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Grapes

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, The Sports Network

David Stern
Did David Stern and the NBA want to see Detroit win? You bet.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -- Grapes are good. Healthy and an excellent pre- or post-meal delicacy, a tidbit to complement what lies ahead or is past. When soured, not so good. The term itself, sour grapes, is derived from the fable ascribed to Aesop of the fox who, after finding himself unable to reach some grapes he had desired, disparaged them as sour. That happened in 1760 but is in use today as a disparagement of something that has proven unattainable.

Is it time to toss in the towel, admit you were wrong about the Lakers and listen to the not so melodic tones of the fat lady as she enters stage right? It sure looks that way and, as Yogi Berra coined, "It ain?t over ?til it?s over!" and it is now over.

Game Four was critical. It would have assured Los Angeles of a return trip home to the friendly confines of the Staples Center with the only audience that contains an over-abundance of fans making more money than the players on the court. Then desperation set in and Detroit realized that their guests from the west coast were in total disarray with a coach that did not have a clue and a team that lost confidence in his decisions regarding who should be doing what, to whom and when.

The all-star Hall of Fame cast from Hollywood had the opportunity to set another historical footnote by coming back from being down 3-1 to win three in a row and continue their dynasty quest while providing Karl Malone and Gary Payton with the rings that have eluded them for more years than they would care to remember. But Malone was on the bench, unable to contribute and Payton was, as he has been throughout the series, a shell of his youthful years as Phil Jackson read those old and yellowed clippings about him and wondered why he was not seeing the same player.

Where do the Lakers go now, besides home to L.A.? We have to wait until the summer is over to find out. Malone and Payton have their only shot for a ring on this team so they will stay, Shaquille needs time to reflect and decide whether he wants to remain a punching bag for David Stern?s open season on talent rules and Kobe will stay if all the others do. If he was to leave, and that is doubtful, it has to be to a team that will win it all and can afford him.

Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson and his Zen philosophy couldn't get the Lakers a win.
Overcoming whistle blowers that decided to provide the Pistons with every edge imaginable was not about to happen. That is abundantly evident now with 20-20 hindsight. Shaquille O?Neal is fouled just about every time he touches the ball. There was no reason to penalize him for what, and who, he is. The serving area in tennis was not set back further for the likes of Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert Lloyd, Venus or Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe or Pete Sampras. Nor did the sport choose to constrict the area on the other side of the net when play began while expanding the one on theirs.

As memory serves me Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds were not asked to cover one eye nor hit while in a kneeling position. Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens did not have to pitch from just short of the infield side of second base. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle did not have to wear weights when running the bases or chasing a fly ball. And Alex Rodriguez was not provided with a specific ruling that mandates his playing third base without a glove.

Michael Jordan saved the NBA from disappearing into the abyss of forgotten sports and permitted David Stern the headlines and credit. He was provided the "edge" when he played. It was, and is, the way of the NBA. To the contrary, Wilt Chamberlain paid for his height, strength and talent when the NBA allowed the Boston Celtics, and Wayne Embry in particular, to use his body as a basketball "tackling dummy" and did nothing about it. Yes, he necessitated the widening of the "key," the lane, to stop the Dipper Finger Roll and to anticipate other up and coming talent. But Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bob Cousy, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Tim Duncan were not told to play shooting into a smaller basket with a larger ball.

I never noticed Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Maurice Richard or Patrick Roy being told to enter the game without a stick and not wearing skates. They are not penalized unduly for hitting as hard as they are hit. They do not have to shoot into a suddenly smaller net while controlling a technically and instantly enlarged puck. They are better and that is accepted.

Staples Center
Game Four was critical. It would have assured Los Angeles of a return trip home to the friendly confines of the Staples Center.
Did you ever watch an NFL game where Joe Montana was permitted to be hit after the whistle had blown, where Jerry Rice could be mauled beyond five yards past the line of scrimmage or had to receive a pass absent the protection of a helmet. Did Lawrence Taylor have to set himself with a limit to how far he could roam on defense, was Walter Payton told he could only run a certain pattern, or Jim Brown, or Emmitt Smith? Did the front office tell John Unitas that passes over 10 yards were forbidden?

The last few times I looked I believe that Jack Nicklaus. Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods, among others, did not have to hit from 30-40 yards in back of the "tips" and they were not ordered by the PGA to carry only five clubs or to reduce the length of their shafts or the size of the head on their driver(s). No marshal reminded them that they had to putt with 7 irons or hit out of the trap with a three wood.

All of the above were better than others. They possessed the skills that brought them to the top of their respective sport. They were not penalized for being better.

The NBA does not see it that way. Shaquille O?Neal is a superb athlete, a monster of a man and proof of the "gentle giant" we have heard so much about over the years. Is he to be punished and disadvantaged because of that? Should as many as three members of the opposing team be permitted to use him as a leaning post and then foul him intentionally at every opportunity? It is insulting to the fans, the game and the NBA. It is arrogance beyond limits by the people who allow this-the League and the referees.

Kobe Bryant drives down the lane and is pummeled by triple coverage. No foul? Even the TV announcers, Al Michaels (who should stay with the NFL) and Stuart Scott (one of those folks that the networks believes knows because he played but doesn?t really) questioned some of the calls. That was a first for game coverage.

NBA Referees
Aged referees, who should have been let out to pasture a decade ago were still involved in championship games, and that was wrong.
Sour grapes? Not really. I liked the Lakers and thought that the champions they were would show up. They did not and their coach was anything but the adhesive needed to mend the cracks. But, the fact of the matter is that they played against eight people - the five on the court in Detroit uniforms and the three referees. How can any team be fouled twice as often as the Lakers, especially when living on outside shooting and, now, foul shots?

Did the NBA want to see Detroit win? You bet. Why? Because David Stern did not want to hand a trophy or a microphone to anyone under indictment for a charge of sexually assaulting a woman in Colorado. Aged referees, who should have been let out to pasture a decade ago were still involved in championship games, and that was wrong. They were playing a dangerous game of their own and it is obvious to anyone that knows and understands basketball. Taking nothing away from the Pistons, they were provided every advantage possible to add to their already acknowledged talents. But, a glaring example of the path the game has taken is that of Rasheed Wallace who comes from the streets of Philadelphian and the philosophy of "no call to 911, no foul." The rest of the team has picked up on that and Larry Brown encouraged it under the guise of a "stifling defense."

Phil Jackson never realized that he can believe in the Zen philosophy but that does not translate onto the court and he couldn't will them a win. He has to coach one into reality. That proved to be a task too difficult. Enlightenment by direct intuition through meditation is not going to cut it.

Do I think that the NBA wanted to see a ceremony in Motown? Yes. Sour grapes? You gotta be kidding!