Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Promise

And there it was on a Sunday night in plain sight for all to see. A beacon of light, the promise of hope, finally in MSG. These lines ring true like a sonnet or some poem, and they may as well come off sounding as the epilogue to some literary fantasy. For with most, the promise of a bright future for the New York Knicks has often appeared as such: a fantasy.

Against the Indiana Pacers, in the ninth game of an 82-game season, the Knicks were able to defeat a team whom themselves had been playing well; as well as playing well beyond the expectations that had been placed upon them by others at the start of the season. The Pacers balanced offensive attack, evidenced by six players averaging double digits in scoring, held a commanding 19 point lead with little less than 2 minutes left in the 3rd frame.

Eventually this would be no ordinary game and ultimately no ordinary victory. The storylines of a seemingly insignificant game and, more importantly, the faith of turnaround which a new season provides were beginning to shape, and now they needed a producer.

Enter Kristaps Porzingis.

Coming into the game the power forward had scored at least 30 points in six of the Knicks eight games. A torrid pace to start a season to say the least, no matter for a veteran, all-star, rookie, or third-year player, which of course Porzingis is. He had never been in this position before though as he walked from the scorer's table out onto the court to re-enter the fray. You could probably count on one hand the amount of comeback victories from double-digit deficits that the Knicks had overcome in Porzingis' tenure with the team. And if any were made, he certainly had never been the one spearheading the comeback as the Knicks had always relied upon Carmelo Anthony to insulate Porzingis from those responsibilities.

Not to say that Porzingis was incapable. The time was not right. More importantly those types of opportunities had yet to present themselves. However, in the NBA, just like life, things can change in the blink of an eye. And, on September 25th, the staring contest that had enveloped throughout the season and off-season between Anthony and the Knicks finally came to a head and upper management finally blinked. A pre-training camp transaction, in which Anthony was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder, would now provide those opportunities. Immediately a new narrative was formed, and with it a new story began unfolding.

After entering in the waning moments of the third quarter, in a game in which the prospect of a favorable outcome seemed rather dim, Porzingis appeared to enter another dimension. Single-handedly he immediately brought the hometown team within striking distance of victory by scoring nine straight points via an array of shots and maneuvers. He would go on to score 24 points over the final 13 minutes of the contest.

That Porzingis was at the center of a remarkable turnaround in the game was no surprise. Heck, the 7'3" Latvian is at the center of what many hope to be a remarkable turnaround at Madison Square Garden. However it was not only about The Unicorn's contributions as much as it was about the contributions of ancillary sources. More specifically, the Knicks' precocious, seemingly pre-pubescent, teen-aged rookie Frank Ntilikina.

The 6'5" French point-guard whom the Knicks had tabbed and then selected (during and after the Phil Jackson regime) with the 8th pick in this past summer's installment of the NBA draft, was the source of much discontent to most Knicks fans during the league's off-season. He played sparingly, if at all, in Summer League ball as well as in the pre-season skirmishes. Fans had no idea what to expect. That fact combined with this notion, as far as any of them were concerned, gave them the reason to be very skeptical (at best) about the prospects of success for this young professional. Even more so for the team on a whole.

Yet there he was and there they were. Ntilikina and Porzingis. Arms and legs. Hands and feet. All 14-plus feet of limbs. Clogging the lane. Stifling penetration. Blocking shots. Tipping, deflecting, stealing. Them and the Knicks. Reawakening the ever faithful MSG crowd. Reawakening the ghosts of the gritty Knicks teams of your father's generation. Changing the tide and momentum of the contest. Perhaps even changing the prospects and fortune of a franchise. On one single night.

In the fourth quarter, Porzingis would continue his scintillating start to the season. Scoring, as well as assisting on, crucial baskets down the stretch of a game, which only moments before had seemed already lost. Whether hitting shots from the elbows (now his go to spot for his go to move which basically consists of shooting over the top of any defender) to the tune of a career high 40 points or using the threat of this newly formed prowess to find his new running mate Ntilikina as they executed the "two-man game" to perfection for two major three-point baskets from the rookie in the final moments to complete a stellar comeback performance.

Ntilikina scored 10 points and registered seven assists, but it was not just the about the numbers he was able to record. Rather it was the way he was able to put his imprint upon the game, as well as on Porzingis to some degree. The young point guard always made sure that the ball ended up in the capable forward's hands, both early and late in the shot clock. Following the lead of the Jarrett Jack, the veteran point guard who also has helped to spearhead the Knicks productive showings as of late.

