With the Warriors on the Precipice of Greatness, ErnBlog Turns Back the Clock to … 1975

Stephen Curry's jump shots have the grace of Reggie Miller and the precision of Larry Bird. source: thebiglead.com

Stephen Curry’s jump shots have the grace of Reggie Miller and the precision of Larry Bird.
source: thebiglead.com

When Stephen Curry, an honor roll student/athlete at Charlotte Christian High School in North Carolina, started looking at possible college options, the critics were loud and boisterous in promoting the national hardcourt power programs –  “Duke?, ….  North Carolina?, ….  or Kentucky even?” pined the peanut gallery.  However, young Curry was not quite as motivated by basketball (the trade selected by his father, Dell, a former Charlotte Hornets guard in the 90s) as he was in the classroom, by the Montessori brand of education instilled in him by his mother, Sonya.

Sonya Curry started a Montessori school in the Charlotte area, and taught her son there in the 90s.  So, what is a Montessori school?  Well, the Montessori style of education was developed by University of Rome physicist, Maria Montessori at around 1900.

Montessori is an educational program characterized by the following criteria:

– Mixed age classrooms for children 2.5-6 years old

– Student choices of activity from a prescribed range of options

– Uninterrupted blocks of work time, usually 3 hours

– A Constructivist model where students learn from working directly with materials

– Freedom on movement with the classroom

ErnBlog thanks Wikipedia.org for that little history lesson.

 

But, as for Curry, he attended North Carolina’s little Davidson College, with only 1,800 students, an institution that has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars.  “He’ll never make it to the NBA, like his Dad!  Going to a preppy little school like that??!” the experts interjected.  But in 2008, Stephen led the Wildcats all the way to the Elite Eight.

Now, in his sixth NBA season, Little Curry, who stands only 6’3″, has the Golden State Warriors on the doorstep of the NBA Championship.  The Little Engine that Could, which won 67 regular-season games (the most since Michael Jordan’s ’96 Bulls, who seized an NBA-record 72), needs only one more victory, either tonight in Cleveland (9 pm, ABC) or, if necessary, Friday night in Oakland (9 pm, ABC), to secure San Francisco Bay’s first pro hoops title since 1975.

40 years of waiting can produce a lot of pressure, something with which Warriors first-year coach, Steve Kerr is familiar.  Kerr, the former Chicago point guard, caught a pass from Michael Jordan in the closing seconds of Game 6 of the ’97 NBA Finals at the United Center, and then rifled home (with Curry-like precision) the championship-winning jumper for the Bulls.  In fact, 18 years ago yesterday, Peabody High School principal, Joe Patuleia referred to Jordan’s title-clinching pass as an inspiration to the Tanner graduates in attendance.

This season, Little Curry won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award, and starting tonight, he’ll have two opportunities to shoot the Warriors past this generation’s best player on the planet – LeBron James, and his Cleveland Cavaliers.

So what was going on back in 1975?  I don’t know because I wasn’t here!

But here are a few interesting facts:

– The Golden State Warriors, coached by Al Attles, swept the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) in the NBA Finals behind another sharpshooter – Rick Barry.

 

Rick Barry (father of 3 future NBA hoopsters) entertained American basketball fans throughout the 60s and 70s. source: tumblr.com

Rick Barry (father of 3 future NBA hoopsters) entertained American basketball fans throughout the 60s and 70s.
source: tumblr.com

 

– Richard Nixon, who had chosen not to entertain impeachment proceedings back in 1974, turned over the White House to new President Gerald Ford, who by 1975, was in the middle of a very uninspiring and unproductive Presidency.  However, President Ford did make some memorable contributions to comedy, highlighted by this “tumble” from Air Force One:

First Lady Betty with her husband, US President Gerald Ford, arriving on a business trip. source: newyorkdailynews.com

First Lady Betty with her husband, US President Gerald Ford, arriving on a business trip.
source: newyorkdailynews.com

In NBC’s brand new live comedy program, Saturday Night Live, Chevy Chase depicted the event in hilarious fashion.

