You want to start a never-ending bar discussion that just might degenerate into an out and out bar room brawl? Ask the guys in the bar who the greatest player of all time is. Yes, that's right, ask them who the GOAT is.
It sounds like a harmless enough question, something that can be the subject of a rather fun discussion, maybe even elicit a few laughs.
But then again, that depends on who one asks. There are some fans that will - quite literally - fight you over their choice of GOAT.
In the basketball world, there seems to be an easy enough answer, a rare consensus that is, that Michael Jordan, His Airness, is the sport's greatest of all time.
It'd be a compelling case: multiple NBA championships, multiple MVP awards, multiple defensive player of the year awards, All Star from Day 1, the man who basically turned the game of basketball into a global game, arguably the most popular athlete of his generation, and one of the most popular of all time regardless of sport.
And this, Praxedes, is where I must throw a monkey wrench into the works.
It is well-documented how much I do not subscribe to the notion of a Most Valuable Player. Let me know declare, using a similar line of argument, that I now believe there can be no such thing as a greatest of all time, no way is there a GOAT.
Allow me to explain, Praxedes, using a similar tack as the MVP argument.
Basketball is a team sport, so by that very fundamental principle alone, no one player could ever win on his own. There is no way, for example, that one could take say fourteen Division 3 scrubs, complete their roster with the 25-year old Michael Jordan, and expect them to become NBA champion. I would bet even money they might even become the worst team in the league. Sure, Jordan would in all likelihood score 50 points per game and put on a show every night, but a team this awful just cannot win, even with the nominal GOAT on their roster.
Think about all of the players who have ever been in the GOAT conversation: Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Oscar Roberston, Bill Russell, Trim Duncan and on and on and on.
Each of those men are in the conversation because they are champions, they have the individual awards, and they have those "intangibles" that made them all winners.
One of the things I think that is conveniently left out of this conversation is that the times they won they all had at least one other teammate who was himself an All Star. Heck, Magic and Kareem won five championships together on those Showtime Lakers teams. Jordan, for all of his wondrous talent, had the greatest sidekick in the history of the NBA in Scottie Pippen. Pippen may not have won a thing without Jordan, but Jordan, arguably won as much as he did thanks in large part to Pippen.
You don't think having great teammates mattered for these guys? What if Magic was only passing to say Mike Smrek and Adrian Branch instead of Kareem and James Worthy; would that still have been Showtime? What if Bird only had David Thirdkill and Fred Roberts and never had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish? What if Jordan only had Larry Neal instead of Pippen? What's that, Praxedes? You never even heard of those other guys? Would it surprise you to know that all of those guys really were teammates of those aforementioned GOAT candidates during their respective times with the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls?
Imagine Jordan or Magic on say the Los Angeles Clippers, or the Vancouver Grizzlies, of their time, and I would still wager even money that they would not have won with either of those teams either. For all of an elite superstar's talent and powers, the very nature of the game of basketball precludes any one player from being able to carry an entire team all by himself all the way to a championship.
Let us just imagine what such a player would have to do. He would probably have to score over 50 points per game, deliver a triple double with rebounds and assists every game as well, maybe thrown in two to three blocks, and two to three steals per game, be able to shoot 50% from three-point range, at least 60% overall from the field, and at least 90% from on freethrows. If he could, he should never ever foul out, or get a technical, or miss a game due to discipline or injury. He would also have to lead his team to the championship every year, meaning if he has a typical NBA career that he would have led his team to 10 straight championships assuming he has a 10-year career. Given all of the foregoing he would also be a 10-time MVP, maybe at least a 5-time Defensive Player of the Year, definitely he would be an historic Rookie-MVP, taking after Chamberlain and Wes Unseld. Only under all of those circumstances would anybody be the GOAT, that is how impossible
8. Cafe France channels their inner Blackwater to beat NLEX. Cafe France, a team made up mostly of the core of the Centro Escolar University Scorpions of NAASCU, became only the second team in the last six years to beat mighty NLEX for the PBA D League championship. 6-foot-5 import Rodrigue Ebondo of Cameroon made the buzzer-beating title-clinching basket in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the Foundation Cup conference. "Ibigay ko daw sa kanya ang bola at siya na gagawa, so binigay namin sa kanya at nag-deliver siya," exclaimed Coach Egay Macaraya. NLEX has been mostly the resident champion of the D League with their always-loaded lineup. This Foundation Cup lineup was made up of the core of NCAA Dynasts San Beda. However, they had to make do without their San Beda stars in this game, as the Red Lions had to focus on the NCAA season that already opened at around this same time. They still had a formidable roster though, with eventual PBA first round draftees Troy Rosario, Chris Newsome, and Scottie Thompson leading the way. But it just was not enough to overcome the tough Bakers who were hungry for their first ever D League crown.
