Jaylen Brown On Celtics Game 5 Win Over Miami Heat: DON'T Let Us Get Another One!"
“They let us get 2. Don't let us get ANOTHER one.” -Jaylen Brown via postgame interview on TNT.
Miami Heat up 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals after the Boston Celtics TAKE GAME 5.
WHO YOU GOT IN THIS SERIES?!
My name is Rob "Lep" Lepelstat. I am the founder/ CEO of my own sports media company STAT Sports. I'm also a contributor for Sports Illustrated and a Verified YouTube Partner.
My work has been featured in USA Today, Yahoo Sports, Bleacher Report, SNY, NY Post, NJ.com, etc.
I've interviewed everyone from Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Mark Messier, Phil Simms, Bernie Williams, Walt Frazier, Kemba Walker, Keith Hernandez, Dick Vitale, Gary Cohen, Verne Lundquist, etc.
For various outlets, I've been credentialed to cover the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, Tennis, Boxing, UFC, Boxing, NBA Draft, and the Belmont Stakes among many others.
Phil Simms once called me a "great looking fella" with "great TV hair".
Follow me on Twitter @RobLep1.
Danny Green on signing with the Lakers: "It was pretty obvious. It wasn't a difficult decision."
By Rob Lep
LeBron James and Anthony Davis. That’s all it took for two-time NBA champion Danny Green to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason, fresh off his second championship in the Raptors NBA Finals victory over the Warriors back in June.
“It was pretty obvious. It wasn't a difficult decision," Green told STAT Sports while appearing at his annual youth basketball camp at North Babylon High School on Long Island. “They have two superstars and they can build around them easy. I feel like I was a piece that could help add to a contender and help to turn the franchise around from the last couple of years or so.”
Green attended North Babylon his freshman year of high school before transferring to St. Marys, a private school in Manhasset, NY. He averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks as a senior.
Back in 2005, he was listed by Rivals.com as the No. 8 shooting guard and the No. 31 player in the nation. The camp is in its 10th year and is run by Green’s dad, Daniel. They call him “Senior”.
NBA fans have a lot to be excited about for the upcoming 2019-20 season. Following Kevin Durant’s departure from the Warriors, many teams have a legitimate shot to win the title, making the league more wide open than it’s been in several years.
BetOnline gives the Lakers the second best odds (+500), just behind the Los Angeles Clippers (+350), who shocked the NBA world by signing NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and trading for Oklahoma City Thunder star forward Paul George.
“I think we have a good roster on paper but it doesn’t matter until you put it to work and put it on the court. Everybody looks great in the preseason. We’ll see how healthy we stay and how good our chemistry is. We have some good veterans and leaders.”
The Lakers have missed the postseason the last six years and have not been past the conference semifinals since winning back-to-back NBA titles in 2009-10. Of course, those were Kobe Bryant’s teams, paired up with a big man as well: Pau Gasol.
In LeBron James’ first season in Hollywood, the team surprised many finishing 37-45, good for 10th in the Western Conference. The Lakers were the four seed in the West before James’ Christmas Day groin injury that forced him to miss 17 games. It was the first time the 3x NBA Finals MVP was not in the playoffs since 2005.
Green averaged 10.3 PPG this season with the Raptors to go along with four rebounds and a career high 46% shooting from three-point range. He had 18 points on six three pointers in Toronto’s 123-109 Game 3 victory to take a 2-1 series lead.
“I’ve been lucky to have more than one [title]. I’m going to enjoy this one because of how hard it was. Just the ride and how tough it was to get back there. And also win another one. Just have to realize how blessed and special it has been for me. I’m very lucky.”
For both this title in Toronto as well as with the San Antonio Spurs in 2013, Green was teammates with Leonard, a now two-time NBA champion/ Finals MVP.
When asked what fans should know about Leonard, Green put it simply: “He’s a regular person, just like anyone else.”
The Long Island native is enjoying the offseason with his family and friends, going back to where he grew up and helping the next generation of young basketball players.
His unconventional path is part of what makes his story so inspiring. Green was under recruited going into college before ultimately ending up at North Carolina.
