Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Hello, Hedo!

Talk all you want about the stars of this series, Dwight “Superman” Howard and Chris “You need to vote for me for All-Star” Bosh, but when it’s all said and done I think we’ll find that the discussion will be about the two players that came to the NBA from “over there”—Hedo Turkoglu and Jose Calderon. This series will be won or lost because of what these two bring to the table. Sure, Dwight should get his 20+ points and 14 rebounds, and Chris will cause the Orlando defense problems with his outside shooting and length, and will probably average 20+ points in the series. But down the stretch, Van Gundy is going to make sure that Hedo gets the ball in key late game situations, because not only has he developed a killer instinct with late game threes, but also because he is one of the few on the Magic that can make free throws consistently (a short coming that may cause a loss or two in the series).

The gutsy play of the Raptors back up point guard, Jose Calderon and his skill at running Sam Mitchell’s offense and making the right play, will give the Magic’s guards fits. Jose seems to fit better with the starting team than TJ Ford, although Ford is a gutsy player in his own right. You’ll probably see Jose starting by the third game of the series, if not before. He just seems to mesh better with the starters and he’s a feisty player who doesn’t turn the ball over.

Orlando has been quietly going about its business winning ball games and locking up its third place seeding, with home court advantage at least in the first round. It has improved its defense tremendously under the guidance of head coach Stan Van Gundy, who is as responsible for the emergence of this team as the continued development of Dwight Howard. The Magic’s weakness in this series could prove to be the shakiness and often bone-headed play of its guards.

Toronto, on the other hand, has exasperated its fans by playing inconsistent ball and failing to improve after winning last season’s Atlantic Division title, and Coach of the Year for Sam Mitchell. Injuries to Bosh and Ford are part of the reason for the drop off, but it seems to me that this team is not as together as they were last year. Still, they have the capability to give Orlando problems, and as a team, shoots threes with about the same accuracy as the Magic, somewhere around 40 percent.

On the surface, I guess most will say this will be the least exciting of the playoff match ups. But I think viewers who do decide to tune in—outside of course, those homers who are just happy to join the playoff party—will get an exciting series between these two second-tier teams. No, this isn’t the “sexy” series with all the hype surrounding the games being played in Western Conference, and yes both teams can frustrate when they don’t play to the level of their talent. But watching Dwight dominate in the post and Hedo hit those daggers from beyond the arc, and Stan Van Gundy pull his hair out while every drop of blood in his body rushes to his face, is going to be worth the price of the ticket.

The series will go 6 tight games, with Orlando coming out on top.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Good Night, Mr. Mourning

I had planned another kind of post today, but it will wait. This one’s for ‘Zo. 

Being a D.C. girl, I loved watching the Georgetown Hoyas. Big John Thompson always had quality centers that he coached and mentored from freshman year through to their professional careers in the NBA. Their claim to fame was as fierce defenders and shot blocking fools. I sat in “Rejection Row” a couple of times and watched these guys frustrate their opponents time and again. Patrick Ewing, Deke Mutombo, and Alonzo Mourning epitomized basketball “warrior” to me. 

So, when these guys went into the NBA, I was an instant fan of their respective teams. I loved to watch the sweat pour from Pat’s face until there were puddles on the floor whenever he stood still long enough for the water to accumulate. And Deke’s finger wag always cracked me up. (I used to use it on dates, but that’s a story for another post.) And I remember him laid out on the court holding the ball in pure joy when the Nuggets upset the Sonics in that first round series of the ‘94 playoffs. But, of those centers Alonzo was my favorite. Dude was a crazy shot blocker. He didn't have the finger wag but you could just see the uncertainty in the eyes of a guy thinking about going to the rack. 'Zo instilled fear.

So when Alonzo came to Miami as new coach Pat Riley’s big acquisition, I was an instant fan of the Miami Heat. I anguished right along with the team in the intense battles with the Knicks, and shed a tear or two that year they lost to Jordan’s Bulls. I worried like he was my brother when I learned of ‘Zo’s kidney ailment.  I was so proud of his miraculous come back from a kidney transplant.  And when the Heat won the championship in '06, I think I felt most for Alonzo. After all he'd been through, it was great to see him hug that trophy.

I won’t “tribute-ize” ‘Zo, that’s been done very well here. But I will say, after seeing him refuse to be carted off the court on a stretcher, for what might be his last day in a Heat uniform, that I realize that it was Alonzo Mourning that made me love the Heat, made this team my team. Miami and South Florida is better for his presence as a player and a man.  Thanks, 'Zo.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Passion or Obsession?

