Thursday, September 27, 2007

David Stern vs. Oklahoma City

David Stern fascinates me. As a commissioner of a league that isn't the NFL, his job has a lot of challenges. The NBA has been haunted over the last few years by the perception that it's filled with out of control thugs. The fairness of this opinion could be debated at length. Granted, there are issues like, well, Ron Artest that don't do a whole lot to dispel this belief. On the other hand, football is home to professional dog fighters that bring garbage bags of cash into strip clubs. But, citing leaps of logic like this is ultimately pointless. Fairness doesn't matter: either the public wants to buy your product or it doesn't. David Stern understands this, and has never taken a 'woe is me' approach to his duties. He's been a strong and assertive leader with the ultimate motive of preserving the long term health of the game. The fact that Bud Selig still has a job shows that this isn't a universal standard.

I can't really say that I agree with every decision he's made. Over the last few years, there have been things such as the dress code and the ball that have made me question how much he understands both his audience and his players. But, the arc of his career and the the bent of his choices has been towards basketball being a viable and profitable league. So, that makes me respect him. That, and his willingness to be an absolutely brutal and ruthless decision maker. Have you ever heard this guy give a press conference? The man has balls of steel. When he becomes convinced he needs to do something, his heart instantly becomes made of stone.

This fact makes me think that Clay Bennett and his redneck contemporaries are pretty much screwed. The ownership group out of Oklahoma City got a taste of the NBA experience, and decided that was something they wanted long term. So, they bought the Sonics and immediately started coming up with pretext to move them down south. You know Stern is way too smart to not have perceived this coming, but as long as it was implied, there was not a whole lot he could do. But when Bennett began publicly discussing it, he swiftly fined him, icily telling him that Seattle would at the very least be playing out their lease at Key Arena. Now that OKC has filed arbitration to be released from that obligation, Seattle has in turn filed a lawsuit to keep them there. Maybe this will be sufficient to stop the move. But if it isn't, you'd better believe David Stern is getting involved.

Basketball has been dysfunctional in Seattle, but it doesn't mean that the city deserves to get screwed out of their team. And, as enthusiastic as the fanbase might be, there just isn't enough money in Oklahoma for a relocation to make sense for the NBA. So, you want a battle? Bring it, OKC. Stern isn't scared. He may look like an elf, but he'll mess you up. You should have picked a bitch commissioner to cross. Maybe there's a baseball team available.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Wonderlic Test is Really Accurate.

The New Orleans Saints had a great season last year, and the Houston Texans appear to be a team finally headed in the right direction. Still, you have to think it can't be easy to watch Vince Young play for the Titans. Yes, the man proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be mentally handicapped has shockingly ended up being a competent quarterback. I'm not sure who could have anticipated that he'd rise above his disability. After all, this is the first time in his career he's proven doubters wrong and become a success.

In all seriousness, watching VY shred defenses and improve with every game makes the media's assessment of players appear even more haphazard than usual. This is a guy who has succeeded on every level; he's shown leadership, determination, and an absolutely terrifying sense of internal calm under pressure. On Monday night in New Orleans, he made some early mistakes. But, he played under control, and by the the time the 4th quarter rolled around, the game belonged to him. The defining play of the game had to be a 3rd and short. The defense blitzed and he bounced outside, stepping across the 1st down marker, and then back again to avoid a hit. A Saints corner, obviously frustrated, grabbed onto his jersey and rode him out of bounds. Vince returned the courtesy by smacking him in the mouth and staring him down on the way back to the huddle.

By contrast, His Exalted Holiness St. Reggie Bush is struggling. His success in the NFL was all but guaranteed by everybody with a microphone or a keyboard. But, his free form playing style seems to be holding him back, and the bruising back that allowed him his success last season is now gone for the year. His former teammate, LenDale White, described by pundits pre-draft as "fat" and "risky" was clearly enjoying playing alongside Vince Young, and strangely seems to run well despite that fact that he doesn't dance around to avoid tackles. Which is weird: I mean, the guy never scored a touchdown at USC, right? That's the Titans: the team that has no right to succeed but seems to do so anyway. Who would've thought that a national champion QB, a proven bruiser of a running back, and a coach who's been to the Super Bowl could do well. They're like that disabled kid who shot all those three pointers. What was he, artistic or something?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ryan $heckler is Getting Rich.

Almost ten years ago, I started to hear about skateboarding's next child prodigy. His name was Ryan Sheckler, and at age 8 he was already turning heads. He quickly started collecting sponsors, winning contests, and getting coverage. Despite this early success, there was a lot of cause to worry about his future. It can be difficult for people who succeed at a young age in a lot of different arenas, and skateboarding is no exception. Plenty of people have started strong, then burned out. So, as I watched Ryan's star rise, there were question marks. Could he handle the pressure? Was this really what he wanted? When he became professional at age 13, it made me wonder again: was he headed for a spectacular collapse?

