timbersfan's WunderBlog

best/worst

By: timbersfan, 9:09 AM GMT on March 30, 2014


SearchSearchSEARCHMenu

Best/Worst: The NFL Fun Police, College Lawsuits, and Dwyane Wade

NFL
MARCH 28, 2014
by ANDREW SHARP
Facebook
Twitter
Email
60
PRINT


Friday.

End of the week.

Let’s do this.

WORST: The NFL doing NFL things. We’re never going back to the days when Joe Horn was pulling a cell phone out of the goalpost. Every year we drift a little further away. This week’s bad news was broken by a producer from the Dan Patrick Show: “The NFL will not allow dunking the ball over the goal post next season. It will be a penalty. Cannot use the ball as a prop.”

Nobody who follows the NFL could’ve been surprised by this. Goalpost dunks were one of the last fun celebrations the NFL had left, so the goalpost dunks had to go. Of course.

Football is great, but god the NFL is horrible.

A spokesman said the league was worried about players delaying games by wrecking the crossbar — something that happened last year — but in that case, why not just penalize anyone who breaks the crossbar? Fifteen yards, or even an ejection. We don’t need to ban dunking altogether.

But you knew that already. The problem is that this is the NFL, where anything fun and spontaneous must be eliminated. We’re two years away from outlawing fat-man sack dances, I promise you. It all dovetails nicely with Mark Cuban’s comments this week, predicting doom for pro football within 10 years.

“Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” Cuban explained in this Facebook post. Pigs obsess over petty bullshit, and try to monopolize our entire week, and get rich off brain damage to a bunch of players who almost universally end up going broke … eventually, we all decide to slaughter those hogs. It sounds good in theory.

I don’t think he’s right, because America is too hopelessly addicted to football. But whenever the NFL comes up with some obnoxious rule like this, I root a little harder for the whole thing to collapse one day. Nothing would make me happier than watching Roger Goodell preside over the NFL’s downfall. College football’s more fun anyway.

WORST: Remember Nike commercials? The NFL’s shitty rules reminded me of the Nike Fun Police ads, and I realized that in the internet era, Nike’s basically abandoned TV commercials. We used to get a different, awesome Nike commercial every month. Now, we maybe get one a year. A little Googling confirmed I’m not crazy — Nike’s decided to spend that $2.4 billion budget elsewhere.

And now an entire generation of sports fans has to grow up without the Roswell Rayguns, the Good Ol’ Boys, Lil Penny and Ken Griffey, the Brazilians at baggage claim, or the Fun Police.

This is an even bigger crisis than the NFL banning goalpost dunks.



BEST: Snyder cares. Dan Snyder writing open letters to America is quickly becoming my favorite NFL tradition.



“The more I heard, the more I’ve learned, and the more I saw, the more resolved I became about helping to address the challenges that plague the Native American community,” Dan Snyder wrote in an open letter to “Redskins Nation” this week. “As loyal fans of the Washington Redskins, I want you to know that tomorrow I will announce the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.”

Perfect.

For the record: The Redskins name is obviously offensive and should probably be changed, but on the scale of racist things in America, this still ranks pretty low.

It only gets really racist when you try to defend it on an intellectual level. Then, you’re not only defending an outdated racist slur, but also insulting the intelligence of anyone who might be offended.

• “High schools use it, so ignore this billion-dollar franchise named after a racist slur!”

• “My dad used to take me to Redskins games, not Washington football games. Where are we going if we forget where we’ve been?”

• “Look at these Native Americans we invited to the game!”

• “I bought a backhoe for these Native Americans in Nebraska!”

These PR campaigns are so condescending that they remind people how racist and arrogant this country’s always been, and suddenly a symbolic thing like the name of a football team gets a lot more depressing.

As someone who’s grown up loathing Dan Snyder, it’s wonderful to watch. The longer he drags it out, the more open letters he writes, the worse he looks, and the more galvanized the opposition becomes. He could just change the name to the Hogs or the Pigskins, and then pledge to help Native American tribes around America, and be universally applauded. But no way. That would ruin all the fun we’re having.

WORST: Baseball contracts. For real.


Someone needs to explain how this keeps happening. Miguel Cabrera just signed an eight-year contract worth $248 million and elicited this amazing headline from Jonah, but really, all superstar baseball contracts are every bit as indefensible.

Felix Hernandez is making $175 million over seven years. Prince Fielder’s making $219 million over nine years. A-Rod got $275 million for 10. Pujols got $240 million. And on and on. Mike Trout’s gonna get $40 million a year whenever he signs his deal. You could fund a small country with all the money we’re giving to baseball players most of America completely ignores.

BEST: Fortune names Derek Jeter the 11th greatest leader in the world. Not even for what he does on the baseball field, you know? He’s just an inspiring guy.

He does things the right the way.

We could all learn a thing or two.



BEST: College lawsuit season. The NCAA is currently fighting three major lawsuits, and one of them was decided in the players’ favor this week. The suit will probably be stuck in appeals for the next few years, and the others (Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit and the recent Jeffrey Kessler suit) will probably take another few years before anything ever gets settled, but in general, it’s all positive.

The NCAA is finally being questioned in open court, and losing; eventually, it’s going to force them to make some major concessions. We came up with some immediate solutions here, but what’s most important is that we’re headed in the right direction. Soon players will win out here, and the completely corrupt college sports system will be only pretty corrupt. Progress is a good thing.

WORST: Commenters and commentators. I will never understand the people who passionately defend the NCAA’s right to not pay athletes. They might be the purest form of haters we have in American society.


Look at the Facebook commenters on this article — never look at the Facebook commenters on any article, but still — and try to explain the logic.

• “WHAAA I GET FREE COLLEGE AT A $50,000 A YEAR UNIVERSITY, CLOTHES, AND A PLACE TO STAY, BUT I’M SO UNDER PRIVILEGED WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA”

• “This is a complete joke. These punks are getting the privledge to be a college athlete. Go pro if you want to get paid.”

• “LOL…welcome to the real world. They wanted the ‘benefits’ of being considered paid employees, they have to live the with costs just like the rest of us in the working world. The dollar value of all they are given is WAY higher than people consider.”

Why do people care this much if someone else wants to get paid?

Or put differently. Why are we fighting to NOT pay people?

It’s not coming out of your check. Nobody would even lose money. If colleges ever start paying kids, they’ll come up with a plan that limits the impact on overall balance sheets and limits the tax exposure for kids and schools alike, and (almost certainly) forces someone else (Nike, Adidas, ESPN, CBS) to help foot the bill.

It comes down to rich people not getting quite as rich, and broke college kids making a little bit of money for the 40 to 60 hours they spend playing big-time sports every week. This shouldn’t be that controversial. It’s 2014. Stop hating.

BEST: CHUCK. The king.

Easily the highlight of Thursday night’s Sweet 16 games, and none of it could’ve been possible without Shaq’s diabetes soda.



Anyone who watches this and says, “Talk about the games!” is someone I can never be friends with. That person probably hates goalpost dunks, too, and thinks paying college kids would ruin the integrity of the game. Thank god for Barkley to balance those people out.

BEST: Reevaluating everything. I’ve always been one of those people who hates everything Wisconsin basketball stands for, but suddenly the whole world looks different. We all need to get on Wisconsin’s level.

It’s another reason to love the NCAA tournament. Almost every tournament win ends with celebrations like this, with college kids dancing like idiots, and college towns like Dayton turning into gigantic campuswide parties. As corrupt as college sports look sometimes, this is why they will always be great.

WORST: DeSean Jackson is gone. This is a tragedy only because an offense as insanely entertaining as Chip Kelly’s in Philadelphia deserves a player as insanely entertaining as DeSean Jackson. But the Eagles cut him, which is bad enough. And they also cited gang affiliations as a factor, so now we get to listen to a bunch of old white NFL writers speculate about gang culture for the next 72 hours. Terrible news all around.

WORST: SPARTAK DOWN, NOOOOOOOOOOOO. Russell Westbrook is definitely making the Dwyane Wade face right now.

BEST: The Playoffs are coming, and Dwyane Wade is still evil.



As much as I hated that Wade move was the other night, it was oddly comforting. Like seeing an old family member, even if that family member is someone you’ve always despised.

Wednesday night I found myself alone in my living room, shouting at Wade and the refs who cosign his bullshit, and remembering what it’s all about. The playoffs are coming.

There were a lot of great things in sports this week, but nothing made me happier than watching that Pacers-Heat game devolve into chaos with Lance and Wade, or LeBron and Hibbert. Soon we’ll have those wars every night in the East, and outright chaos in the West. Until then, we have Kendrick Perkins with this sea lion, and the NCAA tournament all weekend. Life is good.

FILED UNDER: NFL, MARK CUBAN, DEREK JETER, DAN SNYDER, CHARLES BARKLEY


ANDREW SHARP is a staff editor at Grantland.

ARCHIVE
@ ANDREWSHARP
MORE FROM ANDREW SHARP
MORE NFL
MORE THE TRIANGLE
Best/Worst: The NFL Fun Police, College Lawsuits, and Dwyane Wade MARCH 28, 2014
Digging in the Tournament Crates: Xavier–Kansas State, the Sweet 16 Dream, 2010 MARCH 27, 2014
MLB 6-Day Warning: An Airing of Grievances and Some #NATITUDE MARCH 26, 2014
#HotSportsTakes: Does Andrew Wiggins Want to Get Rich or Get Better? MARCH 25, 2014
The Thunder Go to the Zoo, and Kendrick Perkins Meets a Sea Lion MARCH 24, 2014
SEE ALL FROM ANDREW SHARP



Top STORIES

The Question of Kevin Love
by ZACH LOWE

The Action Hero Championship Belt
by BILL SIMMONS

Updating the NFL Rulebook
by BILL BARNWELL
PREVIOUS STORY

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, UCLA freshman Zach LaVine will declare for the NBA draft. Read Robert Mays's February profile on LaVine.


NEXT STORY

Triangle Cheat Sheet: Your Kentucky-Louisville College Basketball Primer



Most POPULAR
THE TRIANGLE
THE QUESTION OF KEVIN LOVE
BEST/WORST: THE NFL FUN POLICE, COLLEGE LAWSUITS, AND DWYANE WADE
MIGUEL CABRERA’S HISTORIC EXTENSION IS AN UNCONSCIONABLE, INDEFENSIBLE, ALL-BUT-GUARANTEED MISTAKE
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF DERBY
NBA BAG: FIGURING OUT THE EVER-CHANGING, PICK-SWAPPING 2014 DRAFT


Grantland Audibles
MARCH 28, 2014

Cheap Heat
MARCH 27, 2014

Men in Blazers
MARCH 26, 2014
 
Elsewhere ON THE WEB

8 NFL Teams That Pack In the Biggest Crowds
WALL ST. CHEAT SHEET

Saints Try CrossFit, Players Unhappy
STACK

6 Celebrities Who Made Millions Then Lost It All
CELEBRITY GOSSIP ANSWERS

NFL Lockout Impacts Dementia Patient
AARP

Olympic Medalist Steve Langton's Journey Back to the US
YAHOO!
Recommended by
CONTACTTWITTERFACEBOOKMASTHEAD
FEATURESTHE TRIANGLETHE HOLLYWOOD PROSPECTUSSIMMONSCONTRIBUTORSPODCASTSVIDEOESPN.COM
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information/Your California Privacy Rights are applicable to you.
© 2014 ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved. Interest-Based Ads
Powered by WordPress.com VIP

Permalink

kevin love

By: timbersfan, 9:06 AM GMT on March 30, 2014


SearchSearchSEARCHMenu

The Question of Kevin Love

NBA
MARCH 28, 2014
by ZACH LOWE
Facebook
Twitter
Email
PRINT


Minnesota fans understandably don’t want to hear this, but Kevin Love is about to become the centerpiece in NBA front-office jockeying over the next several months. In many ways, he already is.

Love has his warts, but just about every executive agrees he’s a top-10 player. He’s not yet 26 years old, he has just one guaranteed year left on his contract, and it’s an open secret around the league that he’s frustrated with the state of the Timberwolves. A player of Love’s caliber and age might become available — really, truly available — once every two or three seasons. This is an event. Every team piling up assets and talking about how they are “open” to acquiring a superstar should one become available is talking in code about Kevin Love.

All those teams have gotten the same impression, directly or indirectly, from the Timberwolves: They are not interested in trading Love ahead of his potential free agency. You can understand that, even if a game of chicken could result in the nightmare scenario of Love walking for nothing — or for the kind of petty returns Cleveland and Toronto got for LeBron James and Chris Bosh, respectively, in gun-to-your-head sign-and-trades.

A market like Minnesota just isn’t going to attract a top-10 player in free agency unless it already has one heading up a very appealing roster. Those are the most precious commodities in the sport, and Minnesota has one. Surrendering that kind of talent is so painful for a non-glamour team. You never know when or if you’ll ever get one again. Minnesota already knows this, of course; Kevin Garnett won a ring in Boston, and the Wolves haven’t made the playoffs without him.

Cleveland, Toronto, and Orlando went down to the wire with James, Bosh, and Dwight Howard, respectively. They just couldn’t pull the trigger on the Utah Jazz/Deron Williams timetable. It was too hard to swallow. The Magic were confident they had the Lakers in the bag as a Howard trade suitor, and given how all the pieces have farted around in the 20 months since that trade, people say the Magic “won” the Dwight deal. Maybe. But winning is going to involve years of pain, with no certain ticket back to championship relevance.

The Lakers are out of big-money trade assets; there is no Andrew Bynum chip left on the roster. Los Angeles does have a tasty first-round pick in this draft and an impatient old lion in Kobe Bryant, but it’ll also have the cap room to sign Love outright after next season. The Nuggets created a Knicks-Nets bidding war for Carmelo Anthony that produced one of the greatest bounties ever in a superstar trade, but neither New York team has an attractive trove of assets now. The Knicks, like the Lakers, will have the cap room to chase Love in free agency after next season.

Love is effectively an expiring contract now. Teams with little record of attracting superstars are wary of surrendering assets for stars who could leave soon in free agency. Love could grease the wheels by opting into his contract for 2015-16, promising to do so as a condition of any trade, or simply informing any suitor that he would likely re-sign if things go well. The new collective bargaining agreement has basically removed the possibility of an extension or extend-and-trade helping any team feel more secure about keeping a star. The rules are such that a max-level player has no financial incentive to extend his contract under almost any circumstance.

Minnesota has waited long enough that it will require some work to gin up a proper return for Love if it decides to bite the bullet. They should still be able to create a robust market for him. There are enough teams that have piled up extra draft picks and other trade chips with an eye on acquiring a Love-level player, but it will require proactive creativity. Rival front office people say Flip Saunders, Minnesota’s president of basketball operations, is a creative and open-minded type, but he’s not having this conversation yet. The franchise is focused on convincing Love to stay. This has inspired some snickering from rivals who view Saunders as an ostrich with his head in the sand, but, again, you can understand Minnesota’s stance.

Minnesota’s funkiest statistical quirk will become a talking point in the discussion. The Wolves have the 10th-best point differential in the league, a positive scoring margin we’d normally associate with a 50-win team. Kevin Pelton at ESPN.com has written that they may be the strongest team ever by this measurement to miss the playoffs.

The Wolves will hold this up to Love and say, “We’re actually pretty good! We’ve approached the luxury tax to surround you with good players, and if we just have a normal record in close games next season, we’re breezing into the playoffs — especially if Ricky Rubio improves!”

Love’s side can counter with conflicting evidence. The Wolves have been a catastrophe without Love on the floor this season. When he plays, they outscore opponents by nearly six points per 100 possessions and explode on offense, per NBA.com. When he sits, the offense dies, and they have a worse point differential than the Bucks.

We can debate Love’s shortcomings, and loudly revoke his superstar card for failing to lead his team to the playoffs in any of his first six seasons. And he has shortcomings. He offers no rim protection, he lollygags in transition defense, he’s not going to make spirited second and third rotations on the same defensive possession, and he often fails to challenge shots in order to secure boxout position — and precious rebounds. Love wants his numbers.

He generally plays hard, and he strikes me and others around the league as someone who will grow out of his bad habits. He’s never going to be an elite defender, but he can be an average one, and he has a quick mind and sound understanding of where he needs to be.

He is an offense unto himself — a 3-point bombing machine who warps entire defenses Dirk Nowitzki–style, dominates the glass, passes well, and has developed a strong post game that draws regular double-teams. He’d have made the playoffs by now had the Wolves not whiffed on so many draft picks and free-agency signings. If a team can get Kevin Love, it should get him. He is a superstar, period. David Kahn’s refusal to offer Love the full five-year max deal in 2012 wasn’t just a mistake. It was one of the great front-office blunders in modern NBA history.

The Wolves can blame the team’s horrific Love-less numbers on injuries to Ronny Turiaf, Nikola Pekovic, and Chase Budinger; the general disappointment of J.J. Barea; and the non-development of the team’s young players. Gorgui Dieng has been a revelation lately, and if he truly emerges as a reliable two-way big, that opens up interesting trade possibilities.

But blaming crunch-time performance on bad luck doesn’t pass the smell test anymore. It’s true that team clutch performance tends to regress to the mean over long samples; ask this season’s Blazers. Some teams and players chronically over-perform in crunch time, and others chronically shit the bed.

This is Minnesota’s third consecutive season of catastrophically bad crunch-time play. This is no longer a blip we can assume will self-correct. This is a disturbing trend, one that infects both sides of the ball.

The Wolves are a sound defensive team overall, but they’ve been bad on that end in crunch time, and one trend has surfaced across all three seasons: A team that rarely fouls in the first 45 minutes can’t stop fouling at the end of games. Only Denver has allowed more free throws per field goal attempt in the last three minutes of close games this season, per NBA.com, a carryover from the two prior seasons. Overall, the Wolves have allowed 116.1 points per 100 possessions in crunch time, the third-worst mark in the league, and one that would rank miles below the NBA’s leakiest overall defense.

Some of this is noise. The minute samples are small, and when Minnesota falls behind, it has to foul to prolong the game. About half the fouls it’s committed inside the three-minute mark of close games have been intentional.

But some of it is not noise. I’ve watched every crunch-time Minnesota foul over those three seasons, and a few trends emerge:

• Love and Pekovic tend to reach in against paint scorers. It’s as if they know they can’t block shots, but are so desperate to stop any potential scoring opportunity that they’ll risk fouls in chasing knockaways. Love has gotten better about this — it was a plague two seasons ago — but it still happens:



(Note: I’d link to clips of these plays, but NBA.com’s public stats sites allow for such links on almost every play type but personal fouls.)

• Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin, two key wing free agents, gamble their way into crazy fouls all over the floor. Like, there’s no reason for Martin to be crowding Ben McLemore away from the ball here:



These guys are serial gamblers, and a lot of their crunch-time fouls happen before Minnesota’s opponent is in the bonus. But those fouls also put opponents in the bonus.

• Quick opposing point guards can puncture Minnesota’s scheme. The Wolves play a conservative pick-and-roll defense in which Love and Pekovic hang near the paint to corral ball handlers instead of chasing them far from the hoop. It works in the aggregate; neither big is a major plus defender, but they both understand the scheme and approach it with solid footwork.

But when Ty Lawson/Chris Paul types dial in late, they’ve been able to either blow by those guys or bait them into fouls. Ricky Rubio is a steals hound, and his chest-to-chest defense has also cost Minny a few whistles.

That’s really the main problem here. Opponents don’t shoot a high percentage against Minny in the clutch, kill the offensive glass, or nail a huge number of 3s.

The more high-profile meltdowns happen on offense, where the normally hard-to-guard Wolves have managed just 87 points per 100 possession on 24-of-76 shooting from the floor, per NBA.com.

Love is not the problem here. He’s 12-of-27 in these situations, with a pile of monster makes — of 31 players who have attempted at least 25 such shots, only LeBron James, Damian Lillard, and Tyreke Evans have hit a higher percentage, per NBA.com. He draws double- and even triple-teams all over the floor in crunch time. The rest of the team is 12-of-49. Rubio is 1-of-5, and two of those attempts came in Minnesota’s first game of the season.

Rubio had a frisky month of games stretching from mid-February through mid-March in which he shot 47 percent and hit an acceptable percentage of shots in the restricted area. He has also emerged as close to an average 3-point shooter, though his raw percentage is a bit misleading. He takes only two triples per 36 minutes, a career low, and he gets those shots because teams don’t bother guarding him.

Rubio’s lack of scoring punch indisputably hurts Minnesota late, which is why Adelman has overplayed Barea in fourth quarters to the frustration of every breathing basketball fan. But with Rubio neutered as a scoring threat, Minnesota has almost no off-the-dribble creator. It has no one who can take the ball from the perimeter into the paint and get buckets. Martin’s off-the-dribble game stops outside the paint and results in brutally tough shots like this.

Love can take bigger defenders off the dribble from the elbows, but he’s not the quickest cat, and other teams swarm him late whenever he approaches the basket. Minnesota has defaulted to complex set pieces, many of which involve the two-man game between Love and Martin. They are a prolific combination overall, confusing defenses with handoffs, weird screening action, and other goodies.

