Thursday, February 28, 2013

Denver Nuggets and the Search for Respect

While watching the entertaining Denver Nuggets vs Portland Trailblazers game on Wednesday night, it continues to shock me how little respect the Nuggets franchise gets from the national media.  Despite making 9 consecutive playoff appearances (third longest streak in the league behind San Antonio – 15 and Dallas – 12), there is a strange coverage of the Nuggets that seems to be nonchalance about them.  I can’t seem to figure out why, no matter how consistent they are, they get so little respect.

The main argument always made about them is that they don’t have a “true superstar” to take over games.  After a recent game against the Celtics, even future Hall of Fame star Kevin Garnett wondered how this team doesn’t have an All-Star.  There are three players on the roster who have a solid claim at being considered a superstar:

Ty Lawson
- Ty Lawson is one of the top point guards in the NBA.  While young players like Ricky Rubio, Deron Williams and Damian Lillard get all the headlines, Lawson continues to be one of the most underappreciated players in the league.  Lawson-led teams have never missed the playoffs, and have not won less than 50 games once…but that was in a lockout shortened season.

- Kenneth Faried is a stand out player.  Recently winning MVP at All-Star weekend and could have been Rookie of the Year had he been starting from day one.  His fantastic play while NenĂ© was hurt, allowed the Nuggets to shed the big man’s contract and put Faried in as a starter.  His style of play and energy is infectious and I have yet to meet someone who does not love to watch him play.  Additionally, he seems to be a good guy off the court.  His affiliation with the group Athlete Ally shows the depth of character and quality of the type of person that should be promoted in this league.

Iguodala scoring in the paint;
a regular thing in Denver
- Andre Iguodala is such an interesting case, as he was considered a star while playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, but somehow lost that reputation since coming to Denver.  I’m not sure why a player who was considered a star, an All-Star, All Defensive team selection and Olympian shed that “title” the second he was sent packing to the Nuggets.  He’s an elite defender and fills up the stat sheet every night.  He’s Josh Smith with more skills and a better attitude, yet Smith is considered a star and Iggy is not.  It just boggles the mind!

There’s also the emerging talent of Danilo Gallinari, who I believe can be as good as Dirk Nowitzki.  He has a great inside, outside game.  He handles the ball and attacks the basket better than Dirk, but hasn’t developed the go-to move yet.  Within the next three seasons, I am predicting Gallinari develops into a top level talent in this league.

The Nuggets seem to be the only team in the playoff picture that deals with the “no superstar” analysis.  I have to ask you, who are the superstars in Memphis?  In Milwaukee?  How about Utah or Portland?  I’d even argue that Denver has more on-court stars than the Brooklyn Nets.  There’s hype around Deron Williams, but he’s shown little since leaving Utah.  Just because Joe Johnson is paid like an elite player, it doesn’t mean he is an elite player.  Denver gets more from players with comparable (and oftentimes better) skills at a much better price than most of the teams mentioned.

Iverson and Carmelo
in Denver

Another part of the argument that piggybacks on the superstar comment is that the Nuggets don’t have anyone to take over in the fourth quarter.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the question, “Who will take that crucial last shot for them?”  I’ve always laughed at this concept.  The fact that you have a “big name”, it doesn’t mean you have a closer for the game.  Just a few short years ago, Denver had Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson and they still had this question hanging around.  This may go against the prevalent superstar logic, but why not draw up a play for the hot hand?  To me, it only makes sense to get the ball in the hands of a player who is shooting well.

Additionally, if the Nuggets don’t know who is going to take the final shot, how does the defense prepare for that?  Last night, Denver’s final offensive possession was a post-up for Andre Miller.  Earlier in the season it was in Gallo’s hands.  I’ve watched Lawson take games over.  I could go on and on.  It’s hard to defend a team when you don’t know where the ball is going to end up.

For a team that doesn’t have a true superstar, which we all know is usually based on offensive stats, here are a few statistics to digest:

- 3rd in points per game
Kenneth Faried

- 4th in FG%

- 3rd in assist per game

- 2nd in steals per game

- 4th in blocks per game

- 1st in offensive rebounds per game

- 2nd in overall rebounds per game

- 1st in fast break points per game

- 1st in points in the paint per game

There may be something to this team concept after all.

