Friday, June 29, 2007

2007 NBA Draft: Billy Knight Finally Gets It Right

The Celtics' acquisition of Ray Allen will either work out great or be a great disaster.

Alright, some thoughts on last night's draft:

  • Obviously, Portland and Seattle had the two best drafts (even though the Sonics screwed up the Ray Allen trade, which I'll get to later), so let's focus on everybody else. Love what Atlanta did. The Hawks got one of the top fiveguys in the draft, Big Al Horford, who'll be like Horace Grant, only more physical and with a much stronger low-post game. Law is a Sam Cassell-type. If they can turn Josh Childress and Marvin Williams into a center to pair with Al, then add a little depth to the bench, they'll be set for years to come, with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith already in place.

    And Boston picking up Ray Allen and the No. 35 pick (Big Baby Davis) for Delonte West, Wally's World, and the rights to Jeff Green? Excellent deal for them. I don't understand Mark Jackson's criticisms last night: for one, Ray's played with Cassell and Big Dog Robinson in Milwaukee (made Game 7 of the East Finals in 2001) and with Rashard Lewis in Seattle (won 54 games in 2005, gave champion to-be Spurs trouble in the West semis), and Paul Pierce played wiith Antoine Walker in Boston (East Finals in 2002). Both of them needing the ball won't be a problem. Also, Ray Allen just keeps getting better with age, he's shown zero signs of decline, he's never been better as an all-around scorer. Even when his physical skills start declining, he'll still be very effective and valuable because of that jump shot (one of the best ever) ain't goin' nowhere (just look at Reggie Miller).

    Basically, if Boston stays healthy next year and they can't make the East Finals with a trio of Allen, Pierce, and the ever-improving Al Jefferson leading the way, something's wrong. Seriously, you wouldn't take them over Cleveland or Miami right now? How about Detroit, who's run is all but over? Chicago's the only team that scares me right now if I'm Boston. You can never count out LeBron, and Miami will likely add a big name like Bibby or Artest this summer, but until they do, Boston's got to be considered one of the two best teams in the East on paper right now.

    (What's that? You say Jesus Shuttlesworth is coming off ankle surgery in April? On both ankles? *Pauses for a second, digests that information* Oh. Well, in that case, maybe they should've just taken Corey Brewer. You know, just to be safe.)

  • I don't like that trade for Seattle, I'm not too sold on Jeff Green. They should've had Boston take Brewer instead, he's a star. Can you imagine Brewer and Durant on the same team? Can I get an "Oh Baby!"? (Where's Erik "Caliente" Valiente when you need him?) So Seattle fouled that up.

  • If I'm Pau Gasol, I'm begging management to let me stay in Memphis so I can play with Junior Conley for the next ten years. And Noah's a good fit for Chicago.

  • Who messed up? Philly, they should've taken Al Thornton. And New Orleans should've taken Nick Young. It's like those two picks were too simple and obvious for Billy King and Jeff Bower to make, they decided to overgeneralmanage (that is a word).

  • That means Washington got lucky with Young at No. 16. I really like him, he's got good size for the two, he's a great athlete and he can shoot. Washington needed a big guy more than they needed another perimeter player, but who were they gonna take, Sean Williams? Jason Smith? Please.

    Also, I like who the Lakers got at No. 19, Javaris Crittenton, a 6-5 point god out of Georgia Tech. Phil loves them big guards. And Phoenix, at No. 29, got Alando Tucker, who could turn out being this year's Josh Howard: a fabulous college forward who stayed four years, had his pro potential greatly underestimated, fell all the way down to the end of the first round, and ended up being a star in the NBA.

  • My second round sleepers: Big Baby, No. 35 to the Celtics, he's gonna be a contributor in the NBA, one of those Millsap-Maxiell types, only a better scorer. Chris Richard, the third in Florida's big man rotation, at No. 41 to Minny. He's a brute, reminds me of a 6-9 Malik Rose (when Malik was with the Spurs, of course). And D.J. Strawberry (Daryl's son), at No. 59 to Phoenix. He's an excellent defender who'll be better than Bruce Bowen and Quentin Ross because of his versatility on offense. He's the perfect fit for the Suns.

  • Couple of other big Draft day trades: Portland gets Channing Frye and Stevie Francis for Zach Randolph, Dan Dickau, and Fred Jones. That gives Portland a nice young big man trio of Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Frye, frees up Aldridge to start, and gets rid of one of the last two bad guys on the team (now if they can just move Darius Miles). But how good is Stevie at this point? Don't know. And they definitely could've gotten more for Zach. On the other end, doesn't New York already have a low-post scorer? Why have two when the game is clearly becoming more and more perimeter oriented? And is there really gonna be enough space down there for both of them to operate? Aldridge and Oden compliment each other because Aldridge is more of a mid-range jump shooting big man and will give Oden room to work. You can't say the same for Eddy and Zach.