In the hothouse of crunch time, out of timeouts against locked-in defenses, it doesn’t work as well. Teams are ready for the gimmicks, and they will often just switch defenders to avoid breakdowns.

The Mavs are content to temporarily switch smaller defenders onto Love on these plays. That would seem to invite disaster, since Love is a powerful post player, and the Wolves often go to him on the left block in crunch time. (He has developed a nifty right-handed jump hook from there.) But other teams have made the same switch late; they are unafraid to double Love, force him to pass, and live with the consequences.



 



It seems weird that a team with Love at power forward is poor on shooting, but the Wolves are poor on shooting. When Rubio, Brewer, and a traditional center are on the floor together with Love and Martin, opposing teams have lots of places from which they comfortably send help. Pekovic has gotten a lot of little crunch-time floaters precisely because the defense tilts away from him toward Love, and he has mostly missed; Pek is 2-of-14 in the last three minutes of close games, including 2-of-11 in the restricted area, per NBA.com.

That’s partly bad luck. Some of those shots will fall next season. Minnesota’s best chance at keeping Love is simply to be good — to give Love hope for the future, as Portland has given LaMarcus Aldridge hope. (Note: Can you imagine if Portland misses the playoffs this season, suddenly a real possibility? All hell might break loose.)

Augmenting this roster is going to be tough. Nobody wants contracts like those attached to Brewer, Martin, Barea, and Budinger. The Wolves overshot the market for midlevel types in a voracious attempt to surround Love with talent and shooting. They owe Phoenix a first-round pick that is top-13 protected for this season, meaning Minnesota will keep it if they hold steady in their current projected lottery position. It is top 12 protected in each of the next two drafts, and the lingering protections make it hard for the Wolves — for now — to deal a future first-round pick, though they could still theoretically do so.

The Wolves have $66 million in committed salary for next season before accounting for a possible first-round pick. They should be able to use the full midlevel exception regardless, but adding the cost of a first-rounder would take them dangerously close to the projected tax line.

Those players will be available, both on draft day and later via trade. You can get a Thaddeus Young/Brandon Bass/Omer Asik/Jason Thompson–type big man if you’re desperate enough to surrender a first-round pick, and the Wolves could protect such a pick in a way that they’d keep it for several drafts in the event Love walks and they bottom out. The Wolves could use a little boost at almost every position, but finding a well-rounded backup big man might be the most pressing need.

The Wolves could chase a splashier trade for someone else’s productive/expensive player, but doing that may require the inclusion of Pekovic or Rubio. Pekovic has value, but he’s also 28 and slated to earn nearly $12 million in 2017-18. Rubio is among the most divisive players in the league now, in part because of the sense that his agent, Dan Fegan, is going to demand an eight-figure extension that Rubio does not yet deserve.

Beyond that? It’s trading Love if the Wolves conclude they have no other choice, or that doing so is the best option. Minnesota isn’t going there yet, and it has two other connected internal questions to sort out: Rick Adelman’s future with the team, and whether there is hope for a Rubio leap. Adelman has one year left on his deal and has known Love since Love was a kid, but it’s unclear if he wants to return for next season. Rubio is the best hope for this roster taking the next step.

There are just so many wild cards in play, with a top-10 overall player — and perhaps a top-five overall player — at the center of it. This is the league’s most uncertain situation.

FILED UNDER: NBA, KEVIN LOVE, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES


ZACH LOWE is a staff writer for Grantland.

ARCHIVE
@ ZACHLOWE_NBA
MORE FROM ZACH LOWE
MORE NBA
MORE THE TRIANGLE
The Question of Kevin Love MARCH 28, 2014
The Western Conference Playoff Derby MARCH 27, 2014
The Charlotte Construction Co. MARCH 25, 2014
PDX Problems: What Exactly Is Wrong With the Blazers? MARCH 21, 2014
Q&A: Goran Dragic on Being Fearless, Playing His Game, and ‘Words With Friends’ MARCH 19, 2014
SEE ALL FROM ZACH LOWE


Top STORIES

The Question of Kevin Love
by ZACH LOWE

The Action Hero Championship Belt
by BILL SIMMONS

Updating the NFL Rulebook
by BILL BARNWELL
PREVIOUS STORY

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, UCLA freshman Zach LaVine will declare for the NBA draft. Read Robert Mays's February profile on LaVine.


NEXT STORY

Triangle Cheat Sheet: Your Kentucky-Louisville College Basketball Primer



Most POPULAR
THE TRIANGLE
THE QUESTION OF KEVIN LOVE
BEST/WORST: THE NFL FUN POLICE, COLLEGE LAWSUITS, AND DWYANE WADE
MIGUEL CABRERA’S HISTORIC EXTENSION IS AN UNCONSCIONABLE, INDEFENSIBLE, ALL-BUT-GUARANTEED MISTAKE
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF DERBY
NBA BAG: FIGURING OUT THE EVER-CHANGING, PICK-SWAPPING 2014 DRAFT


Grantland Audibles
MARCH 28, 2014

Cheap Heat
MARCH 27, 2014

Men in Blazers
MARCH 26, 2014
 
Elsewhere ON THE WEB

Chris Bosh: LeBron James and I Will Stay With the Heat
WALL ST. CHEAT SHEET

Kevin Garnett is Among the Most Transformed Physiques in the NBA
STACK

Lebron James' Flopping Is Ruining The NBA
PBH2

Sacramento Kings to Wear Google Glass for NBA Game… Sort-Of
ECOUSTICS

Dunleavy, Noah Lead Bulls Over Rockets 111-87
NEWS 92 FM
Recommended by
CONTACTTWITTERFACEBOOKMASTHEAD
FEATURESTHE TRIANGLETHE HOLLYWOOD PROSPECTUSSIMMONSCONTRIBUTORSPODCASTSVIDEOESPN.COM
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information/Your California Privacy Rights are applicable to you.
© 2014 ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved. Interest-Based Ads
Powered by WordPress.com VIP

Permalink

liv

By: timbersfan, 5:30 AM GMT on March 30, 2014


SearchSearchSEARCHMenu

Liverpool: The ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ Suns of Soccer

PREMIER LEAGUE
MARCH 14, 2014
by MIKE L. GOODMAN
Facebook
Twitter
Email
PRINT


Did you ever watch the Seven Seconds or Less–era Phoenix Suns and think, Man, this is great, but I sure wish there were twice as many people playing right now? After yet another beautiful, Steve Nash–orchestrated fast break, did you wonder, Gee, how would this look if they were playing on grass and using their feet?

Well, if you did, you probably have exceedingly specific tastes in sports, but you also happen to be in luck. This season, Liverpool have become as faithful a re-creation of those Suns teams as cross-sports comparisons will allow. Pair of dynamic scoring forwards? Check. Veteran creator and long-distance shooter with questionable defensive abilities running the team? Check. Entertaining, fast-paced style? Check. Coach with annoying verbal tics masking the fact that he may actually know what he’s doing? Check. The potential for stylistic limitations to restrict what they can achieve? There’s a checkmark there, too.

Pace

The defining characteristic of those Suns teams was the speed at which they played. Get the ball up the court quickly — the best shot is the first shot — and, crucially, entice your opponents to do the same thing. We’re better at scoring than you, so let’s engineer games where we both try to score a lot.

The same is true for Liverpool. Reds games average a combined total of 26.8 shots between Liverpool and their opponents, more than any other team in the league (stats courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info). And Liverpool lead the league in goals scored, with 73 goals. That’s entertainment.

But it’s more than just the numbers — it’s the ethos. Most teams, even those that like to play at a fast pace, take time to gather themselves as they transition from defense to attack. Like the Suns in their heyday, Liverpool have completely removed that hesitation.

If one thing stands out while watching the old Suns teams, it’s the speed with which they got down the court. Liverpool do the same thing. Football clubs frequently get criticized for playing a high defensive line against Liverpool, allowing Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez to run in behind the defense. But the truth is, a lot of the time, that line is only high because half a second before, the opposing team had possession. Liverpool are just better at transitioning from defense to offense than their opponents are from offense to defense.

They did it against Swansea.



They did it against Fulham.



And they did it repeatedly against Arsenal, Everton, and Tottenham.

Personnel



Watching Sturridge and Suárez streak down the pitch, getting on the end of precise distribution from Steven Gerrard, conjures visions of Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion filling the lane as Steve Nash worked his magic. But it’s not only the one-to-one player comparisons that fit, it’s also how both teams made and make awkward lineup choices to facilitate their offenses.

The 2004-05 Suns played Stoudemire at center and Marion at power forward, to accommodate Nash along with two wing players (Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson). This lineup was a truly wondrous offensive machine. Things got tough when Phoenix wasn’t able to play its preferred style, but for the most part, coach Mike D’Antoni fashioned a system that allowed him to use his best offensive players.

Brendan Rodgers is doing something similar on Merseyside. He plays his best attacking talent, even if it creates problems for his defense. Raheem Sterling joins Suárez and Sturridge to make a front three. Most three-man attacking units are made of one striker and two wingers, or (more rarely) two strikers with a playmaker behind them. Rodgers plays two strikers (Suárez and Sturridge) and a pure winger (Sterling). It’s unconventional, but it works beautifully.

When it comes to the midfield, Rodgers also forces square pegs into round holes. Out of Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, and Gerrard, only Henderson is truly suited for the role he’s being asked to play. Coutinho is a creative waif who excels at picking out a pass to spring an attack. But he is not a two-way player, even though he gamely tries.

This poses a problem because Gerrard, still adapting to being the sole deep-lying midfielder, could probably use some defensive cover. When Liverpool are cranking, this midfield lineup seems inspired, but if they’re off their game, Gerrard, and the back four, can be exposed.

The Challenges



That Suns team never won the NBA championship, or made the Finals. One reason is, Phoenix had to face lots of other good teams in a playoff system. (The Suns had the best record in 2004-05, which would have won them the league title … if the NBA used the Premier League’s title-deciding system.) It’s tempting to attribute those postseason failures to Phoenix’s defensive frailty. But that’s not really true. On a per-possession basis, the Suns were actually a perfectly average, though not great, defensive squad. When they struggled it was because, stylistically, teams were able to take them out of their game. In the playoffs, the Spurs (San Antonio, not the Tottenham variety) in particular were able to slow the game down, blunting Phoenix’s attacking edge. Mismatches that worked in D’Antoni’s favor on one end of the court hurt him on the other.

The Suns were felled by elite teams. Liverpool, however, have problems with more pedestrian opposition. It’s telling that the best Reds performances have come against good teams trying to attack. Liverpool’s transition has found space to work against sides like Arsenal and Tottenham. It’s the teams with less ambition, the sides happy to play conservatively, that have had more success.

In Liverpool’s last four games against teams in the bottom half of the table, they’ve given up three goals to Swansea, two to Fulham in victories, and one to West Bromwich Albion and two to Aston Villa in disappointing draws. Teams shouldn’t be able to play conservatively and score goals against Liverpool, and that they can, and have, may be a sign that the team has not comparatively reached the same heights as the Suns.

FILED UNDER: PREMIER LEAGUE, LIVERPOOL, PHOENIX SUNS, STEVE NASH, DANIEL STURRIDGE, LUIS SUAREZ, STEVEN GERRARD

MIKE L. GOODMAN is a freelance writer and soccer stathead based in Riga, Latvia.

ARCHIVE
@ THEM_L_G
MORE FROM MIKE L. GOODMAN
MORE PREMIER LEAGUE
MORE THE TRIANGLE
Soccer Players You Should Know Before the World Cup: Antoine Griezmann MARCH 28, 2014
Poor Ox: Arsenal-Chelsea and the Mistaken-Identity Red Card MARCH 24, 2014
Gazprom, Zenit St. Petersburg, and the Intersection of Global Politics and World Football MARCH 19, 2014
Liverpool: The ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ Suns of Soccer MARCH 14, 2014
Can Manchester United Succeed Under David Moyes? FEBRUARY 28, 2014
SEE ALL FROM MIKE L. GOODMAN


Top STORIES

The Question of Kevin Love
by ZACH LOWE

The Action Hero Championship Belt
by BILL SIMMONS

Updating the NFL Rulebook
by BILL BARNWELL
PREVIOUS STORY

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, UCLA freshman Zach LaVine will declare for the NBA draft. Read Robert Mays's February profile on LaVine.


NEXT STORY

Triangle Cheat Sheet: Your Kentucky-Louisville College Basketball Primer



Most POPULAR
THE TRIANGLE
THE QUESTION OF KEVIN LOVE
MIGUEL CABRERA’S HISTORIC EXTENSION IS AN UNCONSCIONABLE, INDEFENSIBLE, ALL-BUT-GUARANTEED MISTAKE
BEST/WORST: THE NFL FUN POLICE, COLLEGE LAWSUITS, AND DWYANE WADE
NBA BAG: FIGURING OUT THE EVER-CHANGING, PICK-SWAPPING 2014 DRAFT
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF DERBY


Grantland Audibles
MARCH 28, 2014

Cheap Heat
MARCH 27, 2014

Men in Blazers
MARCH 26, 2014
 
Elsewhere ON THE WEB

Some of These 25 Pranks May Be Worth Getting Fired Over
VIEWMIXED

Top 15 Biggest Derbies in European Football
THE RICHEST

16 Forgotten Pop Stars Who Will Never Make A Comeback!
FAME10

7 Celebrity Co-Stars Who Didn't Get Along
CELEBRITY GOSSIP ANSWERS

10 Celebrities With Seriously Bad Attitudes
FAME10
Recommended by
CONTACTTWITTERFACEBOOKMASTHEAD
FEATURESTHE TRIANGLETHE HOLLYWOOD PROSPECTUSSIMMONSCONTRIBUTORSPODCASTSVIDEOESPN.COM
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information/Your California Privacy Rights are applicable to you.
© 2014 ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved. Interest-Based Ads
Powered by WordPress.com VIP

Permalink

griezman

By: timbersfan, 5:28 AM GMT on March 30, 2014

SearchSearchSEARCHMenu

Soccer Players You Should Know Before the World Cup: Antoine Griezmann

SOCCER
MARCH 28, 2014
by MIKE L. GOODMAN
Facebook
Twitter
Email
PRINT

France makes national football teams like it makes wine: generally older, kind of snooty about it, sometimes great, but often overhyped. And sometimes, like at the 2010 World Cup, you get one that’s gone extremely bad. Except maybe not this year. This year, France could be the wildcard. Increasingly in the lead-up to this summer, the country is breaking in a group of young, exciting players, and perhaps shifting its identity. Nobody exemplifies that more than Antoine Griezmann.

On a club level, Griezmann is a breakout star. On a national team level, he’s a virtual unknown. Part of the reason for that is, as he was emerging at Real Sociedad, Griezmann was in the midst of a national-team ban, thanks to some ill-advised partying while on duty for the under-21s. The ban ended earlier this year, after France had already narrowly qualified for the World Cup, leaving the 23-year-old free to make his debut for the senior national team in a 2-0 friendly win against the Netherlands on March 5. All of which means that with a grand total 69 minutes of senior international game time under his belt, Griezmann is a virtual unknown, the wild card’s wild card.

What He Does

Over the last two seasons, Griezmann has developed an elite skill: the ability to score while playing as a wide player. Call him a midfielder, or a winger or a wide forward, or whatever you want — the point remains the same. He starts out wide and moves into scoring position.

His scoring record this season is very impressive, with 15 non-penalty goals putting him sixth in the league (all stats courtesy ESPN Stats & Information), and tops among players not from La Liga’s big three of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid. He has a scoring rate of 0.6 goals per 90 minutes (all per-90s are for players with 1,000 minutes played minimum), which puts him 10th, which is even more impressive when you consider that he is essentially doing it from a midfield role.

Among players classified as midfielders in La Liga, nobody has scored more goals, nobody has scored at a faster rate, and nobody shoots more than his 3.9 shots per 90 minutes, or more on target than his 1.9 shots per 90. It’s worth noting that some of this is down to, or at least aided by, the system Real Sociedad play; fellow wide attacking player Carlos Vela is second in La Liga in goals from the midfield, and midfielder scoring rate.

The stats may be aided by the system, but it’s also clear that as Griezmann develops, his attacking output is increasing, year over year.



Oh, and he does stuff like this.



You may have noticed that little bit of magic involved his left foot. Most of his little bits of magic do. A breakdown of his goals from this season shows that nine were with his left and only one with his right, with the other five coming from headers. In fact, Griezmann has shot the ball only seven times total with his right foot. That’s a little bit unusual. Traditionally, wide players who score a lot tend to cut inside onto their strong foot — it’s an easy, instinctual way to create space to shoot. This move is Arjen Robben’s bread and butter. So while it might be tempting to compare Griezmann to other left-footed scorers, a player like Theo Walcott is probably more apt. Both players are roughly the same size (5-foot-7, give or take) and both are dynamic scorers.

Where Does He Fit In for France?

The biggest question for Griezmann is whether he can adapt positionally when it comes to the national team. Because, if there’s one place on the football field where France is in fact set, it’s on the left side of the midfield. That’s Franck Ribéry’s office, and he just happens to be one of the best half dozen players in the world.

It’s easy to envision a role for Griezmann as an impact sub if France needs a goal. For half an hour, frantically chasing a game, it’s not a big deal for either Ribéry or Griezmann to play out of position as part of an urgent, last-ditch comeback operation. That’s also an area where Griezmann seems like a natural fit, given his ability to get goals while also playing alongside an out-and-out striker (like Karim Benzema). But if Griezmann is going to contribute more than that, he will need to find a new position.

It’s certainly possible. As his game has developed this year, his positioning at Real Sociedad has evolved along with it. His touches are increasingly coming from areas beyond the left wing. While during the 2012-13 season Griezmann looked like a typical left-winger who likes to cut inside …



… this season, his touches are more varied, as he has become a more ever-present attacking threat.



France’s coaching staff appear to see him as versatile enough to play elsewhere as well. When Didier Deschamps called him for the friendly against the Netherlands, Deschamps spoke glowingly of Griezmann:

“He is very clinical, scores a lot of goals and creates a lot of goals. He is equally comfortable on either side and through the middle. On top of that, he is tactically very aware — that’s why I called him up.”

Some of that is probably the empty praise heaped on any young player making his debut, but some of it sure seems like a manager looking for a way to make Griezmann something more important than simply Franck Ribéry’s backup. It makes sense, especially since France has struggled to get production from both the second striker position and the right wing. If Griezmann can play there, he immediately makes himself France’s best option.

Handing Griezmann a starting role in a relatively unfamiliar position is a risk for Deschamps and France. He’s young, has virtually no international experience, and, because of his ban, has had very little time to mesh with his French teammates. It’s the kind of risk that previous French national teams have been loath to take. But that risk aversion is a big part of why the 2010 version of this team ended up as vintage vinegar. Griezmann is the kind of electric talent who can inject vitality into a skilled French side. If he’s given the chance and he succeeds, there’s no reason France can’t be a very dangerous team. Or they could age him another four years, like they always do.

FILED UNDER: SOCCER, 2014 WORLD CUP, ANTOINE GRIEZMANN, FRANCK RIBERY

MIKE L. GOODMAN is a freelance writer and soccer stathead based in Riga, Latvia.

ARCHIVE
@ THEM_L_G
MORE FROM MIKE L. GOODMAN
MORE SOCCER
MORE THE TRIANGLE
More from Mike L. Goodman

Soccer Players You Should Know Before the World Cup: Antoine Griezmann MARCH 28, 2014
Poor Ox: Arsenal-Chelsea and the Mistaken-Identity Red Card MARCH 24, 2014
Gazprom, Zenit St. Petersburg, and the Intersection of Global Politics and World Football MARCH 19, 2014
Liverpool: The ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ Suns of Soccer MARCH 14, 2014
Can Manchester United Succeed Under David Moyes? FEBRUARY 28, 2014
SEE ALL FROM MIKE L. GOODMAN

More Soccer

Soccer Players You Should Know Before the World Cup: Antoine Griezmann MARCH 28, 2014
Men in Blazers: With Special Guest Bob Bradley MARCH 26, 2014
Poor Ox: Arsenal-Chelsea and the Mistaken-Identity Red Card MARCH 24, 2014
Show Your Neck to Dracula! Barça–Real Madrid Play a Clásico for the Ages MARCH 24, 2014
Dempsey in Winter: The Fading Magic of the USMNT Legend MARCH 21, 2014
SEE ALL SOCCER

More The Triangle

MLB 4-Day Warning: Introducing the 2014 All-MLB.TV Team MARCH 28, 2014
Best/Worst: The NFL Fun Police, College Lawsuits, and Dwyane Wade MARCH 28, 2014
Soccer Players You Should Know Before the World Cup: Antoine Griezmann MARCH 28, 2014
Triangle Cheat Sheet: Your Kentucky-Louisville College Basketball Primer MARCH 28, 2014
Mark Titus’s Sweet 16 Predictions, Day 2! MARCH 28, 2014
SEE ALL THE TRIANGLE


Top STORIES

The Question of Kevin Love
by ZACH LOWE

The Action Hero Championship Belt
by BILL SIMMONS

Updating the NFL Rulebook
by BILL BARNWELL
PREVIOUS STORY

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, UCLA freshman Zach LaVine will declare for the NBA draft. Read Robert Mays's February profile on LaVine.


