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.

2010 Season Preview: Indiana Pacers

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the Indiana Irrelevants!

A Team Filled With Intriguing Players That Just Doesn't Matter

Why We Care
The Pacers used to matter. Reggie Miller was a scintillating performer and the early 2000's Pacers were responsible for the "Malice in the Palace" and included Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jermaine O'Neal. Now? The Pacers don't matter but they sure have some players of interest. Everyone knows Darren Collison as a star-in-the-making and Danny Granger is one of my favorite personalities in the league (nice-guy-Channing-Frye category), as well as being a long-limbed dead-eye. The Pacers also employ the talents of Love in the Time of LeBron sentimental favorite, Tyler Hansbrough and the intriguing potential of Roy Hibbert. This isn't a good team, but they have some players I love to watch and play at barn-burning pace. They are the huffing glue of NBA basketball: a cheap, fast thrill that's ultimately damaging and empty. But, you know, sometimes you channel your inner Ramone and want to sniff some glue. So that's why we have the Pacers.

Significant Beards
Darren Collision: Glued a black pom-pom to his chin. Crafty.
T.J. Ford: The folds of his face cast hair shadows.
Danny Granger: Chin bracket. Contains multitudes.
Roy Hibbert: Unclear where chin ends and beard begins. Should confuse opponents.
Solomon Jones: Soul patch the size of his eyes. Triclops.
Josh McRoberts: Lazy. Half-mast.
James Posey: Unremarkable goatee. Needs more poof.
A.J. Price: Like a reverse goatee. The center of his chin refused to participate.

Guiding Text
The Pilgrim’s Progress

If They Were A Manned Space Program They Would Be...

LeBron on the Pacers
He moved the device slowly over the bookshelf, waiting for a beep or a disturbance. It was more than likely in this room. It was quiet in the room. There was... nothing... no wait. A ticking. There was a definite ticking, from nearby. He pulled a small pile of books off their shelves before he noticed he was still wearing his watch. Of course. He put it on an endtable on the other side of the room and turned the device back on. LeBron sort of vaguely waved the device over his possessions, slowly moved it over the wall. The device had a digital display, parts of it displaying something that looked like a line graph and another part that looked almost like static. LeBron didn’t really know what either part meant. The manual was... somewhere. He looked at the piles of books covering the floor. He stopped. He could still hear the ticking.

LeBron got up and moved the watch to the next room. He went back in and listened. He thought he could still hear it. He went back, picked up the watch and went into the kitchen. He looked around for a second. He opened the refrigerator and then closed it. He noticed that he often did this, as if opening the refrigerator triggered a temporary wipe of his brain that made him forget anything he was doing. He opened the refrigerator and put the watch inside. He went back to the study and resumed scanning for listening devices.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

2010 Season Preview: Houston Rockets

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the Yao Ming Yao Mings (feat. Daryl Morey).

Wonder of the World

Why We Care
The Houston Rockets, thanks to Michael Lewis, are apparently the standard-bearers of the advanced stats movement. Don't care about stats? What about bandwagons? Thanks to Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets are arguably the most popular basketball team on the planet: more people watch regular season Rockets games than the Super Bowl. Honestly, without these things, the Rockets are still a team worth watching, chock full of players with unique and clever styles: Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes, and Luis Scola are all scintillating in their own way.

Significant Beards
Aaron Brooks: Goatee pinching his face like a vise. Painful.
Chase Budinger: Same as Brooks, but orange. Seasonal.
Chuck Hayes: Too thin. Beard up or beard out.
Jordan Hill: Split goatee. Choice, or a barren strip?
Jared Jeffries: Sparse, but so well shaped. Confusing.
Alexander Johnson: He dipped his chin in a mud puddle.
Courtney Lee: Sparse and vaguely pubic. Bikini season.
Kyle Lowry: Unacceptable. Not a beard.
Brad Miller: Cries out for a sweater and a guitar.

Guiding Text
The Varieties of Religious Experience

If They Were A Nirvana Album They Would Be...

LeBron on the Rockets
“It is not so, LeBron. We believe in the Copenhagen interpretation. Wave function collapse is necessary and proper. There is a possibility of many worlds until a particular outcome is observed and then we discard the possibilities. They don’t endure.The wave function only represents our knowledge of a given system. But what of Wigner’s friend, you will surely ask. And the answer is simple, the wave function is subjective as it models only our subjective knowledge and indeed beliefs. There is a distinction between reality and probability that is worth discussion here, but for now, let us simply say that probability is subjective and this is not a problem, because waveforms do collapse and all the unobserved possibilities cease to be valid in the actual world.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is consciousness that necessitates waveform collapse. And I know you will say Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen means that there’s a problem because you could have information traveling at faster than the speed of light, violating special relativity and thus causality, but you are taking for granted ‘local realism,’ and you just can’t demand it because it seems like a nice thing to be true. You have to acknowledge that there can be spooky movement at a distance and yet not necessarily violate causality by having faster than light information.”

“Must I? This doesn’t actually seem to mean anything.”

Yao shrugged. He turned and shot the ball. It went through the net with ease.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

2010 Season Preview: Golden State Warriors

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 irrepressible scamp, the Golden State Warriors

The Aftermath of Revolution

Why We Care
For years, Nelly ran the unique talents of far too many players in the ground. He shackled bright lights to the bench, and he started Corey Maggette and Stephen Jackson at power forward. Nelly was an icon and a genius, but in the last few years, it really seemed like he was playing out his end of a dare/bar bet that had to do with how much he could get away with before he got fired. Now, he is gone. The Warriors get to start over. Will they still be the high-octane, trigger happy scoundrels of days past? Almost certainly. Will it finally all make sense? Maybe. We put a lot of hope in that maybe.

Significant Beards
Charlie Bell: Goatee. Slightly diabolical. Beelzebaby.
Rodney Carney: Sloppy. Soul patch may be unintentional.
Dan Gadzuric: Unnatural stubble. Facial crop circles?
Brandan Wright: Either cleft goatee, or chin wings.
Dorell Wright: Like the rebel insignia. Nerd alert: high.

Guiding Text
Studies in Word Association

If They Were A Small Woodland Creature They Would Be...

