Tag Archives: LeBron James

Leaving a Legacy: Why the 2015 Finals are a Defining Moment

SportsUnbiased.com
SportsUnbiased.com

The annual skirmish for the Larry O’Brien Trophy is here. Mister O’Brien was not only the NBA Commissioner for roughly a decade, but also a former Postmaster General, just ahead of future President, Lyndon Johnson, in the 1960s. For those of you keeping track, the trophy was first given this name for the 1984 NBA Finals: a classic duel between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. That series further solidified the reign of one team over another for yet another season, as the fans poured out onto a familiar hardwood court, filled with a rather familiar cloud of cigar smoke.

Believe it or not, a mere eight franchises out of a possible 30 have taken home this trophy during these 30 some-odd years. For the first time since 2006, we will see a brand new team added to that illustrious list, regardless of who happens to win. As for myself, at the end of it all, I really just want the same thing that most professional basketball fans want: a competitive, 7-game series, complete with controversial whistle-blowing and as many down-to-the-wire finishes as humanly possible.

By the way, the number of Game 7s for the NBA Finals SINCE that magical 1984 season is staggeringly low. There have been six occurrences: three on the back end of the 20th century, and three more, here, in THIS century. That’s an average of about once every five seasons. However, there is a good chance that we will see a six-game series, as this is a much more common result. Some would say that the NBA has little to no parity when it comes to competition. I would hesitate to disagree with that claim, except when it comes to the NBA Finals. You see, in order for there to be a Game 6, both teams have to have lost at least twice. Does anyone complain when a baseball game is tied in the 8th inning, but is decided before the bottom half of the 9th has begun? Do football fans want EVERY single game to go into overtime? The point is, Game 7s should NOT be an every-year trend in the NBA. If it happens too little, there might be no one interested enough to see it happen, but if it happens too often, the effects of diminishing returns might make the exciting moments a lot less exciting.

USATSI
USATSI

The focus of the 2015 NBA Finals, no doubt, is on the current MVP Stephen Curry and the game’s current, most dominant player, LeBron James. Is anyone else reminded of when Magic Johnson led the Lakers to the Finals in 1988? He was from Michigan, returning to Michigan, to try and defeat the Detroit Pistons. Stephen Curry, from Ohio, will return to Ohio to attempt to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Let us not forget about LeBron‘s deep roots from the area, too. How quickly things have shifted just in the past five years: the betrayal of his hometown team, the “underachieving” four consecutive Finals appearances in South Florida, the current chance at redemption for a city that hasn’t won a championship in ANY of the four major sports since the pre-Super Bowl era of the NFL. Does anyone else remember the last time a player participated in five straight NBA Finals?

NESN
NESN

Well, the two previous players to do so, overlapped each other to appear in 10 straight NBA Finals, during arguably the best era of the league. Yes, this would be Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Obviously, it is a very narrow list for LeBron James to be a part of, AND Michael Jordan is not ON the list with him, THIS time.

If there is any discussion about which city/area is hungrier for this championship, let me try and set the record straight: it is not even close! The Bay Area might have been a hungry sports town before the 1970s arrived, but since then, they have won eight Super Bowls, seven World Series Titles, and one NBA Championship. Yes, that is correct. The Golden State Warriors have won an NBA Championship.

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

It was in the year of 1975, led by Hall of Fame great Rick Barry. They were, in fact, a long shot to win it that year, but they overcame the odds, particularly in the post-season. For a more modern comparison, try and remember the story of the 1994-’95 Houston Rockets. It is eerily similar. As for this season, on paper, the Warriors have to be the favorites, but there is something strange going on over there in Cleveland. No matter how bleak things have looked for the Cavs, LeBron and company have managed to will their way all the way back to the Finals.

The Michael Jordan/LeBron James comparisons do not always add up: Jordan was a skinny Shooting Guard, while LeBron is a massive Guard-Forward hybrid. One guy played out three full seasons in college, while the other jumped into the league right out of high school. The dissimilarities, for me, are in much greater numbers than the actual similarities. However, if there is one similarity, it is definitely on the line right now. It is the legacy of domination. No, LeBron cannot be 6-0 in the Finals, but he CAN be 3-3. Jordan was the most dominant player for his time, AND he backed it up with both personal and team accolades.

