Warriors Have Changed the Optics of Super Teams

The Golden State Warriors made history a couple weeks ago when they completed the sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers to win their third NBA Championship in four seasons. The Warriors became the first team to win three championships in four years or fewer seasons since the Los Angeles Lakers won three in a row from 2000-2002. Most people considered the result a foregone conclusion a whole year ago, being that Golden State has asserted themselves into a rare air of league-wide dominance.

With how the Warriors are currently constructed, they don’t have any signs of fading any time soon. Sure, if Kevin Durant rediscovers any semblance of competitive fire and chooses to pursue the challenge of winning with a team not already loaded with star players, then we could see them slip a little. But if the Golden State core stays together in an effort to chase the Bulls of the 1990s or Celtics of the 1960s, they’ll continue to force opposing teams to expend all bits of creativity in order to come up with a solution for the NBA’s latest dynasty.

It was just a few years ago that the basic NBA team building approach was to obtain a superstar talent through the draft who could evolve into a franchise player and surround that player with additional star and solid complementary pieces. Prior to 2016, it was easy to feel optimistic about your chances to win an NBA Championship by following that formula. But, the Golden State Warriors have completely changed the dynamic of the league, as teams have to figure out how to beat this “super team” by trying to form another, you guessed it, “super team”.

The concept of a “super team” was born during the 2010 offseason when Lebron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwayne Wade in Miami to go on an impressive run that culminated in two championships and four NBA Finals appearances. Everyone outside of South Florida was repulsed by the act of star players teaming up to basically form an all-star team. It was unprecedented in the NBA, and while most basketball purists would hope it was an anomaly, the desire to somehow takedown Golden State may have not only incentivized stars to team up again, it has made the concept completely acceptable to the viewing public.

If Lebron James teams up with Paul George and/or Kawhi George when free agency kicks off next week, the move will not face more than a small fraction of the national vitriol that James and the rest of the Miami Heat faced back in 2010. In a way, I’m sure there are some basketball fans that would love to see it, especially after the complete bore of this past NBA Finals. Let’s be real, a competitive NBA Finals of uber-talented teams is pretty compelling. 

Sure, there are a handful of young, talented teams that are arching towards being able to compete for a title. But it will realistically take a team comprised of multiple elite players like James, Leonard, and George to defeat Golden State as soon as next season.

With Lebron James coming off consecutive defeats to the Warriors in the NBA Finals, he certainly knows that he needs to surround himself with better players to have a better shot next year. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he soon finds himself on a team just as talented and high-profile as the 2010 Miami Heat. But this time around, I won’t fault him for a bit. Let’s hope he skips the ESPN special.


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Top Storylines of the NBA Season

Thanks to the NBA responding to the players’ complaints about the number of back-to-back games, the regular season is tipping off tonight, about a week and a half earlier than the usual start to the season. It was one of the most active and fascinating offseasons in recent memory. The flurry of player movement has contributed to this being the most anticipated NBA season since Lebron James and Chris Bosh joined the Miami Heat before the 2010-2011 campaign. Let’s dive into what should be the top storylines to follow up through the 2018 NBA Finals in June.

Did the Rockets and Thunder do enough?

The summer was interesting in that it seemed like some perennial teams made very little effort to get better, suggesting they were punting on the season as they came to grips with the reality of not being able to compete with Golden State. On the other hand, a few of the league’s better teams brought in high caliber complimentary pieces to surround their franchise players.

The Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder were far from being equipped to compete with the Warriors when the summer began. Both teams were led by elite franchise players in Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who coincidentally finished 1st and 2nd in the MVP voting, respectively. But in what has been proven in the NBA, it takes more than one great player to be a legitimate title contender.

The Rockets added Chris Paul to form one of the NBA’s most lethal backcourts. The Thunder brought in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony on what could very well be for one year depending on how things go. Both Houston and Oklahoma City look to be the best candidates to challenge Golden State in the Western Conference.

I don’t know how either of these situations will work out. But both will be fun to watch and I give a lot of credit to the teams by recognizing they were not good enough as they were constructed at season’s end and making the necessary moves to bolster their squads.

Cavs, Celtics and everyone else in the East

There is very little if any debate who the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are. Both the Cavs and Celtics finished atop the Eastern Conference a season ago and possibly got better over the summer. The Celtics improved by bringing in Gordon Hayward and possibly got even better when adding Kyrie Irving. Or at least they think they got better by making a blockbuster trade with the Cavs this past August.

I personally think the Cavs got the better of the trade as they acquired Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round draft pick, and Boston’s 2020 second-round draft pick. But who got better for the upcoming season may be up to debate. However, the Cavs also added Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, for whatever he can still contribute at this stage of his career.

