Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Wire Talk: What's in a name?

Disclaimer: I do not like Marlo. At all.

Cartoonist extraordinare and "The Wire" watcher Steve Lieber (check this out) makes an excellent observation in the comments section of Bethlehem Shoals' most recent Heavenandhere post (a reaction to ep. 59). Lieber contrasts Marlo's now famous "My name is my name!" jailhouse declaration with a statement made by Vondas in Season 2, and points out how it "draws a line between the street and the money." I'd like to expand on that idea. To wit:

Vondas: He knows my name, but my name is not my name. And them you're only "The Greek."

The Greek: And, of course, I'm not even Greek.

It's indicative of the difference in mentality between the two powers. Marlo, like Avon before him, is all about protecting his image and rep in the streets. Pride and manhood, the downfall of many a men. When Stanfield gets angry that Omar was calling him out by name without his knowledge, and proclaims that he's willing to "step to any mothafucka, Omar, Barksdale, whoever," I don't doubt his sincerity for nary a second. Why do you think Chris didn't want him to know? Because he knew that Marlo would've responded in the same impulsive, ultra-masculine manner that he displays in said scene.

Remember in Season 3, after Slim and Cutty's arranged ambush on a Stanfield corner blew up into a complete disaster, and Avon, just recently having been released from prison and with gun in hand, was ready to go down to the streets after Marlo his damn self? Same thing.

The Greek, on the other hand, cares so little about his "name ringing out" that he is known only by a moniker that belies his true nationality.

And not really Vondas.

Is it an age/maturity thing? Maybe. Is it a black/white thing? I don't think so. It's kind of a trite thing to say at this point, but Stringer had the same kind of low-key, profit over public esteem business mind. Did that make him smarter than Avon? Yes, actually. Unfortunately for him, he was too smart for his own good. But that's a whole 'nother story.

Although in the defense of guys like Avon and Marlo, they probably can't help but be the way they are. I'm no psychologist (I got a "D' in Psych 101 and don't plan on re-taking it), but I would conjecture that most thugs are born as such, and are just acting out their nature. Marlo isn't just obsessed with protecting his name because his kingdom is tantamount to it; under no circumstance or in any position, drug kingpin or civilian or whatever, would he shy away from a confrontation with Omar, or anybody else, who invited him to man up. I can picture him as a pubescent little hopper, running around the streets of Baltimore trying to catch pigeons, and standing toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye with anyone - ANYONE - who disrespected him. The ice-cold stare Mike gave him in their initial meeting? Mike telling Namond "I ain't tryna stand around, let a bunch of chump ass niggas think I'm shook. I ain't." That's Marlo ten years ago, that's Marlo today, that's Marlo always.

Now, does that mean that Mike is the next Marlo? I'm not even gonna touch that subject. You wanna scratch that itch, you need to follow that H&H link. They got you.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Wire, episode 59: "Late Editions"

Like Randall Cunningham in 1998, the fifth season of HBO's "The Wire" is having a resurgence at it nears the end. It started off strong, hit a lull in the middle, but now it's finishing in splendid fashion with the instant classics that were the last two episodes. Omar's death at the hands of Kenard in ep. 58 shook up the world (or at least the message boards), and 59 manged to top it in terms of sheer quality and number of memorable moments.

Marlo's "My name is my name" speech channeled Michael Corleone in "The Godfather," the quiet Don unleashing a strong burst of emotion. It was a showstopper; the camera pans in on Marlo, and any excess sound in the jail that could take away from the moment ceases. All we see or hear is him and his unprecedented anger. Jamie Hector has played the role with frightening, calculating control and hushed wickedness; this marked the first time that we had ever heard Marlo raise his voice. Those 30 seconds belong on the resume, Mr. Hector. At 1A.

Snoop's murder at the hands of Michael also resonated, deep on a number of different levels. Betrayal, truth, tenderness - it was all there. And Snoop's soldier-style exit might end up immortalizing her highly detestable character; all gangster's want to go out like that. When you live the life that she lived, and you do the deeds that she did, death is not only expected, but easily accepted. She knew it was her time to go and she was at peace with it. The game is the game.

Finally, we had Mike, now marked for death, dropping Bug off at an aunt's house and leaving Dukie to a life on the streets. I consider "The Wire" to be an American tragedy, and these were the two most tragic scenes to date. Bug has now lost both his nanny and the only true parent he's ever known; the tears that ran down his cheeks as he said his final goodbye's was enough to make a grown man cry. Even stoic, hardened Mike almost lost it. Dukie has now lost his best friend (and really, we all need friends like Michael), and as Bubs nears a full recovery, he is just beginning to enter the abyss of homelessness and likely addiction. When he tries to reminisce with Mike about the time the crew launched a urine balloon attack on the Terrace Boys in the Season 4 premiere, he's left hanging; Mike tells him he doesn't remember. At 14, Michael's already forgotten what it was like to be a kid. Some sad shit.

