Monday, 31 October 2011

FRESH OUT THE BOX: FOOT LOCKER-HOUSE OF HOOPS, London, England.


'Fresh Out The Box' is a new feature that looks at kicks, clothing, shops and everything accessorizing to Basketball.

Who says the city of London, England knows nothing about the sport of Basketball? Luol Deng, one of the Chicago Bulls and the NBA's best players was raised here, while the city hosts an official NBA game a year (if not two (lockouts pending)). This town has even built an incredible bball stadium for next years 2012 Olympic Games. Still when this Lemon Meringue like arena is torn down by pitch forks and what not after closing ceremony other peach and basket traditions will still stand in London.

One being the House Of Hoops tucked underneath Bond Street's Foot Locker. Lace up your sneaks because this place isn't too far a walk from the big top attraction of London that is Oxford Circus. This place is definitely worth a look and shop for hoop heads. There aren't too many of these exclusive Nike temple, 'House Of Hoops' (Paris, Barcelona and America hold a few) and there aren't too many as good as this. Upstairs in this big Foot Locker is plenty of great things, even some of those NBA jersey's that are cheaper but less authentic than your swingman favourites. Still it's down the escalator where court is held.

For Basketball fans it may as well be a stairway to heaven as this underground, exclusive homage to hoops is a haven for all purists away from the Football and other sports not Basketball dominated U.K. Scene. Decked out in mahogany like a Eric B. & Rakim or Fugees classic this place really is a hardwood classic with all the latest and greatest trainers, T-shirts and other apparel that is current and collectible from Kobe tee's to the new LeBron's.

It's all here and known by the friendly staff that are as polite as they are in the game like EA. This coolly lit place even has some great d├ęcor in the form of murals of the greats from Kobe to M.J. It all just looks so right and everyone's been here. Snoop Dogg, LeBron, Deron, even Ashton Kutcher...excuse me Kyle Korver. Now if it's good enough for them, it's certainly the place to be. In the game and in the house in the name of hoops, Foot Locker's sister store has it on lock. TIM DAVID HARVEY.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

THE FINALS FIX


Recapping this years NBA Finals for those lockout blues.

By TIM DAVID HARVEY

GAME 1: MIAMI HEAT 92-84 DALLAS MAVERICKS

Basketball's promised land made good on it's guarantee to expect amazing last night as the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks started what looks to be a thrilling end to an incredible season. Still the series isn't over yet even though Miami took control and a one-zip lead. 24 points from the King and a 92-84 win sealed the first NBA Finals win for LeBron James. "Feels good because it's the first game and we played well as a team,'' 'Bron told press postgame,"We've got a lot of work to do. ... That's one in the books. We're excited about this game. Tomorrow we prepare for Game 2, and I see ways we can get better.'' Wade had 22 points, while Dirk Nowitzki had 27, but his Mavericks team had their lowest point output in this years playoffs on a postseason low 37%. Still Miami also looked a little weak offensively. 39 percent shooting being their second-worst number for that category in the playoffs.

After the game Dirk was upbeat with the press and his teams chances saying; "You can't get down with a loss. You've got to come back strong on Thursday. I've said it a couple times in this playoff run, if you're the road team, you're happy with a split. So we've got another opportunity on Thursday to get one. Obviously, we don't want to go home down 0-2.'' As LeBron and Wade closed the game out like a pair of superheroes, nicknames of 'Batman & Robin' began re-surfacing by word of mouth and Tweet. Wade was instrumental also flashing inspiration into his teammates before the tip with cries of, "Don't say, 'I wish I woulda.'" If the Heat continue this passion and play they'll have nothing to regret.

GAME 2: MIAMI HEAT 93-95 DALLAS MAVERICKS

And then it was all tied. The Dallas Mavericks proved it doesn't matter which American Airlines arena they are in as they are heading back home to Dallas with an advantage in this already epic Finals series. Dirk, his bum left hand and the down-and-almost-out Dallas Mavericks rallied from 15 down to beat the Heat 95-93 in Miami. "You can just sense it in us that we weren't going to give up, we were going to be resilient,'' bench heater Jason Terry told press afterwards. "Definitely a huge comeback for us and we never gave up, and that was big,'' Dirk said following his 24 points and last 9 points of the Mavericks through his injury pain. Wade had 36 for Miami while LeBron played the Robin role last night with 20, still without the 'W' it meant little. Dallas where too big for them in the final quarter as they go forth to Texas with a clean slate.

The consistent star Shawn Marion had 20 and said it best post-game, "The game is over when the final buzzer rings.'' Maybe this comment and Mavs win was fuelled by their dislike of Wade and James early celebrations when Dwyane flashed the goose neck on a follow through after a big three. Dallas didn't like this horse-play but the King insists he and his men weren't acting like animals. "There was no celebration at all, I was excited about the fact that he hit a big shot and we went up 15.'' This fun Miami team are just having fun in this entertaining series they don't need Samuel L. Jackson's 'Coach Carter' to teach them a lesson but perhaps they need a new set of X and O's for Game 3. Sunday and Dallas awaits.

GAME 3: DALLAS MAVERICKS 86-88 MIAMI HEAT

After two games there was nothing between them. After three only two points separated them. With the series standing at 1-1, you knew these two tied-together teams where going to suffer a bad break-up to determine which side where to take command of this series. It was Miami however who owned the other American Airlines Arena in Dallas like it was their own, with an emotional final few seconds that broke these Maverick hearts...hard. Thanks to some forward thinking from Bosh's clutch jumper to Haslem's D on Dirk, the Heat burnt Dallas, 88-86 at the buzzer to ring out a 2-1 series lead. D-Wade doubled up with 29 points and 11 rebounds calling the game a "total win" for his team. LeBron also had 17, while an Udonis pestered Nowitzki had 34 for the man-handled Maverick's who went cold to the Heat's fire in the fourth. The Heat have set the tone and temperature with a huge away win in the D that takes away Dallas' home-court advantage. To boot Miami really look to have made their stamp on the series as ever since the playoffs 2-3-2 was introduced in 1985 all the teams who have won Game 3 in the Finals have eventually won the Championship. The odds are stacked in Miami's favour.

Looks like the Heat have already got revenge for Dallas' big win in Miami. With both teams still looking evenly matched and drawing blood however, (see Chris Bosh's eye (he'll be fine by the way)) just like the Lakers/Celtics last year this is already one hell of a series. These competitive, none clear-cut series' make for some great, guessing and none dynasty-routine-formality basketball. Still Miami's Wade knows his pick and prediction for the 'chip; " I believe in this team. If anyone can do it, I believe we can.'' "Emotional game, fought back, and to fall short at the end is tough,'' lamented Dirk Nowitzki who's last second passes and shots where disrupted by a passionately screaming Haslem who is definitely, well and truly back. Miami right now are looking magnificent but still Dallas aren't looking defeated. They just need a little something extra. As Kidd said best; "We have to have somebody step up besides Dirk." This aint child's play. This is the NBA Finals. Chess not checkers. Now we anticipate the Maverick's next move. Check.

GAME 4: DALLAS MAVERICKS 86-83 MIAMI HEAT

Game 4 is always a pivotal game in a Finals or Playoff series, whether the games are heading towards a clean sweep or standing at 2-1. A 2-1 lead or trail leads to a crucial fourth game. Now NBA Finals favourites Miami Heat led the Dallas Mavericks two games to one with hopes to keep this series under five games like the rest of their playoffs record. Win and they would have Dallas by the Mavericks and an elimination Game 5. Still Dirk and his boys had other ideas, as they made the tie and this thing a series with a 86-83 win spurred by a 29-1 run in the fourth quarter led by an ailing but never failing Nowitzki who had 10 of his 21 to close out the game and the Heat. "Just battle it out,'' was Dirk's game-plan as he was coming down with injury and flu. "This is the finals. You have to go out there and compete and try your best for your team. So that's what I did," and boy did he, laying up in the clutch and laying down Miami with it all laid out on the floor. Everyone marvelled at Dirk's own 'flu game' (even though it still wasn't as cold as Jordan's). "The average person, you know, has sick days and battling 100-something, it's just tough to get out of bed,'' Tyson Chandler remarked with astonishment. "This guy is playing against the best athletes in the world.''

One of the best athletes in the world was having an unhealthy night however as Miami's LeBron James only managed 8 points, a playoff low that ended a run of 433 consecutive games in double figures. Now that's a lot of regular seasons and deep playoff runs. Despite having 9 rebounds and 7 assists James was his harshest critic giving the press and himself these choice words; "I've got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively.'' Still Wade had 32 and Bosh 24 points. The Heat know now however that the series is wide open. "This series is a jump ball,'' coach Erik Spoelstra of the Heat theorised. "These guys live for these type of moments. It's about execution and disposition in the fourth quarter, being able to close out. We have a golden opportunity in the next game.''

The Heat better make good on their opportunity and strike gold looking for that Larry O'Brien shine as there wasn't many silver linings to take from this game. Still that doesn't mean the clouds have cleared for Dallas, both teams still look like they have the ability to reign supreme. It was a good job the Mavs got this game under their belt as no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. Now with the series level whoever takes the next crucial game will set the tone for the end of the series, putting the other on the elimination ropes with only a game left for the championship after that. It will be huge if the Maverick's do this in Dallas as they have never lead this finals series, still the Miami Heat look to regain the tempo and control of this tight series as the final game/s will be played out in South Beach. Who will win isn't the biggest question, the main one is will this epic go the full seven games?

GAME 5: DALLAS MAVERICKS 112-103 MIAMI HEAT

Those in South Beach working on printing T-shirts and putting balloons in the Florida American Airlines Arena better stop what they're doing. The Heat are heading back to Miami on the brink of elimination and not on the cusp of a championship as everyone wearing white, except the Dallas Mavericks thought. Winning 112-103 the Dallas Mavs and their deafening arena silenced everyone wearing Miami colours, painting the series with numbers of 3 games to 2. If Game 4 was pivotal, then Game 5 was crucial as it was Dallas who took the lead and control of the series for the first time in the Finals. That very fact could very well be a determining, defining factor in this series. Sure this series is going back to Miami for the final game(s), but the Mavericks have a two game cushion to win the championship and haven't taken advantage of comfort before (see Lakers; Los Angeles). The Mavericks have also shown that home-court advantage isn't much of a factor as they look to finish and cool off the Heat in South Beach.

