Kevin Love opens up on The Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project that is working well

 

You’ve read some stinging criticisms of Derek Jeter in this space from time to time, all of them dealing with his disconnect when it comes to Miami Marlins fans being fed up with the team’s constant teardowns.

I’ll give Jeter credit, however, for recognizing that athletes often have a deeper story to tell but don’t really trust anyone else in the telling of it.

FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2018, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love watches from the bench in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis. Love disclosed in an essay for the Players’ Tribune on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, that he suffered a panic attack on Nov. 5 in a home game against the Atlanta Hawks. He was briefly hospitalized at the Cleveland Clinic and the episode left him shaken. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

We’re talking about The Players’ Tribune, a website founded by Jeter in 2014 and expanded since then with videos and podcasts to augment the written content provided by sports celebrities.

The latest buzz created by this site is an essay written by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. He reveals that he had a panic attack during a game in November but at first wanted to keep that information from teammates for fear that they would consider him weak.

“Everyone is Going Through Something” is the title of the essay, and in it Love writes “No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside.”

Would a player feel comfortable talking about private reflections and personal issues with a member of the traditional sports media?

Some have, like Ricky Williams, and with full knowledge that they might be misconstrued or ridiculed or marginalized. Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan took all of those risks last month in an interview with the Toronto Star about his ongoing problems with depression.

For most, though, it figures that truly opening up to a reporter in the locker room is way outside the comfort zone.

If you only see that reporter ever now and again, how do you make a connection that is solid and believable? And if that reporter covers the team every day and strikes up something like a friendship with a player there, sooner or later he or she will wind up writing something that offends the athlete because it points out an error made to lose a ballgame or is perceived to be taking the wrong side in a contract negotiation with the team.

Honestly, if I had the blessing of athletic skills worthy of millions of dollars on the open market, it might just be easier to keep spouting clichés in interview settings. That’s pretty much what Jeter did in the high-profile position of New York Yankees captain. He made no enemies that way and he tried, other than what happened on the field, to make no news.

Are these Players’ Tribune essays ghost-written? Surely, in some cases, they are crafted and edited and packaged by people who are writers by profession. Since the athletes approve every presentation before it is published, however, this shouldn’t bother anybody all that much. If it’s a genuine expression of their feelings on a particular matter, they are saying what they want to say.

Not journalism in its strictest sense. More like journal writing, and then passing that journal around the room for anyone who is interested to read.

Jeter is a smart guy to figure all this out. We all need to know each other a little better, and any forum that makes that possible is a benefit.

[Jim Kelly astonished a Boca Raton crowd with his courageous story]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

[Wade’s return strikes every emotional touchstone for Heat fans]

Kyle Lowry’s Game 3 breakout is where Heat lost control of the series

To me the story of the Heat-Raptors series was told in the second half of Game 3, and it happened, somewhat surprisingly, at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Heat had gained a road split to open the series, remember, and everything was looking good for a 2-1 lead with one more game to play in Miami.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 15:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball as Tyler Johnson #8 of the Miami Heat defends in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball as Tyler Johnson of the Miami Heat defends in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

How could that possibly be with Hassan Whiteside sidelined by a knee injury earlier in the same game?

Because Dwyane Wade went on one of his classic scoring spurts in the third quarter that night. He scored 18 of Miami’s 28 points in the period, with a couple of three-pointers back to back. That woke up a sluggish offense and tied the game at 68-68. The place was booming with sound and confidence and with love for the franchise’s cornerstone player.

Then Kyle Lowry put out the fire.

Toronto’s all-star guard is not Wade’s equal. Never will be.

Fact is, Lowry scored just seven points in the series opener against Miami and topped 20 points just one in the previous seven-game series against Indiana.

In the fourth quarter of that Game 3 on May 7, however, Lowry hit his stride. He scored 14 points in the period with a couple of three-pointers included at the cruelest possible times.

His game total of 33 points couldn’t top Wade’s 38, but the power of his fourth-quarter leadership gave Toronto a 95-91 victory. Miami suddenly was down in the series and never back got on top of it again.

Lowry probably won’t average 23.4 points per game in the Eastern Conference finals the way he did against Miami. He won’t be anywhere close to being the best player on the court either.

