Dreading the 2011 NBA Lockout Let's talk NBA while we can before the lockout! http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa <![CDATA[NBA Teams for Fans in Buffalo and Upstate New York]]> You would never know it if you came here now, but once upon a time - or twice, actually, if you count the 13-game stint the Buffalo Bisons had before heading to the Tri-Cities of Illinois in their journey to becoming today's Atlanta Hawks - the dead industrial city of Buffalo, New York was a real basketball hotbed. Hell, all of Upstate New York loved its hoops. It still does, in fact; there are some great college teams here, and all hoops fans rally around the Syracuse University basketball team come March. The Orangemen are the one team every basketball fan in the state agrees on. But the purpose of this list is professional basketball - the NLL, BAA, and NBA. And as far as that goes, the region's most notable team is probably the Buffalo Braves, an NBA team that had the misfortune of getting in just after Buffalo's decline started and ran for only eight years. The Braves still have a visible imprint on the area, and Braves gear is fairly common. Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley has fond memories of his rookie year, which he spent with the Braves. "Aw man, it was wild. Them fans in Buffalo, they were crazy. They loved the Braves," Dantley said. Bob McAdoo, one of the NBA's underrated legends, spent his most prolific years with the Braves, and entered the Hall of Fame as a Brave despite his accomplishments with more prolific teams. "They called us thoroughbreds," was his remark. Dr. Jack Ramsay, the legendary coach who took the Portland Trail Blazers to their only title, had good years with the Braves, and Moses Malone also called Buffalo home for a brief time. 

 

The departure of the Braves - and the subsequent refusal of the Los Angeles Clippers, who they eventually became, to refuse to acknowledge their past in Buffalo - scattered the loyalties of the area's NBA fans. There's barely any team uniformity for the league, but what little uniformity that does exist is for.... The Boston Celtics. Now, this is just absurd to me. No offense to the city of Boston, but sports politics quite clearly dictate that no Buffalo person shall, under any circumstances, cheer for the Boston Bruins or New England Patriots. Baseball loyalties tend to be more flexible, and while Buffalo is home to a large contingent of Red Sox fans, it's still dominantly Yankees territory. Therefore, I'll grant a pass to those fans of baseball and basketball who cheer both the Red Sox and Celtics. Those who like the Yankees and Celtics, though, come off as front-runners. I mean, we teach our kids in Buffalo to spend 15 minutes a day staring at pictures of Tom Brady, Zdano Chara, and David Ortiz, learning to HATE them, but when it comes to the Celtics, it's "oh, they're cool."? It doesn't wash. Maybe it's the Irish name or the 17 titles? Really folks, we have to stand up for our sports principles, so in the interest of trying to make Buffalo people into better basketball fans, here is a list of NBA teams Buffalo fans can (and SHOULD) place above the Boston Celtics.

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http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/Lists-562-3226-NBA_Teams_for_Fans_in_Buffalo_and_Upstate_New_York.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/Lists-562-3226-NBA_Teams_for_Fans_in_Buffalo_and_Upstate_New_York.html Thu, 16 May 2013 22:34:36 +0000
<![CDATA[Charles Barkley Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/basketball_player/UserReview-Charles_Barkley-562-1010240-236106.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/basketball_player/UserReview-Charles_Barkley-562-1010240-236106.html Mon, 6 May 2013 12:06:53 +0000 <![CDATA[ Washington: Last in Politics, Last in Basketball]]>
The Washington Wizards were founded in 1961 and quickly became the second major professional team to fail in Chicago, after the Chicago Stags bit the dust. See, the Wizards were originally created as the Chicago Packers, and for those who haven't been there, naming anything the Packers in Chicago is doomed to fail. Chicago, you see, has this really awesome football team called the Bears, and sports politics dictate that they have to really, really HATE this one football team in Wisconsin called the Green Bay Packers. This is the oldest rivalry in the NFL. It took only a year for the team owners to realize their mistake and change the name to the Chicago Zephyrs, which was at one time a name used by MLB's Chicago Cubs. Too little too late, I guess, because by 1963 Chicago once again failed to hold an NBA team, and the Zephyrs departed to become the Baltimore Bullets. They were named after an earlier team, and that year they finished fourth in a five-team division.

Just before the 1965 season started, the Bullets completed a major trade in which they sent Terry Dischinger, Rod Thorn, and Don Kojis to the Detroit Pistons for Bailey Howell, Don Ohl, Bob Ferry, and Wali Jones. It worked, and the Bullets were in the playoffs for the first time ever that season. They made a go of it too, knocking out the Saint Louis Hawks 3-1, getting to the Western Conference Finals, and splitting the first four games with the Los Angeles Lakers before finally bowing out in six. In the late 60's the Bullets drafted Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe, both Hall of Famers, and got even better. They made the playoffs the next few years but were trounced by the New York Knicks the first couple before going all the way to the Finals in the 1971 season, where they were trounced in four games by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Earl Monroe was traded to the Knicks in 1971 for some reason. Makes no sense to me how trading him could have made the team better, but it happened. Besides, the Bullets were soon able to rectify that mistake by drafting Kevin Porter and getting Elvin Hayes from the Houston Rockets. In the 1973 season, they made the playoffs and again lost to the Knicks. An even bigger deal that year, though, was the team's move to Landover, and their name change to the Capital Bullets, not to be confused with the aforementioned Washington Capitals. They finally changed their name to the Washington Bullets the following season to prevent confusion, not to mention the fact that it just MAKES MORE FUCKING SENSE! It was about this time that the Bullets were one of the best teams in the league, constantly favorites. In the 1975 season, the Bullets made it to the Finals, where they were favored to win. It turned into one of the biggest upsets in NBA history, though, when the Golden State Warriors slaughtered them in four games. By the 1978 season, the Bullets were the longshots. In the playoffs, they met the San Antonio Spurs in one round, and the Spurs managed to beat them in a game. Obviously that had people excited in San Antonio, as a sportswriter felt the need to remind everyone that "The opera ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." The Bullets adopted that as a rallying cry, and it turned into the origin of what is now the common expression "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." The Bullets won that series, went to the NBA Finals, faced the Seattle Supersonics, and beat them in seven games for their first NBA Championship.

The next season the Bullets returned to the Finals, where they played the Sonics again. This time, they lost in five games. The Bullets were the only team to make it to the Finals four times during the 70's, and it remains the zenith of their history. By the 1980 season, age had caught up to the team. They went 39-43, and somehow that was enough to squeeze them into the playoffs, where they were naturally killed by the Philadelphia 76ers. Their old form was clearly gone, and despite a 43-39 record and fairly strong play, in the 1981 season Washington missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. The Bullets were now playing bad basketball, but due to the anomaly of the playoff expanded format, they still managed to squeak in only to lose quickly. In the 1986 season, the Bullets went 42-40. It was their last winning record until the 1997 season, the 1988 season was their last playoff appearance until about that time too. They were quickly wiped out by Detroit that year.

The 80's did see a bit of a talent influx, though. In 1985, they picked up specialty shot blocker Manute Bol and Moses Malone, who led the team in scoring. In 1987, they drafted Muggsy Bogues, who at 5 feet 3 inches of height, is the shortest player in NBA history. Despite his height, Bogues did establish himself as a great passer, a fantastic ball-stealer, and a guy who could outrun Sonic the Hedgehog. Bernard King averaged over 20 points per game.

The Bullets were languishing in the 90's. They did manage to nab Chris Webber after trading draft rights with the Warriors, but they still finished 21-61 the following season, which was their worst ever at the time. Later in the decade they started to improve a bit more. The drafting of Rasheed Wallace was a big help, and in the 1996 season Washington managed to post a 39-43 record, a respectable losing record which just missed the playoffs. The following year, they won 44 games and were finally back in the playoffs. Webber and Rod Strickland led the way. The Chicago Bulls swept them in the first round, but they only lost those games by a grand total of 18 points, a sign that the series was much closer than the sweep made it look and could have gone either way.

In 1995, the city of Washington, DC was a gangland with a ridiculous crime rate. Seriously, the national capitol had turned largely into an impoverished dump with a murder rate that was growing out of control. The owner of the Washington Bullets, Abe Pollin, was getting very uncomfortable with the violent connotations which come with the word "bullet," and had reservations about running a team with that name. He happened to be friends with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995. That was the straw that broke the camel's back, and Pollin finally announced that the name "Bullets" was officially on the clock. A contest was held to decide the new name, and the choices were eventually narrowed down to Dragons (I like it!), Express (honestly, what the FUCK is peoples' obsession with calling teams the Express?! It reeks of 90's marketing hubris while sounding generic as hell at the same time! There's no way I would EVER cheer for a team called the Express!) Stallions (another excellent choice), Sea Dogs (well, it certainly has distinction, but I can't say I'm wild about it), and Wizards. Wizards was the winning pick. It caused some controversy since Washington DC is 67 percent black and wizard just happens to also be a rank in the KKK. That did nothing but add to stances against political correctness and prove - again - that critical theorists are better at creating imaginary societal interpretations of things only they can see than they will ever be at solving society's actual problems.

In their first season as the Washington Wizards, the team went 40-42 but missed the playoffs. It was the first year of a spiral down, and people just plump forgot the Wizards existed until 2000. See, what happened that year was the second retirement of Michael Jordan, and the Wizards used the opportunity to snap him up as their president and minority owner. In September of 2001, he decided to return from retirement again, and this time he would be suiting up as a Wizard! His abilities were clearly on such low-power fumes by then, though, that even deploying his legendary temper and competitiveness couldn't will the Wizards to glory. He played through the 2002 and 2003 seasons, averaged 20 points per game with 6.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.5 steals, and for all the shit Jordan takes for his stint with the Wizards, the team actually did improve significantly. The Wizards went 37-45 both years he was there. After 2003, Jordan finally hung it up for good. Unfortunately, NBA rules forced him to divest ownership of the team in order to play, and he laced 'em up again with the expectation that he would get his ownership back afterward. Pollin proved otherwise by firing him, citing his detrimental effects on the team. Jordan's stint in Washington didn't end as badly as that of his old foe Isiah Thomas's presidential go-around with the Knicks, but he still made bad trades and wasted draft picks. He came back with the Charlotte Bobcats, of course, but the job he's doing there is actually worse, and he has pretty much now fallen into the level of Thomas during the Knicks disaster.

No one expected the Wizards to win after that, and they didn't. They did sign Gilbert Arenas, though, and he actually had a positive effect on the team. In the 2005 season, the Wizards went 45-37, their best record in 26 years, and made the playoffs for the first time as the Wizards. They even beat the Bulls in the playoffs that year. From then on, Arenas managed to guide the team to respectable records until about 2008, when the Wizards fell back into the basement.

Washington Wizards fans are another base waiting for a repeat of their old glory years from the 70's, but things in the immediate future look a little maddening. They've certainly had their good years since then, but they haven't been truly dangerous. No one is afraid of them. It looks like their window in the 70's was THE WINDOW, that one chance any NBA team has on really capitalizing and taking a Championship or two before fading out again and being relegated to maybe a couple of Conference Championships in the following few decades if they're lucky. The big identifying mark for the team itself is Michael Jordan's stint with them, which doesn't say anything very good.

Nine Hall of Famers have played for the Washington Wizards, in total. Since the team has had so many name changes, very few of them have played for them AS the Washington Wizards. Hell, one of them, Walt Bellamy, actually goes all the way back to the Chicago Packers days. Bailey Howell was strictly a Baltimore Bullet, as was Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes began in Baltimore and stuck around through Washington. Dave Bing and Moses Malone were only ever Washington Bullets. And Michael Jordan is included in the team's history solely on the basis of his work with the Washington Wizards. Monroe, Hayes, Johnson, and Unseld have all had their numbers retired. Unseld was a league and Finals MVP and a First Team guy, an honor he also shared with Hayes and Monroe. The All-Defensive First Team included Johnson with Bob Dandridge and Larry Hughes. There were a ton of players voted to the All-Rookie First Team, though, including Rod Thorn, Jeff Malone, and John Wall. Rasheed Wallace made the All-Rookie Second Team.

Elvin Hayes is Washington's face, still. It's pretty bad that his throne was usurped by the evil version of Michael Jordan.

Washington's big rivalry is with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it came to a head in 2008 when Gilbert Arenas began taking verbal potshots at Cleveland before a playoff series. DeShawn Stevenson got in on the act too, and said LeBron James was overrated. James chose a backhanded way to return the insult when he said he wouldn't return the insult because it would be too much like Jay-Z returning to a comment made about him by Soulja Boy. Both rappers got involved in this little battle, Soulja Boy showing up at a game to support the Wizards while Jay-Z actually recorded a song trashing Stevenson. There were skirmishes in games five and six, and the Wizards lost the series 4-2.

How long does one want to cling to Michael Jordan once owning and running and unretiring to play for the Washington Wizards as a badge of honor? It doesn't seem like these guys currently have a whole lot else to go on. They have great importance, but they haven't won much of anything since the 70's, which was not only their glory years, but the last time they won so much as a division title. It looks like the only way the Wizards could bring back the 70's as soon as an embarrassed fan would like is by enacting some kind of legislation saying the Washington Wizards get automatic first place in the NBA. And even then, every liberal and conservative in The District would still be fighting about it.

This concludes my NBA series! I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you've all enjoyed reading it. Also, I tried linking my other team reviews, but I gave that up because Lunch is a stubborn monster when it comes to switching pages, and it was taking too long. I started my teams series with baseball last year, but I only wrote up eight teams before football season began and I simply switched at random to go with that. So my next league to complete will be Major League Baseball!]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Washington_Wizards-562-1388083-229235-Washington_Last_in_Politics_Last_in_Basketball.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Washington_Wizards-562-1388083-229235-Washington_Last_in_Politics_Last_in_Basketball.html Wed, 17 Oct 2012 17:06:15 +0000
<![CDATA[ Fear the Deer]]>
Images of deer usually don't inspire opponents with dread, although Milwaukee's NBA team, the Bucks, does have one of the best slogans in all of professional sports: Fear the Deer! They're one of the oddest teams in the league. They've managed to haul in one Championship and two Conference Championships, and have fielded some very notable names. But still…. One Championship. Two Conference Championships. That about does it for their success.

The Bucks were an expansion team created in January 1968. That October, they took to the hardwood for the first time ever against the Chicago Bulls, who were also very recent creations. As is typical of expansion teams tossed the league leftovers, the Bucks could have easily been nicknamed the Sucks, because that 1969 season was hell for them. It was six games before the team notched its first victory, a 134-118 fight against the Detroit Pistons. Wins were sporadic that year, and the Bucks only managed to earn 26 more of them. It earned them a coin flip against the other expansion team of the year, the Phoenix Suns, over the rights to the first pick of the draft. The draft prize that year was a projected superstar from UCLA named Lew Alcindor, which made the coin toss a high-stake event. After winning it, the Bucks then had to win a bidding war against the ABA's New York Nets, who wanted Alcindor in the worst way. Alcindor said he would only consider one bid from each league, and the Nets bid too low. That was a damn shame, because Alcindor had wanted to play for the Nets, his hometown team. Yes, that's right: The (other) New York Team blew an offer that really should have been in the bag, and Alcindor headed to Milwaukee. (Well, at least Chicago wasn't far down the road.)

When Alcindor arrived in Milwaukee, he totally lived up to his hype. His presence was expected to pave the road toward respectability for the Bucks, where he would be the keystone of one of those annual five-year rebuilding plans teams have to go through every so often. Instead, the Bucks pulled an about-face. Their second season ended with a 56-26 record, an almost exact reversal of what their record was the previous year. Only the New York Knicks had a better record in the entire league. They even got to the Eastern Conference Finals, where their dream season was put down by the Knicks themselves, who eventually won the Championship. The next season, the suddenly spoiled Bucks managed to haul in Oscar Robertson in a trade with the Cincinnati Royals. So, in their third season, the Milwaukee Bucks were suddenly 66-16, which was not just the best record in the league, but the second-best in the league history at the time. It's still the franchise record. In the playoffs, they dominated, posting an incredible 12-2 playoff record on the season and winning the Championship against the Baltimore Bullets. For the first half of the 70's the Bucks were arguably the best team in the league. They won four straight division titles and won at least 60 games for three years in a row. They even went back to the Finals in 1974, where they engaged the Boston Celtics in a fight to the finish which went the full seven. They lost, though.

Things went south the next season after Alcindor broke his hand. With him out for a giant chunk of the season, the team slipped back into the spot it was created to occupy in the first place: The division basement, with a 38-44 record. After the season, Alcindor did something no one expected of him. He learned about the origins of his name and didn't like what he found out. Since his name was given to his family by a group of French planters who came to America from Trinidad who owned them as property, you can't blame him. So to get back in touch with the culture his family was forcibly removed from, Alcindor converted to Islam and changed his name to the one he's been commonly known by ever since: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This didn't play very well in milquetoastville, which suddenly wasn't meeting his cultural needs. Kareem never said anything bad about Milwaukee or the people who lived there, but he needed to get out and back to a big city. He announced that he would only accept a trade to New York City or Los Angeles, and in June 1975, the front office made his wish a reality. He was sent to the Los Angeles Lakers, who formed a dynasty around his mighty Sky Hook. None of the players they got in return were very good, but in that situation, they could only take what they could get. The Kareem trade was so big that it led to a series of disruptive events through which the Bucks actually changed ownership.

Somehow, the trade managed to produce for the Bucks anyway. Most of the players did play good and hard, and despite the next several transitional years, the Bucks pulled in division titles in 1976 and 1980. They weren't dominant and feared like they were before, so building again took a little bit of time, but the team finally had their shit together in the 80's. They began the decade by winning the 1980 division title. They immediately followed that up with another straight six. It is still unclear how much Kareem resented or regretted leaving Milwaukee when they were winning these division titles. After all, they were constantly among the favorites to win their conference, but were always getting clocked in the playoffs by the Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers. Meanwhile, poor Kareem was left to languish in Los Angeles as Magic Johnson's wingman, where he only won five Championships. The Bucks' most noteworthy accomplishment was once sweeping the Celtics from the playoffs, and they're still the only team that can lay claim to that bragging right.

Milwaukee languished after that. At the turn of the 90's, the Bucks had reverted to their original, rookie season form as the Sucks. In 1994, they had the first overall draft pick again, and they used it on Glenn Robinson. Lightning didn't strike that time the way it first had with Kareem. But in 1996, the Bucks made a draft day trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves for their pick, Ray Allen. Both players took big roles in getting Milwaukee respectable again. In 1998, they brought in veteran coach George Karl, somewhat fresh off an NBA Finals appearance he had led the Seattle Supersonics to. With other additional talent like Sam Cassell, the Bucks were once again one of the toughest teams in the Eastern Conference. In the 2001 season, the Bucks took another division title with 52 wins and ran away in the playoffs all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were dispatched by Philadelphia.

After that, of course, bigger and better was expected. The Bucks picked up Anthony Mason, and that suddenly made them tops in the East. That's how it looked on paper, anyway. In person, players don't need to be so much good as they do right for the position and the team. If they're not, it can disrupt otherwise great chemistry and team play. That's what the addition of Mason did for the 2002 season, and for a point of reference, it's also exactly what's happening to the New York Knicks right now with Carmelo Anthony. The Bucks were able to overcome that through sheer force of talent, keeping the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. At the season's halfway point, though, they free fell and finally lost their playoff spot to Detroit in the very last game of the season.

The next season, someone found some kind of weird excuse to trade Ray Allen to Seattle. In all fairness, they were getting Gary Payton in return, and it would allow them to play their newest emerging star, Michael Redd, a little bit more. Not so bad, really, and hey, the Bucks did go 42-40 and sneak into the playoffs, where they managed to take the fight against the eventual Conference Champion New Jersey Nets to six games. After that, though, someone got the brilliant idea of trading Sam Cassell and Ervin Johnson. Both of those guys were team leaders. Payton became a free agent after playing only 28 games for the Bucks. He fled to the Lakers in his last-ditch effort to win a ring. Karl's tenure ended, and thus went everyone important to Milwaukee's resurgence.

Michael Redd became the team face everyone hoped he could be, and the Bucks used another first draft selection in 2005 on Andrew Bogut, who struggled with injuries for four years before finally finding his niche. Despite this, the Bucks have really been struggling. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis seem to be the ones leading the team now, and they've been another up and down form-shifter in the NBA.

Oscar Robertson, Dave Cowens, Moses Malone, and of course the mighty Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are among the first-tier basketball stars who have shined in Milwaukee. Nine Hall of Famers played there altogether, and the Bucks also drafted Dr. J in 1972, but he was gone before he ever played a single game. Oscar Robertson, Junior Bridgeman, Sidney Moncrief, Jon McGlockin, Bob Lanier, Brian Winters, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have all had their numbers retired by the team. Kareem dominates a lot of the individual accolades. In fact, he's the only noteworthy player to have received a good number of them.

Of all the teams in the NBA to have been successful on a basis that's at least fairly consistent, the Milwaukee Bucks are probably the least likely. Who goes to Milwaukee? These guys must have a hell of a management crew at the helm, because trying to sell good players on a middling team from the Rust Belt isn't something that works very often. On the other hand, the Bucks do consistently produce winning records, with competitive teams. Frequently they're getting more and more into that first playoff round purgatory, where they get into the playoffs only to lose. It seems like they should have done better over the latter part of their history, considering everything they accomplished early on. But then again, the sport and league have both evolved, and there are a lot more teams now than there were when the Bucks first showed up.

I'm rating the Milwaukee Bucks higher than I expected to. As it turns out, they've been pretty prominent in the history of the NBA, even if that hasn't been quite the case lately, and they're still doing everything they can to be competitive. It still must feel like hell to be a Bucks fan, though, because despite everything, there are still a lot of Bucks fans wondering if they'll ever get to see their beloved team win another Championship to follow up that legendary 1971 team that won it all.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Milwaukee_Bucks-562-1388092-229203-Fear_the_Deer.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Milwaukee_Bucks-562-1388092-229203-Fear_the_Deer.html Tue, 16 Oct 2012 17:55:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ Playoff Death Valley]]>
The Suns were part of the league's 1968 expansion, along with the Milwaukee Bucks. They were the first professional sports team in the state of Arizona, a distinction they held until the arrival of the NFL's Phoenix Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) in 1988. The creators of the Suns were taking a major chance; even the then-commissioner of the NBA, J. Walter Kennedy, said Phoenix was a desert wasteland which was too small, too hot, and too far away to be a successful NBA market. I don't know anything about this J. Walter Kennedy character, but he was clearly an idiot. In 1968, the city of Phoenix proper was pushing 600,000 residents, and the area in general had recently broken seven digits. It was rapidly growing, like it still is. The argument that it was too far away was nullified by the fact that built-in geographical foes would easily be found in the San Diego Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, San Francisco Warriors, and Seattle Supersonics. As for it being too hot in Phoenix, that was entirely true but it has little to do with basketball. So the league gave in and gave the city their team, using a name the team contest to come up with the name Suns. It beat out a list of names which actually wasn't too bad, which included other very appropriate titles like Scorpions and Rattlers. There were others, but those are too boring and generic to mention.

Jerry Colangelo and Red Kerr were lured from the Chicago Bulls to be the respective first general manager and coach. They had had great success in Chicago, a team which had been formed just two years earlier and had set the bar for expansion success by making the playoffs and setting records for wins by an expansion team. Lightning didn't strike twice. The Suns went 16-66 in their inaugural season, missing the last playoff spot by 25 games. On the upside, Gail Goodrich and Dick Van Arsdale were both selected to the All-Star Game. The record resulted in the Suns flipping a coin against the Milwaukee Bucks for the rights to the first draft pick in the 1969 draft, and therefore the rights to a UCLA center named Lew Alcindor, better known today as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Milwaukee won and took future-Kareem and his mighty Sky Hook to the 1971 NBA Championship and 1974 Conference Championship. Phoenix settled with Neal Walk. There's a reason you've never heard of him, but the Suns did improve in a big way, finishing with a respectable 39-43 record and making the playoffs. The next two seasons, the Suns failed to qualify for the playoffs despite winning 48 and 49 games respectively. They wouldn't qualify for the playoffs again until 1976.

The 1976 year was big in Phoenix. They got Paul Westphal in a trade with the Boston Celtics and Gar Heard in a trade with the Buffalo Braves. In the draft, they picked up Ricky Sobers and Alvan Adams, who eventually became a fan favorite. The season itself was very strange. The Suns started 14-9, went 4-18 in another stretch, and finished 24-13 for a total record of 42-40. This time, it was enough to make the playoffs, where the Suns beat the Sonics in the first round and then moved on to a seven-game series against the Golden State Warriors, whom they beat to catapult themselves into the Finals for the first time. The Celtics awaited them, and the fifth game is considered a classic. It ran three overtimes, with Boston eventually emerging victorious. Boston won the series too, in six games.

From the late 70's to the early 80's, the Suns made the playoffs for eight seasons in a row. Unfortunately, in the late 80's. drug problems started coming up. In 1987, the Maricopa County Attorney's Offic indicted 13 people on drug-related charges, and three of them - James Edwards, Jay Humphries, and Grant Gondrezick - happened to be players for the Suns. The charges were based on testimonies from star player Walter Davis, but none of them ended up going to trial; instead, two of them went into prosecution diversion while the third got probation. The scandal is now popularly seen as a witch hunt. The team also had a young, talented, and very promising center named Nick Vanos who was killed in a plane crash. All that didn't make for a whole lot of good court production.

In 1988, things began looking up again. The team got Kevin Johnson from the Cleveland Cavaliers, along with Mark West and Tyrone Corbin. All-Star Tom Chambers also became the first unrestricted free agent in NBA history, and guess what team he chose to sign with! In the 1989 season, the Suns were back in the playoffs, and they upset the Lakers in five games and eventually fought their way to the Western Conference Finals before the Portland Trail Blazers managed to take them out. In 1991, the Suns went 55-27, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Utah Jazz. In 1992, they only won two games less than they had the previous season. In the playoffs, they started by sweeping the San Antonio Spurs, by were stopped in the second round by Portland. They clearly needed a real character to help them over the top.

For the 1993 season, they got that character. He was a hell of a character! He was the King, Charles Barkley, acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers! In the 1993 season, Barkley received probably the highest accolade of his career by winning the league MVP. The Suns also picked up Danny Ainge and drafted Oliver Miller and Richard Dumas. Good old Paul Westphal was brought back, this time as the coach, and the Suns tore off to a 62-win season which tied their franchise record. In the playoffs, they wiped out the Lakers, Spurs, and Sonics, thereby taking Barkley to the Finals for the first time. Unfortunately, they had to deal with the Bulls in the Finals. Despite a dominant performance from Barkley and two games which went into triple overtime - the only two triple overtime games in NBA Finals history - the Bulls, as they were wont to do back then, took the series in six. Barkley never got that close to a ring again, and became another legend of the 90's NBA who was ruined by Michael and the Jordanaires.

Over the next few seasons, the Suns continued to bolster their roster and dominate throughout the regular season, going 178-68 during the span. They were always getting eliminated in the semifinal rounds of the playoffs, though, seemingly always by the Houston Rockets in seven-game series. After the 1995 season, the team blundered by trading one of their All-Star players, Dan Majerle, to Cleveland for John "Hot Rod" Williams. In their defense, Phoenix needed a good shot blocker, but Majerle was a fan favorite and a leader whose presence was badly missed. The team went 41-41 the next year, and were kicked out of the first playoff round by San Antonio. Then in the 1996 draft, they banked the 15th pick on a guard from Santa Clara University named Steve Nash that no one ever heard of. Fans were pissed off at the pick, and they booed. In his first two years in the league, Nash was kept in a supporting role behind Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. Since Kidd had the point guard role pretty well locked up, Nash was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in June 1998. In the meantime, Barkley was also traded to Houston.

The millennial Phoenix Suns were resoundingly average. The team got Penny Hardaway, but he was injured all the damn time so he never bounced off Jason Kidd the way he was expected to. Kidd was eventually let go to the New Jersey Nets for Stephon Marbury, and the draft eventually yielded Amar'e Stoudemire. Stoudemire emerged in the 2003 season and the Suns won 44 games, but they were out of the playoffs again the next year. Part of that could be because in midseason they dumped Marbury and Hardaway off on the New York Knicks.

In the meantime, Steve Nash had become one of the league's stars and premier point guards in Dallas, and upon his newfound status as a free agent, he decided he wanted to return to Phoenix, finish the job, and show the Phoenix fans what they missed. Teaming up with Stoudemire, Nash won two league MVP awards and brought the Suns to dominance while turning every game into a track meet, which was sorely needed because the league had gotten unbearably slow and foul-laden by then. They were never quite able to finish the job, though, because they shared their conference with the San Antonio Spurs, and the Spurs just had their number. Playoff runs always came up short, and they would usually come up short against the Spurs. This era lasted until about 2008, when Suns coach Mike D'Antoni signed with New York. They had ups and downs during the next few years, generally doing well but never being a real, serious contender. Although they played a more balanced style of basketball which culminated in a 54-28 record in the 2010 season, they were still getting drubbed by San Antonio.

After the 2010 season, Stoudemire was sent packing to join D'Antoni with the Knicks, and the team has been in rebuilding mode ever since. They'll clearly be out of it for at least the next few years. Their latest move was to let Steve Nash head to the Lakers, a move which Nash says was for his family but was probably also for the ring he still hasn't gotten.

Three Hall of Famers are in the Hall based on significant contributions to the Phoenix Suns: Charles Barkley, Connie Hawkins, and Dennis Johnson. The Suns also once had NBA coaching legend Pat Riley during his brief playing career. The team has more retired numbers than Hall of Famers: Dick Van Arsdale, Walter Davis, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Tom Chambers, Alvan Adams, Charles Barkley, Connie Hawkins, and Paul Westphal all have their numbers in the rafters. While Hall of Famers run few and far between, the Suns do have several team faces which have helped them carve out their niche. Johnson, Adams, and Majerle appear to be the biggest ones.

Individual awards, though, run rampant throughout the team's history. Charles Barkley and Steve Nash have both been MVP, with Nash winning that award twice. Alvan Adams, Walter Davis, and Amar'e Stoudemire have all been Rookie of the Year. Four Sixth Men of the Year, a bunch of First Team people, a bunch of Defensive First Team people, and hell, Barkley and Nash have both won the fucking ESPY for Best NBA Player!

Every first weekend of October, the Suns play an exhibition called the NBA Outdoors in Indian Wells, California. It's a cool tradition, even if it is the preseason. It's also a hell of an identifying mark which scores high with me. Other than that, though, the Suns have traded away a lot of their good players before they really got good, and a lot of their marquee names were acquired when the mileage was starting to appear. The Suns are a team that seems to be a developmental team for the entire NBA, no matter how good they're doing. They're going to take your favorite players and probably trade them, where they'll become big time players, and eventually stars and media names in some other place like Dallas or New York City. It's really no surprise they haven't won that elusive Championship yet. On the upside, they're currently known for being the breath of fresh air the NBA needed back when Steve Nash made his grand return.

Get used to a firm conviction that the Phoenix Suns will someday pull through, despite not having any evidence that they're going to do so. They always seem ready and loaded. Going back to the first paragraph and some of what I said there, the Suns actually have the fourth-highest winning percentage in NBA history, made the playoffs 29 times, and posted 19 seasons in which they won at least 50 games. They're the best team in the NBA to have never won a Championship. They always seem like they're loaded and ready to explode, but adopting fans should eye the Phoenix Suns with a bit of caution.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Phoenix_Suns-562-1388093-229108-Playoff_Death_Valley.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Phoenix_Suns-562-1388093-229108-Playoff_Death_Valley.html Sat, 13 Oct 2012 20:59:47 +0000
<![CDATA[ They're Nuggets, Alright, but Not of Gold]]>
(Worst introduction ever.)

As I've written about time and again since beginning the NBA long form of my teams project, the American Basketball Association was created in 1967. One of the ABA's charter franchises was awarded right off the bat to Kansas City, where… Their owner, a Southern California businessman named James Trindle, couldn't find a good place to play their games. Unable to think of a solution, ABA commissioner George Mikan offered a quick helping hand by suggestion he should move the team to Denver. The NBA had a former player at the time named Vince Boryla, who was a native of Denver. I don't know what the circumstances of the lease were, but Boryla was named the General Manager of the Denver team just before they were actually a Denver team. The move was made, and the team was immediately named the Denver Larks. Unfortunately, Trindle's group also happened to be a little bit short on funds, and Mikan (honestly, the more I read about George Mikan's actions as commissioner of the ABA, the more I begin to suspect he was rooting for the upstart league to fail) ordered the team to post a $100,000 performance bond or Trindle would lose the team. Hours before the deadline, Trindle managed to sell a two-thirds share to trucking magnate Bill Ringsby.

Ringsby's first move was to change the team name. Now, the team hadn't even played a single game in its history yet. Anyway, he deemed the team… The Rockets! Again, the same refrigerator logic would apply, since rockets fly really really high and the city of Denver is situated really really high. Also, Ringsby's trucks were called rockets, but you can't help but get the feeling that the name was a generic substitute.

The Rockets went out for the first time featuring a solid lineup comprised of guys like Byron Beck and Larry Jones, and later Ralph Simpson. In the 1970 season, they grabbed a controversial rookie by the name of Spencer Haywood. Haywood didn't have a controversial attitude or a criminal past or, you know, political stances or anything like that. His controversy came as a result of his wanting to play in the NBA before he actually graduated from college. The NBA decided not to admit him, but the ABA was there to pick up the slack! When Haywood ended up averaging almost 30 points and 20 rebounds per game in his debut with the Rockets, the NBA quickly changed its mind and let the Seattle Supersonics jump in and sign him after that one season in Denver.

In 1972, the team was sold, and in 1974, the Rockets were beginning to anticipate a future jump into the senior league. Since there was already a team in the NBA called the Rockets - in Houston, where the nickname Rockets was actually very appropriate - the team needed a new name. A name the team contest was held, and the winning choice was Nuggets, after a previous basketball team that played in Denver. It was also a much better nod to the area and its history, since the whole state of Colorado basically came of age due to the discovery of gold on Pike's Peak, which resulted in a gold rush. When the merger took hold for good in 976, the Nuggets were taken into the senior league with the New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs, and Indiana Pacers. The Nuggets had struggled throughout most of their ABA years, but in 1974 they hired Larry Brown to coach. In the final season of the rebel league - the 1976 season - the Nuggets did manage to make the Finals, where they lost to the Nets.

Of the teams that wanted to join the NBA, the Nuggets appeared the most eager. They tried to make the leap in 1975, but were held back by a court order. Despite this, the NBA was still a complete and total bitch about having to take a handful of the teams from those scumbag rebels that forced it into a merger, so the Nuggets were saddled with the same financial setback as every other team that made the transition. The Nuggets did manage to teach the NBA a lesson or two, though. They kept up their strong play and won their division for their first couple of years as members of the senior league. In 1979, though, Larry Brown walked away. (He tends to do that.) Their performances declined a bit, but in 1981 they hired Doug Moe as their coach, who brought with him a philosophy known as motion offense. That was an idea in which the team tried to move the ball until someone got open. Although he was also known for neglecting defense, the Nuggets became competitive, and throughout the 80's, the Nuggets frequently put over 115 points on the board. During the 1982 season, the Nuggets scored over 100 points in every last game they played. In fact, they scored over 100 in 136 games straight, a record. In the 1982 season, they also set the league scoring record with a stratospheric average of 126.5 points per game.

Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe anchored the Nuggets at forward throughout the decade. Both averaged over 25 points per game. The team won a pair of division titles during that span, and in 1983, they played a single game against the Detroit Pistons which went into triple overtime, where the Pistons finally won by a score of 186-184. The combined 370 points are still the most ever scored in a single NBA game. Being playoff perennials, in the 1985 season, they at last sniffed the Western Conference Finals for the first time, but they faced the Los Angeles Lakers. And the Lakers being the Lakers, well, you know. Vandeweghe was traded before the 1985 season to the Portland Trail Blazers. They got Fat Lever in return, with Calvin Natt and Wayne Cooper. They did manage to keep pace with the powerhouses of the league, and in the 1988 season, they won 54 games, which was a franchise record. The playoffs didn't go quite as well: They were eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round.

Doug Moe walked off in 1990, and the team hired Paul Westhead to replace him. Westhead favored a style of offense which was similar to Moe's in a lot of ways, so guys like Michael Adams and Chris Jackson were allowed to hit the throttle and light up the scoreboard. Westhead also had the same weakness as Moe: He viewed defense as an inconvenience. Therefore, his teams, while blowing up every scoreboard in the league, couldn't actually stop teams from scoring, either. In the 1991 season, the Nuggets set many scoring records in the league. So, how did this fantastic offensive juggernaut finish? Last in the league. Without a D, sportswriters took to nicknaming the team the "Enver Nuggets." Rebuilding began that same year, though, when the team drafted Dikembe Mutombo in 1991. His rookie year was a success, and he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting while Denver finished, well, 24-58. Westhead was fired in 1992. Two lottery picks that year resulted in LaPhonso Ellis and Bryant Stith. The Nuggets were still losing, but at least they were now losing respectably, going 36-46. By 1994, Denver finally had a winning record again. They went 42-40 for the eighth playoff seed, but made history when they became the first eighth seed to ever boot a first seed from the playoffs. They fell to the Utah Jazz in the second round, though.

After that, the Nuggets spent the rest of the 90's stinking up the league. In the 1998 season, they made a run at the worst record in league history, ultimately going 11-71. That year, they tied the all-time worst single-season losing streak when they lost 23 games in a row, just one shy of the overall mark set by the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were constantly bad again, and in the 2003 season, the Nuggets once again finished with the worst record in the league, a terrible 17-65, tied with Cleveland. That, of course, meant looking to the draft lottery to save their pathetic asses. The Nuggets got to select third that year. They selected Carmelo Anthony, a Syracuse University product who, due to his incredible performances in the 2003 NCAA March Madness Tournament in leading the Orangemen to their first-ever NCAA Championship, was earning very favorable comparisons to the first pick of that very same draft, LeBron James. Back then it was perfectly conceivable - however unlikely - to envision Melo being able to rise to the same heights LeBron now has, and even outplaying him at times. Although that's not what happened, Melo - who is now with the New York Knicks - is enjoying a stellar NBA career.

The Nuggets turned around right on the spot, and the year after winning all of 17 games, they were finally a playoff team again. Although the Minnesota Timberwolves eliminated the Nuggets 4-1, the Nuggets became a playoff staple again, winning division titles in 2006, 2009, and 2010. In 2008, Melo was given a wingman when Chauncey Billups came via trade from the Detroit Pistons. It resulted in a run to the Western Conference Finals, which the Nuggets lost to the Lakers.

In 2011, that era closed. There were many months of speculation that Carmelo Anthony wanted out of Denver, and so the Nuggets finally closed all the speculating by sending him off to the Knicks, taking Chauncey Billups with him. I guess Melo had pissed off one too many people, because when the trade was finished, the Nuggets only had nine players left on their roster for the game against the Memphis Grizzlies that night. The Nuggets won 120-107, and the fans chanted "Who needs Melo!" Assumed dead after the trade, the Nuggets actually got better, and the first full post-Melo season saw the rise of Danilo Gallinari. JaVale McGee was picked up through a trade with the Washington Wizards, and underwent a revival. In the 2012 offseason, the team got Andre Iquodala in a four-way trade. Iquodala tweeted upon his trade that he's excited to be joining the Denver Nuggets, and that he knows his best basketball is ahead of him.

For everything about the team, the one thing about them that everyone seems to think of first is their uniforms. They've had quite a few unique ones. They used an iconic uniform at one time featuring a rainbow with an abstract of the city skyline done in what looked like building blocks. That uniform was so iconic that the team is bringing it back as an alternate, except with the current color scheme. The logo is called the Rainbow, or the Tetris.

Denver's only Basketball Hall of Famers are Alex English, a shooting god; Dan Issel, and David Thompson. Those three all have their numbers retired, along with Byron Beck and Doug Moe. Dikembe Mutombo and Marcus Camby won NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and Carmelo Anthony was on the NBA Rookie First Team. The Nuggets, as you can see, are clearly lacking for real identifiable faces. Alex English is the clear number one, and Carmelo Anthony was looking like the real thing until he fucked it all up. The only player from Denver to ever make the All-NBA First Team was David Thompson. English and Melo never did better than the second.

I had to mention the Tetris uniforms, because that's one of the first things people think of when the Denver Nuggets are mentioned. That's truly pathetic. They've had a few signature games, like the one against Detroit I mentioned, but their franchise faces really wouldn't hold their own against the best of the other teams. I'll give credit to Alex English, and a little to Carmelo Anthony just because I watched him at Syracuse. Also, it's nice that they played such incredible offense, but that never went with a whole lot else. Should we just call them the no-name team? Learning about them, I can't help but think they were included in the merger only because they made the ABA Finals in the rebel league's last year. They're the worst of the merger survivors, and you have to wonder if this was even the fourth-best the ABA had to offer.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Denver_Nuggets-562-1388082-228949-They_re_Nuggets_Alright_but_Not_of_Gold.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Denver_Nuggets-562-1388082-228949-They_re_Nuggets_Alright_but_Not_of_Gold.html Wed, 10 Oct 2012 18:54:47 +0000
<![CDATA[ Spurred On]]>
San Antonio wants a football team. They even built an arena, the Alamodome, in anticipation of getting one. (Not as unique as you would think. My hometown of Buffalo built a baseball stadium in anticipation of getting the Major League Baseball expansion team that eventually turned into the Miami Marlins. The minor league team took residence there instead.) San Antonio is more than large enough to handle a football franchise. They've been ably handling one of the best overall basketball teams, the San Antonio Spurs, a former ABA team, for decades.

