Fast Forward – 2014 NBA Playoffs Preview

Justin Bieber

I know the technology has been around for a decade, but only for the last year have I realized my cable came equipped with DVR. On the one hand for watching sporting events it’s fantastic. You no longer have to be a slave to the schedule. You can catch the game at your convenience and with the fast forwarding capabilities a two and a half hour commitment to a basketball game and three hours to a football game is whittled down to sixty minutes. But there are other hands involved with Digital Video Recording sporting events.

You seem like a total spaz when you are out in society and put your hands over your ears while shouting “Don’t tell me the score!” any time you hear someone utter the word basketball. You must avoid all social media. Worst of all when your team is struggling during a portion of the game, you find yourself fast forwarding until the score gets to be more to your liking.

The Miami Heat have had a similar philosophy toward basketball this past season. Disinterested, lazy and seeming to wish they could fast forward to the more interesting, important parts.

Now April is here and we can see if the regular season has any relevance whatsoever. The Miami Heat spent the season avoiding defense, jacking up three pointers instead of driving to the basket, and not paying attention to their teammates throwing them the ball. This led to twelve less victories than the nearly identical roster earned last year which means the Heat will not have home court advantage if they face the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals, nor against their likely opponents in the Finals. This is a big deal.

Last year the Heat needed game 7s at home to beat the Pacers and the Spurs. While I do not think this will affect the outcome against the Pacers this year who were only in that series because of heinous officiating and are likely to be knocked out before facing the Heat, I do think the San Antonio Spurs will be able to take advantage of whatever mysterious hoodoo that causes teams to play better at home to beat the Heat in this June’s Finals. Last year’s Heat team which was focused and disciplined needed a minor miracle to survive that series. This year’s edition was fat and lazy, making it hard to have much hope for them. There was an 8 game win streak in February where it looked like the Heat might be about to turn it on, but in the last victory where LeBron James scored an amazing 61 points, the team seemed to give up on the season. Winning 11 games and losing a depressing 14 games. During that time Chris Bosh decided he would only shoot three pointers, Dwyane Wade would sit out any day where he ate too much gassy food, and LeBron James treated defense like an allergy.

I know like Justin Bieber (though less wealthy and taller) I am a spoiled Heat fan to have watched two championship teams in a row, three Finals appearances in a row, and still want more, but this team has so much talent it is a shame not to utilize it. Or maybe I am one of the last true Pat Riley disciples who lives by his quote about basketball, “There is winning… and there is misery.”

 

My 26 Favorite Miami Heat Players – Part 3 – 9-1

Click here to read part 1 – 26-19.

Click here to read part 2 – 18-10.

9) Chris Bosh

chrisbosh_mediumBosh was the afterthought when the Heat signed LeBron James and resigned Dwyane Wade in 2010. He was a nice bonus that almost seemed like overkill. But when the Heat struggle the Boshtrich is usually the one to get the blame. He doesn’t rebound the way a big man should and his offense can disappear, but when you need a big basket in a close game more often than not Boshasaurus Rex comes through with a soft jumper. And once a year like clockwork when LeBron sits out Boshapalooza comes and he will hit a game winning three pointer.

8 ) Udonis Haslem

Heats-Haslem-suspended-for-Game-6-9A1HO1RA-x-largeTime is the great punisher. It pains me to watch Udonis Haslem imitate a professional basketball player these days. Old age catches up to us all. So often the local announcer will watch Haslem take a shot and in anticipation of him hitting the jumper say “Udonis…”, but he can’t finish the catch phrase of “you did it.” because the ball clanged against the rim. There was a time when that shot was money and another time when his defense on Dirk Nowtitzki won the Heat a championship. Haslem’s greatest contribution came a couple years ago when the Indiana Pacers were inflicting cheap shot after cheap shot on the Heat. That’s when Sheriff Haslem stepped in and reminded Indiana nobody outthugs Miami and the Heat won three straight games.

7)  Tim Hardaway

th_385971In 1997 only Michael Jordan was better than Tim Hardaway. Hardaway was once as quick as they came, but after knee surgery he had to change his game and he perfected the dumbest shot in the game, the fadeaway three pointer. He hit more game winners than games the Heat had won in previous seasons. The greatest point guard in Heat history is living out a most bitter irony as his son is now playing for the team he hated most, the New York Knicks.

