Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The general consensus is that what separates Jordan from the rest of Basketball are his work ethic and moxie, also known as that "Jordan swagger." For about five or six years post-Jordan, every player between 6'4" and 6'9" tried to be equally yin and yang in hopes of being exactly like Jordan. This was doomed to fail from the beginning, not because Jordan was so great at every facet of the game, but because of the fact that those players tried to follow his methods too closely. They tried to re-create Jordan in themselves instead of using him as a guide for their own inner formula. It sounds similar, but operative word being "own."
Let's return to Jordan's idea of moxie. It wasn't that he was pure by birthright. His will to win is driven by the fact that he was naturally deficient. He approached challenges as a way to push beyond his limitations and be supernaturally perfect. It's what we call, "putting on the superhero cape." Where Jordan was different is that his entire career was this way. As I said on the last post, he was the lone samurai: human but so extraordinary that he couldn't (wouldn't) associate with his peers, and wanted to best them with every fiber of his being. He would come back each season, as all elite players do, with a new wrinkle in his fabric; a new tool—more like a weapon—with which to continue his onslaught through the Association. His unyielding confidence created a mystique of invincibility, thus making any parts of his game he couldn't quite perfect perfect in the eyes of the opposition. He is every human "superhero" that we know: Batman, The Punisher, The Grey Ghost, etc. Human with the aura of a god. And yes, Kobe is the same way.
It may seem like a sudden twist, but this brings me to Kevin Durant. People have said that he's a taller George "Iceman" Gervin because of his slender build. However, I (better substantiated by Bethlehem Shoals at FreeDarko) feel that he has that Jordan-like reinforced steel nerve that will propel him into super-stardom—even if he's naturally not supposed to be there. He's supposed to be great, but not so great that he will be talked about for all eternity. But his mental fortitude is taking him above his destined heights. Most believe that he needs to become stronger in order to maximize his effectiveness; but this recent scoring stretch and general play this season is refuting that by the game. He's taking the constant chatter about his lankiness and is letting it be the accelerant for the dormant fire that lies within his calm exterior. The result is this season, highlighted by his 46-point outburst in the Rookie/Sophomore game. He even said that he, "approached it like a real game." Tell me that doesn't have a hint of Jordan in it. He's competitive even when it's not supposed to be real competition.
But it's his future that intrigues me. When he sneers after a monumental basket, I get the sense that I'm looking into future of an NBA world in which Durant is a silky-smooth silent assassin. As I said with Jordan and Kobe, Durant looks to punish the rest of the League because they know he is fallible. He wants to create an alter-ego that intimidates, but he doesn't appear to distance himself from his teammates like Jordan and Kobe. He looks to lead by actions with a firm and fair hand, and take his teammates along on his journey to the top. The one blemish on Jordan and Kobe to me is that they saw their teammates as pieces needed to attain self-actualization; whereas Lebron, Chris Paul, and Durant see them as companions needed for a team goal. I cite Kobe's reaction to Bynum's injury as proof of the first idea, and Paul's chemistry with Tyson Chandler as evidence of the second. Durant plays like a god because he doesn't want his team to lose rather than he doesn't want to be individually defeated.
So, if you did read the post about the Fear of Lebron, then you know that Future Kevin Durant is awe-inspiring to me. It's because he's a product of the new thinking among elite swingman prospects. Wade, 'Melo, Lebron, Durant, and even OJ Mayo to an extent, found the right blueprint to "be like Mike," which is: instead of copying his moves or mannerisms, find something to drive them and push them to a level no amount of practice could help attain.
