Mommy what is a Tar Heel?

Chapel Hill was dope.  Sometimes the spirit of competition and pageantry almost makes up for the hypocrisy of the NCAA and all that it represents. Chapel Hill is a must visit for any basketball aficionado, and if you go to Chapel Hill, then you may as well take the 15 minute car ride over to Durham. I spent a few hours in Dukieland (they’d lost to Virginia earlier that day) and got to see a very appropriate photography exhibit by Bill  Bamberger over at the Nasher museum on the Duke campus.

Two things worth checking out are the origins of the nickname Tar Heel and the bizarre and tragic history of the school’s various ram mascots.

The more I learn about the UNC basketball history the more it circles back to the University of Kansas. The more I learn about Michael Jordan the more things circle back to coaches Dean Smith and Roy Williams. I could spend a whole season in Chapel Hill gathering data about the role Tar Heel basketball played in the development of modern basketball. The state of North Carolina is rich in basketball history and thus, basketball is rich in North Carolina history. And if you’ve ever wondered what makes Michael Jordan the greatest ever basketball player in modern history (no disrespect to Lebron James), then just watch this series of videos I found on Youtube.

 

 

 

 

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

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On the Legacy of LeBron James, the Future for Kevin Durant and the Zenith of Busterism

 

Kevin Durant should be celebrated. He is a fantastically gifted scorer who possesses the skills of an elite guard, but has the wingspan of a center.The University of Texas product is certainly on the way to the Hall of Fame, if not the top of the Association’s all-time scoring register. He can shoot, he can create, and as this year’s Western Conference Finals showed, he can actually play some defense.

Yet public opinion on Durant has been waning for years, long before his aptly-timed Independence Day heel turn that saw fans – and sportswriters – roll their eyes in disgust and revolt from his side en masse. The timeline of how this happened, or more accurately, how Durant let this happen, is a complicated one.

Because of his prodigious talents and the timing of his league entrance, KD will always (probably unfairly) be compared to LeBron James. Although both players are nominally small forwards, with the blurring of positions and roles in the modern NBA, the two couldn’t be any more different.

“Bron-Bron” has never been a deadly spot-up shooter like KD, just as Durant has never possessed the world-class court vision and passing ability of James. LeBron thrives on creating for others in the Magic Johnson point forward role; KD is at heart; a volume shooter (albeit a brilliant one). Their respective games are markedly different, a fact that’s always been understated in comparing the two.

But those die have been cast. James and Durant are both super-duper-megastars, they’re of a similar age, they play the same position; therefore, they have to be measured against each other. This is product of fan culture, of media culture and of the pressure former players put on current stars. Durant is not to blame for that.

He’s far from blameless, though. When LeBron signed with Miami following the infamous “The Decision” special in 2010, the public opinion of him plummeted. Never mind that the Cleveland team(s) he left had embarrassingly weak supporting casts (more on this later). He was abandoning his hometown (more or less) team to create a super team and was roundly derided for it.

In that first season in Miami, James tried to double down. Tired of being the calm, collected superstar, he attempted to play the bad guy on the Heat. It didn’t work. It was forced, and later, he admitted that he was mentally exhausted by the act. Notably, the next season, Leron returned to his normal personality en route to his first title. This is where Durant should have been better.

Writers have said for some time that Durant is impressionable and emotional, that “he sometimes makes decisions rashly” and, more alarmingly, “with the intent of choosing the course of action that will please others.” In that context, it is easy to see how a marketing team in KD’s ear could have watched James’ struggles over the first year in Miami and seen an opportunity – one that Durant was all too quick to embrace.

kevindurant

With LeBron as the league’s new villain, KD tried to position himself as the NBA’s new golden boy. Aided by sycophantic writers eager to buy into the idea of Durant as the humble superstar, public opinion of KD soared. He bought into his own mythos, signing a contract extension with the Thunder in a clear attempt to make himself the anti-LeBron: soft spoken, nice, loyal, and team-first.

LeBron gained some supporters back by defeating Durant soundly in the 2012 Finals, but with the Thunder positioned as the West’s team of the future, the loss didn’t seem particularly significant. A group as talented and as young as OKC would surely be back.

