Tuesday, May 27, 2008

NBA Semi-Climactic

It's been awhile, Family. Ten days since I last graced Fundamentally UnSound with my unconventional thoughts. But I am back like I want Lauryn Hill to be, and equipped with freshly new ideas. Oh, and as always, I'm back with freshly searched random pictures...

The NBA postseason is now in its championship stages. The winners of the remaining series will receive a trophy for their accomplishments, and will forever have a place in history. It is in this that I'm torn while "watching" the semi-finals. Why is watching in quotation marks? Because for the past seven days—ever since the conference finals started—I have fallen asleep before during each of the games. At first, I didn't know why. Maybe I'm getting old. Then I realized, I'm 21 years old; old is light years away from me right now. I even began thinking that ten-plus years of watching Timmy have caught up to me; and I'm taking on his boring persona. But I'm too much of a big kid to be boring, so that's not it. I may have found, at least partially, the reason why...and it may startle fans of the Lakers...

To me, it seems that the playoffs are suffering from the same ailment that haunts the NCAA Tournament. During March Madness, there are Cinderella seeds planted, big-time upsets, and everlasting moments made. Then, as the lesser teams are weeded out, the Final Four results into something ho-hum; with last year being a recent exception. To me, the NBA games are getting less entertaining as the rounds progress. In the first round, there were a myriad of storylines that arose before and during the various series. Can the Suns finally overcome the Spurs? Are the New Orleans Hornets for real? Will anyone on the Wizards dare take a swing at Lebron and risk the wrath of David Stern suspension in a rivalry series? Combine that with the near-upset of ESPN's Boston's Celtics in ATL, and most of the games were watchable (sorry, Orlando-Toronto...not you guys). In the second round, each of the matchups seemed to be slated with some sort of underdog taking down some sort of favorite. The CP3s were trying to take down the defending Timmys, Lebron was trying to drag the rest of his teammates past The Boston Three Party on his cape, and Utah-LA was exciting as well (sorry again, Orlando but Hedo's dunk attempt was a no-no). This round is...*shrugs*...

The basketball purist in me understands that the four remaining teams are the best four teams in the league, and would probably play the best brand of basketball available to the Conference Finals. But these semis seem to lack something. They lack...stars. The casual fan in me needs something visually pleasing to keep me totally drawn into each game. Rodney Stuckey doesn't play enough in the East, and Kobe has yet to be amazing for an entire game. This is where Lakers fans should be perplexed. I understand the Mamba's star power and that he's arguably the biggest individual draw in the league. However, he's pitted against the most boring star player and team of the past ten years, so there are two somewhat counteracting forces at work. With Boston's almost-collapses in each of the first two rounds, I'm just sick of watching them play basketball. Detroit, minus Rodney Stuckey, isn't helping the matters at all, either. For example, the only part of the game I watched live was the surrounding minutes before and after Jason Maxiell's block on the Not-So-Big Ticket.

(*sidebar* Ray Allen needs to channel his inner Jesus Shuttlesworth.)

There's a couple of things that I can attribute to this feeling of blah that overcomes me while watching the Conference Finals. Part of it is because of my overwhelming infatuation for Chris Paul. Part of it may be due to the fact that Lebron's superpowers have taken a hold of me. The point is, because of the incredibly exciting play that occurred throughout the first two rounds has hindered this round, at least through the first seven games between the two series. Not even The Mamba's spurts of blurring the line between reality and video game gameplay hasn't been enough to keep me awake.

Because I'm entrenched in the love of basketball, I won't ever abandon it; especially during the postseason. Hopefully, I've been resting through the previous games because the upcoming ones will be memorable. I wonder how David Stern will feel about another Spurs-Pistons Finals (more on this in a future post)? If those teams meet again, no doubt there will be millions of casual fans that will go into hibernation until October. With that said, I can't wait to watch tonight.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Jedi Mind Tricks

If it isn't obvious to you by now, I love the game of basketball. To me, it has a nice blend of skill and athleticism. It's not as skilled as baseball, nor does it require the extreme amount of raw athletics necessary for football. One underrated thing I love the most, in all sports, is that no two players are alike. Gilbert Arenas, Mike Bibby, and Jason Terry were all point guards coached by Lute Olsen at the University of Arizona; but each of their approaches to the game is different from the other. However, I have a beef with my favorite sport; and it extends beyond media timeouts. College and professional players, meet me after the random picture...

