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Kobe’s Trayvon Comments Were Understandable, but Executed Poorly

kobe_bryant_extensionThis has not been a good sports year for Kobe Bryant.

First, he came back from an Achilles injury he suffered near the end of last season before Christmas – only to get hurt again with a knee injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.  The experts – and haters – all said that Bryant came back WAY too soon from his Achilles injury.  Some of those same haters thought that Bryant wanted to stay relevant – which I thought was ridiculous.

Second, when he signed 2-year $48.5 million ridiculous extension, Bryant was criticized left and right for hamstringing the Lakers’ salary cap for the next few seasons.  It will be harder for the Lakers to bring in more than one superstar a la the Miami Heat and be salary cap compliant.  Hell, even I gave my two cents on the matter.

And last – but not least – Bryant gave perhaps the controversial quote of the year.  When asked by a reporter from The New Yorker about the Miami Heat’s hoodie photo in support of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old kid who was gunned down by a wannabe vigilante/neighborhood watchman, this was what Bryant had to say:

“I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American.  That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, we’ve progressed as a society, then don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.”

Let’s examine Bryant’s comments.

First of all,  I understand Kobe’s sentiments.  Kobe’s thoughts were aimed at fellow black people.  Too many of us label our own “Uncle Toms” for not going along with our way of thinking. 

For example, when Mike Vick got busted for dog-fighting, a lot of black folks thought that dog fighting was not such a big deal and Vick should not have been thrown in jail.  The problem with that thought is dog fighting is not only a crime, it became a federal felony when he and his crew crossed state lines while orchestrating the dog fighting.  During ESPN’s Town Hall in Atlanta, many black folks in the audience showed their asses and booed Bryan Burwell (a black sportswriter) who had the nerve to disagree in saying Vick should do his time.

I also feel that just because some issues pertain to Black America, it doesn’t mean we all as Black Americans have to react a certain way.  Here are some good examples: Tawana Brawley and the Duke lacrosse case.  Look it up – Google it. 

I live by what my dad used to say: black people are not sheep.

However, I think Kobe used a bad example in the case of Martin’s murder.  Even though the prosecution failed to convince a jury beyond the reasonable doubt of George Zimmerman’s guilt, I believe that the young brother was racially profiled and led to him being murdered.  In making those statements, Kobe appeared out of touch – and frankly condescending  – with folks in the African American community.

A lot of Black folks are coming out in droves against Kobe.  A had the pleasure of conducting a podcast with Lawrence Watkins (younger brother of the great activist Dr. Boyce Watkins), founder of the Great Black Speakers series.  He called Kobe one of the “safe negroes” for those comments.

I think that is a case of the sentiment being there, but the execution being piss-poor at best.

Phil Jackson Hire Great for Knicks

ny-knicks-logoPhil Jackson has been officially hired as president of my New York Knicks, where he won two NBA titles as a player.  His deal is for five years and is expected to pay him $12 million annually but does not include an ownership stake.

Good news for Knicks fans everywhere, right?

Well, there are some naysayers.  Some folks think Jackson is not ready for life in the front office.  A person in Jackson’s position typically puts in several hours a week, and there is talk that Jackson will split time between New York and Los Angeles where his fiancee Jeanie Buss – who should be running the Lakers, not her bumbling brother Jim – resides.

Others wonder why Jackson would want to take on such a challenge.  He has more money than he could spend.  He has 11 championships and a legacy that second to none, late Celtics’ legendary coach Red Auerbach notwithstanding.

I think Jackson always relished the challenge of running a team.  I am willing to bet that Jackson saw the job his old nemesis Pat Riley has done in running the Miami Heat the last decade-plus (two NBA titles as an executive).  Jackson would love to challenge Riley and add that to his legacy.

You also have to figure that Jackson has heard enough of the talk of him always walking into ideal situations.  After all, the Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen before Jackson arrived.  The Lakers had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant before Jackson arrived there.  The thing that those naysayers conveniently forget is this: neither the Bulls and Shaq’s Lakers won titles before Jackson arrived.

