Sports24 Jun 2011 12:47 pm

Now, that all the hoopla and drama of the NBA season is over I’d thought I’d share some of my thoughts regarding the Miami Heat and their season. I should start off by saying that I am a fan of the Chicago Bulls, and that I usually adopt a couple of other teams each season due to their game and character. Early on this year I adopted the Dallas Mavericks as my B team based on the fact that I felt that Dirk was under appreciated and that they played beautiful team basketball.

In terms of the Heat I’ve always liked Wade and James but never had a strong appreciation of Bosh’s game. I, like many others, viewed the triad as being a tad immature, especially James, in how they used the media to preen before the cameras like rock stars and divas. I love the game of basketball and was a tad concerned that their immediate success could have a negative impact on the integrity of the sport.

As the year progressed my fears regarding the negative impact the Heat and the trio in particular could have on the longer term direction of professional basketball only got worse. Wade and James in particular seemed to become more immature and whinier as the year progressed. They seemed to view themselves as basketball royalty and were incensed any time a foul was called on them, or when they felt they were fouled (pretty much any time they shot and missed) and it wasn’t called.

James and Wade’s willingness to present their case or mildly lecture or educate every official over the most trivial of events seemed to become routine. I often wondered how their coach was able to impart any strategy during time outs as it seemed like James or Wade used every time out and stoppage of play as an opportunity to talk and work on the refs.

In previous posts I’ve outlined my concerns regarding commissioner Stern and his tendency to view the game as a product rather than a professional sport. The drama surrounding the Heat increased interest in the NBA world wide and even if not totally thrilled with some of their antics, I’m sure Stern was very pleased with the boost these lovable heroes/villains gave to revenues.

My biggest concern going into the playoffs was that the semi-spoken rule that the NBA as commercial product needs their super stars on the floor would once again dominate the quality of the officiating. Stern’s fining Pat Riley for resting Magic, Worthy and (Abdul-Jabbar?) when he coached the Lakers is a fine example of the priority of product over sport. For those not old enough to remember, Riley sat his stars for a meaningless game towards the end of the season to help them them rest for the playoffs. Stern fined Riley thousands of dollars because he felt that ticket holders were entitled to see the stars they paid money to see, and had no concern about player fatigue or performance. Maybe he felt that the preferential calls by the refs would more than make up for any fatigue or minor injury that could hamper the stars performances.

As I said I was very concerned that James and Wade would not be allowed to foul out of the game no matter what they did. Combine that with the fact that Wade and James never believe they commit a foul and my imagination went wild with scenes of Shaq in his hey day pummeling and barreling over opponents on his quest to make undefended dunks to the glee of giddy TV play-by-play announcers.

Yet, I must admit the reality of the situation was not as bad as I had imagined. In fact I almost felt like I owed Stern an apology for my perception, almost.

A few disconcerting patters emerged in the games I saw the Heat play in the playoffs. My worst fears materialized early in games where there were ample opportunities to call offensive and defensive fouls on James and Wade. Most of these calls weren’t made and when the whistle blew the refs usually searched for a teammate in the area to assign the foul to.

In the early playoff series James and Wade often maximized on their special treatment and cajoled and scolded the refs into giving them even more preferential treatment. Yet, even in the early rounds I was pleased to see more balanced and realistic calls during the last half of the fourth quarters. The Heat and their stars who looked increasingly angry and befuddled at not getting their typical end of game assistance.

In the finals in particular there were actually times in which James and Wade were fouled and the call was not made. In addition, the fact that the lack of earlier foul calls on Wade and James made it possible for the refs to call the most flagrant rule violations in the final minutes with no fear of fouling out the stars. This new twist to officiating seemed to confuse and frustrate Wade and James who never quite adapted to their being treated as mere mortals during crunch time.

What most surprised me in the finals was how frequently James and Wade did not continue to force the issue and go to the rim and fall to the floor in an attempts to get to the free throw line. I’m not quite sure the refs would have been able to stand up to that kind of pressure. The lack of theatrics during the final phase of the game was in sharp contrast with the behavior of the dynamic duo during the earlier sections of the games.

