Archive for June, 2013

June 21, 2013

LeBron 2013: The Villain is King (Again)

The Miami Heat have now appeared in three straight NBA finals and won the last two. Tuesday night they were a Kawai Leonard made free throw away from losing two of three NBA finals. Thursday night they took what the Spurs were providing – high risk, low reward jump shots – and they capitalized with frightening precision. Their physicality was able to just barely, in game seven, exhaust, and finally rupture, the finely tuned Spurs offense.

In the 2012 playoffs, I saw flashes of a LeBron that I begrudgingly respected. I saw him get pushed around, get knocked down, and battle back. But while he gained that modicum of respect, he was not dethroned from his role of villain in my eyes, the Heat his loyal cohorts. The relationship has remained thus throughout this season and postseason as LeBron and Co have turned into the largest whiners in the game (though it could just be the camera’s fixation on melodramatic temper tantrums).

For years now, the knock on LeBron was that he couldn’t be clutch, that he evaporated in big games, and in the past this was true. But that was the past. If you still want to pull out the LeBron is a Choker placard, you also need to set your Tardis to pre-2012. The better option would be to just open your eyes. In game six, LBJ recovered from a demure start to dominate the fourth quarter and send the game into a winnable overtime. Before game seven he attached an IV of ice to his veins and shot the lights out of the building. The difficult long range and low efficiency mid range jumpers were handed to him on a silver platter and he gorged himself. San Antonio challenged the apparent weakness in his game and he proved resilient.

LeBron and the Heat now have two straight championships. What stands in the way of a third? In the East: A rejuvenated Bulls offense as Derrick Rose returns to balance their stifling defense; the schizophrenic Knickerbockers; the blue collarish, gold swaggerish Pacers crew? In the West: Bionic Vampire Kobe Bryant and minions; laser guided Warriors, the Zombie Sonics of OKC? The Spurs are not decaying the way the Celtics currently are, but the prime of their Big Three is long past; even if their mind-numbing precision can bring them back to the Finals again next year, their joints will be one year closer to chronic rheumatism. LeBron is the captain of a juggernaut with no opponent left standing.

People, both LeBron’s lovers and haters, love to drag out the Michael Jordan comparisons. I don’t care, it doesn’t matter. They will never play each other in their primes, just as neither will play Kobe Bryant in his prime. Or Bill Russell in his prime. The 1992 Bulls are not in the league to stop the 2013 Heat, so we don’t need to complain about it. But you also need to stop whining when I tell you that LeBron will remain my villain for the foreseeable future. Just like you on the other side need to stop saying that he’s a choker. He has proven his mettle – he is the best player in the league – but that does not in the least mean I need to like him.

June 14, 2013

Get Up and Go

When I was in third grade my dad worked for Truro Episcopal Church. His boss was Father Herb, a 5’7” Canadian with just enough stock to not be skinny. He grew up on hockey and was drafted out of high school by the Detroit Red Wings. But knowing a man of his size would not survive, his father forbade him to go. Decades and a broken marriage later, he became Father Herb: Episcopal Priest, Pastor of Outreach, father of three kids roughly my age, and informal hockey instructor. The string of Schlossberg children running around the church pronounced his title as though we were James Cagney: Fadda Hoib.

During the summer, the kids would schlep their rollerblades and hockey sticks from their mother’s home in Texas to Father Herb’s. Other staff members’ kids would come with their parents to the church bringing their rollerblades; Father Herb would bring out his extra sticks. We’d drag the hockey nets out to the back parking lot and begin. I had just started rollerblading; I learned quickly, but skated without panache. Father Herb and his kids had removed their rear brakes and could stop on a dime. Matt and Will took two dimes to stop; Peter and I took three.

All I had were skates, a helmet, and the desire to play. Father Herb lent me a stick. One day my dad dropped Will and me off at Father Herb’s house and we all played in his drive way. Afterwards, Father Herb took the stick I was using, the white one with Jamir Jagr’s machined signature in Pittsburgh Penguins gold, and sized it for me, cutting off a couple inches and taping the handle. It was mine now. I’d skate around our apartment complex with that stick and a tennis ball, lofting wrists shots at dumpsters.

In sixth grade, I outgrew my skates. Father Herb’s kids visited less frequently and when they did, they rarely played hockey. My dad moved from the church office to the homeless ministry across town. Ike tried on my old skates, but without anyone to skate with, he gave them up. Without anyone to play hockey with, there was no reason for me to purchase new skates. My stick with the golden signature languished in a corner.

We left Washington DC before its current athletic renaissance began, before Ovechkin brought relevance to the Verizon Center. Before Harper was profiled in Sport Illustrated as a high schooler; before RG3 was drafted; before the brief, shooting star that was Agent Zero’s Wizard career. When it was easy to forget DC had a professional hockey team, so there was no one inspiring me to lace up the skates and I certainly never went to a game. If pressed, I claimed the Capitals as my team out of my DC loyalty only, not out of affection for the team. Eight years in the Midwest did nothing to engender hockey allegience either. Occasionally attending games was entertaining, but merely being a spectator doesn’t suit me.

But this year I got rollerblades again. A friend moved, leaving his behind, and they fit well enough. I strapped them on and slowly skated the circumference of my car in my garage without falling; it felt great; it felt natural. I called my brother Abraham, asking him to check my parents’ New York garage for my stick; it was gone. The white stick with the golden signature had been left in DC or Wisconsin. Play-It-Again Sports sold me a new stick for $12 and a ball for $3. Nick and I visited the local park street hockey rink after work. After thirteen years I was skating without a stationary car to provide balance: I fell ten times in the twenty minutes before we were mercifully evicted by proficient skaters. I left with skinned knees, a bruised tuchus, wrenched back, and bleeding ego. The following Saturday I laced up again, falling just once in an hour.

The general assertion is that the Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in sports, and I concur, but I’ve had trouble following the sport. It’s not the Russian names; I like Dostoevsky’s novels. The playoffs this year have been easier to follow; while the success of the local Blackhawks could be the reason, I prefer to think it’s that I’ve started playing again. I only understand sports I play. I’m not playing the way I did with Father Herb and I’m sure 12 year old me would smoke current me, but the fact is that I am playing. What are you doing?

hockey

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