Sports Goggles

Archive for March 2007

Bill Simmons Is At It Again, So It’s a “Black Jesus” Friday

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(Some of what is written below comes from a comment I wrote over at StopMikeLupica.com and thanks to flywoniu23 for the video.)

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I’m tired of reading Bill Simmons (and others of his ilk, as Michael Wilbon would say) and his depiction of black athletes – and black people. However, somebody has to make absolutely sure that the watchers are watched, that people of all colors can see racism, even when it might be “unintentional.” Yet, with Simmons, who appears to be intensely self-aware. it’s difficult to believe that he’s not just trying to cloud his racism with some pithy rhetoric. And since Simmons is so well-known it is important to point out his racist tendencies. It’s important because others might just begin to perceive the same in themselves; because some people might just begin to recognize it in other circumstances; because some people might begin to articulate something that can be subtle enough to go unnoticed.

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The first thing that struck me in Simmons piece titled, “Down with the O. J. Mayo Era,” was that Simmons wants to frame his argument by playing both ends against the middle:

“Again, it’s not a black/white thing as much as a philosophical thing.”

If not, then what is this statement doing in your column?

After all, Love represents everything good about basketball (unselfishness, teamwork, professionalism) and Mayo represents everything we’ve come to despise (showboating, selfishness, over-hype).

This is the essence of racist portrayals; this juxtaposition has existed for more than three millenia: white (Love) equals good, black (Mayo) equals bad.

But then Simmons attempts to backtrack and explain that, though he knows well that his prior statement was quintessentially racist, he’s not a racist:

“If Love were black, this would be a much easier topic to discuss. But he’s white. So even though there’s a natural inclination to embrace Love’s game and disparage Mayo’s game — you know, assuming you give a crap about basketball and care about where it’s headed as a sport — there’s also a natural inclination to hold back because nobody wants to sound like the white media guy supporting the Great White Hope over the Black Superstar Du Jour.”

It is almost funny that as I write this I’m watching a 4 a.m. rerun of the NCAA “2007 Slam Dunk and three-point contest” on ESPN. If it bothers Simmons so much that Mayo is a showboat, that so many high school players are showboats, then why does he first not challenge his company’s television arm to put an end to showing NCAA dunk contests and high school basketball games on the air before he frames an argument in black and white?

But wait! Simmons rushes to the rescue and attempts to save himself from criticism with his very next sentence:

So here’s the answer to make it easier for everybody: There’s room for both guys.

Whoops! Not quite a save – looks like the puck trickled through the five hole, Bill. Simmons didn’t say, ‘So here’s the answer: There’s room for both guys.’ No no no. Simmons slipped . ‘So here’s the answer to make it easier for everybody.’ By adding everybody he is letting the world know he continues with his distaste for Mayo-like creatures compared to Love-like, “play the right way” athletes; he’s just hoping to placate us. But he attempts to further distance himself from his prior race-speak with this:

Is it alarming that a 19-year-old kid throwing himself a halfcourt alley-oop in the final minute of a 40-point win, dunking it, tossing the ball into the stands and getting thrown out of his final high school game, then soaking in a standing ovation could be considered a beautiful moment by some people? Probably not. That’s just our culture now. Rappers sing songs with their own names as the chorus. Wannabe celebrities intentionally leak sex tapes to make themselves famous. Rich teenagers make fools of themselves on “My Super Sweet 16” and don’t even get that they’re the joke.

So O.J. Mayo fits into all of that. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just the way things are.

Just what the hell is it, Bill? Is it ‘just the way things are, not good or bad,’ or is it really bad? Yes it is bad to you, Bill. It’s so bad that you’ll tell us that the young players on your beloved Boston Celtics – all of them are black, by the way – are so lame that that:

During their 18-game losing streak, nobody ever got kicked out of a game, knocked someone into a basket support, threw a frustrated punch … hell, even the coach didn’t get kicked out of a game. There was a passive, pathetic, indifferent response to everything that was happening. Not a single person stepped up. As somebody who travels with the team told me, “If you were with these guys every night and saw how little these losses affected them, you’d never want to follow sports again … the losses just bounce right off these guys.”

Bill, if these young cats got in a fight, or necktied an opposing player a la Kevin McHale (against the LA Lakers’ Michael Cooper) you would have been the first person out of your seat crying about how out of control these young players are and how they have no idea how to lose with dignity.

Nice try.

But to be fair, you place the blame where it belongs: on the same players only when they were high schoolers!

Why? Because they’ve been playing 100-plus games every year since they were 14 years old. Because the final score never really mattered for most of those games. Because they were taught at an early age that it’s all about how YOU looked, not how your team looked.

The operative word here Bill is “taught.” If your prior assertion contains any truth it is true because “they were taught” that it’s all about how you look, not how your team looked. Just to let you know Bill, that’s a classic – it’s called blaming the victim. It’s not the fault of the system in which the players are raised, it’s the player’s fault.

Mercifully, your anti-everything that is stylish about basketball diatribe arrives at a a soap-opera obvious end. You blame the loss of Mayo’s Squad on Mayo, while Love started wondrous fast breaks with his George Mikan-like two-handed outlet passes:

Which brings me back to that McDonald’s game. When Mayo bricked the game-winning 3-pointer with five seconds left and soaked in those scattered boos and a few “ov-er-ra-ted” chants, do you think he was more upset that his team lost, or that he would have been the hero if he made the 3? Call me crazy, but I’m going with the latter. Meanwhile, Kevin Love’s team came out on top. He finished with 13 points and six rebounds and jump-started at least five-six fast breaks that directly led to layups or dunks. Looking at the stat sheet, you’d never guess that he was one of the key guys in the game. But he was. And that’s why I’m looking forward to the Kevin Love Era and preparing myself to hate everything about the O.J. Mayo Era.

It’s not a white thing or a black thing … it’s a basketball thing.

Sure it is, Bill. sure it is.

You know Bill, if you wanted to write about how great you think Kevin Love is, you could have accomplished that with out performing a drive-by disparaging of O. J. Mayo on your way back to Boston. And while you were writing out your abject hate for Mayo, did you ever stop to think why you and so many of your peers dislike this young man who most of you have never met? Did you ever stop to think that if Mayo was a young, white entrepreneur who eschewed a basketball scholarship to pursue his burgeoning business, you’d praise him to no end?

Did you ever stop to think?

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A reminder Bill, you did write:

“If Love were black, this would be a much easier topic to discuss. But he’s white. So even though there’s a natural inclination to embrace Love’s game and disparage Mayo’s game — you know, assuming you give a crap about basketball and care about where it’s headed as a sport —

There’s a natural inclination to embrace Love’s game — if you give a crap about basketball???

Oh really?

Does this mean Mayo, as a point guard, can’t dribble with both hands, make the correct pass to the post, shoot with both hands, make the correct choice when leading a 3-on-2 fast break? Aren’t all those things part of being a fundamentally sound basketball player?

