Every week (or at least we hope, everyone knows we suck at schedules here) The Continental will answer your questions. Whether it is Buffalo sports related inquiry, needed advice, or just a generally stupid question you feel like seeing her answer, have at it and we'll see what this young lady is made of! You can e-mail weekly questions to us at email@example.com, tweet us @DGWUSports, or even tweet her directly @hpurricane.
The Bills are still a football team, which really bums me out. Fortunately I had Boner Shorts Day to look forward to this week and it was a great time. The next day at work? Not so much. As promised, here is my answer to last week's question
: "what's the worst thing someone has overheard you say."
To preface this, my 11th grade history teacher was a total cockbag. He graduated from the school he teaches at, he was popular then, and then in his mid 30's he was still trying to relive his glory days. He loved making us listen to him talk, mostly inane anecdotes he repeated often. I think it was about the third time he launched into his "trip to Paris" story when he paused for dramatic effect and I leaned over to my friend/seatmate and said "Congratulations." Problem: I said this in my normal speaking voice, not a whisper, cue class laughter.
Mr. Cockbag decides that this is a good place to lecture me for my sarcasm and cynicism The joke was on him because he used both of those words incorrectly. I knew he was pissy, so I didn't correct him so I wouldn't get detention.
Epilogue: he goes to my church and the one time a year I see him he never speaks to me or my family, though we sit two pews away. Assclown.
Sidebar: Is that Spoelstra with the backwards cap? AMAZING.
LeBron won a title. After a spring filled with the Apologist tweeting from the @DGWUSports
account in a way that strongly suggested some deep fetish that would make even Delonte West blush, I suppose I should be thankful Aps didn't hop on here with a piece about how he's happy to be a Witness to the sweat from LBJ's balls. That said, I recognize that the NBA isn't my wheelhouse... But, LeBron won a title, and - a week out - I find myself with some things to get off my chest.Caveat #1: This may be the only time I give him any credit, so if you can't stand any concession of LeBron's greatness, take it with a grain of salt.
Caveat #2: If you think his victory merits an end to the vitriol spewed his way by fans like me, you don't get why I watch sports, so if you breathlessly worship Bron Bron without regard to his many failings, take this with a grain of salt. And then think about walking into traffic.
In the lead-up to the Heat's ultimate victory last week, the prevailing wisdom was that a championship for LeBron James would provide a respite to the neverending media coverage and fan arguments about this athlete-turned-caricature. The meme of "LeBron as Choke Artist" - and the reactive and defensive push-backs that always followed - has been THE story of the NBA since James decided to forego the role of Hometown Hero
for that of Captain Callously Self-Centered
. And it hasn't disappointed, even for those of us who abhorred the circus of it all, wishing that ESPN would focus more on the sport rather than the hype.
For better or worse, our shared hope for an end to the endless hype and bickering (some amongst the brethren of the Deeg) is ultimately futile. This is what happens when one of the greatest players to ever play the game takes the court for a redemptive moment of achievement. We talk about it. We have to. Just silently watching it unfold seems a disservice, whether you've chosen to think of LeBron as athlete in pursuit of highest victory, or villain whose success is being built in the wake of heartbreak and deep resentment.
How we digest a moment like this - watching a player in complete control of his craft, getting the most of himself - can speak volumes about ourselves. What to focus on? The absurdity of James' talent and the story of his on-court achievement, or the callous way his brand has been marketed, creating a LeBron that exists between tip offs? If you focus on his image, maybe you miss out on the joy of seeing a great player, but if you focus on the player, maybe you miss the context of the icon performing amidst constant analysis, expectation and attention. Your choice then is whether you want to enjoy a truly remarkable player without getting bogged down by the background bullshit, or whether you'll be guided by your sports soul as it reminds you that this gifted player represents everything you hate about modern sports.
Even for the most vehement of LeBron haters, his talent has never been questioned. Indeed, the dude is so talented that the biggest knock against his play has been that his achievement had yet to match the potential he carried within his gigantic 6' 8", 250 pound frame. His enormous physical gifts all-but-guaranteed that he would at least get a shot in the NBA. He was a beast in high school, dominating in a way that was inarguably unfair to the opponents who simply hadn't been blessed with the kinds of tools that James had from early on. Those physical gifts - innate, unachieved and invaluable to his game - were enough to get him to the pros. His prior failures, then, were a basis for the argument that he was all talent, no heart. We all knew he could
win it all... but only if he wanted
LeBron, 4th quarters.
