Full disclosure: I thought the Golden State Warriors would force a Game 7 in their Western Conference semifinals matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. The reasons for this matter little, I was wrong.
But watching the Spurs compete reminded me of who they are and why they're so tough to beat in a seven-game series. You have to be more disciplined than they are; you have to execute the fundamentals of the game better than they do and that's not going to happen very often over the course of seven games.
The culture of the Spurs is what makes them great. They might be the best example of what a team is all about in the NBA. The Nuggets use teamwork to beat you, the Thunder (when Russell Westbrook is healthy) play as a unit and the Miami Heat are capable of beating you a number of ways when their great skill plays as one, but the Spurs seem to play as a team better and more consistently than most.
It all starts with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Even after all these years, this triumvirate has afforded Gregg Popovich a luxury that most coaches typically don't have: they allow themselves to be coached, even screamed at.
Watching Game 6 reminded me of what humility can do for a player and an organization when their best players care more about winning than they do scoring points.
Gregg Popovich screams at everybody. It doesn't matter who you are, Tim Duncan (whom he benched for the last 4:38 of the game), Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker. He screams at them all. And if he screams at these players and gets in their grill (because of their humility), what excuse does Kawai Leonard, Tiago Splitter or Danny Green have if they reject Pop's rebuke?
You want to talk about culture within an organization? Talk about your most respected and best players and how they handle being dressed down in front of thousands/millions of people/viewers?
But that's the culture of the San Antonio Spurs; that's who they are.
It's this dynamic -- where Pop coaches everybody the same -- that makes the Spurs the NBA's version of the New England Patriots. Popovich has the same luxury Bill Belichick has in New England: your best, most respected player(s), allow themselves to be coached. And if it's good enough for Tom Brady, what's your problem rook?
And what does that truth translate into for the Spurs? Unselfish, team-oriented basketball. The Spurs had 27-assists on 33 made baskets; they had 5 players in double figures; and they played the best defense I've seen from them in the post-season so far. Their rotations were near perfect. The Warriors got very few easy baskets and every shot was seemingly contested.
Gregg Popovich owes much of his career to Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Not because of how many points they have scored, not because of the effort they give on the floor, not because of their talent, but because of their humility. These players have been great for a long, long time and their humility has established a culture within the Spurs organization that has set a standard for years.
Enjoy it and appreciate it now; I don't think we'll be seeing this dynamic very often in the years to come.
Please don't hire Kelvin Sampson as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns. He has an excellent basketball mind. He's an excellent basketball teacher. In all honesty, he's actually a good basketball coach.
Sometimes, it's about more than just basketball. On two different occasions as a head coach, he openly disobeyed the rules. Judge all you want whether the stupid rules of the NCAA should apply, but Sampson knew the rule at least once because he had already broken it and then broke it again. There is a clear-cut aversion to authority. With these actions on his character, he shows a pattern that rules don't apply to him. Sampson represents those who take the quick way out and hope it doesn't come back to bite them. The Suns are so bad that there won't be anything close to a quick fix. Anyone who tries short-cuts with this franchise will only set us back.
I know there are no choir boys. I accept almost everyone cheats at the college level, but I don't have to accept them as NBA coaches.
Brian Shaw has played and coached in the league. He's the only person in the world that kept Kobe and Shaq happy together. He's coached under an old veteran with Tex Winter and Phil Jackson as well as the new age Frank Vogel. Shaw is the clear choice as Suns' head coach. I'm pretty sure he won't be and I hate that.
Over the years, we've seen some amazing things in Arena Football and its offshoot leagues.
Heck, we've seen a buffalo nearly trample a player -- and that happened right here in Phoenix.
But I don't think we've ever seen this. R.J. Rollins of the Omaha Beef in the Champions Professional Indoor Football League (the same team that offered Tim Tebow a job) scores on a rushing touchdown and in his celebration, flips the ball toward Lincoln Haymakers coach Dave Brumagen.
Brumagen didn't like that very much, and knocked Rollins to the ground, inciting an on-field melee.
The Lincoln coach has been suspended for the rest of the season and received a $500 fine -- which equates to $1.3 million in normal non-indoor-football dollars.
Oh, and by the way, Rollins' touchdown was the game-winner for the Beef in a 27-23 win. Maybe Lincoln should have used the coach on defense?
Johnny Manziel is just like any other 20-year-old college student, except for the fact that he is the quarterback at Texas A&M and a Heisman Trophy winner.
Manziel has spent the offseason seemingly enjoying his status, and while some may not appreciate how much fun he's having, we at the Haboob Blog don't mind. He's just 20, after all.
Anyway, Johnny Football's travels took him to San Diego Thursday where he threw out the first pitch before the Padres hosted the Washington Nationals, and he threw it in the most Johnny Manziel way possible.
He basically re-enacted a play against Alabama that led to a touchdown pass. And not to be outdone, Mark Kotsay Caught the pitch in a very outstanding way.
Mark Grace is serving time at Tent City. Specifically, every day from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. But after his arrest on aggravated DUI charges, you know what else Grace is doing with his time? Something worthwhile.
