I think you're crazy, just like me

I'm surprised I haven't seen more about this, but only Truehoop (May 5--handling biz) and the Hartford Courant (May 21--late pass) seem to have picked up on ESPN's story about Adidas reissuing Kobe's signature shoes as the Crazy's instead of the Kobe's. Initially, that seemed too funny to actually be true, but upon further reflection, that shit is pretty unprofessional, an internal joke taken too far. We all know Kobe's got issues, but for his former shoe company to publicly question his sanity is on some petty ex-girl shit. Darren Rovell posits that Kobe is changing his number to 24 because Adidas is marketing the shoes formerly known as KB8's as Crazy 8's. That seems too trivial to have really played a part in his decision, but if so--Kobe, you're too strong for that, homie. Shake off these haters and do you.

I just bought some new Rod Lavers yesterday, but from here on out, I'm boycotting Adidas.

Drop you off in the middle of fire

So the Phoenix Suns oragnization has cooked up this five-alarm, pistols-drawn flash intro to celebrate their victory last night. I'll let better informed citizens bicker over which city, Phoenix or Dallas, is less qualified to lay claim to a Wild West motif, but it seems to me that some PR people made some crucial missteps in handing out the parts on this one. Let's just say they had me at "yee-haw!":

The "Wanted" Mavs:

Dirk, "The Desperado": How is this a bad thing? A dashing, feared, envied, nothing-to-lose, anti-hero out to go down in a blaze of glory? The Eagles might even be a step up from Hasslehoff.

Josh Howard, "The Bandit": Generally, I'd think this would goofy praised heaped upon a defensive stud.

Jason Terry, "The Trespasser": Weird, petty, reinforces my suspicions that he looks like a child molestor. Plus this seems to admit that the Suns are having problems with him.

The men who triumphed in the "shootout" ("uzi drive-by" seems more accurate for this team, but whatever):

Steve Nash, "The Sheriff": Team leader, fine. Hardly the law and order type, more the kind of guy making up the rules as he goes along than their enforcer. I guess "frontier justice" has an element of that to it, but Nash shouldn't have an office for what he does. Maybe the wilderness of the break, ad hoc authority of a posse head. . .

Raja Bell, "The Sharpshooter": I've said enough about him already. Given his image make-over these playoffs, and what he supposedly represents for this team, shouldn't he be "The Sheriff?"

Shawn Marion, "The Wrangler": Would work for him on defense, but the photo has him dunking, unguarded, presumably on the break. Plus everyone else is fighting crime while he's fucking around with cows. No respect.

Leandro Barbosa, "The Gunslinger": Perfect. Sidenote: anyone who likes the players I do but recognizes the original sin of the term "gunner" should seriously consider investing in this classification and all it stands for.

Mike D'Antoni, "The Marshal": I guess. Hierarchy-wise, it's all that makes sense. Though I'd go with "The Eccentric Millionaire buying up real estate before anyone knew why."

PS: I am not going to drop this, despite the fact that I understand that every team has five players on it and most great centers have had HOF'ers around them. It's about the kind of players they are/were/are supposed to have been and the same assessment of whom they had riding shotgun.


It ends here

Fuck what you heard. This is not Raja Bell's playoffs; contrary to what some too-clever smurf at ESPN.com would have you believe, he is not its face. If anything, he's the inoffensive placeholder at the heart of a raging picaresque, the innocent bystander who happened to synch up well with a series of outrageous climaxes. There is nothing exceptional or significant about Bell the man or the player, despite his well-documented friendship with Kirilenko, and his ascent over the last few weeks has been a slap in the face of the League of Stars mentality so heartily on display this spring. He's the epitome of the phantom journeyman, who happens into the right situation once or twice in his career and lives to tell about down through the years. That anyone truly feels that Bell, and not Diaw, has been the key to the Suns' peculiar, spectral run, is a disgrace to all forms of basketball, especially the qualitative weirdness that the Phoenix practices. The media seems intent on fixating on Bell exactly because he stands for so much that the Suns seemingly neglect; I'm not going to downplay his usefulness, but he's hardly changing a game on either end, unless you think it's that team's responsbility to nod toward the old guard in the form of one man's chastening orthdoxy.

