Tag Archives: Magic Johnson

The LeBron James/Magic Johnson Parallel

Despite the triple double LeBron James notched last night in Miami’s Game 5 loss in the NBA Finals, many people are (justifiably) crucifying him for his play throughout the series. In my eyes, he played well, if not amazingly (for him) through the first three games before looking absolutely awful (for him) throughout Game 4. He just failed to assert his physical dominance and force the Mavs to stop him off the dribble in a game during which he scored only 8 points and too-willingly swung the ball around the perimeter.

Even he knows he played like trash.

“Eight points is definitely inexcusable to me. I hold myself to a higher standard than that,” James told reporters at a team press conference, according to the Palm Beach Post. “I didn’t play well. I know that. I was hard on myself all last night.”

Game 5 was somewhat of a different story.

He played better, putting up the aforementioned triple double and generally being more aggressive with the ball while playing excellent defense at times. This was by no means LeBron at his best, or perhaps even his typical (and he got inexcusably SMOKED by Jason Terry on perhaps the biggest play of the game … which came one possession after LeBron missed a long three). But it wasn’t the “no show” that so many people were calling his Game 4 display. He shot poorly but played fine overall. Not great, but fine. And you can’t validly tell me a player was “passive” throughout crunch time when he committed a powerful offensive foul at the rim with 150 seconds to play and took three other shots in the games’ final three minutes.

Although more active, he remained atypically unproductive late again, however — which continues his trend throughout this NBA Finals. And now, if Miami can’t win two in a row at home to come back and win the title, LeBron will be undoubtedly be hit with a tsunami of criticism larger than I can remember any athlete ever facing for his on-court failings.

That’s what I was thinking last night anyway.

Then, this morning, @bandwagonknick posted something that made me, not change that opinion, but reconsider it slightly. Apparently, back when I was in kindergarten, Magic Johnson was similarly ripped apart by the press for coming up short when the sport was supposed to matter the most.

Whatever hurt Johnson felt [when LA lost to Boston in the 1984 NBA Finals] was only to intensify as the summer went on. He was stunned at the way he was carved up by the press that had once doted on him. He was particularly wounded by the suggestions that, with the championship at stake, he had choked. “I sat back when it was over,” Johnson says, “and I thought, ‘Man, did we just lose one of the great playoff series of all time, or didn’t we?’ This was one of the greatest in history. Yet all you read was how bad I was.”

It’s funny how history and time (and, ya know, winning three of the next four NBA titles) changes things. Magic is now the beloved, happy-go-lucky, HIV-surviving, bafflingly uninsightful guy on my TV who most everyone believes could do no wrong on the basketball court. He and Larry Bird “saved the NBA” that Michael Jordan would soon own. He was Showtime. He is a fantastic citizen.

He couldn’t have ever been the guy the media would “carve up.”

But he was.

And we are about to see something similar — on hyperdrive given today’s media landscape — for the next (at least) 12 months if the Heat don’t win two more games this year. It will be an annoying thing to see play out, but unlike the scorn thrown at him last Summer for The Decision, this time, there will be a lot more legitimacy to it.

He is earning this.

LeBron hasn’t played well in the Finals.

For him.

Post-script … Oddly, I was listening to a mixtape by the hip hop super-group Slaugherhouse this morning and, right as I was reading the Magic story that @bandwagonknick tweeted, the Joe Budden diss track “Pain in His Life” came on. (It’s hard to keep track of Budden’s rap feuds but this joint is about Saigon. The two MCs later made up and recorded a track together that features Sai spitting one of the illest verses I’ve heard in years.)

The opening lyrics of that song are eerily descriptive of stuff you could say about LeBron right now:

“It’s like a lose/lose, already my rep ruined
How I beat dude we know will accept losing?
Under Achiever was a underachiever
Almost thought you would come with the Ether

Rep ruined? Check.

Dude we know will accept losing? Check.

Underachiever? Check.

Almost thought he would come with the Ether (in Game 5)? All the checks.

“Your Apathy Speaks Volumes”

Unfortunately, this year’s NBA Draft day video from the Stephen A. Smith Heckling Society is sort of like the Godfather III of the series — we are all obligated to watch it and, ultimately, it’s not even horrible, but the bar had been set so high by its predecessors that you cannot be anything but disappointed.

Aside from the line that became the title of this post and the line about Rubio, there’s not a lot here.

But, much like Godfather III did for Godfathers I & II, this one does at least remind you that you should go back and re-watch the originals. Another silver lining: No Sofia Coppola.

In other post-Draft news, this happened. You gotta love it when Joe Budden comes off as the articulate one. Now, normally, I would be the first one to kid around about this cause there are some pretty funny lines in there, but since most people are obviously going to be in an uproar about this and take it all seriously and talk about how this represents not only why Brandon Jennings himself is a failure at life but why this whole generation of NBA players has sullied the good name that the NBA had back in the days of Larry & Magic even though Larry Bird likely said stuff that was worse than this about other players every day and Magic cheated on his wife constantly, let’s all just pre-emptively calm down and realize that a throwaway conversation between Brandon Jennings and Joe Budden is really not that serious. He was speaking off the cuff in a laid-back setting and just talking junk as people are wont to do. Is it funny? Certainly. Is it major news? Certainly not.

