Friday, September 9, 2011

How I Learned To Quit Worrying and Love the Lockout

I am back from where I was, just in time (far too late) to talk about an unexpectedly great summer in basketball that should never have happened.

In the summer of 2011, there should have been no cause for happiness amongst NBA fans. The expiring collective bargaining agreement and the hard line position of the owners that was unacceptable to the players union meant a lockout was inevitable. Sure enough, the lockout came, and, for a time, things were as bad as we feared.

Then, suddenly they weren’t. The players started doing what they did best: play basketball. Exhibition games, charity games, and haphazard duels broke out all over the country. Pro-am leagues that only rarely see a smattering of pro talent were swamped with NBA players looking to play some ball. Kobe Bryant and others went to Manila for an exhibition game against some of the best Filipino basketball players. Kevin Durant showed up at nearly every basketball court in the country to take on any and all comers, including a now-legendary showing at Rucker Park where he effortlessly put up 66 points. The best players from the LA-based Drew League took on the best from the Washington, DC-based Goodman league. Then Carmelo Anthony, repping Baltimore challenged the Goodman All-Stars to a game and brought along two of his closest pals, namely LeBron James and Chris Paul. Some of these games were streamed on the Internet, but many of them were events that only the people at the game got to see. The rest of us got shaky semi-professional YouTube highlight reels and secondhand tweets. The best players in the world had stepped down from their pedestals and come amongst us. High school and small college gymnasiums played host to some of the most breath-taking games that have been played in the entire year. Basketball right now is not a televised product, but rather a folk phenomenon. These larger than life millionaires aren’t on our TV, they are suddenly and unexpectedly in our gyms: ready to take any and all comers. Instead of a schedule on ESPN, you hear that Jameer Nelson is trying to set up a Baltimore and Philadelphia game and all you can do is check Twitter and see if the game materializes out of thin air. It’s exciting, unpredictable, and not quite graspable. It beats the hell out of watching marginal training camp prospects go at it for a couple of weeks in Las Vegas. Instead of the NBA’s official summer league, we’re getting a trainer-run league in Vegas, designed to help skilled, starting-caliber NBA players stay in playing shape. You know that these games will be fun.

And that’s the crux of the summer. “Professional basketball” right now is a very amorphous thing. No one is sure what will happen in November, and in that uncertainty, there is a certain degree of freedom. Last year, in anticipation of the massive free agency class, many of the NBA’s best turned down chances to play on their respective national teams for the FIBA World Championship. This year, it seems like none of the international players are opting out. Right now in Eurobasket, a full strength Spanish, French, and German team (complete with NBA Finals stud Dirk Nowitzki) are squaring off against a hyper-competitive field this year. Even FIBA Americas has witnessed a jolt in star power as Greivis Vasquez shows his stuff for a rising Venezuela team while a reconstituted Argentinian team looks poised to wreak unholy hell upon the rest of the field. FIBA play has suddenly gotten very good and if the lockout continues, international play is going to get really interesting.

Lots of players are signing on to play for club teams all over the world. Deron Williams made the first big move by signing with Turkish club Besiktas. He was soon followed by all sorts of players wanting to ensure that they will have a job if the entire season is called off. Ty Lawson and Sonny Weems both agreed to play for the same Lithuanian team, while Andrew Bogut is playing coy about which Austrailian team he intends to play for. In the most radical developments, Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith have signed contracts with teams in the Chinese Basketball Association. The signing doesn’t seem so radical until you know that these contracts have either no opt-out clause or a very limited opt out clause. For these two, regardless of when the NBA comes back, they might be spending the year in China, going against Stephon Marbury and the other US expats turned CBA all-stars

