Tag Archives: NBA

Defining But Not Really But Just For Now But Not At All LeBron’s Legacy

My knowledge of NBA history only extends as far as what I’ve randomly come across on Wikipedia, and everything I learned in Bill Simmons’ 10,000 page manifesto on why the Celtics are the best. Despite my admittedly limited knowledge, I don’t think I’m out of my league to say this: No player in NBA history has faced THREE Legacy-Or-Bust games in two seasons and successfully eviscerated most doubts to win those games.

Collectively, we’ve been on the verge of damning LeBron to a lifetime of Wilt Chamberlain tags on three separate occasions. This means two things: Led by ESPN, sports media and sports fans may be the most knee-jerk portion of human society, never giving appropriate time or patience to assess anything. The other thing, of course, is that LeBron is fucking great. Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals: 45 points against the Celtics on the road down 3-2. Game 6 of the 2013 Finals down 3-2 and coming off of an uneven 8-22 night shooting: a 32-10-11 line. Last night: 37 points and a step-back mid-range dagger at the end with the Heat only up 2—a shot that the Spurs were more than happy to give him.

Although LeBron hasn’t mitigated the circumstances that eventually led to these cluster-fuck do-or-maybe-literally-die situations well—he was averaging 16 ppg the first three games of this year’s Finals—he’s answered the call every time he’s been expected to. Problem is, ever since that Game 6 in Boston, we’ve expected him to not continually drive himself into these uncomfortable situations. He’ll always be cursed by his unlimited potential, but I thought he was over whatever mental block he suffers from that causes him to simply go missing in important games. It goes beyond not getting shots he normally makes to fall—it’s that he doesn’t assert himself to get those shots.

That’s the kind of player we’re dealing with. He’s a supremely talented individual with a supremely uneven mind, but one that can turn it on when all seems lost. Unlike last year, at least we know that switch exists, and can re-adjust our expectations accordingly. (Or not. Probably not.) Before Game 6 in Boston last year, we didn’t know he could turn it on; during the first half of the Finals we knew he could most definitely turn it off, but only to be flipped back up for the most critical moments. So we’ll bash him for the week he comes up short on the court, only to dress him up in hyperbolic superlatives after he, once again, proves everyone wrong. But because of who he is, and the tumultuous past he’s had, there will always be factions of fandom and media who will keep betting against LeBron.

LeBron doesn’t have the pathological killer instinct of Jordan or Kobe, and he doesn’t have the rational to the point where it seems irrational confidence of Magic. He doesn’t have the ice of Kevin Durant, and he certainly isn’t as steady and stoic as Tim Duncan. It’s time to stop comparing him to other greats, because LeBron, like life itself, isn’t a series of black-and-white events. You can’t assign him to just one role or character. You can count on him for everything and nothing while expecting the most. LeBron is a mercurial person blessed with a Mozart-like combination of intelligence, body, and talent that we’ve never seen before in a basketball player. And that’s okay. He’ll probably have many more Game 7’s than four-game sweeps, and we’ll have the same conversations about his mental fortitude and his legacy until we look back in 2020 and realize he’s got more rings than Jordan.

And right now, that’s what I’m rooting for. I went from being a totally idiotic LeBron hater, to not hating him as much, to wanting to see the him win as much as he can. I won’t be overt about it—I’m not going to tweet “GO HEAT,” or post pictures of LeBron on my Instagram, or even cheer for him in public. This will do:

After all, I am a Knicks fan. I hate the Heat, and other than James Dolan, LeBron James’ Heat are the biggest threat to my team. Yet I can’t bring myself to outwardly and viciously root against the guy (unless of course the Knicks are playing him), especially since the Knicks are doomed to second-round playoff exits for about the next 3-5 years. For me, it’ll all be a very sage-like, semi-passive approach—or balance—between wanting to see my Knicks win, and wanting to see LeBron collect titles. (And if he ditches Chris Bosh’s Pterodactyl qualities and Dwayne Wade’s knees after 2014 for LA or Kyrie Irving’s Cavs, maybe he’ll run off 6 straight championships individually. Your move, Pat Riley.)

I didn’t live through Jordan. I was too young. The way 70s and 80s babies snobbishly look down upon LeBron and today’s game through Jordan’s GOAT glasses, I want to be able to look down upon the next generation. I want to say that I lived through the Greatest, and my best shot at that selfish glory is LeBron James. Culturally, LeBron will never match what Jordan did and is still doing, but provided LeBron continues his statistical dominance and his championship pedigree, we’ll be able to one day say that he outdid MJ on the court.

And that’s LeBron’s unwritten legacy as written by someone in 2013. Let’s check back in 2023.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Inside Sport Management At NYU: Nike Plots Basketball Dominance

When I explain to people what I’m studying at college, it’s never an easy answer. Telling them that I go New York University is the obvious first step, but when I tell that to someone, their first thought is almost always the image of a dirty hipster, prowling the depths of the LES, Williamsburg, or some obscure place that’s not cool yet but will be in a few months, rather than an institution of higher learning. I’m not a film major at the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, and I’m not a future millionaire at the internationally renowned Stern Business School. No, I study Sport Management at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Within that school exists my program: The Robert Preston Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, Sport Management, and Horseback Riding. I call it the “fake Tisch” or just SCPS. Curious looks always follow-up my ramble.

After explaining what school I’m in at NYU, which takes three more sentences than it should, I’ll always immediately jump out and explain what a “Sport Management” major is—I’m not going to school to be a baseball coach or an equipment jockey. On the first day of class freshman year, my “Introduction to Sport Management” instructor laid it out pretty well. I’m in a program that’s rooted in the same business principles and practices that a Stern business student would learn, but taught with an angle slighted towards the sports industry. I learn accounting, marketing, consumer behavior, business development, law—the whole nine yards—except every example given to teach me these subjects has to do with sports. It’s much easier to learn accounting when the finances of the Yankees or MSG are on the table. Last semester, I actually had fun writing a 12 page paper on organizational structures, because it was on how Liverpool FC stacks up.

From the first minute of class, we’re instantly taught to stop thinking like a fan, and to think like a savvy industry insider. Yet what really makes the material to much fun to absorb is that little fan switch in the back of my mind—it’s never fully in the off position. At heart, I’m a fan of the sports, leagues, teams, and companies discussed in class. Would you rather study the accounting statement of Fortune 500 Company X, or the team you just spent three hours yelling at through your television last Sunday? The skills I’m picking up in my major is allowing me to analyze my favorite teams at a higher level. I’m actually becoming a better fan—there’s no inverse relationship between my business knowledge and my personal fandom of the sports industry.

At SCPS, I’ve been blessed with a truly outstanding faculty. Most, if not all of my Sport Management professors have other gigs outside of the classroom. They’re still working jobs within the industry, mostly in some sort of counseling or writing capacity. Occasionally, examples brought up in class will directly follow a sporting trend that’s worth noting. I’ll be using this column to explain them as best as my notes dictate, and with added analysis from my own perspective.

The first grand idea comes from Professor David Hollander’s Marketing of Sports and Events class. He was giving a lecture on the pillars of marketing, and how businesses should think about themselves. He brought up the railroad industry as a prime example of how businesses fail to evaluate themselves properly. Back in the late 20th and early 21st century, if railroad companies thought about themselves as being in the travel business, and not the railroad business, they would’ve had a chance to adapt to the airplane and car, the two dominant forms of transportation today. When companies ask themselves “What business am I in?” the answer should always be based on the wants and needs of the consumer, and not one specific product.

A more modern example would be book companies. Book publishers don’t think of themselves as being in the book (you know, that physical stack of paper bound together) business, but in the literature business. People want to read, and it’s the job of every publisher to get people to read their products—whether it’s an e-book, audiobook, or a physical book—publishers should be taking the steps to make their products as widely available to consumers as possible.

Since this is a Sport Management class, an example relating to the industry was brought up. Nike has just signed on with FIBA as a presenting sponsor of FIBA’s new international three-on-three basketball tournament. FIBA is trying to get three-on-three basketball into the Olympics as soon as 2016. This leaves the NBA in a predicament. The NBA and FIBA are both in the basketball business, with the NBA promoting organized five-on-five basketball, and FIBA pushing everything that’s basketball in the world. Basketball is already the second most commercially popular sport in the world, and three-on-three basketball is rapidly on the rise in Europe and China. FIBA has had three-on-three world championships before, and FIBA General Secretary Patrick Baumann claims that three-on-three tournaments happen nearly every week in China—a claim that my roommate, a Chinese graduate student who’s in the United States for the first time, backs up. (He owns six Kobe Bryant jerseys and is an avid three-on-three player back home.) The NBA has no competing international product, other than the reach of their own league.

