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LeBron vs. MJ: Why the GOAT debate is different now

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There is an amazing clip from ESPN’s The Jump in April 2018, the day after LeBron James‘ fourth career postseason game-winning buzzer-beater — a 3-pointer that put his Cleveland Cavaliers up 3-2 in their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers.

That gave LeBron one more postseason walk-off shot than Michael Jordan, who of course played fewer playoff games than LeBron — 81 fewer after James and the Los Angeles Lakers clinched the franchise’s 17th NBA title Sunday. Rachel Nichols, host of The Jump, displayed Jordan and James’ respective numbers on go-ahead shots in the last five seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime in playoff games. The numbers were basically identical. Nichols prodded Tracy McGrady and Scottie Pippen: Was Jordan really more “clutch” than LeBron?

The reactions of Pippen and McGrady are telling. They can barely express how preposterous they find the question. Pippen smiles, sighs, and tells McGrady to answer first. They nominate players they would trust more than LeBron with the game on the line: Reggie Miller, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson.

“The reason being,” McGrady says, “LeBron’s first thought is, ‘I’m gonna make the right basketball play.'”

“Right,” Nichols replies. “Which is part of being clutch.”

“We’re talking about making the shot,” McGrady responds. “Those [other] guys are, ‘I’m taking the shot. I’m not looking to pass.'”

Nichols refers to the statistics on the screen: “The numbers say [LeBron] has done it more often than Jordan.”

Pippen dismisses the numbers as merely proof that LeBron has played too many close games. “I like winning by 10,” he says. “LeBron is not the guy that wants to take that last shot.” Nichols gives it one more try: “But he’s done it more than the other guy!”

McGrady and Pippen don’t care. The discussion is absurd to them. Jordan has something LeBron lacks, and will remain untouchable, more god than human.

And I get it. I came of age as a fan in the Jordan era. Lots of team executives in that age cohort — dispassionate talent evaluators in their work — use different language and standards discussing Jordan’s greatness. It was something we felt. He was indomitable in a way James can never be.

The aura of invincibility did not cocoon Jordan only in hindsight. He felt unbeatable in real time. The Chicago Bulls were invincible in two of Jordan’s six title runs. No one tested them in 1991 and 1996 — the first titles of Chicago’s unprecedented separate three-peats.

But in 1992, the New York Knicks took arguably the best Jordan team ever to seven games in the second round. The Portland Trail Blazers had the 1992 Finals knotted 2-2 with Game 5 in Portland. New York led the 1993 conference finals over Chicago 2-0. That season’s Phoenix Suns, with the MVP in Charles Barkley, gagged away Game 6 in Phoenix — with Game 7 looming there — before John Paxson’s title-clinching triple. (Jordan scored every Chicago point in that 4th quarter — all nine — before Paxson’s shot.)

The Utah Jazz evened the 1997 Finals 2-2, and hosted Game 5 — the Flu Game — which the Bulls eked out by two. The 1998 Indiana Pacers had the Bulls on the ropes in Game 7 of the conference finals.

Those were moments of dire uncertainty against several great teams at their respective apexes. They did not feel uncertain to a lot of contemporary observers (this one included). Jordan was inevitable.

He was perfect: 6-0 in the Finals, and into retirement — coaxed by Jerry Reinsdorf’s refusal to honor a champion — before the Bulls could decline. Could Chicago have four-peated in 1999? Other what-ifs dare you to imagine an imperfect Jordan: Would Chicago have lost one (or two) Finals against the mid-1990s Houston Rockets had Jordan not left to play baseball? Do the Bulls manage that second three-peat if Jordan doesn’t refresh himself those two years? Some ex-Bulls have cautioned against assuming an uninterrupted run of dominance. (Steve Kerr has called the notion of eight straight titles “preposterous.”) What if Shaquille O’Neal stays in Orlando — beefing up the East during Chicago’s second three-peat?

What if there is no fluke salary cap spike enabling Kevin Durant to sign with the Golden State Warriors in 2016? The 2016-17 Cavaliers were the best Cleveland team of LeBron’s career. How do we look at LeBron’s Finals history if those Cavs repeat against the non-Durant Warriors? What happens in 2018? Does Kyrie Irving stay?

That is alternate history. Truth leaves Jordan perfect, and LeBron now 4-6 in Finals. The sheen of Jordan’s perfection glows brighter with time. It overwhelms and distorts the discussion of whether James might surpass him as the greatest player in modern history — or if he already has.

Three of LeBron’s six losses came against the Warriors — two to Durant superteams, and a third in which both Irving and Kevin Love were injured.

Another came in 2007, when James in his fourth season dragged an underwhelming Cleveland team into the Finals against the veteran San Antonio Spurs. It was not a fair fight. Young LeBron underwhelmed: 22 points per game on 35.6% shooting. But he was transcendent advancing to the Finals much earlier in his career than Jordan.

That leaves two defeats: 2011 against the Dallas Mavericks, and 2014 against the Spurs again.

The 2011 series is the stain. LeBron was bad — passive, uninvolved. He scored eight points in one game. Jordan’s career low in the Finals was 22. James’ failure will always mar the perception of him relative to Jordan, even on some subconscious level. It changed the way we looked at LeBron. He buckled in a very human way. Jordan seemed inhuman — impervious to fear. The 2011 Finals mortalized James. He cannot erase it, outrun it.

San Antonio was the better team in 2014 — an upper-echelon champion by postseason scoring margin. Even so, we never saw a peak Jordan team get rolled like that — 4-1, blowout after blowout.

At least not after 1988, when the Detroit Pistons bullied Chicago 4-1 in the conference semifinals. The Bad Boys eliminated the Bulls again in 1989 (six games) and 1990 (seven games) on their way to consecutive titles. Jordan lost one series after that: in 1995 against the Orlando Magic, weeks after returning from baseball.

There is an appealing linearity to Jordan’s career that colors the GOAT discussion. Jordan lost to champions — enduring conference rivals — until he learned to unseat them. He remained with one team almost his entire career.

LeBron has jumped teams three times, and conferences once. He upended norms about “loyalty” and teambuilding. LeBron took an active role in building two Big 3s and now a colossal Big 2. That doesn’t necessarily make his top-heavy supporting casts any better than Jordan’s, considering the depth and defense surrounding the Bulls’ star duos and trios.

After LeBron’s first jump — to Miami — he had no Eastern Conference rival on par with the 1980s Boston Celtics and Pistons. Boston aged fast. Derrick Rose‘s knee injury undid the Bulls. The Paul George/Roy Hibbert Pacers stepped into the void, and pushed Miami — including in a seven-game conference finals in 2013. But they never profiled as a truly elite team.

That 2013 Miami-Indiana series stands out on LeBron’s record, too. The Heat that season coalesced into a historic juggernaut. They won 27 straight games. They were on a 45-3 devastation tour entering that Indiana series. They finished the last two rounds 8-6, and teetered on the brink in the 2013 Finals against San Antonio before Ray Allen’s corner 3.

That 8-6 record blotted out LeBron’s best chance before now to stamp one season of Jordanesque inevitability. Almost every top-10 all-time player has one postseason when it feels impossible to beat his team. LeBron never had that. Does going 16-5 in the Orlando bubble count? Did the Lakers give you that feeling of inevitability?

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LeBron James puts up 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists to notch his 11th Finals triple-double, the most in NBA history.

All of this — the 2011 Finals, LeBron’s sometimes pass-first nature, the perceptions of their respective personalities and career paths — has probably obscured how monstrous LeBron’s big-game crunch-time record is. Game 5 against Miami is a microcosm. LeBron scored 40 on 15-of-21 shooting, including two rampaging go-ahead, super-clutch layups in the last 100 seconds. And yet: Danny Green missing a potential championship-winning triple — off a pass from LeBron — shoved those baskets into the background. If Green hits, LeBron is a hero — author of his own Jordan-to-Kerr pass. Green missed; critics wonder.

Perceptions of their divergent leadership styles infect the analysis of their approach to crunch time. Jordan was aggressive. He browbeat teammates, fought them, prepared them for the postseason hothouse. LeBron was (is?) passive-aggressive. Jordan is the alpha competitor. LeBron is the over-thinker.

Some ex-teammates who were not fond of Jordan’s tactics have acknowledged he might have helped steel them. But there is mythmaking at work. Did Kerr need Jordan to punch him to hit crunch-time jumpers? Many of those teammates have said Jordan’s upbraiding would not have had its intended effect without Pippen’s nurturing leadership counterbalancing it.

