Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Am Now a Multimedia Personality

Hey, I was on my boss at SportsHub LA's internet radio show today. Instead of having me tell you about it, here's the link. Scroll down on the right and you'll find the applet.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I suppose it's my duty to put this up

Here's a link to the Basketball Jones' podcast prominently featuring The Fedora. I feel offended I was mentioned at no point during the coverage of this story. Guess I haven't made it yet. Oh, and new post is up on FreeDarko. Go check it out. CHRISTMAS BREAK!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Slightly Less Crappy than bullets, but not the quality of a real column!

Update: Two new posts I actually like up on MVN. There's a happy one and a sad one. Go forth boldly.

Is anyone else perplexed by the fact that LeBron is a truly horrible dresser? It's odd for two reasons; first of all, I assume, like everyone else, that Nike is more or less running LeBron's public life like the mafia ran Tom Cruise's life in The Firm, so I can't figure out why there wasn't a Gulfstream flying from Oregon to Cleveland the first time LeBron came to the sidelines in jeans and a test pattern.

Second, LeBron makes no bones about MJ being his idol, and seems to be on board with Nike's plan of modeling his persona in the Jordan/Tiger mold. Well, a huge part of Jordan's image was of Jordan as consummate businessman and member of high society. We know now that MJ has a serious gambling problem, still rolls with his old enforcer, whips out the cigars and the cards whenever he gets a chance, damn near ran the Wizards into the ground, and isn't doing the best job with the Bobcats so far; he's nowhere near the businessman that Magic Johnson has been into his retirement. Mostly, MJ was a businessman because he let his name on the right things and looked the part. Nike knows this better than anyone, which means LeBron should know it as well. So why does LeBron dress the way he does?

One thing to note is that LeBron's not dressing like a gangster, which set AI's mainstream acceptance back a good 6 or 7 years. He's just dressing like he's intentionally trying to be goofy, which could tie back to his surprisingly wacky turn as the host of the ESPYs, trying to remind us all that he's a big kid at heart beneath the two kids and 90 million dollars and MVP numbers and the absolving of sins. Or it could just be that he was trying to look like Kanye and Maverick Carter told him it looked good. Or it could be the other end of the bet that led to Drew Gooden's ducktail. As we found out far too well recently, Nike really can't keep their biggest clients in check the way we think they can sometimes.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Redemption in Las Vegas

This summer, the titans of the game, LeBron and Kobe, went to Las Vegas with holes in their hearts and chips on their shoulders, the both of them coming fresh off of utter beatdowns at the hands of better teams. Both of them saw that they still had a ways to go before getting their teams a championship, which LeBron needs to take the next step towards becoming the Next and Kobe needs to redeem the second volume of his story. Both of them saw they had a ways to travel to get the ring, but they would have to go in different directions. LeBron's road led him to look inward, while Kobe had to look outside.

LeBron and the E Street Band's improbable path to the NBA Finals saw LeBron lifting one weight from his shoulders and finding another-in one week, LeBron took the final step in clearing himself of all the "too soft," "doesn't want it bad enough," and "can't make the big shot" labels by slamming the door on the seemingly superior Pistons in games 3 and 4, having his legendary game 5, and then out-thinking the Pistons' reactionary double-coverage with deft passing in game 6 to seal the series. In leading his ragtag bunch to the finals by systematically mixing in his stretches of dominance with deft leadership and team-involvement, LeBron proved himself the consummate team leader, a man capable of putting an entire team on his back and carrying them to an entirely different plane with not just his skills but his knowledge of when to deploy them, a distinction previously reserved for MJ.

Unfortunately, LeBron was stopped cold in his tracks by a San Antonio team hellbent on exposing LeBron's still-incomplete individual game, cutting off his driving lanes, keeping him from getting his teammates involved, and forcing them to beat him by doing something other than going to the basket and leading a trail of bodies in his wake. Their strategy worked; LeBron's mid-range jumper continually fell short, and when he tried to post up Bruce Bowen to keep the defense from loading up on him, his lack of refinement in the post and inability to create easy looks for himself was exposed as well. (Quick aside: KD's got a New Job! Thank God; I was going through withdrawals.) All told, LeBron shot the ball 90 times in 4 games and only made 35% of his shots; in a series decided by 24 points, LeBron knew that while many would say the Cavs were simply overmatched, in reality he knew that the ultimate reason for the loss, or at least the sweep, was that holes remained in his game.

Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant quickly suffered a 5-game loss to the mighty Suns. Kobe played spectacularly in the series, slapping up 33/5/5 on 47% shooting, numbers as good or better than any player in any series during the entire playoffs. Yet Kobe was unable to impose his will on the series the way MJ did back in the day; his greatness failed to carry over to the rest of his team, and only Lamar Odom posted double figures in scoring for a talented offensive team in a high-scoring series. The Suns may even have stifled a chuckle; not only was their strategy to let Kobe get his points and leave his teammates out, they put that strategy in :07 Seconds or Less, which included the Suns' strategy meetings against the Lakers when they met in the playoffs the previous season. Coupled with Kobe's inexplicable fold in Game 7 the previous year, many began to say (okay, this is mostly my theory, but I think a lot of people secretly thought it), that while Kobe had raised his game to a level of individual perfection not seen since Jordan, he did not possess the mysterious and intangible quality that Jordan acquired in the legendary stage of his career-the ability to individually control any and every game, to make his teammates better, and to win big games through sheer savvy and force of will. While Kobe was great as Shaq's partner, and may even have been better than Shaq in the 3rd championship year, as an alpha dog he was no Jordan. Kobe then compounded all the questions about his leadership by getting caught on tape ripping teammate and future franchise center Andrew Bynum, and capped it all off by demanding a trade on May 30th, looking to flee the team he had ultimately built in his image by chasing out Shaq. (I know this is now a disputed point-Kobe was a free agent, and made it clear to the Laker brass that if they retained Shaq, he was not going to sign with the team, forcing them to choose. It's in Phil Jackson's book, and I'm going to trust him on this one.)

Then, as it so often does, Las Vegas changed everything in a hurry. On a team full of franchise guys like Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Dwight Howard, 'Melo and LeBron, Kobe stepped into the alpha dog role with ease. On a team that even LeBron and 'Melo said was Kobe's to command, Kobe checked his ego at the door; the NBA's scoring leader the last two seasons kept his shots in check, finishing 3rd on the team in scoring. He stayed within the offense, almost never forcing a fadeaway, and made sure the hot scorers kept the ball in their hands. He gladly took the toughest assignment on defense every night and gave his man 40 minutes of hell. He even gave pep talks. He was, finally, the undisputed leader of a truly great team.

Meanwhile, LeBron, the memory of all those bricked midrange jumpers still fresh in his mind, came out and unleashed his new jumper on the unsuspecting international community. It was revealed that he'd been more or less living with a shooting coach all summer, and had taken the fade and "string-pull" out of his shot entirely, making him LeBron 2.0. This was not the LeBron we'd come to know and love over four years, disregarding entire chunks of the "right way" playbook and instead simply overpowering everyone with his unprecedented bag of skills. This was the perfect machine of basketball, drilling spot-up jumpers when he didn't feel like just going right through everyone and throwing it down. His 11-11 game shows a game so perfect it's legitimately frightening. After a 35% performance in the Finals, LeBron shot 76% in the FIBAs, along with 62% from beyond the three-point arc. And he led the team in assists. For one shining tournament, LeBron not only could do many things better than anybody had ever dreamed of, but his game was entirely devoid of flaws. Somewhere, Charley Rosen officially gave up.

Then, just like in the real world, the summer was over and reality set in-it's a lot harder to lead a normal team to glory than a team whose worst player is probably better than anyone else in the tournament's best player, and it's a lot harder to hit shots when you don't have Jason Kidd, Kobe, and Carmelo setting you up with perfect looks. While Kobe may never triumphantly lead a team he can truly call his own to the promised land, and LeBron will almost certainly never shoot 76% over an entire season, Kobe and LeBron have been able to carry over some of the lessons from their summer of redemption into the games that count. Kobe's "only" scoring 27 points a game this year, and has yet to enter himself into the MVP discussion, but his team is off to a solid 11-8 start, and youngsters Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum are blossoming under Kobe's leadership. What's more, Kobe is starting to show the will to win games by himself; tonight, Kobe put the upstart Nuggets and AI's 41 points away with an MJ-style 4th quarter. Finally, Kobe vetoed an offer that would have put him alongside Chauncey, Rasheed, and the rest of a Pistons squad almost undoubtedly more talented than Kobe's Laker teammates, and in the weaker Eastern Conference to boot, showing, at least to me, that Kobe's committed to sticking with the Lakers and being the kind of leader he was in Vegas.

Meanwhile, LeBron's team is 9-11, and clearly worse at this point than Boston, Orlando, and Detroit, who have their swag back; while the team could afford to go without LeBron for a game or two last year, this year they've become dependent on him, and have looked positively lost during his 4-game injury stint. However, LeBron is getting as close as we've ever seen anyone to individual perfection, putting up an obscene 31/8/8 nightly on 49% shooting, putting up triple-doubles and 40-point games so often they're just not surprising anymore. His jumper is still a weakness, and he's only at 70% from the free throw line, but a new post game and commitment to going all-out every night have allowed him to seize the crown of the league's best right now.

