Lebron James: A Ring for the King, his rise to greatness

On Thursday night the self-appointed Lebron ‘King’ James finally gained his crown by leading the Miami Heat to their second NBA Championship. Since gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated hailed as the ‘The Chosen One’ as only a sophomore in high school everyone witnessed the growing pains of a phenom striving to fulfill his promise.Thousands filled college arenas as Lebron James and his high school team traveled the country playing on national television facing traditional high school powers such as Oak Hill Academy (VA) and Germantown Academy (PA).

Despite possessing the size of Goliath and the speed of gazelle the expectations that awaited him once he shook NBA Commissioner David Stern’s hand as the first pick in the 2007 NBA Draft was far too much for his strong broad shoulders to bare alone. At the young age of 19 his network was valued at over 125 million dollars and his giant-like appearance and superior play on the court made pundits forget that he was still only a young teenage boy.

His seamless transition to the NBA instantly made fans and pundits increase their expectation due to his  freakish size and dominance on the court. As his game continued to expand the Cleveland Cavaliers record began to improve. The expectations for Lebron grew immensely after leading his hometown Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in only his third year. These heightened expectations of a cap strapped franchise unable to lure other star players to play in Cleveland made winning a title for his hometown appear nearly impossible.

Once praised and hailed for his abilities on the court the criticism that once began only as whispers grew louder with each missed jumper or due to his inability to single-handedly lead his undermanned Cavalier franchise over the Boston Celtics which included 3 first ballot Hall of Famers: Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett.

We watched as this young man struggled to carry a franchise on his shoulders in the public eye while also experiencing the same growing pains common for young adults struggling to find their identity and place in the world. This lapse in judgment manifested itself in his now infamous Decision Special where  he announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach.

After his announcement the self-appointed King immediately became villainized. He watched in shock as fans burned his jersey in the same streets where he grew up. Dumbfounded as the owner of the Cavaliers publicly criticized and questioned his leadership, selling his memorabilia for 17.41 which was the year that Revolutionary War Traitor Benedict Arnold was born.

Lebron played last year with a chip on his shoulder, full of bitterness for the city who hated him and anger at the thousands who no longer embraced him but greeted him with boos and harsh words. However, the hardships of last year and an abysmal performance against the Dallas Mavericks in his second NBA Finals causing humility which fostered a fire that helped him rediscover his love for the game he once only played for himself and not for the approval of others.

This season we bared witness to a player tortured by the mistakes from his past take steps toward reaching his full potential. In route to collecting his third MVP award Lebron became the leader that few thought he would be capable of attaining. Effectively blending his superior athleticism with a high basketball IQ often barking out the offensive sets of the opposition before they had even reached half court.

The young high school phenom has grown before our eyes, and like the Nike commercial we have all witnessed greatness grow before our eyes. Congratulations Lebron James on winning your first NBA championship, everyone can not wait to see what you will do for an encore.

Stay tuned… I know I will. – A. Denmark (@eatdrnkslpsprtz)

USA Basketball: After a long NBA season, who passes? who plays? #olympics2012

As fans watched the playoff games pulling for their favorite team, sitting court side next to celebrities such as Lil Wayne (@liltunechi) in Miami, Jack Nicholson (@J_J_Nicholson) in Los Angeles, and Spike Lee (@Spike Lee) in New York was Chairman of USA Basketball Mike Colangelo who could have cared less about the highlight dunks or the final score once the buzzer sounded.

Although Mike Colangelo is a basketball purist and self-admitted fan his reasoning for attending games is to NOT watch a team but to BUILD a team who will win gold in the London Olympics. At the start of  the NBA season there were several players who appeared to be locks to suit up for TEAM USA in the summer, but after NBA season filled with injuries and season ending surgeries the selection process is now riddled with uncertainty.

Due to injuries, father time, and late season fatigue the following players are likely to pass on playing in the Olympics:

  • Kobe Bryant – Reports indicate that he is in Germany receiving treatment on his right knee and also in the process of reconciling with his wife. It is possible ALTHOUGH UNLIKELY that the Black Mamba will rest to gear up for another run at NBA Title.
  • Derrick Rose – After tearing his ACL in the first round of the playoffs, he is done for entire season

  • Dwayne Wade
    – Despite his play in the postseason it obvious that ‘Flash’ is playing on bad knee This aging star will certainly need some time to rest to get back to full health
  • Dwight Howard – After having surgery on his back to repair a herniated disk Superman will need the use the summer to recover from offseason surgery

The players listed above were locks to log major minutes for TEAM USA in London and it is still possible that several players will take a rain check choosing to rest instead of risking injury and time away from their family. Despite the absence of several prominent NBA stars I believe that Mike Colangelo will be able to build a formidable team that will win gold. But the question is who will be on that team? And will the players accept their role? Here is my projection: (starters *)

