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Just messing around, getting triple doubles
Category Archives: Basketball
April 30, 2013Posted by on
On the eve of Dancing with Noah’s two-year anniversary, I’ve been through a Monday (4/29/13) overflowing with reverberating NBA news:
- Jason Collins came out of the closet – this is a beautiful thing and people who don’t realize that or see this as a non-story would be wise to take some time to listen to the struggles faced by anyone who’s ever had to hide a part of themselves for fear of being judged, blackballed, ignored or rejected. You don’t have to be thrilled about it, but this is one more person who’s making a massive leap into the world. Be happy for him.
- The NBA’s Relocation Committee voted unanimously to deny the Kings request to move the franchise to Seattle. For whatever it might be worth, the NBA Relocation Committee is made up of: Clay Bennett (the NBA can’t not see this as a terribly ironic placement), Peter Holt (Spurs), James Dolan (Knicks), Herb Simon (Pacers), Larry Tanenbaum (Raptors), Glen Taylor (Timberwolves), Jeanie Buss (Lakers), Robert Sarver (Suns), Greg Miller (Jazz), Wyc Grousbeck (Celtics), Ted Leonsis (Wizards) and Micky Arison (Heat).
So here we sit with a day that will reverberate throughout the NBA’s near-term, and potentially long-term, future. I’ve lived in Seattle since 2004 and I attended around 10-15 games per season when the Sonics called Key Arena home. It’s a progressive city, one that promotes diversity and supports alternative lifestyles. You can find anything from thriving art and music scenes to reenactments of medieval battles. It’s a populace that takes full advantage of the gifts nature has bestowed upon it which include the Cascade Mountain range, Mount Rainier, Olympic National Park, the San Juan Islands, Lake Washington, Lake Union and a million other outdoor activities enjoyed by Pacific Northwesterners year-round.
This past summer I read Jim Bouton’s classic insider account of life in Major League Baseball: Ball Four. Bouton was a 30-year-old knuckleballer who pitched for the then expansion Seattle Pilots. In a nod to the city’s long-standing struggle with pro sports franchises, the Pilots lasted a single season in the Emerald City before relocating to Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers. It wasn’t until 1977 that the Mariners came into existence. Bouton spent the spring and summer of 1969 with the Pilots and I recall a small portion of the book touching on the lukewarm support from Seattleites. This is dating all the back in the late 60s. A forward-looking view shows the city’s often strained relationship with the pro franchises they simultaneously support:
- In the mid-90s, the Mariners owners threatened to relocate the team if a new arena wasn’t built. In 1995, voters defeated a ballot to pay for a new stadium. Then the M’s made the playoffs and the state Legislature capitalized on the momentum to come up with an alternate funding plan which included a .5% tax on restaurants, taverns and bars and a 2% tax increase on rental cars. Disaster was averted and the M’s got the stadium they demanded. The balance came out to $340mill from the public in the form of tax increases and $75mill from the M’s owners.
- In 1995, there was a proposal to issue county bonds to pay for a remodeling of the Kingdome (the Seattle Seahawks stadium at the time). The proposal was rejected (not surprising given the Mariners had just asked for public money as well). At the time, Seahawks owner Ken Behring did what comes so naturally to businessmen and sports franchise owners: He threatened to sell or move the team. Microsoft founder and billionaire, Paul Allen stepped in and committed to buy the team if a new stadium could be built. After some legal/political wrangling, there was a final public/private partnership that included the public contribution capped at $300million and Allen’s company First & Goal Inc. to contribute up to $130million.
- On June 16th, 1994, construction began on what was then called Seattle Central Coliseum and would eventually be renamed as Key Arena. The city picked up $74.5mill while the Sonics covered ~$21mill. The intent of the makeover was to bring the then-32-year-old arena up to par with other NBA arenas.
- And of course, the Sonics/Howard Schultz/Clay Bennett clusterfuck that resulted in the Sonics being sold to an out-of-town group on October 31st, 2006—so strangely appropriate that the deal was consummated on Halloween.
