Wednesday, December 20, 2006

This is How We Ride...

Up until a couple weeks ago, Allen Iverson was in the same boat as Kevin Garnett. One of the best at his position, he'd been cursed with bad management. His playoff opportunities had been limited, and he had been given very few complementary teammates. But, a combination of factors had kept him with the team that drafted him. His marquee value and star power made him difficult to move, and he knew better than to publicly complain.

Something changed. Frustrated with his lack of opportunities, and over being openly shopped during the summer, Allen made known his desire to get out. The Sixers did not disappoint: they handled the situation poorly, taking over a week to hammer out a deal. But, yesterday, things worked out about as well as they could for Iverson. He was sent to Denver to play alongside Carmelo Anthony, already a prolific scorer, but with plenty of room for growth. For the first time in his career, AI will be paired with a genuine superstar. Just as important, he has a coach in George Karl whose fast-paced, high-powered offensive attack suits his style.

I have no qualms in stating that Allen Iverson (along with KG) is my favorite NBA player. His high energy and aggressive play is only rivalled by his pure passion and unfiltered personal behavior. He's suffered through an incredibly trying life, but has used his experiences to build his character. He drives fearlessly on men twice his size, falls down, and gets up every time. He's not afraid to admit he makes mistakes, but refuses to apologize for his background or his personality. I don't think we'll ever see another player quite like him. I also do not hesitate to say that demanding a trade in no way tarnishes his career. Billy King has given him nothing to work with. Then he paraded him around like a whore this summer, despite Iverson's long standing loyalty to Philadelphia. And no, I don't think getting Chris Webber qualifies as a quality teammate. I have written about this at length in the past, but I will summarize my issues with CDUBBZ with the following list:

#1. He's soft like a marshmallow: a chameleon who can stack numbers in meaningless situations, but who morphs into the bitchiest of bitches in the clutch.
#2. See #1.

I also firmly believe that Allen will be re-energized by his re-location to Denver. Having spent so much time in the shittiest of situations, he will truly appreciate the opportunity he's being given and take full advantage of it. I won't be so bold as to claim the Nuggets are now a lock for the playoffs, but I can say with absolute certainty that nobody in their right mind wants to see a motivated AI and Melo against their team. Hopefully Billy Hunter can get Anthony's idiotic suspension reduced; I'm eager to see the new-look Nuggets on the court as soon as possible. Nobody deserves this chance more than AI. I can't wait to see what happens.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Isiah Thomas is Bulletproof.

Keep your chin up, Zeke. John's proud of you!

Note: George Karl hit the nail on the head. I really hope someone decides this absurd situation is worth appealing

David Stern decided that he's on a roll from all the crappy decisions he's made lately, and handed out suspensions for the incident at MSG. The terms ranged from fifteen games to one, Carmelo Anthony receiving the worst of it. This isn't the part that I have a problem with. Melo ran up to a situation that was already bad, but settliing, and made it much worse by throwing a sucker punch. I might not have made it for so many games, but the message is clear: don't escalate things. That's not a bad point to get across.

The issue I have is the glaring omission from the list: Isiah Lord Thomas III. (I looked it up, that's really his name. Kind of awesome, don't you think?) It would stand to logic that someone in a leadership role who precipitated the conflict would be punished. Stern didn't seem to think so, saying that he only relied on "definitive information" when handing out punishment. Well, Isiah's caught on tape issuing warnings to players. And, he also followed that up with some absurdly smarmy post game comments on how Collins did the logical thing. So yeah, you're right David, not definitive at all. Good thing Stern doesn't run the NCAA or John Chaney would still have a job at Temple.

Some are going to say that the $500,000 fine levied at the Knicks and the Nuggets sends the message. I don't buy it. James Dolan and Isiah Thomas clearly have no concept of money. Hell, they're currently paying Jalen Rose millions not to play basketball for them. $500,000 is minor figures. I tried to convince himself that David Stern would be so incensed by this incident going down in his backyard that he'd drop the hammer. No such luck. Isiah Thomas continues to make New York into a bad joke, and everyone suffers but him.

