Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Clippers 100, Bobcats 93

Has the Bobcats training staff explored the possibility of replacing Sean May’s knee with some sort of bionic device yet? I’m just saying, 'cause we really could have used him last night. With no Emeka Okafor (strained calf), we had a gaping hole under the basket, and the only thing Jake Voskuhl and Primoz Brezec are good for replacing is Emeka’s foul production. If nothing else, last night was a painful little reminder of how unbearable those 20+ games were last year without EO.

Strangely, you would have thought that Clippers big man Elton Brand would have capitalized on Okafor’s absence and put up career numbers, considering Matt Carroll was often his biggest challenger for rebounds. But Brand was only good for a pedestrian 14 points and 12 boards. The real problem was Corey Maggette, who not only got the Clippers the win, he also single-handedly made this game unwatchable by getting to the free throw line 20 times—his final line was 25 points on just 3 field goals. I’d been a bit drowsy coming into this game due to the late start and the fact that I was under the weather, but I would have had difficulty staying up for this game while doing crank. This game was like downing a bottle of Ny-Quil: awful and sleep-inducing.

I do give the Bobcats credit for crawling out of a 15-point 1st half hole and making a game of it, but boy, was this one putrid. Gerald Wallace just couldn’t finish his drives off at the end of the game (he still had 20 points but went just 7-of-17 from the field and 3-6 from the line) and Derek Anderson’s craftiness was shown up by the crafty O.G., Sam Cassell. Adam Morrison continues to shoot well (15 points), but he’s got to do something about those turnovers, many of which come off traveling violations. I find myself holding my breath every time he gets the ball off the curl, because he tends to resemble Fred Flinstone starting the car—the refs probably could call a bunch more on him if they wanted to.

Raymond Felton also vanished for long portions of this game. That makes two games in a row that Felton’s been off, and I think I know why. In the latest issue of Dime magazine (not that I subscribe to it—please! I’m 30 years old; the mailman probably just mistook it for my regular copy of Popular Science), writer Sean Couch proposes giving Raymond the nickname of “Cookout.” “It’s because your game is like a chef handing out food at the grill,” Couch explains to Raymond, to which Raymond enthusiastically responds with, “Alright…” Thanks a lot, Sean, you just traumatized the kid. Now because of you, Felton's probably walking around terrified that he's going to be saddled with the worst nickname since "Booger" McFarland. "Cookout"? You sure you don't want to call him "Spatula?" How about "Apron?" If Felton’s game really is like a chef handing out food at the grill, why not call him “Chef” then, instead of the activity? That is, unless you know of some sort of robotic grill that’s capable of dishing out its own burgers. And if you do, we need to put the inventors in touch with Sean May.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Raptors 93, Bobcats 76

Toronto was in town Friday night, and I don’t know about you, but I’d been dying to see how the new-look Raptors would respond after completing that blockbuster Juan Dixon-for-Fred Jones trade. Assuming Dixon can fill the gaping hole left behind by Jones (and let’s face it, you’re never going to completely replace a guy like Jones), teams still often struggle to find their chemistry after undergoing such a massive overhaul, even if they are acquiring a marquee talent like JD.

For the Cats, I was glad to see Coach Bickerstaff back on the scene after having to leave last night due to “light-headedness” (it was diarrhea, Coach, wasn’t it? It’s okay, you can tell us). On the other hand, I’m quickly becoming a big John-Blair Bickerstaff fan. I tend to not like things named “Blair” (e.g., witches, disgraced journalists, sycophantic British Prime Ministers, stuck-up chicks from The Facts of Life), but JB’s performance last night was solid, and that unforgettable (that is, if you happened to be one of the 5 or 6 people still watching after halftime) game against the Nets when he called for the hack-a-Jason Collins strategy is destined to go down in Bobcats lore.

Unfortunately, Okafor and Wallace missed nearly the entire second half of this game—one with a strained calf and the other with a strained groin—leaving me with strained sanity, because we were only trailing by 3 midway through against arguably the best team in the East (albeit, almost by default at this fault). Try as they did, Ryan Hollins and Eric Williams couldn’t quite replace the production, and TJ Ford was a wheeling-dealing terror all night long. Also, as is customary whenever they lose, the Bobcats shot wretchedly.

Nothing to be ashamed about with this effort, though, and I actually thought Charlotte played pretty decently on defense. Sometimes, like when Okafor and Wallace combine for 30 rebounds, you think they played well until you realize that a) most of the rebounds were offensive, or b) they were playing the 76ers. But this time they legitimately played well and clearly made adjustments from last time. For instance, they pushed out on Andrea Bargnani when he spotted up for his three’s, whereas last time he hit about a million of them uncontested from the exact same place (I remember thinking if you replayed that game in fast-forward, Bargnani would have looked like one of those nature programs where they film one tree standing still over a span of months in hyper-elapsed time). All-Star Chris Bosh was nearly invisible as well—at least until Wallace and Okafor were gone; then he became more visible than an oncoming Mack truck. They also contained Jose Calderon—again, at least while it still mattered—who frequently drives to the hoop as if he were shot out of a cannon, despite the fact that it was Jake Voskuhl who was often inexplicably covering him.

Speaking of Big Jake, how funny/excruciating is it watching him catch-and-shoot? You know how you always hear about guys trying to work on their release times and get their shots off faster and faster? Jake’s the opposite of that. Regardless of where he catches the pass, he always seems to have to dig it out and gather it up from his feet like a spilled bag of Cheese Doodles before eventually heaving it up there.

Anyway, enjoy the Oscars on Sunday, those of you who are looking forward to it (and who is not?). My only request is that Little Miss Sunshine lose in all 20 million or however many categories it received nominations. I was skeptical of this thing when it came out, but I finally rented it after seemingly everyone around me wouldn’t shut up about it. And guess what? It was annoying, boring, and after not even ten minutes I just wanted it to end (basically, it was like watching a soccer game, and all those people who kept telling me I had to see it were like soccer fans). Not only did I think it was stupid, it wasn’t even original. Dysfunctional family takes ill-fated car trip? Hmmmm, anyone ever hear of National Lampoon’s Vacation (or its multiple sequels) before? You know, basically the same thing except funny? Jesus, we have short memories—and not just normal people, either; I read a bunch of reviews and not a single critic (whose job it supposedly is to point out parallels with other films) had the guts to call it a Lampoon’s knock-off. Sad, America. Just sad.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Bobcats 102, 76ers 87

First of all, rest in peace Dennis Johnson. For anyone too young to remember, Johnson was a fabulous two-way scoring/defending point guard. I’d take an in-his-prime DJ on the Bobcats over any number of today’s superstar guards, including Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd…even Jeff McInnis. Also, get well, Dwyane Wade. You’re the superstar I love to hate, but you’re also magnificent—the question is, now that Pat Riley’s already missed his customary half-season, what’s coaching’s version of Roger Clemens going to do now?

Next order of business: kudos to management for not making any stupid trading deadline deals. I have to admit I was a little worried when Michael Jordan put out that letter that promised marquee free agent acquisitions. Maybe it’s just that new The Number 23 movie that’s got me paranoid over what MJ’s going to be doing next, but with the Nets dangling Vince Carter’s name out there, plus after hearing little whispers about how VC might be yearning for a homecoming to North Carolina, I had nightmarish visions of us coughing up a bunch of draft picks and promising youngsters in return for about 2-months of half-assed Vince-anity before he inevitably splits town for the next sucker.

