Thursday, January 31, 2008

All-Star Love, All-Star Snubs

Blazers guard Brandon Roy was named a Western Conference All-Star reserve today, but were others more deserving?

I slept through TNT's All-Star Reserves announcement pre-game show earlier today, but I've awaken to see the list. And it goes a little something like thiiiiis:

Eastern Conference

G Chauncey Billups
G Richard Hamilton
G Joe Johnson
F Paul Pierce
F Caron Butler
F Chris Bosh
F Antawn Jamison

Western Conference

G Chris Paul
G Steve Nash
G Brandon Roy
F Dirk Nowitzki
F Carlos Boozer
F David West
C Amare Stoudemire

I have no problems with the East, really, not enough to write about, but I think some bones can be picked in the West. Obviously, there are some guys that are going to be snubbed every year. Too many deserving players, too few spots. Such is the NBA All-Star roster. And so apologies to the always underrated Shawn Marion (15.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.5 blocks, 52 percent from the field). The game will not be the same without you. And don't get discouraged Josh Howard ( 20.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 48 percent shooting) - just keep getting better. It's not you, it's David West (19.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 48 percent): the Hornets deseved two All-Stars for the year they're having, and the coaches obliged. I don't completely agree with West's inclusion, but I definitely understand.

The real issue, at least for me, arises at the point Brandon Roy makes the squad over Deron Williams or Baron Davis. Their records (26-19 for Roy and Portland, 28-18 for Deron and Utah, 28-19 for Diddy and G-State) are similar, and Williams (19.1 points, 9.5 assists, 52 percent overall, 39 from 3) and Davis (22.3 points, 4.9 boards, 8.1 dimes, 2.5 steals, hasn't missed a game, an absolute career year, he's finally putting it all together) have had better individual years. Roy is an excellent young player, and he's the best player on the most surprising team in the league. But his statistics don't match the hype he receives, just yet - 19.3 points, 4.5 boards, 5.6 assists. Portland is like a deep, well-rounded, whole-greater-than-sum-of-parts, really good college-like team (in structure) with an excellent coach that plays hard every night. Roy is a very big piece of the puzzle in Portland, not the puzzle itself. Doubt anyone would argue against that. I mean, congratulations anyway, B-Roy, I respect your game and professional attitude as much as the next person. But I'm just saying.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Wire, ep. 55: "React Quotes" ("Just 'cause they're in the streets doesn't mean they lack opinions ." - Haynes)


It's only recently that I've come to accept The Wire as what it is: fiction. The first time I watched the show, one of the things that struck me was how real it seemed, and I took that thought and ran with it. It wasn't until I read a year-old H&H post by Beth Shoals, about the mythical exploits of Omar and how he undermined the show's authenticity, did I begin to reconsider.

Is Omar unrealistic? Does he take away from the show's trademark actuality? I googled it. Scoured H&H. Read some Matthew Yglesias. Signed up to the official HBO message board. Gathered information from my peers and then headed straight to the source, searching for any and every David Simon interview I could find. Even bought a book, The Wire: Truth Be Told (a must-have for any true fan of the show, although it only covers the first two seasons). I wanted answers. For the record, I don't see Omar's very nature - gay, doesn't curse, etc. - as being fanciful as much as I do the situations he's often placed in: He robs the fiercest and largest drug clans in the land, they respond in kind, and the back and forth ensues, he hunting them as fiercely as they hunt he. And despite being severely outnumbered, he remains above ground. Notoriously well-known, he's played a major part in multiple unsolved murders, with the most talented detectives The Wire has to offer well-aware of his involvement. Yet by some constituating circumstance or another, he remains uncarcerated. Seems unlikely.

I've come to two conclusions. One, I never should've taken the show so literally. It is not a docudrama, it has actors and scripts and manually constructed sets, no different than Desperate Housewives in that respect. The little details - like the slang the dealers use, the innerworkings of a drug organization, the police procedurals, and the class and newsroom scenes, for instance - that only city insiders like Simon and Ed Burns could capture, as well as the fact that it's a show about the grittiest parts of Baltimore filmed in the grittiest part of Baltimore, give the show it's veneer of substinence. But as Simon points out in Truth Be Told, while some of the events took place, and others were rumored to have taken place, many did not take place. Oftentimes, the plotlines don't serve as mirrors of real life occurances, but rather, as symbols of a larger truth or point that the show is trying to make.

Secondly, on a program about institutions and their propensity to contaminate and betrayal the individuals that belong to them (think about it, it's all over the show). Omar is The Wire's lone independent, the one character that answers to no one but himself. He is his own establishment, and thus he can abide by his own rules and own code, and more importantly, he is not doomed, as most of his adversaries on his side of the law have proven to be.

With that insight in mind, when Omar pulls off some Marvel shit like he did in 55, I'm able to carry it a little better. Omar and Big Donnie set up outside Monk's condo. He's moving with muscle, so Butchie's avengers wait patiently, for the exact moment they think he's alone. Little do they know, they're being set up: Monk is being used as bait. When they finally make their move, busting in with guns drawn, Chris, Snoop, Mike, and O-Dog are inside waiting. Violence ensues, O-Dog catching one in the leg, Big Donnie meeting his end with one through the forehead. And so once again, Omar is all by his lonesome, crawling away from bullets, and now his clip is empty. So what does he do?

