Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

NBA Biographical Sketch #5: Dan Majerle

Dan Majerle was a 6’6” shooting guard with model good looks, a square jaw, a full head of brown hair, and a tan of Hasselhoffian proportions. “Thunder Dan” as he was known bombed threes before it became en vogue. In that sense, one could say he was ahead of his time. Sandwiched between a career spent in sunny Phoenix and on the sandy beaches of Miami was an out of context year in Cleveland which signaled the onset of his deterioration in which he possibly could’ve been referred to as “Cloudy Dan” by someone with a poor sense of humor. Majerle will forever be remembered for his role on the Barkley-led Suns teams and for being an object of the great Michael Jordan’s disdain in the 1993 Finals.

A three-time all-star, Majerle could oddly be considered a beiger, more pleasant version of Arron Afflalo or even a darker, more muscularly violent (in play only) version of Brent Barry.

In the commercial below, “Thunder Dan” can be heard asking for a stat that quantifies hustle (again, ahead of his time). While this may have been one of his calling cards, it’s not one with which I’m deeply familiar. If someone was bored, they could easily sub in Shane Battier footage with Majerle’s commentary.

NBA Biographical Sketch #4: Dino Radja

Dino Radja was a 6’11”, somewhat sallow-colored offensive-minded front court player for the Boston Celtics in the early-to-mid 90s. His time with the Celtics was spent shedding defenders with his patented baseline spin move and deftly scoring in and around the hoop (he maxed out at ~20 and 10 in 1996) while assimilating into the Celtics culture by wearing bulky, bulging, inky black sneakers just as Bird, McHale, and Parrish had done before him. The black shoes these Celtics wore brought to mind something weighty like an anvil or some industrial-era workman’s footwear – not basketball shoes. Radja was also a member of the 1992 Croatian Olympic team; a group that featured Toni Kukoc, Drazen Petrovic and Zan Tabak and in another time and place, may have won gold. There’s certainly more to Radja’s story, but alas the NBA chapter is short as he appeared in just four seasons and played an average of 56 games/year. His tenure in the league, and more specifically the Celtics and then-coach Rick Pitino, ended disappointingly:

I went to Pitino and asked him if I fit into his plans. With a new coach, I obviously wanted to know what he thought of my game. I loved playing for Boston and just wanted to find out if there was any possibility I might be traded, because I had heard some rumors. Pitino looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘Dino, don’t worry. You’re going to be a big part of our offense. When we run a set play, the ball is going to go through you.’ I left the meeting feeling great. Five days later, I found out I was being traded to Philadelphia. I can’t tell you how much I felt betrayed. Either Pitino lied or something changed in a matter of a few days.

NBA Biographical Sketch #3: Sedale Threatt

When I picture Sedale Threatt in my mind’s eye, he’s darker than he actually was, his head is so cleanly shaved that one might wonder if it even contains hair follicles, and his hands are like knives, slicing and stabbing away at the ball from absentminded ball-handlers and clumsy clods. Even in my minimal research, it turns out he was referred to as “The Thief.” Threatt was short for a combo guard (6’2”) and spent five of his 13 seasons in a Lakers uniform, but I also associate him with the Sonics where he spent four years. If you want to consider a modern-day Threatt, look to Mario Chalmers; another thieving point guard, but on less offensively aggressive by circumstance, but superior from the perimeter.

Additional Threatt research confirmed my suspicions that Threatt had some infamous off-court issues; namely that he may “have as many as 14” children and wasn’t paying child support.

I struggled about whether or not to include the reference to Threatt’s off-court issues, but ultimately decided on adding them as they make up part of my Threatt-related consciousness. In some cases, this can be problematic as certain athletes have their on-court/on-field personas unfairly overshadowed by off-field activities. As I move through these sketches, I will likely address legal or personal issues on a case-by-case basis and strive to be unbiased.

