Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chris Webber: Star-crossed and now retired

Did I cause Chris Webber to retire?

Because if I did, I didn't mean to.

One day after I wrote an article in which I basically said (among other things) that I can't wait to see if Michael Beasley ends up becoming a failure like him (bad as it sounds and as bad as I felt writing it, that's what it was and that's the way I feel), Webb has decided to call it a career. He goes out on a whimper.

The disappointing, ill-fated arc of Chris' career started 15 years ago in New Orleans, at the Superdome, in the Wolverine's second consecutive NCAA title game appearance, when Webb called the timeout his team didn't have against North Carolina. It is one of the most imfamous and costly gaffes in sports history, no question, but it's real weight rests in it's foreshadowing and symbolism: it was sad, it was unfortunate, and it was the first hint that perhaps Webber was not one that was meant for the big moments. Remember, before he called the timeout he clearly traveled; I was like 5 years old when that happened, but if it happened today, I would immediately be like, "Uh-oh. Can this guy be trusted? Should a potential NBA franchise guy look that nervous in crunch-time? Isn't this a serious cause for concern?"

Webber was the leader of the greatest class of players on one team in college basketball history, and the coolest amateur squad ever. Just as much, the young Webber gave the world a glimpse of basketball perfection: 6-10, long-limbed, grown-man body. Impossibly soft hands, some of the best ever. Explosive and agile. Ran the court like a guard, handled and dished like one, too. Shot with range and finished around the hoop with touch. He was the complete package, and then some.

And by most standards, he had an outstanding NBA career. He played 15 seasons, winning Rookie of the Year, making 5 All-Star teams and a first-team All-NBA in 2001. Led the league in rebounding in '99 (the strike year, but still). He averaged 21, 10, and 4 for his career and was the best player on some really good Sacramento teams. He was one of the best passing big men of all-time and one of the top-3 power forwards of his era. And when he peaked from 2000-2003 with Sacramento - 24.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.7 dimes, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks on 48 percent shooting - the four position, at least offensively, peaked with him. 19 footers, hook shots, murderous dunks, in-game contests with Vlade to see who could throw the more deft wrap-arounds, ludicrous handle for a man his size, and ball-control wizardry. I'll never forget it. Then, when a knee injury robbed him of his athleticism at 30, he learned to play on the ground, relying on supreme basketball skill and knowledge to remain a highly effective, 19 and 9-type player, the version of him that I admired the most.

Yet with Webber, we'll always remember him for who he wasn't and what he didn't do than what he was and what he did do. We'll remember that despite the gifts that should've made him the best power forward ever, he never won an MVP and never played in the Finals. We'll remember the bad moments, like his shrinking performance in the waning moments of Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. We'll remember the moments that made him seem like the unluckiest basketball player in the world, like that fateful night in Louisiana or when he blew out his knee in Game 2 of the 2003 Western Semi's against Dallas, just when it seemed that the Kings had the best team and were going to win the whole damn thing. We'll remember that he was injury prone. We'll remember the fact that he played in back-to-back NCAA title games and lost both of them, a precursor to his pro career and his ultimate legacy:

He couldn't win the big one.

Is that fair? I guess. But whatever the case, Webber seemed satisfied today at the press conference announcing his retirement. He says he doesn't feel like going through the drudges of rehabbing his troublesome knee and that he's happy with what he's accomplished, which is good, and which is definitely the most important thing.

But for the rest of us? It's just the final chapter in the saga of an incomplete and mischanced career.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Talented Mr. Beasley

You know, the more I think about it, I don't know if I've ever anticipated an amateur athlete's transition into a professional sports league like I'm awaiting Michael Beasley's into the NBA. Well, other than Reggie Bush. And LeBron - well, obviously LeBron. Oh, oh, and Kevin Dura-- well, you get the point. I was excited about those guys, and I'm very eager to see how this Beasley guy pans out.

You see, Beasley is the most gifted college power forward since Chris Webber, and is often compared to a young Derrick Coleman. Beasley is 6-10, he's left-handed, he has an NBA-ready body, he can score with his back to the basket or facing up, he's a very good three-point shooter, he can handle it, he led the nation in rebounding this season. I can't see him struggling with the game of basketball.

Of course, that's only half the battle. Coleman had all the tools to be a legend, but was lazy as hell and a complete misfit. Webber was arguably even more talented, and was a much better pro - 5-time All-Star, 2001 All-NBA 1st Team, still at 20 and 10 for his career - but he was one of the least clutch superstars of the past 20 years, and he was never quite as good as he could've/should've been. More than anything, he just seemed like an unlucky guy: starting with the timeout in '93 and culminating ten years later - when Chris blew out his knee in the second round of the '03 playoffs, just when it seemed that the Kings had the best team in the league and he was finally going to win the Big One and forever extricate himself from columns like this - Webber is without a doubt the most star-crossed athlete of my lifetime. Doomed from the very start.