Well, the good news is he's not a drug addict or a has been. The bad news is that he's about as greedy as you can possibly get. It's not enough for him to have many lucrative contracts, a shoe with his name on it, his face on video games, and to travel around the world skateboarding. No, he and the brains behind his 'brand' decided that it wasn't enough, and they've gotten him his own MTV show. Yes, we the lucky viewing public now get to watch Ryan do things like plan for Winter Formal, whine and moan about his family, show off his wicked back tattoo, and search for that elusive girl who's interested in a 17 year old with too much money and a pro skateboarding career.

If it's not obvious, I find this to be extremely aggravating. Skateboarding has been associated with its fair share of lame things over the years, and a reality show is a huge step backwards. I'm not faulting Ryan for being an annoying teenager, because god only knows, I was one of those too. I'm not complaining about his tanned jock meathead approach to a part of my life that has symbolized the exact opposite to, well, tanned jock meatheads. Not everyone is going to see it the way I do, and he's got just as much right to pick up a skateboard as everyone else. I'm not even faulting him for wanting to make money while he has an opportunity. A career can be capricious, and he or anyone else is wise to try to strike while the iron's hot. What bothers me is the best thing he could think to do is make skateboarding into a second-tier Laguna Beach.

People have done lame things in the name of turning a profit off of skateboarding before. Tony Hawk did a loop for McDonalds, sold Bagel Bites, and pretended like Tom Green was cool. But even then, nobody could claim that he took more than he put in. Tony stuck with skateboarding and helped it grow through the lean years. He ate Taco Bell and did van tours for tiny crowds. He put together a team of unknowns that are now some of the top pros in the culture. Yes, I will always feel ambivalent that he chose to give some legitimacy to ESPN's interpretation of skateboarding. But, ultimately, he put in the work. He was involved when there was no money to be made and stuck with it. Ryan has never known a fallow period. Skateboarding has made him a millionaire before he's 18 years old, and all he can think to do is find another way to milk it dry. What a little creep.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Charlie Weis Might Get Fired.

In a wonderfully entertaining turn of events, Notre Dame is horrible. I mean, granted, I was convinced they were horrible for a while now, but they've taken it to another level. For the first time in their 119 year history, the Irish are 0 and 4. It was wildly speculated that there'd be some rebuilding after Brady Quinn and, um, those other guys left, but nobody, even me, dared to dream this big. They stink. This week, they scored two offensive touchdowns, and that was cause for celebration: even though they lost by 17.

Rumblings about big ol' Charlie losing his job have already begun. This, a couple years after South Bend tripped over themselves to give him a ten year extension. I'm giddy. It infuriated me to no end to see Ty Willingham shown the door the way he was. Then, it drove me up the wall hearing the calls for Brady's sainthood when he'd yet to win a meaningful game. I'd get a lot of satisfaction watching them get walloped in every bowl game they play. But now, it's a question whether they'll even make it to a bowl game. And, it feels so good.

I don't dislike Notre Dame on principle. I'd be fine with them if they belonged to an actual conference, didn't pad out their schedule with cupcake opponents, and didn't expect a bowl game slot on principle. A couple more seasons like this one, and maybe that will happen. Maybe.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Can't Please Everybody.

Add me to the chorus of people who have found the latter part of these playoffs almost completely unwatchable. It started with so much promise. The Nuggets opened strong against the Spurs. and the Warriors showed no fear against the Mavericks. The Rockets even jumped out to an early lead. But San Antonio put the wheels down, like they do, and took Denver out of their game from then on. Then, the Rockets predictably went retarded, and the Warriors wild ride came to an end. And then, there was the horribly tragic bloodbath between the Spurs and the Suns. Things didn't get better. The Pistons lost to Cleveland in spite of themselves. They have better balance and more experience. But, they were foolish and played down to the competition. Now, Detroit's laziness and San Antonio's soul crushing brutality have given us this mess of a Finals. One of the most ugly and unbalanced series we could ask for.

It's not a slap to San Antonio or Cleveland. This is the flaw of having to play the games. You could end up with an exciting story and something truly memorable. But because of the structure, there are no guarantees. San Antonio wins games because they know exactly what they do and do it consistently. That, and Tim Duncan is a machine. Hard to watch, but one of the best basketball players of all time. LeBron might be there one day too. But I think it's a sad state of affairs that this was the best that could come out of the Eastern Conference. Again, not LeBron's fault. And, good for all the fans that are getting a thrill out of this. But, when you look at the numbers, you're in the minority. This has been an iffy year. The NBA is loaded with talent, but David Stern seems to have lost his golden touch. Maybe it's just that he's so used to being bulletproof that it's hard to keep his head straight. But, wow, this has been a middling season. We get a fresh injeaction of some world class talent in a matter of weeks, so it's not anything that can't be overcome. It just sucks to love basketball but have no reason to be watching it this week.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I Really Dislike Flip Saunders.