Which is why I think the Knicks will greatly benefit from Jackson’s arrival.  Not by winning an NBA title right away – my Knicks have WAY too much work to do to get a championship level.

What I mean is that Jackson is a necessary first step in changing what has been a dysfunctional culture in New York.  There is a reason that bumbling owner James Dolan gave Jackson that $12 million per year contract – to bring his winning ways to New York as an executive.

There is something to be said about perception.  Again, the Knicks will not turn into winners overnight.  However, with Carmelo Anthony wanting to test the market as a free agent this summer as well as the free agent bonanza in 2015 with cats like Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving becoming free agents, just the thought of rubbing elbows with Jackson would be enticing.  Plus it helps that the Knicks will have enormous cap room in 2015 (Amare Stoudemire’s, Andrea Bargnani’s and Tyson Chandler’s contracts are scheduled to come off the books).

As a diehard Knicks fan, I have been longing for the Knicks to at least get back to their glory years of the 1990s – no NBA titles notwithstanding.  I think that Jackson coming back to his old team is a huge step towards bringing the Knicks some much-needed credibility.

Trust me, New York needs all the credibility it can get…

Lakers Made the Wrong Move with Kobe

200px-LA_Lakers_logo.svgLook, I understand the whole loyalty thing.  I get it.

I like it when a team rewards a veteran who gave his blood, sweat and tears to his organization.  Loyalty is such a lost art in professional sports, so when I see a team hook its player up with a new contract, I usually applaud it.

In the case of Kobe Bryant’s new contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, not so much.

No one is saying Kobe Bryant is turning into an “okay” NBA player before our eyes.  Before he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon late last season, Bryant still averaged 27.3 points, six assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game.  And that was during a season where he played through a variety of injuries.

It’s just that I do not believe in investing in risky commodities.

Bryant is coming off that aforementioned ruptured Achilles tendon last May, and the timetable for rehabbing that injury is at least a calendar year.  How could the Lakers be sure that they will be getting the same Kobe who is one of the best players in the NBA last season?  Will they even get Kobe back by the end of this calendar year?

And now with various stars destined to hit the free agent market next season (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade to name a few), the Lakers could not afford to have too much of their salary tied up.  That changed when they re-upped Kobe to that ridiculous two-year, $48 million extension.

And yeah, I know that the Lakers have media deals that help them to more than afford that extension.  However the last time I checked, professional sports is all about winning championships than making the most loot (ask the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones how that is working out for him).

And speaking of the dollars, what that signing did was send a message to the rest of the league which said that the Lakers is STILL Kobe’s team until he retires.  That’s not such a good message to sell to potential superstar free agents looking for a new home.

And it seems to me that Kobe has made more than enough money in his career, and that he would take less in order to bring in the right cats to help him win that coveted sixth championship.  But as usual, Kobe’s super-sized ego trumped common sense.

I will say this: that is good news for this life-long Laker hater.  That signing just reaffirmed that Kobe and the Lakers will not be winning another championship any time soon.

Iverson Should Have Been the Greatest

iversonFormer NBA great Allen Iverson retired yesterday, making official what most of us sports fans have known for at least the last two years: dude was done.

I normally would look back on a superstar’s career and extol the athletic exploits of such an athlete upon his/her retirement.  Though with Iverson, his career from my point of view could be summed up with two words: what if.

What if Iverson embraced the coaching he received (notably from Larry Brown during Iverson’s prime with the Philadelphia 76ers) that would have made him arguably the greatest player in NBA history?  What if Iverson put in the work – notably by attending practice – what also would have made him the greatest? 

For the record, I am a HUGE fan of Iverson.  He was one of the two best small players (the other being Isiah Thomas) to play the game.  I admired his courage and willingness to put a team on his shoulders and take them to the promised land.  The Sixers team that played the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals would have been a lottery team without Iverson.