Coach Karl teaching his young team
The knock against Denver is that the basic thought process is that a fast-paced team can’t win in the playoffs.  I strongly disagree with this.  The Steve Nash-led Suns were within some questionable officiating and tough moments from winning.  The same can be said for Chris Webber’s Kings teams.  While those teams did not win a title, the Showtime Lakers sure did.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying the Nuggets are the second coming of Showtime, but the fast-paced offense can work.  The Lakers weren’t known as a defensive team, giving up over 100 points per game in those title years, but they could run you out of the gym.  Believe me no one wants to deal with this Denver tempo that Coach Karl has utilized over the last few years.  They thrive off turnovers and energy.  They aren’t afraid of any team and it shows when they step on the court.

Are they a title contender this season?  It’s doubtful.  They’re one of the five youngest teams in the league and need time to grow, but they have the talent.  They have the coaching.  If they get the ball to bounce their way or get the benefit of a whistle like a Kobe or Durant gets, they’re a scary team going into the next few years.

It’s time to click over and watch this team.  They are an exciting and fun team to watch.  Stars are emerging.  Those that can’t see them must be looking up in the sky at the wrong constellations.


Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at:

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Jordan - LeBron - Kobe Triangle

Every year we leave NBA All-Star weekend with a lot of excitement for the remainder of the season.  We also leave the weekend talking about a pointless story that will continue to perpetuate discussions over the next few weeks.  This year’s “gem” was Michael Jordan’s comment saying he would take Kobe Bryant over LeBron James.  The moment I saw the comments, I simply rolled my eyes and moved on.  Unfortunately the national media, along with a few personal friends, continue hammering the story at me to the point where I felt the need to respond.  I need to break it down in two different parts; so sit back and enjoy the ride!

The first thing I wanted to address was Jordan himself.  He almost seems hell bent on discrediting LeBron at every turn.  From comments like this one, or his comment that LeBron wouldn’t have been as successful in Jordan’s era, it just seems as though he has a personal vendetta against The King.  As I previously had written, LeBron makes us question what we have always known; Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time.  It seems that even Jordan himself is questioning this, and the hyper-competitive guy that he is, forces him to try and rip LeBron down.  Anyone who watched is Hall of Fame speech knows Jordan is a somewhat angry and vengeful person, who continued to rip his opponents in an arrogant speech regularly given by others in a humble way.

As all of this information kept trickling out, I could help but wonder, “What makes Michael Jordan’s opinion matter?”  I know that sounds almost blasphemous to question the almighty Jordan, but just hear me out on a couple of points.  I just want you to wonder where Jordan is coming from with his comments, and how is he qualified to make them.

All smiles with Kwame Brown
The biggest thing to consider is that just because you played the game, it doesn’t make you an expert on talent.  Jordan is not the best evaluator of talent the league has ever seen.  Let’s be honest.  If you need evidence, please see the 2001 NBA Draft in which Jordan drafted Kwame Brown with the first overall selection.  While hindsight is always 20/20, this one is a glaring as there were two tremendously talented players (Tyson Chandler and Pau Gasol) drafted directly after Brown.  Heck, Jason Richardson and Joe Johnson would have been better selections!  Kwame Brown was never was going to be a star, as it was widely known that he simply did not care enough to be.  Jordan looked past all the looming issues and drafted him anyway.  This was simply the first stumbling block in historically unimpressive draft selections.  It can definitely be argued that while he was one of the greatest players to touch a basketball, he was as inept as an owner and talent evaluator.

Jordan’s competitiveness could be driving his hostility towards James, simply because LeBron has achieved benchmarks Jordan never did.  For example, in 2010, LeBron became the first player since “Pistol” Pete Maravich to put up 40 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a game.  Just recently, LeBron went on a historic run of 7 games scoring at least 30 points while shooting 60% or better from the field.  For someone like Jordan, it is simply unfathomable to see someone accomplish something he didn’t.