6) Alonzo Mourning

mourningFor a long time Alonzo Mourning seemed a tragic figure. The center never seemed to enjoy himself and suffered brutal injuries. A broken bone in his face that required the above mask, a fight where he never landed a punch that earned him a suspension in a pivotal playoff game against the New York Knicks which the Heat lost without him, and then finally when the Heat had all the proper pieces kidney failure that forced him to miss multiple seasons and eventually required an organ transplant. But finally in his sporting life some good luck fell. After leaving the Heat for the New Jersey Nets, Zo came back to the Heat when the team was stacked. His energy and defense backing up Shaq helped the Heat win that first championship where in the clinching game 6 he had 5 insane blocks in only 14 minutes of play. My favorite  story is where before an important playoff game he and Shaq went to Wade’s house at 3 in the morning dragged him out of bed and drove him around town emphasizing how much they needed him to play his best game. Also noteworthy is in retirement Zo attends all the important Heat road playoff games in a suit and tie sitting next to Pat Riley looking like his bodyguard.

5) Glen Rice

59283501A sentimental choice. When I was a kid (and even as an adult) Glen Rice had the prettiest shot I ever saw. I aspired to have his smooth shooting touch even if mine was more reminiscent of Bill Cartwright’s. I read he learned to shoot so purely, by going out to the courts at night and practicing. Under his logic if you could sink them without seeing, it would be easy in a lit gym. It made sense to me. Bonus points for Glen Rice being the only man on this list who slept with a vice-presidential candidate and no it wasn’t Dick Cheney.

4) Steve Smith

12527296520bigHe only played on the Heat for three years until he along with Grant Long were shipped to Atlanta in the worst trade in Heat history that netted us Kevin Willis (a shoo-in if I ever make a list for my ten least favorite Heat players). The radio announcer liked to say Smitty makes pretty and he had an esthetically pleasing game with his no look passes, hesitation dribbles, and accurate shooting, but he makes the list just for being a cool guy. When I was 14 on a summer Saturday night with some friends in Coconut Grove we saw Steve Smith walk into a Hooters for dinner. My buddies and I followed him in and even though we didn’t have breasts, push up bras, or orange hot pants he took the time to talk to us, shake our hands, and thank us for being fans.

3) Dwyane Wade

PISTONS_HEAT_bw_t440Dwyane Wade confuses me. His first three seasons it seemed he never took a bad shot, now more often than not I find myself cursing at his shot selection. But looking at the stats his field goal percentage is now markedly better. Perhaps it is all in perception. When Wade entered the league he was as humble as they came. He played hard every second and while making a shot upside down that shut the door on the hated Detroit Pistons made me utter the words, “I have never been this happy in my life.” Wade has grown more surly and lazy in his old age. Often not running back on defense to instead bitch to the refs about a foul call they missed. But like I do for Elvis I’ll choose to remember Wade for his glory years.

2) Pat Riley

patrileyKind of a cheat. Pat Riley was not technically a player for the Heat. Unless you spell the word, playa. Before Pat Riley the franchise was a joke that had only one winning season in its seven year history. Since Riley took over as coach and president the team has had 16 winning seasons out of a possible 19. As a coach he brought fire, brimstone, and passion. As president he turned Kevin Willis into Tim Hardaway, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant into Shaquille O’Neal, and gave up nothing to get LeBron James. It is debatable whether or not he is the greatest professional basketball coach of all time (in my biased head he surely is), but without a doubt he is the greatest recruiter in professional basketball history.

1) LeBron James

LeBron-James-2It was once said no one has been as good at anything as Michael Jordan is at basketball. You can not say that any longer because LeBron James is better. Every game he does something I have never seen before. Whether it is a behind the back pass from out of bounds to an impossible to catch alley oop which he somehow slams home to the come from behind shot block. Every game he plays is an event and 80 years from now Heat historians will be calling these the golden years.

My 26 Favorite Miami Heat Players – Part 2 – 18-10

Click here to read part 1.

18) Sherman Douglas

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Yes, The General’s shorts were very short, but his fashion sense is not what got him on the list. Back when the Heat were awful and a 24 win season seemed a successful campaign, point guard Sherman Douglas was the first Heat player who hinted at competence. His high scoring and his alley-oop passes to college buddy Rony Seikaly hinted that we might not always be God awful.

17) Keith Askins

askins_1Before he was the Heat’s bowtied assistant coach who looked like a member of the Nation of Islam, Askins had a ten year career with the Heat going from benchwarmer to protoypical defensive stopper/ three point shooter later emulated by Bruce Bowen, James Posey, and Shane Battier. His defense on Michael Jordan in the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals was as good as anyone ever played on him.

16) PJ Brown

600_pjbrown_130312Normally, I am not a fan of violence, but when PJ Brown flipped over New York Knick Charlie Ward in the 1997 playoffs I was cheering. The Knicks were a bunch of dirty, undisciplined thugs who ran on to the court to battle PJ Brown. Unfortunately for the Knicks they broke an NBA rule that says you are not allowed to leave the bench unless you are in the game. So all the Knick’s star players from Patrick Ewing to Allen Houston were suspended for the next game allowing the Heat to use a technicality to climb out of a 3-1 deficit, and make it to their first conference finals. And we owed it all to PJ Brown’s temper.

