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Where the 15 Minutes of Fame Never End
For all of the talent on Miami’s roster, there seems to be one key element lacking that all championship caliber teams have possessed, especially those with the hardware to prove their basketball mettle: maturity. Other than LeBron, is there anybody in the NBA with a more maddening combination of skill and self-congradulatory hubris? It has been said that ‘pride goeth before the fall’. Miami’s post season success and eventual decline is a clear illustration of snobbery indeed going before the proverbial stumble.
It all started with the overblown pageantry that was the introduction of Miami’s ‘Other Three’ (Thanks to Mike Gorman of Celtic’s play-by-play fame for that moniker) to the rest of the basketball universe. Upon a strobe-lit, smoking stage in American Airlines Arena in Miami stood LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, whooping and gesticulaing wildly while bass heavy music pulsated all around them, as if they had just won the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy itself. The two new acquisitions and the superstar mainstay crouched to audience-member-level and ran up and down the stage’s promontory high-fiving the outstretched hands of a frenzied crowd, all three smiling and no doubt feeling great about all of the attention and confetti being rained earthward upon them.
This smoke-show came well after Jame’s much lambasted “Decision”, a 75 minute exposition on unchecked arrogance that everybody should have expected from the famously vainglorious James, who brought not just his considerable talents, but horrible attitude to South Beach. Predicting prematurely that the newly helmed Miami heat would win ‘not one, not two, not three, not four’ titles seemed a tad presumptous at the time, but now, with Dallas hoisting the trophy skyward surrounded by quickly emptying seats at the other American Airlines Arena, that proclimation seems outright ridiculous.
Post-game, during the well-earned Dallas victory celebration, key members of the Heat’s starting five could be seen walking through the exits and into their locker room, the gloom and defeat hanging over their heads so palpable one would expect to see storm clouds pouring black rain upon the broad beaten shoulders of Miami’s Other Three. Chris Bosh could be seen openly weeping, a pitiful sight for any man, never mind one pushing seven feet and 240 lbs, while his teammates attempted to block the display of raw emotion by positioning their bodies in front of the camera. Perhaps Bosh had reason for the sudden outpouring of emotion. This, after all, was Chris’s first trip to the Finals after languishing for years in the cold unforgiving suburbs of Toronto, where he was on a statistical treadmill: putting up great numbers but while doing so achieving nothing. A couple of trips to the the playoffs and subsequent early exits aside, his tenure in the great white north was not a successful bid. Quite believeably, though, throughout the unmitigated bombast of the much-villified Heat’s up and down season, Bosh was able to remain the most humble of the new acquisitions. Clearly he was elated to join such illustrious basketball talent as James and Wade, but was mellow enough to escape entrapment within the pompous web LeBron had singlehandedly spun. Of the Other Three, Bosh was the one player not effected by Jame’s immaturity, whether it be on of off the court. Wade, on the other hand, has not been so lucky.
Playing alongside LeBron James for 90 or so games can definitely bring about some unwanted psychological changes in the way one precieves the game of basketball. It is clear that Wade’s game has suffered the most after hopping aboard LeBron’s self-important locomotive as it continues to barrel full speed ahread into the uncharted (for James, at least) municipality of I-Told-You-So. With LebBron attempting to dominate the last few minutes of a close game that’s to be decided by 5 points of less, otherwise known as crunch time, Wade’s abilities as a closer continue to gather rust. Once possessing supreme basketball acumen in clutch situations, Wade finds himself repeatedly defering to James in situations where he alone should have the ball. Jame’s size and speed allows him to do whatever it is that pleases him when the ball is his, as does a defender’s unwillingess to get in his way. He could open up several successful travel agencies with all of the steps he takes on the way to the basket. He should be the proprietor of multiple awards for best actor in a television drama series with all of the incredulous looks he shoots at referees after what he believes is a questionable call. Wade seems to be absorbing this infantile behavior, because he too is now asking for the foul on every drive, focusing on running his mouth at a ref instead of running back and playing the ruthless defense for which he’s been known. Wade possesed (and maybe, just maybe, still does) a dagger midrange jumper and superhuman lateral quickness, two attributes he has currenly given up on using by passing the ball to someone who dreams of one day acquiring a skill set like Wade’s. Wade has proven to be a reliable first option during nailbiters, and was almost certainly the exclusive go-to guy when his singular brilliance was needed pre-LeBron.