But McGrady and Pippen are onto something vaguely real when they suggest LeBron’s big-shot profile feels different than Jordan’s — regardless of whether that feeling leads toward greater truth. All five LeBron buzzer-beaters, including one against the Raptors 10 days after that segment of The Jump, came before the Finals. Four came in seasons when LeBron’s team lost the Finals. There is no narrative thread connecting them to ultimate glory. Human memory requires through lines. Without them, some shots recede.

Jordan has two of the NBA’s rare walk-home shots — including the levitating dagger over Craig Ehlo, a basket so majestic and portentous it is known simply as The Shot. (The other came four years later in a sweep, also over the Cavs.) He won a Finals game — Game 1 in 1997 against Utah — with a buzzer-beater. He capped his Bulls career a year later with something close to a walk-home shot over Bryon Russell.

LeBron’s most famous Finals shot might be a long 2 to put Miami up four with 27.9 seconds left in Game 7 against San Antonio in 2013. It doesn’t have the resonant splendor of a typical championship-clincher; the Spurs almost conceded it, as they did most LeBron jumpers. (James then sealed the championship with a steal.)

His most famous Finals moment is a defensive play — his epic chase-down rejection of Andre Iguodala in the frantic waning minutes of Game 7 in 2016 against the Warriors. On Cleveland’s most important offensive possession of that game, LeBron ceded center stage to Irving. Jordan owned center stage, always. He passed only when the defense dictated it.

Maybe LeBron doesn’t have a flashbulb Finals shot. Look deeper, and you see a volume of high-stakes, late-game dominance to rival Jordan.

The fourth quarter and overtime of Game 6 in 2013 — with Miami down 3-2 against San Antonio — is one of the greatest all-time stretches of pressurized athletic performance. LeBron scored or assisted on 29 of Miami’s final 38 points (if you count LeBron passes that led to shooting fouls), including the first 17 as the Heat erased a 10-point deficit. He was everywhere on defense. He single-handedly willed the Heat back. (He also committed two addled turnovers in the last minute of regulation that nearly cost Miami the game.)

He drained the must-have triple with 20.1 seconds left in regulation before Allen’s equalizer — plus a floater with 1:43 left in overtime to give Miami the lead. In Game 7, LeBron canned three long 2s in the last 5:40 — including the series-clincher.

It has been overshadowed by Irving’s shot and LeBron’s block, but James scored 11 of Cleveland’s 18 points in the fourth quarter of Game 7 in the 2016 Finals — including eight straight in the middle to turn a four-point deficit into a two-point Cavs lead.

James shot 0-of-4 in the wild last 4:15 of that game. Fine. Everyone was missing; the score froze at 89-89 for almost four straight minutes. LeBron barely missed a dunk over Draymond Green — who fouled him hard — with 10.6 seconds left that would have broken the Internet and gone down as the most memorable basket of LeBron’s career. (He iced the championship at the line.) His back-to-back 41-point performances — on 32-of-57 combined shooting — in Games 5 and 6 may not get their “clutch” due because the Cavs had the audacity to blow out the Warriors.

LeBron won a conference finals game — Game 1 against Indiana in 2013 — with a layup at the buzzer. He won another — Game 2 against Orlando in 2009 — with a triple at the buzzer. In one 45-point, 15-rebound masterpiece in the 2012 conference finals, LeBron ended the Celtics and maybe saved the Heat Big Three.

Game 1 of the 2018 Finals against Golden State might be the greatest game of LeBron’s life, and it includes the kinds of Jordanesque last-second Finals baskets that for weird reasons don’t shine as clearly on his playoff résumé. He bulldozed for two go-ahead layups in the last minute of regulation. When the Warriors threw this defensive alignment at LeBron in the final seconds, he lasered an impeccable pass to George Hill:

The Warriors fouled Hill. He made the first to tie it. He missed the second, and JR Smith happened. Golden State rolled in overtime, and swept. Those results render LeBron’s performance more footnote than is fair: 51 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds on 19-of-32 shooting — including 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the best team ever built had no answer for LeBron alongside Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, and Larry Nance Jr. LeBron exceeded 40 points in eight of Cleveland’s 21 playoff games in 2018.

Jordan’s clutch dossier is impeccable. We rewatched it with “The Last Dance.” There are plenty of misses, including free throws, but no player has ever matched Jordan’s combination of late-game volume and efficiency.

But LeBron is closer than it might feel like.

Look again at that photo of LeBron surveying Golden State’s defense. Durant and Green are not guarding people. They are guarding space. That was against the rules in Jordan’s career. Where is James supposed to go? Would you have him barrel into four bodies and throw up some flailing floater?

Most of the discussion of the differences between the Jordan and LeBron eras has focused on the physicality of the 1980s and 1990s. Perimeter defenders hand-checked Jordan. The Pistons body-slammed him, and got penalized with common fouls. Perhaps big men had it easier then, as John Hollinger of The Athletic wrote Friday in noting how Jordan towered over other 1990s perimeter stars — though Larry Bird and Magic Johnson ruled the 1980s.

The early-2000s ban on hand-checking opened the drive-and-kick game — LeBron’s wheelhouse. It hastened the rise of the 3-pointer. James has made 1,560 more 3s, accounting for more than the total scoring gap between them (about 3,500 points in LeBron’s favor, regular season and playoffs combined). Jordan would have taken more 3s today. He would have generated more as a passer.

But the abolition of illegal defense has turned isolation basketball into a chore. Jordan either went one-on-one, or drew hard double-teams. Stars don’t go one-on-one anymore. They go one-on-team, with layers of help blocking every corridor. LeBron’s era might be softer, but it is also more strategically complex. Would Jordan’s miniscule turnover rate be higher today?

The statistical comparison is now a wash. By advanced metrics, Jordan’s best seasons were a little better. He soaked up more possessions as a scorer, and maintained astonishing levels of efficiency at the upper bounds of individual usage rate.

Divide their cumulative advanced numbers by games played — both regular season and playoffs — and Jordan outproduced LeBron on a per-game basis by a small margin. No one burned brighter.

The assist gap is not gargantuan. Jordan dished 5.7 dimes per game in the playoffs, compared to 7.2 for LeBron. Jordan has a small edge in postseason steals, LeBron a smaller one in blocks. The rebounding numbers aren’t close. LeBron is a different weapon on defense — more of a rim deterrent, offering more positional flexibility.

As one executive opined this week: “Jordan was the better isolation scorer, but LeBron is better at everything else.”

Perhaps. That said, isolation scoring is paramount late in big games. And boy would it be a delight to watch prime Jordan — one-time Defensive Player of the Year, an award LeBron has never won — fly around in this era of loosened defensive rules.

The gap in cumulative stats is going to be a chasm. Barring injury, LeBron will be the league’s all-time leading scorer. (It went unnoticed, but in Game 5 against Miami, LeBron passed Karl Malone for No. 2 all time in combined regular season and postseason points.) He could double Jordan in assists and rebounds. LeBron is not hanging on, compiling stats. He’s still the best player. We are still near his peak.

Be careful dismissing LeBron’s 10 Finals appearances as the product of a weak East. During Jordan’s six title runs, the four highest East seeds aside from Chicago posted a .640 combined winning percentage — with an average net-rating of plus-4.8 points per 100 possessions, per ESPN Stats & Information research. The same subset during LeBron’s run to eight straight Finals: a .623 mark with a net-rating of plus-4.5. As our Kevin Pelton has argued, the player pool is deeper now.

LeBron’s ceaselessness must be heard. Jordan did not, or would not, endure this long at the top.

At minimum, it’s a debate now. Jordan backers can no longer shout “6-0” and declare it over. Maybe it’s a matter of taste. Do you prefer peak value or long-term near-peak consistency? How much do you weigh LeBron’s 2011 Finals collapse against Jordan’s perfection?

For some, perfection is all that matters. LeBron could never unseat Jordan. To win one game, their answer will always be Jordan — and in that framing, it’s hard to disagree all that strongly.

But the totality of LeBron’s career is undeniable. If he wins one more title, and has maybe two more seasons almost on par with this one, the grounds for Jordan as the greatest ever — the criteria by which he “wins” the debate — will get precariously narrow. There is a chance, maybe a good one, LeBron drives this GOAT conversation closer to a consensus that anyone would have imagined possible a decade ago.