NBA Biographical Sketch #2: Mark West

There’s so little I know about Mark West. He was an undersized (6’10”) starting center on a series of competitive Suns teams. He wore number 41 and was black with black moustache. He always shot well from the field (research shows he’s fourth all-time in career FG%). On first glance, without the benefit of seeing or knowing his height, he could’ve been anything, worked any job in any business or trade. Picture Mark West in a hard hat or a suit and tie and it’s the same; a trooper, a worker bee, a brick in the wall. This isn’t a slight on West by any means as the majority of us move through life as relative bricks in relative walls.

But Mark West was tall and while he may have been average by NBA standards, he had enough ability to stick for 17 seasons. Those Suns seasons when many of us probably remember him were spent in a supporting role to bigger and brighter stars and personalities like Kevin Johnson, Xavier McDaniel, Chuck Barkley, Dan Majerle, Jeff Hornacek and was even outshone by coach Paul Westphal. West also attended Old Dominion University and is profiled in a video below during his ODU days. A fair comparison in terms of present-day ability is a lesser version of Emeka Okafor – an undersized defensive center clearly attuned to his role within the team dynamic.

Mark West on left sharing a laugh with current Suns coach Jeff Hornacek

Mark West on left sharing a laugh with current Suns coach Jeff Hornacek

NBA Biographical Sketch #1: Tom Chambers

Tom Chambers was an ultra-athletic white guy who played power forward for 16 seasons in the NBA and was known primarily for his time with the Suns and Sonics. At 6’10”, he used a combination of size, skill, and athleticism most effectively on the offensive side of the ball where he was a career 18ppg scorer and maxed out with seasons of 25 and 27ppg. He struggled to get notoriety against the bigger and bolder bodies of work of Barkley and Karl Malone, but make no mistake, this one-time all-star MVP was like a more fluid, less violent version of Amare Stoudemire.

My strongest memories of Chambers are dunk-related. As a kid, I played the shit out of some Sega Genesis and the pixelated Tom Chambers looked like some kind of tanned surfer-turned-basketball player with an array of dunks so unfathomable as to appear as if he sprouted from the imagination of a panel of dunk gods insistent on challenging existing dunker archetypes. In truth, his pixelated doppelganger was likely inspired by his legendary dunk on Mark Jackson in which he caught the ball on a break and used the chest of the 6’3” Jackson as a springboard to reach heights that wouldn’t be realized until the Blake Griffin/LeBron James era of dunkers.

Atlas in Detroit

I wish everyone would just shut the fuck up

Andre Drummond is here

So maybe people should pay a little respect

He’s like a pretty black version of Sloth from Goonies, but with symmetrical facial features,

A keen mind, and an NBA contract,

Unchained from Lawrence Frank’s basement of 20-minute games

To a freedom where he doesn’t wreak havoc

He wreaks hell on victims in bulging musclebound ferocity,

His calm demeanor contradicting a storm of terror delivered with the

Fury of a hundred angry, scowling Kenyon Martins crossbred with salty Donald Sterlings

The Pistons are dead?

How can that be when Drummond’s dunks are sporty homicides that

Sacrifice feeble-bodied opponents to the blood-lusting spectators at the Palace

His snarling rebounds snared with the wings of a Velociraptor,

Swoll from injecting organic biofuels and carrying the weight of ghosts of Pistons past

Andre Drummond is 20-years-old, carved from the mind of Greek poets and

Given life by the nefarious bioengineers who created Drago in Rocky IV

He’s the art and the science, the inspired and the diabolic

Fuck what you heard

Dwight Howard’s a clown who hasn’t learned the world’s laughing at him

Blake Griffin’s a knockoff Shawn Kemp and fugazi to boot

Andrew Bynum’s the black Bill Walton of the modern day

Brook Lopez has the agility of Jabba the Hut

Anthony Davis is a delicate spindle dancing on the levees of injurious doom

If Drummond plays Beast, LaMarcus Aldridge is tea and crumpets

DeMarcus Cousins is Mitch “Blood” Green to Drummond’s Mike Tyson

Al Horford, Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert are Shakespeare in the Park. Drummond is GWAR.

Tim Duncan is on life support and Shaq is dead

Today the world belongs to Andre Drummond.

It spins on his axes, tilts toward his sun, operates in his orbit.

