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Running of the Bulls . . .

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The Miami Heat should be thankful that the Chicago Bulls ended their winning streak.

Now they can put the focus on where it should have been in the first place and that is in repeating as NBA Champions.

The Heat players seemed to have been caught in the frenzy created by the media’s constant barrage of coverage and comparison to the record of thirty-three consecutive wins set by the 72 Los Angeles Lakers.

Heat’s president Pat Riley, who was a member of that 72 team, avoided commenting on the streak. Perhaps he, like most of us, realized that nothing less than a championship would be considered a wasted season.

The prognosticators got this one right. They predicated that either the Bulls or the San Antonio Spurs had a legitimate shot to end Miami’s streak.

Miami’s coach, Erik Spoelstra, along with members of his staff can now fix glaring weaknesses that have cropped up during the streak. His team’s penchant for falling behind early in games finally caught up to them.

He warned his team of the dogfight they would encounter in Chicago, as the Bulls jumped out to an early lead from the gate. The lead wasn’t  insurmountable when compared to 27 points they were down in Boston,  but the short-handed Bulls simply refused to relinquish it.

“It was never about the streak,” Spoelstra admonished. “It’s about, are we getting better?”

Apparently not, if you take into account that during the streak, Miami played from behind 11 times, entering the fourth quarter. There would be no late game heroics from LeBron James. No mock interviews from Dwayne Wade after the game. No joyful and playful interview interruptions by Chris Bosh.

Losing streaks can be nerve-racking, but winning streaks can have the same effect as well.  Evident by James’ frustration over the officiating and what he considered to be aggressive and unnecessary hard fouls by Bulls’ players.

If the Heat are to hoist another, Larry O’Brien trophy, then they should acknowledge the streak for what it was, just a serendipitous distraction on the way to the ultimate prize.

Bradley Booth/Freelance Commercial Writer/Author

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Ubuntu . . . I Am, Because We Are

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The literal translation of an idea rooted in African spirituality that means we are all connected, we cannot be ourselves without community, faith and health are always lived out among others, and an individual’s well being is interdependent on the well being of others.

This deep rooted philosophy is what Doc Rivers, the coach of the 2008 N.B.A. World Champions Boston Celtics instilled in the second installment of the Big Three, a label they resist being called in deference to the original threesome of Bird, McHale, and Parish.

Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett now share what has eluded them for most of their careers . . . a NBA title.

The Boston Celtics obliterated the Los Angeles Lakers by 39 points ending a 22 year drought and claiming this storied franchise 17th title.

Arguably the best player, Kobe Bryant, at least on this night was no match for the combination of the Big Three. One man . . . simply was not going to beat . . . the best team.

“They were definitely the best defense I’ve seen the entire playoffs,” Bryant said. “I’ve seen some pretty stiff ones and this was right up there with them. The goal was to win a championship, it wasn’t to win MVP or anything like that, it was to win a championship.”

While it may be true that most championship teams are built around great players, they also must have a supporting cast that can contribute as well. A decisive edge in this series was the contribution of the Celtics’ bench versus the Lakers.

Perhaps Phil Jackson summed it up best, having been denied an opportunity to pass Red Auerbach, the man who had a hand in Boston’s first 16 titles, nine as a coach and seven in the front office . . . “We have to get some players if we’re going to come back and repeat, to have that kind of aggressiveness that we need.”

Doc Rivers, who many thought would be outcoached by Jackson . . . borrowed the word “Ubuntu” to preach a team concept that predicated on unselfish play and stifling defense.His players not only bought into it, but bonded with him because of it.

“This is the reason we came here,” Garnett said. “This is the reason we got together, and Danny made it go down. This is it right now.”

Buying into Doc Rivers’ philosophy is what enabled the Big Three . . . to harness their individual skills and accomplishments to be role models and mentors for the rest of team.

“We sacrificed so much of what we did throughout our careers to get to this point because we’ve done everything we’ve been able to do individually, won all type of awards, but never made it to the mountaintop,” Pierce said. “It’s like a breath of fresh air.”

The road to the title was not an easy one for the Celtics, having been pushed to a 7th game by Atlanta and Cleveland, before dispatching the Detroit Pistons in six. With many of their players saddled with a variety of injuries, other members of the team stepped up and contributed.

