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Sunday, July 14, 2024

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GAMES People Play -NBA Championship Round Worth Watching-6-21-2006

By Rick Racela

If you’re a basketball fan, but haven’t made the time to watch NBA games, now’s the time.
Many are turned off by the boorish behavior of some professional players while others can’t make the time to consume almost nightly games over an endless season. But this is The Finals.
Two new teams are battling for the crown. Through Sunday, Miami had taken a 3-2 series lead thanks to a combination of aggressive play from Heat star Dwayne Wade, some questionable coaching from Maverick Avery Johnson and some poor Dallas free throw shooting.
Shaquille O’Neal always shoots free throws poorly, but his value is in the low block where, even at 34, he continues to cause havoc. “Hack-a-Shaq” or the practice of taking hard fouls against O’Neal is effective to a certain degree, but sooner or later the goons and spare big men on the opposing team run out of fouls to give.
Wade is drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan but let’s just stop that right now. Go win six titles and carry your team in crunch time in every title series and we’ll talk. Wade is outstanding, but Jordan remains the valedictorian of basketball all by himself. Memories certainly fade, but the dominance and will to win of M.J. shall not be forgotten anytime soon.
Well-traveled Jerry Stackhouse, once a top pick of the Sixers, has matured into a top-notch sixth man. Redemption for a North Carolina player who, like so many others, could not stand in Jordan’s shadow.
It’s amazing to watch Dirk Nowitzki, the 7-1 Maverick forward, handle and shoot the basketball. There is some Larry Bird in Nowitzki’s game, but that’s not to suggest that anyone has Bird’s total package. But you can’t imagine how agile Nowitzki must be to carry his long frame with such capability in a game built for speed and quickness.
Former stars like Jason Williams and Gary Payton, who made their names with teams that never won, have a chance to play key roles in a title winner. It’s why some players take less money to join clubs with a chance to earn rings.
Having Dallas and Miami in The Finals is a breath of smoke-free air for the NBA. Since the 1986-87 season, five franchises have won titles. Houston has two, Detroit and San Antonio three each, the Lakers have five rings and the Bulls won six times.
It’s great to see some new teams in the mix.
But the biggest difference is the effort. It’s a long, grinding season. Injuries, travel, egos and guaranteed contracts take a lot of the stamina and desire out of the nightly tussles.
But The Finals bring out the thirst in every competitor. Legacies are forged. These players will be remembered by their championships. Individual stats are nice, but the record books shine on titlists. No one really cares about second place or the scoring champion.
Even Dallas owner Mark Cuban, an eccentric, makes things more fun for fans. He’s a bit whacky and clearly a non-conformist, but that’s what makes him interesting. There are many button-down suits in NBA owner boxes. Cuban is down with the fans, wearing player jerseys and shouting with all his might.
The intensity is evident and that’s what fans should get for their hard-earned dollars. Whoever wins the crown will have fought hard for the right to be called champion.
A fast summer will go by and training camp will start the process all over again. But, no matter what happens after this series, no matter how fast the next grueling campaign chimes in, the books will forever list the 2005-2006 champion.
Age will take away the athleticism, material desires will spend the dollars, and fame is always fleeting, but the term “NBA Champion” will last forever.
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