However, the late Ford may have suggested that his Presidency was not exactly uneventful.  2 different assassins tried to shoot him in 1975, one of which was Charles Manson in Sacramento.

– The Boston Red Sox won the American League pennant, and took on the Cincinnati “Big Red(s) Machine”, led by Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, in the World Series.  All looked lost for Boston at Fenway Park on the last Saturday night in October when Bernie Carbo tied Game 6 with a 9th-inning homer.  Then in the 12th inning, in dramatic style, New Hampshire native, catcher Carlton Fisk launched, in the words of Sox voice, Dick Stockton, “a long fly ball, down the left-field line.  Will it stay fairrrr???!  YES!!! … The Red Sox win!!!”

Although the Sox lost the seventh and final game, Carlton Fisk’s jumping and waving of his arms, successfully attempting to will his fly ball toward the foul pole, and the resulting Fenway celebration was embraced by millions on television.  In a generation where football was threatening to replace baseball as America’s pastime, the ’75 World Series inspired a resurgence in hardball popularity, as the Major League’s characters started to become more likable and human.

– Steven Spielberg, who had taken over the Cape Cod island of Martha’s Vineyard the prior summer, released his first epic film – “Jaws” about a shark with a really bad temper.

– The Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) bomb the London Hilton Hotel, killing 2 and injuring 63.

– The CBS game show “The Price is Right” became so popular that it was expanded from 30 minutes to a full hour.

– Spanish dictator Francisco Franco dies, and is replaced by King Juan Carlos, who reigns until 2014.  In the meantime, neighboring Portugal tossed out its prime minister, Vasco Goncalves.

– The NFL’s New Orleans Saints move into the brand new “Superdome”.

– Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa goes missing, never to be seen again.

 

Queen’s “We Are the Champions!” randomly came up in iTunes during my commute this morning, although last week, when the Cavaliers took a 2-1 Finals lead over Golden State, it remarkably came up then as well, and among 680 songs!  So I don’t know exactly what that represents?  Is it good for the Cavs, the Warriors, … or even the Chicago Blackhawks, who took home Lord Stanley’s Cup last night?  I guess we’ll have to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 NBA Finals – Evolving into A Classic

So the NBA Finals are here again, and for the fifth straight season, they feature LeBron James, the NBA’s preeminent star.  It’s been a storied first-half of James’ career, beginning with his 2003 entrance to the league straight out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.  In genuine fairytale style, LeBron of course joined his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, wearing, of course, number 23, in honor of his boyhood hero, Michael Jordan, who had strangely enough, just completed his 15th and final NBA season with the Washington Wizards.  40-year-old MJ played all 82 games with Washington that season, remarkably averaging 20 points per game.

From that point forward, the comparisons between James and Jordan would never end.  In the spring of 2007, after finishing just his 4th season, LeBron led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a place they had never been – the NBA Finals.  Residents of a hard-struck city (both in the financial and sports departments) at the dawn of the 21st century, Clevelanders were desperate for a winner.  A Cleveland sports franchise had not won a championship since 1964, when Jim Brown led the conveniently-named “Browns” to the NFL Title before Super Bowls were played.  Oh, and then there were the 1948 Indians, who defeated the Boston “Braves” (yes, before they moved to Milwaukee and eventually Atlanta) – the last Cleveland team to win a World Series.

The 2007 Cavaliers were greatly overmatched by Tim Duncan’s Spurs, who swept Cleveland away in the Finals.  However, James and Duncan would meet twice more in the championship series, but in the most unlikely of settings for the Cleveland die hards.  At the end of the 2010 season, after the second in the past three years the Cavs had fallen to Boston in the playoffs and watched the Celtics take their place in the Finals, LeBron made a “Decision” that would alter the course of NBA history.