This was an iconic episode with multiple iconic scenes, on par with the penultimate episode of "The Sopranos." It was dark and exceedingly depressing, the very epitome of what "The Wire" is all about. Absolutely brilliant.

And now we're down to the last one. How will it end? What will be the fate of McNulty, Marlo, Templeton, etc? Us On Demanders will have to wait two weeks to find out. The finale will NOT be airing a week early. You know it's true what they say, life really isn't fair.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

In Loving Memory of Omar Little

Omar Devone Little, a.k.a. "The Terror" (born 1973 or '74), was a Baltimore stick-up artist of legendary proportions. With his trademark facial scar, trenchcoat (black or brown), shotgun (pump action or double barrel), and out-and-out badassness, Omar was the most fearsome and intimidating thug in all of the land, a straight-up menace to the city's drug dealers. With his quick wit and undeniable charm (which lended to his penchant of dropping perfectly-timed one-liners), strict adherance to his code ("I ain't never put my gun on nobody who wasn't in the game"), accountability, and sincere concern for his community, he was also the most likable and respectable. As the show's lone independant, Omar was able to play by his own rules - openly gay, disdain for swear words - in the Alpha Male Capitol: The Steets. You either loved him or hated him but you had to respect him.

We first get to see Omar is action in Season 1, episode 3 ("The Buys"), when he does his initial jacking of the Barksdale stashouse. It was a robbery that would spark a three-season long feud, a conflict that ultimately led to the demise of one Stringer J. Bell. After scoping the scenery with teammates Brandon (his lover) and Bailey, Omar and Co. bust in one night armed and ready to rip and run. With shotty in hand and scowl on face, Omar demands that young Sterling give up the location of the dope ("Ayo, where it at?"). When the boy refuses to budge, Omar puts a buckshot in his leg. This remains perhaps my favorite Omar scene; his swagger is unbelievable and we realize early on just how fierce and serious this guy is. He does not like to repeat himself and he doesn't have time to play. And he can be extremely violent. Stinkum found out. So did String and his muscle. Savino felt his wrath just last week. The man had ice-water in his veins for his adversaries and had no problem delving in murder if he deemed it necessary.

But other than that, he was a great guy. He was gentle with his boyfriends, he cared for his friends, he respected the taxpaying citizen, he took his grandmother to church on Sunday's. He was so charismatic that even some cops (like Kima and McNulty) were won over by him.

Alas, he had a blind spot for the chil'n, and he would fall at the hands of one, shot through the back of the head by that little bastard Kenard, whom he did not consider a threat. He never got to Marlo. His murder was swift and unexpected, probably not unlike the way many guys in his line of work meet their ends. But while it may have been realistic, it didn't really make sense in the context of the character and what he was supposed to symbolize. In Rafael Alvarez's "The Wire: Truth Be Told," David Simon wrote that in all of his Baltimore stories, "there exists a deep and abiding faith in the capacity of individuals. They are, in small and credible ways, a humanist celebration in which hope, though unspoken, is clearly implied." Omar was this show's personification of that optimism, the sole individual operating outside of the rigged institutions the show focuses on. And as such, he beat the odds time and again over five seasons. I thought Omar was supposed to prosper. Why get him got now? Doesn't make sense to me.

But I digress. This isn't about questioning Simon's thinking, it's about remembering Omar, and the courtroom obliteration of Levy, and the heartfelt bench scene with Bunk, and the Mouzone alley scene, and the Spiderman scene, and the "You come at the king, you best not miss" scene. It's about "The Farmer in Dell." It's about paying homage to Michael K. Williams, the actor who breathed life into Omar and then immortalized him with his brilliant perfomance.

May his myth survive his death in Simon's Baltimore after the cameras stop rolling. And may he live on forever with us, the fans, on YouTube and Box Set DVD.


Monday, February 18, 2008

The Top 11 Big Men Dunkers in NBA History

In wake of the show Dwight Howard put on Saturday night in N'awlins, the question can at least be asked: Is he the best big-man dunker of all-time. The short answer is: No. Barkley was saying during the telecast that there's never been anyone as tall as Howard that could jump that high. He is right. The "Superman" dunk he pulled off was simply the coolest ever (even though he didn't really dunk it). And overall, I think his performance in this year's event was as impressive and memorable as any we've seen, including Vince in 2000 in the Bay. But overall? I think he still needs to put in more work before he can stake claim to the title of the baddest.

