Michael Jordan Standard

Lebron James

Lebron James is the best basketball player on the planet.

So what?

Lebron may make the right plays in crunch time but, when it comes down to it, he will never be a hero. We are a society that crave great leaders and heroes that are so few and far between. We celebrate those that can rise to the occasion against all the odds and still come out on top. It’s why we love movies like Spartacus, Gladiator and Robin Hood.

Call the Lebron haters whatever you want but you can never fault them for saying Lebron James will never be Michael Jordan or even Kobe Bryant.

Forget about the different eras and the hand-checking. Don’t give Dennis Rodman the attention he seeks, Lebron would be amazing no matter what. However, what will never change from the days of gladiators to the end of time is a person’s psyche. Very few can combine the ability for greatness with that killer instinct. It doesn’t matter what game a person is playing or how that game has evolved over the course of time. What matters in this discussion is that the mental aspect of the game will always be a constant.

Whether you are celebrating or criticizing Kobe Bryant for taking a fade-away 3-pointer while he is triple-teamed, there is no denying that those are shots Lebron James is, for the most part, unwilling to take. Whether, from a basketball analytics perspective, taking the low-percentage shot is the right or wrong thing to do in the moment, to be truly great you have to be willing to do the wrong thing sometimes.

Killer Instinct. It’s something that Lebron James does not possess to the extent that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant do.

At this point in his career, Lebron is not clutch or unclutch. He should not ever be labelled as either. The dreaded word is used far too often to define a player when most athletes fall somewhere in the meaty part of the imaginary clutch-unclutch bell curve (see Tony Romo).

Lebron can make as many clutch shots and win as many championships as he wants. It won’t change his nature and who he will always be as a person. Nothing can do that. Lebron is not a killer by trade. This is what exposes him to criticism and justifiably so. He is not a live by the sword, die by the sword kind of leader.

Fortunately for Lebron haters, to be truly great in the game of basketball, you must be a killer. Any semblance of fear or passivity won’t cut it.

Lebron supporters can thank Michael Jordan for that.

Lebron is labelled as passive by his detractors because anything less than a merciless approach is seen as weakness. There is no middle ground. As the self-proclaimed ‘King’, he is measured to a different standard. The Michael Jordan standard is a virtually impossible one for any athlete to reach yet this is how comparisons work, especially when you want to be the ‘King’. Lebron James doesn’t get compared to Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. It’s all relative.

You think it is right for Barack Obama to be held to the same standards as Joe Biden?

It isn’t all Michael Jordan’s doing though. It is from the thousands of years of human history. Stories both of fact and fiction telling us about the warriors who became legends. In these stories, it takes a special individual to be respected for not only his actions but also for who they are as a person.

Lebron James the player is widely respected. Lebron James the person is a whole other issue.

Athletes are the modern day warriors. We hold our athletes to the standards of not only past athletes but also to the legendary warriors throughout history – Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and so on. Warriors that we have heard and read about since we were children.

Real warriors don’t make excuses, don’t get tired and they definitely don’t ask their coach for a breather in game 1 of the NBA finals. As obvious as it is that a warrior may need a little assistance, real warriors don’t call their teammates out to the media or refer back to their Cleveland days to ensure everyone knows how much of a warrior they are being at that time. Real warriors don’t do the King Kong chest pound in game 4 of a 1st round sweep.

Most importantly, a real warrior’s burden should never be too much to carry. At least, in the eyes of everyone else, it should seem that way.

Lebron James may still become a legend in his own right. But a legend only because of God-given physical ability.

Not his mental ability.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

Evidently, because you are reading this now, you were able to survive last week without Monday’s 7 Casual Contemplations to start your work week off with a bang. I’m not sure how you got through the week without it but good on you. No need to fret though as your work week will be started off right this Monday. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

Help me Win Gillette Drafted!

Reminder or in case you did not know: I was selected as a top 24 finalist for theScore’s (a TV sports station in Canada) Gillette Drafted competition, which is the search for Canada’s next great sportscaster. This is the 4th season so they have changed the whole format around.

