Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Relax, it's the start of the 2010-2011 NBA season

"Relax! Relax! Relax...personal foul," the referee said to Luis Scola as the Rockets' starting power forward lay prostrate on the hardwood clutching the ball he'd just wrestled from Ron Artest. The face of the gritty Argentine went from incredulity to relief as he processed the fact the call was going his way.

That placating, yet forceful, command could well come to define the new hyper-regulated NBA.

While many fans (including myself) have reacted to the NBA and Commissioner David Stern's new stricter regulations on "bad behavior" in the same fashion as Scola reacted to the whistle, we may experience a similar change in perspective.

From what I could see of the technical fouls assessed to players and coaches of last night's games, and just as importantly the interactions between referees and players that prevented potential Ts, it seems like there is method to the madness...the method to curb the madness, that is.

"We have the greatest players in the world. They didn't complain in high school, or college, but when they arrive in the NBA they get a masters in complaining," Stern said to Cheryl Miller during the highly anticipated Celtics-Heat game Tuesday night. Stern and the NBA want to change the perception that NBA players are whiners, and project a more positive image for the league.

The madness? How about the howling Rasheed Wallace (gone this season, but always had capable understudies), the "I never committed a foul in my life!" face that belongs to...so many players, and yes, perhaps even the stare down of privileged NBA royalty like Kobe Bryant.

The method? Assess T's faster and more readily, a technical foul hair trigger as it were. Screaming, taunting, scowls, cursing, back talk, and menacing walking-up-to will not only be fair game, but WILL draw a technical. So it seems, the refs will all resemble Joey Crawford this season.

But wait. They will not all be Crawfords. This might actually work, because referees will have to contribute to the peace process as well. Ideally, they will work to create an atmosphere that is less vitriolic and full of shocked Kabuki-esque expressions, but that will remain acutely competitive. Something closer to pure sport, is my guess.

The critics have two major points against all this though:

1. It's going to kill the natural emotion of the game.
2. It's going to slow down the game.

Of #2, barely noticeable in any games last night. We'll see how it goes.

Of #1, this could be a bigger problem. Again, we'll have to see as the season goes on just how the refs choose to exercise their new license to T. Especially during the playoffs, will emotional plays where players get juiced up on adrenaline, anger, and joy lead to players' heads exploding as they try to hold it all in? Will the refs tee up Donkey and Shrek with a 2 for 1 special?

I certainly hope not. It's too early to say whether the new disciplinarian system is a good thing or a bad thing, but after opening night, it's certainly not as bad as I or others feared. I even saw the glimmers of goodness in it all, exemplified in the civility exhibited by players and refs (OK fine, maybe Derek Fisher is just always super civil). I say we should relax and keep an open mind.

Oh, and on a side note: that "relax" goes for Heat fans and haters alike. No one should be doubting, pouting, or jeering after Miami lost to Boston. If anything, that first jump out of the gate proves just how scary good this team will be: they did not play well together, looked disjointed for much of the game, and because they have a player who can take over against any team in the NBA, they rallied to within a couple of buckets in the second half.

That's pretty impressive, except for the fact that they have not one, but TWO players who can do that on any given night. And a third who can do it once in a blue moon, to boot. The Heat's margin for error, therefore, is pretty big. Even if they play badly, they have guys who know how to dominate games and who can and will dominate games. Once this team learns to play together, and they will, rival teams will find their margin for error slim to nothing.

I am not a Heat fan, I'm just saying is all. And I miss howlin' Sheed already, howlin' "Ball don't lie!"

Monday, August 30, 2010

That British Announcer for the FIBA W.Championships

Who is this man? (Quotes from USA v.s. Brazil)

"Whoa! The American's didn't score even though it seemed IMPOSSIBLE for them NOT to!"

"Whatever happens between these two teams...we've been royally treated here today in Istanbul."

[Shot clock starting at 9:59 instead of 10:00] "I hope it doesn't come down to the last second...wait what am I talking about? I hope it does."

"He looked [Splitter] like he'd run out of oxygen...but he found one more."

"Rose lost it!....but he only lost it because Barbosa got a little piece of it..." (Listening to him say "Barbosa", I feel like this is "Pirates of the Caribbean.")