I really have no idea why everyone gets so hot-and-bothered about trades. Listen to Chad Ford’s interview with Kidd’s agent Jeff Schwartz that happened just before yesterday's deadline: it sounds like it was recorded at Dennis Johnson’s funeral, the two of them are so mournful that nothing went down with the Lakers. PS—Also listen to the interview to hear how many times two guys can use the phrase “At the end of the day” in ten minutes; the two of them say it more times than probably anyone other than vampires. I kid you not: at one point, Schwartz actually says, “At the end of the day, I think Jason Kidd will be wearing a Nets jersey tomorrow.” Ugh.

As for the game, the score might make it look as if the Bobcats played great defense, but the Sixers missed a ton of lay-ups. The worst of all was an uncontested yet thunderous miss from Andre Iguoldala; I haven’t seen a slam dunk botched that badly since George Tenet. For Charlotte, Emeka Okafor might not have started because of flu-like symptoms, but his performance was still awesome-like (15 points, 16 rebounds), and he inoculated (ha!) Samuel Dalembert. Plus Adam Morrison and Matt Carroll effective performances, copping 19 points off the bench apiece. Question: at one point commentators Matt and Henry were having some discussion about giving credit to Morrison for not hesitating to shoot, and Henry said that it’s all because Adam is “unconscious.” So is that how this whole “unconscious” thing started, because people are mistakenly using it to mean “without conscience?”

I don’t know, but speaking of unconsciousness, it’s time to go to bed. At the end of the day, that’s what I do.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bobcats 100, Timberwolves 95

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m pretty giddy right now. This must be how my dog Lincoln feels whenever he’s outside and stumbles on a fresh pile of excrement. I don’t think I could be happier if grocery stores announced they were installing trap doors that were designed to strike anytime a customer in the Express 10-Items-or-Less line tries to write a check.

And for some extra sauce to go with my bucket of hot and crispy joy, last night's victory over the T-Wolves couldn’t have come against a better team. It’s no secret I despise Minnesota. I can’t stand Ricky Davis, I refuse to accept the possibility that Mark Blount might actually be a good player, I’m thrilled that moody Rashad McCants has underachieved even more than I’d hoped, I haven’t enjoyed anything by Marko Jaric since he played Bud on Married…With Children, I hate the fact that Minnesotans inexplicably love Mark Madsen even though he’s unskilled and quite obviously out of shape (and what’s the deal with this, by the way, because the same thing happens with Brian Scalabrine in Boston, and yet look at the reaction to Jerome James in New York? What’s different here? Hmmmm).

(Ironically, Kevin Garnett is actually one of my favorite players. This seems strange to me until I consider that one of my favorite baseball players of all time is Ted Williams, and likewise with Bobby Orr in hockey, and yet both played for my all-time nemesis of a city, Boston. So actually, with every Minnesota loss—even last night’s—and with every sight of KG at the end, walking off the court and looking slightly homicidal, I also feel a brief pang of sympathy. Minnesota, please trade him already, just so I don’t have to go through this duplicity every time!)

Anyway, the story of last night’s game was Adam Morrison—more specifically, Morrison in the second half, because in the first half it was Blount and KG shooting the lights out and putting the Bobcats down as many as 17. Mike James, whose skills are really only comparable to those of a fine hooker, also was all over the court. I don’t know what happened in the locker room at halftime, but apparently Blount gave Morrison some sort of skills-transplant, because Adam scored all of his 26 points in the second half and Blount went ice cold (James, meanwhile, was only about as good as a decent hooker the rest of the way). AM went 10-for-14 from the field, and hit 4-6 3-pointers. They were seriously just falling in from every which way; one clanged hard off the front of the rim yet managed to bounce backwards into the hoop, it was almost cartoon-ish.

I liked Charlotte Observer columnist Rick Bonnell’s description of the difference between Morrison pre- and post-All-Star Break. “Before the All-Star break,” Bonnell writes, “Morrison was a self-conscious, frustrated kid…he shot poorly and felt exhausted.” Bonnell goes onto say that over the break Morrison then got into the gym and worked on his shooting—nice, but Bonnell left out the part where Morrison gets bitten by a radioactive spider.

All in all, it was a great victory. In fact, our third win in a row has brought me the greatest dose of sports-related happiness (which often seems to be the only type of happiness I’m capable of feeling) since the Panthers beat the Ravens on the road last fall. So I guess before I go out and frolic naked in the field, genitals merrily swinging to and fro, I should just remember how the rest of that season worked out.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bobcats 104, Hornets 100

The big news prior to last night’s game was that Michael Jordan sent a “State of the Bobcats”-type of letter to the season ticket holders—cool! I wonder if he gave it some sort of official “Jumpman” seal in the letterhead. Not sure if he created a Bobcats Fan Bill of Rights, but MJ basically accepted responsibility for everything except leaving customers on an airport tarmac for ten hours. Apparently His Airness is also “disappointed” with our 19 wins (although with this lineup, one wonders how many he expected at this point—22, 23?), and then he went on to say that “if you know anything about me”—which is kind of a funny line considering he’s arguably one of the 5 most famous people on the planet—“you know how much I hate to lose.” Jordan also made several guarantees that the team would begin acquiring big time free agents, which was important, because lately I’ve noticed a lot of managers are reluctant to admit that they’re always looking for ways to improve the team.

No doubt spurred on by MJ’s Address, the Bobcats looked terrific last night against New Orleans. When we last played the Hornets in November our problem was Peja Stojakovic. Not this time, as Peja not only hasn’t carried the team on his back as hoped, he also injured his back and has been gone practically the whole season. Also out for the Hornets was some guy named Marcus Vinicius, which didn’t really impact anything either way, but I wanted to mention it because having spent the previous hour watching the latest episode of Rome, it threw me for a loop.

Anyway, this time the problem was Chris Paul, who just before halftime snapped and drove to the hoop himself, like, five straight times, brought the Hornets to within ten, and then started the 3rd quarter sprinting again and briefly putting New Orleans ahead. He capped it all off by nearly getting most of the Bobcats ejected after initiating one of those shoving/pushing deals that resulted in a bunch of technicals. It was a fairly benign fracas as these things go, although I’m sure it won’t stop the New York Times, Newsweek, and possibly even The Economist from starting a new cycle of “Another Black Eye for the NBA” series of articles.

