Tag Archives: LeBron James

How Ya Like Me Now: Former Sixer Andre Iguodala Basks in the Glow of a Championship

18 Jun
NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala takes questions from reporters after the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games for the NBA crown.  Photo by New York Daily News.com

NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala takes questions from reporters after the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games for the NBA crown. Photo by New York Daily News.com

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—When Andre Iguodala was traded to the Denver Nuggets in 2012 as a part of the four-way deal that landed the 76ers Andrew Bynum, most Philly fans said good riddance.

After all, the Sixers were getting a legitimate impact center in Bynum and Iguodala never really panned out as a No. 1 scoring option. At the time, the 76ers and their fans were so giddy about Bynum that they threw him a big party at the National Constitution Center. It was like Andre-who?

It’s funny how things turned out.

Bynum, a man with bum knees, never played a minute in a Sixers uniform. Iguodala, who got traded to the Golden State Warriors a year later, ended up having the last laugh.

On Tuesday night, there was Iguodala holding two trophies—the NBA Finals trophy and the Bill Russell Finals MVP Trophy. The guy the Sixers sent packing a few years ago is now on top of the world with Golden State while his old team has struggled to put out reputable starting five on a nightly basis.

Oddly enough, Iguodala said it was his time with the Sixers prepared for him for his championship run with the Warriors.

“I think all those years and going through everything I went through, the good and the bad, can prepare you for this moment.  Being in Philly I had some teams‑‑ we were a very close group.  I think we maximized our talent,” Iguodala said. “I’ve been on teams that we’ve been close knit and it helped us just getting to the playoffs because we weren’t the most talented, but we got there because we played so hard together.”

What makes this Finals MVP award special for Iguodala is that he didn’t have to be the top scorer for his team. That’s Stephen Curry’s job to put the offense on his shoulder and he certainly did that, especially in the fourth quarter of the Warriors last three wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the title.

Iguodala had the most important job in this series—slow down Cleveland’s LeBron James. He held James to 38. 1 percent shooting after Game 3. No, Iguodala didn’t complete shutdown James, who was having an MVP series, but he kept him from having one for the ages.

“LeBron doesn’t have any weaknesses, or he doesn’t have a glaring weakness,” Iguodala said. “ So you’ve got to pick up on the smaller things to try to make him uncomfortable.  Like knowing which side he likes to shoot threes off the dribble, which side he likes to drive.  One side he’ll drive left more often, and the other side he’ll drive right more often.”

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he admired Iguodala’s willingness to contribute as the sixth man was important to Golden State’s run to the NBA title.

“You could make an argument that it could have gone to Steph, it could have gone to LeBron,” Kerr said.  “But for us, it’s really fitting that the award went to Andre because he sacrificed his starting role from the first game of the season.

“He had never come off the bench once in his entire career, and he sacrificed that job to make Harrison better, to make our bench better, and that set the tone for our whole season.  An All‑Star, an Olympian saying, okay, I’ll come off the bench.”

Iquodala also came up with some big three-point buckets in both Game 5 and Game 6 of the series that halted the Cavaliers attempt to comeback in the game. In the series finale, Iguodala scored 25 points, pulled down five rebounds and added five assists. For the series, Iguodala averaged 16 points per game.

Not bad for a guy who was supposedly a 100-1 shot to win the Finals MVP over 2015 league MVP Curry and a four-time MVP in James.

Iguodala is proof that you don’t have to be the leading scorer or the star to be valuable to your team. Playing your role-whether you are a defensive stopper, scorer off the bench, or a rebounder like Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman—is just as important to your team’s success as being the superstar.

Curry, whose scoring led the Warriors to the NBA’s best record, said he definitely appreciated Iguodala’s efforts.

“Obviously he deserved that Finals MVP for the way he impacted the game on both ends and was always ready,” Curry said. “Andre stepped up to that challenge every single night and a huge reason why we’re celebrating right now.”