    And Brandan Wright's rights to Golden State for Jason Richardson and the rights to Jermareo Davidson. I don't know about Wright, he's got talent but no fire. Real lackadaisical, and not in a T-Mac way, in a bad way. I like J-Rich for Charlotte, though, he's a veteran, he averaged 23 a game two years ago, one of the best rebounding guards in the league. Adam Morrison looked shaky last year and they might lose Gerald Wallace to free agency, so excellent move by MJ. I guess there really is a first time for everything.

    (On a completely unrelated note, last night on Letterman Robin Williams said that as a kid his family didn't have water, so they made their own by taking hydrogen and oxygen and shoving it together. Don't even try and pretend like that's not the funniest thing you've ever heard.)
  • Thursday, June 28, 2007

    Simmons vs. Ford: A Battle for the Ages

    Greg Oden will be the No. 1 pick in today's draft.

    A few thoughts:

  • I'm nominating this for "Online Sports Article of 2007." Hands down, the most entertaining internet column I've read this year, and I've read a lot. These two need their own show. Who knew Chad Ford could talk smack like that? We knew Simmons had it in him, but the Chadster really surprised me. Neither guy was backing down, they were both taking the other guy's best shots and coming right back with some heat of their own, two champions at the top of their games, going all out. This was like Corrales-Castillo I. If you love the NBA, check this out, it'll get you ready for the draft. Most people have probably read it, to those who haven't and read this blog, I apologize to the six of you for not giving you the heads up sooner.

  • Anybody who thinks wrestling isn't a sport either has never watched it or needs to re-evaluate their interpretation of what a sport is. I agree, it's all scripted and purely entertainment, not to be taken seriously. And a lot of it is acting. But these guys are athletes. They're trained professionals at flying over ropes, jumping off of turnbuckles and ladders, and bouncing off of canvases that aren't exactly made of rubber. Wrestling is a higcontact sport that, with very few exceptions, requires supreme physical condition, endurance, and stamina. You're gonna tell me golf is a sport and this isn't? Tiger Woods is more of an athlete than Matt Hardy? Please.

  • As far as the Chris Benoit thing goes, I'm hoping Vince McMahon didn't know all of the details before airing that ridiculous tribute to him on Tuesday. Benoit was a great wrestler but a cowardly human being and a murderer. The latter crushes the former. Chris was one of my favorite guys back in the day, when I watched wrestling religiously and still thought it was real, but I have no sympathy for him. Zero.

  • On Reunited: The Real World Las Vegas: Frank, stop drinking so much. It's not even funny. A the same time, Arissa and Irulan...quit bitchin'. What the hell is wrong with those two? I can't believe seven formed adults, who have lived with each other before and knew fully what they were getting themselves into when they agreed to reunite, can't get along for three measly weeks. What are they, kindergarteners? Then again, if people casts to be on The Real World behaved like grownups, there'd be no show. So I guess it's necessary.

  • KG to L.A. for Bynum and Odom? Cooled off considerably, may be dead. KG to Phoenix for Amare? Appears to be warming up, a real possiblity. Bill Simmons was the first guy to propose the idea, his most intriguing point being the fact that Garnett is the one guy who can come close to playing Tim Duncan to a draw. And you know what? Phoenix needs to make it happen. Amare is an unstoppable low post scorer, but he doesn't rebound enough or block enough shots. KG doesn't block enough shots either (he's only averaged more than two a game twice in twelve seasons, believe it or not), but he's a better rebounder by three a game (12.8 to 9.6) and has led the league in that category four straight years. And he's in another stratosphere than Amare as an all-around defender, team and individual (6 first-team All-Defense selections, two second teams, one of the best big man defenders ever). Amare is average at best on that end. Obviously, something's missing with Kevin in terms of his impact on teammates and just the game overall - sure, his teammates have been mediocre for all but two years, all his coaches have sucked, and Kevin McHale is a complete moron, but can you imagine Tim Duncan missing the playoffs even once, let alone three straight years? - but on a team as loaded as the Suns, with Nash at the helm, where he won't have to be the man, that shouldn't be a problem. Garnett and the Suns complete each other.

  • Portland will take Greg Oden, Ric Bucher reports. Ric's a very busy and popular man. What would we do without him? Anyways, that's the right pick. Durant was the better player in college and will be the better player in the pros, but Oden will be more valuable because he's a center. Oden will be a dominant, game-changing pivot in the mold of Duncan (who we we all know is really a center). He'll hit his stride at 24 points, 13 boards, and 3-4 blocks a night, someone who commands a double-team and the closest thing defensively to Bill Russell since Bill Russell. And he'll win multiple rings.

    Durant will be a franchise wing. Once he puts on some weight, he'll become the most freakish four-man in league history, 32-10-4 with two blcoks and two steals in his prime, an unstoppable offensive machine and a disruptive defensive presence. He'll make a run at Kareem's all-time points record, that's how good a scorer he'll be. And at least one ring.

