Saturday, March 28, 2009
For awhile now, I've been writing about how Basketball is the most individual of all the team sports, and the only one that must be fully played with one's own personality. A player cannot exactly copy another's style. One of the best examples of this in the entire realm is Sam Young's Pump Fake, known in my inner circle as "The Grizzle Fake," after his exclamation of, "In your grizzle..." during a pickup game.
The pump fake, like the in-and-out dribble and jab step, will always have a somewhat good chance of success because it's based on deception. It's a fundamental move that's taught by purists in Midwestern gyms. But because of the uniqueness of the basketball player, Young's fake reigns supreme. Opposing coaches drum into their forwards' heads that its coming. Rick Pitino has even included it in his scouting report. Yet two or three times a game, Sam raises up on his toes and the ball is above his forehead; and defenders lose all principles and go flying.
But I wonder if those so-called purists—the ones that frown on the crossover and place religious solace in the two-handed bounce pass—detest The Grizzle Fake. If so, then this is the disconnect between what they want Basketball to be, and it fundamental nature. Do they despise it the way that the alley-oop was once dismissed as showboating? Is it "too unique" for them? Are they upset that even something so educated as the pump fake can be mixed with a person's being and be made their own? That move can only be a part of Sam's formula on Basketball. Anyone who attempts to xerox that move won't get the desired results. You won't be up on your toes enough, you'll be too quick with the fake, your hand placement won't be exactly like the release on your jumper. Bluntly put, it won't be the same. It'll be just another shot fake that may or may not work depending on your real jumper's success rate. Sam's move is Sam's move from now 'til basketball infinity.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I'm starting this post the FreeDarko way with a random picture first for a reason; so I guess the picture isn't so random after all. As I'm sure you know, that is the latest pregame ritual that Lebron and his teammates partake in. Now the Knicks fan in me would deduce that he's taking pictures to preserve memories in Cleveland before he bolts for Gotham. But obviously, that isn't the case. Bluntly put, it's because he's a funny guy. He is genuinely a friend to every person on that roster—even Lorenzen Wright. So why is that important? Well...
Everyone, including me, talks about how Kobe alienates his teammates and somewhat thinks of them as lower than he. But while cruising the YouTube, I found the interview he and Lebron did for ESPN/ABC. In it, you see Bryant chuckling it up with his fellow Team USA peers; and he looks really happy. Kobe has a personality and sense of humor; but only displays it to those that share the same exalted Basketball stratosphere. Basically, if you're great, you're cool. If you ain't, you ain't.
As usual, I examined the why behind this, and as with many Kobe juxtapositions, I can trace it back to Jordan. While cruising YouTube, I found the Top 13 all-access moments in Team USA Basketball from Dream Team to Redeem Team. I don't want to spoil it, but the moment with MJ in it has him kidding with Sir Charles over his "Be Like Mike" Gatorade commercial. Briefly searching my memory banks has led me to believe that the only time I've seen Jordan's smile with that much wattage is when he was hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Like MJ before him, Kobe finds true kinship with the other elite players in the Association. To me, he has to truly respect your superstar abilities in order for you to receive the privilege of sharing a smile with him. I believe it's due to his concentrated work ethic. It's a bit bourgeois, but when he was born the son of a pro athlete and bred himself to be Basketball Hokage, all lesser beings are treated as such.
Even though I believe Lebron ranks numero uno in "World's Best Basketball Player," this isn't a detraction against Kobe. Some people choose to lead in different ways. Lebron, Paul, and Wade find joy in leading others, and will take their flawed men and sprinkle a bit of their aura on them to elevate their play. They want to find out about their teammates off the court so they can have true synergy on it. It also helps that they are natural jokesters. Kobe uses the emotion of awe to get the best out of his fellow Lakers. The Jordan Farmars of the team have visions of Kobe's wrath if they don't live up to what he expects them to be. A glare from the Mamba and it's enough to force any Luke Walton to properly run the Triangle. I guarantee Kobe won't be taking pictures of Josh Powell and Chris Mihm.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
But ever since Melo has been in the league, he’s been plagued by not-so-smart decisions and affiliations (not including his marriage to La-La, that was a good one). There was the first Marijuana charge at the Denver Airport, the whole “Stop Snitching” video fiasco, ANOTHER marijuana related incident, and the Knicks-Nuggets brawl of 2006. Some of these incidents have extremely bad timing, such as the K-N brawl coming while he was leading the league in scoring (he ended up averaging 28.9 ppg even after the 15 game suspension), and subsequently lead to the trade for A.I. (subsequently leading to a drop in Anthony’s ppg.). But withal, I thought that with the gold medal win in Beijing, Melo was turning a new leaf.
