Monthly Archives: March 2015

Class of 96: the NBA’s Best Ever?

 

Class of ’96, could be the best the NBA has ever seen. Courtesy: NBA.com

Two time NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash retired this weekend after a stellar eighteen seasons that ended with two injury riddled seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers in Southern California. His departure now leaves the 1996 draft class with two active players; Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen, who isn’t currently on a roster but is still mulling over playing next season at age 40. As the well wishes and compliments flooded the twitter-verse, and national networks took time to reflect on Nash’s career, it also conjured up memories of his classmates and left me begging the question, “is the 1996 Class the best draft ever?”

Just look at the names. Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Stephon Marbury, Antoine Walker, Jermaine O’Neal, Marcus Camby, Peja Stojakovic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Derek Fisher and the undrafted Ben Wallace.

The Class of 1984 is widely regarded as the best ever due to the exploits of Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. They even had their own NBA TV documentary and a book that explained how they changed the game forever. There are also some who give the nod to the Class of 2003 headlined by LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Time will tell as that class is still pretty much in the prime of their careers.

While both ’84 and ’03 classes boast All-Time greats, I can argue that the ’96 group as a whole is just as accomplished, if not more.

Let’s start with the consensus best player in this draft, Kobe Bryant. The “Black Mamba” is currently third on the NBA All-Time scoring list with 32,482 points and counting. He’s won the most titles with five and been named NBA Finals MVP twice (2009, 2010). He’s the closest thing we’ve seen to his “Airness” and is viewed by many of his peers and predecessors as one of the top five players in history.

Magic Johnson has already called him “the Greatest Laker Ever” and that’s saying a lot considering most view him as the greatest player in Laker history, as well as the many Hall of Famers that have donned purple and gold.

Don’t forget, Kobe was also at the forefront of the “Redeem Team” that recaptured the Gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and repeated at the 2012 games in London. It was his insistence on playing for that team that turned Team USA around after the 2004 Team lead by Class of 2003 stars Lebron, D-Wade and Carmelo could only muster a bronze medal finish.

Allen Iverson, the first overall selection in 1996, is pound for pound the best scorer in NBA history. He has the sixth best per game scoring average of all time (26.7) and finished his 16 year career with 24,368 points. For a guy known specifically for his offense, his 1,983 steals is good for twelfth all-time. A.I. caused a cultural shift on and off the court. He ushered in the hip hop era sporting braids and tattoos that made it commercially acceptable in the living rooms of the masses. Iverson announced he didn’t want to be like Bird, Magic or Jordan and by being the “anti-Jordan”, it actually helped him become one of the games brightest stars. His cultural impact could even rival Jordan’s from a marketing perspective because he was the first to do it as he put it “his way” and not be a cookie cutter replica of the stars of the past.

His grit and toughness on the floor was a throwback in a league that was getting and now is soft. “The Answer” is fourth on the career list in minutes played per game (41.1) and he played through a laundry list of injuries that would cause today’s player to miss a week worth of games.

His greatest accomplishment may be having lead a outmanned Sixers team to the 2001 NBA Finals and a game one victory over a Lakers team that dismantled the Western Conference playoffs—the only game L.A. lost in the postseason that year.

As I mentioned earlier, Steve Nash has two NBA MVP trophies and is the only player 6’3″ and shorter to accomplish this feat. He is third on the All-Time assists list—behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd—with 10,335 and led the league in assists five times. When you look at the numbers and his impact on the open free flowing style of play adopted by many teams today, Nash has an argument for top 5 point guard ever.

He was also a sharp shooter with a career percentage of 49% in twos, 42.8% on threes, which is ninth all time and 90.4% from the free throw line which is tied for the best in history. Four times he cracked the exclusive 50-40-90 club a record 4 times (shoot 50+% from twos, 40+% from three and 90+% from the FT line).