If David Stern and the NBA truly think of themselves as a global purveyor of basketball, they’d be falling behind the eight-ball if they let FIBA, and the new American Basketball League, start dictating the direction of the sport. The newly formed ABL is launching this January, and they plan to use FIBA rules, which means a different ball, shorter 3-point line, and an overall more offense game than what the NBA allows (basically what you saw in the 2012 Olympics). The ABL’s plan is to serve as a feeder league for European leagues, so American players who aren’t NBA quality can hone the international style to seek professional employment in Europe.

Between FIBA’s reach in the ABL, their plans for three-on-three, the NBA’s idea to have an age limit on Olympic players and to potentially create a “World Cup of Basketball,” something’s got to give. If the NBA doesn’t put it’s biggest stars on display in the Olympics, does it cost itself international expansion opportunities? Without a doubt. They’d be harming the five-on-five product internationally, which could help promote an Olympic three-on-three tournament by default. If three-on-three catches on, and NBA quality players compete in a more exciting three-on-three tournament in the Olympics, the NBA will be under threat.

FIBA and the NBA are at war for the future of global basketball. FIBA now offers Olympic basketball, an American league, and three-on-three. There are more NBA fans in China than people in the United States, but if those fans are playing three-on-three more and more, it would only take one three-on-three star to have the sport explode. If the NBA thinks of themselves as being in the business of organized basketball, no matter how many players are on the court, they should be able to deal with FIBA’s threats. Perhaps an NBA sanctioned three-on-three league in Europe or China should be in the cards? If they fail to get a foothold on the burgeoning three-on-three market, they will lose significant amounts of basketball market share oversees.

On the flip side of this war are the apparel companies. Adidas is currently signed on as the NBA’s official sponsor. Since Nike is locked out of that market, they’ve decided to sponsor three-on-three basketball, as well as Spain’s professional league. Nike already has Jordan, LeBron, Kobe, and Durant under their marionette strings. By running to get their products in the hands of international players first, they’re ahead of the curve. Nike is eating on two fronts: they’ve got the five most popular players in the world in their shoes, and they’ve got thousands of international athletes in their uniforms. Adidas may have NBA players outfitted in their uniforms, but Nike seems determined to get the other billion basketball players around the world into their shirts, sweats, and shoes. As usual, Nike is holding the keys to the future. It would horrify David Stern into retirement if Chinese kids started wearing the Nike jersey of some Spanish three-on-three star instead of LeBron’s Adidas sponsored Miami Heat jersey.

Five-on-five basketball is deeply rooted within American sporting culture—there will never be an American three-on-three league as big as the NBA. But whoever said basketball was just an American sport? Nike and FIBA are banking on the rest of the world’s players carrying a different brand of basketball. It’s vital that the NBA thinks more like HarperCollins, and not like Union Pacific Railroad.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Magic Shit The Bed: Dwight Howard To The Lakers

Tonight is the night that the Dwight Howard fiasco/quagmire/Dwightmare/Dwigh-ietnam has officially ended. In a four team trade, the Los Angeles Lakers got their man in Howard, the Denver Nuggets got Andre Iguodala, the Philadelphia 76ers got Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson, and the Magic got Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, and three protected 1st round picks.

The Magic had the biggest asset of the trade and most to gain, and made out the worst of all three of the teams. How does that happen? To understand how bad this deal is, it’s important to remember the trades that the Magic passed up last month.

SCENARIO #1: The Brooklyn Nets
The Nets were Howard’s preferred destination all along. Although he changed his mind about a trillion-billion-million-billion times, it was well-known that Howard wanted to join Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in Brooklyn. The Nets offered an underwhelming package, feeling that they had enough leverage through Howard’s desire to join them to force the Magic’s hand and pull off the deal. There were multiple, very complex variations of a potential Nets deal, but here’s the final one the Magic passed up:

Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, $3 million cash, and 4 future 1st round picks, plus another potential 1st rounder if the Nets could find a 3rd team to trade Anthony Morrow to. The Magic would send Howard, the contracts of (notice how the contracts are more valuable than the players themselves) Jason Richardson (3 years/$18.6 million), Chris Duhon (3 years/$11.25 million), and Earl Clark (1 year/$1 million). The Magic would be shedding over $47 million in salary, while only taking on Humphries (2 years/$24 million) and Lopez (something substantially less than the $61 million max contract the Nets ended up giving him). With some future maneuvering, the Magic could’ve traded Humphries and Lopez if they wanted. Best case, the Magic get substantial cap relief and a new long-term direction to work to.

SCENARIO #2: The Houston Rockets
The Rockets amnestied Luis Scola to make a Howard deal more likely. Straight-up, they’d be able to offer cap relief and 1st round picks, but no starting quality players. The Rockets could’ve taken on that $47 million of Howard, Duhon, and Richardson plus the remainder of Glen Davis’s 3 year/$19.6 million contract. Additionally, the Magic would’ve had their choice of the Rockets three 1st round picks this year (Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones and Royce White), plus future picks. It’s a bigger cap relief for the Magic than the Nets deal, but it returns no players to help win a few games now.

SCENARIO #3: Rockets+Lakers
All along, this was the deal that made the most sense for all teams involved. Howard would go to the Lakers, Bynum would go to the Rockets, and the Magic would be able to send the Richardon, Duhon, Davis cap flotilla while also possibly forcing the Lakers to take Hedo Turkoglu and the remaining 2 years/$23.8 million left on his deal. The Rockets would presumably give up one of their 2012 1st rounders too. This deal would provide the ultimate cap relief for the Magic, allowing them to completely hit “restart” with their franchise. They’d rip their team up and compete with interns and play for a high pick in a 2013 draft without a clear-cut franchise player, but this deal leaves the most options open for their future. They could now explore trades to take on contracts of franchise players or decide to build through the draft.

The Magic rejected all three of these trade scenarios, and for what? Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, a guy name Moe Harkless, some European no-name, and three protected 1st rounders, meaning three non-lottery picks. The only cap relief they got was shedding Jason Richardson’s contract. They were better standing pat until the trade deadline and getting a few months out of Howard than taking this deal. They’re taking on a combined $52 million in contracts in Affalo and Harrington for the next four years (Harrington’s $7 million per season contract comes off the books in three years). Where’s the cap restart that the Magic pursued for months there? Even worse, Pau Gasol was originally included in the deal, but the Magic didn’t want to take on his 2 year/$38 million contract. They were already shooting themselves in the foot with Afflalo and Harrington, so why not get Gasol too? To hell with it! The Magic had the best player in the deal and the most contracts to be wiped off the books, and they fucked up. None of the three other deals presented were particularly attractive, but this one was the ugly sister of the four.

In a league where you want to either be maxing out and “going for it” or shedding contracts and tanking games for a shot at landing a superstar or a high draft pick, this trade does not allow the Magic to pursue the desirable 2nd option. Acquiring Afflalo and Harrington still makes them bad, but not bad enough to top the Bobcats in the lottery next year. Taking on those contracts gives them less cap flexibility than they need. Being an average team with no lottery prospects and no cap flexibility (the Knicks the past decade), is not attractive, but that’s what the Magic are tonight.

On the other side of the trade, the Lakers got the dominant, athletic big-man they needed to clean up Steve Nash’s defensive mistakes and receive his alley-oops, the Nuggets got cap relief and a faux franchise player in Iguodala, and the 76ers got the inside presence and size they needed in Bynum, who might just sign an extension. After all, he’s now the best center in a wide-open East (wide-open 2 seed, that is), and his hometown is an hour outside of Philadelphia. Everyone won except for the Magic.

(I’m also disgusted with the Lakers ability to reload decade after decade despite all salary cap and financial restrictions imposed upon NBA teams today. Last decade they lured Shaq out of Orlando and fleeced the Bobcats into gifting them Kobe, and now this. At least we’ll get that LeBron-Kobe NBA Finals Stern we all wanted years ago.)

Somewhere in the NBA’s NYC offices, David Stern is removing a loaded colt .45 revolver from Magic GM Rob Hennigan’s temple and whispering “Good boy, good boy” while Hennigan whimpers and hangs up with the Lakers. Somewhere in London, Kobe is thanking Iguodala for being “a good sport” while also shitting on Durant, Harden and Westbrook. Literally climbing into their beds at 5 AM and pooping on each of them. Sorry for putting that image in your mind.

