Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Shaq Wants to Retroactively Adjust Some Hardware

Shaquille O'Neal has become remarkably outspoken, even by his standards, since retiring from active play last June. Unfortunately, his outbursts are too often colored by personal spite rather than sober analysis. For example, last month he labelled Andrew Bynum the league's best big man, forsaking Dwight Howard, whom every other observer considers the strongest 5. Shaq's pique likely stems from Howard's appropriation of the "Superman" nickname, which we discussed at length in this 2009 post. O'Neal has a "Superman" tattoo on his arm and considers himself the original owner of said moniker (I don't know if any actual intellectual property is involved, as was the case in Jeremy Lin's situation that we discussed yesterday).

Today an interview emerged in which O'Neal suggests that Steve Nash did not deserve the MVP awards he won in 2005 and 2006. O'Neal is likely still miffed that he did not win the 2004-05 prize (indeed, contemporaneous scribes back then hinted that racism might be responsible) after he arrived from the Lakers and turned Miami into a championship contender. But let us turn to the numbers.

Phoenix: 29 wins
Miami: 42 wins

Phoenix: 62 wins
Miami: 59 wins

Evidently, Nash's arrival in Phoenix (holding constant the previous core of Marion, Johnson, and Stoudemire) resulted in 33 more victories, while O'Neal's introduction to Miami (joining a holdover group of Wade, E. Jones, and Haslem) led to 17 more Ws. Let us recall that Phoenix was putrid the previous year (to be fair, they traded Stephon Marbury early that season and had no point guard for most of the campaign) while Miami without Shaq (and with Caron Butler + Lamar Odom) was a solid team that reached the '04 playoffs' second round.

We could probe the change in fortunes of the Lakers (O'Neal's former team) and the Mavericks (Nash's former team) but too many factors there changed from 2003-04 to 2004-05: the Lakers lost Karl Malone, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, and Gary Payton, in addition to the big LSU alum. The Mavericks traded away Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker for Jerry Stackhouse and Jason Terry, respectively. Examining those teams' transitions would not tell us much about the causal force of O'Neal or Nash.

In 2006, O'Neal was not an MVP candidate, as his performance slipped while Dwyane Wade became a superstar, and his team's performance dropped to 52 wins despite a revamping of the roster with several accomplished veterans. Meanwhile, Nash steered his team to 54 wins with Amare Stoudemire injured the whole season and Boris Diaw manning the center position. To be fair, several other players including Nowitzki, James, Bryant, Wade, Brand, Duncan, and Billups did just as much that season to push their respective teams to a high level of play. But Shaquille O'Neal had no claim on the award that year.

It appears that Nash was incredibly valuable on Phoenix (and the regular-season success proved to be no chimera, as the Suns easily made the conference finals twice) while O'Neal's boost to Miami was not as robust. O'Neal did help to deliver a championship to South Florida, but most valuable player of the league? Didn't happen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Linsanity Runnin' Wild at the USPTO

Jeremy Lin apparently is caught in a trademark battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office over the term "Linsanity". Some enterprising lads (or "trademark trolls", depending on one's view of government-granted economic rents) already filed to own the term soon after Lin took a starting role for the Knicks several weeks ago.

A search of the United States Patent and Trademark Office's online database shows an entertaining set of hucksters who filed the term "Linsanity" in the month of February. (Some of the text below for Proposed Use includes my paraphrasing from the original.)

1. Owner: John S. Yuan, Lexington, MA. Filing date: 2/20/2012. Proposed use: Eyeglasses, spectacles

2. Owner: Parace, LLC (a New York company**). Filing date: 2/20/2012. Proposed use: Sports drinks, advertising services, action figures, head bands, wrist bands, watches, visors, sporting towels, back packs, duffel bags, thermal flasks, computer gaming software, social networking internet platforms, virtual goods, and more...

** A further internet search reveals that Parace, LLC was organized in 2004 and is based in Westchester County, New York. This company has filed, successfully and unsuccessfully, for several other trademarks over recent years, including Xopod (whatever that is), Achieve the Ultimate, Teeped, and Snoopermarket.

3. Owner: Parace, LLC again. Filing date: 2/19/2012. Proposed use: Computer game software, computer software platforms, downloadable electronic game programs, computer software to enable uploading for virtual communities, blah, blah, blah...

4. Owner: Empioneer Corp.** of California. Filing date: 2/19/2012. Proposed use: Cell phone backplates, cell phone cases, cell phone covers, cell phone faceplates.

**A further internet search shows that Empioneer Corp. was organized in 2006 and does business in Los Angeles as an importer of Chinese-manufactured sunglasses.