 

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23 /23 Hype-sight: Comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan Has Become a Tired Conversation

4 Jun
NBA fans enjoy comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan.

NBA fans enjoy comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

As the 2015 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors continues this weekend, conversations at a sports bars, man caves and your local sports talk station will undoubtedly turn to the subject of LeBron James, his place among the NBA’s greats, and whether or not a series loss from the Cavaliers changes things.

But there’s one name that I’m tired of hearing as a part of that discussion.

Michael Jordan.

Jordan vs. LeBron is one of those discussions that I try to avoid because it’s one that really makes no sense. It often disintegrates into a bizarre intergenerational fight between two cults of personality that has nothing to do with basketball.

Because James was seen as the “NBA’s Golden Child, “The Chosen One, the ”Messiah” or the “Son of Basketball” and a bunch of other goofy names when he came to the NBA, Jordan partisans show James no love despite his numerous accomplishments. To suggest that James’s name should be spoken in the same breath with their basketball immortal is heresy to them.

For example, Jordan partisans are always quick to point out that because James has only two rings to Jordan’s six, he will never be as great. Of course, Jordan didn’t play all five positions on the court to get those rings, but that logic always seems to get lost in these discussions.

(Now I could point out that if greatness is measured by NBA Championship rings, Jordan needs to bow down at the feet of Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell. Russell led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA titles, something that neither James nor Jordan could ever accomplish. But did I mention that most of the folks having this particular argument have any knowledge of basketball history, and thus have never heard of Bill Russell?)

I was just on Facebook and someone posted a stat that compared Jordan and James scoring averages after the first 141 playoff games in their careers. Jordan had the better scoring average which reassured his followers.

Then someone posted Jordan’s and James record in the NBA Finals—which was …you guessed it advantage Jordan. Of course, everything I’m saying I’ve seen LBJ parishioners do the same thing with their man coming out on top.

To be honest, I don’t care either way. But the comparisons between the two are totally and utterly ridiculous, especially considering that they play different positions and have their own unique qualities that make them great players.

Jordan was a great clutch scorer who made his teammates better and played defense. James is a versatile player who can score, rebound and share the ball. He’s taken three different teams to the NBA Finals and has made other guys around him even better by his leadership and will to win.

Both James and Jordan were the best of their time.

So do me a favor okay?

Let’s keep this in perspective. We got to enjoy the ups and downs of Michael Jordan’s career and the championship years, not-so-championship years and everything in between.

How about letting the LeBron James Era unfold the same way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LeBron James and his Young Cavs Hope to Bring Home a Championship to Cleveland

30 May
LeBron James celebrates with his teammates after the Cavaliers punched their ticket to the NBA Finals.

LeBron James celebrates with his teammates after the Cavaliers punched their ticket to the NBA Finals.

Can the Prodigal Son Bring Home an Title to a City That Hasn’t Experienced a Pro Title in 51 Years

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

For the first time in a long time, I’m actually looking forward to the NBA Finals.

In fact, I believe that the series has the potential to be an instant classic.

The series between the Cleveland Cavaliers, champions of the Eastern Conference and the Golden State Warriors, the Western Conference Champions, will feature two Most Valuable Players—Cavaliers superstar LeBron James and Stephan Curry, winner of this year’s MVP award—that have the ability to put their teams on their backs.

But while there will certainly be a lot of overarching storylines emerging from this potential series, the one that will surely stand out is actually based on something that happened last summer: LeBron James’s Return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Or put another way, Will the return of the prodigal son lead to Cleveland’s first championship parade in 51 years?

Last summer, with much of the fanfare that went with his departure, James decided to return to his hometown Cavaliers. Because of this, a town that was so angry when he left that they burned his jersey and an owner in Dan Gilbert who is probably still trying to digest the prodigious amounts of crow he had to eat in order to get him back, found themselves having to cheer for James again.

