Friday, March 30, 2007

...Niggerbockers, that is

I just read Bill Simmons' "crossroads of basketball" column, and I don't have enough time to formally respond to something that I think ought to be responded to. Monday I will get it done.



The called them the New York Niggers...

I wanted to talk to you today about Michael Ray Richardson and his comments about Jews, but the best blog on the internet said everything that needs to be said here. Excellent reading.

I just want to say one thing: Guys like Michael Ray have probably been subjected to more racism through the years than almost anyone in America. I can't imagine how many Staten Islandites opened up the Post, read Michael's "The Ship Be Sinkin'" quote, and thought to themselves, "great, we've got this dumb fuckin nigger ruining our team, what ever happened to Bill Bradley..." and so forth. It's a shame that Richardson had such a tough standard applied to him for comments that were fairly innocuous. He's barely even a public figure.

More to come about other basketball stuff.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Quick Thought

Just a little food for thought here. Right now, going into the NIT Finals, the West Virginia Mountaineers have compiled a 26-9 season, including a win over a certain University of California Los Angeles program (maybe you've heard of them). They have put together a 9-7 record in the Big East, arguably the hardest conference in the country (Duke, a six seed in the tournament, had an 8-8 record in the ACC in what proved to be a down year for the conference). They did not make the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse University recently ended its season, losing by three points to Clemson, who will play in the NIT Championship this week. They finished 24-11 with a 10-6 record in the Big East, which as I said, is truly one of the toughest conferences in the country to win in (Arizona, which was an 8-seed, was 20-10 with an 11-7 record in the Pac-10). Along the way, Syracuse beat (by a margin of 14 points) a team from Washington DC named after bulldogs but called the Hoyas. Perhaps you've also heard of this program. Syracuse is not in the tournament.

It is absolutely bullshit that what I just said is true. Big East programs are getting penalized, and it's unclear why. I don't know if there's some dopey stigma to blame or a vendetta or something else, but I find it unfathomable that neither the West Virginia or Syracuse programs sent teams to the tournament. Instead viewers were saddled watching joke teams like North Texas (23-8 with a 10-8 record in the Sun Belt Conference) get destroyed. Whoop de damn doo.

You know where to find me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

8 Ball

This is a recap of what happened before this weekend:

Shake, shake, shake....

Shake, shake shake....

What can the Magic 8 ball tell us about this year's Elite Eight?

Shake, shake, shake...

Shake, shake, shake...

Magic 8 ball, who will go from Elite Eight to NCAA champion?

Wow, the Magic 8 ball never ceases to amaze.

As you all know out there, we're down to the round of four, but I just want to do a quick recap of what's happened so far.

My picks have been mediocre at best. I'll get through them quickly, stylizing the winner in Bold and my pick in Italics (For example: Big East Team v. Team From Wussy Conference; or: Big East Victim of Tough Refereeing and Doubtless Other Instances of Poor Sportsmanship and Cheating v. Lucky Unskilled Nonhustling Overrated ACC Team Who Got All The Calls And Consistantly Made Once In A Lifetime Shots). Anyway...

Florida v. Butler: I managed to botch up an easy one by picking the winner and then saying: "[despite picking Florida to win this game] I am dying to pick against Floria and will go so far as to guarantee a loss in the Elite Eight." That didn't happen. Florida makes me mad. Noah makes me mad. The thought of them winning back-to-back makes me mad. Sometimes loathsome teams win. This is one of them. (You know what's really incredible? All this hate stems from one man; that lousy, no-good, overly celebratory, androgynous Noah. I can't remember the last time one player moved me so strongly against his team.) [Oh, and by the way...I GUARANTEE a Florida loss in the Final Four. The power of my hate cannot be beaten.]

Oregon v. UNLV: This was kind of the opposite of the above pick. I qualified my pick by noting my newfound respect for the Ducks, and I feel a little less embarrassed. A little.

Kansas v. Southern Illinois: Pretty simple story here. If the Salukis had won this game, it would have been amazing. They didn't. I predicted their loss. Wee.

Pittsburgh v. UCLA: Pittsburgh sent a valuable message to other Big East teams: If you're going to get a big, soft, white guy, do not feature him. You will lose.

UNC v. USC: As if there was any doubt.

Georgetown v. Vanderbilt: See above.

Ohio State v. Tennessee: I thought that this wouldn't even be close, and I was really impressed with Tennessee. I wonder how this program will be in the coming years. (Take me to another place, take me to another land, Make me forget all that hurts me, let me understand your plan....)

Memphis v. Texas A&M: I was right about this one, and it's good to see that John Calipari is raising the fortunes of an entire conference (Conference USA). I have nothing but respect for Calipari; I remember not long ago when Memphis was completely in shambles, and he has really raised the quality of both the players and the style of play. If they still had Darius Washington, Jr., I wonder if anybody could beat this team.

Now, let's look ahead to the biggest event in college hoops:

The Final Four

The two games of the Final Four each have a lot of promise, and for the first time in a couple of years, neither one is easy to predict (thank god). Let's start off with the sunshine teams:

UCLA v. Florida: I like how UCLA matches up against Florida, except in the frontcourt. It seems like this game will be won by Florida if they can exploit their advantage with the big guys, and by UCLA if they can do so with the small guys. Both coaches of these teams are top-flight, and I think it will be interesting to see how they try to accomplish the aforementioned goals.

The reason I think Florida will fail is because I don't think they'll be able to discipline themselves into a half-court game that can beat UCLA's. The reason I feel that way has to do most with Taurean Green, an excellent player for sure, but one who I think will have a very hard time against Darren Collison. Collison was just juicing on the best players in the country (to whom he gave up a lot of size) against Kansas, and I was really impressed with him. I think he's tougher, quicker, and more skilled than Green, even if he's not quite as polished offensively.

I think Mbah a Moute may have a fighting chance to slow down Noah, but it's Al Horford that will be the hardest matchup for UCLA. If the Gators double him, it will be trouble because of the Bruin's perimeter aptitude; I'd almost say he presents the kind of situation where you just keep one guy on him, playing him as physically as possible, and substitute his man out a lot to keep fouls down and stamina up. If UCLA can do that and let everybody else worry about everybody else, they will win, says Jimmy V.

Georgetown v. Ohio State: I'm sure anyone who knows me or has ever read this blog knew I was picking Georgetown because I love Big East basketball. Fine, I'm a homer, I'll admit it. But let's look at these two teams:

Greg Oden is obviously the man, but Roy Hibbert is actually two inches taller than him. I'm not saying that Hibbert can win a battle between the two, but I do think he is probably one of the best-equipped players in the country to box Oden out and keep him from causing weak-side defensive havoc.

Ohio State's complimentary players are also very skilled; especially Mike Conley, Jr. They don't quite have anyone like Jeff Green, though, and Jeff Green is key in this game because he's probably the only player that can take the ball to the hoop against Oden and draw fouls consistently. I don't see how anyone on Ohio State can stop him.

I also think Georgetown is a superior team with superior coaching. Since their back-to-back losses against Villanova and Pittsburgh, Georgetown has been absolutely unstoppable, blowing teams out of the water (their only loss was to Syracuse...hard to believe the Orangemen didn't make the tournament).

They didn't look that great against Vandy, but it seems like that woke them up, as they were able to run with a UNC team that was very arguably more talented. With Georgetown, as with most Big East teams, it's all about the coaching and the defense. Ohio State only sees teams like that a couple of times a year, when they play Wisconsin (who they're 2-1 against this year). So far in the tourney, they've played relatively weak defensive teams in Memphis, Tennessee, Xavier, and Central Connecticut. I think they'll be used to their offense executing without a lot of problems, and when it doesn't, they will fall apart just like Kansas did.

That's it. E-mail me at

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mav and Goose shot down by Stockton and Huevos

Hello. It's a special day today, the day when John Stockton, one of the most respectable and talented players ever to grace the league, came into this world. Known for his ability to assist in many situations, be it a behind the back pass in traffic, a kickout to an open shooter, or as a copilot in the Fight for Freedom, Stockton is second to none.

There was a time when I loathed John Stockton (and Karl Malone, and Jeff Hornacek), but with the passing of time and my slow, clumsy assent into marginal maturity, I gained a respect for the most fundamental of fundamentalists.

