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Friday, December 20, 2019

Antetokounmpo's Bucks Make A Statement Versus the L.A. Lakers

Not all regular season games are created equal. A game that could be a Conference Finals preview or an NBA Finals preview carries a little bit more weight than other games do. Everyone knows this, even if some people try to minimize it or deny it. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the L.A. Lakers 111-104 on Thursday night to maintain the best record in the league, 25-4. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks in scoring (34 points on 11-19 field goal shooting), rebounds (11) and assists (seven). Anthony Davis scored a game-high 36 points (on 11-25 field goal shooting) for the Lakers, while LeBron James posted a triple double (21 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) but had a -14 plus/minus number--and one cannot escape the impression that James often plays with at least one eye on his individual box score numbers, as opposed to figuring out whatever his team needs for him to do to win a particular game.

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the two best players in the NBA right now, but they are a study in contrasts in many ways. James has been hyped--and hyped himself--as the "Chosen One"--since he was in high school, and he was the number one pick in the 2003 NBA Draft; most NBA fans had probably never heard of Antetokounmpo before the Bucks drafted him 15th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. James is a 17 year veteran who has won three championships, but he has changed teams three times to chase those rings while functioning as a de facto general manager; Antetokounmpo is a seven year veteran who has yet to play in the NBA Finals (James made it to the Finals once in his first seven seasons and his team was swept) but, so far, Antetokounmpo has shown no interest in jumping ship or in trying to build a so-called super team: instead, he has focused on improving his own game, and on bringing out the best in the teammates he has.

Many people believe that James built an unstoppable one-two punch by enticing Davis to force his way out of New Orleans, and the Lakers have looked powerful so far this season--but Antetokoumpo, with no superstar teammate, outdueled James and James' handpicked teammate.

I saw Antetokounmpo play in person for the first time earlier this year as Milwaukee beat Cleveland, and I must say that he is even more impressive in person than he is on TV (which is usually the case with great players, because there are nuances to their games that TV often does not capture). Antetokounmpo's combination of length, speed and deceptive strength make him a matchup nightmare at both ends of the court. He fully deserved to win the MVP last season, and he is even better this season. Antetokounmpo plays hard, he does not throw his coach under the bus, he lifts up his teammates, and he maintains a nice balance of playing with intensity without losing control of his emotions. He has been a very good playoff performer, but the next step for him is to elevate both his game and his team's level of play during the postseason crucible; I believe that he can and will do both of those things, but those are the next challenges for Antetokounmpo.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:47 AM


Monday, December 16, 2019

Three-Time ABA Executive of the Year Carl Scheer Leaves Behind a Lasting Legacy in Two Leagues

Carl Scheer, a three-time ABA Executive of the Year (1973, 1975-76), passed away on Friday December 13 at the age of 82. In ABA/NBA history, only Jerry Colangelo has won more Executive of the Year awards (four) than Scheer did. Scheer hired future Hall of Famer Larry Brown for Brown's first professional head coaching job with the Carolina Cougars in 1972. In 1980, when Scheer was with the Denver Nuggets after the ABA/NBA merger, he traded for future Hall of Fame player Alex English.

Perhaps best known for his leading role in adding the Slam Dunk Contest to the ABA's 1976 All-Star Game festivities--which became the precursor for the All-Star Weekend extravaganza that now includes the Three Point Contest, the Legends Brunch, and more--Scheer had a diverse, five decade career as a sports executive during which he also was involved with minor league hockey and the construction of a sports arena in Greenville, S.C.

Scheer was not only the most decorated executive in ABA history, but he also played a major role in the inaugural season of the Charlotte Hornets in 1988-89 as the franchise's first president and general manager. Scheer selected Dell Curry for Charlotte in the expansion draft. Curry became the franchise's all-time leading scorer (a record since broken by Kemba Walker).

Scheer was a lawyer by training, and he was widely respected and admired. Harold Kaufman, the Hornets' public relations director during the expansion years, said, "Anyone talking to Carl thought they were the most important person in the world. He made you feel good about yourself. He motivated through positive reinforcement. You just didn't want to let him down."

Scheer made an immediate and lasting impact on the ABA. He won the first of his three ABA Executive of the Year awards after his Carolina Cougars posted the ABA's best regular season record (57-27) in 1972-73 before losing in the Eastern Division Finals. During the previous season as the General Manager of the Cougars, Scheer presented the game ball to Larry Miller after Miller set the ABA's single game scoring record. Scheer won back to back Executive of the Year awards in 1975-76 as his Denver Nuggets posted the second best regular season record in ABA history in 1975 (65-19) and then had a second consecutive 60 win season (60-24) before losing to Julius Erving's New York Nets in the league's last Finals.

In 1976, the ABA All-Star Game was played in Denver, and Scheer's Nuggets beat a team comprised of the best players from the rest of the league's franchises. This would prove to be the ABA's final season, and Scheer made sure that the season would never be forgotten by spicing up the All-Star festivities with the first official Slam Dunk Contest, featuring eventual winner Julius Erving facing off against David Thompson, Artis Gilmore, George Gervin and Larry Kenon. The footage of Erving soaring from the free throw line on his final dunk will live forever as one of the most iconic images in basketball history. The NBA tried to destroy the ABA and tear apart the league's legacy--over 40 years after the merger, the NBA still stubbornly refuses to provide official recognition to ABA statistics, in marked contrast to the NFL's official recognition of AFL statistics--but the seed that Scheer planted during the 1976 ABA All-Star Game blossomed into what has now become NBA All-Star Weekend; the NBA did not immediately embrace the concept, but when Denver hosted the NBA All-Star Game in 1984 Scheer--who was still the Nuggets' general manager--helped convince the league to hold a Slam Dunk Contest for the first time, and in the ensuing years the All-Star Weekend's side events became an essential part of the overall event. I had the privilege of covering the NBA All-Star Weekend six times (2005-2010) and I witnessed firsthand how it is a celebration of basketball's past, present and future.

Scheer was an enthusiastic innovator whose ideas and teams brought joy to many fans for several decades.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:10 PM