The High School to College Jump Debate… Getting Schooled, NBA Style

March 1, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Kevin Garnett.

Each one of those names represents a supremely talented player that comprises the modern face of the NBA. These men define the very best in terms of talent the NBA has to offer. Each one of them has been named to the All-NBA team. Each one of them is a former NBA All-Star. Each one of them is a former first round draft pick. These are all extraordinary accomplishments from extraordinarily talented players, but the most striking of the commonalities shared by these players is the fact that each one of them was drafted right out of high school.

That’s right, folks. These players learned to dominate the league without having to go to college. While it may not be politically correct to romanticize the fact these guys went on to experience great success without the benefit of a college education or the experience of NCAA basketball, that is exactly what happened. Though it may be true that not every player who declares for the draft right out of high school experiences this type of success, these men prove it is indeed possible. When the ludicrous talk of making incoming players wait three years after their high school graduation before they can become eligible for the NBA comes up, I dismiss it as a flawed and outdated notion.

This proposal is as ill fit for the NBA as James Franco was for Oscar hosting. (Editor’s Note: Nice.)

This rule may work for other leagues, but it would be ill fit for the NBA. No one in his or her right mind would expect an 18-year old to be ready for the NFL. The game just moves at too fast a pace, and the body of an 18-year old simply isn’t developed enough to take the grueling punishment of an NFL season. Comparisons may be made to MLB, seeing as how prospects are signed right out of high school, but that is a tad misleading. While clubs frequently sign young players fresh out of high school, they are given ample opportunity to develop the required skills for the majors in the league’s vast farm system. It may take a player years, or even a decade, to mature into a true big leaguer.

In either scenario, the maturation of the player is key to their success, and the NBA is no different. HOWEVER… I argue that placing an arbitrary timetable on that development process does nothing to improve the game. No two players develop the same and therefore they do not uniformly fit a one-size fits all approach to development. Some players are simply ready right out of high school and others aren’t. I don’t suggest that every player be drafted right out of high school, JUST the ones that are ready for it.

Forcing a pro-ready talent like Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett to waste three years playing college ball is completely unnecessary. Those are 3 years that a pro-ready player is risking their health and in turn their livelihood playing out an NCAA sentence to appease a misgiven notion that rushing a player into the pros hurts both the player and the league. The truth is, it doesn’t. Much like the popular phrase “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” Players out of high school shouldn’t be drafted to the NBA, pro-ready players should be drafted out of high school to the NBA.

You might be asking yourself, “How does one determine the difference between a pro-ready high school grad and a kid making a rash decision?” That’s an issue between the player and the teams willing to draft them. If a player thinks they are ready, and a professional team wants to take a chance on them, more power to both. The NBA doesn’t owe NCAA basketball anything. It is a ludicrous infringement of the free market that the desires of the colleges to hang on to the best players (for the sake of their school’s economic success) should supersede the right of the player to sign with a professional team and actually get compensated for playing. College programs would literally be steamrolling over the rights of both the players and the NBA franchise that wishes to sign them.

There are lots of great college stars who are huge NBA busts. There time playing NCAA basketball didn’t help them better establish their pro-level game, so why reinforce the myth that it does?

Professional athletes have a very limited and uncertain window to make money. They are always just one injury from being out of the league for good. Forcing a player to forgo three years of the prime money making years is simply idiotic. We can pretend the lessons of playing college ball and attending class are priceless, but are they really?

Put yourself in these players’ shoes, or rather the shoes of their family. If you had a son who was a senior in high school who was offered the 4.2M that comes with being drafted with the number one overall pick, or taking a three year scholarship to Duke, which would you encourage them to take? Invariably I would tell him to take the NBA deal.

With that NBA deal comes the type of cash that could pay for his tuition, his children’s tuition, and his grandchildren’s tuition many times over. With the college deal comes three years laden with risk to the players health and draft status. Those are risks not worth taking.

Normally I’m an ardent proponent of education, but here it just doesn’t make sense. Sure, you can say without college the player won’t know how to manage that money, and if they get hurt in the pros they have nothing to fall back on, but that is just a cop out. The managing of an individual’s personal finances is not a matter of public concern. If an NBA player loses all their money Nicolas Cage style, Boo-freakin-Hoo! The lack of a college education is not to blame. I’ve had eight years of graduate and undergraduate collegiate studies and not once did I have a class on how to make a personal budget, balance my checkbook, or make wise personal finance decisions, so let’s stop kidding ourselves that college is the cure all for wise resource management.

