Shaq retires and will be missed

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I’m going to miss having Shaquille O’Neal around the NBA.

It’s the end of an era — Kyrie Irving, the top pick in this coming draft, was born the year Shaq entered the league. But it feels like more than that.

I’ll miss him in part because he was a reminder that this is a game and we should all be having fun with it — players, fans and media alike.

In a league where often players treat basketball like a desk job, where the players practice speaking in clichés like out of Bull Durham, where the media can take itself too seriously, where there is a wall between players and fans (and media), Shaq broke all that down. This is hoops, it isn’t Navy Seals storming an armed compound in the Middle East. This should be fun. Shaq’s persona was the counterbalance to Michael Jordan in the 1990s.

You played practical jokes on teammates, and laughed with them. You tweet with fans (social media was made for Shaq and is part of his legacy). You just show up and pretend to be a statue  and let fans come out and hang out with you. Or you conduct the Boston POPS! Or you ride the subway dressed like a woman.

He was a big kid who got to play a game for a living, and why shouldn’t he love that? Why shouldn’t practice have some jokes, why shouldn’t the locker room have laughter? And we were all along for the ride. This was supposed to be fun.

I remember Shaq and Gregg Popovich joking around during the first game of the season and thinking they really got it.

He was a big kid, and maybe that carried over to a lack of responsibility about conditioning at times. Some may remember that and the injury-plagued end of his career. Or the feud with Kobe. But not me. I choose to remember him as dominant force he was a decade ago as a player. There have been few centers better. Ever.

He brought plenty of strength and thunder to the court, but there was lightning there too. Guys who were 7’1”, 325 should not be able to drop lighting quick spin moves to get around their defender, or run the floor with the break. Shaq could do all that in his prime and more. He was a very good passer out of the post. He was a good all around player (save free throws).

He also will forever be at the heart of one of my greatest sports memories.

I lucked into tickets for Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. Someone I worked with at the time was a Lakers season ticket holder and had playoff tickets, but he had to fly back to England for his sister’s wedding and so he had to sell his Game 7 seats (well before anyone knew there would be a Game 7).

As a Lakers fan, with obnoxious Blazers fans right behind me, there was nothing like that game. The lows of missed shots. The highs of the comeback (which was fueled by so many Blazer misses of shots they had not missed for six and three quarters games).

Then the ally-oop.

And the explosion of noise in Staples Center. A building where now everyone was hugging and high-fiving everyone, whether you knew them or not. You were now there with your 19,000 best friends. Los Angeles is not like that, you don’t talk to your neighbors, or the guy in the next seat. But on this day we all knew we were witnessing one of the best sports moments of our lives. Los Angeles felt like a family.

Shaq did that. I’m going to miss him for all of it.

Kings player after beating Bulls: ‘Uh-oh, another 2 1/2-hour practice for them tomorrow’

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New coach Jim Boylen has ruled the Bulls with an iron fist. His abnormally frequent and lengthy practices nearly inspired a mutiny by his players.

A 108-89 home loss to the Kings last night likely won’t ease attention in Chicago. Especially with the opponent piling on afterward.

Chicago Sun-Times:

The Bulls are the laughingstock of the NBA right now.

Even the Kings – the Kings!are mocking them.

Did Knicks have shot at LeBron James last summer? Mic picks up interesting line

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After the Los Angeles Lakers knocked off the Miami Heat in dramatic fashion Monday night, every camera person in the building rushed over to where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were standing.

It was the last time these two men would share a court, and it was an emotional farewell as they hugged and exchanged jerseys, the cameras and mics picking up every moment.

Including when Wade thanked LeBron for seeing that their last game was played at Staples Center, one of the legendary venues of the league. But it was LeBron’s response that turned heads:

“It was either here or The Garden. That’s it.” 

Did the Knicks actually have a shot at LeBron last summer?

It doesn’t seem that way, considering LeBron made his decision to go to Los Angeles within 24 hours of the official start of free agency. There was no meeting with the Knicks, no serious contact in any way.

What LeBron was referring to (I think) was having their final game in one of the two brightest spotlights, one of the two most legendary venues in the NBA. Madison Square Garden and Staples Center have a vibe before Knicks and Lakers games that just doesn’t exist anywhere else — even when their teams are bad the venues are special and guys raise their games. It’s a combination of the markets, the big fan bases, and the history of the franchises, and the buildings (Shaq and Kobe basically built Staples Center). Much like a baseball game at Yankee Stadium/Fenway Park/Wrigley Field, there’s just something special about it that’s hard to quantify. It’s just different there.

That’s why the final game for LeBron and Wade had to be in Los Angeles or New York.

But Knicks fans, go ahead and dream of what might have been.

Three Things to Know: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s friendship changed the NBA

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s friendship changed the NBA. Monday night at Staples Center was the final time LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will share the court together.

It was a bittersweet moment appreciated by the Lakers fans (people new to LeBron fandom), who gave Wade a standing ovation when he entered the game.