9. There were some question marks in the PBA Draft. This does not pertain only to Talk N Text somehow winding up getting the top two picks - 6-foot-7 Tongan-born Mo Tautuaa, and 6-foot-7 Gilas Pool mainstay Troy Rosario - but also to some picks that just seemed not to make all that much sense. For example, how did Roi Sumang wind up all the way down into the third round? Many draft projections had him going as early as the second half of the first round. Sumang was an outstanding amateur who looked PBA-ready, yet GlobalPort still saw him available all the way down to the third round. To their credit the Batang Pier did grab him right away, and even made him the first draftee signed up by the club that picked him. "Nung nakita namin na andun pa si Roi kinuha na namin talaga, nagtaka pa nga kami bakit andun siya," said Coach Pido Jarencio after drafting Sumang. Then Letran star Mark Cruz, Don Trollano, Simon Enciso, Abel Galliguez, Bradwyn Guinto all also wound up going into later rounds. One long-time TV Panel guy perhaps summed it up best when he admitted on air, "I don't really know Don Trollano." Quite an admission considering he also covers the D League, where Trollano was an off again-on again Best Player of the Game. My money is on these guys besting at least three players taken in the first round over their respective careers.
10. Steve Kerr and the Lacobs and make Stef Curry and Golden State NBA Champions. His draft appraisal has always been a constant source of inspiration for Stef Curry. The remarks in it, in fairness, were pretty accurate for him coming out of college: too small to be an NBA 2-guard, can't really play the point, not strong enough, not athletic enough, just a shooter. Lo and behold whoever put that together must still be getting it from all of his buddies, if not the entire scouting fraternity. But that is just making another Kerr story to add to his growing legend. If it wasn't for Golden State team owners the Lacob Brothers, and Steven Kerr, at the time a rookie coach, maybe Curry would still be just another flashy shooter type. The Lacobs put together the team that would turn the NBA on its ear, and make Curry the best player on the planet. Making it all work together is the genius that is Kerr. Who would have thought that guys like Draymond Green, Mo Speights, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, and Andre Igoudala would ever form the core of a championship team? All of them were the prototypes for players who would forever be "missing something" that would make them just role players or journeymen all their lives. Turns out they were all long, athletic, tempo-pushing types that could beat anybody at any time. Now they are NBA champions, Curry the MVP, and they look set to make it a back-to-back title romp sooner rather than later.
11. The death of the big name high school superstar. Quick (and no Googling), name the last UAAP, NCAA, or Tiong Lian MVP who became both MVP and champion at least once during his college career. I'll make it a little easier: even if it was not necessarily the same year. Now I'll make it a little harder: who was the last UAAP, NCAA, or Tiong Lian MVP and champion, who also became a UAAP or NCAA MVP and champion, who also became a PBA MVP and champion? If the answer to this last question is a player who has been in the PBA for more than 10 years, I guess it is safe to say the big name high school superstar has really been dead for the longest time. Some might argue that Terrence Romeo is the closest thing, and he is relatively young. However I cannot take him into consideration because 1) He never won a UAAP senior division championship, and 2) He has yet to become a PBA champion or MVP, so he really is not even close.
