Archives For Basketball

The articles on LeBron James must be approaching the heavens by now. I will go ahead and state the obvious for those of you who don’t read articles on EPSN every day.

LeBron pinned the target to his own back.

I was talking to a friend in the weight room the other day and we were discussing how LeBron is actually not that bad of a dude. As Rick Reilly astutely observed:

Has he refused to speak to reporters after a single game this season? Has he called out his teammates for their poor play, as Kobe Bryant did twice this postseason? Has he gotten his coach fired? Been fined for criticizing refs? Asked to be traded, released or named general manager?

Has he punched anybody? Choked anybody? Screamed at any parking valets? (Mom doesn’t count.)

Smashed a chair? Drop-kicked any equipment? Tiger Woods does that on the front nine.

He also is a phenomenal basketball player. Every game he brings it, and usually dominates. He can play any position and succeed at it. In some ways he is absolutely unstoppable and as others have noted, instead of just cheering against him we need to enjoy his domination while it lasts because he will only get older and slower. As Joe Pos says:

It’s too easy for people like me to forget just how amazing LeBron was when he lugged a bagful of Larry Hughes, Eric Snow and Donyell Marshall to the NBA Finals by averaging 25 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and nearly two steals along the way. It’s too easy for people like me to forget that in the Cavaliers’ heart-wrenching seven-game loss to Orlando in the 2009 conference finals, LeBron scored 49, then 35, then 41, then 44, then 37 (that was his crazy 37-point, 14-rebound, 12-assist game) before struggling for a mere 25 in the final loss. The guy does extraordinary things, and he does them with regularity.

In fact at times I feel bad for him, wishing that he would have success. But I keep going back to this statement he made. A statement that never should have been made. A statement that (along with “The Decision”) made it okay to cheer against him.

Not 1 [championship], “Not 2. Not 3. Not 4. Not 5. Not 6. Not 7. And when I say that I really believe it. … The way we’re going to challenge each other in practice, once the game starts it’s going to be easy. I mean with me and D-Wade running the wing, I mean Pat [Riley] could come back and play like he was in his Kentucky days. Just throw it up there and we’re gonna get it.

Saying something like this would be like going into a new job and saying, “Because I am here, you will make not 1 million dollars, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7. The sky is the limit. It is going to be easy.”

Some might be inspired, or already annoyed by a statement like this. But after a couple of years go by and the newest brand of “Heat Ovens” are only making $500K, there would start to be some giggles when he walks into the lunch room. And these would turn to outright hilarity if the entrance into the company included smoke and screams. See below.

So hate him, or love him, he has a target on his back, and don’t forget, he put himself in this position.


One of my favorite sportswriters, Rick Reilly has a great piece on Rick Pitino. I encourage you to read it.

Rick Pitino is not walking through that door. Not the Rick Pitino you knew. Not the bug-eyed screamer, the arrogant New York know-it-all. He has swallowed too much heartache to be that man anymore.

No, the 59-year-old Rick Pitino who walks through that door at this Final Four, the one who leads these Louisville Harry Potters into their fight with the Kentucky Voldemorts this Saturday, this Pitino is changed. He’s grayer and softer and happier. He laughs. He indulges. He forgives.

Linsanity Bag

February 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

Bill Simmons does his mailbag on who else, but Linsanity.

Q: Do you see how the Garden is electric with Jeremy Lin? He’s a legend in NY in less than 2 weeks. That’s what LeBron never realized. If he came to The NYK every single game would be like that. We as a city are so starved for basketball success that if he brought us a championship he would have been a Greek god in NYC just walking along with the mortals. I hate LeBron.
— KDubb, Queens, N.Y.

SG: You shouldn’t hate LeBron. You should hate the judgment/instincts/business acumen of his “advisors” (the numbskulls who pushed him toward Miami and/or didn’t talk him out of it); how he walked away from the single biggest basketball challenge (winning a championship with the star-crossed Knicks, which would have made him immortal); his bizarre choice to play with his biggest rival over trying to beat him (who does that???); the fact that he played in Madison Square Garden FOR SIX SEVEN STRAIGHT SEASONS without realizing there’s a different energy in that building (????); or this current NBA culture in which people look at themselves as “brands” instead of “basketball players” and make every decision accordingly (and ironically, no decision for LeBron’s “brand” would have been better than LeBron saving the Knicks).

Look, I love the Lin story — I can’t get enough of it. I have been following the NBA my entire life; it’s always the other leagues that had Fernandomania, Fidrych or Teeeeeee-bowwwwwwwww! Basketball isn’t supposed to have surprises like this. On a basketball court, talent always wins out no matter what game you’re watching. It happens at every level — whether you’re playing pickup, high school ball, intramurals, college ball, D-League, whatever. You always know who the best player is; you can always tell substance from sizzle; you can always differentiate the gamers from the frauds; and even when we have a late NBA bloomer (like, say, Bruce Bowen), it’s always someone who clearly had an elite skill, then figured out how to augment it with just enough other stuff to become a valuable player. People don’t come out of nowhere in the NBA. That’s why Billy Ray Bates was the go-to reference these past seven days — what else were you going to say? Even someone like Ben Wallace (a more modern example of a normal “late NBA bloomer”) excelled as a bench player for Washington before exploding for Orlando.