Monday, February 23, 2009
OK. I recognize the outrageous blasphemy in that statement, and I hesitated before typing it. I even thought about hiding it in a paragraph like a cryptic message so it wouldn't be easily discovered. But no, it needs to be alone, because of its loneliness, hence the doubling up of random pictures between that statement and this paragraph. This isn't to say that the current Lebron is better than MJ; that is sacrilege of the highest Basketball degree. But I get a different emotion when watching The King. While I'm amazed with Jordan, I'm scared of Lebron. My attempt at substantiating this absurd thesis lies after the next random picture…
Before I get flooded with requests to revoke my sports opinion, allow me to explain. I acknowledge that said explanation may still be an eloquently veiled excuse, but I'll try anyway. In order to lay some sort of plausible foundation, I think I should start with AI. Allen Iverson is my favorite all-time player—yes, ahead of Jordan in his tongue-wagging prime. I feel like I have to keep stressing that I know Jordan is Basketball Supreme. He is The Best, and every time Kobe makes an offensive move, Jordan's greatness is more reaffirmed in my mind. (Oddly enough, the same happens whenever I watch Vince Carter play.) The reason Iverson resonated so deeply with me is because there was no one like him to grace the floor since I had started watching the game. Whether he was the best player in the game that night or not, no one could copy his style. Seeing Iverson was the first time I had noticed a transcendent talent. He was someone that not even MJ could figure out initially—nothing about Iverson came from any of Jordan's derivatives. I relished in his rebelliousness. His defiant step over Tyronn Lue in the Finals was a landmark moment in Hoops for me. It permanently cemented him as my favorite basketball player.
At first, I thought that me being more gravitated to AI and Lebron than Jordan was due to the fact that when Jordan was actively ruling the Basketball Realm, I was too young to really appreciate the finer things of Basketball—and that these two players are the most unique of the post-Jordan era. But even as I analyze Prime Jordan with a keener Basketball mind, and revel in His Airness-ness, I still don't have quite the same feeling I do when observing Iverson and Lebron. Watching Prime Jordan (and Prime Kobe, for that matter) is like watching a man alone set out to take vengeance on those that know he's mortal. His divinity comes through unceasing enhancement of strengths and development of faults to near-flawlessness. He's the living proof that perfect practice makes perfect. Add that to his free-flowing, spontaneous-yet-simultaneously-planned Basketball operations; and you have Zeus in outstanding tennis shoes.
So why does Lebron frighten me if there's already someone atop Mount Olympus? You may be thinking that current Lebron doesn't have many postseason moments; even if they're compared to Jordan or Kobe's first six years. He only has two, with one of them being in a Conference Finals victory and one being in defeat and bested by another man's dawning of the superhero cape. However, with Current Lebron, I don't have that same reassurance that Jordan will forever remain The Best. Lebron slowly erodes that thinking with each move, each pass, and each annoying powder clap. It's not that he's so advanced in the game without having college education. It's not even each of his thunderous one-man stampedes to the rim. I think the reason why I'm scared of Lebron is because he is the only player that can assume Basketball perfection without perfecting every aspect of his game.
The one "flaw" in Lebron's game is a consistent perimeter jump shot. He has a hitch in it, which means that he doesn't shoot the same shot twice. The way defenses are designed today, a perimeter player almost has to have some semblance of an outside game. This is where the fear comes in when I look at Lebron. I feel that he doesn't have to be as good a shooter as, say, Dwyane Wade because of how physically superior he is to…everyone. And when he does lose that proverbial step, he becomes, at worst, as quick as Ron Artest or Paul Pierce off the dribble. Then there's the underutilized post game that may reveal itself once he moves to New York and doesn't have a true center clogging the lane. His version of MJ/Kobe's turnaround fadeaway would then be a four-foot baby hook—a more boring but more efficient tool; and unstoppable considering who would be defending him.
Or, he could do what we all expect but still can't conceive. He could refine that jumper and be deadly in all dimensions for the next dozen years. Is that scarier than the scenario in the previous paragraph? I can't really say. But the fact that it's legitimately conversed about is a testament to what Lebron could be. I understand that perimeter defenders could get away with a lot more in Jordan's heyday than now, but the tradeoff with that is the athletes are far more, well, athletic than in previous eras; with more of said physical phenoms in the Association. There wasn't such a thing as Josh Smith twenty years ago. As Jordan/Kobe is the lonesome Samurai achieving Basketball balance from elemental sharpening, Lebron is Hercules—causing tremors as he harnesses his wrath in the name of Basketball.
