As if the NBA playoffs and lead-up to the June 28 draft weren't enough to keep hoops fans satiated this time of year, there's a number of personnel positions in play that are worth monitoring.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Maybe Larry Bird's advice was misunderstood.
In a game that will be remembered mostly for three flagrant fouls, including one blatant cheap shot by Miami deep reserve Dexter Pittman, the Heat reclaimed control of this chippy conference semifinal behind a swarming defense that produced the sort of chaos fast-break points on which Miami thrives.
Let the Dwight Howard hirings begin.
The usual guidelines no longer appear to be relevant. The NBA postseason has become unusually unpredictable. What comes next may no longer be based on what happened before.
INDIANAPOLIS -- All season long, Frank Vogel has hammered home a message, one simple, easy to understand: We're good.
It is the growing sports epidemic of the 21st century, where being the best team in the regular season of any of the four major professional leagues has never meant so little for the postseason. In fact, not only are the trophy cases of such teams likely to be empty at playoffs' end, but these regular season champions are lucky if they get past their first playoff opponent.
LeBron James raised the heavy bronze MVP trophy high above his head Sunday afternoon, a validation of a season well done. No one takes more flak than LeBron these days, but no one played better in these last wild, unpredictable four months than him. He was the best, joining the rarified air occupied by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone as three-time MVP winners. He was the best, which he left no room for doubt of in a brilliant 32-point, 15-rebound, five-assist effort in Miami's 95-86 win over Indiana.
The third-seeded Indiana Pacers enter this second-round series as the clear-cut underdog against the No. 2 Heat. Miami has more playoff experience, the two best players in the series and a home-court advantage made more significant by its NBA-best 31-5 home record through the regular season and first round. Although the Pacers won four straight in their first-round matchup with Orlando after dropping the first game, they frequently allowed an overmatched opponent missing star center Dwight Howard to come back from large deficits. Similar lapses in intensity will be fatal against the Heat, who thrive on swift bursts of momentum.
He was whispering to his son as the weight of the game, the season and his entire career thrust itself down upon him with 2.2 seconds remaining. His son was far away, out of sight, but Andre Iguodala spoke to him all the same.
The Chicago Bulls are grievously outmanned, short on offensive production and thin off the bench. They may not win another game in this series, but the sheer effort they showed in their 77-69 Game 5 victory over the Sixers was pretty inspiring. This was not what you would call a pretty basketball game, but there was something beautiful in the Bulls' resilience, fire and especially their elite defense. Even playing without Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, it's easy to see how this team won 50 games during the regular season.
The Indiana Pacers finally finished one of their first-round playoff games against Orlando with a strong fourth quarter, and put behind them a long process of rebuilding from an ugly era. Tuesday's 105-87 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse gave Indiana its first playoff series victory since 2005 -- the season of the infamous brawl in Detroit.
It wasn't pretty for either team, but the 76ers' 89-82 victory over the Bulls in Philadelphia on Sunday will hold a certain beauty only a defensive-minded team with no superstars can appreciate. After getting manhandled in the series opener, the Sixers pushed the top-seeded Bulls to the brink of elimination with their third straight victory in the series. Philadelphia gritted its way through a low-scoring game, made all the clutch plays down the stretch, and pushed the injury-riddled Bulls -- still searching for a leader after losing Derrick Rose late in the series opener -- into a 3-1 series hole.
The scene was all too familiar. The Bulls led 45-42 with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, firmly in command of Game 3 against the 76ers. They held Philadelphia to just 1-of-10 shooting to start the second half, and following an emotional letdown Tuesday, seemed ready to regain control of the series. They were playing selfless Chicago basketball. They looked every bit the team that went 18-9 without Derrick Rose during the regular season.
The Magic basket used to be protected by the equivalent of a crocodile-infested moat. Then Dwight Howard suffered a back injury and underwent season-ending surgery. What should have been an intriguing matchup has turned into an exhibition for Roy Hibbert.
Yes, Chicago, things have changed with Derrick Rose out for the season. You can claim the goal is still a championship. You can say each player just needs to contribute a little more to make that happen. But when you look at Philadelphia's 109-92 victory Tuesday night, you're fooling yourself if you don't see a completely different first-round series. These weren't the same Bulls who tied for the league's best record while Rose missed 26 games with five different injuries. These weren't the Bulls who used their deep bench to weather the loss of several other key players throughout the regular season. These Bulls looked lost offensively and had no answers defensively as Philadelphia attacked in transition, on the boards and at the rim while tying the series 1-1 and significantly altering the Bulls' playoff image.
