Acknowledging Lebron James

Photo credit: Isaac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
Four years ago, I wrote this very impassioned post criticizing how Lebron left the Cavaliers. On it, I detailed (among other things) why I believe he blew up his chance of ever being considered the greatest, or at least, one of the greatest ever to play basketball. I mentioned something about his immaturity, his lack of mental toughness, and the utter selfishness and foolishness which characterized “The Decision”. It was one of the longer posts I had ever written on this blog, because “The Decision” ignited something in me that I had long been wanting to express: my utter dislike for Lebron and anything Lebron.

Last July 12, 2014, Lebron James announced that he was going back to the Cavaliers after four straight NBA Finals appearances and two NBA championships with the Miami Heat.

Unsurprisingly, the reaction was met with mixed feelings. Cleveland fans rejoiced. Twitter went busy. Haters jumped in to criticize Lebron.

Surprisingly, I was not one of them.

In fact, I was surprised to find myself actually defending Lebron James.

Oh, how the years have softened my dislike.

Maybe what they said was true. Maybe winning does change everything. Or at least, it changes something. It changes our perception of the athletes. Look at Kobe Bryant, for example.

Kobe’s reputation was so badly damaged by his rape case that he was once considered one of America’s most hated athletes. But winning changed people’s perception of Kobe, slowly. While he may still be disliked in some parts of America, I think its mostly because they hate him because he is a polarizing figure, or that they are simply rooting for somebody else. Like Lebron James, for example.

Fans like myself, we love to pit our favorites against each other, comparing their merits as to why they are greater than the other, better than the other, etc. It’s part of what makes sports fun.

I realized however that in the process of rooting for somebody, we turn a blind eye on the merits of greatness of the perceived “equal” (i cringe as i write this), just because. And we “hate” (it’s such a strong word, come to think of it) them, because they are in direct opposition to our personal favorites in many criteria, which if you think about it, may not even be valid or logical. Or, just because. Again, the culture of sports fandom.

Lebron’s decision to come back to Cleveland was hailed by critics, writers, even haters, calling it “a stunning victory for maturity and perspective”.  I agree that his decision is a great example of how much Lebron James has grown. I now realize that it was not only Lebron James who had some growing up to do. Fans, like myself, also had to grow up.

Because as I just learned, you don’t have to like a person to respect him. Respect is after all, earned. And Lebron James has made me acknowledge him.

I am still a Kobe fan, of course. That’s never going to change.

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Same script, different players. Welcome, Dwight Howard.

When news first broke out that the Lakers landed Dwight Howard, I caught myself furiously typing away at my Facebook and Twitter pages, unable to contain my excitement.

Then I realized, this deal isn’t final until David Stern says so. My initial reactions then were,

Dwight Howard to the Lakers

Now, 24 hours later, we can officially say it: Dwight Howard is a Laker.

Dwight Howard Lakers Press Conference

 

And so is Gasol, still. (For now?)

Anyway, as I’m writing this, I’m also watching the live streaming of Dwight Howard’s introduction as a Laker. I do feel bad for him, because while this is supposed to be a very happy day (and it is for us Lakers fans) he cannot seem to escape the questions surrounding his very public and downright ugly departure from the Orlando Magic. I keep hearing the words “fresh start”, “today is all about the Lakers”, “I’m just blessed to be here”, “I’m just glad its over with”,  “no need to go back to the past”,  come out of his mouth, with a tinge of pleading, maybe, to get away from what has happened in Orlando, and just allow him to start anew.

Unfortunately, I don’t think basketball fans will be too forgiving. I mean, for one, let’s all admit it. Dwight was able to do what I thought was impossible: He was able to out-villain Lebron and make “The Decision” a little less unpalatable (it didn’t help that Lebron finally won a championship). Okay I admit, that’s taking it too far. “The Decision” will forever stand in its place.

Going back to Dwight, the long process of his eventual departure, dubbed the “Dwightmare” all but sucked out  the goodwill fans generally had towards him. So I guess it is right, LA offers him a fresh start. But it’s not going to be easy. As a Lakers fan, I can already sense we’re being looked at as Miami Heat 2.0 – the team everybody wants to hate. What’s not to hate, anyway? Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol all in one team?! Add in Metta World Peace, and we’ve got arguably the strongest starters in the NBA!

Fan art grabbed via Facebook

But I’m not here writing to bash Howard – of course not. He’s now on my team. I’m merely stating the facts. What I’m writing about is that after all is said and done, I really truly hope this works out for the Lakers; for Dwight, for Kobe, for Pau, for Mitch, and for all Lakers fans. I mean, simply, I hope to see RINGS :D

After all, that’s what’s expected from such blockbuster deals like this, right?

And that’s how Howard will get back to the good graces of basketball fans,  right?

Just like Lebron.

Somehow.

So Dwight, welcome to the Lakers!