This leaked text message from Stern to Lakers owner Jerry Buss has also landed on the Internet:

This league will drive men crazy.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You: LeBron James

LeBron James is in a good place right now. For the first since the 2008 Olympics, he’s got reasons to. An Olympic Gold this year would bookend the four most most tumultuous—but ultimately rewarding—years in the career of any American athlete. In that time (let’s just go ahead and assume he’s winning a Gold medal this year), he’ll have notched two Gold medals, three MVP awards, four All-NBA and All-Defensive Team appearances, an NBA Championship and subsequent Finals MVP award. (Can’t forget the engagement ring either. He’s taking the hand of his high school sweetheart—an admirable courtship.) Through all of the accolades over those four years, he’s single-handedly pissed off every non-Heat fan for a laundry list of emotional and irrational reasons, ruined the economy and hopes of Cleveland, and had his sneakers infiltrate streetwear culture. He’s the most polarizing basketball player since Wilt, the most universally hated American athlete in recent memory (I would say of all-time, but my sports consciousness only goes back a decade), and was ranked last year as the tenth most unpopular American, up there with the likes of Mel Gibson, Donald Trump, and Paris Hilton. But once the summer has passed and the NBA season kicks off again in October, will we (“we” qualifies as all non-Heat fans who follow pop culture) hate LeBron just as passionately as we did in June? While you explore your feelings for LeBron now, which are probably softer because he’s dunking on Tunisians for our freedom (MURCIA!), it’s important to revisit how we got to this point.

The summer of 2008 sparked a career evolution for LeBron. Coming off another disappointing season with the Cavs, he played with the best basketball team assembled since the Dream Team, and probably thought, “Holy shit I need team up with one of these guys.” That thought, however, had been implanted (it was done Inception style by David Stern. There’s proof. Watch Inception backwards and you’ll notice things that weren’t there before) in 2006, when LeBron’s agent, who just also happens to be Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade’s agent, all got them contract extensions until 2010. But in the summer of 2008, that cute 2006 thought of playing with Wade and Bosh was realized—LeBron actually was playing with them, and it was fun. After playing with, and working out with a great team (Kobe’s work ethic infected LeBron), he started counting down the days until free agency 2010.

The following two seasons with the Cavs were MVP campaigns, but once again, ended in disappointment. The scope of what we expected out of LeBron was much less though. While 30-8-8 nights were expected, he was forgiven for not winning a championship. He still had an excuse: his team. The Cavs surrounded him with Delonte West (motherfucker), Mo Williams (carried bags for Chris Paul last season), a past-past-past his prime Shaq, and Antawn Jamison (scored five points in the season-ending/LeBron-endng loss to the Celtics in the playoffs). (Sidenote: I’ll never forgive the Cavs for trading for Jamison instead of Amare Stoudemire because they didn’t want to trade J.J Hickson to the Suns. Guaranteed LeBron gets to the Finals with Stoudemire instead of Jamison.) Needless to say, LeBron never had a good second-banana throughout his seven seasons in Cleveland. (Sidenote #2: I’ll never forgive the Cavs for botching the Carlos Boozer re-signing in 2004. Boozer and Stoudemire aren’t Pippen or 2000 Kobe, but they’re still miles better than whoever else the Cavs were plugging in next to LeBron.) The Cavs had seven years to put acquire help for LeBron, and they never did. So LeBron took the lifeline in the summer of 2010.

That lifeline came in the form of Wade, Bosh, and Miami’s tax-haven waters. This was the summer that everyone got pissed off—an appropriate middle point between the universal love we all had for LeBron in 2008, and the weird feeling (getting to that) we have for him now. With The Decision, he shamed an entire city, turned his back on basketball immortality (the option the Bulls and Knicks represented), and for any NBA fan who preaches purity and loves watching the Spurs play, ruined the NBA as we knew it. He took the easy way out. There’s no way Bird, Magic, Jordan, Shaq, or Kobe would’ve willingly teamed up with conference rivals. He’s putting superstar hero ball over teamwork. LeBron is a pussy.

Here, the hate that’s followed LeBron for the past two years was born. In our insatiable desire to anoint a new Jordan, we felt betrayed when LeBron, the greatest player since Jordan, did the most un-Jordan thing possible: He became neighbors with his best opponents instead of vanquishing them. (So far, we’re 0/4 in finding the next Jordan. High school O.J Mayo, Kobe, Wade, and LeBron have all failed, which isn’t a bad thing.) We wanted LeBron to follow our script towards Jordanism, when really he’s Magic 2.0: a power-point guard who can play any position and do any task on the court. Our disappointment that a talent like LeBron is not, and would not, be Jordan transformed into pure hatred for the man, when all LeBron did was live his life. We ripped on LeBron for being condescending, when in fact, we were the ones who felt high-horsed enough to feel obligated to determine what LeBron should do with his career. This all feels immature and sick when written out and fully-realized, but believe me, at the time it all felt so right.

In June, the will of millions wanting LeBron to fail was trumped by LeBron himself. Usually the best player in any sport is championed and marveled at by all. We all tip our hats in appreciation of their talent. More people got satisfaction in seeing LeBron fail than seeing him succeed. When was the last time the best player in any sport could say that? Maybe A-Rod in 2007? Ronaldo in 2008? Or Tiger 2010? Even then, those three were either successfully torn down or another player trumped them as the best. LeBron was clawed at in attempts to tear him down before it was too late. After he won his first championship, it became too late. LeBron escaped it all with his career in tact, and a championship notched.

With a brief history of LeBron hate rehashed, it’s easy to see why the cultural damning of LeBron was stupid. It was based on our own desires, and our own view of LeBron as an object of entertainment rather than LeBron as a guy who just wants to win ball games. With a championship, the wide-array of LeBron jokes are dead, criticism of his lack of clutch/a winning instinct is invalid, and the notion that he won as Wade’s second-banana is just false. LeBron won as the alpha-dog playing 45 minutes a night with Wade playing on one leg, Battier and Miller shooting inconsistently, and Bosh injured for almost two rounds. LeBron had more help than he had on Cleveland certainly, but it wasn’t like he was playing with Pippen and Rodman.

Where does this leave us? As a self-proclaimed Colonel in the army of LeBron haters, I suspect to see a mass of deserters. Unless you’re a fan of an Eastern Conference team or from Cleveland, there’s little reason to dislike LeBron, and almost no reason to hate him to the degree that we saw a few months ago. It’s never fun to root for something that feels preordained (as was the case with LeBron’s 2012 championship run), but it’s less fun to root for a losing cause, which is where we stand at the moment.

When I heard that LeBron asked an Olympic swimmer if she “Would you like to come eat with me at the dining hall?” and got turned down, I found myself saying, “Awwww, LeBron.” It was such a cute question that reminded me of middle school dating days. Want to get pizza with me after school? Can I walk you to class? LeBron didn’t fake thug it and say “Yo you tryna come grab food with me shorty?”. He approached her with the innocence of a 13 year old. Who would’ve thought that the diabolical LeBron James could ask a girl out in nerd glasses with his tail between his legs like a kid?

LeBron with the woman he was rejected by.

The moment I found myself laughing, “Awwww”ing, and feeling bad for LeBron’s dining hall rejection, I hung up my Colonel fatigues and handed in my hater pistol. I’ll still dislike him with the passion of a Knicks fan, but hate? Now that’s a strong word. LeBron didn’t silence the haters, but instead won them over. I’m sure I’m not alone.

I still hope he chokes next year though.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

A Eulogy For Jeremy Lin

I’m not going to say I knew him his whole life. Up until February 4th, 2012, I didn’t really know who Jeremy Lin was. When he averaged 13 points and 4 assists in during career at Harvard, I still had no idea who he was. I was more interested in Greg Paulus, Kyle Singler, and Gerald Henderson than Jeremy Lin. When he signed with the Golden State Warriors, I heard about him in passing. He’s some Asian kid playing for the Warriors. Still, nothing registered. When my hometown New York Knicks picked him up shortly after Christmas 2011, I read his Wikipedia bio, but nothing more. I wasn’t even really a Knicks fan at that point. I attended their last playoff win in 2001, but my 7 year old self didn’t fall in love like many kids do at their first game. I watched Knicks games on television at college every once in a while, and rooted for them when they played, but my NBA fandom was like this: I was going to wait until the Nets moved to Brooklyn and got me excited, or until the Knicks got good. I was going to hop on whatever bandwagon came riding up first, buy a seat for life, and not budge. This was my lifelong fanhood that was at stake—I wasn’t going to blindly pledge to either team.

In a fantastic twist of fate, I landed a couple Knicks-Nets tickets at MSG on February 4th. I took my buddy Rohtas along with me, and his obsession with the Knicks was contagious. If I was going to sit through a game with Rohtas, I had to root for the Knicks. At MSG, I bought a Carmelo Anthony jersey—my first piece of Knicks merchandise. After throwing down $80 for a jersey, I was literally invested in the Knicks cause.