15) Norris Cole

670_norriscolehair_130412The retro flat top is the first clue that the Heat’s back-up point guard is old school. So is his aggressive game where he takes the ball strong to the basket and never whines to the refs about a call they missed. From his first game, a Christmas day match up against the Dallas Mavericks who had just beaten the Heat in the Finals, the young fellow has been speedy and effective. He’s also been a good luck charm as the Heat have won every championship since he joined their roster. His nickname Cole Train is old school rad too.

14) Gary Payton

LS_130909_345.jpg.cmsWhen Gary Payton joined the Heat he wasn’t just old school, he was old.  The feisty Hall of Famer had a lot of fight left in him. You could hear his trash talking and his hard hacks from the upper rows of the stadium, but what gets the Glove so high on the list was the greatest shot in Heat history (until that of another former Seattle Supersonic). In Game 3 of the 2006 Finals with the shot clock running down  Payton had the ball passed to him. Instead of taking a difficult three pointer, he pump faked, took a dribble and made a beautiful shot that allowed the Heat to clinch the first of four straight games to win their first championship.

13) Dan Majerle

9vKWo.Em.56A buddy of mine wanted to make a painting of Thunder Dan fist raised with the crowd cheering after a made three pointer. The guy was a rock star on the court always giving it his all and never taking a play off. His back at times was so bad that when the coach took him out he had to ride a stationary bike to keep himself loose, but that didn’t prevent him from playing recklessly hearty ball every single minute he was out there.

12) Rony Seikaly

saturday_ronyseikaly_4.25c_Before becoming one of Miami’s lamest DJs, Rony Seikaly was the Miami Heat’s starting center. His defense was as soft as you would expect from the son of a Greek tycoon and the husband of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, but the guy could rebound and had some nifty low post moves that certain kids without much athleticism might try to imitate.

11) Shaquille O’Neal

xinsrc_4720103312256546242812If Big Daddy would have kept the fun loving vibe he had when a forced a trade from the Lakers to join the Heat he would be in the top 5 of this list. His first season with the Heat, his passing, his dunking, his rebounding, hell, even his defense were a joy to watch. In his second season all those skills atrophied, but he did enough to help the Heat win a championship. A season and a half later he faked injuries to force a trade from Miami then talked trash on the way out about the team including insulting  Dwyane Wade and threatening to fight Coach Pat Riley.  I can forgive, but I can’t forget.

10) Ray Allen

chi-heatspurs-tv-ratings-soar-for-game-6-20130-001He only played a season and a half with the Heat, and if Ray Allen did nothing else but hit that one remarkable shot that forced overtime in Game 6 of 2013’s NBA Finals he would deserve this spot. Allen, the greatest 3 point shooter in league history has done more. In his third game with the Heat he hit a game winner and all throughout his time with the Heat his three point shooting inspired more confidence than most player’s lay-ups. Best of all he spurned the Heat’s arch-rival, the Boston Celtics, to join the good guys.

Click here to read 9-1.

My 26 Favorite Miami Heat Players – Part 1 – 26-19

The Miami Heat is now 26 years old. Since I’ve been obsessing over this NBA team since the ancient year of 1988 I figured it was my obligation to record for posterity the 26 players on the organization I have the fondest memories of.

Just a reminder before you tell me how wrong I am, this list does not go in the order of the Heat’s best players (though it eventually does skew in that direction), merely my 26 favorite.

With apologies to Willie Burton, Ledell Eackles, Dexter Pittman, and Bimbo Coles here we go…

26) Marty Conlon

MC(1)Who? I couldn’t even find a picture of Marty Conlon in a Miami Heat jersey. He only played for the Miami Heat from 1997-1999 with a grand total of 25 game appearances, but his absurd shooting form made him a popular favorite. As a game was growing out of reach either in the Heat’s favor or against it, the crowd would cheer for the man at the end of the bench. “Mart-y! Mart-y! Mart-y!”

25) Manute Bol

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Shane Battier and Mike Miller’s agents are going to be pissed I placed a guy who only scored two points in 8 Miami game appearances ahead of them. This seven foot seven bean pole thin center’s brief tenure with the Heat was a dream come true for a young, tall, skinny ball player who in spite of his differing complexion had the playground nickname of Manute. Here is a link to my obituary for Mr. Bol when he passed away a few years ago. 