    And who'll be remembered as the third best player from this draft? Mike Conley Jr., a future perennial All-Star point guard.

    Write it down.
  • Monday, June 25, 2007

    EA Sports Fight Night Round 3: Keepin' it Real

    EA Sports, taking boxing games to a whole new level.

    I'm late on this. Very late. I know. This came out in February of '06. Read it anyway.

    I first became infatuated with Fight Night Round 3, the latest in EA Sports' video game boxing franchise, right before the Mayweather-De La Hoya match, while reading a scouting report on They had a little video on there simulating the fight and still shots that complemented the report. I had purchased Knockout Kings 2002 (which can be considered the great-great grandfather of Round 3) years back, with Ali on the cover, and played it a lot when I first got it. It was good. But it didn't come close to matching the realism I was witnessing on that computer screen that day.

    After finally copping it yesterday for the PS2 from Best Buy (only $19.99!), I have to say: this one of the most impressive video games I've ever played, and I've played many. Pound-for-pound, this comes closer to matching the Madden and NBA 2K series than any sports game I've ever played. Obviously, boxing is pretty much irrelevant now, not nearly as important or popular as the NBA, which isn't nearly as important or popular as the NFL. So Round 3 isn't gonna get the same the same kind of publicity or sales as NBA 2K-whatever (consistently the best basketball titles out there) or Madden (the undisputed heavyweight champ of sports games).

    But in terms of pure quality? It's right up there.

    The actual matches are the most impressive. The two fighters enter the ring to some of the best hip-hop you'll ever hear on a video on a video game soundtrack (although I have to admit, watching guys like Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta come out to a track with Akon on the hook is just ridiculous), trainer at their side, acknowledging the crowd, then stepping through the ropes and doing a little shadowboxing for good measure.

    Once the bell rings, the action that takes place in the ring is nothing short of revolutionary. Couldn't get any better. Incredible. Knockout Kings 2002 is like Rocky; me and my cousin used to bludgeon the hell out of each other on that thing like Balboa and Drago. Whether you're playing with a friend or against CPU, the best path to victory is just jabbing the flick out of the other guy until he finally goes down. Bobbin' and weavin' don't work. In real life, no one could survive the kind of beatings that are given out in those movies or in that game; it would be too much punishment. I mean, don't get me wrong: it's fun. It just ain't practical.

    This game, on the other hand, is more like Ali, which featured the most lifelike fight scenes ever. In FNR3, you can't just rely on one punch; you must have variety. Power shots, combinations to the head and body, hooks with each hand, etc. Mix it up.

    And defense is of the utmost importance; you gotta be able to stick and move in there. Hit, duck. Hit, lean to the left. Hit, lean to the right. Hit, lean back. Hit, get the hell out the way. Shield your face and ribs. Roll them shoulders. Protecting yourself is the name of the game.

    On top of that, it looks and sounds awesome, and catches all of the little things. They've completely captured the fighter's physical appearances, fighting styles, and in-ring mannerisms. Ali has blistering hand speed and moves better than everyone else. Roberto Duran is a brawler. Sugar has the best all-around skills. Furthermore, Joe Frazier fights from a very low position, always crouching. Roy Jones has that unorthodox stance, left hand near the waist, right arm bent at a 90-degree angle, ready to strike at a moment's notice. And B-Hop keeps that right hand covering the right side of his face. Plus, they're covered in sweat, and you can see the anguish on their faces when they take one in the abdomen and hear them grunting when they swing big and miss.

    Between rounds, the trainer gives his guy advice, criticism, praise, the whole deal. You even have the option of playing cornerman and tending to the cuts and bruises.

    But the best part so far (I haven't tried "Career Mode" yet, so I can't give the game a final grade) is the "ESPN Classic" feature, which allows you to re-create some of the most famous matches in boxing history, complete with a breakdown of each competitor's traits and strengths. It's excellent.

    The only negative I see so far (other than Ali entering the squared circle with Dipset blaring in the background) is the "Create-a-Player" mode, which is very mediocre and frustrating. Other than that, I have zero complaints.

    Definitely money well spent.

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007

    Bill Plaschke calls Lakers fans stupid.

    Watch out, Kobe. Plaschke's comin'.

    Well, not exactly. But he did question our intelligence a little bit. In today's L.A. Times, Mr. Plaschke, an excellent writer, laments why Lakers fans (and all Lakers fans are Kobe fans) continue to support Kobe even though he clearly no longer wants to play play in Los Angeles anymore. As Bill spins it, the Kobester doesn't just want to leave the organization, he wants to leave us, the people who watch him on T.V., spend their money on his jersey and buy tickets to watch him play. Basically, Plaschke writes, he's a disloyal, petulant troublemaker who's turned his back on the franchise and the fan base, and William doesn't understand why his followers remain so faithful. An excerpt:

    "It's startling, indeed, how Lakers fans are willing to forgive Bryant for a petulance that was never this bad in O'Neal. It's amazing how they are willing to forget every odd twist to his unsettling career here for a chance to watch him take one more shot.