Is it the accent I like then?

"He must have had just a little fear when he heard the whistle 'Hey that better not be on me!'....and it WASN'T."

Final sequence of the game:


Tremendous stuff here. When I first heard this particular announcer I remember thinking how relatively childish he seemed compared to the likes of NBA play by play and color commentators. You know, guys with the slang, the cadence, the Stu Scott, especially the former coaches and players who offer unmatched, elite expertise. THOSE guys know what they're talking about. But within one half of the USA v. Brazil game early this week, those (haughty) thoughts were abandoned and I found myself riveted as much by the announcer's style as the game itself.

He brought passion, knowledge of the game's international players (most of whom I'm sure the domestic guys wouldn't have a clue about in addition to not being able to pronounce names), and some truly admirable lines delivered to enhance the moment in the action. That last bit is reflected in the quotes above, and magnified by the fact that this unnamed Brit (still can't find the chap online) is working the booth alone.

Sometimes he sounded like he was having a conversation with himself, which was quite funny, if unintentional. The man's enthusiasm was absolutely contagious and I quickly found the vocabulary he used to describe the game endearing and nicely contrary to the lines we hear during NBA games. His descriptions of the action were refreshing, colorful, and without a hint of pomposity. Perhaps best of all, there was no lame ribbing of other booth members (also, there were no other booth members), insulting of players, or disdain of the level of play. There's something very pure at work here.

During the very good Lithuania v. Spain contest...I mean game, the American announcer (another mystery man) displayed his kindred spirit. He spoke of Lithunian players Robertas Javtokas, Jonas Maciulius, and Martynas Pocius as if he coached them or knew them through the years. After a rebound and trip to the line for Maciulius, the announcer said "He is a good, good player, he does all the little things." Oh truly? My skepticism wouldn't allow me to believe this without seeing it with my own eyes. As Lithuania was struggling to cut into the Spanish lead( Spain being the most recognizable team in the tournament besides the USA with names like Gasol, Rubio, Fernandez, Garbajosa, and Navarro) the player who "did all the little things" got to the line with gritty drives. OK, so he can do gritty drives.

And then, Maciulius took a hammer, a heavy one, probably steel, and drove the announcer's point home by stripping Rudy Fernandez (he who dunked on Dwight Howard in the Olympics) TWICE IN A ROW and taking it in for TWO TWO-HANDED SLAMS! He pretty much single-handedly made Lithuania's comeback. Naturally, our announcer was going wild.


And again, when Lithuania took the lead.

I love this game.

I love this game. That was THE company line, the slogan, of the NBA a few years back. Let me tell you, it didn't sound one bit contrived coming from the announcer.

Here are true fan of the game, and of the moment, sharing with us their joy. Bonus points for the American announcer's classy ways when, during the nail biting moments at the end of Lithuania v. Spain, the cameras were inexplicably focused on fan reactions when the game was going on. He said something to the effect of: "The camera crew has been great all game long, but let's keep it on the action, please!" Not mean at all.

Maybe it's easy to subconsciously root for the little guys and the underdogs. I'm likely way off base in describing these two announcers with a "blue collar" version of a sports announcer. But the smaller FIBA stage (funny calling the world stage smaller than the national one, but it's absolutely true) has me not only interested, but pretty damn riveted. And while the players and the play are the primary reasons, they are getting an enthusiastic lift from some pretty cool commentary guys.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Black Mamba" versus "Cobra"

In retrospect, Kobe Bryant should have chosen "Cobra" as his handle. Cobras are probably the most notorious venomous snakes in the world. You don't want your nick to be something so specific it borders on obscurity and your average fan will cock an eyebrow at it. You want to choose something a little broader, something that everyone recognizes and associates with deadly-killer-who-strikes-swiftly-and-with-finality (that is what Kobe was going for, right?). Kenny Smith was "The Jet", not "The F-15". Cobras have trademark hoods. Scary. They have rhythm. Beautiful. Black Mamba, on the other hand, sounds a bit feminine.

Now, sound it out. Kobe, Cobra. Cobra Bryant. Kobe "Cobra" Bryant. After he won his 5th championship he could have changed it (in Shaq-style) to be Kobe "King Cobra" Bryant.

