Tuesday, September 15, 2009

FU Self Face/Off: The Iverson Saga

Since I'm in my yin/yang, both sides of the spectrum mode, I'm going to write yet another post on my favorite player: Allen Iverson. I know FU seems to be flooded with AI posts and mentions; but since I've become indulged in the Basketball Realm as its scribe, his career has had more dramatic change than ever. Gone are the days of carrying franchises on his diminutive shoulders, slicing mountains and monuments with the sharpness of his crossover dribble. He's a journeyman now; trying to disprove the perceived notion that he's fallen from the ranks of the Elite.

Whenever an idea for a post starts formulating, it usually sparks two different types of reactions and opinions in me. Now each opinion in unedited and honest, but one is a little more controversy-based than the other. It's like "T.I. vs. T.I.P.," minus the southern accent and military arsenal. With that said, I'm going to share both opinions that arose once I heard that AI signed with the Grizzlies. The semi-politically correct one is after the random picture...

Welp, it's happened. The Little Shooting Guard That Could, the undersized perimeter player with an unbreakable will, the Braided Bringer of Buckets—Allen Iverson—has finally lost that proverbial step. Since his release from the Motor City, he has had the Clippers semi-interested in his services and had to practically beg the Grizzlies for a chance—and even they took a couple months to think about it before signing him. Even Larry Brown, the one coach able to fully utilize AI powers, wouldn't bring Iverson aboard because he didn't want to disturb the chemistry of his Bobcats team; despite said team in desperate of big-time scoring. Something has to be wrong with Iverson if bottom-feeders like the Bucks, Knicks, and Kings wouldn't give him a look. And yes, the claims of him being a bad teammate are starting to become legit. At first, he was all gun-ho about coming off the bench in Detroit so Rodney Stuckey's development wouldn't be stunted. Twenty games into Joe Dumars' experiment, and it was obvious Iverson's isolation-based game doesn't mesh with all the screens Rip runs around. It became more clear once Iverson went out with the back injury the first time, and Rip flourished without him.

The Pistons went from six straight Eastern Conference Finals to getting swept out the first round by the CrabHammer of Lebron. Chauncey Billups, who AI was traded for, grasped the attention of the often knuckle-headed Nuggets and led them to the Western Conference Finals. Billups proved he was behind Detroit's success, and established himself as one of the game's best leaders. And well, no one's associated Iverson with leadership.

This is what it has come to for Iverson. His lowest points per game total ever (18.5); and players like Paul Millsap, Ramon Session, and Hedo Turkoglu being more coveted than him. This is the beginning of the end.

And now...the other way I felt...

So the only team that wanted AI is the Grizzlies? Really? Those 50-loss teams couldn't use a prime scorer who is two years removed from averaging 33 points a game. That's thirty-three...for an entire season. Yes, Iverson is incapable of averaging 30 a game. Yes, it seems the countless reckless treks to the rim are now taking their toll on his frail frame. But there still aren't fifteen guards better than Iverson in the Association right now. He didn't fit in Detroit, and he still averaged 18+ ppg and 5+ apg. Do you know how many point guards did that last season? Four (Billups, Paul, D. Williams, and Harris). So don't act like Iverson can't play at an extremely high level in this League.

You want to know why I really think AI wasn't signed for awhile? Collusion. Not just from the owners, but from an order by Commissioner Stern himself. How else would the active leader in points per game be a free agent until September? Did I mention he's two years from averaging 33 points a game for a season? And you mean to tell me the Kings feel Beno Urich is a better option? Even if he has to come off the bench, what team couldn't use an unstoppable scoring threat with their second unit? Last I checked, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Miami, and a few other teams don't have a hint of a scoring threat off the bench. Yet Iverson has to settle for Memphis, while Earl Watson is still employed.