Inside this grueling, improbable and incredible Lakers title run

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Sports

Love/Hate: Matthew Berry’s best advice on finding a job

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It’s Week 7 of the NFL season, and fantasy football managers are scrambling to fill holes created by more injuries and bye weeks. They’re assessing whom they can count on and whom they should cast aside. Who are the RBs to trust in Baltimore? San Francisco? New England? Los Angeles (both teams)? Which QBs will be around down the stretch of the fantasy football season? Matthew Berry’s Week 7 Love/Hate column should help shed at least some light on players to watch.

I was fired from writing for an MTV game show because the questions I wrote were “too hard.” I got fired from a movie-writing job because I told the producer his ideas were dumb. I got fired from a retail summer job because the owner’s young wife told him I was cute. And I was fired from my first fantasy-writing job because after they cut my $100 a week “salary” to $25 a week, I put a link in my column to a fan page on another site to try to suck email addresses out of the site.

In every single case, getting fired bummed me out in the moment, but I soon realized it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The MTV show never got on the air. The producer’s notes were dumb, and after another writer did his notes, it never got made — and then the producer was fired. My friend at the sporting goods store told me the couple that owned it got into huge fights all the time, eventually divorcing and closing the business. Very stressful place to earn minimum wage. And of course, after getting fired by Rotoworld, I decided to start my own blog — and three years after that, it was bought by ESPN, and here I am.

I’ve lost a job plenty in my life.

I bring this up because, as I am sure you are aware, things are awful out there. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), the unemployment rate in September 2020 was 7.9% and the number of unemployed persons in America is 12.6 million. In fact, in September, 19.4 million people reported that they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic.

And that’s not even the full number. According to Ernie Tedeschi, a policy economist at Evercore ISI, in an interview with Marketplace.org, the unemployment rate takes into account only people who are out of work, available for work and have actually looked for work in the past four weeks, as well as those on a temporary layoff.

“So that doesn’t include everybody who doesn’t have a job,” Tedeschi said. “If you left your job because your kids’ school is closed and you’re spending your time helping your kids with remote learning and you’re not looking for a job because of that, you would not be counted as unemployed.”

Like thousands upon thousands of others, my oldest graduated from college in May. It was in a video ceremony where his name and picture flashed across our TV screen at our house in Connecticut, but he graduated — and got to enter one of the worst job markets in the history of the country.

He never asks me for anything, but recently, he came to me and wanted some advice on starting his career. (And anyone out there in e-sports/sports gambling/music fields that needs marketing/sales/social media help, holler at me on LinkedIn. The kid is awesome and has a great résumé.)

My son is not the only one asking for career advice. It’s a question I get a lot and not just from recent graduates. I’ve recently gotten some emails and tweets asking for a link to a column I wrote a few years ago about how to find not just a job but the career you want.

Because when you’ve been fired a decent amount, it also means you’ve been hired a lot. I’m proud to say that at the end of my current contract with ESPN I will have been with the company for 17 years — and hopefully many more after that. So I’ve been lucky to work for a great company and supportive bosses. But I also kind of invented my own job here.

There’s not a lot in this world I know, but I’m pretty good at this. So whether you are just starting out or starting over, listen up.

My first piece of advice is to be honest. Audiences — be it a column reader or a hiring manager — will often forgive almost anything as long as you are honest and up front about it. So yeah, I’ve written versions of this column before, and when I speak at colleges, these are some of the themes I touch on.

My 10 best pieces of advice for getting the career you want

1. Learn to communicate

This was the biggest piece of advice my father ever gave me, and it’s the most crucial advice I can give you. My dad’s point was simple. Nothing happens if you can’t communicate. Let’s say you found the cure for cancer. Awesome. It does no one any good if you can’t communicate how to do it. I had been doing fantasy analysis since I was 14, so I had that part down. But the communication part? I had done radio in high school and college, and when I got to Los Angeles right out of college, I took a few years of improv classes. The idea wasn’t about acting. I just wanted to get comfortable speaking in front of strangers and being able to handle things I wasn’t prepared for. It took work, but I got to a point where I felt, even if you disagreed with my take, I could express to you how I felt about a player or team and be reasonably entertaining while doing so.

Also understand that communication takes many forms. I’m definitely better at some than others, but I believe one of the things ESPN values about me is that I can write a 5,000-word column or do an hourlong podcast, a three-hour TV show, an eight-minute radio segment, a 45-second TV hit, a meeting with advertisers on Zoom, a 280-character tweet or a fun picture for Instagram. I have varying levels of ability, but I’m at least competent in all of them, my famous beignet photo notwithstanding.

With so many meetings, interviews and presentations happening virtually and remotely, not to mention a changing media landscape with many platforms that are added to every day (be honest, you’d never heard of TikTok 12 months ago), the most important piece of advice here is that you must be able to communicate. Take classes if you can’t. Practice. Whatever you gotta do.

2. Get good

I get so many questions like, “How do I get an agent? How do I get to ESPN? How do I get my dream job?” And the answer is … get good. Just get good at whatever you’re passionate about. I swear, even in an era of budget cuts, smaller staffs and fewer resources, companies will always seek out talented people. Probably more so now. With smaller head counts and fewer resources, every person on your staff needs to be a rock star. Every spot in a company is valuable. So I promise, there’s no conspiracy to keep talented folks out. Get good and we’ll find you. Promise.

So that means doing your craft, however you can. Write for a small website for free. Or start a blog. Or a podcast. Or a YouTube channel. Whatever translates best to what you want to do, just start doing it, and don’t worry about whether anyone is reading/watching/listening. Just get good at whatever you want to do.

Before you say you are really good but you were laid off or downsized, listen. I’m sure you’re great. But if the Lakers suddenly had to downsize, they ain’t getting rid of LeBron and AD, you know? This is look-in-the-mirror time. Whatever your skill level at whatever you do or want to, you can always get better.

I’m a better writer today than I was two years ago. I was better then than I was three years before that. Stuff I wrote 10 years ago makes me cringe. It’s just reps, man. Reps after reps after reps. I’m a big believer in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule (look it up). Whatever you want to do, start doing it, somehow, some way. And then do it again. And again. And again.

3. Do what you can control

When I started out, I had no idea whether my analysis/approach/writing/persona/etc. were any good. I’m sure there were people who could do a deeper stats dive than I could, who had played the game and could break down film better than I could, who had more insider contacts than I did. I knew the only thing I could control was my work ethic. I just had to outwork them.

When I graduated and was first trying to break into show business, I knew absolutely no one. So I decided my job was getting a job. Every day, I scoured for jobs I could apply for. I applied for five a day, no matter what. I tailored my résumé and cover letter for each job. That was my morning each day. Then in the afternoon, I’d call to see if they’d gotten it. Could they look for it if not? Could I get a meeting? I cold-emailed people I admired, alumni from my school, every family member I could think of. “Do you know anyone you’d feel comfortable introducing me to?” No stone unturned; I had to outwork everyone.

When I speak to college students, I talk about two traits: brand aware and brand trust. Every person has a “brand.” You’ve just been arrested. You get one call. Which of your friends do you call?

OK, you’ve just won an all-expenses-paid trip to Vegas; flight leaves in two hours. Which of your friends do you call? I bet you had immediate answers for both, and I bet they weren’t the same person. We all have “brands” — how others perceive us.

When starting out, you are working on “brand aware.” To pay the bills after I graduated, I worked at a toy store. So whenever I got a show biz interview, I brought a toy gun that shot bubbles and offered it as a gift at the end as a thank-you for the interview. I’d show them how to work it. It was a fun but weird-shaped toy.

As they looked at me weird, I’d say, “Hey, I’m sure you’re interviewing a ton of people for this job. I’m trying to stand out. I bet you’ll remember the guy who brought you a bubble gun.” And sure enough, when I’d call to check back in, they all took the call and remembered the bubble gun guy. “Brand aware.”

Ultimately, my first real job came from bubble gun No. 5.

4. You get one chance

Most people are nice and remember what it was like when they were starting out. Most people are willing to help out, once. There are so many people who want to get into … well, many different fields. But that’s especially true for sports. So if you aren’t rock-solid and buttoned up when you meet someone who could help, you’re done. There are too many other options and too little time to waste. Also, make it easy for someone to help you. When I was trying to break into sports, I always had clips of my writing, a DVD of the little TV I had done and a résumé to hand out in case they asked. A friend of the family recently asked me to speak with a young woman and give her advice. I said sure. We scheduled a time for her to call me. The time came and went and no call. She emailed the next day, saying she had forgotten and was sorry, but also, why hadn’t I emailed her to ask where she was and remind her? I said, as gently as I could, it’s not my job to try to chase you down to give advice. And I never bothered with her again. People’s time is valuable and you get only one shot. Make it easy for someone to help you.