The "Fear" Order goes:
I hope I fully explained myself in this post. If I didn't, feel free to let me know so in the comments. I'll answer any questions that you may have, and will stand by my initial sentence.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Before the chaos of the summer of 2010 gets underway, Basketball fans are anticipating next year's dunk contest; in which The Royal King James has apparently decided to descend from his throne and showcase his otherworldly athleticism in the spirit of fun. For those of you that are believing that fallacy, then allow me to save you some heartbreak. The odds of Lebron participating in a dunk contest are slim, if none. There are many reasons why, and you guessed it, they're outlined after the random pic...
Allow me to preface this with MJ. Those that believe Lebron's declaration cite that, "Jordan was in the dunk contest, and he was the G.O.A.T." True and true, but not even MJ had the same path towards stardom that Lebron enjoys. When Jordan entered the Association, he wasn't anointed as The One—primarily because Bird and Magic were at the peak of their titan-like rivalry and the League didn't need another torch-bearer just yet. Through uncanny work ethic and sheer will to be The Best, he bullied his way into the highest of Hoops echelons. Yes, he was blessed with natural gifts, but he had to snatch his crown.
Conversely, Lebron was anointed from his St. Vincent, St. Mary days. He forced the invocation of having high school games on national TV to justify broadcasting his games on Pay-Per-View. His nickname of The Chosen One was bluntly literal, and ever since 2003, he's been the face of the NBA for the new millennium—whether he was amazing or not. Of course he's amazing. And while until this season, Kobe has been the premier perimeter player and still leads in global jersey sales, it's obvious that James has been selected to be the definition of NBA.
So what does this have to do with the 2010 All-Star Weekend? Observe The Lebrons commericial in which they hold a backyard dunk contest. Athlete Lebron says, "He doesn't really do dunk contests," but it's Business who provides the true insight into how Lebron really feels about spontaneous displays of awesome. "Dunk contests are bourgeois." Lebron is building a genuine Baskeball empire, and anything that could hinder it—even slightly—is merely a distraction from his ultimate goal: global icon status. What's even more frustrating to fans is that in pre-game warm-ups, he puts on performances that leave us wondering, "Why not in February?"
The reason why I believe it won't happen is because he already has mystique. As I said, with MJ, he sort of had to create his greatness aura. Yes, he had accolades on his college resume, but he wasn't treasured as the rare gem until "The Layup." Lebron's mystique partly lies in the fact that he hasn't been in a dunk contest. As I heard on TV once, "He has the lure of being the greatest dunk contest dunker...without ever dunking." Does he feel that even he couldn't compete with those acrobatic free-spirits that love to spread their wings? Maybe.
Back on the Vince post, I stated that Carter's dunks are his exertion of dominance...in dunking. I feel that when Lebron takes flight, it's a physical declaration that his might is untouched—that he is a god among immortals. While Kobe and MJ are Almighty tacticians through repetition and acquiring of more skill, Lebron is a sculpted supreme being, crafted from the Heavens with the powers of every aspect of the Basketball Realm within arm's reach. Winning a dunk contest wouldn't add to his legacy because he's created a portion of his legacy through not competing. And that may be a little more gratifying. I'll believe it when they announce his name in Dallas.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
It's February 17th, Michael Jordan's birthday. As a semi-spoiler, I was saving him for the final piece in this series because of his perfectly equal mixture of uniqueness and discipline. But this is his day, and it would be coincidentally appropriate to let him be the turning point in my saga. What is the new direction, you say? Well, you'll just have to keep reading, now won't you?
The interesting thing about Jordan when it comes to every other player in history is that he has become the separator of Basketball Old and Basketball New. Jerry West may be The Logo, and Bill Russell is the sport's Ultimate Winner, but His Airness is the Christ-like landmark in the hoops timeline.
In my series, I have designated a player as a yin or yang. But no player can be fully one or the other because of the individuality of Basketball. Each person's configuration is unique to him and can never be duplicated. As I said, Jordan is the water in the pH balance scale. He was a perfectionist with pure footwork on both ends of the floor, but able to adjust on his whim—whether mid-air or mid-dribble.