I would like to address the theory that is "home court advantage." It seems that in athletics, those involved are looking for anything--legal or otherwise--to give them that edge in competition. Home court advantage has been around as long as the sports they support, but I have a few questions about some of the theorems and corollaries (yes, I'm a math nerd) that stem from it...

Look, I can get with the idea that playing in front of your own team's fans can give one an added boost of energy. Who doesn't get excited when the home team is on a run then there's a dagger three or thunderous dunk that sends the place into a frenzy? I mean, despite the fact that it isn't really "home court" most of the time, since few players are from the same area that they play professionally or collegiately. For example, by my count, Wally Sczerbiak and Lebron are the only two people from Ohio that play for the Cavs. How is it that even with a midseason trade, those new players immediately earn the benefits of home court advantage? When Cleveland made that trade with the Bulls, the two teams played twice in the following couple of weeks. So does that mean that Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden, all of a sudden, forgot how to play in Cleveland? Did Joe Smith immediately earn the supposed ratings boost that comes with home court? Hmm...

Basketball is different from other sports in the sense that there aren't different alterations to each arena. Football stadiums have different playing surfaces, wind gusts, and climates; so it's understandable that visiting teams not used to them would have difficulty playing there. In baseball, a fly ball to left behaves differently in Fenway Park than it does in PNC Park; plus, there are different surfaces there as well. Basketball is played indoors, so there's no threat of weather (people in Georgia may disagree); and the dimensions of the court and rim never change. There's no reason that a basketball player plays that horribly most times they're in away games. Some would say that 15,000+ booing fans would disturb anyone's energy, but I disagree. If they're being disrespectful, then I can sort of understand being distracted. Anything that attacks a player's personal life is definitely out of bounds. However, I maintain that if an opposing player is being booed, then he is doing something productive on the court. Granted, I've never been in any "big games," but this notion that it's "tough to play on the road" is ridiculous to me; and I have a theory on why it's so prevalent...

The second round of this year's playoffs has lent more ammunition to theory of home court. As I said, the home teams should play better when they're in front of their own fans because there is a certain comfort that comes with thousands people cheering for you. However, road teams should not perform drastically poorer than they do at their own venues. I blame the decades of coaches and analysts that continuously drill into players' heads that, "winning on the road is difficult." To me, it sounds like the people that put stock into this belief are looking for built-in excuses just in case things don't go well on the road. Current head coaching candidate and awesome analyst Mark Jackson made a good point. He said that the players and coaches that believe in this idea are weak-minded. Again, the rim is ten feet high in all arenas; and the dimensions are still 94 x 50 feet. It's all mental.

Players and coaches should never let anything mental bother them, especially something they cannot control. It's not like they can control the fans--that's the only way fans can have an impact on the game. This is probably another reason why I didn't end up a big-time coach, because I would remove any player on my team that subscribed to this theory. NBA/college players/coaches, get some mental toughness...and quickly.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Letter 21212-K: Kevin Garnett

Two posts in one day? Have I officially become a blogger? Anyway, this one's been a long time coming. I didn't want to do it, but this year's regular and postseason have forced my hand. I'm sorry it has come to this. Kevin Garnett, meet me after the random picture...

Dear Mr. Not-So Big Ticket:

I have tried to avoid writing this letter about you for years now. This won't be as gratifying to me as the letter I wrote to Mark Cuban, or as painful as the ones I've written about the Knicks, but it still bothers me to have to do it. I admire your on-court intensity and off-court genuineness; but this is strictly a basketball matter. You're a first-ballot Hall of Famer and definitely a top 10—if not top 5—all-time player at your position. You spearhead the redefinition of the power forward, and are incessantly praised for you versatility. But, like I said, this is a basketball matter.

