Believeland Pt. 3 : The Cleveland Curse Has Lifted



We finally got the #Goodassgame we all deserved. With so much history on the line, game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals felt like an NCAA title game on steroids. Conventional NBA wisdom states that the home team usually wins because role players don’t travel. Well this was not the case last night. Everyone who played chipped in for Cleveland.

Kevin Love got 7 rebounds in the first quarter alone, pulling in 14 total for the game. J.R. Smith, who’d been playing solid defense all series, played 38 minutes and threw in 12 points on offense. Kyrie Irving started out slow, but picked it up in the second half, scoring whenever the Cavs needed an answer on the court.

Tyron Lue shortened his bench to an 8 man rotation, with Mo Williams logging a team low 4:45. Lebron an ironman with an iron will logged a team high 46 minutes and 49 seconds. The man looked absolutely gassed during one TV timeout and yet still, he managed to pull off one of the sickest chase down blocks in playoff history.

Say what you will about Lebron James (and I have–he’ll never live down lobbying for suspensions of both Steph Curry and Draymond Green #fuckboishit), but you can’t ever say he never shows up for big games. After logging another triple double (don’t get too hung up on the 9/24 shooting) to put the Kyrie in a position to hit the game winning three pointer, with less than a minute left, Lebron won what should have been his second of back-to-back  Finals MVP’s.

All that being said, the Warriors should not have let the game get this close. They threw away possessions, they couldn’t squeeze the 50-50 balls, they had turnover after turnover during fast breaks where they had numbers, and gave the Cavs too many extra possessions. Golden State had been playing with fire all post season, and it finally caught up to them. I just had this feeling the whole game that if the Warriors were not leading by at least 5 baskets during crunch time, that the Cavs were going to find a way to win.

While Tyronn Lue  wasn’t exactly Coach of the Year material, he did enough to give Cleveland a chance to win this thing. You could tell around game 3 that he finally figured out how to use his chess pieces. Shortening his bench was a very smart move, Matthew Dellavadova was a liability every time he was on the court. Channing Frye gave up more backdoor than–never mind that’s just too easy of a joke to make.

Keeping Tristan Thompson on the floor kept the Warriors from going small, and when Andre Bogut got hurt (an underrated passer in addition to his defense and rebounding), it spelled trouble for the Warriors. Festus Ezeli is a much better player when he can just catch lobs, and any time Anderson Verajao touched the ball for more than a second, a disaster occurred.

The lack of contribution of the role players in the last two series really surprised me this post season. All season long, this was Golden State’s biggest advantage over teams, and for whatever reason, they showed up to the party without even bringing a case of beer. Harrison Barnes stunk up the joint, and probably played his last game in a Golden State uniform (Kevin Durant to the Warriors may not be as far-fetched as it originally sounded–he was exactly what they needed against Cleveland. There would have been no answer for that puzzle piece).

The role players who seemed to make the most impact didn’t get much run. Leandro Barbosa (+5), Shaun Livingston (+8), and Mo Speights (+3) only played a combined 20 minutes; with Livingston getting 16 of them. I ride for Steve Kerr. He possesses one of the most intelligent basketball minds in the game today, but he made some head scratching decisions down the stretch–mainly playing Ezeli, Verajo and Barnes too much, when it was clear they weren’t going to get it done.

For my money, the turning point in that game was when Festus Ezeli got caught on a switch, and bit on the Lebron James pump fake (way out on the perimeter) that netted James three free throw attempts. Lebron hit all three, the Warriors failed to score the next time down, and then Cleveland scored with a Kyrie Irving bucket to tie it on the next possession. That was the last time in the game that Golden State had command, as things got tight for both teams for a 4 minute scoreless stretch. The Warriors quit passing, and quit moving without the ball, and became a jump shooting team that couldn’t get shots to fall. Which again, maybe the bench guys should have played more, because you know, starters get tired in these type of games.

This was akin to the Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl 2 years ago, where Seattle should have blown New England out, but the minor details allowed Tom Brady and company to hang in there long enough to figure out a way to win.

It is hard to feel sorry for Golden State. I can see why they were becoming so hated outside of Dub Nation. The bandwagon fandom surrounding their hype machine was getting tiresome (half of them Lakers fans wanting to latch onto a winner). They were depending on Andrew Bogut to remain healthy for 2 years in a row, with a front court that even the ’93 Suns would think was suspect. Their owner went on the New York Times bragging about how their organization was “light years ahead of everyone else”, and even hinted about a menage a trois with last year’s Finals Trophy (and to think people put their lips on that thing). Their star guard kept tempting the basketball gods with his circus plays and trick shots, haughtily laughing every time he ripped out the hearts of teams and fan bases alike. To be up 3-1, and to lose in this matter, is the most excruciatingly extreme serving of humble pie that can ever be served to a team. The Warriors got what they deserved, and if there is anybody I do feel for, it is the true blue fans who were coming to the games even when they sucked–the ones who seemed crazy for believing that they could beat the #1 seeded Mavericks in 2007.

I’ll be the first to say that the Draymond Green suspension was horseshit. How Dellavadova’s nutshot constituted a common foul and Draymond’s incidental contact merited a flagrant foul is beyond me. We can say that is why they lost, but there is a reason teams employ the “next man up” philosophy (NFL careers were birthed from this philosophy at the “U”). Golden State just wasn’t as good as we (or they) thought they were.

You have to give credit where credit is due. Cleveland stepped up their game when they needed to,and the Warriors played as if they were still facing the Blazers (no disrespect). Years from now, we will remember that Lebron James took a shoot first, one assist having ass point guard, an embarrassingly bad, and one-dimensional power forward, J.R. “You trying to get the pipe” Smith (someone who Chauncey Billups once famously asked George Karl to “get him the fuck out of the game”) –the textbook definition of an NBA knucklehead, Richard Jefferson’s honeycomb eating looking ass, and a bunch of other nobodies, and won a championship for one of the most cursed sports cities in the history of cursed sports cities.

