The Beautiful Game

san-antonio-spurs-2014-nba-champion

Basketball players are the pinnacle of evolution. In more primitive times, these men would have been slaying beasts and saving maidens. Had Lebron lived in ancient Sumeria, the legend of King James would have been found alongside Gilgamesh.

Nowadays, these legendarily proportioned men exert their energy playing basketball, where the physically gifted are perfectly suited to put a ball through a hoop ten feet in the air. They can drive through or elevate over their opponent to score at will. For the most talented players, teamwork, though important, can be seen as optional, especially when their astounding individual performance reaps not only victories, but also awards, money, and fans.

Soccer players are different. Star players look like guys who didn’t get picked to play on the basketball team. If they weren’t in impeccable shape, elaborately tattooed, and preposterously coiffed, they would not turn a head. Messi, stands 5’6″ and weighs less than 150 pounds. Cristiano would be small for point guard. Ibrahimovic and Kobe are the same size.

But, soccer stars don’t need to win the genetic lottery, because no matter how dominant an athlete may be, it is near impossible to score a goal alone. First off, the rules forbid using HANDS, the appendage crafted over billions of years of evolution for the specific purpose of catching, holding, and throwing. Without HANDS, dodging ten defenders and shooting past a goalie is a ludicrous venture.

In soccer, selfishness is the seed of failure. Players can not seek to excel on their own. They must be a cog in the machine. Opponents cannot be plowed through by a single player, they must be dissected by a team. Passing is paramount. Often the most important play is not the goal, but the superb through ball that unzips the defense.

Soccer requires the best elements of human nature: selflessness, creativity, and passion. On the greatest plays, averaged-sized humans transcend their individual shortcomings as part of a team and create the spectacular. Viewing this collaboration is beautiful. Being a part of it, is addicting.

Whereas Americans adorn their childhood walls with NBA players posterizing opponents, international youth idolize the great sides posing in team photos with arms draped around one another. They start playing soccer when they learn to stand and are bottle-fed the heroin of harmony. For most, soccer satiates their cravings, but those who seek bliss with more zip turn to basketball for their fix.

In the NBA, most teams look for the next Herculean superstar, but San Antonio seeks foreign-born harmony addicts. Of the nine most used Spurs players, seven were born outside the United States. A Spur seeks the joy of cooperation over the glorification of self.  A Spur passes up good shots for great shots. A Spur is a teammate.

They play basketball like soccer. Their elaborate whirring offense rivals Barcelona working the tiki-taka. Every player touches the ball, moving towards an increasingly deadly position until the made basket is a formality.

SPURSPASSING

In five seconds, a balding Argentinian, a wee Australian, a middle-aged Virgin Islander and a pudgy Frenchman eviscerated the most athletic defense in the league.

On paper, the Spurs have no business contending for a title. They’re big, slow, and old in a league getting smaller, faster, and younger. But, the Spurs excel in transcending their modest physical gifts into spectacular team performance.

In the words of my Kindergarten teacher during clean-up time, “Many hands, make little work” and the many hands of the Spurs made little work of the entire league this season.

In the seventeenth year of the Duncan-Popovich Dynasty, after an unfathomably devastating Finals defeat, the Spurs unleashed a scorched earth policy and played the most perfect basketball of this generation.

The World Cup started last week, but we’ve been watching the beautiful game all year.

 

P.S. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

Where is the Love?

LEBRONGAZE

Lebron James is awesome in the biblical sense of the word. Yet, every time he plays all we hear is “hate, hate, hate, hate….”

He misses a jumper? So inconsistent.

He defers to an open All-Star teammate on a crucial possession ? Not Clutch.

He cramps up while playing in a gym with the climate of a Brazilian summer? Jordan would have kept going.

Perhaps, we are unsatisfied with Lebron because he lacks Jordan’s sociopathic competitive brutality. Fans salivated over Jordan punching teammates at practice, ripping lackluster players for their mediocrity, and taking over games with scowls that could make Atilla the Hun quiver. Jordan’s competitiveness was obvious.

Lebron’s competitiveness takes a subtler form. He focuses on making the right play. He embraced team basketball even when his best teammates were Delonte West, Mo Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and the corpses of Wally Szerbiak, Antawn Jamison, and Shaq. Lebron understood that no matter how incredible he was and how mediocre his teammates were, he still had to get them involved in order to win the game.

Lebron grasps that championship basketball requires more than star power. It’s why the 2004 Detroit Pistons starting line-up of pseudostars knocked off Hall of Famers Shaq, Kobe, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone. It’s why the Spurs have contended for titles since ABC was producing live episodes of Rosanne. It’s why Lebron left Cleveland for Miami. Because in the end, no matter how great, how transcendent or dominant, it still takes five to make a thing go right.