5. Play the hand you’re dealt

I’m friends with the actor/director Kevin Connolly, who is best known for playing “E” on the show “Entourage.” I remember him telling me a story once about being bummed that he didn’t get a part, and his agent told him not to sweat it because it wasn’t the right part for him. “Hey Kevin,” the agent said, “you’re never gonna star in ‘The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Story,’ you know? It is what it is.” I always think about that. It doesn’t mean Kevin isn’t a great actor, but his agent is right. So play the hand you’re dealt.

When I started out, I knew no one, but my one card was that I went to Syracuse. So I reached out to every single alumnus I could find: “Hey, I also went to Syracuse. Can you spare some advice for a fellow Orange?” When I tried to break into fantasy sports, my one card was my Hollywood career. So my TV sitcom agent was able to finagle a meeting for me with the NBA to pitch them a fantasy basketball show, and the NBA ended up hiring me for two years off that meeting.

6. Get in the door/get good at one thing

The most important thing is just to get in the door. When I was reaching out to folks after I graduated, I would be very clear: “I’m not asking for a job. I just want advice. Only advice. Can you spare 20 minutes?” Because everyone gets hit up for jobs. But when you say that — “I swear I’m not looking for a job” — they relax. So you get on the video call. You prep for the meeting; do research on the person you are meeting with and ask specific questions that show you’ve done your homework.

Don’t ask me, “How did you get started?” Do ask me, “How did you transition from sitcom writing to writing for RotoWorld?” If you’re polite, well-prepared and end the meeting when you say you will, some people will just say, “Good luck to you.” But some will say, “You know, I have a friend you should talk to. His company is looking for someone like you.” Or, “Hit me up in two months; I might have something.” Because now you’re someone he or she knows and has talked to and has seen you’re smart and earnest and prepared, not some random asking for a job like everyone else. It’s all about making connections.

I’ve told this story before, but the first time I got a chance to be on national radio, instead of calling in like everyone else, I offered to drive to the studio to do my five minutes in person. They thought it was weird, but OK. I did it just so I could meet them face-to-face. Because once you are in front of someone, you’re a living, breathing thing. Not some email or text that needs to be returned, like a million others. Sweep the floors, get lunch, intern, whatever it takes to be where the action is and get face time. If you can afford it (and I appreciate that everyone has different economic means and comes from different backgrounds with different responsibilities, so this just isn’t possible for some), work for free. I worked for Rotoworld for free for three years, building my audience and getting better at writing fantasy advice. I would do it again. Whatever it takes to just get in the door, especially in this environment. Is there something you can do part time from home for a company, for free, just to prove yourself? Get creative.

And once there, make yourself invaluable. Figure out what would make your boss’ life easier and do that. Really well. When starting out, get good at just one thing. Focus on that initially. I got good at writing scripts. Just that. But that got me a chance to write fantasy sports columns. And being good at that got me a chance to do TV, which got me a chance to do a podcast, to be on a weekly TV show, to eventually get my own show. All because I got good at one thing.

7. Brand trust

I talked earlier about brand aware. The other piece of it is “brand trust.” You get one call to a friend to bail you out of jail. Whom do you call? I bet not all of your friends make the cut. That’s “brand trust.” We all have people in our life we know we can count on and others we like, but … come on. You need to be the person at work who gets the jail call. Er … you know what I mean. With shrinking budgets and more scrutiny than ever on workplace behavior, you need strong “brand trust.” And that starts with how you carry yourself at all times and not posting anything dumb on social media. When someone asks me for advice, I look up their social media account. Because before I put my name out there, I need to know whether I can trust this person. Social media is definitely a tricky place. But if you can’t be trusted on social media, how can a company trust you with its brand, behind their microphone or even in a meeting?

8. No journey is made alone

You’ll need help to get where you’re going, and once you’re there, give back. You never know how things will go. Someone I hired for a job 12 years ago and gave a shot to is now one of my bosses at ESPN. You never know. One thing that gives me great joy is, over the years, there have been a number of people in the fantasy sports industry, at places other than ESPN, who have reached out for help/advice/connections with their career, and I always say yes, and it stays between us. It’s my pleasure. People such as Matthew Pouliot and Rick Wolf were so good to me when I started, so it’s my duty to give back. And who knows? One day, one of these people might hire me for something. Just always be nice. That’s good advice for life as well.

9. Be original

It’s OK to fail. You don’t know how big a ditch you can jump over until you fall in. That’s a phrase from my late, great Uncle Lester, and it’s very true. To get anywhere good, you’re gonna need to be original and have your own way of thinking. I always felt, if you took the bylines off a bunch of fantasy columns, you couldn’t tell who wrote what. But whether you love or hate me, you don’t need my byline to know it’s a Matthew Berry article. Same with the TV show. A lot of shows have three or four people at a desk. We have puppets and lime-colored graphics. It might not be your cup of tea, but it’s nothing you see anywhere else. Ultimately, whether you are starting out or starting over, it will take you time to find your way in this new world we live in. The only way that happens is by trying different stuff and being OK if it fails. I’ve failed more times than I can count.

10. It’s a long and winding road

When I was in college, the job I have didn’t exist yet. No one thought you could make a living talking about fake football on the internet while wearing makeup. Don’t expect success overnight, and be open to where your journey takes you. And realize it’s not a race. We all get to where we are supposed to go at our own pace. And while it might not seem like it now, I am a big believer in everything happens for a reason. Every time I was fired, it ended up being great for me.

So buckle in. And trust me, if you want it badly enough and work hard enough, it will happen for you. Not immediately and possibly not in the way you imagine on Day 1, but it will happen. Go get ’em.

Let’s get to it. As always, “Loves” are players I think meet or exceed expectations and “Hates” are players I think fall short. Thanks as always to The Stat-a-Pillar from The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, Damian Dabrowski and “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of “Fantasy Focus 06010” for their help at various points in this column. Here we go:

Quarterbacks I love in Week 6

Rodgers’ return trip to fantasy royalty took a bit of a detour last week with a brutal 3.8-point flop against the Bucs — and that was with Davante Adams back in the lineup. Legit the worst fantasy performance of his career in a game he didn’t leave early due to injury. I mean, Rodgers missed his receivers with the ball worse than he does that dog at the end of his latest insurance commercial. But when you hit rock bottom, there’s only one way to go, and I expect him to get back on track in Week 7 against the Texans, who have given up 19-plus fantasy points and multiple touchdowns to three of the past four quarterbacks they’ve faced. That includes 28.5 fantasy points and four passing touchdowns to Ryan Tanne-Thrill just last week. When Rodgers gets mad, he gets better quickly. The Texans rank 28th in pressure rate, so even with a banged-up offensive line, he’ll have a clean pocket. Don’t expect to see Errin’ Rodgers again this Sunday, as Houston allows touchdowns at the sixth-highest rate this year. I have Rodgers as a top-five play this week.

Ryan is a different quarterback with Jones comma Julio in the lineup. For the record, I am a different person with a couple of shots of Don Julio in me. Luckily, I no longer have to drink when I am forced to start Matt Ryan without Jones comma Julio. He’s back and that’s good. In Ryan’s three games without Julio this season, he averages 10.3 fantasy points per game, good for QB34 on the season, just ahead of Jeff Driskel. But in three games with Jones? Ryan is averaging 28.0, good enough to be QB2 on the season, behind only Russell Wilson. With a healthy Julio in town, Ryan faces a Lions defense that has allowed multiple passing touchdowns in all but one game this season and is second to last in the NFL in pressure rate. He’ll have plenty of time to find his guy downfield. And then you can use the Don Julio to celebrate, not drown your sorrows.

Beginner’s luck doesn’t last this long. In his four career starts, Herbert has at least 22 fantasy points in three of them, and he has seven touchdown passes in his past two games. Herbert is legit. And he’ll prove it again this week against a Jaguars pass defense that allows the highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks in the entire NFL and the second-highest yards per attempt. Assuming the team doc doesn’t puncture his lung or something before the game, Herbert will come off the bye with Keenan Allen back and ready to roll.

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Matthew Berry expects Justin Herbert to continue to put up great fantasy numbers, and therefore recommends picking him up and trading away a starting QB in order to get a better player.