NBA
NBA

When watching LeBron James in this series, think back to Michael Jordan in 1993, versus the Phoenix Suns, and 1998, versus the Utah Jazz. Those were the only two occasions in which Jordan‘s Bulls were the visiting team going in. Furthermore, 1993 was one of only two occurrences in which Jordan was facing the current MVP on the other side of the court. The other occurrence was in 1997, against the same team as in 1998. What did Jordan do in 1993? What did he do in 1997 and 1998? The answer is the exact same for ALL three of those sample questions, and THIS is why Lebron‘s legacy matters in 2015!

As for Stephen Curry, well, he need only think about what happened to those virtually unblemished MVPs inside of those aforementioned examples: Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.

Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated

The only thing either of them failed to accomplish was winning a championship, and they both failed versus the same dominant player. Curry is still young, but allow me to ask this quick question about the NFL great, Dan Marino: how many times did he go back to the Super Bowl after he reached that stage in only his second season as a pro?


Alex Moore is a Contributor at The Scoop.

 

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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.

Boxing, The Force, and a 7-Year-Old’s Awakening

HBO
HBO

MayweatherPacquiao proves boxing needs a fight and a fighter to get it off the ropes

I was positively giddy the week before the bell was set to ring; I plunked down $94 with the push of a button on my television remote for the fight that would launch boxing’s greatest comeback.

I mean, what could be better? Mayweather versus Pacquiao. The most anticipated fight in at least a generation, and the 12 rounds that would bring boxing up off its near 20-year canvas. Boxing has suffered from a lack of superstars, and UFC/MMA has surpassed the sweet science in the sports pecking order.

Twelve rounds and a plate of nachos later and I was clicking. Too bad it was a URL on YouTube that took me back to why I fell in love with the sport in the first place.

“The Force” and Sports

Like a lot of other seven-year-olds in 1977, I had two primary obsessions: sports and Star Wars.

While my sports knowledge was restricted to the daily newspaper, the school library and highlights on the nightly news, I ate, slept and thought about nothing beyond sports.

From the NHL to the NFL and CFL, to the NBA and Major League Baseball, I was a confirmed sports junkie at this precious age. And in my advancing age, I was all too willing to expand my reach beyond the ‘big four’ sports.

Flickr: Growing Up Star Wars
Flickr: Growing Up Star Wars

The only challenge to this obsession was, of course, Star Wars. Action figures, posters on my wall, clothing – if it was Star Wars, I wanted or obsessed about it, and I know I’m not alone.

Whether you were a kid curled up on the edge of your seat in a theatre in 1977, or watched it first on videotape, DVD or via download, I believe that there aren’t too many boys who when they see Star Wars for the first time, their life doesn’t change.

Thankfully on one chilly night in late September, I put down the X-Wing fighter long enough to take on another sport and another somewhat healthy obsession, and in essence, Star Wars helped open that, well, ‘universe.’

Laser Sound Effects, and Darth Vader meets “The Greatest”

It began with a short briefing from my brother the night of September 29. He was seven years older, and as babysitter he was my ‘defacto Darth Vader,’ which meant no amount of rebellion would recapture my entire 11-channel universe.

But somehow my brother had a different air about him. He’d always enjoyed being the ruler of my galaxy when Mom and Dad went out, but this was a night he was looking forward to.

EyeontheRing.com
EyeontheRing.com

Muhammad Ali versus Earnie Shavers. ‘The Greatest’ against ‘The Black Destroyer.’ Fifteen rounds for Ali’s heavyweight title from Madison Square Garden in New York City. Right there on that grainy, 24-inch screen in the corner of the living room, and on national television no less.

I know that by then I had a working knowledge of Ali in addition to my older brother’s spotty and altogether hyperbolic overview of his boxing career. The primary reason I knew him was simply because he was as much, if not more, mainstream than Lebron James or Tom Brady in 2015. Whether it was a highlight on the nightly news, a variety show or even ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” Muhammad Ali continued as one of the most polarizing and engaging figures in sports during at that period.

I’m also sure I had options that night. It wasn’t like I was being forced to watch, rather, I was simply being brought up to speed on what would be on the television that evening. Minus the chokehold from The Dark Lord, who rather than wearing a cape, sported a Keep on Truckin’ t-shirt and bell-bottoms.

While somewhat dismissive and bored, I was ready to pass on this opportunity and return to the Millennium Falcon, and then, I heard it.