For his career, Iverson averaged 26.7 points per game, 2.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.  Check out Iverson’s other career accomplishments:

  • NBA Most Valuable Player (2001)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1997)
  • 11× NBA All-Star (2000–2010)
  • 2× NBA All-Star Game MVP (2001, 2005)
  • 4× NBA scoring champion (1999, 2001–2002, 2005)
  • 3× NBA steals leader (2001–2003)
  • 3× All-NBA First Team (1999, 2001, 2005)

I think that even with the aforementioned accomplishments, Iverson should have accomplished more.  When Brown coached the Sixers, he pushed and propped Iverson into being the best – but Iverson was usually not but so receptive to it.  Keep in mind that Iverson was never one for believing in practice, let alone going to practice.  Remember this gem (which also happens to be one of my favorite press conference meltdowns)?

I could also go on about how Iverson cost himself tens of millions of dollars by tatting himself up and portraying himself as being “thugged out”, but that would focus on the ancillary stuff instead of what matters most.

Iverson had the game to be the greatest baller of all time.  He had the will to be the greatest of all time.  He had the heart to be the greatest of all time. 

Iverson didn’t have the DISCIPLINE to be the greatest of all time.  If he had Kobe’s discipline and work ethic, Iverson would easily have at least two NBA titles, not to mention a greater legacy.

But for now I am left to wonder, “what if?”

Howard Was Afraid of the LA Challenge

Dwight-Howard-LakersWell, it’s official: Dwight Howard is a member of the Houston Rockets. (or as Ice Cube calls him, “Dwight COWARD”)

Last week I suggested that he should chose the Rockets over returning to the Los Angeles Lakers.  Why?  It’s because Houston is a better fit for Howard than LA.

And I am not only talking about a better BASKETBALL fit.  I’m talking about a better emotional fit as well.

Playing for the Lakers requires a special type of player – a player that does what it takes to deliver a championship.  A player who is able to block out the distractions from the media and focus on his craft.  A player who is never afraid of big stage and the storied championship history of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Magic Johnson fit that mold.  So did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal and of course Kobe Bryant.  Not Howard.

Howard left LA because he wanted to take the easy way out.  He did not want the pressure of delivering a championship to the Lakers.  He did not have the stomach to be the face of a storied franchise after Kobe retires.  Hell, he did not want Kobe to show him how to become a champion.

Let’s face it, Howard was never going to cut it in LA.  He has the emotional fortitude of a mustard seed.

Besides, Houston is not the media monster that LA is.  He will be a big fish in a smaller pond (similar to his Orlando Magic days), and will not be as pressured to win in Houston as he would in LA.  He’ll be surrounded by better players – namely James Harden and Chandler Parsons – and have a better support system in coach Kevin McHale and former Rocket great Hakeem Olajuwon.

Now that he chosen the Rockets, Howard is running out of excuses.  It was never his fault in Orlando.  It was never his fault in LA.

Is Howard finally going to maximize his awesome talent and deliver a championship to Houston?  Will he man up to the challenge?

Given Howard’s history, I’d be surprised if he does.

The Nets with Garnett and Pierce not Enough to Crack East’s Elite

254px-NBA_Logo.svg_The Brooklyn Nets made a huge – and I mean HUGE – trade during last night’s NBA draft. 

The Nets acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (and Jason Terry) from the Boston Celtics.  In return, Boston received three first-round picks (2014, ’16 and ’18) along with Kris Humphries’ expiring contract, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks and a sign-and-traded Keith Bogans.

On paper, it appears Brooklyn made a HUGE upgrade to its roster.  They got two superstars in Garnett and Pierce, and while they are on the downsides of their careers both can still play and contribute.  It was painfully evident from Brooklyn’s playoff loss to the Chicago Bulls that it needed a big change in attitude and heart.  Garnett alone will give the Nets both.  Pierce would serve as a reliable go-to scoring threat, perhaps off the bench?  More importantly, the Nets did not have to give up Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, nor Brooks Lopez in making the trade with Boston.