Voting has become an integral part of the process and I need as much support as I can possibly get. Shameless self promotion is key and what I ask of my blog readers is to go to my page http://www.drafted.ca/finalists/chris-ross/ and vote every day. Tell your friends, family, coworkers, strangers, pets and just about anything that could possibly work a computer to vote as well.

A couple of weekends ago I attended the top 24 bootcamp in Toronto. This is the main part of their selection process to cut the 24 down to the 6. The 6 will be announced in the middle of August. Not all, but some of the videos from that weekend are already up. If you want to check my videos out click on the link here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5BA86A30B00A3F32&feature=plcp

Thank you for all your support in advance. It is unbelievable to know that I have the backing of so many people in the hope of achieving my dream job.

Big 3’s

Big 3’s aren’t so uncommon in the NBA anymore. The Celtics started it and a number of teams have followed suit. Obviously, no big 3 has been more scrutinized than the Miami Heat trio. The group in Miami is undoubtedly the most talented but it isn’t the most effective.

I think it’s clear that the Oklahoma City Thunder big 3 is superior in almost every way to what the Heat possess. The Thunder trifecta is a much more balanced group. The balance has allowed them to thrive even at such a young age. While the Heat feature 2 ball dominating wing players, the Thunder only have 1. Sure, Westbrook has the ball in his hands a lot but that is his job. He is a point guard. He averaged just 5.5 assists per game this past season but people tend to forget that in the previous two seasons he averaged over 8 assists per game.

The Thunder do lack a big man in their big 3 but each player has a more defined role. No one is redundant. Harden plays the other wing position with Durant but his style of play is far different. Wade and Lebron’s skill sets overlap each other. They are only able to make up for it because they are incredibly talented individuals.

Similar to the Celtics, the Thunder have 3 players, each with their own unique role on the floor. The Heat struggle offensively because of the lack of definition in their roles. What the Thunder lack in pure overall talent and, of course, a big man, they compensate with a very good mix of complementary skill sets.

In a certain sense, the Thunder big 3 is much better than the Heat’s.

1 Day Contracts

LaDanian Tomlinson signed a 1 day contract with San Diego so that he could retire as a Charger. Gawd, is this even news anymore?

These 1 day contracts are so dumb. They carry absolutely no meaning. I can’t wrap my head around this notion of needing to retire with the team you spent the bulk of your career with. Tomlinson had 2 years with the New York Jets to finish his career. Big deal.

The sentimentality behind this 1 day contract is useless. Does Tomlinson really have to retire as a Charger to be remembered as a lifelong Charger?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

Hold Outs

Hold outs really bother me. I hate them. The professional athletes who hold out generally make much more than the average athletes yet they want more and more. Nevertheless, I have exceptions to my hatred of the holdout.

NFL running backs have it tough. Their shelf life is shorter than a fresh loaf of bread. That’s why teams should be taking care of their star running backs. Guys like Maurice Jones Drew and, especially Matt Forte who have come on the cheap, deserve to be rewarded. I understand the diminishing value of running backs in the game of football but top flight running backs do so much for their respective organizations. Jones-Drew and Forte are both 26. Cut them a cheque for heaven sakes.

Matt Forte doesn’t have the luxury of playing until he is 35 or 40 like Drew Brees. Forte will be lucky if he gets past 30. Forte earned $600,000 in 2011 and the Bears are fine with putting the franchise tag on their offensive star. Hold out as long as you want big boy. I don’t have a problem with it.

Maurice Jones-Drew made up 47.7% of his team’s offence last season but is also having to force the Jaguars hand by holding out. I don’t blame him.

There are very few elite running backs left in the NFL and they should be compensated fairly by their organizations. They take a massive pounding and aren’t going to be around much longer. Suck it up and fork over a few extra bucks to these work horses. They have earned it.

Umpires

I’m pretty sure it’s becoming a weekly thing for me to be complaining about some sort of refereeing. In my defence, they’re always doing something wrong. How can I not complain?

I guess here is my referee/umpire complaint of the week then: I can’t stand when home plate umpires call guys for being unable to check their swing. There are often times when guys are walking the line between checking their swing and going too far. It’s close and hard to tell. However, many home plate umpires believe that they have the right to make the difficult call. It isn’t even obvious for a base umpire but the home plate umpire will feel he has a good enough view to ring a guy up.

