It was Sunday night, November 23rd 2014. The Dallas Cowboys had come to Metlife Stadium to take on their rival the New York Giants. Early in the second quarter Eli Manning threw a deep ball and what happened next was amazing. Beckham Jr. snagged the ball out of the air like Spider-Man. This 43 yard touchdown was better than spectacular. I remember appreciating it while being disgusted at the same time. It put the Giants up 14 to 3. This play is a big deal two years later. I think it deserves the hype, and remains one of the great catches I have ever seen in the NFL.
However, I’m a Cowboys fan.The Odell grab is so celebrated and replayed, It’s often used to mock Brandon Carr and the Dallas defense. Please remember how this contest ended. Tony Romo completed six straight passes on his teams final drive. Dez Bryant caught the go ahead score with a minute to play. Unbelievable catch Beckham. You are scary good. My biggest memory from that night was the final score. Cowboys 31 Giants 28.
The original “Dream Team” remains the greatest, most impactful group in basketball history. They are so iconic, they have cast a shadow over a team that could have hung with them on the floor. The 1996 version of Team USA was on the level of the 1992 squad. They are not given much credit for their sensational roster. Even “The Redeem Team” in 2008 gets more love because of their storyline. “Dream Team 3” is the most underrated basketball team of all time.
1992 VERSE 1996 THOUGHTS
I’ts close. I’d guess the 1992 squad would be a two or three point favorite each time. The reason would be Michael Jordan and Earvin Johnson, who was still Magic enough. It should be noted Larry Bird had a broken NBA body and was doing Americans a favor by suiting up. Christian Laettner (a good pro) as a rookie would be the worst player on either squad.
1996 UNITED STATES MEN’S OLYMPIC BASKETBALL TEAM
CHARLES BARKLEY (Age 33)
KARL MALONE (Age 33)
JOHN STOCKTON (Age 34)
DAVID ROBINSON (Age 30)
SCOTTIE PIPPEN (Age 30)
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL (Age 24)
HAKEEM OLAJUWON (Age 33)
PENNY HARDAWAY (Age 24)
GRANT HILL (Age 23)
GARY PAYTON (Age 28)
REGGIE MILLER (Age 30)
MITCH RICHMOND (Age 31)
COACHES: Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Bobby Cremins, Clem Haskins
“Dream Team 3” had five players from the 92 group. Then add Shaq at his peak of running fast and jumping high. Next is merely Olajuwon who had just been the best player in the world for two years. Penny and Grant Hill were superstars, right in the middle of putting their versatile stamps on the NBA. Gary Payton was at the top of his game. Reggie Miller had already proven he was a clutch legend. Oh my goodness Mitch Richmond could ball. They won by 32 points a game on the way to gold. This team got lost between the “Dream Team” breaking ground and the “Redeem Team” having to overcome struggle. For how good the 96 team was, it’s like they hardly exist in fans memories.
Tim Duncan said goodbye to the game of basketball this week. Instead of the focus being a pure celebration of this San Antonio Spurs legend, the day was used for the media and fans to take jabs at Duncan’s rival Kobe Bryant. Both players are now retired after a combined 10 NBA titles and 33 all-star games. Many claimed “Duncan was the best player of his generation.” They said it so nonchalant, as if it was common knowledge. I heard “at least Tim didn’t take 50 shots in his last game.” There was, “Duncan retired with so much more class than Kobe.” Everyone keeps bringing up the amount of money Bryant was paid his last two seasons. These takes are meaningless to the argument. You not liking Kobe, doesn’t change that he’s exactly, on the Tim Duncan level.
MY TAKE ON BRYANT
Kobe had as much skill, balance, and competitive heat as anyone who has played the game. His desire to be a student, ability to make difficult shots, and fundamentals were as good as it gets. He had Hakeem Olajuwon trained footwork and his handles have gone under the radar. Above all else, “the black mamba” was a spectacular performer. He excelled in pressure. Scoring 50 in a game is a dream for most guys. Kobe once dropped 55 in a half. The Lakers star poured in 50 plus points ten times….in one season. I remember a week and a half stretch where he hit the game winning bucket each night. Kobe not only bailed out Team USA in the clutch for a gold medal, the best players in the world were begging him to do it. He was close to “Michael Jordan good.” Let that sink in.