You know, I just posted an Earl Monroe video to my site because he was the old school player I saw on film (well, converted to VHS). “Black Jesus” as he was called could do everything a fundamentally-sound guard is supposed to do; but he also played with flair.

I wonder Bill, did Earl Monroe ruin basketball? Is Earl Monroe a punk, too? Is Earl Monroe one of those players you “hate,” Bill Simmons?

Did you ever stop to think?

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Pieces related to this topic:

The Point Guard: Away From the Land of Fairy-Tale Lies, Into the Valley of the Sun

O. J. Mayo Knows More Than You Do

More NBA All-Star Week Fallout: Deconstructing Bill Simmons

addendum: This post was finished approximately 6 a.m. At some point late this morning or early in the afternoon, someone either hacked the post and changed the status of the post from “Published” to “Private” or reported the post as “Mature” and had WordPress webmasters alter the post’s status. In either event, the goal was/is obviously to keep it from being viewed, thereby silencing my critique of Simmons. This is the third time this has occurred with one of my pieces. The second was, not so ironically, with the “Deconstructing Bill Simmons…” piece, but I caught it early on. I am struggling to remember the initial post that had its status purposely altered. Should I somehow recall what the post was, I will let all of you know.

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Written by dwil

March 30, 2007 at 2:26 am

Serena Williams’ Burden

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Serena Williams.(I want to preface this piece by saying I waited and waited and waited for some blog to discuss this event. I waited for the New York Times to write about it; the Washington Post. The Miami Herald, covering the Sony Ericcson Open as a local tennis event did report the event. But that’s it… and people wonder why I’m so damn adamant about establishing continuing dialogue about racism – intentional, willful, allegedly incidental, or other.)

People think everything’s pretty damn cool on the racism tip. They try to say racism is an antiquated notion held by so few citizens of the U.S. that there’s no real reason to discuss it.

Tell that to black people. Better yet, tell it to Serena Williams.

On Monday, March 26, Serena Williams, a well-chronicled athlete, was playing Lucie Safarova at the Sony Ericcson Open in Miami. During many changeovers a white male spectator yelled at Williams, “Hit it [the ball] in the net like any nigger would.” Williams tried to put the heckler’s racial epithets out of her mind.

Finally Williams asked the chair umpire to remove the spectator. Serena had this to say about the incident:

“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. It threw me off,” Williams, who lives in nearby Palm Beach Gardens, said of the abuse at her ‘home event’. “I shouldn’t have let it bother me because growing up in Compton, in Los Angeles, we had drive-by shootings, and I guess that’s what my dad prepared me for, but I’m not going to stand for it.”

According to the Miami Herald article on the incident:

“Williams’ sisters, Isha and Lyndrea, and actress Kristin Davis of Sex and the City, who was a guest of the Williams family, were sitting near the heckler and confirmed what Williams heard.”

What I wonder is what the hell was the chair umpire was doing all the other times Williams approached her chair for a change-over? If Serena heard the heckler, why couldn’t the chair? These are people who can hear whispers in the cheap seats and ask for quiet from the crowd, but suddenly the umpire couldn’t hear a man calling Serena a nigger?

However, I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s nothing new in the world of tennis – and it’s certainly nothing new in the United States.

See, the dirty little secret of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the organization responsible for developing young tennis talent in the U.S., the organization responsible for putting on the U.S. Open each year, is that the organization has never given one penny in sponsor money to a young black professional tennis player – or a top-ranked black junior tennis player.

That fact is particularly galling since the U.S. Open touts “Arthur Ashe Day,” and plays the “minority card” each September at other public facilities in and around New York City during the Open; there are “clinics” – more like photo ops for white U.S. players – and exhibitions – more photo ops for top U.S. players like Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish. And no, James Blake never received a penny from the USTA.

Another portion, a lesser-known part of the dirty little secret is that in the early 1990s when reports first arose exposing the fact that the USTA does little in the way of developing minority tennis players, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, Jim Courier, and Andre Agassi all received $50,000 checks each year from the USTA. But this was the same organization telling the world it didn’t have the funds to put into developing young black tennis players.

The USTA also threw tens of millions of dollars into renovating the U.S. Open facilities. When asked if some of those monies could have been put to better use like into developing minority talent, the response was that without the renovations, New York would be in danger of losing the U.S. Open tournament.

When John McEnroe approached the USTA for funding to restore the old Forest Hills grounds where, for decades, the U.S. Open was held until the new facilities were built, the USTA claimed it didn’t have the funds. They turned down John McEnroe! Why? Because McEnroe envisioned Forest Hills as a training facility for top-ranked U.S. players and minority players, especially black children.

Hell, why would the USTA fund programs for black youngsters when it allowed Lleyton Hewitt, at the U.S. Open on national television to get away with calling a black male lineperson from the United States a “nigger” during a match with James Blake, whose father is black. And do it on Arthur Ashe Court, of all places!

With that as a backdrop, the Williams incident in Miami doesn’t seem so out of place. Racism has long been tennis’ dirty little secret. And it remains tennis’ dirty little secret.

You know, for a sport that is extremely tolerant of older male coaches acting as Svengalis to young girls and ultimately having sex with them, for a sport that has a crew of lesbian players who actively recruit young straight female tennis players to “turn them out,” for a sport where parent-child abuse is off the charts, for a sport that invites expensive call girls for male players to choose from at its pre-tournament corporate mixers, it would seem like both arms of professional tennis, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) would tackle racism head on.

But then again, with all rampant decadence and abuse on the tour, racism, widespread as it is, fits right in with all the rest of the Babylonian aspect of the “Queen’s Sport.”

At least the ATP and WTA tours could be nice enough to hang, “Blacks need not apply” signs outside their corporate office doors.

Written by dwil

March 28, 2007 at 12:49 am

Kobe Bryant and the Snakes Who Fill His Life

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Kobe Bryant.Kobe Bryant.

If you just typed “Yes?” “No”? next to the man’s name there’s more than a 50-50 chance a firestorm of comments would ensue. A seven-game Lakers losing streak results in I told you so laughter from those who despise Bryant. A five-game streak of 40 points or more by Bryant accompanied by a five-game Lakers winning streak and those who laughed at the losing streak laugh even harder and claim that Bryant is the most selfish basketball player on the planet.

At every turn the name that arises in conjunction with Bryant is —— Michael Jordan. Always and forever it appears Bryant will be linked to Jordan; if for no other reason than the similarities in their games. Even long-time Lakers insider Roland Lazenby cannot help but to remember the words Phil Jackson used to laud Jordan and compare them with the words Jackson uses to commend Bryant:

In Bryant’s career with the Lakers, I can’t recall Jackson offering a truly Jordanesque quote about Bryant. Oh, Jackson has had plenty of nice things to say, some of them genuine.

