Beyond Grit: Behind the Bubble - Ep. 9 | The Play-In Game (Season Finale)

Beyond Grit: Behind the Bubble – Ep. 9 | The Play-In Game (Season Finale)

In the season finale of #BeyondGrit, the squad faces off against the Trail Blazers in the play-in game and then turn their attention to next season.

Taylor Rooks

Tweets & Rookies with Taylor Rooks

On this week’s episode, Kelcey Wright Johnson is joined by Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks. Rooks looks back at some of her most memorable interviews with the NBA’s top players, as well as pays a big compliment to the Grizzlies’ Ja Morant. Then, she plays a game of “Pick the Rook” with Kelcey to try and match each NBA rookie to their tweet.

Los Angeles Lakers 2020 NBA Champions Team Photo

#IMHO: The Lakers are champs! Talking LeBron, AD, and the future in LA and Miami…

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Kelcey Wright Johnson weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Monday, October 12, 2020 9:40 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: IMHO

Kelcey:

Let’s begin this week by saying congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers, your 2020 NBA Champions. And any of the haters out there saying this title deserves an asterisk, just put that away. The Lakers won a title in the most stressful season imaginable. It wasn’t easy for anyone, but of all the teams that went to The Bubble, the Lakers performed their task better than anyone else. Congrats to them on a job well done.

Before we turn the page and start to look at how the Lakers will look next season, whenever that is, let’s stop for a second and appreciate LeBron’s greatness. The man is in his mid-30s, and he continues to get better every single season. It’s really unbelievable. I remember watching him play in high school and thinking he was going to be great in the NBA, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted this level of excellence, sustained for this long, with no signs of slowing down!

After the Finals ended, I said on Twitter that to me, Michael Jordan will always be the greatest of all-time. But at the same time, LeBron is the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. Which is to say, to me greatness isn’t directly connected to ability or skill. MJ did unprecedented things on and off the court, and he changed the game forever. LeBron has also managed to create an incredible off-court legacy, but he is doing it in the shadow of what MJ did and has done.

Kelcey, where do you place LeBron in the pantheon of greatness?


From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Monday, October 13, 2020 12:07 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Lang,

In full transparency, I have no idea what you mean by that. I was actually having this conversation with some of my friends that other day and I think the consensus among us is that we grew up post-Jordan, so we didn’t get to see him but everyone always just told us he is the GOAT. We didn’t get to make that decision for ourselves (although watching The Last Dance this year helped us understand).

But for most millennials, LeBron is the player we grew up with and we get to see play and hit milestones and win championships. He is our GOAT.

One of the biggest arguments you hear is that Jordan has more championships — so do championships directly relate to greatness? Because Danny Green and JR Smith are working their way up the greatness scale then. Or do we measure success purely on stats? Because then LeBron tips the scale, right? Or is it some combination of the two, plus the players’ impact on their team? Defining greatness isn’t so black-and-white, in my opinion. But we don’t need to go that deep (haha).

But whatever generation you grew up in and however you measure success — if you’re a basketball fan — both Jordan and LeBron are in the top three of people who have ever touched that round, leather ball.

The question that I pose to you though, Lang, is where AD ranks in our greatness talks?

LeBron James Lakers Championship Interview

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2020 12:56 PM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: Re: IMHO

It’s definitely generational, at least partly, and I get it that there are large groups of people who never saw Jordan play at his peak. But to me greatness isn’t only about titles and rings. It’s also about off-court impact and a player’s influence. And the phrase “Be Like Mike” still holds up. Heck, LeBron is literally re-making Space Jam! So like I said, LeBron is the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. But to me, MJ was and will always be the greatest.

As for Anthony Davis, the other night, as soon as the Lakers had clinched their title, I grabbed my phone and started doing some research. AD is 27 years old, I discovered thanks to the Google machine. To me, the greatest power forward of all-time is Tim Duncan. By the time Duncan was 27, he was already a two-time MVP, and had won two titles with two Finals MVP awards. Different situations and different types of players, I know, but to me, this is what we are measuring AD against. I’m not even sure I’d put AD ahead of Karl Malone at this point. I know AD is probably going to play for another decade and continue to accumulate awards and numbers, but for now, I think he’s in that top tier at PF. How high he climbs? The jury is still out on that one.

In the meantime, Kelcey, as both the Lakers and the Heat head into the offseason, it’s already time to start thinking about their futures. The Lakers managed to put together a bunch of vets playing on affordable deals, and the Heat have a bunch of young players with a couple of vets. Goran Dragic will be a free agent this offseason, as well as guys like Jae Crowder, while the Lakers could lose key role players like Dwight Howard or Markieff Morris. Put on your GM hat and be Pat Riley or Rob Pelinka, and tell me how you’d keep this teams at the top of their Conferences heading into next season.

LeBron James poses with Anthony Davis

From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2020 8:17 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Yeah Lang – this is a tricky one for GMs; after the longest season, in a bubble, without a restart date set… how proactive do the two top teams need to be during this off-season?