Speaking of shooters, Ray Allen is arguably the best in the history of the game. “Mr. Shuttlesworth” has made more threes than anyone with 2,973. His eight threes made in game two of the 2010 NBA Finals is sill a record, seven of which were made in one half which is also a record.

He also has the most 4 point plays made in a single Finals game. His clutch shooting is the reason both the 2007 Boston Celtics and the 2013 Miami Heat won World Championships.

Ben Wallace wasn’t drafted out of Virginia Union University, but he is the epitome of persistence in a professional athlete. Wallace signed with the Washington Bullets/Wizards franchise where he struggled to consistently stay in the rotation, then when he finally broke through as a starter for the Orlando Magic, he was shipped to Detroit in the trade for Grant Hill that at the time was viewed as lopsided for Orlando.

Now he will be forever known as one of the best defensive players in history, winning a record four Defensive Player of the Year awards with the Pistons. He stellar rebounding, shot blocking and defensive leadership lead the 2004 Detroit Pistons to an unlikely NBA Title over a stacked Laker team headlined by Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone and Gary Payton.

While the previous mentioned five guys are headed towards the Naismith Hall of Fame, there are several others notables that had significant roles on teams that were consistently in the title hunt.

Kerry Kittles (8th pick) was Jason Kidd’s backcourt mate in New Jersey when they made consecutive NBA Finals appearances in the early 2000’s. Shandon Anderson (54th pick) played key minutes on those Karl Malone, John Stockton Utah Jazz teams that challenged MJ’s Bulls in 1997 and 1998 for the title, and was a key reserve on the Miami Heat team that won the franchise’s first title in 2006. Zydrunus Ilgauskus (20th pick) was the starting center and LeBron James sidekick when the Cleveland Cavaliers made their first and only NBA Finals appearance in 2007. Malik Rose (44th pick) was a key reserve with the San Antonio Spurs as they won their first two titles. And you can’t forget Derek Fisher (24th Pick) who has five rings from hitting big shots playing alongside Shaq, Kobe and Pau Gasol.

Overall this class has captured:

20 Championship rings – Kobe 5, Fisher 5, Ray Allen 2, Malik Rose 2, Samaki Walker 1, Travis Knight 1, Shandon Anderson 1, Antoine Walker 1, Ben Wallace 1, Peja Stojakovic 1

4 MVPs – Iverson (2001), Nash (2005, 2006) and Kobe (2008)

8 – All-NBA Teamers which is a record for any draft class. [Iverson (3x 1st team, 3x 2nd Team, 1x 3rd Team), Marbury (2x 3rd Team), Allen (1x 2nd Team, 1x 3rd Team), Bryant (11x 1st Team, 2x 2nd Team, 2x 3rd Team), Stojakovic (1x 2nd Team), Nash (3x 1st Team, 2x 2nd Team, 2x 3rd Team), Jermaine O’neal (1x 2nd Team, 2x 3rd Team), Wallace (3x 2nd Team, 2x 3rd Team)]

11 – NBA All Stars

2 – Defensive Players of the Year; Marcus Camby (2007) and Ben Wallace (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006)

3 – All NBA Defensive Teamers (Kobe 9x 1st Team, 3x 2nd Team, Camby 2x 1st team & 2x 2nd Team, Wallace 5x 1st Team, 1x 2nd Team)

Many will disregard my premise and say, “but the 84 Class had MJ the G.O.A.T.” But I’m basing my opinion on the totality of the parts that equalled the whole. While the 84 Class changed the game on the court and globally, this talented group has proven they’re second to none, at worse they should be equal. Don’t be surprised to see their story documented in films and on bookshelves soon. I’m already working on my version.   

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God Doesn’t Give Us Struggles/Troubles….

Whenever I have had difficulties in my life, family and close friends have said to me “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I understand their sentiment, but I whole-heartedly believe that statement is wrong in reference to struggles. Why? Because, I don’t believe God is the one who gives us troubles. There are times when He may allow it—see the entire book of Job for example—so He can use it to teach us and those around us something valuable.

