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Not Six, Not Seven

Posted on June 21, 2013 at 5:10 PM


The buzzer sounded. Perhaps the greatest pair of back-to-back games in NBA history was over. We had seen the last horrid Manu Ginobili pass of the series (although I still wouldn’t trust him to toss me a Gatorade bottle in the locker room, even if our lockers were right next to each other), Chris Boshasaurus became the closest player to getting traded without actually getting traded, despite going for the bagel in the biggest game of his career after getting a full-fledged ass-kicking from 37-year-old Tim Duncan the game before.


And the San Antonio Spurs became the closest team to winning a championship without actually winning it (except the ’86 Red Sox, and maybe the ’88 Pistons). I was absolutely devastated. The Spurs play better fundamental and team basketball than any other organization in the league. They were complete bad-asses going toe-to-toe with the best team in the league for seven games despite injuries, age, and no home court advantage, always fighting back, never folding, even when one of those big Miami runs seemed inevitable.


This was San Antonio’s series. In Game 6, they were one more made free-throw, one defensive rebound, one questionable no-call, and 28 seconds away from joining Jordan’s Bulls, Magic’s Lakers, and Russell’s Celtics, as the only teams to win five championships with a core group of players. The Heat were 28 seconds away from having to blow up their team. LeBron James was 28 seconds away from being considered not clutch again. We were 28 seconds away from three months’ worth of dumb “Where will LeBron go in 2014?” SportsCenter segments starring Kurt Rambis. And we were 28 seconds away from the Miami Heat Welcome Party being hilarious again. 


For the first 23 quarters of the series, the Spurs slowed down LeBron. They got two potential vintage closeout games from Tim Duncan (30-17 and 24-12-4). They got Greensanity for five full games. The Spurs did 99.9% of what they needed to do to win this series. It seemed almost unfair that they had to lose the championship.


David Stern got up on the podium to give robotic congratulations to everyone involved. It couldn’t have worked out better for Stern; he gets to retire after an awesome NBA Finals… oh wait, he has eight more months to go in the most awkward retirement in sports history. As Miami received the trophy, I was just getting over the Spurs’ losing; the Heat made plays when it counted most and they were undeniably the most dominant team for the vast majority of the past eight months.


Then Bill Russell came out to present the Finals MVP trophy. To everyone’s surprise, the trophy was not awarded to San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, but rather to LeBron James. As his name was announced, LeBron tried to grab the trophy out of Bill Russell’s hand, stood pompously for a few seconds, then spent the an entire interview ranting about nobody but himself, and I was reminded, once again, why I had rooted for the Spurs in this series, and why I will never root for LeBron James.


Check out a video I made comparing LeBron’s interview with that of Bill Russell following Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals, in which Russell won the last of his 11 NBA championships. Click here to watch it.


Good lord! Bill Russell’s unselfishness warranted the Allen Iverson “Practice” style counter to track how many times he references his teammates. I love this comparison because both James and Russell are asked about the public’s perception of them; Russell refuses to talk about himself, but LeBron states, “I’m LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio…”


If it weren’t for Ray Allen’s game-tying three Tuesday night, Chris Bosh’s offensive rebound and block in Game 6, or Shane Battier’s six threes last night, LeBron would have a repeat of the 2011 Finals on his hands, but no mention of them.


It was the same story in the postgame press conference, when a reporter commented, “When you’re making shots like that, you’re totally unstoppable,” and LeBron replied, “Yea, I am! I was one of the best mid-range shooters in the game, and I shot a career high from the three-point line.”


My friend, Chris Kim, a huge LeBron fan, expressed his concern with my scrutiny of LeBron’s attitude. He wrote, “[LeBron’s] had one of the heaviest burdens on his back last year, and being down 2-3 in the Finals, the accomplishments and hard work that LeBron put into this thing consumed him. This society has targeted and molded LeBron's mindset so much that LeBron can't be just fluid and happy about his wins and be genuine.”