It’s no surprise that pro sports teams make threats and cities respond. In many cases, new arenas are necessary and the threats are nothing more than negotiation tactics that happen to play on the hearts and minds of local fanbases. But in my limited experience as an observer of these scenarios, it’s somewhat unique for a city to face three of these threats in just over a ten-year span. For a city that was already lukewarm on supporting pro teams with public funds, the Bennett/Stern false ultimatum was the straw that broke the camel’s back. For me personally, this was a watershed moment. I initially sided with the “Save Our Sonics” contingent and would cringe at the numerous editorials telling Stern and Bennett to pound sand. Over the next three years, I would reverse that stance.
Kevin Durant’s rookie year in 2007 was a disaster. The Sonics had been gutted in a way that reminded me of the plot from Major League where widow of the Cleveland Indians’ owner builds a crappy team with the purpose of moving to sunnier climes in Florida. The 2007 Sonics were in full blown rebuilding mode in a city they’d soon be saying goodbye to. They finished with the 2nd worst record in the league and ranked 28th out of 30 teams in attendance. The “save our Sonics” chants that would randomly ring out throughout the season were painfully pathetic; pathetic in the sense that it was a futile chant from a half-empty arena of half-enthused fans. As a regular ticket buyer, I would get promotional emails every few weeks offering lower bowl seats for $15. I’m talking 10 rows back at an NBA game—for $15! No one else was going to the games, so they damn near gave tickets away. Every Durant jumper or glimpse of success was lifeline of hope for Seattle fans that somehow, someway the team would remain here. There were lawsuits, talks of Steve Ballmer buying the team, dreams of investors who preferred Sonics jerseys to shining suits of armor. But it was all for naught and over time I accepted that the team would relocate. It certainly helped that from the time the Bennett group purchased the team up to the release of Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team in 2009, evidence mounted revealing what most people suspected already: The Sonics had been purchased with the intent of relocating to OKC. After so many months of being lied to, the confirmation of these assumptions at least validated the anger. And with that in mind, please forgive the people of Seattle for not rallying with a Kings-like battle cry.
Watching Durant and Russell Westbrook thrive in OKC didn’t enflame the ill feelings I felt for Bennett or Schultz or Stern. Rather, it hardened me to the cold reality that sports are a business; a chillingly merciless business that, as a collective, isn’t concerned with fans beyond the amount of money they spend or demographics they fall into. This was the end of the child-like innocent fan that lived inside of me. Maybe being 26 or 27 is too old to come to that obvious conclusion, but it reshaped the way I watch and interact with sports and to some degree, I’m thankful for it.
Fast forward to 2013 when the owners of the Kings agreed to sell the franchise to Seattle-born billionaire Chris Hansen. The Seattle streets were covered in throwback Sonics hats, shirts and jerseys. Oskar’s, a local bar just a few blocks from Key Arena, owned by former Sonic icon Shawn Kemp, has been aglow in the potential return of the team. Sonics fans and Kings supporters have sniped at each other on blogs, Twitter and in comments sections. It was a petty, trite game being played; as if mutual love for basketball teams was reason enough to fight with a stranger. Meanwhile, the actual men in control of the situation (Stern, Hansen, Kevin Johnson, the Maloofs, the Kings new prospective ownership group) skated by with minimal criticism outside of Seattle and Sacramento. All of us sat and waited anxiously for the verdict of a 12-man jury; the aforementioned Relocation Committee. They voted unanimously to keep the Kings in Sacramento. For once they voted to eschew the money in favor of doing the right thing; of doing what they should’ve done six years ago when Clay Bennett purchased the Sonics. For once, this money grubbing association got it right. With any luck, the league’s setting a new precedent for itself; one that will see it work more closely with local politicians instead of divisively as we saw with the Sonics situation. (The Sacramento arena deal breaks out like this: the city takes on $258mill [primarily from parking fees and ticketing fees] while the investment group would account for $189mill and be responsible for all capital improvements.)
