Friday, October 16, 2015

Playing the Lamar Odom Blame Game: Who's Responsible?

Nostalgia. It's the single greatest reason why people follow sports. Even though you probably didn't feel as fondly about them at the time, pondering back into time and recalling the great qualities of past players is one of the best feelings in sports. Lamar Odom is the perfect example of this. When he was actually playing, he was the single most frustrating player of all-time. Not because he was bad, but because how good he COULD HAVE been. But when you look back at his career, almost everyone remembers his game in a positive way. How good was Lamar Odom? There's only one answer: Not as good as he COULD HAVE been.

I always said if God granted me the wish to be a professional basketball player, out of anyone in the history of the league, I would ask him to give me Lamar Odom's body and physical ability. That includes Lebron James, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson. Lamar Odom is the only player in NBA history that can play all 5 positions effectively at both ends of the floor for large chunks of the season. I wish I could write more about LO's physical abilities and compare him to Lebron and Magic but that would be an entirely different article. Let me just say this. The one part of Lamar I would definitely ask to leave out is the mental aspect. Give me Jordan's brain and Lamar's body and I will give you the single greatest basketball player that has ever lived or probably will ever live. Hell, forget Jordan's brain. Give me my own brain right now in Lamar's body and I will get you multiple championships. That's how great Lamar Odom's physical abilities were. So what happened?

Like many black athletes, Lamar Odom had a rough childhood. We all know the story. Rough neighborhood of Jamaica in Queens, NY. Absentee drug addict father. The thing that makes Lamar's childhood even sadder is that his mother passed away when he was 12 and he was raised by his grandmother, who also passed away when he was fairly young at 20 years old. I can't even imagine how a person is supposed to mature into a fully functioning normal adult, let alone a multi-million dollar athlete when they are dealing with these challenges. As if this wasn't enough, in 2006, Lamar's 6-month old son, Jayden passed away of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) while sleeping in his crib. And this happened while Lamar was at a funeral for his aunt!

Are you kidding me? How much misery can a single person take? I am a fairly normal person who had a good childhood, solid parents, supportive family, and a strong support system with relatively little exposure to drugs and alcohol in my early life. I have an infant daughter and if this had happened to me, even with all of those things in my life, I am pretty certain you would find me using SOME FORM of drugs to cope with the loss. For someone like Lamar and the sadness he has experienced in his life, who grew up in an environment ripe with drug addiction, no functional parenting, and now has an unlimited amount of resources to secure drugs, to be perfectly honest, its a fucking miracle he made it as far as he did in life without ending up dead from drug use.

This was another major event in Lamar Odom's life. In September of 2009, Lamar Odom married reality star Khloe Kardashian. But do I blame the Kardashian publicity whore machine for Lamar Odom's troubles? Absolutely not. Here's why. First of all, Lamar Odom won his second championship with the Lakers DURING his marriage with Khloe Kardashian. He was the NBA's Sixth man award in 2011 DURING his marriage with Khloe Kardashian. So this notion that somehow Khloe Kardashian and her reality show cameras were responsible for Lamar Odom's basketball game deteriorating is a false one. The fact of the matter is, Lamar Odom knew exactly what he was getting into with Khloe. He knew what she was about and he was ok with it. He chose that life. And to be honest, he liked it. His NBA peak came at the same time as his reality show peak. In the end I was actually surprised the marriage lasted as long as it did. More than half the marriages in America end in divorce. So in that sense, Lamar and Khloe were no different from anyone else. I am not going to speculate on what happened between a man and his wife. All I know is Khloe Kardashian wasn't responsible for Lamar Odom's basketball decline. The real cause behind that was something that happened in his professional career.

Lamar Odom has always been an emotional player. There's nothing wrong with that. But the problem is that he never learned to channel that emotion in a positive way on the court. There are plenty of examples of emotional players channeling their negative feelings to become better players. Michael Jordan. Kevin Garnett. Kobe Bryant. But Lamar Odom simply wasn't wired that way. If he wasn't in a positive frame of mind, he wasn't able to perform to the best of his ability.