"I'm 48 years old. I'm too old for this. My family deserves better," Grace said from a picnic table within the razor wire at Tent City.
As a high-profile former major leaguer with the ability to instantly generate media coverage, Grace has decided to appoint a poster boy/spokesperson to drive awareness on drunk driving. Namely, himself.
"I made a rotten decision and ended up here," Grace explained. "I'm not an evil person."
Grace told the media he hasn't had a drink since his August arrest. And ever since sobering up, he's been delivering a sobering message.
"What you think is intoxicated and what the state of Arizona thinks is intoxicated are two different things," said Grace.
Two would also be the number of DUI convictions Grace endured over a 15-month span.
"Shoot, if you do what I did, not only once, but you're dumb enough to do it twice like I did, you belong here."
"If I do it again, I'm going to be in the Arizona Department of Corrections for over a year," Grace continued during a Wednesday night press conference. "Like I said, my kids deserve better than that. My family deserves better than that."
Back in high school, I had an old ball coach (no, not Steve Spurrier) who was fond of free advice to his motley collection of wanna-be-Ronnie Lotts: "Look, life really ain't that hard. Do the most with what you have. That's all you can do. And you owe it to everyone who doesn't have as much as you."
Right now, Gracie doesn't have much more than a bunk bed under an open air tent after his day job as a D-backs minor league coach, but I do admire the manner in which he's finding a way to create awareness.
If people live vicariously through pro athletes, then Grace is turning the tables and forcing people to look in his mirror and (maybe, just maybe) see themselves -- before it's too late.
"If I'm that stinking stupid to do that again, I want you to come punch me right in the mouth," Grace said emphatically.
No thanks. We'll take Grace's message as a verbal jab and consider it a message sent.
In fact, this weekend, we have plans to attend an annual fund raiser dinner, replete with complimentary bar. Sure, I'd like to go Paulie Pale Ale. But it's not worth it, not if I'm planning to drive.
Instead, that beer can wait until I get home for the night. Something Mark Grace can't do until his release on June 10th.
I've found that the best source of movie reviews is the kid working behind the popcorn counter. They've seen everything that's out; you won't get any movie-critic-artsy-fartsy nonsense -- just a good, common-people review of what's at the multiplex.
Wednesday night, I'm waiting to see Star Trek, and the popcorn kid tells me that what I should be seeing is Mud with Mathew McConaughey, which is funny because he's now the third person to share this with me. In a summer movie season filled with blockbusters like Iron Man, Star Trek and the upcoming Hangover 3 and Man of Steel, it's Mathew freakin' McConaughey claiming scoreboard with his 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The author's premise, in this case NFL writer Chris Burke, is to praise the Cardinals for their work this offseason while acknowledging reality; they play in the NFC West. The 49ers are loaded. The Seahawks are loaded. They are not only the two best teams in the division but perhaps the conference, heck maybe in the NFL. Oh yeah, and St. Louis kinda killed it in the draft and look to be trending upwards.
Burke suggests that the Cardinals could be vastly improved in 2013 with nary an extra win to show for it. I agree with the premise but with one caveat I'll get to in a second.
I agree the Cardinals have had a good great offseason. There are question marks that can't be glossed over -- Daryl Washington's dicey status and the selection of Tyrann Mathieu in particular -- but between the draft, free agency and the acquisition of Carson Palmer, I think Keim and company nailed it.
I agree with the notion that it might not matter in this division. Box office is all that matters in Hollywood and I'm pretty sure Mud ain't gettin' any.
What if something happens to Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson? What if NFL defensive coordinators, with a year's worth of tape as reference, figure out a way to slow their attacks? What if one of those teams is besieged by injuries? It's the NFL, it happens.
I understand the "what if" argument isn't the most sound one, but all you have to do is go back and look at preseason predictions from any year to understand that very little in this league goes according to script. You have to be prepared when they don't and I believe the Cardinals are prepared.
The 49ers are Iron Man. The Seahawks are Star Trek. The Cardinals are Mud, and I mean that in the nicest way.
In my current job, it's very rare that I get to attend a sporting event as a fan.
So when my 17-year-old son told me he'd won tickets to Wednesday's day game between the Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves, and he wanted me to go with him, I jumped at the chance. It represented the rare chance to bond and an even more rare chance to get out of the office. Plus, the D-backs were playing the Braves, so I'd get to gauge the fan response to Justin Upton, who was making a return to the desert after a long-talked about trade was finally consummated last January.
Admittedly, we weren't in our seats when Upton grounded out to short in the top of the first -- the Sonoran Dog was beckoning, and well, those concession lines move really slow.
But when Upton strode to the plate in the third inning to face D-backs starter Ian Kennedy, I heard it all.
There were cheers (there were a lot of Braves fans in the house) and there were boos, because Phoenix fans have developed a fondness for chorusing disapproval over the past couple seasons. Los Angeles East? How about Philadelphia West?