Observers who dislike Bryant will point to this passage as an absolute “proof” that Bryant is no Jordan, and at age 28 now, probably never will be. Yet there is more, much more behind the scenes that must be considered if we are to make a true comparison between Jordan and Bryant. Using the column from which the aforementioned Lazenby passage arose will aid us greatly in this thorny endeavor.

There is one man who lies at the crux of the Jordan-Bryant, Bryant-O’Neal dual conundrums . This man has, and has had the power to sway public opinion about Bryant. Yet, until recently, he has remained quiet at least, condemning at most.

He is Phil Jackson.

But before we peer into the reasons for Jackson’s treatment of his stars, we must begin with an attempt to understand what makes Kobe Bryant tick. The next statement by Bryant tells us exactly what his goals for himself are:

As we talked, he recalled the absolute exhilaration; the complete sense of domination, that scoring 50 points brought him.

That night in high school had helped him articulate the goal in his basketball life. “I just want to be the man,” he told me. “I just want to dominate.” (Emphasis mine)

It wasn’t idle boasting by some punked-out kid. Bryant was earnestly expressing his destiny.

We have heard Bryant utter variations on this theme throughout his 11-year NBA career. Some of the distaste for Bryant comes from verbalizing the want to be the man, the want to dominate. In America we voyeuristically adore our heroes but we want them to come with public humility, no matter how transparently false that humility is. Included in this adoration of ours is the secret knowledge that we would never, ever want to take on the responsibility of being that figure; the person on whose shoulders the weight of an event falls.

And that is why we are so preoccupied with tearing figures like Kobe Bryant from limb to limb. If vigilante mob rule was still the law of the day, Bryant would have found his way to a rope and a tree some time ago.

Yet, given a moment of repose, at the same time we abhor Bryant for what we cannot be, how many of us would love to have the courage to want to be “the man?” How many of us would love to be that person who stands at the crossroads of success and failure so often that it becomes a place of comfort?

Kobe Bryant does what we wish we could do – and then tells us that is what he wants from his career.

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The first sign of misconstrued dislike of Kobe Bryant came soon after he entered the NBA. The pervasive rumor being floated by players and the press was that he was somehow soft because of his moneyed, European background and NBA player father. The whisper was that Bryant was a silver spoon bubble boy, rich enough to want for nothing, insulated from harm so that his path to the League was unencumbered by what ails so many athletically talented, black, urban youth hoping to achieve the NBA dream – the perils of day-to-day living.

Bryant heard the whispers that came in the form of, “he was groomed to be a superstar” and “growing up in Europe afforded him the necessary time to work on his game against older players who were more physically formed than Bryant, but not as gifted.” The whisperers made it seem as if Bryant was dropped into the Philadelphia high school basketball scene as a fully-formed NBA player; as if he somehow didn’t have to work as hard as everyone else to achieve his dream of being “the man.”

When he reached the NBA, the whispers only became louder and the efforts to stifle his growth became more pronounced:

“…nearly everyone he encountered in the NBA sought to harness his game. Even as a young player he could produce 26-point halves, but it was as if no one wanted to see them. Instead of seeing them as things of beauty, his coaches and teammates saw his scoring outbursts as unbridled acts of vanity.”

They sought to bridle him.

‘I will not let them change me,’ he told me. ‘I will find a way. I don’t know how, but I will find a way.’

It wasn’t a statement he made around his teammates and coaches. He didn’t have to. His every action spoke it. Every little thing he did declared “I’m on my way to greatness.”

Enter Phil Jackson, master manipulator.

Jackson, as he did with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, made a conscious choice as to which horse to ride in order to win NBA championships. The other horse had to be subverted to a lesser role. As we can now readily see, Pippen is not without ego; he feels he is Jordan’s basketball equal. It is Jackson who elevated Jordan beyond his already iconic status as the most prolific scorer in the NBA to the global force behind an NBA juggernaut team. In this process of ensuring Jordan’s and his own place in history, he wreaked havoc on Pippen’s psyche.

How do we know this for sure? After Jordan’s mysterious sabbatical from the NBA, Pippen thought he’d earned the right to be “the man” on the 1993-94 Jordan-less Chicago Bulls team. Pippen led the Bulls to a 55-27 record, second in the Central Division, only two games behind the Atlanta Hawks. Yet in the midst of the Bulls semifinal playoff series against the New York Knicks, Jackson designed the final play of Game 3 of the series for Toni Kukoc to take the final shot, not Pippen. Pippen refused to enter the game, Kukoc hit the game-winner while Pip sat on the sidelines, broken to his core.

At that moment Scottie Pippen knew what Phil Jackson thought of him as a person more so than as a player. Jackson knew Pippen had a greater chance at failure than did Kukoc because it was Jackson who molded Pippen in to the second-fiddle player he became while playing with Jordan; now Pippen knew too.

Phil Jackson had the same fate in store for Kobe Bryant that he had for Scottie Pippen. The only problem with Bryant is that Kobe, from the moment he stepped on an NBA court for a regular season game, played with the sole purpose of one day becoming the man; and no player or coach would stand in the way of his goal. However, despite his bravado, this was Kobe Bryant, according to Lazenby, in the third year of his personal grand experiment:

“I remember chatting with Kobe Bryant on the phone years ago. He was a lost 20-year-old kid, in his third year with the Lakers, just becoming aware that Shaquille O’Neal was stepping on his neck with an inconceivable hatred.”

Oh really? And we are to presume that the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers had no idea O’Neal was engaged in this behavior? Short of an admission from Jackson, it is impossible to know for sure. Yet it is close to impossible to think that Jackson, known for his ability to have his finger on the pulse of his teams at all times, did not know O’Neal was in the process of practicing the fine art of subjugation on a 20-year old. Jackson then allowed this to happen. And there are two reasons he allowed O’Neal to cleave what would become a chasm between he and Kobe; Lazenby supplies us with one reason:

There was no question that Bryant had huge blind spots about himself and his relationships with older teammates. What 20-year-old doesn’t have blind spots? Bryant, though, had huge ambition, thus huge blind spots. He didn’t see that his ambition itself, his over-the-top work ethic, immensely irritated the veterans around him.

So, ambition and an exemplary work ethic breed hatred – at least dismay – from teammates. This is quite an insight, not only into O’Neal, but into the entire NBA culture. But that is fodder for another time.

The second reason Jackson allowed O’Neal to psychically step on Kobe’s neck? Jackson didn’t have to perform these duties himself as he did with Pippen, only to have an act of the tragic play reveal itself in public. With Shaq doing the dirty work, Jackson could sit in the shadows, let the chips fall where they may, attach himself to the side of the winner – inevitably Shaq – while exploiting the emotions of Bryant. And look great in the eyes of the sports media all the while.

Jackson was willing to bet he knew enough about Bryant to know that the strong-willed young player would use Shaq’s malfeasance as fuel to create a deep enough anger to sustain a years-long championship run. He was right. Bryant’s fourth season, 1999-2000 began a three-year NBA title run for the Lakers.

