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Archive for May, 2010

 In the aftermath of last night’s Boston Celtics 120-88 rout over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night to go up 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, both scribes and spectators  are questioning the basketball lineage of the King.   The basketball world is wondering if LeBron James deserves or will he ever reach the pantheon of the greatest of the great? 

Perhaps, the inquiries and lables of LeBrick, LeBronze or LeGon are justified as LeBron James’ poor shooting and all around inertia on the court in Game 5 has pretty much put his team on the precipice of not even making the conference finals let alone winning his first NBA title. Recently, Magic Johnson bequeathed the title of “the best player in the game” upon LeBron during an interview about his selection as this year’s MVP.  And this was supposed to be the year that LeBron would fulfill the prophecy.  His idol Michael Jordan copped his first ring in his seventh season, which LeBron is in now.

Within basketball and at its logical conclusion – the NBA – there is an eternal tension.

At its most harmonious, the game like jazz shares a fundamental form of individual improvisation with teamwork.  In both, there is the understanding that each player is functioning alone but in response to all the choices made by each other in real time. The game is based on rhythm and not a set formula or algorithm.

 

However, often, the game hinges on one player dominating the action.   The best player is expected to carry a team on his back and save the day like a comic book hero.  Ultimately, the game seems to require a great solo performer much like a virtuoso rapper spittin’ alone at the mic save a phat back beat (at least back-in-the-day pre auto-tune).   

In the post tape-delayed universe of the NBA (since 1980, the last time an NBA Finals due to poor ratings was broadcast on tape delay) there have been several players deemed great because of winning multiple championships.   Magic and Isiah Thomas could be defined as those who operated mostly within the kumbaya jazz realm.  Oh, you might not think of Isiah like that but he truly sublimated his game for the benefit of the team.    Jordan and Kobe Bryant stand out as players most aligned within the hubristic hip hop mode.

Now for sure, none of the above mentioned is totally within one category as then you would at one become Jason Kidd or Dominique Wilkins at the other.  And every player has flaws in their game or personal fault lines that could crash and dash thier championship dreams. 

But the King at this very moment seems torn at which way to play.   The hpnotiq basketball mix of Magic and Mike is playing schizophrenic.  I don’t see a plan. One half he’s Magic but the other he’s Mike.  One game he’s Kobe then the next he’s Isiah.  It works sometimes but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Beyond his own faults, he must overcome the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: a suspect coach, a crappy supporting cast and playing in a town that has not won a professional sports title since 1964.  

It’s time for LeBron to welcome the chance to define his legacy.   Confucius (my fortune cookie from my Chinese dinner tonight) said: Adversity is the prosperity of the great.

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He is a self-made man, who worships his creator.

Larry Merchant, the long-ago former sportswriter and longtime boxing analyst almost surreptitiously dropped this definition of Floyd Mayweather Jr., during the boxer’s prize fight this past Saturday night against Shane Mosley.  Mayweather won the contest quite convincingly and although Merchant pilfered the quote originally delivered by one 19th century British statesman addressing another, the line was classic Merchant – funny, cunning and contentious. 

The line rings true as it does seem that Mayweather unseemly loves himself.  Mayweather is a loud and proud show-boating boxer in the lineage of Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali. And he also revels in his transformation from Pretty Boy Floyd which he used earlier in his career to the current moniker of Money Mayweather.

However, although there’s no such thing for a boxer to be born with the equivalent of a silver glove on one’s hand, it’s a stretch to call him self-made.   

The son of the Bronx-born boxer Floyd Mayweather Sr., Junior got his braggadocio attitude and defensive skills from the former middleweight contender.  The transference of talents and gifts like that is an enduring endowment for any future fight champ.  Mayweather may be more akin to Donald Trump who turned his father’s successful real estate company into a global empire and who also craves the spotlight like a moth to a flame.   

In another way, the younger Mayweather reminds me of the professor/activist and TV political analyst Marc Lamont Hill.  Mayweather is usually attacking with left jabs and hooks while Hill is attacking the status quo from way left of center.  But Professor Hill does facially favor the pugilist and they share a fast-paced staccato speech pattern as well.  I thought that I was singularly onto this resemblance until discovering that upon an approaching Mayweather fight, the tweets invariably rise on Hill’s twitter page about his body double.    

But back to the Mayweather family fighting tree that includes his uncle Roger Mayweather, a former super featherweight and super lightweight champ, we find a great deal of dissension damaging its roots.  Any boxing fan worth his saliva in the spit bucket knows this but let me double-up on my punches so to speak.

The father was the former trainer and manager but he was fired and replaced as trainer by Roger.  The break-up was the son’s call as emboldened with age and success the role of a controlling father made for an embattled working and familiar relationship.  The bitter fall-out prompted bickering between brothers’ Floyd and Roger and years passing before father and son were on speaking terms.

Yet, the Mayweathers do not seem any different than all the other family businesses fueds.  However, the infighting may have reached a truce as the elder Mayweather is now back in Money Mayweather camp as a proud parent. The father on an episode of HBO 24/7 to promote the fight said, “I don’t need to train my son, I need a relationship with my son.”       

On that same show, Mayweather’s impending challenger Mosley nobly claimed that he doesn’t fight for the money. Mayweather incredolously responded that the loot is his primary motivator.  Although he is known to flash and flaunt his earnings from boxing, Mayweather plays it close to the vest inside the square circle.  

In his latest fight as in all of his fights, this student of the sweet science repeated the same experiment. He starts out slow in the first few rounds while he analyzes his adversary. Then his quick hands score with blows to the head and body of his foe while his own punching surface remains elusive.

This past weekend, Mosley buckled Mayweather’s knees in a second round rally.  But he recovered quickly and true to form, his sharp stinging blows began leaving an impression on Mosley.  And he again eschewed pressing for the knockout while being content with out pointing his opponent.  This conservative approach combined with his ability to avoid punches makes it a frustrating task for fighters to beat him but also for the fans and media alike who want spectacular closure. 

Mayweather’s victory left him undefeated at 41-0 but almost immediately after the decision was rendered, Merchant in questioning Mayweather agitated for a match-up with Manny Pacquiao.  Manny is rated by most as the best pound-for-pound boxer and seen as a heroic man of the people in his native Philippines.  But Mayweather repeated his position that he would only agree to a fight if Pacquiao, as he is willing, submits to more stringent blood testing to verify the absence of illegal performance enhancing substances.    

The demand for the bout rests in the notion that clash of styles will be dynamic. The big unanswered question is will Pacquaio’s pressure force Mayweather to come out of his comfort zone or will Mayweathers tactics once again stymie even a great active fighter.

The result of that almost inevitable bout will do more to shape Mayweather’s legacy than any one-man description.

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