Jump Ball

A ‘tie-up’ is resolved with it.

The clock doesn’t start without it.

It’s one of those rare moments in a game where the officials have all control.

Two opposing players face off with one hand slightly raised anticipating the ref to toss the basketball in the air; and for a split second it’s a fair game. The ball is up for grabs.

Welcome to the current state of the Eastern Conference.

Two weeks ago, The King decided to leave his throne in Cleveland, so he could begin a new quest out west. LeBron James since 2011 has been the most selfish player in the league refusing fans to enjoy an NBA Finals without his face. To put it in perspective, the last time I watched a LeBron-less team in the Finals was my freshman year of high school. (I’m a college graduate now.)

All eyes have been on the West since the start of free agency, but ironically, LeBron’s decision made the East more entertaining.

The King is now where he belongs. Unlike the East, the West doesn’t shatter merely because of LeBron’s presence. They play with a different edge. Mainly because they have to if they have any chance of taking down the Golden State All Stars.

However, LeBron’s exit did birth a new revolution. His greatness overshadowed the conference’s quality, so teams never received the appreciation they deserved. Those days are over now.

Speculations can come to a cease and mysteries are about to get solved: Will the Raptors reign with their nemesis out of the picture? Can Brad Stevens and a healthy Kyrie uphold Boston’s rich tradition? Can we really Trust The Process? Does the Greek Freak have a coach he can trust? Just how good are the Pacers? And will the Wizards ever play up to their potential?

I’m out of questions, but you get the point. The throne in the East is up for grabs. Everyone can either put up or shut up, and not look at LeBron as a scapegoat. Who’s willing to fight for it?

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics

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Kawhi’s Cry

Strange. Odd. Apathetic. Peculiar.

These are some of the adjectives I think of when Kawhi Leonard’s name is mentioned in conversation. This is not to antagonize or condemn him for staying true to his self, but one can’t deny that Kawhi is a little…different.

However, ‘The Klaw’ is a special talent. There’s not another player in this league that can frustrate players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant with suffocating defense, while managing to put up 30 points efficiently. He wasn’t expected to be a star; let alone the face of a franchise. But when Kawhi became the centerpiece in the Spurs’ championship run in 2014, the basketball world thought San Antonio had a new king ready to continue tradition.

Don’t skip past that word so quickly. Yes. We thought.

The Spurs this past season has been everything I described Kawhi as: strange, odd, apathetic, and peculiar. And the only question that remains unanswered is ‘Why?’

Why doesn’t anyone know the status of Kawhi’s lingering quad injury? Why did Tony Parker question the heart of San Antonio’s superstar? Why is the NBA’s most respected franchise in total disarray? Why isn’t Kawhi saying anything?

Okay. Excuse the last question because that one will remain a mystery unsolved.

But as you can see, this entire phenomenon is a paradox to everyone. All of us are confused—except for the focal point of this whole scenario.

What are you saying, Dariel?”

I’m saying that Kawhi Leonard is very conscious of his situation. He understands that the San Antonio Spurs are a first class organization operated by a Hall of Fame coach. However, he’s very aware of the changing landscape of the NBA.

The days of teams being powered by a 1-2 combo are pretty much extinct. To win a title in 2018, it’s a requirement to have 3 superstars (and Jesus). San Antonio isn’t an attractive market, so the Spurs historically are forced to build through the draft. Kawhi rightfully doesn’t have the patience for that. He wants to win now.

The only resolution that stands for Kawhi is to get out. He has felt betrayed by the organization. Veterans have disrespected him in public. If he’s looking for a more perfect time to leave, he’ll miss it.

Is he out of line for ‘allegedly’ threatening to sit out a season? Maybe. But then again he’s ‘injured.’ No one really knows the truth.

Nevertheless, Players have the freedom to do what’s best for their careers, and Kawhi is in his prime.

At the end of the day, Kawhi is looking out for self. We don’t question franchises for being selfish, so why are we questioning the player? It’s business, right?

LeBron + L.A. = ?

I know what you’re thinking.

This writer has to be a Lakers fan. Only Lakers fans entertain random rumors about landing a star-caliber player every summer.

I’m willing to bet that you rolled your eyes and shook your head when you read the title.

Let me save you the trouble… I am.

But please proceed to read this article. This is not a piece coming from a selfish fan’s perspective. I’m too impartial for that. However, through three rational points, I’m going to explain to you why LeBron James in a Lakers uniform is not just perfect for the franchise—but for the NBA as a whole. (This is going to be good.)

