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It’s no secret that I’m not a particularly close follower of the NBA. I have a decent general understanding of the state of the league just by dint of being a general sports fan, but as far as the vagaries and granular details? Not so much.

However, it’s also no secret that I’ve never let my relative ignorance with regard to a sports-related subject stop me from voicing my opinion.

And so here we are, with my standard underinformed preview of the NBA Finals.

This year’s championship tilt pits the Eastern Conference-winning Milwaukee Bucks against the Phoenix Suns, victors in the Western Conference. It’s a best-of-seven series that will, regardless of which team triumphs, have an historic impact.

If the Bucks win, it will mark the first title for Milwaukee since 1971, ending the league’s fifth-longest championship drought. Two spots higher on that drought list, we find the Suns, a franchise that came into existence in 1968 and has never won an NBA title. Either way, we’re getting a champion we haven’t seen in over half a century. More than that, neither of these teams have even made the Finals in a long time. We haven’t seen Phoenix here since 1993. And Milwaukee? Try 1974. Heck, the truth is that no player on either roster has ever won a championship. Zero. Like I said – historic.

So who’s going to win?

Published in Sports

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has announced its 2021 class of inductees.

Just one day after the delayed induction of the 2020 class finally took place – an historic group of entrants including Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant – the Hall put forward its 2021 group, set to be enshrined on Sept. 11 of this year.

A quartet of big names head up the list. Paul Pierce is probably the biggest star of the bunch, though Chris Bosh, Chris Webber and Ben Wallace are no slouches. There are also a trio of coaches – Rick Adelman, Jay Wright and Bill Russell (who is already in the Hall for his play, but is now a dual inductee) – and a pair of WNBA stars in Yolanda Griffith and Lauren Jackson, as well as a number of other committee and contributor selections.

But it is the four at the top that will be of interest to most.

Published in Sports

Sports documentaries are always a mixed bag, but that bag is particularly mixed if the doc is about a single individual. It’s a fine line; a person isn’t going to sign onto a film that’s going to be a hatchet job, but venturing too far into the realm of hagiography undermines the credibility of the filmmakers and the credulity of the viewer.

“Tony Parker: The Final Shot,” currently streaming on Netflix, manages to find its way into the middle ground, albeit considerably closer to the hagiographic side of the equation. Directed by French filmmaker Florent Bodin, it’s a journey through the career of Tony Parker, the retired NBA point guard who is generally considered to be the greatest player in the history of French basketball.

Published in Sports

Like the vast majority of you, I’m looking forward to putting 2020 in the rearview mirror. Still, there are certain things that warrant looking back upon.

Every year, I make all sorts of sports predictions. And every year, I use this year-end edition of The Maine Edge to hold myself accountable for those predictions. It’s not quite as robust a collection as you’ve seen in the past, of course.

For instance, the CFL cancelled its entire season, so there was neither a season prediction nor a Grey Cup pick. And when MLB began its truncated season in late July, I held off on a preview, largely because I questioned whether the season would actually reach its conclusion.

Even so, we’ve got a few predictions that we can look back on. As usual, I got some right and some wrong – par for the course, really. We’re doing things a little differently this time through – I’m offering up my championship game/series predictions for examination first, followed by a look at my NFL season picks.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 23 December 2020 12:13

‘From Hang Time to Prime Time’ a slam dunk

The NBA is big business these days.

Players are global icons, recognizable to billions of people. They are literally world famous, making eight figure salaries and signing even bigger endorsement deals. On the ownership side, TV contracts and ever-escalating franchise values mean big profit for anyone with a piece of an NBA team.

It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way.

Pete Croatto’s new book “From Hang Time to Prime Time: Business, Entertainment, and the Birth of the Modern-Day NBA” (Atria, $27) takes us back to a time, not so long, when the NBA was a pro sports afterthought, a league that struggled to gain any sort of foothold in the cultural consciousness. The public perception was mixed and the product on the floor was uneven; outside of a few cities, the league was barely holding on. You couldn’t even watch games live; even the Finals were infamously aired on tape delay.

But thanks to some savvy league officials, some smart business moves, a handful of transcendent players and a few lucky bounces, the NBA transformed itself. The period from the early ‘70s through the ‘80s was transformative, a time when the league went from also-ran to clubhouse leader. It was a long journey, and not without obstacles, but ultimately, the NBA got where it wanted to go.

Published in Sports
Monday, 14 December 2020 15:17

'Gap Year' explores alternate path to NBA

When the NBA implemented its “One and Done” rule in 2006, it altered the draft landscape. Players could no longer enter the draft directly out of high school; they had to be both a) at least 19 years old, and b) at least one year removed from the graduation of their high school class.

In practice, this essentially meant that players would go play for a college team for one year before making their way to the draft. However, playing in college, while perhaps the most conventional choice, was not the only one.

