30 at 30 Lists #26: Feelings About LeBron Joining the Lakers

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

On July 1, news broke that LeBron James was joining the Los Angeles Lakers.  More than a month later I am still processing what this means for my favorite franchise. In the meantime, a lot of people have asked me how I feel about LeBron becoming a Laker. So with apologies to Drake, I figured why not get in my feelings about LeBron. Without further ado, here are 30 ways I am feeling about LeBron heading to L.A.

1. Excited
Obviously. This is the Lakers’ biggest free agent signing since they inked a 24-year-old Shaquille O’Neal in the summer of 1996. O’Neal was coming off four straight all-star selections to begin his career and went on to lead the Lakers to three titles. Although LeBron will turn 34 in December, he has shown no signs of slowing down yet. Last season was year 15 in the NBA, yet LeBron played in all 82 games and averaged a league high 36.9 minutes per game en route to an 8th straight NBA Finals appearance. 

2. Ecstatic
OK, excited is an understatement. The best player in the league joined my team. The 2018-19 season cannot tip off soon enough!

3. Celebratory 
The Lakers unveiled new Nike uniforms recently, but as nice as a #23 jersey would look, I liked this T-shirt courtesy of @purehoop and Cotton Bureau even more. So I bought one for myself as an early birthday gift. 

4. Surprised
Even amid rumors that had been floating for months that LeBron to the Lakers was a likely possibility, I never fully believed it. It seemed too good to be true.

5. Spoiled
For Laker-haters (and there are plenty of them), LeBron’s decision to join the purple (or forum blue) and gold only added fuel to the fire. I get it. I hate the Yankees. I love the Lakers. I know they are similarly rich franchises with a history of scoring the best players in the game. They’re easily hatable. It just so happens that I was raised a Lakers fan. It’s the one team most of my family actually agrees on. Still, I understand the vitriol coming from other fan bases. From birth until I was out of college, playoffs were taken for granted as a Lakers fan. They only missed the postseason twice from the time I was born in 1984 through 2013. They have missed the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, giving me and Lakers fans a harsh dose of reality—the playoffs should be an accomplishment and not taken for granted. Then, voila! We get LeBron James, who has played in the past 8 NBA Finals and has not played for a team that missed the postseason since 2005. 

6. Wistful
Nowadays everyone debates Michael Jordan vs. LeBron. Ten years ago, however, MJ’s G.O.A.T. status was relatively unquestioned. Instead, the great NBA debate of 2008 was Kobe vs. LeBron. As a Lakers fan, I was always team Kobe, but I wrote this favorable LeBron article after he led his Cavs to victory in a head-to-head showdown with Kobe’s Lakers in January 2008. Of course, I ended up switching course and voting for Kobe for 2008 MVP. As fate would have it, LeBron vs. Kobe never lived up to the hype/hope that it would equal the Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson rivalry of the 80s. From the time LeBron entered the league in 2003 until the time Kobe retired 2016, there were only two NBA Finals (2005 and 2006) that featured neither LeBron nor Kobe. Yet somehow, despite being opposite conferences the entire time, they never met in the Finals.

7. Ready
Since I already admitted to feeling spoiled, I feel safe to move on to saying that I am so ready for the Lakers to be competitive again. The past five years have been dark for Lakers fans. I suppose the highlight was Kobe Bryant’s 60-point performance in his last game before retirement in an otherwise meaningless regular season game against Utah. The Western Conference is going to be loaded this season. Only three games separated the third-seeded Portland Trailblazers and the Denver Nuggets, who missed the playoffs. So there is no guarantee that the Lakers will make the playoffs, but with LeBron in town, playoffs are absolutely the expectation for this coming season…and then hopefully a championship in the next few years.

8. Optimistic
Realistically, I do not think the Lakers are a championship contender this season. I expect a playoff berth and would consider a first round series win as a successful season for this team as it is currently constructed. However, LeBron James has taken lesser teams to the NBA Finals (last year’s Cavaliers team as well as the 2007 edition come to mind), and he has never lost a first round playoff series. So, while I expect an early round exit this season, I would not be shocked if LeBron and the Lakers become legitimate title contenders in the very near future.

9. Encouraged
The biggest reason I am encouraged about the direction of the Lakers is that they did not mortgage their future in acquiring LeBron. Barring a major trade, the Lakers will have the salary cap flexibility to add another superstar to the fold next offseason. The biggest name out there is Kawhi Leonard, who has stated his desire to play in Los Angeles. The former San Antonio Spurs star, who earned my vote for the 2017 MVP Award, was traded last month to the Toronto Raptors but will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Klay Thompson is another potential target for the Lakers if Kawhi does not pan out. While a healthy Kawhi would be the top prize, luring Thompson to follow in his father’s footsteps to become a Laker would be a double whammy for the Lakers. Not only would L.A. be adding a top-20 talent, they’d also be taking him away from reigning two-time champion Golden State Warriors.