[Jack replaced point guard Ramon Sessions three games into the season after three straight losses and has been a steady influence on Ntilikina. The Knicks have won five of six games since the change dating to the Pacers game. They have gone on to win four out of the next seven for an overall record 9-7.]

Ntilikina and Porzingis were in middle of everything the Knicks did on offense and defense in the most critical moments against the Pacers. It was a joy to behold. Possibly one enough to emote the slightest warmth within the hardened heart of any ardent Knicks supporter.

To say that this particular game against the Pacers, stuck between two decent stretches of basketball in the infancy of a season which is hopefully the harbinger of promising things to come for what has been a perpetually moribund franchise, is a ton of pressure to heap on the significance of the outcome of a defining performance for two players and one team; but it is. Quite frankly, it appears so. Because a display like this is just what it is: a promise of things to come.

Monday, September 18, 2017

TOP FIVE NBA PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME (POSITION)


NBA ALL-TIME TOP FIVE AT EVERY POSITION 




POINT GUARD


  1. Earvin "Magic" Johnson
  2. Oscar Robertson
  3. Bob Cousy
  4. John Stockton
  5. Jason Kidd



SHOOTING GUARD


  1. Michael Jordan
  2. Kobe Bryant
  3. Jerry West
  4. Clyde Drexler
  5. Reggie Miller



SMALL FORWARD


  1. LeBron James
  2. Larry Bird
  3. Julius Erving
  4. Scottie Pippen
  5. Kevin Durant


POWER FORWARD


  1. Tim Duncan
  2. Karl Malone
  3. Charles Barkley
  4. Dirk Nowitzki
  5. Kevin Garnett


CENTER


  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  2. Bill Russell
  3. Wilt Chamberlain
  4. Shaquille O'Neal
  5. Hakeem Olajuwon

This obviously is one man's list. Created to satisfy and disturb, placate then upset. The Ancient Greek philosopher Democritus is quoted as stating: "Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion." Consider this to be the latter. 

It was difficult to leave Isiah Thomas off this list. Oscar Robertson is the toughest player to categorize. Quite simply he could easily be in the top five at both backcourt positions. Quite simply he could very well be listed as a top five small-forward as well. The man was that good.

The center position was another position were one could spend all day and night deliberating as to who goes where. I'd like to see you argue with what Bill Russell did on the collegiate, international, and professional level. 

Only the Michael Jordans and Magic Johnsons of the basketball world and lineage have achieved similar accolades during their distinctive careers.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar rarely looks up to anyone, literally or figuratively. He may however have to look down, in a show of respect and reverence that is, to Russell, as he was never able to garner an Olympic gold medal in basketball similar to Jordan and Johnson. Abdul-Jabbar chose to boycott the 1968 Olympics which saw the United States win their seventh gold medal in a row in the sport. It is a forgone conclusion to come to the realization that Jabbar would have won the one thing which is now absent from his trophy case. 

These things matter and then they do not. 

I have always contended that Magic Johnson may be the greatest basketball player of all-time, based upon what the game of basketball is. The very nature of it being at its core a team sport. How then could one player who when at his zenith could become all five players on the court at anytime due to his passing as facilitated by stature, awareness, and I.Q. not be considered to be the greatest? 

If Jordan was the index finger marauding as the trigger finger on the firearm of any offensive attack, then Johnson was the hand which held the firearm and pointed it in the proper direction to do the most damage. Johnson also may have had the more difficult task of running an entire team. 

In contrast, Jordan was a cold-blooded assassin with a singular approach who could do it all when necessary. He did what he knew how to do better than anyone else. Especially when it mattered: the playoffs. 

Ultimately it is difficult to choose between the two, at least for me it is, considering how I view the game now after watching it for most of my life. It also is hard for me to choose between the four when you invite Russell and Abdul-Jabbar into the the discussion. In my estimation these four just may be the most accomplished of all-time in NBA and basketball history.

                                                                      
                                                                            


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

MURDER BY NUMBERS

The UCLA Bruins squeaked by the Texas A&M Aggies 45-44 Sunday night, on this the first weekend of the college football season. Anyone who did not see the game could safely assume that this was a game that came down to the wire based upon the score alone. In a contest which was decided by a point, one could also imagine that the game itself may probably have been a back and forth affair, by either two potent offenses, or two teams that had no interest in playing defense. These are all possibilities.

