A King’s Welcome: LeBron James returns to Cleveland.

LeBron James has shocked the world, again! Around 12:30 pm the internet exploded with the story that LeBron James would return to the place he publicly abandon- his basketball home, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and his native East Akron Ohio. 4 years ago LeBron James announced on national television that he would be taking his talents to South Beach to join the Miami Heat. During his time in Miami he became a two time champion and Finals MVP. In his essay in Sports Illustrated LeBron James likened his stay with the Heat to going to college. Although his Senior year at Miami Heat University did not end with a Championship ring to add to his legacy it ended with the gift of enlightenment.

LeBron expresses in the article that his decision to rejoin the Cavaliers was bigger than basketball. He began to think about how his life would be like raising his two boys and soon to be daughter in his home state of Ohio. It was about providing hope and inspiration to kids from the local community. Much like the rest of the Midwest, Cleveland’s economy has been decimated by the economic down turn and has not fully recovered. It has been no secret that LeBron’s heart was always in East Akron Ohio. He has invested heavily in his High School alma mater, his charities, and most importantly his career in Ohio.

LeBron’s essay illustrates that grudges are not meant to be held, people can grow, and that at some point there is a time of deep reflection that we all will face in our lives that will force us to question our priorities and values. LeBron has always embraced being a role model and this essay serves as beautiful testimony to the phases of life that that will hopefully resonate with his young fans. Considering his tumultuous departure, no one ever thought he could redeem himself. Is all forgiven? James’ essay was full of emotional depth, contemplative thought, and social responsibility -it is safe to say that LeBron has redeemed himself and that his a role model status has been elevated especially to kids in East Akron, Ohio. Whether he wins a championship or not Cleveland has forgiven their native son. Well done, LeBron.

There’s another element that makes this already shocking and compelling story even more interesting, the role of the Midwest. As a fellow Midwesterner (being from Chicago) we tend to have an intense connection to our homegrown sports hero more than other places. Midwesterners tend to operate with a chip on our shoulders. There is a subtle or some might argue not subtle resentment people in the Midwest have towards bigger “sexier” cities. There is a attitude of ‘who do you think you are’ towards people that live and more importantly boast about living on the East or West coast, or a place like Miami. Midwesterners pride themselves as being loyal, real, and having a tight close nit circle; despising anything that is too loud and flagrantly superficial. So when LeBron James left the Midwest to go to a bigger city it validated the inferiority complex that many Midwesterners have, we’re not good enough for you? What makes ‘them’ so much better? You can stay here and make it big, why do have to leave?

As an aside, being from Chicago and now living in New York I can certainly understand leaving the Midwest to go experience the bright lights and the big city of the East coast. I’m elated that LeBron that went back to his Midwestern roots. The inspiration of his decision to leave the glamorous city of Miami to go to a cold, economically fragile, and “boring” city and state that is Cleveland, Ohio is immeasurable. LeBron has never shied away from assuming the responsibility of his team and his community; this move validates his willingness and dedication to bring his long suffering community a championship and a reason to be proud. Celebrate well tonight, Cleveland. In the eyes of the best player in the world, you’re good enough.

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Rapid Reaction. When History Doesn’t repeat itself: Spurs win 2014 NBA Championship!

Who would’ve thought that the Heat would only win one game out of this series?! The Spurs used their devastating loss last year to fuel them all season  and post season long, and it paid off! The Spurs played with vengeance and executed the game of basketball to near perfection!!! This series win against the Heat exposed the Heat’s major roster weaknesses. Bosh was virtually non-existent, again! Wade’s knees, even with the maintenance program, still proved to be a major problem, regulating him to be a jump shooter throughout the series with a few cuts to the lane, and Mario Chalmers appeared to be a bit of head case. The Heat’s supporting cast was anemic. Shane Battier, who barley played, Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Birdman, and Rashard Lewis, demonstrated a lack of court awareness, defensive prowess, and above all else looked old, confused, and defeated. The Heat were beat on the boards and played dispiritedly throughout the series, seeming to succumb to the realization the Spurs were just too much to overcome.