That respect deepened as I became more and more engrossed in the world of professional basketball. I started to examine the off-the-court personalities of players, and I realized that Stockton was (and is) one of the most humble, fearless, hard-working players in the league. Some may say he fouled when the refs weren't looking, flopped, and was generally a bit of an asshole on the court, and perhaps there is some truth in this perspective (I would hope so, as it was once mine). However, when one pulls themselves out of the vacuum of hating Stockton, they must realize he was doing his job to the best of his ability, was often over-matched physically, and was never aggressive in hurting his opponent (see Bowen, Bruce).

I don't want to get too poetic here, so I'll just recognize Mr. Stockton with some quick bullet points:

-Stoctkon averaged 12 or more assists per game for 8 consecutive seasons. Magic had five nonconsecutive seasons of 12 or more. Isiah Thomas did it once. Mark Jackson did it once. Steve Nash hasn't done it. Oscar Robertson hasn't done it. Jason Kidd hasn't done it. Bob Cousy and Gary Payton never hit ten.

-Stockton has 15,806 assists. Assuming a paltry 20% of those went to three-point field goals, he assisted on 34,774 points. That happens to be 2,482 points more than Michael Jordan ever scored. Adding Stockton's career points total (19711) to his points-by-assist, I calculate that he was responsible for 54,385 points. Using the same equation, Jordan would have been responsible for 44,684 points. I'm not saying Stockton was better than Jordan, but that is pretty incredible, I think. (I'm also quite sure no other point guard comes close.)

-The differential in career assists between John Stockton (15,806) and Mark Jackson (10,334), who is second all-time, is 5,472. Some players who have had fewer assists in their careers than that differential include Dennis Johnson (33rd all-time), Sam Cassell, Walt Frazier, Steve Nash, Doc Rivers and Mark Price.

-When Stockton agreed to play for less money, he forced the owners of the Jazz to pay him back by letting his son's ice hockey team play a game at the Delta Center.

-He lives in a small house next door to his wife's parents.

Tomorrow: The Great Eight. Ain't no elitists at

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Jerry Tarkanian is one of the most under-appreciated coaches in the history of basketball. Despite all his wins and accolades, his historic career is not deemed worthy of hall-of-fame status. Instead, he is associated with rule-breaking, criminality, irresponsibility, and disrespect for sanctioning by college basketball's rule-making body, the NCAA.

Tarkanian's never been to jail. He's never thrown chairs, pushed officials, or strangled his players. He's never invalidated anyone's amateur status, siphoned money to recruits, or gotten drunk with college co-eds. As a matter of fact, he's taken more chances on tough kids with tough lives than most charitable organizations (and certainly the monied, suburban, utterly angelic Duke boys the the media fawns over).

It's funny; no one ever remembers the names of the players that Jerry Tarkanian took a chance on. They remember the incidents. "Remember that guy [Kenny Brunner] who tried to assault someone with a samurai sword ?" "Remember those players [Moses Scurry, Anderson Hunt, and David Butler] who got caught sitting in a hot tub with a known bookie/point shaver ?" "Remember that white boy [Chris Herren] who got busted for being a coke-head?" The conclusion is often the same: "Man, Tarkanian will take on anyone!"

Tarkanian ought to be admired for taking a chance on those guys, but instead he's reviled because of the mistakes they make. It may be true that at some point people stop deserving second chances, but criticizing Tarkanian for the faults of his troubled players misses an important point; most of them were never given a chance to begin with, until Tark came along. Is he so wrong for giving troubled young men a chance to earn an education because they let him down? Can a college basketball coach be expected to completely shepardize young men when he only supervises them for a couple of hours during the day? I think the notions and expectations of those in the moralizing media that criticize Tarkanian are simply absurd. Would anyone fault a priest who tried to save a criminal, only to fail?

Tarkanian's image as a sinner is contradicted by many of the men he helped, but people forget about that. A good example is the aforementioned Chris Herren: He played at Boston College until cocaine destroyed his career. Jerry Tarkanian brought him to Fresno State as a transfer and by the time Herren graduated, he was a husband, father, NBA draft pick, and substance-free. FOX Sports never did an in depth story on his rise from addiction, though. They only did it soon after Herren came under Tarkanian's wing, before he cleaned up, showcasing the criminals Jerry Tarkanian let into the NCAA. It's almost like wherever Tarkanian goes, there are four journalists following him, waiting for him to do something, anything that they can take hold of.

It wasn't always like this. There was a time when Jerry Tarkanian was the toast of NCAA basketball, a great motivator who was a strategic revolutionary on both ends of the basketball court.

Tarkanian had risen swiftly through the coaching ranks ever since his career as a player at Fresno State ended in 1955. He had been able to get an athletic scholarship, but needed extra money, so he worked as manager on the football team, which was coached by Clark van Galder. From van Galder, he learned strategies for instilling intensity in his players that carried throughout his career.

Another job he took job on the side involved helping out with a local high school basketball team. He made a good impression, and when he finished his career at Fresno State, the school immediately hired him as its head coach. He moved upward through the high school ranks and was soon hired by Riverside Junior College, an obscure school with a perennially awful basketball team.

That Riverside squad was a team of misfits that hadn't had a winning season in eleven years, but under Tarkanian, they won three championships in a row. Pasadena City College took notice, hired him, and he presided over a similar turnaround there.

Tarkanian's first shot at the big time came in 1968 at Long Beach State College. He used his contacts in the junior college world (from his days at Riverside) to field a team almost entirely comprised of ex-JuCo players. It was unorthodox for Division I teams to recruit Junior College players at that time, and Jerry Tarkanian was building an entire team around them.

The JuCo guys were't the only thing revolutionary about the Long Beach teams Tarkanian coached. Tark's 49ers was one of the first teams that was willing to play with an all-black starting lineup. At that time, there was an unwritten rule that every coach started a couple of white boys. Not Jerry. As history scholar Richard O. Davies put it: "This dramatic departure from racial convention established Tarkanian in the black community as a coach who not only talked about equal opportunity but actually practiced it. This reputation would pay great recruiting dividends later in his career."

At Long Beach State, Tarkanian went an impressive 122-20. His sparkling record got him a call from UNLV, which at the time was a relatively unknown school (and considered to be the second-most important Nevada State University branch after Reno).

UNLV had been a mediocre team, going 11-11 before Tarkanian got there. His first season saw the Rebels go 20-6, utilizing a crippling new style of basketball based around fast breaks and a suffocating, hustling, unpredictable zone defense.

Everyone loved watching UNLV, and they got better every year. Tarkanian instituted both a stifling zone (which would later be modified and referred to as the Amoeba Defense), and an equally frustrating man-to-man defense. The Rebels were soon 32-3, and in 1975 scored 164 points in a single game, a record that has not been broken. Tarkanian was riding high and UNLV was gaining more and more recognition as one of that nation's elite basketball institutions.

Tarkanian probably didn't know the 1976 newspaper article he authored just as he was gaining national prominence would change his career and his life the way it did. Tarkanian felt that the NCAA spent much of its energy punishing smaller programs for infractions that the larger, moneymaking programs got away with. He wrote: "It's a crime that Western Kentucky is on probation but the famous University of Kentucky basketball program breaks more rules in a day than Western Kentucky does in a year. The NCAA doesn't want to take on the big boys." He also quipped: "Recently, the NCAA got so mad at Kentucky, they put Cleveland State on probation for another two years."

Mr. Tarkanian's article must have caught the eye of an unhappy suit high atop the NCAA's mountain of bureaucracy. He probably thought to himself, "So, Tark the Shark likes to criticize the NCAA for not investigating top programs? Well, then let's give a top program like UNLV the investigation of a lifetime."

That same year, an enormous investigation was announced into not just UNLV, but also Long Beach State, Tark's previous team. It was prejudiced at best, conspiratorial at worst. Most coaches would have broken.

Not Jerry Tarkanian. He was no lay-down sissy like the lawyers and administrators of the NCAA posse. He didn't come from the upper crust, he hadn't lived an easy life, and he wasn't going to let some shitbag organization ruin everything he'd built. Tarkanian was born to a mother whose husband had been beheaded before his grandfather's very eyes during the 24- year genocide organized by the Armenian government. Tark's mother fled to America and raised him on next to nothing. He never feared the rough younger kids he welcomed to his teams, he never feared his opposing coaches, and he most certainly didn't fear the NCAA.

