Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lago de Cloro

Last season we ran a series of posts on father-son pairs in the NBA, and a threaded swatch in all those yarns was fathers (Karl Malone, Jimmy Walker) who never acknowledged their later-ball-playing children. Steve Aschburner at NBA.com recently penned a fascinating piece about Wes Matthews Jr., a former college star for Marquette who has earned significant time with the Utah Jazz in this, his rookie season. Interestingly, Matthews Sr. never bothered to involve himself in the young boy's life, and Junior's mother, a former college star in track and basketball, imbued her athletic sagacity to her son. One can only speculate how Matthews might have developed with the added influence of his NBA championship-winning father.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Old Familiar Sting

There are certain NBA teams that are currently not very good, and don't show much possibility of becoming good anytime soon. Specifically, their core has an average age over 25, without much room for significant improvement. They don't have significant trade assets that are not integral to the team, and they probably will not receive a very high draft pick in the next couple years.

Specifically, I am thinking of:
Indiana (9-20)
Charlotte (12-17)
Toronto (15-17)
New Orleans (13-15)
Philadelphia (7-22)
Washington (10-19)

What should these teams do? If their owners wish to someday put a championship-contending team on the floor, then they need a new strategy. Trading the team's second-best or best player (see Miami in 2008, Minnesota in 2007, Portland in 2004, or Atlanta in 2001) is probably the smart course of action. Hence, most of Bill Simmons's rather creative trade proposals in his recent column dated December 23rd involved, say, Toronto trading Chris Bosh, Washington trading Antawn Jamison, Philly trading Andre Iguodala, New Orleans trading David West, Charlotte trading Gerald Wallace, and the like. This would probably be devastating to fans of those teams, but they don't have much hope for glory right now, and it's time to invest in the future.

Of course, "rebuilding" is a risky strategy. You could score big in the draft and pick Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in consecutive years, say. On the other hand, you might pick up Emeka Okafor and Sean May as your lottery haul, and then you will be consigned to mediocrity for awhile. So much of a franchise's value hinges on ticket and merchandise sales, which in turn is driven by star power. There is a good case that scouting budgets should follow a cycle: high in mediocre years just before rebuilding begins and correct draft picks are crucial; low once the franchise has assembled a young core and you want to let that melange stew and simmer; and moderate during championship-contending years (where the addition of role players like James Posey and PJ Brown to Boston can help reel in a title).

What's more, the objective function of owners probably varies. Although on-court success probably drives team revenue, the correlation is not perfect. Some owners, like Mark Cuban, want to win, profits be damned. (It helps if you are highly liquid thanks to a sweet business deal you made in 1999.) Other owners, like Jerry Reinsdorf in Chicago, are able to bring home big profits every year while purveying consistent mediocrity, the Jordan era notwithstanding. In the older, pre-television days of the NBA, team owners were entrepeneurial promoters who just wanted to make a dollar of profit off of their teams (a milieu discussed by David Halberstam in Breaks of the Game, but today there are some owners who delight in owning a team just to be a player in popular sports culture -- to own a locus of identity for millions of people. But most owners, such as Jerry Buss, still want to wring profit from their team.

There is something of a principal-agent problem here (albeit one with multiple principals): Every fan on the planet thinks the team should maximize wins, but to their frequent frustration, the owner, likely a shrewd businessman all his life, thinks about P&L first, second, and last. Why did Phoenix owner Robert Sarver insist on selling draft picks (which could have become Luol Deng, Rajon Rondo, Marcin Gortat, Rudy Fernandez, etc.) during the team's recent peak? If we dispense with normal corporate law and consider fans the true stakeholders, then the owner is in some sense the "agent" tasked with delivering happiness to the team's fan base, but he is self-dealing by considering his personal financial needs first. The Toronto Raptors, for example, are quite profitable despite never putting a championship-level team on the floor in their 15 years of existence. (On the other hand, the Green Bay Packers, who are actually owned by their fans, have not necessarily out-performed the rest of the league since Bart Starr left the team. The Pack only managed one Super Bowl in 16 years with Brett Favre; top QBs like Montana, Aikman, Brady, Elway, and even Roethlisberger have each brought home several more.)