MY TAKE ON DUNCAN
It was memorable to watch Tim Duncan be so poised and capable of being the best, on the biggest stage, as just a youngster. He later grew up battling Garnett, Webber, Rasheed Wallace, and Elton Brand every night. Duncan was the man among those men. His brains, his array of post moves, back to the basket game, cool use of the glass, and unselfishness stand out. Tim had terrific hands and was a precise passer. He is likely one of the five best defensive players of my lifetime. The guy was still protecting the rim well as an older player. “The big fundamental” was a winner his entire career. His teams won 50 or more games in 17 straight seasons. He was the face of consistent, humble dominance.
SO WHO WAS BETTER?
It’s close! It’s a real debate. Their careers are equal. Taking each guy at their very best, it’s Kobe. His greatness was more jaw-dropping. Choose Duncan for the work on the floor. Don’t be clouded by him being the guy who should lead boy scouts, while Bryant is the teeth grinding villain. This is how we would go back and forth. You’d say Timmy has one more MVP than Kobe. I’d tell you Bryant has been the Western Conference player of the month 16 times to Duncan’s 3. You’ll say Duncan has one more Finals MVP. I’ll bring up Bryant averaging 29/7/7 on a record-setting 15-1 playoff run where Kobe was not MVP. You’ll say Kobe had Shaq. I’ll say the Spurs were awesome and Shaq had Kobe. You’ll say Duncan was a better teammate. I’ll say Kobe had the aggressive confidence of a lion. You’ll say Duncan had a better regular season winning percentage. I’ll add Bryant played in one more NBA Finals than Tim. You’ll bring up the big mans tremendous defense. I’ll agree, but we all know Kobe was a super defensive player. You’ll say Duncan took less money to give back to his franchise. I’ll say Bryant was more compelling and helped globalize the game. If you think Tim Duncan was the best player of his generation, it’s a legit take…It’s just not a fact.
Kobe Bryant’s final game was a bit more than another one of his gems. I know this is a guy who has played in the NBA Finals for a living. He’s bailed out a team in an Olympic gold medal game. He once scored 55 points in a half. Because of some unique circumstances, I believe this was the coolest outing of his illustrious career.
These are the factors I’m considering:
WHO WERE KOBE AND THE LAKERS IN 2016?
It was no secret the Lakers were horrible. This was a 16-65 group stuck in mud. Kobe had his moments this year. There were eight or nine games where he played very well. Facts are his body is shot from injury and basketball mileage on his legs. He had become what I’d feared most…a gunner who could no longer shoot well. Bryant’s efficiency was disgusting for an NBA starter. Two days before his last game, he shot 4-12 and scored 13 points at Oklahoma City. He sat after 19 minutes with his body covered in bandages and ice. This had become a typical scene.
THE UNIQUE STAGE THIS GAME PROVIDED
Not everyone knows whether or not it’s their last game. In this case, we all knew for the majority of the season when Kobe would lace them up one more time. If healthy, he would finish April 13th in Los Angeles playing Utah. As the date approached it was obvious this was going to be an epic happening. This was a rare, high-profile evening built around seeing a specific player in a swan song. The stage was bigger than the game. It was like the Oscars at a pro basketball game. It felt like the Super Bowl of Kobe.
THE LAKERS OPPONENT THAT NIGHT
The Utah Jazz had known for just a short while that they had been eliminated from the playoff race. With injuries and resting guys, this was certainly a short-handed Utah team. It’s still the Utah Jazz. They are one of Kobe’s fiercest rivals and are well coached by Quin Snyder. This crew from Salt Lake City handed Bryant his biggest ever loss just two weeks earlier. Utah rocked the Lakers by 48 points while Kobe scored one lonely bucket. Utah and L.A. fans agree, this matchup is always personal.
MY EXPECTATIONS FOR KOBE IN THE FINALE
The scenario I’d hoped for Bryant was to score 21 points on poor shooting. I thought the Jazz would win by 16 or 17 points. My biggest goal as a fan, was that he did not embarrass himself.