Early on in the game, Carmelo got hurt. Going into the night with a 7-15 record, Coach Mike D’Antoni, fearing a loss to the Nets would cost him his job, went all Lin, and gave the gangly Jeremy Lin his chance to run the point. As a 19 year old Chinese-American, I was glued to Jeremy’s every move. I cheered every basket, rebound, and assist he made like I would celebrate a goal in soccer. My shouts of “It’s the Year of the Lin,” “That’s my Chink Balla!” and “Kung hei fat choi motherfuckers!” rained down onto the court after every one of Jeremy’s moves. I remember being enthralled after he scored 10 points, ecstatic when he topped 20 points, and euphorically foaming at the mouth when he ended the game with 25 points after sparking a 4th quarter comeback.

After the game, I scoured the MSG concourse for any vendors selling his jersey. They had Mike Bibby, Iman Shumpert, Toney Douglas, and Landry Fields jerseys printed, but no Lin 17 shirts. I had to rep my new favorite athlete and my new favorite team immediately. I went to the NBA Store the next day in hopes of scoring any Lin merchandise. Nothing was there, but people had been customizing $300 Knicks jerseys with Lin’s name and number all day. I guess I wasn’t the only one who was hooked and needed a little retail therapy.

The Knicks went on to win 10 of their next 13 games, hitting the tipping point when Jeremy scored 38 points against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. The day before the game, Kobe scoffed at the notion that he’d personally be guarding Jeremy. After Jeremy torched Derek Fisher, and traded baskets with Kobe in the 4th en route to a big Knicks win at MSG, I’m sure Kobe wished he had paid a little more attention to my man. Rohtas was at that Laker game, and he said that the Garden was buzzing like it was a playoff elimination game. In a way, this was Jeremy’s elimination game. Four games and three starts into Linsanity, Jeremy still had more doubters than lovers. If he had shat the bed against Kobe Bryant with the world watching, Linsanity would’ve been tempered to just Jeremy Lin, Knicks starter. Nothing is Linsane about being a starter on a team below .500.

Instead, Jeremy took himself, his expectations, and my pride to heights I’ve never felt as a sports fan. A week after the Nets game, I purposely showed up late for a test so I could go and buy the last Lin jersey at Paragon Sports in Union Square (I ended up getting a C+. I’ll take it.) I was at his 28-14-4 performance against the defending champion Mavericks (After the game, I told an ABC reporter outside of MSG that I was Jeremy’s third-cousin removed. I don’t even know what that means. My interview ran that night on the 6 o’clock news. No, I am not actually Jeremy’s third-cousin removed). To this day, I still don’t understand how he nailed that 3-pointer over Dirk Nowitzki. I’m waiting for Sports Science on ESPN to figure that one out for me. Since I was born (and became a fan of my respective teams. I wasn’t wearing a Yankees cap out of the womb) my Yankees have won five World Series titles, my Packers have won one Super Bowl, Michael Schumacher won everything, and Liverpool FC has been successful. None of those championships and wins mattered as much as Jeremy’s two month run at the top of the sports world.

That’s why it hurts losing him so much. He mattered more.

It wasn’t just that he was good. It wasn’t just about the wins, the worldwide hysteria, and his underdog story. Jeremy Lin mattered to me, because he was doing all of those things as a Chinese-American kid. He’s just like me. (Technically, he’s Taiwanese, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s Chinese.) I’ve never been able to identify with anybody like that before. I’m a bi-racial kid, but I usually don’t self-identify. Being half-white doesn’t give you the White Privilege in America that’s afforded to every other white man—it only gets you sideways stares at family weddings or gatherings featuring my “Block” side of the family. I look Asian. I don’t look white. I don’t look like them.

The “Lew” side has brought me personal shame. During baseball games, everyone teased me and compared me Ichiro or Hideki Matsui. Actually, I hit righty. While I was pitching in an All-Star game once, the announcer compared my unorthodox motion to Hideo Nomo’s. No. I based it off of Black pitching great Bob Gibson’s windup, and I like Huston Street. They called me the “Blazin’ Asian.” My friends usually just call me J. Block. At school, I was picked on viciously for being Asian, despite living in a town that falsely prides itself on diversity. No, I do not have squinty eyes. My penis is the same size as yours. I’m actually bad at math. Fuck you Carlos Mencia. I’ve been conditioned to be self-ashamed when faced with other Asians. I’m embarrassed when I see an Asian mother struggle to order a hamburger at McDonalds. I’m disgusted when I see nerdy Chinese kids in matching outfits play on their Gameboys at dim-sum. They’re all playing into the stereotype that I was ridiculed for, and I used to blame them for it.

Jeremy Lin changed all of that.

He made me proud to be Chinese.

He made me proud to be me.

It takes a long time for everyone to get comfortable in their own skin. Some people never get used to themselves. Everything is cool when you’re a kid, and then puberty blows everything up. We get fat, skinny, tall, wide, muscular, acne-scarred, ugly, pretty, handsome, busty, or just lame. I became Chinese. Jeremy Lin made that okay for me. I’ll gladly self-identify in a world where Jeremy’s playing basketball.

Jeremy related to me in a way that Yao Ming never did. Yao was from China; I’ve never been to China, and he couldn’t have been more different than me culturally and physically. Yao was over seven feet tall. He looked like a basketball player. He was always going to be one. After all, what’s a seven foot Chinese kid going to become in a country where he’s a full two feet taller than the average man? He was built to play basketball. Jeremy, however, could be just another American man. I’m sure that his six foot three inch, 200 pound build is more imposing in person, but on an NBA court, he looks like a college freshman. He got knocked around like one too. Drive after drive, he’d get hit at levels only Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose know, and he’d get back up after every fall. Jeremy’s got five inches and 50 pounds on me, but I figured that if he could go out and dominate a Black man’s game, then I can hold my own in pickup games at NYU. At the very least, I could carry myself with more confidence. Want to call me “Young Jeremy Lin” anytime I play ball? That’s what I want to hear.

Even in totally random situations, Jeremy’s affected me. I was in the hospital this past weekend with an intestinal problem (I’m fine now). While I was sitting in bed in agony, all I could think of was this picture that Jeremy put on his Facebook after his knee surgery in April.

If Jeremy could be in the hospital and stay strong, then so could I. That seems like what a kid on one of SportsCenter’s “My Wish” segments would say, but that’s how I felt. Every time I play beer pong, write an article, or play a video game, I often shout “I do it for Jeremy Lin!” as if Jeremy is somehow being empowered through my nonsensical chants. He inspires me to live my life.

During Linsanity, I wasn’t the only person in my family who became Linsane. My father, who hates basketball, began watching Jeremy’s games after work instead of watching Glee. All my mother could talk about was Jeremy, and she’s clueless about sports. Even my 84 year old Chinese grandmother watched Jeremy play on TV. These people could’ve cared less about LeBron’s playoff redemption, which was arguably the sports story of the 21st century. My family stopped and watched Jeremy and only Jeremy, and millions of other families around the globe did too. He became a worldwide icon, and my personal hero.

I’ve been heartbroken by athletes before. Brett Favre coming out of retirement twice to play for the hated Minnesota Vikings was treacherous. Fernando Torres, after declaring his undying love for Liverpool FC for years, burned us out of nowhere and forced a move to the empirical Chelsea FC. Jeremy’s broken my heart today, but unlike Favre and Torres, I won’t harbor any ill-will towards him. He’s a Houston Rocket now because he wanted to get paid after the Knicks gave him every indication that they’d hand him a blank check. Jeremy did what every other 23 year old with a limited resume and a chance at the jackpot would do. He took the money, and still should’ve been a Knick. I’ll never forgive the Knicks for letting Jeremy go. My brain and I had a meeting about becoming a Nets fan, but I’m too loyal of a person to do that. I was at MSG for their first playoff win in over a decade against the vaunted Miami Heat. There’s a different energy and passion that Knicks fans give that building, and I want to be a part of that for the rest of my life. I won’t, however, be giving the Knicks a single penny as long as Jeremy is playing NBA basketball.

We all have that one friend who we accept and deal with just because they’re around. By all accounts, they suck and they’re a total snake, but we still call them up to hang out. The Knicks are now that friend to me. Jeremy Lin, however, isn’t my friend—he’s my idol, and idols don’t just wear uniforms.

“I love the New York fans to death. I wanted to play in front of those fans for the rest of my career.”

We did too Jeremy.

RIP

Linsanity

February 2012-July 2012

“To know Him is to want to know Him more.” 

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

What Just Happened Here? Jeremy Lin Leaves the Knicks

The clock has just struck midnight, and Jeremy Lin’s Cinderella Story with the New York Knicks has come to a bizzarre ending. The Knicks have refused to match the Houston Rockets’ offer sheet of 3 years/$24 million. It’s a shocking move for a team that apparently was prepared to match any offer up to $1 billion.

