Tag Archives: kobe bryant

The Summer Of Durant

Kevin Durant has welcomed and dispatched all challengers this summer.

So, what have you done this summer? Gone on vacation? Went to a few shows? Drank a few beers and partied? Yeah sounds like a normal summer where everyone is happy that the winter coats are away and the only thing that matters are warm vacations on beaches and being lazy as hell.

Kevin Durant could’ve spent his summer doing the exact same thing as all of his, instead he’s been too busy becoming the new face of the NBA and quite possibly the most popular, and best basketball player on the planet.

Durant’s summer has been a constant highlight reel that has showed him dropping threes by the bucket, dunking from every possible angle and drawing more ooh’s and aah’s than the circus.

Durant has been the man of the summer in any sport. His acrobatics and mind-numbing performances have overshadowed the bleak outlook of the NBA lockout, the MLB playoff races and any other headline that has graced ESPN.

It’s been silly to be honest with you. First there was the 66 that he dropped at Rucker Park earlier in the month where a pull up three for a heat check turned into a YouTube phenomenon. Durant made the crowd erupt with every pull up bomb to the point where fans rushed the court after he hit a fourth consecutive three. Even the on court announcer lost his marbles as Durant stood and posed with the mob of fans with nothing but a screw face signifying “yeah, I’m nice.”

they'll be talking about the Rucker game for a long time

He’s put on shows at Dyckman park, toured China and the Philippines, balled out in gymnasiums all around the country and this past weekend in a matchup of D.C. and L.A. ballers it was Durant’s star that shined the brightest with 44 points in a win for his D.C. area Goodman League team over the L.A. based Drew League squad (led by OKC Thunder teammate James Harden coincidentally). It was a game that had a ton of hype coming into it thanks to Durant’s presence and that of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and other ballers who came out. While everyone came to play it was Durant that controlled the action most and made the crowd of over 1500 stand in awe.

Not bad for a 22 year-old who’s coming off of his first conference finals appearance this year.

What I like most about this entire turn of events is how eager Durant is to go out there and show just how dominant of a player he is. There were times in the Dallas series where teammate Russell Westbrook stood in his way and wanted to take all of the big shots while Durant stood back helpless.

In these situations it’s just Durant and his opponent. He has the respect of his teammates at the Rucker, Goodman or any other spot so when he gets the ball they just clear out and let him do him. It’s done wonders for his game and his brand.

Whenever the NBA starts up its next season how can the league not make Durant its most focal piece? He’s always been known as a genuine guy with a quiet demeanor and a big heart, but now it looks like his game is reaching new heights.

With LeBron James’ hara kiri of his personal appearance to others in the league Durant is the perfect fit to replace him as the face of the league. Kids, adults, college ballers and the streets adore Durant from coast to coast. He cares about his image to the point that he puts his tattoos on one unseen area of his body so that he won’t mess up any marketing for himself, however he’s nowhere near as vein as James.

Durant is always active on Twitter and is eager to communicate with fans at all times. He always showcases other people on his page and is not afraid to let his guard down for a little bit of fun.

What really separates him from LeBron is that he wants to improve… and wants to fight for his respect. That’s the main reason why Durant is in Harlem, D.C., and L.A. balling on the courts against great pro and street ballers, he wants respect from all forms of the game and not just the league.

Going back to the Rucker Park game just look at his facial expressions. Look at how with every shot he takes and makes he slaps fives with fans, chest bumps rappers and plays with a killer mentality. He’s honing himself for the next time he takes the court and he’s staring Carmelo, LeBron or Kobe in the face and the game is in his hands. While LeBron finally tries to find a low post game in year 9 and is still searching for his killer instinct, Durant is getting his as we speak.

Live from New York its Kevin Durant.

(Side note: if you think Kobe doesn’t recognize Durant balling extra hard then you’re a fool. Why else would Kobe be at a Drew league game balling in a gym with 5 rings? Because Kobe competes, he sees Durant doing his thing, he saw the 66 in Harlem and thought to himself “I have to get out here and see what’s up.” He knows Durant is trying to position himself for the crown and Kobe still wants to match Jordan and isn’t satisfied himself just yet. Kobe didn’t ball in D.C. for the Drew-Goodman game, he didn’t have to. He proved his point already that he’s still around and he can still bring.

You know I used to really hate Kobe, but the older he gets I love him more and more.)

The question now is what happens when the summer ends and NBA players are heading overseas to make money during the lockout? Where will Durant go and what will he do?