24) Antoine Walker

Walker_shimmy

For most of his time with the Heat the forward earned my ire. His lowest point coming when Pat Riley suspended him from the team for being too fat. But for six glorious weeks in the 2006 playoffs on the way to the championship Antoine Walker played perfect basketball. He nailed clutch threes, took the ball hard to the basket, and shimmied at the most opportune times.

23) Mario Chalmers

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I wanted to keep Super Mario off the list with his propensity for stupid fouls, but he’s made too many important shots as the championship starting point guard over the years not to include him. Any time you’re ready to write him off he hits a crucial basket and has provided years of amusement with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade yelling at him any time something goes wrong. But my favorite feature is when he scores a basket at American Airlines Arena they play the mushroom eating sound effect from the video game Super Mario Brothers.

22) Harold Miner

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I still don’t understand how the man nicknamed “Baby Jordan” didn’t have a longer career. In three seasons with the Heat he won two slam dunk championships and provided instant electrifying offense off the bench. Miner was the closest thing Miami saw to Wade until we drafted Wade. I never got why Coach Kevin Loughery didn’t play him more, but apparently the rest of the league got it as after being banished from the Heat in 1995 Miner’s career only lasted 19 more insignificant games with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

21) Chris “Birdman” Andersen

Baby-Birdman

I was not a fan of the Heat acquiring Chris Andersen last season. We already had a championship winning roster and did not need a man accused of having child sex porn on his computer joining the team. Since that time the allegations were proven to be false and as soon as Andersen started playing for the Heat last year rhey went on their 27 game win streak. Then in the playoffs Birdman made 18 consecutive shots. Every minute he plays is with absolute frenetic energy and every game he’s guaranteed to provide a spectacular dunk and/or block.

20) Eddie Jones

act_eddie_jonesJones was never fully embraced by Heat fans even though he was a homegrown product, because even though he was paid like a star his true role was one of an excellent supporting actor, albeit one with awful luck. He was going to be the missing piece for the Heat in 2000, but then Alonzo Mourning suffered a debilitating kidney disease. In 2005 the Heat would have won the championship thanks to Jones solid defense but then Wade got hurt. EJ was then traded for James Posey, Jason Williams, and Antoine Walker so the Heat finally could win a championship in 2006 and came back a year later when the ship had already sunk. Though the team was always a day late and a dollar short with Jones on it I always appreciated the smoothness to his game.

19) Alan Ogg

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This is what I wrote  in 2009 when I heard Alan Ogg died:

There are twelve men on an NBA roster and Alan Ogg was what was called the twelfth man. He sat at the end of a bench for a mediocre team and had to wait for such immortals as Grant Long and Rony Seikaly to get hurt or in foul trouble to see any game action.  I don’t know if it was his name  or the fact that he played garbage time like it was the last minute of a tied elimination game, but the people loved him. Fans would wait until the end of blow outs and chant “We want Ogg! We want Ogg!”

One time at the end of a game Ogg scored eight points in one minute of play. The Miami Herald calculated that if he played the full 48 minutes he would have obliterated Wilt Chamberlain’s record 100 point game with 384 points.

But his most meaningful professional moment was probably in game 3 of the first round of the 1992 playoffs. The expansion Miami Heat were in the playoffs for the first time in their four year existence. They were playing one of the great teams of all time in Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The Bulls flirted the whole season with winning a then record seventy games.

The first two games were routs. But somehow in game 3 in the friendly confines of the Miami Arena the Heat had taken a lead. The Bulls wanted momentum to go into the locker room. They drew up a play for an open jump shot. Some player in red stood in the corner and hoisted what looked like an easy two, but no sir. There was Alan Ogg blocking that shot into the second row. The crowd erupted as did I in my living room. Ogg the Log.

The Heat ended up losing that game. Jordan had 56 points. Pippen had 31. Ogg had zero.

It was the last game he ever played for the Miami Heat. I assume he had many more meaningful moments in the seventeen years between that game and his death. His obituary mentioned a wife and a stepdaughter, but they could have also mentioned a city full of fans.

Click here to read part 2.

Pick Up The Soap Opera – 2014 NFL Playoffs Preview

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Now that fantasy football season is over and my home team Miami Dolphins are out of chances to disappoint me I struggle to find a reason to continue to watch the NFL as the regular season ends. I’m a fan of the Denver Bronco’s quarterback Peyton Manning’s brilliance on the football field as he racks up every passing record in the book and I can respect New England’s coach Bill Belichick’s brilliance in squeezing wins out of whatever players he is forced to put on the field, but I could not find a horse to back in this race… until I was pointed in the direction of this gossipy innuendo that claimed Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was gay.