The Spurs on the other hand demonstrated that persistence, playing with a vengeance, teamwork, and playing the game of basketball inside out is only way to win the game.Gregg Popovich  continues to show how great of basketball mind he is, Kawhi Leonard emerged as star player on both ends of the floor, Tim Duncan played like the all time great he is, Patty Mills step up to the plate as a beyond solid backup to a sometimes struggling Tony Parker, and Boris Diaw reestablished himself an impactful teammate.  The Spurs have always been a team that has illustrated the how beautiful the game of basketball is and how it should be played.  This is now the 5th NBA title for the Spurs organization. Congratulations to the Spurs! it was a well deserved win!

 

 

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Not YOU again!!! Heat face Spurs for the NBA title.

Well Sports fans isn’t this what we wanted all along? Even with all the hype about the Pacers, Golden Sate, and Clippers, possibly all being contenders to either dethrone the Heat or beat out the old and arguably boring San Antonio Spurs for the Western conference championship we are left with the rematch we wanted all season long. With an efficient but diminished Dwyane Wade, whose damaged knees have forced him to become a more selective scorer, primarily relying on Jump-shots and cuts to the basket, and Tony Parker with a bum ankle, this championship series will be one filled with even more drama than the last face off.  The devastating lost the Spurs faced last year in game 6 was simply demoralizing: the championship was literally snatched from them. Both teams have faced obstacles this season; Spurs have been able to weather the storm of an emerging young and talented Western conference and the Heat facing their share of adversity this year as well: Dwyane Wade missing nearly 30 games, LeBron James had his most offensively efficient season but wasn’t as defensively locked in as we are accustomed to seeing, and Chris Bosh who disappeared offensively and defensively at times throughout the season (and arguably during the postseason) left many to wonder if they had enough to face whoever came out the West. This will be the 6 trip to the Finals for the Spurs and the 4th straight trip to the Finals for Heat five overall in franchise history.

The Heat and the Spurs are essentially mirrors of each other. Both teams have the same offensive philosophy, three point shooters and cutters to the basket. What makes this match up even more intriguing is that it isn’t brain vs. bronze, the Heat are no longer as athletic as they were in previous years. This series will come down simply to who executes better, and the Spurs are the best at it. However, with that being said the team with the best player almost always wins (with the exception of Mavs vs. Heat) : Kobe, Shaq, Jordan, and now LeBron! LeBron has elevated his game to measures we haven’t seen any athlete do ever before. He is simply the best player in the WORLD right now, LeBron is in his prime and that is dangerous for the rest of the league. This is the prefect storyline for redemption.  This is the first rematch since 1998 when the Bulls faced and defeated the Utah Jazz. The stage is set for the Spurs to win, but the basketball gods are known for toying with us mere mortal fans. I mean c’mon game is six of last year’s finals was a collapse of team that we never seen before, simply unfathomable. Tim Duncan misses a jumper that he most always makes, Ray Allen hit the biggest shot of his life, Shane Battier who struggled showed up BIG time in the end, Greg Popovich made some uncharacteristic coaching calls toward the end of the game. It was a combination of Murphy’s law and how pure will and determination can change circumstances and outcomes instantly.

So who’s going to prevail this time around? WIll it be Texas Hold’em or Miami Vice? To be honest I have absolutely NO idea. I’m a LeBron Fan but failing at the highest level provides a motivation and determination cannot be overlooked. Just look at  how LeBron James and the Miami Heat got better after loosing to the Mavs. It can drive a person and a team absolutely INSANE! Legacies are at stake, off-season moves will be affected tremendously, and us fans are on the edge of our seats waiting to see how this rematch will end. It will be a match that will make NBA history…again!

 

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Chris Paul, A Point To Prove?

