Saturday, March 8, 2014

J-Speaks: James' Historic Night vs. Bobcats

On nine occassions has the four-time Most Valuable Player of the National Basketball Association LeBron James of the Miami Heat scored 50 points or more in his career. His best scoring performance came Mar. 20, 2005 when he scored 56 for the then Cleveland Cavaliers in a 105-98 loss at the Toronto Raptors. All nine of those amazing scoring nights came on the road. This past Monday night versus the Charlotte Bobcats, James put on a memorable performance, established a new Heat record and a former foe, now a teammate was a part of the moment.

In the Heat's (43-16) 124-107 win versus the Bobcats (29-33), their 16th consecutive over the Bobcats, James scored a career-high and a new Heat record of 61 points.

James went 22 for 33 from the field, including going 8 for 10 from three-point territory and 9 for 12 from the free throw line. He also had seven boards and five assists in 41 minutes.

He broke the previous mark that was set by former Miami Heat sharp shooting forward Glen Rice, who scored a then Heat record of 56 points, going 20 for 27 from the field, including connecting on 7 for 8 from three-point range and 9 for 10 from the free throw line in Miami's 123-117 win versus the Orlando Magic on Apr. 15 1995.

How good was James on this night. Well he started strong with 11 points in the opening quarter. He scored 24 in the points in the second stanza. He put up an incredible 25 points in the third quarter, which matched the output of the entire Bobcats team and he concluded his amazing night with 12 points in the fourth and final period to help the Heat pull out the victory.

"I felt pretty good in the first half, but halftime came can always kind of derail things and slow things up," James, whose made a career-high 22 shots and tied a career-high with eight connections from the three-point line said after the game. "But I was able to get things going once again in the third quarter and I knew it could be one of those nights."

To put the remarkable performance of James into perspective, Bobcats forward Al Jefferson, whose performance this season gave him a strong case for being an All-Star this season scored a team high 38 points and grabbed a game-high 19 rebounds in 38 minutes of work.

On top of that, the Bobcats, who have really been a true surprise this season as they are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference and would face the Heat if the playoffs started right now, gave Miami all they could handle. It is because they could not slow down James that they fell on the short end this past Monday night.

Unfortunately, this was the second time that an opposing player had put up 60-plus points against the Bobcats this season, which made them the third team in NBA history to allow two different players to score 60 points or more in a game. The last time it happened was in the 1961-62 season when the New York Knicks when the late Wilt Chamberlin famously scored 100 points, the most by a player in NBA history versus the Knicks in Hershey, PA in the then Philadelphia Warriors 169-147 win on Mar. 2 that season. Jerry West also scored 60 points in a game against the Knicks back in 1961-62.

Back on Jan. 24 at the Knicks, All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony scored a career-high, an all-time team record and a new Madison Square Garden record 62 points as the Bobcats suffered a 125-96 defeat. Anthony also had 13 rebounds.

Jefferson was overshawdowed in that contest also, as he lead the Bobcats with 25 points and nine rebounds.

"You take away his 61 and we still had a fighting chance there at the end," Jefferson said after the game on Monday night.

Rice's then record breaking performance was a big reason the Heat, who missed the playoffs that season needed every point to defeat the eventual Eastern Conference champions of 1995. That performance by Miami's greatest shooter in team history and one of the very best in NBA history countered the tremendous performances from four of Orlando's starting five that afternoon.

Then Magic center and current NBATV/NBA on TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal lead the Magic with 38 points, 16 boards and two blocks. Magic lead guard Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway had 28 points and 18 assists. Forward Horace Grant had 21 points and 10 boards and guard Nick Anderson had 20 points on 7 for 16 shooting, including going 4 for 9 from three-point territory.

As mentioned this was the first time that James scored 50-plus at home. This was also the eighth win in ten tries in his career with the Cavs and the Heat that James scored that many points and his team was victorious.

It is one thing to do it on the road in places like Madison Squard Garden in New York, NY, which James did back on Feb. 4, 2009 putting up 52 points, 11 assists and nine boards in the Cavs 107-102 win at the New York Knicks. It is a treat to do it in front of your fans, which James knows very well.

"This was the first time I've ever scored 50 on the home court. I've done it so many times on the road, but now at home and to be able to do it in front of these fans. It's a surreal feeling for me right now," James said after the game.

While he did not have Dwyane Wade, who sat this game out to rest his knee, the other member of the Heat's "Big Three" was on the court for this big performance in Chris Bosh, who had 15 points and seven boards in the victory Monday.