No, no adder is as poisonous as a Black Mamba...but come on, what sounds better?

* Apparently Adonal Foyle's nickname was The Cobra. I'm sure Kobe could have taken it like he took the Lakers.

Lebron Spoiling his Family with Front Row Seats

"But I mean, even my family gets spoiled at times watching me doing things that I do, on and off the court."
- Lebron James, GQ Magazine interview

Incredible stuff. If I were to defend his quote...I think Lebron wanted to say that he spoils EVERYONE with his incredible basketball abilities. His ability to shrug his way to a triple double. To drive with the speed of a guard half his size while crushing power forwards and centers with earth shaking force. To shoot, shake, and, *ahem*, crab dribble, his way to seemingly effortless buckets. What Lebron wanted to say was that everyone, even his family, are witnesses. He wanted to take the heat off his quote from late last season. I get it.

What I don't get is the "off the court" stuff. I don't think he's talking about buying homes and cars and better lives for his family and friends, because he specifically uses the verb "watching." What does he spoil them with? Watching him dance? He might be better than Wade and Bosh, but I don't think he's spoiling anyone with his dance moves. He's no Lilou or Hong 10.

His family is spoiled by watching him off the court. What things does he do? Perhaps he's just really good at picking up hot chicks. Maybe it's his looks. Lebron is so funny he spoils them with his jokes? At this point he's much more unintentionally funny with the things that spew from his mouth. He's ripe for a Tracy Morgan spoof on SNL (host it, please!)

I can see him in his mind's room taken physical form, slapping sticky mental notes to the walls. With each *smack* another name is added onto the list, Lebron yelling with the incredulous fury of a schoolyard bully who doesn't understand why teachers, parents, and other kids don't like him. "But I'm the biggest and baddest! I'm a global icon! Lebron James is just doing Lebron and Lebron needs to take his talents to South Beach!"

J.A. Adande of ESPN wrote about Lebron's mental notes and the not so thinly veiled threat they possessed: "What Jordan did do -- and would have done regardless of the era in which he played -- was make good on his threats and hold anyone accountable. Vengeance was his, time and time again. Now that LeBron decided to follow the Jordan route he needs to follow the journey to its natural end point. "

I doubt Mr. Adande truly believes Lebron has it in him. For Lebron, the journey he is taking now isn't natural to him. Jordan was a CCC (Cold Calculated Ciller...errr) since youth. He'd make a list slowly, methodically, and then never, EVER let that name back on his good side again. Lebron is hurt, and vengeful, whereas Jordan has venom running through his veins. I'm not even sure if Jordan had a "good" side in the sense we think is normal. A conversation for another time, but I think the comparisons between the two men really need to stop. Pissed off, feelings-hurt super kid versus wrathful natural assassin. It's like a bull with its balls tied up compared to a...certain kind of snake...hmmm.

On another note Lebron James actually hates Clevelanders, well, a lot of them. ("There's a lot of people in Cleveland we still hate to this day.") Since he "understood a lot of people would be hurt" with his t.v. Decision spectacle, the above quote only affirms his intentions to get back at those he and his crew couldn't stand. Maybe I'm reaching on this one.

The backlash against Gilbert and its coupling with yet another third-person referral ("I don't think he ever cared about Lebron") is understandable. Gilbert deserves James's ire and is waiting for it, while James referring to himself in the third person is OK because that's just what he does. As long as he stops calling himself "King" James. Because a king he is not. He is a duke, riding in with armor and lance to the services of South Beach royalty. He will lend his terrifying blend of speed and brute force to the leader of that team, Dwyane Wade. But just having the most overwhelming blend of talent and physical gifts does not a king make. Nor does a wellspring of hate. MJ may have been the only one true king of the NBA. The closest guy to that moniker in the NBA right now is Kobe Bryant, who's nickname just so happens to be "The Black Mamba".