History played out differently. Trading James Harden was a massive mistake, yes, and injuries derailed the Thunder at various points. But as this past season showed, the team has copious talent and is still a championship contender. The excuses started to wear thin, and public perception of the team slowly pivoted from “celebrated young upstarts” to “brash loudmouths without a ring.”

This was helped in no small part by the team’s behavior, from publicly claiming things would have been different with a healthy squad, to the actions of individual players. Serge Ibaka plateaued, and fans got tired of being told he was an elite defender. OKC kept bringing in unlikable, or overrated role players (Caron Butler, Dion Waiters, Kendrick Perkins). And as the lack of ultimate success continued, the team’s constant complaining – which manifested in the form of three consecutive top-two finishes in team technical fouls – got old (a Thunder player led the league in T’s in three of the past five seasons).

There’s a word for this kind of stuff: buster. OKC saw the public gradually turn on it because a team can’t be unlikable AND unsuccessful. If you’re going to be loud and defiant and claim you deserve respect as one of the league’s best teams, you’d better back it up. Failing to do so qualifies you as posers. Durant, as the team’s leader, was deservedly the face of that failure.

From an individual perspective, KD didn’t do himself any favors. As LeBron reestablished himself as (unquestionably) the best player in the world, and Durant continued to promote himself at the expense of another player, fans became less receptive. His impressionable, eager-to-please nature likely made it easy for his handlers to convince him this was the best course. He didn’t make that decision in a vacuum.

However, he did choose to tweet “Now everybody wanna play for the Heat and the Lakers? Let’s go back to being competitive and going at these peoples!” just days after “The Decision”. He chose to sign that big extension, knowing how it would look. And in the absolute nadir of blatant nice-guy pandering, he told Bill Simmons he wanted his nickname to be “The Servant” because he made his teammates better.

It was phony, it was obvious, and it was widely rejected. People don’t want to be told how humble you are. A move that transparent, combined with the rest of the Thunder’s collective busterism, soured fans tremendously. This brings us to KD’s decision to leave OKC and sign with Golden State.

To be clear from the outset: Durant has every right to leave. OKC management drafted well and was reportedly player-friendly, but it also made several questionable personnel decisions– headlined by the Harden trade and the curiously long tenure of one Scott Brooks. Without a doubt, the media-and-fan-created stigma of retiring without a championship loomed large in his mind.

It’s the destination he chose that solidifies Durant as a first-team All-Time Buster. Had he left for San Antonio, his hometown Wizards, or some other team with a decent roster, it would be understandable. Moving on for a better chance at a ring is a respectable business decision. What isn’t respectable is leaving for the team that broke the regular-season wins record, just beat you in a thrilling seven-game conference finals and was likely the best collection of talent the NBA has ever seen (if not the greatest basketball team of all time).

It is the ultimate cop-out, the ultimate admission of defeat and disinterest in carrying a team. This isn’t LeBron leaving for Miami. Look at the roster Bron was playing with his final season in Cleveland. Look at the list of corpses he dragged to the 2007 Finals against the Spurs. No wonder he couldn’t get it done before he went to Miami.

By contrast, this year’s OKC team featured a great young center in Steven Adams, a halfway decent bench and another one of the top five players in the world in Russell Westbrook. The Thunder just made a fantastic trade for Serge Ibaka that landed them Victor Oladipo as well as a pair of bigs to add depth in Ersan Illysova and (rookie) Domantas Sabonis. With KD, that team was possibly going to be as good as the Warriors next year, and the Thunder knew they really should have knocked off the Dubs this season.

When LeBron went to Miami, the Heat’s Big Three had never played together. They had spacing issues and chemistry issues and no real center on the roster. It was a remarkable collection of stars, but there’s a reason it took time for the team to learn how to play together.

Golden State will face far less of a challenge in adding Durant. The Warriors have already won a championship and should have won a second. They were, despite the end result of these playoffs, probably the best team of all time. All they’re doing is replacing a good player in Harrison Barnes with an elite one in Durant. It’s a significantly smaller obstacle that will in turn make winning a title significantly less meaningful for KD.

