Kobe Bryant's Playoff Brilliance and 20 Other Reasons to Save the NBA Season
Late last week, the NBA announced that if it could not strike a deal with the NBA Players Association by Monday, the first two weeks of the 2011-2012 season would be cancelled. In a matter of hours, the Monday meeting that may have potentially saved the first two weeks of the season was cancelled.
Reports have emerged about shouting matches during the negotiations as the two sides are so far apart in negotiations that they cannot even stand to meet with one another.
Make no mistake, this contract dispute is far more contentious than the one the NFL endured over the summer. Unlike the NFL, some NBA teams are losing money and owners want to change the way players are paid.
The players are willing to make some concessions, but these attempts at compromise are not to the owners’ satisfaction.
In other words, this is just the beginning.
I don’t want to set off a panic, but there is no telling when, or if, the 2011-2012 NBA season will open. From the jaw-dropping to the jovial, here is a list of things NBA fans will miss if this season is canceled.
Craig Sager's Suits
The sideline reporter has an unenviable task. He has to ask a coach or player a question when the coach or player wants nothing more than to leave the court.
Furthermore, while a fan might be more likely to watch a game for the color commentator and the play-by-play man, no one tunes in for the sideline reporter. Unless that sideline reporter is TNT’s Craig Sager.
While Sager approaches his craft with fearlessness, asking difficult questions of reactionary athletes, he is best known for his suits. The loud, wide ties and colorful jackets appear to be custom made from a clown college, and, to his credit, Sager is never afraid to up the ante.
One has to wonder if Sager secretly resents the ugly suit gimmick. If, in a private moment, he sits at the edge of the bed in his hotel room after several long nights and bad suits on the road, staring at the next day’s fashion atrocity and thinks, “My God. I am trapped by terrible fashion. This is my life now. I’m the guy in the bad suit. I wanted to the next Walter Cronkite.”
Likely not, but Craig Sager’s insights and suits will be missed if the NBA season is canceled.
Anderson Varejao's Flops
Many NBA analysts fans, and former players despise flopping. They see it as a cheap way to change possession and often compare players who flop to soccer players. A poor flop is obvious; an Anderson Varejao flop is artistry.
Some players will pretend to take a charge too early and crash to the ground before the ball-handler is even close. Varejao is always right on time.
Some defenders overact during the flop, thrashing rubbery arms through the air as they jump the ground like a professional wrestler. Varejao delivers a believable flop that leaves even the most staunch anti-flop fans scratching their heads.
Anderson Varejao is to the flop what Van Gogh was to painting or Beethoven was to music. The Cleveland Cavaliers forward is a good defender and decent rebounder, but as far as flopping goes, he is the NBA’s Leonardo DiCaprio.
Kendrick Perkins' Scowl
Kendrick Perkins was added to the Oklahoma City Thunder roster to legitimize their defense as they headed into the playoffs during the 2010-2011 Season. The wide-bodied center brought an attitude and intensity previously unseen in OKC.
Perkins plays hard and fouls harder, but when he thinks the whistle is undeserving he lets everyone know with a scowl that could clear a subway (or a Subway, for that matter).
In a game largely associated with offense, it is refreshing to see a player take his defensive responsibilities so seriously. Even if it scares the pants off us.
Spike Lee at Knicks Games
Perhaps this is merely nostalgia for the 1990’s, but Spike Lee’s courtside presence is as much a part of the New York Knicks as Madison Square Garden.
Unlike some other celebrities, Lee does not treat Knicks games like photo-ops; he heckles opposing players, rocks the home team’s jersey and celebrates wildly when the Knicks win.
The acclaimed director is such a part of the Knicks that fans are treated to an obligatory “Spike shot” during every televised New York game.
His rivalry with Reggie Miller was captivating, and fans and camera crews alike have wondered what he will do as an encore ever since.
Joey Crawford's Emphatic Foul Calls
Few officials in sports are prominent enough that fans know their names. This is not so for veteran NBA official Joey Crawford. The fiery 60-year-old Crawford has been an NBA official since 1977, and has worked more playoff and NBA Finals games than any other official.
His spirit is the stuff of officiating legend. He has such a quick trigger, he ejected San Antonio Spurs player Tim Duncan for supposedly laughing at him from the bench.
Crawford earned a suspension for his temperamental ejection, but once he was reinstated by NBA Commissioner David Stern, Joey Crawford quickly returned to making ostentatious calls.
Mikhail Prokhorov's Press Conferences
New Jersey Nets majority owner and Russian billionaire playboy Mikhail Prokhorov has been an enigmatic figure since his introduction to the Association. He was featured on 60 Minutes, and the similarities between Prokhorov and the rich Russian from the DirectTV commercials are too uncanny to be coincidental.