    The second half of the late-season game in Sacramento. The fourth quarter of the playoff game in Phoenix. The practice fights, the Karl Malone phone calls, the Phil Jackson expose.

    And, of course, Colorado."

    That Plaschke, always trying to start something. If only he would use his talent for good more often. You see, Bill, part of the reason we continue to back Bean is because he's right. The Lakers hae failed in building a championship-caliber roster around him. Even you agree with him. More than that, we just don't buy into the whole "Kobe is the devil" nonsense. He's not. He's an unbelievable basketball player who's misunderstood and often unjustly criticised. Surely, he's made his share of mistakes during his career: the incident in Colorado, including throwing Shaq under the bus during that police interrogation; playing so selfishly and stupidly during the Finals against Detroit in 2004, trying to win by himself when the Pistons were single-covering Shaq and using a non-violent version of the "Jordan Rules" on him, playing right into their hands when he should have deferred to Big Daddy and gotten his fourth ring; and his habit of talking to the media so friggin' much, which only creates more problems for himself or complicates/intensifies already existing ones. And a couple of the ones you pointed out in that little passage.

    But you know something? So what. He's human. He's not perfect. Neither am I. Neither is anyone who's reading this (which, according to our profile views, is probably no one. But still.). Neither are you, Plaschke. Apparently, you Mamba-haters out there have never made a regrettable decision and are void of past transgressions. Us Mamba-supporters reaize that we are not holier-than-thou and Kobe isn't either. We can relate to him like that.

    Excuse us for not being so damn self-righteous.

    Monday, June 18, 2007

    Long Live "The Kid"

    Junior Griffey: healthy, hitting, and happy.

    I once attended an Interleague Game with my dad at Chavez Revine, the Dodgers taking on the Mariners on a beautiful summer day years back, when Ken Griffey Jr. was still worthy of Wheaties box covers and mentioned in the same breath as Babe Ruth. When he flirted with Maris at the plate and channeled Mays in center. When he placed on the same plateau of sports icons as John Elway and Michael Jordan. When he was the best player in the game.

    Why do I bring this up? Nostalgia. Junior's Summer of 2007 is taking me back to a much simpler time for me, when I still had my youth and the game still had it's innonence, when it was still pure, before it was considered tainted by cheaters. Before "The Steroids Era." As I write this, Griffey's played in 64 of a possible 70 games and hit 18 homers and 43 runs batted in. He's on pace to play 156 games and finish with a .287/44/105/.957 OPS season, which would be his best year since 1999, his last year in Seattle. Sure, he's on a last place team, but who cares.

    Griffey's downfall always saddened me. Granted, even if he had never played a single inning in a Reds uniform, he still would've made it to Cooperstown, already having totaled 10 All-Star Game appearances, 10 gold gloves, and 398 home runs. And overall, he's a 12-time All-Star who's eighth on the all-time home run list (581 and counting) and tied for the second most gold gloves amongst outfielders (with Al Kaline, behind Mays and Brooks Robinson, who each have 12). But he should have been the best ever. He should've won 15 gold-gloves, played in closer to 20 All-Star games and shattered Aaron's record. Unfortunately, injuries would not allow it. It wasn't meant to be.

    So instead, let's forget about what Ken Griffey's Son (Does Kenny Mayne still do Sportscenter? If he doesn't, he needs to.) should've been and focus on what he is: a first ballot Hall-of-Famer and one of the 25 greatest players ever. And remember the days when the game was still good.

    (Of course, it's only a matter of time before he gets hurt. He'll be rounding third tomorrow and tear all four of his quadriceps muscles, causing him to miss the rest of the season. But still.)

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    Tony Parker - Finals MVP and Eva Longoria.

    To hell with Chuck Norris - right now, Tony Parker is the best a man can get.

    Some random thoughts...

  • All, right, it's time to talk legacies.

    I've written before that I believe Tim Duncan is the best all-around big man to ever play the game, and we all agree that he's the best power forward ever. Now, after last night's series clinching win over the Cavaliers, a four-oh sweep and a fourth ring for the Postmaster General, Duncan has, in my humble estimation, cemented himself as the greatest forward in NBA history, period. It's been in the works all postseason and culminated last night. Larry Bird is Larry Bird, a legend, historically clutch, one of the all-time greats. And he definitely played in a tougher era. But the facts are that Duncan now has one more ring, is a vastly superior defender than Bird was (he's made seven all defensive first-teams and two second teams, while Bird only made three second teams) and has won his titles with an inferior supporting cast. Duncan's teammates, as a whole, have always been very good but never great. You'd take Tiny Archibald, Cedric Maxwell, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, and Bill Walton over David Robinson, Sean Elliot, Avery Johnson, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Robert Horry, and Michael Finley any day of the week. Overall, you have to give Timmy the edge.