Chris Paul’s second round exit from the playoff’s ended with more questions than answers. With the emergence of Damien Lillard, the continued success of Tony Parker, and Russell Westbrook’s advancing to the Western conference finals again, many sports critics and fans are wondering where does that leave Chris Paul in the Point Guard race? If you were to look at Chris Paul’s stats there is no doubt that he is elite: in 2008 and 2009 he lead the league in assists, from 2006 to 2012 he lead the league in steals, and has been an All-Star  since 2008. So that begs the question why hasn’t the won? With a much improved Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, a coach with a championship ring in Doc Rivers, and with a solid bench to back him up it seemed as if this was the perfect team for Chris Paul to help Chris Paul get his Championship ring after 9 years in the league. I’ll always been a fan of Chris Paul, however as good as Chris is his fatal basketball flaw is that he presses too much to the detriment of his team sometimes. In game 5 of the OKC series where his three turnovers cost the Clippers the game despite the controversial missed call the by refs, which doesn’t excuse the collapse the of Clippers by there own self-making.

One could make the argument that when Chris Paul had Tyson Chandler and David West and the took the Lakers 6 games before ultimately losing in the first round that that team was good enough to make it to the Western Conference finals. This isn’t an argument against Chris Paul’s talent, but it is does leave many sports fans and critics wondering what else is it going to take for Chris Paul to finally win a ring? Chis Paul is unquestionably one of the a greatest leaders and talents in the NBA, but perhaps he as well as the sports world have finally come to realize the Chris Paul needs way more help to win than we thought.

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Mayweather wins, but Maidana proves to be a worthy opponent.

From the beginning of the fight Maidana lived up to his perceived bravado. Maidana pressured Mayweather with furious body shots and strong right hands, and bullied him to the ropes, he executed his strategy to near perfection. As for Mayweather it was a fairly unusual fright from the beginning he took the more the offensively aggressive approach which proved to not phase the his opponent. While most of Mayweather’s opponent’s become confused by Mayweather’s tactics Maidana remained fairly steady. It appeared that it took Mayweather a longer time to adjust to Maidana’s awkward fighting style. But I, like many spectators who watched the fight, noticed that Mayweather didn’t seem to be all the way there mentally. His superior defensive skills were there but his reflexes did not seem as sharp as they were in previous fights. Is this a sign that Mayweather is getting closer to his boxing mortality? Is father time catching up to Mayweather? Or did the rumors surrounding his personal life effect his focus? Only Mayweather really knows why he at some points in the fight he seemed to be a bit despondent and inattentive.

Even though Mayweather’s focus was in question for the majority of the fight he refocused himself in the later rounds , despite some dirty shots but Maidana, to throw accurate punches and be elusive enough to make Maidana miss and win the fight by Majority decision. Maidana is arguably the most ferocious fighter that Mayweather has fought in recent times: and while many critics question weather Mayweather fights any worthy opponents I think this answers their question.  It proved to be an exciting fight for the fans and critics: fans are clamoring for a rematch, but what will that mean for the possibly of Pacquiao Vs. Mayweather fight? Will Maidana be the last opponent Mayweather chooses to fight? The Boxing world will have to have to wait and see and for now Mayweather is still undefeated. Until Mayweather fights again, presumably in September, this fight can be characterized as “The Moment” that boxing fans and the sports world in general thought Mayweather would finally lose.

 

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Empire State Of Mind: Phil Jackson officially named Knicks President

Leave it up to Phil Jackson to conquer the three biggest cities in the United States: 6 titles with Chicago, 5 with the Lakers and now hoping to bring a title to the New York Knicks who haven’t won in over two decades. As Jackson stood at the podium and spoke so eloquently about his ambitions to build a team that is capable of bringing New York a championship, it was clear from that Phil Jackson has been wanting a position like this for sometime. His contentious relationship with his fiancée’s family, the Buss family (who own the Lakers) has prevented him from staying with Lakers organization and being part of the front office, forcing him to look at other NBA teams. All is fair in Love and Basketball, right? So Phil has been searching (something he advocates for players to do: to search and find their role within a team) searching for the right fit, searching for the right opportunity, searching for an organization that will allow him the autonomy to build a team and have control of personnel decisions.

