Friday, May 30, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 5/30

Since we’re in the college acceptance season, let’s do a sentence completion exercise…for fun! Here goes: the Celtics are to the NBA what violence was to The Sopranos. Think about it: when the Celtics are up, everyone’s impression of the NBA is up. And when the Celtics are down, the NBA is seen as having a “down” year. Similarly, anytime there was a particularly bloody stretch on The Sopranos, it was universally regarded as a great show and generated water-cooler talk. But whenever the shooting stopped for long stretches and Tony did mundane, non-violent things (like spend multiple episodes in a coma), loyal viewers grew frustrated and casual fans turned away.

To understand the Celtics’ impact, simply compare this season and last season. Ostensibly, both had several common features: both had heated MVP races culminating in first-time winners (Dirk & Kobe), both had solid if unspectacular Rookies of the Year (Roy and Durant), both had highly competitive Western Conference Playoff races (5 50+ win teams last year, 8 this year), and both had teams blatantly tanking for purposes of draft positioning (Celtics & Bucks last year, Heat & Grizzlies this year).

The differences between 06-07 and 07-08, as far as I can tell, are pretty minor. Definitely this year had more blockbuster trades (and the impact was magnified because two of them involved...Boston!), but last year did see Iverson getting shipped off to Denver. Last year was marred by the Nuggets-Knicks “brawl” (or “minor altercation,” as it was known to us non-ignorant NBA fans) and a sketchy All-Star Game. This year also had the "feel-good story" of the New Orleans Hornets, but I’d argue that Golden State’s finish last year was—if not in the neighborhood—at least a suburb of comparability. In both years, the playoffs were a mixed bag.

But the biggest difference between this year and last year is the Celtics. It’s probably because they bring a large, disproportionately vocal fan base, full of old-time (Bob Ryan) and younger (Bill Simmons) tastemakers alike. Thus, their concerns end up being everyone’s concerns. For instance, when the team tanked last year, all of a sudden the league as a whole had a problem with tanking. This year? Tanking was no big deal, even though it was—if anything—more blatant (two words: "Patrick Riley").

So here’s the interesting part. The final season of The Sopranos drew more fans than ever, and a big part of it had to do with the escalating body count. But the last episode left roughly half the audience alienated, the general complaint being that it lacked an “ending.” I firmly believe that by “ending,” most people meant “some sort of bloody shootout, preferably involving Tony dying in a pinwheeling spray of blood and diner food.” In other words, it was a great last season until the end, when no violence = fan frustration.

Meanwhile, this year’s NBA has seen the Celtics rise to the best record, hence viewership and casual interest have correspondingly escalated, and the season has been universally heralded as one of the best in recent memory. But how will it end? The “dream match-up,” of course, is the Celtics-Lakers, while anything else is going to be like watching Meadow spend 5 minutes parking a car.

Full disclosure: I’m a diehard loyalist of both the NBA and The Sopranos. I’ve never not loved the NBA, even when it’s supposedly going through a “down” year. For example, I was one of a handful of people in the country absolutely mesmerized by the virtuoso shooting prowess of Chris Gatling in 1995. Similarly, I have and will continue to defend every Sopranos episode ever, including the final one (to all those who complained about the last episode, I ask you this: what more did you deranged sickos want? Phil Leotardo got his head run over by a car, for goodness’ sake, was that not enough? And just who precisely was supposed to kill Tony at the end?—he made his peace with everyone, including the Feds. You all are depraved.) So I’ll be happy either way, whether the Celtics make it or not. I enjoy the Spurs, and it’s not like the Pistons and Lakers have no history of their own.

Full disclosure #2: Before I get a bunch of hate-mail about how stupid/pointless this article is, I was on a conference call again. I'm telling you, stay away from those things. Only once the calls are done...that I feel like dying, I feel like dying.

