Chris Paul’s time as a starting point guard is over

Chris Paul is gonna have to get used to coming in off the bench

On Wednesday evening, Bleacher Report insider Chris Haynes’ report that the Suns were prepared to waive point guard Chris Paul before a June 28 deadline which would guarantee his entire $30 million salary for the next season triggered a fury of interest in the 38-year-old. Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski later followed up Haynes’ report with context that made it sound like Paul could return next season, but the tea leaves are signaling Paul’s exit.

A year ago, Paul was the second-oldest player to lead the league in assists and the Suns owned the NBA’s best record. This season, he reached new depths in scoring and his efficiency plummeted to levels not seen since his final, injury-riddled season in Houston.

Paul staved off vegetable mode after a diet and a new lease on his career revitalized him after he was traded from the Rockets in 2019. Unfortunately, the chances of a second bounce-back campaign during a season in which he’ll turn 39 is a pipe dream. CP3’s May-December partnership with Devin Booker saw him become a third wheel to Booker and Kevin Durant once KD came aboard. Paul maxed out his abilities, but time has caught up to him.

Paul was never a mutant athlete. He’s a quick, but stocky, diminutive, and cerebral playmaker at his best. In his mid-30s he has become more cantankerous than ever, but balanced out his moodiness with wisdom and an antediluvian midrange game. However, the cork is off the Vino-Paul era.

Paul can still generate offense through his Einstein-level basketball IQ and offensive puppeteering, but his body is breaking down quicker than toilet-fermented prison wine. If Paul is indeed turning up the bass on his title-chasing, he shouldn’t be a full-time starter. The early frontrunner for Paul’s services are the Lakers and Clippers. By reuniting with his banana crewmate LeBron James, the Lakers would have the league’s top Street Clothes All-Star trio.

In 2023, James missed nearly 30 games and Davis sat for over two dozen, including a series of bruises and bumps that sent him to the locker room wincing in pain three times a week. Despite his postseason struggles, D’Angelo Russell back is a superior player at this phase of his career.

Could CP3 finish out his career in Miami?

Ironically, Miami was on the short list of teams with whom Paul shared a mutual interest the last time he was team-hunting, but the Thunder, Paul, and Heat’s negotiations stalled out. Who knows how differently recent playoff history would have played out if Paul was a component within that testy Heat locker room? Maybe he’d find kindred spirits within Heat Cult-ure. Or he would have developed animus towards Butler just as he has before with James Harden, Blake Griffin, Doc Rivers, and DeAndre Ayton. There is no in-between.

In place of Paul, the Heat traded for 35-year-old Kyle Lowry during the summer of 2021 and inked him to an $85 million contract that they already regret. Toward the end of this season, Lowry was benched for Gabe Vincent. How much Paul can contribute to a contender is an offseason conundrum for interested general managers to consider, but the Heat are one team who won’t have room for Paul in a crowded backcourt. His tempo-paralyzing brand of floor generaling at his advanced age isn’t worth the risk of paralyzing their offensive continuity.

If Paul has indeed entered the title-chasing portion of his career, his path could lead him back to a desperate ClipperLand, but the idea of adding a Fabergé egg to a Kawhi Leonard and Paul George feels like entrusting a bull to managing a china shop. Clippers president Lawrence Frank just made this mistake with an injury-prone John Wall, and they’ve bought stock in Russell Westbrook. Doubling down on Paul would be a drunken mistake. Relocating Boston isn’t happening unless they want to make Paul the first player-coach since Dave Cowens and demote Joe Mazzulla to assistant coach. The Celtics are more likely to tinker with a younger true point guard to stabilize their offense in ways Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart couldn’t.

Paul’s best shot to start? Memphis could be in the market for a mentor and temporary starter while Ja Morant is on leave, but Tyus Jones is a reliable backup and it’s doubtful that Paul is mentally prepared to embark on the mentoring stage of his career.

Paul is one of the nonpareil point guards in league history when healthy, but his Hall of Fame peers don’t reflect. John Stockton started three seasons between the ages of 38 and 40. He set the gold standard by playing in all 82 games three times, averaging double-digit points, and distributing more assists than any player after his age-37 season. However, Stockton’s 11 and 8 is the absolute peak. Paul’s injury woes are a factor in his limited production.

Could CP3 follow in Steve Nash’s footsteps?

If Paul accepts an offer from the Lakers, the final years of his 30s may closely resemble another Phoenix point guard who pursued a title in L.A. a decade ago. During his final season in Phoenix in 2012, Nash played 62 games, logged more than a dozen points per night, and became the oldest player to lead the league in assists at the age of 37. By the time Nash suited up for L.A. in 2013, he was plagued by a back injury L.A., averaging fewer than seven assists and 13 points per contest. In his final season, Nash played sparingly.

Paul is also 500 assists from surpassing Jason Kidd for second place all time. Catching Kidd is doable if he could match his production and play approximately 70 games, but if his gifts continue to evaporate at the pace a 38-year-old Kidd’s did, the bar may have to be lowered.

Kidd started only 48 games the year after he played a pivotal role in Dallas’ surprising championship run, saw his minutes drastically cut, his assist-to-turnover ratio hit rock bottom, and his shooting percentages went into a freefall. Sound like anyone? There’s not a single instance of a point guard of Paul’s stature making a positive impact during their age-38 season. Paul’s resurgence is less likely. If anything, he’s likely to stumble even further down the cliff.

Michael Jordan averaging 20 points and five helpers during his inaugural season as a Washington Wizards is the gold standard for a guard at age 38 or above.

In that context, the Phoenix Suns cutting bait makes sense and interested teams should approach with caution. At nearly every stop in his career, Paul has been the franchise savior. The team that signs him next, should regard him as a backup plan and nothing more.

Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex

LSU star Angel Reese’s glow-up continues with cameo in Latto, Cardi B’s new music video

Angel Reese’s cameo in Cardi B’s new music video

LSU women’s basketball phenomenon Angel Reese’s glow-up continued this week, as she made a cameo appearance in Latto & Cardi B’s “Put It On Da Floor Again” music video. Even for a split-second appearance in a grocery store for a rap video, it’s a big deal. It’s a mainstream level of acceptance where her stardom can break through and cater to the masses. Reese appears while Cardi raps the phrase “I’ve been ballin’ so damn hard, could’ve went to LSU” with her arms folded.

Having plenty of friends and family rooting for Maryland, I’ve been seeing Reese’s rise to stardom before her transfer to LSU. She was fantastic in her sophomore season in College Park, but clearly made the right decision for her to enter the portal. As great as Brenda Frese is, there’s no shot Reese would’ve matched this level of publicity by staying in the Big Ten. With the NCAA women’s tournament being much more compelling this season compared to its male counterpart, Reese appears to have leveraged that spotlight as well as anyone. She’s far from the first athlete to make a cameo in a music video for a popular musical act. Michael Jordan appeared in Michael Jackson’s “Jam” and several popular athletes were in MC Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit” including Jerry Rice and Wayne Gretzky.

Reese made headlines for her “taunt” of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark during the NCAA title game, but you know who didn’t have a problem with the display of confidence? Clark, and Reese’s celebratory nature will continue, especially since the Tigers have reloaded with the addition of Louisville transfer Hailey Van Lith this offseason. Reese isn’t going anywhere and that’s a good thing for women’s basketball. 

Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

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Take a deep breath before I reveal a stunning fact, it’s almost June. Some of you were just pulling out the trusty snow blower and now it’s swimsuit season — I hope your diet went better than mine.

With the sports calendar nearly halfway over, there has been a full year’s worth of activity. Take a look back at some of the most notable sports moments from the first half of the year.

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Kirby Smart is sitting on top of the college football mountain in a way that no team has outside of Tuscaloosa. Well, at least since those two years with that team from Los Angeles that the NCAA has declared never happened. The Dawgs won their second-consecutive championship, and did so in dominating fashion.

Georgia lost 15 players to the NFL Draft in April 2022 and did not miss a beat. The Dawgs almost threw up that game in Missouri, but even with that loss, they would have gone to the SEC Championship Game. The rest of the schedule was a wash until New Year’s Eve. Ohio State put on its best performance of the season at Georgia’s second home in Atlanta, but hooked that 50-yard field goal right as the ball dropped in Times Square.

In the National Championship Game Georgia got back to kicking ass with a literal historic 65-7 shellacking of TCU in the title game.

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An MVP candidate during the regular season, but outside of Philadelphia respect was grudgingly granted to him as a star. During the playoffs the Eagles plowed through its opposition using their dominance at the line of scrimmage — and the San Francisco 49ers not having a quarterback physically able to throw a football in the NFC Championship Game.

In the Super Bowl, Hurts went toe-to-toe against arguably the greatest player in the history of the NFL and stuck with him play-for-play. This player — pulled at halftime of a National Championship Game for a true freshman — put the exclamation point on a spectacular season.

Jalen Hurts was one of the two best players in the NFL last season.

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The best player in the NFL. The MVP. While the Kansas City Chiefs were not doubted in the way that Travis Kelce wants the world to believe, there were certainly questions about Patrick Mahomes. Some defensive coordinator really wanted to get something off of his chest when he said that Mahomes played streetball, but also wasn’t chesty enough to put his name on it.

At one time the ABA was considered too playground, but modern NBA players have games much more reminiscent of Julius Erving and George Gervin than John Havlicek and Lou Hudson. The same way that Joe Burrow is far more like Patrick Mahomes than Peyton Manning.

Mahomes took it all last season. The MVP, the championship, and all of the grit points for playing two-and-a-half postseason games with that brutal high-ankle sprain. He is a player of the likes the NFL has never seen and deserves to be respected as such.

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It was a seismic event when 16-seed UMBC defeated 1-seeded Virginia in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The moment that sports fans didn’t think would ever happen, but still waited for with bated breath. That loss was so embarrassing that it served as the ultimate redemption narrative for Virginia’s 2019 championship.

The unthinkable happened again when Purdue lost to Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round. With the transient nature of men’s college basketball, we have come to expect upsets, but this is still only the second time that a 16-seed has advanced. Upsets may be common, but not this one.

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College basketball with actual star power. The National Championship Game was not as competitive throughout as the semifinal matchup between LSU and South Carolina. It was still able to give the sports-viewing public what is uncommon in the modern men’s game, true star collegiate basketball personalities in Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark. That is why this matchup was the highest-rated women’s college basketball game of all time.

Both stars fit hand-in-glove with their programs, and it was obvious the moment that the starters for Reese’s Tigers and Clark’s Hawkeyes were introduced. Clark fired away from behind the arc as best as she could to keep them in the game, but LSU was too much.

There was even a national dog whistle conversation about sportsmanship that followed. Reese and Clark brought the culture wars back to college basketball matchups. For those who pine for the 1980s and 1990s version of college basketball, the women have it for you.

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Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak might be the only record left that is considered unbreakable. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played for 20 seasons and scored 38,325 points in his career. Who would even have the longevity to approach that mark?

Enter LeBron James. His constant greatness from Year 1 to Year 20 allowed him to break the NBA record that no one ever expected to fall. There will always be a debate over who is better between Michael Jordan and LeBron. That record won’t bump Lebron to No. 1 in the minds of most Jordan fans, but it is an undeniable win over His Airness.

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From the Western Conference Finals to trading two starters and a first-round pick for Kyrie Irving and getting fined for tanking after missing the postseason entirely.

Watching the Mavericks struggle with last season’s team — sans Jalen Brunson — was one thing. However, a team unable to string together wins with both Irving and Luka Dončić was downright hilarious. Mark Cuban bet the farm on an unpredictable, undersized scoring guard who might not even re-sign with the Mavericks this offseason. Also, with the Mavericks’ depth weakened, their defense was atrocious. They struggled to stay in front of their own reflection.

