- Teddy Atlas kinda feisty tonight. Maybe a little cranky. 2 hours ago
- How would people feel if Melo signed with Philly? 2 hours ago
- The less I see and hear of Jon Barry, the better. ESPN addressed the visual, next year let's tackle the audial. 2 hours ago
- Tony Allen in Chicago? You guys remember when he had to have extra security there because he had old beef? 2 hours ago
- RT @mudede: Issaquah Students Go On Racist Rant Against Garfield Students slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/… via @StrangerSlog CC: @tangledreamz 5 hours ago
Just messing around, getting triple doubles
Tag Archives: NBA
February 24, 2014Posted by on
You can lose all sorts of things. There’s Nas’s “Lost Tapes,” the Lost Boys and the Lost Boyz. People lose themselves, lose their keys, lose games. Lost lives, lost loves. You can lose anything tangible or intangible. Then there’s the four-plus seasons Magic Johnson lost to a lack of understanding around the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Losing a few seasons wasn’t life or death, it exceeded basketball in the sense that it challenged misconceptions around HIV/AIDS and continues to do so today – over 22 years later. When I write about “lost years” here, I’m referring specifically to an on-court context as Magic’s contracting HIV had a broader, further reach than anything he could’ve done a on basketball court. To that point, the power of Magic’s very public relationship with HIV has been covered more in depth and with more consideration than I can hope to, but what I remain curious about is what would’ve happened from 1991 to 1996 when a post-prime Magic still would’ve been gliding up the court, knees braced, fingers wrapped in tape, freezing indecisive defenders will telegenic lookaways, gold jersey with big purple 3-2 shadowed in white, pumping out stats so rare that he has no statistical comparison. What would’ve been?
It was last week I stumbled across a piece on Deadspin titled “The Beautiful Infographics of Ted Williams’s The Science of Hitting.” I emailed the story to a couple friends and we exchanged a few back and forths about Teddy Ballgame and the three seasons he lost in his prime to WWII service. Williams somehow won the Triple Crown both before and after his military sabbatical and, like Magic, doesn’t need any extra stats to pad his legendary résumé, but you still wonder about those three seasons and 450+ games he missed out on.
After referencing Magic in one of my email exchanges, I meandered over to Magic’s basketball-reference page and took a look at his outputs during his short return to the Lakers as a 36-year-old PF/PG: 14.6ppg, 5.7rpg and 6.9apg. The numbers on their own aren’t eye-poppingly revolutionary. 67 other times, NBA players have accomplished this line or better, but no player 36 or older has ever done it and no one else who’s posted these numbers did it while playing under 30-minutes/game like Magic did. It took most players at least 36-minutes/night to generate these well-balanced numbers.
I reached out to some of the stat guys at Hickory-High and chatted with Jacob Frankel about age-based regression statistics. Jacob explained to me that “players generally decline in everything except shooting and rebounding after 28,” but also cautioned that Magic might be a completely different animal. He offered to crunch the numbers for me using his own methodology and I was kind of excited when I heard back from Jacob a day later with the following: “I think Magic breaks the system … the system is based on similar players and Magic was so unique that it’s misfiring.”
I’m tempted to write something silly like “Magic breaks math,” but he’s just so much different from any other player that it’s difficult to systematically project his impact during those lost years. Where just a handful of players have been able to put up at least 14, 5 and 6.5 over the course of a season, Magic did it in every one of his 13 NBA seasons and the last one in 1995-96 was done after spending four full seasons away from the game and playing a career-low in minutes. His per-36 minutes that final season showed a slight decline against his career averages which is to be expected when comparing a 36-year-old with rust to a 31-year-old All-NBA first teamer who carried his team to the finals in 1991. Some other things to keep in mind: Magic split time between power forward and point guard on Del Harris’s 95-96 team. Despite playing in an unfamiliar position, he still exceeded his career average usage rate with 22.7%.
When I finally arrived at some oddball projections that wouldn’t pass muster in an elementary stats class, I found myself sort of empty. The numbers decline uniformly because my regressions are unimaginative, but the sum of what we missed out on amounts to a couple thousand rebounds, a few thousand more assists (he’d still be behind John Stockton), almost 5,000 points and a little over 10,000 more minutes. There would’ve been more memories and intrigues, battles with MJ and playoff triple doubles, but the extra codas these years would’ve added to his narrative are so significantly outweighed by his response to his own reality that I walk away from this piece with both a sense of failure at articulating any statistical intrigue and a greater sense of appreciation for the impact of the post-HIV Magic.
[POSTSCRIPT: It was eye-opening that as I sat down to write this, what is intentionally a piece focused on stats, I quickly became aware of how miniscule these thoughts are in relation to the impact of Magic’s announcement 22 years ago. What happened since then has been nothing short of world changing. In terms of bringing HIV/AIDS awareness to a mass audience and challenging stereotypes, Magic’s story is profoundly positive. In addition, his bottomless vaults of money and resources, his access to the best doctors and drugs, have cast a different-shaded light on what should be a problematic question of access and affordability of life-saving drugs. What I will continue to take away from Magic Johnson and HIV is that basketball created a platform with a massive, but relatively (on a global scale) limited audience. HIV offered a direct connection to millions of people in the same way cancer allowed Lance Armstrong to connect with people who never gave a damn about the Tour de France.