LeBron and Kobe still have a long road ahead of them, but here's hoping that what happened in Vegas for those two will know the rest.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Where to go for Your Advanced Basketball Stats

First off, here's a link to an epic post I slapped up on SportsHub LA about all the games during USC/UCLA weekend, which even got linked on TrueHoop with a glaring grammatical error right there in the quoted paragraph. Hey, it's not like I'm an English major or anything.

Today's Berri/Bynum/Kobe debacle made me finally get around to putting up a kind of "Beginner's Guide To Advanced Basketball Stats," which I've wanted to do for a while. I'm a bit of a stats junkie: when I read "Moneyball" as a kid, a light kind of went off in my head and I've been a die-hard stats guy ever since; I'm a huge proponent of knowing everything possible about a topic before forming an opinion, and a big reason I don't write about baseball is that guys like Bill James have nearly reduced the game to a science, and I don't think there's more informative/insightful work on baseball than what the guys at Baseball Prospectus are doing, and I don't have anywhere near the resources to keep up with them and tell people anything Prospectus can't. I could say "The Yankees should think about the fact that horrible, horrible things often happen to teams that put a lot of stock into young pitching," and mention the A's and Cubs, but BP could easily break out an analysis of age, usage rates, and everything else and have a definite answer where I could only offer a few anecdotes. Because of the team nature of basketball, it's still more art than science, which is why it's much more fun for me to write about.

That being said, there's been a movement to provide Moneyball-type basketball statistics in the last few years, and of course I've been keeping up. Here are my favorite advanced-stats websites:

1. John Hollinger

Synopsis:'s resident basketball statistician and thus probably the best-known one of all, which is fortunate, because he's probably better than anyone else at navigating the uneasy divide between basketball science and basketball art.

Signature Statistic: PER (Player Efficency Rating), a stat that takes all of a player 's points, shooting percentage, rebounds, assists, etc. on a per-minute basis and puts them into one individual statistic.

Uniting Theory: Basketball stats should not be measured by the gross of what they do over a game or a season, because those numbers are skewed by usage, pace, league conditions, and minutes played but what players and teams to on a per-possession basis.

Useful Statistics: True Shooting %(Takes free throws and 3-pointers into account and gives a shooting percentage based on all of those-hugely valuable when comparing guys like Shaq and Steve Nash), "pace" factor (how many possessions a team uses in a given game), usage rate (how many possessions a player uses in a given game), assist ratio (what % of a player's possessions end in assists), rebound ratio (what percentage of rebounds a player pulls down).

Sample John Hollinger Column: A great piece about how the point guards that age well are the ones that shoot well, have good size, and pass well, while the ones that do only one or none of those things will fall off rapidly after 30.

Pretentiousness factor: Low to Moderate. Hollinger believes in his statistics, but knows they don't exist in a vacuum; in his player previews, he includes a more conventional paragraph explaining what about that player may have caused his numbers to fail to describe him, such as that player's defense, how young players can mess up his system, how he'll be playing a different role this year, how a trade may have affected his team, etc. However, if you argue with one of his findings, like that a team's true quality is better calculated by their average scoring margin than their actual wins and losses, prepare to feel his wraith.


Synopsis: Essentially a no-frills pile of stats compiled by a small army of "game charters" who watch every game and record things that aren't reflected in a box score.

Signature Statistic: +/-, which was started on and subsequently grabbed by the NBA and now exists as the Lenovo Statistic. Their catch-all statistic is the "Roland Rating," which puts +/- along with the player's PER and his defensive counterpart's PER to make an overall rating.

Uniting Theory: Hey, there's a lot of things that happen in an NBA game that aren't in a box score! Let's record them!

Usful Stats: Breakdown of each player's shots into jumpers, "close" shots, and dunks, with how many of each the player takes and their percentage on each, +/- statistics for offense, defense, and rebounding, if their assists led to 3s, jumpers, layups, or dunks, crunch time statistics, data on which players play well together, production by position...the list goes on.

Sample Column: Their columns are an extension of their site; examinations of interesting things. (Last-second shot performance, how teams perform after timeouts, who took the most charges, etc. They've shied away from more ambitious columns like "The value of a Steve Nash" in recent years, although they did just do a nice study on how the pre-season reflects on the actual season.

Pretentiousness Factor: Zero. You can easily spend 20 minutes on without seeing a word, and most of their columns are basically "Hey, here's a table! Here's what the table says! I wonder what that means!"

3. The Wages of Wins guys

Synopsis: The first chapter of their book, The Wages of Wins, said that it intended to be basketball's answer to Moneyball. Naturally, I plowed through it. When I finished it, I felt sick to my stomach. That's all I'll say for now.

Uniting Theory: They've run retroactive regression analysis on past games, and have decided that they can then go back and assign "wins" to each player based on his rebounds, assists, and scoring efficiency. Usage means nothing to them: They believe that it a player who goes 2 for 3 is more valuable than a player who goes 18 of 30, since a team ends up shooting on every possession anyways. However, they do not believe that carries over to rebounding, and believe that Jason Kidd's 8 rebounds per game is in no way effected by the fact that his big men are poor rebounders. Based on this, they award each player with a number of "wins," even though the numbers don't carry over-the 5 best players each year amass a cumulative win total of over 82, which clearly shows the rating is fluid, but they stick to it like it is absolute. Their unifying theory is a load of crap. I'm an English major who intends never to take another math class in his life, so I'm out of my league with this stuff, but Hollinger and the guys at 82games have both written up pretty convincing cases against the book, so read those, since those guys know what they're talking about better than I do.

Signature Statistic: "WP48" (Wins Produced per 48 minutes), which I described above.

Useful Statistics: None. Everything is about WP or WP48, which are both essentially useless takes on data everyone already has.

Pretentiousness Factor: Extreme. These guys firmly believe that everything they say is right and everyone in the NBA is stupid for not believing them, and never comment on when things like Ben Wallace being a horrifying bust happens. In their book, they drop gems like "People fail to consider that points scored in the first quarter count just the same as points scored in the 4th quarter" and "If every team played their mascot, people would conclude that the mascot is an integral part of the game." They're even annoying when they're right, saying things like "People say that Adam Morrison is on his way to Rookie of the Year this year. But what has he done well? Basically, he's shot more than anyone else. So what he's good at is throwing the ball towards the basket." Of course, maybe we deserve to be talked down to: not all of us are able to see into the future and know that Nick Fazekas will be better than Al Horford and Greg Oden. I'm being a bit hypocritical in dishing out venom to these guys when my big problem with them is their attitude, but these guys get under my skin. I'm sorry. Go to the first two sites, and hopefully we can keep anyone from trying to reduce the beauty of basketball to some sort of Excel experiment, and not even being right.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

LeBron Domination Check, Bullets, Links

-Before we get into LeBron's ridiculous numbers, look at what he's been doing to win games: The Cavs are 9-6 right now. They have led 1 game after 3 quarters. That is not a misprint. They are 6-6 in games they're losing over three quarters, easily the best winning % in the NBA from that spot, and 2-0 when tied after 3 quarters, like they were when the Cavs beat the Celtics tonight. The reason for this is LeBron. In crunch time, (less than 5 minutes left to play, neither team up by more than 5), LeBron is averaging 76 points per 48 minutes on well over 50% shooting, with 9.6 assists per 48 minutes to boot. Most superstars have clutch stats significantly worse than their normal stats.

-Today's "LeBron is putting up ungodly numbers" stat: When you combine points, rebounds, and assists, LeBron is at 723. #2 is Dwight Howard at 615.

-Heroes watch: Hey, Peter, if you can read minds, how about READING EVIL ADAM'S MIND SO HE STOPS PLAYING YOU LIKE AN IDIOT! Also, is the thing that concerns you most about the upcoming holocaust losing your moderately attractive girlfriend of a few weeks? Christ. Liked Sylar's story. 1 twin down... and every minute you spend in New Orleans trying to get that backpack back is a minute of your life you owe me. By the way, do you guys just tune out when I start talking about TV? I watch too much of it, so I figure I might as well write about it here, but if I'm wasting your time I'll stop. Lemme know.

-New Post on MVN. Go boldly.

-New Post on Free Darko should be up sometime this morning. By the time I wake up to edit this, it'll probably already be up, so just check the site.

-Quitting smoking this week. Wish me luck.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Artsy Movies! Jemele Hill! Nepotism! Patricide! Bullets!

I've got posts awaiting editing for SportsHub and Free Darko (I have editors now!), so for now you'll have to make do with some bullets:

-I really liked the last episode of Heroes, although I'm disappointed they decided to call it "Cautionary Tales" instead of "Patricide!" What we learned from the last episode(sub-bullets alert!)

-Claire ruining her father's carefully-laid plans by being a whiny teenager and wanting to stay with her boyfriend of three weeks: boo. The moral: women ruin everything.

