Monday, December 29, 2008

Mirrors, Windows, and Fingerprints

I love FreeDarko, but they make it difficult for me to find unique premises to present to you because they're so much better at it than I am (Thanks a lot, Shoals. Seriously).  From lamenting Tracy McGrady to praising Tim Duncan's stylish lack of style, they concisely answer the questions and prove the theorems and corollaries that most wouldn't dare ponder, much less openly convey.  But I'm not complaining.  We're kindred spirits with the same common goal—real basketball truth.  I guess it is true what they say about great minds.  Anyway, let's get to it...

Being entrenched in the realm of Basketball has taught me a lot about myself.  I have learned of my own complex person through the way I gravitate to ideas on both sides of the various spectrums.  I appreciate Timmy's fundamentals and Howard's unadulterated power; Lebron's might and Kobe's precision; the educated game of Brandon Roy and the destructive everything-ness of Gerald Wallace; the Spurs and the Hawks.  In short, I'm chill but live; like Common over a Dilla beat.  Each entity has it's own subpoint in the ambiguous outline titled, "What I Like About Basketball."  But the "what" isn't my point—it's the "why;" more specifically, why basketball grants neurotic fans like me permission to admire such contradicting hoop elements.  You know where to meet me for the explanation...

To me, basketball allows for more individual freedom of expression than any other team sport.  It's player and ball; and with it, a brief viewing of that player's character traits is on public display.  For example, think of a player that would be classified as intense.  Now, think of a finesse player.  Next, determine which would rather dunk and scream, and with would rather lay it up off the glass.  Finally, think about their individual personalities; and you should find it impossible to see one acting like the other.

A microcosm of the individualism in basketball is an examination of where NBA players attended school (excluding high schoolers) and how they see basketball.  Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutumbo each had multiple years under the tutelage of John Thompson at Georgetown.  However, each has a fingerprinted brand of big man game.  Ewing was the offensive tactician; Mutumbo, the defensive stalwart; and 'Zo was the solid blend of both.  It has nothing to do with Coach Thompson--he just let them be them and refined the tools their souls has already designated for them to use.  No two players are exactly alike because of how much each player's personality is interwoven in their respective games.  Yes, every player fits into fits into some broad hoops category (pass-first point guard, interior presence, etc.), but there will never be a duplication of anyone, even the scrubs.

And that's why, when we do proclaim what we like about basketball, we have a taste for a little bit of everything.  The soul is, based on its structure, multi-faceted;and each move/player/team/moment is a small opening to the gateway of our selves through that entity's revealing of its self.  Basketball requires its inhabitants to fuse the game into his or her DNA, down to their choosing of where to place the guide hand for a jumper.  Because of this, we get insight into each player's makeup; as well as find parts of us throughout the sport.  If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then basketball is the mirrored portal with which we can gaze upon our reflections atomized withing various sections of its realm.  Watch a game and learn more about yourself.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Divinity Wears A Headband

I stumbled across this very intricate hierarchy (link here) that charts intricate NBA archetypes. While the main portion of it is interesting in its own right, I would—like the folks at FreeDarko did*—like to focus on the Alaska-to-the-Continental-US-like separation that is the Lebron James category. While this doesn't fully explain why Lebron has surpassed Kobe, it does give that moment its proper recognition. This is another difference between the two titans that doesn't neatly fit into the, "Who's the better player?" discussion. It also delves deeper into a truth that has been made superficial over time. More after the random picture...

I'll start with The Mamba. Most recognize Kobe as the closest thing to His Airness since His Airness, and that includes Jordan's time with the Wizards. He has found cosmic success despite that career-damaging comparison that has been the Scarlet Letter to various swingmen (see: Stackhouse, Jerry; or Carter, Vince). It's to the point that calling Kobe "the closest thing to MJ" has become a compliment that rolls off the tongue. Everything, from his walk to his post-game press conference to his unmatched will to win, bears an eerie resemblance to Jordan. And I'm not mad at him for doing it. However, why he won't be considered among those greats of the greats—Jordan, Oscar, Magic, Bird, Wilt—is due to his perfect study and tracing of His Airness.