He didn’t start until his senior season and was drafted in the second round (46th overall) by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Green hasn’t forgotten the challenges he overcame and where it all started.
“This is the community I grew up in. It’s always important to come back to where you came from and help be a resource for those kids who were just like you, trying to be just like you. Just to show them that they can be and help the unfortunate.”
My name is Rob Lep. I am the founder of my own sports website/ interview show STAT Sports (STATSports1.com), Digital Sports Host (Youtube Partner), CNN Sports Desk/ ESPNU Campus Contributor, etc.
My work has been featured in USA Today, Yahoo Sports, MSN, SNY, NY Post, NJ.com, etc.
I've interviewed everyone from Mariano Rivera, Mark Messier, Phil Simms, Bernie Williams, Walt Frazier, Kemba Walker, Keith Hernandez, Dick Vitale, Gary Cohen, Verne Lundquist, etc.
For various outlets, I've been credentialed to cover the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, Tennis, Boxing, UFC, Mayweather-McGregor, NBA Draft, and the Belmont Stakes among many others.
Phil Simms once called me a "great looking fella" with "great TV hair".
Follow me on Twitter @RobLep1.
By Rob Lep
Tobias Harris signed a 5-year, $180 million supermax contract with the Sixers this offseason.
“At the top.”
That’s where Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris believes his teams ranks among the NBA’s elite teams going into the 2019-20 season.
“For sure at the top of the east,” Harris said. “It's the NBA. It’s hard to win games in the NBA. It’s gonna take chemistry and work from every single guy on the team. We have big goals for ourselves, our team, our organization and we’re ready for that.”
“Our goal is to be at the top...if you asked me where do you think we rank and I told you at the bottom, that would be ridiculous,” he explains with a laugh. “That’s our goal and where we’re gonna be.”
Confidence has worked well for Harris in the past as he’s fresh off signing a 5-year extension worth over $180 million.
Harris passed on a $80 million extension last summer. He bet on himself. A $100 million to be exact. And it worked out brilliantly for him.
“I knew I wanted to stay [in Philly] but you never know what can happen in free agency. For us it was trying to get something done with Philadelphia. We got a great deal done.”
Harris spoke while at the Five Star x NBPA Basketball Camp at Basketball City in downtown Manhattan.
Life comes full circle for Harris, who attended the Five Star camp as a 12-year old kid.
“I always told my dad, I wanna go to Five Star. Because you can’t make the NBA if you don’t go to Five Star. So I always wanted to go!”
Ironically, Harris' dad Torrel is now his agent and the one who negotiated his max contract with the Sixers.
2018-19 was Harris’ best season statistically, averaging 20 points per game with just under 8 assists and shooting 55% from the field.
Harris is a native of Islip, New York in Suffolk County Long Island. Despite being a New York native, his focus is on the Sixers only.
“I don’t play for the Knicks so I don’t really care about the Knicks,” Harris said when asked about how he would assess the Knicks up and down offseason. “Just saying, I’m not gonna waste my energy answering that.”
Coming into free agency, the Knicks were the favorites to land both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Sports media members including Colin Cowherd, Stephen A Smith and Ric Bucher chad sources telling them it was a done deal. 99% chance. Many believe that Durant’s injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals possibly changed his thinking.
Others believe it was as simple as KD wanting to be in New York, but not wanting to deal with Knicks owner James Dolan.
Harris’ Sixers have two big changes going into the 2019-20 season: the loss of Jimmy Butler who signed a 4-year, $140 million contract with the Heat and the addition of Al Horford from the Celtics, signing a 4-year, $109 million deal.
“Everything happened really fast...there’s a lot of moving parts. It was a pretty epic free agency all around.”
A core built around Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Al Horford should make Sixers fans excited.
Pressure will certainly be there too. Philly has committed over $600 million dollars to four players during the last two offseasons.
Between moves by the Clippers, Lakers, Warriors among others, Harris is excited to see a wide open NBA in 2019-20.
“It’s great competition for us. I love the NBA. I love how its balanced. Everybody wants to give their shot. A lot ot talk about the west but the east equally has a lot of great teams and players. Gonna be fun for fans to watch.”