We said that the Heat's chance was to keep it under 5 games but if this series went to 7 then nobody could close out Dallas. This is because these Maverick's have the play through anything (it aint 'Noringski' it's 'NoQuitzki'), one-of-the-best-to-ever-do-it (championship or not, it's time we all recognised) Dirk Nowitzki and his Game 5 29 points. It's also because Miami don't have 'Mr 4th Quarter', Jason Terry who welcomed Miami to a rain storm in buckets to finish off the game. His 21 points, to go along with his 'partner in pine', super-sub Jose Barea's 17 points showed Miami that the Mavs microwaves had the real heat. With Dallas shooting the three-point lights out they showed that if they shoot like this nobody can beat them, in any period.

It gets worse for Miami as the story coming out of Dallas is not 'who shot J.R.'? But who took LeBron'? His form has been up and down and in and out of the line-up as much as Dwyane Wade who has injured his hip after colliding with Brian Cardinal. Still mark these words and any coming out of Miami. LeBron, Dwyane and the Heat are far from done and this series is far from over. "There's really nothing to celebrate," Dirk told press. Jason Terry and the Mavs shouldn't pop the 'Dallas' on their jersey's yet. An 'American Airlines' jet plane is going to take them to Miami, where it's the Heats court. Standby.

GAME 6: DALLAS MAVERICKS 105-95 MIAMI HEAT

'Dear Dirk', you and Dallas are out 2011 NBA Champion. 'Congrats Mavs'. Your not just the top trends on Twitter, your also starting a new one in this league. Fashioning victory from the basic fabrics of a good all round team game. Now that's the way things should be. Now that's Basketball. It was a tightly crammed 6 games between the East and West's best teams in the NBA but I guess in the end Dallas studied harder for the Finals. Not that Miami's incredible team didn't work hard and play well together but in the end those Mavericks cooled down the Heat in their 'White Hot' American Airlines Arena. Finally exorcising their 2006 demons, the Mavericks avenged that years Finals loss to Wade and the Heat by flipping the script and writing them off, beating them five years later. "I really still can't believe it," the MVP of the Finals; Dirk Nowitzki told press as his 21 points helped his Texan team triumph. Jason Terry had a huge 27 points along with Dirk as the only surviving Maverick from the '06 heartbreak. "We got vindication," Terry remarked proving that revenge is a dish to him on the perimeter, best served with his hot, off the bench, microwave streak shooting. Following their respective performances, Dirk goes down as one of the NBA's best all-time players, now becoming a winner, while Jason will go down in history as a Playoff legend, a-la-Derek Fisher.

This meeting with the NBA's good Ol' friend Larry (O'Brien not Bird, (but Dirk's certainly familiar to the latter also)) marks and inscribes the first-time Dallas have had their names etched on an NBA Championship trophy. It also rings the first championship band for valuable veteran and star-player Jason Kidd, who has been so near but so far before and now has no intentions of retiring his big, amazing, 38 year old contributions. Miami however, have had a magnificent year as the boss of Florida-like Rick Ross-despite critical comments and falling short on their championship promise. In their last stand, LeBron James had 21 points, while Bosh had 19, Mario Chalmers 18 and D-Wade tallied 17 for the winding down East champs and Finals runner up. After his Cleveland chance in 2007, this Finals also registers the second time LeBron James reached the promised land only to break, but still there is no need to worry. Dirk and Dallas have been here before on the losing end, they know all too well what it's like. It just takes time and patience to grow a champion. This is only this new Heat teams first year of conception and they've already become a contender. As Lil' Wayne once said, "don't worry LeBron, get em' next year". This saying from Weezy's 2009 song about Kobe Bryant really has meaning now. Still despite Miami's best efforts it was the Mavericks who really "earned" this one as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra can attest. "We worked so hard and so long for it," Nowitzki added making it clear that he had a whole team full of MVP's, from Chandler to Barea.

The Maverick, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also called his band of brothers "a true team", adding "This is an old bunch. We don't run fast or jump high. These guys had each other's backs. We played the right way. We trusted the pass. This is a phenomenal thing for the city of Dallas." Now this terrific, Texan town won't just be celebrated for Football. As this basketball team has really tipped their way to the top of this association ever since Mark Cuban came in and took the stetson off the team logo. Now the devout Maverick fan and outrageously dedicated owner can never be doubted for his heart and dedication to the team he supports and owns with everything he has. "I could care less about the Heat," Cuban told press ready to light up his own victory cigar. This year marked an incredible year for NBA Basketball with an incredible bunch of evenly matched teams. From last years champion Los Angeles Lakers to the regular season leading San Antonio Spurs. This was all capped off by a blood, for blood, bucket, for bucket, back-and-forth, evenly matched Finals. If some things went the other way it could have very well have been a Miami hot -streak, leading to a big-three championship parade, but alas as LeBron lamented, "right now isn't the time." Even Dallas coach Rick Carlisle knows how close it was and how competitive his competition was stating; "Their time will come." Still everyone knows that as Carlisle continued; "But now, it's our time". Dallas have set the clock and moved the hands of basketball time to their present direction. You know what time it is. Time to say congratulations to the champs. Well done 'Big D'. Dirk and Dallas have done it. TIM DAVID HARVEY.

DVD REVIEW: JUST WRIGHT


3/5

PG, 100 Minutes. Starring Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, James Pickens Jr, Phylicia Rashad, Pam Grier, Laz Alonso, Mehcad Brooks, Michael Landes, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Rashard Lewis. Director: Sanaa Hamri

Two Hip-Hop legends act 'Wright'.

Queen Latifah and Common have made a name for themselves in music and movies over the years. Latifah became one of the first female rap superstars with albums like 'All Hail The Queen' in the 80's and she's been acting for decades. Common has cemented his reputation as one of the best socially conscious rappers around today with albums like 'Be' and 'Finding Forever'. He has also forged himself a decent film career over the last couple of years with credits including 'American Gangster', 'Terminator Salvation' and much more. After years of hard work in both fields the Queen and the man with Common Sense take the lead in a romantic comedy that is 'Forget Paris' meets 'Love & Basketball'.

Back when Common was younger he used to be the kid that mopped up sweat at Chicago Bulls games well in 'Just Wright' Common gets even closer to the stars, living (at least while filming) every rappers dream of becoming an NBA player. Common even holds his own as Scott McKnight even if it does look like he had a little 'assist' on those dunks. This really does seem like a dream world however as the New Jersey Nets in this movie are a contender. Someone should call owner Jay-Z because truthfully he'd like a baller like Common Sense.

So McKnight is the talk of New York, New Jersey and the NBA. Every player wants to play like him and every woman wants to play with him including Latifah's physical therapist Deborah Wright and her cousin played by Mrs. Robin Thicke, Paula Patton (who really looks and sounds like she could be related to Alicia Keys). After a game Latifah and Common hit it off in a petrol station, but after a party it's Patton who makes her mark on the ballplayer and they start a relationship. Months later McKnight goes down with a potentially career ending knee injury and some of the love for this All-Star becomes all-sour and turns to doubt. After Patton has her worries and concerns (especially concerning McKnights 'amazing' new personal trainer, where she doesn't want amazing to happen) she asks for her cousins to step in and from there it seems that Wright was just what the doctor ordered.

This film is as sharp as these rappers skills on the microphone. The movie catches New York in summer as perfectly as 'Hitch' did further making this film a feel good affair of sorts. It looks as cool as a behind the back pass and the supporting cast are a slam dunk. From 'Greys Anatomy' favourite James Pickens Jr to Phylicia Rashad aka Clair Huxtable (you've gotta love that 'Cosby Show' nostalgia) to Pam Grier (It looks like it's been a long time since 'Foxy Brown'). There are even great cameo appearances from a host of NBA players including the made for camera Dwight Howard and Miami Heat leading man Dwyane Wade. The stars of the NBA prove they can read lines as good as they can read plays and they also help ensure the basketball action is as authentic as it's ever been on screen (even if most of the other players are extras with questionable names like 'Taller').

Lil Bow Wows performance in 'Like Mike' has to bow down to the exceptional performance of fellow MC Common who shows he can read screens as good as he can read lines and write rhymes. Let's not forget the star of this show Queen Latifah however who further expands her impressive filmography further than her discography. Overall this film is feel good, funny, exciting, romantic and a winner complete with a soundtrack that hits the high score. 'Just Wright' lives up to it's name it goes down like the third bowl of porridge. A hot movie that makes a steal of a Friday night. TIM DAVID HARVEY

Friday, 21 October 2011

MR. INTERNATIONAL


All Around The Kob'.

By TIM DAVID HARVEY.

It all revolves around Kob'. Everything does. The future of the NBA, the future of basketball in the world. Who's watching and who's not. It all turns with Kobe Bryant. ESPN recently ranked him number 7 on a list of top players but surely we can take it higher than that? This man means more than that.

Right now Kobe is more than just big in Japan. From being made in China to showing his heart in Seoul this Summer's tour of Asia took him to another continent, but took his status and stock out this world. Now in November Kobe could follow his dreams and the footsteps of his father Joe 'Jellybean' Bryant and play in Italy.

Now what could this mean? Sure European side Virtus Bologna have not signed Kobe this month but that doesn't mean they won't, just like the fact that the NBA owners and players may meet again this week but that doesn't mean the lockout will be resolved...does it? This Christmas its very likely there won't be any NBA TV under our tree and that makes it even more likely that Kobe will be saying 'ciao' to California for the holidays.

Kobe could make Virtus Bologna, virtually the biggest team in the world if he suits up for them, but the shirts and ties of the NBA will still make money off of this. The more international exposure the biggest Basketball league in the world gets then the more fans from around the globe they'll draw in. Still what Kobe does for ball in Italy could be the biggest thing anyone's done for that country since the top sportsmen that are more accustomed to kicking the ball have.

Kobe could 'Bend it like Beckham' and change the game like his fellow L.A. friend did but in the opposite direction. Making Basketball more popular in the Soccer dominated Europe like David made Soccer more popular in a Basketball first America. Kobe already made more Asian Basketball fans like his name was Yao Ming and now the rest of the world is his for the taking. This could be his making.

His popularity is better than ever, despite the ESPN rank and until LeBron rips the rings off his finger he is the greatest player in the league for all sorts of reasons. The NBA may make more money off him when he becomes exported (and in some ways exploited) abroad but as the owners look shallow in this lockout Bryant will be the more genuinely better off for it.

Think about it the Black Mamba is even digging deeper into his pockets to lend money to his fellow players and peers during this trying time. Now that's no snake. That's a man building ladders while the board plays games. It's clear Bryant's in it for more than the money. He really loves this game. As the NBA becomes a place where nothing happens, Kobe shows us amazing and that this game of basketball right now is his.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

MR. BIG SHOT


Bob's greatest hits.