There have been some 42 NBA players drafted right after high school. Of those 42 they have accounted for three number one overall selections, two rookie of the year awards, and four league MVPs. They prove college is not necessary for NBA success. While I don’t think every player should skip college ball, colleges standing in the way of the future of the players that are pro-ready is a travesty. We wouldn’t tell a singer, chef, or any other talent-based profession they had to wait to enter their respective field for the good of colleges, so why should basketball be any different?

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The 2010 Sportsman of the Year Debate… Kobe by Default

December 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless, and Optimist Prime.

Well, 2010 was special year for sports fans!

Several very long-standing championship droughts ended, as the New Orleans Saints (43 year drought), Chicago Blackhawks (49 year drought), and the San Francisco Giants (56 year drought) each won championships in their respective leagues.

For those of us with a deep sense of national pride in our sports teams, the Men’s U.S. Hockey and Soccer teams treated us all to some of the most exciting and dramatic athletic performances of the year in the Winter Olympics and World Cup, respectively.

Speaking of soccer, 2010 will always be a special sports year to me as my alma mater, The University of Akron, won their first ever National Championship by claiming the College Cup in very exciting fashion over the Louisville Cardinals.

The year also had its share of goats.

LeBron James’ “Decision” proved to be a PR nightmare, Rex Ryan apparently has a foot “thing,” and we learned about everything from travel destinations to bathroom habits thanks to the incessant media bombardment of “Tiger Watch” and “Favre Watch.”

Like I said, 2010 was a special year.

But even with those spectacular performances and storylines, the task of naming a Sportsman of the Year is tricky. You see, despite the exciting performances that we were all treated to as fans, no one really separated themselves from the pack in terms of individual performances.

Sure, there are some obvious default options to look to. Drew Brees certainly became the face of the NFL in 2010 after leading the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl championship. Here’s the problem – I credit Sean Payton, not Drew Brees, with winning that game. While Brees had a remarkable season leading up to that Super Bowl, it is important to note that performance came in 2009, not 2010. So far this year Brees has played well, but Tom Brady and Michael Vick (along with several others) have been far more impressive.

Being quarterback of the championship NFL team is not enough on its own to earn the “Sportsman of the Year” crown.

Moving on to baseball, several pitchers tried to make cases for themselves. In the post-season, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Tim Lincecum all pitched to historic levels. Halladay’s post-season no-hitter was the greatest individual performance, but Lee’s and Lincecum’s pitching had far more significant value for their teams.

All three pitched exceptionally well, but once again none separated themselves enough from the others to claim the title.

In golf, Phil Mickelson’s emotional victory at the Masters was the perfect start to the 2010 season, but Lefty proved unable to do anything more as the season played out. After winning his third Green Jacket, Mickelson could do no better than taking one more second place finish, and only six top-ten finishes on the year.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Jimmie Johnson’s accomplishments in NASCAR this year, having won his FIFTH consecutive Sprint Cup Championship. He has become nothing less than a one-man dynasty, and is right now the single most dominant person in sports. The only reason I am hesitant in recognizing Johnson any further is that I am forced to now question the quality of his competition. With all due respect to his accomplishments, are his championships the result of Johnson being that good, or is it that the rest of the field is that bad?

By default, we are forced to look to the NBA to find our Sportsman of the year.

In the NBA, names like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony dominated headlines. Free agency in 2010 was undeniably the biggest sports story of the year, overshadowing even the NBA Finals. But it is Kobe Bryant who should be recognized as the Sportsman of 2010.

This year, Bryant quietly led the Los Angeles Lakers to a second consecutive NBA Championship. I never thought I would use the words “Kobe Bryant” and “quietly” in the same sentence, but in a year where it seemed that LeBron James was the ONLY person being talked about in the NBA, Bryant proved definitively that his Lakers, not LeBron’s Cavaliers (or now the Miami Heat) were the absolute best in the game. He led the Lakers to a Western Conference-leading 57 wins, and unofficially resolved the “Kobe versus LeBron” debate. This year brought Bryant the fifth title in his career, and the 17th in the history of the Lakers’ franchise.

Bryant’s stability and leadership (I really can’t believe I am writing this…) carried the Lakers into the post-season and through the Finals. When all the world was enamored with the courtship of LeBron James, Bryant busied himself with winning a championship.

