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May 30, 2017

Time to forget all the garbage and focus on two of the greatest to ever play their games

The Stanley Cup Finals opened last night in Pittsburgh where the Penguins defeated the Predators, 5-3, despite being held without a shot for an absurd 37 minutes.

On Thursday, the NBA will finally get its only-series-all-season-that-really-mattered when LeBron and the Cavs take on Curry, Durant and the Warriors.

Beyond the simple matter of crowning a champion, there are other matters at hand in terms of greatness at each event, with James and the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby attempting to add to their respective legacies.

James, who is in the finals for the seventh consecutive season, has a real chance to add some real meat to the argument that he not only belongs in the same conversation with Michael Jordan as the greatest ever but probably owns the top spot.

Meanwhile, Crosby has an opportunity to join a hockey Mount Rushmore that currently features Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux.

For the Penguins, it’s been a case of Deja lose, as Pittsburgh profited from a brutal season, drafting Crosby first overall two decades after doing the same with Lemieux.

Hey, if you are going to run that drill, there are two things you had better be certain – first, make sure there is a generational player, and second, make sure that player is going to be yours for the tanking.

Although Flyers fans won’t like to hear it, Crosby has cemented himself among the all-time greats. His pure talent might not rival that of Lemieux’s but his work ethic and willingness to take a hit to make a play is second to none.

The biggest irony for Flyers fans is that the Nashville Predators arrived at the finals with former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette behind the bench. It was Laviolette who took the Flyers to the finals in 2010 when the Flyers ran over the Penguins and the coach announced that Flyers captain Claude Giroux was the best player on the planet.

Well, here we are in 2017 and that other guy who plays in Pennsylvania is still ruling the planet with the Penguins.

In either case, the NBA or the NHL, the finals has come down to what sports should be all about – great players striving to be the best.

Unfortunately, matters of the bottom line don’t always make that the goal. In a sports universe where all the cash is already in the owners’ pockets, the actual crowning of a champion has often become more of a bonus than the true prize.

Sure, everybody wants to win, but there are not many who hate to lose as much as they love to win – and that includes ownership groups. This is made even murkier because you can certainly win at the bottom line of making money without winning on the respective fields of play.

The NHL is a little bit different because it lacks some of the big media contracts, but do not doubt that there is an increasing built-in cushion of cash for all ownership groups.

The most obvious case in point? Your Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers might not be doing much winning on the basketball court, but in the court of financial standings, the team has been a boffo success.

If you are a true basketball fan you might want to sit down before you try and come to grips with the financial realities of the NBA. According to Forbes Magazine (hardly a dispenser of fake news), the Sixers are presently the 25th-most valued team in the NBA at $800 million dollars.

You can remain seated as you are further informed that Sixers owner Joshua Harris bought the club for $290 million in 2011. For those who did not attend math class, that is an appreciation of close to 200 percent over six years.

To put in normal terms, if you bought your house for $290,00 in 2011, you could now put it on the market for $800,000.

That’s pretty good for a team that has set all sorts of records for futility and struggled at the gate.

The Sixers, whose value was flat last season, now appear to be on the road to recovery with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, along with an estimated season ticket base of close to 13,000 for next season, but the team’s rise in value points out one of the great ironies of professional sports in America – in large part, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, or even put people in the building – you are going to make money as an owner.

It is why the Phillies were among the biggest moneymakers in baseball last season, and it is why the drive to actually win is more dependent on the desire of an owner to finish first in the standings, and not on the ledger sheet.

It is exactly the reason why ESPN is in so much trouble. In addition to its cable woes in terms of subscriptions, the network got itself in trouble because of long-term monstrous commitments for the rights to carry games.

Like so many other networks, ESPN dished out big money to carry live events. In essence, the TV networks have stuffed the owners’ pockets with cash, cash and more cash. Add to that the billions in money that literally fell out of the sky into the NFL’s pockets with satellite networks such at DirecTV and you see why the pot of gold is already accounted for before most seasons even start.

If you sit and root for victories, you can drive yourself crazy thinking about the money flow from your pocket into that of the billionaires, which is why these finals are a nice way to simply forget the other stuff and watch a couple of guys who simply want to be the best at what they do.

Time to forget draft place, tanking, salary disputes, trade demands, and all that other stuff and just watch great athletes try to reach the absolute top of the mountain.