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LeBron James ring jokes are out, and here are the other Top 10 things I learned from this NBA season:
1. Humility still works as a motivator. James and the Heat losing the Finals last season was the best thing that could have happened.
Titles aren't bestowed upon great players. They must be earned. Yes, James took a shortcut by teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but the Heat earned this title. They were behind in every series. I thought they looked beat after going down 2-1 to the Pacers. Yet they found the inner resolve to win. Say what you will about the forming of the team, they were a true “team” by the title-clinching game.
2. James is the best right now. His all-around talent has few parallels in the history of the game. I was taken aback when he stood next to Bill Russell and looked virtually the same size. Russell's old, obviously, but at his height he was a pure center. James plays everywhere. In fact, he's forged a new position: Power point guard.
What I like most about James, other than the fact he's balding, is his unselfishness. He forced practically nothing against the Thunder. James' fault has been his “look at me” off-the-court style, a celebrity entitlement attitude. He's the opposite on the court. He loves to pass and set up his teammates. Take out all peripheral garbage. He's a pleasure to watch.
3. Magic Johnson is a fun analyst. There is just something infectious about Magic when he talks. He's over the top, no question. But it's just impressive how he can retain that innocent enthusiasm. He loves the sport and convinces viewers to love it, too. He's not afraid of criticism, but he makes it seem like encouragement. No doubt that's why he was such a tremendous leader as a player.
4. You must take 8.5 steps to be called for traveling (superstars exempt).
5. Youth is still wasted on the young. Oklahoma City should be a contender for the next decade. But their mental toughness was lacking, especially in the game clincher. That's youth. Of course, you'd be in a mental fog, too, if you saw Mike Miller impersonate Larry Bird in the biggest game of the year.
6. Mario Chalmers is the perfect little brother. You love him, but he's so darn irritating you can't help but yell at him. Yet the Heat would not have won the title without him or all the other players willing to fill roles.
7. The Indiana Pacers need a superstar. Name the last NBA team to win a title without a legitimate Top 10 player. You can get back to me on that one. I don't know how the Pacers accomplish this, but until they put a real superstar in the lineup, they'll be what they are now: A playoff team with a ceiling. They had the Heat on the ropes. James and Wade were the difference.
8. Being an NBA coach is the most thankless job in sports. It can be lucrative. But the lasting image of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra isn't any great strategy, but his decision to sport the backward snap cap after the championship. That said, Spoelstra found a way to keep his team focused on the next game every time adversity hit. I much prefer Spoelstra's understated style to the condescension of Phil Jackson.
9. Jeff Van Gundy wants the refs to allow players to “play on” unless there's significant blood or loss of limb. And then, it should be a case-by-case decision.
10. I'd like my son to grow up to be Shane Battier.