NEXT STORY

Triangle Cheat Sheet: Your Kentucky-Louisville College Basketball Primer



Most POPULAR
FEATURES
THE ACTION HERO CHAMPIONSHIP BELT
UPDATING THE NFL RULEBOOK
#TRUEDETECTIVESEASON2
WU-TANG, ATOMICALLY
HOLY MEN
THE TRIANGLE
THE QUESTION OF KEVIN LOVE
MIGUEL CABRERA’S HISTORIC EXTENSION IS AN UNCONSCIONABLE, INDEFENSIBLE, ALL-BUT-GUARANTEED MISTAKE
BEST/WORST: THE NFL FUN POLICE, COLLEGE LAWSUITS, AND DWYANE WADE
NBA BAG: FIGURING OUT THE EVER-CHANGING, PICK-SWAPPING 2014 DRAFT
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF DERBY
HOLLYWOOD PROSPECTUS
THE MOVIES OF ’94: CATCHING UP WITH GARETTE HENSON OF ‘D2: THE MIGHTY DUCKS’ 20 YEARS LATER
B.S. REPORT: WESLEY MORRIS
SON OF KICKPUNCHER: THE VISCERAL, BRUISING PLEASURES OF ‘THE RAID 2′
WU-TANG HAS A SURPRISE ALBUM COMING, THERE’S ONLY ONE COPY OF IT, AND IT’S GOING TO COST MILLIONS OF
HOPE YOU WEREN’T TOO INTO ‘ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND’

Permalink

NBA Bag: Figuring Out the Ever-Changing, Pick-Swapping 2014 Draft

By: timbersfan, 12:21 AM GMT on March 27, 2014

Q: If I was (Suns owner) Robert Sarver, do I pray to make the playoffs? Or do I see that Minnesota is only one spot below me, and that I get their top 13 protected pick if my team can out-suck them down the stretch?
—David Bruxvoort, Ames

SG: Good lord, I didn’t even know about that stealth tanking angle! We’ve spent the season dealing with so many pick swaps, protected picks and semi-protected picks, even I can’t keep track. Last week, I found out my poor father was rooting against Atlanta every night because he thought our Celtics had Atlanta’s first-rounder; actually, we’re almost definitely getting Brooklyn’s first-rounder.

“I can’t figure out what’s what with this draft,” Dad said. “I Googled it; it was too confusing.”

So let’s figure it out. If only for Dad’s sake. The following teams have their own picks: Milwaukee (no. 1, with the highest odds to win the lottery), Philly (2), Orlando (3), Boston (4 – LET’S DO THIS!!!!!), Utah (5), L.A. Lakers (6), Cleveland (9), Phoenix (14), Chicago (19), Toronto (20), Memphis (21), Houston (25), L.A. Clippers (26), Miami (27), OKC (28) and San Antonio (30). The other 15 teams either traded their picks or traded protected versions of those picks. We’re putting those trades in one place because, for whatever reason, this hasn’t been done well enough yet. FYI, I dumbed down the trade details as much as possible.

PHILLY/NEW ORLEANS
The Trade: Last June, Philly sent Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel, a top-five protected 2014 pick and a nine-month loss of dignity (expires April 16).

Retroactive Verdict: Like everyone else with an IQ over 80, I hated that trade for New Orleans, writing that “David Simon might have to revolve an entire Treme season around the Cans botching this summer. Er, the Pels.” If New Orleans never did anything last July, it’d have a top-10 lottery pick, Noel, whatever late first-rounder it fetched at the deadline for Robin Lopez, Ryan Anderson, craploads of cap space except for Eric Gordon’s salbatross … oh, and they’d have the NBA’s third-best asset (21-year-old superfreak Anthony Davis).

Instead, they have Davis, Holiday, Anderson, no pick and no cap space. That’s a waste of the Brow! They’re wasting the Brow! Why not make it top-10 protected? Why????

2014 Draft Ramifications: Right now, New Orleans is losing the no. 11 overall pick. That’s bad if Gary Harris becomes the steal of the lottery for Philly … and not so bad if the Sixers take Doug McBuckets and he turns into the rich man’s Matt Bonner.

Bonus Tanking Potential: The Cans looked tanktastic until Davis ripped off this outlandish six-game streak … 42.3 MPG, 32.3 PPG, 14.3 RPG, 58% FG, 87% FT (and four wins). Good luck tanking games with a superfreak on your team, New Orleans. They’re losing this pick and they know it. You gotta love the Cans — they trade Chris Paul for 12 cents on the dollar and acquire Holiday for 150 cents on the dollar, they sign Tyreke Evans for 250 cents on the dollar, they spend a top-10 lottery pick on Austin Rivers, and yet, none of it matters because they won the Anthony Davis lottery and he’s gonna be an all-timer. The NBA … where getting rewarded for repeatedly shooting yourself in the foot happens.

CHARLOTTE/DETROIT
The Trade: In 2012, Detroit sent the last two years of Ben Gordon’s contract and a future first-rounder (protected 1-8 in 2014) to Charlotte for Corey Maggette’s expiring contract. Seems like a money dump, right? Let’s go back a little further …

Retroactive Verdict: In 2008, Joe Dumars traded a still-in-his-prime Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson’s expiring deal. The following summer, Dumars used Iverson’s cap space to spend $95.7 million on Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. In 2012, Dumars used that aforementioned future protected pick to dump Gordon’s deal for Maggette’s expiring. The following summer, Dumars used Maggette’s cap space to spend $78 million on Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, then cheaped out on any quality coach who could have reined them in. Hold on, I have the Dumbass Police calling Dumars from two different phones.



2014 Draft Ramifications: Right now, the Pistons are “battling” Cleveland for the no. 8 lottery spot — Detroit is 25-41, Cleveland is 26-42. If they land at no. 9, Charlotte gets it. If they get to no. 8, Detroit keeps it and it rolls over to 2015 (top-one protected) or 2016 (unprotected). If you were a Charlotte fan, do you want the pick now, or would you rather roll the dice with the Detroit Dumbasses bottoming out in 2015 or 2016? Tough dilemma, right?

Bonus Tanking Potential: Super-duper high for Detroit. Maybe the Pistons should re-sign Gordon for the last few weeks to re-poison the locker room, just to bring everything full circle. Or they could go with Plan B: asking Smith and Brandon Jennings to attempt a never-ending slew of ill-advised 3s and long 2s every game. Oh wait, they’re doing that anyway? My bad.

ORLANDO/DENVER/NEW YORK
Trade No. 1: In 2011, Denver sent Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to New York for Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Raymond Felton, an unprotected 2014 pick, a 2016 pick swap and three boxes of JD & the Straight Shot’s new CD, Don’t You Know Who My Dad Is?

Trade No. 2: In a 2012 four-teamer, Orlando lost Dwight Howard and basically gained Arron Afflalo, Moe Harkless, Nic Vucevic, the inferior Denver/New York pick (in 2014), and a lifetime reprieve from Dwight’s farts on the team plane.

Retroactive Verdict: Orlando’s Howard deal continues to look glorious. Especially the no-more-farting part. And I’m still a defender of the Melo trade, but the Knicks not throwing top-10 protection on that 2014 pick? Pretty dumb. Was it one of the 20 dumbest things James Dolan OK’d since he took over in 1999? No. Of course not. But it was pretty dumb.

2014 Draft Ramifications: Right now, Denver gets no. 10 (from New York), Orlando gets no. 12 (from Denver), and New York gets a situation so dire that it just panic-splurged $60 million on a 68-year-old GM who’s never done the job before, might commute from California, hasn’t been around the league for three solid years and is already openly admitting things like, You probably won’t see me at the draft combine. Sounds promising!

Bonus Tanking Potential: None. Although the Knicks were definitely tanking in February and early March until they remembered they didn’t have a pick.

SACRAMENTO/CHICAGO
Trade No. 1: In 2011, Cleveland sent J.J. Hickson to Sacramento for Omri Casspi, Sacramento’s future pick (protected 1-12) and a signed, sealed confession from Geoff Petrie that he’d given up and was just trying to hurt the Maloofs with stupid trades.

Retroactive Verdict: Bigger mystery — why do teams keep talking themselves into J.J. Hickson, or how do Glen Davis and Jared Sullinger gain weight during the season when they’re playing basketball every day?

Trade No. 2: In January, Chicago traded Luol Deng for Andrew Bynum’s overweight/frowning/limping cap ghost and that same Sacramento pick.

Retroactive Verdict: It’s the nobody-feels-good-after-the-trade trade! You rarely see those. (But when you do, there’s a good chance Cleveland is involved. We just had two in a row.) I’m just glad Cleveland kept its own pick — if it wins the lottery again, it should change its team name to the Cleveland Superfunds.

2014 Draft Ramifications: Assuming the Kings keep this pick (and they will — it’s no. 7 right now), it rolls over to 2015, 2016 or 2017 (top-10 protected). Unfortunately for Chicago, no Sacramento first-rounder has fallen outside the top 10 since 2008 — it’s like holding a blank personal check from Lindsay Lohan.

Tanking Potential: No need … although Sacramento and Boston have done the best jobs of anyone at playing hard for 45 minutes and then blowing games late. They’ve really made it an art form. While we’re here, kudos to the Celtics for how they’re taking advantage of this “Rondo can’t play back-to-back games yet” rule. Last week, they played him in an unwinnable game in Indiana on Tuesday, then sat him for a totally winnable home game against New York 24 hours later. Yes, they lost both games. Now that’s how it’s done, my friends.

Speaking of tanking, the Cavs have no chance of catching Atlanta (they’re six games back for the no. 8 seed) even if Kyrie Irving’s injury creates some Ewing Theory potential. I caught Cleveland in person on Sunday against the Clips — that’s the most miserable visiting team I’ve seen in a couple years. They make the Kings or Wolves look like the 2008 Celtics. The normally happy-go-lucky Anderson Varejao looked like a little kid learning that his parents were getting divorced for two solid hours. Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters were in “Eff this, I’m gettin’ mine” mode. And poor Luol Deng looked he was waiting for Liam Neeson to save him. Did Mike Brown really have teams quit on him in consecutive seasons? That has to be a record, right? This Cavs franchise has been drunk for two and a half solid years. And not even about-to-pass-out drunk, more like won’t-stop-talking-won’t-go-to-bed-keeps-spill ing-things drunk. Can somebody steal their car keys and put them in a cab?

PHOENIX/MINNESOTA
The Trade: A 2012 three-teamer in which New Orleans got Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick, Phoenix got Wesley Johnson and Minnesota’s top-13 protected pick, and ’Sota got cap space and yet another segment for the future Emmy-winning 30 for 30 KAHHHHHHHHHHNNN!!!!!

Retroactive Verdict: Did the Wolves quit on 2010’s no. 4 overall pick after just two years to clear cap space to sign Andrei Kirilenko … only to watch him leave a year later? Yes. Yes. They did. I can’t fight it anymore.



2014 Draft Ramifications: It’s the no. 13 pick right now, so Minnesota would keep it, with that pick rolling over to 2015 (top-12 protected) or 2016 (ditto). Hey, did you know David Kahn is teaching a three-day April seminar at NYU called “‘What’s the Deal?’ Dealmaking in the 21st Century.” Are they following that one with a seminar from Billy Hunter called “How to Successfully Run a Players’ Union While Resisting the Urge to Give Jobs to Multiple Members of Your Own Family”? I mean, seriously.



Tanking Potential: Very low. Phoenix (29 losses) only gets that pick by reverse-passing Minnesota (32 losses). Not on Jeff Hornacek’s watch! Not on Goran Dragic’s watch!

CHICAGO/CHARLOTTE
The Trade: Way back in 2010, Chicago sent Tyrus Thomas and a five-year supply of Alpo to Charlotte for a future pick (2014: protected 1-10).

Retroactive Verdict: This kinda sorta maybe made up for Chicago picking LaMarcus Aldridge in 2006, then swapping him for Thomas. But not totally. Also, this is the trade you bring up whenever MJ is puffing on a cigar and bragging about the Gerald Wallace deal. (Hold that thought for later.)

2014 Draft Ramifications: Right now, Chicago gets its own pick (no. 19) and Charlotte’s (no. 16). And it’s staying in that range. You’ll see the Charlotte Horbobnetcats in Round 1. On NBA TV, sure … but you’ll see them.

ATLANTA/BOSTON/BROOKLYN
Trade No. 1: In 2012, Atlanta sent Joe Johnson to Brooklyn for expirings, plus a 2013 first-rounder (no. 18: Shane Larkin), plus the right to swap first-rounders in 2014 and 2015, plus a 12-hour nap until the drugs wore off.

Retroactive Verdict: Anytime you can absorb the league’s worst contract while giving up a first-rounder and weakening your pick in two other drafts, you have to do it.

Trade No. 2: Boston sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn for expirings and Gerald Wallace’s contract, plus the lesser Atlanta/Brooklyn first-rounder in 2014, plus unprotected first-rounders in 2016 and 2018, plus the right to swap firsts in 2017. This wasn’t a trade as much as a pillaging. And you wonder why Brooklyn made a serious run at Phil Jackson before the Knicks stepped in.

Retroactive Verdict: Hey, Danny Ferry, I’d like you to meet your new cellmate … Danny Ainge.

2014 Draft Ramifications: Right now, Atlanta gets no. 15 (from itself), Boston gets no. 18 (from Brooklyn) and Brooklyn gets a draft STD. Hey, Minnesota — what about no. 4, no. 18 and Jared Sullinger for Kevin Love? Come on, you gave us KG and Big Papi, it’s tradition!

PHOENIX/WASHINGTON
The Trade: Phoenix traded Marcin Gortat for Washington’s pick (top-12 protected), Emeka Okafor and 10 complimentary “I JUST WON A TRADE WITH ERNIE GRUNFELD” T-shirts. Not a collector’s item.

Retroactive Verdict: What’s sadder — that Washington fans would definitely make this trade again, or that you can’t even really blame them? Had they waited three months, Gortat would have cost only two second-rounders. But can you really nitpick when the same team that took Otto Porter and Jan Vesely with high lottery picks doesn’t totally botch a front-office move? Even getting mildly beat in a trade — that’s a huge, huge, HUGE win for Wizards fans.

2014 Draft Ramifications: Phoenix is definitely getting this pick (right now, it’s no. 17). And Washington is definitely paying Gortat twice what he’s worth next summer. Who cares? CHOCOLATE CITY IS HEADED TO THE PLAYOFFS!!!!!!!!!!

OKLAHOMA CITY/DALLAS
The Trade: So this one gets convoluted. Right after the lockout ended, Dallas traded a future pick (top-20 protected) to the Lakers for the Artist Formerly Known As Lamar Odom, four Keeping Up With the Kardashians cameramen, three missed urine tests and five unexcused absences to be named later. Whoops. L.A quickly flipped that pick to Houston to dump Derek Fisher’s contract (for Jordan Hill). In October 2012, Houston re-rerouted that pick to OKC in the James Harden hijacking.

Retroactive Verdict: So it was a throwaway pick in two trades, then became OKC’s Last Hope To Salvage The Worst Trade Of The 21st Century? That’s a pretty exciting top-20 protected no. 1 pick. Since we’re here, check out these numbers since the All-Star break.

James Harden: 26.7 PPG, 6.4 APG, 4.5 RPG, 49% FG, 42% 3FG, 37.6 MPG
Jeremy Lamb: 3.6 PPG, 0.4 APG, 1.8 RPG, 29% FG, 21% 3FG, 12.2 MPG
Steven Adams: 2.0 PPG, 0.2 APG, 3.8 RPG, 53% FG, 00% 3FG, 16.1 MPG

2014 Draft Ramifications: Dallas is the no. 7 seed right now, so OKC would get the pick (no. 22). Otherwise, it rolls over. Kind of like how OKC rolled over in the Harden trade.

UTAH/GOLDEN STATE
The Trade: Golden State traded the Richard Jefferson–Andris Biedrins–Brandon Rush expirings plus unprotected picks in 2014 and 2017 to Utah for cap space, a prolonged handshake and five autographed copies of Karl Malone’s upcoming autobiography, Hunting for Little Mexican Girls.

Retroactive Verdict: The Warriors made that trade to (a) clear enough cap space to sign Andre Iguodala, and (b) contend for the 2014 title. They aren’t contending for the 2014 title, just the “Ridiculously Entertaining, Perpetually Frustrating, Probably Headed For A First-Round Exit And A Coaching Change” title. Everyone wants to play them in Round 1. Everyone.

2014 Draft Ramifications: Right now, Utah gets Golden State’s 23rd pick. You know what’s not mentioned enough? Utah allowed Al Jefferson (killing it in Charlotte) and Paul Millsap (an All-Star) to leave so they could take on $24 million of bodies … just to eventually get the 23rd pick in the 2014 draft and a 2017 unprotected pick, as well as some unabashed 2014 self-sabotage. Yet another example of the “If I blow things up and convince my fans that rebuilding will take a few years, I get to keep my job the entire time” GM theory (as covered in my back-and-forth with Zach Lowe last month).

CHARLOTTE/PORTLAND
The Trade: In 2011, Charlotte dealt Gerald Wallace for Portland’s 2011 first-rounder (no. 19, Tobias Harris) and a future first (protected 1-12). MJ gets to mention this trade to everyone who thinks he’s a bad owner. I got two first-rounders for Gerald Wallace! No, really!

Retroactive Verdict: Within 18 months, Wallace got flipped to Brooklyn for a top-three protected pick that became Damian Lillard, then got thrown into Boston’s Pierce-Garnett pillaging. He’s like the Kevin Bacon of crazily one-sided protected pick trades.

2014 Draft Ramifications: Right now, Charlotte gets no. 24. So unless Detroit falls into the bottom eight, Charlotte gets no. 9 and no. 24 but loses no. 16. Got it? I’m so glad we did this. Thanks for talking me into it.

PHOENIX/INDIANA
The Trade: Phoenix traded Luis Scola for Indiana’s pick (top-14 protected), Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a lifetime of “I JUST KICKED LARRY LEGEND’S ASS IN AN NBA TRADE AND THERE WERE WITNESSES AND EVERYTHING!” bragging rights for Suns GM Ryan McDonough.

Retroactive Verdict: Holy mackerel, that trade was one-sided, especially with how well Green has been playing. Can you believe McDonough, a Boston kid who grew up loving the Celtics, somehow outwitted the Basketball Jesus in an NBA trade? If I beat 33 in a trade, I’d have trouble sleeping at night. Check that — I wouldn’t trade with Larry Legend. Check that — I’d just give him my best players until I got fired, you’re right.

2014 Draft Ramifications: Right now, the Suns are picking no. 14 (their own), no. 17 (from Washington) and no. 29 (from Indy). Well done, Ryan McDonough. I hereby dub you the Anti-Kahn.

(Wait a second, I still have almost 2,000 words to play with! Let’s hit some other emails … )

♦♦♦

Q: The people who think Blake Griffin has been more valuable than Kevin Love this season are the same people that think Miguel Cabrera was more valuable than Mike Trout in 2012. We have advanced statistics now. What the hell is your case for Griffin over Love?
—Ben G., Los Angeles

SG: Um … I watch basketball?

Q: When are you going to grow the balls to actually call an NBA game instead of the pregame/halftime shows?
—Evam Manning, Toronto

SG: Tonight! That’s right, Jalen Rose and I are calling the Spurs-Lakers game with Mike Tirico. ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET — it’s the Don’t Get Fired Classic!

Q: What would you peg Carmelo’s 2014-15 team odds at? I have Knicks 1/1, Bulls 3/1, Charlotte 7/1, Lakers 10/1, Suns 12/1, Heat 15/1, Field 20/1.
—Andrew, New York

SG: I’d go Knicks 1/2, Rockets 2/1 (Dwight 2.0), Bulls 2/1 (the smartest option), Charlotte 10/1 (Jordan Brand ties), Heat 12/1 (The Decision 2.0), Suns 25/1 (cap space!), Lakers 60/1 (Hollywood!). Jalen Rose has a funny take on this — by using Phil Jackson as a smoke screen, Carmelo can grab that extra $30 million guaranteed without anyone ripping him for caring more about money than winning.

Phil Jackson is a winner — we’ve had some great talks lately. I love everything he’s saying. I think we can win a title together.

Translation: I WANT THE EXTRA $30 MILLION! Meanwhile, as we’ve been discussing on the B.S. Report for six weeks, the Rockets could easily clear Carmelo cap space by trading Omer Asik’s deal (easy) and Jeremy Lin’s deal (they’d have to use a first-round pick and/or Terrence Jones to dump it). You know why you can’t rule out Houston? Because we’ve heard the he-won’t-go-there logic before with them. I don’t care how big of a mess it is, he’s not walking away from that fifth year and that extra money … He wants to stay in a big market … The Texas state tax thing isn’t that big of a deal … I mean, didn’t we watch this movie last summer with Dwight? Along with Chicago, those are the two title-ready destinations for him. And they’re both in play. The Zen Master has some work to do.

