NBA Hyperbole: The Most Fun, Exciting Finals Ever

Thunder in 6. Oklahoma gets its first championship since the Josh Heupel led Sooners won the BCS Championship back in Y2K. Kevin Durant is your finals MVP outplaying a physically exhausted LeBron James who begins to look like Quasimodo after carrying his Heat teammates, including Dwyane Wade, through the Eastern Conference Finals. Basketball is a team sport after all and there is only so much the most physically talented player in the world can do on his own before requiring a little help from his friends. The Thunder Triumvirate of Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden have clearly defined roles and typically lack the sort of conceit that could inspire a hostile takeover and change Loud City from a republic to a dictatorship.

Speaking of an iron fist, OKC fans are lucky Michael Bloomberg is not in charge of their arena.  There’s a reason Thunder fans have gone gaga for their team and it’s a combination of vacant social calendars and the consumption of copious amounts of sugar and caffeine. Enter liberal meanie Mayor Mike and what would Loud City do without their super sized caramel macchiato from Angie’s Bakery or 850 calorie hushpuppy basket from Blue Harbor? It’ll take more than whole grains and green tea to quiet the Chesapeake Energy Arena as the Thunder will be able to ride their boisterous crowd all the way to the victory parade past the stockyards.

But the main event or marquee matchup that everyone is talking about is LeBron vs Durant. A quick glance at the tale of the tape and this showdown could be much closer than we even realize. Both are deadly scorers with LeBron being most lethal in the transition while KD is an absolute assassin coming off a high screen and occasionally stepping back to drain a demoralizing three. James is the superior athlete but Durant fans shouldn’t think this a slight as it is a unsubstantiated rumor that LeBron is in fact an android sent back in time by Cyberdyne as part of an elaborate gambling scheme involving John Connor, Bob Arum, and Top Rank Promotions. If they end up guarding one another then KD’s theater curtain length wingspan could very well block LeBron’s view of the basket but then again both players are such good passers that this series will probably come down to the supporting casts.

And this is where OKC has the advantage. The Thunder’s second unit, led by James Harden and his Karl Marx inspired facial hair, will be able to hold it’s own against even the Miami starting 5 which means LeBron and Wade cannot afford to take their normal rest for fear that the Thunder subs would run all over the Miami bench. By game 3, when the series shifts back to South Beach, the Big Three will need to borrow oxygen masks from the fine folks over at Del Boca Vista just to get through the half.

A lot of coaches and commentators have been arguing that OKC’s clunky bigs like Kendrick Perkins are going to have a time time keeping up with LeBron and Wade and if you can make the Thunder smaller then the matchup favors Miami. Serge Ibaka is not a clunky big and his shot blocking ability should make it harder for the Heat to get to the basket. That is of course if the refs let them play which is such a subjective proposition that even your local bookie isn’t entirely comfortable accepting your bet.

One thing’s for sure, these NBA Finals are bound to be compelling television. And if not, there’s always the Euro 2012.

view from Staples Center courtesy of @lookitskelvin

Whitney Houston’s Death Is A Good Time To Celebrate Our National Anthem

I don’t care if it was prerecorded, Whitney Houston’s “Star Spangled Banner” before Super Bowl XXV in 1991 will always make me want to run through the ivy covered outfield wall at Wrigley Field. And not because I served in the first Gulf War or that “Saving All My Love For You” is my favorite song of all time. Neither is true. No actually it means so much to me because my high school use to play this version before all home basketball games which, not surprisingly, were the pinnacle of my pre lovemaking adolescence and sadly, early adulthood as well.

The pregame starting lineup intros set to the Chicago Bulls theme music where you low five teammates and run over to shake the hand of the opposing head coach was all prelude to the pulse pounding drama of the National Anthem. I can still smell the combination of layer upon layer of wood varnish combined with the sweat from a jersey long since overdue for a cleansing soak. Some members of our team chose to rest their hands in front of their bodies while others preferred the more traditional, patriotic right hand across the chest. I was a hands behind the back guy myself, probably because I saw Michael Jordan do it that way in 1996 during the NBA Finals against Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, and the rest of the Seattle SuperSonics.

During the Anthem, it was impossible for me to keep my eyes focused on the American flag that hung in the corner of our dimly lit gymnasium, waving elegantly in front of the rock climbing wall we all use to scale during 3rd period PE with our gym teacher who we called “Stinger” which, the more I think about it, was pretty weird considering that he was a 75 year old guy with castor oil in his hair who usually wore what I could have sworn was a one piece maroon track suit made of velour. I would spend the majority of the Star Spangled Banner swaying backing forth on the balls of my feet like I now rock my 1 year old son to sleep, staring at a strip of maple floorboard just inches from the tips of my size 12 Nike Air Forces. I rarely scanned the crowd for fear of making eye contact with either an opponent or family member who could conceivably go on to to say that I was clearly distracted before the game which was the reason I picked up two cheap fouls early in the 1st quarter. The only time I did look towards the stands was when I had a girlfriend, which was very rare, and would glance in her general direction hoping she would reciprocate my sheepish advances. It’s sad that when I think back to girls in the stands during our basketball games I always picture them wearing several layers of fleece. That’s probably because I grew up in New Hampshire and the thermostat in our pre World War, the first one, gymnasium stopped working during the blizzard of ’78. It was either really cold or really hot, like a NYC subway.

