Three Great Quotes And Some Thoughts About the 2006 PlayoffsThe 2006 NBA Playoffs were tremendous from start to finish, featuring great individual and team performances. We will no doubt be talking about this postseason for years to come. If this were a TV show, now would be the time to run one of those "sights and sounds" of the playoffs pieces. Instead, here are my three favorite 2006 playoffs quotes and some observations about Miami's championship and what it might mean historically.
Best 2006 NBA Playoffs Quotes:
"They're not the big, bad wolf and we're not the three little pigs."--LeBron James after his Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Detroit Pistons to take a 3-2 series lead. In one sentence, James summarized why the Cavaliers were able to push the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions to the brink of elimination: he was not the slightest bit afraid of them and he convinced his teammates to feel the same way (at least until game seven...). What I will remember the most about this year's playoffs is gathering around James with other members of the media for his pre-game standup before game three of the Cleveland-Detroit series. Detroit had just annihilated the Cavaliers in the first two games and what struck me was that James really believed that Cleveland could win two games at home and even the series. Indiana Pacers scout Kevin Mackey once told me that only by seeing a player in person can you get a sense of his presence/dominance. My sense of LeBron James at that moment was that either he was delusional or he knew something about himself and/or his team that no one else knew. He believed in himself and he got the rest of his team to believe in themselves--it was simply awesome to watch his game blossom during the playoffs and just a taste of things to come for him.
"Playoff basketball is war and hell. We go to war and give them hell."--Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan after Washington's game two win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Politically incorrect? Certainly, as is any comparison of a sporting event to war when our soldiers are putting their lives on the line every day around the world. Sometimes these kind of statements pass without mention and sometimes (like the recent situation involving a World Cup soccer player) they create an uproar. Jordan said this right after the game concluded and it was clear that in the heat of the moment he was not making a literal comparison of basketball to war but simply trying to explain the tremendous willpower and determination that it takes to win in the playoffs. After 9/11 we went through a brief period when songs referring to fire or bombs were not played on the radio and we were careful to not make sports=war analogies but the total effort of mind, body and spirit that it takes to win in any competitive endeavor inevitably lends itself to such analogies, even though we all know that they are not literally true.
"You guys probably don’t know what an octagon is. But it’s something that belongs in an octagon. If you want to train and hop in an octagon, we can train and hop in an octagon. That’s not basketball."--Kobe Bryant describing Raja Bell's clothesline against him in game five of the Phoenix Suns-L.A. Lakers series. I rarely watch ultimate fighting, but I liked this quote because it showed Bryant's humor and determination at the same time. He said it with a big smile but--like Magic Johnson's smile and Michael Jordan's smile--you know that underneath that smile Bryant would go into an octagon against anybody and believe with all his heart that he would win. The basketball court is not the right place for that, though. This made me think of something that Isiah Thomas once said. He talked about being at a banquet with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird after all three of them were retired. Magic and Bird, each standing 6-9, towered over Thomas, generously listed at 6-1. Thomas' Pistons beat Magic's Lakers in the 1989 Finals and beat Bird's Celtics in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals and he claims to have a personal winning record against both players and Michael Jordan (I'm not sure if he is referring simply to playoff series or all games played). In the heat of battle (another war comparison...) against those guys he never thought of himself as small but at the banquet Thomas thought to himself, "(Expletive deleted), they're big!" A true competitor hops into the octagon at a moment's notice and never thinks about the odds. Kobe was just trying to give a light hearted answer but we all know that humor contains a grain of truth.
Thoughts About Miami's Championship:
1) I correctly predicted the outcome of 10 of the 15 series. As some readers are certain to point out, three of my incorrect picks involved the Miami Heat. In retrospect I should have stuck with my preseason Eastern Conference predictions, when I tabbed Miami as the best team in the East (albeit with some reservations). I was never completely sold on Miami or Detroit from the start of the year but for most of the season I did not see anyone in the East who could beat them. Detroit's regular season record did not convince me that the Pistons would win the title because I thought that the Pistons would lose to the first sufficiently disciplined team that they faced. Miami struggled to beat good teams--let alone division leaders--all season. When New Jersey came on in the second half of the season the Nets seemed like just the team to knock off Miami and Detroit; the Nets played good defense and had three great perimeter players who could attack the paint. I guess New Jersey's struggles against the Indiana Pacers in the first round should have been a warning sign, but I thought back to the 1993 Phoenix Suns who almost lost in the first round but made it to the NBA Finals.
2) I have consistently maintained that Shaquille O'Neal had to win a championship with the Miami Heat to justify the $20 million a year that they are paying him--anything less would be a failure and he would be the first to admit that. Now I must say that, even if O'Neal never plays another game, signing him was worth it.
3) Many people will look at O'Neal's departure from the L.A. Lakers and say that since it has proven to be a good deal for Miami that it must be considered a mistake by the Lakers. I disagree. I have always said that this was a short term deal for Miami but a long term one for the Lakers. We would find out quickly if the deal worked for Miami, because O'Neal is near the end of his career--for him and the team, it was championship or bust. The Lakers are rebuilding around Kobe Bryant, who has many elite level seasons left unless he suffers a serious injury. If Bryant leads the Lakers to a title at some point then the deal worked out for them as well. The simple fact is that for financial reasons Lakers owner Jerry Buss would not have kept both O'Neal and Bryant unless O'Neal accepted a shorter contract than the one Miami gave him. If Buss would have given O'Neal a longer deal then he would have had to let Bryant sign with another team. O'Neal is barely a 20-10 player now and would not have gotten the Lakers anywhere close to a championship without Bryant, just like he would not have gotten the Heat anywhere close to a championship without a superb performance by Dwyane Wade.
4) Despite what I just said about O'Neal's diminishing skills, he had an importance in the Finals victory that belies his rather pedestrian statistics. Dallas had to double-team him regularly and/or foul him, the latter of which put the Heat in the bonus and added to Wade's free throw attempts. Since the Mavericks had to pay so much attention to O'Neal they were never able to get a handle on Wade; you cannot double-team two players and leave one guy guarding three people. The difference between O'Neal now and O'Neal a few years ago is that back then he could score 35-40 points against double-teams while still creating opportunities for his teammates. Now, he cannot play as many minutes as he did then or be so dominant, so he simply accepts the double-team and makes the correct pass.
Bottom line: Miami would not have won without O'Neal, but the Lakers would not have won with him minus Kobe Bryant; O'Neal has every right to feel good about what he has accomplished, but the Lakers may also get a championship out of the deal as well.
posted by David Friedman @ 11:58 PM