But then he committed the unthinkable; he refused to come out of the game when coach George Karl tried to sub him out. Now, to some other people whose basketball love and IQ are not very prudent, this might be an “Ok…..so?” type of ordeal. But as all b-ball heads can agree, you just don’t defy your coach on the court, in-game, on NATIONAL television. If you rebel against the coach, what are other players going to think of you? Are they going to respect the coach after that if he takes no action? Are they going to respect YOU for not showing any respect? George Karl has probably been coaching basketball longer than Carmelo has been alive. If George Karl wants to take you out for a rest, just get out. Its not like he will never put you back in, YOU'RE CARMELO ANTHONY. I think a few minutes of rest won’t kill your career Melz.
That got me to thinking, why in the world would a player do that? Is it ego? Did Melo take for granted that he was NOT the coach of the Denver Nuggets or knew how to manage and make substitutions for a professional basketball team? Has someone gassed up his head so much that it caused him to do said action? Has all the accolades gone to his head? Are the Indiana Pacers that important of a team that he would want to stay in? Were Indiana Pacers standing between the Nuggets and the last spot of the Western Conference Playoff Bubble? (Not paticularly, the Nuggets are 7th in the tightly contested West)
Maybe its an intrinsic force inside Carmelo to rebel. Maybe he feels he is owed respect due to his expansive repertoire of offensive skills. Maybe the thin Denver air is getting to him. Whatever it is, Carmelo Anthony is one of the greatest talents the NBA has to offer right now, but until he can get his off the court (and on the court) issues resolved within his game or within himself, he well be pounding on the glass ceiling to NBA Legendry.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
At the very beginning of the series, I recognized that Chris Paul and Deron Williams are the premier point guard yin/yang pairing in the Basketball Realm. The consensus is that with Paul's guidance of the Hornets to the near-top of the West last season and Williams' injuries and slow start this season, he has surpassed Williams and is the better player. But Deron is closing the gap was between them; however wide it may be. But here's the interesting twist to their relationship: Paul, by most accounts, is a top-10 player while Williams isn't even mentioned in the discussion.
But why is that so? I'm guilty of it, too. I can name ten players who I confidently believe are better than Williams, and that doesn't include Paul. I won't do it here in the post, but I will if asked to do so in the comments. Let's get back to Williams. His stats are very comparable to Paul's, minus CP3's gaudy steal numbers. His jumper is more feared, and can get into any spot on the floor he desires--with the size to withstand more contact in the lane. He even appears to be the only player in the world that puzzles Paul, and trumps Paul in head-to-head matchups when their two teams meet. Yet it's Williams who's seems to be that guy that just can't seem to get his name into the conversation of the Association's elite, where Paul is firmly entrenched, even though he compares favorably to his New Orleans counterpart.
It can't be because he's in Utah. Stockton-to-Malone, and even Williams' teammates--Kirilenko and Boozer--have received their share of recognition despite being in Salt Lake City. Plus, he is at worst the unqestioned second-best point guard in the League, despite Tony Parker and Chauncey Billups' best efforts. But somehow, he can't usurp Paul in the minds of the majority.
