Monday, May 28, 2007

Notes, or A bunch of old men are yelling about a kid

Hello. Today we'll look at Utah's meaningless Game 3 win, and I ask everyone to leave Lebron James alone.

Now, for my minute-by-minute breakdown of the Champions' League Final. Okay, I'm kidding.

But again, in my defense, I didn't get to see any good soccer for months. And that's my sport. Believe me, if you took Peter Gammons off baseball for a couple months, then put him back on for the World Series, he could give you 5,000 words on the condition of the first baseman's glove.

I kind of took the weekend off, but I'm back with just a couple notes, and a preview of what I'll be looking at next.

- First, to the NBA playoffs. A lot of people got really, really charged-up by Utah's Game 3 win over the Spurs. And not just the fact that they won, but the way they won.

The Duncan-like effort of Boozer, the ascendance of Deron Williams, Ginobli-Finley-Barry going cold, Duncan's offensive woes and foul trouble.

People are raving. After that win, the Jazz fans flooded the streets and partied until 11:00 p.m.

Look, Deron Williams is a great talent. I see the J-Kidd comparison, because they're both big strong point guards. But Kidd is faster, and a better passer, while Williams seems to have developed a unique talent, where he stands 15 or 20 feet away from the hoop and actually just throws the ball directly into the basket. Too bad Kidd never learned this skill. Hopefully Deron never learns some of Jason's other interests.

I don't want to belittle this win. I don't.

But here's who doesn't think Game 3 was such a big deal: the Spurs.

Their core players have been through the fire over and over again, and they know that the only "big" wins come in Game 7. A two-point win is the same as a 20-point win, except a 20-point win against a great team only leaves that great team really pissed off.

The Spurs rely on their ball movement to get to their shooters, and their shooters missed. There's no systematic problem here - sometimes you go cold. Their misses got contagious here, just like makes can get contagious, and just like they will in Game 4 tonight. And the Spurs will win in five games.

By the way I like Utah. I wish they would win. But my head, still furious with my heart about taking Phoenix, will be making the rest of my playoff picks.

- Now, to Cleveland-Detroit.

For the purposes of this blog, uh, forget Detroit. I've mentioned them in passing once or twice. They do what they do, they're very workmanlike and professional, and I respect them. But there's nothing about them that I really root for. I'll go into this in better detail at some later date, but the Pistons - like several soccer teams - are not a team that I like. But I like the idea of the Pistons. 'Sheed, Prince, Billups, Hamilton, C-Webb... I'm not drawn to them as a group, but I like knowing that they're out there.

Much easier to pull for are the Cavs.

Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have recently suffered unimaginable tragedies - Hughes, Z - and neither of them seems particularly dislikable, though they probably have liscence to be. Then there's Varaejo, who every opponent hates to play against and his teammates love to play with, and Sasha Pavlovic. Sasha has been getting better and better as the year went on, and if you missed their series against New Jersey - and you did - he had a full-on Tayshaun Prince moment in Game 1.

By the way, Pavlovic is from the former Yugoslavia. So, while he seems like a really nice guy... just don't say anything bad about him, okay? Who knows who this guy knows.

Now, to Mr. Dr. Rev. Lebron James. He is quickly developing into the most interesting American sports figure not named Barry Bonds. But while Bonds is completely self-absorbed and hateful to the media, Lebron is interesting because he's exactly the opposite.

He seems totally accessible, funny, bright...

I might have said this once here before, but it's worth repeating. A good friend of mine thinks that many of the best athletes, in all sports, are either so dumb or so arrogant that they don't know any better than to perform in the clutch. The immensity of the moment either doesn't occur to them, or it does occur to them, and they know that they'll rise to it because they know that they are the greatest talent in their sport - even when they're not.

It's an interesting theory, and I believe it to a degree. But Lebron seems to be neither of those things. He's not dumb. And, looking at the skill set that he has, for Lebron to overstate his ability, for him to be arrogant... he would basically have to tell all of his teammates and coaches, "Don't talk to me, I am Lebron James. Don't even look at me." But that's not the case.