The Raptors are a special case, actually, as they are owned by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan. Should we begrudge elderly Canadian classroom veterans their right to a happy retirement and a steady return on assets? Refusing to satisfy Vince Carter or Chris Bosh with top-quality talent may be self-dealing, but it is the warmest and fuzziest case of self-dealing I've ever known.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Feels So Good To Reunite

Yesterday, while passing through southern Ontario for the Christmas holidays, I had the privilege of attending a matchup of the local Raptors against my favorite team, the now-shaggy Detroit Pistons. The Pistons, integrating three recently injured stalwarts (Gordon, Hamilton, Prince), quickly fell behind by 19 points at halftime, further confirming my belief that they are just crap this year. I rooted hard for them, though, bellowing out the virtues of DEEETROIT BAAASKETBAALL! to the chagrin of local Hogtowners.

But I aim not to illustrate the problems of los Pistones. While in the Air Canada Center (Centre?) I used my favorite Christmas gift, a neat new digital camera, to take several videos of the Raptors operating on offense and defense. What I found will further underscore a point I made in early December, viz. that Toronto should fire coach Jay Triano. Also, their roster as currently conceived has no hope of ever winning a title. Their "big men", Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani, are two of the worst-defending top 5 draft picks in NBA history.

1. Bargnani

Consider first Bargnani, Toronto's sweet-shooting center. Here, he twice muffs his defensive assignment: he fails to adequately threaten Jonas Jerebko camping in the corner for a 3-pointer, and then three seconds later he fumbles the resulting rebound, allowing Jerebko to sneak in for a layup. That's really embarrassing for a fourth-year man who says he wants to make the All-Star team.



Yet Bargnani is actually capable of defensive excellence. Here, watch him correctly move his feet, keep his hands up, and watch the waist-level movement of Rip Hamilton as the latter attempts to drive to the hoop. Hamilton still received a foul call and two FTs, though. Bargnani, recognizing that he was disadvantaged on the mismatch, would have been wiser to bump Hamilton away from the hoop, before Rip put up a shot.



And for fantasy owners, Il Mago puts up about 1.2 blocks per game, often of a demoralizing variety. Here, he rejects an attempted drive by Hamilton:



With his unusual combination of size and litheness, Bargnani certainly has his moments at the offensive end. Here, watch him extract revenge on Jerebko with a sweet post-up routine in the paint:




2. Bosh

Bosh's problems may be even worse. Here, watch him guard from the rear Jason Maxiell's post-up attempt. Maxiell shrugs, tells himself "F it", and flips the ball to a slashing Hamilton, who drives uncontested to the basket, blowing past Bosh, who appears to watch haplessly. Where was the help? Bosh also somehow picked up a foul for his (lack of) troubles, giving Hamilton an "and one" opportunity. If you're going to foul, make it count.



In this video below, Detroit's Tayshaun Prince dribbles the ball at the wing, defended by Hedo Turkoglu. Ben Gordon smartly slides in to screen Turkoglu, and Gordon's erstwhile man, Jarrett Jack, picks up defense on Prince. The switch hits paydirt for Detroit as Prince easily backs Jack into the painted area and sinks a short flip shot. Notice Bosh observing these proceedings, but electing not to double-team Prince, despite Prince's SIX-INCH height advantage on Jack. Bosh seems to be doing nothing at all -- neither committing to defending his putative man, Jerebko, nor providing help defense for Prince.



3. Euro-Softness


The Raptors have been pilloried for packing their roster with too many European players — Bargnani, Turkoglu, Calderon, Nesterovic, Bellinelli — who lack the savvy and toughness to bang with NBA stars. Here is one example. Marco Bellinelli attempts to guard the quick-moving Rip Hamilton, who grabs Bellinelli while dodging around for daylight. The referees call a foul on Bellinelli, who surely grabbed back — but was he the principal wrongdoer? NBA success requires learning how to win these battles of PR with referees.



Conclusion


Now, I am not a professional athlete. I recognize that the instantaneous sensory processing and finely controlled motion required to succeed in the NBA is ridiculously difficult. However, if Bosh and Bargs ever want to be thought of as legitimate stars who can help elevate their teams to greatness, they need to spend whole summers doing nothing but rotating on driving wings and roaming shooters.