The story of the San Antonio Spurs actually begins over in Dallas. Before the popular and celebrated Dallas Mavericks ever came along, Dallas developed a team in the American Basketball Association called the Dallas Chaparrals. Led by Cliff Hagan, the Chaparrals took to the hardwood for the first time in 1967, the first season for the ABA. In their second season, they did pretty good; they went 41-37 and made the playoffs, losing to the New Orleans Buccaneers. But as with all professional basketball teams at the time, the Chaparrals were ignored. After all, Dallas was already home to a football team that, at the time of the Chaparrals' founding, had been around for close to a decade, competed with a second football team that quickly left for Kansas City, and was on its way to becoming one of the marquee teams of the NFL. Basketball? What's that? They all do FOOTBALL in Texas, boy! Catching wind of the fact that they were being ignored, the Chaparrals tried to expand by turning themselves from just a city team into a big regional team by changing their name to the Texas Chaparrals and taking home games to other places, including Fort Worth and Lubbock. They blew that too, and for the 1972 season, they went crawling back to Dallas full time.

The owners stopped spending money of the team, so despite modest success, the Chaparrals were in a deep financial hole by their third season. In the 1973 season, the Chaparrals missed the playoffs for the first time ever. About that time, a group of businessmen from San Antonio worked out a deal which would lease the Chaparrals to San Antonio, promising they'd bring them back to Dallas in 1975 if there wasn't a real, written-in-blood buy at the end. The deal was signed, the team was renamed the San Antonio Gunslingers, and then was renamed again to the Spurs before a single game was even played. The colors were changed from red, white, and blue to the now-well-known Oakland Raiders colors of silver and black, with a small smidgeon of white on the side.

The Spurs attracted 6000 boisterous fans for their first game in San Antonio, a loss to the San Diego Conquistadors. In their first season, they created an identity: Smothering defense. They held opponents to under 100 points 49 times, an ABA record. They finished third, played the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs, and took them to seven games before going down. They only seemed to get stronger as the season pushed on, and they acquired two of the important early players from the Virginia Squires: Swen Nater, who went on to become the Rookie of the Year, and one of their all-time great players, George Gervin "The Iceman." The latter was so big that the ABA tried to put the clamps on it, but the deciding judge was a Spurs fan, I guess. In the 1975 season, the Spurs started off very strong, but coach Tom Nissalke was fired about a third of the way through it because the owners were sick of the boring, defensive style of basketball he was commanding. Bob Bass replaced him, claiming that you can't throw a set offense another pro team for 48 minutes. You need to let them play what he called schoolyard basketball sometimes. Iceman and ABA vet James Silas took that statement to heart, and the Spurs shed the slow defensive image as they went to a 51-33 record and were loved and embraced by San Antonio.

Although the Spurs weren't immediately successful in the playoffs, they were among the best teams in the ABA. Although San Antonio back then had a big population of around 650,000, it was still considered a smaller market because the suburbs weren't all that big. So while the team itself was good, it was large attendance numbers which raised the collective eyebrows of the ABA brass, and when the merger finally took hold in June of 1976, the Spurs were in. On a side note, the three former ABA merger survivors decided to pay the owners of two folding teams, the Spirits of Saint Louis and Kentucky Colonels. John Y. Brown, who owned the Colonels, used the money to buy his way into the NBA through the Buffalo Braves, and later the Boston Celtics.

Merger! New Teams! Skeptics who believe THE NEW TEAMS WILL NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH!!! You know how it goes. Of course, since the NBA hated the idea of the merger that the ABA was actively trying to force, they told the n00bs to get to the back of the line, where they needed to pay their fucking dues! The NBA imposed some very significant handicaps on the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Spurs, and New York Nets (today's Brooklyn Nets) as a Fuck You. Draft limitations, TV revenue limitations, and entrance fees were part of the penalty. It must have rattled the NBA brass to the very core of their beings that San Antonio managed to go 44-38 in their first season as an NBA team anyway. They also picked up a great new rival with the Houston Rockets. During the 1978 season, it must have pissed them off BIG that the two players fighting for the scoring title were Iceman and David Thompson of the Nuggets. In the 1979 season, the Spurs stuck their fingers in the NBA's face again by making the Conference Championship. They even held a 3-1 series lead, but the Washington Bullets came back and managed to win the series anyway.

In the early 80's, the Spurs were moved to the Western Conference, and continued to post strong records, including several 50-win seasons. Overall, the Spurs managed to reel in five division titles in their first seven NBA seasons before The Iceman, George Gervin, hung up his soles in 1985. After the retirement of their star and face, the Spurs struggles, going 115-213 from the 1986 season to the 1989 season. Their 1989 season saw them go 21-61, the second-worst record in their history. Lightning happened to strike that year, though, because fresh off the 1988 NCAA National Champion University of Kansas came coach Larry Brown! It helped that the Spurs also drafted David Robinson in the 1987 draft. Robinson, however, was locked up in his commitment to the United States Navy, so he didn't get to see any NBA action until the 1990 season. That year, led by Robinson, Brown, Sean Elliott, and Terry Cummings, the Spurs won 56 games, won their division, and made the second playoff round before getting beat by the eventual Western Conference Champion Portland Trail Blazers.

The 90's saw the Spurs rise to greatness again, but they weren't quite able to do a ton of damage in the playoffs. They couldn't get out of the second round. During the 1992 season, Larry Brown was actually fired. Yes, you're reading that right - for once, the team got rid of him before he could reach out in curiosity of other coaching positions and walk off. (He tends to do that. Walk off, I mean, not get fired.) Bob Bass was back to be the interim, Robinson was injured, and the Phoenix Suns swept the Spurs out of the playoffs. There were a bunch of coaching switches throughout the decade, and the Spurs managed to pull the miracle of adjusting to each and every one of them. It wasn't until the 1997 season they were finally set back enough to take a nosedive, with a very serious injury to Robinson which limited him to six games, and Elliott also missed more than half the season. They had signed Dominique Wilkins before the season, but he proved to not be enough to make up the difference. He was meant to only come off the bench, but he ended up leading the team in scoring. The Spurs went 20-62, the worst record ever in their history. It was the third-worst record in the league.

To date, as I write this, it was also their last losing record and the last time they missed the playoffs. Hell, except for the 1999 season, it was the last time they won under 50 games. And the 1999 season was shortened by a strike TO 50 games.

During that fiasco, the coach was fired and replaced by the team's general manager, Gregg Poppovich, who had also been an assistant coach during Brown's years. The Spurs also won the draft lottery, and with the first pick, they took Tim Duncan from Wake Forest. It wasn't long before Duncan came up as one of the league's most potent players. He had great chemistry with Robinson. During the 1999 strike season, the Spurs had the best record in the league once it restarted. They went 37-13 and became the first former ABA team to ever make it to the Finals, winning their first Championship in five games over the New York Knicks. Now, that could easily have been written off. After all, the season was shorter, most of the players decided not to train and fell out of basketball shape, and the Knicks didn't have Patrick Ewing during their playoff run. But the one-two punch of Robinson/Duncan was too nasty a knockout punch.

In any case, the Spurs proved they weren't a fluke during the 2003 season, when they returned to the Finals and pounded another former ABA team, the New Jersey Nets. This was a full season and the Nets were equipped with Jason Kidd, who was playing the best basketball in the league at the time. Any room for doubters about the Spurs was quickly stamped out by this title. David Robinson called it quits after the season, going out on top. Duncan won his second straight NBA MVP award, too. By now the Spurs were regularly dominating the rest of the league, so when Robinson left, everyone else must have breathed a sigh of relief. San Antonio probably hoped the league enjoyed that little relief sigh, because without Robinson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker emerged as stars in their own right to take up any slack Robinson left. Since that 2003 Championship, the Spurs have also taken the title in 2005 in a hard-fought series against the Detroit Pistons and in 2007 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had LeBron James and…. Well, really nothing after him, which is why that series only lasted through four games. Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker are still the team's big three, and Duncan is an obvious Hall of Famer who, despite his lack of flashiness or self-promotion, is already ranked among the greatest-ever big man centers.

What we have here is a team that won. A lot, and in spite of the NBA being such an ass about the fact that they were even invited into the league. No, they weren't able to put it all together until they suddenly were, but there are a few teams that have been like that. The Spurs have four Championships, a number surpassed only by the Boston Celtics (17), Los Angeles Lakers (16), and Chicago Bulls (six). The Spurs' record in the NBA Finals is perfect; they're 4-0. Only two teams in the league have been through more than one Finals series and maintained a perfect record all the way. The other is the Bulls, who are 6-0 in the Finals. They have one of the highest winning percentages in league history, and have only missed the playoffs four times. They've won 18 division titles, and they even hold the record for most 50-win seasons in a row, with 13. Since last season only went 66 games, that's one hell of a trick.

Unfortunately, a lot of the team's success has come at the expense of exciting basketball. I don't mind the fact that Spurs players have very rarely been Hollywood divas. (They did have Dennis Rodman for a little while, though. It didn't end well.) Don't forget, Tom Nissalke was fired in the team's early years not because he was a bad coach, but because his style resulted in some of the most boring basketball in the league. Gregg Poppovich followed suit. My first NBA Finals series was a terrible, stoppage-laden Finals between the Spurs and Nets in 2003, and it put me off so bad that I initially ignored most of the league for several more years. Fortunately, some new rules opened the game up more, and the big three of San Antonio are being allowed to play to the extent of their abilities again, so they're not quite as boring as they were when I started trying to follow the NBA.

George Gervin, The Iceman himself, is still a very revered face of the Spurs. But they've had a steady stream of talent spread throughout their time in the league. The Iceman is in the Hall of Fame, an honor he shares with others Spurs like Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone, David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, and Dominique Wilkins. Of those names, only Iceman and Robinson are there based on their San Antonio careers. Gilmore spent a long enough stint in San Antonio to have also made a huge contribution, so he can count too, but his time with the Chicago Bulls was longer by about a hair. Tim Duncan is sure to follow once he's finished, and things look promising for Tony Parker as well. Manu Ginobili has an outside shot at the Hall, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it yet. Johnny Moore, Avery Johnson, Bruce Bowen, James Silas, Sean Elliott, Gervin, and Robinson are all honored with retired numbers.

Robinson and Duncan, being the most dominant players in team history, dominate the individual honors. Robinson was a league MVP once, Duncan twice. Both were Rookie of the Year too, which pretty much makes their Rookie First Team selections automatic. Both of them, along with Alvin Robertson and Bruce Bowen, have been named to the first and second All-Defensive teams. Duncan was a Finals MVP while Robinson was Defensive Player of the Year. Ultimately, the Spurs eras revolve around first Gervin, then Robinson, and now Duncan.

Since San Antonio is not a traditional large market, the Spurs have kind of existed on the side. They never had a big-personality transcendent. They might have had a couple considering how well they've done, but it seems like they prefer to just play basketball. Unfortunately, this means a lot of what they do sort of disappears in smoke puffs, and the team and fans are forgotten. I have to go on the negative side for their lack of any big time moments which are identified with names of their own in NBA lore and that fact that they play so defensively and slowed the game down. Still, don't let my rating get in the way. If you're an adopting fan, you'll win a lot if you're willing to take more boring games than necessary and want to hang around on the sidelines while Celtics and Lakers fans keep duking it out.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-San_Antonio_Spurs-562-1388091-228860-Spurred_On.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-San_Antonio_Spurs-562-1388091-228860-Spurred_On.html Sun, 7 Oct 2012 19:13:37 +0000
<![CDATA[ Flying Under the Radar]]>
As for the earlier team, as far as Buffalo is concerned, they dropped off the face of the Earth. They're still around, alright, but it seems that even most of the team's biggest fans forget its origins. They were an original member of the NBL, formed all the way back in 1946, when the city of Buffalo meant something to people other than those who actually lived there. That team currently exists as…. The Atlanta Hawks. How did this come about?

Well, it's actually pretty understandable that fans would forget about the team's Rust Belt origin. People talk about how the Braves only lasted for eight years in Buffalo, but this team, the Buffalo Bisons, existed for the blink of an eye in sports team years. The Bisons were around for only their first 13 games ever played. That's right, 13 games before owner Ben Kerner packed up everything and took the team to Moline, Illinois. Moline is part of what is now called the Quad Cities, a region in the northwestern part of Illinois which encompasses Moline as well as the cities of Rock Island and East Moline in Illinois, along with Bettendorf and Davenport, two cities in Iowa. Back then, however, the region was only called the Tri-Cities, so they were renamed the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, after the Black Hawk War which was fought in Illinois. They were part of the 1949 merger which officially created the NBA.

The Tri-Cities Blackhawks have another forgotten but very important distinction: They employed Red Auerbach briefly. Yeah, THAT Red Auerbach. He resigned around the time of the merger because he was pissed at the team for trading away a player he favored. They were also the team that originally drafted Bob Cousy, but they traded his rights to the Chicago Stags. Remember those names because in another paragraph or two, they're going to become very important.

By 1951, it was apparently decided the team couldn't make any more of a go of it as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, so they moved to Milwaukee and hacked off half their name, becoming the Milwaukee Hawks. Two years later, they drafted Bob Pettit, a future league MVP. Sadly, that didn't stop them from being one of the league's worst teams, and they were soon gone once again, this time moving down to Saint Louis, Missouri. Although the Saint Louis Hawks ultimately ended up moving again, it was this particular move with which the team truly came of age. The Hawks began taking a real shape and identity in Saint Louis. Before their move to Saint Louis, they featured a player/coach named Deangelo King from their earliest days in Buffalo. Beyond that, they were faceless. In Saint Louis, they grew up and began giving basketball fans the noteworthy accomplishments in their history.

Bob Pettit led the team. By 1957, they were in the Finals, where they met the Boston Celtics. NBA enthusiasts are well aware that a matchup with the Celtics back then was never a good thing, because they were led by a talented fundamental player named Bob Cousy and an innovative coach named Red Auerbach. Pettit and company held their own, eventually going down in a double-overtime seventh game, which brought Boston its first NBA Championship. The two teams met again in a Finals grudge match the following season; in six games, the Hawks avenged their defeat the previous year. It's still the only Championship the Hawks have ever won.

For the next decade, the Saint Louis Hawks were one of the league's premier teams. They won another two Conference Championships, in 1960 and 1961. They also faced the two people who got away earlier in their history, Cousy and Auerbach, in both Finals, and lost both times. That 1961 Conference Championship was their last Conference Championship, even though they also grabbed a rookie named Lenny Wilkens, who spent the rest of the decade taking the Hawks to division titles and deep playoff runs. The Hawks were actually one of the most stable and successful teams in the league for the time.

Unfortunately, successful as the team was, there was a difference between NBA success and SUCCESS back then. That became a little bit of a bump in the road because the Hawks were playing in the Kiel Auditorium and occasionally at Saint Louis Arena. Both of them were aging and mounted up a lot of maintenance problems but, since the Hawks were an NBA team at a time the NBA was barely on the map, the city laughed in their faces when they asked for a new place to play. Ben Kerner finally decided that he had to liberate himself from the team and sold them to Tom Cousins, a real estate developer in Atlanta, and former Georgia governor Carl Sanders. Since they were both from Georgia, it figured that a moved would be in the works, and it was. The team hightailed in 1968, moving to their current home in Atlanta.

Following the move, the Hawks were still a very good team, fielding players like Lou Hudson and Pete Maravich. But within a couple of years after the move, the team was stinking up the NBA, and so they started rebuilding, a process which was taking them the right way until the 1975 NBA draft. There was no way the Hawks could miss at this, because they had somehow managed to pick up both the first and third overall draft picks. Unfortunately, by this time the American Basketball Association was out loose in the basketball world, trying to prove itself on the level of the NBA. What happened was that both of those wonderfully high draft picks, David Thompson and Marvin Webster, signed on with ABA teams instead of the Hawks. And so, just like that, bye-bye rebuilding plan! Somehow, though, they did manage to overcome that little obstacle and win their division in the 1980 season, thanks in large part to coach Hubie Brown.

The famous 1984 draft didn't have a big impact on the Hawks. Their big draft play of the 80's was…. Well, it actually wasn't really anyone in any year. But in 1982, the Utah Jazz drafted a certain player named Dominique Wilkins. The Jazz, however, had serious money problems - as in, they were seriously lacking it. Wilkins also didn't find the idea of playing in Salt Lake City very appealing, and he was telling that to anyone who would listen. Fortunately, Atlanta swept in and made a trade for him. Wilkins began his Hall of Fame career in Atlanta, and the Hawks were once again one of the best teams in the league by the late 80's. Unfortunately, they got caught in playoff purgatory, always falling to the likes of the Celtics or Detroit Pistons before they even got to the Conference Championship. After many years of this, the team brought back Lenny Wilkens to coach in 1993. They also decided to trade Dominique Wilkins in 1994.

Even without the help of Dominique Wilkins, Lenny Wilkens was able to lead the Hawks to several seasons of over 50 wins. In 1995, he even managed to break the record for number of coaching victories when he won game number 939. Dikembe Mutombo and Alan Henderson became decorated players, but the team STILL couldn't get out of the second round of the playoffs. By the millennium, the Hawks were crashing and burning on quite a regular basis, especially after they traded Steve Smith to the Portland Trail Blazers for Isaiah Rider and Jim Jackson. Smith had been a popular player and a community pillar. Rider was misbehaved. In 2001, mismanagement woes set in when the Hawks, first of all, drafted Spanish star Pau Gasol but ceded his rights to the Memphis Grizzlies in a trade that also involved Shareef Abdur-Rahim. In 2004, Rasheed Wallace and Wesley Person were traded to Atlanta from Portland for Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff, and Dan Dickau. The key player in that trade, in the eyes of the Blazers, was Wallace, an NBA All-Star. In his debut for the Hawks, Wallace scored 20 points, six rebounds, five blocks, two assists, and a steal for one hell of an all-around performance. After that, the Hawks, with all their genius, shipped him to the Pistons literally the next day. It was a three-way trade with Boston, and the player they eventually got out of it was Chris Mills.

In 2005, the Hawks began trying to set things right by getting Joe Johnson from the Phoenix Suns. By 2009, they were finally winning more often than they were losing again. They're finally winning 40 and 50 games a season again, but even so, they've still never killed their second round playoff hiccups. Since the move to Atlanta, they still have yet to sniff the Conference Championship.

Walt Bellamy, Connie Hawkins, Moses Malone, Pete Maravich, and Dominique Wilkins are Atlanta Hawks Hall of Famers, though Bellamy, Malone, and Maravich are in there based on considerable contributions to other teams. Cliff Hagan, Ed Macauley, Bob Pettit, and Lenny Wilkens were all primary contributors to the Saint Louis Hawks. Bob Houbregs is a nondescript Hall guy drafted by the Milwaukee Hawks in 1953, but he was out by the next year and played most of his career with the Detroit Pistons. Pettit, Wilkins, and Lou Hudson have had their numbers retired by the team. The number 17 was retired for Ted Turner which, knowing everything I know about Turner, was probably his idea. Pettit was a two-time league MVP, Dikembe Mutombo was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and Dominique Wilkins is their greatest player. Pettit and Wilkins are the only two All-NBA First Team players, though, and Wilkins only got that honor once. The rest of the Hawks players who got individual honors did so only a handful of times, and they really don't comprise the league's A-list.

Notably, it was the Atlanta Hawks who first drafted Pete Maravich. Despite everything he ever achieved, he never won a league MVP award, and he was never a First Team guy. He was part of the Rookie First Team, and made the Second Team once. Maravich played in Atlanta for the first four years of his career.

There's a lot of frustration to be taken with the Atlanta Hawks. They've been on deep playoff runs and have had great seasons, but they've never been to the Conference Championship or won 60 games in a season. They've also screwed up with the draft a lot, losing Bill Russell, among other players. This is a team best known for three things: The first is their glory years in Saint Louis. The second is a ridiculous logo that reminded people of Pac-Man while they were using it. The third is Dominique Wilkins. Pete Maravich played a very significant chunk of his years in Atlanta. Even though the majority of his career was with the New Orleans Jazz, it's still six years with the Jazz and four with the Hawks, so he accomplished everything he did with a lot of time in Atlanta. Yet, the Hawks haven't seen it fit to retire his number.

Atlanta often gets listed at the top of those sports misery cities. In the end, the Hawks are just another team Atlanta lucked out enough to pull out of some other place. They certainly have a hell of an identity there, but it isn't a great one. Much of their greatest works were from Saint Louis, and their original identity as the Buffalo Bisons was so meaningless and short that the Hawks don't mention it on their website, in any capacity - as far as the organization's official story is concerned, they started as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, and with only 13 games under their belts as the Bisons, it's difficult to blame them. They're a middling team, overall - just good enough to keep its fanbase hopeful without winning it all. Memorable mostly because of a previous identity. Only on TV outside Atlanta when they're good. Players who were good enough, but never quite transcendent. They're like the other teams in the Atlanta metropolitan area - entertaining, but otherwise faceless.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Atlanta_Hawks-562-1388084-228834-Flying_Under_the_Radar.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Atlanta_Hawks-562-1388084-228834-Flying_Under_the_Radar.html Sat, 6 Oct 2012 18:22:20 +0000
<![CDATA[News Item: NBA to crack down on flopping Quick Tip by Mikeylito]]>
http://mikeylito.com/eyeview/2012/10/03/nba-cracks-down-on-flopping/]]>
http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-News_Item_NBA_to_crack_down_on_flopping-696-1836878-228755.html http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-News_Item_NBA_to_crack_down_on_flopping-696-1836878-228755.html Wed, 3 Oct 2012 23:16:32 +0000
<![CDATA[ More Power]]>
The Zollner Pistons hit the ground running, playing in the NBL Finals in their first two seasons before finally taking titles of their own in 1944 and 1945, defeating the Sheboygan Redskins both years. They were, by every account, one of the most successful teams in the league, racking up a record of 166-71 over nine seasons. The industrial system which berthed the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, however, was so done that it was time to stick a fork in it, and Fred Zollner knew it. That caused him to take action and place himself among the head honchos trying to stamp out a merger between the NBL and a younger, upstart league called the BAA, for Basketball Association of America. In transition, the Zollner Pistons spent one final year in the BAA, going 22-38 before entering the newly-formed NBA in 1949.

The merger increased the quality of competition, so the Zollner Pistons had a difficult go of it for their first five seasons. Also, it was suggested on numerous occasions that the 1954 and 1955 Zollner Pistons were in cahoots with some of society's nastier gamblers, and that they frequently conspired to shave points and throw games during those years. It didn't keep them out of the Finals in the 1955 season, though, and so there are accusations lingering that the Zollner Pistons may have thrown the 1955 Finals to the Syracuse Nationals. No such accusations exist for the 1956 season for some reason, though. Their coach, Charlie Eckman, managed to get them back to the Finals, apparently clean or something. It didn't help them very much, though, because Fort Wayne still lost.

Coming off two straight Finals appearances, the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons had a strong local following. They also had a decided disadvantage in having Fort Wayne for their home. Fort Wayne was small, and that made it very difficult for them to earn a whole lot of money and sustain themselves. Fred Zollner turned his eyes to the nearby city of Detroit, which would give his team a much bigger fanbase and a glamor name. He wasn't deterred by the fact that a bunch of professional basketball teams had already failed in the Motor City; The Detroit Vagabond Kings were a failure. The Detroit Eagles were also a failure. The Detroit Falcons, yeah, you know the story. The Detroit Gems were a failure, but only in Detroit; they're actually still around today, but they had to be bought after folding and dispersal and moved to Minneapolis before they finally became the Los Angeles Lakers. Fred Zollner believed in Detroit, though, and he believed in his team, so in 1957, he took his team to Detroit. Since the city had such a strong automotive base, Zollner - who was a piston manufacturer back in Fort Wayne - decided to keep the team name, except he dropped his last name from it. Hence, the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons were now the Detroit Pistons.

The early Detroit Pistons were terrible. We're talking Detroit Lions levels of bad here. They were characterized by a series of great players and shitty teams. Dave DeBusschere, Dave Bing, and Bob Lanier (who is a native of Buffalo, my hometown) played for the Pistons, and at one point DeBusschere was activated as the youngest player/coach in NBA history. He was also born and bred locally, which really pissed off the few fans the Pistons had back then when he was the cornerstone of a very ill-timed 1968 trade which sent him to the New York Knicks for Howard Komives and Walt Bellamy. Komives and Bellamy were both nearing the ends of their careers. DeBusschere, on the other hand, had a lot of life left in him, something he demonstrated as he led the Knickerbockers to two NBA Titles. Bing and Lanier continued to play well, but while they sometimes did manage to shoulder the team, they also has the misfortune of playing in the same division as the Milwaukee Bucks - who fielded Lew Alcindor, known today as Kareem Abdul-Jabber - and the Chicago Bulls, a hard-fighting defensive team with strong players who punished anyone who committed the crime of stepping onto the hardwood with them.

The Pistons were still godawful when the 1980 season rolled around. They went 16-66 that year, losing their final 14 games in a row and then, coupling that with a seven-loss streak to begin their 1981 season, set a then-record of 21 straight losses which has since been broken. Coincidentally, 21 was also the number of games the Pistons managed to win in the 1981 season. At least 1981 actually has silver lining. Silver lining wasn't actually named Silver Lining, of course; he was actually named Isiah Thomas, and he was a product of Indiana University. He would go on to become the greatest player in the history of the Detroit Pistons. In 1982, Bill Laimbeer was acquired via trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Vinnie Johnson was acquired the same way, except from the Seattle Supersonics. The three of them stayed together for the next decade, forming the core of the greatest Pistons teams. By 1984, the Pistons had reached the playoffs, only to be ejected in the first round by New York. In the 1985 season, they made the playoffs again and won their first round matchup before falling to the Boston Celtics in the second round. Although Boston won in six games, Detroit had surprised everyone with their performance. They actually had talent now, and the first of many, MANY Pistons rivalries of the era began.

Rick Mahorn was a 1985 pickup in a trade with the Washington Bullets during the offseason. In the 1986 season, Detroit made the playoffs again, losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, but after that series, Isiah Thomas and Pistons coach Chuck Daly realized something: They HAD the talent to do big things. What they needed to succeed was aggression. Physicality. They needed to play awesome fundamentals, and also punish the other teams physically and wear them down. During the 1986 offseason, the Pistons picked up John Salley and Dennis Rodman in the draft, and got Adrian Dantley (I've been writing about this guy a lot lately) in a trade with the Utah Jazz. They adopted a new, defense-oriented physical style of play to go with their new players. In the 1987, the Bad Boys emerged, and for the next several years, they become the most physically intimidating team in the league. They pissed everyone off and didn't care. Everyone - EVERYONE - hated them.

Part of the hatred toward the Bad Boys came because their style was so successful. In the 1987 season, the Pistons reached the Eastern Conference Finals, where they pushed the Celtics to a 2-2 series tie. In game five, the Pistons were on the verge of winning when Larry Bird pulled off a miracle by stealing an inbound pass and tossing it to Dennis Johnson, who made a layup that won the game. The Pistons rallied for a win in game six before losing a tough seventh game in Boston. That loss only served as motivation, and in 1988 the Pistons returned to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they finally beat the Bird/McHale/Parish Celtics and went to the Finals for the first time since Fort Wayne. Playing against one of the great teams in NBA history, the 1988 Showtime Los Angeles Lakers, the Pistons actually managed to take a 3-2 series lead to Detroit for the sixth game. Isiah Thomas managed to score 25 points in the third quarter on a badly sprained ankle. But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the game on a pair of last-minute free throws after a controversial foul by Bill Laimbeer, which is still referred to by Pistons fans as the Phantom Foul. Isiah Thomas couldn't play at full strength in the next game, and that great, classic 1988 Showtime Lakers team won game seven and the Championship. Just barely.

In 1989 the Pistons were angrier than ever. So close, so far, and on a nonexistent foul too! It was time to teach the NBA a fucking lesson! The 1989 Pistons won 63 games, their best record ever, torpedoed through the playoffs, and got that rematch with the Lakers they probably wanted. This time, they proved themselves, sweeping the Lakers and winning their first Championship since joining the NBA. Joe Dumars was the Finals MVP. The next season, they won 59 games and blew through two playoff rounds before they met the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls, featuring Michael Jordan, had been stymied in the playoffs the previous two years by the Pistons. The pissed-off Bulls gave Detroit a fight, but Detroit prevailed in seven games before going to the Finals to match up against the Portland Trail Blazers. They hadn't won any games at all in Portland since 1974, but in the Finals, they swept the three middle games in Portland. Upon returning to Detroit with a 3-1 series lead, the Pistons clinched.

Came the 1991 season, the Pistons returned to the Eastern Conference Finals. Isiah Thomas sustained a nasty wrist injury just before the playoffs began, so he wasn't at full strength for the Chicago Bulls to sweep them en route to beginning their great 90's dynasty. It was the final hurrah of the Bad Boys era, and the series is mostly remembered for the defeated, humiliated Pistons storming past the Bulls in the aftermath of game four, refusing to shake their hands. It summed up everything about the Pistons' image during the Bad Boys era, as well as their feelings toward their Chicago archrivals. After that, the Pistons took a fast downward dip with many of the Bad Boy players retired or were traded to different teams. By the 1994 season, they had bottomed out once again, finishing 20-62.

Grant Hill was drafted in 1994. He had oodles of promise, but all that promise was nullified by some very bad management decisions. They lost Allan Houston to the Knicks in free agency. They signed a bunch of washouts as free agents, including Christian Laettner. They hired and fired five different head coaches in eight years, including the smart, resourceful Doug Collins, who was the only coach during that span to have any success at the helm: He won 54 games in the 1997 season. Pistons fans refer to those down years with a name more unique than terms employed to bad eras by fans of most other teams. Pistons fans call the late 90's the Teal Era, due mainly to the fact that Detroit's traditional colors of red, white, and blue were changed to an ugly, misfitting mix of burgundy, teal, gold, and black.

By 2001, teal was out. Joe Dumars was in! He had retired after 1999, but was hired as the team President in the 2000 offseason. He faced his first major crisis right off, with Grant Hill deciding the Pistons were too horrid a team to offer anything from a shot at winning to a decent city to live in. (I'm just kidding, Detroiters. I'm from Buffalo, which is similar to your city in many ways. I know what it's like for people to make quick judgements on classic, historical Rust Belt cities which are going through bad times. That was more of an I-feel-you wink than a real knock.) Hill left for the Orlando Magic, but Dumars managed to work a miracle when he turned it into a sign-and-trade arrangement which brought Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace to Detroit for Hill. Both were put into Detroit's starting lieup, and Wallace emerged as an All-Star and one of the finest defensive players in the NBA. After another bad year, Rick Carlisle was hired to coach, and he guided the Pistons to their first 50-win season since 1997 and first playoff series victory since 1991. It probably looked like an aberration at first, but the Pistons posted a short string of 50-win seasons and went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2003. They were swept by the New Jersey Nets.

Carlisle was fired in the 2003 offseason for a handful of speculated reasons: He refused to play the younger players, and didn't get along with a handful of other players, including Ben Wallace. His offense was too conservative. But the real catalysts probably have just a wee bit more to do with the fact that Carlisle was rumored to be more interested in coaching the Indiana Pacers, and had made the mistake of taking an interest in that position while Larry Brown was available. Carlisle out, Brown in, and during the 2004 season, the Pistons reeled in Rasheed Wallace. The Pistons went 54-28 in the 2004 season. In the playoffs, they cruised through the Milwauke Bucks in five games before facing the defending Eastern Conference Champion Nets in the second round. During that series, they came back from a 3-2 deficit to win the series in seven games. In he Eastern Conference Finals, they faced the Rick Carlisle-coached Pacers, beating them in six tough games. Now, you've been on this gauntlet of a playoff run, and you're now in the Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers facing you. The Lakers have won three of the last four Championships. They're fielding the lethal Shaquille O'Neal/Kobe Bryant duo, as well as Gary Payton and Karl Malone, two experienced all-time greats on their final tours through the league who have never won the Championship and joined the Lakers specifically to do that. What happens? Climactic fight to the finish between all-star team and pesky upstarts or one-sided stomp? Well, NBA watchers were voting strictly in the one-sided stomp direction, and it's difficult to blame them for it. Few people expected Detroit to win even a single game, which is why it was surprising they came out on top of game one. Perhaps that wasn't the surprise so much as it was the twelve-point difference in the 87-75 Detroit victory. Oh well, that's just a steal from a Lakers team that thought they could underprepare for the Finals on account of a pathetic opponent. Right? Hey, game two proved it when the Lakers won 99-91. It seemed a little odd that the Lakers were kept under 100 for some reason, but hey, the natural order of the NBA would now be returning. At least that's what people told themselves until the Pistons mopped the floor with the Lakers 88-68 in game three. That was domination, and speculators and bookies now began second-guessing themselves. Detroit took game four too. Then game five, and thus the Finals for their third Championship. It was as if they suddenly decided the most talented team in the league in paper wouldn't be a sweat after what they had endured against the Nets and Pacers. In 2005, the Pistons returned to the Finals, but lost a hard-fought series against the equally defensive San Antonio Spurs which went the distance.

The next season, the team bought out Larry Brown's contract because they were a little miffed at the fact that he was busy peering out and sticking his feelers into other coaching jobs. (He tends to do that.) He left to coach the New York Knicks, and Flip Saunders was hired to replace him. Saunders took Detroit to 64 wins, the best record in the league and in team history. In the second round of the playoffs, they struggled against the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing seven games to knock them off before losing the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual Champion Miami Heat. The next year, they lost Ben Wallace to the Bulls, but they got revenge on him in the playoffs. In the second round of the 2007 playoffs, the Pistons raced to a 3-0 series lead against the Bulls, but the Bulls won the next two, and even though the Pistons won in six games, the Bulls looked like they might pull off the big comeback for a hot minute. The Pistons might be the most underrated team of the millennium. They went to the Conference Finals for six years in a row, winning them twice and the NBA Championship once.

The era was effectively done once Detroit traded two of its key players - Antonio McDyess and Chauncy Billups - for Allen Iverson. After struggling for the final playoff seed that year and getting swept in the first round by Cleveland, the Pistons have been in regression ever since. They're a draft team now, trying to rebuild, but it's too early in their rebuilding to judge the effects of it.

The long history of the Detroit Pistons can be reflected in their sizable list of Hall of Famers. Walt Bellamy, Dave Bing, Dave DeBusschere, Joe Dumars, Bob Lanier, Dennis Rodman, and Isiah Thomas are among their Hall of Famers, even though only Thomas and Rodman are among their transcendents. Larry Brown and Chuck Daly are also in the Hall as coaches, while William Davidson and Fred Zollner are in the Hall for everything they did for the team and league as owners. Thomas, Rodman, Dumars, Lanier, and Bing are also honored among Vinnie Johnson, Bill Laimbeer, Davidson, Jack McCloskey, and Daly with retired numbers and rafter banners. The team's individual honors are way too numerous for me to even begin to try to write out.

The image of the Detroit Pistons is summed up almost entirely by the Bad Boys era. Everyone hated their guts because they were very physical and punishing, and they were willing to take intentionally hard fouls in order to strike fear into their opponents. The gritty imagery of Detroit and the infamous Malice in the Palace brawl in 2004. A fight broke out on the floor, and a drink was tossed at Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest) while he was laying on the scorer's table. He charged into the stands to attack the guy he thought threw the drink and grabbed him, although he didn't strike. A big mess erupted, suspensions were made, and the season of Detroit's opponent that night - Indiana - was pretty much ruined. The team imagery is also summed up in the way they walked out on the Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, refusing to shake their hands. Some of the players from that team have matured. Bill Laimbeer, however, still defends the team for doing that.

Also lending credence to the Pistons' hard image is the fact that their rivalries seem more defined and hostile than the rivalries between any two other teams in the league. The Bad Boys had bad blood with the Bulls, and those two teams beat the hell out of each other in the playoffs and took media potshots at each other when they weren't doing that. The Pistons also used a bit of light psychological warfare by employing The Jordan Rules. The Jordan Rules were eventually exposed as a set of simple funnel defense which kept Michael Jordan out of the paint, but the fact that the Pistons employed such a term effectively tricked the rest of the league - including the Bulls - into thinking they were a nuclear missile that only the Pistons had the launch code to. They also developed heavily defined rivalries with the Lakers, opponents they've faced three times in the Finals and beaten twice. The Celtics are also a rivalry, and the Pacers are nearby rivals whose big moment with the Pistons includes a lot of fierce playoff series and the Malice in the Palace.

If you're able to look past such inexcusable sportsmanship, though, you'll see a great redeeming quality for the Pistons: Unity. Although Isiah Thomas is widely viewed as the greatest Piston, there's no one player who completely dominates as the designated team record holder. Part of the reason the Bad Boys won was because they genuinely didn't care who was the big star and who wasn't. They made the Finals and won through a bunch of players, none of whom reached a 20 point per game average. Their records and achievements and individual accolades are fairly well-spread through every year of the team's history. In this case, the fact that the Pistons have never had a league MVP is a positive, because it gives credibility to the Pistons as a team and not just one or two players followed by formless faces.

I have to shave a few points off the final score of the Detroit Pistons for their unsportsmanlike conduct. There's showing off and then there's just bullying, and the Pistons have been bullies sometimes. But otherwise, if a new NBA fan doesn't mind being seen as a thug, he could do a lot worse than the Detroit Pistons.

PS: I've decided to stop linking my reviews of other teams for now. It's a time-consuming process, and Lunch has more difficulty than usual loading.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Detroit_Pistons-562-1388086-228688-More_Power.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Detroit_Pistons-562-1388086-228688-More_Power.html Sat, 29 Sep 2012 16:37:20 +0000
<![CDATA[ Rocky Mountain Music]]>
The Jazz started up in New Orleans that year and were the 18th team in the NBA. Their first big move was a smart one: Looking to fire up basketball fans in The Big Easy, the Jazz traded two first round draft picks, three second round draft picks, and one third round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Pete Maravich, a local hero who had dominated the record books during his college days at LSU. It paid off somewhat. In 1977, Maravich was the league scoring champion with 31.1 points per game. Sadly, though, one man does not a team make, and without a ton of support, Maravich's efforts resulted in the Jazz's best record during their short stay in New Orleans was 39-43, in the 1978 season. Even worse, after that season and onward, Maravich would only play a couple more years of professional basketball because his knees started to snap under him.

Really, for everything NBA watchers say about traditions and proper names, the Jazz were one of the most unsuccessful teams in the league during their first few years. Finding a decent venue was always a big problem for the Jazz. In their first season, they played in the Loyola University Fieldhouse, where the court was on such a raised level that the team had to place nets around it so that players wouldn't fall off the court and into the stands. Later, they took up residence in the Superdome, but high demand for the stadium created a ton of lease problems, and Mardi Gras forced the team on the road for a full month at once due to festivities. Years later, founding owner Sam Battisone admitted there was no contingency plan if the Jazz ever got good enough to make the playoffs, so their consistently bad performances turned out to be a blessing disguise. It took all of five years for the New Orleans Jazz to be dead in the water, and Battisone reached the conclusion that the Jazz couldn't stay in New Orleans.

In 1976, the Jazz traded their first round pick in the 1979 draft to the Lakers in order to get their hands on Gail Goodrich. As a final humiliation, that gave the Lakers the first overall pick that year, and they used it to select Magic Johnson.

Battisone made an unusual choice my moving the team to Salt Lake City, because it was a considerably smaller market. Since the approval date was late and the team poorly marketed in Salt Lake City, the team's attendance actually declined again. In 1979, the team brought in perennial All-Star Adrian Dantley and waived Maravich. In 1980, they picked Darrell Griffith in the draft. Despite that firepower, the Jazz still couldn't break 30 victories in a season. In 1982, the Jazz waited eagerly for their turn in the draft to come. They had their hearts set on either James Worthy or Terry Cummings, but those players ended up being taken by the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. With them off the board, the Jazz settled on Dominique Wilkins. Unfortunately, the Jazz were still having financial troubles, and Wilkins was clear as crystal about his lack of desire to play in Utah. So they sent him to the Atlanta Hawks for John Drew and Freeman Williams. Freeman and Williams played a collective total of four seasons for Utah while Wilkins thrilled Hawks fans in a Hall of Fame run. Even considering the circumstances, this was still one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.

