Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Category Archives: NBA

Spirit Weapons (NBA Playoff Edition)

Free Darko gave us the concept of “Spirit Animals” in their first book and five years late I’m still inspired enough to imagine “Spirit Weapons” for the 2013 Playoffs where NBA players are partnered up with ideal weapons that suit their style and personality. Since my own experience with weapons doesn’t extend much beyond handling a machete, using a rake as a staff, and familiarizing myself with the basics of nunchakus in my teenage years; I may not be qualified to make these connections, but we’re wasting time dwelling on it, so let’s get down to the bloody business of weaponry:

Mike Conley: A well-crafted, handmade, pearl-handled switchblade:The switch-blade Mike  Conley

When I think about switch-blades, my first thought is greasers with slicked back hair, white t-shirts, leather jackets, cigarettes. I don’t think about Mike Conley. But when I think about a switch-blade, its conveniently compact style able to be tucked discretely in the pocket of your jeans; the easy access and ability to operate with a single hand; I think about economy. Mike Conley is a point guard of economy and efficiency. He’s a law-abiding player, quick to stick to Lionel Hollins’ plays and plans, but like the greaser, he’s a lethal opportunist, happy to heartlessly carve up opponents who discount or disrespect him.

Zach Randolph: Brass knuckles

Brass knuckles - zach randolphThe man known as Z-Bo is the physical embodiment of brass knuckles. He’s like a human knuckle: Curved, but solid, blunt, powerful, made of raw American brutishness. Z-Bo’s fists do plenty of damage on their own (just ask Ruben Patterson’s orbital bone), but his spirit animal is the loaded fist; a lethal weapon residing in the painted area of basketball courts from Memphis to Los Angeles. When Z-Bo’s around, learn to duck.

Steph Curry: Flame thrower

One thing you’ll notice about all the weapons here is that they’re handheld and no guns or machinery are included. But for Curry, the flamethrower is remarkably appropriate. Opponents feel the intense threatening pressure of his jumpers which come from anywhere at any time. He creates his own shots and dazzles and intimidates with his constant heat checking. For further evidence of this flame throwing point guard, refer to the deep burns left on the 2013 Nuggets.

Steph curry flame thrower

Nuggets Engulfed (figuratively)

Russell Westbrook: Wolverine’s adamantium claws and skeleton

I read some comics back in the day, but was never sucked into the sub-culture and have never been to Comic-Con. I know enough to know that Wolverine’s claws and skeleton were made of some imaginary substance called adamantium which is apparently an indestructible metal alloy. Wolverine has super-human healing powers and up until last week, we all thought Westbrook did too. The man hadn’t missed a single basketball game in his entire career: That’s high school, college and five full seasons of NBA brutality. Add in the dichotomies between the on-court/off-court Russell Westbrooks which are akin to the Wolverine/Logan personas and the circle is complete.

Russ Westbrook - Wolverine

New York Knicks: Vega claw

New York Knicks - VegaFor those of you familiar with Street Fighter II, you’ll remember Vega as the masked matador from Spain who’s equipped with a long metal claw on his left hand. Vega’s claw and speed allow him to excel at long-range attacks, but he’s also one of the weaker characters on the game. Vega is the video game version of the Knicks: A diverse amalgamation of talents (Vega combines Ninjutsu with his bull-fighting skills), finely tuned and highly skilled, but more than susceptible to being popped in the mouth and defeated by opponents of a greater mental fortitude.

Chicago Bulls: Broken beer bottle

This isn’t to say the Bulls are like a gang of marauding drunkards going from bar to bar and smashing beer bottles over the

Likely Kirk Hinrich grasping a broken beer bottle - intent unknown

Likely Kirk Hinrich grasping a broken beer bottle – intent unknown

heads of any man, woman or child crazy enough to incite them. The broken beer bottle in this case symbolizes toughness. I don’t know if the Bulls are being struck with beer bottles or they’re doing the striking, but I feel like you could put this group in any situation and they’d find a way (whether through broken beer bottles or some other non-traditional method) to make their

opponents rue the day they confronted the Bulls.

Paul George: Rattan sticks

Not Paul George, but another person posing with rattan sticks

Not Paul George, but another person posing with rattan sticks

Rattan is described on Wikipedia as “hard and durable, yet lightweight.” George’s lean muscle, length and versatility are the basketball-version of a pair of rattan sticks thwacking away at foes too dumb or naïve to challenge George. Imagine his harassing defense as a painful rap across the knuckles; his dunks as a vicious head-body combination. His understated expressiveness wound tightly in the simplicity of these dangerous weapons. Don’t be stupid, avoid the George.

Blake Griffin: War hammer

The most famous and well-known war hammer is probably that of Thor, the comic-book character based on the thunder god of Norse mythology. Thor’s hammer had a name (Mjolnir) and could be picked up only by those who were worthy. This is Blake’s spirit weapon. Others can dunk with violence and aggression, but none approach the dunk shot with the fury of the NBA’s god of dunk, Blake Griffin. And like the war hammer which is used in close combat, the dunk typically occurs in close quarters where giants battle and more often than not, it’s Blake and his war hammer slaying inferiorly talented or poorly-positioned supersized humans. Blake  Griffin - war hammer

Jarret Jack: Head

I’m convinced Jarrett Jack’s skull is thick, hard like steel and impervious to pain (this isn’t a euphemism for Jack’s questionable decision-making). Is it possible for your spirit weapon to be part of you? It’s never happened before, but Jack’s the perfect guy to test it out on. Like his game, Jack’s dome is cleanly shaven, suggesting honesty and openness—you know what you’re getting with Jack. He’s strong for a guard, casually shrugging off defenders with his strength and intimidating them with his battering ram-like head. I’ve often wished the Warriors would celebrate wins with Jack ceremoniously crushing a brick with his skull, aka his spirit weapon.

