Tag:Dwyane Wade
Posted on: August 5, 2011 4:22 pm
 

Sadly, it's players behaving badly

This was all working out so well for the players. Deron Williams said hasta la vista to the lockout and took his talents to Turkey. Kevin Durant lit up Rucker Park with 66 points. Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony went to China and supposedly came back with lucrative offers for themselves and all their pals.

Or not.

To this point, no superstar has followed D-Will to Turkey or anywhere else. There are complications with these supposedly lucrative offers in China. And oh, we now bring you the widely anticipated and sadly inevitable news of Michael Beasley shoving a fan in the face and Matt Barnes punching an opponent during pro-am games on either coast.

We don't even want to get into the escapades of three former NBA players in the news this week -- Darius Miles, who was arrested for trying to bring a loaded gun through airport security, Rafer Alston, who was sued over his alleged role in a strip club fight, and Samaki Walker, who allegedly tried to dine on eight grams of marijuana during a traffic stop in Arizona, during which police also confiscated prescription drugs and liquid steroids.

Guns, strip clubs and weed -- the trifecta of ammunition for those quick to stereotype NBA players as outlaws, lawbreakers and menaces to society. Great job, guys.

It’s a lockout, so NBA players must be behaving badly. And they are.

I’ve written previously on my disappointment that the stars with all the clout aren’t speaking up for the union in the ongoing labor dispute, preferring instead to stay quiet and tend to their own affairs. The latest flare-up from the NBPA’s knucklehead contingent is proof why union officials disagreed with my premise all along. Simply put, they were happy that the players, by and large, had been conducting themselves professionally during the lockout and not stepping out of line – a la Kenny Anderson, who turned the public on the players when he lamented having to sell some of his luxury cars during the 1998-99 lockout.

The union, it appears, will give up a few sound-byte points to David Stern so long as it can avoid the Kenny Anderson moment. Except now, they have the Michael Beasley moment and the Matt Barnes moment.

The NBA has gone to great lengths in recent years to curtail on-court behavior, clamping down on gesturing, complaining to officials, and the like. But no such rules were in effect at New York City’s Dyckman Park, where Beasley “mushed” the face of a heckler Thursday night. Nor were they in effect at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco, where Barnes punched an opponent in a pro-am game on the very same night.

Such offenses in an NBA game would’ve earned an ejection, a hefty fine and a pointed rebuke from Stern. But the commissioner has no authority over the players now except in how he nonchalantly eviscerated all their bargaining positions with a smile on ESPN Tuesday night.

“They’re not serious about making a deal with the NBA,” Stern said, with no on-air response from any union representative. “They’re so busy talking about their decertification strategy, following the lead of their attorney, Jeffrey Kessler who did it for the NFL players, and engaging in conversations with agents about it and talking about it constantly, that we think that is distracting them from getting serious and making a deal.”

And now, some players are busy slugging playground wannabes and “mushing” the faces of hecklers from coast to coast, failing to realize that everyone in attendance has a phone capable of recording video and uploading it YouTube for all the world to see. Big difference from the last lockout, when we only got to read about a fraction of the follies the next day in the newspaper.

Making matters worse, just when it seemed that the players had a Kenny Anderson moment to pin on Stern – his bloated salary, which was reported to be between $15 million and $23 million – well, never mind. The Associated Press weighed in, citing multiple league sources who said Stern makes less than baseball commissioner Bud Selig ($18 million) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ($11 million). A person with knowledge of the activities of the NBA’s advisory/finance committee – a group of 11 owners who set Stern’s salary – confirmed to CBSSports.com that $10 million or less was “in the ballpark.”

So to sum up, the best strategy the players have against the owners is to walk a straight line (except, now some of them are not) and the threat of stars going overseas (except only one star has done so). And even if more follow – even if 20 more follow – where does that leave the other 400 players? To stay home and receive weekly updates from NBPA president Derek Fisher about how the owners still haven’t moved off their “my-way-or-the-highway” proposal – or to go out and play for free in some exhibition game, where one union member or another might just have to slug somebody?

It’s a tough act to follow, but several star players will try. Even if a dozen or more of them get lucrative deals in China or somewhere else for $1 million a month, that’s still a small fraction of their NBA salaries. Don’t you think Jerry Buss would jump at the chance to pay Kobe Bryant $1 million a month? That’s a hefty discount off his NBA haul of $25 million a year.