Isiah Thomas is Unstoppably Incompetent

There's an old story. It's about an explorer and a rattlesnake. One day, the explorer is travelling through the wilderness, and he comes upon a rattlesnake trapped underneath a rock. The snake begs him to move the rock and set him free. The explorer knows better and tells the snake, well If I do that, you'll just bite me. But the snake promises that he won't. He tells him that he'll die otherwise. The explorer feels guilty, and moves the rock. As soon as the snake is set free, he bites him. At first the explorer is mad, but then he realizes that he's only mad at himself. The snake was just doing what was in his nature. Snakes bite people.

I feel like I just got bit. A few days ago I defended Isiah Thomas, talking about how if his boss wasn't willing to fire him, faulting him for his behavior was pointless. I went so far as to say that I was "through blaming him". After what he did at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, I am back to being actively angry at him. The Denver Nuggets were giving a heavy thrashing to the Knicks and it bothered Isiah. He felt like George Karl was running up the score. So, he (idiotically) warned Carmelo Anthony to stay out of the paint, and got caught on tape doing it. A couple plays later, JR Smith was on a breakaway, and so Knick Mardy Collins wrapped and tossed him to the ground. Tempers flared, and a fight broke out. Carmelo (stupidly) rushed in late and hit Collins in the jaw, escalating the situation further. Now Denver will be without the NBA's leading scorer for a while and we're back to the NBA being perceived as a league of thugs.

Isiah looked culpable enough already, but his post game comments drove home the role he played:

I just said to him, 'You're up 19 with a minute and a half to go. You and Camby really shouldn't be in the game right now.' We had surrendered. And those guys shouldn't have been in the game at that time. They were sticking it to us pretty good. They were having their way with us pretty good. I think J.R. Smith had just made one dunk where he reverses it and spins in the air. I thought that Mardy didn't want to have our home crowd see that again and he fouled him.

Well, Isiah, I think someone on the bench whose name starts with I and ends with siah Thomas told Mardy that he should stop the bleeding. You know what might have been better than orchestrating a play where someone could have ended up seriously hurt? NOT BEING A TERRIBLE COACH. If you don't like losing by large margins, then be angry at yourself for building a disaster of a roster. Work on your players to play better defense. You think George Karl is a poor sport for keeping his stars in? Understandable. But don't pretend putting a hit on the Nuggets is justifiable. Live with the fact that you suck.

Now, to dispel the perception that the NBA is the most gangsta of leagues, here is a video of strapping young lads engaged in sportsmanlike conduct:

Friday, December 15, 2006

Marcus Vick Does Not Like Money.

"Yes, I am a dumbass. Next question?"

For those of us lucky enough to attend college, the last year can be one fraught with anxiety. As the semester draws to a close, the impending approach of the real world bears down hard. How will you pay off those student loans? Do you need more schooling to get the job you want? What the fuck do you want to do with your life? But for people blessed with physical gifts and athletic talent, the situation is a bit different. If you happen to play Division-IA Football or Basketball, there could be a gold mine right around the corner. Just focus on playing well, staying healthy, and keeping out of trouble. If you do, you just might make millions. Or, if you'd like to be like Marcus Vick, you can blow it all and end up a few million in the red.

While not as highly touted as his brother, Marcus certainly had enough ability and media attention to be drafted into the NFL. But something in his personality, be it arrogance, ignorance, stupidity, or some stew of all three, would not allow him to emerge from Virginia Tech unscathed. First, it was the primadonna behavior. Then, the charges that he provided alcohol to minors. Next, flipping off the crowd at West Virginia and colliding with a Mountaineers coach. But in the morally ambiguous world of high stakes athletics, that was not enough to damn him. No, Marcus kicked it into the next gear. During the Gator Bowl, Vick was caught on tape stomping on the leg of an opposing player. Out of options, the Hokies dismissed him from the team.

Now, at this point, Marcus had certainly cost himself some money, but he still had a career to salvage. But, no, it wasn't enough. Next, he pulled a gun on a couple teenagers who were giggling about him at McDonald's, resulting in criminal charges. Unsurprisingly, he went undrafted, was picked up by the Miami Dolphins, and then cut. I have never seen such abject determination towards self destruction in college football. Sure, Maurice Clarrett had a very loud and very public meltdown. But, to me at least, Clarrett's story was different. I had an easier time feeling sympathy for him. It seemed like Ohio State and the NCAA used him up, then hung him out to dry when he started to make a mess. That story brought up a lot of interesting issues: of race, economics, and the contradicitons involved in 'amateur' status.