  1. The NBA is losing its excitement. I know that the NBA’s ratings are up, but credit that to the greatness of the Warriors. For the 3 of the last 4 seasons, we have watched Golden State tyrannize the Cavaliers. And if you believed in your heart that the Cavs were favored to win it all in the past few years, I would highly advise you to seek counseling.

It’s been fun watching the Warriors’ dynamic run, but the league has become too predictable. It’s time for a change.

  1. The NBA is simply better when the Lakers are great. I know that sounds biased and arrogant. Do I care? No. But at least let me explain why I’m this way.

The foundation of the NBA is built off the Lakers’ and Celtics’ success. Do names like Bill Russell, Jerry West, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and Paul Pierce ring a bell? I could go on, but I’m tired of typing.

Boston and Los Angeles own nearly half of the league’s championships, and have been in the Finals in every generation of basketball. It should be a no-brainer that these two organizations drive the NBA’s success.

  1. Not that it needs any help, but LeBron in L.A. would elevate his legacy. The greatest player in the world with one of the greatest franchises ever is like the gift that keeps on giving. Not to mention the other stars that would hop on board to join The King, but today is not the day to have that conversation.

LeBron James, with the right counterparts, has a golden opportunity to dethrone the Warriors (no pun intended). He will also have the chance to make his mark in the West, and quiet the critics that assumed he could only reign in the East.

And after he advances to his ninth straight Finals, he plays the Eastern Conference favorite and faces his former partner-in-crime—Kyrie Irving. (I told you it was going to be good.)

Don’t be mistaken. I am not a LeBron fan. However, if the Lakers miss this opportunity, not only does the franchise not takes an L, but so does the league.

D-UP!’s Draft Attack

Another year, another wave of talent ready to take the league by storm.

It’s a beautiful thing watching potential stars have their dreams fulfilled. It’s even more exciting for the fans that formulate every prediction possible about how each rookie will stand out from the rest.

But even with all of the hype, it’s very important to remember one thing: They’re still kids in a men’s league. Although the NBA will display different faces next season, you’ll see that it’s the same routine.

Some of these youngins will turn into superstars. A couple ‘no-names’ may surprise us and show that they’re franchise players. A few of the draftees will never be talked about again. That’s the way it goes.

But that’s neither here-or-there. I’m not writing to talk about who is going to be an all-star in the future. I want to deal with the now. And right now, I anticipate 5 rookies making an immediate impact when they step on the hardwood.

Let’s take a look. (I’ll be quick.)

NBA Draft Basketball

DeAndre Ayton~ This shouldn’t be a surprised. He’s been dubbed the #1 pick, since the Draft Lottery ended. He also made heads turn when he compared him and Devin Booker to Shaq & Kobe. People laughed. I didn’t.

If the first European coach in NBA history can get these two in one accord, there will be a new dynamic duo surging in the West. (Stat Prediction: 15 PPG, 10 REB)

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Marvin Bagley III~ Marvin… Please believe me. This Duke forward is the most talented player in the draft, and he couldn’t have gotten picked by a better team. The Kings are young princes right now, but there potential couldn’t be higher. If the team’s rebuilding experiment fails, check the coaching staff and the front office—not the players. (Stat Prediction: 14 PPG, 9 REB)

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Kevin Knox~ With Kristaps Porzingis coming back from injury, Knox will be forced to grow up quick. The Knicks don’t have a wingman that can create his own shot, so Knox has to embrace the challenge early on. Lucky for him, he was Coach Fizdale’s guy, and I expect to see Coach Fiz mold Knox into something great. (Stat Prediction: 11 PPG, 6 REB)

2018 NBA Draft

Donte Divincezo~ Thank you, Bucks. Not that I’m a fan, but I kept wondering when Milwaukee would snag somebody that could spread the floor. Donte is the missing link for the Bucks. He’s an athletic, knock-down shooter that will free up the Greek Freak’s game a lot. The Bucks will be a top 3 team in the East next year. (Stat Prediction: 8 PPG, 39% 3 PT)

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Grayson Allen~ Hate him or love him, Grayson Allen can play, and pairing him with a killer like Donovan Mitchell is an upgrade. He’ll start off as a sixth man, but he’ll find ways to score. I can’t wait to see how Coach Snyder gets these two to gel. (He better leave his dirty playing style in college though.) Stat Prediction: 10 PPG, 36% 3PT

Alright, ladies and gents. Those are my guesses, and if I’m wrong I’m so glad you still let me waste 15 minutes of your time. Nevertheless, grab your popcorn for another year of Summer League, and let’s see who shows promise for the first jump ball in October.

