Tag Archives: basketball

The Bow, The Ow and The Wow: LeBron’s Finals Journey

The 2015 NBA Finals for LeBron James was a microcosm of a career and a tribute to a once in a lifetime athlete

– Kevin Donnan


Some of you are preparing to *click* out of this article, and I understand.

Because outside of Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez, there is no more polarizing athlete on the planet than LeBron James.

You don’t need to be a NBA expert to know of LeBron James‘ career. Generational talent right out of high school, playing in Cleveland, “The Decision,” the flops, the money, the MVPs, the politics, “The Heatles,” the titles, the commercials, and of course “The Return.”

Through it all, whether you’re the obsessed or the casual observer, you typically reside in one of two camps:

1. LeBron James is an overrated, cramping, preening, flopper. Or,

2. You’ve named your children in tribute to the names of James‘ fictional Nike family, The LeBrons.

Nike
Nike

(Which means that those children, if not blessed with intestinal fortitude, will most certainly learn to acquire some as you try walking around with the names: Wise, Business, Athlete and Kid.)

Of course, James recently completed his sixth NBA Finals in 12 seasons. No matter on which side of the fence you reside, and in spite of his record falling to an overall 2-4 in the title series, this edition of The Finals, which was his fifth in a row, truly cemented his legacy as the greatest player of his generation, perhaps all time, and one of the most divisive players who has ever set foot in the sports arena in the eyes of fans.


The Bow

After earning a split on the road in the first two games, clearly James was confident. As a road team, a split is the ultimate goal, and has set the stage for innumerable upsets and “can-you-believe-its.”

In Game 3, though, LeBron pulled out one of those rare moments in sports. Say what you want about The King, but very few have had the keen sense of the moment as he has over the course of his career, and Game 3 was another demonstration.

A minute or two before tip-off, James strode towards his place at the circle, stopped, and made eye contact with a legend. That glance has become a now legendary moment. James‘ simple bow of acknowledgment to Cleveland legend Jim Brown was one of the most beautiful gestures of respect, admiration and love that has ever been seen in sports, and one that will not fade from memory anytime soon.

Later, in an article on clevelandbrowns.com, Brown called the move “one of his greatest sports moments.” There is no way anyone can underscore the power of that statement when you take into account the legacy of Jim Brown, the athlete and the man.

The demonstration of respect to one of the most legendary athletes in the city and the country elevated James‘ status as a true sportsman, and a young man who is respectful and reverential of the past and those who helped blaze the trail without fear, and with nothing but courage and character.


The Ow

USATSI
USATSI

With Cleveland entering Game 4 owning the only lead they would ever have, the Cavs mirrored their unabashed leader’s awkward fall under the backboard in the 2nd quarter. Detractors called it an embellishment that, might even make, yes, LeBron James blush, but his tumble into the camera lens rattled the Cavs. Once James emerged from the floor, this tumble was no joke, he was cut, required stitches, and was down for a few minutes.

(The sad fact, is that LeBron‘s skull was not the only, ahem, body part that was shown to the world in Game 4, but I really want this to be about basketball.)

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It was the defensive plan of the Warriors where the pain really emerged for the Cavaliers. In his first start of the series, the Warriors started defending James with eventual series MVP Andre Iguodala. James shot a miserable 7-for-22, and had his lowest point total of the series with 20. Two games later, Iguodala was named MVP specifically for his defensive play against James.

The 103-81 blowout elevated the Warriors back into the confident and mentally unflappable crew that had dominated the league all season. With home court re-established, and Steph Curry finding his touch again, the clock was striking midnight on the supporting cast. A bench that likely didn’t realize just how they had caught lightning in a bottle began falling to earth in spite of the heroics of James.


The Wow

For nearly all teams, losing two all-stars (Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving) in one season, let alone in one playoff tournament, typically spells complete and utter doom. But the sheer will of James, in spite of those losses, is what truly brought it all home.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports/REUTERS
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports/REUTERS

LeBron was the first player in Finals history to lead both teams in points-rebounds-assists (38-PPG, 13-RPG, 8APG), and captured that amazing designation by literally playing all five positions at any given time. When he wasn’t posting up, he was bringing the ball up the floor as the point guard.

He also was responsible for more than 38 percent of his team’s points. Only Michael Jordan ever posted a higher share, and the difference is within one-tenth of a point.