The Pacers went back to basics Monday, rebounding from a stunning Game 1 loss and a troubling Game 2 deficit to even their series with the Magic after a 93-78 win at Indianapolis. Five players scored in double figures and, more important, the Pacers appeared to regain their confidence. Let's break down the keys to Game 2:
The faces were all the same with 1:10 remaining in the fourth quarter Saturday at the United Center in Chicago: sunken expressions, hands clasped to support chins, mouths closed. And they all had to be asking the same question: Why was Derrick Rose on the court at that point in the Bulls' 103-91 victory against the Sixers when the game was already decided? Fair or not, that became the question that will loom over Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau after Rose tore the ACL in his left knee at a time when Chicago was tying a bow on an impressive playoff opener. After the game, Thibodeau was asked about his decision to have Rose in the game with the Bulls still leading by 12 despite Philadelphia's 14-6 run. "I don't work backward like you guys do," Thibodeau said. "The score was going the other way."
The 76ers will be hoping for a low-scoring series, as they are limited offensively while ranking among the best in the league defensively. The Bulls were the most resilient team in the league, earning the top seed overall despite persistent injuries to their three starters on the wing -- reigning MVP Derrick Rose, All-Star Luol Deng and former All-Star and champion, Richard Hamilton. The anemic Sixers backed into the playoffs after leading the Atlantic Division for much of the season. They'll hope to come up with easy scores in transition, but the defensively focused Bulls are likely to prevent that from happening.
Free agent center Kyrylo Fesenko will sign with Indiana for the rest of the season, a source close to the situation told SI.com.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- To understand how hard it is to win a championship, consider the burdens of the Magic. They have one of the three most valuable players in the league (alongside Kobe Bryant and LeBron James) to go with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. And yet they don't look close to contending for the title over the next three months.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Derrick Rose is turning out to be more valuable on the bench than Dwight Howard and other NBA stars have been on the floor. With their defense setting a franchise record in an 85-59 win over the Magic on Monday, the Bulls improved to 10-4 this year in the absence of Rose, the injured MVP. Their winning rate of 71.4 percent without him is better than all but two teams -- Oklahoma City and Miami -- in the everyday standings.
NEW YORK -- With just under a minute left in the first half of the Knicks' game against the Pacers on Friday, Indiana forward Danny Granger dribbled the ball around the perimeter. The Pacers trailed 45-31, and Granger hesitated for a moment before driving past Amar'e Stoudemire. J.R. Smith stepped up to meet him in the lane: charge.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks have agreed in principle to to a deal that will send center Andrew Bogut and small forward Stephen Jackson to the Warriors for shooting guard Monta Ellis, forward Ekpe Udoh and center Kwame Brown to the Bucks, sources confirmed to SI.com.
For Josh Smith and Dwight Howard, preschool pals who rose from their Atlanta upbringings to NBA stardom, the innocence of the game has long since been lost.
Three years ago, I was assigned a story for the magazine about a high-school basketball game between Mater Dei and St. Benedict's. The magazine does not usually feature high-school basketball, but this was no ordinary game. Mater Dei, in Southern California, was 23-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. St. Benedict's, in New Jersey, was 19-0 and ranked No. 2. They were meeting at Mater Dei, in something called the Nike Extravaganza, which one college scout compared to the Super Bowl. The teams combined for more than 10 Division-I prospects, with two committed to North Carolina, two to Texas, and others to UCLA, USC, Stanford and Pittsburgh. St. Benedict's best player was a precocious power forward named Tristan Thompson who called the showdown "the top of the mountain."
BOSTON -- The large gym was empty, apart from Brandon Jennings and Milwaukee assistant coach Jim Boylan and the echoing of the ball in between them. How many players were enjoying themselves in Orlando right now? How many others were lolling on a beach at some expensive resort? Jennings thought about all of this as he worked while others played and rested.
For most of human existence we've dreamed of flight, carving winged sphinxes onto Babylonian brickwork, imagining Icarus and all manner of flying machines -- many sketched by Leonardo da Vinci -- until somehow over the centuries these miracles came to be: The magnificent Montgolfier Brothers and their hot air balloon, the Wright Brothers, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Golden Age of Travel, Pan Am, TWA, the jet set and all the while Sinatra singing, "Come fly with me, we'll float down to Peru ..."