    Also, he's firmly established himself as the greatest player of the post-MJ era. Shaq was more dominant at his peak, but Duncan was always more complete and he's more accomplished.

    And while Kobe is the best individual player in the game today, Duncan is indisputably the most valuable, as well as the one you'd most like to build your team around. He's won titles with two entirely differently supporting casts - there's no one on the last two title teams who was also on the '99 team. Except, of course, Tim himself. Call him The Big Constant.

    As far as Popovich goes...he's one of the best ever. Four titles now, .676 career winning percentage. His resume speaks for itself. Put him in the same sentence as Auerbach, Jackson, and Riles. He belongs.

    Also, this has to make Big Shot Rob a lock for the Hall-of-Fame now, right? He's got the most rings of anyone who never played with Bill Russell. If K.C. Jones is a HOFer for playing D and winning a bunch of rings, then Bob has to be in for the HUGE shots, all-around team play, and winning seven - SEVEN! - titles in the modern era. He has to be.

  • Everybody talks about the lack of respect the Spurs get, but I, for one, can appreciate the way the Spurs play (efficient offense and stifling defense) and what they've done over the last ten years. They're one of the two best franchises in sports, along with the Patriots. Obviously, Duncan is the most important factor, but it all stars with management. Pop and R.C. Buford know exactly what they're doing. They found one All-Star from a foreign country at the end of the first round (Parker, France, 28th pick, 2001) and another at the end of the second (Ginobili, Argentina, 57th pick, the last selection in the draft). They've shied away from making any big moves, instead staying committed to the personnel they had and thus negating any chance of disrupting their excellent team chemistry. They could've panicked this year, at the trade deadline, when it appeared that Dallas and Phoenix had passed them by. Instead, they trusted that their system and role-defined roster, their trademarks over the years, would outlast the others and prevail in the end. And it did.

  • LeBron will be back to the Finals. Several times. With a different outcome from this year.

  • Finally, so long to Robert William Barker, an American television icon. The last The Price is Right with Bob as the host aired today, the primetime showing ending about 30 minutes ago. I think they should retire the show along with Bob, he's the only person who should be able to host it. Sure, it's possible that they could find a replacement who's excellent in his own right (like Jay Leno on the Tonight Show), but I doubt it. One thing's for sure, though: between the ending of The Sopranos and Bob retiring, this has been a sad week in television. If you'd excuse me, I have to go cry now.
  • Monday, June 11, 2007

    Enough Already

    So many such as Jerry Stackhouse, Grant Hill, Vince Carter, and the obvious Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have been labeled the next Michael Jordan. Expectations go too far sometimes.

    What my issue is with the famous basketball comparison is the fact that we expect too much. There is so much criteria when it comes to this MJ and "who is the next like him?" thing. It is like a Geometry book. In order to show a triangle is like another triangle, you need so many formulas and theorems to prove that it. It is just too much and you don't want to care. Ring a bell with these pointless comparisons?

    What do you expect from such a young guy? Did anyone expect James to carry his team on his own against the San Antonio Spurs? If you haven't noticed, the Cavs are getting whacked* and there is nothing they can do about it. We have got to stop judging these players based on what the "greatest player of all time" has done. If you want to do this, wait until Kobe and LeBron retire. I hate hearing today's radio shows putting down LeBron because of what he can't do in the Finals. Let him learn and grow. But then again what are radio show host going to talk about right?
    Stop the Michael Jordan comparisons. If MJ was the "greatest" then we should not be looking for a new one.

    Jerry is Jerry. Grant is Grant. VC is VC. Kobe is Kobe. King James is King James.

    Let's just leave it at that.

    To be continued...

    *(Sorry to all the Sopranos fans for that mysterious ending that will never be solved by anybody.)

    The Sopranos Finale: WTF?

    So long, guys. You'll be missed.

    Last night's series finale of The Sopranos was many things: tense, unsettling, exciting, emotional, masterful, and, ultimately, disappointing.

    The culmination of one of the greatest works of entertainment in the history of American media, any form or genre, was the most intense and well-crafted 65-minutes of television I have seen in my short time on this earth. But it was also the most frustrating.

    Now, I probably shouldn't have been as affected as I was. I was no diehard Sopranos fan; in fact, I didn't even purchase HBO until Saturday so I could see the last episode. I am not proud of this fact. It is shameful.

    But I knew the major players, through viewings of it on my cousin's On Demand, A&E reruns, and, mostly, their Wikipedia entries.

    The spectacular penultimate episode - with the shootings of Bobby (dead) and Sil (comatose) and the final shot of Tony lying in his bed at the hideout house, shotgun in tow - mixed with the "Final Episode Ever" teaser and just the general hype surrounding it made it pretty much unmissable. It transcended a T.V. show; it was an event.

    I had never been as hyped up for a non-sports related affair as I was for this. I woke up this morning not knowing if I could make it until the the first showing, at 6:00 L.A. time. I took a nap around threeish to kill some of the time, asking J-Dawg to make sure I was awake by 6. Instead, I woke up at about 4:30, another 90-minutes to wait in anticipation. It was killing me.