The Mavericks got lucky last season when the top-seeded Phoenix Suns imploded during their second-round matchup. This season it was the Mavericks who put the spotlight on themselves with the Irving trade and melted.

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The alleged incidents at first were head-scratching — the fight, the mall, the mysterious laser. All curious, but nothing that could fully be substantiated. Then Morant decided to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt of him being a knucklehead on camera when he flashed a gun not once, but twice on Instagram.

That’s when his safety first started to become a concern, because if anyone is going to suffer the tragic consequences that can come with brandishing a firearm, probability and systemic racism says that it will most likely be a man of Morant’s age and ethnicity.

Now with a wellness check being called for Morant after his cryptic “Bye” social media post, safety is really the only concern for this young man at this point

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In an NBA Playoffs lacking dominant teams, there is one playing 5,280 feet higher than everyone else. That sweep of the Lakers was hard fought, but also a moment when the Nuggets stuck their flag in the ground as the class of the NBA.

When healthy, their starting lineup has been as good as any in the NBA. On a true national stage against the NBA’s most recognizable franchise and face, the Nuggets put on a show. They dominated, they stumbled, they struggled, and through four games forced sports fans all over the world to acknowledge them as a special team.

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That damn hockey. No. 8 seeds advancing is far more common in the NHL than MLB and most certainly the NBA. Still, the Panthers didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the final moments of the regular season.

They then launched the President’s Cup curse at the Boston Bruins like the stinger from Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion. Next up was Canada, and this squad out of South Florida melted the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Back to the states they came to play the Carolina Hurricanes. It took five combined overtimes, for the Panthers to take a 2-0 series. They won again at home 1-0 in Game 3, and the rink in Sunrise, Fla. was rocking on Wednesday night.

The game was another barnburner with the Hurricanes appearing to send the game into overtime by scoring with less than three minutes remaining in regulation. Then came the shot heard ‘round Broward County. The Panthers took the lead on a goal from Matthew Tkachuk with 4.3 seconds remaining in the game.

Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan are the real losers of their feud

Still beefing after all these years

I’m not going to blast Scottie Pippen for blasting Michael Jordan because, frankly, I’m over this bickering. Ever since The Last Dance, Pippen has come off like a jilted child, upset that his abusive father didn’t give him credit for his contributions. And Jordan has more or less kept alpha-dogging his peers well past his playing career to the point that Charles Oakley seems like his only friend left. How else can you explain Pippen’s latest comments?

Pippen said Jordan was a “horrible player” before he got to the Bulls because Jordan was “horrible to play with,” and all but credited his presence as the reason MJ started passing.

The former Robin to Jordan’s Batman doubled down in an Instagram post, cheersing history’s “unsung heroes” but specifically himself. Scottie even twisted the knife, reversing course on his view that Jordan is the GOAT. He hasn’t flipped fully to the LeBron James camp even though he propped up his previous take that LeBron will leave the game as the greatest statistical player ever.

No, he didn’t want to name a GOAT because basketball is a team game, and, oh my god, who gives a shit?

Try relationship counseling

It takes two to systematically erode a bond, and Jordan is as guilty of a party as Pippen. This is two high school has-beens talking about which guy was more responsible for the state championship title. It’s Keith Richards and Mick Jagger squabbling, only if the Rolling Stones stopped touring two decades ago.

It’s unbecoming, embarrassing, and juvenile, and made even more so with age. Jordan is desperately holding onto the glory days as evidenced through his jeans and ’90s jewelry, and Scottie shares a hair stylist with Shaedon Sharpe. A global pandemic was the main reason the MJ doc acted like a nuclear bomb on NBA Twitter, and is the 6 millionth reason why COVID and that time period of history should be wiped from our memories.

Seriously, how long are we going to keep doing this, guys? Are Pippen and MJ going to make Chicago hold two different Bulls championship team reunions like divorced parents celebrating their child’s birthday? I don’t know, but it definitely feels like they don’t want to be in a room with one another.

Pippen and Jordan need to stop trying to flip history in their favor because it’s already been written, and we have enough footage to give everyone their flowers. Both players were fucking great and eons ahead of the game. Unfortunately, the maturation process reversed course sometime in the past five years due to the pair’s unwillingness to move forward.

Their drives made them one of the fiercest duos in NBA history, but you’d think they’d know by now that not everything is a competition. 

Life after greatness: What happens when a sport loses its GOAT?

What do you do once the GOATs are gone?

There’s no denying that GOATs are great for a sport when they’re still active. Michael Jordan, Tony Hawk, and other best-to-ever-do-its pushed their sports to popularity not seen since, but led to fans coming down off a trip so perfect that they were left fiending for the next fix of greatness personified.

We always want to know who’s next in line to take the throne, and more often than not the line of successors is filled with false idols. Sure, the NFL post-Tom Brady is doing fine, but that’s the Shield, and while it, like soccer, is probably immune to Post Traumatic GOAT Syndrome due to sports’ popularity, Patrick Mahomes helps (as does Kylian Mbappe).

If No. 15 wasn’t around, fans would be talking themselves into Josh Allen or Joe Burrow, and those two aren’t on Brady’s block let alone in his city. Mahomes is at least close, which is fortunate for the NFL. When the falloff following a GOAT is so striking, it can send fans into a malaise until a successor proves worthy.

After Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls for good, the NBA dipped into a funk that only LeBron James could help them out of. Adam Silver is facing an oncoming reality without LeBron, and soon thereafter Steph Curry, and that should scare the shit out of him.

I find the post-GOAT dip fascinating for a variety of reasons, but the main one is can a player be too great? At what point does an athlete become so celebrated that they’re bigger than the game? In some instances, when a superstar moves on, so too does some of the fanbase. So with a number of GOATs recently retired, or on their way, now seems like a good time to look at life after greatness.

I don’t know if I’m onto something, or just on something, but indulge me. (Maybe take a gummy, too. I don’t know.)

What happens when a GOAT sets off for greener pastures?