"Life is funny," says Sidney Moncrief. Only by "funny," he doesn't really mean funny. He means weird. Strange. Quirky. Unpredictable. "One decision -- any decision -- can change everything."
Here's my idea for All-Star weekend: The NBA should invite Pacers swingman Paul George to compete in both the Slam Dunk and three-point contests.
The most unexpected trade on draft night is turning out to be a win-win for San Antonio and Indiana.
Not so long ago Danny Granger was an All-Star scoring 25.8 points per game, and he was frustrated. Now Granger is averaging 14.9 points while shooting a career-worst 30.7 percent from the field, and he is smiling.
NEWARK, N.J. -- The ice bag melted slowly on David West's left knee, the escaping water darkening the carpeted floor. This was it. Nine months removed from knee surgery, three months since being cleared to play and just a few weeks out of rehab, ice is the only daily reminder of the fall that snapped his ACL and ended his 2010-11 season with New Orleans. No protective sleeves or bulky knee braces. The pain is gone, the confidence long since returned.
When Randy Brown returned to Chicago a decade after playing his part in the Michael Jordan heyday, he made a decision about whether he'd share the old war stories with the franchise's newest star, Derrick Rose.
The Indiana Pacers have agreed to send shooting guard Brandon Rush to Golden State in exchange for forward Lou Amundson, sources confirmed to SI.com.
Free agent forward David West has agreed to sign a two-year deal with Indiana worth $20 million, according to his agent.
The NBA is back. On Tuesday, the league released its compacted 66-game schedule, filled with enough back-to-back-to-backs (42 overall, compared to 64 in the 50-game 1998-99 season) to make players groan and coach-class-flying beat writers groan even louder. Here's a look at a 10 interesting dates:
After years of worrying there may be no season at all, team executives were suddenly opening up their gyms to welcome back their signed players and negotiating with free agents while trying to make sense of a new collective bargaining agreement as it was being finalized. Here are some of the ins and outs to consider as teams, agents and players look forward to the dual Dec. 9 opening of training camp and free agency.
We can stay past closing time, debating the leading sports region in American right now. It's a good time to be a Wisconsinite. The Brewers won a franchise-best 96 games this past season, the Packers, the defending Super Bowl champions, are currently undefeated; so are the Wisconsin Badgers, currently No. 4 in the nation. Boston might be fixated on the supernatural collapse of the Red Sox, uncovering the mystery of which pitchers consumed which caloric treats where and when. But over the past decade, Beantown teams have won titles in bulk, as if shopping at Costco. If the Rangers win the World Series, Dallas will hold another championship parade, barely four months after feting the Mavs.
Editor's note: This story originally ran on April 20, 2011.
The firing of Kurt Rambis on July 12 was hardly surprising. In an offseason filled with questions about whether there will even be a next season, the dismissal of a coach who led the Timberwolves to a 32-132 record in two years seemed appropriate. Rambis, though, was the last coach utilizing the triangle offense, and with his departure, the NBA, whenever it chooses to return, is now without the most successful offensive system the league has known.
SI.com asked several current and retired SI writers to offer reflections on the best team they ever covered as sports journalists. Here's Phil Taylor on the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls:
The Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Bobcats have agreed in principle to a draft-day deal, league sources told SI.com.
The lottery was fun for a while.
Some draft buzz as the big day nears...
Don't be fooled by the calendar.
It's never too soon to start thinking about next season (assuming there is one, of course), and the online gambling site Bodog has the early lines on the favorites. Miami (5-to-2) leads the field, while Toronto (150-1) is the longest of the long shots. Here's a look at the top six contenders on the board and our view of their chances of winning the championship in 2012, with the caveat that the effect of the new collective bargaining agreement on roster decisions is obviously a huge unknown.
CHICAGO -- This is why there can be no doubt anymore of the Heat's championship potential. They came, they stunk, they won.
CHICAGO -- The Heat have been the hungriest team for the last three games, but that could change now that the Bulls are facing elimination on their home floor.
MIAMI -- The Heat look as if they're steadily pulling away in this Eastern Conference final, beating Chicago a second straight time to take a 2-1 lead going into Game 4 on Tuesday. Here are some observations from Miami's 96-85 victory:
CHICAGO -- The Evil Empire doesn't exist.
CHICAGO -- They were headed down the same wastrel path to a fifth straight overall loss to the Bulls and a 0-2 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals. The ball would come off Chicago's rim and the Heat would not, could not, control the defensive rebound. Within six minutes the Bulls already held a 7-0 advantage in offensive boards and a 9-3 rebounding lead overall.