After Game 5, he said that any team he played on could never be considered a true underdog, and that he was the best player in the world. While these remarks only stoked the fires of his critics further, it’s hard to argue with the inherent facts.

LeBron James is many, many, many things to many different people, and in so many ways this series represented the odyssey that began when he left St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Brilliance, drama, passion, and of course, a little showmanship for good measure.

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny his ability and his desire to win, with all of the flops, cramps, televised “Decisions,” and everything else that goes with LeBron being LeBron.

I don’t understand why this superstar isn’t more embraced. From one end of the spectrum to the other, you simply can’t ignore or take your eyes away anytime he’s on the court.


Kevin Donnan is a regular contributor to The Scoop and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.

Advertisements

Could the Finals MVP be a Loser?

There’s a saying that the hardest truths to see in life are the ones that are staring you straight in the face, right in front of you. Don’t quote me on that.

With regards to who should be this year’s NBA Finals MVP, the answer is so glaringly obvious that I’m surprised anyone would actually try and say otherwise. What’s the counter-argument?

“Oh, well, a member of the losing team hasn’t been Finals MVP since 1923.” Or whenever.

NBA.com
NBA.com
It’s 1969, actually, and the man to do it was Jerry West. His Lakers lost the series in seven games, but he led all players in the series in minutes, field goals, free throws, defensive rebounds, assists and points.

That’s pretty much exactly what LeBron James is doing. I don’t see how even the most irrational of LeBron haters can go to bed at night after watching him in this series without having gained a little more respect for him.

We shouldn’t forget that Golden State was ranked No. 1 in overall in defensive efficiency throughout the regular season. When the Finals started a week ago, I was a bit stunned to see LeBron begin to pick them apart like he did, and then to see him do it again and again.

USATSI
USATSI
Golden State hasn’t been in a position this year where the same team gets to game plan for you a maximum of seven separate times. We shouldn’t be surprised that this is happening, especially with a player like LeBron who is so hell-bent on delivering a title to Cleveland AND having to do it with a supporting cast from the local YMCA.

It reminds me of what Russell Westbrook did earlier in the year during his ridiculous run of triple-doubles. He had no other choice but to carry his team and the numbers reflected what needed to be done.

If we’re going to hold the term “Finals MVP” to what it really means, then yes, absolutely LeBron is the Finals MVP. Cleveland would be losing every game by 25 points without him. With him, they STILL have a chance to win the series against a far superior opponent, albeit one without any prior Finals experience.

AP Photo/Ben Margot
AP Photo/Ben Margot
Stephen Curry or Andre Iguodala would be the only other viable candidates at this point, and I received a hearty dose of skeptical laughter after I suggested the latter at a Game 5 watch party, but really, Iguodala has been LeBron‘s kryptonite for the last three games.

He nearly had a triple-double in Game 5, and Steve Kerr even calls him his “security blanket.” His veteran moxie and experience have been essential to Golden State not collectively crapping themselves on the biggest stage in the league with the world’s best player on the other end doing his absolute utmost to will the Cavs to a title.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Curry showed in Game 5 why, if LeBron doesn’t win the award, he is the most deserving of the award. His ball-handling, composure and shot-making ability combined to liven the Warriors’ collective spirits and give them the final boost of energy needed to put away a Cleveland team which refuses to die, even they were running on fumes just days ago.

For those who cast the ballots at the end of this series, which I think will be Tuesday, they shouldn’t let 46 years of history sway them from picking LeBron. If we’re taking the award for what it is, then LeBron is the clear-cut choice, no questions asked.

It would be an injustice to pick anyone else.


Zack Cunningham is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @Zackerson.

 

Where Have You Gone, Willie Mays?

AP Photo
AP Photo

No doubt, if you are a sports fan, you’ve noticed a couple of things. First, there is a vast disparity between the major sports in terms of color within that sport. Secondly, in some sports, there is virtually no diversity.

According to a report by Henry Johnson of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, for example, there are issues with diversity in basketball. The NBA, WNBA, and NFL are predominantly African-American, while MLB and MLS are predominantly Anglo.

Screen-Shot-2014-07-11-at-5.46.36-PM
Harvard Sports Analysis Collective

 

In a story written by Paul Hagen for MLB.com, fewer African-Americans are playing in Major League Baseball today than two decades ago; the percentage was 8.5 percent on this season’s Opening Day rosters. Some have estimated that number to be around 27% in the 1970s, but exhaustive research by Mark Armour, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, shows that the actual number never exceeded 19 percent.