-Moral #2: Mohinder ruins everything. Also, there has never been a completely successful standoff/prisoner trade in the history of television or movies.

-I'm really glad that HRG isn't dead, since he's one of my two favorite characters on the show(and now that Sylar's stuck with the twins, he's got the #1 spot locked up), but I'm annoyed that he has to be brought back to life. One of Lost's great rules is "when someone's dead, they're really, really dead." With time-travel and now Claire's magic blood, death on Heroes has officially reached Princess Bride-style degrees; kinda dead, mostly dead, and Malcolm McDowell. Also, they could have picked up "Don't add two annoying Hispanic characters who have nothing to do with anything for no reason, because people will hate them with a passion," from Lost. At least they learned to copy the shifting purpose of "The Others."

-Wow, I should have figured out that the hooded guy was Adam sooner. I'm terrible at spotting these sorts of things.

-Parkman's power doesn't suck at all! Hooray!

-HRG warming up to Claire's boyfriend and talking to him about cars: wonderful.

-Do you think Claire's brother has to tell people he's on Heroes? Does he use that as a pick-up line? Does it work?

-Do you think Peter absorbed the Haitian guy's power? Or is his absorbing a power that was blocked by the Haitian guy? I've always wondered if he would absorb his power and use it to block out his power of blocking out powers, then open up a can of blasting on his ass. I think too much about this stuff.

-Great article on College A Capella Groups. Full disclosure: the guy who wrote it has been my friend since 1st grade. Still, it's awesome. And it's pretty mean, so if you love A Capella, go over there and give him crap-friends should go through being torn apart by anonymous people together.

-Straight guys can really like Alicia Keyes, right? I mean, she's really hot. Yeah, I don't like her music at all. I just like looking at her. That's the ticket.

-Am I the only person who really likes Jemele Hill's writing? Judging by the comments on her articles, I might be, and that's a bummer, because I think she's really good; she writes about stuff most writers wouldn't touch with a 30-foot pole, and manages to offer a cogent and well-written viewpoint on it. She's not always right, but I don't believe a writer has to be right about everything to be effective; if they were, they'd be the ones actually making the decisions. I always come away from her pieces entertained and thought-provoked, which is enough for me.

-Watched Requiem For A Dream last night. I don't swear on this blog, so I can't really describe how it made me feel accurately, but that (stuff) was (quite) intense. I was (indeed) shaking by the end of that (mother-enjoying) movie. Most terrifying movie I've ever seen in my life.

-LeBron: 34,7,and 7! 11-22 shooting and 11-12 free throws! Cavs lose! 1-7 from 3; the annual "Hey, LeBron's hitting 40% of his threes this year!" period has officially ended. Come back next November.

-Amare had a 26-13; please return, Amare. Meanwhile, Mike D'Antoni played his starters 35 minutes each and played 8 guys in total. Hey, it's not like his teams have ever run out of gas in the playoffs or anything.

-THE CAPTAIN HATH RETURNED AND THE WARRIORS SHALL SHINE ON. Also, Eddie Curry has resumed sucking, although it's not like the Bulls are dominating without him right now. However, my rookie of the year pick of Joakim Noah over Kevin Durant isn't looking quite as stupid now, is it, world?

-Andray Blatche went ahead and poured in a 26/8/4 on 12-14 shooting. Apparently just being involved in a trade rumor with the Cavaliers will make you better now. I fully expect Mike Bibby to start putting up 35/13 after he comes back.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Various News And Notes at 3:30 in the morning

-I have my life back; my pledge semester is over and I MADE IT. We started with 24; 13 of us finished. It's a good feeling. Between having actual free time and the television writer's strike, expect a lot more posts; I'm shooting for 3-5 per week between here, MVN, SportsHub, and Free Darko.

-Here's My 1st Post on Free Darko, about how the NBA perceives class. I thought it turned out pretty decent; not quite as strong as I wanted to make my 1st post, but FD posts are really, really hard to write. Also, those commenters are really, really smart. You gotta bring your A game to FD.

-My 1st real post on SportsHub. In a word: yikes. I thought this was one of the best ideas I'd ever had, and emailing it along to Shoals ultimately ended up with me getting my dream job at FD. It ended up getting a reception somewhere in between Jenni Carlson's column and Howard Dean's "yeaaaaaargh!" I got absolutely freaking murdered over there, which really hasn't happened to any extent since my Durant piece, and even then there were a lot of positive comments. Also, Durant did make an amazing game-winner, but he's shooting under 40% with low assist and rebound totals and a 2-7 team, so I'm still not ready to call that a bad column. This was a bad column, for a number of reasons:

-The comparison that made perfect sense in my head was a bit of a stretch; it's always going to be hard for the lines of a fictional aristocrat and a shooting guard to match up, and if you don't want to see it, it's easy to poke holes in.

-I tried waaaaaaaaaaaay too hard to sound sophisticated and literary when I should have just stuck to sports stuff; sometimes I forget that I've only been studying English for a few months, and I'm really not even doing that well in my English classes, when a lot of my colleagues have Masters degrees and have been writing professionally for some time, so when I try to show off as a writer next to those guys, I just look stupid. Good lesson to learn, but I would have preferred to learn it when I wasn't posting my 1st essay on a site I'm really excited to be a part of.

-I'm trying to follow LBJ's example and be a "no-excuses" writer, but Jesus H. Christ, LA fans are tough. I think I got a little used to Cleveland fans, who are generally Midwestern, filled with a sense of doom about their team, and will hence never get all that defensive about their players; my colleague/boss at MVN has named Larry Hughes "Laura", Mike Brown should be happy he's not in effigy somewhere, and even LeBron is far from immune to criticism-the leading poster on the best Cavs message board on the internet's avatar was Dwayne Wade with the Jim O'Brien trophy for several months last year. On the other hand, Lakers fans are coastal and harsh, filled with pride over their storied Lakers, and ridiculously defensive about their own players, especially Kobe. When I get my degree, I'm moving to Wisconsin. End of story.

I still think the article was a bad idea, but I still don't think I got a fair shake; I thought I executed on that post better than I did on my "Price of the Game," which I walked away from thinking I'd really failed to do the idea justice because of my shortcomings as a writer, and I've felt the same way about lots of other posts that have gotten picked up and gotten positive receptions. Okay, I'm just bitching now, but getting absolutely crucified will shake you up, especially when you're suddenly writing along with guys from The LA Times and ESPN, not to mention your idol, and are wondering how the hell you're supposed to be able to do that when you can't even pull a B in Writing 140. All writers are insecure: Malcolm freaking Gladwell, the best non-fiction writer on the planet, came back with a "hey, screw you," post on his blog when one of his New Yorker pieces got slammed by commenters. Bill Simmons, one of the best and most influential sportswriters out there, will shoot back at his detractors in veiled and not-so-veiled ways.

I'm a writer too, and unlike those guys, I don't have a huge guaranteed readership or, for that matter, any salary at all right now; it was a big sign of confirmation for me to get the jobs at SportsHub and Free Darko, so to see my 1st posts there met with ambivalence/outright hatred sent me for a bit of a loop. Add the fact that I'm 18 years old and have been pledging for the last 10 weeks of my life, and just try and fathom how insecure I am right now. I'm officially on Marlboro Reds now. I appreciate all feedback on my writing, positive or negative, and when I started this blog and accepted those jobs, I signed up to accept any and all criticism; I've never deleted a comment, and never intend to. However, I do my best to avoid making personal attacks on the athletes/coaches/executives I write about; occasionally, I break that rule, because I'm still the kid who made one too many wise-ass remarks in English class deep down, but I try to be as ridiculous as possible when I do, and I never, ever, ever make character attacks on amateur athletes. I'm an amateur writer, and while I respect free speech and your right to say what you want, remember that I'm reading all these comments and taking them to heart, and that I am a real person sitting in Leavy Library trying to write stuff that's fun to read for free. Call me a pussy if you want to, but that's how I feel.

-Okay, got a little side-tracked there. Last new post is on MVN, about why LeBron has improved so much this year for reasons we didn't expect. Have a good night, everyone.

Friday, November 9, 2007


In November 2006, I started writing about basketball by posting on a great little message board called One year later, I've made it. I just officially joined Free Darko. That's right. Free Freaking Darko. My absolute favorite NBA website on the planet. I've been reading it avidly for 2 years, and now I'm actually a part of it. Couple that with the excitement of joining SportsHub LA, and I'm really on a high right now-I feel like I can actually do this with the big boys. Thank all of you so much for allowing me to do this.

I'm now a member of 4 sites, including this beautiful little blog right here, so I'll be spread pretty thin posting-wise. (A reminder; my pledge semester ends Wednesday, which means I get to go back to "work" full-time.) Here's my basic schedule/plan for how I'm going to try and make good contributions to all these sites:

MVN: Cavs recaps, thoughts about the Cavs, Cavs-related things, generally fairly quick-hit, with the occasional essay mixed in there.

SportsHub: Laker/Clipper recaps, with longer posts about the LA basketball scene, including USC hoops (1st game Saturday!)