This move isn’t close to LeBron going to Miami. It’s the equivalent of an alt-history in which Lebron signs with Boston after being eliminated by the Celtics in 2010 (upgrading the position manned by Paul Pierce) and riding the coattails of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to a ring. It’s the equivalent of Michael Jordan throwing up his hands after being eliminated by the Pistons three straight seasons and signing with Detroit in 1990. It’s disappointing, it’s weakness personified and it’s the ultimate endgame of the busterism KD signed on for way back when he agreed to be the foil to LeBron no one needed.

LeBron, on the other hand…

Where did last year’s Finals leave us with Lebron? To start with, it re-solidifies his place among the very best the game has ever seen, and his status as the current top player in the world. It makes the MVP’s of Derrick Rose (2010), Durant (2014) and Steph Curry (2015) look even more ridiculous in retrospect (Curry’s 2016 nod is acceptable). Most importantly, and thankfully, it finally closes the absurd argument that somehow Bron hasn’t done enough in his career to be included in “Greatest Ever” talks.

I get it. It’s natural to be threatened by change. People dislike when something new challenges their preconceived notions of what is and what should be. It’s why aged stars like Oscar Robertson claim players like Steph Curry would get crushed “back in their day.” It fuels the insecurity in Scottie Pippen when he claimed his Bulls would sweep this season’s Warriors. Ex-players don’t want to be forgotten or have younger players rewrite their accomplishments. Fans are no more rational than the players they support. But there seems to be a particular bent on diminishing James’ accomplishments.

That’s undoubtedly because James is the best player we’ve seen since Michael Jordan. He might end up being considered greater than MJ, or he might not, but it’s the mere notion that he COULD be that strikes so much unnecessary fear in the hearts of some fans. Why is this such a big deal? It comes back to insecurity.

If LeBron COULD one day be better than Mike, then what have all these fans been wasting their time with, stanning for a guy who isn’t the best player ever? It’s a particular fetishism of “The Best And Only The Best” that permeates so much of American culture, and when intertwined with personal identity it creates some truly inexplicable results.

LeBron James

You’d think that LeBron dragging a garbage fire to the Finals against San Antonio in 2007 would be a feat worth celebrating, but no, it makes him a choker. Ditto for the crippled six-man team he willed to a 2-1 lead last year against Golden State – one of the best teams of all time in their own right. What matters is that LeBron lost, and MIKE NEVER LOST IN THE FINALS SO Lebron is a fraud!! Apparently he’d have been better off losing in the first round like Jordan.

 

Never mind that LeBron was just 22 years old, and in his fourth season, when he took a bad team to the Finals. Never mind that it took four seasons for Michael Jordan to get out of the first round of the playoffs (and he promptly lost 1-4 in the second round). The sheen of a six-for-six Finals record is rightfully celebrated, but it tends to distract from MJ’s playoff struggles before he got to that point. Do you know how many playoff GAMES Jordan won without Scottie Pippen?

jordan_pippen2_130214

The answer is one. MJ went 1-9 in the first round in his first three seasons, making the playoffs each year despite a losing record. The latter, of course, was a result of a smaller league, featuring talent consolidation on fewer teams and a near-total lack of quality international players (but that’s a discussion for another time). It’s an ugly mark, but Jordan’s later achievements overshadow those early years, as they should.

If it’s down to rings and rings alone, as some fans attempt to use as a trump card, then neither Michael Jordan nor LeBron James is the best player of all time. Bill Russell’s 11 rings are more than MJ and Bron combined. Yet even the most ardent old-guard supporters would likely concede that Russell is not the greatest player ever. Different eras are difficult to compare, even back-to-back ones like Jordan and James’.

All this of course, misses the point. There is not, nor will there ever be, a consensus greatest player ever. The subject is too subjective and emotion-based to have an “answer.” The most a player can do is put himself in the conversation. If a reasonable argument can be made for a player’s inclusion on that short list, he’s in the conversation. Jordan is there. LeBron is too (and by the way, his career is not over).

That’s what makes Durant leaving for Golden State so disappointing. Michael Jordan broke through in 1991 after struggling for years to get out of the east and rewrote the end of his story. LeBron James went to Miami, learned how to be truly great, then came home and did the same.

No matter how many championships KD wins as a Warrior, he’ll never be the leader of his team the way MJ and Bron were. The Warriors belong to Steph Curry. Durant going along for the ride will only diminish respect for what he accomplishes.

 

img_3186 Devon Singrey is a Portlander and creator of the college football blog, Making Sense of Saturday. His interests include basketball, football, history, mythology, funky music, and all things Prince.