Kevin Durant: Trident & Cast net

I struggled to find the appropriate spirit weapon for Durant and in the end the trident coupled with the cast net seemed to jive best his spiritual basketball self. The trident is described as being “prized for its long reach and ability trap other long-weapons between prongs to disarm their wielder.” The cast net is used in tandem with the trident as a way to trap or ensnare enemies; almost like a massive human web paralyzing prey, leaving them vulnerable to the trident attack. How appropriate is that for Durant? His nickname Durantula is due in part to his spidery-like limbs. Not known for physical strength; his length, skill and deliberateness are complemented by the trident’s long reach and deadly attacks. It’s completely possible Durant carries a net in his post-game backpacks.

Kevin  Durant's Spirit Weapon - enacted by someone radically different than Durant

Kevin Durant‘s Spirit Weapon – enacted by someone radically different than Durant

Chris Bosh: Bull whip

Many of us were likely introduced to the bull whip through the adventures of Indiana Jones, but unless Bosh is scared of snakes Chris  Bosh - bullwhipand has a fetish for brown fedoras, the similarities between the two begin and end with the whip. It’s a weapon that requires a high level of skill to best utilize and for all the Bosh-hating that goes on, he’s one of the better-skilled big men in the league. His range brings to mind one of the whip’s most valuable attributes: its length, which allows its user to maintain a safe distance from any assailant. Additionally, Bosh has never had a reputation for bruising and banging.

Tony Parker: Meteor Hammer

Before you shriek out, “Tony Parker? Meteor hammer?” in complete disgust, let me explain. Tony  Parker - meteor hammerThe meteor hammer is a chain with two weights (think steel objects, like steel globes) at either end (see image). The main strength is described as “its sheer speed” and it was named as such because it strikes “as fast as a meteor.” Additional descriptions: “When used by a skilled fighter, its speed, accuracy and unpredictability make it a difficult weapon to defend against.” That’s the perfect description of Tony Parker; a lighting quick guard with abnormal accuracy from the field who uses his head-to-head speed to keep defenders on their heels.

James Harden: Chakram

I had never heard of the chakram prior to writing this story. The chakram is a disk without a center that has razors around its James  Harden - chakramouter edge. It’s used as a throwing tool, but can also be used in up-close combat. The razors on the outside were sharp enough to chop off limbs. Sooooo … we’re talking about a deadly metal Frisbee that can be thrown with accuracy from anywhere between 40 and 100 meters. And if you get close to the chakram master, watch out because he’s likely to use it defensively or to hack off an arm with it. Harden’s not chopping any limbs that we know of, but the combination of his outside shot (finished 6th in the league in threes made) and inside attack (led the league in free throws attempted) are frighteningly chakram-esque.

Dwyane Wade: Macuahuitl

Dwyane  Wade - macuahuitlWade’s always been a physically imposing player. He’s 6’4” and built more like an NFL player than one of the best two guards in the league. In that regard, he’s always been unconventional. The macuahuitl (don’t ask how to pronounce) is similarly unconventional. Consider it as an earlier, more aesthetic version of a baseball bat with barbed wire wrapped around the barrel. The macuahuitl was a wooden club with sharp chunks of obsidian embedded in its sides. The obsidian was sharp enough to decapitate enemies. The blunt force of the club and the shredding capacity of the obsidian cut to the core of Wade’s on-court skills. His strength and speed have delivered two championships, a scoring title and numerous individual accolades. The macuahuitl is a weapon that knows no mercy, just like Wade.

LeBron James: Katana

The Samurai sword, known and revered for its “sharpness and strength” is the perfectly crafted weapon for the perfect warrior our league has. You can make a case that this blade is more suited for Kobe who’s come to define the basketball-playing warrior archetype with his commitment to winning and playing through injury if at all human possible, but for now, LeBron is the katana. The gods gifted him with the perfect physique for the game today. He’s too strong, too fast, too skilled and just too damn good for any of his contemporaries to slow down let alone defeat. Whether or not he follows the Samurai codes of honor is debatable, but it doesn’t change that he’s masterfully suited to be paired with the most resplendent of weapons.

Lebron James - katana blade

Other players who just missed the cut (no pun): Tim Duncan (hook swords), Ray Allen (cross bow), Rajon Rondo (claws of some sort), Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan (battle axes), Milwaukee Bucks (scissors), Reggie Evans (baseball bat). Weapons that missed out cat o’ nine tails, flash grenade, nunchakus, mace (the spray, not the mallet), chain whip.

Good luck to all the remaining playoff participants and please stay safe. Dancing with Noah doesn’t condone the use of any of the weapons listed above. For more information about local laws, please check your government websites.

A Reverberating Anniversary

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Encourage your local and federal representatives to fully vet your NBA owners

Encourage your local and federal representatives to fully vet your NBA owners

A Tale of a Half of a Half; Alternately: Quarters

The other day I spent a bunch of time writing a recap about being at the midpoint of the season with the emphasis being on the Eastern Conference (the West was to come later), but after closer examination, I didn’t enjoy what I had written and writing something you disapprove of is sort of like holding up a mirror to your face or your actions and not liking what you see (at least that’s the way it is for me sometimes). But if you’ll excuse my pissing and moaning, we can get on to the new and approved Eastern Conference midway point review which, sadly, isn’t as entertaining as the Western Conference. Also, I apologize in advance for the length; I swear on the NBA rulebook that the Western Conference version will be an exercise in concision.

