#01: What Did You Think Was Going To Happen?

Here we are. My second attempt at beginning this newsletter. I’ll detail exactly what happened with the first try of this newsletter in Hyphen Nation #35. But now, after a month, I think the time is right.

First feature of any I ONCE SCORED 100 POINTS WITH PENNY HARDAWAY newsletter will be my Song Of The Moment. In this edition, the honor goes to Usher with his 2004 song, “Superstar”, from his album Confessions. With everything that transpired in Oakland Monday, I think it’s a fitting selection. I still rank 8701 a wee bit higher than Confessions in my Usher rankings. Probably because still I’m jaded because Angel listened to Confessions before me and I was bitter. Hell, I’m still bitter.

Why I ONCE SCORED 100 POINTS WITH PENNY HARDAWAY? Because I did it. A long time ago on my Game Gear, on a game you may have heard of: NBA Action Starring David Robinson.

I may have had to play 12 minute quarters on Rookie mode and take every shot with Penny. But I did it and won easily. I tried to recreate this magic (pun intended) on NBA 2K13 while on the phone with my dad recently. I don’t even think I had 10 points by the time I hung up. Breaking the 100 point barrier in the NBA is next to impossible. To have done it on a Game Gear in the 90s… that’s at least noteworthy.

This brings me to the reason you’re here: the column. I’m trying to have a newsletter out every Tuesday with an exclusive column. The column won’t be posted on BHYPHEN.COM until the following Monday. So while it’s not 100 points in 48 minutes special, it’s still pretty damn cool. I’ll also be including some links to any recent original content I’ve produced as well.

I’ve always wanted to try the weekly column due to one person: Craig Wilson. For years, Mr. Wilson wrote a column for USA Today called The Final Word on Wednesdays. Dad would always bring home the Sports and Life sections for me to pour through in the evenings and even as I kid, I was in awe of what Mr. Wilson could do with a few hundred words every week. He retired in 2013 when USA Today offered him a buyout but his work left a lasting impact on me.

I ONCE SCORED 100 POINTS WITH PENNY HARDAWAY will be about a variety of topics, just like my normal pieces; just like the podcast. And normally, I won’t spend the first five hundred or so words of the column introducing the newsletter (for a second time; just keep an eye out for Hyphen Nation #35).

So without further ado, I give you I ONCE SCORED 100 POINTS WITH PENNY HARDAWAY for June 15, 2017.

The NBA has new champions and I have a few thoughts. I still haven’t made amends with Durantula for this mess he caused.

The Cavaliers did not have a second straight miracle in them. Steph Curry still hasn’t added a NBA Finals MVP trophy to his collection. Klay Thompson is just entering his prime. Draymond Green is that glue guy that championship contenders dream about adding to their squads in the offseason. Andre Iguodala filled in the blanks. Zaza is a bully and helped the Warriors sweep the Spurs in one step, intentional or unintentional. Steve Kerr came back to the bench and proved that the Knicks really should have hired him a few years back (I can’t remember if he went to GS before or after they hired Fisher). The role players did what they were supposed to when they were on the floor. David West slowed down the momentum in the second quarter of Game 5 and then spent the rest of the evening screaming into cameras and celebrating his first NBA Championship. Shaun Livingston continued to defy the odds as he added a second NBA Title to his resume, of course, only after he destroyed his knee years ago and everyone considered his career finished. And then there was Kevin Durant. Happy. Vindicated. Celebrating. To me, it didn’t look like he was experiencing the true “WE WON A CHAMPIONSHIP” moment. He looked like his job was finished. He was satisfied. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 4 games to 1 in the 2017 NBA Finals.

But who really expected anything different?

Durant took an opportunity that a lot of us have used whenever we play any video game: we put ourselves on our favorite NBA team. While I criticized KD on Hyphen​ Nation #18, the decision was simple: Durant wanted to play somewhere where he could have fun. Having to continue to shoulder the load in OKC with Russell Westbrook wasn’t cutting it anymore. Seeing James Harden blossom in Houston when he should have blossomed for a few more years in Oklahoma City had to be frustrating. I regularly play NBA 2K13 and OKC is always a championship contender for the 2012-13 season. But honestly, what room did Westbrook and Durant really have left to grow together?

While we didn’t know it, Games 5-7 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals represented the last opening that Oklahoma City had to win an NBA Championship. They conquered the Spurs; they were conquering the Warriors; and I truly believe they would have conquered the Cavs last year too. But then 4th quarter Klay happened in Game 6​. Steph happened. Westbrook kept missing. Durant kept missing. The game was over. Game 7 was an afterthought. And the Warriors​ moved on.

Game 4 of the NBA Finals almost felt like the universe rewarding the Cavs for losing Game 3. The hype train started building, except there was a distinct lack of Undertaker shirts from LeBron this season. Mostly because he saw the writing on the wall after Game 3. His postgame comments sounded like a concession speech.. Game 4 only seemed to happen to prevent another Finals sweep for King James while Game 5 was the coronation day that Durant and the Warriors had been expecting since last July.

Five years ago, Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City Thunder watched​ LeBron James and the Miami Heat celebrate his first NBA Championship at their expense in five games. Last night LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers watched Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors celebrate his first NBA Championship at their expense in five games. I believe that James Harden could have been a difference in that series in 2012. Despite their fantastic journey to the championship last season, I didn’t think that any player on the Cavs could have make the difference against the Warriors this season. Even though I jokingly (nah, I believed it) said the Cavs with sweep Golden State in 4 on Facebook.