What’s happening with Lin right now? Unprecedented. I have never seen it before.

Q: Do you know what impresses me most about Jeremy Lin? The genuinely giddy reactions he inspires from his teammates. Watch the aftermath of his game-winning shot against the Raptors: Jared Jeffries nearly dislocates a shoulder with a flying hip-bump, Steve Novak inexplicably begins humping Linsanity’s leg, Tyson Chandler heaves him about two feet into the air. Not one teammate seems remotely jealous of his statistics, heroics, or instant worldwide adoration. And it’s not just any team rallying around his success; it’s the New York Knicks, the league’s most perpetually dysfunctional franchise (that doesn’t have Don Sterling’s greasy fingerprints all over it). Isn’t that more amazing than any shot he’ll ever hit in his life?
— S.K.E. Banerjee, NYC

SG: And that’s been one of my favorite things about Linsanity. The Knicks were going to miss the playoffs; even worse, it was genuinely depressing to watch them. Offensively, they looked broken — two ball-stopping forwards, no point guard, no shooters — and their coach was sitting glumly on the sidelines with one of those vacant “please, fire me, I’m not man enough to quit” looks on his face. Their fans were slowly starting to panic about Carmelo’s crappy season, especially with Danilo Gallinari (whom they loved last year) emerging as a star in Denver. If that wasn’t bad enough, anyone who lived in New York couldn’t watch the team because the MSG Network disappeared from their cable systems. There was just a general plague hanging over the team. You could feel it. Especially when you went to the games. Stuck at 8-15 without Carmelo and Amar’e, you could say they were — unequivocally — at the do-or-die portion of their regular season.

Then, Lin starts playing at point guard … and within a week, they’re acting like a 15-seed pulling off a March Madness upset (only game after game). And yeah, I know race is hanging over this story — sometimes that happens for phony reasons, sometimes it happens for real ones, and in this case, it’s real and should hang over it a little. But if Lin happened to be white or black, I’d like to think this story would be 85 percent as fun — it’s mostly about his style of play (wildly entertaining), the whole out-of-nowhere underdog thing (always our favorite type of story as sports fans), its effect on Knicks players and Knicks fans (basically, it’s turned both groups delirious) and the fact that it’s the Knicks (who have four generations of fans, play in our biggest market and needed a feel-good story more than just about any other team). You know what’s really amazing? That he saved the Knicks’ playoff hopes AND saved his coach’s job has almost been an afterthought.

(Also an afterthought: What about Friday night’s Lakers game, when Lin was staring at a mountain of hype, a nationally televised audience, that super-excited Knicks crowd and an almost certain letdown game … and instead, he rose to the occasion and enjoyed the best performance of his career? That performance single-handedly extinguished the “Is this a flash in the pan?” dialogue and made people recalibrate his NBA ceiling. Oh, and it ended up being the perfect ending to a sports movie that’s now on its seventh or eighth ending. He could have faded into Flip Murray-esque obscurity after that Lakers game and still lived off it for the next 20 years. Instead, it’s just a small part of a much bigger story. Incredible.)



I began reading Bill Simmons simultaneously with when the Boston Celtics got the big three. In fact both passions fueled the other. I would log onto ESPN whenever they played a playoff game and gobble up the hilarity that flowed from Simmons pen. It was especially good when they played the Lakers. Owen Strachan pointed out that there is a long article on him in the NYT. Mahler is right to when saying the following that makes Bill Simmons distinct and interesting:

For Simmons, this distinction — between fan and columnist — doesn’t really exist. Unlike many sportswriters, for whom detachment is a point of professional pride, Simmons makes no pretense of neutrality. This is at least one explanation for his extraordinary popularity. According to ComScore, Simmons’s “Sports Guy” Web column, which he publishes every 10 days or so, attracted 740,000 unique visitors in April, making him probably the most widely read sportswriter in America today.

Owen’s reflection on Simmons is worth pondering:

Perhaps we evangelicals can learn something by the way Simmons connects with his audience.  He’s a real guy, he wears his passions on his sleeve, and he interacts with his readers like they actually matter.  He doesn’t write or lead (in his way) from an athletic Mount Olympus; he seems like a friend you might have as a sports fan, albeit the highly intelligent, uncouth, emotional fan who will burst a blood vessel arguing whether Mark Jackson or Travis Best was a better pass-first point guard.

There’s something about Simmons’s approach for us to consider, I think.  Those who are in ministry, who are leaders in some way, are not unapproachable demi-gods.  We’re very normal people.  We should work hard to connect with the people we lead and seek to reach for the glory of Christ.  We can work entrepreneurially for the advancement of the kingdom–a fun subject for another day–but we should always do so with people, real people, in mind, not our own glory.

All About Lebron

June 9, 2011 — Leave a comment

For sports fans, nothing gets a conversation going like the question, “What do you think about Lebron James?”

His “decision” created a vast swath of haters, while there are still many who have switched from Cleveland to Miami. There are so many opinions swirling around about Lebron James, it is hard to keep track of them (a valid question might be if it is worth it).

