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June 25, 2007

Bob Dylan in Chocolate Town, U.S.A.

I caught the Dylan concert last night in Hershey, Pennsylvania (unfortunately, I got there just a half hour or so before the show started, so I couldn't make the trip to Chocolate World).  All in all, it was a good show.  I could've done without seeing Jimmie Vaughn open for the third time in less than a year (not that he was bad, I'd just dig seeing someone different for a change -- hearing "Natural Born Lover" twice before was enough for me).

For those interested, setlist can be found here.  I enjoyed the slight general changes made to the setlist since I saw Dylan last year.  "Cat's In The Well" was a fairly rockin' opener, and it was nice to see him on guitar.  I dug the melodic arrangement to "It Ain't Me, Babe."  Gone from last year was the heavy riff-driven arrangement of "It's Alright, Ma" in favor of a more rollicking sound, which didn't have the "oomph" of 2006 but was interesting nevertheless.  As for the newer stuff, the violin sounded good on "Nettie Moore" and the band got rolling pretty well with "Summer Days" and "Thunder on the Mountain."  I like the move of "Like A Rolling Stone" to the finale of the main set (rather than the first encore song) -- usually it's not one of my favorites live, but for whatever reason last night's version was right up my alley, perhaps because there was almost an air of forlorness about it, but maybe that was just me.

Anyway, it was worth the $70 to me.

Dylan in Hershey

I have a feeling that Emerson would've dug the hairy chicken eyeball logo thingy.

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June 23, 2007

Will we ever learn?

I wake up in the morning.  After rolling out of bed, I decide to check out the headlines at the Plain Dealer's website.  Scrolling down, I learn that Poison and Ratt are headlining Blossom tonight.  Yelch.  In an attempt to find some good news, I click on the "Rock the Lock concert series" link.  Maybe a regular slate of interesting local bands?  Nope.  Try three months of cover bands.

Is this the best NE Ohio has to offer?  Why, again, is the bogus Rock Hall still in Cleveland?

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June 21, 2007

Final thoughts on the 2006-07 Cleveland Cavaliers season

Yeah, it was disappointing to see the Cavs get swept in the NBA Finals.  Yeah, I drank a lot of the Cavs kool-aid and pretty stupidly picked them to beat the Spurs in seven.  Oh well.

Wasn't the season a success anyway, though?  After all, only a handful of "experts" picked the Cavs to win the East this year, and that's exactly what they did.  They're the first Cavs team to do that, and it happened just four years after they were the worst team in the league.

I often get into the argument with fans of Philadelphia and Buffalo sports fans about which city's fans are more suffering -- Philadelphia, Buffalo, or Cleveland (for the record, ESPN named Cleveland "the winner" a year or two ago).  Buffalo is hard to compare, since they don't have an NBA or MLB team (I don't count the NHL as a major sport), but Philadelphia, like Cleveland, has an NFL, NBA, and MLB team.  I once wrote a brilliantly detailed analysis of the history of Philadelphia and Cleveland sports since the last Cleveland championship (the Browns in '64).  Of course, I just posted it on the Lowes Cup fantasy football message board, and never saved it to my computer.  The gist of it, though, was that Philadelphia has a clear edge on Cleveland in the categories that matter -- namely, MVPs, championship appearances (Super Bowl/Finals/World Series), and championships.

The Philly (and Buffalo) fans' counterargument is that they've had so many more narrow defeats in championships.  "Philadelphia (or Buffalo) fans have suffered through so many crushing heartbreaking defeats in big games," they'll say.  "Even though we've been appeared in more championship games or series, it just makes it worse to have such a strong history of failure in those games or series.  Over the years, Philadelphia (or Buffalo) fans have been conditioned to expect the worst even when their teams are successful, and so really it's better to not play for championships than to continually come close and lose them."

This is all total b.s., though.  If you want to talk about any "number of crushing defeats," Cleveland fans can counter with a good share of "two word sentences": The Drive.  The Fumble.  The Shot.  Jose Mesa.  You can say Jose Mesa was the only one of those that happened in a championship, but they all have their significance.

They're even more significant, though, when you think about what the argument is about:  Cleveland hasn't won a professional sports championship since 1964!  In other words, the last time Cleveland won anything, the Beatles hadn't yet released "Yesterday," the world had never heard "California Girls," and LBJ had just been reelected president.  The U.S. still used silver in its coins and there had never been a space walk by an astronaut.  Basically, it was a long time ago.

But I digress.  If there's anything I've learned over these past six months, it's that seeing your team make it to the championship and lose is a hell of a lot better than your team sucking.  In January, I sat uncomfortably in the University of Phoenix Stadium and watched Florida destroy my Buckeyes.  In April, I sat in the Georgia Dome and watched the same thing happen to OSU's mens' hoops team.  And you know what?  Watching those teams make it to their championships and watching the Cavs make it to the finals were great rides.  Sure, none of them won, and it really sucks to not win a championship, but isn't following a winning team to the championship game what being a sports fan is about?