The 9th Wonder of the World is Andre Drummond …. Act accordingly

Touring the Vault … and Walking Away Intact

Hard to imagine it was over 20 years ago that Michigan’s Fab Five played Duke in the NCAA Finals, but we’re 21-years on and counting. I was reminded of the Fab Five charging into the basketball world like bald mayhem bringing news of change wearing long shorts, black socks, and attitude to spare. I was just 11-years-old at the time. A University of Iowa fan (read: Jess Settles, Chris Kingsbury, Andre Woolridge, Tom Davis); I didn’t catch on to the blue and gold bandwagon until Webber and Rose were on the way out. It was more about the cool than it was any Schembechlerian blood coursing through my veins. I had to have that maize Jalen Rose jersey because the little version of me attached value to material things. It couldn’t be Webber because he was the obvious superstar. It had to be Rose; the subversive 6’8” impossibly long point with the bald head, mumbling motor mouth, and pencil thin mustache that he wouldn’t actually grow for a few years – it’s just how I remember him. I read Mitch Albom’s Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, The American Dream with the enthusiasm of a teenage hoop dreaming disciple somehow merging my athletically-challenged basketball fantasies with the realities of the black kids Albom so meticulously framed in Fab Five.

Fab5Cover

Over the years, I haven’t dwelled on the Fab Five or their back-to-back finals appearances in ’92 and ’93. Then I was reading the Sports Illustrated college hoops preview issue with a little section dedicated to John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats and the seven freshmen in line for big minutes this season. These days, it’s standard operating procedure to reference the Fab Five any time you’re talking or writing about a strong freshmen class, but this group of Wildcats, while they may or may not be better, are deeper, and may end up more accomplished; they won’t make a mark anywhere remotely similar to that Michigan group. Even Aaron Harrison, one of the freshman starters on this Kentucky team acknowledged as much: “It’s amazing not just what they did on the court but how they were a part of pop culture.” Granted, Harrison wasn’t alive when the Fab Five were reshaping basketball in America, but he’s seen the Fab Five 30 for 30 on ESPN.

It was in this SI piece where I came across a reference to the NCAA Vault; a strange archival warehouse free to anyone with a computer and halfway decent internet connection that includes over 300 games and over 4,000 highlights from the NCAA Tournament dating back to 1976. How do I know these exact numbers? Because the site also includes a handy Media Guide with quick-access URLs for every game. The user interface is simple to use as it allows visitors to apply a variety of different filters to find old games and revisit old memories. There are no registrations, no usernames, no passwords, and, best of all, it’s free. As I stumbled into this vast record of nostalgia, I had to cast a shifty glare in the direction of the NBA where a cavernous library of game footage sits in some giant safety deposit box, gathering dust, waiting for the NBA to figure out how to best monetize the content.

Now’s a good time to mention that my former love affair with college basketball has grown cold with the knowledge of the exploitation that takes place at the collegiate ranks (the one-and-done trend destroys continuity as well). That Jalen Rose jersey I mentioned earlier? It was Rose’s number five, inspired by Rose, in existence only because of Rose, but the young guard from Southwest Detroit didn’t benefit from its sale. I used to spend hours in front of the TV, playing Coach K on Sega Genesis; using old school teams with player numbers instead of names – because the NCAA and EA Sports used a little loophole to make gaggles of money without having to give any to these kids for profiting on their likeness. There were eight classic teams and I was so overzealous about this squad that I wrote EA Sports inquiring as to why Michigan’s Fab Five teams weren’t included among the other classic rosters. They even responded and I walked away satisfied; not at having made a change in the world of video games, because of course they didn’t magically add the Fab Five, but because I had been heard. I also have this foggy memory of playing Coach K and using Ed O’Bannon’s UCLA team; ironic given the recent class action lawsuit against the NCAA led by O’Bannon.

Coach%20K%20College%20Basketball%20(U)

So my relationship with college basketball is complex. There are these memories that date back over twenty years, as real as the games that Chris Webber played in at Michigan and the banners that once hung in the rafters there, but which have been vaporized from the record books like simple signs of dissent in Nineteen Eighty-Four. In other ways my memories are stained with the knowledge of a ruling class of college athletics, made up of TV execs, Athletic Directors, and university presidents, preaching the gospel of an unbelievable and outdated amateurism while lining their bulging pockets with money spent by parents on jerseys and video games and other useless collegiate memorabilia.