HOW KOBE PLAYED AND HOW THE GAME TURNED OUT
Number 24 came out swinging and missed his first five field goal attempts. The Jazz were controlling the game and it looked like a familiar sight for these Lakers. Bryant kept firing like never before and something awesome happened. Things went from everyone wondering how many points he would score in this loss, to the realization that he had pushed the Lakers to a stunning come from behind victory. In the last three minutes of the game he scored 15 points hitting his final five shots, four free throws and added a dime. In total he scored 60 points (38 in the second half), had 4 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and a steal. He out scored the Jazz himself in the fourth quarter 23-21. With intense pressure to perform, he was the “Black Mamba” because the occasion called for it.
WHY THE IMPACT OF THIS GAME IS EXTRA SPECIAL
I’m not being a prisoner of the moment. I’ve seen Kobe play more than 1,300 times. He’s done way bigger and badder things over his journey. There was something different about this one. Did you see Kobe at the podium after the game? He was giddy like a child at recess, but he was in actual shock. Even with all the player has done, knowing he had a group of guys spoon-feeding him shots, he could not believe how things had turned out. It was like the” sports Gods” doing a major favor, for a guy that did not need one.
I knew Kobe would be a legend the second I saw his eyeballs. I’ve spent the last 20 years marveling at everything he has done on the floor. He took over a Finals game as just a 21 year old in 2000. Shaq fouled out in overtime and Bryant said, “I got you”. I was not surprised. When he out scored the Mavericks 62-61 through three-quarters in 2005, I felt it brewing the day before. For the first time, this guy did something I did not think he was capable of. I was a “Kobe doubter” for one night and he burned me. I was in shock with you Mamba. People always talk about first impressions. Kobe just proved how you say goodbye matters as well.
Like many of you, Star Wars had its hooks in me from an early age. With the release of “The Last Jedi”, the passion and the banter have been reignited. Here is my order of Star Wars movies ranked worst to first:
#8– “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” (2002)– The over emphasis on technology left this picture looking cartoon like. This became Star Wars on steroids. The theatre erupted as Yoda engaged in a lightsaber duel. Obi-Wan fighting Bobba Fett’s dad sounds like a good idea on paper. I could not take either of the scenes seriously. Padme’ is beautiful with galactic brains and skills. Her love building moments with Anakin were drawn out and boring.
#7- “THE PHANTOM MENACE” (1999)– “Roger Roger”. Really? I liked Liam Neeson as Qui Gon Jinn. His chemistry with Obi-Wan and the young Anakin Skywalker was solid. One of the more redeeming qualities about The Phantom Menace was from a role player. Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker (Anakin’s mother) gave a genuine performance. The lightsaber battles became quicker and more intense. Darth Maul and his double-bladed weapon had a cool factor. Jar Jar Binks has become the face of the flawed prequels.
#6- “REVENGE OF THE SITH” (2005)– Darth Vader has as much presence as any villain in motion picture history. Anakin makes the transition to the Dark Lord late in the film. To see Vader exuding regret over what he had done to Padme’ was fascinating to watch. Ian McDiarmid put on an acting clinic as Emperor Palpatine.
#5- “ROGUE ONE” (2016)- I liked it! It was grey and grimy. At the same time, it was full of color and subtle celebration of Star Wars history. There were gems everywhere. The cohesion between the new heroes was smooth. The blind, martial arts character added a cool twist to the force. Letting Darth Vader loose with aggression was a great idea. Avoiding the original theme music to open the movie, was a slight let down.
#4- “THE FORCE AWAKENS” (2015)– Spoiler alert: This is a real Star Wars movie! The fans were looking for something that felt like home and Episode 7 nailed it. The Force Awakens seemed to be built around the fundamentals of the very first “Star Wars”. Worthy of a little criticism sure, but It was smart enough to pay homage to its 1977 roots. It was the result of great care and respect for what has come before, while still building forward. The beauty was being given so many old school characters and emotions, while my interest gravitated towards the new ones. I want to know who Rey is. I want to know more about Finn and hear more of his jokes. I can’t wait to see Kylo Ren become more cozy with evil. I was invested in these new characters minutes after meeting them on the screen. All of these years later, we may have seen Chewbacca at his finest. This flick has a ton of personality. It will welcome in a new generation of fans the right way.