I was amazed at how often James and Wade in particular would flop to the ground anytime the least bit of contact occurred both offensively and defensively (hence the title of this post). Though this behavior is at least indirectly fostered by the refs with how frequently the acting results in a favorable call, it still is jaw droppingly pathetic from a personal integrity point of view. Do Wade and James think that they really need such stunts to win the game? Are they so pampered or delusional that they don’t see how that behavior tarnished the respect of discerning fans and players especially from a historical perspective

I, for one, would truly like to see how good Wade and James are without all the prima donna preening and behavior. Even though Bosh himself does high drama, he only resorts to such theater a few times a game and in general conducts himself in a manner respecting the integrity of the sport. In the playoffs I was very impressed with most aspects of Bosh’s game and did not see him as being “too soft” as many have labeled him. Sure he’s not the most physical of players and could be a more consistent force on the boards but he did not wilt under the pressure of the playoffs and was probably the person most responsible for their getting past the Bulls.

When all is said and done it appears that the Heat became too dependent on their theatrics and on beneficial calls. When the calls they were accustomed to getting began to desert them (in the final few minutes of games) they became tentative and bewildered to such a degree that they no longer forced the issue or even had the awareness to flop to the floor when on defense. Without theater they were not able to see themselves as super heroes appearing out of the colorful mist of strobe lights, but rather became merely a couple of the most talented athletes of this generation. Which should be enough, but this time it wasn’t.

It would be nice if this was used by Wade and James as a learning experience, and inspired them to rededicate them to the substance of the game. Yet, at this point it seems more likely that they will choose to cast themselves as victims and instead have them become more resolved to whine, act and scold their way to an NBA championship, which I have little doubt they will be able to do.

I’ve always respected Wade as an athlete and as a person, likewise for James, though at times I thought he was a little too pampered and had some growing up to do. Yet, the two together and the hype have appeared to bring out the very worst in their personalities. The immaturity they have displayed and then denied or explained away is saddening.

The theatrics on the basketball court has been pushed up another notch by the Heat. Though flopping has been used to encourage a whistle throughout the NBA, the Heat use this device as often as most teams do the pick and roll. Since refs are less likely to call a charging foul if the defender remains upright it only makes sense to fall when an opposing player slams into you. Yet, even with that in mind, the Heat are going to the ground even at the hint of contact especially Wade, who almost goes to the floor every time his shot is defended.

Flopping isn’t the only disconcerting trend. The amount of traveling (seldom called) increased dramatically this year especially in the playoffs. Once again the Heat led the league in this department. Players are taking the ball and running to the basket for a slam dunk without taking a single dribble or stopping their dribble and taking three of four steps before slamming the ball home. Maybe the refs and commissioner feel the extra steps make for a more spectacular dunk and, therefore, should be allowed to add to the entertainment value of the product (game). Yet, in the playoffs the expectation to dribble or follow the rules regarding traveling became almost non-existent.

On a number of occasions I heard announcers squeal in excitement how a player “split the defense” with an “amazing” move to get to the basket. In reality the defenders met the player at the legal limit of their advance and the player illegally ran (walked) past them and dunked the ball. Years of training and habit of defenders caused them to make this error over and over again, as superstars electrified crowds by walking great distances to the hoop without dribbling the ball.

Another illegal trend in basketball is in the use of the “first step” and the “pivot foot”. I was again appalled with the success players were allowed to have starting a drive without dribbling, or doing numerous feints with both feet to get a defender off balance before taking the ball to the basket. My assumption is that these illegal behaviors are tolerated because they allow for more thunderous dunks and “amazing” moves. Players must feel a personal and social pressure to be inventive and increasingly sensational and this is the shortest route to instant athleticism.

Despite these short comings the Dallas Mavericks were a breath or fresh air. They played pretty basketball in an old school sense. They passed, shot the ball well, and made their free throws. They truly were a beautiful team to watch from an execution point of view both offensively and defensively. The won the series, but I’m sure they lost in terms of the highlight reel.

Now I would like to answer the original question of this post. Was the Heat a flop?

The short answer is no. When all is said and done, they were a couple of plays or calls from being NBA champions. It is foolish to say that they couldn’t have beaten the Mavericks or that if we were to start the series again today that the result would be the same. If Lebron missed the shots in the Chicago series that he did in the finals, then the Bulls would have been in the championship. Its been awhile since I’ve seen a team so dominant that it was inevitable that they win it all. Sometimes we do see teams which we cannot imagine winning a title. Yet, this year there were at least six reams which had a legitimate chance to win the title.

The Heat was definitely capable of winning the title, and if they had you would be reading countless articles how they would be destined to win five or six more. I’m glad that the team playing the best team basketball one the title. From a fundamental and execution standpoint they were most deserving.