Others receiving votes

(Looks up the quarterback facing the Falcons this week) … Ah, it’s Matthew Stafford! Welcome to the Love section, Mr. Stafford. Your selection provides a substantial fantasy-point package thanks to a Falcons team that has allowed the most passing touchdowns in the NFL and the second-most passing yards per game. … That Eagles offensive line has Carson Wentz running for his life every week, but he has often managed to pick up positive yardage while fleeing to safety: He has 35-plus rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in three of his past four games. That has allowed him to notch 21-plus fantasy points in each of those games. And now on Thursday, he gets the 1-5 Giants at home. … Joe Burrow put up 24.5 fantasy points against Cleveland on the road in Week 2. He should be in that range again this week facing a Browns defense that struggled mightily versus Pittsburgh last Sunday.

Quarterbacks I hate in Week 6

Newton’s running gives him a consistent floor, but the fact that New England’s passing offense isn’t running at all really limits his ceiling. Newton has just two touchdown passes on 116 attempts this season and is under 160 passing yards in three of his past four games. Until he starts getting some production from his wideouts, it’s hard to get super excited. None of that is likely to improve against the 49ers. Only once this season has an opposing quarterback thrown for 200 yards and multiple touchdowns against the 49ers. I have Cam outside my top 12 for the week.

Coming off his bye, Brees this week faces a Carolina team that causes opposing quarterbacks to say “bye” to fantasy points. Apparently my joke writer is on a bye this week too. Whatevs, kids, sometimes they miss the mark, just like I expect Brees to do this week from a fantasy POV. Getting Michael Thomas back obviously helps, but the Panthers allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks thanks to a league-low 6.1 yards per attempt against this season and only one game in which they’ve surrendered multiple touchdown passes. The Saints also are over a touchdown favorite as of this writing, so there won’t be the need for crazy passing from Brees like we saw against the Chargers.

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Matthew Berry isn’t wild about Drew Brees’ upcoming schedule, but he is reserving fantasy judgment on Brees until he gets Michael Thomas back.

The Bears are allowing a league-low 11.7 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season. If quarterbacks facing the Bears were a single player, that quarterback would be QB33 on the season on a per-game basis. Do you want to start QB33 on your fantasy team? No, you do not. Hashtag: analysis. You’re welcome, America.


Running backs I love in Week 6

No need to Hunt for a RB this week, Kareem is the Dream! Yes, my joke writer took the week off, but he sent a pun and rhyming guy from the temp agency. Hang tight, kids, we’re gonna get through this together. And it starts with a huge bounce-back game from Hunt. In Week 2, Hunt had 20 fantasy points against the Bengals on just 12 touches. Considering that Hunt is averaging 16.5 touches per game since Nick Chubb got hurt and is sixth in the NFL in red zone touches, he should have another big game facing a Cincinnati defense that has allowed the third-most rushing yards to running backs so far this season.

Mike Evans is WR18 on the year. Rob Gronkowski is TE18. And you don’t want to know where Chris Godwin is on the list. But six weeks into the season, Ronald Jones is ranked RB13. Who knew in the preseason that Jones would be the big star in this star-studded offense? Not me, not fantasy managers and not the Buccaneers. (Why bring in Leonard Fournette if you knew Jones would produce like this?) But I do know that Jones now has at least 20 touches and 100 scrimmage yards in three straight games. I also know that even if Fournette is healthy, Jones is still likely to make it four straight against the Raiders, who allow the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs this season and the third-highest yards per carry allowed to RBs. The five backs with at least 13 touches against the Raiders this year have averaged 26.3 fantasy points. Jones is getting at least 13 carries and is a top-12 play for me this week.

Josh Kelley was the RB2 for the Chargers when Austin Ekeler was healthy … and, well, Josh Kelley has remained the RB2 for the Chargers while Ekeler is hurt. Jackson out-snapped Kelley in the Bolts’ previous contest 41-24 and saw six of seven running back targets on the way to 94 scrimmage yards on 20 touches. I expect a similar number of touches this week, which bodes well for this fantasy prospect against a Jaguars defense that has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards to running backs this year and the fifth-most fantasy points and also is tied for the third-most rushing touchdowns to RBs. Still available in about 35% of ESPN leagues as well.

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Field Yates and Matthew Berry think Chargers running back Justin Jackson will have a big day against a struggling Jaguars defense.

Others receiving votes

There’s always concern that Matt Patricia and Darrell Bevell will continue forcing the ball to Adrian Peterson; all rebuilding teams should feed 35-year-old running backs, right? But it will be even harder to avoid making D’Andre Swift Detroit’s RB1 after the rookie’s breakout game last week: 27.3 fantasy points thanks to a career high in both touches (17) and carries (14). I like Swift to have another nice game on Sunday in a high-scoring affair facing a Falcons team that allows the second-most receptions and receiving yards to running backs. … With Raheem Mostert out with an ankle injury, it’s another must-start week for Jerick McKinnon. In the two games Mostert missed earlier this season, McKinnon saw 38 touches and averaged 19.7 fantasy points with a touchdown in each game. He also saw 12 targets in those games, and his Week 7 opponent, the New England Patriots, allow a 91% catch rate to running backs. … J.D. McKissic has at least six receptions and 9.5 fantasy points in each of his past three games. … Speaking of deeper league plays, Latavius Murray has averaged 12.6 touches over his past three games, while Carolina has allowed a league-high eight rushing touchdowns to running backs. Don’t be surprised if Murray falls into the end zone for you on one of his touches this Sunday.

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Matthew Berry projects D’Andre Swift to be a top-20 play in Week 7 because he expects Swift to split the first-down work and to get all of the third-down work for the Lions.

Running backs I hate in Week 7

Opposing defenses are keying on Jacobs, who has been held under 3.8 yards per carry in four of his past five games. He also has had a touchdown-dependent ceiling this season, averaging just 11 fantasy points in his three games without a score. Considering Tampa Bay allows league lows in both rushing yards per game to running backs (48.5) and yards per carry (2.8), there’s little reason to think Jacobs’ numbers will begin to trend back in a positive direction in Week 7. You have to start him, and he is always a threat to fall into the end zone, but he is only a contrarian play in DFS, and he’s just outside my top 10 for the week.

I’m not ready to declare the James Robinson Cinderella story over, but he has looked like he’s running in slippers that don’t fit in his past two games: just 25 carries for 77 yards. Meanwhile, the Chargers are top 10 in fewest rushing yards allowed over the past four weeks and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown to a running back this season despite facing, in order, Joe Mixon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Mike Davis, the red-hot Ronald Jones and Alvin Kamara. I have Robinson as a low-end RB2, as he is likely to be closer to wicked stepsister than fantasy royalty again this week.

Yes, Freeman has emerged as the lead back for the Giants. But that likely won’t matter much against an Eagles defense that allows just 3.2 yards per carry to running backs this season — second best in the league to only the Bucs. Philadelphia also allows the sixth-fewest receptions per game to running backs this season and the eight-fewest fantasy points per game to backs. Plus, if you don’t start him, you don’t have to watch Thursday night’s epic battle for NFC East supremacy/hilarity.

Damien Harris, New England Patriots, vs. 49ers

Harris is averaging just 16.5 snaps per game. Yes, snaps, not touches. He also has just one target on three total routes run for the entire season. Of course, it’s the Patriots, so watch him get 25 touches on Sunday. But all we have to go on is what we have seen, and so far, we’ve seen a lot of running backs not named Harris out there. It’s hard to produce from a fantasy perspective with that kind of workload. It’s even harder facing a defense that allows just 3.4 yards per carry to running backs. Harris is a touchdown-dependent RB4 this week.


Pass-catchers I love in Week 7

The Golladay season seems to arrive earlier every year, doesn’t it? That’s right. Pun guy stuck around for pass-catchers. Kenny has at least 14 fantasy points in all three of his games this year. And 14 seems a worst-case scenario this week against the Falcons. Atlanta is dead last among all defenses in receptions and yards allowed on deep passes. Also, receivers who have at least four catches in a game versus Atlanta this season are averaging 19.7 fantasy points per game — and Golladay has at least four receptions in every game this season. A top-six play for me this week, get your Golladay shopping done early and have him in every possible lineup in Week 7!

Fantasy doesn’t have to be that hard, kids. Cleveland has allowed the most receptions and yards to the slot this season and is tied for the second-most touchdowns. Good? We done here? OK, fine … here’s more: Wide receivers who have seen seven-plus targets versus Cleveland this season are averaging 18.1 fantasy points, and Boyd averages eight targets per game. Really? You still want more? In Week 2 against the Browns, Boyd had 20.2 fantasy points. How ’bout now? We good now? OK, great.

