Tag Archives: Miami Heat

The Crossover: Greetings from Earth, Basketball is the Best I Ever Had

A product of thoughtful consideration (and content quotas!), I’ve begun email exchanges with a variety of luminaries across a range of professions and interests (this is hardly true). There is something to be said, however, about the implications of form qua blog and the enacting of discourse, but I won’t say it because it’s mostly doodoo. Academic and grounded in…something, but doodoo nonetheless. With that resounding endorsement, I present to you: The Crossover.

Shea Hurley:

Dujie,

Please respond to this email having something interesting to say about basketball. I’m a little bored. You’re probably not: congrats once again.

Michelle and me went to Leavenworth last weekend and climbed a proper mountain so it’s safe to say my ankle is mostly healed. I talked to your mom at the wedding, she said you felt at fault. I said you weren’t but that it was fine you going on thinking you were. So it goes.

Dujie Tahat:

I do feel at fault. You’d never played basketball really before and I should have warned you sooner that an ankle injury was inevitable if you didn’t get any basketball shoes. Unfortunately, yours was much, much worse than most (almost grotesquely so), and your subsequent employment was dependent on your physical prowess (not all of us can be 6’4”, a sinewy 215 and have a perfectly symmetrical face—so fuck you love you!) . Also, that was just one of the worst-sounding, -looking, gut-bending injuries I’ve ever been on a basketball court to witness. That definitely added to the guilt (for your stupid affinity for Tom Brady):

I’m over it now.

On this topic though, I have been meaning to ask you a question: what it was like to fall in love with basketball?

Yes. Love.

I’ve spent nearly as far back as I can remember playing basketball and can’t remember what it was like in the early years/months. Of course, over that time, I’ve fallen out of favor with the game, and subsequently, recommitted myself. Even then, there’s a rush when I lace up for the first time in a long time. The distinct tightness and traction of basketball shoes, a mishandled dribble, the first swish, when muscle memory takes over, even the pennies and compression shorts— it’s thrilling.

In those moments, during games, I find myself in complete ambivalence–one of those truly unsettling moments where you’re equally culpable to opposing forces. One the one hand, I am reorienting myself to the logistics of the game: positioning, spacing, assessing my side’s needs and focusing on those (i.e. rebounding, shooting, etc. (not et cetera: those are actually the only two things on a basketball court I can actually do)). On the other hand, I fight to get in “the zone”—which is already a losing battle I think because the sensation has always felt more like finding “the zone.” As if I had drunkenly, haphazardly and accidently stumbled into that state of mind that I’d characterize by a sharp dullness, or a sluggish honing.

It is a strange position to be in—rediscovering something you know so well—holding both these necessarily contradicting thoughts in a singular mind, in a singular body, in a singular game.  One requires thought and analysis; while the other demands near-blankness.

xoxo

 SR:

My affinity for Tom Brady—the great protagonist of the American Dream—is childish, sure, but it is not stupid. Lupe Fiasco is stupid, so were running shoes and I should have known that much without needing to be told.

As for love and basketball, I’m a little hesitant to throw love around while talking about a sport so new to me. But there was definitely something pseudo-romantic going on. Playing basketball had the same kinds of insecurities as a new love. I knew I was going to have to stop for a long time very soon and I was reminded always that it was a risky way to get in shape. If basketball was a love interest it was a fem fatal minx. I was infatuated, I had everything to lose, and I knew that at any moment it could expose me as a klutz and a fraud. I just didn’t think it would be so dramatic, or have such severe consequences when it happened.

Generally speaking, it is a bad situation to be in when your employment is dependent on your physical condition. Sometimes the job is worth it—it seemed like it was to me—most of the time it’s probably not.

As it turns out the premier rappel and jump bases in the country are both on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest here in Washington. I asked one of the older hotshot guys why he never jumped and he told me to put a 100lbs pack on and jump off my house. That was why, he said. Needless to say aerially delivered fire-fighters get hurt constantly. A jumper a few years ago, seeing the rocks ahead of him, threw up in his flight helmet before breaking both his legs on impact. The point here is that an injury was likely all along, so no worries; I’d rather beef it in the gym in front of ten people than in the wilderness in front of, like, no one at all.

Anyway, back to basketball. They say if you’re new to something it is best not to be nervous when doing it and visa-versa, when you are skilled at something the nerves can heighten your senses and are generally good for performance. This was the pendulum swing I found myself moving through and I felt much more natural, even in the zone, while I was able to think less. Thinking less, of course, I can’t do consciously. When I was thinking more it was about what a big rube I must look like, with my tall socks, ticking-bomb shoes and general lack of basketball paraphernalia. Or maybe a ruse instead of a rube, like a big, cruel trick in the form of a rangy, althletic-looking body who you could be pretty sure played at least JV in high school but who was really completely inexperienced and (initially) completely unskilled. Brick, sorry. That’s the punch-line and the joke’s on you, teammates.

I only wish I found the game sooner.

stay dreamy

DT:

Lupe Fiasco is not stupid. He’s a God. Toe shoes are stupid. I mean for Christ’s sake, wear regular fucking shoes! Or go barefoot! Mostly just pick one—stop trying to do both!

