Everyone does it, this used to include me.
Up until this season, I was just like every other sports fan. No matter what you could do as a star in the NBA I felt the need to compare what you did or who you were to someone of the past. For my generation it is always “Kobe already did it”, or “Kobe wouldn’t have let that happen”. For those older than me the first person used is always Michael Jordan followed by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley and so many others. We see it all the time on TV where the analyst has to compare players of the past to the stars of the league now and you always see that for some reason the stars of today can never get to the level of past superstars.
We need to stop that.
Yesterday Kevin Durant received his first NBA MVP trophy after a season in which he averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.5 assist per game. It was a long time coming for Durant, who has been widely regarded as one of the top players in the world and known as the best scorer in the NBA. He doesn’t necessarily have the marquee nickname like how LeBron James has “King James” and Kobe Bryant has “The Black Mamba”. When when we tried to give him one earlier in the season and he jokingly tried to give himself one with “The Servant”, it never stuck and everyone simply went back to calling him “KD”. He doesn’t have the nickname, but he doesn’t need it. He’s a top 3 player in the league, now a league MVP, and yet it seems no matter what the world will not be ready to appreciate Kevin Durant or in fact, any other uprising young superstar in the NBA.
It’s time for a change (I owe you one Barack).
When watching the press conference for KD the one thing that truly blew my mind is the fact that what we’ve been witnessing has been going seven years strong. I immediately went on YouTube and watched the highlights of his rookie season and was fascinated. It feels like Durant has only been in the league five years.
As a Los Angeles Lakers fan, my first true glimpse of KD did not come until the 2010 playoffs when the Lakers and Thunder squared off in the first round. The series went six games, but I remember it not being easy considering the series clinching game was won on a put back by Pau Gasol. After that season the Thunder kept getting better every year, similar to what we’ve witnessed with the Indiana Pacers over the past three years.
During the NBA lockout when players weren’t at meetings they were playing charity all-star games. During the summer of 2011 Durant showed up to New York City and put on a 66-point performance at the Annual EBC Rucker classic in Harlem. Rucker Park is the symbolic sanctuary of street basketball. Anyone who is anyone has attended the Rucker whether they were a spectator or a player like Durant was. Later on in 2012 Durant made the United States Olympics men’s national basketball team. In the Olympics Durant averaged 19.5 points per game and capped it off with a 30 point, 9 rebound performance in the gold medal game against Spain. After his Olympic performance his stock shot up higher and eventually cultivated to having us where are today.
When I saw that Kevin Durant was in his 7th season it made me wonder how long other players have actually been in the league, including this season:
LeBron James: 11
Dwayne Wade: 11
Carmelo Anthony: 11
Chris Bosh: 11
Dwight Howard: 10
Chris Paul: 9
LaMarcus Aldridge: 8
Russell Westbrook: 6
Derrick Rose: 5
Stephen Curry: 5
Blake Griffin: 4
Paul George: 4
Kyrie Irving: 3
It is a very sample sized list, but at the same time it is meant to be the focus of this piece. As a Lakers fan I have been blessed to watch the greatness of Kobe Bryant for over the past decade, but while watching these playoffs and seeing how much fun it has been it didn’t even cross my mind that there was no Kobe for me to tune into for a Western conference game. For the most part of the season there has been no Kobe at all, and it might have made me a better overall basketball fan. Regardless of how the season panned out, I still watched the Lakers play (Swaggy P you’re the best), but at the same time I watched other teams and appreciated what I was tuning into.
Say what you want, but no one appreciated how truly great LeBron James was until about 2 years ago. For eight seasons, all you ever heard about LeBron was that he would never be like Michael Jordan no matter what he did. When he wasn’t being compared to MJ, he was being compared to Kobe. Here’s what I don’t understand. Everyone in the world knows what Michael Jordan did, and what Kobe has done, so is there really a need for the “He can never be Jordan or Kobe” sentence to be sputtering out every time a player in today’s NBA does accomplish something? Take talking to adults for instance. The first thing they say is that the players today could never play in the league back during their childhood and how the league is supremely soft. It is never a compliment from these people, only criticism over harebrained situations that can never happen, such as “LeBron would never have been able to dunk on Patrick Ewing”.
At the end of the day there is a reason the past is the past. It’s a time frame that has happened and will never come back. There are players whom in the future will have their idols be players not named Michael Jordan, and for those kids the first thing you should not say is “kid you know nothing about basketball”. Instead understand that there is a new generation of stars in the league that the kids have that they can look up to. For those of us who are in the midst of watching these great players, lets enjoy what we are watching without saying “Man Jordan would have made that shot Mr. Durant”. Instead lets just appreciate what we have in front of us because soon they’ll retire and appreciating something once it’s gone is never the same as during the situation, especially when they will never be back.
