Basketball, Sports

Dwight Howard and His Merry Band of Clowns

At 1 minute past the trade deadline this past day, the Los Angeles Lakers officially became characters in Dwight Howard’s ongoing comedy saga. With the failure to trade Howard this half season, the Lakers are now in the same preposterous position the Orlando Magic were last season; in the big ugly palms of Dwight Howard.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has spent the better part of the last few weeks steadfastly denying the Lakers would even consider trading Howard. They were but thinly veiled proclamations of stubbornness that disguised the fact that these orders most probably came down from Lakers Executive VP Jim Buss; the son of the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss. Jim was the architect of the Lakers traumatic early season changes that included coaching changes, the non-hiring of Phil Jackson and the trade of Howard to a ‘see how it goes but we really want you to sign long term’ deal.

The season of course, has been a disaster for the Lakers and while much can be said about its sputtering futility, this trade deadline debacle is just another boneheaded non-move by Jim Buss more concerned about covering his own ass than giving Lakers fan all they care about: winning now.

So how does Dwight Howard fare? Well, once again he is the King in his court of jesters, ruling the roost of buffoons too blind to see that it is just plain bad, bad business to let him run the organization. And let’s face it, from now until the end of the season, he runs the Lakers.

Many trade analysts and pundits postulated the merits of a Dwight to Brooklyn trade and it all made perfect sense. In return, the Lakers would receive Brook Lopez who is a far better fit alongside Kobe than Dwight is. At the moment, Dwight’s point production is actually lower than Brook’s (16ppg to Lopez’s 18.8ppg) and while Howard at his best is a defensive beast, Lopez’s game is far better suited to Kobe’s “me-first, win-at-all-cost” attitude. So why didn’t it happen? Because it makes too much sense and because Jim Buss is too stubborn to give up his grand plan of having Howard as the Lakers’ future centerpiece.  The only problem? It is a future that clearly won’t start until Kobe hangs up his sneakers, which is, two, three years away at the very least? And if he’s got the same kind of fire Michael Jordan had, he’ll never want to walk away from the game. Did we somehow forget that Kobe is still one of the best players in the league today?

The Lakers will spend the rest of the season trying to please Howard, hoping he’ll resign a long term contract at season’s end. But he dislikes Kobe and hates Mike D’Antoni’s system, and if nothing changes, Howard will walk and will likely sign big money deals with teams that can afford him, like Dallas or Houston. Will they have to fire D’Antoni? Trade Pau? Make Steve Nash play soccer? I’m sure if Howard could fire Kobe, he would. Once again, a player has a franchise (the Lakers of all teams) in the palm of his hands. No surprise the player is the same one who sank the Magic last year.

This is not good for the NBA. A franchise should always be bigger than its players, and yet over the last few years, we have learned that in the case of David Stern’s modern NBA, this is not to be.

Jerry Buss was a visionary; he brought the Lakers and all of Showtime to the world and turned a ramshackle team (Buss bought the team, along with the LA Kings and the old Forum for a measly $67.5 million back in 1979)  into one of sports’ most valuable, loved and respected franchises. His son, Jim, is a nitwit; just another jester in Dwight Howard’s Merry Band of Clowns.

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Basketball, Featured, Sports

Never Be Like Mike

Perspective is the end argument when it comes to unresolvable sports questions. We live in an age where talk and discussion is paramount regardless of whether we will ever find the answers or not. It is the very nature of sports talk radio. This weekend marks the 50th birthday of Michael Jordan, and coincidentally, LeBron James has been playing historically unmatched basketball over the last few weeks (30 points a game, 60% shooting in 6 or more games in a row). It has been a golden opportunity for talk radio to once again highlight the oft-discussed topic of whether or not LeBron is as good, or better, than Michael Jordan.

The answer is simply: no. LeBron James will never be as good as Michael Jordan.

But the reasons behind the answer are more to do with perspective then it does with statistics. Numbers do play a big part, let’s not forget, 6 rings to 1, no final losses to 2. However, it’s a little more intangible than that.