All hail (insert: revile) Duke James. Being spoiled by watching him no longer refers to the amazing show he puts on, but rather getting caught in the odorous reek of his aura.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chris Paul

Have to get this down so that I hopefully don't flip-flop later: I feel disgusted at this whole players demanding a trade thing. Yes, no doubt Chris Paul deserves (as with any player with his heart and desire to win) to be on a contender. Yes, this summer is probably akin to someone seeing his good friends get a dream job together and growing to look at the years left on his contract as a death knell. But he is under contract, first and foremost.

The fact that Duke James, or Lebron "The Decision" along with William Wesley and Maverick Carter are actively encouraging Paul to "force the Hornets hand" just makes me ill. More later...

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Other Old Guys - Last Rodeo

I'm sad to see the Spurs, now. And so I root for them. I root for them, too, because I always liked them even though they were never "my" team. One reason I liked them was because everyone else called them boring, and I liked going against the tide. Some other reasons I liked:

-The Little General (second best coach's voice now that Alvin Gentry has entered my life) and his Finals clinching 19 footer.
-Jaren Jackson for 3 (JVG was quoted in that Finals with the Knicks: "I don't want Jaren Jackson to beat us." Throughout the decade, San Antonio has always relied on good spot up 3 point shooters: Kerr, Horry, Ginobili, Bowen, Elliott, and now even Bonner and George Hill to give them a true inside-out. Jaren Jackson, a player with an NBA Live '98 rating of abysmal, was the quintessential outside threat for the Spurs. For me.)
-Tony Parker's ability to be a top 5 in FG% at 6'3" (actually, he would annoy me with his eyebrows and big head even while he amazed me)
-Horry against the Pistons in Game 5 (culminating with the "Stretch Armstrong" dunk over their entire team)
-Tim Duncan

Timmy D is the boring superstar of the boring Spurs. Whatever. In addition to his trademark bank shot, Duncan had a slew of post moves that not only compensated for his relative lack of athleticism, but gave him an advantage on nearly every big man in the NBA. The notable exception was Shaq, who in his prime was the Duncan Stopper...but even then the Lakers could only put him on Duncan in spurts otherwise they'd risk foul trouble and TD bringing the Big Paint Camper out with his mid range jumper.

Duncan's game has slowed as everyone's has, but he's still effective. In his prime? I haven't seen a post player since be sooo money. The Spurs would throw it to Timmy in the 4th, and let him go to work. At 7ft., with his footwork and moves, he'd overpower smaller frontlines, drive on huge bigs, hit hookshots and "squirt shots", and running hooks in the lane. He can still score, pass, rebound, and block shots...but back then he was the most reliable player in the league on both ends of the floor. Nearly none of his offensive moves were jaw dropping, in fact I rarely saw him swish (Duncan's shots always seemed to hit some iron, and didn't have a lot of arc) inside shots. No flair to the Big Fundamental. He just went to work, and got it done.

My favorite Duncan sequence was against the Nets in the finals, against the tattooed, high-leaping, rim bending, howling, bare chest exposing Kmart. He was an anti-Duncan, in case the previous description's didn't make it clear. Kmart had a very quick spin to his right, from the left block, which he could turn into a flip shot or a dunk. I think he used it effectively on the Walker Wiggle when the Nets played the Celtics. Anyways, the sequences, because there were two, went like this:

1. Kmart catches the ball 8ft. from the basket on the left block, TD at his back.
2. One dribble, and the super quick spin to his right gets him around Duncan's side.
3. My reaction is worried, it's too easy, Kmart is too quick, and he jumps really high REALLY fast (even now, after double knee surgeries, Martin still shows traces of one of the quickest hops around. fast twitch fibers...fast twitch fibers). In other words, I'm sure he's about to dunk it on TD.
4. Kmart explodes off the ground, and the Kmart missile is met, milliseconds after a successful launch, by a Duncan Ceiling. REJECTED!!!
5. Kmart comes back down to earth, dejected.

second sequence:
Repeat steps 1-4, with step 3 now a reaction of eager anticipation for step 4 which of course happens again.
5. Kmart comes back down, screaming at the refs for a foul. Doesn't come.

Tim Duncan was a genius on offense AND defense. He literally let Kmart go by him, and then obliterated his move. Twice. In a row. I liked him immensely every since.

