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.

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Redeem Team: Lakers Return to Greatness

 Kobe and family

***Memo to The Godfather: this is my last NBA Finals post. 

As I sat thinking about my view of the Lakers return to The Promised Land hours after their deciding Game 5 victory, I realized that I enjoyed the Lakers most recent success for different reasons.  Normally I am just fan.  The Lake Show has been my favorite for 30 years: win or lose.  

I enjoyed Magic’s five championships, and the return of Laker greatness with Shaq and Kobe.  There was something about this championship that got to me on a more human level though.  I connected with some of the players and coaches that I have watched over the years and felt good for their success.  I can tell by listening to them between games, in interviews etc. how much it meant to be at the top when the dust of the season settles.  

This is especially compelling when I consider the fact that most of our sports heroes make a tremendous amount of money and enjoy a level of fame that gives them privileges that most of us couldn’t imagine.  It makes me appreciate their commitment to excellence that much more. 

Then there is the defense against “hateration.”  In a way, the Lakers are compared to the Yankees for a societal theme that many people hate Goliath and cheer for the underdog.  I never agreed with the premise of, “I’m tired of seeing the Atlanta  Braves in the playoffs every year.  Why don’t they let someone else in it.”  In my opinion as long as no one is cheating dynasties are good for sports.  Excellence is something to be modeled.  Personally I don’t think the Yankees always spend their money wisely, but I respect that George Steinbrenner wants to win the World Series every freaggin year.

In my years as a Laker man, I’ve noticed that like many other dynasties people either love or hate them.  There is no middle ground.  When it comes to the more recent players, guys like Shaquille O’Neal were accepted because he was sort of a goof ball.  But cats like Kobe Bryant are horrifically crucified by Laker haters as a man who doesn’t have so much as a soul.  Part of that I think was his fault because he had a bit of a swag that people didn’t understand.  He came from a different country and became a superstar in a beloved American sport.  He had to compete with the likes of guys like Allen Iverson who sold more shoes than he did and Kobe tried to get street cred by not being himself.  He wasn’t a thug like A.I.  He was a sophisticated phenom who lived in Italy and traveled the world when kids like Iverson had barely left Hampton VA before going to Georgetown.  But he grew impatient and tried to be someone he wasn’t.  He didn’t come across well and youth was a part of that.  I think he wanted to do the right things.  But, but he didn’t have the maturity level and ability to bring people with him.  He isolated himself and when he caught that case in Colorado, it didn’t resonate with people to offer much empathy.

When you look at him now, I think he has come full circle in understanding the balance one has to have with being a mega star athlete driven beyond the level of most top level athletes, and being a person who can give and receive love and trust from others.  It seems like ages ago when Phil Jackson wrote that book about Kobe being uncoachable.  But over the last few seasons he has really grown up and I am happy to see that.  I love seeing redemptive qualities in people.  So I will put him as one of the people I am truly happy for in winning this championship. 

Kobe Bryant– for all the reasons I mentioned above.  Kobe is not just a basketball player anymore.  He is a man.  A respectable man with a beautiful family.  He teammates love him and I think he loves them back.  No more talk about him not winning without Shaq – which was ridiculous in itself cause it ain’t like Shaq led the Heat to the championship though he did run Stan Van Gundy in the middle of the season.  No,  that was pretty much Dwayne Wade killing the Dallas Mavericks in 2006.  Shaq was along for the ride.  Kobe was the man already, the best player in the league regardless of what “The Logo” Jerry West said.  This really puts his legacy in place regardless of whatever happens in his career from this day forward.  This team was horrible just a few years ago.  They were smashed in Game 6 against the Celtics last year.  And they redeemed themselves on the shoulders of their most talented player.  Kobe was the leader of the team in every sense of the word – including leading by example everyday.  I am sure he will remain classy during the offseason and we won’t be hearing any free style raps at local LA clubs where Kobe goes with a “Yo Shaq, tell me how my ass taste!” blast.