I’m in my early 30s and during the height of Jordan’s powers I was a teen growing up in Indonesia. With feet firmly planted in Air Jordans and head soaring to the basket, there was a mystical element to Jordan. It was an aura of invincibility that made a scrawny Asian kid believe that while I would never make the NBA, the times I flew through the air in my backyard were just as great.

People talk a lot about intangibles and killer instinct. We know Jordan had it, and we know Kobe has it. The last few years have been about whether or not LeBron has it. We balked at this idea when he bailed on Cleveland, laughed when he no-showed in fourth quarters, and definitely believed he didn’t when the Heat came up short against Dallas. But last year, on their run to the championship, he showed something. And now, in their defence of the ring, he’s been playing like no other. Unstoppable, gazelle-like, men amongst the boys- LeBron is head and shoulders better than anyone else in the league.

Yet, LeBron is a victim of our time. Media oversaturation, promise, “The Chosen One”, everything rolled out on a red carpet since high school. Back in 2003, I wrote that the hype that followed LeBron would “devour everything in its path” and in a way, it devoured LeBron too. Every ounce of greatness he has achieved and will achieve will never match this generation’s ridiculous expectations.

IN A SEA OF TREES

Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins.

This is a list of Hall Of Famers who never won a ring because of Michael Jordan. This doesn’t include all of Reggie Miller’s teammates on those Pacer teams, Barkley’s, Ewing’s Knicks, Wilkins’ Hawks. And it doesn’t include Shawn Kemp. None of them won a ring because each year Michael Jordan and his Bulls stood in the way. The two years he went to play baseball were the only chance Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler had to win theirs; otherwise they’d be on this list too.

Jordan posterizes Ewing

Jordan posterizes Ewing

Jordan had to play amongst the trees in his prime. He had to literally dunk over Patrick Ewing to get his rings, the best centre LeBron has to play against? Brook Lopez? Tyson Chandler? Only Dwight Howard could hold the paint against Olajuwon, Ewing and Robinson (although the way Howard is playing this year, we should think about scratching him off that list too). The calibre of talent Jordan had to overcome for his rings were named Ewing, Robinson, Olajuwon, Malone, Miller, Wilkins, Barkley and Magic. LeBron didn’t even show up for the fourth quarter against Tyson Chandler.

Then there are those indelible Jordan moments. Over Ehlo, around Sam Perkins, over Ewing, all over Bird, one on one with Wilkins, from the free throw line, standing in the shadow of himself in Barcelona, the shoulder shrug, under the weather, off of Russell. It’s hard to quantify them because you couldn’t YouTube them 5 minutes after they happened- they were at times, mythical occurrences passed on by whispers and VHS videos, but they happened.

For LeBron, I will always remember the shot he hit against Orlando in the conference final as a watershed moment. And right now, I’ll remember how well he’s playing but for someone my age, LeBron’s memories will be The Decision, the Welcome Party and the time he dunked on poor old John Lucas.

This is because I didn’t grow up with LeBron. He’s not a basketball hero to me, just a commodity; a great ball of talent, energy and marketing. I figure this is how the older generation feel about Jordan and people like me when they talk about Bill Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem and Oscar. And I figure this is how LeBron’s fans will feel when in 20 years, whoever is top of the chain then, is compared to LeBron.

Maybe I just dislike LeBron and the NBA today. Or maybe we just know too much of LeBron, like we know too much of everyone these days.

We have tried in vain to find the next Jordan for more than a decade now. We’ve had a line of candidates who all fell short- Grant Hill, Kobe, Vince Carter- and most embarrassingly, Harold Miner- and now LeBron, who for all the talent in the world (which on a pure talent stand point, would probably surpass Jordan), falls short because he is the product of his generation.

But Jordan was Jordan; and for someone of my generation, a larger than life figure who at a given time was as famous as Muhammad Ali was in his prime, known to the citizens of America as he was known to a housewife somewhere in Southeast Asia. They invented The Jordan Rules to stop Michael, until this year, all you had to do was show up in the fourth quarter to stop LeBron.