Much has been made of the “poison pill” part of the deal, which is Lin’s $15 million salary in his third year. Through a loophole, only $8 million of that would count against the cap for the Rockets, but the Knicks would have to pay the full $15 million. Thanks to the contracts of Carmelo Anthony, Amare “My Contract Expires In 36 Months” Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler, the Lin deal would add up to a combined $75 million owed to those players alone. After another $20 million to fill out the roster with interns and ilegal immigrants, the Knicks would be way over the salary cap and deep into the luxury tax penalty. Once luxury taxes are applied, that $15 million third year for Lin would actually be closer to an unprecedented $60 million out-of-pocket cost. A steep price for a player who didn’t even have enough minutes last year to qualify for any league categories.

Despite that astronomical cost, every argument against resigning Lin can be put to bed. Let’s break it down.

ARGUMENT #1: HE’LL COST TOO MUCH
$60 million is a lot, but it’s not like the Knicks couldn’t afford him. They’ve spent more money on players than any team this decade, and have thrown money around like an elementary school food-fight. This is the first time in Knicks history (from what I know) that money has been a problem in obtaining a player. Not cap issues, or balancing salaries in a trade—pure money.

That being said, let’s give the Knicks the benefit of the doubt. They’ve finally drawn a line in the sand. They want to be fiscally responsible for once. There’s nothing wrong with smartening up. The problem is, this instance isn’t smart. It’s an another example of the Knicks being near-sighted. There are two ways to avoid owing that $75 million to four players in 2014-2015. These aren’t secrets either—they’ve been thrown around on the radio, television, and in columns the past three days. These ways have been used repeatedly before to get teams out of cap trouble.

1) The expiring contracts. Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler, and Lin would all have expiring contracts going into the 2014-2015 season. Expiring contracts are just as valuable as solid rotation players—they’re both trade assets. Teams are always looking to trade bad contracts for other bad contracts, or to take on bad contracts because they’re expiring. After 2015, these players would be off the books. In short, they’re tender trade bait. Teams sign players to huge deals knowing well that they’ll probably get traded at the end of the contract for cap relief. Trading just one of these mega-deals in 2014 would save the Knicks tens of millions in cap and luxury tax dollars. It would happen too.

2) The “stretch provision.” Worried about Lin being a bust and still having to eat that $60 million poison pill in 2014? That doesn’t need to happen. The stretch provision would allow Lin to be waived on the cheap. Instead of that $15 million counting against the cap immediately (trigging those luxury taxes), only $5 million would. The provision allows the salary to be dispersed over the remaining years left on the deal plus one: $5 million would be paid in 2014, $5 million in 2015, and then another $5 million in 2016. The cap hit would be minimal, and the tax penalties would be practically nullified.

BUT… Should Lin reach his potential, and ascend to top 10 poing guard range, he’ll pay for himself on the court alone. Nate Silver used John Hollinger’s PER rankings, and converted that metric into dollars. He figured that one win costs about $1.63 million on the open market. A good player should produce about 10 wins per season to be worth $16.3 million. Silver then calculated the value of the top 40 point guards in the NBA using his numbers.

If Lin performs like a top 10 point guard, he’s worth about $60 million over those three years in wins alone—roughly $10 million less than his out-of-pocket cost—a difference that can be made up in his merchandise sales and TV ratings that he would bring in anyway. Not only that, but he would only cost $10 million total the first two years, which would actually make him $30 million underpaid. If the Knicks move either Anthony, Stoudemire, or Chandler to clear cap space in 2014 and cut the luxury tax bill, he would actually come out of the deal as an underpaid point guard.

With those two outs, and an examination of Lin’s potential on the court worth, the poison pill argument is null and void. Moving on…

ARGUMENT #2: HE’S AVERAGE AT BEST

26 starts is an extremely limited sample size, but what he did statistically in that time has only been done by some of the best the NBA has ever seen. The NY Times studied this in February. Since 1985, out of the 41 players who’ve averaged 20+ points, 6+ assists and over 50% shooting in four or more consecutive games, only nine players are considered “average,” while the bottom tier of players consists of Pooh Richardson, Jay Humphries, and Lionel Simmons.

Lin is in rarified air with that list. To call him average would be going against history. Beyond that, an average player doesn’t just throw up 38-7-4 on 57% shooting against a team like Lakers. Against Kobe, it was Lin’s first big test, and he seized the moment in a way that only elite players can do. That doesn’t happen to Raymond Felton on a random February night. Average players just don’t go out and do what Lin did.

Not only did he fill in a fantastic box score, but his also teams won. He dragged the Knicks into the playoffs with his winning streak. He made ran a great pick-and-roll with Tyson and Amare, created Steve Novak’s career renaissance, temporarily saved D’Antoni’s job, and became the team’s alpha-dog. He was the only player the Knicks had last year who played like a proper point guard and made his teammates better. Him not being at least an above-average player would be a historical fluke. Now who exactly wants to bet against history? (This question is obvious and stupid because the Knicks just did.)

ARGUMENT #3: RAYMOND FELTON IS BETTER ANYWAYS

No… Just… No. If I need to actually explain this, then you should stop watching basketball. Let me do it anyway.

In isolation situations last season, Lin scored a quarter of a point more (ranking 65 spots higher—3rd vs. 68th), shot 10% better, and turned the ball over two times less than Felton.

In pick-and-roll situations last season, Lin averaged more points per play, had a higher field goal percentage, and got to that line nearly three times more than Felton.

Lin ranked third in the entire league in field goal percentage off the dribble (minimum 90 shots), just behind Stephen Curry and Steve Nash.

Lin held opponents to less points per play and a lower shooting percentage last season than Felton (.82 PPP for Lin compared to .86 for Felton, and 38% for Lin compared to 42% for Felton).

Statistically, Lin blows Felton out of the water. Would Felton work better with Amare and Carmelo? The argument is that Amare and Felton ran the pick-and-roll so well two seasons ago, but the fact is, Lin runs pick-and-rolls better than Felton PERIOD. There is no aspect on the basketball court that Raymond Felton is superior to Jeremy Lin in.

By this point, unless you’re either Stephen A. Smith or the Knicks, you know that Lin is a no-brainer to be resigned. I could only think of two possible reasons why the Knicks didn’t resign Lin:

1) Dolan was mad. Knicks owner James Dolan had a grudge against Lin for making his wallet work a little bit with the backloaded contract, even though we proved that he wouldn’t have to pay those luxury tax dollars in 2014 if the Knicks made a few realistic moves. Dolan has been known to hold grudges, and he probably didn’t like that Lin asked for all that money in the first place after the Knicks gave him his big chance. This is how he’s repaying me? Lin re-payed you with the reinvigoration of your entire franchise on and off the court. Now pay him back.

2) They genuinely believed he wasn’t good. Although we proved that he’s going to be at least an above-average player, and that he’s an upgrade over Felton, the Knicks didn’t think so. The Knicks can’t say he wouldn’t be worth the money, because we proved that in no way could money be an object. The Knicks must’ve been watching a different Jeremy Lin than the rest of us.

Lin is officially a Houston Rocket, so it’s worth noting what the Knicks missed out on. Should Lin sniff Linsanity levels, he’s the difference in the Eastern Conference. Right now, the Knicks could either finish as either the two seed or the eight seed. The team did nothing last year to help project them for this year. They were in flux all year long, and now their biggest catalyst is gone. After this offseason, they have more questions than answers. Can Melo’s hero ball translate into wins? Who will play at shooting guard? Can anyone stay healthy? Is Amare “My Contract Expires In 36 Months” Stoudemire a basketball player or a contract deadweight? What’s Mike Woodson’s purpose in life? These are all questions that could’ve had answers if Lin had resigned. Lin has the potential to be the reason the Knicks can leapfrog the Celtics, Pacers, Nets, Sixers, Hawks and Bulls.

Just his signing would ward off the inner-city threat of the Nets. The Nets are on the rise, and the Knicks are trending down right now. Beyond New York City, Lin would continue to establish his world-wide popularity. The Knicks had a chance to get every Chinese kid in their jersey, and they blew it. The international branding opportunities he provides cannot be underestimated. There aren’t many players in the NBA who would make the casual NBA fan—even a non-NBA fan—drop whatever their doing just to watch play. There’s LeBron, maybe Durant, Lin, and that’s it. Case in point: My father, mother, and grandmother don’t follow basketball. My father actually hates the game. Did they all watch all of Lin’s games though? Yes. Did he watch LeBron’s dominant NBA Finals? No. Lin’s a living phenomenon.