Derek Fisher– What can you say about D-Fish?  When I visited Staples in February to see the Lakers play the Hornets on my birthday, Kobe had his 39 but it was Fisher who hit the game tying three pointer to send the game into overtime as regulation expired. This guy has been through a lot since he left the Lakers years ago after their first three championships.  He played up north with the Golden State Warriors, then the Utah Jazz before his daughter became seriously ill.  Eventually the Jazz released him so that he could re-sign with the Lakers and be in a city where they had the medical facilities to treat his child.  Big ups to the late Jazz owner Larry Miller for that classy move.  Fisher is a business man, a hard core example of professionalism.  He’s a players rep with the NBA players association and has represented nothing but class during his entire NBA career.  This cat is so serious he put Luis Scola, a man almost twice his size on his ass and missed a playoff game just to send a message.  Remember that? How can you NOT be happy for this guy. 

Trophy

 Phil Jackson– This guy is hated on more than any other coach in basketball history.  The first thing people say is that he coached Jordan, then Kobe and Shaq.  Well I got three things to say about that.  For one, Jordan, Kobe and Shaq didn’t win a damn thing before he started coaching them.   Two, I have never seen a team with average players win any NBA championships.  I do remember after Jordan retired the first time, Jackson took the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals and was one Hugh Hollins phantom call that put Hubert Davis of the Knicks on the free throw line away from going to the Finals without MJ.  Three, when you look at a guy like Red Auerbach, hell he coached more Hall of Fame players than any other coach in the history of the game toward his 9 championship wins.  But you never hear anyone say, “Red had that damn Russell, Cousy, Jo Jo White, Sam Jones, and Havlicek – So how was he going to lose?”  No one said Doc Rivers couldn’t coach when his teams weren’t winning crap in Boston before they got Allen and Garnett to help Paul Pierce.  Think about this, in 10 NBA Finals victories Jackson’s teams have never gone to a Game 7 and have won deciding games on the courts of my Lakers, the Jazz, 76ers, Nets, and now the Magic.  To me that sounds like there is a lot of good coaching and preparation going on before the games.

Why is Phil criticized so much?  Because he is just smooth with his game.  He doesn’t scream at his players like Stan Van Gundy.  It’s not sexy television.  He has this anti-establishment tone to him.  It’s like he loves the game of basketball, is hyper competitive to be the best, but understands that it’s still a game and that there is more to life.  This is the same guy who after the Lakers won their third championship rode his motorcycle from Los Angeles to his ranch in Montana as a way to come down from the grind.  But look at the results.  He is his own man and that is why he left Chicago after their 6th championship.  Jerry Krause didn’t like the attention Phil got.  Phil didn’t give a flip anymore.  He gets it.  His players don’t tune him out, and his assistant coaches have remained loyal and stayed with him throuought his career.  And dammit he passed Red Auerbach.  Ten championships is ten championships.  Period.

I could go on talking about how I am happy too that Pau Gasol redeemed himself after having his manhood taken against the Celtics last year.  I called him Pau Gasoft.  Not anymore!  Or how Lamar Odom stepped it up when it counted and earned himself a ring.  I know they appreciate this.  Guys like Trevor Ariza don’t quite understand how hard it is to get to this place year in and year out.  He’s only 24.  But he played his ass off too and is about to get paid!

Mitch Kupchak got from underneath Jerry West’s shadow.  And his trade for Gasol was the reason why.  That is geting it done. 

So its for these reasons, the human factor to borrow a phrase as to why this championship for me means a little more.  Players are human too.  And though I don’t know these guys personally, I can still see some of the history, the background, the hard work, commitment and most of all the soul of the men who show that in spite of the multi-million dollar salaries, winning and winning the right way still means something.  It’s a great example for our youth.  It’s a great example for the nation.  It’s part of why I love sports.  Not merely for the sake of the sport.  But for the way sports brings people together, give of their talents, and sacrifice selfish motivation in order to accomplish a goal together

Congratulations 2008-2009 NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers!  You earned it!

Phil Jackson pregame

 

 

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.

Balls Up! Punks Down! Testicular Fortitude Awards

Everyone who knows me knows that I am an avid Los Angeles Lakers fan.  Since 1980 I have referred to the team in WE terms not they.  If the Lakers won then “we” won… and if the Lakers lost “we” lost.  Many die hard fans have blind spots and are not able to critically assess their favorite team and its performance.  Yea guys call radio shows and second guess this or that – but I am talking about straight out rebuke when necessary.  I have never been that guy.  Win or lose I tell it like it is.  If the ref’s had a bad night I’ll be the first to say that.  If “we” play a team that’s just better than us then I cop to that too.  And in this case, if “we” all out sucked I’ll say that too.  This was definitely the case as I watched that debacle of a basketball game in Boston Tuesday night.  My Lakers started the game – well Kobe started the game being aggressive and it looked as if it may be a nice 6 which the Celtics were favored to win.  But once the second quarter started – all Celtic-Hell broke loose and soon my beloved purple and gold team were rolling over like Rover and played dead.  I shook my head in disgust as the Celtics “toyed” with the Western Conference Champions and ran a clinic on our asses. 