When the Pistons were steamrolling through the Eastern Conference at the beginning of this year, I got sucked in. The fact is, I like a lot of players who run for Detroit. Rasheed, for sheer entertainment value, is off the charts. Chauncey is clutch and has an infectious swagger. Rip Hamilton plays harder than anyone in the league. Tayshaun can do it all. This is NBA canon. The Pistons have the best combination of starters in the league. But when my friend asked me in March what weaknesses the Detroit had, my answer was automatic: "Flip Saunders is their coach."

It's frustrating being a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. And sure, we just had a terrible, awful waste of a season. We're pissing away good seasons from one of the best combo forwards in the history of the game. Our GM is such a laughingstock that Forbes was exposed as inept by declaring him the best. I get so angry when I think about my favorite team that I'm tempted to punch a baby. But, it feels great knowing Flip isn't steering the ship anymore.

This is not meant to be a painful ode to my misery as a Timberwolves devotee. There are plenty of franchises that have suffered. Forgive me for being spiteful, but I'm glad that someone else is suffering Flip's shtick. He's tempting! He'll string a lot of wins together. He'll manage big egos surprisingly well. He can recognize talent. But when you really need him to keep it together, he goes retarded. The 2004 trip to the Conference Finals was one of the more torturous experiences of my life. That series was completely in Minnesota's grasp, but Flip whittled it down to nothing. We could have been the giant killers who offed the Lakers, but he just couldn't pull the trigger.

So when I watch the Pistons waste time being distracted by Chicago when the sweep was theirs, I'm not surprised. That's what Flip is about. The interesting subplot is Chris Webber, um, uh, being Chris Webber: blowing opportunities to play well in meaningful situations. That's kind of a rant within itself, but, wow, is he ever going to deliver when it counts? How fitting that he'd be led by Flip. Prove me wrong, Pistons. Prove me wrong.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Beard Owns You

Well, if you hadn't seen what Baron Davis did to Andrei Kirilenko yet, now you know . It's difficult for me to adequately capture it in words, really. I mean, what do you do when you see someone get publicly humiliated like that? If you're like me, you watch the tape repeatedly. The best part is knowing that AK is no slouch defensively. This isn't a Shawn Bradley situation: he has notoriety as a shot blocker. You wouldn't know it if you saw the nastiness that took place last night. Al Harrington and Adonal Foyle's facial expressions summed it up.

The pressure is still on the Warriors. The Jazz are an incredibly resilient and well coached team that seems willing to play whatever style they need to win. But, Golden State is too good to go quietly. And as many players who have given their all for this playoff run, nobody deserves more credit than Baron Davis. He simply has no fear. Every time up the court looks like it might be his last, and he refuses to take a play off. the unfortunate thing is he's had it in him for a long time. A few years ago he was one of my favorite players and I watched a lot of Hornets games waiting for him to get his due. That never really happened: he couldn't stay healthy and organizational chaos made it difficult for him to achieve.

But now, things are clicking. He has a group of young teammates he feeds off of, and a home crowd and a coach that believe in him. Long gone are the days of whispers that he has personality issues, which in retrospect, considering that they were based off contact with the charming George Karl, probably should have been taken with a grain of salt. Now he's careening up and down the court like he's been shot out of a gun, taking and making shots that defy logic. I want more Warriors wins. Sure, for the great story, the fun to watch teamwork, and the epic home crowds. But mostly, for more Baron Davis.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Mark Cuban is Depressed

When I was a little kid, the Dallas Mavericks stank. While the Cowboys enjoyed their golden years, the Mavs struggled to string together any wins. This was reality. They seemed perpetually inept and frustrated, and even draft day boons like Jason Kidd could not change the culture of the team. I remember a radio station promotion where a local DJ promised to live at the station until the Mavericks won a game. He was there for a couple weeks at least.

Things are obviously different now. Dallas had its best season in franchise history on the heels of a finals appearance. Mavs fans have adopted the swagger and confidence that they saved for the Cowboys in years past. This year's playoffs was supposed to be the one in which all old ghosts were exorcised. The roster depth was there, and many believed that Avery Johnson was the one that could finally carry them over the hump. But now, as they've exited in the first round against a huge underdog, that dream is deferred for at least another year.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have never been a Mavs fan. My loyalty is with Minnesota, and Dallas's dramatic reversal of fortune was never enough to change that. I can't stand Mark Cuban's ego-driven antics. I've come to believe that as much as he does to support his team, he does much more to undermine them. And, I've never bought the idea that Dirk Nowitzki is a franchise player. Despite his incredible skill as a scorer, Dirk's defense, intensity, and leadership have always been lacking. Nowhere was that more apparent than last night in Oakland. When it came down to it, Dirk's team needed him, and he disappeared.

