Kevin Durant, LeBron James and the Era of Minutes Restrictions

Kevin Durant is on a minutes restriction and this makes me sad. Ever since he came back from his foot injury the Thunder have scrutinized his every movement as if they were a group of NASA engineers observing the trajectory of the Orion spacecraft.

Part of the joy of watching Durant play basketball use to be that Scott Brooks could run him out there for 40 minutes a game, night after night, and he would be no worse for the wear. Now were stuck watching Anthony Morrow and Jeremy Lamb get significant minutes and, no offense to either Morrow or Lamb, they’re no KD. And the real bummer is that the old Durant, the one we knew and loved for nearly a decade, might be gone forever. Again, this makes me sad.

Apparently the type of injury that Durant sustained to his foot was stress related, the byproduct of repeated motion not some sort of freak one time occurrence. In other words, the very things that made Durant 1A to LeBron’s 1, his rangy athleticism/explosive first step, are also the reasons for him missing the first 18 games of the season. And there’s no guarantee that he doesn’t re-injur this same foot in the future which is exactly why Oklahoma City is being so mindful of his minutes right now.

Speaking of LeBron James, the same thing’s going on with him in Cleveland right now, although to a much lesser degree than with Durant. Ever since carb-free LeBron came back to the Cavs he has been weaker, slower and not as explosive which offers a stark contrast from how he use to look just going back to last year’s NBA Finals when he played for the Miami Heat. Watch the tape. We’re talking about two different body types here. And before you think that I’m just reacting to some sort of popular internet theory here know this, LeBron sat out last night’s game against the Thunder with a sore knee. LeBron is not supposed to miss games with injury. He and Durant were supposed to be indestructible.

Deep down I know that it’s smart for both the Thunder and Cavaliers to take every precaution with their star players. They are valuable investments after all and as an NBA franchise you want to maximize both short and long term returns. The Thunder are in the unenviable position of needing Durant to play as much as possible because they’re so far behind in the Western Conference standings right now due to, of all things, the injuries to Durant and Russell Westbrook. And while the Cavs can probably afford to give LeBron the occasional night off every once and a while I’m hoping that David Blatt doesn’t suddenly morph into Gregg Popovich and leave us with more court time for Matthew Dellavedova. Again, no offense to Dova, I like his game, especially for a rookie, but LeBron was not supposed to wear down like others players. Neither was Durant. This makes me sad.

I’m not trying to eulogize either Durant or LeBron. They still have a lot of life left in those legs and we should look forward to watching them for years to come. However, it will take some time to get use to minutes restrictions and DNP-REST for two players who were always such a joy to watch play basketball in part because of their energy level and the fact that they didn’t ever need a break. Until now. And this, makes me sad.

 

LeBron James, ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and the History of Race in America

For all the controversy LeBron James may or may not have started Monday night when before the Cleveland Cavaliers game at the Brooklyn Nets he warmed up with a shirt that said ‘I Can’t Breathe’ across the front I think at the very least we can all agree that it continued our ongoing conversation about Ferguson and Eric Garner and, for some, especially younger people who might not be following the news as closely, was an engaging way to raise awareness that could, if handled properly, open the doors for wider discussions about the history of race in America. Now it’s up to us, the parents and teachers of young people to add context to these important moments in our history.

As a former high school history teacher I can tell you with complete confidence that most teenagers aren’t watching CNN or reading the New York Times but they are following the likes of LeBron, DRose, Kyrie and Kobe on social media and while we socially conscious adults may find it hard to believe that any person, regardless of age, living in the digital age could have missed the events of the past few weeks you’d be amazed at what does and doesn’t permeate the bubbles of young people in this country. So while many of us adults who follow the news and understand the larger, contextual issues at hand dismiss the influence of athletes like LeBron on young people in this country we are potentially missing out on an opportunity to introduce and engage younger generations on of a very difficult, complicated topic in American history. Call it a hashtag with a context.

My hope is that in classrooms and living rooms across America, teachers and parents are taking the pop-culture momentum created by LeBron and company and using it to frame the events in Ferguson and Staten Island in a much larger, deeper historical context of racial injustice in America. The discussion can start with the sharing of other examples of athletes promoting social justice like Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City before morphing into a much deeper conversation on the Civil Rights Movement and all of the challenges that this country counties to face as we strive for greater equality and tolerance.

The good news is whatever young people lack in historical context they make up for with an overall absence of racial prejudice. For the most part kids nowadays do not see color. They do not see sexual orientation or religion. They are poised to become the most tolerant generation in American history and it is our responsibility as adults to educate and teach them about how we got to where we are today. Sheltering them from this difficult discussion is not the way to promote and sustain long term progressive changes to our society because they’ve got to understand where we came from in order to understand where we’re going. Talking about things like Thurgood Marshall and the Jim Crow South, race riots in Chicago and Boston, LBJ and the Great Society, these are all important moments in the history of racial injustice in this country that can help young people better understand why the recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island make old wounds feel so fresh and for all the progress we have made as a society we still have a very long way to go.

Like it or not, athletes are role models and if all it took to start the conversation on racial injustice in America were a few Cleveland Cavaliers breaking the NBA’s dress code then I think we can all agree that that is a small price to pay for progress.

 

 

NBA Hoops: The Return Disappoints

We wanted drama.  We wanted to see someone foul LeBron James hard as he drove to the basket.  We wanted verbal sparring and double technicals. We wanted Cavs players to act and care like spurned lovers who had just been rejected by their high school sweethearts. We wanted to watch a hard fought, competitive basketball game that went down to the wire. We were all disappointed.

My major takeaway from The Return is that players don’t care as much as fans.  It made me sick for Cleveland when the Cavaliers bench was seen smiling and joking with LeBron during the middle of the first half.  This struck me as totally out of touch. Shouldn’t the Cavs bench be more aware of the damage The Decision has done to the people and city of Cleveland? Or, as fans, are we asking too much of our professional athletes to care as we do?

Share your views. Also know, I’m still not convinced the Heat are a legit contender this year.  The Cavs team they destroyed last night could be one of the least talented teams in the entire league.