No punches pulled, I think David Stern blames Iverson for the infusion of hip-hop into his precious League. Shorts became longer, fundamentals began to lack, and individualism became more outwardly expressed once The Answer was drafted. If you've been paying attention, Stern has slowly been trying to eliminate the individual style that today's pro hooper is displaying. I always point out that Basketball forces one to intertwine the game with his soul in order to prosper at it. It's why no matter how many times you watch "Better Basketball," you won't shoot the same way as J.J. Redick or dribble like Mike Bibby. One's "game" is as exclusive as his fingerprints. Yet it seems Commisioner stern doesn't want any of his players to express themselves. Eliminating the Band-Wade, the leg tights, and event he dress code to some extent are all ways to promote uniformity. This isn't football. Fans see the faces of the players all the time; so if a player wants to rock a colored band-aid under his eye then let him. Stern is trying to do away with that quietly. Why do you really think Lebron's shoes are ugly?

Anyway, glad to see Iverson was able to continue his career and not be totally frozen out the Association. I've given you guys a little insight into my thought process whenever a story like this occurs. As you can see, while I still don't give you the everyday, mundane, watered-down hoops analysis; I still hold back a little bit. Maybe I should stop that and just cut loose for real. I guess I will do that from now on. FU has just increased the pressure.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

In Search of Yang...or Yin: Part 8 - The Gift and The Curse

rIt's a time for elation and celebration. The back cover has closed on the book of the greatest player in the history of Basketball: Michael Jeffrey Jordan. We all know the legacy. We know about the game-winners, the fadeaways, the retirements—and so on. But by now, you should know that my FU way of doing things will make this more than just an essaying of listing all of MJ's accomplishments. Jordan brought more than just amazing sneakers and dunks. He did a lot for the professional athlete, both good and bad. In fact, MJ's career both enhanced basketball and hampered it at the same time. Since Jay-Z always makes MJ references, I decided to flip it and call MJ's career "The Gift and The Curse." All things good will be presented after the random picture.

The Gift
Everything Jordan starts with his partnership with Nike. MJ showed future pro athletes how to turn a name into an establishment. Think of how many other star athletes are under "Brand Jordan." Not even Tiger Woords has any other golfers of significance (if any at all) rocking the TW fitted. Jordan took the foundation of Basketball and applied it to his sales pitch. Combined with whoever those geniuses are at the Swoosh, and His Airness has pushed billions of attire with the Jumpman logo on it. "Sometimes I dream..." indeed.

Because of that marketing, and the growing popularity of the NBA post Bird-Magic, the world was able to see Jordan's supernatural competitive nature and skill level. There was nothing he could not do. Through the midst of hand checks, hard fouls and better competition; he's better than any other player. Period. Then there's the list of HOF players whose championship hopes he's killed with each dagger jumper. One of them is being inducted with him in Springfield. In addition to Stockton and Malone, there's Barkley, Payton and Kemp, Reggie, Patrick (Ch)Ewing—all succumbed to the magnitude of Jordan's awesome. He truly created a legacy and is a living legend.

The Curse
This is that curse I had alluded to in the previous Yin/Yang post involving Jordan. Because he is the Perfect Hooper, he gave young aspiring ballers that they, too, can possess every tool available in the Basketball realm. The problem with that is: not everyone has room in his repertoire for everything; so they either try to do something that doesn't fit their personal style, or their game suffers as a whole. We all know of the many swingmen that received that scarlet letter of a label in "the next Jordan." Only Kobe has been able to overcome that without some hindrance to his career because of it. Jordan's shadow loomed so large over SG/SF blends everywhere that a lot of them were pressured by the mainstream to, "Be Like Mike." Ask Jerry Stackhouse.

Secondly, and more importantly, because of Jordan's marketing dynamic, he was the first megastar athlete post-Ali. I always said the generation after the Civil Rights one—my parents' generation—was softened by integration. As a result, they weren't looking for their celebrities/athletes to take political stands. That's why Ali is as revered as he is. He didn't just make up clever poems and master the sweet science; he did it during a time of racial prejudice and was actively involved in that struggle. MJ, bluntly put, allowed future pro athletes off the hook socially. This means the Lebrons, Kobes, Tigers, Jeters, etc. are able to sell merchandise without having to say anything meaningful. Now, this doesn't mean they have to walk around blasting "Fight The Power" to games. But thanks to His Airness, neutrality is safe and money is all that matters. Now, if an NBA player wants to take any sort of stand, he gets hushed by Commissioner Stern and his goons. That's why Chris Jackson Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is out the league and Shareef Abdur-Rahim was able to stay. But the Association as a whole is watered down and less skilled anyway; so I guess the social side of it is reflective of that. "Republicans buy sneakers, too." Right, MJ?