Jerry Tarkanian took the NCAA to a place where impartiality rules. He took them to court. In October 1977, Distric Court Judge James Brennan granted a permanent injunction prohibiting the institution of the NCAA's frivolous penalties. In his decision, he noted that NCAA investigator David Berst "threatened, coerced, promised immunity, and promised rewards to athletes in his effort to obtain derogatory evidence against the Plaintiff [Tarkanian]."

If the NCAA had been smart, they would have let sleeping dogs lie, but they didn't. They kept going after Tarkanian year after year, and when a new president, Robert Maxson, was appointed to UNLV in 1983, he began to tire of the constant bad publicity surrounding the school.

Maxson had started out as an ally of Tarkanian, an obvious position considering UNLV's unparalleled run of success in the mid-to-late 80's. Despite the NCAA's best efforts, the UNLV teams got better and better, culminating in 1989-90 when they won the NCAA championship, pantsing Duke by an incredible 30 point margin (103-73). USA Today ranks that team the second best in college basketball's entire history in this 2005 article.

All the while, Tarkanian was fighting a vicious court battle against the NCAA that eventually went all the way to the United States Supreme Court after his removal as head coach of UNLV [by UNLV, not the NCAA]. The Supreme Court's decision, available here, illustrates the amount of bullshit the NCAA threw Tarkanian's way.

To paraphrase for the highest court; Jerry Tarkanian lost his case for wrongful termination when he moved for damages arguing that UNLV violated his right to due process by firing him. That decisive fact is unimportant to my point here.

What is important are the words of the Justices who looked at the information that led to Tarkanian's firing. It reveals some of the facts of the NCAA's interference, which cannot be surmised any other way as a consequence of the 1998 settlement agreement, which made all the details of the NCAA's fraudulent witch-hunt confidential, and which I will discuss in a moment.

The Court found that the Committee on Infractions (hereinafter, CI) had decided that an "Official Inquiry" was warranted in 1976, four years after a "Preliminary Inquiry". [This is highly odd; most official inquiries follow preliminary inquiries in a much smaller time-frame, which strengthens the argument that the NCAA reopened the case arbitrarily.] The Committee ordered UNLV to investigate every alleged incident (the investigations that led to this order having been conducted by the aforementioned asshole David Berst).

UNLV complied, and began a thorough investigation of the charges. On October 27, 1976, UNLV officials "filed a comprehensive response containing voluminous exhibits and sworn affidavits. The response denied all of the allegations and specifically concluded that Tarkanian was completely innocent of wrongdoing." When presented to the Committee, it ruled that most of the charges "could not be supported". It did find Tarkanian guilty of ten violations, the most serious of which was Tarkanian's failure to "provide full cooperation with the NCAA investigation." That investigation was, as we learned above, patently bogus.

For Tarkanian's serious violation described above, the NCAA ordered that he be suspended from the team for two years, and that UNLV be disallowed from participating in postseason play and televised games. UNLV managed to defer its penalties, but the tired president's tolerance for Tarkanian was used up when the Las Vegas Review-Journal published the hot tub photograph of Moses Scurry, Anderson Hunt, and David Butler with and a gambler/game-fixer.

How Tarkanian was involved with this is unclear, but he was certainly blamed. Despite having just taken his team to the championship for two consecutive years, Tarkanian was asked to leave. He coached a final season in which his team was banned from post-season play. The Rebels went 26-2 that year.

Tarkanian had a brief (9-11) run as coach of the Spurs, was fired after a disagreement with the owner, and promptly retired. His retirement consisted of fighting his civil lawsuit with the NCAA, arguing that their persistent unwarranted harassment had ruined his career. While no decision was ever made in Court, the NCAA settled with The Shark for $2.5 million. A confidentiality agreement was signed, and we'll never know the extent to which the NCAA violated Jerry Tarkanian's Legal rights. $2.5 million says a lot though; if it's not an admission of serious fault, I don't know what is.

Tark un-retired and went back to coach where his career started, at Fresno State. He had six 20-win seasons, and took the previously squalid Bulldogs to the Tournament twice, once advancing to the second round. Along the way, he reformed countless players from street thugs into productive adults. Players no one gave a chance to like Rafer Alston, Courtney Alexander, Mervin Ely and Tito Maddux all thrived under Tarkanian's tutelage.

It all came to a halt when, surprise, surprise, the NCAA conducted a thorough investigation of Fresno State. They found Fresno State had committed ten violations, none of which directly implicated Tarkanian. He retired, to the delight of many a NCAA-loving journalist (example here). [Tarkanian's successor at Fresno State recently resigned in the wake of NCAA-uncovered violations. There was considerably less publicity.]

Looking back: Jerry Tarkanian won 990 college basketball games and lost 228. (That's 81.3%.) He has more 20-win seasons than anyone other than the legendary Dean Smith. He is almost universally loved by his former players and universally respected by his coaching colleagues. ("He's one of the truly remarkable defensive coaches." -Coach K) I found a nice highlight tape of his 'Runnin Rebels team of 1990 worth watching that's available here.

There's nothing a coach can do in college basketball that Tarkanian didn't do. His name ought to be enshrined (and recognized) alongside the names Smith and Wooden in Springfield. A basketball genius, a tireless worker, and an advocate of players most coaches would cross the street to get away from, Tarkanian still doesn't get the respect he deserves. He's 76, and probably doesn't have too many years left.

UNLV is finally back in the saddle after years of probation-induced mediocrity. Their recent resurgence makes me wonder what they could have done had Tark been allowed to play out that 26-2 season, enter the tournament, and come back to the respect and security he deserved.

As always, e-mail me at

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Make 'em Jump Like Rod Strickland

"I walk the earth with my Rod in this Strick-land..." - Pharoahe Monch

"...guaranteed, make 'em jump like Rod Strickland..." -Wu Tang Clan

"...straight to the hole, like Rod Strickland, it was takin' its toll..." - DMX

"My man Kelly Moon from the Gavin / Rod Strickland..." -Wu Tang Clan

"Then the plot thickens / On point like Rod Strickland..." -Onyx

Yes, yes, the day has finally arrived. I knew if I had the chance to talk about Rod Strickland, I would. He's one of my favorite players of all-time. Watching the NCAA tournament and beholding Memphis's strong showing in the tournament with Mr. Strick on the bench, what better time to honor one of the best point guards in the 1990's?

Players have always seemed to know the truth about Rod. When he arrived on the Wizards, 20,000 point scorer and frustrated star Mitch Ritchmond had been wanting to get out of Sacramento for years. His first choice was to go to Washington. Why, you ask? "The main reason I came here," said Mitch Richmond after the trade, "was to play alongside Rod."

Dave D'Allesandro, in a column he wrote in The Sporting News, summed up Strickland's talent well: "Nobody penetrates like Rodney can, nobody draws whistles like Rodney can and nobody finishes around the rim like Rodney can, with the possible exception of those guys who play over it."

There's not much more you can say than that. Rod Strickland was never a great (or even good) three-point shooter, but aside from that weakness, he was an almost-perfect offensive point guard. He could run transition offense or half-court offense, and if things weren't going smoothly, he could always create points by taking it to the hole. Few have ever been able to penetrate with such acumen.

Strickland's talent, both for scoring and distributing, is evident from his statistics. From the second half of the 1989-90 season through the 2000-01 season, he averaged around fifteen points, 9 assists, and 1.75 steals per night. Often dogged for his fragility, he missed an average of ten games a season over that ten year span. Even though people retrospectively describe him as if he was some sort of journeyman, in those ten years (which were the prime of his career), he only played for three teams, and in his last years on the Wizards was rewarded with a lucrative $10 million a year contract.

Rod Strickland was more than just a score and dish guy, though. He consistently averaged close to five rebounds a game, and has a career FG% of 45.4%. He got to the free-throw line an impressive 6-7 times a game in the 90's (Dwayne Wade got to the line 5.9 times a game his rookie year).