People blast Lebron because he could not get a title “on his own.” But in the history of the NBA there has never been a player who has gotten it done “on his own.” The typical championship team has a transcendent star surrounded by complimentary players who could be stars on lesser teams, but choose to be second and third bananas on a champion squad.

Duncan has Manu and Tony. Kobe had Pau and a still mentally-sound Bynum. Pierce had KG and Allen. Shaq had young Kobe then young Wade. Michael had Scottie and Rodman/Grant. Magic had Worthy and Kareem. Bird had McHale and Parish. The list goes back to when Bill Russell had Bob Cousy and John Havelicek.

Lebron teaming up with Wade and Bosh is not new, it’s part of a time-honored NBA tradition of stars teaming up to achieve a higher plane of greatness. True basketball fans should be delighted by this partnership as the Heat have treated us to some of the greatest basketball in history. But, the Heat have only reached this plane as they are led by the most transcendent talent of the last twenty years.

In the overwhelming desire to see Lebron humbled and mortal, many are wasting the opportunity to savor the experience of witnessing one of the greatest players of all time. He is everything we could have asked for and more when we hyped him to unprecedented levels when he was still taking basic Geometry.

Lebron is this generation’s Jordan. He’s not better, just different. He can go on a personal 8-0 run, then run the point. He can check slippery point guards like Tony Parker and bruising power forwards like David West. He can knock down threes, or unleash demoralizing post moves deep in the paint. He has delicate touch and tremendous force. He is Achilles dipped twice in the River of Styx.

Tweeting “LOL CRAMPS #Lebroning” is not only disrespectful to the majesty of King James, but it’s also just plain wrong.

#Lebroning is not being debilitated, it’s being free to accomplish feats on the basketball court that precious few have ever done or ever will do.

So don’t hate, appreciate.

 

 

The Remarkably Unremarkable Shane Battier

SHANNNN3

 

No player has ever thought “I’m going up against Shane Battier tonight!?” and then proceeded to vomit into the toilet from anxiety. Shane is a below average athlete, who can’t create his own shot, and seldom makes an audience gasp in awe.

But unlike other players, Shane understands his limits, which he displays in self-deprecating tweets like this one after Lebron’s 61 point game this season.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 12.25.23 PM

Shane knows he is not the star and does not attempt to play like one. But, basketball is about more than star power. Stars need support, and Shane specializes in support,

He can’t jump high, but he can box out the other team’s best rebounder.

He can’t create his own shot, but he can become a specialist in the most efficient shot in the game, the corner three.

He can’t overwhelm his opponent with spectacular athleticism, but he can overwhelm him with preparation. Before each game, Shane digests a mountain of data, detailing where his assignment is most effective. Whereas many players would be overwhelmed by this, Shane uses it to force his man to play as inefficiently as possible.

Many times, Shane’s assignment plays out of control and Shane positions himself to complete a play that requires little athleticism, and gets run over by an enormous human being. He even released an instructional video on the exquisite art of drawing a charge.

Aware of his limitations, Shane plays to his strengths, and defers his teammates to handle the areas of the game where he is weak. Last week, Shane’s attitude was awarded with the Tyman-Stokes Award for best teammate, even though he has been a shell of his former self during his final year in the league.

If the Heat are a jazz ensemble, then Shane plays rhythm piano while The Big Three bust out solos. They’re a great band without him, but Shane elevates the team by playing to his strengths without impeding upon the performance of others. He may not do much statistically, but when your team is stacked with future Hall-of-Famers, knocking down corner threes, disrupting rebounds, and playing statistically backed defense is all you have to do.

Shane may do the little things, but in basketball, the little things win championships

As the Heat and Spurs rematch this year, one is reminded of Game 7 in last year’s Finals when Shane went on a shooting spree like a pre-teen playing Grand Theft Auto. He shot 6 of 8 from downtown, scoring 18 points. Lebron had a ludicrous 37-12-4 and a +/- score of +8. Shane’s performance scored a +12.

Shane helped his team win by allowing his teammates to create and knocking down his statistically sound specialties. He shone by fitting in.

How perfect.

This year, Shane has fallen out of Miami’s rotation, but perhaps he can still make a few final unremarkable plays for his remarkable team.

J.R. Smith Games A Pornstar over Twitter

Yesterday, J.R. Smith serenaded professional porn star Bella Bellz on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.23.22 PM

 

Shortly afterward, Smith’s love interest responded.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.24.24 PM

 

Then, the courtship began.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.24.54 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.25.14 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.26.09 PM     Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.37.39 PM

After that delightful repartee, they got down to business.Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.39.21 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.41.02 PM

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.46.26 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.36.01 PM

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.44.15 PM

 

Alas, our lovers were separated by 820 miles and ended their public chat here. But, this unfinished flirtation leaves us with many questions.

Will they ever rendezvous?

Will they become the bizarro Jay-Z and Beyonce power couple?

Will this be the greatest love story of our time?

To these questions and more all I can say is #hmmmm.