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Marcus Smart. Photo by Eric Drost, via Wikimedia Commons.

Back in 2016, I correctly predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the NBA finals, beating the heavily favored Golden State Warriors, which had won a record 73 games in the regular season. In 2021, I incorrectly predicted that the Kansas City Chiefs would beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I based both predictions on a theory: the best story would win. And maybe Tom Brady proved that anyway: a relative geezer who was by all measures the GOAT, proved that label.

So now I’m predicting that the Boston Celtics will win the championship because they will win because they have the better story.

Unless Steph Curry proves that he’s the GSOAT: Greatest Shooter Of All Time. Which he might. He sure looked like it in Game Four. That’s a great story too.

But I like the Celtics’ story better. Here we have a team of relative kids who were average at best by the middle of the season, but then, under their rookie coach, became a defensive juggernaut, racking up the best record through the remainder of the season, then blowing through three playoffs to get to the Finals. In Round One, they swept Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets, who were pre-season favorites to win the Eastern Conference. In Round Two, they beat Giannis Antentokuompo and the Milwaukee Bucks, who were defending champs, in six games. In Round Three, they won the conference championship by beating the Miami Heat, another great defensive team, and the one with the best record in the conference, in seven games. Now the Celtics are tied, 2-2, with the Western Conference champs, the Golden State Warriors, with Steph Curry playing his best, looking all but unbeatable, on a team playing defense that’s pretty much the equal of Boston’s.

Three games left, two at Golden State.

But I like the Celtics in this. They seem to have no problem winning on the road, and I think they want it more. And maybe even better.

May the best story win.

[Later…] Well, c’est le jeu. The Celtics lost the next two games, and the Warriors took the series.

After it was over, lots of great stories were told about the Warriors: the team peaked at the right time, they were brilliantly coached (especially on how to solve the Celtics), Steph moved up in all-time player rankings (maybe even into the top ten), Wiggins finally looked like the #1 draft choice he was years ago, the Dynasty is back. Long list, and it goes on. But the Celtics still had some fine stories of their own, especially around how they transformed from a mediocre team at mid-season to a proven title contender that came just two games away from winning it all. Not bad.


Chemistry is a good metaphor for how teams work—especially when times get tough, such as in the playoffs happening in the NBA right now.

Think about it. Every element has a melting point: a temperature above which solid turns liquid. Basketball teams do too, only that temperature changes from game to game, opponent to opponent, and situation to situation. Every team is a collection of its own human compounds of many elements: physical skills and talents, conditioning, experience, communication skills, emotional and mental states, beliefs, and much else.

Sometimes one team comes in pre-melted, with no chance of winning. Bad teams start with a low melting point, arriving in liquid form and spilling all over the floor under heat and pressure from better teams.

Sometimes both teams might as well be throwing water balloons at the hoop.

Sometimes both teams are great, neither melts, and you get an overtime outcome that’s whatever the score said when the time finally ran out. Still, one loser and one winner. After all, every game has a loser, and half the league loses every round. Whole conferences and leagues average .500. That’s their melting point: half solid, half liquid.

Yesterday we saw two meltdowns, neither of which was expected and one of which was a complete surprise.

First, the Milwaukee Bucks melted under the defensive and scoring pressures of the Boston Celtics. There was nothing shameful about it, though. The Celtics just ran away with the game. It happens. Still, you could see the moment the melting started. It was near the end of the first half. The Celtics’ offense sucked, yet they were still close. Then they made a drive to lead going into halftime. After that, it became increasingly and obviously futile to expect the Bucks to rally, especially when it was clear that Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world, was clearly less solid than usual. The team melted around him while the Celtics rained down threes.

To be fair, the Celtics also melted three times in the series, most dramatically at the end of game five, on their home floor. But Marcus Smart, who was humiliated by a block and a steal in the closing seconds of a game the Celtics had led almost all the way, didn’t melt. In the next two games, he was more solid than ever. So was the team. And they won—this round, at least. Against the Miami Heat? We’ll see.