5. Owner: Empioneer Corp. again. Filing date: 2/19/2012. Proposed use: Sunglass cases, safety eyewear, sunglasses, spectacles, etc....

6. Owner: Roger Montgomery. Filing date: 2/14/2012. Proposed use: Business management of sports people.

Note that Roger Montgomery is Jeremy Lin's agent (and has been since the beginning of Lin's pro career). According to the USPTO, Montgomery filed an abandonment form soon after initially filing this application, so his claim is apparently null and void now.

7. Owner: Yoonsoo Stephen Kim of Duluth, GA and Wesley Kwong-Yew Tang of Los Angeles, CA. Filing date: 2/14/2012. Proposed use: Jewelry, namely, bracelets, wristbands and necklaces that also provides nitification to the wearer of a pending medical-related task; rubber or silicon wristbands in the nature of a bracelet.

8. Owner: Jeremy Lin himself, filed by his attorney from the Arent Fox LLP law firm in Washington, DC. Filing date: 2/13/2012. Proposed use: A bunch of stuff including duffel bags, knapsacks, cups, mugs, aluminum water bottles, plastic water bottles, insulating bottle sleeves, T-shirts, jackets, hooded jackets, coats, headbands, sweatbands, belts, shoes, slippers, sandals, toys, drinks, beverages, and so on and so forth...

9. Owner: Andrew W. Slayton of Los Altos, CA. Filing date: 2/9/2012. Proposed use: Athletic apparel.

Slayton was the men's basketball coach at Lin's Palo Alto high school after Lin left Palo to matriculate at Harvard. Apparently Slayton, likely without Lin's permission, has been operating a website at the domain name WWW.Linsanity.com (a solidly constructed site, actually) since 2010. While he might have the best basis for filing of any claimaint, as he is already commercially exploiting the term "Linsanity", his claim will fail (like all the other filings save Jeremy Lin's) due to the statutory principle that a trademark cannot refer to an actual person without that person's permission.

10. Owner: Yenchin Matthew Chang of Alhambra, CA. Filing date: 2/7/2012. Proposed use: This list is a doozy, including apparel for dancers, baseball caps, button-front aloha shirts, camouflage shirts, chef's hats, fishing shirts, golf pants, hunting shirts, leather hats, moisture-wicking sports shirts, paper hats, rugby shirts, toboggan hats, triathlon clothing, turtleneck shirts, woolly hats, yoga shirts, and much more.

As a side note, other recent trademark filings in the USPTO database include "Linning Is The Only Thing", "Linspiration" (also advanced by our friends Wesley Kwong-Yew Tang and Yoonsoo Stephen Kim), "I'm A Linner", "Be A Linner", and "Lin-credible".

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reviewing The Rookie-Sophomore Game

A few thoughts on last night's Rising Stars Challenge among first-year and second-year NBA players:

Early on, point guards Jeremy Lin and Ricky Rubio were throwing up three-pointers like Craig Hodges. Why? Shooting from distance is not their strength.

And Lin has been the most celebrated player from this group in recent weeks, and the NBA is surely trying to promote him to viewers around the world, yet he barely played ten minutes. Why? Perhaps some of his comrades, who have worked in relative anonymity to put up equal or better regular-season numbers to Lin (DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving, Greg Monroe, Paul George) are tired of his wattage and didn't want to play with him. That is only my rank speculation, of course. Or perhaps Lin is just fatigued by all his sudden on-court and off-court responsibilities.

I thought former Kentucky teammates John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins might connect for some sweet plays, but I saw little of that. Cousins did appear to be trying hard, as I saw sweat covering his face.

Paul George is just as smooth and agile as fellow 6'9"ers Kevin Durant or George Gervin, though not yet as accomplished. A first-half spin move and dunk by George had me standing at my kitchen table.

This is a bit personal, but Ricky Rubio, I'm sorry to say, has a forest growing in his armpits. Perhaps that is the Spanish style, but beard trimmers are fairly cheap at your nearest drugstore.

I wish the "Team Shaq" players had all worn a common-colored jersey, and the same for the "Team Chuck" players. Each player wore his regular NBA team's jersey, and thus trying to follow the action was extremely difficult without constantly consulting a roster sheet. I saw a few errant passes that might have been the result of similar confusion among the players. (Or maybe it was just the same sloppy play that regularly characterizes the rookie-sophomore game.)