Free Darko: Long-Form NBA conjecture, generally dealing with FD things like meaning and implication, 3-4 times a month because it's not easy to come up with FD-worthy ideas.

TBF: Everything else, from goofier essays, bullet points, thoughts on TV, and essays that aren't about the Cavs, Lakers, or Clippers but aren't quite thought-provoking enough to be on Free Darko.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My Season of Discontent

Hey, everyone. It's two in the morning right now, and I can't sleep. My pledge semester ends in a week, and I am officially a miserable shell of a human being. Perhaps that's why the NBA's first week has brought me more misery than happiness so far, but most of the major and not-so-major developments in the NBA so far have made me extremely displeasured. I might come back in a little with the things that are making me happy, but right now the list is essentially Boobie Gibson, nicotine, and Tom Jones' duet with Joss Stone. I probably feel worse about loving that than loving smoking, but I'll be damned if I don't love em' both. Anywhere, here's my list of misery:

1. Kobe's failure to doody or get off the pot

This was supposed to be the year when the Kobe in LA saga would finally come to its conclusion, with Kobe tiring of toiling in relative mediocrity and making a final push to either achieve greatness or finally implode unto himself like a dying star. Instead he's still with the Lakers, and he's playing pretty much the same way he did last year; unassailable greatness without true transcendence, mixing flashes of dominance with stretches of quasi-dominance, switching between singularly driven bursts of revenge basketball and a vague attempt to understand the dynamics of team greatness that remain opaque to Kobe despite all his efforts, with the ring he can call his own haunting him the way Daisy Buchanon haunted Jay Gatsby as he strove to make himself perfect in order to gain access to a place of bliss that his own hubris made it impossible for him to inhabit. Instead of drawing to an awe-inspiring crescendo, his story continues to linger, and I'm tired of waiting.

2. LeBron's failure to become the ultimate weapon

This summer, we saw a vision of the perfect basketball player; LeBron James, he gifted as none before him have ever been, was supposed to have gone home this summer and have brushed up his weaknesses, specifically his outside shooting and free throw shooting, and on top of that, he said he was adding post moves. Oh, and he got laser surgery to give him 20-15 vision. He then proceeded to flash his new pretty form at the FIBAs en route to making 2/3rds of his 3s. This was the season LeBron was to become the ultimate machine of basketball. And even though he's giving a crap and playing great so far this season, he continues to struggle with the weaknesses we all assumed would be cured by time and work; he went 3-11 on long jumpers last night, and 7-15 on free throws. Now I may be forced to cope with the fact that LeBron has a ceiling, which I refuse to do.

3. Boston's big 3 imploding horrifyingly on itself

I love KG. I love Ray Allen. I like Paul Pierce. It's somewhat enjoyable to watch them all play perfectly together, but how much more fun would it have been if they became a horrifying new version of the Knicks, especially since the Knicks have slid into unfunny mediocrity? KG probably would have punched someone out by now, and Doc Rivers would probably start wearing body armor to games. And admit it, we're all rooting for a little Boston failure right now. Of course, this may be lingering resentment over the fact that they were given the East Championship before the season started while my team got written off after WINNING THE THING LAST YEAR. Freaking East Coast Bias.

4. The Suns going establishment on us

At this point, they're really just a skilled pick-and-roll team with a great point guard and quality shooters. They've lost their breakneck pace, regularly scoring less than 100 points. More horrifyingly, the beast that is Amare is still MIA-seeing him fire up 20-foot jumpers is like seeing Che Guevarra take over and then decide it might be time to keep everything the way it is, except for some possible changes in tax law.

5. Gilbert losing his swag

If there's one guy who earned his superstar rep all the way, it's Agent 0. Now that he's fallen, the dogs are all over him like a fallen piece of meat, and it's not pretty to watch.

6. AI2 in hiatus

What happened to the guy that was an MVP candidate after Iverson left last year? Now he's gone back to being tantalizing. I hate tantalizing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Case Study in Draft Busting: The North Carolina Tarheels

With Florida's vaunted repeat champion teams entering the NBA this year, being picked at #3, 7, 9, 41, and 52, I got to thinking about the last individual college team with such rosy draft prospects and college success, the Carolina Tarheels of the 2005 NBA draft. Essentially, not one of them has proven themselves to be effective NBA players yet, which would seem like disturbing news to the Hawks, Timberwolves, Bulls, and Blazers. But let's break it down: how is this new crop of Florida boys similar to the 2005 NC team? How are they different? Will they ultimately bust the same way the 'heels did? As usual, I have no idea at the start of the post, so hopefully we'll find something more conclusive than in my point guard week starting post, which yielded disappointing results.

So let's get down to it.

Raymond Felton:

An ultra-quick, pass-first true point guard who had quarterbacked his team to an NCAA championship, Felton could well have been considered the safest pick of the 3,4,5 combo of points in 2005, as he had more of a history of success than Chris Paul and, at 6-1, didn't have his height concerns, and had the athletic talents to save him from the "college body, college game" concerns surrounding Deron Williams. Paul had the best rookie point guard year in recent memory, and is generally considered to already be a member of the elite PG tribunal with Nash and Kidd, while Williams shook off a subpar rookie season and led his team to a Conference Championship birth. Meanwhile, Felton toiled for the lowly Bobcats, averaging a seemingly solid 13 points and 7 assists on with an abysmal 38.4% FG and 3 turnovers per game.

Why has Williams fared so much worse than Paul and Williams, and the average NBA point guard? First of all, Felton is a worse passer than those two, although that's a bit unfair because while Felton is certainly a very good passer, Williams and Paul are spectacular passers, averaging 10+ assists per 48 minutes with stellar turnover numbers.

The real problem with Felton is that he can't score. IT IS NOT THAT HE CAN'T SHOOT. Allow me to explain. Around draft time, teams tend to look at a few things from point guards: Passing ability, Speed, Outside Shooting, Size, Leadership, and Defense. Felton's only weakness in those categories is outside shooting; with a .423% mark on jumpers, he's in the bottom half of NBA guards. However, there are many extremely effective point guards in the NBA who shoot from outside just as badly, if not worse, than Felton. Williams only shoots .468%, and Paul only shoots .433%.

Raymond Felton's unforgivable sin is that he can't finish inside, and he isn't too good at drawing fouls. Felton has blinding speed, which allows him to take a full 1/3rd of his shots from "inside"; that's more than Paul and Williams, who are at 30% and 32%, and draws a comparable amount of fouls. However, while Paul and Williams can finish inside at clips of .544% and .552%, respectably, Felton's "inside" mark is all the way down at .458%. Devin Harris and Tony Parker don't hit effectively from outside either, but their "inside" marks are both well over .600%.

The error made in projecting Felton was that his low FG% was due to poor shooting, which is a forgivable weakness that can be fixed over time, either by improving the shot or building your game around going to the hole. However, when a quick guard can't finish inside, he will have serious, possibly unsolvable problems being effective at the next level. Teams need to be wary of the difference between "bad shooter" and "bad scorer" when drafting players like Felton.

Shaun May and Rashad McCants:

There's probably something in here about Rashad being a dreaded "tweener," a shooter who really isn't shooting guard size,(different from Dwayne Wade, whose athleticism makes him not really a tiny shooting guard but a freaking dynamo who is faster and stronger than any shooting guard he faces), and May being a guy who could dominate the paint in college but doesn't have the body to do so in the pros, but mainly they've both had major knee surgeries. That's not good.

Marvin Williams:

We all know what happened with Marvin Williams; he never quite became a star, averaged 13 points per game last year on 43% shooting, and is probably the 4th-best forward on the Atlanta Hawks. Meanwhile, Deron Williams and Chris Paul, the players picked directly behind him, are on their way to becoming all-stars while the Hawks only now have a player that resembles a point guard.

Really, Marvin went ahead and combined all the ways a prospect can bust; like Felton, he's a poor finisher inside. (.507 eFG% on "inside" shots, which is abysmal for a forward.) Like McCants and May, he really hasn't found an NBA position that works for him; he's not enough of a physical player for the 4, and he lacks the skills to play the 3. Most importantly, Marvin never really developed "be-the-man-ittude"; instead of a player whose gifts were stifled by a college system and busted out in the pros, he was a talented 6th man in college, and seems content to play that role in the pros, despite the fact he's more gifted than 90% of the players he faces. It's honestly tough to predict which guys will bust out; just look at Andre Iguodala. On top of the standard hidden plagues that hinder his teammates, he's a huge Dunleavy head case, making him the biggest disappointment of all on a team full of them.

Monday, November 5, 2007

I Have Another New Job!

Good News, everyone!

Brian Kamenetsky, formerly of the L.A. Times and ESPN the Magazine, is starting up a website for L.A. sports, Sports Hub LA. He describes it as a "Huffington Post-type project, combining mainstream access with outsider opinion to create a 1-stop site for L.A. Sports." I'm excited about that, and I've never heard of the Huffington Post in my life. One look at their roster and I was completely sold-a slew of LA Times and ESPN journalists, not to mention the immortal Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog. Looking at that, I was convinced they'd made some type of mistake by hiring me, but far be it from me to correct them.