Right after that game, the Phoenix Suns, by far the best team in the league through the regular season, didn’t so much play the Dallas Mavericks as submit to them. Utterly.

In chemical terms, the Suns showed up in liquid form and turned straight into gas. As Arizona Sports put it, “We just witnessed one of the greatest collapses in the history of the NBA.” No shit. Epic. Nobody on the team will ever live this one down. It’s on their permanent record. Straight A’s through the season, then a big red F.

Talk about losses: a mountain of bets on the Suns also turned to vapor yesterday.

So, what happened? I say chemistry.

Maybe it was nothing more than Luka Dončić catching fire and vaporizing the whole Suns team. Whatever, it was awful to watch, especially for Suns fans. Hell, they melted too. Booing your team when it needs your support couldn’t have helped, understandable though it was.

Applying the basketball-as-chemistry theory, I expect the Celtics to go all the way. They may melt a bit in a game or few, but they’re more hardened than the Heat, which comes from having defeated two teams—the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers—with relatively low melting points. And I think both the Mavs and the Warriors have lower melting points than either the Celtics or the Heat.

But we’ll see.

Through the final two rounds, look at each game as a chemistry experiment. See how well the theory works.



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Patrick MahomesI think there are more reasons to believe in the Bucs than the Chiefs today: better offensive line, better defense, Brady’s unequaled Super Bowl experience, etc. But the Chiefs are favored by 3.5 points, last I looked, and they have other advantages, including the best quarterback in the game—or maybe ever—in Patrick Mahomes.

And that’s the story. The incumbent GOAT (greatest of all time) is on his way out and the new one is on his way in. This game will certify that. I also think the Chiefs will beat the spread. By a lot. Because Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense is just that good, and that ready.

Disclosures… In 2016, I correctly predicted, for the same reason (it makes the best story) that Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers would beat the Golden State Warriors for the NBA championship. Also, a cousin of mine (once removed—he’s the son of my cousin) is Andy Heck, the Chiefs’ offensive line coach. So, as a long-time fan of both the Patriots and Tom Brady, I’ll be be cool with either team winning.

But I do think a Chiefs win makes a better story. Especially if Mahomes does his magic behind an offensive line of injuries and substitutes outperforming expectations.

[Later…] The Chiefs lost, 31-9, and their o-line was terrible. Poor Pat had to use his scrambling skills to the max, running all over the backfield looking for a well-covered receiver. And he came inches from hitting one in the end zone at least twice, while on the run 50 or more yards away. This was the Chief’s worst loss ever in the Mahomes era. Anyway, it looked and felt like it. But hey: congrats to the Bucs. They truly kicked ass.



Sell tickets to attend online through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Webex, GoToMeeting, Jitsi or whatever conferencing system can supply working tech to the NBA. Then mic everyone in the paying crowd, project them all on the walls (or sheets hanging from the ceiling), combine their audio, and run it through speakers so players can see and hear the cheering crowds.

The playoffs start on July 31. That’s not much time to prepare, but there’s money in it for the NBA and the companies it hires to pull this off. And hey, the Disney folk should be up for doing something that’s this creative and fun. (And think of all the games within games that might also be played here. Also all the other sports where this can also work.)

Since the conferencing systems of the world are already very competitive, sports reporters can cover service selection as the playoff before the playoff.

Obviously Zoom is the one to beat (since so many of us already use it), but Microsoft Teams just said a bunch of stuff that makes me think they could pull this one off. (I’d also like to thank them for the imagery I used in the photo above. Also Downtown. Hope ya’ll don’t mind.) Google has immensity to leverage. Jitsi has a hearty open source dev community. As for the others, here’s your chance to leapfrog the leaders. Or yourselves. The PR will be immense.

What matters is that this can be done. Hell, we’re talking about tech here. Anything can be done with tech.

So let’s do it. Get fans on the walls of the bubble.

And don’t tell me how it can’t be done. If it can be done with 17,572 singers in a choir, we can do it with any number of fans.

[Later (24 July)…] This apparently is being done.