LeBron on the Warriors
LeBron watched the light come in through the window. It wavered, shifted. On the floor he watched the refractory patterns dance as the sunlight slowly dimmed. Eventually it was gone and they were left with nothing but the soft fluorescence of the cabin lights. LeBron looked around him. The cabin wasn’t private or even first class and so the ex-urban dads gawked with their wide-eyed sons. No one had asked for his autograph yet, but that was not too far off. He didn’t mind. The ride wasn’t that long and after all that had happened, taking the time for an autograph seemed like such a small thing.

Sometimes LeBron thought about his Hummer, the one he had gotten before he entered the draft. He thought about all the private planes, the ones the Cavaliers had, Sean’s plane, the ones he’d only been in once. It had seemed so important then to travel that way. He smiled. One of the littlest boys was getting a pen from his father. He looked a little like Bryce, his own son. The boy hesitated, still too shy to approach, his father trying to gently prod him. LeBron looked out the window. They were getting close. A school of fish flitted away revealing the landing dome and the landing port. LeBron looked back at the boy. He was heading towards him, slowly, tentatively. LeBron tried a welcoming smile.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

2010 Season Preview: Detroit Pistons

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the Motor City Madmen, the Detroit Pistons.

A Struggle For Relevancy

Why We Care
The Pistons have been a dominant force in basketball for much of the past quarter-century. Only in recent times has this once great house fallen into total disarray. When Jonas Jerebko is the siver-lining on last year's season, the clouds most have been dark indeed. The Pistons are nearing their nadir... which means that their rise is coming. Or more darkness. In any case, the Pistons have some legitimately good players, a talented coach, and a history of success. It doesn't guarantee future success, but this team can't sink much further can it?

Significant Beards
Will Bynum: Tidy and discreet. 4 English butlers.
Austin Daye: Beardspiration: a funnel. Category 1 twister.
Ben Gordon: His inner beard was seared off. 2nd degree burn.
Richard Hamilton: Recently clean-shaven. Was told to leave his ferret at home on game days.
Jason Maxiell: Clean, strong lines, classic form. 16th century sculpture or 21st century icon?
Greg Monroe: Heavy shading on the sides; great effect for his cheekbones. Covergirl Challenge runner-up.
Tayshaun Prince: Slightly Lincoln-esque, but disappointing. 2nd act at Ford’s Theatre.
Rodney Stuckey: Crumb-catcher or double-chin-hider? Either way, 2 out of 10 Ho-Hos.
DaJuan Summers: Full beard. Too full. Suspicious.
Ben Wallace: Understated yet effective. Four solid stars.
Chris Wilcox: Lush, well-tended braids, yet scraggle patch beard. The side yard of his face.

Guiding Text
A Separate Peace

If They Were An MP3 Player They Would Be...
A Zune.

LeBron on the Pistons
Sun-Tzu explained a four-level hierarchy of targets in his famous book. The worst thing you could do while at war, he said, was to attack your enemies’ cities. Such assaults were costly and inevitably resulted in the loss of many lives. Upon his throne of bones, LeBron looked over the ruined city and grinned. Fires burned in the distance, barely visible through the smoky haze. The second-worst thing you could do was to attack your enemies’ armies. While not as futile and dangerous as attacking a walled city, the loss of life, the loss of strength, the potential for failure were all inevitable risks. For Sun-Tzu, the business of battle was a poor strategy for a war. The third-worst thing you could do, or rather, the second-best, was to attack your enemies’ alliances. And so he had. Power hadn’t been consolidated in the summer, but had been scattered. Piece-meal trades and draft-day desperation had fractured the familiar structures. Gasol had left L.A. and the Boston superteam was no more, just Pierce alone, history repeating.

LeBron smiled. The best thing you could do, Sun-Tzu had said, was to attack the most fragile of assets; to shatter it and deny to other’s it’s advantages. Sun Tzu taught that the best targets are the plans of your enemies. There is no better ally than surprise, no better advantage than a confused foe. LeBron lifted his skull chalice and poured a libation in honor of Detroit. The city kept burning.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

2010 Season Preview: Denver Nuggets

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the terribly-named, yet-oh-so-delightful Denver Nuggets.

Exciting and Competitive Non-Contender

Why We Care
The Nuggets will almost certainly not win the championship this year. That said, this is a truly great team with an awesome assemblage of athletic talent. They play with energy, they feed off their fans, and on any given night they can beat any team on the league. Despite the hurt his name has taken in the off-season, Carmelo Anthony is one of the very best players in the NBA, and this may be the last chance we get to see him with the amazing supporting cast of this year's Nuggets. Enjoy the end of an era.

Significant Beards
Arron Afflalo: “I do not understand razors,” or “I am sixteen.”
Carmelo Anthony: Like how goats have a tuft on their chin, except terrible. Bottom of the food chain.
Renaldo Balkman: Rebuilt his chin out of beard.
Anthony Carter: Goatee and mustache meet to frame a perfect little circle under his lip. Euclid would be proud.
Melvin Ely: Mustache started dripping and pooled into a hair puddle suspended from his chin.
Nene Hilario: Vaguely architectural. A trellis?
Ty Lawson: Full scruff. Clint Eastwood approved.
Kenyon Martin: Full scraggle and goatee. A bad choice.
JR Smith: Beards shouldn't be smaller than eyebrows.
Sheldon Williams: Drawn on with Magic Marker, but he did stay within the lines. A gold star.

Guiding Text

If They Were A Cloud They Would Be...

LeBron on the Nuggets
The snow fell softly now, landing on the piles and drifts so quietly. If felt like the snowfall should have been louder, but there it was, quiet and inevitable. The bushy pines of summer gave way to the spears of winter, the branches pinned down under the weight of the snow, the tree itself looking more like a single stick. Sometimes, the weight of snow on one of the boughs would shift and all the accumulated snow would fall to the ground. The branch would then rise up from its pinned position, rise back to its summer height, a temporary victory before the snow would weigh down the branch again. It would soon be pinned back. Nothing inevitable but the snow.