Also Tom Brady is not, I repeat not, the Nick Carraway of the American Dream—way more like Gatsby, or our 21st century version:

I mean, sure, seventh round pick, career back up, turned his one opportunity into multiple MVPs and Lombardi trophies, but whatever: the dude benefitted from the most effective pro football system since Vince Lombardi’s 1960s patented “Our endzone is that way, idiot!” offense.

Tommy Boi went to private school, went to football camps led by former Atlanta Falcon (and ArenaBowl Champion!) Anthony Graziani and grew up in San Mateo, California, among the top 25 wealthiest counties in the U.S. (just under $83,000 per capita), and the third wealthiest in California. There’s only one paradigm in the American Dream that his ascendency captures: MORE!

(Also, thanks Wikipedia for not failing to prove my point. This time.)

As far as basketball goes, I hadn’t meant love in a romantic sense. An initial pass makes that seem way too limiting, but I think you might be onto something.

Upon further review, I realized that I recently married a woman I’ve been on and off with for six years. Our relationship bears many of the characteristics of the relationship I have with basketball: there’s a definitive muscle memory to our motions, reading and reacting, learned instinct, a general machinery and lines that dictates the parameters but that wouldn’t mean a thing without the sheer joy of improvisation and cooperative freeplay.

There is one undeniable difference though: primarily that all sport ends.

I don’t believe that any human relationship ends—especially one that bears love. It just changes form.

To that end, when does basketball end? Surely, Basketball does not.

I get great joy from watching—marveling, really—at professional basketball players whose whole livelihood, whose whole identity and techne are contingent on what their bodies can do, a physical limit. To them, basketball never ends. They are the closest thing there is to the embodiment of Basketball. And yet, their’s is a precarious agreement with fate. Their very existence is all a gamble, a tightrope walk. Thousands of jumpshots, rebounds and crossovers a season, not to mention practice, conditioning, playing with the kids, each an opportunity to cripple these giants of the game.

I mean, can you imagine, these guys as fragile?

I’ve said it before, you need to watch Hoop Dreams. Not only will it keep warm your fire for the hardwood, but it’s just a great fucking movie. It changed the way documentaries were made thereafter. I bring it up though because what could be harder than your employment relying on your physical ability? Probably that the only opportunity you’ll ever have at any social mobility relying on your body.

To preempt some of your certain criticism: Yes. It’s not fair. Big picture, it’s a social condition that needs to be addressed.

The fire fighter that jumps out of a helicopter with a 100lbs strapped to their back into a blazing wildfire is perhaps the perfect metaphor for those kids. They’re the elite of the elite, playing men, acting like men when they’re probably only still boys, carrying their families and communities on the shoulders into a situation that will almost certainly eat them alive.

One of the kids Hoop Dreams follows, William Gates, suffered from a debilitating knee injury just as he was turning on in high school and college scouts were starting to pay attention. In fact, he had gotten into private school on a basketball scholarship. He never made it. He got swallowed by the fire.

I was never that elite of an athlete at anything to merit that kind of attention or even fancy. We were poor but, my parents insisted on education as my way up the ladder. I guess in many ways I’ve been tremendously lucky. It almost seems like a crime to insist that I, too, had and hold onto my own Hoop Dreams.

xoxo

SH:

Fine Dujie,

Tom Brady went to private school in San Mateo. But any descent parents would send their kid to a school that good if they could, if only to buddy-up with the crowd. And I should hope that when hardworking parents succeed in supplying their children with this quality of upbringing they do not resent the child as you seemingly resent the adult for what he got. So what if he went to private school in San Mateo? Tommy Jr. didn’t have say in the matter. This is to judge the son by the sins of the father (which—tsk-tsk—is anti-enlightenment and un-American) and frankly a sin I think you would readily commit.

But say (as you do) that Brady’s rich and lazy, embezzling, glitterati parents managed to jostle him into the lowest tier of a public university’s football program. Let’s give him the debts and credits starting there. Remember when he got to Michigan he was a timorous figure in the long shadow of Brian Griese, was 7th on the depth chart and seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety. He had to claw for the starting job at Michigan and for his spot in the pros. As a football player, it doesn’t seem like he was given much of anything besides talent, a pure apprehension of failure and a work ethic to channel it. These characteristics, thank you for noticing also, do evoke shades of Jay Gatsby.

“The Child is the father of the Man” as Wordsworth put it, probably holds true for both figures. I imagine the newly invented penniless Jay Gatsby looked out at the copper-kahuna, Dan Cody from the shores of Lake Superior much the same way the young Tom Brady Jr. regarded Joe Montana from the aisles of Candlestick Park.

The difference of course is that Brady does not come from piss-pot North Dakota. He did get his Daisy: the far-flung, sylphlike wonder of femininity Gisele Bündchen, and hasn’t yet suffered tragic decline and demise by the careless lies of careless people. Not to get too far ahead of myself though, he does play for the NFL, and with Junior Sau in mind, he might shoot himself in the chest before it is all over.

As for Lupe, I wouldn’t want it thought that I set myself up (and what a set-up it would be) so I will be short: He has paranoid delusions about the government of the United States, which is pitiable in its way, but also annoying because of his swollen following of credulous discontents who will take a junk-theory over the facts in plain view, if only to distinguish themselves from the presumed naiveté of cow-eyed parents and classmates and I guess whoever else.