Though CP3 won that battle, it was arch-nemesis Raymond Felton and company who won the war. Rejuvenated by the weekend’s Sophomore-Rookie Challenge, in which he and Adam Morrison scored 17 and 16 points, respectively (although considering the level of defense in that game, those numbers may actually have been below average), Felton had a commanding 21 points and 11 assists while pulling triple duty (Jeff McInnis was out, and Brevin Knight…well, from now on I’ll just report when he’s in). Felton had help from the usual suspects: Emeka Okafor (16 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks), and Gerald Wallace (21 points, 7 rebounds), who I’d describe as “ninja-like,” except I don’t imagine ninjas often called for five personal fouls and a technical for pushing and shoving. Wallace also had an awesome slam on Jannero Pargo —not sure if it qualifies as “posterizing,” since Pargo’s only 6-1, but it was impressive

And hey, who’s that old guy running around out there, playfully goofing around with (a younger looking) Byron Scott in between drawing charging penalties—were we the ones who ended up taking a chance Scottie Pippen? Oh no, wait, it’s Derek Anderson! That’s right, he’s with us, isn’t he? Man, he’s been out for so long, I couldn’t remember if he was injured or if we’d only hired him as a part-time consultant. Derek’s Crafty Efficiency Rating has got to be among the best in the league, and he drew a huge foul at the end of the game and then sank two free throws to ice it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Book Review: Forty Million Dollar Slaves

I deliberately abstained from immediately reading William C. Rhoden’s Forty Million Dollar Slaves when it came out this past summer. I wanted to develop my own opinion of the incendiary 270-page polemic independently of the surrounding maelstrom it generated in the sports journalism world. Now that the furor has long died down, and I can only dimly remember the details of its strongest criticisms, I recently picked it up and consumed it with as open and detached a mind as possible.

My first comment is that everyone who cares about sports—particularly the Big 3 (MLB, NBA, NFL)—should read this book for a number of reasons. First, the veracity and cogency of Rhoden’s opinions aside, the subject matter is worth investigating. Race and racism remain pertinent issues in sports and society, and as depressing as it may sound, neither phenomenon will diminish in the near future—witness NBA guard Steve Francis’s remarks that racism informed the media’s coverage of the Knicks-Nuggets brawl in December. Second, Rhoden, who writes for the New York Times, is admirably passionate and wrote this book with a sincere desire for systemic change in both the overall sports industry and the mindset of contemporary African-American athletes and executives; thus, we should consider his ideas. Third, I am hesitant to be presumptive, but I believe Rhoden would encourage discourse and debate on his book from all races. And finally, one cannot read the book without doing some critical self-examination along the way, and I would endorse any product in which rigorous internal reflection is a side effect.

According to Rhoden, though African-Americans have gained numerous benefits from professional athletics, their persistent lack of real power in the modern sports industry remains a glaring travesty. By “power,” Rhoden is referring to “owning teams, owning networks, owning the means of communication, and owning our collective image” (interestingly absent from his evaluation is any lengthy attention to sports agents, a field in which many blacks have made considerable strides). In Rhoden’s mind, the reason for this dilemma is a long history of systematic subjugation of black athletes by white owners, culminating in today’s fragmented group of wealthy but indifferent African-American athletes.

After establishing his thesis, Rhoden chronicles some key historical developments in the evolution of the African-American’s place within today’s “sports-industrial complex.” His recurrent theme is that of slaves competing for the amusement and benefit of their white owners. In pre-Civil War America, this dynamic was literal: slaves of neighboring plantations frequently competed in races, boxing matches, and the like for their masters, who would often bet on the outcomes. Any athletes who were consistently successful frequently earned respect from their fellow slaves and pittance from their overseers.

After emancipation, the slave-owner relationship became metaphorical, though in Rhoden’s mind hardly more defensible. Antebellum white society was fearful of blacks achieving success in athletics for two reasons. First, there was a concern that black dominance in head-to-head athletic competition with whites would have a detrimentally empowering impact on the rest of the African-American population. Second, white America recognized the growing financial vitality of professional sports leagues and needed to bar blacks from realizing any of the potentially lucrative payoffs. As a result, whites kept blacks in marginalized roles (if they were allowed any roles at all) in sports by using a variety of methods.

One of those methods was outright exclusion, which Rhoden terms the “Jockey Syndrome.” Under the Jockey Syndrome, African-American athletes such as boxers Tom Molineaux and Jack Johnson, horseman Isaac Murphy, and cyclist Major Taylor were never given fair opportunities for achievement in their respective sports, at least on U.S. soil. In each sport, white organizers, controllers, and competitors restricted black participation through formal prohibition and “gentlemen’s agreements” on biased rules and regulations.

As outright segregation and banishment became less viable tactics, whites began allowing African-American integration, but only under unfavorable conditions. Rhoden cites Major League Baseball’s raiding of the Negro Leagues in the 1940s to illustrate how white owners used the noble concept of integration to shield their ruthlessness. By signing away all of the top African-American talent and refusing to regard any of the Negro League franchises as financially and culturally significant commodities worth preserving, white team owners effectively crushed what might have been a prosperous black institution. Rhoden also points out that athletes such as Jackie Robinson, though lauded for being color-barrier breaking pioneers, did a disservice to their fellow African-Americans by failing to negotiate better terms for their ex-Negro League employers.

Finally, Rhoden describes today’s sports landscape, one of “inclusion without power” for blacks. To Rhoden, the situation for blacks and the overall African-American society is more grim than uplifting. In the modern system, black athletes with athletic potential are plucked from their communities at an early age, attend “big-time” colleges largely isolated from their culture, and are trained to compete against each other. If they are good enough, these athletes eventually enrich their white owners with their grace and aesthetic style of play. The impetus for these black athletes, of course, is the allure of huge salaries. Although some have sacrificed greatly to bring about greater empowerment, such as Curt Flood with his quest to expunge MLB’s Reserve Clause, most have been content to “not rock the boat” and enjoy instead their tremendous personal wealth. For Rhoden, Michael Jordan is the most egregious example of an athlete with more means than anyone to advance the causes of African-Americans, but who instead has stood for nothing except his own commercialism. Meanwhile, black representation in the coaching, management, and especially ownership realms are nearly nonexistent. The lone exception is Robert Johnson, the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, but Rhoden is even skeptical of his motivations, fearing he may be nothing more than a callous, profit-oriented businessman.

The degree to which one acquiesces to Rhoden’s arguments will depend largely upon one’s stance on a number of issues—integration, for example. “Integration,” writes Rhoden, “stopped a growing momentum toward independence and self-definition within the African-American community.” Further, integration to Rhoden was simply a “winning proposition for the whites who controlled the sports-industrial complex. They could move to exploit black muscle and talent, thus sucking the life out of black institutions, while at the same time giving themselves credit as humanitarians.” If you feel it would always better to be a blended, culturally-overlapping society, you will probably be inclined to disagree with Rhoden’s opinions of integration. However, if you think that maintaining robust, impregnable ethnic and sub-cultural identities—even at the expense of outright separation—are imperative, you will probably readily accept Rhoden’s conclusions.

What if you are an interloper, as I am, and you think that a certain degree of ethnic autonomy is fine and even laudable, but on the whole you would prefer that we all “play together”? Then you have to parse Rhoden’s points one at a time (after which you still may not be any less agnostic). Regarding Rhoden’s treatment of Jackie Robinson’s pioneering integration into Major League Baseball, I completely agree that it was wrong for white owners and officials to not treat the Negro League franchises more respectfully. On the other hand, throughout history, large sports leagues have regularly subsumed less powerful ones, even when race was not a factor. For instance, the NBA had a highly inequitable merger with ABA, as did the NHL with the WHA. Even today, European soccer leagues lure away Americans from the MLS with unmatchable contracts, relegating US soccer to continual “small-time” status. The truth is that sports owners are profit-driven, and if they have the financial means to sign the best players and thereby increase their team’s value, that is what they will do, with little regard for the poorer teams they victimize. Two leagues with uneven levels of market capitalization rarely can coexist for long, and if there is a primary culprit for this, it is arguably capitalism before it is racism.