Through nothing but his phenomenal talent, Kobe Bryant continues to keep the Lakers as the team to beat in the NBA. No matter how great the Miami super-team may hope to be, they are still playing in Kobe’s league.

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The NBA Contraction Debate… Less is More

October 27, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Yes, less is more… and I’m not referring to the Miami Heat point total from Tuesday night’s season opener. No, my reference is to successful businesses in today’s modern business landscape. Am I pro downsizing? Of course not… but successful businesses cannot sustain themselves long term if they are consistently losing money. Guess what, folks? The NBA is consistently losing money. Bravo to David Stern (who, for the record, I do not like) and league officials for acknowledging that fact and proposing an obviously unpopular – but shrewd and smart – solution by contracting the league.

Let’s all put our thinking caps on and consider why the NBA expanded in the first place. The business climate of the late 1980s was dominated by one word – growth. The more the better. The faster the EVEN better. Growth was the ambition that superseded all other reasonable concerns. It was the only thing that mattered. Long term thinking did not enter into the equation as it often derailed the conversation regarding growth.

The late 1980s saw four expansion teams appear within two years. First, in 1988, the league welcomed the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets, then in 1989 the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves joined up. Six short years later – still in the full swing of growth in the build up to the dotcom bust – two MORE teams were added for good measure in the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. None of the teams were berthed with a long term plan for sustainability or even a good solution for how the league was going to create a talent pipeline to maintain and boost the level of competition fans had grown accustomed to with a more concise league structure that made both product and economic sense.

Here’s more business sense for you. The Charlotte Bobcats were purchased for $175M by Michael Jordan. The seller, Robert L. Johnson, paid $300M for the team. Johnson lost a whole lot of money.

In the most recent evaluation of which teams in the NBA made money and which teams lost money, a surprisingly large number of teams lost money. In fact, 40 percent of the league’s franchises LOST money. More shocking, FIVE of the teams that are losing money are actually successful, winning teams. The Portland Trailblazers lost $20M, the Dallas Mavericks lost $17M (though the majority of that may have been in Mark Cuban fines), following by Orlando, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Perhaps the economy impacted a few of those teams, but all 40 percent? That’s doubtful. The league’s costs are out of control and drastic measures must be taken to reign in the poor business decisions from years gone by.

Does the NBA currently have teams that do not contribute much in the way of notoriety of financial return? Yes. Do these franchises in peril have a track record of success but have recently fallen on hard times? No. If the franchises aren’t functioning as they should, and there is no hope of digging them out without deepening the bad investment, why not cut bait? Needless to say, the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, New Orleans Hornets, and Minnesota Timberwolves are not successfully functioning NBA franchises, and they have never had enough success to warrant further investment.

It’s time to trim the bottom feeders in the NBA. Think about it, only good can come from it. The talent pool is richer as there is a higher concentration of talent available to few teams. The franchises that require the most financial attention from the league are now taken out of play. The promotional resources the NBA has available are now concentrated better on the franchises that warrant the attention. Each of those factors is a big success for the NBA.

And, most importantly, the league will save a whole lot of money in player costs, enough to keep the league financially successful and viable.

The NBA is in an interesting time right now. Whether LeBron and his dodgy and insulting new Nike commercial like it or not, he is the villain of the NBA, along with his cohorts down in Miami. For the first time since perhaps the early 1980s the league has a legitimate villain and the suddenly appealing Kobe Bryant playing the likely uncomfortable role of league “good guy.” In short, the league has more attention and popularity than it has grown accustomed to in this decade. It needs to better focus its resources to grow the league’s popularity and diminish the cost of doing bad business.

Contraction will likely suck for those cities that are impacted by it, but the people in those cities had the chance to support the team and chose not to. No blame to pass, that’s just reality. The league must become financially solvent again, but then it has to honor its covenant to the fans and avoid the temptations of rapid growth that lured officials in with its siren song in the late 1980s. Unfortunately for some, contraction is a good place to start.

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The Biggest NBA Free Agency Story Debate… Steady and Stable Wins the Race

July 9, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

What a ride this NBA free agency season has been. It is hard to recall a time over the course of the NBA’s history that was more befitting of the venerable label of “silly season.”

