Welcome to The Blog About Nothing. It’s Friday the 15th of April and I’m here in New York listening to a rapper from Miami named Sylvan LaCue. I’ve been a fan of Sylvan’s since he went by the name QuESt and his Searching Sylvan mixtape which he released in 2014. Recently he released the album Far From Familiar which can be found on iTunes. So while I sit here listening to tracks like Loner, and Lisa Bonet, and hoping to find my own version of Ms. Bonet myself, I’ll craft together some words for your perusal. Sounds good? Let’s do this!
An end of an era took place this week in the National Basketball Association. Kobe Bryant has called it a career, and the Los Angeles Lakers guard gave his fans a treat in his last game dropping 60 points in a win against the Utah Jazz. The Lakers season is finally over, and while Wednesday night’s game ended the worst season in Lakers history, I would have to believe that people are focusing on Kobe’s 60 points and not the 17-65 record. It has to be noted that Kobe took 50 shots, and at times looked like a player that was at the end of a 20 year career but the electricity in Staples Center was something that may never be matched.
So kudos to Kobe Bryant. I have many memories of the 1996 NBA Draft. I was just finishing my freshman year of high school, and selfishly I was rooting for the Philadelphia 76ers to take Stephon Marbury at the #1 overall pick instead of Allen Iverson. I’m a Brooklyn boy. I had to root for the local in Stephon, but hindsight being what it is, the Sixers made the right choice. No knock on Stephon’s career but A.I. and the Sixers were the right move. The rest of that draft in hindsight was likely one of the deepest and talented drafts in NBA history. It produced MVP’s, and All-Stars but at the end of the day no one from that class stands higher than Kobe Bryant.
Five NBA titles. Two time NBA Finals MVP. NBA Most Valuable player in 2008. Eighteen time All-Star with four of those appearances ending with the MVP award. Eleven times on the All-NBA first team, nine time All-Defensive first team, et cetera et cetera. His bonafides on his Hall of Fame career speak for themselves. The funny thing is as I sit here is I can’t help but think where his career would have been if he did not end up in Los Angeles.
What if the New Jersey Nets took him at the 8th spot like they wanted to do instead of taking Kerry Kittles? Kobe’s agent Arn Tellem did everything he could to get his client to Los Angeles but what if the Nets called his bluff? Would the Nets still be in New Jersey instead of Brooklyn if they did? The Nets were not a good team when 1996 rolled around but a few years later they were in two consecutive NBA Finals. What if Kobe was playing with Jason Kidd instead of playing against Jason Kidd like he did in one of those Nets Finals appearances? It might have been a different story.
The same could be said for the team that did draft Kobe at the 13th spot in the draft: the Charlotte Hornets. Tellem informed the Hornets that Kobe playing for them was an impossibility and the Hornets engineered a trade that brought Vlade Divac out East and landed Kobe where he wanted to go in L.A. but what if the Hornets called the bluff? That 96-97 Hornets team went 54-28, but remember that after the draft Alonzo Mourning left for Miami. What if they kept Kobe and convinced Zo to stay? The Hornets might have contended for a title. They damn sure wouldn’t have ended up leaving to go to New Orleans, and an expansion team wouldn’t have ended up in Charlotte.
The influence Kobe Bryant had on the NBA is unmeasurable but you can’t help but think what if this morning. What if he and Shaq got along? What if they were able to put aside their differences for the good of the team? Maybe instead of retiring with five rings, he could have six, or seven, or more. The Lakers of Shaq and Kobe might not have won 60 games every season but come playoff time it was hard to beat the Lakers. When the Lakers didn’t win, it was because they beat themselves, but if those two really had that synergy? Might have been a much different NBA.
That’s the power of past tense and what if’s though. It’s fun to play that game in sports but what really counts is what happened. Kobe is done. Farewell Mamba and ignore fools like me and their rhetorical statements and questions. You left us with memories, and for that I say thank you.
Sticking with basketball, and for something that ended in 1996, I am a little saddened by the fact the Chicago Bulls record of 72-10 has fallen. That Bulls team in 1995-1996 was one of the best teams I have ever seen. Yes, people look back on that team and think Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but that team does not go 72-10 without the contributions of the entire team. Steve Kerr deserves credit for his 51% free throw shooting from the 3-point line, Toni Kukoc and his all-around game made him the third leading scorer on the team from the bench, Dennis Rodman was a beast on the boards, Ron Harper who scored a ton of points in previous stops with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers altered his game to be a conductor of Phil Jackson’s triangle offense and to be the big guard defender that both Michael and Scottie both needed.
I haven’t even mentioned big men like Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, John Salley, and James Edwards who came up big in games against Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon et al. The Bulls were a complete team that knew their roles, and got the job done. Defensively they were a monster, and on offense if Jordan didn’t kill you (and he rarely didn’t kill), then Scottie, or even Toni would have big nights. That team will go down as one of the best in the game, but they are not the best in the game.
Not anymore, anyway. The Golden State Warriors finished the season 73-9 and now possess the best regular season record in NBA history. Kudos to Steph Curry and company. Honestly though? I do not feel the same way about this Warriors team that I do for that Bulls team. I hate to be the old man that puts down the game of today, but I have to say this: that Bulls team was better, played in a tougher NBA, and they would kick this Warriors team’s ass. They would. Steph and company couldn’t match up but they have the record now. I’ll let better debaters than I prove my point, but all I will say to these Warriors is that they better win the title this season. If not? That 73-9 won’t mean a damn thing.
I don’t want to hear “oh they were tired from a demanding season”. That would be bullshit. The Bulls went 72-10 in the regular season and then went 15-3 in the playoffs on their way to the title. They swept their way through the first round and the conference finals. I’m not asking the Warriors to do the same, but they have to win. Anything less would make 73-9 meaningless. Absolutely meaningless.
Continuing with the theme of memories, April 15th marks sixty-nine years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. However, sixty-nine years later there are two teams that do not have any players who are African-American. The Atlanta Braves and the Colorado Rockies feature no African-American players. Unlike 1947, this is not due to racism, but due simply to the fact that the amount of African-American players are in decline. In addition to the Braves and Rockies, there are nineteen teams that feature two or fewer African-American players.
A more eye popping stat is that out of the 449 pitchers on major league opening day rosters, only fourteen were African-American. Fourteen! What happened to the days of Bob Gibson is beyond me. The fourteen African-American pitchers contain seven starters, and seven relievers. Four of the seven starters are in one division: the American League East.
While there are some talented African-American players in the minor leagues, and there will be some in upcoming drafts, the decline is real. Despite Major League Baseball taking the initiative to build the game in African-American communities, it is clear that baseball has been passed up by basketball, football, and even in soccer and track and field. Baseball isn’t a focus anymore and it’s sad. It’s such a simple game to play in underprivileged communities. A bat, a ball, a glove and a space to play. It’s really that simple.
I’m unsure what further steps Major League Baseball needs to take, but I hope the League and the individual teams do something. It’s a great game. One that needs to grow in all communities, but it absolutely cannot sit by and watch the game fade away among African-Americans. If it takes doing more, than do so, but they cannot let such an important community lose their love with baseball. They simply cannot. Jackie’s legacy would go for naught if they did.
That’s it. I’m done. Thank you for reading and for supporting 7Poundbag.
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