This was supposed to be everything for the city of LA.
After back to back titles in 2009 and 2010 the Los Angeles Lakers were swept in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks in the the 2011 playoffs. Following the end of the season coach Phil Jackson decided to retire and Jim buss, son of owner Dr. Jerry Buss began to run the team. His first action was hiring former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. The move was seen as his way of letting people know that this was his team with the star of the team Kobe Bryant voicing his opinion stating he wanted assistant coach at the time Brian Shaw to be the head coach. The 2011-2012 season did not kick off until christmas day due the players and owners engaging in lockout that produced a 66 game season. Before the season even started the Lakers made headlines by acquiring point guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets in a 3 team trade but the NBA blocked the trade in a fashion that still is mind boggling to this very day. Instead of the lakers Paul ended up being traded to the clippers in a trade that seemed to be worst than the laker trade. In the midst of all this forward Lamar Odom was unhappy with almost being traded and no longer wanted to play for the lakers and was soon traded to the Dallas Mavericks for a trade exception.
No Chris Paul, no Phil Jackson, The Jim Buss era was not off to the best starts to say the least. Under new coach Mike Brown the Lakers ended up making the playoffs only to be eliminated in the second round, this time by the Oklahoma City Thunder, this instead of a sweep they were eliminated in 5 games.
Two years of back to back NBA titles followed by two years of second round exits that were not competitive at all.
And then the summer of 2012 happened.
It started with the shocking announcement that the Lakers had agreed to a sign and trade with their division rival the Phoenix Suns for point guard Steve Nash in exchange for draft picks. The move gave the lakers their best point guard in over a decade. A two time MVP who after years of being the best player on a bad team finally lands on a team with a chance to win a championship.
But it got even better.
A month after the deal that brought Steve Nash to the city of angels, the city was treated to the man who was seen as more than an angel, he was simply seen as “Superman”.
In move that was seen as a tide shifting to the point it instantly made the Lakers the predicted team to beat, the lakers acquired center Dwight Howard in a four team trade that sent their center Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia sent small forward Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets while also sending forward Moe Harkless, and center Nikola Vucevic to the Orlando magic. The Denver Nuggets sent guard Arron Affalo and forward Al Harrington to the magic. The Lakers sent forward Josh McRoberts to the magic. The Magic sent Chris Duhon and Earl Clark to the lakers while sending Jason Richardson to Philadelphia along with the teams receiving draft picks. This was supposed to be it. After two years of second round playoff exits that didn’t even seem competitive, the Lakers were supposed to be back. Reports surfaced that when the trade went thru Kobe Bryant, whom at the time was in London for the Olympics with team USA was walking around telling his telling teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder that they weren’t going back to the finals now that he had not only one of the top point guards in the league but also the best big man in the game.
So much for the trash talk being more than just that, Trash.
The lakers never won a game during the preseason. Dwight Howard, who was recovering from back surgery, decided to play through the pain instead of simply resting until he was 100%. They started out 1-4. Steve Nash broke his leg his in the second game of season, and to top it all off coach Mike Brown was fired five games into the season. No wins in the entire preseason, along with one win in the first five games of the season, triggered the firing of Mike Brown. For all that was happening, and all that seemed to go wrong was indeed going wrong, Jim Buss still had a chance to fix things in one swift move.
“We Want Phil”.
Once Mike Brown was fired reports surfaced that the Lakers were interested in bringing back coach Phil Jackson. It seemed like the perfect way to fix things. With all that was going on in lakerland, with all the questions surrounding the team it seemed that the hiring of Phil Jackson would be the simple way to bring everything back to normal and forget what happened and move on.
To easy right?
Phil Jackson was indeed approached by Lakers management about returning to coach and was given the weekend to make a decision; turns out that was to much time.
While Phil was sleeping (maybe dreaming up offensive schemes?) Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak called him in the middle of the night to inform him that he wouldn’t be the returning to coach Lakers were going to go with Mike D’Antoni instead. The move sent shock throughout the league because to anyone it confused you as to why would you go with a coach who recently just finished and uneventful and terrible stint in New York with the Knicks over a guy who has brought you 5 championships with each reign being including repeat title defenses.
As the season went on the lakers never really got much better. Dwight Howard was still recovering from back surgery and to make things worse was now hit with a torn labrum on his shoulder. Pau Gasol was battling a concussion that kept him out then suffered a foot injury that kept him sidelined, and when he was healthy D’Antoni refused to believe him and Howard could play together so Gasol was coming off the bench and voiced his displeasure. Steve Nash was still recovering from his broken leg, Steve Blake strained his abdominal muscle which left the team without its two best point guards. Back up Jordan Hill went down with a season ending hip injury, which led to the rise of Earl Clark who ended up producing which led to him replacing Gasol.
