POSTED: Jun 9, 2014 11:05 AM ET
The Heat's "Big Three" tune most -- if not all -- of the scrutiny that seems to always surround them.
I was at a party once, and, Liddy put his hand over a candle, and he kept it there. He kept it right in the flame until his flesh was burned. Somebody said, "What's the trick?" And Liddy said, 'the trick is not minding.'
-- Mark W. Felt, aka, "Deep Throat," in "All The President's Men," 1976
Four years in the bubble.
It's beginning to be hard to remember when the Miami Heat weren't at the nexus of the NBA world, back before The Decision, The SuperFriends and The Noise. It's beginning to be hard to remember that before they came on the scene, the big stories were Kobe Bryant closing in on Michael Jordan's six rings, Doc Rivers and the 'Ubuntu' Celtics, and how many more MVPs Derrick Rose would win.
It wasn't always this way.
"I spent time in Cabo, watching the Spurs win championships," Ray Allen recalled Saturday. "I remember being in the house, talking about the game -- all right, we gotta go out, we got eat, the game's still on. I've been in Vegas watching the (playoff) games. I've been in Connecticut. I remember everywhere I was. So the times I've been here, I really appreciate them. Because they weren't ever guaranteed."
Mini-Movie: 2014 Finals Game 2
But it's been four years for the Heat. They have found equilibrium amidst the chaos, seemingly always responding well to the latest challenge, loss or injury. Sunday they fought off a tough, smart and wildly motivated Spurs team in Game 2 to even The Finals.
The Heat are three wins from a three-peat that would elevate them to a place among the greatest of the great teams, and LeBron James to a place alongside Jordan, Kobe, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan as the absolute best of the post-Jordan generation.
Like Liddy, they've put their hands in the fire, and learned not to mind.
"I think we've become a little bit more numb to it," Erik Spoelstra said before Game 2. "The first year it was uncomfortable for all of us. Now, we're used to it. We can make jokes about it, that every story line is a 'gate-something.' And we keep it interesting for you guys."
GameTime: Dwyane Wade on Game 2
That followed LeBron James saying he may or may not play next season if Donald Sterling was still the owner of the Clippers, depending on who Roger Mason was talking with at a given moment.
And James has, for the last three of these four years, managed to come out ahead each time. This time, he came back from those debilitating cramps to excel in Game 2, scoring 35 points to lead Miami to the 98-96 victory.
Four years in the fishbowl. Except it has a Twitter and Instagram feed.
"I've got a great supporting cast around me that allows me to vent at times," James said after Miami's win. "Try not to hold it in. I also understand at this point in my life what's important and what's not important and what's important is my teammates, what's important is my two kids at home, my wife, my family and my friends. That's what I can control and that's what's important to me.
"Obviously the game of basketball has brought me so much, and I love to play this game at a high level. And without this game, I wouldn't be who I am today. But I also know what's important. Everything else kind of just falls by the wayside."
As such, Allen deals with getting clubbed upside his figurative head by irate Celtics fans and snubbed by Kevin Garnett after leaving.
GameTime: Bosh's Big Game
Chris Bosh accepts the withering criticism he gets for a bad game, with no praise for his big, big moments. No offensive rebound by Bosh last year in Game 6 against the Spurs, after James badly missed a 3-point attempt, and Allen never gets to squeeze off his historic, series-changing 3-pointer.
"You have to get used to (scrutiny). But you have to get used to not caring," Bosh said Saturday. "I stopped caring a long time ago. Because it's kind of those situations (where) you can't please everybody. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. You might as well make yourself happy and make your family happy, and as long as everybody's happy in my corner, I'm good.
"I do what I want to do, just carry myself the way I'm supposed to. I get to play this game. And keep everything in perspective. We get to play basketball for a living. We're in The Finals. Both teams trying to win another championship, guys who already have championships going for more. And I think that's a beautiful thing."
All during the regular season, Miami sputtered, stammered and struggled to find a rhythm, especially defensively. The offense would come when and if Dwyane Wade could get healthy enough to play in back-to-back games, a luxury of the playoffs, with their regular days off. And, indeed, Miami has been efficient throughout the playoffs, with Wade shooting 51 percent in the playoffs.
The defense was, and is, another matter. Miami did not know what it could hang its hat on at that end of the floor for long stretches this season. The Heat tried to work in Michael Beasley and Greg Oden, but they couldn't hold up. Chris Andersen has been banged up; Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier look as if they're on their last legs.