He bursts through a nearby window and off of a balcony at least five stories off the ground, a dark figure flying down from the sky at night, a la Batman, only with a trenchcoat instead of a cape.

Chris, Snoop, and Mike run over to the balcony and look down, but Omar is gone. Needless to say, unless you're Peter Parker, you don't just up and walk away from a leap like that. Well, unless you're Omar, I guess.

It's almost as if the cynical masterminds behind The Wire took the mumblings about Omar being an implausible character and decided to turn it into a little joke by having him channel his inner-Spiderman. Simon certainly heard the complaints, even going as far as to show up on the comment board for the aforementioned Shoals piece and shed some insight on/discount the notion that someone in Omar's line of work would eventually end up dead or in jail (not that convincing, to be perfectly honest with you). Simon didn't pen the episode, but as always he had a hand in the story. More than likely, he's somewhere laughing his ass off right now.

Alright, the Big Finish:

Marlo meets with Vondas to finalize their business agreement. Vondas gives the newborn king a cell phone and tells him never to talk business on it, but also shows him a little trick. Those Greeks are clever. Marlo later gives a delighted Levy the number, who explains to Herc that Stanfield using a cellphone in this day and age will likely lead to a big payday for the firm, in the form of a major wiretap case. "Joe gave him to us just in time," he says. What an asshole. Later, a still spited Herc sneaks into the office and copies down the number. He gets it to Carv ("When you put the bracelets on that bitch, remind him again of my fuckin' camera"), who in turn hands it over to Lester; Chris says bye to his two kids and tells his girl he's gonna be away on business for a couple of weeks. Translation: Omar's comin'. This was clearly an attempt by the writers to humanize Chris, but it just doesn't work. He's been too coldblooded. He's not human; Dukie gets beat up by Kenard and Spider and decides enough is enough, so Mike takes him to Cutty. Well, Dukie can't fight. He and Cutty converse about life, with Dukie asking how to "get from here to the rest of the world," but Cutty is clueless himself. For plan two, Duke enlists Mike to teach him how to shoot (not pool), but that doesn't work out either. He's just not meant for the streets. Unfortunately, he's trapped there; McNulty meets with Templeton and Gutierrez to help them juice up their story on the homeless "murders"; Daniels meets with Carcetti to request additional manpower, but only gets overtime for two detectives, causing McNulty and Lester to come up with another plan. Templeton unknowlingly assists them, staging a phonecall from the "serial killer." A shocked McNulty is called into a meeting with the paper, where Templeton has detailed notes of the "conversation" and the number of the payphone he used to concoct his tale. Not to be outdone, McNulty says the Homicide Unit received a similar call from someone that matches Scott's description. Put it this way: between Templeton and McNulty, there was a lot of B.S. being spouted in that scene. McNulty uses this development to get Freamon his wiretap. It's actually meant for Homicide to monitor the killer, but Lester rigs it such that while they think they're up on the killer's cellphone, he's really eavesdropping on Marlo back at the detail office. At the close of the hour, he picks up on a call, but hears nothing but static. "What the ...?" he says to himself; Beadie is ready to put Jimmy out; Narese manages to convine Clay to play team ball; and Royce backs Clay at a support rally.

Move along now, children.

(Oh, and Bubs passes his HIV test. Forgot about that.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Super Bowl XLII Preview

I want no hitting below the belt, no cameras on the sidelines stealing defensive signals, and no Eli Manning jokes (he's earned a break). Let's get it on!

Giants (13-6) vs. Pats (18-0) II: The Tale of the Tape



It has been a signature year for Patriots signal-caller Tom Brady. During the regular season, he threw a record 50 touchdown passes (versus only 8 interceptions), led his club to the first 16-0 mark in league history, earned his first NFL MVP award, and was named Associated Press Athlete of the Year.

In the divisional round against the Jaguars, he completed 26 of 28 passes, or 92.9 percent, the highest rate in playoff history. He has a career 14-2 record in the postseason, including 3-0 in the Super Bowl, with two MVP trophies. No quarterback is more polished mechanically, no quarterback is more accurate, no quarterback is cooler under pressure, and no quarterback has banged more hot actresses/supermodels. Tom Brady is one for the ages, a man of his times.

Manning stands behind center for the Giants, and he is playing the best ball of his career. After a mediocre regular season (23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 3300 yards, 56 % completion percentage), Manning has been nearly perfect (for him) during the playoffs: 53 of 85 (62%), 602 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, three consecutive road victories. Because of his lineage and his status as the the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft, many envisioned Manning as a future franchise quarterback, and his failure to live up to those expectations have made him the source of criticism. As he has proved this month, however, Manning is much better suited for the role of mistake-free game-manager than the role of Peyton - hopefully for him, everyone will adjust their expectations accordingly, and lay off the guy's ass a bit.

Advantage: Brady Say what you want about Eli, but he's a former No. 1 pick that made it to the Big Game by his fourth year. That's saying something. Of course, Tom Brady is the best quarterback to ever play the game - I'll explain in greater detail if/when he wins his fourth ring February 3rd.