Meanwhile, it looks like Brandon was incorrect in prognosticating that his new team would re-sign Charlie Villanueva, who was not given a qualifying offer by the Bucks today and has already said his goodbyes to his cheese- and beer-loving fans. Looks like Buddens was spot on that “that bum-a** n****” Luke Ridnour will not be backing up Brandon at the PG this year and, instead, the Bucks will be throwing all their available cash at Ramon Sessions to be the starter…further proving my theory that Joe Budden knows more about the NBA than Stuart Scott.

Cap

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Unfathomably, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has become the most underrated player of all time. Among people born before 1975, he often tops the list of best players to ever lace em up. But as they do with Dr. J, many people under the age of 35 tend to see Kareem as an after-thought in the greatest of all time discussion and even stretch reality far enough to consider guys like Hakeem and Shaq yo be his superiors. Some people even regard him as the NBA version of Nolan Ryan — a guy who was really, really good at one thing and broke a bunch of records because he played forever.

Hopefully, most everyone reading this regards such opinions as the utter nonsense that they are. Kareem is at worst one notch behind Michael and Wilt along with other second-tier guys like Larry, Magic and Russell. The videos at the end of this post help show two of the reasons why. And kudos to both ESPN and JA Adande for putting together “Secrets of the Skyhook,” a must-view multimedia feature that includes a fantastic article, two great videos and several historical photos.

As a sports blogger, I guess I am for some reason not supposed to like ESPN all that much. Well, I certainly take issue with the direction that some programs on the Worldwide Leader have opted to take in the past few years, but, obviously, ESPN provides more amazing sports coverage in any given six months than the whole sports blogosphere has in its entire history. The collection of knowledge the network has amassed is staggering. To think that a Top 10 player of all-time like Magic Johnson qualifies as a throwaway talking head for the network is astounding. Every week, a truly great segment, article, production or creative endeavor of some other sort emerges from Bristol.

Maybe it’s just that the world has gotten accustomed to the great coverage ESPN (often) provides? Those of us who write about sports on the internet tend to be around the age where we don’t even know a world without ESPN. Hell, I read the NBA Daily Dime and TrueHoop almost every day but rarely even link to them because I figure you’ve already seen everything that they’re talking about. And while I enjoy Yahoo! Sports, SI.com, Deadspin and a few other “mainstream” sports sites, the idea that any of them have ever even come close to providing the same depth or breadth of coverage that the Mickey Mouse sports empire does is laughable.

Which, in a way, brings us back to Kareem.

In the videos below, Murdock from Airplane! and Jermaine O’Neal both suggest that one of the reasons the skyhook has gone the way of the telegraph is because it’s just not viewed as cool. It’s not “sexy” to emulate the skinny, bald dude with the goggles, they say. As a fan, it’s really not even cool to like Kareem. Not only did he gain a reputation as unlikable, but if you’re a Laker fan or just a hoopss head discussing the best players ever, it’s a lot more fun to talk about Magic. He has an unprecendented personal story, not only for an NBA player but for a human being. On the court, he was unique. He was dynamic. He was peerless. He threw fancy passes. peerless. He forced basketball to evolve. And, maybe most relevantly, his highlights don’t all look exactly the same.

What are you supposed to say about Kareem? He had the most unguardable move of all time. He was the maybe the most dependable offensive weapon we’ve ever seen. He was a great passer. He was a good rebounder. And he was a much better defender than he is ever credited as being because they didn’t always record blocks during his first five years in the League and because most of his regularly televised highlights were recorded after he turned 32 years old.

All true. All boring.

Because of that, Kareem’s legacy, while impeccable, loses some luster. Similarly, even if for different reasons, the fact that today’s ESPN has fallen below what everyone wants it to be has hampered its reputation. It is cooler to poke fun and discuss the network’s bygone glory days than it is to give ESPN credit for a great piece it puts out — let alone for being the unrivaled mass creator of great sports coverage.

With enough time, such perceptions start to infect reality. If repeated enough times, things like “ESPN sucks” and “Kareem wasn’t as good as Hakeem” permeate popular opinion. Then they start to became acceptable. As the views of those who actually saw Kareem in Milwaukee become less visible in public, that reality starts to fade.

They say history is an agreed upon fable. This is as true of sports as it is of political events. Today, however, we have video, analysis and countless written accounts of every sporting event, so our future understanding of the current era should be, at least somewhat, more aligned with what actually happened. Unfortunately, the footage and the first-hand accounts and essentially everything about Kareem’s prime is much less accessible to mass audiences. So we are left with the option of either believing or not believing what others say about it anecdotally for the most part. As a larger percentage of our cynical youth chooses the latter, popular opinion is reshaped. The truth is lost. History is re-written.

The solution to ensure accuracy and maintain a truer understanding of the Association’s past is accumulating more information and providing better access to it. That’s why we need more video of young Kareem playing basketball. That’s why we need aggregated written accounts of the past. That’s why we need the game’s legends to share first-hand accounts from their careers. That’s why we need the NBA to unearth all of its old footage and make it avaiable.

And, yes, despite what may be popular to say, that’s why we need ESPN distribute it to us.

Part I – The Skyhook

Part II – Unbreakable Record