But, it'd be a mistake to think of this just as a series that the Mavericks lost. The Golden State Warriors won, and earned it. They survived repeated spurts of terrible officiating that kept their best players out of the game. They fought through injuries. They played a shallow rotation with a small forward at center and showed no fear whatsoever. The Warriors simply refused to lose. They took shots that defied all logic and made them. They played with such intensity and drive that you couldn't help but be pulled in. Golden State played like the higher seed. They believed in themselves and now they've won what will probably end up being the most memorable series in the playoffs, if not the decade. I feel lucky to have gone along for the ride.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Evil Robot Army Suffers Defeat

As a Timberwolves fan, I've gotten through this season by focusing my attention elsewhere. There's only so many times you can read about your team getting pantsed before it starts to wear on you. So, instead of soaking in contradictory statements like "We're rebuilding the team" and "We're not trading KG", I get good basketball where ever I can find it. One of the objects of my affection has been the Denver Nuggets. As I have said, I think the trade for Allen Iverson was a wonderful thing for both parties. The results didn't pay out immediately. Denver struggled at times to establish an identity and mesh as a unit. But, things came together at the right time, and the Nuggets hit a good rhythm to finish the year.

However, their match-up with the San Antonio Spurs in the first round had a lot of people talking about next year prematurely. I suppose you can't blame fans for assuming this would be a lopsided series. After all, the Spurs have been there. They're tough to beat, they defend well, and their stars play ugly yet effective basketball. Still, I picked the Nuggets. Why? Idealism, I guess. I don't want to believe that what San Antonio does is inevitable. I'd rather not accept that Manu Ginobli's flailing and flopping is the class of the NBA. I can't resign myself to thinking Bruce Bowen's constant karate chops to the head is beautiful basketball. The part of me that really loves the game wants to see A.I. and Melo still playing in June, not San Antonio's robot army.

So, today, I awake refreshed. For today, at least, idealism has won out. The Nuggets played good enough to win, and did it while having one of their least effective offensive games. Shockingly, they stayed in this one by playing merciless team defense for four quarters. And, when the Spurs made their runs, Denver did not panic. Iverson put them on his back in rough patches, heating up as the game went on. Carmelo had an incredible killer instinct and kept his temper despite the constant Bruce Bowen slaps to the face. Nene and Camby welcomed contact and made San Antonio look disorganized in the post, if not soft. It was an exciting game, and it only left me wanting more.

I don't assume this means the Nuggets have this locked up. The Spurs know what they're doing and will likely reach deep in their bag of dirty tricks for Game 2 and beyond. But, if anything, Denver has established they're not to be underestimated. Hopefully that means we'll be seeing them in the second round.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Carroll Dawson is Retiring

I have no comment that can improve upon this photo.

When it comes to professional sports, the job that any average jerk will tell you that he could do better is general manager. This is a natural thing to do. As fans we want to believe that we're the final piece that could make a difference for our teams. But, players and coaches tend to have an actual background in sports. People like us, we don't have a background in sports. We have a background in eating and watching sports on TV. So, being a GM becomes the daydream. What does the boom in fantasy sports leagues represent, other than a desire to call the shots?

But, a look around any professional sports league demonstrates that not very many people are good at managing a team. And, as easy as pointing and clicking players around seems, being a real GM involves so much more. You have to have an incredibly perceptive eye for pro talent. You need a shrewd sense of finance and long term budgeting. You must differentiate between a time to be patient and a time to demand results. You're forced to manage some of the largest egos in the world. And this just scratches the surface. We think of the rare few in this profession that do it well as geniuses. Well, right along with the Theo Epsteins and the Bill Bellichicks of the world, I believe there's another name to consider: Carroll Dawson.

You probably have no idea who he is. But, he's been leading the Houston Rockets for 26 years. When he steps down after this season, he'll have 4 division titles, 4 conference titles, and two championships to his credit. More importantly for the fans of Houston, he'll leave his team healthy and with a powerful and well balanced roster. Dawson has had an incredible track record when it comes to recognizing talent and taking risks: Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Cassell, and Yao Ming are demonstrations of this. He has also been skilled at efficiently fixing mistakes and moving the team in the right direction. And, if you dispute this one, I have two words for you: Steve Francis. But, perhaps most importantly, Carroll Dawson knows how to spend money.

The quickest way to hurt your team long term is to spend their money foolishly. The best player available is not necessarily the best player for your team. High performing squads are rife with guys that aren't dominant. They simply do a few things very well, and have a coach that puts them in the position to do them. A good GM looks for players like that. Bad GMs treat their jobs like fantasy sports and look for the biggest names and highest risk. Here's an example: the Houston Rockets currently pay four players more than $5 million a year. The New York Knicks? Eight players. Unless there's some new kind of eight on eight basketball that I'm not aware of, that's a whole lot of money for splinter duty. In fact, he's paying over $7 million for Malik Rose. Malik Rose! That's not even beginning to consider the people who don't play for the Knicks that Isiah Thomas cuts checks to every month.

Truly, there's no better point of contrast to emphasize Carroll Dawson's superb record than Isiah Thomas. It only took Isiah a couple years to run the CBA straight out of existence, and a couple more to turn the New York Knicks into a flaming car crash. Dawson has been in Houston for two and a half decades and things are still humming along nicely. So, when he steps down after this year, be grateful, Rockets fans. The next Thomas or McHale may be waiting for you around the corner. Let's hope not.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Josh Smith is Coming of Age

This is not a car, although I have it on good authority that some cars are blue.