Anyway, lest you think I am nothing but a doomsayer, here are two cheerier videos we took at yesterday's game. Here in the first quarter, Sonny Weems steals a pass from Charlie Villanueva, races the length of the court, and jams the ball home, bringing the crowd to a frenzy. Finally, here Chris Bosh hits a free throw to vault his team past 100 points, triggering a free-pizza deal for every attending fan.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Strings of Street Lights

The most interesting question in the NBA right now is, which team shall win the East?

Crazy stuff can and probably will happen between now and Memorial Day. Last year Jameer Nelson and Kevin Garnett suffered major injuries, while Cleveland had no clue how to solve Dwight Howard or Rashard Lewis. This year, the same squads look champ-ish, and (barring a major trade involving Chicago or Miami, say) those teams are the only three that could represent the East in the Finals.

All three teams have upgraded their rosters since last spring. Cleveland added Shaquille O'Neal, Jamario Moon, and Anthony Parker. Boston added Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels, and Shelden Williams, while Orlando added Vince Carter, Brandon Bass, Matt Barnes, Ryan Anderson, and Jason Williams. The Cavs can now defend bigs and dynamic slashers; Boston enhanced everything they were already good at; and Orlando massively upgraded its roster. (Consider that the Magic lost only Courtney Lee and Hedo Turkoglu from their 2008-09 core.)

Yesterday, Christmas Day, the Celtics proved for one night that they could wrest a win away from Orlando's sun-lapsed fans. Meanwhile, Cleveland impressively marched into Los Angeles and defied the demands of Anna Kournikova and Snoop Dogg, thumping L.A. by a firm 15. Of course, the Lakers and Magic will be better. Cleveland and Boston might not be so good, if their aging studs Shaq and Kev cannot remain hale.

All told, I think Orlando, with its amazingly deep roster (and the flexibility to sign a couple more names to the fourteenth and fifteenth spots) will be the best Eastern team in May.

Friday, December 18, 2009

La Vérité

Don't have much to say today, but I liked Paul Pierce's thoughts about the state of the NBA and the United States government, at the Boston Globe website. (As previously noted, I disagree with him about the NBA's age limit, but I agree on basically all his other points, including his insatiable need for chocolate.)


Merry (early) Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Would You Rather Be A Fish

While discussing something non-ball-related, my significant other recently called me a "curmudgeon" (a badge I wear proudly) with a tender yet harrumping hint of derision. Still breathing this chilled air, I will now release a weighty load that has cramped my ventricles for months, concerning one Dwight Howard.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“That’s so gay.”

“I got gypped.”

“He’s a strapping young buck."

I saw a billboard in Chicago recently advertising a publicly minded website called “thinkb4youspeak.com”. The spirit behind that effort (though it explicitly targeted only the first of my three examples) is quite right; the educated response to any of these above-cited idioms is to educate the speaker about its odious origin. It may be that teenagers reflexively dismissing a cacophonous pop song or a taxing history assignment as “gay” are truly and sincerely not associating the lame thing with homosexuals; they just think it’s dumb. Still, all told it would be better to expunge an offensive word from the language rather than allowing it to live on in repurposed form.

I raise all this because the NBA’s marketing machine has, of late, put all its oomph behind a hideous metaphor that deserves to disappear. Consider Dwight Howard’s self-professed ‘Superman’ persona, which he initiated at the 2008 All-Star Slam Dunk Contest and continued to tend at the same event in 2009. Howard and his sponsors happily agree when any NBA commentator speaks of him as Superman or uses related imagery in a bid at rhetorical adornment.

Howard has said that he thought to develop the Superman gimmick while listening to a hip-hop song by a young MC named Soulja Boy. The lyric “Superman that ho!” in Soulja Boy’s popular rap song “Crank Dat” refers to, well, an act that you can investigate for yourself via Urbandictionary or some other apt source. I can’t say whether Soulja Boy or any of his associates ever accomplished this tricky feat, or whether it remains inchoate, limned only by theory. The mere thought is disgusting, crude, vile, and misogynistic.