By the 1984 season, the team was bleeding so badly that it was using stunts to try to gain some kind of traction. They even played a game here and there in Las Vegas in order to try to alleviate their misfortunes. On the court, though, the team finally started playing decently. Led by Adrian Dantley, Jeff Wilkins, Thurl Bailey, Mark Eaton, Rich Kelley, Rickey Green, Darrell Griffith, and John Drew, the Jazz finally posted a winner. They went 45-37, won their division, punched their playoff tickets, and beat the Denver Nuggets in the first round before falling to the Phoenix Suns. The NBA had THE DRAFT that year too, because it was 1984 and that year's draft changed the whole league. After they made their selection, the Jazz fans at the draft party lustily hit the boo buttons. The Jazz had taken an unknown Gonzaga guard named John Stockton.

The next season, the team's perennial misfortunes were finally somewhat stable. In the 1985 draft, the team selected Karl Malone, also known as The Mailman, because he delivered! Well, at least to a point he delivered. In his later years, he became one of the known choke artists of the NBA, and some of his nastier critics nicknamed him Mail Fraud. The remainder of the 80's brought the Jazz to respectability. They went on a run of 40-win seasons and, despite getting generally being stuck in first round playoff purgatory, proved they weren't schedule write-offs anymore.

After the first 17 games of the 1989 season, head coach Frank Layden stepped down and was replaced by Jerry Sloan. Upon the replacement, the Jazz improved immediately. Malone, Stockton, and Mark Eaton were All-Stars. By the early 90's, they were real contenders. In 1992, they stood on the brink of their first conference title when they went 55-27 and paid a visit to the Western Conference Finals, losing to the deeper Portland Trail Blazers 4-2. 1994 brought them back to the conference finals, but they lost that year to the Houston Rockets. The following season, the Jazz made the 60-win barrier, going 60-22 and making it to the Western Conference Finals again, only to lose, again, to the Rockets. The following year, they again went 60-22 and lost to Houston in the playoffs, but this time it was in the first round! In the 1996 season, the Jazz once again returned to the Western Conference Finals, and were fortunate enough to not have to face down the Houston Rockets again. So that year, they lost to the Seattle Supersonics.

In the 1997 season, the Jazz posted the best record in their history so far: An amazing 64-18. After capitalizing on creampuff playoff competition in the form of the Clippers and Lakers, the Jazz finally came out on top of the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals and were vaulted into the NBA Finals for the first time. Unfortunately, Karl Malone began struggling in particular areas of his game during the Finals. Also, they were playing against the Chicago Bulls, and I don't have to reiterate how the Bulls in those days took advantage of every weakness anyone else had. Utah lost 4-2. They returned to the Finals the following season and faced the Bulls again. By now, the Bulls were an aging core of players who weren't capable of running circles around the league the way they used to. Still, they managed to polish off their mighty 90's dynasty with one last 4-2 Finals victory against the Jazz, because Malone was struggling with a few of his fundamentals again. Those Finals might have been winnable had Malone been a little better, but as it was, he was yet another stamp on the chart for Michael and the Jordanaires.

That was the zenith for the Utah Jazz. They continued to perform well into the early millennium, but their Championship window was closed for good. Stockton retired after the 2003 season, and Malone did the thing that near-retirement greats who haven't yet won Championships often do: He left in free agency to sign with a good, powerful team for one year in a last-ditch effort to get that elusive ring. Malone's last tour was in Los Angeles with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and a Gary Payton who had signed with the Lakers for the same reason Malone did. They came close, but were upended in the Finals by a very surprising and very underpowered Detroit Pistons team that shocked the NBA that year.

The Jazz had no foundation going into the 2004 season, but they still managed to pull out 42 wins. That year saw the emergence of several nonentity players rising up from the Stockton/Malone shadow and showing their own worth as NBA players. Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell, and Carlos Arroyo, instead of panicking over the loss of the team's longtime keystones, saw the year as an opportunity to carve their own niches, and they did a good job of it even though they missed the playoffs by one game. They regressed the following season, though, going 26-56 due in large part to injuries. In 2005, the team selected Deron Williams with the third overall draft pick. Williams kept the Jazz playing at a high level until he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in 2011 (when they were still the New Jersey Nets). The team is currently trying to implode and rebuild - not because they were bad over the millennium, but I guess because they believed Deron Williams had led them to the best they could be with him and wanted to go in a different direction.

Pete Maravich is a Hall of Famer from the New Orleans Jazz. His number is in the retirement of both the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Hornets, the team New Orleans heisted from Charlotte. He's joined by Adrian Dantley, John Stockton, and Karl Malone as players and Jerry Sloan as a coach. The Jazz have retired nine numbers: Maravich, Malone, Stockton, Dantley, Mark Eaton, Darrell Griffith, and Jeff Hornacek are retired as players and going with coach Frank Layden and owner Larry H. Miller. Broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley also received both honors.

Aside from them, the Jazz are surprisingly short on transcendent talent. They seem to be split into three separate eras, and that doesn't even count the New Orleans days. The first is the Adrian Dantley/Darrell Griffith era. Second is the defining time of the Utah Jazz, with Stockton and Malone. Third is Deron Williams. Their only defining player from New Orleans is Maravich, and everyone I just mentioned in these last two paragraphs covers about 80 percent of the talent with the Jazz that has ever received any acclaim.

The Jazz/whomever rivalry isn't exactly a marquee rivalry in the NBA. Actually, opinions tend to differ on just who should be considered a proper rival to Utah. I would personally throw my vote in Houston's corner, because the two teams have a rich playoff history against each other. Houston's NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995 both came with them having to dispose of the Jazz in the playoffs, and Utah returned the favor during both of their Conference Championship years. The Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, and San Antonio Spurs have strong cases behind them too. The team's identity is based strongly in its poor history of playoff performance. The Utah Jazz choke a lot. Karl Malone exemplified that - in the regular season, he was dominant. He won two MVP awards, and they don't give the MVP to nobodies. But Malone would get into the playoffs and just plain suck at one important aspect of his game. If it wasn't one, it was another.

If you're adopting this team based on their onetime existence as the New Orleans Jazz, just don't. Go find another team, because their time in New Orleans lasted for five years which were all defined by instability and suckitude. Even the Los Angeles Clippers had a better run than that back during the eight years when they were the Buffalo Braves! However, the Utah Jazz is known for having THE most fervent and ridiculously devoted, knowledgable, and passionate fans in the NBA. Jayson Williams concluded that their Mormon faith keeps them mild in most of their everyday lives, so they let everything out during Jazz games. It helps that their team is so consistent and deep and respectable. Despite their choker identity, there's little about Jazz fandom to be ashamed of.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Utah_Jazz-562-1388089-228653-Rocky_Mountain_Music.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Utah_Jazz-562-1388089-228653-Rocky_Mountain_Music.html Thu, 27 Sep 2012 20:35:07 +0000
<![CDATA[ Always Ready to Tussle]]>
Then again, Texas is the same state that let Houston's old team, the Oilers, go to Tennessee. And in the final days, Oilers games were pre-empted by pre-season basketball games. Not that a state in love with its rough-and-tumble image would ever admit to it - especially when it has high school football stadiums of 20,000-plus capacity - but I'm thinking Texas deserves to be known as a great basketball state too. Bobby Knight spent a spell coaching at Texas A&M, even if he IS better known for his work in Indiana. But Texas has only two professional football teams, and the NFL is too blinded by its lust for Los Angeles (which doesn't want a new team) to give a team to San Antonio (which is now the eighth-largest city in the country and has been begging the NFL for some time, even going as far as to build the Alamodome in anticipation of one). In the meantime, the NBA has a triple presence in The Lone Star State between the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and San Antonio Spurs, who own seven titles between them (as opposed to the NFL's five).

The Dallas Mavericks have been the last of those teams in a few categories. They were the last ones founded and the last ones to win their first title. They kicked off in 1979 when businessman Don Carter and his partner Norm Sonju requested the right to bring an NBA team to Dallas. The last professional basketball team in Dallas was the ABA's Dallas Chaparrals, and they had bolted for San Antonio in 1973 to become the Spurs. The final vote was taken at the 1980 All-Star game. For the name, Dallas Wranglers (not half-bad, actually) and Dallas Express (ugh) were beaten out by the name Dallas Mavericks, named for the popular TV western which ran from 1957 to 1962. It probably helped the actor James Garner, who played the show's main character, was part of the ownership group. There was some initial controversy because the University of Texas at Arlington uses the same name, but Mavericks managed to stick. Dick Motta was taken as the team's first coach. He had a well-earned reputation as a very stern disciplinarian, but he had also won the 1978 NBA Championship with the Washington Bullets and was regarded as one of the great teachers of basketball by virtually everyone.

The excitement of getting such a teacher didn't last very long, though. First, there was the draft problem: The team's first-ever draft pick was a UCLA player named Kiki Vandeweghe, and he turned out to be a bit of an asshole. As in, he held out until a month into the team's first season. Even then, he didn't suit up. He only began when the Mavs dumped him off on the Denver Nuggets for a pair of future first round draft picks who eventually turned into Rolando Blackman in 1981 and Sam Vincent in 1985. Then there was the problem popping up from the fact that the Mavericks were still just an expansion team. Despite stunning the San Antonio Spurs in their first-ever game by a score of 103-92, the Mavs still started their first season with a somewhat discouraging record of 6-40. When the season ended, they were just 15-67.

The Mavericks did, however, make a very important player acquisition which helped them define their early, unsure years when they tracked down Brad Davis of the Anchorage Northern Knights in the Continental Basketball Association and signed him. When the team grabbed Davis, he was expected to be just another expansion-level warm body to go along with the rest of the expansion-level warm bodies playing in Dallas. But as he started the team's final 26 games of the year, he began leading the team in assists, his career took off, and he spent the next twelve years donning the Dallas Mavericks togs. His jersey number was retired.

Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, and Jay Vincent were picked in the 1981 draft, and they became the core of a team which was a serious contender by the 1983 season. They went 38-44 that year, but were in contention most of the time, and almost-playoff caliber for a third-year expansion team in the NBA ain't exactly shabby rags. In just their fourth year, the Mavericks officially crossed the northern border of the .500 mark, going 43-39 and making the playoffs. In the 1984 draft, the Mavericks had the fourth overall pick, which they used on a North Carolina Tar Heel named Sam Perkins. He looked bad because he was selected between third pick Michael Jordan and fifth pick Charles Barkley, but Perkins wasn't a half-bad player. He made the All-Rookie Team, played in Dallas for six years, stayed in the NBA until 2001, and retired with an 11.9 points per game average and over 15,000 total points scored.

By the late 80's, the Mavericks were a legitimately dangerous contender. In the 1986 season, Dallas was second in scoring, and Rolando Blackman was an All-Star. They beat the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs and gave the Los Angeles Lakers everything they could handle in the second round; the Showtime Lakers won the series in six games, but four of those games were decided by four points or less, and Dallas had won two of those small-margin games. The next year, Dallas went 55-27 and won their division. Unfortunately, they were then pummeled by the Seattle Supersonics in the playoffs. In the 1988 season, the Mavericks made their first appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, the juggernaut of the Showtime Lakers stood in their way again, but once again Dallas rose to the moment. This Showtime Lakers team is considered one of the great classic teams in NBA history, but the fleet, feisty Mavs just didn't want to go down. When the series ended after going the distance, Showtime prevailed again and would go on to win the NBA Championship, but that was a result of them just wanting it more. Dallas had nothing to be ashamed of.

In the 1989 season, the Mavericks were ravaged by injuries and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1983. They were back the next year, though, but that was their last playoff hurrah until 2001.

In 1990, the Mavericks started a nasty free fall. Sam Perkins became a free agent and decided to try his luck with the Lakers. Almost their entire 1991 starting lineup suffered from injuries, and the players they managed to sign were all nearing the ends of their careers. Even the expansion Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves had better records than the Mavs of 1991. Rebuilding mode had started by the 1993 season, when the Mavs traded Rolando Blackman to the New York Knicks for a first round pick. A series of bad trades and draft picks squandered any hope the Mavericks had of being any good. In 1993, they hired Quinn Buckner to coach, but Buckner's own college coach had been Bobby Knight. Knight's disciplinarian style may work on young college minds who are playing often enough just because they love basketball, but on the professional level, there's a lot more individualism, and so Buckner's first season ended with Dallas's record at a pathetic 13-69. It was the worst record ever for a first-time head coach, and Buckner was promptly fired.

In the 1994 draft, the Mavericks ended up with the second pick, and their selection helped infuse a little bit of new life into the team. The pick, Cal point guard Jason Kidd, teamed up with the previous first round draft picks Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn to form a tandem called The Three Js. They still sucked alright, but at least they were doing considerably better and were watchable. Kidd was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 1997, but in the 1998 and 1999 seasons, the Mavericks grabbed two other noteworthy players in Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash. With them, the team finally began humming again and winning regularly.

In 2000, Mark Cuban bought the team, and the name Mavericks was suddenly more appropriate than ever. Cuban began spending and promoting and doing everything in his power to make the Mavs one of the biggest, most popular teams in the country. And one of the best.

The millennium saw the Mavericks run off a string of 50 and 60 win seasons, and they didn't fare poorly in the playoffs, either. They made the Conference Finals in 2003 but were promptly swept by the mighty Spurs. In 2005, the Mavericks said goodbye to Steve Nash, who returned to haunt them in the playoffs as his new team, the Suns, beat the Mavs 4-2 in the second round. In 2006, they beat their new archrivals, the Suns, and visited the NBA Finals for the first time, facing the Miami Heat. They held home court in the series and won the first two games, but blew a late double-digit lead in the third game. In game five, Heat star Dwayne Wade stepped up and scored the tying basket at the end of regulation, and Miami won in overtime. In game six, Wade scored 36 points, and Miami clinched their first NBA Title.

That only served to piss the Mavericks off. Although they began the 2007 season 0-4, they finished it with an NBA-best record of a sparkling 67-15, and Nowitzki cemented his place as one of the league's truly elite players. But you know how some teams just own certain other teams, no matter how good those other teams are? Think of the New England Patriots and New York Giants lately: The powerful Patriots have been a dominant team for the last 12 years. They fielded a dynasty. They went 16-0 in the 2007 regular season, setting a million records along the way. Yet, the New York Giants, who have been much more middling, just seem to have figured out the secret formula that puts them away time and time again. The Giants beat the Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl, the 2011 regular season, and the 2011 Super Bowl, which were the last three games they played against each other. They played against each other in the 2007 regular season too, and while the Patriots managed to win that matchup, the Giants still gave them a fight for the ages, attacking their weakness in a loss which wasn't a loss until the last couple of minutes. Well, the 2007 season Dallas Mavericks were the best team in the league, and their playoff opponents, the Golden State Warriors, were the team that knew how to beat them. Those 15 losses in the regular season included an 0-3 record against Golden State. Although NBA fans still act as if Golden State's upset in the first round against Dallas that year was one of those Namathian things, it was right in front of our faces all along. Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell noticed that too, and didn't consider it an upset when he wrote about it in his blog. Golden State exploited matchups, attacked Dirk Nowitzki's weaknesses, and systematically dismantled and destroyed the Mavericks.

Dallas's Championship window was considered closed after that, even though the team got Jason Kidd back after his glittering career as the face of the New Jersey Nets, and even though they kept posting records of over 50 wins. They jockeyed for playoff position and made early exits the next couple of years in a difficult conference as the Lakers rose back to prominence. In the 2011 season, Dallas went 57-25 and finally returned to the Finals, where they played a grudge match against the team that defeated them last time: The Miami Heat. Miami had been reborn after a couple of down years through a pair of shiny new toys named Chris Bosh and LeBron James, and they still had Dwayne Wade, which formed the nastiest Big Three since the Boston Celtics threw Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish at opponents. This time, the Mavericks seized the moment and Dirk Nowitzki won the Finals MVP award as the Mavericks avenged their 2006 loss in six games, winning their first-ever NBA Championship for a very jubilant Mark Cuban. A couple of days later, some former owners of the Mavericks tried to sue Cuban on account of him not properly using the money he was making to make the team better (read: The prosecutors weren't getting as much as they wanted). Misplaced and misused finances, I believe, was the official charge. In response, Cuban faxed a photo of his players celebrating with the NBA Championship trophy, pointing out that his misspent money had led to that. It was one of the greatest implicit fuck yous I've ever seen in professional sports.

In the following strike-shortened season, the Mavericks went 36-30 in the 66 games that were played. Kidd was traded to the New York Knicks afterward. The Mavericks promise to still be very good for the next several years, and with Mark Cuban spending like mad, it's safe to expect them to be fun and competitive. Hell, lightning might actually strike again.

The big rivalry for the Dallas Mavericks is the San Antonio Spurs, who were created in Dallas. The two teams didn't begin meeting regularly in the playoffs until the millennium, though. The pinnacle was in the 2003 playoffs, where they went head to head in the Western Conference Finals. San Antonio won, and was the eventual Champion. San Antonio has been one of the dominant teams of the decade, but look for this rivalry to get more competitive as cracks start to appear in the Spurs's facade. A rivalry with the Phoenix Suns is a recent development, due to several playoff meetings while the Suns had former Maverick Steve Nash.

The Mavericks only have three Hall of Famers: Alex English, Adrian Dantley, and Dennis Rodman, all three of whom made their names with other teams. Brad Davis and Rolando Blackman are the only two Mavericks honored with retired numbers. Dirk Nowitzki pretty much dominates the individual awards, including an MVP in 2007. For a team that's fielded such great historic teams amid a single sustained down point, there are surprisingly few individual awards given to the Mavericks. Probably because Dallas isn't considered a traditional basketball market.

The Mavericks have been around for three decades, and they've played excellent for the majority of the first and third of those decades amidst a bad second decade. It's tough to peg them right now. The one way you can peg them, though, is with owner Mark Cuban, who is himself one of the league Mavericks. He's a character and a Steinbrenner-like guy who wants his team to win and be proud of who they are while making fans of as many people as possible. It's working, too; the Mavericks are currently the fourth most valuable basketball team in the United States, behind only the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Chicago Bulls. (What, you were expecting the Memphis Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons to be at the top?)

As long as Mark Cuban is running this team, you'll want to hop on board. As I said above, he may win some, he may lose some. Either way, his team is a hell of a lot better than what Jerry Jones has been playing with the Dallas Cowboys for the last 15 years. No matter what, you're gonna be in for one hell of a ride.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Dallas_Mavericks-562-1388095-228652-Always_Ready_to_Tussle.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Dallas_Mavericks-562-1388095-228652-Always_Ready_to_Tussle.html Thu, 27 Sep 2012 20:33:53 +0000
<![CDATA[ Th Rockets Have Landed]]>
The Rockets were first founded in 1967 as the San Diego Rockets, joining the NBA for the 1968 season. Their name, the Rockets, came from the city of San Diego, which referred to itself as "A City in Motion." Jack McMahon was named the first head coach, an ironic development when you consider that the team's first draft pick ever was a versatile, gifted athlete from the University of Kentucky who had been the SEC Player of the Year in 1966. His name was Pat Riley, and he would eventually walk away from his career as a middling-to-bad NBA player to become the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...5-Walking_on_Water.html) legendary Showtime teams to four of their five rings, the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) to their 1994 conference title, and the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html) to their first title before relegating himself to office duty. The man is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport, and he still hasn't called it a career.

Since Riley wasn't a fantastic basketball player in the NBA, though, the Rockets lost a then-record 67 games in their inaugural season. For the 1968 draft, that gave them the right to participate in a VERY rudimentary version of the draft lottery: A coin toss against the Baltimore Bullets for the rights to the first overall draft pick! They picked Elvin Hayes, who turned them around and took them to their first-ever playoff appearance the following season. In 1970, the Rockets drafted Calvin Murphy and Rudy Tomjanovich, iconic Rockets who spent their whole career with the team. They also picked up a new coach in Hall of Famer Alex Hannum, but in spite of all that firepower, they went 57-97 the next two seasons and missed the playoffs both years. Performance was poor, and since everybody hates the losers, that meant the team wasn't drawing, so the team was sold in 1971 to Texas Sports Investments, who immediately moved them to Houston, where they became the first NBA team in Texas.

The group decided not to touch the team's name, which was a great idea. Unlike the move of the Minneapolis Lakers to Los Angeles turning their wonderful name into nonsensical dribble that even the biggest fans don't understand, the name "Rockets" actually took on a much greater relevance upon the move to Houston. The Rockets were named because of a ridiculous nickname dreamed up for their original city, San Diego. Houston, on the other hand, is home to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, one of the most important divisions of NASA. It's where spaceflight training, research, and flight mission control all take place. It directs all Space Shuttle missions and activities aboard the International Space Station. From Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon to the Apollo 13 disaster to the shuttles and space stations, everyone in space made contact with Houston. One of Houston's nicknames is Space City, and the city's MLB team is even called the Astros. San Diego Rockets was acceptable. Houston Rockets was totally perfect. San Diego eventually got a new team in 1978 when it heisted the Buffalo Braves (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...lipped_and_Trimmed.html) and managed to hold onto them for just a couple years more than it held the Rockets. They eventually became the Los Angeles Clippers.

In 1971, Hannum left to coach the ABA's Denver Nuggets, and Tex Winter was hired to replace him. Winter traded Elvin Hayes, because his style of play contrasted too sharply with what Winter wanted, and Winter only last that single year himself. The team didn't make the playoffs again until 1975, beating the powerful Knicks before falling to the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html). In 1976, they got ahold of Moses Malone, who had been traded to Buffalo a mere two games before. Malone made a deep impact in Houston, leading the team in rebounds for six years and setting a record along the way. In 1977, the Rockets won 49 and went to the Conference Finals, where they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html). In 1981, the Dallas Mavericks were created, and the conferences were realigned. That resulted in Houston getting back into the playoffs with a 40-42 record, beginning one hell of a run. They stunned the defending champion Lakers in the first round, beat the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, beat the Kansas City Kings in the Conference Finals (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...45-The_Nomad_Kings.html), and became the only team in NBA history to make it to the Finals with a losing record. Boston had trouble exposing them, too; it took the Bird/McHale/Parish Celtics six games to sputter out the feisty Rockets.

The next year, the Rockets got better, but despite bowing out of the first round of the playoffs, Moses Malone was the league MVP. Since the team decided it didn't want to pay him, they shipped him to Philadelphia, where he became a key cog on the Sixers' legendary 1983 team and finally won his ring. Surprise surprise, the team sucked again, and the Rockets won another coin flip - this time with the Indiana Pacers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use..._in_Middle_America.html) for the rights to the first player taken in the draft. This time it was Ralph Sampson, a player from Virginia with a lot of size and agility, expected to combine the offense of Wilt Chamberlain with the defense and leadership of Bill Russell. That pick takes a lot more shit these days than it really should. Sampson is considered a bust, but he was a Rookie of the Year, and during his years in Houston he went to four All-Star games and eventually retired with a very respectable 15.4 points per game average. But in Sampson's first season, the Rockets ended up with the first draft pick again despite a 15-game improvement from the previous year. The next year was the legendary 1984 draft the everyone still speculates on. Houston, miraculously, managed to escape nearly all of the speculation. Now, you're probably wondering, how did they pull that off?

Well, it started in the city of Lagos in Nigeria, where a young man named Hakeem Olajuwon practiced a lot to become a great goalkeeper in soccer. Keeping is not an easy task. It requires a lot of fancy footwork and agility, and so while keeping, Olajuwon learned to balance his size and strength with his footwork. When he was 15 years old, he entered a tournament for some sport called basketball which, to him, was completely foreign at the time. He immediately fell in love with it, and thanks to his size and the footing techniques he learned playing soccer, he developed basketball talent very quickly which also enabled his defensive abilities. He became a great center at the University of Houston. For all the firestorm analysis everyone still uses to scrutinize the 1984 draft, The Rockets are pretty much left alone. Olajuwon wasn't the most talented player taken in that draft, but he did have more than enough talent to later earn the respect of Michael Jordan, who WAS the most talented guy taken in that draft. For the Rockets, he was the right pick.

Olajuwon and Sampson formed a tandem nicknamed the Twin Towers, and in 1986 they led the Rockets to their second conference championship, defeating the Lakers. They met with the shittiest fortune possible in the Finals, though, because they faced the Celtics again. Not JUST the Celtics, mind you, but the 1986 Celtics, that nasty single-season juggernaut which continues to top nearly every greatest team poll on the planet. The Rockets did win 51 games that year, though, so they were more than just lucky. They were legit. With their legitimacy came two Finals victories, although since the '86 Celtics were the '86 Celtics, they still beat Houston in six games.

The Lakers' legendary Magic Johnson was forced into retirement in the early 90's, and with everyone from the old Showtime teams aging or leaving, it created one hell of a power vacuum in the Western Conference. Multiple great teams jockeyed for divisional position and playoff spots. throughout most of the decade, the Western Conference sent five different teams in six years to be the sacrificial lamb to the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html). The Bulls were the league champions in two separate three-peats, one going from 1991-1993 and the other from 1996-1998. In between them, Michael Jordan tried his hand at his real passion, which was actually baseball. So for two years, the NBA was wide open, and in 1994, everyone expected the long-frustrated New York Knicks to slide in and their star, Patrick Ewing, to grab the torch and win at last. New York was led to the Finals by Pat Riley, but Houston also went to the Finals that year. In a classic Finals series that went the distance, it was Olajuwon who rose up and took the ring Knicks fans believed was rightfully theirs. The next year, with Jordan out of basketball shape, the Orlando Magic (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-Oh_oh_it_s_Magic_.html) won the Eastern Conference, but the Rockets returned to the Finals and swept them as Olajuwon became Houston's favorite son as he became the only great basketball player of the decade to avoid becoming a victim of Michael and the Jordanaires.

In the 2001 season, Olajuwon was traded to the Toronto Raptors (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...These_Raptors_Bite.html). Houston dipped significantly in the standings, and they were again given the first pick of the draft in 2002. They took a center again, this time by the name of Yao Ming, a China native who already had five years of professional basketball experience under his belt with the Shanghai Sharks in his home country.

Yao became the new face of the team over the next decade as the Rockets improved and played good basketball… Just never quite good enough. They had that problem where they kept choking in the first round of the playoffs. They acquired the services of Tracy McGrady along the way, and eventually Metta World Peace, who still went by his birth name of Ron Artest at the time. The three of them were expected to form one of those feared cores that are so common in the sport, but injuries prevented them from what could have been. In 2009 they finally won their first playoff series in over a decade after beating the Portland Trail Blazers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...Road_Less_Traveled.html). Yao retired in 2011 with injury issues, and the team is trying to make up for his loss. A couple of months ago, they made noise by signing the new Asian phenom Jeremy Lin, who had suddenly popped up with the Knicks the previous year and become a star by lifting them to several important victories.

Hakeem Olajuwon might be the greatest basketball superstar people who don't follow the NBA have never heard of. He was a twelve-time All-Star, the 1994 MVP, a Finals MVP in the two Finals his team won, made the All-NBA First Team six times, the All-Defensive First Team five times, was Defensive Player of the Year twice, and is the league's all-time leader in blocked shots. Like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his invincible Sky Hook, Olajuwon also used a well-known signature move that was almost impossible to block, a bit of footwork he translated from his soccer days which he called the Dream Shake. However, Olajuwon has philanthropist instincts, and when the sneaker brand came calling, Olajuwon chose to endorse a $35 sneaker from Spalding instead of an ass-ugly, highly visible brand which sets buyers back over $100. He thought it was ridiculous that Nike, Reebok, and Adidas were trying to sell their expensive sneakers to poor people at those prices. He is also a devout Muslim who, when he became serious about his faith, even observed Ramadan during games - no easy trick, since taking food or water at all is forbidden during the daylight hours.

Olajuwon was the greatest Rocket, but not the only great Rocket. There are some giant names on this team's all-time roster. Rick Barry, Moses Malone, Scottie Pippen, and Charles Barkley were all Rockets at some time. Clyde Drexler is best known for his stint in Portland, but he won his ring in Houston. The numbers of Drexler, Malone, and Olajuwon are retired with those of Calvin Murphy and Rudy Tomjanovich.

It's hard to name rivalries, but Houston seems to have one with the Lakers. The two teams have played several memorable playoff series against each other. The Rockets also came out on the winning end of a great Finals series against the Knicks in 1994. Their 1981 Finals appearance was notable because the team had a losing record, and in 1986 they were a trivia answer, becoming victims of the 1986 Boston Celtics. As far as memorable moments lend themselves, despite Rudy Tomjanovich's great playing career, his best-known incident came in a 1977 fight during a Lakers game. One of his teammates got into an altercation with the Lakers' Kermit Washington, and Tomjanovich rushed in to try to break it up. Unfortunately, Tomjanovich ran out there very fast, and Washington believed he was coming in to attack and clocked him. Tomjanovich was sidelined for five months with a shattered face and life-threatening head injuries, but eventually made a full recovery.

The Rockets are another team that seems stuck in first-round purgatory. They do well, they get into the playoffs, then they lose. Sometimes they barely squeeze in and are only there for the higher seeds to feed on. Other times they choke, plain and simple. Most of the time, they haven't been too bad, but an adopting fan should get used to being frustrated in the playoffs a lot.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Houston_Rockets-562-1388099-228626-Th_Rockets_Have_Landed.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Houston_Rockets-562-1388099-228626-Th_Rockets_Have_Landed.html Wed, 26 Sep 2012 16:13:14 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Team for Those Who Prefer the Road Less Traveled]]> http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Thunder_Rolls.html) and Vancouver Grizzlies (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...o_Roar_to_Speak_of.html). But those two teams were removed and went, respectively, to Oklahoma City and Memphis. So now there's one team left, the Portland Trail Blazers, to placate three major metropolitan areas and two states.

The Blazers are one of those teams with a small but fervently devoted fan base. There's a tight relationship between the team and its fans which is nicknamed Blazermania, and the team has been one of the NBA's biggest draws for a very long time. Blazers fans tend to rank near the top of a lot of those NBA fan devotion lists, right up there with fans of the Utah Jazz. They had a sellout streak which ran for 18 years, and a strong case can be made that it only ended in part because the team switched venues. The team is in no danger of being moved; it has an ironclad contract with the city of Portland which would keep them in the city even in the event of a sale.

Things weren't always like that for the Blazers, though. The Portland Trail Blazers were created in 1970, to go with the Cleveland Cavaliers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Cl...All_LeBron_s_Fault.html) and Buffalo Braves (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...lipped_and_Trimmed.html). When the team held their naming contest, they actually had to throw out the most popular entry, which for once was a very good and appropriate name. The sports-loving public wanted to call the team the Portland Pioneers, but that name was already taken by the teams over at Lewis and Clark College. So the name Trail Blazers was selected, with 172 entries.

In the first season, the Blazers won 29 games and drew poorly. From 1970 to 1974, the team never got over that original 29-win barrier, and in fact they won the first draft pick twice during the span. In 1972, they used the pick on LaRue Martin, who played in the NBA for four years, averaging 5.3 points per game and retiring with a grand total of 1430 career points to his name. Every team makes draft mistakes, but this one is notable because Bob McAdoo, one of the great centers in NBA history, was available. Buffalo snatched him up and was off on a series of playoff runs, and McAdoo, late in his career, finally played for an NBA champion when he joined the Lakers in the 80's. It wasn't the only time the Blazers royally fucked up in the draft.

Their second first-round pick came in 1974, and they grabbed Bill Walton from UCLA. That WAS a good draft decision; Walton went on to lead the Blazers to the 1977 NBA title before leaving Portland as a free agent in 1979 as a free agent. His career took him to the San Diego Clippers and he eventually landed with the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html), where he played on the mighty 1986 squad which is often considered the greatest team in NBA history. Walton was the player who helped the Blazers beat the 29-win mark they set in their inaugural season, though they still weren't posting winning records. In 1976, their coach, Lenny Wilkens, was fired and replaced by Dr. Jack Ramsey. The ABA merger also happened to get finalized that year, and the team grabbed Maurice Lucas in the dispersal draft. In the 1977 season, Ramsey, Walton, and Lucas led the Blazers to a great 49-33 record, the first winning record in the team's history. Upon making the playoffs for the first time, they found themselves with the beginner's luck of the Irish. Beating the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html) and Denver Nuggets in the early rounds, the Blazers found themselves face to face with the Los Angeles Lakers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...5-Walking_on_Water.html), playing for the Western Conference Championship. Against all odds or expectations, the Trail Blazers found a way to sweep the Lakers before going to the NBA Finals and defeating the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html) in six games to win their first - and so far, only - NBA Championship. This was the year their sellout streak began.

Now the Blazers had set themselves up as the NBA's force with whom all must reckon, and reckon everyone did. The Blazers raced off to a sterling 50-10 record in the first 60 games, and ended the season at 58-24 mainly because of a quarantine level of injuries. The most notable injury was to Walton, who struggled with injuries for his entire career. When they got to the playoffs, they lost the semis to the Sonics, who went on to win the conference but lose the Finals. Walton left in free agency after sitting out the entire 1979 season, but despite that loss, the Blazers kept playing fantastic basketball, forever being a threat to win the conference. In 1978, the Blazers somehow managed to land their third-ever number one draft pick, which they used on Mychal Thompson. Thompson wasn't a bad pick; he played in the league awhile, retired with 12,810 career points, and played for two champions upon going to the Lakers in 1987. But it's hard to ignore the fact that he was taken over a projected superstar named Larry Bird, even despite the fact that they also drafted Clyde Drexler just a few years later.

In the early 80's, the Blazers were still selling out, playing great basketball. They kept on making the playoffs and frequently getting past the first round, but the Showtime Lakers were unleashed by this time and they kept halting the Blazers in their tracks. As previously noted, 1983 saw the drafting of Clyde Drexler, the greatest Trail Blazer. In the next draft, the Blazers fucked up the draft in THE way which would define every draft fuckup in the entire history of both the team and the league. Hakeem Olajuwon had been taken with the first pick. The Blazers needed help at center, so they drafted a player named Sam Bowie who had missed two full college seasons due to his legs being injured. The next player drafted that year was a projected superstar named Michael Jordan who was so good that none other than Bobby Knight - a friend of Portland's GM - called the team and told them to take that player. When the GM mentioned to Knight that the team needed a center, Knight didn't back away. He merely suggested, "WELL, PLAY HIM AT CENTER THEN!" The pissed off Jordan later returned and made the Blazers pay for that mistake. Not only did the Blazers ignore Jordan, but Charles Barkley and John Stockton were also on the board when the Blazers selected Bowie. I'm sure the team's GM that year would kill for a mulligan.

Bowie went on to suffer more leg injuries and is currently considered one of the biggest draft busts in the league's history. His injuries sidelined him for the entire 1988 season. A lesser-known story is that the team drafted a player named Jerome Kersey in the second round. He wasn't Jordan, but he did have a far better career than Bowie and was an anchor for the Blazers for a decade. Despite the bad draft picks, the Blazers were always playing consistently well, and they began a streak of playoff appearances in 1983 which ran for 20 years and culminated in two conference titles. Still, it's a safe bet that Blazers fans still imagine what was and what could - and by all standards, damn well SHOULD - have been.

Ramsay was fired in the 1986 offseason after too many first-round playoff losses. Mike Schuler was hired. His era was marked by one of the NBA's dominant offenses, but he never managed to figure out defense. That marked a bunch more first round playoff exits, as well as a bunch of controversies regarding the starters. A lot of players weren't fond of his coaching style, either, and Schuler was fired after a 1989 season in which he led the team to a 39-43 record with which they squeaked into the playoffs and were rapidly creamed by the Lakers. Along the way, they made another important draft pick with Clifford Robinson, who became another solid player. Schuler was replaced by Rick Adelman, and the Blazers kicked off the greatest era in their team history.

In the 1990 season, the Blazers went 59-23. Their playoff opponents were a bunch of cream puffs: The Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Phoenix Suns were the only things standing between Portland and the Finals, so they went all the way to the Western Conference title before getting beat in the Finals by the Detroit Pistons. In the 1991 season, the Blazers steamrolled through the entire league to a superb record of 63-19, the league best and their franchise best. They ended the Lakers' reign over the division, but that only pissed off the Lakers, who beat Portland in the Western Conference finals. In the 1992 season, the Blazers won the Western Conference title again, but they made a couple of mistakes: One was not discouraging the media's ridiculous yakking about a possible rivalry between Drexler and Michael Jordan, who played for the opposing Chicago Bulls. The second was spilling their game plan: Funnel Jordan out of the paint and make him beat them by shooting threes. Came the first game, Jordan decided to play along, and he rained threes down on Portland, embarrassing Drexler in the process. Both the media and the Trail Blazers clamped up after that.

After that, the Blazers still played well, but began showing signs of age, and inures started plaguing the team. Bob Whitsitt was also hired as a GM, and his acquisitions created a team that was strong on defense but weak on offense. Mostly, they were again stuck in that weird sports purgatory where they could get to the playoffs but never past the first round again. In 1996, the Jazz actually beat them in one game by a score of 102-64, those 64 being a record for fewest points scored in a playoff game. It wasn't until 1999 that the Blazers got through the first round again, when they beat Phoenix and Utah in the playoffs before losing the Conference Finals to San Antonio.

When the millennium arrived in Portland, there was bad news in the works. The team's personnel moves failed to come up with anything good, and the team slowly began losing. Whitsitt started trying to win with stars instead of team chemistry, and the players started developing a ton of off-court problems: Several were cited for marijuana, one threatened a referee, two got into a fight during practice, one had to register as a sex offender, and guard Bonzi Wells summed up the players' collective attitude when he told Sports Illustrated in 2002 that fans didn't matter to them, because no matter what, they would still ask for autographs and go to games. Fan discontent overtook the region, the the team was nicknamed the Jail Blazers.

The Blazers have been improving since then, and their character is in better standing. They've been up and down, but their great eras are pretty much over, and they've given in to standard unpredictability.

As mentioned, the Blazers don't have a fantastic draft history. McAdoo, Bird, Jordan, and most recently Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Their greatest player is Clyde Drexler, who finally won his ring with the Houston Rockets in 1995. Him and Bill Walton are probably the most important and identifiable players in Blazers history.

The Blazers don't have any real rivalries anymore, with their rivals in the pacific northwest both having departed. Now their closest rivals live down in California. The Blazers do, however, have a very devoted fanbase which sold out games for 18 straight seasons. Discontent took off once the Jail Blazers era emerged, but even the most devoted of fans would leave during an era like that. You can't really blame them. The team has made it to the playoffs in most of the years of their existence, so adopting the Blazers means getting used to holding on to optimism, yet getting used to disappointment. It doesn't say a lot of good that in all their trips to the playoffs, they were only able to gather one title, even if the Showtime Lakers were standing in the way for a good number of their playoff years.

An adopting fan of the Portland Trail Blazers better know basketball real well. You don't want to get caught in Portland not knowing the team you claim to follow. Trail Blazers fans have the right to be proud of their team. They've been competitive even in years when they weren't.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Portland_Trail_Blazers-562-1388087-228502-A_Team_for_Those_Who_Prefer_the_Road_Less_Traveled.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Portland_Trail_Blazers-562-1388087-228502-A_Team_for_Those_Who_Prefer_the_Road_Less_Traveled.html Sat, 22 Sep 2012 12:45:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Nomad Kings]]> http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...d_No_One_Knows_it_.html) and Los Angeles Clippers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...lipped_and_Trimmed.html) (the Clippers themselves also beginning life as an upstate New York team). And as with the Warriors, they're another example of how grossly unfair basketball history can sometimes be.

The NBA takes the founding of the Sacramento Kings all the way back to 1945, but that's only the year they joined the National Basketball League. The team traces its real origins all the way to a semi-pro team from the 1920's, an era when pretty much every effort at establishing professional basketball folded within seconds. Back then, the Kings existed as a corporate sponsor team called the Rochester Seagrams. Located in Rochester, New York, and named the Seagrams after a local distillery, the team had already been around for close to two decades before someone got around to forming the NBL in 1937. As teams came and went through the NBL, the Seagrams were kept under the watchful eye of Hall of Famer Les Harrison, acquired better talent, actually got better, and eventually became a hidden gem of the city of Rochester.

The NBL started finding SOME success after World War II and, in search of well-run and successful operations to lend a hand to the league, they were naturally referred to Rochester. I guess to honor their new professional status, the team changed its name to the Rochester Pros and moved to a nice new 4500-seat arena. When the invitation to join the NBL became official in 1945, Harrison and his brother Jack walked away from Seagram's, mainly because the distillery didn't sense a profit coming in for the team. After that, the brothers Harrison held a naming contest in the local paper because Pros is just a stupid name, with the eventual winner declared being a 15-year-old kid named Richard Paeth for his suggestion: The Rochester Royals.

The Royals hit the jackpot right off the bat. Going into their first NBL year - the 1946 season - they were led by Bob Davies, Al Cervi, and Otto Graham. Yeah, THAT Otto Graham, they guy who later played under center for those dominant Cleveland Browns (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Cl..._to_the_Dawg_Pound.html) teams of the 1950's, winning seven football titles. It was Graham's only year of professional basketball, and it was as successful as all those football teams he led later: The Royals won the 1946 title.

