LeBron James was selected, right out of high school, as the first overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA Draft. He was immediately dubbed the next great player by the national hoops pundits and proceeded to appear in a series of Nike commercials before ever actually lacing up a pair of shoes for an NBA game.
Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert bought the team in 2005 and quickly installed a new management team led by general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Brown. Both are young guys with experience working for successful organizations. They have signed unselfish, unheralded players like guards Larry Hughes and Daniel Gibson, center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and forward Donyell Marshall.
But it's understood all around that the Cavs are LeBron's team. This spring, he's led Cleveland to the NBA Finals, validating the pundits and Nike execs. With James on the roster, Cleveland has improved each year, increasing its win totals from 17 in 2003, to 35 in 2004, 42 in 2005 and 50 in each of the last two seasons.
Just as important, James' dynamic but team-focused play has electrified Cleveland, a mid-sized blue-collar city located on Lake Erie that hasn't won a championship in anything since the Browns claimed the NFL title in 1964.
It would stand to reason, then, that the Cavaliers' system would be examined and possibly duplicated by the Milwaukee Bucks, another long-struggling franchise playing in a blue-collar town on a big lake. The Bucks, who pick sixth in the NBA draft on June 28, selected center Andrew Bogut with the first overall pick in 2005. And the team has a young general manager, Larry Harris, and a new coach, Larry Kristowiak.
But little electricity surrounds the pro hoops scene in Milwaukee. The Bucks' 28-54 season ended in April with a 109-96 loss to James and the Cavaliers. Earl Boykins, not Bogut, led the scoring with 28 points. Boykins is a 31-year-old point guard who stands just 5'5" and has averaged under 10 points per game over his nine-year career.
Actually, Bogut didn't play at all; he missed the last 16 games of the season with a foot injury. And former league all-star Michael Redd appeared in just 53 of the 82 games, despite collecting a team-high salary of more than $13 million. Also missing from the lineup were forward Charlie Villanueva (39 games) and guard Bobby Simmons (0 games).
While injuries to those four players can carry a lot of the blame for a lost season, there's little sense that the Bucks are a team on the rise. Their offense runs through Redd at the expense of Bogut, who averaged only 12 points per game this season. The team has chosen to invest heavily in Simmons, who earned $8.6 million while nursing a chronic foot injury all season, and Ruben Patterson, whose $6.8 million salary buys the services of a convicted sex offender.
The Bucks last won a title in 1971 with Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Oscar Robertson. Since then, they've reached the Finals only once, in 1974, and last made the conference finals in 2000-01. That was supposed to be a jumping-off point, but they've since been unable to get out of the first round of the playoffs and have failed to qualify for the post-season three times.
It's true a player of LeBron James' ability doesn't come around very often. But with Cleveland proving that a small-market franchise can win in today's NBA, the Bucks are running out of excuses for their ineptitude.
The time has come for Madison's Jerry Kelly to contend for a major golf championship.
This weekend, Kelly enters the U.S. Open ranked 30th on the PGA Tour's money list ($1,270,077 in 15 events). He has finished in the top 10 at five tournaments this year. And he tied for fifth at the Masters in April, just three shots off the lead.
Moreover, Kelly is ranked 18th on the Tour in driving accuracy, keeping it in the fairway nearly 70% of the time. That should help him navigate the tight fairways and unruly rough of Oakmont, site of this year's U.S. Open.
Kelly's group for Thursday and Friday includes the hot-headed Rory Sabbatini, but also the steady and affable Justin Leonard. He has as good a shot as anyone of being on the leader board heading into the final round on Sunday.