If rings matter, "Big Shot" Robert
Horry has 7...
Jordan also made the comment that no matter how he looks at it, 5 rings are better than 1.  I’m going to scream the next time I hear someone talk about rings.  Rings do not define player greatness.  Is Adam Morrison a better player than Karl Malone, simply because he has 2 rings?  Obviously not, except in Jordan’s world where rings are the only thing that matters.  I have some news for His Airness, though.  He is nowhere near the top of the rings list.  He’s tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Cousy with 6.  He trails Robert Horry, who has seven.  How about Bill Russell with his 11, including 2 as a player-coach?  That doesn’t even list all the bit players from the Celtics teams of the 50’s and 60’s that racked up rings.  The point is, rings don’t define you.  It’s an easy, cop out argument used by people who don’t want to really examine the facts.  We’re not talking about a 1-on-1 game here.  We’re talking about basketball, one of the best team games in the world.

What Jordan doesn’t seem to comprehend is that LeBron James doesn’t comprehend “me ball”.  He plays “we ball”, the way the game is supposed to be played.  James has the supreme talent to take over any game at any time.  Players like Jordan and Kobe Bryant seem to think that the only way to take over is to score alone and play hero ball.  Highlight jumpers over a triple team may look good on SportsCenter, but the smart basketball play is to find one of the open players for an uncontested look.

The Lakers were Diesel's team
This all leads me to a quick dissection of the LeBron James versus Kobe Bryant argument that Jordan initiated this past weekend.  As stated above, the rings argument is null and void.  It’s weak.  The fact of the matter is Kobe Bryant was handed rings the moment he walked on the court in LA.  He was given the most dominant big man of his era, Shaquille O’Neal.  He was given, arguably, one of the greatest coaches in history Phil Jackson.  The teams he was part of were stacked, and they likely left rings on the table because of personal issues.  Even during the time he won two more, Jackson was back guiding him.  They were gift-wrapped Pau Gasol, a multiple time All-Star and considered one of the best big men in the game.  He had Lamar Odom, who was the sixth man of the year candidate every season.  He also had the steady hand of Derek Fisher along with the emerging big man, Andrew Bynum.  It was nearly impossible to fail!

One man can only do so much.
Conversely, let’s look at the teams LeBron was surrounded by in Cleveland.  Coached by Mike Brown, who hasn’t done anything of note in the league outside of getting fired from the Cavaliers and the Lakers, there was no off court leadership.  If you look at the team LeBron single-handedly led to the Finals in 2007, you’ll see a team of back-ups and mid-level talent.  He elevated the play of Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic, Eric Snow and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.  Seriously, what he accomplished with this team is far better than anything Kobe has ever done.  Don’t believe me?  Take some time to look at the Kobe-led 2004-05 Lakers.  Jackson and O’Neal were gone.  It was the Kobe Show and what happened?  They were below average and missed the playoffs.  This was 8 seasons into his career, after winning 3 titles.  There is no excuse for the drop off.  It all boils down to one thing; leadership.  Kobe Bryant is not a leader of men.  He is divisive, dismissive and self-absorbed.  He’s too busy pointing his finger elsewhere to recognize that he is a big part of the problem.  LeBron is the ultimate teammate.  He holds others accountable, but will take the heat himself when needed.  It’s a night and day comparison.

Kobe also had the benefit of growing into a franchise player.  He did not have to carry the Lakers franchise until the trade of Shaq to Miami.  It was never Kobe’s team until the aforementioned 2004-05 season.  He had Phil Jackson guiding him.  LeBron was given Paul Silas and Mike Brown, neither of which has a strong track record of player development.  Cleveland was his franchise and it took them to heights they never reached before.  Due to Cleveland’s management, and their inability to build a strong team around him, he left.  As I have previously written, there’s a ton of reasons he left but the crux of it had to be the obvious inability to help him.  He understands something so few do; teams win titles, not individuals.

The general consensus in the media is that LeBron James is the unquestioned, best player on the planet.  It’s hard to argue it, and it has been this way for quite some time.  I find it interesting that despite the accolades and accomplishments of Kobe Bryant, he was never considered that.  There may have been a season here or there where he was considered in that realm, but never the way LeBron is.  He will go down as one of the all-time best, but never the greatest.  I think that’s one of the subtle reasons Jordan loves him; he doesn’t contest the throne no matter how many rings he has.