~ ~ ~

Long break here. Work sleep work sleep work.

~ ~ ~

At age ten, I was deposed of my spot—middle back row—on class-picture day because I wasn’t any longer the tallest kid in class. It hurt then like no bad grade ever had or could. I feel a pathetic now remembering it, but I was young, and regarding at least my height, I grew up. Priorities, anxieties and pressures all changed. Problems might have arose if they didn’t, and games are a good example because maintaining skill at them becomes increasingly less practical as time goes by.

I’m not like William Gates (is the irony of that name addressed in Hoop Dreams?), who might have turned fragile athleticism into a career (i.e. a person for whom the game is practical). That was made clear to me early on. Time to go? Okay then, won’t have to tell me twice. The problem is with people hanging around after they should have left like drink-spilling old men at college bars: It’s just not going to happen these people and they’re the only ones who can’t see it.

Gates is exactly the kind of cautionary, all-eggs-in-one-imploded-basket-tale that 17 year-olds are hard wired to ignore in lieu of stories of guys who made it. If you can dream and not make dreams your master… If only. Outliers is bunk by the way.

Speaking of practicality and dreams and the boy being the father of the man, the image of the adult offered by the NBA—by pro sports in general—is not in the least bit practical. It provides a select few, a pre-selected few even—because DNA transcription is really more important here than anything that might follow—a chance to be rich and eccentric and idolized while it strings everybody else along.  Right now there is a guy just down the way on a barstool lamenting his wretched heap of a life to some poor stranger all because, he says, coach wouldn’t put him in, or his knee went out, or Ms. Bitch English teacher failed him out of eligibility. You’ll notice that when you chance upon this tedious foe (you have, and you will again and again and again) he is reliably incapable of prompting your sympathy.

The owners of the NBA—here I invite you to pause and muse with me on the oatmeal colored folds and gathers of Donald Sterling’s collapsing face—are nothing if not shrewd capitalists. Having an underclass of snowflake-or-bust kids who are made to think their endeavors on the court, or the field are more likely to repay their efforts than what they do in the classroom is agreeable; friendly; face-sucking, hand-under-shirt, over-bra simpatico to the status quo. The status quo being, of course, that the kids are without skills or footing and people like Sterling (who has excess money in almost exact proportion to excess skin) go on selling them hoop dreams. Dreams which are, to borrow a phrase nothing but net.

As I realize there is a Macklemore song about this I fill with self-loathing.

Talk to me

Shea

DT:

You did a whole thing there where you grew up and became a cynical old curmudgeon in the span of your last five ‘graphs. Good for you!

I’m going to try and keep this under 3000 words because I turn into a pumpkin after that.

Very quickly on Tom Brady: I would send my kids to private school. I hope to. But let’s not amplify the narrative. His ascendancy is limited to football—which, frankly, isn’t a mountain he could climb without coming from an upper-class, white, privileged family. I take no offense to his unlikely (sports) myth. As a fan of sport, I cannot help but to admire it. I do take offense to calling it the American Dream, and him the main character of it. America is no longer just a sea of pretty white boys (bad news for you). The American Dream connotes there is no alternative. His life wasn’t on the line and neither was the socio-economic outcome of his children. With or without football, Tommy Jr. probably would have still been rich, and his kids would still have their trust funds.

191 words to go.

The Brady discussion seems the perfect digression for the irony of William Gates’ name.

You are unassailably right about how the NBA is structured and capitalism in general. It sucks to be a Plebian. It’d be way cooler to wear a toga and admire little boys. But it sucks much less to be a Pleb that has mastered—or at least gets the daily opportunity to master—a craft as endlessly surprising and infinite as basketball.

Gates is a cautionary tale. There are a dozen of him for every Jimmy Butler. But you can’t blame people for doing what they’re good at, and hoping to achieve the highest form of success doing it. Anyone who can commit to that, seems to me, is the true “protagonist of the American Dream.” Failure is part of the equation. Much less talked about (makes a less inspiring poster), but completely necessary.

I know you’ve probably got some cheeky rebuttal, but this email exchange is my thing, so you’re going to have to hold onto it until next time.

xoxo

The Enlightened One: Lebron James Going Home (Part 1)

“What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react?”

-Lebron James, “I’m Coming Home”

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] L [/dropcap] ebron James has been “The Chosen One” since he was in utero. It’s a good moniker, no doubt. But his style of play—his insistence of team, his vision, his willingness to defer in the right situation—has repeatedly shown that more than anything, James is “The Enlightened One.”

With his essay published on Sports Illustrated website announcing his move back to Cleveland, James is perhaps (hopefully) elevating his off-court persona to match his on-court game.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] I [/dropcap]  was saddened when James made his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. In the months between his announcement and the 2010  season, the sadness of “The Decision” fixated on its showiness of it–excacerbated by SportCenter and every other sports media outlet, it festered into full-blown animosity.

I didn’t burn jerseys, publicly try to humiliate James (or myself in the process) or really anything beyond bear an unfounded resentment for the guy. Still, to Lebron James and his family:

I am profoundly sorry for the intensity, acrimony and utter absurdity of the feelings I felt.