Q: So I’m sitting on my couch on Sunday watching Houston/Miami thinking, ‘this is a Finals preview.’ I fall asleep, wake up with six minutes to go in the 4th quarter and panic briefly because I don’t want to see the Heat drop another game. Then I remember: This is Dwight Howard’s team. They have no heart. All Miami has to do is get one marginal call/hurt Dwight feelings/make a sort of run and they’ll pull this out. Tell me I’m wrong Simmons. Tell me Dwight has some heart. I dare you.
—Patrick Olp, Billings

SG: We’ve only really seen it one time — in the ’09 playoffs, when Dwight knocked Cleveland out with a monster Game 6 (and played well in the Finals, too). I said this on TV on Sunday and I’m saying it again now: Dwight’s last week of basketball was pretty telling. The Rockets had just come off three “WE ARE TITLE CONTENDERS!!!!” victories over Miami, Indiana and Portland. They head to OKC for a message game, to play a team with only Steven Adams and Nick Collison to handle Dwight. He should foul both of those guys out in 20 minutes, right?

So what happens? Dwight no-shows. Nine points, 10 rebounds, 25 “Does Dwight know this game is being televised?” moments. Meanwhile, Durant knows no Rocket can guard him — he eviscerates them for 42. That’s the difference between Dwight and Durant: One guy goes into that game thinking, This is a huge game, we gotta send a message, they don’t have anyone who can guard me. The other guy just goes into the game.

Two days later, Houston played in Chicago against Joakim Noah, Dwight’s chief rival for the first-team All-NBA spot. At shootaround that day, Kevin McHale says of Noah, “He should be Defensive Player of the Year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.” You know why that was interesting? Um … KEVIN MCHALE COACHES DWIGHT HOWARD! AND THEY WERE PLAYING CHICAGO THAT NIGHT!!!!!! McHale did everything but light a big fire log and try to ram it up Dwight’s ass.

How did Dwight respond? The Rockets lost by 24. Dwight put up 12 and 10 with seven turnovers. Noah tossed up 13 and 10 with nine assists. Please, please, please, remember this game as you’re filling out your All-NBA ballots. By the way, it’s Year 10 for Dwight Howard — as I covered in last spring’s column about him, he is who he is at this point. Can you win the title if he’s your SECOND-best player? Absolutely. Houston’s only chance to seriously contend is if everyone agrees, “This is James Harden’s team.” And they aren’t quite there yet.

Q: Kendall Marshall and Ricky Rubio have very similar stats.
—Malc Dawson, Fort Worth

SG: So you wouldn’t give the five-year max to Rubio?

Q: I’m thinking of naming my rock band “Boogie Cousins.” Is there any reason I shouldn’t do this?
—Dan, Potsdam, New York

SG: None. Just remember, if I had this mailbag 25 years ago, I may have gotten this question:

We’re thinking of naming our rock band “Mookie Blaylock.” Is there any reason we shouldn’t do this?
—Jeff and Eddie, Seattle

Q: On your list of post-1989 top-3 picks that played less than 500 minutes in their rookie season (in NBA Bag No. 3), you accidentally omitted your #3 MVP and breakout superstar Blake Griffin. Remember? He missed all of the 2009-2010 season with a knee injury.
—Jeff Bess, Missouri

SG: Yup — total brainfart. And in the section about “Coming Home” tributes, I mistakenly omitted Paul Pierce’s “Coming Home” video that the Celtics made for his return to Boston because of a tragic copy-paste error. It’s the best one, too.



By the way, thanks to Van Doan in Davis, California, for making the Shining/“I’m Coming Home” mash-up I requested. High comedy.



Q: How far would the 2014 Sixers go in the NCAA tournament?
—At Least 50 Readers This Week

SG: That was the most popular question in a while. Philly wouldn’t get past the Sweet 16 — this is the worst NBA team I’ve ever seen. I think every 1- and 2-seed would beat them; I think Syracuse, Duke, Louisville and Michigan State would beat them; and I think Arizona and Florida would blow them out. Maybe this would be a good NBA lottery wrinkle: Every NBA team that can’t win 20 games has to play the NCAA champ in a 40-minute game. If they can’t beat the college team, they can’t get a top-three pick.

Q: When are you publishing your march madness picks? I’ve followed your NFL picks for years so I need to see your picks so I can make different ones and win my work pool. C’mon man! Get with it!
—Ben, Cincinnati

SG: My Final Four: Florida, Michigan State, Duke, Arizona. My winner: Michigan State over Arizona. Now please, go against me.

Q: Which NBA players could single-handedly propel their team to the NCAA title if they were to be placed on any 16th seed?
—Connor, San Diego

SG: LeBron and Durant, definitely. Anthony Davis, maybe. And for some reason, I love Russell Westbrook for this question. Couldn’t you see Russ going off, shooting 35 times a game and playing like an absolute maniac?

Q: Wanna play a game that will simultaneously make you really sad and result in a shouting match with your friends? It’s called “Who’s the worst player you would accept in a trade straight up for Derrick Rose?” You’re the Bulls front office, all 29 other teams are offering you 1-for-1 trades — who’s the worst player you’re accepting? Klay Thompson? Dame Lillard? Personally, I’m cashing out for 80 cents on the dollar and taking Goran Dragic.
—Indy, New York

SG: Seven things aren’t going anywhere in Chicago: Gibsons, Garrett Popcorn, Wrigley, deep-dish pizza, the Blackhawks logo, the MJ statue and Derrick Rose. Everyone in Chicago would riot. The Bulls aren’t trading him. But Rose is also coming off two major knee surgeries and has overwhelming Penny Hardaway 2.0 potential. So let’s flip this the other way — we remove the salary cap for three hours, and every OTHER team can trade for Derrick Rose. I think these 22 players would cause teams to pass …

LeBron James; Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook; Blake Griffin or Chris Paul; James Harden or Dwight Howard; Anthony Davis; Anthony Davis a second time; Steph Curry; Paul George; Kevin Love; LaMarcus Aldridge; Marc Gasol; Carmelo Anthony; Damian Lillard; John Wall; Tony Parker; Andre Drummond; Kyrie Irving; Serge Ibaka; Chris Bosh; and yes, Goran Dragic. The teams with those 22 guys would examine Rose’s injury history, look at his intimidating salary and get freaked out. As for Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins or whoever … either it’s exceedingly debatable, or they’d grab Rose in two seconds. Either way, I hate these two paragraphs and miss watching Rose play. Let’s move on.

Q: You linked to a great Bargnani tribute a few weeks ago – this is almost as great.
—Matt Veneski, Seattle



SG: Incredible. Just incredible. Is Bargnani the Weeden of basketball, or vice versa?

Q: After watching Byron Mullens get posterized the other day, I started to think about which NBA player is most likely to end up on the receiving end of a massive dunk. Call it the “Shawn Bradley Award” since Bradley is the godfather of being dunked on. The qualifications go beyond just being posterized frequently, the player must also have to be tall and probably white, and be either naive or arrogant enough to think that they can block Serge Ibaka with a full-head of steam coming down the lane. So who’s the 2014 winner? Mullens? You can’t rule out Greg Stiemsma or Robin Lopez.
—Jesse Collings, Waltham, Massachusetts

SG: The Plumlee brothers can’t fathom that you left them out of this conversation. They’re on Skype just staring at each other in disbelief right now. Along with naivete and overconfidence, Jesse forgot one crucial element: the Bradley Award candidate has to be a decent dunker in his own right. For instance, did you see the Rich Man’s Plumlee (Mason) get embedded by Gerald Green earlier this week? As Gerald worked up a head of steam, just about anyone else would have said, “I’m getting out of here, I don’t want to end up on YouTube.” But Mason decided, “I’m not afraid of Gerald Green, I’m gonna block this!”



And that’s how you end up on YouTube. My top-five finalists for 2014’s Bradley Award: (1) Miles, (2) Mason, (3) Cody Zeller, (4) Tyler Zeller, (5) Mullens. By the way, we may or may not be working on a 30 for 30 short about Bradley called Posterized. (Like you wouldn’t watch this.)

Q: After watching Night Shift with my wife last night, it occurred to me that this was the movie version of Breaking Bad. Billy Blaze is Jesse Pinkman. Chuck is Walter White. Prostitution is meth. The morgue is the Studebaker/lab. Now I’m enraged that Night Shift was a two-hour film rather than a five-season cable series. While I loved Night Shift as a movie (very underrated), there is so much more character development to be had. I want to see Chuck go completely nuts a la Walter White (I’m talking way more than what he does at the end of the movie; I want him to blow up a Dodge Challenger). I want to see Billy Blaze become hardened by the prostitution business. You have to make this happen, Simmons. Forget all-NBA mailbags. Focus on this and this alone. The world is counting on you.
—John O, Creelsboro, Kentucky

SG: Yup, these are my readers.

Permalink

nba bag 2

By: timbersfan, 8:30 AM GMT on March 14, 2014


SearchSearchSEARCHMenu

NBA Bag: The Phil Jackson–to-the-Knicks Theory

NBA
MARCH 12, 2014
by BILL SIMMONS
Facebook
Twitter
Email


Editor’s note: Every Wednesday from now until the final day of the regular season (April 16), I am cranking out an all-NBA mailbag for the Triangle with a 5,000-word limit. My only goal for this week: cranking something that doesn’t just degenerate into emails about Phil Jackson; Carmelo; James Dolan; the Knicks; or Jackson, Carmelo, Dolan and the Knicks. As always, these are actual emails from actual readers.

Q: Shouldn’t your “Ten steps to tanking” (in last week’s mailbag) actually be steps 2 through 11? The real step one: make sure you have a first round pick in the year you’re tanking. KNICKS!!!
—Tim, Pasadena

SG: Bad start. Dammit.

Q: Gotham has Bruce Wayne, who inherited billions from his father, then continued to successfully run his family’s corporation, fund charities, and protect the city of Gotham as a masked vigilante who strikes fear into the hearts of those who harm the innocent.

New York has James Dolan.
—Ronn, New York, New York

SG: I swear this won’t be a Knicks-only mailbag. But since we’re here, allow me to unveil my theory for everything that’s happening with Phil Jackson.

So, here’s a 68-year-old guy with 13 rings. He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, only he doesn’t want any part of the week-to-week grind of coaching. He was attached to Seattle’s run at the Kings last year, and would have fetched an ownership stake and control of basketball decisions had Sacramento not fended them off. Detroit’s Tom Gores has tried to rope Jackson into coming aboard multiple times. A group trying to purchase the Bucks is pushing to get him involved. It’s not like he isn’t talking to people.

After the Seattle gig vanished, Phil hoped to stay with the Lakers somehow. He’s engaged to the daughter of the late, great Jerry Buss, only her bumbling brother is running the franchise into the ground; that same brother is irrationally threatened by his much smarter, infinitely more basketball-savvy, undeniably condescending future brother-in-law. Jackson needed to figure out how to pressure Jimmy Buss — a.k.a. Jimmy Boy — into giving him control of the Lakers and/or a lavish consulting gag.

What happens next? He starts talking to Brooklyn about becoming a high-priced consultant and/or Billy King’s eventual replacement if Brooklyn bombs in Round 1. Famous music manager Irving Azoff (an A-list power broker) catches wind and alerts his embattled buddy James Dolan. You can’t let Jackson go to the Nets, he tells him. Here’s a good chance for you to swing New York toward your side again. More importantly, the Nets won’t get him. Dolan and Jackson start talking. Initially, Phil starts asking for crazy, outlandish stuff and makes a spirited run for the coaching spot of the Keep Getting Dem Checks All-Stars.

I want $13 million a year. I want to run the team from Los Angeles. I want final say on everything. I want to pursue Steve Kerr as next year’s coach.

And to his amazement … Dolan keeps saying yes. To everything.

Now, Jackson’s wheels start turning. Could he turn things around in New York? What would this do for his legacy? He knows they don’t have first-round picks in 2014 and 2016, but they’ll have a slew of cap space once Amar’e-Bargnani-Chandler come off the books in 2015. He knows he can pull the Zen Master routine on Carmelo and talk him into staying. He knows superstar free agents like Durant, Westbrook and Love are coming down the pike. He knows there’s a puncher’s chance at LeBron. He knows he could manipulate these free agents just like Riley manipulated the Miami guys — play up the “mecca of basketball” thing; play up the history; play up MSG; play up the Biggest City in the World thing; play up the five generations of Knicks fans; play up the whole “if you win an NBA title here, that will mean more than anyone winning a title anywhere else” thing; go full-fledged Zen Master on them.

And as he keeps thinking about it, he’s inadvertently talking himself into it. He knows Dolan is a horror show of a boss 90 percent of the time, but he also knows about Dolan’s unwavering loyalty to Isiah Thomas and Donnie Walsh — when you’re in with Dolan, you’re in all the way. So he leverages the Knicks by using the threat of the Nets and Lakers. And Dolan just keeps saying “Yes.” He even gets Bill Bradley to start lobbying Jackson, which resonates with Jackson much more than Dolan realizes. And at some point, Jackson says to himself, Wow, if they’re gonna let me run the Knicks from Los Angeles, and I only have to come into New York twice a month, and I’m getting final say on everything, and I’m getting gratuitously overpaid … why wouldn’t I do this?

The elephant in the room: Why would anyone think Phil Jackson — 69 in September, and not exactly known for his tireless work ethic during his last few Lakers years — is suddenly ready to outwork the Sam Prestis and Daryl Moreys and Rob Hennigans of the world? Could you see Phil hopping puddle jumpers from Kansas City to Oklahoma City in mid-January to scout lottery picks? What makes the 2014-16 Knicks situation any different from the 2008-10 Knicks situation … when they wasted two years chasing a pipe dream, came away with $100 million of Amar’e Stoudemire, then spent hundreds of millions more so they could win exactly one playoff series?

Also, doesn’t it mean something that the Knicks have been a mess from the moment Dolan took over? Is he the Dan Snyder of basketball, or is Snyder the Dolan of football? Why go near it? Would YOU want to work for James Dolan? How many times does a pipe dream actually work out? And can you really run a team from 3,000 miles away?

Phil Jackson is grappling with all of these questions. There’s a reason the Knicks deal hasn’t been signed or announced: Either he’s waiting for Mikhail Prokhorov to trump the offer because Phil ultimately doesn’t want to work for Dolan, or he’s waiting for his brother-in-law to be to say, “Don’t go to New York, stay here, I’ll give you final say over Mitch.” And when the Jimmys and Mutant Russian Ted Stepien are involved in the same negotiating drama, it’s probably not going seamlessly, anyway. Right?

Anyway, that’s my theory. I know I’m right about the Seattle/Detroit/Milwaukee stuff and the Brooklyn/Azoff stuff, and I believe everything else is right, too. If he takes the Knicks job, I’d break down the motivation percentages like this: 50 percent shameless money grab/irresistible Godfather offer; 20 percent competitiveness/legacy grab; 20 percent affection for/appreciation of the Knicks brand; 10 percent missing the limelight/being relevant again. Personally, I am 17 times more than dubious that a 68-year-old guy with no front-office experience whatsoever can save the Knicks from 3,000 miles away … while working for James Dolan, no less. Sounds like a recipe for disaster even if you’re the Zen Master. We will see.

Q: I’m already fearing what Grantland is going to become when you pass it along to your kids. After seeing the complete and total failing of legacy kids Dolan and Buss — and now we can add Josh Kroenke, too — why shouldn’t I be concerned?
—Gary, Indianapolis

SG: Shots fired at Josh Kroenke! For the record, I’m not giving up on Josh yet — can one family really own the Nuggets, Avalanche, Rams AND Arsenal at the same time? Four teams in four leagues in three different cities and two different countries? That’s ludicrous. I can’t put Josh even close to that Buss-Dolan-Maloof level yet. But to answer Gary’s question, my son definitely fits that legacy-kid profile — as I wrote last week, he’s a huge pro wrestling fan with no concept of money who’s on pace to live at home until he’s 40. I think we have a new editor-in-chief for 2042! I can’t wait until he reinvents Grantland around slideshows.

Q: Is it just me, or is this picture of Joe Dumars comical?



Two phones at one time must have factored into a lot of the bad decisions in recent years.
—Randy Quis, Charloitte, North Carolina

SG: I really hope that’s a photo of Joe D. overpaying Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon at the exact same time.

Q: Stop me when I get to a person who would have evaluated Milwaukee higher than you in his pre-season rankings …
Any basketball “expert”
Any basketball fan in America
Any basketball
The guy at Decca records who passed on the Beatles
Kahn
Grady Little in the 8th
Andy Reid in the last 5 minutes before the season started
James Dolan
The guy in the Donner party who said, “I think this weather will hold”
—Mark, Baltimore

SG: First of all, words hurt. Second of all, the East was definitely going to be atrocious, so I thought one “lottery team” might swerve the other way and improbably sneak into the playoffs. The five possibilities: Milwaukee, Philly, Boston, Toronto and Charlotte. I just backed the wrong team — the Charlotte Hornbobnetcats would have been an even more ridiculous pick, and they’re headed for a 7-seed. Technically, my logic was sound! My exact words from the Bill & Jalen Bucks preview (13:15 mark) …

“I think the Bucks are going to be a 7-seed with a chance to be a 6-seed if the Knicks totally self-combust.”

I was halfway there! I had it! You just switch “Bobcats” with “Bucks” and I’m right there! Of course …

Q: The bucks are like that weird roommate that just wont leave, the guy on the couch in half-baked. No one knows why he lives here — we found him on Craigslist or something. He hogs the couch, makes our place reek, brings home monsters from the bar, leaves his bong on the bathroom. But we need the rent money so we don’t say shit. Same with the bucks. We need a 3rd team.
—Owen, Milwaukee

SG: There’s your WTF case for my Bucks/playoff pick. I backed THAT franchise. Poor Owen sounds like he needs some cheering up.



Q: If DJ Augustin keeps playing at the level he’s playing now, and Derrick Rose never comes back to where he used to be, do you amnesty D-Rose? Think that might be why the Bulls haven’t amnestied Carlos Boozer yet?
—Sam, Oxford, Mississippi

SG: They can’t amnesty Rose because the Bulls signed that deal after the new CBA went into effect. But Rose’s situation reached “elephant in the room” status the moment Chicago unexpectedly resurrected its playoff hopes around Taj Gibson (making a mini leap), D.J. Augustin (super-belatedly looking like a lottery pick) and especially Joakim Noah (a first-team All-NBA candidate who suddenly turned into Bill Walton circa 1977). With multiple Ewing Theory Committee scouts attending their games, every Bulls fan suddenly feels guilty about loving this team so much. And that’s before you broach Rose’s sobering potential to be this generation’s Penny Hardaway.

Basically, Bulls fans are in a glass case of emotion right now. Here, look. Watch what happened when I forwarded Sam’s admittedly ridiculous email to Grantland’s Rafe Bartholomew (our staff provocateur) and Robert Mays (our staff Bulls fan).

Simmons: Oh no, Mays! OH NO!!!! OH MY GOD NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Rafe: Isn’t the provision only for players signed before the current CBA? Also — Amnesty Rose sounds like the name of the baby Kanye and Amber Rose should’ve had.

Mays: The fact that I gave this more than five seconds’ worth of thought makes me want to jump off a bridge.

Q: If you’re an NBA GM, how much do Joel Embiid’s back issues scare you? Is he the next Dikembe Mutombo or Greg Oden?
—Mark Killian, Newton Centre, Massachusetts

SG: I don’t mess around with lower-back issues, herniated discs, surgically repaired knees, legs that aren’t the same size, slow-healing stress fractures or phrases like “getting a second opinion” when I’m thinking about taking a big guy first overall. History just says, “Run the other way! RUN!!!!!” We also watched Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker emerge as real contenders for the top spot, and everyone loves Dante Exum even if we don’t know if he’s Australian Penny Hardaway or Australian Larry Hughes. I bet Embiid returns to Kansas next season. That reminds me …

Q: How about a rule that restricts one-and-done players to a five year rookie deal and anyone who stays in college two years or longer to get a 4 year rookie deal?
—Charles Smith, Brooklyn

SG: I like it! That’s the biggest obstacle to Adam Silver’s desire for an under-20 age limit for the draft — every powerful agent despises that idea because it delays the second contract by one year. If Jabari leaves Duke this summer, he’d sign his max extension in 2018 and the contract would officially start in the 2018-19 season. If he doesn’t leave until 2015, that timetable gets pushed back to 2019 (extension) and the 2019-20 season (when it kicks in). That’s why you’ll see Jabari Parker awkwardly putting on a Jazz/Sixers/Celtics/Lakers/Bucks cap and hugging Adam Silver on June 26, 2014. It’s not about the first contract; it’s about the second one.