Though I am no fan of Hollinger statistics, his "win share" is positive for Strickland in comparison with other point guards. For instance, it shows that in Steve Nash's career, he has contributed to his team in a way that contributes 61 more wins than an average player. Strickland had 72 at the same point in his career. Both players were traded or signed with new teams three times in the same span of years, and each team they were traded to made the playoffs subsequent to their arrival.

Steve Nash's career statistics are 13.5 points per game, 7.1 assists per game, 2.2 rebounds per game, .8 steals per game, shooting 47%. I have to say, I think Rod Strickland's statistics of 13.2 points, 7.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, shooting 45%, which include the last four unsuccessful seasons he had as a backup, compare quite well.

The difference between the two guys, in my mind, has a lot to do with the surrounding players. Rod never had the kind of team that Nash does now, and when he played with good players, he ran into problems. The good Blazers teams in the early nineties had to play the eventual champion Rockets, contender Suns, and Jazz in each of their first round matchups. The Bullets team that Strickland was on which featured Chris Webber and Juwan Howard had to face Michael Jordan's Bulls in the first round, and Chris Webber was injured, contributing only 15.7 points a game (to Strickland's 19.7, 8.3, and 6.0). At that time Chris Webber and Juwan Howard were each making in excess of $8 million a year. Rod Strickland was making $3 million, and was the fifth-highest paid player after Webber, Howard, Calbert Cheaney and Harvey Grant. Despite his low pay-grade, it was Strickland's play that carried the Bullets above the Cleveland Cavaliers in the last games of the season when Webber and Howard were unavailable. This play was also the reason they signed Strickland to a 4-year, $40 million dollar deal.

That deal would have made a lot of sense if they didn't trade Chris Webber. As a matter of fact, I don't doubt that the Bullets/Wizards would have been a good team for years to come, as the Sacramento Kings were when they received Webber. That one boneheaded move made Juwan Howard, the most overpaid and under-talented guy in the league for many years, Rod Strickland's only partner, along with a fading Mitch Richmond.

The team stunk. Everyone blamed Rod Strickland. They said he was lazy, immoral, a cancer.

I don't know why the collective reaction was so great, but from that time forward, Rod's career has always been perceived as one featuring mostly sloth, crime, and indignation. The media throws it out and basketball fans everywhere lap it up. Bad sports fans love to find silly reasons why their teams are bad, and Roddy gave them a chance.

Here is a list of the "bad" things Rod Strickland did in his career:

1. Arrested for refusing to leave a restaurant that was being shut by fire marshals;
2. Unexcused absence when Strickland missed a plane back from a funeral in New York;
3. Demanded that either he be traded by Portland General Manager Bob Whitsitt or that coach P.J. Carlesimo (noted friend of players) be fired;
4. Pled guilty to a DUI - ordered to complete 30 hours of community service;
5. Fight with teammate Tracy Murray - each was fined $25,000;
6. 10 minutes late for practice - fined $2,500;
7. Failed to appear in court when he missed a flight. Posted $5,000 bail;
8. Absent from practice;
9. Arrested but found innocent of DUI and reckless driving (also not arrested but accused of hitting woman);
10. Pled guilty to DUI - Served ten days in jail during the off-season.

Strickland had a fourteen year NBA career featuring ten problems. I agree that all of the above could be distracting to a team, and I'm not saying Strickland is a saint. However, I find it offensive that someone like Michael Irvin, who was busted in the middle of the season with two whores and a pile of cocaine in his hotel room, now sits pretty as an ESPN anchor because he's willing to kiss ass and play the role of animated ex-player, while Strickland is lampooned by goodie-two-shoes sportswriters from East to West.

To wit: A few years ago, ESPN made a list of "The NBA's Most Corrosive Cancers". (I'm not sure how cancer is corrosive; I suppose sportswriters aren't scientifically inclined.) On this list were nine players and one owner. Before or since that list, all of the players on the list except for one have gone to the NBA finals, and four players have won a championship. In my mind, this shows just how small-minded the writers behind this idea were.

The idea behind the column was to let smart-ass ESPN readers say things about the players they loved to hate (read: black people and Jason Williams). For instance, Andy Klamm said of Jason Williams: "At least now Jason's with the Grizzlies, where he can only damage young talent, and not a veteran's one time shot at a title." As we all now know, last year Jason helped veterans Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O'Neal get their first and last, respectively, shot at a title.

Also, there is insight like "Strick is a cancer and a serial loser." Why? "First, he was on a [sic] Wizards, a club declared by His Airness, himself, to be the next great team [the same Airness that drafted Kwame Brown and traded Chris Webber away -jv]. Strickland gets a big contract, then starts missing practice and doing other things to hurt the team [apparently this asshole wasn't sure what -jv]. When he was traded three years later to the Blazers, everyone in the Washington area was relieved to see him [sic]. What happened to the Blazers? They were in first place in the West without him, after he showed up, they fell to seventh and were swept out of the playoffs."

Now here's something I don't understand: The Blazers that year were 50-32, and were swept by the Lakers team that almost went undefeated in the Playoffs. The assertion that they were in first place is factually incorrect; the Spurs were in first place at midseason and the Blazers were third. At the end of the season, they were seventh, but were only five games back from third place.

What's really crazy is that Strickland was backing up Damon Stoudamire and playing paltry minutes. He wasn't a problem. The problem was that the Blazers were just not that good that year; the Spurs had Duncan and Robinson, the Lakers had Shaq and Kobe, the Kings had Webber and Peja, the Mavs had Dirk, Finley, and Nash, the Jazz had Stockton and Malone, and the Blazers had...Rasheed Wallace, Steve Smith, Damon Stoudamire, Bonzi Wells, and Scottie Pippen. Whoop dee do! How could anyone blame Rod Strickland for somehow, magically making this team finish five games worse than it had before? It's nonsense.

Rod recently endorsed Mayor Bloomberg's campaign (being a native New Yorker) and Henry Abbot linked to a article by writer John Canzano who said "Listen, Mr. Mayor, people in Portland can tell you what it's like to have Strickland on your team. Or better yet, just go to and see for yourself."

John Canzano is an Indiana boy who loves to suck up to Bobby Knight teams and the belief that ten good white guys can always beat these hoodlums that are ruining the sport, etc., etc. He was the one who organized Damon Stoudamire's unauthorized piss test, and I imagine he fancies himself to be some sort of moral authority while failing to realize that he writes about sports, which have nothing to do with morals. If he really cared and was at all talented, I imagine he would be in a different business.

Fred Bowen, a columnist with the Post, wrote a nice article about how kids should watch Rod Strickland to see what not to be as basketball players. He wrote that "Strickland...sleep-walks through games. Just watch him some time. He acts like he is too cool to care whether the Wizards win or lose...Strickland got in a fistfight with teammate Tracy Murray. And Strickland is always feuding and fussing with his way a good teammate would ever get in a fight with another player. A good teammate is throwing passes to teammates, not throwing punches at them."

A ridiculous site called Hoopsology put Rod in their Hall of Feeble, noting "He even won the rookie of the year award. Rod Strickland has always been a legend in his own mind...if you listen to him you would think he's a soon to be Hall of Famer. Rod was always first on line for his check and last on line for dedication. Rod could have been somebody, but instead he's somebody that nobody wants." (I doubt the people from Hoopsology ever talked to Strickland, because he is reserved and humble. Furthermore, he didn't win the Rookie of the Year award; he was a rotation player who backed up Mark Jackson with the Knicks and was all-rookie second team, something that is impressive for a bench warmer.)

The point of all that Rod Strickland is victim to a trend in sportswriting: That of the arrogant, self-aggrandizing white (and sometimes black) sportswriter who feels that the virtue of his readership somehow grants him some sort of ministerial authority. "Role model" this and "Work Ethic" that, the moral sportswriter preaches about things that are important, but makes a key mistake.

That mistake is to place more emphasis on morals and individual writers' own beliefs about sportsmanship than talent and tenacity. Sometimes bad people are good athletes. I actually think Rod Strickland is a good person, but even if he isn't, he deserves recognition for his skill on the court.

It drives me crazy that when people look back on Rod Strickland's career they will see nothing but negative articles and editorials, because he deserves better than that. He was a great player to watch who was as fundamentally sound as anyone to play his position. He made the playoffs almost every year for ten years, and in the sunset of his career served admirably as a reserve, making a difference even in his reduced minutes for teams like the Timberwolves.