But here’s the thing: LeBron brought the target upon himself. Checking out against Boston in 2010, The Decision, the Welcome Party, flopping, his arrogant post-game press conference after the 2011 Finals, etc.


LeBron can no longer be justifiably criticized for his performance on the court. I can’t even criticize him for not being clutch, now that he holds the highest career Game 7 scoring average with 34.4. After playing 184 games in the last 18 months (plus Olympics), he put up 22 points and 9 rebounds in the second half alone last night. He just shut down David West (6’9’’, 240 lbs) and Tony Parker (6’2’’, 185 lbs) in back-to-back playoff series. The man has two championships to show for it, and, at only 28 years of age, his six combined MVP and Finals MVP awards rank behind only Michael Jordan's 11, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 8.


But it’s also about little things. He’s the only superstar that sets picks, cuts, and boxes out. And when he talks about how he gets greater joy out of an assist than a made shot, he really means it.


That being said, LeBron won’t become the greatest basketball player of all time. Michael Jordan led the league in scoring every single full season he played from 1986 to 1998 and won six out of six NBA Finals, never needing a Game 7 to finish off an opponent. There was never a doubt that Jordan would come through. On the flip side, LeBron’s first two embarrassing Finals losses won’t disappear, the near-loss in this series won’t disappear, and his several no-shows in crucial playoff games won’t disappear.


But, most importantly, what he does off the court won’t disappear. We’ll talk about LeBron’s legacy, dissect his every move, and judge him until the minute he retires, because LeBron’s declaration of the number of championships he’ll win - “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” – won’t disappear. LeBron’s attitude has put an enormous burden on his back for the rest of his career, and although last night was a huge step towards legendary status for LeBron, the scrutiny will remain. After all, he’s still got like six more championships to go.






__________________________________________________________________



A few other notes from Game 7:


Manu Ginobili in the postgame press conference: "It's a big disappointment. Me, I still have Game 6 in my head." Ladies and Gentlemen, you're 2013 NBA Finals LVP! You know how Gregg Popovich probably feels about Manu’s series?


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That got me thinking… you know how Charles Barkley probably feels about Manu’s series?


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Danny Green did give Ginobili a run for his money in the LVP race with an unfathomable 1/12 shooting, 0 assists, and an official NBA Finals record fifty times making me jump off my couch screaming, “Why the hell is Danny Green dribbling into a trap and then picking up his dribble?” or “Holy s***! I think someone actually might be more useless inside the three-point line than Steve Novak!”




As of today, Boris Diaw’s resume includes the following things: (1) He is the only NBA player who can consistently make successful entry passes from the top of the key (2) He is officially the fattest player to ever make a three in a Game 7 (3) He was 12th in the league in assists in 2005-2006, ahead of Tony Parker (this is by far my favorite little known fact in NBA history)



 

I can’t stress enough how dreadful Chris Boshasaurus’s 0/5 shooting, 5 fouls performance was. Two out of every three tweets I read last night were something along the lines of “Too bad Chris Bosh missed Game 7,” and the Heat didn’t even lose the game! He’s lucky Miami pulled it out, because I was getting ready to tweet, “At least the Boshasaurus species held out for 65 million years before going extinct.” Sometime during the fourth quarter I tried to figure out how Chris Bosh, a rich-man’s Brandon Bass at best, is making the same amount of money as LeBron this year, but my head started to hurt so I started thinking about things that actually make sense, like why Gregg Popovich took Tim Duncan out at the end of Game 6… oh wait, that doesn’t make any sense either.




Reporter: "How are you going to get your team ready to go into Game 7?"


Gregg Popovich: "We're going to get on the bus - it arrives at the ramp over there.” [He actually pointed toward the parking area] “We get off the bus, we get on the court, and we play.”


