The nauseating noise of Tim Duncan hanging up the shoes for good had been floating in the air for quite a while now, but on July 11, 2016, the United States Virgin Island native made it a saddening reality.
Duncan was the leader of five world championship teams spanning over three decades. He was quiet, led by example, dominated, and never ceased to praise his teammates.
His retirement hurts even more since Kobe Bryant also retired a few months ago. In a span of two months, the NBA has lost arguably the two best players of the 2000s.
Bryant is also a five-time world champion, and he is also responsible for some of our fondest basketball memories. Remember the 81-points outburst against Toronto, or the 62-points in three quarters against the Mavericks, or the night he set the single game record for most points by a visiting player at Madison Square Garden with 61.
But, where these two legends’ greatest accomplishment lays is the fact that, along with Dirk Nowitzki, they never wore another team’s uniform in their entire NBA career.
For 20 years Bryant wore nothing but the Lakers’ purple and gold, while Duncan adorned nothing but the Spurs’ silver and black, and Nowitzki’s tunic has always been the Mavericks’ shades of blue.
However, LeBron James has begun a new movement. A movement inspired by NFL legends Deion Sanders, and Darrelle Revis, which consist of signing one-year contract worth maximum money, and betting on you for one year.
This mercenary ideology of betting on yourself over a short period of time has alienated many NBA fans, because players approach every season with a win now mentality as oppose to building a long-term winner.
However, this approach also presents players with a great deal of adversity because if they fail to produce both individually, and collectively, teams will not want to pay for their services, or at least at much cheaper price.
So, it comes down to what players want: money or stability.
But, what about the fans? What about building a connection with a city? What about building a home?
Once Nowitzki retires, there will not be another lifer in the NBA – I exclude anyone who has played less than a decade from the conversation. There could have a multitude of lifers, but they changed the course of the NBA by playing for another team.
LeBron James was in Miami for four seasons, Paul Pierce played in Brooklyn, Washington and Los Angeles Clippers, Kevin Garnett suited up for the Boston Celtics, and Brooklyn Nets before going back home, and Dwayne Wade just left South Beach for Chicago.
The ideology of a lifer, a player who will go through the long ups-and-downs of an NBA career with one team is a concept that may retire once Nowitzki calls it a career.
Younger players are about having fun, and winning a ring as soon as possible that way nobody will be able to criticize them for not winning it all. Some disagree with it while others praise them for maximizing their window of opportunity to make money.
Fans tend to say that the only thing that matters is a ring, that players should do whatever it takes to win, but if you join forces with other great players, we will have to add an asterisk beside your title because you needed help.
Think about it, would Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, or Reggie Miller’s legacies and careers be looked at differently had they been able to capture that elusive title?
Would they, perhaps, be mentioned more often in endless debates about who is the greatest this, or greatest that?
Or, would teaming up together to win a title would have led to fans putting an asterisk beside their ring, and led to the infamous phrase “you couldn’t win on your own.”
Will we see another lifer? I don’t know, but I hope so. It is better for the NBA to have lifers, to have players who will stick to their city, their team, and their organizations, and install, or re-install a winning culture.
Welcome to the Toronto Raptors’ Jurassic Park
“In Jurassic Park, Raptor fans wait until after dark. Even if the cold might eat them!”
Fans find a way.
An ace serve or two away from being as legendary as Wimbledon’s ‘Murray Mound’ or ‘Henman Hill’ outside the Scotiabank Arena, the Toronto Raptors Maple Leaf Square’s “Jurassic Park” may just be the ticket for this sold out crowd.
Raptor Klaw, Kawhi Leonard ruled the earth last night. He and the T-Dot at the final tick beat the Sixers in The Six, as his shot bobbled like a beach ball on the surface of a swimming pool before making the biggest splash of these postseason playoffs. Taking longer to fall than Leonardo DiCaprio’s spinning top in ‘Inception’. But this was no dream.
And if you thought the Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto erupted last night, then outside in Maple Leaf Square it was like the volcanoes that killed the dinosaurs after that big ball dropped. An Armageddon even Bruce Willis couldn’t save like he wish he could his career.
Welcome to Jurassic World.
With all due respect to the Linsanity of Jeremy Lin, or pick your poison whoever is your flash card pick of the bench mob pack, but the Jurassic Park crowd fenced in outside of Scotia is the teams spiritual sixth man, spark plug. As electric as the paddock like perimeter fence surrounding them feels with this buzz over basketball (and national sport hockey come Leaf picking season), this crowd can’t be contained.
Forget rain or shine. You see the slickers. These faithful fans will pitch a spot waiting for game time like the ball to drop in Times Square for New Year in New York, sleeping bag lining up all day in their hordes huddled for warmth. These beautiful fans will brave the harshest, most frigid temperatures to be the coldest fans in the game in more ways than one. Part of the ‘We The North’ community in the 6 that the Basketball God’s look down on with pride, whilst other armchair fans watch this game for the throne from home. Or leave early like those suit and tie corporate seats trying to catch that last red eye Matt Bonner home.
Can you imagine of they called game early before Kawhi last night?
I could imagine Drake taking in the CN Tower looking up views of the Jurassic though, like it was all the basketball God’s plan.