The business partnership between Prokhorov and rapper Jay-Z represents the best odd-couple combination since Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito teamed up in the movie Twins.
The NBA is a global brand, but Prokhorov’s foreign-ness fascinates the American sports fan. He speaks candidly with the delivery of a Bond villain. Even his jokes sound like death threats.
He is a savvy owner, signing Utah point guard Deron Williams to add to the Nets marketability, and a forward thinker, as he will move the team to Brooklyn to open the 2012-2013 NBA season.
Stan Van Gundy's Grimace
Sporting a moustache reminiscent of Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby and wearing a sport coat over a mock turtleneck as he flails demonstratively in front of the Orlando Magic bench, Stan Van Gundy is as fashionable as an eighth-grade Algebra teacher.
Lucky for Stan Van and the Magic, fashion does not amount to coaching success. Since Van Gundy took over as Orlando head coach in the 2005-2006 Season, he has coached Orlando to three playoff appearances, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 2009.
Perhaps his greatest trick was devising a scheme to make household names of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis.
Yet it is not Stan Van Gundy’s strategy that will be missed, but his facial expressions. Each time a call goes against the Magic or a Magic player misses a defensive assignment, Van Gundy contorts his face into a pained, confused expression.
He looks like a tired tourist trying to understand a native who gives him directions in a foreign language or a father whose son has just vomited in the car in the middle of long trip.
Stan Van Gundy has a face only an NBA fan could love.
Dwyane Wade Demoralizing the Competition
Dwyane Wade is one of the best clutch players in the game, and he is not afraid to show it. Since Wade won an NBA Championship in 2006, he has established himself as an unbelievable closer.
One of Wade’s greatest strengths is the casually demoralizing face he makes after a three to put the Heat over the top, a meaningful block or a dunk to ice a game. The face is simultaneously vacant and intense.
His “dagger” face says to an opponent, “That just happened. You can’t do anything about it, and even if you do, I’ll come up with another big play and you’ll have to look at this face again. Deal with it.”
As if Wade’s play were not enough for an opponent to overcome, he is a psychological terror as well.
Tim Duncan's Bank Shot
For 14 NBA seasons, the San Antonio Spurs forward has been brilliantly boring. Duncan’s game is as flashy as a cardboard box, but as solid as a brick.
The Big Fundamental has averaged over 20 points and 11 rebounds per game for his career, and was selected for the Western Conference All-Star team 13 times, tied for fourth most in NBA history.
Although age has crept up on Duncan and his minutes and points are down, his accomplishments cannot be denied. He won rookie of the year in 1998, MVP in 2002 and 2003, NBA Finals MVP in 1999, 2003 and 2005, and is a four-time NBA champion.
Tim Duncan is a reminder that one does not have to play above the rim to be a successful player.
Duncan doesn’t have dazzling highlights, but he has rings and is a surefire Hall of Famer.
Blake Griffin's Dunks
Not since Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan have NBA fans been treated to a dunker like Blake Griffin. The reigning Rookie of the Year redefines power as he skies above the rim to throw down the rock.
A walking highlight reel, Griffin is the biggest reason the L.A. Clippers’ reputation is enjoying a gradual resurrection.
Blake Griffin’s national coming-out party was the 2010-2011 Slam Dunk Contest where, in a stunning display of creativity, quad strength and product placement, he received a Baron Davis alley-oop from the sunroof of Kia as he jumped over the hood of the car en route to the contest-winning dunk.
Kenny Smith’s introduction and the appearance of choir added to the goose-bump-inducing moment.
Charles Barkley in the Studio
Charles Barkley was a prolific player during his storied NBA career, and may be the best NBA player never to win a ring. Now in the studio for TNT, Barkley is known for his honest outlook on the game, his opinionated humor and his mispronunciations of seemingly simple words.
Once fans get past Barkley’s delivery, they realize Sir Charles provides succinct and often correct analysis of NBA players.
He has a tremendous feel for how players respond to adversity and a realistic view of how players approach the game. He is brave enough to criticize coaches, owners, David Stern and star players.
If the entire NBA season is indeed canceled, I hope Charles Barkley will once again comment on NCAA tournament games. To lose his candor would be “turrible.”
Steve Nash Dropping Dimes
Canadian Steve Nash broke into the NBA with the Phoenix Suns in 1996, but he did not become a superstar until he joined the Dallas Mavericks in 1998.
In Dallas, Nash established himself as one of the most dynamic passers in the history of the game. Now back with Phoenix, every Suns game produces an amazing assist by Steve Nash.