Wearing legendary #23, King James aims to return to the NBA Summit. source: whitegloveinternational.com

Wearing legendary #23, King James aims to return to the NBA Summit.
source: whitegloveinternational.com

In a nationally-televised press conference (the proceeds of which would benefit the Boys & Girls Club of America), LeBron uttered the famous words that would be echoed for the next 4 years – “I’m taking my talents to South Beach!”  And just like that, the King leapt upon his magic carpet and departed Cleveland, seemingly forever.  Clevelanders erupted in rage, burning James’ game jerseys in the streets.  Cavs owner Dan Gilbert angrily proclaimed that LeBron would never win a championship in Miami, just like he had never hoisted the trophy in Cleveland.

But Gilbert was wrong.  Paired with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, James guided the Heat to 4 consecutive Eastern Conference Championships from 2011-14.  In 2011, Miami was outshot by a sharp Mavericks squad led by Dirk Nowitzki.  But in 2012, LeBron finally reached the NBA pinnacle, dominating Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to win his elusive NBA Championship.

It had now taken LeBron 9 seasons to win his first crown, versus Jordan’s 7 seasons.  At this point, LeBron was 1-2 in the NBA Finals, while Michael had been a perfect 3-0.  Remember, the comparisons would always be on the periphery of the King’s career.

In the 2013 NBA Finals, James would once again face off against Tim Duncan’s Spurs, previous winners of 3 Larry O’Brien Trophies.  Like MJ, Duncan was also undefeated in the Finals.  With San Antonio leading 3 games to 2, the series shifted back to Miami for its concluding act.  That’s when LeBron took the Heat on his back (ala Larry Bird in the ’84 Finals against Magic’s Lakers).  The King posted 32 points in Game 6 (an overtime Miami win) followed by 37 more in the decisive Game 7 to finally show the Spurs the taste of bitter defeat in the championship round.

Miami and San Antonio would square off for a rematch in last year’s Finals.  But this time, the Spurs would overpower the Heat, taking the series easily.

And that is when the pendulum of … Cleveland, of all places, would swing yet again.  For the second time in his career, the King was a free agent, and he decided to return home, just as in the J.R.R. Tolkien’s third trilogy installment.

A year later, LeBron’s New Cavaliers (no players or coaches remain from his first stint) lead the NBA Finals 2 games to 1, with Game 4 tomorrow night (9 pm, ABC) at Cleveland’s QuickenLoans Arena.  At this point, NBA experts can argue that James’ performance in these 2015 Finals versus the upstart Golden State Warriors is currently more impressive that Games 6-7 in 2013 against San Antonio.  That’s because Cleveland’s second and third-best players (Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving) are both injured, out for the remainder of the series.  In face, Love has been out since the first round against Boston, back in April!

Yet, LeBron has this time taken the Cavs on his back (ala MJ in the ’98 Finals versus Utah when Scottie Pippen was wearing down with injuries).  In three games, all decided by 8 points or less, the Cavs and Warriors have split 2 games in Oakland before LeBron thwarted a spirited Golden State rally last night in the Rock N’ Roll City.  James is averaging 41 points per game.

We don’t know if Cleveland will finally win a basketball championship this or next week, and we surely know that the comparisons between LeBron and Jordan will ever end.  But let’s all relish that we are enjoying something special here.  Although it doesn’t seem like it to those in their thirties, this is like when Jordan danced between Magic and Worthy in the ’91 Finals and reversed hands before tossing the ball lefty, over his head, into the basket.  This is like when Michael couldn’t stop nailing three-pointers versus Portland in the ’92 Finals, and shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know?  I can’t miss.”

And although Jordan’s 6-0 championship record cannot ever be matched by James (who will be 3-3 in the Finals if Cleveland holds on), let’s remember that LeBron has now reached his 6th Finals in only a 12-year career.  And Jordan never had to compete in the Finals with his next best and second-best teammates both out for virtually the entire series.

The point is: We can make all the comparisons we want.  Let’s enjoy these last days of basketball this spring for what they are – an NBA Finals Classic.