Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – September 30, 2010

The Final Decision on The Decision is a necessary thing to tackle for any newborn Miami Heat fan.  There was a strong reaction to the show at the time of its release, but it requires further analysis with some hindsight.  Yes – I am aware of how much I am jumping onto an already crowded bandwagon, however, give me a small break: I had gone through nearly a decade, teamless and without hope.  My hometown franchise and the closest team in the next city were gone. 

The Decision changed everything.  One moment completely transformed my basketball life for the forseeable future.  Even hardcore Miami fans will face up to it, the one totally ugly part about the team’s tranformation from borderline playoff contender to Title Quest Diary neccessity was The Decision.  I feel the decision is more complex than it first appeared.  There was a lot of anger towards Lebron at first, as could be expected when one of the most iconic players in the NBA (who has been known worldwide since he was on a Sports Illustrated cover proclaiming him “The Chosen One”…at age 16) decided to…well…here it is:

It will certainly go down as one of the most uncomfortable moments in pop culture history and it can and will be endlessly ridiculed but…you watched it, didn’t you?  It was one of the highest rated moments of the summer television slate drawing somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 million viewers (not counting the thousands holding their collective breath in the bars in Ohio).  Had we been so bombarded with the media blitz that accompanied the “Summer of Lebron” that we simply had to know what was going to happen?  So much so we were more than willing to sit through a horrific, self-agrandizing hour of television devoted to Lebron? 

The simple answer: Yes, secretly we loved it.

It was one of the biggest moments in sports history.  I know where I was when I watched it and I will probably remember the moment even a decade from now regardless of how many titles Miami Thrice bring home.  Surely other people feel the same.  At times it was painful and Lebron looked incredibly akward and uncomfortable in actually making his choice…yet he stuck it out even though it was not easy.  Yes, he wanted to date a younger, sexier woman with more  lifetime potential, but his highschool sweetheart had to be dumped…and it was brutal

The angst is palpable, the frustration nearly paralyzing.  Lebron knew what he was doing to an already tormented fan base that had annointed him their savior.  His stats certainly helped the savior perception but his game may be more suited to the role of a playmaker (29ppg, 7.3rpg, 8.6 apg)  than dominating scorer.  Hell, if he can average a near triple double passing to Delonte West what is he going to do with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh?

  It is also possible his decision was a last second thing.  Reading the September GQ article about Lebron it appears his own people may not have been in on the final choice.  The reporter covering the “Summer of Lebron” got any number of different possibilities when it came to his ultimate final destination…the interesting thing: not once was Cleveland the outright choice.  If Lebron knew all summer he was not going to return to Cleveland, all he was waiting for was delievering the inevitable twist ending.  He gave us one of the highest rated television shows of the summer and as much as we can bash him for it, he delievered.  Did anyone actually believe he would have an hour long television special and choose not to return to the team in his home state? 

What followed was one of those moments that shades the entire process before that point in a whole new light.  Immediately the conspiracy theorists came out following leads to prove that this collusion had been in the works since before the Olympics in 2008.  You can believe what you like but the fact remains: Lebron provided us with a better twist than Inception.  This was his Keyzer Soze moment and we reveled in it.

Beyond the instant villian turn lies a half truth that his decision was motivated by a desire to win championships and playing in Miami or “South Beach” gives him an excellant shot to do that.  Maybe something happened on the Cavaliers that damaged his relationship with his teammates beyond repair (If so, the fans of Cleveland can thank Delonte West the next time he comes to town).  More than that, however, being in Miami has refreshed Lebron, invigorated Wade and made Bosh relevant for the first time in his NBA career.  These guys were willing to sacrifice stats, money and singular glory in order to win and that, if nothing else is incredibly commendable. 

I believe in what the Heat are doing and when Lebron James made his decision and gave the NBA a renewed outlook it desperately needs on the edge of an impending labor strike, it changed everything for me.  I had a team to believe in again, a team to root for when so many others are lining up to root against them.  This was, after all, the NBA equivelant of Carrie Underwood singing – completely unexpectedly – of taking a 2×4 to her cheating boyfriend’s truck.  The Decision made me love the NBA more than ever and it gave me a team that I could cheer for no matter what.  Everyone whether they will admit it or not is excited to see the new-look Miami Heat because these guys have the potential to turn any game into a rendition of NBA JAM (“He’s on FIRE”).  I may not have become a Miami Heat fan for life, instead, merely I am signing on for the same length as Lebron  (6 years, though for a lot less compensation so I feel like one of them) .  When the run ends I may find a new team (OKC!) or I may stick around if the superteam does. 