So, what is Major League Baseball doing about this? Commissioner Bud Selig announced in April the formation of a task force to tackle the issue of on-field diversity.

“To be fair, the numbers have dropped. I believe the numbers have dropped from 18-19 percent, which is what they were for about two decades. From the 1970s through the ’90s, the numbers were in the high teens. Now they’re half that,” said Armour, who writes software for the Environmental Protection Agency. “What I determined, and I analyzed data from 1947, when Jackie Robinson made his debut up to 1986, is that the number never got to 20 percent. The black-player number, counting all dark-skinned players, was in the high 20s for a period. But not the African-American number. All the press stuff that comes out every April compares the African-American numbers from today with the all-black-players number from the ’70s. And that’s where they make their mistake.”

Even with all his data, Armour can’t fully explain why fewer African-Americans are playing big league baseball beyond the fact that there are so many players of other ethnicities, primarily Latin American and Asian, now in the game.

Let me hazard a guess: MONEY.

First off, where is the allure for baseball? While it may be “America’s Pastime,” the money can be made elsewhere. The NBA has shoe endorsements and multi-million dollar contracts. In my job as an educator, I come in contact with many athletes. 98% tell me that they are going to play basketball in the NBA or play football in the NFL. The NFL has popularity and name recognition. If you play in the NFL, chances are good that you are well known, at least in your region. Same is said for basketball.

The NFL and NBA have a sexiness to them. Major League Baseball has a workman ethic. Not sexy, but more of a grind. While the NFL has a 16-game season, and the NBA has a 82-game season, Major League Baseball has a whopping 162 games. With football being played once a week, it captures more attention. An NBA team may play 2-3 games in a week’s time, but baseball plays almost every day. Perhaps it’s a case of oversaturation?

SLAM Magazine
SLAM Magazine

The NFL is at an all-time high in popularity and the NBA is very visible with stars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden. The NFL has superstars like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady, among others.  Major League Baseball has stars like Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, and others. Notice a trend? The majority of superstar athletes that play in the NBA and NFL are African-American; the majority of superstars in MLB are Anglo or Hispanic.

Why? Again, I go back to the money issue. Who remembers the Peyton Manning commercials where he chants, “Cut that meat!”?

Who remembers the McDonald’s commercial where Larry Bird and Magic Johnson play HORSE for a meal?

Remember that baseball commercial where…uh…where…ah…well…you get my point. Major League Baseball doesn’t have that appeal to fans, although you will always have diehard fans who keep scorebooks at games. When’s the last time you went to a football game and kept a book for penalties called? When’s the last time you saw someone keeping a book at a basketball game?

Check out these numbers provided by the NCAA.

baseball_0

football_0 mbb_0

In these statistics from the NCAA, you can clearly see that NOT MANY athletes make the cut. Many boys and girls grow up dreaming of playing sports in college and the pro ranks. But of the nearly eight million students currently participating in high school athletics in the United States, only 460,000 of them will compete at NCAA schools. And of that group, only a fraction will realize their goal of becoming a professional athlete.

The sad part is, while some athletes are good enough to play in college, their grades will not get them into college. That frequently forces them go to Junior College where some, if not all, never make it out.

USATSI
USATSI

Baseball is the only sport now that allows players from high school to go straight to the pro’s. Noah Syndergaard, a pitcher from Mansfield Legacy High School in Texas, went from high school to the New York Mets farm club. He is currently on the major league roster.

The NBA has enforced the “one and done” rule, requesting high school basketball prospects to wait at least one year before declaring for the draft. Contrary to popular belief, the NBA does not require athletes to attend one year of college, but they must wait an entire year or be at least 19 years old to declare for the draft.

The NFL will not draft a player from HS. They prefer the player have at least 2 years in college. More underclassmen are declaring for the draft, and more and more are going UNDRAFTED.

Sexy vs. the Grind. Which would you choose?

Which brings me back to my first question: Where have you gone, Willie Mays?


Ronnie Garcia is the Voice of Reason at The Scoop. He is also an avid guitarist, educator, and all around smarmy guy. You can follow him on twitter @TheRonMann.

