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Category archive for: Opinion

Lakers: Open Scrimmage Impressions

Kobe & Pau Gasol
Instability in Lakers Kingdom.

Amidst a sprinkling of purple and yellow, my nephew and I made our way from the parking structure to USC’s Galen Center where the Lakers were hosting an open scrimmage.

The events that had transpired in the last week—the trade for Chris Paul, the nixing of such trade, Lamar Odom’s hurt feelings and eventual trade to the Mavericks, the Clippers winning the CP3 sweepstakes, and Kobe Bryant’s pending divorce—could all be felt in the air upon arriving at our seats.

A proud fan base seemed downtrodden and emotionally spent by recent events. The proclamation by the media at large that there was a new hot ticket in town is not something the fans, nor the Lakers organization, were prepared for. The ever flourishing purple & gold roses were finally wilting and even the forced cheers from the fans at Galen Center could not undo the reality of a declining superpower.

Red T-shirts and jerseys were even spotted in the upper sections, an immediate sign that affirmed the tectonic shifts of perception—the wearers standing with dignity, no longer suffering from ailments of ridicule; decades of shame wiped away with one trade and in its places winds of envy and misdirected anger.

Lakers Scrimmage
Kobe warms up pre-scrimmage.

As the players meandered onto the floor, the crowd’s spirits picked up. The excitement built up as fans looked towards the tunnel, patiently waiting for their beloved Lakers, looking for any sign that everything was going to be okay.

Metta World Peace was present, as was Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. Kobe, of course, received the loudest welcome, but his demeanor radiated disappointment and a lack of interest—not exactly the type of body language fans were looking for to refill their confidence canisters. The core of the team was essentially the same, and yet it felt and looked like a lesser, unfamiliar team because of Lamar’s absence.

It wasn’t all bad news, however. Once the scrimmage finally started, fans were treated to something different than what they’ve been used to ever since Phil Jackson took over as coach: a point guard. For as long as I’ve been watching the last iteration of Lakers championship caliber teams, I never quite enjoyed it. With the exception of Shaquille O’neal’s dominance during Kobe’s youthful prime, the rest has been a dull, half-court, triangle-offense style of play that has produced results at the cost of enjoyment.

With Mike Brown as the new coach, the team appears to finally be on board of allowing the point guard to run the floor. ThisMike Brown created a more dynamic, faster and fun style of play. Add to that the arrival of a few fresh and athletic legs, and for a couple of quarters, we all forgot about the red and white elephant in the room.

Devin E. Banks, Josh McRoberts and Zach Andrews all looked eager and able to play—I’m hoping this athleticism transfers over to regular season games, if it does the Clippers v. Lakers games will be extremely fun to watch. Jason Kapono put his three-point efficiency on display as he hit four times from downtown. Luke Walton looked goofier than ever and continued to surprise the sporting community with his employment as a professional basketball player (I refuse to believe there aren’t better basketball players for hire, I fully expect ESPN to do a 30-for-30 on it).

Andrew Bynum‘s knee looks fragile and made me worry every time he put pressure on it. The knee-brace didn’t help. Given his history of injuries, compounding it with a shortened schedule that favors youth, and no longer being able to plug-in Lamar Odom in his position is definitely a concern for the Lakers.

Pau? Pau was just Pau. Consistent. It’s too bad he also knows his head is on the chopping block should the Magic agree to move Dwight Howard.

Oh yeah, “Metta World Peeeeaccceeee.” That’s what it sounded like when he was first introduced and the crowd loved it. I couldn’t help but chuckle every single time his name was called. That part should be fun for the entire league.

Kobe Bryant, having entered the twilight of his career, has started taking on shades of MJ circa ’96. The explosive step now gone, he appears to be resorting to smarter play. More fadeaways, less flair, but competitive as always. At one point he elbowed Kapono (playfully?) on the chest after having lost a ball to him. I hope this was a sign of his black mamba pedigree and not an indication that off-the-court marital problems could decay the foundation and heart of this team.