I’d suggest this tweak: five-year rookie deals for one-and-done guys and under-20-year-olds; four-year rookie deals for two-and-done guys and 20-year-olds; and three-year rookie deals for everyone else. That would give prospects a real incentive to stay in school, right? Sadly, Silver can’t discuss this idea (or any draft-related tweaks) with the National Basketball Players Association because there’s nobody running it right now. Billy Hunter didn’t just run that thing into the ground; he packed it with explosives and detonated 60 years of history. Nobody seems to care. By the way? I’m not sure Silver and the owners care, either — they say publicly how it’s frustrating not to have anyone to negotiate with, but really, everything gets to stay the same for them as long as the players’ union is fractured. Right now, it’s an owner-friendly CBA. They’re raking in money. I don’t see the age limit thing changing any time soon.

Q: Trying to time this for next Wednesday’s NBA Bag — let’s say you are answering this on Tuesday night March 11. Who is the MVP right now at this very moment Simmons?
—Kent, Glendale, Arizona

SG: Durant by a hair. He’s playing for a 1-seed and averaging a 32-8-6 with 51-40-87 shooting splits and a 30.3 PER. It’s one of the greatest non-MJ/non-Wilt offensive seasons ever. This is NOT a 1993 Barkley/MJ or 1997 Malone/MJ situation — Durant is a better all-around player than Barkley and Malone, and LeBron isn’t quite MJ (it’s true). And yet, LeBron could absolutely pass him with a monster finish.

Quick aside: I love MVP races and even devoted an entire chapter to them in my basketball book. One of my dopier proposals: that the weight of the MVP trophy should vary depending on the impressiveness of the MVP season. So if Derrick Rose’s 2011 MVP was a 10-pound trophy, then Shaq’s 2000 MVP or MJ’s 1996 MVP were 40-pounders. I mention this only because you rarely see head-to-head 40-pound trophy seasons battling for the same MVP. That’s what makes this one of the best MVP seasons ever — it’s right up there with 1962, 1987, 1990 and 1993. And that’s why LeBron vs. Durant is better than every other 2014 regular-season story line except for “When will Patrick Beverley start the next Artest melee?” 

Q: Read your tanking piece. How would you fix the lottery Simmons? You never said what you would do.
—Thomas B., Chicago

SG: It’s a two-part idea …

1. Guarantee only the first seven playoff spots in each conference.
Everyone else gets thrown into a single-elimination, 16-team tournament (my old Entertaining As Hell Tournament idea) as the 14 playoff teams rest up. Your final two EAHT teams get 8-seeds, then play a “championship” game. The stakes? The winner gets the choice of which no. 1 seed to play in Round 1, as well as lottery eligibility for that year’s draft.

2. Every lottery team gets the same odds for the first four picks.
We’re returning to the late 1980′s model — 14 lottery teams plus our EAHT winner get 1-in-15 odds for the no. 1 pick, 1-in-14 odds for no. 2, 1-in-13 odds for no. 3, and 1-in-12 odds for no. 4. After that, every subsequent pick goes by record (worst team picks fifth, etc). Would the 2014 Sixers commit self-sabotage if the end result was “You’ll embarrass yourself at the EAHT, and you’re only guaranteeing yourself no better than the no. 5 pick”? Maybe not.

Last point (and I’ve made it before): It’s not the worst thing ever if a decent team wins the lottery. Was it bad when the Bulls got Derrick Rose, or the Magic teamed up Shaq and Penny Hardaway? If you’re making the case “Don’t we have the right to protect certain bumbling franchises from being stuck at the bottom year after year?” — I mean, isn’t that their own fault?

Here’s an idea: If you want to avoid the bottom, make better picks, make smarter trades and spend your cap money wisely. Minnesota had four top-six picks in three years and ended up with Jonny Flynn, Ricky Rubio, Wes Johnson and Derrick Williams. Sacramento had the no. 4, no. 5, no. 7, no. 5 and no. 7 picks in the past five drafts and has only DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore left. The Wizards earned the no. 5, no. 1, no. 6, no. 3 and no. 3 picks in the last five drafts and batted 40 percent on moves. The Cavs had the no. 1, no. 4, no. 4 and no. 1 picks in the past four drafts and can’t make the 2014 playoffs.

I’ve joked before about being an NBA Republican, but seriously, why enable these losers? If you can’t produce a winning franchise, sell it to someone else. The league needs to stop protecting teams from themselves — we give them amnesties to make up for boneheaded roster moves, luxury tax money to reward them for being cheap, and better lottery odds to make up for being dumbasses. We need more of a Lord of the Flies mind-set. Sink or swim. If there’s a way to steal soccer’s relegation system — the top 26 teams stay in the league, the bottom four get relegated — I’m all for it. Could you “add” five European teams, beef up the D-League so it’s made up of five loaded D-League teams, then create a separate 14-team league that operates like a poor man’s NBA? It’s not the craziest idea in the world, right?

Q: At what point does Detroit’s “Pissed-On” Fans stage a Malice at the Palace Episode II: The Palace Strikes Back in an attempt to coerce Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings into getting themselves suspended for the rest of the year?
—Rick D, Vancouver

SG: Right now! Yesterday! Don’t you realize that Detroit loses its lottery pick unless it can drop into the top eight? Where’s John Green? PAGING JOHN GREEN!!!!!!!!

Q: You’ve given names like Sorry for Jabari and Riggin for Wiggins for this year’s Tankapalooza. What would have been the best hypothetical tanking taglines for names of actual top historical NBA picks? My favorite historical ones are “F-ing Up Games For King James” and “Coward for Howard.”
—Justin, Indianapolis

SG: Thanks for ruining the last two hours of my life — I just went down a Basketball-Reference.com rabbit hole to come up with dumb phrases like “Tragic for Magic,” “Unworthy for Worthy” and “P.U.-ing for Ewing.” Your historical winner: Joe Smith in 1995 … that’s right, “Shitty for Smitty.” Unbeatable.

Q: Eating dinner at 6:30 pm and not making yourself fall asleep by 10:00 pm is exactly what’s going on with the Rockets right now. Everyone is celebrating our recent one-week takedown of the Heat, Pacers and Blazers. Couldn’t I have just waited one more hour to eat dinner? I just had to takedown that pizza, indian food and grapefruit at 6:30. Couldn’t the Rockets have just waited til next week, when everyone would have been immersed in March Madness, so that they could go unnoticed? Nope, they had to do it with 19 games remaining. Like my constant struggle with weight loss, they too will be setting screens in the kitchen at midnight, bouncing back and forth between warming up leftover fajitas in the microwave, and toasting Tuna cutlets in the toaster over …. WE PEAKED TOO EARLY!!!
—Aiyasawmy Dave Dorairajan, Space City, Texas

SG: And on cue … they lose to OKC last night! I still like this Rockets team. Dwight looks like 88 percent of the old Dwight. Harden nudged himself into the MVP Not Named Durant or LeBron race with his recent offensive explosion; I even saw him play defense two or three times. Chandler Parsons is gunning for a title, a new contract and the chance to redeem The Bachelor franchise after Juan Pablo nearly ruined it. Patrick “Red Bull” Beverley inspired a Grantland Appreciation Email Thread with me, Andrew Sharp and Chris Ryan just yesterday. Their supporting cast (Terrence Jones, Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin, etc.) isn’t terrible. Even if Houston fans might never get over losing out on Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and a non-lottery pick to be determined this decade, Houston could beat any Western contender in a series. You know … unless they peaked too soon.

Let’s go to a Speed Round just for the hell of it.

Q: Is there a NBA equivalent of Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar win?? Maybe something like Tyreke Evans winning the MVP some day??
—Zvonimir, Split, Croatia

SG: Yes — Dirk’s 2011 Finals MVP.

Q: Can we start working on a new term for Posterizing? Can we change it to Gif’ed, Youtubed, Instagrammed or something else?
—Clint Hovey, Austin, Texas

SG: I mean, even I switched to “YouTubed” at this point. And I’m the same guy with a BlackBerry and AOL.

Q: What would LeBron make per year if the NBA had no salary cap?
—Akiva W, Jerusalem

SG: $75 million per year. I wrote about this last year.

Q: So my buddy and I were just texting back and forth about Carmelo going after KD’s scoring title and if he could do it. My response — ‘If Ray Felton put a gun to my head, I would say yes he could.’
—Troy F, Melbourne, Australia

SG: Still a little too soon.

Q: I live three miles from where a few World Cup games will be held in a few months. The street next to the stadium is such a hot mess, Joe Dumars is trying to trade for it.
—Francisco, Porto Alegre, Brazil

SG: And he’s doing it with two phones!



Q: I watch and read everything from Grantland and I can see we are all struggling with your Kevin Durant nicknames … may I submit “The Slendertainer?”
—Paul, Macau

SG: You cannot.

Q: It would be really great if you could, in one sentence, say a nice thing about the Nets in this mailbag. So here we go … Bill Simmons is about to say something nice about the Nets! I’ll start you off: The Nets are really …
—Adam, Chappaqua, New York

SG: Lavish?

Q: What are your thoughts on the addition of a four-point line?
—Cody, San Luis Obispo

SG: Only for the first three quarters, and only for half-court shots.

Q: The NBA has to start over and you are building a team from scratch. Which power forward do you take to build this team around? Love or Griffin?
—George B, London

SG: Let’s see one Kevin Love team finish over .500 before we compare him to the league’s no. 3 MVP choice and breakout superstar.

Q: If Magic’s era was the Showtime Lakers, what should this year’s team be called?
—Nate Hoss, Appleton, Wisconsin

SG: The Blowtime Lakers. Come on, that’s a layup.

Q: I was at a Hawks game at Philips Arena last night, and among the 5,000 or so other attendees were Julius Erving and Glenn Frey, both of whom were shown back to back on the Jumbotron. This led to a spirited debate (or at least as spirited as you’re going to find at the mausoleum the Hawks play in) about who was the bigger star. Opinions were split 50/50. Your take?
—Chris, Atlanta

SG: Julius Erving for any NBA game or Philly sporting event; Glenn Frey anywhere else. The Eagles sold more than 150 million records and were/are one of the five best-selling concert bands ever. So you have to go with Frey. Regardless, I like any question that allows me to link to one of my favorite pieces I’ve written AND one of my favorite podcasts I’ve done! SPEED ROUND IS OVER!

Q: Do you remember Otto Porter? I’m generally concerned because he was drafted third overall. Is he still alive?!
—Danny D., Philly

SG: He’s actually still alive. I Googled it and everything. He’s played a whopping 254 minutes this season! Since 1990, only three top-three picks have played less than 500 minutes as rookies: Greg Oden (missed the year because of knee surgery), Darko Milicic (played 159 minutes for Detroit) and Otto Porter. To put that in perspective, Kwame Brown, Pervis Ellison and Hasheem Thabeet all passed the 800-minute mark as rookies. Even Anthony Bennett played 647 minutes before recently going down with a knee (h/t Al Michaels). On the other hand, anytime you can spend the third overall pick on a third-string small forward, you have to do it. I ask you again: Why do we insist on enabling dumb teams?

Q: How bad are the Knicks? Recently I changed the channel to NBA TV during a Spurs-Mavericks game, just as something was being described mid-sentence as, “They’re hard to watch sometimes, the ball does not move, it stops,” followed by “No defense, no trust.” My stomach did that roller coaster drop of dread, like sighting your ex-boyfriend talking with your current boyfriend. I hoped I was wrong, that it was just me, that maybe they weren’t talking about the Knicks. Then I heard, “Especially paying the prices people do in New York to watch that team…” Seriously, people watching a totally unrelated game that includes “Vince Carter, shooting more than ever” are outright pitying me?? Seriously? Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2014 New York Knicks!
—Kimberly, Brooklyn

SG: So you’re saying this 2011 commercial campaign lost a little luster for you?



My four follow-up questions …

1. Could you put absolutely anything with “Coming Home” and get everyone’s goose bumps going? I’m convinced that J Cole and Skylar Grey intentionally made the intro of that song 30 seconds long so commercials would use it. I’m also convinced that ABC’s Resurrection did big ratings on Sunday solely because they used it. That song works. Maybe ABC’s Paul Lee can save his job by using “Coming Home” to promote every ABC show — even the sitcoms.

2. Has any song with the possible exception of Eminem’s “Not Afraid” landed on YouTube for more reasons? If you search for it, “Coming Home” comes up for anything and everything: LeBron, Kobe Bryant’s last comeback (whoops), John Cena, Cristiano Ronaldo, a 2013 Blue Jays promotional campaign, Randy Orton, the Assassin’s Creed commercial, David Beckham, Allen Iverson (gotta say, I loved this one), Derrick Rose, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and the 2011 Masters, Kevin Durant, Peyton Manning’s first NBC game back in Indy, WrestleMania 29’s commercial campaign, Kyrie Irving (???), and best of all, Paul Walker/Fast & Furious tributes (I might have gotten a little choked up, I can’t lie).

3. What would be the single most inappropriate montage subject for “Coming Home”? Probably O.J. Simpson getting released from prison and returning to Brentwood, right? And why aren’t there more “Coming Home” parodies? Should this Metta World Peace/Knicks parody really be the best one right now? Couldn’t someone just dub the song over this clip from The Shining until we come up with a better idea?

4. Part of me wants to fake my own ESPN firing so we can make a “Coming Home” video for my eventual return. I might do that anyway. Hell, I might do that for next week’s mailbag. You think that would be weird? Well …

Q: I just spent a few hours thinking of what the best title would be for your celebrity sex tape. My choice was “Yup, these Are My Testicles.” Any ideas?
—Jeremy Gurstel, Washington, D.C.

SG: At least I’m not as weird as Jeremy Gurstel! Since we’re here, um … “Now I Can Grind in Peace”? “Dirty for Thirty”? “Yup, These Are My Liters”? Wait, why am I helping you? More importantly, we’re in range!

Q: Three of my totally straight friends and I were trying to decide who the best-looking NBA player is. The four finalists were: Chris Paul, DJ Augustin, George Hill, and Courtney Lee. Next question: “Whom would you LEAST want your wife to sleep with?” Everybody changed their answers and the new finalists were Kendrick Perkins, Reggie Evans, Nikola Pekovic, and Blake Griffin. We all agreed Ibaka could not be considered for a reason that you once mentioned a few months ago. We took the following into account: ferocity, physique, consistency of effort, and crazy factor. So my question to you is, if you could guarantee your wife stayed away from one current NBA player who could toss her like uncooked pizza dough, who would it be (besides Ibaka)?
—Joey, Ann Arbor

SG: I forwarded this email to my wife, if only to see if she’d laugh at the “uncooked pizza dough” joke. (She did.) Her response …

“Ibaka then JJ Redick then Blake. Why didn’t Redick make the list?”

(Yup, that’s my wife.)

FILED UNDER: NBA


BILL SIMMONS is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland.

ARCHIVE
@ BILLSIMMONS
MORE FROM BILL SIMMONS
MORE NBA
MORE THE TRIANGLE
NBA Bag: The Phil Jackson–to-the-Knicks Theory MARCH 12, 2014
B.S. Report: Bob Pettit and Rick Fox (With Video!) MARCH 11, 2014
Welcome to the WWE Network MARCH 7, 2014
NBA Bag: 10 Steps to Tanking Perfection MARCH 5, 2014
B.S. Report: Zach Lowe MARCH 4, 2014
SEE ALL FROM BILL SIMMONS



Top STORIES

NBA Shootaround: The Flying Lion!
by GRANTLAND STAFF

The Red Sox: Moneyball ... But With Money
by JONAH KERI

Titus’s Top 12 NCAA Power Rankings
by MARK TITUS
PREVIOUS STORY

NBA Shootaround: The Flying Lion!


NEXT STORY

Who's That Guy? Nick Johnson!



Most POPULAR
THE TRIANGLE
NBA BAG: THE PHIL JACKSON–TO-THE-KNICKS THEORY
NFL FREE AGENCY, DAY 2: AN ISLAND UNTO HIMSELF
NBA SHOOTAROUND: THE FLYING LION!
‘THE FINISH LINE,’ EPISODE 3: STEVE NASH REACTS TO THE BACKLASH
THE PATRICK BEVERLEY APPRECIATION THREAD



Cheap Heat
MARCH 13, 2014

Men in Blazers
MARCH 12, 2014

Men in Blazers
MARCH 12, 2014
 
Elsewhere ON THE WEB

House Passes ‘Enforce the Law’ Act, But Obama Says Fat Chance
WALL ST. CHEAT SHEET

10 Movie Franchises to be Excited for in 2015
WALL ST. CHEAT SHEET

Former MLS player passes away after battle with cancer
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER

LeBron's Best Uniform Ever
STACK

Lebron James' Most Pathetic Flops Ever
PBH2
Recommended by
CONTACTTWITTERFACEBOOKMASTHEAD
FEATURESTHE TRIANGLETHE HOLLYWOOD PROSPECTUSSIMMONSCONTRIBUTORSPODCASTSVIDEOESPN.COM
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information/Your California Privacy Rights are applicable to you.
© 2014 ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved. Interest-Based Ads
Powered by WordPress.com VIP

Permalink

oscars

By: timbersfan, 9:21 AM GMT on March 06, 2014



SearchSearchSEARCHMenu

All
FEATURES


ACADEMY AWARDS

Understanding the 2014 Academy Awards
Who won, why, and what to make of it all

BY MARK HARRIS ON MARCH 3, 2014
For one frightening moment at the end of last night’s Oscar telecast, I thought the six-month journey of 12 Years a Slave to the finish line was going to end with the perfect visual image of a racial breakthrough: Brad Pitt holding an Academy Award. This is what they were talking about, people: For the love of God, we have been waiting since Thelma & Louise. IT’S TIME. But among the many things Pitt understands very well is how to navigate a charged and tricky moment on camera — on the evidence of the telecast, I’d say maybe he picked up some of that grace from Angelina Jolie — and so, after a few well-chosen words, he ceded the microphone and the moment to the film’s director, Steve McQueen, who ended up as big a winner as a man who had just lost the Best Director Oscar could possibly be. To see a man not remotely given to explosions of exuberance jumping for joy onstage is a finale with which few could argue.

The show itself was a long, slightly low-energy end to a long, slightly bad-energy season. My very quick verdict: Ellen DeGeneres did just fine, film-clip packages illuminating non-ideas like “heroes” are very close to a preemptive admission of defeat, Twitter is now as overused an Oscar punch line as television was in the Bob Hope days, and as always, it’s not the overstaged moments that linger, but the unexpected ones — Bill Murray paying tribute to Harold Ramis, Darlene Love raising the roof, and my DVR suddenly asking “Do you still want to record The Walking Dead?” just as Bette Midler was singing “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Although I disagree with many of their choices, I think Academy voters, in their fitful way, mostly did their job this year. They acquitted themselves well not by being concerned with making history or making statements but with making category-by-category distinctions about what they liked the best. It would be a giant mistake rooted in a false idea that The Monolith Has Spoken to suggest that the Best Picture win for 12 Years a Slave represents a shattered ceiling, just as its loss would not have represented a snub or a refutation. Change is incremental: The win is connected, in some ways, to progress represented in a show that did not have to bend itself out of shape to include 10 presenters of color, run by an organization headed by an African American woman, with a predominantly white membership whose governors have made a concerted and increasingly successful years-long effort to diversify the ranks. The Academy looking more like the world is progress of a kind that makes further progress possible.

Wins aren’t supposed to be anything but the rewarding of excellence, and they’re actually terrible ways to answer hard questions. Did you feel the emotional surge as the audience stood and cheered Lupita Nyong’o? Did you sense the real warmth for Barkhad Abdi? Did you wonder what Chiwetel Ejiofor is going to do next? Or how the next five years will go for any of these actors? Those are questions that will get answered by a predominantly white male power structure, not by a Sunday-night awards show, and it is worth taking the wins as a charge (just like the marching orders Cate Blanchett gave the industry about women) to pay attention to this stuff the other 364 days of the year and not imagine that any of it is resolved by a statuette or two.

Still, the Oscars are a moment when the symbolic and the real briefly touch, and in that sense, winning matters. After several years in which lighthearted or inspirational or nostalgic movies walked off with the top prize, Academy voters turned to a tough, sad, hard film about our own bad past made by a black Englishman and said, “This was the best of the year.” And that was, in a way, a relief. An ugly narrative was beginning to build, stoked by the film’s partisans and some of its own campaigners, that staid old white voters weren’t watching the movie because it was too much of a downer. They were going to snub it. They were going to Brokeback it. They were going to confirm every cynical suspicion people had.

Well, “they” didn’t. They gave three Oscars, including the big one, to 12 Years a Slave (was it close? We’ll never know, and that’s appropriate), and three more to an uneven movie that pokes and prods at the early years of the AIDS crisis, and another to a fine documentary about how the music industry has treated African American women, and two more to a delightful cartoon musical about the whitest people on earth, and seven to an expression of powerhouse Hollywood-studio wizardry that was actually made by a Mexican director in England. They surprised many (and delighted me) by handing Best Original Screenplay to Spike Jonze for the delicate and beautiful Her, and after bestowing a combined 31 nominations on American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Nebraska, Philomena, and The Wolf of Wall Street, they bestowed a total of zero awards on those movies. That’s two fewer than The Great Gatsby won. In other words, “they” had good taste, bad taste, and everything in between.