To his credit, James didn’t take the nonsense coming out of his hometown personally upon his return.

“It’s a hardworking city and if you work hard, they work hard for you,” James said. “They give everything back. … We’re just trying to work hard for the city and they give it all back to us.”

James, who is playing in his fifth straight NBA Finals, has another opportunity to add to an already outstanding legacy.

“For us to be sitting at this point today being able to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals, this is special. Very special,” James said after the Cavalier series-clinching win over the Atlanta Hawks.

It’s not a position that a lot of us, myself included, expected the Cavaliers to be in. I personally thought it would take a lot longer to go from a 33-win season that kept it out of the playoffs to the top of the mountain. But if it happens, and the Cavaliers win the NBA championship, James, accompanied by all-stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, would have led one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of the league.

The team struggled at various times throughout the season and added a few players along the way to make them better. They started the season 19-20, but finished 33-9 the rest of the way. Cavaliers head coach David Blatt credited James and the team rallying around each other for the turnaround to their season.

“We’ve got a group of players that have a lot of grit and a lot of character,” Blatt said. “And we have a champion (James) who leads them in the right way, a guy who is not only a fabulous basketball player, but he’s an experienced winner who’s about the right things and who leads his guys in a way that empowers them and does not belittle them, in a way that lifts them.”

The key acquisitions the Cavaliers made during the season have come up huge in the playoffs. Imam Shumpert and J.R. Smith were a couple of players who were not happy playing for a God-awful New York Knicks team. Shumpert scored 16 points in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals and held Atlanta’s Kyle Korver to 4-of-11 shooting. Smith dropped 28 points in the Cavaliers win in Game 1.

There have also been outstanding performances from journeyman Matthew Dellavedova, who subbed for an injured Irving in the second half of the Cavaliers series-clinching win over the Chicago Bulls. He scored a team-high 19 points.

Forward Tristan Thompson has been all over the boards for the Cavaliers, averaging 9.9 rebounds per game. He has also been a top-notch defender.

But, the one constant, of course, has been James, who is averaging close to a triple double in the playoffs, scoring 27.6 points per game while pulling down 10.4 and 8.3 assists per game. Thompson said James has been a motivating force for the team ever since he decided to come back to Cleveland.

“Once he decided to come back, the first thing I did was call the coach and get in the gym and get ready because I know how serious (James) is about being successful and doing something special here in Cleveland,” Thompson said. “It just motivated myself, and I think it motivated all the guys on the team to just get better.”

While it isn’t going to be an easy road to the championship, a Cavaliers win could cement James’s legacy within the NBA.

At the very least, it’ll give a city that hasn’t seen a championship in 51 years something to shout about.

2014: A Year of Black Athletes and Social Justice-Stand Up and Protest Defeats Shut Up and Play

1 Jan

“Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights: it’s all wrong! Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild! God damn it, first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom! …Nostalgia…that’s we want….” Gil-Scot Heron.
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, "I Can't Breathe" Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Lov

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, “I Can’t Breathe” Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Lov

PHILADELPHIA—When I look back on 2014, I’ll remember it as a year where sports and social justice issues intersected and African American athletes refused to “just shut up and play.”

From challenging outdated stereotypes of sexual orientation to throwing a spotlight on issues such as police brutality, Black athletes decided that their membership in the Black Community was more important than endorsement deals or anything else designed to induce their silence.

“I Can’t Breathe…”

(from left to right):  Stedman  Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt expressed their solidarity with activists protesting against the no indictment ruling in favor of Ferguson police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.  Photo by Huffington Post.

(from left to right): Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt expressed their solidarity with activists protesting against the no indictment ruling in favor of Ferguson police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Photo by Huffington Post.

The failure of Grand Juries in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the deaths of Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Akai Gurley sparked protests against police brutality coast-to-coast.

Prominent African-American athletes like NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant joined Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush and Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi in sporting “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts to express their solidarity with the demonstrators.