His ideal fusion of yin and yang were one of his gifts and curses to Basketball (I'll examine the other one in a future post). He made it plausible for upcoming players to concentrate on both components of their configuration in hopes of achieving equal balance. This is a blessing for those that are able to handle the strain that comes with it. However, only Kobe Bryant has been able to withstand the journey of His Airness' Road Less Traveled and emerge successful. From Vince Carter to Harold Miner to Jerry Stackhouse, those that have fallen under that "next MJ" tag have been labeled as flawed because of it. It's nearly impossible to do because while someone like Kobe has Jordan as the blueprint, he would have to sacrifice his own individuality to follow it, thus hindering the perception of his place in the Basketball Realm. He becomes more cerebral and multi-faceted at a quicker pace, but loses some of the mystique that comes with being an unadulterated individual.
So far, one man—with one still teetering with the scales—has harnessed the two forces inside him and does not need another being as his compliment. Happy Birthday, Your Airness.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Flashback to this time, nine years ago. A young, upstart swingman named Vince Carter put on one of the greatest individual displays of athleticism in sports history. It was the kind of performance in which mere mortals realized why they aren't in the Association; and fellow NBA immortals showed their reverence to Vinsanity while he was in his airborne element. With his mouthed exclamation of, "It's over," he did more than just state he was champion of that night in Oakland. He, in fact, killed the dunk contest.
'll examine two tangents that stem from this initial idea. The first being Carter himself. The perception among Basketball observers is that he doesn't have the most passionate approach to the game. To detractors, he only plays basketball because he can and not because he loves to do it. Despite infinite talent, he placed a low, finite ceiling on his career through real or fabricated injuries and the inability to win in the postseason. But when Carter dunks, it's as if he's an entirely different being. Carter almost never shows emotion, but always gets amped whenever he does something spectacular. The dunk appears to be Vince's exertion of dominance—a way to reclaim his territory. He dares the opposition, both defenders in the paint and dunk contest competitors in 2000, to challenge him—to meet him at/above the rim. So for someone as standoffish as Carter to be the demise of such a timeless event is a testament to Basketball itself. A player who's been described as a shell of what he should be hollowed out an event, making it a shell of what it used to be.
This brings me to Dwight Howard. Yes, his past two performances—particularly the one in 2008—were refreshing and aethetically pleasing. He stole the show, but merely took the dunk contest's cadaver. To me, his 2008 performance overrates one aspect (The Superman Dunk) and underrates the other (all of his other dunks). This isn't to say that I wasn't impressed, because I was floored by the freakishness of it. However, considering the overall blandness of previous contests, save for a few flashes of brilliance, D-12 didn't have much as competition. He surpassed the level of post-VC slamfests as easily as he throws one down, but not even the Man of Steel can windmill life force back into the dunk contest.
So congrats to you, Nate Robinson. At least you brought something resembling winning to the Knicks. And for those of you anticipating Lebron's appearance in the 2010 edition in Dallas, don't count on it. He'd be four months away from the biggest individual payday in NBA history (including endorsements). Plus, I don't think the folks at the Swoosh would authorize it.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Sometimes, yin/yang relationships are revealed through the crossing of paths. For example, Bird and Magic discovered each other through their epic matchup in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game (Side Note: Money Mike has an outstanding piece on their relationship through the form/function lens). The rest is, as they say, history. Almost two decades later, two players were able to meet each other as basketball soulmates in virtually the same collegiate stage. For more, you know where to meet me...
Before the incarnation of Chris Paul, Allen Iverson unquestionably ruled as my favorite basketball player for the past decade. With diminutive stature and gargantuan willpower, AI was my Answer to MJ's retirement. It was more than his crossover, but rather his ability to bring a rebellious style to the Association, and force its acceptance of him as an all-time great in the sport. Besides Kobe, Lebron, and Wade, no player intimidates more when he has the ball in a perimeter isolation situation than Iverson. But back in his Georgetown days, he came face-to-face with his UConn counterpart: Ray Allen.
Jesus Shuttlesworth looks like he's done nothing wrong in his life. He's a gentleman with a clean-cut persona and a perfectly constructed jump shot. He and Iverson had battles during their conjoined times in the Big East, none more famous than their 1996 Big East Tournament duel in which Ray hit the game-winner. Their destinies have been linked since. After being cornerstones to franchises, they have each been traded in hopes of pairing them with a budding small forward—Iverson with 'Melo and Ray with Rashard Lewis. After those respective experiments failed, both have been on the move again, landing with contenders in hopes of getting that elusive championship glory. Ray was successful last season in Boston, and Iverson is struggling to fit in with Detroit; coincidentally, with another systematic player in Rip Hamilton. Both have also maintained a surprisingly high level of productivity despite double-digit years in the Association.