#3- “RETURN OF THE JEDI”(1983)– After having dozens of conversations with Star Wars junkies the past two month’s I made a key discovery. Return of the Jedi is underrated! While much of the crowd pegged it “the clear worst movie of the trilogy”, I struggled mightily to separate it from my second place finisher. Critics point out the Ewoks as the main weakness of Episode six. While they may have pushed the cute in our face a bit, the Ewoks were a smart, resourceful part of the movie. They also found a way to give C-3PO the ironic duty of being a God. Of the original films, Jedi was the most visually pleasing. Jabba’s palace was an extraordinary place to visit. The space fighting moments at the end were clean and a handful of new ships were introduced. Darth Vader’s mask coming off was the payoff we were all waiting for.
#2- “STAR WARS” (A New Hope, 1977) – Nothing captures the classic vibe of this tale like the first moment we see Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness). A hooded Kenobi looks over the unconscious Luke Skywalker. R2-D2 makes his presence known and Obi-Wan reveals his face to the droid. With John Williams music humming in the back ground Ben says, “Hello there. Come here my little friend, don’t be afraid”. The storytelling had basic roots with powerful results. R2-D2 and C-3PO provided us the perfect tour guide to this galaxy. We related to Luke as he dreamed into the setting suns. We feared the idea that this deep breathing, sinister figure could choke a man from across the room. The cocky smuggler and the bossy Princess added perfectly to the group. This show was about mystical ideas, camaraderie, and an adventure that would change the movie game forever.
#1- “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” (1980)– If Star Wars was the set up and Jedi was the closer, Empire was the bridge. This movie had the most meat on the bone. It was the most productive film for the majority of the original characters (including newcomers Yoda and Lando Calrissian). It was about our hero’s lives in crisis. They were in pain rather than having a glamorous victory. Episode five was a space opera. It was full of content, romance, and witty banter in close quarters. We get to see the Millennium Falcon on full display. We go deep in the mind of the Jedi Master. Han Solo ends up frozen and Luke loses a hand. Darth Vader rocks us with “I am your father”. If the original trilogy was one long movie, The Empire Strikes Back would be its most vital part.
This is an award always slanted towards offensive players that touch the ball. My 2015 NFL MVP’s:
#5- Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers)– Brown is a route improviser, and an elite special teams guy. He played over one quarter of the year without Roethlisberger, yet compiled 136 catches and 1,834 yards. The 5-10, 180 pound Brown has become the most productive, and maybe best receiver in the game.
#4- Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals)– Good for you Carson Palmer. Coming off an ACL tear at age 35, he answered with his best showing in the pros. He led everyone in total QBR (82.1) and yards per attempt (8.7). He played in all 16 games and won 13 of them. Palmer is now, arguably, one of the 30 best quarterbacks over the last three decades in the NFL.
#3- Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks)– Wilson has taken an already established game to another level. The knack for making the timely play remains and he’s showing off more skills in the passing game. He led the league with 110.1 passer rating and he casually rushed for 553 yards. He is a star whose all time status is on the rise. Russell’s leadership and play making spear head a scary as they come 10-6 team.
#2- Tom Brady (New England Patriots)– Brady spit on “deflategate” this season. His play over a large portion of the year was only a reminder he’s much closer to the greatest ever than a cheater. Tom rolls out of bed and goes 36 to 7 in touchdown to interception ratio, racks up 4,770 yards and gathers his 13th AFC East crown. He performed to this level with many injuries on the offensive side of the ball.
#1- Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers)– That annoying swagger he has when he is whipping your team, is the fuel that led to a league best 15-1 record. Cam used to be a little high and low throwing the ball, now he’s hitting third down and 23 with precision. His 35 touchdowns to 10 picks are nice. Factor in his 10 rushing scores and 14 straight victories, Cam Newton is the clear 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player.