Further, though the means MLB used to acquire Robinson were nefariously exploitative, he did end up having a much larger stage to captivate and inspire millions of Americans—black and otherwise—than he would have had with the Negro Leagues. And if you think that the lessons and legends of heroes such as Jackie Robinson should be shared by all American cultural and ethnic subsets, it is hard not to see this as the most important outcome of baseball integration rather than the extinction of the Negro Leagues. I was also left wondering how ideal it would have been had one or more Negro League teams been incorporated wholly intact to MLB. Rhoden laments that this did not happen, but he fails to really flesh out this alternative scenario. Would these former Negro League franchises, were they still in existence today as a part of MLB, continue to be segregated? And if so, would that even be desirable? Again, if your opinion on integration is fixed one way or the other, you would not require an answer to this question. However, if you are undecided, you will likely remain that way.

Another philosophical fault line that—depending on which side you stand—will inform your reaction to Forty Million Dollar Slaves is the relationship between athlete and community. Rhoden firmly believes that African-Americans should be using their wealth to advance the overall black community and insists this notion has shamefully declined since his college days. During several interludes, Rhoden recounts his experiences playing football for historically black Morgan State in the late 60s and recalls the uplifting, inspiring effect the big football games against other black colleges had on the greater African-American population. Unfortunately, Rhoden believes that since then, black colleges have lost out to the large “white” universities in terms of recruiting, facilities, scholarships, and media exposure. The result is a vicious circle: the top black athletes no longer have an interest in attending their “own” colleges because of the allure of playing for big-time schools, and the gap between “white” and black universities continues to widen. Worse still, in a process Rhoden dubs “The Conveyor Belt,” black athletes are targeted and isolated the moment they show superior aptitude in a sport, are lured by mostly white recruiters to attend predominantly white schools, and essentially lose touch with their culture. Ultimately, if these athletes do eventually become millionaires at the professional level, they are less inclined to help the communities that raised them, because they no longer identify with them.

This is a pretty sweeping theory, and one that I am not sure Rhoden successfully proves. First, how “separated” are big-time schools from black communities? If a black athlete grows up in rural Alabama, for instance, and ends up playing for the University of Alabama, is the athlete really in danger of forgetting his roots? I believe that the onus is on Rhoden to prove this, and in my opinion he fails to do so. Though Rhoden cites a Sports Illustrated series that “chronicled the crippling social isolation the (black) athletes endured, and the various ways in which they were used and abandoned by the machinery of big time sports,” these articles are from the late 60s. Perhaps I am naïve, but I am positive things are better now. Rhoden also mentions the story of Tates Locke, the former Clemson coach, who lied to recruits about Clemson’s non-existent black fraternity. But again, this incident is from the early 80s—Rhoden needs to provide more current evidence to make me believe that colleges continue to behave in such a sinister, culturally-brainwashing way.

Even if Rhoden is correct in his assertion that many if not most black athletes involuntarily turn their backs on their upbringing, the question remains: exactly what do they owe their communities? For a lot of athletes, their “community” is the immediate group people who raised them, and to that end it seems as if they largely do repay their debts. Though I only have anecdotal evidence, it seems that nearly all professional athletes, regardless of race, see to the welfare of their parents, guardians, extended family, and friends immediately after they sign their first huge professional contracts. These entourages receive money, homes, improved living standards, and often financial backing for their own entrepreneurial endeavors. First, Rhoden does not really acknowledge any of this. Second, what else should these athletes be required to do? A good number of athletes do donate to their high schools, universities, and a variety of charitable organizations, many of which reside in their local communities. But if an athlete grew up in a dangerous urban environment, does he really have an obligation to everyone in the neighborhood? Certainly it would be nice if they felt that way, but I have a hard time taking any athletes to task who feels differently.

A third and final potential grey area with which some readers might potentially grapple: what actions should be considered progressive? Rhoden uses some interesting behavioral examples from black athletes in the past that he believes to be admirably constructive, as well as others that he decries. For instance, in June of 1999, popular New York Knick Larry Johnson refused to talk to reporters in a league-mandated media session, later berated them in a profanity-laced tirade, and finally likened himself and his teammates to “rebellious slaves.” He then got into a public spat with white NBA television commentator Bill Walton. Walton called Johnson a “sad human being,” and Johnson retaliated with the accusation that Walton’s ancestors were slave-owners. To Rhoden, Johnson had made a “rudimentary start to thinking of his own evolution and commitment to his community in broader terms than merely hanging out there or celebrating his ‘escape.’” Perhaps so, but Johnson also reamed a number of innocent reporters for no particular reason in the process and hurled a baseless accusation at Walton, who was in all likelihood focusing more on Johnson’s poor on-court play than on his societal views. It seems as if Rhoden could have chosen a more clear-cut example of a black athlete acting sociologically conscious.

A similar ambiguity occurs when Rhoden discusses Michael Jordan’s failure to intervene in a black student movement at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina. In 1992, a number of black student athletes protested UNC Chancellor Paul Hardin’s decision not to fund a separate campus center dedicated to the study of black culture. Hardin’s rationale was that such a center would not be inclusive to the rest of the school’s various ethnicities. The black athletes responded by threatening to boycott their teams’ games and petitioned Jordan to get involved. Jordan happened to agree with Hardin and declined to back the athletes, although he did offer to fund a library for a more general purpose, such as family life studies. Eventually, Hardin acquiesced and the students got their cultural center. Reading about this event for the first time, I found myself believing that both Hardin and the student athletes had valid points, that the entire debate hinged once again on one’s overall opinion of the value of integration vs. the need for cultural identity, and that there was not necessarily a “correct” answer to the impasse. Thus I found it hard to criticize Jordan’s decision not to side with the black student athletes. Rhoden, however, writes that Jordan, “with one eye on his corporate masters, mouthed his mealy demurrals and stayed on the sidelines. A lion on the court, he was a lamb when the community needed him...Black athletes like Jordan have abdicated their responsibility to the community with an apathy that borders on treason.” As with the Larry Johnson example of “good” behavior, I would have liked to see more straightforward examples of “bad” behavior from Rhoden.

My final criticism of Forty Million Dollar Slaves involves a technical aspect of the book: I believe Rhoden uses very questionable documentation procedures. The book does have endnotes, but it does not contain footnotes, and this posed a problem for me, particularly on a number of statements in which I was unsure whether Rhoden was stating fact or conjecture. For instance, at one point Rhoden writes, “(Jackie) Robinson had been conditioned to the ‘white life’ at UCLA and in junior college. He had heard the white crowds roar and may have longed for the right to live that life.” With no footnotes and no obvious reference to this statement in the endnotes, on what exactly is Rhoden basing his (arguably slanderous) opinion of Robinson? If you are going to write a book featuring several potentially inflammatory statements, leading to conclusions such as “racism is more virulent and determined than ever before,” having copious and specific documentation is necessary, and I feel Rhoden’s efforts here were inadequate.