A lack of basketball planned for the fall has led to a blossoming of great, or at least fun basketball all summer long and promised interesting developments that might even help grow the game globally in the long term. Of course, this weird weird summer has led to even more bizarre incidents off of any basketball courts. The early summer started with a massive and daring planking war between Gilbert Arenas and JaVale McGee. Meanwhile, Baron Davis made good on his promise to his grandmother to go back to UCLA and work on finishing his college degree. Watching him dorkily tweet about group projects has been a joy. Anthony Randolph did the same thing at LSU and then talked excitedly about enrolling for the fall and rushing a frat. Seriously. Ron Artest decided to change his name to Metta World Peace and very soon you will be able to see him attempt a wide array of dance moves on Dancing with the Stars, because of course that’s what Ron Artest is doing. Shaq started off his retirement by attending a broadcast and film camp where he learned a lot of the technical ends and outs of shooting movies. Blake Griffin decided to do a regular old internship at Funny or Die, because an internship at Funny or Die is the most Blake Griffin thing in the world besides dunking on very tall yet unsuspecting Europeans. Similarly, star endorser of Under Armor, Brandon Jennings decided to take his relationship with the company to another level and start working an internship for the brand. He has his own office and goes to meetings about design and marketing, trying to help UA hone it’s image and product focus.

It’s been a weird summer for NBA players, and I can’t say that I haven’t enjoyed it. Hell, this is the best off-season in my memory. There’s nothing like an uncertain future to bring out the goofiest and most carefree in people. The lockout might end tomorrow or it might end a year from tomorrow. After this summer? I’m honestly okay with it going either way.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

2010 Season Preview Minnesota Timberwolves

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the lovable loser, the Minnesota Timberwolves

A Terrible Team With A Ton Of Potential

Why We Care
We shouldn't. Despite New Jersey's nearly historically terrible record, Minnesota was clearly the worst team in the league last year. They were worse than the Nets, and that says something. That said, we feel optimism. There is something about bottoming out that makes it feel like things have to get better. Kevin Love has all the talent in the world and his break-out seems inevitable. We're bullish on a Beasley bounce-back and honestly expect a blossoming at the Minnesota wings. Wayne Ellington is a sentimental favorite around these parts, and he seems primed to make that big second-year jump in a dramatic passion. I love watching teams get better, and I think it would be hard for the Timberwolves to be worse.

Significant Beards
Maurice Ager: Landing strip. Clearance refused.
Michael Beasley: Hanging goatee. Why bother?
Corey Brewer: Stubbly and shadowy. Charming.
Wayne Ellington: Magiciany little ‘stache and goatee. Both really need to disappear in a puff of smoke.
Lazar Haywood: Standard but successful goatee. Approved.
Kevin Love: The most earnest goatee ever.
Sebastian Telfair: Scraggly... yet completely flat. How? Why?
Martell Webster: Underchin patch. Sweat-catcher?

Guiding Text
Pale Fire

If They Were A Terrible Sports Franchise They Would Be...
The Minnesota Timberwolves

LeBron on the Timberwolves
The counted the ballots one at a time. Taking each one out of the box and reading them aloud. Kevin diligently put a mark next to the appropriate name on the whiteboard in the back of the room. There were three whiteboards in the room. The one on the front had a diagrammed play. The one one on the side of the room was laid out into a grid, an elaborate scouting report, lovingly prepared by some assistant who put great care into his handwriting. The players seldom read the board scouting report, preferring, when they read the reports at all, to look at a hard copy. The paper reports are quite good, but the board report has a graphical aspect to it that’s compelling: the different colored markers providing an extra dimension of represented knowledge. The handwriting was truly lovely.

Michael had three votes now. LeBron couldn’t understand it. He still only had the one: he saw the slip; it was his own handwriting. He didn’t get it. Kurt just stood on impassively. This was happening. There was a looping quality to the handwriting on the board: not extra flourishes but an overall tendency towards curves over lines. The letters were still thin, though the lines seemed thick. Kevin was saying something now. LeBron knew he should pay attention, but he didn’t. Couldn’t. It didn’t matter. Focusing takes a lot, and you can focus for years and never achieve anything but strain. Kevin’s words were just meaningless noise. He could hear them, if they chose, but they still wouldn’t have any meaning.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

2010 Season Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the most fearsome deer, the Milwaukee Bucks

Very Fun Team On the Rise

Why We Care
A healthy Andrew Bogut is the second best center in the NBA and Brandon Jennings once scored 55 points in three quarters. Corey Maggette is also a wonder of the world with his uncanny ability to draw shooting fouls. Other than that... Well, okay: I get that it's hard to get pumped up by Ersan Ilyasova, Carlos Delfino, Michael Redd, and John Salmons. That said, these guys can all play basketball, and with Bogut and Jennings, this team is totally capable of beating anybody on a given night. This is a team on the verge. If Bogut can stay healthy and make the leap or if Jennings can go nova and not look back, this team is as talented as any other single-star based team in the league.