My immediate reaction was who cares? What business is it of mine what gets a stranger’s rocks off, but upon further introspection I realized this would be one of the most  interesting sports stories of my lifetime. If Aaron Rodgers, one of the world’s five best and toughest football players came out of the closet as gay it  would be like LeBron James came out and said he was Caucasian, it would throw all preconceptions and stereotypes in a loop and out the window.

Football is the sport of machismo, where players often boast it is the last domain of real men. Every year it seems some player is quoted as saying he would never play on the same team as someone who is gay which causes some big brouhaha. Pundits and former players often say a locker room would never allow a teammate that came out of the closet, even though every game involves countless instances of men slapping each other’s butts.

The most interesting story of an otherwise dull season for the Miami Dolphins probably proves them right.

I’m sure you have heard of Richie Incognito, the Dolphins offensive lineman who in 2009 was voted dirtiest player in the league.  In 2012 the Dolphins had to pay off a woman volunteer at a charity golf game to not press charges after according to the police report Incognito  “rubbed her private parts with a golf club, pressed his private parts against her buttocks and dumped water in her face .” Finally Incognito was kicked off the team this year for humiliating, bullying, and calling his teammate Jonathan Martin a “half-Nigger”. But when the Dolphins players were interviewed about the scandal they all preferred the bullying Incognito over the bullied Martin.

Perhaps someone with the bonafide success of Rodgers revealing himself to lead, what is in the NFL, an unconventional lifestyle, would gain him support from his peers. Unfortunately, it looks as though we might not find out as Rodgers states all allegations are false. During a recent radio interview Rodgers said, “I’m just going to say I’m not gay, I really, really like women. That’s all I can really say about that.” Of course, that denial will not be the end of it. As long as the Packers are in the playoffs it will be a huge topic of conversation. People will be watching to see if his linemen are protecting him and chuckling about which member of the Village People Rodger’s mustache looks most like.

Even though the Packers had a middling record of 8-7-1, the last three Super Bowl winners were lower seeds including Rodger’s Super Bowl Champion Packers in 2010. It would not surprise me if Green Bay wins it again. I’m sticking with my pre-season prediction of Denver beating San Francisco in the Super Bowl. But the sensationalistic, gossip hound, soap opera fan in me would like nothing more than these unsubstantiated rumors about Rodgers to be correct and that after the Packers win the Super Bowl, Rodgers wearing his  uniform helmet in hand gives another man a wet, open mouthed kiss, then stands back and sees how the caveman universe of football explodes.

Religion, Florida and College Football

florida-gators-fans-tim-tebow-body-paint

It had been 15 years since I last attended a college football game. I was a student at Florida State University and they were playing their archrival Florida. Until I stepped away to the West Coast I had no idea how big a game that was.

When I lived in LA between work and home I would often walk by a homeless man. Sometimes he stopped me in conversation and when he found out I went to Florida State he would ask if I could get him a ticket to the Florida State-Florida game.

I must have audibly scoffed at his request because he insisted he’d pay me back. When I reminded him we were 3,000 miles away from the game he said, “I’ll take a train. I’ll get there somehow. I want to see that kind of game at least once in my life.” For years he bothered me for that ticket and if I walked down Cahuenga Boulevard tomorrow he’d climb out of his sleeping bag and ask me for it again. So it was with the slightest sense of betrayal that I kept the ticket and drove up to Gainesville with my brother to watch Florida State play Florida this past weekend.

15 years away from college football is a long time. I forgot how much energy was devoted to it. Instead of saying hello people greeted each other with a “Happy game day.” For a noon kick-off the streets were filled at nine am with fans emptying beer bottles.

My brother lives in spitting distance of the Gators stadium known affectionately as the Swamp, so he can charge top dollar for desperate drivers to park on his property. One of his patrons had his face painted in orange and blue and at 11 am was already drunk enough that after three failed attempts his passenger parked the car properly for him.

The enthusiasm was impressive. I almost understood people who preferred the college game to the pros, which is like being a fan of fifth grade school plays instead of Broadway. But as we walked into the stadium I remembered the preference comes from the college atmosphere of pure unadulterated energy. From the moment the game started to the time it ended nobody sat down. The decibel level of the roaring fans makes your ears ring.  If as much attention, thought, and passion went into other facets of life we could solve the world’s problems.

When I attended Florida State as much as I loved football it was hard for me to embrace the football team. Part of it was probably the fact that their mascot is a frat boy dressed like a Seminole Indian who rides a horse around the stadium while the fans (none of which are Native Americans) move their arms like a chopping tomahawk while chanting “Ooooo-oooo-ooooo-oooooo-ooo-ooo.” I love ethnic stereotypes as much as the next person, but it seemed to be in poor taste.