While I am writing this story today about the biggest NBA free agency story – which just so happens to be a collection of bits that most of the mainstream media has been distracted from covering – it is hard to ignore this LeBron fella and his recent decision. LeBron has managed to kill his brand and reduce himself to a coward. LeBron has managed to easily differentiate himself from real champions like Kobe Bryant. While Kobe did put up a stink a few years ago, forcing Shaq to leave town, he also used his leverage to create a better situation for himself. But, he did so without causing a massive stir in the sports world and wearing out the poor Twitter Fail Whale. Bryant quietly signed a three year contract extension to be in L.A. through 2014.

Kobe understands how to keep his head down. He also understands how to win championships. While L.A. used to dominate with flare and showmanship, the Kobe anchored Lakers keep their heads down and win. As a reward for that hard work and championship determination, the Lakers have also earned my nod for the biggest story of free agency.

You see, the biggest free agency stories are not always the ones that garner the most media attention. They are the ones that put the team in a better position to win a championship. The Lakers free agency is packed with those types of stories.

Of course the biggest was getting Kobe Bryant to sign a three year extension in April, well before all of the craziness we’re still not on the other side of yet. It did not make huge headlines. But, sometimes it’s not about the splashy moves – it’s just about getting better. That is what makes for a good narrative, and a good story.

The supreme challenge for a champion is to get better despite the underlying difficulties to achieving that lofty goal while sitting atop the league. It truly takes a champion to win out, then evaluate weaknesses and continue to get better. The biggest winner of 2010 free agency has not been any team involved in the sweepstakes – it has been the current champion, quietly and deliberately getting better while the rest of the NBA universe sits distracted.

Aside from the key Kobe signing, the team also inked the very underrated Steve Blake. Derek Fisher is not getting any younger, but Blake is also a reliable floor leader, a solid defender, and an efficient shooter from the outside. Adding him to the backcourt is a smart move that makes an already good team even better.

After adding a good player – and having targeted several more even at this supposed late stage of the free agent season – the Lakers biggest story was stability. Phil Jackson will return as coach for another shot at a championship. Seven of the last ten seasons have showcased the Lakers in the Finals, complete with five wins. That is the kind of stability every team covets, but only the Lakers have. The ability to preserve that is not splashy and does not make big headlines, but it makes the team better.

Speaking of stability, Kobe also announced that he is not playing in the World Championships. After a long season where Kobe nursed several injuries, it is understandable that he would take some time off to heal and take another run at yet another championship. Stability is important, and Kobe’s reasons are noble.

It is hard to avoid comparisons today, so pardon the comparison to LeBron James. LeBron indicated that he, too, would be skipping the tournament due to his busy schedule. That unavoidably busy schedule was an appointment with the most gratuitous and self-aggrandizing event in sports history, and a movie that has been indefinitely (and likely mercifully) delayed.

The lesson here is that the “biggest” stories in NBA free agency are what teams are doing to contend for a championship. One team has made a series of quiet moves to embolden its position and contend for yet another championship. That team is not the Miami Heat, not the New York Knicks, and not the Chicago Bulls. It is the L.A. Lakers – the REAL biggest story of free agency.

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The Biggest NBA Free Agency Story Debate… Super Friends in Miami

July 9, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

It’s over! Done! Finished!

No, I’m not talking about the mind numbing drama of the LeBron James free agent extravaganza. I’m talking about the 2011 NBA playoffs. That’s right, I said it. Mark it on your calendars – July 8, 2010 – a date which will live in sports infamy because it is the day the Miami Heat won the NBA championship before the season even started.

In the immortal words of Will Smith, “Welcome to Miami, Bienvenido a Miami.” This city has just become the center of the basketball universe as three real life supermen – LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh – converge on the same team and leave the rest of the league reeling in the wake of this Earth shattering decision. This is the single most shocking development in NBA free agent history. Never before have stars of this caliber collaborated to assure the creation of a super team and potentially one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.

For all the doubters and haters out there that question if three such stars can coexist and work well together I’d like to point out they already have. James, Wade, and Bosh are a world class trio and they’ve got the gold to back it up. Former Olympic teammates, the fearsome threesome helped lead Team USA to a gold medal in basketball at the most recent Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Olympic teams are comprised of the best players each country has to offer, and now three of the best players from the world’s best team will be running the boards during each home game in South Beach next season. One key to the Dream Team Reboot’s success was a less selfish approach to the game, something we are going to see demonstrated all season long in Miami next season. They have done it before, and they are going to do it again. Coexistence won’t be a problem, but deciding how to divide a league MVP three ways might be.

