Brains or Money - Some of the owners of Sports Franchises believe that buying the contracts of the most expensive athletes will guarantee Championships. Regrettably for them, they have learned that this approach does not necessarily work. There has to be someone who has enough knowledge and experience to evaluate the talent that is available, and to make selections that are best for what they have in mind. Also, all championship teams must have strong leadership, and tight organizational discipline. Team sports, especially Basketball and Football require a great deal of discipline, if they are to be successful. Otherwise, in the heat of a contest, some players will panic or simply surrender, when the going gets tough. That is why the training to be a Marine or a Navy Seal is so tough. They have to know that they can count on each other, when the circumstances are most dangerous and stressful.
The teams that impressed me most in the NBA Playoffs, in no particular order, are the Houston Rockets, the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers, the San Antonio Spurs, the Golden State Warriors, and the Miami Heat. Of these, the Rockets were the biggest surprise. Kevin McHale, the old Celtic Hall of Famer, has quickly put together a talented young team. They don't have a big star yet, but they are only one player away from being a real contender. I think that is where Dwight Howard will choose to go. I think that he understands that McHale can give him the expert coaching that he needs in order to fully develop his talents. In addition I do not think that Howard has the emotional stability that is required of athletes who play in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York.
When Jerry Buss owned the Lakers and Jerry West was responsible for evaluating and signing the talent, winning seemed easy and almost automatic. The Lakers just seemed so lucky that anyone could do it. Now, they have a hodgepodge of talented players, who do not fit well as a team. In addition, they have a well-intentioned coach, who does not seem to be in touch with reality. The good news is that they have Kobe Bryant. The bad news is that they have Kobe Bryant. It is unthinkable to many of the younger fans of the Lakers that Bryant will return to the team and not be as good as he was before. However, it is not likely that he will be even with his incredible work ethic. Father Time robs great athletes of their talent, whenever he chooses to do so. Chauncey "Mr. Big Shot" Billups, is an example of what I mean.
The value of Bryant's talent is diminished not only because he is uncoachable, but also because he feels that it is his prerogative to do as he chooses. This kind of behavior intimidates and demoralizes other players on any team of which he is a member. Their survival depends upon their pleasing both the coach and Bryant. The usual result is that they will not play well enough to please anyone, including themselves. It is my opinion that the Lakers deliberately avoided hiring an authoritative head coach like Nate McMillan, or Byron Scott, because they were trying to avoid an all-out conflict with Bryant. Clearly, the members of his team do not have much respect for their present head coach. Indeed, some of them feel sorry for him, since he is obviously not up to the task of leading this team to their full potential. This is not necessarily a championship. Local fans look at the team with their hearts, instead of their eyes. Coach K of Duke, who has also won USA Basketball Olympic Championships, is the one coach that Bryant defers to. Bryant understands that Coach K would not allow anything less than complete cooperation, and that the team could win the Olympics without him.
The Golden State Warriors with Mark Jackson, their brilliant young coach, and Stephen Curry, the best three point shooter in the NBA, became one of the better franchises in the NBA this year. They lost to the talented and experienced San Antonio Spurs, but not before they gave them a mighty scare. It is interesting to note that Jerry West, formerly with the Lakers, is now a consultant with the Warriors. In addition to Curry, there are three or four talented young players that you don't know about yet. You will learn about them in the future. That is the way that it used to be with the Lakers. Somehow he would find these unknown players, and they would either become stars, or strong bench players. He drafted Nixon, Cooper, Van Exel, Rambis, and Fisher; before they were household names. He also took a big risk by trading a starter, Vlade Divac, for the right to draft the 17-year-old Kobe Bryant. During the halcyon days of the egomaniacal Phil Jackson, West became the odd man out, and he left the organization. The previously woe begone Warriors were purchased by a new group two years ago. No dummies, one of the first things that they did was to hire West as a Consultant. In just two years, they not only made the NBA Playoffs, but they also defeated the Denver Nuggets in the first round. They are now a sound organization, and they will be better next year.
No matter how exciting the preliminaries may be, The NBA Championship will be won by the Miami Heat. They have several excellent players on this team and strong coaching leadership. In addition they have LeBron James, who is nothing less than a Force of Nature. As great as he is, there is able assistance from Wade, Bosch, Allen, Battier, and a rare talent called "Bird Man." They will defeat the San Antonio Spurs, but it will not be a walk in the park for them. The Spurs are the best coached team in the NBA, but the Heat has the most talent. It is sad to contemplate, but this may be the last game for the great Tim Duncan. He has exceeded everyone's expectations for more than 15 years. In many ways, he has been as close to perfection, as an athlete and human being can be. Father Time has Duncan in his sights. If we are extremely fortunate, he may play for one more year. We all hope so.
Elgin Baylor will be auctioning some of his memorabilia on May 31, in Beverly Hills. Some people auction their stuff away, because they are simply downsizing. Others do it, because they desperately need the money. Some do it for both of the above reasons. Baylor was fired by the Clippers about five years ago, and he has not found employment in the NBA. He was a huge star, but that was before the million-dollar contracts and the shoe deals. All of us wish him the best.