How is all of this intertwined? Everything is intertwined during a lockout, and must be viewed through the prism of whether it helps or hurts the players’ bargaining position. Going off on a heckler or opponent at some exhibition game does not qualify as helpful. Except to the traffic on YouTube.
Posted on: June 12, 2011 12:54 pm
 

Even if Mavs win, it's all about the Heat

MIAMI – With the Dallas Mavericks on the verge of an improbable championship in a closeout game on the road against the Heat on Sunday night, the worst part of the equation for them was delivered with those last three words.

“Against the Heat.”

Because no matter how compelling the angle of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd finally getting their rings, no matter the possibility of Dallas’ comeback-strewn, destiny-filled postseason run culminating with a title, and regardless of Mavs owner Mark Cuban spontaneously bursting into flames during the trophy presentation, there’s only one angle capable of trumping all of that.

The Heat. The Heat losing. The Heat failing.

That’s what this is about. That’s what this NBA season has been about since LeBron James crudely announced to a national TV audience that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami. It has been about the Heat – either the beginning of a hastily assembled, store-bought dynasty or the possibility of utter, spectacular failure.

So the prospect of the Mavs clinching the title in Game 6 Sunday night and Nowitzki winning Finals MVP, thus establishing himself as 1(b) to Kobe Bryant’s 1(a) among clutch performers of their generation? The impressive fortress of double-digit comebacks the Mavs have relentlessly constructed during this postseason run? The idea of Cuban, who has been fined at least $1.6 million since buying the Mavs in 2000, celebrating a championship? This year, and only this year, all of it shrinks in comparison to the Heat not winning.

That’s right, not even Cuban – who was famously fined $500,000 in 2002 for saying the NBA’s director of officials, Ed Rush, wasn’t fit to work at a Dairy Queen, and $250,000 for repeated misconduct after the Mavs blew a 2-0 lead in the 2006 Finals and lost to the Heat in six games – will be able to steal the spotlight from LeBron and Dwyane Wade failing to make good on their championship covenant.

Not even the culmination of a riveting, remarkable postseason run for the Mavs – in which they’ve come back from a 16-point deficit on the road against the Lakers and 15-point holes at Oklahoma City and Miami in consecutive rounds – would shield the nation from its obsession with the Heat. Not even Dallas’ unblemished record in postseason closeout games – 3-0 during these playoffs, a six-game winning streak overall – would stop folks from Northeast Ohio to North Carolina to Northern California from standing at the water cooler (or the modern-day version of it, Twitter) and saying, “Do you believe it?!?!? LeBron lost!”

So what’s going to happen? What’s my prediction? Same as it was before the series started: Mavs in seven. So if I’m right, the only force of nature that can delay the conflicting analysis of one team’s accomplishment viewed through the prism of another’s failure is – appropriately enough – the Heat themselves.
Posted on: May 31, 2011 9:42 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2011 10:15 pm
 

Stern: Will be 'challenge' to avoid lockout

MIAMI – NBA owners and players will meet Wednesday for a “full-blown bargaining session” in the hopes of gaining momentum toward a new collective bargaining agreement before a lockout is imposed July 1, commissioner David Stern said Tuesday night.

In his annual pre-Finals media address, Stern said it will be a “challenge” for both sides to move off their current positions in time to avert a work stoppage, the threat of which already has begun damaging the business.

“The question is whether the owners and the players will be bold enough to do what has to be done here to keep this sport on the tack that it is on now, which is straight up,” Stern said.

Two bargaining sessions already had been scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday in Dallas during the Finals, but Wednesday’s session in Miami was added after the National Basketball Players Association introduced what Stern described after his media address as a new “concept” last week. Stern described the status of negotiations as a “give and take,” and said the players haven’t submitted a formal counterproposal to the owners’ revised proposal, which was handed over in April.

"We told the players and the owners to bring their negotiating talents to South Beach," Stern said.

Stern said the players’ new proposed concept addressed one of the key issues the owners are trying to resolve in their efforts to vastly change the financial landscape of the sport in favor of the owners. Asked after his media address if the players’ new concept moved the negotiating needle, Stern said, “We have a deal that nothing moves the needle until the moved the needle is moved. We have no agreement on anything until there’s agreement on everything.”