10. Patient
Speaking of the Warriors, I am feeling patient, waiting for them to stumble. All good things must come to an end, and that will be true of the Warriors dynasty, too. It’s just a matter of when and what will cause it to fall. The good news for Lakers fans is that LeBron signed a four-year contract (with a player option after year three), so the Lakers do not have to throw all of their eggs into one basket. The overwhelming consensus is that the 2019 title is Golden State’s to lose, but the Lakers have a vision for the future, and they are building for championships in 2020 and beyond.

11. Concerned
I am patient, but I am also a little concerned about LeBron’s age and health. As I mentioned under point number one, LeBron led the league in minutes last year at age 33. His playoff success has meant that he has played 239 career postseason games, which is essentially an extra three seasons worth of mileage on his legs. Only twice in his career has he played in less than 70 regular season games. Human nature tells us that his body has to slow down at some point, but LeBron is far from the average human, and he has not showed signs of slowing down yet. So I’m concerned that all four years of LeBron as a Laker may not be prime LeBron, but it would not shock me if he defies father time either.

12. Intrigued
Ultimately, whether the Lakers can become a championship franchise with LeBron may be less about what LeBron can do and more about how much the young homegrown talent can improve. In Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, the Lakers have a pair of number two overall picks from the past two years that have shown flashes of greatness, but they have also been inconsistent and injured. If one or both can make the leap to become an all-star level talent, which is what you hope for from a number two overall selection, the Lakers will be primed to compete now and in the future. The Lakers also hit big with a pair of late first round draft picks in 2017 that they acquired via trade. Kyle Kuzma, the 27th overall selection, was the 2017 Summer League MVP and a 2017-18 All Rookie first-team selection. Meanwhile, the 30th overall selection, Josh Hart, started 23 games last season and showed flashes of an improved game en route to being named the 2018 Summer League MVP. Additionally, the Lakers made me a happy man by drafting Michigan big man Moe Wagner in the first round this past June. They also added Kansas sharpshooter 
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk in the second round, giving the Lakers a formidable young core of talented players with a lot of upside.

13. Disappointed
While I loved the Lakers decision not to part ways with Ingram, Ball, Kuzma, or Hart, I was disappointed that they did not re-sign Julius Randle and, to a lesser extent, Brook Lopez. Randle was a homegrown talent, the number 7 overall selection in the 2014 NBA Draft. Randle broke his leg in his NBA debut, causing him to miss the entire 2014-15 season, but he only missed 9 games total in the three seasons since then. Last year, Randle had his best season yet, appearing in all 82 games for the Lakers while averaging career highs in points (16.1) and field goal percentage (55.8). His scoring was tied for the team lead, and he also led the Lakers with 8.0 rebounds per game. I read that Randle preferred to stay with the Lakers, but once they signed LeBron, it was clear his role would be diminished. Still, I liked the fight I saw in Randle last season. He played with a ferociousness when attacking the rim that made me think he could be more than a stats on a bad team player. Unfortunately, he signed a two-year, $17.71 million deal with New Orleans. And Brook Lopez signed a one-year, $3.382 million deal with Milwaukee. I thought Lopez as a stretch five would have worked well to space the floor with LeBron as a creator of the dribble. Alas, that is not the direction the Lakers chose to go.

14. Confused
Instead, the Lakers had me scratching my head with their other free agent signings. They signed Rajon Rondo, who will be playing for his sixth team in the past 6 years, for $9 million. They signed Shaqtin’ a Fool Hall of Famer JaVale McGee. They also added Lance Stephenson, who famously blew in LeBron James’ ear during a playoff game, and a former number two overall pick, Michael Beasley, who is on his seventh team in 11 seasons. The silver lining is that all of the players were signed to one year deals, which allows the Lakers to maintain the aforementioned salary cap flexibility for the summer of 2019. In the meantime, the Lakers have been dubbed “The Meme Team” online for the cast of characters they chose to bring in along with LeBron.

15. Greedy
I mentioned before that I am glad the Lakers did not send a bunch of young stars away in a package deal to acquire Kawhi Leonard for the San Antonio Spurs. Having said that, I am feeling greedy. I want the Lakers to keep the young core intact and add Kawhi as a free agent this offseason. This is where the patience could pay off. If they wait and get Kawhi, suddenly they have a very formidable, versatile roster with veteran superstars and up and coming talent together.

16. Trepidatious
The last time I was this excited for a Lakers acquisition was in 2012 when they added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to join Kobe Bryant on a team that was only a couple years removed from winning a championship. The Sports Illustrated cover famously proclaimed “Now This is Going to be Fun,” and I thought it would be. It was a disaster. Nash struggled with injuries. Howard’s playfulness never clicked with Kobe’s Mamba mentality, and the team was swept in the first round of the playoffs. Acquiring LeBron to join this team is obviously an entirely different situation; I’m just trying not to get my hopes up too high so as not to be let down the way I was back in 2012-13. 