At the end of this mess, Lin is a player who has a high reward, and a very low risk. He can be tossed to the curb with almost no damage (relative to his cost), just as quickly as he’s taken over the NBA. Let me repeat: worst case, he’s gone with no financial damage done in two years. Best case, he leads the Knicks to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks let the biggest difference maker they had walk away, all because of either a grudge or a misevaluation of his overall ability and worth. Knicks coaches and executives will have to explain themselves eventually, and unless an explanation as complete and thorough as the 9/11 Commission Report is given, the Knicks won’t win this argument. The likeliest reason however: the Knicks are the Knicks. For any NBA fan, that should mean enough.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

1992 Dream Team Vs. 2012 USA Men’s Team: The Breakdown

“So I don’t know. It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”—Kobe Bryant on whether the 2012 Men’s team could beat the 1992 Dream Team

“I absolutely laughed.”—Michael Jordan on Kobe’s quote.

In any sport, it’s difficult to compare guys from different eras. Athletes today are healthier, more athletic, and smarter than they were twenty years ago. NBA rules have changed to make the game more open, allowing point guards to flourish. The league has gotten softer as players have become more physically gifted—the guys on the 1992 Dream Team were probably disgusted by how the playoffs were called this year. But if a hypothetical game between the Dream Team and the sequel to 2008’s “Redeem Team” happened, would the 2012 squad have a chance? Before we get into match-ups, here’s what we know:

The two greatest players of their generation are at the apex of their powers. At age 28 in 1992, Michael Jordan came off a 30-6-6 year, embarrassed Clyde Drexler in the 1992 Finals after a “Who’s Better: Jordan or Drexler?” debate was started during the playoffs, and promptly seized Finals MVP (the famous Shrug Game being the highlight). At age 27, LeBron James is coming off an MVP 27-6-8 campaign and a Finals MVP, settling a premature and unfair “Who’s Better: Durant or LeBron?” debate. Jordan at his peak versus LeBron at his peak? And if Gus Johnson is calling the game… Instant cumshot for every basketball fan.

Every player on the Dream Team is an NBA Hall of Famer except for Christian Laettner. If Isiah Thomas wasn’t hated so universally in 1992, he would’ve made it over Laettner (Chuck Daly, the Dream Team’s coach, and Thomas’s coach on the Pistons didn’t even pick him), giving the Dream Team 12 Hall of Famers in 12 roster spots. Alas, they’re 11 for 12 (unless Laettner’s College Basketball Hall of Fame spot counts. He’s enshrined in the same building as Jordan, since the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield covers all areas of basketball). It’s hard to project who will be a Hall of Famer on the 2012 team, but surely the likes of Andre Iguodala won’t make it to Springfield. For historical purposes, the Dream Team reigns supreme.

The 2012 team lacks size. Tyson Chandler is the lone 7-footer on that roster, and offers nothing offensively. The Dream Team had 7-footers Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. Dwight Howard is missed just for his size and post strength alone. Chandler can’t play the entire game though, leaving the likes of Kevin Love, LeBron, and Anthony Davis to protect the post against Ewing, Robinson, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone.

The Dream Team is slow at point guard. Magic Johnson didn’t play in the NBA in 1992, but he proved in the Olympics that he was still the best point guard in basketball. At age 31, however, he was a huge liability defensively. His backup, John Stockton, was no burner either. Meanwhile, the 2012 team has the most explosive point guard available in Russell Westbrook, and Magic’s heir, Chris Paul.

The 2012 team is injured. Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, and Blake Griffin are all out with injuries for Team USA. Howard’s size, Rose’s speed, Wade’s scoring, and Griffin’s power are all huge misses for the 2012 team. These guys would’ve made a real difference. Howard and Griffin would help patch a weak spot inside for the 2012 team, Rose could further exploit Magic and Stockton, and Wade is a huge upgrade at shooting guard over Kobe’s current backups.

Now that those facts have been hashed out, who wins the individual matchups at each position?

POINT GUARD
Magic in his prime was better than Chris Paul is now, but in 1992, Magic was at the end of his career. A Paul/Westbrook/Deron Williams combination would tear up Magic and Stockton (who got regularly got beat by the speedy Gary Payton throughout his career), beating them with pure speed and stealing ability. 2012 Team wins.

SHOOTING GUARD
Here, the two biggest alpha-dogs of their time would be paired up against each other. Nobody in basketball was more competitive than Jordan, although Kobe would definitely have something to say about that. Jordan and Kobe would kill each other out there. Although Jordan in his prime blows an aging Kobe away physically, Kobe wouldn’t make it easy—he’s too much of a competitive killer. Drexler wasn’t the same player after Jordan took his soul in the 1992 Finals (seriously, Drexler went from being a top 5 player to barely an All-Star after that), but he’s still superior to James Harden and Westbrook at the 2. Drexler was in his prime in 1992, while Harden, Gordon and Westbrook are still figuring themselves out. Dream Team wins.

SMALL FORWARD
Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, and Scottie Pippen (and maybe Barkley?) against LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. While LeBron will play any position 1-5 and would probably guard Jordan, Durant and Anthony could hold their own. Larry Bird was still a maverick with the ball even when he retired, but his back was shot by this point. The uber-athletic speed, strength, and length of Durant and Anthony would cause too much trouble for Bird, Mullin, and Pippen to handle. Have LeBron actually play the 3, and this matchup is no contest. 2012 Team wins.

POWER FORWARD
Barkley in his prime was better than any forward not named LeBron that the 2012 team could offer against him. He’d make Love question his own abilities, as Love is hardly an apt defender. Barkley would remind Davis of his rookie status over and over again, as an undersized but thick Barkley would plow through Davis. Malone coming off of a world-beating 28-11 season only makes things worse for the 2012 team. Davis is the only one who could potentially defend Barkley and Malone—2015 Anthony Davis that is—not rookie Anthony Davis. Dream Team wins.

CENTER
A Pity Party is needed for Tyson Chandler here. He’s going to have to do the bulk of the interior defending with Davis against Ewing and Robinson in their primes. Chandler is the best defensive center in basketball today, but he couldn’t hold on against Robinson and Ewing rotating in and out. Too many big, fresh bodies for the Dream Team, and not nearly enough offense or size inside for the 2012 team. Dream Team wins.

The Dream Team wins 3-2 in the matchup battle. These are teams that will come bringing different styles of basketball though, and matchups aren’t everything. The Dream Team would have more emphasis on attacking the weak interior of the 2012 Team with their bigs, while having Jordan and Magic do everything they can on fast breaks. The 2012 team is going to try and win on speed and athleticism down the wings and in transition, with Chris Paul and LeBron in a power-point guard role spearheading attacks to Westbrook, Durant, and Davis down the court. If I’m Coach K, I go with a Paul, Kobe, Westbrook, Durant, LeBron, Chandler starting five, but eventually settling in with a Paul, Westbrook, Durant, LeBron, Davis lineup to make the game a track meet. It’s their only shot against the size of the Dream Team.

Who wins? The Dream Team. Never bet against Jordan. No way he lets this game get away.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Deron Williams Would Be An Idiot To Turn Down the Nets

Tomorrow, Deron Williams will be meeting with representatives from both the Brooklyn Nets and the Dallas Mavericks. Today, he became the biggest free agent in basketball, but one who’s limited his options. Does he return home to Dallas and compete for a championship next season? Or does he stay in Brooklyn, seize the basketball business opportunity of the decade, and help build the Nets into a legitimate threat in the Eastern conference? Let’s hash out a few myths and facts for Deron as he wavers between the red and blue pill.

MYTH #1: He can win a championship in Dallas
In tandem with Deron’s ties to home, the biggest factor that’s seemingly sealing his move to Dallas is the Maverick’s perceived ability to win championships. Deron has repeatedly said that he wants to sign with a team that’s going to compete immediately. He’s 28 years old, and for any athlete, it’s a mystery what your body will do when you turn 30. He needs to win now. With Mark Cuban as his owner, he’d be in bed with a man who’s willing to bend and break the cap to contend, and Rick Carlisle, a championship winning coach.

But what can the Mavericks seriously offer Deron? They have Dirk Nowitzki, who lead the Mavericks to a championship two seasons ago after finally saying, “This might be my last chance to win it all. I don’t want to be the Charles Barkely of my generation. Eat my jump-shot, Miami Heat.” Nowitzki’s 34 years old, is getting worse at rebounding (how a 7 footer only grabs 6.8 rebounds a game is fraudulent), and may not have that burning desire to grab a 2nd title. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: he’s still good for an efficient 20-25 points a game, and could maintain that level for years with Williams passing him the ball.