However, a lifetime of watching football has taught us that the score, important as it may be to deciding the final outcome, does not always reveal to us exactly how a game transpired. Such is the case with Sunday night's affair between the Bruins and Aggies. Playing in front of a home crowd, the Bruins found themselves in a hole, of the 34-point deficit variety, late in the 3rd quarter. They would rally to win, scoring the game's next five touchdowns for the score that flashed across your screen, as you dozed soundly, already put to bed by the score of 44-10 late in the 3rd quarter.

There have been games in which teams despite winning the turnover or possession battle (you know those little nuances of the game which generally ensure success) still ended up losing to the team that turned the ball over more than they or did more productive things with their time of possession than the team that actually possessed the ball longer. Although infrequent, it seems to happen all the time. This is why I am never blown away when I see a comeback in football. Football seems to mirror life in a multitude of ways almost too numerous to enumerate here.

One particular way in which it does seem to parallel the real world is with regards to late starts and procrastination. People delay and procrastinate all the time. Some, it would seem, thrive on it. It's not a formula one would suggest as the way to success, but it does let you allow the notion that when the task at hand is put off, whether directly or indirectly, there may or may not be the chance that the job can still get done. Dependent now upon how compliant the ancillary components of whatever it is that is trying to be achieved is willing. There still is a chance, and a chance is all you need.

Now back to the Bruins-Aggies game of Sunday night vintage. This particular contest featured another way that a close score, or any score for that matter, could be interpreted. The comeback. A team gets down by a considerable margin to another team only to mount a comeback of extreme proportions often resulting in an epic win soon to become an "instant classic". The term "unanswered points" usually gets bandied about during the broadcast of said event. Enlightening the viewer or tuner of how quickly the tide can turn into an avalanche.

Earlier this year, fans of the NFL were treated to another "epic" comeback, this time on the greatest of stages, the Super Bowl. You would have to be living under a rock to have no idea about what transpired in that particular contest. Down in similar fashion, with regards to time and score, the New England Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, ultimately emerging victorious and hoisting yet another Lombardi trophy.

So, it happens. Teams race out to big leads based upon what seems like their opponent's taking to heart the notion of "Murphy's Law". Anything that can and will go wrong does, resulting in huge deficits. However sometimes the football gods are in the business of leveling the playing field and "Murphy's Law", momentum, the tide, or whatever you want to call it decides to change dancing partners. It is then that the outcome which was played out in Super Bowl LI, and most recently this past Sunday night in California, becomes a reality. No one questions how scoring happens when one team gets down and another goes up, but yet questions abound when the team that was down gets up and the team that was up gets down as far as the score is concerned. Life has taught us at times that "things were all good just a week ago." Things change and life changes with it. Same as in sports, same as in football. Professional or collegiate. No one ever says: "Things were all good just a half ago. Just a quarter ago. Heck, just five minutes ago." But they should.

"This is why you play the game...", or something close to that is what the great broadcaster Chris Berman trained us on when any two opponents collide on any given Sunday, or any given Saturday for that matter. With apologies to Mr. Berman, "...and this is why you play the game until it's over..." should be the other part of that great saying. Expecting a certain outcome before a game commences is one thing. After all, expectation is the mother of disappointment. Is it not? Expecting a certain outcome once a football game starts and begins to develop? Well now, that's just sheer torture. The type of torture that both Bruins and Aggies fans were feeling on Sunday night.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

From Worst to First

The worst kind of writer that you can be is the type of writer that I have been: one who does not write. So then, how could I call myself a writer?

In elementary school a teacher once shared with the class the notion that "what you are to be, you are now becoming." I did not totally grasp the severity of the situation at that time, but as with most things in life you begin to understand the deeper meaning of words and events through time and experience, and this particular scenario is no different. What I am to be I have now become, a writer who has not written.

Well not a writer who has not written entirely, but rather a writer which has not wrote enough. Not nearly enough. And for this I apologize. Not to you who reads this, and certainly not to I who writes this, but to the stories, the articles, and the essays themselves. For not applying the due diligence to research. For not displaying the ability to focus. But most of all, for not taking the time to just write.

So once again I sincerely apologize. Not that you were waiting. My stories were.

I will not make them wait any longer.

[*Editor's Note: "There will be appearing from the date of this entry archived pieces which were intended for release and consumption earlier."]