If Lebron retired tomorrow, this would be enough to get him in the Hall of Fame. Last year, Lebron was John Henry, this year he is Paul Bunyan. Even a hater like me has to respect that. This man has not missed an NBA Finals since 2010, and guess what people? Barring a seismic shift in the east, he’ll probably be back next year. I would not be surprised if it is against Golden State again either. But that is for an NBA Preview to be written later.

Despite all the hullabaloo about Cleveland and Lebron and curses, let us not forget who the real winner was last night: Oscar Robertson. To borrow a phrase from Jason Whitlock, he was probably “watching last night’s game, cackling while rolling up a blunt.” Cleveland’s perimeter defense smothered the Splash Brothers by getting up in them and picking them up at half court–exactly the type of defense Robertson said was needed to contain those beige muthafuckas. Respect to the “Big O” and his hating ass.

Since we are at it, the biggest L goes to Under Armour, whose poster boys, Cam Newton and Steph Curry could not get it done this year when it counted the most. To quote Mars Blackmon, “is it the shoes?”

All jokes aside, this has been year 3 of this blog, and thanks to all of you who take the time to read this bullshit. This was easily the least work, and most fun of all the seasons of writing this. I may actually be getting the hang of this. Also big ups to my podcast partner, Craig Stein for starting the FullSass Podcast with me. It has been both a fun and invigorating project, and I look forward to stepping up the sass level to something fuller next season. One last shout out goes out to the PDXPats crew for all the inspiration and competition. I look forward to being on the show again, and I promise we won’t write anymore diss records if you don’t give us a reason to.

It’s been real folks. Now go out there and get some sunshine and fresh air, and live like normal folk. #Ballislife, but there is also life outside of ball.




#fullsass #thisagoodassgame



Lovable Losers: Remembering the Fab Five Era


91-93 Michigan Wolverines

Head Coach: Steve Fisher

Record: 56-14

Final Fours: 2

Big Ten Titles: 0

National Championships: 0

Starters: F Ray Jackson, F Juwan Howard, C Chris Webber,

G Jimmy King, G Jalen Rose

Key Role Players: G Rob Pelinka  C Eric Riley  F Michael Talley

With the NCAA tournament only hours away from starting (oh who am I kidding? By the time you read this, it may be the 2nd round), I thought it’d be fitting to give a quick shout out to the Michigan Fab Five. They changed the game of college basketball, taking what the Runnin’ Rebels started and taking it to a whole other level as far as style, flair, and image.

Unlike UNLV, they never won a championship, losing in the title game back to back years. In fact, they never even won a Big Ten title (something Bill Walton used to always bring up back in the day).

Were they overhyped? Perhaps. Were they revolutionary? Absolutely. No team dared to wear  baggy shorts, and low cut blacks socks. No team encapsulated the times like they did, coming onto the scene right around the beginning of the ‘golden age of hip hop’.

I was in 7th grade when the Fab Five formed, having no idea that only 30 miles away from my Dallas suburb was an 18 yr-old named Jimmy King, who could jump out of the gym. In fact, I’d never even watched a full college basketball game up until the 1991-92 NCAA tournament. My dad rooted for teams like  UNLV, Arkansas and Georgetown,  because they had “more brothas” playing for them. The games were always on in the background, but the only sports I liked back then were football and baseball.

That all changed after watching my first Michigan basketball game. These guys were brash, fun, and high flying. Nothing gave me a bigger thrill than watching Chris Webber throw down an alley-oop dunk, and Jimmy King in the open court was an automatic two points. After watching them play the Bob Huggins coached Cincinnati Bearcats (led by Nick Van Exel) in the semi-finals, I spent the rest of the eveing practicing Jalen Rose’s lefty leaner in my buddy’s driveway.

I made some academic mistakes that forced my mother to ground me from television, and I was stuck listening to the championship game against Duke on the radio. The first half of the game went well for Michigan, but Duke dismantled them in the second half of the game. I listened in dissatisfaction while trying to imagine what Webber’s 360 dunk must have looked like on television.

We didn’t have cable at my house. This made every televised Michigan game an event, and I sat in front of the living room tv humming the “Hail to the Victors” fight song during the timeouts. One particular conference game between the Wolverines and Hoosiers was especially memorable because it got interrupted by local coverage of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco.

I knew nothing about David Koresh, and had never been to Waco, and couldn’t care less at the time about any of it. The game was over by the time they cut back to the action. Indiana fans were cheering and the Wolverines were sulking on the sidelines as time expired.

The Fab Five run through the tournament was not a thing of beauty. They had trouble scoring at times because they weren’t a very good three point shooting team. Rob Pelinka (also known as NBA superagent to players like Kobe Bryant and James Harden) was their biggest outside threat off the bench. You could see how things opened up inside when he was in the game, as teams couldn’t sag off.

Their bench was also pretty young and thin; one that only went 8 deep at best. It goes to show just how good their starting five were because everyone (not named Ray Jackson) played over 1,000 minutes for the season.

I wonder now in hindsight if playing all five freshman (and sophomores) as starters was the best idea. Chemistry aside, I wonder just how more effective the second unit would have been had  King and Jackson led the helm.

Back then, small ball wasn’t really a thing outside of teams like FSU (with their 3 guard attack of Bobby Sura, Charlie Ward, and Sam Cassell) and sometimes Duke, but this era of Michigan ball sometimes looked unbalanced.

