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Monday, June 15, 2009

Basketball 24/7 - A preview of the site and Across the Pond...

ORLANDO - As the 2009 NBA Finals concluded with a giant thud of disappointment from a lackluster effort put forth by the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of the league’s showcase series, the office of the President of the United States of America issued a press communiqué that was reported in the Wall Street Journal, CNN and all news outlets worldwide in the following manner:

News Alert
President Obama is expected Wednesday to propose the most sweeping reorganization of financial-market supervision since the 1930s, a revamp that would touch almost every corner of banking from how mortgages are underwritten to the way exotic financial instruments are traded.

At the center of the plan is a move to remake powers of the Federal Reserve to oversee the biggest financial players, give the government the power to unwind and break up systemically important companies and create a new regulator
of consumer-oriented financial products.

After watching the Orlando Magic blow a nine-point first quarter lead (19-10) and allow it to turn into a 16-point Los Angeles Lakers mid-fourth quarter (85-69) demolition of the Magic. I thought it appropriate to propose that President Obama also consider a sweeping reorganization of the Orlando Magic’s entire team roster, their entire coaching staff--starting with Coach Stan Van Gundy -- who frequently acts as though he is the second coming of Pat Riley and Hank Iba -- but doesn't have a title near his name. The VG criticism can begin with his overall game plan as the Magic lost to the mighty Lakers as the players and coaches became ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ witnesses to a 25-point turn-around.

Bad timing was everything when a very kind television timeout at the 5:50 mark late in the game brought a slight pause into the all-out dismantling of the home club on their home court, Amway Arena in downtown Orlando. The timeout gave the worldwide media time to edit their stories, grab their research papers and record books and to make note that Kobe Bryant (game high 30-points) led five LA teammates in double figures in scoring. It allowed the Magic faithful to begin their exodus to Church Street to toast a successful season gone bad.

The stat sheets did not lie. It was important to emphasize the Lakers’ eleven rebound advantage (47-36) in the battle of the boards and their team defensive efforts, inside and out. Equally important was LA’s monumental advantage in terms of “big game” playing and coaching experience.

Flashing back to the end of Game 4 of this series, won by LA 99-91, Chief barrrel into the Press conference Van Gundy was asked about the effect of ‘experience’ on his team. He cut the questioner off before the final words of his sentence were uttered, stating emphatically: “That had nothing to do with any of it. That's what I've got to say about that. Nothing. We've played enough basketball games. It's a basketball game.”

Well, Stan, you were wrong.

Experience has everything to do with it. That is a fact of life in life itself and in sport and it is even more apparent in NBA basketball, especially NBA playoff basketball.

In just the past 20-something years, you can examine the rise of the Detroit Pistons and you can see the importance of experience when they tried to climb the mountain and defeat the legendary Boston Celtics – the 1986 NBA champions. Then, ask the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls who fell victim to those same Detroit Pistons before they were able to get to the promised land of NBA dreams and win their first title in 1991.

Later in the decade, the Utah Jazz fell victim to the more-experienced Bulls. Then, the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets fell victim to the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs. Recently in a situation comparable to this year, the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers fell victim to a much more experienced Spurs team in 2007, in a sweep no less.

Now, one could grab the record books and go on, but, instead, it might be more appropriate to bring out my frequently noted quote, that from former Houston Rockets NBA championship coach, Rudy Tomjanovich, who once said: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”

That is what the Orlando magic did in 2009. The average NBA observer will give Van Gundy and his team tons of credit for their efforts during the 2009 NBA playoffs. The Magic clearly over-achieved as they made their way past the (injured) shadow of the remains of their reigning NBA champion Boston Celtics. Then, Orlando gained momentum with a hard-earned series victory over Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both the Celtics and Cavs were highly favored to win their respective Eastern conference playoff series earlier in the NBA Playoff marathon.

Turning attention to the accomplishments made by the Lakers, rather than the shortcomings of the Magic, veteran observers must note the fact the Lakers franchise has now won 15 NBA titles. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is now a 10-time NBA championship coach, the most championships ever won by an NBA coach. Jackson won six titles with the Chicago Bulls and has now won four championships with Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant averaged 32 points and nearly six rebounds and seven assists as he marched to the championship.

“We as a team answered the call,” said Bryant as he celebrated the fact that he no longer had to answer to frequent criticism that he couldn’t win an NBA title without the help of a Shaquille O’Neal or other NBA bigman.

“I’d like to say, it’s really about the players,” said Jackson when he was asked about the historical aspects of his 10th NBA coaching title. “It’s about Kobe Bryant. It’s about Derek Fisher’s leadership of the team. I tried to take them through some of the build-up things that we had to do as a basketball club. They came together this year and were self-motivated, and for a coach, that’s a positive sign.”

In terms of experience or lack thereof, Orlando’s Dwight Howard knocked down criticism of lack of experience in much better form than he displays when he tries to knock down free throws at a 60-percent clip. Howard agreed with his coach and said that yes, it was just another game and that the Magic only needed to focus, play full 48-minute games, concentrate mentally and – like many of the great players that progressed and improved over their careers, “to come back next year with the same fire but to accomplish our goal.

“I have a lot of confidence. I am 23 years old and I hopefully will have a career without major injuries. I think I’ll be back (to the NBA Finals). This was a great stepping-stone. Nobody believes that we could get this far. Some even said, we wouldn’t even make the playoffs, but here we are in the NBA Finals,” he added.

“From the first game to tonight (Game 5), the Lakers did a great job. Props to Andrew Bynam and the Lakers tough front line,” added Howard.

“Stan (Van Gundy) has motivated me. He’s beat up about tonight’s game, he’s motivated us and he’s made us a better team, from the first game of the preseason until tonight. He’s the main reason why we made it to where we are today.”

Well, the sun will rise and sun will set. The games are played and the championships are earned. Regardless, the sun rises in the morning for the winners and the losers. The winners awake with a smile and a new resolve to re-live the journey they just experienced. The losers awake with a new resolve to return to the Finals and to improve upon the building blocks of some 100+ games played with nothing to show other than a listing as the “also-ran,” just slightly more respected than the 28 other NBA teams without a championship ring ceremony to look forward to come November.

In NBA championship lore, some titles are truly earned. Some, quite sadly, are squandered away. They are blown to bits by missed free throws, missed easy, mid-range wide-open shots and the lost opportunity that results from those mis-steps. Some are lost because of lack of experience or dreaded and deadly over-confidence. The 2009 NBA championship was a combination of all. It was a title earned by a tremendous LA Lakers team, a club that gained valuable Finals experience when they lost to the Boston Celtics a year ago. Yet, the 2009 NBA championship was tossed aside by an inexperienced Orlando team that squandered two important games, one with a simple missed lay-in (Courtney Lee in Game 2) and the other with key missed free throws by two star players in a decisive fourth quarter (Game 4).

Sunrise. Sunset. The sun will come up in the morning and the colors will be championship colors with some golden sun, called Lakers gold in southern California. The sky will have some Forum blue as well, two colors conjured up by a writer named Shelby Strother of the Detroit News who captured the moment of the 1988 Lakers seven game championship win over the Pistons.

In Orlando, the skies will be threatening. The critics will tear apart the coaching staff, the Magic game plans and their lack of depth and experience. The colors will be different. They will have battle scars, cuts, bruises and a tint of red, of bright red human blood. Yet, somewhere in the middle, between sunrise and sunset, between threatening skies and bloody scars, the true spectators of sport realize that it is all just a game. A game where a multi-billion dollar business can be turned on its side by a simple missed free throw or two.

That is why we play the games.

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