But anger coupled with on-court brilliance was and is no match for the media-savvy O’Neal and Jackson. O’Neal made sure in the press Bryant was always perceived as the “little brother” to Shaq’s myriad of selves – the Big Aristotle, Superman, etc. Jackson appeared to “tolerate” Bryant’s sometimes 40-point outbursts that Jackson manipulated into “Kobe being Kobe” personal statements rather than Bryant picking up the team on a generally off night. Lazenby tells the rest of the story:

Over the years, Bryant has endured much pain trying to establish that destiny.

His ambition has been blamed for wrecking a Lakers dynasty. He has battled himself, his teammates, his coaches, the game itself. He has done so fearlessly, relentlessly, with little sign of regret or doubt, only the dogged pursuit of his vision of what he is supposed to be.

There was no question that Bryant could on any given night be blinded by his own brilliance, just as his teammates could be mesmerized by it.

Soon many fans came to equate his every action with selfishness, so that no matter what he did, or how brilliantly he did it, his accomplishments were met with derision.

After the 2003-04 season ended with 4-1 NBA Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons, Phil Jackson stepped down as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Jackson’s manipulations had clearly run their course and the only thing left was to run to his Montana cabin, then Australia to hang with Luc Longley.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Kobe Bryant was blamed for Shaquille O’Neal’s leaving Los Angeles. O’Neal fostered the perception and it is a perception that exists today.

However, the reality of O’Neal’s being traded to the Miami Heat had nothing to do with Bryant and everything to do with the direction Lakers owner Jerry Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak saw for the team. And that future did not include O’Neal:

General manager Mitch Kupchak made clear the team’s priorities Thursday when he said the Lakers would do anything they need to keep Bryant and would try to accommodate O’Neal if he demands a trade.

Apparently upset over Kupchak’s remarks, O’Neal canceled his exit interview. O’Neal, who has been one of Jackson‘s biggest supporters, is under contract for two more years but could opt out after next season.

Kupchak also had this to say:

“You can’t replace a Shaquille O’Neal, period,” Kupchak said. “That’s not our intention. This move, as bold as it was, was necessary.”

…and this:

When we made the decision to trade Shaquille- you use broad strokes with a brush when you’re painting that picture. Because in this business, you don’t know how things are going to play out…. So the broad strokes in our mind painted the picture where we can bring Kobe back at a young age, at 25 or 26 years old, bring in several other young players… and not break this thing down to where you’re winning eight to twelve games a year. So our broad stroke picture was… not to break it down to ground zero, but to break it down to a point where we wouldn’t have to wait eight to ten years to get competitive. We didn’t want to do that… and then Kobe deserves more than that. He doesn’t want to play for eight more years and then try to get to the playoffs. We felt that we had to put him in a position where maybe he waits a year or two, and we’re there again.

O’Neal has proved the point that people will choose to believe a lie even in the truth is in front of them, if for no other reason than that they enjoy the persona of the person telling the lie. Shaq knows this and is not beyond the cryptic untruth:

“They said it’s about the money. It’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about honesty, and the honesty me and [former Lakers general manager] Jerry West had. That’s been gone for four years now … It ain’t about the extension. Of course, that’s what they are going to make it out to be.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! For seven years O’Neal did nothing but undermine every effort Bryant made to excel in the NBA. When the choice came for the Lakers to choose between 30-something O’Neal and his want for $30 million and a mid-twenties Bryant, they chose Bryant. Without Phil Jackson to support him and ex-GM Jerry West to buffer his fall, O’Neal showed himself to be nothing more than another fragile-egoed prima donna incapable of dealing with the prospect of being traded. And traded in favor of the player he held at bay for so long.

And a year after the trade O’Neal remained steadfast:

“Most of the people that live here in LA will always be Lakers fans, and you have to understand that,” O’Neal said. “And I don’t take anything personal. But I know that they know who the real deal is.”

As far as public perception goes, “the incident in Eagle” sealed Bryant’s fate. Recounting the events of a dropped court case are unnecessary. What is important here is that before there was any evidence of wrong-doing on Bryant’s part, he was tried in the sporting press and in the court of public opinion:

“The image was of a perfect role model, a superstar athlete who didn’t have a parking ticket, the all-American boy and now, well, that image is tarnished,” said Bob Williams, chief executive of Burns Sports. “As of today and until the trial, his image is going to take a beating.”

Bryant lost endorsements from McDonald’s and Nutella. Coca-Cola stopped airing Sprite ads featuring Bryant, though the company was alleged to have planned to drop Bryant before his arrest for sexual misconduct.

Not long enough after the Eagle, Colorado debacle, Jackson dropped his own bombshell on Bryant, In 2004 the Phil Jackson diary of the Lakers 2003-04 season, ” The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul,” was released. Jackson called his relationship with Kobe Bryant at times a “psychological war” and indicated that he sought to trade Bryant in January of 2004.

In an obvious attempt to clear himself from culpability in the failing of the Los Angeles Lakers of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, Jackson used the “feuding” between the two as part of the reason for his retirement:

“At times the pettiness between the two of them can be unbelievably juvenile.”

Jackson also wrote that Bryant wanted a trade if O’Neal stayed with the team because he was “tired of being a sidekick.”

Though this statement may well have been true, there is no reason to use it against Bryant. With O’Neal pattern of mal-behavior toward Bryant, Jackson should have empathized with Kobe; instead Jackson trampled on Bryant to ‘cleanse his soul.’

After a season of abject failure under Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblin where Los Angeles finished the season with a 34-48 record, Jackson returned to the Lakers bench. The stench of O”Neal and Jackson’s previous dirty deeds had apparently cleared. And Bryant, who suffered his first losing season in competitive basketball, was ready to do anything to claim his place as a Lakers legend – even acquiesce and allow himself to be coached by the man who sold him out at every turn.

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Today, we have a Los Angeles Lakers team with scads of young talent perhaps a year away of competing for an NBA crown. As Steve Nash grows older, as the San Antonio Spurs find fewer and fewer bodies to prop up their core players, and unless Tracy McGrady finds a miracle cure for his balky lower back, the Dallas Mavericks may soon be the only team to stand in the way of the Lakers and an appearance in the NBA Finals.

The triangle offense remains unstoppable and as soon as Jackson and his mentor Tex Winter find ways to implement Red Holtzman’s, New York Knicks-style pressure defense in accordance with new rules governing defensive play, the Lakers, Winters-Jackson philosophy of basketball will be ready to roll once again off the test pad and into the public’s consciousness.

Somehow Phil Jackson has gained the trust of Bryant, as witnessed by this Lazenby offering:

…after being Bryant’s uncommunicative enemy for several seasons, Jackson has become his ally, the man responsible for guiding him toward a team mind-set.