UCLA and Kentucky took the Wolverines to the limit before bowing out of the tournament, and a part of me wonders if they were spent by the end of that championship game against North Carolina. Mental fatigue can make people do funny things, and maybe that contributed to that ill fated timeout (causing me to lose my first ever sports bet).

There are plenty of games to watch online (courtesy of the NCAA vault), if you feel yourself geting nolstagic for the New Edition of 90’s basketball. They were not the most fundamentally sound of teams, and they rubbed a lot of old white people the wrong way, but they were still a lot of fun to watch.

You can’t look at the career paths of the Freshman Fab Five and say they were losers. Webber and Rose has gone on to have outstanding careers in the media, while Howard is an assistant coach for the Miami Heat. Ray Jackson runs an elite basketball program for Austin youth. Jimmy King is mentoring youth in Detroit.

King and Jackson didn’t do much professionally after Michigan, while Webber, Howard, and Rose played on various entertaining teams in the NBA (Howard of course got a couple of rings with the Heat).

You can bring up the off the court controversies that caused Michigan to vacate the wins, and you can always bring up the fact that Michigan never won any kind of championship. But as Jalen Rose himself says, “there is the scoreboard, and there is the score of the game of life.” I think you can say they all won in that regard–especially Rob Pelinka, that dude is filthy rich.

’93 Til………….

1993-1994 was a weird sports year for me. Fresh off a 2nd consecutive Super Bowl win, Jerry Jones lost his mind and started the downward spiral that we now call the Dallas Cowboys.

The Texas Rangers were just exciting enough to grab fans’ attention, but not quite good enough to make it pay off.

The Dallas Mavericks were awful, and it wasn’t until we finally got cable at  our house, that I was able to see the other options out there. To give you a sense of how pathetic the Quinn Buckner  run Mavs were, the Cowboys won more games than they did that season.

My mother and I moved to Dallas from the suburbs, and one of the few perks of that move was that we finally got cable (and free pay-per-view, but that is a tale for another site). Now I could not only watch the national games on NBC, but if I wished I could watch WGN (home of the “GOAT” Michael Jeffrey Jordan), and now I could watch ESPN highlights of other teams.

The Suns were fun to watch back then, but the Knicks had a particular appeal to me as well. My dislike for MJ and my respect for Pat Riley forced me to take notice of a budding rivalry growing between the two teams. When I watched the ’92 Eastern Conference Finals,


it was the first time basketball had gotten my hyped about a matchup that wasn’t Cowboys-Niners. I liked that there was an actual team that would stand up to the Bulls and not be intimidated by his “airness.”

The 92 Knicks pushed the Bulls to the brink before they got their asses handed to them in game 6 of the ECF. The Bulls of course went on to beat the Suns in the Finals.

Xavier McDaniel had a cool name and looked cool, and the Knicks jerseys were dope (I also always wanted this T-shirt). I could fuck with these cats.

Now what did I know about basektball back then? Barely anything at all. But I couldn’t stand Jordan. He traveled and refs never called him for it. He was constantly palming the ball, and if you breathed on him, you got called for a foul.

Loving that era of Knicks basketball is akin to thinking about the girls I dated when I was a teenager. I didn’t know anything about romance, love, or basketball. I just went with what felt good (and what was convenient).

Knicks presented an alternative to what everyone else liked, so I went with it. There is no way I’d watch a team like that these days (Grit N’ Grind Grizz maybe the closest thing we have to those Knicks squads).

Compared to the free flowing movement, and teamball played in today’s era, those Knicks teams played mud ball. They were tough, physical, but watching them score was like trying to “squeeze blood from a turnip.”

Much like the Grit N’ Grind Grizzlies though, there were some characters on those squads. Even though I grew up loving the 80’s Hurricanes, Charlie Ward was a dude I respected, because he’d won a Heisman at Florida State, and he’d always given the Hurricanes the fits. The fact that he also was good enough to play professional basketball was very impressive (he, Bobby Sura, and Sam Cassell were the first 3 guard backcourt I’d ever seen).

Anthony Mason (R.I.P.) was like a left-handed poor man’s Boris Diaw, who always had a fresh cut. He was a big man who could handle the rock, was a great passer, and a good finisher at the rim.


John Starks had a bad ass commercial that will forever be a bond for me and my little brother. There was also of course this dunk that will forever be in the playoff pantheon of dunks.

A lot of people dug Patrick Ewing, but I was more into Oakley as a player. I’m not sure if I ever forgave him for not yamming that botched finger roll against the Pacers that would have given them a chance for the Conference title in 1995. Ewing was finesse, but Oakly was a rock, and the team enforcer.

Offensively he didn’t do a whole lot, but he was an underrated passer, and a pretty decent rebounder (though let’s be honest I didn’t know shit about rebounding back then).  What I liked most about Oakley though was that no one fucked with him. 2684052-9996374918-charl

The look on his face was enough of a veiled threat that only the biggest and baddest would dare to take him on. This of course was great theater to 15 year old me.

Greg Anthony, star point guard of the UNLV Running Rebels, was my dude. I feel like he didn’t get enough run in New York, but I suspect that it may have been because he was a defensive liablity. When he moved west to Portland, I instantly tuned into more Trailblazers games.

Another reason to root for the Knicks was that at one point, they had at least 3 former Dallas Mavericks on their squad: Derek Harper, Rolando Blackmon, Herb Williams, and even James Donaldson had a cup of coffee and an “Everything” bagel with Whitefish there in New York.

Of that group, Harper was the only one to really contribute anything offensively. “Ro” at this point was too old to get major run, although Herb Williams was decent enough to give 6 fouls as a big man (and as a teenager became code for scoring bud–like “Hey did ya’ll invite Herb Williams to come play pickup with us?”).