I’m human though with all my breakable bones and shitty ideas and so I gave into the muse of nostalgia and indulged the NCAA Vault. With my leftover chicken fried rice and a beer, I sat down with a notebook, clicked the play button and watched the 1992 NCAA Final.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. I knew the outcome, knew that Michigan lost 71-51, that the dreaded (Blue) Devils of Duke walked away with their second title in a row. I know I’d be disappointed and all along found myself looking for these what-if moments. What if Webber didn’t get in foul trouble (two of his first three fouls were tick-tack) and play tentative defense as a result? What if Michigan could hit a shot outside of the lane? What if Billy Packer didn’t say dumb shit like, “Kamikaze pressure?” None of it mattered though. No basketball mind tricks could change the truth: It was a terrible basketball game that happened to be close for about 33-and-a-half minutes. Even when Michigan kept it tight and took a lead into the second half, Duke looked like the better team. Michigan made stupid mistakes, dumb passes, had child-like miscommunications while Duke just missed shots and gave up offensive rebounds. Combined, they committed 34 turnovers (20 for Michigan, 14 for Duke) and shot 41% from the field with the Wolverines going 1-11 from three. Not surprisingly, a 45-second shot clock didn’t enhance the watchability of the second half. As Duke established a lead and their scrawny senior point guard went to the bench with foul trouble, their offense shifted into clock-wasting mode and spent at least 35-seconds/possession playing hot potato with the ball 40-feet from the hoop – and this started with something like eight minutes to go in the game.

The very little redemption I could pick out of this shit-stack of unfulfilling basketball was the obviousness of Webber’s ability. Where Laettner, Hurley, and even Grant Hill appeared to be merely strong college players with questionable pro futures ahead, Webber’s fluid athleticism was on full display and punctuated by his gracefully pushed fast break through defenders and behind-the-back pass to a cutting teammate for the score. Packer, for all his Laettner-jocking, compared one of Webber’s post moves to James Worthy and it made perfect sense: the freshman version of Webber had the quickness and explosiveness of an NBA small forward. Rose, Jimmy King, and Grant Hill had flashes of the pro-style ability, even those moments were fleeting and overshadowed by poor decision making and execution.

There’s so much and so little to take away from this experience. I don’t know if I’ll watch another game on the Vault, but I could see it being useful for re-watching old classics (don’t be surprised if you walk away underwhelmed and unfulfilled) or exploring the early developments of players like Patrick Ewing, MJ, Olajuwon, etc, or maybe just passing the time on a rainy day in the off-season. The NCAA’s delivered its fair share of dramatic sporting experiences and memories over the years and I’m thankful for that, but it’s difficult to watch these events unfold, even in retrospect, with the knowledge that so much has come from lies, greed, and hypocrisy.

Strange Satisfactions

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Less than Fun

I’m a Lakers fan. Make no mistake about it. Beneath all my demands for fairness and bridging the rich-poor gap acrimony, I still cheer for the Lakers and their “see money, throw a problem at it” philosophy. So you can imagine my curiosity last year when I’m watching the Lakers slowly implode like a basketball version of an ugly, slow, painful deterioration of something or someone you know. Maybe it’s like when Brittney Spears fell off the rails in public and her fans just sat there and watched and they probably wanted to help her … “If I just had a chance, I could help Britt.” I can see some Lakers fans convinced they had solutions to the incurable problems the team had last season. But not me. I wasn’t one of those fans. I sat back and watched in enraptured entertainment. Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol. So many of us presumed that the star power alone would blind opponents, leaving them defenseless to an onslaught of well-aged skill and Howardian beastliness down low. And when the reality of age and fragility set in and the team underachieved for so many games, those shining stars dimmed to a cynical glow and Lakers fans frowned and grunted through an extended shit show where nothing made sense and everything went wrong.