"Doubt is part of it," said Battier, whose already announced this is his last season. "You can't reach this level without having serious doubt. I don't care how confident a team is, they always have doubts along the way -- 'I don't know if we can do it.' Especially when we were banged up so much in January. Our habits were poor, our defense was poor, middle of the pack, and that's low by our standards. You're sitting there like, 'gosh, I wonder if we can figure it out.' "
GameTime: LeBron in Game 2
And yet, Miami has steamrolled its way to The Finals, ousting Charlotte, Brooklyn and Indiana in its path to return here. It was a shockingly easy climb back up the mountain, after the Pacers threw all their chips to the middle of the table during the regular season, saying it was top seed or bust -- and playing out of their minds for three months.
"I don't know, you just do it, and you just get used to it after awhile," Bosh said. "It is what it is. And that's it. It's nothing special. It's like a pressure situation. If you're in pressure situations over and over and over, eventually you either cope with it or you don't."
Spoelstra always talks about how the Heat are "built for this;" i.e., championship runs. But he didn't know if this year's team was built for a fourth straight Finals run.
"That's the great thing about competition," he said. "You talk about it all you want, but that's the most thrilling thing about it, it's an unknowable future. We start out in training camp, everybody is excited about it. There are six to eight to ten teams that legitimately feel like they have a chance to compete for it at the end of the year, but ultimately you don't know. And quite honestly, we feel fortunate that we have an opportunity to play for it again.
"A lot of things have to go in your favor. You have to have a good group. You have to have talent. You have to have trust that's earned through adversity, going through good times and bad times, but you also have to have some good bounces and things have to go your way. And our team is mature enough to understand that, to have perspective and to feel fortunate for this opportunity."
Spoelstra, famously, throws everything around the team from the outside into the "noise" category, not to be fretted over. But some of the noise is self-generated. Yes, James has been in the limelight and getting scrutinized "since I was 15 years old," as he said over the weekend. But he's hardly been a shrinking violet, either. No one made him pose for all the magazine covers, and do all the commercials, and proclaim his goal to be the first billionaire athlete.
"LeBron is complicit in it," Battier said. "You accept everything that goes along with being King James, then you're complicit. So the blood is on his hands, too. But he understands that, and he deals with it."
Allen has the perspective of having seen similar pressure on the New Big Three in Boston, when he and Garnett joined Pierce in 2008. The demand for a championship was there from day one.
Postgame: Erik Spoelstra
"It's all the same stuff," Allen said. "If you compare the players, we had very celebrated players. The tradition in Boston, obviously, was a lot greater. But when you get inside these lines, the same ideas, the championship thoughts and mentality are the same. You don't see anything different. It feels the exact same.
"You're on a quest for greatness, winning championships. When you lose, you feel worthless; when you win, you're on Cloud Nine. It's the same grind. Last year was the same, and '08 was the same, and in 2010 was the same. That's the great thing about experience; you learn to stay in the moment and don't get outside of it too much."
The Heat deal with the people sneaking pictures on their cell phones, the public interest in their love lifes and divorces and relationships, and the LeBroning memes that popped up after James limped off in Game 1.
"You become a little desensitized to it," Battier said. "When I first came here it was like, whoa, there's a lot of attention being paid to us. Now it's not strange to see people waiting outside our hotel room at all hours when we get in. The general hysteria of LeBron and D-Wade coming out just for pregame shootaround. There's an energy. There's very few times there's a dull moment around our team. And that's the fun part of it."
Living on the tightrope, though, means you can fall. If the Spurs manage to defeat Miami, few will point out that San Antonio is a great and proud franchise in its own right, which has overcome so much just to return to the scene of its devastating Finals loss a year ago. The white-hot light will be right back on James, who just happens to be able to opt out of his contract in less than a month, as do Wade and Bosh.
It will be hard to ignore the roar, the noise penetrating the bubble.
"It's very difficult at times, very challenging, but for me, I'm here and I know who I'm playing for and what I'm playing for and what I stand for, not only as a basketball player but as man and as a role model," James said. "I know what I stand for. To be able to put an NBA uniform on every single night with my name on the back, knowing where I come from, let's me know that I've done something special."
(Last week's record in parenthesis)
1) Miami (1-1) : Heat are fortunate to get a Finals split considering how little they've gotten from point guards Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole so far.
2) San Antonio (1-1) : Jeff Van Gundy was spot on Sunday night on the ABC broadcast -- for the Spurs to win this series, Kawhi Leonard has to play better.
3) Oklahoma City : Season complete.
4) Indiana : Season complete. Larry Bird said last week that he hopes Roy Hibbert will work with the likes of Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Walton on post play this summer.
5) L.A. Clippers : Season complete. Commissioner Adam Silver said Sunday night that there is "absolutely no possibility" that the NBA would rescind the lifetime ban on Donald Sterling or the $2.5 million fine levied on him.
6) Brooklyn : Season complete.
7) Washington : Season complete.
8) Portland : Season complete.
