Inside the College Student Athlete: NBA Finals
Sports |  Source: bostonglobe.com

Inside the College Student Athlete: NBA Finals

The NBA Finals from a student-athlete perspective.

So if you've been reading any of my stuff (thank you), you know that I'm a little biased towards basketball. It's what I know, and ever since I was a little kid, it's honestly been a part of who I am. A lot of people hate on the NBA, claim that college basketball is better and more fun to watch. I don't care. I love the NBA, I love the players, the coaches, even the ridiculous commentators because they all contribute to an end result that I can't get enough of.

This series between Golden State and Cleveland sucked. There was so much hate and negativity revolving around the now NBA Champion Cavaliers that even the biggest of Cavalier fans felt doomed. There was talk about how terrible the ratings would be for Games 5 & 6 because there was just no way there would be a Game 7, especially the way the Cavs had been outplayed.

But that proved to be just that, as LeBron and Kyrie willed their way to arguably the best comeback in NBA history and Cleveland's first major sports championship since 1964.

Now for any of you that watched this game, just know that it was so historic that ESPN has probably already started production for the 30 for 30 film on it. The 73-win Warriors with a choke similar to the 2007 Patriots, Kevin Love's absolute fall from grace, Kyrie's ascent into a top-10 player in this league, the storylines are endless.

The part that really stuck with me, however, was the emotions you saw on these guys' faces. You saw LeBron, the mightiest of Cavaliers (I'd say Warriors but that just doesn't seem right so I'm just gonna try and make this one work), was brought to his knees, tears streaming down his face.

JR Smith, who was probably sipping on Molly water in the final minutes, was just as emotional. That's when it really hit me, this was something that these guys may never experience again. Something that they play their whole career for: This one moment.

Here's a quick list of guys that have never won an NBA Championship: Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley.

James Jones has three.

The emotion I saw was reminiscent of the way I felt after what, at the time, I had thought to be my last high school race ever. I came from a very, very good track program. My junior year we finished as the third best public school team in the entire state of New Jersey. My senior year, I believe 10 of us went on to compete in college, and about half at the Division I level. Together we all broke countless school records and won numerous league, county, and state sectional titles.

At the State Group meet, I prepared what would be my last 200m race as a high school athlete. I didn't use blocks in this race because they wouldn't allow you to bring your own set and I was very superstitious so I just went without them, which many people look at as a stupid decision but it worked for me.

I remember as I got down into the set position, the last four years of training and races and teammates all flashed in my head. Everything that I had gone through to lead me up to this moment right here. I knew that I had to give everything that I had, and I did. I ended up running a personal record (PR), and afterwards I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn't even believe I had just finished. I was ecstatic with a PR, but also sad that it was all over.

It turns out that my race had qualified me for one additional meet, the State Meet of Champions, which obviously I was excited for but it actually made me look like an idiot because I made the whole emotional Instagram post and everything.

That feeling though after that race, I don't think will ever be matched. Even at the State Meet of Champions, I had felt like I had already come to terms with the end. You only get one last race, and in the eyes of the Cavaliers, you only get one first championship, and I just have to assume that the emotions I felt that day are similar to those the Cavaliers are feeling right now.

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Sports |  Source: youtube.com

Inside the College Student Athlete

What is the ratio of student to athlete?

Student-athlete.

That little hyphen there is what differentiates me from the other 20,000 undergraduate students at school. But am I really very different?

I enjoy beer-drinking, beer-funneling, beer-holding, beer-watching, and drinking beer just like any other typical college student (half-joking here). I enjoy going out on the weekends as well as going out on nights that really aren't meant for going out (only in college is it acceptable to go out and party on a random Tuesday night).

The thing is though, I can't really do all that and be a great athlete. One of the strongest skills I have developed being a student-athlete is my ability to say no. My ability to be different. When everyone else is eight beers deep, I have to stay hydrated in other ways because I know that at 8 a.m. the next morning I have to run repeat 200's on the track.

That's OK though because, guess what? I get to do all the things your average college student does and more. I get to have a college experience that is completely different than yours (unless you're a student athlete, of course, because then we're probably in the same boat). I get to compete with some of the best athletes around, I get to be coached by some of the finest coaches, and I get to do 95 percent of the same shit you NARPs do (non-athletic regular person for those of you who haven't accepted who you are yet).

And really is sacrificing a couple Friday nights truly a bad thing? I'll probably get a typical frat response here that shuns me for my lack of alcohol consumption, but honestly, my liver probably couldn't handle the 24/7 non-stop drinking that goes on.

There's a balance I have to achieve, but it isn't too difficult. By simply weighing the pros and cons of a certain situation, I can make the best decision possible for myself. Are there are some nights where I'm conflicted between being a regular college kid or an athlete? Absolutely. One of the worst feelings in the world is regret. Whether that regret is that I missed a huge party that all my friends were at or showing up to practice hungover the next morning looking and thinking, "why do I do this to myself?"