17. Embarrassed
A recent trend in sports has been unearthing things that current players said on social media back when they were young and before they were famous. I’m not famous, but I do regret some of my knee-jerk reactionary tweets from back in the day. For example, after LeBron announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach”  in 2010 to team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, I tweeted the following:

It was a sentiment shared by a lot of sports fans and media personalities alike. Even a number of former players spoke out against LeBron’s decision. In hindsight, I wish I had taken a more nuanced approach. While I did feel bad for Cleveland fans, labeling LeBron as Pippen 2.0 was unfair. He proved in his four years in Miami and again upon his return to Cleveland that he was not only the best player on his team every step of the way. I do think he approaches the game differently than Kobe or MJ, but now I wonder if that is not necessarily a bad thing.

18. Sympathetic
I feel sincerely bad for Cavs fans. LeBron James ripped their hearts out when he left in 2010. It was a messy divorce, but when he returned in 2014, most Cavs fans I knew welcomed him back with open arms. He delivered them the championship they were starving for in 2016 and gave them four straight Finals appearances, but now he is gone again. It seems like most Cavs fans were prepared for the exit this time, and there does not seem to be a lot of harbored resentment, but I still feel bad. In some ways, no team has been more blessed by luck this century than Cleveland. They won the NBA Draft Lottery four times, including the grand prize of winning the right to draft the hometown hero LeBron in 2003. Yet with former number one pick Kyrie Irving forcing a trade prior to last season, the Cavs will tipoff the 2018-19 season without any of those four number one overall picks on the roster.

19. Challenged
As a Lakers fan living in Erie, Pennsylvania, I have lived my entire life defending my Lakers fandom. I am not a bandwagon fan. I hate bandwagon fans. My first memory of life was sitting on my dad’s lap was watching the Lakers defeat the Detroit Pistons in the 1988 NBA Finals. I’ve been hooked ever since. Now that LeBron is a Laker, the Lakers bandwagon will be more loaded than ever. So I was not surprised when the day after LeBron announced he was headed to L.A. I was questioned by a random lady in Tim Horton’s about my Lakers shirt and whether I became a fan because of LeBron. The shirt is probably a decade old, and I was all too prepared to retort by naming off some of the more obscure Lakers from the early 2000s. Shout out to Slava Medvedenko. 

20. Proud
While I loved cheering for Kobe Bryant the basketball player, it was hard to ever fully embrace Kobe Bryant the man. LeBron on the other hand, by all accounts, has been a model father, husband, and  man since he entered the league. Despite being dubbed as King James from day one, LeBron has never let the hype overshadow the substance. While he undoubtably cares about his image and his brand, he does so in a way that is socially conscious and culturally responsible. Plus, as a teacher, I love his commitment to education. The amount of money he has invested into the lives of young people, particularly from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, is astounding.

21. Nostalgic
I played basketball against LeBron James. Feel free to scroll on if you’ve heard thus one before, but it’s one of my favorites. I told this story as part of my 30 at 30 List #2: Places I’ve Played Basketball:

My favorite basketball anecdote goes a little something like this. In the summer after 5th grade, after my Dunkin’ Dutchmen squad won the local basketball tournament, we advanced to regional competition. The game was held in some M-city in Ohio. My memory fails me here as to exactly which city it was. Madison? Mansfield?Mentor? Anyway, we went up against a team of all-stars from Ohio, featuring a 6-foot-something phenom. On the first play of the game, I spotted up for what I thought was a good look at a 3-pointer. That same phenom swatted it into the third row, which is even more impressive when you’re playing in a grade school gym that only has a few rows of seating. Although we were top dogs back in Erie, we found ourselves down 30+ at halftime in Ohio. The phenom left at halftime to go play with the older kids, who would presumably offer a better level of competition. Our parents were skeptical that this young superstar wasn’t perhaps one of the older kids himself, so they demanded to see his birth certificate (apparently, they weren’t the only ones). The birth certificate showed that the kid in question was, in fact, legit. He was born Dec. 30, 1984, making him more than three months younger than me. The birth certificate also showed his name: LeBron James. And the rest, as they say, is history.

22. Nervous (opening the East up for Boston)
LeBron James has played for the Eastern Conference team in each of the past eight NBA Finals. The last Eastern Conference team not to feature LeBron in the Finals was the Boston Celtics in 2010. As a Lakers fan, it’s my birthright to hate the Celtics. While I was not born to witness the rivalry in the 60s (thankfully) and too young to remember the classic battles of the 80s, I vividly remember 2008 and 2010 when Boston and L.A. split a pair of championship showdowns. With LeBron out of the East, the Celtics are one of the favorites to win the conference. They have one of the league’s best young coaches in Brad Stevens and a team that is loaded with young talent. It’s scary to recall that they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season despite not having the services of arguably their two best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. I am very nervous about Boston making a run at a championship before LeBron gets the roster help he needs to make the Lakers a serious contender. 