Poor Charles Smith will always be known for getting his cookies taken from him.

I was never what you would call a Knicks fan, but I rooted for them. In the summer of 1994, I was either watching a Knicks game, or a New York Rangers game, and I thought it was cool that the city of New York (which back then was still a bit of an absraction that I would never fully comprehend until my first visit there in 2000) could get two major championships within a week’s time span.

I was too removed to be more than mildly disappointed after each playoff loss (always under the weirdest circumstances too, remember this?). By the time they got to the post-lockout Finals, I was barely into sports at all (I affectionately call this period my “foggy” years).

NBA basketball is always more exciting when the Knicks are relevant, and its imperative that I visit Madison Square Garden for a Knicks game sometime in the near future.

The future is bright for Knicks fans. They seem to be moving int he right direction, and believe it or not, I trust in Phil. I hope they make the playoffs this year, and I hope they finally become serious contenders within the next 3-4 years. masonriley1

Though the 90’s Knicks never won a title, the fact that Pat Riley was able to build something worth rooting for is a testament to how brilliant he is. That team was not very talented at all, but everyone knew their role and worked with the skill set they posessed.

Pat Riley went from “Showtime Lakers” to the bruising style of basketball that epitomized what people thought of New York. Riley just worked with what he had, and it is no accident that the Van Gundy brothers (who worked with Riley) are renowned for their ability to get their teams to overachieve.

Only a fool would call them losers. They got the most out of their abilities and pushed every team they played to the brink. Knicks fans should be proud of those teams despite their perennial disappointing endings. They never laid down, and they always fought to the very end; which is all you can ever ask of any team that you root for.





RUN OKC: A Memoriam For The 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder


Watching the 2012 playoffs made me feel like I was witnessing the ascension of one franchise and their franchise player. I’d been keeping tabs on Kevin Durant since the year his Freshman year at UT and my time in Austin coincided. There was nothing that could convince me he wasn’t going to be a star in the NBA. By his third year, I’d concluded that not only was he my favorite NBA player, but my favorite NBA player of all time.

His first year in Oklahoma City was a rough one, the team lost often, but you could see the progress. Tickets were still cheap then, and there were still people in the city that had no idea there was a permanent NBA team.

When Pau Gasol’s put back bucket ended the 2010 season, there was no denying that the team and the city had embraced each other. 2011 brought more expectations, and the team did not disappoint. RUN OKC was born.

Even though the Dallas Mavericks dismantled the Thunder during key 4th quarter stretches in the Western Conference Finals, there was reason to be optimistic for the OKC boys. 2012 did not disappoint, and despite the beat down that was handed to the Thunder, it was still fun to watch what I thought was only the beginning of a budding dynasty in the west.

Little did we know that James Harden would force his way out of town by grabbing 80 Million to ball for Houston, and the following three seasons would be compromised by injuries to key players. But things were still innocent in 2012. It was one thing to hope for a trip to the NBA Finals. It was another thing altogether to watch it happen.

Once a team gets that close to winning it all, nothing is the same. Expectations change because the ceiling has been raised. Its like the first time you drink organic milk out of a glass bottle, or smoke really good weed after only trying Mexican dirt swag.

I feel like this year’s roster is on paper the most balanced squad that Sam Presti has ever assembled, but the 2012 was special to me for sentimental reasons. Three of my favorite college players of all time were on the same team in Royal Ivey (one of the nicest Longhorns on campus when he played there), Kevin Durant, and Nick Collison, and I’d seen Kendrick Perkins in his “Baby Shaq” days at Beaumont Ozen High School. James Harden wasn’t annoying yet, and Russell Westbrook was just coming into his own. They were a fun to team to watch.

The Starters on that team were:

C Kendrick Perkins

PF Serge Ibaka

SF Kevin Durant

SG Thabo Sefelosha

PG Russell Westbrook

The Key reserves:

SG James Harden

PG Eric Maynor

SG Daequan Cook

PG Derek Fisher

PF Nick Collison

Head Coach : Scotty Brooks

Regular Season Record: 47-19 Northwest Division Champions

After posting 47 wins in a lockout shortened regular season, expectations were tempered, but hopeful, that somehow the Thunder would at least make the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs were steamrolling opponents in the first 2 rounds of play, and it seemed inevitable that Oklahoma City was only cannon fodder for San Antonio on the way to their next championship parade (isn’t it crazy that there were almost 3 Spurs-Heat Finals Series?).

Kevin Durant and company had other plans however. Game 1 of the first round series foretold that the Thunder’s playoff run would be the revenge plot out of a basketball movie.

Mavericks got swept and the ghosts from the previous Western Conference Finals were exorcised.

Round 2 gave RUN OKC a chance to enact revenge against the soon to be LOL Lakers and Metta World Peace. Their recent run-ins had become testy at best, as the upstart Thunder had been giving the Lakers fits during the last couple of years. It was the young pups vs. the old dogs, and the biting had become less playful.

The Thunder were clearly faster, stronger, and better. The Lakers were just coasting on a dubious championship run (Denver and Orlando were talented enough to knock them out but they nutted up–and the refs had conveniently swallowed their whistles in the Lakers favor during a crucial stretch in game 7 of the 2010 Finals).

It was basketball justice to watch the LOL’s get that ass whupped–much like seeing a bully finally get what they deserve.

Round 3 against the Spurs was some of the best and worst basketball I’d seen during a WCF. There were stretches of incredible basketball, and there were times when I wanted to throw a shoe at the television.

Game 1 was probably the best game of that entire series from a pure basketball standpoint. There were so many OMFG plays that I went back and downloaded the game for whenever I needed to scratch that itch for “Hoops Porn”

The Spurs won that game and the next one, and with a 2-0 lead, the question wasn’t whether the Spurs were going to win it all, but were they even going to lose on their way to a title. The Spurs were 10-0 during the playoffs at that point, and had won 20 straight games going back to the regular season.