I thought the Rockets were great in last night’s game—and say that as a Warriors fan. (I even had season tickets back in the Run TMC era, when tickets were still affordable).

The Rockets’ problem was that the Warriors were greater, and it wasn’t just because SuperSteph showed up in the second half. Basketball is a team game, and the difference was the Warriors’ bench.

The Warriors have been getting shit for their bench all season; but the bench played great. They showed why the Warriors are in fact a great team, and not just the Splash Brothers + KD.

Look at the stats, not the highlight reel. The whole bench was +14 for the game. Two of the five players scoring in double-figures came off the bench. (Three of the five if you count Andre Iguodala, filling in for the injured KD.) The leading bench scorer was Kevon Looney. (Yes, that’s his name. And he’s actually good.) Shawn Livingston was terrific.

Here’s how to tell how good the Rockets really are: Nearly every other franchise in the league, other than the Warriors, would gladly trade their whole team for the Rockets. And maybe every team. Even Milwaukee. And hell, maybe even the Warriors.

I say that because the Rockets best strategy in the offseason is to wait for the Warriors to break up. The chance that both Klay and KD will stay is small, though it’s possible. Steph is still great, but he’s passing the top of his career arc. Draymond isn’t who he was two years ago. Iguodala and Livingston are ready to retire. If the Warriors partially disband this summer, the best team in the West will be the Rockets. Milwaukee will still be the best in the East, though Toronto and Philly will still be excellent, especially if Kawhi stays put. (Boston won’t suck, but needs at least a partial rebuild: something they can easily do.)

Anyway, there’s no shame in what happened to the Rockets this year. A truly great team lost to a slightly greater one that likely won’t stay that way.

LeBron JamesI’m a Golden State Warriors fan. Not huge, but big enough to have held season tickets through the Run TMC years. (I grew up a Knicks fan, and liked the Celtics when I lived in Boston, but those are less leveraged these days.) So I do want the Warriors to win tonight.

But I don’t expect them to, because the Cavs make a better story.

LeBron James has made clear, especially over the last two games, that he is the best all-round player of all time. Michael Jordan had no weaknesses, but he wasn’t as strong as LeBron at defense, passing, shot blocking, and treating the other team the way a bowling ball treats pins. Or as strong, period.

Nobody on Earth is playing any game, anywhere ,with more determination, skill and strength than LeBron James is right now. And nobody is better at getting his whole team to play as one. Or at a more ideal time and place.

Kyrie Irving is also playing his best, which means he can pretty much get whatever shot he wants, whenever he wants it. And Tristan Thompson, a near-nobody before the playoffs, is playing like the second coming of Stephen Adams, who gave Thompson and the Cavs coaching staff a clinic on how a big man can take advantage of the Warriors’ weakness in the middle.

Let’s face it: the OKC Thunder figured out the Warriors pretty well. Even though the Thunder failed, they took the Warriors to seven games and gave the Cavaliers a lot of lessons to work with. Now that Bogut is out and Iguodala is slowed by back problems, the Warriors also lack their best shot blocker and their best defense against LeBron. Draymond Green also needs to play cautiously to avoid more technical and flagrant fouls, to which he is highly prone. Harrison Barnes has been subtracting from his free agent value nearly every time he shoots the ball. Even Shawn Livingston, normally a great floor leader when he comes off the bench for Steph, has been shooting bricks.

Four things look good for the Warriors tonight: 1) they’re playing at home, 2) their three best players are healthy, 3) two of those players are the best outside shooters in the game, and 4) one of those two was the unanimous MVP this year for good reasons. Even though Steph hasn’t been his old self enough in this series, it could be lights out if he shows up big tonight. Same goes for Klay.

If a game between two great teams doesn’t stay close to the end, one of the two will melt. That’s what happened in every game so far in this series. In total both teams have the same number of points, but each team has melted before the end three times. The problem for the Warriors is that they melted twice in each of the last two games: first at home, and then in Cleveland. They also melted under tremendous heat from the Cavaliers. Actually it was worse than that. They came apart at the seams. We saw that when Steph Curry pitched a fit after his sixth foul and Klay Thompson walked to the locker room before the game ended. Both moves were weak and childish, inviting no confidence from their teammates and giving plenty to their opponents.