“We had bumps along the road. There was frustration,” Allen said. “But we always came back to each other as a team, and to finally win this and prove we’re the best in the NBA this year, everything we went through was definitely worth it. We know exactly what it takes to be the best.”

Doc Rivers pulled Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett with four minutes remaining in the game. Pierce immediately went over to Doc and gave him an emotional embrace . . . Allen and Garnett soon followed.

“They came in as a group, and I thought we should take them out as a group,” Rivers said. “They all said, ‘Thank you,’ and I said, ‘Thank you’ back.

But Pierce had yet another reason to thank his coach. As the longest tenured player on this Celtics team, he thanked Rivers for sticking with him.

After the debacle of last year in which Doc had almost been run out of town, for compiling a record of 24 wins and 58 losses, Rivers thanked Pierce for sticking with him as well.

In the waning moments of the game, Doc Rivers reflected on his dad. By the time he had received the Larry O’Brien Trophy, it was June 18—his late father’s birthday.

“My first thought was what would my dad say,” Rivers said, “and honestly I started laughing because I thought he would probably say, if you knew my dad, ‘It’s about time. What have you been waiting for?’”

As Boston’s faithful and diehard fans celebrate the end of a 22 year drought . . .

Somewhere in the hallow halls of the Boston Garden . . . Red Auerbach is lighting up a cigar and wondering that as well.

Bradley Booth/Freelance Commercial Writer/Author

David Stern’s Sour Grapes . . .

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N.B.A. Commissioner David Stern has a marquee matchup in the 2008 finals. Whether or not the series between the Celtics and Lakers will go seven games, at least in the public’s mind, won’t depend on the players, but how the game is officiated based on what the league wants.

John Lauro, the lawyer for Tim Donaghy (the referee who pleaded guilty to conspiring with gamblers) claimed that a 2002 and 2005 playoff series were manipulated to go seven games. He further alleges that according to his client this was done at the behest of the league.

There is no evidence to corroborate Mr. Donaghy’s claims, but in a letter filed in federal court, his lawyer also asserts that N.B.A. executives generally encourages referees to ring up bogus fouls and discouraged them from calling technical fouls on star players.

This disparaging blight on a league that prided itself for being far from the reach of organized gambling can’t be so easily washed away.

On Tuesday, the same day John Lauro made his claims, Stern met with reporters in an attempt to discredit Donaghy’s allegations.

“He picks his spots, figures the N.B.A. finals game in L.A., he’ll file it today,” Stern said. “And then all you guys will come running in breathlessly to see whether there’s something new that the N.B.A. should respond to from a convicted felon who really violated probably the most sacred trust in sports.

“He’s a desperate man,” Stern continued, “and he’ll make whatever allegation he can at the most propitious time, somehow, I think, to manipulate the process.”

He labeled Donaghy as a “singing, cooperating witness,” who will do just about anything to save his neck.

The commissioner does have a valid point, but the perception that N.B.A. series are scripted have been building for years. One only has to look back at the Charles D. Smith incident. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were swiping at the ball for what seem like an eternity. Contact was made as Smith missed four consecutive shots, yet no foul had been called.

What basketball aficionado never suspected or at least entertained the thought that the league had a different set of officiating rules for Jordan?

These allegations are the most serious that have been leveled at the N.B.A. during David Stern’s tenure. He would like nothing better than for this stain to go away.

But the public—wary from Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Floyd Landis, Roger Clemens, and what may or may not have happen with the New England Patriots . . . simply have had enough. Their confidence shaken by other sports participants’ misdeeds, are willing to breathe life into the reality that the N.B.A. encourages its officiating staff to manipulate the game in order to boost ratings.

David Stern’s blustery dismissal that all these allegations are sour grapes from an admitted felon has not done anything to restore the public’s confidence.

The more he denies them, the more impetus it gives the populace to believe that their credible.

Commissioner Stern should take note here.

“Most lies have some basis of truth, although distorted by the speaker to a desirable end.”

If these allegations are indeed sour grapes as David Stern purports, he should crush them by having an independent investigation of the entire officiating process. In doing so, he will have taken the first step in removing this blot and restoring the public’s confidence in the N.B.A.

Bradley Booth/Freelance Commercial Writer/Author

 

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