(Notice how everything in the previous paragraph about Webber was written in the past tense, even though officially he's still on an NBA roster.)

In a similar vein, this article about Beasley from his senior year in high school makes him sound like the black version of Dennis the Menace: tagging, throwing sticks at teacher's houses, wearing pajamas to the school cafeteria, etc., and eventually getting kicked out of Oak Hill for his antics. Obviously he was young then, and he's still young; he'll mature with age, as we all do. And he's already shown signs - earlier this year, he was quoted as saying:

"I'm still a kid; I'm still irresponsible and I want to still be irresponsible sometimes. When I go to the NBA, that's over. My life is America's life. LeBron James gets a speeding ticket, the cop goes on with his day and LeBron is all over 'SportsCenter.' Britney Spears shaves her head, it's everywhere. You shave your hair, who cares? That's why I'm not sure I'm ready for the NBA.

"I mean, what's being famous anyway? It's a popularity contest. Don't get me wrong. I'm lucky. I love my life, but I just don't understand it. I brush my teeth with the same Crest. I use the same bar of soap. My house gets junky just like yours. I'm just a regular guy who can play basketball. I'm normal."

Those are the words of a well-grounded, level-headed, self-aware young man. While it may be immature for him to say that he still wants to be immature sometimes, it shows maturity that he realizes that he may not yet be mature enough for the NBA, if you follow me. By all accounts, he's been on his best behavior this year at K-State. And nobody ever said he was a bad kid, only that he makes bad decisions. He's never been in any real trouble. He doesn't have any priors, or anything like that (although immaturity can lead a person in that direction). So maybe he'll turn out just fine.

Or, maybe he won't.

And that's kind of the point: I don't know. Nobody does. That's why whenever there's a concern about a prospect, be it his character or his size or his fragility or whatever, it's called a question mark; there is no definitive solution yet, and there is no foolproof way to predict. Which is why Beasley is so intriguing to me. Will he prove to be a troublemaker, a talented but juvenile headache for every team he plays on, someone who generally drives everyone around him crazy? The WaPo piece also said that he stopped lifting weights because the gym wasn't warm enough and he didn't want to catch a cold. Will his skill-set dwarf his desire?

In other words, will he ultimately end up frustrating and pissing us off, like Coleman did?

In the end will he leave us disappointed, confused, and feeling a little sympathetic for him, like Webber did?

Or will he cash in on his vast potential, like those two never completely did?

That is the query. The answer lies in wait, just over the horizon.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

I really, really dislike Bruce Bowen

Bruce Bowen, on his recent 1-game supension for striking Chris Paul with his leg:

"I'm a Christian. Sometimes when we feel like we're wrongfully accused, you have to look at it as people we try to emulate our lives after were wrongfully accused. It's about how you handle that, more than anything else."

Now, I wasn't around for the first half of Bill Laimbeer's career, so I can't really speak to the vitrolic hatred all basktball players and fans outside of Detroit had for him back in the day. But no worries...with Bowen around, I know what it's like to carry an intense dislike for someone I don't even know. I don't understand why Basketball nation doesn't have more contempt for him than they show - this is a guy that sticks his foot under the offensive player when he's up in the air on a jumpshot, which has led to sprained ankles for Steve Francis, Jamal Crawford, and Vince Carter. He kneed Steve Nash in the groin, kicked Amare Stoudemire in the ankle from behind as Amare went up for a dunk, and kicked Wally Sczerbiak in the face like he was Bruce Leroy. He also likes to try and trip people. His most recent offense was the aforementioned cheap shot on Paul (although it did look like CP3 might have delivered a sneaky little low-blow of his own - might have). As always, he threw his hands up and acted like he didn't do anything, which may be the part that pisses me off the most. Now he's bringing his faith into it - and using it for a deceitful purpose, to make his disingenuosness seem more genuine. I mean, what kind of person does that? What the hell is up with this guy? Do his teammates really like him? And if they do, what does that say about them? I'm not even trying to ride the high horse, but this Bruce Bowen character has gotta be stopped, man. He's gotta be stopped.

Will somebody just punch him in the face already?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bobby Knight: Calm Before the Storm

"You think this is funny, don't you Rece? You think this is a goddamned joke."