In the process of the vote, the NBA changed the rules of the game on the people of Seattle while simultaneously getting it right for the fans in Sacramento. For the people of Seattle who supported this team and league uninterruptedly for 40 straight years, this vote is grossly unfair. The league created an environment where inconsistency exists and it’s within that environment that they should have alienated a market, but sadly that won’t be the case. People will still invest time, money and emotion in getting pro basketball back to Seattle and I do respect their resilience; their ability to separate the anger from their passion.
As for Jason Collins … I’m happy for the man. I find it amazing that this is still a topic for discussion. Part of my amazement may stem from the fact that I’ve become an adult in ultra-liberal Seattle where terms like “social justice” and “white privilege” stay on the tips of tongues; where marijuana and gay marriage are both legal. I spent my Saturday night at the Seattle Poetry Grand Slam where young, creative, expressive, strong poets stood vulnerable on a stage and expressed themselves and, in some cases, their sexuality in front of a packed Seattle Town Hall. They expressed their struggles through beautiful emotive words with a raw, but harnessed energy, but their descriptions of their love didn’t escape my realm of knowing or comprehension. The pain and sadness of not being accepted rang through their voices and met the crowd who groaned in painful understanding. And I think about Jason Collins alone in locker rooms, on buses and planes, surrounded by homophobic slurs that stung; sometimes more than others. That loneliness is so unbelievably unfair. For this man to finally reach a level of comfort to expose himself on the largest stage in the world makes me want to hug him in acceptance and support.
After John Amaechi came out in 2007, I think there was a hope that his revelation would lead to more gay athletes following suit, but in terms of the major sports leagues, that hasn’t been the case. With gay marriage gaining nationwide support, the issue has again risen to the forefront of athletics where former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo recently commented that four NFL players may come out on the same day as a way to relieve the pressure of going it alone. Whether or not Collins’s decision is based in large or small part on the current climate of improved gay rights awareness, his coming out is nothing but a positive and it feels good to see an NBA player leading the way and getting the overwhelming support he received today.
It’s a good day to celebrate the two-year anniversary of a blog and it’s a good day to honor what this game has brought me not just over the past two years, but the past 25 years of my life where basketballs have been bouncing, nets splashing, struggles struggling—be it labor wars, substance abuse, homophobia, media, marketing, or the actual on-court product. Basketball has provided me an outlet from the stresses of being a living human being in the 21st century and given me a lens through which to see the world unfold in a most a familiar context. I’m thankful for days like this when the league gets it right even if they’re jobbing my city in the process.
November 26, 2012Posted by on
We’re not even a full month into the season, so it’s not like there’s this deep well of meaningful observations on this toddler of a season, but given that I’ve spent so much time watching games in standard definition, questioning how League Pass chooses which games are shown in HD, watching multiple games on League Pass Broadband and reading/posting nonsensical NBA observations on Twitter, I decided to meditate on things I’ve actually seen or noticed. The following list isn’t in any order of significance, just some cold November observations of teams and players I’ve watched at some point this month:
- Tim Duncan as Kareem. He’s 36 now and will be 37 by the end of the season and he’s plugging away with his best per/36 numbers since … since he was 28. I’m not naïve or knee-jerk enough to even halfway believe that 16% of a season (13 games out of 82) constitutes sustainability, but Duncan’s putting up a career highs in PER and win shares per 48 minutes. Despite his longevity, people still, after all these years, love to sleep on Duncan and the Spurs for being boring. Duncan fans respond with their own brand of godly hyperbole, but wherever you fall on the Timmy spectrum, do yourself a favor, put your prejudices aside and spend a couple hours one night just watching Duncan; he’s still (somehow, even at 36) an underappreciated NBA treasure and the best shot blocker/shot alterer I’ve ever seen.