So if it's not Howard (yet), then who is it? Here goes my list of the top 11 (I wanted to include everybody). I actually think No. 1 is a pretty easy choice. It was the guys directly after that (2-5) that I had the most trouble ranking. I'll let the videos tell the stories. Let the arguing (and the "oohs" and "aahs") begin.

11. Larry Johnson

10. Karl Malone

9. Kevin Garnett

8. Chris Webber

7. Shaquille O'Neal

6. Kenyon Martin

5. Daryl Dawkins

4. Dwight Howard

3. Charles Barkley

2. Amare Stoudemire

1. Shawn Kemp

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mike Bibby to the Hawks

Mike Bibby will be rejuvenated in Atlanta.

David Aldridge is on TNT right now, explaining the parameters:

Sacramento has agreed to trade G Mike Bibby to the Hawks in exchange for second-year F/C Shelden Williams and the expiring contracts of C Lorenzen Wright, G Anthony Johnson, and G Tyronn Lue.

Wow. Atlanta finally has a point guard to go along with the excellent young nucleus of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Al Horford and Josh Childress. Bibby is a veteran with playoff experience and he's not afraid to take a big shot. In time, he could become to this team what Sam Cassell was to the 2006 Clippers. Maybe you don't have to worry about Atlanta crashing the East party this year, but next's on.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shaq traded to Suns for Marion, Banks

Wow. That happened quickly.

Tuesday afternoon the WWL reported that the Miami Heat were in talks with the Phoenix Suns about a trade that would send (an allegedly shocked) Shaquille O'Neal to the desert. Five minutes ago I got a text from Kane confirming that the deal had been finalized. Indeed, the little "Breaking News" box at the bottom right corner of the ESPNEWS channel reads "Suns agree to trade for Shaquille O'Neal." Phoenix will be sending along Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks in return. The Daddy will fly to Phoenix tomorrow for a physical to complete the deal. First Van Gundy, now Shaq. Riles does not play.

So, what does it all mean? Well, on Phoenix's end, this is obviously a direct/panicked response to the Lakers' recent acquisition of Pau Gasol (who threw up a 24-12 in his LA debut in Joisey tonight). It's understandable - everyone in the West needs to seriously think about beefing up their frontline in the wake of that transaction. But let's face it, the Shaq of two years ago is probably gone, let alone any semblance of the man that once lived up to his self-proclaimed title of M.D.E. Shaq is a dinasour now. Phoenix has slowed their run-and-gun style down some, becoming a more orthodox team since last season, but even with that Shaq probably won't be able to keep up with their pace. More than likely, they're going to ask Shaq to become an almost solely defensive player. He's capable, but will he be willing to do that? In his tell-all classicThe Last Season, Phil Jackson quoted Shaq, in response to a question about whether he considered it more important that he play offense or defend and rebound, as saying, "I've always been an offensive player. I've never been a defensive player." The man has four championships, the last coming without Kobe, so he has zero left to prove. There's no reason or motivation for him to change his tune now.

And even if he did, do you really see him keeping up with a young, healthy, Andrew Bynum come playoff time, in a seven-game series? I thinks not. The fact of the matter is, Fisher+Kobe+Odom+Pau+healthy Bynum+Farmar+Sasha+Ariza+Walton+Radmanovic+Turiaf > Nash+Bell+Hill+Amare+old Shaq+Barbosa+Diaw+Skinner. The Lakers are loaded.

Then again, there's a small part of me that was initially terrified of the thought of Shaq coming back to the Western Conference. It's the same feeling I got when Mike returned for the last time, and it made me fear a Lakers-Wizards Finals matchup, as unlikely as it was that it would actually occur (and obviously, the Wiz didn't even make the playoffs in MJ's two years with them as a player). I wanted no part of Michael Jordan in that scenario. Why? Because no matter how old and washed up he was, he was still Michael Jordan. As long as he could play even a little bit, he was extemely dangerous to me. And in the back of my head, all the way down at the itty bitty bottom, I want no part of Shaquille O'Neal in late spring - for the same reason as with MJ, coupled with the no-need-to-be-recounted ending that was his Lake Show career. I'll probably have a couple nightmares in the coming months about Shaq haunting the Lakers at the Staples Center this May.

As for Miami, they still suck but they're in better shape now. They get out from under Shaq's ridiculous contract and add a very nice piece in Marion, although he fit in better in Phoenix's system than he will in Miami, or anywhere else for that matter. The Suns never appreciated how perfect Shawn Marion was to them, and vice versa. Shawn thought he wanted to be traded, but he probably didn't know it was gonna be to the worst team in the league. He's about to get a Ph.D. in Being Careful What You Wish For.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Mercury Morris Gets to Keep Yapping

When they completed the first 16-0 regular season ever by dispatching of these same New York Giants in the Meadowlands six weeks ago, forget his neighborhood, the New England Patriots had officially stepped foot on Mercury Morris' block. When they defeated the San Diego Chargers in Foxborough in the AFC Championship Game, they strolled up his walkway. When Tom Brady hit Randy Moss for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 remaining in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII in Arizona Sunday night, they were standing on his porch (and every other cliche that has been used ad nausea in the leadup to the game.) 