One might recall a Finals series in 2006 when Wade did his best Michael Jordan impression, dominating non-stop on both ends of the floor for three games to win the title, utilizing everything in his arsenal to overtake a good Mavericks team. It is clear that Wade has the better offensive skill set, yet repeatedly gives up great open looks or opportunities to exploit a weak defender and drive to the basket to draw a foul so LeBron can display a horrendous line-drive midrange jumper that is more Randy Johnson than Michael Jordan. During the 2011 Finals James morphed into a 6′-8” 250 pound point guard, shedding his aggresive exoskeleton, opting to pass first and ask questions later instead of lowering his shoulder like a linebacker and using his body as a human battering ram to bludgeon opponents on his way to an easy foul. This should be alarming to Heat fans but no surprise to outside observers of the game. James is aware of his inability to close a game, almost too aware, and what is precieved and praised as unerring unselfishness to everybody else is actually Jame’s way of slyly covering up the fact that he cannot, for the life of him, drive the final nail into the coffin. Adopting a pass first mentality, in LeBron’s case, is a testament to his monumental failure as a model for humility. In any other case (see Magic Johnson, John Stockton, or Isiah Thomas) deciding to make the pass first rather than take the shot would be seen as an admirable quality in a player. In LeBron’s case, it allows him to escape the media’s ire. If LeBron makes a great pass on a game winning play, the praise is never heaped upon the individual lucky enough to make the shot, but instead given to ‘Bron himself, more than happy to lap up the accolades. If the great pass is made and the shot doesn’t fall, it isn’t James’ questionable desicion-making being scrutinized, but the shooter’s inability to make the shot. The Finals-watching nation has seen this happen on more than one occasion during muliple games, and sometimes, during the same game.
The Heat hoped to follow in the Celtic’s footsteps by copying their blueprint for a championship schematic-by-schematic. It worked for the Celtics thanks to instant and sustainable chemistry that saw all three players shed both ego and elements of their respective games to conglomerate into a basketball juggernaut. The Heat’s insta-team failed because ego-shedding and game re-shaping has not happened yet. Perhaps it will, in time, but until someone sticks a hat pin into the hot-air baloon that is LeBron’s gargantuan ego, the team will continue to suffer, as will Miami’s hope of winning a title.
Today’s spotlight in obscurity falls upon the chosen few players in NBA history whose first and last names begin with the same letter. As a Celtics fan, the first and obvious name rendered from my memory is Rajon Rondo, neither obscure nor mediocre. But then, among the NBA’s active players, you have Alexis Ajinca, Brandon Bass, Jared Jefferies, Mike Miller, Patrick Patterson, Samardo Samuels, Tyrus Thomas, James Johnson, and Joe Johnson, a veritable who’s-who of the “All Alliterative NBA Team.” Thanks to NBA.com’s active player list, I was able to come up with these ten or so players with relative ease.
Pondering players from the bygone era was a bit more difficult, and I could only come up with a little less than a handful. The two I could think of off the top of my head, being on the Rockets kick that I am, are Lewis Lloyd and Robert Reid, mediocre all. Lewis and Reid played on the same Rockets squad together during the 1985-86 season and, after a freak Ralph Sampson tip in at the buzzer of game five of the Western Conference Finals that deprived the basketball nation of yet another Celtics-Lakers match-up, were handily beaten by the Celtics in six games. This was largely due to continual defensive lapses by every member of the Rockets with the exception of Hakeem Olajuwon, who altered the basketball skyline during those six games by blocking shots left and right, including tying Bill Walton for an NBA Finals record 8 blocks in game 4.
Coincidentally, Olajuwon would spend some time guarding Walton, who was coming off the bench as the Celtic’s 6th man supreme as well as a Sixth Man of the Year Award. Unfortunately Olajuwon’s individual brilliance was overshadowed by unending offensive and defensive missteps by the other Rockets starters. Let’s engage in some statistical analysis that highlights the obvious mediocrity of both Lewis Lloyd and Robert Reid, two players whose only redeeming factor is the fact that their names are alliterative and easy to remember if one is ever called upon to exhibit their knowledge of the mid 80’s Houston Rockets.
Lewis Lloyd was drafted early in the fourth round (7th pick, 76th overall) directly out of Overbrook High School in Philidelphia, which primed him for an undistinguished career highlighted by that brief Finals run. Perhaps most the most notable event in Lewis’s career happened late in 1986 when he, alongside Rockets teammate Mitchell Wiggins, tested positive for cocaine and was suspended immediately from the league for 2 1/2 years. Despite playing most of his career with the Rockets, the organization felt the coke-addled Lloyd was no longer a good fit for their team, who were now wisely building around the talented center Hakeem Olajuwon.