If you really think about it, it’s in the moments that we can’t handle, that we HAVE to lean more on Him. As evident by the scripture in Romans 8:28 that tells us God will work everything out for the good of those who love Him. Say He did dole out trouble, and He only gave us “what we could handle”, when would we ever learn to lean and trust in Him?

“I have told you this so that you may have peace because of me, while you are in the world you will suffer, but cheer up I have defeated the world.” ~ John 16:33b

I take the above scripture to mean the evil of this world, that entered when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Life, thus allowing sin into the Earth, is the cause of many of the unfortunate things we encounter and have struggled through. God already knows those things are going to happen, because He knows all. But, He doesn’t cause it. The evildoers of this world are the source of the problem, just like temptations.

Speaking of temptations, many times the trouble, struggles, disappointments and difficult circumstances we face is a consequence to a bad decision or action we’ve made. Can’t blame God for those right?

“You reap what you sow.” ~ Galatians 6:7b

That’s the punishment. So I don’t think you can look at God as the cause of our troubles. A good parent would not purposely hurt you to teach you a lesson (I’m excluding butt whuppins. “Spare the rod spoil the child, spoil the rod spare the child.” ~ Proverbs 13:24) but they’ll definitely use our screws ups to teach us something. I believe God is the same way. We’re all going to make mistakes, we are sinners. Doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us. We are His pride and joy.

I will say that I’ve read many scriptures on God’s wrath and punishment, but that’s a much deeper study than what I’m trying to point out here, or even qualified to breakdown. Therefore I won’t.

So, back to the saying that is the focus of my premise. What I think has happened, is people have confused or misinterpreted the scripture in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that says “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be TEMPTED beyond what you can bear.”

I do believe God won’t give you more than you can handle in terms of blessings. If you can’t handle $100 why would He trust you with $1,000? You don’t show up on time and give your best on your current, yet unfulfilling job, so why would He allow you to get a promotion or a better career only to get fired when you can’t get things done? You’re not a good partner and treat your boyfriend/girlfriend like an option not a priority, why would He allow you to get married and be an even worse spouse? These and others I haven’t mentioned, are things we’ve proven to not handle well, therefore I trust that God won’t give us more of them until we prove we can.

Lastly, and probably more importantly, what people need to understand is we live in a fallen world that is a battleground between good and evil. So some of the obstacles and struggles we face are resistance from the enemy trying to get us to self-destruct, disobey God or quit doing what we’ve been called to do. That is why we must stay reading the Bible to learn how to deal with the evil we face and how God fights our spiritual battles for and with us.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”  ~ Exodus 14:14

“People who do what is right may have many problems, but the Lord will solve them all.”  ~ Psalms 34:19

I’m not a preacher, or Biblical scholar. Just someone studying the Word for the betterment of my soul, and have absorbed some things that may help someone else. I always pray and ask God that what I’m writing and sharing isn’t leading anyone astray or misinforming them. We’re seeing a lot of vicious, heinous, and unthinkable acts happening in our world. It’s the kingdom of evil making its final push to cause as much pain and destruction as it can in these last of the last days. This topic has been on my heart for a very long while (I actually wrote the first draft of this over 480 days ago) and hopefully it helps someone in these difficult, dark days. I want to do my part. Hey, I can’t always write and talk about sports. There’s more to life.

  • Additional reading, 1 Peter 5:8-9, Ephesians 6:12-14, John 10:10

The Super Bowl Host Curse is REAL!

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I get that if you’re a fan of the Patriots you just want to keep celebrating your team winning its 4th Lombardi trophy until a new champ is crowned. But, as the 2015 NFL Free Agency period kickoffs, I’ll take this opportunity to look forward to Super Bowl 50. Why? Because I know who won’t be playing in or winning the game.

The San Francisco 49ers. You know why? Levi Stadium, their brand new home field, is the host of Super Bowl 50.