While it remains to be seen whether the Clippers will, indeed, live up to expectations, it is undeniable that Lakers Nation has suffered an unexpected wound that even Kobe can’t undo. The Lakers may not be a sure thing like years past, but they still maintain an above average roster capable of competing and entertaining, anchored by one of the greatest and most competitive players to have ever played the game.

So take it easy, Laker fan. You may not get a chance to prominently fly your Lakers mini flags from the windows of your cars, and maybe you won’t have as many chances to bombard my newsfeed with “suck it” messages after every Lakers victory (or maybe it’ll get worse because it won’t be as easy), but at the end of the day just know that you’ve never experienced what it’s like to be a Clippers fan.

If there’s ever been an organization and a fan-base worthy of some Karmic justice, it is the Clippers. Instead of misplacing your hatred for Stern onto the other LA Team, you should be happy that there will finally be a rivalry in the best sport that LA has to offer.

Lebron James: Postmortem of a Slain “King”

It’s been almost 24 hours since the collapse of the fabricated Kingdom of James and much to my chagrin, the internet is still alive and churning.

I was certain the web would cease to exist, as we knew it, as soon as the clock hit 0:00 on game six of this year’s NBA finals due to the jubilation and collective exhaling of the forces of good after triumphing over the axis of evil.  At the very least I was hoping for a Fail Whale on twitter. Neither one happened, unfortunately, so instead of going out and “facing the reality of my life,” I decided to write down what I remember about how we got to this point.

As I write down these thoughts, I feel a bit embarrassed by the emotional investment that I found myself expressing throughout these playoffs.  After all, it is just a spectator sport and yet somehow an entire nation was pulled into the le vortex. That’s either a testament to the state of our miserable, horrible lives (thank you Lebron) or the magnitude of James’ assholitivity is so astronomical that it reaches the very shadows of everyone’s sporting apathy.

Maybe the story was just too good to pass up.

As a society we long for anything that entertains us, whether it’s sports, gossip, news articles, books, blogs, youtube or movies. The 2010-2011 NBA season had it all.

In Lebron James we found a self-anointed king.  A physical specimen dubbed “The Chosen One” unlike anything we’ve seen in basketball history. James was as much the darling of the marketing world and the sports media machine, as he was the hope and pride of an entire state when he auspiciously landed in the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers—it was meant to be, or at least it should have been.

In the summer of 2010, when Lebron James became a free agent, our protagonist decided that our feel good story for Ohio wasn’t good enough, and in an act of what I can only call treason, betrayed everything that we hold dear as readers, viewers and spectators (and possibly even human beings) when he decided to join forces with his closest competition: Dwyane Wade.

A choice that not only represented mutiny on the very concept of competition, but that also ultimately perpetuated itself in a public spectacle so ostentatious and mismanaged that even Kim Jong Il lamented it as a poor “decision.”

Selfishly disappointed and perplexed, we were left with an acrid feeling of having been robbed. One of the talents that could possibly challenge the lore of greatness, number 23, had copped out.

Thanks to ESPN, Lebron James and the Miami Heat were unanimously recognized as villains after the televising of "The Decision."

It was incomprehensible that someone so dominant and talented would decide to take the easy way out—it was the ultimate act of instant gratification which has come to permeate our society. The public execution of Cleveland and competition via a televised guillotine (thank you ESPN), was quickly followed by one of the most grandiloquent displays of arrogance when Lebron and company presented themselves, prior to the start of the season, in a WWE-style premature celebration of the championships they haven’t yet won.

Our former hero, and so called King, by this point had become a squire. Without the lack of humilty, and an overall display of immaturity, the trio of South Beach inadvertently turned a ripple of disappointment into a tsunami of loathing by every other NBA team’s fans. Not since the Patriots went 18-1 did it feel like the entire sporting community was united in a kumbaya moment so organically grown that it led Dwyane Wade to utter the schadenfraude-laced, and forever etched into our minds, “the world is a better place because the Miami Heat are losing.”

It wasn’t long before Miami’s tandem found a way to win.  Despite crygate and a supporting cast of very hateable characters who passed up better deals in symbolic acts of selling your soul to the devil, Miami rolled through the regular season.

