok, maybe I do want to watch on Christmas.  But then at the behest of so called small market owners like Dan Gilbert, The Grinch David Stern killed the deal!  WTF???

It seems that though Demps was told by the league that he had the freedom to make deals as any other GM would, The Angel of Stern at the behest of Gilbert and the likes decided that Chris Paul going to the Lakers under any circumstances was bad for the league.  Part of the owners lockout strategy was to restrict star players from choosing their own destinies.  The problem is that they can’t stop free agency.  If a player is in the final year of his contract and is not going to stay with the team he’s on, he’s going to have a certain amount of power in choosing his trade destination if he doesn’t agree to re-sign with his new team.  That is just the nature of the beast.  Most players in any of the major sports have but one chance in their careers to have serious influence on where they go and how much they can make.

Stern said that the deal was not good enough for the Hornets and that his decision to block a great trade didn’t have anything to do with other owners.  He also thinks Jerry Sandusky only likes to ‘horse around’ with young boys.  But I digress!  Phil Jackson the former Laker coach brought the Paul issue up a year ago with the league owning the Hornets which is a clear conflict of interest.  He was fined by the league for predicting the cluster f#@! that eventually panned out.

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Fast forward a few days later with trade proposals flying like bullets and players being amnestied left and right, the Lakers gave away Lamar Odom to the World Champion Mavericks for a 40oz.  Neither Stern, Gilbert or any other small market owners said a word about that.  Instead of Demps doing the negotiations going forward, Stern took over negotiations from New York rendering the Hornets GM a GM with no clothes.  Oh and this just in: Paul goes to the Clippers instead; the team with historically racist owner the the league has never addressed.  That makes a lot of sense!

I’m just disgusted with the NBA right now.  And I’m honestly not sure if there will be any coming back from it.  This is NOT about the Lakers not getting CP3 either.  Since Jerry Buss turned the team over to his son, the way they have treated many of their loyal personnel like Brian Shaw for instance has shown a total lack of class.  Likewise, not even telling Lamar Odom, a man who has taken a lesser playing role and less money for years as a sign of loyalty that the team was seeking to trade him is reprehensible.  That is a side issue that calls into question my respect for the Laker organization.

What is bothersome is that in addition to the lockout, the league’s manipulation of team business is a huge turn off. I would much rather take my team to task for the way they manage, the way they play, Mike Brown’s coaching, etc. My team has been my team for over 30 years and we haven’t won the championship every year.  I’m good with that.  The issue is credibility!  I want to have the belief at least that the product that is NBA basketball is a legitimate institution.  Where if each team plays by the rules established that they can make or break their own clubs, their own seasons, and that I as a fan can watch the games and root from a fan’s perspective.

At best Christmas morning anticipation of the NBA should feel as if I am waking up to love I’ve known most of my life.  Now it feels like a dirty whore being shoved down my throat dressed with promos of players just recently cursed by owners. Where owners who have less skill and attract-ability can dictate to other teams what they can and cannot do.  Perhaps Stern will make Kim Kardashian an ESPN sideline reporter next.  It seems the league has not been less out of touch with reality.  I am a very educated fan and I won’t be given anything and told to deal with it.

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Perhaps it seems I’m taking this all too personally.  But I doubt it.  Even if we the normal fan cannot pay for NBA salaries, the fan base is the foundation that drives the revenues.  The time and dedication given by the average Joe in caring about what happens to his/her team gives the league the core value that the dollars and cents can be worth investing in.  Stern and the likes, have polluted that image.  Now it seems the games are played in boardrooms through conference calls to New York.

I’m not sure how this is all going to turn out for me as a fan.  Right now, it’s looking like the NFL will be the television featured in my house on Christmas Day.  And for that, I’m sorry.

 

SIDE RANT

*****If you examine Gilbert’s letter closely, he details how the initial trade may benefit the Lakers as they were to get Paul, while clearing salary from their books.  And by doing so make themselves eligible later for even more attractive free agents.  Under the rules mind you that the owners just agreed to.  What he didn’t say which is apparent, is that he (Gilbert) was not smart enough to do the same.  And that no attractive free agent will ever want to play for his team because of his ineptness not to mention the way he showed his ass after LeBron left.  What he was essentially saying is, “Thanks to me the Cavaliers ARE the Washington Generals.  Since I don’t have managerial smarts or the ability to make my team attractive so stars will want to play in Cleveland, let’s focus on making teams like the Lakers suffer so that my idiocy is not so apparent.”  I mean, what has he done to date thus far to improve his own situation?  

NBA Finals, Conspiracies, Legends, and Has Been Bitches

Derek Fisher, Jameer Nelson

Last night’s game was memorable to say the least.  D-Fish gets all the credit in the world for hitting those two big threes.  Trevor Ariza really stepped his game up in the third quarter.  Kobe missed a lot of shots but the ones he hit kept the team from getting blown out when the rest of the guys were struggling.  But there were some other things that really bothered me that I have to say.  I say these things because others in the media won’t.  They are afraid to.  I’m not.  I have no stake in this thing other than being a devoted fan of the Lakers and an even bigger fan of the game of basketball. 