And so … sorry. I just remembered that Jared Leto is an Academy Award winner. I need to regroup for a moment.

OK, I’m back. I confess that I have little patience for critics who routinely sneer at the Academy Awards because they represent choices made by people who aren’t critics, or with Oscar analysts who think our job is to bend the Academy to our cranky will. It’s a weird and interesting phenomenon that every year 6,000 individuals consent to participate in this imperfect, fumbling, aspirational ritual. No, it does not detract from the important discussions about movies that important people feel need to be importantly had, unless those important people choose to waste their time whining about the Oscars, which is their own fault. There was actually no shortage of talk this year — furious, seething, how-could-you-like-that, if-you’re-not-with-me-you’re-against-me, only-a-fool-could-fail-to-blahblahblah talk — so much so that the Oscars felt like a way of saying “Enough already.”

Which seems like the perfect way to end this season’s coverage, except that it would omit an essential element of the Academy Awards: self-congratulation! Let’s get to it! I went a very respectable 20-for-24 this year, missing only Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Animated Short, and Best Live-Action Short. (I watched all the shorts, and it’s clear by now that when it comes to that genre, if you’re having a life-or-death moment, I am clearly not the guy to whom you should say, “The clock’s ticking! Do I cut the red wire or the blue?!?”) To anyone whose Oscar pool I messed up, profound apologies, and for the rest of you, thanks for playing along this year! You’ve been a pleasure.

FILED UNDER: ACADEMY AWARDS, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, ELLEN DEGENERES, BILL MURRAY, BRAD PITT, ANGELINA JOLIE, CHIWETEL EJIOFOR, BARKHAD ABDI, CATE BLANCHETT, GRAVITY, HER, JARED LETO


MARK HARRIS is the author of Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood and Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War.

ARCHIVE
@ MARKHARRISNYC
MORE FROM MARK HARRIS
MORE ACADEMY AWARDS
MORE FEATURES
Understanding the 2014 Academy Awards MARCH 3, 2014
Predicting the Oscars: Best Director and the Three-Way Race for Best Picture FEBRUARY 28, 2014
Predicting the Oscars, Part 5: Best Actor and Best Actress FEBRUARY 27, 2014
Predicting the Oscars, Part 4: Screenplay and the Supporting Acting Categories! FEBRUARY 26, 2014
Predicting the Oscars, Part 3: The Ones We Watched So You Didn’t Have To (and ‘Frozen’) FEBRUARY 25, 2014
SEE ALL FROM MARK HARRIS

Most POPULAR
FEATURES
THERE AND BACK AGAIN: THE PHILIPPINES
IS JIMMY FALLON REALLY COMEDY’S NEW CUTTING EDGE?
TITUS’S TOP 12 NCAA POWER RANKINGS
THE MARC GASOL ALL-STARS
THE MONEY PIT

Top STORIES

The NBA Bag
by BILL SIMMONS

Titus’s Top 12 NCAA Power Rankings
by MARK TITUS

Roster Doctor: Fantasy Baseball Preview
by JONAH KERI
 
Elsewhere ON THE WEB

6 Celebrity Couples Who Are Doomed for Disaster
FAME10

If You Play In The MLB It's A Requirement To Have A Model Wag (Wife And Girlfriend)
ZONABLE

Ten Really Bad Financial Mistakes to Avoid
SHE BUDGETS

I Am What I Tweet — Kath Eats Real Food
KATH EATS REAL FOOD

10 Most Annoying Celebrity Couples Ever!
FAME10
Recommended by
CONTACTTWITTERFACEBOOKMASTHEAD
FEATURESTHE TRIANGLETHE HOLLYWOOD PROSPECTUSSIMMONSCONTRIBUTORSPODCASTSVIDEOESPN.COM
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information/Your California Privacy Rights are applicable to you.
© 2014 ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved. Interest-Based Ads
Powered by WordPress.com VIP

Permalink

phillipines

By: timbersfan, 6:28 AM GMT on March 06, 2014

SearchSearchSEARCHMenu

All
FEATURES


NBA

There and Back Again: The Philippines
It started with a three-word pitch. It ended with Larry Bird, cockfights, TV appearances, and the near-death-by-children of one of our humble correspondents.

BY RAFE BARTHOLOMEW AND NETW3RK ON MARCH 5, 2014
netw3rk: Clearest memories of my last visit to the Philippines, age 10:

My cousins catching a huge rat in a cage with a handle on top. Possum-size rat. They submerged the cage in an oil drum filled with water, and, using a stopwatch, set about determining how long the rat could hold its breath before expiring. Thirty seconds? Nope. Pull it up, reset. One minute? Nope. Pull it, reset. Two minutes? Pull it up. Are you kidding me? The rat was then dubbed “Mark Spitz” (a reference I wouldn’t get until years later), and a cinder block was dropped on its head, splashing bright red rat blood and brains all over the street.

An insect biting my left hand, causing it to swell so it looked like a mango with little fingers sticking out. I remember worrying that if I bent my fingers, my hand would pop.

My cousin Eric’s comic-book collection, which helped fill the void normally occupied by the entirely unhealthy (i.e., totally normal red-blooded American-kid level) amount of television I was used to watching. Eric had his collection bound by title, so from across the room it resembled a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, except that the gold lettering on the spine read “Uncanny X-Men 100-150” instead of “J-K-L.”

My grandfather sitting in a chair on the porch all day, pulling blood-bloated fleas off the dog, burning them with his cigarette, and dropping the corpses into a cup.

My aunt sending me and my cousin — who was a couple years older than I was — to buy cigarettes from the cart at the end of the compound. After buying the cigarettes, my cousin turned to me and said, “Do you smoke?” I was like, “No, I’m 10 years old,” and she proceeded to smoke one of the cigarettes with a Don Draper–ish nonchalance that completely blew my mind.

Not being allowed to leave the compound. Soldiers and police on the street with M16s. No electricity for most of the day. No hot water. No toilet paper. Being scared of my grandfather’s huge, Spanish-style house, with bullet holes from World War II in the walls. A crippling inability to speak the language, feeling disconnected from the culture, from the members of my family. Being bored, hot, and covered in insect bites.


NETW3RK

♦♦♦

I hate stories of self-discovery. “What Walking the Appalachian Trail Taught Me About Basketball.” “How the Death of My Childhood Friend Blah Blah Blah.” That kind of thing really annoys me, no matter how well written or informative. And as time has gone on, I’ve realized the reason it annoys me is less that the construction itself is a cheat — that mining personal experiences for a piece is a way to avoid actually entertaining someone with writing — than that I just don’t have comfortable access to that kind of self-awareness. I don’t like thinking about what the saddest movie I’ve ever seen is, for example, so the psychic bravery involved in writing about a real personal loss or meaningful experience or existential wound is terrifying.

Anyway, there comes a time in a person’s life when they, in taking stock of where they’re going, want to know more about from whence they came. That is the least lame way I am capable of writing that. So, this is a story of self-discovery. Sorry.

If I’m being honest, the whole thing was something of a scam; I never expected anyone to say yes to this trip. I haven’t been writing that long. And, of all the things having to do with writing that I don’t do well, I would rank pitching ideas right near the top. But, man, did I kill this pitch.

See, in October 2013, the Indiana Pacers were going to play the Houston Rockets in Manila, at the SM Mall of Asia, the third-largest mall in the Philippines. The first NBA game in a country crazy for basketball. The country where my parents came from. My idea was for Grantland to send me, a Filipino American guy who can’t speak Tagalog and hasn’t visited the country in 20 years, and Rafe Bartholomew, a white guy who speaks the language fluently, goes back once a year, and literally wrote the book on basketball in the Philippines, to cover the game and its cultural impact. Knowing my target, I believe I used the words “Reverse 48 Hrs.” in my email.

To my stunned amazement, they said yes. That’s when the fear set in.

Rafe Bartholomew: I have a rat story, too. Sometime in 2006, after I’d been living in Metro Manila for the better part of a year, I sat down for breakfast on the ground floor of the two-bedroom town house I shared with an American grad student. I turned on the NBA playoffs, mixed a bit of powdered milk, and poured a bowl of Honey Stars cereal. Two bites in, I saw a flash of movement to my right, and then I heard a thud. When I looked down and saw a motionless rat six inches from my bare foot, I squealed and spat a comet of milky breakfast stars across the table.

The rat was lying on its side with a tiny crimson brushstroke of blood near its head. I assumed the two-story fall had been fatal, so I reached down to pick up the rodent by its tail. To this day, I’m grateful I stopped myself. Before you start grabbing this rat, I thought, maybe you should make sure it’s dead. So I stood up and stomped my foot right next to its head, and it did the one thing I hoped it wouldn’t do. It woke up.

I probably should have dropped a cinder block on it like netw3rk’s cousins. It certainly would have taken me less time to mop the splatter than the 90 minutes I spent chasing the rat with a broom. I propped the front door open and tried to scare the little sucker toward freedom. Problem was, this vermin didn’t have no scare in it. Every time I cornered it, the rat didn’t run away. It leapt forward and hissed, and I backpedaled all the way to the opposite wall. When the rat finally found the door, it wasn’t because of anything I did — it just seemed to get bored and scurry off. When I peeked outside to make sure it was gone, I saw my neighbors, gathered on their stoops and porches, wheezing with laughter at the sight of a clueless American dealing with a household pest. For the next two years, that rat was a running joke in my neighborhood, a story that came up at every community potluck dinner or karaoke jam or basketball tournament.

That’s the thing about the time I spent in the Philippines. A bunch of pretty bad things happened while I lived there. I took shelter in a dank, powerless mall while Typhoon Milenyo tore down billboards, uprooted trees, and flipped trucks onto their sides. I got bronchial pneumonia and sweated out two interminable nights hooked up to IV fluids in a provincial hospital with no potable water. I spent the better part of two months with a nasty hookworm infection. Yet somehow, every minor misfortune turned into a great joke or a better story: falling rats, reading by flashlight during the typhoon, turning down sponge baths from my elderly nurse, carrying around a small war chest of toilet paper during my symbiosis with the worm. It may sound crazy after rattling off a list like that, but I loved living in the Philippines, and I adored the country’s deep passion for basketball more than anything else. So as soon as I read “Reverse 48 Hrs.” in netw3rk’s email, I started to pack.

netw3rk: In a weird twist of fate, my Uncle Rolly was in the States, staying with one of his sons in New Jersey. So before flying out, I visited him to make arrangements to stay at his house in Parañaque City. By “arrangements,” I mean I showed him a YouTube video of Rafe doing an interview in Tagalog, and he graciously allowed me stay in his home. Oh, and he also put his driver, Abner, at my disposal.

From an American perspective, domestic help is something reserved for the wealthy. In the Philippines — a country with such vast income inequality that people much smarter than me consider it an oligarchy — live-in servants and on-call personal drivers are the norm, even for middle-class families. Heck, upper-class families have full-blown private armies. I could text Abner from wherever, at whatever time, and ask him to take me anywhere, and he would. In addition to that, it soon became clear he was under express orders from my family to, as I put it to Rafe, “not let me die.”

Rafe: Drivers. I’d never had one, and always considered them one of the great double-edged swords for Americans in Manila. On one hand, you get to have a chauffeur. What kind of fool refuses that kind of luxury? On the other, you should understand that your driver — when provided by a family friend or a generous cousin or a thoughtful employer — is essentially a spy.

You are not paying him. He does not answer to you. He takes orders from your boss or your grandfather or your college buddy’s mom, and they are likely instructing him to keep you out of trouble. That sounds reasonable, but it often gets taken to overcautious extremes, and your driver will likely steer you away from the vibrant and irreverent chaos of Manila street life. This is a favorite old trick of teams in the Philippine Basketball Association, which hire American import players to reinforce local lineups and use drivers to keep tabs on their investments. If the driver reports back that Lee Benson or Billy Ray Bates or Damian Cantrell polished off a case of San Mig Light before heading to a nightclub the night before a game, and then the player’s jump shot starts falling short in the third quarter, his team may conclude that its $25,000-a-month import is wasting his vital energy away from the basketball court, and may start scouting replacements.

Abner’s role with me and netw3rk was different, of course. He wasn’t an informant so much as a babysitter. His mission was to prevent us from getting mugged or being exposed to unpleasant — OK, heinous — urban ailments like leptospirosis, a bacterial infection often contracted by getting stuck shin-deep in Manila floodwater mixed with rat urine. A noble endeavor, except that in avoiding the pickpockets and the animal pee — things we’d be unlikely to encounter during one week in Manila, anyway — we’d also be missing the old men who would randomly offer us shots of brandy on the sidewalk, the impromptu games of 3-on-3 played on hoops nailed to the walls of alleys, and the vendors of sugary bananacue sticks who would ask who our favorite basketball players were and then reply, “Mine is Jesus Christ!”

I didn’t want to miss out on those experiences because I was trapped in a dinged-up Astro van. Abner was a decent, honest, and likable man, but if he wanted to prevent us from encountering the gritty side of Manila, we’d just have to bring the bedlam to him. A cockfight was as good a place to start as any.

netw3rk: If there’s such a thing as a national pastime — other than basketball — in the Philippines, it’s cockfighting. The sport predates the nation and, in fact, predates any inkling of national identity. When, in 1521, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan blundered into the chain of islands that would eventually be called the Philippines, he had a Venetian scholar onboard named Antonio Pigafetta. One entry in Pigafetta’s journal reads: “They have large and very tame cocks, which they do not eat because of a certain veneration they have for them. Sometimes they make them fight with one another and each one puts up a certain amount on his cock and the prize goes to him whose cock is the victor.”

Fast-forward 492 years. After 15 minutes in the van, we reached the end of a street, and the narrow road opened into a grass and dirt field about the size of a small soccer pitch. At the edge of the field sat a squat, industrial-looking building with its back to the Marikina River, like a grim and ancient grain mill. Welcome to Pasig Square Garden, the World’s Most Famous Cockpit Arena.1

Rafe discovered the place and scouted it a couple days before I arrived in the country, and two details made the location a great choice: first, the “Square Garden” modifier, because we’re a couple of New York natives. Haters can snipe all they want about “The World’s Most Famous Arena” and “The Mecca” just being branding. They’re right, but standing there in the heat and humidity of Metro Manila, 8,000-odd miles from New York City, I thought it was fair to call the branding effective. Second, PSG is right off East Concepcion Street, and my last name is Concepcion, so I pretty much had to go.

“Hopefully no one gets shot,” Rafe said as we walked through the entrance. He was worried the mix of testosterone, gambling, alcohol, and bloodshed that prevails at cockfights might spur some unplanned violence.

“Well,” I said, “the sign at the ticket booth says that people have to check their guns.”

Rafe: How many pesos would you wager on a rooster named Amar’e? What about a rooster named Amar’engani? Would that be a one-legged fighting cock that hops in place while its opponent pecks it to shreds? One thing is for sure: If a bird named Metta World Peace ever lines up to fight in Pasig Square Garden, I will bet my life savings on him.

To be honest, I don’t know a great deal about cockfighting. I’d had several experiences with the sport, called sabong in Tagalog, mainly because I lived in the country for several years and cockfights were a part of everyday life. I once noticed a sabong emporium called the Cockhouse in the basement food court of a Manila mall, and I couldn’t resist rifling through its selection of cockfight anthology DVDs. I had stumbled across small cockfights while visiting rural areas of the Philippines — circles of men throwing wads of money at each other and shouting obscenities around a bloodstained patch of dirt. I had even been hired as a ringer on a basketball team sponsored by the main cockfighting organization on a tiny resort island called Boracay.

But despite my regular brushes with sabong, any real understanding eluded me. My perception of cockfighting was rooted in Nathanael West’s bloodcurdling description of a match in the novel The Day of the Locust. The passage, in which a breeder named Miguel and his champion bird, Jujutala, brutalize a larger, less game rooster handled by a dwarf, horrified me. It may have scared me away from gamecocks for good:

When the dwarf gathered the red up, its neck had begun to droop and it was a mass of blood and matted feathers. The little man moaned over the bird, then set to work. He spit into its gaping beak and took the comb between his lips and sucked the blood back into it. The red began to regain its fury, but not its strength. Its beak closed and its neck straightened. The dwarf smoothed and shaped its plumage. He could do nothing to help the broken wing or the dangling leg.

netw3rk: Ahhhh, and the names of the birds! The cocks fighting to the death while we were at PSG had some interesting monikers. Snookie Warrior. El Pat. Saint Tomas de Villanueva. Thing is, after, I’d say, the third bout, I stopped wanting to know what their names were, because I was getting pretty bummed out by the sight of once-living roosters reduced to motionless heaps of bloody feathers.

Rafe: Sorry to jump in, but the bout sheet clearly shows that the first cock’s name is the plural “Snookie Warriors,” that “El Pat …” comes equipped with an unexplained ellipsis (which to me feels ominous), and that you neglected to mention “Ngaw Ngaw,” whose name means “empty talk” in Tagalog.


NETW3RK

netw3rk: The bouts shook out like so: The owners entered the ring carrying the combatants, quickly joined by two more handlers carrying what are best described as fluffer birds. The role of this second pair of birds was to arouse aggressiveness in the competitors, and this was accomplished by allowing the competing gamecocks to freely peck at the chests of the fluffer birds and by holding the birds face-to-face, then backing them off, then pushing them close again.

After this ritual, bets were called for by men called kristos, who get their name from the arms-outstretched messianic pose they strike while soliciting wagers. Whatever the name’s roots in Roman crucifixion techniques, these kristos posed in a manner that looked more like someone trying to convince a far-off, half-deaf dog to come to heel — arm thrust high, hand manically beckoning. While waving in the bets, the kristos let out a cacophonous riot of yelling consisting of the words meron (meaning “have”) and wala (meaning “none”). What these words indicated to the prospective gamblers, I could not tell you. While the kristos waved and yelled, gamblers in the crowd signaled their bets through a series of hand and finger gestures. Three fingers pointing up meant 3,000 pesos (roughly $67). Three fingers pointing down meant 300. Or did fingers down mean the higher amount? Whatever it was, I made sure to keep my hands low. Like, tying-my-shoes low. Amazingly, the kristos operated solely from memory, remembering each bet made by each individual.

Rafe: Aside from the fluffers, some traditional methods of stoking a rooster’s bloodlust include blowing cigarette smoke in its face and sliding chili peppers up its butt. Those words they were yelling corresponded to the two separate combatants — each stood on his side of the cockpit under a sign that read either “meron” or “wala.” So when the kristos were shouting MERONMERONMERONMERON! they were taking bets on that specific cock. Three fingers up actually meant 30 pesos, which is worth less than $1 and would probably get you laughed out of the building. Three fingers down was 3,000 pesos, and it was shocking how many wagers that size or larger were being tossed around, given that the minimum wage in Metro Manila is a shade more than $10 per day. No wonder the kristos remember every bet — certain gamblers are risking a week’s earnings or more on a single cockfight. If the trainee kristo mishandles a wager, he’ll have to explain himself to some very unhappy bettor who may or may not have checked his firearm at the door.


NETW3RK

netw3rk: Once the roosters’ blood was up, the owners of the competing cocks released their birds and the fight was on. Most fights we saw that night lasted no more than two minutes: A whirl of motion, feathers flying into the air and sinking to the sand, and at some point, a killing blow was landed. The referee then picked up both birds by the scruff of their feathers and dropped them onto the sand three times. The bird that could still move won. The other one went to the kitchen in the lobby, where it was plucked, cleaned, and cooked.

Rafe: Like netw3rk, I was mostly bewildered by Pasig Square Garden. If Metro Manila is a world I feel comfortable and familiar with, then the cockpit was a world unto itself, with customs, language, and rituals I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Tarpaulin signs hung from the walls outside the arena, advertising gamecock supplements I never imagined anyone could need: Nevron antistress tablets for your roosters, or Staminex, a multivitamin bird-food additive that sounded like a brand of male-enhancement pill. And nothing was more confusing than the violence — first blur, then blood. The contemptible side of cockfighting is easier to understand in descriptions like West’s, which lay out the savagery blow by blow. Confronted with real-life, real-time bloodshed, I could barely recognize it. That is, until a defeated cock’s handler was dragging it facedown by its foot across the dirt floor.

netw3rk: Dinosaurs once ruled this planet. Ruled without rival for hundreds of millions of years. Now their progeny fight to the death in tawdry arenas for the amusement of some up-jumped mammals with thumbs and decent-size brains. Hopefully the robots will treat us better.

♦♦♦



netw3rk: The next morning, I was awoken at 5 a.m. by roosters crowing throughout the neighborhood. We gamble on their deaths, and their revenge is never letting us sleep in. On the schedule for the day: Rafe had us going to a taping of the longest-running daytime variety show on Philippine television, Eat Bulaga! — featuring the adora-bad interview stylings of an 8-year-old girl named Ryzza Mae. Every member of my family responded with unbridled excitement when told I was going to see the show.