I still think Pop is the greatest coach of all time, but have mixed feelings about his performance in this series. On one hand, he nearly won a championship with Danny Green and Tiago Splitter started for him, his team defended LeBron excellently for the majority of the series, and his complex offense befuddled the Heat for extended periods of time. However, (1) He never found an answer to the LeBron + Birdman + shooters lineup whatsoever, (2) He mysteriously benched Tim Duncan, allowing the Heat to grab two offensive rebounds, both leading to threes that kept Miami in the series, (3) His putting Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter on Dwyane Wade in Game 4 backfired miserably, (4) It took him until the second half of Game 7 to figure out that Kawhi Leonard could abuse Mike Miller in the post.




Kawhi gives me hope for the Spurs next year. After a near Finals MVP performance (15 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals per game, A+ defense, A+ corn-rows, A+ facial on Mike Miller, A+ young Manu Ginobili Impersonation) at age 21, he should be ready to replace Ginobili as part of the Big 3 as early as next season. I expect him to give Kevin Durant everything he can handle in the playoffs next year. We’ve counted out the Spurs too many times in the Popovich-Duncan era; let’s not do it again. 




Please share this article with your friends, and comment to share your opinion!

 

Categories: Playoffs

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14 Comments

Reply Charlie Goldberg
8:19 PM on June 26, 2013 
Austin, I still don't believe that it is a fair statement to say that it was 'unfair' that the Spurs. They were simply outclassed by a better basketball, fair and square. It is not unfair that their 100% was not equivalent to whatever percentage you believe that the Miami Heat put out.

In addition, on your comment regarding the age of the teams, we must note that Tony Parker, is only as old as Dwyane Wade. In addition, players that played like stars in the series were much younger. Kwahi Leonard is but 21 years of age and Danny Green is also in his 20s. I agree, the Spurs have older stars in Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, but the should not be a reason to say it was 'unfair' that a team lost. Miami beat them. Period.
Reply austin
11:17 AM on June 25, 2013 
Charlie, I believe that Lev can make the statement that it was unfair SA lost because Lev meant not that Miami did not deserve it but rather that it was ashame that SA put in 100% and got back 99.9%.

in addition, you are correct that Miami has age but Miami's age surrounds bench players or rather players that are not superstars. In contrast, SA suffers more for their age because their age surrounds their superstars who are supposed to lead the team physically and be able to pick up the pace when need be.

Lev. Lebron is cocky but it is not his fault. As you have appropriately however unintentionally pointed out that the reason Lebron is cocky is not through his actions but rather through the media and the fans. When you have espn analists comment on his status (being the best or the 2nd best that has ever come across the sport) then it is hard to get a swelled head.
Reply Austin
10:59 AM on June 25, 2013 
Charlie Goldberg says...
Lev, I'd first like to compliment you on this article. It was extremely well-written, but must share my opinion regarding some of the points that you have made. First, you say that it seems unfair that the Spurs didn't win the title, but I truly don't believe that a comment like that can be made regarding sports. To say it was unfair that the Spurs did not win is a completely discrediting the hard-work that the Miami Heat put in to get a chance to win the Finals, having back-to-back 7 game series. I completely agree, the Spurs had injuries, age and did not have a home-court advantage however I must say, Miami faced injuries and age as well. Dwyane Wade, the second best player on the team faced a deep knee bone bruise this entire season and Miami is a rather old team as well. Sure Lebron, Bosh, and Wade aren't the 37 years that Tim Duncan is, but Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem and others have quite a few years under their belt. Miami hasn't had it easy. They had far less time than the Spurs did to rest for the Finals. Yes, I acknowledge that the Spurs were able to put the Grizzlies down in 4, but Miami EARNED that home-court advantage. Game 7 at home is what teams work hard all year for, or else they would cruise to the 8th spot and work from there. I don't believe the statement that it seems almost unfair that the Spurs lost is 'fair' to the Miami Heat's hard work at all.
Reply Seth
11:01 AM on June 23, 2013 
This piece is the best analysis of the NBA finals that I've read! It's a terrible indictment of LeBron (or, rather, of his character), but, I think, accurate.
Reply Mayp
11:22 PM on June 21, 2013 
Great series. I like the modesty and team mindedness of the Spurs too, but they lost. You can focus on all of the things that could have happened differently to change the outcome but it's a senseless exercise. There are as many "if only's" that would have shifted things toward the Heat.

