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Grumpy Old Greats

Two summers ago, LeBron James took a lot of well-deserved flack for the manner in which he left his former team and everybody had an opinion. When the smoke finally clears, the 27-year-old business mastermind will have the last laugh (rings included) but right now, all the basketball legends are too proud to admit it.

Let the deep analysis begin!

Just like any other the sport, the NBA too is a business! I won’t even respond to Charles Barkley, the failed ring chaser. As for Michael Jordan, he’s just mad because the ripe LeBron James that we’ve all seen for the last few years is better than he was individually. «The Decision» was yet another selfish and childish televised stunt by James et. al, but former St. Louis Cardinals’ free agent Albert Pujols couldn’t have generated that much worldwide buzz from a self-limiting sport like baseball even if he would have summoned the young «soul» of Muhammad Ali! I’ll repeat it. James is better than Jordan individually at this stage in his career. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact! Now, young James has positioned himself with a vintage Bulls-like team/dynasty in hopes to surpass Jordan’s feat of 6 rings and consequentially, M.J. has become player hater #1 along with all of his worshipers and the ever-jock-riding media. As one article noted, Jordan mentioned that his supportive words in regards to athletes remaining on one team in their prime years are in hindsight, but isn’t that always the easiest time to make definitive statements especially when things go well? Too bad he can’t make the same bold «I would never change the way I did it» statements in regards to his surly Hall of Fame induction speech.

Now I understand that most basketball fans (namely those whose favorite team lost out in the 2010 free agency extravaganza ) want to have a more balanced league like what we assume to be an equal opportunity team building league like the NFL. However, basketball is a different game/league/business entirely! First off, 11-on-11 (with a deep bench and three teams in one) leaves a lot more leeway for fringe players to start in games, but 5-on-5 leaves very little relative margin for error. In basketball, it is wise to get a beefy starting roster A.S.A.P. because each player means a lot more than each guy means in football with the exception of HOF QB’s which are truly scarce. Besides, when are free agent opportunities ever gonna get better than what we saw in the NBA summer of 2010? The recent Chris Paul to L.A. deal was done via trades as was last year’s «Melo Drama» which landed Carmelo Anthony in New York. The free agent show that we saw in 2010 will probably never happen again. I hope you enjoyed it. I sure did.

However, in regards to our beloved sport of football, let’s look at what the dynasties of the 90’s did. Players like Charles Haley and Deion Sanders went from one team to the other to try to get (more) rings. Haley and Sanders were in good situations on both of their teams, the 49ers and the Cowboys, but they switched whenever it became convenient. In the early 2000’s, the Patriots always picked up savvy free agents STARS who always proved to be key contributors e.g. Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Adalius Thomas, etc. Heck let’s even take the time to mention their biggest surprise to us all, WR Wes Welker who emerged to become the next Ricky Proehl but a whole lot better. Do I need to start talking about travel merchant free agent Bret Favre now?

What’s the point that I’m trying to make to all of the haters? It is proven that the rich in talent (and often in top market city) usually get richer regardless of the (major) sport/business. The days of harvesting young talent WITHOUT bringing in marquee free agents are over unless you’re F.C. Barcelona and they even buy big name guys every now and then. In the NFL, they can cut you, dishonor the contract, and go out and buy another guy to strengthen their team. Tracy McGrady, Greg Oden, Yao Ming, and Shaquille O’neal would’ve never lasted in a league with those rules. The NFL is cut throat and not having to fulfill players contracts allows teams to build and destroy on a whim. The top NFL teams always exhaust this policy so that they can clear space for free agents who are more than willing to join them on a ring hunt. Quite honestly, if we look at it rationally, it’s not as «fair and even» across the 30+ NFL team league as people make it out to be. Unfortunately, that’s how big business is and always will be.

I’ll give you a quick quip about baseball that most of you are already aware of. The Florida Marlins, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the St. Louis Cardinals have all won the World Series within the last decade and for baseball, these places are «poor» markets. Market value is relative to each respective sport, and not merely prized by a state’s economy, geography or demographic makeup. The Yankees however, have only managed to win one championship at the turn of the century and another one two years ago. Don’t they spend cash like kids do in monopoly and aren’t they in the world’s biggest market? At the end of the day, no matter how good a team’s resources may be, it’s all about team chemistry with real talent of course.