Behind him, Chauncey took up the little slips of paper and put them all in a hat. The snow had been going for weeks now. Weeks? Maybe months. A long time. The snow had been coming down forever. There had been no signs from above the impenetrable grayness and once the flames from the wreck died then, there was no light but that sad dim fire they somehow managed to keep going. Chauncey was talking now. LeBron couldn’t hear. There had been little food on the plane and they hadn’t seen any animals anywhere in the forest. Giant muscled men, it had seemed particularly cruel to watch their own wasting. Kenyon looked ancient, a gaunt near-skeleton. Chauncey pulled out a name and he read it aloud. LeBron couldn’t hear it. Despite the quiet of the falling snow it was hard to hear anything. He could see though. He saw how they all turned and looked at him.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

2010 Season Preview: Dallas Mavericks

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the perennial also-rans, the Dallas Mavericks.

Desperate Men Standing Against Time

Why We Care
The Mavericks have mattered all decade because of Dirk Nowitzki and the deep pockets of owner Mark Cuban. Dirk is getting older and the decline may have already begun. Mark Cuban is getting desperate. How many moves have the Mavericks made since this time last year? Many, and not insignificant ones. Desperation and a sense of urgency should drive this team to go all out this year, making big moves when needed, playing hard, and likely surprising people with their hunger. A bear backed into a corner is the most aggressive.

Significant Beards
José Juan Barea: Barely there. Insufficient data for scoring.
Tyson Chandler: Full yet flat. Scares off most predators.
Dominique Jones: Unnecessary under-chin face-trim. An MFA grad’s first novel.
Shawn Marion: A light patch framing the protruding rectangle that is his jaw. Subtle but disturbing.
Dirk Nowitzki: Like his skin has tufts. Creepy, and a near-crime. Written citation.
DeShawn Stevenson: Rugged, barely tamed. 4/5 hatchets.
Jason Terry: Odd and patchy fuzz. Either incapable of growing a full beard or so virile that he can’t stay clean-shaven for the length of a photoshoot. Inconclusive.

Guiding Text
Against Nature

If They Were A Vacuum Cleaner They Would Be...
A Dyson.

LeBron on the Mavericks
The man wouldn’t stop yelling. He was probably in his mid-twenties, obviously quite drunk and enjoying himself far too much. Some of LeBron’s entourage gave him questioning looks, but LeBron ignored them. If the man wanted to yell he could yell. It was warm, full blown Indian summer and lots of people wandered around the outdoor shopping center. Fake rocks played radio hits and families paid too much for ice cream and movies. The line at the Cheesecake Factory was interminable. Not that LeBron wanted in lines at the Cheesecake Factory. The man kept yelling. All the hits. Coward. Traitor. Loser.

The man was white, but they were in a suburban Dallas shopping center. This was not surprising. Men who yelled at him in suburban shopping centers were always white. LeBron turned and looked at him. He was a good thirty-forty feet away. He was keeping his distance. He was wearing a Cavaliers hat. Which was fine. Sometimes they wore Lakers hats and the things they yelled were meaner, but easier to ignore. He kept walking, didn’t make eye contact with the man, but he listened.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

2010 Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the sadtown sadsters, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Greek Tragedy

Why We Care
We might not like staring at the aftermath of a particularly gruesome car wreck, but we all do.

Significant Beards
Daniel Gibson: Cradles his chin like a cup. Minimal support.
Joey Graham: Scraggly, craggy beard. Keep far away.
Danny Green: Narrow and strangely curved, like he has a second smile. That means we’re averaging one each.
Ryan Hollins: Missed a spot while shaving. Repeatedly.
Jamario Moon: Waxing under-chin crescent. Heavy cloud cover with limited visibility.
Leon Powell: Shadow Beard plus triangle soul patch. 1-up.
Ramon Sessions: Square-outline beard. Either his chin is a box or he’s created a cunning illusion. Well-framed.
Anderson Varejao: Beardless and suffering. In need of a beard transplant. His scalp can be the donor.
Jawad Williams: Like he used to have a box-top but it fell off his head and onto his chin.

Guiding Text

If They Were A Piece of Living Room Furniture They Would Be...
An ottoman.

LeBron on the Cavaliers
Another year. They would be better, they had to be better, they were always getting better. He was getting better. He would stand tall, as he always had, and this would be the year. He trembled. How many times had he said that? How many times had he heard it? When would it be true? These things take time. These things take time. It took Jordan seven years, why should it take LeBron James any less? He stayed and that’s what mattered. Loyalty? Loyalty.

His hands shook. He would win, eventually. It was inevitable. He was Chosen. That was the point. This was all according to plan. The team would get better, he would get better, and they would win. Manifest destiny. They would trade up, they would improve, someone else would break out. It would happen, it has to happen. It was written and so it shall it come to pass. His hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

2010 Season Preview: Chicago Bulls

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the angry bovines in the proverbial china shop: the Chicago Bulls.

Dark Horse Contenders

Why We Care
This could be one of the very best teams in basketball next year, and somehow, no one is talking about it. Some would argue that these young guns are more Hawks than Thunder, but they are really more mushrooms than onions, if you know what I mean. No? Okay, well that's fine too. The Bulls are going to be very good and they will matter and that's that.

Significant Beards
Keith Bogans: Minimal goatee. Frank Stella approved.
Carlos Boozer: Tightly trimmed, near full. A+.
Joakim Noah: Notoriously patchy semi-full. Nickname-worthy.
Derrick Rose: Small mustache, divided goatee. Slight fright.
Brian Scalabrine: Ginger goatee. WHY?
Kurt Thomas: Goatee. Prehistoric, 3/5 trilobites.

Guiding Text
The Epic of Gilgamesh

If They Were A Vegetable They Would Be...
Summer squash.

LeBron on the Bulls
LeBron looked at the statue for a long time. Derrick walked by and stopped. LeBron crossed his arms. Derrick was about to speak, but LeBron shot a look at him. They stared at the statue in silence. It wasn’t long before the others started coming. Luol and Kyle came in, talking quietly, but they stopped and took up the study. Joakim called out to them, but no one answered. He walked past, indignant. He soon came back, Taj and some of the others following. He was about to speak, but Derrick put a hand on his arm. Tom watched the huddle of players from the distance. He gave them five minutes, waiting for their attention to shift, but no one moved. He hesitated.

“What shall we do LeBron?”

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image.”

“I’m sorry. Or else, what?”

“I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars; I will heap your carcasses on the carcasses of your idols. I shall abhor you.”