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

It Was Written...

Is this season just a prelude? Is this, the 2016 NBA season, the 71st installment of such, which has now spilled into 2017 calendar year, a prologue of a story which many believe is already written? The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the former the defending champions and the latter the recently reloaded, are the two teams most expect to be the finalists by the time The Finals roll around in June. And with good reason. The two have split the title of NBA Champion between themselves over the last two seasons and have shown no signs of letting up. Most believe the Warriors to currently hold the edge over the Cavaliers as they added a former MVP by the name of Kevin Durant to a team which boasts a two-time MVP of its own in Stephen Curry. The Cavaliers themselves are a well-oiled machine, pulled by the locomotive that is LeBron James, and need to make no argument for why they will be there in the end as well. And although for most, that this season is already a forgone conclusion, barring major injury or act of God, there does not seem to be a palpable pulse beating in either the direction of apathy or intrigue. And it is not as if there should be a definitive feeling either way.

The 1990s saw the Chicago Bulls win six championships during the decade. The Bulls won back-to-back-to-back titles twice, as those reigns were broken up by some mere mortal's quest to be decent at baseball, ultimately winning their six championships over the span of eight years. The notion that the Bulls would have won eight in a row, while adding Hakeem Olujawon, to the list of Hall of Famers such as Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Gary Payton to succumb at the hands of the aforementioned mortal, stands as plausible. Imagine if the 90s did provide eight consecutive titles crafted by Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. It would be akin to the Boston Celtics era of dominance in the 1960s provided by the efforts of the incomparable Bill Russell and Red Auerbach. These two dynasties during the height of their powers gave NBA fans at the time the same result over and over, whether they wanted it or not. Whether good or bad for the league, it is what it was. The same way in which it continues to be it is what it is today.

To say that the state of the NBA as it pertains to winning a championship or two is monopoly-driven endeavor, would be to acknowledge the history of how championships are one and spread out amongst not the entire league on a whole, but to a special select few franchises. Namely those that have been able to field teams which combine great teamwork and coaching with superstar talent and the killer-instincts that accompany said talent. The teams who fall under this distinction are those whom we name readily when it comes time to talk about just who has hoisted a championship banner in their respective arena's rafters. The aforementioned Celtics of the 60s fit the bill. The Los Angeles Lakers and (once again) Celtics teams of the 80s do as well. The previously referred to Bulls of the 90s are revered to the point of worship. The Lakers of the first three years of the new millennium take a backseat to no one. And the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat teams of recent memory give of fresh reminders of just how this thing works. In short, everyone gets invited to the party, but not everyone gets to dance.

As this season reaches the All-Star break, the fact that this campaign is more than halfway complete is a notion that is not lost amongst both players and fans alike, although both entities may process the thought in entirely different manners. For the player, to know where his team currently stands, and to understand what lies ahead within reason and within expectation; the opportunity to substantiate or create anew the narrative that this season is becoming, his is the perspective of faith and hope. The fans do the same as well, although their approach is one of hope and prayer. For some a hope that we get the championship round we all expect, and for others a prayer that this is not the beginning of a back-to-back-to-back-to back (well you get the idea) and forth between the Cavaliers and Warriors that completely excludes their own teams. You know, the ones that never get invited to dance that last dance.

The season is a prelude. Although it differs greatly from a book already printed for publishing, words, letters, and characters deeply embedded and unchangeable, an NBA season is quite similar in its structure and presentation. The difference between the two is subtle, yet sublime. The difference? The ink has already dried on the pages of the literary work of art. The ink is still drying on the pages of the annals of NBA history. Already written. Awaiting the drying breaths of air to be drawn and blown from the lips of players on teams that were already written.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT: A Voice In Support of A Philosphy

There are no ethics in the NFL, and why should there be?

Every NFL team, from the players to the coaching staff to the front office has an obligation to win. At all costs.

The Seattle Seahawks and their head coach Pete Carroll have recently come under fire, stemming from their decision to fake a punt with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter of a game in which they led by three touchdowns. The game, which was played last Thursday night, saw the Seahawks ultimately complete their rout of the Los Angeles Rams 24-3, as the outcome was never in question.

Another Thursday Night Football game, another blowout.

At first, there was consideration from this scribe that this maneuver may have seemed a trite bush-league. I mean come on, faking a punt up 21 points! It even sounds funny.* However, "upon further review" it dawned that this is nothing new. More importantly, it may even be something to be lauded, if not appreciated.