By TIM DAVID HARVEY

"Clutch means me getting it done". Robert Horry.

Houston Rockets vs Orlando Magic (June 11, 1995-NBA Finals, Game 3)

The ball is inbounded to Hakeem Olaujawon deep in the post, screens are being set, late fourth quarter nerves are running and Shaq is trying to stop dreams from coming true, giving Houston more problems than Apollo 13. Still it's Hakeem and the Rocket's lucky day as the centre finds a teammate behind the arc with a trademark, beautiful pass. The player receiving the ball hits for three over top D man Horace Grant, fogging his goggles and making the home Houston fans rub their eyes with disbelief, making the Magic disappear with an ace in the hole play pulled from his bag of tricks. It's a dagger basket by a young Robert Horry.

They left him open to shoot all day. They didn't think he had what it took. They doubted him. They disregarded him. The former Alabama standout who played in the shadow of Latrell Sprewell brought it all to the light however with a shot that sank like the sun at dusk. Years before he helped Shaq drink championship champagne he made him taste bitter defeat. Before he made everything in his career right, he proved everyone wrong. While everyone though he was just a Will Smith lookalike with a Fresh Prince fade he threw the competition out the door like Jazzy Jeff. ARGH! Opposing fans would scream as all their hopes and dreams were in for a rude-Robert awakening. The number 2-5 was a man that made Houston's second five so strong, but after two big shots and two championship ring Horry was on the move further Northwest. Although his time in Phoenix, wasn't his best (especially with Danny Ainge) Rob never threw the towel in, he kept playing hard until Hollywood called with a script idea that was about to re-write history.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Philadelphia 76ers (June 10, 2001-NBA Finals, Game 3)

With the NBA Finals tied at one game apiece there is not much between the Goliath Los Angeles Lakers and the David, underdog, Philadelphia 76ers. There isn't even any love, definitely no brotherly love in Philly for hometown boy Kobe Bryant as he dribbles the ball up court to a chorus of boos. The ball ends up in the hands of his assistant on-court Brian Shaw who quarterbacks a great heave to Robert Horry in the corner, who is all alone (Aaron Mckie is too late to reach the Laker jersey in the corner, almost as late as he was to eventually don one in the twilight of his career). Horry hoists up his third triple of the game and as it hits twine and parquet. Rob breaks the back of the Sixers, and silences the fans pumping his fists with the passion that's just left the First Union crowd. This is his time, this is his moment. This is his game.

The Lakers gave up serious swingman talent Cedric Ceballos in order to get Robert, but in return Horry answered the call and gave everything he had to a team that became more with his addition. He had to give up the number 25 because of retired Laker legend Gail Goodrich, but Horry's legacy in La, La, Lakerland may one day result in his number 5 jersey being raised to the rafters too. This player played his part and role in Hollywood better than most stars but this was no act, Bob was the genuine article. This fourth quarter moment maker was not lazy at other moments in the game. He just liked to wait for the last scene to draw the final curtain...and boy did he draw. This Western assassin had a lot of bullets in his gun. Give him just a second to aim a shot and...BANG!

Los Angeles Lakers vs Portland Trailblazers (April 28, 2002-Western Conference First Round, Game 3)

We're in the Rose Garden and the Los Angeles Lakers are about to be pricked by the blooming, blazing hometown Portland team out in Oregon. So Bryant sets a trail driving against the self-dubbed 'Kobe-Stopper' Ruben Patterson, taking him and what seems like the rest of the Trailblazers side into the paint. He furiously kicks the ball out to the three-point line on his right to Robert Horry who calmly catches the peach, sets it on it's seams, rises and drains the clutch three with just two seconds left like he had all the time in the world.

Three years, three trophies and three-balls aplenty Horry kept repeating like episodes of 'Scrubs' on 'Comedy Central'. He drained a game-clinching three-pointer in at least one game in four straight playoff series over the course of the Lakers three-peat campaigns. He really did change the game. Shaq and Kobe may have been the out of this world superstars, but every leading man needs his best supporting actor and the award went to Robert Horry. Along with Rick Fox he formed a forward tandem for the dynasty ages and he played his classic clutch role to the basket along with Derek Fisher, the Fish that continues to save L.A. to this day. Clutch three after clutch free. Who says it doesn't rain in Southern California? When Horry poured, L.A. reigned.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Sacramento Kings (May 26, 2002-Western Conference Finals, Game 4)

In one of the most fiercely competitive series in NBA Playoff history there's nothing between the Californian Kings and Lakers in this bitter clash for the Western throne. Kobe's on the drive again but he cant find the twine from the baseline. The rebound falls to Shaq but his putback needs a mulligan and is put and tipped away by Vlade Divac and the rim. The loose ball bounces away from everybody and outside the arc to no other then Robert Horry for a straight ahead, straight forward three which is classic Horry and vintage NBA history.

Former Laker Vlade Divac must have been real jealous as he dismissed Horry's latest triumph as a "lucky shot", but there is no 'Cheap Shot Bob' here. Vlade needed to "read a paper" or the history books or something. Read all about it. Time and time again Robert Horry's being doing it and coming up big when needed. Hitting three's with a Reggie Miller purity meeting M.J. clutch. Still in 2003 when the Lakers were looking to go forth with a fourth championship the San Antonio Spurs and a 25 point deficit got in the way during the Western Conference Semi-finals. Horry was in a familiar position as the Lakers rallied back from a blow-out looking to close-out the Spurs in Texas, but something just wasn't clicking. Horry drew his long-range gun and fired but his shot was in and out like Kevin Kline in the nighties. As the buzzer sounded the Lakers hadn't just lost the championship to the San Antonio Spurs, this was the beginning of the end as they also lost their 'Mr. Fourth Quarter' to their Western Conference and championship rivals.

San Antonio Spurs vs Detroit Pistons (June 19, 2005-NBA Finals, Game 5)

The clocks winding down, we are in clutch territory yet again but this time Robert Horry's role is to make the inbound pass. Has he been taken out the equation? He passes to Manu Ginoboli on the left hand, three-point side, who pivots around his defender and passes back to Bobby who's been left open by Rasheed Wallace. Brent Barry can see the smirk on 'Big Shot Bob's' face; "your going to leave me open"? It's all good. Corner pocket, 'Mr. Big Shot', Robert Horry three, San An victory, sorry Chauncey.

Still even though the jersey changed to the black and white of the Lakers rivals fans didn't have to expect anything new. It was the same ole 'Big Shot Bob' in San Antonio from the Detroit Pistons to 38 out of 85 threes made in the 2005 playoffs. Horry even dunked and checked his way to victory showing that even in his latter career he'd always go hard for the sweet taste of victory. Horry made it a record seven championships for his career becoming the eighth wonder of the Basketball world and a top ten all-time clutch player...if not top five, or top three. Bird, Jordan and he...sorry Kobe. With the three Robert Horry put up more numbers than most legends would dream of...and he did it all from the bench.

The statistics and rings speak and count for themselves. The Hall should make way. Fame? Horry was infamous in a town where celebrities ran the courtside as well as the baseline. For the record Robert is one of only nine players in NBA history to have won seven or more championships in the NBA. Out of these nine of a kind guys he's the only one who did not play on the 1960s Celtics, this Laker legend is in a generation and class of his own, joining his 2000 champion team-mate John Salley as the only other player to win championships with three different NBA teams.

He may have not started games, but he sure did finish them. Carrying his team and family name with pride. Robert's arc of talent extended from behind the line as he also became the first NBA player in history 100 steals, 100 blocked shots and 100 threes in one season. Still, speaking of more big three's his seven in '97 against Utah made for the most three-point field goals made in a game without a miss. He's even outdone the greatest players of all-time. Fellow Laker alumni and all-time points leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is now second in playoff games played behind Horry. Now if you thought that was big the record for the number of three-pointers in an NBA Finals doesn't belong to Michael Jordan's 42 anymore, it belongs to Robert Horry's 53. Could the greatest Sixth Man of all-time be the greatest clutch player in NBA history? Time will tell like the reviews of the record but one things for sure, there is nobody like Robert Horry, no substitute. When talking about the greats people may not start with Robert, but they sure will finish with him. Like at the end of the game at the end of the day its all about Horry. The rafters and the Hall is waiting, here's hoping the NBA doesn't leave it to the last minute, they're not experts at that like he is. Hands down, seconds out, nobody did it like him. Three, two, one...none.

"That's just Robert man". Kobe Bryant.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

MONEYBALL


Money makes the basketball go round.

By TIM DAVID HARVEY

In Brad Pitt's latest classic film, 'Moneyball' it's all about numbers...and baseball. Before a big game the franchise owner he plays tells Jonah Hill's character to text him the play-by-play. As the kid from 'Superbad' looks confused the forever young actor replies; "I never watch the games". Can the same these days be said about NBA owners? OK that was a swipe and an unfair one at that. We know owners do and if they don't it's because they have too much on their plate, but this money debate on whether these millionaires and billionaires are eating enough is leaving the fans full and fed up. Especially with these fans from waiters to lawyers being the ones who serve these millionaires and billionaires with the cheese that brings these guys the cheddar.

Once again it's the players, fans and those working behind the scenes and below the pay-grades that are getting ripped off, while the fat-cats are having the last laugh and cigar. There may not even be any celebratory champagne next year at this rate if a payoff is not made before the playoffs. David Stern is even playing the role of the Grinch, all but cancelling Christmas. Bar humbug to basketball this year right? Camp didn't look so good this year, with no training days like a DVD collection with no Denzel. It's not a good look. We're waving goodbye to the preseason and the first fortnight of the regular due to irregularities and somebody not being forthright. Right now this weekend when top players should be getting ready LeBron James is in Liverpool, England with his part owned football club, while Kobe is probably digging in his deeper than the 'Bat-Cave' wallet to help more of his peers out, both these things being a financial concern. At the going rate between Italian offers to Jellybean Bryant's son and British jerseys making 'World Peace' statements, more stars may flock over the pond to swim in opportunity instead of sink in lockout blues. Deron Williams is already struggling out in Turkey. Who's next before thanksgiving?

Is this lockout the case of the owners being sharks or should the players bite and "bow down" like Hall of Fame legend and lockout survivor Dennis Rodman has suggested? Sure if the players did they could play now, but they have rights too it's like Kevin Durant said the players aren't the one's stopping play. This isn't the first time the powers that be have stopped the ball from bouncing the fans way. From league passes only available for the well off, to worse off teams getting as much coverage as playboy centrefolds. The lesser teams really have nothing too, as teams like New York and the Lakers thrive, franchises like New Jersey and the Clippers will struggle to survive, just thank the basketball God's for Blake Griffin.