That, in my mind, is why John Calipari came calling for Strickland earlier this year. I don't want to make any grand predictions, but I am excited that there is a chance for one of my favorite players to continue his legacy in a way few pundits thought possible. I wish him the best, and I'll be rooting for the Tigers the rest of the way (though I still have Pitt to win it).

I'll close with this link to a nice highlight video of Rod doing what only he could.

As always, e-mail me at

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Shark, The Strick, and The Sweet Sixteen

Good morning. Today I'd like to do a little Monday morning quarterbacking on my Round of 32 picks, discuss the upcoming Sweet Sixteen, and reveal my choice for champion. I have been on a five-year dry spell picking the NCAA victor, with my last correct prediction coming thanks to the Orangemen during my freshman year in college. (Hey, I'm no expert. That's why I don't get paid.) I'm also going to give a rare preview of two features to come in honor of the Sweet 16.

I have to start from the back. The first thing I want to discuss is Memphis, the team I am rooting for to win it all. Why, you ask?

Memphis is coached by John Calipari, who gave my area of the world (Brattleboro, Vermont) its only taste of college basketball glory during his time at UMass. He was a great coach who I admit may have cheated to get Marcus Camby into his program (I don't know the details) and get to the Final Four. Calipari also had almost as much success with Lou Roe. He is one of the best coaches in the game, and he was an exceptional point guard when he played.

His playing and coaching experience must have helped him see through the walls of bullshit surrounding one of my favorite players, Rod Strickland. Rod is on the bench with him at all times, helping Memphis sustain its recent run of success. He's the reason I'm rooting for Memphis right now.

Rod Strickland was one of the best point guards of the 1990's, and was constantly dogged because he was involved in a highly publicized contract dispute, was injured frequently, and described by some uneducated observers as playing lazily on the court. While Strickland probably bears some responsibility for his contract troubles and was at times bitten by the injury bug, the accusation that his personality somehow was troublesome or that his talent was ineffectual is bullshit. He played great basketball whenever he was on the floor, was a great leader, and played skillfully for a longer period of time than most point guards - until age 38. Tomorrow I will go in depth and take a look at Rod Strickland, the player, and address some of the criticism he has been the target of.

UNLV's recent run to the Sweet Sixteen has very little to do with my favorite coach of all time, Jerry Tarkanian. (As a matter of fact, it has a lot to do with one of my least-favorite coaches of all time, Lon Kruger, pulling one of my least favorite coaching moves, the "play my progeny".) The Rebels' run is notable because they have been so terrible for so many years, after decades of success from the the seventies until the nineties. That success (and the recent failure) can all be attributed to Mr. Tarkanian, and his fight against the NCAA. They called Tark "The Shark" because of his appearance, but he personified his nickname in a much deeper way. He was a fighter on every level, and exhibited talent, courage, tenacity, and work ethic that is often talked about but rarely seen in the athletic arena.

I want to discuss in depth Jerry Tarkanian's fight with the NCAA and how it effected UNLV and one of the greatest coaches in the history of basketball. He's 76 and may die before he ever sees Springfield because of his constant refusal to back down. I doubt he cares. He's changed the lives of most of his players and revolutionized the sport of basketball to earn the adoration of fans like me.

Rod Strickland and Jerry Tarkanian; a contrarian's dream. Get it all this week on Don't Ever Give Up: The Basketball Blog.

For now, though, let's get down to business:

My Super Sweet 16

I'm understandably excited we've gotten this far. While there was perhaps excess docility in the early rounds, this may set the stage for the law of averages to grace us with some exciting finishes, hard fouls, yelling, crying, and everything else that comes with a closely-played game.

Before looking ahead, though, let's take a look at my arguably crappy Round of 32 picks in italics (with the winners bolded).

Purdue v. Florida: Purdue played better than they should have and made some important progress for a program that has seen some hard times lately. Still tough to beat a #1, though.

Butler v. Maryland: A Strawberry disappoints me again. I should have known. I thought he'd smoke A.J. Graves but it was quite the opposite. I think since A.J. Graves marginalized Strawberry, he should be nicknamed "cocaine".

Winthrop v. Oregon: As I said before: "I don't know a thing about either of these teams, okay?" I got this pick wrong, but I'm glad I did, because now I know that Oregon is a sweet team. (Their point guard is five-six and I didn't know about it. I'm truly embarrassed.)

UNLV v. Wisconsin: Only Jerry Tarkanian could coach his ghost to haunt the NCAA Tournament while he's still alive. This was my proudest pick of the weekend.

Kansas v. Kentucky: This, on the other hand, was not my proudest pick. While I was watching this game it seemed like Kentucky was a couple of bad plays from getting blown out, and when they lost a guy to fouls and Brandon Rush started nailing shots, I thought "Shit, Kansas has been getting upset all these years and this is the year I should have picked them to win it all." I've been trying to settle down since then. I'm not sure I have.

Southern Illinois v. Virginia Tech: Speaking of bad picks I made, this one sucked. I got bit by the typical "I haven't watched the Salukis play all year and now I look like an idiot". What can I say? I thought the Mountain Valley conference wouldn't produce consistency. It has. Chris Lowery deserves serious respect.

Pittsburgh v. VCU: I don't know if this is really worth mentioning. Non-conference team takes on Big East team, is overpowered. Yee ha.

Indiana v. UCLA: This was a game where it was kind of tempting to choose Indiana what with all their history and defensive-minded coach. Sometimes you gotta take a couple of deep breaths and pick the favorite.

UNC v. Michigan State: I wrote the UNC would win it in a close one. I guess I overestimated Tom Izzo.

USC v. Texas: I was correct that the hype machine would jinx Kevin Durant's chances of winning. I know everyone is criticizing Texas's coaching, but I have to say, Rick Barnes has probably been the best recruiter in the nation in the past few years. He gets no credit for that but gets killed for not being able to win on a team where one player is clearly better than everyone else. I'm not sure that's as easy as people make it out to be (see the Hawks of the late 80's).

Vanderbilt v. WSU: I picked Washington State because Drew Bledsoe went there. Apparently I'm the last person on earth to realize that 2006-2007 is the year where everything Drew Bledsoe is involved in turns into agonizing defeat.

BC v. Georgetown: BC made a game of it, then John Thompson III stopped his elaborate drill, told Roy Hibbert he was allowed to shoot in the second half, and Georgetown killed them.

Tennessee v. Virginia: I just got lucky. Tennessee as a state (i.e. Memphis + Tennessee) is looking better than North Carolina this year, and I don't think that's ever happened. I wasn't a big Virginia fan (that's the only team I had seen, and I only saw them once), and they didn't look very impressive. I like Tennessee's Jajuan Smith; he seems like my kind of pesky pain-in-the-ass guard (2.1 spg). Too bad they have to play Ohio State next.

Louisville v. Texas A&M: I fought the Law, and the Law won...

Nevada v. Memphis: I think I said as much as I need to say about Rod Strickland above. Regardless, the Tigers looked really fast, able, and athletic against Nevada, and made the Wolf Pack look like the small conference jokers they were. I'm interested to see them play again.

Okay, so now that's out of the way. My conclusion is that I have been spot on twice, gotten a few picks right because of luck and a little good analysis, and been spot wrong twice. I can live with that. Let's look ahead at the Sweet Sixteen:

Florida v. Butler: I'll get this out of the way now: If I were running an NBA team (and there's a litany of reasons why I'm not), I'd be a hell of a lot more interested in Horford than Noah. Who cares about a sissy little fancy boy who runs around screaming, pounding his chest, and shaking his big girly hairdo? I think at best he'll be a less-imposing version of Drew Gooden.

On the other hand, I think Butler matches up terribly against Florida. They have no front court, at all. It seems like they've been getting pretty lucky so far, and I think their luck will run out, though I swear to you, I am dying to pick against Florida and will go so far as to guarantee a loss in the Elite Eight. But not now, and not to Butler. Butlers don't win; they serve tea.

Oregon v. UNLV: As I said before, I'm a newfound believer in Oregon. UNLV has had a lot of luck and seems poised to run out of it. This is that game where every fan is like "one of those teams has to make the Elite 8?"