Even though I'm mainly a Bay Area guy, with a random allegiance to the Cleveland Cavaliers, I'm hugely excited about this opportunity; I'm going to get to be an actual member of the media, with access and everything. If you love Los Angeles sports, this site is the place for you to go. I'm still keeping the blog, of course, but I encourage all of you to hop over there as soon as you get a chance. Thank all of you guys so much for giving me the support I needed to get this opportunity-without you, I'm just shouting at the wall.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Playoff Manifesto #3: Damon Jones!

Can be found here, over at MVN's Cavs site, which I'm a member of and don't write enough for. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Season Manifesto #2: Kobe Bryant!

Hello. I am Kobe Bryant. I will destroy you.

Our team is having a tough time right now. We have a talented young center, a great young playmaking guard, a quality veteran guard, a former all-star forward, a fantastic hustle forward, and a great glue guy in Luke Walton. However, all of them suck. Not one of them can score while I'm shooting the ball. Could I please get some help? I need a trade, but preferably to a great team that needs a guy to score 30 points per game for them, and wouldn't need to trade any good players in order to get me. Is that so hard? If I had some great players around me, then I'd be happy. Of course, I wouldn't want them to be too good, or I'd chase them out of town. Call up the Mavericks and trade me for Josh Howard and DeSagina Diop. Sure, we'd be worse as a team, but the important thing is that I'd be happy.

What I need is an efficient 20 ppg scorer who doesn't need to dominate the ball all the time to get his points, like that Caron Butler. Oh, right. I had him, and then his points and assists went up playing next to Gilbert Arenas, while I carried out the legacy of my idol by further destroying Kwame Brown's psyche.

Look, I'm a good teammate. I pass a good 4 or 5 times a game. When one of my teammates gets mad about me shooting too much or playing outside the system, I put my arm around them and talk to them like they're 12. I give young players advice on how to play within their limits while I shoot 30 times a game. I pretend to play really good defense for 10 minutes a game. Look at tonight-for 5 minutes near the end of the 1st quarter, I got right up in his grill and SHUT HIM DOWN before handing him off to Luke Walton and letting him score 30 points on 20 shots and 12 free throws. And whenever I sell out one of my teammates, I make sure not to do it to their face.

I'm stuck here in LA for now, and I've decided that the best way for us to grow as a young team is by shooting more. Tonight, I shot 32 times and shot 27 free throws, a full half of our team's shots. I made sure to lead the team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Giving Bynum touches in the low-post or letting Farmar run a pick-and-roll might seem to help them, but ultimately they'll best improve by watching me take on double-teams all night long. That's why I tell Phil to keep Bynum buried in favor of Turiaf and Kwame; not only have those guys learned not to shoot, but by destroying Bynum, I will further prove my genius over Jerry Buss by undermining the team completely. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go practice shooting fadeaways over triple-teams.*

*I did not mean any of what I just said. I love the Lakers, love my coach, and my only goal this year is to win a championship with my current team. Also, I support global warming research. And for you young people, I have nicknamed myself Black Mamba. I can do the Soulja Boy. These things are "swaggerous," as you say. Why don't more people like me?

Season Manifesto #1: Andrei Kirilenko!

Greetings America,

I am Andrei Kirilenko. I had problem with Jazz management over the off-season. I enjoy to play the power forward. They tell me Carlos Boozer is power forward. In seasons past, I deal with this problem by calling my friend Vladimir and having them break Carlos' feet. Then I play power forward. However, Vladimir is now in the jail. But I will still play the power forward. Tonight, I poison Mehmet Okur's water, and he only play 13 minutes. However, they put Paul Milsap at the power forward then.

The Jazz did not trade me, and I was unable to escape to Russia. I still hate Jerry Sloan, but am forced to play for him. I have come up with solution. I will play very hard, but my allegiance will not be for him.

This season, I will play entirely for the purpose of fantasy basketball. My line tonight was 9 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, 5 blocks, 3 turnovers, and a foul. Scoring points would make team win. I am not interested in making team win. I am interested in my value in 8-category roto leagues. If I am wide-open for dunk, I will pass to teammate with jumping shot to get assist. I will not block the ball to my teammates, but back at the other team so that I can get another block. I will stop playing man-to-man defense and begin only attempting to get blocks and steals. I will box out my own teammates for rebounds. I will deliberately miss shots in the paint so that I may rebound them. I will throw passes as hard as I can at opposing players so that they will bounce off of them and I can get the steal. I will bribe scorer so that he give me assists on entry passes.

Jerry Sloan will continue to give me the 40 minutes, or I will use my free pass to sleep with his wife. I will be successful in my quest. Did you see Enemy At The Gates? That tells you all you need to know about Russians. We never surrender. I am like the Jude Law, except in real life there would have been no triangles of loving; my wife would have been down for the threesome.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Before we get to "work," lets get some bullets in

-World Series is over! Now I don't feel any pressure to try and write about baseball anymore! Hurrah. Let's kill this baseball season with some final thoughts.

-Papelbon: The new Rivera. He's got essentially one pitch, you can't hit it, and when he's in, the game is over. Over. Whenever the game had less than 6 outs to go, there was no doubt. His personality puts him one up on Rivera: he's got my favorite on-field demeanor of any pitcher; normally, Fox cutting away from the sign and location of the upcoming pitch to do close-ups of the pitcher being pensive drives me insane, but that look in Papelbon's eye as he gets ready to fire is the coolest thing ever. And when he's not on the field, he's a total lunatic. Perfect.

-Dialogue from Marks Tower, room 804, as the game ended:

Friend #1: "Baseball coaches don't do anything."
Friend #2: "They change the entire dynamic of the team! They have to decide what kind of team it is and manage accordingly!"
Friend#1: "They're not like football coaches."
Friend #2: "Football coaches aren't all that important. They have coordinators to call the plays for them."
Me: "Dude, look at the Rams, or the Chargers after they got Norm. Football coaches matter."
Friend #1: "Exactly. When the Rams had Vermeil, they were great. Then they got Martz, and they were all offense. Now they just suck."
Me: "World Series is over."
Friend #1: "Oh."

Yep, enthralling World Series all around. At least the Red Sox have something interesting going for them.

-Movies I rented from the film major down the hall from me #1: Momento. Great movie. Ingenious premise, perfectly executed, great twists and turns, everything done right. 4 stars.

-USC is officially out of the national championship race. Sanchez screwing up means that there's no real reason to start Booty again, because we're not winning this year and might as well give the kid the reps now. Of course, he'll end up starting again anyways because of the bizzare nature of college football.

-Watched the Patriots play for the first time today. Holy Crap. Not much left to say; they really do look like Madden.

-Boykins is available. Worth a flyer, because we could always use more guards, but I think I've mentioned that Boobie is essentially a better version of him in his G-State years, so I'm not killing myself over it. Juwan Howard is available too; at this point in his career, he's a decent scorer who can't guard anybody. Pass.

-Ben Affleck is going to be Hollywood's Al Gore: Rise, backlash, redemption. On the flip side, George W. Bush is Washington's Pauly Shore: Career enabled by who his parents were, always disliked by intellectuals, extreme initial skepticism, brief run of success due to devoted and surprisingly large group of followers, eventual extreme backlash and implosion.

-Well, time to get to "work," by which I mean I'm going to write a column on basketball while I'm putting off doing 3 geology labs.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thursday Bullets

-First off, some news about me: I have 3 weeks left in my pledge semester. It's up in the air if I'll make it or not right now, but either way I'll have my life back and should start posting a lot more.

-I was thrilled that my "Price of The Game" post got picked up by TrueHoop, because it's one of my favorite ideas I've ever had. (Even though writing it made me realize my limitations as a writer right now-I need a lot more experience to really do that piece justice.) However, I guess it wasn't interesting enough; my sitemeter barely ticked up, and there hasn't been one new comment on it yet. I've said it before and I'll say it again: At this stage in my blogging "career," I really need to drum up more interest, and I don't want to have to make bold proclamations in order to do that. I can't break any news stories that people don't know about, so it makes me sad when a deep-thought post like that fails to excite anybody, because it's the type of writing I like to do. This is how Stephen A. Smith was born, everybody.

-I'm THRILLED that my Idol/Occasional mentor Bethlehem Shoals got a book deal; I know really have something to dream for. It's the kind of thing that keeps me posting.

-The Knicks cut Jared Jordan today. Note to the Cavaliers: SIGN HIM RIGHT NOW. We need a playmaker, and he led the NCAA in assists for the last two years. Every team that sleeps on him will pay the price. Plus, his whiteness, small-school-ness, and "balled on the playground at 13 next to much bigger, more athletic guys and dominated the game anyways"-ness has already made him kind of a legend, which is awesome. Please, please sign him.

-I understand that Kevin McHale needs financial flexibility and another draft pick, but could you please not help division rivals by giving them a starting shooting guard for free? I was really looking forward to Dwayne Wade missing the playoffs this year.

