There’s no telling what the future holds except that we can guarantee further critiques of Roy Hibbert’s offensive game and uncertainty around this draft class, particularly those top-three youngsters who guarantee us nothing except our own over-analysis and speculation. The crystal balls and eight-balls and the eight crystal balls and draft similarity scores are all imperfect. Your gods, their gods are as unreliable as Rob Deer’s ability to get a base hit off Sandy Koufax. Probabilities improve when we’re down to four teams (one of which is imploding on itself like one of those downtown buildings surrounded by people and offices and dwellings, laced on the inside with explosives that ensure the building will cave in, and everyone else can just stand in their office with a mug of coffee, certain they’ll be entertained, but more importantly, safe) and we think we’re confident that we’ll get a Spurs-Heat rematch. But we don’t know … so we watch the games. Enough of my feeble meanderings. Let’s talk about the week that was:
In keeping with the gleefully-received trend of oral histories, the Atlanta Hawks’ Director of Interactive Marketing, Micah Hart posted a fantastic piece on NBA.com about “The Duel” between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins from game seven of the 1988 Eastern Conference semis. Hart’s piece is the essence of comprehensive, a well-documented, detailed piece that includes commentary from the major players involved in this great battle. Of course, it was the Celtics who walked away with the home victory on the shoulders of Bird’s 20-point fourth quarter while the Hawks lost again despite Wilkins’s 47-points. The monolithic dependence on winning and losing is only subject to histories like these that are able to transcend experience by branching out into rarely-explored dimensions. If Hart’s oral history isn’t enough, watch the video:
As far as off-season soap operas go, the Memphis Grizzlies are putting on the best show so far and Sean Deveney of Sporting News hipped us all to the ugly inner workings of this baffling franchise last week by digging up some not-so-redeeming tales about former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien. By former, I mean Levien was just fired a week ago. Deveney maps out a disturbing trend that’s followed Levien in different roles across the league: There was a 20-month stint in Sacramento which included a rift with Kings GM Geoff Petrie, a little over a year with the 76ers new ownership group that apparently ended when then-coach Doug Collins gave a “him or me” ultimatum, and now a 17-month stretch with the Grizzlies which has been, to say the least, confusing. Grizzlies’ owner, Robert Pera wrote on Twitter “I never really talked 1:1 with Joerger before this weekend.” Pera’s own role in this Memphis mess was highlighted by SI’s Chris Mannix in a piece posted today. And Pera responded with a slew of tweets aimed at Mannix and going far as questioning his “journalistic integrity” on Twitter. The Grizzlies’ roster is still intact, Z-Bo still wants to be there, and Joerger’s returning. Pera appears to be committed to building a winning team (particularly if we believe his Q&A with fans on Twitter), but all this distraction going on in the background is both a PR mess and unprofessional/unconventional (take your pick) way to go about sharing team strategies and media conflicts. Whether or not it erodes the foundation of the franchise will be determined over the next couple years. [Part of me wonders how owners like Pera and Mark Cuban reshape our expectations of owners – not just in the NBA, but in other sports. Cuban (no pun intended) is an outspoken maverick. Pera might be a PR nightmare and could likely benefit from a little bit of patience before responding on Twitter, but he appears to at least be passionate about this team. Prospective Seattle owner Chris Hansen made it a point to present himself as just a fan who wants basketball back in the Emerald City and has been known to have beers with fans and make himself highly accessible. While there doesn’t appear to be any revolution in ownership behavior, Pera, Cuban, and potentially Hansen, are showing us an alternative from the existing archetypical owner.]