In an alternate reality, Kevin Durant hurts his knee against the Washington Wizards several months ago and is out for the rest of the season. The Warriors and Cavs still face off in the NBA Finals and things could have been different. But the Warriors lust for revenge this year would have been too much for Cleveland to handle even without Durant. Even with LeBron playing some of the best basketball of his career in the playoffs. Even if Kyrie doesn’t have nagging injuries that cause the Kyrie hurt face all through Game 5. Even if Kyle Korver doesn’t turn into a liability all throughout the series. Even if Kevin Love knocks down all the threes he missed in the first three games. Even if Draymond gets himself suspended from Game 5…

That’s a little too much but you get the idea. The Warriors didn’t need Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant didn’t need the Warriors. But they did come to a mutual decision to work together for the benefit of both parties and the Warriors have won 2 out of the last 3 NBA Championships.

In a few years, the sting of this will be looked at like LeBron playing in Miami is now, as another era in the NBA’s long history. Durant could retire a Warrior or end up at another organization before it’s all said and done, just like LeBron. There’s no denying his impact in the playoffs and especially the Finals. The idea that KD didn’t earn his ring is ludicrous. He just made the best decision to give himself the opportunity to win the ring. And all his critics (including myself) have to be quiet for now.

And that leaves us with LeBron James. He took his game to another level in these playoffs and it still wasn’t enough. As is par for the course, he has been criticized at every single step. He’s the first player to average a triple-double in the NBA Finals and that guy who shall not be named who works for Fox Sports will still claim he can’t get it done. If Korver had hit that 3-pointer, the series would still be going on. Durant took a low-percentage shot at the end of Game 3 and he made it. But that’s LeBron’s fault. His teammates were ice cold in the third quarters of Games 1 and 2 but King James shoulders the blame. Michael Jordan never played in an elimination game in the Finals but LeBron has been in 11. Can we please let LeBron live?

LeBron said after Game 5 that he needed to “figure this out”. What did Michael have to figure out? I love MJ’s undefeated Finals record and the 6 championships and the fact that he never played in an elimination game but LeBron has faced way tougher competition. Let’s break down the opponents who could have beat the Bulls from the West in the 90s:

  • Portland Trail Blazers (1990-91): Lost to the Lakers in the West Finals despite finishing with the league’s best record. They also swept the Bulls in the regular season (2-0). The Lakers were on their last hurrah and made it to the Finals because they were more experienced than all the other teams in the West. The Blazers realized this too late and lost 4-2. Coming off losing the Finals in 1990 to the Detroit Pistons, I don’t know if the Bulls breakthrough in ‘91 with Portland across the hardwood. By the time the matchup happened in ‘92, the Bulls had a title under their belts and possibly the best version of Jordan in any of their playoff runs. The repeat was inevitable then.
  • Phoenix Suns (1992-93) This team should keep Charles Barkley up at night. The Suns were the league’s best team in the regular season but they wore themselves out by not closing out teams in the playoffs. They had to come back in round one against the Lakers, then battled San Antonio and Seattle to 6 and 7 games respectively. The Suns had played 21 games by the time the ‘93 Finals tipped off. The Bulls had played 13. If the Suns won Game 6 I think they could have beat the Bulls. But MJ’s 41 PPG and John Paxson saw to the end of that.
  • Houston Rockets (‘93-’95): They won back-to-back championships but the Bulls were trying to find themselves again both seasons (without Jordan and then with returning Jordan). Even if the Bulls with MJ in ‘94 beat the Knicks (assuming the East seeding is the same) and the Pacers, they don’t beat Olujuwon 4 times in the Finals. And the outcome is the same for Chicago when they meet the Magic in 1995. Of course, MJ was in Birmingham until March of 1995 and then he spent the rest of the NBA season wearing the wrong number. The SuperSonics were the better team by ‘96 (who never had a shot to beat the Bulls in any season) and then Houston’s attempt to pair Dream/Drexler/Barkley didn’t work out in later seasons.

And that’s the only true teams that I think could have beat the Bulls in the Finals. That’s excluding all the Eastern Conference what ifs or the fact that none of Chicago’s game clinching wins were assured until the final minutes other than ‘92 and ‘96. LeBron has been to 8 Finals and faced San Antonio (3x), Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Golden State (3x). No cupcakes.

The bottom line here for me is this: Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time. But if I ask my friend Lane, he’s going to say LeBron. He’s also 22. He didn’t see Jordan play in his lifetime just like I never saw Kareem or Wilt or Russell or the Logo, etc. play in my lifetime. But just for the love of the game:

  1. Jordan
  2. Larry Bird
  3. LeBron James
  4. Bill Russell
  5. Wilt Chamberlain

LeBron James didn’t lose to the Golden State Warriors alone. The Cleveland Cavaliers did as a team. Just like the Warriors won the NBA Championship as a team. But here’s my best summary of the entire series. In Avengers, Tony Stark returns to Stark Tower to discover Loki waiting on him. Stark is trying to buy his teammates time so he engages Loki in some friendly banter. At one point, Loki refers to his side as having “an army”. Tony counters with, “We have a Hulk.” In this scenario, the Cavs are Loki and the Warriors are Tony:

Cavs: We have a LeBron.
Warriors: We have a Durant.

Durantula came to Oakland to win a championship and he did just that. Now it’s up to the rest of the league to figure out how to keep it from happening not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4…. more times in the coming seasons.

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