This is not the first time though that the 10-year forward out of Georgia Tech has been present for an out of this world performance by an NBA peer of his.

While still with the Toronto Raptors, where he played the first seven seasons of his career, he was on the court when then Bulls guard Jamal Crawford, now with the Clippers scored a career-high 50 points in leading the Bulls to a 114-108 victory at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ON. Bosh had a game to forget scoring just six points on 2 for 10 shooting

The most memorable performance Bosh was on the court and witnessed was on a Sunday night on Jan. 22, 2006 when Lakers swingman Kobe Bryant scored 81 points, the second highest scoring game in NBA history as the Lakers won 122-104. Bosh scored 18 points and grabbed eight boards.

When James scored his 56 points nine seasons back, Bosh was a part of that Raptors group. He was on the winning side of this one dispite a subpar game with 11 points and seven rebounds.

Bosh had a front row seat when James put up his first 50-plus point performance as a member of the Heat when he registered 51 points, 11 boards and eight assists as the Heat won at the Orlando Magic 104-100 on Feb. 3, 2011. Bosh had 13 points and six boards.

Back on Apr. 2, 2013, Anthony of the Knicks scored 50 points in leading the Knicks to a 102-90 victory at the Heat. James sat out the game as well as Wade. Bosh lead the Heat on that evening with 23 points.

A lot was learned on Monday night in South Florida. We learned that James, who is in the running for his fifth MVP, is one of the best in the game as demonstrated by his record setting performance. That Bosh was a part of and on the receiving end of incredible performance a his teammate James or a future Hall of Famer peer. Also that while the Charlotte Bobcats have shown this season that they are a pretty good defensive team, two of the best in the league scoring wise have out of this world performances at their expense and both were ones to remember.
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 3/4/14 1 a.m. edition of "NBA Tonight" on ESPN 2 with Cassidy Hubbarth and Tim Legler; 3/8/14 12 p.m. edition of "NBA Inside Stuff" with Grant Hill and Kristen Ledlow on NBATV;;;;;;;$/games/20140303/CHAMIA/gameinfo.html

Saturday, March 1, 2014

J-Speaks: The Newest Edition to the Nets Makes History

When a player in the NBA signs a 10-day contract, that individual normally does not grab the front headline of not just that sports league, but the front page of newspapers or sports sights across the United States. This past Sunday though, the newest edition to the Brooklyn Nets of the National Basketball Association (NBA) was not just a big deal in terms of filling a need for them, but it broke a major social barrier.

Right before their matchup at the Los Angeles Lakers this past Sunday night, the Nets signed center Jason Collins to a 10-day contract.

You probably are asking why this is a big deal? Well, the 35-year-old Collins, who is in his 13th season became the first athlete in any of the four major North American professional sports (NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL) to be on a team and be openly gay.

He made the announcement back on Apr. 2013 in an interview with George Stephenopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America."

The former first round pick (18th overall) out of Stanford, who is in his second stint with the Nets entered the game at the 10:28 mark of the second quarter. He had no points, two rebounds and five fouls in 10 minutes of action in the 108-102 win over the Lakers at the Staples Center.

This was a very big deal for a lot of reasons. It puts a stamp on something former NBA Commissioner David Stern always set out to do in his 30-year career, which concluded this past February 1.

A league with diversity across the board and an respect for those who are different. All that matters is can you take care of business on the court or in the front office or on a coaching staff and represent the league well?

Collins, whose twin brother Jarron also played in the NBA for 10 seasons with the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers and with him at Stanford is a great example of that.

"I don't have time to really think about history right now. I just have to focus on my job tonight," Collins said to the media before the game.

What makes Collins signing with the Nets a great choice is the fact that he played with the team's current head coach in Jason Kidd for six seasons from 2001-2008, which includes back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals in 2002-2003. The then New Jersey Nets lost to the Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs 4-0 and 4-2 respectably.

Last season, Collins played 32 games with the Boston Celtics, starting seven times. Two of his teammates at that time and are his current teammates now is future Hall of Fame forwards Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Collins also played last season with the Washington Wizards.

Because of that familiarity and knowledge of Collins from key people of the Nets, this was the best place for him to resume his NBA career. He also understands his role, fills a need for the Nets and his main focus is to help the team and let everything else take care of itself.

"I need to be a solid basketball player again. Its about focusing on the task at hand and not thinking about history or anything along those lines. Its about going out there and making it difficult for the Lakers," Collins, who has also played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks and last season with the Washington Wizards, said on Sunday.

When Collins came out about being gay last year, there was the question would he ever get a chance to continue his NBA career, especially at his age?