For a while now, the Atlanta Hawks organization has been purgatory for NBA players. It's hard to imagine a more depressing situation. Empty stands, bad management, and no leadership are symptoms of the problem, but you get the feeling that it goes deeper than that. Like, for example, those jerseys that make them look like 70's McDonald's employees. Or the fact that they addressed their dire need for a point guard by drafting another small forward. It makes you think that there's an angry ghost haunting this franchise. you know, one of those angry ghosts that forces you to make stupid decisions for five years.

But, Joe Johnson ignored all logic last season and signed (willingly!) to a contract with Atlanta. So when he was having his best season this year, the angry ghost would not have it, and he went down with an injury. What happened then? Well, since making the playoffs is out of the question, there were two options. The first was tanking. This is apparently a pretty cool thing to do this year. I say this because Boston is doing it, and boy do I love Boston. There's no way this doesn't make sense. You order a bunch of pathologically competitive people to lie down for the rest of the year, killing your chemistry and emasculating your coach. But it's all worth it, because when you get that top draft pick, everything is fixed. You are bathed in a shower of rainbows and diamonds, and you're awarded the NBA championship for being so god-damned clever.

The other option is the one that Atlanta picked, and that's play through it. Players like Josh Childress and Josh Smith took advantage of the hole in the offensive picture and have stepped up. I find this to be particularly encouraging for Josh Smith. He's always been a freakishly good athlete, but questions remained about how effective he really is in-game. For example, yes, he could jump over a car, but when do you see a car on the court? Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked: Josh Smith has been playing really well. Well enough to where there's no reason he shouldn't be starting next to Joe when he comes back. Sure, they're not a good team yet, but not quitting this year has set them up for good things in the next. I'll always think losing now to win in the future is a stupid idea. Boston, go ahead and ask Atlanta how that's worked out for them so far.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Kevin Durant is Going to Cost You

Kevin your mom is a fox. She'd look good in green.

As a Texas fan, now is the winter of our discontent. If you came to Austin you couldn't tell, however. The humidity is nearly unbearable and we've hit eighty degrees a few times in the last week. But, truly, these are the times that try souls when it comes to Texas basketball. Despite the sky high talent of the roster, Longhorn fans have endured a frustrating end to the season. First, there was the Kansas game in the Big XII championship that mirrored our previous performance against them. We had a big lead, all of the momentum, and then choked it away by playing the Mavs to their Heat. Then, in the first round of the tournament, we nearly blew what should have been a walk against vastly inferior New Mexico State. Finally, and possibly mercifully, we were knocked out by a USC team that just wanted it more. So what now?

I could pretend that there's a lot of things that this team has to consider. For example, what the hell happened to D.J. Augustin, the baffling game management of Rick Barnes, and recruiting for the upcoming season. However, the thing on everybody's mind is Kevin Durant. I realize that, in all likelihood, he will choose to go pro. The money waiting for him is excellent, and the risk for injury if he chooses to stay is large. However, he has not declared his intention for the draft, making him a taboo topic for anyone employed by an NBA team. So far, both Don Nelson and Michael Jordan have earned fines for mentioning him even in the most indirect way. Not to be out doofus-ed, Danny Ainge took the cake by sitting next to Kevin's mom during the Big XII tournament. While I love watching him be so stupid, and revel in watching him pay a fine for his trouble, truly, all this does is fill me with dread. Fines be damned: couldn't the NBA tell Danny he isn't allowed to draft Durant? I know they won't, but, seriously, the thought of seeing our golden boy mismanaged by the Boston idiot factory gives me chills. He deserves better! At least he could play for the logo in Memphis. Skip the draft this year, Kevin. Enjoy the cornucopia of beautiful women and delicious barbecue available to you here. Do whatever you can to stay out of Celtic green. I beg you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The New York Knicks are Totally Fixed

When I was sitting down to put together some thoughts for this post, I realized how often I've talked about Isiah Thomas and the bizarre situation in New York. I'm not a Knicks fan. I'm just fascinated by how bad things have gotten. What would it take to make a regime change happen? It seemed that this would be the season where Isiah would finally end up unemployed. Then, maybe, the abused and overwhelmed Knick loyalists could move on.

Well, it doesn't look like that's going to be happening any time soon. In a stunning turn of events, Thomas has been given a multi-year contract extension as both coach and general manager. Admittedly, compared to last season, there has been a turnaround. Starbury has miraculously ceased to implode, Eddy Curry has started trying, Jamal Crawford has been huge, and David Lee has provided some excellent energy off the bench. They're in the hunt for the playoffs, and have rallied their way through tough injuries.