The NBA is at a crossroads they could continue their path on to better entertainment value and product development. If this is the route they take we should expect a further lenience and freedom allotted the athletes to make even more spectacular and unbelievable moves befitting super heroes. The Heat, at least for a few years, can fulfill the role of the greatest show on hardwood.

Yet, maybe the commissioner isn’t too old to appreciate the true beauty of basketball and is capable of giving the fans a little credit for loving the game and not just the product. Maybe he can take advantage of the opportunities offered by the batch of new talent in the NBA who seem humble and dedicated to team basketball rather than hype and adoration. Maybe he can replace allegiance of players to their posse and agents with a dedication to their team and city.

If he looks around he can see much to build on. You have players such as Rose and Durant who seem to have humility and appreciation of their opportunities. You have young teams such as the Grizzlies, Bulls, Thunder and Nuggets which seem to respect their teammates and coaches and could further the original team spirit of the sport. Despite all the hype and egoism the last few championships have gone to teams who functioned as teams such as the Spurs, Celtics and Mavericks. Each of these teams despite their individual talents and experience fiercely dedicated to executing the plays and systems of their coaches.

I did not include the Lakers to the above list of teams because, despite the managerial talents of Phil Jackson, the Lakers at times seemed to be more like the Heat than the Mavericks and it is possible that the Heat will become the eastern version of showtime.

I will end this post by stating that I fear that David Stern will take the wrong road. His dictatorial approach seems to mimic that of his egotistic players. From a distance the actions of Stern have always seemed to be a little grandiose and self-serving. He seems to be more like Dwayne Wade and Lebron James than Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant.

From what I’ve seen Mr. Stern would be better fitted to be the manager of the Harlem Globetrotters or professional wrestling where his entertainment packaging priorities would be less damaging. This is not said out of hate of Mr. Stern but as a lover of the sport of basketball. Its hard enough for professional sports to survive the dangers of gambling, organized crime, agent and corporate greed. With these obstacles we do not need a commissioner whose major concern is marketing and public relations.

Jim Guido

Poetry and Psychology and Sports and Therapy12 Apr 2009 02:00 pm

When I was young I developed a strong love of physical activity and sports. Though small and rather un-athletic by nature I quickly developed formidable skills. My favorite sports were basketball and baseball. While size isn’t as important in baseball as basketball it still was a huge handicap in my youth. Before the age of 16 a lack of physical strength puts you at a huge disadvantage in most competitive sports such as baseball. As an example I was a very good pitcher and shortstop, but the lack of strength had to be compensated for in the speed of my pitches and my throws across the diamond.

Until people got to know me I was always discounted and viewed as an underdog in games and contests. I soon began to love shocking people and proving their perceptions of my abilities wrong. Instead of fearing competition, I always viewed it as an opportunity to succeed. In basketball I would use this to my advantage. My adversaries, being bigger and more athletic than I were supposed to win. I, therefore, had nothing to lose. When I had a chance to win I was excited by the possibility, my talented opponent, on the other hand, often choked on the pressure of the expectation that they win.

I was 4’8″ and 83 pounds when I went into high school. Though  I grew a foot in high school I remained very undersized in basketball and small for baseball. In baseball I became an excellent fielder and could throw the ball as far as anyone I played with. In pitching I had a wicked curve ball and a lot of other junk to compensate for my lack of a blazing fastball.

Yet, in both sports I flourished in competition. I practiced many hours and became sure of my skills and abilities. I relished the opportunity to make the big catch or get to the grounder in the hole, or to make the last shot or the decisive steal in a basketball game.

By the age of 12 my ability to hit the game winning shot earned me the nickname of “game”, for as the ball left my hand I would yell out “game” as the winning shot made its way to the basket. Did I make every game winning shot? Of course not. Yet, I did hit the majority of them and I always looked forward to taking the last shot as an opportunity for success.

My personal experience of the benefits of viewing crucial moments in sports as an opportunity for success rather than a potential failure has been validated by the experience of others. The fear of failure is at the heart of the term “choking” in sports. Those who feel the pressure of the moment are always bewailing their lack of success. One can often sense this tensing up and choking when watching an event of television. You can see the pressure on the faces of the players and in the hesitant manner in which they execute their plays.

Though my confidence and excitement at the prospect of succeeding powered me through all basketball contests through my college years it did fail me in much of my adult life. In baseball I was always confident and loose when it came to all skills except batting in which my fear of being injured by a pitch over rode my confidence of making the big hit. My fear of being hit by the ball limited my batting skills and I never excelled at that aspect of the game.