Is Turkey an option, Russia? He’s rumored to be staring in a movie about basketball that will start shooting when NBA training camp would start. Durant’s stock is higher than any other player in the league right now. Everyone wants to know his moves, his thoughts and everything that has anything to do with him right now.

And he has this summer to thank for it all. His games at Rucker Park, Trinity, Dyckman and everywhere else that he has played in the last month and a half have dropped our jaws and made us look at him in a different light.

He’s scored a lot of points, wowed a lot crowds and has made himself the number one player to watch in the league whenever it starts up again. Kevin Durant has moved up the NBA’s pecking order and it doesn’t look like he’ll be coming down for awhile.

I think his summer turned out just fine.


What Could’ve Been For Yao Ming

Yao Ming retired today after 9 injury plagued seasons.

When Yao Ming retired this afternoon after 9 injury-plagued seasons in the NBA I couldn’t help but think of what could have been.

 

When he arrived on the scene Yao was an instant hit. On the court he was a mammoth specimen with unlimited potential. At 7’6” and 280 pounds Yao was one of the biggest men to ever play the game of basketball and also one of the most skilled men at his position.

 

He wasn’t as big in terms of girth like Shaquille O’ Neal nor was he as nimble as the man the roamed the paint in Houston before him in Hakeem Olajuwon. But Yao had the moves to out maneuver some of the best big men in the NBA and the smarts to guide him through each game.

 

In his early bouts against Shaq it was a tale of two centers. One who was an immovable object in the paint that intimidated his opponents with his large mass and unbelievable power, the other which even at age 21 was cunning enough to force his opponents into foul trouble and break them down with his prowess and ever evolving game. Yao got the better of Shaq in the win column during those as he was able to overcome those slights in power and speed and guide the Rockets to victory via his wit.

 

That was Yao, he was a new breed of center. In an age where the center was supposed to be a relic he was on the verge of making it the most ballyhooed position in the league again and start a revolution of the position.

 

He was skilled on the block as well as the outside. Yao could hit 16-foot jumpers just as easily as he could back Michael Olawakandi down in the paint for layups. He was an exceptional passer who could find shooters with ease and made life for defenders hard whether they were guarding him or watching the perimeter.

 

In the paint on defense he was becoming an emerging shot blocker who altered shots with his large frame and made life hell for driving guards as well as big men who were trying to score over him.

More than basketball however, Yao was changing the game with presence off of the court.

 

In his nine years Yao made the All-Star team 8 times thanks to a large fan base from his home land of China that rule routinely made him one of the top two vote getters. His impact helped the league grow exponentially in China as it now regularly sends reporters to the NBA’s main events. Since Yao’s arrival, China now regularly hosts numerous NBA players in the offseason such as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant to hold camps in the country and help raise interest of the game.

 

Yao Ming gave us glimpses of what couldve been versus Shaq.

Yao had a documentary about his arrival in the league, and a string of commercials that introduced him to the American population and showed off his funny side. He was truly the league’s first true international star and was on his way to being one of the brightest stars that the game has ever seen.

 

Then came the injuries.

 

After his first three seasons where he only missed 2 games, Yao missed 25+ games in each of his final 6 seasons including all of the 2009-2010 campaign. Whether it was his big toe or a forever broken left foot Yao couldn’t stay on the court. It prevented from having as dominant of a career that was foreseen by so many people from scouts to fellow players.

 

In 2006-2007 Yao was averaging a career high 25 PPG and looked like a surefire MVP candidate before his foot began to give him problems. After the injury he could never reach the potential that was seen in that season and in glimpses in the next few years. His lower body robbed him of what could have been a stellar NBA career and robbed the fans of a superstar that could’ve shined as bright as Michael Jordan, Julius Erving and the other big names before him.

 

Yao Ming was an exceptional player. He was an All-Star, one of the best centers of his class, and was a cultural force that transcended the Eastern and Western Hemisphere.

 

Unfortunately thanks to injuries we never truly got to see what Yao was made of. He could’ve been an all-NBA selection, a finals champion, league MVP and a possible hall of famer. We saw shades of it when he played Shaq and Dwight Howard and other excellent big men down in the paint. We could’ve been watching one of the best players of our era.

 

But we will never know.


A Shaq For All Seasons

Shaquille O' Neal retired today after 19 seasons in the NBA.