Mariano Rivera Is A Perfect First Unanimous HOFer, He Just Never Should’ve Been the First
By Rob Lep
Stop the presses. The unthinkable has happened.
It’s official: Mariano Rivera is the first player to be a unanimous induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. No one can argue the ‘Sandman’s’ resume. On the field: a 13x All-Star, 5x World Series Champion, and the MLB’s All-Time Saves Leader (652) among many other accolades.
Off the field: a first-class human being who started his own Mariano Rivera Foundation which helps provide underprivileged children with an education, runs an annual charity golf classic every summer with the White Plains Hospital, etc.
Mo deserved to receive 100% of the vote from the 425 baseball voters. But he never should have been the first person inducted in with a perfect ballot. Rivera’s place in baseball history as the greatest closer of all-time cannot be disputed.
But he’s far from the all-time GOAT. Hence, it shouldn’t have taken until 2019 for someone to receive this unanimous recognition.
We have this stigma in society about unanimous. Perfection. All in agreement. Our current political climate is a perfect example. Sports debate shows another.
It’s almost impossible to get everyone to agree on anything.
"The sky is blue." Well.... is it a light blue? ocean blue? sky blue? turquoise? purple? orange? green?
Baseball writers are no exception. They are unique human beings just like you and I who come from many different walks of life. We are shaped by our experiences. Everyone has different ways of judging the word “Hall of Famer”.
To earn Hall of Fame election, players must be named on 75 percent of ballots cast by eligible members of the BBWAA. The cutoff point this year was 319.
The Hall's motto is "Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations."
Who or what exactly exhibits that quote is up for interpretation. That’s where the fun starts. It got me thinking...
What about legends like Ken Griffey Jr? Tom Seaver? Nolan Ryan? Cal Ripken Jr? They all got close to 100% (over 97%) but didn’t quite make the cut. Who wouldn’t put these GOATS into the Hall?
Babe Ruth is regarded by many as the greatest baseball player ever. Even he only got 95%. Willie Mays right behind him at 94%.
Another thought: Barry Bonds is the all-time home-run king. He isn’t even in Cooperstown. Pete Rose, the MLB’s all-time hits king, holds the same fate.
Steroids and gambling aside for a second, how can you have a Baseball Hall of Fame without the home run and hit kings? I get it, their legacies are more complicated. Tainted are other words that come to mind.
I like to look at it like this: you can’t tell the story of baseball without Barry Bonds and Pete Rose.
Second on that home-run list is Hank Aaron, a 25x All-Star who jacked 755 bombs without any performance-enhancing drugs questions. Not even he could get to the 100% mark (97.83%).
We live in a world where baseball writers are rewarded for going against the grain. To have a differing belief than their peers.
Let me introduce you to Bill Ballou, who has covered the Boston Red Sox for the Telegram & Gazette newspaper in Worcester, Massachusetts since 1987.
Back in December, Ballou made national headlines when he wrote a column titled: “Mariano Rivera: not getting this writers Hall of Fame vote,” comparing the Yankees legend to a PAT kicker in football or a shootout player in hockey.
For Ballou, Rivera’s dominance as a closer was irrelevant. He viewed the save as the least meaningful stat in baseball. Mo wasn’t a starter and usually only pitched one inning, meaning he would likely only face a player once through the batting order. He deemed Rivera not to be Hall of Fame material.
As a result of his contrarian beliefs, we know Bill Balou’s name. As a baseball writer, isn’t that the point? To have people care enough about your work to actually read what you have to say.
If you got 425 people in a room together, they wouldn’t be able to agree on what to have for lunch. For over 80 years, they could never agree unanimously on a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Enough was enough. Mariano Rivera is finally the guy. If they’re smart (not exactly holding my breath here), they’ll vote his teammate Derek Jeter in the same way next year.
Luckily, his tenure as Marlins CEO won’t be accounted for on the ballot by voters. Hopefully.
As for Bonds, Rose and Roger Clemens, I’ll save that one for another day. Let’s enjoy this one. For now...