No matter how big they are, Magic’s trophy cases are overflowing with the awards and accomplishments from a life on the court. He’s on imaginary Mount Rushmores, is considered the greatest point guard to ever play the game, has the stats and hardware to back it all up. And no matter how great he was on the court, his impact off it has been infinitely more valuable to our species. Everything above, as curiosity-piquing as it may sometimes seem, is little droplets of salt water in the sprawling ocean of Magic’s life.]
February 14, 2014Posted by on
Ohh, Malik Sealy. Black skinned with occasionally unkempt hair, pride of the Bronx with lanky arms dangling. 6’8” with wiry muscles that stretched across the wings of the court. Built like a skinnier, darker Scottie Pippen. I know him as much for his city roots, for his St. Johns tenure as I do for his pro game. He was pure NYC like Felipe Lopez, Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson and Johnnies orange of the Lou Carnesecca days. He was Bronx-born, St. Johns raised and Minnesota died. I can’t expand on his basketball career without acknowledging that he was killed at 30 in car wreck in Minnesota of all places – a world away from the borough that raised him.
His pro journey was a split between the sun-faded highways of Los Angeles as a Clipper and a trans-Midwestern expedition with stops in Indiana, Detroit, and finally Minnesota. He was a mediocre shooter from distance who started less than half of his games as a pro. He was a steady pro of the supporting variety, a glue guy who averaged a hair over 10ppg for his career. When I think of a comparable modern-day player, it’s coincidence that another Minnesota player comes to mind. Corey Brewer is similarly productive, but with a completely different style and set of histrionics.
But as I’ve written this, I struggle to separate Sealy’s life from his tragic death. It’s an unfair memory that taints what would ideally be a fond, lighthearted memory with a few softball jokes. But what’s there to joke about when a 30-year-old man had his life taken by a drunk driver?
February 10, 2014Posted by on
Even though he only played there for a handful of his NBA seasons, I’ll always remember Chris Dudley as a New Jersey Net of the powdery, cloudy-blue uniform-wearing variety. The Nets that had Derrick Coleman and Chris Morris and Drazen Petrovic. Dudley was a career bad player by NBA standards. He’s one of those guys who averaged nearly as many fouls as points, but if it’s one thing we learn about usefulness, it’s that being sexy isn’t the only way to make a baby. If that doesn’t make sense, that’s fine, but just know that Dudley made a career of being physical, defensive-minded center. He appeared in 886 career games from 1987 to 2003 and made over $35-million playing basketball. One year, the loose-pocketed Knicks even gave him $7.1-million – and this was a year he averaged 1.2 points and 2.1 fouls.
Dudley, all big white man shoulders and friendly haircut. He was a Yale graduate, the only one in the NBA’s history, but where some of us make dumb assumptions like white people from Yale should be good free throw shooters, Dudley proves our ignorant bias by shooting a putrid 46% from the line for his career.
There’s a lot more to the Chris Dudley story, but in terms of basketball, this is the man I remember.
January 8, 2014Posted by on
I remember a couple things about Michael Cage:
- He was a rebounding king
- He wore a jheri curl
While the former should be the focus of this sketch, I can’t help but consider my memory of Cage’s dark skin glistening with sweat, strong stretching hands corralling yet another rebound, exhaling, sweat flying and that jheri curl resting intact, maybe bouncing ever so slightly as Cage throws an outlet pass and runs the floor. Cage’s best years were with the Clippers and Sonics and he wore the jheri until at least his Sonics days. It was sometime in the 90s that he retired that dying do, exchanging it for a more contemporary, more assimilated low fade. Cage adopted the fade sometime after the jheri was infamously mocked (and likely ruined for many) by Eriq LaSalle’s character in Coming to America.
But Cage was clearly more than a hairstyle. He was a rebounding champion (13rpg in 1988), a 6’9” power forward/center with a classically v-shaped frame prone to casual lefty dunks and an unflashy, functional style of play. The highlight video below is mostly uninspiring by today’s standards—with the exception of the last five seconds. From a purely statistical output perspective, Cage brings to mind Troy Murphy. The comparisons end there though as Murphy was an auburn-haired, pasty-colored distance shooting big while Cage was nicknamed “John Shaft.”
January 7, 2014Posted by on
You remember Aaron McKie? You do. Combo guard, Philadelphia through and through. Through to the point that he was a Temple grad. Philly to the point that he went to Simon Gratz (I just learned this). City of Brotherly Love to the point that he was black like The Roots (all the way live from 2-1-5) with a goatee, but not a beard. He wasn’t drafted by the 76ers, but somehow, through some cosmic Andrew Toneyisms and Eric Snowdens, his qi guided him back home. McKie was a big-bodied, defensive minded, role playing guard. A physical presence to counterbalance the reckless litheness of Allen Iverson. McKie wasn’t much of a jump shooter and he cut against the grain of things by wearing number eight, but he was a lunch pail and hardhat guy in a blue collar, frill-free way that Philly can embrace. McKie embodied his hometown: Philly like a cold wind, Philly like booing an injured opponent, Philly like unfair expectations, Philly like Von Hayes.
For present-day comparisons, feel free to compare McKie to a more horizontal and technical, less athletic version of Tony Allen.
January 6, 2014Posted by on
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.
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.
December 15, 2013Posted by on
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.
December 15, 2013Posted by on
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.
October 27, 2013Posted by on
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.
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.
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.
October 21, 2013Posted by on
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.
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.