[There are many things wrong with the preceding statement. I know that. It brings up lots of questions about the rights I have as a fan to place expectations on an athlete, where the ownership of performance/achievement lies and the inequitable selfishness inherent in a fan-celebrity athlete relationship. In practical terms, this apology serves nothing insofar as no one, I repeat no one, in the James clan will ever read this, so it doesn’t really matter except that it matters to me that this is written somewhere, recorded somehow and declared publicly. Something tells me James would appreciate this latter notion.]

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] W [/dropcap] hat I love most about James’ recent decision is that he wrote an essay. He didn’t tweet it. He didn’t have a lackey leak it (although Rich Paul might have). He didn’t even play coy with the media.

The greatest player in the world publishes a humble and revealing missive on the sports equivalent of the Washington Post.

In the essay, James writes about and gives us all-too-short meditations on family, the idea of home and the realistic expectations of winning and playing in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform again with the team as it is presently constituted.

If anything, the essay demonstrates that for James, Miami clearly was “like college for other kids.” Shown for all to see is a deliberate maturity that, in prowess, matches only his physical gifts and basketball talents, and perhaps more pointedly, it’s a maturity that just wasn’t there four years ago.

There is no greater metaphor for that than the fact his essay exists.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] L [/dropcap] ebron James is the best basketball player in the world. It’s been well-documented, and he’s earned his stripes and accolades and then some. But hidden in his essay is James’ basketball philosophy, the one we’ve been guessing at since we saw More Than A Game.

“I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.”

James gets it: the game above the game.  He understands roles, spacing, teammates’ abilities, opponent’s tendencies and can calculate his next move in less time than it takes us to say “Erik Spoelstra is the luckiest coach on the planet!” James is a basketball genius, and his aim is to conduct, facilitate and generally be the embodiment of a higher state—the vipassana, if you will—of basketball. He plays basketball; his aim is Basketball. There is no real measure of this, no data point we can boast or visual we can capture. The Heat’s 27 game win streak in the 2012-13 season is probably the closest thing. James knows that better than anyone.

“I’m not promising a championship.”

James also knows how hard championship trophies are to earn. And he’ll spend the next few years ply his young, new teammates with the genius-wisdom it takes to achieve the highest state of basketball ever conceived.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] “I [/dropcap] feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously…I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile.”

And with a nod towards himself, the preeminent figure in all of basketball returning to Ohio, James is returning home to lead by example:

“Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

When James bounced to Miami, it was in the midst of the recession. Ohio did not take it well. Just before “The Decision,” Forbes listed five Northeast Ohio cities (Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown, Akron, Canton) among the 20 most miserable in the US—including James hometown.

With downtown revival and having recently earned the bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, Cleveland seems to be on the rise (there’s a joke to be made about the RNC here, but low-hanging fruit and all).

James return not only signals that resurgence but bolsters it. How many things can you put Lebron James face on and the phrases “I’m coming home” or “#OH” or “I’m baaaaack”? There are millions of dollars of revenue returning to NE OH with Lebron.

“I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown.”

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] “I [/dropcap] ’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted.”

Lebron James wrote this essay. Sure Lee Jenkins helped—probably cleaned up the language and focused the ideas—and it could very well be that what’s on SI is dramatically different from what James started with. But I have to believe—ardently and fully in my own made-up narrative of the man—that after James made his decision to go to Cleveland and made the subsequent decision to publish his personal, written decision, he sat down at a computer and hammered on a keyboard until it all made sense.

The essay reveals so much about James’ rationale and where his heart lies. It was measured and thoughtful. But nothing is more revealing than his choice to write the essay in the first place.

I can’t wait till he writes the next Life on the Run and runs for office.

 

Melo le Bro, Mellow Lebron: The Rise of Player Power

“Being able to have flexibility as a professional, anyone, that’s what we all would like.” –Lebron James

“The grass isn’t always greener.” –Carmelo Anthony

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] T [/dropcap] he stage is set for The Decision 2.0. And you can’t throw a cat a sports blog without it digging its claws into a juicy cramping Lebron calf—which is to say, it’s been covered.

In this free agency, everyone seems bizarrely prepared for any outcome. The shock of James leaving Cleveland in 2010 so thoroughly rocked the sports-voyeurism world that, at this point, everyone is prepared for any possible narrative: betrayal, redemption, a new chapter, the second coming, locusts.

Since James’ agent announced his intention to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat, Bleacher Report has posted 81 click-baiting click-stravagant click-shows ranging from the 24 Hair Styles Pat Riley Wore That Reveals Everything Was Not Fine In Heatlandia to the 17 Instagram Posts From Miami Strippers Promising Lebron Will Return To South Beach (only one of those is made up).

On the flip side of the same coin, suddenly half the NBA teams seem like they’re in position to court the King, and GMs the league over are logging 17 hours a day on ESPN’s trade machine, discussing with Ray Donovan their options for disposing of Emeka Okafor/Roy Hibbert/Kris Humphries’ dead bodies.

Needless to say, free agency has changed. At the very least, it is at an inflection point. It has gone from desperate clamor to full on frenzy.