We’ll start at where we left off last season: with LeBron James standing atop the NBA landscape with his thick headband obviously hiding an obviously receding hairline. LeBron took the 2012 year and molded into a year-long celebration of magnificence that began with him blazing through the shortened 2011-12 season, followed by an MVP award, an NBA title that many people thought he didn’t have the mental strength or commitment to earn, followed by a shiny gold medal at the London Olympics, a brief respite from the hyperactive camera lenses, mics and recorders that follow him around in hopes of simultaneously feeding our appetite for all things celebrity and enhancing that same appetite, to the 2012-13 season which is where we’re at today. And yes, the Heat is a team, an organization made of up of a lot of people who bust their asses to do great work every day, but as so many of us have realized, not everyone gets to be king, but LeBron James does. In any of our strongest pursuits, I’d say we strive for greatness and a chance to reach our potential. Well, if you value hard work, dedication (sorry, Floyd, but it fits), improvement, overcoming adversity (even if it’s self-made) and continually searching out ways to become better, then Bron’s your guy. Except for an anomalous fourth season (I’ll dive into this aberration at a later date), James has improved every season to the point where he’s shooting 55% from the field and 40% from three and leading his team to the best record in the east despite Miami not having an actual center.

Way up north of Miami where the weather’s cold and basketball fans are extremely serious about things like Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn and Jay-Z, the Knicks have found some kind of magic adhesive gel that’s united their team into something much greater than competent. The Knicks are the oldest team in the league and the presence of wise basketball sages like Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas combined with the all-inclusive embrace of Tyson Chandler (really though, when Tyson stretches his arms wide, the entire Knicks family, friends and fans can huddle up inside and commiserate or do what it is Knicks fans do) has maybe (as I write that word, I’m making face … my lips pursed together, my shoulders shrugged in complete uncertainty) had a positively profound impact on Carmelo Anthony. Melo’s a trending topic this season and while I think any talk about him as the Most Valuable Player in the league this year is completely out of line, I also recognize that he’s playing with a crispness and consistency (and a massively improved three-point shot; Olympic carryover? Sustainable?) which have been tough to come by in his career. Add in the JR Smith Effect (some kind of mad Evel Knievel of the hardwood) and you have regeneration at MSG. Regardless of where the Knicks fall on your list of favorite or least favorite teams, it’s fair to acknowledge and admit that a good basketball team in New York City is good for the league.

I haven’t seen the Pacers play much and maybe that’s because there are just other teams that I prefer. Or maybe it doesn’t matter why I have or haven’t watched the Pacers, but it just matters that you’ve seen the Pacers and their suffocating defense which, I suppose, probably tells me why I haven’t watched them much: they’re a defensive-minded squad and when you have a League Pass-worth of games, defensive stalwarts are rarely the first choice. The Pacers, despite missing one of their premier players in Danny Granger, have become a platform for the exploits of Paul George; a 6’8” wing who launches threes with grace and dunks with aggression, but most importantly for this team, uses his great physical gifts to impact the game defensively. George leads the league in defensive win shares and is fourth in defensive rating and most basketball fans can appreciate him without condition (as an aside, give it a couple years and a big contract until people are poking holes in his game with the tiniest needles until a bit of daylight shows through at which point we can all push our critical urges through because this is what we do). Then there’s Roy Hibbert who just signed a huge contract, but is painfully struggling to live up to expectations on the offensive side of the ball where he’s shooting .415—the worst FG% in league history for a man 7’2” or taller:

Roy Hibbert's Woes

At least Hibbert hasn’t let his offensive struggles impact his defense though. He leads the league in defensive rating and is third in blocks/game. Sticking with the Central Division, the Bulls have warmed my heart this season with their commitment to executing Tom Thibodeau’s thoroughly disciplined approach. This is a team that was decimated by free agency over the summer and has been without Derrick Rose for the first half of the season and they still go out there every night and grind hard, all the way down to the pavement (or the bone) where most teams don’t want to engage them. Credit goes to Gar Forman or John Paxson or whoever’s calling the shots here because the roster’s made up of guys who buy in and in this league, that’s a soft skill that’s more easily assumed than it is actualized. The Bulls trot out guys like Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton, Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli … in crunch time—and win. It’s such a scrappy crew made up of a bunch of guys who hit the floor without reservation. The only oddball of the bunch is Carlos Boozer (oddball relative to the rest of the roster) and he’s been playing great in 2013, averaging 22ppg, 11.5rpg and shooting 52% (compared to under 46% in November and December). But the guys Thibs heavily relies on are Luol Deng and Joakim Noah who’re both near the league leaders in minutes/game. Noah’s playing nearly six minutes more per game than at any other time in his career. I know six minutes is a drop in the bucket in most of our lives, but six NBA minutes where you’re banging against guys who are well over 250lbs of chiseled muscle and sharpened bone and you’re running and jumping on a wooden floor can be an eternity; look no further than D. Rose’s freak ACL tear last year. Speaking of Rose, I don’t know when he’s supposed to return or who he’ll be when he comes back, but his game change-ability alters the second, non-Miami, tier of the East.