Oracle’s Codes

‘D-UP!’ SPORTS
Somewhere in Kentucky
May 31, 2018

LeBroom James
Leader of the Cav Band/ General Manager
Cleveland Cavaliers
1 Center Court
Cleveland, Ohio, 44115

Mr. James,

Take heed of the following words you are about to dissect. I want you to CTRL + ALT + DEL everything you remember about last year’s Finals. It’s a new season. You have a new squad, which means it’s time to attack with a new approach.

Now what I want you to do is concentrate and note these codes I’m about reveal to you. These are the keys to your success. These codes are for you to exploit the Warriors’ weaknesses.

Why am I doing this you ask? Because I want to watch an entertaining series, regardless of the fact I expect a sweep. Nevertheless, pay attention so you can pick the lock to a 7-game series.

CODE: {DRAYDAY}

Draymond Green can’t shoot 3s. To be frank, he has sucked in the playoffs. Against the Rockets, he was 2 for 17 (12%) beyond the arc. In my opinion, you should guard him, and use it as an opportunity to double team certain players when necessary. You should be able to cause some turnovers and let loose in transition.

CODE: {BRNGDARUCKUS}

Set the tone defensively and play very physical. This is the last series of the season, so there’s no excuse why your team can’t amp up their effort. Golden State is known for their complacency at times, so make them as uncomfortable as possible. Doing so could make them take bad shots and limit their 3rd quarter runs.

CODE: {KARDASH}

Get your boy Tristan in order. If he’s focused, he can have a field day on the offensive glass. The Warriors are one of the worst teams in the league in defensive rebounding with a Defensive Rebounding Rate of 76.3 (25th). Create 2nd chance opportunities to prevent the Dubs from draining 3s on their fast breaks.

Mr. James, these are the codes. You now have access to Golden State’s vulnerability. Now go give us a Finals worth watching.

Signing off,

Dariel King

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Creator of ‘D-UP!’

Donovan Simmons

I’ve seen enough.

After watching 6 months, 23 days, and 16 hours of NBA basketball this season, my mind is made up; my verdict is validated, and I have come to my conclusion: Donovan Mitchell should be crowned Rookie of the Year. If you don’t agree with me, you probably repeated the 3rd grade.

Nevertheless, I will not use this time to slander Ben Simmons’ talent or skill set, because he’s the obvious alternative. The Fresh Prince (or so they call him) got game. He’s a 6’10” floor general with the IQ of a six-year veteran. Some will call it luck if he makes a shot outside of 7 feet without hitting glass, but hey, everybody sucks at something.

Now even though Ben Simmons stands out in his own right, I won’t use those compliments to counteract my original argument. Donovan Mitchell is the star of this blog; and I’m going to illustrate using the 3 R’s on why he’s the league’s best rookie.

The first R is Rookie. Sounds stupid, but it’s really not if you have common sense. Donovan Mitchell is a true rookie meaning he was drafted in June 2017, and played his first game in October. Simmons, who came in 2016, is what you call a redshirt. Due to injury, he was able to sit out a year to develop his body, study the game, and adjust to the NBA’s lifestyle at a slower pace. Mitchell didn’t have that luxury, which is why his performances are more monumental.

This brings me to my second R: Respect. I want you to observe the picture below.

celtics ben

Now, I’m not a genius (well, yeah I am.), but I don’t think teams fear Ben. He’s a valuable point guard, but also an abortive asset. This is the same “rookie” that scored only 1 point in Game 2 against the Celtics. Mitchell, however, has been receiving high honors from other superstars including LeBron James.

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When you go to a job interview, there are two things you know for sure: what job you’re applying for and how presentable you need to be in order to make a good impression. But these things are only the foundation. You need something on paper for validation: A Resume.

Simmons put in work. Averaging nearly 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists for your first season is notable. I’m even more impressed with the fact he led the Sixers to a 50-win season.

But let’s face other facts.

Mitchell averaged 20-4-3, leading star-less Jazz team to a 5th seed ranking in the Western Conference. He went up a notch in the playoffs increasing his numbers to 24-6-4. In the Jazz’s elimination game against the Rockets, he scored 22 points in the 3rd quarter alone.

Donovan is that dude for them now.

Basketball has always been an “alpha-dog” type of sport, and it always will be, which is why Donovan Mitchell is my Rookie of the Year.

donovan dunk

Why James Harden Should Be Snubbed Again

Before you decipher this blog, I promise you that my own personal thoughts towards James Harden’s eccentric unwillingness to cut off his Mohawk at age 28 does not interfere with my argument.