I never thought I'd be saying this, but Lon Kruger is doing a hell of a job. He beat a very legit team (Georgia Tech) and then a team that was in the hunt for the championship and is as tough as they get (Wisconsin). Oregon has played two crappy teams and barely beat Miami of Ohio. I think UNLV might be the team that nobody realizes is greater than the sum of its parts, and I'm picking them again. I think Oregon may have gotten lucky in their last game. UNLV have looked to me like the best defensive team in the tournament so far, and that will turn the tide.

Kansas v. Illinois: If the Salukis pull this off, they will become the Gonzaga of the mid-west. It's interesting how they manage to put themselves in a very similar station to the Bulldogs in the opposite manner; they are almost all-black, hustle their asses off, and play really great defense. (Not that Gonzaga doesn't hustle or play good defense, but they are usually powered by white boys who are shooters.)

Kansas looked vulnerable in the first half of their game against Kentucky, but only when Kentucky was executing perfectly and the Jayhawks were not. The whole time it felt like that was going to change, and it did. I can't pick against these guys. Kansas.

Pittsburgh v. UCLA: Pittsburgh were, are, and will continue to be my pick to win the tournament. This will be the first of at least three terribly hard games they'll have to win to do it.

Despite the OT in the VCU game, Pittsburgh looked much better for most of the game. I like where Pittsburgh is; They just avoided a heartbreaker, and have already gotten their butts kicked by Georgetown. That means two things: 1) They are resilient 2) No one thinks they'll win a thing. I just like teams in those positions to do big things.

UCLA is actually in a somewhat similar position (only scoring 54 against Indiana and getting tied up late, and losing to Washington). I think Afflalo is overrated, though, and I have to pick the Big East team if the going gets tough. Pittsburgh.

UNC v. USC: This is a pretty clear one. USC will be all juiced up from beating Texas, with all of its fans and hype, and won't be ready to take on another stalwart. Sorry guys.

Vanderbilt v. Georgetown: The other clear pick. I don't even know why the NCAA makes the players play these games; it must be for ratings or something. Vanderbilt is a good offensive team with good shooters in the classic matchup against a tough, physical team. In my book, the latter will win about 80% of the time, and in this game they'll have the advantage in athleticism and coaching as well. I'll be blown away if Vandy wins.

Ohio State v. Tennessee: Ohio State is just too damn good. When they stepped up after Oden getting pulled out the other night, it was very impressive, in my opinion. I love to pick upsets but this is one game where it ain't gonna happen.

Texas A&M v. Memphis: I'm pissed off that Texas A&M beat Louisville, but I have to admit that it intrigues me. Memphis hasn't really played anyone serious yet, but has looked great.

This seems like the classic situation where on one hand I think Texas A&M might be tired after facing Louisville, or might just be the real deal. It's hard for me to tell. As an undecided voter, I'm going with the Memphis because before Louisville, TAMU didn't really play anyone either, and didn't fare so well (losing to Texas and OK State).

Memphis has good personnel, good coaching, and was executing very, very well against Nevada. Both Chris Douglas-Roberts and Jeremy Hunter are great, great scorers (and players), and Joey Dorsey is a classic 6-9, 260 ham and eggs player who gets ya ten and ten. Seems like there's a lot to like on this team, except they don't really have a center, and against Texas A&M, I don't see why they'll need one. Throw in Rod Strickland and you've got the W.

That's all I've got for today. As always, e-mail me at

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Current Events

(Sorry about the lack of pictures. I had a sweet photo of Jerry Tarkanian here. I'm having computer problems. Try to imagine it.)

Hello. I realize that a lot of the time I tend to concentrate on history and individual players more than most. You might even say it's my formula. There's a reason for that; I could never compete with entities like ESPN when it comes to updates, scores, or stats. I figure there is a place for the content that accentuates those things (the realm of opinion, if you will) because a lot of those ESPN guys are milquetoast talking heads [and I think I'm not]. That's why this page exists.

The point is, regardless of my writing, I do actually follow current basketball. As a basketball watcher, despite the limitations I might have, I think I might have to discuss the world of college basketball, considering the time of year.

I don't have enough time, or knowledge of players, to get cracking until the Round of 32. That's okay, though, because that's when things just start to come into focus.

Purdue v. Florida: I hate to beat a dead horse here, but how is it that Purdue had an arguably worse season than Syracuse, and is an 8 seed? It's clear to me that everybody hates the Big East because it's better than everybody, but shouldn't the committee that makes these decisions show some deference? Though it might be a little early to make this reference, the Big East is clearly the college basketball equivalent of the Trojans in 300. Watch the movie because it's worth it, then watch a Big East game, and you can see why.

Uh, right, Purdue and Florida. I kind of like Carl Landry on Purdue, but I think turnaround teams from weak conferences (the Big Ten qualifies as weak this year, in my book) can't quite run with powerhouse teams from powerhouse conferences, especially Florida. I don't care for many Frenchman, let alone ones who look like women named Noah, but he has a good team around him, and should be able to beat a team named after a chicken company.

Butler v. Maryland: (Full disclosure: As I am writing this, Butler is up 37-36.) I like Maryland in this game because both times I've paid attention to them this year, they have delivered a solid kick in the ass to my teams (UVM and St. Johns). Mid Majors have been everybody's darling for the past few years, and I think the good old boys at Maryland ought to rep the ACC a little bit, especially after the mockery of basketball made by Duke a couple of nights ago.

Butler is the kind of team I should like, where their most effective and important players are the guards. What they don't have is the son of one of the greatest athletes of all time, D.J. Strawberry. They don't have MIKE JONES. They don't even have James Gist, Ekene Ibekwe, or Greivis Vasquez (a great, great frosh point guard). Maryland throws that at you, and then brings in Bambale Osby and Parrish names if I've ever heard them. Every starter averages 10 a game, their guards can all shoot, Vasquez is a good distributor...I think this is an Elite 8 team. Yeah, I said it.

Winthrop v. Oregon: I don't know a thing about either of these teams, okay? I'm sorry...I'm just more of an NBA guy. What I do know is that Winthrop went toe to toe with a Big East foe, and that's as much as you need in my book. Oregon barely beat Wally Szerbiak's alma mater, Miami of Ohio, and that can't be a good sign for a three-seed. On the strength of their play, I will give this mid-major credit.

UNLV v. Wisconsin: I love UNLV solely because of their great history. Between the Plastic Man, Larry Johnson, and Tark the Shark, the University of Nevada is a college that should live forever in the memories of basketball guys.

The problem is that now they're coached by Lon Kruger, who was one of the worst pro coaches in recent memory. Still, bad pro coaches can succeed in college basketball (See: Rick Pitino, Pete Carroll). The Rebels have a great shot-blocking center, and two skilled guards, Wendell White and Wink Adams. They also play good defense.

In the middle of the year, one of my most-respected friends, who knows much more about college basketball than me, told me that Wisconsin had a decent shot at the title. I know they're always a good, well-coached team, and respect their players, especially Alando Tucker, but I just can't pick against Vegas.

Kansas v. Kentucky: The war between the teams that are always favored going into the tournament and then lose to some improbable team should be pretty exciting. I'm impressed that Kentucky beat Villanova, and not impressed that Kansas beat Niagra by 40. I'm not sure how, but I think it'd be poetic justice for Kentucky to win this one, even though I must say, I think Kansas's team is better by far.

Hokies v. Salukis: Hell of a name matchup here. VT didn't play well against Illinois, and Southern Illinois didn't play well against Holy Cross. I like VT to win it because they play great defense, have played a terribly hard schedule and come out on top, and have Zabian Dowdell, who I think is really great. The Hokies also have a little bit of that Big East heritage in them, which is probably the reason they rose to the top of such a sissy conference as the ACC. This is another Elite Eight team.

VCU v. Pittsburgh: Is it even worth talking about this? Could VCU even take on Pittsnogle? Don't mess with the Big East, my friends. Pittsburgh on a stoppage.

Indiana v. UCLA: Arron Afflalo is too good for Indiana, but the guy I really like is Darren Collison. I respect Kelvin Sampson, but Indiana is yet another team that is high-seeded and probably wasn't much better than Syracuse. I'm picking UCLA in a game that Coach Sampson makes closer than it should be.