PG: C. Paul / *D. Williams / R. Rondo  SG: *K. Bryant / J. Harden

SF: *L. James  *K. Durant / C. Anthony PF: K. Love / L. Aldridge C: *T. Chandler

At season’s end the real questions begin, the opportunity to represent your country is an honor no one should ever take lightly.However, at the end of the day the ultimate question each of these players will have to ask is: Where does your allegiance lie – Your Country? Your Franchise? or Yourself and family? Stay tuned…I know I will – A. Denmark(@eatdrnkslpsprtz)


NBA Finals Primer: Kevin Durant v. Lebron James, 2 Phenoms, 1 Ring #nbafinals2012

It is rare that two players ranked at the top of their high school recruiting classes have been able to fulfill their promise and potential by becoming stars in the NBA. As early as middle school Lebron James and Kevin Durant had been projected through summer AAU and shoe sponsors as the future of the NBA destined to shake the hand of David Stern and be lottery selections in the NBA Draft.

Despite Lebron James and Kevin Durant’s superior NBA talent, their journey to the NBA Finals has been remarkably different. After graduating from high school Lebron bypassed college and went straight to the NBA signing a $100 million deal with Nike immediately becoming the face of his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Pundits and fans bared witness to Lebron James’ bout of immaturity and the endless demands of his entourage who wanted luxury suites and seats on the franchise’s private jet.

The self anointed ‘King’ James quickly outgrew his hometown of Akron, Ohio and in the now infamous ‘Decision Special with Jim Gray’ where he decided to take his talent and his ever-growing ego to South Beach. Accompanied by every increasing scrutiny Lebron has improved each year refining his post game and becoming one of the best on ball defenders in the entire league.

Unlike his predecessor Kevin Durant, a phenom no less decided to attend college and despite his nightly dominant performances for the Texas Longhorns his humble demeanor and clutch performances made him an instant fan favorite. Devoid of an entourage the ‘Humble One’ surrounded himself with his family with his mother always sitting court-side.

Possessing the same game and charm of fellow Baltimore/DC natives Michael Beasley and Carmelo Anthony his smile and demeanor enticed the then Seattle Supersonics to draft him second in the 2007 NBA Draft to become the face of their franchise. Despite the franchise moving to OKC and experiencing two consecutive losing seasons,  Kevin Durant along with his fellow young stars Russell Westbrook and Jame Harden served as a reminder to their fans of greater days ahead.

Despite both of these phenoms taking different routes to greatness NBA fans will be treated to championship series to remember.How each player responds to the pressure will impact their legacy and determine how each will be remembered once their careers have come to an end. The potential for future duels for NBA Championships like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson appears likely due to the youthful talent of both of their franchises and aging stars and gaping holes on other teams.

Throughout the playoffs the officiating has been heavily scrutinized by pundits and even by NBA Commissioner, David Stern. Although there will a number of missed calls and failed flop attempts by Mario Chalmers and James Harden, I am hopeful that at the end of the day the NBA’s two biggest stars will determine who wins their first NBA Championship, and not the MEN IN BLACK….AND WHITE. Stay tuned.. I know I will – A. Denmark (@eatdrnkslpsprtz).

Heat wins Games 6: No Ring No Glory, the pressure of being King James

Last night everyone bared witness to one of the greatest playoff performances by 2-time MVP, Lebron James. His dominance on both sides of the ball reminded many of the ability he possess to be one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game. Although there will be many pundits who will question his ‘clutch gene’ his play last night officially anointed him as the new leader of the Miami Heat and relegated Dwayne Wade to sidekick status.

For the first time in his career Lebron appeared focused on the task at hand, undeterred by fatigue and the trash talk by his opposition. Throughout the night Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers changed his defensive sets and on guard defenders to no avail: Paul Pierce’s sprained knee made him a step to slow, Michael Pietrus could not resist his head fakes, and Brandon Bass was unable to stay in front of this focused freight train whose quest for a Game 7 in South Beach appearing inevitable.

In the past Lebron has been criticized for being immature and afraid of the big moment, but last night’s performance left little doubt as to what he can accomplished when he is zoned in on the task at hand. However, with Game 7 on the horizon the need for him to repeat this performance may be necessary for the Heat to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals to face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

On his broad shoulders Lebron is not only caring his on legacy but the future of the Heat franchise as well. If the Heat lose tomorrow to the Celtics, wholesale changes are on the horizon and the future of the Big Three will certainly be in doubt. However, if the Heat reach the NBA Finals and hoist the Dave O’Brien Trophy at season’s end, all will be forgotten and talks of fulfilling the promise of multiple championships will reverberate from the lips of fans and pundits everywhere.