Los Angeles and the STAPLES Centre almost made way for another Kings franchise and we aren't talking about hockey. The Maloof brothers are acting all aloof and taking their Kings franchise out of Sacramento. I guess this loyal city really will have to die-hard, perhaps more fans we're needed as well as more cowbell. The Kings look to go back to their royal roots as they look to head across California for the 2012-2013 season. Locked out of Sacramento, Los Angeles and Orange County were on the cards but now it looks like the Anaheim Royal's will be the new identity of another dead franchise.

It's another case of a stolen team and city. Sure it's great when a new town gets a new team for it's fan base, but what of the old home? It's that old girlfriend syndrome. Those 'Save Our Sonics' pleas didn't mean a thing. Seattle may have the former champion Storm in the WNBA, but they lost it all with their beloved Sonics. The people of Seattle still miss their team and the good days like Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. They miss it like they miss their band Nirvana and Kurt, or their sitcom 'Fraiser', but is anyone listening? The franchise said goodbye to Seattle as they headed to Oklahoma with new fans, colours and a name. As much as we love the new, exciting Thunder team led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and it's city, the owners basically jacked the Seattle Sonics players. It's a whole new franchise just the same team. They should have really started from scratch, if they wanted to steal players they should have had an expansion draft like the Charlotte Bobcats. All this Seattle sorrow started with a Starbucks owner who built a success on two cups but obviously doesn't give two f#$@% about the Sonics. The only green he was thinking about was the green belonging to his company or bank account, leaving Oklahoma and the fans in Seattle blue.

This isn't the first time this has happened...obviously. Money makes the basketball world go round...and therefore makes its teams relocate around the U.S. more than a journeyman...word and respect to Joe Smith. Sure sometimes it happens for the best, the Hornets left Charlotte for New Orleans, segued to Oklahoma during the disaster and the great cities of Charlotte and Oklahoma were rewarded with other teams (although the latter was at Seattle's expense in more ways than one) while the Hornets helped gave the forgotten New Orleans hope that those in power didn't (politics as usual). Still teams are changing arenas nearly as much as players are changing lockers. The Sixers have just been sold, who knows if they'll remain in Philadelphia or leave like the Fresh Prince. What's at stake in Philly? There's a lot of food for thought, but who's really thinking about the team?

This kind of thing hasn't been happening for year, it's been happening for decades. Think about it. Utah isn't famous for Jazz (New Orleans have lost a team before), have you ever seen a grizzly bear in Memphis? There's more chance of catching a glimpse of Elvis. After losing Vancouver, Canada now only have one team in the NBA; the sole franchise outside the U.S. I guess those Great Britain and China aspirations have been put on hold along with the season during this lockout, there won't be any international games this year, let alone domestic ones. Now if Toronto don't get much better, don't be surprised if Canada's only NBA team gets absorbed back into the States as right now on and off the court they'd probably far better in the new Canadian Basketball League. A nation could lose two NBA franchises in the end while the city of Los Angeles and one arena almost gained three, this is getting ridiculous.

You see what this all comes down to is love and respect. Love for the game and respect for the fans. This lack of has been happening for as long as loyalists and purists wish they could forget. At the end of the day love is more important than money. This is deeper then supermodels with old rich men draped frailly over their arms. As corny as it sounds if owners opened their hearts more than they closed their chequebooks we'd have something worth fighting for. The NBA needs to take a leaf out the NFL's playbook, as this sports league ended their lockout in time for the very first down. This is a league who still have great fan communities all around the world, like the champion Green Bay Packers instead of a hated team like the feel of the Miami Heat outside of the talents of South Beach. This is a league that recently mourned the loss of revered and beloved Raiders owner Al Davis, while in the NBA many Lakers fans were calling for Jerry Buss' head after the Shaq situation until the Pau Gasol trade brought the glory and smiles back to the Lake Show. Where's the love more apparent? On the famous Hollywood streets or in a little corner in Wisconsin? Could the money hungry owners keep a franchise there, when anything outside of California doesn't really sell? Sure we're in a world-wide financial repression, but right now we're in a basketball depression too.

It should all be about the game but the only ones getting played are the fans. The league needs more owners that are loved because of who they are, not just because there the greatest ball player and rapper of all-time. Sure MJ and Jay-Z are doing a great job (even if the Nets really are going to have some 'New Jersey's' as they are about to leave the Meadowlands and another NBA city, but hey Brooklyn's not too far) but more need to follow suit and realise that the National Basketball Association is ruled by more than the lapels and ties. It's ran by the one's who wear the jerseys honouring the logo on the courts and in the stands. Even King James dropped 'Business LeBron' because he was tired of being a puppet, now his commercial success is based on him managing himself. Now how's that for a decision?

The owners need to really look at their players and see how much they're worth, even if they play overseas and bring in more interest and revenue, it's the players who will be doing this and lining their owners pockets despite the lockout. It's a win, win situation for the owners so maybe it's time they yielded and helped out the one's at a loss. They need to look after more than number one, before nobodies watching. Most NBA courts get turned to ice rinks when the basketball's not on. Between hockey, football and Hollywood giving Baseball some shine (let alone international sport and basketball) the focus is zooming out of David Stern's Basketball league. It's in the NBA's best interests to keep going...literally. I thought this was the league we're amazing happens. We're all witnesses right now...but for what?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

SCOUTING THE ROSTER-L.A. LAKERS


CENTRES

ANDREW BYNUM: Forget about the knee injury for a second-that's old news-and besides it doesn't tell us how good a player 'Drew really is. The injury prone Bynum might have got knocked down a lot but look at all the times he's got right, back up. Baby Bynum is all grown up and the Lakers son is mature enough in the face of injury adversity. On the floor Bynum is killer like Brandon Flowers. Post trained By Abdul-Jabbar, those baby hooks are a great presence for the Lakers. His dunks, rebounds and paint work decorate the Lakers with yet another primary option on offence and one more thing, championship charm. Now that's a good 'luck'.

THEO RATLIFF: One of the best defensive players and centre's of the 90's Theo Ratliff is definitely an upgrade even though the Lakers miss the entertainment of D.J. like a club on Saturday night minus the wheels of steel. It's the iron man play of Ratliff however that will keep the Lakers defensive armour steel throughout the long season and playoffs. This swat on defense will keep opponents at bay while Bynums off the block. Before the Lakers, the veteran Theo ran with the young 'cats and looked fly and forever young in Charlotte. Now Ratliff's flight plan might have changed but his job description remains the same. Theo looks to bring his trademark hard nosed, high I.Q. defence and strong finishes to help ensure the Lakers become signature champions. Ratliff's contract with the Lake Show was set because his form can almost guarantee the Lakers do this. Theo's names on the dotted line. Now the inks been dry for a year it's time for the trophy to be engraved.

JOE SMITH: This guy is not your average 'Joe Smith'. He is one of the best basketball players of recent decades. Now in his late 30's he's one of the most valuable veterans and bench players you could possibly want for your team riding the pine and still able to give you primetime in the NBA. He knows a lot about other teams in the association, because he's played for damn near all of them. More importantly though he knows more than just how to call home where he lays his sneakers. His basketball I.Q. is high and his offensive knowledge is sound to the chorus of crowd cheers. He's no dunce on the other end either, able to 'D' up like a lazy kid's report card. With all these facets this is one guy you really want on your scouting report.

POWER FORWARDS

LAMAR ODOM: (Also Small Forward) Things have been getting better and better for Lamar Odom whilst he's been a Laker. Those troubled Clipper days seem so far away right now. Now on the other side of the staple, these days L.O. is an established Laker and a better choice than Shaquille O'Neal right now. Although we miss daddy this Laker child worked out better in the long run after all. This reigning 'Sixth Man of the Year' also definitely deserves an over due All-Star selection. Still however most All-Stars don't have gold medals or Kardashians. Things are looking up for Lamar. Odom doesn't need it all however because he does it all. L.O. Is still versatile his initials should be changed to X and O. On both ends of the floor this centre tall forward (that runs the floor like a guard) brings Magic every night. Providing the Lakers with more tricks up those long sleeves. Speaking of long sleeves Lamar's wing span is so huge, it's more Hollywood sign than the Staples floor. This season nobodies going to pass him by.

DERRICK CARACTER: The Lakers need this guy to rebuild. From his inspirational tweets full of his second-name sake to his bulky, broad play. To make it on a team like this you need a little bit of character. Derrick may be short of a 'h', but he isn't a loss on 'D' ensuring the Lakers don't have an '0' in the middle. Sure Caracter was taken even later in 2010 NBA Draft than fellow sophomore Ebanks (58Th to be exact) but he has still impressed with his rookie play. From filling the holie in the middle when needed to proving he's no donut at the centre position, Derrick came in and glazed the Lakers with sprinkles of his talent. He can score, rebound and reduce opponents statistics while putting up his own numbers. That's one whole game, and this was all seen from just a taster. Now it's time for him to eat more. Now it's time for Caracter to show us the real him.

PAU GASOL: (Also Centre) Pau Gasol is the perfect sidekick to Kobe Bryant. Scottie Pippen to Kobe's Jordan with a little Kukoc. Pau can flip between the forward position and the spot left vacant when Andrew Bynum's on a knees up. Gasol is a heavy scorer, heavy on defense and an all round player. Without Bryant, Gasol is the franchise player, still believe that. It's surprising this dynamo has been asked to step it up in the past because at present he's been all work playing in his native Spain during this lockout. You can tell by that greasy, sweaty mop some would call hair and that psycho killers stare and scream after big plays. Sure Gasol might not look his best sometimes, (doesn't matter though the ladies still love him) but his game is nothing but beautiful. Plus he has stepped it up to boot. Ever since Kevin Garnett bullied him in the losing '08 finals Gasol has showed the strength and competitiveness of the fighting Irish, something Beantown didn't want to see this year. This former Jackson dubbed 'grasshoper' has turned into a Spanish bull fighter. Jiminy Crickets! Once you see Gasol working those Olive Oil flapping arms in the post it's hard not to slip up. The green team better have eaten their spinach this year.

SMALL FORWARDS

DEVIN EBANKS: Sure it's been said before. They look the same, play the same and even wear the same number but still as much as he helps the Lakers ease the loss of Trevor Ariza, Devin Ebanks is very much his own man. The Lakers normally never get the better draft picks but the Lakers hit the lottery when Ebanks number came up at 43 in the class of '10. Sure this is a ludicrously wrong placing for a player so fundamentally right but the rest of the leagues loss is the Lakers big win. Devin's in excess play is heaven sent. He's the ticket. He plays the passing lanes and is a steal in more ways then one. He can score, D and finish like Bruce Springsteen, tougher than the rest. Most importantly Ebanks doesn't just look like Ariza he also didn't look like a rookie last season. Now as a sophomore except much more.