But the athletes protest definitely did not come without pushback. When members of the St. Louis Rams came out for a game with their hands up days after the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson was announced, the police union in St. Louis demanded an apology (and suspensions from the NFL) from the players, a tactic also employed Cleveland’s police union for the “I Can’t Breathe” shirt worn by Bademosi and a shirt calling for justice for Tamir Rice  and John Crawford worn by Browns wide receiver Andrew Hankins. Rather than righteous indignation, the police union’s moves vilifying looked more like intimidation.

Of course, more than a few more sports talk pundits and conservative talk radio hosts came out in an unveiled assault of bigotry against the football players.

To their credit, the players and the League refused to bow to the demands of the police unions and loud-mouth conservative talking heads. Police officers, whose salaries are paid by our taxes, are not above the law.

Bryant reminded those who tried to shout the athletes down that they live in the United States of America:

“The beauty of our country lies in its democracy. I think if we ever lose the courage to be able to speak up for things that we believe in, I really think we really lose the value that our country stands for.”

Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Muhammad Ali and Vera Caslavska, the Czech gymnast who protested the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia by turning away from the Soviet flag during the medal ceremony—can definitely understand what today’s athletes are experiencing.

Michael Sam Comes Out.

After being picked in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social firestorm.

After being picked in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social firestorm.

It wasn’t so much that former University of Missouri star Michael Sam announced to the world that he was gay prior to the NFL Draft, it was the long kiss he gave to his lover Vito Commissano on hearing the news he was draft by the St. Louis Rams that threw the social media world into a frenzy.

Most of the vitriol centered on the perception that Sam was trying to impose his “gay lifestyle” upon us heterosexual folks. But while Sam ended up getting cut from the Rams and releases by the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, his presence reminded us that, in the words of gay rights activists, gay athletes are “here, they’re queer…”

And society needs to get used to it…because it’s difference that makes us stronger.

LA Clippers Protest Racist Remarks by Donald Sterling.

LA Clippers protest racist remarks by  thent team owner Donald Sterling. Photo by Indystar.com

LA Clippers protest racist remarks by thent team owner Donald Sterling. Photo by Indystar.com

The NBA was a hotbed of social justice action in 2014.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling found himself in hot water when a recording of a conversation he had with his bi-lfriend V. Stiviano hit the TMZ airwaves.

In this conversation Sterling, who was hit with a record-breaking fine by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing discrimination based on race, chastised Stiviano for bringing Black people to Clippers games and taking an Instagram photo with NBA Hall-of-Famer and owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Magic Johnson.

Once the tape hit the street, Clippers players including All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin held a 45 minute meeting to discuss a response prior to the team’s playoff game against the Golden State Warriors that night.

Although there was talk of the Clippers boycotting the game to get back at Sterling, the players opted to protest by removing their warm-up shirts and leaving them at center court and wearing black arm or wrist bands and black socks instead, something that players from the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers also did to show solidarity.

It was the first real test of new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s leadership. When he banned Sterling from the league for life and forced him to sell the team, everyone agreed Silver had passed it.

But Sterling got $2 billion out of the deal, so you’ll have to forgive me for thinking that in this case racism, like crime, paid.

When “You Throw Like a Girl” Became a Compliment

Mo'ne Davis' 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

Mo’ne Davis’ 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

Thanks to pitcher Mo’Ne Davis of South Philly’s Taney Dragons, 2014 became the year we all wanted to “throw like a girl”.