What was Shaquille O’ Neal? Was he one of the greatest centers of all-time? A 4-time champion and 3-time MVP of the NBA Finals? A 15-time all-star, number 5 all-time scorer with 28,596 points?

 

Was he the most dominant big man that this generation had ever seen?

 

From the time that he stepped on the floor as the number one pick of the 1992 NBA Draft Shaq was a man amongst boys. He decimated foes in the paint with his size; he got to anywhere he wanted in the paint. No man on this earth could guard him (hence the Superman moniker), nor could they stop him, unless they fouled him. Once both of his size 22’s were in the paint it was senseless to try and stop him, the two points were his, just take it like a man and walk off.

 

Was he the most unbelievable big man that we ever saw?

 

As big as he was and as powerful as he was he had amazing finesse skills. He was this generation’s best passer able to suck in double teams and kick it out to any open shooter in his sightline. He had great footwork, which he learned after the greatest fleet-footed big man Hakeem Olajuwon schooled him in the 1995 Finals. He had a great spin move to get to the hole, an excellent jump hook that came from plenty of time put in his early years in L.A. however, his power dominated all especially when he brought rims down without even trying during his first few years in the league.

 

Ever since he came into the league Shaq has been the center of attention.

Was he the game’s best entertainer?

 

On and off of the court you couldn’t keep your eyes off of Shaq. When he wasn’t dunking on poor and helpless centers he was selling Pepsi without a hitch. When he wasn’t winning titles he was recording platinum rap albums and making hits with the Notorious B.I.G. a.k.a. Biggie Smalls. He starred in movies and extended his brand in a way that could’ve rivaled Michael Jordan. Shaq was never just a basketball player he was the first entertainer of the sport. When you see other athletes crossover to TV and film and music that’s because Shaq laid that blueprint down before anyone else. Shaq could do anything and he definitely did try.

 

Was he the biggest kid that the game has ever seen?

 

His playfulness was his best attribute. Shaq was a player who had no problem making a fool of himself. True, he was a hulking 7’1” and 325 pounds and an intimidating man if there ever was one. However, just look at some footage of Shaq break dancing at the all-star game, acting a fool on the bus at the Olympics, playing a living statue at Harvard or leading the Boston Pops. He had fun and made everyone laugh.

 

(Side note: the best bit of Shaq acting a fool was his short lived reality TV show “Shaq Vs.” he challenged athletes to contests in their own sport and went through it all with the same ridiculous over the top mannerisms that he has whenever there was a camera on him before or after games. It was athletic competition that he never took seriously and it was pure comedy.)

 

How great of a winner was he?

 

4 rings, 6 appearances with three teams. The funny yet sad thing about the Shaq era is that he only has one MVP in his 19 years in the league… ONE!!! Then when you look at some of the names that he lost out to (Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Michael Jordan) you go, “Damn. That’s why.” However, MVP’s don’t truly make up who Shaq was as a player. In Game 7 versus Portland he with help from Kobe Bryant led the Lakers back from 15 down to reach the Finals. He dominated each of the Lakers title series in there three-peat years and continuously punished the Sacramento Kings and prevented from reaching a plateau than where they finished.

 

Shaq always had a fun side.

Could he have been better though?

 

To say that a man that scored over 28,000 points could’ve done better sounds silly, but he could’ve easily pushed past 30,000 if he wasn’t such a poor free throw shooter… and had stayed in shape.

 

The problem with Shaq in the second half of his career was his constant refusal to stay in shape. He missed 12 or more games in 8 of the 10 seasons after his first title and missed 20 or more games in 5 of those seasons. Truth is that Shaq got lazy and only focused on the second half of the season up until the playoffs. If he would’ve stayed healthy he could’ve been even more incredible as far as stats go.

 

Did he love drama?

 

Ask Penny Hardaway. Ask Dwyane Wade. Ask Kobe Bryant. Ask the cities of Orlando, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Miami and Cleveland about the departures of Shaquille O’ Neal and they wont have nice things to say. Shaq was a stubborn man, in his mind he knew what he was worth as a person and a player and wouldn’t settle for less. He wouldn’t let Kobe or Penny take his spotlight; he wouldn’t accept his playing time in Miami (or play with Chris Quinn as he once said). It was his greatest fault as a player and it cost him more love than what he already accumulated.