After losing in the playoffs in two consecutive seasons, the Lakers knew they had to make a change. With Lebron James joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2012, and the emergence of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, the Lakers knew they needed multiple superstars to compete for a championship. Andrew Bynum was injury riddled, Pau Gasol was aging, and Kobe Bryant was on the wrong side of his prime. Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards of all-time was suddenly available and the Lakers had to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, that meant they had to give up Lamar Odom to New Orleans. Can you blame the Lakers for trying to trade him? Absolutely not. At the end of the day, this is a professional business. As a professional, you have to be able to take emotions out of it. Lamar had a great run in LA and the Lakers compensated him very well for his services. But Lamar Odom took it personally. After David Stern blocked the trade for "basketball reasons" (Don't get me started...) Lamar Odom was never the same player and the Lakers knew it. He had multiple meetings with team management and they ended up trading him to Dallas for a trade exception that ultimately helped them land Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. So at the time, it seemed like a great move for the Lakers. And I don't blame them one bit for making it. Had Lamar been a professional and not gotten butt hurt because the Lakers tried to trade him, perhaps he would still be a Laker.

Whatever the complex reasons behind Lamar Odom's troubles are, in the end I will remember him for being one of the most unique players to ever play in the NBA. For not being what he COULD HAVE been. For having all that talent and not making a single All-star game. For sacrificing for the good of the team and agreeing to come off the bench. For being one of the biggest pieces on two Laker championship teams. For being a left-handed beast in every facet of the game. For having one of the saddest lives a person can experience. For experiencing the loss of an infant child that I would not wish on my worst enemy. For falling into a drug addiction that almost any person on Earth could have fallen into. The good news is that it looks like he will recover from this latest incident. Perhaps he can write a happy ending to that long sad story. But in the end, he has to be the one to write it. All anyone else can do is cheer for him and not play the blame game. Because the only way to win that game, is not to play it at all. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Only Certainty in Life

I've been thinking about death a lot lately. Probably because two of my peers who I knew not personally but peripherally, passed away within a relatively recent time period. They were similar in age and around the same stage in their life as I am now. Young married adults with families who depend on them. Ever since then, I have asked myself the following question: 

Death is the only certainty in life. It is the only event that we all know for a fact that has a 100% chance of occurring in the life of every single person ever to be born. Yet why are so many people unprepared for it? 

Let's get one thing clear. By "unprepared" I mean in a practical sense. There is no way in hell yourself or your loved ones can be emotionally prepared for you to die a sudden unexpected death in your 30's. But you can definitely be prepared beforehand practically in case anything ever happened. 

Another clarity. By asking this question about being prepared I am in no way saying the people who passed away recently were not practically prepared. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea. I did not know them well enough to know about their situation. Hearing the news of their passing simply sparked thoughts into my mind to lead me to ask this question about people in general. 

So what do I mean by being "practically prepared"? I don't like to give advice on my blog. Especially about topics that I have no expertise or experience in. But as someone who likes to think extensively and often times obsessively to the point of causing insomnia about random topics, I feel like I have some insightful thoughts to share about those topics. Sometimes that topic is the Lakers, and sometimes it's Taco Bell. This time that topic just happens to be 'death.'

This first thing you can do to be prepared for something is to actually think about it. It's pretty simple. If you want to be prepared for an earthquake, first you have to entertain the possibility in your mind that an earthquake can and might happen. Only then can you take practical steps to prepare for it. For so many people death is such as taboo they don't even like to think about it. Obviously you don't have to obsess over it for hours on end to make yourself depressed, or bring it up during your child's birthday party. But there is a time and place for it. For most people, either their ego or fear keeps them from thinking about the possibility of their own death. Either they believe it won't happen to them or they are scared it will somehow actually happen if they give some thought to it. That ego and fear must be overcome. I think everyone who is married should discuss the possibility of their deaths with their spouse. That includes making a will and letting your family know about it. If you have life insurance make sure your beneficiaries know what to do if something happens. Talk about it. Break the taboo. Communication. That's the most important factor in being prepared. 