I tell people all the time.  “Yea LA has been my team since 1979.  Whether they were up or down.  If they play great they play great.  If they suck they suck.  I don’t say they are great or got cheated when they sucked.”  I am as hard on them as anybody.  The point being that I am no fair weather guy.  Even in the midst of this series part of my fan apprehension of the team is wondering what team would show up on a given night.  Would it be the inept team that showed up in the first half of last night’s game missing assignments and making mental mistakes?  Or that third quarter team that showed a level of hunger that matches their talent?  Either way I don’t deceive myself about what is before me.

I say all of that to say this.  If I wasn’t sure before, now I know without question that on occasions the NBA officiating is either corrupted by instruction of the league or of the gamblers.  Let me explain. 

While everyone is caught up in Fisher’s heroics and rightfully so, the Lakers were in a situation where the game was almost impossible to win.  Consider this: 

While the Magic went to the free throw line time after time in the fourth quarter, the Magic were not called for a single foul in the fourth quarter until the last two minutes.  This was not a situation where the Lakers were only shooting jump shots.  To the contrary Kobe himself went to the rack several times and got plenty of contact with no whistle. Eventually he just went with the fade away shots.  Meanwhile, Hedo,  and Howard went to the line with regularly and Pietrus got an “And 1”  opportunity (a good call) on a drive against Bryant. 

Let’s add it up on this level.  Of the last 17 minutes of the game, including overtime, the Magic had a total of three fouls called on them, and the only Laker to see the free throw line was Pau Gasol after a flagrant foul at the end of the game.  Meanwhile, during the first two periods, Gasol, Bynum (or Lord Bynum) and Odom quickly got into foul trouble.  The Lakers were sporting a front line of Mbenga and Powell in the second quarter for god-sake.   The first foul on Bynum in the first quarter was a play where Kobe clearly made contact with Howard, but Andrew got the foul.  OK no biggie.  But the foul Bynum got in the second half when he and Howard were tipping a lose ball was flat out ridiculous.  Not only was there no contact between the players, Bynum had the inside position.  The only reason the Lakers were in a position to tie the game was because Orlando turned the ball over 19 times and missed most of their crucial free throws.  The officials did everything they could to hand them the game.  The Magic just couldn’t take it. 

Lamar Odom foul call

Now look, I am an official and I know that we all miss calls.  So maybe Kobe goes to the hole and doesn’t get the call.  There are times when I don’t make a call and say to myself afterwards, “I missed that one. ” But the thing is, as an official you don’t keep missing them.  I also understand that at time teams get calls on their home court.  But for the Magic to be in the penalty five minutes into the final period and the Lakers not to get a call their way until the clock was under 2 minutes was shameful. 

I honstly felt sick to my stomach watching that game.  Because my love for NBA basketball took a hard fall while sitting in front of that TV.  Even as the Lakers climbed back in the game and eventually won it, as much as I have celebrated and cried for my team even as a youngster, I could only think that in spite of the NBA wanting to extend the series, justice was served as the Lakers fought their way to victory.  There was no smile on my face, only contempt. 

I get that there is an entertainment level to the game.  No one wants to see superstar players leave the game in foul trouble.  I get that.  Still for me win or lose, there has to be a purity to the game.  Players should decide the outcome.  Calls will be missed, mistakes made by players, coaches and officials.  The Lakers have benefited from such mistakes too in times past.  Last night it was so blatant it was just ugly.  I thought to myself  that I may not even watch the rest of the series.  I would like to see the Lakers take it home.  But I know this for sure.  I won’t look at the NBA the same anymore after last night. 

The Lakers won’t say anything because miraculously they won the game.  But don’t think they don’t understand what went down. I don’t know that Orlando will get the help they just got though they have another home game on Sunday.  It wouldn’t surprise me either way.  But I’m just saying.

BB&G’s Random Rants

We know that coach Phil Jackson is trying to win his 10th NBA title as a coach.  But for some reason NBA has-been Alonzo Mourning thought it his place to say that Phil doesn’t do anything but show up while Kobe does the coaching.  This from a man who played 15 years in the NBA and didn’t win nothing until he rode the coattail of Dwayne Wade in 2006.  He seems to point to Kobe talking to players and showing them things on the diagram to make points during timeouts.  But as I recall every great team has facilitators and leaders who are coaches on the floor.  I remember Magic and Michael doing it back in the day.  Isaiah did it with the Pistons.  Chauncey Billups is the ultimate example of that.  But just because he was an extension of the coach I didn’t hear anybody saying that Larry Brown just showed up and called timeouts.  Or that George Karl doesn’t have anything to offer.   Phil is surely secure with himself so he makes fun of Zo’s being a bitch.  I guess that little play Phil drew up taking the ball out past half court so the Magic wouldn’t foul right away before Fisher’s three was Kobe’s idea too. Whatever.