While I don’t pretend to be a soothsayer or fortune teller, anyone can see the writing is on the wall for the Heat to win multiple championships over the next five years. They pretty much have to, because LeBron’s legacy is riding on it. He cited the urgency to “win championships” as one of the most important factors in his decision. Wade and Bosh figure to help him do exactly that, and continue doing it for a long time to come. Last night during the ESPN coverage of “The Decision” Michael Wilbon said he thought that the Heat were likely to win three championships over four years. I think that’s a conservative estimate.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good teams out there, but they won’t be able to compete with this new breed of mega team. Riding the success of just one of these stars, Wade, helped the Heat make the 2010 playoffs. LeBron alone was enough to lead the Cavaliers to the conference semifinals, where his team even took a couple of games from the eventual conference winning Boston Celtics. Add them together, and throw Bosh in the mix, and this looks more like an honest to goodness All-Star team than anything else.

There is no way anyone else can compete with the Heat now, especially since a number of teams mortgaged their immediate future attempting to clear space for James. The Knicks have a great weapon in newly acquired forward Amar’e Stoudemire, but the Heat have three times the talent (if not even more) in James, Wade, and Bosh. While the Knicks wait yet another year to fill in the missing pieces to the puzzle (and Knicks fans made no bones about who they want as chants of “Car-mel-o, Car-mel-o, Car-mel-o” filled the night sky around the Garden yesterday), the Heat will be dominating each and every game.

Despite tough words from the Cleveland’s owner, the Cavs now face the uphill battle of building a winning team without the anchor they’ve relied on for the past seven seasons. The voodoo-esque curse that he tried to saddle LeBron with, that he wouldn’t win a championship until he does right by Cleveland, is ridiculous for a two reasons: a) Dan Gilbert is an NBA owner not a gypsy and b) LeBron already did right by the Cavaliers for the past seven years. There is no way Cleveland poses a threat to Miami. The only team that stands a chance is the L.A. Lakers.

With the magic of yet another Phil Jackson three-peat in the making, Kobe Bryant will match his best against the Miami Triad. That seems more like a fair fight, but the smart money remains on the triumvirate of league greats. Kobe is great, arguably the greatest player of all time, but can even he hang with James, Wade, and Bosh? Only time will tell.

The emergence of the Super Team in Miami is revolutionary, athletes of the highest caliber placing winning above money and team above self. It is a model in sports that has a proven track record, but rarely been implemented. I do not think this will inspire other stars to follow suit, but it will make for the most interesting basketball of our generation.

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The Phil versus Red Debate Verdict

June 30, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

Comparing the legacies of Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach proved to be an extremely difficult task. Both men established dominant dynasties, which in turn escalated the level of play – even for the NBA itself – to new heights. But which one was greater?

Attempting to quantify their greatness purely objectively is an exercise in futility, considering each man coached very different players during different eras. It would be like trying to determine which is more exciting, a monster slam dunk or a buzzer beating half court shot. Both feats leave fans in breathless amazement, but these feats utilize completely different set of skills. The same can be said of the legacies of Jackson and Auerbach, but that did not stop Sports Geek and Loyal Homer from producing mightily persuasive arguments for which coach was the greatest.

Sports Geek defined the impact of Auerbach’s coaching career as multifaceted. Without diminishing the achievements of Phil Jackson, he explained how Auerbach built a championship team from the bottom up, and how he did this without the benefit of league-leading scorers or an extensive entourage of coaches. He additionally highlighted that Auerbach’s leadership contributed to the development of several great coaches who reached the highest levels of success in the NBA. Sports Geek made a compelling case that Auerbach’s involvement with the integration of the NBA was another significant achievement that cannot easily be measured by statistics. But the most significant aspect of his argument was the description of how Auerbach’s legacy could not be limited to the role of coach.

Sports Geek explained how the famed coach also experienced great success in the roles of general manager and team president. He even suggested that the nine additional championships Boston achieved while Auerbach was serving in these capacities should be taken into account with his overall success in the sport, a logic I cannot deny.

Loyal Homer’s argument focused on the amazing and inarguable success that Phil Jackson experienced. He explained that Jackson’s unprecedented and record shattering accomplishments with both the Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers were more his doing than not. He overcame the prevalent criticism that Jackson’s success is more a reflection of his player’s talent than his coaching. Loyal Homer pointed out that other coaches were unable to help players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant reach the pinnacles of their success, something Phil was able to do immediately with each team.