12. The truly talented Fil-Am players chose not to come
When this was a column and not a blog it used to be called The Morning After. Now that it is the middle of January it might as well be called the year after. And in truth the year 2015 was quite a year for basketball, not just here but everywhere else. Here are my best memories of basketball for 2015, in no particular order, just listed down as I recall them:
1. Junemar Fajardo finally emerges as the best damn PBA player ever. He led San Miguel Beer to two out of the three conference championships at stake last PBA season. He is without a doubt the best player in the league. He has the size and strength advantage over everyone except Greg Slaughter, but is a much more instinctive player; the game just comes so naturally to him. Fajardo will compile the numbers, the individual accolades, the championships, and hopefully the international titles that will eventually make him the greatest PBA player ever.
2. The San Miguel Group decides not to join the National Team. Well, except for Marc Pingris, and even that was perhaps due to the fact that he was the least superstar-y of the players the Samahang Basketbol Ng Pilipinas wanted for Gilas 3.0. Fajardo, Slaughter, Marcio Lassiter, LA Tenorio, Japheth Aguilar all were simply not made available for Gilas 3.0, whether or not that really was SMC Management's call or not, perhaps only Al Chua will really ever know. In truth not all of them were needed. But the ones who were - Fajardo (backup at 4 and 5 to the naturalized Andray Blatche), Lassiter (arguably the best game-time shooter now in the country), Aguilar (FIBA-level size and atlheticism at the 3, 4, 5) really could have made a huge difference in FIBA competition. The basketball public just plain hammered the SMC Group for this decision.
3. Gilas 3.0 gets royally screwed by the Chinese in the FIBA Asia Finals. Seriously, no one who knows the game, or even those who only casually follow the game, all said the same thing: Chine, as strong as they already were, still decided to pull a fast one on the Philippines during the FIBA Asia Finals. Jayson Castro's inexplicable travel while he was STILL DRIBBLING was only the highlight. Throughout the entire championship game, the officiating was all about making absolutely sure that China would make a return trip to Olympic Basketball. We should've known. They already pulled the same thing against Iran in the semis. Still, a silver medal finish with a team that was less than ideal, and heavily derided, isn't bad at all.
4. Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva get some unequivocal love from the fans thanks to their Gilas 3.0 stint. Abueva probably said it best, "Ngayon lang ako nakaranas na buong Pilipinas sinusuportahan ako, ganito pala feeling." When The Beast made the cut and was named to Gilas 3.0 many fans were wondering how the barely 6-foot-2 forward would fare against the giants of international play at his position. Turns out he either stayed toe to toe with them or best them using the same things he uses that infuriate non-Alaska fans: toughness (ok, gulang, and even good old fashioned pananalbahe), a nonstop motor, that extra gear, and his all-out relentlessness on both ends of the court. Romeo on the other hand could not have picked a better time to dye his hair. He put so many veteran international players on skates. He shot over guys that supposedly would finally be big enough, athletic enough, and tough enough to cover him, and that he would never get away with what he gets away with at home. Yeah, right. I was never a fan of either of these guys for purely non-basketball reasons. But as a basketball fan, c'mon people, these guys had a heck of a coming out party with Gilas 3.0.
5. Letran pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball memory, wresting the crown from San Beda. How on earth a team that small, without an import, could have made the run that they did, still amazes fans to this day. When last season's NCAA Finals match-up turned out to be San Beda-Letran, everybody and his brother just knew that this would be another cakewalk for the Red Lions, all the way to their sixth straight NCAA championship, and ninth in the last ten trips to the NCAA Finals. Lo and behold, the Knights played their own version of small ball and show-mismatch all the way to the title. Too bad the coach that led them here then signed up with Lasalle just a few weeks after.