Well those in the park for recreation stayed until the beautiful end to a game Butler almost delivered bitter. And you could could phantom cam see every emotion in slow motion last night as Leonard’s buzzer beating ball toyed with the rim like three dots on messenger, or Damien Lillard even further downtown in Oklahoma City.
This is the spirit of the stadium and the soul of the squad, expanding the capacity arena and the Canadian ballclubs worldwide fanbase watching on their own Jumbotrons.
And the Toronto Raptors are going to need all the north they can get if they’re going to stop the Bucks in Milwaukee.
But this club has the claws to do it. And if you don’t think they can win in Wisconsin on their own road to being the first franchise outside of the United States to be NBA finalists and who knows what next against the Warriors(?), then just watch this Canadian cornerstone from the Jurassic era.
Extinct in six? Nah! Get ready to hear the North roar.
A tale of two magnificent game sevens
As the Klaw was falling out of bounds as the buzzer blared and blazed red, the Spalding hit the rim and bounced back up. Kawhi Leonard, crouched at the baseline like Tiger Woods mastering Augusta, with his M.J. clutch tongue out and that thousand yard stare for a picture that was about to say that many words just watched. The ball hit the rim again as super sub Jordan Lloyd in street clothes with his arm around Kawhi excitedly watched in anticipation at all this air time that seemed to last longer than Winters in The Six. It looked like Summer in this city would drop before this simmering ball. It hit the rim again. To Leonard’s left Philly Sixer, Joel Embiid, almost smiling watched all this process with Game 7 and the Eastern Conference semi-finalists and who will play the Bucks in the final on the line like this ball in the seconds after time expired. It hit the rim again.
And again and again…
…and then it dropped.
Sunday was such a fun day for sports fans. In the same 24 hours where the Premiership came down to the last game as the valiant reds of Liverpool lost the race to the champion Manchester City by two points (sound familiar?) in the afternoon, the NBA had one hell of a double header to close out God’s day which is usually a lazy one with a blessed gift from the hoop heavens.
Two game sevens in one night? This must be fantasy Basketball.
But it all came down to this.
First up the Pepsi Center in Nevada cracked open the last game between the two wild cards come good of the host Denver Nuggets looking to stone-cut their way to success and the visiting Portland looking to blaze a trail out of Rip City, following their first round downpour from way downtown against the OKC Thunder. But in the first half it looked like the Dame Time watch of Lillard had stopped as this team down by as many as 17 looked as cold as that teenage age. It looked like The Joker Jokic with 29 and 13 and his golden Nuggets held all the cards.
That was until the second half turned into C.J. time.
That’s when the other half of the best backcourt in the league (sorry Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards. Get well soon John Wall. Show us what you still got next season) came alive in the crunch time like snap, crackle and pop. CJ McCollum definitely finished his breakfast on Sunday morning as he had an extra bowl this afternoon and finished with 37 points. Stopping on a dime and turning into a mid-range killer as his previously burnt our Blazers got that fire back and a 100-96 close victory in a to the wire and free throw line conclusion like chess tense. All checked for their first trip to the Wild West finals since the year 2000. The time Bonzi and the boys met Shaq and Kobe and that infamous, iconic alley-oop with arms up and mouths open.
But this time they will meet another dynasty champion…the Golden State Warriors.
Kevin Durant. Klay Thompson. Draymond Green and Steph Curry with the shot. One more before the Silicon Valley of San Francisco.
“Kick them off he court again boy”!
But that wasn’t the only thriller this night as we in the north were treated to more hardwood
In the end after two tales of epic four quarters there was no time for overtimes. As this 92-90 game came down to the closing clutch and two free agents to be who didn’t know whether they would be playing on Wednesday in Milwaukee, or fishing back home. Let alone what jerseys they’d be wearing next season, come Summer. Jimmy Butler thought he had it with a hard fought lay-up as did a jumping and clapping Embiid in premature celebration. But then the usual calm and composed assassin of Kawhi Leonard with 41 looked to claw away at all that, as he emphatically ran to the corner of downtown like your first night out of youth and launched what would have been a Hail Mary prayer if you didn’t believe just how brilliant this guy is. Craning the gooseneck and then watched as another Toronto Star took that renaissance painting iconic photo.
And judging from the usual calm and composed Kawhi’s screaming reaction as what looked like the whole of Toronto hug mobbed him you can guess the outcome with an electric Jurassic Park as wild as real raptors alive outside that no perimeter fence could contain. Forget the next few months and whether he will trade this cold front and touch of frost for a sunny day in L.A., right now Leonard has a real chance of making hoops history as Canada could well become the first franchise outside of the United States to become National Basketball Association champions. And those ready for that laughing GIF in response that was a lifetime ago. Look at his face last night. Whose laughing now? They said he’d never leave San Antonio and looked what happened there. The opposite could here.
But with both games done and dusted, taking it to the brackets the most impressive thing on both fronts yesterday was the professionalism. Whether it be the respect and heart emoji exchange between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers on Twitter. Or Marc Gasol consoling and embracing an emotional and tearful Joel Embiid (absolutely heartbreaking and healing to watch) postgame in Toronto and undoubtedly telling him how much of a warrior he is. In a time where fans troll, reduce and erase superstars and teams into memes as soon as they are eliminated (James Harden? The MVP? Really? Like we could do better against the Dubs…or anyone) it’s real and refreshing.
And that is why we play…and watch.