Back in the 90’s both sides were really, really good and national championships were often decided by this game. Since the turn of this century the Florida Gators have dominated while the Florida State Seminoles had been nestled in mediocrity. This year the tables had turned. Florida is stuck in their first losing season since the seventies, while FSU scored 80 points in their previous game.

Like all great teams in the corrupt system of college football there is a taint of scandal surrounding Florida State. Their outstanding quarterback Jameis Winston has been accused of rape. Even slimier, the investigation and charges against Winston have been halted as he racked up touchdowns and victories because the police warned the accuser that Tallahassee was a football town.

Florida fans at first glance seemed to be slightly more progressive. Instead of a caricature of an ethnic group their mascot is a reptile. They yell out positive affirmations spontaneously  like, “It’s great to be a Florida Gator.” and when their team scored their one touchdown in the lopsided affair, they cheered unironically. They even seemed to care about sex being consensual as when the large contingent of Florida State fans let out their war chant, the Florida fans sung along with the words, “No00000- means-noooooo-Noooooo-means-nooooo.”

But with one questionable call, you’re reminded football fans no matter the venue are not the most open minded of people as they yell to the referee, “That’s a no call, you faggot.”

Perhaps due to the early start time or maybe because of the lack of drama with the game being decided before halftime, the two factions got along peacefully. No fist fights, no shouting matches. After three hours the game ends and the 100,000 strong crowd flood the streets desperate for places to urinate, refill with alcohol, and with Florida’s football season over for a place to channel their energy for the nine months until the next kickoff.

The Last Hurrah? – NBA 2013-2014 Season Preview

Miami Heat v Cleveland Cavaliers

Attending a pre-season basketball game between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs I got a little misty eyed. What if as many pundits are saying, this was the last season LeBron James were to play with the Miami Heat? For this particular exhibition it seemed like it would not matter. The Heat handily routed the Spurs by 30 points even with LeBron sitting the game out. They played (with one notable exception) a fluid, smart game that involved every teammate and made you want to get on the court and play with them. But there were none of the spectacular leave your seat moments that only LeBron James can provide. None of the gravity defying dunks, none of the impossible to imagine passes, nor the out of nowhere come from behind blocks. The Heat instead played like the Spurs. Flawless three point shooting, crisp passes, and timely defense.

I never thought I’d say this in a non-ironic way, but Coach Erik Spoelstra has turned this Heat team into a finely tuned basketball machine. How intuitive and balanced this team has become grew even more apparent when the Heat’s off-season acquisition Michael Beasley stepped on to the court. Beasley was once considered the Heat’s savior when they drafted him in 2008, but his off court penchant for the high life and his knucklehead play had the Heat evict him to Minnesota. They considered it addition by subtraction, but after a drunk driving arrest made Beasley available again for a cheaper price the Heat have given him another chance. This chance will not last long. As soon as he entered the game the ball’s purposeful movement ceased every time he got his grubby hands on it. Beasley’s ball stopping offense is anathema to the way LeBron and this collection of high IQ performers perform. If they keep Beasley and play him in meaningful moments, I believe he is one of the few factors besides injury that could derail the Heat from a third straight title, as none of the other teams are worthy adversaries.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have Kevin Durant, but with Russell Westbrook out for at least another month, that’s about it.

Coach Tom Thibodeau always has the Chicago Bulls playing at the apex of  their potential and I could foresee them having a better regular season record than the Heat, but they have no answer for in the playoffs when LeBron James covers their frail point guard Derek Rose.

If this were 2008 the Brooklyn Nets would be a formidable challenge, but Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce,and  Jason Terry are old and battered.

With the referee’s help the Indiana Pacers last year were able to push the Heat to seven games, but when the game is called fairly as it was in Game 7 the Heat blew out these rough and tumble thugs and won;t have the opportunity to beat them again as I see them losing in the first round this year.

The Heat’s biggest challenge will come again from the San Antonio Spurs who last June came thirty seconds from being the champs, but I feel their core players are too old to beat the Heat four times in a series.

LeBron is at his peak, and I can’t see anyone but injury or too much Beasley stopping him and the Heat from their third straight title.

Rooting For Laundry – Your 2013 Miami Dolphins Season Preview

Ray-Finkle-Jersey

As Jerry Seinfeld famously said, “Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify.  Because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city, you’re actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it.” This year’s Miami Dolphins team doesn’t even give its fans that opportunity as  they changed their uniform and logo. So if its long suffering fans want to not seem passé they need to shell out more money for up to date merchandise.