Bottom line is that barring major injury, the Cavs and Celtics look like locks for 50+ wins, the top two seeds and destined to face each other in the Eastern Conference Finals again. After that, the drop off in the East is precipitous. The Wizards and Raptors are good teams that will likely grab the #3 and #4 playoff seeds.

Next, you have your group of mediocre to above average teams that could win anywhere between 35-45 games. In this category, I’d put the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, and Detroit Pistons.

After that, you have your up and coming teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks who are likely a year or two away from making noise in the playoffs but likely have a ceiling as high as #5/6 seeds if all goes well. Both teams are similar in that they have elite, young talent but do not have quite the experience to be able to safely project where they will finish this season.

Who will win this year’s tank-a-thon?

While the NBA failed miserably in their attempt at lottery reform by evenly out the odds to acquire the #1 overall pick, there will be a competition for the rights to likely draft Michael Porter in the 2018 NBA Draft. Based on the activity of a few teams this past offseason, there appear to be a handful of teams on the quest for a top pick.

The Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler on draft night, a player who was in trade rumors for about a year. In return, they acquired draft capital and young guards, Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine. The Bulls will be fortunate to win 20 games and look to be a good bet to make it to the commercial on the night of the Draft Lottery.

After what seemed like several years of being a perennially above average team with zero hope of competing for a championship, the Atlanta Hawks look like they headed for a very lean year. The positive is that Atlanta finally will get out of NBA purgatory, assuming they are able to land a top draft pick with finding their next franchise player, a role that has been vacant for way too long.

What else is there to say about the New York Knicks? They have been the joke of the NBA for the past few years and will only be worse following the departure of Carmelo Anthony. While they hit on Kristaps Porzingis at #4 overall in the 2015 Draft, there have been rumblings that he wants out of New York. Can you blame him? Assuming their best player does, in fact, get dealt before the trade deadline, the losses and ping pong ball combinations will add up quickly.

ROY Race

This past draft class was the most hyped since the 2003 group that brought in Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Lonzo Ball, more thanks to his helicopter father got plenty of attention before being selected by his hometown Los Angeles Lakers at #2 overall. Lavar Ball possibly put even more pressure on his son and the expectations will be extremely high in his first NBA season.

Markelle Fultz, who the Sixers traded up for with their long-time bitter rival Celtics, was the top pick in the draft. Even with being the #1 overall pick, Fultz looks like a project who we may not see blossom until his third or fourth season. I don’t expect a lot from him in his rookie year. I’m more intrigued by his teammate, Ben Simmons as a “Rookie of the Year” candidate. Simmons missed his entire first season due to injury and has received rave reviews from scouts and coaches around the league. Some have suggested his skillset is a blend of Lebron James and Magic Johnson.

The darkhorse candidate may be Dennis Smith Jr., who was selected ninth overall by the Dallas Mavericks. His flashes of brilliance during the NBA Summer League have ignited the conversation that he may have been the steal of the draft. Smith was an explosive, exciting player at N.C. State who arguably would have been drafted higher if not for his injury history. He should be fun to watch and I wouldn’t rule him out to take home the award.

Top Trade Candidates

I’m very skeptical that DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis can co-exist in New Orleans. Talent-wise, they could form the most formidable frontcourt in the NBA. But they have a big, uphill climb in a very tough Western Conference. If the Pelicans get off to a rough start and if it’s starting to look like they’ll miss the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years, I could either guy getting moved before the deadline.

I already mentioned Kristaps Porzingis when making the argument for the Knicks being one of the teams to watch in this year’s tank-a-thon. When you combine the report of KP wanting out of New York due to the front office dysfunction along with the Knicks likely headed for a bad year, he looks like a prime trade candidate.

Despite re-signing with the Clippers in the offseason, I still won’t rule out Blake Griffin getting moved if the team struggles in the first half. By trading Chris Paul over the summer, I took that as a sign of waving a white flag on the 2017-2018 season. Given the Clippers’ lack of cap space and draft capital, I could see Griffin being moved if there is an offer that could jumpstart their inevitable rebuild.

The Final Four

I’m going chalk for the Eastern Conference, anticipating a rematch of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics. But I do not anticipate quite the drama that the networks will hype up leading into the series. I like the Cavs’ playoff experience and I think Kyrie Irving may end up eating his ungrateful remarks about playing with Lebron James when he discovers how much of a dropoff it will be in Boston. I go Cleveland 4-2.

It may take some time for Russell Westbrook to establish chemistry with newcomers, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. But they’re talented enough to be a Top 4 seed. I am going to bet on the Oklahoma City Thunder getting to the Western Conference Finals either by the conventional standards of getting the #2/3 seed and facing the Golden State Warriors or struggling initially, grabbing a lower seed, forcing an upset and getting there. Either way, I like them to give the Warriors a scare before losing in seven games, 4-3.