Sir, it seems that when the spotlight is its brightest, you prefer to let others attempt to thrive in the big moment. You play the background while lesser players take the shots and are involved in the possessions. This becomes more clear with each year you are involved in the playoffs. In Minnesota, I still maintain that your sheer awesomeness should have allowed for you to make it past the first round when you were alone in the Twin Cities. Other superstars have been able to do it: Allen Iverson in Philly, and Lebron last year—and this year—just to name a couple. But that's in the past now. You're in Boston green and on the best team in basketball, or so the Celtics should be. All the Massholes love you and the rest of the Boston Three Party, but it's really all about you. In Paul Pierce's ten years in Boston, he has never had the hype, commercials, and Messiah-like reverence that you have received. You, Sir, have resurrected a proud franchise and have increased the value of the NBA now that the Celtics are relevant again.

But let's get back to your postseason "shyness." I put this in quotation marks because I don't believe you consciously want to avoid the spotlight. You're too dedicated a player and love the game too much to not want to succeed, so I believe you shy away from pressure. However, I do believe that, for some reason, you're so unselfish that you would rather have others shine brighter in the big moment than your own superstar illumination. To me, being the best player on your team come with the right to selfishly demand the basketball in crunch time. This doesn't mean that you should have to shoot it all the time to prove your worth, because even Jordan passed to John Paxson and Steve Kerr. But the best player should be involved in every possession possible. For example, your inherited rival Tim Duncan was involved in the play in the Spurs' first round game against the Suns. He took it upon himself to turn that into a pick-and-pop, knowing he hadn't made a three all season. But somehow, Timmy rose to the occasion; even in a low-percentage situation.

Again, you don't have to have a multitude of buzzer-beaters to your credit in order to be a clutch player. I mean, if the Celtics are down three with three seconds to go, the right play is for Ray Allen. What I'm saying is that in the two to three minutes leading up to that moment, you should be involved in every offensive trip down, thus defining your clutch-ability. Yes, you have two other players that once held the right to be selfish down the stretch; but that is your earned privilege. You have the authority to go to Doc Rivers and demand the rock in the post whenever you feel like it, but your selflessness keeps you from doing so...I guess. Lebron's dagger of a dunk in last night's game was a microcosm of both of your playoff careers. Lebron putting on his cape and saving his ragtag teammates with his superpowers; while you stand by and watch others rise to the occasion.

It's tough to reprimand someone for being loyal, but, in this case, it feels necessary. Your passion is legendary, but your postseason play is the one chink in your otherwise flawlessly transcendent game. I would love to see you win a title while you're still great, and not leeching on as a veteran presence like Gary Payton did. Please, KG. I don't want this to be a lasting image of the Celtics' playoff run...and I'm a Knicks fan.



Black Mamba 360

As of May 2nd, I am officially a professionally published journalist. You can see for yourselves if you are near any of these locations; and as you can imagine, I feel pretty damn good. I haven't thought about how to celebrate yet. Maybe I should ghostride the farm. Anyway, the point is that nothing in the sports world can disappoint me right now...and I pledge my fandom to the Knicks. However, like always, I have some things on my heart I need to get off my chest—some [stuff] to address—so this won't be as lighthearted as originally planned.* Open your minds...

*(It was supposed to be my lighthearted attempt to actually defend Kobe winning the MVP, but I can't do that now that I've started my deep thinking.)

As I'm sure you fellow hoop lovers know, Kobe "Black Mamba" Bryant has won his first MVP award. He wasn't my pick to win it, but I can't argue with it because he was one of three very deserving candidates. For some, including myself, the player that proved he was most valuable this season was newly-cemented-favorite-NBA-player Chris Paul. I've been receiving claims through Facebook wall messages and instant messages about how I should rant and rave about The Mamba winning his Lifetime Achievement MVP Award; and depriving its right owner (*cough* CP3 *cough*) of it. However, I'm going to discuss the notion that Kobe has now come, "full circle," and is the golden boy he was prior to 2003...and how that's not as true as it appears to be.