In regards to LeBron’s legacy, Michael, Larry, Magic, Russel, Kobe, etc. all had at least ONE other bona fide hall of famer on their squad. Until now, LeBron James had not played with even the likes of a Kukoc or a Rodman in their prime! Here’s a quick fact that you may already know. During the first season after Jordan retired, the fantastic 55-win Bulls made it to the playoffs and they went pretty deep. If it wasn’t for a highly controversial call by referee Hugh Hollins during the closing moments of a game 7 in the Bulls-Knicks series (subsequently, the Bulls lost 93-94), who knows what would have happened? The Bulls went deep into those playoffs but they might have made it to the NBA finals (and even won) without Mike. Let’s face it. All of the legendary teams no matter how dominant their rosters looked on paper have always needed luck to be on their side. However, those Bulls were not so fortunate because of a ref’s call. What’s my point. Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls were a team rich with talent and Scottie Pippen and the rest of the Bulls key role players were a lot better than what the silly Jordan-worshiping sports writers have given them credit for. Take back-to-back 60+ regular season winning, two-time league MVP trophy holding, multiple NBA Finals reaching, Detroit Pistons defensive dynasty destroying LeBron James off the Cavs and see how they do? The moment of truth for the Cleveland Cavaliers came last season but we didn’t need an NBA «prophet» like Stephen A. Smith to predict that out come. Even Cleveland’s Plain Dealer Chris Broussard should have seen it coming.

In response to The Decision «hurting his brand», LeBron isn’t going to lose a dollar that he won’t make back if/when he starts winning championships. Right now, LeBron is even making extra money for the league because his uniform is the #1 A-shirt in demand.

As for credibility, let us first examine the legacy of Mr. Bean. Kobe’s first three rings weren’t done Kobe’s way. Shaq was the true NBA Finals MVP three years in a row without argument. People need to re-check the stats if they’ve forgotten how much of a beast he was during that stretch of dominance and good fortune. Kobe had a 5-week ankle injury and failed to make it to the playoffs in his first year without Shaq (but he still had Butler, Odom, and Grant), and in later years when he made it to the postseason, he couldn’t get out of the first round if his life depended on it. In 2006, he helped the Lakers to go up 3-1 against the Stoudemire-less Suns but his team still lost in seven games! In game 5 of the Boston-Cleveland 2010 playoff series, LeBron quit for sure, but in GAME 7 of the 2006 Lakers-Suns series, Kobe chose to quit right after halftime and he sat out for most of the fourth quarter including the tail end. However, that wasn’t the first time he called it quits. I remember him acting like a baby back in the Shaq/glory days when Phil Jackson and his teammates asked him to shoot less, so the little brat decided not to shoot at all in the first half of a playoff game against the Sacramento Kings. By halftime Kobe «Brat» Bryant had 0 FGA attempts and I’m sure that this is not what Coach Jackson and his teammates meant by «be more of a facilitator» and «don’t take stupid shots». This guy is rotten so I’m not gonna slay LeBron for taking a night off. Two wrongs don’t make a right therefore, it should be said that Kobe and LeBron have both tainted their «want to be like Mike legacies» mainly because they’ve left us questioning one thing that should be never questioned by anyone who is pursuing peer approval for «The Greatest of All-Time» status: HEART. When you look at a guy like Dwyane Wade, his heart has never come into question. Yes Wade’s team only won 15 games one year but Wade and Shaq missed 70+ games that year, so what would one expect? Yes Wade’s team was swept by the Bulls in the playoffs one year, but Wade and Shaq battled injuries that entire year and Wade returned from the I.R. to play even though he was less than 50%. Is Wade the G.O.A.T.? No, but he truly has the heart of a real champion. Summer of ’06 anyone? Moreover, Wade still has a legend’s legacy to live up to and that’s all the motivation he needs.