Cavs and Warriors, again. How boring. Unfortunately, while parody is common in the other three major sports, it is completely absent in the NBA. I don’t have any reason to believe it will be Golden State again, but I like the series to go seven, giving them the 4-3 win.

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Lebron Has Reclaimed the Role of “Good Guy”

What a difference a few years make. It seemed like just yesterday that Lebron James became public enemy #1 in the NBA when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in what was the most disgraceful hour of television of the past ten years. Sure, “The Decision” raised a lot of money for the Boys and Girls Club. So, it may be unfair to be 100% critical of the event. But if you take out the charitable benefits of the TV special, it was one of the most cringeworthy and embarrassing moments in sports entertainment history.

From the pompous delivery that James was “taking his talents to South Beach” coupled with the fact that he was conspiring with other superstars in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to form a “super team”, he officially put a target on his back and the Miami Heat became the league’s most despised team.

I’ll never begrudge Lebron James for leaving Cleveland back in 2010, nor will I blame any other superstar for leaving a team that fails to effectively build around their franchise player. It was how James left that made him such a divisive figure. Admittedly, I rooted very hard against the Heat during the 2010-2014 run of the “Big 3” that made four NBA Finals appearances while winning two titles. But in the 2017 NBA Finals, Lebron James is no longer the villain. He’s the good guy that everyone should be rooting for to prevail.

Kevin Durant has assumed that role. He arguably became the new NBA villain when he left Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors, the team that ended his season in the prior Western Conference Finals. It was commonly labeled as a cowardly move, and deservedly so. The Warriors, coming off a record-setting 73-win team added a top-five player to form the NBA’s next super team.

The last super team was the Miami Heat, led by Lebron James. One could argue the current Cavalier’s are also a super team, as James is surrounded by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. While Cleveland is super-talented, you can at least concede they were built by conventional means. Irving was a top draft pick, James signed as a free agent (to the team that originally drafted him), and Love was acquired via trade.

Technically, Kevin Durant did not do anything wrong or commit a crime by joining Golden State last summer. But it warrants scrutiny, given the impact of competitive balance in the NBA and the fact that he abandoned a contender that was on the cusp of reaching the Finals last year. The second that signing occurred, there was zero to little doubt that we’d have a third consecutive NBA Finals of the Cavaliers against the Warriors. That’s bad for the league. It’s bad for any sport when the regular season starts with 28/30 teams all competing for bronze.

If Durant stayed with Oklahoma City, they would have been the biggest challenger of the Warriors (again) in the West. Instead, Golden State steamrolled through the Western Conference Playoffs and is the heavy favorite in the NBA Finals. If they win, it will undoubtedly feel “cheap”. When you have a team so unbelievably loaded as they are, anything short of another title would be considered a failure in today’s watered-down NBA.

Unless you’re a Bay Area resident, I don’t see how you can support the Warriors. They represent everything wrong with the NBA. They’re the new “bad guys”. As much as some people want to criticize teams for tanking, the formation of super teams is just as bad for the league, if not worse. A professional sports league with only two legitimate title contenders lends to a boring postseason. And that’s exactly what happened. These NBA Playoffs have been dreadful.

So I find myself doing something that I would have never envisioned after Lebron James formed a super team in Miami back in 2010: Rooting for him. As nauseating as the “Lebron vs. Jordan” debates have been and will intensify if he leads the Cavs over the Warriors, I’d love to see him do it.

The Warriors are a great team, but the addition of ring-chasing Kevin Durant makes them very hard to like. What’s that mean? Lebron is the good guy, the underdog and the player who has a chance to be a hero if he brings home another title to Cleveland over the “unbeatable” Warriors.


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Starting A Streak

NFL Football…The TRUE American pastime returned to us in a time when we needed it most.

Pre-season games were a welcomed a change from the monotonous reporting of baseball and anything after the first five days of Olympic coverage.

Die-hard NFL fans didn’t give the preseason their utmost attention due to, well, it being pre-season. While many fantasy football junkies (like the Eye off the Ball team) tuned in to gain any extra insight for when the time came to draft their teams for the season.

Then on September 8th, as a nation, our patience was rewarded with a rematch of Super Bowl 50 to kickoff the 2016 season.

This small morsel of entertainment was nothing but a cock tease for a full Sunday lineup of NFL action, culminating with two Monday Night Football matchups. Little did we know that the final game of Week 1 would provide us with the best action of the whole slate.

The west coast showdown between two sub-par teams (49ers vs Rams) was a sloppy snooze fest.

But the best action occurred with 11:34 remaining in the 4th quarter as the Rams attempted a 3rd & 4 (they didn’t convert) when 16-year-old William Navarrette rushed onto the field with his shirt pulled over his head displaying his phone number (925-290-9745) as the world watched.