A good friend asked me recently why I love to watch basketball so much.  I watch games, or at least portions of games, about three or four days a week; some games more closely than others.  As a Miami Heat fan, I attend as many games at the American Airlines Arena as I can without going broke to do it (game ticket + parking + drink and snacks can get quite expensive).   I get up in the morning and while having my morning coffee, I'm reading about the previous night's games--the very games I sat up all night watching!  My friend wondered if I might not be celebrity obsessed.  I certainly can understand the question.  

I'm not an athlete, though I did play the game on the playground when I was young.  A good friend and I were the only girls on the court with a bunch of the neighborhood boys.  I possessed a decent jump shot, was money from the foul line, and as a 5'7" ten year old, I was big enough to give the guys my age some trouble down low.  But, as puberty hit, my love of sports changed from participant to observer.  Maybe it was social pressure, but I'm not so sure. I think that it was the fact that there just wasn't much in the way of organized basketball for girls in those days.  I bring this up just to show that my love for the game today doesn't come from playing it as much as it does from appreciating the beauty of the game from the stands.

Given that, my questioner wondered why I didn't follow college basketball as much as the NBA. Or, for that matter, why I don't follow the WNBA as much as the NBA.  Her obvious point being that if I "truly loved" the game, I'd be just as interested in the collegians as I am in the pros.  I'd watch the women as well as the men, if it was really "the game" that held my rapt attention, she argued.  All good points.  So, here's where she asserted that my passion for the pro game had more to do with living in a celebrity obsessed culture and being "sucked into" the manufactured drama that is today's "athlete as celebrity", and less to do with a genuine passion for the sport.  

Now, I could wax poetic about the grace and artistry of the athlete in motion. It truly is a beautiful thing to watch.  I could also argue that the pace and finesse of the men's pro game is far more exciting than the women's and the amateur's.  The intensity and the competitive fire that is a part of every NBA game; the strategy of the coaches and the players' ability to both follow that strategy and freelance when it breaks down; the joy when my favorite team wins and the anguish I feel when they lose.  All that is part of why I enjoy witnessing these young men try to throw that orange pebbled ball into that hole suspended ten feet in the air.   But...

We're living in a period where entertainers are "celebrated" as much for their lifestyles as for the talents they use to entertain us.  We're fascinated with the cars they drive, the "cribs" they live in, and the clothes and jewelry they wear.  We fantasize about being like them (remember the "Be like Mike" Gatorade commercial?). Our sports heroes are "sold" to us through carefully crafted peeks into their personal lives and life styles, so as to make us believe we "know" them and can relate to them, and more importantly, so that we buy the products they endorse.  When the question was asked of me, I was forced to examine my motivations and my attachment to this sport and to this particular aspect of the culture I live in.  

I've worked hard in my adult years to try to rid myself of what I consider the negative aspects of western culture.  Patriarchy, materialism, classism, racism, white supremacy, homophobia, sexism--all the "isms" that I think get embedded in our psyches from infancy--form the basis of the differential treatment of human life.  It tells us implicitly which lives are more valuable than others.  I've tried to make sure that I don't contribute to these "isms"; that I recognize when they are in effect in my day to day living, and I fight for my right to live free of them. That work continues and I've accepted the fact that it will probably never end.  I recognize that I must constantly examine my belief systems to make sure that I relate to others in ways that reflect this work.  

As uncomfortable as it is to admit, I recognize that some of my attraction to following all that is the NBA has to do with the celebrity aspect of the athletes that play the game.  I'm fairly certain that that's not all of it; I really do love witnessing the competition and I know more about the game of basketball than a casual fan.  For instance, I love watching the Spurs play the game.  In my opinion, they are currently the best example of how the game of basketball should be played. And they are considered by most fans of the NBA as the most boring team because of their perceived lack of "personality". I know my passion for the game is real, and not just about a fascination with celebrity.  But I also know that I have to "check myself" when I find that I am more interested in the players than the game. 

I'm curious to hear what you think. 