Two of the greats battling.  LeBron
leads their series 13-6.
The only good thing about this argument is that we can quantify it with stats and facts.  LeBron and Kobe have played head to head 19 times and because of their ages, the argument is valid.  While Kobe is slightly older, they are still close enough in age that their individual team battles matter for the discussion.  Without further ado, here’s a quick snapshot of their head to head battles:

LeBron James

13 wins, 6 losses

40.8 Minutes per game

46.1% Shooting

27.9 Points per game

7.7 Rebounds per game

7.3 Assists per game

3.6 Turnovers

Kobe Bryant

6 wins, 13 losses

37.6 Minutes per game

41.9% Shooting

25.3 Points per game

4.9 Rebounds per game

4.9 Assists per game

3.4 Turnovers

So Mr. Jordan, let me get this straight.  You prefer a player who shoots worse, scores less, grabs fewer boards and dishes out fewer assists while losing over a player better in every category except turnovers (and really, it is a total of 5 turnovers in 19 games).  The head to head match up matters in this argument and the clear winner is LeBron James.

So what did we learn?  I think this weekend we learned that Michael Jordan is not a good judge of talent, which we all kind of knew given the state of the Charlotte Bobcats.  We learned that Jordan seemingly has something against LeBron James.  We learned that Jordan sees his insane competitiveness and self-importance in Kobe Bryant.  We’ve learned that Jordan thinks higher of himself than anyone could possibly imagine.

What else did we learn?  We’ll listen to anything we can when it pertains to Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

LeBron vs Jordan...Why?

The most frequent argument I hear in sports is the classic question, “Who is better?”  Seemingly, you can’t engage in a sports discussion regarding individual players without someone chiming in with “Well player X could never be as good as player Y.”  It’s one of the topics in sports that absolutely drive me crazy, for the simple fact that comparing players from different eras is impossible.

I understand holding on to an all-time favorite player and defending them no matter what (heck, I’ve been an Allen Iverson fan since his freshman year at Georgetown), but at some point logic needs to step in.  It’s impossible to put players of yesteryear in today’s version of their sport and expect the exact same results.  Let’s look at a few examples:

Ronnie Lott laying the boom

Would Ronnie Lott last in today’s softened up NFL, where flags are thrown for getting near a receiver?

Could Wilt Chamberlain average 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds in a season against today’s athletes?

Obviously there’s no way to figure out if they would be the dominating forces they were during their era, but it’s interesting to think about the possibilities.

While it is easy to sit and compare baseball statistics, count championships in football and such; it’s virtually impossible to do the same in basketball without starting a bar-wide brawl.  Simply mention LeBron James in the same sentence as Michael Jordan and you will receive looks, yells and taunts without even having a chance to make a case.  The funny thing is, only the comparison to LeBron James brings this level of vitriol.  Why is that?

Harold Miner in the
dunk contest

Harold Miner was dubbed “Baby Jordan” but never came close to achieving even a modicum of success that Jordan did.  He lasted four seasons in the NBA, with his only real legacy being that of the NBA dunk contest champion.

Vince Carter exploded into the league out of North Carolina, Jordan’s alma mater, with early career comparison to His Airness.  While achieving status as an amazing leaper and dunk expert, he has come nowhere near the success Jordan enjoyed.  Carter is a guy who has quit on a team (Toronto) and has bounced around the league since.  He’s widely regarded as a player who had the talent to be an all-time great, but simply did not care enough to utilize it.

Carter is unfulfilled promise, whereas Miner was simply a catchy nickname based on the dunk contest.  I know some believe Carter was great, and have argued them for years against that.  No one will make that same case for Miner.  Regardless, neither name conjures up the hostility as comparing James to Jordan.

There are multiple flaws to the arguments both for and against LeBron vs Jordan, and I’m not going to go too deep into them, but I had to touch on it a bit.  However, there are a couple of things to touch on.

I don’t want to take too much time on the fact that some people simply don’t like James because we wore number 23 initially.  You know, unlike every other kid that grew up in the 90’s watching Jordan play and trying to “Be Like Mike”.  Or that he has a tattoo of the phrase “Chosen 1” on his back, despite the fact is was Sports Illustrated that called him that.  Let’s be honest, take any high school kid and put him on the cover of the most popular sports magazine in the world with that nickname attached.  Guess what is going to happen?  We’d all run with that nickname as long as we could.  James was no different.

The main argument the pro-Jordan crowd mentions is all about the ring count.  Jordan – 6.  James – 1.  This is such a short-sighted argument.  Adam Morrison has two championship rings.  Does that make him better than LeBron?  Obviously not.