To me, I reference the mainstream juxtaposition of Lebron and Kobe. I wrote that Lebron is the deity blessed with limitless gifts and given the Basketball Realm since his inception. Kobe is that lone warrior, the samurai that spends time in the wilderness sharpening his mind and footwork, down to the degree of spin needed for his pivot foot. He is naturally infallible, but a flawless human. This is how some may see Paul and Williams. Paul seems to be the floor general that others love to follow because he has a certain regal aura about him. It's as if he was born to lead men; born to dribble off screens and throw lobs to rolling big men. This isn't to say that Williams isn't gifted; but maybe people don't see him as the transcendent player in the way they see Paul. To them, Williams is great, but doesn't quite have that godly presence. That maybe Williams was able to come across the Super Soldier Serum, but while it's amazing, it isn't the Power of the Gods that Paul possesses.
One thing that Paul does have over Williams is that he is a symbol of hope to an entire city. Paul came to New Orleans in the season of Katrina, while The Jazz had been a staple of NBA consistency for going on two decades, with the only setback being the year before D-Will was drafted. That may add to Paul's mystique. He's the leader of a team of a city so decimated by tragedy and managed to lead them into Western Conference contention. The Jazz have been blandly consistent. Even Stockton-to-Malone used the most simple play in Basketball. There was no flash, no flare. It was all substance and very little style. I don't know why, but Williams gets boxed in by this blandness, even though his game is far from it.
This brings me back to the oddity of their yin/yang relationship. Everyone knows in math that if a > b and b > c, then a > c. So let's say that a is Williams is better than Paul, and b is that Paul is a top-10 player in the Association. Then that must mean that Williams is at least among the top 10 as well, right? This is the nature of their connection. It's on a level beyond mathematical comprehension, and regardless of where one elevates the level of point guard play, he can't leave the other and become vastly superior. Even though I side with Paul over Williams, I get the sense that Williams is forcing his way into everyone's conscience—demanding that he will get the respect that his counterpart already garners.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Gilbert, Hibachi, Agent Zero, Gilly the Kid. Call him what you want, but he bullied his way into becoming one of the Association’s most gifted scorers…when healthy. At the height of his powers, Arenas gave the people of Chocolate City a reason to care about professional basketball again, and not just high school or Georgetown hoops (sorry, HU alums). He’d done something that not even an aging-but-effective MJ could do: get the Wizards into the postseason. You know a city is starving for success when confetti and hat/T-shirt sets were passed out…for a First Round series win against Chicago.
But yet, even with the Wiz recent obstacles—those being the Hammer of Lebron in the past three postseason and not winning this year—supporters of the team remain hopeful. This is the absolute value of Gilbert Arenas. Because of the memories he’s provided in his brief tenure here, coupled with just how bad the team was before his arrival, there’s that strand—that glimmer of hope—that allows Washington fans to believe. It’s the superstar effect. For example, Lebron has achieved the same effect in two cities; and one doesn’t even have him…yet. The City of Washington has rallied behind Agent Zero; and while I understand why, I still must ask.
That type of fan confidence usually has to be earned. That means that said player—Arenas, in this case—had to earn his stripes since he wasn’t a product of Washington’s streets like Lebron is to Cleveland (even though he’s from Akron). I’ll use the example of the SSOL Suns once Steve Nash was signed there. Before then, the consensus was that Stephon Marbury was better than Nash and the team was downgrading at the position. Sixty-two wins and an introduction of the new wave of basketball ideal later, those comparisons were quickly halted. So my question that I must ask is: Why do Washington fans put their faith in Gilbert Arenas?
This isn’t anything against Arenas the man or the player, because his game is atomized chaos; and is even underrated as a point guard and floor general. To paraphrase what he said in his now infamous SI interview, only he’s been able to genuinely co-exist with two other 20-point scorers and legit all-stars. But they aren't a life-changing group. In fact, they are the SSOL Suns with an identity crisis. The Wizards "try" to commit to defense instead of eschewing it altogether like D'Antoni told the current Knicks to do. Arenas isn't the Maestro that Nash was. He isn't the musing of a genius' radical philosophies; but rather the distant traveler who has picked up the manuscript of D'Antoni's teachings but hasn't quite unlocked all of its secrets. He's not the revolutionary talent that a Lebron, Wade, Kobe, or even a 'Melo is.