All the while I sat bewildered, but unexpectedly entertained. In the NBA more so than the NFL or MLB, you can pick a handful of contenders at the beginning of the season and be fairly confident in your assessments. For all of us to whiff so badly last year; including the Kupchaks and Busses of the world … well, it was like watching a Hollywood blockbuster with one of our favorite action heroes as the star, but only the script goes off somewhere. The hero doesn’t fit the prototype we’re trained to recognize. Superman can’t change into his blue spandex in the phone booth let alone fly through the air. The Batmobile catches a flat and Bruce Wayne has to wait for Alfred to show up and change the tire. Meanwhile, Lex Luther and the Joker are taking a big ol’ dump on Metropolis and Gotham. That was the Lakers we saw last season.

Now in the fall of 2013, on the cusp of another NBA season, I’m all settled in, prepared for a crummy Lakers campaign that rivals the miserable outcomes of the post-Shaq Lakers like 2005 when Kobe “led” the team to 34 wins. But the difference is obviously that we’re prepared for it now. That preparation or expectation is the critical piece. When we know what to expect, we can maintain an even keel while still experiencing fluctuations in emotions. It’s the unexpected that challenges our conditioned responses.

You might be wondering why I’m just now drifting back to these Lakers memories. After all, we’re several months removed from the realization that the Lakers were not who we thought they were. A couple of my other favorite teams are presently walking through their own purgatories of expectation and I’m reflexively flashing back:

The current Manchester United team, another team I support (go ahead, make your front-runner jokes, but know I’m a long-suffering Cubs fan as well and experience both sides of the winning/losing of fandom), is enduring a challenging season with their new skipper, David Moyes. Moyes is replacing the living legend, Sir Alex Ferguson, who managed the world’s most recognizable sports franchise for over 26 years. In that span, he etched out a profile for himself that, on a global scale, exceeds that of Pat Riley, Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson and all the rest. Ferguson was an anomaly in the English Premier League where clubs cycle through managers more frequently than most of us go through a pair of jeans. United has mostly the same roster they had last year when the dominated the league and secured the title with multiple weeks still to play. It was fantastically anti-climactic and Ferguson left the new manager with a sturdy foundation on which to build a new legacy for himself and his new club. Instead, nine matches into the new season and United has struggled with a miserable defense that is regularly outplayed and compounds their shortcomings with knuckleheaded decision making and lapses in discipline. Yet … as I watch the team, I’m taking a strange satisfaction in the struggle. It’s not a sporting masochism. In the case of United, there’s this part of me that’s enjoying the uphill climb of this underachieving group. Maybe it’s because it’s still early in the season and I have faith that they’ll figure it out, that patience will win the day. Or maybe it’s just the feeling of stepping into a different, less comfortable role. Maybe I feel better being on more relatable terms with my friend who’s a Tottenham supporter? Or maybe I’m just a confused elitist who’s confusing the struggle with a footballing equivalent of slumming. Either way, it’s a more engrossing feeling than the anticlimactic sprint away from a pedestrian pack.

David Moyes

David Moyes

At home, my Seattle Sounders are flailing through the final few weeks of a grueling MLS regular season. Where the team was riding the natural high of an eight-match unbeaten streak that saw them climb to the top of league standings, they’ve now lost four straight matches by a 2-12 deficit. The Sounders haven’t won a match since mid-September. Players are hurt, the defense is in shambles, luck favors their opponents and yet, I find their matches more magnetizing than ever. I tune in or go to matches wondering if this is the game they turn it around. I anticipate the euphoria that must come with a break from these autumnal doldrums. With the MLS playoffs a week away, the Sounders somehow backed into the playoffs, and instead of drinking myself to sleep or crying tears of blue and rave green discontent, I’m cautiously hopeful that things will turn and we’ll look back on this rough stretch as nothing more than a funky smelling aberration. Something to share a beer over and thank the soccer gods it’s passed.

Familiar site. Not fun to see.

Familiar site. Not fun to see.