Harden isn’t one of my favorites, but I can’t deny him as a smooth arsonist.
He has all of the tools that make defenders apprehensive: fluid ball-handling, a silky, smooth step-back jumper, and a vexatious ability to get foul calls, which can make players seethe.

come on eye roll GIF by NBA-source

James aka ‘The Beard’ is the best 2-guard in the NBA, and the attention he has received is justified; a historic 60-point triple-double performance, a 30-8-5 average, and he’s the driving force behind the Rockets’ 65-win season. Surely, this is enough to finally be recognized as the league’s Most Valuable Player. However, just because he’ll probably win the award, doesn’t mean he should.

The title ‘MVP’ can be over-analyzed at times. Some will say it’s deserved to the best overall player. Some will argue that it should be crowned to whoever has the best season. But if you was to take the label for what it is, you would see that it’s exactly what it says: Most Valuable; and James Harden is not that.

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The Rockets are a playoff team with or without Harden. The Rockets also have an honorable head coach. These are two key aspects that 2 other players lack, yet they’re having a more impressive year.

Russell Westbrook became the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double in back-to-back seasons. LeBron James in his 15th year played all 82 games for the first time in his career while averaging 27, 9, & 8. (A career high in assists and rebounds, by the way.)

Both of these players’ teams have a shared characteristic—they’re not playoff contenders without these stars, which is what “most valuable” means to me. I’m not saying Mr. Mohawk (I tried) shouldn’t be considered, but if we’re going to give him an award, let it be Most Groomed because it’s a talent to maintain that beard as long as he has.

March’s Denouement

Ya know? After doing some pondering, I believe that we should fast-forward through all sport-related activities for the rest of 2018. Let’s reflect on the buffoonery that has happened during the first 3 months.

A 2nd-string quarterback put on his cape to lead Alabama to another FBS title. Tom Brady also lost his third Super Bowl to a backup QB. And a 16 seed beat a 1 seed in this year’s Big Dance.
Actually, that game was inevitable because Virginia is trash.

But in any event, this year is kind of strange for sports. It’s like if you are currently in the friend zone, this is the year to get a bucket. Our time has come. So let’s see if I can guess the madness right this time.
LoyolaChicago_Michigan_2018_NCAATournament_FinalFour_1
Michigan is not going to win this game. Not because they’re the inferior team. They’re going to lose because Jalen Rose’s grandmother is antagonizing Sister Jean. This game has to be nothing short of a classic.

Michigan has been on a roll, but something about Loyola-Chicago’s grit makes me a fan of them. They don’t take no for an answer, and a miracle always works in their favor. The Ramblers will take it, 70-67. I understand that’s not an “x and o” prediction. But does that really matter in March?
Kansas_Villanova_2018_NCAATournament_FinalFour_1
This game is everything you want in a championship game. Two respectable programs. Hall of Fame-caliber coaches. And players that can drink legally.

Kansas is a really good team, but I don’t trust Bill Self with a game of this magnitude. I don’t think any coach can prepare for a cold-blooded duo like Jalen Brunson and Mikel Bridges. The Wildcats will go to their second championship game in 3 years beating the Jayhawks 82-71.

I know what you’re thinking.

“This dude is really gonna have Loyola winning it all.”

I’m glad you know me so well. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. Loyola-Chicago just may be a team of destiny, and I’m going to continue to flow with this mercurial rhythm that 2018 has given us thus far. Loyola will defeat Villanova and win their 2nd Final Four in 55 years, 63-61.
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P.S: There is a 98% chance that I’ll regret this blog later.

Drama King

The King.

That’s what they call him.

A 6-8 freight train in his 15th season that is still considered as an MVP favorite, and is capable of appearing in his 8th consecutive NBA Finals.

Rings? He’s got three of them. Philanthropy? He sends thousands of kids to college every year.

A hairline? Okay, everybody can’t have everything, but you get it.

LeBron James is almost the perfect athlete. He’s royalty to this generation.

But if there’s one thing I can honestly say that he’s the king of… it’s being dramatic.

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(I’ll stop typing when I start lying.)

Remember ‘The Decision’ 8 years ago? The hour-long TV special that ran specifically for LeBron, so he could announce his departure for Miami.

Or what about his first-person essay in Sports Illustrated in 2014? The time he revealed that he would return to the Cavaliers, so he could bring Cleveland a championship.

And now we’re entering a new ‘LeBron Sweepstakes’ where the basketball world is in a frenzy because everyone keeps asking the same question: Where is Mr. James playing next?

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Now this is not the part in the blog where I predict his next team based on history, investigative reports, surveys, or whatever. But I will, however, go into detail about what would be the most LeBron-esque free agency move, and why it makes sense.

Peep my theory.

About a week ago, The King revealed his final four: 76ers, Lakers, Rockets, and of course, the Cavaliers. Out of these options, only 2 make sense. The 76ers are still “processing,” and the young Lakers aren’t a good fit for a soon-to-be 16-year veteran.