When last we left Dan Gilbert, he appeared to have lost his mind, along with the minds of anybody within three miles of him. LeBron James had left Gilbert's Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat -- I don't remember the details, but I vaguely recall the announcement being televised in some way -- and Gilbert was livid. He wrote one of the great letters in the history of sports, an angry screed that included this passage:
CHICAGO -- If you think Miami won't respond to its humbling 103-82 loss in Game 1 against the Bulls, then you haven't been paying attention. Throughout this season Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh have been exposed, and they wouldn't have reached the Eastern Conference finals if they hadn't learned from those embarrassing times.
The Eastern Conference finals opening game between the Bulls and Heat was the most-viewed NBA game in history on cable television, TNT announced Monday. The network's coverage of the Bulls' 103-92 romp drew 11.1 million total viewers and a 6.2 U.S. household rating, topping TNT's previous record of 10.8 million viewers for Michael Jordan's last All-Star Game, in 2003.
Chicago Bulls stories in the SI Vault
CHICAGO -- Wasn't Miami supposed to have a dominating 2-to-1 advantage in stars? The Bulls turned that weakness into an oppressive strength in their 103-82 win in Game 1 on Sunday. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James won't have any chance in this Eastern Conference final if they continue trying to go 2-on-5 against this stifling defense.
The Eastern Conference finals creates a matchup of recent MVPs -- Derrick Rose vs. LeBron James -- that nobody would have predicted a year ago. They embody this rejuvenated era of open-court dunking, slashing drives and an insatiable talent for creating any kind of shot.
ATLANTA -- With 4:57 remaining in a series that produced some intriguing storylines if not last-second drama, Derrick Rose slapped palms with C.J. Watson and headed for the Chicago bench. He walked down a line of teammates, grabbed his black sweat jacket and sat down to witness reserves on both teams determine the final score.
As the second round nears its conclusion, four SI.com NBA writers take stock of some of the biggest playoff storylines.
CHICAGO -- After the Bulls' uninspired loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, many in NBA circles speculated that their youth was finally catching up to them. It was supposedly a classic case of inexperience wilting under pressure, a young team failing to live up to its high expectations.
The tone of the Hawks-Bulls series has dramatically changed after Friday's Game 3. An MVP performance from the league's MVP can do that. Derrick Rose poured in a career-high 44 points, handed out seven assists and had five rebounds and the Bulls dominated the Hawks, 99-82, regaining home-court advantage in the series. The Bulls' lead is just 2-1, but momentum is squarely with the East's top seed and anything beyond five games is hard to picture at this point.
The Lakers have been my default choice to reach the NBA Finals. I'd been assuming we'd see them meet either the Celtics or Heat in June, a dreamy matchup that would build on the tremendous following the league has been creating all season.
CHICAGO -- Minutes before tip-off of Game 2 against Atlanta, Derrick Rose was presented the MVP trophy at midcourt, the youngest player to win the NBA's most coveted honor. Chants of "M-V-P" bellowed from the rafters. The United Center rattled with anticipation. "In a league of very valuable players, you are the most valuable," commissioner David Stern offered upon handing over the award.
As Derrick Rose limped away from a stunning 103-95 loss to Atlanta in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night, the message was clear: Don't treat Atlanta like an underdog. The Hawks jumped out to an early lead and withstood the Bulls' second-half rally behind Joe Johnson's 34-point night as Atlanta, which played deep in the shadows of the East's powers all season, continued to show that it shouldn't be taken lightly.
It's not as if Kirk Hinrich was about to become the Derrick Rose stopper.
Indiana president Larry Bird met with reporters on Thursday, one day after his scrappy Pacers team was eliminated from the playoffs. Bird offered few clues as to his future -- "Hopefully we (Bird and owner Herb Simon) will get together in the next week or two," he said -- and even fewer about the fate of head coach Frank Vogel.
After dropping the first three games of the series by a combined 15 points, the Indiana Pacers notched their first victory of the first round in a nail-biter. A late 18-3 run by the Bulls sliced the Pacers' substantial advantage to a single point with 15 seconds remaining, but four made free throws by Danny Granger and a strong defensive effort from the Pacers on a potentially game-tying Bulls possession kept the game just out of reach.