Let’s be real here … maybe I just don’t know how to be a fan. Maybe there’s some twisted gene hiding in my DNA that’s afraid of the pressure that accompanies a winner. Maybe I just don’t get what it means to be a fan, because I’d expect a different reaction. I’d expect to be pissed off or pouty about these things, but I just accept it with curious observation. The 2013 Lakers, Sounders and Man United teams have stumbled into strange playoff positions with dust-covered aging rosters and defenses that can be exploited by younger, less-skilled opponents. And I sit back and take it all in with a chuckle at the unexpected deviation from the narrative and the strange satisfaction I feel from not knowing what’s coming next. The Lakers, Sounders and United … my teams, my disappointments, my entertainments through winning, losing, and all points beyond and between.

The Timeless Legacy of Bison Dele

In the October 21st issue of Sports Illustrated, the one with Kobe on the cover, the always professional, crisp-writing Chris Ballard wrote a thoroughly-researched and touching piece about the life and disappearance of Bison Dele; a former NBA player formerly known as Brian Williams. If you’re unfamiliar with Dele’s story, I’d highly recommend Ballard’s piece. In lieu of its online availability; here’s a quick, far-too-brief summary (Ballard’s piece as posted online after I wrote this and can be found here):

Williams was a curious, artistic man with world class basketball ability. He reached the Mount Olympus of basketball achievements – an NBA title. And at the age of 29, Dele walked away from the game. He traveled the world – Lebanon, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and had intended to sail all the way to Hawaii from Tahiti. The final trip was made with his brother, Miles Dabord (formerly Kevin Williams), his girlfriend Serena Karlan, and the captain, Bertran Saldo. Somewhere along the way, Dele, Karlan, and Saldo disappeared. Dabord later surfaced in Phoenix, was seen in Mexico and died in a San Diego hospital a few months after Dele’s catamaran set sail. Dabord’s death was ruled a suicide while the bodies of the other three were never found. While no evidence exists, it no longer appears Dele & Company are with us.

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This happened back in July of 2002; somehow over ten years have passed. I was 21 at the time, in college and followed the story from afar. That Dele had changed his name was peculiar enough in a league where a follow-the-leader mentality is so strong. I remember him as a very good player; one of the better bigs the Bulls had during any of the championship seasons. I remember him being very intense on the court with those piercing green eyes that added to the mystery of his person and intensity of his play. At the time of his disappearance, which was even more confusing because Dele and his brother had both changed their names so news stories often mentioned multiple names and made it seem like more people were involved than there actually were, details kept trickling out that increased my intrigue in Dele. Keep in mind, I was 21 going on 22 at the time; heading into my fourth year of college, still attracted to the romance of the alternative Beatnik lifestyle and Dele, in all his willingness to step away from the golden handcuffs an NBA contract affords, was a fascinating and tragic story.

All these years, Dele’s story has sustained my interest. If someone drops a Dele reference, I try and insert myself into the conversation. The topic excites me, it invigorate me. And as I read Ballard’s SI piece, which so elegantly did justice in profiling the man Dele was and how he became that man, I started to make the connections to the magnetism of Dele’s story and my own experiences. If you’ve read Dancing with Noah with any regularity, you’ve likely picked up on themes of pain, loss, the intrigue of lost potential. Whereas my focus here has always been about who or what a player could’ve become if he’d stayed healthy; how the NBA landscape would’ve changed if Greg Oden and Brandon Roy were healthy; how these painful splashes reverberate out and change the basketball panorama overtime. Well, Dele’s disappearance didn’t have much of an impact on the NBA’s future. For me, the allure of Dele was his maverick eccentricity. The strength of his individuality to step away from a $36-million contract is a courageous and enviable trait for me (and some might call it a stupid or poor decision – hence the courage to make it). Furthermore, there are elements of Dele’s spirit in this blog’s namesake, Joakim Noah. Both players have partaken in rich, vibrant existences off the court where music, art, and individual celebration are mutual themes. It only makes sense that the ethos that attracted me to Noah attract me to Dele as well.

In Ballard’s piece, he recounts a story of Dele reading a biography of Miles Davis and tearing up during the reading. A teammate asked him why he was crying and Dele responded, “I just wish I had the same passion for basketball that Miles had for music.” Dele was more comfortable financially than most of us can ever wish to be so I don’t want to go overboard in honoring him for walking away from a job he didn’t love when he was in the rare financial position to not be dependent on a career, but in a modernity where many of us feel trapped in soulless, thankless careers, Dele offered a hopeful alternative of escape; the pursuit of self through travel and adventure.