They were silent. Tom looked at the expressions of the men before him. Derrick nodded.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

2010 Season Preview: Charlotte Bobcats

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, the pride of Mecklenburg County, the Charlotte Mikecats.

Odd Team That You Should Check In On

Why We Care
The Bobcats have assembled a fine collection of extraordinary athletes and reclamation projects, with Gerald Wallace and Tyrus Thomas leading Camp A, and Shaun Livingston, Darius Miles, Javaris Crittenton and Kwame Brown leading Camp B. This is a gutsy team. They try hard, they play tough, and they struggle to score. You should watch them because their mediocrity is more about being on the fringe than being on the margins.

Significant Beards
D.J. Augustin: "My jaw is so rugged that it casts a hair shadow.”
Derrick Brown: Sculpted, but looks like a puddle. Failure.
Kwame Brown: Unambitious, hiding a double chin. D.
Sherron Collins: Another Shadow Beard. Sloppy and big.
Javaris Crittenton: Pubescently thin. Time to shave.
Boris Diaw: Kind of pubic. C-
Gerald Henderson: Too narrow. Some sort of food stain.
Shaun Livingston: Baby’s first goatee. Half cup of cheerios.
Dominic McGuire: Thin but competent. A book of contemporary poetry.
Darius Miles: Uneven but ambitious. Oliver Stone.
Thomas Tyrus: Under-chin fuzz, possibly intentional. Two thumbs down.
Gerald Wallace: Unremarkable goatee. After the curve, B+.

Guiding Text
Tender Buttons

If They Were A Board Game They Would Be
Chinese checkers.

LeBron on the Bobcats
“First, acknowledge that essentially a rebound and a block are the same thing: a well-timed leap. Now, reduce the leap to a simple taxonomy: successful and unsuccessful. Once you have done that, the key to success is to internalize and accept a number of principles. First, a failure to leap successfully is an instantaneous death. Second, the success of your leap is tied to the spin value of a random proton. Internalize that and make it your reality. Once it happens, you can never fail. Because your consciousness will abruptly cease in any world where you fail, from your point of view, in the world you inhabit it, you will never witness yourself fail. Quantum immortality.”

“But, Gerald, this means that in most of the relevant worlds, everyone sees you die when you fail. In most of these worlds people just see you die. What’s the point if you fail most of the time?”

“Does a world where you have no conscious presence even count as a world? I can only experience the worlds where I succeed. The others, simply don’t exist for me. You can’t be troubled by all possible worlds.For years I was concerned about such things, but it was meaningless without consciousness. That is how I block. That is how I rebound. That is how I built the pyramids. They did not build themselves.”

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

2010 Season Preview: Boston Celtics

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know how we do. Next up, your cranky grandpas who keep on balling: the Boston Celtics.

Superstar-Loaded Team One Bad Step Away From Disintegration

Why We Care
How many Hall of Famers do you think are on this team? How many catastrophes in waiting are on this team? Aging superstars, volatile youngsters (and oldsters), and one bad practice fall away from total disaster, the Celtics are the Bad News Bears if the Bad News Bears were never underdogs.

Significant Beards
Ray Allen: Micro-goatee. Consistent. 40% from 3.
Marquis Daniels: Mustache on chin. PG-13.
Kevin Garnett: Hitler on chin. NC-17.
Shaq: Goatee. Satishaqtory.
Kendrick Perkins: Coffee-house goatee. Bongos and snaps.
Paul Pierce: The "Paul Pierce". Pentagon declines comment.
Nate Robinson: Neck-goatee. Duly noted.
Delonte West: Trimmed, red, goatee. 2 out of 3 loaded guns.

Guiding Text
Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

If They Were A John Hughes Movie They Would Be...
The Breakfast Club

LeBron on the Celtics
It was chilly, but they were all there. Not just the current guys, but the ring of honor guys. The older guys and the just plain old ones all walked to the bridge with him. “Tradition.” That was the only word he’d heard all summer. That and “coward.” No one called Kevin that when he came, but no one dared to call Kevin anything. Did you know that if you go to a team because you’d have better teammates there, you are a coward? It’s true. If you make the teammates come to you, you are a hero. But if you go, you are a coward. When LeBron came to Boston, he was a coward, because somehow, by wanting so badly to have great teammates and win more, he had demonstrated that he didn’t want to win more. It was something like that. Sometimes the argument seemed to flip and losing was somehow ennobling. To win for a new team is mercenary, but to lose for one team your entire career is saint-worthy. Didn’t matter here.

Boston had a tradition of mercenary saints. In Boston, your past can be forgiven if you embrace their past. Kevin was a lunatic in the wilderness, but now, he’s a proud keeper of the sacred traditions. He screamed now and the others just laughed with joy. His directions were angry, solemn. All the other new Celtics went first, and LeBron took the deference graciously. He watched Shaq make the toss with surprising ease, while Jermaine stumbled. Semih hesitated a bit, unsure if this was was really happening, afraid he’d misunderstoond, but Harangody heaved with vigor. When it came his turn, LeBron tried to be as quick as he could without being rude. He tossed the screaming man into the Charles River and turned to walk away. Bill Russel’s face was still and stony, but Larry Bird beamed.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

2010 Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

It's time for the Love in the Time of LeBron 2010 Season Team Previews. You know the rules. First up: the dirtiest birds, the Atlanta Hawks

Team That Should Be More Exciting Than It Is

Why We Care
The promise of Josh Smith can't be ignored, Al Horford is a joy to watch play and you may think Joe Johnson is overpaid and overrated, but there aren't ten basketball players in the entire world who can bring what he brings to the table. The Hawks should be exciting. We care because one day they might be.

Significant Beards
Evan Brock: Terrible goatee. Shave that. Also, who are you?
Jason Collins: Goatee. Weak.
Al Horford: Yet another stubbly goatee. What is it with this team?
Joe Johnson: Potential for the sweetest mustache in all of pro-basketball. Incomplete.
Zaza Pachulia: No beard. However, this.
Josh Powell: Stubbly goatee. 2 out 5 deja vu's.
Josh Smith: Goatee. Acceptable point five.
Jeff Teague: UPDATE: 'Stache gone. VERDICT: Improvement.
Etan Thomas: Goatee. A Goatee America Can Love.
Marvin Williams: Mustache. 3 stars.