9) Houston : Season complete.
10) Toronto : Season complete.
11) Memphis : Season complete.
12) Dallas : Season complete.
13) Golden State : Season complete.
15) Atlanta : Season complete.
1976 Harvard Football Team. The Crimson went 6-3 that season under Coach Joe Restic, even though they lost to Yale in the annual classic. But they at least had the good sense to hire a young student manager, who has gone on to do a couple of things after sorting towels and hanging up the jerseys.
Building Operations, AT&T Center. No doubt they have a tough, tough job. But not having a way to fix the problem that caused the air conditioning to conk out Thursday made for an unbearable evening that ultimately impacted the game. Not decided. Impacted. Even that is too much.
When was the last time the NBA and the NBA Players Association worked together to solve a problem?
Not as long ago as you think.
Silver's Finals News Conference
An unusual alliance featuring Commissioner Adam Silver, the union, hockey players and conservative legislators came together over the last few months to get rid of one of the more unusual versions of a "jock tax" in the state of Tennessee. The tax, which was implemented on NBA and NHL players the last four years, was repealed in April by the Tennessee state legislature, and signed by Republican Governor Bill Haslam.
The tax was a bone of contention for the basketball and hockey players not just because of its existence, but because it was, in essence, a flat tax. Any player -- including the hometown Grizzlies and Nashville Predators -- that played a game in the state was taxed $2,500, up to a maximum of $7,500 annually if they played in three or more games. But the tax was the same for (ital.)every(endital) player, regardless of whether they were making $20 million a year or the league minimum.
The actual amount of revenue the Grizzlies took in annually is not known; the difference in the number of times a team plays in Memphis impacts the amount of revenue the team receives. Players on Eastern Conference teams that only play there once a year, for example, pay less than Western Conference teams that are there a couple of times or more, depending on whether they play the Grizzlies in the playoffs.
But the issue was an annoying one for players for many years.
"There were very good reasons why the tax would (ultimately) be declared unconstitutional," the NBAPA's acting executive director, Ron Klempner, said by phone Sunday afternoon. "It didn't matter how much you made... there were implications if you were making the minimum salary, and you're not making it for a long time, and part of your 10 days was in Tennessee."
What made the legislators and players equally vexed was the fact that the tax revenue didn't go to the state of Tennessee, but directly to the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies held firm that the revenue generated from the tax was essential to bringing in entertainment acts to FedEx Forum, where the Grizzlies play.
The venue competes with others in nearby states -- some of which have lower tax rates -- for singers and other performers, which may only visit the region once a year.
"The proceeds of the tax are an economic development incentive used to market and promote FedExForum to attract non-NBA events and concerts, so the impact is in limiting the tools and resources available to pursue those events," said Jason Wexler, the Grizzlies' Chief Operating Officer, in an e-mail Sunday.
"The more events hosted at FedExForum, the more sales tax and seat tax revenue that is generated for use towards paying down the public financing of the arena, and the more folks coming to Beale Street and Downtown Memphis supporting local restaurants, bars and hotels," Wexler said. "It is a big boost to the local economy when FedExForum is able to book shows like Paul McCartney, The Eagles, Luke Bryan and Bruno Mars as it has in the past year."
But after Silver got on the phone with Grizzlies owner Robert Pera a few weeks ago, the team changed its mind and abandoned its opposition. However, the tax will continue for two more years, until it is sunsetted in June, 2016. The deal allows the Grizzlies to transition and prepare for the lost revenue.
"I think what happened there was that the new owner, Robert Pera, didn't understand the significance of the issue to the players, the impact it was having on the players," Silver said before Game 2 of the Finals Sunday.
"And, really, I give all the credit to Robert Pera," Silver said. "Once Ron made me aware of the severity of the issue, and I spoke to Robert Pera, he said 'I'm going to fix this.' And it's not happening as quickly as we would like, but we all settled and agreed that if we can eliminate this tax, even though it's taking two years to happen, that that would be the best thing."
The collections -- the Grizzlies call it the 'privilege tax' -- began in the 2009-10 season, and ran through the 2012-13 season.
Other jurisdictions have established similar jock taxes over the years, though the amounts and methods of determining how much an athlete pays vary. California is believed to be the first state to dun visiting players, in 1991. After the Bulls defeated the Lakers in five games to win the NBA championship, the state informed the Bulls that they owed it non-resident wage taxes.
Philadelphia followed suit the next year. The city taxed athletes in all sports, taking money from players for any day they traveled to, practiced, or played a game in Philly. Each of the city's four pro sports teams -- the 76ers, Eagles, Phillies and Flyers -- paid the tax. Ultimately, the tax spread to Pittsburgh and the Steelers, Pirates, Penguins and visiting teams there, too. The website taxcareerdigest.com now estimates that more than 40 states have some sort of jock tax on visiting and home team players, as well as on entertainers who perform in those states.