- The (re) emergence of Jamal Crawford. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Big JC and it makes sense since we have so much in common: We’re both 32, he’s from Seattle while I live in Seattle, we both went to Big 10 schools and both of us can play each guard position. Commonalities aside, Crawford’s always been a free-form, improvisationalizing chucker and it’s refreshing to see his game out-perform his reputation. Like Duncan, he’s easily putting up career bests in PER, TS% and eFG% and like Duncan, it’s likely unsustainable. But while it lasts, there’s not much more entertaining than putting on a late night Clips game and seeing JC’s silly putty limbs stretched to their limit with the ball and his defender at his mercy; a shake of the hips, his elastic joints casting spells and oops, there’s the quick-release jumper splashing through the net and of course, no follow-through. If a Keith Haring painting or drawing came to life as a basketball player, it would be Jamal Crawford.
- Hair. The second Free Darko book had an appropriately random section dedicated to the league’s eternal fascination with follicle fashions. And while they focused primarily on the 70s, just watching a month into the 2012-13 season, I’m like: DAMN, the hair game is back! Just a few guys who are uniquely expressing themselves through hair styles:
- Spencer Hawes: Steady rocking the mullet in Philly.
- Andrew Bynum: Hasn’t even played a game for the Sixers, but he’s already becoming notorious with a series of hairstyles we’ve never seen grace an NBA player’s head.
- Kosta Koufos: Male pattern baldness isn’t anything to joke about; rather it’s something to make money off. Jokes aside, Koufos is just 23-years-old and getting pretty thin on top. The common solution for this is to snag the clippers and just take it off, but not Kosta. Nope, he grows it out and combs it forward. We’re not fooled though.
- Anthony Davis & James Harden: The Brow and the Beard … these are kind of losing their intrigue.
- Deron Williams: He’s been rocking the same look his entire career and it hasn’t gotten any better. Maybe shave that shit?
- Harrison Barnes: No, I’m not including Barnes next just because his name is phonetically made up of “hair.” I’m including him because in just a few short weeks, he’s already shown more athleticism and aggression than he did in two years at Chapel Hill. Instead of settling for jab steps and jumpers, he’s attacking the rim with and without the ball. Oh, and in 14 games as a pro, he already has more double digit rebound games (three) than he did in his final year as a Tar Heel (two).
- The Battle for Los Angeles is Real: It’s kind of an incestuous rivalry since Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes have been on both sides, but these teams don’t like each other and follow the lead of their uber-intense competitors: Kobe and CP3. Everyone keeps singing the same refrain about the Lakers: It’ll take time to gel (especially given the coaching change and Steve Nash missing in action), but meanwhile the Clippers are reveling in depth and developing their own chemistry. Despite a recent three-game losing streak, the Clips have improved from last year thanks to the development of Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan, the addition of Barnes, Crawford and (maybe) Odom. And they’re still waiting on the returns of vets Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill who may not have much left in terms of athleticism, but can definitely help LAC win free throw contests or knockout tournaments. While I’m part of the Lakers chorus, I’m also seeing a Clips team that can match up with the Lakers superstars and go a lot deeper than LAL. As for the coaching advantage? The jury’s still out for D’Antoni and Del Negro. Can we just have Kobe and CP3 as player/coaches?
- Plateaus: DeMarcus Cousins, Javale McGee, Evan Turner (maybe not as much here), Blake Griffin, Ty Lawson. With the exception of Javale, I don’t believe these other kids have reached their ceilings, but in terms of the eye-test, none of these guys appear to have improved from last year. The stats (per game, per 36, and advanced) show declines for Cousins, McGee, Lawson and Blake (Blake’s statistical declines look like a result of the Clippers diversifying their attack, but that’s an investigation for another post). Just because the sun comes up every morning doesn’t mean it’s always going to be a beautiful day.