In 1948, the Royals jumped to the other major basketball league, the Basketball Association of America, where the NBA traces its formal roots back to. The jump took away the team's profitable schedule of exhibition games. It also, somehow, placed it in the Western Division, where they got to compete with the best team in basketball at the time, the Minneapolis Lakers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...5-Walking_on_Water.html). They were the two best teams in the league during the 1949 merger between the NBL and BAA, which formed the NBA. Royals/Lakers became a rivalry, and in 1951 the Royals overtook the Lakers and beat the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) for the NBA title.

Unfortunately, the exhibition games the Royals lost upon their jump to the BAA cost them a good monetary intake, and between their small arena and Harrison's high standards for the team, the Royals started to mount debts. A larger arena and championship team didn't help, and Harrison spent a lot of the 50's looking for someone to take the Royals off his hands. The roster turned over in 1955, and instead of a greased organization which was one of the league's forces with whom all must reckon, the Royals turned into what was basically a rookie development team. Being rookies, the new players lost a lot. Even worse, they still weren't making any money, so the Harrison brothers were given an ultimatum: Move or sell. The Harrisons moved to Cincinnati. During their twelve years in Rochester, the Royals had won two titles - including their only NBA title - and used the services of nine Basketball Hall of Famers: Al Cervi, Bob Davies, Alex Hannum, Les Harrison, Red Holzman, Arnie Risen, Maurice Stokes, Jack Twyman, and Bobby Wanzer. They also played Otto Graham, who is in the Football Hall of Fame, and Chuck Connors, who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Clyde Lovellette and George King helped the Royals turn into an immediate contender in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, in the 1958 season finale, Maurice Stokes was clobbered in the head upon falling after going after a rebound. Although he shook it off, his injury was aggravated by airplane cabin pressure, and he suffered a seizure and was permanently paralyzed. The tragedy shook the team, and without Stokes, the Royals very nearly folded. Although Stokes's friend Jack Twyman became a great All-Star player over the next could of years, the team still never won more than 19 games. Twyman also did everything he could to help Stokes, even legally adopting him to help with the bills. The 1973 film Maurie told that story.

Oscar Robertson was the next big star for the Royals. They were a lot better with him, becoming a regular title contender. In 1963, they also got ahold of Jerry Lucas. From 1963 to 1966, the Royals fought hard against the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) and Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html), always putting up a hard fight but never winning anything because those teams were, you know, the Celtics and 76ers. Despite the best efforts of Lucas and Robertson, the team picked up a reputation as an also-ran during the decade because they kept failing to hold on to their best players and played in the nasty NBA East, which probably had a hand in keeping them out of the Finals. In 1966, the team was finally unloaded on a new pair of brothers, Max and Jeremy Jacobs. For the rest of their tenure in Cincinnati, the Royals were forced to alternate home arenas in other cities like Dayton and Columbus and - until the appearance of the Cavaliers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Cl...All_LeBron_s_Fault.html) in 1970 - Cleveland. When Bob Cousy was made the coach in 1969, he traded Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks, where him and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (known back then as Lew Alcindor) won a title right off. The team was clearly on the decline, and the finally headed off to Kansas City in 1972.

Kansas City already had a team called the Royals, so instead of doing it like Saint Louis, the basketball Royals changed their name to the Kansas City Kings even though they had been using the name "Royals" long before the baseball Royals were even a thought. They initially divided home games between Kansas City and Omaha until 1975, and in the 80's, they even played sometimes played home games in Saint Louis. Until 1975, the team was officially called the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, and they got another new superstar in Nate Archibald and also the services of talent like Tom Van Arsdale, Jumpin' Johnny Green, and Matt Guokas. But just when it looked like the Kings were getting ready to put a run together, management screwed everything up by trading Archibald, wasting draft picks, and replacing Cousy with a coach named Phil Johnson - that's Johnson, NOT Jackson - who was fired in the middle of the year. The awful stench of losing basketball began to settle in.

In the 1980 and 1981 seasons, the Kings went 40-42 but made the playoffs anyway. In 1981, they even managed to make a run to the Western Conference Finals before they were finally exposed and subdued by the Houston Rockets. Then Cleveland Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien lured away a couple of their good players with big contracts, the roof of their home arena collapsed in a severe storm (actual roof here, not a metaphorical roof), and the team re-hired Joe Axelson as their general manager. Maybe that last one doesn't sound quite so bad, but Axelson is the idiot who traded Robertson, Archibald, and Lucas and used the third pick in the ABA dispersal draft on Ron Boone. In the final Kings game ever in Kansas City, fans wore Joe Axelson masks. Axelson has the unique distinction of being the only general manager in the history of professional sports to ever fail with the same team in four different cities. He was first brought in while the team was in Cincinnati, and went through Kansas City, Omaha, and the earliest years of Sacramento before his rehiring of Phil Johnson resulted in his losing his job for good. Anyway, in 1985 the Kings completed their westward journey and moved into Sacramento.

The Kings went to the playoffs in 1986, but lost the first round to Houston. Subsequent years weren't nearly that successful. Some of the bad basketball was a result of misfortunes - promising point guard Bobby Hurley was hurt in a car crash, and Ricky Berry (NOT Rick Barry) tragically committed suicide in 1989. Some of it was bad management. Whatever the reason, the results in the standings were always the same, and the Kings weren't back in the playoffs until the 1996 season. In one year in the early 90's, the Kings won 60 percent of their home matchups but went 1-40 on the road. They also picked up Mitch Richmond, a six-time All-Star with the Kings during his Sacramento tenure. Unfortunately, his tenure only took the Kings to the playoffs that lone time, and they were knocked out of the first round by the Seattle Supersonics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Thunder_Rolls.html). Soon after that hiccup, Richmond and Otis Thorpe were traded for Chris Webber.

In 1998, the Kings pulled Jason Williams from the NBA draft and signed Vlade Divac. Those three moved, as well as the 1996 arrival of Peja Stojakovic, turned the Kings into contenders. Led by new coach Rick Adelman, the Kings adopted a new style of offense based in quick style and strong ball movement. Although they were bad on defense and Webber would ultimately become known as a career choker, people started noticing the Kings. The Kings began making regular appearances in the playoffs, but their youth proved a weakness against the Lakers and the Utah Jazz. Doug Christie was acquired in a trade with the Toronto Raptors (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...These_Raptors_Bite.html) in 2001, and in 2001, they became known as The Greatest Show on Court. That year, they also beat the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs, thus winning their first playoff series in 20 years. When Williams was traded the next season to the Vancouver Grizzlies (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...o_Roar_to_Speak_of.html) Mike Bibby, it resulted in the Kings having their best teams to date. In the 2002 season, the Kings led the league with 61 wins and played against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. They lost the series in seven games, but it's now very frequently suggested that some of the referees involved might have been in the pockets of gamblers. The suspicions, while not confirmed, have a very strong grounding.

The Kings were chic picks until about 2005. Thanks to a series of good trades which happened to result in bad chemistry and a bunch of legal troubles, Sacramento's window closed. Frequent change and turnover have resulted in frequent struggle, and now it's looking like the Kings won't even be the Sacramento Kings for much longer. In 2011, plans to move the team to Anaheim were so well under way that the term "Anaheim Royals" was trademarked. The next year, the city approved an outline of a deal which would keep them in Sacramento, which the owners then backed out of a month later. The future of the Sacramento Kings is uncertain.

It's hard to believe anybody really takes the Kings seriously. They have no real fixed rivalries; the closest would probably be the Golden State Warriors down in Oakland. They haven't had ample time to really develop an identity. Their only real signature game or series was marred by the worst officiating in history. They only won one title, and since that title - when they were the Rochester Royals in 1951 - they haven't even won a single Conference Championship. Their name is generic, bland, and forgettable.

The Kings have fielded some very identifiable players. Chris Webber's best years were given in Sacramento. Oscar Robertson is one of the greats. But what does it say about the team that one of their retired numbers is number 21, for Vlade Divac? NBA fans probably recognize that name, but not for his play. Divac did have a solid career which included an All-Star invitation, an All-Rookie First Team appearance, and a point total of 13,398 in a standout FIBA career. His biggest claim to fame in NBA circles, however, is being the guy the Charlotte Hornets (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...hese_Hornets_Sting.html) acquired in exchange for Kobe Bryant.

The Kings have been moved from place to place even more often than the Brooklyn Nets (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Br...leep_Till_Brooklyn.html), and the Nets' moved have always been within the same metropolitan area. It's a good thing the Kings have managed to live into the internet age, because without aid from the web, no one would be able to really follow them. They've averaged maybe 25 years per home on a slow journey westward. The Atlanta Hawks have had a lot of different home cities too, but they also found their home way back in the 60's. The Kings apparently haven't.

If there's one advantage to adopting a nomadic team, it's that no one can accuse you of geographical treachery if you live in one of the Kings' various hometowns and choose not to root for the Kings. Despite some memorable stories and great moments, this old-time franchise needs to find a place to settle before I can recommend them.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Sacramento_Kings-562-1388101-228445-The_Nomad_Kings.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Sacramento_Kings-562-1388101-228445-The_Nomad_Kings.html Thu, 20 Sep 2012 16:59:37 +0000
<![CDATA[ They are the Warriors! Too Bad No One Knows it!]]>
The Warriors are one of the original teams of the Basketball Association of America, the league founded in 1946 which the NBA considers its direct forerunner. They originally popped up in Philadelphia, where longtime basketball promoter Eddie Gottlieb was hired as the coach and general manager. He named his new team the Philadelphia Warriors, after an earlier professional team in the city. That year, the Warriors became the league's first-ever champion as early scoring sensation Joe Fulks led them to a 4-1 Finals victory over the Chicago Stags, the forerunners to the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html). They had their ups and downs over the next nine or ten years, including a three-year stretch from 1953 to 1955 when they didn't make the playoffs at all. In the 1956 season, though, they pulled themselves together again, finished in first, and deated the Fort Wayne Pistons in the Finals 4-1 for their second title, which would be their last title in Philadelphia.

With players like Hall of Famers Paul Arizin, Michael Bryson, and Neil Johnston, the Warriors were loaded as it was. Then in 1959, they made their most noteworthy draft pick. In fact, he was one of the league's most noteworthy draft picks, ever. Wilt Chamberlain was signed, being a high school sensation in Philadelphia. As a professional basketball player, The Big Dipper immediately got to work shattering every possible record of the time, wrecking everyone put up in the paint to stop him, and only changing the way the game was played for good. Want to know how good Chamberlain was? Wrap your head around these numbers: In 1962, he averaged over 50 points and over 25 rebounds per game, putting up over 4000 points in the regular season. He's the only guy who ever did that. (And only him and Michael Jordan ever broke 3000.) During a stretch, he managed to score at least 40 points in every game. That's not AVERAGE. That's MINIMUM. And on March 2 that year, in a game against the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html), The Big Dipper managed to post a whopping 100 points. The whole thing wasn't planned; Wilt, always in pursuit of individual statistics, entered the game wanting to break a free throw record. But his point total was 41 by halftime. It wasn't a big deal; Wilt had, after all, put over 60 on the board in 15 games by then, and 70 in a handful. So one of the Warriors made the backhanded suggestion that they just keep shoveling the ball to Wilt to see how many points he could get. With ten minutes to go in the game, Philadelphia's team concept broke down and the offense was actually giving the ball to him and then watching rather than trying to get open. With six minutes to go, the Knicks began fouling every player except Chamberlain in order to keep the ball out of his hands, moving the ball slowly to eat up the shot clock, and the Warriors eventually began fouling back to get the ball to Wilt. The game was basically a farce for the last quarter, but you can't help but respect the achievement. 100 points is 100 points, and its never been done since. The Los Angeles Lakers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...5-Walking_on_Water.html) came within 19 points of it when Kobe Bryant posted 81 in one game against the Toronto Raptors (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...These_Raptors_Bite.html) but admitted that 100 is well beyond his reach. Wilt did it, and the circumstances in place enabling him to do it were a lot different. It probably won't happen again.

In 1962, the Warriors were bought, moved, and renamed the San Francisco Warriors. Playing most of their home games at Cow Palace in Daly City, just south of San Francisco, they also did some short-range barnstorming and played in Oakland and San Jose as well. In the 1964 season, they won the Western Division title but met the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) in the Finals. You would think Wilt Chamberlain would rise up and dominate Boston's roster like he did so many others, but Boston had the perfect antidote to Chamberlain in his star center, Bill Russell, who pioneered the idea of the defensive center. Chamberlain was foiled and the Warriors lost in five games.

During the 1965 season, the Warriors traded Chamberlain to the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html), the team moved to replace the Warriors. That was losing a lot, but they made up for it when they unearthed Rick Barry in the 1965 draft. If the Warriors couldn't take Chamberlain's attitude, Barry turned out to be worse. He sat out the 1968 season due to certain incentive awards he believed he was owed, and joined the Oakland Oaks of the ABA the following year. He stayed there for the next four years before returning to the Warriors in 1972.

That same year, 1972, the Warriors' schedule was so dominantly revolving around the Oakland Coliseum Arena that the team figured hey, why not make a move official? So they moved to Oakland and, upon renaming, became the only team in major league sports to adopt a state nickname as their own official name when they decided to call themselves the Golden State Warriors. That was the start of one of the team's great periods. From 1971 to 1977, the Warriors made the playoffs every season, and in 1975, they won what is still their only Title during their tenure on the west coast when they swept the heavily favored Washington Bullets in the Finals.

A number of players were lost to retirement and mismanagement in the following couple of years, so the Warriors then fell off the top. One trade the Warriors made in 1980 sums up just how badly management missed during the whole era: In 1980, Golden State selected Joe Barry Carroll with the first overall pick of the draft. Carroll was nicknamed "Joe Barely Cares" which is one of the great kings of negative press nicknames but sort of unfairly attributed to him. Part of the reason he got that nicknames was because he frequently declined interviews, not because of his play; in several seasons, he did average over 20 points per game. But another contributor to his nickname was the fact that the Boston Celtics made a killing off him. To get Carroll, the Warriors surrendered Robert Parish and the draft pick who the Celtics turned into Kevin McHale. The Celtics won three titles in the 80's with those two teaming up with Larry Bird. The Warriors fell out of contention until 1987, when they finally made it back to the playoffs and gave the Los Angeles Lakers a run in a series still shown on NBA Classic TV.

Although the Warriors only won 20 games in the 1988 season, it was still the beginning of a series of runs which was… Okay, it was merely decent. They pulled together a bunch of winning seasons from 1987 to 1994, but were an odd team during the time. They fielded some real standout players like Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin (known as the team's Run-TMC line), and stars like Chris Webber and Latrell Sprewell. Although it was a more successful period than not, the Warriors only made the playoffs in consecutive years once, in the 1991 and 1992 seasons. After 1994, they only made the playoffs once.

In 1997, general manager Gary St. Jean was hired, and fans blame him for a lot of the team's ensuing struggles are blamed on him. Him and Dave Twardzik brought in a lot of players who were long past their primes, like Terry Cummings and John Starks and Mookie Blaylock. They drafted Todd Fuller in 1996 while Kobe Bryant was still available, and Steve Logan, who never got into a single NBA game. Adonal Foyle was selected with Tracy McGrady still on the board. They did luck out a few times though, taking Jason Richardson, Antawn Jamison, and Agent Zero himself, Gilbert Arenas. Those last three probably helped prolong St. Jean and Twardzik's tenure, because with them, the Warriors now looked like a fresh-legged young team. They might have actually been competitive had they still been in Philadelphia, where they could play in the weaker Eastern Conference, but as it was, their ultra-talented and ultra-competitive Western Conference mates kept killing them. In 2003, some of the GM duo's earlier cash mistakes bit them in the ass when they couldn't pay Arenas, their best player and a guy who really wanted to stay with Golden State.

St. Jean was fired and succeeded by Chris Mullin, who hoped to build a competitive new team around Richardson. In 2005, he picked up Baron Davis. The Warriors started off strong in the 2006 season but faded in the stretch, in part because Davis didn't get along with the coach and because he didn't stay healthy. In the 2007 season, the team made a shocking trade which sent Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu, and Keith McLeod to the Indiana Pacers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use..._in_Middle_America.html) for Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Josh Powell, and Sarunas Jasikevicius. Armed with younger, fresher, more athletic talent, the Warriors ran and gunned their way to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years with a 42-40 record. In the playoffs, the Warriors went into the first round to play against the Dallas Mavericks and their league-leading 67-15 record. It's important to note here that while Dallas had more talent, depth, and the best record in the NBA, they had a losing regular season record against Golden State. I found that out perusing the Chicago Sun-Times one day, so I might be the only one who noticed. Although most NBA watchers bet on the highly favored Mavericks and consider Golden State's victory a shocker on par with Super Bowl III, I can honestly say I wasn't especially surprised.

Shocking or not, the Warriors had made their arrival statement, going on to win 48 games the next year. In playoff races, anything under 50 wins is pretty much fair game, but in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, they still became the first team to ever win that many games and still be excluded from the playoffs. And that about does it for the Golden State Warriors. It's the last time they showed up to do anything of real note.

If you're an aspiring NBA fan, you'll never be embarrassed by your team if you pick the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, that's not for the right reasons. Lakers fans don't get embarrassed because their team is so dominant. Fans of the Los Angeles Clippers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...lipped_and_Trimmed.html) get embarrassed because even though their team is nondescript, everyone knows how shitty they are. The Warriors… Well, everyone knows the NBA has 30 teams, but unless they actively watch the league, they can only name 29. The Warriors are the team they're always forgetting.

That really is a damn shame, too, because the Warriors are steeped in the kind of history any basketball fan can respect and any fan of the team itself can be truly proud of. Wilt Chamberlain played for them, after all. They also played Joe Fulks, Rick Barry, Chris Mullin, Robert Parish, Ralph Sampson, and Nate Thurmond. Those are just a few of 13 Hall of Famers on their all-time roster. Chamberlain, Barry, Mullin, and Thurmond are among their six retired numbers. Eight of their players have made the All-NBA First Team, 12 made the Second Team, and two have been on the Third Team just for good measure. Six Rookies of the Year. Five Scoring Champions. A whopping 16 All-Rookie First Team players. Wilt Chamberlain was the 1960 MVP. It make you wonder how they've managed to blow everything so often.

The Warriors fanbase is forever a ghost-riding fanbase. They're hidden, but they're also considered one of the most devoted fantasies in basketball. Although the Warriors are a Bay Area team, the fans also seem very pleased to not be associated with the vegetarian hippies across the bay.

Picking the Warriors means adopting a team which shifts between a doormat and an underachiever in a powerful conference. The Golden State Warriors have a very storied and proud history and tradition which many basketball fans would love to be a part of. Then again, so do the downstate Los Angeles Lakers. And the Lakers have visibility and titles to back it up. The Golden State Warriors are a good team to adopt if you don't mind sharing third banana status with the Sacramento Kings.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Golden_State_Warriors-562-1388078-228304-They_are_the_Warriors_Too_Bad_No_One_Knows_it_.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Golden_State_Warriors-562-1388078-228304-They_are_the_Warriors_Too_Bad_No_One_Knows_it_.html Fri, 14 Sep 2012 17:03:10 +0000
<![CDATA[ No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn]]> http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...205257-The_Amazins.html)? The current coexistence of the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) in New York City with the recently-moved Brooklyn Nets argues that it can. (Now that I think of it, so do the Chicago White Sox (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...m_You_Know_the_One.html) and Chicago Cubs, for that matter.) The New York Knicks are one of the NBA's big city teams, and they have an enormous fanbase which stretches across the country. Bandwagon fans hopping aboard just because they're The New York Team, however, may be surprised to find out that, while they've won several Conference Championships, the Knicks have only been NBA Champions twice in their existence (1970, 1973), both times in one single unquestionably great era of their years. Patrick Ewing's era was a constant case of close-but-no-cigar.

While the Knickerbockers may be the NBA's current equivalent to New York City's beloved baseball underdogs, they're still the upscale, classic team which will soon be considered the Evil Empire to the hip, cool rebel team, the Brooklyn Nets, if those aren't already their designated roles. The viewpoint of this may be one of those points where mileage is going to vary depending on who you ask. The Brooklyn Nets have led the vast majority of their years officially being called the New Jersey Nets and hanging out in East Rutherford, which many consider part of the New York City metropolitan area despite it being in a whole other state. (The NHL's New Jersey Devils have a similar situation.) Some fans seem to be up in arms over the fact that the Nets have moved their base to New York City and dropped the Jersey moniker. Others point out that it was just a move across the New York City area, so what's the difference? After all, the New York Jets (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ne...he_New_Jersey_Jets.html) and New York Giants (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ne...at_Giants_They_Are.html) are both considered New York City teams, even though they play in the Meadowlands, just outside of East Rutherford.

The Nets are an odd kind of nomad. They've always kind of bounced around, going all the way back to their formation in 1967. All that bouncing was within the greater New York City area, if not a hair on the outside of it. Forever being the rebel team in the rebel league, the Nets were created as part of the American Basketball Association. Their original owner, trucking magnate Arthur Brown, apparently has a real, honest passion for sports; he was viewed as an ideal candidate to run The New York Team in the ABA because he had experience running a grab bag of teams from the Amateur Athletic Union. The team was originally called the New York Americans, and Brown intended them to play at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan. The trouble was that playing in Manhattan would have meant the poor, poor Knicks would have had to compete for part of a split fanbase, and what chance would they have stood, being an established champion that basketball fans already knew and loved? Yeah, somehow they were calling the Armory's shots, and they got the Armory to send the Americans packing. Brown scrambled to find a good replacement venue, which proved to be difficult when he was always turned down by one of two answers: One - we're booked solid. Two - we really don't want to piss off the Knicks.

Opening day was getting closer, so Brown finally hanged his head, swallowed his pride, and settled for the Teaneck Armory in Teaneck, New Jersey. It wasn't the last time the Knicks butted in on the Nets' affairs.

The Americans did decently enough in their first season, going 36-42 and tying the Kentucky Colonels for the final playoff spot in the ABA. The following season, the Teaneck Armory suddenly developed the same problem as a few venues which had turned down the Americans: Overbooking. So the Americans again found themselves scrambling for a replacement, eventually finding one at the Long Island Arena in Commack, New York. Unfortunately, even though it was the only place available at the last second, the first time the Americans showed up at the Long Island Armory with their opponents, the Colonels, the place was so unusable for basketball that the Colonels refused to play. League commissioner George Mikan decided that, since the Americans had failed to provide a usable play space, the game should be forfeited to the Colonels by a score of 2-0. The floor had several missing bolts and boards, and one player even claimed that when he pressed down on one side of the floor, the other came up, like in those cartoons! There were no basket supports or pads for the backboards, one basket was higher than the other, and the whole place was affected by condensation from a hockey game the previous night.

I don't know when or if those problems were fixed, but the Americans had little choice but to stay for their second-ever year, especially considering the fact that their plan to move to Newark failed. They also changed their name; keeping in line with a sort of tradition started by New York City's other two rebel teams, the Mets and Jets, the name Nets was chosen in part because it rhymed with the other two. It was also symbolic of basketball. So the team was now the New York Nets, and they drew half their audience from a year earlier and won all of 17 games. 23 players were shuffled on and off the roster. Given all that shit, you can't blame Brown for selling the team to Roy Boe after that year. Boe wanted a star, and he won the rights to UCLA dominator Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (still known as Lew Alcindor then) in a secret ABA draft. Kareem wanted to play there too. He was a native, after all, but after going over his options for a month, he went to the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks because the Nets' bid was too low, and he said he would only consider one offer from each team. The team didn't dwell on it. They had bigger things to worry about, like their move to Island Garden in West Hempstead, New York.

In the 1970 season, the Nets made the playoffs for the first time and attendance shot up threefold. In the offseason, Boe finally got the star he so badly wanted in Rick Barry after he traded their first-round draft pick to the Virginia Squires. In the 1972 season, they made the ABA Finals for the first time, but ran smack into the Indiana Pacers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use..._in_Middle_America.html), who beat them in six games. Barry left after that year - he was considered a big ass, so players were probably glad to see him go - and the following year was a disappointment. In the 1973 offseason, the Nets picked up a player from the Squires in Julius Erving, better known as Dr. J. That put them over the top, and the Nets won 55 games and beat the Utah Stars in the 1974 ABA Finals. They continued winning over the following two seasons, and in 1976, they won the ABA Championship again; it was the last ABA Championship before the merger took hold.

The New York Nets were one of four teams to survive the merger, along with the Pacers, Denver Nuggets, and San Antonio Spurs. Coming off a Championship and armed with Dr. J and newly-acquired Nate Archibald, the Nets were armed and dangerous. The Knicks, faced with a direct competitor, decided they were a bit TOO armed and dangerous. And since the ABA forced the NBA into the merger it didn't want, the league took special pains to remind the castoffs of their place at the back of the line. The Nets were forced to give the Knicks $4.8 million, just like that, as an invasion fee. They also had to fork over $3.2 million to the NBA itself as an entry fee. That left the team devastated in more than one way. Boe had promised a considerable pay raise for Dr. J which he now couldn't produce. So when the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html) came along with $3 million of cold, hard cash for the rights to Dr. J, Boe didn't have a choice. He sold his franchise guy for an NBA berth. As if to put an exclamation point on everything, Archibald broke his foot in January, and the 1977 season was officially a lost cause. The Nets finished at 22-60, the worst record in the league. The only notable thing they did that year was field a starting lineup comprised entirely of southpaws, the only team to ever hold that distinction.

For the 1978 season, due to low attendance and an increasingly bad financial picture, Boe decided to move the team back to New Jersey. The Knicks once again stepped in and threw a major hissy fit about territorial infringement. The Nets finally grew a backbone and sued the Knicks, claiming violation of anti-trust laws. The NBA and the state of New Jersey both intervened, and the lawsuit was settled when the Nets once again had to pay another $4 million to the crybabies from the senior league so they would quit their bitching. The Nets officially became the New Jersey Nets in 1977 and played at the Rutgers Athletic Center while they waited for the Meadowlands Sports Complex to be built in East Rutherford.

In 1981, the Nets finally moved to their home proper in East Rutherford and reeled off four consecutive winning seasons. From 1981 to 1983, they were coached by Larry Brown, and in the 1983 season, he was leading the Nets to their best year since they joined the NBA when, during the last month of the season, he decided to leave to coach at the University of Kansas. (He tends to do that.) He was suspended for the rest of the season by the NBA after making the agreement. Even so, in the 1984 season, Darryl Dawkins, Buck Williams, Otis Birdsong, and Michael Ray Richardson led the team to the playoffs, where they beat the defending champion 76ers. They followed with another playoff appearance, but lost to the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs. It started a downward spiral.

In the 1986 season, Richardson was banned for life after failing his third drug test and Dawkins injured his back. The team made the seventh seed that year. The following year, Dawkins suffered another back injury when he slipped in his bathtub, and this time his career was over. Birdsong only played seven games, having incurred a shin fracture. Injuries and bad drafts began plaguing the Nets; with the third pick of the 1987 draft, the Nets took Dennis Hopson over Kevin Johnson, Reggie Miller, and Scottie Pippen. By 1990 the Nets were the worst team in the league. They won just 17 games that year, while Knicks fans were flying on a euphoric high watching Patrick Ewing lead the Knicks back to the NBA's elite.

Things got better during the 90's. The Nets drafted Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson, then traded with the Portland Trail Blazers for Drazen Petrovic. Chuck Daly was hired to coach and, despite a few more injuries, the Nets began to improve. In the 1993 offseason, Petrovic was sadly killed in a car crash, and his number was retired. The Nets continued to improve, though, and in 1994 they made the playoffs only to get beat by the fucking Knicks, of all teams.

Another down era followed, as the Nets struggled through the rest of the 90's. Even worse was the NBA going through a serious image problem in the 90's. People began looking at NBA players as the poster children of selfish, immature athletes, and in 1995, Derrick Coleman was given given a Sports Illustrated cover when his team embodied the entire image. Jayson Williams played for them during this era. Williams wrote a book called Loose Balls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Lo..._and_Also_Sporadic.html) about life in the NBA. I reviewed the book at the link I provided there, and point out a few problems I have with this guy: First, Williams wrote that he wanted to be financially secure before he started playing to win. He said that while writing that he felt like he reached financial security. Unfortunately, his belief is nullified a lot by the fact that his teams were just plain bad. Also, Williams wrote about guns and alcohol and his constant misuse of both with irreverence and humor, like it was fun and amusing for him to endanger people. A few years later, Williams achieved notoriety when he shot and killed a limo driver while drunk. The jury decided he wasn't guilty of the worst charges. Usually I feel bad for players for suffer career-ending injuries; with Williams, I can't help but look at his tibia break as karmic retribution for both the past and future. Yeah, the Nets were the poster child for the league's bad image.

In dire need of a makeover, the team traded their first pick from the 2001 draft to the Houston Rockets for a bunch of younger, solid players. The day after, they traded Stephen Marbury and Johnny Newman to the Phoenix Suns for their star player, Jason Kidd. That move kicked off the greatest period of success the team had since the ABA. Kidd is arguably the greatest Net, and he was everything the Nets had lacked since the old days: A true court general who could not only play the hell out of the sport, but make his teammates better while doing so. With the Knicks losing Ewing and the greatness they experienced with him in the 90's and starting to reel, Kidd got in at the best time possible. Over the course of two Conference Championships (2002, 2003), it was now the cross-river Mickey Mouse team getting the attention from their older, more celebrated peers. For the first time, the New Jersey Nets were the model basketball team of the New York City/New Jersey metro area. They did lose both of their visits to the Finals - the first to the Los Angeles Lakers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...5-Walking_on_Water.html) and the second to the San Antonio Spurs - but the Conference Championships meant everything to the forgotten Nets, as they finally made the statement they had been wanting to make to the Knicks since the ABA: You elitists are no better than us, and you WILL fucking respect us!

Over the millennium, while the Knicks lurched from one embarrassment to the next and reeled, the Nets were fielding competitive teams with exciting players like Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Clifford Robinson, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and Vince Carter. In the 2004 playoffs, they met the Knicks in the first round, and swept them. Although they didn't reach those heights again for the rest of the decade, they were plenty good, and with the Knicks now playing the NBA's dead team walking, they were winning scores of new fans and getting more attention than ever before.

Kidd left in 2008 and finally won his long-coveted ring in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks. They gradually got worse. At first they were just bad, but respectably so. But in 2010, they became just the fifth NBA team to ever lose 70 games in a single season. To counter the badness, the Nets hired Avery Johnson to coach and courted the three big free agent prizes: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, but they all went to the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html). They were also the subject of trade rumors about Carmelo Anthony, who eventually would up going to the Knicks. A week after losing that, though, the Nets made a surprise trade for Deron Williams with the Utah Jazz.

In the meantime, the team owner reached a deal that would bring the team back to New York City for the 2013 season. Or, more specifically, Brooklyn. That's one of the places rapper/part owner Jay-Z glorifies in a lot of his songs. The move actually started during the Conference Championship era, when real estate developer Bruce Ratner bought the team with the specific purpose of taking it to a newly-built arena in Brooklyn. In 2010, the team was moved to the Prudential Center in Newark solely to wait for their new home, the Barclay's Center, to finish, you know, being built. On April 30, 2012, the move became official. The team was moving back to New York City and becoming the Brooklyn Nets. The team's new black and white colors and bold typeface fonts are meant to evoke images of the old New York City Subway rollsigns. With the team reloading on court with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, having a new home in a borough of New York City which is very popular and a draw for players, a deal with YES which enables people all across New York state to watch them, and merchandise sales going up dramatically, things are looking up for the newly-minted Brooklyn Nets.

Now, the Nets truly embody the cool, rebel alternative. I mean no offense to New Jersey, but it doesn't carry the big time name of New York City or Brooklyn, so now the Nets might be able to attract better free agents. Of course the Knicks, being the Knicks, are bitching again, this time taking it out in an ad campaign which says the Nets might try to walk and talk like the Knicks, but they'll never be the Knicks. One of the Nets' owners responded by saying he wants his team to be more like the Lakers - you know, GOOD.

As far as rivalries go, the New York Knicks. Considering the way the Knickerbockers have pushed and shoved the Nets from the very beginning and the fact that they overshadow the Nets in a lot of ways, nothing else is going to ever fucking matter. What's the point of the Nets' very existence? Beat the shit out of the Knicks. As long as that gets done, I'm sure most fans will be perfectly content.

The Nets and Knicks are a few of Conference Championships apart, but they have the same number of titles. It's true the Knicks have titles in the NBA and the Nets's happened in the ABA, but the ABA had talent on the same level as the senior league. The Knicks don't have the bragging rights they and their fans all seem to think they do. The Knicks have two titles and eight Conference Championships. Counting the ABA, the Nets have two titles and five Conference Championships. Not a big difference. The Knicks have had more noteworthy players. The Nets don't lack for greats themselves; among their retired numbers are Buck Williams, Drazen Petrovic, and Dr. J. The Nets have fielded some of the biggest names in the league, including Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Buck Williams, and Stephen Marbury. Those are only a few of the players who have played All-Star basketball for the Nets.

A true Brooklyn/New York City rivalry hasn't existed since the old baseball days, when the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...ers_of_Los_Angeles.html) fought wars over territorial bragging rights in baseball. Now between past and future, it looks like one is starting up again. And with the storied Knicks apparently doing everything they can to concede while the Nets are reloading, this is looking like the beginning of a great rivalry which will accompany one great basketball legacy with the Knicks and another which is emerging and finding itself. I haven't quite made up my mind which side I'm on yet. I love a good story, and the Knicks have more of those, but I also want the chance to grow with a team I saw the arrival of, even if it was by move. Plus, the schoolmate I mentioned in my 76ers review briefly played for the Nets, which means there's now a New York team he played for. No matter what happens or where my loyalties are going to ultimately side, one thing is true: The Brooklyn Nets are going to be huge, and they're going to repeatedly exchange a lot of heated blows with their city rivals.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-Brooklyn_Nets-562-1836207-228228-No_Sleep_Till_Brooklyn.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-Brooklyn_Nets-562-1836207-228228-No_Sleep_Till_Brooklyn.html Wed, 12 Sep 2012 17:50:56 +0000
<![CDATA[ Not All LeBron's Fault]]> http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Cl..._to_the_Dawg_Pound.html) were one of the great dynasties in football history, and the Indians have won the World Series twice and fielded some of the best baseball teams of the past. The Cavaliers have an overall history which isn't too good, but they at least had the best player in the NBA for seven years. Even when he left, his only major crime was making a major, nationally televised spectacle out of it, something which he now believes to be a big mistake.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were created as part of the 1970 expansions, along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Buffalo Braves (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...lipped_and_Trimmed.html). In another one of those name-the-team contests, Cavaliers was chosen over Jays, Foresters, and Presidents. (Who thinks up the finalists in these competitions?) Expansion troubles, yada yada yada, 15-67 record in their first season. In 1971, they drafted Austin Carr, who had set numerous scoring records at Notre Dame, but Carr injured his leg shortly into his career and his potential never got off the ground. They did manage to improve in following years, as is the wont with expansion teams desperate for attention and victories. Players like Bingo Smith, Jim Chones, Jim Cleamons, and Dick Snyder helped them improve up to a 40-42 record by the 1974 season. The next season, the Cavaliers won the division title with a 49-33 record. Coach Bill Fitch was the NBA's Coach of the Year that season, and the Cavs played a hard first go-round in the playoffs, ejecting the Washington Bullets before losing the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html).

The Cavs did okay for the next couple of years, making the playoffs and being kicked out of the first round every time. After the 1979 season, Fitch resigned as head coach, and the original owner of the team, Nick Mileti, sold his shares of the team to Joe Zingale. After only a few months, Zingale sold the team to Nationwide Advertising magnate Ted Stepien, who mistook himself for a capable judge of basketball talent and ruined the team. Early on, Stepien tried to expand the team's fanbase by proposing to rename the team the Ohio Cavaliers and play their home games not only in Cleveland, but also in non-NBA cities like Cincinnati - them having lost the Royals some time ago - Buffalo - they having dismissed the Braves a couple of years previous to Stepien purchasing the Cavs - and Pittsburgh. Stepien was one of the first owners - if not THE first owner - to use cheerleaders, but he also introduced a polka fight song.

More importantly, Stepien hired and fired a quick succession of coaches and was involved in making many, many poor free agent signings. What he did with the draft was so bad that the NBA had to introduce a rule because of him which prohibited teams from trading away first-round draft picks in consecutive years. The chaos resulted in some of the shittiest basketball in league history, and during Stepien's short reign, the Cavaliers won 20 games only once. He lost a lot of fan support, so when he threatened to move the team to Toronto, the only two people who really took notice were brothers George and Gordon Gund. Fortunately, the Gund brothers had money, so they bought the team and kept it in Cleveland.

The Gunds didn't help a whole lot. That pretty wine and gold combination the team is known for wearing now was changed to burnt orange and navy blue while the Gunds were in charge, and the team officially adopted the name "Cavs" for marketing purposes. The Cavs made a brief appearance in the playoffs in 1985, which lasted until Boston booted them from the first round. It was their only showing in the playoffs for seven years, a stretch in which they employed a whopping nine head coaches, including two tenures with Bill Musselman in charge. They did have a few exciting players, including World B. Free and Roy Hinson. In 1986, the Gunds decided it was time for a designed implosion. They brought in Lenny Wilkens to coach and a bunch of great players in the draft followed. Over the next nine years, the Cavs made the playoffs eight times, winning over 50 games three times.

In 1989, the Cavs played a classic first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html). In the final game of the series, Cleveland held a single-point lead with three seconds to go. When the ball was inbounded, it went straight to Michael Jordan, who instantly made a jump shot over Cleveland's Craig Ehlo and into the basket. That moment is known in basketball parlance as The Shot, and is part of Cleveland's most tortured sports city ever argument. The highest summit of Cleveland's success during those years came in the 1992 season, when the Cavs won 57 games and went to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to Chicago again.

And that, as they say, was that for awhile. Team stars Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, and Larry Nance left. In the 1993 season the Cavaliers won 54 games, lost to the Bulls again, and their coach left to coach the Atlanta Hawks. The replacement coach, Mike Fratello, introduced a more defensive style which was only moderately successful. The team made a bunch of playoff appearance but were never a real contender, and they always lost in the first round.

By the millennium, the Cleveland Cavaliers had had it. The were getting an influx of players which included Andre Miller, Brevin Knight, Chris Mihm, and Carlos Boozer but were still a common lottery team. In 2003, they bottomed out, went 17-65, and won the first pick in the 2003 draft lottery. That pick was a 17-year-old Akron high school student named LeBron James. Although he originally teamed with Drew Gooden to form the core of the team, he was clearly meant to be groomed as the new leader. Dubbed King James, LeBron became a dominant player. There are players who excel at coming through when necessary, play well seemingly all the time, and are always there to break the hearts of opposing fans. John Elway and Michael Jordan had done that to Cleveland many times in the past, as did players for the Florida Marlins. Now, for the first time since Jim Brown impersonated a combination of a sports car and tank back in the 60's, a Cleveland team was the one which had THAT GUY.

In LeBron's first season, the Cavaliers went back to their old wine and gold look to celebrate their rebirth and more than doubled their win total from the previous season. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert clearly meant business now, and he hired coach Mike Brown. Two years after LeBron's arrival, the Cavs went 42-40 and only missed the playoffs because the New Jersey Nets owned the tiebreaker. In 2007, the Cavaliers reached the greatest success they would ever know after winning the Eastern Conference Championship. Their first-ever trip to the Finals was short because they ran into the deeper, more talented, and just plain better San Antonio Spurs, who killed them in just four games. Still LeBron James had come of age and was there to lead the team to glory! In the 2009 season, James led the Cavaliers to their best-ever regular season record, 66-16, and with a home record of 39-2, were only one win away from the 40-1 home record set by the 1986 Boston Celtics. Despite everything, though, they lost the Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-Oh_oh_it_s_Magic_.html). In the 2010 season, the Cavs had the league's best record again, 61-21.

During the offseason, LeBron James lost his head and turned from the league's greatest hero into its greatest villain literally overnight. It wasn't that he decided against returning to the Cavs; that's the sports business now, after all. It was that he embarrassed his old team - his old home - by going on a one-hour, nationally televised special called The Decision in order to tell everyone about it, cruelly teasing Cleveland fans with hints of a return in the process. In Cleveland, he's now a sports villain frequently mentioned in the same breath as Art Modell. He went to the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html) for less money than he would have made in Cleveland, but there were motivators other than money. King James wanted a supporting cast which could help him win a ring, and the Cavs just didn't seem capable of providing it, though they tried. He won his ring two years later but, on turning down the opportunity to be the head honcho in order to go ring chasing, also turned down any comparisons to Jordan, Magic Johnson, or any other players who reached the top by being cornerstones to their teams his play will ever warrant.

Fans responded by burning LeBron James in effigy. Stores set the price of his jerseys to $17.41, which was the birth year of Benedict Arnold. Although Dan Gilbert tried to save face with a hotly-worded public letter to LeBron, he also embarrassed the team by guaranteeing the Cavaliers would win a title before LeBron did. To which people who are even half-awake in NBA matters all collectively replied "yeah, him and WHAT army?" LeBron and his new bigshot teammates, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, quickly showed how valuable LeBron was to Cleveland. After a slow start, Miami visited Cleveland, where LeBron was loudly booed and the Heat battered the Cavs and went on a tear, going to the Finals. The Cavaliers lost 63 games and tied the longest losing streak in all of professional sports when they went 26 games without winning even once. They won the draft lottery again and selected the 2012 Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving, but Irving will probably never be LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers suddenly look like a bottom feeder for the next few years.