There are a lot of cosmetic things I like about the new Brooklyn Nets: the floor color, design and lighting at the Barclay Center, the new black/white jerseys, an attractive roster on paper. Toss in an owner who’s willing to challenge Vladimir Putin and it sounds like something that could become an HBO series; or at least one of those mini-series’ like Generation Kill. Instead, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are playing below our (and Prokhorov’s) expectations. Deron’s developing a reputation as a coach killing malcontent, but this probably isn’t completely accurate, just an easy label. But at least they have Reggie Evans who does one single thing probably better than anyone else in the NBA does one single thing. With the exception of Dennis Rodman, we haven’t seen someone gobble up more possible rebounds than Evans is gobbling up this season:

Reggie Evans

There’s not much to be excited about in Atlanta or Milwaukee where GMs grab headlines as frequently as the players. If Atlanta doesn’t care about the Hawks, why should I? Well, that was a rude Q:A, but honestly, I’ve been tuning into Hawks games for years and unless it’s the playoffs, the seats in the lower bowl are consistently half empty. Perhaps the fans are as tired of this team as I am though. They grossly overpaid Joe Johnson and then sat on the same team for what seemed like an eternity until Danny Ferry finally showed up this summer like a refreshing scent on garbage day and somehow managed to rid this franchise of that wildly inaccurate contract. We’ll all just have to hope Ferry has more up his sleeve than a dirty arm. Up north in the frigidity of Lower Canada is the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks play in the Bradley Center which is really just a warehouse playing dress up as an NBA arena. It’s not a place for vibrancy or colors, but for serious and mindless endeavors like bulk shopping. I don’t say these things to put down Milwaukee or their basketball team, but because the Bradley Center is outdated and the team’s management is imitating its arena. They’re a queer bunch who float through the league’s purgatory without hope or fear. I mean, what is success defined as for the Milwaukee Bucks? They have a 22-18 record today and should make the playoffs where Brandon Jennings can get more much-needed experience, but since they weren’t able to extend him when they had the chance, what’re the odds this spindly ray of sunshine sticks around? There is Larry Sanders though and while he’ll never carry a team, he’s proving his ability to be a satisfactory anchor on defense where he leads the league in blocks at 3.2 and is third in defensive rating. *If the NBA ever decides to contract teams, these are two I’d recommend and it doesn’t have anything to do with the fans. It has to do with front offices and/or owners who’ve proven they’re either unwilling or unable to commit to improving.

I wouldn’t add Toronto to the list of contracted teams even though Bryan Colangelo has a résumé built on the shoulders of below average teams. The reason I give a thumbs up to Toronto is their borderline Euro-soccer enthusiastic fans. I’m reluctant to say any fan base “deserves” this or that, but Raps fans could use a lovable star who returns the love as well as he receives it. Similar to Milwaukee, the Raptors won the draft lottery, but have little-to-nothing to show for it. Andrea Bargnani’s banged up (again), but I have a feeling I’m in the minority in believing there’s still an NBA contributor lurking around inside Barganani. Sadly though, it may have to be rediscovered in another city, in another uniform and with a different set of supporters.

 My relationship with these Celtics, the KG-Pierce Celtics, has never been as flat as my relationship with the Hawks or Bucks. Kevin Garnett’s arrival in Boston stirred up a profound, but vaguely natural hatred in me. I hated KG and Perkins and Pierce not because they won, but how they went about winning. Now that the end’s probably in sight, my hate for this Boston team has receded and I find myself (passively at best) disliking this team. (Someday I’ll write a post called The Great Thaw of Boston; but that day’s not today.) There are plenty of other people (like Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler) to spew my venom towards. And that’s what occurred a couple weeks back when the Celts and Knicks were in the middle of an old fashioned east coast dustup. KG was deep inside the psyche of Melo, poking, prodding, disrupting and annoying the hell out of him and I encouraged it from my couch. I laughed and cajoled and gave myself high fives. For a moment, Boston had rediscovered their attitude and used it to upset a superior Knicks team. A week later, it was the Bulls turn and instead of getting rattled, they remained calm, focused and victorious and the Celtics, for me at least, were back to their villainous ways. It’s not the same with Boston anymore because the mystique has gone with time and fading ability, but their win over NYK and the manner in which they went about it was a little reminder for the rest of the league and for all of us that this team can still be dangerous. But if you want to purchase the headstone, let me know and I’m happy to help write the epitaph.

As of today’s date, Philly’s the big loser in the Dwight trade from this summer—and that’s saying something given the Lakers struggles (actually, the Lakers are likely the bigger loser given the shit show brewing in LA). Not only has Andrew Bynum failed to play a game in a Sixers uniform, but the players they gave up have played fantastic: Nikola Vucevic has been brilliant in Orlando and Andre Iguodala has at least been decent in Denver. In addition to those two, Philly lost Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams, but brought in Dorell Wright and Nick Young. It’s a young, young team with their top-three players (not counting Bynum) being 24 or younger. Stylistically, Doug Collins has these guys playing to their athletic strengths as a defensive team, but they’re not even very good at that. Surprisingly, they take care of the ball well (except for Jrue Holiday at 4 TOs/game); they just don’t do much else very well. If grades were associated with this team, they’d get an incomplete. As disappointing as Bynum’s injury has been for the Sixers, Holiday’s confidence and improvement have hopefully been appreciated by the Philly faithful. At just 22 and already in his fourth season, he’s making leaps this year. Did you know he’s the only player in the league this season averaging 19 or more points and 9 or more assists per game? And just to provide a bit more context around this, the only players who’ve accomplished this in the past 12 years are Chris Paul, Gary Payton and Deron Williams. And Jrue’s only 22! I feel better now that I’ve discovered this.

