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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Will Carmelo Anthony be starring in the next Off-Broadway Play?

The Knicks are a dismal 10 and 22, and all fingers are pointing to Melo and Coach Woodson, and Knicks fan are growing weary of Carmelo. And it is suspected that Carmelo is growing frustrated and weary of the Knicks as well. But is it really Melo’s fault? Fans and sports analysts have been blaming Carmelo for the teams pathetic record: accusing him of being selfish, unwilling to play defense, lacking self-awareness, and being a ball hog. All those pejoratives are true, BUT, that’s what Carmelo has always been- a scorer! It’s not his fault that Knicks management surrounded him year-to-year players a` la, J.R.Smith. It’s clear that Melo will never be a great all around player; and smart NBA organizations know that. The key to Melo’s success is to surround him with players that make up for his deficiencies. The Knicks, for whatever reason, have failed to figure that out. The Knicks are financially handicapped for next couple if years and if Carmelo leaves it will signal to other franchise and potential franchise players in the NBA that the Knicks don’t have the ‘smarts’ to build a great team around them.  It appears that Carmelo has figured out that he’ll never win in the Big Apple.

In an article by Matthew Tynan, in SB Nation, quoted Melo’s former teammate as saying “I think he’s leaving. I’ve played with Melo for a long time and he knows he can’t win here..” It has also been reported that Melo has short list of teams including, the Bulls, Clippers, and Lakers. As a Bulls fan I would gladly welcome Melo. But of course all is this speculation. And let’s not be ignore the possibility that the Knicks might trade Melo before he bolts this summer. It has been recently reported that a Griffin-Carmelo trade is being discussed, see, http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/story/_/id/10233011/carmelo-anthony-blake-griffin-proposal-mulled. In the mean time let’s grab some popcorn and watch how this Manhattan show will end. Brace yourself New York Knicks fans you might be in for a long rest of the season.

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Derrick Rose, The Beginning of the End?

It was a scene all too familiar for NBA and Bulls fans. Derrick Rose being helped off the court by trainers as he exited the game in the Portland a few weeks ago. This is the second major injury to Derrick Rose’s knees, this time it was his right knee, and not his surgically repaired left knee. As a native Chicagoan and Bulls fan this is the worst case scenario; I like many Bulls fans, watched Derrick struggle through the 10 games he played, and held my breath mercilessly as he drove to the basket for a layup. Naturally, I begin to think of the players who could’ve been great but due to chronic knee problems, their once promising careers were cut short: think Brandon Roy, Grant Hill,  Tracy McGrady ,and Greg Oden just to name a few.

NBA commentators and critics have already written Derrick Rose off, saying that from now on he’ll only be an average player. I would normally scoff at the criticisms and negative absolute statements being thrown Derrick’s way, but I honestly can’t dismiss the valid arguments being made against Derrick Rose’s career outlook. Is the Derrick Rose era over? Should the Bulls begin to rebuild? Will he ever be the same player he once was?  Is the really this beginning of the end?  Only time will tell, the only thing we can do is hope that he doesn’t turn into a ‘what he could’ve been’ story.Image

Lone star?

This off-season has validated that the new collective bargaining agreement has done very little, if not nothing to prevent stars from teaming up. Dwight to Houston, Greg Oden, even though he’s still has yet to prove himself, gives an already unbeatable Miami, an even bigger advantage to dominant nearly every team in the NBA. Additionally, Josh Smith and Brandon Knight to the Pistons shows that Detroit is trying its best to stack up on very talented high volume shooters that will make them hard to defend, and lastly the Brooklyn Nets. With the Addition Hall of Famers Paul Pierce (who I always thought was severely under-appreciated in the NBA), Kevin Garnett, and Andrei Kirilenko who can give you a good 12 points a night, and be a solid long defender. The Nets have catapulted their way to the up echelon of the East.

So where does this leave players like Derrick Rose, and Kobe Bryant to pride themselves on being the lone star? One of the reason why the Lakers super team experiment didn’t work was because Kobe Bryant, is well, Kobe Bryant. He has and will always view himself as THE guy on the team, he will has never embraced having a co-star so having a co-star like Dwight Howard was destined to fail from the beginning. Kobe wants help not a co-star. Steve Nash at this point in his career is “help”, but certainly not a co-star on the Lakers. As for Derrick Rose, Rose has made it clear that he’s not recruiting anyone. His view is, if you want to play in Chicago and play with me then by all means come join in but I’m not chasing you down or begging you to be my teammate. As a native and fellow South side Chicagoan I say that that is a very normal reaction and mentality. The mentality being, we don’t chase or beg you to be with us, we don’t care how “big” you are. It’s a mentality I respect Rose for, but it could be a huge barrier win trying to build a championship team. 