While a single player can make the difference in a championship run, it takes the full team to win a title.  While many will attribute Chicago’s success solely on Jordan’s shoulders, they quickly forget that he had a tremendous team around him.  During the first three-peat he had Pippen (top 50 player of all-time), Horace Grant (consistent double-double guy and great defender) and players like BJ Armstrong and John Paxson who knew their roles.  During their second three-peat, Pippen was still around and they added the best rebounder/defender in history Dennis Rodman.  Additionally, he had the greatest three point shooter (percentage-wise) in history Steve Kerr and sixth man of the year Toni Kukoc.

Drew Gooden on LeBron's back...hmm
Looking at LeBron’s run in Cleveland; he was surrounded by minimal talent.  During the run to the 2007 NBA Finals he was surrounded by Eric Snow, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.  LeBron led them to 50 wins and an NBA Finals birth, including one of the most amazing playoff games in history.  I will venture to say that not even Jordan himself could have won a title with the team James had this season.  Don’t believe me?  Check out Chicago’s 1989-90 season.  They had virtually the same team as the next 90-91 championship season, but failed to reach the finals.  How easily we forget that at one point in his career, Jordan was thought of as a guy who couldn’t win when they needed it most.

To me, the biggest flaw in the argument is that we are simply comparing apples to oranges.  Jordan was and will forever be a score-first player.  Jordan would easily jack up close to 2,000 shots in a season; while LeBron’s highest were 1,823 shots in his 3rd professional season.  Jordan’s development from slasher to mid-range master is well documented.  While he was a solid passer, including two passes that sealed NBA championships, it wasn’t his first instinct.  LeBron James has a pass first mentality, but has the ability to dominate scoring if need be.  What LeBron does read a game better than any in that he dissects the needs of his team and adjusts accordingly.  If he needs to score 30, he does.  If he needs 10 assists, he’ll dish.  Like he showed in his masterful game 6 performance against Boston in the 2012 playoffs, he will do anything necessary to win.

The crux of the issue is that LeBron James is the single most dominant player in today’s NBA; much like Michael Jordan was in his day.  Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and the like will win MVP’s and get recognition, but the real basketball purist will appreciate Jordan and James as the greatest players on the planet during their run.  Due to their greatness and dominance, we’ve found it virtually impossible to compare them to their peers, thus we have to compare them to each other.  LeBron James is in the same air as Michael Jordan as a player.  There’s no way around it, regardless of whatever number you choose or mythical idea (the concept of clutch) used to compare them.  The simple fact that the comparison garners such heated and passionate debate shows that the argument has merit.

LeBron James makes us question what we know, what we have always believed, and that scares some.  To the passionate fan, this is similar to questioning someone’s religious beliefs or political ideology.  The hostility and anger that can be bred from such discussions is shocking, but somehow understood.  Personally, I just feel lucky to have been old enough to marvel at Michael Jordan and old enough to appreciate the greatness of LeBron James.  They don’t have to be compared, as there will never be a definitive winner.  Yet, we have to compare them because they sit in a level of skill unto themselves.

So to answer the question, “Who is better?”

We all are because, simply, we get to watch their greatness.

Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at:

Friday, February 8, 2013

No Love for the Unknown Stars

Where's the love for Kenneth
Faried, Reggie?
As I was trying to enjoy the Nuggets’ blowout win against the Bulls on Thursday night, I found myself repeatedly frustrated by commentators Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller.  They continually gushed about the impending return of Derrick Rose for the Bulls, while their counter for the Nuggets was, “They have what they have.”  It was a constant reminder than no matter how good this team is the national media simply does not care about the Mile High crew.

The NBA is known as being a superstar friendly league.  LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant amongst others are obviously the names put on the marquee and rightfully so.  The large market teams regularly are the ones on ABC or ESPN.  The only time a team like the Nuggets get thrown a bone is when they are playing a team like Chicago or one of the LA teams.  Despite them being a team that has made a playoff appearance in nine consecutive seasons, the NBA simply does not show teams like this.  It’s always confused me.  Good basketball is good basketball, regardless of a big name or big market.