In the end, although I failed to see eye-to-eye with Rhoden on culpability issues and some of his interpretations of past events, I do agree with his overarching principle: proactive black athletes leveraging their wealth and power to gain greater institutional control in sports is a desirable goal. My biggest worry is that Rhoden is not interested in—or even hostile to—achieving a greater degree of integration in sports and in society as a whole. And I also do not believe the “sports-industrial complex” remains as actively opposed to black control as it once did, nor that black athletes are as derelict in their responsibilities to the community as Rhoden asserts. Ultimately, your opinion on the level of black power in sports may rest on how fast you think progress is occurring. For Rhoden, it is clearly not occurring fast enough, but one fundamental problem with blaming racism or indifference (or whatever) is that professional sports teams are not easy to acquire for anyone; besides being extremely expensive, they are also rarely for sale. Black television commentator Chris Carter said as much recently on HBO’s Inside the NFL when he mentioned that he would love to acquire a team as part of an ownership group; the problem is, no one’s selling right now. But Carter, like me, is confident that things will change and are changing (if not fast enough to suit Rhoden). Nonetheless, I thank Rhoden for bringing these issues to light, and I want to see the debate continued.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bobcats 100, Bulls 85

Before I get to the game, I should acknowledge that the Bobcats conducted a rare personnel move on Tuesday, at last parting ways with Melvin Ely. I’m really not sure what went wrong with Ely, as I was encouraged by his performance substituting for Emeka Okafor last year during Emeka’s extended injury absence. But Charlotte management soured on him in the off-season with about as much explanation as a moody girlfriend, and things just never improved. So farewell, Mel, we hardly knew ye. At least we hooked him up by shipping him off to San Antonio.

In return we get Eric Williams, and I’ve prepared the following in-depth scouting analysis on him: Ummmmm…It’s spelled “E-R-I-C.”…And I see he went to Providence…And I see he was born in 1972—crap, he’s old…And, let’s see…Oh here’s something: He averaged almost 13 points last year with Toronto—cool! Oh wait, make that almost 13 minutes; sorry, I read it wrong.

Oh, who am I kidding? I haven’t a clue who this guy is (although in fairness, that’s probably exactly what fans are saying in San Antonio about Ely). And almost on cue, as I’m typing this, commentator Matt Devlin says over the TV broadcast that the key to this deal is that Charlotte also copped a 2nd round draft pick in 2009. Christ, that’s the key, a second round pick in 2 years? Not exactly a blockbuster move (or a ringing endorsement of Williams’ potential impact, for that matter). Makes me wonder why Bernie Bickerstaff was so busy conducting this trade that he stood up Chad Ford’s interview appointment; I’ve heard of managers completing bigger deals in ten minutes while sitting on the john.

As for the game itself, I feared my ability to pay attention would be impaired by the drooling presence of our new dog, Lincoln, whose purchase I agreed to—more like “accepted the fact”— this afternoon (in return for the naming rights). Fortunately, Lincoln spent the majority of the game quietly mesmerized by his own reflection in the mirror, doing things like cocking his head, then flinching when the reflection cocked its head, then flinching at the reflection’s flinch, etc, etc. Watching him is like conducting an experiment in which you’re attempting to measure the speed of stupidity.

Anyway, onto the game. Eric Williams did not play—actually, let me rephrase that: he wasn’t in the arena (who knows if he’ll play even when he does show up). For the Bulls, Andres Nocioni remained injured, which of course drastically reduced the chances of any Bobcats suffering injuries involving punches to the face. Ben Wallace was present however, snagged 9 rebounds, and—more importantly—answered all the critics who doubted his ability to wear his afro out without the use of a headband (although it did make him look as if he'd gotten electrocuted).

And that was about it as far as Bulls highlights, because this game belonged to Charlotte. Gerald Wallace poured in 32 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots, thereby adding another game to this year’s portfolio of transcendent performances. Meanwhile, Okafor had 15 points, 21 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots. In one spectacular 4th quarter sequence, Okafor blocked a jump shot by Ben Gordon, then one by Luol Deng, and then G-Dub blocked one by Tyrus Thomas. The Bobcats then finished out with strong shooting (bringing their total FG% on the night all the way up to 49%) to stymie the Bulls’ comeback attempt. Enjoy your All-Star (make that All-Un-injured Star) Break...

All I hear about are what draft treasures Greg Oden and Kevin Durant are, and how teams should be scrambling for them like one’s the Lost Ark and the other’s the Holy Grail. Yet I’m wondering how great they could possibly be. I remember in 1999 it seemed like everyone was going crazy about two things: (1) the first of the new Star Wars movies, and (2) the threat of Y2K chaos. When I commented on this to a buddy at the time, he shrugged it off by saying that “people are easily frenzied.” This seemed to me like a somewhat fascistic outlook on the world, but at the same time, what’s Oden going to do, put up 30 points and 20 rebounds a night? Is Durant going to average a quadruple-double? I’m sure they’ll be great, but I guess I’m so weary of hype, especially when we in Carolina actually have two phenomenal athletes right now who we ought to appreciate more in Wallace and Okafor.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rockets 104, Bobcats 83

I missed this one live, as I was supporting my wife’s band, Powdercake, who were playing their first ever gig at a local club, so I taped the game and watched the “Director’s Cut” this morning. By the way, if you are interested, you can visit their page at www.myspace.com/powdercakeband, sample their music, and see pictures of them looking appropriately cool/bored. They are sort of a pop/punk/emo-ish girl group, so expect lots of lyrics about "no one understands my deepness" and "I'm all alone and I just want to be me," etc.

Okay, enough shameless promotion, I suppose I need to get to the game at some point, which seemed to be the Bobcats' attitude as well. Actually, The Bobcats started out well and built an 11-point lead. But there were cracks in this façade: Emeka Okafor had to sit quickly with 2 fouls, the shooting percentage was artificially high (including 5-for-5 on 3-pointers), and it was artificially low for the Rockets (0-of-9). So basically the first 7 minutes was a dot.com bubble and the rest of the game was a 3-quarter recession of low productivity (just 4 points from Gerald Wallace, just 5 assists from Raymond Felton), deficits (25 at one point), and high turnover (27!).

I was unaware that Houston had such a large Japanese contingent (actually, I didn’t think there was a large contingent of anything in Houston, unless you count air pollution); even the Budweiser ads are translated into Japanese. Anyhow, the “Toyota Center” is an appropriate name for the Rockets’ arena. Nothing flashy about this team, but Jeff Van Gundy’s system of Total Quality Management maximizes the efficiency of components such as Rafer Alston (14 points, 8 assists, 9 steals), Luther Head (17 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds), and Juwan Howard (16 points, 6 rebounds). Howard, by the way, briefly got into it with Gerald Wallace for double-technicals, but it didn’t amount to much. I’m assuming Gerald told Juwan to look at the scoreboard before realizing that we were, in fact, trailing by 12.

