Cleveland’s Easy Road to The Finals Puts More Pressure on LeBron to Deliver

Following the Golden State Warriors championship season last year, there were many skeptics (aka Trolls) who denounced the legitimacy of their NBA title. Their [the skeptics] argument stemmed from the fact that the Warriors continued to face teams plagued by injury; while they [the Warriors] stayed healthy. The skeptics ranged from Doc Rivers to Charles Barkley to every retired NBA player from the 80’s & 90’s. It’s an absurd argument to make but one that’s continued to make the rounds throughout this NBA season.
Lebron James and “his” Cleveland Cavaliers have had the easiest road to the NBA Finals in league history. Their first round matchup was against an up-and-coming but clearly inexperienced Pistons team that was still learning how to close out games. Their second round opponent was the Atlanta Hawks (or the Cincinnati Bengals of the NBA) who are formidable in the regular season but completely choke come the postseason. Finally, they reach the third round and get to face the overhyped and underwhelming Toronto Raptors.
The Cavs waxed the Raptors in the first two games of the series so badly that many believed (myself included) that the series would be over in 4 games. However, the Raptors played up for their home crowd and took games 3 &4 handily. All of sudden the narrative shifted and everyone started wondering if the Raptors had a real chance of stealing game 5 in Cleveland. Game 5 came and went, and the Raptors left all their talent in Toronto as the Cavs decimated them by 35 points. Game 6 is tonight and I fully believe that the Cavs will leave Toronto with a win.
Now, I brought all of that up to point out this; if these Cavs win the NBA Championship this year, shouldn’t their title be tainted? After all, they’ve played against inferior teams in one of the weakest Eastern Conferences the league has ever seen. If the Warriors title from last year is allowed to be put into question, why can’t the same be done to the Cavs? Furthermore, if Lebron makes it to the Finals and loses [again], what does that say about him as an all-time great?
As far as I see it, Lebron HAS to win a championship this year. He’s spent part of his season playing GM and making a coaching change and the other part trashing the Warriors and the accolades that have come their way; which they’ve deserved, regardless of what he says. He’s played in the extremely watered-down East which has helped him reach the Finals for 6 straight years (6 including this year).

The competition this year has been dreadful and his team has taken full advantage of that. With that being said, if he doesn’t come out of this season as a champion, I don’t think his legacy/reputation will ever recover.
If you dominate your conference like the Cavs have, all while throwing shade at the defending champs and contending that you’re still the best player in the game, you sure as hell better show up and deliver in the Finals. If you don’t, you’re no longer the “King” and you don’t deserve to be in the conversation as an all-time great (now I’m talking Magic, Jordan, Bird, Wilt etc.).
Don’t get me wrong, Lebron is one of the two best players in the game; but, he can’t go 2-5 in the Finals and be considered as an all-timer. It just doesn’t add up. For instance, if Tom Brady didn’t win the Super Bowl two years ago and had a 3-3 record rather than 4-2; no one would be saying that he deserves to be in the same conversation as Joe Montana. You can’t continue to come up short in championship games and be considered one of the best ever.
LeBron and the Cavs have had a smooth ride up to this point. If they don’t deliver a title back to Cleveland, not only will it be devastating for the city but for James’ legacy as well.

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The Mount Rushmore of My Generation

What makes sports such an enjoyable medium are the [sometimes] healthy debates that arise from them. Every couple of years or so, the “Who’s on the Mount Rushmore of [insert sport]” comes up and intense debating begins.  Given how in last week’s post I wrote about how my generation was losing its athletes to retirement left and right, that this would be a good time to create a Mount Rushmore for my generation’s (I’m 28) top athletes in major sports.

Two quick points of order:

  • Michael Phelps would be on this list but swimming isn’t a major sport.
  • Jordan doesn’t qualify because he retired when I was in grade school.

My Mount Rushmore picks are:

Tom Brady

Tim Duncan

Derek Jeter

Tiger Woods

Brady is the most decorated (active) football player in the NFL. His 4 Super Bowl’s and 2 Super Bowl MVP’s are unmatched by any quarterback of my era. While Peyton Manning owns almost every passing record and won 2 Super Bowl’s in his own right, he never eclipsed Brady when it came to clutch performances. Since Brady became the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots in 2001 (15 seasons), the team has missed the playoffs twice (2002 & 2008); and in one of those years, Brady only played in 1 regular season game. He has an absurd postseason record of 22-9 (most wins all time) and has thrown for 56 postseason TD’s; which is a record that might never be broken. At the end of the day, if I had to pick one quarterback to win me a game, there’s no way I’d choose anyone other than Brady.