Guiding Text
Waiting for Lefty

If They Were A Pokemon They Would Be...

LeBron on the Hawks
Leaves lazily floated across the water’s surface. Leaves, pine needles, bugs and dust. Sand and some of the heavier bits had already sunk to the bottom. It had been a while since anyone had used the pool. A month or two. Summer turns to fall quick, though, apparently fall was interminable. Sharp jabs of winter would punch through eventually, but for the most part the weather would stay in that uncomfortable middle ground. The mornings where cool, even cold and he’d pack a sweater, but in the afternoon he’d be sweaty, awkward in the cardigan. There is something to be said for a more-defined fall.

On the other hand, it was mid-October, and, conceivably, he could still use the pool. That was nice. He skimmed the leaves and grime off the top with the net. He saw a couple of feathers floating on the surface. Dark feathers. From ducks? Ducks or geese. Were they just stopping through? Did they start here and go to the tropics or did they start in Canada with the purpose of ultimately ending here, floating atop Lake LeBron. He supposed he’d see them fly back North in a few months. Do ducks fly in formation or is that just geese? LeBron skimmed some more feathers off the pool. He wondered how much of the year birds spent migrating.

Rosetta Stone
This pretty much explains it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

2010 Previews

Hello, dear friends. It's been some time since I've been blogging, but it's been some time since the end of the NBA season. The hiatus ends now. What am I saying? Team previews, my friend. And this year, I might even make it through all thirty teams. In any case, I wanted to explain the format of the previews and answer all your questions ahead of time.

Each preview will start off with a brief synopsis of who the team is and why we care and then segue into the questions you care about: What kind of beards are they packing? What text guides the spirit of this team? What kind of analogy would it take to explain this team? What would it be like if LeBron had chosen this team? What is the decoding "Rosetta Stone" that lays bare all the mysteries that this team has to offer?

I promise this and more. Or maybe less. Depends on how long it takes. In any event: Stay Tuned.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Free Rashad, ETO, and the Works

It's no secret that I am a big fan of FreeDarko, and if you are reading this site, I assume you are too. If for some reason you aren't a FreeDarko fan, it's well past time that you start reading the site. So do that.

I bring this up because FreeDarko has recently been running some sensational guest columns by Jay Caspian Kang and one of them, in particular, touched my heart because it was about Rashad McCants, who I wrote a lot about, almost exactly one year ago. That entry was spurred by Rashad's very public musings about his inability to get signed by an NBA team. After a year outside the league, Rashad finds himself in a similar position once again, only this time his plight is even more publically highlighted by an in-depth ESPN magazine article entitled "Born to be hated, and dying to be loved." Jay wrote an entry that was part-response to that piece and part-manifesto, and thus Free Rashad was born. It's my favorite writing about basketball right now, each entry a different approach to the questions raised by Rashad McCants and an expansion on what those questions mean. It's about taking all the signifiers that are pointed at McCants. exploding them out and trying to diagram them. It's examining a big chunk of "what we talk about when we talk about sports" by looking at a subset of issues related to a single player and for all that I'm saying it's actually twice as clever and more thoughtful than that. Even if you don't quite buy that as a great premise, just take my word for it and give it a read will you?

In related, other-places-to-read-FreeDarko-writers news, you can read a really great daily column with Bethlehem Shoals and Tom Ziller at Fanhouse. They are calling it "The Works," and until games start, I can't think of a better daily column to be reading. Also, with the tragic demise of The Baseline, the best place to find Eric Freeman writing about basketball is at his new blog, Early Termination Option.

Hopefully, there will eventually be more stuff for you to read here, but until then, the FD dudes got you covered.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More Offseason NBA Kickball News

I thought Channing Frye's beer garden would make his kickball tournament the premiere off-season NBA sporting event, but I was wrong. I underestimated Baron Davis, and I should know better (I love you, Baron).

Channing Frye may have had beer at his tournament, but Baron Davis had Jessica Alba at his.

For those keeping score at home: Deron Williams, Kyle Korver, and Ron Artest play dodgeball, but Channing Frye, Baron Davis, Tayshaun Prince, Matt Barnes, and Jessica Alba play kickball. Just saying.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Consider Shaq's Music Videos

So here’s the thing about Shaq: He is interesting. He does lots of things. Most of them don’t really relate to basketball all that much, but as that is kind of the purview of the blog, Shaq is going to be a topic of frequent discussion at Love in the Time of LeBron, even if that discussion is basically just, “Isn’t it weird how Shaq hangs out with young, male, teenage pop stars?” The point is that I mostly really like Shaq and enjoy talking about his hobbies and side projects. It’s basically, pretty much like this.

In any case, I thought that we could take some time to get to know Shaq’s work a little better. Specifically the hip-hop singles, and even more specifically, the music videos. While it’s tempting to dismiss his rap career as inconsequential and his musical output as the equivalent to vanity publishing, it’s not fair and not true. Shaq is not Ron Artest. His first album, Shaq Diesel, went platinum. The second, Shaq Fu, went gold. His singles consistently charted and all four of his released albums were released on a major label. Shaq, as a rapper, seems like he should be a mere footnote, but his commercial impact is undeniable. For comparison, Shaq’s success with singles on the U.S. Rap chart is comparable to, and arguably better than, a hip hop luminary like Ghostface Killah. Shaq’s rap career, somehow, kind of matters. So if I’ve succeeded in persuading you, let’s move on to some goofy-ass shit.

What’s Up Doc? (Can We Rock?)

This is actually a Fu-Schnickens song and video and not a Shaquille O’Neal single, but it’s important, because it’s the first time we get a taste, albeit a very small one of Shaq’s rapping abilities. Released in 1993, this song was a fairly cynical attempt to salvage a song based around a Bugs Bunny sample that Fu-Shnickens couldn’t get clearance for. Instead, Fu-Schnickens decided to actively seek out Shaq, who had listed the group as his favorite hip hop artists. Shaq was happy to contribute a sort-of verse tacked onto the end of the song, say, “What’s up doc?” in lieu of Bugs Bunny, and appear in the video. The verse is a short, so-so affair which includes a number of regrettable boasts such as “Forget Tony Danza; I’m the boss,” a few nonsensical words rhymed together, and a nice little slam on Christian Laettner for failing to be the number one pick in the 1992 NBA draft. The video is a kinetic affair, featuring a lot of movement, probably over-animated word art, and Shaq hopping up and down while wearing a giant vest. It sounds deeply silly but it was a big hit, a Top 40 smash, and the most-famous Fu-Schnickens would ever be, which is a shame, because it’s actually kind of an awesome song even if it is by a group called “Fu-Schnickens.”