Anyways, TD with his sagging shoulders and puppy-like expression is endearing. As are all these old champions. They are nice guys, all of them, I believe. Part of the San Antonio Spurs culture. Their coach is even nicknamed Pop. Maybe I buy into the marketing of this franchise too much, but I was so happy when they beat their Texas rivals in the first round.

And that's why I'm sad now, because they're down 3-0 to a Suns team that is better. During the regular season, I saw them blow leads and turn the ball over in crunch time. Back in their heyday, a 7 point lead by the Spurs was like a 15 point lead because of their team defense. Not anymore. They are like a grandfather figure of sorts in the NBA, utterly strong and dependable, wise and humble, they trumped doubters many many times. But Father Time's hand continues to rest on shoulders and pass over brows; the sad fact is age claims everyone in the end. The playoff series against the Mavs showed the old men could still fight...but no one comes back from 3-0.

I just hope the Spurs can take one, maybe even two, games from Phoenix. I'm not ready for them to ride out into the sunset. I'm not ready to wave 'bye' to the most dependable NBA team of the decade.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

KG and the Celtics - the berserker's edge

Sparked by a conversation with a buddy who hates, hates, HATES the Celtics and all Boston sports teams/fans. Naturally, he looked at the KG situation with venom, comparing his bluster to that of an aging silverback pushed to the edges of the pack but still beating his chest on the sidelines to let them know he's still in charge.

ESPN, the NBA, and probably every bball fan outside of Massachusetts seems to be in agreement: KG the habitual line stepper, and this cobbled together 2008 championship team, needs to go the way of Old Yeller and be put to rest. KG has a particularly bad case of the rabies, getting into Andray Blatche's ear http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08enzRf8Vug during the regular season (note that I am not a Wizards fan) and sending snarly, stinging elbows to Q Rich (note that in a real fight, I think Q takes KG down at 3-1 odds) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eycPuFmGCdU.

But look at that Game 1 scuffle in a different light. If the Celtics are indeed done, isn't their pugilism, their fight, really their last method of banding together? Not for futility trying to stay relevant, but to survive? It's their rallying cry, for better or worse. Cornered, injured, old, their ubuntu had gone the way of teammates questioning each other's motives as far back as mid-season. It needed to be reignited with a real spark; the spark has been found in reactionary violence as a means to save what little they have left of their championship mettle.

If this is the last ride indeed, and the team is to be blown apart, then I see this team in a different light--not as pathetic bullies, but as marginalized warriors pressed into the corner. KG even sported a band aid over his eye, a badge that covered a physical wound but coupled with his attacks made him appear vulnerable and maybe even a little pitiable. But he's fighting. If you take the elbow seriously, and the barking and glares and trash talk and screams then you know that KG has never lacked passion. He is hurt, by Richardson's disrespect of Pierce, by the media making a joke of his team, and at his teammates and himself and how far they've fallen. He's angry at them all, but especially at Father Time and the inevitable decline of the body that every man must face and learn to deal with. Of course he fights, scrabbles, and scraps. And if you take anything from game 1, it should be Glen Davis's 3 point play, the jubilation, and the return of the Celtics' defense for that quarter and a half to squelch the Heat.

With Boston up on Miami in Game 2, while the grizzled Garnett watches on, Boston has banded together through aggression and passion. I think we ought to be excited to see how long the old band can hold out, and not licking our chops to see their demise.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Some delightful discombobulation!

check out the ghetto league pass: atdhe.net you can watch low quality feeds of any NBA game, any night.

you also sometimes get some interesting sound bytes during the breaks

Celtics vs. Bulls, first quarter break.

Doug Collins's headset apparently having problems:

"i'm all discombobulated"
"when you talk to me i don't like how it sounds"
"testing testing...123"
"doesn't sound the way it normally does"

And he goes on like that, while Kevin Harlan coughs and tries to placate.

Good teamwork!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Butler's back

Butler is playing with fire now with Arenas gone...coincidence?

Wizards look spry, playing against a Magic team struggling but still powerful.

The blown out, grease-stained, out of date Hibachi

It seems a cruel thing to kick a Gilbert when he's down. At least, I won't mention the guns in a closet and the indefinite suspension and the millions he will lose and even the chance at jail time. Again, I won't mention them again.