LeBron James dominates the team records, but there's a surprising number of players besides him who dealt significant damage in Cleveland too. LeBron doesn't lead any of the rebounding categories or assist categories. While he does lead the Cavs in three-point attempts over the course of his time in Cleveland, the career Cavalier record for threes actually made belongs to Mark Price. LeBron does dominate a lot of the Cavaliers' history, though. He's the only player to have ever won an MVP award in Cleveland, one of only two to win Rookie of the Year (the other being Kyrie Irving last season), and the only one to have ever been the NBA's Player of the Month (which he won 15 different times during his tenure in Cleveland).

Besides LeBron James, many other great players have suited up for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Brad Daugherty is probably their greatest player outside of LeBron, and he was a five-time All-Star. 15 players overall have been All-Stars in Cleveland, including Shawn Kemp in 1998. Bingo Smith, Larry Nance, Mark Price, Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, and Brad Daugherty have all had their numbers retired by the team. We'll see if they can forgive LeBron to the extent needed to retire his old number.

Most of the great stories and history of the Cavaliers can be seen in the Daugherty and LeBron years. That's when most of the team's success took place, and even though The Shot was a loss, it was a big moment which revealed a lot about the team's character. And even bad history can mean great stories, and Ted Stepien, the losing streaks, and Dan Gilbert's letter are also memorable marks for the team. What they can't do, though, is lay claim to a lot of great rivalries. Certainly rivalries exist; they do with every team. But it seems like Cleveland's rivals are always the most concerned about teams other than Cleveland.

Being a willing Cleveland Cavaliers fan means having it tough for awhile. Generally, their average division finish seems to be fourth. Sometimes they'll get into the playoffs, sometimes not. Sometimes they're contenders, sometimes not. The sure thing can tell about the Cleveland Cavaliers is that when they're not good, they're just another team playing in a forgotten backwood.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-Cleveland_Cavaliers-562-1379357-228199-Not_All_LeBron_s_Fault.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-Cleveland_Cavaliers-562-1379357-228199-Not_All_LeBron_s_Fault.html Tue, 11 Sep 2012 16:49:33 +0000
<![CDATA[ Howling in Sorrow]]> http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Mi...-Skol_Good_Health_.html). Minnesota wasn't even thought of as a go-to basketball destination for a long time, at least not since the departure of the Minneapolis Lakers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...5-Walking_on_Water.html) in 1961. Until the 1987-1989 expansions, the place was barely even considered, and you can't blame the NBA for forgetting it. Back when the American Basketball Association was formed, Minnesota was given two teams, the Minnesota Muskies and the Minnesota Pipers, and they both lasted only a year.

After the Timberwolves were formed for the 1990 season, they named the team through one of those Name the Team contests. The two selected finalists for the name were the Polars and the Timberwolves, so all the voters went with the obvious Timberwolves choice by a margin of nearly two to one. The Wolves then began the season on the road in November 1989, losing to the Seattle Supersonics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Thunder_Rolls.html). Five days later, they made their home debut against the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html) and lost that too. They were a first-year expansion team, what do you really expect? The Wolves lost a lot, eventually concluding their first season with a record of 22-60. They did, however, manage to set an NBA record for attendance, drawing over a million fans that year in large part because their home stadium was the Metrodome, which is little more than an enormous cavern.

The following season, the Wolves moved into their ever-since home, the Target Center, and managed to improve to 29-53. They also blamed their poor standing on their coach, Bill Musselman, instead of on the fact that they were still an expansion team that hadn't yet gotten its feet underneath it yet. So Musselman of course got lopped, ex-Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) Jimmy Rodgers was installed, and former Detroit Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey was hired with the hopes the team would soon get itself together. Instead, the Wolves regressed and fell to a 15-67 record, worst in the league that year even with first-round selections like Christian Laettner and Isaiah Rider. Basically, the team was hoping McCloskey was recreate the era of the Bad Boy Pistons he had created in Detroit. How wrong they were.

After a near-sale to New Orleans in 1994 and a 21-61 finish in 1995 following the naming of Celtics legend Kevin McHale to general manager, in the 1995 draft the Timberwolves named Kevin Garnett as their first draft pick. They also named Flip Saunders head coach, and traded for Andrew Lang and Spud Webb with the Atlanta Hawks. Garnett was to be the team's go-to guy on the inside, but his career, for everything Garnett became, started off slow. Garnett averaged a mere 10.4 points per game as a rookie, and by some accounts the trade for Stephen Marbury in 1996 made a bigger impact initially. Garnett and Marbury played well together and became two of the league's fastest-rising stars as Kevin Garnett turned into KEVIN GARNETT and Marbury scored 17.7 points and 8.6 assists per game. They slowly began winning during this era, at least until the playoffs, where a first-round meeting with the Minnesota Timberwolves was a guaranteed ticket to the second round.

In 1998, the Timberwolves decided that Kevin Garnett was gonna be their guy. Now nicknamed The Franchise, the Wolves decided to splurge a little, following their good luck over the previous couple of seasons, and they did that by signing Garnett to a six-year contract worth $126 million. And seeing as how the 1998-1999 NBA season was largely wiped out by a strike and reduced to a mere 50 games, the Wolves then became the poster child of irresponsible spending. They also wanted to sign Marbury to a good long-term contract, but Marbury wanted a chance to be the head honcho somewhere else, so he refused a contract extension and basically forced a trade. Joke was on him, though, as he got sent to the New Jersey Nets.

In 2000, guard Malik Sealy was killed in a car accident, and his number was retired. Another event that happened that year was that the NBA voided a contract free agent Joe Smith signed with the team, because the team had violated proper procedure in the signing. The league punished them by stripping them of five first-round draft picks, but eventually rescinded just enough to reduce that to three picks. The team was also fined and Kevin McHale was suspended. In spite of all that, Garnett was his usual awesome self and the Timberwolves made the playoffs again, only to be eliminated in the first round again, this time by the San Antonio Spurs. In 2003, they made a couple of very strong moves: Trading Joe Smith and guard Terrell Brandon for Ervin Johnson, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell. During the 2004 season, the Timberwolves emerged as the team to beat, people started taking notice, and Garnett was given the MVP award. The Timberwolves went 58-24, were the top seed in the Western Conference, and finally got past the first round for once, beating the Denver Nuggets and Sacremento Kings before failing in the Western Conference Finals to the previous team from Minnesota, the domineering, all-powerful Lakers.

The Wolves missed the playoffs the next year despite hanging on to most of the players from their Western Conference Finals appearance the previous season and decided it might be in their best interests to get a new coach. Eventually they brought Dwayne Casey aboard, but they only kept him for a couple of years due to inconsistency. He was out by January of 2007. He wasn't the team's biggest casualty that year, though.

You might have noticed that I've been name-dropping Kevin Garnett a lot. If you're a fan of the NBA, you already know why. If you're an aspiring basketball fan or just a person reading because you're interested in my criticism, understand that the Minnesota Timberwolves are a very young team and, in their short existence, Garnett is the only player who had a long, defining career as a Timberwolf so far. The man was (is) a superstar; there's no mistake about that. He was a league MVP, which is no easy task in the NBA. It had to be rough on Garnett after the 2004 season, because after a dream year like that, it was reasonable for Garnett to have expectations for greater things. The 2005 season, when the Wolves went 44-38, might have come off like an abberation or hangover at first, but Cassell was traded and Sprewell turned down a contract extension. So at that point, Garnett began thinking the magical 2004 season wasn't a springboard to greater heights, but the very apex of what he would ever achieve with Minnesota. And when Casey was fired, that only confirmed it, and Garnett had been around for twelve years at that point, so he couldn't stick around and wait for greatness again as the team rebuilt. He wanted out. The Boston Celtics were happy to get him out, giving up a total of seven players - including two future first-round draft picks - for him and him alone. In the 2008 season, Garnett was a Celtic, teaming up with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and winning his ring with a very jubilant Bill Russell in attendance.

The story for Minnesota since then has been losing, back to the old way. During one terrible two-year stretch, they compiled a record of 32-132. They have an up-and-coming player named Kevin Love who's looking like a great centerpiece, but the Timberwolves just can't seem to right the ship.

I've mentioned Kevin Garnett a lot in this story, but that's - again - only because he IS the story. No Kevin Garnett, no playoffs for the Wolves, who seem to perpetually be in the first year of their annual five-year rebuilding plan. Only five players from the Minnesota Timberwolves have received All-Star invitations. None of them have been Rookies of the Year, although seven have made the NBA Rookie First Team. (Even Garnett wasn't a Rookie of the Year!) The Wolves are now on their tenth head coach. Only one of their coaches, Flip Saunders, has a winning record with the team, and he's also the only coach who ever got the Timberwolves into the playoffs. He compiled an overall record of 411-326. After him, the majority of these coaches have records that are not only bad, but downright putrid: Kurt Rambis was the 32-132 guy. Randy Wittmen went 38-105. Jimmy Rodgers was 21-90. Kevin McHale and Dwayne Casey are the only coaches who really were even able to so much as approach success, McHale going 39-55 and Casey 53-65.

There's no way to give these guys style points, even. They're not mentioned in a lot of conversations about classic games or memorable series. They're just not very memorable.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Minnesota_Timberwolves-562-1388085-228043-Howling_in_Sorrow.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Minnesota_Timberwolves-562-1388085-228043-Howling_in_Sorrow.html Mon, 3 Sep 2012 15:24:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ Walking on Water]]> http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Gr...merica_s_REAL_Team.html) are four titles in front of their closest rivals, the nine-time champion Chicago Bears (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...218883-Da_Monsters.html) and eight-time champion New York Giants (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ne...at_Giants_They_Are.html). As for Major League Baseball, come on! You have the 27-time champion New York Yankees (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/baseball_team/U...to_Wear_the_Iconic.html) lording over absolutely everyone else for miles. The only other team in the league with a double-digit number of World Series titles is the Saint Louis Cardinals (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...e_Good_in_Baseball.html) who only won their tenth title in 2006 and their eleventh last year.

In the NBA, the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) would seem to have everyone else begging for mercy with their 17 titles. But the Celtics are actually feared by precisely no one right now. True, they've won more titles than any other team, but the Los Angeles Lakers could definitely give them a hell of a run. The Lakers are one of the oldest and most storied teams in the NBA. They were formed way back when the NBA was two separate leagues, the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League. The NBA considers the BAA its official forerunner, though, so the NBA's official record has a bad habit of simply erasing the one title the Lakers won in 1948, before the two leagues merged. If the NBA would let them keep that one title, the Lakers would have 17 titles on the record themselves. As it goes, however, they unfairly have to settle for being behind Boston by one for the moment. Although, with Boston slipping more and more lately and the Lakers always excelling, it might not be long before the Lakers hold the lead in titles themselves. They also have 31 conference titles to add, which means there are 14 other times the Lakers went to the Finals and lost.

The Lakers actually don't have quite as long an existence in the NBL as one might assume. They were formed in 1947 as the Minneapolis Lakers when a couple of businessmen decided to buy a recently disbanded team called the Detroit Gems, another NBL team; rather, they bought the equipment since, with the Gems looking like they were out forever, the players had all been distributed to other teams by then. Then they moved the team to Minneapolis and, inspired by the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" nickname the state of Minnesota goes by, gave them the new name Lakers. They spent their first days balling at the Minneapolis Auditorium and Minneapolis Armory. Since the Gems had the worst record in the league, the Lakers had the first pick in the dispersal draft, which they used on George Mikan, the most dominant center of the time. Mikan led the team to the NBL title in their first season, switching to the BAA the following year and winning the title there too! The next year brought the merger, and the Lakers won it all again! That initial title streak was finally stopped by the Rochester Royals in 1951.

Those oldest Laker teams featured Mikan and Jim Pollard, Slater Martin, and Clyde Lovellette, and all those guys are in the Hall of Fame. You would think a team with that many players would be great fun and exciting, but see, the thing is, back then the sport of basketball didn't have a shot clock. As a result, a game could randomly turn into a big, boring game of keep away. That's what happened on November 22, 1950, when the Lakers lost the lowest-scoring game in NBA history to the Fort Wayne Pistons by a score of 19-18. That game was later a factor in the shot clock's creation, and unfortunately for the Lakers, when the shot clock was created in 1954, they had two things going against them: One was George Mikan's retirement. The other was the fact that they suddenly had to adjust to a whole new method of playing basketball that no one was used to. The Lakers got so bad, they coaxed Mikan out of retirement for the 1956 season. His play wasn't up to his old standards, so he re-retired halfway through, but the Lakers went to the playoffs anyway, so it wasn't all bad. They were booted from the first round by the Saint Louis Hawks. Without Mikan, the Lakers experienced the very same results the next year.

Mikan was always the face of the Lakers by that time, though, and so the team, in need of a calling card, decided to un-retire him yet again, this time to coach. To say something nice about that experiment, Mikan was a shitty, shitty coach. After going 9-30 for the 1958 season, Mikan quit for good, leaving the team with the original coach, John Kundla. The schedule expanded, but the Lakers were all of 19-53 for last in the league, and you know what that means - first draft pick! With the first pick, they chose Elgin Baylor, the first of many all-time greats to don the purple and gold in the shot clock era. In 1959, Baylor led the Lakers over the Hawks, finally taking them into the Finals, where the first major confrontation of their long rivalry with the Boston Celtics was created when the Celts beat them in four straight. The Lakers proceeded to lose to Boston in the 1962, 1963, 1965, and 1966 Finals as well, always the victim of the Red Auerbach dynasty that won eight in a row.

Mikan being a team face, attendance started dropping after he hung up his sneakers. The team was almost sold to investors in Kansas City and moved there before Bob Short bought the team and kept it in Minneapolis. He wasn't able to find a way to cure the team's financial ills, though, and when baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...ers_of_Los_Angeles.html) moved to Los Angeles and became a big time Hollywood success story, Short was well aware of it. Since it was basketball in 1961, no one in Minnesota made any effort to keep them. They decided to hold on to their now-nonsensical name. The move wasn't the only change the team made, either. They also hired a new announcer in Chick Hearn, who held the post for 41 years; a new coach in Fred Schaus; and a new point guard in Jerry West. For those who don't know, the player likeness silhouetted in the NBA's official logo is Jerry West. They don't do things like that for bench players. For the next four years, both West and Baylor finished among the league's top ten in scoring. They kept bringing the Lakers to the Finals, only to see them lose to the Celtics.

With Baylor aging, the team made a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html) for Wilt Chamberlain in order to counter their mighty center, Bill Russell. They went to the Finals in 1969, faced the Celtics, and were considered the better team by a considerable margin. They still lost. They went back to the Finals in 1970, and for the first time, it looked like they had an advantage in not having to face Boston again. No, this time they played against the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html)! They… Lost. Again. They faced the Milwaukee Bucks in the following Finals and lost to them, too. For those keeping count at home, that made eight Finals losses in ten years. The other two years account for years the Lakers didn't get that far.

Nine games into the 1972 season, Baylor finally accepted the fact that he was too battered and bruised to get any further and help his team. He retired. That turned out to be a case of monumentally bad timing, because the evening of his retirement, the Lakers immediately began a run of 33 straight wins, the longest winning streak of any professional sport in the United States. They went on to win an outlandish 69 games, a record which stood until the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html) broke it over two decades later. Los Angeles led the league in scoring, rebounds, and assists, went to the Finals, faced the Knicks again, and finally beat their Finals hiccups to claim their first title since 1954, their first title as the Los Angeles Lakers.

Baylor, sadly, was only a very small part of that title. The Lakers returned to the Finals in 1973, but the ravages of age were catching up to Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, and the team fell. Chamberlain retired after that and West only stuck around for one more year, and the Lakers hit the bottom. In the meantime, the Bucks had this really awesome center named Lew Alcindor, who had led the Bucks to their first (and to this date, still their only) title. He changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar upon his conversion to Islam, something he did for cultural purposes - his family was brought to the US by slaveowners named Alcindor, and they had been Muslims. He never said said anything bad about the city of Milwaukee or its people, but he did believe it couldn't meet his cultural needs, so he needed out and would only accept a trade to the Lakers or Knicks. The Bucks obliged, although they didn't get much in return. That tends to happen when the only teams you can trade with don't have anyone all that awesome.

With Kareem as the new center, the Lakers spent the rest of the 70's middling. They did well, but were never a real threat. The most memorable moment to the team was when Houston Rockets player Rudy Tomjanovich ran on court to break up a fight between Laker Kermit Washington and Rocket Kevin Kunnert. Washington saw Tomjanovich running at him out of the corner of his eye and instinctively thought he was running out to attack, at which point he clocked Tomjanovich, who needed a lot of reconstructive surgery. In 1979, the Lakers managed the first pick of the draft, and they used it on a Michigan State player who had just won the NCAA Championship. That player, Earvin Johnson, went by the nickname "Magic" and was expected to help Kareem carry the team. After what felt like a thousand years of Finals frustration and all those conference titles culminating in just one title since the old Minneapolis days, Showtime had now begun in LA!

Kareem and Magic led a solid core of athletic, talented players like Bob McAdoo, Norm Nixon, James Worthy, and Byron Scott. From 1980 to 1989, the Lakers won eight conference titles. In 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988, those conference titles were followed by NBA Titles. In 1984, 1985, and 1987, they also came face-to-face with their old Finals foes, the Celtics. Although the Big Three Celtics were led by Larry Bird, the Lakers took the title in 1985 and 1987. Magic/Bird became one of the great player rivalries in league history. The two of them were always pushed to greater heights by each other, and their one-upmanship fights created an entire base of new NBA fans which helped the league - which was cash-strapped as recently as 1980 - begin to thrive the way it does today.

1988 was the beginning of the end for the Showtime Lakers, even though they won the Finals against the Detroit Pistons that year. The Lakers returned to the Finals the following year, but with age overtaking a lot of the core players, they lost the Finals to the very physical and brutal Pistons team they had beaten a year earlier. Showtime's final swan song was in 1991. They went to the Finals again and cleanly overmatched by a younger, up-and-coming dynasty which went on to dominate the 90's: The Chicago Bulls. The following year, Magic Johnson came out and announced that he had been diagnosed with HIV. Back then, HIV and AIDS were different. No one knew about them, and no one talked about them, and people who had them were treated like pariahs. Magic became the face of HIV, and being one of the league's classiest players, made it his mission to educate everyone he could about the virus. They said he would be gone within a few years, but Magic is fortunately still with us even after 20 years. Back then, though, the lack of education forced him into retirement, thus closing the Showtime era.

The 90's were a nondescript period for the Lakers. With them gone, the Western Conference vied and jockeyed itself over who would earn the right to go to the Finals and get killed by the Bulls in most years. Save a yearlong comeback from Magic, the Lakers were relegated to the same back of mind as the Celtics: Teams who had lost to them a lot in the past were abusing them. Relief came in 1996 when they traded Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...hese_Hornets_Sting.html) for their first round draft pick, a Pennsylvania high school senior named Kobe Bryant. They also added center Shaquille O'Neal, a free agent coming off a powerful stint with the Orlando Magic (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-Oh_oh_it_s_Magic_.html) and Derek Fisher from the draft. A year later, Robert Horry was brought in by trade from the Phoenix Suns. The next year, Rick Fox in a trade with Boston. The talent kept coming, and to make it really click, the 2000 season brought in the entrance of coach Phil Jackson, fresh off six titles with the Chicago Bulls and already one of the greatest coaches in NBA history!

Beginning in 2000, the Lakers won three titles in a row against the Indiana Pacers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use..._in_Middle_America.html), Philadelphia 76ers, and New Jersey Nets respectively. For the 2004 season they signed Gary Payton and Karl Malone, on their farewell tours and looking for their final chances at rings, being victims of Michael and the Jordanaires during their best days. The Lakers were outwardly looking for a title that year, and assembled that team for the sole purpose of winning one. They came close too, going to the Finals before falling to a Detroit Pistons team which surprised everyone. Detroit had no talent that year at all, except for coach Larry Brown. Jackson retired after that, but un-retired a year later.

Shaq and Kobe got into a nasty spat later, which resulted in Shaq's departure to the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html) where he won his fourth ring. The Lakers muddled for a bit mostly because no one was sure about Kobe Bryant, whose image had taken some dire hits for a sexual harassment lawsuit which was eventually dropped because the woman turned out to be making it up. It seemed like there was a new report on how pissed off he was every other day, and there was always speculation on what team he would depart for as a free agent or be traded to. Kobe apparently learned from all that, though, because he emerged a much stronger and more level-headed leader. In 2008 the team was back in the Finals, where they renewed their rivalry with Boston again, and lost to them again. But they returned the next two years, playing against Orlando in 2009 and Boston again in 2010, winning both matches. And Kobe has become the player everyone hoped he could be.

I've accused the Celtics and Heat of being the Yankees of basketball, the former by virtue of titles and the latter by virtue of talent acquisition. It's the Los Angeles Lakers who fit the bill of the basketball Yankees over anyone else, though, because they have both. Besides Kobe, they spent this past offseason grabbing Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. In 2004, they tried the same approach with Payton and Malone. Nash and Howard still have gas in the tank, though, so it could work this time.

Besides, look at the list of names that have graced the Lakers: James Worthy, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson. That's a damn good all-time roster they have, and those names don't even begin to scratch it. They're the most valuable team in the NBA, and the most offensively spectacular - they've made their name on flash and glitz and glamour. Celebrities agree, and the Lakers are the chosen team of the rich, famous, and fabulous of Hollywood. Jack goddamn Nicholson is on the sideline every game, and he seems to be the guy who sums up Laker fandom more than anyone. The Lakers have had a million fantastic, talented, exciting All-Star players and all-NBA teamers.

The Lakers rivalry with Boston is one-sided. The Lakers have lost all but three Finals appearances against the Celtics. Currently, they're undergoing a surge of new rivalries against the powerful San Antonio Spurs, as well as the Suns, their two main divisional rivals. The Celtics rivalry is a lot fun and makes for great theater, though, because these two teams have won half of the total NBA Championships given out.

I personally hate these guys. Yes, I'm a diehard Yankees fan, but that's a legitimate territorial claim that even I find bemusing. There's no excusing the Yankee-like way they take the league's talent and crush all comers, which is why the Boston Celtics are seen as such an antidote. Like the Yankees, they're a worldwide corporation that seems to want to own everyone and everything. They're insufferably corporate. But, like the Yankees, the history and stories are amazing, and I rate them highly because of them. The colors of the Los Angeles Lakers are purple and gold, which are the colors traditionally associated with royalty. And the Lakers are most definitely royalty.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Los_Angeles_Lakers-562-1388104-227875-Walking_on_Water.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Los_Angeles_Lakers-562-1388104-227875-Walking_on_Water.html Tue, 28 Aug 2012 20:21:55 +0000
<![CDATA[ Oh, oh, it's Magic!]]>
The Magic entered the league with three other teams: The Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html), and Charlotte Hornets (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...hese_Hornets_Sting.html). Originally the league wanted to expand by three teams, and put only one team in Florida. But when your city's future livelihood is riding on the line, you're going to morph into Super Salesman and pitch your ass off. After seeing impressive pitches from both Miami and Orlando, David Stern's heart grew a few sizes and he asked himself, hey, why not? Neither of these cities deserves to be deprived of a team! Stern's instinct proved to be dead-on. They procured a two-time champion which was a runner-up once and a two-time runner-up, so it was a major win for the NBA.

The Orlando Sentinel newspaper let readers submit entries for the team name, and of over 4000 original entrants, the list of names narrowed to the short list included all crap: The Tropics (ick), Heat (!), Juice (What! The! FUCK!), and Magic. Clearly the winner was decided right off the bat there. The team was the first major league sports team in Orlando, and they're still the only one there. Former Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html) general manager Pat Williams was hired to collect the actual team, while Matt Guokas was hired to coach. It's first-ever draft pick was Nick Anderson, the eleventh pick of the first round.

I don't have to mention the expansion growth pains, now do I? Suffice it to say their first three seasons in existence were all write-offs. They progressed between seasons one and two only to regress between the second and third seasons, which put them into the lottery and eventually won them the first pick. The big prize in the draft that year was the biggest draft prize since the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) took the first-ever draft lottery prize, Patrick Ewing, in 1985. This year, the prize was big both literally and figuratively. From Louisiana State University came rumbling out The Diesel, Shaquille O'Neal! And he was every bit as good as the experts projected, leading the Magic to a sudden turnaround which saw them going 41-41 in only their fourth season. He was the first All-Star rookie starter since Michael Jordan and the Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, even though there are times when a 41-41 record is actually good enough for one of the lower playoff seeds, the Magic's record was tied with the Indiana Pacers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use..._in_Middle_America.html) and the Pacers held the tiebreaker.

In 1993, the Magic then found Chris Webber in the draft. Joke's on them, right? Well, not really. The joke was more on the Golden State Warriors, who traded their number three pick, Penny Hardaway, and three future first-rounders for Webber. Who do you think got the better of that deal? Well, Golden State is all but forgotten despite being one of the older teams in the league. The Magic went to the Finals twice. The first time was in 1995, led by Shaq and Penny, and they managed to avoid becoming victims of Michael and the Jordanaires! Of course, that was only by merit of the fact that their opponents were the Houston Rockets, who swept the Magic in four games. After that, the Magic contended for a couple more years, but Shaq eventually left in free agency for the Los Angeles Lakers, Championship glory, and big-time superstardom as a rapper, actor, and video game producer. He would go on to show an incredible versatility of talents in all those mediums. Excuse me for a moment while I go give a bear hug to an actual bear.

Hardaway became the team leader, but was gone in 1999 when he was traded to the Phoenix Suns. By now, the Magic were a bunch of players no one ever heard of, coached by a first-time coach. Somehow they made it to another 41-41 record. The coach, Doc Rivers, went on to greater success as coach of the Big Three Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) while one of the players, Ben Wallace, became known for his persistent defense and later found a spot on a Champion Detroit Pistons team. The Magic dived into free agency, seeking one of three coveted players: Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, and Tracy McGrady. Duncan stayed with the San Antonio Spurs, with whom he had won a title. The other two went to Orlando. They did pick up another Rookie of the Year in Mike Miller and go to the playoffs, but were thrown out of the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks.

They followed up with several years of modestly good records, but never did any real damage until 2004, when they did absolutely no damage whatsoever. Their general manager was replaced, and the new guy dismantled the team, even getting rid of McGrady because he thought McGrady was slacking off. And with the number one pick in 2004, the Magic got Dwight Howard from the draft. In the 2005 season the Magic started fast but faltered during the playoff push because of injuries. But with Howard, they were dangerous, and Howard led the team on a series of 50-win seasons, culminating in their second-ever appearance in the Finals in 2009. They lost to the Lakers.

Since then, the Magic have still done well, but Dwight Howard wasn't happy. He demanded a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, rescinded the demand, demanded the coach be replaced, and the team struggled. Just this month, a four-team trade was completed which sent Howard to the Lakers, thus giving basketball's Other Yankees even more firepower. Howard was the team's all-time leading scorer, shot-blocker, and rebounder, which means the team is now rebuilding again.

Chuck Daly, who coached the Bad Boy Pistons on the 80's, coached the Magic from 1997 to 1999, and the team retired number six in honor of their sixth man, meaning their fans. Wonderful gestures. They've only had two Hall of Famers in Dominique Wilkins and Patrick Ewing, both of whom made their names with other teams. But in fairness to the Magic, that could be partially because the real name players for the team haven't been retired for all that long, if they're even retired now in the first place.

It seems like the Magic are always on the lookout for the best young talent. A whopping seven of their rookies have made the NBA's Rookie First Team, including Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway, and Dwight Howard. Those are just the name players who were selected. Another four have made the NBA Rookie Second Team - Stanley Roberts, Michael Doleac, Chucky Atkins, and Jameer Nelson. From that alone, you can tell the Orlando Magic are the kind of team you pick up if you enjoy mentally preparing to hate your favorite players for the times they are inevitably signed by the Lakers.

Still though, they must be doing something right. After all, they've been very successful, and they're barely off the ground floor. I have a feeling they're going to win that title someday, when they figure out that it will probably help to keep their young talent instead of give it all to Los Angeles, where they'll have to face it again in the Finals.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Orlando_Magic-562-1388076-227831-Oh_oh_it_s_Magic_.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Orlando_Magic-562-1388076-227831-Oh_oh_it_s_Magic_.html Sun, 26 Aug 2012 19:10:23 +0000
<![CDATA[ These Hornets Sting]]> http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...lipped_and_Trimmed.html) before they shuttled off to Utah, where they kept their suddenly ill-fitting name and made their permanent home. And even when New Orleans finally got a new team - which, for the record, has already outlasted the Jazz - they had to life one from a less appreciative home.

As an NBA city, the newly-bustling metropolis of Charlotte, North Carolina makes all the sense in the world. After all, North Carolina itself is probably the primary hotbed of college basketball. The rivalry between the Blue Devils of Duke University and the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina is one of the biggest and most fiercely contested in the country, after all. Every year, it headlines, and it is frequently cited as the very best of any sports rivalry in the country - better than the New York Yankees (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/baseball_team/U...to_Wear_the_Iconic.html)/Boston Red Sox (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/actor/UserRevie...ly_Into_Dead_Sucks.html) rivalry (which is overrated anyway); better than the college football rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State. North Carolina State and Wake Forest are also very good, and they usually add another dimension. So, hell, North Carolina needed a good NBA team in the area to tap the thriving basketball market and up the ante a little bit. In 1988, an entrepreneur named George Shinn finally got that idea.

The Hornets were part of the 1988 expansions, along with the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html). Some people were critical of this move, with one columnist from the Sacramento Bee joking the only franchise Charlotte could ever get was one with golden arches. While they made jokes, however, Shinn was making arenas. Specifically, he made the Charlotte Coliseum, a 24,000-seat behemoth which was the largest basketball-specific arena in the country at the time. The team was originally going to be called the Charlotte Spirit, but they held a name-the-team contest, and Hornets was propelled into the winners' choice circle. They were also the first pro team to choose teal as a primary color, setting off a fashion craze which other teams later followed suit. They also signed a bunch of veterans instead of going the usual route and trying to build with a young core, hoping to compete immediately.

Ex-Pistons guard Kelly Tripucka led the team through its inaugural season. Rex Chapman was their first-ever draft choice. Muggsy Bogues was another mainstay; he was noteworthy for being the shortest player in NBA history at 5'3". Ultimately, their immediacy strategy didn't work. The Hornets went 20-63, and followed that with a 19-64 record the next season. It took until 1992 for them to find a face in Alonzo Mourning, and he finally led them to the playoffs in the 1993 season, where he also led them to an upset over the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html). Mourning wasn't around for very long, though; he was traded to Miami in 1994 for Glen Rice, Matt Geiger, and Khalid Reeves. Rice and Geiger proved to be good acquisitions; Rice scored a lot and Geiger rebounded a lot.

In 1996, the Hornets made a very costly mistake: They traded their first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac. Divac played in Charlotte for two years. The pick they sent to Los Angeles has been there now for 17 years, playing a very key role on three Championship teams and being the very centerpiece of two others. Would-be Hornet Kobe Bryant is a lock for the Hall of Fame and a retired number as a Laker.

Despite that, the team started to collect itself in the late 90's, going to a pair of 50-win seasons, which are pretty much automatic for the playoffs. They were stopped respectively by the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) and Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html) in those years. The strike season had them winning 26 of 50 games, not enough for playoffs, but almost every team was out of shape that year. Baron Davis emerged in the 2000 season, taking the Hornets back to the playoffs, only to lose to the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html). But their good on-court performance was overshadowed by things happening off the court. Fan discontent was setting in because Shinn was a cheapskate. Also, North Carolina native Michael Jordan was negotiating to become a part-owner of the team. While the team performed well, got back to the playoffs, and made it to the semi-finals a couple of times, the fans smelled something fishy in the air and responded by not going to the games. When attendance bottomed out, the NBA approved a move for 2003, with a promise that Charlotte would get a new team within a couple of years. As promised, the Bobcats (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...y_Without_Point_or.html) were formed a couple of years later.

In their first-ever home game as the New Orleans Hornets, the team paid its respects to what little history the Jazz had by retiring Pete Maravich's number. Despite making the playoffs, the team then fired coach Paul Silas, apparently thinking that he had done everything he could for them. They also got David West in the draft, who became an All-Star. But the Hornets started slipping, so they began a designed implosion following the 2004 season and posted their worst-ever record - 18-64 - a couple of years later without their stars.

2005. Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters in the country's history. A businessman had to make a real push for it, but he managed to convince the NBA brass that Oklahoma City was starting to boom, and they deserved a team. David Stern decided what the hell, there's nothing to lose by giving it a shot, and the Hornets played 36 games in Oklahoma City, just to see if a team could work there. The Hornets were embraced, and the whole time there, they were officially called the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, or NOOCH for short. Not only did the Hornets have a place to play, but Oklahoma City proved itself to the league, and the Seattle Sonics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Thunder_Rolls.html) were later moved there.

The Hornets generally been doing well since Katrina, but Shinn is no longer in a position financially stable enough to keep running the team. The fans recently had to create a fundraising ticket buyout to block an escape clause in the Hornets' lease which would have let them walk away due to low attendance. The product is middling, and the team's future isn't exactly certain right now. The NBA had to buy them out, then they were bought by Tom Benson, who owns the New Orleans Saints (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/product/UserRev...16238-Geaux_Saints.html).

If there's one thing the Hornets have done well over their history, it's trade their biggest and brightest. Alonzo Mourning and Kobe Bryant are the worst. They've also gotten rid of Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, Larry Johnson, Dell Curry, Glen Rice, Bob Bass and Baron Davis. Letting guys like them go after they've been discovered as role players or stars results in them never having a real player/team association, and that's important because fans want to see players in the long term who they can identify with or who can excite them. It's no coincidence that the Hornets' only retired numbers are Pete Maravich (Jazz era) and Bobby Phills (because he was tragically killed in a car accident). It's also no accident that they've never been beyond the second playoff round.

If they had held on to some of their biggest names, the Hornets could have really contended some years. They have probably the best on-paper roster that kept getting rid of its talent, for whatever that's worth. They have a slew of great moments and games under their belts, but they don't stand up among the great NBA moments.

Still, it's hard to argue about a team that the people of New Orleans sought comfort in during the Katrina days. For being such a nonentity, they've been embraced, and it's because of them that a whole city they didn't play in was able to prove their worth as an NBA city. Perhaps more teams should start barnstorming to get accurate market measurements. That gives them a bit of a reprieve.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-New_Orleans_Hornets-562-1388079-227743-These_Hornets_Sting.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-New_Orleans_Hornets-562-1388079-227743-These_Hornets_Sting.html Tue, 21 Aug 2012 16:39:20 +0000
<![CDATA[ Keeping Pace in Middle America]]>
In the beginning, the pace was decidedly a very fast one for the team. Of the nine championship series in the history of the ABA, the Indiana Pacers played in five of them, winning three. All of them happened before the final year of the ABA, when the league had only seven teams left halfway through the season and the whole league abandoned divisional play. Of their players' individual accomplishments, George McGinnis led the ABA in scoring once. Mel Daniels led the league in rebounding three times, twice with the Pacers. Don Buse led the ABA in assists once and steals once. By the time the merger was complete, the Indiana Pacers were the most successful team in the short history of the American Basketball Association.

Starting in the 1977 season, the Pacers - along with the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, and San Antonio Spurs - were one of the four holdovers from the ABA days. Unfortunately, the NBA was doing its best to keep its invaders in their places, which meant the Pacers had to suffer. Financially, the Pacers were easily the weakest of the holdovers, and the only reason they even made the NBA cuts in the first place was because the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html) held the rights to Artis Gilmore, the star player for the team that was supposed to be taken ahead of the Pacers, the Kentucky Colonels. If the Colonels had been allowed into the NBA, they wouldn't have dissipated, and they would have kept him, and dammit, the Bulls really, really needed him! Had they been included, the Bulls never would have allowed the merger, and since the NBA hated the idea of competing with a cooler league, it relented.

The local pricks running the NBA needed some hefty financial restitution from the teams that wanted in, and so local investors had to kick up $100,000 for the Pacers to even stay in business. Between the NBA's franchise fees, the fact that they had to compensate the other teams that didn't survive the merger, and the fact that the NBA forbade them from sharing in the TV revenues for four years, the Pacers were broke. Since cash rules everything around, the team sucked, and their first NBA campaign with a record of 36-46, but Billy Knight and Don Buse were bright spots, both receiving All-Star invitations.

For the next few years, the Pacers lacked continuity. Or an audience. They resorted to fancy stunts to get attention. At one point, they invited a women's basketball star to try out for the team. Ann Meyers is currently still the only woman to ever try out for an NBA team, but needless to say, she didn't make the final squad. In the 80's looking to finally be as competitive as they once were in the ABA, the Pacers went in for two major trades. Both of them turned out to be among the more one-sided trades in the league. The other thing they both have in common is that neither of them benefitted the Pacers. In 1980, they traded Alex English to the Nuggets to win a bit of approval by picking up an old favorite in George McGinnis. McGinnis was long past his best years by then, and he didn't do a whole lot during his two-year rerun in Indiana. English became one of the greatest scorers in the league. The next year, they traded a first-round draft pick to the Portland Trail Blazers. It was a draft pick for a couple of years in the future, though, so the Pacers didn't worry too much when the player they received in return, Tom Owens, only got to stay in Indiana for a year. Unfortunately, the pick they gave up was for the draft in 1984. In the 1984 season, the Pacers had finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. Had they kept the pick, they would have been second. And, well, we all know just what Portland did with it. And what happened one pick later. The Indiana Pacers wouldn't have been that stupid. That mistake might have allowed them into consistent playoff contention a bit earlier had they not made it, but as it happens, the Pacers would have to wait until 1986 to make the playoffs for the second time, the first being in 1981 and ending in a first round sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html).

In 1987, the Pacers drafted probably the best player in their history, Reggie Miller. Even though he started as a backup to another player, John Long, he had established himself as Indiana's greatest scoring threat by 1992. In 1989, they made a trade that paid off in spades when they sent Herb Williams to the Dallas Mavericks for future Sixth Man of the Year Detlef Schrempf. The next year, they made their third playoff appearance, but got swept by the Detroit Pistons, who went on to win their second consecutive title that year.

The ear;y 90's saw the Pacers being a strictly middling team, good enough to make the playoffs but not quite good enough to mount a credible, serious threat. First round exists were very common, two to the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) and one to the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) before their 1994 playoff appearance, where they finally beat those first round hiccups, as well as the Orlando Magic. In the next round, they pulled off one of the great upsets by upending the top-seeded team, the Atlanta Hawks. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the national scene finally took note of the Hoosier Pacers from lil' ol' basketballville, Indiana. Miller created his name because he kept rising up whenever his team needed him in the playoffs. Also because he famously made the choke sign at Knicks fans at the same time he was leading the Pacers to a comeback victory in game five with the series tied at two. The Pacers won that game, but the Knicks roared back during the next two games and won the conference. Miller, though, became an overnight superstar.

In 1994, Larry Brown was hired to coach, and by 1995, the Pacers were finally playing at their ABA levels once again. They went 52-30 and won the division. In the playoffs that year, they blew past Atlanta, and at one point in a series against their least favorite tormentors, the Knicks, Miller put eight points on the board in eight seconds in a Pacers victory. They pushed past New York but fell to Orlando in the Conference Finals, with the same result the next year. That was 1996, the year of the Bulls and their incredible 72-10 regular season record. Well, the Pacers were damn good too, being the only team to beat Chicago twice in the regular season, but Atlanta booted them from the playoffs. Larry Brown stepped down after the 1997 season (he tends to do that), but in 1998 they were back in the Eastern Conference Finals, against Chicago, where they played another epic series. Again, they lost. It wasn't until 2000 when they were finally able to overcome that last hump and punch their ticket to their first-ever NBA Finals. In game five, the Pacers handed their opponents, the Los Angeles Lakers, the worst loss in their playoff history at the time, a 33-point difference. Too bad they were only able to win two games in the Finals, which is of course two games short of the four games necessary to procure a series victory.

The Pacers remained dangerous right until 2005, when Reggie Miller hung up his cleats. Despite being a Pacers legend, he was forced into retirement without ever reaching championship glory, yet another victim of Michael and the Jordanaires. The Pacers fell into the doldrums for the next several years, but were back in the playoffs by 2011, and they returned in 2012.

Indiana is hoop central. As I mentioned, it's a mystery why it took so long to get a team there. The fans of the Pacers are known to be some of the most devoted and knowledgeable in the league.