The subsequent years after a GOAT retires are often filled with existential crises for their sports. There’s an inevitable dip in popularity because 20 years of storylines don’t accompany every playoff game, and we’re used to legacy-defining stakes. Think about the best meal you ever ate, sex you ever had, or party you’ve ever attended. Now think of your last meal, romp, and soiree. Congrats to you if one of them was the best, but also, I’m sorry, because now you will measure everything with that standard in mind.

It’s going to take a minimum of five more years for Mahomes to tie Brady’s Super Bowl mark, and that’s assuming he runs off the next five straight. That means we’re not going to get Super Bowls of GOAT-making proportions until 2028, but likely way beyond that because I doubt we get back-to-back 20-year dynasties.

Think about the distance that Brady and LeBron put between themselves and the next guy as far as the record books go. It’s wild. Luka Dončić and Mahomes only need another 15 to 17 healthy and prime or prime-adjacent seasons to get there.

Not every GOAT is created equal, and the level of impact determines the level of PTGD. Because I’m the foremost scientific mind in this made-up field, I separated the GOATs into three tiers — tier one being the entry-level and three being the Master Class — to illustrate the risks of perfection.

GOAT Tier 1

The first tier features players whose records are breakable, and honestly, there are not a lot of those still around for a number of reasons but mostly the lifespan of sports. The UFC has probably had the most GOATs this century, and that’s because MMA’s popularity is new relative to other sports.

Men’s tennis is the other sport this century where the GOAT belt has changed hands a few times. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic each have their own claim to a surface — clay, grass, hardcourt, respectively — and their collective dominance ushered in a Golden Era. Now, it’s on Carlos Alcaraz to follow their acts, but he’s already had a few health issues despite looking like a composite of the Three Musketeers.

There will definitely be a hole left when the last of that trio retires, yet three different guys were able to each hold the Grand Slam record over the span of a few years, so it’s reasonable that Alcaraz or a player to be named later could win more because they won’t be vying with two other peers for hardware. Thus the Tier 1 status for Rafa, Federer, and Djokovic, because their feats feel attainable despite being the standard.

GOAT Tier 2

This is Mount Olympus, with figures so untouchable their true believers will never disavow them. Jordan and LeBron are up here. So is Wayne Gretzky. Whoever tops the list of best baseball players ever is on here even though there isn’t a unanimous GOAT of MLB.

There are patron saints, and their devout followers worship them as if they were GOATs, so Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, etc. technically qualify. Be that as it may, baseball has such a complicated history with stats, and is so team-reliant, that there’s not a discernible path to the top. A lot of the most prestigious records are unbreakable, and all that shows why MLB is hustling backward. (More on that later.)

Tier 2 GOATs are titans of their sports, and leagues want to keep these athletes around for as long as possible. They rewrite the record books season after season, and are always a ratings draw. There’s a reason Brady and LeBron have been the faces of their league’s promos for the past five to 10 years. The sport is more popular when they’re in it, just like the NBA is more popular when the Lakers and Knicks are good.

The retirement of Tier 2 GOATs prompts panic attacks in commissioners, and often the response is to hype up the next logical challenger regardless of the meaning of “generational talent.” There aren’t many other exit strategies because there’s no dressing up “Our biggest name of the past 20 years, maybe ever, is retiring.”

GOAT Tier 3

In niche sports, the star can burn so hot that it turns into a sun and sparks solar systems. When that star goes dark, the sport loses its gravitational pull on the mainstream. Has skateboarding ever been as popular since Tony Hawk’s 900? As much as he sucks, Shaun White’s gold medal runs at the Olympics were probably the peak for snowboarding. He’s retired (good riddance), but it’s challenging to name another pro snowboarder.

Golf and tennis will never fall out of the mainstream like extreme and/or Olympic-specific sports because too many rich people regularly pick up a racket or a driver. (They ski, too, but not as many.) I bring up those country club activities because Tiger Woods and Serena Williams are so incredibly popular that it’s going to take years, decades, maybe longer to replace the viewership those two routinely brought, and in Woods’ case kind of still brings, to major tournaments.

They were physically and mentally stronger than the field, and dominated in a way that made good players look like hacks in comparison. Combine that with their ability to cross racial barriers few, if any, Black athletes in tennis and golf did before them, and you get demigods that go by one name.

Tier 3 GOATs lead to golden ages, and if not golden ages, at least the most public and profitable eras of those sports. Muhammad Ali is a Tier 3 GOAT. There are a lot of reasons why boxing isn’t what it used to be, but one of the main factors in its downfall is that nobody fights each other when they should. It’s hard to have a pound-for-pound greatest when the gloves can’t speak for themselves.

You never want fans reminiscing over “When such-and-such sport was still great” like they talk about the Rumble in the Jungle, the Tiger Slam, or either Serena Slams. A lot of times it’s obvious when a sport is peaking, and that kind of high leaves leagues chasing something that will never be duplicated again.

When the greatest of all time isn’t replicable

Human empathy and emotion have thrust pitcher safety to the forefront of baseball’s mind, which is great. It’s also preventing guys from ever coming near the records that would vault them into GOAT territory. Statisticians can serve spin rate and exit velocity all they want, but records for complete games and wins, among others, make chasing history impossible. The pursuit of ultimate, unquestioned greatness is the most magnetic storyline in sports, and when that theater is eliminated, it’s hard to regain a hold over fans.

The GOAT-est of accomplishments is the home run record. Barry Bonds holds both the single-season and career marks, and his vilification has forever tarnished the record books for some. Hammerin’ Hank is still the greatest home run hitter to many baseball historians, and Yankees fans will tell you Aaron Judge is the true regular season home run king. As crotchety and stupid as it sounds to say that questionable bloodlines among certain home run kings have dampened MLB’s popularity and its potential for ever regaining the moniker, America’s Pastime, it’s true.

I’m a known Yankees hater, and even I think Judge’s 2022 season should’ve been a bigger deal and meant more. It didn’t take despite the live look-ins because everything that happened with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Bonds turned fans into cynics.