Likewise playing basketball as an adult became more of a social event, in which I became concerned with the reactions of others. So, in situations in which my teammates supported and believed in me I continued my old tradition of being a clutch player making the winning shot or defensive stop. Yet, my performance suffered when my teammates did not support or trust me.

The majority of my adult life I have spent my time working with “at risk” and problem oriented youth who have been removed their home and been placed in group homes or various other treatment facilities. In most of these children their is a tendency for them to focus on and perceive almost every performance situation as a failure. The more severe the child the quicker and more frequently they view themselves and their actions as failures. In a given situation they will panic or give up way before anyone else in the room even senses that a potential failure even exists.

Much of my efforts with these children revolves around having them see the positive side of possibilities. My goal is to replace performance anxiety and negative prophecy with a joy of opportunity. Instead of feeling failure, I try to engender an appreciation of identifying an opportunity for growth and improvement. Though it is true that we seldom learn without making mistakes and that personal growth is dependent on improvement, it is often hard for us to look at poor performances as an opportunity for future success and as a natural part of the growth process.

Yet, the growth in self esteem and success of the children I work with is often directly related to their ability to see social and academic performances as an opportunity for success rather than a breeding ground for failure. Once they no longer have the expectation or feel the pressure to be perfect, they are able to accept the assistance and benefit by the criticism of others.

In my personal life I’ve generally done a good job in terms of viewing personal mistakes and interpersonal conflicts as opportunities for growth rather than failures or dead ends. This willingness to not only accept but revel is life’s imperfecions and challenges has rendered me a relatively happy person. It allows me an opportunity to enjoy the endless process of improvement while keeping my expectations high.

While my personal and social life has been a constant source of joy and happiness I must admit my view of the world and humanity in general has lagged behind. Though it is easy for me to appreciate life’s imperfections it is hard for me to view the path of humanity in a positive light. Instead of seeing our mistakes and wicked policies as opportunities for learning I have a tendency to dwell on our inhumane acts and violence. I guess it is because I focus on what has been lost and what tragedy awaits our fear and stupidity rather than acknowledge what we’ve accomplished and what could be accomplished in the future. It is hard for me to accept mass murder, war, genocide and torture as bad decisions made by fears of failure and poor self esteem rather than evidence of impending doom. My trust of myself and individuals is far greater than my trust of groups and collectives. Many of the people I’ve worked with personally have engaged in actions as heinous as any government, yet I’ve been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I’ve been able to help instill a healthier view of themselves and others.

In modern capitalism you have a system which promotes and rewards such pernicious qualities as greed, wastefulness, self-centeredness, hatred, elitism, deception, exploitation, fear and mistrust. This is not to suggest that other social systems would be free of these qualities, but only to point out that our current system accentuates, fosters and rewards these characteristics.

It seems logical to me that we need to move towards a world in which its societies limit fear and a sense of failure by focusing on what we can gain rather than what we could lose. We need to build social structures which emphasize opportunity and personal growth and de-emphasize perfection and the prospect of failure.

Yet, maybe it is only I who needs to change and begin to see the opportunities the world is moving towards and focus less on the bad choices we have made.

One thing is for certain, and that is the areas for growth in terms of human society are vast.

The following lyric and song are pertinent to this topic.

Go to Music section and go to Opportunity Lost CD and click on mp3 icon to hear song.

Opportunity Lost

I’d like to feel a part of this life
I’d like to have a child, home and wife

Each time I settle down I gaze so far ahead
I see the pendulum swing this way and back again
I feel lonely riding the crest of the wave
‘Cuz my friends just keep bobbing left in its wake

Some like to dream others work till they drop
Some complain with zeal others swallow till they pop

If life’s a mystery than solution is such a chore
For what’s found ends the quest mystery demands more
I just love to smile feel the sun on my face
I wish the human race could be run at a comfortable pace

As the tidal wave approaches I move far ashore
I plead with my friends to fish no more
As I lie in bed awake yeah, feel my body aching
For I sense disaster coming soon

I stumble thru the darkness feel for the door
Hope the knock I hear is not just the winds mighty roar

Everybody’s fervent prayer hanging heavy in the air
If we try hard we can make it come true

Let the winds take you away don’t fight it now its OK
I pause to see what’s coming I shudder at opportunity lost

Let’s not waste our time with hating when we should be celebrating
I’ll share my fondest wish with you

Everybody’s fervent prayer hanging heavy in the air
If we try hard we can make it come true

Let’s not wast our time with hating when we should be celebrating
I’ll share my fondest wish wish with you