It started with an announcement. But in reality, it was a pronouncement. Business as usual in the NBA was no longer an option.
And the mighty Lebron was no longer Cleveland's favorite son. Not only did he make new living arrangements, he made them with two of the most dominant players in the league.
Suddenly there was a new evil empire, and they already had more nuclear weapons than the good guys.
It was a move that made global headlines. But one viewed unfavorably by the masses. The whole "Decision" fiasco had created a monster out of a team that frankly, should have obliterated opponents like they literally were monsters.
But forgetting all that, it seems as if someone hit the reset button on the whole league. Things can no longer be taken for granted and past events may no longer dictate the future.
Who knows what happens next.
For the first time in my life, the NBA is a mystery to me.
Think of all of the preconceptions that were left shattered and abandoned in the wake of playoffs.
Certainly not. In fact, the way they played - and conducted themselves—in their second-round series against the Mavs, was almost enough to put a black mark on their unbelievable run of championships.
They were swept and humiliated. All those experts (and fans like myself) had spent the whole year explaining why Kobe was a "winner" while Lebron James was certainly not, at least to this point. All of the propaganda, all of the criticism of the Heat and all of the confident pronouncements made in defense of the "Black Mamba."
What did he do to seize the moment?
Gone in four games. Losing by more than 30 points in the final game. A game infamous for the over the top thuggery of Andrew Bynum. Elbows were thrown, Shirts were ripped off and eventually sincere apologies were given. Basically, if a scenario was created that would somehow remove the luster from a team that had recently won five championships, this would be it. This was a shot across the bow from the Mavericks—and more importantly, the rest of the NBA—that there was no longer a script.
Quite the ignominious defeat of the defending champs, and the future is not exactly shining brightly. The team is still a contender, no doubt, but not a slam dunk. There are certainly a ton of legitimate questions to ponder over the future of this franchise.
In case you missed it, the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, is gone. After all those championships and all the unobstructed glory. He coached the most classic players from two separate eras of the NBA. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Kobe and Shaq. Most of their greatest moments unfolded right in front of him and many of them came straight from his playbook.
Kicked to the curb (and into retirement) as if it had been easy all along. Not only his reputation suffered, but our generation's closest thing to Jordan, Kobe Bryant, was dealt a confusing blow to his legacy. A consistently dominant "winner" had lost. Not just lost, but destroyed, by an underdog.
It's apparent that things could not have gone more wrong. But oddly enough, this was the trend of the 2010-11 basketball season.
As Bob Dylan once said: "The Times They are a Changin'."
Think of the strangest, most confounding scenario, and there is a good chance it would have happened this year but only if you didn't expect it.
The mighty Celtics felt similar shame. They were the odds-on favorite to win the Eastern Conference during the preseason. They had just taken a mighty Lakers team all the way to the Game 7 of the finals the year before. They were primed for success from the very beginning.
Until the season began winding down and suddenly, they found themselves slipping in the standings nightly to a Miami Heat team with a chip on its shoulder, and shockingly, an upstart Chicago Bulls team.
When the bleeding stopped, they found themselves in third place. By the time the Heat took them down in five games, it was not much of a surprise. They had lost their mojo. Rondo was injured. Kendrick Perkins had been dealt. Garnett was making more headlines for his taunts at opponents and his recent inability to make clutch plays.
They may have been overrated from the start.
(Photo: Kobe, the Black and White Mamba)
What about our Chicago Bulls team that was mentioned earlier? No one remembers seeing them listed as a championship contender in the coming year. In fact, it was basically split 50-50 amongst sportswriters, as to whether they would even win their division.
It didn't matter that both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah spent massive stretches of time on the injured list, the wins kept pouring in.
During the last portion of the season, they went an incredible 12-0 against the elite teams in the league. That simply boggles the mind.
Think about it.
Even if they played the Cleveland Cavaliers 12 straight times, by sheer odds, they would likely lose a few games. Now, replace the Cavs with the absolute best of the best in the NBA.
And all they did was win every single game.
The odds against this happening were astronomical.
Put simply, it should not have occurred.
But it's 2011, take your preconceptions and leave town.
At the center of this string of success was the vastly improved Derrick Rose. Everyone thought it was cute when he told a crowd of reporters that he did have a chance at taking home an MVP trophy. It seemed like a preprogrammed response to criticism that he was not more vocal.