The next thing everyone should consider is life insurance. If you lost your job right now and never got another one, can you live comfortably for the rest of your life and maintain the same quality of life you are living now? If yes, congratulations. You are filthy rich.  You don't need life insurance. But  every single person I know, and chances are every single person you know, would answer 'no' to this question. I don't care how much money you and/or your spouse makes. Even if your spouse earns a six-figure salary, do you really want them to be working that job AND be a single parent? Things like cost of living, mortgages, college funds, taxes, investments, and bills are hard enough to manage with two people. Why would you want your spouse to have to manage them on their own while at the same time trying to earn money and raise a kid? Unless your last name is Gates, Buffet, or Trump, pretty much everyone who is married with kids should have some form of life insurance or another. 

I don't want to go too much into it but some people think life insurance is a scam. And many policies out there are so bad they pretty much are scam-like. But there are different kinds of insurance. Term life insurance is the purest form of insurance. It's called term because it's temporary. It's only effective for usually 20 or 25 years. If you are still alive after that time, the policy is cancelled. The theory is that by that time your kids should be old enough to be earning their own income and you should have enough wealth saved up to leave some for your spouse. Because it's temporary, it's a lot cheaper than permanent life insurance. As a matter of fact probably around ten times cheaper. Permanent life insurance policies are a lot more expensive because they last your entire life. Makes sense. There are all kinds of policies out there. They are usually attached to different investment vehicles based on indexes and interest rates and earn cash value based on the markets and other factors. Many of them are bullshit. The costs associated with maintaining those investments often times negates any earnings you may have had, to the point where you could have been better off buying the much cheaper term policy and then investing the difference on your own. But there are some good products out there as well that guarantee you a minimum interest rate and offer you a lot of flexibility. All I can say is you should approach buying life insurance cautiously but with an open mind. But I would advise everyone with kids should have a term life insurance policy at the very least. 

This next point may seem a bit obvious. Certain things like hard work, responsibilities, discipline, and sacrifice don't necessarily feel good. But if you died without imbibing at least some of those values in your life, you may be leaving your loved ones in a very tough spot. For example, if you are stuck in a job that you hate but makes good money, it's not always the right thing for you to quit. Your family may need the financial security. Staying in that job may be the sacrifice you need to make. Not everyone has to enjoy doing their jobs. That's what the off-time is for. That brings me to my last point. 

I can't stress this next point enough. Don't be a hard ass. Enjoy life. In my opinion, that's the biggest thing you can do to overcome your fear of death. If you lived a life full of enjoyment and jovial memories, then your death will be easier to accept by everyone, including yourself. If you always choose to work overtime on your days off, just once maybe take the day off and go to the beach. Maybe pay your employee some overtime once and take your kid to the museum and show them some art. Maybe go out to eat dinner once in a while on a random Tuesday. Maybe stay up till 4 AM one time when you have family over for the holidays. Maybe let your mother-in-law put your baby to sleep one night so you guys can go watch the new movie that's coming out. Whatever it is that makes you feel good, do it once in a while. 

So here's the bottom line. How do you practically prepare for death? Discuss it with your loved ones. Get life insurance. Work hard. But also play hard. And don't have a stick up your ass. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How to answer the question of who is the greatest shooter in NBA history...

Ever since Stephen Curry won the 2015 NBA MVP award, I have been thinking about this question a lot. Who is the greatest NBA shooter of all-time? Initially I was just trying to figure out if Curry actually deserved the MVP or not. After doing my research I concluded that James Harden was the real MVP. Twenty-one playoff games and an NBA championship later, I feel the same way. You can read about my thoughts on the NBA awards system here. But we digress...