For players like the Lakers' MarShon Brooks, who made $1.2 million this season -- before taxes -- the jock tax was a bite out of your W2 that could hurt.
"You're already hit with the highest tax rate because you don't have dependents, and then you're hit with a $5,000, $7,500 tax. That gets your attention," said Seth Cohen, whose agency represents Brooks and other NBA players. "I've had accountants for my guys call me and ask me if this is real. And these are CPAs who do this professionally."
Cohen said it was hard to accept the justification for the two-year period before the tax is finally eliminated.
"As far as going two more years, if you recognize the tax is inequitable, and a guy like LeBron is taxed the same as a guy who's on the minimum, why would you wait two more years?," he asked.
Almost immediately after the tax was implemented, the NBAPA and the NHL Players Association began lobbying the state legislature in Tennessee to repeal the tax. (The NFL's Tennessee Titans did not take part in the tax collections; the NFL worked out exemptions for its players before the tax was implemented in '09.)
The NBAPA utilized lobbyists, along with the NHLPA's support. There was "significant" support in the state legislature, Klempner said, with conservative Republicans backing the players' position.
"This is sort of like strange bedfellows, right?," Klempner said. "The unions were supported by the Tea Partiers and people like that. (The feeling was) there's another tax being imposed, and the government's being used to generate revenue for a private entity? We don't even see the money; it goes right to these owners?"
But until Silver intervened, there was no momentum toward a deal.
"We were making progress, but we needed a push," Klempner said.
"Adam saw. His eyes were opened to the unfairness of it and what it would be if other teams were to take a similar position. He did have, he definitely had a conversation. There are also competitive issues with it. We have ownership of one team that is essentially getting revenue that's being compiled by the rest of the players in the league. It's a very odd circumstance."
Silver said part of his being proactive stemmed from wanting to make sure other teams don't try to implement similar jock taxes solely for their own use.
"I am concerned," Silver said. "It was not an issue I focused on before I became Commissioner. I was made aware of it by the Players Association. I shared that concern that this potentially could be precedent setting for other jurisdictions, and it was one of the points I made to Robert Pera. And he understood it immediately."
As part of the compromise, players on 10-day contracts the next two years will not be subject to the tax. Players will have to be on rosters at least 15 days before they have to pay up.
Wexler said the compromise did not come about because of the union's pressure.
The deal "is actually about being collaborative with the state, county and city government on a local economic development matter," Wexler said in the e-mail. "I'm not aware of any involvement by agents -- the economic impact to many of the players of playing in Tennessee was notably less than in many other states."
Last December, the union filed refund claims with the state for 150 active and former players for games played during the 2009-10 season. The claims are still pending; the determination of the Tennessee Revenue Department about them will determine whether the union files claims for succeeding seasons. In a memo to players last month, Klempner said that if the Revenue Department denies the claims, "we believe that players will be able to continue the fight by suing the State of Tennessee."
The Grizzlies, Wexler said, became willing to agree to a negotiated solution with the legislature, despite having the most successful run of concerts and events in FedExForum's history's the past couple of years. The team will try to continue demonstrating the building's viability to vendors and concert promoters.
The sunset provision "was a result of our working closely with the state legislature on a compromise that was amenable to the legislature and the players union, while not leaving FedExForum completely in the lurch," Wexler said. "We never opposed a sunset provision once the concept was on the table."
I think the horse, having been beaten for several weeks now, is dead. From Paul Langois:
Best of Inside: Jackson Firing
I find you're usually the voice of reason where race is concerned, but in the Mark Jackson piece, you seem to have resorted to what seems like pure speculation. You provide no evidence at all, which actually leaves me wondering if perhaps you have some insider information about the situation that you wouldn't or legally could not mention in your column. If that's the case, fine, I understand why you introduced race but failed to justify it with evidence.
But if your argument really is just speculation, I think you may have overlooked a couple of points that, to me, seem far more likely to have led in part to Jackson's firing. The first is religion, and more specifically, religion in the workplace. Even from the admittedly small numbers of articles about GSW I've read over the past few years, it seems clear that Jackson made religion a fundamental part of professional life for his players, and that is no more appropriate or acceptable for a professional basketball team than for any other kind of organization because it privileges one faith over every other belief system. Even if the majority of players were okay with it, that's irrelevant: you simply cannot subject employees to religious practices, and that is really the end of the story; you either believe the principle of personal freedom of (and from) religion is valid, or you don't.