Is there anything else around Nowitzki? Jason Terry, Delonte West, and Ian Mahinmi are free agents, either Brendan Haywood or Shawn Marion will need to be amnestied to make room for Deron’s contract, and there’s a team option on Vince Carter. If Deron were to join the Mavericks, based on salary cap-decisions, he’d be surrounded by, most notably: Nowitzki, Marion, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Jared Cunningham, and Brandan Wright. They’d be about $7 million under the cap after that, but Jason Kidd said he’d join Deron wherever. The two are a package deal. If Kidd takes a massive pay-cut and accepts $3 million, then the Mavericks could fill out their rotation with either West or Mahinmi. Deron’s “championship” starting 5 would be: himself, Jones, Marion, Nowitzki, and Mahinmi (assuming he signs over West). That makes them challengers for… the 5th best team in the West, fighting alongside Chris Paul and the Clippers for that distinction. That’s championship pedigree right there.

MYTH #2: The Nets are a lame franchise
I’ve discussed at great-length why the Nets are actually one of the coolest franchises in the NBA right now, despite what NBA fans would say. Here’s an abbreviated version of my argument: The Nets are now residing in the hippest place in the United States, as well as this country’s 4th largest city (pretending that Brooklyn was never annexed by New York City). They’ve seized upon hip-hop branding principles, making the logo fashionable and their apparel suitable for streetwear shops in SoHo. Whereas Manhattan and the New York Knicks are symbolic of the old, established powers of today, the Brooklyn Nets are a young, exciting, trendy team. Untold love and marketing opportunities await.

MYTH #3: Dwight Howard will not be a Net
Apparently, Deron won’t sign with the Nets unless Dwight Howard will be in uniform with him. Last night, Chris Broussard reported for the billionth time, that Dwight Howard requested a trade to the Nets for the billionth time. Deron’s impending free agency and Dwight’s demands are timed perfectly. Both will be a Net this time next week, even though I’m not taking Chris Broussard AKA the TMZ of Sports Reporting for anything. Even though Dwight did sign that ridiculous I Promise To Stay With The Magic One More Year contract at the trade deadline, that piece of paper matters very little. In the NBA, players always get what they want, and the Magic would be insane to hold onto him. Best case, he stays and walks after 2013. Worst case, he poisons the team with his irrational behavior next season—why not get something in return while they still can? Reality: he’s a head case, and the Magic are tired of being held hostage. The Packers got tired of Brett Favre. The Nuggets got tired of Carmelo Anthony. Today, the Magic get tired of Dwight.

FACT #1: Agents run this league
When it comes to taking the money over the better team, agents will always steer their clients to the most money on the table. The Nets can offer Deron a full year and $25 million more than the Mavericks can. We’ve already debunked that the Mavericks can contend for anything significant next season, but even if that perception is still in place, it won’t matter. People will point to LeBron, Wade, and Bosh’s decision to take pay-cuts to join forces and say, “Deron’s the same way. He wants to win like those guys. Money isn’t an option.” Well, money means a lot to those agents who take commission checks, and guess what? LeBron, Wade, and Bosh all share the same agent. Their agent, Henry Thomas, is collecting a commission off a total of $300 million in combined contracts for the three. I’m sure he was okay with their pay-cuts. Deron will follow the money.

FACT #2: The Nets will contend for more than the Mavericks will next season
They’re certainly in a better position to. By adding Dwight Howard, and then Deron Williams, they maybe become the 2nd or 3rd best team in the Eastern conference. If the Magic finished 6th last season, then the Nets can finish above them, the Boston Celtics (old, old, old, and old), the Atlanta Hawks (a team that will never make the leap), and maybe the Chicago Bulls (in flux with Derrick Rose injured) or the Indiana Pacers (now Larry Bird-less). The Heat have two big weaknesses: their ability to guard elite point guards, and their defense in the post. A team with one of the three best point guards in basketball and the best real center in the game could give the Heat some trouble.

FACT #3: Beyonce will be courtside to your games. Beyonce, Jay-Z, AND Blue Ivy! Maybe even Kim Kardashian, and Kanye West. Jay-Z is totally ready to step into that Jack Nicholson role, and Kanye’s the next Spike Lee of fans.

Deron the choice is yours. Do you really want to play for a pretender in Dallas and have old “friends” hit you up for money and tickets back home? (I’m guessing there’s a reason why he doesn’t live there in the offseason. His “home.”) Or do you want to play for the next coolest thing in the NBA with Dwight Howard and make an extra $25 million in the process? The Decision sounds easy enough to me. But what do I know? It’s not my life.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

An Uneventful NBA Draft: Talking Points and Non-Trades

I used to follow all the NBA mock drafts religiously. For years, I’d dive into every Chad Ford mock column, reading up on how the draft should go. Year after year, I’d be disappointed that the mock drafts would almost never match the real thing. It was silly of me to assume that things would work out that way—after all, what’s the point in watching the draft if the whole thing is scripted (in Stern’s NBA, it wouldn’t surprise me if it actually was)? Mock drafts usually get blown up because of trades, or the simple stupidity of most NBA GMs. Teams would swap draft picks for cash, other players, “future considerations,” and picks in the distant future. It was a mess to keep track of. This year, however, there was no chaos. There was only one first round trade compared to 7 in 2011, 7 in 2010, and 3 in 2009. There was a predictable dryness to the 2012 draft, but some major talking points still popped up.

The biggest moves were perhaps the ones that didn’t happen. The Bobcats refused the Cavaliers advances to trade up to the #2 pick. That led to Bobcats taking Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a player who’s now expected to shoot the ball 15 times a game, despite not being a great scorer. He only averaged 11.2 points a game on 8 shots at the University of Kentucky, and now has to carry the Bobcats. Yikes. But if there’s a player who’s prepared to step-up and lead immediately, it’s Kidd-Gilchrist.

Because the Bobcats refused to give up their pick, Cavs ended up missing out on Bradley Beal, who landed in the Wizard’s lap at the #3 pick. He’ll now battle John Wall for touches in the back-court. The Cavs, desperate to add a scoring threat, reached for Syracuse guard Dion Waiters at the #4 pick—someone who never started a collegiate game. Curious move.

Two other non-trades that are likely to have an impact on offseason proceedings: potential Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard trades. The Rockets had been stockpiling picks in an attempt to trade for either of them. Dwight Howard was a small possibility, as he changed his mind (for about the 10,000th time) and has spent the past few days trying to force a move, preferably to the Nets. The Nets had flipped their first round pick for Gerald Wallace, so how Howard was going to get his desired move before the draft was beyond me. The Rockets failed to land either big man, or move up into the top 10 to grab Andre Drummond. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has got to be thinking, “Great, now I have three rookie 1st round picks on my roster, none of whom are lottery picks. I wonder if Paul Millsap is available?!”

The Kings managed to not screw up their pick, taking Thomas Robinson at the #5 spot. He’ll spend the year tag-teaming the boards with Demarcus Cousins while the rest of the team jacks up shots and plays no defense. NBA fans in Seattle light candles of hope.

Harrison Barnes slid down the draft like everyone pre-workouts expected him to. Yet after he tested so well, he was expected to be a top-5 pick. He fell to the Warriors at #7, giving them a 1-3 that looks like this: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes. It’ll be raining 3s in the Bay next season! With David Lee and Andrew Bogut in the front-court, the Warriors look promising. (Sorry for giving Warriors fans false hope!) But since they’re the Warriors, they’ll probably be in the lottery again next year. Hey, at least they’ll be a fun team to play with in 2K.

The Pistons took Andre Drummond/Kwame Brown 2.0 at #9 overall, giving him a chance to team up with Greg Monroe in a front-court that’ll get the fans buzzing for about a week.

The most controversial pick of the whole draft, and the worst one in my estimation, was the Hornets pick of Duke guard Austin Rivers at #10. There’s an inherent problem with Rivers: he thinks he’s Kobe but he’s not Kobe. Imagine if Kobe Bryant was still himself mentally but wasn’t nearly as talented—he’d basically be a member of the Kings, but with chemistry-killing tenacity. Rivers is a fake point guard who had more turnovers than assists last season. He’s got a chance to average 15 points a night in the NBA, but the Hornets already have a big-time scoring guard in Eric Gordon, who’s arguably the 4th best shooting guard in the league. (Think about it. After Wade, Kobe, Harden, and Joe Johnson, who’s left? Monta Ellis? DeMar DeRozan?) Why take away shots from Gordon when there was an opportunity to draft Kendall Marshall? He’s the best passer in the draft, who the Suns eventually snapped up to be Steve Nash’s successor. It would make too much sense to pair the draft’s best passer with Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon.

Of all the teams that stood pat, the Thunder came away strong. They were making a push to trade up to grab Bradley Beal, but were unwilling to part with James Harden in a deal. Instead, Baylor forward Perry Jones III fell to them at #29. Once seen as a potential lottery pick (New York Times Magazine profiled him in March 2011. They compared him to Magic Johnson and Tracy McGrady. Remember though: it’s the New York Times Magazine with a sports feature not written by either Michael Lewis or Malcolm Gladwell), Jones III vastly underachieved at Baylor. He’s a slender, athletic big man who’s very raw, but that’s just what the Thunder need: athletic bigs. He can run the court better than any forward in the draft, and he’ll thrive in the Thunder’s track-paced transition offense.