Today, Jackson even uses a phrase he only reserved for his favorite pet, Michael Jordan:

“At one point, we got the offensive rebound and (had) a whole new 24-second (shot clock) left. Lamar (Odom) gave the ball right back to him and Kobe went right back at them. He just smells blood in the water and he’s going to go after you.” (emphasis mine)

Yet, no matter what Kobe Bryant accomplishes as an NBA player, no matter how many more championships he wins, he will never be accorded the status of Jordan. Though Bryant is a better shooter than MJ and is equal to Jordan in every other respect of his game, Kobe will be regarded at best as “Jordanesque.” And to the Kobe haters there will be a litany of players better than Bryant.

No matter how many bridges he builds, no matter how much he allows us to know him, no matter if one day he opened his hands to reveal stigmata in his palms, Kobe Bryant will always be a self-centered, mean-spirited, sulking epitome of all that is wrong with professional sports.

All because he dared to vocalize his want for greatness. All because he was too young to know that egotistical grown men with darkness in their souls had a vested interest in never allowing Kobe Bryant to usurp their authority. All because they know the public’s proclivity for wanting to hate superstars is far greater than the public’s want to deify superstars.

With Jordan already on the throne, with Jackson there next to him, and O’Neal smiling with his arms around the two, in the NBA, the trinity is full.

And Kobe Bryant knows there’s no room in the inn.

Georgetown-UNC Game Notes: A Tale Of Ref Calls in Two Halves – and an OT

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JT III.JT III showed he’s one of the best college coaches in the country.

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The pairing of North Carolina and Georgetown in the same portion of the bracket was more than an ironic coincidence. It was purposely staged. Just as was the first round matchup of Butler and Old Dominion.

The selection committee shrewdly concocted the perception that they slapped the pairings for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament together at the last possible second. The national sports media fell for it and predictably sports bloggers, the alleged watchers of the watchmen, fell for the bait. For Georgetown and UNC it is the 25th anniversary of the UNC-Georgetown final. For Butler and ODU, the NCAA was insuring that there would not be a repeat of last year’s George Mason run. As one can see the only “mid-major” team in the Sweet 16 was Butler, a team ranked in the top 10 for the first six weeks of the season before ending up around #17 in the country; there wasn’t not too much “mid” in Butler’s season.

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Amid the booing of referees that began with about 15 minutes left in the first half of the Tar Heels-Hoyas game, John Thompson III received a technical foul. Thompson’s complaint is one that has been levied at UNC since the arrival of Tyler Hansbrough, the latest “anointed one;” there is one set of rules for the bull in a china shop that is Hansbrough and therefore all the Heels and another set of rules for their opposition.

And here’s Billy Paker’s reaction to Thompson III receiving a “T”:

You’re not going to intimidate referees who’ve made it to this high a plane; you best sit down and be quiet.”

Thanks for the admonishment, Billy – as if JT III is some sort of child….

With 3:35 seconds left in the first half the Heels were a ridiculous “plus 14” in free throw attempts. What would you do if you were the coach of the Hoyas, Billy P., let the refs run all over your team?

Packer though, like all his peers, has been muzzled, the result of a meeting between NCAA representatives and CBS reps. The NCAA asked CBS to instruct its commentators to back off the critiques of refs. As a result, we have witnessed mistake after mistake excused with comments like, “He pushed him, but I like how the referees are letting the teams play.”

Seth Davis, in the CBS studios, complained that Georgetown’s Jeff Green walked before his game-winning shot against Vanderbilt. Yet he had the temerity to remark that, “Vandy players were draped all over Green but he still walked.” Seth, that means there was a foul committed before Green allegedly traveled. By the way, the CBS studio crew’s complaint of a missed call in the Hoyas-Commodores game was the only complaint about referees made with any verve the entire second week of play.

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It is halftime of the game and UNC is ahead 50-44. The Hoyas, the bigger, stronger, and just as athletic team is 2-5 from the charity stripe. Meanwhile the Heels are an astonishing 17-20. At least twice Hansbrough jumped directly into stationary Georgetown big men who, if anything leaned away from contact, and went to the foul line. To say that Hansbrough should have legitimately accrued four fouls is an understatement.

“Psycho T” as he is called by his teammates, has a propensity for charging down the lane and knocking defenders too far under the basket to gather in missed shots. The result invariably results in Hansbrough taking the position of the defender he just fouled, grabbing the rebound and being in place for an easy put-back. Don’t think that opposing head coaches somehow fail to remind referees of Hansbrough’s obvious transgressions. And don’t think that referees don’t see Hansbrough’s tactics. They choose to look the other way. Then again, if you were a referee and had a choice of being dressed down in the national press after a game by Roy Williams or John Thompson III, who would you choose?

On the flip side of Psycho T we have Roy Hibbert. In each of the last seven games in which the Hoyas have played, three in the Big East Tournament and now three in the Big Dance, Hibbert has been called for two fouls in the game’s first 10:02. This is a near impossibility for a player who has started every game this season and has undoubtedly learned what referees look to call. And yet in the seven most important games of Georgetown’s season Hibbert has been nowhere to be seen during the first half of games.

(As if on cue, I just watched UNC’s Deon Thompson put his left hand on Pat Ewing, Jr. shoulder and use it as a springboard to jump over Ewing, Jr.’s back for a key tip-in – without so much as a blink from the referee standing under the basket watching the play.)

On February 24 I wrote of the bias Georgetown University’s man’s basketball team has endured since the days of John Thompson, Sr.’s day. I wrote then:

Equally ironic is the fact that Bill Raftery and Billy Packer, the same “color” (pun intended) announcers who called the Hoyas thugs and called their style of defense street-muggings, who said Thompson intimidated referees because he was 6′10″ (and black), and who largely created the forum and the rhetoric through which Thompson’s teams would forever be discussed, still announce today.

The Hoyas, and their style of play, has been vilified in the press for 25 years. I’d suggest Lasix surgery if you can say this bias is not being played out in the first half of today’s game.

(Jessie Sapp just hit a 3-pointer and Packer mumbled that it looked like Green got hit on his shooting hand – no call. Two possessions later Green cleanly blocked Hansbrough, yet was called for a foul)

With 11:23 left in the game, UNC is 23-26 for the charity stripe while the Hoyas are still 2-5. Meanwhile Packer emphasizes that UNC has out-rebounded the Hoyas by 15; if a team can, unencumbered, jump over the backs of its opponents, this advantage makes perfect sense.

A scrum under the basket. Ty Lawson flies out of bounds while trying to maintain co-possession of the ball. The referee standing directly in front of the play somehow doesn’t see Lawson at his feet.)

(Hibbert goes up for a jump hook. Hansbrough slides his body into and under Hibbert. The foul knocks Hibbert off balance just enough to cause him to miss. Packer says, “Hansbrough’s just playing position defense, staying on the floor” – wonderful.)

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The Hoyas are down only three points with 4:14 remaining in the game. North Carolina has forsaken going inside for feel-good 3-point attempts and refused to play anything resembling defense; it is as if they have forgotten their privileged status. Should they realize, or have “genius” head coach Roy Williams remind them to take the ball the hoop, fouls will happen and the Heels will pull away with ease.

