Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Defining Moments

This is the last championship of this decade. This is Kobe Bryant's last chance to mark himself as the dominant player of this decade, and probably his last real chance to stake any sort of claim toward the greatest player ever.

For the most part, the NBA has had clearly defined eras, and for the most part they've conveniently fit into decades. The dominant player of the 1950s was George Mikan, the first great NBA center. He won five championships (but no Most Valuable Player awards; the NBA didn't begin handing out MVPs until 55-56 season.)

The dominant player of the 1960s was Bill Russell, the center for the Boston Celtics. He won 8 championships in the 60s, plus 3 in the 50s; he won 4 MVPs.

In the 70s it was Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He won only one championship in that decade. (This depends on how you define decades, since the NBA season covers two years, and Kareem won his next championship in 1979-1980. For the purposes of this post, I'm treating each season as a part of the decade in which it ends.) But despite his single championship, no one else did much better in the 70s, and Kareem won 6 MVP awards during that period.

In the 80s it was Magic Johnson. He won 3 MVPs and 5 championships. In a situation that mirrors Kobe's, he had a competitor: Larry Bird. Bird won 3 championships and 3 (consecutive) MVP Awards. But Magic went to the Finals 8 times in the decade (a 9th in the 90s), and Bird only managed it 5 times.

The 90s was Jordan. 4 MVPs (plus 2 in the 80s); and 6 championships.

The 00s has been more fragmented, at least in terms of great players. At the MVP level this is due to the media (which votes on MVPs), and not to the actual caliber of the players. The media's voting in this decade can only be described as irresponsible; they in turn screwed Shaq, Duncan, and Kobe, over the course of the last decade and a bit. Tim's Duncan's only won twice; Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal have only won once apiece. During that same period the NBA has awarded MVPs to Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash (twice!), Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson. Shaq's been cheated out of at least two MVPs, in 98-99; it went to Karl Malone in a year when Shaq was turning in one of the most stastistically dominant peformances in NBA history. In 00-01 the media handed it to Iverson, when Kobe was clearly a better guard and Shaq was still statistically tearing the cover off the ball.

I don't begrudge Garnett his MVP, though Kobe probably deserved it that year, he was on trial in Colorado and hell would have frozen over before he'd have won it. But the two years following -- Steve Nash? Twice? I like Nash, he's a great player and a joy to watch, but he's also the least deserving MVP in my adult life. And to follow him with Nowitzki was adding insult to injury -- that was three years of anybody-but-Kobe. (Or Duncan, for that matter, who deserved it more than any of the guys who won those years.)

But let the petty annoyances fade ... in this decade, Kobe's won 3 championships, and 1 MVP. Duncan's won 3 in 3 tries, and 2 MVPs. If Kobe wins this year, he'll have won his first championship without Shaq, fourth overall, in his sixth appearance in the NBA Finals, and will have cemented his claim as best player of the decade.

But it'll do more than that. It'll nail down his claim to third greatest guard of all time behind Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, and will catapult him into the discussion for GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) ... though he'll have more work to do to in coming years to live up to that.

Most people would concede Kobe is the greatest offensive force the game's ever seen. But the game is offense, defense, and leadership, and under defense Kobe is merely one of the better players the game has ever seen, and under leadership ... well, this is his second shot at leading a team to the championship. I didn't think they were going to win it last year -- there's an actual blog post where I laid out my feelings that the Celtics would win it last year, much as I disliked the idea -- and they didn't.

I do think they're going to win this year. They have home court, they have more talent than the Orlando Magic, and God knows they've been carrying the burden of their epic flameout in the last game of last year's Finals for the entire year since. When the Orlando Magic won the Eastern Conference Championship, they smiled and laughed and gave every indication of being pleased with themselves. The Lakers, at their trophy ceremony, looked like they'd just barely avoided being shot.

(It's not just the players. A few months back I asked a friend, a fellow Lakers fan, if he thought the Lakers were going to win it all this year. His grim answer: "They'd better.")

This is it for Kobe. I think he's one of the greatest ever to play the game, I think he's the greatest player the game's seen in the last decade, and I think he still has a legitimate shot at GOAT ... and all of that rests on this next series. Jerry West was one of the greatest the game's ever seen too ... but no one has ever really argued for him as GOAT. Because, when he got to the Finals, he lost. And lost. And lost and lost and lost and lost and lost and lost -- eight times, in all.

It's not often a single series means so much to a single player. But this one does.


I'm really sorry the Lakers didn't get to go head to head with the Celtics again this post-season. That would have been fitting. (I don't really care that they're not going to face LeBron -- in the grand Scheme of Schemes, it's a matchup that didn't interest me particularly.) As is, I'm probably going to change the quote on the graphic for this blog. If Garnett comes back healthy next year I'll put it back up again for the playoffs, but the top guys on the Celtics are elderly, and reaching the point where the productivity of basketball players typically drops off a cliff. Rondo's a stud, but he's not going to carry that team by himself with the big 3 aging.


We're back in the U.S., and back in Los Angeles. Court date next week to determine what happens with our 13 year old boy, Bram -- he's just undergone 8 hours of "reunification therapy," with his biological father, with another hour and a half scheduled for Friday. (According to Bram, quite a lot of it consists of Alan bitching about me. Shocker, that.) Quite a bit more coming on this subject, to be sure. The last year has been a fascinating one, and I will be writing about it at length ....

And yes, yes, yesssssssss ... there's more AI war coming. As soon as we have time to breathe, I'll publish the first half as an e-book. That at least ends at a nice stopping point after Trent surfs on a house. The rest will have to wait for things to settle down again, which is sort of the living definition of what the last year hasn't been. Though my sons have all learned to ride horses.

Interesting Times.


ditmars1929 said...

Well, look who's back. About freaking time.