(I Know I Got) Skillz

The first Shaq single! It’s off of Shaq Diesel and was his highest charting success, reaching the third spot on the U.S. rap charts. The video is a fairly simple affair, featuring a smoking tractor trailer slowly backing up until Shaq bursts out, jumping onto a giant logo of his name and rapping to the assembled street party. Shaq is wearing what appears to be, again, one very large vest. Occasionally the music video is intercut with shots of Shaq walking down a different street during the day wearing a different vest. The rap itself is a standard braggadocio-ridden, ranting answer to the question, “Could Shaquille O’Neal possibly be any good at rapping?” And Shaq, in his rapping answer, wants to assure you that, while you may not know yet, he certainly knows that he posses the requisite skills. Here is a sampling of said skills:

“You better than Shaq-tack? Fool! Shut up, liar
I lean on the Statue of Liberty when I get tired
Then I’ll punch you in the stomach, I don’t give a heck”

He certainly doesn’t. This song also features Def Jef, who, according to Wikipedia (which I checked because I have never heard of Def Jef) apparently used to write criticially-acclaimed sociopolitical lyrics. More recently, however, he wrote the theme song to That’s So Raven. That’s so Def Jef, I guess.

I’m Outstanding

From the name, you might think that this song is mostly boasting in the same vein as “Skillz,” but it's much closer to a biography, loosely describing Shaq’s experience growing up. Instead of a gripping tale of danger, brutal poverty and the temptation of the streets, we instead get the story of a poor family, headed up by very loving and supportive parents who helped Shaq stay motivated to succeed in basketball. There is little to no conflict and honestly, it plays more like a Newark, NJ version of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” than anything else:

“Times are hard, times are rough
Didn't have Toys R Us toys, but I had enough love
Plus the guidance from above
To go to the park, sweatin' push and shove”

In general, though the story is kind of boring, the flow is more inspired than “Skillz.” The song also features a rad beat, probably the only hip-hop references to Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson ever, and a video that’s passable except for a regrettable over-use of green-screen effects: instead of showing Shaq rapping at a variety of fairly bleak Newark locales, they have instead filmed these locations and then used a green screen to super-impose Shaq. At some points, this effect is used to make Shaq seem even bigger than normal, stomping down the streets like some kind of New Jersey Godzilla, but most of the time, it just seems like Shaq just didn’t have the time to film on location. No better way to celebrate where you are from than to refuse to actually go back . Which is a shame, because some of the footage from Newark is really lovely in a bitterly-beautiful-urban-decay kind of way.

Shoot Pass Slam

The third single, from Shaq Diesel, this track holds the distinction of being the least successful of any single that Shaq released, and watching the video you come to understand that the governing principle behind this single was laziness. The video actually manages to include no newly filmed footage, but rather recycles a blend of footage from “Skillz,” NBA highlights, and a one minute Reebok commercial that features the song and alternates between Shaq wearing a vest and a jersey (dude, just hates sleeves, maybe?). The effect isn’t too bad, but when most of the non-NBA footage comes from a shoe commercial and an old video, you are in totally laughable territory. Shaq tried to make up for it by releasing a average and marginally acceptable video of a live performance of “Shoot Pass Slam” that is also intercut with some NBA highlights, which is totally acceptable since young Shaq is awfully impressive, basketball-wise. His rhyming? Less so.

The song is based on a simple premise: If Mr. O’Neal is given the ball would you prefer for him to shoot, pass, or slam the ball? Shaq knows his limitations and agrees with your assessmentL he would be happy to slam the ball for you. The rest of the verses are, much like the video, kind of a retread of “Skillz,” where Shaq spends most of his time boasting and describing how great a basketball player he is, mixed in with playful, Method Man-esque nonsense words and nursery rhyme riffing. Overall it’s not bad, and I prefer Shaq bragging about his basketball skill than Shaq bragging about his rapping skills (though he does that too). There’s also a lot of unneccesary pop-culture references, but hey, it’s hip hop: those are allowed.

“I’m a rookie. Clint Eastwood. Martin Sheen.
AHHHHH! Leave me alone. I’m turning green.”

Biological Didn’t Bother
The first single off of Shaq Fu: Da Return, this song is, as the title suggests, a song that deals with Shaq’s abandonment by his biological father. However, instead of being about his biological father, most of the song is about Shaq’s relationship with his step-dad. It’s actually all pretty sweet, filled with admiration, memories of good times, and even a knowing and wise perspective on conflict between young Shaq and wise Phil. In this regard, it’s very much the sequel to “Outstanding” in terms of tone and content. Of course, underneath the verses there is an undeniably bitter and angry tone, most evident in the pointed chorus (“He took me from a boy to a man so Phil is my father, cause my biological didn't bother.”) and the final verse, which closes:

“He ain’t gettin’ no check from me (check it)
He can go on all the talk shows he want
Phil is my dad so don’t even front.”
Yikes. I hate to say this, since Shaq clearly is wearing his heart on his sleeve with this song, but, as earnest as the song is, it’s not very good. The slower rhymes and narrative-approach prevent him from engaging in any free-association word play and the subject of the song stops him from playing to his main strength: bragging about how great Shaq is. The beat is a bit of unremarkable mid-90’s G-funk and the video is pretty forgettable unless you just love literal interpretations of the scenes described in the song and shots of Shaq in a windbreaker driving around in a convertible with his step-dad.

No Hook

This is a Wu-Tang joint, make no respect. Produced by the RZA, and featuring rhymes by RZA and Method Man, Shaq’s contribution in the middle verse makes him seem an interloper in his own song. That said, Shaq does a good job of blending in: freed from the constraints of making sense and allowed to run wild with free-association, he fits in well with the Wu-Tang sensibility and his work on the track is pretty comparable to the phoned-in rhymes of Method Man and RZA.