Several of the players, notably Kyrie Irving (8 for 8 from 3-point land), unleashed perfectly launched, high-arcing shots that tickled nothing but the nylon net. To me, this demonstrated that most NBA players can hit baskets from anywhere on the court without defense or pressure. They have spent most of their free time since teenagedom, whether during the season or not, practicing precisely this skill. This game, of course, involved little defense, but real pro games are not like that. The great shooters are not merely the guys who can deliver the proper form with arms extended, feet aloft, and wrist bent, but the man who can run around a screen, catch, gather, and shoot with three hands in his face and an opposing coach screaming epithets from the sidelines. Having said that, Irving and others show great promise to become legitimate stars.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gilbert Arenas's Next (Probably Not Last) Chance

I want to highlight an excellent interview (Part I, Part II) with ex-Orlando guard Gilbert Arenas, published earlier this week on SI.com. Arenas actually sounds like a wise, introspective guy herein, although it is hard to square these comments with the stupidity of his gun incident and his misogynistic Twitter posts from last summer. If Arenas has actually matured and semi-cured his knee problems, he could be a deadly contributor to a team with perimeter needs. At his best, five and six seasons ago, Arenas averaged nearly 30 points and exactly 6 assists, leading the Wizards to two memorable playoff series (which I reviewed in this 2009 post) against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Unfortunately, he has not been a top player since April of 2007. Arenas foolishly came back too early in the fall of 2007 from his initial spring '07 surgery, leading to two more surgeries, two full missed seasons, and a ruined career. He then halted his 2009-10 campaign by bringing several guns into his Wizards locker room, leading to the demolition of the Butler-Jamison-Haywood-Arenas roster and Arenas's eventual release by Orlando two months ago.

Reportedly, the Lakers invited Arenas earlier this month to visit their team for a workout, and Kobe Bryant supported his possible signing. With Rasheed Wallace leaving retirement to join L.A. and Arenas possibly following (he says in the SI.com interview that he would like to join a team after the All-Star break), the Lakers could add some money-making talent to their squad, filling in the athletic point guard and "stretch 4" holes that have weakened the team all season. Or the two guys might just be dead weight that fizzles.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Choosing the 2012 All-Star Rosters

With just three days to go until the big event, here are my picks for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game:


Derrick Rose
Dwyane Wade
Dwight Howard
LeBron James
Chris Bosh

Tyson Chandler
Andre Iguodala
Luol Deng
Paul Pierce
Deron Williams
Greg Monroe
Josh Smith

Comments: The worth of the starters should be apparent. Wade is by far the best shooting guard in the East, even after missing several games. The same goes for Rose at his position. Howard, distracted a bit by his eventual disposition via trade, is still leaps better than other centers. James is the league's best player, and this season he plays with his back to the basket. Bosh is not the dominant force he was in Toronto, but his versatile face-up game leads the East among power forwards, and he always finds a way to stick his long neck into the right spot on defense.

Chandler has continued his awesome defensive play from Dallas, and also leads the league in field-goal percentage. He edges Roy Hibbert as a backup center, though this means Indiana will not have an All-Star representative (Danny Granger, putatively the Pacers' star, averages under 40% from the field [although curiously, he ranks near the top of the league in adjusted +/- ]). Rajon Rondo has played well, but missed too many games (including two games recently lost to suspension after a silly outburst against a referee); the same goes for Andrea Bargnani. Pierce has been the Celtics' best player; witness how they rose after Pierce recovered from an early-season heel injury. Carmelo Anthony, chosen as a starter in fan voting, has played poorly (the Knicks lost two-thirds of their games with him, before he ducked out due to injury and Jeremy Lin took over as starting point guard) and does not deserve to be near this list. Iguodala has led his team to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference with excellent two-way play, while Deng has played similarly and gutted through a damaging wrist injury. Deron Williams is still the East's second-best point guard, though he has looked languorous at times in New Jersey. Monroe has dazzled for a poor Detroit team, though one wishes he could throw his body around more viciously in the paint (he averages only 0.6 blocks and his adjusted +/- is negative 11). Smith has played too many seasons without an All-Star berth, and is delivering terrifying numbers at both ends of the court this year. If only he could fix his free-throw form!

Key "snubs" from my East team include Rondo, Hibbert, Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee guard Brandon Jennings, and Atlanta's Joe Johnson. But Johnson's stats are sorry, and Jennings has not exceeded Williams.


