Monthly Archives: December 2011

Greatest Hits: Z-Bo and Luke Duke

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I’m American – which means I like to categorize people in the most obvious and superficial ways possible. Stereotyping is patriotic.

The NBA has a few easy targets – Chris Anderson has a Mohawk, so obviously he is a bad boy. Kenyon Martin has a neck tattoo, so he’ll be bankrupt in a few years. Jimmer Fredette is a clean-cut white guy, so obviously he’s Jesus.

But even with the amount of characters in the NBA, there is a major shortage of rednecks.
When I was growing up, Utah was sporting the Toby Keith Tag-Team of Jeff Hornacek and Karl Malone. Hornacek was everything a country boy should be – 50% fundamentals, 45% pure shooting and 5% comb-over. The Mailman was hunting in the offseason and wrestling in the WCW. If you could’ve somehow added car crashes to Jazz games, they would’ve been bigger than NASCAR.

Since then, there has been a noticeable void in rednecks patrolling the courts of the NBA.
Bryant Reeves was the pudgy-framed, flat-topped Hope of the Hicks, but he flamed out. Brad Miller came along, but even rednecks have standards. Jason Williams did his part to introduce a new form of rednecks – ditching the short shorts and comb-overs for tattoos and the high and tight – but again failed to spark much interest from the double-wide community.

So maybe rather than wait for our own personal Dale Jr. to descend on the NBA, it is time to baptize one in Busch Light and Big Johnson t-shirts.

I think that guy is Zach Randolph.

In a league of ripped-out physical freaks, Zach Randolph’s body fat composition is higher than his vertical leap. He has so many arrests for marijuana he must move more crops than a Nebraska cornfield. Z-Bo’s box score actually contains his blood-alcohol content. He might be the only player who could drive to the lane and get whistled for a DUI.

Hell, his highlight reel is actually just an episode of Cops.

So maybe there hasn’t been a shortage of rednecks on the court – they’ve just been spending too much time in one to notice.

Greatest Hits: A Modest NBA Proposal

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The league and its owners want to protect the small market teams, but despite taking their time to renew the collective bargaining agreement, no significant moves were made to resolve this.

Why? Simple: Stars always go to where they can shine brightest.

My solution? Equally simple: Only allow teams to draft players from the city or region that they represent.

Let’s break this down into two parts—why? And how?

Why

People generally take great pride in where they’re from. Part of this pride is the local sports team. But imagine how much deeper that pride would run if the entire team were local. Imagine how much harder the players would play and how much louder the fans would cheer.

I’ll never forget Paul Pierce being received by an ovation of boos at the 2008 Espy Awards held in LA. He tried to defend himself, exclaiming he was from Inglewood, but to those Laker fans, the moment Pierce put on that green uniform, he was no longer from their city.

Then let’s consider LeBron before Miami. The hometown kid. Not only did everyone in the state love him, everyone in the world loved him. Sure, most of that was because he is one of the most exciting players ever to step on the court, but part of it had to be because he was a kid representing his hometown in battle.

With regard to small market teams, keeping salary caps in check will only do so much. The most effective way to stay relevant in the league would be to continue cultivating talented ball players within your region. You’re only as good as your neighbors, and the same goes for all other teams, regardless of their pocketbooks.

How

First off, regions that have two teams would have to send one somewhere else. So either the Clippers or Lakers, for instance, would have to pack up. Then each team would be assigned a radius, from which they can draft players, very much like how high schools assemble teams. Less dense areas would get larger radii to make up for their population disadvantage.

The devil’s advocates of the world will be quick to point out that the system could be manipulated by players claiming residency in one area to play for a certain team. These naysayers and the players would both be missing the point. This isn’t an attempt to control players’ destinies (The league tried to do that this offseason. I wasn’t about it then; I’m not about it now). It’s an attempt to cultivate greater pride in one’s city.

Greater pride translates to greater passion. Greater passion translates to better basketball.

Those players should want to represent their city. It should be a rite of passage. An honor.

European players are the only players for whom there’d be a draft. This draft would run exactly like the current NFL draft system. No lottery—just worst record gets first pick, and so on.

The stakes during the finals, or rivalry games, would all be as high as the World Cup. This isn’t just the Lakers versus the Celtics. This is Los Angeles versus Boston. West versus East. This is serious.

Does the system have holes? Absolutely. For instance, some teams would definitely start out weaker than others, just because of a lack of local talent. But holes that can’t be patched up? Nope. Being a weaker team would only motivate that city’s youth to train harder and represent their team with strength.

Plus, imagine how much more character Kobe would have had if he had been a 76er his whole career. That alone would be worth it.

Greatest Hits: On Monta Ellis and the Limits of Perception

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Monta

Perception is hell. It’s visceral, and almost always wrong, and in a word it’s hell. Perception allows undue attention to the simplistic part of our mind, the fight or flight arena that scoffs at empirical data, fly’s in the face of logic and makes snap decisions based on instinct alone. It’s the reason first impressions are lasting impressions and hallmark makes a goddamn truck load on the belief in love at first sight.

To the sports fan perception, and the part of our brain which forms the preternatural reaction, can be lasting for a reason. Sport connects us to the innocent childhood nature of play. No matter how sophisticated our knowledge of the game, no matter the inter-contextual importance we interpret in the game, part of our consciousness still acknowledges that it is in fact just a game. The problem, and where perception becomes hell, is that the pro-game is played by adults, some of whom have adult sized controversies of which the complexity outweighs the abilities of the visceral, sports section of the mind.

