Thursday, June 30, 2011

Which lockout will last longer?

To no one's surprise, NBA owners are about to lock out their players -- it will start at 12:01 a.m. tonight. All league business at that point will be postponed.

That will leave two of America's four major sports leagues under lockout -- the NFL is more than 100 days into its own lockout.

So which lockout do you think will last longer? I ultimately think it will be the NBA's. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the 50-game season we saw in 1998-99 (the result of the last major work stoppage in the league) would end up being about par for this course in 2011-12.

Why? It just seems to me that the NBA's problems are far larger, the gap between the owners and players far wider. Most NBA teams now lose money (the Bobcats lose maybe $20 million a year these days, I've heard). The player salaries are simply too high. The business model is not sustainable. There is less pie to split up than in the NFL.

So while I'm optimistic we'll ultimately get a full 2011 season in the NFL, I am pessimistic about those prospects in the NBA.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Maggette embraces trade, opportunity

The Bobcats held a conference call with Corey Maggette today for the media, where Maggette talked publicly about the trade that brought him to Charlotte for the first time. I'll write more about Maggette for Wednesday's newspaper, but here are a few highlights:

-- Maggette said last year in Milwaukee was a "humbling experience," where he came off the bench and averaged 12 points per game. His career average is 16.2 points, and he has usually been a starter, which coach Paul Silas said he will be in Charlotte.

-- Maggette, 31, said he "embraced" the opportunity in Charlotte and hoped to be a mentor to the Bobcats' young players, particularly Gerald Henderson, D.J. Augustin, Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker.

-- Maggette said he first heard about the trade while he was on a plane to Chicago to attend a friend's wedding. He was asleep and a friend woke him up to say he thought Maggette had just been traded to the Bobcats. Maggette was originally ecstatic, as he gets along well with Stephen Jackson and thought they were going to play together. When he got off the plane, he found out that Jackson had been shipped to Milwaukee in the same deal.

-- Maggette said what is really missing from his resume is a deep playoff run. Most of the teams he has been on in the NBA have missed the playoffs. "That's definitely something that's missing," Maggette said. "You can score 18, 19, 20 points a game, but it really doesn't matter if you don't get to the big dance."

Monday, June 27, 2011

The jump that inspired a million jumps

Like everyone who saw it that night, I remember Lorenzo Charles' dunk of Dereck Whittenburg's 30-foot prayer of a shot that allowed N.C. State to upset Houston, 54-52, in the 1983 national championship.

Charles' jump to grab that airball and slam it home inspired a million more jumps -- from fans watching in person and from the millions more watching at home, of which I was one.

Charles died Monday afternoon in a bus accident in Raleigh. He was 47.

Everyone saw Jim Valvano's mad "Who can I hug next?" dash across the court in New Mexico -- that was Valvano's reaction to an unforgettable play. But there were many other reactions to it -- if you saw it live on TV, I bet you remember yours.

I was a high school senior watching that game in our family den. I was cheering desperately for N.C. State -- I lived in Spartanburg, S.C., at the time and had had a long-developed love of underdogs.

When Charles threw down his dunk, a surge of adrenalin poured through me and I jumped off the couch and into the air. Our popcorn-style ceiling was relatively low, and I accidentally banged both my hands onto it as I raised them and screamed "Yes!"
A small shower of white pellets fell into my hair from where I had disturbed the ceiling, but I didn't care. Houston had gotten what it deserved (do you remember that Hakeem Olajuwon deserted the basket on the play, allowing Charles free rein?) and so had the Wolfpack.

It was one of those moments that you knew immediately would be talked about for decades. I've read where Charles said in previous interviews he thought that dunk would be remembered for awhile, that he'd have his 15 minutes of fame, and that it'd be forgotten. But that was too humble. The moment was too perfect, and then framed beautifully by Valvano's madcap sprint. It was one of those moments that made March Madness what it is today, and we can thank the late Lorenzo Charles for that as we send out thoughts and prayers to his family.

Bobcats' new slogan not just talk

New Bobcats general manager Rich Cho said at his inaugural news conference earlier this month that the worst place to be in the NBA was the middle of the road.

Well, the Bobcats certainly aren't there anymore. As ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy pointed out a couple of times during the network's coverage of the NBA draft Thursday night, the Bobcats have gone from mediocre to horrible in the short term.