Bison Dele was a beautiful, open human being who wrestled with his own monsters like so many of us do. He had a troubling childhood and a problematic relationship with his family that drove him halfway across the world. He was willing to walk away from the material world our culture values and explore his own need for meaning. While doubtful it was his intent, the echoes of Dele’s spirit can still be heard, over ten years after his disappearance and will continue to be both a tragic and hopeful tale for anyone willing explore it.

 

*Note: I don’t write this to mythologize or hold Dele up on a pedestal of any sort. Rather, to communicate my experience with Dele’s free-spirited decision to break away from what has the appearance of being a dream life full of money, security, women, competition, friendships and games. As Dele’s and Dabord’s own mother put it, “Brian was not a saint, and Miles was not the monster he’s been made out to be.” Dele was far from perfect, but within that imperfection was fully and complexly human.

The Courts are Alive (Playoff Edition)

What a night. What a fucking night for the NBA, for the game of basketball, for Nate Robinson, Steph Curry and Manu Ginobili. What a night for Twitter and the screaming woman at the Spurs game. What didn’t happen? Game ones of the second round: Bulls @ Heat in the early game and Warriors @ Spurs in the later game.

The Heat were 11.5-point favorites and for good reason. Coming into tonight, Miami was 39-4 at home (counting playoffs) and was mostly healthy with the exception of Dwyane Wade’s nagging knee injury. We all know about the Bulls: Kirk Hinrich’s out with a calf injury, Luol Deng’s dealing with fallout from a spinal tap gone wrong and we’re all depleted from the media throwing Derrick Rose on repeat and forcing us to listen over and over. So the Bulls rolled out Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. They did everything. Every damn thing you could ask for from a group of rejects (Robinson and Belinelli), outcasts (Noah), overlooked (Butler) and scorned (Boozer) players.

Down the stretch of this game, with Noah compulsively hustling and diving, scowling at opponents and teammates alike with long tendrils of hair stuck to his sweaty face, the Bulls stared up at a slight fourth quarter deficit of four points; but if felt like a Miami’s game all the way. How many times this season have we seen the Heat cruise through three quarters against lesser-talented teams only to turn up the intensity late in the game and walk away with easy victories. And when Jimmy Butler, all 6’7” and 220lbs of chiseled Jimmy Butler, attempted to wrap up LeBron on a fast break, but was overpowered by Bron’s lefty layup, I was impressed and relaxed, thinking Miami was just closing out another victory against another helpless victim. But I was oh-so-fortunately wrong and had no idea what was about to happen. The Bulls hit three threes (two by Belinelli and one by Butler) in the final five minutes, they shot 9-10 from the line and they frustrated the defending champions into missing all five of their shots in the final 97-seconds of the game. Somehow, the Bulls went down to the hardly hostile American Airlines Arena and beat the Heat 93-86 including a 35-24 fourth quarter.

For all that happened (Nate Robinson) and didn’t happen (Miami scoring points—they had their lowest point total since an 86-67 victory over these same Bulls on 2/21), what stood out most to me was Dwyane Wade’s irrationally selfish decision, coming out of a timeout, to chuck up a contested three at the 1:07 mark of the 4th quarter with his team down two points. On so many levels this was a bad shot. Many of us have become accustomed to the “hero ball” or “toilet bowl” offense where we get Paul Pierce or Kobe or Melo pounding the air out of the ball followed by a contested three. We all know it’s a bad shot, but there’s a level of latitude for the players I just mentioned. And Wade’s earned plenty of latitude in his career as well, but not enough to pull the shit he pulled on Monday night. Miami couldn’t have possibly drawn up the Wade-from-the-top-of-the-key special, could they have? Let’s look at some Dwyane Wade stats:

  • Dwyane Wade shot 25.8% from three this season
  • He was 2-18 from three over his previous 33 games
  • Wade was one of the least accurate three-point shooters in the league; finishing just a few percentage points better than only three other players (Lamar Odom, Reggie Jackson and Kevin Love) who made at least 17-threes this season

 

No Threes Allowed

No Threes Allowed

I’m elated for the Bulls. It feels good and I don’t want to take away from their resilient victory, but I can’t get over Wade’s three; just a baffling, baffling shot.