The 13-year-old with the 70-mile per hour fastball led the Dragons to the Little League World Series, a first for a Philadelphia team. Mo’Ne also became the first girl to pitch a shutout in a LLWS game, and scored the cover of Sports Illustrated, threw wiffle balls at Jimmy Fallon with battery mate Scott Bandura and met one of her idols, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

Although the Dragons finished 2-2 during their trip to Williamsport, they, and the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago that went on to become U.S. Champions, served notice that city-based baseball was back, that kids of color knew how to play…

And that unless you’re hurling a 70-mile-an-hour fastball, don’t tell us you “throw like a girl”…

 

I Can’t Breathe: Black Athletes Show Solidarity With Protesters against Police Brutality

12 Dec

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, "I Can't Breathe" Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Lov

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, “I Can’t Breathe” Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Local Sacramento .

The lack of indictments against the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the growing number of unarmed African-Americans being shot down by law enforcement officials has sparked protests throughout the country.

Some of the demonstrations have included protestors lying down in malls, blocking highways, wearing t-shirts saying, “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe” while conducting “die-ins” outside of professional sports venues as well.

Led by the energy of young activists and the wisdom of established Civil Rights leadership, the groundswell to end police brutality is growing into to a mass movement reminiscent of the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s.

Among the more surprising groups of participants in these protests has been the Black athlete.

Their participation is surprising because this particular group of athletes grew up hearing Michael Jordan’s “Republicans buy sneakers, too” mantra and have been conditioned not to take a stand on issues of social issues for fear of losing millions in endorsements.

While at one time such gestures as Tommie Smith-John Carlos’s Black power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics and Muhammad Ali refusing to accept his induction into the U.S. Army would have been commonplace, the Black athlete of the Post-Civil Rights movement has for the most part, silent or indifferent when it comes to issues of race.

Over the years, Jordan and O.J. Simpson, who is now serving time in prison, made millions in endorsements because they chose to remain race neutral or simply refused to answer questions regarding race. Their silence ultimately became part of the blueprint for Black athletes aspiring to success beyond the athletic field.

Until now…

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant dons his "I can't Breathe" T-shirt during his team's around on Monday.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant dons his “I can’t Breathe” T-shirt during his team’s around on Monday.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, who organized a group photo of his then-Miami Heat teammates in hooded sweatshirts to protest the death of Trayvon Martin, and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant joined members of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, Lakers point guard Jeremy Lin, Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush, Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi, and the entire Georgetown University Men’s Basketball squad in wearing t-shirts that said “I Can’t Breathe”, which were Garner’s last words as New York Police Officer Daniel Panteleo choked him to death.

Earlier in the season, members of the Washington NFL team came out before a game doing the “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” gesture in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri and two weeks ago five members of the St. Louis Rams, Ferguson’s home team, did the same.

Of course, the reaction from more than few fans and sports talk show hosts was the old “just shut up and play.” The St. Louis Police Officers Association was so put off by the Rams protest that they called on the NFL to discipline the players.

Even Bryant got some of the vitriol. A radio talking head, CBS college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb said of Bryant on Twitter: “Kobe Bryant lives in Newport Coast, takes a chopper to the games, made $60m last 2 years…the struggle is real #ICANTBREATH.”

Although Gottlieb’s attempt at snark has been deleted, it was another way of saying that as a Black man who makes millions of dollars playing a game, he should just be grateful to earn his money and leave the political statements to others.

Speaking out against police officers killing young unarmed African-American men is not on the approved list of things for Black athletes to do. If Bryant had praised police officers and wore an LAPD hat and a shirt that said God Bless America, he would be a hero and the toast of the FOX News propaganda circuit.

In a piece he wrote for Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column in Sports Illustrated,  Bademosi addressed this contention, saying that certain things are far too important to remain silent about.

“This issue as I see it—police killings as a symptom of the systematic and historical devaluing of Black lives—seemed too big to ignore,” he said in his piece. “The NFL wants to make players public lives conform to its standards. But when exceptional issues call for us to speak our minds, the league and the fans need to see us as men, with our own opinions and the freedom to express them.”

It was that form of consciousness during the Civil Rights Movement that motivated Black football players to threaten a boycott the American Football League 1965 All-Star game because of racism in New Orleans. It was Smith and Carlos raising their fists in the air on the gold medal stand in solidarity with African-Americans experiencing injustice.