I'm still a college student. I'm still learning and I'm also still making stupid mistakes. It's what college kids do. But being a student-athlete helps me minimize those mistakes and look at things with a perspective that not many people are lucky enough to have.

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Sports |  Source: japantimes.co.jp

Shaun Livingston's Game Shouldn't Surprise Anyone

He's paid his dues in the league.

This has been a crazy week of basketball. One of the game's greatest shooting guards retired from the game he dominated for close to two decades. Tracy McGrady went from a high school phenom to NBA Superstar by the turn of the century. Also this year, two of the game's greatest players, former point guard Penny Hardaway and small forward Grant Hill, are being elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame on their first year of eligibility. Finally, led by Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, the Portland Trail Blazers has won their franchise's second NBA championship.

Life can sometimes be very unfair. Sometimes you spend your entire life working on a craft, perfecting it, mastering it. You give up your Friday nights to run sprints in an empty gym or on an empty court to earn an athletic scholarship. Then, you spend the next one to four years having to balance a full-time job as a student athlete, while also having to excel in the classroom of a university of higher education.

After all that work (for no pay) and all that sacrifice, your knee gives out in your rookie season. Or you Achilles tear to shreds. Or you get into a bad car accident in the off-season that destroys both your legs. A lifelong investment down is flushed down toilet.

Coming straight out of high school, Shaun Livingston was a 6-foot-7 point guard with 6-foot-11 wingspan and was the No. 2 player in the nation when he declared for the 2004 NBA Draft. After two average seasons with the lowly Los Angeles Clippers, he had a career high in points, assists, steals, and minutes per game in his third year.

On February 26 against the Charlotte Bobcats, Livingston suffered one a devastating knee injury to his left leg. In one play, he dislocated his left kneecap, patella, and tibio-fibular, tore his ACL, PCL, and his lateral meniscus, and badly sprained his MCL. It makes Theismann's broken leg look like a paper cut.

Livingston would miss the rest of that season, all of the following season (2007-08), and play in only 48 games with the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Washington Wizards over the course of two seasons (2008-10).

He essentially became a journeyman player, getting traded, waived, one year contracts season after season. However, his one season with the Brooklyn Nets gave the Golden State Warriors front office enough confidence to sign him to a three year, sixteen million dollar deal to back-up point guard Stephen Curry.

Maybe his veteran presence helped Curry's confidence as he suffered multiple ankle injuries earlier in his career. Maybe a veteran in the youthful backcourt helped continue the progress of Curry and Klay Thompson.

All that is clear is that Livingston has found a home in Golden State as one of the top players off the bench. Whether you're a fan of the team or not, Livingston story and comeback should be celebrated as a triumph of will.

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Sports |  Source: youtube.com

Inside The College Student Athlete

My "oh shit" moment.

The cool thing about college athletics is that almost everyone was a high school star. In high school you think you're the shit because you ran fast at a this meet and beat every kid from that high school. When you get to college though, you're competing against the best-of-the-best. You don't make it to intercollegiate athletics by being a scrub. Nobody just accidentally finds their way onto a college track; if you're there, there's a reason for it.

One thing you learn is that there will always be someone better than you, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Something I've noticed a lot more in college than in high school is the mutual respect athletes have for one another; not just in different sports, but in their own sports as well.

Don't get me wrong, I love beating people, there's almost no better feeling in the world than crossing that line ahead of the guy next to you. At some point though, you kind of come across this "oh shit" moment where you realize that you're not competing against the scrubs from your local high schools anymore, you are competing against some of the finest athletes in the world (sure that may be an exaggeration, but you get what I'm saying).

For me, my "oh shit" moment came actually a couple of weeks ago at the Atlantic 10 Championships. This would be my second Atlantic 10 competition, so I had a rough idea of what to expect. I knew that the guys I would be running against were some of the fastest I have ever competed against.

But it wasn't until after the race that I really said to myself, "oh shit." The reason being that, in the trials of the 200m dash, I ran faster than I ever have in my entire life, only to look up at fourteen other guys finishing ahead of me, seven places shy of scoring. Sure, one may look at that as a failure, but it has only helped fuel my love for the sport.

College sports teams are littered with some of the best athletes you will ever see. In my sport alone (track and field, if you somehow haven't caught on yet), only 4.9 percent of high school athletes make it to the NCAA and only 1.9 percent make it to the Division I level. Those numbers are so minuscule that it just goes to show how few people have what it takes to truly take it to the next level.

For me, I enjoy competing. I'm mature enough where I realize I'm not going to be the fastest guy on the track every time out, and that's okay. This past season at the Atlantic 10 Championships I found myself in peak running form only to find myself looking at eight other individuals running in the finals the next day.

At some point, an athlete has to take what they can get, and admire greatness when they come across it. By no means does that mean I'm going to settle in any of my races. But that does mean that after I know I've given 110% on that track, I can still look on and watch as a fan of the sport, captivated by the other amazing athletes giving their all.