METTA WORLD PEACE: Champagne sure tastes better than some fans beer. Ron Artest has come a long way since his darkest day and now in his brightest moments he shines as Metta World Peace. As for Metta...or Ron's past, it's a wrap. This champion is the Lakers wild card that cut the cheese instead of the deck. He's the one that made fans forget about Ariza before Ebanks. He forms Q.B.'s finest with Lamar Odom (Nas is proud) and as for his relationship with Kobe, they got in each others face in the 2010 playoffs again like the Rocket days, but this time they almost needed to get a room. All joking aside World Peace is serious now. Serious about getting better, serious about mental health and serious about winning. Number 37 made the Lakers diamond in a 'thriller' finals in 2010 and this season number 15 is going back to the basics, thinner, stronger and even more focused after a Dallas setback prevented him from putting another championship ring on ebay this year. Still you can bet Metta's in the right frame of mind. Peace.

MATT BARNES: From one top bracket defensive talent with a history of trouble both off the court and with Kobe to another. Matt Barnes signing last year gives the Lakers the perfect defensive supplement for Ron or Kobe off the bench. Barnes versatile talents may mean that even though he's coming off the bench he could still play starters minutes and be in the game at crucial moments. Ladies and gentleman, your looking at the defensive Robert Horry. When Barnes is on the floor at the same time as his dog Ron and the doberman the three give the Lakers the best perimeter defense trio in the league. Three lines of defence that even the army of LeBron and Dwyane would find hard to breach. Barnes may have some problems but he takes some offence too. Barnes isn't an upgrade from a player the Lakers have lost. There's no one like Barnes, this move is all asset adding another dimension to a team that stands out so much. There 3D, even without the three-peat.

LUKE WALTON: It's time for Staples Centre fans to start screaming 'Luuuke' again. Luke may have been battling back and all sorts of injuries but it's now time for him suit up on the floor instead of the bench and put those coaching aspirations on chill. Luke along with Kobe is one of the only surviving Lakers from the team that had Shaq on and since then Luke has been an important part of the teams fuel economy since the diesel left. Don't pass this assist man up because he's an asset to the Lakers with his all round play, competitiveness and heart. Luke was the perfect replacement for Rick Fox and provided he's healthy and in purple and gold, just like Rick, Luke will always be ready to go when the show need him. Like father Bill, like son however the injury prone Walton will look to make the most of his time. Unlike his dad however here's hoping this time isn't limited. Sure he'll make a great coach...but just one day, not yet.

SHOOTING GUARDS

KOBE BRYANT: MVP, Champion, Gold medalist, best since Mike, team player. What else has Kobe got to prove? Nothing. Still however in terms of championship promise if it's not reigning champs Dallas, critics are looking towards LeBron's big three in Miami, featuring Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This may be too much too handle but hey Bird, Magic, Hakeem, Shaq, Ewing and more couldn't stop Jordan and just like M.J., Kobe today has an unmatched killer instinct and desire to win. Plus he's got his own bunch of 'superfriends'. Critics are making LeBron the villain and their doing this so much that their forgetting that Kobe's the hero. Just wait, there will be more times this season where Kobe pops the Lakers logo on his jersey than bites it. As quick as a flash Kobe can still take the throne no matter how much voltron is formed. Ignore him now but when you see 24 come at you, three isn't going to be enough, even if it's coming from Dirk.

SHANNON BROWN: Plain and simple Shannon Brown is showtime. This offseason may have be more of a case of 'who'? then WOW however! Still however if the Lakers lock this free-agent back up Brown will bring back his underrated D, his strength and his sparkplug plays and dunks. Shannon may like to dunk but he's not a one trick pony, there's a lot more magic and horsepower to S.B.'s all round game. Plus just like former Laker Sasha Vujacic, Shannon announced his engagement to a big star (R&B singer Monica). Now also just like Vujacic, Brown laced with two rings could be ready to show all that glitters is gold, Laker championship gold. That's if he doesn't leave the assemble of the Lakers like 'the machine'.

POINT GUARDS

DEREK FISHER: What more can be said about the Fish that's saved L.A. time and playoff time again? After some unnecessarily lengthy contract negotiations last offseason the Lakers reeled Fisher back in, to their advantage, not Miami's. Now the president of the Player's Association is making his own negotiations with the NBA to cast a line out to get this locked out season back. This big-time 'players player' is the key to all the success in the National Basketball Association. Derek's a rookie child of '96 coming up with Kobe and in some ways since that time he's been just as important as Kobe to the franchise. He may be old but name a guard that's strength and conditioning is on point as Derek's. Need a charge, a key bucket, free throw or clutch three? There's one Fish that you can always count on down the line. Hero doesn't even begin to describe. How about taking the first two letters of that word and adding some 'art'. This Fish is about to save the NBA and keep it beating again.

STEVE BLAKE: Laker fans may have been disappointed with the loss of Los Angeles' own Jordan Farmar but Steve Blake is more than a worthy replacement. Blake, a former Portland and Clipper favourite knows Staples, the Lakers and most importantly how to compete. Steve's hard nosed play, three point shooting and D is a clean cut as his shaved head. Blake is one of those guards that is terribly underrated when starting (think Luke Ridnour), but when he acts as backup he's one of the best in the L. With a deep season, an ageing Fish and a lot of bait amongst the competition the Lakers will need all the help they can get off the bench. Fortunately for them, Blakes got their back. TIM DAVID HARVEY.

SCOUTING THE ROSTER-L.A. LAKERS:THE B-LIST


So good there's seconds.

The Lake Show is on right now. Over the past few seasons Los Angeles have been so good they've been named champion twice. If the Lakers want to avenge last years loss to last years champion Dallas, they will have to rely on more than the Mamba, the Spaniard and the act of 'World Peace' however. The Lakers depth extends more than Metta's wide range of extensive experience and Derek Fishers clutch range. If the Lakers are to be more successful and write history like Drake a big reason will be the bench mob which is the best they ever had. The second infantry is what will soldier this team on in a deep season and playoff campaign as the Lakers look to get presidential a year after their second, victorious term didn't translate into a three-peat. With this in mind and on court let's scout even further.

STEVE BLAKE: Derek Fisher may have the experience but Steve Blake's the future. Derek may have the years but Steve's got the speed. Blake's three point shot has developed so much that you could bank on it rivalling Fisher's in the clutch. These backcourt mates have nothing to bicker about however. These two guards compliment each other perfectly. Steve Blake in less than ten games last season showed that he would even belong in the first five. This game hero has already been a life saver for L.A. and there's still plenty of breathing space left for his development. A couple of years back the Lakers were a donut in the P.G. position but now they get the point.

SHANNON BROWN: There's more than an engagement to R&B singer Monica that is making this spark plug hit all the high notes. Shannon's always been more than a dunker but last year Brown really saw the light. Shannon looks to take flight this 82 as this years slogan should be 'Let Shannon Play'. He's now a free-agent but the Lakers should do all they can do to keep him locked down in L.A. lockout or not. Brown's shown great versatility over the years, his developing range is measuring as high as his energy. Still Shannon's dunking is what is pined after and gawked at as much as the bikini models on Venice Beach and it's these amazing aerial displays that will keep other teams grounded in games were the Lakers team or crowd need a 'lift me up'. Shannon Brown is the perfect definition of an energy player off the bench. Lose your spark he's ready to plug in at any given time. This pine time player is an expert in the prime time. Remember it's not who starts games, it's who finishes them.

MATT BARNES: This tattooed warrior settled back in California last season looking for some championship ink. OK there were no new tattoo's last year but Matt's got plenty of breathing room left on his skin. Sure to some this guy appears rough around the edges bit a player like him should make the Lakers cruise to the championship on a smooth sail. Matt is the strong, second wind behind the energy of the bench mob. With Ron Artest and the doberman, Barnes Jerry Maguires a three man perimeter defence tandem that is the best in the league with a mission statement to watch the throne. When all three bless the court at the same time even the Miami Heat will have hell to play. Plus Matt can spell both Kobe's shooting guard position and Ron's small forward spot meaning this swingman can give the Lakers an effervescent, fiery, defensive presence when the Lakers first string defenders cool off from the burn. Barnes tenacity and versatility help the Lakers adopt these characteristics as well. This defensive minded player is offensive too. Career highs of 36 points make Barnes guilty of talent on both ends of the floor.

LAMAR ODOM: He has not made an All-Star team yet (why?) and critics have written him off as the Scottie Pippen to Kobe's Michael Jordan (again why?). Still however Lamar Odom is the benches franchise player to Kobe's first team one. He may never be an MVP but ihe sure is even more than the 'Sixth Man of the Year; honor he picked up last season. Even when injury prone Andrew Bynum is out Odom can help the roster draw shape by moving to the four on the floor as Gasol takes front and centre. It's this versatility that sets guys like Odom and Garnett from the rest. If L.A. cloned L.O. he could play all five positions. This big guy can play in the backcourt too, now that's truly Magic. He's come on leaps and bounds over the years, but don't get it twisted he's no most improved. Lamar's always been this good. There isn't a player quite like him and until Anthony Randolph develops there won't be one still. Another unique thing about the Hollywood favourite (in more ways than one) is his unselfishness. He could be the star but he's more complimentary, not lazy. Critics may put other so called stars above Odom but he's got two things those others don't have...rings.

THEO RATLIFF: Lakers backup centres have always been reliable and entertaining but you can bank on something more eye catching with defensive presence, Theo Ratliff bringing his shot-swatting staple to the Lakers stadium. Last season Theo became as welcome in this Lakers family as a Huxtable is to the Cosby's. There's going to be a block party in L.A this year with Ratliffs presence on the hardwood and with this D student coming off the bench the defensive minded Lakers look even better at guarding the West throne from the rest and the Maverick best. Now Theo may be the oldest Laker but even in reduced minutes he'll still bring the Lakers an asset of experience that will pay off in playoff dividends.

Now with a second unit as strong as this it even leaves talent like Luke Walton and Joe Smith on the third team. Or if you like, the benches ideal sixth man (how strong is this?). It's this second battalions mix of fight, versatility and experience that makes these players the perfect finishing compliment to the starters. This second string ties this team together brilliantly. Meaning even when the Lakers are on the ropes they'll have the support in their corner ready to go another round. This second squad may not be a Hollywood list but it's all-star. Now don't you just love it when a B-team comes together? TIM DAVID HARVEY.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

PLAYERS BALL-LA LAKERS ALL-TIME BEST STARTING 5


Our 'Player's Ball' feature takes a look at best players and teams. Today is the LA Lakers all-time best starting line-up.

