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A Stocking Worth of Sports Stories

Well, the big Holiday is over and with it the little holiday as well, which makes this something of an exhale slowly moment. Between the end of the school term and preparing for the arrival of the Jolly Man in Red, it seems like a thousand sports stories have passed me by without an opportunity for me to yodel on their significance. So, I think we’ll blast through some stories, stocking style. Small sweet little packages, which include some underwear, socks and, probably, a little coal…

LeBron wants to return to the 80s:

Hopefully the league can figure out one way where it can go back to the ’80s where you had three or four All-Stars, three or four superstars, three or four Hall of Famers on the same team,” James said. “The league was great. It wasn’t as watered down as it is [now].”

So, LeBron wants to return to the 80s, why? I don’t know, maybe he’s a fan of Wham? Seriously, I love the King’s comments on returning to 1980s basketball when the league had two or three Hall of Famers on every team. There’s so many levels of absurdity on this topic, so let me just pick a couple off the top: I guess most obvious that I haven’t seen anyone else discuss, is that the notion that there were three or four all stars (let alone Hall of Famers) on the same team is ridiculous. In 1986 Boston had three all stars, as did the Lakers. Of course, last year Boston had three all stars and the Lakers had two, so… yeah, the league has really altered drastically over the last 25 years.

The Hall of Famer thing seems different, I mean we all remember those Celtics and Lakers teams. Bird, Magic, Kareem, McHale, Worthy, Parish, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton… They were loaded, but two teams does not a league make. Most teams were not so fortunate. The 76ers of course had three Hall of Famers, but one was a 35 year old Dr. J in his second to last season and the other was a 22 year old Charles Barkley in his second season. The Milwaukee Bucks won 57 games that year. They had no Hall of Famers. The New York Knicks lost 59 games that year and they had a Hall of Famer. Granted, Patrick Ewing was a rookie, but you get my point. It’s easy to think of the Lakers and the Celtics and believe that the 80s were a time when every team had an overwhelming abundance of talent that made the NBA a richer, better league, but that’s the sort of hyperbolic nostalgia that makes people think that the 1950s were a better time for everyone.

The real difference between the so called Golden Age of the NBA and the league today isn’t the number of players, or a watered down product. The growth of the game in other countries (namely Spain and Argentina, but also Russia and Eastern Europe) has seen an influx of foreign talent that ably fills in the rosters of those seven extra teams.  No, the real difference is free agency and salary caps. The Lakers and Celtics might be able to draft and assemble a team with as much talent as their mid-eighties teams, but they’d never be able to keep them together any longer. James Worthy, picked number one in 1982, would play out his rookie contract and want to be paid as the number one pick he was, only the Lakers already in the luxury tax because they’re paying max money to Magic and Kareem would have to watch as he took the big offer from Golden State. In 1986, the NBA was only in the second year of the salary cap era and the effects had yet to be fully realized. Now, however, it looms over every basketball decision. So, perhaps instead of politicking to contract teams, LeBron should try campaigning to get rid of free agency and the salary cap…

Speaking of James, his statement is so outstanding coming from a man who dubbed himself “The King.” Like most monarchs, LeBron clearly is unconcerned with how a return to the 80s might affect the NBAs commoners. Sure, LeBron, like his princely friends Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh might love combining their principalities, but what of the peasants? NBA teams have 15 players on their roster. That means that if he went back to the 80s, when the NBA had 23 teams, 105 players would be out of work. Of course, they could probably find someone in Europe or Asia who wanted to pay them to play basketball, but players aren’t the only people employed by teams. There’s also administrative staff, coaches, trainers, scouts, communications, public relations, dancers, financial officers, and oh yeah, hundreds of arena workers.

Yes, I realise that it’s unfair to criticize LeBron for not thinking about the thousands of people who would be out of work if the NBA returned to the 80s, he was after all making an offhand statement, but the perception problem that LeBron created for himself with “The Decision” is only exacerbated by his voicing an opinion on contraction. LeBron is battling an image as a narcissistic, self involved, prima-donna with a king complex. I’m not saying it’s fair, I’m also not saying that it isn’t fair, I’m merely saying that talking about eliminating thousands of jobs for people who aren’t part of your principality is not going to help you sell sneakers.

Phil Doesn’t Want to Play on Christmas

It used to be two (games),” Jackson said Tuesday. “It used to be Phoenix and LA and New York and Boston, or New York and Philly or somebody on the East Coast… Now I see they’ve got like six games on Christmas. (It’s actually five, with the first at 9 a.m. PST and the last at 7:30 p.m.) It’s like Christian holidays don’t mean anything to them anymore. Just go out and play and entertain the TV. It’s really weird… But it is what it is. We’ve got to go to work and we’ll do what we have to do to make the best of it. I don’t think anyone should play on Christmas Day. Soccer teams don’t play. They take a break. No hockey. I don’t understand it.