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Sports |  Source: sportingnews.com

Stop Complaining and Enjoy The NBA Finals

There's no conspiracy, relaxxxx.

Any rational NBA fan probably saw this coming. No, I'm not about talking the Warriors and the Cavaliers meeting each other for the second straight NBA Finals.

I'm talking about the apparent hate for the Warriors as a whole.

After Golden State finished off one of the most impressive comebacks in recent NBA history, battling back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, the hate commenced, for whatever reason.

Now, it should be mentioned that the Warriors are the defending champs and coming off a historic regular season, but the Thunder were playing their best basketball, having beat the San Antonio Spurs in the previous round.

So once the Warriors won Game 7 on their home court, instead of excitement over Curry vs. LeBron 2, I saw this on Facebook and Twitter.

Nevermind the fact that it was the Thunder who CHOKED in games six and seven that pushed the Warriors into the NBA Finals, not some grand master plan that was unearthed by Conspiracy Theorist Joe.

Two years ago, Stephen Curry and the Warriors were the darlings of the NBA. They weren't superstars yet, but they were fun to watch.

Meanwhile everyone is wishing ill on the Warriors. The media have covered this team so much that the team now has, what I call, "LeBron heat" (when pretty much all fans hate you for no apparent reason, if not for the excitement of watching you fall).

Even former coaches and players are knocking the Warriors for their "exclusive 3-point shooting offense".

I'm glad that Michael Jordan isn't playing in this era of basketball. Don't take this next statement as me hating on MJ. I think he is, without a doubt, the best basketball player on the planet, but I would bet that he would get just as much hate if he was still playing today. We all remember the "Flu game," going 6-0 in NBA Finals and "Air Jordan," among other noteworthy accomplishments.

They can also criticize him for not being too serious, not being able to get over the hump and reach an NBA Finals in his first seven years in the league, his constant retirement and un-retirements (everyone did criticized Favre when he did, so it's fair Jordan would get the same heat), and the fact that he played well past his prime and that he tries to hog the spotlight for himself.

Yes, we all could do with a little less coverage of the Warriors, but you guys asked for it. So sit back and enjoy the fact that LeBron is the first non-Celtic to make it to six straight NBA Finals. Enjoy the fact that Stephen Curry and the Warriors are the most fun basketball team to watch in recent memory.

That's right. I used the "F" word. Fun. Because that's what we all should feel when watching these two great teams duke it out once the NBA Finals start on June 2.

So stop with the depressing conspiracy theories, and appreciate watching greatness.

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Sports |  Source: nbcsports.com

J.R. Smith Is the Best Thing About The Finals

The dude hasn't worn a shirt since the buzzer sounded.

December 27th, 1964. On this day, the Jim Brown led Cleveland Browns blew out the Baltimore Colts 27-0 in the NFL Championship (also my dad turned four, but that's not important right now).

It took 52 years until the city of Cleveland to win another professional sports title when the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. More than five decades of turmoil and failure built up exploded when the team returned home to celebrate.

So what is the most memorable moment of these past few days? LeBron breaking down following the win, fulfilling his promise to the franchise and city he left, Jim Brown presenting the Larry O'Brien trophy, crossing generations of Cleveland sport icons. Or J.R. Smith and literally anything he does.

This shirtless, tattooed fellow is the Cavaliers starting shooting guard and was the team's third best scorer throughout the Finals, behind the combo of LeBron and Kyrie. The high-volume 12-year veteran has made a career in the NBA as a difficult shot taker and maker. On many occasions, when the shot clock for the Cavs is ticking down, LeBron looks for J.R to shoot a fade away 30 footer.

His past three days following being crowned a champion includes him celebrating with his team in Las Vegas, pouring champagne on a female fan, and throwing his name on the ballot for the presidential election - all while maintaining his shirtless exterior. The last shirt he wore was probably the championship t-shirts handed out after Game 7.

Throughout his decade plus NBA career, J.R. has been a bit of a punching bag in the league for some questionable judgment on and off the court, including multiple speeding tickets, having his license suspended, and spending 30 days in jail in 2007 for running a stop sign in his SUV, leading to an accident and death of one of his passengers.

On the court, people question his basketball IQ and how serious he takes the game. In 2014 with the New York Knicks, Smith was fined $50,000 for attempting to untie the shoelaces of multiple opponents during games.

That being said, Smith remains a talented and a well-liked player in NBA circles. Behind all the jokes and questionable actions, Smith was named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 2012-13, was a key factor on back-to-back Knicks playoff teams, and was definitely a key factor on this championship Cavs team. And behind the clown is the tears of a man who has battled for most of his life and finally come out on top.

I may be happier for LeBron and the city of Cleveland for this title, but J.R. Smith is an example of a person who enjoys life and what's he done because of how far his own journey has taken him.