So, as a dutiful Canadian, Miami Heat fan I will be writing a Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary this year because I believe in the super team, and I believe in loving one team again…at least for the next six years.  Enjoy your new city Lebron, but given that you comitted a serious crime against Clevelanders I would watch out for this guy:

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary Sept 27, 2010

Why write a season long diary for a “dream” team in a city far, far from my own Canadian home? 

For several years now I have been a basketball nomad – drifting in and out of the game with varied interest.  I cheered for and against certain players but felt rudderless and without a real stake. 

Before that I was a huge fan of my home team: The Vancouver Grizzlies.  When they first came to town my Dad got season tickets;  the night before their first ever home game I was so excited I could barely sleep (like Roger Clemens now).  At the first game, something magical happened…the Grizzlies won on a last second buzzer beater!   The Garage went nuts and in me they had a fan for life

Over the next few years I lived with the ups of downs typical to the young franchise experience such as: a 23 game losing streak, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, Antonio Daniels, Steve “I want out” Francis, Cherokee Parks, Greg Anthony, Rodney Rodgers, Stromile Swift and the eponymous Blue Edwards (who was slapped with 3 paternity suits before the first season was completed).  The Grizzlies could not have bought a good draft.  Some of the players they passed on…no, I cannot get into it, it hurts too much.

That is not to say the team only made terrible moves, I also got to see Shareef Abdur-Rahim (arguably the best Grizzly of all-time), Mike Bibby (before he became a top-fifteen player) and Mike Dickerson.  Plus, I got to see the team get shredded continuously by guys like Cuttino Mobley who apparently only discovered his scoring abilities when he landed at Vancouver International Airport.  Sure, we lost a lot of games (At times we had more losses than the Yankees who play 162 game seasons) but we lost games to the best athletes on the planet: Shaq, Kobe, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson and in a game I will remember forever, Michael Jordan and the (eventual champion) ’98 Bulls. 

Then, just as the team was beginning to appear promising (Pau Gasol!) they were unceremoniously moved to Memphis by new owner Michael “I will not move the team” Heisley and promptly made the playoffs, learned to draft and signed big free agents.  Not to mention the guys I missed out on the chance to see…Lebron, Wade, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony… Steve  Nash (who I have only seen light the Winter Olympic Torch).  I could say more about this but my lawyer has advised against it.  I will leave it at this when it comes to Mr. Heisley:

Moving on, we still had the Sonics within driving distance and could get to a couple games a year at least…

Now, they are title contenders with one of the three best players in the world…in Oklahoma.  Emotionally, I was destroyed.  Who could I cheer for now?  I drifted to Lakers games but I intensely dislike Kobe so it never worked out.  I cheered on Boston to their first title since the Bird team in ’86; nonetheless I remained a man without a team (other than wherever Steve Nash landed). 

This year I rediscovered the NBA in a huge way thanks to The Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, and his magesterial The Book of Basketball.  If you have not read the book, it is astoundingly good – a perfect combo of hilarious and history.  I was back as a fan big time.  Finally, I felt myself letting go of some of my residual anger towards the Grizzlies and Sonics ownership.  I watched game seven of the 2010 finals, cheering very loudly against the Kobe Bryants (Key stat from that game, not 6 for 24 but the fact he was 6 for 24 with one assist.  Does not even seem statistically possible for a guy to have such a selfish, terrible game with the title on the line, but there you go) . 

Still I was jumping from team to team, bandwagon to bandwagon.  I needed a miracle, someone to root for.  Then, from nowhere, the miracle I desperately needed to happen, happened:

Denard Robinson Joins a Select List

When Michigan’s sensational sophomore quarterback, Denard Robinson, put up 502 total yards in a huge win against Notre Dame he joined a select list – the greatest single game performances I have ever seen

The others on this list may not have made the same statistical impact Robinson did against Notre Dame, but they affected the outcome of the game in one way or another.  Robinson’s performance was so jaw-dropping, simply because you could not believe what you were watching.  It became the norm to believe he was going to do something incredible, and he came through again and again.  Check out his 87 yard touchdown run:

How will the rest of the season play out for the young Heisman hopeful? 

Given that in his performance against UMASS last week he cut back significantly on his rushing attempts (17) in return for a “season low” 104 yards on the ground (while throwing for 241 and 2tds) it appears he will begin to rely less on his legs and more on his arm.  Let’s imagine his final stats this season looking something like this:

65% completion pct; 2500 yards passing; 1425 yards rushing; 6.8 yards per carry; 22 tds passing / 20 tds rushing.