Friday, August 10, 2007


Okay, so what's going on in the NBA these days? I know it's the dog days of summer; a time when NBA players are trying to stay out of the news (except Kobe), relax with their families, and work on their games to bring some new skill set to the court next season. In the meantime, we fans hang out on the blogsites (Slamonline!) and pontificate about off season trades, draft pick studs and duds, and any juicy gossip we run across about our favorite players. But this summer, something rather strange is going on. First, there was the (melo)drama of Kobe calling out Laker management and screaming for a trade. Then there was the exposure of an NBA referee possibly officiating games in a way to benefit "the mob", and (gasp) prove Mark Cuban right. Now, we have several last-era players attempting to come out of retirement and add quality shooting (and muscle = Charles Oakley) to squads who are lacking this valuable commodity. I'm not sure what I find more troubling--retired players unable to let go of their past glory, or the fact that the skill level of my beloved league is in such a sad state that the stars of yesterday need to return from the golf course to show these new school cats how it's done.

The 2005-2006 season was so exciting, especially for me as a Heat fan. There was increased competition between the conferences. The new kids on the block--DWade, LeBron, Melo, Bosh, JHoward, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and others were moving to the forefront as the new stars of the league. And in May and June of that year we witnessed one of the most competitive post seasons in decades. This time last year, fans of the NBA were riding high on the promise of a bright future for the league. Then came the 2006-2007 season and the "new ball" fiasco, injuries to many teams' star players, and then an underwhelming, yawn-inducing post season. Does this "summer of the comeback" and "rogue officials" portend the beginning of a downward spiral in the quality of the game I'm so passionate about? Man, I hope not.

I'm still looking forward to the start of the new season. But with equal parts excitement and anxiety.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


I want to hate on Maurice Williams. For making the Heat squirm while awaiting his decision, and for choosing the money over the potential to win a championship. I know I'm probably giving the Heat too much credit to believe that one point guard can put this team back on the path to the 2008 NBA Finals. I mean, Mo ain't Jason Kidd. But that's what fans do: they believe the improbable.

The pundits are hatin' on Rashard Lewis. Again, for "taking franchise money" even when he obviously ain't franchise talent. The Magic will be fun to watch (I'm a big fan of Stan Van Gundy and believe he'll get the best out of the guys he's coaching), but they are still a 7 or 8 seed in the East even with the 110 million dollar man (and 80 million dollar boy).

Everybody's hatin' on Stevie "Franchise" Francis. How the hell did he get a $30 million buy out of a $33 million contract. What, is the Portland franchise that stupid? Buy outs are supposed to be "pennies on the dollar", right? Dude hasn't played that well since his 2nd or 3rd season in the league, and now he'll probably get 2-3 million dollars more to not play for another team, probably Houston.

When you get right down to it, though, I'm extremely happy for the player who can convince team ownership to overpay for the talent they employ. Recognize the NBA as the corporation that it is. Most owners of NBA teams also own other multimillion dollar companies. In fact, the teams are their side business in many cases. The team is just one of the entities that they invest in for profit. These men are worth 10 times the salaries they pay the players. These folks also will own these teams for decades, and in some cases generations, having acquired them from their daddies and in turn plan to pass them down to their sons (and daughters). The NBA team is a 401(K) for these guys, paying annuities to them and their heirs. The earning potential of a player in this game is what, 5-7 years on average? And if, as I suggest in a previous post, they have not really been prepared to pursue another career path, they will leave the workforce at around age 30-33. Think about that for a second--they will have to provide for themselves and their families for another 40 or 50 years off of the money they've earned over a 10 year (and that's being generous) period. The point is that the earning potential for an NBA player is a LOT shorter than the earnings over the life of an NBA team owner and his heirs.

So, no way am I going to begrudge Williams, Lewis, Francis or Carter the "overpayment" they received on recent contracts. They should be able to provide for their heirs too, since their performance on the basketball court helps take care of generations of Paul Allens, Richard De Voses, Jerry Busses, Mickey Arisons, Herb Kohls, James Dolans, etc., etc,

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

C'Mon, Mo. It's South Beach!

We should learn today (or not) whether Mo Williams wants to play for a title with Shaq and DWade or if he wants an extra $10 million to play in cold, desolate-assed Milwaukee. Okay, Milwaukee may be nice, with great restaurants and the arts (who knew?), but it's not South Beach, man! Besides, he can sign with the Heat for five years with the final two years a player's option. That way, when Shaq's ginormous contract is off the books Mo can opt out and re-sign for more dollars. Sound like a plan?? C'mon, Mo. It's South Beach, man. More media exposure, a chance at a chip or two or three, and remember Florida has no state tax. I'll buy my MoWil jersey tomorrow.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Oh, the irony...

