Wednesday, February 21, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like madness

Who doesn’t love the first day of late winter, early spring, when you walk outside and it just smells like a mix of March Madness and spring training? This morning it was just blissfully warm, a comfortable fifty-plus degrees and sunny, no need for a jacket but people just wore them out of habit.

But on the way back? The snow and ice had melted to the point the ground got to breathe for the first time in weeks, and their scent was that of basketball with the slightest hint of baseball mitt leather. It’s the blend of late afternoon and early evening that always precedes the second set of tournament games in the middle of every March. Walking back to the Metro stop got me thinking about how every spring hope springs eternal, and how pissed I am there’s not a basketball court right behind our building.

For spring break I could go to any number of places where I could go that are guaranteed to be warm, where I’d be able to chill on a beach and just relax, but really, I can’t imagine something more relaxing than the Wilson Ranchero, the DirecTV tournament package and Putneyville for four consecutive days. Throw in a little bit of gambling – I know, I wanted to stop after New Orleans, but it’s me we’re talking about here – and that’s an ideal break for me.

I’ve got a bunch of reading to do and still need to come up with something to give up or Lent, but I just wanted to leave you with a few hoops items, both good and bad.

First, let’s start with the bad news, that being LeBron James isn’t anywhere near where he should be. First, from Straight Bangin, a great NBA/general blog:

A surprising personal theme that emerged throughout the weekend was how tired I am growing of Mr. James. I am nearly shocked by this, as I relish his talents and very much would like to invest myself in the mythology that would arise in the wake of his success. I even like his commercials. But a part of me finds that celebrating James feels inauthentic. Much of that is not his fault and is instead indicative of my own skewed perspective as a fan: he has not won like Kobe and Wade and he does not consistently play with the same manifest ferocity displayed by Kobe and Wade. I can't help but find that off-putting. And that's not to say that a player must win a title to be attractive or that James is passive and invested in winning to a lesser degree. As we saw in last year's playoffs, he will go to the basket relentlessly when it matters. And as Doug Collins mentioned on Sunday, he has hit free throws when it matters as recently as last week. He tries. But absent the seemingly immutable validation earned among many basketball fans upon winning a championship (or even a playoff series that you shouldn't), the LeBron schtick--everything from his style on the court to that off of it--is somewhat less compelling. I regret feeling this way, but that's how it seems right now. Maybe that will change come the playoffs.

And then from Bill Simmons’ great, behemoth Vegas wrap-up, which has me seriously considering a fall break trip out in October:

[THUMBS DOWN] To LeBron James, who coasted through the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday and played the All-Star Game with the uplifting, charismatic intensity of a female porn star trying to break one of those "most male partners in one afternoon" records. Could we end up putting him in the "Too Much, Too Soon" Pantheon some day? Will he become the basketball version of Eddie Murphy, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson and every other celeb who became famous too quickly and eventually burned out?

Here's what I know. I had four conversations with connected NBA people over the weekend that centered around the same themes: LeBron isn't playing nearly as hard as he did last season; it looks like his only goal right now is to get his coach fired; he's regressing as a basketball player (especially his passing skills and his shot selection); he made a huge mistake firing his agent and turning his career over to his buddies back home (all of whom are in over their heads); he was a much bigger problem during the Olympics than anyone realized; he doesn't seem to be enjoying himself anymore; he has an overrated sense of his own worth and his own impact in the sports world (as witnessed by the ESPN interview last week when he answered the "What are your goals?" question with two words: "Global icon"); he's been protected by magazine fluff pieces and buddy-buddy TV interviews for far too long; he doesn't have the same relentless drive to keep dominating everyone like Wade and Kobe have; and basically, we're much closer to LeBron re-enacting the career arc of Martina Hingis, Eric Lindros and Junior Griffey than anyone realizes. This will evolve into THE dominant NBA story of the next two months. You watch.

Those two excerpts rather perfectly summarize how I feel about King James. It’s not that I hate him – it’s not even close to that – I just find him so incredibly boring. All the talent in the world, yet he seemingly doesn’t quite have that desire to kick things up a notch. There’s no reason to fault him yet, but come on, LeBron, how can you not get pissed with all the accolades being bestowed on Wade and not want to just lay waste to the league? At the rate this season is going, LeBron is going to end up behind Wade, Bosh, the Baby Bulls, Dwight Howard, Webber’s renaissance in Detroit (now those Kings teams were a team you could hate – at some point in time I’m going to talk about how that 2002 Lakers/Kings series changed how I watched basketball) and Agent Zero as the storylines of the East.

But now for some good hoops things, mainly that with YouTube around, you can find all sorts of “One Shining Moments” to get you inspired for the upcoming postseason play.




And one of my favorites, the 2003 Syracuse recap, which is still on an old tape back at my house somewhere. My favorite part is when they say “Lose” and show Brandin Knight, which never gets old.

No comments: