NBA Finals Preview

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Wait, basketball is still happening? I almost forgot about it it’s been so long since a game has been played. But, finally, the Finals start tomorrow night. It’s a surprise matchup this season, as no one really saw the Cavs and Warriors clashing for a third straight Finals. But that’s why I say the NBA is the best league: the pure unpredictability of it all. The NHL could learn a thing or two from the NBA, I’ll tell you that much. Like what’s the point of even playing the regular season in the first place? Everyone knew it was going to be Pittsburgh-Nashville in the Finals the whole time. Makes me sick thinking about it. What a joke the NHL is. Worst league EVER.

I love when people go on long rants about how bad the NBA is and how everyone knew what the Finals were going to be the whole year. First of all, the last two Finals were amazing, so if this year is anything like the first two, I’ll be fine with it. Oh, man, I hate seeing LeBron, at worst the second greatest player ever, pushed to his limits by the ultimate super team which was built specifically to beat him. What a bummer. These incredibly exciting games get old fast. I sure wish I could be watching Jazz-Raptors right about now. And this is the thing the “90s were the best NBA era” crowd somehow doesn’t get- this is how the NBA has always been. Basketball, more than any other sport, is controlled by the best players. It has the least amount of active players at one time, and the luck factor (random deflections in front of goal, bloop singles, Edelman/Tyree type catches, etc.) is way, way lesser than other sports. It’s dominated by skill and athleticism, and, surprisingly, the very best players are the most skilled and athletic. So, the teams with the best players win. If you don’t like it, the Stanley Cup Finals are on, and it’s looking like a pretty good series. And spare me the same, tired “The 90s were more competitive!” bullshit. You mean the same 90s where, if Michael Jordan hadn’t taken two years off, one team would have won eight championships in a row? I repeat: the same team would have won EIGHT titles consecutively. As in, one (1) out of the 27-29 teams would have won a championship. “But he beat so many great teams!” Really? If they were so great wouldn’t they have beaten him at least one time? If the Knicks were just so good, wouldn’t they have managed to beat MJ one out of the million times they played? “The 80s were more competitive!” Either the Celtics or Lakers won 8 of the 10 titles. The early 2000s was either Lakers or Spurs. I’m not sure there were any other teams besides the Celtics in the 60s, and the 50s don’t count since black people weren’t allowed to play yet. The 70s is literally the only period of time in NBA history with anything resembling parity. 10 out of 67 NBA seasons, that’s 15% of the time, there were no “super teams.” It just seems worse now because we can see every second of every game and we have infinitely more access. You think the Bullets were going all out every game in 1986? Probably not, because they knew they weren’t beating the Celtics in the East. It’s just so stupid when people complain about the state of the league. The players are better than ever. There’s more good players than ever, and I know it doesn’t seem like it, but more teams have good players than ever. Yes, the game is less physical now. Man, I hate that people aren’t getting injured anymore or that now that teams don’t have a designated roster spot for some thug who takes people out when they’re going to the rim, there are more skilled players than ever. God, I miss the 90s, am I right? And, of course, the the competitiveness argument. Sorry the all-star game sucks. Does it really affect your life that much? And at some point, there’s a line between competitive spirit and futility. I could try as hard as I can against a 54-year-old Michael Jordan in a game of 1-on-1, but I’ll still never beat him. Why should the Hornets go out and make short-sighted signings and trade everything for a fringe all-star because they just gotta win now and be competitive!, when it will make absolutely no difference against LeBron. So, instead of missing the playoffs, you lose second round and no longer have any kind of future or salary cap flexibility. But, at least you tried, right! So stupid. The NBA is smarter now. At least 10 teams now actually know what they’re doing, which is like, five times more than what it usually is. Teams aren’t going to mortgage their future chasing some golden goose that isn’t leaving Cleveland any time soon. I realize it goes against the mindset you need in literally every other sport, but ruling the NBA landscape when you don’t have one of the greatest players or miraculous collection of homegrown talent is an extreme long game. You need patience. You need foresight. You need to make intelligent moves that set you up to win when there’s a vacuum of power. You can only beat today’s version LeBron, Kyrie, and Love if you have three or four All-NBA level players. You know who else has that? Unless you’re the Warriors, the answer isn’t you. That’s why there’s so much tanking and asset-grabbing going on. Teams realize the best way to come out on top in ten years is by having the best young talent, and the best way to get the best young talent is by having the best draft picks. Listen, there’s not another LeBron-level player on anyone’s radar right now. Theoretically, he’s going to retire at some point. That’s when the Celtics moves pay off. That’s when (maybe) the Sixers moves pay off. That’s when the league becomes wide open. That’s when you get your precious competitive balance. For now, this is just the way it is. If you’re going to be mad at anyone, be mad at the league for rigging a million straight lotteries for Cleveland so they could get Kyrie Irving and, by trading Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Love. Besides Kevin Durant, all the Warriors best players were drafted by the team (and not in the top-5, either). As much as everyone hates them, the Warriors have achieved the platonic ideal of a title contender- they drafted excellently, spent money wisely, and added all the right pieces. That’s not the same formula the Cavs, Heat, or even late 2000s Celtics used. So before you start bitching about how many super teams there are and how they’re ruining the game, maybe consider the fact that the Warriors are just smarter than everyone else.

Anyway, with that rant out of the way, we come to the series at hand. Cavs-Warriors Round III. What will happen? Who will rise to the occasion? Who will choke? Well, I’m willing to bet LeBron will show up. Kevin Durant has spent the last year getting yelled at by people online. He’s been called soft. He’s been getting called out for his playoff failures. He’s been called a coward. Don’t you think he’s had enough? This might come back to bite me James Harden style, but I think Durant will absolutely go off this series, But those two will just cancel each other out. Steph Curry has been sizzling all postseason and has his own Finals demons to expel. He’s going to be big. But, despite the fact that I don’t really like him (it’s probably just his face. Or the fact that he fabricated the fact that he’s a flat-earther just to get some attention), I fully expect Kyrie Irving to match everything he does. Facing Steph always brings out the best of his considerable ability. Then there’s Klay Thompson, who’s icy shooting so far this postseason is either a sign of things to come, or the sign of a pending massive breakout. Honestly, in my mind, he’s going to be the key to the whole series. Somehow, one of the greatest shooters of all time’s jumpshot is the biggest variable. We know what LeBron and Durant and Steph and Kyrie will do. Kevin Love, when not guarded by Draymond Green, will provide his typical reliable shooting, passing, and rebounding. Tristan Thompson is going to completely dominate the glass, and may single-handedly win a game or two. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston should dominate the game when the bench units are in. J.R. Smith and Javale McGee have improbably become consistent, known commodities. We’ve seen how these teams match up. We know their strengths, we know their weaknesses. Literally the only thing we don’t know is if Klay Thompson is going to show up. Listen, the Cavs have spent long portions of this season, both regular and post, looking horrible on defense. If they play that way against the Warriors, they’ll get scraped. But, I bet they’ll be a little more attentive to that side of the ball in the Finals. The Warriors have dominated the competition so soundly that it’s lead people to assume they have an extra gear they haven’t gotten to yet. Really, that just means Klay has been cold. Again, if he gets it going, this could be over fast. But what if he doesn’t? What if they play to another draw? What if it goes seven games? Well, I’ll take the team that has LeBron.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 7

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Is Julian Edelman the Greatest Jewish Athlete of All Time?

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Julian Edelman is very good. He’s now a 2-time Super Bowl champion and a legit number one receiver. He’s third all-time in career postseason catches, and, barring injury, will rise up to second next season. Over the last four years, if you extrapolate his numbers out for 16 games to make up for the games he missed, he’s averaging 103 catches, 1,114 yards, and five touchdowns. Keep in mind he played quarterback his whole life before the NFL. He’s also Jewish. Can’t think of too many other Jewish wide receivers after the introduction of real helmets. The gridiron isn’t typically the preferred place of business for the 12 Tribes, anyway. Does excelling at football, let alone receiver, in the year 2017 make Edelman the greatest Chosen athlete of all time? Let’s take a look at how he stacks up against some of the true legends.

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Mose Solomon– Nicknamed “the Rabbi of Swat,” Solomon finished his legendary career with a total of three hits in two games. That’s a lot for anyone to live up to. Is Edelman mentally strong enough to carry the burden? Sure he’s faster, stronger, and an all-around much better athlete than this titan of baseball’s dead ball era, but the truly great ones never feel the weight of expectation. Given his people’s history with neurosis, it could be a big ask.

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Dolph Schayes– My man Dolph played in a tough era to be a Jewish guy named Adolph, and he still managed to make the Basketball Hall of Fame. A true artist with the set-shot, read about Dolph and you’ll continually see adjectives like “smart,” “wily,” “low to the ground,” and “plodding.” What’s Edelman’s 40 time? 4.52? Would he even make a 1950s NBA roster? Beginning to think not.

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Kevin Youkilis– Youk was an integral part of the mid-2000s Red Sox. He won two rings and came in third in the MVP voting in 2008. In some weird corners of the world, he was known as the Greek God of Walks instead of Youk. Terry Francona once said “I’ve seen Youkilis in the shower, and I wouldn’t call him the Greek god of anything.” According to the people that normally debate the historical rankings of Jewish athletes, the most important quality to have is to be relatable to some little insecure Jewish kid in Queens. Well, who’s more relatable? A bald, kind of lumpy, angry Youk or chiseled, handsome, Hollywood Julian Edelman? Another strike against Edelman.

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Amar’e Stoudemire– Now I know what you’re thinking. “Amar’e was one of the most athletic big men in NBA history. A true physical specimen and perennial all-star. How can a skinny white boy match this modern-day Samson?” Well, Amar’e didn’t decide he was Jewish until 2010. So, the Jews only get to claim his post-Suns career. In other words, he kept getting injured and kept getting a ton of money. I’ll spare you the easy joke. For Edelman to eclipse Jewish Amar’e, all he needs to do is sign a massive contract and fail to live up to expectations and spend months on the injury report. Well, he’s so concussed that there’s a decent chance he won’t be able to walk within 3 years. Finally looking up for Julian.

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George Worth– I don’t know a lot of things for certain in this life. The sun will rise in the East. The Patriots will at least make the AFC Championship Game every year. And if you stepped into the fencing ring with George Worth, you weren’t leaving a winner. Dude won a bronze medal in the 1948 Olympics in the team sabre event. Ask any true Olympic fan if team sabre or the 100 meter dash is a more prestigious event and you’re in for a good debate. It’s unfair to put Edelman in the same sentence as Worth, but I just wanted to show what kind of competition he’ll be facing. Becoming the greatest Jewish athlete of all time is no lazy sabbath day.

After going through the annals of Jewish sporting history, I’ve determined Julian Edelman has a pretty good shot at being one of the best of all time. In terms of modern receivers, his best competition is Greg Camarillo, so I think he’s got that wrapped up. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter. He’ll never be better than Koufax.

I miss mid-2000s college football

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The start of a New Year always brings a lot of things with it. Resolutions, big time football games, and, of course, my birthday. I’m typically steadfast in my resolutions, usually keeping to them for at least a week and half. The football games, be it NFL playoffs or the big name bowl games, rarely disappoint, except when they do. And lately, the bowl games in particular have disappointed me more and more. As we get closer (one week!) to my *gulp* 25th birthday, I’m forced to reflect on all the bowl seasons I’ve been through and figure out why a time, and sport, that used to be sacred to me no longer is so.

The clear answer is that I don’t really care as much anymore, but why? I still love football and follow it religiously, but the college game doesn’t stoke my fire as intensely as it once did. I used to be able to name countless players on every team and be able to essentially predict the entire draft. Now, I only know the first round guys, and even then I don’t really learn about them until late. Like I know there’s a great Ohio State cornerback, but only because I assume there’s always one and couldn’t tell you his name. I assume there’s a great defensive lineman from Florida, only because for at least ten years in a row one has been taken in the top 10, and most of them are all the same. I legit had no idea who Artie Burns was this time last year, and he was the best athlete on Miami. The best athlete on Miami is someone who I should know about for years, and I had no idea who he was.