23. Historical
With the addition of LeBron James, you could make a case that the all-time Lakers squad could defeat a team made up of the greats from every other team. I’d roll out a lineup of Kareem at center, LeBron and Elgin Baylor at forwards, Kobe and Magic at guard, and that means you’ve got Shaq, Wilt, James Worthy, and Jerry West coming off the bench! The opposition would roll out a starting five of Russell, Duncan, Bird, Jordan, and Oscar with any number of deep bench options. I’m not sure who would win, but the fact that it’s even a question says something about the talent the Lakers have had over the years. Boston is the only other team that can come close on the front line, but their guards don’t match up to Magic, Kobe, and West.

24. Curious
Lakers coach Luke Walton and his new star player have something in common. Both were drafted in 2003. LeBron, of course, went number one overall. Walton went in the second round (32nd overall). Walton’s 11-year playing career began with the Lakers and ended with the Cavs. LeBron’s began with the Cavs and could end with the Lakers…with Walton as his had coach. I am curious to see how this relationship pans out. LeBron’s most recent coach, Ty Lue, was also a former Laker. However, LeBron has had somewhat of a spotty relationship with his coaches in the past. While their game on the court was different, both LeBron and Walton also played with an unselfishness in their game that I hope will translate to a good working relationship as player and coach.

25. Annoyed
I can already hear the inevitable media circus with LaVar Ball and LeBron James being connected to the same team. Turn down the volume. Stop yelling, Stephen A. Smith! Get a clue, Skip Bayless! Will someone please get back to talking about basketball already.

26. Baffled 
I do not understand vandalism. Hopefully the new mural remains intact because it is truly a work of art.

https://twitter.com/LakersDynasty33/status/1025228211821588480

27. Tired (10:30 p.m. tip-offs)
The only could thing about the Lakers fielding poor teams for the past five years was that I did not always feel obligated to stay up for the full game. Those 10:30 p.m. tips are a killer for an East Coast fan like myself who has to get up for work the next day. But I’m afraid this new look Lakers team will have me back to my old ways pulling some late nights.  

28. Hopeful (Ben & Max watching LeBron with me)
I mentioned earlier that my first memory of live was watching the Lakers with my dad. I am hopeful that my sons Ben and Max will get to share similar moments with me. At the end of LeBron’s contract with the Lakers Max will be the age I was when I watched with my dad, and Ben is 2.5 years older than Max, so I sincerely hope it happens.

29. Vindicated
To all of my dear students who talked trash on me the past few years for being a Lakers fan, I told you the Lakers would be back!

30. Open-minded
Ask me today who the greatest basketball player of all-time is, and I will say Michael Jordan, although I also enjoyed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s take on the G.O.A.T. debate. Kareem is in the conversation, too, and if you factor in his success at the high school, college, and professional level, he’s as decorated as any basketball star. But the question of today is MJ or LeBron? Like I said, ask me today, and I will say Jordan has the edge, but LeBron’s résumé is unfinished. For his career, LeBron has averaged more than 2,000 points per season. He would only need to average 1,837.25 points per season for the next four years to break Kareem’s career scoring record. Barring injury he will move into the all-time top-10 in assists next season and all-time top-10 in steals within the next 2-3 years. If he can lead the Lakers back to the promised land and win another championship (or multiple championships), my mind is open to the possibility that when all is said and done, LeBron may be the greatest of all-time. There was a time when I would have argued Kobe over LeBron in the pantheon of basketball history. I cannot make that argument anymore. It’s hard to imagine a world when Jordan is usurped from the throne, but if anyone can do it, perhaps it’s King James. I’m not saying it will happen, but I’m open-minded to the possibility.

Appreciating Greatness: Choosing to Celebrate (and Not Hate) Kevin Durant and the Warriors

I am a Lakers fan, so I didn’t have a horse in the race in this year’s NBA Finals. However, as an NBA fan, I don’t understand the vitriol being directed at Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. Don’t begrudge other people’s successes.

From a business perspective: Imagine you have the opportunity to take a new job in California with one of the best companies in the world and some of the best coworkers imaginable where you will have the chance to help create one of the best products your industry has ever seen. OR you could stay in your current job in Oklahoma continuing to churn out the same good-but-not-great product year after year. By the way, you have this one hardworking but obsessive coworker who sometimes gets on your nerves and steps on your toes in meetings. Oh, and the company transferred your favorite bearded coworker to Houston just as you were getting started on a potentially revolutionary project together.

From a basketball perspective: The Warriors play a beautiful brand of basketball. They space the floor. They’re unselfish. They have a great coach in Steve Kerr. They have Jerry West in the front office, so you know they’re going to make smart moves in terms of roster assembly (*cough cough OKC traded James Harden!*) Why would anyone NOT want to play for the Warriors? I want to play for the Warriors! I can hit a corner 3!