But just to continue a bit further: think of it from the owners' perspective, what do you see? High potential for embarrassment, censure, and litigation. All it would take is one player or staffer to stand up and file a grievance/claim with appropriate authorities. I'm not a lawyer, but I can't imagine the GSW owners would have a leg to stand on. On a day-to-day basis, did GSW have to avoid/look for players according to the religion or their tolerance of Jackson's way? Did they have to mollify unhappy players and their agents? You suggested that GSW and Jackson should have tried to work things out? Do you really think a compromise could have been reached on this issue?
The second major potential factor is one you glossed over in a flip way, referring to "Jackson's less than complete embrace of Jason Collins after Collins disclosed he was gay". Again, if you truly believe in a principle -- in this case that people should not be discriminated against because of a characteristic like ethnicity or gender -- then you should find homophobia as repugnant as racism. Our society is not there yet, obviously, but it will only move in that direction if the issue is recognized individually and as a whole.
Jackson was not as explicit in his views on homosexuality as Donald Sterling was regarding race, but Jackson's meaning was just as clear. When he said he was praying for Collins and his family, we all know that he meant "Collins is going to hell because he is a kind of sinner that God hates. He and his family have my pity for having to endure such a terrible thing." You noted that his reaction "may have been taken badly within the organization" -- and left it at that. Homophobia cloaked in religion is still homophobia; no one should need to be reminded that there is a long history of atrocities being carried out in the name of religion.
So once again, put yourself in the owners' position and what do you see? The very high potential for those same outcomes: embarrassment, censure and litigation from outside the organization, dissension within. You suggested the GSW owners should just have endured the 'creative tension' that Jackson's presence brought to the organization. You'll find it difficult to believe, but to me that sounds identical to saying that Adam Silver should have found a way to accommodate the 'creative tension' Donald Sterling brought to the league. To disagree is to say that some forms of discrimination are more acceptable than others.
So I'm baffled by your perspective here, which is odd because I generally agree with the moral stances you take (e.g. regarding guns and your commitment to having a conversation about race). Perhaps you share Jackson's views on homophobia and religion, and therefore don't see them as major issues, but rather idiosyncrasies the owners should pretend they don't see in order to reap the success you seem to attribute to Jackson's coaching ability? Perhaps in future speculative pieces, it would be beneficial if you were explicit in where you stood. You should know by now, journalism 101 aside, that there's no such thing is being impartial, so you might as well be upfront about it.
I think I'm gonna declare a moratorium on Jackson/Warriors letters after this one. Because people are simply not comprehending what I wrote, and what I've said about this.
I do not share Mark Jackson's religion, Paul. You have assumed that he's homophobic, and then assumed that I agree with him. You have no proof for either assertion. For the record: I am not homophobic. My best friend in life was gay, and I loved him like a brother.
I don't know if Mark Jackson is homophobic, but there is, at the least, a difference between discomfort and homophobia. No one in the organization, even those who've leaked bad stuff about Jackson, have ever said he subjected anyone to "religious practices," whatever those may be. And there is a qualitative and obvious difference between people in an organization disagreeing with one another, maybe not even liking one another, and expressing the bigoted words and worldview that Donald Sterling did.
You mean, rich guys have asked the public to pay the freight for their palaces before? From John Motroni:
The Milwaukee political battle over whether or not to infuse public money into a private arena reminds me of what happened more than a decade ago with the San Francisco Giants. The team tried three times to get voter approval of a public-financed ballpark and failed each time. The new owners correctly said, the hell with it, we'll just build it ourselves. It was a smart move from a political and economic standpoint.
Now, with the sale of the Clippers for $2B large, and projected future increases for the national and local tv contracts, the Bucks' owners should have no problem finding someone to float them the millions for a new arena. And, what's better, is that once built, they get to keep all the income, less debt service, for the decades to come instead of sharing it with the state, counties, and cities.
If they want to find out more, I'm sure the Giants' brain trust would be more than happy to talk.
I did not establish total private financing for Milwaukee's owners as a legitimate option in last week's story, John. My mistake. Not only did the Giants do it, but the Warriors' owners have pledged to do the same with the new building they're planning for San Francisco in 2018. No question, billionaires can pay the freight -- or, at least the lion's share -- for the new buildings that will bring them millions and millions of dollars in revenues over a two or three-decade period.
When Decimal Points Attack. From Bart Jacobs:
I love reading your Morning Tip every week, so it's a shame I only email you now, after I noticed a mistake. In the "by the numbers" section, Russell Westbrook's FG% should be .048 (or .05 rounded) and not .005 (which would be 1 out of 200).
It's of course still pretty bad (his TS% is a not so solid .108 although he did have a whopping 19.3 rebounds and 11.6 assists per 48 minutes), but I'm pretty sure Westbrook would effectively be traded by the Thunder and not just by all his critics when he really shot 1 out of 200 in OT (heck, even I could do better than that, maybe...).