And don't say, "It would be a lot worse is those OSU-Florida games or the NBA Finals series had been closer -- it's infinitely more painful to watch a team lose on a missed field goal or stalled last-minute drive."  Watching Jose Mesa blow Game 7 of the World Series in 1997 was brutally painful.  But -- brutually painful as it was (and that was my Indians team -- I was a junior in high school, so I was young enough that I had nothing better to do and was able to watch every game, but old enough that I could appreciate the season) I'd take that heartbreak in a second over the Indians' 68 win season in 2003.

What I guess I'm trying to say is that Cleveland fans have been getting their collective ass kicked for so long that I still feel like the Cavs accomplished something truly significant this year, even though the Spurs completely dismantled them.  And that's why I'll wear my 2007 Eastern Conference Champions t-shirt with pride for years to come.

So where do the Cavs go from here?  Obviously, they have a lot of work to do if they want another shot at winning the NBA championship.  As much as I like Larry Hughes and recognize what he's done for the team in terms of playing through injuries, the Cavs need a better #2 option to help LeBron.  With that in mind, no player (other than LeBron) should be untouchable in Danny Ferry's quest to get LeBron a Scottie Pippen/Kobe Bryant (or, given the Cavs' propensity to imitate the Spurs, Parker-Ginobili combo).  As good as Boobie Gibson was in the Pistons series (and by all means, the Cavs should definitely keep him), we need a true starting point guard to initiate the offense and hit open jump shots.  And, speaking of initiating the offense, WE NEED A FREAKING OFFENSE!

Basically, Danny Ferry can't rest on his laurels like last season.  It won't be enough to sign players like Scotty Pollard or David Wesley, and he can't rest his hopes on making another great second round pick because . . . well . . . we don't have any draft picks this year (by the way, thanks goes out to fellow Flyer Jim Paxson for trading our first round pick this year for Jiri Welsch -- that trade really helped us for the month or so that Big Jiri was here!).  I'm tired of hearing "no one wants to come to Cleveland" when Detroit is able to pick up guys like Chris Webber for next to nothing (thanks to the Allan Houston rule).  We should be able to make a run at Robert Horry-type players to fill a role or two, and we should be able to use some of our contracts (and maybe Doc Gooden, as much as I love him) to lure a guy who can really help LeBron. 

I don't have anything specific in mind -- isn't that Ferry's job?  I just hope he does something, so the Cavs can make another championship run next year and build off this year's wave of positive momentum.

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June 17, 2007

How I spent my Saturday night

My final thoughts on the Cavs' 2006-07 season are yet to come.  For now, to give you something at least somewhat interesting to read on a Monday morning . . .

Last night, I went out with the folks.  We ended up spending some time hanging out at Donald Trump's birthday party at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.  Seriously.  Don't ask . . .

The stars of the evening -- besides Trump -- were Carmen Elektra and seven of the models from Deal or No Deal.  Carmen Elektra was supposed to read names off of a card, but she was having a tough time.  "This is a lot of work," she said at one point.  Probably to no one's suprise, she -- along with the models -- looked pretty good.  My mom (who watches every episode of Deal or No Deal) was especially pleased to get to see the models, and she was glad that one of her two favorites -- Lindsay -- was there.

I took the following photo with my cell phone on the way out.  I think I ended up only losing $25 or so at Taj Mahal.

Donald Trump's Birthday Party 

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June 13, 2007

Cover Art for the new Knights of Infinite Resignation single

Recording is complete, mixing is nearly finished, and artwork is underway for the new Knights of Infinite Resignation single, "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart."  The cover:

 

Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart cover
 
Pretty tight, huh?  Graphic design inspiration came directly from three sources:
  1. The infamous Paris Hilton/Captain Beefheart photo
  2. The album cover for Sonic Youth's Washing Machine
  3. A certain early '90's Upper Deck baseball card of a player that no one seems to remember (through the miracle of technology, the picture on the front of the card was of the guy holding the very card -- if we ever find it, we'll let you know)
Lee said that he's psyched that we found what he calls "the Silver Jews font."
 
We've set July 24 as the release date, so the single will come out just in time for all you bar exam takers out there to treat yourselves after spilling your legal guts for two or three days.  Hopefully we'll be able to sync the online release and physical CD release -- we'll see.
 
Speaking of the formats, we've decided that we're only going to make the two original tracks available online, and so the suprise cover song will only be found on the CD version. 
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June 11, 2007

The Knights of Infinite Resignation say, "Free Paris Hilton."

Lee Wadlinger seems to have gone into hiding -- likely because of the Cavaliers -- so it's time for me to reappear, I suppose.  And I come bearing good news. 

The Knights of Infinite Resignation have finally gotten a move on it and are almost finished with their new single, "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart"--which title is obviously based on the time the aforementioned Wads freaked out about an obviously Photoshopped picture.  He did call last Friday while watching the round-the-clock Paris coverage on FoxNews to relay his observation that, "They showed her wearing the same dress as in the Beefheart picture at one of the press conferences for her own record, so maybe the picture was Photoshopped, but I don't know."

Anyway, the single will round out with three tracks:

  • A-Side: "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart"
  • B-Side: (Surprise cover song)
  • C-Side: "Cricket The Bug"

All that's left to record is the vocals for the title track, and then a little mixing needs to be done for "Paris" and "Cricket."  A rough mix of "Cricket" appears on the Knights' MySpace Site.  "Cricket," notably, features the opening couplet: "Cricket the Bug, it's impossible to write this / when the heavens above are filled with sunken space ships" and explores the seedier side of the fairer sex as portrayed on daytime television, or something.