 

(Back to Kobe Bryant for a second. We’ve circled this wagon more than enough times in my lifetime than I would care to discuss. But imagine if they had put their differences aside and worked together more than they did.  They could’ve been greater than Jordan and Pippen, Gretzky and Messier and any other great tandem in the history of sports. When they were on the same page the Lakers were unstoppable. It was the perfect inside-outside tandem and they screwed it up. If there is any regret that Shaq should have in his career it’s the fact that if he and Kobe stayed together they could’ve won 8 championships together and people wouldn’t put Tim Duncan ahead of him as this generations best big man.)

 

What was he overall?

 

To me? The third best center of all-time (1. Bill Russell. 2. Wilt Chamberlain), the most dominant at his position in the last 30 years. The most immoveable object in the game. The most gentle of gentle giants who, if irked enough, could take Brad Miller’s head off with one swing, but would’ve rather helped out the police force in any city he played in and helped protect the law.

 

What much greater could his legacy have been if he and Kobe put aside their differences?

To me Shaq was more than a basketball player. He was a great role model with his charitable services to the community whether it be handing out toys or making public arrests. He was an educated man that made it a point to go back to LSU and receive his bachelor’s degree years after bolting for the NBA and then following that up with a Master’s Degree from the University of Phoenix.

 

He was a hell of a quote (favorite: “we’re not afraid of the Sacramento Queens.” OOOOOOOOHHHHHH SNAP!!!), whenever there was a microphone in front of him he always had something to say.

 

He was as imaginative and as playful as he was devastating in the paint. He always had a new nickname that made you laugh and was always in a playful mood.

 

He was just as special off of the court as he was on it. However, the court was his domain. There was never a player like Shaq before his arrival and there won’t be one now that he’s gone.

 

There wont be a center like him to roam the paint ever again. No one will have a combination of his size, strength and agility. No one will take over a game like he did, carry a team to three straight titles like he did and have the game in the palm of his hands like him.

 

Today is a sad day for me because I loved Shaq. I has his Dunkman Reebok shirt when he first came into the league and followed him every step of the way from Orlando to L.A. and everywhere else. He was one of a kind in everyway possible.

 

Thanks for the memories and you will be missed Shaq, Diesel, Wilt Chamberneezy, Superman, The Big Shaqtus, The Big Aristotle or whatever the heck else you call yourself.


The Lake Show Is Over

Kobe and the Lakers will need more than a flip of the switch to come back in this series.

I knew the L.A. Lakers were dead after their epic collapse in game 1 of their series against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Lakers for years have made flipping the switch an art form. They lull through the regular season, have games where everyone questions their mindset and then once mid-March hits things get back to normal.

It happened again this year as the Lakers sleepwalked from November to February in a stretch that included terrible losses to the Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers. Once the second half of the season hit, the Lakers turned it on and began to resemble the title contender that we all knew they were.

They won 17 of 18 and had an outside shot at being the number one seed in the Western Conference as the San Antonio Spurs began to show the chinks in their armor. They positioned themselves perfectly at the 2 slot with a first round matchup against the New Orleans Hornets. Even though at times they looked sluggish you saw the reasons why they were going to win the NBA title.

Andrew Bynum was a beast beneath the rim, Lamar Odom was all over the floor and Kobe Bryant was, well, Kobe Bryant. Their size and experience pummeled the Hornets and with the Spurs falling to the Grizzlies I expected them to roll through the rest of the West without consequence. Especially against a Dallas team the about 80% of the country had losing to Portland.

And then game 1 happened.

Up 16 in the second half the Lakers looked as if they were in control. Then Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs rolled back thanks to a combination of defense on their part and horrendous execution on the Lakers part. Well that and Dirk went HAM.

His 11 in the 4th quarter combined with the overall sense of urgency that he and the rest of the Mavs played with shock the Lakers and they couldn’t recover. Pau Gasol was a statue, Ron Artest chucked up a few bad shots and Kobe couldn’t close. In a complete role reversal it was the Mavs showing that they had the guts to hold on to a late lead while the Lakers fell into oblivion.

After that 96-94 loss, the Lakers chances at another title faded.

Pau and company have been manhandeled by a intensely focused Dirk Nowitzki.

Game 2 came around and the Lakers looked like mush. There was no energy, no sense of urgency and even worse execution on offense and defense. J.J. Barea, yes J.J. Barea looked like a Puerto Rican John Stockton as he carved up the Lakers point guards in the fourth quarter and made the Lakers look a total embarrassment. He toyed with them so much that Artest received a one game suspension for trying to clothesline him at the end of the game.