-It goes against every bone in my body, but I'm actually rooting for the Yankees to keep A-Rod, sign Johan Santana, and come out with a perfect baseball team next year. Their rotation would be

1. Santana
2. Wang
3. Hughes
4. Chamberlain
5. Petitte

and their lineup would be

1B: Phillps
2B: Cano
SS: Jeter
3B: Rodriguez
C: Posada
LF: Matsui
CF: Damon/Cabrera
RF: Abreu
DH: Giambi

For some reason, I want to see that.

-These Rockies fail to interest me. I'm sorry. Other than the Devil Rays or a team with young starters, it's really hard for a baseball team to ignite my imagination, which is why I find myself interested in teams like the Red Sox and Yankees and hating myself for it.

-I'm excited for the season premiere of Scrubs tonight, as well as the new 30 Rock and Office. NBC Thursdays are STACKED, and I don't even watch "My Name is Earl."

-One more thought about Heroes: How hard does Parkman's power suck? He can read minds, so long as the other person doesn't mind if he does. What's the point?

-Movie I need to see this year: American Gangster. You could update the Scarface formula every year and I'd be happy.

-Has Showtime finally pulled a Red Sox-esque coup over the Yankees? With no Sopranos, look at their starting lineups:

HBO: Entourage (Good, but severely overrated)
Flight Of The Conchords: Probably the funniest half-hour show on television, but the utter lack of through-line keeps it from reaching Office heights.
Tell Me You Love Me: Eck.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: People love this show, but I've never been a huge fan; I'll go for Seinfeld reruns if I want to see it done better, Office if I want to see some misanthropy, or FOTC if I just want to laugh for half an hour.
The Wire: Their ace in the hole. It's one of my TV projects when I get home, but it's only on for another season, and only recently starting picking up steam.


Weeds: Perfectly done dramedy.
Dexter: My favorite hour-long drama right now.
Californication: I went off to school after the first two episodes, and apparently it's fallen off hard, but I loved this show, because Duchovny has perfect comedic timing, gives a great performance, and this is absolutely how I see my future going if I become a writer, albeit my ex-wife would be less hot and I would lack the power to make women sleep with me using only my eyebrows.

Brotherhood, This American Life, The Tudors: I don't watch any of these shows, but they're supposed to be great. My mom loves The Tudors.

With production values rising through the roof on network and even cable shows, and cable getting to push the envelope as far as content and controversial storyline, could HBO be losing some of its mojo? "Mad Men" absolutely looks and feels like an HBO show, as does "Rescue Me." With HBO steadfastly refusing to get into the procedural or overarching Lost-type game, they need a major move, and soon-they're the Cavaliers of TV.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Price of The Game

My dorm room is up on the 8th floor, and there's a great stairwell just outside my room where I go to smoke. From the stairwell, I get a perfect view of the downtown LA skyline and the Galen Center, our big, beautiful new basketball arena. In the shadow of the Galen Center are three concrete courts. Anytime from 10 in the morning to around midnight, there's pickup basketball there.

The games range from one or two guys awkwardly hoisting jumpers or playing a game of 21 laced with ennui to full-court 5-on-5 games with backdoor cuts, jumpers off of screens, jump-stops, and slap layups. Getting swept up in the flow of the latter games, I think about just how much time these men have spend working on this game, and how for every kid who gets to play in the big gym across the street, there are so many more who put in so much just to capture, for a moment, the feeling of what it must be like to play in that gym. I think about them, playing for an audience of one man watching from a stairwell on a Tuesday night, and then I think about all of the people who have paid so dearly for the game I enjoy so much.

First, there were men like Red Auerbach and Press Maravich, playing the game in its infancy for dollars a week, throwing up two-hand set shots and breaking their noses night after night, not knowing if anyone was watching, to try and make the game something real, and then continuing that obsession long after their bodies were no longer able, figuring out the right way to play this new game on a team level, trying to find something transcendent in it.

Red tried to achieve transcendence through the team, working tirelessly and bending more than a few rules to craft a system and the perfect team to execute it, eventually creating a dynasty made up of the perfect role players and solidifying his place in the game's history before succumbing to the pressure and the pure work. Every time I see a perfect defensive rotation or outlet pass, I think about Red.

Press originally started out trying to find a team system, but eventually was consumed by attempting to make his own son into the perfect basketball player, putting a ball in his hands before he could walk and giving him a never-ending stream of drills, making him dribble blindfolded, with gloves on, and outside of his car. His efforts created the original combination of flair and substance, the prototypical modern superstar, but the price was steep; Press ended up estranged from his son, his wife drank herself into insanity, and he was fired from his job coaching his only true love. Pete himself was driven into a form of insanity by the pressure of having to carry a team every night and having a game generations ahead of its time, drinking constantly and wishing that aliens would just take him away. Every time I see Kobe Bryant drilling fadeaway after fadeaway, Steve Nash throwing a pass behind his back, or Allen Iverson boldly flying through a double-team with a crossover, I think about Press and Pete.

Wilt Chamberlain had the kind of game nobody had ever seen before, 7-3 with the speed of a track star, with the talent to win games by himself. He was a superstar at a time when the game still didn't know what to do with superstars, a man bigger than the team before the concept had entered anybody's mind. Nobody knew where to fit Wilt's game or flamboyant personality, and he was forced to spend his career as a pariah before finally finding some semblance of meaning with the Lakers, although he was relegated to being the me-first runner-up to Bill Russell, a more manageable talent who found himself in the perfect situation from the start. Whenever I see Shaquille O' Neal's dominant game and gigantic personality being accepted and even praised wherever he goes, I think about Wilt.

Elgin Baylor was the game's first high-flyer, slashing from the perimeter to making unbelievable plays above the rim when nobody spent any time up there at all. All that jumping in his game led to his knee giving out earlier than it should have, and because there were no doctors prepared to deal with the stress of being a skywalker back then, he was forced to sit on the bench and watch while the Lakers won the championship that he never got. Whenever I see Amare Stoudamire dominate on his reconstructed knees, I think about Elgin.

Michael Ray Richardson was another player with a talent that nobody knew what to do with; he was bigger, faster, and stronger than anybody else, and had an unstoppable jump shot to boot. But since nobody knew what to do with him, he ended up not knowing what to do with himself, never committing to bettering his game and eventually succumbing to cocaine addiction. 20 years later, there was Lenny Cooke, who dominated every game he ever played in on the playgrounds of Brooklyn. He allowed himself to believe the whispers of the agents who told him that he was already a star in high school, that he was set for life, and didn't need to work on his game or even study in school anymore, that everything was going to fall into place for him, and now has no college degree and can't get a job in the D-League. Every time I see a player like LeBron James, whose talent and ego have been nurtured and kept in check since he was in middle school and is hence able to tap into the full power of his abilities, I think about Michael Ray and Lenny Cooke.

But most of all, I think about the four kids from Darcy Frey's The Last Shot. They all went to Abraham Lincoln High School in Coney Island, where basketball is everything. Tchaka Shipp was a smart kid from a moderate-income family, a 6-7 bruiser who had no offensive game to speak of but could rebound, dunk, block shots, and do all the little things on the court. He went to play for P.J. Carlisemo, who gave him a scholarship and promised him a life, but instead only used him as an insignificant cog in his machine, barely putting him on the court and eventually leading him to transfer. Tchaka now makes 9 dollars an hour, giving new meaning to a player who "does the garbage work to help his team." For some, that means getting $4 million to dive for loose balls; for Tchaka, it means throwing away his life so that a millionaire coach can get an inch closer to another banner on the ceiling.

Corey Johnson was a guard blessed with brilliant talent, speed and court vision and everything else, but refused to let basketball take over his life, continuing to date and write in his spare time, and seizing every day as the best of his life. His refusal to commit led to him going to junior college and eventually working a meaningless job.

However, two characters stand out above all the others. The first is Russel Thomas, a scrappy guard with lock-down defensive ability and a killer outside shot, crafted by hours every night alone on the court shooting 3-pointers and one-handed 15-footers while sitting in a chair. He was everything a coach could ever want, a perfect role player if there ever was one, a player whose game was defined by jaw-dropping amounts of work on the court and off of it. To get the necessary 800 for his SATs, he studied incessantly, even during his lunch hour, and sat at the front of every class. But the system ultimately failed Russel, and because he had never so much as been taught Algebra, he never made the 800, was relegated to junior college, and eventually killed himself at 27. Russel ended up paying for the sins of the educational system he was brought up in and the system that made basketball his only way out with his life.