From a legacy perspective: LeBron backers, you cannot have it both ways. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for LeBron’s greatness, but you cannot deny LeBron went to Miami and joined forces with Wade and Bosh and Allen because it gave him the best chance to win. He returned to Cleveland with Kyrie and Love because it gave him the best chance to win. Why did Durant go to Golden State? Ding, ding, ding…because it gave him the best chance to win! LeBron and KD are both historically great players who put on a masterful display in the Finals. LeBron’s legacy shouldn’t be tarnished for losing to a great Warriors team, and Durant’s legacy shouldn’t be lessened for leading an already great Warriors team to even greater heights, going 16-1 en route to a championship. I don’t know how anyone could come away from watching that series thinking anything other than LeBron and Durant are both historically great and unique players. Fans were robbed of never seeing a Kobe-LeBron Finals; personally, I am delighted we’ve now been treated to two LeBron-KD showdowns. If the Lakers still suck next year, I wouldn’t mind seeing LeBron vs. Durant Part III.

From a fan perspective: I get it. The playoffs sucked this year. There were too many blowouts. The Finals matchup seemed inevitable from day one because the Warriors and Cavs were so talented. Yet I contest that even in a 4-1 series featuring only two games decided by fewer than 10 points the Finals was still compelling, must-see television precisely because the Warriors and Cavaliers had so much star power. More than any other sport, the NBA is a star-driven league. Dynasties rule in the NBA. That has been true since Russell’s Celtics in the 60s. But the true origins of the “super team” superstar model goes back to the “glory days” of the 80s. Winning an NBA championship has—with very few exceptions—always meant fielding a roster with at least two future Hall-of-Famers. The 80s Lakers had Magic and Kareem, and then they added James Worthy. The Celtics had Bird, McHale, Parish, and Dennis Johnson, and then they added Bill Walton!). The Pistons had Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman. The 90s Bulls had Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. The 00s Lakers had Shaq and Kobe. The Spurs had Duncan and some combination of Robinson/Parker/Ginobli/Kawhi. The 2008 Celtics had Pierce, Garnett, and Allen. The Heat had LeBron, Wade, Bosh, and Allen. You get the idea. Heck, even the 2004 Pistons, who defeated the Lakers “super team” of Shaq/Kobe/Gary Payton/Karl Malone, had four all-stars in Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Ben Wallace.

Yes, the Warriors were a “super team” in 2017, but they’re just the latest in a long list of NBA super teams. Maybe they will win the next 5 championships and the rest of the league will waive the white flag of surrender, but remember…Shaq and Kobe only won 3 when critics thought they’d own the whole decade. LeBron’s Heat only won 2 despite his press conference promises to win more. So let’s not crown the Warriors 2018-2022 champions yet. They still have to play the games. They still have to earn it.

That’s what they did this year. And they did it all fair and square. This team was constructed expertly. They didn’t cheat. They brought back players like Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, former lottery picks willing to fit into a championship team as role players. They drafted well. Steph Curry was picked 7th (behind players like Hasheem Thabeet and fellow point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn). Klay Thompson was selected 11th (behind three players on the current Cavs roster, including Derrick Williams). Draymond Green went in the second round (35th overall), so the odds are your team team passed him up. They added veterans like Zaza Pachulia and David West and found a rookie worthy of NBA Finals closeout game playing time in Patrick McCaw. And they worked the salary cap to perfection to sign Kevin Durant. The rest, as they say, is history.

I am not a Warriors fan, but I choose not to hate. I prefer to celebrate and marvel at greatness. Durant and the Warriors earned that this season and this NBA Finals.

Kawhi not?: Why the understated, underrated Spurs star should be the 2016-17 NBA MVP

The race for this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player award has been one of the most hotly contested and highly debated in league history. Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the season. James Harden scorched the competition running one of the league’s most efficient offenses. Meanwhile defending champion and former four-time MVP LeBron James and reigning two-time MVP Stephen Curry once again put up big numbers while putting their respective teams back in title contention.

The glitz and glamour associated with the names listed above likely means Kawhi Leonard won’t be named the 2016-17 NBA MVP. While compelling cases can be made for any of the four names mentioned above, Kawhi Leonard should be named the 2016-17 NBA MVP. Allow me to explain:

Nearly a decade ago I wrote about my desire to fix the NBA’s MVP award. More specifically, I wanted to clarify what is meant by the term “valuable” because 10 different voters might define that term differently in regards to how it plays out over the course of an NBA season. My system, which first debuted in 2008, may not be perfect, but it accounts for 10 of the most significant arguments people tend to make regarding their MVP choice.