Two of the NBA's biggest stars:
LeBron James and Kevin Durant
So do team like the Nuggets need a superstar to get national attention or some love from the refs?  There are rumors of the Nuggets trying to make a run at Kevin Garnett before the trade deadline hits.  I can’t help but wonder why.  Why move young, talented pieces (Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler or Kenneth Faried) for an aged superstar?  Would that move make Denver an immediate title contender?  Absolutely not.  Garnett is in the twilight of his career.  He’s had an amazing career, but we’re a year or two away from a very noticeable decline in his game.  Sure he’s a marketable star, but Denver had that with Carmelo Anthony and didn’t win a title.  Heck, they only escaped the first round of the playoffs once.

The sad thing is that David Stern got drunk on big market/big names when the league was sputtering badly in the 70’s.  Next thing you know, Boston had Larry Bird and Los Angeles had Magic Johnson.  The next evolution was Michael Jordan in Chicago.  The NBA had three transcendent stars in three of their largest markets.  They never changed their focus after that.  McDonald’s, Gatorade, Adidas and other national sponsors flocked to these players.  While their skills and marketability were not questioned, there were other guys marketable that did not get the same attention.  The NBA wanted to focus on Bird, Johnson and Jordan.  Everyone else followed suit.

The aforementioned Garnett had his best individual seasons in Minnesota, but the stories from the NBA focused more on the Shaquille O’Neal led Lakers.  It proved to me that it doesn’t matter if you have a superstar, unless you’re in a market they’ve decided to focus on.  Look at the current playoff picture.  There are teams filled with players most casual fans haven’t heard of, but are some of the best in the league.  Indiana, Memphis, Denver, Golden State all have complete teams that are fun to watch.  They all have guys that could make a mark on the national stage, if only given the chance.
Kevin Garnett as league MVP

There has been a small shift, with the emergence of Oklahoma City.  They may be the test case for properly promoting in a small market.  The fact is winning attracts viewers.  Promote a winning team, whether they have a hyped name or not, and people will watch.  The small market is really a dead concept because the game is so available everywhere.  NBA League Pass has made every game available everywhere.  Why not rotate the national games to get exposure for other franchises?  That might also help prevent players bouncing to big markets in free agency.  They’ll already have their exposure, which helps their brand.

The one thing that needs to be learned is that if they promote stars in each market, they grow the game.  I haven’t met anyone who has watched Kenneth Faried play and not come away impressed.  He’s fun to watch.  Most teams have a guy or two that could be a “star” if promoted properly.

Why do certain players become superstars?  At the core, it will always be about their talent.  There has to be something else that pushes them to the next level, and that is where the NBA marketing team needs to step up.  We need to hear about and see more on players like Faried, David Lee, Marc Gasol and Paul George.  I know, in my heart, that if people watch these players once they’ll continue watching them after that.  Basketball fans, while loyal to their teams or players, love watching hoops.  Give us something good to watch and we’ll check it out.

Faried and the other 2013 Dunk
Contest participants
For those who think that big names mean wins and championships, I give you the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers.  Championships are not earned on paper, but on the court.  It would be nice if we would hear stories about teams playing well, instead of the drama between two “superstars” in a big market.  Then again, controversy generates interest and that’s why the Lakers will continue leading off SportsCenter despite putting out a poor product.

At least we get to see Kenneth Faried in the dunk contest over All-Star weekend.  Maybe, just maybe, his performance will wake some people up.  Regardless, I’ll continue to enjoy the fantastic on-court play of these teams so rarely mentioned.

Maybe one day others will join me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ray Lewis and the Complexities of Being his Fan

I enjoyed watching the Super Bowl in an old school way this past Sunday night.  I turned off my phone.  I turned off my computer.  I stashed my iPad away so Twitter and Facebook were not accessed.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to watch an intense game.  I could allow my passion for this game to overflow, but avoid comments and posts to push me in a negative way.

Bernie Kosar at The U
For those uninitiated with me, I am a lifelong Denver Broncos fan.  For some odd reason, I also chose the University of Miami as my favorite college football team when I was young.  It could have been my rebellious nature that led me to them.  It could be that my Dad also joked that I threw a football like Bernie Kosar, a UM alum.  Whatever the reason was, I’ve been cheering for them as long as I can remember.