As the playoffs ensued it became evident that the experiment was beginning to bear fruit. Philadelphia played them with grit in the first round, but they lacked the talent and experience. Next came the mighty green machine of Boston (or team turtle as I like to call them; seriously look at them, they all resemble turtles). They, too, fell to the cutting and slashing tandem of James and Wade – here is where we began to visibly see the power of uniting the top two talents in the NBA, which as you may recall dear reader, was the reason we began disliking this union in the first place.

With each series victory, the once again prematurely staged celebrations of a championship served to fuel our support as fans for any team that wasn’t Miami. As spectators we appreciate drama, showmanship, and the celebratory exertion of victory – what we don’t appreciate is when it’s overdone and staged. The smug look on the faces of Lebron and Wade in each post-game conference, as they held hands and polished each other’s BFF bands, reeked of disdain for the people watching.

I was hoping that by the end of the Eastern Conference finals I would be writing this entry with glee and joy, not because my bulls had defeated evil, but because in doing so, an even better story was developing: the hometown kid from Chicago, would prove that loyalty to your city and doing it without your best competition at your side, would triumph over selfishness and the easy way out. One great young heart wasn’t enough, unfortunately, and I briefly gave up hope.

I had closed the book on this story because I dreaded the end. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.

Just out of pure principle, and a disdain for D. $tern, I even attempted to boycott watching the finals. I figured if stacked teams are going to win, I don’t want to contribute to the ratings. I tried to stay true to my resolution, by finding a loophole: I would watch the game ONLY at a place where people were already watching it.

Game 1 was a success and I was glad I did it that way because the Heat won and were one step closer to proving to us that the dark forces of the world, and selling yourself to the devil, do pay off.

Game 2 was a success. Until halftime. After receiving a post on my facebook that the Mavericks were down by 14 at the start of the second half, I couldn’t help but turn on the t.v. to watch this collapse, or at the very least to be entertained by the announcers. Then it happened. Dirk Nowitzki and a team of role players mounted one of the best comebacks I’ve ever been witness to. With every bucket scored, and every second that ticked away I began to believe and regain that hope that had almost died with the slaying of my team in the previous series.

Twitter, facebook and text messages exploded with the first wave of joy. Nobody knew what the outcome of the series would be, but what we had been witness to was the heart of an entire team. The story had once again taken an entertaining turn. Our communal loathing of what had transpired almost a year earlier was surpassed by a spark of heart that rekindled our hope in a good ending.

The earlier mentioned plot of a loyal-to-his-city, homegrown kid, had been supplanted by the realization that this was a similar story. Dirk Nowitzki was the face of a Dallas team fighting not just to stay alive, but to actually win (something most of us wrote them off on).

There was no flash, no beastly dunks, and no superstar slumber parties in Nowitzki’s world. Only team. Only work. Only practice. Only humility. Only heart. The antithesis of Lebron and Wade. The bizzarro of swag, arrogance and “it comes easy because we’re naturally gifted freaks of nature.”

Game 3 came and went, the victor being evil and our faith was once again tested by the constant reminder that statistically speaking, the team that won game three had won the finals 100% of the time in years past.

Game 4 – Dallas. Hope restored. Dallas would now have to win game five, and then hope to split in the next two games which would both be hosted in Miami.

Game 5 – Dallas. Faith increased. Within each of these games we began to see the disintegration of Lebron James as a basketball player. The game within the game yielded the true Alpha dog in Miami: Dwyane Wade. The killer instinct that Michael and Kobe displayed, and that we demand of our best players, especially when they’re being shoved down our throats by advertising companies, was missing from the former “King.”

Game 6Heart. Forces of good. Team. Diligence. Practice.

A book I almost closed turned out to have one of the best endings I didn’t expect. Instead of another WWE-style celebration, the true champion walked off court to embrace the moment. 13 years of professional hard work, and countless years before that, had culminated in the only reward that was fitting: a championship. Even the traditional celebration during the handing-off of the Larry O’Brien trophy provided unexpected paragraphs of entertainment that further highlighted why Dallas needed to win. The current owner, Mark Cuban, deferred the trophy to the first owner of the franchise as the old man in a giant Cowboy hat shed tears of joy, it broke my heart in a happy way. When pressed for comments, Cuban asked that questions be given to his head coach and his star player instead. This was their time. They earned it. Each and every one of them.