When I first heard about this story I approached it with skepticism. Before going further let me say I’m a Phil Jackson fan: I believe he is a basketball icon, an incredibly intelligent man with sound judgement. Which is why the decision to join the Knicks baffled me. Owner of the Knicks, James Dolan, hasn’t been known to a person that exercises sound judgement. Some of his most infamous decisions are bringing Isiah Thomas on as President of Basketball operations and signing a then aging Allen Houston to a $100 million contract. Is it really plausible to think that someone who throws around money so carelessly and who has demonstrated that he’s going to do what he wants do and not answer to anybody really all of sudden going to give up to control to the Zen master, Phil Jackson. Why would Phil Jackson put himself in such a chaotic situation?

Granted Phil made Jordan and Kobe championship teaching them and coaching them to go to the next level mentally so they can elevate their game physically. Phil has been used to having subordinates and being in position to authority, but in this case we’re not talking about players we’re talking about management! Phil’s in a more corporate political setting now, where egos are too big to be manipulated and taught.  Although Dolan said that he is willing to ready to give full control to Phil his history has proven otherwise. I would even argue that  during the press Phil seemed to remain relatively skeptical of Dolan’s quirky character. Phil’s emotional reticence isn’t anything new, but the vulnerability that I would argue many people saw and heard today is indicative of how Phil really feels about being in the front office of a dysfunctional organizations. Phil is obviously excited about the opportunity but he realizes this is an enormous gamble that can affect his legacy. As Phil Jackson steps to the Broadway stage the sports world is watching the biggest audition of this basketball icon’s life. Seeing if he can keep Carmelo Anthony, take one!

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Allen Iverson: Hip Hop Legend & Basketball god

As I watched Allen Iverson get his number retired by the Philadelphia 76ers there were chills going up and down my spine. As a kid I grew up right when Allen Iverson was in is prime. A.I. was and remains to be one my favorite players of all time.  There’s no question that when Iverson came into the game he pushed the envelope not only in terms of how he played the game but how he looked. Listed at six feet tall, 165 pounds, Iverson was quick, fearless, and able to score at will. He played as if he was as big as anybody. The NBA commentators and sports journalists at the time were skeptical of the braids, tattoos, and jewelry that Allen wore unabashedly, and often their prejudices prohibited them truly appreciating how great Allen was a player.

He embodied the unapologetic, me against the world hip-hop mentality that hit it mainstream America at the time. Allen’s brash attitude on top of what some people may deem to be an intimidating image overshadowed Iverson’s basketball talent; to many critics, opponents, and sports journalists Iverson was simply a thug. An entitled gifted athlete with no respect for the game who possessed no work ethic, or respect for authority. To the hip-hop community he was their representative. Someone who wasn’t afraid to be himself in front of corporate America. He refused to be beholden to the GMs and CEOs of corporate America and the Public Eye. In his mind it was their time to conform to him, and the hip-hop community was his army, his shield, his validation, for his mission to be himself.  If anybody knows Allen Iverson’s history it’s not hard to see why he had such animus towards authority, and law. Refer to the bowling alley incident that happened in 1993 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125870182, which unquestionably shaped his narrative of what is considered to be “justice”.

However, Iverson was not always the victim of unwarranted denigration: Iverson contributed to his own demise and frustration. No one will forget the “practice” rant that will always be tied to his legacy.  He and legendary head coach Larry Brown often budded heads. He wasn’t known for having a great work ethic, not always being the best teammate, and perhaps being too reluctant to corporate with GMs and owners proved to be to his detriment: especially towards the end of his career where teams did not want to add him to the roster because he seemed to be too difficult to work with. Additionally, Iverson had a number of personal issues that were splashed all over the media. Towards the end of his career as he bounced around to Denver, Detroit, and Memphis, it was apparent that he wasn’t the same NBA player he used to be. The fierceness that he played with was gone and he just didn’t seem to be all the there mentally. It became clear at the time he was a fading basketball player that was caught in personal and professional purgatory. It was apparent that this basketball icon was a conflicted person struggling to find his place on and off the court.