“Always & forever, forever always attack,
I bring flava to ya ear; like Craig Mack.
Life's a B and then you D, refer to Nasty Nas Illmatic;
CD, #3 Static.
You don't want none, you best to keep lookin',
A-E-I-O-U's an ass-whoopin’”

All-in-all, a great Shaq track and a mediocre Wu-Tang one. The video is also pretty excellent, again feeding more into the Wu-Tang aesthetic than anything that’s identifiably consistent with Shaq’s work. The video is a murky mix of dark industrial settings and close-ups in high contrast black and white, cutting and fading quickly into each other for an impressionistic look at what appears to be the three protagonists inside a meat packing warehouse, where, ironically, they are surrounded by literal hooks, which hang, sinisterly from the ceiling. Also, for no real reason, since the song contains the RZA line, “Gold nugget fangs punch holes inside your jugular,” they are all wearing gold grills that feature bizarre vampire fangs. It’s totally weird, but I’m not going to lie, sinister giant gangster vampire is a good look for Shaq.

You Can’t Stop the Reign

"You Can’t Stop the Reign" is the first single from the album of the same name. The album version of this song features a few verses from none other than the Notorious B.I.G. However, in a move that should probably be considered “fucking stupid,” the video version omits the Biggie verses in favor of Shaq. I mean, it makes sense: why would you want to include one of the greatest living rappers at the peak of his powers when you could have more Shaq? In any case, though Biggie may be excised from the single, his influence is felt anyway: the song feels like a Biggie song, with it’s slinky grooves and languid beats referencing “Big Papa” pretty heavily. Likewise, the song is preoccupied with the mafioso, kingpin thematics that dominated rap of the day, largely as a result of Biggie’s influence. The video takes its cues from Shaq’s story about the T.W.is.M. (“The World is Mine”) “family” and his rhymes about the high-rolling life-style. Well, sort of.

This video features a series of bizarre and elaborate scenes with Shaq as mafioso don, Shaq as commander in some sort of high-tech bunker, and finally Shaq as Enrico Gates, who has glowing red eyes and who the video thoughtfully denotes as “Evil Shaq.” All of this is fairly standard fare for the time and evil alter egos are a dime a dozen in hip hop, but the video really takes a turn when mafioso Shaq confronts Enrico Gates at a T.W.is.M. family board meeting. While Shaq is happy to present Enrico with a mysterious briefcase, Enrico is less happy to find that the briefcase is filled with You Can’t Stop the Reign CDs. I know; I’d be furious too. So then, ninjas burst through the windows a ong with a muscled henchman who is wielding some kind of net launcher. Gates’ minions try to net Shaq and his entourage and are largely successful.

Then, shit gets weird: Shaq reveals his Wolverine-esque metal claws that shoot out of his knuckles and uses them to free himself from the net. Shaq then tries to escape the increasing escalation of forces that are being sent after him. While Gates is originally content to send a few motorcycles and helicopters after Shaq, this quickly and absurdly escalates as an entire airforce worth of helicopters, jets, and flying saucers pursue Shaq, who abruptly stops the chase for an old-timey newspaper photo shoot before resuming his escape. Then, as Shaq is escaping, the twist is revealed via a freeze frame and the text suddenly appearing on the screen: GAME OVER. The whole thing was a video game! The camera reveals a happy youngster who was playing this game. Well-played, Shaq.

Okay, so it’s a stupid twist, but I admire the fact that this video tries to do something beyond merely illustrating the lyrics or showing Shaq performing. Likewise, the song itself is probably the best-crafted of all of Shaq’s singles for what that’s worth, and as far as the beats go, “sounds like a Biggie song” isn’t a bad diagnosis. Not a great song, but pretty good, particularly for Shaq.

Strait Playin

Honestly, any follow up to “You Can’t Stop The Reign” was bound to be disappointing, but this seems particularly lame. A bland, milquetoast bragging track about Shaq’s skills as a basketball player, rapper, and partier, this track has more in common with “Skillz” than any of his more recent work. The beat, produced by DJ Quik, lazily references the West Coast sound (auto-tune, bouncy drums) as the lyrics loosely reference Shaq’s trade to the L.A. Lakers. This is the most generic sounding of Shaq’s singles and it just doesn’t offer much lyrically. Sadly, neither does the video: just the mid-90s standards of wide-angle lenses, crews driving in cars, and pretty girls partying and dancing. There are a few highlights: one of the girls dancing in the bathroom (yeah, I know), pulls out a green-feathered boa from the toilet and begins dancing with it. Feathered boas in a few different colors appear throughout the video (it is the era of Clueless), but only one is pulled out of a toilet. Oh, and for some reason, DJ Quik is just chilling with an albino Burmese python around his neck for the last half of the video. So there’s that.

Men of Steel

Of course, aside from being a rapper and basketball player, Shaq is also a world-class film actor. You knew that right? Well, in his follow-up to Kazaam, Shaq chose a project based on comic book hero Steel. Of course, Shaq couldn’t just star in the movie, he had to be on the soundtrack and merely including “Strait Playin’” was not enough. Thus, the Steel-themed posse track “Men of Steel” was born. Featuring Ice Cube, KRS-One, B-Real, Peter Gunz (who also appears on “Strait Playin’”), and, of course, Mr. O’Neal, the track is kind of banging. Freed of any lyrical constraints except the general theme of being Men of Steel, the rappers are free to let loose with free-association bragging about how steely they are. Fortunately, this tack plays to Shaq’s strengths and the single-verse limit gives him fewer spots to slip up.

“The best thing since grits & fake tits
Man Of Steel who you with?
I'm so fly when I walk I levitate
My caliber's first rate. Exceptional; above great.”

The beats are nice and the video keeps it simple: the posse standing around a foundry, filled with molten metal and sparks. Not exactly inspired, but not totally stupid which we are going to count as a win. Shaq elects to go with a jeans, tank-top and sun glasses look that actually makes him look like a massively muscled bad-ass. Was it so hard to stop with the vests?

