Greatest Hits: How the Rising Stars Game Restored My Faith in the NBA

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As great as it is that we’re even getting an NBA season this year, something about it hasn’t felt right to me. Despite the fact that there’s been some truly great games and moments, everything’s felt a little off. No matter how great the dunk, how clutch the buzzer beater or slick the crossover, nothing that’s happened this season has made me feel the same way a similar play did last year. Even Blake Griffin’s ridiculous dunk on Kendrick Perkins failed to top the sheer glee I felt watching a play like this from last year:

There are some things that once known, cannot be forgotten no matter how hard you try. The lockout brought a lot of these things to light. Like watching your parents go through a divorce, the lockout has forever changed the way I view the NBA as an institution. Before I was able to block out all the horrible behind the scenes going ons, but now I can’t ignore them. Whenever I watch CP3 toss a lob to Blake Griffin all I can think of is a frog-faced David Stern vetoing the trade to the Lakers. Every incredible Dwayne Wade to LeBron James cross-court oop brings up images of offseason tampering. Hell, I can’t even watch Brandon Jennings without thinking of large market/small market bullshit. Even the truly remarkable stories, like Jeremy Lin’s rise to superstardom, get drowned out in sheer annoyance at the media coverage and the bad puns.

Enter: John Wall and Kyrie Irving.

The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge was, by no means, a great game in the traditional sense. Being an exhibition game, there was obviously no defense played, shot selection was questionable at best, and turnovers were abound. That said, it was easily one of the most fun games I’ve ever watched. Period.

We’re living in an era with some of the most talented young point guards ever. Guys like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo. And then there’s the Hall of Fame bound veterans like Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Tony Parker. While I used to be able to watch these guys play and soak in the greatness, I can’t anymore. All I can think of is whether or not Boozer has doomed Rose to go ringless, whether Durant and Westbrook can co-exist (for the last fucking time, YES!), if Rondo is happy playing for the aging Celtics, the nixed CP3 for Pau trade, and, of course, whether Deron Williams and Dwight Howard will be playing in Brooklyn or Dallas.

Oh yeah, and this:

But Irving and Wall? Nothing like that. They’re yet-untainted by the ESPN-driven storylines, the behind the scenes tampering from Stern and desires for crossover appeal. Their expectations are still low, so we can just sit back and watch them play their asses off without worrying about rings or contracts or whether they can co-exist with other superstars on the same team. They represent all that I used to love about the NBA, without the horrible aftertaste left in my mouth from the lockout.

The NBA billed this game like they always have (well, technically like they’ve always billed the Rookie/Sophmore Game), as being a spotlight for the future of the NBA. Of course, when the NBA says that, they mean from a talent perspective, but I look at it a bit differently. While the guys playing in this game will be the All-Stars of the future and will go from playing on Friday night to Sunday night, they are fundamentally different from the guys currently playing on Sunday.

Kyrie Irving was seven years old when Jordan retired for the first time. LeBron James was 13. Today’s crop of All-Stars grew up under the long shadow of Michael Jordan and, as such, have tried to do everything they can to be the next Mike. But they can’t. Even if Kobe Bryant finally gets that sixth ring, he’s still Kobe Bryant. If LeBron James somehow makes good on his promise to bring Miami “not one, not two, not three…” rings in Miami, he’s still LeBron James (and an asshole). No matter how much ESPN, TNT and ABC want another Michael Jordan or Chicago Bulls dynasty for ratings, they’ll never get one. And because of that, their constant quest to recapture the magic that was those teams will forever harm the league and those players.

But the guys playing on Friday night? To them, Jordan’s just a brand. They didn’t grow up with him. Sure, his impact on the league was there, but they don’t have any memories attached to the flu game. They weren’t alive for The Shot. They missed it. They grew up watching guys like Allen Iverson, Chris Webber and Steve Nash. Guys that, while great, never won it all. They grew up watching guys like Kevin Garnett, Kobe and Shaq who, while dominant, couldn’t do it on their own. They grew up outside the shadow cast by Jordan. And as such, they’re free to be themselves and decide who Kyrie Irving, John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins wants to be. They don’t invite these comparisons, they don’t count the rings, they just play their goddamn asses off and entertain the fans.