Are those numbers enough to win the Heisman even if his team loses several games?  The short answer: maybe.  During his Heisman year Tim Tebow posted similar (but less gaudy) stats and it worked out for him despite a few losses.  Robinson will have to keep posting big numbers the rest of the way (and beat Ohio State?) to have a real shot.  It may be difficult given Michigan’s suspect defense and given that Robinson is undersized for a mobile quarterback (6’0 188) who carries the ball more than 20 times per game.  Time will tell if he hoists the Heisman this year, but until then he can be satisfied with his inclusion on this list of the Best Individual Performances in a Game.  Welcome Denard, for what may not be your only trip. 

1) Ron Artest vs. Duke

No one knew who Artest was when this game happened.  In fact, this game was set during Duke’s string of incredible, title winning teams so not many people remember an in-season game.  That said, everyone knew who Artest was after this game (which catapulted him into the Draft Lottery).  Quite simply, Ron Artest took the consesus number one team in the country to double overtime…by himself.  Every time Duke took the lead, Artest would improbably hit a three at the buzzer or score in some other ridiculous way.  He finished with more than 40 points and so dominated the game that I still remember it to this day.  This is the moment for Ron Artest that I choose to rememeber: a bull of a small forward refusing to let his team die – as opposed to the crazy person whom NBA fame destroyed.  Ironically enough he recaptured some of his big game mojo by dominating game seven against the Celtics. 

2) Curt Schilling 2004 ALCS Game Six against the Yankees

As a Yankee fan, this one hurts.  However, you simply cannot ignore the fact that this is one of the greatest pitching performances in playoff history.  This was more epic than Schilling’s earlier playoff performances in the World Series against the Yankees when he played for Arizona (A very underrated tag team effort by Schilling and Randy Johnson in which they carried the team to the title).  As ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons wrote about the performance:

“What can you say?  What can you say about Curt Schilling?  How many words are enough?  This wasn’t just an ankle sprain.  His right sock was covered in blood, thanks to three sutures (?!?!?!?!?!) holding together his dislocated ankle tendon…This time it was leaking blood.  He didn’t care.  The team needed him.  So Schilling kept pitching.” 

 Could not have said it better myself.  An epic playoff performance that numbers cannot fully justify.  He put the team on his back and inspired them to finish their comeback from being down 3-0 to their hated rivals. 

3) Michael Jordan’s final game as a Chicago Bull vs. The Utah Jazz

What else can be written about this performance?  It was one of the greatest singular moments in sports history.  Jordan did not have the best game of his career…but there was no way in hell he was losing this game.  He did whatever he had to do.  He got the foul line 20 times; he made a ridiculous steal to set up his game winning jumper; he made the game winning jumper and sealed the fate of Karl Malone’s titleless career.  Indomitable and unforgettable.

4) Mike Vick vs. Florida State

No, not “the State of Florida” but Florida State for the  NCAA Championship.  Vick, as a freshman, had carried his team to the title game and then improbably gave them the lead against the undisputed number 1 team in the nation.  Alas, they could not hold on for the win (Peter Warrick decided he was not going to lose to anyone and that he was way better than the VT corners, reeling off something like 12 tds in five minutes) but there has never been a more electrifying performance in a title game than this one.  Vick cemented his tag as the qb of the future here, until his…well you know…although he has seemingly returned to form this year. 

5) George Mason vs Everyone

The one true shocker in NCAA Tournament History, and probably the most unlikely Final Four Team ever.  They played like a team with nothing to lose and knocked off programs whose fans were going into cardiac arrest with every shot.  George Mason fought through several nail biters during their improbable run and remain a true March Madness classic in every sense. 

6) Denard Robinson vs Notre Dame

What else can be said about this one? 

What did I miss (because there are dozens of other performances surely)? 

Let me know in the comments.

Kobe, the throwback

Why is Kobe Bryant the final player of the Jordan Era, a throwback of a dying era? 

Simply put, he exemplifies the “me versus the world” killer instinct the new generation lacks. 

Players today are different.  They don’t need to vanquish opponents with an almost religious zeal anymore.  Ironically, it all sort of started with Kobe’s teammate – now frenemy – Shaq, who could easily have won a dozen titles if he had chosen to.  He didn’t.  Instead, Mr. Big Diesel realized he could parlay his image as the most dominant of all time big man into a genuine pop culture phenomenon.  To Shaq it never mattered if he looked silly while doing something ridiculous, he just wanted to be recognized for doing it.  Take his movie career, no doubt someone along the line told him he could make millions and become a global icon.  He is a global icon but when was the last time he starred in a movie?  Seems like the 90’s. 

