31 May 2007

We Are All Witnesses

Ladies and gentlemen: tonight, we witnessed the emergence of Lebron James.

The numbers that show up in the box score are impressive – 48 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists.

From the time there was 6:05 left in the fourth quarter, when his team was ahead 79-78, Lebron scored 29 of the Cavaliers’ 30 points. He scored every point for the Cavs in the first overtime. Every point for the Cavs in the second overtime.

Lebron James, over 16 minutes, equaled the point output of the Detroit Pistons. Other than a Drew Gooden free throw, it was all Lebron.

More impressive than the numbers, though, was the way he looked. There was something in his eyes, in his body language, that said we are not going to lose this game. It was truly amazing to behold. It wasn't something I've ever seen from Lebron before.

I’ve been critical of Lebron in the past; I’ve said that he’s too passive, that he settles for too many jump shots. I’ve said that he waits too long to begin playing, that he sometimes doesn’t seem to care.

Tonight, Lebron cared. It was evident in every move he made, from when he jumped over a prone Anderson Varejao to confront a soon-to-be-ejected Antonio McDyess, to the driving, twisting layup with 2.29 seconds left in the second overtime.

It’s not often I witness a sporting event that leaves me in awe, unable to rise from my seat, unwilling to miss a moment. Glavine’s gem in the sixth game of the 1995 World Series. Florida vs. Butler in the first round of the 2000 NCAA tournament – the Mike Miller layup at the buzzer.

The ending of the fourth quarter, and then both overtimes, in this game, as Lebron James finally fulfilled that dazzling potential of his.

Was this the greatest playoff performance in NBA history? I can’t say; the league has a history far longer than my lifetime.

Was this the greatest playoff performance I have ever seen?

Absolutely.

Farewell, Kid

Today, Billy Donovan signed with the Orlando Magic. My initial reaction was a Vader-esque “Nooooooo”. After that, anger kicked in. How dare he? He has a contract with the Gators, after all. He’s just won two consecutive national championships.

Of course, his entire starting lineup is gone – Lee Humphrey graduated, and the Horford/Noah/Brewer/Green set all turned pro – but still, it wasn’t like Florida was going to be entirely destitute of talent. Walter Hodge has shown flashes in the past, and Nick Calethas, Chandler Parsons, and Jai Lucas are incoming freshmen. The Gators weren’t going to three-peat, but they would have been solid.

Then I saw the contract – 5 years, $27.5 million – and I, if not accepted, at least understood. No way the Gators can match that. Their top offer, which they made May 15, was only supposed to be in the neighborhood of $3 million per year – nothing to sneeze at, but hardly equal to what the Magic are offering.

The Gators will be okay. Early indications are that Anthony Grant – who was an assistant with UF a little while ago – will be hired to take Donovan’s place. Watching Grant coach this year at VCU (okay, so just in his conference tournament and the NCAAs), he looked, unsurprisingly, a lot like Donovan. If the recruits decide to stay, there shouldn’t be too much of a rebuilding period beyond what was already anticipated.

The Magic have hired a good coach. Donovan will do well with Dwight Howard and (hopefully) Darko Milicic in the post, and Jameer Nelson hustling out on the perimeter. It’ll be interesting to see how much of an adjustment Donovan has to make to adapt his style to the NBA, but he’s already shown that he’s quite adaptable – his championship teams of the last two years haven’t been the type of full-court pressing, scrambling “Billy-ball” teams that made him famous (see: 1999 Cinderella); they’ve played a much more pro-style game, posting up and playing defense. He’ll be fine.

Am I upset about Donovan leaving? Yes. Can I get over it. Yes. The Gators will recover, the Magic will improve, and Donovan will be several million dollars richer. To quote Bill Cowher, Ed Reed, Michael Vick, Joey Porter, Ike Taylor, Bill Belichick, John Fox, and the great Al Gore, “It is what it is.”

30 May 2007

Kobe, Greg, Tank, and Michael

Hello, and welcome to 90% Mental.
Today's hot topics:
-Kobe Bryant trade demand
-Greg Oden basketball card
-Tank Tyler's beef sticks
-Michael Vick's dogfighting

After a long period (okay, a day or two) of publicly strained relations with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant has requested a trade, saying that "Tough as it is to come to that conclusion, there's no other alternative. It's rough, man, but I don't see how you can rebuild that trust. I just don't know how you can move forward in that type of situation." Here’s how you move forward, Kobe: $17,718,750.00. That’s how much you’re making this year. So shut up and play.

How would trading Kobe work out anyway? He’s got a lot of wear on his tires. While he’s one of the best players in the game when his knees are cooperating, they’re becoming increasingly balky. Assuming a team would want him (not an entirely unreasonable assumption), it would take a lot to get him. As previously stated, he’s making 17 million (cue Dr. Evil pose) dollars, and there aren’t a lot of teams with that kind of cash available, never mind available talent for the Lakers to accept the deal.

I’ve heard that the Hawks (for Josh Smith and Joe Johnson), Knicks (for David Lee, Channing Frye, and Steve Francis), or Bulls (for Ben Wallace and either Ben Gordon or Luol Deng) might be options if the Lakers elect to deal, but all of these situations have issues: Chicago is trying to grow a young team rather than importing older players (remember, Bryant is an 11-year veteran); New York, to borrow a chant from East Rutherford, S-U-C-K suck suck sucks; Atlanta has a seemingly paralyzed group of owners who are unable to make any deal bigger than signing the significantly misnomered (is that even a word?) Speedy Claxton.

One possible destination that hasn’t been getting thrown around a lot is Portland. They have the talent to tempt LA – say, Zach Randolph, Sergio Rodriguez, and Martell Webster, a combination that would work under the salary cap – and a Kobe Bryant/Greg Oden inside/outside game would be nothing short of frightening.

Speaking of Greg Oden, Topps announced today that his first basketball card would feature him together with Bill Russell. While the pairing makes sense – Oden has been compared to Russell in terms of his defensive skill set and (current) lack of a polished offensive game – I’m surprised that Russell let it happen.

Here’s why: it’s a slap in the face to the Celtics. Boston was depending on the lottery to rebuild their franchise. They needed Greg Oden. Instead, they’ll get a Yi Jianlian or Brandan Wright. And Topps is going to rub the Celtics’ noses in the mess by putting out a card with Greg Oden – the could-have-been savior of the franchise – and Bill Russell – the living reminder of when the franchise didn’t need saving.

Perhaps Topps could have coupled Oden with Jerome Moiso? Or Kendrick Brown? Those options would have comforted the Celtics faithful, reminding them that prospects’ futures are by no means assured. But Bill Russell? Ouch.

Speaking of ouch (oh, the beautiful segue!), ESPN’s bottom line showed a little update today: Tank Johnson, former University of Washington and current Chicago Bears defensive lineman, ate 162 beef sticks while in jail on misdemeanor weapons charges. I don’t even want to know what that means.

Lastly, speaking of ignorance: I don’t know whether Mike Vick should be punished for dogfighting. What do we (and by we, I mean the soulless bourgeois prosecutors who seek to tear down any minority who achieves success) really have on him?

Sure, Mr. Mexico isn’t exactly a person of unbesmirched reputation. Sure, he’s been in trouble before, from flipping off fans to carrying a water bottle that smelled of marijuana to getting sued for knowingly giving a partner an STD and then using an alias to buy her medication (at least he cares…).

Sure, there’s plenty of evidence that he was involved, ranging from eyewitness accounts to the fact that there are dead dogs buried on his property and that the fights were in his freakin’ house. But when it comes right down to it, he’s an athlete. And we can’t be mad at athletes, right? Right?