CENTRE: WILT CHAMBERLAIN

Sorry Shaq, you may be the daddy but Wilt the stilt towers over you and everyone else to get this position 100% and this is not because of the still untouched, won't be for awhile 100 point game (sorry Kobe). It's not about the legend or the statistical averages he stacked higher than his number of partners. Nobody comes close to screwing with Chamberlain, not even Kareem and his all-time point leading sky-hooks can catch up (sorry 'cap). Bill Russell couldn't even stop him and Wilt could put the D on the Celtic ring bearer too. From Phila to killer Cali' and the Lakers Wilt was all killer and no filler as he took up the whole paint and changed the game to make it his lane. Even with three guys tripling him in the painted area Wilt had the key to it all. He owned it and everyone. Now who else could dominate this position?

POWER FORWARD: KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR

A.C. almost made it, Gasol needs a few more years for retrospect and Karl Malone's really Utah's (but what a great year from one of the greatest), so our man at the four is going to have to be someone a little different. The only way to settle this Kareem versus Wilt debate is too just put them in the same dream team and just hope they get along. If these two pivots played together they'd create a twin tandem that would even scare legendary San Antonio duo David Robinson and Tim Duncan out their spur. This formidable frontline would be too much, for double, triple or even full teams coming on the floor to defend. Kareem's no Power Forward but he could draw defenders out the paint for Wilt with his signature, sky-hook shot (not that Wilt would need to rebound). Plus if Wilt's not dropping 100, who better to carry the scoring load then the NBA's all-time points leader? The way to solve this best centre debate is to stand them next to each other and see what they're really made of.

SMALL FORWARD: KOBE BRYANT

The greatest player in the league right now-palms on the ball down-need we point anyone else in this position (albeit his un-natural one due to the selection of Jerry West at the 2)? Like the game, it's his. Leading his Los Angeles Lakers to a second straight NBA Championship in 2010 Kobe Bryant once again cemented his status as best in the NBA, furthering his legend as one of the best ever to do it. Sure Kobe had a lot more help than usual but still number 24 looked more and more like number 23 in his dominance of the game. Kobe put on his fifth championship ring (one less than Jordan) but he couldn't even fit it on his swollen finger. Still today Kobe doesn't just carry his team he carries injury after injury as he plays through the pain en route to comfortable victories. Where else can you put the best but number one? Said and done!

SHOOTING GUARD: JERRY WEST

There is nothing east of Jerry West. How was the logo of the NBA not going to make this team? Here he's even managed to push Kobe to the three like Shaq in the early millennium. Jerry West was the NBA and in many ways still is. Mr. Clutch could hit from anywhere, even his own court. The floor was Mr. Big Shot's, Mr. Lakers gave everything to the purple and gold franchise. Through all the years of Boston heartbreak to winning in the front office as a G.M. that was anything but general. From the skill to the savvy this serious player had a set of fundamentals that helped write the book on the modern day game of basketball (look out for the autobiography too coming next month). This year the logo was finally honored with a statue and this Laker legends place on this team will forever be set in stone.

POINT GUARD: MAGIC JOHNSON

Now how about some Magic? Who else to share this legendary backcourt with M.J. then M.J. A man who produced thrillers like pop's M.J. With Quincy Jones cool. Remember the time? Earvin 'Magic' Johnson was a pharoahe in this league, at the top of the Lakers pyramid. This no-look wizard won't pass up anything and will unselfishly even play centre if you ask him. Never fear Magic's here. With him your in safe, slight of hands. Without him there's nothing left to pull out your hat, no ace in the hole. There was no showtime without him and no greater competitor for Jordan to beat and truly take the torch off. The greatest player this league has seen not named M.J. with a Jeffrey. Without him Kareem, Bird and the NBA itself would never have been the same. The Basketball was an extension of him, not the other way round and so was the sport. His tricks of the trade changed the game. He's still making major moves in the business world today trying to bring the NFL to Los Angeles, and who else to quarterback this team the the man that brought the NBA to the world?

SIXTH MAN: ROBERT HORRY

Portland realise, Philadelphia have been through it, Sacramento know all too well, hell the whole wide league, United States and world know, when it comes to coming off the bench and hitting franchise and championship plays nobody can touch this man. Even Kobe's best M.J. impression and Mr. Clutch have to give it up to Big Shot Bob when he's behind the arc. From giving other people problems in the Houston days to the X-Factor championship Laker days let history be the judge. Sure Shaq, Mikan and Goodrich are criminally left off the chilling list, 'Big Game James' is Worthy too and even Gasol and Odom could be here. Still until Derek Fisher out-shoots him nobody will embody the sixth man position more than the Hall of Fame bound legend that is Robert Horry. As the clock reads '0.0', there's no one else.TIM DAVID HARVEY.

Friday, 7 October 2011

PLAYERS BALL-ALL-TIME BEST STARTING 5


Our 'Player's Ball' feature takes a look at best players and teams. Today is the all-time best starting line-up.

CENTRE: WILT CHAMBERLAIN

Sorry Shaq, you may be the daddy but Wilt the stilt towers over you and everyone else to get this position 100% and this is not because of the still untouched, won't be for awhile 100 point game (sorry Kobe). It's not about the legend or the statistical averages he stacked higher than his number of partners. Nobody comes close to screwing with Chamberlain, not even Kareem and his all-time point leading sky-hooks can catch up (sorry 'cap). Bill Russell couldn't even stop him and Wilt could put the D on the Celtic ring bearer too. From Phila to killer Cali' and the Lakers Wilt was all killer and no filler as he took up the whole paint and changed the game to make it his lane. Even with three guys tripling him in the painted area Wilt had the key to it all. He owned it and everyone. Now who else could dominate this position?

POWER FORWARD: TIM DUNCAN

Tim Duncan isn't just the quietest, greatest Power Forward in the L right now, he's also the greatest in that position ever. Even Charles Barkley would shout that out. Silence the critics who talk him down as boring. Bored to death more like. This is one purple and gold killer that never donned green and white. Basically speaking this T-Bot gets the job done and his black and silver Spurs clicking on an everytime basis like a machine. His factory of talents have led to victory laps even when the Admiral David Robinson set sail for the last time. Giant Timmy even took his old San An boys to the NBA's best record last season. Duncan over everybody, Amar'e, McHale, whoever. The centre position may have gravitated to the four in the late nighties but that's when the T-Bot took control and made it and the league his own. No one else computes.

SMALL FORWARD: LARRY BIRD

No team flies without Bird. This is Larry's legend. The legacy? Well that belongs to the Celtics and this guy brought Boston so much green you could call him Red. The champagne and success was on the hick from the French Lick. He may have not looked like a basketball player but his game translated into one of the greatest. He changed the sport and how it was marketed in the mainstream along with rival/friend Magic Johnson and he showed Earvin and Laker showtime that green-collar Boston hard-work was the real good luck. Bird hit everything from three and from anywhere showing he could hit shots that could land him on the blacktop streets. His greatest quality wasn't his charismatic confidence it was his genuine selflessness. From the 'Lick Flick' lightening, Magic like behind the head passes to the blood, sweat, tears and years he helped assist the Boston Celtics with. He gave his team absolutely everything and that's why he definitely makes ours.

SHOOTING GUARD: MICHAEL JORDAN

The greatest of all time (and we're talking about sport and not just basketball) of course makes the all-time best scorer. Got Mike? Then you've got your go to scorer who can go toe-to-toe with anybody, offensively or defensively, Shaq or Kobe. Got Mike? Then you've got a defensive stopper, a Knick stopper, a crowd stopper and a revolution starter. Got Mike? Then you've got the greatest competitor who's ever played a game of basketball or monopoly. Got Mike? Then you've got a basketball monopoly and dynasty. Got Mike? Then you've got someone that never gives up and never really retires. Got Mike? Then you've got the air in your building and the man who shakes the foundations from his Nike's. Got Mike? Then you've got sponsorship and a real endorsement. Got Mike? Then you've got the best ever...period. Who else you gonna pick? Sam Bowie?

POINT GUARD: MAGIC JOHNSON

Now how about some Magic? Who else to share this legendary backcourt with M.J. then M.J. A man who produced thrillers like pop's M.J. With Quincy Jones cool. Remember the time? Earvin 'Magic' Johnson was a pharoahe in this league, at the top of the Lakers pyramid. This no-look wizard won't pass up anything and will unselfishly even play centre if you ask him. Never fear Magic's here. With him your in safe, slight of hands. Without him there's nothing left to pull out your hat, no ace in the hole. There was no showtime without him and no greater competitor for Jordan to beat and truly take the torch off. The greatest player this league has seen not named M.J. with a Jeffrey. Without him Kareem, Bird and the NBA itself would never have been the same. The Basketball was an extension of him, not the other way round and so was the sport. His tricks of the trade changed the game. He's still making major moves in the business world today trying to bring the NFL to Los Angeles, and who else to quarterback this team the the man that brought the NBA to the world?

SIXTH MAN: JULIUS ERVING

Your sixth man doesn't need to be your star of stars but in this case he needs to be one in his own right. Your sixth man doesn't have to be a swingman but if he's going to be effective he's got to over a few position. Being the best dunker could help get some points on the board and fans off the 'bored' too. Maybe some style wouldn't hurt either, a 'fro or some high socks. It helps team identity if this guys iconic, or capable of starting a cultural revolution. A sixth man needs to be able to score, D, bang and board like he could start, or why should he play. He needs to make seamless transitions like from the ABA to the NBA. Thank the basketball God's for Julius. Erving is just what the good Dr. J ordered. TIM DAVID HARVEY.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

PLAYERS BALL-TODAY'S BEST STARTING 5


Our 'Player's Ball' feature takes a look at best players and teams. Today is the present best starting line-up.

CENTRE: DWIGHT HOWARD

He has the biggest smile and personality in the league today. He dons Superman capes for dunk contest, sings at the free throw line, dances and jokes at every opportunity and he's even cameo's in movies and released an album. The Shaq parallels are huge and just like the most dominant ever Dwight Howard must be taken seriously. He aint no joke. Don't let the warm persona fool you Howard's a cold competitor. Still the best physical specimen in the L, with two handers, put backs and rebounds for days and games. OK he isn't as good as they say...he's better. His Orlando Magic team are true contenders and not a Disneyland, Mickey Mouse act. He may have talent around him but it all starts and ends with him. He may act like his jersey size, but his game goes beyond his years as he matures and morphs into a Shaq/Bill Russell hybrid. Besides 'Fast Don't Lie', so save the talk. Dwight Howard's going to sing.