|**As a sidebar, can you imagine how frustrating it would be to regress? Let’s say you work for a Senator or you’re a manager or you’re a salesperson, a teacher, a statistician, a firefighter, a writer, anything and all of your colleagues are high on you because you have a proven record of performance and then one day you show up and you’re unable to do your job as well as you’re used to. Maybe there’s some external life events getting in the way or perhaps you’re just struggling to focus, but you know that everyone’s watching and wondering what happened. If you exponentially multiply the intensity of that lens, then you’ll start to have an idea of the struggles faced by the players listed here.|
- Falling Down: Josh Smith, Andrea Bargnani, Lamar Odom, Washington Wizards. Every time I’ve watched the aforementioned, I’ve ended up shaking my head in disappointment. Mid-range jumpers are to Smith what heroin was to William S. Burroughs—irresistible, enchanting, holding so much possibility. Bargnani and Odom are exceeding optimal weight limits and it’s preventing them from fulfilling roles their teams need. And the Wizards … oh, the poor, poor Wizards are the league’s only winless team at 0-11. I’m a John Wall fan, but in cleaning house of the Arenas-era characters, the Wiz have built a strange, slow-to-form supporting cast around their franchise player. If these downward trends continue, I’m going to start new series titled Essays in Exploration: Identifying the Early Signs of Decay.
- Princes of the Fall: Brandon Jennings, DeMar DeRozan, Chandler Parsons, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker: In the three-plus years I’ve been watching Jennings in the NBA, his biggest asset has consistently been his speed. So far in 2012, it looks like he’s found ways to harness said speed on the defensive end where he leads the league with an Alvin Robertsonian 3.5 steals/game … and yet Milwaukee didn’t extend him before the October 31st deadline. DeRozan, by contrast, was extended by the Raptors. It was kind of strange since he’s appeared to be a mostly one-dimensional scoring slasher without a reliable jumper, but in the Sunday day games and random weeknight games I’ve seen him in, he’s more aggressive, more confident, more purposeful. Whether it’s the addition of Kyle Lowry or the struggles of Bargnani, DeRozan’s a better, more mature player this year. Maybe I’m still on a high from seeing Parsons light up the Knicks the other night, but the Rockets are rewarding his versatility and he’s playing over 37 minutes/night and thriving as their starting small forward. After seeing him at Florida, I knew the kid was a strong ball handler and playmaker, especially for his size, but I didn’t believe it’d transfer over to the pro level. (I’m fairly confident this isn’t unique to me, but American-born white college players are difficult to project as pros … or maybe the smaller number of these players just makes it seem like they’re more difficult to project.) Anyhow, Damian Lillard’s not white. He’s a black point guard from Weber State who apparently learned the fine arts of the pick and roll during his undergrad studies and arrived in Portland with nothing more than basketball gear, online devices and gym clothes. He lives at the Blazers practice facility and is as NBA-ready as any point guard since … well … I guess Kyrie Irving.
Of course there are other observations from November, but these were top of mind. I haven’t seen all 30 teams and I’ve seen some teams I wish I hadn’t. We’ve already been subjected to surprises, pleasantries and disappointments and if this first month is any indication, we’ll be happily swimming a pool of confusion wondering how we got there come Christmas.
Community (aka, connecting the dots between Reggie Miller, Springfield Mass and pickup hoops at lunch)
September 9, 2012Posted by on
A week ago, I had the good fortune of passing through Springfield, Massachusetts and stopping off at the Basketball Hall of Fame where I spent a couple hours acting like a kid in an interactive Toys’ R’ Us museum. I gawked and stared at the memorabilia and basked (no joke) in the memories the photos brought to mind. I took a picture of the player photos that surround the interior dome of the BHoF and sent it to my basketball-loving amigos and in the same manner I was drawn to the game back in the late 80s, the focus orbited around Michael Jordan.