By the final “Home of Brave” I was ready to pretty do anything my coach asked, which included taking a charge, making my free throws, and, most importantly, not fouling out before halftime. Now here we are, a mere days after Whitney Houston’s tragic death and I have a difficult time remember specific details about any of my actual varsity basketball games. But even today, almost 15 years after I graduated from high school, every time I hear that Anthem I want to stand up, put both my hands behind my back and rock back and forth. I hope that never changes.

view from the Staples Center courtesy of @bgirl123

 

Scores of Los Angeles Transplants Flee Lakers for Clippers Bandwagon

Very rarely do I make a point of watching preseason NBA basketball, especially when it’s going up against a pivotal NFL Week 15 Monday Night Football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers. However, last night was different because this just wasn’t any other preseason basketball game, this was the Los Angeles Clippers against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Clippers, as you know, just completed a blockbuster trade for all star point guard Chris Paul which occurred after NBA Commissioner David “Big Daddy” Stern threw his considerable weight behind blocking a proposed deal that would have sent the prolific Paul to the Lakers. Now, amidst rumors the Lakers could be on the verge of acquiring Magic center Dwight Howard, the “Battle Los Angeles” has been racheted up several notches as we approach the start of the 2011-12 NBA regular season.

Here a few highlights/impressions from last night’s preseason Clippers/Lakers game live from the Big Office Supply Warehouse.

a – Any victory over the Big Brother Lakers is a big victory for the Red Headed Step Child Clippers. So while most will look at 114-95 as nothing more than the final byproduct of a glorified scrimmage, to me it is the first sign of an earthquake sized paradigm shift in the City of Angels. Fact: the Los Angeles Clippers will be a much more entertaining basketball team to watch than the LA Lakers. I’m guessing a 4/5 seed and a birth into the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs.

b – I’d had no idea that “jeggings” were permitted in the NBA. Whatever gray “layering” Kobe Bryant seems to be wearing over his upper legs/knees it does very little to cover up all the excess mileage on those 33 year old legs.

c – DeAndre Jordan doesn’t need to take a shot outside of the paint, not when he’s 7′ tall and plays a good 4′ over the rim. Did you see his 1st quarter dunk last night? Aggressive. Assertive. It was like something out of NBA Jam. It was so terrifying that I almost felt sorry for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

d – When did Caron Butler come to the Clippers? If healthy, he could be the invauluble “glue” guy that holds the team together on both ends of the court.

e – And finally, I know Simmons has already made this observation, but in all seriousness, when did the Los Angeles Lakers turn into the Indiana Pacers? Josh McRoberts? Troy Murphy? They’re a Bobby Plump away from recreating the 1954 Indiana State Championship team.

view from the Staples Center courtesy of @itsChawwnney

If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands

Spoiler Alert!!!! I’m about to go all old man rant on you. Continue reading if you have ever sat on a porch just waiting for a chance to yell at the neighborhood kids to keep their voices down while you finish your Sudoku.

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You know what really is starting to grind my gears about these NBA playoffs? The incessant hand slapping after free throws. Not only is it a time consuming proposition but it also seems to occur irregardless of whether or not the shot goes in. Last night after Joakim Noah shot a free throw he immediately received a cavalcade of congratulatory handshakes from teammates like Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng. I’m pretty sure one of the referees got in there for a butt slap as well. The way people were celebrating it was as if Joakim was running for public office.

And here’s the kicker, Noah missed that free throw by a good 10 inches. Sooooo, what are you celebrating exactly? I don’t mean to make this just about the Chicago Bulls because free throw hand slapping is everywhere in these playoffs and pretty soon it’s going to force me to watch something else like – gulp – the NHL Playoffs. (If only I could find Versus….)

E.K.G.A.T. Every Kid Gets A Trophy. E.K.G.A.T. It’s 50% of what’s wrong with organized sports and athletes in America today. (The other 50% are the parents who live vicariously through their kids. To steal a phrase from Charles Barkley, those folks are “turrible”.) The idea that young athletes are told how great they are, regardless of performance, rewards mediocrity and builds a damaging false sense of entitlement. Consequently we are developing a nation of young people who are unable to cope with stress or manage failure and who also grow up expecting instant gratification for simply doing their job. I see it every day in the workplace where more and more recent college graduates simply cannot function unless their performance is constantly being validated.

We must get back to learning to live with failure. Learning from mistakes, both physical and mental, is a crucial step in the development of personal and professional resiliency. If you’re looking to blame someone for the fragile mental state of our young athletes, blame Joakim Noah, he of the 10 second post free throw handshake routine.

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Enough old man ranting for today. Tomorrow I’ll be back to talk about cell phones and those darn pop musicians who wear their pants too low.

view from the Staples Center courtesy of @RJWilliams