We’ve talked a lot about how Terry McScorin (so help me I will make that a thing if it kills me) is matchup-proof. It doesn’t matter who defends him. So imagine how I feel about him facing a team that doesn’t bother to defend anyone at all. Dallas has allowed 11 touchdowns to wide receivers through six games. And of the eight different receivers to see six or more targets versus Dallas this season, they’ve averaged 22.7 fantasy points per game. Don’t be borin’, start Terry McScorin! (Rhyme guy is back, baby!)

Henry has been a life raft thrown into the fetid ocean water that is the tight end position this season, putting up double-digit fantasy points in four of his five games. At the same time, he has yet to hit 15 fantasy points. So he’s like a raft, but one that’s a little underinflated and could use a good scrubbing. But if Henry is going to have a breakout game, this could be the week. I know … after Herbert and Jackson, you’d think I’d have run out of bad Jaguars stats, but I didn’t! I have more! Jacksonville allows 14.9 yards per reception to tight ends, second most in the league, and it also has surrendered five touchdowns to tight ends so far this season (tied for fifth most).

David Njoku‘s return to the lineup hasn’t been a pooper for Hooper. In fact, Hooper’s usage has gone up in recent weeks, with at least five catches and 10 fantasy points in each of his past three games, along with a team-high 25.6% target share. I say Mr. Hooper’s run of success continues this week against a Cincinnati defense that allows the sixth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends.

Others receiving votes

We saw on Monday night what a healthy Christian Kirk can do as a deep receiver. Kirk — not DeAndre Hopkins — leads Arizona in deep targets this season, while Arizona’s Week 7 opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, allows the most catches and yards per game on deep receptions this season. … It’s not DJ Chark Jr. or even Laviska Shenault Jr. who is Jacksonville’s highest-ranked fantasy receiver this year. It’s Keelan Cole Sr. Cole has at least six targets in four of his past five games. And this week, he faces a Chargers defense that allows a league-high 10.7 yards per pass attempt to the slot. … If we just change Tee Higgins‘ name to “A.J. Green,” will fantasy managers finally start believing he is legit? Higgins has at least seven targets and 10 fantasy points in four straight games. (Green has only one double-digit fantasy game in his past five.) This week, Higgins gets a Cleveland defense that allows the third-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers. … T.J. Hockenson has at least four targets in every game this season and a touchdown in three of his five games. That sets up well against the Falcons, who allow the second-most fantasy points per game to tight ends and have allowed a league-high seven TE touchdowns. … Houston let Anthony Firkser go for 8-113-1 last week on nine targets, so imagine what will happen to the Texans against fantasy superstar Big Robert Tonyan. Am I being sarcastic calling him a “fantasy superstar”? I’m honestly not sure. But I am sure Tonyan needs to be in Week 7 lineups. #BabyKittle.

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Field Yates and Matthew Berry both like Tee Higgins’ matchup against the Browns and would start him over other, more established WRs.

Pass-catchers I hate in Week 7

This is nothing about Smith-Schuster’s matchup this week. Tennessee doesn’t have a great track record of shutting down wide receivers. This is about what the role the Steelers have given their former top receiver. Look at this blind résumé reveal we did on The Fantasy Show on ESPN+ this week.

As unbelievable as it seems, the Steelers have turned JuJu Smith-Schuster into 2018 Ryan Switzer. Guess where Switzer is today? Not on an active NFL roster, that’s where. I’m not suggesting that’s where Smith-Schuster is headed, just that he shouldn’t be in your fantasy roster’s starting lineup until we see improved and sustained production.

You still have to start him — I currently have him at WR15 — but this might be his toughest matchup all year. Led by Jalen Ramsey, the Rams’ secondary is allowing the second-fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers this season. “Sure, but Allen Robinson is matchup-proof.” Maybe not this matchup, though, and here’s my proof: In Week 11 of last season against the Rams, Robinson had just four catches for 15 yards on six targets. Again, you’re likely starting him, but definitely lower your expectations.

This pains me to do. But while the Rams allow the second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, Chicago is right behind them in third. The Bears also have given up just one touchdown to a wideout so far this year and allow a league-low 56% catch rate to the position. The Kupp will not runneth over with fantasy points in Week 7. What’s more painful, you think? Kupp’s matchup or that last line? Toss-up for me.

I haven’t had Jared Cook on the Hate list enough for my liking this season, so let’s remedy that. Cook hasn’t caught more than two passes in a game since Week 1, and his target share has declined every week this season. Just four targets on 51 routes in the past two games. And all this declining usage was without Michael Thomas for much of the year! Thomas is back, and now Cook faces a Carolina defense allowing the third-fewest yards per target to tight ends this season. So Cook is firmly back on the Hate list for Week 7. Ahhh, that feels better. All is right with the world.

Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, may or may not bring back the pun guy next week. Hey, we all need a job.

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Clemson without DT Davis, LB Skalski vs. Cuse

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Clemson will be without two starters on defense Saturday against Syracuse, as the school announced both defensive tackle Tyler Davis and linebacker James Skalski are unavailable.

The school did not say why the players are out, referring questions to coach Dabo Swinney following the game.

Davis was injured in the season opener and missed two games, but he returned and played the last two weeks and was listed as the starter on the depth chart released this week.

Skalski ranks second on the team with 27 total tackles and also was listed as the starter on the depth chart.

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DAMWON get revenge on G2 en route to worlds final

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DAMWON Gaming became the first South Korean team to make the League of Legends World Championship final since 2017 and took down the G2 Esports team that eliminated DAMWON last year with a 3-1 win on Saturday in Shanghai.

The win came with the fastest game in League of Legends World Championship history, with DAMWON shutting the door on G2 around the 19-minute mark in a decisive Game 4. The South Koreans will face the winner of Top Esports vs. Suning in the final on Oct. 31 at Pudong Stadium.

Coverage of previous matches is available on our 2020 League of Legends World Championship groups and play-ins page.

DAMWON Gaming 3, G2 Esports 1

When G2 Esports met DAMWON Gaming in 2019, G2 were a few series away from completing the Royal Road: winning every major event that they participated in domestically and internationally. DAMWON were an upstart LoL Champions Korea team that provided a beacon of hope for the LCK after South Korean teams had struggled internationally following their 2018 worlds collapse. Like Griffin before them, DAMWON came to 2019 worlds with the hope that a younger, aggressive team was more suitable to the current meta.

Although G2 did not complete their Royal Road, they did overwhelm DAMWON in the quarterfinals with a similar 3-1 scoreline to what we saw Friday. DAMWON didn’t have answers for Luka “Perkz” Perković and Rasmus “Caps” Winther’s champion flexibility. In particular, then-starting bot laner Sin “Nuclear” Jeong-hyeon was completely outclassed by Perkz.

Fast-forward to this year, where DAMWON players like mid laner Heo “ShowMaker” Su have talked about how much they want this rematch with G2 Esports to prove how much they’ve grown in a year. Bot laner Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun was a much more stable fit for the team in 2020 and took on a shot-calling role, while support Cho “BeryL” Geon-hee evolved into an aggressive innovator. ShowMaker himself improved significantly and, most importantly, DAMWON’s jungle-focused playstyle around Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu suited DAMWON much better than the efforts G2 made to play around Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski.

DAMWON put together a highlight reel during this series, but the best one is definitely the fervor with which they attack G2’s Nexus with the Rift Herald in Game 4 to firmly shut the door on G2 in under 19 minutes. This was a team that desperately wanted to prove that they were now better than G2, that they had shed their mental hangups of 2019, and they proved themselves convincingly.

A fond farewell to: G2 Esports

Despite winning both LEC splits again this year, it’s not been the best season for G2 Esports.

Europe’s No. 1 seed looked remarkably shaky in both of their regular seasons, with the initial swap of Caps to the bot lane and Perkz back to the mid lane not working nearly as well as Perkz in the AD carry role. The LEC was also full of rising teams like MAD Lions and Rogue who were starting to look like threats to LEC stalwarts G2 and Fnatic. All of this was forgotten and erased with G2’s LEC summer final performance and arrival at worlds. This was G2. Of course they would be a title contender.

In groups, G2 were one tiebreaker away from coming out as the top seed. Yet their matchup against Suning pointed out the different trajectories that both teams were taking at this worlds. G2 looked less comfortable with how to play around their jungler than Suning, who have the perfect unit of five to excel in this meta, especially jungler Lê “SofM” Quang Duy. Jankos and G2 seemed to have solved this to some extent in their 3-0 quarterfinal drubbing of Gen.G Esports, but looking back on that series now, it’s difficult to consider Gen.G as a particularly formidable opponent.