Then those fans got to watch the old friends duel on the court like old times. (The pair came into this game 15-15 in head-to-head meetings, but LeBron now finishes with those bragging rights.)

Then, after Wade missed a desperation shot to tie the game late, the two men embraced and exchanged jerseys.

It was a fitting and emotional end to two Hall of Fame careers — ones that forever altered the league.

LeBron and Wade, along with Chris Bosh, fundamentally changed the NBA — they were the players that decided “we’re getting together and forming a super team.” Those players took charge of their destiny, they were not leaving it up to the white guys in suits to decide what they should do (although Pat Riley deserves credit for creating the space to give all three a landing spot). Then they went out and won rings (plural). Other superstars took note, and it’s not just Kevin Durant to the Warriors, it’s the shape of the NBA that is changing because these players owned their power.

Wade and LeBron formed a legendary Heat team that went to four straight Finals, winning two, and providing us with some of the greatest moments and memories in Finals history.

In a few years, they will be sitting on the back deck of Wade’s house in Miami, sharing a bottle of wine that you and I can’t afford, and reminiscing about those days and what they did. They earned that moment. And players who come after them should thank them for showing just how much leverage the players really have.

2) Celtics starting to figure it out, won sixth in a row while their fans dreamed of Anthony Davis. A couple of weeks ago, one of the hot discussion topics around the NBA was “what is wrong with the Boston Celtics?” They were 10-10 and struggling to score enough buckets to win.

Nobody is asking anymore. The Celtics have won six in a row, outscoring teams by a ridiculous 25.6 points per 100 possessions in that stretch.

Monday night — shorthanded without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford — they knocked off Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, 113-100. It was the kind of team win we have come to expect from the Celtics, with elite defense and someone stepping up on offense. This time it was Marcus Morris with 31 points.

That said, Anthony Davis had Celtics fans dreaming of what could be, scoring 41 and looking like the MVP candidate he is. Celtics fans cheered his introduction, and the Davis to Boston rumors will not die, even though Davis is not and will not be available for trade during this season (and Boston can’t trade for him during the season without sacrificing Irving due to CBA rules anyway).

While Davis was the best player on the court, the play everyone is talking out of this is Boston rookie Robert Williams blocking Davis.

The Celtics are racking up these wins through a soft part of their schedule, and that continues for a while (Wizards, Haws, the suddenly struggling Pistons, and the Suns make up their next four).

3) The Warriors are healthy and all back on the court together. Monday night Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green all took the court together for the first time since Nov. 5 — the Warriors are back.

Predictably, that was bad news for the visiting Timberwolves, who fell 116-108. Curry was doing Curry things again and had 38 points.

The Warriors have won four in a row. More telling, however, is how we have talked about Green’s and Curry’s injuries, tried to psychoanalyze the relationship between Green and Durant, and talked about their “problems” and yet here they are, 19-9 and just percentage points out of first in the West, and just starting to come together. Their “problems” have been overblown, and the league is now about to watch them get their legs under them again and go on a run.

Never doubt this is the best team in the NBA and if your team is dreaming of the Larry O’Brien trophy you’re going to have to pry it out of the Warriors’ hands.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Boban Marjanovic‘s shot can be blocked? Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton is filling up the box score as a rookie, but his defense has a long, long way to go. That said, he had what many thought was the impossible blocked shot on Monday night, shutting down 7’3” Boban Marjanovic.

Now we’ve seen everything.

LeBron James’ Lakers edge Dwyane Wade’s Heat in final meeting

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James scored 28 points and the Los Angeles Lakers survived Dwyane Wade‘s 15-point performance in the second half of the superstars’ probable final on-court meeting for a 108-105 victory over the Miami Heat on Monday night.

The game appropriately ended with James guarding Wade, who missed a difficult 3-point attempt in the waning seconds. After the buzzer sounded, and they shared a hug and a chat to close perhaps the final joint chapter of two careers that have intersected repeatedly since they entered the NBA together in 2003.

Wade and James teamed up with the Heat in 2010 to win two championships while reaching four consecutive NBA Finals, and they spent half of last season together in Cleveland.

Wade intends to retire after this season, and Staples Center sent him out of Los Angeles in style with multiple standing ovations and a tribute video in the first quarter.

James and Wade both missed big shots down the stretch, but James hit two free throws with 22.5 seconds left to stretch the Lakers’ lead to three points.

Kyle Kuzma scored 33 points for the Lakers, who have won 13 of 17 overall and five straight at home.

Justise Winslow scored a career-high 28 points for Miami, hitting six 3-pointers in the third stop on the Heat’s six-game road trip.

Wade’s wife, Gabrielle Union, was among the fans at courtside as the high-scoring guard played 32 minutes. Wade went 0 for 5 in a scoreless first half, but still had six assists.

He got rolling in the third quarter with eight points in a flurry that recalled his heyday, and he kept up the pressure in the fourth while finishing with 10 assists and five rebounds.