Jrue's Holiday

The rest of the Eastern Conference starts to get muddled because intentions aren’t as clear. We have what should be a full-fledged youth movement in Detroit, but it’s difficult to move forward when Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva are still around. This isn’t any fault of their own, but these are throwbacks to the John Kuester era which was an undeniable disaster of almost mutinous proportions. If that same Pistons group would’ve been at sea and Kuester was their captain, my guess is he’d be fish food. That being said, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond appear to be a legitimate big man tandem; even if Monroe is possibly a bit on the timid side. In a league devoid of strong post players, what kind of advantage would Detroit have with a pair of near-seven footers who are young, talented and motivated? If I’m a Detroit fan, the biggest gripe I have is that my team hasn’t shifted full on into the youth movement. It’s actually gone the other direction with Drummond playing better in nine January games, but seeing less minutes than he did in December. Lawrence?

In the Southeast Division, Orlando and Charlotte are in similar situations where success is measured by player development and asset acquisition. Both teams have first-time head coaches in Jacque Vaughn and Mike Dunlap and both coaches have gotten their teams to play particularly hard. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Kemba Walker’s progression and the entire Magic team’s competitiveness. Where the Bobcats are a young team just trying to find a way, any way, the Magic are composed of youngsters and steady vets in Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, Big Baby and JJ Redick who, on the surface at least, take their profession seriously every night. And if that’s not enough, Nikola Vucevic, who was tossed into the Dwight/Bynum trade, is proving to be a bloody savage on the glass where he’s averaging 11 rebounds/game and had a 29-rebound night against the Heat. On top of that, he’s shooting close to 52% from the field. He’s only 22 and I’d love to read an in-depth scouting report detailing his possible ceiling—which I’m guessing is lower than I hope it is.

And now we arrive at the Wizards and Cavs; a couple teams clearly playing for the future and developing today. In basketball terms, both of their seasons have been strained with injuries. John Wall’s missed over 30 games for the Wiz and Anderson Varejao developed a blood clot in his lung and is out for the season. Varejao’s injury in particular is painful for me to bear. Here he was in the midst of an absolute career year at age 30, averaging 14 and 14 with a career-high PER of 22.8 (previous high was 18.9) and like that it’s gone. John Wall will have other seasons and other chances, but for Varejao, the opportunities will only shrink. And Kyrie Irving. He’s not a traditional pass-first playmaking point guard and it’s refreshing his pro coach hasn’t tried to make him one. He looks for his shots in part because he’s a scorer and in part because the Cavs don’t have anyone else who can score that frequently; except for Varejao who’s all done, no one else scores with volume and efficiency. If Dion Waiters develops more consistency, it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, impact it has on Kyrie’s game.

This concludes the 2012-13 Eastern Conference mid-season review. Getting through the EC is a slog. The weather’s cold, the basketball is grittier, the collection of talent is less than in the west. Talent isn’t distributed nearly as well here where six of the 15 teams are in rebuild/development mode, four teams are stuck in NBA purgatory and the remaining four teams (Brooklyn, New York, Chicago and Indiana) are chasing Miami, but doing so with what almost amounts to futility.

*Note: All stats are as of games completed 1/22/13

Things have changed for the better

Things have changed for the better

Anticipation

As an NBA fan, I can’t help but have my favorites and least favorites. Besides being a dope name for a blog, Dancing with Noah is about expression, about the individual, about finding yourself and being comfortable in what you find. I wish I could say that was the case with me more often than it actually is, but as it stands, my partial self-discovery makes me honor and celebrate the individual even more intensely. But to take that idea even further, I celebrate the authentic individual even more if the journey is painful (isn’t it always?). That whole martyr yourself for yourself thing that’s not really a thing. But to make all this shit more relevant to this basketball world: I hope to god JR Smith blows up. I hope Earl Clark becomes a better Tim Thomas. I can still remember all the Eddy Curry scouting reports about how his gymnast background made him a light-footed, unstoppable giant…still waiting. I’ve mostly given up on Anthony Randolph, but that game when he goes for 18pts, 13rebs and 7 blocks, a small part of me will flicker…it’s the same part of me that wants to believe in ghosts and the supernatural…but that flicker of hope will be suffocated by the latex-gloved sterile hands of logic. And please don’t allow me to run alone through thickets of my imagination with Terrence Williams. Otherwise, I’ll be referencing D-League triple doubles, bad breaks, worse coaches and mini-Lebrons.

But on the eve of war, this is what I got:

LeBron James to Damion James,

Kobe Bryant to Koby Karl,

Travis Best to David, Delonte and Jerry West,

To the Griffins, here and gone … Blake, Adrian and Eddie

Drink to Kings and Sonics, Braves and Thunder, Vancouver and Memphis,

Lab geek rats and playgrounds,

Plus/minus, double rims, chain nets,

Crossover commonalities of Jay-Z and Tim Hardaway,

Learning the hard way,

Eddy Curry’s waistline to the baseline,

Mount Harden sitting on an ever-growing tangle of black forest,

Bynum’s knees channeling Bill Walton’s feet, Rose’s and Rubio’s ligaments, Eric Gordon’s fragility, breaking Bogut, culture-shocked Euros,

Bounce bounce bounce, we’re bouncing…

Playground to gymnasium to arena, stadium, center, garden, and Palace—aren’t we so royal?