When I was looking into Curry's numbers, I thought to myself, Holy shit! Is Curry the greatest shooter of all-time? His numbers seemed ridiculous. Then someone accused me of being a "fair weather" fan because I stopped writing my blog after the Lakers started sucking. I can assure you that is not the case. 1) My blog is about much more than just the Lakers, or sports for that matter. 2) I wrote several articles about how much the Lakers suck.  The real answer to why I stopped writing is that I got too busy with real world responsibilities. But this Curry question has got my wheels turning again and made me motivated to neglect my wife and kid so here it goes.

After doing some serious googling, I broke it down to 16 players who are candidates for the greatest shooter title. Why 16? Because a 4x4 collage was the best fit for my webpage, that's why. Deal with it.

First, I should give some honorable mentions to guys like Del Curry, Mike Miller, and Wesley Person. Also, especially with the way the NBA is played nowadays, there is no doubt youngsters like Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving will crack this list in the near future. Before I get into the list, here is a very important question.

What factors go into answering who is the greatest shooter of all-time?
Not particularly in any order...

1. Stats - This is important. However, it may be true that numbers never lie, but stats sure as hell do. So they cannot be the only factor when judging a shooter.

2. Degree of difficulty on shots - This is also known as the eye test. A lot of the players on this list mostly shot wide-open uncontested 3's from their favorite spot on the floor. Others created their own shot with their dribbling or height advantage and shot with a hand in their face. There is no way in hell you can't factor that in.

3. The clutch factor - I could probably seriously hang with one of these guys in an empty gym shooting contest IF I caught them on a bad night and I was having a hot streak. But NBA games aren't played in an empty gym.  And everything that a player does in a game matters most in big moments towards the end of a close game.

4. The fear factor - A player's reputation matters. Why? Because the defense will react to that reputation and change the way they play. Kobe Bryant may not be great statistically when it comes to game winning shots. But the Black Mamba has a fearsome reputation so I guarantee the defense will be shitting their pants if he has the ball at the end of a close game. There is a difference between this and the clutch factor.

5. 3-pointers matter more but mid-range and free throws also count. - Shooter typically means 3-point shooter but you have to account for other kinds of shooting at least a little bit. A pure shooter should be great at the mid-range game as well as free throws. Otherwise, it just makes him sort of a gimmicky player. Bruce Bowen would be on this great shooter list if it wasn't for the fact that he was a career 57% free throw shooter. He wasn't a pure shooter. He was just great at shooting wide open 3's from the corner. That's what I call a gimmick.

Using these factors, who is the best shooter of all-time?

16. Pete Maravich

"Pistol" Pete was a player who was truly ahead of his time. He was your grandfather's Stephen Curry. Although he mostly played in an era before the 3 point line, he is on this list for 2 reasons: Factors 2 and 4. He was one of the best players ever at getting off his own shot. Probably one of the first players ever to dribble between his legs in an NBA game. And he has one of the most feared reputations amongst people of his generation.

15. Drazen Petrovic

Unfortunately, Drazen died in a tragic car accident in 1993. I never saw him play but he belongs on this list for the same reasons as Pete Maravich. He was a great shooter who could get off his own shot. From watching tapes he was porbably one of the best shooters with a hand in his face. As far his reputation is concerned, anyone who saw him ball will tell you Drazen Petrovic didn't take shit from anyone. Not even Michael Jordan. He never backed down from a fight. The 6 years he did play in the NBA, he ended up shooting better than 50% from the field and 43% from the 3. Had he lived, Drazen Petrovic probably would have been one of my favorite players. And he very well might have ended up number 1 on this list. RIP.

14. Dale Ellis

In the beginning of his career Dale Ellis was more of a well rounded scorer than just a shooter. Later on, as a role player, he became a deadly 3 point specialist. At first glance you would imagine a 17 year career of shooting almost 48% from the field, 40% from 3 and being an all-star caliber player at one point would land you higher on this list. But for some reason, Dale Ellis wasn't a great free throw shooter. He wasn't awful like Bruce Bowen, but he is the only player on this list to have a career free throw percentage in the 70s, at 78%.