Like LeBron, I am a product of my generation; pulled into the draw of the NBA when the Bad Boy Pistons had dethroned Magic’s Lakers. They were the villains of a sport in need of a hero. And through all the moments that transcended an entire generation, Number 23, who soared and graced the court like no one before or after, became that hero, the first and last Jordan. 

Bonus video:

This is an old VHS tape called ‘Michael Jordan’s Playground’ that I watched countless times marveling at the Jordan mystique. Most telling is Jordan describing the importance of determination and will in order to succeed and become the best.

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Podcast, Sports

The Blitz: Episode 2 Podcast Preview

The NBA’s conference finals heats up before their respective game 2s as the Miami Heat pulled away with a strong second half in today’s Miami-Boston opener. The Celtics sputtered to 11 anemic first quarter points before bouncing back strong in the second. After being tied 46 a piece at the end of the half, the Heat would dominate the second behind LeBron James’ game-high 32 and Dwayne Wade’s 22. The biggest talking points however, poor officiating and ghost technical fouls- one of which Celtics coach Doc Rivers has called, “the worst he’s ever had”.

The Blitz podcast will talk about all things Heat and Celtics as they progress through game 2 Wednesday night. Do the Celtics have enough in their aging legs after a bruising 7-game series against the Sixers? Can the Heat finally get over the hump of last year?

We’ll also talk Western Conference where fundamental basketball takes center stage as both the Spurs and Thunder showcase good ol’ fashion basketball the way Dr. Naismith drew it up. Are the feisty Thunder too inexperienced to topple the Spurs? Can the Spurs continue their impressive winning streak?

We’ll talk NBA and more when the second episode of The Blitz Podcast comes streaming through very soon!

In the meantime, want to get your bets in before game 3? Can the Celts turn the tide? Can the Spurs go 2 up? We’ll see you soon on The Blitz!

You can also check out the first episode of The Blitz right here.

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Sports

Kyrie Irving is Australian…

…according to the Australian media. At least that’s what they want to believe, because here in Australia a big news story about the NBA does not come along too often.

The league and the sport is mostly confined to the back columns of newspapers, while much of the local basketball flair and drama comes from D-grade imports like Corey “Homicide” Williams (I suppose that “Homicide” goes over great here because it’s both very urban and “American”). We here assume that Andrew Bogut is actually a good player (and treat him here like he’s the Outback Shaquille O’Neal) even though anyone who watches the game on a regular basis knows he’s anything but. In fact, I’m pretty sure Luc Longley has never had to pay for a drink wherever he goes in Australia. And while you can look at Andrew Gaze’s incredible college career and stellar international numbers… actually, I am not going to say anything bad about Andrew Gaze in fear of my life.

Nonetheless, on the cusp of this year’s NBA Draft, former Duke point guard Kyrie Irving is making noise in Australia. While he spent the majority of his life playing hoops in America, he was in fact born in Melbourne, Australia where his father (Drederick) played pro hoops for the local Bulleen Bombers in the 1990s. He moved back to the United States when he was 2 and hasn’t been back since, but it hasn’t stopped him from saying positive things about potentially representing Australia on an international level;

“You know, it would be great to play for my country, which is primarily Australia, so, I was born there and I want to represent Australia”

Did you hear that? He WANTS TO PLAY FOR AUSTRALIA! He says it’s his country. As a recent Australian myself, I have to say I’m all for that. Australia would welcome him with arms more open than the Australian outback is vast. Sure, he’d probably only play during the Olympics and World Championships, but who watches international basketball outside of these times anyway?

Australia consistently tops the sporting landscape when it comes to rugby and cricket. The men’s football (soccer) team is on the verge and the women’s team is making waves both in Asia and the world. If there were ever an Australian Rules Football World Championship, team Australia would be kicking goals the way basketball’s Dream Team romped through Barcelona. So with the potential of Irving in the backcourt, the men’s basketball team would really make some serious headway come international competition time. The one big name superstar with the skills and swagger to compliment the more meat and bones game of the Boguts of the team.