In more off-the-court happenings, TMZ reported last week that Shelly Sterling (supposedly estranged wife of PR hot mess Donald Sterling) will handle the sale of the Clippers. While there’s plenty to explore here in terms of the legal wrangling going on in the background between the Sterlings, their legal team, Adam Silver and the NBA’s legal team, much of the story has shifted to two questions: Who are the prospective buyers and how much will the team go for? We’ve heard everyone from Floyd Mayweather and Oprah Winfrey to Magic Johnson and Grant Hill. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (and partner of Chris Hansen’s Seattle NBA bid) and Yao Ming (denied) are among others. If even half of these people are seriously interested, the competition should drive the price north of a billion dollars. The Bucks, listed by Forbes as the least valuable NBA franchise, just sold for $550-million and last year the Kings went for $534-million in a deal that also included Sleep Train Arena. And if we remember back to last year when the aforementioned Hansen was attempting to buy the Kings, he offered a whopping $625-million for the franchise and raised the market for teams to over half a billion dollars. So while it remains to be seen who ends up owning the Clippers, it’s safe to bet they’ll be paying more than a billion for them.
Expressive Steve Ballmer, potential NBA owner
Back in the day when Seattle had the Sonics, they drafted a big redheaded kid out of Bakersfield, California named Robert Swift. Swift was fresh out of high school and showed up with a buzz cut and the unmarked ink-free skin of an innocent teenager – or so it seemed. It didn’t take long for whatever was going on inside to manifest itself outside and soon the kid from Bakersfield was covered in tattoos and wearing his hair long, tied back in the kind of style you’d almost expect to see from an axe-wielding behemoth in Game of Thrones. His descent has taken on mythic and mysterious proportions around these parts and in the Sunday issue of The Seattle Times, reporter Jayson Jenks added additional layers still-vague story. Where Jenks reveals new context is when he explores what appears to be a fractured relationship with Swift’s mother, Rhonda who’s writing a book that “will tell the whole truth. The good, the bad.” And in the span of just a few short paragraphs, the question of Swift’s finances comes up repeatedly. One can only imagine the truth as perceived by his mother and how it impacted the young Swift.
In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins crafts a glowing portrait of new commissioner Adam Silver. It’s an enlightening read in terms of understanding Silver’s background and how it shaped the man he is today. From a personal view, I’ve taken guarded skepticism of Silver. Most of this skepticism comes from my points of reference for sports commissioners which include money hoarding liability-avoiders like the NFL’s Roger Gooddell, arrogant story spinners like David Stern, grudge holding antiquarians like MLB’s Bud Selig, and of course, FIFA’s controversy craving president Sepp Blatter. Layer on a lifetime of experiencing stories about corrupt and lying politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths and I understand the sources of my distrust. And when Silver keeps telling us the age limit is the most important issue in the league, well, it’s hard to accept that this profile is built on much more than Silver’s ability to do the right thing with Donald Sterling. Skepticisms aside, it’s still worth the 15 minutes it takes to read.
The draft is about a month away and while Dancing with Noah is bringing some friends along for a mock draft that will post sometime soon, you can read different opinions and speculations from three unnamed scouts in this Ryen Russillo piece on Grantland.
Not much happened on this Memorial Day 2014 except Miami putting a hurting on the Pacers 102-90 to go up 3-1 in the series. Roy Hibbert scored zero points on 0-4 shooting and after talking crap about LeBron, Lance Stephenson was a non-factor with seven points on 3-7 shooting in 32 minutes. James was his usual all-time great self with 32pts, 10rebs, and 5asts while the aberration was Chris Bosh who stretched Hibbert to the perimeter, scored 25 points and had his best scoring game since February.
Another week saturated with Donald Sterling coverage, the NFL draft, Spurs domination, humans taking strong political/social stands on issues that are easy to support (Nigeria kidnapping, Sterling racism, Michael Sam), and likely some other things. But you didn’t come here for social commentary or the news, you’re likely here because, like me, you want the basketball. So let’s get us the basketball:
Inevitably, Donald Sterling refuses to go away. Sterling is a powerful example of problems with our legal system: If you have the resources, you can take any fight to the courts. Sterling took to CNN to chat with that soft-hitting journalist/TV personality Anderson Cooper in what turned out to be a predictably self-absorbed interview (if you want to call it that). In the interview, he takes a dig at Magic Johnson, lays it on thick with self-pity, and simultaneously asks for forgiveness while rationalizing his comments. If there’s a way to come across as an entitled billionaire asshole, then Sterling gets a gold star. To paraphrase the legendary Dennis Green: He is who we thought he was.