13. Mark Price

A historically underrated player, Mark Price was Steve Nash before Steve Nash. Along with Nash and Steph Curry, Price is the only other player to have a career free throw percentage better than 90%. Nash has him beat by 0.001. A four time all-star, and career shooting percentages of 47/40/90, Mark Price probably would have ended up higher on this list had he played longer than 12 seasons.

12. Jeff Hornacek

Famous for rubbing his face as part of his free throw routine, Jeff Hornacek's name was synonymous with the word accuracy. Any time there was a dorky looking guy who could shoot on the playgrounds, he would be compared to Jeff Hornacek. No doubt playing with the likes of Stockton and Malone helped him get tons of open shots, but Hornacek was a consistent 40%'er from 3 long before he arrived in Utah. The only reason why Jeff Hornacek is not higher on this list is because he didn't quite shoot enough. With only a little more than 2000 3-point attempts, most of the other players on this list have around twice as many.

11. Glen Rice

If asthetics were a factor, Glen Rice might be number 1 or 2 on this list. He had one of the sweetest looking jump shots ever. Much like Dale Ellis, for the first half of his career, Glen Rice was more of a scorer than a shooter. Think Paul Pierce or Carmelo Anthony. As he aged, he gained a little bit of weight and became less athletic, but was nevertheless a deadly 3 point shooter. A career 40% 3 point shooter despite being his team's number one scoring option (and a target for defenses) for most of his career earns him a spot on this list. 

10. Peja Stojakovic

The most overlooked quality about Peja Stojakovic was his strength and size as a shooter. Because he was only a shooter, he never used this in any other part of his game. Towards the end of a long grueling game, most shooters begin to fall short on their shots as they rack up the minutes and get tired. But at 6'9/220 Peja had the strength to keep shooting accurately. If you asked me who could hit the most 3's out of a 1000 straight shots, my answer would Peja. Simply because some of the other guys might not be strong enough to shoot well towards the end. 

9. Kevin Durant

If this was a list about the best scorers, Kevin Durant would be much higher. Durant is such a good offensive player in every facet of the game, that his abilities as a pure shooter are often overlooked. He probably has the longest range out of anyone on this list. As a 3-point shooter, he is very streaky, resulting in a career 38%. That's pretty good, but most of the other guys on this list are at 40-plus. He is only half way through his career however, and as the legend of Kevin Durant grows, there is no doubt he will end up much higher than 9.

8. Dirk Nowizki

Like Durant, Dirk is also has a career 3-point percentage of 38%. But also like Durant, Dirk is much more than just a shooter. Unlike most players, who depend more on long-range shooting as they age, Dirk has gone away from the 3-point shot as he has gotten older. He has learned to play closer to the basket. He has also maxed out factors 2-5 mentioned above. Dirk rarely gets an open shot, and more often than not he is shooting with his back to the basket, off one leg, over the hands of multiple defenders. The degree of difficulty on Dirk's shots is unmatched in the league. He is also as clutch and fearsome as they come.

7. Steve Kerr

This seven-time NBA champion may turn out to be the next Phil Jackson or Greg Popovich. As a player, there was no one more accurate in the history of the league at shooting 3-pointers than Steve Kerr. His career 3-point percentage of 45% is unmatched and has to be respected. Why is he not higher on this list? For one, he didn't shoot enough. (1599 3-point attempts) Probably because he was a very limited role player and didn't play a lot of minutes. Kerr also played with multiple hall-of-famers his entire career who did nothing but get him great wide-open looks from the arc. You still have to give him credit for hitting those shots though, especially in the clutch.

6. Kyle Korver

Besides Reggie Miller and Ray Allen, there is no one better on this list at hitting jump shots coming off screens. Kyle Korver holds the record for 3-point percentage in a single season at 53% in 2009-2010. That's insane. Do you realize what that means? Kyle Korver can hit 3's more accurately than a lot of players can hit lay-ups. Over the last 4 seasons, he has been shooting 41%, 43%, 45% and 47% from the 3 with increasing attempts. With a career of 43% from 3 and 88% from the free throw line, Kyle Korver may end up a lot closer to 1 by the time he retires.