Skilled Positions

Manning has the Ahmed Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs tandem at halfback, with the talented Plaxico Burress, veteran Amani Toomer, and rookie Steve Smith, who is getting time in place of the injured Sinorice Moss, at receiver. They are an effective bunch; Jacobs and Bradshaw give the Giants a thunder/lightning type backfield, Burress is a huge end-zone target, Toomer isn't the player he used to be but is still more than serviceable, and Smith had a couple of big catches against Green Bay last week.

Brady throws passes to wideout Randy Moss, who broke Jerry Rice's league record by catching 23 touchdown passes during the regular season and is unstoppable when single-covered. Slot receiver Wes Welker led the league in receptions with 112 and serves a Brady's security blanket; he was deserving of a Pro Bowl selection this year. Opposite Moss is Donte' Stallworth, who goes almost unnoticed but is there when you need him. Jabar Gaffney makes the occasional appearance as well.

Jacksonville double-downed on Moss, holding him to only a single catch for 14 yards. San Diego tried the same trick, and with the same results, Moss once again recording only a single reception, this time for 18 yards. In both instances, running back Laurence Maroney figured prominently - a combined 244 rushing yards on 47 carries. Used sparingly most of the year, he is fresh and has gained 100 or more yards in 4 of the last 5 games.

And what more can you say about Kevin Faulk? He's Robert Horry in shoulder pads.

Advantage: Patriots

Offensive Line

Suffice it to say that New England has one of the best O-lines in the league - they allowed only 21 sacks this season, fifth in the league, and they've helped Maroney spring for some big games as of late. They remain unheralded after all these years, but they're as solid as ever. Now, enough about offensive lineman.



Front Seven

The Patriots typically operate out of a 3-4 base formation. DE Richard Seymour and NT Vince Wilfork are amongst the best at their positions. At the next level, the Pats employ and aged but crafty and very solid linebacking core: Mike Vrabel, who was named to his first Pro Bowl this year, and Tedy Bruschi are smart and big-game experienced. Seau, the future Hall-of-Famer, is the same. The youngest of the bunch, 30 year-old Adalius Thomas, brings needed athleticism in his first year with the club.

Only one team recorded more than the Patriots 47 sacks this season, and it was the Giants, who got to the quarterback 53 times and specialize in the pass rush. Pro Bowl DE Osi Umenyiora led the team with 13, followed by Justin Tuck with 10 and future-Cantoner Michael Strahan with 9. Linebackers Antonio Pierce, Kiwika Mitchell, and Reggie Torbor are not spectacular, but they get the job done.

Advantage: Patriots


New York's defensive backfield, highlighted by corner Sam Madison, has intercepted five passes this postseason, but as far as I'm concerned, they're just a'ight. New England's unit features All-Pro CB Asante Samuel, and dirty - oops, I mean cagey - safety Rodney Harrison. They are deep, tried and proven.

Advantage: Patriots


New England finished 5th and 11th in the league, respectively, in kick return and punt return average. New York finished 7th and 27th. The Pats were 12th in the league against the kick return and 2nd against the punt, as opposed to 18th and 5th for the Giants. NE kicker Stephen Gostkowski made 21 of 24 field goals during the season, NY's Lawrence 23 of 27. That's a wash, statistically, but we all saw how shaky Tynes looked last week.

Advantage: Patriots


Tom Coughlin deserves credit for what he's done as a lame-duck this year, but come on - Belichick is the best since Lombardi.


The Patriots defeated an extremely game Giants team in Week 17, 38-35. New England was playing for 16-0 - the G-Men, who's seeding was already locked, were playing for the pride of the league and their own place in history: the team that defeated the evil Patriots in the last game of the regular season to stop them from going undefeated. They actually led, 28-16, early in the third quarter, but as always, the Patriots refused to lose.


Giants defensive line versus Patriots offensive line. Something's gotta give. If the Giants can get to Brady, they've got a chance.


The Giants have been playing extremely well, but in the Coughlin era, they've come to be known as a Jekyl and Hyde team. Would it surprise anyone if the Giants, after playing New England so valiantly in a game they could've taken as meaningless, were to lay an egg in the most important game of them all?

Besides, the Patriots have been on a mission all season long, they've won big and small, and they've responded with heart and resiliency in every conceivable instance of adversity. Does anyone really think they're going to lose now? This team needs a defining game for everyone to remember their remarkable season by. This is it.

Patriots 42, Giants 10

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Wire, ep. 54: "Transitions" ("Buyers market out there." - Templeton)

In cae you didn't know - and if you saw his HBO promo, you should - with Marlo Stanfield, it's all about the crown.

That means you don't get up in his face over stolen candy unless you wear a real badge. That means you don't - you cannot - sell drugs on his side of Baltimore unless you're on his package. That means you don't allegedly call him a dicksuck. You definitely don't steal from him. And you can't own the line to the Greeks.