Players had the option of playing professionally overseas for a year. And the NBA’s G-League developmental league also presented an opportunity to play for pay in that year, albeit considerably less lucratively than a foreign league.

But then there’s Darius Bazley, who followed an entirely different path – one that may lead to a different sort of opportunity for other players down the road.

The new documentary “Gap Year,” directed by T.J. Regan and Josh Kahn, follows Bazley as he embarks on that different opportunity. Instead of going to college for a year or heading overseas or to the G-League, Bazley embraced a heretofore unseen path – an internship.

A million-dollar internship.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 01 December 2020 14:18

Ball don’t lie – ‘The Big Three’

Winning an NBA championship is hard; the road to a title demands a lot of the players on the floor. But one could argue that assembling a championship squad is even harder, a delicate dance involving winning trades, quality drafting, good signings … and more than a little luck.

Michael Holley’s “The Big Three: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and the Rebirth of the Boston Celtics” (Hachette, $28) tells the story of one such squad and the titanic trio that operated at its center. It’s an in-depth look at how the 2008 Celtics championship squad was assembled, from the 2003 purchase of the Celtics by a new ownership group to the hiring of Danny Ainge as general manager to the acquisition of Garnett and Allen to the eventual breaking up of the band to move the franchise forward.

It’s a remarkably well-reported book, a detailed exploration of the many ups and downs that came along with trying to assemble this sort of next-level team. Through conversations and archival research, Holley crafts a portrait that focuses on the people involved as opposed to the numbers, a fine juxtaposition to Ainge’s ongoing insistence on refusing to allow the personal to interfere with his plan.

Published in Sports

We’re living in the age of the superteam in the NBA. While the league has always been star-driven, the necessity of those stars has never been more apparent. If you want to win a ring, you NEED at least two top-tier superstars. These days, assembling those dynamic duos or titanic trios involves players actively recruiting one another, with stars seeking out paths to play with other stars that they like and/or admire.

It wasn’t always that way, though. Two decades ago, we watched the most talented pairing in the league rise to dizzying dynastic heights even as they were engaged in an ongoing and off-putting internal fight.

Jeff Pearlman’s “Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30) dives deep into the eight-year stretch – from 1996-2004 – where two of the greatest basketball players of not just their generation but of all time team up to bring a string of titles to the Los Angeles Lakers even as their own interpersonal antipathy rages and boils beneath the surface. All while a renowned and legendary coach largely removes himself from the fray, content to let it work itself out.

It is a magnificently and meticulously detailed work, one featuring deep-dive interviews with all manner of people connected to that tumultuous time in the history of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises. It’s an unflinching and often unflattering portrait of the men who led L.A. to the top of the mountain; frankly, learning the extent of the chaos renders the championship victories all the more impressive.

Published in Sports

The evolution of sport is a fascinating thing. In some ways, the games we love are trapped in amber. The size of the court or the field stays the same. Certain distances haven’t ever really changed – 60 feet from home to first, 10 yards for a first down, 10 feet from floor to rim.

But in other ways – the ways the games are actually played – have seen significant alterations over the years, even as most sporting stalwarts are staunch traditionalists with regards to how things are done. “We do them this way because that’s the way we’ve always done them” has long been the rallying cry of the athletic establishment.

But there will always be players who challenge the status quo. Players who, for whatever reason, deem it necessary to do things in a different way. Players who see the opportunity to find success by way of something new.

Players like Kenny Sailors.

You’d be forgiven for not recognizing that name, but as you’ll discover in the documentary “Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story” – written and directed by Jacob Hamilton and available for rental at altavod.com – you are almost certainly familiar with his work. You see, there is a sizeable contingent out there that believes that Sailors, a man born nearly 100 years ago, is the inventor of the modern jump shot.

The doc itself is a brisk run through a remarkable life, one that features some names and faces you absolutely will recognize – NBA legends such as Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry (who also serves as an executive producer on the film) – as well as a number of other NBA figures, former players and league historians. Through archival footage, photographs and interviews, “Jump Shot” presents a strong case that in many ways, Sailors is the progenitor of how modern basketball is played.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 03 March 2020 12:43

Celtics Check-In – Third Quarter 2020

We’re three-quarters of the way through the NBA season and the Boston Celtics are putting forth another impressive performance. They look poised to finish strongly in the Eastern Conference, sitting in third place as of press time. While the top spot is likely out of reach – Boston’s 41-18 record leaves them 10 games behind the dominant Milwaukee Bucks – they’re just a touch behind the second-place Miami Heat. Barring disaster, they should still land home court advantage for at least the first round.

They’ve looked good recently, winning seven of 10 and generally looking like a contender. They’re in the top 10 in scoring (eighth) and the top five in scoring defense (fourth). They’ve got their issues – health will be a potential struggle, to be sure – and getting through the Bucks is certainly a tall order. Still, a couple of things go their way and they have a real shot at playing for a berth in the NBA Finals.

Let’s check in.

Published in Sports
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