Duncan [Mr. Fundamental] is one of a handful of greats who have played every game of their career in one uniform. He just finished his 19th (and possibly last) season with the San Antonio Spurs, where he helped lead his team to a regular season [team] record of 65-13. Given the fact that San Antonio is in a small market within NBA circles, Duncan has been one of the most overlooked superstars ever, in any sport. It’s a damn shame too, given all that he’s accomplished. In 19 seasons, Duncan is a 5-time NBA Champion, a 3-time NBA Finals MVP and a 2-time NBA MVP. Now, I know that there will be plenty of believe that Kobe Bryant should be on this list over Duncan; and while I understand the argument for Bryant, I believe that Duncan has not only been more consistent but has found ways to make his team/teammates better. For my money, Duncan is easily one of the 10 best players ever and the best power forward to ever play the game.

Woods was the best golfer on the planet for over a decade and arguably surpassed Jack Nicklaus as the best of all time. I’ve never seen another athlete dominate his/her sport more than Woods dominated golf. Woods didn’t just dominate; he became his own brand, and made the sport relevant. Golf has never seen as a major player in the public medium in the same manner as baseball, basketball and football; that is, until Tiger. What he’s accomplished on the golf course is incredible; 79 PGA Tour wins (2nd all time), 40 European Tour wins (3rd all time), 14 Majors and was awarded PGA Player of the Year 11 times. Now with him [way] past his prime, commentators are constantly searching for the “next” Tiger. It’s a futile search because what he did, will never happen again.

Jeter [The Captain] spent his entire 20 year career with the New York Yankees where he won 5 World Series Championships, a World Series MVP (2000), and recorded 200 postseason hits (most all time). From 1996-2012, the Yankees never missed the postseason. In his career, Jeter played in only 1 game in which the Yankees were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. He set the Yankees all-time record in hits with 3,465 (6th most all time), doubles (544), games played (2,747), stolen bases (358), times on base (4,716), plate appearances (12,602) and at bats (11,195). There’s no doubt that there have been better all-around players than Jeter; but in my lifetime, there has never a more iconic, marketable or likeable star in the game than Jeter. He’s one of the few athletes that were not just a spectacular player on the field, but a respectable ambassador off of it.

Honorable Mentions:

Kobe Bryant

Lebron James

Peyton Manning

 

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Spurs Lose Series: Duncan’s Future Up in the Air

Last night the Oklahoma City Thunder dispatched the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs 113-99 to win the second round series 4-2.  Given OKC’s blowout loss in Game 1, if anyone told you that they saw the Spurs dropping 4 of the next 5 games (including 2 at home), they’re full of you know what.  The second best team in the league got rocked in the only upset so far in these playoffs.

However, given all that, that’s not the main story; at least, not the one I took from this series.

The real story of this series was the blatant decline of Tim Duncan.  Duncan came into the series looking relatively spry for 40 and had completed one of his best defensive regular seasons in some time.  No one expected see father time catch up with Duncan so drastically; but alas, here we are.

It was tough watching Duncan struggle to get up and down the floor; the poor guy couldn’t even make a layup anymore.  In many ways, watching Duncan’s brutal performance was eerily similar to Peyton Manning’s harsh decline during the Broncos Super Bowl run last February.  As a “millennial”, it’s been tough watching two of the greatest ever decline so rapidly and within a few months of each other.

During the postgame, Duncan didn’t specify on his future plans; however, many believe that he’s leaning towards retirement.  If he does retire, he’ll join Manning, Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter, as not just champions but icons in their given sport; who have retired within the last two years.

Being 28, it’s hard to reconcile with the fact that all of the sports legends of my youth are retiring.  The only one remaining at this point is Tom Brady.

Given his performance during these playoffs and specifically in the second round, I hope Duncan decides to retire.  I’d hate to see him end his spectacular career in the same manner as Bryant; because that was downright dreadful to watch.  Regardless of what Duncan chooses to do, there’s no doubt that he’s a first ballot hall of famer and arguably the best power forward ever.  We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

 

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