Because if you own the line to the Greeks, you own the connect, and if own the connect, you run the Co-Op, and if you run the Co-Op, all of the other kingpins depend on you for their product. Which in effect makes you the Boss of all Bosses in Bodymore. Marlo has another sitdown with Vondas at the little Greek spot, this time with The Greek himself in attendance. Marlo's got the cleaned-up cash Joe hooked him up with, but Vondas finally cuts through the allegorical and explains to the boy that it's not about the money; in Joe they already have a man that they trust, and they only want to deal with one man. Marlo says he's only looking for an insurance policy, in the event that a robbery like the one that occured last year should happen again.

"Something that covers me, covers you," he says.

"And covers Joe," Vondas adds.

Marlo rolls his eyes. But The Greek thinks the kid has a point.

"You're right," he says. "These are volatile times. It is not unreasonable to carry insurance. Who can say what tomorrow will show us?"

He sends the boy on his way, ensuring Vondas that no matter how many times they deny him, he will continue to return. He has shown as much.

"But he is not Joe," Vondas says.

"He is not Joe," The Greek agrees with a slight smile.

On the HBO and Heavenandhere boards, people are suggesting that in this scene, the Greeks were hinting to Marlo that if he were to take out Joe, they would be willing to work with him. On first view, I did not pick up on this, and frankly, I'm still not sold. It's certainly not definitive. Although I could see how the aforementioned smirk The Greek gave could be indicative of his belief that Marlo is a dense thug whom he could take advantage of, unlike Joe, as one H&H commentator offered, overall I think it was highly ambiguous.

Anyways, Joe purchases flower arrangements out of respect for the late Butchie (from the same guy Bodie went to for D's funeral in Season 2) and, in anticipation of Omar, tells Slim he'll be taking himself out of action for a while after the next Co-Op meeting. He rightfully suspects Cheese as the man that made it happen, but he needs more than words to go on before he makes a move against blood. In the meantime, he'll leave Cheese to watch the shop and Slim to watch Cheese.

Omar returns in full work uniform: do-rag, trenchcoat, and teflon. He arrives at Big Donnie's, and Big Guy (that's what they call him on the HBO site) gives him Marlo's message ("Tell Omar he put his hands in the wrong pocket"). Donnie informs him that they didn't let Butchie go easily (Omar: "Sweet Jesus I'm gonna work them"), and that he wants in on the revenge tip. Then he tosses Omar a shotgun.

Later, Omar ambushes Slim at his apartment and demands Joe's whereabouts. Slim stands tall at gunpoint, and is able to convince Omar that Joe's hands are clean. O spares Slim and begins stalking the Stanfield crew with Donnie, who tells him that Marlo and Chris have been switching up where they lay their lands at night. Omar says he's going to go after the man's people first, starting with Monk. "You hurt enough of them, that snake's gonna stick his head up out that hole," he promises.

At the Co-Op meeting, Hungry Man calls out Cheese for infringing on his territory. The two have a brief verbal exchange before Joe puts his nephew in place, reminding him that he's not a "charter member" and assuring Hungry that his sister's son will adhere to the boundaries. The meeting is adjourned, and an embarrased Cheese storms out of the room like a little five-year old beeyotch. Marlo, constant thinker and schemer, takes heed. The next day Joe takes him to see Levy, lawyer to the kingpins. In a funny moment, Marlo recognizes Herc in Levy's office and aks him, sarcastically, "Hey, you ever find that camera?" then chuckles when Herc informs him that it cost him his job. What a jerk.

Chris leads Cheese to a garage, where Snoop holds a tied up Hungry hostage, a little gift from Marlo. But it comes with strings attatched.

"Get a gift, give a gift," Chris explains. "You know how that go."

At the close of the hour, Joe is packed and ready to make his getaway when Cheese comes strolling through the house. Cheese questions why Joe would still be shacked up in this little house, with all the money he's got. Joe points to a picture of Cheese's great-grandfather, the first black man to own a house in Johnson's square.

"That means something," he says. "Something you young'ns lost."

Cheese is unmoved, and tells Joe he'll see him outside when he's ready to go. But just as Joe grabs his cane to get up, Marlo walks in through the backdoor.

"No need for that," he says.

Joe knows what this is, and it's not a going away party.

"My nephew?" he asks.

Marlo nods affirmatively.

"The boy was always a disappointment," Joe says. "But I treated you like a son."

"I wasn't made to play the son," Marlo responds.

Joe reminds him that he still needs the good dope he supplies, but Marlo informs that the Greeks got that covered. Joe takes a second to digest this, then makes one final Proposition.

"I just step out the way," he tenders. "You'll never hear from me again. I'll just disappear."

"Joe, you'll be up into mischief in no time," Marlo says. "Truth is, you wouldn't be able to change up anymore than me."

He tells Joe to close his eyes. "It won't hurt none," he vows, but Joe shakes his head as he comes to the realization that this is it. "Joe, relax," he says. "Breathe easy." Chris, who has walked in through the front, pushes the gun to the back of Joe's head. When Marlo nods, the gun blasts, and the camera pans to Stanfield's sedated face. The music starts and the credits roll.

That was an extremely tense scene. I already knew what it entailed, but it still had me shook up. Joe was a likable guy. Of course, he was also a mischevious one. You spend all that time being sneaky, and eventually, it's going to catch up to you.

