One of these sends the correct message....
As of a few weeks ago, James Harden was probably one of my favorite players in the NBA. He is a former lottery pick that has been over-shadowed on an Oklahoma City squad that has big names All-Stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, yet he doesn’t seem to have a chip on his shoulder about it. He is constantly hustling, is the first guy to dive for a loose ball, and is never afraid to take the winning shot, even though he is only the sixth man (pay attention LEBRON!). He also rocks a giant beard and hipster-ish mohawk. What’s not to like about this guy?
Simple. Last week while taking out the old man Spurs on the way to the NBA Finals, Harden, like he does, hit a big shot. However, he followed it by doing this:
Okey silly dilly dokey-o, I'm an idiot!
For those of you are unfamiliar with what Harden is doing with his hands there, that would be a gang sign. More specifically, one of the gang signs for the notorious “Bloods”. Now I’m not entirely sure that Harden is even a member of said gang, but you have to think he knew what he was doing and that it isn’t some random gesture. This means one of two things. First, James Harden is, or at least was, a member of the Bloods, and knowingly threw up the sign to show his affiliation. He is from Lakewood, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles, which is a hotbed of Blood gang activity. So there is a possible connection.
(It should also be noted that apparently Harden has sent some gang-related tweets in the past year. Then again, I say dumb shit I don’t mean on twitter all the time.)
If that is indeed the case, FUCK HIM IN HIS BEARD, FACE, AND ASS. C’mon James! You are a role model to kids in urban areas all over this country. Kids that are battling their consciences daily in these communities see a rich, successful NBA player proudly displaying these bullshit signs and what do you think that does? Gives these kids more false hope that gangbanging can lead to success, or at least is “cool”.
Now, there is the second option: that Harden isn’t, in fact, a member of the gang. In a Yardbarker post from last week
, (no, not ESPN, more on that later), it gets pointed out that super ghetto rapper and apparent gang member “Slim Thug” called out Harden as a phony and tweeted, “go yo rich ass home and practice!” So, maybe he is the dorky hipster we all think, and just knows the sign and was doing it as a joke. Well fuck that too!
Most of those kids watching won’t know the difference. Even though Charles Barkley famously has acknowledged that NBA players don’t need to be role models, many of them automatically are whether they like it or not, especially a player like Harden that has been in the media’s eye a copious amount lately. Honestly, I don’t know if he is a Blood or not (most likely not), but with any luck, this act will get James Harden shot in a drive by in the near future to show these kids what really happens to gang members. Sorry if this all seems harsh, but as an adult (I know, weird right?) that has an occupation that works with kids in a heavily infested gang area, this absolutely infuriates me. I take all gang involvement in my line of work very seriously, and have taken numerous courses on gang awareness, influence, and recruiting over the past several years. I don't claim to be an expert, but I've learned the basics. Enough to know gangs are a disease that not only hold kids back from being truly successful in life, but also gets them injured or even killed. I want no part of these jackals who promise a glorious life that mainly leads to poverty, prison and death. I've even tried to stop listening to rappers who openly glorify it in their current lyrics. Fuck those bitches, too.
Now onto the media aspect of all these shenanigans. Why has there not been more backlash about this from the NBA or mainstream media? I googled several forms of “james harden gang sign thunder spurs nba bloods” and that yardbarker piece was the most mainstream thing I could find. Nothing from ESPN. Nothing from Sports Illustrated. Nothing from Deadspin?? This is absurd. A major player from one of the best teams in the league throws up an obvious gang sign and nobody covers it? This stinks of the NFL cover-up of Michael Vick/Ron Mexico in 2005.
It is well known that David Stern gets his way with EVERYTHING in the NBA (and don't call him out on it if you want to keep your personal life in the clear
). Formers referees have said they were told to coerce certain aspects of certain games in certain directions, all the time usually leading to a major market or “top story team” advancing in the playoffs. The Cavaliers and Hornets getting the number one pick in the lottery draft over the past two seasons has also been pretty peculiar, so why would anybody put it past Stern to make sure one of the golden boys of his golden franchise gets off without so much as a slap on the wrist or a “stern” talking to? (see what I did there?). Keep in mind, the NBA is very familiar with doling out fines for gang-related behavior. In 2008, NBA All-Star and former stabbee Paul Pierce was fined $25K for throwing this up at Hawk’s Center Al Horford:
Now again, I have no clue if Pierce is throwing up a gang sign here, but from the course I've participated in and the research I've done, it sure looks like a well-documented sign that the Bloods commonly use. I’ve never liked Pierce anyways, but the point is that the NBA did something about the act and did so very publicly. Now, Harden makes what to me, is a much more obvious gang sign, that as far as I know means nothing in any other circles of life, and Mr. Stern, the NBA, and the rest of the media are absolutely silent. Bullshit.
As much as I want the OKC Thunder to roll over the Miami Heat and wipe that smug grin off of Lebron’s face, there is a part of me that wants no success for a guy that promotes anything gang related in a positive light, whether jokingly or not. I might be over-reacting, but there should at least be a discussion about this going on in the media, if only to let people know that this shit might be going on. Five years ago I very well may have shrugged my shoulders at this and kept cheering for Harden like nothing happened. Not now. Not after I’ve seen 13 & 14 year old kids who work hard and care about their future, suddenly transform over night because of promises from gangs that don’t give a flying fuck about their lives. I just wish it didn’t take me this long to find that out.
If I’m wrong and there is an honest explanation for Harden’s actions, I’ll be the first to admit my reaction was uncalled for, but as of now, I can’t think of a single scenario that could explain his piece of crap immaturity.
Follow me on twitter if you don't believe in kids getting shot. @TheScizz
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.