All kidding aside, the three songs are really super-fantastic.  Peace and Rest was good, and you certainly should head over to iTunes to download your copy (link's to the right!), but this new single truly does raise the bar for the Knights.  Look for it in late July/early August.

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June 07, 2007

Final Pre-Finals Thoughts

So yeah, it looks like Bill Simmons came out pretty much the exact opposite way as me on the NBA Finals.  No matter.  Simmons doesn't know the number one reason the Cavs will win -- a reason that I didn't list yesterday.

About two and a half weeks ago, during the Cavs-Nets series, I told a friend about a vision I had.  "This will be a year where the Buckeyes make the championship in football and men's basketball, the Cavs make it to the NBA Finals, and the Tribe makes it to the World Series."

"Yeah," my friend said.  "And they'll all lose because you'll go to every game."

"Yeah," I said.  "Probably."

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I won't be able to make it to any of the NBA Finals games this year.  What does that mean?  You guessed it -- this series won't turn out like the BCS National Championship Game or the Final Four.  Since I won't be in the house for the games, the Cavs will win it all.

(And that, you see, is a glimpse inside the psyche of a Cleveland sports fan.) 

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June 06, 2007

Picking the NBA Championship

Everyone I've seen has been picking the Spurs to win the NBA Championship over the Cavs (well, not everyone . . . on TrueHoop, Henry Abbott's mom and two other guys picked the Cavs, although one apparently just picked them so he would have a chance of winning the "Stat Geek Smackdown" -- by the way, today Abbott linked to Flyer Fieldhouse, a blog that apparently is written by fellow Dayton alumni/Cleveland sports fans that looks pretty tight).  At least Cleveland got some love from Michael Wilbon, who wrote this article for the Washington Post today.  Everyone's saying the Cavs have a chance to win a game or two.  Well, the time has come to set the record straight.

I'm not going to do any kind of statistical analysis -- best to leave that for the people who have more time on their hands.  Brian Windhorst did his usual super-duper job of detailing the various Cavs-Suprs matchups (obviously, the Cavs have the edge at small forward with LeBron over Bruce Bowen, and Z give the Cavs a debatable advantage at center, even if Roger Brown would never admit it).  This is just my from-the-gut projection of how the series will go.

Anyone who watched the post-game festivities after the Cavs beat Detroit in Game 6 Saturday night knows that the team (and the fans) are completely overjoyed just to be there.  Some people are even saying that the Cavs' sense of satisfaction with simply making it to the Finals indicates a lack of desire and the fortitude necessary for upsetting the Spurs and taking the Championship.  Early celebrations aren't great indicators all the time, though.  This past fall, I watched the Cardinals win their NLDS series.  During the postgame show,  they doused their locker room with champagne while Tony La Russa wandered around the scene with a towel on his head.  "There's no way the Cardinals are going to win the World Series," I told my roommate Nate Dogg.  "They're so amped just to win their Division Series, they still have the NLCS and the World Series to go.  They're finished."

Then, after the OSU men's basketball team beat Michigan at home to clinch the Big 10 regular season title, Tok, Tortoise, and I stayed to watch the 20+ minute post-game ceremony where the Big 10 trophy was awarded and the team and coaches cut down the nets.  In my infinite wisdom, I proclaimed this a harbinger of bad fortune.  "We're stupid to be this excited to win the conference title in a weak Big 10," I pointed out.  "We'll be lucky to make it out of the Sweet 16."  While I was partially right -- the Buckeyes were lucky to get out of that Xavier game alive -- avid readers of this blog will remember that OSU made it to the NCAA final, and maybe would've won if Thad Matta had made even a cursory attempt to get Greg Oden involved in the offense over the course of the season.

So yeah, it would be foolish to pick against the Cavs on a "they're already overjoyed to be here" theory.  I'm also getting sick of reading that the Cavs are lucky to be in the Finals because they took an "easy route" to get there.  First, they were the second seed in the East, so it wasn't like they could be expected to play the top two teams in the East.  They only had to beat one team better than them -- the Pistons -- and they did that.  Sure, Washington was horrible, but isn't a seventh seed supposed to be inferior, and didn't the Cavs sweep them?  I think a lot of people under-rate New Jersey.  After all, they did have Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson on their team (and a pesky Mikki Moore), and even if they didn't have all of their Big Three playing their best for majority of the series, they did beat the third-seeded Raptors (who people loved  before the playoffs started).  Besides, the Cavs would've beaten them in five if they hadn't laid an egg at home in Game 5 (which ultimately taught them a valuable lesson for the Detroit series -- always keep your foot on the gas).

Detroit struggled offensively and showed some major cracks that perhaps indicate that the Pistons need a makeover this offseason.  Doesn't anyone realize, though, that maybe the Cavs' underrated defense, the team's passion and intensity, and LeBron's unbelievable play were the major sources of the Pistons' offensive struggles and overall breakdowns?  I'm also sick of hearing people say the Cavs beat teams -- i.e., the Nets and the Pistons -- that are fatally flawed and need to be blown up.  People still say that about the Cavs (e.g., they still have no viable point guard, Larry Hughes isn't ever going to be healthy, Z is old, and LeBron still needs a scorer to serve as his Scottie Pippen).