I don't wear a Lebron jersey and I did not like the way he managed his transition out of Cleveland but he is a once in a generation player. Yes, he could use a mid-range jumper. Yes he sometimes looks like he chokes in the clutch. , but his stats in key games is impressive. Actions speak louder than words and I believe character expresses itself on the court. A player at his position, with his size and his skill set does not have to pass the way he does. The assists prove to me that he is not a selfish guy. I heard his statement about being from Akron Ohio as an acknowledgment of his roots and a loyalty to his home state, something that was questioned when he left Cleveland. I know the haters did not hear it that way.

No one wants to criticize the wonderful Spurs players but Tim Duncan (Benji's favorite player and a favorite of mine as well) blew a layup and tip in the clutch. It will be his Patrick Ewing moment, but he's got plenty of great moments to remember as well. Tony Parker ran out of gas in game 7. A forensic accountant needs to look into Manu Ginobli's accounts to see if he took money to blow the series. Midnight came too early for Green's Cinderella final series. Bosh played tough defense but he can't post a bagel and claim to be a star.
Reply Charlie Goldberg
9:14 PM on June 21, 2013 
Also, what Lebron does outside of the court should not deter him from being a great player. Jordan's notorious gambling problems and cheating sure didn't prevent him from doing so.
It's no question that you and about half of the fans that watch basketball aren't Lebron James fans, but that is no reason to pick on every little thing that he does. Even the great Magic Johnson noted the rough time everyone gives Lebron. He is not a perfect human being, but no one is. He will never be everyone's favorite player, and he may not go down as the greatest of all time, but that doesn't mean we need to hate him for his faults. Instead, I think we should appreciate him for making the NBA so exciting and being the face of basketball around the globe.
Again, really well written article, and I look forward to your next.
Reply Charlie Goldberg
9:13 PM on June 21, 2013 
In addition, you note Lebron's press conference after 2011, but he is not the only player to say nasty things after a tough loss. Karl Malone, one of the greatest big men to play the game is often caught saying nasty things, and Charles Barkley blamed kids and their parents for looking up to NBA players as role models because they will never make it to that level of play. Even coach Greg Popovich made some nasty remarks post game. I don't think it's completely fair to fault Lebron for being in a bitter mood after a tough loss...
Reply Charlie Goldberg
9:13 PM on June 21, 2013 
You also say that Lebron won't be considered the best player, then bring up Jordan stats. It appears to me that you feel to be considered the best player you but not only be better than Jordan but you must have the same game style as him. Lebron James is not the type of player to score the most points in the league, but he is the type to give you more than 24 points, 7 assists and 8 rebounds. Lebron's play resembles Magic Johnson's closer than it does Jordan's, but this does not mean Lebron cannot go down as the greatest player. Sure Lebron has a ways to go before we can ponder this, but he does not need to play like Jordan to be better than him.
Reply Charlie Goldberg
9:13 PM on June 21, 2013 
You also state that Lebron put the target on his back himself, which I somewhat agree with. I agree that 'The Decision' and 'The Welcome Party' were over the top, but flopping is not something that put a target on his back. Flopping is a tactic used by MANY NBA players, not just Lebron James. The fact that he may use it better or get more calls based upon it is not a violation or a reason someone should dislike him (in my opinion of course). Manu Ginobili flops very often, and so does James Harden, but no one hates them as much. Flopping is not why people dislike Lebron, but the fact that he does it(as do many others) is yet another reason people have to discredit him of his hard work and talent (not saying that you have done this, just fans/haters in general). I believe flopping is a useful tool in basketball. It is not a violation of any rule and is widely used. If a player doesn't flop, it is his own fault that he doesn't exploit the uses of the flop. You and others may call it cheating, but I call it a skills.
Reply Charlie Goldberg
9:12 PM on June 21, 2013 
