Thursday, June 16, 2011

LeFail

This article is about two fails, the fail of LeBron James and the fail of me, The Sports Guru.  Jame's fail was really the only thing that stopped this NBA Season from being a complete bust for me.  I mean I got a couple of things right.  The Pacers made the playoffs, Derrick Rose was my dark horse for MVP, Carmelo Anthony ended up a Knick and Miami failed.  I also thought that both Boston and Chicago would be able to beat Miami, the Lakers were the only threat out West and would 3-Peat and I thought Portland would beat Dallas in the first round.  The last two years I've done a pretty good job of predicting what's going to happen and I fell way short of the standard I set for myself.  Am I upset? at first a little but then I thought about it and realized that aside from my beloved Lakers getting swept, this was one of the most enjoyable seasons for me as a fan.  Sure I love being right but I think I would become very bored of sports if you could predict everything.  Who out there really thought that Dallas would win the title?  There were a number of other teams I thought would be there and who I would rather have there but I can't tell you how happy I am they won.  Not just for beating Miami (although that is a huge, HUGE plus) but for all the players on that roster who were told they were old, washed up and soft.  Vindication is a very sweet thing and it allowed the Mavs to enjoy their win that much more.  Even if Miami wins 5 straight titles will anyone consider them vindicated? I doubt it.  Even when they win their first title together (as much as I hate so say it, it will probably happen) who is going to look at it as a legitimate title?  Especially after 3 straight pathetic excuses for games that LeBron gave to us.  That is the difference between my fail and LeBron's.  I know that I put everything on the line, I could have studied more, really immersed myself into the game more but I know to do that more for this coming season.  I will learn and move on and become better, LeBron I don't think will.  About 3 years ago LeBron added a pretty good 3 point shot to his repertoire and since that time what has he done to improve his game?  In 8 years he has gone from being an athletic freak who gets to the rim to an athletic freak that gets to the rim and can shoot the occasional three but settles too much for it.  His stats have increased from year one but other then understanding the game better has he really become a better player?  Honestly, I think he has, nobody dominates like LeBron when he chooses to dominate.  It's the most Jordan like thing about him, his dominance is better then any other dominance in the game.  So why does he not always choose to dominate? I have no idea and I wish I knew.  We saw it against Boston and Chicago, if LeBron continued to play like that then the notion that Dwyane Wade would carry him to a title would be obsolete.  The moment kept getting bigger and so did LeBron, he thrived in it and then the finals came a long and he still looked like he had it until game 3.  Up until that point Dallas was playing scared and then all of a sudden they stopped being afraid and started playing their game.  Once that happened I saw one of the most rewarding and devastating things in basketball.  The best player in the world was scared.  It wasn't just that he wasn't shooting and starting playing hot potato with the ball or that he stopped playing at an All-Defense level.  You could see it in his eyes, he was lost and was scared of the moment.  It sounds ridiculous to say but you can read it in players when they want it.  We saw Kobe the past two years clench his jaw and put spite in his eyes for two weeks when the finals came about, even Wade had that look in his eyes this year.  Heck LeBron had it for 3 rounds and lost it.  It reminded me of Rocky III when Apollo kept yelling at Rocky to want it and get back that look, that hunger.  The difference was that Wade was LeBron's Apollo and Wade finally seemed to give up on LeBron.  I cannot remember a single time that Wade passed the ball to LeBron in that second half, he stopped trusting him.  As enjoyable as it was to see LeBron wilt away in the moment like, well Wilt, it also made me sad as a sports fan.  We may never see another athlete like LeBron again, he is the most talented player to ever play the game and he could be remembered as a colossal failure.  Not because he couldn't flip the on switch but because he would flip it off and refuse to turn it back on.  I currently just started working at a day camp counselor for kids.  I had a girl today who just started rock climbing this week for the first time.  