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.

clusterfuck

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.

kardashian_c

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?  

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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.

One Two Three Game Time Whoop!

How much longer?

Game 1 of the NBA Finals tonight.  You know who I’m wit!  I’ll side with The President on the prediction.  Lake Show in 6! 

Look!  As long as the Lakers play D and play hard they will win the series.  Period.  IF they don’t it will be from lack of focus and effort on D and on the boards. 

Not taking anything away from The Magic.  They can do to LA what they did to Boston and Cleveland if the Lakers don’t bring it for a full 48 minutes (plus if necessary.) 

Dwight Howard

The Lakers have the talent and skill to do it.  Only their commitment has come into question at times.  Still they rise however and they are here.

I do agree with this article however.  My man Kobe can only dominate like he is so much longer at the age of 30 with all of the NBA miles he has on him.  With free agency and uncertainty the way it is, unless the Lakers make a Kevin Garnett type of move, this may be his best look at a championship for the remainder of his career.

LeBron, A King with No Diplomacy

Ok… this is a light subject matter but what the heck.  It’s been a long weekend and I am still trying to gain my strength back so I’m not looking to think too hard.  Hopefully I won’t give too many words to the subject matter. 

But I was tripping off how LeBron James walked off the court on Saturday night after the Cavs got dismissed from the playoffs courtesy of the Orlando Magic.  Normally in the NBA, teams don’t shake hands after a regular season game, nor during the playoffs with the exception of the final game.  Instead, they go to their dressing rooms on opposite sides of the floor after the buzzer sounds. 

I have seen some heated playoff series where teams play one another up to seven games over a period of two weeks.  By the 4th, or 5th game, the players not only know what the other team wants to do, they are tired and irritable of having to deal with the same opponent which may lead to conflicts and minor scuffles.  But after it’s said and done, similar to boxing where guys spend several rounds trying to take each others heads off there is a certain mutual respect extended for competitors.  Personally I have been on both sides of that equation as well having both won and loss during baseball and track events in high school, as well as basketball events as an adult.  I always felt that it was classy to give props regardless of the outcome.

LeBron doesn’t think he did anything wrong when he stormed off the court like a child.  This was his excuse:

It’s hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them.  I’m a winner. It’s not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you’re not going to congratulate them. That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m a competitor. That’s what I do. It doesn’t make sense for me to go over and shake somebody’s hand.

Uhhhh, right!

Let me tell you the real reason why LeBron walked off the court.  A lack of respect for the Orlando Magic players.  Let me explain:

The last time you saw a team walk off the court during the playoffs like that was the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons after they lost to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in 1991.  Prior to that year the Bulls were Detroit’s bitch getting thrashed every year in May.  Jordan would try to do it all himself, but the Pistons would continue to beat Chi-Town.  I remember when the Piston players would laugh at Jordan during the game as he fell to the floor trying to make every difficult and spectacular shot.  Michael didn’t have teammates that he trusted, and he fell spectacularly hard as a result.

Finally the Bulls improved as Phil Jackson was promoted to head coach, and they got some players around them that Michael had confidence in.  The Bulls came of age and got over on the Pistons.   Before time ran out of the deciding game that would put the Bulls in the Finals for the first time in it’s team history, Isiah Thomas and a few of his Piston teammates left the bench and proceded to walk off the court.  The Pistons were two time champions and obviously that hurt.  But the reason that Isiah led his crew to walk was his utter hatred and disrespect of Michael Jordan.  Thomas hated Jordan since Michael’s rookie year when he was adorned with so many accolades before he accomplished anything.   Jordan had the Nike contract, his own clothes etc.  Thomas is known for freezing Jordan out of his first All Star game by making sure no one passed him the ball.  The Piston’s leaving the court was a Bad Boy “F- YOU!” to the Bulls.  They didn’t want to shake their hands since the tables turned. 

This is where Thomas was a hypocrite:

1) He didn’t have a problem with shaking hands when they were bouncing the Bulls from the playoffs the previous years. 

2)  The Pistons were in the same position as the Bulls a few years earlier when the Celtics would make them cry by sending them home every spring.  Remember, “Bird steals the pass, underneath to DJ for a layup – Celtics lead.”

When the Pistons finally got over on the Celtics, I clearly remember Hall of Fame forward Kevin McHale grabbing Thomas and looking into his eys telling him how it was Thomas’ time, that he earned it, and to finish the job by becoming a champion against the Lakers.  Thomas listened and I could tell he appreciated the gesture.  Thomas did not extend Jordan the same courtesy.  He punked out and cowardly walked out before time even expired because it was a personal thing with Jordan.  He just couldn’t be pro enough to give props where they were due.