Random epilogue: speaking of violence, if you’re ever bored, I’ve got a fun activity for you to try at home: watch a really violent movie with Closed-Captioning on. This past weekend, I DVR’d the utterly degenerate and quasi-fascist film 300, but because my wife was trying to work in the other room, all the screaming and axe-on-flesh noises were distracting her. So I turned the sound down and enabled the Closed-Captioning function, and the results were downright comical. In fact, I couldn’t resist copying down one of the scenes word-for-word. Looking over it, it’s hard to say if this is the dialogue from a movie or the minutes from the President’s latest Cabinet meeting. Check it out:

(All grunting)
(Distorted grunts and yells)
(Breathing heavily)
(Heavy, thudding footsteps, growling)
“My king!”
(Growling softly)
(Breathing heavily)
(Sharp tinging)
(Growling fiercely)
“Arcadians, now!”
“Go Show the Spartans what we can do!”
NARRRATOR: “They shout and curse, stabbing wildly, more brawlers than warriors. They make a wondrous mess of things. Brave amateurs, they do their part.”

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 5/22

Okay, today’s topic is, “Tim Duncan Is Stupid—Fact or Fiction?” Ha! Just kidding. By the way, who says Tim Duncan isn’t engaging? My musings last week incited a veritable cyber-riot of outrage. Looking back, my biggest regret is that I didn’t up the level of accusations. Instead of just insinuating he doesn’t care about NBA history, I should have accused him of trying to bomb a bus full of nuns. Maybe I could have alleged he was in the KKK—I could have doctored up some footage to create a 7-foot tall guy in a sheet who was taking a suspiciously long time trying to light a cross on fire, just staring at it forever with his knees pointed inward, fidgeting with the matches while the other Klansmen stood around and wished he’d hurry up and just set the thing on fire already (especially when he’ll probably miss it anyway).

One last comment I wanted to make on that “de-blog-cle” was that the vitriol seemed to equally divide itself into three camps: those outraged that I would dare slander Duncan, those outraged that I would dare praise Kobe Bryant, and those outraged that I would dare mention Adam Morrison, period. The disgust was remarkably symmetric. Oh well, the important thing is, at least everyone could agree on one thing: I’m a goddamned moron—way to come together! Once again, sorry for upsetting everyone; I blame it on that conference call. Stay away from conference calls, kids, they'll make you do terrible things. Try drugs instead.

Moving right along. I don’t know about you, but to me the draft lottery brought almost nothing but good-to-wonderful news. Yeah, I know we technically lost a slot by ending up with the 9th pick rather than the 8th, but look at it this way: this limits the amount of damage Michael Jordan can do. You know how some people say that it’s rare for former great players to become great coaches, because it’s hard for them (the ex-great players) to relate to and teach people who just don’t have the same raw talent? To me, this makes complete sense. I mean, Pablo Picasso could rise from the dead right now and give me 6 months of 12-hours-a-day instruction in cubism, and I still wouldn’t be able to paint a pair of fuzzy dice, let alone Le Guitariste. Moreover, after about ten minutes Pablo would get so frustrated by my ineptitude, he’d start to wish my face looked like one of his portraits for real. So I completely buy this theory.

But what’s harder to understand is why (at least in Jordan’s case) talent can’t seem to SPOT talent. Picking Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison, trading away Rip Hamilton, selecting Sam Vincent as coach…Jordan’s reputation as an appraiser of young talent is littered with terrible judgment calls. Why can’t Jordan recognize young guys who remind him of himself? I know there “will never be another Jordan,” but does that mean he’s got to screw up so spectacularly? Forget about another Jordan, just don’t get another Kwame Brown.

And that’s the beauty of the ninth pick: it’s a protective shelter from the fallout of another Jordan stink-o draft-pick bomb. Plus, Larry Brown will be his co-pilot (more like his designated driver), and that should mitigate his decision-making further. Here’s the other good thing about our slot: we had almost no chance at drawing picks 1 and 2, but imagine if we’d gotten “lucky” and been awarded with the #3? Did you see who Chad Ford’s projecting for the 3rd pick? Brook Lopez! Egad, what if we took him! I kid you not: Jay Bilas was on the radio yesterday, and he said Lopez was a great center, except that he lacks “rebounding and finishing” ability. Umm, what’s the point then? That’s like saying you’ve got a great accountant, except that he can’t add or subtract (note: when it comes to John McCain’s economics advisers, this might actually be the case). Yup, I’ll settle for the 9th pick, get an economically-sound guard or big man, and…