Do you see the problem?

It’s fairly obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: No one cares about the race to be second (third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh) best.

Longevity is great, but how entertaining is it?

The argument against GOATs is shorter careers, and constantly keeping the product fresh and new. It’s a dumbass argument, which is why leagues placate their GOATs, and we end up getting Roger Clemens and Brady holding franchises hostage while they figure out if it’s finally time to eschew the costumes. The way athletes/GOATs are extending their careers only serves to strengthen leagues’ reliance on them.

If I were Dana White, I’d be a raging lunatic, but I’d also want the UFC GOAT belt to change hands with regularity. Jon Jones’ problems outside of the octagon have left the door ajar for another fighter to reach and surpass his legend in a decade or so, and that’s a valuable asset not every governing body can boast about its sport. (Ditto for the WNBA as its inaugural season was in 1997.)

A lot of the qualifying stats and achievements to become GOAT eligible are so difficult to reach that challengers have a visible limp during the last days of their pursuit. If LeBron plays another three to four years, that’s basically a quarter-century pursuit.

It’s rare for Brady and LeBron to be title worthy at such advanced ages, but in other cases, we’re begging guys to retire for no reason other than letting the sports move on. This is the issue currently facing the PGA with Tiger. He’s still the biggest draw, but as soon as his tournament goes south because the lower half of his body is in shambles, fans tune out.

It’s impossible to move on in any facet of life if you’re still clinging to the past. Letting go is hard, but letting go knowing it will never be that good again is painful — and probably why a lot of athletes have such a difficult time stepping away.

The thirst for who’s next, and ways to juice the system

Alexander Ovechkin is going to break Gretzky’s career goals mark, which is legendary in its own right, and will be the storyline in the NHL’s regular season until it happens. Yet I don’t think he ever got the next Great One vibes like Connor McDavid. The NHL squandered Gretzky’s popularity before he retired, and should be very smart about how they handle the game while McDavid is active.

Brady became the undisputed best QB by his play, and with the help of adjustments to the passing game and player safety. I’m not saying it was a flawless move because there’s been some pushback on the preferential treatment of offenses. If you go by the ratings though, the NFL has never been stronger.

While Gary Bettman might be willing to trade integrity for rules changes and has a veil of safety to hide behind if he made the game more scoring-friendly, he doesn’t have the vision, or the backbone to stand up to puck fanatics. I also don’t know enough about hockey to know if what I’m proposing is even possible, but I think my thought process is sound.

The next best thing rarely pans out to be the best, and is more likely to kick off a spell of mundane or average things that simply happened to follow the best. So, when there’s a candidate for the next GOAT, the powers that be should Americanize the shit of them — be unapologetically capitalistic about marketing, bend the rules to hit the numbers, and rig the system for people who won the genetic lottery.

Fans look for any excuse to dub 16-year-olds the next Jordan — and usually, the excuse is so they can tear them down when they fall short — but the other reason is that they know what it’s like to be a “Witness,” or at least want to be privy to one in their lifetime. Watching history is an incredible feeling, and the more you can pitch that to your fans, and have it be true, the better.

The future of GOAT chasing

Seeing as fans won’t have legit challengers to the unified GOAT belt in any major American sports for another decade-plus, morning shows looking for hot takes have made the arguments more specific. In addition to talking about every 12-0 NFL team’s chances of going undefeated, there’s no shortage of hyperbolic conversations as soon as a stat juxtaposes Friday night’s OT thriller with Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals.

Sports fans will entertain debates like the clutch GOAT, the comeback GOAT, or GOAT dunk contests because of recency bias, but also because they’re within the realm of possibilities. An argument has to be realistic because people only tolerate so much blasphemy, and that’s what it’s like to speak ill of the GOATs. (That doesn’t mean ESPN and league marketers won’t make the case however hollow.)

Judging by the record books, and the length of time it took to write them, sports are about to enter a long, GOATless winter, and I’m fascinated to see what happens in the five to 10 years after Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena, Brady, LeBron, Tiger, Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal.

Athletes are always getting bigger, stronger, and faster, and as much as that boosts sports’ entertainment value, it also levels the playing field. While fans say they want parity, the public loves greatness almost to a fault. Look at all the idiots who jump from team to team following Lebron. What are they going to do when he retires? Latch onto the next guy? Get together and drink Kool-Aid laced with arsenic in a display of devotion?

I’m not saying sports, as a whole, have peaked — that’s a think piece for a different sativa — but we’re a long way away from another wave of athletes approaching certified GOAT-dom, and it’ll be compelling to see how each league moves forward without its North Star.

LeBron James isn’t retiring

He’ll be back

Going to get this in writing real quick just so I can do the sports media thing in a couple of months and say I told you so: LeBron James isn’t retiring. The guy had 40, 10, and 9 in a closeout game, and the Los Angeles Lakers were a second scorer away from the NBA Finals. This is simply a little motivation for the front office to pour a little more dark magic, and a lot more money, into the trade machine. I don’t know who Rob Pelinka will blackmail to do it, but he’ll land someone, and Stephen A. Smith will melt on the set of First Take.

Will LeBron James actually retire? | Agree to Disagree
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Will LeBron James actually retire? | Agree to Disagree

LeBron’s entire marketing campaign this year was him versus Father Time. At one point in Game 4 Jamal Murray got him on a switch, and James locked him the fuck up. We all know he can still play, and he’s going to keep playing because Michael Jordan and his fans have given James an inferiority complex.

LeBron says jump, and ESPN says ‘Woof, woof’

The only reason I’m writing this is because I know it will do traffic, and that’s the only thing that matters to advertisers. Oh, piece of Lakers content. Oh, piece of LeBron content. Oh, piece of “He said retirement?” content.