Seriously, is it that difficult for them to point down to the base ump for a better angle? Why do they insist on making the close call when it can be tough to decipher even on a slow motion replay?

Umpires, a special breed indeed.

US Open

Webb Simpson won the US Open with a final score of +1. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love it. In fact, I love everything about how difficult the US Open was for players this year.

None of this 18 under par stuff we see in the Frys.com Open and what not. This is golf at its finest. It’s not supposed to be an easy game. As sadistic as it may sound, I find a lot of joy in seeing players struggle to make pars. I mean, it should be hard for players to immortalize themselves in major championship history.

Webb Simpson had a spectacular day when most faltered. He clutched up on the 18th hole with an extraordinary up and down from just off the green. He is worthy of the title ‘US Open Champion.’ I don’t want majors to be so easy that any Joe Schmoe can shoot a good score.

The 2012 US Open is why I love major championship golf.

Group of Death

I’m not a huge soccer fan. Is that the reason I don’t think the Netherlands exit from the group stage wasn’t embarrassing?

They should have been able to take a game from Denmark but upsets happen. It’s soccer. It’s sports. It’s 3 games, that’s it. Sometimes you don’t perform. That is hardly a disgrace by any means though.

One of Germany, Portugal and Holland had to be eliminated. The Netherlands were this year’s victim of the group of death. A shame but not a disaster from where I stand.

Because of You

Kevin Durant’s numbers are exactly what would be expected of a superstar.

It’s a good thing for the Oklahoma City Thunder that Kevin Durant isn’t all superstar though. That’s not a knock on Kevin Durant. In fact, it’s the biggest reason why the Thunder have been able to mature into one of the two best teams in the league. Maybe the best.

Sure, KD has become not only the best pure scorer in the NBA but also a much more complete player. Yeah, he has established himself as a closer that we can compare to Michael Jordan without sounding completely ridiculous. It’s true, he has led OKC to the NBA Finals.

But the Thunder are thriving now because of Kevin Durant’s personality. His easy-going nature has allowed Oklahoma City to become the dominating force that they are today. While superstars are generally thought of to be this type A, dictatorship-like personality, Kevin Durant is governing his team democratically.

It feels like eons ago when Russell Westbrook was being condemned for his apparent lack of a conscious and Kevin Durant was getting criticized for his reluctance to take the bull by the horns. Unlike a dirty prison rat, Kevin Durant continued to defend his partner in crime no matter how out of hand Westbrook got. Durant even fired back at Skip Bayless saying “we’re worse when I take more shots” a couple of months ago.

Without Kevin Durant’s willingness to let his shoot first point guard shoot first far too often, the Thunder wouldn’t be up 1-0 in the NBA Finals as we speak. Durant let Westbrook play through his mistakes. His many, many mistakes.

Oh, how the times have changed.

Westbrook is not the same player these days. He still takes lots of shots. Last night, Westbrook had 24 field goal attempts to Durant’s 20. But the change is most noticeable in key situations. During the playoffs, Westbrook has finally learned when to defer to the best player on his team. He knows when he should sit back and watch the magic instead of trying to make it.

It took a bit longer than it probably should have but everyone grows up at a different rate. For some odd reason, Russell Westbrook deluded himself into thinking, and/or was out to prove, that he was the superstar in Oklahoma City.

If Kevin Durant handled this situation in the authoritarian manner that many thought he should, it might very well have stunted Westbrook’s development. Knowing Westbrook, he may have responded to fire with fire, rebelling to the oppressiveness like a teenager does to his parents telling him to hit the books. However, Kevin Durant let Russell Westbrook mature at his own pace. He didn’t force the issue and Westbrook responded accordingly.

The evidence was there again on Tuesday night as Kevin Durant poured in 17 of his game-high 36 points in the final period. Westbrook may have finished the game with more shots but he picked his spots, the right ones, in the 4th quarter.