This is what happens when you try to use a calculator after midnight, Bart. My bad.
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(weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) LeBron James (30 ppg, 8 rpg, 3 apg, .590 FG, .818 FT): Survived the Cramp Heard 'Round the World, made some incredible contested jumpers Sunday night.
2) Tim Duncan (19.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 2 apg, .667 FG, .583 FT): Has raised his complete game higher than it's been in years the last four games. He's been a beast on the boards so far against Miami.
3) Kevin Durant: Season complete. Could you take the Framily with you to wherever you're on vacation?
4) Dwyane Wade (16.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, .481 FG, 1.000 FT): You sense he's got a big game in him when The Finals go to Miami for Games 3 and 4 this week.
5) Blake Griffin: Season complete.
GameTime: Steve Ballmer Interview
76 -- Fouls called on 3-point shots during the playoffs. This has to be addressed by the Competition Committee in the offseason. Of course the shooter has to have room to come down, but the incidence of leg-kicking by shooters, combined with calling the most incidental and unimportant contact by defenders who don't plow over the shooters, but merely try to close out to them, has made this ridiculous.
99 -- Years an unnamed Canadian group reportedly wanted to finance a purchase of the Clippers, as detailed in this Los Angeles Times piece on the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to Steve Ballmer's $2 billion purchase of the team.
12 -- Wins last season for Jeff Bower, the former head coach at Marist who came back to the NBA last week as Stan Van Gundy's general manager in Detroit. Bower went 12-19 in his one season as head coach for the Red Foxes after spending 15 seasons in the Hornets' organization as GM and interim coach.
Mini-Movie: 2014 Finals Game 1
1) These Finals have done nothing so far to dissuade that they will ultimately be among the closest, most hotly contested championship series in recent history.
2) I have no doubt Quin Snyder can be a coach in the NBA, and no problem with the Jazz hiring him over the weekend to succeed Ty Corbin. But Snyder has had issues off the court that are well-documented. To be fair, he's been living under the radar for a few years now, and everyone is entitled to clean up their act and get a second chance. But I worry about the terrible pressures that 12-inch move from assistant's chair can do to anyone. I hope he's got a support system in place.
3) Congrats to Bernie Bickerstaff for getting the annual Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award from the NBA Coaches Association. Bernie's been in the game for almost four decades as an assistant, head coach and general manager, and has been stalwart in helping young coaches along the way. Well deserved.
4) What an incredible player Rafael Nadal is. It's a pleasure to watch him play tennis.
5) Sincere appreciation to all that sacrificed their lives, their bodies and their families for the rest of us 70 years ago on the beaches in Normandy.
1) Condolences to Taj Gibson and his family on the inexplicable and tragic death of his 6-year-old cousin.
GameTime: New Coaches
2) Flip Saunders is a good coach and he'll coach the Wolves well. But it's hard to believe Saunders is excited about coming back down to the bench after getting away from the day-to-day grind as the Wolves' president last year. And it's hard to see his return as a game-changer when it comes to Kevin Love's intentions.
3) This is incredible reporting and writing on the extortion plot against Miami's Chris Andersen. But, it's nonetheless disturbing that someone can so willfully mess with the lives of people -- and, if not for the tireless work of one cop, almost get away with it.
4) Dude who owned Califonria Chrome may have had a point when he said it isn't fair to horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness to go up against horses who may have skipped one or both to be fresh for the mile and a half Belmont Stakes. But dude looked like a sore loser after the post-race interview on NBC Saturday.
5) Godspeed to Tracy Morgan, critically injured in a bus crash in New Jersey early Saturday morning, and to the family of James McNair, killed in the accident.
He cheats at paintball.
Inside Stuff: Tim Duncan
This is at least the version of former teammates of Tim Duncan's, who have decried the woeful weapons he assigns them, while arming himself with cannons. And, of course, few people outside the San Antonio Spurs believe it.
Tim Duncan, obsessed with winning? Kobe Bryant is obsessed with winning. Jordan, Bird, Isiah and Magic were obsessed with winning. Timmy is...well, Timmy. Guys named Timmy aren't obsessed. But he is. That's been the secret to Duncan's success over an NBA career now in its 17th season, long past the point where most thought the 38-year-old could go. Having made a name for himself as one of the most lethal low-post players ever, injuries and time have made Duncan less reliable in the paint, less able to dominate games on the block.