Marcus Vick had no excuse. His brother is a millionaire! He knew that if he kept his nose clean there could be a big pot of cash waiting for him. But through an amazing sense of entitlement, he ruined it. And his troubles aren't finished. Today, a suit was brought against Marcus: $6.3 million for sexually abusing one of the 15 year old girls he provided alcohol to. Incredible. Getting hit for that amount of money would and should sober most people up, but I don't want to undermine Marcus's ability to make it worse. Maybe he'll make a bald eagle egg souflee and clean the pans with the American flag. Or, steal a schoolbus, get drunk and naked, and drive it into a convent. Anything's possible.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Is Isiah Thomas Fired Yet?

Isiah Thomas ruined the CBA. Isiah Thomas was fired from the Pacers. Isiah Thomas made the Knick payroll the highest in the league. Isiah Thomas beat a disabled child to death with his own wheelchair. Isiah Thomas gave away a top pick to get a player with a heart defect. Isiah Thomas thought the new version of the Omen was better. Isiah Thomas is being sued for sexual harassment. Isiah Thomas traded to get two of the most cancerous point guards in the game. Isiah Thomas kicked a puppy. Isiah Thomas undermined a Hall of Fame coach who'd waited his whole life to lead New York. Isiah Thomas still has a job.

Many of the statements listed above are not true. However, the fact remains: Isiah Thomas has gutted the Knicks. Attendance is abysmal, and New York is often booed during home games. He is unequivocally a failure. But, I am through blaming him. Let's consider a hypothetical situation. You take a job, and you're given a position in management. Within your first three years, things don't go well. Revenues are down, and you spend above your budget on employees that don't produce results. You're widely disliked by customers, and you can't get along with a manager who's brought profits to other companies. On top of that, you grope the receptionist. What would you expect? To be fired. If you weren't, who would it be on? Your boss.

Knick fans should stop being angry at Isiah. He's an easy target, but the person who has created this situation is James Dolan. This has occured to me before, but it crystallized when I listened to Dolan give Isiah his latest vote of confidence. Thomas has been begging to be fired for a couple years now. The situation with Larry Brown established that he can not win in New York. And, lest we forget, Dolan is not exactly famous for being a winner. He gave Allen Houston $100 million when the closest offer was about $25 million less. He gutted a Knick team that saw the finals in '99. They haven't won a playoff series since 2000. It's easy to get mad at Isiah, because you can't fire an owner. But he's not the real problem. When Isiah Thomas leaves, the Knicks will not be fixed. Can David Stern force a sale?

EDIT: I have been pointed towards this equally critical post on Dolan that colors in his incompetence with some working experience at Cablevision.

Monday, December 11, 2006

David Stern is With Leather

Verily, I shall defend the ball you seek with my last breath!

When I heard that David Stern was considering criticisms of the new synthetic NBA ball, I was surprised. The commish does not exactly project the aura of a man who is interested all points of view. Indeed, I still had to acknowledge that in all likelihood, David would still get his way. That's what he does: he makes decisions, and expects people to deal with them. Maybe he'd form a committee to consider other options, but staff it with incredibly convincing androids. Or, claim that he'd be happy to switch back, but that the old ball is currently being held by an angry wizard deep in a mountain cave. I love what David Stern has done for the league, but I don't expect him to cross the aisle. Maybe make snide comments about the other side of the aisle, but that's about it.

Color me shocked. Indications are that an announcement from the NBA will be made tomorrow: they will return to the old, leather ball on January 1st. It appears that what sealed the fate of the new ball was the small cuts and abrasions it caused on the hands of players. I think this was the right choice. Pushing a product that hurts your employees is a losing battle. And more importantly, very few of the justifications that were offered for the transition held any water. It couldn't be said that scoring needed a jump start, because Points Per Game has steadily climbed over the last couple seasons. In fact, the master of fast break basketball, Steve Nash, complained about the poor handle the new ball gave. Obviously, the cost of a leather ball couldn't be a deciding factor. Only two explanations made any sense: consistency, and the fact that it didn't use animal products. Ultimately, that wasn't enough to keep it afloat.