With five seconds left in Game 1, Lebron infamously passed-off to Donyell Marshall, giving Marshall a shot for the win instead of going for the tie on his own. Earlier, with 15 seconds left, he dished-off to Big Z for a wide-open 20-footer. Marshall and Ilgauskas missed, each of them shooting from their favorite spots on the floor. (In Game 6 against New Jersey, Marshall hit four threes from the corner.)

Lebron got crushed by more than a few people for these decisions. How could he not take the last shot? This is his team! I want him to be Michael Jordan! Now!

By the way, we seem to remember MJ at the end of his career, where he - and his team - seemed to hit EVERY big shot, and make EVERY big play down the stretch. And that's why he goes down as the greatest - because it never really worked like that for anyone before him, at least not as often.

But I know that when MJ was younger, that wasn't the case. I know this because they didn't win 82 games a year and they didn't win the NBA Finals every year.

But back to Lebron. One of the things people held against him was that Marshall admitted post-game that he wasn't ready for the shot, because the play was drawn up for Lebron. Donny's standing in his favorite spot, sees his guy leave him, sees the best passer under 25 since Magic Johnson with the ball, and it doesn't occur to him that he might get the ball. And this is Lebron's fault?

And I don't want to be too harsh on Marshall, nor Big Z. They got their shots, they missed, you move on.

But after Lebron got nailed, Game 2 came down to the identical situation. Same score, even.

And Lebron drives, and he spins, and Tay Prince collapses in, and as Lebron spins he must have seen - and felt - that there, in the same corner, was Donny Marshall.

And if Mr. Dr. Rev. James was too dumb or too arrogant to care, he does the same thing as Game 1 and passes to the open player. Instead, he spins and shoots a highly-contested shot. He misses, and there's a part of me that believes he missed because he was psyched-out by the idea that while he was taking a contested shot, his open teammate was sitting in the corner.

But he's not that guy. Apparently, Lebron's on-court awareness is nearly equalled by his off-court awareness. (Although he obviously has a punk agent.) Simply put, Lebron reads his clips. He knows people are talking about him out there, and he seems genuinely concerned what they're saying. So he did what everyone screamed he should do, he forced a shot, and it didn't go down.

So I'm going to ask everyone in this disgusting news-analysis-replay-replay-replay-analysis-replay-final judgment-society to do something that, I'm sure, is impossible: shut up. Leave this damn kid alone. He's not Michael. He's not Bird. He's not Magic, though that's a closer comparison.

He's got a few things about him that will remind you of each of those players, but he's not any of them, and we didn't quite know who those players were until they retired.

But what those guys got was attention. Everybody watched them, wanted to see what they could do, and then appreciated them for what they were. Oh, fans booed when they were on the road. But after the game was over, they backed-off.

None of those three had to face the 24-hour news cycle, the 24-hour sports news cycle, the blogosphere, 15 columnists on and 50 more on the national circuit. We are a bored country, and when someone underperforms, we want to see them cut into ribbons by midnight, and if nothing new happens tomorrow, just keep cutting until there's nothing left.

Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune wrote a book called "The Jordan Rules," which chronicled MJ's struggle to get past Isaiah Thomas's Pistons. Finally, with a much-improved roster, Mike overcomes them. And Sam writes a book, and I'm happy that he did it.

But I wish that Sam had, you know, read his book. Especially before he recently said that Lebron James is less like Mike-Magic-Larry, and more like, and I'm quoting here, "Vince Carter." I'm sure other, dumber columnists said worse things.

Now, if you're too dumb or too arrogant for any of that to sink in, then you're fine. But if you're Lebron...

Well, thank God he hit a "NO WAY" fadeaway 3-pointer and a stop-on-a-dime-and-twist jumper to win Game 3. Otherwise, Lebron would have been so far inside his own head that all he could see was grey matter.

Back off, everybody. Before we decide who this kid is or isn't, let's see game four.

Of the 2010 NBA Finals.

That'll do. Back soon with my new thoughts on athletes and drugs.

Good day.

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