Those criticisms of his play, based in an overarching sense that he was showing himself to be undeserving of the immense gifts appearing in his genetic code, were probably unfair, though hell if I cared when I was a few beers deep. In any event, those criticisms are largely irrelevant now. James has little else to prove as a player. After seeing him dominate the deciding game against OKC, it was clear that he finally wanted it and was actually interested in playing up to a level commiserate with his innate talent and gifts. He did the work and he succeeded. Good job, I guess.
Yet, as much as he has closed the book on those performance-based questions about his likely legacy as a player, satisfying even the most vocal critics, so much of the story of LeBron is off the court. And that off-court story is arguably more important, as it provides a more complete narrative of LeBron's impact in pop culture and provides us real reasons to watch. We pick sides and sit down to observe the best player in the game and hope for outcomes that provide some sort of karmic conclusion to the morality play that so often force our heroes to act out. Success is thus irrelevant, as it just as easily affirms the things we hate about James - his choice to pursue a title with a stacked deck in a city so undeserving of a title that it makes me want to strangle a Marlin, for example.
This is by no means a pure way to consume the sport, though getting hung up on these particulars is also by no means uncommon. His image, with the persistent taint caused by, among other things, his public declaration that he just wasn't that into Cleveland anymore, is the real reason we all love to hate the guy. I could give a shit if he wins a championship or not, or whether he nails that last shot or not (well, I would prefer not)... He's still the guy who grew up jumping on the bandwagon of teams I hate and ignoring the franchises from his hometown. He's still the guy who took on the mantle as Messianic figure for the Cavs, only to leave the team in the lurch, still waiting on the salvation he promised. And he's the guy who scoffed at us when we collectively criticized him for callously pissing on his hometown fans and who has built advertising campaigns on shoving those criticisms right back in our faces.
He's the fucking WORST.
And unlike a player who is just a simple, unlikeable dick (Bill Laimbeer comes to mind), LeBron is the worst kind of villain - the one who wants everyone to love him, convincing some to do just that, but wanting that love to exist in lockstep with his insistence to act as he chooses, regardless of the foreseeable consequences. Forgive me for thinking that this is a reprehensible level of disrespect to his fans, almost assuming that we're all unthinking narbies, waiting only to be entertained by dunks and blocks and a nightly mist of hand powder before every game.
I'm certainly aware that these musings may not apply to everyone, or even anyone, and I know that there are probably many fans of the game who can easily ignore the context within which LeBron has existed as a brand and who can watch without being swayed by the narrative of callous sports star. After all, LeBron's callousness was nothing new or completely unexpected. It was a logical next step for the sports free agent to capitalize on media interest (and laziness, IMO) and create a spectacle out of his departure to a new, exciting team. Next logical step or not, though, these are the kinds of things that matter to me as a fan and guide the way I think about sport. The ethics of it are what make the whole thing matter to me at all.
No amount of achievement can overshadow the creamy pile of douche in which this guy seems to bathe on a a daily basis. While he may be a different guy on the court - a winner now - he's still that same dipshit off it.
REALLY? FUCK YOU.
So, even if we all have one less jab to throw at James now that he has shed the role of "choker," LeBron is still out there, making sure we know how great he thinks this achievement is and how happy he is to have finally "silenced the haters" or whatever other bullshit cliché ESPN is feeding us this week, ultimately giving us yet another new reason to hate his smug, fabulously talented face. A ring doesn't fix that, and so long as LeBron remains wedded to his role as self-centered star and uninterested in rehabilitating the image he created by atoning for his prior mistakes and our understandable indignation at them, I'll keep having my delightfully immature fun by calling spades on this d-bag.
Love this? Hate it? Leave a comment below, and follow me on the tweet machine @theycallmedubs
The Barrister and The Scizz
Back with another installment of the Infinite Sadness podcast, the Scizz and I talked through a series of topics - most actually sports-related. Amazing how we can stay on topic when we're not drunk.