When Ernie Johnson mentions your name on a Thursday night for the first time, you’ve made it,

Studios, columns, blogs, Twitters, predictions, swagger, anything’s possible, but only a few things will actually happen.

This is a Malcolm Gladwell explanation, it’s hard work, talent, discipline, sweat, soul, life, Sonny Vaccaro, William Wesley and your AAU coach, it’s a Michael Jordan poster and your first pair of Jordans (blue IVs for me), it’s all a dream like Biggie said,

A brotherhood (Grants, Lopez’s, Jones’s), fatherhood (Rivers’s, Karls, Currys, Thompsons), and parenthood (Shawn Kemp and Calvin Murphy)

Death too soon … (Reggie Lewis, Bias, Drazen, Duckworth, Pistol, Eddie Griffin, Bobby Phills, Tractor Traylor and Chris Street),

Fraternal orders, culture crossing …

It’s the eve of purpose for the Heat, Lakers, Thunder, and Spurs.

It’s the eve of hope for the Celtics, Pacers, Clippers, Nuggets, and Nets.

And above all else … it’s OK to be hopeful in the face of guaranteed failure.

It’s the final opening evening for a few, the first opening night for a few more, another in a boring series of many for the unappreciative, the 15th for Vince Carter, the second for Kyrie Irving, will be watched from home, if at all by Allen Iverson and Michael Olowokandi and I’m sure there’s at least one dude who thinks the season’s already started.

Dust off the kicks, squeak the soles of those shoes on the finely polished floor for the first time all over again, fire up League Pass, get your beverage of choice and some snacks and settle in for disappointment, fulfillment and surprise … this is basketball, this is life.

Trust, Believability, Integrity and Mysterious Feuds

When I found out about David Stern’s 2014 retirement date, I didn’t think too deeply about the practical implications of his departure, but my first thoughts went to the media’s reaction, Twitter nerds going bananas, what the response would be … I guess that’s more a function of my personal participation in the game so it makes sense that’s where my thoughts went.

In the midst of Thursday night’s NBA TV coverage and reading through Twitter, I came across a few things: First, David Stern and Adam Silver both have huge ears with floppy lobes that look like they wore ear spacers once or like something a cartoonist would draw. Second: Despite having completely different physical characteristics, Stern and Silver look alike—similar facial expressions, smirks, not smiles, wet eyes, big ears. Third: Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski took Stern to the woodshed as he’s done so many times before.

This latest shot started out: “The biggest ego in the history of the sport, the emperor of the NBA …” Even a half-assed perusal of Wojnarowski’s 1,095 stories on Yahoo will reveal a small mountain of shells from the shots Woj has taken at Stern over the years. Here’s a far-from-in-depth grab:

12/9/11: The curtain has been pulled back on how this league operates, how Stern still sees himself as emperor, as a dictator of what he wants and how he wants it. Back on All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, Stern told those stars in an angry, true moment in the locker room that he knew where the bodies were buried because he had buried a lot of them. He threw that shovel over his shoulder again Thursday and walked away from one more dirt ditch.

6/30/11: And say goodbye to David Stern’s legacy, which will look like that of one more star player who stayed too long in the game, who was the last to know when it all passed him by.

6/24/11: Stern is no longer the sport’s leader, its moral compass, but the errand boy of the fringe owners.

10/19/09:  Yes, this behavior would’ve bought an NBA coach and GM the wrath of Emperor Stern, but Maccabi had international immunity.

1/30/09: When David Stern had the relentless resolve to make everyone forget the debauchery of a lost All-Star weekend on the Vegas Strip and a mobbed-up dirty referee, the commissioner turned New Orleans into a post-Katrina photo-op for the NBA’s beleaguered brand. He made sure every paint-brush stroke, every stunted swing of a hammer, had camera lenses to bear witness to the world.

10/30/06:  And it keeps him here on the 15th floor of the Olympic Tower, chasing tomorrow even after his longtime football contemporary, Tagliabue, called it a career. Eventually, the NBA has a way of bending to the commissioner’s will. There’s a relentless way to Stern that forever finds him getting his vision validated, getting his league his way.

That last one is from nearly six years ago when Wojnarowski wrote his first column for Yahoo. I didn’t have the pleasure of reading Woj prior to his Yahoo days, but I’m assuming this biting view of Stern has been a part of his writing for longer than just six years. Anyone familiar with his work knows he saves his most scathing tones and insults for the league’s most powerful—the guys who appear to be capable, but choose not to live up to the lofty standards their roles demand of them; namely Lebron James and David Stern.

As I was reading through his latest story on Thursday night, I shook my head at the remarkable consistency, the venom, the spittle, the intensity of his assault. I can imagine him pacing back and forth in his home office, wearing the carpet thin with a mug of coffee in his hand (likely his fourth or fifth), talking through the column—mostly in his head, but occasionally muttering words. Maybe there’s a dog following him around, getting wound up from the rising energy in the room. Maybe he chews on a pencil or a pen, jotting down ideas and phrases. Whatever the methodology, the end result is nothing short of a tamed hurricane made of words.