All D.C. fans are disappointed; the season of promising turn around has gone downhill since an opening 'W' in Dallas and now taken a nosedive with Arenas's foolery. Some are not surprised (Arenas is the NBA's leading prankster) while still disappointed. And then there are the many, many Wizards fans who are disappointed with the team and with the $14+ million a year star player while being EXCITED by the prospect of potentially losing that star forever.

The obvious argument is that, if Arenas's mega contract is voided or the Wizards are able to trade him for expiring TMacs or other players, D.C. will jettison an injury prone clown unfit to take the court in an NBA game. This doesn't, however tell the whole story.

Even before Arenas blew his knee out, he wasn't worth the kind of money given to him by Abe Pollin. Sure, he was a top 5 scorer, fast and strong, and a self-described "layup artist" who could shoot from anywhere on the floor. Anywhere. He had his share of buzzer beaters, the two that stick in my mind being a playoff game winner against the Chicago Bulls in 2005 and the 3 pointer against Milwaukee in the regular season where he famously turned around and began walking away BEFORE the ball dropped through the net. He scored 60 against the Lakers after which the Black Mamba himself said "Gil doesn't have a conscience."

Sexy? Very. His talent was always through the roof. But it's not the injury and his recovery from it that gives me pause, because he's obviously working his way back from a long time off and he has indeed shown flashes of his old Agent Zero self. It's not the off the court stuff. The reason he wasn't worth the money is because Arenas was not a good point guard, on the floor team leader, gave poor defensive effort, and had horrible shot selection.

A franchise player he is not. The best player on a team has to give that team a persona. Kevin Garnett is the howling wolf (sorry Minnesota), defensive minded, passionate player who influences everyone on that Boston team. Even though he can't play like he used to (I miss that unstoppable turn around on the baseline, the jumper released almost behind his head as he fell away) he is that team and he maximizes what he does so that the Celtics can win games. Want a younger example? Brandon Roy, the Lebron James Lite who gets his teammates involved, takes over in the 4th, and plays both ends. Ok, the list of overpaid, max-contract NBA players has more than a few names that stand out, and only in the past year and half have teams began to get really thrifty. But Arenas is not a franchise money guy. He doesn't put a stamp on a winner like the aged KG, nor is he able to harness his prime time skills like Roy, James, Kobe, Wade. Don't even get me started on the fact he's not a point guard.

Back in 2006 I watched Arenas in Orlando. The game was indicative of the Wizards during their "Big 3" "heydey": the Wizards' combo of matador D and 3 streaky scorers meant they could lose or win on any given night. Jameer Nelson made a couple nice plays, including a drive and score on Arenas. There was some jawing. Arenas proceeded to take bad shot after bad shot, driving wildly, not getting calls, isolating on Nelson and firing away early in the shot clock, complaining. The score, which had been back and forth in the first half and beginning of the 3rd, grew for Orlando as the Wiz watched Gilbert one on one them to death.

I was reminded of that game when I caught some of a Phoenix route of Washington last month. Arenas 's shot selection was like a bad Japanese bistro buffet. Shitty raw oysters, old deep fried chicken with sweet sauce, and sushi rolls all rice no fish. He seemed as determined to shoot himself, Butler, and the rest of the squad in all their feet as he was determined to average 20 and 10 at the start of the season.

So those good old days for Washington fans? Compared to those lean years featuring an aging Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland they must have been like winning a championship. However, when you really look back at them, Charles Barkley was right when he said that team could never really compete on an elite level. And while it wasn't all his fault, Arenas was a huge factor. Sure, the Hibachi could get red hot now and then. Sure, those buzzer beaters were great. But time and again Arenas and the Wiz put themselves in holes they needed to come back from, or let leads slip away. These things that wouldn't have happened had they defended better and been more efficient offensively.

He's a dangerous gun to have, but he's no sheriff...sorry that was terrible. I mean, he can't even holster his weapons properly. He's not even a deputy. He'll go somewhere else and hopefully provide a long range attack next to a true superstar, and while Washingtonians won't want to see the business end of his jumpers, they're eagerly anticipating the Wiz brass running him out of town