…continue falling out of my chair laughing at the Knicks. As a New Yorker, this brings me to the third delicious outcome of the lottery, and it’s actually a two-parter. The first was the priceless look on Mike D’Antoni’s face when his new team sank to #6 in the lottery, while his potential team scored the #1. D’Antoni did this hilarious, "appear-then-disappear" tight smile of horror that I’ve never seen pulled off by anyone except by Jeopardy! contestants when they screw up the final round. And then, almost by way of an encore, Chad Ford projected that the Knicks will use this pick on some Italian guy named Danilo Gallinari whose dad played with D’Antoni. I swear, Madison Square Garden will collectively defecate itself if this happens—I can’t wait!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bobcats EMERGENCY Thoughts, 5/14

Tim Duncan is not stupid! He’s not, he’s not, he’s not! I’m sorry I ever inferred such a thing. I haven’t been this wrong and ashamed since I mistakenly believed the lyrics in Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” were “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy” rather than “the sky” back in middle school. Now even Henry Abbott’s angry at me! What have I done?!

This was an imperfect thought experiment. A highly imperfect experiment, actually—like the “second time they tried to make a Kelly LeBrock model in Weird Science”-level of imperfect. I actually wrote this little doo-dad while on a seemingly endless conference call with one hand over my phone receiver and the other typing (stopping intermittently to perform the important task of picking my nose). It was the speaker’s rambling on the other line that actually made me recall the late Admiral Stockdale, and then I happened to glance over at this slacker dude in an adjoining cubicle, whose hair is shaggy like Adam’s (and is always just barely minimizing his World of Warcraft window in time before the boss walks by), and one thing led to another and…what can I say, I’m sorry I brought it up.

Anyway, all I was suggesting was that Tim Duncan doesn’t seem like the type who spends much time pondering his historical legacy—can we agree on that? And even that could be wrong. For all I know, he’s got a dartboard at home with David Robinson’s face and a picture of George Gervin, from which he removes a strip of clothing every time he breaks one of the Ice Man’s franchise records. I’m just going off his laconic public persona. Meanwhile, Kobe does care about history, and more importantly, his place in it (I don’t think I’m stretching with that assumption). Adam’s somewhere in the middle, and that’s a potentially dangerous thing if he ever wants to go down as one of the greats. (it could also be a moot point if his leg never heals or, even more terrifyingly to us Bobcats fans, he's--um--just not very good)

But for the record, one last time: Duncan is NOT stupid. On the contrary, he’s a thoughtful and considerate young man, apparently beloved by psychology teachers. I also just want to point out that I wrote in the article that Tim Duncan is not stupid. So after all this, if you still truly believe I think he is stupid, then you’re also probably the type who thinks AC/DC’s “Givin’ the Dog a Bone” is about proper pet care.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 5/13

Before John McCain made it cool, Admiral James Stockdale sought office with a resume highlighted by his credentials as a POW hero. Stockdale was Ross Perot’s running mate in 1992, and he is mostly remembered—if he’s remembered at all—for looking discombobulated in televised debates. In fact, along with the growing suspicion that Perot was actually bat-shit crazy, Stockdale’s lack of televised appeal is often cited as one of the primary factors behind Perot’s eventual loss. Voters focused on this crucial aspect far more than on Stockdale’s astonishing military career, his numerous well-received books on philosophy, his Master’s Degree from Stanford, and the fact that his physical impairments—a large part of why he looked bad on television—were the result of 8 years of imprisonment in a Vietnamese torture chamber. In one of the more underrated tasteless acts ever, they even made a Saturday Night Live skit about it.

Anyway, in college I once had to read an essay Stockdale wrote on the dangers of having just a little knowledge. Ostensibly, this topic probably doesn’t seem like it would require a full essay to explain or justify, but Stockdale made it interesting by comparing a low knowledge level with 1) having a high amount of knowledge and 2) having zero knowledge. Curiously, Stockdale argued that having just a little bit of knowledge is not only worse than having lots of knowledge, it’s also worse than having no knowledge whatsoever.

Here’s how he proved it: while locked up in the dungeons with his fellow POWs, Stockdale divided his comrades up into three groups: those who were well-educated in American history, those who were partially-educated in American history, and the completely ignorant ones. Knowledge of American history became crucial, because one of the tactics the Vietnamese captors deployed to subvert the POWs was manipulating their existing opinions of America. To do this, the Vietnamese would “re-teach” the POWs American history by playing up some of our country’s most negative aspects (e.g., the slave trade, imperialism, etc.). If they were successful in this ploy, it was then much easier for the Vietnamese to convince the POWs that their country was abandoning them, and therefore they might as well turn traitor and spill their guts about everything they knew.

