Saturday night was one of the best sports nights I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing in a long time. Between the high-scoring Stanley Cup opener between Chicago and Philly, Doc Halladay’s perfect game against the Marlins, the Red Sox’ Clay Buchholz outdueling Zach Greinke in a 1-0 gem, and the Lakers-Suns Game 6, it was a perfect night to be at a big sports bar. (And we had at least five CAC’ers reppin’ it at The Tavern at Porter Saturday night…couldn’t have asked for a better night or the awesomeness of ice cream sundaes combined with beer. Right, TSpin?)
Well, that basketball game was a pretty fantastic clash between really good teams that were throwing out everything for a shot at the Celtics in the Finals. We saw Kobe Bryant take over at the end of the game, hitting some of the most ridiculous shots a man can make with a basketball in his hands. That 23-footer with Grant Hill draped all over him was one of the most spectacular one-on-one shots in the game’s history. The ass-slap and the “not good enough” quote to Alvin Gentry just help add to the media-spurred folklore of Kobe Bean Bryant. Nine points in the last two minutes of a game that puts your team in the Finals is a great bullet point in the resume.
In reality, he’s now playing in his 8th NBA Finals and he has a legitimate chance at being considered one of the five best players to ever play in the NBA now. (1. Russell. 2. Jordan. 3. Kareem. 4. Magic. 5. Bird/Oscar/West). I know I like the Eggos, but if I can’t pick between Bird (only three titles, ten years at the zenith), Oscar (only one title and needed Kareem’s help), and Jerry West (only one title, but he ran into the Russell Celtics and the early 70s Knicks, he’s Mr. Clutch); then someone else definitely can slide into the #5 slot. That guy is most likely Kobe Bryant. And yes, a fifth title wouldn’t get him past The Mount Rushmore of NBA greats. He would need six rings to be talked about with MJ, Magic, and Kareem. Kobe Bryant, one of the five best ever? Four years ago, this was unthinkable. There’s more proof that anything can truly happen.
It’s and oh-by-the way paragraph (or two): the Celtics may be better than two years ago, but the Lakers are also much better. Kobe Bryant’s the best player in the world. Pau Gasol’s criminally underrated, he’s a top-10 player in the league and he’s tougher on the block now. Ron Artest is zany, but he had 25 points in Game 6 against the Suns and he made one of the greatest plays of this millennium (a bizarre, but wonderful play mainly because Artest did everything correctly on the last play). Lamar Odom’s playing at a very high level. And The Fish That Saved LA and Jordan Farmar are more than capable players. Bynum’s a wild-card, but he’s still way better than he was two years ago.
The Celtics’ greatest hope lies with Adam Morrison and Sasha Vucacic, two really awful players. LA has to be favored here, though this series should go six games. Not five or seven, due to the absurdly awful 2-3-2 format, but LA in an even six games. Boston has a puncher’s chance, but only if they steal both Games 1 and 2 in LA. Not happening unless Rajon Rondo dials it back up to the level of two weeks ago. Did I mention the Lakers are the defending champions? And they’ve been to three straight finals. And they have the best player in the world. Good luck, Celtics. You will need it against Kobe and the Lakers. I’m rooting for you. Remember improbable and impossible are two different words. Oh-by-the way, over.
Back to the story at hand, this is the first Finals in a good while where multiple legacies are on the line. Kobe Bryant could be one of the five greatest players ever if he wins his fifth title (see above). Paul Pierce has a chance to be a Hall of Famer (he’s not there quite yet) and one of the most clutch players of his generation with a second title. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are Hall of Famers with shots at multiple titles. Pau Gasol has a chance to prove that he is really an elite player that will be remembered throughout NBA history as a winner and a great big man. Lamar Odom has already proven he’s one of the most versatile players in the game, but this would cement him as one of the greatest Sixth Men ever. Ron Artest has a shot at his first ring and people may actually remember him as a winner, not the guy that incited a riot in Detroit. Hell, even the coaches have a chance to further their resumes as Doc can become a two-time champ or Phil Jackson can add an eleventh ring to his jewelry box. Then, there are the franchises at hand. Both team can add one more championship to the list of many. Truly, that’s the only thing that really matters as much as all the individuals will look out for their personal agendas.
While the Finals are on the horizon, that assclown in Cleveland’s not even playing and he has the gall to interview with Larry King on Finals Week about what team he’s playing for. LeBron James is looking like a bit of childish attention whore that clearly does not understand what being one of The Great Ones is all about quite yet. He’s trying to market himself, but as what exactly remains the great question. Maybe ‘Bron wants to be a global icon, a sports figure that does good for philanthropy, or maybe just himself, his family, and his entourage. However, if LeBron wants to become all of those things, then he needs to figure out how to win a championship and then he can market himself the way that a few NBA legends have before him.
We will see where LeBron’s true motives lie in the next thirty days.
Seeing the train wreck that has developed in the last month (Cleveland rolling over in Game 5 vs. Boston, Mike Brown getting fired), things look bleak for how the LBJ scenarios play out. But then again, will it even matter? Shouldn’t history and NBA banners speak the largest truths about matters like this in seeing historically who the best players and the best teams are?
Call it a hunch, but I have a bad feeling this will play out like a wrestling match with a ‘Nitro ending’ or a ‘Dusty finish’…no clear-cut answer and waffling behind-the-scenes results in unclear logic getting exposed and the fans will sniff it out in a heartbeat. No one has a problem with a small package roll-up for a pin, but going to the Cavs for a one-year deal or a three-year deal would be like having an intentional DQ finish in a pay-per-view. People will revolt on LBJ even if he’s captivated us for the moment. I hope LBJ has a great long-term vision and game plan. Where ever the heck he goes. We’re about to find out how great of a point guard LeBron James really is over the next thirty days.
(Personally, anywhere but the Knicks would serve LeBron well. The Dolans couldn’t run a Monopoly board against a bunch of fifth-graders. However, Cleveland, Dallas, New Jersey, Portland, Chicago, Miami, The Clippers, and even the Suns would all be potentially great fits for LeBron AND any other cast of good players around him.)
***** Random comparisons and difficulty of objective schtick: MJ went seven seasons without a title and he’s one of the best ever. Kobe Bryant has lost in the finals twice. Great players can get to the championship rounds and lose. It’s fairly commonplace. It’s how the great ones react to adversity that serves as the defining trait. This is my hope with LeBron James (and Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony and Steve Nash and others). The most important thing to remember is that only one team can win a title every season. Only one team can win it every year? Well, shit. Maybe it’s insanely tough to win a championship with all of these great teams and awesome players out there.
Maybe LeBron never wins a title. And that would be okay if he keeps giving us performances like he has throughout out the last 5-6 years. The manner in which he’s conducting his business is the thing to watch. I wish #23 looked at what #24 did instead of this free-agent look-at-me parade he’s currently on. LeBron could take a cue from one of his peers, who masterfully handled his future with some ridiculously good PR.
Three months ago today, a certain franchise cornerstone quietly signed a three-year extension to stay with the team that he’s been with his entire career. In a rare workmanlike and professional transaction, the announcement was broadcast without much fanfare. Clearly, the focus of the best player in the world was one thing and only one thing: winning a championship. And now, only now, has it been so clear as the wave of daily minituiae has crashed upon the pack of everyday travelers. One thing has become very clear to all of us. Even if it means egg on face, wrong predictions, and the absurdity of assessing foolish hours of speculation wasted on The LeBron Sweepstakes. One thing rings true more than anything else in the hoops world.
Unquestionably, the best basketball player in the world is Kobe Bryant. If you’re a Celtics fan, that’s why you should be cautiously optimistic.