No. 1: Wade says 'not possible' for LeBron to surpass Jordan -- Cavaliers star LeBron James is fresh off winning championship No. 3 in his career after fueling Cleveland's comeback win in The Finals. Dwyane Wade teamed with James on the Miami Heat when the team won back-to-back titles in 2012 and '13 and knows how many often compare James' career with that of former Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan. And to Wade, there's little James can do now in his career to actually surpass Jordan's legacy. Nick Friedell of ESPN.com has more:
Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade believes that no matter how many different things LeBron James accomplishes in his career, trying to surpass Michael Jordan's legacy is a fool's errand.
"No, it's not possible," Wade told ESPN with a laugh. "It's not possible."
Wade is in a unique position within the context of the comparisons between James and Jordan. He won two of his three NBA championships playing alongside James -- one of his closest friends -- with the Miami Heat. As a kid growing up in the Chicago area, Wade was a Bulls fan and watched Jordan rack up six championships, earning the respect of millions around the globe.
"The only thing you can do is tie it," Wade said. "There's no 19th hole."
The golf reference came about after Wade was reminded of a 2012 interview with ESPN in which he used a golf analogy to compare James to Jordan.
"I don't know if [James] has the ability to surpass him or not," Wade said at the time. "That's yet to be seen. My version as LeBron being on par with Michael is this: They're both on the golf course. Michael's on the 18th hole; LeBron is somewhere on like the fourth hole. He's got a long way to go, but he's on par to get to the 18th hole.
"I think everyone knows that [James] is a phenomenal, phenomenal player. He's one that we haven't seen, with the makeup of a 6-8 guy who runs as fast as any point guard, jumps as high as any center, and has the ability that he has to do so many things. But Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time, that's who everyone shoots for. So it's going to be hard to surpass that."
Four years later, Wade's stance hasn't changed much.
"I think last year -- not only in my eyes, but in a lot of people's eyes -- really put him ... he's on the 15th hole right now," Wade said of James. "And he's on his way, for sure."
Wade wore a big smile as he entertained the comparison questions.
"You can't go past it," Wade said of Jordan's legacy. "How can you? That's as great as it gets, man. The only thing you can do, like I said, is be A-1, A-B. There's no way higher."
No. 2: Warriors' laid-back culture has been biggest surprise to Durant -- Spend your entire NBA career with one franchise, and a player can get used to a certain way of things being done. Such was the case for Kevin Durant during his nine-season stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But now, Durant has moved on to the Golden State Warriors and is getting used to what's new and different from his OKC days. Anthony Slater of The Mercury News, who covered Durant the last few seasons in his OKC years, has more on what's new for KD:
In every opposing city, reporters will swarm. He’s the league’s biggest story. The questions will get repetitive. How’s the adjustment been? Anything surprise you about your new team?
“I’m used to going into practice and having it a certain way,” he said. “These guys around here are super loose. But disciplined at the same time. It’s just a fun brand. They make basketball just even more fun than it was.”
Wham. “Than it was.” Indirect or not, positive or negative, any Durant comment about how things are now will find direct comparisons against what he left. To many, a compliment for the Warriors will double as a shot at the Thunder.
That’s not his desire. But his fame and sour departure have created it. If you’re having so much fun now, were you not back then?
“I didn’t say that,” Durant said sternly, then repeated. “I didn’t say that.”
General manager Sam Presti cultivated a business-like work environment in Oklahoma City. It stems from his Spurs background. The practice facility is kept spotless. Every racked basketball is lined up perfectly with the one next to it, Spalding logo facing outward. Take a water from the fridge, it’ll be restocked within the hour.
If you’re not a paid member of the Thunder organization, don’t step on the court. That’s for players and team personnel. It’s a sanctuary for work. The building is kept quiet and uncluttered.
That mode of operation worked well for the Thunder, jiving perfectly with their stars. Russell Westbrook and Durant are about as task-oriented and focused as NBA players get. Their no-nonsense approach bled through the rest of the organization. They didn’t win fewer than 47 games the past seven seasons.
But Durant’s new team goes about things a bit differently. Music blares during and after practice. The gym is often packed, people shuffling all around. Work gets done, but the environment is more boisterous, frantic, alive.
“Everybody is super-focused, but they realize that we’re playing a game and you’re supposed to enjoy it,” Durant said. “It’s great for me. Especially for someone who is just used to always being drill sergeant with what I do. To relax a little bit, let my hair hang a little bit has been fun.”
In OKC, the offense was built around Durant and Westbrook’s elite one-on-one skill. The roster was constructed to fit it. They were flanked by mostly defensive specialists, not high-level shooters and instinctive playmakers. So they isolated and attacked. And it mostly worked. They were consistently top-five in offensive efficiency the past half-decade.
But these versatile, loaded Warriors operate differently. Shooters and playmakers are everywhere. Kerr demands movement. Durant has been forced to break some built-in offensive habits.