Impassioned words like this don’t just pop out of thin air. They’re cultivated over time and from something deep seeded; something a man feels in his muscles and nerves, way down in the core, something that makes his nostrils flare and his jaw clench. But as I wrote a friend an email about Stern last night, I wondered what I’ve always wondered: Where’s this axe to grind come from? Is there a hidden story we don’t know about? Somewhere along the line, did Stern insult a young Wojnarowski and scar him in the process? And to take the soap opera further: Stern has to know about Wojnarowski, right? He has to know this guy with the dark hair and glasses who looks more like a high school science teacher or an economist is slicing him up with razor blades every couple months, right? What’s it like when these two cross paths at NBA press conferences? Is Stern dropping a “cocksucker” under his breath when he passes Woj? Does Woj respond with a deliberate “prick?” I hope so, but I have my doubts.

As much as my imagination and my dependence on Hollywood for any sense of a storyline (conflict conflict conflict!) want to believe there’s this hidden personal feud between Commissioner David Stern and Adrian Wojnarowski, but unfortunately, I’ve got to accept Woj’s impeccable record here. His style is to bust the balls of anyone who crosses the NBA’s version of a 38th parallel (Dwight Howard, Gilbert Arenas, James, Stern)—and in extreme circumstances attempt to castrate them. And while occasionally, it does feel like he’s unfairly targeting a few unlucky characters; time has consistently revealed his portrayals, while aggressive, are honest and accurate.

Which leads to the next-to-last point in this Stern saga: If you believe Wojnarowski’s descriptions of Stern, if you accept the words of this well-respected journalist who has little to gain by publicly trashing the commissioner of the league he covers; then you have to acknowledge that David Stern is a real asshole, the kind of guy you’d despise and about whom you’d say things like, “if I didn’t work for him and he said that to me, I’d knock his old ass out,” the kind of guy you could actually describe as diabolical (maybe it’s a stretch, but let’s go with it). Think about that. How many diabolical people do you know? And if you know one or some, how hard do you try to limit your contact with those people? Woj describes him as a “dictator,” “emperor,” “errand boy,” paints him as a manipulator, a bully, a puppet master, ruthless. These are all fine characteristics if you’re Gordon fucking Gekko, but Commissioner Stern? The sweet looking old guy with that shit eating grin who’s always trying to convince us that the “NBA Cares?”

The final point; from the defenders of Stern—which, not surprisingly, include every employee of NBA TV and any player willing to get in front of a camera and say a few words about the Commissioner. He’s been successful; his job isn’t to make friends or be nice, his job is to make money for the league and the owners and you can’t argue against the success, just the approach. I have a huge book sitting on my bookshelf that I’ve never read. It’s the Steve Jobs biography and while I haven’t read it myself, I’m aware that Jobs had a reputation for pushing Apple employees to their breaking point, but it was always in the name of something larger; a strive for perfection in Apple products and judging by the cult of Apple acolytes and the ever-rising stock price, it’s fair to say Jobs was successful in his endeavors—just like Stern. For me, the big difference (again, not knowing all the details of Jobs’ backstory) is the ruthlessness that Stern has controlled his image whereas Jobs spoke openly about his intensity and approach. Successful? Yes, but at what cost?

If you think it’s just business for Woj and not personal, then you’ve got to be circling 2/1/14 as a day to celebrate. And if you refuse to accept that premise … then your imagination’s probably doing its own thing and trying to speculate on exactly what happened between these two men. The last option … you believe Stern was the greatest Commissioner in pro sports history … and you work for the NBA.

Whose fury are we looking at?

Basketballs Scattered Across the Spring

It’s been a short, compact, but winding road to finally arrive at the end of this 66-game battle of attrition. We’ve seen cornballs, meatballs, basketballs, big men in nerdy Lewis Skolnick glasses. We’ve seen a return to the gates of paradise for the league’s old guard. Kobe Bryant, Timmy D, KG, Paul Pierce and Steve Nash have applied stiff arms to father time. Thanks to some clumsy statements and an inability to wipe that shit eating grin off his face, Dwight Howard is now competing with LeBron for the league’s least likable superstar. Speaking of Dwight, the league’s two best bigs have revealed themselves as entitled brats (Andrew Bynum being the second) and Blake Griffin has come to embody a kind of dickhead we all encounter somewhere in life’s journeys…all in 66 games.

I’m a man and feel emotions like men do. And anger and frustration are emotions I feel. A part of me relishes pointing the accusatory, judgmental finger at an egotist like Dwight or bullies like Blake and Bynum. They’re easy targets who paint big ol’ bulls-eyes on their backs and fronts with their sullen, selfish behaviors. So if I venture away from a celebratory tone, just know it’s because I’m a whole human who cries sometimes when I wish I could laugh.

Today’s post is a pointless journey over the past four months of NBA madness. There have been so many details and tidbits overlooked in post-game write-ups and hometown blogs that it’s impossible to catalog them all here without some kind of web-scraping tool that understands context and the use of irony in the English language. I’m not going for comprehensive, just memories and impressions and sore thumbs—because we all know they stick out so much.

Taking Pleasure in Someone Else’s Failure: The Los Angeles Clippers: You can’t call it a failure considering they’ll likely end up with the four seed in the west and have one of the most entertaining one-two punches in recent memory, but with the emergence of Bynum and Kobe thriving off will, muscle memory and craftiness, the Lakers are still the big brother. Cool out, Lob City, or whatever you’re calling yourselves. And for God’s sake, someone (I vote Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin) put a ball-gag in Mo Williams’s mouth when reporters come around.