Afterwards Bynum talked of chemistry issues, the Artest incident brought back concerns of his anger issues, and everyone from analysts to my barber highlighted the poor point guard play. The Lakers were heading to Dallas down 2-0 and having to deal with a more focused than ever Dirk Nowitzki.

(By the way, if the Lakers needed an influence as a means to give them a boost, they should’ve looked at Dirk. Dirk knows that he’s close to the end of his time in the league. He’s still playing at a high level at age 33 but that won’t last much longer. Combine that with Jason Kidd on his last legs, Tyson Chandler’s impending free agency and the Mavs close to the end of their amazing run and Dirk is hungrier than ever.

Three years ago Dirk was still a little timid in late game situations, he was still looking for help, now he’s saying screw it, this might be my last shot and I’ve got to take advantage of this while I can. If the Lakers played with a third of his sense of urgency then this still might be a series.)

Game 3 was the Lakers last stand. They knew that their task at hand was against all odds, but they came out with energy and had a spark. You saw Bynum prove once again how important he was to the Lakers, you saw Lamar Odom provide a spark in the starting five for the suspended Artest, hell you saw Phil Jackson smack Gasol twice in the chest and get in his grill telling him to man up… yet when it all boiled down to it, the Lakers inconsistencies, and Dirk’s will, killed them in the end.

Up 7 with a little over five minutes to go, Dirk and company went on a 18-6 including Dirk knocking one home from close range that gave the Mavs the lead for good and pretty much ended this series.

In short, once again Kobe and the Lakers couldn’t close. Weird to think that a two-time defending champion shouldn’t take care of a team that was thought to be the weakest of the top 3 seeds once the playoffs began.

To Kobe Bryant this series isn’t over. He still thinks the Lakers have a shot. Kobe, you don’t.

This team sleepwalked for way too long and thought that it could turn it on like it always does. That was not the case for this year.

The Lakers will lose this series, watch Phil Jackson retire and watch a new champion become crowned. It was not the way any of us envisioned it playing out, but after game 1 of this series you had a feeling that maybe something like this was at hand.


The Heat’s Latest Surge Still Doesn’t Make Them Contenders

Chris Bosh is finally stepping up, but the Heat are still a long way from being title ready.

THE HEAT ARE BACK!!!! Calm down people.

Yes the Miami Heat have won three and in impressive fashion. It started with a 94-88 win over the red-hot L.A. Lakers, then came a 118-85 blowout of playoff contender Memphis and then tonight might have been the most impressive of them all, a 110-80 whipping of the San Antonio Spurs.

This comes two weeks after the Heat went to Texas and got it handed to them by that same margin.

What’s changed you ask, mainly it had been the resurgence of Chris Bosh. The much maligned, overpaid power forward has been on a tear he’s averaging a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds while shooting over 60% from the field. He has finally begun to the look like the premier power forward that he has been hyped up to be as he has dominated the post against the Lakers big men, Zach Randolph and tonight against Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess.

In addition to Bosh, the Heat defense has clamped down instead of lapsing in key moments like it did the previous two weeks against the Bulls, Knicks and Magic. They’ve allowed an average of only 84 points per game in the last three and have limited the scoring outputs of Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili and Randolph.

In a span of two weeks the Heat went from looking like a team that could fall to a four seed instead of the Eastern Conference contender that they have resembled in the last 5 days.

Now for the bad news straight from the mouth of Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, “”They needed the game more than us.”

You’re probably wondering so what, Manu’s probably just mad that the Spurs got taken to the woodshed, think again.

The Spurs and Lakers are pretty much in the clubhouse at the top of the Western Conference. While neither team looked good in Miami they really don’t need to.

Their standing in the playoffs is a given, for Miami it’s still a dogfight. Miami is still chasing Boston and Chicago for a top 2 seed in the East while the Spurs and Lakers are trying to get some rest before the playoffs. Even the Grizzlies are sitting pretty at the 8 spot with Utah and Phoenix fading fast.

Miami has finally proven that they can hang with the big dogs, but it might be too little too late.

They only play Boston one more time before the playoffs and that’s the 80th game of the year when they are in rest mode. After Oklahoma City on Wednesday they have a cakewalk to the finish line and are still an unfinished product.

These three wins are an aberration. I still think that they are the third best team in the East with Chicago and Boston standing in front of them and both of those teams are more complete products.