From an outsider's perspective, Kobe appears to have been a person lucky enough to easily get most of the things he wanted. He's the son of a former pro ball player, and has seen more places in the world than some wealthy people. He speaks at least four languages, and was the crown jewel of the 1997 high school class (#2 in said class...Tim Thomas). He was blessed to be drafted into a professional situation in which he could flourish immediately, was on a team with the most dominant player of this era, and was a three-time champion before he was 25—something even His Airness couldn't even claim. And despite him being constantly compared to Jordan, he somehow managed to thrive in a pressure others have wilted (see: Vince Carter, Jerry Stackhouse, Tracy McGrady, and others); but still has grown into his own player. Then came 2003.

Kobe's ego was growing uncontrollable by the game, but the divorce between he, Chief Triangle, and the Big Aristotle hadn't become final yet. Then, after that fateful rendezvous with the hotel worker in Eagle County, Colorado; Kobe quickly realized that he was only a pet mamba. Let me explain.

It seems that athletes—Black athletes, in particular—are loved as long as they don't disturb the space/time continuum that is the mainstream. Yes, I know this topic has been discussed on numerous occasions; but with Kobe winning the MVP, I feel it's necessary again. Kobe was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and he wasn't a professional actor. He took his rightful place as heir of the Best Perimeter Player in the League kingdom, and had plenty of endorsement deals and commercials. But once it was revealed that he was flawed, all of that was swiftly taken from him. He went from hero to pariah in one summer. To me, he had become basketball's O.J. Simpson. He wasn't a murderer, but some would argue rape is a more heinous crime. His tearful apology couldn't help him as he was stripped of his media pedestal and tumbled to the cellar of infamy.

Yes, his personal on-the-court success continued; and I have a great deal of respect for him because of that. It takes immeasurable mental stamina—much more than a buzzer-beater requires—to endure the criticisms and insults, and still be able to perform without any significant dip in production. In my opinion, the media had realized not just that he was a flawed athlete, but a flawed Black athlete. The unconditional love he once had in the media now had two stipulations: a criminal record and skin tone. It seems that once a superstar athlete of any race messes up in his personal life, that closeness mainstream has with him or her evaporates; and that athlete becomes a social outcast.

I apologize, but I can't shake the suspicion that Black athletes get way more scrutiny than their Caucasian counterparts, especially with the recent plights of Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, and now OJ Mayo; and Mayo's not even a professional yet. It seems they receive a little more coverage a little longer than any White player would get. I'm not defending anything criminal, but I am defending fair treatment. To me, it seems there are a few variables that go into determining the amount of ridicule and how far an athlete falls from grace. I believe star status (Michael Vick opposed to Leonard Little), severity of the crime, public visibility (Roger Clemens as opposed to Mark McGwire), denial versus confession (Rafael Palmeiro opposed to Jose Canseco) and race (Clemens to Barry Bonds) are the main determining factors of this equation. For example, the reason why Mark McGwire isn't talked about in the steroids conversation is because he disappeared. The reason why Michael Vick was chastised and Leonard Little isn't is because Vick was a superstar player, and Little is an above-average defensive end. My point is, if Kobe Bryant was Trenton Hassell—a journeyman in the league—then he wouldn't have had to worry about answering as many questions about his night in Colorado for as long as he did after the incident had been settled. Think about how long it was between the release of Kobe's last pair of Adidas and the release of his first pair of Nikes...

