Saturday, May 19

Heat unable to win from within

This started as an attempt to find sports articles from the early 90's to build a case against the seemingly-phantom injuries conjured by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James after poor playoff performances. Maybe they're real, maybe they're exaggerations - the point is that LeBron's elbow "tingling" provided the perfect excuse for a playoff collapse in 2010, and Wade's knee (?), that wasn't an issue until now, suddenly was a factor in his 2-13 shooting performance Thursday night.

I never found the article for which I was searching, specifically regarding the playoff game (I think it was 1993) where Michael Jordan had a severe wrist injury and was not expected to play. Instead, he came out wearing nothing but his usual black tape around his wrist and proceeded to apply his customary playoff ass-beating to the Knicks. No excuses. Just a gutsy performance by perhaps the greatest competitor and basketball player who ever lived.

What my search uncovered instead was an excerpt of chapter one from "The Jordan Rules" by Sam Smith. This chapter describes, in detail, the seven games of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and the "Bad Boy" Pistons.

After the first two games of the series -- a pair of 9-point Pistons victories -- Jordan was visibly upset with his teammates.

"I looked over and saw Horace [Grant] and Scottie [Pippen] screwing around, joking and messing up," Jordan told an acquaintance later. "They've got the talent, but they don't take it seriously."
The Bulls went on to win three games in the series and force a game seven. To remind those whose memories are not fresh enough to remember the details of a game played 22 years ago, Scottie Pippen went 1 of 10 for two points. In fact, it "was the second straight year he'd vanished in the last game against the Pistons." The Bulls lost that game 93-74. Not counting the year Jordan unretired just a month before the playoffs began in 1995, this would be the last playoff series that Jordan and Pippen would lose as teammates.

Before Pippen was a member of the Dream Team, one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, and a member of the basketball Hall of Fame, he was a talented but immature player being called out by the greatest player in the NBA.

Michael Jordan, faults aside, possessed the rare combination of talent, drive, ambition, poise, and leadership. When he stepped onto the court, he demanded perfection out of himself and his teammates.

To call out a player with the talent level of Scottie Pippen, that's something remarkable.

The only way a talented player of Pippen's caliber is going to respond to peer criticism is if that criticism is from one of the best players of all time. A player like Michael Jordan.

Unfortunately, the pendulum often swings the other way. If the undisputed talent is an immature, non-poised player, then the remainder of the team slowly erodes.

This is not an indictment against LeBron James, but rather an exploration of parallel careers where the roles of Jordan and Pippen are reversed and projected into LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

In 2006 Dwyane Wade willed the Miami Heat to the NBA Championship in one of the most unlikely playoff runs in recent memory. Poise seeped from his pores and a god-like aura surrounded his every move. He didn't dance and mock his opponent after each play. He accepted what the refs called, and did not cry after each drive to the basket. He played hard and did not resort to cheap shots and get caught up in subplots. He played the game as pure and perfect as any individual player since Michael Jordan held his hand high for a few extra seconds as his last NBA Finals shot swished the net in game 6 against the Jazz.

Injuries and terrible management decisions derailed the Heat for the next four years, but in the summer of 2010 the only player in the NBA who is more of an alpha dog than Dwyane Wade joined the Heat. The only guy whose personality and influence meant more to the surrounding team than Wade's. The only guy whose mere presence could change the personality of a team and its (previous) best player. In the summer of 2010, LeBron James joined the Miami Heat.

Since then, we have witnessed a different Dwyane Wade. He famously celebrated prematurely in game two of the 2011 NBA Finals after hitting a three with 7:14 remaining to give Miami a 15-point lead. That was the start of an epic collapse. Later that series, Wade and LeBron publicly mocked Dirk Nowitzki in a classless display of immaturity.

Wade's downfall has been worse in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Indiana Pacers. First he threw a shoulder into Darren Collison from behind in what could have been a very dangerous cheap shot. Then he got caught up in the celebration by the Pacers, bothering him enough to comment on it during the postgame press conference. In game three of the same series, Wade completely disappeared in a LeBron-esque/1990-Pippen sort of manner. Instead of taking responsibility, his knee is suddenly and mysteriously a factor.

Collectively, the Miami Heat are a present-day example of the reason why Michael Jordan called out Scottie Pippen 22 years ago. The backward parallels between this team and the 90's Bulls are unmistakable. With Wade no longer being the undisputed best player on the Heat, LeBron's immature personality will forever hinder this team from winning its first of at least eight promised championships.

In short, unless Wade can channel his inner-Jordan, the Miami Heat will forever be the greatest punchline in the history of sports.

Note - Here is a video of the game I was originally searching where Jordan played with an injured wrist against the Knicks in game 4 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals.


Figgs said...

Good to have you back, Doug. Great piece.

Anonymous said...

First off, getting basic facts would give your piece much more credibility. Wade was 2 of 13 in the game mentioned. James never had a game that bad. Never in the playoffs. Secondly, Wade didn't whine as much in 2006 because he got almost every single call imaginable in that series. The officiating in that series was an abomination. But, hey you got a blog so there;s that.

Andy said...

First off, Anonymous, using your fucking name would give your comment much more credibility. But you and I both know you don't care about "basic facts." Wade going 2-12 or 2-13 makes no difference to Doug's argument and you know it. If accuracy was your game you'd have simply sent us an email. We'll correct this trivial error. But accuracy isn't your game - trolling is.

Doug never said LeBron had a game as bad as Wade did in his game 3 on Thursday. Basic facts.

I do agree about Wade in '06 - amazing how often the refs bailed him out.

And great pathetic petty tagline at the end, where you misused a semicolon. The word "there's" has an apostrophe, not a semicolon. It's a basic fact - spelling it right would have given you more credibility.

Doug said...

Thanks Anonymous, I did make that insignificant statistical error. Wade actually performed worse than I gave him credit, but it's fixed now.

Absolutely Wade got preferential treatment in 2006. But so did Jordan every time he touched the ball. This is an opinion piece backed by statistics, some historical facts, and the similarities between a modern day team and one that disbanded 14 years ago. The goal is to prove a point, and Anonymous's comment only helps to support my argument.