Reggie Miller is once and forever the face of the team. His ability to rise up whenever it was needed launched him into superstardom, but his making the choking sign at Knicks fans also helped him get spotted. His little feud with film director Spike Lee also got him noticed. Miller and Lee got into a very heated insult exchange during one memorable game, but it was probably just the heat and intensity of the moment sweeping the two of them up. The two of them seem to have left the whole incident behind them. Hell, soon after it happened, they both showed up in a television commercial which parodied the entire incident! One of the other really well-known players for the Pacers was Metta World Peace, a raging psycho who is always in constant danger of unexpectedly taking out himself and half the room with a large knife. (Yes, I know his given name was Ron Artest. But he did change it legally. If he wants to be Metta World Peace, it's time to get over our obsession with trying to keep pretending he's still Ron Artest.) World Peace is one of my favorite athletes today. He once attended practice in a bathrobe, applied for a job at Circuit City just for the employee discount, and drank cognac in the locker room at the half. Yet, he also has a bit of a philanthropist side. He promotes control of the pet population and is an advocate for mental health issues, which shouldn't be a surprise.

The Pacers share a feisty rivalry with the nearby Detroit Pistons. This rivalry has had a share of moments, but one truly stands above all: The infamous Malice at the Palace incident from 2004. The two teams had met in the Eastern Conference Finals earlier that year, and the Pistons won en route to claiming the NBA Championship. Being a new fight between the defending champions and the best team in the Eastern Conference, this game got a metric shitload of hype and was televised nationally. With 45 seconds left in the game, Indiana had a safe 97-82 lead in a defensive, hard-fought game. Pistons player Ben Wallace was fouled hard from behind by Metta World Peace (still Ron Artest back then), during a lay-up, to which Wallace calmly, rationally responded by shoving him back. It started a fight between both teams, during which World Peace grabbed a nearby mic from the scorers' table, which was off because everyone was counting on World Peace to say something outrageous and explicit. From the vantage point, World Peace appeared to be giving an interview, to which Wallace responded by throwing his armband at him. A spectator decided that wasn't too bad an idea, and he took it a step further by lobbing a can of Diet Coke at World Peace. This naturally pissed him off, and he ran into the stands and grabbed the person he thought did it. Not the guy who did do it, but the guy he thought did it. Pacer Stephen Jackson also ran into the stands and started throwing punches at random fans, and so Pistons fans were now having an audience participation night. Another melee started when two fans confronted World Peace on the court and he punched one of them when Jermaine O'Neal intervened.

World Peace, Jackson, and O'Neal received the bulk of suspensions dolled out for the incident, although several received minor suspensions as well. Fortunately for all involved, the lack of any injuries just turned what could have been a nasty, blood-boiling incident into an amusing sideshow. It could have been a lot worse, but it fortunately wasn't, and World Peace basically responded by resorting to instinctive self-defense. He can't be entirely blamed. Hell, even some columnist moral crusaders called out the fans for starting it.

The championship may be elusive, but there won't be a lot of fans more appreciate if the Pacers ever reach the summit. All in all, they're actually very likable. They flash an occasional personality and have some fantastic stories attached to them.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Indiana_Pacers-562-1388102-227177-Keeping_Pace_in_Middle_America.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Indiana_Pacers-562-1388102-227177-Keeping_Pace_in_Middle_America.html Sat, 18 Aug 2012 22:58:36 +0000
<![CDATA[ Clipped and Trimmed]]> http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...205257-The_Amazins.html), a team created in 1962 that had the misfortune of replacing two legendary baseball teams once the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers headed to California. The Mets aren't actually a bad team to cheer for. They're the most successful of baseball's expansion teams; they've won four Pennants and two World Series titles. But when you're put against the New York Yankees (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/baseball_team/U...to_Wear_the_Iconic.html), baseball's mighty juggernaut - with more World Series titles than any other team even has Pennants - all you can do is shrug, grin, and push forward.

The Mets Syndrome sufferer in Los Angeles is their secondary basketball team, the Clippers. The Yankees of Los Angeles are the mighty Lakers, whose 16 titles are more than any other basketball team except the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) who have been slipping as of late. The Clippers have far less going for them than the Mets. The Mets, after all, stole attention a few times by supplanting the Yankees. Since their creation, the Clippers don't even have so much as a single division title to call their own. That's an existence going back to 1970, with the Los Angeles years beginning in 1984. That's embarrassing as it is, but the team's owner, Donald Sterling, is also a frugal racist. He made a fortune in real estate and engaged in discriminatory rental practices against blacks and hispanics. On record, he's recorded to have said "Black tenants smell and attract vermin." He pledged $50 million of funding for a site in downtown Los Angeles which was supposed to help the city's homeless population. Although the Los Angeles Times keeps trumpeting this pledge, that's mainly because he generates revenue for the paper's ad department. The shelter itself is either invisible or never actually materialized. He was sued by the damned United States Department of Justice for discrimination. He heckles his own players. He's a grade-A asshole who needs to be punched many, many times.

Fate was unkind to the Clippers even from the very beginning. They were part of the 1970 expansion, when they were created as the Buffalo Braves and joined the NBA with the newly-created Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers. There were bad omens right from the very beginning with the Braves. One was that the first effort at placing a professional basketball team in Buffalo failed, and very quickly. That was back at the founding of the BAA, when Buffalo was still a big, very respected city. Buffalo's team, the Bisons, wrapped up after all of 13 GAMES, hightailed it to the Tri-cities area, and were basically nomads until they finally found a permanent home and identity as today's Atlanta Hawks. Another bad omen was that the National Hockey League conveniently picked that same year to expand into Buffalo. Both sports breed ruffians, but one is played on ice. If you're having trouble figuring out which team the people of Buffalo really clicked with, well, here are some clues: One is currently a beloved civic institution in Buffalo, a city thoroughly respected throughout its entire league as both a playoff rating monster and a producer of fantastic sport talent - nine players in its league are from Buffalo, more than any other region in the country. The other is the Clippers.

Actually, both teams got off on the right foot with the fans. They both endured their expansion pains, but the hockey team was a Conference Champion by 1975. The Braves didn't get that far, but their time in Buffalo is still the only period of real success they've ever had. They picked up one of the great centers in NBA history, Bob McAdoo, in 1972, and he won the MVP award in the 1975 season. In 1974, 1975, and 1976, the Braves made the playoffs. The team's 49-33 record in 1975 is still the team's best record ever, in any place. In 1976, the Braves beat the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html) in the playoffs. By 1976, the team's founder, Paul Snyder, was actively trying to sell the team. Eventually, he got it to John Brown. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics owner, Irv Levin, wanted to move back to his home state of California and take a team with him. The people of Boston, not exactly keen on letting their world-class basketball team go, weren't letting him take the Celtics. To this day, there's a little bit of remaining controversy on the exacting details of just how the exchange took place. The most widely accepted story is that Brown and Levin swapped teams, and Levin was freed to bring the Braves out west with him. A few tax and paperwork details, however, are enough to convince people around Buffalo that the Braves were actually absorbed into the Celtics, at least in a legal sense, and so the Boston Celtics are the descendants of Buffalo's basketball heritage, instead of the Clippers.

Any way it goes, however, the Braves did leave their mark on Buffalo. Braves imagery and colors are still worn in the area, and the team has a base of preservationists dedicated to weaving them more into the city's sports heritage. It really is pathetic that the First Niagara Center hasn't seen it fit to hang McAdoo's number. A good preservation site can be found at buffalobraves.net.

The 1979 season saw the first westward move. The team moved to San Diego, officially changing its name to the San Diego Clippers. In San Diego, the team sucked, drew poorly, and was bought by Sterling and moved after just six years.

There were occasional good years, but from there the name of the game has mostly been suckitude. Hard suckitude, and in abundance. The Clippers kicked off their new beginning by going 31-51 for the 1985 season. Two years later, they mounted a serious charge at the worst record in history. They went 12-70, which came dangerously close to the 76ers' 1973 record of 9-73, and is today still the third worst in NBA history behind only the Sixers and last season's Charlotte Bobcats (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...y_Without_Point_or.html). Elgin Baylor joined the team during that 12-win fiasco, though, as GM, and he managed to bring Ron Harper to the team in the 1990 season. Baylor was also a great eye for draft talent. In 1987, he got Ken Norman. A year later, he got Danny Manning and Charles Smith. 1990 brought Loy Vaught. The 1992 season brought a coaching change, where Mike Schuler was replaced by Larry Brown. As basketball fans know, Larry Brown is very, very good at what he does. Schuler had started the season with a 22-25 record, and Brown finished it by going 23-12 for an overall record of 45-37. It was their first winning season since Buffalo, and the first time since moving to Los Angeles they finished with a better record than the Lakers. They lost the first playoff round to the Utah Jazz. The next year, they went an even 41-41, and went back to the playoffs. This time they lost to the Houston Rockets.

After that season, Brown up and walked away. (He tends to do that.) This time, he went to coach the Indiana Pacers while Bob Weiss was left to build on a foundation which, as the previous year's record would indicate, wasn't quite as solid as Brown had probably left Clippers fans to believe. That year was bad, but the silver lining was the fact that the Lakers weren't much better. Combined, the teams went 60-104, one of the worst years in the history of Los Angeles basketball.

The next few years brought tons more major roster and coach changes, with the lone highlight being the 1997 season when coach Bill Fitch led them back to the playoffs, where they were promptly ejected by the Jazz again, who eventually won the Western Conference that year. In 1999, the Clippers moved to the Staples Center to be overshadowed by the Lakers full time. More importantly, they also drafted Lamar Odom. He didn't help much - the Clippers finished with 15 wins - but they also hired a slew of new coaches, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They started winning fans in 2001, improving to a 31-51 record and playing a high-flying style of basketball with talented bench players. The next year, they grabbed Elton Brand from the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html), who earned a spot on the All-Star roster, even if that was only as a replacement to Shaquille O'Neal. But the bottom line is the team contended for most f the season. Winning only three of their final twelve games put them out, but they contended and only missed the playoffs by five games.

The next season brought a slew of injury problems, the seasons after brought players lost because Sterling wouldn't pay them, and by now you really know the story: Deals, deals, more deals, bad players. Same old Clippers, but this time, they were actually trying to get better. The 2006 season marked a turning point in their image. The team beat several of the best teams in the league, and the media took notice and began playing up the Clippers a bit more. Despite a few stretches of bad play, they secured their first winning record in 14 years and, with a 47-35 record, their best year since the old Buffalo days. That May was a culmination of their building efforts: For the first time under their asshole owner Sterling, and for the first time since they were the Buffalo Braves, the Clippers won a playoff series. In the following round, they took the Phoenix Suns to seven games, keeping pace with that year's track-meet Suns team every step of the way. They lost, but people remembered. Unfortunately, the next few seasons, they reverted to their losing, Clipper ways.

Blake Griffin arrived in the 2009 draft. They slowly began improving again, and last year they were a power in the Western Conference. With a 40-26 record, they went to the playoffs, won a great series against the Memphis Grizzlies (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...o_Roar_to_Speak_of.html) and lost in the second round yet again. But, hell, that loss was to the San Antonio Spurs, and NOBODY was expected to beat them! As they currently stand, things are looking good in Lob City at the moment. The team looks legitimately good, and they're very exciting. Griffin is one of the best players in the league right now. But a veteran Clippers fan would be justified in showing a lot of skepticism, considering his team's history.

As you can clearly see, the story of the Clippers is one of mighty struggle, heartbreak, frustration, and an owner who really needs a groin kick or seven. We're looking at a serious contender for Worst Team Ever in the History of the NBA here. Not single-season, but in the grand overall scheme. This team has had 23 head coaches in the entirety of its existence. They've had all of eleven All-Star selections. One player, ever, was an MVP, although Blake Griffin is looking like he's going to be one too soon enough.

People in Buffalo believe our teams are cursed, and I don't believe anyone who follows sports will ever argue the point. This is a truly pathetic team. The reason I've been bringing Buffalo into this article so often is partially because it's my hometown, but mainly because a lot of the Clippers' most significant history and stories are brought all the way back here. Every Hall of Fame player chosen based on contributions to the Los Angeles Clippers wasn't actually chosen based on contributions to the Clippers, but to the Braves. Its been some 34 years since the team left Buffalo, and 28 since San Diego. Still, the greatest years and most of the really good stories and players were left in Buffalo. Dominique Wilkins is the only player in the Hall of Fame for ever having been a Los Angeles Clipper, and he didn't get there until he was well past his prime.

Mismanagement has to be the primary culprit. Sterling is a cheapskate as well as a racist. Los Angeles is still one of the easier sells in professional sports, but in basketball, it's even easier if you're trying to sell a free agent on the Lakers.

Every year, there's one sports magazine which ranks the best overall sports franchises. That's in every sport, for every category they think makes a team worth cheering for: Pricing, fan friendliness, budget, quality of fielded team, chances of winning a title in the next few years, and a few others that I don't feel like looking up. The Los Angeles Clippers have actually ranked dead last on this list. Why bother rating them when that says everything? I do, however, like their style of basketball, so that and that alone rescues them from the bottom of the heap. Sterling, however, really needs to take a few knees to his stomach.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Los_Angeles_Clippers-562-1388077-227175-Clipped_and_Trimmed.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Los_Angeles_Clippers-562-1388077-227175-Clipped_and_Trimmed.html Sat, 18 Aug 2012 17:35:48 +0000
<![CDATA[ A True Original]]>
We forget about the sport's simplistic origins, and the small-town beginnings of the NBA. For all its neon, monied imagery, basketball is synonymous with the blue-collar hub of Indiana. Also, you wouldn't know it from looking at the current roster of teams in today's NBA, but New York state has a deep, rich history with the league. The New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) are one of the original teams of the Basketball Association of America, one of the forerunners of the NBA. The Sacramento Kings are another one of those original teams, but they began their life in upstate New York as the Rochester Royals. The Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers both started in Buffalo. And in 1946, the National Basketball League was a few years old, and they invited into their fold another upstate New York team, the Syracuse Nationals. Today's story begins with them.

The Syracuse Nationals were a creation of the NBL, and were one of the seven holdovers from the 1949 merger with the BAA, which formed the NBA and made the Nationals one of the original teams in it. The Nats weren't your typical candidate for a holdover; they had spent their time on the NBL mostly nondescriptly, floating around until one of the bigger, better teams called on them for a necessary fattening of its winning percentage. Dolph Schayes led them to their first winning record in 1949, just before the merger, and during the early years of the NBA, it was little Syracuse, New York which ultimately pushed a lot of the bigger teams around. They went to the Finals three times in the earliest years; once in 1950, again in 1954, and one last time in 1955, winning their first title in 1955. But the NBA was still a baby league in 1955, and really, who the hell was gonna give money to a league where the last minutes of a close game involved long-ass games of keep-away? No one, that's who! So in a desperate attempt to rescue the league - and its few fans from boredom - Nats owner Danny Biasone suggested they limit the amount of time a team can take to make a shot. The game sped up, Syracuse won the title that year, and most importantly of all, a mainstay essential of the entire sport was created. For all the rich history of the team, all of the great players who suited up for it, all those conference titles and rivalries, the creation of that shot clock is the most important moment in the history of both the league and the team. NBA fans, you're welcome, and these guys are being given a positive rating for that alone.

In 1958, the Nationals had become a kind of pariah. The league founded for small blue-collar cities was growing up, and after the Fort Wayne Pistons and Syracuse's nearby state rival, the Rochester Royals, respectively leaving their little hamlets for Detroit and Cincinnati, the Syracuse Nationals were the last small town team left in the league. They fell back into obscurity and even though they posted winning seasons on a fairly consistent basis, they were finished doing any real damage. In 1961, the Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles, and of all the NBL teams who survived the merger, the Nationals were now the only one still playing in their original city. Oddly enough, even though the team was a nonentity during the regular season during this period, they were a dangerous playoff opponent that the NBA's best didn't want to see once the regular season was done. They made it to the conference finals pretty often but kept seeing ejection at the hands of the Boston Celtics or the Philadelphia Warriors. In 1962, the Warriors headed to San Francisco, leaving Philadelphia without a team. They immediately began a search for a new team. Once Biasone sold the Nationals to investors Irv Kosloff and Ike Richman, Syracuse didn't stand a chance. In 1963, the Syracuse Nationals made the playoffs again, got ejected by the Cincinnati Royals, and then the inevitable happened as Syracuse basketball turned into a concept lost to a changing history.

The Warriors just happened to have this awesome center named Wilt Chamberlain. Since Chamberlain was a native of Philadelphia, they had drafted him as a territorial pick, having been a high school basketball legend there. He didn't spend a whole lot of time in San Francisco after the Warriors moved out there, though, because they traded him during the 1965 All-Star break to the new incarnation of the Syracuse Nationals - the Philadelphia 76ers. Named for the year America declared its independence, the Sixers made a splash with their new big man. In 1967, Chamberlain took the Sixers on a dream run. They won 68 games that year and became the team that broke up the old Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) dynasty and prevented them from a nine-peat.

As so often happens with the great title teams, they couldn't sustain themselves. The Sixers had their moment, and while they kept going back to the playoffs, they lacked their edge. In serious decline by 1972, they missed the playoffs and went 30-52. In 1973, they hit one of those absolute, all-time lows. They stormed out of the gate, lost their first 15 games of the season, set a then-record 20-game losing streak a few months later, after which their record for the season stood at 4-58. When the season concluded, the Sixers had all of nine wins. The Charlotte Bobcats (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...y_Without_Point_or.html) needed a shortened season to break that record. Six years after setting the wins record, the team had set the losses record, and the 1973 Sixers are still considered the worst team in NBA history. They used two coaches, who won a putrid nine games between them.

Gene Shue was hired as their head coach for the 1974 season, and two years later the Sixers grabbed George McGinnis from the Indiana Pacers of the ABA, and with those two, 1976 finally saw the Sixers return to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the team was still quite sick, as was seen conclusively when they were swept out of the first round by the Buffalo Braves. And the Sixers sought a cure for their ailments the way most people do: They went to a Doctor!

In 1976, the American Basketball Association was on shaky ground, and with a merger around the corner, teams were rabidly applying for admission to the NBA. One of those teams was the two-time champion New York Nets, thanks largely to the efforts of a player named Julius Erving. Unfortunately, giant sports leagues can't stand competition, ironically enough, and so the NBA took special pains to let its four merger survivors know their place was at the back of the line. They needed to pay $3.2 million just for admission to the league, then they had to pay the New York Knicks an additional $4.8 million for use on their "territory." The Nets owner was forced to part with Erving due to his not being able to pay him. So when the Sixers came along with $3 million, the Nets had no real choice but to sell him. It was ill-timed for the Nets, but well-timed for the Sixers, and so Dr. J went on to define the rest of his career in Philadelphia, eventually going to the Hall of Fame. The Sixers returned to the tippy-top, going to the Finals in 1977, 1980, and 1982. Sadly, they lost all three titles.

The final piece of the Championship puzzle was found in 1983 when they picked up Moses Malone. Led by Malone, Dr. J, and Maurice Cheeks, the Sixers became the inevitable Team of Destiny. That was the year of Malone's "fo, fo, fo" boast, which is how Malone responded when asked how the playoffs would play out. It meant four, four, four, which was how many games the Sixers would need to win before taking their title. They damn near made good on it, too. Over the course of their playoff run, they lost all of one game. Along with their 1967 counterparts, the 1983 Sixers are considered one of the greatest teams in NBA history. Unfortunately, that 1983 title was is still their most recent, and it was followed by only one more conference championship.

Everyone knows the story of the 1984 NBA draft. Hakeem Olajuwon was taken first overall, becoming the exact pick the Houston Rockets needed. Sam Bowie was taken by the Portland Trail Blazers second, which was a dastardly crime in the eyes of the third pick, Michael Jordan, or which Jordan spent the following decade and a half making everyone pay after the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html) took him next. Those first three picks are always the biggest story in the league's history, and it's saying something that no one seems to remember Charles Barkley being taken fifth overall that year. It's a testament to how big a story those first three picks are that anyone could forget that, seeing as how Sir Charles was known as much for his big mouth as his rebounding. Funny, controversial, and aggressive, Barkley anchored the Sixers for the next eight years, even after Dr. J retired in 1987. The team's decision to trade him in 1992 was wildly criticized, and although Barkley's new team, the Phoenix Suns, gave him his best opportunity to win a title, Barkley never went over the top. He retired another victim of Michael and the Jordanaires. But the Sixers did retire his number.

The early 90's saw a Dark Age arrive in Philly, with a carousel of bad coaches and bad free agents. It was one of those instances where the best thing you could say was that the team at least was there. They made a lot of bad draft picks and nabbed a lot of players who were at the ends of their ropes. Starting in the 1991 season, the Sixers saw their win total drop every year until the 1996 season, when they concluded with 18 victories and a lot of painful questions about what the team could do to become competitive again. They turned to the 1996 draft, where, it turned out, an Answer lurked.

Allen Iverson was the first overall pick. In the 1997 season, he won the Rookie of the Year award. The team's improvement was minimal - they won 22 games, as opposed to 18 the year before - but it was there. They also hired Larry Brown as their head coach, who was known for a defense-first approach and turning perennial doormats into winners. Brown had his toughest challenge ever ahead of him (and lest we forget, he once coached the Clippers, and he also tried to sort out the mess known as Isiah Thomas's New York Knicks) in coaching Iverson, with whom he often clashed. But still, the Sixers began to improve. In 1998, they got Eric Snow, a key figure in their return. George Lynch, Matt Geiger, and Tyrone Hill came a year later, and the Sixers began their resurgence in a strike-shortened 1999 season. In 2001, the Sixers were back in the Finals, prepared with a Coach of the Year in Brown, MVP in Iverson, and also a Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year. They couldn't prevent the Los Angeles Lakers from winning the title in five games, though. Larry Brown abruptly resigned as coach in 2003 to take a new job in Detroit. (He tends to do that.)

The team middled for a few years, but in 2006, Iverson got pissed off at the direction the team was headed in. He told them to get some quality players for support or trade his ass. The team, looking to take the cheaper way out, complied by taking the latter option and trading Iverson to the Denver Nuggets in December. The team now belonged to Andre Iguodala, the team's first-round pick from 2004. The team struggled for the next several years, sometimes making the playoffs, sometimes not, but never thinking themselves to be contenders. Finally, in 2010, the team hired Doug Collins as head coach. In 2011, they got a new owner. Collins got them back in the playoffs, and in the 2012 season, they beat the injury-riddled Bulls in the first round before being eliminated in a high-flying, dramatic series against Boston. For the first time in years, the Sixers are stacked and seem to have a real direction to move in again.

Although the Sixers won only two titles in the modern era - since moving to Philadelphia - both teams are mainstays in lists of the greatest teams ever. One was anchored by the most dominant player in history, Wilt Chamberlain, and I probably don't have to mention the fact that the team retired his number. The second featured Moses Malone and Dr. J. Charles Barkley, a great players and an even better character, also graces the all-time roster. The team has eight retired numbers and one retired microphone for Dave Zinkoff, a public address announcer.

The Sixers are kind of the big team from the Eastern Conference that couldn't. They've run a fairly steady ship most of the time - unlike the Knicks - but usually meet an ignominious fate in the playoffs. Even their best teams seem to have trouble pulling through with the season on the line. The Celtics, Bulls, or some other nasty Conference rivals always seem to block their way to greater glory. Their biggest rivals are probably the Celtics and Knicks. Although the Boston rivalry is pretty one-sided historically, it seems to be evening out a little, and with the Sixers getting better while Ray Allen goes and joins the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html) things look good for the Philadelphia side in that rivalry. They're still going to get creamed by newfound rival Miami, but still, it's a start.

People, look: Wilt Chamberlain was playing for the Philadelphia Warriors when he played his famed 100-point game. The Warriors and Sixers are not the same team. Chamberlain played for both, and the Warriors still exist, but in Oakland.

I have a one-degree connection with the Philadelphia 76ers. My high school had an awesome basketball player named Damone Brown, who led the team to the title in 1997. (I didn't even know him, so don't ask, although our time at the school did overlap.) That year, he was signed by Syracuse University, which here in Buffalo is basically considered professional basketball. In 2002, it was the Sixers who drafted him in the second round. Although I didn't know him, I felt a need to support my fellow Seneca alumni, so I instantly started watching the Sixers for news. Unfortunately, he didn't work out. But it's because of him that the Sixers were my gateway into NBA fandom, and so along with the Knicks and Bulls, I still cheer wholeheartedly for the Philadelphia 76ers. Being a team of so many firsts, it makes sense that they were the first basketball team I ever followed. Even though I picked up two more teams, I'm still with the Sixers, even if my former schoolmate isn't.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Philadelphia_76ers-562-1388081-227125-A_True_Original.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Philadelphia_76ers-562-1388081-227125-A_True_Original.html Fri, 17 Aug 2012 16:43:44 +0000
<![CDATA[ Bobbing: Floating Uselessly, Without Point or Direction]]>
The Charlotte Bobcats, being the newest team in the NBA - and, in fact, the newest team in American mainstream professional sports (plus hockey) - haven't added up to a whole lot since their creation in 2004. Yes, everyone knows Michael Jordan runs the team, and that his public image has taken a tremendous hammering over the last several years, and that he can't cut it as a GM. Yes, the team bowed out of the latest NBA season as the official worst team in NBA history. The last season was shortened to 66 games by a strike, and if any of my readers know anything about NBA history, they are well aware of the fact that there are teams in the NBA who have been so bad as to somehow win less than ten games over the 82-game regular season. The Bobcats managed to fall feet and knees below anything any of those teams have ever done. They won just seven games, which not only broke the record for least number of games won, but in the shortened season, also took out the record for lowest-ever winning percentage. Yeah, they were THAT bad.

To be fair, they weren't the first expansion team in American mainstream sports (plus hockey) to set loss records. The New York Mets (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...205257-The_Amazins.html) lost a record 120 baseball games in their 1962 debut season, a mark of ineptitude so bad that it took 41 years for anyone to mount a serious threat to it. (The Detroit Tigers, after years of being resoundingly average, decided to completely rebuild and began their plan by designed implosion in 2003. They breathed down the '62 Mets' necks the entire season until a last-minute winning streak concluding in a last-day victory set their loss number to rest at 119, a record in the American League.) The NHL's San Jose Sharks lost a whopping 71 games in the 1993 season, their second in existence. How did the Bobcats arrive at such a mark of ineptitude?

After the Hornets left Charlotte in 2002, the NBA immediately promised they would get a new team in 2004. And they did! Lots of ownership groups bid for that right, including one led by Larry Bird. The team was eventually awarded to Robert L. Johnson, founder of the cable TV station BET. He's the first black majority owner of a team in professional sports. One of his co-owners in the famous rapper Nelly. They threw a name the team contest, with the three most populate choices being the Charlotte Flight, Charlotte Dragons, and Charlotte Bobcats. In summer of 2003, the team let the public know about its final choice of Bobcats, because according to the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, bobcats are fierce and athletic predators, and they're indigenous to the Carolinas. And being named after a cat, it was a good compliment to the NFL's Carolina Panthers.

In the expansion draft, the Bobcats took a collection of young talent and great European players. A trade with the Los Angeles Clippers got them second pick in the draft, which they used on Emeka Okafor, who went on to win Rookie of the Year. They were rid of him by 2009, though. In the 2005 draft, they hoped to form a solid core of young players by adding Raymond Felton and Sean May, seminal picks because North Carolina is a hotbed of college basketball, and they were drafted out of the University of North Carolina. They won 18 games in their first season, and improved to 26 wins in their second season.

After that year, Michael Jordan happened. He bought a minority stake in the team, and in his first year, the Bobcats showed even more improvement. In February that year, they were 22-33 with a reasonable chance at the playoffs, but endured an eight-game losing streak which dashed their hopes. During the slump, Jordan said head coach Bernie Bickerstaff would only be around for the remainder of that very season. Bickerstaff made an idiot of Jordan when he guided the Bobcats to a solid closing record of 11-8 over their last 19 games. But he did have an overall record of 77-169 over those three seasons in Charlotte.

Under their second head coach, Sam Vincent, the Bobcats were expected to make their first playoff birth the following year, but they actually did worse, winning 32 games. Vincent didn't last after that year, and the great Larry Brown was hired. Brown worked his magic and in 2010, went to the playoffs with 44 wins. Gerald Wallace became the team's first-ever All-Star that year as well. But their season ended in the first round with a sweep at the hands of the Orlando Magic.

Larry Brown quit for some reason. He does that a lot, but after great hopes to start the following year, the Bobcats spiraled out of control. They won only 32 games. The following year, they set a franchise record for losses in a row with 16. To close out the season, they decided to celebrate the team loss in a row record by saying "We can do better than that!" And they DID do better! They lost all 23 of the last 23 games of the season, making the loss percentage record official on national TV against the New York Knicks. (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html)

With that fiasco under their belt, you have to wonder if the basketball fans in Charlotte are wishing for their old team back. The Bobcats have one playoff appearance, one All-Star - and by that I mean a Bobcat made the All-Star roster ONE TIME - in Gerald Wallace, and in fact Wallace is the only remote thing the Bobcats have to a real face of their team. And he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers a couple of years ago, before going to his current gig with the Brooklyn Nets! Really, what am I supposed to give this team any points for? A seven-win season? Jordan at the helm? A first-round playoff sweep? Maybe winning their first game last season?

The Bobcats have one of the best mascots in the NBA in Rufus D. Lynx, a name created by the scientific name for the bobcat, which is lynx rufus. But besides that, there's no reason for my proverbial fan without a team to take up arms with the Charlotte Bobcats unless he's a Carolina native or a masochist. The team is doing so bad that it already resorted to changing its logo, and less than ten years in, that already a very bad sign.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Charlotte_Bobcats-562-1388103-226935-Bobbing_Floating_Uselessly_Without_Point_or.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Charlotte_Bobcats-562-1388103-226935-Bobbing_Floating_Uselessly_Without_Point_or.html Mon, 23 Jul 2012 15:54:28 +0000
<![CDATA[ No Roar to Speak of]]>
The Grizzles were created as part of the Canuck contingent the NBA made up to begin play as an expansion in 1995, along with the Toronto Raptors. (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...These_Raptors_Bite.html) At their creation, there were two Canadian teams, only one of which was named well. The Raptors were named because of the box office obsession with Steven Spielberg's movie Jurassic Park back then. The well-named team was the western Canada team, the Vancouver Grizzlies. The original name was supposed to be the Vancouver Mounties, after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but those guys objected and so the team was forced to change their name. The expansion was hindered a little bit because the NBA decided to step in and try to get the provincial government of British Columbia to abolish wagering on Grizzlies gamesNBA betting accounted for a lot of money in Canada in 1993, and the profits went to provincial health care. (Similar demands were actually laid out in Ontario.) Since no good evil corporation could ever let money go to a cause like that, the NBA put its foot down and demanded they be allowed to pocket the money. The citizens were naturally pissed, and the issue was resolved in 1994 when the franchise company agreed to donate $500,000 a year to health care, the supposed idea probably that any more would be too socialist so the people would technically benefit by the more freedom offered by the province getting less.

The NBA then denied both Canadian teams one of the top five picks in the draft. In fact, they'd be denied a top pick for their first three seasons, even if they won the lottery. The Grizzlies got the sixth pick and selected Bryant Reeves, a solid player who managed to carry Vancouver to an incredible 15 wins their first year! Reeves really WAS a good player, but he just wasn't enough to carry the team. The man who did become the team's centerpiece was Shareef Abdur-Rahim. He was drafted the next season and was the team's focus right until they left Vancouver. Despite decent players and Abdur-Rahim putting up great numbers, the team couldn't plug its holes. Throughout their entire time in British Columbia, the Grizzlies were abominable. They never Their best record was a hopeless 23 wins. They never cracked 25 wins, they only broke the 20-win barrier twice, and in the reduced 1999 season, they only won eight games.

A devoted fanbase sticks with its team through the best and worst, but for that to happen, the team needs to have been around long enough to have a sizable base. The Grizzlies didn't, and the lockout was bad for both finances and attendance, which totally plummeted. The team started losing tons of money - though that was in small part because of how weak the Canadian Dollar was at the time - so it was sold. There was never any intention to keep the Grizzlies in Vancouver, and since the buyer owned the NHL's Saint Louis Blues, the original intent was to move them to Missouri. The NBA said no, so it was taken and sold to someone else instead. The new owner DID say he wanted to keep the team in Vancouver. Yeah, it's what he SAID, as he physically scoured Memphis, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Saint Louis (?), Anaheim, San Diego, Buffalo, and Louisville for some new digs. Memphis was decided.

In the 2001 draft, the Atlanta Hawks traded their third overall pick, Pau Gasol, to Memphis, where he won Rookie of the Year. They also grabbed fan favorite Shane Battier. In 2002, NBA legend Jerry West was hired to be the new GM and began a designed implosion which included hiring Hubie Brown to coach. In 2004, the Grizzlies were finally in the playoffs. The following year they had a losing record which was just good enough to get them back to the playoffs, and they year after that too. Following the 2006 draft, the team traded Battier to the Houston Rockets for their first round pick, Rudy Gay, and they've been building squad of high-pressure defensive grinders ever since. In 2009, they briefly employed Allen Iverson, and in 2011 they got Battier back. Since then, they've been considered up-and-comers, and during the last strike season they found their way back to the playoffs, where they were eliminated in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers in a classic series that went the distance.

This last year, the team was sold again, although if there's any intention to move them again, it hasn't been announced.

You'll notice I didn't have a whole lot to say on the Grizzlies, but that's because there's not a whole lot to be said about them. They're getting better, but being in the middle of the land of college football, they're fighting to avoid being drowned out by the media. Their blue panda bear logo is ridiculous, and their entire past is so nondescript right now that it takes a lot of effort to learn anything about it.

One could expect that. In fairness to the Memphis Grizzlies, they haven't done a whole lot outside the Clippers playoff series to warrant the attention. Even the Toronto Raptors managed to reel in a division title. Memphis doesn't have even that much, let alone a conference championship or an actual title to raise up to the heavens. It really doesn't make a great statement that the holder of most of their career statistical records are held by Pau Gasol. Shareef Abdur-Rahim holds the records in per-game statistics, and in that department Gasol comes up second.

The Grizzlies are getting better, and they seem to hold promise for the future, so I'll give them that. But they've been around since 1995 and lack any standouts in anything to show for it, so I do have to degrade them with the lowest possible score. If it was a few years from now, I might have rated them higher, but it isn't.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Memphis_Grizzlies-562-1388094-226810-No_Roar_to_Speak_of.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Memphis_Grizzlies-562-1388094-226810-No_Roar_to_Speak_of.html Tue, 17 Jul 2012 16:58:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ These Raptors Bite]]>
Toronto has a history with the NBA, and it goes back further than you would first expect. When the league was formed, the majority of the folks who owned teams in it had stakes in the NHL, and they wanted people to fill in their arenas' empty seats while the hockey players sat at their huge summer homes in British Columbia. (Actually, while they worked in the offseason. This was the olden days.) The Toronto Huskies were one of the league's original teams. They lasted only that single season in 1946-1947, went 22-38, and they had the distinction of losing the first-ever NBA game to the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) by a score of 68-66. Their leading scorer was a guy named Mike McCarron, who posted 649 points in 60 games. Ed Sadowski had the highest points-per-game average, with 19.1. Although the Huskies died after that lone season, there is a group of basketball fans in Toronto who want to abolish the name of the Toronto Raptors and bring back the name and colors of the original Toronto Huskies. The name makes a lot more sense, so I guess I'm in agreement with them. They have a website at TorontoHuskies.org.

The current team, the Toronto Raptors, was awarded to Toronto in 1993. They were part of the Canadian expansion from that year, along with the Vancouver Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have since moved to Memphis, and so the Raptors are now the only NBA team in Canada. Originally the plan was to bring back the Huskies nickname in the first place, but management apparently lacked anything remotely resembling an imagination. Their excuse for not using the Huskies nickname was that there was no way they could design a logo which looked like it was ripping off the logo of the Minnesota Timberwolves. So the Raptors name was decided by a nationwide contest, including, presumably, Vancouver. Of the ten final prospects, apparently Canadians favored Raptors over the following names: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers. Beavers or Bobcats would have actually received my personal vote, but it was 1993, and the movie Jurassic Park was really popular, so Raptors was decided. Their colors were red, purple, black, and silver. Technically, the silver was called Naismith silver in honor of Canadian James Naismith, who created the game of basketball.

At their first press conference, they revealed their first General Manager: Isiah Thomas! You now know everything you need to know about those early Raptors teams. But Lunch is a harsh mistress and we've apparently both got more time to kill, so I guess I'll fill you in on all the other pointless details.

Actually, the early Raptors were a very confusing team. On paper, they sucked, and in the standings, they also sucked. That may tell a lot of the story, but the Raptors first hit the hardwood in 1995, when they won their first-ever game 94-79. It was over the New Jersey Nets, granted, but it was a win in a season when the win column would only add up to 21. That season happened to be the year the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html) set the all-time win record at a whopping 72 victories, so it was saying something that the Raptors were one of the ten teams that came out on top of them in the regular season. Their bight rookie, Damon Stoudamire, was Rookie of the year. The following year, the Raptors won 30 games. Again, they were one of the few teams in the league that toppled the Chicago Bulls. Actually, the Raptors spent the year going to town on the NBA's elite: They beat the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, and Miami Heat, all of whom played in their conference finals series that year. But they struggled against everyone else, and somehow managed to lose three games to a terrible Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) squad that won only 15 games that year.

1998 NBA draft. Vince Carter. Carter was actually the result of a draft day trade; the Raptors sent their fourth pick to the Golden State Warriors for Carter, who was picked fifth overall. They also made a trade for popular Knicks player Charles Oakley. Kevin Willis was also taken in that trade, and Doug Christie was brought in. Christie developed into one of the league's best, and to top everything off, the Raptors hired a new coach in Butch Carter. The team turned around in 1999, even though they missed the playoffs in that strike season.

The 2000 season saw the Raptors emerge. They opened a new arena, the Air Canada Centre, after four years at the cavern known as the Skydome. They went 45-37 and made the playoffs and it was considered a good year, even though Toronto was swept by New York in the playoffs in the first round. Vince Carter won the slam dunk contest, and that made new basketball fans of a lot of people around Toronto. 2001 had the Raptors winning 47 games, and it is generally considered THE watermark season for the team. They lost a classic seven-game series to the Philadelphia 76ers. Game seven came down to the final seconds, and Vince Carter was criticized for making the decision to attend his graduation ceremony at the University of North Carolina that morning. Now, I'm not very fond of Vince Carter, after all the shit he pulled. But I don't blame him for attending his graduation. After all, he was a young, talented player for a good team and he had the chance to make the playoffs over and over again. He only had one chance to attend his graduation. That was a personal mark, like a wedding, and if I was in his position, I would have made the same decision. Actually, that's putting too much weight on it; it implies there would have even been a decision, and graduation is so far above a first-round playoff series that sports are totally moot next to it.

2003 began another down period for the Raptors. He admitted slacking off in order to force a trade, and was eventually given one. Fortunately for the team, the 2003 draft yielded Chris Bosh, who was named to the all-rookie team. When Carter gone, he stepped into the role as a franchise player, and he currently holds most of the team records. Even so, they struggled for the next few years, finally turning a corner when they won their first - and so far only - division title in 2006. Bosh eventually left to join the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html).

The Raptors haven't been that good even when they were winning, as you can clearly see. Despite a few winning seasons, the Raptors have never had a coach end his tenure with the team with a winning record, and they've never broken the 50-win mark. They have no titles, no conference titles, or even any playoff series victories. They have no retired numbers. They only have that single, lone little division title. Fans didn't seem to appreciate the purple togs, either, and the team eventually left them behind, too. That means they threw out even the one color people used to identify with them.

But it's not all bad. There may be reason for optimism. The Raptors have enjoyed a very consistent fanbase, if anything, and in three of their seasons they actually set attendance records. Also, the actual value of the Raptors seems to be going up. Maybe it helps that they're the only team in Canada nowadays, but at the start of the millennium, they took just five years to more than double their value. They have a very nice promotion that whenever the team scores over 100 points, all the fans get coupons for free pizza, so that's always nice.

Besides those, though, there isn't yet a whole lot of reason to throw your lot in with the Toronto Raptors. At least, not for anything other than potential. I know Toronto. I've been there several times and believe in the city wholeheartedly. I think they just need to make better pushes to promote Toronto to better free agents. But they haven't had any truly great identifiable players or moments or games and they're named after a brief cultural fascination from the 90's, so while they're likable, it pains me to throw them at the bottom of the heap for now.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Toronto_Raptors-562-1388098-226758-These_Raptors_Bite.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Toronto_Raptors-562-1388098-226758-These_Raptors_Bite.html Sat, 14 Jul 2012 20:40:54 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Big Green Men]]>
It isn't like the older teams could possibly have been blacker than the Celts. When the NBA was formed as the BAA in 1946, the league was lily-white and stayed that way until the New York Knicks signed Sweetwater Clifton. The Celtics are one of only two teams in today's NBA who have never either moved or changed their name. (The other is the New York Knicks: http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html.) They pretty much sucked until 1950, when they hired coach Red Auerbach, who drafted Bob Cousy in dispersal after Cooz's first team, the Chicago Stags, folded. Ironically, Auerbach first objected to Cooz, deeming him the "local yokel" for being dumb and too flashy. And while the Knicks were the first NBA team to ever sign a black player, the Celtics were the first team to ever DRAFT a black player when they drafted Chuck Cooper in 1950.