The fourth character is a cocky young freshman guard, head and shoulders above all the competition he faces, already being heralded as the next great New York City point guard. While the other three players are polite and have given themselves to their dream of playing basketball, he is entitled and arrogant, seeing basketball as a way to make the world do its bidding. He is shameless in taking the gifts his talent allows him to have, and his father comes up to the author and demands to be paid for allowing the author to follow his boy around. His name is Stephon Marbury, and there's a reason he is so cold towards the game. Stephon had two older brothers who were supposed to make it out, but ultimately fell short and found themselves trapped on Coney Island. Stephon's family had paid his price, and now he was going to get it back. Other players speak of just wanting to win, how lucky they are to get to play basketball for a living, and how much they enjoy the system they are a part of, and how they are ultimately in its debt, which is exactly what those of us who don't get to play for a living think they should feel. Stephon knows better. He feels no debt to the game. He knows too well just how cruel the game can be, and has responded with a desire to exploit it like it exploited his older brothers, seizing every opportunity to use the game to advance himself and get what he is owed. We often say that players like Stephon are "immature," when in reality they're far more mature than we'd like them to be.

So the next time you see a broadcaster wonder why every player doesn't work as hard as Dwayne Wade, remember Russel Thomas, who gave his life for putting in the type of obsession we feel is necessary for basketball players. And the next time you wonder why more players aren't robots devoted to nothing but basketball, remember Corey Johnson, whose decision that there was more to life than basketball stopped him from achieving glory. And the next time you see Stephon Marbury take a shot he probably shouldn't have or demand a bigger contract, remember that there's a reason that he is the way he is, and it's a reason we can't pretend to understand. Think about those who have paid dearly to make the game you love what it is, and think of those who continue to pay. For every no-look back-door alley-oop you see, think about Red drawing it up when he should have gotten a real job, Press teaching his kid to throw it before the world was ready to see it, Elgin for throwing it down before his body was ready too, Michael Ray for letting it go to his head, and most of all Tsaka, Corey, Russel, and the million other kids on playgrounds like the one outside my balcony who continue to play the game every day in the fleeting hope that they can become a part of the game we love.

Late-Night TV Carnival

I'm a college freshman, which means that my sleep schedule is screwed beyond all hope of repair: I almost never wake up before noon or go to sleep before 3:30. Today, I woke up at around 3, and now it's 2 in the morning and I still have stuff to do, and my 12:00 class feels like something I'm going to have to wake up for. (My 10:00 lecture is out of the question.) Fortunately, I also have cable in my room, albeit strange cable, (no MTV, no Comedy Central, but I have IFC, ESPNU, and ESPN News), which means that when 1-2 in the morning rolls around, I need me some entertainment. Here's my guide to what's good at late night:

Law and Order: SVU

I'm a huge, huge fan of the original Law and Order, so I was hesitant to pick up SVU, but I'm very glad I did. Basically, the idea for the show was "Hey, you know what would make weekly outrageous, twist-filled murders even more interesting? If all of them involved depraved sexual behavior! Also, let's make everyone better-looking! And let's make the Jewish detective Jewisher and the black detective blacker!" And so it was that Richard Belzer and Ice-T joined us.

I love this show. Basically, its changes from the original were:

1. To add more depraved sex-based crimes, which I appreciate-I don't watch these shows to get a sense of the legal system, just like I don't watch Flavor Of Love for advice on picking up women. I watch them to see something utterly creepy and mind-bending. By the way, I'm pre-law.

2. To put more focus on the characters themselves, namely the lead detectives, Christopher Merloni and that other chick. The original gave us fleeting glances of its characters, but only Sam Waterston was all that interesting, and since his only true passion in life is his cases, going into his mostly non-existent personal life was kind of pointless. Truth be told, these detectives aren't particularly interesting, but Merloni and the woman are good enough actors to hold our interest, and the depth given to the show by seeing them as people with distinct personalities is a good thing. Also, when doesn't having a man and woman who aren't being set up for an obvious romance be partners work? The pioneered this with The Avengers 30 years ago, and it's the driving force behind Bones, my favorite cop show now.

3. To mostly cut out the trial portion of the show, which leaves more time for ridiculous sexual twists, which isn't all that bad. This decision was also influenced by the fact that the ADA on SVU is a blonde woman whose sole talent seems to be squinting, much like the Cavs having Larry Hughes be their point guard because their original point guard is Eric Snow.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars, although I resent networks buying up the infinitely crappier Law and Order: CI and playing it 4 times more than they play SVU.

Futurama/Family Guy/Robot Chicken/Other Stuff on Adult Swim

Futurama: Great Show. Never gets old, even though I've seen all the episodes 5 times. 5 stars.

Family Guy: Has gone the way of Napoleon Dynamite and Dane Cook: The sheer irritation that comes from its idiot fans and its increasing self-awareness has made a great thing intolerable. 3 stars.

Robot Chicken: Family Guy's random streak taken to its natural conclusion. I actually love this show; it's great to see a show that doesn't take swipes at pop culture, but is written by geeks who know geek culture well enough to make jokes for its audience, rather than about it. Because of this, its Star Wars parody was the best I've ever seen. 4 stars.

Japanese Stuff: Thanks to sports, I never got into those serious Japanese shows. Thank god.

Bizarre, badly animated shows: I never got into these, partially because I feel it's just ridiculousness for ridiculousnesses' sake and partly because I don't have enough money for weed. 1 star.

The O'Reilly Factor:
I have no idea why this show is so enthralling. I'm not a conservative by any stretch of the imagination, but I love this show. First of all, on a college campus in California, you do get sick of liberals. (Two weeks ago, some fundamentalist Christians came to protest gay week here. 98% of students were proud of shouting down people who were so intolerant of other people's beliefs. That's ironical. By the way, my spell checker thinks that's a word. And 95% of the media does have a liberal slant, so the conservative viewpoint is actually refreshing. And say what you want about Big Bill, but he does believe in his message, and he's a smart guy. And yes, his off-the-charts arrogance and insecurity is enthralling to watch-what other respected members of the media would respond to a slam by pointing out that more people watch his show than theirs? Amazing.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The X-Files

Easily the best show on late-night. TNT bought reruns of this show, and they're brilliant. This show has gotten a reputation for being Lost before Lost, and it did have an overarching plot that dragged on way, way too long and ultimately made the show fade into obscurity, but those episodes were spaced between the procedural episodes, which is what TNT shows and are the most awesome thing ever. Let's do the procedural checklist:

Does the X-files have cool mysteries? Hell yes-the "X" type-stuff never fails to disappoint, from aliens to possessed dolls to government experiments gone wrong to time travel to body-switching to vampires. Are the characters interesting? Absolutely-Fox Mulder is one of my favorite characters in TV history; brilliant, obsessed, flawed, charismatic, everything. And Dana Scully is a perfect foil for him, although the one mystery the show never explains is why Scully continues not to believe. Their relationship, a great repore based on mutual respect, true personality conflicts, and just a little hint of sexual tension.

The acting is flawless; Duchovny has great timing and is proving that he can carry a show on his own over on Showtime, and Gillian Anderson just made The Onion's list of things that deserve second chances; she was great in this role. And the guest stars are a who's-who of people that were about to break out; Jack Black, Giovanni Ribisi, and the dad from Malcolm in the Middle have all been seen at 2 AM.

The writing is great as well, with great banter coming from the story editor, Tim Minear, who partnered on Firefly(the best show ever) with Joss Whedon, TV's Tarrantino, the master of the perfect 1-liner in a situation when you would never expect it. Great writing, great acting, great plots-sounds like just about a perfect show. And yes, I just revealed how much of a dork I am. I don't care. See you in the morning.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Northwest Blog Previews

Northwest Previews:

Utah Jazz

Daily Basketball

Taking it to the Rack

Basketball John


Seattle Supersonics

Sonics Central


Portland Trail Blazers


The Inferno



TWolves Blog


Denver Nuggets

Nugg Doctor


Blog Previews Archives

CelticsBlog NBA Section

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thursday Night Roundup

Howdy folks,

Sorry the NBA juices haven't really been flowing all that well lately; I've got a lot of stuff going on over here, and my last few hypotheses have been way off, so I'm in a wee bit of a rut. But since I love all of you and feel obligated to get something up, here's a quick set of ramblings on all in the world of Krolik:

-Watched a little of the Sonics-Lakers pre-season in between baseball and 30 Rock/Office: Kobe looks really good, every team could use a Ronny Turiaf, still not impressed with Durant. That's really all I could see from what I saw.

-Damn, Josh Beckett was on tonight. When a pitcher is spotting a 96-mph fastball, evil curveball, and wicked 90 mph change, it's just fun to watch. Now the Indians have to go to Fenway for a big game, which they can't be happy about. Theo should take notes on how most of his best values-Pedroia, Youk, Papelbon, Ellsbury, etc., have come from his own farm system, and how most of his mercenaries are screwing up. Billy Beane once said "Just give me $80 million so I can keep my own guys-the rest doesn't help." Trust Billy. And the "who won the Beckett-Ramirez trade?" question is one of the most interesting around right now-it was clearly the perfect move for the Marlins, and if Beckett keeps pitching like this in big games, the Sox won't look for a do-over either, because you need a guy like that to win a championship.

-Had my MVN fantasy league draft-in a 9-team head-to-head, my blue-chippers are LeBron, AI2, Bosh, and Big Al Jefferson, my mid-rounders are Kirilenko, Deron Williams, and Ginobili, my late-rounders are Bynum, Biedrins, and Raja Bell, and my fliers are Ty Thomas, Shaq, and Belinelli. I like my team-lots of breakout potential up and down the board. In fact, everyone on the team is due for a huge step up this year. That's a good thing, right?