Lovable Losers: A new series [originally posted on sportsblog.com 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.

Final Four

We’ve got our Final Four and for all my bitching about seeding and who had the easiest path, it still played out how most people predicted; Oklahoma City vs. San Antonio and Indiana vs. Miami.

It didn’t look like the Pacers would make it this far early on, with Roy Hibbert (the disappearing 7’2 black man) having the worst playoffs of all time for an All-Star (I’m 5’11 and I can get 2-3 rebounds on accident–how he goes an entire game without getting one is beyond me). But he recovered and so did the Pacers and now they finally have home court against Miami. No excuses, this what the Pacers and now they have it. This scenario reminds me too much of ’93 Knicks vs. Bulls. Knicks had home court and didn’t make a lick of difference to Michael Jordan, the greatest player in the game at that time. The Pacers have home court, but the Heat have Lebron James, the greatest player in the game now, as a wise man once said, “That shit don’t mean fuck” to Lebron.

Heat in Six

Before we get in to the Spurs-Thunder, let’s just wish a Bon Voyage to the Los Angeles Clippers. They had a great season and dealt with some ill timed distractions, but fuck those guys. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the game but on that John Stockton “sneaky dirty” tip. He whines, he complains, he fouls, and gets pissy when calls don’t go his way. Fuck him. Fuck J.J. Redick (still) and fuck Blake Griffin. Those dudes are a bunch of floppers and they get what they deserve for signing contracts with the infamous Donald Sterling. Only dudes on that team I respect are Jamal Crawford (so smooth with it) and Matt Barnes (keeps it grimey). I’m glad they got eliminated in the second round. As my homey Adrian (a lifelong Lakers fan) says, “Fuck Clippers for Life!”

The Thunder should have eliminated them in 5 games, they blew game 4 and now have to face the Spurs without Serge Ibaka because he injured his calf in the extra game they played. I would have predicted Spurs in 7 had they had a healthy Ibaka “blocka flame”, but now without him I say Spurs in six.

Scott Brooks as a coach is like the kid who comes over to play video games and he picks the best team and just shoots with the same players over and over again. He may beat you, but not because he’s a better gamer, but only because he is running with a better squad. Put Scott Brooks on the Orlando Magic, and there is no discernible difference in the win-loss records. I’m not saying Scott Brooks is a bad coach. I just don’t think he is an elite coach and he has been getting out-coached all playoffs. He also just happens to have the two best players in the Western Conference on his team. He’s a good coach though, a good personnel guy, but his in game strategy is sorely lacking.

Personally, I’m rooting for a Spurs-Heat rematch. I think the Spurs have the best chance of beating the Heat of the last teams remaining. They have the best coach, and Tony Parker is the best point guard left playing. The Spurs also have the best role players. They are better than next last year’s team based on that alone. A healthy Spurs would have smashed the Heat in six games last year (Parker was hobbled that whole series after game 1). I want the Heat to earn it if this is going to be the three-peat year. The hardest path for them would be through San-Antonio. I think this is what Spurs fans want as well, they’ll take their chances running it back against a Heat team that hasn’t gotten better (besides Lebron) but only got older.

Eastern Conference Finals begins in about an hour and a half. Bring it!

Lastly, Big shout outs to Mark Jackson, for handling his ouster from Golden State with grace. I don’t like the way it was all handled, and Mark Jackson deserved better. I hope he chills on them checks he gonna be getting til the perfect situation opens up for him. He’s a good coach who will someday be a great coach. Its obvious now that his firing had nothing to do with basketball. All that being said, I think Kerr is the perfect replacement for Coach Jackson. Kerr is really intelligent person who will certainly be a “player’s coach.”
I think his style will be a breath of fresh air for that camp. Of course, coaching is not why they lost in the first round. Their roster wasn’t nearly as good as last year’s and yet they managed to win more games this year than they did last year (this year’s conference was arguably tougher). A coach still needs players, and if Golden State trots out the same lineup next year they will NOT make the playoffs next year. The Lacob clan need to look in the mirror and decide how serious they are about becoming an elite franchise.

Have a good weekend and let’s pray for no more series turning injuries the rest of the way……. well unless they happen to the Heat.