6. FEU ends its own 10-year title drought by taking home the UAAP championship. Just like Letran in the NCAA, the Tamaraws last had a championship in 2005. Unlike the Knights however, the Tams were simply overwhelming last season. There were games they seemed to simply be on cruise control, toying with opponents they knew they could easily take, and literally taking them to school. Their comebacks never had that feeling of dread in them at all. It just seemed inevitable that regardless how big the deficit
We could go on and on about the numbers posted by Lebron James in the recently concluded NBA Finals. Even the haters (God I hate that word... Does that make me one too?) have to concede that the man just flat out did every damn thing in these Finals.
In the end it wasn't enough. Golden State rode the bullet train of destiny and won their second title in 40 years, fourth as a franchise overall. They did it primarily behind the brilliance of Steve Kerr, a man who always had a coaching career in his cards. He became the second man after Pat Riley to win an NBA championship in his first year as a head coach. He did it by selling a system that seemed too gimmicky, all of that constant movement and passing and outside shooting and running and gunning. "We had to get guys these guys to buy into the system, because they had gotten so used to the previous system," Kerr said in one interview.
It felt too much like the Nash-D'Antoni Suns all over again, and we all know that did not go very far either. Yet this time around it worked. Steph Curry became the league MVP and showed the wholw world you don't necessarily have to be the prototypical stud athlete tearing down the rim every time to win the world championship. "We just had to stick to the plan, stick to the way we play, and it worked," said Curry in one post-title media session.
It is a well-deserved, hard-worked-for title. In the midst of all that championship joy, after the outcome had all but been decided save for a couple of freethrows, in the dying seconds of Game 6 on the Cleveland homecourt, we now look to the other side.
James had shaken hands and hugged the Warriors, Coach Kerr, and the other staff there. There was no need to ask how he felt at that moment.
James is one of those sports figures in the Internet age that just seems to polarize everybody. You either love him or you hate him. Or you report on him. It is hard to believe he is in his 12th NBA season, that he is already 30 years of age. He just still seems so... Good. Heck, he is, as he stated, the best player in the world.
Let's go back to that statement for a while.
He said it after Game 5, when the Warriors had once again held tough to preserve the win and come within another win of the championship.
The Internet went nuts with that one.
Walk the walk.
Money where your mouth is.
Championships are won with play, not with words.
Make baskets, not excuses.
As the Internet continued on and on taking James apart for that statement, coming as it did off a very important loss, and with his fourth Finals failure looming, it suddenly came to me.
To hell with the Internet.
If you really, actually, objectively think about it, James really is the best damn basketball player alive today.
Think about it. The man is 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9, 260, maybe 270 pounds. He is a freak athlete who runs like a freight train, can jump out of the gym, and plays with a superior skill level, especially at his size. He's essentially a power forward with guard skills. He fills up entire stat sheets. When his two All Star teammates went down with injuries in this postseason, he quite literally carried these Cavaliers by himself. All the way to the Finals mind you.
Even the blasted bookies thought that this series would be a foregone conclusion. Joe told me P1,000 on the Warriors would only win P300. While P1,000 on the Cavaliers would win P1,800. For guys who make a living making sure they always win, that was a heck of a long set of odds to trot out.
Yet somehow the Cavaliers were able to stretch this to a six-game series, even after star pointguard Kyrie Irving went out for for good in the midst of Game 1. Again, forget the actual numbers. Who the heck do you think even gave Cleveland a chance in these Finals? With some 20-something seconds left in Game 6 it was only 101-97. That was how close this all was. You think it was that close because of Tristan Thompson or Matt Dellavedova?
Then I go back to how much the Internet savaged him for that "best player in the world" statement.
What more could he do?
You wanted him to score more? Like what, maybe he should've scored a minimum of 60 every game?
You wanted him to rebound and defend more?
You wanted him to pass more? Involve his teammate more?
For cryin' out loud, did you see his numbers in these Finals?
He failed to inspire his teammates.
How much do you think even the best of inspiration can do for a guy shooting 28% from the field? You think inspiration will suddenly make you a better shooter? Or take you out of a slump?