As the evening went on, and after having updated my facebook status a million times, the press conferences began. The TV played in the background as I perused the collective joy of the internet community. Lebron wasn’t done, though.

In an act that so perfectly captured the true essence of a spoiled kid who grew up surrounded by sycophantic leaches and without the presence and direction of a strong role model, James addressed his critics, including yours truly:

“All the people that were rooting me on to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want with me and my family and be happy with that.”

The traces of a former king turned squire ultimately closed the book with the unveiling that we were mistaken all along.

He was merely a court jester.

 

Schadenfreude Concerto No. 1

This one’s dedicated to D. Wade for giving us this gem following yet another loss to the scrappy Chicago Bulls:

“The Miami Heat are exactly what everyone wanted, losing games…the world is better now because the Heat are losing.” – Wade

Forgive the cacophony of my violin, it’s not that I’m ironically playing bad – nothing to do with the Heat’s inability to close out games, I assure you.  It’s just that I’m not often moved to play such morose melodies of victim-hood for divas of Wade’s caliber, so I may sound out of tune.

It’s in D Major if you don’t recognize it – as in D. Rose:  the kid Wade and his Super”friends” spurned during the summer of 2010 so that they could all take their talents to South Beach and live a fairy-tale manage-a-trois of sleep overs, partying, doing each others’ nails and easy championships.

I was partly glad by that move, it meant that I wouldn’t have root for someone I had grown to sports-hate:  Lebron James, a self-proclaimed monarch without rings; nor would I have to root for someone who very strongly resembles a female version of Snoop Dogg (C Bosh).

I did, however, believe in DW3 – I even called him the closest thing to The Truth (#23) based on sheer athleticism, elegance of play & competitive edge (sorry Kobe).  What a great story it would have made for two home grown talents to bring back glory to the city of Chicago – it could have easily made for one of the best back courts of all time (Wade + Rose!).

Instead of glory & community, Lebron & Wade chose easy-wins & notoriety.  The whole thing played out like a scene out of Mean Girls.  Their “hotness” couldn’t make up for what they had orchestrated:  a devaluation of competitiveness by stacking a team in a way that most other franchises can’t.  A luxury of choice for 2 incredible talents & 1 so-so guy, but a disappointment in the eyes of NBA fans, as well as a catastrophic blow to the psyche & economy of Cleveland.  In real terms that people feel, the ripples created by the betrayal of a community were felt by jobs & revenue loss to a Midwestern city who doesn’t have much going for itself…where was Wade’s rhetoric about the world being a better place then?

And yet today we supposed to feel sorry for the black hole of ego-centrism because their fetish fantasy isn’t panning out as expected?  Forgive us for not empathizing with your pre-pubescent hormones when they act up in ways your fragile sensitivities are not accustomed to.

A statement of douchebag proportions if I ever heard one.

Instead of tweeting & crying maybe they should try manning up like Derrick Rose.  Take an example from the kid who took on two future hall-of-famers today, while at the same time carrying an entire city on his shoulders.  A city with a shadow larger than life…a shadow that has eclipsed every super-star ever dubbed “the next MJ” (including LbJ & Wade).  A powerful comparison that perhaps worked to dissuade them from stepping foot in Chicago in the summer of 2010; it was much easier to become legendary in another city and not have to carry the burden of true excellence in a city all too familiar with greatness.

Today it became apparent that the humble, hometown kid that Chicago was waiting for all along wasn’t Wade, but Rose.  A youngster who has distinguished himself as an incredible leader, and who single-handedly managed to spark a fire for any Chicago Bulls fan by instilling pride & commitment to a team while at the same time displaying a palette of raw athleticism, power and talent that commands and deserves ooohs and aaahs every night.

This melody is running long, and the arm of irony is weakening.

Though the world isn’t a better place because the Heat lost, it did bring a lot of smiles to many towns across America.

Thank you, Heatles.  See you in the play-offs.

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