We discuss the Kings' Game 6 win and take jabs at their fan base and then have a lengthy discussion about the Sabres offseason as we approach free agency next month. We also discuss the NBA finals briefly, and give thanks to Guatemala for tossing the World Cup Qualifier on pay-per-view last night. Other tidbits include jokes about masturbation, Tim Connolly, our fantasy for Derek Roy's demise, and horse racing. We're classy.
Musical contributions from Jurassic 5 and Dilated Peoples.
Download and stream the cast, which runs about 30 minutes, below.
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I am not a professional. But I know anything written needs a good intro. And I'm trying. Honestly, I am. I'm trying to come up with something eloquent to say. I want to wittily summarize the last two rounds of the playoffs but all I can come up with is bits and pieces like "Sorry Blake, but you'll have to come up with more than dunking to be great" and "Are the Knicks seriously locking up Woodson after one playoff win?" or "Wow. I love watching LeBron play."
WHAT? I SAID IT! DO SOMETHIN'!
But seriously folks, I'm just excited. Super-duper, "Just found out I had $100 in an old pair of jeans", excited. I love basketball. And after a season of disjointed, oft-injured gahbage, the playoffs have returned the game to its proper high level.
In any sport, the playoffs are the true referendum for any player. Whether you're the third guy off the bench or the team's best player during the regular season, it's who you are in the postseason that cements your name in history. Players like Kevin Durant and LeBron James are driven by that fact. Or haunted by it. Teams like the Spurs and Celtics understand this concept well, because they've already established themselves in the record books. And those two teams are threatening to make King James and KD wait one more year to share their experience.
After Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL, no basketball fan could really have asked for a better conference finals matchup than the one we're about to see. Anyone not from Pennsylvania or Indiana who says they wanted to see the Sixers or Pacers advance was speaking strictly out of spite. These are the four best teams in the playoffs and now they all face their greatest challenge thus far.
Honestly, no sports fan could ask for more. Whether it's the action on the court or the story lines behind the scenes, there's plenty to follow. Each team has a player capable of "WOW" moments. Beyond those players are a slew of others who are among the games most recognizable faces. Both matchups are classic battles of old verse new, the end of an era versus the beginning of one. And of course, there's the LeBron James Hate Train which you can always jump on if none of that interests you.
So let's start in the East. In recent memory or near future, you may not see two opposing teams more desperate to win a non-championship playoff series than the Celtics and the Heat. Many people are rolling their eyes as they read that sentence, but it's true. The Celtics can practically hear the clock ticking on the illustrious run they've taken over the last 5 years. To end that run with a championship would obviously be a dream come true. Conversely, for the Heat, they also know that their team may look remarkably different next season if they fail to win a championship. Riley has hinted that he'd seriously consider breaking up the Big 3 if they didn't win a title this season. Not to mention, the "When will they win one?" noise that constantly surrounds them will get exponentially louder. As has been pointed out ad nauseum, this weighs heaviest on LeBron. His only chance for putting his name amongst the all-time greats lies a round beyond this one. If he can't even make it back to the Finals, it will only give more ammunition to his critics.
And certainly there's no team the Heat want to lose to less than the Boston Celtics. The Heat's main reason for existence is to defeat the Celtics. Before they became the Hated Heat, Bosh, James & Wade were separately stopped from their pursuit of a championship by these same Celtics and decided to join forces the way Pierce, Allen and Garnett did. You saw the elation on their faces when they knocked them out of the playoffs last year. How much more do they want to defeat them now that they're one round away from returning the Finals? And how badly do the Celtics want to upset the Freight Train & Friends when they know that this team may never play together again after this year?
Sadly for Bostonians who have had plenty of sports heartbreak to go around this year, my bet is they'll have even more to swallow soon. If the Pacers, with all their size, couldn't break down a Heat team missing their best big man, the Celtics and their aging legs don't seem to have much hope of pushing this series much further than 6 games. But I will say this. If Rajon Rondo decides now is the time to prove to people that he's the best point guard in the NBA, watch out. In the closing game of their series against the Sixers, Rondo showed that when he's on, he's nearly untouchable. Chalmers has made great strides amongst Miami's Big 3, but he's not half the point guard Rondo is. And if either LeBron or Wade has to spend minutes covering him, that only means easier looks for Pierce and Allen. Add to that that Doc Rivers is a blatantly better coach than Erik Spoelstra and maybe the Celtics' hopes don't look quite so grim.