Yes, until recently, the NBA only had two games on Christmas Day, which meant that only four teams actually had to give up their Christmas days, so this isn’t really an issue that affects most teams. I mean, Lionel Hollins and the Memphis Grizzlies don’t really have to worry about going to the arena on Christmas Day. Of course, unfortunately for Phil, he’s only coached two teams in his NBA career and they existed in the second and third largest markets; plus, in ten of those seasons he was coaching the defending champions, so yeah, I can see how he might want the occasional Christmas day off, but…

I don’t really have a lot of sympathy for Phil. He is paid a lot of money because he’s in entertainment. I’m not breaking any new ground here. Sport is entertainment and athletes are paid millions of dollars for playing games, because they play them in front of people who want to watch. And amongst all the other things people do with their families on Christmas Day, a lot of people want to watch basketball. You know what else thousands of people like to do for entertainment on Christmas Day? They like to go to the movies. Amazingly enough, those movie theaters don’t just run themselves. And I think we can be fairly certain that the people who run them aren’t being compensated quite as well as the Zen Master.

Of course, Phil is complaining on religious grounds, which seems to make his case stronger, except that something about that strikes me as disingenuous. I mean we are talking about the Zen Master. A man who named his book “Sacred Hoops” and who to this point has spent most of his career presenting himself as a spiritually enlightened Native American warrior crossed with a Buddhist monk. Even if he is a practicing Christian worried about missing out on his prayer time, this isn’t a new trend. When he was a player, Phil’s team played on Christmas Day ten times. As a coach, he’s now coached 18 Christmas Day games. So, while I can see that he might want to take a Christmas Day game off for once, his proclamating that the NBA “It’s like Christian holidays don’t mean anything to them (the NBA) anymore” is just asinine. Of course, this is Phil Jackson we’re talking about, so he probably was just trying to keep David Stern’s blood pressure from getting too stagnant.

The Pats Are Awesome:

I know this isn’t breaking any news or anything, but… God Damn is Tom Brady good. Last year I couldn’t imagine anyone playing quarterback any better than Peyton Manning. He just had so much command of the game and he was making heroes out of guys who’d basically walked off the street look like Marvin Harrison. Yet, this year (albeit with slightly more talent around him), Mr Gisele is reminding me of why he is actually the best quarterback of this generation.

Likewise, in his column this morning, Peter King posed a question to his readers about who he should choose as coach of the year. Maybe I’ve watched too many Patriots’ games over the last month, but this really was a D’uh moment for me. Sometimes I think that with coach of the year awards, we try to get too smart. Awarding the coach of a team that we expected to be bad, who finished .500 or better, instead of someone who actually is the best coach in the game. It’s why in the NBA Mike Brown, Byron Scott, Sam Mitchell, Avery Johnson, and Mike Dunleavy combine to have as many coach of the year awards as Pat Riley (3), Phil Jackson (1), Greg Popovich (1), and Jerry Sloan (0, or “WTF” as it’s also known). Unlike an MVP award, where writers generally try to award the best player (sometimes errantly, but that’s another issue), with Coach of the Year awards, they often award the best “story.” It’s why Todd Haley and Raheem Morris will get a lot of consideration for the award this year. And yes, they’ve done a phenomenal job in coaching Kansas City and Tampa to 10 and 9 win seasons job, but there truly is only one answer to this question.

The best coach in the NFL this year, last year, the year before that, or for most of the last decade was Bill Belichick.

Who is the coach of the team that is 13-2 and looking like it might be more dominant than the undefeated 2007 Patriots? Who’s the coach whose team has now gone seven games without a turnover (and have only turned it over nine times all year)? Who’s the coach whose playing two undrafted running backs, guys who by the way have rushed for nearly 1500 yards on an average of 4.79 per carry. Who’s the coach who saw trouble brewing in his locker room and decided that he didn’t need one of the five greatest receiveers to win games? Who’s the coach who got better production out of Deion Branch the rest of the season than the traveling Randy Moss show? Who’s the coach of the team that has won seven straight by an average score of 37.3 to 16.9? Oh and by the way that stretch of games included wins over the Steelers, Colts, Jets, Bears, and Packers…

The answer, the only answer, is Bill Belichick.

The NCAA Suspends Six Ohio State Players for Rules Violations… Starting Next Year.

And there it is, the coal at the bottom of the stocking. Thank you NCAA for once again wearing your greed and hypocrisy like a crushed velvet suit for all the world to see. You guys are special, and coal might actually be too good for you this year.

  1. December 27, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    I hadn’t realized Lebron was such a student of basketball history. Maybe if he had studied the 70s and those great Knicks teams Miami would still be an also-ran.

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