They have now traded away their two best players in the past few months -- Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson -- and gotten much younger in the interim.
They have, as the sports cliche goes, blown up the team.

Was this a good idea? Ultimately, I think so. I believe the risk was worth taking. My colleague Tom Sorensen agrees and said as much in this column.

Much depends on whether the team's two new lottery picks -- big man Bismack Biyombo and little man Kemba Walker -- pan out. But let's be realistic. The Bobcats probably weren't going anywhere anyway in 2011-12, and probably won't go anywhere great for awhile. It makes sense if you're going to go young to go all the way -- Jackson was one of the few tradeable assets the Bobcats had left.

I'm not as sold on the acquisition of Corey Maggette, who to me isn't as good as Jackson. That was one of those things you had to do to make the trade work, though. I'm interested to hear what Maggette has to say about the trade, as he's been noticeably silent so far.

So the Bobcats' new slogan of "Prepare Today, Own Tomorrow" is not just talk. I don't know about the "owning" part -- that depends on whether these youngsters pan out and whether veterans Tyrus Thomas , Maggette, Boris Diaw and D.J. Augustin can be decent leaders -- but they certainly are preparing in a different way than they used to in the Larry Brown era.

I'm sorry the NBA lockout is looming, though -- it may be a long time before we see what tomorrow really looks like given a labor-management dispute that could make the NFL's lockout look like a walk in the park.

POSTSCRIPT: On a totally unrelated note, congrats to Jones Angell, the 32-year-old replacement for the retired and deservedly legendary Woody Durham as the new Voice of the UNC Tar Heels. Jones is a fantastic hire and will do a great job. Here's a good take on the hiring from Adam Lucas.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bilas on Irving, Barnes, Singler and NBA draft

As part of Team Observer's comprehensive NBA draft coverage, I will have a Q and A with Charlotte resident and basketball analyst Jay Bilas in Thursday's newspaper and online. Bilas will be a key part of ESPN's coverage of Thursday night's draft. Here's a small preview that includes Bilas's take on several ACC players:

Q: Any chance someone other than Duke point guard Kyrie Irving will go No.1?
A: Not to me. I think he's clearly No.1, and I don't think it's a big head-scratcher at all. He's the best player and the best prospect available. He's a true point guard -- not as athletic or explosive as John Wall or Derrick Rose or the guys he is compared to. But he's a purer point guard than either one of the and a better shooter than both of them combined.
I would liken him a little bit to Chris Paul, although certainly he's not as good as Chris Paul right now.

Q: Where would Harrison Barnes have gone in this draft if he had not decided to return to North Carolina for his sophomore year?
A: Top five without question -- maybe No.3, maybe even No.2. He's really, really talented. I think he's a better fit for the NBA than Derrick Williams is, and Williams will probably be drafted No.2.

Q: Besides Irving, talk about some of the ACC's other draft prospects.
A: The guy I have ranked the highest from the ACC after Irving is Chris Singleton from Florida State. I like him a lot. He's got good size and length and is probably the best overall defender in the draft. He's not a high-volume rebounder, but he can make a face-up jumper. His form on the jumper is pretty good and it can get better. He's got an NBA-caliber game.

The No.3 prospect from the ACC is probably Iman Shumpert from Georgia Tech. I think he's the best perimeter defender in the draft. Ridiculously athletic. He lacked some maturity at Georgia Tech and is not a pure point guard. But he's good in transition and can get in the lane. He's just not really a shooter.

I've got [Duke guard] Nolan Smith ranked as a first-round pick, although some others have him as a second-rounder. He's about No.25 or No.26 for me. He competes, he's good in transition and can make challenged shots.
He's not a natural point guard, but he's an attack player and was one of the best five guards in the country last year. He will be valued somewhere in a winning culture.

The next guy after that from the ACC would probably be [Duke forward] Kyle Singler. He's difficult to evaluate because I like everything about him. He competes, defends and plays his tail off. It's just at the position he will play in the pros -- small forward -- you have to be able to make shots and he has not consistently made shots. That says maybe top of the second round to me. He's also not incredibly athletic.

More from Bilas in Thursday's paper, including why he thinks the NBA won't be able to play a full season in 2011-12.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Len Bias -- 25 years later

It was 25 years ago this week that Len Bias died. (If you don't know who that was, watch this fairly incredible selection of YouTube highlights first.)

