Monday, June 15, 2009

Two Championship wrapups

As any sports fan worth his (or her) salt knows, both the NHL and NBA seasons have come to a close with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Los Angeles Lakers, two of the more storied franchises in their sports, hoisting the respective trophies of their leagues.

First, hockey. As much as it hurts to say, congrats to the Pens. As a Caps fan, I'm bound by law to hate Sidney Crosby, and that hasn't changed. Crosby though has made his mark by being the youngest Captain to ever hold Lord Stanley's Cup. Of course, it should be noted that it was Evgeni Malkin who won the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. While I would be lying if I said that Crosby was not a good or even great player, because he clearly is, certainly one of the 5 best non-goalies in hockey right now, I would be remiss if I didn't say that I think Malkin might be better. Malkin is tough-as-nails and a true force offensively and the two complement each other very well in a nearly-unstoppable fashion. I had picked the Red Wings to win it all in the beginning of the year, and they almost made me look very smart, but ultimately the injuries, the 1-2 punch of Crosby and Malkin, and the excellent goal-tending of Marc-Andre Fleury were all too much for the ancient wonders to overcome. The hockey playoffs proved once again that it's such an awesome sport that deserves so much more than it gets in terms of recognition. I can only look forward to another great season next year, where I fully anticipate Alex Ovechkin to abuse the league. Now if only he could get a little defensive help...

The Lakers, on the other hand, did make me look very smart as my preseason pick took care of the surprising Orlando Magic in 5 games. The Magic played out of their minds versus the Cavaliers with everything breaking their way and not much going the way of LeBron James whose teammates decided to take a vacation during the series. Unfortunately, just about everything went the wrong way for the Magic in the finals as they were ultimately out-talented by the Lakers. The Magic also killed their chances by playing Jameer Nelson (oddly, as he is the team's 2nd best player) who was rusty and completely out of rhythm with his teammates. This also affected the fragile psyche of Rafer Alston. Of course, it would be foolish to not congratulate the Lakers who were the better team and played like it, instead of last year where they seemed to sleepwalk during the finals against the Celtics.

This leads to two persons to discuss: Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson. Let me be up-front: there is not a single thing you can say that will convince me that Kobe is the best player in the league. I might accept 2nd best, but LeBron James is still better. There is no way around it. Kobe's only advantage on LeBron is rings, something it takes a team to win. If the Lakers and Cavs matched up, the top 5 players in the series would be 1. LeBron, 2. Kobe, 3. Pau Gasol, 4. Lamar Odom, 5. Trevor Ariza...Kobe simply plays with better players. That being said, Kobe deserves a lot of credit. By winning his fourth title, he has cemented himself among some of the best to ever play. He also finally won a title without Shaq (though I would say that Gasol is one of the best big men in basketball right now, so that helps). But Kobe was on a mission this year and it payed off. Few players can match Kobe in terms of intensity and desire to win and when he's on, he's impossible to contain. Perhaps the best play of the finals and perhaps the entire playoffs was Kobe's pass to a trailing Gasol to avoid Dwight Howard in Game 4. It was a perfect summation of where Kobe is as a player: he is still the leader and the man, but when he's willing to let his teammates help him out, he becomes a legendary player. Doesn't change the fact that he raped that chick in Colorado...

Phil Jackson is probably the greatest basketball coach in history. He just won his 10th title. People will point to Jackson always having great players such as Kobe, Shaq, Gasol, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, and Michael Jordan. But if you look at other G.O.A.T. candidates, you'll find similar talent levels. Having players like Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, KC Jones, and Tommy Heinshon probably didn't hurt Red Auerbach's chances. And Pat Riley never won a title without some combination of Dwyane Wade, Shaq, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the lineup. No Jackson simply has won every where he's been. As ESPN's Chris Broussard pointed out, the 1993-1994 Bulls won 55 games, two fewer than the previous year despite losing Michael Jordan to his first "retirement" (GAMBLING SCANDAL!). The Zen Master has been able to run the complicated and highly prolific triangle offense, manage the sizeable egos of players like Kobe, Jordan, and Shaq (both Jordan and Kobe got to the point where playing for anybody else was out of the question), he's probably the best in-game adjuster ever, and, perhaps most impressively, he made Dennis Rodman seem to be an almost acceptable citizen.

So now that these two seasons are over, we can turn our attention to the upcoming NBA Draft, the NFL training camp season, and, of course, baseball.

No comments: