The Goose, On The Field or Sidelines, Will Always Be A Part of NFL History

In a football world that is sometimes devoid of personality, the Goose always stood out.

Tony Siragusa – who sadly passed away at the age of 55 on Wednesday – always managed to come across as larger than life even in a sport full of larger-than-life body types. Known in the locker rooms as a prankster with his own unique sense of humor, the Goose parlayed his football career into a broadcast role in a move that just fit him as a human being.

Siragusa first found his way into the league after going undrafted out of Pittsburgh in 1990. He played for seven seasons in Indianapolis with the Colts, gaining a reputation for his run-stuffing ability. This was a time when backs like Emmitt Smith and Jerome Bettis were tearing up the league, a time before spread offenses and limited defensive back contact meant that teams became more likely to go to the air. If you didn’t have the ability to stop the run, you couldn’t win football games.

Just ask the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

It was in Baltimore where Siragusa became a household name. The 6-foot-3, 340-pounder played the role of a giant brick wall as the 2000 Ravens won the first Vince Lombardi trophy in franchise history thanks to a competent offense and a historic defense.

As loud as he was off the field – and the New Jersey native with the Italian-American heritage could certainly be that – he was underappreciated on it. Siragusa never once made it to the Pro Bowl, mainly because his 22 sacks in 12 seasons meant that he wasn’t flashy enough with the voters.

What he was, however, was a 3-4 nose tackle that the Ravens could build an entire defense around. The likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were better players because Siragusa occupied two or three blockers on every play. This allowed his more heralded teammates to slice into the backfield and make impact plays because there was simply no one left to lay a block on them.

Because of the Goose.

It was the HBO series Hard Knocks where Siragusa really became a star. The documentary allowed viewers into the heart of an NFL team for the very first time and Siragusa was an absolute natural. Fans got to see a player working as hard as anyone on a day-to-day basis who was also a generous, giving teammate who acted as a team unifier and mentor. His size and personality made him stand out and you can argue that without Siragusa around then Hard Knocks would not have become the iconic property in the HBO library that it has.

Knee injuries could have derailed Siragusa’s career many times. His undrafted free agent status was only because of an ACL tear at Pitt that ruined his stock. Having a massive body with unpredictable knees in the middle of the trenches given the contact in that part of the field is not something that general managers enjoy. Siragusa was not to be denied his own NFL shot, however, and along with all the other great traits of the man was his perseverance and determination to be the best player he could be.

A post-playing career gig as a sideline reporter with Fox lasted until 2015 – Siragusa retired in 2002 – but his media career is much more varied than that one job. He appeared in The Sopranos, as a Russian mobster in 2002’s 25th Hour, and fronted a show called Man Caves on the DIY network. He even had the guts to appear in an ad campaign for Depend for Men because of his concern for men with prostate cancer.

Siragusa was the type of player that fans of a certain age will always hold fond memories of and his place in Baltimore and NFL history is secure.

Article by Premier Players Steve Wright

Gronkowski announces retirement again but is 3x the charm?

Rob Gronkowski announced his second NFL retirement on Tuesday, June 21. Fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be hoping that this premier player ends his newest retirement as quickly as his fellow future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady did earlier this offseason.

Brady – who had his meme game going strong on Twitter soon after the announcement was made – has already tempted Gronk out of retirement once before. It was Brady who made the call to his all-time favorite pass catcher after arriving in Tamp Bay, pulling Gronkowski back to the NFL after the pair had dominated the AFC in New England.

If this is a true retirement, however, what is the legacy of this premier player?

Simply put, he is one of the greatest ever players at his position in NFL history.

The 33-year-old has spent his career as a walking matchup problem. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Gronkowski is perhaps the greatest red zone threat to ever play in the NFL. This would seem to track given that he has the most touchdowns of anyone since 2020 and that his 92 receiving touchdowns are the third most in history by a tight end.

To back up the ‘best ever’ conversation, Gronk scored those 92 touchdowns in far fewer games than the two tight ends ahead of him on the list. Tony Gonzalez had 111 touchdowns in 270 games, Antonio Gates – the all-time leader at the position – finished with 116 touchdowns in 236 games. Gronk has taken just 143 contests to reach his mark of 92 (93 if you count his rushing TD in 2011).

Continuing at that pace, Gronk would have had 150+ touchdowns if he had played as many games as Gates.

It is hard to separate Gronkowski from Brady. The duo trail only Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison when it comes to the most touchdown passes thrown by a quarterback to a single receiver (or in this case tight end). It is not even like the duo has been slowing down in recent years as they combined for 13 touchdowns in their two seasons in Tampa Bay. That is just one less touchdown than Gronkowski scored in his last three seasons in New England.

Gronkowski’s greatest year was his second in the league in 2011. He was basically unplayable for most of the season as he was in his athletic pomp before little injuries and the wear and tear of NFL life started to wear him down. That season – along with the already mentioned rushing touchdown on the only carry of his entire career – Gronkowski caught 17 touchdowns and had over 1,300 yards receiving. It is the greatest single season by a tight end in the history of the NFL.

The odds of a Gronk return depend entirely on how the Bucs start out in 2022. Missing training camp means nothing to a veteran who has seen it all before and honestly, works better as Gronk is the type of player to keep himself in good shape regardless. If the Bucs start 3-7 or 4-6, don’t expect to see him. If, however, they are at 7-3 or so and look set for another deep playoff run then don’t be shocked in the slightest to see him back at Ray Jay as we hit November.

 

 

Father’s Day Is Everyday For These Pro Sports Dads/Sons

There are many great father/son duos all over the sporting map. They always say that having good genes is important if you have designs on becoming a professional athlete and it is hard to get much better genes than having a dad who was a pro himself.

In a slightly belated nod to fathers everywhere, here is a look at some of the best father/son sporting combos we have seen to date.

NBA – Dell/Steph/Seth Curry

Attempting to not give in to the newness of this choice but it is hard to argue against the Dell/Steph/Seth Curry combination being the best father/son/son combo the NBA has ever seen.

Steph Curry continues to write his legacy as a premier player and one of the top point guards in the history of the game. Dell was a better player than anyone remembers and a key sixth man who at one point was the holder of a bunch of major all-time records for the Charlotte Hornets.

The addition of Seth is a bonus – Dell/Steph would win this regardless – but he transitioned from an afterthought into a solid knockdown shooter over the course of his career in the league.

NFL – Archie/Peyton/Eli Manning

The Long and Matthews’ clans get a nod here, but the legacy of the First Family of football pushes them over the edge.

The crazy thing about the Manning family is that patriarch Archie threw for over 23,000 yards with a couple of Pro Bowls yet he is comfortable as the least decorated of the three. Eli has a couple of Super Bowl wins and over 57,000 yards passing – he was also the kryptonite for Tom Brady – while Peyton was a 14-time Pro Bowler, two-time Super Bowl winner, and his five MVP awards rank him behind probably only Brady as the best quarterback of all-time.

Watch for Archie’s grandson (and Peyton/Eli’s nephew) Arch to eventually continue this legacy.

MLB – Bobby/Barry Bonds

The MLB is probably the greatest legacy sport of them all. The league is filled with duos that have both been stars and the Bobby and Barry Bonds just pip the Griffeys and the Fielders for me.

Barry took the league by storm, initially as a player that could hit for average and pop while being an outstanding runner and base stealer. However, Barry became one of the more polarizing figures in the entire sporting world as his career progressed through the steroid years, with his 762 home runs and 162.8 WAR being only part of his legacy.

This is a shame in many ways because father Bobby was another outstanding multi-tool player. He was a three-time all-star and three-time Gold Glove award winner as a star of the league for 14 years.

Soccer – Frank Lampard Sr./Frank Jr.

It is weird that in a sport as big as soccer there has been no father/son duo to completely steal the show at the international level. The closest is probably the two Franks, with one being a one-club legend and the other one of the greatest attacking midfielders of all time.

Frank Sr. played over 500 games for West Ham United, mainly as a left-back. His career spanned from 1967 to 1984 and he was still an effective player when he retired. Frank Jr. started at West Ham before making a controversial move to bitter rivals Chelsea. It was the right move, though, with Lampard Jr. becoming one of the most decorated players in the history of the club, an international stalwart for England, and going down as one of the greatest Premier League players of all time.

Premier Players article by Steve Wright

Curry Completes Championship Season With MVP Award

It is hard to believe that there are still people out there questioning the greatness of Golden State Warriors’ premier player Steph Curry. These are not just quiet voices either as a couple of them are some of the most prominent voices on various sports media platforms. It feels like there are some people out there just unwilling to accept greatness, to push their own agenda of misinformation to criticize a player who now has four rings with a single franchise.

Not that Steph Curry cares one little bit.

This playoff run was an important one for Curry. Had he slipped into retirement with three rings then you feel that history would have been kind to him. Curry, though, is the type of player who wants his legacy to be in the now. To do that he knew he had to lead his Warriors over the Boston Celtics this June and be front and center in the NBA Title win.

I would say that winning a first NBA Finals MVP award would class as being a key cog in the victory.

Curry is something of an enigma. Off the court, he is a player that shirks the limelight. In many ways he is more akin to a superstar like Lionel Messi, a player who just wants to get on with – and excel – at his job without the baggage that comes with being one of the best players on the planet. Curry appears to be selfless, kind, and modest off of the court and away from basketball.

However, as soon as he crosses that line onto the court, Curry is a different animal. His brother Seth described Steph as a “Psycho.” He went on to say, “Every time he steps out on the floor, he knows that there’s never been anybody better than him on any floor he’s been on.”

One mark of a true great is their ability to bounce back and shake off a poor performance. Curry was held without a three-pointer in Game 5 of the finals. There are players who would have found Game 6 a struggle, changing what they did as a player and fading into the background. Instead, Curry took over as he went for 34 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. The Warriors were down early, but Curry muscled up and led the comeback that had him signaling for a ring – in a nod to the haters – in the middle of the third quarter.

The studies around sports psychology are fascinating and the attitude of Curry matches that of players like Jordan and Bird. Basketball is arguably the professional team sport where one player can make the biggest difference. To be that player you simply have to have some kind of arrogance, cutthroat demeanor with how you play and how you handle yourself.

Kobe had it. Kareem had it. Steph Curry certainly has it, and as a premier player in history – with a story that is not yet fully written – Curry will keep challenging those names as he moves up the list of best-ever to play the game of basketball.

Article by Premier Players Steve Wright

Is Ryan The Right Man At The Right Time Again?

Sometimes in sports, even the best-laid plans can fall apart.

That is exactly what happened to the Atlanta Falcons when star quarterback Michael Vick got caught up in a scandal entirely of his own making. The franchise needed stability and leadership and they found both with the No. 3 overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft when they took a gamble on a tall, skinny, intelligent kid out of Boston College named Matt Ryan.

Ryan was seen by most as the best quarterback prospect in the draft – the next QB off the board was Joe Flacco at No. 18 – but this premier player was far from a lock to be the Falcons’ choice. Atlanta won a coin toss against the Raiders for the No. 3 pick and after Jake and Chris Long went off the board it was widely assumed that running back Darren McFadden would be their choice. McFadden was pro-ready and had been a monster in the SEC at Arkansas, but the Falcons brass knew they needed a potential cornerstone to build around.

They got exactly that in Matty Ice.

This premier player spent 14 seasons in Atlanta. He started from day one, turning a team that went 4-12 in 2007 into a squad that made the playoffs with an 11-5 record in 2008. Ryan was named rookie of the year as he passed for over 3,400 yards and 16 touchdowns. Ryan was the right man at the right time for Atlanta. A player that has made others better his entire career with the likes of Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Calvin Ridley excelling with his quarterback play.

Ryan’s best year in Atlanta was in 2016. That year he was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP. He passed for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns (to seven picks) with a 69.9% completion percentage. These are all career-high marks. The Falcons finished 11-5 that season and made it all the way to Super Bowl LI. This game will likely be Ryan’s biggest career regret after the premier player pushed the Falcons to a 28-3 lead halfway through the third quarter before the New England Patriots staged the most ridiculous of comebacks to win 34-28 in overtime.

The Falcons finished 10-6 in 2017, but that Super Bowl loss is something that Ryan and the team never seem to have recovered from fully. After four seasons with losing records, Ryan is taking his almost 60,000 yards passing and 367 career touchdowns with his to Indianapolis to look for a late-career rejuvenation and another Super Bowl run.

The Colts need Ryan may be more than he needs them. This is the team’s fifth quarterback change in as many years and last year their marriage with Carson Wentz just didn’t work. This is a young offensive set of playmakers outside of Ryan and the leadership skills he honed in his early years in that tough Atlanta environment have been on full display already during the offseason.

More than that, though, Ryan needs to be a playmaker.  Early questions over his arm strength seem to have disappeared as he has been seen making all the throws. His adaptability after 14 seasons in one city was also questioned, but Matty Ice doesn’t just have that nickname because of his play on the field. This is a player ready to attack the NFL – in a division with one bad team (Texans) and one hard to get a read on (Jaguars) – so it would take a brave man to bet against Ryan pushing his Colts into the playoff picture in 2022.

Article by Premier Players Steve Wright

 

Fans Spending On Live Sports Experiences Surge

People love to watch their premier players at live sporting events.  However, the world is much more expensive now than a year ago. As a result, people are changing their spending habits and not necessarily how you might think.

Spending on consumer goods is way down, but spending on experiences is way up. People saw the world shut down into a place where experiences that had been easy to pass over as “we will do it next time” suddenly didn’t have a foreseeable next time. This means that the demand for live sports – for those premier players that make it easy to take your mind off of money worries or general anxiety for a few hours – is surging.

Sports economics professors saw this coming. According to Dennis Coates, a sports economics guru from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, sports are typically “unresponsive to price changes.” He went on to note how regardless of “good times, bad times, high prices – it doesn’t change consumers’ behavior.”

In the last pre-pandemic, pre-inflation year, the average price for an NFL ticket was $258 in 2019, and those exact tickets were $307 after the release of the league schedule this season. Tickets are expensive, but so are items at the sporting event where the premier players are strutting their stuff. The price of one single beer at the PGA Championship – admittedly a high-end event in a world of high-end events – was $18 earlier this week. Fans want to add to their experience, and after paying $X for a ticket, they are more than willing to buy one beer for the price of a 12-pack at a grocery store.

People are definitely taking the work hard, play hard approach when it comes to sporting events. One NBA fan talked of paying $1,200 for three tickets to the NBA playoffs between the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets. The general theory is that a fan can always make more money – even if that means picking up a side hustle – but experiences are everything. Fans want to be part of a winning culture, part of a crowd after so long while crowds were nowhere to be seen. As a result, they will pay what could be seen as over the odds for those experiences.

This is a trend reflected outside the world of premier players and sporting events as well. Travel – both domestically and internationally – is up massively on pre-pandemic levels. We live in a world where people want to experience everything they can – often in families or with a group – and other things are being put on the back burner to make such experiences possible.

The best advice given by one fan was, “work to live, don’t live to work.” The Memorial Day weekend has gone, and the unofficial start of summer is here. Fans don’t have to flock to MLB stadiums to get a fan experience that will stay in the money (but you could). Finding a fun minor league baseball, local indoor soccer, or even a rec ultimate Frisbee league will still make for a fun and relaxed summer evening.

Finding ways to attend sporting events will lift your mood, and it will give you a zest for life that some of us may have lost during the last couple of years.

Article by Premier Players Steve Wright

The Bus Finishes Education Route At ND

While there are plenty of former athletes content to do relatively little after retirement, the premier players look to continue to push themselves with the spirit they had while playing on the field/diamond/court. Jerome Bettis has always seemed like a player who wants to better himself. The Bus did just that last weekend as he graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in business from the university’s Mendoza School of Business.

The coolest part of this journey is that this was personal for Bettis. The 50-year-old may have left Notre Dame 28 years ago to become a legend in the NFL, but this premier player had unfinished business based on a promise that he had made to his mother.

“I promised her years ago, sitting in Coach (Lou) Holtz’s office, that I would come back and graduate,” Bettis said last month on the Pod of Gold podcast. “So, I owed that to her as well.”

While his promise to his mother was one factor that made the Hall of Famer return to school, the other factor was something he wanted to show to the next generation of his family.

“Having children now, I understand how important it is,” he said. “To be a college graduate, I want my children to understand how important that is,” Bettis said.

It is easy to forget that Bettis was not only a premier player for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bus was actually drafted by the Rams with the No. 10 overall pick of the 1993 NFL Draft and won Rookie of the Year honors that fall. Bettis rushed for over 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns that season, breaking the myth of the rookie running back wall as he ran over defenders that were not used to seeing a back with his power and size on the field.

It was 1996 when the Rams traded Bettis to the Steelers in a move that would dictate the future of both teams. The Rams would use a Marshall Faulk-led backfield under Dick Vermeil to create “The Greatest Show on Turf” in a speed-based attack that Bettis would not have fit. The Steelers went the other way. They built around Bettis, adding parts like wide receiver Hines Ward, and The Bus got to retire from the sport he loved in the most romantic way possible. His last game was the Steelers winning Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit.

When Bettis retired, the stats book was complete. Bettis had rushed for the eighth-most yards in NFL history (13,662) and the 11th most touchdowns (91). They don’t make players like Bettis anymore, workhorse backs who are out there for three downs every single game drive. They certainly don’t make them as big as Bettis or as durable as he was remarkably healthy throughout his career for a running back that carried such a heavy workload.

Bettis seemed to love going back to school. He was able to participate in the types of activities he couldn’t the first time around as he was so focused on football. He was able to do this while also assisting head coach Marcus Freeman, a man new to that spotlight after taking over from Brian Kelly (who moved on to LSU).

It did not take Bettis long to graduate, as he was only a few credits short when he initially jumped to the NFL. However, his return to college is a shining example of how a premier player can use his platform to keep promises, inspire others, and finish what he started.

Written By Premier Players Steve Wright

From Heart Attack, Out of Work, To Star Player

Christian Eriksen played out the final minutes of the 2021-22 Premier League season with Brentford, relishing every second of being on the pitch. This will be a big summer for him, one where he will have a choice between a number of top teams in England that are vying for his signature. This is pretty standard for a top-level Premier League footballer making his name at a smaller club.

However, Eriksen’s story is far from typical when you consider that he almost died on the pitch last summer as the world watched on during a match at the pandemic delayed Euro 2020.

It was the 42nd minute of an uneventful game between Denmark and Finland in Copenhagen’s opening group stage match when Eriksen collapsed on the pitch while about to receive a throw-in. The crowd immediately went silent as cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillation were performed. This was not the first time a player had suffered a heart attack on a soccer pitch, and knowing fans expected the worst, the Dane was stretchered off and rushed to the hospital. Later, Eriksen said in an interview he had died for five minutes.

The overall news, however, was great. Eriksen fought – hard – and survived the incident. He was fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, a device similar to a pacemaker but that gives the heart a mild shock if it starts to beat out of rhythm. It was widely assumed that Eriksen’s career was over, but the inspirational Dane had other ideas.  As soon as he was cleared by medical staff, he started training with his old club OB in Odense to see if he still had the desire to play and a body that would let him do so.

The next hurdle for Eriksen to overcome – the one after fighting to survive post-cardiac arrest – was that the club he was currently contracted to play for wasn’t able to let him continue his career. He had relocated to Inter Milan in Italy in a move that would have made him over $10 million per season for four years starting in June 2020. He won the Serie A title with Inter in the 2020-21 season, but the rules in Italy meant that a player with the heart device that Eriksen now has would not be eligible to play in the league for insurance reasons.

This was obviously a blow to a player doing everything he could to continue playing and whose journey quickly became an inspiration to others. After all, if a player could suffer a heart attack and then return to playing at the highest level, heart attack survivors could follow his lead and not live their own lives turning down opportunities for fear of another medical emergency.

Inter terminated its contract with Eriksen in December 2021. This gave him a chance to find a new team in a league without the rule against heart devices being in place. That league was the Premier League – a league where Eriksen had made his name previously with Spurs – and the club was West London outfit Brentford.

It was a perfect match. Brentford was in the middle of its first-ever Premier League season and desperately needed some experienced attacking quality. Eriksen is a gem of a soccer player who glides around the pitch and always seems to be in five yards of space when getting the ball. This means he is never in a rush and always able to use his wand of a right foot to pick out a pass.

Eriksen starred for Brentford. The premier player also scored a goal two minutes into his return to the Danish national team, and his journey has truly been inspirational. His time at Brentford is likely over – teams like Spurs, Leicester City, and perhaps even Manchester United are in the market for his services – but the union of the Bees and the Dane for a magical half-season was a sports story that even the most cynical of Premier League fans could get behind.

Story by Premier Players Steve Wright

Ex NFL Punter McAfee Was No Ordinary Player

There aren’t many former punters that would be described as premier players and premier athletes. Pat McAfee, however, is no ordinary retired punter.

In truth, McAfee wasn’t even just a regular punter when he was playing in the NFL between 2009 and 2016 with the Indianapolis Colts. Most punters – specifically before the influx of Australian crossover athletes with massive legs – were cited as being contact shy and, if we were to be mean, not real football players.

McAfee broke that mold. At 6-foot-1 and every bit of 225 pounds, McAfee was built more like a linebacker than a punter.  A placekicker and punter at West Virginia, McAfee was taken with the No. 222 overall pick in Round 7 of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Colts.

McAfee immediately became a fan favorite. He handled placekicking and punting duties for the Colts and he was excellent at both. A two-time Pro Bowler in 2014 and 2016, McAfee was also named First-Team All-Pro at his position in 2014. McAfee retired after eight seasons in the league and to date still holds the NFL record for highest career net punting average at 41.1 yards with a minimum of 250 punts made.

What made McAfee stand out on the field most was his willingness to hit kickoff and punt returners and usually win the battle. He was not a player willing to be juked and fall to the ground to avoid a tackle. McAfee knew he was a football player and he seemed to make it his mission to prove that not every specialist was afraid of contact.

There are a number of hard hits on his resume, but the one that stands out the most was on a Sunday Night Football game in 2013 against the Denver Broncos. Broncos’ returner Trindon Holliday – one of the fastest players on the team – was flying down the left sideline on a return. That’s when McAfee appeared. He took the angle of a safety, using the sideline to trap Holliday, before just running him over with everything he had from the side as the Bronco reached the 45 yard-line.

It was an epic hit – Holliday spun through the air as if hit by a truck – and the commentary duo of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth meant that the hit was instantly immortalized as one of the best of the season by any player, let alone a punter.

As good as McAfee was on the field, what the 35-year-old has done in retirement has made him stand out even more. His retirement was early by NFL standards, with McAfee having an open offer to work for Barstool Sports where his oversized personality was an instant fit. This change was helped because he had been unhappy with the leadership structure within the Colts organization for a while and wanted to try something new.

From there, McAfee worked with Fox Sports and ESPN on college and pro football broadcasts and panels. He has also worked extensively in radio and hosts his own show on Sirius XM radio. The show is one that’s always newsworthy because Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a frequent guest.

Even with all this going on, McAfee has more on his plate. An avid professional wrestling fan, McAfee has transitioned to call WWE Smackdown, one of the two flagship shows for the company. He also has dabbled as a wrestler, wowing the WrestleMania audience with his athleticism and ability between the ropes.

What stands out about McAfee is that this premier player is simply unwilling to be bad at anything. He might be the most driven ex-professional football player on the planet, grinding to mark off his goals and grow his brand. He runs or helps run multiple foundations and charitable endeavors. His own Pat McAfee Foundation works with the sons and daughters of military personnel, while he is involved with “Fur the Brand” which helps with the cost of animal surgeries.

McAfee is a larger-than-life character with a larger-than-life heart and he is someone everyone should root for as he continues his assault on the world of sports broadcasting.

 

Did Suns’ Booker Inspire Luka’s Next-Level Play?

It is not a good idea to make Dallas Mavericks’ superstar Luka Doncic even mildly annoyed.

Doncic is arguably one of the most exciting young premier players in the NBA with the 23-year-old Serbian looking like the next coming of Larry Bird. At 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, the comparisons to Larry Legend are easy to make.  Bird, though, had an attitude and swagger that we hadn’t seen from Doncic until Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals this year with the Mavericks taking on the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns won Game 5 110-80 and needed to win just one more of the two remaining games, with the last game of the series at home, it figured to be a foregone conclusion. The problem was that Suns’ shooting guard Devin Booker had made an enemy of Doncic. Booker was fouled hard while driving for the basket late in Game 5. He turned to the camera and unleashed the phrase “Luka Special”.

This was not Booker admiring Doncic’s game.  This was Booker attempting to get under the skin of the Mavs’ star. Booker – you see – had flailed around on the floor for a few seconds mimicking a flop. Doncic has been accused (rightly in some cases) of hitting the ground a little too easily on the basketball court. The intent of the statement was clear and, while not entirely wrong, it was very, very ill-advised.

Doncic was a star already in the series but he took his play to the next level in Game 6.  Whether he was fuelled by Booker’s jibe – or the premier player just decided to bring everything he had facing elimination two straight nights – Doncic completely took over.  In Game 6, he secured 11 boards and scored a game-high 33 as the Mavs routed the Suns 113-86. The last game of the series, the vital Game 7, was expected to be far, far closer.  It was not.

The half-time score was 57-27 in favor of the Mavs. Doncic – who had previously been 0-2 in elimination playoff games – had scored 27 of those 57. He matched the total of the entire Suns’ team on his own in the first half. It was a career-defining 30 minutes for the 23-year-old.

Booker, on the other hand, struggled in the two games. In Game 6, he scored 19 points but committed a season-high eight turnovers. In Game 7, Booker had just 11 points.

A side note to this story is that while the legacy of Doncic is just beginning, the legacy of Chris Paul in the playoffs continues to be a mess. Paul became the first player ever to blow 2-0 playoff leads in five best-of-seven series and Paul has now lost four straight Game 7s.  It is a weird caveat to an outstanding career.

The story here, however, is Doncic. The Slovenian already has more NBA records than players with an entire career’s worth of work. He is a triple-double machine and – by all accounts – a model citizen off of the court who works to be a better basketball player every day.  He’s also the Mavs’ career leader in triple-doubles as well, and it took him only 122 games to pass Jason Kidd.

Can’t wait to see how Doncic continues to contribute to the Mavs, the league, and to the fans because he definitely doesn’t display a “me-first” attitude.

By Premier Players Steve Wright