Yeah, the Celtics constantly get blasted for being the stodgy old guard on ancient tradition - the whole racist thing included (mainly, again, by people who don't know anything about basketball or sports history in general) - but Auerbach was actually a pretty radical dude. After grabbing Cousy, Auerbach made the outstanding move of sending All-Star Ed Macauley and draft rights to Cliff Hagan to the Saint Louis Hawks for the second overall pick of the draft. When everyone in the league was thinking offense, Offense, OFFENSE DAMMIT!, Auerbach thought a good player on defense could push his team over the top. And that's why that second overall pick was magically transformed into a University of San Francisco center named Bill Russell. Russell delayed joining the team right off because he wanted to play for the United States Olympic Basketball Team, but when he finally went to Boston in the middle of the 1957 season, he proved to be worth the wait. In 1957, the Celtics went to the Finals and beat the Hawks in seven, giving them the first of 17 titles.

Boston returned to the Finals the next year and this time lost to the Hawks in six. But they also acquired KC Jones that year, and between him, Tommy Heinsohn, Cousy, and Russell, the Celtics built what is still the ultimate dynasty of basketball, if not all of sports. From 1959 to 1966, the Celtics went to the Finals every damn year. And they also won the Finals. Every damn year! It wasn't until 1967 that anyone else was even able to get to the Finals, and that was in large part because Auerbach threw in the towel as coach and handed the whole project off to Russell, who had first-year growing pains. That may be the only reason the Philadelphia 76ers were able to get the better of the Celtics that year. But that proved to be a hiccup, and by 1968 the Celtics were champions again. And the year after too. It wasn't until the 70's that Boston would see multiple years go by without a Championship team again. The Celtics had a losing record in 1970.

In the 70's, the Celtics rebuilt with Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White, and Paul Silas and got to be dominant again. In 1972 the Celtics were back in the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were ejected by the Knicks. In 1973 they met in the same series with the same team, and although Boston was sporting an ungodly 68-14 record, they still lost a seven-game Conference Finals to the eventual champion Knicks. But good times proved to be just around the corner, and in 1974 the Celts put that evasive twelfth notch in their belt, following it up with number 13 two years later. Then the team hit the skids again.

In 1978, the Celtics owned two of the top eight picks of the draft. Auerbach took a risk and drafted an Indiana State product named Larry Bird, knowing full well that Bird was going to hang on and stay for his senior year at college. The Celtics retained his draft rights for one year (don't ask me, I guess that's just how they did things back then), and Red went for him because he believed in Bird's potential. He also thought Boston would have a great chance to sign Bird when the college season in 1979 ended. Bird took Indiana State to the NCAA Final that year, where they famously fell to Michigan State. But that's just a color detail here. Bottom line is Bird went to Boston. That was good, because in 1979, the Celts were being ruined by owner John Y. Brown, who owned the team for a short period of bad years and orchestrated a lot of moves Auerbach hated enough to almost resign and go to the hated Knicks.

Bird arrived for the 1980 season and Auerbach started making moves which brought the Celtics back to prominence. He had drafted the promising Cornbread Maxwell in the 70's, and after 1980, he completed the most lopsided trade in NBA history: He had two first round draft picks left over from a previous trade and sent them both to the Golden State Warriors for Robert Parish and Golden State's first round draft pick, who turned into Kevin McHale. Bird, Parish, and McHale are all Hall of Famers. They formed the team's nucleus, called the Big 3, and they won the Championship again in 1981. After an embarrassing playoff sweep in 1983 at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, they met their longtime Finals nemesis in 1984: The Los Angeles Lakers! They came back from a 2-1 deficit to win the series and their 15th title. In 1986, they fielded the greatest single-season basketball team in history, went 67-15, and defeated the Houston Rockets in the Finals.

And that was it for awhile. Sure they won the Conference title again in 1987, but they were pretty banged up by the Finals and lost to the Lakers, just like in 1985. But what happened after that 1986 title was one of the saddest episodes in the history of the sport. There was this awesome player from the University of Maryland named Len Bias who was as complete and talented a player as you could ever hope. He had a peak physical stature, an amazing jumping ability, and an eye to create plays. He also possessed a cocky schoolyard swagger and a toughness which was projected to rival Michael Jordan as the league's most dominant player. He was projected to remain the sturdy Celtics keystone for years to come, and help them win Championships right through the 90's, the era when the Bulls rose to absolute power. On June 17, 1986, Bias was taken second overall by the Boston Celtics, surely setting them up for years to come. (I don't get draft strategy. If he was so awesome and projected to be a superstar, why wasn't he taken first?) On June 18, Bias went to Boston for his acceptance ceremony and signed a $3 million endorsement contract with Reebok.

That night, Bias returned home to his dorm in Maryland. But before that, there were reports of his car cruising some of the city's most notorious drug neighborhoods. After a wee-hour off-campus gathering, Bias took a dose of cocaine. According to the campus timeline, Bias finally hit the hay at about 6:25 AM, and he never woke up. That's a way of saying he collapsed at that time and efforts to revive him failed. At age 22, two days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics, Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose.

The Celtics' plans went down the tubes after that. Although Bird remained one of the greatest players in NBA history, that 1986 title was his last. In fact, it was Boston's last. With the rise of the Detroit Pistons, the Celts never got back to the Finals after 1987, although they posted some great records. In the 1987 draft, Boston took Reggie Lewis, an outstanding player himself, and when Bird retired, Lewis was expected to lead the Celtics to a great new era of dominance. Unfortunately, his story didn't turn out that much better than Bias's. He did get to play in the NBA for several years, but he fainted during a 1993 playoff game, which is how the world learned he had heart problems. Shooting baskets at Brandeis University during the offseason, he died of a heart attack.

The next several years saw the great team finally receive its welcome into the wonderful world of sports irrelevance. Despite the drafting of Paul Pierce, they largely lost the next several seasons, although they did make the playoffs in 2002, and fought their way to an improbable appearance in the Conference Finals, where they lost to the New Jersey Nets. They weren't BAD over the early millennium, but they were never contenders, either. When Doc Rivers was hired to coach in 2004, the team began to suck like never before. They spent the next few years losing a lot, and badly. In 2007, they went 24-58 and lost a franchise record 18 games in a row. There are conspiracy theories suggesting the Celtics simply gave up in the second half of that season to ensure a high draft pick, when that year would have been Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. But that failed, as the Celtics fell to fifth overall.

Somehow, though, that failed to stop them. The Celtics never used that fifth pick. Instead, they traded it with a couple of players to the Seattle Sonics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Thunder_Rolls.html) for Ray Allen. Then they traded a bunch of other players and draft picks for Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett. Allen and Garnett teamed with Paul Pierce to create a new Big 3, and in 2008, the Celtics underwent an unprecedented 42-game improvement. Although they did meet a bit of friction in the playoffs, they did manage to make it back to the Finals and reignite their rivalry with the Lakers, whom they dispatched in six game for that elusive 17th banner. Two years after that, they returned to the Finals but lost to the Lakers. Today, those three players are still the team's core, and they also dug up a great player in the 2006 draft named Rajon Rondo who is proving to be a keystone to potentially build around.

The Celtics are effectively the New York Yankees of basketball, except maybe for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have only one title less than Boston. They are part of the reason why people are idiots for looking at Boston as a tortured sports city. The Celtics are celebrated for their mystique and are probably the only team in the NBA which is known for its parquet floor, which is so iconic that it was taken piece by piece when Boston Garden was evacuated and they moved to the TD Garden.

Retired numbers and Hall of Famers are in abundance for the Celts, from Robert Parish to Red Auerbach to Jo Jo White. If you're talking about the greatest NBA player in history, Bill Russell and Larry Bird will always be in the conversation, and Red Auerbach is frequently cited as the greatest coach in history. The first two I could be talked into ceding, but I believe Phil Jackson was a better coach than Auerbach. Jackson not only has more titles, but he also introduced the Triangle offense. The talent levels the league had were about the same for both their eras, but Jackson won his eleven titles (as opposed to Auerbach's nine) contending with obstacles Auerbach never dreamed of: The players being flashier, more individualist, and being brand names; free agency; a lot more rules which were trickier to work around; and the league having 30 teams, as opposed to the eight that were in the league when Auerbach coached. (What can I say? I'm a Bulls fan.)

There's always a Boston/New York rivalry, and so the Celtics and Knicks hate each other. Boston considers itself the great underdog, even though there is just as much money there as there is in New York City and its teams have won more titles than any other city except New York City. Fortunately, people are getting fed up with Boston's dumbass inferiority complex and constant whining about how tortured it is and starting to see Boston as just another Evil Empire. But Boston's greatest rivalries are with the Los Angeles Lakers, whom they've played against many times in the Finals, and the Philadelphia 76ers, whom they've played against a lot in the playoffs. They've won and lost a lot against both teams, and that's why those rivalries are among the best in the NBA.

The Boston Celtics are the only Boston team I don't hate. My hometown of Buffalo, New York isn't really a basketball city, but most NBA fans here seem partial to the Celtics. Now, I don't understand this because everyone here has a burning hatred for the Boston Bruins (direct rivals to the Buffalo Sabres) and New England Patriots (same thing for the Buffalo Bills) and, while Red Sox fans aren't uncommon in this city, most baseball fans tend toward the New York Yankees. And yet we have no trouble cheering for their basketball team? But that's just me, and I've been known to cheer for the Celtics myself from time to time, especially in their most recent Finals appearances against Los Angeles. And they're not a bad team to be stuck with. They've got great players and a story-laden history and incredible rivalries with lots of signature games. I'll forgive their fans, just this once, of the unforgivable crime of cheering for a Boston team.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Boston_Celtics-562-1388100-224989-The_Big_Green_Men.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Boston_Celtics-562-1388100-224989-The_Big_Green_Men.html Tue, 26 Jun 2012 18:09:38 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Thunder Rolls]]>
Now, make no mistake: It's truly impressive how fast the Oklahoma City Thunder, AS the Oklahoma City Thunder, were able to turn themselves into one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA. Their inaugural season, they went 23-59 - which was actually an improvement from their previous season - and were one of the worst teams in the league. The next season, they more than doubled their win total, going a great 50-32. So yeah, not a bad turnaround, and they've been contending ever since. But no one has yet forgotten the past of the Thunder, who came into existence in 1967 as the Seattle Supersonics. They're one of those teams that moved, and it's still a raw bite to Seattle fans and other people who didn't think it right. Sportswriter Bill Simmons, a very knowledgeable NBA enthusiast, to this day still refuses to refer to the team as the Oklahoma City Thunder. Instead, he calls them the Zombie Sonics. So what happened?

Well, to answer that question, it's only natural that a little bit of background is necessary. And by a little bit, those who haven't read my team series before must understand that I really mean I'm telling a textbook-worthy history of the team. So here we go: The Sonics were formed in 1966, along with the San Diego Rockets. (The Chicago Bulls had already been around for a year, having been formed for the previous season.) The official date was December 20, 1966, so you can see why the date so frequently gets rounded up to 1967, which is the year the Sonics began playing proper. The beginning team featured All-Star guard Walt Hazzard and NBA All-Rookie Team members Bob Rule and Al Tucker. Despite that firepower, the Sonics ran onto the basketball court for the first time in 1967 for their first-ever game and got their asses handed to them by a blowout score of 144-116, and things didn't exactly get better from there. The Supersonics that year were one of those teams that everyone else in the league was ashamed to lose to, and that showed in Seattle's 23-59 record. For some reason the team saw it fit to blame Hazzard, who was traded to the Atlanta Hawks the following season.

The 1970's were an interesting time for the NBA, with the eminent threat of the ABA always there. Eventually the two leagues ended up merging, and part of the reason why was because Sonics owner Sam Schulman was so hell-bent on the merger going through that he said if the NBA didn't accept the merger, he would not only jump to the ABA but move the team to Los Angeles so they could compete directly with the NBA's Lakers. That was more a threat back then than it would seem to be now: Their star player, Lenny Wilkens, was named the MVP of the All-Star game in 1971, and ABA Rookie of the Year Spencer Haywood jumped to the Sonics after a lengthy court battle, and in 1972 the Sonics were officially a winning team. They went 47-35, and that mark could have easily been better; they were 46-27 on March 3 that year, but had a rash of late injuries which resulted in them losing eight of their next nine. Then management did that weird thing where it makes a trade of a good player - in this case, team leader and star Wilkens to Cleveland - and fell back to 26-56 before hiring Bill Russell to coach in 1975. Russell took the team to the playoffs for the first time, where they beat the Detroit Pistons before losing to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.

Russell left soon after, and in the 76-77 season, the team started 5-17 when management rectified its earlier mistake by bringing back Wilkens. In 1978, the Sonics won the Western Conference Championship, but lost to the Washington Bullets in the Finals. For 1979, Seattle was packing a loaded backcourt with Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma, John Johnson, Lonnie Shelton, Fred Brown, and Paul Silas. They went back to the Finals that year, played against the Bullets again, and this time beat them in five games for their first NBA Championship.

With that core in place and a real title to their name, the Seattle Supersonics entered the 80's as a force that the rest of the NBA had to recognize. And for the first half of the 80's that's exactly what they were and how they played. But in 1983, owner Schulman took a look around and made a decision: His team was on top of the league, he was just a few years removed from their first NBA Championship, and he was packing a fantastic core of players. Time to sell the team, obviously! Okay, that's harsh; in all honesty, we can grant a pass for Schulman. In 1983, NBA basketball wasn't yet NBA BASKETBALL!!!, and being the baby among major sports leagues in the United States, wasn't yet beyond the point of having a lot of financial problems. David Stern wasn't yet in charge, the game rules had created an all-time bore, cocaine and me-first athletes were far more prevalent (hard to believe, I know), and the NBA was experimenting with the new three-point line thingie no one was sure about yet. It's entirely possible Schulman was just sick of waiting for the league to finally take off, but no matter what, the Sonics were sold to Barry Ackerley, and decline started there. Fred Brown retired, and he had been a mainstay for 13 years, including on the Championship team, so his number was also retired. Sikma was traded in 1986, thus cutting the final link to the Championship team of 1979. Although the Sonics had an All-Star Game MVP in 1987 and made the playoffs in 1989, getting to the second round.

The dawn of a new era began in 1989 when Shawn Kemp was drafted, and the next draft yielded Gary Payton. Those two guys had great talent, and in 1992, coach George Karl arrived, and the Sonics were back with a vengeance! Riding a 55-27 record in 1993, the Sonics played their way to the Western Conference Finals, where the Phoenix Suns needed seven games to finally dispatch them. The next season, the Sonics rode the lethal Kemp/Payton duo to the best-NBA-record 63-19 and.... Became the first top seed to ever lose the first round to an eighth seed when the Denver Nuggets beat them. Next year: 57-25, first-round loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. The following season, the Sonics hit the hardwood with the best roster they ever assembled, led by Kemp and Payton, and with a roster full of All-NBA Second Team selections. Their record was 64-18, the very best they had ever done, and they did manage to beat their first-round hiccups and go all the way to the Finals. Unfortunately, they had a dynamo staring them in the face: Michael's Chicago Bulls. ( http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html ) Not JUST Michael's Bulls, but a Phil Jackson-led Bulls team that also featured Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, a first-ranked offense, a second-ranked defense, and the greatest regular season record in NBA history at an ungodly 72-10. A lot of NBA analysts now try to use the fact that Seattle managed to steal two games from Chicago as proof that the Bulls were overrated, but these people do seem to forget just how deep and talented the Sonics were that year. (They also forget the Bulls that year only lost two games by double-digit scores as well, but we won't get into that.) The playoffs are a different beast than the regular season, and you don't make the Finals if you're not stacked. Seattle gave Chicago the best fight it could, but ultimately the Team of Destiny story played out full, and the Sonics were just another team failing to win a ring because it couldn't get through Michael and the Jordanaires.

While the Sonics continued playing excellent basketball through the next couple of seasons, their window was effectively shut after 1996. George Karl got pissed at management and resigned, one of their outstanding defensive players retired, Kemp became a major head case and was sent packing in 1997 due to a contract dispute, and Payton was traded to Milwaukee in 2003. It made sense now that the official team logo from there always contained "Seattle Sonics" instead of "Seattle Supersonics" 'cause this team wasn't super no more. The team surprised people in 2005 by winning their division, but that turned out to be an anomaly in an extended period of mediocrity. It was the only time they made the playoffs since 1998, and the last time they ever made the playoffs as the Seattle Supersonics. They were a lottery team from that point on, although they did draft Kevin Durant in 2007.

In 1995, the Sonics' arena was the smallest in the NBA and the owner couldn't get a quick influx of cash for an expansion. So the team was sold again. The Sonics were sold to an ownership group in Oklahoma City, and the leader of the group, Clay Bennett, thought up a new idea: Waste $500 million in taxpayer bucks to build a whole new arena in a Seattle suburb! In the meantime, in 2005, a big hurricane washed into New Orleans. I don't blame anyone for missing that story - it wasn't like anyone treated it like a big deal or anything - but it apparently caused their basketball team, the Hornets, to make a temporary relocation. Oklahoma City had been lobbying for a professional sports franchise for years to prove its arrival as a coming metropolis, but no one wanted anything to do with the place due to its, you know, being in Oklahoma. But Bennett's group successfully lobbied to get the Hornets placed in Oklahoma City as a temporary home - even had the arena built years earlier in anticipation of a team - and the Hornets were welcomed by the OKC populace with open arms. NBA Commissioner David Stern reversed his stance on Oklahoma City, so when the plan for the new Seattle suburban arena fell through, Bennett was able to say "Fuck this. Put the Sonics in a box; I'm takin' 'em home!" Even bought out the team's Seattle lease to do it early.

This resulted in lawsuits, of course. But the two sides did reach a unique compromise. If an NBA team gets placed back in Seattle, it will be allowed to pick up the name and colors and history of the older Seattle Supersonics. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be allowed to share the history of the Sonics, though, so when that new basketball team hits Seattle, we're going to have a unique situation in which two teams share one timeline until it gets split with a fork in the 08-09 season, when the Seattle Supersonics officially completed their transformation into the Oklahoma City Thunder. The team didn't lose anything from its final stance in Seattle, stinking up the league. But the next year was filled with a metric fuckton of movements and adjustments, and from the very beginning of the year, the kids with the Thunder were cohesive, and Kevin Durant emerged as their leader. In the 09-10 season, Oklahoma City routinely beat up the league's elite teams and finished 50-32. While they were dispatched by Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs that year, they did make a statement when they won the first game 101-96. The next season, they did even better, winning 55 and losing in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. In this past strike-shortened 66-game season, the Thunder went a whopping 47-19. In the Western Conference Finals, they dispatched a San Antonio Spurs team running with all its engines firing at full strength; the Spurs tied the Bulls for the league's best record, both teams being the only teams to be better than the Thunder. They had one of the league's premier defenses as usual, and their offense was finally putting up enough points to be fairly exciting as well. They even took the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, but the Thunder came back and swept the next four! The Thunder, in short, dispatched a team that had not lost a single game in the playoffs this last season. Now they've got their first conference title as the Oklahoma City Thunder, where they'll face the Miami Heat ( http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html ).

The Sonics retired six numbers: Gus Williams, Nate McMillan, Lenny Wilkins, Spencer Haywood, Fred Brown, and Jack Sikma. Mostly, those are guys from the 1979 Championship team, and one wonders where the Gary Payton number is. Wilkens is also in the Hall of Fame. The only other two Sonics in the Hall of Fame are Dennis Johnson, who was the MVP of the 1979 Finals, and Patrick Ewing, played there for a year after the New York Knicks ( http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html ) decided his age was getting the best of him.

I don't care what anybody says, the Thunder's snazzy duds are better than the gold and emerald combo the team wore in Seattle. Their current duds are said to take a lot of elements from the collegiate teams like the Sooners and Cowboys, which is a nice way to show their respect to their forerunners, since the Thunder are the first major professional team in the state of Oklahoma. As the Sonics, the team had a fierce rivalry with the nearby Portland Trail Blazers. As the Thunder, since this is Oklahoma and Oklahoma and Texas famously hate each other, you can expect rivalries to develop between the Thunder and the Mavericks, Spurs, and Houston Rockets. Since the Thunder played Conference Finals series against the Mavs and Spurs, in fact, those are well on the way. The appreciate fans, the people of Oklahoma City, have welcomed the Thunder as they did the Hornets. It might just be a honeymoon phase, since they've finally been recognized, but then again, did you watch the Spurs series? Did you hear the way those fans shouted? That wasn't shouting - it was booming, much like real thunder. These fans are ghost-riding like mad, and are on their way to becoming one of the most devoted fanbases in the country in any sport.

The Thunder have improved in their standings and in their value as a team. They've won over lots of new fans. Bennett's group clearly knows how to run a team. I say stick around, because with an exciting group of young players, this Thunder is really going to roll in the Western Conference.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Oklahoma_City_Thunder-562-1388080-224700-The_Thunder_Rolls.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Oklahoma_City_Thunder-562-1388080-224700-The_Thunder_Rolls.html Mon, 11 Jun 2012 15:29:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ Summer Heat is Brutal]]>
Yes, LeBron destroyed his legacy by making the leap, and he deprived himself of a chance to be in the argument as the greatest player ever. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Bill Russell are in that discussion because they provided cornerstones to teams that were rising powers and pushed them over the top. Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Hakeem Olajuwon saw teams through terrible times and were rewarded. James just rejected his placement to follow the leader and chase a free ring the way lots of players do, and James did it in his prime instead of taking the understandable route and doing it near the end of his career. But he will, no matter any outcome anymore, still be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players in history.

Anyway, take a close look at this list of cities: New York City. Chicago. Boston. Philadelphia. Miami. Which one of those cities doesn't belong with the others? That's right, even putting it in a strictly basketball context, Miami doesn't fit in. Somehow, the Miami Heat has developed ongoing rivalries with those other cities, especially New York City and Chicago. The first four cities have NBA teams among the classic, storied bunch of the league - The New York Knicks and Boston Celtics were both formed in 1946, when the NBA marks its true founding as the BAA; the Philadelphia 76ers were formed that same year as the Syracuse Nationals and moved to Philadelphia in 1963; and the Chicago Bulls were placed in 1967, after three other teams had failed there. The Miami Heat are also an expansion team, like the Bulls, but they were formed in 1988. Also, look at the other four cities - history centers, megalopolises around reeling in the Ellis Island immigrants. Miami is a known center of vice and neon. So you wonder about the Heat's rivalries and think, okay, how the hell did they ever get involved in this?

The Heat came into being as part of the NBA's 1988 expansions, which also included the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic, and Minnesota Timberwolves. One of the popular options for the name of the team was, believe it or not, the Miami Vice. Miami Vice being a choice for the team's name was the LEAST stupid way the Heat was handled back then; with a cast of kids and journeymen, the Heat somehow managed to win a whopping 15 games, and they had the lowest point production in the league. The NBA, in all its brilliance, decided somewhere along the line that the Heat were a Western Conference team, against all geographic logic. This meant they had some really long road trips. Their shortest divisional road trips were to Houston, which is over 900 miles down the road.

The next year, the league wised up and put the Heat into their proper conference, but it didn't do the team any favors. All that meant was that Miami now had to regularly play against the Bird Celtics, Jordan Bulls, Ewing Knicks, Thomas Pistons, and Barkley Sixers for what probably felt like an eternity. When all was said, would you rather lose to the Hakeem Rockets and Magic Lakers and, um... Drexler Trail Blazers and have the excuse of long road trips to blame? Or tour through that Eastern Conference gauntlet, still get blown out, and have no excuse? The undermanned Heat still eked out three more wins than their previous year, though, still posting losing seasons and, for awhile, not winning more than two games in a row. In 1991 they hired Kevin Loughery as their head coach, and despite losing a lot, he did just well enough for the Heat to squeak into the playoffs for the first time in 1992. Going against the defending champion Bulls, Miami was swept.

In 1993, the Heat traded their first-round pick to Detroit for their center, John Salley. Salley had played for two champion Pistons squads in The Motor City. Although met with optimism, Salley was more of a role-player for an awesome team like the Bad Boy Pistons of the 80's and not a keystone, so came the 1995 expansion draft, no one through a hissy when Salley was taken by the Toronto Raptors. In fact, the Heat did better without him, finally posting their first-ever winning record in 1994 - a paltry 42-40, but hey, a first winning record is a step in the right direction! A further step was taken in 1995 when the Heat hired their newest coach: Pat Riley, who led the Showtime Lakers! The Heat was the most-improved team in the league as they rolled to a 61-21 record in 1997.

It was around this time that Miami finally began to carve out its true niche in the NBA world. Riley began a set of fantastic player acquisitions, and several of the players he picked up went on to become identified primarily with the Miami Heat: Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, and other great players led to the Heat picking up a first playoff seed in 1999. It was a strike-shortened season and the Heat were promptly upended by a Cinderella Knicks team, and the aftermath was a bit of bad luck as Mourning missed the entire following season with a rare kidney disorder. He returned with 13 games left but was a shell of his former self. The next couple of seasons were among the worst in team history, and Riley stepped down as coach to be the team President.

In 2003, it was rebuilding time, and in a fast city like Miami, you rebuild in a fast way, or something. Anyway, the Heat signed Lamar Odom, Rafer Alston, and Udonis Haslem that year, then they drafted a Marquette vet named Dwayne Wade. The new additions made the Heat, a team prognosticated to fail, into a resurgent team which made the playoffs and swept the Hornets. Members of that team have said it was the most fun they had in their pro careers. While all this was going on, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, the big guns for the Los Angeles Lakers, were a pair of alpha dogs from the Western Conference who were getting really, really pissed off at each other. Two big egos, one team, no room, you know? Anyway, it had a tipping point, Shaq wanted out, Kobe and Phil Jackson (who believed Shaq was underachieving at the best of times) were in no hurry to stop him. Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant were shipped to Los Angeles for Shaq, who came to Miami determined to prove his dominance for all time: He showed up in shape and invented another one of his nicknames (I've always been a Shaq fan, even long before I watched basketball, and I love his array of nicknames: The Big Aristotle, The Diesel, Shaq Fu - albeit that one coming from a bad, poorly-advised trip into video game stardom - The Big Cactus, Shaqtus, The Big Shamrock...) and led the Heat to the Conference Finals in his first year, losing to Detroit. After the Heat's head coach stepped down for personal reasons in the middle of the season, Riley took up the reins once again.

In 2006, the Heat played the Eastern Conference Finals again, this time beating their previous year's opponents, the Detroit Pistons. They went into their first NBA Finals ever, facing an offensive power in the Dallas Mavericks, also in their first-ever Finals. Dallas convincingly won the first two games, and were well on their way to winning game three before Wade led the Heat on a comeback. With newfound confidence, the Heat blew out the Mavericks in game four, and Dwayne Wade officially broke out in game five by posting 43 points in an overtime thriller which Miami also won. Before game six, Pat Riley famously declared "one suit, one shirt, one tie." I know, I didn't get it either, but the team did, and the Heat were champions after putting Dallas away in that sixth game. They were only the third NBA team to win a Finals series after trailing 2-0. Despite numerous misfortunes the following season - Riley leaving, Wade dislocating his shoulder - the Heat won 44 games, but they were handily swept out of the first round by the Bulls. Shaq said before that season the Heat would repeat, on the condition that Wade stayed healthy. Well, he didn't.

Shaq went to Phoenix - thus officially becoming Shaqtus - in 2008, and the Heat went right back to rebuilding. Given the number two pick in the 2008 draft lottery, they grabbed projected superstar Michael Beasley after Chicago took Derrick Rose. 'Twas a bad moment for the team, because while both were projected for stardom, Rose went on to become a shining star in Chicago as well as an MVP. Beasley "The Beast" - whom a good lot of Chicago fans were lobbying for in favor of Rose; there was a big division between fans of the two just before the draft - lasted two years being serviceable before getting traded to Minnesota. After a few years of trenching it, the Heat were good again in 2010, winning 47 games. In the 2010 offseason, those 47 wins caught the attention of Chris Bosh, the career holder of many individual records for the Toronto Raptors, whose team seemed forever in regression. He signed with Miami that offseason. It also caught the attention of LeBron James, that year's BIG free agent reward. James left his old team in the most classless fashion imaginable, but as I covered, you can't really blame him for the act of leaving. People speculated on the Heat, some predicting a disastrous ego clash and others, dominance. The Heat began that year 9-8 with James fighting with coach Eric Spoelstra, leading to rumors of Spoelstra's dismissal. Then the Heat stopped in Cleveland, and the reaction of the jilted Cavaliers fans just appeared to wake Miami the fuck up! The Heat have been on a tear ever since. They made the Finals in 2011, a rematch against Dallas, and lots of people believed James received Karmic retribution for the way he left Cleveland when Miami came up on the losing end that time.

The Big Three Heat isn't boding well for their image, though. Now, you had to know a team from a wealthy port city and party center like Miami wasn't going to stay down forever, not with everything the city itself has to offer. But the way Miami went about it made them into the NBA version of the New York Yankees. That's quite a trick, because people like me who only relatively recently started watching basketball already long believed that mantle was long taken by the Los Angeles Lakers and, to a lesser extent, the Boston Celtics. The Heat didn't help matters a whole lot when they went on to brag about how awesome they were going to be, introducing their new starting lineup in a glitzy ceremony with a stage and fireworks and everything!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmwJipHdqpA

Miami seems like such a natural place to place a basketball team, and I'm sure the Heat would have succeeded no matter what and become one of the league's real generational teams, one of those teams that gets passed on to kids and stays in the area for a good long time. And lord knows, the style of basketball played by the Heat now is fast and high-flying and exciting, a perfect fit for Miami. Unfortunately for them, their decision to take the short track has probably cost the Heat some national fans - although it probably also got them a lot of national fans too - and their premature braggadocio about a dynasty was never going to come off as anything except arrogant. But there's no denying this: The Heat ARE good, and they WILL win multiple titles during The Big Three era.

And no, LeBron James may never set foot into Ohio again. But when his career is over, I will go out on a limb and predict that the blow left by his exit from Cleveland will be forgotten by most basketball fans, except those in Ohio itself. But just relax, order a pizza, watch the Heat dominate the NBA playoffs, and seethe away as James humiliates everyone everywhere. He's the great NBA villain of the moment, and it'll be fun.

Other NBA reviews:

New York Knicks:
http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html

Chicago Bulls:
http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Miami_Heat-562-1388105-224650-Summer_Heat_is_Brutal.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Miami_Heat-562-1388105-224650-Summer_Heat_is_Brutal.html Fri, 8 Jun 2012 15:46:24 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Greatest Bullfighters]]>
No one was sure of professional basketball in Chicago when the Bulls were created in 1966. Lord knows, there had been a few attempts at it: In the 30's, the god king of Chicago football, George Halas, created the Chicago Bruins with the hope they would do for basketball what the Bears were doing for football. The Bruins played in the short-lived American Basketball League, which went from 1925 to 1931. Halas tried again in 1939 with the National Basketball League, and that time they only went until 1942. When the Basketball Association of America was formed in 1946, the Chicago Stags debuted in 1946 as a charter member, but they folded just before the BAA merged with the NBL to form the NBA. The struggling NBA tried its luck again when it created the Chicago Packers in 1961, but it was probably a mistake to take the name of the Bears' biggest rival, so they changed their name to the Zephyrs in 1963 before bolting to Baltimore the same year. Third time proved to be the charm, with a logo designed by noted American sports artist Theodore Drake, one of the great icons of professional sports anywhere: Red, black, with a truly mean face and blood on the tips of its horns, the logo has never been changed.

The Bulls themselves hit the ground running with Red Kerr as head coach. (What is it with the NBA and old-school coaches named Red? Red Kerr, Red Holzman, Red Auerbach...) They secured a 33-48 record in their inaugural year, not good but still the best ever by an expansion team. Somehow it managed to get them into the playoffs (the NBA was really small back then) where they were promptly eliminated by the Saint Louis Hawks in the first round. The next year, they did something outrageously stupid: They traded their best player, Guy Rodgers, to the Cincinnati Royals, and suprise surprise! Their promise of their first year went straight down the crapper! Their second year, they started 1-15 and finished 29-53 and got waxed in the playoffs (you know, early NBA, a 29-53 team in the playoffs is just pathetic) by the Lakers. After that year, Jerry Colangelo, who ran the front office, took up that position with the newly-created Phoenix Suns. Kerr went with him, and he was replaced by Dick Motta, who won three Big Sky Conference Championships at Weber State. He was an unlikely choice, but he was the one who forged the original identity of the Bulls: Defensive, tough, didn't take any shit, and always ready to fight the other team to the death even if they weren't as talented.

The 1970 Bulls were the highest-scoring squad in team history - they averaged 114 points a game. With defensive stalwart Jerry Sloan and leading scorer Bob Boozer, the Bulls acquired Bob Love by trading with the Milwaukee Bucks and started playing like a competitive team in the 70's. In 1971, they posted a 51-31 record through rugged, intimidating physicality, going to the playoffs and getting drubbed by the Lakers again. The Bulls then reeled off a stretch of 50-win seasons and made the Western Conference Finals in 1974. The next few years saw them slipping, posting good but not great records except for a 50-loss 1976 season when Sloan was hurt. Then, as the downward spiral points, the Bulls sucked again, except for a 45-37 record in 1981 when they eliminated the New York Knicks from the playoffs. Those later years had stellar performances from Artis Gilmore, Scott May, and Norm Van Lier, but they were just a bad team by then, and a revolving door of coaches eventually saw the Bulls finishing 1984 with a 27-55 record - second-worst in team history at the time - and the Bulls' flagging fanbase crying to the fates for a miracle.

Incredibly, the fates were listening.

NBA fans know the 1984 draft may have been the most important one in history. It gave the league a lot of new faces and personalities. Among the draftees that year was a young North Carolina player named Michael. Now, Michael was packing some SERIOUS talent, and everyone knew it - he was a projected superstar. The Houston Rockets, going first, picked Hakeem Olajuwon. The Portland Trail Blazers were second, and drafting for the need of a low-post scorer, they picked up a Kentucky product named Sam Bowie who had an injury-riddled past. Michael seethed - after all, it was him who Bobby Knight, after seeing him, called the Blazers (their GM was a friend of Knight's) and begged them to take him. (When the GM, Stu Inman, said the Blazers were in need of a center, Knight reportedly screamed in response "WELL, PLAY HIM AT CENTER, THEN!") Chicago, unable to hide their disbelief, made Michael the next selection. And so Michael reported to Chicago, where he selected the number 23 (because he believed that no matter how good he got, he would only ever be half as good as his brother, who wore 45) to wear under the felt letter embossing the surname J-O-R-D-A-N.

Some players are extremely competitive, and hard workers. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson always fought with each other in their competitiveness, raising each other to greater heights and eight rings between them. Bill Russell was competitive - his motivation was to get the Celtics to win, and he rode that to eleven rings. Jordan, though.... Jordan was a form of competitive that no one else would ever really want to be. The stories are legendary: He used every slight against him, real or imagined, for motivation. Upon losing a Ping-Pong match to a teammate, Jordan bought his own table and became the best Ping-Pong player on the team. He bribed airport luggage carriers to put his baggage first, then bet teammates his luggage would be the first out. He destroyed Clyde Drexler in game one of the 1992 Finals because the press got stupid and started comparing the two, and when Portland said they would beat the Bulls by making them shoot threes, that's exactly what Jordan did - and he set a record doing it. By the 90's, in a league where everyone talked smack, Jordan was off-limits because teams playing him didn't want the damage to be worse. When Jordan contemplated his return with the Washington Wizards and was at a tryout, Paul Pierce said he better not return and was chided by his coach for it - this was after Jordan was out for three years! When Jordan made his Hall of Fame speech, he used it to counter every slight and talk smack to everyone. In other words, Jordan was competitive to the point of pathological destruction.

With Michael Jordan destroying the league with the intensity of a level five tornado, Chicago got busy surrounding him with some indomitable talent like Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen. In 1989, Phil Jackson was given head coaching duties in Chicago, where he introduced the triangle offense. Now all the pieces were in places, and in 1991, the Bulls charged off to the first of three titles before Jordan retired to try his hand at baseball. When that washed out, Jordan returned for 1995, and with a new supporting cast which included Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley, and the best bench in the NBA, the Bulls reeled off three more championships. In six Finals appearances, they never lost. In the process, they enjoyed several 60-win seasons, set the record for regular season victories in 1996 by going 72-10, and established themselves as one of the league's premier teams. The Bulls, originally doomed to the kind of small-market feel shared by the Chicago White Sox, had risen to the top of the NBA and won more titles than any other team except the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. They also became one of the league's true global teams as Jordan established himself as a brand of his own and, once Magic Johnson and Larry Bird retired, became the face of the NBA.

It's Jordan's shadow which hangs over the team, which is understandable because he played a huge role in turning the NBA from a blip league which had been in serious danger of going under just a few years before his arrival into one of the most popular and respected professional sports leagues in the world. When the team moved from Chicago Stadium to the United Center, United Center became known as - and still is known as, and in my first tour of Chicago as a resident, was introduced to me as - The House that Michael Built. Naturally this necessitated the retirement of Jordan's number 23, which now hangs alongside the numbers 4 (Sloan), 10 (Love), 33 (Pippen), 545-193 (Phil Jackson's record as coach), and Jerry Krause, the GM who built the Jordan teams. LeBron James, who donned 23 when he first entered the NBA with Cleveland, switched when he moved to Miami and believes everyone wearing 23 should give it up. (The list of players currently wearing it is considerable, and none of the current 23-wearers are worthy of carrying Jordan's jockstrap.) Unfortunately, Jordan's legacy has come under fire recently due to some revelations about his character, but despite his gambling, hedonism, and shitty basketball acumen as an executive, nothing will ever diminish what he did for the Bulls and the NBA. And to top it all off, Jordan was one of the focal points of The Jordan Rules, one of the first adult sports books I ever read, and one of the best. Its author, Sam Smith, is the Chicago Tribune's beat writer for the Bulls. It exposes Jordan in a way a lot of people hated, but still, awesome book, and I highly recommend it.

When the Bulls dynasty took its final title out of Utah in 1998, they were running on fumes and were worn and decrepit. From there, it was either suffer a slow decline or implode the team and rebuild from scratch. Neither option looked good, and Krause went with the second, trading and refusing to bring back a lot of the dynasty's big names. Krause still had an eye for talent - he brought Elton Brand aboard, as well as Ron Artest, the successor to Dennis Rodman as the league psycho freak. They began finishing with their worst records ever, not even winning 20 games for two straight seasons. They didn't go back to the playoffs until 2005, with the assistance of, Tyson Chandler, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng. In the 2007 season, they signed Ben Wallace, overcame a 3-9 start, won 49 games, and went back to the playoffs. They beat the defending champion Miami Heat in the playoffs, then faced the Detroit Pistons in the second round. Detroit took a 3-0 series lead, but the Bulls forced a sixth game and for a minute, looked like they would be the first-ever basketball team to win a series after falling behind 3-0. This was my first full-season Bulls team in Chicago, so they have a special piece of my heart for displaying such toughness. Being from a non-basketball city, that was the first basketball team I could truly call my team.

While the Bulls missed the playoffs the next couple of years, in 2008 they were eligible for the draft lottery. They had a meager 1.7 percent chance of winning it too, which is why they sent some very low-level executive to the lottery whose name was misspelled and mispronounced on national TV. But nevertheless, a 1.7 percent chance is still a chance, and when the Bulls won the first pick, it sped up their recovery exponentially when they took Derrick Rose with the first pick, not only a good choice but a seminal one because Rose is a Chicago native. They went 41-41 that year, which locked them into an eighth-seed playoff seed and a mortal battle against the Boston Celtics. The Bulls further won my over in that series, one of the league's all-time classics, a hard-fought fight which contained seven overtimes and went the seven-game distance. The Bulls have since returned to prominence, and although they haven't yet gone the distance again, it doesn't look like the wait will be much longer.

Among the cooler traditions in Bulls lore is the use of songs like "Sirius," which became famous while the dynasty was playing. "Sirius" is accompanied by a jumbotron graphic of a herd of bulls charging down Madison Street into United Center, and culminates with the player introductions. The visiting team introductions are accompanied usually by Pink Floyd's "On the Run" or "The Imperial March" from Star Wars. One of the team's unofficial traditions is wearing black socks during the playoffs, and at one point in their season, the Barnum and Bailey Circus visits United Center, so the team is forced to play all its games during that time on the road, a tradition known as the Circus Trip in Chicagoese as well as something the city's NHL team, the Blackhawks, shares. In 2006, the Bulls were one of the first three teams to partake the league's Saint Patrick's Day uniform program, along with the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. They also honor Chicago's hispanic heritage by wearing slightly altered red uniforms with the words "Los Bulls," one of many teams to do that. But it's that powerful, intimidating logo that people identify the most with the Bulls, an icon which the team's followers are proud to don.