To summarize the process, I whittle the list of MVP candidates down to 10 with two major provisions. First of all, I do not include anyone from a non-playoff team. If a player is not valuable enough to get his team into the postseason, he may be an all-star, but he is not the MVP. Secondly, I only permit one MVP candidate per team. So, in the case of a team like the Golden State Warriors, I had to cut Kevin Durant in favor of Steph Curry. (Durant’s injury made this decision a little easier than it otherwise would have been.) The rationale is simple: if a player is not the MVP of his own team, he cannot be the MVP of the entire league.

List of MVP questions

I then ask myself the 10 questions shown above. For each question, I rank the 10 nominees with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. The nominee who totals the highest (out of a possible 100) earns my vote for MVP.

In the 9 years I have been using this process, my vote has matched the eventual winner of the MVP award 8 times. The only time my vote differed from the real life result was in 2011 when the NBA awarded the MVP to Derrick Rose. My system named LeBron James the rightful winner and actually had Rose third behind both James and Kobe Bryant.

Year-by-year comparison on my MVP vote and the actual MVP recipient

Continue reading Kawhi not?: Why the understated, underrated Spurs star should be the 2016-17 NBA MVP

Grieving After The Game, 2016 Edition

The 2016 edition of The Game between the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes will go down in history as a classic chapter in arguably the greatest rivalry in sports. Unfortunately for me and Michigan fans everywhere it was another painful chapter in which we ended up on the losing side. Michigan blew a 17-7 lead, a trip to the Big Ten Championship, and (likely) its hopes at a spot in the College Football Playoff, prompting me to update my 30 at 30 list of “The Most Devastating Losses of My Life as a Sports Fan.” Yesterday’s double overtime thriller jumped all the way to number six on my depressing countdown (a list that I really wish I didn’t have any more cause to update). Yesterday’s loss for Michigan marks the third time The Game has made the list. In my time as a Michigan fan, which dates back to the early 1990s, only the 2006 edition of The Game was as a more devastating loss against Ohio State.

Recovering from a devastating loss is never easy. Unfortunately, I am experienced when it comes to grieving sports losses. As miserable as Saturday’s outcome made me feel, I knew I needed to process the loss and eventually get on with life. Over the past 48 hours since the game ended, I have been mourning the loss through the sports fan’s equivalent of the traditional five stages of grief. I have borrowed some of that language here and edited other parts of it to more accurately reflect a sports fan’s perspective. (I don’t mean to trivialize grief and mourning. The loss of a loved one is obviously much more traumatic than the loss of a football game. I shouldn’t even have to write that sentence, but I wanted to be clear.) However, I also cannot pretend not to grieve after yesterday’s loss to Ohio State. No, it wasn’t life or death. However, the pain of a devastating sports loss like the one Michigan suffered on Saturday—a rivalry game on the road in double overtime—is real. And if you’re a diehard fan like me, you probably know the feelings associated with grieving a devastating sports loss all too well.
Continue reading Grieving After The Game, 2016 Edition

Benjamin’s Birth Story

The birth story of Benjamin Gregory Hubert began long before he joined this side of the world on November 13, 2015. It began with the longing for a child that God placed on our hearts, continued with reminders of God’s faithfulness to that desire, and concluded with an incredible consolation in the midst of labor.

Pregnancy
I was so thankful for a healthy and relatively easy pregnancy. In fact, pregnancy was perhaps the healthiest and most vibrant I’ve ever felt in my body. I was so connected to and conscious about what I was eating, how active I was, and marveling in how amazing and capable my body is. (These were all useful experiences for a woman who has struggled with both body image and healthfulness her whole life.) I had the typical challenges with food aversions in the first trimester, sleep struggles in the second, and achiness in the third, but other than that, there were no physical barriers standing between me and a positive pregnancy. Prenatal yoga was an essential physical, mental and spiritual practice for me during this time. Tree poses with “one hand on your heart and the other on baby” made me feel rooted in what was familiar and strong enough to reach for what was to come. I marveled in how strong and flexible I was in my pregnant body, and I had fun playfully exploring poses that challenged me and celebrated this stage of my life. I also would meditate there on my mantra that I would carry with me into labor: “I trust the wisdom of my body.”

img_8775Pregnancy was a busy season, though, as I wrapped up my M.P.A. degree with multiple online classes through the summertime. Matt and I decided to go away for an overnight to reconnect with each other before my final research proposal and other class assignments ramped up to the end in August. We had a lovely time, and (consistent with my pregnancy), I felt able to be present to each moment and savor it with gratitude. As we sat at Perkins eating an indulgent brunch on the drive back into town, I felt suddenly overwhelmed with God’s presence and proclaimed to Matt, “I don’t know exactly what the next few months will hold, but I know they will be very hard. But I do know that I’m so glad to be in it with you, and I know that God will get us through any challenges that we may face. It won’t be easy, but we are going to be okay!” At the time, I had no idea the significance of that moment and what a gift it was to feel that truth.