By Rob Lep
For 11 years we waited. We wondered. We debated.
Sports talking heads had a field day, flipping back and forth like pancakes in a breakfast pan on a Sunday morning.
Is Tiger Woods back? Is Tiger Wood’s back going to hold up? Will he ever win another major championship and give Jack Nicklaus a run for his money for the most of all-time?
Yes, you’re damn right he’s back. Tiger is your 2019 Masters Champion.
The question becomes is Tiger’s win at Augusta the greatest comeback in sports history?
Time for me to put on my professor cap. It’s time for a history lesson.
In 1994, George Foreman reclaimed the heavyweight championship of the world at age 45, defeating 26 year old Michael Moorer in the 10th round of their bout. The 26-year-old Moorer went into the fight 35-0. The win made him the oldest boxing champion in history.
In 2004, the Boston Red Sox came back from down 0-3 to beat their arch rival Yankees in Game 7 to win the ALCS.
In Super Bowl 51, the New England Patriots came back from down 28-3 with 2:09 left in the third quarter to shock the Atlanta Falcons for their FIFTH Super Bowl Title.
Tom Brady GOAT. BAAAAAA. That’s the noise a goat makes!
Michael Jordan left the NBA in October 1993 as the best basketball player on the planet after winning three straight NBA championships to play minor league baseball for 17 months.
In March 1995, he returned with a two word press release; “I’m back”. The Bulls won another three-peat and Jordan walked off into the sunset as the greatest to ever do it.
All these are great. Remarkable. Improbable. But they damn well aren’t Tiger.
We didn’t just question if Tiger Woods would ever win a major again, we wondered if he’d ever play a golf tournament again.
If he would ever be competitive in contention on the back nine of a major championship on a Sunday.
Check. Check. Check.
After Sunday’s final round, Dustin Johnson, a U.S. Open Champion, compared a cheer from the crowd for him or any other player versus a “Tiger Roar.”
“It’s just different.”
You’re damn right it is.
The eight knee and back surgeries. The Thanksgiving Day 2009 fiasco. His now ex-wife chasing him out of the house with a golf club. The infidelities. The cover up. The DUI arrest and mugshot.
Falling to the floor in agony and pain at the 13th hole of the 2013 Barclays. Withdrawing from the 2017 Masters and the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational back in March. Coming so close at major championships but never able to seal the deal on a Sunday.
These are the moments and scenes we’ve played back in our heads for the last decade plus.
This was never supposed to happen. But hell, winning 14 majors before the age of 33 wasn’t either.
As a 20-year old kid to take over golf and the sports world certainly wasn’t either. He lived up to the bleeping hype. That almost never happens. The sequel is even more improbable than the original.
No surprise to anyone that Woods is the betting favorite at 8-1 at the PGA Championship this month at Bethpage Black on Long Island, a course he won this very major at back in 2002.
I’ve said for a long time that Tiger doesn’t just move the needle in golf, he is the needle.
The start of the final round was moved due to rain. It was the most watched morning golf program of all-time. CBS Execs in fancy suits and sports cars: say thank you to Tiger. Please and thank you. How polite of you.
In life and in sports we love a great comeback story. I’m putting Tigers comeback with everything that it entails at the top of the list.
He won his first major championship back in 1997 as an 18 year old kid, the year i was born. He wins his fifteenth in 2019 as a 43-year-old man, riding the ups and downs that life presents, as I get set to graduate college. More than two decades apart.
Tigers return to glory is number one for me.
By Rob Lep
This interview was conducted during the 2019 MLB Offseason. Gary Cohen was in town as he was inducted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame alongside his SNY broadcast partner and Mets legend Keith Hernandez. Cohen joined the Mets radio broadcast team in 1989 and became the lead play-by-play announcer in 2003. In 2005, he became the broadcaster for the Mets new cable television network SportsNet New York (SNY), where has has been ever since. He also calls college basketball games for various outlets including Seton Hall, where he is the radio play-by-play voice for Pirates men's basketball.
Rob Lep: 30 years as the voice of the Mets and now something new to add to the resume, NYS Baseball HOF, when you hear that, what comes to mind for you?