Because Gasol and Howard doesn’t make sense in Mikes world.
With a 17-25 start to the season, a head coaching change five games into the season, A promising starting five who was supposed to cause so much havoc throughout the league but by the end of the year only ended up playing only 286 minutes together because of injuries to every player. There truly seemed to be nothing that could go right.
Except the face of the franchise.
Despite everything that was happening it seemed that the one thing you could count of was Kobe Bryant. He couldn’t afford to miss games and with Nash out even took it upon himself to become a point god and put up assist numbers we thought he couldn’t do/wouldn’t want to do.
But nothing was allowed to go right this season.
With the season on the line the Lakers were looking on the outside of the playoffs with only a few games left in the season. With most of the team injured Kobe Bryant stepped up and went into overdrive with heroic efforts that included games where he played most if not the whole game.
Then the fat lady truly sang.
On april 12th in a game against the Golden State Warriors that was a must win, Kobe Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter of what ended up a 118-116 win for the Lakers. Bryant suffered the injury driving to the basket, at first he asked small forward Harrison Barnes if he tripped Bryant, but once he said he didn’t Bryant knew what happened. In dramatic fashion Bryant was able to take two free throws and then walk off for what would be the last time of the season. What followed was the lakers managing to secure a playoff spot on the very last night of the season by defeating the Houston Rockets (how ironic) and ultimately being swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs.
It was finally over. The season that had so much promise the year before simply because of two trades was finally done. It might be considered one of the most bizarre seasons a team ever a had. A coach is fired after five games and replaced with a coach most did not want. The star acquisition who is a pending free agent never truly lives up to the pressure granted the sacrifice he makes by playing through an injury. The point guard that has been sought for years finally shows up just o break his leg in game 2 of 82. The only way the season could have gone worst is if the team didn’t make the playoffs but to the Lakers getting swept in the first round is equivalent to missing the playoffs.
With the season over, the spotlight was only getting brighter for the team. Usually when a team is eliminated you don’t discuss them until it is time for training camp but not the Lakers, they had world watching their moves because the big man had a decision to make.
Dwight Howard was set to finally become a free agent in the summer of 2013. No more opting in than opting out, no more being traded to a team he possibly did not ever want to be on. This was finally his time to pick where he wanted to play, the most indecisive athlete in years was finally going to have to be decisive and make a call that he could not turn back on. For the most part while watching the season unfold you had this feeling that as time went on Howard was likely not going to come back. There was the supposed clash between him and Kobe that ended up being front and center of a team meeting in Memphis that ultimately turned the team around. For what it’s worth you even saw Steve Nash yell at Dwight on national t.v in a game against the Miami Heat.
In game four of the western conference playoffs against the Spurs Howard was ejected in the third quarter for arguing with the referee. He ended his night with only seven points and it turned out he would end his laker career on that note.
When free agency started most people had it penciled in that Dwight was not going to return to the Lakers. For whatever reason it may be it just was not happening and it turns out those people were right. Dwight decided to leave 30 million extra in Lakerland and head to Houston to join the James Harden and the rockets. They sold him on working with coach Kevin McHale who is possibly the best post up big man the league has ever seen. He gets his star shooting guard in Harden who can not only get his own shot but also a great passer. A sixth man and Chandler Parsons who actually credits himself as the man behind the wheel in regards to getting Howard. More importantly he gets what he wants.
Dwight Howard finally is getting what he wants.
He wanted to choose his own team and he did. He can’t change his mind for nothing. To him all the mess he has caused in the past 2 years is all worth it now that he finally got to pick where he wanted to be.
For as much as this is about Howard finally being where he wants to be it is also about where he could’ve been and why he is no longer there. Maybe down the line someone will finally come out and truly give the details as to what happen during Howard’s one year in the city of angels. Say what you want to say but no top free agent just decides to LEAVE the Lakers. Its one thing if you want to be there and that does not fall through, but to actually be there and leave is unheard of. During the offseason the lakers were putting up billboards across the city with Howard on there along with the word STAY on it.
This was the way to supposedly get Howard back. He wanted to be catered to. He wanted to be loved, but maybe at the end of the day what he truly wanted was to not be a Laker. You can say all you want to say at press conferences and media sessions but half of that is truly how you feel. There is a chance that Dwight was only happy about LA because it wasn’t Orlando; there is a very good chance that no matter what he was saying, in his mind Dwight Howard never wanted to be a Laker. The sad part is the Lakers may have never saw it coming. Never would they think that a star player of his caliber would not want to be apart of the organization that has the second most titles in the NBA. It is the simple case of “It’s not me it’s you” like the scene from American Psycho when Christian Bale dumps Reese Witherspoon while out to eat. He tells her he no longer wants to be with her and she can’t seem to understand why.