During a Q&A with assembled media before Game 1 between the Heat and Mavericks, Stern declined to offer a percentage chance of a lengthy lockout. He also was asked to compare his feelings on that topic to how he felt during All-Star weekend in February.

“I can’t answer that,” Stern said. “I don’t even want to make guesses, because I know that both sides will make their best offers before the lockout – because if they don’t, then there’s going to be a lockout that would be destructive to our business from the owners’ perspective and the players’ perspective.”

Progress made last week in a small negotiation session in New York was “encouraging enough that we think tomorrow is time well spent and we think the two days next week will be well spent," Stern said.

Asked after his media address why he’s so confident a worse deal would be struck after July 1, Stern said, “Because the damage gets to be intense from our perspective. We know the deal can get worse.”

Asked for whom it would become worse, Stern said, “For the players. And to us, the deal will get worse for the owners. So we’ve got to decide to focus fully on how bad it will be after July 1. So June 30 is a really important date.”

Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver were asked several times about whether a new CBA would require a team like Miami – with three stars on the books for $46 million next season – to be broken up. The owners have proposed a $45 million hard cap to replace the current soft-cap/luxury tax system. Their revised proposal offered to phase in those changes over a two-year period, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told CBSSports.com. But the union viewed that offer as not much of an offer, since such drastic changes would have to be phased in by definition without across-the-board salary cuts, which the players will never accept.

Pressed on the issue of what happens to the Heat in a new CBA, Stern said after his address, “That hasn’t really been addressed. But I would expect (the team) to be together. I hope so.”

But at one point, Silver made a comment that is expected to rankle the Heat stars and other top-tier players in an attempt to explain the economics of why owners believe the current system is broken.

“Costs have risen much faster than revenues over the course of this deal,” Silver said. “… At the same time, non-player costs are growing at a much higher percentage, and the built-in increases of our contracts are much higher than inflation and the growth of our business. For example, the three key players on the Heat all have 10.5 percent per year increases built into their deals for next year, at a point when revenues in our business are growing somewhere around 3 percent. It’s a broken system.”

When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh get wind of that comment, they could become as emboldened about fighting the owners as they were at All-Star weekend in Dallas in 2010. At that time, 10 All-Stars – including James and Wade – attended a bargaining session and were incensed that an NBA team executive had made derisive comments about them in telling CBSSports.com that owners had the upper hand in the negotiations.

“If they don’t like the new max contracts, LeBron can play football, where he will make less than the new max,” the team executive said at the time.“Wade can be a fashion model or whatever. They won’t make squat and no one will remember who they are in a few years.”

In decrying the collectively bargained contracts Miami’s Big Three signed, Silver was taking aim at the team – and the three players – who were most responsible for the NBA’s astronomical increases in TV ratings and worldwide fan interest that is culminating with the Finals that tipped off Tuesday night.

The countdown to a real and important deadline to keep that momentum going is very much under way.
Posted on: May 31, 2011 7:43 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2011 9:48 pm
 

Source: No tampering complaint from Cavs yet


MIAMI -- In addressing the media 45 minutes before tipoff of LeBron James' first NBA Finals game with the Heat Tuesday night, commissioner David Stern is prepared for an abundance of labor questions and also, an inquiry that has particular relevance to this series: What happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers' plans to investigate possible tampering charges related to James' decision to sign with Miami?

There isn't much to address yet, according to a person with detailed knowledge of league operations who told CBSSports.com that no formal complaint has been filed.

"The answer is no," the person said.

In his annual pre-Finals media address Tuesday night, Stern said he has not received any correspondence from the Cavs or their legal representatives. Asked after his Q&A with reporters before Game 1 if he considers the matter closed, Stern said, "It was never open."

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert declined to comment Tuesday night on his team's ongoing legal probe.

In December, Yahoo! Sports reported that Gilbert had hired a law firm to build a possible tampering case against Miami, which signed James and Chris Bosh as free agents to pair with Dwyane Wade last July. The fruits of LeBron's decision are on full display, with the Heat advancing to the Finals against the Mavericks after running through the Eastern Conference playoffs by beating the 76ers, Celtics and Bulls.