Or maybe he is.
Perhaps Gilbert Arenas is that long-lost son that has come to his rightful home in Washington. Someone with as much unrelenting drive as Arenas may only fit in The Most Powerful City in the World. Maybe Arenas' searching for true respect is what residents of this area can relate to when explaining go-go music to the outside world. Maybe that bond is on the atomized level with where Arenas studies Basketball. If it is, then he's perfect for this city.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
The Washington Potential/Talent Transference Theory states that once a player leaves a Washington sports team, he (or she, not that there are any in remembrance) moves to another team and has unheralded success. There are numerous examples, but are mostly restricted to my two most beloved teams, the Redskins and the Wizards. For the Redskins, see Brad Johnson (Super Bowl champion), Trent Green (Led Kansas City and had 4,000 yard seasons with the Chiefs), and even David Akers (successful Eagles kicker). But this theory has most assuredly hurt the Washington Wizards more than anyone. See Richard Hamilton, Chris Webber, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Sloan, Muggsy Bouges, Ben Wallace, and most recently, Roger Mason Jr. Now while that might not be the most impressive lineup of players, most of the players on that list have either won an NBA Championship, or has had post season success away from the Most Powerful City in the World. There are always the ones who prove that theory false, i.e. Kwame Brown, LaVar Arrington, and others. But for the most port, the theory holds true.
Anywho, Gilbert announcing that he was going to have surgery on his knee again, right AFTER her signed that contract, was not a surprise to me, and actually very business savvy. But with Gillie the Kid playing about 20 games last season, the Wizards still managed to win games; and were the 5th seed in the paltry Eastern Conference Division. After getting blown out in game 6 against Lebron and the Lebrons, every Wizard fan said “Wait till next year!” But with Brendan Haywood going down in training camp, I still believed we would at least be competitive in the East. In the great words of Charlie Murphy, “Wrong…WRONG!” We went 1-10, and fired Eddie Jo. (Stupid choice) Next thing I know, we’re 13-35, and hoping for the most number of ping-pong balls in the NBA Draft. But fear not, Wiz Kid faithful. There are some things for us to look forward to.
The last time we had the first pick in the NBA Draft, we wasted it. No, Jordan wasted it, picking Kwame Brown over Tyson Chandler, and Pau Gasol, As I anticipate the NBA Playoffs and Finals, I also am waiting to see if we can steal the number one pick away from Sacramento in the NBA Draft Lottery. Chad Ford’s Mock Draft has the Kings at no. 1, Wizards at No. 2, and Clippers as No.3. Though I don’t believe we need big men, but as my good friend Johnathan Tillman so eloquently put it, “Everybody needs Blake Griffin.” If we do sneak in to get the No. 1 pick, we should take Blake and not gift him to the Kings or Clippers. Ford has us picking Georgetown standout Greg Monroe. But on the other hand, I hope we don’t get the first pick but rather the 2nd or 3rd and draft Spanish PG Ricky Rubio. Yes, I know most of you have never heard of him, but this guy is the truth. He was part of a Spain team that in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Gold Medal game gave the US Team work, and I stayed up to watch it even at 5 AM. For those of you who don’t agree, check my rhetoric. We signed Gilbert, and hope he can play to his level as he did in years before. In that second group that comes off the bench we do not have that point guard who can run the show. Mike James is not going to cut it. We dealt away Antonio Daniels (another stupid decision), so I can see Rubio coming in giving good minutes with Nick Young, Dominick McGuire, and hopefully a developing Olesky Pecherov and Javale McGee. Don’t sleep on Spaniards. I’m a slightly superstitious guy, and when we had the first pick and passed on Spaniard Pau Gasol, hope we take him 2nd and get some help while Gil is on the bench.
2. Brendan Haywood Will Be Back
Before I hear all the hems and haws about Brendan, consider this. He was a definitely a candidate for Most Improved Player in 2007-2008, raising his scoring and rebounding numbers, and especially his free throw percentage. As much as I love Etan Thomas, he should have never beat out Haywood for the center job. Haywood gives us a consistent scorer inside, a solid rebounder, and help—not a stopper, but help—against big guys like Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, and others who have been abusing us all season.