A championship this season isn’t necessary to validate what Kevin Durant did for his team. He didn’t knee-jerk his way to a controversy and the Thunder are on their way to many more exhilarating championship runs. He may have done very little over the past year to squash the Skip Bayless led criticism but very little was precisely what Oklahoma City, and more importantly, Westbrook required.

Russell Westbrook is changed man now. He didn’t need an intervention. He just needed time.

Not many superstars would have been able to give Westbrook the time he needed. But Kevin Durant isn’t like most superstars.

And because of it, the Oklahoma City Thunder are sitting pretty, a game up on the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Importance of Stars in NBA

The Indiana Pacers had the Miami Heat on the ropes but couldn’t finish them off. They set themselves up for a storybook ending. Alas, it was not meant to be.

How typical.

The Pacers were outmatched. Much like a boxer without that knockout punch or a closer without a strikeout pitch, the Pacers needed something more. They just didn’t have it though. Larry Bird’s squad is another prime example of the necessity of having a star player in order to win meaningful games in the NBA.

Balance alone doesn’t cut it in this league.

The Heat should never have been seen as on the ropes by so many people (yes, guilty as charged). Not when they feature 2 of the best players on the planet while the Pacers feature player is a fringe all-star center. Indiana didn’t go soft in game 6. They couldn’t bring their game up a couple of notches like the Heat were able to.

It’s no secret that star players are important. They are almost as vital to NBA playoff life as oxygen is for human beings. However, not every team can have a star and those without at least one would like to think that they can survive. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case.

It’s not as if balanced teams cannot fight with the big boys of the league. If anything, they are even scrappier because they have something to prove. The Pacers gave the Heat a great fight. I would have paid to see 12 rounds of that. The Denver Nuggets took Kobe Bryant and his two giants to 7 hard-fought games. Philadelphia themselves have a legitimate shot at the Eastern Conference Finals. The 76ers hardly qualify though considering their road up to this point has been littered with the fallen soldiers of their opponents.

These teams can make it only so far.

Basketball isn’t a game that invites parity, largely due to the requirement of stars. Only 9 teams have won an NBA championship in the past 30 years and 3 of those teams have 1 lone championship banner hanging in their arena over that span. Of those 30 teams who have won championships, only the 2004 Detroit Pistons lacked anything close to a star player.

When the chips are down, a championship team must a guy or two that they can hand the ball over to. Even the 2004 Detroit Pistons had Chauncey Billups who is known around the league as Mr. Big Shot.

The Pacers didn’t have anyone like that this year. Danny Granger was an emerging NBA star not too long ago. He was unable to bring that star power to the Heat series for even 1 game and because of that the Pacers were doomed. The Heat superstars simply brought it after game 3 and the balanced roster of the Pacers couldn’t handle it.

The Orlando Magic ownership know that winning in the NBA is as star driven as any professional sports league in the world. That’s why they have made every possible concession that they could to appease Dwight Howard. Like a kid trying to impress the cool kids in high school, they tried a little too hard though. However, the reasoning behind their actions is completely understandable.

Fan bases without stars to boast of have to believe that a no-name roster can take down the Goliath’s of the NBA world. In a league where there is very little fluctuation among the top teams, hope is sometimes all they have.

Hope and belief just aren’t enough though.

The Thunder, Heat and Spurs all meet the criteria of possessing a star player. Oklahoma City has Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Miami has Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. San Antonio has Tony Parker to go along with aging stars in Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli. If the Boston Celtics do indeed push through the injuries to the Conference Finals then that would mean the 4 teams left in the 2012 playoffs would have the pre-requisite star needed to win a championship.

It’s no different than having a top-flight quarterback in the NFL. Still, the NFL has not only had much more parity in the past 30 years than the NBA but there have also been more Super Bowl winners that have lacked the supposed essential piece of the puzzle.

Stars trump balance in the NBA unlike any other league.

The Pacers, well, they did the best that they could.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

It’s Your Fault Pat Riley!

Lebron is tired. Dwyane Wade can’t score. Chris Bosh is injured.

The Big 3 are in shambles.

The Miami Heat’s crisis goes much higher up than the Big 3 though.