At the time, Gilbert was incensed by meetings that involved high-level representatives of James and Wade in Chicago last June, when they were still under contract with their teams. Also, published reports indicated that James was involved in a meeting with Heat president Pat Riley and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan last November during a Cavs trip to Miami. That report came from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which also reported in July that Wade and Bosh flew to Akron to meet with James at his home a month earlier -- before the beginning of free agency July 1.

Stern has previously defended players' rights to discuss future plans among themselves, but stated during a playoff appearance in Philadelphia last month, "If there was tampering that someone could prove, that would make my blood boil.”  
 
The NBA does not investigate possible instances of tampering without a formal complaint from a team.
Posted on: May 23, 2011 2:36 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2011 2:55 pm
 

ESPN stands behind Rose interview on PEDs

MIAMI – ESPN the Magazine stands “firmly” behind its representation of Derrick Rose’s response to a question about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the NBA, editor in chief Gary Belsky said in a statement provided Monday to CBSSports.com.

Belsky also revealed that the interview with Rose, published May 16, was conducted by a “contributing reporter” six months ago. In the piece, Rose purportedly was asked, on a scale of 1-10, how big of a problem illegal enhancing was in his sport. Rose responded, “Seven. It’s huge,” but issued a statement Sunday saying he didn’t recall answering or being asked that question. If that was his response, Rose said, he clearly “misunderstood what was asked of me.”

“‘Scale of 1-10’ is an ongoing project in The Magazine, for which a group of contributing reporters routinely ask athletes in various sports a series of questions about all manner of topics,” Belsky said in the statement provided to CBSSports.com. “On Nov. 26, 2010, one of these contributors interviewed Derrick Rose before a Bulls-Nuggets game in Denver, and while we firmly stand by our representation of Derrick’s response to our question about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in his sport, only he can speak to his understanding of the question and the intent of his answer.”

For a feature in the May 16 issue of the magazine, Rose was one of several professional athletes asked, on a scale of 1-10 with one being, “What are PEDs?’” and 10 being, “Everybody’s juicing!” how big of a problem is illegal enhancing in your sport? Rose’s response:

"Seven. It's huge and I think we need a level playing field, where nobody has that advantage over the next person."

After the comment began circulating online Sunday, hours before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Bulls and Heat, Rose issued a statement disavowing his response and what he was asked.

"Regarding the quote attributed to me in ESPN The Magazine, I do not recall making the statement nor do I recall the question being asked," Rose said in a statement released by the Bulls. "If that was my response to any question, I clearly misunderstood what was asked of me. But, let me be clear, I do not believe there is a performance enhancing drug problem in the NBA.”"

Bulls spokesman Tim Hallam told CBSSports.com that Rose told him he would “never say anything like that.” Sources said Rose may have thought he was being asked how important it was for sports to be PED-free. A person close to Rose told the Chicago Tribune Sunday that Rose believed he was being asked, "How big of a problem would it be if steroid use were rampant in the NBA?"

League officials were made aware of the matter and decided to take no disciplinary action against Rose, an NBA spokesman told CBSSports.com Monday.

Though the comment was printed more than a week ago – and, as it turns out, generated from an interview conducted almost six months ago -- it did not begin widely circulating online until Sunday morning. Other athletes were polled for the magazine piece, including baseball player Andruw Jones (who gave his sport a five), and NFL player James Laurinaitis (who ranked his sport as a seven on the 1-10 scale.)

ESPN the Magazine did not reveal the identity of the contributor in its statement. The piece did not carry a byline.

Asked about Rose’s comments, Heat star Dwyane Wade said Sunday, “Haven’t seen nothing, haven’t heard nothing.” Asked if there’s a steroid problem in the NBA, Wade said, “No. I just don’t think there is. It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced in basketball. Never seen it. It’s nothing that I think takes place.”

NBA players are subject to four random drug tests between Oct. 1 and June 30, and can be tested more frequently if an independent expert rules that reasonable cause exists.
Posted on: May 22, 2011 2:16 pm
Edited on: May 22, 2011 6:17 pm
 

Rose denies saying PEDs 'huge' problem

MIAMI – Derrick Rose may not have been clear what he was being asked when he told a reporter from ESPN The Magazine that performance-enhancing drugs are a “huge” problem in the NBA.