This is the first time that I can remember James publicly mulling retirement, and he’s been a member of the AARP for long enough to justify whatever you think this is. Whether it’s a petty plea for attention, or legit, I don’t really care because I stopped letting things like this bother me. Carmelo Anthony just called it a career, Chirs Paul is in the process of embalming, and LeBron has to be pondering how ornate he wants his sarcophagus. (My guess is Pyramid of Giza, which is why he’s not retiring.)

Everyone can control how they react, and if you want to question reality, grovel, pontificate, debate, etc. feel free. I’m not going to do that because Bronny is a year away from being an undrafted free agent, and the Lakers were just in the Western Conference Finals. Anthony Davis was playing so well that I was three seconds from jumping headfirst into Big Sur.

Honestly, I don’t even think I’ll get much credit for being right on this. It’s more of a non-story than the couple of instances where Aaron Rodgers teased life after relevance.

So consume all of the Lakers/LeBron/what’s next podcasts that you’d like. It’s a free country for another 18 months, and if you want to spend the last precious moments of unregulated American air begging the King to continue his reign, you won’t be the only one. 

Carmelo Anthony and the top retired NBA players never to win a ring

Carmelo Anthony retired with accolades, but no championship

With Carmelo Anthony’s retirement announcement this week, we thought it’d be fun to look at some of the greatest retired NBA players to never win a ring. It’s a discussion that’s often had, and now Anthony is officially a club member. Besides never winning the ultimate prize, one other thing each of these players has in common is being part of the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team. So, all these players are considered all-time greats regardless of title status.

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Melo announced his retirement earlier this week and left the game as the NBA’s ninth-leading scorer. Anthony was never seen as the best player in the NBA, having played during the LeBron James era, but he was the Association’s most prolific scoring threat at one point and even won a scoring title in 2013 to prove that claim. He never made it to the NBA Finals but led Denver to the Western Conference Finals in ’09, where they lost in six games.

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Charles Barkley is more known for being a talking head at this point than he is for having a stellar NBA career. Barkley’s prime was 30 years ago, but he’s still one of the greatest players to step on an NBA court to not win a championship. Only 39 players in league history have averaged over 22 points per game for their career, and Barkley is one of them at 22.14 ppg. Sir Charles had an 11-year stretch where he never dipped under 20 ppg, and that might not sound like much in today’s era, but he played in an era where teams weren’t averaging 120 ppg in the 1990s.

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The Answer has been called the best little man in the game, and while Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons bad boy) might dispute that, there’s no question Iverson had the most heart of any player during his time in the NBA. Iverson was a four-time scoring champ, three-time steals leader, 11-time All-Star, and the ’96-97 Rookie of the Year. Plus, he was the ’00-01 MVP and a Hall of Famer.

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Here we have one of the few back-to-back MVP winners in NBA history. Nash never seems to get the respect he deserves which is fitting as he barely got it when he played. He’s one of the best pure point guards the Association has ever produced, but Nash was also a phenomenal shooter as he shot just under 43 percent from three-point range over his career. Nash’s coaching career may have fizzled quickly, but he’ll forever be known as one of the most outstanding point guards ever.

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He is one of the forgotten stars of a past era who never seems to get the respect he deserves. Elgin Baylor was the Rookie of the Year in ’58-59 and won the All-Star game MVP that same season. He retired in ’72 and still has the third-highest ppg average in NBA history at 27.2. Today we hear the term “he’s a bucket” thrown around like rice at a wedding, but Baylor really was that. Baylor could score with the best of ‘em but wasn’t quite able to capture a championship despite playing for the Lakers his entire career in Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

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Miller Time was always thrilling, and Reggie did his best to lead the Indiana Pacers for 18 years. While only making one NBA Finals appearance, the Pacers were perennial contenders in the eastern conference while Miller played. But, like many others, he continually ran into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. But Reggie’s legacy was built on memorable moments, not accolades. Like the night he scored eight points in nine seconds against the New York Knicks in the ’95 playoffs. That’s legendary stuff right there.

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Big Pat Ewing was one of the most skilled centers of the 90s but could never capture that elusive NBA title. Despite that, he’s one of the more loved figures of 90s NBA hoops and had a Hall of Fame career. In the deepest era of big men the NBA has ever seen, Ewing was among the best and always had the Knicks in the mix in the east. Like others on this list, he just happened to play in the same era as Jordan.

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Another star of the 90s who was foiled by Jordan not once but twice in the NBA Finals, Malone is still considered one of the best power forwards to ever play the game despite never winning a title. Malone was a 14-time All-Star, 14-time All-NBA selection, two-time MVP, Hall of Famer, and part of the 75th-anniversary team. He’s also third on the all-time scorer’s list and was second for many years before LeBron James passed him.

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Stockton is seen as a bit out there these days but is known as the assist king around the NBA. Stockton was part of one of the greatest, most lethal duos in NBA history while playing in Utah with Karl Malone. He dropped so many dimes that the second-leading assist guy in league history (Jason Kidd) is more than 3,700 assists behind. The closest active player, Chris Paul, is in third place on the all-time list but trails Kidd by nearly 600 as his career winds down. The way basketball has evolved, Stockton may hold that crown for a few more decades.

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They called him the human highlight reel. Anytime you watch a player with that type of nickname, you know you’ll be entertained, at the least. Nique was a nine-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA player. Wilkins is considered one of the top three, if not the best, NBA dunkers of all time. He was never able to reach the NBA Finals but made a significant impact in helping shape the Association in the 80s and 90s. 

Joel Embiid’s play in Game 7 said more than all the pressers in the world


There isn’t really anything Joel Embiid could have said after his Game 7 beer belch that would have made up for it. He could have laid out all the mea culpas in the world, and Sixers fans are going to be pretty sharp eyed and tongued (pardon for making you think about Philadelphian tongues) come next October regardless.

But hey, if he learned nothing else from his coach Doc Rivers, it’s how to make a big enough show to try to distract everyone from the fact that he’s shirking responsibility. Embiid’s presser was mostly trying to get heat off soon-to-be-Rocket James Harden, though there was some pretty flimsy, “It’s up to the gods” bullshit in there as well.