As the remaining minutes quickly became a mere formality (even more quickly with my fast-forward button), Coach Bickerstaff went into trial-and-error mode with the lineup, granting more playing time to Melvin Ely and the recently competent Walter Herrmann (12 points and a highly ironic 0 turnovers in 23 minutes). Sometimes I wonder if Coach has a specialized slot machine back there that—in lieu of cherries, gold bars, etc.—just has the players’ faces on the three dials. Then on games like this he just pulls the lever and throws out there whoever's smiling face pops up: "And it's...Primoz!...Melvin!...Walter! Get out there!" No, of course Coach doesn’t do that—that crazy. It’s probably more like a wheel-of-fortune that he spins…

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Trail Blazers 108, Bobcats 100 (OT)

The Bobcats lost in overtime to the Trail Blazers Friday night, and in the face of wrenching disappointment I—like any good American—immediately searched for someone to blame. Fortunately, I found him: Adam Morrison; clearly, it’s all his fault. It’s Morrison’s fault that Charlotte blew a late lead, that we’re in last place, that attendance is so low, that the country is trapped in two un-winnable Middle East conflicts, that Nas hasn’t been able to put together one good album since Illmatic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that Super Bowl Snickers commercial was his idea.

Actually, I don’t think any of that, but I’m apparently in the minority, because to many sportswriters, Morrison’s rookie year has been appallingly, almost offensively bad. Look at ESPN.com’s summation of Charlotte midway through the year: “Morrison's catastrophic season has undone a lot of good work by Okafor, Wallace, May and Carroll.” “Catastrophic”? The kid is second in rookie scoring. “Catastrophic” should be reserved for describing levee failures or possibly the decision to make Hannibal Rising, not Adam Morrison. I honestly believe Morrison would take less criticism if he barely played, if Coach Bickerstaff just threw him out there for a few minutes every game a la Paul Millsap. And that’s crazy.

And there are more salient points of blame, anyway. Fouls, for starters: we kept making them and we couldn’t shoot them. We went just 21/33 from the line, including several critical misses down the stretch and in overtime (which also featured Emeka Okafor fouling out early on). Meanwhile, we gave Portland 45 free throw chances. And how about the no-call on Brevin Knight? With the game tied and about two seconds left on the clock in regulation, BK took an easily observable broadside elbow from Jarret Jack while heaving up a half-court attempt, and the only thing that blew was the buzzer. Despite the obvious contact, because it occurred near mid-court, I guess the refs ruled it “uncatchable.” Or something.

But here’s an original idea: if you want to blame someone for the loss to the Trail Blazers, why not blame the Trail Blazers? After all, one of the biggest reasons we lost to them was that they scored more points than us. Specifically, Zach Randolph scored 40 points to go with 9 rebounds—I blame him most of all. Interestingly, the Portland TV announcers were excited early on about what they believed to be a “mismatch” between Randolph and Gerald Wallace. It turns out they were only partially right, as it was a mismatch on both sides—neither guy could guard the other. Gerald struggled all night with Randolph’s accurate shooting and overall girth, while Randolph in turn struggled with Wallace’s pesky tendency to, you know, move around and stuff with the ball.

There was also Brandon Roy’s groin-kick of a 3-pointer to tie it up with 8 seconds left. After the game, Coach Bickerstaff and Wallace lamented the fact that the defense didn’t push out on the perimeter and basically “let” Roy make that three. I feel their pain (believe me, I do), but c’mon, that was a pretty good shot. Sometimes you’ve got to give credit to the opposition—or in this case, place proper blame on them. So Brandon Roy, it was all your fault.

But you know who the biggest culprit was in all of this? Obviously, it was Dan Dickau. Yep, in the second quarter, the Bobcats went on a 12-0 run, and Portland Coach Nate McMillan was so incensed with his team’s poor play* that he threw Dickau out there. It was a brilliant move, and one that finally demonstrated Dickau’s true worth to me. Dickau’s sole reason for being on the team seems to be so McMillan has got a way of signaling his displeasure, and Dan is perfect for this role. After all, just imagine yourself as say, Jamaal Magloire, getting banished to the bench, and watching tiny Dan Dickau running around out there like Cory Feldman in Lucas? How infuriating would that be?

So there you go. Lots of good people to blame, just pick one, curse him appropriately, and I guarantee you’ll feel better. Just remember: whatever you do, don’t put the blame on you.

On the positive side, BK is back! He’s still clearly adjusting to living in his newly refurbished stomach, but he’s a welcome sight. I’m also glad that Jeff McInnis is continuing to get in the mix, and I liked his new high-sock look as well. I noticed that Ben Wallace of Chicago coincidentally started going “high-sock” the night before in Sacramento—must be some sort of cornrow telepathy…

*In fact, so were the announcers, who seemed particularly disgusted by Portland’s poor shooting. Ummm…this team’s only got a couple more wins than us, what do they normally shoot?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

76ers 92, Bobcats 83

Who says the Bobcats and the 76ers are among the worst teams in the league? I do, after watching last night’s fiasco between them. In general, it was an atrocity of a game, almost like a Suck Relay Race: each team took a Suck Lap then passed the Suck Baton off to the other. The Bobcats ran the first leg of the Suck-a-thon by playing a horrendous 1st quarter that saw them trail by as many as 17 points. Then it was Philly’s turn to suck, as we cut the deficit to 6. Then it was our turn again, as we fell behind 20, and so on and so forth until the Tour de Suck finally ended with a 9-point loss to a team that’s so bad, it’s already locked up 3 first round draft picks. It was a Suck-fest. It was Suck-stock.

Geez, did Coach Bickerstaff force the team to put on adult diapers and drive the whole way up to Philly non-stop? He must have—how else do you explain why they played that badly? It’s hard even describing how bad we were—it’s like trying to describe the size of the universe; Carl Sagan would have difficulty describing how bad we sucked. The statistics don’t bear it out either. Sure, I could say that the team only shot 27% from the field in the first quarter (eventually climbing “all the way” to 44%), but they’ve done worse than that before (in fact, they probably did it last game), so I don’t know. The team was just bad. They were voo-doo bad, like someone was sticking pins in little dolls of Adam Morrison and Raymond Felton, causing them to combine for 8 turnovers. Who was this master of puppets, pulling our strings? I don't know, but has anyone seen Adrian Branch lately?

More disturbingly, we seemed to abandon all efforts to win. Gerald Wallace and Emeka Okafor only played about 30 minutes—what, are we saving them for the playoffs or something? In the fourth quarter, with the game still pathetically winnable, we tried coming back with Melvin Ely, Walter Herrmann, and Primoz Brezec all on the floor at the same time—MC Hammer has a better chance of coming back than that group. The benign explanation is that the team was being punished. The more cynical explanation, however, is that at halftime we officially threw our hats into the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant Sweepstakes.

I don’t know about you, but I sure hope not. I know, I know, this year’s draft picks are Can’t Miss. The only small problem with that theory, though, is that it’s completely insane. First of all, they’re not “Can’t Miss,” they’re “Quite Easily Missed,” because there’s no guarantee that you get them—it’s called a Draft Lottery for a reason. Second, they can completely flame out, and instead of being the Next Michael Jordan, they become the next Michael Olowokandi. Third, even if either of them becomes the Next LeBron James, how exactly has that worked out for Cleveland? Four years later, and the most the Cavs have to show for their '02-03 tank job is the 2nd round of the playoffs of a lousy conference.