Gary Cohen: It’s very very humbling. Especially the company. I mean, Mickey Mantle, Keith Hernandez, Billy Martin, Joe Nathan, etc. These guys have accomplished so much in the game. I’ve been very fortunate to be on radio and television talking about their exploits. Mickey Mantle, its pretty amazing!
RL: You’ve spoken so much in your career about being a Mets fan and now getting to broadcast the Mets, when you look back at your career, how do you put that all into perspective?
GC: It’s pretty amazing. I’ve actually thought about that quite a bit. If i had emerged with some other team, it would have been a very different experience. But i watched and listened to and read about the Mets from the time i was six years old. When i got the job, i kind of had a lot of prep work under my belt.
RL: The special SNY broadcast booth, how do you describe it?
GC: We are very lucky because there was no guarantee the chemistry was going to work. I think what really works for us so well and its pretty amazing when you consider we have a borderline Hall of Famer player in Keith, one of the best pitchers in Mets history with Ronnie is that its a very low ego booth. Nobody has to be a star. We’re all very respectable of each others experiences and what we bring to the table. We’ve also had tremendous production folks.
Bill Webb was our director, the greatest director in the history of tv history before he passed away. Greg Picker is our wonderful producer. He’s so creative and innovative. So it all works and there was no guarantee it was going to. And I don’t think you can quantify how that works but we’re very fortunate.
RL: Touching on Keith how surprised are you with the way social media has embraced him and his cat Hadji and the whole experience of Hernandez?
GC: To me the amazing part is with Keith embracing social media. Once he decided to go in, there was no question folks were going to go in with him. And we all know cats and Twitter are a good fit. So Hadji was a ready made star.
RL: David Wright the special ceremony in September, what was that night like in Flushing?
GC: I was very happy for David that he got that moment. Because there was no guarantee that was going to happen. It’s an unfortunate circumstance that David’s career has been cut short because of injury. When you take into account what he accomplished on the field and the kind of person he is, he will always be one of the most beloved figures in Mets history. I’m just happy for him he was able to get a little closure.
RL: What kind of advice would you give to a young broadcaster who admires you and everything you’ve accomplished in your career?
GC: I would just say work as hard as you can. Practice as much as you can. But most importantly be yourself. Don’t try and copy anyone else. Don’t try to be some other version of someone you've heard. Authenticity is everything.
By Rob Lep
Rob Gronkowski retired from the NFL today.
I have mixed emotions. There will never be another Gronk. I say that with confidence. He was a baller, both on and off the field.
On the field, no question we just witnessed the greatest tight end in the NFL history.
There are a lot of numbers to prove my argument. Here are a few of my favorites:
-Gronkowski's 79 touchdown receptions since he joined the Patriots as a second-round draft choice in 2010 led the NFL. He had 10 or more touchdown receptions in five seasons, which is the most by a tight end in NFL history.
-Gronkowski played in 115 regular-season games, totaling 521 receptions for 7,861 yards. He played in 16 playoff games, with 81 receptions for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns -- all records for a tight end.
-Gronkowski's 12 postseason touchdown receptions are tied for second in NFL history among all players, behind Jerry Rice (22). He has four career 100-yard receiving games in the playoffs, tying him with Vernon Davis and Keith Jackson for the most by a tight end.
Off the field, Gronk was every college frat boys dream. 6’6” 260 lbs, jacked, drinking beers and getting any girl he wants.
As he put it himself, “Yo soy fiesta”.
The injuries were certainly also a huge factor. Gronk was just bigger, faster and stronger than everyone else on the field. He was better than you. Linebackers couldn’t stay with him. Cornerbacks and safeties had no chance in single coverage.
Knees, back, legs, ankles, the list goes on. When he was ACTUALLY on the field, you couldn’t stop him. The problem: he wasn’t always on it. Gronk only played two full seasons, the first two of his NFL career in 2010-11.
Despite what some might describe as a party animal and goofball personality, other NFL players should marvel at what Gronkowski has accomplished in his NFL career.
He’s a three time Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro-Bowler. He spent his entire career with the New England Patriots, the gold standard of sports.