“Just the standing,” Durant said. “When I’m off the ball, always cutting, always trying to free up my man, free up another guy to get a good shot for the offense. That’s something that’s very, very challenging, but it’s needed for me to be the complete basketball player that I want to be.”
Throughout the first few practices, Kerr would find himself correcting a stagnant Durant. Cut, back screen, do something. Don’t stand if you don’t have the ball. He looked a bit lost in Vancouver. He looked fluid on Tuesday against the Clippers.
“We’ve talked to him a lot about pinning away, cutting through, setting a back screen,” Kerr said. “Especially on the weak side. It all clicked last night. All of a sudden, he was feeling it. He was setting screens, he was moving, he was cutting.”
“There’s a lot I need to learn about the game of basketball,” he said. “I’m not as smart as I thought I was about the game.”
Many will take that as a slight toward the Thunder. Durant chooses to separate that past and the present. Or at least he’ll try.
“That book is closed,” Durant said. “I’m looking forward now. All I’m focused on is how we prepare here and how we have fun here every day. It’s not a knock on Oklahoma City. It’s not a knock on my past teammates. I’m looking forward. I’m not looking backward.”
No. 3: Vaccaro: Lowball offer led LeBron to Nike as rookie -- The shoe-endorsing game is as important in some NBA fan circles as the wins and losses on a nightly basis. Who is wearing what brand -- and who is endorsing what brand -- can affect how some view a player. As a high school player, LeBron James was a noted Adidas fan and was willing to hear the pitch from the company. Former sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro explains how Adidas managed to lose LeBron in a recent podcast with The Ringer:
At St. Vincent-St Mary High School, LeBron James almost always wore Adidas. The photos are out there. The shoe exists. But when it came time for James to enter the NBA, he switched his allegiance to Nike, a partnership he’ll now maintain for life. James generates hundreds of millions of dollars for Nike each year. With double the sales of the next-most-popular player, James is the single most important athlete in the sneaker universe.
How did Adidas miss out on such a lucrative opportunity? According to Sonny Vaccaro, a former sports marketing executive who was working with Adidas at the time, Adidas had a chance to land James with a 10-year, $100 million contract. Adidas could afford it, too — the company still had Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady selling shoes for it. But Adidas lowered its offer to $70 million at the last minute, allowing Nike to swoop in with a $90 million deal to land the future superstar.
We were going to bet our whole future on this kid, LeBron. There was no question that he wasn’t going to be courted by other people because obviously he was going to be, but no one believed in him, not $100 million worth. That I do know.
That number, I talked to [Adidas’s owners], looked them in the eye … and said, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ I never would have [offered $100 million] to LeBron James [if they hadn’t said yes]. I mean, what advantage was that, to lie? They OK’ed it. So they knew, $100 million. I didn’t spring it on them that day. They knew for nine months.
So now we come down to the presentation. We bring him and his whole team on. Private airplane. We’re going to get them [to] a Lakers playoff game. Imagine in Malibu, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and we lay out the plan. And the number [was] supposed to be $100 million. I sat down that day [with] Gloria James, [LeBron’s] lawyer, and … LeBron, and all these people. I saw the contract. It wasn’t $100 million. It was like $70 million, and they had incentives on it.
It wasn’t so much the number, $70 million or $100 million, because $70 million was a hell of a lot of money, right? But you have to understand what it was to me. The reason I was, and I still am respected, I believe, in that world, is [that] if I said something to you, you [would] believe me. If we had a deal, we had a deal. [Adidas] changed the number on me. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.
We went to a little corner of this mansion. Gloria, me, LeBron … and I apologized. I’ll never forget what they did. They put their arms around me and they said, “Sonny, we understand. We know what you did. We’re going to be fine.”
I said then, I’ll say until I die, the biggest mistake ever made in corporate America on this sort of a thing, was when Adidas backed out of signing LeBron James. [If] they sign LeBron James, the world changes.
Nike was no. 1 before LeBron. Nike had great players. They always will. They were always no. 1 with the greatest personalities in sports. There’s no question about that. I don’t think that will ever change. My point to you is, [Adidas] could’ve changed the landscape.
But my more important point: Even though Adidas has done well, they signed some really good players … Sebastian Telfair, Dwight Howard, a lot of guys, but no one ever, since then, has ever come [close] to what James was. It was the dumbest, stupidest thing a corporate company ever did.
I quit. I knew I was going to quit [Adidas] that day. We were going — it was in Malibu — and I don’t know if anyone can visualize it, but there’s all these canyons, and we lived on the other side of the canyons. This is another thing: We’re riding home, I turn to my wife, you know, my trusted companion, and I said, “You know what I’m going to do, don’t you?” And she said, “I know what you’re going to do. You’re going to quit, aren’t you?” And I said, “Yeah.” I couldn’t handle it. I just couldn’t do it. Because … I could not exist in that world if my word wasn’t good.
Now [LeBron’s] going to make a billion dollars at Nike before it’s all over.
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