It goes to show the value of people having knowledge of who you are and what you can bring to the table. It is also an example of having the fortitude to stick with it and never give in to the standard of society. On top of that being able to get to a place where you can be comfortable in your own skin and being able to say who you and having people respect that is just as important if not more.

"Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team. Today, I want to commend him on achieving his goal," Adam Silver, the new NBA Commissioner said in a statement this past Sunday.

"I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment."

That is especially true for someone who he has gotten to know, who is hopefully on the verge of getting his professional sports career off the ground as well as breaking a barrier of his own.

Co South Eastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year from Missouri Michael Sam, who hopes to be drafted in the National Football League (NFL) this May announced that he is gay in an interview with Chris Connelly on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" back on February 9.

If he is drafted, which he was projected to be selected in the third or fourth round, he would be the first active player in the NFL who publicly came out.

Unlike Collins though, Sam faces an uphill battle. A number of anonymous NFL executives have said to Sports Illustrated that Sam will fall in the draft because he came out of the closet about his sexuality.

The NFL's Players Association executive leader DeMaurice Smith has stated that any team official who downgrades Sam because he is gay is "gutless."

Six days after his announcment, Sam joined his former Tiger teammates as they accepted the 2014 Cotton Bowl Trophy, which the No. 9 ranked Tigers won by defeating the No. 13 ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys 41-31 back on Jan. 3, at a ceremony that took place at Mizzou Arena at intermission during a Missouri Tigers basketball game.

Reportedly, an anti-gay activist named Shirley Phelps-Roper and close to 15 other people of the Westboro Baptist Church that is widely considered a hate group protested Sam's presence. Missouri students organized a counter-protest that numbered in the thousands and they assembled a wall in front of the protestors.

By seeing how Collins has gone about his business since he came out of the closet, Sam has seen one pro athlete do what he loves and he will hopefully get the chance to do the same and be able to do so for a long time.

In a recent statement from his Twitter account @MikeSameFootball, Sam said to Collins, "Congradulations my friend@jasoncollins34-excited to see you do work out there#courage, #groundbreaking."

In a press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine last weekend, Sam said, "I know how to handle myself. I know how to communicate with my teammates."

A big barrier got broken this past Sunday night in Los Angeles, CA. A former Stanford Cardinal, who averaged just 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest in his first 12 seasons made history. He told the truth about a part of his life that many people are frightened to say because of the ramifications that can pursue. What Jason Collins has shown if anything that if you want something bad enough and you are willing to put in the work to get there, things can work out. Along the way, you can change people's minds and gain their respects.

"What this day means is its 2014. YOu judge people by their character and I think that's what we have to do," former NBA guard and current NBA analyst Steve Smith said on NBATV's "Gametime," on Sunday night.

Smith colleague and former NBA guard Brent Barry echoed that by saying, "Jason Collins is in a good place and that's probably the most important part about today."

The question now is what does the future hold for all athletes from the high school level to the professional level going forward? Can one come out and be themselves without backlash from the public or their own team?

In the case of Collins, he has been able to get over that hurdle. Having people who know him has helped. However, will he be around for the rest of this season and what will happen to him after that? He only signed with the Nets for just 10 days.

So far through three games, Collins has played 25 mins, scored three points on 1 for 3 from the field and committed nine fouls. The team has gone 2-1 during that stretch though and he has provided a lift. While he may have not had an impact stats wise, he has done the little things like set picks to get other players open and his communication at the defensive end has been big.

"He came into this league knowing that he's going to give his six fouls away. He used up five of them, so were kind of disappointed that he didn't get use his six, but he's a guy that understands when to foul," Kidd said after the game on Sunday.

In the case of Sam, his professional journey is now in the hands of the teams of the NFL and he will not have the support system like he had at Missouri. Also he will bring a lot of attention to the team that he goes to and the NFL is a league where teams, especially the good teams pride themselves on not having distractions.

At the end of the day, it will get back to what NFL senior analyst for ESPN Chris Mortensen said last weekend.

"I think ultimately it gets back to whether or not that this person can help his team," he said.

Hopefully one day, a professional athlete that is gay will not be such a big deal. Until then, it will always grab headlines, but it is up to us a society across the board to keep things in perspective and allow a persons play and action do the talking for them and not their sexual orientation.

Information, quotations and statistics are courtesy of 2/24/14 12 a.m. edition of NBATV's "Gametime" with Vince Cellini, Steve Smith and Brent Barry; 2/24/14 7 a.m. edition of ABC News' "Good Morning America" with Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Ginger Zee and Lara Spencer;;;;;