The differences in their respective personalities and visions of Basketball are obvious. While Ray hasn't had the off-court obstacles that Iverson has had, he has had to endure tumultuous periods of his life as well. Both have had bouts with injuries, but it's Iverson that gets praised for his toughness. Everyone designates Iverson with the definition of the crossover dribble and Ray with the blueprint of the perimeter stroke. However, Ray was once a do-it-all highflyer; and AI is an underrated shooter (Note: shooting doesn't equal shot selection). Another interesting difference is that each of their best seasons were under coaches naturally opposite of their basketball souls. AI played under Larry "Play The Right Way" Brown, and Ray had George Karl in Milwaukee. They dueled again in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, with Iverson's 76ers besting Allen's Bucks in seven games en route to a Finals loss to the Lakers.
Where these two differ most is how they've altered their visions of Basketball as they've gotten older. Ray has chosen to add structure to his naturally rigid game, while Iverson still has remained steadfast in his nonconformity. This is what intrigues me about AI, seeing as though while he isn't quite the same player as he was in Philly, he can still dominate. He can't carry a team on his back anymore, but is still capable of being a number one option. Normally, with age comes an understanding and harnessing of all that youthful exuberance great players showcase in the beginning of their careers. For example, MJ was a gold-chain wearing, dunk contest winning skywalker in gorgeous sneakers. After the first retirement, he came back more neurotic with an impeccable weapon in the mid-range shot. AI hasn't deviated from being free-flowing one bit, even as his importance on a team gradually dwindles. Even though this season's stats aren't what we're used to from him, they're still better than any point guard not named Paul, Williams or Harris.
Ray Allen, coming off an incline in numbers in then-Seattle, still saw the logic behind sacrificing his self for the ultimate team goal, and was rewarded for it. This isn't to say that Ray is more mature than Iverson, but perhaps AI should consider shrinking his demand for the ball at the top of the key and look to get others involved around him—something which is still an underrated ability he possesses (He gave Aaron McKie a career).
Even though Iverson is frowned upon by some basketball purists, he's more of a lock for the Hall of Fame than Ray Allen; and the one with the bigger casual fan base. AI is the transcendant talent, While Ray—due to his structure—is the borderline great player. More people can instantly appreciate an Iverson crossover than Ray coming off a stagger screen for a three; each are beautiful in their own way. Ray does have the ring AI wants, and that is the awkward game-winning jumper in the Big East Tourney that the former Husky has over the former Hoya.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I'll use Lebron for this example because he is the most visible face of the most globalized sport this side of soccer. He's already stated his goal of being, "a global icon," and in order to achieve that he needs a certain characteristic that even eluded Ali during his prime: crossover appeal. People of all cultures and races love Lebron. Don't think for a second that his "powder" thing he borrowed from KG and Jordan was spontaneous. He recognized that he needed more than just on-the-court ability that will allow him to be exalted in the minds of the fans. It's his MJ tongue-wag. If he ever switches logos on his merchandise, I guarantee that the silhouette will be of him with his arms outstretched.