On the ground floor of the BHoF is a full court with baskets at each end, a couple ball racks with an assortment of basketballs available for the old and young alike to shoot hoops to their hearts’ content. Most people start the journey at the top floor and work their way down to the court and of course the gift shop. On each level as I worked my way down, I saw males of varying skill levels shooting around on these hoops. Some enjoyed the monasterial qualities of the setting while others seemed oblivious to their surroundings and shot with a freedom of awareness. And the reason I specifically call out males is because I didn’t see a single woman nor girl shooting on this day which isn’t meant as a commentary on the gender ceiling of the sport as women’s photos lined the dome above. Of course I arrived at the ground floor and while my wife sat on the bleachers with other wives, girlfriends and parents, I peacefully shot jumpers—in jeans and flip flops. Just like any other court I’ve ever been on where multiple people are shooting, there was an understanding, a common courtesy that you’d grab a stray ball for another shooter if it came your way and they’d do the same for you. This pre-knowledge automatically creates an unspoken agreement between people shooting around. So without even knowing the guys I was shooting with, I already had a relationship of sorts. And it was a peaceful shoot around even though I was admonished by one of the Hall’s employees for stepping to the half-court line and taking a few dribbles in preparation of a half court heave, “No half-court shots!” he shouted from the sideline. I laughed a bit realizing that I’m a 31-year-old man who was about to fire up a half-court shot at the BHoF. If that’s not enough evidence that basketball and the BHoF specifically can bring the little boy out of the grown man, then this exchange I witnessed as I was walking off the court should do the job: A man in his late 20s or early 30s was enthusiastically chucking up jumpers. Like me, he wasn’t wearing something like jeans and a button down and as I passed, I heard a woman standing near him (she was clearly his significant other) say in jokingly motherly tone, “OK, one more shot and then we’re leaving.” But he wasn’t ready to go, because we never are.
Here I am now, just over a week later watching a recording of the BHoF speeches from a few days ago. Reggie Miller’s speaking and referencing inside jokes that I kind of get. He calls Magic “Buck” and jabs him in the ribs about teaching him how to “lie and cheat” (at which point my thoughts uncomfortably jump to Magic’s legendary promiscuity that led to HIV)—that’s the backhand; the compliment comes when he articulates that lying and cheating are actually virtues of a “win by any means necessary” attitude. We get it because we’re on the inside and have read or heard about Magic’s compulsive competiveness in books and interviews, blogs and podcasts. Reggie gave a genuine, if not brotherly, credit to his sister Cheryl for raising the level of his family’s name and his basketball game. For the basketballiteratti, we already knew this and can judge and assess whether or not Reggie or Cheryl was the more relevant or greater Miller. We’ve heard the famous story about Reggie coming home from a high school game, pumped up because he scored 30 or 40 points and then he asked Cheryl how her game went and she’s all modest, “I scored 105 points.” We’re in the interpretive inner-circle; we know and nod or shake our heads.
And so many of these feelings of inclusion, of being a part of the inside joke or reference, were on display at the BHoF. I walked through the halls of the hall with my wife and pointed out random facts, stats and moments. I showed off out of childish enthusiasm: This is my area of expertise, this is what I know. Watching this induction ceremony with a sense of the physical space and history binds me into the knots of the game that continues to give and teach me so much. As I consider the infinite reach of basketball, I connect the aforementioned history to weekly pickup games with co-workers at Denny Park in Seattle where the quality of play falls in the bottom 50% globally (that’s not a good thing); I play with fellow cubicle dwellers shooting 35% from the field and averaging something like 13 turnovers per-36 minutes. We blame the shabby performances on things like age, ethnic and genetic athletic limitations and of course those impossibly sturdy symbols of American industry: The Double Rim. But excuses aside, we play and participate in a massive global community that was celebrated in Springfield, Massachusetts less than a week ago. We celebrate our physical possibilities, not our limitations, through our participation in this great, Naismith-given game. Our games at Denny Park on Fridays are tiny threads in the fabric of global basketball and at some level come with an awareness in all of us of the history that inspired and motivated us to step onto the court in the first place and continues to do so, week after week, year after year, in Seattle, Springfield and all points in between.