Both Sports Geek and Loyal Homer were able to meet the challenges which I laid out for them. Sports Geek was able to explain how the contributions of Red Auerbach transcended records in the win-loss column and fundamentally altered the history of basketball. Loyal Homer provided a more than adequate defense of Phil Jackson’s actual contribution to coaching champions rather than riding their coattails into the record books.

While I agree with, and practically live by, Loyal Homer’s central assertion – that championships define greatness – Sports Geek points out that considering all Auerbach’s roles, Red actually accumulated the most championships. Equally as important to my determination was the fact that Loyal Homer was unable to cite one clear example of how Jackson made a lasting impact on the sport the way Auerbach did, another telltale sign of greatness. That’s why I am awarding this debate victory to Sports Geek. He unquestionably proved that Red transcended impressive records and shaped the future of a sport. While Auerbach may not be the contemporary name that Jackson is, he proves to be the greatest of all time.

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The Phil versus Red Debate… The Math Says It’s Phil Over Red

June 29, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Sports Geek.

You’ll never hear me say anything negative about Red Auerbach. How could you? He built the Celtics into the dynasty that the franchise still remains today. But Phil Jackson has passed Ol’ Red in overall greatness, even if he decides to retire.

Obviously, Phil Jackson’s numbers speak volumes. He has eleven NBA championships compared to Auerbach’s nine. Sports Geek actually said in a debate earlier this month that the only statistic that truly matters is championships, and that’s something Jackson has over Auerbach. In nineteen seasons as a head coach, do you want to guess how many times Jackson has made the playoffs? You guessed it… nineteen, including 13 appearances in the Finals. He’s had a winning season EVERY single season. Can Auerbach say that? No, he can’t. He actually went 36-36 during the 1954-55 season. Jackson’s worst record is 42-40. Overall, Jackson has 1,098 wins in those nineteen seasons, which is an average of almost 58 wins per regular season. Perhaps the coolest stat to me – the one that defines his greatness – is that from the 1995-96 season to the 2001-02 season, a Phil Jackson-led team had a victory celebration downtown. After those last three titles with the Bulls, he hopped across the country to Los Angeles and won three consecutive titles with the Lakers. That’s six seasons and six titles! That’s impressive.

Jackson’s critics have said that he has inherited the teams that ultimately won championships. Yes, he certainly didn’t build these teams from scratch, but how many of these teams won championships before he got there? You may say, “Well anyone could have won with Michael Jordan.” Doug Collins didn’t. The Bulls made the playoffs under Collins, but they couldn’t get over the hump. In just his second season as Bulls coach, Jackson won his first championship, and that was followed directly by two more. This is the period of time when Jordan began taking his legacy to another level. Doesn’t Jackson deserve some credit for taking His Airness to that next level? Six championships later, Michael Jordan is arguably considered the best NBA player ever.

Likewise, how many championships did Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant win before Phil Jackson became courtside buddies with Jack Nicholson? Again, people say, “Well anyone could have won with Shaq and Kobe on the team.” Well, Del Harris didn’t. Jackson’s first season in L.A. was a championship winning season, and it was the first season that Kobe averaged over twenty points in a season. He hasn’t looked back since. After the bitter breakup between Shaq, Kobe, and Phil Jackson, the Lakers missed the playoffs. Jackson comes back, and in that first season after returning, in the 2005-06 season, the Lakers return to the playoffs. Just like it was with Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant both took their games to another level while playing under Phil Jackson.

That’s something I think that a lot of people overlook. Sure, he inherited teams with stars on their rosters. But he took them to championship levels that were unknown before his arrival. Overall, the bottom line is championships. And, my bachelor’s degree tells me that eleven is more than nine. What does that tell you?

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The Overshadowing the NBA Finals Debate – Letting Tomorrow Worry About Itself

June 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer.

This is a very exciting time for the NBA!

Everyone has been talking about this upcoming season of free agency for a long time, now, and rightfully so. It will likely set the course of the NBA for the next three to five years.

The whole world is waiting to find out where LeBron James will sign on to play basketball. Once that question has officially been answered, the rest of the dominos will fall quickly, and many team rosters will be completely overhauled. Some teams have literally spent years preparing for the possibility of wooing LeBron, or one of the many other elite free agents who will be available, and when the dust settles, the face of the NBA could look entirely different than it does today.