"Why can't I be MVP of this league."
We all believe him now. He became a strangely enthralling mix of highlight insanity, clutch plays, and quiet confidence. Welcome to superstardom. Welcome to perverse expectations.
Plenty of other stories had their time in the sun.
However, by and large, the expected ones didn't live up to their billing.
From Boos to Losing
Yes, Lebron's return to Cleveland was a horrific spectacle. But really only for one quarter. LBJ was hitting everything that night. Miami built a huge lead early on, and coasted for the rest of the game. By the fourth quarter, James was done, and so was the resolve of the Cavaliers crowd. Booing tailed off, and the aisles filled with unsatisfied and dejected ex-Lebron fans who wanted just a bit more blood. In reality, there was nothing to cheer or boo about from virtually the end of the first quarter.
For Cleveland, it was supposed to be a therapy session. Instead it became a graphic and humiliating reminder of the singular talent that they would never again possess.
If only it had been somewhat competitive. If only Lebron was having an average night.
At least you still have Trent Reznor.
Melo' Drama—(or whichever uncreative Carmelo Anthony pun you prefer)
Anthony caused a stir in the league early on, with his upcoming free agency. It was becoming clear that he would not resign with the Denver Nuggets when he was freed contractually. It was also well-known that he had a desire to play for a large-market franchise, more specifically, one of the NY/NJ teams.
This played out for months. This was suspense in its worst form. The reporting was often suspect and sensationalistic. New and less reliable sources such as Twitter became the norm in the course of trade rumors with 'Melo. And for all of the buzz that surrounded this story, it seemed as if one theme was developing.
No one actually knew a damn thing.
And if they didn't live in Denver or New York, fans weren't so enthralled with hearing about it all day.
It was reminiscent of how Brett Favre's retirement decision loomed over the past few offseasons in the NFL. It dominated the headlines, yet rarely would anything new ever happen. Similarly, the general public seemed to care more about just getting it all over, rather than a profound interest in the result.
Finally, what most of us assumed would happen, became a reality. Melo was a Knick, and he was now teammates with Amare Stoudemire. Finally, The NBA might be closer to having a contender in the largest market in the country. It has been awhile since the Big Apple has had a team to rally behind. By seasons end, a sweep at the hands of Boston, they can still be considered a work in progress.
"Grandpa is looking awfully Spry"
Remember the San Antonio Spurs?
Turns out that they had at least one more year of relevance in the Tim Duncan-era. For the vast majority of the year, they were firmly in control of the No. 1 seed in the West, and the best record in the game.
This was quite a surprise to some. They had always projected to be a good team this year, but not great. There was nothing to suggest a shift from a mid-level playoff team to a No. 1 seed and championship contender.
Manu Ginobli had an MVP-type year, and unofficially became a star. Strange to think how far he has come. Most players do not peak in their later years. Not to mention the fact that he has a decidedly unique (European) playing style that hasn't always cut it in the rough-and-tumble NBA. But, just like Dirk Nowitzki, he has adapted wonderfully, and only now, is he at the peak of his game.
It's certainly strange to think that Tim Duncan has now been surpassed by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli in terms of stardom.
And that is another recurring theme. All the way up to Game 6 in the NBA Finals, the battle between a new, younger group of talented teams (Bulls, Thunder, Magic, Heat) was waged against the old guard (Celtics, Mavericks, Lakers, Spurs).
Nothing exemplified that contrast better than the series between the Mavericks and the Heat. The Mavs' victory may well be looked back upon as the last gasp for the previous generation. The proof is in the numbers, as in, playoff win-loss marks. Boston was upended 4-1 by Miami. The Lakers were swept.
Those aforementioned Spurs bowed out of the first round in six, almost five games. Another unpredictable twist.
It sure doesn't look promising for veteran squads. Even more unnerving is their likely destruction at the hands of an elite superteam sometime in the near future. Something tells me that the last stands from our past champs will not be very dignified.
Blake Griffin: King of the non-playoff world
Blake Griffin certainly deserves a mention. Somehow he refreshed the entire slam dunk highlight craze. I don't know if I have ever seen anyone with more spectacular dunk moves. The combination of hang time and power is extraterrestrial and certainly worthy of a few "OMG's."