That’s the admitted inspiration for Dwight Howard’s Superman persona. Really! And if you still don't believe me, well, here's some video of Mr. Howard practicing Soulja's virally popular dance moves that accompany the song:



To be sure, many young people like to deploy charged symbols with little regard for the etymology or implications. Consider teens who wear Catholic rosaries as a fashion statement, or tattoo an Iron Cross on their bicep, or draw an “anarchy” symbol in white chalk on their backpack, or wear a Che Guevara shirt because, well, he’s so rebellious. Soulja himself was only 17 when his “Crank Dat” climbed the charts.

Unlike my examples above of “gay”, “gypped”, and “young buck”, there are other idioms of questionable provenance that nearly everyone in polite society uses. Consider “That sucks.” or “You really got the shaft there.” I can’t imagine that, in an ultimate analysis, these phrases mean anything other than “That’s just as weak and shameful as performing oral sex on a man”, or “Your wrongful suffering was just as bad as being anally penetrated.” Right? Am I missing something? What is the tacit message we send about those individuals (men and women) who regularly engage in such behaviors?  (To be clear, I am not endorsing the message.)  Yet folks say this all the time, and sometimes with a grin on their face.  It is not hard to wield words as a tool of oppression.  Respectable adults routinely refer to a white tank-top as a “wife-beater”, which I think is both anti-women and anti-men at the same time. (The casualness of the utterance is incredibly misogynistic, while the presumption that any dude who dresses like that must be an abuser is fairly bigoted, and possibly classist as well.) Perhaps I am fighting a lonely battle if I wish to chase these noxious palabras out of contemporary speech. I try to avoid all of the above terms, even though I sometimes exclaim under my breath that some calamity really SUCKED!

A college photo of Bulls star Derrick Rose surfaced earlier this year, showing him and a buddy wielding dueling gang signs with their fingers – Rose with the Gangster Disciples and his mate with the Vice Lords. This was surely a joke (if those two guys were in fact affiliated with those two gangs, they would not be hanging at a party together), and Rose probably meant little more than did the oodles of scores of scores of suburban kids who have posed in the same way. This may not be any different from the teenager with an anarchy symbol, though perhaps Rose’s erstwhile proximity to gang activity as a child in Chicago means that his gang sign at the Memphis party represents a cheerfully ironic distance. The suburban teenager is positing no ironic distance, because s/he was never close to anarchists in the first place. I would put Dwight Howard in the second category. He may genuinely be too innocent, or perhaps he may not be perspicuous enough, to know what Soulja Boy’s song is about.  Perhaps he could argue that he means the Superman persona innocently.  On the other hand, given the original association that he authored, it's hard not to "read" him as representing the Soulja song.

Moreover, Howard is no kid. A few months ago, I participated in an internet discussion (OK, it was the juggernautic “Facebook”) in which several individuals averred with all sincerity and conviction that Dwight Howard is still a virgin, owing to his successful self-promotion as a man of faith. I helped them out by pointing them to this photo below, of Dwight Howard’s cute young son Braylon and his mother Royce Reed, a former Magic cheerleader who gave birth to the kid in early 2008. And surely, like fellow Orlandoan Eldrick T. Woods, Howard has skinny-dipped more than once.


I was a bit surprised when I read this April 2009 article in Sports Illustrated suggesting that the nursery room in Howard’s home, intended for young Braylon, is "seldom used". Mr. Howard rarely sees his child? But really, this is nothing but expected: a 23-year-old ballplayer with daily obligations for practice, workouts, filming clever commercials, and applying for his Chinese visa has little time to spend with an infant. He probably wouldn’t be very good at it even if he spent all day with the kid. This is a man who thinks, per the above SI piece, that entire closets full of candy are a good use of his square footage. Really!

In short, the NBA’s support of Howard’s Superman antics is embarrassing. Has no one the temerity to take him aside and tell him, sorry Dwight, but this is unacceptable? Every player and every team surely has access to a PR flack who can suggest what is, or is not, a good idea for public figures. Why do so many who are under strict scrutiny feel that everything’s okay as long as they’re making money and nobody complains?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sweater Already, Mom's Spaghetti (2 of 3)

In Post 1 of this series (timed to coincide with Mark Cuban's rather painful appearance on Monday Night Raw), I reviewed the plagiarized origins of DeShawn Stevenson's "I Can't Feel My Face" gesture — namely, from WWE star John Cena. The Ickey Shuffle it ain't. This was part of a larger project to show the ineluctable connections between pro basketball and pro wrestling. My co-blogger H.O.S.S. was skeptical that this was anything more than obscure anecdotes. Thus, herein I will provide further examples.