Besides, can't you make the same general point -- that the Cavs took an easy route to the Finals -- about the Spurs?  Didn't both teams beat only one "power" team from their conference (Cleveland, as Charles Barkley said, was about two plays way from sweeping Detroit 6-0, and San Antonio beat the Suns in a closely contested series that was heavily influenced by the controversial Horry-Nash "collision")?  And can't you make the argument that they each also beat a team with multiple superstars that just couldn't play to the sum of its parts (New Jersey and Denver)?  Sure, Utah was a much better team than the injury-depleted Washington Wizards, but it's not like the Spurs had to play Dallas (the best regular-season team in the NBA) or Houston (who had a better record than the Jazz and a guy named McGrady).  The Spurs definitely had a tougher road than the Cavs, but it wasn't like they had to go through Jordan's Bulls, Magic's Lakers, and Walton's Trailblazers to get to the Finals.

A win is a win is a win, and a Conference Championship is a Conference Championship.  Sure, you can say that the Cavs are the worst (or second or third worst, whatever) team to ever play in an NBA Finals.  But if the Cavs win, does that then mean the Spurs are the new worst team to ever play in a Finals?

I guess the point of my rant is that the Cavs' path to the Finals means about as little as the fact that they are excited to be in the Finals.  They did what they needed to do to get here.  My final bone to pick with the prognosticators is that they say the Cavs' regular season sweep over the Spurs is meaningless.  The argument goes, "The regular season is just the regular season and has no bearing on the Finals, and, anyways, the Spurs grew a lot as a team and were a much better team in the second half of the season than the first (when they played the Cavs) and -- by the way -- one of the Cavs' wins came on the second night of a back-to-back for the Spurs, and they never win on night two of a back-to-back."

The Cavs have proven they can beat the Spurs.  Sure, San Antonio has better integrated this past offseason's additions since they last saw the Cavs, and, yes, they're a better team now than they were in January.  But the same can be said for the Cavs.  LeBron has grown by proverbial leaps and bounds.  Boobie Gibson is playing significant minutes and contributing on a more regular basis.  Big Z has stepped up his game in the playoffs.  The two wins over the Spurs don't mean that the Cavs will win the series, but they do mean that the Cavs have shown that they can win the series.

"So," you're asking (if you're still reading), "You're going to pick the Cavs, aren't you?"  Well . . . you're right.  Here's how I see the series going:

  • Game 1: Spurs win (the Spurs lead the series 1-0).  LeBron is nervous, and the rest of the Cavs follow his lead.  In a sloppy, turnover-filled game, the Spurs take a comfortable 10-point lead into halftime.  The Cavs mount a series of mini-runs through the third and fourth quarters, but are never able to get it closer than 5.  Skip Bayless cries tears of joy on TV Friday, and the media starts talking sweep.
  • Game 2: Cavs win (the series is tied 1-1).  Call this game "LeBron Strikes Back."  Number 23 isn't nervous this time, and the team plays a much better game overall.  It's back and forth throughout, and the Cavs prevail in a close one to even the series heading to back to Cleveland.

As a side note, it's critically important for the Cavs to steal one of the first two games of the series.  The Spurs aren't the Pistons.  They're not going to get overconfident if they win the first two games, and they won't let the insane atmosphere in Cleveland rattle them too much.  If the Cavs come home down 0-2, they have a huge (although not insurmountable) mountain (bet you didn't think I'd write "mountain") to climb.  Why?  The Spurs are going to win one of the three games in Cleveland -- you heard it here first.

  • Game 3: Cavs win (the Cavs lead the series 2-1).  The Spurs actually take an early lead when the Cavs come out too fired up and play sloppy again.  The home crowd won't back down, though, and neither will the Cavs.  The game is close at halftime, but the Cavs take a small lead in the middle of the third quarter and somehow hold it until the final buzzer.  Skip Bayless still rips LeBron on Wednesday (he hasn't won anything yet), but the rest of the media starts talking Cavs championship.
  • Game 4: Spurs win (the series is tied 2-2).  I told you they'd win one in Cleveland, didn't I?  The Cavs look bad in this game, but really Pop's figured 'em out.  Duncan has a big game.  The media doesn't know what to think anymore.
  • Game 5: Spurs win (the Spurs lead the series 3-2).  More of the above.  Cleveland fans vow to never watch Desperate Housewives again after ABC shows Eva Longoria for the 14,295th time.  The media starts talking Spurs championship again.