G2 are still one of the strongest teams in the world. Their mid-game cross-map play continues to be the best of any team in the world. Yet on Saturday, they were outclassed by a DAMWON Gaming team that, again, suits the current meta a lot more with the way that they play around Canyon.

With a finals appearance in 2018 and three consecutive semifinal appearances, this five-man unit of G2 is something very special, and I hope this isn’t the last time we see them together on an international stage.

Quotable

After the series ended, G2 weighed in on what happened against DAMWON and how DAMWON had improved from the previous year. Here’s what Perkz had to say.

“I think this year the meta favors them much more than it did last year. I think that this year they, and the Asian teams in general, they’ve been playing ever since summer split started these farm junglers and junglers that power-farm, and teams play around them and around objectives more than other teams. They were just very, very good at what they were doing for a few months already, whereas we did not start playing it until worlds bootcamp. We were a few months behind other teams.”

Every game in a sentence

  • DAMWON Gaming 1, G2 Esports 0: A few early mistakes put G2’s more early-game-focused composition behind, and DAMWON takes over in the mid game.

  • G2 Esports 1, DAMWON Gaming 1: DAMWON pick Fiora for a split-push composition but enter disadvantageous fights and skirmishes mid-game without optimizing their split-push pressure.

  • DAMWON Gaming 2, G2 Esports 1: Ghost’s Ashe gets two kills early after a G2 dive, and DAMWON snowball the game from there with Lulu shields and a Mountain soul.

  • DAMWON Gaming 3, G2 Esports 1: This game is all DAMWON from the get-go with Showmaker’s 1v1 kill onto Caps and a 19-minute victory that nearly ends with a Rift Herald on G2’s Nexus.


G2 Esports 3, Gen.G 0

After two exciting quarterfinal matchups in JD Gaming vs. Suning and Top Esports vs. Fnatic, the League of Legends World Championship returned to a quick 3-0 stomp, with G2 Esports defeating Gen.G in a match reminiscent of DAMWON Gaming’s utter destruction of DRX in the first quarterfinals series.

G2 advanced to face South Korean squad DAMWON Gaming at 6 a.m. ET on Oct. 24 in a rematch of the 2019 worlds quarterfinal, while China’s LoL Pro League contenders, Top Esports and Suning, will square off at 6 a.m. ET on Oct. 25 in the second semifinal.

The end result of this series was always going to be an interesting semifinals narrative. Either we would receive the LoL Champions Korea summer finals we thought we would have between DAMWON Gaming and Gen.G, or there would be a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals between G2 Esports and DAMWON. Since DAMWON players have been pretty vocal about G2 living somewhat rent-free in their heads despite their domestic success, it’s great to see that we will end up getting this semifinals match in a week.

As for the games themselves, G2 looked much more prepared for the current metagame and brought their superior understanding of cross-map trading and mid-game wave management, skirmishing and lane assignments. Interestingly enough, G2 tend to make more mistakes early but overcome them almost immediately with a remarkably strong and intelligent mid game.

In this series, G2 were off to an excellent start from the first match where their pick composition was designed around Twisted Fate, Pantheon and Jhin. Gen.G were relegated to having to throw Taric in with their Kalista ultimate just to try to get a good 5v5 engage that their composition desperately needed. The series didn’t improve for Gen.G after that, although they did show a few signs of life in Game 3, where bot laner Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk was visibly trying as hard as he could on Ezreal to at least drag his team to a fourth game.

The obvious player of the game was Rasmus “Caps” Winther, who amassed a 56 Kills + Assists in the series, the most of any player at worlds since 2015 KOO Tigers mid laner Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng. His overall KDA for all three games was 14.

A fond farewell to: Gen.G

It’s sad to see Gen.G go out like this, especially with South Korea’s third seed in DRX leaving in a similar 3-0 fashion. One of the questions surrounding the three LCK teams at this year’s world championship was whether the LCK had improved as a whole, or whether it was just DWG rising to become one of the world’s best teams.

We now have that answer — although it’s somewhat skewed by the fact that DWG knocked out their LCK brethren in DRX — and it’s DWG who appear significantly ahead of the rest of their region.

Neither Gen.G nor G2 seemed particularly well-suited to the current meta going into this series — certainly not as much as other teams like DWG, Fnatic and Suning. However, Gen.G didn’t really seem to adjust their more standard, bot-lane-focused approach and play around jungler Kim “Clid” Tae-min in a similar way that Suning or Fnatic have played around Lê “SofM” Quang Duy and Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek respectively. They were also unable to pivot to the facilitator role that Top Esports’ Hung “Karsa” Hao-Hsuan took on in TES’ reverse sweep of Fnatic on Saturday.

Quotable

Despite G2’s struggles this year, bot laner Luka “Perkz” Perković asserted that this G2 team is even stronger than last year’s and 2018. He, like DAMWON, has been waiting for their rematch. Here’s what he had to say in the post-game press conference.

“I’m not entirely sure how to tell them but I saw some interview with ShowMaker where he was talking a bit about how much he wants to beat G2 and how he wishes that we won against Gen.G so he doesn’t care if there is one LCK team in the finals for sure he wants to beat us really badly. But I feel sorry for LCK that they will not have one LCK team in the finals.”

Every game in a sentence

  • G2 Esports 1, Gen.G 0: Gen.G lock in a 5v5 composition but lack engage while G2 are able to play around that easily with globals to avoid fights.

  • G2 Esports 2, Gen.G 0: Gen.G try to pick a composition more like G2’s, but G2 have a significantly stronger mid game and better skirmishing.

  • G2 Esports 3, Gen.G 0: Ruler tries his hardest to drag Gen.G to a fourth game, but this game is also almost entirely G2.


Top Esports 3, Fnatic 2

Top Esports’ nail-biting 3-2 victory over Fnatic on Saturday in Shanghai became the first-ever reverse sweep in League of Legends World Championship history.

Here’s how it happened, a look back at Fnatic’s performance throughout worlds and a quick breakdown of each match of the historic series.

Although Top Esports were, and still are, a favorite to win the world championship as China’s No. 1 seed, there should be a small shadow of doubt after this series as TES looked more disorganized than in the single-game group stage. Fnatic, meanwhile were visibly ramping up after a rocky start and slight meta misread. Once they became comfortable in the current meta, they looked unstoppable with strong Level 1’s and focused drafts around jungler Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek as one of the team’s primary carries.

In their first two games against TES, Fnatic had full control of the bot side of the map, continuously making plays after their first reset and ensuring that Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov were ahead of Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo and Liang “Yuyanjia” Jia-Yuan. Once TES’ bot lane collapsed, even with any advantages they may have been able to get in mid or top, TES struggled in teamfights and frequently took them without thought to setup.

TES started turning the series around when they put jungler Hung “Karsa” Hao-Hsuan on Lee Sin and Nidalee to make more plays in the early game. Even when their bot lane fell behind early, Karsa was able to make an impact elsewhere on the map to get other lanes, particularly Zhuo “Knight” Ding’s mid lane, ahead. Once TES were making more proactive plays early, even with a scaling draft like they had in Game 5, they were able to take teamfights much better and adjust to how Fnatic wanted to play around Rekkles and Selfmade.

Perhaps the most impressive part of TES’ victory is how they kept their cool, even after two disappointing losses to start the series.

A fond farewell to: Fnatic

Prior to this series, I had said that Fnatic was more well-suited to this meta because of the way they play around jungle and that they matched up well with TES because of how strong Hylissang is, while rookie Yuyanjia is in still developing as a support.

In their first two games Saturday, the Fnatic bot lane proved the latter point and showcased just how strong they were. Fnatic also had a strong understanding of when to make plays after resetting early to get themselves ahead, earning nearly all of the First Bloods in every single one of their matches. This Fnatic team grew significantly stronger as they learned how to better play around Selfmade this summer, and they should hold their heads high even in the face of this loss.

Quotable

After some tremendous bot lane performances with Hylissang, Rekkles was asked to reflect on his performances against TES and at this world championship. Here’s what he had to say.

“I’m really happy how we were able to show, yet again, our strength as a duo on the international stage and I think it’s something we’ve managed previous years too, but it’s nice to see that we’ve still got it year after year so that part I’m happy about. But I think still, no one will really remember how we played today. I don’t think it will be OK, in a way, to lose because of this. A loss is a loss, and a win is a win, so in a week from now or a month from now, I don’t know when I’ll be looking back at this, but I still think I’ll feel very disappointed with what I managed to do today.”

Every map in a sentence

  • Fnatic 1, Top Esports 0: Everyone will be talk about Bwipo’s Singed, but it’s Hylissang that makes the massive difference for Fnatic, both in the 2v2 and outside of lane.