In all honesty, Kobe is a more cerebral Jordan; because he had Jordan as a guide. Obviously, that does not make him a better player; but it allowed for Kobe to develop the finer intricacies of his game (the fadeaway, the mid-range jumper) at a faster rate than MJ. Kobe is an all-time great, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and an extremely unique talent. So why won't he be mentioned in the same breath as the Big O and those others? Because it's been done. Since he is a xerox copy of MJ, with a few minor unique adjustments, he is not so unique that he's unprecedented. Everything Kobe has done in his career is matched—and surpassed—by Jordan's; other than the number of years it took to win a title. Kobe is that basketball sun/son that was born from a celestial, tongue-wagging body and able to coexist among the greats in his own, albeit slightly lesser, universe. Great in his own right, but a creation not the Creator.

This brings me to Lebron James. The reason why the designers of that NBA hierarchy felt the need to give him his own blue circle is because there is no exact structure that can neatly classify his talent. Regardless of where you rank him among the Association's best, no one can deny that there has never been a player with his combination of skill, IQ, and imposing physical stature. He is Magic Johnson with the ability to get 50. He is Oscar Robertson in a power forward's body. He is MJ with the unforced willingness to distribute. Again, he is in a classification all his own, and we are able to behold it from its inception.

I've already broken down his game, so I won't dwell on his first step or his left-handed reverse layup. The fact that we can watch his ablities grow from uncanny to mytholigical is astonishing. Without a doubt, we're enjoying immortals like Duncan, KG, Kobe, Shaq, and soon-to-be Chris Paul. But few athletes since Jordan, none of them being basketball players, have made basketball fans worship and adore him like Lebron has. For example, that "chalk" thing he does before games was done by Garnett—and by Jordan before that. Yet few people know this; or even care, for that matter. His power over the masses is due to his previously unseen might. In the way Kobe is a sun born from Galaxy 23, Lebron is his own celestial being; a Universe among stars destined to dwell in the Most Holiest of basketball places, perhaps at a throne higher even than MJ's.

We are confused and excited by him because we have nothing with which to juxtapose him. Add in his age and the idea of him actually getting better, and you have basketball divinity wearing a headband and tattoos as his crown and symbological markings. We are all witnesses.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Time Has Come...

Remember when I used Kobe and Lebron to outline the reasoning behind the need for sports comparisons? Well, if you click the hyperlink and scroll to the bottom, you will see a small footnote about what previously were my feelings on who was better. Ah, but the winds of change are in the air, and sooner than I expected. The King has risen to usurp the Mamba's dictatorship atop the NBA. He now claims his rightful place as the best player in the Association. And for you Kobe supporters, the arguments are explained after the random picture...

For the record, Kobe Bryant didn't do anything to relenquish his title. That means that he hasn't lost that proverbial step or had a noticeable decline in effectiveness. This is all about Lebron and his ability to be faker than the post-Airness master of fake that is Kobe Dean Bryant. I'm not saying Lebron is better because Kobe is worse; I'm saying he's better because he's better.

The argument that I hear the most (and the one I was making prior to this season) is that Kobe is the more "complete" basketball player. The flaw that most people make when using this is that they equate the ability to knock down perimeter jumpers with overall completeness. Kobe is a better shooter than Lebron, but Kobe is also a better shooter than both Magic and Jordan; yet those two are more complete than the Mamba. Kobe does play hard on both ends of the floor; but Lebron is a vastly better rebounder and passer. For rebounding, he averages 7-8 a game on a Cleveland team that is consistently one of the best in the league with Ilgauskas/Gooden or Ilgauskas/Big Ben/Varejao taking away most of those opportunities. And I don't think we need to discuss passing. I'm not talking about Lebron's pseudo-no-look passes, but rather his court vision. Passing is his natural basketball gift in the way that jump shooting is Larry Bird's gift. Yes, Kobe is an all-world on-the-ball defender, but Lebron's man-on-man defense is pretty good; and his help defense is superior to Kobe's.

Critics would ponder why Lebron has yet to have the perimeter stroke of Kobe's. Part of that is due to him not having college training (remember, Kobe wasn't exactly deadly from the perimeter in his early years, either). Most of it is attributed to his physical superiority to anyone in the Association. Lebron came into the NBA at 240+ pounds, and he's listed at 274 pounds currently. Whether or not you believe the exact number is up to you, but no one can deny that he has put on more muscle mass over the summer. To put 274 pounds in perspective, he weighs more than DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison, Joey Porter (FIX YO MOUF!), and John Abraham--your current NFL sack leaders. But what makes Lebron different from being Ron Artest is his speed and quickness. I think Lebron beats every NBA player in a race except a healthy Tony Parker and Devin Harris. Factor in those 274 pounds, and you have the most unstoppable force to the basket ever. But even with all that physicality, he still has obey the rules. He can't just go through bodies, so he requires the same ball handling deception every perimeter player needs to get to the rim, as well as the grace and body control to finish there. And don't argue about the liberal interpretation of the traveling call. All NBA players enjoy it.