James bailing on the Cleveland Cavaliers was among the greatest things to happen to NBA players (I never thought I would write that sentence seriously). Such a public display from the best baller in the world—while causing much pain for some—put the power squarely in the hands of players: a striking divergence from the long, sordid history of rich white NBA owners and David Stern! getting richer, older and whiter at the expense of players getting blacker, younger and (markedly less) richer.

Whilst in the shadows of the last throes (he said, hopefully) of owners self-inflating their resources into magnanimity—or worse, benevolence (read: Donald “But I love Coloreds!” Sterling)—the emergence of player power seems be making its strongest case ever.

Don’t get me wrong. Steve Ballmer and Mark Cuban aren’t suddenly making way for players at their super-secret ultra-exclusive billionaire masquerade sex balls or even the pantheon of Forbes lists they find themselves on the top of. But the money bags are no longer the greatest determinant of the basketball landscape (never thought I would see that sentence outside of the Luckswing #BREAKING section).

The two biggest influencers of the NBA’s immediate landscape are James and Anthony.

That’s a good thing.

Self-aware players are a good thing. Self-awareness leads to self-determination. Marquee players are the tent poles of the NBA, and so long as they make these self-aware decisions in relation to that, the NBA’s future is truly in their hands. Ever conscious of their role in the NBA—and, to a grander extent, popular culture—players are untethering from the traditional moors of money, big markets and money. Hopefully.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] A [/dropcap] s Carmelo Anthony earned his comeuppance in the NBA, he was often labeled selfish.  A criticism he fought to shake in New York.

By all accounts, ‘Melo is ready to win now, to sacrifice pay and stats, to, in short, kick it with the bros. If he signs with a team outside the Knicks, he leaves $39 million on the table and an extra year of job security (a premium considering he’ll be 34 at the time).

Unfortunately, at his peak this last season, he had the least amount of help. Tyson Chandler got hurt, then old. Raymond Felton thought he was Gilbert Arenas—and then carried guns places. Iman Shumpert’s plateaued. The Andrea Bargnani experiment was a colossus of a failure.  J.R. Smith kept doing J.R. Smith things. Rasheed Wallace, Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries weren’t there to save New York (this sentence, I was prepared for).

Couple that with never having been a true free agent before and of course Melo’s gone on the biggest, baddest wine and dine tour outside of American electoral politics.

Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement born of the 2011 NBA lockout, teams have more money and player contract longevity has decreased. Technically, this is called “player sharing,” but for 2K addicts, this is Fantasy Draft activated in Association mode.

Among the frontrunners, here are the teams he should go to, the one he won’t and the one he will:

The Dallas Mavericks

Rick Carlisle: one of only a handful of coaches that move the needle/maybe the second best coach in the NBA.

Dirk Nowitzki: one of the greatest power forwards of all time.

Monta Ellis: Monta ball can be made to succeed, anything can be made to succeed.

Tyson Chandler: buddy.

Texas: big hats, no state taxes.

Mark Cuban: you’ll be set for life.

Vince Carter’s Knees: a path to follow as ‘Melo ages.

No state taxes.

The Chicago Bulls

Tom Thibodeau pushes his players to the brink. He labors his stars with so many minutes that they miss multiple seasons, allowing them to casually get injured while running routine plays.

Sorry, Chicago, that I’m not sorry.

Joakim Noah not-so-jokingly told his coach he’d hate him if they weren’t winning. ‘Melo is north of 30 now. Being a Bull would shorten his career by three years.

The New York Knicks

New York is home. And there is something to be said about being the hometown hero, and being the guy championship teams are built around. It sounds silly, but can you imagine what it’s like to score 62 in Madison Square Garden? (you don’t because no one has ever done it) Drag a subpar team to the playoffs in the city you grew up in? Be the best player on the first team in NBA history in the state that made you a college basketball god?

Sure. These are pie-in-the-sky aspirational narratives, at best. Seeing this things to fruition requires tremendous risk and work. But Phil Jackson is a persuasive man, and he’s hellbent on doing the Pat Riley thing—but, like, with Zen.

Also (and I hate to admit this), Melo kind of fits the mold of the great players that have never won. George Gervin, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins make way on the Mt. Rushmore of Losers!

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] L [/dropcap] ebron James is staying with Miami. I want to indulge in the circus display of what he ate today, but not really.

The Heat are a second playmaker and a combination of serviceable point guard/center away from pushing the Spurs to seven—if not winning it all.

It’s hard for me to admit. I want more than anything for James to accept the role of mercenary. There has never been an all-time great mercenary. Imagine, for a moment, a universe wherein LBJ took six teams to the NBA Finals, winning eight Larry O’Brien trophies only to recuperate his image spending the last three years of his career in Cleveland as an elder statesman of basketball.

I called my psychic, and Cleopatra told me that James is waiting on the Heat to sign someone who moves the needle. Tops on the list, Lance Stephenson.

Ya. That guy. Stephenson would be a perfect fit for the Heat. He’d effectively be Dwyane Wade’s replacement, with better defense and passing.

Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Steve Blake, Jerryd Bayless, DJ Augustin, Patty Mills, Greg Monroe, Jodie Meeks, Luke Ridnour, Chris Kaman, Xavier Henry, Brian Roberts, Spencer Hawes, Nate Robinson, Channing Frye, Pau Gasol, Greivis Vasquez, Mo Williams, Shaun Livingston, Emeka Okafor are all viable options across the pay scales. Adding any two of these guys would make the Heat that much more dangerous.