So while the Heat enjoy their recent morale boost it doesn’t change the fact that they’re still not in proper shape to contend in the East. Though finally beating the big dogs does raise awareness as to how good they can be.


The Notorious B.I.G.’s Legacy In Sports

Biggie Smalls was iller than you could've imagined.

If I wasn’t in the rap game

I’d probably have a key knee deep in the crack game

Because the streets is a short stop

Either you’re slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot

The Notorious B.I.G. died 14 years ago in a haze of bullets in downtown Los Angeles at the height of the media created East/ West coast hip-hop beef between himself and Tupac Shakur.

Before his death Biggie Smalls (one alias of his) left a legacy that still looms large in two fields of entertainment today, music and sports.

There’s long been the assertion that most rappers want to be athletes and vice versa. The link between rap and sports is connected by the fact that both genres share similarities in the fact that A, most of the well-known and popular rappers and athletes are African-American and B, that they shared similar upbringings before hitting the big time.

Allen Iverson, Michael Vick, Young Jeezy, Method Man, Baron Davis, Game, Nelly, Larry Hughes… the list goes on and on. Before all of these men started gaining million dollar income from albums and the field of play their families struggled in low income housing areas that were more havens for heathens the pop culture figures.

Michael Vick is one of the many popular athletes that have many similarities to Biggie and other rappers upbringings.

They all dreamed about getting out and making it big, you know “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this 50 inch screen, money green leather sofa Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur.” Along the way to those successes they suffered the same type of ills and problems, lack of family structure (no father), living in the slums, feeling like they would never get out, then when they finally did no one understood them and always categorized them.

In a sense rappers and athletes are like kindred spirits. They’re the only ones that truly get each other. Its become a rarity these to not see a rapper shout out an athlete in song or the two aligning themselves to form some sort of bond whether its strictly business or an actual alliance amongst friends.

Think back to video footage of Edgerrin James and Trick Daddy hanging together in Miami on MTV, or the Jay-Z and LeBron James friendship or even Biggie himself with Shaquille O’Neal. The two genres of individuals have a level of comfort in one another that media, business moguls or other outsiders will never have.

Biggie more than any rapper brought this relationship to life. His lyrics personified each level of life that young black men from the ghetto were living in whether poor or when they got rich.

The lyric from the beginning of the article is from the first song off of his classic debut album Ready To Die and the song is titled “Things Done Changed.” It is a two bar description of what has become the do or die options of young black men from the ghettos of America in the last three decades, either ball on the court or stand on the block.

Ask Santonio Holmes who admitted to doing just that before he starred as a receiver at Ohio State University. Ask rapper Game born Jayceon Taylor) who said his life became consumed by drug dealing after a basketball scholarship to Washington State fell through (though Wazzu denies that claim.). For most people staring out of there project windows this was how we saw life fame on TV or in the crack game.

He also expressed the aggravation that we have felt as kids left without fathers (“Pop Duke left Mom Duke, The f***** took the back way.”). Athletes from James, Shaq, Prince Fielder and others didn’t have their biological father in their lives growing up to watch them become the athletes they are.

And of course “Mo Money, Mo Problems” has been the anthem for the last generation of young black men who discover success after a lifetime of hardship. Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Marshall and others have had run-ins with the law and have been under constant scrutiny due to their status of being young, rich black men in a professional market.

Think Carmelo doesnt know about Mo' Money Mo' Problems? Think again.

Biggie, as well as most rappers, resonates with athletes because he went through the same troubles as they have both in the slums and on top. He knew about life in the projects then going to the penthouse and all of the consequences that came with each move he made.

One of Biggie’s good friends was Shaquille O’Neal who grew up without his biological father in Newark, New Jersey and who was able to escape his environment to a better life of riches and fame in the NBA. Their bond came about thanks to a line on “Machine Gun Funk” off of Ready to Die. “I’m slammin’ niggas like Shaquille, s*** is real,” we’re Biggie’s words as he played himself and a criminal associate planning a caper.

That line started a relationship with Shaq that including a collaboration on Shaq’s third rap album Can’t Stop The Reign.

Shaq was like many athletes in the 90’s who tried to expand their name from the field to the microphone and be like their lyrical heroes and weave similar tales of their lifestyles. Cedric Ceballos, Deion Sanders, Chris Webber, Kobe Bryant and Iverson have all blessed the microphone in an effort to obtain a platinum plaque while emulating their favorite MC’s. While the results were mixed (mostly bad. That goes for you Roy Jones Jr. and Ron Artest.) the point was that due to their similar backgrounds athletes felt the need to pick up a microphone and show their skills, or lack of.