But RUN OKC had something to say about that and won 4 straight games, leaving San Antonio befuddled and confused, something I rarely saw from a Gregg Popovich coached team.

I was there when the Thunder clinched the West in game 6, and that was the loudest venue I’d ever been in at that point (Game 2 of the Finals’ volume would eclipse that night–and I hadn’t been to a Warriors game yet).

Game 4 of this series was the apex in my opinion, with KD scoring 36 in the game–18 of them in the final quarter. That shit was unreal to watch live.

This was the point where it was clear that my man was going to be a SUPER DUPER STAR, and everyone finally had to acknowledge it. It made for good cinema. Unfortunately in every good revenge movie, there is a foil, and the Thunder were about to face them.


Everyone remembers this:

and this.

Side Note: Is it just me, or does Lebron seem remarkably younger in this clips? He seems to have aged in the same ways that U.S. presidents age after a full 8 year term. I’m sure as great as those feelings were winning those chips, I can’t even imagine the stress he has faced in taking on that challenge.

I was very happy for Dallas Mavericks fans when they were able to deny the Miami “Lebrons” a title in their first year together. If you enjoy schadenfreude, then watching Jason Kidd whip the ball around to Dirk who whipped the ball to Jason Terry for open shots was enough to make a person giddy–or if you like watching grown men cry. The Heat losing that finals was their reward for doing everything the “wrong way”.

They were the perfect foil to the OKC Thunder and their (rightly or wrongly) choir boy personas.

As much as I wanted to see KD get that ring, they were just outmatched. Scotty Brooks was outcoached (not for the last time) and when Harden wasn’t on the court, it was a 2 on 5 offensive game, with way too much isolation play. This played right into the Heat’s hands who were smothering on defense.

Oklahoma City wasn’t ready for what the Heat had for them. Brooks had no adjustments for the series, and after game 2, it was clear that the moment was a little too big for OKC (especially Harden who had a terrible Finals).

Game 1 was a misleading blowout in the Thunder’s favor, and although Game 2 could have easily been won (terrible no call in the final seconds on a foul by Lebron), OKC had trouble achieving any sort of offensive flow. I was in the stands that night, and what should have been an enjoyable experience, only left me frustrated and hoarse from screaming so loudly.

3 games later, the series was over. The Thunder had their best chance to reverse their fortunes in game 4, but the person keeping them in the game, also contributed to the most devastating play in crunch time.

It was over just like that. Grown men were once again crying.
Others were basking in their redemption.

But everyone knew that this wasn’t the end. There was still another run for RUN OKC right? This only seemed like the part of the basketball movie where the team bonds during off-season workouts and then come back to face the villainous bad boys in a rematch and take the title from them.

But we know what happened next don’t we? No reason to go into all that again. There are countless columns by former ESPN employees that do this ad nauseum. I will say that I feel like I got robbed of my Hollywood ending–kinda like watching a movie for 2 hours at the theater and the projector craps out right before the climax.

It is hard to call a team that makes the NBA Finals losers. OKC got a taste of the good life. People started visiting Oklahoma City for reasons other than seeing the Bombing Memorial.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the most marketable players in the NBA (and let’s not forget that Harden is at least 280 million dollars richer since missing that crucial breakaway dunk in game 4 of that finals).

Yes, it is hard to call a team that has had such success for the past five years, losers, but each season preceding 2012 has been increasingly frustrating.

Unlike the 2013 Spurs who redeemed themselves after a heartbreaking Finals loss, with an even better roster that demolished the Heat (and destroying any need to write a requiem for that team),each season since 2012 has been increasingly frustrating for the Thunder.

Russ got hurt the very next season to a team that wouldn’t have made the playoffs if not for James Harden. Ibaka was hurt the year after that and they watched the Spurs advance. And of course KD broke his foot twice last year. Is this the “Curse of Daniel Plainview“–the Sonicsgate Curse?

Or is it just a series of increasingly bad decisions?

OKC should be odds on favorite to come out of west if they are healthy and all of this may be forgotten. The bottom could fall out just as easily though, if KD and Westbrook split for greener pastures. Then again, they could just as easily compete for championships for the next few years, while James Harden becomes the first player to play through being cursed two years in a row (the Khardashian curse is real).

Are we approaching an era where we see Oklahoma City-Cleveland series 3 years in a row (Golden State may have something to say about that)? I think this season will be the big fork in the road for Russ, Kevin Durant, and the Thunder franchise. If both KD and Russ end up leaving, people will point to this season as the fork in the road for everyone, but history might show that 2012 was the real turning point. We are only a week away from finding out.


Loveable Losers: 2002-2003 Kansas Jayhawks

Basketball season has only been over for a couple of weeks, but for anyone who suffers from the “Jones” as badly as I do, there are remedies. I’ve been traveling a great deal for the past month, but anytime I hit a lull, I go to the NCAA Vault and pull up an old game–usually from the 2002-2003 era.

Why that time period? Well in my honest opinion, I think it was the golden age of Big 12 basketball. The Big 12 was littered with big name coaches. Kelvin Sampson was over at Oklahoma coaching Hollis Price and Quannis White.

Eddie Sutton had some great players at Oklahoma State in John Lucas III, Tony Allen, Ivan McFarlin, the Graham brothers, Desmond Mason  (a few years before), and Victor and Andre Williams.

Rick Barnes had some guy named T.J. Ford who is only the best point guard in UT history. Lastly, you have Roy Williams coaching at Kansas (they had some sweet uniforms those years).