I don't think anyone will forget his well-documented "leap over a Kia Jam." That image will linger. Hopefully sometime soon, he will take his Clippers for a ride in the playoffs. I am interested to see how he performs during pressure situations.
Dwight Howard: 90 percent Goofy—10 percent Donald Duck and Other Brief Observations
- Dwight Howard continued to show a lack of leadership in the most important situations. He couldn't get his team out of the first round against the Hawks. Even before that, his inability to take hold of his own emotions was costing him technicals and eventually games.
- Kevin Durant continues to perform under the radar. His team took the next step towards a championship by making the Eastern Conference Finals. Although Oklahoma City has a good squad, I just feel like of all the young stars, he will be the one on the outside looking in. He may have too much loyalty to a team and its personnel. It may hinder him from winning, as others end up leaving for better opportunities. He may lack a bit of killer instinct, too, although I'm not sold on that reality yet.
- Funny to think that Jason Kidd and Grant Hill shared Rookie of the Year honors in the early 1990's and both are still playing now. In fact, Kidd is now a world champion.
- RIP Shaq's career. He will always have a special place in my memories. I used to hate him. I used to bemoan his lack of finesse. It was embarrassing the way he shot free throws and he did not always give 100 percent.
He was the ultimate villain. His team almost always made it to the finals. He would slam the ball emphatically over everyone's favorite players on every team each game. He was successful on a level close to MJ but without putting in nearly the same devotion.
He had to be seen to be appreciated. His simple dominance was infectious.
Not only that, but he was a showman. Or perhaps just a giant kid, as he has stated. Some people have talked about him as if his personality was an act. I don't believe it to be. He had fun. He got 100 percent out of life. He may have been more genuine than anyone realized.
Who can forget that the man took three separate teams to the NBA Finals. Truly amazing.
See ya big fella.
Playoffs and Beyond.....
I certainly don't need to recap the playoffs. They should be fresh on the mind. They certainly followed the same pattern of unpredictability as the regular season.
How about Lebron James in the fourth quarter of the Bulls series compared to the Lebron James in the fourth quarter of the Mavericks series. Like night and day. First spectacular, and then pedestrian.
Now that the entire offseason will be devoted to Lebron-bashing and the forthcoming CBA issue, it will be interesting to see how he responds. Personally, I believe the bashing has gone too far.
I hate the Heat. I hate the way they were constructed. I hate the whole "decision" situation we were forced to suffer through. And I hated the celebration in Miami.
But I don't hate Lebron. Too quickly we all forget who he used to resemble. A kid with immense talent having fun and working hard. He was well on his way to winning it all. He's not a bad guy.
Just try and remember him three or four years ago.
In the End, Only Dallas Mattered
Who would have guessed this ending. In the year of the Miami Heat, it was a forgotten rival from the recent past who would plunge the sword in, and not only that. Dirk Nowitzki left as MVP of the series.
It was a classic playoff battle that began with the momentum clearly on the Heat's side. However, an iconic comeback in the second game—and almost every other game in the series—eventually sucked the life out of the Super Friends. Lebron suddenly lost all abilities to win a game.
It was a historically bad series for someone in his situation. He will pay dearly for it in the press. This is the dark side of this whole situation. I believe it is starting to hurt this man's mental state. In all seriousness, it has to be taking a huge toll.
Even the Miami media is fanatical about his failures. Listen to any sports station in Southern Florida and you will be taken aback. People have turned against Lebron. For some reason it's extremely vicious. It can't feel good to be hated for no good reason. Anger is one thing, but this has turned into something else entirely.
Also interesting to watch is the progress in getting a new CBA. As soon as that situation is resolved, the new strategies for competing with Miami will be revealed. Maybe some new superteams will form. Maybe the Heat will dominate. I really have no clue on what to expect.
But we shall see.
Back to the results. In a season marked by the treading of new ground, the biggest surprise was Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs finally shed their playoff reputation, and brought home the only thing that matters.
Dirk, you are now a legend. An equal among the greats of the past. This just confirmed that fact. This was certainly a special season. Even though much of it did not make much sense sometimes, it was a pleasure to see everything unfold.
Even if it did leave me thinking, "WTF!"
Here is my other article dealing with Lebron and other topics I mentioned above
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