It took a while to get over that first game. There was a sense of low-level adrenaline running through my body after the Bulls withstood the Heat’s meager comeback attempts. But during the NBA playoffs, there’s no time for dwelling on the past. I opened my celebratory beers and was pleasantly surprised seeing the Warriors confident and comfortable on the Spurs home court. Up four at the half in the AT&T Center? Well yes, yes of course.

All hell broke loose in the third though. Steph Curry started raining fire from the skies like a light-skinned basketball-playing Zeus firing bolts into the round cylinder. The Spurs crowd cringed with every blow, flinched at every shot release. At one point, the camera showed Gregg Popovich standing still, his eyes closed, his head hung down, but far from out. He looked like he was attempting to visualize the solution to this problem and for a split second I imagined Popovich taking the law into his hands Tanya Harding style and whacking Curry’s knee with a baton of sorts. We both snapped out of it though and after a patented succession of Warriors mistakes to end the third quarter, the dust had settled and Curry’s third looked like this:

  • Minutes: 11 minutes, 56 seconds
  • FG/FGA: 9/12
  • 3p/3pa: 4/6
  • Assists: 3
  • Turnovers: 0
  • Points: 22

Golden State 92, San Antonio 80 (end of third)

There was a sense, I think, in many of us who had been here before, who had sat through the Warriors’ near collapse on Thursday night in game six against the Nuggets, that trouble loomed ahead, that all the Curry-fueled momentum in the world wasn’t going to make this any easier. And it wasn’t. The Spurs used every ounce of savvy and veteran poise and whatever other cliché you want to dress them up with to outscore the Warriors 26-14 in the fourth quarter.

The Curry third quarter, the Spurs comeback; it all evolved or devolved into some kind of brilliant basketball game that etched itself deeper into our minds and stomachs, intertwining itself within the gray matter of our brains and the slimy coils of our intestines. Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Kent Bazemore, Andrew Bogut, Steph Curry, Jarrett Jack … a professionally-trained youth movement apparently oblivious to the fear that rides shotgun on their road to fate. On the opposite side, it was the familiar faces that have stalked the league so patiently with their secretive wisdom and insider humor: Pop, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and a strange cast of characters that plug into roles that feel tailor made: Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green. They came and they came and they came. The old men with their flu bugs and bald spots and interchangeable pieces; a group of calm Texans embodying the same ethos of the Bulls. And somehow, after being down 18 points in the third quarter, the Spurs won in double overtime. Do you believe in Boris Diaw corner threes or nights where Manu Ginobili shoots 5-20, but hits the one that really matters? Fuck man, I don’t know, but I saw it happen.

Some notable items from this insane game in San Antonio in May:

  • Golden State shot 14-24 (58%) from the free throw line
  • Golden State is a 79% free throw-shooting team on the regular season (good enough for fourth in the league)
  • Boris Diaw: The big Frenchman had a series of big plays that helped this Spurs team achieve victory:
    • He somehow became the only Spurs player able conceive of not leaving his feet to guard Steph Curry. At the 1:22 mark in the fourth quarter, with GSW up five, Curry attempted a little shake move and pull up on Diaw; likely underestimating his defender’s length and discipline. Diaw blocked the shot without leaving the ground.
    • He went to the line and hit a pair of FTs to bring the Spurs to within one late in the 4th.
    • Diaw set the screen to free up Danny Green for the OT-forcing three.
    • He was on the floor for all of both OTs, contributed rebounds, screens and a clutch three.

There were heroes on both teams. Ginobili, Parker and Curry were special tonight, but in the thick history making moments, Diaw’s hand never shook. He played intelligent, confident basketball and is a big reason the Spurs are up 1-0 in this series.  

I’ll close this with a line from Jim Morrison that embodies unknowing excitement of tonight and hopefully the days to come: I don’t know what’s gonna happen man, but I wanna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames…Alright!

what we can't see

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