POWER FORWARD: AMARE STOUDEMIRE

It didn't look great for this power player years back...literally. One eye operation and a couple of knees up beforehand, this guy was spending more time on x-ray boards than low post ones. Still that's a thing of the past now as Amare Stoudemire has braced up and is now rocking goggles that make him look like the T-Horace Grant 1000. It all looked the same for the New York Knicks last year, once again Madison Square Garden looked like the crapper of basketball but then the Knicks upped their STAT's. Stoudemire looks like the old him, power dunking, power blocking, power boarding and power steering his way back to greatness. It's the kind of plays that make Michael Olowakandi poster. It's the kind of performances that make good on the promise to make Knick basketball relevant again. It's the kind of power that makes MSG fans say 'LeBron who?' and 'welcome Carmelo'. That's Amare!

SMALL FORWARD: LEBRON JAMES

The king of the NBA by royal appointment of David Stern, this guy is the commissioner of the future. Still, some threw rocks at the throne (or the billboard) but they better keep watching it. From Cleveland to Miami LeBron James witnessed a change in his status from love to hate. Still one thing didn't change about the guy as he switched teams, his brilliant all round play. The swingman furthered the development of his all round game. The player who can play point but also has the power of a forward muscled his way to greatness with more classic NBA moments. Then in another moment of televised decision, love it or loathe it the 'Bron showed how dominant he really is. How can one man have so much power? Because he's the king.

SHOOTING GUARD: KOBE BRYANT

The greatest player in the league right now-palms on the ball down-need we point anyone else in this position? Like the game, it's his. Leading his Los Angeles Lakers to a second straight NBA Championship in 2010 Kobe Bryant once again cemented his status as best in the NBA, furthering his legend as one of the best ever to do it. Sure Kobe had a lot more help than usual but still number 24 looked more and more like number 23 in his dominance of the game. Kobe put on his fifth championship ring (one less than Jordan) but he couldn't even fit it on his swollen finger. Still today Kobe doesn't just carry his team he carries injury after injury as he plays through the pain en route to comfortable victories. Where else can you put the best but number one? Said and done!

POINT GUARD: RAJON RONDO

Critics for years have been talking about who's the best point guard in the L, Deron Williams, Chris Paul or Nash. Water cooler experts have been talking about the importance of the Boston Celtics big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Still over the last two years the name Rajon Rondo has gone through the NBA's four P's, potential, promise, prominence and power. The former raw backup given the reigns of a championship squad is now the reams centrepiece. As 'Jesus', 'Da Kid' and 'The Truth' age Rondo just keeps getting better and better and more like the teams franchise player. He can score, dish, provide D and has as much savvy as an off court baller, but on the floor Rondo is shines instead of shimmering. Get the point? No, well put it this way the name Rajon Rondo belongs in critics and water cooler experts guarded debate. Whether in the mix or right there on top, like his Celtics could still be. Don't rule anything out, this guys headband and shoulders above the rest.

SIXTH MAN: DWYANE WADE

D. Wade came a long way from being taken off the floor in a wheelchair the season before last and we're talking more than the All-Star MYP award. This year Wade has been one of the best players you could have on your franchise, in more ways than one. Not only has Wade's world been a place that makes acrobatic, difficult and clutch shots again it's also been one of the best destinations for basketball. Dwyane once again became the leagues best general as he dominated the floor for his Miami Heat squad and also rallied in some troops of real strong company. Things where looking promising in Miami then in a flash things where fulfilled with a BANG! LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach. There has been more than enough three months ago of talk, opinion and hate about this superteam but as the voltron formed critics and fans alike forgot to recognise one thing. Dwyane Wade may just be the best recruiter there is. TIM DAVID HARVEY.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

LEGACY OF TRADITION


The God's of Basketball.

BY TIM DAVID HARVEY

It's a Sexy Match up”. -Kobe Bryant

We Never Take These Moments for Granted”.-Paul Pierce

So Dallas and Miami may have taken care of the NBA's two most famous franchises last season and created a new match-up for a new generation, but one thing they can't take from the Boston Celtics and the L.A. Lakers is their tradition and legacy. Back in 2008 the Lakers and Celtics took over half a century of storied rivalry and got it back on for two finals over three years. This was the big ticket like Kevin Garnett, starring two teams who took two 'chips out of each other. Even today some may call it boring but isn't this the match up everybody wants to see? Well… kind of.

Look back to 2008 and this match up of the moment. The Lakers and the Celtics, two of the associations most recognizable and storied franchises. Two powerhouses, evenly matched and going at it game after game. There was no David in this story, just two Goliaths’. The anticipation was mouth watering; however over the last couple of years one match-up has rivalled the instant vintage of a Lakers, Celtics classic. This is the potential head to head match up between Kobe Bryant and the other best player in the league; LeBron James. This is what everyone expected to see this June. The leagues two best all-round players, recent MVP's and dual ‘SLAM Presents’ cover stars duking it out. In the blue corner, Kobe, the best since M.J., holding more in experience, skill and accomplishment. In the red corner, LeBron, the present and future, the all-round player and phenom. A player who has already accomplished so much and is set to achieve so much more. After all the hype however alas there are no games scheduled in STAPLES this year, neither were there any 'Most Valuable Puppets' final commercials airing. The ultimate, winner takes all battle for the best player in the NBA again will have to wait.

One thing us die-hard NBA fans can't wait for is another Lakers/Celtics bout. The Celtics took the Lakers in 2008, but two years and a L.A. championship against Orlando later in 2010 Kobe Bryant had the chance to claim his status as the greatest in the NBA. Back then before he had his chance to beat the best player in the league he had to win it all against the best team. The history speaks for itself. Boston have 17 titles to L.A.'s 15. They’ve beaten the Lakers 9 times in the finals. L.A. had beaten Boston twice, but the third time was the charm. Historically there was so much more to prove in 2010. This then all changed as Kobe and the Lakers took it within one game of tieing the all-time series, imagine if they could do it again. Boston did not beat L.A. for a tenth time, history will all come down to the next match-up. Now who wants to see that.

Statistically and mentally speaking Boston have the upper hand, they were a sprinkle of talcum powder away from slapping the Lakers hard with this fact, until the boys from Hollywood took their hands and rewrote history's script. The Lakers have suffered many a heartbreak by Boston only to be left green with Celtic envy at what they've achieved in relation to their rivals, but things are looking more evenly matched these days. The Lakers have endured it all, from celebratory balloons falling on an empty, solemn, Forum court to Kobe Bryant sombrely walking off the Celtics parquet floor in 2008 with green & white ticker tape falling around him. It's moments like that when all a beaten opponent can do is keep their head down, staring at the famous wood that has been the bane of many opposing teams postseason lives. Kobe's long walk was similar to Magic's walk off the Forum floor when Jordan and the Bulls stopped the ‘Show’ before it's time at the start of the 90’s. These so called 'walks of shame' may be an NBA players lowest moment but if you look deeper than that it's also the moment a competitor like Kobe or Magic renew their focus and regroup. A focus that then turns a walking Kobe into a jubilant running and jumping champion in the 2010 rematch that took the game, set and, match advantage back to L.A.'s court.

Before that however in 2009-one year removed from losing on his rival’s court-Kobe was jumping up and down in jubilation on another opposing team’s floor. Reclaiming the championship after seven, long, Shaq-less years against Orlando was real sweet, but like Nas ‘It Aint Hard to Tell’ that Kobe was still troubled by the Boston loss in '08. As were the rest of the Lake show. It's almost felt like the defending champions wouldn't really feel like they’ve reclaimed their crown fully unless they took it off the team that took it off them last. That's the real 'chip on the Lakers shoulder. Sure the Magic were ans still are an enthralling team but fans were craving ‘Lakers, Celtics 2’. The sequel that everyone really wanted to see. It's like when Muhammad Ali heard the infamous Howard Cossell commentary, 'Down goes Fraizer, DOWN GOES FRAIZER!' Ali knew that even though he would end up the champ, there would still be a score left to settle that would have to wait. This was the same for the Lakers after they won in 2009. Their time to really win was in 2010 and boy did they.

The Celtics had something to prove as well. They needed to prove that their first championship was not merely a one off. In the same year the Lakers cast a spell on the Magic, the Celtics had no tricks left in their bag as they fell in the playoffs much earlier than expected. Their defence of their championship left a lot to be desired. They displayed more the age of a veteran than the heart of a champion. Also, the Celtics still wanted to be considered as the best team in the league, so they needed to show everyone that they could beat a Laker team that battle-tested from previous losses had now won a championship. The Lakers had the advantage there but the Celtics wanted to show the league that it wasn't happening in their house. Whichever team would win this series would start to make their stamp on establishing their own dynasty in this league.

Sure watching 'The Mamba' and 'The King' go at it for seven games would of made some classic NBA playoff moments. Two evenly matched players with similar games, guarding each other and going basket for basket, dunk for dunk. That would of been something special, but that didn't mean that the Celtics/Lakers series of the second decade of the new millennium wasn't any less special. The Lakers, Celtics rivalry has resulted in many defining moments in NBA history and this series undoubtedly added more memories to the vault and more fuel to the fire of this traditional, heated rivalry.

It's not just the fans that wanted it. Both teams relish this match-up too. Phil Jackson expressed to Paul Pierce in the 2009 off-season how he wanted him to lead his Celtics back to the finals again so they could face off again, he got his wish a year before his retirement as well as his 10Th ring. It was the match-up to see who really was the real champion. In 2010 both teams were better than they were the last time they met in '08. They both had a championship under their belt, they were both seasoned and closer as units and they both were dominant to the point were it looked too easy for them. Think about it both teams at times managed to coast through the season and playoffs in what looked like second gear. Now as both teams were back were they wanted to be. It was time for both teams to take one, hard stare at each other, then put the foot down.

Boy did they put their foot down too. Both teams went at it for the full seven games, taking blood, sweat, tears and years off, not to mention each others home-court advantage. There was nothing between these two greats in this epic series, except a hard-fought ugly game 7 which showed just how competitive and beautiful this game really is. From the eccentricities of Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace to the smooth flowing games of Lamar Odom and Ray Allen and K.G.'s growls to Gasol's stares and Pierce's passion to Kobe's never say die attitude everyone brought their A game, for a first-grade series to report on. The 2010 NBA Finals went down as one of the best moments to register in basketball history. Now who wants to see these two hall Of Fame teams do it again?