At the time no one in the NBA was so examined, so scrutinized, so speculated about, and questioned more than Allen Iverson. As I watch his post NBA interviews it is obvious that Iverson has matured, reflected, and grown as a person. I argue that all Allen Iverson wanted to be was respected, accepted and appreciated for his talent and how he changed the game. Did he make some mistakes along the way, of course, but he’s acknowledged his flaws and mistakes. People might have questioned his work ethic, his morals, but what can’t be disputed is A.I.’s love for the game. Iverson gave everything he had on court, undoubtedly being one the most exciting and competitive players to ever play. Iverson is a MVP, 4x NBA scoring leader, 11x NBA all-star, 3x NBA steals leader, and the epic crossover he gave Michael Jordan (as Bulls fan that still hurts), among a plethora of NBA accomplishments. Influencing and inspiring players like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant, Iverson is a true basketball god.  Allen Iverson saluted the 76ers crowd during his jersey retirement ceremony, but after all he’s given to them game I think it was about time the NBA saluted Allen Iverson, and accepted him flaws and all. He finally got the respect he so desperately wanted.

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The Sochi Olympics, A Case Against Parity?

The Sochi Olympics has not surprising started without controversy. Over the past couple of days we’ve seen on the news pictures of athletes and journalist living in subpar hotels: pictures of yellow water, questionable bathrooms, and bees in honey (at least they know its fresh). Not the most comfortable conditions needless to say, which begs the question why did the committee decided to have such a massive event take place in controversial place like Russia?!

I was listening to the Colin Cowherd show on ESPN, who I really like by the way, as he argued that the issues going on in the Sochi Olympics is an illustration as to why parity shouldn’t exist when putting together sporting events. He argues that no one really likes parity, but I digress. The perception is that the Olympic committee decided to give a country that is unarguably governmentally flawed to prove that even countries in the midst of unrest and constantly at battle with westernization should have opportunity to utilize its intellectual and economic resources to execute a massive production. I commend this line of thinking, as I believe everyone deserves a shot to prove themselves. However, I don’t think that it’s all about parity.

I argue that one of the reasons the Winter Olympics were held in Russia was to create and feed this sensationalist culture that we live in today. There is a significant amount of animus that exist between Russia and the other countries in Europe and obviously in the USA, governmentally speaking of course. Let’s be honest the narrative that is playing out in U.S. media feeds into the story and image of the shady and uncouth Russia. Having a character like Vladimir Putin just adds to the spectacle. In this 24 hour news cycle world that we live in today it is easy to strike up fear and perpetuate a particular narrative to keep people interested and riled up. Additionally it meets the bottom line, it gives the media something to talk about!!! Let me be clear, I’m not dismissing the complaints, uncomfortable living conditions, and security concerns athletes and journalist are dealing with in Sochi, but I am stating that it is not exclusively an argument about whether parity in sports and sporting events is a good thing, I am arguing that there is another facet to this debate- MEDIA! It is important not to overlook the agenda of the media and what they get out of having sporting events in countries that aren’t perceived to be worthing of hosting world events. Outside of the obvious need for ratings there is a social and cultural agenda that whether consciously or unconsciously makes people more judgmental, and anxious, in many ways contributing to this cycle of sensationalism that we desperately have come to crave in American society: relying heavily on the media to tell us who is involved and what is going on when world events take place in countries whose culture is so foreign to us. From the standpoint of the committee it keeps their event relevant. It is no secret that the Summer Olympics are more popular it doesn’t take as much to generate interest, as where the Winter Olympics tends to not garner as much enthusiasm.

As person who spent a couple of days in Russia I can say that is a fascinating country: the food, the people, the history, and culture in Russia is something to experience. It will be interesting to see how this story unfolds and when it’s all said and done how the this event will be told in both sporting and political history. Whether the agenda of the committee was to promote parity in sporting events or to get people talking to elevate the profile of the Winter Olympics, they’ve definitely created a story, for better or for worse.

