TELANDER: It’s old school vs. new school in NBA Finals
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org June 8, 2013 7:12PM
The Heat’s LeBron James beats the Spurs’ Tim Duncan for a layup in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. James might be the most athletic large player in NBA history, but Duncan has won four titles to James’ one. | Getty Images
Updated: July 10, 2013 6:40AM
The NBA Finals move along without a Chicago rooting interest, of course.
That possibility vanished as the Derrick Rose Spring Rehab Tease dragged into farce, then dust. D-Rose will be back on the floor for the Bulls for 2013-14, right?
At any rate, something to think about as you watch the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat go at it is this: Spurs star Tim Duncan went to college for four years, while Heat star LeBron James came to the NBA straight out of high school.
The certain first-ballot Hall of Famers are, in a sense, the benchmarks at the ends of the graph retiring commissioner David Stern long has thought describes the best and worst aspects of the NBA. That is, Stern would like every player to be a Duncan: Come into the league at 21 or 22 after spending four years at a major educational institution (Wake Forest, in Duncan’s case) to sand off your rough edges, to socialize and inform you and to teach you the fundamentals and teamwork skills you’ll need as a pro.
James had to learn most of that on the fly as ‘‘The Chosen One,’’ a teenage idol with more money than a hedge-fund mogul. James has had some false starts — ‘‘The Decision’’ being the most idiotic — but he has turned out to be a good guy, one who represents Stern’s prized league well.
But things didn’t turn out so merrily for many other high school phenoms who came straight into the NBA. Or even for those players who did the one-and-done college thing, being forced by the league
to use college as a book-free steppingstone.
One other thing Stern — and his successors — would be happy never to see again is rich players, such as James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, colluding to make one organization into a ‘‘superteam.’’ The bosses hate it when the workers take control.
† OHIO STATE PRESIDENT E. Gordon Gee, he of the bow tie and the mouth that will say anything, has announced he will be stepping down from his position at that mighty Big Ten sports institution.
Gee, 69, is the fellow who once said he hoped former Buckeyes football coach Jim Tressel wouldn’t fire him and most recently stated that Catholic priests are a little nuts on Thursdays and Fridays and ‘‘those damn Catholics can’t
He is stepping down, of course, to spend more time with his family. That is the favored phrase of those being run out of town. But the part I like best is that he wants to spend more time with his identical-twin granddaughters — and his girlfriend. This guy does march to his own beat.
† BACK TO THE NBA.
James is the four-time most valuable player of the league and by far the most athletic large player in history to set foot on the hardwood, but he wants to be among the greatest as far as achievements, too.
To do that, he must win NBA titles, not individual trophies. Team titles are how we ultimately measure greatness. And we scrutinize how great players perform in the biggest series.
While with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James stumbled in the 2007 Finals against the Spurs. In his first season with the Heat, he played poorly in the 2011 Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. He has won one championship (last season) but has lost two Finals.
Michael Jordan won six titles and never lost in the Finals. Indeed, Jordan never played in a seventh game.
Duncan, who is 4-for-4 in Finals so far, might be 37 and ready to retire, but the clock really is ticking for the 28-year-old James.
† FREE-AGENT QUARTERBACK JaMarcus Russell worked out for the Bears on Friday at Halas Hall. Russell hasn’t played in the NFL for almost four years after bombing out in 25 starts for the Oakland Raiders.
A former LSU star and the most valuable player of the 2007 Sugar Bowl, Russell was the first overall pick of the 2007 NFL draft. To say his career was a bust would be an understatement. He held out as a rookie, never seemed to understand what he was doing afield and never seemed to make discipline a priority.
In 2009, his last season in the league, he finished with the lowest quarterback rating, lowest completion percentage and fewest passing yards among qualifying quarterbacks. He recently decided he wants to turn his football image around, but all he really can serve as is one more example of figuring life out too late.
The scariest thing? He supposedly lost about 50 pounds recently, yet he weighed in at 267 pounds for the Bears.