You know who's really good on TV? Bobby Knight. Obviously he knows a lot about basketball, but he's also articulate and precise in giving his points. But the best part about the "Bob Knight as ESPN basketball analyst" gimmick/experience is that while he hasn't gone off yet, you know that there's a chance that he will, and it could happen at any moment. Actually, it's not just a chance that he's going to lose it at some point, it's an inevitably. He probably genuinely likes his peers (Hubert Davis, Digger, Bilas, and Vitale) and I'm sure he respects them and their opinions because he knows they've all coached/played before, but from what he's shown us over the years, I mean, he's gotta detest shows of this nature, even though he decided to be a part of it, if that makes any sense. And by nature he must hate Reece Davis, in the same way that dogs carry animosity towards cats.

One of these nights during the Tourney, Rece is going to do something like ask him the question two different ways, or try and play Devil's Advocate on one of the answers he gives, and Knight's gonna snap and say:

"Now you listen to me, you little f----n' pip squeak, this ain't a presidential debate and I'm not here to argue this s--t with you. You're not Hilary and I'm not Obama so I'm not gonna sit here and go back and forth with you."

And then Rece is going to try and undermine the situation, but Knight is gonna cut him off mid-sentence.

"Shut that s--t up. It's my turn to talk, you talk too much as it is. You sit here every f----n' night and ask me these stupid goddamned questions with that little smirk on your face. You think I enjoy your bulls--t? (his anger increases, and he begins to forcefully rip off his microphone) I'm gettin' the f--k outta here. I don't have time to deal with this bulls--t."

(walking off set now)

"And you don't have to bleep a single, goddamned f----n' word of this when you show it on your 11:00 piece of horses--t rerun, either "

Houston, We Are Gonna Have A Problem

You won't see a sign like that for a while after tonight.

(Photo edited by Kane Dinsay)

Hey folks, glad to be writing for you again!
I have been as amazed as everyone elese about the sudden emergence of the Houston Rockets. Winning 22 straight games, jumping from 10th to 1st in the Western Conference in the process, including becoming undefeated without Yao Ming. However, although they deserve credit for the streak with Yao, let me just say I think the streak after Yao Ming's absence has been a farce.

Here is why:

1. The Houston Rockets have not placed a significant big man in the games after Yao Ming's absence. They beat Washington (Won by 25), Memphis (Won by 21), Denver (Won by 14), Indiana (Won by 18 with no Jermaine O'Neal), Dallas (won by 15 with no Dirk), New Orleans (Won by 20), New Jersey (Won by 18), Atlanta (Won by 8), Charlotte (Won by 9), Los Angeles Lakers (Won by 12 with no Pau Gasol).

2. In the games with known big men: Denver (Kenyon Martin), New Orleans (Tyson Chandler), Atlanta (Al Horford), and Charlotte (Emeka Okafor), have had great games. They all in total averaged 15.2 points and grabbed 11 rebounds between the four of them.

3. They have been shooting lights out. Take a look at the last game they played, against the Los Angeles Lakers. They made 12-26 3 pointers, 8 from Rafer Alston. Do not expect that to fly for long. Ask the Phoenix Suns, you live by the 3, you usually die of it. (Then you make a idiotic move in trading a quick freak of an athlete, Shawn Marion, for a Big Slow Delusional Cactus)

4. Their defense might be good, but the Boston Celtics play even better D. The Celtics also have the momentum, cathing up from 22 down to beat the Spurs the night before.

5. No one will guard Kevin Garnett. The very young and talented 23 year old Dikembe Mutumbo has barely played over 20 minutes in recent games. However, when Luis Shorty Scola cannot reach KG's face, Mutumbo will probably be put in for defensive purposes, taking an offensive option away from the Rockets.

Good luck to Houston tonight, but I just do no envision them stopping Garnett. KG probably cannot see it happening either.

To Be Continued...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rockets turn 21

About 2 seconds ago, the buzzer sounded on the Rockets' 21st consecutive win, an 89-80 victory over the Bobcats in Houston. And so we have ourselves a wholly unique situation: a team with the second longest winning streak in NBA history, that also has no shot of winning the championship. Hell, they might not even make it out of the first round. Obviously, that's entirely too negative a tone to start off with, but in no way do I mean to be critical. I just wanted to point out how crazy that is.

