"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, sportsnetwork.com
Hatboro, PA (Sports Network) --
The Philadelphia 76ers have accomplished the improbable and only they and their fans believe that they are where they belong with even some of the latter wondering, inwardly, "Did we do that?" The Sixers have given the basketball world an overdose of true grit. They have more chutzpah than the most arrogant of politicians and their backbone is held in place by a six-foot or so, 165-pound cartilage with nerve endings that jolt the rest of the team into performances beyond their talents.
Allen Iverson is mayhem with a purpose. He is controlled chaos. If they did an autopsy on him tomorrow, they would find a heart starting with the diamond earring that bespeaks the money he makes and extends down to the bottom of those spindly legs that resemble toothpicks attached to a torso. You have to give him that.
The view from this vantage point, an objective opinion, was that the Lakers would dismiss the Sixers as easily as they did all of their other playoff opponents. However, disagree with anything that is not Philadelphia and the City of Brotherly Love turns venomous with a rabid fan base whose loyalty extends light years beyond the borders of partisanship. Offer another point of view and Benedict Arnold is a patriot compared to your sentiment and stance. You have desecrated the statue of Rocky Balboa and gone immediately from that to Pat's Steak House to adorn it with graffiti that is purple and gold. Such is the perception of a prognosis other than that of the local populace.
I still think that the Lakers will prevail. The advantage is that of the Sixers now, with three home games, but L.A. is not Indiana, Toronto or Milwaukee and all bested the Sixers on their home turf.
Philadelphia does not come out of a locker room; they enter the First Union Center hardwoods from a hospital ward. Their coach should not be Larry Brown. It should be Florence Nightingale. They are probably the only team that will be featured in the New England Journal of Medicine next month. They have more spunk and guts than a New York street gang. They are fearless beyond common sense and Custer would have won had this team circled the wagons with him. They have an endurance level that has gone off the Richter Scale. Theirs is a bulldog mentality with a will power that is blind to the scoreboard.
But the Lakers have proven that a team can get rusty sitting around and applying sun tan lotion for nearly two weeks. How far can shopping, watching TV and over analyzing your next opponent take you? They gave Iverson his due and that was not enough. Phil Jackson has come to the realization that he must now prove to the basketball world that he is a coach and not just the fortunate recipient of folks such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. He must equal Larry Brown in his latest George Patton speech with a bit of FDR and Churchill thrown in for good measure.
Iverson's constant complaining about fouls is overdone but the referees might be listening, especially in front of the home crowd. Conveniently lost sight of and disregarded is his pushing off with his left forearm and elbow on 50% of his shots, perhaps more. Also forgiven, like a Presidential pardon, is Dikembe Mutombo's grabbing Shaq before the ball is inbounded at the other end of the court and hanging on for dear life as though he was on a ride at an amusement park. Philadelphia wants touch fouls called in their favor but not against them. It is an interesting imbalance.
As for the local media, when Philadelphia escapes with a win it was a brilliant accomplishment but when the other team prevails, it was a series of lucky breaks. The Lakers give up the ball and they are presumed to have panicked. The Sixers give it up and it was the result of a bad call. Derek Fisher hits a three pointer and he was fortunate. Eric Snow tosses one in while falling to the floor and it was a basket ordained by a Higher Authority. The Sixers lose a lead and they relaxed. The other guys ease up and they are reviled for being terror-stricken, stunned, stupefied and overcome with fear.
Mutombo, Matt Geiger, Todd MacCulloch and the 5th Army cannot stop O'Neal. He should be setting up permanent residency on the foul line but he is so dominant, much like Wilt Chamberlain was, that the referees let those playing against him get away with what would otherwise be felonies.
Horace Grant has to become a force, defensively and off the boards. Rick Fox must earn plaudits for more than being the husband of Vanessa Williams. Robert Horry has to find his jump shot on the way to Philadelphia. Ron Harper has to forget his pain and come in to be the settling influence that is his role. Tyronn Lue cannot handle that chore, let alone guard against the man that seems to be faster than a speeding bullet.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, does not have to change a thing. All they have to do is come at L.A. like a swarm of locusts. Will that be enough? Based upon the evidence put on the court on the west coast it might be. Then again, perhaps not. The Lakers understand that they are at war, the enemy within just might be themselves and the guys on the other side of the trenches do not own any white flags.
Welcome to Philadelphia, where the welcome mat is strewn with broken glass, banana peels and land mines. Do the visitors have the pluck and gumption to show some grit of their own? We are about to learn the answer to that. Will I change my opinion that they can take home a consecutive trophy and march it down Sunrise Boulevard right through the heart of Hollywood? You gotta be kidding!