The Way It’s Going Down

This single features the same crew who did “Strait Playin’,” which understandably sank my heart. Fortunately, though DJ Quik uses the same elements he used in “Strait Playin’” but gets a much stronger effect. Likewise, Peter Gunz officially cements his status as Shaq’s sidekick by appearing in three Shaq singles in a row, a fact that he seems to be pretty proud of, considering his boast, “Now me and Shaq is like Batman and Robin,” which is totally true if we are talking the George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell incarnations. Shaq’s rapping is inoffensive to the point of self-parody when he admonishes Peter Gunz:

“Yo, just rock your roll, dog
And kill 'em wit silence
You never get nowhere using violence “

So true, Shaq. Aside from that, the lyrics are a potpourri of leftovers from “You Can’t Stop the Reign” and “Strait Playin’,” which means that there are a lot of empty lines about how great it is to be rich. Nothing to write home about. The video, likewise, is kind of bland, though it features quite a few stupid cameos, namely Oscar de la Hoya, Steven Segal, and the Taco Bell Chihuahua. It truly was 1998.


This was the first and only single off of Shaquille O’Neal Presents His Superfriends Vol. 1 an album that was scheduled to be released September 11, 2001. As you might imagine, that didn’t happen. The album was delayed and then ultimately scrapped, the terrorists winning that round. Fortunately for us patriots, this single was released anyway. Featuring WC and Nate Dogg, this track seems markedly different from any of the other singles Shaq had released up to this point. The difference all seems to be confidence. In the span between “The Way It’s Going Down” and “Connected,” Shaq had led the Lakers to two consecutive NBA titles and claimed two NBA Finals MVP trophies for himself, which, of course, served as nice bookends for his regular season MVP he won in 2000. In the post-Jordan void, Shaq began to actually live up to the boasts he’d been making for the better part of the decade. When your swagger is indisputable, it changes you. The more confident Shaq of “Connected” rhymes effortlessly and projects a grown-man’s menace that young Shaq never could muster. When he says, “I am the future of the game, ain’t no stopping this,” in 2000, we believe him.

Strong contributions from WC and Nate Dogg help this single stand out, though the video does no such favors, serving up a bland melange of party scenes in the standard hip hop idiom. A nice prologue sequence of Shaq angrily dunking on a basket on an empty court is the best that the video offers. However, despite the video, the song is largely a success, and it’s a nice snapshot of Shaq at his most dominant, both on and off the court. It’s too bad that his difficulties with Kobe would shorten his unstoppable reign (Wade renaissance aside), because the two other singles that were planned from Shaquille O’Neal Presents His Superfriends Vol. 1 were kind of.... good. “In the Sun” shows Shaq complementing Common and Black Thought rather nicely on the ?uestlove produced track, while "Do it Faster" offers maybe the best flow I’ve heard from Shaq, albeit in the service of a raunchy Trina-hooked, Twista-versed lyrical sex romp. It’s times like these when you really appreciate how much we lost in 9/11.

While there are indisputably better rappers in the world, there are many successful rappers who are a whole lot worse than Shaquille O’Neal. He’s too talented to dismiss as a mere novelty, and he certainly showed off his chameleon’s gift to change his flow to match a given sound, capable of approximating distinct styles with ease. This versatility is cool because it let’s his body of singles stand in as a compressed history of the major currents of hip hop in the nineties, with representatives of G-funk, mafioso rap, the sparse Wu-Tang sound, and the “jiggy” style among others all co-existing in Shaq’s discography. In this way, Shaq serves as an over-sized, goofy, admittedly, mostly mediocre Rosetta Stone of nineties hip hop.

But, what does Shaq’s rap career mean? Let’s take him at face value. Shaq’s not laying down long-winded, gritty street narratives and his stepdad-loving, mom-respecting, hardworking-but-well-behaved side rises to the top far too often to give those narratives much credibility. At heart Shaq is a goody-goody with a cornball sense of humor, and no matter how clever he gets at talking tough, he probably shares more with Justin Bieber and Aaron Carter than he does with B-Real or Method Man. What does Shaq think of Shaq? Well, with a wink and a smile, he thinks he’s awesome. Who are we to disagree?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Shaq and Bieber Deja Vu

Once upon a time, I wondered who was the most Wu-Tang player in the NBA, and had to ultimately acknowledge that it couldn't be anyone but Shaquille O'Neal. Lots of things tilt the scales in his favor, but the one thing that's impossible to argue with is a rap single featuring RZA and Method Man. Checkmate.

Of course, Shaq is full of contradictions, and the Big Everything has loved nothing more than appearing in every music video he can, regardless of genre, style, or well, regardless of anything. This, totally obviously, led to Shaq inexplicable witnessing the rapture in an Owl City music video.

So now, there is this and well, this. Shaq and boy-wonder Justin Bieber are now, apparently, BFFs, a sacred bond consecrated by their serenading and dancing. And that's all well and good, but it gave me a really weird sense of deja vu.

It's because we have seen Shaq as BFF's with a young teenage pop star before. Search the recesses of your mind and summon forth the memory of Aaron Carter and Shaq's friendship. It was weird then, but it made a little more sense in that Aaron Carter (or I guess his handlers) had written a whole song about he beat Shaq, so I guess they had to meet to at least make the incredible video?

Right. Totally average stuff. And it's really normal that for the second time in his career, Shaq is spending his spare time hanging out with really young teenage boy pop stars. Nope, not weird at all. Also, totally Wu-Tang. Totally.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ty Lawson Needs to Make Sure He Logs Out of Twitter

Ty Lawson is one of my favorite basketball players. Incredible at Carolina, his rookie season in the NBA promised even greater things to come. The other reason I like Ty? Dude's really funny. Unfortunately for him, his boys like a good joke every now and then too, even if that joke mostly consists of using Ty's Twitter to post a lot about how much he loves man-meat. Repeatedly. Unendingly. There's still no end in sight to the posts on his Twitter, but for posterity's sake, I've saved some of the first ones:

Oh, man-meat jokes.

UPDATE: Apparently, Ty didn't like what was posted and deleted it. Good thing we can remember it forever here.

Here is where you can find me talk about Juwan Howard (allegedly) giving people herpes twice. Here is where I watched The Decision with my drunk girlfriend who enjoys cracking wise. Here is where I gave out some fake bloggy awards to players.