5. Larry Bird

A two time member of the 50/40/90 club, Larry Bird has the clutch and fear factors oozing out of his pores. There was no bigger trash talker and mentally tough player than Larry legend. He was so confident in his abilities as a shooter, he would tell the defender where he was going and how he was going to shoot it. Then he would swish the shot and do it all over again. The 3-point line was relatively new when he played, and it wasn't as big a part of the game as it is today. Had he played in today's league he would have had much better numbers in that department. But if you go by the eye test alone, Larry Bird might be 1 or 2.

4. Steve Nash

When you think Steve Nash you think of passing first. For that reason, when you combine his abilities to shoot from the 2, 3, and free throw line, Steve Nash might be the most underrated shooter of all-time. The man is the greatest free throw shooter in the history of the NBA at 90.4%. For 14 of his 18 total seasons in the league, he shot at least 40% from the 3-point line. 5 out of his last 6 seasons, he shot better than 90% from the free throw line. And perhaps most incredibly, he shot better than 50% overall field goals for 5 seasons. As a point guard! That's almost unheard of. He is also a four-time member of the 50/40/90 club. No other player has done that more than twice. He probably didn't deserve his 2 MVP's, but definitely deserves more credit as a shooter.

3. Ray Allen

For much of his career, Ray Allen was a scorer. After he was traded to Boston and became the third option on the Big 3, he made himself into a Reggie Miller type pure shooter. He became incredible at coming off screens and hitting crazy 3's fading away from the basket. Just ask the Spurs. When it comes to practice, there is no shooter who works harder than Ray Allen. A two-time champion, he hit clutch shot after clutch shot for his teams. As a Laker fan, I can tell you he scared the shit out of me in the two Finals we played against Boston. His accuracy stats have always varied greatly depending on his team situation, but right now Jesus Shuttlesworth is the all-time leader in 3-pointers made and it's not even close.

2. Reggie Miller

How much of the fear factor did Reggie Miller have in him? Well, enough for ESPN to make an entire 30 for 30 documentary about it. When Reggie Miller had his legendary playoff battles against the Knicks, he made the entire city of New York clench their assholes with fear every time he took a shot. He famously scored 8 points in 8 seconds to win a playoff game against the Knicks. He was so much of a Knick Killer that the word "Knicks" comes up 22 times in his Wikipedia entry. Besides Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller might be the single biggest reason the Knicks don't have a title since 1973. There was no one better at moving without the ball, coming off screens, kicking his legs up in the air while shooting to draw a foul, and pissing you off. Just ask Kobe Bryant. 

1. Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry excels at every single factor discussed earlier. As far as the stats are concerned, in his 6 seasons so far, Curry is shooting the 3-pointer at 44%. That's only 1% lower than the all-time leader, his coach Steve Kerr. But the degree of difficulty is at least 10 times higher on most of Curry's shots. Because he is the primary ball handler, distributor, AND scorer on his team, he doesn't always get wide-open looks. Besides Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki, there is no one better at creating his own jump shot. But unlike those guys, Curry is a 6-foot guard, which makes it even more impressive. There has never been anyone better at pulling up and shooting off the dribble. His quick handles help create just a tiny space, and his quick release, perhaps the quickest ever, helps him get a shot off in that tiny space. He is also great at catching and shooting off screens. We saw in these playoffs he is developing into a clutch and feared player. His accuracy is something we have never seen before when you take into account the amount and difficulty of long range shots he takes. He is also a career 90% free throw shooter so far. What more can you ask for in a shooter? Now that he has his championship, a couple more crazy clutch shots like he had against New Orleans in the 2015 playoffs, and there will be no doubt Stephen Curry will be a unanimous choice in everyone's mind, for the best shooter of all-time.