Having said all of that, there will be some growing pains while making all of the parts work. 

As we all have seen time and time again in sports, having the most talented players does not always equal championships.  Exhibit A: the 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers.  When they acquired Karl Malone and Gary Payton, everyone (including yours’ truly) thought that the Lakers would eclipse Michael Jordan’s 1995-1996 Bulls’ 72-10 record.  While the Lakers did make the NBA Finals, they were crushed by the less-talented Detroit Pistons four games to one. 

Exhibit B: the 2010-2011 Miami Heat.  That was Year One of the Big Three Era.  Most thought that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh would lead the Heat to an easy NBA title that season.  Like the Lakers, the Heat made the NBA Finals, but was beaten by the less-talented Dallas Mavericks four games to two.

Look at the Nets’ new roster for a minute.  Do you think there will be no problems sharing the basketball?  Williams and Johnson are proud players who want their touches, as will Pierce and perhaps Terry.  Plus, I am still not sold on Jason Kidd being a head coach in the NBA.  Will he really be able to get all of those proud egos to buy into the team basketball concept?  I am not so sure.

So for now, I’d still have the Bulls and the Indiana Pacers as the top threats to the Heat in the Eastern Conference.  In fact, here is how I would rank the contenders in the East:

  1. Miami Heat
  2. Indiana Pacers
  3. Chicago Bulls
  4. Brooklyn Nets
  5. New York Knicks

As for Boston, they are officially in rebuilding mode.  To the coach who has to follow former coach Doc Rivers and lead the now less-talented Celtics, you are in my prayers.  You’re (and Celtics fans) are going to need it.-

Did the Better Team REALLY Win the NBA Finals?

NBA-Finals-LogoCongratulations to the Miami Heat for becoming the first back-to-back NBA champions since the 2010-2011 Los Angeles Lakers.

LeBron James validated his superstar status with 37 points and 12 rebounds.  Dwyane Wade showed he still had it with 23 points and 10 rebounds.  My fellow ACC’er Shane Battier scored 18 points off the bench while going 6 for 8 from 3-point land.  And let’s not forget head coach Erik Spoelstra coaching the game of his life last night.

Having said all of that, it’s hard for me to be convinced that the Miami Heat were a better team than the San Antonio Spurs.

I mean I can’t help that the Spurs gave away Game 6.  The same game where the Spurs went up by 10 during the fourth quarter AND had a 5-point lead with 20 seconds left.

Let’s be real about something folks: the Heat had NO BUSINESS winning Game 6.

And let’s not forget the Spurs hung with Miami and led for a big portion of the game.  Tim Duncan had another big game to follow his monster Game 6 with 24 points and 12 rebounds.  Kawhi Leonard became a budding star with 19 points and 16 rebounds.

However, I have to take the good with the bad.  Tony Parker’s hamstring limited him to the tune of 10 points.  Manu Ginobli capped his nightmarish series with 4 turnovers.  Danny Green came back to earth on 1 of 12 shooting.

And let’s not forget the Heat stepped up when it mattered most in the 4th quarter.  It may have helped that the Spurs were out of gas in the end.

Look, I’m not here to poo-poo on the Heat’s championship achievement.  As I said at the beginning of this rant, props to Miami for winning back-to-back NBA titles.

Sometimes though, one has to wonder “what if?”…

2013 NBA Playoff Preview

nbaThe NBA playoffs – one of the best championship tournaments in professional sports – is here, and not a moment too soon.

I will be saving the in-depth analysis on each series for a podcast (check it out!).  For now, here is the “quick and dirty” on how I think each series will shape out…

Eastern Conference

#1 Miami Heat vs. #8 Milwaukee Bucks

Prediction: Heat in 4

#2 New York Knicks vs. #7 Boston Celtics

Prediction: Knicks in 6

#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #6 Atlanta Hawks

Prediction: Pacers in 5

#4 Brooklyn Nets vs. #5 Chicago Bulls

Prediction: Bulls in 6

                                                                                                                 

Western Conference

#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #8 Houston Rockets

Prediction: Thunder in 5

#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers

Prediction: Lakers in 6

#3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Golden State Warriors

Prediction: Warriors in 6

#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies

Prediction: Grizzlies in 6

When it Comes to Dwight, Lakers Failed to Learn from Magic

200px-LA_Lakers_logo.svgThe trade deadline came and went, and somehow Dwight Howard is STILL a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.  Someone needs to give Jim Buss an intervention.