One hour later, Matt and I gathered with my parents and sister for a family meeting, where I learned the shocking news that my dad had been diagnosed with cancer. I remember dashing across the room after listening to him explain some of the medical details, including the many unknowns at the time, and hugging him around his waist saying, “What do you need? Do you need me to be angry? Do you need me to do something? What do you need?” We cried together, and dad told me that he just needed my prayers. My mom added that what she needed was for me to take care of our baby—a task that might be harder to do in the midst of so many new stressors.
[I am glad to report now that my dad, who approved me sharing this story, is doing very well. He had an extensive surgery and grueling treatments out of state, but he is now home, has returned to work and is healing beautifully. His healing process has also been marked with many tangible reminders of God’s presence and faithfulness.]
It was incredibly challenging for me to work full-time, take graduate classes and travel the hard journey with my family while being pregnant. But, in some ways, my mom’s loving (but challenging!) request to put myself and the baby first was a gift to us. I put my focus on staying healthy, minimizing stress and resting as often as I could, even though these were hard daily choices to make, knowing that my mom and dad were out of state going through incredible trials. I wanted so much to distract myself from my life and instead immerse myself in solidarity with my dad’s struggle, but instead, I honored my mom’s request and cared first for myself and the baby. I was able to travel to Ohio a few times to be with my family, which was wonderful, and Matt and I used technology to stay as connected as possible to my parents. Continue reading Benjamin’s Birth Story

Update on the 30 at 30 Project as a Fresh 32-Year-Old

I launched the 30 at 30 project three years ago in an attempt to celebrate (rather than complain about) turning 30 years old. Three years later, I am closing in on completing this project, but I still have some work to do. While I have finished the initial portion of the project, counting down my 30 favorite musical artists, I still have five lists of 30 to write before I can officially put a bow on the 30 at 30 project.

So far I have written 25 list articles covering everything from my favorite student comments to my favorite video games. It has been a lot of fun generating the list topics, brainstorming the items for the respective top 30s and then writing about them. More than anything, this project has compelled me to write. I wrote a lot in high school and college but then kind of fell in and out of it in my 20s. Having the 30 at 30 project has kept me motivated to write on a semi-regular basis, especially during the summer months when, as a teacher, my schedule is much more accommodating. The current word count for the entire 30 at 30 project is approaching 119,000 words. It has been a labor of love for sure.

As the calendar shows September 8, I am officially 32 years old as of yesterday. The first two years of my 30s have treated me very well. Two years ago I wrote my list of “Things I Want to Do in My 30s.” The good news is I still have eight years to go, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on my progress after two years as a thirtysomething. Continue reading Update on the 30 at 30 Project as a Fresh 32-Year-Old

30 at 30 Lists #25: Video Games

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Christmas 1990 was a magical day in my childhood. Up until that point in life, video games were a luxury that I experienced only when I visited my older cousins. My dad owned an old Magnavox Odyssey², but it didn’t compare to the state-of-the-art graphics and gameplay of the Sega Master System or the Nintendo Entertainment System. That Christmas morning, 6-year-old me opened up an NES, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the years, my family would go on to own various other video game systems, including Super Nintendo, Game Gear, Sony Playstation, PS2, and the Nintendo Wii—all of which are represented by at least one game on this list. However, original Nintendo was really my baptism into the world of video games.

Today, we live in a world where in a world where video games are an omnipresent force. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry in the United States made $23.5 billion last year, a figure that shows a 5% increase from 2014. If you haven’t heard of eSports, you’re probably old, but trust me, eSports are a thing and the younger generation doesn’t care if you disagree. Earlier this summer Pokemon Go, a game that cleverly blurs the lines between virtual reality and real life, dominated headlines and everyone’s social media feeds. The games produced for the likes of PS4 and Xbox One would make 6-year-old me’s head spin. The graphics are basically true-to-life renderings, and the gameplay is intricate and extensive. (The controllers have so many buttons!) Unfortunately, 31-year-old me doesn’t have time for all of the intricacies of 2016 gaming. Instead, I prefer to kick it old school.

Clearly I am not the only person in my age bracket who remains enamored with the systems I played when I was a kid. Recently Nintendo announced they will be releasing the NES Classic Edition, a special mini version of the original NES that comes pre-loaded with 30 classic NES games (there is a similar product in the works for Sega Genesis folks). While there are some great games included on the list for the NES Classic Edition, there are some notable games that will not be available as well, which leaves people like me turning to emulators like Nestopia or OpenEmu to get our retro-gaming fix.

As you scroll through the list of my all-time favorite games, you’ll notice a few clear trends: sports and platform adventure games dominate the list with very few deviations from those categories. I never liked first-person shooters. I never really got into role-playing video games. I played some fighter games like Mortal Kombat and Tekken, but they were never my top choice (unless you count wrestling games as fighting games, but I don’t). Nine times out of ten, my game of choice would be a sports game, and that tenth time I would pick one of the other classics included on the list below. Because sports games so dominated my list of favorites, I made some executive decisions to lump certain game franchises together as one entry rather than ranking multiple iterations of the same game. Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #25: Video Games

30 at 30 Lists #22: Movies

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

I don’t watch a lot of movies, at least not compared to some of my family and friends who are true movie buffs. When Oscar season rolls around, I’m usually left scratching my head wondering how it’s possible that I never heard of so many of the nominated films. When it comes to on screen entertainment, I spend the vast majority of my time watching sports. I also regularly watch a substantial number of TV shows. While sports and TV shows are a part of my day-to-day life, movies are more of a rare treat reserved for special occasions.