In the history of the big game, teams that have hosted the Super Bowl are 0 and 30. And, since the 1993 season, when the NFL began playing the Super Bowl only at NFL teams stadiums, no host team has even played in the game.

Don’t believe in sports curses? Just look at the 2014 Arizona Cardinals, the most recent victim and host of Super Bowl XLIX.

The Cardinals lost their best defensive player and emotional team leader in defensive end Darnell Dockett for the season with a torn ACL in preseason. Sure the team went on to a league best start with a 9-1 record, losing their only game at defending AFC Champion Denver, no shame there. But, more key injuries kept coming. Quarterback Carson Palmer went down for the season with a season ending knee injury without being touched; his back up Drew Stanton, who was playing admirable in his absence, went down week 15 with a sprained MCL and ACL in his knee, and an infection from surgery kept him out of the playoffs. In all they used four quarterbacks, rookie Logan Thomas–played a series at Denver–and Ryan Lindley started in the playoff. Even though the Cardinals made the post season—which as you’ll read later hasn’t been easy for Super Bowl host teams—they lost 27-16 in an ugly turnover field game to the 7-8-1 Panthers.

The 49ers are already ahead of schedule. The constant conflict between head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke has been cited as to why Harbaugh left for Michigan to become the head coach at his struggling Alma Mater. The new twists are the reports that All-Pro defensive cornerstones Patrick Willis and Justin Smith are unexpectedly preparing to retire (UPDATE 6/8/15: Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Linebacker Chris Borland and Offensive lineman Anthony Smith have retired). Add to those loses franchise leading rusher Frank Gore, who is preparing to take his potential Hall of Fame resume elsewhere.

Meanwhile, franchise starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who in the run to Super Bowl 47 looked like he was on the verge of redefining the position, has regressed worse than a new popular TV sitcom that gets cancelled before the end of its first season. I’m looking at you “Bad Judge” and “Mixology.” Now there are rumors the team is exploring options to trade him.

Mix all that in with the fact we still haven’t seen All-Pro linebacker Navarro Bowman return from the ugly knee injury he suffered in the 2014 NFC Title game against Seattle and I’m not even going to get into the laundry list of free agents they’re expected to lose one of which is Kaepernick’s favorite target, wide receiver Michael Crabtree. I know you see the writing on the wall. No Super Bowl for you!

Still don’t believe this curse is real? look at the result from just the past five host teams.

Super Bowl 48 host, the 2013 New York Giants and New York Jets. The Giants went 7-9 and began the season 0-6. The G-Men became the first team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl in year three of a five-year span, yet missed the playoffs the other four seasons. Adding insult to injury, two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning led the league in interceptions with 27 and added 7 fumbles.

The Jets went 8-8 and missed the Playoffs for the third consecutive season, this after competing in two AFC Championship games in a row at the beginning of Rex Ryan’s tenure in 2009 and 2010.

Super Bowl 47 host, the 2012 New Orleans Saints. “Bounty-gate”, the scandal from the 2009 season, was brought to light. Head coach Sean Payton, the architect of their high-powered offense that led to them to their only Super Bowl win at number XLIV, was suspended for the season for his role in the scandal. Veteran defensive leaders defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma we’re suspend for significant time during the season. Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita, the other players suspended were already signed to other NFL teams. The end result, a 7-9 record and no playoffs.

Super Bowl 46 host, the 2011 Indianapolis Colts.  Peyton Manning missed the entire season with a neck injury. It was the first time the “Sheriff” ever missed a game. Before that season he played in 227 consecutive games, second only to Brett Favre’s 297. I don’t need to say more, but I will. The team went on to have a 2-14 record, losing their first 13, and got the number one pick to select Andrew Luck. So, I guess it wasn’t all bad. One more thing, Peyton’s little brother won his second Super Bowl in Peyton’s house. That had to sting a little.