I’m sure I’m just being paranoid. Coach Bickerstaff would never tank a game, and things aren’t that bad. Actually, look what happened after we lost to the Bucks a few weeks back: if that game wasn’t a signal to hang it up for the season, I don’t know what is, and we played some of our best ball ever after that debacle. And we haven’t been all that disappointing either. In fact, John Hollinger at ESPN.com produced a Top 15 Most Disappointing List for this year, and not a single Bobcat is on it—on the other hand, I question the validity of any “Most Disappointing” list that only features one LA Clipper...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Heat 113, Bobcats 93

The Bobcats traveled south on Monday to take on the Heat, easily Miami’s most impressive group of performers since the Sound Machine. Miami was down a couple of regulars, as Jason Williams was out with an injury, while future Hall-of-Famer Gary Payton (suspension) was replaced in the starting lineup by future legal drinker Chris Quinn—bleach his hair and roll some cigarettes up in his sleeve and this baby-faced youngster could pass for an Outsider. It didn’t really matter, though, because Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal commanded the team to an easy 113-93 blowout.

I have to give Miami credit too, because usually their scoring comes in one of three flavors:

1. Dwyane Wade layup
2. Dwyane Wade foul shot
3. Shaquille O’Neal slam (assisted by Dwyane Wade)

The result is an excruciatingly slow game that’s so repetitive it can be maddening—I call it the “Wade-r Torture.” I mean, I respect Wade as much as one can, but it sure would be nice if he didn’t get a foul called every time he drove to the basket. But that’s like saying I’d like Tom Cruise movies if he didn’t always put on sunglasses at some point while grinning maniacally; it’s pretty much all part of the package.

Oh wait, I was supposed to be giving them credit, and now I forget why…Oh yeah, well, that was the thing about this one: there was a little bit more variety to it than usual. Sure, Wade still had 27 points and roughly as many free throw attempts, and Shaq still threw down a ton from a foot out while the tiny little Bobcats buzzed around him like biplanes on King Kong—in fact, at halftime they did one of those scatterplot diagrams showing Diesel’s shot pattern and it looked basically like one big ink splotch in front of the hoop—but some other people contributed as well. Quinn actually scored 14 points and showed some nice touch. Meanwhile, Udonis Haslem, never among the leaders in anything (except maybe “Largest Mouthguard”—have you seen that thing? When he spits it out he looks like a Pez dispenser), showed his jack-of-all-trade abilities with 12 points and 8 rebounds.

But the one that really hurts is Jason Kapono. We had this guy with us when we first started, and I don’t even remember who we got for him (or perhaps “what” we got for him: it might have been 10 signed copies of The Winner Within for all I know), but I can’t BELIEVE how much he’s progressed. I know you always hear stories about guys coming out of nowhere to be great, but not like this. I specifically remember ESPN The Magazine’s preview for our inaugural '04-'05 season using a picture of Kapono looking incredibly dorky simply to point out how lame they thought the Bobcats were, and now look at him! He’s like the NBA’s Jerry O’Connell: from fat kid in Stand By Me to engaged to Rebecca Romijn.

Meanwhile, the Bobcats never gave up! Well, yeah they did—but not until about 5 minutes were left. Raymond Felton was spectacular with 20 points and 7 assists (albeit with 6 turnovers); he probably demonstrates better than anyone the double-standard in officiating. Wade gets continuation credit on fouls that happened a full two seconds earlier, while Felton gets nothing even though every one of his layups ends with him on his back and needing to twist the ball in like a trick billiards shot. Okafor also had his 29th double-double of the season (19 and 11) and Gerald Wallace attacked the baseline as usual to the tune of 19 points.

And Primoz Brezec was back! I’m pleased to report he still hasn’t lost his uncanny ability to miss from right under the hoop. At one point Primoz went 0-of-4 in about 3 seconds, missing a phenomenal string of put-backs.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Bobcats 98, Warriors 90

It wasn’t exactly I Spit On Your Grave, but it was still pretty satisfying revenge: on Saturday the Bobcats reciprocated last week’s abomination to the Golden State Warriors with a 98-90 win. Both teams had played the night before—sort of; the Cats’ had their 20-point debacle in Cleveland, and the Warriors lost to Philly (only by 1, but the key words are “lost,” “to,” and “Philly,”)—so fatigue bogged things down at times.

Oh yeah, one other word about that Cleveland game (before I flush it out of my mind’s toilet): according to keen observer Ran (whose comments can be read here), the proper name for Drew Gooden’s hair-, um, “style” is a “duck tail.” According to Ran, Drew Gooden refers to himself as a “child of the 80s” whenever explaining his controversial hirsute philosophy. A-ha! Hmmm. I was a child of the 80s too, and yet I have no memory of that hairstyle whatsoever (although I do remember the weekday afternoon Disney cartoon by the same name), unless I missed an episode of Diff'rent Strokes in which Dudley rocked it or something. Oh wait, now that I think about it, someone in the band "A-HA" quite possibly could have sported a duck tail.

But the more pressing question is, even if it was popular, is that really Drew's only actual justification for the haircut--that he's a "child of the 80s"? Since when is living in a particular decade a reason for getting a certain haircut? I mean, like I said, I lived during that time too, but I have absolutely ZERO urge to suddenly part my hair down the middle and feather it, let alone get a rat-tail or a flock-of-seagulls 'do.

All I can say is hopefully this “what would the 80s do?” line of thinking doesn't end up influencing his other behavioral choices, such as whether or not to become a coke addict, whether or not to support Central American dictatorships, whether or not to invest in Savings & Loan institutions, etc...

Anyway, back to the game! The Warriors were in their road blues, and unlike Gooden, I WILL credit them for sticking to their 80s roots, as I’ve always enjoyed GS’s color scheme (although I don’t quite understand why their insignias are on the backs of their left legs—it makes it look like the entire team mistakenly put their shorts on backwards), which I feel is appropriately flashy and futuristic-looking but without overdoing it a la the Barkley-era Rockets. And in light of News14 once again not showing the game (nor are they showing "news" for their matter, just a bunch of infomercials, although they are at least on on channel "14"), I should also point out that I’ve always enjoyed the Warriors’ announcers as well. Bob Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett are even-keeled, rational, and very gracious guests. They complimented the Cats for "doing it the right way” by building through the draft and not owing anyone a huge salary (well, except Melvin Ely, the one guy we’re NOT playing) and were also optimistic in their forecast for Charlotte now that Michael Jordan’s an owner (holy crap he is, I’d practically forgotten about that). I’d like to return the compliments to the Bay Area, as I think they’ve finally got a bunch of young guys who can go on to be great Warriors.

But wars not make one great, and neither does 12/44 shooting in the second half. Golden State had pushed the lead to 10 late in the first half but crumbled down the stretch and ruined a superb effort by Andres Biedrins (15 points, 18 boards—10 on offense—2 blocks, 2 steals), who could pass for Primoz Brezec’s long-lost (and more talented) brother. Whether it was shooting field goals, shooting 3-pointers, shooting free throws, or shootin’ at the walls of heartache (bang-bang), Al Harrington IS the Warrior, but his 7/20 performance (and 1/5 from downtown) cost the team in the end.