Obviously, this displays how disloyal Marlo is, but that's not really surprising; it's doubtful there's anything that he would allow to come between him and the throne. It also reminded me of something Shaq (yes, Shaq - I've managed to make him relevant to this post) once said, about five years ago, after Kobe dropped 55 (42 in the first half) on MJ in their last ever meeting: "In every good karate flick, in order for the student to become the man, he has to kill the teacher." I've never watched a karate movie before; I just always took Shaq's word for it. Anyways, that's what's happened here: Joe took Marlo under his wing and showed him the ropes. Marlo accumulated the knowledge, then took out the man that gave it to him to become the master. It goes like that.

Elsewhere, Lester teams up with McNulty in locating and manipulating more dead homeless people; Burrell "retires" from his position as police commissioner in favor of Rawls, who's only keeping the seat warm for new deputy-ops Daniels; the little boy Kima retrieved from the home of the triple murder in 52 is not yet ready to relive the trauma of the event. She calls Cheryl, who agrees to let her visit Elijah. Perhaps Kima's thinking about adopting that poor child, and is trying to gain experience with children; Carv may have to give up Collichio, the mo-hawked cop that went crazy when Kenard played a trick on him involving dog crap; Michael won't pay his mother to be his mom; Templeton interviews with the Washington Post; Clay Davis gets grand juried, and it doesn't go well for him. Nor does it go well for the good people at The Sun, who learn of the news like everyone else: by watching it on television.

I've already seen 5, 6, and 7, which means that the next three weeks are going to feel more like three years to me. Hurry up, 58.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Andrew Bynum Withdrawl

There's a reason Lakers Nation moaned when Bynumite went down with a knee injury Sunday night, the timetable for his return estimated at 8 weeks. His name is Kwame Brown.

Hey, Kwame is what he is: a big body and a good low-post defender. But that's it. I repeat: That's it. He has no offensive skill to speak of and the worst hands in the league. He probably shouldn't be starting in the NBA. Nothing personal.

Of course, now he's been nudged back into the spotlight after spending the beginning of the season as an afterthought. And his flaws are under the microscope. A big microscope in the wake of Bynum.

Drew was averaging 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks on 64 percent shooting before he went down, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Bynum finishes everything around the basket with dunks, he's got the softest hands in the league, and nobody completes more alley-oops (there are few moves in basketball more unstoppable than a lob to Andrew Bynum). His combination of size, length, and athleticism is surpassed only by Dwight Howard, he's ferociously aggressive, and he's got a developing low-post game. For the first time since Shaq left, the Lakers have a big man that forces the defense to react when he catches the ball on the block. He's borderline unstoppable.

In other words, he's the anti-Kwame Brown. The Lakers should never throw Kwame the ball. When they do, defenses react with glee. During a memorable eight-minute stretch at the start of the second half against Phoenix last night, Kwame missed a dunk and a layup and committed four of his seven turnovers, as his home crowd booed him mercilessly. (He only played 25 minutes - how does a center turn the ball over seven times in only 25 minutes? That may be unprecedented.) A comedy of errors. Terrible, just terrible. Sad, even. It sucks to be Kwame Brown right now. He's going to be on a very short leash (maybe no leash at all) with the L.A. (un)faithful at every home game he plays for the next two months, and Barkley's going to be laughing at him every Thursday on TNT. I feel sorry for the guy. I bet he can't wait for Andrew to come back, either.

Of course, Bynum's injury did more to hurt this team than just guarantee Kwame more playing time. Bynum had entrenched himself pretty firmly into the No. 2 spot in the Lakers' heirarchy, meaning that Lamar Odom had settled nicely into the No. 3 role that better suits him. For all of his considerable gifts, Odom was never going to live up to being the Pippen to Kobe's MJ, and with Bynum's explosion to stardom, he no longer has to worry about that. I had always lamented Odom's inability to become the player we were hoping for when he arrived here four years ago, but this year I had almost forgotten about him, which is probably the way he likes it. In years past, Odom has played his very best basketball when Kobe was out, but other than that, he just plays the same. His temporary move back upward in the Lake Show pecking order isn't going to urge him to step it up any (although he did have a strong 19 and 19 last night).

So once again, it all falls on Kobe. I'm a diehard Lakers fan, so my heart tells me he's going to spring for 40 a game over the next 30 games or so, keep the Lakers near the top of the standings, and solidify his first MVP in the process. My head looks at the schedule and sees that Denver, San Antonio, Dallas, a Cleveland team that's coming together, and Detroit are five of their next six opponents, and that 11 of their next 14 before the All-Star Break are on the road (including 9 in a row). I see a team that may be on the verge of losing it's balance.

But you know what? Screw it. We still got Kobe, Farmar and Sasha bring punch off the bench, and Fish is 10-times more reliable than Smush Parker was, making the current Lakers team, sans Bynum, a deeper, steadier version of the 2006 team than won 45 games and nearly upset a 54-win Phoenix team in the first round. They're going to be fine. I'm going to repeat that last sentence to myself 1,000 times every night before I go to sleep, until I really believe it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Wire, ep. 53: "Not for Attribution" ("They're dead where it doesn't count." - Fletcher)

Marlo Stanfield is the busiest gangster on television right now. Loathsomely ambitious is the best way to describe him. In E-P-53, he goes to Joe with perhaps the best problem a person can have: He's got too much money. Needs help laundering it. Joe sets him up with a shady, Clay Davis-esque pastor and creates an account for him at a bank in the Antilles, $400,000 in the Stanfield name.