Michael Jordan is an icon and should never be forgotten. The man is excellence personified and the result of what happens when a man's will is completely focused on success. Celebrate his originality for there will never be another like him.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Inaugural Hoops Movie Draft: Part II

Folks, the dead period between NBA Summer League and preseason is the worst of times for serious hoops heads. Yeah, a lot of the pros go back home or to their home team cities to play in various Pro-Am leagues, such as Mr. Durant and Agent Zero at the Goodman League in Barry Farm here in DC. While those are exciting, the mainstream Basketball realm is quiet. That's where Money Mike over at "Points Off Turnovers" comes in. He solicited my help, and together we young superpowers have combined to formulate the Hoops Movie Draft, sponsored by talented Black men with extraordinary writing ability. Part One is over at Mike's blog spot, which leaves me with the honor of lacing Part Two with that FU awesome. To get caught up with the rules and the first five picks, go read Part One now...

Right now...

Go on...

I'll wait...



Kwame still is not good...

I wonder what Michael Olowokandi's doing...

Ok, you're back? Good. After the random picture, Mike reveals the movie he selects at #6.

6. Mike selects…Sean Connery & That Black Guy in Finding Forrester.

Imagine walking down the street in your hometown and being asked to star in a motion picture. Well, that’s basically how mystery man Rob Brown got invited to audition for the lead role in “Forrester.” Like your typical broke collegiate graduate, Brown needed to pay the bills. He stumbled upon an opportunity to extra for a quick check and took the bait. The rest is history. The producers saw him, asked him to try out for the lead role…and an actor was born.
Though he was extremely raw, the movie’s premise was easy. He was, well, playing himself.
“Forrester” tracks the growth of a gifted black student (Jamal Wallace) who finds himself trapped in high school’s oppressive subculture, unable to showcase his unbelievable writing talent without ridicule. Jamal gains respect from his peers through his hoop game, not his immense brain. Eventually, Jamal catches the eye of a Manhattan prep school recruiter, who invites Jamal to the academy after seeing that his jumper is wet and his academics are exceptional.

However, Jamal wants desperately to be a great writer. After losing a bet, he stumbles into the life of William Forrester (Sean Connery), a recluse who surreptitiously reminds us of J.D. Salinger. Forrester teaches Jamal how to write, and Jamal teaches William how to live again.
Why do I like this movie? The strictly coincidental scenes they stole from my life’s script. The agreeable transition of Busta Rhymes from rapper to actor. The cameo appearance from Matt Damon. The hoop scenes not being zoomed all the way in like a Jerry Bruckheimer production. The tastefully done pickup game backdrop on the credits page. The reminder of why I chose to become a writer. And the importance of carpe diem and living life to the fullest.

You’re the man now, dawg.

(Aside here: this is the steal of the draft. For young, Black hoopers and writers, "Finding Forrester" wonderfully touched both areas. Low key, I was upset Mike picked this one. That was my Stephen Curry, lol. Now on to my pick.)

7. J-Till selects...Coach Carter

Fact: Samuel L. Jackson is the baddest motha(watch yo mouth) in the acting biz. From his brief cameo as the McDowell's robber in "Coming to America" to Jules in "Pulp Fiction," he is a master motivator. This is mainly because he is so freaking loud for no apparent reason. And don't let his eyes bug out--you know he means what he says when that happens The lead role of Ken Carter is perfect for him. He's witty, sarcastic, and bald. As with all of these movies, you know the story. Carter comes back to his old high school in hopes of making a difference in the place where he was raised. There, he meets a band of half-degenerates that completely lack discipline. Through suicides, pushups and female-named plays, Richmond (CA) becomes a force on the court.
Of course, success on the court is counterbalanced by various troubles off it. The streets, teen pregnancy, and even the community's lack of priorities are all issues Carter and his players must overcome. And, through the power of the Samuel L. Jackson monologue, they do. Let's just be glad no one said "what" to him.