But has the talk of free agency overshadowed the NBA Finals? Absolutely not, and the reason for this is simple – the drama of speculating about what may happen pales in comparison to the drama of what is taking place TODAY on the NBA court, a fact supported both by the media and the fans.

No one is talking TODAY about Lebron James.

From a media perspective, every sports outlet in the nation is focusing on one thing – which team will win game six of the NBA Finals? Don’t believe me? Check it out… here are the links to the NBA pages for ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and NBA.com. Every single cover story is about the same thing – game six.

As far as the fans are concerned, TV ratings for the NBA Finals have all INCREASED this year. Game one of the series actually featured a 20 percent INCREASE in viewership over the numbers from last season’s game one, sparking a trend that has continued throughout the entire series. In fact, game five of this series actually has posted the highest TV ratings of any single NBA Finals game in more than half a decade (and that INCLUDES the 2007 NBA Finals between these same two teams).

Interest in the NBA Finals has not been higher than it is right now for a very long time.

If anything, all of the free agency talk has actually enhanced, rather than overshadowed, the Finals by generating ongoing interest in the NBA overall.

To begin with, this NBA Finals feature the latest installment of the undeniable best rivalry in the NBA, as the league’s two most storied franchises are once again battling it out on a championship stage in yet another very competitive Finals series.

This season features the 12th time these two teams have faced each other in the NBA Finals, and marks the tenth time the series has gone to at least six games. And although the Celtics hold a staggering lead in the head-to-head department, there is no denying this rivalry continues to be the most intense and exciting as there has ever been in all of basketball, and that the 2010 matchup is worthy of addition to this already storied legacy.

On one hand, you have the Los Angeles Lakers, led by the top player in the game today, Kobe Bryant. The Lakers, who are defending champions, have played as one of the top teams in the league all season long. They are coached by Phil Jackson, who is arguably the best coach in NBA history (with the only possible exception being the Celtics’ own former head coach, Red Auerbach), who could claim his 11th NBA championship (I wonder if they make championship toe-rings), should the Lakers prove successful.

On the other are the Boston Celtics reached the Finals, seemingly against the odds, by playing as the best team of the 2010 postseason. No team had a more difficult road to the Finals since the team first had to get past the Cleveland Cavaliers and then Orlando Magic (the two teams BELIEVED to be the best in the Eastern Conference), all just for the CHANCE to face the Lakers.

There is just no way that rumors about where guys like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh might play could compare with drama like that. And while stories about these players may surface and capture a headline or two, those headlines are very quickly trumped by the stories about something much more relevant to the game of basketball TODAY – The NBA Finals.

While people may be excited about the intrigue and suspense surrounding the upcoming period of free agency, the drama and intrigue of awarding a championship will ALWAYS supersede it. The question that is most burning on the minds of NBA fans today is, “Who will be the champions?” Only AFTER that question is answered will people FULLY focus on the question, “Where will LeBron play?”

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The Best LeBron Destination Debate… I Love L.A.

May 24, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

Where should LeBron play basketball?

This is a question that has intrigued sports writers and analysts for the past several years, and has haunted Cleveland Cavaliers fans since the opening tipoff of the season six months ago.

Yes, Cleveland can offer LeBron the money that other teams cannot, but what they can no longer offer him is an opportunity to establish and define his legacy.

LeBron James is not in competition with guys like Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony. Instead, he is in competition with the legacies of guys like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. At the end of his career, the measure of LeBron’s success will not be WHAT he accomplished, but instead HOW his accomplishments match up against those of the other ‘greats’ that have played the game.

And as it stands today, his accomplishments do not hold a candle to the greats.

Simply winning a championship or two will not be enough to earn him consideration among the ranks of Jordan and Magic, either. What LeBron must do is to first establish himself as the premier player in the game today, and that can only be done by going THROUGH one person – Kobe Bryant.

Over the course of his career, Bryant has already won four rings, while LeBron has none for himself. So how can LeBron be considered one of the greatest players of all time if he is struggling even to establish himself as the greatest player TODAY?

For the last seven years, we have been left only to speculate who is better between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and with four rings, Kobe clearly holds the edge. And unfortunately for LeBron, there has been a lack of any DIRECT comparison between the two, because they have met on the hardwood as opponents only twice each season. As long as that trend continues, LeBron will NEVER catch Kobe.

In order for LeBron to start chipping away at that gap, he must get on the court and actually play AGAINST Kobe more than just twice each year. That is the only way that LeBron can begin to establish himself as a better player than Kobe.