(With the Heels up only one with 2:30 to go, Hansbrough bowls over Ewing, Jr., but no call. As soon as Hansbrough makes a move to the rim a fouls is called; Psycho T is now 14-14 from the line.)

As Packer cries of a “liberal no call” on Georgetown, he conveniently forgets that Hansbrough’s right foot was his pivot foot. In order to spin as he did, Hansbrough had to travel to miraculously make his left foot his pivot foot.

Yet, the score is tied at 81 with 24.4 left in the game. Wayne Ellington just missed an open 3-pointer. It looks like overtime. Just think of how much Georgetown would have won by if the game had been called equally throughout.

Georgetown played its game, the Princeton offense and tight defense while Carolina fell apart. Suddenly Williams doesn’t look like much of a genius. Suddenly his team looks young and scared; the Hoyas keep playing their game. With :31 left the Hoyas are up 12. The game is effectively over.

When the fouls stopped, the Heels went south. When the fouls stopped, the nation was able to see the disparity between the two teams – particularly the two coaches.

After today’s game, everyone should know why Kansas never won a national championship. With a bit over seven minutes left in the game UNC got loose on the offensive end. Instead of calling a timeout and immediately put an end to the barrage of 3-pointers put up by his team, Williams let the game get close. When he finally did take a timeout and demand that the ball go to Hansbrough and demand that the rest of the team crash the boards, he allowed more threes to be jacked up.

On the other end of the floor, John Thompson III watched his players continue to play the way they played all season. Sensing the sudden fairness in foul calls, Thompson III showed extreme confidence in Roy Hibbert’s ability to stay on the floor while in peril of fouling out of the game. He didn’t have to call plays, he didn’t have to over coach; he’d done that all through the preseason and all through pre-conference play. By this time of the season Thompson III was confident his players would respond correctly to the given situation.

And in the end, the most intelligent team won. Oh yeah, and in the 2nd half and OT UNC attempted 14 free throws while Georgetown attempted 13.

And to think that during a timeout in the first half, CBS had the audacity to air a Coca-Cola commercial brought to you by Roy Williams.

Oops.

(also see: John Thompson III: The “Deal” at Georgetown)

Written by dwil

March 25, 2007 at 7:41 pm

The Point Guard: Away From the Land of Fairy-Tale Lies, Into the Valley of the Sun

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Bob Cousy, Steve Nash.

While on one of my usual late-night Internet sports news trolling adventures I ran across a post that represented a departure in subject matter for an always insightful site I read nearly every day (sorry Jonathan, I space every once in awhile) – Sports Media Review (SMR).

The subject of the post is the point guard. The context, in this case for point guards, is growing point per game averages and diminishing assist per game averages. To discuss this matter, SMR points out a New York Times article by Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel titled, “Lately, Guards Are Just unable to Get the Point.”

This is a subject-topic I often discuss with other hoops heads. Like Evans and Thamel, I too lament what I consider the devolution of the position. At this point and for the bulk of the Time piece, my path of reasoning diverges from that of the two authors.

Evans and Thamel, backed by NBA scouts and coaches single out one player for the downfall of the point guard – Allen Iverson:

Coaches, N.B.A. scouts and talent evaluators say there are a variety of reasons why the pass-first point guard seems to have gone missing. But the primary reason they point to is that a generation of players weaned on Allen Iverson crossovers does not value passing as an art.

Allen Iverson was a scoring point guard in John Thompson’s Georgetown Hoyas offense out of necessity. The Hoyas were scoring-challenged and Iverson, with his unique ability to break down opposing defenses at will and his fearlessness in driving the lane, was perfect for Georgetown.

When Iverson entered the NBA a revolution was already underway. No longer were point guards the prime movers of the NBA offense. Fewer and fewer teams relied on the point to handle basketball for the majority of the shot clock. There was a growing paucity of dominant centers. Because of the dearth of big-time big men, the emphasis of offenses shifted. The hub of offensive trips up the floor shifted from the low post to the perimeter.

If there was one player who was responsible for the devolution of the point guard it was —– Michael Jordan. With Jordan’s arrival point guards no longer fed the low post, swing men almost exclusively took over that task. Swingmen handled the ball late at crucial moments late in the shot clock. And swingmen began to drive the lane and dish to open players whose defenders had rotated to help stop the hybrid guard-forward’s forays to the basket. Allen Iverson certainly influenced the style of the game. But the manner in which the plays are run? That cannot be pinned on AI.

But to emphasize the point (no pun intended) about Iverson, Evans and Thamel get another person to go on record about AI:

The Utah Jazz scout Troy Weaver, a former Syracuse University assistant, said the definition of a point guard for younger players had been clouded by those who looked to score first.

“I think Allen Iverson messed up the game,” Weaver said in a telephone interview. “All these little guys dribble around instead of passing the ball.”

In response to this ludicrous statement, SMR provides this retort:

It’s no surprise really that Iverson’s name would appear here – he’s single-handedly responsible for so much of what is wrong with America today, so why not blame the entire way basketball is played on him, too.

Maybe it’s true that there has been an increase in selfishness among point guards because of Allen Iverson and that is messing up the game. Or, maybe, this is a paper thin argument, so consistent with the prevailing zeitgeist that the authors barely considered challenging their own pre-conceived notions (as an aside, there’s probably no sports journalist I have more regard for than Pete Thamel).

Weaver’s statement, as is Evans and Thamel’s failure to examine the worth of his statement, is incredibly irresponsible. Even when there is a player like Jordan to point to as the person who is the progenitor for a paradigm shift in the game, there are other factors that when brought forth can be understood as the foundational aspects – “shoulders” – on which MJ’s importance, and other players like him since, stand.

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From the 1947 inception of the NBA to 1989, dominant centers have been a staple of championship teams. In that fated year of 1989 the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship without a true center. The player masquerading as a center was Bill Laimbeer who was more comfortable shooting jumpers from the elbow to the top of the key than he was on the low block. The player running the team, though, was point guard Isiah Thomas.

When the 24-second clock was in its last 10 seconds Isiah had the ball. When the game was on the line, Isiah had the ball. When the Pistons needed a basket, Isiah was option number one. This would be the last time a team with a dominant point guard played in the Finals until 2004 when another Piston, Chauncey Billups ruled the playoffs – and the Finals.

What happened to the NBA between 1988-89 and 1990-91 when the Chicago Bulls won their first of three straight championships? Tex Winter, Phil Jackson and the perfection of the triangle offense happened. The triangle has roots as old as the NBA and was derived as the ultimate zone-busting offense; egalitarian in its principles, needing a center who can pass out of and make jump shots from the high post.