It is no secret that the 2002-2003 team was one of my favorite college basketball teams of all time. Watching that squad get up and down the court was a thing of beauty with the backcourt of Aaron Miles and “Captain” Kirk Hinrich (Wichita States’s Ron Baker and Fred Van Fleet kinda low key remind me of them).

Keith Langford is one of my all time favorite wing players. He was dazzling and flashy, but he was also almost always in control. “K-freeze” just got buckets, and could finish once he got to the rim. Don’t let me get started on Nick Collison. We’ll get to him in a second.

For those of you tapping that vein, and in need of some good ass games to watch, I give you the best five Kansas Jayhawks games from 2002-2003. Honorable mention goes to this match from the 2001-2002 season affectionately know as the Juan Dixon game.

#5 Senior Night

Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich go out in style vs. the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Definitely worth the stop in, even though the clip ends pre-maturely. You also get to see glimpses of Tony Allen’s world class NBA defense in this game and see why he has become such a good pro.

#4 The Nick Collison Game

This is one of the best, most intense regular season games you will ever watch. I remember it like it was yesterday. Texas and Kansas were in the top 5 that year; both having lost to Arizona (a team that everyone thought was going to win it all that year).

T.J. Ford puts on a clinic in this week, and almost willed UT to a Big Monday win in Allen Fieldhouse, but Nick Collison put up a nasty double-double; taking James Thomas to school, before fouling out after the game was already in hand. It is as beautiful now as it was to watch live.

#3 The Nick Collison Game part 2

With Duke’s weak ass front line that year, I knew the Jayhawks would do well in the paint, but how many people expected Collison to put up a 30-20 night? There were many reasons to hate Duke back then. Dahntay Jones (who I’m shocked to find had one of the highest scoring averages in that tournament–look it up if you don’t  believe me. It was something crazy like 24.6 pts) was a star on that team.

Sheldon Williams was a poor man’s Carlos Boozer (that isn’t meant to be as harsh as it sounds. Boozer was pretty nasty in college and was a big reason why they won it in 2001). J.J. Redick was always great until he got to the big stage and had to play against taller and faster players. Anyway, Collison carried them to victory that game, because Hinrich didn’t play all that well in that game.

#2 The Carmelo Anthony/ Gerry McNamera Show

Despite the outcome, this was a good ass game. Kansas had no business being as far behind as they were. I feel like Roy Williams got outcoached in this one. After Keith Langford picked up his second foul guarding Carmelo Anthony, I would have switched it up, gone zone or put Michael Lee on him.

Langford was too important for their offense going against Syracuse’s 2-3. He made it a lot easier for them to get buckets with his passing and penetration. Sure he picked up a phantom foul that disqualified him during “winning time”, but he shouldn’t have been put in that position to begin with.

The Jayhawks also shot less than 50 % on the free throw line. Everyone on Syracuse had big moments in the biggest game, while the moment seemed a bit too big for Kansas. Even though Syracuse was slightly deeper, I still to this day think that if the teams played a best of 7 series, then KU would have won 5 of those 7 games.

This is also why I cannot in good conscience put this as # 1. Its a shame that this was the last college game for Hinrich and Collison, because I’d have liked to have seen them go out winners. Even though Kansas lost the title game, they were anything but losers. They came out of arguably  the toughest conference that year, and the road they took just to get to the title game was extremely difficult.

Which brings us to #1 The Arizona Game

Arizona was the best team all year that season, and they were heavy favorites. They had beaten Texas and Kansas already that year and they were deep. Future NBA champions Andre Iguodala and Luke Walton were key cogs on that unit, along with Jason Gardner, Salim Stoudamire, and Rick Anderson. Plus, Lute Olson was doing some of his best coaching.

This was the game to be nervous about. Kansas played a great team game and pulled it out, but it was a nail biter. It was a good ass game (Just one of many good ass games that tournament). If I were to recommend any of these five, I’d say jump on this one first. But they all good ass games if you ask me. This was a special year, and you could look up at least 20 games from that year’s tournament and by halftime you’ll be saying, “Damn. This a GOOD ASS GAME.”




Lovable Losers: A new series [originally posted on 8/28/13]

I’ve been a basketball fan since I was about 12. I grew up in Dallas during the Mavericks worst years when they were owned by a guy who ran car dealerships and bowling alleys. The mavericks sucked and though I rooted for Popeye Jones, Tim Leger, and George McCloud to be successful, the brand of basketball they played was not in the least bit entertaining.

This forced me to open my eyes up to the national scene to find out what good basketball was elsewhere. 1992 was a pivotal year for me and sports: The Ticket radio station became Dallas’ first all sports station. The Cowboys won their first Super Bowl since I’d been born. My mom got me a subscription to Sports Illustrated. I had a Sega Genesis to geek out with Madden, Hardball III, NHL, and Bulls vs. Blazers. My obsession with sports began and here I am today, blogging about my favorite teams that did not win a championship (on a Saturday night no less).

There is only one team a year that can win a championship. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair, especially when a team is thoroughly fun and the brand of ball is oh so entertaining. But entertaining doesn’t always win championships and doesn’t always bring accolades. So this is my way of honoring those teams that didn’t quite have what it took to win it all, but nevertheless won my heart (Yea I know–shit’s corny but it’s true. I guess I’m becoming sentimental in my old age). This will be a series of installments of teams ranging from NFL, to MLB, to the NBA to NCAA.

To kick this bad boy off let’s reflect on the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns.