Chris Paul
Kobe Bryant
Andrew Bynum
Kevin Love
Kevin Durant

Blake Griffin
Russell Westbrook
Steve Nash
Marc Gasol
Paul Millsap
LaMarcus Aldridge
Tony Parker

Comments: The starters are, again, hard to quarrel with, I think. Bryant shoots too much, but his production through a wrist injury has stretched the Lakers to wins that they (featuring World Peace, Ebanks, Fisher, and Blake as four of their top ten players) didn't deserve. Paul has transformed the Clippers into a serious team, and Bynum is the meanest center west of Florida; he ranks 19th in the league in adjusted +/- among players who have clocked at least 800 minutes. Blake Griffin dunks and moves like a tiger, but he hardly tries on defense; Kevin Love's all-around offensive game deserves a starting spot. And what else can one say about Durant? This sequence from the end of the Lakers-Thunder first half tonight is telling:

Three point guards off the bench may be a lot (and I had a hard time excluding a fourth backup point, Kyle Lowry), but Westbrook is a terror on both ends for the league's co-title favorite, Nash is in SSOL form, and Parker has maintained the Spurs' perennial excellence while Manu Ginobili has missed 25 of 34 games due to injury, leading a team of nobodies (well, and Tim Duncan) to the West's second-best record. LaMarcus Aldridge's excellence is undeniable this season, and Marc Gasol narrowly edges Marcin Gortat as the backup center. (Should Phoenix really get two players on the team?)

James Harden, Kevin Martin, Lowry, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol, and Gortat were worthy of consideration, but in the end I take Millsap for the final spot, after he has led Utah to respectability in a putative rebuilding year. And his stats are boss. This leaves the Western team with only one small forward, but Durant can go all day, and Kobe Bryant could try to defend LeBron James in a pinch with Westbrook at the shooting guard position.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kris Humphries In Focus

I noticed an article today chronicling a warm exchange of greetings between Jeremy Lin and the Nets' Kris Humphries yesterday (February 20th). Lin told Humphries to ignore fans' unyielding boos (due to his failed marriage with Kim Kardashian) and to continue playing his rebound-gobbling game. (Left unsaid in the story is that Lin and Humphries may share a bond as serious Christians.)

Mrs. Bhel Atlantic is a fan of the many Kardashian television shows, and so I somehow have found the courage to sit through numerous hours of their pablum. One thing I noticed is that, while Kim K. is a vapid, shallow, self-centered diva who romances only athletes and entertainers, Kris Humphries was an arrogant boor of a husband. He refused to express support for his wife's career, he criticized her body shape, he made her possibly-gay friend feel extremely uncomfortable, and he tossed Kim halfway across a room onto a bed. Were they still together, I would say that they deserve each other, but in the event, they deserve the obloquy that has attended their divorce.

Getting back to Humphries as a power forward in the Association, he ranks 12th this season in total rebound rate among starting frontcourt players. With Brook Lopez injured for the first half of the season, Humphries has provided the Nets' only board presence and helped Deron Williams stay sane. He might not complement would-be Net Dwight Howard well, however, as he might find himself fighting with the center for paint space. Humphries has also improved his per-game blocked shots rate nearly every season in the league (save one), entering 1.22 BPG this year. He never attempts 3-pointers, although that extra dimension to his game could certainly increase his value. A free agent this July, he will likely be pursued heavily by a championship-level team in need of a third big man off the bench. (The Knicks, for example, could profit from his play. I am not saying that I see the Knicks as a certain title contender, but the early results from the Jeremy Lin era look good, notwithstanding their loss last night to Humphries's Nets.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jeremy Lin Is Amazing and Banal

I blogged before at this site about Jeremy Lin, over three years ago in January 2009. Since then, Lin finished college in June of 2010, joined the Golden State Warriors for the following season, hopped aboard Houston's roster for a few days in December of 2011, and finally found his way to New York. As the undrafted, twice-cut Lin has risen to crazy prominence with his excellent play for the Knicks this month, it is time to revisit this nascent star with some new thoughts.

Via my personal (not my blog-based) email account earlier this week, I was approached by, separately, a New York-based talent agent and a New York-based journalist from one of the major television networks. Both of these individuals wanted to get in touch with Jeremy Lin: one to represent him in his putative Hollywood career and one to speak with him for a career-making interview. My connection with Lin is merely tenuous -- while I have never met him and I am 8 years older than him, I do know a couple of his friends and my name happens to appear on a certain webpage near his. But I was struck that the frenzy over Lin had suddenly made me important -- not for anything I did, but for my apparent indirect value in getting to Lin. (I was not able to help the entreators, as I have no clue how to contact the young Knick.) If I am getting these requests, then I wonder who else is, and what of the people who actually know Lin? Fame must be hard, and knowing a famous person must be hard, as all sorts of strangers suddenly want a piece of you, to help feed the public's thirst for heroes and demigods.