Kobe never had to carry a weak franchise from day one. He was in a great system and then he was doubly blessed when Phil Jackson came along to utilize the potential of the superstar Lakers’ squad. When that situation dried up, Kobe foolishly demanded that Bynum should be traded so that the Lakers could acquire a guy like old man Jason Kidd. The Lakers ignored Bryant’s demands even after he pulled his «testing the waters stunt» as he made rounds to Chicago and threatened to go to the L.A. Clippers if the Lakers didn’t get him a player he asked for. In just a few self-inflicted years of being placed in the daily struggles of LeBron’s seven-year Cleveland roster situation, Kobe nearly lost his mind! LeBron easily beats this clown when it comes to dealing with sub-par roster adversity. Kobe never asked for Pau Gasol, but ex-Laker legend and expiring Memphis Grizzlies GM Jerry West seemingly gifted the Lakers Gasol for you know who. The man who bears my namesake. This was the greatest heist in NBA history! The Celtics move sparked by «Minnesota» Mchale wasn’t even this shady. Immediately, the Lakers became contenders and they can thank Jerry West, Mitch Kupchak, the return of Phil Jackson, and Pau Gasol for that. Collectively, these men were the Lakers true 2010 regular season and NBA Finals’ MVPS. If anybody believes that Kidd would have been more instrumental to the Lakers’ success than what the effect of Gasol has been, then they’re smoking crack rocks. Gasol was called soft just as many have called Chris Bosh soft and he was on a team where nobody mentioned his name much or televised his games. However, it must be proclaimed that Pau Gasol is the reason why the Lakers had a great three-year-run and he’s still putting up his unseen Memphis Grizzlies’ numbers. Bynum dies out every year with injury, Odom has never been consistent in the postseason and now he’s gone, but soft, weak, and UNDERRATED Pau Gasol has been the piece that Jason Kidd could have never been. About Kobe, it will always be said that he could never do it without a highly skilled big man in his prime. Who knows? At this rate Kobe might never win again and if it’s not Miami (with homecourt advantage on their side for sure) then Oklahoma City surely isn’t a team to shrug off.

Just one quick word about M.J. He too screamed that the Bulls needed to get other players because he couldn’t make it out of the first round after three tries. In 1988, a kid by the name of Scottie Pippen came along and Jordan demanded that veteran Brad Sellars should continue to start over Pippen but Doug Collins would hear none of it. In game 5 (the final and deciding game) against the Cavs, Collins started Pippen and Scottie went off that day scoring a (then) career-high 24 points (10 in the third quarter), to go along with six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Pippen played 39 minutes in the 107-101 victory. For the bigger travesty, do a Google search for an article titled: Jordan wanted Joe Wolf over Pippen or Horace Grant?

Note this fact! LeBron James made it to the NBA finals in 2007 virtually by himself! Allen Iverson got there too but Coach Larry Brown was key, Aaron Mckie was the 6th man of the year, and the 76ers’ defense was incredible that year thanks to Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo. LeBron made it to the finals with a mediocre Eric Snow (not even top 10 among PG’s in league at the time) who did not show up in the playoffs, a young and injured 6th man named Daniel Gibson (he’s certainly not one of a kind), Larry Hughes (played his tail off for the Wizards alongside Arenas in a contract year and then went to Cleveland for lots of money and he lost all motivation), Drew Gooden (no explanation necessary), and the often injured Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Do I even need to mention their anemic bench?

LeBron is a beast! Three years ago, when the Orlando Magic surprised the Cleveland Cavaliers, make note of this: Mo Williams and Delonte West didn’t show up at all. Mo Williams’ sharp shooting was found wanting and his defense (as usual) was porous. Delonte’s playoff nightmare was even worse because he was asked to guard 6’10» Rashard Lewis which was an awful joke that in my opinion, raised the Sword of Damocles over the head of coach Mike Brown. Delonte’s offense against the Magic intensified his horrible playoff nightmare because he only knocked down 31.8% of his threes even though he had many wide open looks. Mo and Delonte are feasible over an 82 game regular season but one can’t expect them to carry the load in the playoffs when the best of the best square off. As for Antawn Jamison, he’s no Scottie Pippen and he played like he was slow and old against Boston. «What about the addition of Shaq?» will be the words of some when they’re reading about LeBron’s last Cavs squad 20 years from now as they’re scanning through the archives of Cleveland’s playoff roster(s). The proper answer: He was ring hunting worse than John Salley. He was the most useless shell of a superstar player that existed in the league in those day. Wade didn’t even have Kobe’s unstoppable Shaq and LeBron’s Shaq is not even worth mentioning. Players who are no longer in their prime are just famous names on a piece of paper.