A few seasons ago, 2007 to be exact, during their undefeated, record-setting, record-breaking run to the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots under the stewardship of their incomparable head coach Bill Belichick, continually and routinely, almost as if in their sleep, ran the score up on their opponent from week to week. Some of the outcomes were closer than others. The majority being blow-outs on the scoreboard, but the message was clear: This is a professional league. Players get paid to perform. ALL. THE. TIME. There is never a moment to take a play off. There are only so many possessions and plays within those possessions to be treasured with the utmost respect. For at any time, the game, and the momentum it totes so carefully, can shift.

There have been games in which teams trailing by three touchdowns have overcome such a deficit. The instances are many, albeit far and few between, to provide evidence of such, but rest assured it does occur. Opposing teams have scored three touchdowns in less than two minutes as well; similar to what took place between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers a month ago when both teams traded back-to-back-to back touchdowns, the Cowboys being the one to fall on the right side of the coin in that affair. So the game can change, and the tempo and momentum can increase at any point in time in a game, and it is there which lies the reason as to why teams should never take their foot of the gas, take their foot off the throat, take their foot out the...well, you get the point. So for Carroll to take the friendlier (read: less aggressive) approach with about five minutes left in the game it would be the football equivalent of sacrilege. The football gods are watching. Always watching.

There are various other instances where the supposedly improbable suddenly became probable. This is why coaches like Belichick and Carroll (who themselves are from the Bill Parcells School of Coaching) do what they do. They are not putting their destiny and fate in the hands of anyone else but their own. They get paid to win, not to make sure that the other team is feeling good about themselves.

Yes ethics and morals do matter...in all walks of life. Yet, as is the case with most things, there is a time and a place for everything. The football field is not one of them.


* Not that it was funny, but the punter, Jon Ryan, who faked the punt, after a gain of 26 yards on the play was concussed on the ensuing hit. Imagine that. You fake a punt up 21 points and get your punter knocked out. It provided a measure of hilarity to the whole situation. For the Los Angeles Rams it provided a measure of retribution to the fake.

Monday, December 5, 2016

QUICKCAP: Sacramento Kings vs New York Knicks (12/5/16)

The New York Knicks, with balanced scoring from their back-court and front-court, beat the Sacramento Kings 106-98 Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, and have now won eight of the last ten games they have played in front of the hometown crown. They also notched their third victory in a row, and now stand with a record of 11-9 after the first 20 games of the season.

The Knicks, with leads of 21 points in the first half, and 20 points at the beginning of the third quarter, were able to stave off several runs by the Kings, including a 16-0 run in the same quarter, and never relinquished those leads. The Kings were able to close within a point on several possessions, but were never able to tie the game or take the lead after the Knicks were able to establish control of the game from the second quarter until the final buzzer.

Timely baskets by the guards Derrick Rose (20 points) and Brandon Jennings (19 points), as well as Carmelo Anthony (20 points ) and Kristaps Porzingis (15 points), ultimately made the Kings' runs come up short. Although they were threatened at various stages of the game the Knicks never panicked and composed themselves productively on the possessions they needed most; defensively as well.

This game had the makeup of a blowout due to those 21 and 20 point advantages, and although the Kings made their run, as most NBA teams do, they never quite could get out of the hole that they dug for themselves. Sound familiar? Usually this is the Knicks alibi and prescription for heartbreaking losses of this type. In seasons past, and even at times this year, it usually is the Knicks playing the role of the Kings, falling behind early, only to make a run late, but never quite able to get over the hump themselves. Leading to many a frustrating night, for Knicks fans, and players alike.

Thankfully this is a new season and thankfully these are new Knicks. Going into this season, with so many unfamiliar faces added to the roster, it was the sentiment of this scribe that we (as well as the Knicks themselves) would begin to have an idea of this team's identity after about twenty games or so. And, after twenty games, it's safe to say that these Knicks are destined to be much better than their 15 and 30 win counterparts from the last two seasons.

These Knicks should most certainly win 45 games, and could possibly win 50 or better. 15 win improments in 2 to 3 season increments is certainly not astonishing, although it is nothing to blink at, but the notion that these Knicks could be embarking upon something of a special journey, gives rise to the sentiment that they may indeed be worthy of doing some real damage this season.

[Editor's Note: This piece originally was intended to appear during the New York Knicks 2016-2017 campaign.]