Significant Beards
Andrew Bogut: Thorny tangle. Chin valiantly breaks through.
Carlos Delfino: Mysterious beard, bold soul patch.
Chris Douglas: Sassy goatee. Commendable.
Drew Gooden: Sad Rasputin reincarnated in Milwaukee.
Ersan Illyasova: Underchin goatee. Has a slippery face.
Brandon Jennings: Pointy beard, hair. Impressive symmetry.
Corey Maggette: Very sculptural. Possibly a half-pipe.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: Long name, tiny beard.
Michael Redd: Maybe too safe. Live a little.
John Salmons: Living too much. Chin-fro.
Brian Skinner: Clearly glued on. Half off at the Irregular Beard Warehouse and Emporium.

Guiding Text
The Hunter's Sketches

If They Were A Gaming System They Would Be...
A Sega Saturn

LeBron on the Bucks
“They aren’t infinitely many, LeBron. If that were true than all possibilities would be accounted for: even ones that break all the observable rules, norms, and laws that we have observed. Acceleration, for example is always acceleration, no matter where you are. The rule always holds. There exists no possibility where things don’t all accelerate according to the same basic principle. This principle though constrains possible interactions and can lead to more advanced emergent phenomena, where, for some bizarre coincidence of confluencing constraints, a highly plausible reality may simple fail to exist. Does that make sense? Just because there are many, many possibilities doesn’t mean that every possibility must exist. I love ice cream. Now, imagine this, because radioactive materials have to decay a certain way, the universe ends up taking a very definite shape and while there is some space for variation, that variation simply doesn’t exist in other places. So, while in many possibilities, I don’t exist, in all of the ones where I do exist, I happen to like ice cream.”

“That’s very interesting, but what’s the point of this?”

“The point is simple. These things that don’t change across all the possibilities: are they more important than the things that do change? Are they more essential to identity? Are they more inalienable? The universe allows for massively myriad variation. So are the things that don’t vary more important? In a sense, they are so deeply a part of you that you simply don’t exist without these things, and it all follows from some elementary constraint of particle physics.”

“On the other hand, you might be entirely malleable. The universe is constrained but the possibilities are so bountiful that intense and inconsistent variation is inevitable. There’s just too much possibility to realistically think that such anchors, such constants can exist in any meaningful way.”

Brandon just nodded.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

2010 Season Preview: Miami Heat

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the harbringers of doom, the Miami Heat.


Why We Care
This team has the potential to be the greatest team in basketball history. It's not the most likely course and it's certainly not inevitable, but whenever that possibility is in play, you have to pay attention. This team could be mind-numbingly awesome. They could play a style of basketball that has never been played before. They could leave a trail of scorched earth and ruined buildings in their wake. This team has the potential of uranium ore. They could be mediocre. This is totally true. But where is the ceiling on the best-case scenario? I don't know either, and that's why we will watch very carefully.

Significant Beards
Joel Anthony: Goatee shaped exactly like his head. A deeply unsettling glimpse of infinity.
Chris Bosh: Another flat goatee. Shave this man.
Mario Chalmers: Little hair nubs along his chin. Festive.
Udonis Haslem: A dust ruffle for the chin.
Eddie House: Solid but uninspired. Frozen red velvet cake.
Juwan Howard: Possibly a smudge.
LeBron James: Classic. Of course.
Jamaal Magloire: Barely there. The thong of beards.
Mike Miller: Scraggle. This isn’t actually Spring Break.
Jerry Stackhouse: Another infinity goatee. House of mirrors.
Dwayne Wade: Standard goatee, no upgrades. Cheap.

Guiding Text
Book of Revelation

If They Were A Milkshake They Would Be...

LeBron on the Heat
He stared at the computer for a while, reading slowly and carefully. He typed for a minute. He hesitated for a second. He pressed a button. He looked at the screen. He closed the laptop quickly. He sat down on the couch and relaxed, staring at the television. Of course it started again. He wanted to change the channel, but felt compelled to watch. If anyone else had been around they would have probably insisted on changing the channel, but LeBron watched and listened. His expression didn’t change, his features half-frozen. His brow was furrowed. They went to commercial. He looked at his phone. The little light in the corner was flashing. It always was. He checked his messages. Without fail, there it was. Unceasing, unfaltering, unforgiving. He typed out a reply, bravado on the tiny keyboard. He felt guilty responding. No he didn’t. He needed to respond.