Stockdale noticed that the success of this tactic on a given POW depended on the prisoner’s knowledge level. The backwoods hillbillies with almost no education were largely impervious, because they would just respond with “B.S.” to anything the Vietnamese said to them. Meanwhile, those who were highly-educated in American history (as Stockdale was), could resist the Vietnamese by conceding that although America certainly had its flaws, it also had many redeeming features too, and was therefore worth defending. It was that middle group, however—those who knew basic facts but lacked the intellectual depth and breadth to debate various points—who were most often swayed. Hence Stockdale’s conclusion that a little knowledge could be considered worse than no knowledge at all.

This brings us to Adam Morrison.

Morrison is a well-documented autodidact with a preference for social consciousness (e.g., he likes Rage Against the Machine) and a history of free-thinking (e.g., he was Ralph Nader supporter in 2004). He also seems to be a subscriber to the Great Man Theory, the idea that the course of history is usually directed by powerful and charismatic figures, such as Malcolm X, Karl Marx, and Che Guevara (all of whom he’s cited as heroes), rather than by random movements without any particular origin. Clearly, Morrison has exhibited contemplative tendencies.

The question I have is, how deep is Morrison’s grasp of his own place in history (okay, Bobcats history)? Intelligence-levels often seem to impact basketball players much the same way that they did Stockdale’s fellow POWs. For instance, Kobe Bryant is a multilingual, avid reader, consumed with NBA history and his potential legacy within it. Consequently, he’s driven toward totally dominating basketball courts, particularly in “crunch time”; his intellectually-burning desire to be considered the greatest ever is as march a part of his constitution as his athleticism. On the opposite end of the intelligence spectrum is a guy like Tim Duncan. Duncan is by no means stupid, but he seems so completely focused on simply mastering every fundamental task that his coaches put in front of him that he takes no time to consider the deeper ramifications of anything. As a result, he’s completely immune to pressure. As a result, he’s won four championships.

Obviously, Morrison is never going to think like (which is to say, “as little as”) Duncan. Morrison is extremely self-aware and probably spends hours each day reflecting on basketball and his place in it (along with—in no particular order—global warming, the Zapatistas, Hugo Chavez, and the Congressional Democrats’ proposal to shore up the housing crisis). He thus has the potential—a la Bryant—to comprehend and appreciate how close he is to being an historically transcendent talent, and will therefore focus all of his physical and leadership abilities toward achieving that goal. However, the danger for him (or at least, for us Bobcats fans) is if he doesn’t exploit his knowledge level enough and settles for a professionally vulnerable worldview, such as “nothing really matters in this infinitely vast universe upon which my existence is just a fraction of a drop in the cosmic bucket”; and/or “what’s the point of dribbling basketballs unless the U.S. cuts all economic and diplomatic ties with those oppressive, oil-infested regimes in the Middle East?”; and/or “I could be just as happy pocketing my rookie salary and spending the rest of my life sitting outside an organic coffee bar and reading about the success of left-wing farming co-ops in pre-Pinochet Chile.” In that unfortunate event, a little knowledge will spell doom for Morrison and accelerate a slow drift into NBA obscurity. For Bobcats fans, this would be akin to treason.

We’ve heard very little about Morrison since his ACL ruptured. He’s had plenty of time for solitary reflection, and he’s at that age when everything is an influence, either good or bad. Let’s hope that he’s considered all of the possibilities and has nonetheless concluded that his quest for NBA greatness—a vocation he’s dedicated his whole life to so far—is worth defending.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 5/2

Phew! I just got back from a week-long trip to one of my company’s call centers, where we got to sit with service representatives and listen-in on their calls with irate/disinterested customers. It was highly interesting yet disappointing in the sense that I never got one of my most burning questions answered: why is it when I call in to these centers and give all of my account numbers, passwords, mother’s maiden names, and streets I grew up on to the automated voice-response (VR) system—supposedly to save time—the first thing the human does (when I eventually get a hold of him/her) is ask me all of the same crap all over again?? I brought this up with the head of the VR team, and he sounded eerily like Donnie Walsh: long-winded and vague to the point of useless. At one point he actually used the words, “we’re always evaluating the situation and looking to improve all the time.” The only GM-speak he didn’t use was, “we’ll wait until the off-season before we make any decisions.” And now I’m disgusted with myself for just accepting his non-answer and not pushing him further. I basically went into “Chad Ford” mode, ate it, and thanked him.

