NBA Playoffs: Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, and the one for the thumb

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At Spurs blog Pounding the Rock, a discussion for today’s Game 4 centers around a plea from a fan to not allow the Spurs’ dynasty to die. But a line caught my eye.

“I don’t want it to be over. I so desperately want to see Tim (Duncan) get his
fifth ring (before Shaq, before Kobe, oh please, before them). Man
I want that so much.”

It kind of speaks to what’s on the line for those three players. While the final count will undoubtedly be the biggest factor, you have to wonder how many more chances these three legends will have.

The Spurs are looking at three years without a Finals appearance, and Duncan’s not getting any younger, let alone Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Duncan has put together the most consistent performance of the three, consistently leading his team to the late playoffs. But partly because he played in San Antonio and nowhere sexy like Miami or LA, he’s still not considered by mainsteam media in the same range. But getting the fifth ring before he retires would be a considerable step, and especially to do so before the other two. Doing so without the extravagant payrolls in LA or having another superstar like Wade or LeBron would set him apart.

For Shaq, this has to be his last real hurrah, unless the Cavs re-sign him out of gratitude in the event of a championship. He always held the trump-card in the Kobe-Shaq debate with the fourth ring, but of course, Kobe’s negated that. He’s not competing with Duncan, simply on star-power. His legacy is largely decided, the fifth would only cement him and ensure he’s not surpassed in retrospective. He’s no longer a real force in the game, but getting the thumb ring first gives him bragging rights, and let’s face it. That means a lot to him.

Bryant? Bryant has more chances. You can realistically count on the Lakers being in contention for at least two more seasons. But this season has brought with it the very real fact that Mamba is mortal. He’s turned it back on versus the Jazz (because, well, they’re the Jazz), but his struggles physically have been very evident. Getting five this year means that if they Lakers wee to slip or the Thunder or Cavs to continue rising that his legacy is assured.

Again, we’re talking degrees. Three Hall of Famers, three champions, three legends. But that race to the fifth does mean something. It sure looks at this point like Duncan will not be the first. Shaq and Kobe are still in the race, and if the Finals come down to those two, you can expect to hear about it a million times.

Turns out five may be the magic number.

Paul George says he talked to Nike about his shoes after Zion Williamson injury (VIDEO)

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The basketball community lost its collective mind on Wednesday night when Duke Blue Devils star Zion Williamson was injured after blowing out a pair of Nike basketball shoes in a rivalry game against the University of North Carolina.

Williamson’s injury was such that shares of Nike actually fell come Thursday. Meanwhile, the debate about whether Williamson should continue to play for free in the NCAA raged on all day.

Of course Williamson was wearing Paul George‘s signature shoe when he experienced the blowout, which apparently prompted the Oklahoma City Thunder star to contact Nike about it.

Via Twitter:

George’s shoes are very popular across basketball, and he told reporters that this had never happened to his knowledge.

I do wonder if players will be more reticent to wear one of the more popular shoes in the NBA. Then again, Williamson is a freak of nature in of himself so it’s not likely that the forces created by his power would be exerted by a normal player in the league.

Zion Williamson’s sprained knee became bad day for Nike

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When presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson went to the ground, his knee twisting, early in Duke’s game against North Carolina Wednesday night, the basketball world collectively gasped.

Former President Barack Obama was there and quickly recognized the problem:

It did, unquestionably. The  6-foot-7, 284 pound Williamson was wearing the  PG 2.5 PEs (the Paul George signature line of Nikes), and when he made a hard cut the shoe gave out and Williamson went to the ground in a heap. The television cameras closed in on the busted Nike.

That’s not good press.

Fortunately, Williams suffered only a mild, Grade 1 knee sprain, and is day-to-day.

Nike released a statement to multiple media outlets that said, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Nike stock dropped one percent on Thursday, although that level of fluctuation is not serious.

Bottom line, if this remains an isolated incident, Nike’s reputation — and position as the dominant force in basketball shoes — is not in danger. Fans and players will forgive one random incident. Have it happen again to a high-profile player and… Nike doesn’t want to find out.

 

Marcus Smart on today’s NBA: “Everything’s become real cute… Everybody’s scared to get hit”

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“I think it’s wonderful what we’re seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we’ve made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I’d like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can’t dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver All-Star weekend in Charlotte, and television ratings and overall interest in the league back him up — NBA ratings have been largely rising for years, both on the local and national level. Fans seem to gravitate towards fast-paced, entertaining teams and games.

But not everybody loves it. Charles Barkley can lead the “get off my lawn crowd.” However, there is a role for throwback players in the game. Guys who would have thrived in the 1990s, or the 1960s. Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of those guys — he told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report he wishes there was more physicality in the league.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, my mindset and the way I play would be perfect. They play like that every game,” Smart says…

“That’s just what it is! Exactly!” he says, a smile breaking through. “I think we kind of lost that in today’s game. Everything’s become real cute. Everybody’s scared to go to the rim. Everybody’s scared to get hit. Everybody’s scared to touch.

“I thrive on the contact. Contact is in my nature.”

The NBA has always had to strike a balance between physicality and allowing skill to flourish. Right now the pendulum has swung well over to the skill side, and some fans romantically recall 1990s basketball when the pendulum was on the other side. They think of Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson and remember the era fondly through the haze of time. Of course, what that time obscured were the slogs of games with scoring in the 80s and maybe 90s, they forget how hard it could be to watch Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers clutch and grab their way to a slow, tedious, and coach-controlled four quarters. The 90s were not filled with the beautiful game.

But in any era, a guy like Smart has real value because he’s a good basketball player. Plain and simple. Just one who would like to be allowed to be a little more physical.

 

76ers coach Brett Brown: Markelle Fultz didn’t mean to insult Philadelphia coaches

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After getting traded from the 76ers to the Magic, Markelle Fultz said, “It just excites me really to know that I have coaches that’s going to push you to be better and not just going to tell you what you want to hear.”

I don’t know whether Fultz intended that to sound like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. But it sounded like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Brown said Fultz “didn’t mean that.”He said the two have spoken back and forth.

“He’s a good kid,” he said. “He’s a good young man, and, truly, we wish him well.”

I’d prefer to hear that directly from Fultz. But I doubt he’ll do any more interviews this season until he plays again – and who knows when that will be?

Still, it can be difficult for a player to compliment his new team without sounding like he’s admonishing his old team. There was always a good chance that’s all that happened with Fultz. Brown’s explanation makes that even more likely.