Well here are a couple different interesting different opinions about him.

  • First, Rick Reilly argues that Lebron is playing as big as ever. (Mind you this came before game 4).  He says, “If anything, the way James is playing has only made him double in greatness. James’ legend isn’t shrinking, it’s swelling up like a Macy’s float.I’m the last guy that wants to write a glowing column about LeBron James. I hate how he conspired to get to Miami, hate how he took a short cut to a ring. But you’d have to be visually impaired not to see that James is playing gorgeous, selfless, complete basketball.
  • Bill Simmons called game 4 another Lebrondown. He says:  “Fact: It’s better for the NBA that LeBron James melted down in Dallas, disappeared and extended his “Wait a second, what the hell just happened???” streak to two straight years. Now it’s threatening to become a late-spring tradition along the lines of Father’s Day, the U.S. Open,and MTV cutting a “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” trailer that ends with someone about to be punched in the face. Why isn’t LeBron shooting? Why isn’t he driving to the basket? Why does his face look like the face of a little kid who just got called in front of the entire class? Why is his performance making me want to google the Wiggles’ “Hot Potato” video? Does he realize this game is being televised? You can’t call it a meltdown or a breakdown; that would belittle what happened. Call it a LeBrondown.”
  • Over at Mockingbird they are arguing that Lebron still has to define if he is Batman or Robin, or if there are two leaders on this team. Tonight will be a big deciding factor.

Overall, I think Bill Simmons is right on these couple of points:

Fact: The Decision was the best thing that happened to the NBA in 15 years.

Fact: The Decision’s aftermath created the league’s most polarizing juggernaut in two decades. The Heat were booed in sold-out arenas across the country even as they were selling more jerseys than any other team. For the first five weeks of the regular season, the constant negativity affected the players; you could see it on their faces. In the words of the great Cliff Poncier, all that negativity eventually made them stronger. They reclaimed their status as title favorites, rolled through Boston and Chicago, made the Finals, and morphed into something of a preening, self-satisfied, overconfident bully — basketball’s version of Mike Tyson in the 1980s, so athletically overpowering that it actually seemed to psyche out opponents.During that whole time, they never stopped being compelling. Not once.

Fact: If Miami blows this Finals after choking away Games 2 and 4, after everything that happened since The Decision and The Gratuitous Party One Night After The Decision, the Internet might explode. I’m not kidding. You’re going to log on the next morning and there will just be a picture of a mushroom cloud.

On Phil Jackson

May 13, 2011 — Leave a comment

The Sports Guy writes about his interview Phil Jackson earlier in the season. It is a great article, especially the parts about Kobe and Jordan. Simmons argues that Jackson might be the best coach in history because of his ability to manage people.

He never gets enough credit for successfully handling two of the three most difficult NBA superstars ever: Jordan and Kobe (with Wilt being the third). Jordan’s ongoing ruthlessness threatened the basic concept of a “team” — instead of being supportive, he was withering. He had to win all the time, every time. If he sensed someone might be a weak link, Jordan shattered their confidence rather than building it up. During any times of real struggle on a basketball court, he trusted himself over everyone else and played accordingly. Jackson tempered his most unlikable qualities while accentuating the good ones, steering him toward a team framework without compromising the ferocity that defined him.

His smartest small-picture move was pitting Pippen and Jordan on opposite sides in every scrimmage, which kept both players sharp and ensured their practices were properly competitive; otherwise, Jordan would have gone for a shutout every game. His smartest big-picture move was his handling of Jordan’s baseball sabbatical, when he reminded Michael that he was an artist more than a basketball player, and that, by walking away, he would be depriving millions of a chance to experience that art. He never tried to change Michael’s mind, just reminded him what was at stake. For Jordan, that cemented their relationship and opened the door for Michael’s eventual return; he knew Jackson cared about him as something more than a meal ticket. When people dismiss Jackson’s credentials with “Anyone could have coached Michael Jordan,” they are wrong.

Kobe presented a different set of issues, as we’ve rehashed ad nauseam over the past ten years. Jackson won five rings with him, but not before walking away in 2004 (and ripping Kobe to shreds in an astonishingly critical book), then returning a year later and eventually working out a manageable compromise. Jackson dealt with Kobe the same way parents deal with raising young kids: You know you’ll have good days and bad days, so you can’t dwell on the bad ones. Only once did Kobe nearly shoot the Lakers out of a title — Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, when Boston’s strategy hinged on doubling Kobe, forcing “hero” shots and hoping his ego would compel him to keep shooting (which it did) — but in another classic Jackson-era moment, Kobe’s teammates (Derek Fisher, especially) pulled him back into the fold. Bryant regrouped in the fourth quarter, made better decisions and helped the Lakers win the title.

And here is a great reflection on Jordan:

We talked about Michael’s steadfast refusal to blow random, meaningless road games in Sacramento, Vancouver, Cleveland or wherever, how those were the nights that made him truly special, when his entire team was dragging, when the NBA schedule demanded a Chicago loss, yet Michael just couldn’t allow it.