The bottom is that today’s game there is no Lone star. You’ve have a superstar such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, then you have stars like Chris Bosh, and lastly you have the role players (like Mike Miller and Bird Man). Players like Rose and Bryant have to realize the superstar and role player days are over! There is no one alfa-male dominating and leading the team, there are multiple superstars forming a team, simply because that’s the only way one can compete for a title!

Granted Jordan, Johnson, and Shaq didn’t win championships by themselves they played with other hall of famers, and but i would argue the teammates that they played were not alfa-males, they were beta. Yes, their teammates were great players but the weren’t players that could carry a team to a championship by themselves. Even in the Shaq and Kobe era, Shaq was the leader. Kobe at the time couldn’t carry a team to the Championship; because as Phil summarized in his book, Kobe didn’t have the trust of his teammates to do so. The players that are taming up now are players that are players that are franchise players, that were at one point the face of the franchise. But the pressure to win a championship, and with the general impatience of our generation players are realizing they don’t have time to be the Lone Star. They want to wolfs with other wolfs. It’s as simple as that.

As much as I love Derrick Rose, and I want my Bulls, to win a championship more than anybody; we won’t unless Derrick Rose and the Bulls organization changes their mentality about how to build a Championship team. And if Kobe wants to win his 6th ring and be tied with Jordan he is going to have to compromise and begin willing to share the spotlight, but as any true basketball fan knows, that’s very unlikely to happen. So the question Bryant and Rose need to ask themselves is, is it worth it being a Lone Star?

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Why MLB should EMBRACE Yasiel Puig.

It’s clear that Yasiel Puig is a star, a star that MLB desperately needs! Baseball is no longer America’s favorite Past Time, primarily because the game so slooooow. In world that is now dominated my instant gratification baseball has fallen out of favor with America, especially among young people.  Enter Yasiel Puig, a raw, unrefined, rugged, and seemingly arrogant and aloof superstar! Yasiel Puig is emblematic of what type of stars the MLB should embrace.

Now before the baseball purists and sports enthusiast attack me, I’m not advocating our stars be ungrateful, arrogant people who don’t appreciate the game and the opportunity they’ve been given. I view Puig as a young player who not only appreciates the game but does everything in his power to not water it down by not sucking up to competitors just because he’s new in the league. He seems to be focused on being the best player he can be not only for himself but for the Dodgers organization. He brings what MLB needs most; excitement, polarity, and unpredictability. People are WATCHING Yasiel Puig just to see what he’ll do next.  Take note MLB owners and fans, this guy is saving your sport! Love him or hate him he is bringing attention to one of the greatest sports ever created. Perhaps it is time for  a change. Maybe it’s time for baseball to become a little more edgy, a little less destined.

Puig’s absence from the All-Star game is signal that MLB fans aren’t quite ready for that shift. To that I say be careful what you wish for MLB fans and owners, Yasiel Puig isn’t a challenge to the game he a prime opportunity for your sport. He could be the destiny or the fate of the sport that superstitious baseball fans believe in. As he continues his debut season lets sit back and enjoy his uniqueness as a player and person: he might turn out to be just what baseball fans asked for, a player who can reclaim baseball as America’s favorite Past Time. I for one say Viva Yasiel Puig! 

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What the game of Baseball teaches us about life.

A few months ago I watched the documentary series on Netflix entitled Baseball narrated by Ken Burns. Sports is such a reflection of life. With hard work, discipline, dedication, team spirit, and a little bit of luck you will be successful. Unlike basketball,hockey, and football, baseball has no time limit. Mario Cuomo said it best, “in baseball you play until you lose“. A metaphor that is the epitome of life.There is no clock that limits our chances. In the game of baseball we keep giving ourselves a chance: we as players, dictate our chances of winning, not a time limit. Our perseverance, and patience is what wins us the game, along with a little bit of luck.  In life, like in baseball, we are given many swings, many opportunities, and we more often times than not, blow them by being too impatient or hesitant to swing at an opportunity because of our own fear.

Once we overcome that fear and finally make a hit, we head to the bases. First base-our beginnings. First base represents finally getting our break in life, we are eager and anxious to move on. Second base-our preparation. Second bases is when we reach the point of feeling secure in our position, and we begin to prepare ourself for ultimate goal. We have a clearer vision of what we want to do and how we’re going to get there. We rely heavily on our teammates to help push us to the next level. Third base-final touches. At this point you’re ready! You’re almost at the finish line  you put in all the work and made decisions that not only benefited you but your team as well, but you still have a few more long days ahead of you before you make it home. Home-your accomplishment. With, patience, persistence, and a great team you finally accomplished your goal! You can finally celebrate with people who helped you make it. You get a chance to come full circle and look at where you started and relish in all the work that you’ve done.

No matter if you just stepping up to the plate, or which base your on, play until you lose! But first you have to take a swing at life.

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