The players are still good. In fact, at least athletically, they’re undeniably better than when I was in middle and high school, the peak of my college football fandom. So why does it feel like there’s so much less name recognition? Am I ignorant or is there less star power? Does anyone else feel the same way? Does anyone else care? Well, the last question doesn’t matter because I’m going to write this anyway.

I think a major reason is the demise of the NCAA Football video game. I used to spend hours upon days upon weeks upon months playing those games, and, after downloading the roster that had all the players names, would pretty much have it all memorized after a while. Now, I don’t begrudge the people who brought the lawsuit. Lord knows I’d want some of that EA money if they used my likeness (pick up your copy of Blogging ’18 this July!) and I do think big time college athletes deserve to be paid. But, come on. I care more about my enjoyment than your bank account. Let me play as Texas A&M QB #2 again.

Another reason is that I don’t really have a team. I always liked Oregon growing up, but it’s harder to claim allegiance to teams that become good out of nowhere without being called a bandwagon jumper. I’d rather die. Plus, they stink now. And, as a UConn graduate, there’s not much to cheer for on the football field. The closest thing I have to a team I legitimately root for is Wyoming because I like their jerseys (I know you’re wondering, so here’s the top five college football jerseys: 1. Wyoming 2. USC 3. Oklahoma 4. Oregon 5. Auburn). Other than that, it’s a year to year thing. I love high flying offense, but that’s not all that unique anymore (we’ll get to that). I always like the “mid-major” that goes undefeated a la Western Michigan, but if they keep winning it becomes less fun. So I wind up rooting for a bunch of good games which doesn’t always pay off.

I think, for me, though, the primary reason is that everyone, for the most part, plays the same way. I’m a diehard spread guy. More specifically, I’m a diehard run n’ shoot guy. There’s a reason I consider Colt Brennan my favorite athlete of all time. Those Hawaii teams were amazing. My man June Jones dialing up 10,000 quick slants and five yard hooks a game. I’ve jerked off to less. When Graham Harrell showed up at Texas Tech and picked up Colt’s baton, I was happy. Then, as I got older, Chip Kelly’s spread grabbed my attention. But now, everyone plays that way. Everyone goes uptempo, everyone has pieces of the Air Raid, everyone uses the spread. It’s hard to pick teams out. There used to be so many distinctive styles. Hawaii and Texas Tech were the only teams that passed every play. There were teams like Arkansas with Darren McFadden who ran the Wildcat exclusively. It seemed like a novelty to see mobile quarterbacks dominating teams running spread option, which is what made guys like Vince Young and Pat White so exciting. Now, the teams bordering on curiosities are teams that run slow, boring, pro-style offenses. Pure pocket passers are rare on the best college teams. And again, I love the spread. If you know me, then you know I love the passing game. But it loses some luster when Joe Flacco throws for 4,000 yards, just like the spread loses something when teams like Alabama, the oldest and stodgiest of the old and stodgy blue bloods is running read option 50 times a game.

And, obviously, the playoff has killed the other bowl games. Which I’m fine with. I’d rather have a playoff than not. But it’s just harder to commit 3 hours to a mid December game between two random teams than it used to be. All these talking heads haven’t really put that together yet. Players are more comfortable sitting these games out because they’re totally meaningless now. Sure it’s another game with the team, but the games are more of a marketing ploy for the two schools and the bowl sponsors and an outlet for gambling than a meaningful, legitimate football game. I guarantee all but the most try-hard, coach’s son-iest of players would say they don’t want to play. Most just don’t have the luxury of an NFL future to get them out of them.

I think that’s it. If you made it this far, congratulations. You’ve made it though an awful lot of kvetching. I hope you agree with some of what I’ve said. I hope you disagree with some. Either way, don’t get it twisted. I still love football and I still love college football. Staring my own mortality in the face has just stirred up some nostalgia. Give me a summer with no football and I’ll be ready to commit every second of fall Saturdays to college football once again.