Head Coach: Paul Westphal

Key Starters- Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle

Key bench players- Danny Ainge, Richard Dumas, Tom Chambers

This was the first team I watched thoroughly during their playoff run in which they finally lost to Jordan’s (3-peat) Bulls. They were a lot of fun to watch. Dan Majerle and Danny Ainge with their long range threes. Richard Dumas and Cedric Ceballos were athletic slashers who could get to the rim. Charles Barkley of course was just traded to them and made them immediate championship contenders. The America West arena was a raucous place to watch a game with fans that went ape shit every time the Suns dialed one up from long distance.

I can remember the cover of SI that year and the feature story about Barkley (my favorite player in the world not named Chris Webber–the only pair of Nike’s I ever owned were Barkleys) finally having a legit chance to compete for an NBA title. He was at the peak of his game then and looking back its crazy to think that year was as good as he was going to get. That Finals was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Every game was competitive and entertaining. Though many point to that game 6 with the John Paxson shot that sealed the deal, I remember the equally competitive game 4.

Jordan took over at the end of that game (he had 55 pts that night and Barkley fouled Jordan on a layup attempt and couldn’t keep him from making the bucket and getting the And 1. The game was over after that and Phoenix had to eek out a 3 OT thriller just to force game 6. But they were in every game and could have easily won that series had it not been for timely mishaps and missteps which the savvy Bulls took advantage of (but I guess that is what separates great teams from championship teams isn’t it?).

If you go back and look at this roster, its easy to see why they didn’t have the horses to win. The Chicago Bulls had a better bench than they did and the Suns sucked at the center position. It was a 4 on 5 game pretty much the whole time Mark West and Oliver Miller were on the court. I have tried playing with this classic team on Xbox when me and my homey match-up and its a tough one to manage.

Usually I would play small ball with Tom Chambers playing center, Charles Barkley at the 4, Dan Majerle at small forward, Kevin Johnson running point and Danny Ainge at shooting guard. On offense this spread out the floor and opened up the court a bit (its actually pretty fun because there are so many 3 point opportunities). The problem was that defensively this lineup sucked and nobody could protect the rim and fatigue usually forced me to put in West, or Miller. They only went 8 deep and only 5 of those guys were legit offensive threats. So imagine trying to coach this team in real life instead of a video game. Paul Westphal had to get creative with that lineup.

I was incredibly annoyed to see Jordan rip their hearts out, but now with a little bit of hoops knowledge I understand why it didn’t happen for them. They were facing Jordan and Pippen and Phil Jackson, and they just weren’t balanced enough to win. Ce la Vie. I still remember the stunned feeling when this happened.

Bang! Season over that fast.

That would be the closest Barkley, KJ and company would ever get to sniffing a championship with that group. Dumas would never match the stats he put up that year (15.8 pts and 4.6 rebounds per game) and would end up finishing his career in Greece. Ceballos went on to create the “Lake Show” up in Los Angeles with Eddie Jones and Sedale Threatt. Chambers never did much after season and the core players left never seemed to get over the hump.

The Suns would bring in Danny Manning, and Waymon Tisdale to try and bring Phoenix a title, but it never happened. Mario Elie slammed Phoenix’s championship window shut with a 3 pointer in 1995. The Suns had commanding 3-1 series leads over Houston two years in a row and let them slip away twice.

In 1997 Barkley would try to team up with Drexler and Olajuwan in Houston, and that team almost made it to the Finals but someone let Stockton take a wide open 3. Once again Sir Charles was sent home to go fishing.

Though the Suns never won it all on the basketball court, some of the key players found success off the hardwood. KJ is the mayor of Sacramento and much to the chagrin of Supersonics fans was able to help keep the Kings in “Sad” Sac-town. Majerle is the head coach at Grand Canyon University according to Wikipedia. Danny Ainge helped rebuild the Celtics franchise and get them a title in ’08 as the GM (he is in the middle of another rebuilding job as we speak). And of course Barkley is ubiquitous. You see him on commercials, you see him on TNT. He is on every talk show being entertaining. So there you go, as Jalen Rose likes to say,”There is the score on the scoreboard and there is the score in the game of life.”

62 regular season wins and a thoroughly enjoyable playoff run, culminating in one of the greatest NBA Finals I have ever seen; I wouldn’t necessarily call them losers.

Lovable Losers Part Two: ’99-00 Portland Trailblazers

[Originally posted on 12/29/13]

This will probably be one of the more painful posts I will ever have to write. Not just because this was one of my favorite NBA rosters of all time, but also because it signaled the beginning of a Lakers dynasty that (arguably) should have never been. Had Portland won that series, Jalen Rose, Reggie Miller, and Rick Smits may have won themselves championship rings. Rip City might have had a different decade than the one that elicited this video essay from Bill Simmons. We would be talking about Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in a whole new light. Maybe even the 2002 Kings would have managed to not get jobbed out of a chance to compete for the NBA title. As it stands, the Lakers beat the Blazers in the ’99-00 playoffs and this play will remain in NBA folklore forever. Today we will examine one of my favorite all time teams not win a dog gone thing: the ’99-00 Trailblazers.

Head Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Team Record: 59-23


C Arvydas Sabonis, PF Rasheed Wallace, SF Scottie Pippen SG Steve Smith, PG Damon Stoudamire

Key Bench Players: PG Greg Anthony, SG Stacey Augmon PF Jermaine O’Neal, PF Brian Grant

SF Detlef Schrempf , SF Bonzi Wells

Besides Scottie Pippen, no one on the team had won an NBA championship. Scottie was supposed to be the player they needed to get them over the hump. I was never crazy about Scottie as a player (I hated the Bulls) but I had to admit the dude was good, and he definitely had championship experience playing with Jordan.