Evelyn Williams: What about the past?
Patrick Bateman: We never really shared one.
Thats Dwight Talking to Lakers when it comes to choosing to not stay. No matter what you could’ve said to try and salvage the relationship it was never going to work, and one injury filled season in which he was highly criticized by anyone and everyone was not going to make things better. For once the Lakers don’t get the big fish in the pond. For once the Lakers look like just some average NBA team who loses its chance at a free agent instead of the team who is guaranteed to get the star. The big star headed to Houston instead of donning the colors of one of the most storied franchises ever; and there is no billboard big enough to explain that.
It seems like every season no matter the sport a feel good story is guaranteed to make headlines and give people something to root for. MLB had it in 2008 with Josh Hamilton and his amazing performance at the home run derby. This past season in the NFL it was Tebowmania with the Denver Broncos. It was the only thing on ESPN for months and, i admit while at first i was all into it watch his performances in full games then seeing only him getting the credit turned me off (thank you Skip Bayless).
In the NBA the story of the year goes to New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. Tebow has Tebowmania. Lin has Linsanity. Lin and Tebow were also in the second season as professionals and aside from the crazy media attention that is pretty much where the comparisons stop. Jeremy Lin is an underdog but only for the fact he went undrafted, was cut twice by two other teams, and on his way to being cut by the Knicks. Udonis Haslem of the Miami heat actually said that when the Knicks came to play the heat in January Lin went to the chapel in the America Airlines Arena and asked the the pastor on hand ”Can you pray I don’t get cut?”. Lin knew the February 10th deadline for teams to cut players so their contracts are not guaranteed for the season was approaching. Before the deadline the Knicks decided to give him a shot to that would decide his fate. His first game against the Celtics was not the performance you want to give if your job is on the line. The next game against the nets Lin was put it and that is where the Linsanity began.
If you ask Lin he credits him getting into the game thanks to teammate Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo Anthony was the one who suggested coach Mike D’Antoni to put Lin in their Feb 4 game against the nets. That game Lin produced 25 points and 7 assist off the bench; the next game was placed as the starter against the Utah Jazz, and the rest is history.
Linsanity was born and from the jump went full speed ahead. The fame came instantly, but how could you not appreciate and like it? A second year kid out of Harvard University goes from almost being cut to Leading the New York Knicks to a 7 win streak after what seem like the season was going downward in all ways. In the biggest city in the country on the brightest stage the kid was shining so bright. It was also a cultural thing with him being Asian-American. The NBA is all about expanding their game across the globe and not since Yao Ming has the Asian community had a star as big as Lin. Linsanity was taking over everywhere. T-shirts, hats, twitter with #Linning and replacing any other word you could with Lin in the beginning.
With every good story though there must be some negativity. There are the negatives of his game such as his inability to go left, his amount of turnovers during games. Then there is the personal negativity that comes with being in the world where free speech is protected by the first amendment. You have people like boxer Floyd Mayweather who believes that all the hype is simply because of Lin’s Asian decent. There was the New York Post headline after a Knick win that said “AMASIAN” in bold letters. Things went over the top the night the Knicks lost their first game with Lin as a starter to the New Orleans Hornets. A writer for ESPN.com made the headline about the loss titled “Chink in the Armor”. The headline was taken down within minutes and the writer was fired by ESPN. A ESPN sports broadcaster was suspended 30 days for using the word chink in relation to another topic during an interview. Issues like these can show that remarks and words still have meaning. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream made a flavor dedicated to Lin called “Taste the Lin-Sanity” that included pieces of fortune cookies in the initial recipe. Officials had to issue a statement of apology to anyone who had been offended. The limited edition flavor replaced the fortune cookies with a fresh baked waffle cookie and sold out at the company’s Harvard Square location.
In the end Jeremy Lin is doing something no one could predict. He is gaining respect from his NBA players and even as much praise from league leading scorer Kobe Bryant. ”The biggest thing to me is how everybody missed it,” Bryant said before the All-Star Game, via the New York Post. “They all would be fired if I was owning a team. I hear this stuff, ‘It came out of nowhere.’ I think it’s a load of garbage. You can’t play that well and just come out of nowhere. There has to be something there and everybody missed it. So heads would roll if I was owner.”
The Linsanity resumes Wednesday when the Knicks return to action. There will continue to be support and negativity, but in the end like Ben & Jerry’s says everyone is just going to have to “Taste the Lin-Sanity”