I have not seen any other writer note that with Lin, Christianity has returned to the Knicks, evoking thoughts of the regular Bible study circles that Charlie Ward, Allan Houston, and Kurt Thomas held 10 or 12 years ago during the Knicks' last era of quality ball. The much-lampooned "Nerd Handshake" between Lin and Landry Fields (a Stanford graduate) ends with a finger pointed upwards to the glory of God. And Tyson Chandler, New York's steady center, has a crucifix tattooed on his right arm. I am not aware of any other religiously observant players on the current Knicks roster; Amare Stoudemire may or may not be a converted Jew, but aside from donning the occasional yarmulke, I am not aware that he follows the Jewish rituals. At any rate, overt religious faith seems somewhat uncommon in NBA circles (in contradistinction to the NFL, where many players besides just Tim Tebow credit their maker for touchdowns), and Lin is changing things in New York.

I enjoyed J.A. Adande's article published today on ESPN.com, describing how Lin thrives in New York (but not in Oakland or Houston) because his strengths fit Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive scheme. Adande does not delve enough into the details of the "system", but D'Antoni gives his point guards freedom to dribble the ball all over the court, often moving off ball screens, waiting for something good to happen. To profit from this liberty, a PG needs skilled handle, great vision and passing ability, the ability to finish at the rim when the paint gets crowded, and deadly shooting ability for the moments when defenders hang back to deny any penetration. Steve Nash had plenty of this. Even Ray Felton had a bit last season. Chauncey Billups (at the end of 2010-11) and Toney Douglas (at the start of 2011-12) did not. Lin's herky-jerky driving mechanics are suited well to D'Antoni's plan.

This article from the New York Times published today suggests that every Taiwanese person has paid careful attention in real time to Knick games during the past 10 days, despite the 13-hour time difference between New York City and Taiwan. Other reports indicate that millions of Chinese mainlanders are following Lin daily like a cat eyeing a laser toy. These stories simply struck me that the American self-conception as the world's "indispensible nation" may still have some currency (and that the traditional Chinese casting as the "Middle Kingdom", 中国, may have less than total salience), despite recent economic strides in other large countries. Can you imagine the same type of hysteria in the States over, say, a skinny American midfielder scoring multiple goals for Chelsea or Liverpool? It wouldn't happen, though we know the world's finest soccer is played in Europe. To the Chinese, at least, athletic success on American terms is where it's at. (China's national athletic authority has cultivated young athletes to succeed at gymnastics and hurdles, rather than traditional tug-of-war or cuju.)

Can Lin keep up his great play from the past six games? Of course, a few players in the past have tossed aside a shroud and flashed into the spotlight with sudden bursts of greatness. Consider Ronald "Flip" Murray's play in the first month of the 2003-04 season, when he averaged 22 points per game while starting at off-guard for Seattle in relief of the injured Ray Allen. Murray never again reclaimed the same levels of performance in his career after that torrid stretch. Or, going back several more years, recall what rookie Negele Knight did for Phoenix towards the end of the end of the 1990-91 season, averaging 24 points and 11 assists in a five-game stretch while incumbent point guard Kevin Johnson recovered from an injury. And, well, who remembers Negele Knight? On the other hand, Lin could, in the event, grow into a career like that of Tom Brady, a sixth-round draft pick who became a Hall Of Fame-level talent after an injury to Drew Bledsoe cleared room for the youngster. (The undrafted Ben Wallace or the Arena Football League veteran Kurt Warner are also hopeful templates for Lin.) Who knows? Only time, the adjustments of opposing coaches, and the dedication of Lin will decide if he can sustain this play. At the least, he needs to cut down his turnovers.

Finally, I hope that the media fuss over Lin abates if he continues to play at a high level. Russell Westbrook delivered 22 and 8 in game after game last season, but his reliable play is not deemed "magical" or "Russdiculous", even though he never manned point guard before entering the Association. That is just what Westbrook does. Similarly, we may soon need to adjust our perceptions of Lin if he sustains his big numbers and his penchant for winning. Just as Darko Milicic should not be blamed for being drafted at a position above his ability level, Jeremy Lin should not be patronized as a hard-luck, low-odds, small-school miracle merely because the best college basketball program that recruited him was Harvard. Lin, the Northern California Division II player of the year in 2006, deserved to go to a major hoops university and it didn't happen. He tore up legitimate teams like Boston College or the University of Connecticut during Harvard's non-conference games. He is still of the same caliber as other 2010 draft picks like Evan Turner or Wesley Johnson.