What also comes with crossover appeal is an exponential increase in financial stability (read: Mo' Money). As His Airness himself once famously (or infamously) said, "Republicans buy shoes, too." This set the precedence for all superstar athletes post-Jordan to not be forced to take sides and stir any extra controversy from any one group—more importantly, any one potential sales demographic. Today's athlete is more concerned with endorsement deals than making a difference outside of mandated community service projects. This isn't to say that there aren't athletes that don't care about situations like Darfur or Katrina, but rather this is to say that you won't dare catch them saying anything that isn't politically correct. Etan Thomas is politically active; but with respect to him, most people wouldn't Etan Thomas if they saw him in NBA gear; and he's 6'9". It even took me a couple seconds when I met him a few years back at The
That's why Ali is my favorite person and the Greatest Of All Time. Not only was he the best at his craft, but he still managed to keep his true self without converting through the pressures of celebrity. Now, he's the most celebrated living Black athlete, if not overall athlete, in the world. I'm not bashing the modern pro athlete for it because they are not champions of our struggles. Yes, someone like Lebron or Tiger could use that mass appeal to bring light to those troubles that certain media outlets choose to ignore. And yes, "regular" people have virtually no chance of influencing a newspaper or TV network to give their cares some real air time, regardless of need or sincerity. But in an age where every second of celebrities' and athletes' lives are invaded, we have to respect them if those with a bit of fame don't want to create any added backlash. Ali was a special human being in a different time period. No superstar has to endure any of the harshness that he did during his rise to prominence. And there will never be an athlete with that combination of superstar aura and a desire to be vocal about injustice again.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
To: The Rest of The Association
Cc: Help Defenders
Subj: Rajon Rondo's Ball FakeLook, Rajon Rondo is as quick as they come, and he uses that deception to continuously get into the lane and get out in transition. However, that fake behind-the-back is not unstoppable. When he first used it, I could see its effectiveness given his offensive limitations; but he's done it so much that NBA players should have caught on by now. The only move I've seen that can't be stopped is the Sam Young pump fake aka, "The Grizzle Fake." Rondo's move shouldn't be bought anymore. NBA, you've been warned...again.
To: Lebron Detractors
Cc: Wizards Fans
Fans in the Phone Booth had a good time in seeing some semblance of justice served to The King. And after Lebron's explanation of the move, Wizards supporters were getting more than their seven laughs in over it. Well, while Lebron did blatantly travel, the crab dribble is a defined basketball technique. So yes, Lebron did execute the crab dribble, but he took four steps after it.
This brings me to the so-called rivalry between the Wizards and the Cavaliers. Just because a team gets fake tough for a series, and still gets dumptrucked by one man, doesn't make this a rivalry. How many series have the Wizards won against Cleveland? Right. In fact, in the three series, the total numbers of wins is in Lebron's favor 12 to 4. DeShawn Stevenson seems to be the one headlining the Wizards' smack talk. Lebron is the best player in the world, and Deshawn Stevenson is the worst off-guard in the Association. It's about time they freed Nick Young (end brief rant). Wizards fans, worry about whether or not you get Blake Griffin next year and not Lebron's footwork.
To: Rest of NBA
Cc: Defenders In The Paint
Subj: Fouling Lebron James
Readers may have initially thought that this would be a memo regarding allowing Lebron to draw fouls on minimal contact like Jordan once did. Something to the effect of, "touching him in the air being a foul," as I once heard during a pickup game. But this is quite the contrary. While we're on the subject of Lebron, it's no secret that he's a large human being. Since he is such, he brings a lot of momentum with him when going to the rim. So why is it that defenders continue to attempt to simply make slight contact with him, particularly while he's in the air? Anything that isn't borderline flagrant will not cease Lebron's ascenstion to the basket. This particular memo must get lost in the spam folder, because it still happens six years into Lebron's career. And if you're smaller and haven't blocked a layup since middle school, just get out of the way, or this will happen to you. I'm sure the coach will understand.
To: All Guards In Transition Defense
Cc: Steve Nash
Subj: Taking Charges Under The Basket
I'm not a firm believer in taking charges under the basket during an opponent's fast break. The refs never call it, and it almost always ends up in a basket and the foul. But more importantly, the result is usually something thunderous...and the foul. Duke's Greg Paulus found out the hard way yesterday. If you think it's reserved for players with college experience, then you're wrong. Manu Ginobili once didn't heed the warning. But the main culprit of this basketball unwritten warning is Canada's own Steve Nash. He is The Maestro, and has gotten a bunch of players unwarranted big-time paydays (I'm looking at you, Q); but he is not a stalwart on defense. He keeps getting dunked on trying to set up for the charge. And you would think someone with as high a basketball IQ as Nash's would learn to avoid such situations. But alas, no dice. Nash has harnessed court vision, but he just can't seem to see dunkers preparing to take off over him. Oh well, more entertainment for me.
Hopefully, the recipients of these memorandums will pay attention to them and learn from their previous mistakes. I don't want to have to do this again.