Another side note:  Am I the only person who remembers Eva Longoria's "I hate Cleveland" interview from earlier in the season (maybe the All-Star game?)?  During the interview, she's asked question after question about Tony Parker (I'm thinking the interview -- which takes place in the stands -- was done by Mark Jones).   Anyway, she talks about how much she loves Tony Parker and blah blah blah, and the interviewer finally asks her, "You love the Spurs and you love Tony Parker.  But if he's traded to another team, would you root for the Spurs or his new team?"  Eva replied, "I would follow him anywhere, except I wouldn't move to Detroit or Cleveland."  I immediately called my mom and told her, "That's it, I officially really can't stand Isabella."  (Eva Longoria once played a character named Isabella on The Young and the Restless, which my mom watched.)  Back to the projection:

  • Game 6: Cavs win (the series is tied 3-3). Against all odds, LeBron pulls off another classic game (not quite 48-points, but fairly close) to will the Cavs to victory.  All of a sudden, and somewhat out of nowhere considering the last two games, the Cavs seem to have the Spurs' number, much like they did after Game 5 of the Pistons series.  Still, these are the Spurs, so we can't get our hopes up too much, can we?
  • Game 7: Cavs win.  In a Game 7 for the ages, something finally goes Cleveland's way.  The Cavs play great team ball.  Of course, LeBron has a great game, but everyone seems to contribute.  If this weren't really happening, it would be like someone made it up -- the team comes together and plays to its best capabilities at the most important time.  It's really like it's scripted by Disney.  During the final two minutes of the game, ABC keeps cutting back to a jam-packed Gund . . . I mean Quicken Loans Arena, where everyone seems to be covering their eyes during the close finale.  After the game, there is nary a dry eye in Cleveland.  Speaking of tears of joy, viewers watching the game in HD catch a few drops from David Stern's eyes as the commish hands the trophy to LeBron.
So, there you have it.  I pick the Cavs in seven.  I'm definitely a homer, and this is all wishful thinking.  The Spurs are a vastly superior team.  But, as they say, they play the games for a reason, and hopefully the reason will be a Cleveland championship.
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Every vict'ry brings its fame you see, to you dear ol' U of D

Score another one for the school whose basketball team boasts the best all-time "second best brothers" team.  (Ever hear of Jim Paxson, the guy who won NBA championships with Jordan?  Or what about the 76er's Andre Iguodala?  Both have overshadowed their older brothers who played at the University of Dayton, even though Jim Paxson had a better NBA career numbers-wise -- he averaged 14 points a game over the course of his 11-year career and played in two All-Star games -- and was only a slightly worse GM than brother John.)

As I found out today, UD announced last week that former Ohio governor Bob Taft will be a part of the faculty beginning in August.  This puts UD in a good position in its quest to . . . um, uh . . . well, I'm not sure what UD's trying to do.  Apparently, Taft is trying to rekindle the flame that burned inside him when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania (seriously, read the article).  UD, for its part, appears to be trying to raise more money for research, which I guess can be a good thing.  And, if UD can secure more alumni contributions because of the hiring of Taft, maybe they'll be able to build more buildings.  Personally, I'd rather see them beat Xavier every other time they play (at the very least), but we all know how important building buildings is to higher education.

So far, there doesn't appear to have been any public comment from either Dan Patrick or Jon Gruden (both, like your humble narrator, former UD communication majors) on the Flyers' new addition, but I'm willing to bet they're both pumped.

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June 05, 2007

Sick . . .

LeBron James is pretty good:

 

In other news, Roger Brown is still around, and he's decided to stop making veiled references to Bill Simmons (e.g., calling him something to the effect of "one of the ridiculous young video-game playing journalists who are obsessed with The Shawshank Redemption") and is calling him out by name now. The Plain Dealer took down all their classic Roger Brown columns, so I couldn't amuse myself (and you, dear reader) with a trip down memory lane, but I'm wondering what Roger's thinking of Big Z's play against Detroit (Roger's devoted plenty of column inches to bemoaning the fact that the Cavs continue to keep Z and -- to make a harrowing situation worse -- Cavs fans actually like Z). 

I'm posting my Finals preview tomorrow.
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June 04, 2007

Cavs Cavs Cavs!

Needless to say, Saturday night's Cavs-Pistons game was pretty amazing.  Daniel Gibson was money in the bank -- again, Danny Ferry gets a million thank you's for drafting Boobie with the 42nd overall pick

When Rasheed Wallace exploded and got his sixth personal foul (and first and second technical fouls) in the fourth quarter, the game was obviously over -- Detroit completely fell apart.  This Pistons were a good team, but LeBron was the best player in the series, and he proved that the Cavs can win in a variety of ways, like when he scores 48 in one game, and then gets 14 rebounds and 8 assists in the next game.

Interestingly, there were dueling "Kobe could learn a lot from LeBron" articles online today.  Mark Kriegel compares Kobe to Lindsay Lohan before writing, "Great players are supposed to endow the players around them with greatness. Kobe Bryant does not. While James is about winning, Kobe is about Kobe."  Sally Jenkins was even tougher on Kobe.  "Bryant is now 28 years old, and he should hope to be LeBron James when he grows up," she writes, eventually concluding, "[H]ere is the difference between the two men: People have to play with Bryant; they want to play with James."