    So I watched one of the earlier episode's of Season Six B, then watched about 20 minutes of that Barbaro special.

    And then, it was time.

    "Made in America" was good to the very last second. Unfortunately, I mean that literally.

    Now, I must be honest here. I watched with either my hand shielding large portions of the screen from my eyes or the sound muted with the caption on. So I didn't see Phil Leotardo get shot in the side of the dome or hear his head pop under the tire of his wife's car as it rolled over his face (she had gotten out to scream for help and left it in drive).

    And during the now famous last sequence, I walked around the house with my hands covering my ears, only occasionally glancing at one of the T.V.'s it was playing on. (Should I be embarrassed by this? I'm not. Understand that I'm not afraid of seeing violence on a T.V. screen; I'm just afraid of being surprised by it.)

    I saw Tony enter the diner and sit down, followed soon thereafter by Carmela and A.J., the camera panning to random people inside the small restaurant, either sitting at tables or coming through the door, making them all look shady. Then Meadow arrived and had a tough time parallel parking her car, an eerie sense of impending doom hovering over everything. The harrowing setup had been put in place.

    What did I sense? That Meadow was about to get capped right outside the restaurant, for one. And that the rest of the family would be hit by one of those suspicious individuals. Or something like that. Something bad.

    By this time, I had had it. I was no longer even peaking. Instead, J-Dawg and my cousin relayed the action to me as it was happening.

    The tension nearing it's apex, I inquired anxiously:

    "What happened?"

    "They're eating onion rings."

    "All four of them?"

    "No, the girl is running, like someone's chasing her."

    Short break in communication. A pause.

    And then, this:

    "Aw, shit. It went out."


    "It went to black."

    For a second, we thought that the cable had gone out at the most inoppurtune time and that we were gonna have to sue Time Warner.

    Then, shockingly, the credits started rolling.

    It was very upsetting. Who wanted to see it end like that? After all that...nothing. No payoff. The Sopranos was over, the fate of Tony and his family left up to the imagination of the viewer. I hate endings like that. We all do.

    I couldn't get over it. We were all disappointed. Unbelievable. It was like having the wind knocked out of you.

    I watched it again at 9 and, obviously, I could watch it fully this time since I already knew what happened. The last 10 minutes doesn't seem as sinister as J-Dawg and my cousin made it seem, besides the creepy guy who came in with A.J., sat at the counter, did a double-take at the family, then walked past them to the bathroom. That looked fishy. But other than him, everyone else seemed innocent, and Meadow wasn't running like someone was after her, she was running like a person who was late to a dinner with her family and was in a rush to join them.

    Anyways, after watching it one-and-a-half times, I can say these three things:

    1. Phil's death was fulfilling.

    2. The last ten minutes were the heaviest ten minutes in T.V. history, with Tony looking up everytime he heard the door, afraid that someone was going to walk in at any second and blow away him and his loved ones.

    3. David Chase is an evil genius. Not just the last scene, but the entire episode. The way he directed it, leaving the viewer completely in the blue as to how it would turn out, toying with our emotions and totally captivating an hour and five minutes of our lives, was, like the series itself, brilliant. Congrats and thanks to him for bringing us this six season masterpiece. Television will never be the same.

    On the flip side, the way he ended it, with that ambiguous, indecisive, non-conclusive conclusion, was just plain wrong. How dare he play with our heads like that.

    You see, the main selling-point of the finale was that we didn't know how the story would end. We all wondered the same thing: How will they close it out? Everyone had a prediction - which you could find anywhere from internet message boards to The Sports Reporters on ESPN - but nobody knew for sure. And by capping it off the way he did - screen abruptly cutting to black, the fate of Tony and his family left high up in the air, dangling off a cliff forever - Chase ensured that that question would never be definitively answered.

    And that sucks.

    Thursday, June 7, 2007

    "Hey, Tom Friend, if you stop being a prick, I'll put you in my Fave Seven. I promise."

    The best on the Web, Mr. Bill Simmons.

    How are ya? Haven't posted all week because of college exams, but now I'm back with a list of my favorite sportswriters. What inspired me to do a post on my favorite columnists? I don't know, it just kind of popped into my head one day. Here's my Dream Team.

    Bill Simmons, ESPN the Magazine and I first discovered Bill Simmons sometime around 2003, while flipping through the pages of ESPN The Magazine, and I fell in love with his worth. A good while later I realized that I had the internet and could read his online columns as well. Nowadays, that's the first place I go to when I hit the web each day. Simmons has a style all his own: he incorporates humor, pop culture, and family into his writings, so his colums are different than anything else I've ever read because of the multiple angles he can go with. Creative as hell, Simmons has penned columns ranging from his advising Kobe Bryant to follow the career path of Hulk Hogan to previewing the 2004 NFL season using quotes from Goodfellas. He's also extremely knowledgable (especially in the field of hoops), a sports junkie who writes from the perspective of a fan. Is Bill Simmons the best online writer ever? Yes, he is.

    Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times: Nobody is better at the melodramatic article than Plaschke, and nobody captures a moment or event better. When the Lakers were dethroned by San Antonio in 2003, Plaschke's column the next day perfectly expressed the way any true Lakers fan felt. It was his seminal article, so good that I kept reading it over and over again until I memorized it. He's kind of annoying as a TV personality, but as far as newspaper writers go, no one touches Plaschke.

    J.A. Adande, formerly of the Los Angeles Times: Most sportswriters have some kind of schtick, whether it's being overly pessimistic like Peter Vescey, comedic like Tony Kornheiser, or purposely controversial like Jay Mariotti. If you're gonna be straightforward and not have some kind of gimmick, you better good at being straightforward. And J.A. Adande is a trained professional. He may use a little humor here and there or make a pop culture reference every now and then, but for the most part, Adande is just focused on getting his point across. But he manages to make it entertaining because he makes such good observations. Sadly, as of last week, J.A. is no longer with the times, but I can guarantee you he won't be out of work for long.

    Mark Heisler, Los Angeles Times: The best basketball writer alive. I don't read Bob Ryan's stuff, but he can't be better than this guy.

    T.J. Simers, Los Angeles Times: The T.J. stands for Total Jerk. This guy is pretty unpopular among Times readers, but I think he's funny as hell. His riff on Barbaro was Hi-larious.

    Scoop Jackson, Not the Scoop who's had to tone it down for You Know Who, the old Scoop, who wrote for SLAM. The Scoop who used profanity in his pieces and was undeniably the best "hip-hop" writer of all-time. Scoop's style and tone while with SLAM was decidedly "black", but anybody, of any race, who liked rap and basketball liked this guy. Everyone who wrote for that magazine during that time was excellent, but Scoop always stood out. His new, somewhat censored stuff runs regularly on now, and it's not as good, but I'll always remember the good ol' days. His brilliant "Iceman 2000" piece on Tim Duncan for SLAM seven years ago remains my all-time favorite sports article.

    Anybody who writes for Sports Illustrated: Especially Chris Ballard and the great Jack McCallum (a devestating NBA 1-2 punch). And Rick Reilly is always good, too.

    Next up, my favorite TV and radio people, either tomorrow or Saturday.

    Ducks Win

    I watched a hockey game for the first time since the cancelled NHL season a few years ago. The game that I watched also happened to be the clinching game of the seven game finals series between the Anaheim Ducks and the Ottawa Senators. the Ducks won 6 -2 in a pretty one-sided game from the start. Leading all individual players with 2 goals, LW Travis Moen was a key to the early start for the Ducks.

    Ottawa seemed in a daze as the Ducks scored the first 2 goals of the game: 1 off a power play by Andy McDonald, and the second coming from Rob Niedermayer.

    Ottawa had some revival after the first intermission as they scored a goal, but were put down again as Anaheim scored. Going into the third period, the Ducks were up 4-2. Anaheim closed the game scoring 2 unanswered goals.

    The Senators did not show any signs of panic, when at the time, desperation was really needed. It was too late to try to catch up in the 3rd, as the Ducks ran away. Scott Neidermayer won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the NHL playoffs. Although he did not score in Game 5, he did have an assist and played well. Props go to Chris Pronger or separating his should early in the game, and returning to play.

    This does need celebration because Southern California has never had a NHL Stanley Cup and now we can say after only 14 years our Anaheim Ducks brought us one. With such a young core of players, watch for a potential Ducks repeat.

    Hey, maybe I will watch hockey next year. MAYBE.

    To be continued...

    Sunday, June 3, 2007

    Daniel's Story

    Many were a "Witness" to LeBron James and the Cavaliers make it to the NBA Finals yesterday. After Lebron's phenomenal performance in Game 5, he had a solid 20, 14, and 8. But did anyone notice Daniel Gibson? He was the story of the night and of the series.

    Before the conference finals and the playoffs, Gibson was a solid backup. With so much potential, and an already blossoming jump shot, Gibson was a piece for the future. No one expected that future to be right now however. In the win last night, Gibson had an astounding 31 points, making all 5 of his shots from beyond the arc. Not to mention 12 for 15 from the charity stripe. Now in this series, this isn't the first time this happened. In Game 4, he had a similar performance, scoring 21 points, and going 12 for 12 from the charity stripe.

    Who knew that this rook would be the guy to help carry the load for LeBron? The last time I can remember a rookie play so well was Magic Johnson playing center for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and winning his first title. Now if Gibson can repeat this kind of play in the NBA Finals, he can be the reason LeBron gets his first ring

    Well now that the Cavs have to play the Spurs, everyone has to play like Daniel did last night. Just step up and play. With players such as Deron and Marcus Williams, Randy Foye, and Chris Paul becoming the nucleus of young rising stars at the point guard position, we can include Daniel Gibson in the mix as well.