By yesterday she was already one of the better kids, I couldn't believe how far she had come, especially with coming down from the top which at first seemed to be a fear of hers but was now second nature.  All of a sudden today she got half way up after a few tries and froze, she wouldn't come down and started having a panic attack.  Although she had been to the top before and had come down she froze in the moment and I had to go up there to finally get her to come down.  She wouldn't trust any of us until I had her in my arms and ascended down with her into another counselor's arms.  Nothing better symbolized what happened to LeBron then that scenario.  We have never seen anyone have the game of Basketball come so naturally for them.  LeBron caught on quick and early and never looked back.  Then all of a sudden, for no reason that can be reasonably explained, he froze and panicked.  He didn't know what to do and he needed someone to save him.  That is why he teamed up with Wade, Cleveland had great role players for him, but no one that could save him from himself.  Wade was that answer for him and it seemed like Wade got tired of doing that job.  After being up with that girl for over 10 minutes my hands started to cramp, I had to make a decision to either grab her and bring her down or to go down by myself and then regather my strength and try again.  By the end of game 6, Wade had given up on LeBron, he tried everything from encouragement, to chewing him out on live TV,  and to trying to make fun of other stars on live TV.  None of it worked, and finally he gave up on him, determined to regain his strength and try again next time.  Who knows, maybe LeBron will get it.  Other players have learned to do it, heck look at Dirk.  We all thought he was a choke artist and couldn't get it done and now nothing could be farther from the truth.  Or how about even Zach Randolph?  He was considered a selfish cancer on every team he had ever been on and then he gets to Memphis and he carries that team to new heights and then soars even higher in the playoffs.  Only time will tell with LeBron, but the most disturbing thing to me about the whole thing is how he didn't seem to care afterwards.  Sure he said the right things for the most part, and did the whole "I'm a competitor" act again by prematurely walking off the court but there was no anger or disappointment in his eyes or voice during that post game conference.  I didn't feel like he cared, maybe he already had the parade that he wanted.  I feel like there a lot of things in sports that I understand or can figure out, LeBron I don't.  He might be one of the easier players to predict these days with his play on the court, especially in the playoffs but I don't think I can ever understand him.  The only thing that I know for sure is that he needs to stop caring about everyone else so much.  He played the villain role well for the most part but as Bill Simmons pointed out in his finals recap, LeBron wants to be loved.  He needs it, he has always had it and it wore him down as the season wore on.  Does he receive any sympathy from me or any other non-Miami sports fan? not in the least.  He brought this on himself and he deserved what he got.  I don't think he will ever fall into my good graces but if he wants my respect ever again he just needs to shut up, hit the gym and show that he cares about winning over fame.  Don't go saying anything, don't hold an "I'm sorry" press conference, just let what happened be in the past and play some basketball.  As much as I hate LeBron James, the sporting world needs him, and needs him to succeed in some part.  We love to hate him but you can only hate someone that gives you something to hate.  My greatest fear is that LeBron is just going to cash it in one of these days after not accomplishing much of anything and all that will be left is pity.  It truly would be a travesty.  I know that there is a ton of hate for players like Kobe but when all is said and done and you look back on his career, you can appreciate what he has accomplished as a player.  It happened with Jordan.  I don't think you can disagree with the fact that Jordan was a jerk, an egomaniac, and not a very good person.  But as sports fans do we care?  Not really, I'm sure people did back in his prime when they had something to focus on other then how special of a player he was, but all that is left is highlights of his game winners, dunks and amazing achievements.  Kobe's career (though not on the same level) will be remembered in the same light.  LeBron? who knows, it is still up in the air but the sporting world needs him to be more then the next Karl Malone.  Maybe this loss is what LeBron needed but until he learns that substance always triumphs over style, he will never be the true King of basketball