A couple of weeks ago, some sports progam asked the question, "If you could start an NBA franchise today with any player, who would it be?"  Whoever it was answering said Kobe.  After Kobe's "trade me-don't trade me" radiothon last week, everybody and his brother was pointing out that Kobe was the best player in the league.  I think after Saturday, LeBron's got a good argument for himself.  Sure, Kobe has the edge on pure scoring ability, shooting, and one-on-one defense, but "intangibles" should count for something, not to mention LeBron's ability to pass and rebound.  The ability to win not just one, but four playoff series without Shaq as a teammate (that's right, Kobe's been winless in playoff series since Shaq went to Miami) should count for something.  The fact that LeBron's teammates like him should count for something.  And, perhaps most significantly for "building a franchise," the fact that LeBron has avoided the legal troubles and intra-squad controversies that have plagued Bryant should count for something.

But, really, who cares about Kobe right now?  It's Cavs-Spurs.  I'll post my series preview tomorrow or Wednesday.  Go Cavs! 

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June 01, 2007

LeBron's 48-Point Game (AKA The Best Basketball Game I've Ever Seen)

First off: If you are a fan of any kind of basketball (or even sports in general) and you didn't see last night's game between the Cavs and Pistons, you missed something special.  Don't worry, you can watch the two overtimes and a highlight reel of LeBron's performance on NBA.com.

With that said, the game was unbelievable.  I've watched hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of basketball games in my life, and I honestly believe that this was the best basketball game I've ever seen.  Sure, as a Cavs homer and a former season ticket holder (for the strike-shortened '98-99 season and LeBron's rookie '03-04 season), I'm biased.  Nevertheless, I think I'm not alone in calling it one of the all-time great performances.  Either way, this game meant a lot for the Cavs, their fans, the city of Cleveland, the state of Ohio, and all connected.

A little bit of personal history is in order here.  I fell in love with the Cavs at what was probably a bad time -- the last days of the Fratello regime.  The year was 1997.  This was post Daugherty/Price and just after the team had essentially abandoned Mike Fratello's trademarked "slow-down" style.  The Cavs had made a bold move in trading Terrell Brandon (along with former Eggsavier Mouseketeer "star" Tyrone Hill) in a three-way deal that netted them Shawn Kemp.  Kemp, along with a core of the newly acquired Wesley Person and four "rookies" -- Derek Anderson, Cedric Henderson, Brevin Knight, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (who really wasn't a rookie since he had been drafted by the team in 1996 but had missed the season with injury) -- captured my interest when the Cavs went on a 10-game winning streak early in the '97-98 season.  That team was fun to watch.  Kemp averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds a game and was the first Cavalier ever voted to start in an All-Star Game.  Z established himself as a legitimate center in the NBA.  Knight was an exciting point guard (he had 20 assists in the first game I attended in person that year, against the Washington Wizards).  They even beat Michael Jordan in his last game in Cleveland with the Bulls (who obviously won the championship that year).  The team finished with 47 wins and a sixth seed in the playoffs.  Even though the Pacers knocked them off three games to one in the first round, the future was looking decent for the Cavs: with Jordan retiring, the East was wide-open, and the Cavs had the young nucleus and superstar to take control.

And so it was that at the start of the '98-99 season, which was shortened to 50 games because of a lockout, the Cavs were on their way "back" to glory.  My dad and I were there, ready to watch every game from our season ticket seats in the lower bowl.  Early in the season, Kemp and Ilguaskas outplayed Robinson and Duncan and scored a home victory for the Cavs against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.  At that point, Kemp still played like the Man, and the "rookies" were showing improvement.  And the East really was wide open: in fact, the Knicks, who managed only 27 wins that season (equivalent to 44 in an 82 game season) and the last seed in the playoffs, were the Eastern Conference champions that year.

So what happened?  First, Ilguaskas got hurt (the first of a series of frustrating injuries that lead to him missing more than 200 games in the four seasons between 1998 and 2002).   Then . . . well, pretty much the rest of the team got hurt.  Fratello was fired and replaced with Randy "Slim" Whittman, who was famous for making Bill Belichick seem like the life of the party.  Whittman inspired all with a .371 career win percentage, coaching the likes of Trajan Langdon (the Cavs' 11th overall pick in 1999 who ended up hitting a whopping 86 threes in his NBA career), Bimbo Coles (the first in a seemingly continuing run of Cavs point guards who couldn't shoot -- his .286 field goal percentage in his last season with the Cavs was particularly impressive), and Donny "Don't Call Me Donyell" Marshall (about whose return we Cavs fans were actually excited, until we remembered he really wasn't Donyell Marshall).  The only bright spots of Whittman's tenure were Andre Miller (how my fellow UD alum Jim Paxson had the foresight to draft Miller at 8th overall in '99 but completely blew it by selecting Langdon three picks later is beyond me . . . have I mentioned that the weekend before the draft it was reported that the Cavs were working out Langdon as a "potential second round pick" or that Derek Anderson stormed out of the Cavs' draft party after Langdon was selected?) and Clarence Weatherspoon's '99-00 season (Spoon nearly averaged a double-double and promptly said "get me the hell out of here" after the end of the season).  For a prime example of the typical Cavalier fan's mindset at this time, check out this guy's 2000 Cavs draft analysis.