Still, this decision making seems, at best, extremely premature. Dolan had previously been firm that he would make no decision until after the season, which seemed like a logical idea. What changed? Wouldn't it make sense to take stock of the season as a whole, playoffs included? And even if you like the dynamic between Isiah and his players, why retain him as GM? Even if he is able to be effective as a coach, there's no question he's a complete disaster when it comes to personnel.

I should be eating more crow here. Isiah Thomas has managed to string together some wins, and he deserves credit for doing so. But, I can't help but feeling a palatable sense of dread when I consider the future of the franchise. Maybe I'll be completely proven wrong, and things will work out beautifully. But, I think Knicks fans have gotten a reminder. Isiah Thomas is a symptom, and James Dolan is the disease.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

I Would Like the Celtics to Win More Games

I represent a big shift in the culture of ESPN, because I'm a smarmy kid who went to prep school.

I find myself in a strange position lately. I've been enjoying seeing the Celtics on their four game winning streak. I was getting pretty discouraged, but this young team is coming together down the stretch and it's encouraging. Sure, they're out of the playoffs, but they have a chance to get out of the basement. I, for one, would love to see that. The thing is, I'm not a Celtics fan. I'm just a Bill Simmons non-fan. And if the Celtics winning a few games means Boston doesn't get their hands on my sweet baby Kevin Durant, then that's what needs to happen.

Bill Simmons has been openly salivating about the prospect of Durant landing in Beantown for a while now. I feel violated. There's no team I feel more strongly about than the Longhorns. And, there's no "journalist" I have grown to strongly dislike more than Bill Simmons. His extreme self-obsession, mind numbing repetition, and general assery are annoying of themselves. The knowledge that he represents a huge success story in sports media today is a curious statement on the genre. And, damn you Bill, I've enjoyed Kevin, and I don't want to share him with you.

I don't want to read you gloating about how he's on your team. I don't want him to become another object of your superiority complex. Watching Durant has been a rare experience. His absurd level of talent, calm, controlled demeanor, and incredible skill have made this my favorite Longhorn season ever. Seeing him play in person was something I'll remember for the rest of my life. I don't want those memories tainted by seeing him in green. I know how you people operate! You took Paul Pierce from the Big XII, too. He was beautiful! Now look what you've done to him...what Danny Ainge did to him. Kevin can't fix Danny, Bill.

So please, Celtics, pull together. Play harder than you ever have. Texans appreciate your dedication.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Next Best Thing to Being Nude

Remember Starter jackets? I was too broke to have a legit one. In '92 my mom took me to JC Penny's and I got the second tier version. Still, I loved that jacket. It was incredibly gaudy: a black, white, and red pattern with huge Chicago Bull head on the back. In fact, a sketchy girl in my class asked if she could 'borrow' it to wear to Six Flags over the weekend. Because I'm smooth, I didn't answer and ran the other direction.

The point I'm trying to make is, when you were young you were allowed to express your fandom with wild abandon. But, as I've aged, I've been struck by how ugly and sub-standard most fan gear is. So, let's say jerseys are just a little too much for you. You want good design, but the self-fellatio of Brand Jordan makes you nauseous. What are your options? Well, if you don't mind paying a premium, some of them are quite good.

Of the companies making high-end sports themed gear, each tends to offer a different aesthetic. Undefeated, the maker of the shirt pictured above, focuses on the raw power of athletics and their unspoken sense of intimidation. Supreme celebrates the dangerous and taboo, evident in their upcoming line centering around Mike Tyson. No Mas takes a more scholarly approach, using their encyclopedic knowledge to point out many of the more comic, and frequently tragic, aspects of sport. Under Crown celebrates the early 90's mingling of basketball and hip hop. Lemar and Dauley create gaudy reflections of the athlete as a larger than life star. FALSE recently got Kevin Garnett's blessing to collaborate on a series of tees. And this only scratches the surface.

I'm well aware the idea of a 'high-end t-shirt' is ridiculous. But for those of us who can stomach the price tag, there's an awful lot of cool stuff to be had out there lately.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Eternal Struggle

You know a rivalry is polarizing when it causes you to think illogically. I pride myself on trying to look past stereotypes. Ideally, I'd hope to overcome misconceptions and take every human being at face value. But when I think of Texas A&M Aggies, I immediately imagine them as redneck cavemen who are ready to invade Poland. This makes no sense. Some of my favorite people and closest friends in my lifetime went to A&M. But, when you say that, that word: Aggie...I don't know. I have bad thoughts. The better part of my nature says, "Hey, it's just a game." And then, there's the dominant portion that says, "They're all mongoloid hayseeds until they prove otherwise."

That's what makes college rivalries great. The emotions run deep and take over. Tonight's matchup between Texas and Texas A&M was no exception. This was one of those games that extend from wire to wire and leave you feeling spent. Twice, it looked like Texas was in a position to close out and seal the victory. Twice, the ball ended up in Acie Law IV's hand, and he made something happen. His performance was truly remarkable. There's no doubt in my mind he has a chance to be a remarkable player at the next level. The game almost slipped away from him multiple times, but he just willed the Aggies back into it. If Texas A&M can get their fouling under control, they're going to be terrifying in the NCAA Tournament.

