Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hot, Hot, Heat!

The Heat won the NBA Championship tonight. They beat the Mavericks in six games. It was a remarkable turnaround considering they were down two games to none and losing by 13 points in the fourth quarter of game 3. The series basically came down to the Mavericks inability to stop one player, Dwayne Wade.

The NBA has been looking for an heir apparent to Michael Jordan since Michael's first of three retirements. There have been pretenders to the throne, Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant and even less worthy players such as Harold Miner. They have all come into the league with pomp and circumstance and with the supposed game to replace Jordan. None of them could, of course. Hill has been sidetracked by injuries, but even before the injuries, he never possessed the kind of ego and killer instinct that it takes to be a Jordan-like player. Stackhouse has the ego but not the game. Carter has the ego and the game, but not the heart. Kobe has it all. The game, the attitude, the personality, the championships, the inability to share the spotlight, the arrest for rape. Sorry, I guess the last two don't help his case.

Straight out of David Stern's wet dreams come two players who are capable of assuming the Jordan mantle. Both Wade and LeBron James are seemingly ready to assume the role as the face of the NBA. NBA Commissioner Stern has been longing for someone, anyone to step up and lead the NBA in the new millennium, but all he has seen is one tattooed ex-convict or pretender after another.

LeBron seems to have the whole package, including the ego to carry the weight of the league. He has had to live with expectations of greatness since he was in grammar school. He has met and exceeded almost all projections for him since coming into the NBA. He singlehandedly almost carried his team into the Eastern Conference finals. He also shows extreme maturity for a twenty one year old. Wade is almost the exact opposite of the LeBron. He did not come out with the fanfare that accompanied LeBron and the expectations were nowhere near as high for him. He's quiet, unassuming (except on the court) and deferential. However he's got the same killer instinct that Jordan did (evidenced by his increased output in the 4th quarter of the last four games).

Wade has an NBA Championship and LeBron does not. That has more to do with the supporting cast that both players have, rather than the players themselves. If LeBron were in Wade's place, it's very likely that the Heat would still be celebrating a championship today. LeBron needs a running mate in order to get his team to the next level. Even as great as Jordan was, he never won without Pippen and Wade would not have won without Shaq. The NBA has been searching for the anti-Iverson for a while now and it seems that in these two players, they have found what they are looking for. I guess it's only fitting that it's going to take two players to replace Jordan. He had cast such a big shadow over the NBA that it has taken a while for the league to dig out from under it. The crowning of the Heat and the emergence of Wade signify the beginning of the post Jordan era.

Just as an aside, I always thought that there would be a player or players who would be able to replace Jordan. Jordan's skill set was not unique to the NBA. Players like Elgin Baylor or Dr. J were very similar on the court. They may not have enjoyed the championship success that Michael did, but they put up very comparable numbers. Kobe Bryant is a very similar type of player as well. Kobe's will to win is also legendary. It's apparently much like his supposed will to to force women into unwanted sex; regardless of how much you kick and scream, it's gonna happen.

The player who the NBA will probably never be able to replace is Magic Johnson. Never had there been a 6'9" point guard before him and certainly no one who followed could replicate his skills on the court. He could play any position on the floor and do it better than almost anyone in the league. He played center in game 6 of the NBA finals in his rookie year. He ended up with 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. His scoring numbers don't compare to Jordan's, but then again, that was not his main focus. He could have scored 30 points a game but his main job was to get everyone involved in the offense and he did that better than anyone ever has before or since. If there were one player that I would want to see duplicated it would be Magic. I can see the high flying dunks any night of the week, but we may never see the like of Magic Johnson again.



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