But as with all great players, Duncan remade his game as Father Time took away his gifts. Now, he's a roller, much more effective on the move as the Spurs seek to get their opponents off balance for just a split second, so they can strafe them with corner threes. He has stepped aside quietly (of course; this was my first sit-down interview with Duncan in more than a decade) to let Tony Parker be the focal point of the Spurs' offense, just as he's let Manu Ginobili be the crowd favorite in San Antonio. Duncan's relationship with Gregg Popovich isn't always rosy, but it's always based in honesty and mutual trust, which allows Popovich to yell at Duncan and allows Duncan to take it. And that's why the Spurs stay so good year after year, back to when Bill Clinton was president.
Not since Bill Russell and Red Auerbach have a franchise big man and his coach coexisted in the same space so well, for so long. As his career marches on, and testimonials to his career begin piling up http://blog.mysanantonio.com/spursnation/2014/06/04/fundamental-greatness-an-oral-history-of-tim-duncan/, Duncan is beginning to approach serious statistical territories. He tied Magic Johnson on Sunday for the most career playoff double-doubles, at 157, and as ABC pointed out Sunday, his 231 career playoff games are more than those of 17 NBA franchises.
But it's the number five that drives Duncan. A win in The Finals over Miami would give Duncan his fifth NBA title, matching Bryant's five, and putting him one ahead of Shaquille O'Neal. The rivalry between Bryant and Duncan to determine the top winner of the post-Jordan era has always simmered below the surface. Because, you know, Timmy isn't that competitive.
Duncan Nets 18 And 15
Me: Does this Finals have the texture and feel of the other Finals you've been in?
Tim Duncan: Yes, and no. It's the first time we've been back for a second time -- obviously, losing last year, being back against the same team again. That's different. Being against the same team again is different. All in all, the energy, the intensity, the anticipation, it's all there, and all that's the same.
Me: I must tell you, I don't remember you saying anything controversial when I asked you about getting back to The Finals against Miami.
TD: I didn't realize that it was. I didn't realize it was a big deal until the day before the game. They sent me a message, or somebody sent me something about it. I didn't realize that actually wanting to win was controversial.
Me: But is it possible that, even now, after all this time, people still don't realize how competitive you are, and how much you want this?
Duncan Sits Down With Aldridge
TD: Possible. Very possible. I'm pretty low-key, pretty low profile. It's very possible that people don't realize that, that I'm as much of a competitor as I am. But I'm okay with that.
Me: When did you realize you were this way, super, hyper competitive?
TD: Probably when I used to swim. In the summer, I hated practicing. I only showed up to practice because if you didn't practice, you couldn't compete. So that was the only reason I went to practice.
Me: Same thing here?
TD: (Laughs) This I have to practice a little more. I use that to my advantage.
Me: What has this year shown you about the character of this team?
TD: A lot. A lot. The resiliency, the focus, it starts at the top with Pop, walking in here after last year, just having that intense fire, even more intense than in years past. We had to put it behind us.
Nightly Notable: Tim Duncan
Me: What was that first meeting of camp like, when you had it out, you looked at the tapes of Games 6 and 7. How cathartic was that?
TD: You know what? It didn't do as much for me. I think it just needed to be put out there, just because it was the elephant in the room. You had to talk about it and just not ignore it. I think Pop used it for that, just to say it happened, this is gone, we move forward. I still think about it. It's still in the back of my mind. It still affects me the same way it did when we lost. So it didn't do anything for me. It didn't heal me in any way. But it is what it is. We've moved on, and the resilience of this team, to put that behind us, to find our way through the west again, to get back here, it shows a lot and means a lot.
Me: Was the season a testament to the leadership of the older players, or the youth -- maybe naivete -- of the younger players, who may have thought, 'well, we'll be back for sure?'
TD: Actually, a little bit of both. I think it's a little bit of both. I think the older players understand that it's special, and how hard it is to get to this point. The younger players, they've been there, they want to get back again. And Pop meshing all of that together, and his fire to want to do it and to get back to this point again. You mesh all of these things together, and this is what you get.
Me: I know the relationship you have with Pop is special, and that you're also very private and don't let many folks in. How did the relationship evolve to the point where you have total trust and faith in him, and vice versa?
TD: It was an evolution over the years. Seeing that the decisions he made over the years to protect me and my career, and my body, and away from the court, him caring about what happens to me, and all those things together, it builds up, and you understand that someone's looking out for you, and they're not out to just use you for what you are, and you're not just a business chip. Once that trust is built from that respect, you let all the rest of the stuff go, and you understand that you're fighting for the same goal, and that he has your best interests at hand.
Me: How did you marry the reality of having to play fewer minutes to prolong your career with the competitor in you who wants to be out there all the time?