But, Texas had answers. Kevin Durant was predictably clutch and incredible. So was D.J. Augustin, who'd be considered a much better prospect if he wasn't dribbling in Durant's shadow. This win may not put Texas over the top in the rankings, but it's a step in the right direction. More importantly, it's a huge psychological victory for a team that needed to prove its toughness to itself. The Aggies play a dirty and physical game, but Rick Barnes's team gritted their way through it. And besides, who wants to lose to cavemen twice a year?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tim Hardaway Opposes Your Gay Agenda

When John Amaechi came out, it became inevitable that someone was going to say something stupid. Shavlik Randolph, Steven Hunter, and others made some ignorant comments. Nothing particularly strong or hateful, just middle-school insecurity. I should be encouraged by this. Hell, it'd be great to think that everyone in pro sports was ready to accept the idea of a gay teammate. I'm sure most athletes have played with homosexuals during their careers, but a world where jocks felt free to be out in public would be very different. Still, there was a small part of myself that couldn't wait for the NBA's Carl Everett, whoever he might be, to stick his foot in his mouth. You know, to use a public platform to declare his opposition to the gay/dinosaur invasion. To take a stand against John Amaechi and his vile plans to subvert pro basketball with the collaboration of Fagosaurus Rex.

Tim Hardaway may not have taken it that far, but he got his sneakers pretty well planted in his throat. On Dan Le Batard's radio show, the former Warriors and Heat star made a series of inflammatory comments when asked how he'd react to having a gay teammate. When the host gave him an opportunity to soften his stance, Hardaway refused, proudly labelling himself a homophobe. Tim didn't stop there, using a later interview to claim that his feelings were shared by many NBA players, and that he'd hate a gay family member too. How incredibly sad. Amaechi got it right when he responded that Hardaway's comments weren't the problem. The fact is, he's probably speaking for a lot people. Most are probably just too smart to blow endorsement and other employment opportunities for the sake of getting their opinion out there.

Now we get to the strange part. The object of so much of my ire up until this point, Isiah Thomas, has been the gold standard in responding to this situation:

We're a diverse society. We preach acceptance. We're proud of our diversity. No matter what your sexual preference might be, there's an acceptance and a tolerance level that should be accepted everywhere. No one should be excluded. Sports has always been a testing ground for what society will or won't accept. We accept and we embrace diversity. If we're not tolerant, we'll become tolerant...If it's in my locker room, we won't have a problem with it. I can't speak for somebody else's locker room, but if it's in mine, we won't have a problem. I'll make damn sure there's no problem.

Wow. I feel so conflicted! This is like when I started to see Kobe like something other than a total ball hog. I don't know how to feel. Isiah Thomas said and did the right thing, and came off as genunine when he did it? Where exactly do I go from here? Say what you want about Isiah, I know I have, but he's not a homophobe. So, to review, he's a terrible GM, an iffy coach, a bad businessman, a serial groper, a baby seal clubber, but not a homophobe.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Prince Declared MVP of Super Bowl XLI

After confirmed badass Devin Hester ran back the opening kickoff for 92 yards and a touchdown, it appeared that all was right with Super Bowl XL1. The scrappy underdog was winning, Peyton Manning was pouting, and the biggest game of the year was being played outside in real football weather. Peyton's opening drive did little to dismiss his reputation as a lifelong choker. He threw two passes that should have been interceptions, and then finally the Bears obliged him with a pick. Things did not look good.

Of course, we all know that four hours later, he'd pulled it out anyway. The monkey was off his back, now Dan Marino can get back to being Dan Marino, etc. But, for all the credit that was due, I could not help but chafe when he was named MVP. Hadn't they been watching the game? Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai solidified that victory: wasn't it obvious? Maybe he was awarded the trophy as a study in contrast. That is, he's not Rex Grossman, so he was a shoo-in.

Maybe this sounds like sour grapes, but it's not. Peyton Manning is a good quarterback, and the story of "will he ever win the big one" was getting so old it's not even funny. But nothing Peyton did in the Super Bowl screamed MVP, and his performances in the rest of the playoffs were even worse. Manning finished with 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions after four games. That's just embarassing! If the Colts had lost, everyone would be publicly taking him to task for letting down his team. But thanks to the brilliant coaching of Tony Dungy, he's raking in the kudos. Serious, hats off to Dungy. Peyton hasn't changed a bit: he still sucks in the playoffs. His coach just figured out how to work around it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Are You Too Good For Your Home?

Michelle Wie makes millions of dollars a year. How? Well, currently she's stacking that green by shooting eight over par through nine holes at the Sony Open. Pretty sweet work, if you can get it. Since turning 'pro' at age sixteen, Michelle has won a grand total of zero events. That's thirty-three professional women's tournaments without a win, and one made cut out of twelve in men's tournaments.