The egalitarianism that is the triangle allows every player to touch the ball and for every player to be open for shots from various ranges at any given point in time. The offense does not lend itself to a point guard for whom controlling the basketball is as essential to their spirit as water is to their body; Gary Payton failed miserably in the triangle; Stephon Marbury would as soon ride the pine as take a chance on passing the basketball and never receiving it again in a 24-second span; Steve Nash would exacerbate his chronic back injuries chasing after the ball as it is being passed away from him.

But for Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, both of whom can make nearly any shot from any spot in the forecourt, for Stacey King, Horace Grant, and Luc Longley, all of whom can make the elbow jumper and score from the low post, for point guards like Ron Harper and B. J. Armstrong who weren’t ball-dependent, and for spot-up shooters like John Paxson and Steve Kerr, the triangle was heaven.

The triangle and Jordan and the other Bulls forced teams to alter their rosters or perish. Just ask the New York Knicks or the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Portland Trailblazers or the Seattle Supersonics. Each of those teams had reliable centers who could score close to the basket and away from it. But each team’s center was a liability defending the Bulls center away from the basket and each failed to usurp the Bulls run. Even the 1993-94 Bulls without Jordan were one bad call from making a fourth straight appearance in the Finals. Such is the power of the triangle.

Few NBA coaches were willing to invest the time in learning the intricacies of the triangle to the point of using it as their offense. But by the time the Bulls finished their second consecutive run to the Finals with Jordan, GMs, head coaches, and scouts around the League began searching in earnest for the next Jordan, or at least a swing player who could score from multiple spots on the floor and assume spot point guard duties in a pinch. 6’5″ to 6’7″ multiple threat shooting guard/small forwards began to spring up like dandelions on college campuses and in high school gyms. Younger children prayed they would grow to 6’6″ with the ability to leap small cars in a single bound.

Point guard? You mean like B. J. Armstrong or Ron Harper? Like Terry Porter or Kevin Johnson? Or Mark Price and even John Stockton? They played through the era of short-shorts before the League was perceived as overrun by fundamentally unsound players better known for their “potential” than their contributions to their teams.

Sure, there was Earvin “Magic” Johnson, but he was a 6’9″ aberration who could play any position. Yes, there was Michael Ray Richardson, but his magic was a blip on the radar screen, made invisible by a 6’5″ mountain of the finest Studio 54 cocaine.

The quintessential “old school” point guards made little impression on the general basketball landscape – particularly in the depths of the urban imagination. They were fighting for minds and hearts made privy to the inner-workings of the reverse slam by repeated slo-mo feature showings accompanied by the “Wooooos” and “Wows” of ESPN sportscasters; perceived by young players whose basketball consciousness was formed and enraptured by the “Fab Five.” They yearned to be John Starks and, not Chris Webber, but the newly supernaturalized “C-Webb” dunking on heads with Spike Lee and 19,000 more MSG cognesceti cheering their super deeds. The point guards, with their expressionless and subdued style were a necessary evil and the position was played as a last resort; I can’t be MJ? Starks? C-Webb? Oh well, I’ll play the point – whatever.

What then was the point guard’s response? From New York, where the pass-first point guard was invented, to California and beyond the answer was to play like a mini-Mike. Suddenly high-flying little men were everywhere. Little men with unlimited shooting range who could get their shot off amongst the trees, and yes, make the no-look pass if necessary, became the norm.

Allen Iverson was not the first guard to emulate Jordan; he was the best at emulating Jordan. Not only did he mimic Jordan, he invented ways to break MJ’s ankles, and as soon as he got the opportunity to embarrass his and everybody else’s hero, he did. Then. In one magical top of the key crossover dribble leaving Jordan in need of a new ankle tape job as he rose to splash a mid-range jumper, Allen Iverson, a natural two guard, became every point guard’s hero. Suddenly on the playground conversations between kids playing one-on-one sounded like this:

“I’m MJ.”

“Yeah. You can be Jordan – but I’m Iverson. And I’m a break your ankles MJ. Ball out.”

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Back we go forward again to today. The favorite NBA flavor is vanilla. And vanilla is Steve Nash. Anyone and everyone who doesn’t play in the League says he might just be the greatest point guard of all time; if not the greatest, certainly one of the greatest. He has won the most valuable player award in consecutive years and this season is gunning for a third in a row.

The style of offense in which he plies his craft is made for the old school, coach on the floor, on-court quarterback. Teammates are spread just so; the lane is almost always open for Nash to embark on missions ending in a layin by Nash, a kick out pass to an open three-point shooter or a dunk for Amare Stoudemire as he follow Nash down the lane. Nash controls the basketball between 65-70% of every Phoenix Suns possession, which surely must elicit envy from fellow point guards like Marbury, Payton, Deron Williams of Utah, and other ‘I need the basketball to be successful’ PGs.

Yet because of the success of Mike D’Antoni’s Euro-offense, other teams around the NBA have borrowed elements of the Phoenix up-tempo attack; Memphis, Toronto, Seattle, Chicago to name four. And all of these offenses, including D’Antoni’s, evolved from the Boston Celtics offense from the late 1950s through the 1960s.

The Celtics point guard who set the standard for the wide open, everyone run at the behest of the PG as triggerman was Nash’s hoops grandfather, Bob Cousy. Those Boston teams featured an athletic shot blocker who, like the Suns Amare Stoudemire, could grab a defensive rebound, get the outlet pass up the court to Cousy and get into the play fast enough to receive the fast break finishing pass from Cousy. He was Bill Russell. Cousy, like Nash, was surrounded by shooters; Bill Sharman played the role of progenitor of Phoenix’s Shawn Marion; John Havlichek, who ran the floor faster and more relentlessly than any other player of his time could spell either Cousy or Sharman, just as Leandro Barbosa does now for D’Antoni. And after Cousy retired. another vanilla PG was waiting in the wings in the form of Russell’s University of San Francisco running mate, K.C. Jones.

Oh, and that “vanilla” thing? It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with style. For all of Cousy’s and Nash’s purported flash, there is an almost autistic sameness to their games; much more savant than idiot, much more CYO than Iverson.

What makes today’s Cousy and K. C. Jones, Nash, so spectacular is that he is an extra-normally sound basketball player. Nash is ambidextrous as a point guard and any player, for that matter, should be. Nash is one of the top three mid-range jump shooters in the NBA, a shot thought to be on the verge of extinction. And most importantly, Nash sees the floor as Salvador Dali sees a blank canvas; matte and court filled with representations of time and space bent, stretched, and compressed at will.

The point guard of the past is now the point guard of the future. And today the point guard dominating the future past that is tonight’s game, one in a seemingly endless string of 82, wears a blue space suit labeled – “Suns.”

Josh McRoberts’ Jump to NBA Reveals Much About Mike Krzyzewski – and “Coach K”

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 Coach K.There’s a nastiness lurking beneath the surface of the Duke men’s basketball program.

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Josh McRoberts is turning pro. The 6′ 10″ 240-pound sophomore Duke power forward/center is projected to be only a power forward in the professional ranks. But what exactly is a Josh McRoberts as a basketball player?