Best o' luck in court, and I hope things settle down enough for you to get AI out in its entirety soon.

Rob said...

Great news, especially that you're back in LA and things are progressing with the family. Can I suggest epub as an ebook format? It seems to work the best in fbreader on my N800, and it seems to be gaining traction as the preferred open standard. (I wish I could recommend an authoring tool for it, but I haven't found one I like yet.)

Sean Fagan said...

Horse-riding is a useful skill to have. Plus, other than their freaky long faces, horses are neat.

Chris said...

Glad to hear you're back, and that hopefully things are settling out.

I agree with your friend that "They better".

eain said...

Good to have you back. My condolences to you and Bran regarding the "therapy", which just sounds like yuck.

Shawn said...

Sounds like it's definitely been a fun ride lately.

Here's hoping you've raised the kids well enough to cope no matter what the courts do. From your posts here, you have.

Subrata Sircar said...

"Most people would concede Kobe is the greatest offensive force the game's ever seen."

Wilt Chamberlain on line 1.

Welcome back!

Jeff Mott said...

Welcome back Dan - best of luck with the courts.

Neil said...

I'm a little surprised about your reaction to LeBron who I think will be the dominant player in the next decade. I think Kobe and LeBron would have elevated each others game leading to a great finals.

As for the rest, I'm too much of a celtics fan to argue magic/bird with any credibility but I'm excited about AI war.

Good to see you posting, Dan... even if you are a Lakers fan ;)

Dan Moran said...

We're hanging in there. The court said Andrea didn't have to see Alan any more, but she's 17-1/2 and they'd have had a hard time forcing her to. They'll have a hard time forcing Bram to, for that matter; he's 5'6 and weights 30 pounds more than his mother, and Lord knows I wouldn't put the boy in a car against his will. But there's at least a chance he won't have to deal with it much further past tomorrow night, regardless.

>Wilt Chamberlain on line 1.

Wilt played in a league with no other 7-footers. Kobe's average height for the league, and short of maybe the skyhook, there's nothing I've ever seen another player do I haven't seen Kobe do as well.



Sorry. Kobe and Lebron aren't the same generation, are only rivals in a historical sense, as guys to compare when their careers are over, until (and if) they run into one another in the Finals. Rivalries happen in the playoffs, and with the two of them in different conferences, they both have to make the Finals at the same time before I'm going to get worked up about it.

That was an ass kicking tonight, boy.

pdxtrent said...

Glad you made it back safely, and hopefully all goes well in court.

AndySocial said...

Surfing on a house... Gotta love the little throwaways you hand us.

When I moved into my new office a couple months ago, there was an RPG propped in the corner. I thought of Trent.

Hope all eventually is well.

Steve Perry said...

The Magic couldn't buy a basket, and it wasn't because they weren't getting looks. Twenty-nine percent shooting and half their foul shots didn't drop. Terrible rebounding, turnovers, it wasn't their night.

Can't take anything away from Kobe, though.

Dan Moran said...

Yeah, the Magic played badly and the Lakers played well. The Lakers can keep playing well, but they can't make the Magic play badly again.

This isn't over. Phil Jackson's teams have never lost a playoff series where they took the first game; they're 43-0. Kobe has never lost a playoff series where the Lakers won the first game; he's 19-0. In NBA history, when the home team wins Game 1, it wins the series 80% of the time.

... but that's why people watch sports. Sometimes amazing things happen. Sometimes the Boston Red Sox come down from 0-3 to win their first championship in 2,000 years.

This year, all I want is dependable, statistical basketball where Phil Jackson's streak, Kobe's streak, and NBA statistical history are all confirmed.

Also -- I want the Lakers to win this for a variety of reasons -- I want to take my sons to a championship parade they'll remember, for example -- but I have to say, I can't ever remember a basketball player wound as tight as Kobe's wound right now. I can't remember an athlete wound as tight as Kobe's wound right now. The man looks like his head is going to explode. I really want to see what happens to him if the Lakers win a 4th time .... it wouldn't shock me to see him go "kid at Disneyland," and it wouldn't shock me to see him sob from the podium. But I'd sure love to see it, either way.

Jesse Wendel said...

Welcome back.

David A. W. said...

Welcome back Dan.

Speaking as a Boston fan, born and bred, you sure do talk about us alot:D

I'm not a huge BBall fan though, too damn short and couldn't do a layup if I tried. I'm more partial to Hockey & Baseball.

Since that's the case and the Celtics have already been "destroyed" you have my hopes with your Lakers.

Thank god my friends don't read this or I'd be crucified....

J.D. Ray said...

Oh, hey, welcome back. Now can you tell us where you were? That, at least, seems like it would make an interesting blog post.

Looking forward to more AI War. But then you knew that.

Anonymous said...

I would put Larry Bird ahead of Magic... My order would go Jordan,
Bird, Magic and Kobe.

Prosecutor Joe!

and I am still boycotting the NBA
Go Sonics!

Dan Moran said...

>and I am still boycotting the NBA

I would be in your shoes, to be sure. I've said it before, it's shameful what they did to your town.

>would put Larry Bird ahead of
>Magic... My order would go Jordan,
>Bird, Magic and Kobe.

We all have our failings. :-) Mine goes, mas o menos:

Bill Russell
Tim Duncan
Jerry West

If Kobe wins the championship this year, he moves up past Duncan and Wilt. A couple more after that and we start talking about him along with Jordan, Russell, and Magic.

Deadford said...

Great to see you back online, and best wishes on the upcoming court date!!!

Art said...

Glad to hear from you on here again! While I hope to see more AI W each time I log on it is good to hear that you and your family are well and strong! Best of luck!

Steve Perry said...

It's in the bag. L.a. couldn't possibly lose this championship. One more game ...