Beyond the giddy pleasure of seeing the players association get something they want, I am curious to see how David reacts. In my mind, there are three options, which I will rank here from least likely to most likely. First, the commissioner is cowed by his defeat and decides to take on a more bipartisan style of leadership in order to avoid future humiliation. Second, he chooses not to take it personally but also doesn't alter his decision-making process, compartmentalizing this exchange as a rare case. Third, he pushes his next initiative through with such venegance that the streets run red with the blood of the unbelievers. Yeah, I'm leaning towards number three.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Vince Young Continues to Spite Merril Hoge

Living in Houston isn't easy. It's a swamp. And, no, that isn't meant to be some catty comment about the humidity: it really is a swamp. There's a giant cauldron of bog water and feces directly in the center of the city. Beyond this obvious problem, Houston doesn't exactly have much to be proud of. It's infamous as the home of Enron, the fattest county in America, that place where there are two Starbucks across the street from each other, and the birthplace of Paul Wall. Still, people who make it theirs show a lot of pride. As stinky and ridiculous as Houston can be, they embrace it.

Would you embrace this man?

Well, there's this guy you may have heard of who grew up in the area. He played some college ball, did pretty well, and was hoping to come back and play for their team. That's despite the fact they'd never had a winning season as a franchise. It didn't matter that they'd been more famous for being inept and getting their quarterback sacked. Vince Young wanted to be the hometown hero. His belief in himself and his game was so absolute that he knew if he could get the opportunity, he wouldn't disappoint. And, he hasn't. He's defied the critics and the statistics junkies, and continues to win ball games. But not for Houston...

The Texans got a good long look at what they passed on as it ran right by them for a 39 yard game-winning TD. Houston did not play badly. David Carr was efficient, and Ron Dayne was a workhorse when they used him. But, Vince Young was better. He made a couple bad plays: one interception where he threw the ball sitting down to try to avoid a sack. But, when it counted, VY is a winner. The Titans knew that when they gave him the ball down the stretch, they could count on him to get it done. And he did. I have little doubt that Houston will get headed in the right direction eventually. Until then, the hometown kid who wanted to be their go-to guy will be torturing them twice a season.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

A New View from the U...

Here's a tiny lil' Randy Shannon.

The Miami Hurricane football team has been looking for a coach. When talking about Miami, you'd be hard pressed to find a team that has had more success in the modern era, or a team that hs produced more quality pro players. Jeremy Shockey, Clinton Portis, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp, Devin Hester: you can do this all day. But this year, the Hurricanes were schizophrenic. There was on and off field drama to spare, culminating in a 15 minute brawl with Florida International. Despite winning a national title in 2001, Larry Coker couldn't survive the turmoil. So the U has been looking for a new captain. They've pursued Greg Schiano and Rich Rodriguez, but reports are coming in that a final selection has emerged, and it's...

Randy Shannon, their current defensive coordinator, and a homegrown Hurricane. Shannon played on the '87 championship team and worked as an assistant up until '97 when he left for the Dolphins. He returned in 2001 and started his coordinating duties under Larry Coker. I think this is an outstanding hire. Randy has demonstrated he can get results. Despite the U's problems this year, the defense was reliable, and ended up ranked 5th for Division I-A. And, he knows the system. He understands the area, the crazy, absurd amounts of pressure for success at the school, and the players trust him.

But, like it or not, this hire will revive a lot of questions about race and leadership in sports. Black coaches at this level are incredibly rare. (Randy will be the sixth.) And the ones who do get opportunities don't get a fair shake. Ty Willingham's dalliance with Notre Dame will always stand out as an example of this to me. I believe his firing had a lot more to do with the desire to hire Charlie Weis than it did with anything that Ty did. Weis has better credentials (who wouldn't ride developing Tom Brady?), without a doubt. But if the Irish fans had a problem with the lack of national titles or wins against big teams, employing Baby Huey hasn't solved that problem. I'll be interested to see how patient Miami is willing to be with a coach who's coming into an extremely tough situation.

After his latest loss to USC, Charlie Weis hit rock bottom.