Kyrie Irving and John Wall had a lot to be spiteful about on Friday. Despite having a rookie season that’s virtually unprecidented, Kyrie was passed up on Sunday for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. When Johnson backed out for injury and Kyrie had a second chance to make the All-Star Team, he again got passed up for Rajon Rondo. Despite being the number one pick in 2010 and the MVP of the Rookie/Sophomore Game that year, John Wall fell down the draft board and went after a guy like Jeremy Lin who’s NBA career is a mere handful of games long. While they could have gone out and played with a chip on their shoulder, out to prove that they should have been playing on Sunday or drafted earlier, instead they went out and had a hell of a lot of fun. And in doing so, they reminded everyone why they were number one draft picks.

Kyrie’s perfect 8/8 from behind the arch notched him his first accolade in the league, the Rising Stars Challenge MVP. He also got his first (at least that I’ve seen) dunk of his pro career thanks to a lob pass from John Wall that had me leaping off my couch at 2:30am when I was catching this thanks to my DVR. Meanwhile, John Wall won the dunk contest a day early without even being in it, Tristan Thompson quietly put up 20 to lead Team Shaq in scoring (personally, I can’t believe I’m writing that) and the Ricky Rubio/Blake Griffin combination somehow lived up to the hype and was everything I was hoping it would be.

It was a refreshing change of pace. It’s seemingly been forever since I’ve watched a game where it looks like everyone’s having fun. I can’t remember the last time I watched someone come down from a dunk with a smile on their face instead of an overly macho mean mug or listened to commentators that were actually watching and enjoying the game. In a strange way, the Rising Stars Challenge, even if only for a fleeting moment, cut through all that bullshit and reminded me of why I love this game so much. To me, it was the true highlight of All-Star Weekend, and has given me hope that the NBA can get back to what’s important and why we all love this sport so much. Fun.

Greatest Hits: Weekly All-Star Bonanza Dino Draft Episode

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Episode 13- The IGHN Dino Draft

This week on the podcast, Boosh, Angelo, Triz and Mike all get together and decide what dinosaurs would be best at basketball and draft dinosaurs to play in the NBA.  No, seriously.  This is what we talked about.

Greatest Hits: Jeremy Lin and False Perceptions that Only Stars Matter

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It’s all or nothing for some people. A basketball player is either a scrub or a star with little to no middle ground. Take the most interesting story of the last few weeks – Jeremy Lin. Has there ever been a more obvious example of talent misconception than the way fans and media alike have treated this story?

Lin started the season as a nobody. Over the last few weeks, he has put up star-quality numbers, and that has metamorphosed into two branching reactions. The first reaction is that Lin is a star and will keep it up. The second reaction is that Lin is not that great, and he cannot keep it up. The first reaction is irrelevant to this article, so I will not discuss it anymore other than to say I hope Lin continues in his success. The second reaction deserves to be analyzed closer.

The second reaction does more than merely discount Lin’s ability – it discounts the contributions of all players who do not have star-level talent or stats. Chances are that Lin probably will not keep up the stats he has been throwing down, but there is nothing wrong with that. However, the implication in that second reaction is that any player who isn’t a star isn’t anything. That cannot be further from the truth.

Most players in the NBA are not stars, but the NBA still consists of a few hundred of the best basketball talent in the entire world. I would venture to guess that maybe 1-2% of basketball fans are in the top three hundred in the world at their job – yet most would probably argue that they’re pretty good at their jobs. Being in the NBA alone takes an unspeakable amount of talent. Breaking into a rotation on an NBA team — a playoff bound team especially — brings that player to an elite level of talent. It is extremely difficult to even become a starter on an NBA team — nearly impossible for a basketball player.