#BREAKING: ERIK SPOELSTRA LOANS LEBRON JAMES OUT TO US MEN’S SOCCER TEAM

According to sources close to the situation and totally not wasted on Copacabana Beach, Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra has loaned out all-NBA forward Lebron James to the U.S. National Men’s Soccer Team.

The surprising act of patriotism comes in response to the uncertain condition of U.S. striker Jozy Altidore.

Spoelstra was spared a few minutes of his daily flagellation from team owner and czar Pat Riley to speak to Luckswing’s sources (who is, again, deeply embedded in the Heat organization and definitely, definitely not drinking his ass off in Brazil somewhere).

“PatI mean I. Did I say Pat? I meant I. I call the shots. Me, Erik Riley. Shit. I mean—Pat Spoelstra. I know my name—REEK!!—I call the shots! All of them! Pat? No. Pat who?”

After a few more minutes of an apparent mind-melting existential breakdown, Spoelstra went on to say, “we’ve played Lebron, like, a bazillion minutes in the last four years, not including the Olympics and the playoffs. I’m absolutely sure he’s totally fine. He’s like a superhuman breed of things that are better than humans.”

Upon hearing the news, U.S. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann shit his pants and kissed the closes man to him who was apparently a naked Clint Dempsey. 

Minutes ago, James tweeted his response: “Fuck. #classicSpo”

Basketball Geometry: Does it really matter?

After a thoroughly riveting first two rounds in the NBA Playoffs, the Conference Finals gave us what we thought was going to happen 10 months ago. For the last week, the one-two matchups in both conferences have each been exactly what you’d expect. Until last night.

The Miami Heat and the Spurs have been on cruise control for weeks. Even with the Indiana Pacers’ surprising burst in game one (read: the juries back, the Indiana Pacers aren’t that good), the Heat smoldered onward.

With the San Antonio Spurs crushing Portland and charging out the gates in the Western Finals, almost everyone would have concurred 2 hours ago, we’re getting a Finals rematch.

Then Russell Westbrook decided to do Russell Westbrook things. Kevin Durant sneezed a 31-5-5. And Serge Ibaka built a 25-foot wall, a moat and draw bridge around the paint.

Enter intrigue.

Gregg Popovich has spent the last weeks fine-tuning his Spurs, yet for all the carefully laid out scheming, the unfolding geometry and beautiful cuts and rolls he’s been orchestrating, the Oklahoma City thunderous Supersonics, like a scorned child high on cotton candy and pixie stix, came in and kicked, squashed, spat and generally disrespected every facet of the Pop code.

Geometry is critical to basketball execution. Spacing, movement, passes, threes and layups all have their place. In any given basketball scenario, there is a right time for any one of them.

OKC doesn’t care about that.

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Like most hoop fanatics that don’t have a membership to a gym with hoops, that live to recreate their glory days, I’ve picked up a rhythm of pick-up games around town—an elementary school on Sundays, a church on Tuesdays, another church on Thursdays and any hoop (Fisher-Price or fiberglass) any time in between.

Usually, guys are clamoring to play indoors. Shielded from the inconsistencies of inclement weather, 17 people to two hoops is not uncommon. For die-hards 100 minutes in a gym for 20 minutes on the court is part of the game. If anything, it adds to the incentive to win. The more you win, the more you play.

Last night only six people showed up at the local church gym, and only two of us had ever played organized ball. It was some of the best ball I’ve played in months.

My squad was clearly the less talented one. I was the primary ball-handler, and that’s never been good for any team I’ve ever been on. Along with my out-of-shape midrange game, we had a nine-year old, four-foot, shoot-first point guard with penchant for bad decisions and a 6’4” 300 pound center who never strayed beyond 10 feet.

We faced the two most athletic dudes on the court. They came in together and had an obvious rapport.

We won every game.

Going into the game, we had no idea how special our play was going to be. As the only guy who could match up athletically, I knew that I was going to have to work harder than usual, helping out on defense and carrying the offense. If my teammates were as tepid as I was, they didn’t show it. On the other hand, the other team felt great about their chances, and didn’t hide it.

On the first possessions, I sent an entry pass to our big on the left low block. He gave up five feet on the catch, but got most of it back backing his guy down. Having used up most of his energy though, he couldn’t figure out how to finish, so he sent it back out to me.

pickup 1

I drove into the lane away from the bigs, drawing the little guy’s defender to me. Sensing the collapse, our nine-year old sidled back over to the  top of the arc for a wide open three.

pickup 2

 

He heaved every ounce of his 85-pound body into the ball, launching it 28 feet. pickup 3As I tracked the ball in the air for what felt like forever, I knew that the whole night and, subsequently, how I felt about myself and the people around me for the immediate future would be determined by our little guy’s ability to sink exactly this kind of shot.

He drained it.

Betraying the beautiful absurdity of sport, that single fabulous little man jumper lifted up the spirits of over 525 pounds and five decades worth of teammates. We were floating on cloud 9-year old all night long.

On the next possession, we ran almost exactly the same play. Swish.

