He’ll be back. In a BIG way.
The only answers are more questions. If that makes no sense, good. It’s exactly the amount of sense the Miami Heat make now that they’re on the cusp of a second unforgivable collapse to an inferior opponent in the NBA playoffs. Why haven’t the Heat put the Celtics away yet? How in the world does LeBron James seem to disappear in a game where he put up a 30-12 line? Why doesn’t he impose his will to close out these games? Are the players to blame? Is Erik Spoelstra ? Pat Riley? Should they really blow it all up and trade Chris Bosh and/or Dwyane Wade next year? These are just a few of thousand questions I’ve asked myself over the last week or so since the Heat managed to turn a dominant 2-0 series lead into a stunning 3-2 deficit.
This all bothers me because the Miami Heat should be important. Historically, the Heat should mark a turning point in sports history whereby we could draw a line of demarcation and tell those who come after us that this was the moment it all changed. Never before had three individuals with such a combination of talents and skills so willingly flipped “the model” on its head. They eschewed the conventional wisdom that a GM or franchise alone should have the power to create a team and instead went about accomplishing it themselves. This made us uncomfortable. Uncomfortable is a good thing.
Their identity could have been that of the outliers of the NBA or, even better, the villains. Instead what has evolved is some sort of bizarre identity that is defined only by the fact that it has no identity at all. The Heat can’t seem to figure out what exactly they want to be and, as a result, struggle when they get into the late stages of the NBA playoffs when teams seem intent on exposing this. Veterans especially (think: Garnett & Pierce this year or Marion & Stevenson last year) seem to revel in the opportunity of uncovering the fallacy during live broadcasts. At times they’re a great defensive team, at times they’re breath-taking on the fast break, most times they just fail to live up to expectations
This revelation has its roots in the Heat’s best player, LeBron James. Since the disaster that was “The Decision” James seems intent on going into full on Tiger Woods/Michael Jordan mode. He basically refuses to take a stance on anything publicly (Trayvon Martin shooting aside) and instead speaks in a well-rehearsed language of saying lots of things without saying anything it all. While successful at earning money through endorsements, it fails to endear him to any one group of people. This would not be a problem if he was winning championships. As you’ve noticed though, LeBron James and this current version of the Heat don’t have any championships. The result is a disaster in that James comes across as trying to be too many things to too many groups of people.
The great misconception of this Miami Heat experiment is that America hates villains. America does not hate villains. In fact, America loves villains. As an example, I am a huge fan of late 1990s professional wrestling. I was a WCW guy and that period is almost entirely known for the great rivalry of the WCW vs. the NWO. The huge success of that era was predicated on Hulk Hogan’s turning heel into the greatest villain the sport had ever seen. And you’re never going to believe this, but people loved it!
I worshipped the sport, tuning in religiously every week as the good guys battled to save wrestling from Hogan and his gang of misfits. Hogan embraced the new identity of Hollywood Hogan and the sport flourished. There are more examples of this in sports history: the Miami Hurricanes, the Raiders, the Bad Boy Pistons. There most certainly exists a place in America’s heart for the Heat to exist as villains, should they so choose.
There is nothing that this country enjoys more than laughing at the failures of hypocrites though. By choosing to go to Miami and holding what closely resembled a championship trophy celebration in which he suggested that the Heat would win eight titles, LeBron came across to many as though he believed that the titles were already won. The implication was that the hard work was done with now that the big three finally came together. This all would be fine, again, if the Heat had won a title last year.
Instead the Heat failed to win a title and, in the biggest atrocity of all, failed to embrace a team identity. They come across instead as whiny wastes of talent who will never fully live up to their potential. Once Rajon Rondo made us all aware of the Heat’s tendency to complain to the official’s in transition, Americans had all the ammunition they ever needed to tie what they were thinking in their heads to what was actually happening on the television.
If we must look at facts to attempt to explain the Miami Heat, they do actually exist. In a sports world dominated by theories and opinions though, this isn’t very popular though. What’s really going on right now, in a purely basketball sense, is that the Heat inexplicably lost their discipline. They’re failing to take care of the basketball which couldn’t come at a worse time because the Celtics improbably morphed into a team that doesn’t turn the ball over at all. The Heat have also been noticeably lazy on their defensive rotations in the last three game (especially 3 and 4). And finally, they really are griping to the officials during transition opportunities for the Celtics that is allowing Boston to convert easy baskets. In games that are decided by such close margins, all of these mistakes add up.
For the Heat to avoid a second consecutive playoff collapse they’re going to have to do all the little things better, apologies for the cliche. They can’t afford lazy passes, they cannot be a second late on defensive switches, and they have to convert their free throws. In all seriousness, LeBron and Wade missed four free throws in game five. And guess how many points the game was eventually decided by? You guessed it, four points. Avoiding the little mistakes yields great dividends in the final box score.