What does this have to do with LeBron?  He essentially walked out on the Magic for the same basic reason.  He has no respect for the Orlando Magic and he fully expected to win that series.  Look at the Magic’s roster.  Sure you have Dwight Howard, but after that it’s Hedo, Lewis, Alston, etc.  The Magic are an awkward herkey jerkey team that presented some serious match up problems for the Cavs.  They shoot threes like a renegade bunch of rebellious youths.  Many times they are undisciplined and seem ready to implode at any moment.  And yet they got it done against the Celtics and then the Cavs who had the best record in the league.  I can tell you that if the Celtics had knocked the Cavs out of the playoffs like they did last year, LeBron would have shaken hands because he would not have dissed Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.  When he looked at the Magic roster, there were no guys he had enough respect for to give them props.  He feels they are beneath him as a unit and that they should not have messed up his dream matchup against Kobe in this year’s Finals.  That is the real deal.

Now where LeBron doesn’t get it – (and he is still young at the tender age of 24) is that “to whom much is given much is required.”  He has a following with the whole “Witness” campaign, the chalk thrown in the air, the puppet commercials etc. and kids look up to him.  What he does in defeat is just as important as how he conducts himself in victory.  And even if he walked off the court the way he did out of sheer anger and frustration, the best thing he could have done upon reflection is to own it by saying, “I got caught up in the moment.  I should have been a bigger man and shown better sportsmanship.  That will not happen again.”

LeBron say’s he’s a winner.  He certainly has won more than he’s lost on the court.  But his immediate “exit stage left” act was as immature an act as you’ll see from a superstar of his calibur.

Cough, Cough! That Choking Sound in Boston

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard looks up at the scoreboard in the final seconds of 92-88 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of NBA Eastern Conference semifinals at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, Tuesday, May 12, 2009. ( Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel)

Let’s get this straight off the bat.  Dwight Howard is technically correct when he says that Stan Van Gundy sucked in his coaching moves against the Celtic’s last night. 

They didn’t pass this dude the ball in the fourth quarter till the end when the Celtics fouled him with the sole purpose of putting him on the free throw line so the team could not put up a three point shot.  The guard play was horrible and they flat out panicked! The decision making in running the offense was some of the worst I have ever seen in basketball period, let alone professional basketball.

Nevertheless Howard does not escape blame himself.  When I look at all the greats over time, Magic, Kareem, MJ, Kobe, Lebron, etc., these guys demand the ball in a time of crisis.  They may not hit the shot but dammit they are either going to take the shot or put the ball in play where they draw enough attention to themselves to open up an easy opportunity for others. 

I remember in the Finals one year when the Bulls played the Jazz.  It was the end of the game and the Bulls needed a bucket.   Jordan was heard in the huddle telling Steve Kerr, “When they double me be ready.”  Sure enough they doubled Jordan and he hit Kerr for the open jumper.  Swish!  Game over!

Once when the Celtics were at the end of a game behind a point, coach KC Jones was drawing up a play and Larry Bird interrupted him and simply said, “Forget all of that, (he didn’t say forget) just give me the ball.”  They got him the ball – Larry shoots – nothing but net, game over. 

Now I am not saying that Dwight Howard is Jordan, Magic, Bird, or Kobe.  What I am saying is that you are the best player on the team, the self proclaimed Superman.  And if the team is not getting you the ball you need to speak up during the game not just afterwards. 

I told a kid this recently after a game he lost that I was officiating.  It was easy to tell he was the best player on the team.  But he was a post player so he couldn’t pass it to himself.  Over and over again the guards shot the ball for misses in the last 10 minutes of the game, ignoring his post up positioning.  The lead they had was lost and so went the game.  Afterwards I could see his disappointment and frustration.  And I told him these words.  “Son, I know your the best player out here.  And I don’t care if your teammates aren’t passing you the ball or if the coach is calling your number during a timeout.  There is a time when every great player who clearly understands that he can make THE difference must demand the ball.  Tell your teammates in the huddle or on the court.  Tell your coach who may not see what you see on the court.  Don’t be scared if you can back it up.  Take responsibility and be a leader out there.”

Same thing applies.  Dwight is a top power forward in the NBA.  When I think of Charles Barkley and Karl Malone back in the day, no way in hell would they not pass these dudes the ball in a playoff game.  They would kick somebody’s ass before that happens.

So yea, Dwight was technically right.  Shaq called Van Gundy “The Master of Panic” and he may be proven right.  But the NBA is a players league and Dwight has been in it long enough to know that.  If you don’t demand the ball then you can’t talk in the press conference.