"How I even know it's there?" Marlo asks at Joe's front shop.

"You check it online, anytime you like," Joe says, but Marlo don't trust it if he can't hold touch it, so Joe sets him up with a passport to go check it out for himself. "Ain't easy civilizing this motherfucker," Joe quips to Slim.

He's also got a little gift for Vondas, briefcase full of cash, but the man rejects it. It's street money, dirty money, and Vondas doesn't like the way it smells, so young'n takes it to Joe to get it cleaned up. Marlo may have a lot of heart, he may have great instincts, he may be the perfect person to control the drug trade in a place like West Baltimore, but he's a pup when it comes to the finer points of being a full-fledged criminal. He's learning, though. Last season centered on education, but this year, Marlo's getting schooled.

Of course, there are still some things he can't be taught, such as letting matters rest. Despite Joe's advice to leave it be, Marlo remains hell-bent on achieving vengeance for Omar's last caper, and he tells Joe and Cheese to get word out to the other offended Co-Operators that he's putting 50 Big Ones on anyone close to The Terror. "His sister, his me-maw, some faggy he be with," Snoop explains in her own inimitable way. "All that shit count, you hear me?"

For his part, Joe isn't going to give up anything on Omar.

"Omar been gone," he tells Cheese. "Took a lot of bad history with him, too. Why in the hell would I want that motherfucker back?" Of course, there's a weak link in every operation, and every family, and in this case it's Cheese, who goes behind his uncle's back and tells Chris about some blind cat with a joint over on Collinton, eastside of the street. When Partlow cashes him out, there's no turning back.

Snoop steps into Butchie's bar to peep the scenario. Butchie and one of the guys he sent to aid Omar in jail last season are inside, as well as a third man (probably an employee), who dismisses Snoop as "a little girl." Five seconds later, the "little girl" has dislodged a bullet into his brain, Chris shoots Butchie's man in the leg, and two guns are drawn on a man who can't see (very courageous).

"Cash is in the register," he says.

"Fuck the register, old man," Snoop confirms. This ain't no robbery.

They tie Butchie up in the back of the joint and attempt to torture him into unveiling Omar's whereabouts, as the guy with the hole in his leg sits incapacitated. Snoop shoots Butchie twice in the kneecap, Chris smashes a beer bottle over his head, but he still won't give up his boy, so Partlow puts one in his head. Then he walks over to the survivor and tells him that when word gets back to the man, be sure that all of the gory details are included. On the way to the truck, Snoop points out that they still have nothing on Omar, and now he's going to be coming at them. Chris tells her that they're going to have to switch up; Marlo will have to move inside, and they'll have to live on the run. Snoop chastises the plan, but Chris quickly puts her in check.

"Marlo wants Omar," he says. "What else you need to know?"

At the close of the hour, Omar, in retirement with Renaldo in Puerto Rico, catches wind of Butch's death through his lover's cousin and a tear begins to roll down his suddenly angry face. The giant has been awakened.

Bug has a day off from school, so Mike takes he and Dukie on a little trip to Six Flags. In case anyone forgot, they're still kids, they still like to have fun, and these are the kinds of things kids do for leisure. When they return, however, Monk is waiting at Mike's corner, and he berates the boy for his daylong absence.

"Chris already heard about this shit," he says to Mike's chagrin. "Nice dolphin, nigga," he tells Duke for good measure, complimenting him on the stuffed animal he's holding under his arm. That single line is the greatest contribution Monk has made to this show. Add that to the long list of classic Wire quotes.

Elsewhere, McNulty continues his manipulation of dead vagrants. He contacts Alma Gutierrez of The Sun, but the story only makes the backpages of the paper. Bunk brings in Lester, hoping that maybe he can talk some sense into Jimmy since he can't seem to do it, but much to his chagrin, Lester instead gives Jimmy ideas on how to improve upon his plan. Lester suggests that they sensationalize the story, give the "killer" some kind of fucked up fantasy. "We need to give your killer a name," he says. "We need to kill again," Jimmy responds. He's got an ally in Lester, they both want Marlo; Carcetti's plan to supplant Burrell with Daniels hits print, and now Daniels and Marla worry that Burrell will air some of Cedric's dirty laundry in an effort to keep his job; Ashy Larry returns as Senator Davis' crooked driver and, after taking a peppering from Pearlman during a mock trial, he cries to his boss that they're going to jail. Clay goes to Carcetti and offers to help him in his move against Burrell in exchange for help with his impending grand jury trial, but he's being hung out to dry; Alma's story on last week's home invasion triple-murder gets only a small space of the front page; and The Sun is in the process of downsizing.

The tension builds.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Putting Yao in Perspective

Don't know if you guys caught th highlights of UNC Asheville big man of mythic proportions Kenny George after the Bulldogs took on the Tar Heels Wednesday night, but if you haven't, you need to contact your local YouTube. He goes 7-7, 360, size 28 shoe - meaning that they should probably change the saying from "hung like a horse" to "hung like Kenny George." But that's besides the point.