Random Rants 2

I love me some Bill Russell.  Greatest NBA winner ever and a true statesman.  But WTF is up with him showing up at the last couple NBA Finals sucking up to the Lakers opponents big men.  Last year it was KG, which is understandable because it was the Celtics.  But this little feature with Dwight Howard was just ridiculous.  I mean what relationship does he have to the Magic?  Just that they are trying to beat the Lakers and if they were to beat the Lakers it would prevent Phil Jackson from surpassing Russell’s coach Red Auerbach in championship trophies?  I mean if the Cavs were in it would he be schmoozing with Anderson Varejao or Big Z?  I thought that was kinda whack.  Red’s place is cemented in history.  But these haters can’t take nothing away from Phil.  Talk about Jordan, Kobe and Shaq all you want.  But take one look at all of the hall of famers that Red coached and then get back at me on that.  A coach has to know how to work what he has.

Speaking of coaches.  What is up with Cleveland jerking Mike Brown around?  If this guy’s job isn’t safe this year, that shows that LeBron really has their management team shook.  I know ya’ll have to sign “The King” and all… but don’t be so fickle.  Have some balls at least and show some freaggin loyalty.  With this talk of Pat Riley Dan Gilbert is starting to remind me of Dan Snyder.

Magic Shoot Well, Eeek Out Game 3

Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol

I can’t offer much commentary on this game.  I was umpiring a baseball game so I only saw the last quarter when I stopped by a Buffalo Wild Wings down the street from the ballpark. 

From what I hear the Magic got back on track shooting wise, and got a little of their swag back in the process.   Kobe was hot hitting some ridiculous shots and then quickly turned cold. 

I won’t find out much more than that because whether the Lakers win or lose I tend not to watch much coverage between games.  There is too much talking and over analyzing for me as commentators dissect every part of the game and speak fatalistically for the losing team.  The game is just the game.  It can turn with little things like shots going in.  The same people throwing dirt on Orlando’s grave will now speak as if the Lakers are on the brink of elimination.

These are pros.  But it’s still a game played by humans so you never know.  I know that’s not sexy but anything else is fantasy. 

Barring a rainout on Thursday, I should at least get to catch the next game by halftime by the latest.

Lakers Up 2-0, Series Heads to Florida

Courtney Lee, Pau Gasol

Lots will be said about Courtney Lee missing on the lob at the end of regulation and I think it’s unfair to put it all on him.  The Magic have other issues and part of those issues are the fact that the Lakers are playing very well overall.  There will be other opportunities for them when the series shifts to Orlando tomorrow.  The play called by Stan Van Gundy was genius.  Kobe Bryant said it best when he was asked what went through his mind as he saw the play develop in what could have resulted in a series tie.  “Shit.”

Rashard Lewis was in full effect.  But Lamar Odom put the D down in the fourth quarter and into overtime with 5 fouls when it counted. 

Speaking of fouls; will someone please free Andrew Bynum who can’t get a break?  It’s as if the refs don’t want this guy to play when you see the calls they make on him as it compares to the other big men.

I have to give the Lakers credit.  Though Orlando made some good adjustments in getting their shooters open, their effort was there pretty much the entire game.   Odom was active getting boards and scoring when needed.  Gasol was dialed in and D-Fish is D-Fish again.  Even if Lee had convereted, I still would have been happy with the effort and confident in the direction of the series overall.

Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant

Big win for the Lakers because even though the series is going back East, the Magic cannot win the series in Orlando.  In addition, they will have to beat the Lakers 4 out of the next 5 games.  This seems unlikely with Los Angeles having the final two games in Staples.

The Lakers took care of their business at home.   Orlando will come out with a lot of energy as they feed from their home crowd.  The Lakers could all but end this on Tuesday.  Old school conservative thinking is to get one of the three in Orlando.  But if they can press their way and manage to get game 3, look for the broom.

Kobe, Lakers Make A Statement!

Kobe Bryant, J.J. Reddick

Ok.  So the start was quite impressive.  Kobe played more angry than I’ve ever seen and he was focused from start to finish.  There are a few reasons why I think this is happening.  But I will keep that under the lid for now.  I want to see how he plays the rest of the series to test my theories. 

But what can you say about his 18 point third quarter.  His energy, speed and skill set was just superior.  I can’t say I am amazed cause it’s him.  But I can say I am extremely impressed in understanding that nobody does it like he does.  NOBODY!  He was the Amazing Thing Happening.

What I enjoyed about the victory most of all was not that it was a blowout.  Blowing out a veteran team like the Celtics did in 1985 against the Lakers in the famed Memorial Day Massacre is one thing.  Guys like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy were going to respond no question.  The Lakers won that series in 6.  I don’t know if the Magic have that mentality and sometimes you know how this version of the Lake Show tend to not show up at times. 

To that point what happened last night was that the Team LA never let up off the pedal for one possession neither offensively or defensively.  They didn’t even allow the Magic to gain any confidence by making a small run at the end of the fourth quarter to take with them into the next game.  I have always said about this team that if they play this hard and focused every night they are easily THE best team in the NBA.  Even if the Magic had connected on more of those 3’s that they were hoisting, LA would have still won by 15. 

There is a lot more basketball to be played.  For the Lakers to get Game 2 would really put something on Orlando’s mind.  If the Magic could steal game 2, they will forget all about the blowout.  I hope my team understands that.