-Show I'm watching religiously right now #1: Heroes. Like everybody else, I'm disappointed with it this season. First of all, my three favorite girls on this show have been killed off quickly; The sexily evil chick with the big eyes from Brick, The hyper-cute waitress who went to go make Epic Movie, and now the shape-shifting girl, who might have been my favorite of all of them. I basically just liked the waitress because she was adorable, but the other two were both the kind of characters that every show needs; multi-layered, mysterious, justifiably evil, intriguing, and good girl-gone-bad sexy. Now they're gone.

-Heroes seemed to have copied all that went wrong with Lost and forgot everything that went right-Lost's greatest strength was the depth of its characters. My favorite piece of Lost magic ever was the slow-burning swaperoo between Jack and Sawyer; at the beginning of the series, Jack was the guy I was rooting for, and every time I saw Sawyer on the screen I wanted to throw up. By season two, Sawyer was my favorite character on television, and Jack was revealed as loathsome, without one big, flashy revelation; it was done with an artful string of mini-revelations.

-Heroes seems committed to having its leads be as one-note as possible; Claire has all the personality of Tim Duncan on qualuudes,(by the way: Claire's big problem is that she "has to act normal." It would be one thing if I couldn't read minds or fly, but all Claire has to do is NOT GET MAIMED. How hard is that? I do it almost every day. Also, the Heroes writers seemed to have learned all they knew about high school from watching Bring It On over and over again, from the strict social hierarchy to the cheerleader rule to the good guys being emo-looking guys, right down to the one from the first season having headphones around his neck all the time for no reason. And that they put the first high school in Odessa, Texas, the actual site of one of the best books and TV shows about how small-town high schools really work, is just a slap in the face. And yes, I hate her new boyfriend.)

-Hiro is good but one-note, Peter went from laughably bad to interesting to pointlessly stuck in Ireland with AMNESIA!, Mohinder is terrible and one-note, Parkman bores me, and Ali Larter manages to play not one but TWO one-note characters. And Nathan's impression of Steve Carell in Little Miss Sunshine is boring too.

-Can't say enough bad things about the wonder twins, who seem to be competing with Nikki and Paulo for the "Hispanic couple everybody hates" award. And I know we should be accepting of people who are different, but I'm not sure I'd shed a tear for putting people who accidentally go on murder sprees in jail.

-The writers have choked big-time on making their two interesting characters interesting-HRG, last year's saving grace, has become boring again, and Sylar seems to be past a Sawyer-type redemption, seeing how he is a ruthless serial killer with no charisma. Look at how consistently good Lost's villains have been: Sawyer, Ben, Juliet, and Locke's dad have all been absolutely brilliant, and Sawyer and Juliet might even be good guys. Ben is always the most interesting part of whatever episode he's in, and the way Locke's dad slimes his way through everything he does is fantastic.

-Other end of the spectrum: The Office, which is now officially the best show on television in a walk. In the show's great first season and legendary second season, all the talk was about Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson, but the secret of the show's success was Jim; his pining for Pam gave the show great dramatic heft, and the scenes with him and Dwight-a master of the subdued next to the emperor of over-the-top; were simply genius.

Now Jim and Pam are together, which would have lesser writers painted into a corner, but the Office writers have stepped up to the challenge and come up huge. Where the third season struggled to find solid through-lines with Jim/Pam drama temporarily out of the question, the fourth season has set up plotlines that will keep us coming back for more.

First of all, I pray that I'm not cynical enough to ever get tired of Jim and Pam being really, really, really happy together. Unlike most "Jesus, when are they going to sleep together already?" plotlines, Jim/Pam managed to stay grounded in reality; for the first two seasons, Pam's relationship with Roy was real enough to keep Jim away; watch "Booze Cruise" again and it looks like poor Jim just has no chance. In the third season, Jim had a great girlfriend, was weary of getting roped in again by Pam, and Pam just wasn't bold enough to put it all on the line for Jim, which is what he would have needed to believe again. When they finally came together, it feels like we've all earned the right for them to be happy forever.

The dramatic void left by Jim and Pam's bliss has been gamely filled, from Michael's struggles with Ryan the evil temp, his relationship with Jan, and life in general-who else loves the scenes where Michael actually makes connections with people, like when he shows his chops as a salesman or becomes the most popular guy at his 2nd job? Meanwhile, Dwight's downward spiral and Jim/Pam's efforts to help him move on have been surprisingly touching-it's a testament to this show that we actually care about Michael and Dwight, because despite all their obvious flaws, their essential good-heartedness has been able to shine through, differentiating them from most "funny because they're evil" comedy characters.

And when Office needs a big laugh, it can always go to Creed (who regularly supplies the best line of the show-his "cults" line in the first episode and "financial fraud" line in this one both made me laugh so loud I woke my roommate up), Kelly, or Toby. And it was good to see Jan get closer to the "smart, capable, beautiful, but still miserable" character of the first three seasons than the "big bucket of crazy" she's been since the end of last season-Jan is layered like everyone else, and doesn't deserve to be cheapened. Andy remains the one character who is evil at heart, so I'm not thrilled to be devoting more time to him. But damn, I love me some Office.

Criss Angel is getting a network show? Great. For all his weirdness, he's pretty damn amazing. But Uri Geller? The guy who was exposed as a fraud bending spoons by Johnny Carson in 1973? He gets his own show?

And yes, Bee Movie is starting to grate on me. But he's Jerry Seinfeld. He can do whatever he wants. He has earned lifetime immunity.

Good night, everyone.

Hate the Patriots by Rooting For Them

Hey all, a couple of weeks ago I sent an e-mail to one of my favorite blogs, Kissing Suzy Kolber, and actually got it on the site, so I decided to push my luck with another e-mail. It didn't work out, so I've decided to post it here. Remember, it was for KSK, so it's distinctly more evil than what I put up here. Enjoy.

Dear KSK,

I've noticed that you, like most football fans with souls, have grown to hate the New England Patriots. I was pretty ambivalent towards them until this season, but now, thanks to my reaction to believe whatever you guys say and believe the opposite of what Bill Simmons says, I really hate them. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be planning on losing anytime soon. So now, as fans, we must think of a way to stop them. Your bounty on Tom Brady's knee was a good start, but I have a different strategy: Let Tom Brady stay healthy. Let the Patriots put up the best regular season since the '89 49ers. Let Simmons gloat. You know why? Because in the playoffs, when the pressure is on, they will lose.

First of all, I know it will work because it's a perfect reversal of fortune: after all, who did the Patriots beat to win the first Super Bowl of their dynasty? The ultra-stacked St. Louis Rams, who had the best quarterback in the league, the best running back in the league, a man who was at the time regarded as the best coach in the league, and a stacked wide receiver core. They weren't just beating teams, they were DEMOLISHING them. It was a foregone conclusion that they would win the Super Bowl. Remind you of anything?

The second reason I know my strategy would work is that it mimics the plans of all the best movie villains ever. Do good movie villains simply debilitate their enemies and cheaply destroy them when they're down? No. They wait for them to be at full-strength, so when they lose, they'll be completely crushed by knowing they gave it their all but still came up short. It didn't quite work out that way in James Bond, Karate Kid 3, or Sin City, but remember, those were heroes they tried to stop, not soulless football teams. When Tom Brady realizes he's not America's underdog hero anymore after he loses, he'll knock up Jennifer Connelly out of sheer misery.

Finally, think about what Simmons would say when his team chokes despite clearly being more talented. No more excuses, Bill. Your invincible duo sucked big time when it mattered most. Can you imagine the column where he tries to explain this while still clinging to what he believes so firmly? I'm sure you guys can do better than this, but here's my attempt: "I can't even believe what just happened. There's just no way to explain how Brady could have lost a big game to the Colts and Peyton Manning, unless you use something outside of my ridiculous theories about football that have led to me getting soundly defeated by my wife for the last two years. I mean, Manning has better career numbers, and the Patriots defense has some holes, but Peyton's not CLUTCH! There's no way this could have happened in 1983. Of course, I know what happened. The times have changed. We're in an era where touchdown dances and advertisements make having the ability to come up where it counts not matter anymore. Don't read that twice, because it doesn't make any fucking sense. I remember when Larry Bird was playing, he never missed an important shot, ever, because that arena didn't have a jumbotron. Now we have jumbotrons, and frauds like Peyton Manning can win two super bowl rings. Somewhere along that line, we lost our ability to be CLUTCH, and I think I know why; we got a black superstar. Not just black, but very black-hip-hop and everything. I'm not racist, really, but if black people were able to come through in big spots, why hasn't there been a black president yet? Again, I'm really not racist; I just like white athletes better than black ones. I have a solution: Trade Randy Moss for Kevin Robinson. It's so obvious, but 98% of GMs today just don't understand the unfounded crap I say as law week after week. I am way too smart to be a GM. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to pleasure myself to old video of Kevin McHale making up-and-under moves."