No doubt the Warriors can win. But no doubt they also feel entitled, and that’s a problem too. You get a clear sense in this series that the Cavs want to win the title more than the Warriors want to keep it (along with the legacy of a record-breaking regular season). That legacy isn’t a burden to the Cavaliers. It’s a rooster they want to knock off its shed.

So, again, I don’t want to see King James wear the crown tonight. But either way it goes, he’ll still earn the right to the nickname. And he’ll be the MVP when it matters most.



bob-kauffmanWhen the Los Angeles Clippers open their first game at home this season, I want them to pause and celebrate their original franchise player: Bob Kauffman, the team’s all-star center for its first three seasons, when they were the Buffalo Braves.

I also think the team should retire Bob’s jersey, #44. For the ceremony the team should also bring out his four daughters, all of whom were also basketball stars: Lara and Joannah at Georgia Tech, Carey at Duke and Kate at Clayton State. Bob died on July 27 at age 69.

Bob was an amazing player to watch, a privilege I enjoyed often as fellow student at Guilford College. Guilford was nowhere before Bob arrived and a powerhouse by the time he left. Same went for the Braves.

At 6-8 and 240, Bob was a big guy, but he played bigger. Here’s what Guilford wrote about him a couple days ago:

Kauffman scored 2,570 points on 64 percent field-goal shooting and collected 1,801 rebounds in his 113-game career, all current school standards. He also holds Guilford marks for career scoring average (22.7 ppg.), single-game rebounds (32), single-season rebounds (698, 1967-68), career rebounding average (15.9), career field goals (943), single-season field goal percentage (.712, 1967-68), single-season free throws (273, 1966-67), career free throws (684) and single-season free-throw attempts (344, 1966-67).

Great stats, but none suggest how tough and intimidating Bob was as a player. I remember watching one Braves game against the Celtics on TV, pleased when the announcer said Bob was the only center in the NBA who knew how to play Boston’s Dave Cowens, straight up. Amazingly, I just found an account of what followed, in 30 Things About Dave Cowens:

…he slugged Guilford’s Bob Kauffman, appropriately nicknamed “Horse,” at the foul line, then patiently waited for Kauffman to swing back. Kauffman hit Cowens so hard Cowens finished the game wearing an eye patch.

And yet he was totally generous: a consummate team player. I remember Bob McAdoo’s first game with the Braves, against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Bob grabbed an offensive board he could have put right back in; but instead he kicked it out to the rookie, so the kid could get off his first pro shot.

Bob’s pro career started as what today we’d call a lottery pick: he was taken third in the 1968 draft by the Seattle Supersonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) behind future Hall-of-Famers Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. But the Sonics didn’t know what to do with Bob. Nor did the Chicago Bulls, where he played the next year.

Then Bob got lucky. Thanks to various trades and player shufflings, he landed with the Buffalo Braves, an expansion team, for their inaugural season. The fit was perfect. Here’s Jerry Sullivan in The Buffalo News:

In the Braves’ first season of 1970-71, Kauffman averaged 20.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He averaged 18.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in ’71-72 and 17.5 points and 11.1 rebounds in ’72-73. He made the Eastern all-stars in all three seasons for Buffalo teams that lost 60 games.

As his daughter Lara put it to Jerry, Bob left his heart in Buffalo:

“The Buffalo fans from all over, people who moved to Atlanta or wherever I go, they all remember my dad,” Lara Kauffman said. “What people remembered about my dad was he played very blue-collar. I think he was sort of a reflection of a lot of people in the Buffalo community the way he played. He wouldn’t back down from anybody. He played against Lew Alcindor at the time. He matched up against Wilt Chamberlain. My dad would go head-to-head with those guys.

“He was undersized. He was 6-8 and played a face-up game. But because he was so physical, oftentimes he would match up against the toughest player. He would go toe-to-toe with them. I think his style of play reflected Buffalo a lot. He was a hard-working player. Every timeout, he ran off the court. He was the first to the bench.