It happened only days after the former Maryland star had been drafted No.2 overall by the Boston Celtics. Bias's death was one of the seminal "Where were you when you heard it?" moments of the 1980s sports generation, back when the Internet wasn't omnipotent and it was still possible to go hours without hearing such awful news.

I lived in Washington that summer -- it was the summer before my senior year in college. I was on the sixth day of a summer internship in the Washington Post sports department. I heard the news on the radio in the house near the Georgetown campus where I lived in with four other roommates.

It was ultimately discovered that Bias had a seizure after snorting cocaine in a campus dorm room. That seizure led to cardiac arrest, which caused Bias to die at age 22. "Cocaine intoxication" -- a term I had never previously heard -- was later cited in the Maryland medical examiner's report as the cause of death.

Bias's death rippled in many directions. If he had lived he would be 47 now, which means he has now been dead three years longer than he has been alive. His cocaine overdose has served as a cautionary tale to many. His mother, Lonise Bias, changed careers after her son's death and became a motivational speaker with an anti-drug program who influenced many others.

I remember watching Bias in person as he almost single-handedly beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill four months before he died. It was amazing -- still one of the Top 10 individual sports performances I've ever seen in person. Once during the game, Bias nailed a 20-footer, stole the inbounds pass and then dunked the ball backwards.

"If Lenny Bias ain't the player of the world after tonight," said Maryland coach Lefty Driesell then, "somebody don't know something about basketball."

Driesell would be forced out at Maryland later that same year. His coaching career went on for two more mostly successful decades, but he will forever be linked to Bias's incredible rise and stunning fall.

Bias at his best was similar to Michael Jordan, and it's haunting to wonder how good he could have been in the NBA.

Instead, he died 25 years ago, turning a lot of people's lives upside down, including (in a very small way) mine.

I saw firsthand for the rest of that summer of 1986 how a major newspaper with great talent reacts to such a mysterious death, as Washington Post writers and editors like Michael Wilbon, Sally Jenkins, Tony Kornheiser, Christine Brennan, Bill Gildea, Dave Sell, Lenny Shapiro and George Solomon worked the story hard and mentored me honestly and kindly whenever I asked.

My job for the first few days after Bias's death was pretty awful. Along with another part-time reporter for the Post, I had to sit outside where most of the Maryland players lived. Our job was to ask them about Bias and the investigation into his death whenever they went in or out the door.

Most of the players were about my age, totally devastated and understandably did not want to talk to the media.

Still, Bias's death and all its repercussions had quite an effect on me, ultimately solidifying my resolve to go into sports journalism. To watch the Post attack the story, not buying into the early "official" explanations that proved so wrong, was to watch professionals in action. They were hurting, too -- they had all liked Bias, who was really impossible not to like -- but they were also after the truth and doing their jobs.

Bias was an otherworldly talent, done in by a worldly temptation. Like so many others, I miss him.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Curry getting married, rehabbing ankle

I spent part of Monday with Stephen Curry, the former Davidson star who has a big summer going on. Curry was part of the Curry Celebrity Classic at River Run Golf Club in Davidson today -- the charity event that is raising $40,000 for the Ada Jenkins Center this year.

Curry, 23, isn't playing golf today, as his right ankle is in encased in a cast due to offseason ankle surgery. He goes into a walking boot next Monday. He had nagging ankle problems most of the 2010-11 season but expects to be 100 percent for his third season (assuming there is a 2011-12 NBA season -- labor strife looms).

On a more life-changing note, Curry will get married July 30th to Ayesha Alexander. She grew up in Charlotte as well -- the two met in a church youth group when she was 14 and he was 15. They have dated for the past three years.

More to come in my full-length column on Stephen in Tuesday's Charlotte Observer and online.

More photos from the event

Photo by David T. Foster III: Stephen Curry and Ayesha Alexander at the Curry Celebrity Classic at River Run Golf Club in Davidson.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cam Newton lobbies Smith to stay a Panther

Cam Newton openly lobbied for Panther wide receiver Steve Smith to stay with the team Friday at Smith's football camp at Ardrey Kell High in Charlotte.

Newton, the rookie quarterback from Auburn whom the Panthers picked No.1 in April, worked the camp for Smith. During a Q and A with the approximately 260 campers, Newton was asked both if he would be a better quarterback than Jake Delhomme -- "Time will tell," he said -- and what team he wanted to be drafted by in April.