[Some things LeBron might be doing during long break between playoff rounds]

[Winslow and Richardson bring Heat a rare boost from the NBA draft]

[QB Brandon Doughty well worth a seventh-round pick for Dolphins]

Don’t expect him to back down, though, against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. He’s another of those tough-minded guys from Villanova, and a Philadelphia kid from the start. Listen to this quote and you’ll hear it.

“LeBron’s probably one of the best players in the league, besides Steph Curry,” Lowry said after his own 35-point against the Heat in Sunday’s Game 7 of the Eastern semifinals.

LeBron might have treated Wade with a little kindness if the Heat had advanced, once King James was done scoring 30 points and all. It won’t be that way with Lowry.

It’s an opportunity that Lowry first started earning, though, in Game 3 at Miami and then carried to a rousing conclusion. All we can say is good luck to him, and of course good luck to the first Canadian team ever to reach the conference finals, eh?

Some things LeBron might be doing during the long break between playoff rounds

What is LeBron James doing now that he has all this time on his hands between a couple of playoff sweeps and the beginning of the Eastern Conference finals?

Driving his Kia around Cleveland, I would guess, because he is a man of the people. Well, that and the “Chosen1,” if you read his tattoo art.

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 06: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts to a call against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 6, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA – LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts to a call against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 6, 2016. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Of course, there are many other possibilities.

LeBron could be taking selfies in front of the sky-high mural of himself that hangs on the side of the Sherwin-Williams corporate headquarters building in downtown Cleveland. No time to waste, since the company has announced it will take the mural down in late June to temporarily replace it with one more appropriate for the arrival of the Republican National Convention.

Of course, if the Cavaliers fail to reach or win the NBA Finals, which begin on June 2, that LeBron mural probably comes down a lot sooner.

Hey, here’s another idea. LeBron could fly to Miami and work out with Dwyane Wade again. No, wait a minute, D-Wade is a little busy right now. How about a little fishing trip with Chris Bosh, who is done for the season. That wouldn’t cause much of a fuss, right?

Then there’s the chance to get started on his expected starring role in “Space Jam 2.” LeBron could run some lines with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, just to get a better understanding of the motivations behind their respective roles. Already LeBron has some of their cartoonish facial expressions down pat for the one or two drives each game when he doesn’t get a call. He does a mean Yosemite Sam, too.

Another idea for LeBron filling the unexpected down time by writing a job referral for David Blatt. The former Cavs coach interviewed for the Rockets’ head coaching vacancy this week. Just a few notes jotted down and passed along by King James might make all the difference in how that goes.

For now, though, it figures LeBron’s days would be best spent in the gym, shooting baskets, lifting weights, getting ready for the Heat or the Raptors.

He’s only 43 points shy of passing Shaquille O’Neal for No. 4 on the all-time playoff scoring list, you know. They’ll be talking about that on the TNT set when the time comes and it’s easy to guess what Shaq will say.

He’ll bring all four of his championship rings to the studio, line them up on the table and say something like, “Yeah, LeBron is a great player but this is the only math I care about. Four is greater than two.”

[QB Doughty well worth a seventh-round pick by Dolphins]

[Winslow and Richardson bring Heat rare boost from the NBA draft]

No amount of time off between playoff rounds could motivate LeBron for a big effort more than a dig like that. He doesn’t want rest. He wants respect, and more than a third-place finisher in the MVP voting gets.

This 8-0 start to the postseason is just LeBron getting all stretched out for some real exercise. Lame jokes submitted by a snarky blogger in a rival market can’t change that. Nothing can.

 

Canadian flag flap from 1992 World Series suggests Dwyane Wade will be forgiven

Dwyane Wade has been the villain in too many road games to count. It comes with the territory when you’re an NBA star intent on ending somebody else’s season.

Tonight’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals will be different, however, because this time Wade is being viewed as a bad guy. He’s not, but shooting pregame jumpers during the Canadian national anthem a few games ago in Miami has painted him as one in Toronto.

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 16: A large Canadian flag is unfurled during the singing of O Canada before the start of the Toronto Raptors game against the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA – A large Canadian flag is unfurled during the singing of “O Canada” before the start of the Toronto Raptors game against the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on April 16, 2016 (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

This was an unforced error and Wade knows it. His customary pregame routine got interrupted by a change in the anthem presentation schedule and caught him off guard.