I'm not sure if this is going to make it in here, but I'm having sudden computer problems. I just deleted about half of my article and I'm afraid if I re-write it I will lose the whole thing. To recap what I lost:

UNC-Michigan State: UNC - will be close.

USC-Texas: USC - Too much hype for Durant. I also think this will be close.

Vandy-WSU: WSU - Drew Bledsoe went there.

BC - Gtown: Georgetown will show BC what happens when you become the Benedict Arnold of the Big East.

Tennessee - Virginia: Another game I'm very unprepared to comment on. I'll go with Tennesee.

Louisville-TAM: Lousiville - Except for beef, the East will vanquish Texas.

Nevada-Memphis: Memphis is just too good.

Sorry for the truncation. E-mail me at

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I can't get my fuckin blog to post on the right date. It's right below the thing about Paul McCartney. Thanks.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Divorces are not pretty

I'm in the midst of a three day divorce trial. I will try to get a blog up for one of the days. Sorry folks.

Jimmy V

Friday, March 09, 2007

News, notes, random thoughts, and closet cleaning

Hi there. I want to get some stuff off my chest that's been building up without a release valve. You see, I have a lot of thoughts, ideas, opinions, etc., that are not substantial enough to write about at length, but still kind of interesting. Therefore, I'd like to begin a tradition with a monthly-or-so column where I just say a bunch of the random stuff I've been thinking lately.

To commemorate this column, I celebrate the birthday of the pride of Senegal, Boniface N'Dong, who can rearrange the letters of his name to spell "Fag binned coon". The picture above is of Mr. Boniface during his rookie hazing, where, in part to protest the NBA's new dress code policy, Clippers rookies were forced to wear campy seventies-style tuxedos. I think this was particularly funny in N'Dong's case. Anyway:

Some stuff that I think

Chad Ford continues to suck. Not only does this moron misspell the name of the man he claims is the quickest riser in the draft (Yi Jianlian [Chad: Yi Jianlan]), but he stubbornly refuses to ignore that college basketball is about to reach its crescendo and change prospects' draft status incredibly. He is probably unaware of "March Madness" because he is in Asia for the "Chinese Playoffs".

I am pretty cold on Yi Jianlian (this is a highlight video of his better work), though I love his Chinese Nike commercial. Check it out here. This is worlds above that silly "what the hell is Steve Nash doing there?" commercial they're airing on this side of the pacific. I didn't really realize at first (because I was trying to watch Jianlian) but the essential point of the ad is "fuck fundamentals", as a bunch of punk Chinese kids throwing [white] Jason Williams passes smoke a bunch of older fat Chinese guys with their seven-foot dunking/blocking machine (Yi). This commercial is more apt to sell shoes over here without any changes than the stupid Flight School one (or whatever the hell it's called). I honestly wanted the shoes when I watched it. Speaking of advertising, if Yi does end up coming to the US and playing well, can we get another commercial where a bunch of store clerks go "Yo." and Jianlian goes "Yi!"?

[And on a less-related note, wouldn't it be pretty easy to do this ad in reverse, by putting a seven-footer on the "fundamentals" team and just shooting hook shots and blocking Chinese guys in baggy shorts?]

To get back to my point, though, what is so special about this guy? Watch the video. He is a fairly athletic seven-footer who can't post up or shoot. As Colin Sullivan said in The Departed, whoop dee fuckin do. He seems to love to hang on the rim after he dunks, and I've got a funny feeling there are some basketball players in America who won't take too kindly to that sort of thing and who carry a bit bigger sticks than Yi's Chinese contemporaries. You heard it here: Yi? Ni.

I read a piece of a a Chad Ford chat that was included in the Yi article. A question one of his readers sent in highlights both his and his readers' stupidity. It's such a pedantic, know-nothing, elementary question that lacks interest or care. I can just see Phil from LA sitting at his computer, grateful to be paying money to read about draft status and then say a bunch of stupid shit when his friends are talking about basketball, tapping away at his keyboard and sweating into the armpits of his American Eagle t-shirt: "Chad, do you think the Lakers will drop out of the 6th seed? Is the season practically over for them after the first round? Thanks! [Golly gosh, I can't believe I just spoke to Chad Ford!]"

Ford responds to this low member of sporting society: "It will be tough without Lamar, but truthfully, none of the teams that are challenging them (Nuggets, Clippers, Warriors, Kings, T-Wolves, or Hornets) are exactly lighting it up either."

With Odom out the Lakers are in dire straits, barring a miracle, and they have worse lineups than the Nuggets, Clippers, Warriors, Kings, T-Wolves, and Hornets. The team is only 33-31 as it is, and they have one of the worst defenses in the Western Conference. Unless Kobe pulls some sort of miracle out of his ass (and he's entirely capable), I can't imagine this team will keep its seed.

Phew. The next thing that bugged me was that recent list of greatest centers of all time on ESPN's web site (which is worth checking out just for the photography).

First of all, I was blown away that Kareem won. Nobody thinks "greatest center of all time" when they think Kareem, nobody. People think "He was a bit of an asshole," or "Hopefully he thanks Allah every day that Magic Johnson was born." Apparently I'm wrong, though.

I actually do like Kareem. But better than Wilt? Come on. Better than Bill Russell? No way. Better than Hakeem? Never once in his entire life. Better than Shaq? No. Period. He stuck around, scored a lot of points with one effective move, was a smart guy, and never dominated. I say again, whoop dee fuckin do.

The best center ever was a man who didn't get a single god-damned first place vote on that list, Hakeem Olajuwon. Shaq admits as much in his own biography, and pundits like Chris Sheridan and Jim O'Brien should be ashamed of themselves for giving him five out of a possible ten points.

Hakeem scored worse than Shaq, for Christ's sakes., who, as I said, will tell you that Hakeem was the only man he couldn't best. Shaq was under his control when they met head to head, at a time when Shaqmeister was averaging a mind-blowing 29.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game.

I don't understand how people could possibly slight such a great man, who honed his unfairly superhuman natural gifts so much that he became the best fundamental center ever and possibly the best fundamental post player in basketball's rich history. Besides his litany of post moves, he could shoot, he could hit the hook shot, and he could score off the dribble. Oh, and he was the best defensive center ever, playing in an era in which four of the greatest centers (Shaq, Ewing, Robinson, and Mourning) of all-time were playing. On top of it all he was one of the best-passing centers ever. He was the most versatile, hardest-working, most-gifted center of all time. The only person who might challenge him could be Wilt.

One of my favorite videos on Youtube is this, which shows highlights chronologically from Hakeem's beginnings (Akeem) through he championship win against New York. Some of the stuff he did is just incredible, and it's possible to Olajuwon the player evolve from his humble beginnings as a blocker/dunker (he smokes a young Michael Jordan) into an unselfish do-it-all player that will never be matched. I don't know why he doesn't get the recognition he deserves, but I do know that it makes no sense at all. Look at how his statistics progressed during his first fifteen seasons:

20.6, 23.5, 23.4, 22.8, 24.8, 24.3, 21.2, 21.6, 26.1, 27.3, 27.8, 26.9, 23.2, 16.4, 18.9 (Shaq's career high: 29.3;

11.9, 11.5, 11.4, 12.1, 13.5, 14.0, 13.8, 12.1, 13.0, 11.9, 10.8, 10.9, 9.2, 9.8, 9.5 (Kareem was averaging 8.7 rebounds a game by the time he was 34, soon to be followed by seasons of 7.5 and 7.3)

1.4, 2.0, 2.9, 2.1, 1.8, 2.9, 2.3, 2.2, 3.5, 3.6, 3.5, 3.6, 3.0, 3.0, 1.8 (Bill Walton career high = 5.0)

1.2, 2.0, 1.9, 2.1, 2.6, 2.1, 2.2, 1.8, 1.8, 1.6, 1.8, 1.6, 1.5, 1.8, 1.6 (John Stockton career high = 3.2)

2.7, 3.4, 3.4, 2.7, 3.4, 4.6, 3.9, 4.3, 4.2, 3.7, 3.4, 2.9, 2.2, 2.0, 2.5 (Ben Wallace career high = 3.5)

There's no argument. If you think you have one, feel free to e-mail me at

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Why, NBA?