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Peyton’s Place

Peyton Manning will no doubt go down as one of the best NFL QB’s to play the game. He’s cemented his legacy for sure. His critics will point to his playoff record and performance as the fatal flaw in legacy that will keep him from truly being considered one of the all time football greats. However, I contest that Manning has always done more with less; always elevating his team beyond what the talent provided. And Manning nearly surpasses Brady in every statistical category. Let’s not forget that the Colts went 2-14 without him and that Manning has won a Superbowl more recently than Brady, but I digress. For a guy who is 37 years old, (old man age in football), and who has had four neck surgeries, Peyton still managed to throw for 50 touchdowns this season and lead his team to the AFC championship game against his nemesis Tom Brady.

The script couldn’t have been written better; Brady, the overachiever, who was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, whose potential seemed to be questionable by NFL scouts, but has gone on to win 3 Superbowls often beating Peyton Manning to get the Superbowl. Manning who came from Football aristocracy, who posses all the talent, intellect, and skill comes up short in the playoffs, leaving him with one Superbowl ring to justify all the talent he has: putting him in the same category as Trent Dilfer, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers, and Joe Flacco as one Superbowl champions. There is some so unjust about that fact. No slight to those QB’s mentioned but Manning is a far more superior QB. Even with more offensive weapons, a new city, and arguably the most pressure he’ll ever face in his storied career, Peyton faces the same old enemy, Tom Brady and Pats. Manning has beaten Brady before to go to the Superbowl, but as his football mortality is getting closer and closer the stake of this game holds his legacy in many Peoples eyes. Will this be the moment the Football heir beat the overachiever for a chance to reclaim his throne? Or will Peyton Manning fans, such as myself, have to come to the realization that if he loses Peyton’s place in NFL history will never truly reflect his greatness? I won’t make a predication regarding this game because I don’t want to jinks him. I’ll savor the moments watching these two story lines play out. This script is either going to take a wicked turn or come to a predictable ending (Brady once again beats Manning to go to the SuperBowl and win it all). Image

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FINALLY! The Chicago Bulls make a big move!

Bulls fans are shocked that the Bulls organization actually made a dramatic trade today. Bulls acquired, and then proceeded to waive, eccentric center Andrew Bynum. Without getting to caught up in the nitty gritty of contacts and cap space, this trade essentially gives the Bulls around $20 million worth of cap space. This seems to be the beginning of a rebuilding process. Perhaps Derrick Rose’s injury was a blessing in disguise! With Derrick Rose’s health being a big question mark the Bulls were forced to look in the mirror and deal with reality. The reality being that they have a superstar whose durability and health will remain in question until he plays another full season again, and depleting roaster of blue-collar players that tends to get worn down by Coach Thibs physical demands. So Derrick Rose’s injury forced the organization’s hand. So what now? Are the Bulls trying to tank? Although the Bulls will never admit to such a thing, it appears they are trying to get rid of as many good players as possible to be positioned in the draft. It has been speculated that Kirk Hinrich is drawing interest from other teams. I suspect this is one of many moves for the Bulls. Although this trade gives us financial flexibility and drafts picks, but the drafts picks are protected draft picks. So it can be argued that these drafts picks might not be as helpful as we want them to be. It was nice to finally see the Bulls exhibit some business savvy instead of taking the conservative approach and playing it safe as they have been known to do in years past.

So what does this mean for the Cavs? It was obviously a desperate move to build up the team, NOW!  Is Luol Deng a good player, yes. Deng will always give an an effort on both ends of the floor. However there is some cause for concern. Luol Deng is 28 years old with varies injures that have been accumulating within the last 3 years. He’ll be a great complimentary piece to Kyrie Irving, but the Cavs, obviously, have to make some additional moves in order for them to be the team they aspire to be post-LeBron James era. Chicago will definitely miss Luol Deng; as a Bulls fan I appreciated his worth ethic and how good of a teammate he appeared to be. He will always be welcomed by the city of Chicago! Thanks Luol Deng!

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