Thus the Balls Up Punks Down Testicular Fortitude awards.  I mean listen, sometimes its not about Xs and Os.   By game 6 of the Finals, both teams know each others players and plays.  It becomes an issue of executing the game plan – which often comes down to forcing your will over the opponents.  Simply put it’s about NUTS, Balls, who has them and who doesn’t.  Its not about getting your butt kicked in a game cause that happens.  Previously in another blog I talked about the Memorial Day Massacre in 1985.  It was an issue of the Celtics being a hot team where everything they did turned to gold.  But it was not as if the Lakers lacked balls or will.  They fought and came up short – but came back to win the series.  This was not the case on Tuesday night.

Let me be clear – the Celtics deserved to win.  Overall they proved to be the better team.  But what pissed me off more than anything was the fact that our players were so freaggin SOFT.   It started with Pau GaSOFT, who made Kendric Perkins look like Bill Russell defending him in the post.  GaSOFT was so timid he looked as if he panicked every time he touched the ball in the post.  Then there was Vladimir RadmoNOSHOT – who looked more like he was trying to crack the Boston Bricklayers Union for a job this summer.  Sasha VuiSHIT was awful too.  Though he helped LA to a victory in game 3 by, it all feel to the ground in game 4 when Ray Allen waltz past his ass for an easy bucket down the stretch when it counted the most.  That was vintage stereotypical European defense at its worst. 

Back to game 6…  It was sad to see coach Phil Jackson beg his team not to “give it away” at halftime.  But boy did they ever!  The second half was more of the same – and it ended with a 131-92 ghetto project beat down.  Tuesday night the Lakers simply “gave up the booty” – and Boston took it with no vaseline!  They wanted it more – and they earned it.   They went after the Lakers like the Leonidis went after the Persians in “300!”  I think I saw Kevin Garnett scream out SPARTAN!!!!!!!!! 

Gerard Butler as Leonidas in Warner Bros. Pictures' 300

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not throwing my cats under the bus totally.  They deserve credit for winning the toughest division in basketball.  When nobody thought they would make it this far they swept the Denver Nuggets, Beat Utah in 6 games including closing them out in Salt Lake City – one of the toughest places to win at any time.  Then they beat the World Champion Spurs in 5 games.  These were impressive feats and they deserve props for sure.  They had Gasol but no Andrew Bynum who was having a great year in the middle.  The Lakers should and will make some changes to get a bit tougher.  Game 6 does not take away from the great year they had.  But still it was a disgraceful effort.

So congratulations to Paul, Kevin and coach Doc Rivers.  Balls Up for the Celtics – Punks down for the Lakers.

Our second Balls Up award goes to Eldrick Tiger Woods.  This cat comes has knee surgery on tax day in April to remove cartilage from his knee, suffered a double stress fracture of his left tibia while trying to return in reading to the PGA tournament last month, missed The Memorial and shows up at the US Open in Torrey Pines -forces a playoff against Rocco Mediate – Then wins on Monday for his 14th career major after 91 holes on the largest course in US Open history.   “What the…??”  In severe pain this dude does the last 18 holes and out-shoots his opponent – only to have to have ACL surgery a couple days later which will cause him to miss the rest of the year.  I say again… “What the…?”  Talk about a champion!  This was like Jordan when he had the flu in Utah and scored 38 against the Jazz in the Finals while having an IV hooked up to him during half the game.  I hope Tiger waits and rehabs his injuries properly.  Cause when he comes back, he will have such a psychological advantage over the rest of the field – that he will break every record left in the sport of golf and amaze anyone who had any doubts to the contrary.  Balls UP Tiger.  Yourrrrrrrr GREAT!

The pain Tiger Woods felt in his knee during the U.S. Open was caused by a stress fracture he suffered two weeks before the major tournament while rehabilitating from surgery.