  • Fnatic 2, Top Esports 0: Another game where Fnatic play significantly better around their bottom lane and Hylissang is stronger than Yuyanjia.

  • Top Esports 1, Fnatic 2: With Karsa taking over with Lee Sin and TES’ bot lane doing better, TES are able to snowball their early lead despite greedy mid-game mistakes.

  • Top Esports 2, Fnatic 2: Although Fnatic continue their bot lane dominance, Karsa’s Nidalee takes over the game, Knight accrues a significant advantage on Jayce, and 369 soaks up all of Fnatic’s damage in teamfights.

  • Top Esports 3, Fnatic 2: Once again, Karsa’s Lee Sin makes moves early, and Yuyanjia redeems himself for his earlier performances as TES’ composition snowballs to a reverse-sweep victory.


Suning 3, JD Gaming 1

Another regional rivalry took center stage in the 2020 League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals on Friday. Following the repeat of the 2020 LoL Champions Korea summer finals on Thursday, Chinese squads JD Gaming and Suning faced off in an all-LoL Pro League showdown.

The results did not necessarily go as expected, with Suning not only besting JD Gaming 3-1 but doing so convincingly through strong teamfighting and skirmishes.

Unlike DAMWON Gaming’s series against DRX, where the two teams had played each other recently and DAMWON quickly stomped their opponent 3-0, Suning had not met JD Gaming since the second week of the LPL summer split.

Back then, it was a JDG 2-0 that Suning arguably should have won, but Suning were still in the beginning stages of building the team that is currently on the worlds stage; JDG also had a good understanding of how to stop Suning with vision control and flanks from top laner Zhang “Zoom” Xing-Ran or mid laner Zeng “Yagao” Qi.

That approach was what was expected from this series as well. Despite the fact that Suning had arguably looked better in groups — something that could also be attributed to not having DAMWON in their group — and were well-suited to the current metagame, JDG presumably had the upper hand in this series.

They didn’t.

Instead, we had the rare, shining moment where a much-lauded rookie player steps into the international spotlight and exceeds expectations in the best way. Most fans already knew of Suning bot laner Tang “huanfeng” Huan-Feng’s incredible journey to get to worlds thanks to an interview by the LPL broadcast team, but on Friday, he fully embraced his role as the LPL’s best up-and-coming bot laner.

Huanfeng’s Jhin in particular was remarkable, and he cemented his place as a king among Jhin enthusiasts with an ultimate from inside JDG’s base during Game 2 that went viral on multiple social media platforms.

Suning’s win was also a testament to jungler Lê “SofM” Quang Duy and support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh’s veteran leadership on the team, something that rookie top laner Chen “Bin” Ze-Bin has cited as the reason why Suning are such a strong squad right now.

A fond farewell to: JD Gaming

For the majority of the year, JDG were one of, if not the LPL’s best teams. They were smart, well-coordinated, drafted around their players’ obvious strengths and weaknesses, and supplemented this with remarkable 5v5 teamfighting.

Even in their quarterfinals loss to Suning, there were several times where JDG’s group engages were clearly better, and if they had a lead (especially in Game 3, which was pretty much over for JDG once Bin’s Gangplank got a Level 1 double-kill and took a Sheen to the top lane) at those times, they would have won those fights.

Although they won’t be moving on at worlds this year, 2020 JDG were a special team to watch and should still be remembered as one of the LPL’s best.

Quotable

Although huanfeng was the star of Suning on Friday, SwordArt’s efforts in helping lead this team and his direct involvement in huanfeng’s improvement should never be overlooked, especially since this is the furthest he has gone at worlds in his own career. The support had this to say about huanfeng’s growth.

“Huanfeng is a very hard-working player, and I think he made a lot of improvements in communications and also in terms of our synergy. Now he really immerses himself in the whole team. I don’t think we are able to provide that much help, but he can always carry the game. I think maybe not now, but later in some moment, I believe that huanfeng will become a really good player that will be memorable for all.”

Every game in a sentence

  • JD Gaming 1, Suning 0: Although Suning have a scaling advantage, Yagao’s Zoe and Zoom’s Renekton take over the mid-game.

  • Suning 1, JD Gaming 1: Suning’s scaling works out well here while Yagao is unable to have an impact on Galio, and huanfeng’s Jhin steps into the spotlight.

  • Suning 2, JD Gaming 1: This game is over from Level 1, when Bin’s Gangplank gets a double kill and Sheen to start the laning phase.

  • Suning 3, JD Gaming 1: JDG take an early lead, but stronger dragon setups and huanfeng’s Jhin once again lead Suning to victory.


DAMWON Gaming 3, DRX 0

Quarterfinals got underway at the 2020 League of Legends World Championship on Thursday. The first series was a rematch of the 2020 LoL Champions Korea final between DAMWON Gaming and DRX that went in the exact same way that first matchup did: a 3-0 sweep for DAMWON.

The moment DRX were drawn against DAMWON Gaming, they were already considered out of the tournament.

We had already seen what DRX could do against DAMWON in their summer finals best-of-five ,and it wasn’t much. DAMWON were not only able to best DRX individually, but more importantly had much stronger objective setups and trading across the map. DRX had, however, looked a bit more cohesive in the group stage, particularly in their games against LoL Pro League No. 1 seed Top Esports.

Although Top Esports won both of those games due to stronger teamfighting, there was hope for DRX. Despite the team’s reliance on mid laner Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon and a back injury hindering bot laner Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu, the team seemed like it might have improved enough to give DAMWON more trouble than they were able to in that quick summer final sweep.

More: Suning evolve into League of Legends World Championship dark horse | Is the gap closing between minor and major regions in League of Legends? | Ten years of worlds: A League of Legends World Championship oral history

I had hoped to say that this series wouldn’t play out as expected — that DRX would be able to take at least a game off of DAMWON. They could not. The series ended in similar 100-minute fashion, with DAMWON too strong to allow DRX even one game. DRX came closest in Game 2, but a clutch engage from DWG top laner Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon on Ornn flipped the game back into DAMWON’s favor, and they didn’t give DRX any advantages afterwards.

DAMWON will now go on to the semifinals to face either the team that knocked them out of worlds in 2019, G2 Esports, or another fellow South Korean squad in Gen.G. DAMWON should be favored in both matchups with how strong they’ve looked at this tournament.

A fond farewell to: DRX

For most of the 2020 LCK season, DRX were a fun team to watch and always near the top of the standings. They had interesting drafts (which sometimes hurt them more than they helped), and the continued evolution of Chovy was one of the highlights of the season. In 2020, the mid laner grew from a 1v1 outplay king who somewhat relied on favorable matchups from his team to a legitimate team player with much stronger teamfighting skill and engage sense, making DRX a legitimate threat against any team not named DAMWON.

DRX have two standout young players that people watch going into 2021, too, despite some rough performances Thursday. Jungler Hong “Pyosik” Chang-hyeon and, in particular, rookie support Ryu “Keria” Min-seok have a lot of potential going forward in future LCK seasons.

The saddest part of DRX’s exit: The revelation about Deft’s back injury. The bot laner’s been one of the best in the world and competed professionally since 2013. He hasn’t mentioned retiring, but given the physical setback and length of his pro career, we’ll hope that this isn’t the last time we see Deft in an international showdown.

Quotable

DRX coach Kim “cvMax” Dae-ho reflected on the season after Thursday’s sweep, giving credit to both Chovy and Deft for helping coach the team.

“Thanks to Chovy and Deft, the core players, Keria, Pyosik, and Doran were able to soak in all of the game knowledge and experience,” cvMax said via a translator. “Also, Chovy and Deft were even coaching better than the real coaches. Maybe they were the realistic coaches of our team leading the team so well. I also learned so much by watching them doing feedback for the players. Compared to myself in Griffin and this year, I think I’ve become better at coaching, and it’s all from Deft.”

Every game in a sentence

  • DAMWON Gaming 1, DRX 0: DRX are unable to get their Caitlyn ahead early and DWG have stronger objective setups overall, even when it looked for a short moment like DRX would be able to poke them down in the mid game.

  • DAMWON Gaming 2, DRX 0: A big teamfight in mid where Nuguri controls the entire fight with Ornn makes the difference for DWG.

  • DAMWON Gaming 3, DRX 0: Another limited-to-no-engage composition harms DRX as DAMWON are easily able to jump on them and, despite Doran’s Vladimir doing relatively well early in top lane, beat DRX in the mid game.

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