The Celtics walked away with easily the best draft (outside of getting Anthony Davis, of course). Jared Sullinger fell all the way to them at #21. Sullinger had been red flagged by NBA teams for his back troubles, but at #21, he’s a steal. He averaged nearly 17 and 10 at The Ohio State last season, and was rated as the best low-post player in the entire draft. A player that productive at a major basketball program should never fall that far for injury worries. (See: DeJuan Blair and his lack of ACLs.) For a team that lacked any post presence whatsoever in 2012, Sullinger is a huge boost. The Celtics took Fab Melo at #22, landing a defensive weapon who’ll own the offensive glass. The Celtics got bigger to protect Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass. Throw in center Greg Stiemsma to that rotation, and the Celtics all of a sudden have a very versatile and deep front-court. One more run at the title? With Rondo, Pierce, and Garnett, anything’s possible.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

How Hip-Hop Saved the Brooklyn Nets

Hip-hop and sports have dovetailed naturally since hip-hop’s birth in the 1970s. Basketball, in particular, has been the sport of choice for rappers. Ever since Kurtis Blow fanatically chanted “Basketball is my favorite sport, I like the way they dribble up and down the court,” in his 1984 hit “Basketball,” the game has become an easy name-check for rappers (I can’t remember the last time at least one mixtape or album didn’t have at least ONE basketball-related metaphor or punchline).

Basketball and hip-hop are both dominated by young African-American men from urban environments, making it no surprise that the two frequently cross-paths. There’s a confluence between them in the rhymes, friendships, and culture of the people operating within each industry, and it’s certainly something that businessmen have taken advantage of.

Rappers wear the shoes of Jordan, LeBron, Kobe, and Durant for fashion, pushing Nike Basketball’s sales. Kanye West, who has a design/endorsement contract with Nike, has been known to make any sneaker he wears a hot item. He’s the world’s Trendsetter-In-Chief. ‘Ye recently wore the Nike Air Flight ’89 basketball sneaker while out on a date with Kim Kardashian in London. The next day, the shoe, which had sold poorly since it’s release, had sold out on Nike’s website. Did Nike give Kanye a pair to wear in public so they could clear stock? Kanye would probably deny it and say something along the lines of, “Every outfit I wear is art. It’s, it’s, it’s an expression of me, and I would never let, uh, such high-level art—of me be corrupted.” *theoretically says the man who’s causing streetwear worldwide chaos with his painfully limited, self-designed, $245 Nike Air Yeezy II. Nike Basketball is smart enough to put their biggest celebrity (yes, bigger than Jordan) at the forefront of their street and viral marketing efforts. Nike Basketball commonly gives rappers pairs of sneakers in advance of a release so they can be Instagrammed, photographed, and publicly seen in them to increase hype.

The NBA, however, rarely takes advantage of the relationship between their sport and hip-hop. Their players pal around with rappers, while rappers frequent court-side seats at games, and publicly root for their teams on Twitter, Facebook, and in their lyrics. But has the NBA ever partnered with a rapper for commercial reasons? There’s one exception (getting to that), but David Stern’s NBA will probably never be caught dead holding the meaty hands of Rick Ross or DJ Khaled. After 2004’s Malice at the Palace, Stern’s NBA has sanitized itself of anything remotely criminal (Gilbert Arenas’s 2009-10 gun suspension was certainly in the spirit of the Palace). It doesn’t help that much of popular hip-hop is full of ex-cons, and rappers with a charge, spitting lyrics concerning matters that Stern would find offensive. He even banned “chains” from being worn into the arena by players—a fashion trend made popular by the hip-hop community.

Despite Stern’s resentment of the stereotypical hip-hop image, the NBA has been infiltrated by one rapper. Where there’s a D-Will, there’s a Jay. Jay-Z is a minority owner of the newly christened Brooklyn Nets—a position that makes him hip-hop’s most powerful man in the NBA. The former New Jersey Nets, one of the NBA’s most beleaguered franchises, has been reborn by their move. Although the Nets calculated that the “Nets” brand equity (all those memorable Finals losses in the sports-forsaken Meadowlands must’ve been worth so much) was too valuable to rename the team after their Brooklyn move, the organization has begun to totally rebrand the team, with hip-hop’s real image—not the one in Stern’s mind—as the guiding force.

Hip-hop takes on the appearance of whomever’s creating it. If a hustler from Philadelphia raps about spending money and trapping, that’s hip-hop. If a pyro from Los Angeles raps with his friends about doing hard drugs and killing Bruno Mars, that’s hip-hop. The versatility of the genre is what makes it so universally appealing. What has always driven the genre, topically and culturally, is one’s sense of self. The need to boast and project coolness onto listeners is something that all rappers have in common—from the first MCs at 1970s Bronx house parties to rappers just picking up the mic today—they all want to talk about themselves. Who they sleep with, what they wear, who/what they support, what they buy, what they regularly do or don’t do. They brand themselves just as much as athletes do. Ice Cube is seen as a loud thug, so he gets to yell at Coors Light cans in commercials. Diddy knows luxury and a good time, so he’s the face of Ciroc vodka. Jay-Z is the epitome of cool: he’s a properly dressed, self-made rap legend who went from drug dealing to running corporations, who also happens to be married to our generation’s greatest sex symbol. Oh, and he’s a family man now too thanks to little Blue Ivy.

Here’s where the Brooklyn part of the Nets come in. The boroughs most famous son, Jay-Z, is effectively the face of the franchise (sorry Deron Williams and Dwight Howard). Jay-Z is taking his superstar coolness and making what was one of the lamest franchises in the NBA into a cool team to root for. Brooklyn is the fourth largest city in the United States (just pretend that New York City never annexed it for a moment), and is undergoing a major youth movement. Around New York City, Brooklyn is perceived as the place to be. Hipsters (“hipsters” in the sense of anyone who’s young, independently dressed, and a follower of culture) reign supreme, helping give Brooklyn a certain aura to it. There’s a reason that when DJs and MCs shout the obligatory “Is Brooklyn in the house?” or most likely, “WHERE BROOKLYN AT?” *dodges a Flex bomb* that EVERYONE at the concert is suddenly from Brooklyn. (Hell, I’m Manhattan born and New Jersey raised but I pretend that I’m from Brooklyn at those moments. It just feels good to be a part of something.)

With the premiere celebrity/rapper on the planet, the coolest city in the United States, and a young fan base (56% of NBA fans are from either Generation X or Y), the Nets are all hip-hop. Their logo speaks to hip-hop fans even more. Hip-hop heads are also into fashion—rappers talk about how well they dress and what brands they wear constantly, so fans naturally follow suit and style up.

The new Brooklyn Nets logo. Clean and classic.
The old New Jersey Nets logo. A graphic, unappealing mess.

The new Nets logo has been highly criticized for being too boring, too plain, and just straight-up ugly. But what really puts people off is that doesn’t look like most NBA logos. While every NBA logo is a gaudy, overly-graphic, corny, colorful cartoon, the new Nets logo looks more like a streetwear brand’s symbol. It’s simple, clean, classic design, and colors make it look more like an urban lifestyle brand than an NBA logo. More importantly, the black and white coloring makes it highly fashionable—their apparel goes with anything. The Nets have made the first lines of NBA apparel that can legitimately be “dressed up” to go out in. Not surprising, considering it’s designer, Jay-Z, started his own clothing company in Rocawear, which went on to do over $700 million in annual sales.

Streetwear or Nets gear?

It makes more sense to have Nets gear sold at some small shop in SoHo than the NBA store in midtown. Their logo is by far their biggest branding achievement, and their apparel will sell through the roof. After all, what casual fan wants to root for a team if they can’t look good doing it? Getting casual, would-be NBA fans to don a Nets snapback is what the organization wants, and what it will get. (Another personal experience aside: the day after the New York Knicks were able to beat the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden, I saw more people wearing new Nets gear in the street than Knicks gear. The Knicks had just won their first playoff game in over a decade, and no fans could be seen basking in their reflective glory. Everyone wanted to be a Nets fan, because they looked cooler being one, even though the Knicks were the toast of the town. It feels good being a part of something new, cool, and revolutionary.)

The Nets and their revitalized franchise couldn’t be more hip-hop. They’ve got hip-hop’s #1 borough and rapper, hip-hop’s youthful audience, and hip-hop’s street savvy style. Although the music industry is in the tank, hip-hop’s branding strategies couldn’t be more valuable. Just don’t tell David Stern, or he might send the Nets back to New Jersey.

Hello Brooklyn.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49