Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Elvis Has Left the Building

The King is gone. He isn’t too far removed from this generation who will remember the 90’s with the fondness of tales by the fireside, by the bar, or among sports fora. Michael Jordan who has six rings as opposed to Bill Russell’s 11 has been proclaimed to be the greatest since his Chicago Bulls accomplished 2 trifectas in an age when dynasties are impossible.

Even in the midst of His Airness reign, his throne was constantly beset with pretenders anointed by shoe advertising campaigns and agents who secured bank-busting contracts even before their clients played an NBA minute. Grant Hill, Harold Miner, Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Dwyane Wade to name a few have been oft compared with the Great One. Of the eight; two so far have won NBA titles. A few others may very well win one before they call it a career but what’s this with comparisons with the Great One.

When the Bulls won their third straight in 1992-93, Bill Russell was asked in the middle of a golf game what he thought of the Bulls’ accomplishment. Replied the Lord of the Rings, “Not much. Let’s talk when they’ve won eight straight.” Russ will forever be one of the all-time greats and he has earned every right to talk so since his Boston Celtics won 11 titles in 13 seasons. The man has a championship ring for every finger and one toe. How’s that for the ultimate bragging rights?

Russ was great for his time (16 teams and 2 rounds of play-off ball). In an age of free agency, 29 NBA franchises, rap albums, and an uncanny sixth sense for ESPn (pun intended) highlights, eight straight is downright impossible. Of course there are those who say that MJ’s Bulls would have won eight straight had he not gone to chase curve balls (as much as I am a Bulls fan I don’t believe eight straight would have possible) but I’m here not to extol the greatness of MJ. Many have done so before me and in a much more verbose way. I’m writing because I chafe at media’s constant comparisons between MJ and this year’s Next-Jordan Model. SLAM years ago proclaimed Grant Hill to be just like Jordan... only better. Uh huh. Boy, were they red in the face after that. Grant... I love his game, but right now – overall, he’s gone nowhere just like wife Tamia’s singing career (Ouch!). Kobe Bryant’s 11-year career in the NBA is spectacular by any standard, but he gets as much rap for his petulance and his game. Vinsanity? The only thing he has in common is that he’s a former slam dunk cham and an UNC alum.

Chris Ekstrand recently wrote in his Inside the NBA column in Sports Illustrated of Lebron James’ potential to surpass Jordan in terms of accomplishments. Of course that’s definitely possible. Even MJ acknowledged that in his book For the Love of the Game: My Story that someone will one day surpass him (I think he sort of implied Kobe to be the Air Apparent in his book).

Now let me get this straight, I think Lebron is an awesome player and will probably win an NBA title before he abdicates from his throne, but can he simply be Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers swingman? People love to compare all the time since it makes for great discussion and debate. But puh-leeze, none of the aforementioned are anywhere close even in their respective careers with the one true king Michael Jordan!

Lebron won his first play-off series a year before MJ? C’mon, Michael brought his team to the play-offs every year of his Bulls career! In only his second play-offs, he already began to carve out his legend with no small thanks to Larry Bird’s “God-disguised-as-Michael-Jordan quote.” Lebron has played in the Olympics and the FIBA worlds already and the first time up, he was benched. In Saitama, Japan, he disappeared when he was needed leaving Carmelo and D-Wade to hold the fort. Jordan has two Gold Medals from Los Angeles and Barcelona and a Gold from the Tournament of the Americas (won in Portland) prior to the 1992 summer Games. Remember how Spanish guard Fernando Martin described his memories of the 1984 Olympics’ Men’s Basketball Finals: “Jordan. He jump, jump, and jump.

Lebron for the most part last season was pilloried for not wanting to take the last shot. He would pass off to Damon Jones or to Flip Murray. James reasoned that, “Clutch playing means knowing what kind of play to make at he last minute. It could mean a pass that leads to a basket or a stop.” Well, it could also mean you don’t want the responsibility. Heck even Kobe would want the ball in crunchtime during his rookie year. Toni Kukoc wanted the ball in his hands every time out! I remember him missing a last second shot in a play that was called for him – not Nick Van Exel or Eddie Jones or Cedric Ceballos, but Kobe. He missed and was distraught over that, but Chick Hearn went on to say that he’ll be making many of that in years to come. Incidentally Hearn once worked as a fortune teller at # 1111 South Figueroa St. in downtown LA (that’s the address for Staples Center in case you haven’t been there).

So with Lebron... let’s not even bother with the stats coz that’s all he has for now. Let’s talk 10 years from now and maybe I’ll be eating humble pie.

King James... that’s a pretty snazzy campaign that Nike came up with during his rookie year. Chamber of Fear, his sophomore ad campaign (something out of a Quentin Tarantino film) and the latest, Meet the Lebrons are eye-catching and witty. But right now... he’s just another highlight reel – hey, I did like his slam over the Big Fundamental the other day. One play-off win doesn’t mean much. Karl Malone made the Finals twice. Ditto with Jason Kidd, but their stints will also be remembered for their futility.

Whether rightly or wrongly, winning is how these players will eventually be judged. Lebron looks good in his career path right now. He might even win a title or two. Even in Fantasy Leagues, he’s just as ideal for his propensity to rack up good numbers, but right now, there is only one king of the NBA and he already left the building.

Hmm. Did I just compare Michael Jordan to Elvis Presley?

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