“He tried to set a good example of hard work and play,” his daughter added. “If my dad had a late night the night before with the guys, he was up at 5 a.m. running six miles. He never stopped. He was just a committed athlete. He was also a gentleman. He would sign autographs. He had all the patience in the world with the fans. They were important to him. He never treated people as second-class. He always had time for them.”

And that’s how I remember him as well. Back at Guilford, there wasn’t a bigger man on campus than Bob, yet he was sweet and friendly with everybody.

Bob’s career as a player was sadly short. Hip problems forced him to retire at 28, from the Atlanta Hawks. After that he coached the Detroit Pistons for a year and then returned to the Hawks’ front office before leaving the game for other work. (If memory serves, Bob was the GM for Detroit when they hired Dick Vitale as coach.)

My favorite testimony to Bob’s value as a player was uttered by his coach at Guilford, Jerry Steele. After Guilford’s play-by-play announcer told Jerry that Catawba College guard Dwight Durante (“the best 3-point shooter you never saw“) appeared that week in a Sports Illustrated piece, Jerry replied, in his usual slow drawl, “Well, Dwight Durante may have his picture in Sports Illustrated, but I’ve got Bob Kauffman’s picture in my bedroom.”

The announcer was Carl Scheer, known today as a legendary NBA executive, former GM of the Carolina Cougars, Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers and Charlotte Hornets — and the inventor of the Slam Dunk Contest, among other distinctions. If it weren’t for Bob, Carl might still be a lawyer in Greensboro. Suzanne Dietzel in Greater Charlotte Business:

After a respectable run in undergraduate college basketball and baseball, Scheer graduated from Marquette Law School and began a career in a small law firm in Greensboro. After realizing that his desire to litigate cases would likely be unrealized due to the size of the firm, he visited Guilford College and asked to be slated to broadcast basketball and football games – a passion he had indulged in graduate school.

Scheer had made fast friends with many in the sports community when opportunity knocked. According to Scheer, “Guilford was embarking upon an aggressive, small college basketball campaign, largely driven by star player, Bob Kauffman. I had announced his college career, and once he found himself in demand by two competing leagues, he asked me to represent him for his contract negotiations.”

Scheer elaborates, “In 1968, agents were unheard of. Knowing I was a lawyer, Bob asked me to represent him.” He jokes, “I am sure I left the poor guy quite a bit of money on the table! But, really, the experience introduced me into the world of sports and business; I was hooked.”

Not surprisingly, his work ethic and comfortable personality helped to foster a good rapport with team owners, and he was asked to interview for the position of assistant to the commissioner of the NBA.

Recalls Scheer, “The NBA commissioner at the time, Walter Kennedy, told me after my third interview that he liked me and thought I was a great candidate, but the job was going to ‘the other guy.’ At the time I was content with that. I had had that 15 minutes of glory and was happy to go back to my small North Carolina law firm. But months later he called back and told me the other candidate declined the position, and asked if I would like to be reconsidered. It was a dream come true. I moved to New York and began my indoctrination into the game. There, my sports career started.”

The best lives have the best consequences. I’d like one of Bob’s to be a celebration of his place as the Clippers founding all-star — who also happened to be a four-star dad.


a Brooklyn Nets netHere is a simple idea for the Brooklyn Nets that will do a world of good for their borough and their team: provide new nets for every net-less basketball hoop in every school and playground.

The cost of few thousand team color (black and white) nets probably wouldn’t be more than the cost of one player hired at minimum salary. The good will coming from it will be immeasurable.

Think about team members going out to playgrounds and helping install fresh nets on empty hoops. The photo opportunities are a lesser benefit than bonding between the team and its borough — or the whole city, if they want to take the program all the way.

You’re welcome.

LeBron_JamesHere’s the best way to determine a most valuable player on any team: look at how the team would have done without him, or her.

In the case of the NBA, look at Cleveland and Miami with and without LeBron James. Day and night aren’t much more extreme.