Good afternoon. I'd like to take a moment today, for no particular reason, to examine the Women's National Basketball league, because I think it needs to go. I want the NBA to cut their losses and give up on the thing. I'll follow that politically-incorrect point with the usual disclaimers:

-Women can be great athletes
-This isn't one of those "I could play basketball better than those girls" types of things
-I like women

What I'm concerned about is business and the state of the NBA. You see, I think that the NBA's fall in sales, ratings, and success has little to do with scoring, the retirement of Michael Jordan, the need for rule changes, or any other stupid ideas. There are plenty of fun, exciting teams to watch these days, and that has been the case for the last ten years (the Kings being a good example). The NBA has always been fine the way it is.

I think the problem is the massive amount of money that is being spent (and not recouped) on the WNBA, which the NBA props up as its massive charity project. There are a number of reasons why this is quite, quite stupid:

1. There was no need for a professional women's basketball league to advance women's basketball at the time the WNBA was created.

2. Women's sports does not need a professional league to appeal to fans; in fact, the WNBA dilutes the sport and makes its fan base less healthy.

3. It's the money, stupid; the WNBA makes no money and its players get screwed to further the NBA Board of Governors' social agenda, while at the same time sucking millions of dollars away from the NBA.

4. The result the NBA's money loss is overly-creative business practices that backfire and hurt professional basketball. Most notable is the big-money, low-volume TV contract the NBA signed with ABC, ESPN, and TNT, but the dress-code hijinks and constant rule changes to increase viewership are other examples.

The first issue is that the NBA didn't need to create its own women's league because there already was one: the ABL. Both leagues arose out of the popularity achieved by the United States women's basketball team when they won a gold medal in the Sydney Olympics.

The ABL had a higher quality of play and paid its players more. Unfortunately, it couldn't compete with an organization that was able to lose money without consequences, and died after two solid years. It probably would have been fine on its own, and I don't see why the NBA had to hone in on its act.

It's quite silly that a league that could have succeeded was killed by the political toy of the NBA. If women's professional basketball was meant to be, why did it have to be under the auspices of the NBA?

I'm not against women's basketball, but I am against the NBA propping it up like it's some kind of collective concern. What is this, China? The ABL should have been left alone to succeed or fail on its own merit.

My second point is that despite the potential the ABL showed, there's no need for a professional women's league at all. The WNBA's terrible ratings and lackluster attendance prove this.

I don't mean to slight women's basketball here, but there are two formats in which it is more enjoyable: the Olympics and the NCAA. Women's basketball is very different than men's because of the different way players develop; Men generally develop physically and change their games as they progress from college to professional ball, whereas women are often the same, developmentally, in the pros. That's not to say they don't get better at basketball, but you don't tend to see examples of change like this:

As you can see, Larry Johnson got a lot bigger and more muscular when he went to the NBA. Women don't do this sort of thing. That's why it's more fun to watch them in college, playing at institutions that really give a damn, that pack the houses, and that have complex and interesting histories and motivations that give games depth that a fan can really enjoy. (Losing pro basketball in America if it failed to sustain itself would not hurt post-collegiate women's players. They can make good money in Europe, Brazil, and Australia, where there are many venues for professional women's basketball.)

The place that post-collegiate players are fun to watch isn't the WNBA, but the Olympics. There, representing America, the stellar play our girls exhibit means a great deal to the average fan, much the way Olympic Soccer does. College and Olympic basketball mean something. The WNBA doesn't.

WNBA believers would counter this point by saying the WNBA will build a history and it will mean more the same way college and Olympic basketball do. I disagree with that statement, because I believe the WNBA dilutes fan interest by taking interest away from the more accessible and fun NCAA games and embarrassing its own players. I don't think the overexposure of women's basketball on television is a good thing because the quality of play makes it better in small doses. I have legitimately enjoyed watching Diana Taurasi play at UConn in some of the thrillers of her career but I have never enjoyed one moment of WNBA action.

More offensively, the WNBA demeans the women's game with its recent sexually-based marketing tactics. Constrained by the limits of decency that go along with sports in America, players are shown in form-fitting dresses and that sort of thing, intending to get fans motivated in the same way that showcasing the players in thongs would. I don't want to get too political here, but I think it's a bit embarrassing for women that women's professional sports needs this sort of thing to market itself. I say it dilutes the sport because NCAA and Olympic basketball got along fine without it, without making its players look ridiculous. (The ad campaign, by the way, flopped, and has been passed over. Diana Taurasi on the campaign: "Whew. I'm glad that's finally over. I understand the theory behind it-that we're trying to appeal to a demographic outside of lesbians and our relatives-but it was just a bad idea. We're not that sexy. Some of us are cute in a tomboy-ish kind of way. Some of us are even sort of pretty. But let's face it, we're not the cast of Melrose Place and we never will be. We're just a bunch of jocks...I'm happy to promote the league any way I can. I travel all over the country trying to attract fans to the game. But I'm not really interested in posing in a goddamn strapless evening gown with my boobs taped up and my face covered in makeup. That's not who I am, which is kind of ironic, since the slogan in our new ad campaign is "This is who I am.") That really says it all, doesn't it?

My third point has to with the treatment of the players. Besides the demeaning campaign mentioned above, the league's poor performance is taken out on the players, who have no other venue to go to that is convenient. Can you imagine being on national television every season but getting paid less than $42,000? That's what's going to happen to you in the WNBA, where the rookies earn $30,000 a year and have their salary capped at $42,000 until they've played for more than three years? Player's union? Uh, no, thanks.

Meanwhile, the executives who manage this crappy idea and who helped drive away the only league that had a potential for profit are making out like bandits. The highest paid player in the WNBA makes $90,000.

If this isn't a clear indicator that something is financially crazy about this league, I don't know what is. Which brings me to my last point: The WNBA loses $12 million dollars a year. Considering the way salaries in the NBA are, this might seem paltry but it's important to remember an important rule about the NBA: almost every owner is an asshole.

When NBA teams blow $100 million on a contract, it's a calculated attempt to generate income, and it pays off more often than not. That's the reason that despite their terrible play and seemingly idiotic financial deals the Knicks are still the most valuable team in the league (according to Forbes). Losing money isn't a big deal when the bigger picture is making money.

That's not what's going on with the WNBA. It just loses money. I don't think the cumulative effect of having an extra $12 million would change the NBA at all, but I think that spending so much time (the NBA had to invest considerable time to set up the league, and each team is generally owned by its NBA affiliate, who must put in a ton of time organizing) on this valueless product is causing the NBA to become overly concerned with the profitability of its own league.

I believe that the WNBA's failure was a big reason that the NBA decided to get rid of its NBC contract and move to ABC/ESPN, which signaled the beginning of a long decline for the league. The NBA tried to make marquee games by showing less triple-headers (which I used to love, by the way), and has tried all this dress-code/Justin Timberlake/Skills competition marketing bullshit and shoved it down our throats.

The NBA should cut off the tumor that is the WNBA and start concentrating on its own long-term quality again. When this happens, perhaps owners will come to their senses and demand that more games are shown on prime-time network television where legions of middle class sports fans and young people can be reached. Perhaps the camera angles will get better. Perhaps Marv Albert can get hired back to do Knick games.

I think women's professional basketball deserves a chance to succeed, but outside the sphere of the NBA. If there really is enough demand for it, a league could succeed, because lord knows there are a ton of female athletes who are willing to travel across the country and work long hours for nothing just to see their sport recognized on a national professional stage.

All I really want is for the NBA to do what the NFL, MLB, and NHL do: concentrate on trying to make their league as appealing to fans as it can possibly be. All those leagues, when able to avoid strikes, have improved their relationships with fans (even the NHL is adopting rules-changes that will make it more fun to watch). The NBA needs to employ this same focused concentration, and exercise better control over the finished product that comes into the living rooms of America.

As it stands right now, the NBA is like General Motors: they've acquired one too many small affiliates and lost focus on the thing that matters: quality. The General's answer to its problems was to come up with hocus-pocus marketing and shitty car designs like the Pontiac Aztek designed to appeal to "new consumer bases" and "the untapped gen-y market" and shit like that. Now they're losing a market position they held for 80 years.

The NBA's strategy is hauntingly similar, as anyone who has observed the transition from NBC can tell. I'm calling for a return to basics for the NBA. Let's get it started.

As always, e-mail me at