"Regarding the quote attributed to me in ESPN The Magazine, I do not recall making the statement nor do I recall the question being asked," Rose said Sunday in a statement released by the Bulls. "If that was my response to any question, I clearly misunderstood what was asked of me. But, let me be clear, I do not believe there is a performance enhancing drug problem in the NBA.”"

For a feature in the May 16 issue of the magazine, Rose was one of several professional athletes asked, on a scale of 1-10 with one being, “What are PEDs?’” and 10 being, “Everybody’s juicing!” how big of a problem is illegal enhancing in your sport? Rose’s response:

"Seven. It's huge and I think we need a level playing field, where nobody has that advantage over the next person."

Bulls spokesman Tim Hallam told CBSSports.com that Rose told him he would “never say anything like that.” Sources said Rose may have thought he was being asked how important it was for sports to be PED-free. A person close to Rose told the Chicago Tribune Sunday that Rose believed he was being asked, "How big of a problem would it be if steroid use were rampant in the NBA?"

League officials were made aware of the matter Sunday and were looking into it. 

Though the comment was more than a week old, it did not begin widely circulating online until Sunday morning – hours before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Bulls and Heat, and after Rose and the rest of the Bulls had completed the media availability prior to shootaround at American Airlines Arena. As reporters were gathered in the interview room for sessions with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade, a post by IamaGM.com began making the rounds on various smartphones in the room.

Other athletes were polled for the magazine piece, including baseball player Andruw Jones (who gave his sport a five), and NFL player James Laurinaitis (who ranked his sport as a seven on the 1-10 scale.) It is not clear which ESPN the Magazine reporter conducted the interview with Rose; the piece did not carry a byline.

Asked about Rose’s comments, Wade said Sunday, “Haven’t seen nothing, haven’t heard nothing.” Asked if there’s a steroid problem in the NBA, Wade said, “No. I just don’t think there is. It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced in basketball. Never seen it. It’s nothing that I think takes place.”

We may not hear from Rose on his comments until the media access period prior to Game 3 Sunday night, so stay tuned.

NBA players are subject to four random drug tests between Oct. 1 and June 30, and can be tested more frequently if an independent expert rules that reasonable cause exists.
Posted on: May 16, 2011 6:31 pm
Edited on: May 16, 2011 9:44 pm
 

To stop Rose, Heat may need big change at point



CHICAGO – The Heat convened for practice Monday on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus with a big problem on their hands. That problem was named Derrick Rose, who was hunkered down with coach and film junky Tom Thibodeau at the Bulls’ practice facility 45 miles away.

By the time I arrived at the Berto Center in Deerfield, Ill., Rose was seated in the corner of the practice floor next to Thibodeau, deeply entrenched in another video session. They watched, they gestured, they scratched their chins as they dissected everything the Bulls did wrong in Game 1.

To the outside observer, that wasn’t much. Chicago has a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals because Rose played a nearly perfect second half, and because the defensive attention he commanded allowed the Bulls to dominate the offensive boards in a 103-82 victory Sunday night. The team with the problems, and with the adjustments to make in Game 2, is Miami.

“They’ll do different things, put different players on him, adjust coverages,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to be ready to handle that.”

Although Rose had only two shot attempts within five feet of the basket in Game 1, the defensive attention he attracted left the Heat vulnerable on the boards. The Bulls used this advantage to corral 19 offensive rebounds, which they converted into 31 points. That was the difference in the game, delivered mostly by Rose and the way he forced the Heat to play him.

“Any way you can get an offensive rebound, they got them,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, downplaying Rose’s impact on the Bulls’ huge night on the glass. “It wasn’t necessarily about Rose’s penetration.”



But the Heat’s disadvantage is more pronounced when they play with a true point guard on the floor: starter Mike Bibby or backup Mario Chalmers. This has been Spoelstra’s overwhelming preference, as nine of his 10 most-used lineups during the regular season featured a point guard, according to 82games.com. (If you count Eddie House as a point guard, it’s 19 of Miami’s 20 most-used lineups.)