Cleveland is only a realistic option because it’s home. But he has left before, and he will leave again.

“Leave the Land?” Yes. This is the same city that burned his jerseys in the street, and LeBron gave them a Larry O’Brien Trophy in return. They’re even.

“But why Houston?” Ask yourself, “why Miami?” and you’ll get your answer. LeBron has friends there. CP3 has been like a brother his whole career, and his boy is ring-less. LeBron would love to sign a two-year deal for that cause. As a matter of fact, I’ll even call him pulling one of his typical GM moves mid-season to get a trade for Carmelo Anthony.

“He’s not leaving the East, bruh.” That does sound, crazy right? The idea of ‘Bron leaving a conference that can’t beat him is ludicrous. But you know what would add great value to the LeBron storyline that people love to glorify? Other than finally dethroning the Warriors, he faces the player that wants to destroy him in the Finals…Kyrie. Subsequently, the NBA doesn’t lose ratings.

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Like I said, I’m not into making predictions. I’m just speaking on possibilities. And the way LeBron tells us this time is through a pic on Instagram posted at 3:23 p.m. tagging Chris Paul in it with a Drake lyric as the caption, and I’ll be disappointed if I’m not entertained the slightest bit.

 

How the NCAA has Become the Abusive Husband of Sports

Oh! You clicked the link, which means I have your attention. Or it could just be that you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about after you read the title.

Either way it goes, you’re here, and now I can share my epiphany.

The other day I was watching ‘Enough,’ a movie starring Jennifer Lopez. (Yes. That’s my sole purpose of watching it, and it’s one of my favorite movies. *shrugs)

Anyways, the film is about Slim, a young waitress, who ultimately meets the man of her dreams while serving an obnoxious customer. Mitch Hiller was Slim’s savior; if her dream was to meet a successful entrepreneur that was attractive and charismatic, then she hit the jackpot. Or so she thought.

Years later, Slim couldn’t be happier. She’s married, has a daughter, and most importantly, she doesn’t have to work for tips at a diner anymore. Everything is perfect until she discovers that Mitch is having an affair. When Slim confronted Mitch about it,  he responded by punching her in the face.

The man she once loved has become her nemesis.

Slim has a choice to make: she could either tolerate the abuse or runaway with her daughter to find peace. She chose the latter, which sparked a journey of paranoia that exposed Mitch to be a violent control freak.

The movie doesn’t end this way, but along the journey Slim catches up with her old boyfriend, Joe, who gives her the security and freedom that she’s been running after. Now while watching this movie I asked myself, “Is she wrong for finding happiness in someone else, even though she’s still legally married? Mitch would never concede to a divorce, so what other options are there?”

Even though it’s not right, is it technically still wrong? This is the question I have for the NCAA.

Being a student-athlete is a privilege. Students should be very appreciative of the idea of going to college for free while playing the sport they love. It’s a blessing, and being somebody who didn’t have that luxury, I’m the first person to tell a student-athlete to cherish the opportunity.

However, I’m also an advocate for people getting paid their worth. Sport junkies love stats, so here are some numbers:

According to a report in the Indy Star, the NCAA tallies $1 billion in annual revenue. Fox Sports reported in 2014 that the average college football player has a market value of $178,000/year; and for college basketball players, it’s $375,000. I’m not the most intelligent person, but if the average student pays $9,000 a year in tuition fees, then that means there’s a lot of money still out there. Right? I mean…. if I’m wrong, tell me where I made an error in my math.

College basketball has been in a frenzy as of late. An FBI investigation identified at least 25 players from prominent programs receiving monetary benefits from sport agencies. These agencies allegedly invested in marketable players through “hush money” so the players will sign with them once they declare for the draft.

Is it illegal? Yes, but think of it from this perspective. If you saw the NCAA giving coaches monetary bonuses for having a successful season (from your performance), but the organization doesn’t feel the need to pay you your worth, what would you do? That’s what I thought.

Now back to the movie.

Slim realizes that the only way she can move on is to kill her past. Literally. The movie ends with Slim scheming to get Mitch alone, so she can be done with her psychotic husband once and for all.

Now, hold your horses. I’m not saying that college athletes should kill the NCAA. However, this is a storm that the NCAA’s greed has created, and I believe this is what the student-athletes have to do to be heard: Boycott the Big Dance, the NCAA’s primary money maker.

Before this potentially happens, I urge the NCAA to do some serious soul searching. They know what they have to do solve this matter. Because everyone knows what one man won’t do, another will. If they don’t take ownership of this mess, they will find themselves in competition.

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