Rafe: There’s no easy translation of “Eat Bulaga!” in English, but some brave Wikipedia editor took a stab at it and came up with “Lunchtime Surprise!” This is accurate and slightly terrifying.

netw3rk: Rafe informed me there was a good chance we’d get called onstage, because Rafe is a tall, good-looking white dude who speaks Tagalog, with some pretty significant local fame, and I was … well, I was there with him. So I felt nervous that my life rule never to be GIF’d doing something ridiculous might very well be in jeopardy.

Regardless, I texted Abner and we set off from my uncle’s house. From the Manila Skyway, the city — really 16 cities, all under the rubric of Metro Manila — came into view, and I began to get an inkling of its scale, like the hump of a whale rising under dark water. Rafe likes to compare the constituent cities that make up Metro Manila to the boroughs of New York City, not so much in terms of an overarching cultural character (though that kind of works — Makati City is the metropolis’s financial center, for example, and its Ayala Avenue is nicknamed “The Wall Street of the Philippines”), but because of how both New York and Manila are cities made up of smaller, separate urban areas with their own administrative structures. Slums, apartment buildings, skyscrapers stretch in every direction, fading back into smog and gray clouds. We were moving quickly through the streets, and then, a downpour, sudden like a child’s tantrum, drove the mopeds and motorcycles to shelter under the overpasses, where they huddled in masses of helmets and billowing rain slickers. We were running late now. “Filipino time,” Abner said to me, chuckling.

Abner and I met Rafe in front of the TV studio, a four-story white building that looked like a converted movie theater on top of a strip mall. You get used to seeing armed security guards wherever you go in Manila. Every business in any decent neighborhood has armed security out front, from 7-Elevens and McDonald’s to banks and shopping malls. Starched white military-style shirt, blue pants, a pistol on the hip, and a Remington pump shotgun on a leather strap around their necks — they’re everywhere. Usually they just look in your backpack, but this being television, security was tighter: After searching our bags at the front door, the guards made us stand on a raised platform so they could give us a full pat-down. And that’s where I ran into a problem.

My flip-flops.

I was not expecting the studio to be no shoes, no service. Luckily, Rafe had a pair of dress shoes in his bag. Unluckily, he’s about nine inches taller than I am. I told Abner we’d be out in a few hours and followed Rafe into the studio, walking like a kid wearing scuba flippers at the public pool. A production assistant led us to our seats, right in front of the stage. We slid into our spots, I turned around, and there was Abner. I couldn’t get into the studio wearing flip-flops; he could get in without a ticket. “That was a power move,” Rafe said, impressed.

Rafe: Ryzza Mae Dizon is between 3 and 4 feet tall and spherical in shape, with the physique of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. She is 8 years old, but she looks like she’s 3. In interviews, Ryzza Mae’s mother has explained that her daughter inherited her short stature from her grandmother, who is 4 feet tall; she also claims to have eaten cigarette butts while pregnant with Ryzza Mae, and she kinda-sorta suggested that may have had some impact on her daughter’s height. Ryzza Mae projects a combination of uncanny and adorable that has enraptured audiences during her relatively brief run on Philippine television. A dance sequence in one of her pre–Eat Bulaga! appearances on a rival variety show — in which Ryzza Mae, dressed in a pink tutu-tankini with yellow butterfly wings, looks like she could be auditioning for the under-10 Philippine twerk team — manages to be wildly inappropriate, painfully precious, and genuinely funny. It’s hard to look away from Ryzza Mae, and I guess that’s why she’s a star.



netw3rk: Sometime after Ryzza Mae’s program, and before the adult hosts of Eat Bulaga! gave a lucky fan three sacks of rice, 300 bottles of Coca-Cola, 40,000 pesos, and a motor scooter, the in-studio producers pulled Rafe onstage, just as predicted, for a hip-hop segment titled “Flip Eat.” His role was to join the on-camera hype crowd in various displays of arm-gyrating exhortations one would associate with an impromptu cypher in a park or public-school hallway, as various local rap groups battled it out. They tried to get me to go down there, too, but — much to Abner’s disappointment — I declined because ain’t no way I was going on TV in front of millions of people wearing shoes the size of two-by-fours.

Can a person draw conclusions about a foreign culture from that culture’s daytime television? I imagine it’s like walking into a strange family’s kitchen and trying to learn something meaningful about them from the smell wafting out of a pot on the stove. I bet I’d only need, say, 30 minutes of Good Morning Third Reich to know the Nazis were awful. But could someone claim to know anything about America from three hours of daytime programming? Probably not. Can I claim to have learned anything meaningful about Philippine culture by watching Ryzza Mae interview a PBA player, his wife, and their 4-year-old daughter? Or from watching Abner perform Ryzza Mae’s herky-jerky signature line dance? I’m not sure.

If I learned anything from Eat Bulaga!, it was this: Tagalog is very nearly the perfect non-English rap language. Get past the alienness, the strangeness of seeing Asian dudes rapping in a strange language peppered with black American street-slang appropriations. Tagalog is a language full of multisyllabic drumrolls and words ending with vowel sounds — it’s staccato, and lots of words and idioms naturally rhyme.

Rafe, telegenically bopping to the beats, looked up from the stage toward Abner and me in the audience. I threw up the Roc-A-Fella diamond sign and laughed.

Rafe: So, two amateur rap groups did compete on the show, and I did attempt to serve as the oversize white Spliff Star to the Flip Eat Mode Squad, but I don’t know if I’d call what was happening onstage a battle. Since the Philippines begins celebrating Christmas in September and it was already October, the crews were asked to write yuletide Tagalog raps, which a panel of judges would then grade them on.


This is how I wound up bouncing to the beat with my hands in the air while a quintet of teenagers rhymed:

Santa Claus, Santa Claus, may Facebook ka ba? (Santa Claus, Santa Claus, do you have Facebook?)

Kung meron, ano’ng email mo para ma-i-add kita? (If so, what’s your email so I can add you?)

Santa Claus, Santa Claus, may Instagram ka ba? (Santa Claus, Santa Claus, do you have Instagram?)

Ano’ng Twitter mo para ma-follow ka at ma-hashtag kita? (What’s your Twitter so I can follow you and hashtag you?)

I was doing pretty well, keeping my energy up, shuttling back and forth between stabbing the air with hip-hop hand gestures and swaying to the music. I understood I was onstage for one reason: that at some point during the performance, the camera would get a close-up of me, and the TV audience would get the twofold thrill of “Amerikano on Eat Bulaga!” and “White guy dancing!” When that moment came, I wanted to appear engaged, since few things look worse than an unhappy, stationary foreigner dragooned into a fake dance party.

For a while I was feeling it. But then another Eat Bulaga! host, Isabelle Daza, a model and actress, and the daughter of a former Miss Universe, spotted me from her corner of the stage. She flashed a quick, baffled smile — full of pity — as if she had just seen the world’s saddest clown. When one of the more beautiful women in a nation of 98 million people doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry for you, it’s hard to keep dancing.



But these little rituals of mass humiliation mean something in the Philippines. Just about everybody ends up doing a little shimmy for the enjoyment of others at social functions. This applies to the most powerful people in the country — politicians are expected to perform karaoke and line up for the electric slide at campaign stops. It’s unfortunate these policymakers often don’t face the same expectations to solve the country’s problems, but the song-and-dance is a way for elites to show they don’t consider themselves above anyone else. If Manny Pacquiao is down to sing “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, then who am I to refuse when Eat Bulaga! asks me to dance to the Santa Claus social-media jammy-jam?

♦♦♦



netw3rk: Wednesday morning marked the start of the NBA portion of the trip: media availability for the Rockets and the Pacers at the Mall of Asia Arena, NBA Cares events, and, later that evening, the welcome gala at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza hotel.

Morning began with more accusatory rooster crows and the steadily growing rumble and belch of tricycle-taxis sputtering past the house. I got in a 30-minute run before the heat became too oppressive, which was not nearly enough to work off three straight mornings of rice, eggs, and pork for breakfast. To clarify, three straight mornings of delicious rice, eggs, and pork for breakfast. If I were going to be here longer than a week, I think I would discover several new types of diabetes.

Abner had me at the MOA Arena by 11:30. I hate official media rooms, mostly because they highlight the totality of my inexperience. People in there were working so hard, were so incredibly prepared. It was like the math-class scene from Better Off Dead … where the teacher asks to see the homework assignment and everyone starts unfurling reams of dot-matrix printouts while John Cusack’s character pulls a folded sheet of paper from his back pocket with “DO HOMEWORK” written on it. I decided to text Rafe before I spiraled into full-blown depression.

ME: You here? Im in the media work room

RAFE: Yeah but Im on the other side of the arena and dont really care about getting there

I started to get paranoid that Rafe was avoiding me.

Rafe: I am just spoiled. I’ve been part of the Philippine basketball scene since 2007, when I spent a season embedded with the PBA’s Alaska Aces. Over the years, I got used to a level of access to superstar players, coaching luminaries, and local hoops legends that just doesn’t exist in American pro sports. The day before the NBA events, I took netw3rk to see the last few minutes of practice for the San Mig Coffee Mixers franchise. The team was preparing for Game 1 of the PBA finals, and to get into the gym, all we had to do was ride an elevator to the third floor of a building and push open the door. We greeted team officials Johnny Abarrientos and Alvin Patrimonio, two ’90s icons who could be reasonably called the best point guard and power forward, respectively, in Philippine basketball history. Johnny was rushing out the door, so he handed me a Tupperware bin containing his post-practice team meal, a Chinese-Filipino dish of fried fish in black bean sauce.

Can you imagine appearing at the Indiana Pacers practice facility, wandering in unannounced, and then having Larry Bird hold out his bag of Lay’s potato chips and say, “I bet you can’t eat just one”? If you can, you probably should ditch those dreams, because the Pacers were on the MOA Arena floor when I arrived Wednesday, and word spread fast that Larry Legend would prefer if fans and members of the media didn’t approach him.

I get it: This is the NBA — and this was standard operating procedure, exactly the professional but impersonal way I’d expect things to run if I visited a shootaround in Indianapolis. Still, it was disheartening. One of the remarkable aspects of professional basketball in the Philippines is its openness. PBA teams are owned by many of the richest and most powerful people in the country, yet the league maintains an old-school, family atmosphere. It wasn’t just me and netw3rk who were allowed into the San Mig practice the previous day — a rotating cast of die-hard fans show up at the gym for every session. Many of them have been doing so for years, or even decades. It’s not uncommon for fans to have players’ cell phone numbers and to trade text-message niceties from time to time; and sometimes teams will celebrate the birthdays of their most devoted fans, with players bringing cake or the noodle dish pancit — a birthday superstition, because long noodles mean long life — for team supporters.

I was never naive enough to believe the NBA could be this way, but seeing the league bring its buttoned-up product to the Philippines, I worried that both the NBA and its Filipino fans were missing out on an intimacy that’s at the heart of Philippine basketball.

netw3rk: To me, the media availability event was a window into just how geeked up about the NBA the country was. One reporter addressed Larry Bird as “Mr. Legend” and then proceeded to ramble for a minute about how awesome Larry was, before eventually finding his way to a question about what it was like to be awesome. Another told Kiki Vandeweghe he loved how Kiki could get 20 points while sleeping before asking a question about the relative differences between players of his era and the players of today. The general vibe was something like an NBA version of The Purple Rose of Cairo, with Bird, Roy Hibbert, and Dwight Howard stepping through the screen instead of Jeff Daniels.

How did I manage to miss that this country was so basketball crazy when I was here as a kid? If there was an overriding theme to this trip for me, it was a creeping sense of inadequacy, not only due to occasionally feeling as if I could not be any more foreign while visiting my parents’ homeland, but also because I found myself deposited in the midst of an NBA-centric media feeding frenzy, and I wasn’t even sure I counted as a member of the media. Watching everyone, starstruck or not, diligently going about asking questions, recording segments, and rolling cables, I realized that even if I didn’t know what I was doing, I should try to look like I did. So, I figured, time to act like an actual sportswriter and try to interview some people.

That went like this: I asked Kiki Vandeweghe a question about the make and model of sneaker he wore back in his playing days, and I asked Chris Copeland whether he would drop “40, 50, or 60” on the Knicks in his first regular-season game against them (Chris Copeland plays about six minutes a game). Oh, and I yelled, “BROOKLYN!” at Lance Stephenson and he nodded his head in approval. I’m like Grantland’s version of Luke Russert.

Rafe: Rather than using the media availability session for something relevant to today’s NBA, like, say, asking Luis Scola for headband recommendations, I wound up reminiscing about the 1980s PBA with Andy Thompson, vice-president of development for NBA Entertainment. Thompson, brother of Mychal and uncle of Klay, played as an import in the Philippines in 1986, and he seemed to relish the chance to unspool tales from his season with the Tanduay Rhum Makers. He recalled having a poor start, scoring only eight points in the first half of his first game in the country, back in an era when imports were expected to post Chamberlainian lines somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 points and 20 rebounds per game. At halftime, Thompson said, Tanduay’s other import, Rob Williams, pulled him aside and offered some advice: “There are two ways to get cut out here — shooting too much or shooting too little. I suggest you get some shots up in the second half.”

We went on like this, dropping names like Michael Hackett and Francois Wise, Ramon Fernandez and Turo Valenzona — names that mean next to nothing to American basketball fans but evoke glassy-eyed awe for many in the Philippines. Before I knew it, we were being asked to leave the arena floor. The Pacers were beginning their closed practice, which meant media had to vamoose. Hair care with Luis would have to wait.

♦♦♦

netw3rk: On our way out of the arena, a van filled with Vandeweghe and a handful of NBA employees pulled up and offered us a lift to the Rockets’ NBA Cares event at Aurora Quezon Elementary School in the nearby Malate neighborhood. Somehow, despite our driver’s startlingly poor knowledge of the local streets, we pulled into the school’s courtyard — past the eerie greeting THIS IS A CHILD FRIENDLY SCHOOL — before the rest of the NBA delegation. The 500 or so kids crammed into the quad were in full lather, erupting in cheers as our vehicle pulled into the parking lot. From outside the van, I could hear a voice over a PA announcing us as the Houston Rockets. More cheers.


NETW3RK

We got out, and some kids rushed Rafe since he was the only male over 6 feet who wasn’t 50 years old. I slipped through the crowd and found a good vantage point from on top of a planter on the left side of the court just as the Rockets arrived — well, two Rockets: Chandler Parsons and Isaiah Canaan — to Bieberesque pandemonium.

I was standing on that planter taking notes, watching the clamoring of hundreds of kids in school whites screaming, jostling for a good angle, when a couple of girls came up and asked me for a scrap of paper from my notebook so they could get autographs. Everyone who seemed remotely like a basketball player or person of note was being asked for their signature — team representatives, Rafe, NBA executives, Chandler Parsons’s father. Basically, if you didn’t look like you were from there, those kids wanted your autograph. And, apparently, the only source of paper there, in the courtyard of a school, was my notebook. The word spread fast: That guy over there has paper, and, if you ask him, he’ll give you some. Small groups of schoolkids, alternately pleading, demanding, and cajoling me for “Papel, papel, po.”


BILL BAPTIST/NBAE

Rafe: I had been wondering which ultra-hip student was ripping pages from his Moleskine and handing them to the unruly swarm of preteens surrounding me. The situation made a lot more sense when I spotted netw3rk on the far side of the courtyard.

The damage, however, had already been done. It was my inclination to sign a few slips of paper. The problem was, as soon as I would begin to write, a dozen other students would thrust their hands out and try to jam their paper between my pen and the sheet I was signing. It was maddening, and I pleaded with them in English and Tagalog to form a line, to wait patiently, to just chill out, all to no avail. Then I did what I should have done in the first place, which was put my pen away and urge the kids to watch Parsons and Canaan lead drills while Clyde Drexler stood on the sideline, speaking into a microphone about hard work and dedication.

This kinda worked. A group of girls pointed to Parsons and asked if we were related. No, I told them, but he is a famous basketball player in the NBA. “Sabihin mo sa kanya na pogi siya” — Tell him he’s handsome. But even Parsons, in all his magnificence, was having trouble maintaining order with the kids at his shooting station. “Get your own rebound, then pass to the next player in line,” he told a group of students while demonstrating what he wanted them to do. When the first boy took his shot, he got his own rebound, dribbled to another spot, and shot again, and Parsons could only shrug.

After a massive group photo op with Parsons, Canaan, and a mob of students, the players headed to their van, with about 700 kids and school administrators chasing them, jumping up and down, screeching, waving good-bye. Netw3rk and I bumped into Jojo Lastimosa, one of the best shooting guards in PBA history, who had led the clinic along with Parsons and Canaan. He nodded at the crowd, knowing that as soon as the vehicle with the NBA players disappeared, the kids would come sprinting back to us. “OK,” Jojo said. “I’m gonna hide.”


BILL BAPTIST/NBAE

netw3rk: We set out on foot down Taft Avenue, named for the rotund 27th president of the United States and first American governor-general of the Philippines, in search of a jeepney to take us back to the Sofitel. This was something I’d wanted to do since I arrived in Manila: walk the streets, not just of my family’s gated neighborhood, not as a tourist, but as a person who at least looked like he belonged there. I could have been any citizen of Manila, coming home from work, maybe going out to eat. Anyone seeing us might even have thought I was Rafe’s guide.

Within a few minutes, the pervasive cloud of diesel exhaust had me reaching for my inhaler. We passed De La Salle University and college kids who looked and dressed like college kids anywhere. Hipster hegemony. Skinny jeans and gingham shirts. Neon Nikes and snapbacks. On a shelf of concrete forming the base of a tree box, a young man lay on his side on a bed of cardboard, cradling an infant. We passed a rumpled middle-aged Caucasian dude, and Rafe turned to me and said, “That’s me in 30 years.”

♦♦♦

Rafe: Later on at the Sofitel, netw3rk and I attended the NBA’s official welcome reception. The party was held in a tent about the size of a football field on the lawn behind the hotel, and almost as soon as we walked in, I again saw Lastimosa, the retired PBA player who had been at the elementary school. “What’s gonna happen?” I asked, and Jojo said: “After a while, they’re gonna bring the players out and make them stand onstage for 10 minutes. Then we go home.”

Across the room I saw Atoy Co, another local shooting guard even more legendary than Lastimosa. Co, nicknamed “The Fortune Cookie,” had played for the Crispa Redmanizers, one of two teams that dominated the first decade of PBA basketball, starting in 1975. Co also participated in a 1979 Manila exhibition game between the Washington Bullets and a selection of local all-stars. Before Rockets-Pacers, that game had been the last time an NBA team played on Philippine soil. (A group of NBA stars including Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant played a pair of exhibitions in July 2011, but that occurred during the lockout and was organized without the league’s approval.) I had been trying to reach Co all week to ask him about that 34-year-old game.

News accounts of the Bullets’ visit are sparse. We know that Washington brought Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, and Kevin Porter out for the game, that the Bullets won 133-123, and that afterward, coach Dick Motta said: “Good big men will surely beat good little men.” Besides that, the only notable story to emerge was a reported fistfight between 6-foot-11 Dave Corzine and “The Fortune Cookie” Co, who stands 10 inches shorter and who didn’t look like much of a fighter back in the ’70s, when he wore his hair in a Beatles-inspired bowl cut.

I wanted to know what had really happened. Before coming to Manila, I had managed to contact Corzine, who laughed at the fight story and told me over the phone: “I have no recollection of that whatsoever.” I believed him — it seemed reasonable that a man who played 891 career NBA games might forget a goodwill scrimmage from almost 35 years ago. So I emailed Bob Dandridge, who runs the Bullets alumni group, to ask about the Manila game, and he sent back a one-sentence reply: “The team went to China.”

If anyone remembered the details, I figured, it had to be Co. To the NBA guys, perhaps the game had been little more than a sideshow, but to the locals it must have been the experience of a lifetime. I had played pickup ball with Co and interviewed him in the past, so I felt comfortable approaching him and making small talk: Are you still playing in Coach Ronnie’s open run? How do you like the transition from local politics to college coaching? Then I asked about the Bullets game.

“I played in that game?” he asked, surprised. “I thought it was Ramon Fernandez.”

“Yes, but it says in the newspapers that you also played. You almost had a fight with Dave Corzine, the Washington center. Do you remember?”

“Sorry, no,” Co said. “But I’m glad I’m still alive if I fought a 7-footer.”

So there you have it: An NBA team played in Manila a little over 34 years ago, and many of the guys on the court that night can’t remember anything about it. I imagine the league was hoping that Rockets-Pacers at the Mall of Asia Arena would better stand the test of time.


ATOY CO (NO. 6) WALKING OFF THE COURT WITH HIS FORMER PBA TEAM, THE CRISPA REDMANIZERS, IN 1977.

 
netw3rk: Stepping behind the curtain of any mass-media entertainment package is always a trip. If you’ve ever sat in the studio audience of a TV show or toured a movie studio, you know what I’m talking about. Lights, stagecraft, and cameras add a slick sheen of unreality to the images that end up on whichever screen we use to view things these days. But when you’re there, in person, observing the frayed stitches on the lining of a chair and coffee stains on the rug, and shivering in overpowering air-conditioning, you realize an arena is just a place where lots of regular people come to work every day in the shadows of a few very tall, very famous people.