Anyways, I think the most amazing thing may not be the streak itself, but the streak inside the streak. Houston's last 9 wins have come without Yao - a startling turn of events. I mean, I figured they'd stay afloat - afterall, they went 20-12 without the Big Fella last year - but not lose a step? At all? I think this entire run reinforces two points:

1. Tracy McGrady is a superstar - a dominant scorer and a brilliant passer. He's right up there with LeBron and Duncan and Kobe (yes, Kobe) in terms of the best non-point guard passers in the league - he just knows how to get the ball to his guys in a position to score, and he always keeps them involved in the flow of the game offensively. As Simmons pointed out in the playoffs a couple years ago, when Kobe was playing like Mark Jackson against the Suns, your teammates always play harder and better when they feel like they have a big stake in the outcome of the game. And because McGrady is so unselfish, and his teammates know that he is a team player, when he does decide to take over the game as a scorer, it's all gravy. Mac's found the perfect balance.

2. When you play defense consistent, night-to-night basis, you're always going to be in the game, and you're always going to have a chance to win. Overall, Houston ranks fourth in the league in defensively, allowing about 92 points a night. During the streak, they're holding teams to 84 a game. There's a reason Detroit and San Antonio are always in the mix for a title, and there's a reason Phoenix always falls short (and a reason I worry about my Lakers facing the Spurs in a seven-game series). You gotta play defense. Good defense. That's the strongest foundation you can have.

With that and team play, you can win. It's basketball in it's purest form, the s--t that Smith and Knight demanded, the style of play that gave Larry Brown hard-ons. And the Rockets, in the past 21 games, have mastered it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Wire, episode 60: "-30-" ('...the life of kings.' - H.L. Mencken)

Shockingly, I don't have much to say. Not in a speechless way, but in a I just don't have that many thoughts about it kind of way. I discovered "The Wire" in the summer of 2006, and between then and now, it arguably replaced the game of basketball as my most favoritest thing, which is really saying something. To borrow a quote from Michael Jordan and morph it so that it works for me, "The Wire" was my wife. It demanded loyalty and responsibility, and it gave me back fulfillment and peace." Yet now that it's over, I'm just over it. I don't feel sad. It was a great show, the best I've ever watched and the best ever aired on American television. But I'm only writing about it this final time because I'm ready to close that chapter of my life and move on. "The Wire" helped me cope with the brief mediocrity of the Lakers, and the Omar obituary put this blog on the map. And yet I sit here writing this rough draft, and I have no real emotions. "The Wire" deserved better from me, but as Snoop and Bill Munny have taught us, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."

Anyways, no matter how many different storylines they had going at once (and there were always plenty) - the street was invariably the most interesting one. A few brief notes on that aspect from E60:

- The scene where Michael robs Vinson at the rim shop may have been the hokiest in "Wire" history - Mike's partner had deer-in-the-headlight-is and Vinson was on auto-pilot - but overall, I guess it worked. Mike and Omar share a few obvious traits: independence, intelligence, skill and, as far as killers go, a heightened, obligated moral sense. It also served, along with Dukie's tumble into a life of homelessness and addiction and Sydnor's going outside of the chain of command, to bring home one of the show's final points: the faces and names change, but the positions stay occupied.

"The cyclical manner of the institutional prerogative was going to be asserted," said David Simon in a recent interview.

- "Ain't no back in the day, nigga. Ain't no nostalgia to this shit here. It's just the game, and the street, and what happen here today." - Cheese

- The odds of Marlo staying retired from the street and becoming a legit businessman are highly anorexic. He's just a gangsta, he bleeds red not green, the corner is his country, etc., and that's all there is to him. Sure, he could make millions building condos and owning copy shops and such, but like Jack Nicholson's character in "The Departed," it's not about the money and it never was. No way he changes his stripes. As he told Joe in rebuking the man's final Proposition (that he just disappear from the game, never to be heard from again), "Truth is, you wouldn't be able to change up any more than me."

- If I have one regret about this brilliant show, it's that we never got to see how Chris, who ate the bodies and took life with no parole so that his boss could walk free, ever became so loyal to Marlo. From the closing montage, we see that he is now Jessup-buddies with Wee-Bey, another fiercely loyal, unconscionable hitman who murdered first, asked questions never and then took the fall on behalf of the team. Except we know that Wee-Bey dropped out of school in the sixth grade and started slinging with Avon and Stringer; he grew up with them. What was the connection between Marlo and Chris? This we will never know.

And so it is. The connect is now shared and shared alike by the Co-Op, who will continue to move the dope that kept the MCU wiretapping, had City Hall juking stats, stole kids away from the classroom, and had the city's top newspaper oblivious to it all. It was all connected, and at the end of five seasons, it was all the same. "The seeds of the future are sown throughout Baltimore," the synopsis for the finale told us. Unfortunately, that future looks a lot like the present and past.

So long to "The Wire." Thanks for making me think long and hard about a television show.