The Super Bowl featured two all-time great from The U; Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.  I was emotionally invested in a big way during the game.  We all know it was Ray’s “last ride”, but also important to me, this was Reed’s first chance at a championship in the pros.  He is one of the greatest players I have ever seen play and thought he deserved the recognition as a Super Bowl champion.  While trying to enjoy the powerful NFL Network interview with Ed Reed, I made the mistake of turning my social media on.  I could not believe the hate and ignorance that filled the landscape.

Ed Reed with the trophy
The comments that pored over through Twitter and Facebook were focused on the murder trial of Ray Lewis from January of 2000.  I expected that to be brought up again by lazy media members who wanted to rehash the story during the two weeks leading up to the game.  I expected a few individuals to chime in with their tasteless jokes, as the internet is a haven for classless comments.

I didn’t expect some of those to be friends of mine, people I know well.  People I have known for years that have never said a word about Ray Lewis to me, despite them knowing how big of a fan I am, started chirping the second the Ravens made the Super Bowl.  I would post something on Facebook, and moments later, would be hit with comments that were not acceptable or welcomed on my page.  One comment went so far as to say, “How easily we forget…”

Ray Lewis in court in 2000
While it is not as malicious of a comment as others, I sincerely did not appreciate the implication that as a Ray Lewis fan for 20 years, I have no memory of this turning point in Lewis’ life.  You can’t be a fan of him without constantly defending him.  It didn’t matter that the majority of people involved with the case knew that the prosecution was overreaching in charging Lewis.  It didn’t matter that the prosecution didn’t have a leg to stand on.  Once an accusation like this is out there, it’s stuck like a scarlet letter and nothing can remove it.  For some reason, though, the hate for Ray Lewis grows while others accused of a crime dissipates over time.

Kobe Bryant leaving a Colorado
courtroom in 2004
There are some that still hate Kobe Bryant and believe he raped a girl in Eagle, Colorado.  Although, the moment he won another championship, those voices seemed to quiet a bit.  The attacks after that on Bryant came more at his on-court play than anything off the court.  Lewis’, however, seems to be the complete opposite.  The voices get louder and angrier.  I have a hard time grasping this.  The Bryant case had actual evidence.  The Bryant case did not crumble.  It became more “he said, she said”.  Yet in Lewis’ case, despite the case against him being as flimsy as a wet piece of paper, the public has branded him as a murderer.  He can’t escape it no matter what, and neither can his staunchest supporters.

I’m not going to sit here and debate the case.  You have your mind made up one way or the other by now.  I just wish we could all concede the following facts when discussing the murders:

- No one reading this was in the Atlanta nightclub the night of the murders.

- No one reading this was in the limousine as it left the scene.

- No one reading this was in the hotel rooms of anyone accused of the crime.

- No one reading this was in the courtroom.

- No one reading this has any physical or DNA evidence linking Ray Lewis to the murder.

- If the prosecution actually had something, they would not have presented him with a misdemeanor plea deal.

I know that this is not a perfect world and that some will never concede anything, but the above is all true.  Love him or hate him, none of us really know.

I understand Schadenfreude.  Taking in joy in the shortcomings of others is natural as a sports fan.  I don’t understand trying to tear someone down during a tremendous moment in their life.  I’d like to just chalk it up to jealousy, but there seems to be something much deeper here.  It’s a depth I don’t think any of us are comfortable going to because it requires us to look within ourselves and expose our biases.  It’s not something that can be wrapped up neatly in a blog.  It’s up to you, the reader, to take a moment of introspection and find why this hatred festers.

It’s great that everyone has a voice, and social media has allowed us to use it to the fullest.  Sift through the poor grammar and horrible spelling and you can stumble across some great minds putting thought-provoking ideas out into the world.  The flip side is that everyone has a voice, and that allows for hate-filled speech to ring out through the world.  We live in a world where it is too easy to throw stones, despite the fact that we all live in glass houses.  No one walking this planet is perfect and we’ve all made mistakes.  Ray Lewis firmly believes that only God can judge him, which is a belief I also share.  Who are any of us to cast judgment and hate towards someone without having evidence to support the claim?

So what is it about Ray Lewis that keeps the hatred alive?  Is it the murder accusation?  Is it his success that sparks jealousy?  Is it racially based?  Is it his outward religious beliefs?  We’re never going to know the answers to these questions because he means something different to everyone.

I know two things, though.  I will forever be a fan of his and I will forever have to defend that.