Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Category Archives: NBA

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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