With Rose being the single most important player for the Heat to contain, Spoelstra is in a quandary as he considers making what would be the most significant tactical adjustment of the series: going for longer stretches without Bibby or Chalmers on the floor. This bigger lineup would feature LeBron James initiating the offense and guarding Rose on the defensive end, which would limit the amount of traps and double teams the Heat have to deploy. Dwyane Wade would be at the other wing, with floor-spacer James Jones at small forward and Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh up front.

Spoelstra only used this configuration for 40 minutes this season, counting regular season and playoffs – and 30 of those minutes have come during the postseason, according to adjusted plus-minus guru Wayne Winston. It’s impractical for Spoelstra to play the majority of the game that way, but in proper doses and in the right situations, this bigger lineup with James at the point (or Wade, for that matter) would solve three of the biggest problems that imperiled Miami in Game 1.

First, a bigger, stronger defender would be able to limit Rose’s penetration and bother his jump shot without overloading the floor with help. Staying at home defensively would give Miami a better chance to keep the Bulls from dominating the offensive boards, and a better defensive rebounding performance would ignite the Heat’s transition game – or, at the very least, get them into their offensive sets faster, before Chicago’s disciplined defense has a chance to get set.

Aside from how long Spoelstra is willing to play with Jones instead of James guarding Luol Deng, the key factor in deploying this strategy is James’ willingness to give up scoring opportunities while being more of a facilitator on the offensive end and also embracing the challenge of guarding Rose.

“It doesn’t matter,” James said Monday. “I’ve guarded all five positions throughout this regular season and postseason. Whatever it takes for us to win. If it means guarding Rose from the start and playing more point guard, I’m up to the task.”

One Eastern Conference coach familiar with both teams agreed that playing James at the point with Jones at small forward is “feasible,” but added, “Not full time.” One problem is Jones’ defensive matchup against Deng, who scored 21 points including 4-for-6 shooting beyond the 3-point arc Sunday night with James guarding him. The other issue is whether James has enough quickness to check Rose, and how he would handle defending pick-and-roll situations.

To that extent, Wade could defend Rose some of the time, with James on Keith Bogans or Ronnie Brewer. And whatever problems this presented defensively, the Heat would more than make up for it by putting tremendous perimeter pressure on the Bulls’ defense. With James and Wade penetrating from either wing, they’d have options: kicking out to each other, to Bosh on a pick-and-pop, or to Jones for an open 3-pointer. This way, Miami would steal Chicago’s offensive momentum and force the Bulls to come up with something to counter it.

In 30 minutes of floor time during the playoffs, the lineup of James, Wade, Jones, Bosh and Anthony has performed 20 points better than average, when adjusted for the strength of the opponent, according to Winston. That’s only slightly better than the plus-19 rating for 73 minutes with Bibby instead of Jones. When Chalmers plays with those players instead of Bibby or Jones, the Heat have played 30 points better than average during a 75-minute stretch.

The first step in Spoelstra’s tactical adjustment will be to play Chalmers more than Bibby when he goes with a true point guard on the floor. With Chalmers on the floor during the playoffs, the Heat have played 12 points better than average and only three points better than average with Bibby.

If that doesn’t work, look for Spoelstra to step up his experimenting with a bigger lineup featuring James and Wade as co-facilitators on offense and co-Rose-stoppers on D. As I've said before, the Heat should’ve played without a true point guard more often during the regular season – a look that would’ve made better use of their transition and off-the-dribble skills – so it wouldn’t be such a significant adjustment now.

But like LeBron said: Whatever it takes. And it might just take an unorthodox approach to beat a team like the Bulls, and to stop a disruptive force like Rose.
Posted on: May 11, 2011 1:27 pm
Edited on: May 11, 2011 1:53 pm
 

Big Hurt: End of the line for a legend

MIAMI – The end comes fast sometimes, and Shaquille O’Neal has reached it. Just like that, on a sunny Wednesday morning in South Florida, one of the giants of the game arrived at the finish line. Or rather, the finish line arrived at him.

Shaq didn’t retire Wednesday or suffer some unmistakably career-ending injury. There was no farewell news conference, no roast in a fancy banquet hall somewhere. But Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who’d hoped against hope that one of the best centers who ever lived might give him something – anything – in this playoff series against the Heat, said the words that needed to be said. They are the words that no legend wants to hear, words that no coach wants to have to muster the courage to say. But Rivers said it, right there in front of a black curtain in a staging area of American Airlines Arena, in the hours before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In so many words, Rivers said Shaq is done. Finished. Can’t play anymore. One of the last true post-up centers still roaming the Earth has reached the end. Through nobody’s fault but Father Time’s, Rivers had to admit Wednesday that the Celtics’ experiment with the Big Shamrock was a Big Failure.