Gheorghe Muresan, Shawn Bradley, and Manute Bol were tall and thin, stick figures, palm trees. They were ectomorph's. (Muresan was actually listed at 310, but didn't look it.) George doesn't carry his weight as well - he's probably more of an endomorph. And he makes Bradley seem almost nimble and explosive by comparison - well, maybe that's an overstatement, but you get my point: he's not a good athlete. We saw that Wednesday, when 6-9 Tyler Hansbrough faced him up, drove right at him, and flushed in his grill (get used to images like those). He'll play at the next level because you can't teach 7-7, and block a lot of shots (he's leading the nation at 5.3 a game this year), but more than likely, he'll be remembered as a freakishly large man that got dunked on a lot. Nothing personal.

Guys that size simply have a ceiling on their potential because, naturally, they're so sluggish and uncoordinated. It's when you see guys like George that you are reminded just how unique Yao Ming is. His agility and skill level for a man his size is simply unprecedented. Rik Smits was a very good player, and Ralph Sampson would've been a Hall-of-Famer if it weren't for his bad knees, but they were both 7-4. Anyone 7-5 or over? Bol was a terrific shotblocker (second in NBA history on a per-game average at 3.3 a night, trailing only Mark Eaton's 3.5) and a funny guy, that's about it. Muresan, another gregarious guy, went for a 15-10 in '95-96, but only played 6 seasons. Bradley was the laughingstock of the league during his career. He didn't have as much personality as those other two, not as much charm, so people were and continue to be mean to him. Just search his name on YouTube. You'll see titles like "Top 10 Dunks on Shawn Bradley," "Shawn Bradley_NBA Bitch," and "Please Dunk On Me Im Shawn Bradley" by DJ Spic 2 My Lu. He got punched in the face bloody by Walt Williams and bodyslammed by someone named Mark Davis. Nobody had more guys go out of their way to dunk on him than Bradley. He was the most posterized player ever. A humiliating, embarrassing career. Unfortunate because he was such a nice guy, but true.

Yao doesn't have those same problems, really. He's been dunked on before, and we'll always remember the time Nasty Nate Robinson blocked his shot, but moments like that are few and far between, more indicative of his early struggles. He's not really a gamechanger or consistently dominant force, he doesn't rebound or block enough shots, and he's had some fatigue/injury problems. But at the end of the day, he's a 22-10 guy, plus two blocks, a gifted big man with a very strong low-post game, a sweet stroke, and criminally underutilized passing skills. Maybe he's not the player it looked like he was going to become after his rookie year, but he's still extremely impressive. Yao isn't necessarily a transcendent player, period, but he is a transcendent player when you take a second to consider his predecessors.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Wire, ep. 52: "Unconfirmed Reports" ("This ain't Aruba, bitch." - Bunk)

***SPOILER ALERT*** to those of you who don't have On Demand.

Jimmy McNulty. Derranged son of a bitch.

He and his vanity are back, and fuck rogue, McNulty's latest ego-stroking act is just plain disturbing. He takes a call on a case but he has a flat tire, so he has to take the bus to the scene. An older woman found dead in her bed, with a pillow over her head (that rhymed). At the morgue, as he waits for word on his body (the doctor has his hands full, not surprisingly), he learns of some information that would spark the most unsettling moment in the show's history. Some guy O.D.'d and ended up firmly entrenching himself between the bathtub and the toilet, and the medics have to pry him loose using his neck as leverage. The effects look like strangulation, but on a fresh body no one can tell it's postmortem.

At the close of the hour, he and Bunk are summoned to a D.O.A. (Dead on arrival). Some homeless guy. The officer at the scene tells them that the crime lab won't arrive for 2-3 hours, and a lightbulb pops up over McNulty's head. It hits him. He sends the officer on his way; he and Bunk will handle things from there. Next he heads back out to the car for a swig of whiskey, preparing himself for what he's about to do. When he returns, he begins manipulating the scene, knocking a hole in a nearby wall and using a piece of it to smear what will look like a white stain on the back of the corpse's pants.

"What the fuck are you doing?" a bewildered Bunk asks.

Then, he kneels down and makes the sign of the cross (because Lord knows he's going to hell for this shit) and, much to Bunk's horror and chagrin, proceeds to wrap his hands around the man's neck and press down.

"Oh, Jesus Christ," a terrified Bunk moans. "You sick fuck."

"There's a serial killer in Baltimore. He prays upon the weakest among us," Jimmy explains as he takes a shot of alcohol. "He needs to be caught."

"I'm out of here," Bunk says before fleeing the scene. "I don't want no part of this."

Finally, McNulty props the body into a, um, compromising position, takes a step back from his work, and takes another drink. This easily makes any other stunt he's ever pulled seem Micky Mouse-y by comparison. He's finally lost it.

Elsewhere, Lester appears to be over chasing Marlo; he tells Sydnor that the Clay Davis case is the kind that defines careers. But that doesn't stop him from staking out and getting a scope on Monk, Snoop, and O-Dog as they prepare to hit up some guy named Webster's corner; he refused to get on their package. With the heat from the knockas having cooled off considerably, Marlo is looking to take care of some unfinished business.