In the words of the Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was.”

You Can Go Home Again: LeBron James Wants to Bring an NBA Title to Cleveland

12 Jul

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were teammates at the 2014 All-Star Game. Now they are teammates with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving was the MVP of the All-Star Game.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were teammates at the 2014 All-Star Game. Now they are teammates with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving was the MVP of the All-Star Game.

PHILADELPHIA—LeBron James decision to re-join the Cleveland Cavaliers is reminiscent of that old biblical parable, “The Prodigal Son.”

Four years ago, James left Cleveland as the city’s most hated man since Art Modell moved the old Browns franchise to Baltimore. Today, the city and team owner Dan Gilbert have killed the fatted calf and is welcoming James home with open arms.

While this will go down as a good “feel good” story, the bottom line is that James made a good business decision from a basketball stand point and for his family. In his letter to Sports Illustrated, James made a point to say that he wanted to bring home a title back to Northeast Ohio.

Behold! The next great journey in the Book of James—bringing home a title to a city that hasn’t won a major sports title since 1964 when the Cleveland Browns shut out the Baltimore Colts 27-0 to win the NFL Championship of the pre-Super Bowl era.

What makes this challenge even more unique is that with the Cavaliers there is no guarantee or certainty that this team is going to be in the NBA Finals next year. James will be playing alongside talented young players like point guard Kyrie Irving and No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. He will also have to get used to a new head coach in David Blatt.

There’s also a possibility of the Cavaliers landing former Minnesota Timberwolves big man Kevin Love. James is also looking for the Cavaliers to bring in shooting forward Mike Miller and possibly Ray Allen, who can still fill it up from three-point range despite being darn near 40.

Unlike 2010 when he jilted Cleveland for a Miami squad that included superstars like DeWayne Wade and Chris Bosh, James will be playing with a rising, young squad in the middle of rebuilding. Compared to his Heat squad that was built to win immediately, James will have to lead a team that will no doubt go through the growing pains of being a playoff tested team.

While a few sports pundits and a few Las Vegas bookies believe that the Cavaliers will be in the NBA Finals next year, I think the process may take a little longer that. I might go with 2016, 2017 or even 2018. And that’s the beauty of the challenge awaiting James and the Cavaliers over the next couple of years.

None of the current group of Cavaliers players has any playoff experience. Can those players elevate their game to be on the same page as James? It is going to be that age-old debate that we have on social media about superstars—who are supposed to make players better around them.

The Cavs will have to make other additions to shore up any weaknesses. The one thing that James will have in Cleveland that he didn’t have in four straight appearances to the NBA Finals (two championships) with the Heat is a true point guard in Kyrie Irving.

The 6-foot-3 Irving averaged a career-high 20 points and 6.1 assists per game. Irving is a speedy ball-handler who can penetrate the defense, attack the basket and hit it from the outside. In three years in the league, Irving is shooting 37 percent from three-point range.

The Irving-James combination, along with a few players to compliment their talents, is eventually going to be hard to beat. If the Miami Heat had a point guard who can penetrate and score like Irving, they would have won four straight crowns instead of two.

But the caveat with Irving is his ability to stay healthy for a full 82 games. He missed 38 games in his first two seasons with a montage of injuries including a broken nose, a fractured jaw and he had a torn bicep last season. He played in 71 of 82 games in 2013-2014.

Irving signed a five-year, $90 million extension through 2020.

With James at his side, maybe Irving doesn’t kill himself every game with the burden of carrying the offense by himself. James can do the hard work of taking the ball to the basket. When you have a point guard like Irving who can penetrate and shoot, you open up the floor for players like James and you know what he can do.

To be sure, the Cavaliers will not win the title overnight. They have to establish team chemistry, hope young guys like Wiggins can develop into solid NBA players, add some pieces and more importantly, stay healthy.