If I’m the Lakers I’m looking to run it back. As long as you’ve got LeBron, until the day he retires, you’re in the mix for a championship. I think Dwight Howard and AD come back, and I’d love if KCP comes back as well as Rondo. But I also think adding Bradley Beal to the Lakers roster makes them unstoppable, so just keep that in your back pocket for 2021.

I think the Lakers need to look at adding a veteran star to their team to win now and not wait to develop the younger guys like Kuzma. LeBron James is 35 years old, so the Lakers will never be a young team because there just isn’t time.

As for Miami, on their board is Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill, Meyers Leonard, Goran Dragic, Udonis Haslem and a few other role players. And they’ve got Jimmy locked in for a few more years — so who do you bring in to ride alongside your superstar guard?

Would it be crazy to say someone like Russell Westbrook? Lang, I would pay so much money to watch these two together. I said in one of our earlier pieces that I think Houston parts ways with Westbrook and builds around Harden — Miami’s shooters could surround the PG well and hey, if toughness costed the Heat the championship, doesn’t get much tougher than Russ.

I am all for superstars joining superstars (especially when they’re Jimmy and Russ — two of the more wild personalities in the entire league).

Speaking of superstars… without looking too far ahead, I’m sitting back looking at the Clippers implode… Do you think Kawhi could be a moving piece to the Lakers or the Heat in 2021?

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks with Heat President Pat Riley

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2020 9:33 PM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: Re: IMHO

It’s weird, but I feel like Kawhi would be a better fit in Miami than crossing the hall at the Staples Center and becoming a Laker. At this point, we’ve seen him on three teams in the last three seasons, and I don’t know if I really feel like he belongs to any of them. He was on the Spurs longer than any team he’s been with, but he achieved arguably his greatest success in Toronto, but then left to go to the Clippers, where he kind of dropped off the map.

Does it feel that way to you, too? Kawhi has always been quiet, but we heard way more from Paul George this season than we did from Kawhi. But go look at the stats: I just did, and was a bit surprised to discover that Kawhi averaged career highs in points and assists per game this season.

Because he’s so quiet, I don’t feel like I know anything about him. So of the two options you mentioned, I could see him going to Miami and falling into the “Heat Culture,” whatever that actually is, and spending some time chilling on South Beach.

But actually, I’d love to see him stay with the Clippers. I know loyalty is out the window in pro sports, but it would be cool to see them try and build something long term.

Wait, what am I saying, let’s send Kawhi to the Eastern Conference!

#IMHO: Most Memorable Storylines of the 2020 NBA Restart

Most Memorable Storylines of the 2020 NBA Restart

From Game 5 of the NBA Finals, to OG Anunoby’s game-winning buzzer beater to the Magic-Bucks protest that shook the sports world, Grind City Media’s Kelcey Wright Johnson and Jon Roser recall their favorite moments from the NBA Restart in Orlando, FL.

#IMHO: LeBron! Jimmy Butler! AD! Tyler Herro! Let’s crown an NBA champion!

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Kelcey Wright Johnson weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Monday, October 5, 2020 9:27:46 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: IMHO

Kelcey:

Hey! Well, we are three games into the NBA Finals, and after two dominant Lakers performances and a couple of key injuries to key Miami Heat players, this series sure looked like it was dunzo. (Which begs a question I’ve never considered: Do the Heat players go to the beach on vacation? I mean, they all live along the water and their arena/practice facility is literally on Biscayne Bay. Maybe they go to, like, the Mountains? But I digress…)

Anyway, the Heat looked like they were ready to be done, when a different Heat team showed up Sunday, with Jimmy Butler dominating offensively and the Heat role players finding that swag they seemed to have temporarily misplaced. Tyler Herro, who is certainly on pace to be the best NBA player ever named Tyler, even blessed us with a snarl after hitting a layup over Rajon Rondo.

So as I write you, the series stands with the Lakers holding a 2-1 lead heading into Game 4. Let’s start this week with this: Can the Heat build on whatever it was they found in Game 3? Or was that the Lakers giving one back before waking up and finally popping the bubble with wins in Games 4 and 5?


From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Monday, October 5, 2020 8:18:18 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Hey Lang!

We’re still watching basketball in October – what!!

Yes – my Heat squad pulled through in Game 3. Well, let’s be real; Jimmy Butler pulled the team through. Although the Heat have had some strong performances by both Tyler Herro and Kelly Olynyk the last two games, it was Butler that willed that team past the Lakers on Sunday night.

So, can the Heat build on that? Of course. Bam has been upgraded to questionable ahead of Game 4 and he’s a big part of this team’s offense, but an even bigger part of their defensive schemes. Plus, if the pieces that surround Jimmy G. Buckets continue to put up numbers — I still truly believe in this Miami team. The way that Butler’s swag and confidence rubs off on his teammates is unreal to watch (i.e. Herro’s snarl while shooting 6-18).

As for the Lakers, I think they just came out flat. We’ve seen this as sports fans time and time again; sometimes teams can go into games a bit cocky and I think that’s what happened to the Lakers. I mean, we saw it this year with the Grizzlies going into their game against the Warriors; they started so flat and then ended up losing to a team that they maybe shouldn’t have. But if LeBron is on AND Anthony Davis can turn it on again, obviously the Lakers are the most dangerous team left in the bubble.

As much as I want this to go to a Game 7, and I’m cheering for the Heat — you would never see me put my money against The King, LeBron James.

Other than LeBron, AD, Jimmy and Herro — who do you think could be a surprise step-up star in the next few games on this series?

Tyler Herro snarl

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Tuesday, October 6, 2020 9:25:07 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: Re: IMHO

Yeah, I’m with you on the Lake Show – I think they came out with too little fizz in their drink for Game 3, if you know what I’m saying.

We talked about this at some point on some platform, I’m pretty sure, but I’ve said all along that for the Heat to have a chance in this series, Jimmy Butler has to be the best player on the court in the series. And in Game Three, he was! That was a Jimmy Butler that, to be frank, we’ve never really seen before. Because Butler has never had to be that good to keep the Heat atop the Eastern Conference – Miami’s team scheme was what made them so tough to defend.

But with Dragic and Adebayo on the chilling list, Butler didn’t have the luxury of being able to defer to capable teammates. Jimmy has to put up damn near a triple-double for the Heat to be great enough to have a shot against this powerful Lakers squad.

To answer your question, the Heat can’t have a surprise step-up star: It has to be Jimmy Butler. Butler was the best player on the court in Game 3. Can he do it three more times in the next four games? He might need a lot of Big Face Coffee to pull that off.

You mentioned the Finals being in October, which is weird because the baseball playoffs are happening, as well as the NFL season, college football, the Stanley Cup just ended (apparently?), and golf is happening… there’s a ton going on. Which brings me to this story from The Hollywood Reporter about how the opening night of the NBA Finals drew pretty poor ratings. My question to you is, should the NBA be worried?

Jimmy Butler against the Lakers

From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Tuesday, October 6, 2020 6:20 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

The NBA isn’t the only league that is facing viewership declines—even the Stanley Cup and US Open were both down a lot this year. I think that is caused a lot by the pandemic, people at work, the league still going on this late into the year, all the other major sports there are right now to watch at the same time, and the decrease in expendable money (for cable; a lot of people aren’t watching on ESPN). But also, I think I read somewhere that this is the very first time in NBA history that a Finals game was played at the same time as Sunday Night Football. Game 3 would have been played at the same time the 49ers took on the Eagles.

So, to answer your question; no, I don’t think the NBA needs to panic quite yet. If I look at the viewership for the three games, it was games 2 and 3 that suffered the most (a Friday night game and a Sunday afternoon game — like, come on!). I think the final factor is the bubble. Although the NBA has been *the safest* sports league in its restart, having no fans really does affect the mood and vibes of games and I think some sports fans just aren’t into it as much as they may have been in the last few years.

Lang, you’re a football guy and a basketball guy. If you’re looking from a fully fan perspective… Would you rather tune into football’s regular season right now, rather than the NBA Finals? Do you think that’s a big factor?

NBA Finals Sign

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Wednesday, October 7, 2020 8:24:07 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: Re: IMHO

I’ll be honest with you Kelcey: I feel like we should just consider ourselves lucky to be able to watch any sports at all right now. Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic is still happening, that we still can’t hang with our friends or go out or do pretty much anything we did before all this broke out, I think it’s pretty incredible that we have sports at all. Remember those first few months when we didn’t have any sports on TV? When the NBA 2K League saved the day by providing the very best and most compelling sports programming available?

Well, right now we’ve got the best college football league playing (SEC! SEC!), the NFL regular season, the baseball playoffs, the return of international soccer, the NBA Finals… it’s really kind of ridiculous. If people are hardcore football fans, I can see why they might tune into an NFL game right now, considering we’re still relatively early in the NFL schedule (Week 4) and there was a crazy avalanche of NBA games on TV there for a while.

To me, the biggest factor is the lack of fans. I’ve been to dozens of NBA Finals games in person. That passion, that electricity, that tension—that is what separates a regular season game from an NBA Finals game. I was in Detroit in 2005 for Game 5 when Robert Horry spontaneously combusted and carried the Spurs to a win and sucked every breath of air out of that building. I was there in Miami for Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, and when Ray Allen hit that three-pointer from the corner, I swear it felt like the upper deck started vibrating.

That energy, to me, is what’s missing from these Finals. There’s also a missing connection to the connection. I’ll never forget being in Detroit back in 2004, when the Pistons were starting to break down the mighty Lakers, and on a Finals off night I went to a local movie theater to see The Dark Night. And in line in front of me were a couple of fans buying popcorn casually rocking novelty Ben Wallace afros. We saw it in Memphis this season: When teams get hot and get good, the surrounding communities buy in and it becomes a communal experience. Teams win a title, sure, but communities also win. And I wonder if we’re missing some of that this season?

Either way, this time next week we’ll be talking about a new NBA Champ!