The same can be said for rappers trying to go pro. Master P gave it a go with tryout for the Raptors and Hornets and his son tried to ball on USC’s basketball team a few years ago.

Lets be thankful Allen Iverson's basketball career was longer than his rap career.

But more than anything the best way for both sides to come together is through the mutual respect of rappers shouting out their favorite ballers on record or the building of a relationship out of the studio and off of the field.

It’s always cool seeing Young Jeezy bring out LeBron at a concert or seeing David Ortiz snapping a flick with Dr. Dre because it’s out of respect for one another’s craft. Much like Biggie and Shaq, these friendship show the union of black men in similar scenarios coming together to show love and respect for one another. It’s an occurrence that is rarely seen in the actual environments where we once lived and serves as a teaching tool for kids in similar situations.

Beyond the relationship of athlete/rapper, Biggie showed all sides how to really live it up. Biggie’s visual displays of the spoils of his labor are what drove David Stern to adapt new rules as to how players dress when entering the NBA work environment.

When Biggie started rocking the Jesus piece, everyone followed. You still see the piece on the necks of James, Darnell Dockett and other athletes today. The Jesus piece is to black youth as the pinky ring was to the mob (though we still had to get a pinky ring thank you Henry Hill and Nicky Santoro.). When Biggie started sippin Cristal champagne, we all had to have it.

Biggie showed us the spoils of being young, black and famous. He pretty much bankrolled the designer Coogi and made Versace silk button ups a steady fashion accessory in hip-hop culture. Look at old photos of Jonathan Bender or JaMarcus Russell in one of those cable knitted multi-colored sweaters or think of the countless athletes in those free flowing shirts with some Versace glasses to match. How many dudes had to get something that resembled a Rolex after Big had one? I can’t afford one but I always have to have a nice looking watch on my arm

He was a trendsetter. Hell, his trends have lasted almost 20 years since he first jumped on the scene and are still seen in the NFL, NBA and MLB.

That’s why he lives on long past his death 14 years ago and through two or three different generations.

These two understand each other better than any of us ever will.

This morning on Twitter I saw Michael J. Smith, Chad Ochocinco, Jemele Hill and a bunch of my buddies in college posting random Biggie quotes from all of his songs. That’s a range of people from ages 20-40. When Biggie dies some of them were 6, I wasn’t in high school yet, others were starting their professional careers, yet we all know his lyrics word for word.

It’s funny that this year Biggie’s death anniversary fell on Ash Wednesday for me. It’s the beginning of Lent where we sacrifice something we love for a greater good and we mourn and repent for our sins. I mourned Biggie by listening to his entire catalog while fasting and posting a bunch of my favorite lyrics along the way. People would dispute that Biggie was nothing like Jesus and might’ve been a bigger heathen than most fallen martyr’s in entertainment.

But I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I knew of what Biggie spoke of. I knew people like Arizona Ron, Dark Skinned Jermaine and Sing from the 15th floor. I know about the dangers of life in those areas and what happens when you’re black and stumble upon some success in the real world. Everything with Biggie resonates with me from waking up “f***** up, pockets broke as hell,” to “talk s*** and get you neck slit quick,” to wanting a garage like cee-lo “4’s, 5’s and 6’s.”

Biggie was the good and bad in all of us where we are from. He was a great talent in a bad neighborhood with big aspirations and not enough people to understand. Like myself, Allen Iverson, Dez Bryant and others he didn’t care. His goal was make it, be great, look good and have fun doing it.

We all followed Biggie’s lead even to this day. We’ve forged similar relationship like he had with Shaq and that respect is still there.

I wish Big was here to see his influence, to see how many rappers follow his rhyme style, to see how many ballers follow his dress code and ways to live it up and to see how many people still spit his lyrics.

Biggie was influential in Hip-Hop’s uprising as well as the urban black athlete from his inception to way past his death. He made athletes aware of their surroundings and how similar they were in our upbringing. As we mourn/celebrate his legacy today I know that there other ways to make it out of the ghetto other than shooting hoops or selling crack. However, for the case of our generation, and for young black athletes, he let us know it was there and that not many of us were different from each other in who we were.

People like Iverson, Shaq, Randy Moss and others now knew someone understood them and that they could confide in people who had the same aspirations and goals as them. We should be thankful of Biggie for that. At least I am.