Personally, I'm a fan of superstar players that make lesser players better and lead them to wins. In short, I want winners. Stephon Marbury does not fall into such a category. With that said, only Larry Hughes can confidently say that he's had a better career without Lebron than with him. Anderson Varejao, Delonte West, and Daniel Gibson each owe Lebron a cut of their checks for what he's been able to do for them. This intangible is a trait that Kobe doesn't possess. For his supernatural abilities, he couldn't manage to up the level of his surrounding cast pre-Pau trade. Granted, one of those players was Kwame Brown, but everyone else he had is a player that can be replaced with someone else that does the same thing. For example, Sasha Vujacic-type shooters off the bench exist throughout the league (Kyle Korver, for one). My only dwelling on the past is that Lebron took a ragtag team, albeit in a weaker East, to the second round and then Finals; while Kobe managed to be first-round dustups for the Suns. Because Lebron's initial thought process is to distribute, getting lesser players involved isn't greeted with resistance by the urge to get buckets. Kobe could only find that balance with another near all-star. While the addition of Moe Williams has been beneficial to Lebron, Lebron does more for him than what is reciprocated.

For the readers that side with Kobe, when you leave your comments, don't bring up things like "multi-time All-Defensive Team," or, "81 points in one game." Those things happened awhile ago and are career achievements. You see, I didn't bring Lebron's Game 5 performance for that same reason. Consider that Lebron's jumper isn't a weakness, but it isn't his first option. He's realized that he's a basketball speeding locomotive and can get into the paint to finish like Shaq or make plays to his teammates like Chris Paul at his whim. Lebron is better at what he does than Kobe is at what he does offensively. It's not by much, but there is a definite separation. Lebron for the win, despite his recent wack commercial. Kobe ain't got like he got it anymore. Let the debate commence.


Monday, December 22, 2008

A Sonnet To the Black Quarterback

Surprise? A Ferrari for your birthday is a surprise. Tavaris Jackson being terrible last night In the Hubert Humphrey Dome? Not a surpise. This poem has been months in the making, but I believe that Jackson 7 was the last straw.

Black quarterback thou has direly regressed/
And with notable haste I do record it so
From form that we had once to know thee best/
A fall from grace thee ne’er had to go/
From Vick to Leftwich, Garrard to Charlie Batch/
Each one a wee bit worse of than the next/
To Vince Young’s depression and Prozac/
To JaMarcus’ ineptitude and thoughts of being “next”/
Where are the skills that we know thee posses?/
Dost thou always have to rely upon thy legs?/
Is it stereotyped inaccuracy that makes us see thee less?/
And question of thy off- field activity begs?
When did thy worth become the second string?/
Even Donavan was benched after Ravens quoth nevermore/
Doug Williams is the first and last to win a ring/
Are thy exploits destined to be forgotten lore?/
And with Joe Flacco or Matt Ryan winning rookie of the year/
You, thou black quarterback, may be doomed to disappear/.

I'd also like to thank Seneca Wallace, Cleo Lemon, and Daunte Culpepper for also falling off (or never getting on) and inspiring such a piece of poetic beauty.

Moving Forward: Things for a Redskin Fan To Be Excited About

This piece was written by Jeff Scott, one of my good friends for somewhere around 15 years. He's helped me out on my other blog, and he's allegedly a contributor to FU, but apparently he lost his login information. Perhaps he should've been a swifter with his additions. Anyway, here are his unedited, homeristic thoughts. Peep after the random picture...

Well, the playoff hopes are FINALLY done for the Washington Redskins (though true fans knew that they were done after the Pittsburgh game). Being a lifelong fan (and a sports journalist), I like to think I enjoy a deeper and more in depth look into the Skins than the average fan. ----Sidebar Alert---- This was written around 2 a.m. Props to my best friend Corey for getting me the History of the Redskins DVD. Knowing at 7-7 and with a myriad of other NFC teams in the Wild Card Race, I started to look for the bright spots, even before we beat the Eagles again, and came up with the top 4 things that Skins fans have to look forward to heading into next season.