Hearing those first few notes should have been enough to stop Wade in his tracks and get him scurrying over to stand in line with his teammates, or maybe, if Wade was wearing earbuds or otherwise zoned out, somebody with the Heat could have gotten his attention. Either way, it happened, and Wade wasn’t quick enough to specifically apologize for showing disrespect, and even in mild-mannered Canada that’s enough to get some anti-social stuff going on social media.

So what will happen tonight as a sold-out Air Canada Centre crowd exacts its revenge?

Not much, I’m guessing, based on another international incident between our nations caused by a sport-related blunder.

During the 1992 World Series a Marine Corps color guard in Atlanta mistakenly raised the Canadian with the maple leaf symbol upside-down. The sergeant who attached the flag had been rushed because it was presented to him just moments before his detail took the field with the introductory fanfare music already playing and, well, nobody knew what was wrong until the bungled banner was already on its way up the pole.

When the World Series shifted to Toronto, Canadian fans could have reacted the way fans in, say, Philly or New York or Miami would have reacted in the situation were reversed. I won’t name all the ways that could have gone. Just imagine it, and then wipe it quickly from your mind.

Instead, the reaction was forgiveness. Thousands of fans stood during the playing of the U.S. national anthem and sang out the words themselves, as loudly and proficiently as they could. In fact, cheers actually filled the stadium when Jon Secada belted out the closing flourish.

Of course, President George H.W. Bush had done what he could to help matters beforehand. In a classic America-first way, of course.

“They are our friends and our allies,” Bush said of Canadians. “They have respect for our flag, and we have respect for theirs. They are a great people, and I hope they come in second in the World Series.”

The Toronto Blue Jays didn’t come in second. They beat the Atlanta Braves in six games, taking the clincher in 11 innings at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Karma? No, just one good team beating another. It will be that way again tonight in Toronto with either the Heat or the Raptors winning based on nothing whatsoever that happens in the pregame ceremonies.

[Heat and Raptors challenging NBA record for OT games in a series]

[Winslow and Richardson give Heat a rare boost from the NBA draft]

[QB Brandon Doughty is well worth a seventh-round pick by Dolphins]

Just the same, Wade has learned his lesson, and maybe the rest of us will, too, about Canada. It’s too nice of a place and too good of a friend to be ignored, especially when there’s no good excuse for such ignorance.

And as for those times Toronto fans booed Chris Bosh on his return to the city as a member of the Miami Heat, hey, that’s just sports. Everybody gets that.

 

 

 

Heat and Raptors challenging NBA record for most overtime games in series

Three overtime outcomes in four playoff games puts the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors on a pretty crazy pace, but it’s not the record for bonus time in an NBA postseason series.

Yet.

In 2009 the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls met in a first-round series that should have left both teams unwilling and unable to advance to the next round due to the beginning symptoms of rigor mortis.

Seven games. Four made it to overtime, including a double session and a triple OT. That’s an average of one overtime period per game.

Miami Heat forward Amar'e Stoudemire (5) and Miami guard Dwyane Wade (3) defend against Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) during the first quarter on Monday, May 9, 2016, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)
MIAMI – Amar’e Stoudemire (5) and Dwyane Wade (3) defend against Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

Strangest of all, Boston won Game 7 without much drama at all, 109-99. The Bulls, seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference after a 41-41 regular season, simply ran out of gas. They scored 11 points in the second quarter. Can’t blame them. At that point lacing up sneakers was a chore.

Asked immediately afterward if it was the greatest playoff series ever, Boston coach Doc Rivers said “I didn’t see great. I just saw hard.”

In 2014 Oklahoma City and Memphis matched the record of four overtime games in an NBA series. That series gets bonus points, too, for having four OT games in a row, though none of them went more than one extra period. The Bulls and Celtics of 2009 have the edge in total bonus time.

It would be fun if Miami’s Luol Deng had played in that 2009 series for the Bulls but a broken tibia had him down for the count. There are some other intriguing ties, however, between Miami’s ongoing struggle with Toronto and the events of even postseasons ago.

Zooming in on the Celtics and Bulls, each team earned a split on the road to open the series 2-2. (Boston had home-court advantage, as Toronto does now, and the Bulls couldn’t get another win at TD Garden).

Zooming out to view the rest of the East, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were on an intimidating roll in 2009. They swept Detroit and Atlanta, just like this year, and had more than a week to rest before the conference finals, again familiar. (Orlando wound up knocking off the Cavs just the same, which proves once more that anything can still happen).