“Yeah, there’s just nothing he can do,” Rivers said. “It’s not like he’s not trying. I told our team that yesterday. He’s done everything you possibly can do to get healthy. Unfortunately for him, he just hasn’t been able to do it. When he was originally injured, no one even thought it was that serious. … I think I remember saying it was no big deal, that he’d be back in four or five days. But it just never healed and it still hasn’t, and now every time he plays, it gets worse. There’s just nothing you can do about it, and we haven’t, really.”

And with that, an admission from Rivers that the Celtics have given up hope that any more treatment or hours on the exercise bike will make a difference. In all likelihood, O’Neal logged the last 12 minutes of his career in this series, scoring one basket, grabbing no rebounds, and committing four fouls. Like the last living member of a species facing extinction, O’Neal propelled himself forward until he literally could not move anymore.



It is not the first time Rivers, one of the great protectors of players and their egos in the coaching business, has had to deliver such grim news. 

“I had Patrick Ewing in his last year in Orlando, and I played with him,” Rivers said. “And I was the coach telling him, ‘We’re not going to play you anymore.’ That’s an awful position, because what makes them great is their pride. Even when they’re barely walking, in their minds they still think they can actually change the outcome of a game. And sometimes you have to be the one to tell them they can’t. And that’s very tough.”

After 19 seasons, O’Neal, 39, has one year left on a $1.4 million player option for next season. On a steady decline since his last productive season in 2008-09 with Phoenix, it is difficult to imagine O’Neal earning that money on the court. For an icon of his stature, pride and going out with dignity mean more than a seven-figure pay day – especially if you’ve already made close to $300 million in your career, not to mention hundreds of millions in endorsement money.

“You can never take away anything he’s done in this game as a champion, the way he set the blueprint for guys like Dwight Howard on and off the court,” said Dwyane Wade, who shared the 2006 NBA title with O’Neal. “He’s a living legend. It’s unfortunate you get to a point in your career where you have to be hawked by injuries.”

The guy sitting next to Wade at the interview table played one season with Shaq, and also had his differences with the big fella. When I asked Wade and LeBron James to weigh in on this being the end of the line for one of the NBA’s greats, James put his head in his hands offered silence. After Wade volunteered to go first – “Since I played with him first,” he said – James also took a crack at summing up one of the most dynamic figures the NBA has ever seen.

“Talk about someone who does it on both sides of the floor, and on and off the court, he did it as far as using his personality to get out to the world,” James said. “He made fans believe they were one with him. … If he was a complete stranger and you saw how big he was, you wouldn’t be afraid to go talk to him because you saw how likeable he was and how his personality was, how outgoing he was. Definitely like D-Wade said, he laid the blueprint for a lot of people, not only on the court, but off the court. Still to this day, he’s still a great person and it’s unfortunate, like D-Wade said, when you get to a point in your career where you have injuries.”

Whatever happens to the Celtics, Rivers said Shaq should “walk away for the summer and then decide what he wants to do.” But O’Neal has reached the point where the decision is out of his hands. Time stands still for no one, no matter how many championships (four), All-Star appearances (15), or nicknames (countless) he has.

“I just know that this has been emotionally draining to him, more than you guys would know,” Rivers said. “He feels awful about this because this is why he came here, to get to the playoffs and then play in the playoffs. And then not being able to do that has really hurt him.”

At training camp in Newport, R.I., many months and miles ago, O'Neal recalled his offseason phone calls to the Celtics' Big Three before signing with Boston.

"I basically was like, 'Help me help you,'" O'Neal said. "So I'm gonna help them get two and I'm gonna get five."

A few weeks later, in the locker room at Madison Square Garden, O'Neal declared the era of the dominant center a thing of the past.

"The days of Patrick Ewing and Rik Smits and Kevin Duckworth and Robert Parish, those days are over," O'Neal said. "Thanks to me.”

It turns out he was right, though a few months early. 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com