If Lebron thought he was under pressure last night, that pressure has just been multiplied by ten for the South Beach Showdown. How he responds to this pressure will  cause a ripple effect that will impact every franchise in the NBA. Stay tuned… I know I will – A. Denmark (@eatdrnkslpsprtz)

Heat Lose to Celtics: Win or Lose, Coach Spoelstra days are numbered

It was only two summers ago the Miami Heat fans had high hopes of decorating their arena with ‘not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4 (well you get the point) NBA championship banners. Despite the highlight dunks and spectacular regular season records the Heat have failed to meet expectation, losing to the Dallas Mavericks in last year’s NBA Finals and being on the brink of elimination this year to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Miami Heat President, Pat Riley was praised for his ability to assemble such a talented collection of NBA All-Stars, all in their prime in his Lebron James & Chris Bosh coup d’état. However, Riley failed to add the most essential element needed to lead a team to a NBA Championship, a first class head coach.

Since Pat Riley won his first NBA Championship with the showtime Lakers in 1981 every NBA franchise that has won a title has been led by a coach who had been inducted into the Hall-of Fame or may be destined for future consideration such as Coach Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics.

One would have assumed that Riley would know the importance of having a first-class coach due to his own extensive head coaching experience as well his failed Stan van Gundy experiment which required Riley to come out of retirement to lead the Heat to their only NBA title in 2006. After stepping down Riley appointed a little known Erik Spoelstra to be his heir apparent, former team video coordinator who had no previous head coaching experience.

Despite amassing an impressive regular season record, two Eastern Conference Finals, and one NBA Finals appearance it has become glaringly obvious that Erik Spoelstra days in South Beach are numbered because he is in way in over his head. He has been totally outclassed by his opposition Doc Rivers, often left speechless and unable to provide a reason for his poor play calling and dismal coaching decisions like: Where was Bosh in the 2nd half of Game 5? What was Chalmers doing in the final seconds of Game 4?

Tomorrow several pundits will place the blame on the Heat players for their ineffective showing on their home floor, however Pat Riley is also deserving of blame as well. Riley broke the bank to bring Chris Bosh and Lebron James to South Beach but resorted to having a bargain price head coach lead them.

Horse trainers just don’t let anyone ride their thoroughbreds, only the best are reserved that honor. For the Heat faithful it is unfortunate that Riley did not attempt to do the same when assembling this Heat team which is now on the brink of elimination.

If the Heat fail to win a championship for the second year there will be wholesale changes to the Heat franchise. I believe that the return of Pat Riley to the coaching bench is imminent, and its only fair that he lead the team that he helped to construct. Stay tuned… – A. Denmark (@eatdrnkslpsprtz)

The Quest to Win a NBA Championship: Assessing the NBA Final 4

In the last 48 hours fans have witnessed basketball being played at its best: excellent guard play, masterful defensive execution, highlight worthy dunks, and superb second half coaching adjustments. Each day this week fans have seen the NBAs brightest stars as well as a glimpse at the stars to come with the NBA Draft Lottery being televised.

Every playoff game promo will include highlights of the franchises star player and at the end of the game one of these promising stars will get the interview or make front page headlines for their play on the court and their decorum during the interview. However, despite the fan fare, banners and endorsements, stars alone do not guarantee you a championship.

During the Bulls Dynasty when Michael Jordan ‘led’ the Bulls to six championships cementing his place as the greatest player of all time. However, if it was not for the clutch shooting of John Paxson in the 1993 NBA Finals it  is possible that league MVP Charles Barkley may have won a NBA Championship. Or again in the 1997 NBA Finals when Steve Kerr hit the game winning shot in Game 6 to clinch another NBA Championship for the Chicago Bulls.

The contributions by role players is a key ingredient to winning an NBA Championship, without their contribution hoisting the trophy at the end of the season is not possible.

In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami’s bench played a major role in the Heat defeating Celtics, offsetting the spectacular performance by Rajon Rondo (44 pts 10 asst 8 reb). Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem have played extremely well during the playoffs, making defensive stops and hitting jumpers in the clutch. In all honesty, if it was not for the play of their bench, Miami may have lost Game 2 due to Dwayne Wade and Lebron James missing free throws that would have ended the game during regulation.

In Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the bench of the OKC Thunder finally showed some life, and spearheaded their victory over the Spurs who appeared to be shell-shocked by the pace and play of the Thunder bench. Although Russell Westbrook fashion cents will be front page headlines, the grit of Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins was infectious, their effort on the court made the rest of the team play harder. Not known for their defense, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook fed off of the play of their two best defensive players and made the Spurs winning streak a thing of the past.

With two games on the horizon it will be interesting to see how each team adjusts and observe how much home court will play a role in deciding who wins the next game. Three factors will ultimately determine the outcome of the upcoming cames and the eventual NBA champion:

  1. How the upcoming games are officiated
  2. Which role player will develop the clutch gene
  3. What second half adjustments will the coach make to give his team an edge

There are times when you learn from losing and I believe the Spurs got a well-needed reality check. I still believe the Spurs will beat the Thunder in six games and face the Miami Heat in the NBA Championship. If Lebron wants to win his first championship he will have to beat the team who swept him in his first NBA Finals Appearance. Stay tuned, I know I will – A. Denmark (@eatdrnkslpsprtz)