Post suspension, Lloyd played a whopping two games for the Philadelphia 76ers, and finally another 30 for the Rockets, not starting a single game for either team in the 1989-1990 season. Lloyd, between 1981 and 1990, posted career averages of 13.2 points per game on a respectable 52% field goal percentage while grabbing 3.1 rerbounds and handing out 2.9 assists. He scored an underwhelming 5,130 career points, or approximately 33,000 less than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Lloyd made the playoffs only twice with the Rockets, though the appearances did come back to back, in the 84-85 and 85-86 season. Lloyd’s playoff averages are again underwhelming: 14.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 4.4 assists per game in 25 total playoff games in two years. Let’s talk now about Robert Reid, another giant of alliterative sports nomenclature.
Reid was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 1977 in the second round (18th pick, 40th overall), and he would remain in a Rockets uniform for 10 years, reaching the finals twice in a five year span, being beaten both times by the aforementioned Celtics. In thirteen seasons Reid reached the playoffs nine times, but alas, his post season glory was cut short with the exception of the 80-81 and 85-86 seasons, the only playoff appearances in which he played twenty or more post season games. In fifteen seasons, Robert Reid scored 10,448 career points while shooting a modest 45% from the floor and 73% from the free throw line.
Despite his height and athleticism, he averaged just under five rebounds in 919 career games, of which he started only 284. Despite their statistical differences, both Lewis Lloyd and Robert Reid hold a number of dubious mutual distinctions. Both have first and last names that start with the same letter, have both been beaten by Larry Bird (Robert Reid having been ousted twice from the Finals by Bird), have both been Houston Rockets, and have both washed down the cruel bitter pill of mediocre obscurity that has tainted their careers inexorably and prevented any kind of meteoric rise to NBA stardom. Robert and Lewis, though, can both rest easier knowing that in some far-flung microcosmic corner of the internet world, their obscurity is not only appreciated, but celebrated.
Dan Marcin is a basketball columnist for Obscure Athletes
I’m sure I speak for the majority of NBA fans when I profess my underwhelmed surprise at Kevin McHale being selected as
the new coach of the Houston Rockets. As good a player as McHale was during his playing days with the Boston Celtics, he doesn’t exactly bring an Auerbach-like coaching resume to an already mediocre team. By signing a three year deal, he dooms this Rockets franchise and its once passionate fanbase (prone to such creative proclivities as rewording a billboard ‘Akeem, I saw, I conquered’ during the 1986 finals) to about a thousand days of stunningly mediocre basketball.
In his Celtics days, McHale had a definite player profile. He was your prototypical finesse power forward, electing to use sly post moves to out manuever an opponent and drop the ball in the bucket with a nifty up an under while the defender went looking for his PF Flyers, rather than relying on raw aggression and athleticism to overpower and punish an opponent above the rim. His coaching profile, however, was decidedly undefined. He coached the Minnesota Timberwolves on two separate occasions, coaching a total of 94 games and missing the playoffs both times. During the 2004-2005 NBA season he replaced Flip Saunders ( who had gone 25-26 when McHale superseded him) and, orchestrating the last 31 games, amassed a 19-12 record, during which he found himself in the middle of a five game winning streak that was Windexed by a 107-98 Pheonix Suns victory on April 1st, 2005.
His second stint was, by all accounts, as exhaustively underwhelming as his fist. With the 2008-2009 season already underway, McHale was brought in again to breath some life into the stagnant Timberwolves, who, under then coach Randy Whittman had started out a putrid 4-15. Coach McHale took proverbial clipboard in hand and thundered to a resoundingly awful 20-43 record, helping the hapless ‘Wolves rank near last in the ratings both offensively (24th) and defensively (25th). Did the Rockets’ basketball executives even manage a glimpse at one of many easily accessible websites that contain this information to review his coaching record? What about this dreadful resume screams, “Hire me!”? Does the Houston staff expect Coach McHale to be the architect of a miraculous turnaround in fortune for the Rockets? I’m going to throw a guess out there and assume that the answer to all three of these questions is a resounding ‘no’. It looks like three years of Kevin McHale-helmed Houston Rockets will be more Challenger than Skylab 2.