    To be continued...

    LeBron Comes of Age

    Remember this?

    I first started hearing about LeBron James five or six years ago. He was still underground at this point, the hype machine just starting to gain steam. I remember two moments, specifically, where I was first recall hearing about him: listening to Stephen A. Smith talking excitedly about him on the Best Damn Sports Show Period, back when it still consisted of it's original method; and one night during an FSN news update (this may have been a report on when he broke his wrist that one time his junior year, it was a long time ago, I'm not sure). I don't remember which occured first or even if these really were the first instances I had heard of him, but these moments definitely stand out in my memory; I just know that after hearing Stephen A. sound so impressed by him, I officially became LeBron-crazy.

    I have a prized artifact that centers around him: the first SLAM cover he did with Sebastian Telfair in identical poses to the one's Starbury and KG had done years back. Looked through some older SLAM's and noticed that he was the Diary Keeper his sophomore and junior years. Somehow, this went completely over my head. When it came to my realization, I tore through those diary entries, trying to soak up everything I could about this kid. Also in SLAM's pages I found a recap of the 2001 ABCD camp, the summer before his junior year, which had a short account of his legendary domination of senior-to-be Lenny Cooke, the number one ranked guy in his class.

    Shortly thereafter, LeBron became mainstream. Sports Illustrated famously put him on the cover of their magazine in February of his junior year, dubbing him The Chosen One. Sadly, I don't have that classic (I think I might've read it at Lenscrafters one day before I knew who he was, I don't really remember; boy, my memory is bad). In December of 2002, ESPN the Magazine had him on the cover of that year's NEXT issue. All of it was justified: At 17, he was a 6-7, 235, chiseled guard/forward who combined the best traits of Magic (surreal passing sense and point guard skills at a size abnormal for the position) and Michael (explosive first step and unreal athleticism and scoring ability). Advanced well beyond his years, former SLAM editor-in-chief Russ Bengston wrote: "Akron's finest would be a top-five NBA pick right now - maybe even No. 1 - and we don't just mean on potential. Yes, he is that good." His senior season, ESPN showed a couple of his regular season games on the Deuce, the first a home-game in Ohio against Oak Hill in which he went for 31, 13, and 6 and a highlight-reel worthy no-look behind the back bounce pass that had Dick Vitale screaming at the top of his lungs. And then a game at Pauley Pavillion against D.J. Strawberry and Mater Dei (which my dad and I had tickets too, but I pulled out at the last second and he ended up taking his girlfriend instead. After what LeBron's done in the last week, I think I'll regret my decision to stay home that night for the rest of my life) in which he finished with a lackluster 21, 9, and 7.

    The media circus peaked when he was unfairly suspended for accepting those free throwbacks. The ban was lifted after one game, and in his comeback at the Prime Time Shootout in Trenton, New Jersey, he dropped a spectacular 52 on Trevor Ariza and Westchester. In March he was named MVP of the 2003 McDonald's All-American Game, capping off a year in which he won his second consecutive Player of the Year award and his team won a mythical national championship.

    Four years later, and here we are. Stephen A. works for The Worldwide Leader now, and he's one of the most well-known (and disliked, though I've always liked him) sports personalities around. BDSSP has been relegated to an hour-long nightly sports list countdown. Sadly, SLAM ain't what it used to be; they lost Scoop to ESPN and made too many changes to the format of the magazine. Sebastian is more well-known for his run-ins with the law than anything he's done with the Blazers or Celtics. And Lenny Cooke went undrafted out of high school and has never played in an NBA game.

    This LeBron guy, on the other hand...he turned out alright.

    He's all grown-up now, 22, bearded, playing for the hometown Cavs. Got $100 mil from Nike before he played a game in the league and he's been worth every penny. He's a three-time All-Star, a perennial MVP candidate, and one of the five best players in the league, a true franchise guy. 27, 7, and 6 over his first four years. He's turned Cleveland into a 50-win team with very little help. He's their coach and their emotional leader.

    And last night, he led the Cavs in defeating the Pistons in Game 6 of the East Finals to advance to their first NBA Finals appearance in the team's 37-year history. After a 48-point performance in Game 5, he switched it up and took what Detroit gave him in Game 6, inviting the double-teams and setting up his teammates, especially Daniel Gibson, en-route to a 20, 14, and 8. This postseason, he's throwing up a 26, 8, and 8 in 45 minutes a game. LeBron James has not only exceeded the hype, he's made it obvious that he never got enough of it in the first place.

    Personally, I think Cleveland's gonna get beat like a drum against the balanced, veteran, been-there-before Spurs, but you never know. After last night's game, I told my Dad, "A one-man team shouldn't beat Detroit," and his response summed up the whole LeBron Experience perfectly: "Well, when your one man is LeBron James, anything can happen."