Another week in the world of sports passed, but momentous events were sprouting left to right.
The National Football League realigned to four divisions in each of the two conferences. The Los Angeles Lakers had the rare opportunity to become the first professional team since the Miami Dolphins to run the table and win a championship. The Washington Wizards sealed deal on the NBA draft, grabbing the first pick, and the Chicago Bulls dropped to fourth. The under-appreciated Larry Brown won his first NBA Coach of the Year after an eternity of success in the college and pro ranks. And of course, Vince Carter participated in his college graduation in what he called one of the biggest days of his life, and was criticized by his own teammates and coaching staff for his decision.
– The NFL news was perhaps the biggest surprise of the week, because realignment caused little contentiousness from the owners after Commissioner Paul Tagliabue kept the critics at bay by using reason to silence any opponents of the plan. Tagliabue reasoned that all changes to the league were for the better – old rivalries including the Bears and Packers and the Redskins and Cowboys will remain, and the league is banking on the fact that new rivalries will be created.
– The Lakers will try to complete former Philadelphia Sixer Moses Malone’s prophesy of “Fo,’ fo,’ fo,’ fo’ ” by not losing a single game in the playoffs. Nice April Fool’s gift – the Lakers haven’t lost since the first of last month and show no physical, mental or spiritual signs of letting success get to their heads. They are playing like champions, and an underdog needs to knock them off their pedestal before we have the New York Yankees II.
The Miami Dolphins in the 1972-73 season were the last team to go through an entire season without a single blemish on their record, and the only squad to claim such a glorious feat. A lot of their success may have to do with the diluted nature of the NBA, or the fact that two of the most dominating players in the league are playing on the same team. Why have one when you can have two? The Bulls had Jordan, with Pippen as a fleet-footed sidekick.
– Speaking of Jordan and his high-flying act, I’m more than impressed that he was able to pull off a first-round pick in this year’s draft out of his bag of tricks. Though there are three or four possible first selections, maybe more since official workouts have not gone full throttle yet, the Wiz Kids hold the ace in the hole and can control the draft all the way through the last choice by possibly selecting the first high-school player ever. With 78 early-entries hoping to jump the ‘Good Ship Lollipop,’ youth will be served, but the young players will have to grow up quickly. The Wizards have more choices, but less choice-meat to pick from. Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler aren’t players that make me shake in my booties. There are all-stars in this bunch somewhere; I just don’t know where.
– Larry Brown is finally vindicated. After years of toiling with mediocre NBA clubs, including the Clippers and Pacers, among other teams, Brown has finally stopped his nomadic wanderings. And at one place, Brown has succeeded, having winning records in 25 of his 30 years as head coach. Brown has the uncanny ability to turn teams around, and he has finally decided to stay in one place rather than bolt for greener pastures. He has become a necessary ally to Allen Iverson and taken nondescript players such as Aaron McKie, Eric Snow, Tyrone Hill and Jumaine Jones to play to their potential, without question. And of course, Dikembe Mutombo is the missing piece of the puzzle.
– Toronto Raptor Vince Carter has quickly become the most dynamic player in the NBA, second to none. An improved outside shooter, a scintillating slasher and an intense mind-frame have made “Vincesanity” an incredible force. When he went to his graduation ceremony at North Carolina, Carter was subtly lambasted by his teammates, coaches and the media. Yet Carter did not even miss a practice, workout or tape-session, and was in Philly hours before the tip-off of game seven.
Even if he missed a practice, Carter was able to experience an important event in his life, something that no NBA playoff game can diminish. People will remember Carter for completing his degree quickly after leaving for the league early, not about his absence from the Raptors for a couple hours before a big game. Carter did the right thing, and he should be applauded for his actions, not scolded.