Jekyll & Hyde honor for an inability to grasp a singular identity: The New York Knicks: It’s the Melo and Amare show with Tyson Chandler’s championship mentality anchoring the defense. No, no, it’s Jeremy Lin and role players pick and rolling the opposition to death. Err, let’s dump D’Antoni and hand the reigns over to Melo and Mike Woodson. All that in just 66 games. Imagine what Dolan and company could’ve done in a full season.

The John Edwards Memorial: Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher: Speaking of two faces, it’s no wonder the labor negotiations dragged out so long with these two feuding like basketball Hatfield and McCoys—complete with Hunter’s entire family being on the NBPA’s payroll in one form or another. Given that we went from an independent audit of the union’s books (ie; Billy Hunter) at Fisher’s request to an 8-0 vote by the union’s executive committee for Fisher to step down, it feels like Hunter’s pulling strings with his pinky rings. I wouldn’t be surprised if News Corp is somehow involved in all of this.

So So Bad Michael Jordan All-Stars: The Charlotte Bobcats: Everyone’s getting their licks in on MJ these days and why not? The go-for-the-jugular mentality that suited him so well on the court has made a jackass out of him as an owner and in the front office. After hearing MJ’s role as one of the vocal small market owners hoping to crush players in labor negotiations, it’s depressingly satisfying to see a team he helped craft struggle like this. And I got money that Paul Silas would hand it to Tyrus Thomas.

Don’t Worry, it’s just Karma: The Portland Trailblazers: I know business is business and from everything I’ve read, Darius Miles was somewhat difficult (understatement) during his tenure in the City of Roses, but I can’t ever forget the Blazers attempting to cash in on his knee injury and force him into an early retirement. Were these the same doctors who gave Greg Oden a once over before the draft? Or perhaps the same front office that knew Roy had a degenerative knee condition and still gave him an extended contract? Reducing it all to something as man-made as “bad luck” seems too simplistic.

We were wrong about you, but we’re still not sorry: David Kahn: Before MJ pulled a kamikaze move as the pilot of the Bobcats, we told jokes about Kahn’s ineptitude and laughed at the punch lines with Chris Webber and all felt like insiders. These days, Kahn is adored in Minneapolis the way Kim Jong Il was adored in Pyongyang…and Minny didn’t even make the playoffs. The bar has officially been lowered.

Who is he and what is he to you?: Terrence Williams: A first round pick by the Nets in 2009, T-Will has played on three teams in three seasons, seen at least one stint in the D-League, ended up in at least two coach’s doghouses and yet still possesses one of the most versatile games in the NBA—at 24-years-old. He must be pissing someone (or everyone) off, but we never get straight dope on the guy. Since I’ve been advocating his game since his Louisville days, I feel obligated to stand by my assessment that Terrence can ball. And ball he does! Since the Kings picked him up after Houston dumped him, I’ve caught a few of his performances and on several occasions he’s been the best player on the floor. He can shoot, run the offense as a 6’6” (might be an inch smaller) point guard, beat bigger defenders off the dribble and beat smaller guys on the boards. Is he Terrence the Terrible or just a baby Bron?

I’ll put trademarks around your fuckin’ eyes: The League: Maybe it was the funky schedule, missed paychecks or injuries, but something felt a little edgier this season. After all the cool kids and super friends BS and the clamoring of every former player that the league’s gone soft, the players developed a bit more animosity towards each other this year. It’s not quite McHale on Rambis (which, if it happened today would be panned by the same ex-players as a dirty play), but the Clips-Lakers, Lakers-Mavs, Heat-Bulls, Celtics-Heat, Bulls-Pacers have all displayed a genuine dislike for each other and if the popularity of the MMA or the NFL is any example, we should all be pleased by this extra aggression.

Billy, listen to me: White men can’t jump: Kevin Love: Is it possible to discuss American-born white NBA players without race coming up? It is, but I wanted to get that White Men Can’t Jump reference in so we’re going there. And while the myth has been debunked by Bones Barry and a slew of other white guys with hops, by and large, white guys aren’t getting off the ground with the same spring as their black counterparts and Kevin Love is no exception. He’s the best non-vertical rebounder since Danny Fortson’s six-game stretch with Golden State in 2000 when he was snagging 16+ rebounds/game. But that’s where the Love-Fortson comparison ends. Kevin Love is the best power forward in the league. Danny Fortson was just the best Danny Fortson in the league.

Good Guys Wear Black: The San Antonio Spurs: This group of the Spurs has been around so long that they’ve earned the begrudging respect of fans who know Tim Duncan from his Wake Forest days. From slow, plodding, “right” basketball to an intelligent, opportunistic transition game, they’ve been revamped and apparently I can’t stop writing about a team I loathed as recently as three or four years ago. Hate if you must, but just know it’s misplaced.

Old School Jams: 1996 NBA Draft: What if we sat down over peanut butter and bananas on toast the morning after the 1996 draft and broke it down player-by-player and I told you with a straight face that by 2012 Allen Iverson would be broke and blackballed by the league, Stephon Marbury would be king of the Chinese pro league, Ray Allen would be the greatest three-point shooter in league history, that preps-to-pros punk who speaks Italian would be a five-time champ and one of the toughest and most prolific scorers in league history, Steve Nash would still be plugging away as a two-time MVP (as many as Kobe and Iverson combined, say word?) and one of the top PGs in the league—at 38-years-old?

Factoids, anecdotes and achievements have bounced across the ticker and Twitterverse for the past four months like an endless rack of basketballs kicked across the gym floor; something of value to be found in each bounce of each ball if only to the crazy hardcore and mildly addicted. After all, it’s just basketball, but here we are …

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