The 76ers blew it

The Celtics and Jayson Tatum were so good in Game 7 that Embiid and Rivers probably couldn’t have done much to swing the tide. Though it might have been nice if it didn’t take Rivers two and a half quarters to figure out they were running over Embiid in every screen and roll and maybe try any other kind of coverage. No, they’ll rue Game 6 when the entire team froze, including Rivers, as Tatum took 40 minutes to locate a shovel to hit a bull in the ass with. They couldn’t get the ball to Embiid at all in the final five minutes then, their offense consisted of letting James Harden think it was still 2018 even though he has all the burst of a snot bubble.

But when you’re Joel Embiid, and not so much winning the MVP but bitching about maybe not winning the MVP, it doesn’t really matter if you’re playing hurt. It doesn’t really matter what you tell the assembled media. You can’t get your ass kicked by Al Horford. You can’t settle for contested jumpers at the nail every time, especially when Harden is either intentionally or unintentionally trolling Sixers fans by passing on every drive into the lane (almost certainly unintentionally because you can’t finish at the rim in traffic when your explosion is on the same level as “popping pimple”). You can’t repeatedly let the shot-clock get down to its nether regions while you and your running buddy dribble into oblivion.

No, you do what Tatum did in Games 6 and 7, which is first pull your team’s ass out of a sling when no one else can and then you grab the series and game by the throat. Embiid just watched it pass him by, as he has every time he’s been in the second round.

Sure, the Sixers probably could use more of a supporting cast around Embiid. Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris were too fleeting, the bench too inconsistent, and their coach frozen in time. But this is the NBA, and the buck always stops with the top guys, especially when he’s toting around the latest Michael Jordan trophy. Shooting 37 percent from the floor in a chance to close out at home and a Game 7 combined ain’t it. And there isn’t a sound bite that’s going to get Embiid out of that.

Edmonton Oilers eliminated by Las Vegas

Maybe if Embiid wants some counsel he can call Connor McDavid. Because he’s used to being let down by the team around him far shorter of where his talent and status dictates he should be playing games. So it came to pass again, as the Oilers were eliminated in six games by the Vegas Knights, who were on their third or fourth goalie, depending on the weather that day.

It was a familiar death by whiff for EdMo, the whiff being provided by Stuart Skinner in net as he was pulled for the third time in the series.

While there will be only a slightly smaller post-mortem and hand-wringing in Northern Alberta than there is in Ontario for the Leafs right now, it isn’t all that complicated. The Oilers by every measure were right there with the Knights for the series. There isn’t much you can do when your goalie puts up a .864 save-percentage over the series. It’s harsh on Skinner, who was very good in the regular season and is hardly the first rookie goalie to crumble under the playoff lights. Perhaps his time is still out there in the future.

The Oilers didn’t get any forward scoring more than two even-strength goals the entire playoffs outside of Draisaitl and McDavid, aside from Nick Bjugstad, their fourth-line center. Same as it ever was.

Every athlete accused of mistreating women is as expendable as a punter

Matt Araiza is still a free agent

I don’t want to offer a silver lining in the Matt Araiza case, because a woman was still allegedly gang raped, and the Punt God’s reported innocence doesn’t lessen the victim’s trauma. However, in the year that it took to conclude the legal matter, did anyone miss Araiza? As much as his leg cannon can flip field position, it wasn’t going to flip the Buffalo Bills’ season, and that’s the biggest reason he missed what would’ve been his rookie year.

“I can only hope that now people will assess me on the facts and not what was falsely claimed in both the civil suit and in the press,” Araiza said, in part, in a statement issued to ProFootballTalk on Tuesday.

Punters are on the field five to (hopefully not) 10 snaps a game, and in the grand scheme of an NFL campaign, no one pined for Araiza. The same can’t be said for Deshaun Watson and Miles Bridges, whose alleged mistreatment of women earned them a year-plus away from their sports. (Watson has denied the allegations. Bridges pleaded no contest to a felony count of injuring a child’s parent in exchange for three years probation and no jail time after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend in front of their two children.) While the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, and Charlotte Hornets were all worse off without their star players, who gives a shit?

Am I supposed to feel bad for Texans, Browns, and Hornets fans? They get their brains stomped in every year, so it was business as usual. Even if it wasn’t, player absences — due to legal matters, injuries, or otherwise — take teams out of contention all the time, and leagues and clubs carry on with bottom lines intact.

The Los Angeles Dodgers sans Trevor Bauer are proof of that, and baseball fans’ apathetic approach to the pitcher’s extended absence should serve as a message to commissioners who act like their hands are tied every time an employee is involved in a dicey sexual or physical assault/mistreatment case. While a court didn’t convict Bauer — who denied the allegations against him — of anything, his purported actions weren’t acceptable in any century of human existence, and he just so happened to be in one that treats shitbags like him like the pariahs they are.

Every pro athlete is expendable

Every pro athlete on this planet is expendable. Sports are entertainment, and the stoppage during COVID showed that society could function without 97 MPH sliders, 75-yard punts, 50-yard scrambles, and rim-rattling alley-oops. Forgive me if I don’t have the energy for people who shout, “What about the falsely accused?”

That sucks, yet I’d still rather err on the side of the alleged victims. I know it’s not the way leagues have typically done things in the past, and the history of women being second-guessed every time they accuse a man of abuse is exactly the point. Mario Batali, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Karl Malone, and countless other scumbags got MeToo’d for a reason. On Tuesday, a jury found the former president of the United States liable for sexually abusing and defaming a woman.

Donald Trump has to pay E. Jean Carroll $5 million as part of the civil suit, but he has slipped out of more than a dozen sexual misconduct accusations, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Trump lost the only one of them determined by a jury.

Well, the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB aren’t beholden to due process or innocent until proven guilty. They could, and should, treat every situation as if the alleged perpetrator is a rookie punter. We’ve now seen an ace, a franchise quarterback, and a borderline all-star miss entire seasons, and none of their corresponding teams got relocated. Sure, Michael Jordan is in talks to sell his majority stake in the Hornets, but that’s likely going to improve the team.