Beat the Heat is becoming all too real for Miami fans. A game 3 shellacking led by Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert has put Miami’s championship aspirations into serious question. When Derrick Rose limped off the floor it appeared a free road to the NBA Final was given to the Heat. Now it looks more like rush hour traffic in Seattle.

On a night where the Heat finally got some secondary scoring, they weren’t able to come close to the Pacers. After the 1st quarter, Miami was outscored by Indiana 77-49.

What’s wrong with the Heat? Well, Pat Riley, you have some explaining to do.

Pat Riley is supposed to be a genius. He’s been more like Stu Jackson and Isaiah Thomas rolled into one since Lebron, Wade and Bosh rolled into town. The Miami Heat are terrible. Their deficiencies have been masked in large part by the most dominant player in the NBA history. Unfortunately for Pat Riley, the King is not Superman.

Most people, including myself, thought that Pat Riley had assembled enough talent to complement his stars. Their core seemed too good and was enough to overcompensate for their glaring weaknesses. The redundancy of 2 ball dominating wing players on the same team wouldn’t matter to an extent where the Miami Heat would be in danger of being knocked out in the 2nd round.

You can throw that gobbledygook down the drain.

Chris Bosh’s injury has shown that the Heat stars should never have been referred to as the Big 2.5. However, his absence in games 2 and 3 has made clear what an awful job Pat Riley has done over the past couple of seasons.

Crystal clear.

The Swiss Army Knife, Mike Miller, was brought in to be the necessary 4th wheel to smoothen the ride all the way to their championship parade. An aging Shane Battier was signed in the 2011 offseason to provide harassing defence and some scoring pop off the bench. Energy center Joel Anthony was signed to a 5 year, $18 million deal in 2010.

Mike Miller hasn’t been able to find his groove. Battier, a career 38% 3-point shooter, shot 33.9% from beyond the arc this season and was an atrocious 0-6 from downtown in game 3 as he started at small forward. Joel Anthony has been riding the pine to start games lately while sharing time with Ronny Turiaf and Dexter Pittman at the 5.

Mike Miller and Shane Battier were deemed shrewd acquisitions at the time. It just hasn’t worked out for the Heat. Riley has made, what appeared to be, solid signings that haven’t turned out as good as expected.

Pat Riley cannot go without blame forever.

While Larry Bird the executive of the year has assembled a team without a superstar that is currently handling Riley’s Heat with ease, Pat Riley sits with his slicked back hair and piercing stare, helpless. He is unable to do anything now. The thing is, it’s not like he has done much with his pet project for the last 2 scrutiny filled years either.

Riley has hoped that he could ride his 3 stars to basketball immortality.

The mastermind hasn’t shown up to work though. He has misevaluated his entire roster. The role players have fit in with the Big 3 about as well as a second cousin twice removed fits in at a family Christmas dinner.

Pat Riley hasn’t made the right moves, whatever those moves should have been. I can’t tell you what Pat Riley should have done because I don’t know.

Remember, I’m not the genius. Pat Riley is.

In theory, great minds make great moves. Pat Riley hasn’t done much out of the ordinary. Battier and Miller were moves everybody could get on board with. Mario Chalmers is an average NBA point guard that shoots an above average percentage from the 3-point line.

Over the past 2 years, the Heat have featured Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, Carlos Arroyo, Eddie House and Norris Cole as true point guards. Over the past 2 years, the Heat have featured Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magloire, Dexter Pittman, Ronny Turiaf and Eddy Curry as true centers.

Not one role player has overachieved for the Miami Heat. Heck, most have underachieved.

Pat Riley deserves some credit for sticking by his inexperienced but talented young head coach in Erik Spoelstra. Of course, Spoelstra hasn’t gotten it done either.

It’s true that because of the salaries of his 3 stars, Pat Riley has had a limited amount of cap space to work with. Even so, the salary cap can’t excuse Riley of his teams’ shortcomings.

The Miami Heat are not done yet. Although, envisioning the Heat team that played in game 3 fighting for a championship is more than a little difficult.

There’s more than enough blame to go around at this point.

But it’s Pat Riley who should be the first person everyone is looking at.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

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