Randy Whittman was fired and gave way to John Lucas.  I think it was around the time that the geniuses running the in-game entertainment at Cavs games started using the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" during player introductions.  The "Meet the new boss /same as the old boss" refrain was particularly inspiring and fitting.  Lucas was famous for completely losing his voice two weeks into the regular season and having a son who ended up being pretty good for Oklahoma State.  His .298 win percentage in a season and a half made us all think, if only for a second, "Hey, maybe Whittman wasn't that bad," after which we promptly threw our Whammer doll across the room.  (By the way, can I nominate Whammer for worst mascot ever?  C'mon, a dunking polar bear?  It's not that cold in Cleveland.  And are the Cavs the only team whose website calls its former mascot a "poor floor leader"?  Can we just get rid of mascots in pro sports altogether?)  The Lucas era was largely forgettable, aside from the last days of Andre Miller (c'mon, he averages 16.5 points and 10.9 assists, and we hand him a one-way ticket to the Clippers?) and Ricky Davis shooting at the wrong basket in a blowout to try to get a triple-double (I remember being in my old Oldsmobile and listening to Joe Tait's call of this . . . it was classic . . . I wish I could get a tape of it).

For my money (which I continued to faithfully spend on Cavs tickets), the worst move of the Lucas era was my main man Paxson's Andre Miller for Darius Miles trade.  How a Dayton basketball legend could do such a thing is still beyond me.  I hated the trade, and hung my Andre Miller youth jersey (another brilliant Cavs giveaway!) on the wall of my room at UD in protest.  I also vowed not to go to any game in the '02-03 season, even though my friends told me you could get courtside tickets for less than $20 with a college ID.  Of course I still watched whatever games I could on tv (we only got the occasional Fox Sports Ohio game in Dayton, but I suffered through every game that was on whenever I was home in NE Ohio).  I told myself, "I'll give Paxson one more shot."

We all know what that one more shot was.  I've never been one to follow high school sports, but I remember first coming across LeBron James' name when he was listed in the Akron Beacon Journal as an All Summit County wide receiver as a sophomore.  After he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior, I started following Saint Vincent-Saint Mary's television appearances and reading the occasional article on the team.  There was talk that if it were possible for him to go into the NBA draft after his junior year, he would be the #1 overall selection.  We began thinking, "What if we could get LeBron?"

Everyone who follows sports knows about the tribulations and triumphs of LeBron's senior year of high school.  Meanwhile, John Lucas was fired halfway through the season.  Lucas gave way to interim coach Keith Smart, who was famous for hitting the game winning shot for Indiana in the 1987 NCAA Championship game.  Fittingly, Smart's .225 win percentage continued the Fratello-Whittman-Lucas decline.

As the Cavs lost game after game in 2003, our LeBron dreams became more and more palpable.  In Dayton, all eyes looked toward the long awaited matchup between local Kettering Alter and LeBron's SVSM squad.  Tickets were long gone, so I was left to catch the game recap via the local news.  At the time, I was copy editor of the campus newspaper, and I remember laughing my way through a column written by a staff member who was lucky enough to go the game.  In his piece, which carried the headline Defenseless James not so great, Stephen Dahl, who I suppose was a nice enough guy, pretty much ripped LeBron. LeBron was the real deal, he argued, "only if basketball were merely a dunk fest and dominating guys seven inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than you."  He went on to write that he couldn't believe that LeBron wouldn't even jog to the other side of the court to play defense, and mused that "Paul Pierce and Tracy McGrady are licking their chops to teach James a lesson."  Dahl's conlcusion?  Check it:

[B]ased on his four performances that I’ve attended or watched, with the first choice in this year’s draft, I would not draft James.

The general manager who inherits the first choice would be better off trading down a few spots and getting a solid player.

James is a very raw player that has great potential, but lacks fundamentals contrary to the many European stars that are available to draft.

Translation?  Try and trade down to get what eventually became Darko.  Maybe Dahl was trying to jump-start the anti-LeBron Bandwagon.  Regardless, even at this point I could see someone with an ax to grind for what they were.  Why a UD student had an ax to grind against LeBron is beyond me -- keep in mind, this is before half the country knew who Carmelo Anthony was.  In the interest of fairness, I should also note that i was sitting four rows behind the basket when UD upset Dwayne Wade's then Top 10 and eventual Final Four Marquette squad, and I never had any inkling of how good he would become or that he'd star in consecutively aired commercials during the 2007 East Finals. 

Anyway, it's a good thing Jim Paxson learned more about NBA talent evaluation at UD than Stephen Dahl.  (Interestingly, Big Steve has had a prolific career contributing to ESPN.com's Page 2.  Check this and this.  He also recanted his LeBron column six months later.  At least they didn't use him as my replacement for the Flyer News Sports Diary.)

Fast forward to May 22, 2003.  For once, the Cavs got lucky (even after they "blew it" in typical Cleveland fashion by winning their last game of the '02-03 season, which caused them to tie with the Nuggets for the worst record in the league and have only a 22.5%, rather than a 25%, chance of getting the #1 overall pick) and won the draft lottery.  After I did a celebration dance around my parents' house (unlike Bill Simmons, I never even though to do anything other than watch the lottery with my dad), I got on the phone with the Cavs' season ticket department.  In 2002, I had vowed to attend no Cavs games for the '02-03 season.  In 2003, I had vowed that I would buy season tickets if the Cavs won the lottery.  True to my word, by the end of the night on May 22, I was a grand lighter in my wallet, but I was once again a Cavs season ticket holder.  LeBron was our hometown guy, and I was going to see him play every night. 