Nine years with Tom Brady, the greatest of all time and Bill Belichick, the greatest coach of all-time.
Many other players wouldn’t have taken Gronk’s path. Play with one organization your entire career. Stick with the New England system which can be challenging and complicated for players to exist in.
Remember all those reports from former players saying they didn’t have “fun” with the Patriots?
New England wins. That sounds pretty fun to me. If having to leave a little bit of your ego and pride at the front door and buying into a system isn’t fun, maybe you should just look in the mirror.
Any great organization or business in this world who thrives have employees who do exactly that: give something up to be a part of something great.
On the surface, we look at Gronk as the Jersey Shore. He’s got huge muscles. He parties and shotguns beers. He makes silly jokes and loves Barstool Sports.
A deeper dive shows he actually had a formula that other NFL players should strive for. Don’t be blinded by money. He could’ve gotten more money elsewhere.
He realized: winning championships will take care of everything. Winning Super Bowls with the Patriots equals money. Endorsements. Video game covers. TV and movies.
There’s nothing official right now but we all know this isn’t the end of Gronk. He could serve as an analyst on a Sunday NFL Pregame Show. Yes, I’m talking to you ESPN, CBS and FOX.
Color commentator is certainly an option too.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he ended up on WWE or something else fun. I don’t know much of anything about wrestling but apparently WrestleMania, the Super Bowl of WWE, is in two weeks. Just saying.
Gronk will be just fine. He won Super Bowls. Played in the postseason every year. National spotlight. Became a superstar. We refer to him as Gronk. Not Robert Gronkowski. He’s bigtime.
A big pay day to play for potentially a mediocre organization that wouldn't sniff the postseason wasn't appealing to him. Bravo Gronk, everyone else take out your pen and paper.
He saved all $54 million of his career earnings. Every darn penny. Gronk will be just fine. Just chilling.
A farewell salute to the GOAT tight end. Have fun in retirement pal. You’re 29 and jacked with millions in the bank. Life is good.
Follow me on Twitter @RobLep1 and @STATSports1.
By Rob Lep
Zion Williamson breaks his shoe. He sprains his right knee. The world ends. Pigs fly through the air.
TV and radio talking heads across the country have a field day telling a 18-year old superstar what he should do with his life.
The consensus is clear: Williamson cannot step on a college basketball court ever again. The chances of hurting himself are far too great. He’s the best prospect since LeBron James. No, check that. Wiliamson is actually made of glass. Everything goes out the window. The risk of injury is too high.
Do me a favor. Riddle me this. Maybe Zion likes college basketball? He enjoys playing for Coach K and Duke, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and ACC Champions. A storied program with a rich history. Winning, banners and championships.
He loves getting on that special court at Cameron Indoor Arena and throwing down dunks with his teammates, his best friends: RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Tre Jones and the rest of the boys.
For all of its flaws, College Basketball knows how to throw a postseason party. March Madness. Bracket time. America streams basketball games on their cellphones for two days instead of going to work. *What fricken channel is Tru-TV?* Basketball all day and night. There’s nothing like it.
I understand. You’re looking out for Zion. He might tear his ACL in the first 33 seconds of their opening round matchup versus a 16-seed they’ll blow off the floor by 50. What if he never plays again? His NBA dreams ruined forever.
Sure, lets play that game. Zion sits on his couch in North Carolina until the NBA Draft in June. He is safe. Nothing can happen to basketball’s most valuable young prospect now. “We win!”
Oh wait, just kidding. He’s walking up the stairs to his house. He slips on some ice and breaks his foot.
He gets out of the shower and hits his head on the pole holding up the shower curtain.
There’s a storm with strong winds. Someone forgot to close the window. It knocks his TV over and it shatters on his ankle.
Brain blast! We can wrap up Zion in bubble wrap. Give him a helmet to wear and put him in solitary confinement in a cushioned bed room. No forks or knives allowed either.
Want me to keep going? You can’t live life that way. Things happen. There are risks with everything and anything. Putting Williamson in a storage unit with a pillow doesn’t change that.