Newton said the Panthers, since they had the No.1 pick and he wanted to go first. Then he added, "And I wanted to have someone great to throw it to and I knew Steve Smith was here, right?"

I told Newton later during his brief media availability that sounded like he really wanted Smith to stay.

"That's how yall got it?" Newton said playfully. "That was the message -- and I'm just going to leave it at that. Hopefully he got the message -- and the memo, too."

Newton and Smith have bonded through some text messages and phone calls and Newton also threw some passes to Smith during the one day Smith came to the Panthers' players-only camp and proclaimed then Smith was "at another level."

Smith said at his camp that he had contemplated retirement when his wife Angie had a health scare recently. Doctors thought she might have lupus (she does not -- Smith told our Joseph Person last week that Angie was instead diagnosed with mononucleosis).

"Retirement at that time was one of the things we were thinking about," said Smith, who has two years left on his current Panther deal, " because i needed to be home with my wife. I needed to make sure that i didn't let her down. And now that process has passed, we're thankful for that and now we're going to sit down and talk about things that are less important than her health."

One of those is football. Smith said he plans to play somewhere in 2011 -- he wouldn't say whether he wants it to be with the Panthers. He has reportedly asked the Panthers to trade him.

But the bonding with Newton can't hurt the Panthers' cause, if they decide not to trade him once the NFL lockout ends and instead keep him. Smith has been very impressed with Newton, he said.

"His athleticism speaks for itself," Smith said. "You can see an athlete walk in the door. He doesn't have to wear a sign or a jersey. You can tell if a guy can play or if he can't."

More on this in Saturday's Observer and online in my full-length column about Newton and Smith.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On 3rd HOF class and new Bobcats GM

I wrote in today's newspaper about two subjects -- more in-depth on new Bobcats general manager Rich Cho and also some notes about the third class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which was announced Wednesday.

The Cho column you can read here. Most of the NASCAR notes are below.

-- This is how long Glen Wood has been involved in racing. He noted Tuesday that the first car he raced was a 1938 Ford. That's incredible. He also said he thought the fact that Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500 while driving for the Wood Brothers was a big help to his candidacy, and on that point he's absolutely right. Bayne's stunning win helped push the Wood Brothers to relevancy again.

-- How did I not know this before? Cale Yarborough's full name is William Caleb Yarborough? He made a good move going to Cale.

-- Do you think Darrell Waltrip is going to ham it up a little between now and the induction in January for this class of 2012? He came up and kissed NASCAR CEO Brian France on the cheek after getting announced as a winner, making everyone laugh.

-- Interesting that only two of the fans' five selections made the hall. The fans' vote went to Richard Childress, Benny Parsons, Fireball Roberts, Waltrip and Yarborough. The five selected were Wood, Yarborough, Waltrip, Richie Evans (the king of Modified racing) and longtime Richard Petty crew chief Dale Inman.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bobcats and the Cho-sen one

Occasionally, the Charlotte Bobcats do something that can really surprise you -- sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad one.

Today, for the Bobcats, is a good day. They have made an out-of-the-box hire for a new front office man, hiring Rich Cho as their new general manager and moving Rod Higgins upstairs to president of basketball operations.

Cho was the guy on the other side of the Gerald Wallace trade -- the GM who got that deal done for Portland. Then he was mysteriously fired a couple of months later, apparently because he and billionaire owner Paul Allen failed to "connect." Cho was only 11 months into that job when he got fired, but the Trail Blazers have a history of odd moves like that, so I won't hold that against him.

What Cho brings to the Bobcats is an eclectic background (he once worked as an engineer for Boeing and he holds a law degree from Pepperdine) and a vicious work ethic (he began his NBA career as a no-name intern and slowly worked his way up).

Cho has already gone to work for the Bobcats -- his hiring was exclusively reported by The Observer's Rick Bonnell in Tuesday's newspaper and online. Now, ironically, he gets to use one of the draft choices he traded to the Bobcats in the Wallace trade.

Monday, June 13, 2011

On the Mavs, the Heat and the Death Race

A couple of Monday morning notes:

-- I really didn't see that coming, did you? The Dallas Mavericks won the final three games of a scintillating NBA championship series, beating Miami in Miami Sunday night to clinch their first-ever NBA title with a 4-2 series win.

It was a victory that had to be popular in most of America, as the Mavs played better team basketball and even beat Miami in Game 6 despite three off quarters by superstar Dirk Nowitzki (he was awfully good in the fourth, though).