When I went to a preseason game in August many of the fans were wearing jerseys of players long gone. No more Marshall, no more Taylor, no more Thomas, no more Marino. This past off-season the Dolphins jettisoned some of their longest tenured players in wide receiver Davone Bess, offensive lineman Jake Long, and kicker Dan Carpenter. Players come and go in the NFL, but the Dolphins revolving door has spun so fast the past decade, it’s remarkable how consistent they have been. For the last four seasons their won-loss record has been 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, and 7-9. During that span they have started 5 different quarterbacks, had three different head coaches, but the names that keep them saddled in mediocrity is the owner, Stephen Ross, and the general manager, Jeff Ireland. Ross is one of the most parsimonious owners in the sport and Jeff Ireland is the bad penny Ross is too cheap to get rid of.

I thought last Spring when Ross tried to get taxpayers to foot the bill for stadium improvements, that it would give me an out to no longer root for my home team. But the Florida legislature would not allow the public to vote on raising taxes for the benefit of a billionaire’s privately owned business and so I am left looking for positivity in a franchise drenched with disillusion.

The quarterback Ryan Tannehill is only in his second year, but last season showed flashes of promise, even if he generally found himself at the losing end of games. Which is exactly how we described his predecessor, Chad Henne in 2010. Perhaps in a few years Tannehill like Henne can also be a serviceable back-up for another franchise.

Two of my favorite players from last year, the sure handed Bess and the electric Reggie Bush have been kicked to the curb. Instead the Dolphins acquired Mike Wallace as their high priced wide receiver. Wallace while with the Pittsburgh Steelers had trouble scoring with one of the better quarterbacks in the league in Ben Roethlisberger and must now contend with playing with one of the league’s worst quarterbacks protected by an even more putrid offensive line. Reggie Bush has been replaced by Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller, but in this case 2 is not better than 1.

On the bright side the Dolphins defense should be respectable, allowing their opponents to provide just as unentertaining a game as the Dolphins deliver.

But seriously on a more positive note, we only have to watch two months of the Dolphins march toward another 7-9 season before the Heat start playing their basketball games again. Now that’s some laundry we can root for.

Monster Mash – 2013 NFL Season Preview

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There will come a day when I turn on an NFL game and see someone’s head get knocked right off their body. As  players grow faster, stronger, and more massive we will one day hit the perfect storm where a 400 pound behemoth torpedoes at thirty miles per hour into a running back so that not only his helmet flies off, but so does his cranium. A combination of advances in training, breeding, and I assume pharmaceuticals has led us to this point where NFL commissioner Roger Goodell keeps trying to legislate new rules to protect players, but unless he takes away  tackling and turns the NFL into a two hand touch league they can not keep up with the mutation of the human body.

Mainstream news outlets keep bringing up the dangers of concussions caused by football injuries, but really bad headaches are probably preferable to not having a head at all. And that’s exactly where we’re headed as injuries in this contact sport keep growing. The season hasn’t even started and already many of the contenders have lost some of their top contributors to injury. Last year’s Super Bowl winner the Baltimore Ravens lost starting tight end Dennis Pitta to a dislocated hip. The runners up, the San Francisco 49ers, lost their top wide receiver Michael Crabtree for a large portion of the season. The Seattle Seahawks lost their top acquisition, wide receiver Percy Harvin. The New England Patriots have lost one star tight end, Rob Gronkowski, to forearm surgery and another, Aaron Hernandez, who modeled his life after the television series Breaking Bad.

Injuries have always been a part of the game, but I can’t remember there being as many casualties twenty years ago. Perhaps players back then were tougher and more willing to play through pain, but I also think it has something to do with the size of the players growing exponentially.

So barring injury who do I see winning this year’s Super Bowl? I usually predict the New England Patriots with their brilliant coach and quarterback combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Patriots will win their division, but have suffered too many losses in the afore mention Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Wes Welker, so they do not have the talent to match their brains.

The league’s second smartest coach Jim Harbaugh and his San Francisco 49ers is my pick to lose the Super Bowl. Even though they’ve lost Crabtree, their addition of Anquan Boldin should make up for it. While their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, looked brilliant last year, his scrambling style leaves him open to suffering a big hit and without Alex Smith to back him up, a dominant defense won’t be enough to win the big game.

The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints with their athletic wide receivers and  elite, sturdy quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are perennial contenders and these days as long as you make the playoffs you have a chance to win it all, but it seemed they used up their luck when they already won their respective Super Bowls.

The Atlanta Falcons are stacked at every position again, but their coach Mike Smith makes some of the worst late game decisions, so I can’t trust him to pull out a close playoff game.

As mentioned before the defending champion, Baltimore Ravens lost tight end Pitta to injury and Boldin to the 49ers. They also lost their Hall of Fame defenders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, leaving them with a decent quarterback in Joe Flacco, a great running back in Ray Rice, and elite coach in John Harbaugh and not much else.