There's another issue here, and that's perceptions about the relationship between black players and black coaches. Jemele Hill did a great job pointing this out. No coach succeeds by coddling his players. But if Randy Shannon either doesn't win games, or there's more misbehavior... Well, watch and see if some talking head doesn't say it's because the black coach is taking it easy on his 'people'. Does that make any sense? HELL 2 DA NAW! If some wild shit goes down on the seventh floor, Randy didn't create the culture. Miami has been wild for a long time. If you're trying to understand the Hurricane culture, ask Jimmy Johnson why he let Luther Campbell stand on the sideline and throw out hundred dollar bills. Hell, ask Michael Irvin where he learned about blow. I'm not trying to give Shannon carte blanche. But, the University of Miami was collision of social, political, economic, and racial issues before he showed up. Ultimately, this is a team deeply in need of healing. Hopefully Randy Shannon can be a fresh voice that gives them that.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

David Stern, Commence the Backpedalling

You wouldn't know it took look at him (especially in the picture above), but David Stern is a bad motherfucker. He's the Moses Malone of sports commissioners. (I guess this makes Bud Selig Shawn Bradley.) Stern has guided the NBA through multiple transitions, leading up to today, where basketball is the healthiest it's been in a long time. Depending on where you stand, this recent prosperity is either thanks to, or in spite of, David's iron fisted rule. But, love it or hate it, it's been one of the hallmarks of the NBA. Don't agree with zone defense? Well go play Slamball then, bitch. Hey Mark Cuban, you don't like the refs? Well now you're not allowed in the huddle. How do you like them apples? Stern has honed belittling the opinions of others down to a science. When the debate on the new dress code was in full swing, David cagily avoided many valid points on the issue. Instead, he highlighted absurd comments such as Marcus Camby's request for a stipend to pay for clothes. In the NBA, it's David Stern's world, we're all just paying rent.

This why I found yesterday's admission that the introduction of the new ball was mishandled so mindblowing. This isn't to say that I don't think the NBA made a mistake. Changing the ball without allowing any player oversight showed a great deal of hubris. I'm also not claiming that Stern didn't have some good reasons for wanting to make the adjustment. But whether a synthetic ball was a good choice or a bad one, I was sure David would get away with it. He has when it came to everything else. However, the union found their nuts and filed an unfair labor practices suit, so the Comissioner was faced with some options. Stick to his guns and risk getting shown up in court, or open up the issue. It remains to be seen just how conciliatory David Stern is willing to be, but, so far, this is a big leap forward.

Monday, December 4, 2006

The Timberwolves are Kevin Federline.

Kevin Garnett said today that he's not unhappy with the Timberwolves. Hm, ok. The problem with this statement is he has every reason to be. A player that I'm convinced will go down as one of the best ever at his position has had persistently bad management. Blah Joe Smith blah blah Latrell Spreewell. Blah blah blah only out of the first round once. You've heard all of this before. Despite his chiding of the media, Kevin went on to make some not so veiled shots at the men upstairs:

"People feel sorry for me?" Garnett said. "I don't go out and scout players. I don't do any of the front office stuff. This thing's bigger than Kevin Garnett. I'm a piece, but ... I don't want nobody to feel sorry for me. I bust my [butt] to come in and be consistent every year. If you want to feel sorry for somebody, feel sorry for the people who put the team together and haven't put me in a position to be in those situations. Don't feel sorry for me."

If you need translation, the gist of that was "Fuck you, Kevin McHale. I'm too smart to appear a headcase, but everyone knows you fucked this up." Which brings me to the title. The Timberwolves are Kevin Federline. They landed someone way out of their league. They then proceeded to do everything possible to ruin it. Their significant other went out of the way to not complain publicly. But, it was obvious that whenever they walked out, it would be justified. The Timberwolves are my team for better or worse. But, I hope KG gets to play for someone who deserves him before he retires.

Vince Young Wins Ballgames

I use this photo to keep me warm during this cold, cold winter.

A couple months ago, Vince Young's NFL career had been all but declared D.O.A. People loudly questioned every aspect of his game. How loudly? I think I'd be better off letting this gem by Merril Hoge speak for itself:

Vince Young clearly is not ready to step on the field in the National Football League. He did nothing during the preseason to prove that he can play, but here he is, (with) a coaching staff trying to implement gimmick college stuff to play in the NFL. When they asked him to drop back in a true pro-style look, he had no clue where to throw the football.