It's gone to dude's head, too. Maybe I heard this wrong, but I thought that going into half two he made some unecessarily ballsy comments about "some people not thinking I belonged in the game tonight"—"those people" being Magic. Even if Magic isn't the vox athleti that DLIC rightly observed Charles to be, you don't take the dire tone of voice when MAGIC FUCKING JOHNSON has merely questioned whether your injury is fully healed. It was mildly amusing when Bell sought to bludgeon Kobe into respecting him—brilliant strategy on TS's part, if you hadn't figured that out already. Basically staring down Magic, though, is straight clownish, something not even Artest would fuck around with. If he's supposed to uphold all that is righteous and fruitful about the blood and guts section of basketball's tradition ("do you wear #19 because of Willis Reed?"), Bell might want to watch where he swings that honor of his; otherwise, he's just a punk riding a wave of reactionary media yearning, one that doesn't get the difference between holding his own with the stars and disrespecting the sport that they, not him, have defined through their good acts.

(UPDATE: Okay, he just apologized. He really does generally seem like a good guy, even if his moment of vast exposure is annoying the hell out of me.)

I also wanted to address some concerns about my massive Suns post raised by Aug, our resident grouchy technician. Or at least the one that affects the way I do business in a daily way. The Suns do not regularly attack the rim with the same sense of purpose or indignation that other teams do. . . with the exception of Barbosa, the only remotely concrete touchstone I have for the experience of watching that team. When he can figure out how to play a relatively traditional role in their topsy-turvy basketball universe, Barbosa gangles about as a slasher, a scary offensive threat that actually allows me to find meaning in the Suns' seemingly endless stream of wonder. Plus this involvement varies inversely with the amount of time Bell's able to spend out on the court. Making it all the more appropriate that I now claim, somewhat tentatively: FREE LEANDRO!!!!!!!!!!

(UPDATE #2: Looks like everyone just loves kidding around with Raja Bell. I guess if Kenny and Charles are willing to bend over backwards for him, I have to. Right?)

A stunning reversal that needs you

You can chalk this up to the middling desperation of witnessing the NBA season dwindle down to a mere four teams. Or a need to make these rounds as distinctly viewable as the early ones were, since even I can't justify turning away from any sort of Finals. But what you are about to hear could very well uproot the light rails upon which FreeDarko dogma doth glide, and I want you to all prepare yourself to suddenly question my existence. Without further ado, then, some quixotic thoughts from several quarters worth of off-hand Heat/Pistons watching.

a. A moment for everything

I want to insist here that I am not going back on any number of seering things I've written in the past regarding Dwyane Wade. I still could not give less of a fuck about his destylized rapier of a game, and think his execution as drained of flare as any explosive off-guard I've ever seen. But in the playoffs, he most definitely is someboday. It was only last week that I recalled how swept away I was by his demolition of the Pistons in '05; flourish or no flourish, serpent or not, his ruthless effectiveness is enthralling when, well, success really means something. The law of playoff basketball is that nothing comes easy, that the situation is itself is an invisible barrier against regular season entitlement. Yet while even LeBron had to fight to put up his customary numbers against the Pistons, Wade is demolishing the most hallowed defense in the land. Shaq figures into this equation, yes, but on an experiental level, there's nothing quite like seeing Wade splinter and raze the very Detroit figures we're used to classifying as "defensive menace"—despite being very much the focus of their efforts.

b. The hunter sings

Wade during the regular season can often seem disingeuously flat. In the Playoffs, though, he not only shows raw emotion and the ability to seeth (and bitch about calls as much as anyone); he's overflowing with enthusiasm, love of the game, all that shit lacking not only in Duncan but also sometimes in the most performative of basketball souls. Call it a telling bit of gee-whiz reflection, but more often not it's a jolt that threatens to dislodge all of his style's bloodless connotations. What this means to me is that Wade is not the orderly soldier or Arenas-like underdog many want him to be, nor the kind of unchained seraph I expect of my mega-stars. Plain and simple, he's a regular dude with an upbeat attitude and an untrammeled feeling (and feel) for the sport, the sort of personality that very rarely coincides with his level of athletic ability. There's not the same walking clinic vibe you so often get from Duncan, or the tacky bouts of Rick Ross-ness that usually come with non-swoll-headed players in this league; Wade dominates and he knows it. Even today, though, he's still that star on a mid-major, killing cats with ease but keeping it all in perspective. All that energy that can, and maybe should, go to his ego and individuality instead goes to passion for being there at all, the game he loves, the fact that he stands around Shaq every day. I can't really speculate as to why it only shines out in these later months, but don't expect to hear me complain about Wade's demeanor until next season.

c. I weep when I prosper

Lastly, I really don't want to dwell on this, but I felt kind of bad for the Detroit last night. Though there's supposed to be no sympathy in sports, I forget just how much I liked a lot of these Pistons before they were a new century dynasty, or even the scrappy mirage that came from beneath. I don't want to watch them anymore, but the Wallaces and Billups, at least, deserve better than a sub-par postseason showing that'll leave them open to all sorts of off-season questions about their worth.