So please, don’t waste time attempting to surmise once and for all whether LeBron James really has it in him to close out a game like Michael Jordan. It’s a ludicrous and fruitless endeavor that will never result in satisfaction. Look at the basketball itself. More than anything, the Heat might just be unlucky. That three point attempt Paul Pierce converted in LeBron James’ face at the end of game five was one of the worst shot attempts of the whole playoffs. It’s incredibly inefficient from a statistical standpoint, but for whatever reason he made it. You can’t criticize a team for being unlucky.
Instead, criticize this team for it’s failure to craft an identity and not living up to their own expectations
This story will brighten up your morning. From the Palm Beach Post:
Interesting story in today’s Boston Globe about the September collapse of the Boston Red Sox. Among the details were allegations by unnamed sources that pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey had a habit of drinking beer, eating fast-food fried chicken and playing video games in the clubhouse while their teammates tried to salvage a once-promising season.
If the allegations are true, it wasn’t the first time Beckett killed time in the clubhouse during a game. He and Brad Penny did that with the Marlins in 2003, prompting manager Jack McKeon to lock the clubhouse door during games.
Jack even resorted to keeping a stack of bathroom passes in the dugout to give out during games when players had to go.
“In between innings they’d go to the clubhouse to get a drink or hang out,’’ McKeon recalled this afternoon from his home in North Carolina.
“I said, ‘Hey, I got no rule against going up if you have to go to the bathroom or something, but get back.’ A couple of times I looked down the bench to talk to somebody and they weren’t there. They were in the clubhouse. So I went up and got them out and said, ‘OK, boys that’s it. We’ll lock the door.’”
McKeon told that same story in June, after he took over as Marlins manager when Edwin Rodriguez resigned. In June, McKeon was a little more animated in his recollection of what he did in 2003: “I would go in clubhouse with bat and (say) ‘get your asses out of here!’ I locked the clubhouse.”
McKeon recalled in June how he handed out what he called “poo-poo cards and pee-pee cards. Put them where I was sitting (in the dugout), so if you wanted to go to bathroom you had to get a card. That broke it up.”
The Marlins went on to win the World Series in 2003. The Red Sox went 7-20 in September and finished third in the AL East.
You heard that correctly. A major league manager, during a season in which his team won the World Series, had to hand out poo-poo and pee-pee cards to his players because they were so immature.
Jack McKeon, God bless you.
[Palm Beach Post]
This made the morning incredibly enjoyable. Take a journey into the Red Sox clubhouse in late September, where John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester were apparently too interested in their daily fried chicken, beer, and video game sessions to bother with cheering on the team. Where the Boston Globe acts like an authority on “championship baseball.” Where Terry Francona might just be addicted to pain medication. This sounds like a future 30 for 30! From the Boston Globe:
Instead, Boston’s three elite starters went soft, their pitching as anemic as their work ethic. The indifference of Beckett, Lester, and Lackey in a time of crisis can be seen in what team sources say became their habit of drinking beer, eating fast-food fried chicken, and playing video games in the clubhouse during games while their teammates tried to salvage a once-promising season.
The story of Boston’s lost September unfolds in part as an indictment of the three prized starters. But the epic flop of 2011 had many faces: a lame-duck manager, coping with personal issues, whose team partly tuned him out; stars who failed to lead; players who turned lackluster and self-interested; a general manager responsible for fruitless roster decisions; owners who approved unrewarding free agent spending and missed some warning signs that their $161 million club was deteriorating.
How a team that was on pace in late August to win 100 games and contend for its third World Series title in seven years self-destructed is a story of disunity, disloyalty, and dysfunction like few others in franchise history.
As they say in the Red Sox favorite song, “SO GOOD! SO GOOD!”
Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. What a night for baseball fans last evening. You’ve probably by now heard that the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves both completed their own individual submissions for worst September chokes in baseball history. They gave the Tampa Bay Rays and the St Louis Cardinals shocking Wild Card berths in the MLB playoffs. And it incredibly exceeded any and all expectations in how it played out. As Scott Van Pelt said on the SportsCenter that immediately followed the Rays game, “I’ll say it until I’m dead: sports are better than anything else. Always.”
In the immortal words of Hulk Hogan: Amen, brother.
Where to start? I guess the only way to do it is to share how I experienced it. For the better part of eight innings, I was stuck in night class yesterday sneaking views on my iPhone (God bless the Watch ESPN app) and checking updates on the gamecast. I became a bit depressed when, a little before 9:30 central, I got out of class to see the Rays down 7-0 going into the bottom of the eighth, the Braves looking like they were going to force a one game playoff, and the Red Sox still in the middle of a rain delay leading 3-2. I drove home, took my dog out, and immediately turned on ESPN and ESPN2.