Sure Boston's window may be getting smaller as their team is getting older but trust they are more wiser too. Plus the fourth Beatle of Rajon Rondo has taken this big-three up a notch with a breath of young fresh air, which should keep the window of opportunity open for longer. Now the Lakers may have been embarrassed and dismantled by last years champion Dallas, but this is no part two to the 'death of a dynasty' that critics are calling time on. Phil Jackson may be gone, but the best player in the league today and the second best of all time is here with, the best European player Pau Gasol and their Hollywood squad. Showtime is still very much on, and Celtic pride is the only thing that can dampen the Lakers accomplishments.

It's all about the two greatest franchise in league history. The tension. The rivalry. Bird and Kareem squaring off. Wilt and Russell going at it. Offence versus defence. Showtime versus hard work. It's about Magic’s baby hook. It's about Celtic fans rushing the floor as soon as the buzzer sounds. It's the rings on Bill Russell’s fingers compared to the frustration on Jerry West's face. It's the Forum and the Garden. It's the fans. The celebrities turning up in Los Angeles to add shine and the regular folks in Boston driving around the Lakers hotel room at 3am, keeping the players awake all night.

It’s Los Angeles versus Boston. Hollywood versus blue collar. ‘Beat L.A.’ versus a ‘Boston Massacre’. It's all about Kobe or Pierce. Gasol or Garnett. It's all about players like Bynum and Odom or Allen and Rondo. Guys all over the floor who can make an impact and difference and change the tone of a series. It's about two acclaimed teams stacked from 1-15. Bench for bench. Burn for burn. It's two foes going at it. Possession for possession. Play for play. Bucket for bucket. Game for game. It's all about the Larry O'Brien trophy. It's all about now. Sure this rivalry took a year off but you must believe these two teams will be back to do battle with each other. In NBA history they always come back, they always do. These two teams are married to each other for better or worse in a matrimony of history, legacy and tradition. Divorce yourself from last year and engage yourself with their partnership because your cordially invited to the next ceremony between the masters. Now who's got the rings?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

HARD TO EARN


From the recession to the lockout.

BY TIM DAVID HARVEY

We are less than a month away from the start of the 2011/2012 NBA season, but is this the end? We are still very much in a lockout, because apparently the love for the game isn't enough. Money matters and you best believe-despite what they say-we are still in a recession people. In today’s economic climate we are all still feeling the sting, rich or poor it effects us all. Even platinum rapper Young Jeezy released an album called 'The Recession'. Let's take a look away from the lockout for a moment and look at other cash flow issues the NBA has. In one of the biggest money making sports leagues in the world which teams are fairing better and how long can this glitz and glamour NBA keep burning through cash in these hard times? We already know the buck is stopping with the season's scheduled games but how long can this association be overdrawn?

Let's take a look back at the source. Let's rewind to an important day in the Summer 0f '09 (not as glamorous as Bryan Adams '69 record mark my words). Here we are at the tail end of July and memories of the NBA Finals over a month removed were still fresh in our minds. The NBA draft was almost a month back and we were amidst an eventful summer of free agency. Even with all that however already the champion Lakers had bought in another All Star, the Celtics have bolstered their deep roster and Shaquille O'Neal has signed with his third different team in many a year. Just another week in the big business that is the National Basketball Association, who's teams seem to be saying ‘Recession, what recession?’ until…

…the reality check of July 7th came along. The NBA announced that the salary cap for the following season would be lowered by almost $1 million to $57.7 million and the luxury tax would be lowered from $71.15 to $69.92. This meant that teams with salaries that peaked above the mark of $69.92 million would have to pay a $1 tax for every dollar they exceed. This is something teams definitely wanted to avoid, especially in this league were money is king (Sorry Lebron) it was another cost to endure in an unpredictable league and an even more unpredictable financial market. A league and it's market today that still can't predict an end to this miserable lockout which is surely costing the players and the owners more money than is being negotiated.

Still, back then the NBA was said to have a ‘Soft cap’ and teams were and are allowed to exceed the cap in order to retain a free agent who was already on their team. This is known as ‘The Larry Bird Exception’ and teams like the 80’s Celtics with the luck of Larry will be able to stay competitive for many more years, unless these type of teams reside in Cleveland, I guess that exception was not a Cavalier decision with the biggest of players. The lowering of the Salary cap however, ensured it was the players and not the teams that were effected by this the most. The free agents who could demand a higher pay scale could flock to the top teams that can ante up in their favour, (see the previous sarcastic comment and 'talents taken to; South Beach').

Its not about the money, its not about business, right? Wrong! Remember last week when your mans word was stronger than oak, the same guy now realises that nine rooms might not be enough, as they look to set sail on a Sprewell yacth complete with his rims. Of course this isn’t the case of every NBA player and losing a couple of million when you’re a multi-millionaire is simply pocket change. Still, however a player has to ask himself which form of ‘ballin’ do they subscribe to and which ‘rock’ would they rather have in their hand. For a basketball purist its hard to swallow but money at least makes this world go round. Who's really being greedy in this lockout however? The owners or the players? Who's looking after their future and who's holding out an Oliver Twist bowl? MORE? What's going to keep the beat of next season going? The players hearts or their cheque-books? Who really loves this game?

When lesser teams have a strict budget-especially with what's happening today and this stale Summer signing period-some of the most sought after free agents and trades may be passed up, especially with the majority of franchises pinning their futures on free agent classes like they were draft days. Still however back in 2009 the billion dollar industry and it's teams were still splurging and spending, wheeling and dealing to make it to the top. Frequent trade-bait Shawn Marion and sought after free agent Hedo Turkoglu were involved in a four team deal and Ron Artest and Trevor Ariza were snapped up by the star laden Lakers and Rockets respectively, almost like a backwards trade, leaving their respective teams for the other, swapping residences and lockers.

Youtube Ron Artest’s signing with the Lakers and you’ll see him toasting his dream move with Mitch Kupchak in a swanky LA spot. As they charge their glasses, Mitch toasts to the next time they taste champagne being in the NBA Finals in June, a great statement for a Lakers repeat and in these times maybe the next time they can afford a decent bottle of champagne. This was all before the big-three free-agent circus that was last year, which probably saw more cigar and champagne bills than an average night in with Hugh Hefner. No wonder some of Miami's promotional staff got laid off, what else is there to flaunt?

OK so maybe a successful, championship team like the Lakers with their Hollywood fan base filling the Staples Centre on a nightly basis have little to worry about. Then again playing in a big market doesn’t always guarantee financial success. Take the Knicks who along with the Mavericks needed to pay luxury tax to the tune of in excess of $23 million in 2009, thank God for a Carmelo trade and a Texan championship, as now these franchises are out of the firing line and back in top Trump style business, time to light up the Cuban's hey Mark? Still sometimes instead of trading cash considerations owners might want to consider his cash. Every little help rights? Every penny counts? Even in the big leagues and big business markets it's always good to save and put something away for a rainy day, or a rained out, locked out NBA season. This isn't baseball, but it sure is moneyball and the only one who's going to win next (Oscar) season is Brad Pitt and the MLB.

One way for teams to consider the amount of money their spending is for them to look at how much there bringing in. Whether you’re the Los Angeles Lakers or the Los Angeles Clippers, you must balance your books. We all know there’s a lot of money that even goes into just one NBA game, let alone a season and the preparation for it, hey that chalk that Lebron James tosses into the air isn’t cheap you know. One of he best ways for a team to bring in money right away is obviously through the fans. That’s right take delight in knowing your helping pay all those millions for some ex-All-Star-who's either injured or just there for show-to sit courtside in a suit all season and just be thankful that you don’t have to pay for Latrell Sprewell’s family to eat anymore (sorry again Spree, this aint personal, we're just staying).

Getting fans to the games and the merchandise and concession stands is important for teams to turn a profit. Still however regular season gate receipts show a $2.66 million deficit in 2009 throughout the league from 2008/2009's $1.1 billion and it hasn't got much better since. OK so speaking in NBA financial terms that 7.4% skid was spilt milk, but it still showed that ticket sales were souring. What will happen next season with these disheartened and disgruntled fans? Right now would many fans even be willing to buy a ticket or subscribe to a minute of league pass with this state of uncertainty for the future of next season?

Exciting young players with stacks of potential seem to be making stacks for the NBA right now...and these are the guys who's immediate future is in jeopardy. The Chicago Bulls came first in total attendance this year to the tune of 893,462 fans. To put this in perspective, back in our benchmark year of change in 2009 this figure was 847,903. Chicago's a big market but it's MVP Derrick Rose who is creating the biggest buzz in the United Centre since the other famous M.J. of the 90's took to the floor with his off the wall play. Even during a green-eyed visit to the United Centre this year, Jordan-whilst in attendance-saw first-hand how much the fans in Chi-town bloom at the same rate of the growth of Rose's career. These are the kind of markets and players which will help the league stack money and success. Maybe then nobody will be reaching into their pockets...except the fans and back to this point isn't it these paying customers that really are the ones that need to be considered.

With no real forecast available of how the economy will go-or when this lockout will end-its hard to tell which teams will prevail and which teams will fail. This is especially true when teams can do so well in attendance but also suffer big losses in attendance gate receipts. This is also evident when top teams and franchises playing in big markets will have more luxury tax problems that will only leave the fat cats of the NBA comfortable. This is your evidence of your lockout. This is my everyone is so evidently unhappy right now. One things for certain-in a league that these days is more business-is that money talks like Chris Tucker...and it's beginning to get annoying too (not you Chris, much love, it's the NBA that's leaving us 'P#£$*! off man').

Therefore even when everyone is digging deep in their pockets the richer teams will get richer and the poorer teams will get poorer one way or another. I guess those role players will have to play their role of sacrificing even more, while the big dogs keep barking. Thank God for the doberman Kobe and his pledge to lend money to his fellow NBA (not just Laker) teammates during the lockout. There’s only room at the top for a select few and when money isn't readily available its survival of the fittest in this league. Top tier teams and big markets will obviously be at an advantage but in a time where we all have to tighten our belts teams better have smarts too. Still, championship contenders will be more willing to pay greater salaries to those greater players and big name free agents won't always take diminishing salaries to sign with lottery bound teams. It looks like the Miami's and the Cleveland's are getting even more further apart. The giant teams are getting even bigger and the smaller franchises are being trampled on. Still, however the whole NBA is suffering. The players aren't getting to play and the owners aren't taking ownership. The competition should be on the hardwood courts, not the legal ones. This is a game, right? Who's playing who?