You may have seen this movie before: The Chicago Bulls trailed with 5:20 left, only to rally behind Derrick Rose (who scored 14 fourth-quarter points) to notch a 96-90 Game 2 victory and take a 2-0 series lead over the gutsy Indiana Pacers on Monday. Rose, led the way with 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists, as the 62-win Bulls once again struggled to overcome the 37-win Pacers.
Oddly enough, the Bulls and Pacers -- two teams that forged their postseason berths on the strength of their respective defenses -- both experienced varying degrees of defensive futility in the first game of their series. The fact that the series took an offensive tilt in Game 1 favored Indiana, but Chicago was nonetheless able to pull out a victory by way of having the most dynamic offensive player on the floor. The Bulls' overall offense may not be elite, but Derrick Rose certainly is, and the likely MVP led his team on an impressive fourth quarter run to seal the game.
CHICAGO -- Luol Deng sauntered into the locker room before one of the Bulls' final regular-season matchups looking relaxed, donning a gray pullover, black compression shorts and long socks that sprouted from his flip-flops. He plopped in front of his locker for a moment, lacing up his sneakers while chatting with a reporter. His glowing white smile matched the freshly cleaned jersey behind him. He stood up and glanced at Carlos Boozer sprawled across the floor, completely absorbed in game tape, and casually strolled out the door. He was loose. He was ready to play.
He is someone you might want for a son. Except you can't adopt him. He's somebody else's favorite son. Derrick Rose, raised to be humble, groomed to be great, is Chicago Jr.
While other high seeds have staggered over the past month -- the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Mavericks and Heat -- the Bulls have never stopped surging. They have won nine games in a row and 21 of 23 with the presumptive MVP (Derrick Rose) and potential coach of the year (Tom Thibodeau). After scraping into the playoffs the past two seasons as the No. 8 seed, they have become the most consistent and diligent team in the NBA. The Pacers aspire to be what the Bulls (62-20) once were: an underdog throwing a scare. Interim coach Frank Vogel has steered the Pacers to the playoffs for the first time in five years, dialing up the tempo and resuscitating former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough, but the Pacers (37-45) still have a losing record and no margin for error.
My annual review of money and how it has been spent finds a total of approximately $2.03 billion was obligated to the players, which, by my count, amounts to a reduction of $82.3 million in player salaries since last season.
CHICAGO -- The last time Derrick Rose played a meaningful game against Boston he walked off a loser. His exit came in Game 7 of an epic 2009 first-round series. He was just a kid then, a 20-something playing alongside a bunch of 20-somethings who succeeded with sheer power and athleticism -- and, of course, Ben Gordon's white-hot jump shot.
Here are three things I've taken from recent conversations ...
Several playoff matchups appear to be in place, but there is much to be decided over the final four weeks of the season.
Dan Klores, a Manhattan public relations impresario-turned-filmmaker, mined cinematic gold recently with his 30 for 30 documentary about the Knicks-Pacers NBA rivalry of the mid-1990s. Winning Time is technically about basketball; Netflix has it categorized under "sports."
Derrick Rose stories in the SI Vault
No one envisioned so much activity. "It's pretty quiet," a general manager said of leaguewide trade talks following the All-Star Game on Sunday. Then Carmelo Anthony went to New York, which inspired New Jersey to ask for Deron Williams, and suddenly deals that didn't seem possible were courted and consummated. The dealing and the reckoning isn't done yet. Here are the five major outcomes of this year's trade deadline:
The Cleveland Cavaliers stink like old diapers dipped in sewage. They are so bad they lose their practices. (Average score: Starters negative-12, Backups negative-38.) They aren't just bad, they're toxic. When they watch Hoosiers, Hickory High loses.
This is a terrible admission, but it's fun to write about losers. While covering a bad team over the course of a season is a drag -- kind of like having a lingering sore throat and raspy cough -- stopping in to sample relentless, mind-numbing, appalling atrociousness on a temporary basis is a pleasant diversion.
His decision to fire coach Jim O'Brien doesn't change the long-term thinking of Pacers president Larry Bird. He still wants to make the playoffs this season, and he still doesn't want to consider his future with the Pacers beyond this season.
After losing seven of their last eight games, the Indiana Pacers fired head coach Jim O'Brien on Sunday.