It was a weird day. June 28, 2007 and I’m looking forward to the NBA draft and all the craziness that goes down between teams, with trades—you take this guy for me and I’ll take that guy for you—unexpected picks, and always a few WTFs in there, too. Even when watching on TV you can feel the nervous energy in the room running through both players and their families and friends. This year, I couldn’t wait to hear who Atlanta would select with the 3rd and the 11th pick. That’s a team whose fans have truly suffered through some horrendous years and strange draft picks and trades. I was hoping that this would be the year that the team would finally select the right players to add to a young talented squad led by Joe Johnson and the high-flying Josh Smith. A low post player (Al Horford) and a play-making point guard (Acie Law IV) would certainly have the potential to round out this Hawks team and finally bring some excitement to the ATL. And of course there’s the Heat, my favorite team. Who will Riley and Pfund select with the 20th pick to inject some youth into this geriatric, uninspired team? Will a point guard with the ability to be a rotation player this year, be available? Or how about one of the talented wing players; would one of them for whatever reason drop down to number 20? So many questions to be answered on that night.

So, while I’m watching the preliminaries on ESPN, I’m doing my usual flipping back and forth to the news channels—CNN, Link TV, MSNBC—and I see scrolling at the bottom of the screen that the Supreme Court, in their final decision to end this year’s court session, has voted 5-4 to effectively bring to an end the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which more than 50 years ago sought to end segregation in public schools. The landmark decision which held the promise of quality education for every child and the subsequent opening of economic opportunities previously afforded only to whites. The decision given in the two cases—Parents Involved in Community Schools Inc. v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County (Ky.) Board of Education—brought to an end two programs in Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky that attempted to maintain diversity in public high schools by using race as one of several factors to determine school assignments. In both cases, the school districts’ policies were intended to maintain integrated schools in the face of racially segregated neighborhoods.
(A good place to start for more thorough analysis of the decision and it’s potential impact:

You know that little head drop to your chest that you do when a player on the opposing team drops a 3 on your team right at the buzzer to win the game? Do you know that feeling? Do you? That’s exactly what I felt when I heard this decision. Well, I’ll be damned!

So, I turn back to the draft coverage and Portland is on the clock and we all know who’s gonna be the pick and I am so happy for Greg Oden and his family and damn, this shit is really sinking in now. These young men and their families are but 60 of the thousands and thousands of kids and their families that have hoop dreams because they’ve really had very little choice but to dream of athletic success. Many come from neighborhoods in the U.S. urban centers whose public schools have been de facto segregated for the past two decades, with very poor resources, over-crowded classrooms, over-worked teachers and administrators, dilapidated facilities, and the general malaise of the politicians mandated to do something about this reality. What kind of education can possibly go on in such conditions? What kind of opportunities can kids attending these schools dream about? No child left behind. Really?

Then the irony hits—this year’s draft was the first one after the League’s decision to force youngster’s to wait one year after graduating high school to enter the draft, the stated assumption being that these players would spend at least one year in college. I won’t argue here the pros and cons of the league’s decision. I’ll save that for another post. But what seems significant to me is the fact that the reasoning behind this decision by the league has more to do with “seasoning” a player—so that the “quality” of the NBA product doesn’t decrease—than it does with any concern that the player benefit from the educational environment that attendance at one of the nation’s colleges or universities presents, and indeed critics (particularly those administrators and coaches from the collegiate ranks) have argued that this decision is bad, very bad for college sports programs. Coaches know that the most talented kids will only play one year for the program before bolting for the NBA, making these coaches in essence assembly-line foremen, recruiting the next young talent to keep their programs winning. And though I am sure there are some who are committed to getting a degree, how many of these young men really commit themselves to furthering their education, when the education they’ve received to this point hasn’t equipped them with the basic tools necessary to compete in college classrooms?

So, I’m watching the NBA draft on June 28, 2007 and I hear some talking head go on about
Morris Almond of Rice University and that he’s a senior and he is a little too old (!) and too close to his prime and that he shouldn’t have stayed in school so long and he’s truly a “student-athlete” and somehow that’s a bad thing because it “dropped his stock”. WTF!! What’s wrong with this picture, when a young man can’t have “hoop dreams” and “degree dreams” at the same time? It was a weird day.