8. Mike selects…Space Jam.

This movie’s not about Michael Jordan. Sure, we can spend these next few paragraphs talking about His Airness, but aren’t you sick of talking about this guy? Six rings, five MVPs, 14 ASG, 10 First Team’s…blah, blah, blah. We know he’s the best to ever play the hardwood game, the best ever to palm the roundball. But this movie’s more about the people that made M.J. look good than about Jordan himself. For the first time in his career, fans saw a flawed Michael Jordan, a man more Boris Kodjoe than Denzel Washington on the big screen...and embraced him all the more.

Space Jam was a blockbuster because of these true heroes of the film strip. The producers had success because they honored the unwritten rule of Hollywood: When the lead can’t carry the movie, make sure your supporting characters hide the flaws. We witnessed Wayne Knight during his ethereal stretch run, Bill Murray before his career dive tailed, Danny DeVito when we still though he was the successor to the Al Pacino/Robert DeNiro throne, and the pairing of Bugs Bunny with newcomer Lola Bunny to break up the, er, sausage fest. Plus, when you’ve got a relative unknown carrying the vocals along with Monica…you’ve really got hakuna matada. Plus, we got to see Eric Gordon in a small role before he became a hoop sensation.

Wait, what?

9. J-Till selects...Glory Road

Long before Glory Road was ever thought of, I felt if there was anyone who could capture the bigotry of Adolph Rupp, it was Jon Voight. I don't feel he's a racist or anything like that. I just felt he had the face for what lies beneath Coach K. Apologies for the digression, but not for the statement. "Glory Road" is the cinematic version of the 1966 Texas Western , led by Coach Don Haskins. The team triumphs over racism, and defeats Rupp and his big, bad Kentucky Wildcats.

Because of the way the story is told nowadays, few people tend to overlook the fact that there were White players on that team. It was a major sacrifice on their part to humbly sit out of that game—the Championship Game—as Haskins played an all-Black, seven-man rotation. If you ignore the fact that these three guys were chosen as players, it's actually a pretty decent depiction of the story. Texas Western is now known as UTEP...shout-out to Tim Hardaway.

10. Mike selects…Whoopi Goldberg in Eddie.

I really think my Knick fandom, love of hoops (did you know that thing had 49 NBA players?), and narcoleptic tendencies got in the way on this pick. I can’t even remember why I made this pick. I’ve never found Whoopi funny or attractive (her face reminds me of Predator), or thought Dennis Farina as anything more than a glorified typecast. The movie was completely absent of gratuitous hot chicks (like Theresa Randle in Beverly Hills Cop 3) and timely one-liners. Why would I waste my time with a crappy G movie when there are still levels of Mega Man left to beat?

I wouldn’t. And neither would you. I’d like to believe I drafted this movie to honor the late great Malik Sealy…but I don’t think he’d want to be remembered as the ball hog who got owned by GP. I’d like to believe I picked this movie to see Rick Fox act, but I already knew that hoop stars that sneak to the big screen for a big payday end up looking worse than Keanu Reeves in everything non-Matrix. I’d like to believe that I picked this movie to laugh my way through the aftermath of the Isiah Era…but it only served as a brutal reminder of his incompetence.
I guess Eddie’ll just be the Luc Longley of my superstar squad. And with “Jump”, “Blue Chips”, “Forrester”, and “Jam” already on tap, my championship team is definitely on lock. Don’t look at me like that. This economy’s no joke, dawg.

So, this concludes the two-part Hoops Movie Draft. Before I say "Peace," I'll share a couple of observations I made while reviewing our picks. First, we picked according to our personalities. Over Twitter, I coined the saying that Money Mike is, "the Martin to my sportswriting Malcolm." This means we have the same goals and mind frame, but execute it differently. Plainly put, Mike's nicer than me. (I won't put what I want to say because I don't curse in my writing.) Even though each movie we picked has some sort of unintentional comedy, all of Mike's movies were more lighthearted than mine. Again, that speaks to our personalities. Mike's on a more "non-violent, non-violent" piece; while I get my point across "by any means necessary." However you put it, we're a dynamic duo and will crush you in any sports debate.

The second observation is that I don't think David Stern would be too pleased with our selections considering that there aren't any movies of the, *ahem*, "lighter" persuasion. Oh well, we're Black. "Hoosiers" gets no love over here. Hopefully, we took you back and allowed you to reminisce over quality basketball cinema while you wait another 50 days for the NBA regular season to begin.