No Harrington miss was more painful than the one that was blocked spectacularly by Gerald Wallace with just under ten to play and the Cats clinging to a 4-point lead. Harrington went driving for a sure slam, but Wallace crushed it away as if it were shot out of a cannon. I haven’t heard a crowd gasp in sudden disbelief like that since Antonio Tarver knocked out Roy Jones in their rematch. G-Dub (21 points, 16 rebounds, 6 steals, 3 blocks, 2 steals) is the glue holding this team together right now, the gum under the shoe, the snot in the nose—he’s the man. Raymond Felton also had 22 (and came back bravely from a bizarre, inadvertent elbow from Harrington that knocked him on his face—man, I only just now realized that Harrington was the “Forrest Gump" of this game, randomly figuring in all the key moments), and Emeka Okafor put up 16 and 11. As a team we kept the turnovers low and allowed the Warriors to shoot themselves in the foot via the 3-pointer. Great win.

I see the Warriors are playing the Pacers next—how confusing is THAT one going to be? I wonder if any gambling sites are creating an over/under for a “Mistaken Passes to Former Teammates” category.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Calaliers 101, Bobcats 81

I have one request when it comes to playing the Cavaliers: ABDJ, which stands for “Anyone But Damon Jones.” Really, I will accept any other form of loss to Cleveland: LeBron James could be awarded thirty free-throws, Anderson Varejao could go for a triple-double, Scott Pollard could tip in the game-winning bucket off his Mohawk—anything, just don’t let Damon Jones stand there and make three’s. So the good news was that Jones didn’t beat us last night. Unfortunately, the rest of the Cavaliers did...

They say basketball is a game of runs. Well, so is diarrhea, and the Cats looked like straight doo-doo in this one. I kind of had a bad feeling about the game going in. With the Cavs coming off a tough loss to Miami the night before, LBJ had gravely declared earlier in the day that he “assumed full responsibility for all that’s happened,” almost like someone had made him sign a confession. So I was prepared for him to bring the pain. The only real hope I had was that LeBron’s injured toe would keep him out (I am not too proud to take all the vulture victories I can get—beggars can’t be choosers), especially after reading reports about titanium plates needing to be stuck in it. But of course Bron-Bron played through the pain anyway, at least as long as he needed to, getting an efficient 18 points and 10 rebounds. By the fourth quarter he was able to rest up on the bench and work on his fingernail-biting game.

And for once, LBJ got some help from his supporting cast, chiefly Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes. I don’t know what’s going on in the back of Gooden’s head (an afro? a ponytail? an afro-tail?), but I sure know what’s happening inside it: the man’s motivated. He was all over the place, had 16 points, 6 rebounds, and got Raymond Felton, Emeka Okafor, and—for good measure—Matt Carroll all in foul trouble.

Hughes was also relevant, for this night at least. I have to admit that I was dead wrong about Larry; I thought the Wizards were crazy to let him go. Then again, I thought Marcus Banks was a great pickup for the Suns, which shows you what I know. Come to think of it, I also agreed with the Miami Dolphins' decision to take Daunte Culpepper instead of Drew Brees. And hell, for the record, I also liked Crystal Pepsi and both Matrix sequels—so basically, I’m either a rebellious iconoclast or a goddamned moron. At least I didn’t follow my instinct to invest in WWE stock…

Bottom line: the Bobcats played like they were representing the University of Ohio rather than Charlotte. Felton had just 10 points and 4 assists, Okafor only put up 8 points and 7 boards, and even G-Dub was pretty pedestrian. Coach Bickerstaff finally threw Melvin Ely back out there, but the only thing he seemed able to remember how to do was travel. Let’s hope this was all because we’re consumed with revenge for tomorrow night’s rematch with Golden State.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bobcats 104, Knicks 87

With a few minutes left in the Bobcats blowout victory over New York, commentator Matt Devlin asked sidekick Stephanie Ready, “Would you agree that this is the best Bobcats stretch in the team’s history?” Like there are a bunch to choose from! This 9-7 run is really the only Bobcats stretch in their history. Matt might as well have asked Stephanie if she agreed that the songs off the Tubthumper album were the best stretch in Chumbawamba’s history.

The Bobcats beat up on the Knicks Wednesday night, and the Charlotte crowd was positively eating it up towards the end—I couldn’t get over all the kids in little Bobcats outfits! Man, it was enough to make me believe the children really are our future. The sight of them filled me with the same warm feeling I get anytime I see articles about kids getting excited for the next Harry Potter book; it’s just always refreshing to see packs of junior high schoolers interested in something other than video games or random acts of vandalism.

Anyway, the Knicks played most of the game in a zone defense, but it hardly mattered, because Gerald Wallace played most of the game in a zone, period. G-Dub turned in his second consecutive superhuman effort, this time setting the single-game franchise record (the best four-quarter stretch in team history, if you will) with 42 points. Wallace hit an Iversonian 11/17 free throws and was almost good to a fault at driving to the hoop, because he single-handedly put Jared Jeffries in foul trouble, thereby forcing Isiah Thomas to reluctantly bring in the much better David Lee. Wallace also converted an All-Star Game level of alley-oops, many with such reckless abandon that I spent half the game cringing. Stephanie noted that “we never get tired of seeing Gerald make those alley-oops,” which I would agree with, but less because of his athleticism and more because I’m terrified that it’s just a matter of time before something horrible happens, like he gets his head caught up in the netting and inadvertently hangs himself.

Meanwhile, Emeka Okafor shrugged off early foul trouble to finish with another 15 rebounds and dominate Eddy Curry down low. This provided the game’s only real drama, as Okafor sat most of the first quarter with two fouls, then picked up a third and even a technical in the second. Oddly, it wasn’t until about 3 minutes later that Matt and Stephanie pointed out—almost off-handedly—that Okafor’s benching “might pose a problem.” Yeah, with no Melvin Ely, Othella Harrington, Sean May, or Primoz Brezec, I’d say it definitely "might" (note: the ESPN.com headline on Wednesday read: “Bobcats Center Harrington Out 3-6 Weeks”, and when I saw it I kept thinking that the real news would be if the headline read “Harrington In 3-6 Weeks”). Curry, it should be noted, is quite possibly the League’s only high-scoring, non-rebounding center. It made me wonder if you could have this sort of statistical misalignment elsewhere. How strange would it be, for instance, if you had a high-rebounding, no-assisting point guard? Or a high-fouling, no-assisting point guard? Oh wait, that actually wouldn’t be strange at all, that would be Stephon Marbury.

Ha! Sorry, I actually like Steph, I just had to throw a little “zinger” in there. And the Knicks really could have used more of Curry’s scoring last night, because they managed to go the first 10 minutes of the fourth before getting a field goal in the period. Yup, that wasn’t a typo: they hit some free throws, but it wasn’t until 1:54 remained in the game that they made their first regular bucket. And some of the shots were bad. On a couple of them, I’m not even sure what Jeffries was aiming for, unless he thought the hoop was up in the light fixtures somewhere.