That leaves us with my pick for the Super Bowl winner, the Denver Broncos. True, their quarterback Peyton Manning with his recent neck surgeries is one of the more likely candidates to suffer a decapitation, but as long as his head stays attached his cerebral accuracy coupled with new wide receiver Wes Welker should make them even more unstoppable than they were last year when only a blown coverage allowed the Baltimore Ravens to defeat them. Their best defender Von Miller is suspended for the first six games for drug use, but that’s six games where he can’t get hurt and with their weak division they will probably only need ten wins to make the playoffs and go on one of those postseason rolls that has eluded Manning’s teams lately. But all bets are off if Manning has to leave the game with a lack of head injury.

That Championship Feeling

Last year I wrote a fictional interview with a Miami Heat Super Fan gently mocking the fan base of the team I root for and the city in which I reside. Last week on assignment covering an event at a local bar where the Miami Heat’s championship trophy was on display truth was stranger than fiction. This is my account of the evening originally published in the New Times.

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There are very few inanimate objects that draw a crowd. The Mona Lisa brings a few people out to Paris and summers at Sequoia National Park attracts onlookers to see The General Sherman Tree, but paintings and trees don’t bring the wide smiles a trophy can. Wednesday night at Whiskey Tango the 2013 Larry O’Brien trophy was on display. The Miami Heat organization brought the golden trophy handed out each year to the NBA Champion for Heat fans of all ages to pose with in pictures.

Von Freeman the director of marketing at the radio station 790 AM explained the night’s origin, “At the radio station we were planning this event tonight where you can win a Refresherator filled with Coors beers when Dan (LeBatard of the station’s Dan LeBatard Show) said why don’t we make the night big and see if we can bring the Heat’s championship trophy. People love it. They’re shocked this is the real trophy, the only thing is you can’t touch it.”

You can’t touch it?

“I don’t know why. It comes down from Pat Riley. Superstition, maybe?”

There was a representative from the Heat organization present. I began to ask her why people couldn’t touch the trophy. “No interviews.” I explained I wasn’t going to ask whether the Heat were going to sign Greg Oden in the off-season or for details about LeBron James’ upcoming wedding, but she stayed mum.

I asked Stu Gotz, co-host of the Dan LeBatard Show, about the rule. “When it was at the radio station I kissed the trophy, I hugged it, I did everything, but sleep with it. But here even I couldn’t touch it.”

The no touch rule didn’t seem to bother the hundred or so people I witnessed get their pictures taken with the trophy. Two friendly security guards kept their eyes out for any shenanigans and a professional photographer took pictures with his camera or with your IPhone if you asked nicely.

Clive Wallace brought his six year old son and four year old daughter clad in Heat paraphernalia and was excited to get their family picture with the trophy on their Facebook page.

This was a wholesome crowd that should be allowed close contact with the prize. To prove the Heat fan’s common decency I started asking around what people would do with the trophy if they had it for a day, so maybe next year when the Heat threepeat the fans could get their picture hugging the trophy. Glenn Gable said, “I’d take the trophy out to the basketball courts on A1A by the Mirimar Hotel.” Jesse Lockhart wearing a Heat jersey would take it to the beach, have dinner at a restaurant with the trophy, “Then I’d fly it out to San Antonio to rub our win in on the Spurs fans.” A little mean spirited perhaps, but sounds like they would keep the trophy clean.

James Ungrady said, “If I had the trophy for a day I’d take it out on my boat.” As long as he brought a life vest for Larry that seemed like a responsible thought.

“I’d take it to Tootsie’s,” said his friend Carlos Duchespe. I could see why the Miami Heat wouldn’t want their trophy to be photographed at a strip club. Maybe next year just Carlos shouldn’t be allowed to touch it.

I sat down with a group of five adults who had their pictures taken with the trophy. Cicely Cumandari-Ruiz said, “If they gave me the trophy I’d take it to the school I work at so all the kids could see it.” Before I could compliment that touching thought her husband Nick Ruiz informed me, “I’d take it in the bathroom with me while I took a dump.”

Are you a Knicks fan or a Celtics fan?

“We’re Heat fans man. If I had the trophy I’d beat off on it.” Explained Nelson Garcia who I asked three times if he really wanted his name attributed to that quote. When I asked isn’t that disrespectful towards your favorite team he assured me, “It’s a sign of love for the Heat.

That’s the last time I question a mandate from Pat Riley. As far as I’m concerned we’re allowing Heat fans to get too close to that trophy. Last thing we need is an outbreak of venereal diseases in the Heat locker room as they defend their title.

Come to think of it they don’t let you touch The Mona Lisa or General Sherman’s Tree either.