Five years removed from the Eagle Co. experience, and most is forgiven. Kobe has all the fanfare that comes with being the best player on the NBA's glamorous franchise. His public image is mostly repaired, and he no longer has to worry about talking about court dates and his wife's feelings. Maybe Kobe's situation had nothing to do with race, but this admitted subscriber to conspiracy truths theories can't help but feel that way. I, am in no way, attempting to rain on the Mamba's MVP parade. Even though he isn't anywhere near the top of the list of my favorite players in the league (somewhere after #10...yes, I like ten players more than the Mamba), he has my utmost respect for the dominance he exhibits on a nightly basis. I'm just glad his career was allowed to continue, and he can—for the most part—put that dark cloud of his behind him. But, please believe, the mainstream hasn't forgotten.

Congratulations, Mr. Bryant.


P.S. - If this kinda put you in a somber mood, check out my Top 20 cartoon songs of all-time. 20-11 is here, and 10-1 is here. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

RE: Infatuation

Ever since 1996, one player has ruled the "my favorite basketball player" section of the chaos dimension that is my sports heart; and that player is Allen Iverson. On the court, The Answer is the basketball embodiment of every positive character trait I strive to have. He's diminutive by professional athlete standards; but possesses the heart and willpower of an immeasurable level. That tenacity allows him to equal and sometimes surpass the on-the-court production of his taller peers (third all-time in career points per game average). Then, to add to that, he does everything his own way. Braids, tattoos, and "inner city urban youth" swagger. To put it bluntly, he just doesn't give a...you know. For twelve years, AI has ruled my chaos dimension with a permanently inked fist; and I felt there would be no one—not even His Airness—that could overthrow him. I mean, Timmy has his fundamentally sound place in the kingdom, but I can't relate to being seven feet tall...and boring. The Black Mamba has garnered my respect, but it's more out of basketball awe than adoration. But suddenly, there is another. A young king that is slowly moving in on Iverson's territory. That man is Chris Paul.

Few players have captivated my attention to the point where I watch every second that he has the basketball. Steve Nash as maestro of the Phoenix Suns at the height of their offensive brilliance—yes, that window is closed—is the most recent example of how one man can have an entire game on puppet strings. It's as if Nash is so intelligent he is mentally three steps ahead of the defense, despite being a step slower physically; and the result is poetry in motion. Chris Paul has that same intellect, and the athletic gifts as well. So it appears he's four or five steps ahead of the other team. A prime example of this is what he did to Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks in this recent first-round series. Avery Johnson may still be a "young" coach, but I think he knew that stopping Paul was priorities one through three. But that's just it. CP3 made it look as if the Mavericks' game plan was to stop the other players on the court; and let him have free roam. The result: four Hornets' wins in five games, and Avery's looking for employment.

Chris Paul's pure talent isn't the reason why he's challenging Allen Iverson for supremacy of my basketball heart. I mean, Jason Kidd was a wizard of a floor general, and so is Andre Miller. What allows him to even have a place in this dimension in the first place is his on-the-court leadership and swagger. He's not brash or boastful, but walks with a air of self-confidence that only true leaders carry. He has a demeanor...like a king. The difference between his leadership and, say, Kobe's is that it seems Paul's teammates follow him willingly; whereas the rest of the Lakers follow Kobe out of fear. I believe that Chris Paul would still be cherished and still be the unquestioned leader of the Hornets if his stats were cut in half. He has that much presence, and it seems that people flock to him and his players want to play better because he gives them the support and direction a great leader provides. I know the other players are talented on their own; but it seems they're performing better than they would under a lot of the other leaders around the league.

Chris Paul is beginning to destroy and rebuild the regime that Allen Iverson has constructed for the past twelve years in the basketball section of my sports heart. He hasn't completely overtaken The Answer's throne yet, but the empire is beginning to shake at its foundation. It reminds me of what The Roots, D'Angelo, J-Live and others (links probably NSFW: explicit language) have done to my musical tastes...But that's for another writing space—not for Fundamentally UnSound. Part of me wants to see him conquer Timmy and the Spurs, simply because it would provide more ammunition needed to overthrow Iverson. Hmm...apparently my chaos dimension is welcoming this change. It'll be interesting if the transformation will complete. For now, AI, you have company.