True: Golden State would have been far weaker without Steph Curry. Still, as essential as Steph is to Golden State, LeBron is at least as essential to Cleveland.

Here’s how to tell. Subtract four other starters from Golden State and see how they do. That’s pretty much what happened to Cleveland. The starting team LeBron played with after Kyrie Irving went out was not the one he had at the start of the season. And still he led his team to a pair of overtime games in Oakland, and kept his team in every game in the series at least through three quarters.

And LeBron is a true leader. He could score on every possession, yet still shares the ball like a point guard, with quick pinpoint passes that often baffle his opponents, and smart plays in which he plays a supporting role.

That he’s expected to win championships nearly every year he plays, like Michael Jordan did, is ludicrous. There are 30 teams in the NBA, and plenty of talent on even the worst of them. Every year there are injuries and changes, on nearly every team. (Sad example: Oklahoma City.) One reason Golden State won it all was that they were relatively injury free all year — and notably in the playoffs. The team they played in the finals was LeBron and his bench. (And yes, some of that bench was first-string elsewhere, like J.R. Smith, who was huge in the playoffs for Cleveland.)

Not saying this to take anything away from Andre Iguodala, who was key to Golden State’s success (though obviously less valuable than Steph Curry), and named MVP of the finals. I love Andre’s game. He’s a smart defender and a great nearly-all-round player (he shoots better threes than free throws). But LeBron is more than the best player in the game. He’s the best team member as well. And that deserves more mention than it gets.

One last thing. Yeah, I know that LeBron overrode and ignored his coach much of this year. But consider this: LeBron is more than the best player. He may also be the smartest. The man has a legendary memory of every game he’s played, and a keen sense of what his team and each of its players can and can’t do — possibly more keen than any coach.

A common sports media assumption right now is that David Blatt will be gone as Cleveland’s coach next year. Here’s a possibility to consider: LeBron replacing him as player-coach. It’s not like it hasn’t been done. Remember Bill Russell.

BasketballIf you care about sports at all, you need to see the NBA Finals this year. What you will see are the two best players, on the two best teams — perhaps ever.

We’re not talking just about talent here. We’re talking about teams. Basketball at its best is a pure team game, and these guys are showing how it’s done.

Let me lay out my loyalties here first. They don’t matter, but I might as well.

I’ll always be a Knicks fan. But I’m a Golden State fan too. For a number of years in the late 80s (the “Run TMC” era) I had season tickets to the Warriors. And when I lived in Boston (’07-’13) I rooted for the Celtics as well.

But I just love the game. And right now we are seeing two amazing teams play outstanding team ball.

The two stars — the best players of our time — LeBron James and Steph Curry, lead their teams beautifully. As players they are hugely different, mostly because LeBron is huge (6-8, 260) and Steph isn’t. LeBron is simply the best player in the world, and perhaps ever. He is also making his team — all of whom, other than LeBron himself, were second-stringers or elsewhere at the start of the season — better than Golden State, which has the best record in the league. Cleveland plays top-notch defense and share the ball all over the place. They played the first to games away, at Golden State, and were expected to lose. Instead they pushed both games to overtime and won the second one. Then they won another at home. that makes them better, at least through three games.

Meanwhile, count on Golden State making adjustments. Steph is not only the best shooter in history (my opinion, and I’m not alone), but a brilliant ball-handler and a magician on the floor. He leads his team and gets everybody involved. All of them share the ball and are totally unselfish.

I gotta say I’ve been slow to warm up to LeBron over the years. But after watching what he’s done in Cleveland, and how he’s led his team, making every player on the floor better, every game, I’m in awe. If you love the game, you have to love the way that man plays. His worth and stature as one of the all-time-great team players only grows.

Same with Steph.

I want to see this thing go seven games. Only one team will win at the end. But so will the whole game, and every fan.

Alas, I’m probably going to miss some. I’m tied up and on the road right now, and probably will be for the next few weeks. So expect sparse blogging and tweeting. Just saying.

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