LeBron James is the ultimate player and he’s never been in an optimal situation until now. I can’t beat this to death enough. LeBron is so great that Dan Gilbert felt compelled to cater to all of his desires as many have read but when one guy can do what Mike, Kobe, and Wade couldn’t do (get out of the first round consistently without a real hero on their side), you almost have to give him as much leeway as he asks for in this type of a quid pro quo industry. However, real owners and coaches don’t let any player’s input override their ultimate franchise plans. Jordan, Kobe, and screaming Wade (the latter over the last few offseasons basically asked Pat Riley and Micky Arison to get Amar’e, or Odom, or Boozer and only then would he extend his contract) have all been put in check by their respective team owners and GMs to some extent and it’s often proved to be the right move for the franchise.

Patience is a virtue and LeBron waited and «dictated» in Cleveland with a «free» pass for 7 long years. As rumor has it, Dumb Gilbert basically let LeBron hand pick his questionable free agent helpers, but even though this method didn’t amounted to a ring, LeBron had been spectacular in the postseason for 99.9% of the time in Cleveland and that’s undeniable. Now James is gone because he never promised to return (another fact) and dumb Dan fired a GM and coach, in a pitiful last-ditch effort to try to appease James. It’s foolish to be delusional and now Gilbert is reaping the benefits of a failed franchise. Before LeBron, no free agent wanted to go to Cleveland and after LeBron the situation remains the same. We can’t blame James for this. It’s just like James’ old high school but on a much bigger scale. He made you (Ohio) a bit more famous, but now he’s moved on and you didn’t even attempt to make an effort for a backup plan. Cleveland fans, deal with it. Your owner is a clown and Byron Scott is just working for you until Mike Brown gets ran out of L.A. when things fall apart if/when they fail to acquire Dwight Howard in a trade.

Now where was I. Oh yes, the NBA is a business. Two summers ago, Derek Fisher even flew down to Miami to check out the scenery but he re-signed with the Lakers after Kobe pleaded with him via text message calling him a «brother». However, we all know that Kobe is a fake snake, but since it’s a business, the defanged Black Mamba Bryant planned to meet face to face with his arch-enemy, Raja Bell (some have said they’ve patched things up over the years but I’m not buying that) to beg him to sign with L.A. His plan fell flat because Bell returned to his former team in the Mormon state but Kobe’s «I’m scared of Miami, I need a another guy (e.g. Artest) who won’t back down to even a superstar like myself on my team» cowardice was once again revealed!

So I hope that at the end of the day, everybody realizes that basketball is more than a kids game enjoyed by overpaid athletes and owners. Basketball is a real job/business where it’s about winning at all cost and the Miami Heat have clearly shown the world that they are committed to excellence. Good luck to John Wall, Ricky Rubio, and all the other up and coming kids. They’re going to have to wait a long time before they can get a crack at a ring.

Will Miami win this year? Kobe’s Lakers lost their first Finals bid with Pau Gasol, but they remained patient and went on to win two titles in a row in the immediate years that followed. History tends to repeat itself. Furthermore, I’ll be watching my favorite player/team intently and quite frankly, even if one of those guys goes down this year, they’ll still be a force to be reckoned with in the east. Oklahoma City, Chicago, and the L.A. Clippers are going to be fun to watch for some years to come but I can’t remember ever seeing a squad as delicious as the Miami Heat in my life. If the Heat stay healthy, go to the finals and win, who will most likely be the finals MVP? Who on the Heat can accumulate a sum total of more rebounds, blocks, steals, and assists than LeBron James night in and night out in the regular season or in the playoffs? Not even Wade, and James will never have a scoring average in the single digits unless he’s dropping an unheard of 18-20 assists for a stretch of nights which will still earn him high MVP praise! One can only dream but for James, the Rajon Rondo act is unnecessary. This is just something to joke about with those who are overly concerned with the extra post-season individual trinkets. Brace yourself. «Lob City East» or better put, «Showtime» has returned to the NBA and «Pat Riley» is once again at the helm in the reincarnated form of Erik Spoelstra leg-kick and all. To M.J., Charles, and all the other grumpy old men, «If you can’t stand the Heat, then please stay out of Miami»!!!

PS. Dwight Howard, please take notes! Chicago awaits its second Superman. Besides, your legacy depends on it. Or, perhaps we’ll see you in Dallas with Deron Williams and Dirk Nowitzki?! I’ll coin the phrase right now; «3-D in Big D». Now doesn’t that have a nice «RING» to it?

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