The stunt, a dare by his friends resulted in viral video of NFL announcer Kevin Harlan’s play-by-play of the event.

Due to his age, Navarrette wasn’t arrested, but he’s banned from Levi Stadium for one year, has to write an apology letter, and is required to take an online course.  Other punishments may come down the line after he appears in front of a judge, but it begs the question: How did he do it?

According to an interview with KRON4’s Phillipe Djegal:

In the fourth quarter, he told hid dad Herman he was going to the restroom.

But instead, walked down a level to section 123, where he already knew security wouldn’t check his ticket.

“I was looking everywhere, looking at the field, seeing which would be the best area, and I noticed there was a security guard not checking the tickets for this section, so I knew this was my spot,” Navarette said.

Simple, right?

Just wait for a lull in the game action, zero in on the security guards not paying attention, ditch your clothing and make your move?

Yes and no.

Maybe when you’re an amateur streaker, but according to the world’s most notorious streaker it takes more than just a 5 minute plan and the willingness to show off your 3 piece set.

As of 2013, Mark Roberts has streaked more than 500 sporting events ranging from Snooker, Rugby, Soccer, Golf, the Olympics, and Super Bowl 38.

When Roberts first started his career in streaking he started small, shedding his clothes during a Rugby match in Hong Kong, where the crowd saw his twig and berries not once, but TWICE within a 30-minute window.

After streaking through various Rugby matches in Asia, Roberts returned to his native UK and upped his game, eyeing a Liverpool vs Everton Soccer game. Within a few months of running nude during various Soccer matches, Roberts was banned for 12 months from entering any Soccer stadium in the UK.

Not to be discouraged, Roberts flipped the script and branched out to Tennis, Golf, and Horse Racing. His reputation and image soon became training material for police and security staff for sporting events around the world.

Disguises and meticulous planning had become a part of any event he hoped to attend, many times being turned away from even attempting to purchase tickets.

Eventually Mark Roberts set his sights on the biggest sporting event in the US…The Super Bowl. After a failed attempt at Super Bowl 37, Roberts had a whole year to plan for Super Bowl 38. A plan that included acquiring front row tickets on the 50 yard line, a referee’s uniform, an advertising agency sponsorship and counsel from a Texas lawyer.

Right before the start of the 2nd half, Roberts ripped off his Velcro outfit and sprinted towards center of the field where Panther’s kicker John Kasay was about to kickoff. He pranced around for almost a full minute before being blasted by Patriots LB Matt Chatham and captured by security.

All told, Roberts only paid $1000 in fines, however now that he has a police record in the US, he’ll need to reapply for a visa before he ventures across the pond again.

Speaking of fines, another streaker who’s been hit with the Levi Stadium ban & conduct course is notorious prankster and YouTube star, Vitaly Zdorovetskiy.

Vitaly's Official Ban

Vitaly’s Official Ban

Vitaly was issued his Levi Stadium ban after he was detained before his attempt of streaking Super Bowl 50. The Super Bowl would’ve been a small step up (at least domestically) in viewership compared his 2014 escapade of streaking shirtless during the World Cup finals match Germany vs Argentina. He got off easy, only spending an hour in jail and paying a $100 fine.

Vitaly’s most recent streaking adventure hit his wallet a bit harder with a $1200 fine and spent 15 hours in a Cleveland jail after running onto the court in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

Don’t get it twisted though, while it may seem that only men have the gall to strip down or streak at sporting events, there’s a fair amount of women who’ve shown some skin to add some extra entertainment to the game.

While most women are 1 and done, Morganna Roberts AKA The Kissing Bandit, has run onto various fields of play ranging from MLB, Hockey and NBA games unofficially kissing over 50 athletes. Though Morganna never trotted onto a field nude, she didn’t leave much to the imagination in her appearances.

Supporting some serious chest-icles within her I-Cup bras, she first came into notoriety in August 1969 running on to the diamond to plant a kiss on Pete Rose.  Starting with Rose, from 1969 to 1990, Morganna has a list of “victims” that included Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken Jr. and Kareem Adbul-Jabar. Her antics lead to a promising career as an exotic dancer and eventually led to a centerfold spread for Playboy in 1983.

*If you’re looking for an in-depth look at Morganna’s activities, in 2014 ESPN films released an E:60 biopic documentary titled MORGANNA: The Kissing Bandit*

Maybe there’s a chance that William Navarrette’s run during that Monday night game can spark a promising career in the world of streaking. Whether it was a onetime spectacle or not, we can only hope to see more bold fans take it upon themselves to join the ranks of these exhibitionist heroes.

I know the world will be watching.

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