Anyway, among the boos, somebody in our section actually yelled to Kennedy "put one in his earhole!" That's great, you want Upton to get beaned in the head by a 90-mile-per-hour fastball because, umm...why was that again?
My two biggest takeaways from my most recent fan experience at Chase Field were one, that Sonoran Dog is really good and well worth missing the top of the first inning for, and two, D-backs' fans have what is bordering on an irrational hate for Justin Upton and I have no idea why.
Yes, Justin Upton, the same guy that played on two division championship teams, the same guy that played in over 140 games last year with an injured thumb and the same guy who represented the Diamondbacks twice in the All-Star Game and won a Silver Slugger Award and finished fourth in the NL MVP balloting just two years ago.
Oh yeah, speaking of two years ago, remember when Milwaukee's Prince Fielder didn't pick Upton to participate in the Home Run Derby during the All-Star festivities at Chase Field? You would have thought the portly first baseman had started a string of wildfires around the Valley. He was pelted with boos in the stadium (for months following the event) and pelted with a water bottle in a pre-All-Star Game parade in downtown.
But even more shameful is the fact that it's the only time I really remember D-backs fans having Upton's back during his six years with the big league club. Okay, not all fans, but the majority of them.
I didn't really understand the fans of Phoenix not elevating Upton to superstar status while he was here -- he had/has superstar talent. Maybe the fans were reticent to do so considering Upton's lack of superstar statistics. He's hit .300 only once. He's topped the 20-homer plateau twice and once went over 30. He's never driven in more than 88 runs in a season. I get all that.
But can we remember...he is STILL ONLY 25-YEARS-OLD! When Barry Bonds entered his age-25 season, he was a .256 hitter with 84 career home runs and hadn't made an All-Star team. At 25, Upton is a .278 hitter and has 121 home runs.
In the aftermath of Upton's first three-game series back in the Valley Wednesday night, I perused the Arizona Sports Facebook page to see if anyone was on-board with me on these type of thoughts. I didn't find many like thinkers. In fact, I found a lot of haters.
"J up showed the reason we traded him. No performance in big situations and a bad attitude," wrote one user.
Bad attitude? Because he got mad at himself for striking out?
"nice strike out jup. that was clutch of you to do that," shared another, making reference to Upton's strikeout in the ninth inning when his team was down two runs and nobody was on base.
Oh, there was more.
"The fact is that Az. has improved greatly and have won the west in 11 and is good enough to win it again and go to the World Series this year. Well done I say. Go Snakes. World Series or bust!!!"
We'll just ignore the fact that Upton was the main offensive cog in that 2011 division championship run, okay.
"I think Alex Cintron was more clutch than Justin Upton," shared another commenter.
Do I even have to comment on this one? Okay, I will. The three years that Cintron was a regular player in Arizona, the Diamondbacks won 43 percent of their games. Clutch.
I'm not going to sit here and debate whether or not the Diamondbacks should have traded Upton or whether or not they got enough in return from Atlanta. The trade is done and there's no going back.
I'll take a different tact. I'll say Phoenix is a Martin Prado-type of town. This city loves the guys who play with, wait for it...."grit" and are good clubhouse guys. Martin Prado is that type of player. And he's gotten a free pass from fans in this city because of it despite the fact that he's been dreadful since putting on the Sedona Red. I have no doubt that Prado will improve in the future -- his track record says he will, but facts are facts.
Upton was a good player in Arizona with the potential to be great. But was he a bad guy? Despite being handsomely paid at an incredibly early age, he never got in trouble with the law like so many other athletes do. He played through injury and produced. He was respectful, if not a little quiet, with the media.
By the end of his stay, he may have wanted a trade, but let me ask you this -- wouldn't you have wanted one? I'd like to see how you'd react if your employer tried to get rid of you in a very public fashion for three straight years. You'd probably want a change of scenery, too. And even so, Upton never employed the "scorched earth" tactics former Phoenix athletes like Charles Barkley and Simeon Rice did.
The one that always comes up is he didn't hustle. I personally don't recall any repeated occurrences of this. If anything, it's just a matter of Upton making things look easy. By the way, have you ever watched Albert Pujols on a pop-up? How about Miguel Montero on a ground ball to second? There's not a whole lot of hustle going on in those instances, either.
"He plays hard, he played hard while he was here, it was never an issue," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said earlier this week.
If his former manager who built his own playing reputation on playing all-out, all the time has no issue with Upton's work ethic, why should any D-backs fan?
So, I'll continue to ponder why a young star athlete with worlds of still untapped potential is hated by many fans of his former team.
And I'll be grateful that Atlanta only comes to town once this year. I won't have to be frustrated and confused until next season.
Have you ever been to an arm wrestling competition?
If so, was it a women's competition?
Whatever, that's not important.
What is important is the fact that a Georgian competitor whose name we do not know was locked in a battle with a Ukrainian competitor at the European Women's Arm Wrestling Championships in Lithuania, with the intensity of the event being a bit too much to handle silently.
So, she screamed. Often and loudly. And for the record, it did not help her win.