Everyone was there for dinner that night and it was wonderful. His friends and family all at the massive table by the pool. His boys got in the water and splashed around with the other kids. It had finally started to get a little bit chilly on some nights, but tonight the air was warm and the weather mild. At the table, the men were funny and kind and the women were sharp and gracious. They were all laughing more than talking. When they spoke, they would touch each other;s arms warmly or put a reassuring hand on each other’s shoulder. LeBron excused himself twice during the dinner. The first time he got the beach ball for the kids at the pool. The second time he checked his phone.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

2010 Season Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, everyone's favorite Canadian emigres, the Memphis Grizzlies.

Surprisingly Awesome Despite Starting Mike Conley

Why We Care
This is one of the few secret surprises left in the NBA now that all the other secretly fun teams in the NBA have been thoroughly exposed to the adoring public. So enjoy them now so you can be totally over it by the time they get their own Sports Illustrated cover. All kidding aside, Rudy Gay may be paid more than you think is prudent but dude can play and can definitely dunk. O.J Mayo is a scintillating scorer and somehow Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have morphed into one of the most formidable back courts in the NBA. The Grizzlies are pretty awesome, but as a non-contending small market team without very much star power, they are second-class NBA citizens at best, and woefully under-exposed. The Grizzlies might not be the next big thing, but watching them play and appreciating their game is what being an obsessive NBA fan is all about.

Significant Beards
Tony Allen: Underchin goatee. Mole-like. Possibly malignant.
Darrell Arthur: Chin eyebrow. Buy two, get one free?
DeMarre Carroll: Like hair laugh lines. It works.
Mike Conley: The whole dull package: mustache, soul patch, and goatee. Yawn.
Marc Gasol: A truly grizzly beard. Points for team spirit. Major deductions for creepiness.
Hamed Haddadi: Somewhat Satanic soul patch. Fiery.
Acie Law: Shaped like a nearly-empty glass of water. Why?
O.J. Mayo: Too patchy. Offensive to actual grizzlies.
Zach Randolph: Itty-bitty ‘tee. Somehow, it actually works. Miracles happen.
Hasheem Thabeet: Underchin only. Some beards are just shy.
Sam Young: Weighty, ambitious. One day it will rule his face. Or maybe the world?

Guiding Text
The Winter’s Tale

If They Were A Marsupial They Would Be...
A wallaby.

LeBron on the Grizzlies
No matter how tight the blinds were drawn, the light slipped through the cracks. It spilled onto the ceiling onto the floor. The peephole on the door glowed. The small cracks around the door inadvertently limned it in radiance. The air conditioner hummed. No, it didn’t. It rattled. It growled. It blew out chilled, stale air in the summer and scorched, stale air in the winter. The lights in the room, when on, let out that tell-tale hum of fluorescent bulbs which glowed bright and cold. They gave the room a pale green hue that was apparent even on the dark, patterned carpet and wall-paper. He had turned those lights off almost immediately. The light spilling on on the floor and ceiling flickered whenever someone walked by the windows though you could seldom here their footsteps. Through the walls, you could hear someone watching television. There was lots of cheering and men’s voices, self-assured and baritone. A game? Maybe. Maybe wrestling.

The two double beds sat undisturbed, and the television remained off in this room. Nothing was turned on, but there was still plenty of illumination: the glowing thermostat panel, the flashing light on the old-fashioned hotel phone, a little red light on the adaptor for the hair-drying station affixed to the wall, and of course that sneaking, spilling light from the bright parking lot lights. Could you ever really escape light? Over the hum and the room next door he could hear, on occasion, footsteps from the room above. Slow footsteps. Slow and rare. A rush of water when they flushed the toilet. He couldn’t hear anyone through the walls on the other side of the room. There was a knock on the door and he held his breath.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010 Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers.


Why We Care
The past two years they have won the NBA championship and the have given every indication that they intend to win again. No one will be surprised if they do. The Lakers are the best proven team in basketball and only got better in the off-season. Kobe Bryant is a genius and no matter how much Pau Gasol is praised, he is underrated. We love Lamar and Ron with no apologies to anyone. This team, even without Kobe Bryant, is a very good contender. With Kobe Bryant, they frighten me. This team is a force of nature. A typhoon, an earthquake, a plague of locusts. We watch them because it would be dangerous to leave them unwatched.