That’s when I knew it was over. The rest of the night, we played what Bill Bradley and other philosophers of the game call “pure basketball.” Nearly every basket came off an assist. One-on-one plays never took our team out of rhythm. We played inside and outside. When the shot was taken away, we drove. When the drive was taken away, we shot. And we always passed.

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Among the array of things basketball is, basketball is a language. Like all languages, it has rules, permutations and its share of quirks. Due to its inherent physicality, however, communication happens quickly, and with the right chemistry almost instantaneously.

Our unlikely trio had never played together before. Hell, we’d never said more than three words to each other before we started. We may have said three words during play. Maybe. Yet we seemed to gel almost instantaneously. Part of it was the kid sank his first two shots, we took a 4-0 lead (which in pick-up can seem an unsurmountable lead).

Most of it was that we identified each other’s roles early on and allowed that to dictate our spacing. Our big was the biggest, stayed close to the rim. Our shooter shot the best, floated beyond the arc. Our skill sets were so limited that we never over extended ourselves, trespassed onto each other’s territory.

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The Oklahoma City Supersonics trespassed all over the Spurs last night.

The Sonics didn’t just exact revenge, they crushed the Spurs, left them rattling, and for the first time in weeks, looking vulnerable.

The reason San Antonio’s loss is so jarring, was because there was no game planning around OKC. The aberration of OKC’s game when it’s on (like it was last night) is supernatural. Their formula is a simple: 1) you take the best pure scorer ever, the most ferocious two-way point guard in the NBA and the most intimidating shot blocker with simultaneously intimidating range, and 2) you let them all loose on the same court at the same time (Scott Brooks occasionally points them in the right direction).

Last night, KD and Westbrook combined for 71 points. Ibaka blocked more shots in his two games back (7) than his whole team did without him in games one and two (6). Ibaka’s defense is somehow more reliable than both Westbrook and KD going off simultaneously like that again. When those points are coming off leaping steals and 38-foot threes, it’s enthralling, a wonder, unbelievable, but impossible to sustain for four games against the one the most prolific teams in recent history coached by the most prolific coach in recent history.

The Western Conference Finals has been an exercise in supreme strategy v. prodigious freeplay.

Will the Spurs be ready for game 5? Of course they will. That’s a question for lesser teams—like the Pacers. Confidence is on OKC’s side. They just held the Spurs to under 100 points two games in a row; San Antonio has only been held under 100 in three games prior this playoffs. Of more pressing concern: the next three games will be a referendum on Scott Brooks.

 

#BREAKING: SHANE BATTIER CONFIRMS CHILD’S BELIEF THAT DAD DOESN’T KNOW HE IS RACIST

 

 

Following their defeat of the Pacers last Monday, ESPN got some time to interview Shane Battier on the team’s performance, their cohesion on and off the court, and their belief in themselves as they look for a 3rd consecutive national title.

But the real story was happening miles away.

In Yakima, Washington, 15 year old Washington native Tyler White was grappling with his own personal story.

“My dad couldn’t stop talking about how well-spoken Shane Battier was” White said, “He kept saying things like ‘why can’t they all talk like that?’”

“I know I am not supposed to say this,” White’s father chimed in, “but Battier is just so well-spoken. It isn’t like the rest of them, er, I mean NBA players, aren’t well-spoken but…uh…he just, you know, is better at it…you know, uh…speaking”

White’s father, Taylor White, went on to go back and forth over whether or not he was maybe racist but couldn’t seem to come to a conclusion.

He knew undeniably that he was right at least in terms of the surface-substance of his sentiment—Battier is an exceptionally well-spoken man—but he knew also that his even noticing it or thinking that this was something worth saying or commenting on likely spoke to a conditioned response rooted in a contrary expectation: that African Americans are NOT well-spoken.

He went on to assert internally that if he was thinking about it and conscious of the fact that he didn’t want the comment to come across as racist that he surely couldn’t be racist- given that he was mindful of the possibility and sought actively to avoid it.

He then internally countered with the argument that, well, even if you are aware of the expectation to which Battier’s speech runs counter and try to avoid bringing attention to it that doesn’t make that expectation any less your own. This implies that there is something built into you that is inherently racist even if you may not be willing to admit it in a public forum and tell me honestly if you saw a black guy knock on your door right now would you expect him to be selling magazines or looking for handouts or drugs and didn’t you just cross the street totally unnecessarily the other day just because that one big black guy was walking the opposite direction on the side of the street you were on and therefore gave you the slightly uncomfortable and totally inexplicable feeling of foreboding that you would soon be within shiv-range of a guy who (in all honesty) was probably just walking to the same McDonalds you were just leaving moments before?

White’s father concluded our interview by mentioning that he had at least 2 Jimmy Hendrix songs on his iPod and really wants to go on Shark Tank to plug his new invention: “The Mandingo.”

SVG: Rock On Motown, You Got Yourself a Good One!

On Wednesday, the Detroit Pistons officially announced the hiring of Stan Van Gundy as their newest Head Coach and General Manager. The contract has been reported to be $35 million over five years and gives SVG complete control over retooling the franchise as he sees fit.

A pretty sweet deal for a guy who has been enjoying retirement in Central Florida the past two years.