Statistically he averages 13 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 3.5 apg, adequate stats for a college player, but not at all special. He possess  average ball-handling ability for a n NBA “four” and is weak around the rim. He has no reliable jumper from the elbow, no  go-to low post move. This is not an indictment on McRoberts.  This is the reality of a sophomore in college who has plenty of room to grow into a  stable pro.

McRoberts also had a propensity for failing to make the big play in big games. Against Virginia Commonwealth in the NCAA tournament McRoberts repeatedly missed free throws, compounded his soft forays to the basket which often resulted in missed two-footers. Yet somehow Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski feels the sophomore is ready to make the big leap to the NBA:

“In the past couple of days, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Josh and his mother,” Krzyzewski said. “Josh has been a terrific player for us for the past two years, and he will be even better in the future as a professional. Based on our information, it is time for him to move on to the next level, and we are ready to help him in any and every way during this process.”

Coach K’s statement appears to be, on the surface, one of supreme delusion. The Josh McRoberts of today can be no more than the Darko Milicic of the Detroit Pistons. However, a deeper and perhaps more meaningful thought is that Krzyzewski has a dark view of the quality of the present NBA game.

Looked at this way, McRoberts’ entering the NBA draft with Krzyzewski’s blessing becomes a slap in the face of everyone affiliated with the NBA; every player, assistant coach, head coach, GM, and up to David Stern. Krzyzewski is sending an unfinished product to the League, something that never would have entered his mind even five years ago.

And yet there is more.

There may be an even more odious purpose for sending McRoberts packing. Duke, along with Florida and Kentucky are considered the front-runners for a 6’8″ 234-pound power forward/center. Scout.com describes this much sought-after high school player as:

“Very strong, well built power forward. Strong student who can play facing the basket to mid-range. Body will be college ready. High-major prospect….

Gifted prospect who probably winds up being a versatile four man. Can pass with precision and knock down mid-range extended jumpers. Body built for rebounding.”

Tubby Smith’s departure from the Wildcats negatively impacts the decisions of any prospects who considered attending Kentucky next season; it may be difficult for UK to snatch up any top 50 recruits now. This leaves Florida and Duke. Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer are certain departures form Gator coach Billy Donovan’s program leaving Florida in the process of rebuilding. Duke, on the other hand, has a stellar incoming high school class and will lose only senior guard Demarcus Nelson and McRoberts. Every player worth mentioning on the Blue Devils present roster is returning next season.

So, who is this mystery power forward who will be an immediate replacement for McRoberts? His name is Patrick Patterson from Huntington, West Virginia. Sound like a familiar locale? Of course it is. Patterson played for nationally-ranked and West Virginia State Basketball Champion Huntington High School with arguably the best high school player in the country – O. J. Mayo.

According to Channel 36 Sports in Lexington, Kentucky:

Duke can offer Patterson a lot of playing time in the middle now that McRoberts is gone. Only freshman Brian Zoubek, who saw limited playing time this season, got any kind of run at center. Patterson is already better than the seven foot Zoubek.

It’s widely rumored that Duke had been running a distant third in the Patterson race behind the Cats and the Gators, but this could help Coach K’s Devils make up some ground.

Duke already has three McDonald’s All-Americans coming in next season, none of which play Patterson’s position. Forwards Kyle Singler, regarded as one of the top three players in the country, Taylor King from California, and guard Nolan Smith from Oak Hill Academy.

Welcome to Durham Mr. Patterson.

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Sure, it is unbecoming for Krzyzewski to send a shot across the bow of the NBA. But he is insulated from Stern’s penchant for quick-strike repercussions on those under his thumb by former Phoenix Suns owner and grand pooh-bah of U.S. Basketball, Jerry Colangelo. Don’t think for a second Krzyzewski doesn’t know this.

But to give McRoberts his release without so much as a token protest? This is a ploy usually reserved for the often unseemly world of big-time college football. It is the college football coach who “urges” a player to transfer when a hot-shot recruit is coming to play the same position as the suddenly transferring player already on the team. Perhaps Coach K is taking a page from the only other Division I basketball coach who regularly employs this technique; Krzyzewski’s ACC peer who earned his stripes in the football-crazed Big 12 conference, Roy Williams.

Before the NCAA tournament began, Mike Krzyzewski looked into the CBS cameras and said:

“If I every put myself ahead of my players or if I consider myself bigger than Duke, then just smack me; I should be fired immediately.”

By sending Josh McRoberts to the wolves, Mike Krzyzewski just put himself ahead of one of his players. But he won’t see it that way. Mike K. will revert to his old standby and alter-ego “Coach K” to provide him with the words that will allow him to sleep comfortably at night:  ‘this is for the betterment of the program and the university – I did the right thing.’

Good night Mike Krzyzewski.

Written by dwil

March 23, 2007 at 12:34 am

Tubby Leaves Kentucky for the Land of 10,000 Lakes

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Tubby Smith.Tubby Smith decided to listen to Dick Vitale, after all. Last week Vitale urged Smith to turn up his nose to the Kentucky bluebloods for whom success is allegedly measured by Final Four appearances. Vitale then said Smith should walk away from the Wildcats and take root at another program, and take root with a long-term contract.

One week after Vitale’s statement, Smith is moving on from Kentucky to the University of Minnesota to replace Dan Monson, who was fired from the Golden Gophers job after only nine games in November (oddly, at the time of this writing, the online version of the Lexington Herald-Leader, UK’s city newspaper, has no mention of Smith’s stepping down).

Smith replaced the popular Rick Pitino in 1997 and promptly won the national championship the following April. Nine years later Smith leaves UK after amassing a 263-83 record with the Wildcats appearing the NCAA Tournament every season. The Wildcats under Smith averaged 26 wins per season, won five SEC titles and reached the NCAA Regional Finals three times.

This season the Wildcats finished 22-12 overall, 9-7 in the SEC and lost to Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament amid a groundswell of anti-Tubby Smith sentiment.

For Kentucky, the quest for a replacement for Smith will surely begin shortly. According to ESPN’s Andy Katz, possible candidates to grace the UK bench are:

Marquette coach Tom Crean, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Memphis coach John Calipari, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey.

Since the unceremoniously albeit infamously deposed Clem Haskins left Minnesota amid numerous scandals, the Minnesota program has floundered. This past season under Monson the Golden Gophers limped to a 9-22 record, 3-13 in the Big 10.

Can Minnesota expect a Big 10 resurgence with Smith at the helm? With a fantastic home court advantage and a loyal and large fanbase, the Gophers head coach position will be less demanding than that of UK and there will be no expectations of having to reach the Final Four annually to be deemed successful. Minneapolis and its surrounding area are beautiful. Lastly and the people are generally very friendly.

It looks like Tubby done pretty good for himself. However, I can’t say the same for the coach who takes over Smith’s vacated position in the Land of Bluegrass.

Written by dwil

March 22, 2007 at 5:43 pm