Our last Punks Down award goes to New York Mets GM Omar Minaya who fired Willie Randolph in Anaheim earlier this week.  Much speculation has surrounded Willie’s job as manager both this and last season.  After Sunday’s home game the Randolph had a meeting with Minaya that if he were going to fire him, please do it now and not humiliate him by sending he and his crew to the West Coast.  Minaya gave Willie the impression his job was safe.  Then Minaya flew to Anaheim himself under the radar, called Randolph to his hotel suite and pink slipped the dude just before 3:15 am.  This after a victory over the Angels and after the Mets had won 3 of 4.   Every organization has a right to hire and fire as they see fit for the betterment of the organization… still the way business is handled is just as important and reflects the class or lack thereof of an organization.  Clearly Minaya lacked class in the way he handled his first managerial hire.  Word now is that interim manager Jerry Manual is a front office pawn, the team is a mess and Minaya may very well be the next one to get pushed on a sword before Spring Training of next year.  Regardless – Omar Minaya – Punks Down!

300 Pictures Courtesy of Warner Bros. / Celtics Team Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images / Woods Photo courtesy of the NY Post / Omar Minaya Photo by Francis Speckler/

Let The Games Begin! Lakers/Celtics Renew Rivalry

The first NBA game I ever saw on television was in May of 1980.  I was 13 and we had a house full of company.  Some must have been basketball fans because the TV was on the NBA Finals.  The Philadelphia 76ers were playing the Los Angeles Lakers.  I wasn’t a huge basketball fan at all.  Though I did enjoy watching Hayward and Coolidge on the White Shadow,  I was a baseball man.  Sure I had heard of Dr. J (Julius Erving) but my heros were Pete Rose and everyone else who were a part of the Big Red Machine known as the Cincinnati Reds.  I collected baseball cards and could name most every player on every MLB team.  Regardless, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the hoops being played on the tube that day.  I had to see what the big deal was.  And what I saw changed my perception of basketball forever. 

Up and down the court was this young energetic cat who seemed to glide from one side of the floor to the other – grabbing rebounds, dishing out passes and scoring at will.  On top of that he was 6’9 playing point guard.  But what was most engaging about this 20 year old rookie, was the fact that he seemed to enjoy himself more than anyone on the court – as if he were on a playground instead of in an NBA arena.   His smile was infectious and I was hooked.  Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson made me a basketball fan and the Lakers with their colors of purple and gold became my team. 

I watched the game of basketball over the next decade and fell in love with what I found to be a beautiful sport.  In the early 80’s there were several good teams and players to get into.  Every sport needs stars and performers to sell it’s product.  The NBA had a reputation of being a drug infested league full of selfish and aloof black ballplayers.  But the guys I saw were outstanding on and off the court and taught me what good basketball looked like.  The Sixers had the Dr., but also Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney.  The Milwaukee Bucks had Sidney Moncrief, Terry Cummings and Paul Pressey.  The Rockets had Calvin Murphy , Robert Reid, and Moses Malone.  The Cleveland Cavaliers had a guy named World B. Free.  His name was as great as his fade-away jump shot.  There were plenty of ballers to keep my interest.

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But the decade was carried by the teams from Tinseltown (LA) and Beantown respectively known as the Boston Celtics.  Every year one of these teams factored into claiming the Larry O’Brien trophy given to those who would be called World Champions.  And boy there some series to remember!  I used to watch every game with great anticipation, jumping up and down yelling at the TV – comparing notes and “did you see that?” with my cousins.  I respected the Celtics because they had great players.  Names like Bird, McHale and Parish were all too familiar.  But others like Tiny ArchibaldDennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Quinn Buckner and Gerald Henderson were ballers in their own right.  I will never forget the game dubbed The Memorial Day Massacare in 1985 when Scott Wedman blew up the Lakers in Game 1 of the Finals by hitting all 11 of his shots.  The Lakers won the series so I got over it.  Yea, I respected the Celtics, but I HATED THEM TOO!  I hated them cause they were the Celtics.  I hated them cause of their crazy fans.  I hated those hideous green road uniforms.  I hated the fact that they turned the heat on in June at the old Boston Garden during the Finals though it was 90 plus degrees outside to gain an advantage.  I hated that the media seemed to give Bird and McHale more love than they gave Magic and Kareem.  I hated that they seemed to get all the crucial calls.  Most black guys loved the Lakers anyway.  They had more black players.  The Celtics seemed to have most of the better whites. 