The Van Gundys were born to coach though. Over an eight year career with two separate teams, SVG vaunts a 579-371 (.641) record—having never missed the playoffs (his brother JVG amassed a 748-430 (.575) record over 11 years—missing the playoffs just once).

Watching the Van Gundys pace the sidelines as I developed my love of basketball, you get the impression these guys lived to sideline marshal. They studied the game, demanded peak individual performance, set high expectations and most importantly, lived and died with their teams’ successes and failures. As a player you love to see this, and when you’re struggling, you need to see that your coach is with you (a demonstrative nature Maurice Cheeks wasn’t well versed in).

Eventually, coaching affected health and hairlines (sorry, Jeff). But with a much needed, possibly doctor-prescribed, Jon Gruden media timeout, SVG has returned. And it is about time that one of the Van Gundy brothers finally got back to coaching.

Among likely candidates, SVG was probably the best fit for Motown. He’s had plenty of success with dynamic front courts throughout his career. He found a way to maximize a range of bigs—from enigmatic point forward Lamar Odom and an affable aging-yet-dominant Shaquille O’Neal in Miami to sharp shooting Rashard Lewis, Air Turkey point forward Hedo Turkoglu and a developing-yet-dominant Dwight Howard in Orlando.

That history of success bodes well for the Pistons All-Star caliber Josh Smith, highly skilled but young Greg Monroe and raw-potentially dominant Andre Drummond.

The Pistons could be a fun, unique team to watch, but their three bigs—right now a weakness that could become the strength of this team—don’t know how to move on a court together. As a result, you get Smith floating laissez faire around the perimeter, shooting the same way he plays defense—like a matador:

So much red.

The chart represents 70 of 265 treys for a disastrous 26.4% success rate. Clearly, J. Smoov’s shooting will have to be reined in, but that is more doable than one would think. That energy just needs to be focused on playmaking.

After all, Smith’s success in Atlanta came by being the Swiss-army-jack-knife-of-all-trades lynchpin of that he team. In his last two years with the Hawks, he averaged 18.1 points, 4.1 assists, 9 rebounds, 1.3 steals and almost 2 blocks per game. He ranked among the top 25 in points, rebounds, blocks and steals per game, easily among the top 10 in assists for forwards—all while maintaining a top 20 Player Efficiency Rating (PER).

Smith should be able to bounce back to that form. His trajectory was on  the upswing before he left Atlanta, and he’ll still only be 28 at the start of the season. It will dramatically help Smith (and everyone with a pulse in Michigan) to have shooting around him—his last two Atlanta teams were the 5th and 7th best three-shooting teams in the NBA.

Any discussion involving “shooting” and “Detroit” (and “basketball”) starts at Brandon “I got this” Jennings. To which, coach promised an imminent conversation with Jennings about shot-selection in a press conference earlier today.

“The questions are his decision-making ability—not so much that he’s a high-turnover guy, but it’s his shooting percentage you get concerned about. One of the things I like to do with guys in terms of shooting percentage is ask them why. Why 37 percent? I want to hear the answer on that. But I know he’s a very, very talented guy.”

We are the 37%.

Improved shooting and better point guard play should provide the Pistons with sorely needed spacing— the team’s uncrackable Kryptos this season.

Space on the offensive ends will allow the big bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to operate more intuitively in a more traditional high and low post scheme.

Easy buckets.

Hopefully SVG can read numbers better than his predecessors, and he’ll layer the playing time between the three bigs by taking out Smith early in the first and third quarters, featuring his skills as the leader of the second unit (a la Dirk Nowitzki with this year’s Dallas Mavericks). Plus, this gives Monroe and Drummond an added chances to develop together.

Talent-wise, shooting (guard) remains the persistent hole in the entire Detroit Piston equation. They ranked second worst in three-point shooting this past season with an atrocious 32%.

Fortunately for “The D,” shooting shooting guard is a relatively easily fillable hole via free agency, and the team is poised to make moves. They will have $22 million at the start of free agency, but this includes Monroe, a restricted FA. Even with Monroe’s hold, the Pistons will still have $12 million to spend.

The temptation will be to splurge, spending it all on Lance Stephenson or Avery Bradley (or heaven forbid, Evan Turner or Swaggy P). Bradley would be perfect for this club. He’s been working on his shooting form, elevating his three-point percentage to almost 40% on 200 shots this past season, and his relentless full court pressure would upgrade the Pistons perimeter defense tenfold. But even in the event he’s not there (he’s restricted and Boston’s looking to build), the team could wisely spend on a cadre of Jodie Meeks-, Alan Anderson-, Anthony Morrow-types.

Enter GM SVG.

Not wanting to relive the front office-coaching cleave in Miami eight years ago, SVG ensured that the bicameral houses of the franchise would stay united by signing on board as the only person to currently hold both the Head Coach and General Manager positions.

SVG will have to balance the immediate pressures of winning with a long-term view that ensures his teams health. It will be particularly challenging with a team that has so many questions looming. Standing at the intersection of game strategy and franchise strategy, however, allows him and the team to commit fully to his ideas. As a coach, SVG relied on systems that reflected the personnel he had. It will be interesting to watch him acquire personnel to complete his vision of the Pistons.

He’s got the tools and the skill set to get it right. If he does, the Detroit Pistons will finally lend some harmony to Motown.