3. The Maturation of Oleksiy Pecherov
I mentioned him before, but Pech is a 7’0 center we drafted in 2006, but didn’t sign until 2007. This can play, even though his defense is more than shady. He can post up, has a decent mid-range game, and can step behind the arc and drain 3’s. Pech is the truth, ask David Zenon (my boy whom I used Pech to drop 45 on him in Live 09).
4. The Cutting of Deshawn Stevenson, and Unleashing of Nick Young
All in all, if the Wizards do as I hope they will do, they will once again be 4-5-6 in the conference, if not better. Its not a hard fix, it will just take the patience of management, players, and fans in the Nation's Capitol.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Stephon Marbury, you will be missed.
To me, Marbury’s like the quirky uncle that everyone’s got in their family. He’s the guy in your family that always shows up to Thanksgiving dinner late, has a new girlfriend every time you see him, owns a ridiculously nice set of threads, favors an unusual set of role models, and probably knows a few guys who have had their share of run-ins with the law (or has had his own problems). Quoting Nick, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, I suggest that this uncle had such “an acute limited excellence” that everything afterward “savors of anticlimax”.
But no matter what chaos ensues with this guy, you can’t help but love him. Why? Because he’s a part of your family. He’s always bringing something to the table. He’s part of what makes your family unique.
Obviously, I’m over-generalizing, but you get the point.
To New York basketball heads, Stephon Marbury is that uncle.
You see, unlike the rest of the media, I don’t consider Stephon Marbury crazy. Sure, Stephon Marbury’s has had instances of peculiar behavior, but who hasn’t? Our world is full of head cases and eccentric personalities. But Marbury is more than that. He’s a talented basketball player, a product of media hype and his Brooklyn upbringing, and is New York City’s prodigal son.
I've witnessed Marbury's meteoric rise to stardom from the courts of Lincoln High. Honestly, we were all witnesses. His life even inspired one of the greatest basketball books of the last decade—Darcy Frey's The Last Shot.
I even saw the sadness appear on Marbury’s normally sunny disposition in the games following his father’s untimely death. Death is an inherent truth that affects us all regardless of fame and class status.
I hate how the general media has conveniently forgotten about the positive contributions that Stephon Marbury has made to American society. Seeing the rampant violence that plagued our inner cities due to the infectious disease caused by the corporate marketing of Nike’s Air Jordans, Starbury made a responsible fiscal decision to step in and try to rectify the situation. While most athletes squander their earnings on senseless goods and services, Starbury teamed with Steve and Barry’s to produce an affordable sneaker for America’s youth.
I don’t believe Marbury’s new franchise family will ever understand. Since Marbury’s in the last year of his contract, Boston Celtic fans know that he’s just passing through, so they’ll shower him with empty praise. Heck, Marbury’s being used up worse than Bridget Moynahan. In the big scheme of things, it’s probably for the best. We don’t need Celtics fans later spewing racial epithets onto our misunderstood hero. The city of Boston’s got a serious history of racial hate than most people don’t realize.
I don’t think they’ll ever fully embrace Starbury.
Since the buyout, I’ve experienced the entire stream of emotions in regards to our city’s prodigal son. Yeah, I’ve gone through my five stages of grief. I denied the fact that Starbury would don the green and white Celtics’ uniform, even though their city kept openly flirting with our much maligned superstar. I was angry when Knicks management refused to allow Starbury to participate in team activities, finally conceding that perhaps Marbury is too turbulent a personality for our young players. I was depressed after I first read of Marbury’s agreed buyout, finally realizing that he would never again wear his city’s famed colors.
Now, after seeing Stephon Marbury succeed in his first game in our northern rival’s city, I’m come to accept the fact that he’s gone. I’ll always root for Marbury because in a weird, roundabout way, Marbury represents me.
As a New Yorker, Marbury is me.