Put it this way. We think we know Monta Ellis, don’t we? He’s the guy who’s been putting asses in seats in Golden State despite their rocky record over the last few years. He’s the guy who’s legend has grown to the extent that the Bay Area went into a mild outrage whenever his name was hinted in a trade rumor earlier this year. He’s the missile who plays without recognition of danger and we admire him for it. We admire him so we know him, know this man we’ve never met outside the anguish, joy, anger and inhibition on display on his face and through the television every night. This is what perception does, it extrapolates the knowledge of a whole person from a single, simplistic aspect of an athlete’s nature.

We don’t really know Monta. The truth is the one-dimensional character fans identify in players is rarely, if ever, true to form. But mostly the perception is enough, because athletes rarely transcend outside of the on-the-court role in an important or controversial way. We have our lives, they have theirs. However, now Monta is caught up in a serious, important sexual harassment accusation and the fan must detach themselves from their perception of Monta in order to objectively contemplate the seriousness of such an accusation.

We don’t know the accuser, and because of this it is easy to see her as an unwelcome visitor, a woman in the man’s world of sports; there’s an unfortunate undercurrent here, a belief that she should understand the risks inherent in becoming involved in a man’s world. But the business of sports isn’t a gentlemen’s club, the business is, and should be, open to any woman who enjoys the game and wants to make a career of it. Women are fans the NBA. Women are employees of the NBA. If these allegations are true, Monta should have the book thrown at him, and if he is found guilty of sexual harassment, it will be his fault, and not the fault of a woman in a man’s world.

This isn’t to say Monta is guilty. But taking into account Monta’s lawyers, Golden State’s lawyers, and the NBA/Sports PR machine she has almost no chance in persuading the narrative, making it difficult for the fan to understand even though this happened in sports, that preternatural arena, it happened on the job, where there are laws in place to rightly protect people from sexual harassment.

We have precedence for this kind of accusation. Remember Brett Favre’s accuser? Remember how Sportscenter paraded the skimpiest pictures of his accuser once an hour on the hour? Remember how the blog culture reduced the argument of sexual harassment to the joke of athletes sending pictures of themselves over the phone? It was easy to view Favre’s accuser as a groupie and not a fan, even though she was hired by the Jets and was allegedly on the job while Favre sent her the same type of pictures Monta is accused of sending.

The Monta case won’t get half the PR of the Favre case, but don’t expect the narrative against the accuser to change. Fans need athletes to stay within the realm they are perceived to be, if only to keep the sport a game. But because of this the deck is already stacked against the accuser, sexual harassment is complicated and falls outside the realm of the one-dimensional athlete seen on television every night. I can’t tell you who’s innocent and who’s guilty, but I can tell you the narrative road fans will be led down, the easy road where the accuser is a gold-digger and the athlete is reduced to a joke about cell phone pics because sports can thwart our ability to see the complexity clearly, through the simplicity of the visceral. Perception is hell.

-Matt Kreisher, @makreish

Greatest Hits: You give them money. They give you a stuffed dog.

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This is hard to admit, but when I was sixteen I hated reading. I hated it because I loved football and drinking beer. I hated it because my teachers assigned it and my parents made me do it. I hated it because I couldn’t understand how beautiful it was that Jake was an impotent bastard who loved the only woman he could never please, thereby denying himself the happiness as punishment for the indiscretions of war. In other words, I hated it because I had the patience of the sixteen year-old piece of shit I was.

The reason this is hard to admit is because reading is the only passion I take more seriously than basketball. If it weren’t for work, sleep, and a pseudo-healthy social life I’d sit at home with my dog reading and watching basketball until someone found me lying on my bed two years later looking like one of the victims from the movie Seven.

But this is why time and age are good things, we grow as our patience and understanding does, the theory being our maturity allows us the ability to make complicated decisions after weighing complex issues. So why, may I ask, is someone in the NBA’s front office (be it David Stern or a collection of owners) holding a copy of the Sun Also Rises wondering why the fuck he has to read about fly fishing in Spain?

Believe it or not the deal placed in front of David Stern for Chris Paul to don a Lakers jersey was as close to a good thing for the Hornets as possible, given the circumstances. Paul, whose net worth far exceeds what the Hornets and the city of New Orleans can offer him, has made it clear he wants a trade, and so the Hornets did what they should have done, shopped the point guard for the best deal they could get. And they got it. The Lakers gave up major pieces of a former championship team and Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets made the deal happen by crunching numbers and doing whatever the fuck Daryl Morey does. New Orleans comes out of it with a solid core of players to either build around or use in future deals, LA begins the next chapter by risking their future on the surgically reconstructed knees of two brilliant players, and Houston remains part of the Union. In other words, this trade had possibility and risk written all over it, even if it the perception was of the Lakers gutting a small-market franchise.

There’s another reason killing this deal over concerns of competitive balance, or fairness, is plain absurd: it’s good for the league for the Lakers to be relevant. Leave competitive balance to the NFL where there’s nothing to do in Green Bay besides watch football and freeze to death over a few Old Milwaukee’s. The NBA thrives when major markets are strong, and small markets must compete through productive management and skillful (see: lucky) drafting. And the Chris Paul deal could have accomplished both of these things, but instead someone decided to ignore the complexity because of how they thought the first few chapters would play out. So while David Stern or the leagues owners are sitting around gloating with righteous indignation over how they managed to keep another small-market team afloat, the rest of us will be here wondering what the fuck just happened.