Unlike Kobe, Shaw was always looking for what he could do next – not where he currently was.  Maybe, he thought, he could be a rapper of police officer or MMA fighter or president?!   Hell he had the attention span of an unneutered daschund. 

Kobe, on the other hand, has only looked after one person his entire career: Kobe.  Like a prime cut of beef on a bare plate, he wanted more than anything to stand out alone without an sides cluttering the fringes.  Shaq was a generous helping of prime rib but he always came with mashed potatoes and grilled veggies.  Kobe could never stand to have anything else on the plate and he spent years running Shaq out of town to ensure it. 

However, at that point he had to live up to his newfound top billing.  He was alone on the plate.  His goal, it seemed, was to statistically dominate the league.  Championships (maybe even the playoffs) were nothing but a distraction from owning the title of “best player in the league”.  Meanwhile, Tim Duncan was single handedly creating a dynasty as the anti-Kobe in San Antonio.  Yet, which player do people remember as the dominant one from that era?  Not so much Duncan (probably the best power forward in league history who won 4 titles) but Kobe (the second or third best guard of all time).  Kobe thought he could be “the guy” through statistical and physical dominance of his opponents.  He did this, but not like Jordan did.

There should never be the “wow, Kobe is clearly the greatest ever” argument.  He cared nothing about winning titles for a long time, only about how many points he could score.  Jordan was consumed with being the best – and winning a title every year, Kobe was consumed with being greater than anyone at the time…statistically.  There is a big difference and it took Kobe a long time to figure it out.  Kobe was always rankled when people said Shaq was a better player after he went to Miami and won a Kobe-less title.  There was not a Shaq-less title for a long time.  The truth is, Shaq is better…when he chose to be.  Year in and year out Shaq could have torn through the league like Cody Webster blowing through Taiwan in 1982.  He was always torn between what was next and what was now. 

Kobe has never been torn because there has never been anything but Kobe.  Jordan will always be the best ever because in dominating the league he always had to come away with the title at the end of the year.  Six times he did.  Kobe may be the greatest because he can do some incredible things, but he did not raise the dozen championship banners he could have (and never will) because winning was not important to him.  Now, in the latter stages of his career it has become so but only because he is once again forced to share the plate. 

Lebron, Wade and Bosh are sort of cut from the Shaq mode – they will win when they want to, and now they want to.  Now, though, their is a difference: they do not have to be the only thing on the plate, and for years you saw where that got them.  Now they are prepared to be a balanced entrée of seasonal flavors in perfect balance. 

A new era begins in the NBA as the “me first” era ends and the “superteam” era begins.  I for one am all about it.  One of the main reasons for the dawning of Miami Thrice?  The success of our current educational strategies.  All their lives the new generation has been taught the value of working cooperatively.  Lebron, Wade and Bosh are the antithesis of the “me first” era and we are all the better for witnessing their beginnings…even if it meant suffering through “The Decision“. 

Somewhere Kobe is feeling sick.

And training…harder than ever. 

Welcome to The Cover Corner – Why I Love Sports

Welcome Sports Fans (or Fans in general) to The Cover Corner where we cover all sports while examing them through multiple facets in order to entertain and enlighten readers on the elements that make sports great.  

Why do I think sports are great?  Let me count the ways:

1) Sports have the unique ability to unite unlike any other medium in the world – What else has this ability?  The G20 Summit?  Not quite, thanks again Anarchists.  Nothing.  The collective love of a team can literally stop war.  Exhibit A: the World Cup

2) You never know what you are going to get year to year – Your team can start 0-5 and make the playoffs.  They can go 5-0 and miss the show.  They can run the table at the end of the year or lose out and blow the box.  Nothing else is as consistently solid and entertaining as sports.  Yes, we have to watch young, (at times) spoiled multi-millionaires act out our fantasies of playing a game for a living but…it is entertaining. 

3) Any given night, any given team can win – And they can celebrate…  Take Boise State vs. Oklahoma from the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. 

No one gave the Boise Broncos a chance against the all mighty Oklahoma Sooners  – and they ended up with one of the greatest and most shocking performances in the history of sport.  Unbeliveable, their were more trick plays than a pee-wee game.  We want these “I cannot believe that” moment and sports is the only thing that gives it to us constantly.  If you are craving a mind-blowing experience, sports is the perfect place to get your fix. 

4) The Options – Pick a league, any league and you will find something to watch.  (Except the WNBA – seriously how has this league possibly survived?)  Trust me on this one…there is always a game on somewhere.  Additionally, there are always people ready to sit down at the bar and share a pitcher (and their opinions) while the game is on. 

5) The Playoffs – What else causes more unshaved men at any one time? 

Sports is a unique experience and we are all the better for it.