Significant Beards
Ron Artest: Goatee. Thin, neat, slightly debonaire.
Matt Barnes: Smudge beard. Please erase.
Shannon Brown: Unremarkable goatee. B+ for participation.
Andrew Bynum: Barely there. Beard tease.
Derek Fisher: Barely perceptible box-goatee. Don’t squint.
Pau Gasol: Drama major beard. Understudy at best.
Lamar Odom: Big head, tiny soul patch.

Guiding Text
Thus Spake Zarathustra

If They Were A Late-90’s Teen Movie They Would Be...
She's All That

LeBron on the Lakers
Hell no. No way. This couldn’t happen. It was an outrage, a sin, a shame. A travesty, a disaster, a catastrophe. A farce, a mockery, a cruel sick joke. He felt sick. He was going to vomit. No he wasn’t. He took a deep breath, remembered some of the techniques Phil had taught him. He took a deep breath. It would be fine. It didn’t matter. It would be fine. None of it mattered except what he could control. Yet, surely he could control this. Surely, he had the clout. He could make a scene, make threats. He probably wouldn’t have to. This was his town. He could change this, he could stop this. Should he?

Would they question his motives? What would they say? Would he care what they said? He was golden now. Untouchable. Unable to be touched. It didn’t matter what they said. They could say anything. What if they said “Colorado”? He paused. His chest felt tight and he wasn’t sure if he was breathing right. He felt nauseous. No. He would be bigger. “It’s all about the team.” Putting his pride first wouldn’t be tolerated. Putting his personal feelings and his pride above everything else would make him a marked man. They would turn against him. They couldn’t turn against them. But what if they did? He vomited.

LeBron actually laughed out loud at the thought.

Kobe slept soundly.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

2010 Season Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the beardiest second bananas on the West Coast, the Los Angeles Clippers

The Idea Is Better Than Reality

Why We Care
We care because they should be great. Baron Davis has all the talent in the world and could absolutely be an elite point guard in this league. Chris Kaman is a legitimate center who, if last year is any indication, is full of surprises. Eric Gordon made a name for himself in the Olympics this year, and the promise of Blake Griffin is nearly incomprehensible. Yet, they remain the Clippers: cursed and likely doomed to best-case mediocrity and worst-case apocalypse. We care because of the flashes of greatness and to watch the undoing from the inside.

Significant Beards
Baron Davis: Lush, full. Lifetime achievement award.
Rasual Butler: Light goatee. A Gentleman’s C.
Randy Foye: Miniscule goatee. Satisfactory.
Ryan Gomes: Half chin-strap. Half a barn-raising and a butter churn.
Eric Gordon: Shadow of a neard. Mild disgust.
DeAndre Jordan: Chinstrap to goatee. 7.3.
Chris Kaman: Full ginger chinstrap to goatee. An improvement, for what that's worth.
Craig Smith: Reasonable goatee. Strong.

Guiding Text
On the Beach

If They Were A Brass Instrument They Would Be...
A trombone

LeBron on the Clippers
The motorcycles revved loudly in the distance. It was hot, but it had always been hot, and there was no sense in guessing why, specifically, this instant, it felt so unbearable. The Los Angles sun had always seemed brighter than anywhere else and it beamed as insistent as ever, baking the ground and turning the asphalt into near-lava. The actual lava from the rift flowed down Rodeo and eventually into the city proper, a slow, fiery worm eating the city. The wildfires glowed day and night, but the unbearable part was the smoke, filling the air and turning the insistent sun a sickly orange at dawn and an angry red in the evening. The motorcycles were getting louder. Baron nodded.

The plaza was empty, the windows all broken, the stores thoroughly looted. After the collapse, people either responded by rioting or fleeing and by this point even most of those who had once rioted had now fled. The mansions of the wealthy stood empty or in ashes and when you walked the streets, the loudest sound was broken glass under your own feet. Most of the time. The roaring engines were nearly upon them and the others all stood ready with their Louisville sluggers and their chains and their switchblades. Someone was growling. LeBron lifted the fireman’s axe onto his shoulders, braced himself and waited for Baron’s signal.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.