While husband Donald was chatting with Cooper, wife Shelly Sterling was sitting across from Barbara Walters doing her part to keep the team in the family. Shelly’s attorneys are already making statements and her conversation with Walters looks and feels like nothing more than an extension of the public relations damage control her estranged husband is putting forth. There’s more self-pity and attempts at manipulation, but with a funneled message driving towards one Sterling or another retaining ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. While it’s important to acknowledge that Donald and Shelly Sterling are humans made of the same flesh and stardust that comprise you and I, prone to the same mistakes we are, it’s equally important call out the attempts to manipulate, both public perception and the courts, and avoid accountability in a self-serving fashion.
Sticking with the Sterling shit storm saga; while Commissioner Adam Silver has been applauded for his zero tolerance stance on Sterling and LeBron James has been one of the most outspoken players on the topic, let’s acknowledge there was no other alternative here. Silver and James have nothing to lose by attempting to toss Sterling out of the league. From Silver’s perspective, it behooves the league to do everything it can to oust an owner who is a threat to the league’s brand and jeopardizes relationships with league sponsors. In taking the nuclear route of a lifetime banishment, Silver accomplishes several things:
He responds to pressure from his players and sponsors
He anticipates Sterling’s legal maneuvering
He shifts the decision making process to two places: the league’s owners (Which of these owners wants to be known as billionaire that supported racist Donald Sterling? It’s not simple, but that’d be the interpretation.) and likely the courts. If Sterling can find a way to retain the team through one of those avenues, then it’s no fault of Silver’s, rather he’s the enforcer, it’s out of his hands.
He’s doing what feels right.
He avoided a potential player protest which would’ve created a terribly awkward public exchange between the league and its players.
More from the world of stupid: You may remember former Ole Miss shooting guard, loose cannon, shot chucker, and sometimes attention-glutton, Marshall Henderson, as a March Madness storyline from 2013. Henderson has weaseled his way back into headlines for tweeting this about Michael Sam’s on-air kiss with his boyfriend after being drafted: “Boycotting sportscenter til this Michael sam nasty ass shit is off …. My brothers are 7 and 11 and saw that!!!! #SICKENING.” This tweet was followed up with Henderson clarifying that he was tweeting those hateful views on behalf of a gay friend who asked him to do so to gauge public reaction. There’s no acknowledgement that Henderson or his friend could’ve just as easily searched Twitter to get a decent gauge of public opinion – from non-athletes/prominent individuals, or from athletes like the Miami Dolphins’ Don Jones. Also, this type of “experiment” is apparently referred to as “psychology.”
One of my best friends, WHO IS GAY, is about to graduate in psychology, asked me to say these things so he can have responses … TBC
It’s not all racist and homophobic doom and gloom in the basketball world. Chris Paul, brother of Cliff Paul and State Farm pitchman, showed the world why he’s the consummate point guard a week ago when he scored 32 points on 12-14 shooting, dished out 10 assists, and had two turnovers in 28 minutes of play. Paul became the first player in playoff history to accomplish the highly efficient feat and did so against the electrifying Russell Westbrook.
Speaking of Westbrook, in game two against the Clippers, Russ bounced back to get his third triple double of the playoffs: a 31-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist gem where six of his rebounds were offensive. For those keeping score at home, nine times in the playoffs this season we’ve seen Game Scores greater than 30. In the aforementioned Paul game, his was 31.4 and Westbrook’s game-two score was 30.2. (For those of you still expanding your basketball knowledge [such as myself], Game Score was created by former ESPN stat head and current Memphis Grizzlies GM John Hollinger. The complex formula that can be found here. Basketball-Reference tells us 10 is about average while 40 is pretty damn amazing.)
Nothing much else happened this weekend except the return of Roy Hibbert (19ppg, 7rpg, 2bpg and overall great defense in three straight Pacer wins) and the Thunder blowing a 16-point fourth quarter lead to those Chris Paul-led Clippers. Oh, and San Antonio is up three games to none over the Blazers with an average margin of victory over 18-points per game. By this time next week, the Blazers will have likely conducted exit interviews.