He orders three moves:

1. The call on the aforementioned corner, highlighted by a reference to "Boyz n the Hood" and Snoop's marksmanship.

2. A move on a cat named Junebug, for "talkin' that shit," as Marlo put. Chris, Snoop, and Michael show up to the job early to peep the landscape. This hit will be of the home invasion variety. While they wait, Mike gets inquisitive.

"Why we doin' Junebug anyway?" he asks.

"Heard he called Marlo a dicksuck," Snoop responds. "Talkin' shit like that."

"You heard?" Mike continues to interrogate. "You ain't sure?"

"People say he said it," Snoop replies, a bit impatient.

Chris rationalizes that it doesn't matter if he said it, but that people think he said it. Can't let that slide. And it's at this point that Michael displays the kind of logic and levelheadedness that his superiors sorely lack, reasoning how immature it is of Marlo to have this man killed on account of some silly namecalling. (Seriously, they teach you how to deal with stuff like this in elementary school.)

"Why this boy gotta get dead just for talkin' shit?" Mike asks.

"Because he got a big motherfuckin' mouth, that's why," Snoop snaps. "And you need to watch your own mouth, young'n."

Disheartened, Mike leans back against the back seat (as Chris shoots him a look that says, "Cut that out"), the only person in the car who understands the inanity of it all, despite being the youngest. When the time comes to spring to action, Chris orders him to set up around the corner and drop anyone who runs out the backdoor. Mike is locked and loaded when a boy, who couldn't be any older than 7 or 8, comes running from the sounds of screams and gunshot blasts that control the house. He can't pull the trigger. This is a very encouraging development; at the end of last season, it seemed as though Mike was on the verge of transforming into a Partlow-like unconscionable killer. But it's now clear that at least some of his moral senses have remained in tact.

I don't think we're done with that subplot yet.

3. There's a recently retired stickup artist/action hero that made enough money from his last heist he decided it was time to call it a career and retired to the South (where rumor has it he's sporting a fantastic hat). Marlo wants him.

"Bring his ass back out of retirement," he says.

In the meantime, he has an errand to run. Chris gives him the picture of Sergei that he swiped from City Hall last episode, and he heads to Jessup for a sitdown with the Russian.

However, when he arrives, it's not Boris that comes walking through the door.

"Surprise," greets Avon Barksdale, as he proceeds to steal both this scene in particular and the episode as a whole. I've always thought Wood Harris' performance as Avon was perhaps the most underappreciated on the show, overshadowed by Idris Elba's Stringer Bell, a stronger, more important role. For my money, other Omar, he's the most charismatic character the show has produced, and that's on full display during his meet with Marlo, who must go through him first to get to Sergei (Avon fancies himself an "authority figure" in the joint). Stanfield seems a bit amused by, a bit weary of, but definitely respectful to his former adversary as Barksdale dominates the conversation. Avon thinks he sees Marlo's plan: get to the Greeks through the Russian, cut Joe and all the Eastside players out the connect. They're on the same page; Avon explains that he's got nothing but love for Westside cats, that they need to stick together, and offers Marlo an olive branch on their past beef.

"But fuck all them Eastside bitches," he says with conviction.

And for a small fee of $100,000, to be sent to Brianna, Avon guarantees that "the next time you come to Jessup, it won't be my grill talkin' at you. My word on that."

"So what's up, man?" Avon asks, just doing some catching up, as if he's talking to an old friend. "What's up with you otherwise, you know?"

"Ah, the game is the game," Marlo confirms.

"Always," Barksdale says with a nod. Just a classic scene. The kind of scene that reminds you why you watch TV in the first place, the past and present kingpins of television's finest show chopping it up, one on one, two brilliant actors on their A games.

Anyways, Avon's word is his bond; the next time Marlo's in Jessup, he's able to make a deal with Sergei, who will get word to Vondas that Marlo would like a sitdown.

On a related note, if I'm Marlo, I'm not trusting Avon any further than I can throw him.

Elsewhere, Lester tells McNulty that Marlo's people may be getting sloppy. They take it to Fitz, but the U.S. attorney general is pissed off at Carcetti for rebuking his request for Clay Davis' head and their plea is denied; later, they join Bunk for a drink and lament the indifference shown by the city to Stanfield's deeds. You can go a long way in this country killing black folk," Bunk says. "Young males especially." Adds Lester: "You think that if 300 white people were killed in this city every year, they wouldn't send the 82nd airbourne. Negro please." Racism lives on. Much more progess to be made; Kima arrives at the scene of the home invasion and discovers something even worse than the carnage (three dead bodies) Snoop and Chris have left behind: a little boy hiding in the closet, blood splattered across his face and shirt, totally innocent, the saddest sight you'll ever see. Disgusted, she picks him up and carries him out back, away from the media horde, not knowing how to handle this one; Gus Haynes is the Bunk of the Baltimore Sun: a smart, skilled professional committed to an honest day's work; Bubs continues his recovery; and Clay is flipping out. They're moving in on him.

Stay tuned. This is going to be the most action packed season yet. My word on that.