Like every other Chicago sports team, the Bulls hate Detroit, and a visit to United Center will frequently include the shout "Detroit sucks!" Bulls/Pistons is the main rivalry, and it hit a very nasty apex while both teams were powers in the late 80's and early 90's. The Detroit Pistons won two titles in the 80's, with the Isiah Thomas Pistons always getting the better of Jordan and the Bulls. There was a real hatred there - the Pistons bragged about a super-secret set of defenses called the "Jordan Rules." When Sam Smith wrote his book of that very name, he exposed Detroit's "Jordan Rules" for what the Pistons from those days later claimed them to truly be: A term meant to screw with the league psychologically. It was a code name for a set of simple defenses meant to funnel Jordan away from the paint, but the term tricked everyone into believing they were some sort of government nuclear secret which only the Pistons could deploy. There's no way to understate this: The Bulls and Pistons HATED each other, and when the power balance between them shifted to Chicago in 1991, the Pistons exited the arena without shaking hands after the Bulls swept them in the Eastern Conference Finals. The rivalry was dormant, but has been slightly renewed with Detroit's 2004 title, 2005 conference title, Ben Wallace's defection, and the teams playing against each other in the 2007 playoffs. The Knicks are also a huge Bulls rival - the Knicks fought the Bulls hard in the playoffs but never got the better of Jordan; when they finally won the Eastern Conference Championship in 1994, Patrick Ewing and his gang needed Jordan to play baseball in order to do it. The Miami Heat are also perennial Bullfighters, but they aren't very successful. The Heat did take the series in 2006, eventually winning the Championship, but the Bulls got even the next year by sweeping them in the first round. Miami answered by beating Chicago in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. They've met in six playoff series, with Chicago having a 4-2 edge but Miami taking two of the last three.

I said in my Knicks review that I'm a Knicks fan, and that's the truth. But here's a bit of my background following basketball: I got into it to follow a schoolmate who was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2002. The NBA was playing slow back then, and so the primary reason I followed the league was for word on him, but I was otherwise bored by the sheer volume of play stoppages. So for my first few years of basketball watching, I didn't attach myself to any team in particular. It wasn't until the league eased up its rules and I moved to Chicago that I finally had a team to really latch onto. I adopted the Knicks just before returning to Buffalo in order to show my hometown connection. But overall, it's the Bulls I'm more attached to, because Chicago had a basketball team and Buffalo didn't really care. (Kind of like my baseball situation.) Ever since I saw them play in Chicago and regularly watched, I've been a proud Bulls fan. Especially after that Boston series in 2009. And I admire their ethic of toughness, and the way they rose up from perennial underdog to a force and a real ambassador for the league and sport. Unlike the Knicks, they didn't have that status bestowed on them by virtue of being in the team's headquarters, something I truly love about them.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-Chicago_Bulls-562-1379358-224541-The_Greatest_Bullfighters.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-Chicago_Bulls-562-1379358-224541-The_Greatest_Bullfighters.html Sun, 3 Jun 2012 18:37:57 +0000
<![CDATA[ In the New York Groove]]>
Forget the newly-minted Brooklyn Nets, the big-time team from the Big Apple for the NBA is the New York Knickerbockers, better known to the casual fan as the Knicks. You would think these guys, being one of the crown jewels of the NBA, would have a half-dozen titles to their long and storied history, but nope! They only have two, and both of them were won during a single era: The 70's dynasty, when the team won three conference titles in four years to go with the actual NBA Championship in 1970 and 1973, with that second one being the Knicks' most recent league victory. The Knicks did have a couple of other eras of greatness: in the early years of the National Basketball Association, they reeled in three conference titles in a row from 1951 to 1953, and after those smart-passing 70's teams stopped winning the conference championship, they won two more during their bridesmaid years in the 90's: 1994 and 1999.

With me, though, championships are only part of the attraction to teams. I am, just as much, enthralled by a deep history replete with the stories that live on in fame or infamy. And, once again, I must remind you that the Knickerbockers are The New York Team, in case you've forgotten. In basketball's case, they're The ORIGINAL New York team, which means what they lack in championships, they make up for in a history and a series of stories that go back, Back, BACK! All the way back to 1946, which is the year the Basketball Association of America was founded. Basketball was a growing sport back then in New York City, and a few owners of hockey arenas began wondering what would happen if their buildings - Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden among them - were to stage basketball games when the hockey players had the day off. In 1946, some businessmen gathered in New York City and founded the Basketball Association of America - the BAA - to find out. Immediately at the founding, those same folks gave a college basketball promoter named Ned Irish a team, since he was running Madison Square Garden and teams always have to be in the Big Apple. Ned named his new team the Knickerbockers, which was once just a fancy way of saying someone was a New Yorker. The Knicks first played on November 1, 1946 in the BAA's first game. They beat the Toronto Huskies 68-66.

The Knicks were forced to play a lot of their earliest games in the 69th Street Armory because of MSG's crowded schedule. Their first season ended with a 33-27 record and a playoff birth, in which the Knicks dispatched the Cleveland Rebels before getting swept by the Philadelphia Warriors in the semi-finals. The following season, the Knicks became the first team to sign a non-white player when they added Japanese-American Wataru Misaka. In 1950, the BAA merged with the older, more small-town-oriented National Basketball League, and together they became known as the National Basketball Association, or the NBA. In the following years, the Knicks signed the league's first black player, Sweetwater Clifton, and took off an a run of conference titles. They were denied championships in all three years, though, by the Rochester Royals in 1951 and the following two years by the Minneapolis Lakers. They did dominate throughout the decade, though.

Things went south from the late 50's to the early 60's, and the team only made the playoffs once during that span. They had their heroes during that span, especially Richie Guerin, who was the first Knickerbocker to break the half-century point mark in 1959 when he dumped 57 on the Syracuse Nationals in a single game. In 1962, the Knicks were etched into the league's lore again for one of the most incredible moments in league history: On March 2, 1962, the Knicks played against the Philadelphia Warriors in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in front of only 4124 spectators without any cameras, since the NBA was on the pro sports fringe and nobody really gave a shit back then. Only two photographers were there. While the Warriors began the game with only the idea to win, their big man, a dominating center named Wilt Chamberlain, wanted to break the record for free throws during the game. But once Wilt had put 41 on the board by halftime, a Warriors player suggested just getting the ball to him to see how many points The Big Dipper could get. Philadelphia's team concept broke down, and the last ten minutes of the game turned into a farce when all the Warriors players kept handing off to him. With six minutes left, the Knicks tried desperately to keep the ball away from Chamberlain, and in the last few minutes, the game turned into a parade of fouls as both teams used intentional fouls against each other. Although the fact that the Knicks were a bad team at the time and the ridiculous go-to-Wilt technique the Warriors used that day kind of mar the moment, nothing can be said that change the fact that Wilt Chamberlain posted a whopping 100 points in that game.

After a decade in the doldrums, the Knicks brought in Red Holzman to coach in 1967, and he took the team to its absolute peak. They drafted Willis Reed, whose impact was immediate, in 1964. He was Rookie of the Year. In 1967, rookies Walt Frazier and Phil Jackson (yeah, THAT Phil Jackson) were named to the league's All-Rookie Team. Smart drafting and shrewd trading earned the 70's Knicks recognition as one of the smartest teams in the NBA while Holzman, Reed, Frazier, and Dave DeBusschere guided the team to four 50-win seasons, three conference titles, and Championships in 1970 and 1973. From 1967 to 1975, the New York Knicks were a force, and every other team knew the way to the title took them through New York. With six players who eventually had their numbers retired, seven Hall of Fame members, an 18-game winning streak in 1970, Willis Reed playing injured, and classic playoff series against the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, fans still regard that nine-year stretch as the team's finest hour.

After that, Reed retired, and then Holzman was let go when the team made a desperate ploy to keep Reed by making him coach. When they saw what a mistake that was, they rehired Holzman, but the damage was done. The Knicks had a few good years - they won 50 games in 1981 and followed that up with 44 and 47-win years, but were back on the bottom end for the 1985 season, which got them a place in the league first-ever draft lottery. The Knicks have the dubious honor of being the first-ever draft lotto jackpot winner, and in 1985 the million-dollar prize was a Georgetown product named Patrick Ewing. From 1988 to 2000, the Knicks made the playoffs every year with Ewing at center, and to a point, he's considered the best individual player to suit up as a Knickerbocker. He was drafted with the expectation that he would be the next step in the evolution of the defensive center, an idea pioneered by Celtics legend Bill Russell. Unfortunately, while many of his individual achievements are something to behold, Ewing was never able to transcend his role the way Russell did, and he only made the Finals twice, in 1994 and 1999, losing both times. In his defense, that's not entirely his fault. He had the misfortune of peaking in the prime of Michael Jordan's era, and the Jordan Bulls spent the decade tormenting the Knicks and keeping them out of the Finals completely. (This will become a recurring theme.)

In spite of that, the Knicks did rule in the 90's as one of the league's elite teams. The legendary Pat Riley was hired to coach while Ewing was given a strong-enough supporting cast with players like Charles Oakley, Derek Harper, and John Starks. They fielded some tough-as-nails defenses, and although they kept getting their asses handed to them by Chicago, they always came at the Bulls with everything. The rivalry between the Knicks and Bulls is still one of the most pronounced rivalries in the league. It hit its zenith in the 90's, and while it produced a share of memorable games and moments, if I'm being honest about it, the Bulls were definitely better. The only year in the midst of the chaos when the Knicks were able to get the better of the Bulls was 1994, when Michael Jordan was trying his hand in the Chicago White Sox farm system. And the Bulls still dragged the series out the whole way. In 1999, Jordan was past his prime and out of the league again, so both those conference titles came without Jordan standing in the way.

Both teams experiences a real dropoff in the millennium. Jordan retired and ran the Washington Wizards into the ground. Ewing, around for 15 years, was traded after the Knicks decided he had outlived his usefulness and given them all he could. As for where the Knicks went... God, do I really have to write about this? Shit. Good lord, what became of the Knicks for much of the time makes the head spin! I recently created a list of sports teams that have become so monumentally embarrassing for their fans that I could grant fans a free pass for defecting. ( http://www.lunch.com/BaronSamedi3-Monumental...heir_Backs_on-3121.html ) The Knicks ran on fumes for the first few years, but rebuilding was clearly needed. In 2003, they decided Detroit Pistons legend Isiah Thomas was the guy for the job. Unfortunately, Thomas failed to understand the salary cap, drafted poorly, forgot the team-first secret which made him such an outstanding player in Detroit, got sued for sexual harassment, and oversaw a load of really bad personnel decisions. Larry Brown, one of the greatest coaches of all time and a guy who managed to beat a Phil Jackson team in the Finals with a real dearth of talent, coached and totally blew it. Thomas himself was given the coaching position, and let's just say he was as good a coach as he was a team President, plus he oversaw a brawl in 2006 against the Denver Nuggets.

The Knicks are currently in the post-Isiah rebuilding phase, and despite looking a lot better, they're frustrating to follow because between Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmello Anthony, and Tyson Chandler, they have real talent. Over the last year, a player named Jeremy Lin emerged and gave the team a lift, producing consistently solid performances as a guard. The Knicks have the pieces, but can't make them fit.

The Knicks are known as one of the league's most popular and influential teams. As their arena, Madison Square Garden, is a brand name, so are the Knicks. As for the team itself, they've retired eight numbers and have ten players in the Hall of Fame. Most of these names, though, aren't among the most transcendent names of the league. Patrick Ewing is definitely transcendent, but despite holding most of the team records, he's also widely seen as overrated, and as a guy who reached the heights of basketball fame mostly because he was with The New York Team at a time when players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Michael Jordan were becoming their own brands. Willis Reed and Walt Frazier are probably the two most notable names on the New York all-time roster besides him. The Knicks have also had five Hall of Fame coaches, though only one - Red Holzman - won titles with them. The others are Larry Brown, Lenny Wilkens, Hubie Brown, and the great Pat Riley (who guided them to their 1994 conference title).

You know what the best part of cheering for The New York Team is? The rivalries! Everyone wants to kill The New York Team. The big one is with the Bulls, and I already covered that one in some detail. Although its mostly been dormant for most of the last ten years, it's undergoing a new resurgence as both teams are reshuffling and restocking and turning into contenders again, New York with Stoudemire, Chandler, and Carmello and Chicago with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah leading the way. As a person who spent significant portions of his human development in both New York and Illinois and therefore roots for both teams, I'm excited to see what direction this old rivalry goes in. The Knicks also famously feuded with the Miami Heat, who they've met in the playoffs five times since 1997, the series going the distance every time except the last. The Knicks are 3-2 in those series, but Miami won the last meeting 4-1. They also shared a huge war against the Indiana Pacers back in the 90's because their star, Reggie Miller, kept beating them up and the Knicks never figured out how to answer him. And now, with the recent emergence of the New Jersey Nets, the Knicks have to deal with them, too. The fanbases never got along, with Jersey being resentful of the overshadowing that comes with playing across the Hudson River. And now with the Nets in Brooklyn, there's gonna be some old-style dustings-up, because this is the first time since the New York Giants warred with the Brooklyn Dodgers that a team called New York will be regularly playing against a team called Brooklyn.

One of the things I really appreciate about the Knicks is that despite the flash and dash image of being The New York Team, they play very hard, defensive, physical basketball. They also based a lot of their historical game on passing and fundamentals - Red Holzman's teams won because of this! Knicks teams tend to play down-low, hard, gritty games and win through hard-ass defense.

I have to dock points for media overexposure. It's true that Knicks fans, having not seen a title since 1973, are long-suffering. But the Knicks have had a lot of chances and near-misses. A lot of other teams in NBA history have had a moment of glory, taken a title, then withered and died. If they've been lucky, they've won one or two conference titles, but for the most part, teams like the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, and Seattle Supersonics aren't primed and ready to explode like the Knicks always have the potential to do. I feel for the underexposed like that, being from Buffalo and doomed to wonder if the Sabres, despite all the hockey talent swarming in the area, will ever hoist Lord Stanley's Cup in my lifetime. The Knicks are considered long-suffering because they have the most fans moaning and groaning about it.

Only two titles, but in spite of everything, it's good to be a New York Knicks fan. They have a long and deep history replete with some of the league's greatest stories, and no matter how bad they can be (and we do credit owner James Dolan for destroying them right now), we know there are forever people attracted to the lights and cameras of the Big Apple. On that alone, the Knicks will recover and ascend to true true greatness in the league again. It's New York City. It's the city's true team. The New York Knickerbockers won't stay down for long.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-New_York_Knicks-562-1388090-224506-In_the_New_York_Groove.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-New_York_Knicks-562-1388090-224506-In_the_New_York_Groove.html Fri, 1 Jun 2012 17:08:56 +0000
<![CDATA[Yogi Berra Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Yogi_Berra-1011096-224411.html http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Yogi_Berra-1011096-224411.html Mon, 28 May 2012 12:22:00 +0000 <![CDATA[ Shaq Uncut: Reveling in His Immaturity]]> When I told someone I was reading Shaquille O'Neal's new autobiography they laughed and said: "Why? His life has been an open book." I had to chuckle. While it is true there is nothing particularly new here that hasn't been reported on, maybe numerous times, it's refreshing because it is clearly told in Shaq's voice and on his terms.

So what to say about Shaq Uncut? (I have to wonder if this isn't a play on words.)

For starters, as a general outline of his life story, he grew up with a stepfather in the Marines and lived a vagabond life, with a good part of his youth spent in Germany. He quickly grew to be oversized and wasn't particularly athletic but picked up basketball and made it his life's passion. Being in Germany wasn't particularly easy for him but he learned the rough and tumble of hardnosed basketball playing with adults. That, and probably from a good dose of tough discipline from his stepfather that can only be described as a little on the violent side.

As everyone knows Shaq went to Louisiana State University to play college basketball and found another father figure in coach Dale Brown. Three years later he was the number one pick in the NBA draft. After leading the Orlando Magic to the playoffs but never entering the promised land he eventually was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Los Angeles and the outsized body and ego of Shaq? What a match. But it took teaming up with the young phenomenon Kobe Bryant to win three NBA championships, and then the feud between the two of course. Fun stuff.

Shaq and Kobe couldn't coexist in the end, so Shaq headed to the Miami Heat to play second option to Dwayne Wade to win another NBA Championship.

All the while making rap albums, playing in movies, and being a cultural icon.

So what did I learn about Shaq in this book?

First he has big ego and is very immature. But there is a very endearing aspect to this. Not only does he admit it, he seems to relish in his immaturity. And makes no apologies for it, nor should he. He admits to being somewhat of a bully as a kid. He talks about going into a car dealership to buy a Benz but if another sports star has bought one, he has to buy two just to one up them. The oddest story is where he had $200,000 worth of quarters from a string of car washes he owned mounted on his wall because he "likes to see his money." His lifelong trusted agent/accountant started looking for the missing money and wondered where it went and ultimately found out.

And that personality feeds into his feud with Kobe. He describes it as two alpha males who can't coexist. He doesn't trash Kobe at all in this book, but instead seems to admire him. Placing the feud into the context of two big egos, two alpha males on the same team, which just isn't going to work, puts the entire episode in context. And he really lets Kobe off the hook a bit, because Shaq proved he can be a team player in Miami.

A second thing I learned is that Shaq is pretty smart. While he spends lavishly, he invested wisely and found a trusted adviser who had his back. There are plenty of examples of stars who made nearly as much as Shaq that went broke by overspending, bad investments, and stupidity. Not Shaq, clearly.

Third, despite the ego, Shaq has a big heart. While it is in his own words, he talks about spending money on charity as his way to give back and sometimes his spending is impetuous and not maybe the wisest decision. Most sports fans will recall when Shaq paid for George Mikan's funeral. Who is George Mikan? The first big man in the 1940's and 1950's who helped carry the NBA. Some say the first great big man. Nobody asked him to do it. He just found out that the family was in financial trouble and volunteered to pay for the funeral. There is a brief mention of this in the book, but the episode is well documented.

Fourth is Shaq's self-awareness. He did rap and movies because he always dreamed of it. Part of that ego, but really part of his childhood dreams he lived out. He admits he's not the best actor or rapper, but he notes that if you have the money and the celebrity to live out a childhood dream, why wouldn't you do it? He got great pleasure from both endeavors, so why not?

And the player he thinks is the greatest besides himself? Tim Duncan. It was refreshing to see Shaq recognize someone else for greatness.

There may be nothing new here, but Shaq tells his story, in his own words, and that is what makes it interesting.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-Shaq_Uncut_My_Story-562-1799100-221039-Shaq_Uncut_Reveling_in_His_Immaturity.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-Shaq_Uncut_My_Story-562-1799100-221039-Shaq_Uncut_Reveling_in_His_Immaturity.html Sat, 11 Feb 2012 22:28:01 +0000
<![CDATA[Dennis Rodman Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/actor/UserReview-Dennis_Rodman-562-1009641-219873.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/actor/UserReview-Dennis_Rodman-562-1009641-219873.html Wed, 1 Feb 2012 00:55:24 +0000 <![CDATA[College Basketball Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-College_Basketball-562-1430527-219317.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-College_Basketball-562-1430527-219317.html Wed, 11 Jan 2012 00:55:34 +0000 <![CDATA[Derrick Rose Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/athlete/UserReview-Derrick_Rose-562-1387977-218120.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/athlete/UserReview-Derrick_Rose-562-1387977-218120.html Sat, 31 Dec 2011 00:46:28 +0000 <![CDATA[ "Yong blood, I can't get you out of my mind." Song lyrics.]]> The amateur detectives find themselves mixed up with a ruthless gang of mobsters, many of whom are responsible for the drug trade-and a string of violent murders-from Washington, D.C. to Boston.  When their quest takes a gruesome and deadly turn, the three wonder if the're in over their heads.]]> http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-Splattered_Blood-562-1789896-216459-_Yong_blood_I_can_t_get_you_out_of_my_mind_Song.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-Splattered_Blood-562-1789896-216459-_Yong_blood_I_can_t_get_you_out_of_my_mind_Song.html Mon, 19 Dec 2011 00:42:14 +0000 <![CDATA[ Loose Information, and Also Sporadic]]>
The way Williams advertises Loose Balls is misleading. Jayson Williams and his co-author, Steve Friedman, promise a no-holds-barred look at life in the NBA. Loose Balls comes off as more of an autobiography told in an extremely sporadic and random fashion. When Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Rick Telander wrote a Harlem Globetrotter’s account of Williams getting drunk and accidentally killing his limo driver with a shotgun recently, Telander referred to Loose Balls as an autobiography. There’s a good reason for the mistake: A large chunk of the stories in Loose Balls have nothing to do with basketball at all. Many don’t have anything to do with the NBA. 

The stories Williams tells in Loose Balls are frustratingly random. One minute, Williams will be talking about life in Ritter, South Carolina, where he spent several years of his childhood. The next, he’ll be giving his opinions on Larry Bird or Michael Jordan. There are whole chapters in Loose Balls which have little – if anything at all – to do with life in the NBA; there's even an entire chapter about college basketball. I really hate to be sitting here calling out Williams on his apparent lack of focus, because it’s not like the stories he tells aren’t interesting. Many of them are. It’s just that after ten different stories about his childhood, you’ll want to call him up and ask him to get back to the subject the book is supposed to be about. I certainly understand why he would want to talk about many of the subjects he brings up - no one should have to watch their siblings go through what his sisters did. Still, these are things which Williams could have covered in an entirely separate autobiography. 

When Williams does talk about life in the NBA, his opinions are strong, as he promises, and many of his anecdotes are funny. He makes many good arguments for certain subjects. As fans, we tend to treat athletes as commodities much of the time, and Williams confesses that he has turned down autographs because people didn’t ask nicely. Many fans forget that common courtesy doesn’t take days off, and so Williams understandably argues that he should be allowed to say no if an autograph seeker doesn’t say “please.” Williams also makes a case for why athletes should be required to take real jobs during the offseason, something Williams himself is not averse to doing. He also says an athlete should be getting paid before being required to bring home the championship trophy, an opinion that makes him look hypocritical because here’s a guy making oodles of money while playing on a Nets team which was mediocre to poor during his years there. 

Williams also offers some amusing stories about underrated players, cheap players, who the worst floppers are, the smelliest players, and things of that nature. He seems almost obsessed with how good Michael Jordan was, even going as far as to call him underrated despite everything that’s been said or written about His Airness. 

Thing is, many sections feel incomplete. Williams includes a chapter on what playing basketball is like in certain cities, but he includes less than half the cities with NBA teams. And although the stories and opinions are told in a way which makes Williams seem very affable, it’s not like he conjures up anything earth-shattering. You could get about 90 percent of Williams’s opinions from almost anyone in basketball, or even many fans. 

Worse than that is that Williams tries to come off as affable even though he has a dark side which surfaces and wreaks havoc sometimes. This is a guy who laughs at how he was traded by the Phoenix Suns to the Philadelphia 76ers two months after the Suns drafted him. Williams didn’t want to be drafted by the Suns, and when he was, he did everything he could to raise hell so they would get rid of him. He is also a guy who very nearly left one of his friends to drown in the ocean, and who fired a shotgun blast so close to New York Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet, it knocked Chrebet out cold. His attitude toward things like this is very casual, so you end up thinking the whole episode with the limo driver a few years ago was almost inevitable and not just a freak accident. This is seriously frustrating because you get confused about just who the real Jayson Williams is. 

Loose Balls is amusing and may teach people who are completely in the dark a few things about life in professional sports. But if you’re looking for a scathing insider’s look at the NBA, you can do better. If you’re looking for a book about NBA life at all, in fact, you can do better. ]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-Loose_Balls-562-1781908-215368-Loose_Information_and_Also_Sporadic.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-Loose_Balls-562-1781908-215368-Loose_Information_and_Also_Sporadic.html Mon, 14 Nov 2011 18:30:20 +0000
<![CDATA[Phil Jackson Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> http://www.lunch.com/windycitysecrets/reviews/actor/UserReview-Phil_Jackson-440-1075343-214985.html http://www.lunch.com/windycitysecrets/reviews/actor/UserReview-Phil_Jackson-440-1075343-214985.html Fri, 4 Nov 2011 17:51:01 +0000 <![CDATA[ Rest in Peace]]>
And who could forget the battle between the Croatian team and the Dream Team, the greatest team of all time in the 1992 olympics. Everyone knew that he was a special player and he was going to be a star in the NBA.

It was so tragic and unfortunate that he passed in 1993 in a car accident (the anniversary of his death just passed on June 7). He had just come off the best season of his career and was almost guaranteed to be an All-Star the following year after getting the snub in 1993. He was only 28 years old but he helped pave the way for other International basketball players. 

It's also unfortunate that European players have been given the 'soft' label. Petrovic was anything but soft and could talk trash with the best of them and wasn't afraid to back down:

"When you go out onto the floor, its important that you don't back down for anyone. The players do everything they can to distract one another. If you back down and don't retaliate, then they've succeeded. I fight back automatically, and they don't like that."

It was also unfortunate what was happening in his home country and the situation in Yugoslavia and the split of a friendship between him and Vlade Divac. For anyone who hasn't seen the recent ESPN documentary 30 for 30 'Once Brothers', I highly recommend it. RIP Drazen.

]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/basketball_player/UserReview-Drazen_Petrovic-562-1742490-208462-Rest_in_Peace.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/basketball_player/UserReview-Drazen_Petrovic-562-1742490-208462-Rest_in_Peace.html Wed, 8 Jun 2011 17:44:45 +0000
<![CDATA[Clipper Nation on Facebook Quick Tip by Mikeylito]]> http://j.mp/mhozFj
Help it to grow.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Clipper_Nation_on_Facebook-696-1737606-207685.html http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Clipper_Nation_on_Facebook-696-1737606-207685.html Sun, 22 May 2011 21:00:10 +0000
<![CDATA[ An Interesting Read]]> I always felt like as observers of a sport, we tend to like and dislike the wrong people. This book takes a look at some of the things that players do behind the scenes and how so many things are swept under the rug. Of course illegal acts are illegal acts but some are treated as worse crimes than others but int he end, players seem to get away with little or no punishment.

For example, the book goes into detail about former (current at the time) NBA player Ruben Patterson and his ordeal with the nanny who he sexually abused. I vaguely remember hearing something about it back when it happened but it seemed to disappear so quickly. I also think that so many people dismissed it or were not surprised considering this was during the 'Jailblazer' era of the Portland Trailblazers where seemingly every Trailblazer player was getting in some kind of trouble: Damon Stoudamire, Bonzi Wells, Zach Randolph just to name a few.

But back to the point that the author makes, these athletes seem to get away with everything and explains some of the reasons for it. For example the people who are the victims in these instances don't particularly want all the media attention because they know if it goes to trial, they'll constantly be monitored by the press and their privacy will cease to exist. What they tend to do is they keep a low profile and discontinue their cooperation with the authorities and surely enough, the cases usually drop.

In the case of Sam Mack, he continually broke the law and even with a sexual assault accusation was readmitted back into the university since it was just an accusation. He continued to receive second chances despite all of his transgressions, basically because of his incredible talent and potential. He even failed to pay his lawyer's fees even though these were the people who were keeping him from jail and the ones who essentially helped get him and keep him in the NBA.

What it really comes down to is that the NBA really wants to paint such a great picture of all of these athletes in order to make them more appealing and marketable for their merchandise and other things. In the case of Allen Iverson, his bad boy image was appealing to people and the NBA chose to embrace it.

I really think Charles Barkley said it best when he said, 'I'm not a role model'. There are a number of great athletes who also make great role models but the ones that people look up to aren't always the best role models and aren't nearly as 'perfect' as what they seem to be on the tv screen. I feel like I'm being more realistic than cynical when I say that these athletes will continue to do what they do and get away with it but it's also our fault for building these people up with continual support. I mean for one, based on a poll more people in the united states hate LeBron James more than they hate Ben Roethlisburger.

I definitely recommend this book, not just for basketball fans but for anyone. There's some disturbing details in there pieced together from evidence and depositions but people should know what really goes on.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-Out_of_Bounds_Inside_the_NBA_s_Culture_of_Rape_Violence_and_Crime-562-1677854-206252-An_Interesting_Read.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-Out_of_Bounds_Inside_the_NBA_s_Culture_of_Rape_Violence_and_Crime-562-1677854-206252-An_Interesting_Read.html Thu, 21 Apr 2011 21:25:18 +0000
<![CDATA[ The best basketball book I've read]]>
The book focuses on the '77 championship Portland Trailblazers and the years following that championship year. It focuses on all the players from Walton and Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Herm Gilliam and players who joined the organization in years following such as Tom Owens, Kermit Washington and Billy Ray Bates.

It was really interesting to see that occurrences we see today existed back then. The book goes into detail about the hierarchy of the players' wives, contract issues, problems within the organization, injuries and how they are dealt, and the mentality of players trying to make the team.

As a Clipper fan, I was fascinated by the story of Bill Walton and his move to the San Diego Clippers. The Clippers have always had to deal with injury curses and one can argue that it started with Bill Walton and his foot injury and the Clippers did have some regrets signing Walton without having him fully checked out. They just wanted to have that big name on their roster. All of it just seemed like a perfect fit with Walton recovering from an injury, making a major comeback in his hometown. But unfortunately, it didn't work out that way.

The book also goes into detail about the legendary Dr. Jack Ramsey (who has apparently gone crazy, voting for Manu Ginobili for MVP in 2011), and how he coached and his mentality behind everything. I found it interesting that he didn't particularly like to talk about Walton, following the trade but definitely gave him his credit when he did talk about him.

I could go on and on about the interesting things in this book but I'll just say that every NBA fan needs to read this book. The reader is able to better their understanding of what goes on within an organization and will also give the reader a better understanding of what it's like to be an NBA player and the things that they need to deal with: the money, the agents, the doctors, the organization- everything.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-The_Breaks_of_the_Game-562-1729683-206059-The_best_basketball_book_I_ve_read.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-The_Breaks_of_the_Game-562-1729683-206059-The_best_basketball_book_I_ve_read.html Mon, 18 Apr 2011 18:02:21 +0000
<![CDATA[ Great team, great fans]]>
Well luckily for me, I had an opportunity to go. It was only a 3 hour drive from where I was staying in Texas. No traffic meant that I got to Oklahoma sooner than I thought (pun intended).

I got a chance to look around the city a bit and the first thing I thought was, I totally wouldn't blame Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook if they ever wanted to be traded or left during free agency in the future because there's really not much in OKC. Being from LA, I couldn't imagine ever living in a small city like OKC.

As I drove around, i saw cars with OKC Thunder flags on their cars all over the place. To me this was amazing because here in LA, flags are only seen around playoff time and once the playoffs end, they're nowhere to be found. A major difference between fair-weathered and hardcore fans.

I got to the arena about an hour before tipoff and took some time to look around the arena. They have pictures of all the Thunder players outside of the arena, including the new additions, Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed and Nate Robinson:


On the inside, they've got banners of every team in the league. Of course, me being the Clipper fan I am, had to take a picture of the Clippers banner, right next to the OKC Thunder elevators:


They also have a bunch of interactive stuff for the kids, materials to make signs and even a live band.


They also have a booth where you can take a free photo with a lifesize cardboard cutout of some of the OKC Thunder players and a booth giving out free shirts, sponsored by the local casino. So much free swag, it's not surprising that the fans support this team like crazy.

I get to my seats (that I purchased last minute) and I look around and see Thunder fans, in their seats early and many of them wearing clothing that had 'OKC Thunder' on it. The whole time I was there, I only saw 1 fan wearing anything with the opposing team's name on it. I'm used to being at Clipper games where half of the crowd is cheering for the other team (well it's less than half now that Blake Griffin has arrived).

The players finish their shootaround and then the intro begins. I was pretty impressed:



The fans remain standing even after the tip. They stand until the team scores. It really gives the place a playoff atmosphere for what is only a regular season game.



The fans stay engaged the entire time, chanting 'DE-FENSE" every time the opposing team has the ball and whoever's job it is to cue the music and soundbytes in the arena is constantly busy because there's always something playing over the speakers.

During timeouts, they're constantly giving away shirts, free pizzas and all kinds of other stuff and they do it in creative ways. At one point, they had shirts falling from the rafters via parachutes:


And of course, 'Thunder' sticks for fans sitting behind the basket:


The game itself was exciting seeing Russell Westbrook driving to the hoop and scoring at will and Kevin Durant seemingly cruising through the game with only 9 points until he decides to turn it up and finish the game with 29. It was incredible.

By the time the 4th quarter rolled around the Thunder had the game in the bag and only some of the fans headed for the exits. The rest of the fans stick around and continue to chant and cheer.

And once the final buzzer sounds, the confetti and streamers fall:


I had a great time at the game and I love visiting new arenas to watch basketball. It was also great to be around true fans who have been selling out the arena even when they started out 2-24 in 2008-09.

So if you're a basketball fan and you have a chance to go see a game in OKC, I highly recommend it. It's a unique sports experience.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Oklahoma_City_Thunder-562-1388080-204930-Great_team_great_fans.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Oklahoma_City_Thunder-562-1388080-204930-Great_team_great_fans.html Wed, 30 Mar 2011 18:13:57 +0000
<![CDATA[ NCAA Basketball Tournament Shows the Flaws in the BCS]]>
No 3: Connecticut
No 4: Kentucky
No 8: Butler
No 11: VCU

If this was college football, Ohio State would be playing Kansas next Monday for the National Championship. Instead, 68 teams were given the opportunity to play for a chance at the national championship, and rather than allow coaches and sportswriters to determine who should have the honor of playing in the championship games, the players were allowed to determine their fate.

Isn't this what sports are all about? When all is said and done, one of the teams above will become champions. They may not have been the best team throughout the year, but Championships are about performing under pressure when it matters the most -- not the best body of work through the regular season. Just ask the 2007-2008 New England Patriots.

Is there a better analogy for the American Dream than the NCAA Basketball Tournament? The tournament gives 68 teams a chance to compete for the National Championship. You don't have to be a big name university or string together several years of success to establish a legacy -- if you win your conference, you're in. Even the Ivy League is guaranteed at least one spot every year in the tournament. Work hard, persevere, and show success, and anything is possible.

Obviously, history has shown that results like this year don't happen very often -- but even when all four #1 seeds make it to the Final Four -- there's still 4 teams with a legitimate shot at the championship -- rather than just two as in the BCS Football. VCU has shown incredible talent and teamwork this year that only makes NCAA Basketball even better -- perhaps they'll even have a affect on BCS Football.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-2011_NCAA_Men_s_Basketball_Final_Four-562-1723985-204827-NCAA_Basketball_Tournament_Shows_the_Flaws_in_the.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/d/UserReview-2011_NCAA_Men_s_Basketball_Final_Four-562-1723985-204827-NCAA_Basketball_Tournament_Shows_the_Flaws_in_the.html Tue, 29 Mar 2011 06:42:35 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Must-Read for Sports Fans]]>
The reader will continue to wonder how the data will connect with the assertion made by the authors but in the proceeding pages, things are explained masterfully through analogies, case studies and other data.

At times the reader will be completely blown away by the findings. For example, in football, a team that's on 4th down and 10 and is well out of reach of a field goal will undoubtedly punt, however, statistics showed that as long as a team is at least closer than 11 yards on the 4th down, they should go for it. 

Another shocking assertion is that the 'hot hand' actually does not exist. It's been a topic that's been brought up a number of times and players and coaches believe it to be true but there is no evidence proving that it actually exists. The authors explained that players who believe they have the hot hand, will continue to shoot, players will pass them the ball because they are taught to 'feed the hot hand' and in most cases, the player will end up taking more difficult shots due to the belief that they have a 'hot hand'.

The authors also go on to explain that players who do go on stretches where they hit a number of consecutive shots in a row will end up missing consecutive shots or going on a stretch where they struggle. A prime example was in the 2010 NBA Finals where Ray Allen was 'on fire' in game 2 but cooled off in game 3. The momentum simply did not carry over.

I've always believed in the 'hot hand'. For example, in a gym with no defenders and all the time in the world, I made 31 3-pointers. I felt like I couldn't miss. However after making the 31, I continued shooting and started missing left and right. In the end, I probably shot no better percentage wise than I do on any other day.

The way that the authors explained this phenomenon was with a coin toss. The odds of getting heads or tails is exactly 50%, meaning that just because there have been 2 or 3 heads in a row doesn't necessarily mean that it's due for a tails and that 5 straight makes doesn't necessarily mean a 6th or a miss is on its way. Of course there are more factors involved when it comes to sports but the idea is the same. Things will usually average out.

There are a number of other topics covered in the book but I recommend this book to every sports fan. It definitely makes one see sports in a different light and rethink strategies employed by players, coaches and teams.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-Scorecasting_The_Hidden_Influences_Behind_How_Sports_Are_Played_and_Games_Are_Won-562-1711773-202891-A_Must_Read_for_Sports_Fans.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-Scorecasting_The_Hidden_Influences_Behind_How_Sports_Are_Played_and_Games_Are_Won-562-1711773-202891-A_Must_Read_for_Sports_Fans.html Tue, 1 Mar 2011 00:01:50 +0000
<![CDATA[ A must read for hoop fans]]>
What it's about:
The book really does cover the entire history of hoops from the start when Dr. Naismith created the sport to the chaos during games by not having a standard set of rules.

The book goes on to talk about the all-time greats and the evolution of the game. The big men like Wilt, Kareem and Russell.

The authors also pay tribute to some fallen heroes such as Maurice Stokes and Drazen Petrovic who really did not fit the typical 'soft Euro-player' stereotype, but paved the way for future European players in the NBA.

Fast-forwarding to the present, the book even talks about today's game where Youtube has changed everything. For example, last night, Blake Griffin completed an alley-oop from a pass beyond half-court from Baron Davis and within 5 minutes, there was a link on my Twitter feed to the dunk.

Other fun stuff:
The illustrations in the book are incredible. The book is brief but extremely informative and the illustrations help. There are some funny ones such as the various hairdos of the 70's and a 'NBA thug-era' illustration of Allen Iverson.

And of course, one of my favorite illustrations, this one of Charles Barkley:



Recommendation:
Like the review headline says, this book is a must read for NBA fans. To quote a fellow reader, 'I just started the Free Darko book and I've already learned 100 new things'. That's how I felt reading the book. A lot of the early history was brand new to me and the section on the 90's really took me back to the good old days of hoops.  I don't think I've read a book more than once in my life but I have a feeling I'll read this one again one day.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-FreeDarko_Presents_The_Undisputed_Guide_to_Pro_Basketball_History-562-1703054-201308-A_must_read_for_hoop_fans.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-FreeDarko_Presents_The_Undisputed_Guide_to_Pro_Basketball_History-562-1703054-201308-A_must_read_for_hoop_fans.html Tue, 15 Feb 2011 18:32:40 +0000
<![CDATA[ Analyses of sports that could change a great deal of strategy and explains why many things are the way they are]]> As the authors conclude, home field advantage is partially due of the fatigue of travel for the visitors, lack of familiarity with the surroundings and in some cases the home team having players with skill sets tailored to the facility. However, the most important contributor to the home field advantage is unconscious bias on the part of the arbiters. The statistics clearly demonstrate that there is a slight but measurable bias in the outcome of judgment calls made by the arbiters in favor of the home team.
Another myth that is routinely stated by commentators on all types of sports is the touting of momentum. The fallacy that because a player or team has been recently successful it will continue to do so because they are "hot" is common but unfounded. A winning streak just means that they have been recently successful and means nothing regarding the next game, shot or time at bat.
One of the most chilling yet understandable conclusions is that for many players, the cost/benefit value of taking performance-enhancing drugs is economically worthwhile. This is especially true for the players coming from economically disadvantaged circumstances and their data leaves little room for doubt.
Innovation and moving outside the perceived reality will get you pilloried, even by people that should know better. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been enormously successful the last decade, routinely called a genius as a coach. No coach or manager in all of professional sports is more secure in their position. Yet, when he decided to go for it on a fourth down and failed, he was ridiculed by the press and television commentators. Yet, a simple mathematical analysis of the situation clearly demonstrated that his move was the right one to make.
With the current technology available, it is now possible to gather enormous amounts of data about major sports and then perform an extensive data mining analysis on it. The authors of this book are not the first people to reach conclusions that run counter to the perceived "best tactics" regularly executed in sports. Unfortunately, the fear of failure and ridicule are strong enough to prevent most of the conclusions from being enacted. Furthermore, sports commentators are also under pressure to find fault with a coach's actions when they lose, no one ever says "he did the right thing so it was a good try."
This is a great book, worthy of being used as a supplemental text in statistics, mathematics, game theory, sociology and economics courses. The conclusions, how they were derived and why they are generally not implemented fit into all of these categories.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-Scorecasting_The_Hidden_Influences_Behind_How_Sports_Are_Played_and_Games_Are_Won-562-1711773-202420-Analyses_of_sports_that_could_change_a_great_deal.html http://www.lunch.com/asdfsafsaa/reviews/book/UserReview-Scorecasting_The_Hidden_Influences_Behind_How_Sports_Are_Played_and_Games_Are_Won-562-1711773-202420-Analyses_of_sports_that_could_change_a_great_deal.html Sun, 13 Feb 2011 12:00:00 +0000