Williamson can make money every day for the rest of his life after June. College is different man. Once it’s over, you don’t get it back. No redos. It’s the ultimate reality television. Sorry Housewives and The Bachelor.
For better or worse, he gets the chance to experience it. 68 teams down to one. Standing with the trophy and the confetti coming down.
Duke could make it to the Final Four and win the National Championship. Hell, they could also lose in the first round. Throwback to 2014. Damn you Mercer!
Before Williamson gets his $100 million dollar shoe deal, goes No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft and becomes the face of an NBA franchise, the hope for an entire city and fan base, he’ll get to keep his last piece of innocence.
No worries about being a professional. Hiring an agent. Finding a place to live. Figuring out what to do with all those zeros in his bank account. News flash: for one, he can actually accept it. And spend it!
For a little longer, he’ll get to be just a college basketball player for Duke, trying to win a National Championship. Living his dream. Playing the game he loves. He’s been doing it since he was in elementary school. Cliche as hell. But there’s also something that just feels right about that.
It’s a pretty great place to be. Let him enjoy it. Plenty of time to worry about all the other stuff later.
Maybe I’m just selfish. Admittedly, I want to see Williamson playing in a Duke uniform for one more month.
I love March. I’m sure Zion does too.
Follow me on Twitter @RobLep1 and @STATSports1.
By Rob Lep
LeBron James is great. No, LeBron James is more than great. Other than Michael Jordan, the argument cannot be rationally made for anyone to have ever played the game of basketball better. He’s the GOAT or the GOAT #2.
He’s a 3x NBA Champion, 4x NBA MVP and 15x NBA All-Star among many other achievements. I don’t need statistics to prove to you how amazing he is. You already know that.
Here comes the BUT!
James is more than just a basketball player. He runs the show: both on and off the court. Player personnel. Coaching staff. Plays during games. TV shows and movies. Mr. Hollywood.
He flexed his GM muscles with Paul Silas, Mike Brown and David Blatt in Cleveland, ending with all of them being fired as his head coach. The same will be done with current Lakers head coach Luke Walton this summer if not before the end of the season.
He orchestrated the 2014 trade of Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love to put the Cavs in a position to win immediately.
This year, he wanted to do the same with Anthony Davis, along with GM Magic Johnson basically putting the entire Lakers roster on the trade block in a deal to get him. A la carte. Buffet. Take your pick.
Back in 2015, tied at 84-84 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals versus the Chicago Bulls, LeBron even changed Blatt’s final play call that wouldn’t give him the final shot. “Give me the ball” was his quote during the postgame press conference. We all laughed about it.
The Lakers (31-39) are currently 11th place in the Western Conference. They’ve lost eight of their last nine. They have a better chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft than grabbing the final playoff spot in the West. LeBron “activated” playoff mode two months early this year. They still can’t win games.
James just had the worst quarter of his entire career - missing 11 shots in the fourth quarter of a 124-123 loss to the New York Knicks at MSG Sunday afternoon.
He had his potential game winning shot blocked by Knicks forward Mario Hezonja as the clock expired. Yes, the fricken Knicks. The worst team in the NBA. A 5-40 record in their last 45 games. Hezonja stared down LeBron after the win and shouted “This is my city!”
When asked after the game, James compared the Lakers to the Knicks. Because that’s exactly what everyone expected coming into the year.
“What's the difference between their record and our record? Two teams out of the postseason,” James said. “So there's no difference. We have a couple more wins than them, but both teams right now are on the outside looking in, so it's not much of a difference."
The Lakers lost to the worst team in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns back on March 2. You know, the team that is TRYING to lose. Two weeks before that, they lost to the Pelicans WITHOUT Anthony Davis, the player who started this whole mess in the first place.
Before these trade rumors, the Lakers were looking like a playoff team. Before LeBron’s Christmas Day groin injury, they were a top four seed in the Western Conference. LeBron and the young Lakers with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram were must see TV.
Now, James has lost that locker room. They don’t want to play with him. It’s only fair. Not only do these young players get to suit up for the Lakers, along with the Celtics the most successful organization in NBA history: they get to play with James, who many of them grew up idolizing. What did they get in return? Your idol wants to ship you off to New Orleans to play for a bottom dweller. The entire world knew about it too.