I don’t feel bad for Bills fans, Matt Araiza, or the money he missed out on (but will likely recoup after Tuesday’s revelations). The guy’s job is to kick a ball seven times a Sunday for 17 weeks, yet he’s not the only person who can be reduced to playing with balls for a living.

It’s a privilege, not a right, to be a professional athlete.

Blood, sweat, and bodyslams: 10 moments that defined the Heat-Knicks playoff rivalry

Image for article titled Blood, sweat, and bodyslams: 10 moments that defined the Heat-Knicks playoff rivalry

The Miami Heat and New York Knicks have plenty of bad blood, dating back to the mid-90s. Even 30 years after Pat Riley left New York for Miami, storylines remain between the two teams. Riley is now the Heat’s president, while Tom Thibodeau, an assistant for Jeff Van Gundy, Riley’s successor in New York, is the Knicks’ head coach. Jimmy Butler, the Heat’s best player, was a former mentee of Thibodeau in Chicago. The two share a rich and, at times, contentious past. (“Fuck Thibs … and I like Thibs,” Butler recently told ESPN.) With the Knicks and Heat currently caught in a second-round playoff battle in the East, we’ve highlighted the 10 moments in chronological order that best embody the feud between two teams with no love lost.

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Nobody chronicled the Knicks/Heat rivalry in the 1990s more than Chris Herring in his book Blood in the Garden. Because it’s been so long since the Knicks have been relevant, the book is a great history lesson for younger Knicks fans, ignorant of what the 90s were like when hope was alive. It traces the start of Pat Riley’s tenure with the Knicks way up to his leaving and the magical 1999 Finals run under Riley’s former assistant, Jeff Van Gundy.

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During the 90s, the Knicks’ biggest rival was certainly Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. But after that was the feud between head coach Pat Riley and executive Dave Checketts. In 1991, Checketts, as the Knicks president, recruited Riley to join the team on a five-year contract. But the rivalry soured when Riley wanted more power in the front office, including an ownership stake. The relationship soured, and Riley informed the team he was leaving through a freaking fax. Chaos ensured.

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After leaving New York for Miami, Riley tried to recruit Van Gundy to join him. Van Gundy refused, choosing to stay in New York, a decision that forever endeared him to Knicks fans. In a dastardly move, Riley instead hired Van Gundy’s brother, Stan, who would first serve as Riley’s assistant before going on to coach the Heat from 2003-2005. The elder Van Gundy was fired by Miami in 2005, the year before Riley would return as coach, winning the franchise its first NBA Championship in 2006.

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“I feel he’s a turncoat and a traitor, and basically we don’t need him since we’re still doing well without him,” those were the words of a fan when interviewed by then MSG Network broadcaster Michael Kay before Riley’s return to MSG as the Heat’s head coach. It was a sentiment shared by many New Yorkers then and now. During that first game, Riley blew kisses, and waved at the crowd like a true heel.

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As Georgetown Hoya legends, Alonzo Mourning and Patrick Ewing had developed a friendship as two of the NBA’s most dominant centers to emerge from the university’s storied big-man basketball system. With the two centers anchoring the two toughest, most brutal teams in the NBA, the storyline presented itself as a must-see heavyweight match anytime the two faced off, especially in the playoffs.

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In the 1997 playoffs, the Knicks took a 3-1 series lead against Miami, putting New York in position for a postseason rematch with Jordan and the Bulls. Until a wrestling match broke out in the final seconds of the Heat’s Game 5 win, when Heat center PJ Brown, the Knicks’ public enemy No. 1, bodyslammed Knicks point guard Charlie Ward into a row of photographers stated under the basket. For their part, the Knicks were punished with a total of five suspensions, which, at the time, was the most severe penalty in NBA playoff history. Brown was suspended for two games, but Ward, Ewing, Starks, Houston, and Johnson were all sidelined for Game 6. Miami would capitalize on that advantage, recovering from its 3-1 deficit and ending the Knicks’ season.

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The two teams met again in the first round the following year. This time the Knicks had Larry Johnson on the roster, Mourning’s former teammate in Charlotte, a pairing that ended with — you guessed it — bad blood. Things came to a head when the Knicks were seconds away from evening up the best-of-five series at 2 games apiece when the two former Hornets got into a brawl for the ages, best remembered for the iconic image of Van Gundy wrapping himself around Mourning’s leg in a futile attempt to stop the fight.

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In 1999, the Heat and Knicks met again. This time the Heat entered the series as the No. 1 seed, with the Knicks making a Cinderella run to end the season, backing into the playoffs at No. 8. In the final seconds, Knicks star guard Allan Houston hit the biggest shot in franchise history, making history for the Knicks as the second No. 8 seed ever to defeat a top-ranked team in NBA playoff history. “The Shot” embodies that Knicks team’s heart in its improbable and history-making run to the Finals.

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Thanks to 41 points from Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks snapped an NBA-record 13-game postseason losing streak in the first round of the 2013 playoffs by beating the Miami Heat, 89-87, in Game 4. For many fans who started watching after 2001, it was the first playoff win they saw, and to make it even sweeter, it came on the back of a scoring rampage from Anthony, the team’s best player between 2000 and 2020. The Knicks, though, would go on to lose that series in five games. But at least they snapped the streak, and no punches were thrown.

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The Knicks and Heat are currently fighting it out in a renewed rivalry between the two clubs. Riley is still the orchestrator of the current Heat roster, led by playoff superstar Jimmy Butler, the one-time pupil of Thibodeau. While at press time the Heat lead the Knicks 3-1, every game has been a knock-down, drag-out fight between two teams that prefer to keep the score under 100 points. Regardless of this year’s outcome, there is hope, with both franchises relevant at the same time, that it won’t be another decade before these squads meet up in the playoffs again. And if history is any indicator, they’ll be back to brawling before long.