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wayne Gretzky: The GOAT of All Sports

Lately all I have been hearing about is the "GOAT" of Basketball.  Michael Jordan is still the hands down the favorite but with players like Kobe Bryant nearing him in titles, and complete athletic freaks like LeBron James and Derrick Rose, it is not unreasonable for us to think that someone one day will be able to be fairly compared with Jordan.  We do it all the time, and even if it isn't really fair to Jordan to be throwing all these comparisons his way, what he did still seems attainable.

There isn't hardly anything in Wayne Gretzky's career that seems like it might be fathomable, much less attainable.  Gretzky rewrote the NHL record book, almost single handedly.  That isn't an exagerration to try and make you in awe of him.  He holds, to this day, 61 different NHL records.  In comparison Michael Jordan only holds 3.  In his defense 72 NBA records are held by Wilt Chamberlain and if you know anything about basketball you know that he was simply the product of an era in which there were too many 6'6" white centers trying to guard the athletic 7 foot Chamberlain who's only goal was to set as many records as he could.  Nobody liked Chamberlain, teams would refuse to trade for him in his prime because of how terrible of a teammate he was so I will not take arguments about him being considered one of the greatest athletes of all time.  I refuse to even put him in my top 5 of Basketball players and I wouldn't guarantee him a top 10 spot either, especially with careers like Kobe's, Lebron's and Dwyane Wade's still being written.  Gretzky was the exact opposite of what Wilt was.  Gretzky was considered very undersized for hockey.  He wasn't too short but he weighed about 40 pounds less then the average NHL player.  He was also considered somewhat slow and possessed a mediocre shot at best.  What made Gretzky so great was that he could see plays develop so much faster and clearer then anybody else.  Even if you somehow convince me that he wasn't the greatest of all time, you can never convince me that he wasn't the smartest athlete of all time.  He was ahead of his time not only in the way he played but also with how he handled himself off the ice.  His former teammates talked about how he always made sure he had a friend or someone with him so that he never put himself into bad or dangerous situations.  Such as being jumped by paparazzi or going into an elevator by himself where a woman could get on with him and accuse him of sexual assault.  Too bad some of our athletes today don't have that same common sense.  Gretzky wasn't your typical "RA RA" leader, he simply led by example and always put his teammates above himself.  Don't take his unselfishness for his teammates as lacking a killer instinct.  Those who played with and against him said that there was never a greater competitor in hockey.  He wanted to go out and destroy each and every team he played against and he definitely accomplished that.  Even when Gretzky started his assualt on the record book, there was still one record that many said he would never be able to beat.  That was scoring 50 goals in 50 games, it had only been done twice before.  In hockey to score 50 goals in a single 80 game (now 82 game) season was a phenomenal accomplishment in itself, to score 50 in 50 was nearly unheard of.  During the 1981-82 season Gretzky had scored 41 goals in 37 games and as long as he didn't flame out, it seemed that he would be able to reach this remarkable feat.  Not only did Gretzky not flame out, he went out and scored 4 goals in game number 38 to give him 45, thinking that nothing could top that Gretzky followed that up the next night with 5 goals.  He scored 9 goals in 2 games and scored 50 goals in 39 games, that season nobody else had reached 30 yet.  He went on to shatter the record of 76 goals in a season by scoring 92 and reaching the 200 point mark.  Something he did 5 times, nobody else has ever done it.  He also translated that success into team success, helping turn Edmonton from an expansion franchise into a dynasty in only 6 years.  How did Gretzky deal with all this success? With incredible humility.  He was a confident player, no doubt about it but if anybody were to ever make the argument for him playing in the right era or having the right teammates it would be him.  I believe it is one of the reasons that made him so great, he didn't just have his teammates respect and loyalty, he had their love.  It may sound corny but the bond he would create with teammates made him and his teams better.  That is why when he was sold to LA he bawled, he didn't create an hour long show and smirk at his old team, he cried because he was truly a loyal and good guy.  When he was sold to the Los Angeles Kings he saved the NHL.  The old running joke at the forum was that they would call the people of LA to see when they were free to come see games because nobody cared about hockey.  As soon as Gretzky came to LA the Kings became as popular as the Lakers did in LA.  Everybody wanted to see Wayne Gretzky and Los Angeles showed that hockey can be successful without actually living in icy climates.  When Gretzky went to LA in 1987 there were 21 NHL teams, by 1996 there were 30, all of whom were along the US Sunbelt.  Other Athletes have had major impacts for the growth of their sport, but has any other athlete single handedly started 9 new franchises?  This isn't my opinion either, any hockey expert will tell you that those new franchises would not exist without Gretzky's influence in LA.  So far we have only really looked at Gretzky's impact, let's go back to some of his records.

For a complete list of Gretzky's records check out: http://www.gretzky.com/
Here is a list of the top 10 point scorers of all time in the NHL



Rank↓NameTeam(s)GP↓Pts↓PPG↓
1Wayne GretzkyEDMLAKSTLNYR148728571.92
2Mark MessierEDMNYRVAN, NYR175618871.07
3Gordie HoweDETHFD176718501.05
4Ron FrancisHFDPITCARTOR173117981.04
5Marcel DionneDETLAKNYR134817711.31
6Steve YzermanDET151417551.16
7Mario LemieuxPIT91517231.88
8Joe SakicQUE/COL137816411.19
9Czechoslovakia Jaromir JagrPITWSHNYR127315991.26
10Phil EspositoCHIBOSNYR128215901.24



Wayne Gretzky  has nearly 1,000 more points then the next closest player to him and he played in nearly 300 less games.  If Wayne Gretzky did not score a SINGLE goal in his career (and he is the leader in that too with 894) he would still be the NHL's all time leading points scorer.  He won the Heart Memorial Trophy (League MVP) a record 9 times and won his first 8 all in a row.  The list of his accomplishments goes on and on and nobody has come close to him.  The only player that can even come close to being compared to him is Mario Lemieux.  Unfortunately for Lemieux he was derailed by a back injury and cancer otherwise he may have come closer to what Gretzky did but even in the couple of seasons in which he was making a run at Gretzky they still weren't what Gretzky's best were and Gretzky did it longer and more consistently then anybody else in the game.  Even though it wasn't Lemieux's fault he was diagnosed with cancer and received bad back injuries, it was Gretzky's fault that he stayed healthy so long.  He was very conscious not to leave himself vulnerable, and if anyone ever attempted to take him out with a big hit, he almost always made them pay by burning them or finding an open teammate.  Listening to several interviews about Gretzky the one thing that stuck out was that other hockey players were afraid to try and hit the 165lb superstar.  He always knew when to make the right play and so other players couldn't take chances on him.  If you aren't a hockey fan I highly doubt that I did anything to convince you away from Jordan or any other other from being the best athlete of all time.  People just do not appreciate the beauty, excellence and difficulty of hockey enough but no this.  There may one day be another Jordan, Montana, Willie Mays but there will never be another Gretzky in hockey.  He was the best that ever played, and I am confident that when I am finally laid in my grave he will still be the very best that ever laced up skates (and any other athletic footwear in my opinion).  From studying Gretzky's career there is one final thing that really stood out from those that knew him.  Everyone who spoke to his greatness as a player said that, without a doubt, he was a better man then hockey player.  We all want to be like Michael, but really we should want to be like Wayne.

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