Nash has 9,252 career assists (sixth all-time) and would have likely reached 10,000 by the season’s end if the season started on time. He averages over 8.5 assists per game for his career, but has averaged over seven assists per game each NBA season since the 2000-2001 Season.
While Nash’s number of assists is incredible, his ability to zip the basketball into tight spaces is even more impressive. He has excellent court vision and knows where his teammates are going to be before they do.
Sometimes, it seems he has eyes in the back of his head as he whips the ball behind his back to an open shooter.
Steve Nash involves his teammates in the offense better than anyone in the NBA. His lightning-quick dimes will be missed if the NBA remains locked out.
Ray Allen Shooting Threes
Ray Allen is ageless, the NBA equivalent of Benjamin Button. A 15-year pro, Allen had one of his best seasons during the Celtics’ 2010-2011 campaign with 16.5 points per game and a career-best 44.4% from beyond the three-point arc.
Allen surpassed Reggie Miller for career three-pointers made last season in one of the most emotional moments in recent sports history. Ray Allen’s 2,612 made threes is the most in the history of the NBA.
The greatest aspect of Allen’s stroke is his ability to effortlessly set his feet and line up his shot. In the matter of a blink, the 10-time NBA All-Star is ready to shoot from anywhere on the floor.
In an age where the jump-shot is a lost art, Ray Allen’s ability to put the ball through the laces is intimidating.
The Tension Between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook
Paul McCartney and John Lennon ended the most influential rock and roll band ever because of differences in the creative direction of The Beatles. Eddie Van Halen famously fired, re-hired, and once more fired David Lee Roth because Van Halen could not stand divided.
During the 2010-2011 NBA season, tension mounted between Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and the NBA’s leading scorer (27.7 points per game) Kevin Durant as each young superstar looked to take over games.
Westbrook and Durant played nice in public, but Westbrook’s mannerisms and facial expressions on the floor suggest friction between the two. The Beatles, Van Halen and the Thunder have proven that tension makes for beautiful music.
OKC reached the Western Conference Finals last season, and Durant and Westbrook each improved their play as pressure mounted. Durant scored 28.6 points per game in the postseason to lead all NBA players.
Westbrook was not far behind at seventh in postseason scoring with 23.8 points per game. Westbrook added 6.4 assists per game while Durant racked up five double-doubles in 18 playoff games.
The Thunder lost to the eventual NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks in five games in the Western Conference Finals.
Heading into the 2011-2012 NBA season, fans in Oklahoma City and beyond were salivating at the chance to whether Westbrook and Durant could lead the Thunder to the NBA Finals or destroy the locker room trying out-ball one another.
Considering their respective talents, they may have the ability to do both.
Dwight Howard Dominating the Paint
No player is under more pressure to D up than Dwight Howard. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is as important to the Magic defense as Payton Manning is to the Colts offense; if Howard doesn’t bring it on the defensive end, Orlando doesn’t stand a chance.
Howard averaged just over 10 defensive rebounds and two blocks per game last season and towers in the lane like a skyscraper.
Aside from his defense, the loss of Howard’s quirky personality is a blow to the NBA as well. Who can forget about him donning a Superman cape to win the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest or him singing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” to himself before he shoots foul shots?
Howard is a serious defender, but his light-hearted approach reminds us all that basketball is supposed to be fun.
Dirk Nowitzki Gritting out Victories
The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “grit” as “unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” If NBA fans want to define “grit,” all they have to do is point to Dirk Nowitzki.
In the 2010-2011 NBA playoffs, Nowitzki averaged no less than 25.3 points per game in any round, but the grit did not start there.
His 13 years as a pro have all been spent with the same franchise, the Dallas Mavericks. He has played through injury, illness and coaching changes.
The seven-footer has a steady career average of 23 points and seven rebounds per game despite pivotal changes to his supporting cast, including the loss of point guard Steve Nash. He is basketball’s answer to Derek Jeter: his excellence is only eclipsed by his class.
In 2011, Dirk Nowitzki’s gracious grit was finally rewarded with a championship.
The Christmas Day Game
Ah, the holidays, the most wonderful time of the year. The holidays are a time of joy, a time of gifts, a time of togetherness and a time of sitting. Lots of sitting.
We sit to eat. We sit to unwrap presents. We sit to talk to Aunt Helen about her hip problems for the 13th Christmas in a row. For years, Christmas Day has given sports fans a chance to sit and watch some thrilling NBA action.
After all, how many times can you watch A Christmas Story before the sight of a mall Santa kicking Ralphie down a slide isn’t funny anymore?