The opening trumpet blast of the music that was currently the soundtrack to my life. And there HE was. Fired up, talking, cocky, and led to the ring by the music and laser sound effects. Even though it was the stylized ‘disco’ version, I could handle it. I didn’t know much at seven, but I knew that disco sucked.

No ridiculous entrances with Justin Bieber, Jimmy Kimmel, or the Burger King, just a bunch of guys surrounding Ali who looked even more determined than the man himself.

Legends-Legacies.com
Legends-Legacies.com

While the theme from the movie was my personal “boxing tractor beam,” one epic round of trash-talk and a derisive rub of Shavers’ bald head by “The Champ” had me hooked, and 15 rounds later I found something else to obsess about.

I took in a full 45 minutes of ferocity and technical skill, where Ali scored enough to win, but was wobbled more than a few times. Shavers had a lethal right hand that had him considered as the hardest puncher in the 1970s, and in spite of that big right hand, he still couldn’t match Ali’s best weapon in the latter stage of his career: his chin. And like me, in revisiting this fight, Muhammad Ali‘s ability to withstand punishment is second to none.

BoxRec.com
BoxRec.com

After Shavers, Ali would only fight four more times; three of which were brutal losses, one worse than the next. But most experts will say, including Ali‘s doctor Ferdie Pacheco, who quit Ali‘s camp after this fight, that it was Shavers who truly accelerated one of the saddest declines in sports. That fact would be quickly realized in due time and punishing detail for me, but from that moment, I’ve traveled with boxing through its ups and downs.

Through Ali‘s decline, the astounding heights of the welterweight/middleweight divisions in the 80s and Tyson (of course), I maintained that passion. But without a polarizing, magnetic superstar, boxing and I, too, have been stuck for the past 20 years in a ‘black hole’ of non-appealing fights, and barely the occasional flash of hype from the likes of Mayweather, Pacquiao, De La Hoya, Hopkins, or Jones Jr., and plenty of embarrassment: ear-biting, fan-man, etc.

A Re-Emergence

In the past year or so, boxing has suddenly re-emerged. Interest has been heightened in cable fights on HBO and Showtime. The hype for Pacquiao-Mayweather started in 2014, and the new primetime package on NBC has been stellar, with the network signing a multi-year, multi-million dollar package that even has the network bringing out heavy hitters like Bob Costas, Al Michaels, Marv Albert and Laila Ali to host and broadcast.

For me, and for Madison Avenue, network and pay-per-view television, boxing was on an incredible upswing entering this fight. Pacquiao-Mayweather was going to strengthen the sport and pave the way for a new superstar (Canelo Alvarez? Deontay Wilder?), and maintain the positive momentum that would come from this match of the century.

And then the bell rang.

KTLA
KTLA

Boxing is still on the ropes. And for a fan who was hoping this fight could re-launch his passion for the sport, you can’t imagine the disappointment. In a sport that you wouldn’t think could embarrass itself any further, boxing flopped that night with a 36-minute display of hide and seek. Brilliant defense? Perhaps.

The last I checked, this was supposed to be a fight, and this was supposed to be the fight that brought everyone back to see what fans like me always believed that the sport could be if done properly, and maybe bring a new generation into what that seven-year-old kid saw with the Star Wars theme in his head.

Two men, staring each other down, throwing and taking punches to see who scores or who puts his opponent on the canvas. Simple as that. It’s competition in most raw and beautiful form, not the track-meet and dance contest we saw at the MGM.

May the Force Be With You(Tube)? 

There is plenty of talk now about injuries, penalties for non-disclosure, lawsuits and rematches. But I’m going to pass on another Mayweather bout. If he truly is going to retire and tie Rocky Marciano, my remote will suddenly be lost in the cushions someplace.

For now, I’ll go back to my casual interest in the hope for a savior who isn’t on a movie screen, but is willing to stand in and fight. And every now and then I’ll find the mouse and take a look at a classic fight on YouTube.

No matter what else might be playing, that old familiar theme will be in my head, along with the incomprehensible irony that in the same year a fight was supposed to bring me right back into boxing, a new Star Wars movie is coming out later this year.

And if George Lucas doesn’t deliver? I’m calling Earnie Shavers.


Kevin Donnan is a Contributor at The Scoop.