I think the affinity of ballers for wrestling (and vice-versa) arises because, for one thing, the participants are selected for their physically freakish qualities. Many top wrestlers are former college basketball players: Kevin "Diesel" Nash at University of Tennessee, Paul "Big Show" Wight at Wichita State, Mark "Undertaker" Callaway at Angelina College, Glen "Kane" Jacobs at Union College. Let us not forget about the curious case of Jorge Gonzalez, a 7'6" center on Argentina's 1988 Olympic basketball team. The Atlanta Hawks drafted and signed Gonzalez, but when he couldn't crack the squad (hard to believe, when their centers in 1989 were Jon Koncak and 34-year-old Moses Malone), Hawks owner Ted Turner, not wanting to waste a corporate asset, offered Gonzalez a job in another of his Atlanta-based businesses, World Championship Wrestling. Gonzalez made his pro graps debut in 1990 as "El Gigante", a fan favorite allied with other heroes including Sting and Lex Luger. Gonzalez eventually made his way to Vince McMahon's Connecticut-based World Wrestling Federation (now called WWE after they lost a 2002 UK lawsuit over naming rights to the World Wildlife Fund), where Gonzalez faced the aforementioned Undertaker at Wrestlemania IX in 1993. Undertaker/Callaway is about 6'10"; behold the height of Gonzalez! And oh yeah, he's wearing a painted costume; that's not his real muscles.



Wrestling's knack for showmanship can also be useful in a hoops setting. At New Orleans Hornets home games, a ghostly, exuberant wail – “Wooo!” can be heard over the P.A. speakers when the Hornets, particularly Chris Paul, make a morale-busting basket. At the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, the same Wooo rings out when LeBron James makes a free throw. Whence this Wooo? A savvy wrestling fan would recognize this as the signature exclamation of Ric Flair, a longtime wrestling star who finally retired in 2008 at the age of 59. The Hornets’ Wooo! tradition began back when they played in Charlotte, Flair’s adopted hometown, and they took it with them to the Bayou. (Flair is such an icon in North Carolina that he has seriously considered running for governor.) Flair actually did the pregame introductions for a Hornets game (in New Orleans) in the spring of ’08 (start at 1:00 of the video), Apparently someone with the franchise is a REALLY big wrestling fan, as the sound system in the New Orleans Arena also plays the Undertaker’s funeral dirge at the end of Hornets wins. (I wonder whether the Hornets pay a licensing fee to WWE for the use of these sound effects, as it is surely not fair use.)

The sound effects for LeBron James's free throws are not accidental. James, who came of age in the late 1990s during pro wrestling's biggest boom period ever, may be the biggest wrestling fan in the league. Rumors swirled wildly in Hollywood trade journals earlier this year that LeBron, like his teammate Shaq, would sign up to host Raw. Why do you think James named his crew of high school buddies the "Four Horsemen"? Is it likely that LBJ is a fan of eschatology and has been spending his Sunday mornings at church with the Revelation of St. John? Could it be that James reveres the legacy of 1920s Notre Dame football? This second option, at first glance implausible, actually is a touch more likely, as James's high school team, like Notre Dame, is nicknamed the "Fighting Irish". However, the reference is fairly obscure. It is more likely that James et al. were aware of the wrestling alliance known as the Four Horsemen, involving the aforementioned Flair, Arn Anderson, and a rotating crew of other henchmen, which ruled the NWA and WCW in the 1980s and '90s. (Wikipedia lists other uses of the term Four Horsemen, including U.S. Supreme Court Justices and NASA scientists, but I would bet my butt that James took the name from wrestling.)

Ex-Atlantic Coast Conference centers are also notorious wrestling mavens. Rasheed Wallace famously paid for wrestling-style championship belts for his teammates after the Pistons won the 2004 NBA title. Tim Duncan also attended a WWE event in 2006 and was photographed with Flair and Shawn Michaels. "I watch it all the time," he said.