The success of last year ricochets back upon the Cavaliers today. Last year, they were 34-11 and headed for the league's best record, and now they're 8-37 on their way to No. 1 in the lottery. One year ago, they were running off 13 straight victories, and now they've suffered 18 straight losses and a franchise record of 22 in a row on the road.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Pistons coach John Kuester leaned back against the padded table, his eyes locked on the scoreboard, his face twisted into a grimace. For 45 minutes Wednesday, the Pistons had hung in with Denver, only to be flattened by a barrage of 12 points in three minutes from Chauncey Billups late in the fourth quarter. The Pistons hung in despite playing most of the game without starting point guard Rodney Stuckey, who left in the first quarter after bruising his shoulder in a collision with Carmelo Anthony. They played without Rip Hamilton, too, but that's another story.
I watched New York beat the Pacers, scorch the league-leading Spurs and then annihilate the Suns. And with each win, all I could think was: How could I have been so wrong about the Knicks?
As the Nets and Pistons wait for a decision from Denver on the future of Carmelo Anthony, the Houston Rockets have quietly made a push to acquire the All-Star forward, league sources told SI.com.
1. "The Decision." Two years of speculation heightened the buzz around the ultimate free-agent destination of LeBron James. And then the self-indulgent idea of crassly announcing his departure from his hometown Cavaliers on live TV detonated the hype at the expense of James' good name. Someday, we will look back and realize the notoriety of last summer served more than anything to raise his profile, which will mean ever more attention for James should he win a championship in Miami alongside fellow free agents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, whose group machinations resulted in an unprecedented coup for Heat president Pat Riley. The whole extended episode of LeBron's escape from Cleveland -- the long build-up, launch and instantaneous crash -- can be viewed as his attempt to leap the Snake River Canyon. It had two results: He lost control of his fame, and he became more famous than ever.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh head to New York for a date with the Knicks on Friday.
The ball found its way to Pacers center Roy Hibbert in the third quarter of Indiana's upset of the Lakers in Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant was doubling frantically in the high post, throwing tight, jumping-jack defense at Hibbert wherever he turned. But Hibbert didn't seem to mind. He waited and waited despite Bryant's harassment until point guard Darren Collison appeared behind Hibbert's left shoulder to receive his pass for a backdoor layup.
The worst is over. LeBron James was supposed to be in fear for his safety when he led his new team into his old, angry city Thursday night. Now that he has gone back to Cleveland again and responded with his best game of this notorious season, he can say with confidence that the role of villain isn't so bad. He has nothing left to fear. What could be worse than subjecting oneself to tens of thousands of newly sworn enemies?
Despite fan protests, the NBA star led his new team, the Miami Heat, to an 118-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers
CLEVELAND -- Well, that was not what they wanted.
Fans react to LeBron James' return to Cleveland as a Miami Heat player.
Danny Granger scored 5,919 points in the past four years, more than Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Brandon Roy and Paul Pierce. He became an All-Star, a member of Team USA and a top-10 pick in fantasy drafts. But every April, Granger went home, to dodge playoff games on TV so he wouldn't be reminded of what he was missing. All those points were making him famous, but they weren't getting him where he yearned to go.
In the final strains of the national anthem, Taj Gibson closes his eyes, bows his head, and asks three fallen friends to come join him on the floor. "I always get teary right at the end," Gibson said. "That's how I know they've heard me." He refers to them by nicknames -- Cakes, Cookiehead and Johnny -- part of the group he grew up with in Brooklyn, who flew across the country to visit him at USC, celebrated with him the night he became a first-round draft pick, and watched him evolve into an unlikely starter as a rookie for the Bulls last season. They would leave him re-assuring post-game voicemails that he now cannot bring himself to erase.
1. Mark Pain, sports photographer, Mail on Sunday (U.K.): Along with creating one of the most memorable images in recent history -- Tiger Woods shanking a ball during the Ryder Cup directly into his camera -- Pain also created a global phenomenon thanks to a mustachioed mystery man with a cigar in the background of his photo. The famed face in the crowd -- now identified as 30-year-old South London-based investment analyst Rupesh Shingadia -- created a Photoshopping sensation worldwide and entered the phrase "Cigar Guy" into our lexicon. How did the photographer land the shot? Click here for Pain's interview with CBS' The Early Show.
Ask new Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau the keys to strong team defense, and he sets forth the principles with the metronomic efficiency of a teller in a toll booth.
It's obvious that the Miami Heat are talented enough to match or exceed the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' NBA record of 72 wins in a season. The Heat's trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could be as potent a three-man core as any in league history. But getting to 72 or beyond requires more than just superior talent. It takes a ton of other qualities as well, like health, unselfishness, toughness (both physical and mental), single-mindedness and no small degree of luck. A team that possesses all those qualities has a chance to make history. But only a chance.