I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have been to the theater in the past year, and when I tried to remember back to the last movie I saw at the theater, I was stumped. Maybe Trainwreck in 2015? Jessie and I occasionally watch something on Netflix or HBO Go, and we make a few trips to Redbox or Family Video to catch up on some of the movies we missed, but the truth of the matter is that there are a lot more movies that I don’t see than ones that I do see these days.

When it comes to movie preference, I generally prefer something lighthearted and funny. So don’t expect my list of favorites to mirror IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes. My list has nothing to do with critical acclaim and everything to do with appealing to me. Nonetheless, if you haven’t yet seen any of the 30 movies on my list, I highly recommend checking them out. Each one of them is a movie that I could and have watched multiple times. Now without any further ado, my favorite 30 movies of all-time. I also included links to each movie’s IMDB page in case you are interested to learn more: Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #22: Movies

30 at 30 Lists #21: Food

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

If food and I were in a relationship on Facebook, it would probably be labeled “it’s complicated.” It was only a few months ago that the leading digit on the scale was a 2 for the first time in my life. I was always a skinny, athletic kid. In my brief high school basketball career, my struggle was trying to bulk up and add weight. 200 pounds was my wake up call.

When I first started a relationship with Jessie, I developed a notorious nickname: “The Picky Eater.” However, over time, my openness to trying new foods increased as did my ability to consume them. By the time we were married, I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 185 pounds—nowhere near the skinny kid I was in high school but still in pretty good shape.

Although I still managed to frequent the gym on a fairly regular schedule throughout the past several years, my workout regiment apparently did not increase as much as my appetite did. Or perhaps my now 30-something-year-old metabolism did not burn calories as efficiently as it did 10 or 20 years ago.

Regardless of how it happened, it happened. As the late Owen Hart said, “Enough is enough and it’s time for a change!” Of course, I’m not one for radical change. I have seen too many people dive headfirst into diets only to return to bad habits again once the diet ended. Instead, I prefer to institute more subtle, more sustainable changes. I don’t need to get back to my high school weight. And I don’t even need to get back to 185 right away. It took years to put the weight on; it may take as long or longer to shed the excess pounds. Rather than focus on the result, I am heeding my wife’s words of wisdom and focusing on the process. So after having some conversations with Jessie over the past month or so about making some dietary changes, I am optimistic that my future will be a healthier one. She is much more nutritionally educated than me, and anyone who saw her rock her pregnancy knows this.

Now that I have a son to care for, I realize that I also need to take better care of myself, which includes being more mindful of the food I eat. I am not buying into a specific diet. I am not doing a 30-day cleanse. I am not eliminating all fats, or all sweets, or all carbs. I am not going vegetarian or vegan. All of those are fine options for other people, but I am opting for a simpler, less stringent change that feels both manageable and helpful. I am making small changes like not eating a kids cereal every day for breakfast and a bologna sandwich for lunch, or not eating a processed, salty snack every single night before bed. The truth is I am not an entirely unhealthy person, but I can work to be a healthier person.

Having said all of that, the following list of my favorite foods is probably the answer to the question, “How did I end up reaching 200 pounds?” This is a list of my favorite things to eat. It is not nutritionist-approved. I know that I cannot all of the items on this list all of the time, and that I should probably reign in my portion size when I do eat them. But these are 30 foods that I am definitely not ready to quit just yet. Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #21: Food

30 at 30 Lists #20: What I’ve Learned in My First 30 Days as a Dad

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

IMG_3291The most significant days in our lives usually represent something bigger than the day itself. Some major life events compel us to look back in time. A graduation day ceremony, for example, commemorates four years of academic progress and marks the end of a certain period in our life. Other major life events function rather as a new beginning representing lifestyle changes that will continue to impact us every day thereafter. A wedding, for example, marks the beginning of a couple’s life together with each spouse vowing to love the other for all the days of their life. When asked to name the most significant events that happened in their life, many people put the birth of their child(ren) at or near the top of the list. After only 30 days of being a dad, I am already starting to understand why. Having and raising a child simultaneously forces us to reflect on our past and contemplate our future, perhaps more so than any other life event.

I am amazed at how much I have learned during my short time as a parent, so much so that I felt called to write about it. Without further ado, here is my list of things I’ve learned in my first 30 days as a dad: Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #20: What I’ve Learned in My First 30 Days as a Dad

The first key to writing is to write.