While on the road, I wasn’t totally off the grid, though. If you go to and download episode #189 of the NBA Roundball Roundtable, that’s me calling in with the “Quick Take of the Day.” Listen to the podcast and with about 9 minutes left, you’ll hear me dog one of their hosts for earlier selecting the Utah Jazz as his “x-factor/wild card” of the Utah-Houston series. Yes, you read that right: in a 2-team series, the guy picked one of the teams as his wild card. That was the main point of my call: you can’t pick an entire team as a “wild card.” Yes, technically, the opposing team is a wild card, but it’s not very insightful to point that out; I think even Rick Bonnell would have come up with something more helpful. It’d be like doing a report on D-Day, and instead of listing the weather or the message-decoders as some of the key turning points, you just write that the entire Allied invading force was the x-factor.

On the heels of Rick Bonnell’s recent piss-poor efforts with the Charlotte Observer, this was the second time in a row I’ve had to call on NBA analysts to “step their game up.” And having just listened to the BS Report podcast with Chris Connelly, I might have to go for the three-peat. If you listen to it, about midway through, it amazingly sounds like Bill Simmons is hearing the story of Chris Paul scoring 60+ in a high school game in honor of his grandfather for the first time. I can’t fathom how this could be, considering Mike Tirico launches into this anecdote on just about every third Chris Paul assist.

And screw it, as long as I’m cranky from jet-lag, society in general needs to step their game up. Remember a few weeks ago when it looked like the Mavs had turned their season around in that weekend game against Phoenix? I remember reading in the recap that Jason Kidd “joked” with reporters about “a Jason Terry sighting” (because Terry had played his first good game in a while--get it? Ha-ha). I’m sorry, but that line “having a such-and-such sighting” can’t be considered a joke anymore; it’s a played-out phrase. Same with calling someone “Rain Man,” because he’s got a good memory or is good with numbers (as NBC commentator Brian Williams “joked” about Chris Matthews in a New York Magazine article a couple weeks back).

In fact, no more mediocre movie titles in the lexicon at all. That means no more “it’s like Groundhog Day” and “it was really a Perfect Storm.” See some new movies and come up with something else, America. You don’t see the Brits walking around and saying Luol Deng’s career has been a real “Chariots of Fire-like story” or Spaniards constantly comparing Pau Gasol’s performance to “that scene in Pan’s Labyrinth.” Really, it’s embarrassing how unimaginative and lazily uncreative we’ve gotten. I blame this failure on our public school system, by the way. Not only can’t we compete with foreigners in basic academic skills, but now our humor-levels have really fallen behind too—I wouldn’t be surprised to find that we’re just the 15th-funniest among industrialized nations.

Anyway, the business trip seemed to have happened at the perfect time, as it doesn’t look like the Bobcats did anything noteworthy in the past week, right? Oh wait, yeah they did. I haven’t exactly kept my opinion of Sam Vincent’s coaching prowess to myself, but I was hardly expecting the team to go out and hire Larry Brown(!). That’s like complaining to your boss about the office's sub-par coffee machine, and then he responds by converting a vacant cubicle into a free Starbucks booth. I’m not sure if I can think of a single greater upgrade in coaching…ever, actually. Maybe when Pat Riley took over for John McCleod as coach of the Knicks in 1991? But even McCleod had experience and success with Phoenix before the Knicks. We, on the other hand, went from a rookie coach who was clearly in over his head to Larry freakin’ Brown.

And to think, I’d have just been happy with a coach who realized that Raymond Felton shouldn’t be the shooting guard! In fact, if they’d announced someone like Rick Carlisle as the new coach, I would have practically been fighting back tears of joy. So let’s just say that it’s fortunate I wasn’t listening in on one of the service center calls when I got the news about LB, otherwise my screams of ecstasy might have caused the VR system to declare global thermal-nuclear war.