Barring a major injury, Lin has proved he is at least a starter in the NBA.

That is his floor.

Jeremy Lin went from most likely falling out of the league in one to three years to ensuring he has a starting spot in the NBA for several years to come. That is a fantastic story whether or not Lin proves himself to be a star. That is probably more than Lin himself expected when he came into the league undrafted. That would be a dream for most aspiring basketball players.

I am tired of fans who are elite at nothing in their lives trying to shit on the accomplishments of NBA players. Jeremy Lin is clearly not just good for all basketball players — he is good for an NBA player. The same can be said about role players across the league who GMs covet even while fans dismiss. Going from the end of the bench to contributing to a team in a meaningful way is a real accomplishment. Even if Lin turns out to be less than a star player, his story is still uplifting. Don’t let anyone say otherwise.

Greatest Hits: My Life in the Knife Trade

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brandon-jennings-stephen-jackson-milwaukee-bucksI can’t blame Brandon Jennings for keeping an open mind about where to play in the future, because I did the exact same thing.

The idea of having a career in today’s America is all about taking advantage of opportunities when it presents itself. Whether Joe Lunch Bucket wants to admit it or not, you don’t succeed in business by staying at one company for a billion years. Young professionals have been forced into a world where stability and dependably have been marginalized for a culture of grabbing money and titles. If you are a professional in your 20s to mid-30s, the strategy is clear: jockey for what you can now so you can live comfortably later in life.

Being 30 years old, I was faced with this decision. I have worked at my current job for six years and, even with the expected ups and downs, it’s been an incredibly rewarding and positive experience. This company is incredibly loyal to its employees and, even through a difficult economy, it didn’t have any layoffs. That’s pretty badass. You can’t measure how much peace of mind that gives an employee. This was my first “career” job out of college and I will always remember it as an awesome experience.

The problem was I wasn’t making the kind of money I thought I deserved. I’m 30 and I can’t grind out small merit raises forever. That’s where my new job comes in.

They swooped in with a sexy offer of more money and a headquarters that is infinitely closer to where I live. I was seduced by their offer and put in my two weeks. It was a surprisingly hard decision to make, but it was ultimately on to the next one. An unthinkable amount of 20 and 30 somethings make the same decision every day.

So why are we blowing up Brandon Jennings? He’s not holding the Bucks “hostage,” he’s just expressing his true intentions. If you could leave your current job for more money and a more advantageous work location, wouldn’t you do it too?

And don’t start with this “disrespect to the fans” bullshit either. I read the quotes and he showed a lot respect for the city of Milwaukee and fans of the Bucks. He just wants to make the best business decision possible for himself. Maybe it’s in Milwaukee, maybe it’s somewhere else.

I’m a Cleveland resident and a Cavaliers fan, and I lived through LeBron’s decision. Like seriously, I lived through it. Everyone made it out to be this atomic bomb that fucked up the entire city of Cleveland. In all honesty it wasn’t that bad. It was just one dude making a career decision that was best for him (with admittedly questionable announcement methods).

Maybe I’m jaded, but I can’t believe fans still get all bent out of shape about this shit. Basketball, as a career, is no different than sales or marketing as a career; you have to do what’s right for you. It’s kind of sad because the fans are stuck in the middle of business decisions made by owners, general managers and players doing what is right for their own personal goals. As a fan you should appreciate what happens on the court right now, not what happened in the past or potentially could happen in the future.

When I submitted my resignation, my boss told me, “I’m really happy for you and you shouldn’t be sorry about leaving. You have to do what’s right for you and your family.”
Aren’t those words exactly what we mock every pro athlete for saying?

I think my boss was right. I do have to make the right decisions for myself and my family, and so does Brandon Jennings (or any other athlete).

I’m just happy I don’t have an adoring fan base to crucify me when I made my decision.