The Heat Are Not Elite

The Heat are good, but not on the celtics level

Did you know that the Miami Heat are only 1-6 versus the top five teams in the NBA this season?

Funny stat huh? Especially when everyone and there mom is sitting around discussing how much the Lakers need a big time win and how they struggle against stiffer competition.

After Sunday’s loss at Boston isn’t about time that we give them the same treatment?

Their 85-82 loss showed once again that “The Heatles,” as glamorous as they may seem, are not the top tier team that we think they are. Never mind their Christmas day win in L.A.; the Lakers could care less about those types of games. Kobe and company are biding their time until the postseason when it actually matters to have statement wins. The Lakers can go about their business like that because they are defending Champs.

The Heat on the other hand don’t have the same luxury due to their lack of Jewelry and Mt. Everest sized hype.

Ever since LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh stood together in July they were crowned the best team in the league. They would win 70 games, they would be unstoppable… if that’s the case then how do you lose for the third time to the best team in the Eastern Conference and this time when they are as healthy Big Pun?

The Celtics were without two big men yesterday (Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal), Marquise Daniels and Paul Pierce was closer to 10% than 100%. They trotted out little used Von Wafer for 14 minutes and only went 7 deep in their rotation. They put Rajon Rondo on LeBron James in spurts in the third quarter… how the hell did the Heat lose this game? Easy answer, they’re better than the Heat, more in-depth answer… they’re tougher than the Heat.

Wafer scored more points in those 14 minutes that the entire Heat bench did all game; Big Baby Davis was huge in spelling Kendrick Perkins who is coming back from knee surgery. Davis in 30 minutes scored 16 points off of the bench and helped outmuscle Miami’s weak front line.

Yet the biggest advantage came in the mental department. The Celtics got in the Heat’s head yesterday. The Rondo ploy on LeBron was stupid brilliant. It was stupid because if LeBron wanted to he could’ve backed Rondo down all game long, but it was brilliant because somehow Rondo put a ton of pressure on the ball and James couldn’t make the plays he normally does.

Putting Rondo on James was so silly, yet so effective.

The Celtic toughness was on full display yesterday. When the shots weren’t falling the defense turned its game up. They forced 15 turnovers including 6 by Wade who had another horrible outing against Boston this year. They turned up the physicality forcing Wade into a stupid flagrant foul on Kevin Garnett in the third after KG floored Mike Miller with a vicious pick. After the foul was assessed you saw Rondo poking around the Heat huddle like a little kid nosing around the refrigerator and didn’t stop even though four players pushed him away.

The C’s showed that no matter how shorthanded they are the best team in the league resides in Boston and that as hyped as the Heat are they’re not title ready just yet.

The Heat’s flaws were on full display. They’re too dependent on their Big 3; they have no considerable depth, no big men inside and no consistent point guard play. The Big 3 rarely complete games together unless it’s to lesser competition and (eerie music please) none of these guys seem to want to take the big shot.

Why in the world was Bosh away from the ball, Wade setting a pick and James inbounding the ball while Mike Miller took the potential game tying three? Shouldn’t that be a shot designed for your best players? It wasn’t the first time either. Guys like Mario Chalmers and Eddie House have taken game tying or winning shots while the 3 musketeers stood and watched. That can’t happen. You have to take that shot if you’re the supposed main guy. Kobe wouldn’t pass, Melo wouldn’t and these guys shouldn’t.

The Heat to me are all bark and no bite, all flash and no grit. They have no killer instinct; no want to step on the other guys’ throat. The Celtics have that. When the game got tough the C’s flexed their muscles and beat up the Heat. Their experience in these situations and toughness carried them where the Heat looked dazed and confused trying to muster up some sort of retaliation but to no avail.

At some point the Heat have to figure Boston out.

Looking ahead for the Heat, they have 28 games left to figure out how to get that mental toughness and beat a worthy opponent when it matters. They have to go to Chicago and face D-Rose later this month and next month things get really interesting with games against San Antonio, the Lakers coming to Miami, and Oklahoma City and Orlando as well.

They have one more game versus Boston in December too but it’ll be the 80th game of the season and both teams may rest their starters.

Not that it matters though. What we learned yesterday is something we should’ve known since day one; Boston is the better team than Miami. It doesn’t matter if they’re at full strength or not, Boston gets the job done and belongs among the elite in the league.

The Heat however, are still a work in progress.