If James can lead a young, rising Cleveland squad to an NBA title, it will certainly add to an already outstanding legacy. This will not be an easy mountain to climb considering that teams like Indiana, Chicago, Washington and other squads in the Eastern Conference are getting better.

The fact that it won’t be easy makes this an even more compelling story. Stay tuned.

 

I

 

The Better Team Won: LeBron’s Greatness Not Diminished By Finals Loss

16 Jun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

The Spurs simply outplayed the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals. (from left to right): Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli.

The Spurs simply outplayed the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals. (from left to right): Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli.

PHILADELPHIA—Now that the San Antonio Spurs have emphatically captured the 2014 NBA Finals in five games over a proud, but outgunned Miami Heat squad, I hope fans will realize that the better TEAM won.

The emphasis on team with all caps goes out to all those on social media, sports talk radio and in various sports bars throughout the country who are under the impression that winning championships come down to the individual efforts of one superstar by himself.

In this series, fans were in one of two camps those who adore and worship LeBron James and those people who want to see him fall on his ass every time he steps out on the court.

To a generation of fans weaned on 24-hour cable sports networks, sports talk radio and social media, James not getting “his” third ring will somehow invalidate his greatness as a player. That’s the cult of personality among NBA fans today.

LeBron James scored 31 points and had 10 rebounds in the Heat's Game 5 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals. The Spurs won the series 4-1.

LeBron James scored 31 points and had 10 rebounds in the Heat’s Game 5 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals. The Spurs won the series 4-1.

LBJ detractors are out in full-force saying that he choked and is overrated, etc. Some are saying that it is proof positive that he is not as good as Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six titles and current Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant who has five championship rings.

Of course, that’s total nonsense because seemingly lost somewhere between the rants of those two guys on ESPN’s First Take and some of the silly arguments I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter is one obvious and simple thing: basketball is still a team game.

Always has been, always will be—whether you’re talking Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls winning six titles or Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics winning 11 titles in 13 years. Contrary to popular belief, Jordan and Russell had other guys around them to help win those crowns.

One little detail that folks seem to forget—The Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics names are on the trophy—not Jordan’s or Russell’s.

If wasn’t for the collective efforts of players like Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper and Dennis Rodman, Jordan and the Bulls would not have won those titles. If Russell didn’t have Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, John Havlicek or Don Nelson, the Celtics would not have won.

In the case of the Spurs, you had a core group of three great players Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker that’s won championships together as a unit along with a solid supporting cast and a coach in Greg Popovich, who molded that team into playing as a singular unit.

The 2014 edition of the Spurs got a tremendous contribution from an unexpected source from Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who slowed down James on defense and was a huge contributor on offense, especially in the last three games when he averaged 23 points and nine rebounds per game.

The former San Diego State star gave the Spurs that stop on defense, a key rebound, a big dunk or a big three-point bucket among all the Spurs Hall-of- Fame stars. Under Popovich’s system, everybody can be great because everybody can contribute.

Explaining that there is a team concept in basketball to NBA fans caught up in the cult of personality is the equivalent of your mom telling you to eat your greens because they’re good for you when you’d rather have ice cream.

On one hand, I do believe that all great teams need that one superstar, that go-to guy in the clutch when the game is on the line. That superstar also needs a solid group of teammates behind him to play specific roles. He can’t do it all by himself—everybody has to play defense and everybody has to contribute whether it’s setting the pick to get a teammate open or making a key offensive rebound.

James played well for the Heat and he did everything he could to help his team in the 2014 Finals. He averaged 28 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, four assists while shooting 57 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from three-point range. Arguably, those are Finals MVP numbers.

Unfortunately, the rest of his team didn’t play well enough when he needed them. That’s because the Spurs exposed, as they did in last year’s Finals, the Heat’s weakness at the point guard position and a thin bench.

At the end of the day, the best TEAM won.