Shaq’s July 2009 Raw appearance that I mentioned in the earlier post this week was hardly his first foray into the squared circle. O’Neal appeared in Hulk Hogan’s corner for a WCW match vs. Flair in 1994. In 2006, Shaq agreed to stage a “confrontation” with a steel chair against a wrestler named Carlito (video here), and he was photographed visiting the whole WWE wrestler roster at an event in 2008. Though I can’t find a link, Shaq has also been quoted saying that he is pals with Undertaker/Callaway and they share conditioning tips for keeping old bodies in top form.

Back in 1998, Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman made headlines when, one month after Rodman’s Bulls denied Malone his last earnest chance at a title in the NBA Finals, the two power forwards donned wrestling tights, teaming up with Diamond Dallas Page and Hogan, respectively, at WCW’s Bash at the Beach event. A few days prior to the pay-per-view tag match, Malone proved his wrestling merit by delivering a Diamond Cutter (fast-forward to 2:35 of the video in the immediate prior link and watch for 20 seconds) to Hogan’s crooked crony Curt Hennig. Also, the video below shows the tag match with Rodman:



Dwight Howard admitted in this blog post to being a huge wrestling fan — no surprise given his child-like jocular personality.

So let's see. Between O'Neal, James, Duncan, Wallace, Malone, Rodman, and Howard, that's 6 MVP trophies, 3 DPOY awards, and 14 NBA championships, all agreeing that rasslin' is where it's at!

But enough regurgitation of trivia. In the final post of this series, I will attempt to explain what, exactly, consistently draws my two favorite athletic genres together.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Honey I'm Still Free

Here at JPO we always enjoy an opportunity to refer back to the originally sinful event where, well, Jordan pushed off. ESPN's Henry Abbott wrote a post today expressing his dismay that Michael Jordan, surprise!, did not appear in Provo, Utah last night to compete with Bryon Russell at an advertised 1-on-1 game. Anyone with common sense could see that Jordan never had any incentive to participate in this purported event. What really galls me, though, is that ESPN aided and abetted the promotion of this hoax via (1) having Bryon Russell appear on an official ESPN.com chat on December 7th to plug the alleged 1-on-1 game and (2) a bubbly post from Abbott himself on December 3rd outlining the proposed contest, suggesting (against all common sense) that there was a non-zero probability that Jordan might appear.

One could argue that the NBA likes the publicity for its Development League teams, and Disney/ESPN, as a broadcast partner of the league, has an interest in promoting the (erstwhile-named) NBDL. But the odd thing is that Jordan is a part-owner of the Bobcats, and thus David Stern and the other NBA central officers work for him. There is a clear principal-agent conflict here (or more accurately, perhaps we could just say that the problem is one of too many principals): Jordan himself probably did not enjoy this whole episode, as it redounds to augment a Grinchy image for MJ that began with September's HOF speech.

Mickey Mouse is rolling over in his grave.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sweater Already, Mom's Spaghetti (1 of 3)

The league shuddered a couple Wednesdays ago when Cleveland dropped a frame to the Washington Wizards, who haven't been good since the early days of "The Surge". Strangely, LeBron James seemed to expend more effort yapping with Wizards backup swingman Deshawn Stevenson, than trying to help his team grab a win.

One may recall that Cleveland's rivalry with the Wizards dates to three first-round playoff series, all won by the Cavs, in 2006, 2007, and 2008. The '08 battle culminated with a caustic colloquy between James and Stevenson in which the latter called James "overrated" and allied himself with upstart rapper Soulja Boy, as against James and his friend Jay-Z. Mr. Carter actually recorded a "dis track" directed at Stevenson and the Wizards. Stevenson also unleashed a dubious gesture that he called "I Can't Feel My Face" to highlight his "unconscious" shooting performance and mock James. (The best video clip of his gesture comes at 0:30.)



Unfortunately, Stevenson did not innovate this motion. It began with World Wrestling Entertainment grappler John Cena, who has used the move to bedazzle fallen opponents since about 2003. Cena calls it the "You Can't See Me" spot. Cena even released a rap album in 2005 called You Can't See Me. To be crisp, Stevenson borrowed (nay, stole) the move from Cena.