Maybe James has overplayed his hand here. Between his decision making on all team matters, his various business ventures outside of basketball and never really buying in to his head coach and teammates this season, LeBron hasn’t focused on the most important thing: winning basketball games.
Do we dare ask: could it possibly be the inevitable decline of the NBA’s king? His points, assists and rebounds are basically the same as last year. The eye test states otherwise. James looks tired. He’s lost a step. Can’t quite turn the switch on like he has in the past. He also looks uninterested. Checked out. Just wants this season to be over. Talking about free agency after losses.
Coming into 2018-19, James had been to eight consecutive NBA finals and 14 straight playoff appearances. That will come to an end in May. As will another year of his James’ prime. He turned 34 in December.
Movies. TV Shows. Music. Other non-basketball business ventures. All things that can be done when he ultimately calls it a career. Or when he’s sitting on the couch for two months in May and June watching Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors hoist up the Larry O’Brien trophy for the third consecutive season.
Your move, King James...
By Rob Lep
As I sit in the press box at Madison Square Garden for the 2019 Big East Championship Game, I can’t help but think: Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats are the good guys. They are everything that is right about college basketball.
I don’t have to introduce to you the concept of one-and-done - superstar college basketball players renting a spot on a college campus for six months before bouncing for the NBA the first chance they get.
I’ll never blame Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum or Kyrie Irving. Everyone deserves to eat. Especially with talent like that.
In any other walk of life, the American Dream applies. You should be paid for your skills and services. The market will dictate exactly what. Sorry superstar college basketball players, you’re the exception. The NCAA has deemed you ineligible. But they are happy to cash the check for you.
If you don’t have enough money in your pocket to go out to eat or fill up your gas tank because it’s against NCAA violations to make money on your own likeness, I can’t tell you to pass up on millions of dollars between salary, endorsements, etc.
It’s a broken system. College basketball as a whole suffers as a result.
I look around at Sean Miller and Arizona, Rick Pitino and Louisville and Will Wade and LSU to name a few. I get it: we live in a society where winning is everything.
The ends justify the means. Win at all costs. Who cares about respect or common decency?
“We want to hang a Final Four banner. If we don’t win, how will we convince kids to come to our university?”
I don’t know, maybe this thing called education. How silly of me! So naiive.
Then there’s Jay Wright and Villanova. They’ve won two of the last three National Championships. Three straight Big East titles and four of the last five.
No this isn’t Syracuse, Louisville and Georgetown Big East basketball but it sure is fun to watch.
Jay Wright has compiled a roster of three and four year players. No one and dones, this year led by redshirt seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth.
In recent years, Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart also come to mind. Guys who stayed four years. Worked their butt off. Absolutely nothing was given to them. Like any D-I athlete, they had their ups and downs.
But at the end, they held up the trophy as champions. Like their one-and-done counterparts, they were also drafted to the NBA. There's no one path to anything.
We get very excited about one-and-done players. I get it. Zion Williamson is just different. There’s nothing like him in NBA history. Like ever.
But I’ve had a theory not just about sports but life in general: experience is important.
Doctors, Lawyers, Surgeons, the list goes on. Would you want a surgeon with 30 years experience or the newbie out of medical school performing your open heart surgery? Take your chances. I’m rolling with experience.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Zion Hype Train as much as anyone. I’m a Knicks fan. And I’m praying the ping pong balls fall the right way come May.
But I can also take a step back and appreciate what Villanova has done, arguably the best program in college basketball. They were the best team in the country last year. They’ve dominated the Big East too.
Do I expect them to win it all again? No. This is different team than last year. We’ve seen their growing pains. But when I look around the country at what teams are willing to do to win, it doesn’t make me proud to be a fan of college basketball.
Villanova is different. Grind your butt off, teamwork, and dedication to win. I can rally behind that. Get excited about it. Be proud.
Take your coat off. Stay a while. Get comfortable here. And build something great. Bravo to Villanova, your 2019 Big East Champions.