I appreciate that sports journalism is, by its nature, capricious. However, Vince got a rough ride. Everything from his throwing style, his speed, his decision making, and even his intelligence has been questioned. It's not unusual for college QB to take over a year to adjust to the speed and intricacies of the pro game. But every shortcoming was a reason to declare him a bust.

It doesn't seem like there's going to be much more of that talk. After last week's insane 21 point comeback, and yesterday's win against a team many consider to be the class of the AFC, the NFL is figuring out what Vince Young can do. He wins games. I'm not attempting to argue that he's not lacking some polish. His throwing style can be hair-raising, and he'll probably take a hard lick sooner or later that will convince him to run less. But, first and foremost, he's a winner. Whatever it takes, he figures out how to get it done. And as Norm Chow's system comes together and surrounds him with good players, he's only going to get better.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Bob Stoops: American Badass

I wish they'd mic him up for at least one game; the number of bleeps would be collossal.

Kid Rock, you're a faker. When I think of true American Badasses, your name does not come up. Bob Stoops, however, often does. I have yet soee a more ballsy and effective coach in college football. Watching him work against Nebraska last night in the Big XII championship, I couldn't help but be excited about the possibility of seeing him coach in the NFL one day. Sure, coaches who are great in the NCAA but fall flat in the pros are a dime a dozen. But his attitude, his poise, his youth, and his fearlessness makes me think there's no way he couldn't succeed if he put his mind to it.

I have mixed feelings about admitting this because I'm a diehard Texas Longhorn fan. And, I love Mack Brown. He brought us Vince Young (who's blowing up in the NFL right now, more on that later), and then a national championship. But he's more like a friendly grandpa than a fiery badass. When I see Mack upset on the sidelines, he seems to be pouting: like someone just took away his drivers license. When Bob gets upset, he's a tornado. Cursing up a blue streak (I'm sure), getting in the face of referees, and screaming at players. But he doesn't seem like a bully. He just wants his behavior to reflect his passion for the game.

Enduring defeats by the Sooners for the duration of my college career taught me to respect the man. Fourth down and one? Fuck it, let's go. Like I heard him say after the A&M game, "If we can't move a few inches, we don't deserve to win." Then he gets robbed by two ridiculously bad calls in one game: doesn't matter, he still takes the division. He loses his best player and his quarterback within a season. Most teams would be dead, but he put it together anyway. This man will just not go away. And if not for that goofy officiating in the Oregon matchup, we'd be talking about whether they deserved a shot at the title. So, I tip my hat to you, Robert A. Stoops, American Badass. Thank God we only have to play you once a year.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Charlie Weis makes how much a year?

Charlie Weis begins another week of intensive game planning.

As a football fan, one of my favorite rites of fall is the annual exhaltation of the Oh So Holy Glory that is Notre Dame. And why wouldn't it be? After all, they've had an undisturbed string of 30 national titles, Heisman Trophies, and Academy Awards, somehow. Every Notre Dame player goes on to be an NFL Pro Bowler, pisses diamonds, and cures cancer. Charlie Weis has recently qualified for sainthood. And lest we forget, let us pay tribute to the second coming, Brady Quinn. Yea, He is the Way, and the Light. His passes always find their target. For the blind to look upon his handsome face is to regain the gift of sight.

Obviously, none of the last paragraph was true. But if you were to take the word of the pundits who overhype South Bend every year, it might as well be. At the beginning of the season, there are always a million reasons why this is finally time for Notre Dame to turn the corner. They never turn out to be true, but oh well. The voters and the media bias still force them up the polls no matter what. Brady Quinn had his best games against no-name teams and military academies? Doesn't matter. Heisman contender.

The results have reinforced that Notre Dame teams do not have the talent to play with the big boys. Ohio State? Demolished them last year in the bowl. Michigan? Hung 47 on them this year. And then last week, the Irish laid another egg at USC, getting blown out by a vastly superior Pete Carroll team. And while it appears that we're now headed towards a possible Michigan/OSU rematch in January, todays USC loss reinforces just how overrated Notre Dame is. An unranked team held an offense that dominated Weis's squad to under ten points. The unfortunate reality of this is that it will probably help South Bend anyway, pushing them into BCS contention. But, realists like me can take comfort that if they end up playing any real team, they'll get beaten. Badly.