No real conclusions to draw from any of this, except that the Heat and Raptors seem bound for a second consecutive seven-game playoff series each. The sloppiness in play reflects that, with only one example of a team reaching 100 points so far in the series in spite of all the overtimes. That was the Heat’s 102-96 win in Game 1.

[Winslow and Richardson bring Heat a rare boost from the NBA draft]

[Gil Brandt not sure Laremy Tunsil will make immediate impact for Dolphins]

[QB Doughty well worth a seventh-round pick for Dolphins]

One more example. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Miami’s 1-for-15 success rate from three-point range is so rare for a winning team that it’s only happened one other time in the last four postseasons. Memphis also hit just one three-pointer in a first-round closeout win over Portland last year.

Dwyane Wade may be fit enough to handle all this physical and psychological stress, but the rest of us are flagging, and there’s still a best 2-out-of-3 finale to go.

At this point, I’m rooting for a record number of overtime games. At this point, nothing less can draw America’s attention away from Steph Curry for more than a few seconds.

 

 

 

Want a better playoff winning percentage than Erik Spoelstra? Better hire Phil Jackson

Erik Spoelstra is 45 and looks younger. I mean, going to four consecutive NBA Finals should make a man as gray as four years in the Oval Office but Spo still has a jet-black head of hair and appears ready to take part in any drill if the Miami Heat ever run short of practice players.

Some of this stuff masks what he has become, which is one of the league’s long-timers.

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 29:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat yells to his team against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC – APRIL 29: Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat yells to his team against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference first-round series. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Among active coaches only gruff Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs for 20 seasons, has been running the same team for a longer period of time. Spo is tied for second with Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, each of them at eight seasons and counting in their current jobs.

As the Heat and Toronto Raptors prepare to open an Eastern Conference semifinal series, it seems a good time to congratulate Pat Riley, again, for making such a good choice for his successor in Miami.

Sure, Spo was handed the Big Three on a platter. Sure, he could have won more than two NBA titles with them. Sure, there are reasons to downplay any coach’s contributions to any grand achievement.

Bottom line, though, Spo has kept the team together through all kinds of divisive moments, including LeBron’s departure and Chris Bosh’s medical issues. Now there’s even a flap about Bosh wanting to get back into uniform while the organization continues to wrestle with what is smart and what is safe and what is potentially actionable.

No matter. The Heat keep on winning, as they did in the seven-game series with Charlotte just completed, and Spo keeps on figuring ways to keep them viable as Eastern Conference championship contenders.

Get this. Spo already has more postseason wins (67) than Riley did as Miami coach. What’s more, he’s got more playoff wins than Riley and Stan Van Gundy and Kevin Loughery combined (55) when they were coaching the Heat.

[First-ever NFL draft pick in 1936 chose foam-rubber sales job instead]

[An entertaining look back at Braves’ 35 years training in West Palm]

[10 years after first Heat title team, Wade and Haslem still driving hard]

The longer view is where it really gets interesting.

In all of NBA history, there is only one coach with a higher career winning percentage in the playoffs than Spo. His name is Phil Jackson.

Here’s the list, with the qualifier that these are coaches who worked at least 50 postseason games.

Coach               Playoff wins     Playoff losses   Pct.

Phil Jackson              229                   104                 .688

Erik Spoelstra             67                     39                 .632

John Kundla                60                     35                 .632

Billy Cunningham      66                     39                 .629

Gregg Popovich         157                     95                 .623

Larry Costello              37                     23                 .617

Larry Bird                     32                     20                 .615

Pat Riley                     171                   111                .606

Chuck Daly                  75                     51                 .595

Red Auerbach             99                     69                 .589

 

Never heard of John Kundla? He coached the Minneapolis Lakers and George Mikan in pro basketball’s formative years in a time so different that Kundla decided not to move with the franchise to Los Angeles. He stayed in Minneapolis to coach the University of Minnesota instead.

Spo fits somewhere in between those ancient legends and more recent ring-collectors like Jackson and Riley and Pop. Let’s see where he’ll be in another dozen years, though. If he’s still in Miami and if Riley can lure another major free agent or two along the way, Spo might yet climb near the top of every list.

For today, though, he’s a pretty good man to match up against Toronto’s Dwyane Casey, who is learning fast in his fifth season as an NBA coach but has a career playoff winning percentage of .389.