So why is she a professional? Well, I suppose the reasoning has to do with the fact that she generates cash, and a lot of it. There aren't many asians above six feet who can hit a ball 280 yards. So, Nike, Omega, and Sony assume that'll give them a great opportunity to tap into her market. You know, the market of six foot asians with faces like a shovel. But, this also seems to be based on the Kwame Brown Theory of professionalism. That is, if someone has qualities that indicate they could become good, get in on the ground level. I don't agree.

The teenage years are key for the development of a human being: for an athlete especially. Not only are they growing into their bodies, but also their minds. They're figuring out how to be confident, how to deal with pressure, and what they want out of life. Tiger Woods, Michelle's idol, understood this, and didn't go pro until age 20. Would you have been able to handle the problems of being a paid professional at age 18? I know I wouldn't have. Obviously, the risk for someone to have their growth stunted is high. I mean, really, look at Kwame. He's just now reaching the level of "pretty OK", and he'll be 25 in two months. Imagine what it could have been like if they'd paced his development more carefully.

Obviously, this issue is not simple. There are success stories when it comes to athletes who turn pro young: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Lebron James, to name a few. How can you pass up big money when it's available? Who's to say they won't get injured and not have opportunities like this down the road? All these are valid points. But, watching Michelle stink it up makes me wonder if she doesn't wish she could go back to hitting balls on the driving range. Because, right now, she's not a valid professional. She's more like Happy Gilmore. She gets invited to tournaments because she can hit the ball far and draw a crowd. That's not a solid foundation for a career.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Joumana Kidd Will Kick Your Ass

In one of the more bizarre and unfortunate stories of this season, Jason Kidd has filed for divorce from his wife Joumana, citing spousal abuse. Jason's attorneys claim she became increasingly more paranoid and angry, going so far as to hit him and throw things. The complaint also states that she used one of their kids to steal his cell phone and harass every number he'd dialed. Granted, it's easy to question the idea of a 5'2" model attacking a 6'4" professional athlete. Especially a 6'4" professional athlete whose been previously cited for domestic violence. This fact hasn't gotten past Joumana's crack legal team:

He says he's threatened by her? He's a star athlete. She's 5-foot-2 I think, and 105 pounds. It's shameful what he did here. The truth will come out.

I, however, don't think it's beyond belief. Kidd was completely contrite about his past and addressed the issue without hesitation. Joumana may not have a size advantage over him, but she would understand the public perception and know that people would be likely to side with her. And it's also reasonable to believe that Jason had a hard time defending himself. He not only knew how it was going to look, but that if he did respond, he could truly hurt her. Of course, it's ultimately difficult to know exactly what happened here. Thankfully, the authorities got involved and it can play out in public. Besides, the fact that Jason filed a complaint made me think it's probably true. How many pro athletes would be willing to say publicly that their pixie sized wife was knocking them around?

The subplot of this situation is how it affects the Nets. With three genuine stars and some developing young players, the Atlantic should be theirs to win. But, they're sitting at 15 wins and 19 losses. I asked my friend James what he thought was wrong with them:

Lawrence Frank is one horribly unlucky coach. He's great though. If the Nets are dumb enough to fire him, I think it will set back the franchise about 5 years. There isn't any real possible improvement they could make in the coaching department. The problem for them is bench depth and injuries. I could make a strong argument that Krstic is the best player in the NBA that only makes $1 million. P.S. Eddie House stinks.

Well put. When you're limited to relying on three players to carry you, one of those players going through a bitter divorce and custody fight can't help you out. In any division in the West, this would be a death penalty. In the East, I can't imagine it'll keep them out of the playoffs.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

O Who?


Chris Petersen and Bob Stoops met in Glendale Arizona to settle a bet: who had the bigger stones? Bob was picked as the winner long before the contest ever began. After all, his balls have had a long and illustrious career, he'd earned it. But, the man from Boise State would not be intimidated. He came out swinging, taking advantage of some early mistakes and proving he deserved to be there. But Bob, just like you knew he would, came roaring back. Too bad that Chris Peterson just has bigger balls. They're huge, and if you watched the 4th quarter and the overtime, you'd know it was true.

When I started out watching this game, I thought most of what I would have to say about Boise State would involve their quarterback. Specifically, that he looked like a Creed concert. But yeah, he's a baller. He did what ballers do and recovered. He's an amazing quarterback, and should be given an opportunity at the pro level. But for real, if a guy who looked like him started dating your sister, you would be pissed. Even as he spoke to the post game reporters after winning it all, I couldn't help but be distracted by his bad facial hair and tribal tattoo.

And to repeat the standard argument, yes, this is an incredible argument for a playoff system. Hopefully we can get this resolved in the decade. There are just too many good small schools who deserve their chance. My appreciation of Bob Stoops is documented, but you were not publicly pantsed by Chris Petersen in vain. Woo UT won our bowl. Minor gloating. San Antonio has a river with an area you can walk on, I'm told.