Rasheed was already one of my favorite players of all time. I had watched him as much as I could during his Carolina days and I loved his game. Rasheed could post up anyone on the block (something I always wished he’d done more of–he seemed to fall in love with shooting the 3 pointer). He could also get hot and make teams pay with his long range shooting (I remember him yelling at the Mavericks one time to “get someone on him” after he was taxing them with 3 pointers). Best of all, ‘Sheed refused to break under the iron fisted rule of David Stern. He managed to become one of the best quotable athletes of my generation (Warren Sapp is one of the other guys who comes to mind too)

Greg Anthony was one of may favorite guys too—I had first started watching hoops during his UNLV days and rooted for him when he played on the Knicks. I can’t say enough about Sabonis. I loved how he passed, I loved his shot, I loved that he was old and rickety, but still had enough old man game in him to make an impact. The whole time he played in the NBA, I wondered just how good he’d have been had he came into the league when he was young and healthy.

The rest of the guys I was whatever about. My little brother loved Bonzi for some strange reason (I think it was the head band). Mighty Mouse (Stoudamire) was an okay player, Augmon, Steve Smith, and Schrempf were good enough. I had never been too crazy about them as players, but I had owned their basketball cards at one time or another when I collected. Brian Grant seemed like a cool dude (this would be confirmed years later when I would run into him at PDX airport one summer).

There is something about game 7 of the Western Conference Finals that still haunts me to this day. I watched the game with my little brother and we laughed, oohed and awed in glee at the way the game was going. The Lakers were making mistakes and the Blazers were capitalizing on it. Los Angeles couldn’t figure out an answer to the Blazers’ offense the whole series.

Sabonis was setting up outside of the paint and daring Shaq to come and guard him. If Shaq ventured out to pick him up, Sabonis whipped a sick pass towards a cutter for an easy bucket (and for those of you who don’t know, Sabonis is one of the best passing big men the NBA has ever seen–check out this pass). If Shaq stayed in the paint, then Arvydas just hoisted up a 3 ball. Rasheed was popping it like he was known to do back then (he had 30 points in that game 7 while shooting only 2 3 pointers). There was even a stretch where Bonzi Wells seemed to be taking over the game (eliciting a “give it to Bonzi!” every time the Blazers brought the ball down).

To this day I can’t stand to watch replays of that game. My brother and I watched in uncomfortable silence as the Blazers all of a sudden stopped making baskets, and the Lakers started to digging into the (what appeared to be a comfortable) 15 point lead. By the time Kobe hit Shaq on the alley-oop, we were too stunned to speak. I spent the rest of the day trying to process the disappointment of not only the hated Lakers being back in the Finals, but my favorite cast of characters (since the ’93 Suns) losing their chance to face the Pacers. It reminded me of the feelings of bewilderment as I watched the Houston Oilers collapse against the Buffalo Bills in the 1992 playoffs.

So was it the Lakers defense or were the Blazers just standing around and settling on bad shots? I can’t tell you, and I don’t care to remember. But if you look at the box scores of that game you will see that Schrempf and Bonzi were the only two players to come off the bench and score (a combined total of 13 points). Robert Horry, Brian Shaw, and Derek Fisher combined for 25 points off the bench.

I can vividly recall the growing frustration with Portland’s inability to get buckets (there may have been a 8 minute scoreless stretch during the 4th quarter). They played great defense that game. If someone told me beforehand that Kobe would only get 25 points and Shaq would only get 18 points on 5 for 9 shooting, I would have penciled in a W for the Blazers. But it just wasn’t meant to be. No one could get any buckets in the paint (Sabonis and Pippen combined to score as many as Shaquille).

I’m sure some of the outcome has to do with the coaching match up of Phil Jackson vs. Mike Dunleavy. I’m sure by game 7 Phil had made the necessary adjustments to curb the Sabonis-O’Neal advantage that Portland had been exploiting over the course of the series. I’m also certain that Phil had made sure the Lakers stuck to their defensive assignments and forced Portland to be a jump shooting team.

Looking at things now as a 35 year old man, and not as an emotional 21 year Lakers hater, adds a little context to the situation. If I were to watch that tape now, it would probably be more of an examination of how brilliant of a coach Phil Jackson was, rather than revisiting one of the greatest collapses in sports history. The final score of the game was 89-84, Los Angeles, and the rest is history.

The Lakers became a dynasty and Portland well…. just watch the video essay by Simmons. I can’t necessarily say the Trailblazers were losers, they fought back from a 3-1 series deficit to get to that pivotal moment for both franchises. I can say that every Trailblazers fan I have come across since that night wears the same look of disappointment when that game 7 comes up in conversation. If you watched game 7 of the Western Conference Finals that year, its something that is impossible to forget.

Unfortunately Sabonis never got a ring, neither did Anthony,or anyone on that team other Rasheed (2004 Pistons). Only three players from that series are even active now, Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, and Jermaine O’Neal. Of the three, Derek Fisher is the only one not on the injured list (I’m not sure what this says about OKC that they are still relying on his production). O’Neal broke his hand playing for the Warriors, and Kobe of course broke his kneecap.

You know what? This post wasn’t quite as painful as I thought it would be. After careful examination, its much easier to give props to L.A. than to chastise Portland for choking. A few years ago, my buddy and I replayed this game on X-BOX, with me as Portland and he the Lakers. The game wasn’t even that close. He smashed me. Besides an occasional 3 pointer from Sabonis and Wallace, it was difficult getting buckets. I figured Greg Anthony and Schrempf would keep his team honest, but if the jumpers weren’t falling, I was in trouble. Every time I took the ball in the paint, my players would get blocked by Shaq or the ball would get stolen by one of his lengthy defenders. The frustration was building and soon I was cussing and yelling at the players on screen. His response was classic. ” Why you getting mad dude? There is a reason why they didn’t win anything. Pick a better team next time.”

Sometimes it’s not meant to be. Just ask Spurs fans.