TD: My body told me that. My body told me that. It got to the point where you don't want to lose games because of injury, and I saw that missing a game here or there by choice was better for my body. It was good for my long-term, for what I wanted to do. I always came back after missing a game, or a day or two or whatever it is, I always came back better, feeling a little better. But at first, it was more of, I didn't want to let my team down -- I didn't want, 'oh, Tim's not playing tonight? Why isn't he?' I didn't want to let them down in that respect, like I was sending them out there, and I didn't have to do the same thing. But it got to the point where -- and, especially this year -- guys stepped up. Our subs, giving them minutes and understanding that they're getting the experience they need, (and) they can help us come playoff time. That, I think that little thing helped a lot in accepting that role.
Me: I always wonder about players who win championships, and their ability to really trust their teammates. It gets hard, because there are only a few people you win them win. How did guys like Patty Mills, Kawhi Leonard, even Boris Diaw earn your trust?
TD: It's all timing, experience. You spend enough time with them, all of those guys. We work out in the summers together, and we played a couple of seasons together. And you go through them with practice. It's about timing and experience with those guys on the floor, playing with them, watching them play. And you build that confidence. And they show that same confidence to me. They've proven, and they understand, what we want to do and how we want to do it. And that's a process for every new player that comes in here. It takes awhile to understand how we want to play.
Me: Pop has frequently said that you're playing on one leg now --
TD: One and a half, maybe.
Me: One and a half. But how do you accommodate for what your body can't do anymore?
TD: You learn to play. You learn to play around it. I've been blessed this year. I've actually felt as good as I have in a long time. I'm not as explosive as I used to be -- not that I ever was explosive -- but just playing within myself. I've kind of changed my game a whole lot. I play off of those guys and let Tony and Manu and Kawhi, let those guys set things up, and I try to get in a position to help them finish, and do the things that I can do. I'm not the one-on-one player I used to be. I'm not the isolation player I used to be. I don't do that stuff anymore, as much. So it's just trying to find a way to be effective with what you have.
Me: What would five mean for you?
TD: A tremendous amount. Especially, I use the word journey, the journey we've been through the last two years. It means even more now. I think every one of us wants it, not for the longevity of it over my career or anything else, but just for these last two years, these last couple of years when we've tried to get back to this point. People counted us out and people said we're done and everything else, and we keep showing up, and showing that we can play. You put all of those together, and it means a whole lot.
Me: Have you found the 1949 lead sled yet?
TD: I have not. No, that's a lie. I found it, and it was in awful shape. So I had to get rid of it, and I'm looking for another one.
Me: That must have hurt.
TD: Yeah. It hurt bad.
Me: How many more of the originals are out there, do you think?
TD: They're all over the place. They have fiberglass kit cars that you can do and stuff like that, but I want a real steel car. So trying to find a car that's not rusted all the way through is...a process.
-- Karl Malone (@TheDeliverer_32), Saturday, 3:25 p.m., referring to Wade's sock game coming into practice Friday afternoon (my friend and colleague, CNN's Rachel Nichols, detailed the hosiery here.) They're part of the NBA Legends Collection by Stance that debuted during All-Star weekend last February. Being the fashionista he is, of course, Wade also has a deal with Stance for his own Wade Collection of socks. Maybe I'll look at the Stockton to Malones again; I first saw them worn by Bay Area reporter Sarah Todd during the Warriors-Clippers series -- when, for one night, she pwned defending sock champion Marc Spears of Yahoo.com. Spears ultimately defended his crown, however.
"This always happens in America. Kobe Bryant, for example -- why does he get a two-year contract extension for $50 million? Because of what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not. Of course not. He gets it because of what he has done before. It makes no sense. Why do you pay for what has already happened?"
U.S. men's national soccer team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, in a New York Times Magazine piece. Klinsmann seemed to be, in retrospect, greasing the skids for his ultimate decision to leave veteran U.S. star Landon Donovan off the U.S. World Cup team that begins play later this month in Brazil.
"Obviously, I'm not in the cream of the crop anymore. I think that's no surprise. I'll still try to be efficient going forward."
-- Dirk Nowitzki, to ESPNDallas.com, on not being named to any of the first three all-NBA teams.
"There was never a doubt. You know when somebody, when the media 800 miles away or a 1,000 miles away just writes a story and everybody gets all excited about it, it don't make no sense to me. If you would've come and asked me, I would've have told you. I did tell you, his job's safe. But no, you want to push it and push it and push it. His job was never in jeopardy. The day it happened, I went down to Frank and all his assistants and said, 'hey, I want y'all back next year.' And that was the end of it for us."
-- Larry Bird, during his season wrap-up news conference last week on the state of the Pacers and reiterating that Frank Vogel's job was never in any jeopardy. However. Lots of folks, from 800 miles away and closer in to Indy, would love to get Bird's thoughts on any and all Pacer-related issues during the season. He almost never speaks. Which is his right. But that silence can lead to speculation at the other end of the information highway.
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