Pardon me. Coming through.
Still, the Western Conference is where the real fireworks will come from. For my money, this might as well be the championship round. San Antonio and Oklahoma City were the two best teams in the league during the regular season and their postseason performances have only made them look more dominant.
San Antonio is the one team that won't excite many people outside old school basketball fans and Houstonians. (Hous-tons? Houst… Screw it, who cares.) Since the time of the Admiral, the Spurs have been a clinic in team basketball on their way to winning four championships over eight seasons. But even with all their accomplishments, they'll probably go down as sports' most boring dynasty. I understand why stout defense, crisp passing, and high-percentage shots doesn't always translate to exciting TV, but I've never understood how this label has turned into a criticism. What started as "Well, Duncan is one of the best big men of all time, but he's just so dull in interviews" turned into "UGH! ANOTHER championship round with the Spurs. CLICK!" The Spurs aren't flashy enough for you? Fine. But show a little respect. Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in any sport of all time. What he's done with a core of players now pushing into their late 30's with nothing but waiver signings and late draft picks is remarkable. Tony Parker looks quicker and more fluid than he has in years. Ginobli still knows how to find all the nooks and crannies of a defense. And Duncan is certainly not flashy, but at 36, he's still the best power forward in these playoffs.
(What's that, Boston fans? Kevin Garnett? Did he lead his team back from a twenty two point deficit on the road, including spearheading a 24-0 run? Right. And how many rings does he have on his fingers? Right. Moving along.)
The Thunder don't have nearly the history that the Spurs do. Their history so far is wrapped up in their superstar, Kevin Durant. The team has only existed in the league one year fewer than he has. And in that time, both the player and the team have only gotten better. When the team moved to Oklahoma from Seattle, Durant was their only commodity. Since then, GM Sam Presti, who discovered Tony Parker when he worked for the Spurs, has been brilliant in building a team around his star. He's made smart trades, like Sefolosha & Perkins, and used his draft picks extremely well, most notably in picking up James Harden and Russell Westbrook. And coach Scotty Brooks has helped make them better every single season since signing on and has them closer than ever to cracking through the conference finals ceiling. But the biggest threat to their success could be in their own locker room.
I could make that shot.
The Spurs have shown in these playoffs that even though their game is much more about offense than it used to be, they still know to how to negate your best players. They took away Blake Griffin's ability to live above the rim (as much as you can) and exposed how one-dimensional a player he is. And while CP3 got off to a great start, the pounding San Antonio's front court gave him slowed him enough to make the Clippers an easy sweep. And did you see when Popovich decided to intentionally foul the Clippers' worst FT shooter (a healthy 37%) every possession with 2 minutes left in their 22-point comeback win? Brilliant.
Surely defeating the Thunder will take at least 6 games, and that's if they can defeat them, but the point is they know how to eliminate your best weapons. So it just comes down to whether or not their opponent can adjust.
Kevin Durant has proven that he can handle any defensive situation. He still has room for improvement as a distributor and defender, but the offensive side of his game is as close to flawless as you'll see these days. You needn't look further than his 3 straight scoring titles to know that's true. So whatever defense San Antonio has planned, he'll be able to make the necessary adjustments to be effective. But Westbrook has proven to be a powder keg emotionally at times. If agitated correctly, as he was last year by the equally experienced and savvy Dallas Mavericks, he might derail his team at this crucial juncture. But if he can resist this temptation, keep his cool, and remember to feed the ball to Durant when it counts, then the Thunder will be victorious. As I said, the Spurs have been amazing in their ability to remold their style to improve with age, but if it simply comes down to who stands a better chance of winning four games first, I'll take the Thunder. But this looks like it could be an incredible series. The Thunder and Spurs have barely seemed to sweat in the playoffs so far. They match up evenly at just about every position. Both teams are passionate and well coached. If this series goes 7 games, I may pass out from joy.
In the playoffs, momentum is always a fickle friend. Up 15 one minute. Down 15 ten later. Seeing a team get blown out on the road and then turn around return the favor on their home court has been a regular occurrence (except for the Spurs & Thunder, of course.) But if you made it this far, you have just as good a reason to believe you're the team of destiny as anyone else left standing (right, Devils?). Whether you cruised to this point or had to battle for every inch, the four best teams are here.
Let's do this.