The Wasting Away of Kobe, Ego Gone Wild, or OMG!, Get ‘Antoni Outta Here!

Real Talk: Yea yea the Lakers are older… Dwight’s back isn’t what it needs to be yet… (and he has NO moves in the post… obviously was NOT listening to Dream (Hakeem Olajuwon) when he worked out with him…

BUT…the REAL problem with the Lakers is this ego-maniacal coach ‘Antoni (no D)  This dude didn’t learn in NY that you can’t take pieces and make them what you want them to be instead of maximizing what you got and be successful.  The fact that Pau Gasol is playing on the perimeter like Leandro Barbosa is mortally stupid!

136016597JG035_New_York_Kni

‘Antoni’ was on the bench this past summer when Pau dominated the post the likes of Tyson Chandler during the gold medal game of the Olympics.  And yet, here he is hanging out like a lost child around the three point line.  Why in the hell would he NOT put Pau in the post with Dwight?  You know why?  Cause we are all fuckin’ idiots and he’s the smartest dick in the room…or so he thinks!

Say what you want about Kobe.  The bottom line he is is one of the greatest to ever lace them up.  He is all balls cold blooded killa 24-7.  His game while undisciplined a year or so ago when he was hurt, is as efficient as ever nowadays.  His fundamentals are flawless, and as he showed us last night with that flying stuff over CP3, can still rise up for the congregation when he needs to.  Obviously he’s too smart and likes ‘Antoni too much to criticize him publically.  But I sure as hell hope he’s in ‘Antoni’s ear in private.

I watched the game last night knowing that the Lakers were not going to win.  I had no doubt no matter how great Kobe played.  The Clips are doing their thing, playing to their strengths.  Not my boys.  Nooooo we are playing 2005 Suns style with a damn near 39 year old Steve Nash without the side parts he had in Phoenix.

Speaking of Gasol, he’s only won 2 championships right?  And how many has ‘Antoni won?

commodus

I’ve loved the Lakers since I watched my first NBA game in 1979.  Been with them through the ups and downs, never been fair weather.  Unfortunately the wisdom of the father (Dr. Jerry Buss) did not fall upon the son, (Jim) The way he tried to punk Phil Jackson while placing ‘Antoni in the mix after already hiring a no fit Mike Brown, shows that he is not invested in winning like his daddy.  While Dr. Buss built The Lakers into a dynasty, one of the most respected and revered sports organizations in the history of sports, Jimmy uses it as a toy; something to make him feel powerful and meaningful despite his obvious impotence.

He’s Commodus, wishing he was Maximus.  And thus… the Lakers are dead team walking getting fed to the lions on a nightly basis.

Advertisements

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?  

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.

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.

Go to fullsize image

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. 

Go to fullsize image

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.

Go to fullsize image

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.   

Go to fullsize image

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