The potential hurdles as such would be the fact that Irving has played for the United States at a junior level, and switching allegiances would not be as easy as saying so. There is however, precedent, Charlie Villanueva of the Pistons played for the United States at a junior level but decided to play for the Dominican Republic at senior level (let’s just say he wasn’t going to displace any of the current power forwards playing USA Basketball). The official rules state;

Item 23 – A player who has played in a main official competition of FIBA (see article -1) after having reached his seventeenth (17) birthday may not play for a national team of another country. However, in exceptional circumstances the Secretary General may authorise such a player to play for the national team of his country of origin if he is ineligible to play for such country according to this article -23 and if this is in the interest of the development of basketball in this country.

So you’re saying there’s a chance?

Yes. Let’s make this happen Australia. Whatever it takes, a nice house on Sydney’s cove, Harry Kewell’s Politix sponsorship, Shane Warne’s black book, a nice Australian farmer girl…. anything. Let’s do this.

Irving has a lot on his plate at the moment. Consensus points to the Cavs picking him at #1, but as the pre-draft games play out, word out says the team aren’t going to say anything until David Stern announces the name. By the time you read this (or not long after), Kyrie Irving will either be holding up a Cavaliers jersey or perhaps, if both Dan Gilbert and David Kahn are truly crazy enough, a Timberwolves jersey.

Either way, Irving will make good on his pro career, but the only jersey I really want him to wear would be the green and gold of Australia’s national team.

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Sports

The Bandwagon of Gold

It is the sad fact that we, the modern sports fan, the media and all who are involved expect superhuman things from mere mortals. Contrary to popular belief, driving around in an expensive hummer while flashing the best in “bling” makes one no more a human than cappuccino Joe down at your local coffee distribution centre (expensive way of saying “Starbucks”). And yes folks, Shaq’s little superman tattoo will do his aging mass no good when he’s pushing 40 (although, it seems to have worked for Jon Bon Jovi). So why is it that the sports fan can get so down on one player? How can one player go from being tomorrow headlines to yesterday’s punch line in such a swift swoop? Easy, it’s about the hype.

Often construed as a good thing, “hype” in reality, is just a bad four letter word. A stamp of expectation, a limit set so high that only the few can reach. It is the reason why we see so many prime athletes come and go before we can even snatch a bit of whatever and sell it on eBay. And in these recent months, that “hype” has reached previously unseen proportions, so much so that the hype itself has “hype”. If you’re a sports fan, or most accurately a basketball fan, you will undoubtedly have heard of a young and multi talented man-child who will soon make the big leap. Like so many before him, the call of mega bucks and bright lights will see him don an NBA jersey come this summer’s draft. We of course, like everyone else for the past few months, are talking about LeBron James, or as Sports Illustrated calls him, “The Chosen One”.

His high school games were nationally televised, he drives a VERY expensive hummer and his mom is already making Allen Iverson’s mom look like the dispirited cheerleader. Yes, there was all the flap about the throwback jerseys he received that ultimately led to his suspension – but his jersey, the #23, has already been RETIRED by his high school. At the age of 18, the amount of pressure put on his shoulders is astronomical – the expectations he will have to face when he is (most definitely) selected as the #1 overall pick will be like no other before him. While other 18 year olds will worry about performing adequately on prom night, James will try to live up to all the talk, all the potential and hoopla that surrounded him. True, those who have received attention before him took awhile to develop – Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett took a few seasons – but neither got the microscope treatment LeBron is getting. They will be expecting him to make a big splash – every move he will make, every shot he will take will be analyzed, scrutinized and Sportscenter-ized. Every bad game taken as sign he is underachieving, every mediocre performance a sign he was not all he is cut out to be … all the makings of what could very well lead to the biggest bust in NBA history, if not sports history altogether.

While a little hype can do wonders, too much of it can place a burden of unsurpassable expectation. While hype itself applies to almost all aspects of life, it is in the sports world where its head is the ugliest. This NBA fan will hope for the best when it comes to LeBron – because only the greatest achievements in the sport will satisfy all that preceded him. Whether or not he will live up to all this hype remains to be seen, and it will without a doubt, be seen. It is the world of today’s sports – there is no escape from the hype. It is an entity of its own, devouring those in its path and making rich those who see the bandwagon of gold.

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