Brian Windhorst did his typically great job in detailing what's happened since then.  I've been watching faithfully the past four years.  The highs and lows of LeBron's rookie year and the team transitioning from the LeBron-Ricky Davis-DMiles mess to the Carlos Loozer fiasco and the disappointment of the late season collapse in '04-'05 to the 50 wins and "one missed rebound" heartbreak of the '06 playoffs to the present.  I've stood by LeBron and the team through all the rough times.  I was there when they said he couldn't hit a shot to win a game, and rejoiced as he did just that in Round One against the Wizards last year.  I was there this year when Gilbert Arenas said LeBron couldn't hit a short to win a game, conveniently forgetting 2006.  I was there through LeBron's first half "swoon" this season, annoying my bowling team by continuously drifting toward the TV in the bowling alley when the Cavs played on Wednesday nights.  I was there when the Skip Baylesses of the world criticized the Cavs as being overrated and lamented the fact that neither Miami nor Chicago would play the Pistons in the East Finals, even though the Cavs had a right to be there as the #2 seed.

And I was there last night.  Forty-eight points (on 18 of 33 shooting, no less).  Nine rebounds.  Seven assists and two steals.  The Cavs' last 25 points, and 29 of their last 30 points.  Unbelievable.  By the middle of the second overtime I couldn't say anything -- I was just shaking my head. 

I found it fitting that Bill Simmons spoke not for Cavs fans, but for NBA fans when he wrote that his "life as a basketball fan was being irrevocably altered" during last night's game.  In another article, Windhorst boiled the evening down to its essentials.  I heard a guy on the radio this morning saying that Cavs fans shouldn't be too excited, that it was just one game and the Pistons haven't played to their potential all series, and that even if the Cavs make the finals they'll be lucky to take more than one game from the Spurs.  But people said that coming into the Pistons series.

There's always going to be haters out there.  However, like Simmons said in the article linked to above: 

If you care about basketball, you'll remember where you watched this game 20 years from now. If you care about basketball, it meant something when Marv Albert blessed the night by calling it "one of the greatest performances in NBA playoff history."

Anyone who's still knocking LeBron (or the Cavs) is out of his mind.  He's either got some whacked-out agenda or he just wants to be different.   Either way, he's missing out on something special.  The Pistons are a good, perhaps even great team.  This is roughly the same team (minus Ben Wallace, plus an over-the-hill Chris Webber) as their championship team from a couple of years ago.  They've made the Eastern Conference Finals five years in a row.  Try telling Chauncey Billups he wasn't playing well and he'll point out that last night he finally started hitting clutch shots (that's "shots" in the plural form).  There were two or three times that the Cavs should have been put away, but LeBron wouldn't let them lose.  Detroit played a great game, but LeBron countered with a classic game.

The series isn't over.  Everyone's pointing out that last year in the Eastern Conference semis the Pistons took games 1 and 2, and then the Cavs took 3, 4, and 5 before barely losing game 6 at home and getting blown out in game 7.  It's possible that the Pistons win the next two games.  However, given the lessons the Cavs learned last year -- when they were "a rebound away" from winning the series at home in game 6 -- you can't tell me that the Cavs aren't going to come out fired up and ready to close out the series tomorrow.  I know that the Pistons do have a tendency to put it in neutral, but they weren't in neutral last night.  I don't think they were in neutral in game 4, either (the Cavs defense, I think, has made the Pistons --especially Billups -- look bad throughout the series).  I also know that the Pistons play their best basketball with their backs to the wall, that during their recent run they've won ever series in which they were up 2-0, and blah blah blah.

All that doesn't matter to me.  A few weeks ago, Chris Spielman was going on and on on his radio show in Columbus about how "NBA insiders" were saying that LeBron needed a "signature" playoff game.  I said to myself, "I don't care what LeBron does, as long as the Cavs keep win whatever series they're playing" (full well knowing that the Cavs go as LeBron goes, but whatever).  Well, now they've got what they want and I've got what I want.  LeBron's proved he's the man, and the Cavs are winning.  The Pistons have a shot tomorrow and they have a shot on Monday if they do win tomorrow.  Hell, even I picked the series to go seven games (with the Cavs winning in seven, of course).  It's no matter, though.  All that matters is LeBron, and I think he's finally figured out what he needs to do to win, at least against Detroit.  Boobie Gibson will play better tomorrow.  Doc Gooden will play better tomorrow.  Sasha Pavlovic will play better tomorrow.  The Wild Thing will play better tomorrow.  We won't need LeBron to score 48.  He's going to get help, and he'll be able to take it from there.

Like Terry Pluto said, "James seems to be sending everyone a message: This was his moment; the Cavs are coming into their own; the best really is yet to come."  For the first time since . . . well, since ever, the Cavs have a presence in the NBA's power structure.  If the Cavs win tomorrow, they'll be in the NBA Finals for the first time ever.  It will also be the first time a Cleveland sports team has been in its sport's championship since the Indians in 1997.

I know one thing for sure: I feel a lot better having LeBron James --rather than Jose Mesa -- as my closer.

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