-- Meanwhile, the Heat played another fourth quarter in a tentative way. Couldn't believe D-Wade dribbled that ball off his foot, and LeBron shot an open 10-foot bank shot that hit the backboard and nothing else, and Chris Bosh looked thoroughly intimidated when he got the ball inside against Tyson Chandler. The better team won this series, and the Heat will have a long summer to ponder this one. LeBron's inability to take over the fourth quarter in this series the way he did against Chicago was ultimately the difference -- Dirk outplayed him over and over again.

-- I have gotten a lot of response and one major question about my story on former Marine Paul Habenicht and the creative, cruel "Death Race" he will participate in later this month.

A number of readers have asked that I update you on how Paul does in the race, which starts June 24th in rural Vermont (but has no definite ending -- that's part of the "appeal"). We'll make sure to do that, but we won't know anything for sure for a couple of weeks most likely, as the earliest finishers are supposed to be done sometime Sunday, June 26th.

Meanwhile, for those who have been thinking about entering next year, the website is ominous but fun to look at as well:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cam Newton on the playbook and Steve Smith

It was very interesting watching Cam Newton Thursday morning as the Carolina Panthers and their player-led workout crew allowed in the media for a half hour of interviews and practice viewing.

Newton very obviously is trying to act like a rookie and not like a Heisman Trophy winner nor the No.1 overall draft choice nor someone who met President Obama Wednesday -- although he is all of those things.

It's hard to do that when you're Cam, though. The Panthers were going to make a half-dozen players available prior to their final optional workout at Charlotte Christian Wednesday -- all of them veterans except Cam. The players went up into the bleachers at the school and were asked to spread out by the media to allow for one-on-one interviews.

Newton seemed to want to stay in the background and quite innocently took a seat right behind veteran (and fairly anonymous) Panther defensive end Tyler Brayton.
The media (including me) then surrounded Newton, which made it awkward for Brayton. I don't blame Brayton for getting up and then quietly leaving the gathering himself. (The other players who did talk were Jordan Gross, Jon Beason, Jason Baker and Jeremy Shockey).

Newton was the star attraction, asked more questions by more reporters for a longer period of time than anyone else. He really tried to sound pleasant and positive without saying very much. Overall, he succeeded -- I thought it was a good "media day" for Newton, who steered away from all controversy and toward free-floating optimism at every turn.

Here's a sampling:

-- On his mindset for these two weeks of optional workouts: "Try to meet the guys. See what each player was really about. You talk to them over the phone, you text them, but that can only go so far. We have had a lot of opportunity to mingle with each other as far as going out to eat, having small talk. That's how you get team chemistry. You can't get that over the phone."

-- On how he's doing learning the Panthers' playbook: "Time will tell. As far as me being familiarized with the playbook and the base of it, I think I have a whole grip on who we are as an offense."

-- On the biggest adjustment from college to the NFL: "One thing is preparation, obviously -- preparing as a quarterback in the NFL is completely different as compared to the collegiate level. Also the terminology, the blitz schemes and also at the end of the day, you're not playing freshmen anymore. You're playing grown men. and this is where speed comes into play at all times."

-- On his developing relationship with Steve Smith: "Steve is a person I really admire. I've heard a lot of things about Steve and only half of them [are] true. But one thing everybody knows is Steve Smith is a playmaker -- a bona fide playmaker at that. I've talked to Steve numerous times and he's always encouraging me to not settle. And anybody that goes as far to do that is a special person."

Newton also noted that Smith has shown up at the Panthers' optional workouts at least once and impressed the quarterback immediately with his explosiveness and his hands. "To some degree, he's on a different level," Newton said. "And I told him this. You know I throw a three-step drop or an out route, I've got to get back real fast to get it to him extremely quick because he's that explosive as a player."

My thoughts? Smith, by showing up for at least one workout and praising Newton in a Monday interview is trying to mend some fences just in case he does end up staying a Panther in 2011.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chipper, Heyward and playing with pain

I don't delve much into major-league baseball in this blog, but Atlanta Brave legend Chipper Jones has called out teammate and rising star Jason Heyward for not playing with pain and that's a topic worth exploring.

Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Heyward's insistence on not coming back from a sore right shoulder until he was 100 percent healthy: "I think where Jason might have erred was the comment that he made, 'I'm not coming back until it doesn't hurt anymore.' That has a tendency to rub people the wrong way. And we understand where he's coming from -- he wants to be healthy when he plays, so he can go out and give himself the best opportunity to be successful. I get that.

"What Jason needs to realize is that Jason at 80 percent is a force, and Jason at 80 percent is better than a lot of people in this league. And that there are a bunch of his teammates that are out there playing with discomfort and not healthy, and still going at it."

Chipper is exactly right on this one. Every real athlete knows that sports will, given enough time, make you hurt. Badly.

The best learn how to manage pain and play through it, because if you wait until you're 100 percent, you're waiting until the next Opening Day. No NFL player ever feels 100 percent by Week 2 of the regular season. Walk through the Panthers' locker room every Monday after a Sunday game and you see a variety of grimaces, and most of those guys are playing again six days later.

I used to cover the Miami Dolphins, where Coach Don Shula was known to have a great tolerance for pain -- his players' pain, that is. Shula was old-school. He had played in the league, and played hurt, and he expected his players to do the same.

Medicine is much better now, and of course there is no sense in hurting an injury worse and knocking yourself out for 6 weeks instead of 2. And injuries like concussions have their own timetable, of course, and must be treated especially carefully.

But in Heyward's case, Jones has called him out for a reason. For Heyward to become truly great, it sounds like he's going to have to cowboy up.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Vick and Steve Smith -- quite a combo

Today's Charlotte Observer brings us a good bit of NFL news, given the fact that it's June (traditionally the slowest month in the NFL) and we're in the middle of a lockout with no end in sight.

Joseph Person talked to Steve Smith last night at the Charlotte Knights' batting practice, where Smith and several other Panthers took some cuts.

And David Scott brought us news of Michael Vick's new book, where he sets the record straight in an autobiography co-written with former Charlotte Observer reporters Charles Chandler and Brett Honeycutt.

Smith sounded like he was on his best behavior, praising both new Panther coach Ron Rivera and new No.1 draft pick Cam Newton (although he was noncommital about whether he wanted to be here in 2011).

I'm still not sure the Panthers will ultimately move Smith, even though indications certainly point that way. They will have to find a willing trade partner, which is sometimes easier said than done.

As for the Vick book -- which can be preordered here -- I am greatly looking forward to reading it. I know Vick's story is compelling, and I know Chandler and Honeycutt are exemplary reporters with a desire for the truth. Charles Chandler and I co-wrote what was the first book for both of us way back in 1997 -- it was called "Year of the Cat" and chronicled the Panthers' startling second year, when they got to the NFC championship game. So I know firsthand what an excellent and disciplined reporter and writer Charles is. Can't wait to read it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What a great NBA Finals so far

While I'm a big basketball fan of the game at all levels, I'm not one to religiously watch every minute of the NBA Finals. And for earlier rounds of the playoffs, I'm often of the "Wake Me When It's Game 5" variety, unless there's a really compelling story or an upset looming. (Or, of course, if the Bobcats get there, but as we all know that's only happened once).

But this Miami-Dallas series so far has been fantastic, and it has become destination TV in our household. Last night's game -- a two-point win by Miami decided only when Dirk Nowitzki missed a makeable fallaway jumper just before the buzzer -- was great stuff all the way through.

The wonderful thing about a series is that you start really getting a feel for all of the players, not just the stars. My 13-year-old son, a huge Miami Heat fan, believe Mario Chalmers should be starting over Mike Bibby and the more I watch the more I think he's right. Since Dallas is in the Western Conference I usually don't see them as much, but Dirk must be seen in long stretches to be appreciated for the marvel that he is.

The series has drawn excellent TV ratings, which is no surprise since LeBron James and Miami have played the villain all year in the NBA. To think that Dwyane Wade is part of the group wearing the black hats is laughable -- Wade is one of the nicest guys in the game -- but it certainly helps ABC sell it.

While Miami's 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 certainly makes it look like the Heat will be celebrating a championship soon -- the one earmarked for them ever since LeBron took his "talents to South Beach" -- I imagine another twist or two is coming. Dallas is well-matched with the Heat -- perhaps the only team in the NBA to be able to sustain the sort of basketball the Heat has started playing.

Can't wait for the next games, which are Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. I have no doubt the Sunday game in Miami will be played, incidentally -- Dallas isn't going to lose three straight games at home and get beaten, 4-1.