David Stern’s press conference was scheduled for five. Small wrinkle, it was 4:55 and the bodybuilder-looking security-for-hire guys wouldn’t let anyone out of the tunnel leading to the media room. Like, anyone anyone. A beefy Eastern Conference scout who looked vaguely like Brian Dennehy was stopped cold, the bouncers completely unmoved by the laminated credential and several pieces of official looking documentation he pulled from a battered manila envelope. Eventually, Rafe ran into some high-level NBA muckety-muck he knew, and with a wave of the official’s august hand, we all went through.

Rafe’s status as The Philippines Basketball Guy got us bumped up to the front row of Stern’s presser and Rafe the honor of asking the first question.

Rafe: “Say what?”

That’s how I remember answering the NBA communications staffer when he asked if I’d like to pose the first question to then-Commissioner Stern. He frowned and and held up his hand, signaling us to wait. He walked to the corner of the room and whispered into his boss’s ear, something along the lines of, “I don’t think he has a question.”

Then he came back to us: “Do you think you’ll be able to come up with a question?” I suspect they were so keen on having me go first because they were worried about some of the alternatives. The “Mr. Legend” TV journalist from the Bird presser was probably in that room somewhere. So was an eccentric tabloid reporter who’s known in the Philippine basketball scene for skipping through the aisles during PBA games while recording his own play-by-play on a clunky cassette recorder and compulsively sniffing his watch. Compared with the competition, an underprepared American might have been the safest choice.

I did end up going first, and I asked Stern how the Philippines fit into the NBA’s global vision, since there wasn’t much the NBA could do to promote the sport in a country that already adored it, and because the Philippines wasn’t an economic powerhouse like some other countries where the NBA has focused on growing the game, most notably China. Stern’s answer, and the way he discussed the Philippines throughout the press conference, impressed me. He described the Philippines as a tentpole nation for Southeast Asian hoops, a sympathetic audience where the league could test programs like development camps and local TV deals and NBA-themed eateries. If these endeavors proved successful in the Philippines, the league might try to duplicate them in Indonesia or Malaysia or Thailand. It sounded as if Stern saw the Philippines as a basketball petri dish — just bring the game, the NBA brand, and a light capital investment, then see what grows.

netw3rk: The game itself was a blowout, 116-96, Rockets. Houston looked fresher, quicker to the ball, and led the entire way. Kevin McHale, eager to use the preseason to experiment with lineups, pulled Jeremy Lin and Donatas Motiejunas from the starting lineup in favor of Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones. Motiejunas — who usually reminds me of a Mobile Suit Gundam piloted by a drunk child — responded nicely, coming off the bench with 16 points, three rebounds, and a block. Anytime you see that type of line from him, you know the Rockets had a good game. Lin looked decent, but Beverley’s play was stronger and he seemed a steadier hand on the wheel. Rafe’s mortal enemy, Chandler Parsons, had 15 points, each basket causing Rafe’s fists to coil with rage.

More interesting than the game was the attendance in the arena. The lower bowl and upper bowls were packed, but large swaths of empty seats were visible in the middle sections. Excitement was high: Noontime shows had segments promoting the game. There were commercials and front-page stories. Jeepneys plastered with Pacers and Rockets logos could be found trolling the streets around the Mall of Asia. So what went wrong? Seats in the lower bowl were selling for 32,000 pesos, about $730, a huge sum here. The next pricing tier came in at 27,000 pesos, about $600, or more than a month’s salary for a call-center worker. The top of the arena came in at 8,400 pesos (roughly $200) and 4,200 pesos (roughly $100). So, unsurprisingly, the second pricing level, which translated to the middle section of the arena, was sparsely filled.

Rafe: I hadn’t realized Chandler Parsons was my mortal enemy until I spent the days leading up to the Pacers’ preseason game reading dozens of headlines about his steamy date with local starlet KC Concepcion. Care to know what that steamy date consisted of? Dinner in a group of about eight people, mini golf, and wearing a floppy fur hat at an “ice bar” where the room temperature is kept below freezing. This was the dominant media story line heading into the game.

The real shock came when Concepcion attended the game on Thursday and revealed she had never seen a live basketball game before. This would be like Miss America admitting she had never tasted a hamburger. A revered actress like Concepcion, who was raised in this hoops-devoted nation, had never seen a live game? It hurts to think about it. I’m blaming Chandler Parsons.

At the beginning of the third quarter, I headed to Starbucks for a jolt of caffeine before a second half that promised lots of rest for Dwight Howard and plenty of touches for Motiejunas. Along the way, I passed one of the partly empty sections of the arena. The game was a reported sellout, but perhaps scalpers got left holding the bag on pricey seats they’d bought in bulk and hadn’t been able to resell. Several legitimate ticket holders might also have been stuck somewhere on flooded highways, since a powerful rainstorm blew through Manila before the game and stopped traffic for hours on some major roads.

Still, it was hard to not feel deflated over so-so attendance for an NBA preseason game. MOA Arena would be packed to the rafters and absolutely deafening two days later, when the University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle University battled through overtime for the country’s most prestigious college championship. 2013 already went into the history books as a banner year for Philippine basketball when the country was selected to host the FIBA Asia Championships and the national team finished in second place, qualifying for this year’s World Cup. 2013 was already the year LeBron James made his first visit to Manila and Renaldo Balkman choked a teammate during a PBA game. (Whoops, scratch that last one from the list of proud achievements.) By the time the NBA preseason rolled around, Rockets-Pacers was the cherry on top of the gravy poured over the icing on top of the sweetest cake Filipino basketball fans had tasted in decades.

netw3rk: After the game, Rafe and I met with my cousin Eileen at a blues bar by Manila Bay called the Roadhouse. The place looked like it could’ve been transported whole from any mall in America. A motorcycle chassis hung from the wall alongside electric guitars and posters of Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, and a host of other drive-time rock-radio luminaries. The in-house band was playing a pretty damn credible version of “Come Together.” Rafe and Eileen took pity on me and conversed only in English. We chatted about the game, Rafe’s upcoming National Geographic series, how our trip had gone so far. The band launched into “Farther Up the Road,” and I thought the guitar player was actually quite good as I blinked at the lights across the bay in Cavite. I gazed into the blackness of the open sea, beyond where Admiral George Dewey routed the decrepit Spanish fleet some 115 years ago, starting a relationship that has spanned America’s first taste of jungle warfare, first stab at nation building, World War II, a shared love of basketball, and three people chatting in English over burgers and fries while a band played live blues.

Rafe: After the Roadhouse, we loaded into the van for one last slog through Manila traffic. Abner, of course, was waiting. It was 1:30 a.m., yet the streets remained choked with jeepneys and buses and pedicabs. Vendors wandered the gridlock selling cigarettes and sampaguita flowers and feather dusters. I intended for Abner to drop me off somewhere nearby, where I could catch a cab back to my place on the north side of the city. Instead, I fell asleep and didn’t open my eyes until we were making a U-turn on Katipunan Avenue, steps away from where I was staying. I griped at Abner for going so far out of everyone’s way, knowing all along he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Then I hopped onto the sidewalk and watched the van rumble away, back toward Pasay.

netw3rk: It was going on three in the morning, but Abner and Eileen had one more stop planned before I went home and packed for my flight the next morning: my grandfather’s old compound in Pasay City. It looked tiny, more an alley than the street I remembered. One of my aunts still lives there with my cousins, and we picked her up to go to a family function before taking me to the airport. My grandfather’s place was back somewhere at the end of the compound, out of sight through the darkness and clutter of cars, trikes, and new buildings — newer than my memories, anyway. Back there was where basically every memory I have of this country was born. Since my grandparents passed, one of my uncles took over management of the compound and cut up the houses into multiple units, and what was once a private family dwelling now resembles something like a public street. This has caused some friction within our family, but I don’t really want to know more than that.

The outlying rain bands of Typhoon Santi, just beginning to come ashore in the north of the country, were dumping a hard downpour on the city, making a sound like a drumroll pounding on the top of my umbrella and the roof of Abner’s van. It seemed like a bad storm to me, and I was worried my flight might be delayed, but my cousins brushed it off. “You’ll make it,” they said. My aunt Linda walked into the beam of the van’s headlights, which sliced through the dark and the rain. I asked if I could see the house.

She didn’t want me to; she said it would make me sad.

♦♦♦

Rafe Bartholomew is an editor at Grantland and author of Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball. netw3rk is a Grantland contributor and coauthor of We’ll Always Have Linsanity.

Illustrations by Jungyeon Roh (first and third) and Damien Weighill (second).

Cockpit arena is the common term in the Philippines for a small- to medium-size stadium devoted to hosting cockfights. ^
FILED UNDER: NBA

MORE NBA
MORE FEATURES
B.S. Report: George Gervin MARCH 5, 2014
NBA Bag: 10 Steps to Tanking Perfection MARCH 5, 2014
The NBA’s Bonus Breaking Point MARCH 5, 2014
How to Train Your Dragic: The Suns Star Talks About His Evolution MARCH 5, 2014
NBA Overnight: Evil Klay Thompson, Good Russell Westbrook, and Not Finding the Sixers Funny Anymore MARCH 5, 2014
SEE ALL NBA

Most POPULAR
FEATURES
IS JIMMY FALLON REALLY COMEDY’S NEW CUTTING EDGE?
TITUS’S TOP 12 NCAA POWER RANKINGS
THERE AND BACK AGAIN: THE PHILIPPINES
THE MARC GASOL ALL-STARS
ROSTER DOCTOR: FANTASY BASEBALL PREVIEW

Top STORIES

The NBA Bag
by BILL SIMMONS

Titus’s Top 12 NCAA Power Rankings
by MARK TITUS

Roster Doctor: Fantasy Baseball Preview
by JONAH KERI
 
Elsewhere ON THE WEB

9 NBA Free Agents Topping the 2014 Class
WALL ST. CHEAT SHEET

“That 70s Show’s” Lisa Robin Kelly Dead At 43
VIEWMIXED

The NBA’s 6 Most Infamous Knee Injuries
WALL ST. CHEAT SHEET

Doc Rivers: 'I did wish it could’ve ended better'
CELTICS BLOG

Why Does Lebron James Love Flopping?
PBH2
Recommended by
CONTACTTWITTERFACEBOOKMASTHEAD
FEATURESTHE TRIANGLETHE HOLLYWOOD PROSPECTUSSIMMONSCONTRIBUTORSPODCASTSVIDEOESPN.COM
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information/Your California Privacy Rights are applicable to you.
© 2014 ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved. Interest-Based Ads
Powered by WordPress.com VIP

Permalink

upton

By: timbersfan, 6:26 AM GMT on March 06, 2014


SearchSearchSEARCH
Menu

In Defense of Kate Upton

SWIMSUITS
MARCH 4, 2014
by MOLLY LAMBERT
Facebook
Twitter
Email
41

What is it about Kate Upton that makes people so crazy? The obvious answer is her amazing boobs, but there’s also a weird tone to the way she sometimes gets discussed. Page Six recently suggested that the model trio of Nina Agdal, Lily Aldridge, and Chrissy Teigen, who landed the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover for 2014, felt that the mag undermined them by putting a solo shot of Upton on the back of the issue as an alternate cover. Since Upton was the SI cover girl in 2012 and 2013, there have been some rumors that the other models resent her for monopolizing the spotlight.

In her spread in this year’s issue, Upton tops last year’s Arctic pinups by floating around in zero-G, and the shoot has been hyped more than any other aspect of the 2014 swimsuit issue, including the cover and the spread of breakout “Blurred Lines” video/future Gone Girl star Emily Ratajkowski in a painted-on guitar pick bikini. On the one hand, it’s easy to see why: Upton’s amazing boobs, without gravity! But when Upton didn’t show up to the New York party for the swimsuit issue, a gossip magazine narrative began to form, painting Upton as a diva who stayed home because she was upset she hadn’t been chosen to three-peat the front cover, and the other cover models as angry because they were already competing with each other for attention, and “weren’t expecting to compete for attention with another girl on the back cover.” Upton’s reps insisted she was merely sick, and she showed up as scheduled for the next promotional SI swimsuit issue event in Miami, posing gamely with the other models to quash the rumors that they have beef.


SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

But Page Six’s sources also pointed out that even without the cover, Upton “might still steal the show.” While Upton may not yet have scored the SI covers hat trick that only Christie Brinkley (’79-’81), Elle Macpherson (’86-’88), and Cheryl Tiegs (’70, ’75, ’83) have achieved thus far, she may as well have. The Upton flip-cover is branded with “50th Anniversary” and a photo of Upton in a pink bikini next to the line “FIVE DECADES OF SEXY” (which might unintentionally convey the message that Upton is 50, in which case, she looks especially great). Even the front cover — in which Agdal, Aldridge, and Teigen stand with their backs to the camera, torqued around awkwardly to look over their shoulders and touch each other’s butts — is interrupted by a tiny image of Upton in the corner, beckoning the reader to flip over the mag.

Carol Alt, who had the cover spot in 1982, semi-shaded Upton to HuffPostLive last week, saying, “I don’t get what all the hullabaloo is [about Upton]. I think what it is, is that in this moment there’s just so much social media and that’s why she’s had more word of mouth than anybody.” She qualified that statement immediately with: “I like Kate. She’s a pretty girl. But all the girls are nice and all the girls are pretty. And every cover, to me, deserves to be talked about.”

The 21-year-old Upton is definitely something of a social media phenomenon, riding a Terry Richardson video of herself doing the Cat Daddy to viral fame. After modeling for several mall brands, including Guess, she was featured in the 2011 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue as “Rookie of the Year” for a body paint photo. SI has a lot invested in the Upton industry. A model’s career usually tops out around 30 and can start as young as 13, but in Upton’s case her career didn’t really begin until she turned 18, at which point it became legal to talk about her great boobs.



The SI swimsuit cover is obviously not really about modeling, or selling swimsuits, or, you know, sports. It’s about sex, and crafting sex symbols to sell magazines. Normally, models are divided into different categories: high fashion, commercial, and glamour. High fashion is the domain of ultra-skinny Vogue models. Commercial refers to modeling for catalogues, and usually requires a wholesome, healthy-looking image. Glamour is a euphemism for soft-core photography, the realm of men’s magazines. All three often involve some degree of nudity, but high fashion near nudity and commercial near nudity (like the kind in lingerie catalogues) are viewed as either artistic or only mildly titillating. Since glamour modeling’s main intent is to arouse, it is seen as being much closer to pornography, and as such has a more tawdry association than the other two kinds of modeling. Glamour is a vast category, and there’s still a perceived difference between doing a magazine like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (an honor) and Maxim (vulgar), even though both of them essentially involve the same thing: posing in your underwear.

While the magazine shows no particular preference for blondes over brunettes as cover stars (although, whither the gingers?), the vast majority of the SI cover models have been white, with the occasional Latina. Teigen is half-Thai, making this year’s issue the first to feature an Asian model on the cover. The magazine featured an Indian model in an interior photo shoot for the first time in 2010. Tyra Banks is still the most famous non-white cover girl, becoming the first black model to do the cover in 1996 alongside Valeria Mazza, and again in 1997 by herself. The magazine didn’t use another black model until 10 years later in 2007, and that model was named Beyoncé Knowles. Beyoncé’s cover marked the first and only time a non-model got the coveted spot. Some SI models used getting the cover as an opportunity to build themselves a brand, although to judge by Christie Brinkley’s recent People cover story, in which she describes how she stays so terrifyingly hot at age 60, being a sex symbol who ages in public is a double-edged sword.

Upton’s success brings up many of the same issues that Anna Nicole Smith’s did. Both buxom blondes have been tagged as being somehow low-class, although Kate’s posh upbringing was extremely different from dirt-poor Anna Nicole’s. When people criticize Upton, they describe her face as average, compare her to ASU coeds, or complain that she doesn’t have a small enough waist for a true hourglass figure. What people like Carol Alt don’t seem to understand is that Upton’s spectacular girl-next-door quality is the key to her appeal. She’s the average fantasy object of the American man. It’s very vanilla, but everybody still likes vanilla! It is quite possible that in the decades since the reigns of Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Brigitte Bardot, the barometer for what is sexy hasn’t really moved that far beyond white blonde women with big boobs.

But if a model is very attractive to straight men, isn’t she also kind of threatening to straight women? Not necessarily. While some people seem to be extremely put off by Upton’s success, others see her as harmless. Maybe it’s because her public image is so bubbly and friendly. She doesn’t seem like a diva, or the type to hit on other people’s boyfriends, not that every man in sight wouldn’t be dying to talk to her. The goofiness helps disarm how terrifyingly hot she is. She’s the Jennifer Lawrence of models.


JIM MCISAAC/GETTY

And like Lawrence, she can be quite candid. She told Elle last year that the experience of being on the SI cover was not validating, but horrifying: “I felt terrible about myself for a solid month. Every single guy I met was either married or about to be married, and I felt like I was their bachelor present or something. I’m not a toy, I’m a human. I’m not here to be used. I am a grown woman, and you need to figure your shit out.” It was refreshing for Upton to be so up-front about the downsides of being sexualized, and to defy expectations that she was nothing but a Barbie who would always be stoked to pander to her supposed demographic just because she had posed on the cover of a magazine in a bikini.

Upton’s brand is the biggest the modeling world has seen in years, and she’s even enjoyed some crossover success, walking in Marc Jacobs’s Louis Vuitton show last fall. If there’s one thing that is especially threatening about her to other models, it’s the way she gets to move between high fashion, commercial, and glamour in a way that prior generations of models weren’t allowed to. Her success is even more remarkable given the availability of technology and the rise of the “Instagram model.” With porn and sexy half-naked pictures of amateurs easily available everywhere at the click of a button, who is going to go out and buy a magazine just to look at glossy photos of a hot girl floating in zero-G? A lot of people, apparently. The swimsuit edition is always Sports Illustrated’s best-selling issue of the year, which is why it has persisted and thrived since debuting in 1964 despite eventual enduring protests of its inherent sexism and the general decline of supermodel culture since it arose in the ’70s and peaked in the ’90s. Kate Upton is single-handedly saving print.

FILED UNDER: SWIMSUITS, KATE UPTON, CAROL ALT, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, MODELS, MODELING


MOLLY LAMBERT is a staff writer for Grantland.

ARCHIVE
@ MOLLYLAMBERT
MORE FROM MOLLY LAMBERT
MORE SWIMSUITS
MORE HOLLYWOOD PROSPECTUS
Oprah’s Lindsay Lohan Reality Show Is Almost Here, Whether You Want It or Not MARCH 5, 2014
In Defense of Kate Upton MARCH 4, 2014
‘True Detective’: Taking Jumper Cables to the Plot in ‘After You’ve Gone’ MARCH 3, 2014
Five Things to Consider for This Week’s Episode of ‘True Detective’ FEBRUARY 28, 2014
Katy Perry and John Mayer Call It Quits (for Now) … and Other Unexpected Announcements From This Week’s Tabloids FEBRUARY 27, 2014
SEE ALL FROM MOLLY LAMBERT


Top STORIES

The NBA Bag
by BILL SIMMONS

Titus’s Top 12 NCAA Power Rankings
by MARK TITUS

Roster Doctor: Fantasy Baseball Preview
by JONAH KERI
PREVIOUS STORY

The Phenomenally (Less) Cool Pharrell Williams


NEXT STORY

Q&A: Jason Katims on ‘About a Boy,’ ‘Parenthood,’ ‘Friday Night Lights,’ and Weeping in the Writers' Room



Most POPULAR
HOLLYWOOD PROSPECTUS
IN DEFENSE OF KATE UPTON
THE PHENOMENALLY (LESS) COOL PHARRELL WILLIAMS
Q&A: JASON KATIMS ON ‘ABOUT A BOY,’ ‘PARENTHOOD,’ ‘FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS,’ AND WEEPING IN THE WRIT
YOUTUBE HOF: WES ANDERSON CHARACTERS
WATCH THE MOST COMPELLING AND MIND-BLOWING ‘TRUE DETECTIVE’ YELLOW KING THEORY YET


Do You Like Prince Movies?
MARCH 5, 2014

The Moment with Brian Koppelman
MARCH 4, 2014

Hollywood Prospectus
MARCH 3, 2014
 
Elsewhere ON THE WEB

Kanye West vows to stop talking trash for 6 Months
MOBILE LIKES

7 Wonders of the Modern World
MOBILE LIKES

11 Popular Stars Who Died Before 35 in the Past 20 Years
FAME10

Editor’s Finds for Upcoming Spring at Mr Porter
LIFE, TAILORED

GALLERY: When Prom Pictures Turn Out Awkward
RUNT OF THE WEB
Recommended by
CONTACTTWITTERFACEBOOKMASTHEAD
FEATURESTHE TRIANGLETHE HOLLYWOOD PROSPECTUSSIMMONSCONTRIBUTORSPODCASTSVIDEOESPN.COM
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information/Your California Privacy Rights are applicable to you.
© 2014 ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved. Interest-Based Ads
Powered by WordPress.com VIP

Permalink

About timbersfan