The Fish has left the building

AP Photo

I woke up today expecting that the most significant trade news I’d read will be about Dwight Howard, only to find out that, out of the blue, Derek Fisher was traded by the Lakers for Jordan Hill and a future first round draft pick. It came as a shock and as a Lakers fan, I could say I, too, didn’t see that coming. We all know that Gasol and Bynum has been in the trade talks ever since that botched New Orleans-CP3 deal, and for Fisher to be the one traded suddenly, this one really caught me off-guard. Like, wow.

“The Lakers traded Derek Fisher, and it feels so wrong, it feels so cheap, and I don’t care if he was aging, and slowing, and sliding toward the end of the bench.” – Bill Plaschke, LATimes

I knew that the Lakers were eyeing Ramon Sessions for a long time, because the point guard position is the one that was badly needed to be upgraded. It didn’t occur to me Fisher would be traded as a result (he was deemed “expendable), because I had always thought his locker-room presence, his leadership, his experience, his clout over Kobe, and his importance especially during clutch moments and in the postseason, more than compensated for the “inadequacy” in the position. Simply put, Derek Fisher is the heart and soul of the Lakers. If I had to choose between him and Steve Blake as back-up to Sessions (a much-needed upgrade), I’d still choose Fisher even though this season he has never been as unproductive, because what he brings to the team far outweigh Blake’s. So, for a Lakers fan like me who owed to Fisher the extended joy from winning championships, it is really sad to see him go.

What a really cruel, bittersweet world we have in sports. The management will always say such tough decisions are “part of the business”, and I’m sure they are. But for fans who have invested their emotions on select players who were part of the reason why the team had been successful in the first place, we hope somehow, personal considerations override tough business decisions. As this is seen as a salary dump, I wish management just overlooked the $3M something that they would “save” from trading Fisher, and that the Lakers kept Fisher and ensured that he will retire as a Laker, from the standpoint of rewarding his loyalty and his immeasurable contributions to the organization.

“At 37, Fisher just wanted to be part of the Lakers as long as they would have him, and then retire in the city where he began as a rookie in the same summer of 1996 that also featured the arrival of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal….He could have remained here for the rest of the season just being Derek Fisher, and then the Lakers could have worked out some sort of buyout and allowed him to retire with dignity, retire as a Laker.” – Plashcke, LATimes

Having said this, well what can we do anyway? We’re “just fans”. It’s not as if management can undo a trade just because the fans were disappointed with the decision. And the truth is, because we’re basketball fans, we’ll move on, and we will continue to support our teams, because we love the game. Remember when some said the lockout would alienate the fans? Well, we’re still here. Because we love the game. But this is one of those moments when sometimes, the game hurts.

I know Derek Fisher will continue to be the consummate professional even in the midst of this stunning decision. I wish him well and I wish he knows that many Lakers fans owe him a big part of our joy. Thank you, for everything, Derek Fisher. You will be missed.

Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

Turn back the time

There was no doubt in my mind the Lakers will win Game 5. Over the last 3 years leading in playoff games to the Finals, they’ve done pretty well in Game 5s, which in most cases were the pivotal games of the series.

In homage to the Laker’s 16-pt win earlier (106-90) vs the Hornets, here is a treat to delight all Kobe and Lakers fans. Just one word: VICIOUS.

Time to close the series.

NBA 2011 Playoffs Round 1 – Thoughts

Thoughts on Game 3 – Lakers vs Hornets:

  • Bynum was a beast! (Gentle, fragile beast). When he went down clutching his knee, I could already sense Lakernation holding its breath collectively. I hope its nothing serious. I agree with the analysis of most commentators – as opposed to previous years when Bynum wasn’t a ‘necessity’ – this year it’s different. He is crucial to OUR championship hopes. It’s not that the Lakers got weaker – it’s more because the competition became harder. Going for a three-peat will not be a walk in the park for the Lakers. But, I really honestly believe by June they will be hoisting that trophy again.
  • Gasol – FINALLY! I had the sense that his struggles were more mental than anything. So this was a game he needed badly to remind himself that he is one of the best in the world!
  • Kobe – what else can I say? That monster dunk was Vintage Kobe, circa semi-afro! 
Source: NBAE/Getty Images
  • Odom – He just keeps on validating his Sixth Man of the Year award. I love it!

Other Series Thoughts

  • Magic vs Hawks – I think this will go the distance, with the Magic winning. Though I still have the same sentiments regarding Dwight as I had since last year – he just needs to stop complaining so much and just play his game and not let himself be frustrated!
  • Bulls vs Pacers – Story of the Pacers – almost but not quite. Story of the Bulls – Derrick Rose. ’nuff said.
  • Boston vs Knicks – See?! They are peaking just at the right time. Playoff experience, not to mention, championship experience, is something that is not replaceable. It will be hard for Heat to beat them in the 2nd round.
  • OKC vs Nuggets – that game 1 controversy may have sealed the series for OKC. They will be a formidable opponent for the Spurs in Round 2.
I’ll save some more of my thoughts in the coming days. In the meantime, I think Lakers will take the series with Hornets in 5 games. Let’s go Lakers!
Your thoughts?!