In the short amount of time it took me to do that, the Rays had somehow miraculously forced extra innings on a Dan Johnson two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth, the Braves sensational rookie closer Craig Kimbrel had blown a save, and the Red Sox game was just starting the bottom half of the ninth inning, an inning that will live in infamy for the region of New England (at least until next year when they spend another $50 million).
I first watched the sad, depressing ending to the Phillies, Braves game on ESPN2. I’m not a St Louis Cardinals fan so this one was really hard to stomach as I didn’t have a dog in the fight. It was awful to watch. The Braves knew they were going to lose and watching the dugout after it became complete was one of the less enjoyable things I’ve ever witnessed as a sports fan. I hope I never have to visit the places that team and that fan base went last night in their sports psychology. It looked devastating. This was the first of the three games that mattered to end. I immediately switched over to the Red Sox game on ESPN to see what was going on, hoping that ESPN2 would change over to the Rays game (programming note: in an ultimate #fail for the ages, the deuce instead chose to show the CrossFit World Championships, or something).
Jonathon Papelbon got two quick outs, looking like the force of nature who’s closed down a World Series in the past. There was no way he was blowing it. And then up came Chris Davis, the same Chris Davis who I’ve mocked for years on this site for his unrivaled ability to strike out at the major league level. He’s a former Texas Ranger who became notorious for perfectly suiting the definition of a AAAA player (a guy who destroys Triple A, but sucks once he gets to the show). I’m thinking game over, time to go to bed when, all of a sudden he roped one down the right field line for an easy double.
Okay. I’m listening.
Next up was some guy named Nolan Reimold who is best known for the fact that is sounds like the announcer is mispronouncing Nolan Ryan when they say his name. The scouting report clearly indicated that Reimold could not hit the outside pitch. Papelbon pounded it to the outer half the entire at bat and Reimold never came close to touching any of the fast balls before going down two strikes. And then, well, then Papelbon had one of those brain farts that can haunt a player the rest of his career.
I don’t know if it was meant to be a slider, it was even quite possibly a two-seam fastball. Regardless, Papelbon absolutely hung a pitch over middle of the plate and Reimold smashed a ground rule double to right-center. Tie ball game. There was no chance after that. The Sox were clearly shaken and it took only the next batter to line a ball just out of the reach of the disappointing Carl Crawford to win the ball game and put Boston out of its misery.
It may have been only a coincidence. In fact, that is all it was: a coincidence. But you couldn’t help but see Crawford coming up short as a metaphor for what the night had in store.
And then, as luck would have it, ESPN switched immediately over to the Rays game. It took only thee minutes for Evan Longoria to put the ultimate exclamation point on one of the single greatest baseball nights ever and one of the single greatest September comebacks ever. I don’t know who decided that left field at Tropicana Field should be a paltry 315 feet, but God bless that man/woman because that ball would fall for a double in any other ballpark. It went 316 feet, tops, but just enough to give Longoria a walk off homerun for the ages.
Just enough. That’s what the Rays did all year.
The next few minutes were some of the most enjoyable moments as a sports fan I’ve had in some time. I only remember feeling something like that twice before, once when the Rockies beat the Padres in a one game playoff to make it to the postseason, and during the Nuggets run to the Western Conference finals a couple years ago. I’m not saying it came anywhere near approaching the levels of those other two times, but I did feel something. It was made all the better by the fact that ESPN, because it was breaking into the coverage, didn’t have an announcer and we were simply allowed to silently watch the Rays celebrate knowing full well what they had just done. I’ve long heard of Dodgers legendary broadcaster Vin Scully say he likes to let the stadium and the game do the talking for him, rather than tarnish it with his voice. I finally know what that’s like now. I sat up in bed with a huge smile and just got to appreciate the background noise of those Rays fans lucky enough to have stayed and witnessed the comeback.
And oh my god was it better than anything I’ve ever pictured in my head.
Think about what was at stake here. The payrolls, first of all. The clear favoritism showed to the Red Sox by ESPN over the past decade. The fact that ESPN the Mag just ran an issue last week that literally tried to explain why Boston was a better sports city than your hometown. Think of all that arrogance and how this same network then had to sit in silence as the Rays knocked their beloved franchise out of the postseason. It was incredible. It made all those insufferable four and a half hour games worth it somehow.
There is no game like baseball. Football clearly dethroned it as the most popular sport, but there is something about baseball that no sport will ever touch. I’ve long argued that a World Series is the most difficult championship to win and that it would mean more to me than any other sport. Last night reinforced that belief times a billion.
What a night. What a sport. Wow.
Generation Y, where Theo Epstein to the Cubs sounds like an excellent idea.