The Progression of Jason Campbell
Barring some freak accident within the next week, Jason Campbell will have completed his first full season as an NFL quarterback. Now that might not sound impressive to some, but for a guy who’s been in the league for 4 years that’s equivalent to peace of mind. Staying virtually injury free this year, JC has thrown fewer interceptions than your quarterback (unless your quarterback is Jeff Garcia). Jason Candle, er, Campbell is not only throwing the ball better thanks to rookie head coach Jim Zorn, he is completing more passes, he is making quicker decisions, and he is pulling the ball down and running with it more often. All that needs to happen now is increasing his accuracy when throwing downfield. He showed flashes of brilliance in this category in his game winner versus the Saints. If the Redskins improve their offensive line, Jason could build on his breakout year.

The Maturation of Jim Zorn
Its been a whirlwind for coaches in the past decade. Dedication and loyalty to the head coach has all but disappeared in the realm of professional sports today. But the public demands a successful product. When Jim Zorn first took the helms of my favorite sports team, my first words were “Huh?”. I thought that we would be at or around .500 this year cause hey, we lost a lot of players, through free agency or through untimely death, and that seemed average. At 6-2, everyone was putting Zorn as Coach of the Year, but a smacking by the Steelers showed the Skins for what they really are; a good team but not a great team. After the crushing loss to the Bengals, radio personalities and less than intelligent fans were calling for Zorn’s job. But, even if a team loses five of six and essentially moves itself out of the playoffs, the coach is never totally to blame. Play execution is the name of the game; yet if the coach doesn’t change his game plan when defenses have decided to blitz your quarterback every other down, then something is wrong. I know Zorn will get it together and learn from this rookie season to be at least a good coach. Skins fans should remember the greatest coach in team history, Joe Gibbs, only started 8-8 his first season. He then led the Skins to three Super Bowls. So even if the Redskins lose to San Fran next week, its not the end of the world.

The Maturation of Laron Landry and the Solidity of Chris Horton
I don’t know if anybody else feels the same way I do, but watching the Skins-Eagles game last night I got chills. Why? Because watching the defense on Sunday, I momentarily thought that Sean Taylor came back in the form of LaRon Landry. The hits he laid on DeSean Jackson, and the hit on Reggie Brown to seal the deal, were very reminiscent of the way Sean used to cover from sideline to sideline. He finally seems to be settling into a smarter player, one that doesn’t just head hunt for streaking receivers and gaining as many personal fouls as he can. His coverage has improved drastically and the Redskins have rarely given up extremely long pass plays.
The very last pick in the draft is usually destined for: a.) mediocrity or b.) a short career. But Redskins Rookie Chris Horton has played above and beyond any expectations. For those of you who don’t believe in God consider this; I prayed and prayed and prayed to the Heavenly Father for a replacement for the biggest bum that I’ve seen thus far Reed Doughty (other than John Lynch I cant even remember a decent safety of the Caucasian Persuasion). And the Great One answered my prayers with a rookie from UCLA. His tackling and knack for finding the football in the air or on the ground is very promising.

In conclusion, there’s a lot to look forward to next season. So Skins fans don’t feel disappointed in an 9-7 or 8-8 season, because it always could be worse…we could be in Detroit.

elbaT ehT nuR esaelP ,tiorteD

I'm a fan of the San Francisco 49ers. Right now, the franchise is struggling to produce a winning product; and the team has a (interim) coach with questionable motivation tactics that will be fired before the end of 2009. However, one of the few things in which I can take solace is that as bad as the 'Niners currently are, we have nothing on the steaming pile of epic fail that is the Detroit Lions. The Lions lost again this past Sunday, making them 0-15 on the season. I'm sure that there is a good amount of football fans that want to see them complete infamous history and run the table in reverse; but I have a small request for the final game against the Packers. More after the random pic...

See, Detroit losing 42-7 again like they did yesterday is fine because it's a microcosm of just how inferior the team is to the rest of the NFL. However, I don't want another blowout. In fact, I want Detroit to be winning going into the fourth quarter crunch time. I want the players' and coaches' spirits to be high. I want owner William Clay Ford to believe, "Yes, we can! Our players still care!" When they score a touchdown, I want them to look like this:

Look at that joy. It's almost as if they believe they're still respected as a professional team. Anyway, back to my outcome for the game. In the fourth quarter, I want the Lions to be ahead of the Packers by, say, four points. Then, I want Aaron Rodgers to channel Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning and lead Green Bay down the field on a last-minute touchdown drive for the win. To make it better, I want the touchdown pass to come with no time left.