Stevenson's mimicry of Cena highlights a long history of cooperation and mutual fascination between basketball players and pro wrestlers. Shaquille O'Neal, a serious fan of graps, hosted Monday Night Raw in July of this year and scuffled slightly with the Big Show, a former Wichita State varsity basketball guy. Tonight, December 7th, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will host Monday Night Raw, live from his team's usual arena in Dallas. Unsurprisingly, the WWE has tried to make a storyline out of things, ginning up a feud between Cuban and wrestler Cody Rhodes (the son of Dusty, whom I mentioned briefly last year in this post) in advance of the show. Cuban's last WWE appearance came in 2003, when Randy Orton (now Cody Rhodes's pal in the storyline) delivered a devastating "RKO" to the dot.com impresario.

Later this week I will outline further wrestler-hooper connections and consider what this means for the sport of B-ball as we know it.
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UPDATE DECEMBER 8TH: After I wrote that post on Monday night, Cuban did appear on Monday Night Raw, eventually getting physically destroyed as part of a gimmick to build up WWE's villain du jour, a muscular Irishman named "Sheamus". Kudos for Cuban for his willingness to take a hard slam through a pre-perforated table. This Yahoo article sums things up well, including a Youtube of the pertinent moment.

Artest and Thug's Passion

Some may prefer one-part alizee, one-part crystal, but the drink of choice for Ron Artest is apparently Hennessey.




I was surprised that not a whimper went by on the blog this week about Ron Artest's latest admission -- is it because we stopped caring or we don't believe him?

Artest has perhaps suggested a better question for blog readers: what is your favorite cognac?

Friday, December 4, 2009

I love this game!

Professional basketball is a business. But at the end of the day, basketball remains a game and a passion for those who play it. Anyone who needs a reminder should check out Allen Iverson's press conference yesterday announcing his return to the Philadelphia 76ers:

The Lysine Contingency

Based on this article from yesterday's Toronto Star, I'd say it's time for the Toronto Raptors to fire head coach Jay Triano. Their record now stands at 7-13 with a quarter of the season done. At that rate, they will finish 28-54, well out of the playoffs. They currently stand 29th in the league in opposing teams' PPG (trailing only Golden State, which plays a frenetic pace and barely bothers on defense), and 27th in opposing teams' FG%. The players think the coach is doing a horrid job. If this continues through April, they would then lose star Chris Bosh, leaving them with a team "featuring" Calderon, Bargnani, Turkoglu, Nesterovic, and Bellinelli. Hogtown deserves better.

The team, named after a Spielbergian movie villain from 1993, now feels more like a James Cameron film that premiered four years later. (Cameron is from Ontario, incidentally.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Do It Nice And Easy Now

Last night I had the chance to attend the first Bulls-Pistons meeting of the season. The United Center was rather full for this one (perhaps twenty-year-old rivalries still linger).

The Pistons were down 24-10 after one quarter and 48-38 at halftime. Detroit committed an unbelievable number of sloppy turnovers, and despite my childhood affilations, I found my visceral impulses occasionally switching to cheering on Bulls successes. It's embarrassing to root for a team that can barely manage double-digit quarters!

Just 18 months ago, Detroit was a couple wins away from the NBA Finals. The starting lineup, once featuring Billups/Hamilton/McDyess/R.Wallace/Prince, now features Atkins/Stuckey/B.Wallace/Jerebko/Maxiell. Other than the 1999 Bulls or the 2005 Lakers, it's hard to remember a team falling so far, so fast.


My seatmate wondered if Detroit had any chance, but I cautioned her that anything can happen in the NBA. (Ominously for the Bulls, during halftime in the United Center, television screens showed, in live time that same night, the University of Illinois men's basketball team completing a 20-point comeback against Clemson.) Sure enough, after we obtained salty pretzels, we returned to our seat in mid-quarter and Detroit had cut the deficit to five. Chicago then extended the lead to 15 by the end of the third, though.

In the fourth quarter, as she wondered aloud about whether we should leave the arena early, Detroit cut the deficit again to five points with 16 seconds left, and I officiously cited to her the scary salience of precedents like Tracy McGrady's 13 points in 35 seconds, or Reggie Miller's eight points in 9 seconds. Well, in the event, Brad Miller hit a couple free throws for Chicago and the game ended. It's never fun when low-probability events, as expected, don't materialize.