NBA Proposal: Rebranding the New Orleans Jazz and Finding Sanity in Franchise Names

 (Michael DeMocker, Nola.com / The Times-Picayune)
(Michael DeMocker, Nola.com / The Times-Picayune)

I am going to propose a four-team trade in the NBA. This is not a swap of players, coaches or picks. This is a trade of franchise names. The first move has already taken place, between New Orleans and Charlotte. The next three should happen by the beginning of the next season.

Of the many welcomed changes in the NBA for the 2014-2015 campaign, few are as pleasing as the return of the Charlotte Hornets. The original Hornets franchise still resides in New Orleans since moving from Charlotte before the 2002 season.

Charlotte-BobcatsBut the name was returned to North Carolina, along with the Charlotte era history and stats, and given to the team that had been playing since 2004 as the Bobcats.

Nobody seemed to like the name Bobcats. In fact, the fans of Charlotte voted to name the team the Flight after the Wright Brothers. Granted, that is also an absolutely terrible name. But Bobcats had the stigma of egotism. The new owner Robert L. Johnson was known as “Bob.” Essentially he named the team after himself.

And the Bobcats did not leave much of an impact on the NBA. Despite having Larry Brown as a coach and Michael Jordan as an owner (or maybe BECAUSE of his ownership) the team did not win a single post season game, let alone a series.

new orleans hornets 183 logoThe Hornets have a more pleasant history, winning 4 different playoff series in Charlotte.

But with the Hornets name back where it belongs, let’s turn our focus to New Orleans. Their franchise is now called the Pelicans. No offense to those beautiful birds, but that is a dumb sounding name. That sounds like a CBA team from the 1980s. Or maybe a team in a movie about basketball where they couldn’t get the rights to actual NBA team logos.

thAs with Charlotte, New Orleans once had a great team name. They had the New Orleans Jazz. As “teams without an S in the name” go, New Orleans Jazz is about as good as it gets. (Much better than the Heat or Magic for my money.) It perfectly describes the feel of the city and what it is known for. Seriously, how far down the list would Pelicans be for Nawlins’ iconography?

Of course the Jazz still exist. They are in Utah. Truth be told, Pelicans could probably be found more frequently in Utah than any jazz musicians. The name Utah Jazz is so bizarre and contradictory that it is almost beautiful. I could try and think of a more absurd combination of team and city/state name, but I am at a loss. Even the Denver Mariners or Kansas City Dolphins would make more sense.

Utah_JazzThe Jazz have their great Stockton and Malone history along with a pair of trips to the finals. But that name belongs in New Orleans. It will bring back memories of Pistol Pete Maravich who brought his sweet moves across the state from LSU to the Jazz. Sure it would mean the New Orleans team would have three different names in four seasons. But think of how valuable the Pelicans jerseys would be for collectors.

With Charlotte and New Orleans taken care of, what should happen in Utah? Is there an NBA team name that could be a perfect fit for the Beehive State?

It is just sitting there and is North of the Border.

utahraptor_p1Take a look at this dinosaur. It is pretty ferocious and scary looking, isn’t it? Do you know what its official name is for paleontologists? It is the Utahraptor ostrommaysorum. Commonly, it is called the Utah Raptor.

They were fast, violent killing machines with giant claws that could grow to the size of a polar bear.

The Raptor name exists in Toronto basically because they were founded around the same time that Jurassic Park was super popular and everything Isaiah Thomas, the team’s original president, did was bonkers.

If he was putting together a team last winter with Frozen cleaning up at the box office, he would named the team the Snowmen.

toronto_raptorsBut the name makes scientific sense in Utah. It would be a scary mascot with links to the region instead of a reflection of what film was popular at the moment the team was made.

Where does that leave the Toronto team?

When Isaiah Thomas was reading the weekly movie box office grosses coming up with a team name, Toronto fans suggested several other names. The Grizzlies were one, but that is now taken. The Beavers were another one, but that would yield too many obscene jokes.

Guess what was another popular suggestion? The Bobcats. And if I am not mistaken, that name is now available.

So with this proposal, the 2015-2016 season would feature the Charlotte Hornets, the New Orleans Jazz, the Utah Raptors and the Toronto Bobcats.

What happens to the Pelicans? No doubt a D-League franchise could use a new name.


Paul “Sully” Sullivan is a Sports Contributor at The Scoop, and is also a successful baseball podcaster and stand-up comedian. Follow him on Twitter at @SullyBaseball.