What I'm trying to say is: I just don't want the Lions to lose tomorrow...I want it to hurt. I want Rod Marinelli's soul to be crushed, just to see if he'll something else smart to say in the postgame press conference. The reason why I don't want a blowout is because that's too easy of an escape for them. Any team can lay down for a game and just go through the motions, which is what Detroit has appeared to be doing this entire season. A close game means that the players have actully risen up and attempted to keep their names from history. A loss like that would be fitting punishment for a collection of players and coaches that chose to wallow in ineptitude. I refuse to believe that paid athletes can't come together to play above themselves, while at the same time catching the opposition on a bad day, to create a mixture for victory. I mean, the Chiefs have two wins; and this guy is their coach. There's absolutey no excuse for not winning a single game all year.

So yes, I want Detroit to lose a close one this coming Sunday. And please believe I will be laughing maniacally at them. Don't spoil my hopes, Detroit.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When Video Games Come to Life Part III - Rise & Fire

My first two posts about the line between real sports and virtual sports becoming blurred were about teams.  So, if you were wondering why it has been so long since my last entry, it's because I was searching for something...fake as a subject.  By "fake" I mean real life events in which one questions just how far the limits of the pro athlete/franchise/executive/mascot can go.  For example, Magic Johnson's court vision is fake.  Tiger Woods doing anything with the golf club is also fake.  Randy Moss when the football is in the air? That, too, is fake.  However, these things are well known; and here at FU we try to give more publicity to the things that go overlooked by the more mainstream writers.  Today, I will give praise to everyone's new favorite college player:  Stephen Curry.

Stephen Curry is fake.  First off, he looks no older than thirteen.  His Davidson jersey looks like his father, Dell, gave it to him ot wear during lifting weights—and he never made it to the gym.  But, for reasons I can't fathom, he's able to dominate college basketball in a way that hasn't been seen since Pistol Pete.  Yes, and I stand by it.  I'll explain after the random picture...

Curry is the epitome of having no consciense.  If you remember his father, then you can recognize that quick release that Stephen inherited.  It's not that he's a standstill shooter, it's that he only needs to get his defender—or defenders—off balance.  Throw in his guard skills, evident by this year's transition to the point, and he can clear space and break his man down off the dribble.  Because of that, the defense can't key on his jumper as much as they could with Redick and Morrison.  What separates him from past dominant players like Christian Laettner, Glenn Robinson, and Tim Duncan is that he is far from intimidating physically.  For example, when Lebron is attacking the basket, he can match the strength of almost whomever is in the lane.  Stephen Curry doesn't have that luxury.  Every shot he creates is done cerebally, and he can't get away with things based on pure athleticism.  Basketball IQ and the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of angles and space is why he's so effective at his stature.

Another reason why Curry's dominance is almost unprecedented is because he goes to Davidson.  Quick test: name all of the basketball schools in the state of North Carolina.  How long did it take you to get to Davidson?  Six, seven teams?  Anyway, the point is that Davidson isn't exactly a recruiting giant in college basketball; so their talent is nowhere near the powerhouse schools like UCLA and Kansas.  Even Gonzaga looks down on the players that go to Davidson.  Moreover, do you know who Andrew Lovedale is?  What about Bryant Barr?  I doubt you recognize Brendan McKillop, who is the coach's son.  Curry is the number one, two, and three options for the Wildcats, yet he still manages to compile gaudy point totals against high-level competition.  Just ask certain #1 pick in next year's NBA draft Blake Griffin about it.

I stand by my bold statement that Curry, given his disadvantages of size and surrounding team talent, is the most dominant player since Pistol Pete.  Another question: When he releases the ball, do you find yourself saying, "good," before it gets to the rim?  I know I do.  I'm not going to talk about NBA potential.  Let's just enjoy him in the college game and worry about his pro measurables when he's actually in the draft.  And with that said, you would think that the big time schools would've learned their lesson and snapped up the next Curry.  Enter Seth Curry.

You know I had to throw in a highlight mix.  Peace.