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But the Celtics had their share of fans in the African-American community.  At Lincoln Park or Dunbar Elementary on the South Side of East St. Louis,  it was pretty much split between who the cats were rooting for.  There were plenty of heated debates too.  We argued on the school yard about who was going to stop James Worthy on the wing or how Kevin McHale’s post moves were the best anyone had ever seen.  I saw dudes bet 6 packs and 40oz brews for bragging rights between games and ghetto commentators broke down key moments and momentum changes during the series like NBA PhDs.  Those were the days!  We lived and died with every quarter of every game.  We took the rivalry as seriously as anyone in Boston or LA would.   

As time went on, both teams got old.  And picking last in the draft tends to defleat youthful talent on the rosters.  So there was transition.  The 90’s belonged to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.  Guys like Ewing, Barkley and Miller could only dream of getting a championship ring since they played in the same era.  Olajuwon benefited from Jordan’s gambling ‘errrrr baseball’ hiatus.  Since Jordan left the scene the NBA has struggled with its fan base.  Many of the newer stars didn’t market as well corporately so the fans didn’t gravitate to the game the same.  The young generation of players associated with the hip hop image made fans of individual stars but not of the game itself.  The new rivalries didn’t measure up to the standard of LA v Boston.  The San Antonio Spurs had some great teams and they won.  But they were boring to the casual b-ball fan.   Last year when the Spurs swept the LeBron James’ Cavaliers, television ratings were at an extreme low for recent years. 

Its a good thing for sports in general and the NBA specifically that the Superpowers of the league are relevant and on top of their games again – at the same time.  The Lakers experienced winning early in the turn of the century with a three-peat thanks to a core of Shaq and Kobe, a very mature and experienced bench along with an awesome coaching staff brought over from Jordan’s Bulls.  The Celtics had not been so fortunate over the last 20 years.  They seemed to be cursed with tragedies like the deaths of their #1 draft pick Len Bias, and fan favorite Reggie Lewis.  During bad times Celtic coach Rick Pitino  told desperate fans that Bird, McHale and Parish were not “walking through that door.”  The Celtics thought they would get to draft Tim Duncan but that didn’t work out either.  Last year I was sure they were losing games on purpose so they could gain the top pick in the lottery.  As fate had it they ended up with the 5th pick.   But GM Danny Ainge prayed to the ghost of Red Auerbach and was able to trade for Jesus Shuttlesworth, aka Ray Allen and “The Big Ticket,” Kevin Garnett.  One year later the leprechauns are smiling again as the Beaners are eyeing another title.

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For the Lakers, Kobe Bryant has redeemed himself as an MVP who is a proven team leader with take over skills not seen since Jordan.  Like the Mychal Thompson trade in the 80s the mid season acquisition for Pau Gasol has been a hit.  The Lakers roster is the youngest in the NBA and yet they have made it to the Finals showing poise and maturity beyond the age and experience of most of it players.  Derek Fisher returned home after stints in Golden State and Utah to provide backcourt leadership and a dangerous jumpshot.  Lamar Odom is as versatile a player on both ends of the court since Scottie Pippen.  And the coaching staff lead by Hall of Famer Phil Jackson is stacked with experience and championship rings.   

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My prediction?  Well if you look at the rosters it appears that the Celtics have a leg up with the second coming of The Big Three in Pierce, Garnett and Allen.  Kendrick Perkins has been dominate on the boards and I wish we had Andrew Bynum to match up with him.  James Posey has championship experience and Rajon Rondo has handled himself well during the playoffs.   However, when I look at the Lakers I see the best player and closer in the game in Bryant, the best passing team with one of the better defenses in the league.  As previously mentioned the entire coaching staff is full of champions.  Phil Jackson has won 9 championships as head coach and has coached in 10 Finals series.  This will be Doc Rivers’ first Finals appearance and I suspect this will factor when it comes to making crucial adjustments between quarters and games.  Unless the youth of the Lakers team becomes apparent and guys like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, and Vladimir Radmanovic seem overwhelmed, the experience and leadership of guys who have been there like Bryant, Fisher and Luke Walton should prevail over a bunch of stars who have yet to win it all.

Lakers in 6