Inspire his teammate for f---'s
Mitch Kupchak had the misfortune of following in the footsteps of legendary Lakers GM Jerry West. With the Living Logo essentially building the modern Lakers Dynasty a few years ago, Kupchak had some huge shoes to fill when he came in. It didn't help that many things beyond his control made a mess of Kupchak's bigger decisions. Steven Nash got hit by injuries almost as soon as he came aboard. Dwight Howard didn't quite pan out and left after only one season. Kobe Bryant simply got old and run-down.
This season however, Kupchak might have just the right opportunity to return to the upper tier of NBA font office executives.
With the draft order now final, the Lakers have the Number 2 overall pick. That gives them the chance to land a true franchise player. That could be Karl Towns, or newly-crowned NCAA champion Jahlil Okafor, both highly-rated big men who will undoubtedly have stellar NBA careers wherever they go. They might also take the new road and draft a super athletic guard, with Emmanuel Mudiay and Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell.
In the free agent market, they have enough big money to offer Marc Gasol, the Memphis all star center who is without a doubt the best among the crop of unrestricted free agents. Los Angeles might also make a play for Jimmy Butler and/or Deandre Jordan.
Any (or a combination) of those guys could immediately return the Lakers back into being at least a sure playoff team. They will arrive on a Lakers team that has Rookie First Team selection Jordan Clarkson, and a bunch of very good role players like Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre, and Wes Johnson. There are also the two tested veterans in Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin.
And returning to the draft, LA also has the Number 27 and the Number 34 overall picks. Given how well Kupchak got value in the second round with Clarkson, and even Sacre, it seems this organization does indeed do a lot of good scouting. Probability is not normally on the side of second-rounders. That Kupchak and his scouts took in good players outside the first round should be lauded.
Let's take things one at a time.
Who should LA get at Number 2?
This seems like a no-brainer: whoever is still around between Towns and Okafor should be it. Both are in the 6-foot-11 to 7-foot range, well-built, strong, agile. Towns is a better athlete, and developed into a legit two-way threat for Kentucky. Okafor is arguably the most polished big man to come out of college in probably the last decade or so, and he assumed the role of superstar on a champinship team with relative ease.
Up to the time the last college season started, Okafor looked like the consensus Number 1 pick, until Towns started showing his game more and more. Towns however had two other solid big men with him - Willy Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson. Cauley-Stein and Johnson are also in the 7-foot range. The knock on them all however is that they didn't even make the National Finals, with Okafor's Duke beating Frank Kaminsky's Wisconsin for the national title. Still, everything Towns showed during the season was enough to make him overtake Okafor as the new consensus Number 1.
Either way the Lakers really can't go wrong, Skilled and strong big men are still the most valuable commodity in the NBA, even with the emergence of the elite athlete guard in the L (Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, John Wall, etc etc...). It is still much tougher to find a good big man than a good guard, and LA simply will not pass up on either of the Top 2.
But let us suppose LA will go the route of Golden State and Atlanta and opt to play fast instead of playing big. Mudiay and Russell are very good prospects who are tall guards, both in the 6-foot-5 and 200-pounds range, able to play the point, both with incredible athleticism and out and out speed. Mudiay is being project as Westbrook 2.0, while Russell might become a one-man Splash Bros (maybe, maybe...) with his ability to knock down jumpshots with a quick trigger. Either of these guys could make the Lakers play the fast modern game.
Kupchak however will likely play it safe and draft either of the two bigs.
That brings us to how drafting Okafor or Towns impacts their move for the younger Gasol. Gasol is already a battle-tested all star who has had five straight playoffs with Memphis. However, this last playoff exit of the Grizzlies might make it easier for him to leave. Still, what will the Lakers do with Gasol and either of the two incoming rookie bigs? Certainly having two players with quality size makes the game a little easier, but then again it could turn into a position-and-minutes mess that will once again lead to bad team chemistry.
If the Lakers do get Gasol that will make him the starter, alongside the recovering Julius Randle. Gasol is used to having Zach Randolph, a strong