Unfortunately, they were shot down by a sniper before they could enter through the front door. 

It was Giants 17, Patriots 14, and so I guess it's true that you can't win them all. It was analysed before the game that the key to any chance the Giants had of pulling off the upset centered on the ability of their front four to get past New England's stellar offensive line and to Brady, who's jersey is usually as clean at the end of the game as it is before it. They did, 5 sacks and many more hits on the game's best player. Just as important was Eli Manning, who contrary to the petrified look on his face as he ran onto the field for the drive of his life, who showed major poise and flair in answering Brady's testical-size by leading his team downfield for the game-winning drive and making one of the most memorable plays in football history. 

In a sequence that will certainly become a part of Super Bowl lore forever and ever and ever, Big Game MVP Eli (19 of 34, 255 yards, 2 touchdown passes and 1 pick) somehow managed to escape the grasps of three Patriots defenders and loft the ball to the middle of the field to wideout David Tyree, who jumped to the highest point and gripped it away from safety Rodney Harrison, clutching it against the side of his helmet with his right hand on the way down to the field. Unbelievable on both ends of the play. It was at this point that you began to believe that maybe the Giants were a team of destiny - and as it turns out they were. Shortly thereafter, Eli floated one to the corner of the endzone to an open Plaxico for the deciding touchdown. Good for the Giants. God bless them. 

As for the Patriots, winning the first 18 games of the season and then losing the Super Bowl, missing out on immortality by a mere 35 seconds, ranks right up there with the collapses of the '86 Sawx, '04 Yankees, and anybody else in terms of all-time most devastating defeats. As Tom Jackson pointed out on ESPN after the game, the fallout that will come from the Patriots organization in the wake of such a loss is unimaginable. How do you respond to something like this? Five months of the highest level of football ever played, rendered meaningless in a little more than two minutes? I feel for the players, I feel for the coaches, I feel for management, I feel for Robert Kraft. And if I'm a Patriots fan - which I am, although I'm of the bandwagon variety, so it's not gonna lay on me like it would a diehard, the only kind that exists in Boston - it's gonna be hard for me to really get myself back into football next season. Actually, the Pats could win the next three Super Bowl's and it still wouldn't fully ease the pain of losing the one that was played Sunday. This was a huge missed opportunity. 

But the worst part, for everybody involved? The '72 Dolphins. They live on. It seems we may never get rid of them.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Chris Carter, Screwed

It's not right, man. It's just not right.

Former NFL great Chris Carter, the eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro receiver of the Eagles, Vikings, and Dolphins who ranks second all-time in career receptions and receiving touchdowns and fifth in total touchdowns, was denied in his initial shot at entry into the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame, it was announced today.

And I don't know anything anyome.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Gasol to Lakers for Brown

I don't know what's more shocking: The Spoiler To End All Spoilers for the fifth season of The Wire that I've watched multiple times in the past 45 minutes, or the fact that the Lakers have just acquired an All-Star caliber big man from Memphis for a guy that was lustily booed by his home crowd two weeks ago. I'm gonna go with the latter, since the former had already been hinted at. It was almost a state of denial on my part that I wasn't fully expecting it. But I digress.

In a colossal move that seemingly came from out of nowhere, the Memphis Grizzlies have traded F/C Pau Gasol and a 2010 second-round pick to the Lakers for C Kwame Brown, rookie G Javaris Crittenton, G Aaron McKie and the rights to Gasol's younger brother, C Marc, and first-round picks in 2008 and 2010. McKie was not on an NBA roster, but his rights were still owned by Los Angeles, the team he had most recently played for. He was signed earlier today today to make the deal's salary cap considerations feasible. The Grizz get cap relief - the remainder of Kwame's contract, $9.1 million this season, comes off the books after the season. The Lakers get the inside track on the 2008 title, as far as I see it - Gasol is a gifted post scorer that will fill in quite nicely in Andrew Bynum's absence. Suddenly, the next six weeks don't look so bleak for Lakers fans. And come playoff time, the Lakers will have a supremely talented, mammoth frontline - 6-10 Lamar Odom, 7-0 Pau Gasol, 7-0 Andrew Bynum - that no one is going to be able to match up with. No one. This past summer, Kobe was bitching about not having enough support. Nine month's later, he's on potentialy the most formidable team in basketball. Go figure.

That sound you hear? It's the rest of the NBA, trembling in their boots.