Enter the Los Angeles Clippers.

By signing with the Clippers, LeBron James would be able to share the SPOTLIGHT with Kobe Bryant without having to share SHOTS and PLAYING TIME, and a rivalry that already exists on paper would literally EXPLODE on the court and across the city of Los Angeles.

What was once a town owned by Kobe would be transformed into a battleground that regularly pitted the games two best players today against each other on a shared home court, creating an epic rivalry that would help define the legacies of BOTH players.

Additionally, the Clippers possess enough talent (and cap room) on their team that LeBron could easily turn them into perennial playoff contenders (something he has already proven he can do in Cleveland). With guys like Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, as well as an upcoming top-ten draft pick, there is a lot of potential in Los Angeles’ OTHER team to give the LeBron a solid supporting cast for MANY years to come. When you add to that youth the established talent of players like Baron Davis and Chris Kaman (who is fresh off of his first All Star appearance), the Clippers + LeBron James could very quickly find themselves in a position to give the Lakers a real run for their money.

Living in L.A. would also help LeBron pursue his other interest, being a big-time celebrity. It sure will be easier to make movies if you don’t have to commute back and forth from Cleveland during filming!

If LeBron wants to be remembered as the greatest player of all time, he must first prove that he is the greatest player today. The only way he can accomplish that feat is by proving it on the court against Kobe Bryant. Since it seems unlikely that will ever happen as long as LeBron calls himself a Cavalier, he should follow the lead of Billy Joel’s old friend who used to be real close – Close your shop, sell your house, and buy a ticket to the west coast! Everyone wants to see your routine in L.A.!

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The Raising the NBA Minimum Age Debate Verdict

May 21, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan and Babe Ruthless.

The NBA has certainly made an effort to improve its image. I was personally glad when the NBA set a mandatory dress code for its players several years ago. Quite frankly, the NBA was beginning to earn a reputation as a league of thugs. The dress code went a long way in slowing that trend down in my opinion. There have also been other methods suggested to improve the overall image of the league, as well as the overall quality of the play. One of those ideas was the focus of yesterday’s debate.

As it stands now, players are allowed to enter the NBA at the ripe old age of 19, as set forth in 2005. The goal of this was to slow the “watering down” of the league’s talent. In other words, many high school players jumped to the league that weren’t ready. Take a look at the list of players who have gone pro straight out of high school. There are some notable names, like those mentioned by Bleacher Fan, and some other notables I had forgotten about like Amar’e Stoudemire and Jermaine O’Neal. There’s also some notable players who haven’t done so well, guys like Kwame Brown and Darius Miles. And then there’s a whole list of guys you have probably never heard of.

LeBron James averaged 20.9 points per game during his rookie season and helped engineer a quick turnaround for the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise. Dwight Howard is another positive example. He averaged a double-double during his rookie season, averaging 12 points per game and ten rebounds per game. He’s the youngest player in the NBA ever to do that. He also started all 82 games that season. To me, Howard’s accomplishment is quite telling. To average a double-double just one year removed from high school is remarkable. It’s one thing to score a lot of points, and guys like James are to be commended for doing so as rookies.

Bleacher Fan highlighted some of the accomplishments of the “high school” players in their first few seasons in the league. But to average double digit rebounds against very physical frontline players on a nightly basis like Howard did shows that talent indeed should have no age limitations.

Bleacher Fan also brought up the fact that having four years of collegiate playing experience does not necessarily improve a player’s chances of making it as an NBA player. Ed O’Bannon is the perfect example. He led his UCLA Bruins to the NCAA championship, and now… you’d be hard pressed to find anyone under the age of 25 who even recognizes that name. As both arguments stated, having playing time in college didn’t exactly help out Ron Artest, as he was in the center of the league’s most glaring disaster of the past decade.

Babe Ruthless does correctly say, however, that 19-year old kids aren’t necessarily ready for the rigors of the NBA lifestyle. That may well be the case for many of the kids. But no one is forcing the teams to draft these players. It is up to the organizations to do their due diligence and decide if drafting these kids is the right thing to do. From a player’s standpoint, if they have done their own due diligence and feel they are ready to step up to the professional ranks with a high school degree, then who are we to prevent that from happening? However, they must do so knowing the trade offs and risk. They will not have a college education to fall back on if the NBA doesn’t work out.

Bleacher Fan is awarded the victory.

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