The NBA has given fans a break from holiday hubbub with playoff caliber match-ups. In 2006, the Association gave us Lakers/Heat for Christmas so we could watch Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal square off.
They re-gifted the same game last season, but Shaq was out and LeBron was in for the potential Finals preview.
Basketball fans better ask Santa Claus for an end to the NBA labor dispute this year. Or they could spend Christmas sipping eggnog and eating platefuls of tree-shaped cookies as they sit listening to Aunt Helen talk about how her other hip is giving her fits.
Derrick Rose Making It Look Easy
Since his NBA debut for the Chicago Bulls during the 2008-2009 season, point guard Derrick Rose has been wowing fans around the Association. The 2010-2011 MVP averages just under 21 points and 7 assists per game as he leads the Bulls back to prominence.
Derrick Rose’s numbers are staggering, but his speed is what paralyzes defenders. He crosses over in less time than it takes most people to hiccup, leaving otherwise capable defenders looking silly in his wake.
He moves from a standing dribble to driving the lane to shooting before Chicago fans can say “Jordan.”
After his career is complete, Rose may have his own statue outside of the United Center.
Kobe Bryant's Consistent Playoff Brilliance
Kobe Bryant has earned the reputation as a clutch performer and the heir apparent to his Airness.
Fans, writers, and analysts have debated from barber shops to the blogosphere about how Bryant compares to Jordan and whether the Black Mamba is really clutch.
One thing, however, is not up for debate: Kobe Bryant is consistently phenomenal.
For his career, Kobe Bryant averages 25.3 points per game in the regular season. For the playoffs? 25.4 points per game.
Bryant dishes 4.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game in the regular season. For the playoffs? 4.8 dimes and 5.1 rebounds per contest.
In his 15 years with the Lakers, No. 24 ranks first in the NBA in field goals per 48 minutes. For the playoffs, he ranks second.
Are you sensing a theme here?
Kobe Bryant’s brilliance is the consistency of his overwhelming offense. Regular season or playoffs, his greatness is so predictable that fans expect it and take it for granted.
If the Lakers and the rest of the teams in the NBA do not take a floor for a whole season, maybe they won’t.
LeBron James Swatting Lay-Ups from Behind
We see it several times every season.
An open dribbler crosses half court on a fast break. He sees no defenders in his peripheral vision and slows down just a touch. The crowd stands and inhales with a silent anxiety as LeBron James buzzes up the floor.
The ball handler approaches the basket for a lazy lay-up. James jumps and swats the ball into the third row. The crowd bursts in orgasmic awe.
The most exciting play in basketball is not the dunk or the assist or even the three pointer; it is the come from behind block and no one does it better than LeBron James.
His closing speed would make a defensive back jealous and the fact that he can make the block so often without fouling is a testament to his body control and basketball IQ.
Like a great white shark, King James’ stealthy speed is frightening. One can see his victim’s embarrassment in slumped shoulders and shaking heads as he realizes he let an opportunity to score slip through his fingers.
Contrary to popular belief, LeBron James is not superhuman, but each time he pulls off one of these blocks, he sure looks like it.
NBA Playoff Moments
The NBA playoffs produce an energy unique to each series. The defense is more physical and the fouls are harder.
Each shot, made or missed, carries greater significance as momentum shifts from possession to possession. Crowds are louder and scrutiny of mistakes is magnified.
Then there are the performances that give us sport-defining moments and turns stars into legends. Here are a few to refresh your memory:
- LeBron’s unbelievable game winning three-pointer in Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.
- Kobe’s alley-oop to Shaq in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trailblazers.
- Reggie Miller dropped eight points in under nine seconds against the Knicks the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals.
- Robert Horry hit a dramatic three-point shot for the Spurs to win Game 5 of the NBA Finals in 2005.
- Magic Johnson’s baby sky-hook in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals.
- Larry Bird stealing the inbound pass from the Pistons in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
- Michael Jordan’s playoff moments are so great they have their own nicknames. The Shot. The Push. He also had six threes in the first half of an NBA Finals game against Portland. That shot the NBA loves to run at playoff time, that highlight of 23 switching hands in mid-air? That was from the playoffs, too.
Even the casual basketball fan concedes that the NBA Playoffs are fun to watch. If the labor strife remains unresolved, the NBA may lose the casual and diehard fan for years to come.
The playoff moments will continue, but what good is a moment if no one is there to see it?
Hopefully, This Is Mere Paranoia
I want nothing more for this list to become obsolete, a moot point, a joke. Hopefully, the first two weeks of the year is all the NBA will miss and I am paranoid.
But in a heated argument over umpteen millions of dollars, I am betting on sports fans to be the real losers.