Greatest Hits: Cavs Fans, The Decision, and the Impossibility of Sustaining a Grudge

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The assholes all come out to play tomorrow. Every Cleveland Cavaliers “fan” in the universe is going to rush to Twitter or Facebook or message boards and asshole it up about how they are still mad about Lebron. Oh yes, we are blessed with the first Cavs/Heat game of the season, and I can already predict the world is going to be insane tomorrow. Cavs fans will rant. Media types and announcers will talk endlessly about how Cleveland is still hurting. Everyone will be up in a tizzy over some random, meaningless game in January. All of it will be lies.

Here is the secret nobody is going to acknowledge tomorrow — no one cares anymore. Literally everyone who was mad before (except maybe 2% of the people) is already over Lebron leaving. People who are die-hard Cavs fans are enjoying basketball and Kyrie Irving. Casual fans aren’t even paying attention to the Cavs, but they are going to tune in to this one game and pretend like they spend all of their days being pissed at Lebron. Nobody really cares, but they are going to pretend they do when the subject comes up.

Cleveland fans are masters of pretending to be angry about something or someone when they don’t really care. They booed Carlos Boozer for years — even though he spent half of his time in Utah injured (and even though they got Anderson Varejao as part of the response to losing Boozer, who has quietly been the more reliable and better player — especially considering how much cheaper he’s been to keep around). They booed at Albert Belle even after coming one out away from winning the World Series without him. They like to get angry about something when it is in front of them and then forget about it completely.

Tomorrow, everyone will see this bullshit posturing act and say something like, “Wow! These Cavs fans are still really mad!” Do not fall for it. In the grand scheme of life, sports do not really matter. It is hard to carry a grudge, so people tend to drop the grudges that do not actually affect their daily lives. You know — a grudge along the lines of being angry at a player for leaving a team via free agency.

Even things that do matter in sports become forgotten. Aside from the families of the children Jerry Sandusky raped — and probably some Penn fans — the whole Sandusky/Paterno child molestation scandal is a distant memory. This is an event that dominated the news for a few weeks and then disappeared because people found a new thing to hate — then a new thing after that. Before that, people were ready to kill Ben Roethlisberger for raping a girl (another thing that actually matters). Before that, it was Vick’s dog fighting thing.

There is always something awful in the sports world that people have forgotten in order to get angry about a new thing. If fans held on to the hate they feel about everything, they would be nothing except hate. It is impossible to live that way. It is completely understandable that people let go of even the worst human actions unless it has a real baring on their real lives. We get over these things because we have more pressing things going on in our lives, and that is okay.

That is the root of what bothers me – that letting go of anger is okay.

If it is human nature to let go of these things, then why do Cavs fans pretend like they are still actively pissed about Lebron? Is this a classic situation of everyone pretending to care about something because they wrongly think everyone else cares? Is everyone thinking, “Oh shit… Cavs versus Heat today… I have to say something about Lebron being a dick or everyone will think I’M the dick”?

It has been a year and a half since The Decision happened, and I barely ever hear anyone mention it anymore. I didn’t even know the Cavs/Heat game was tomorrow until I looked at this week’s upcoming NBA schedule this morning. If Cavs fans were still mad, I would have noticed earlier. If Cavs fans were still mad, I would have seen a blowout about this shit in the week leading up to the game — like last year when people really were mad.

I am all for people being angry and showing their anger if they really mean it. If  Cavs fans out there still really care about Lebron leaving — if those fans watch Cavs basketball and just seethe with anger — go ahead and sound off about it. Have a ball. As for the rest of the Cavs fans — ones who spend 99.7% of their time not giving a shit about The Decision anymore — do not be an asshole tomorrow. Do not pretend to care just because the Cavs are playing the Heat tomorrow.

Let’s cut out the pretense here and find something new to be angry about. Something we can actually be genuinely mad about… and then forget two weeks from now.