Super Bowl 45, the 2010 Dallas Cowboys. Year two in “Jerry’s World” was a step back. After winning the NFC East in the previous season, the Cowboys went 6-10 in 2010 and missed the playoffs. At one point they were 1-7, which led to the firing of head coach Wade Phillips and paved the way for the new man in charge Jason Garrett.

Super Bowl 44 host, the 2009 Miami Dolphins. The ‘Phins went 7-9 and missed the playoffs after going 11-5 and winning the AFC East title the season before.

Super Bowl 43 host, the 2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers went 9-7 and missed the playoffs one season after winning the NFC South Division title. Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen were surprisingly fired at the end of the season.

Super Bowl 42 host, the 2007 Arizona Cardinals. The Cards went 8-8 and missed the playoffs by one game. Two of their loses came to the 5-11 San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinals finished 2nd for the NFC West title. The injury bug hit them as well. 2006 Top 10 draft pick quarterback Matt Leinart, the team’s hope to be a franchise player, went down midseason with a fractured collarbone; the injury paved the way for former NFL and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player quarterback Kurt Warner’s career revival.

In a weird twist, the injury propelled the 2008 team to their first and only Super Bowl appearance the next season in Tampa Bay. They lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23 in one of the most dramatic Super Bowl’s in recent history.

Here’s a few more pieces of evidence to support my claim.

SB VIII Host: 1973 Houston Oilers finished 1-13 for the second consecutive season and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

SB XVI Host: 1981 Detroit Lions finished 8-8 and missed playoffs.

SB XVIII Host: 1983 Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 2-14, missed playoffs and lost quarterback Doug Williams to the USFL after team couldn’t come to terms on a contract. Williams later became the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl and the MVP with Washington.

SB XXII Host: 1987 San Diego Chargers finished 8-7 and missed the playoffs after starting the season 8-1. Hall of Fame cornerstones in quarterback Dan Fouts and tight end Kellen Winslow retired after the season.

SB XXV Host: 1990 Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 6-10 and missed playoffs after starting the season 4-2.

SB XXVI Host: 1991 Minnesota Vikings finished 8-8 and missed playoffs. This was the season their first and second round picks were made by the Dallas Cowboys as part of the Herschel Walker trade in 1989. One pick was wide receiver Alvin Harper, who helped the Cowboys win two Super Bowl titles in the 1990’s. Vikings head coach Jerry Burns retired at the end of the season.

SB XXVIII Host: 1993 Atlanta Falcons finished 6-10 and lost future Hall of Famer Deion Sanders to free agency.

SB XXX Host: 1995 Arizona Cardinals finished 4-12 and missed playoffs after winning 8 games the previous season.

SB XXXII Host: 1997 San Diego Chargers finished 4-12, missed playoffs and had four less wins than the year before.

SB XXXIV Host: 1999 Atlanta Falcons finished 5-11 just one season after making the Super Bowl.

SB XXXV Host: 2000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 10-6, but fell to the #5 seed after losing the NFC Central Title and a first round bye in the final game of the season in overtime to the Green Bay Packers. The Bucs lost in NFC Wild Card round 21-3.

SB XXXVII Host: 2002 San Diego Chargers finished 8-8 and missed playoffs after starting the season 4-0 and were 6-2 midseason.

SB XXXVIII Host: 2003 Houston Texans finished 5-11 and missed playoffs.

SB XXXIX Host: 2004 Jacksonville Jaguars finished 9-7 and missed playoffs.

SB XL Host: 2005 Detroit Lions finished 5-11 and missed playoffs.

If the Niner fans are looking for any good omen to break this curse, they are the only franchise to play in a Super Bowl when it was hosted in their region. The 1984 49ers won Super Bowl XIX 38-16 over the Miami Dolphins at Stanford Stadium on the University of Stanford’s campus. The only other team to come close, the Los Angeles Rams lost Super Bowl XIV 19-31 to the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, rather than their home stadium the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In case you missed it, according to Las Vegas odds makers, New England and Seattle are the favorites to meet again in Super Bowl 50 at the date of this post.