Also, you seem to think Lebron is cocky by noting the press conference in which he agrees with the reporter who says he was unstoppable. But I must say, I believe that for a player to be great, he must know he is 'unstoppable'. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule (read: Bill Russell) however, almost EVERY great player had an edge to him. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Shaq, Kobe Bryant, and the list goes on. Each of these players often state how he was the greatest of the era. Michael Jordan didn't even credit Gary Payton in the press conferences after the games of the 1996 Finals. Despite the fact that Payton the Glove played amazing defense on him, Jordan never credited him, and said that instead of Payton's defense it was his own fault and he was just missing shots. The fact that Lebron recognizes he is good is no different than Larry Bird saying he was offended when white players guarded him, and is in fact a sign of maturity in his play. To be great, you need to know it, or else what makes you better than the guy guarding you?
Reply Charlie Goldberg
9:12 PM on June 21, 2013 
Also, yes, it is true that Russell doesn't talk about himself and Lebron does, but what Lebron is saying is the he doesn't deserve to be here. He stated that himself. And being the most talented player on the face of the earth and saying you don't deserve to be playing at a professional level, and thanking God for being blessed to walk into a locker room is by far, one of the most humble things someone can say. In addition, Lebron talks about himself because the questions are directed straight towards him. Doris Burke talks about the criticism that he has faced etc. I don't know about you, but that's a hard question to answer without referring to yourself. Bill Russell's question by comparison was about the 'win', a question that could easily be answered by talking about anything but yourself. But I do agree, we must commend Bill on how humble he is, but I think it is unfair to put down Lebron because of that.
Reply Charlie Goldberg
9:11 PM on June 21, 2013 
Also, you state how Lebron ranted about no one but himself during his speech, however the FIRST thing that he does is compliment the San Antonio Spurs for being a top notch organization. I repeat, that is the FIRST thing that he says. Maybe you missed that part, but he sure did talk about the opposing team.
Reply Charlie Goldberg
9:11 PM on June 21, 2013 
In addition, you complain about how Lebron tried to 'grab' the trophy out of Bill Russel's hand, but this is not a fair statement. I looked at the video and the first thing that Lebron does is reach out to Russel to shake his hand and then receive the trophy. I think that the possibility of him trying to take the trophy from Russel (which he clearly deserved) is not a big deal. It's not like he completely took it out of Russel's hand, he politely shook the hand of the most decorated NBA champion, and then took the trophy he was given. I believe thinking that Lebron is not classy for this action is a bit over the top, but hey, that's just me.
Reply Charlie Goldberg
9:10 PM on June 21, 2013 
Lev, I'd first like to compliment you on this article. It was extremely well-written, but must share my opinion regarding some of the points that you have made. First, you say that it seems unfair that the Spurs didn't win the title, but I truly don't believe that a comment like that can be made regarding sports. To say it was unfair that the Spurs did not win is a completely discrediting the hard-work that the Miami Heat put in to get a chance to win the Finals, having back-to-back 7 game series. I completely agree, the Spurs had injuries, age and did not have a home-court advantage however I must say, Miami faced injuries and age as well. Dwyane Wade, the second best player on the team faced a deep knee bone bruise this entire season and Miami is a rather old team as well. Sure Lebron, Bosh, and Wade aren't the 37 years that Tim Duncan is, but Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem and others have quite a few years under their belt. Miami hasn't had it easy. They had far less time than the Spurs did to rest for the Finals. Yes, I acknowledge that the Spurs were able to put the Grizzlies down in 4, but Miami EARNED that home-court advantage. Game 7 at home is what teams work hard all year for, or else they would cruise to the 8th spot and work from there. I don't believe the statement that it seems almost unfair that the Spurs lost is 'fair' to the Miami Heat's hard work at all.