You see, this is the same Buss who for some reason overruled Kobe Bryant (in the NBA, the star player – not the general manager – runs the team) when they hired Mike Brown instead of Brian Shaw after legendary coach Phil Jackson retired.  This is also the same Buss who traded for Howard even though he wanted to go to the Brooklyn Nets instead of the Lakers.  And finally, this is the same Buss who though hiring Mike D’Antoni instead of bringing back Jackson to replaced the fired Brown.

Now this mother(lover) decided not to trade Howard – despite his perceived unhappiness, despite his icy relationship with Bryant, and despite D’Antoni can’t devise a system that accentuates Howard’s strengths.  Buss thinks Howard is going to stick around in LA, again despite what I mentioned earlier.

In other words, Jim Buss does not know what the hell he is doing.

The thing is, we’ve seen all this happen before.  Remember this same drama happened in Orlando last year.  Will Howard remain a member of the Magic?  Will he go?  He held the Orlando Magic franchise hostage for a year and a half, and he is doing the same thing in Lakerland.

You know that saying “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”?  After this season look for the Lakers to have the same egg on their faces as Orlando had on theirs.

Jerry Buss Was the NBA’s Best Owner

200px-LA_Lakers_logo.svgWith Jerry Buss’ passing yesterday, my mind was racing on what I will miss about him.  Namely, a whole helluva lot.

I am not going to go into what Dr. Buss’ legacy was on the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA.  Several other media outlets have done so already, including here, here, here and here.

I’m going to tell you all what Dr. Buss meant to me as a fan.

I grew up a diehard New York Knicks fan, so it is my birthright to hate the Lakers (and the Boston Celtics).  It is something that I wear with pride.  Since I started watching the NBA in the early 1980s, there was this source of envy I would always cast the Lakers’ way.  It more admiration than it was jealousy.

I saw how a franchise was supposed to be run – a franchise that expected nothing short of an NBA title year in and year out.  A franchise whose games people attended in order to be seen.  A franchise that became the glamour franchise of the NBA.  Most importantly, the franchise who gave us “Showtime”.

Those were the ideas of Dr. Buss.

Think about it, NBA cheerleaders were not en vogue until the Laker Girls came along – and I am truly thankful for that.  Stars didn’t come out to see the games at courtside until Buss bought the team and marketed Lakers games as THE place to be.  You never saw Jack Nicholson and other stars at games today if it wasn’t for Buss.

And sure, Buss did luck out when the Lakers drafted Magic Johnson the same year he bought the team.  And he did have a hand in making controversial moves – firing Paul Westhead for Pat Riley at the behest of Magic, choosing Kobe Bryant over Shaquille O’Neal.  And there was that hiring Mike Brown thing that a lot of Lakers fans want to forget about.

But one thing you could say about Buss, is that he ALWAYS wanted to win – no matter what the cost.  Buss wanted to big-name players on his team – even if it killed his luxury tax – because he was interested in racking up NBA championships.  He was essentially the George Steinbrenner of the NBA, except he was more likeable than George.

As for the NBA championships, Buss’ Lakers won 10 of them during his 34-year tenure as owner.  Think about that for a minute, that means that roughly one out of every three years, his Lakers won the NBA Finals!  How amazing is that?

The NBA and its fans will sorely miss Dr. Buss.  In a league full of good owners (the Spurs’ Peter Holt, the Thunder’s Clay Bennett and Grizzlies’ Rober Pera), Buss stood out above them all.  He was truly the best owner in the NBA.

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