Also, maybe Brick can help me on this one: the San Antonio area doesn't seem to realize that its team got knocked out. Still flags and shirts everywhere, a sort of ominous "you're all just renters on our seasonal turf" feeling to it all.

Sloth + Pride

While Bethlehem Shoals whittled away in West Texas over the past few days, the rest of us did little to pick up the slack for him. Some of us have legitimate excuses, like the four of us who traveled overseas to attend the grueling Andrea Bargnani pre-draft workouts/psychological tests. Others, like myself, well I'm just damn busy. I haven't eaten a decent meal in weeks and caught all too little of the second round. That doesn't mean I'm not gonna take the time, on behalf of all Timberwolves fans from Cloquet to Mapleton, to tell you when I'm right . On some T-Mac premature shit, you say? Perhaps, but right now, I'm sticking with what I said in November:

But there is one thing, one overlooked element that should be the hallmark of Larry Brown's career. One thing that LB is capable of doing that not Flip or any other coach has done before: He knows how to stop teams who have Shaq. Larry is Kryptonite. (Note that Popovich doesn't count here because he was playing with TWO hall of fame centers in 03, and weren't both Shaq and Kobe a bit injured or something? Weren't they?). LB's 2001 Game 1 Finals victory over the Lakers may have been his greatest achievement ever. That Sixers team sucked and everyone knew it. Then, in 04, The Pistons shoved it down the Lakers' throats, with steady Shaq-harrassment coming from Elden Campbell, Big Ben, Sheed, and even Big Nasty. And last year, even with Shaq promising South Beach a championship and hungrier than ever, LB had Diesel looking like Shazaam

This may ultimately be the reason that the Pistons will miss both Brown, and the Finals. Flip and so many other coaches fail in these monumental tasks, because unlike Larry, they are followers and not leaders. During the Wolves/Lakers WCF series in 04, Flip pulled out some gawd-awful Mike Dunleavy-circa-Brian Grant on the Blazers shit and made Shaq go to the free throw line 30 times a game. Shaq hit them when they counted, Kobe, Kareem Rush, and Devean George got involved, and the Lakers won handily. Larry defied convention, and instead learned how to annoy the hell out of Shaq, still let him get HIS, but annoy him to death...

Editors note: Forgot to mention that LB also coached and won the famous 1995 Indiana/Orlando Rik Smits "swish" game against Shaq & co. Trust me, Shaq wants NO PART of LB.


The future belongs to others

If last year's Phoenix Suns had a more pronounced effect on attitudes around the Association, it was only because the '06 edition is so far ahead of its time. I've never thought it would be cute to call a basketball team "avant-garde," but here the cap fits the daughter; watching that game last night, I finally realized just how revolutionary this squad is. Not for the utter dependance on the three, the undersized line-up, the utter aversion to the static low post, or any of the superficial innovations that the rest of the league has, quite rightfully, been hesitant to adopt in the past. The Suns, like LeBron, are twisting up all the time and space nonsense that's become a given in the art of this sport. But while James forces these laws to collapse, allowing him access to normally contradictory qualities at a whim, the Suns don't even acknowledge the game. Weightless, ghostly, awesome in their ability to pull points out of thin air without any evident effort, the Suns are barely even playing basketball as we know it.

I've said enough on the Nash/Amare/Marion/Q/Joey Johnson team to bloat a thousand corpses, but their central lesson was that an overstuffed offensive machine could succeed if everyone got along. Say what you will about their reliance on Nash's ingenuity, or relative exile of Q and JJ to beyond the arc; the break keyed that team, yet their completeness and complexity as a unit was what made them so hard to contain for a full forty-eight. They scored a ton by playing basketball at a highly accelerated pace, executing as a blur that was as likely to explode as it was gracefully dissolve.

Minus #1 and their wayward wingmen, however, the Suns no longer had that option. Rather than beat basketball at its own game through sheer speed, creativity, and athleticism, D'Antoni now refused to even acknowledge the physical and psychological rules of NBA engagement. Watching them now is like a game-long exercise in the much-beloved "pull out the chair" defense, as the opposition grasps to figure out exactly what it is that goes in the Suns' collective brain during a possession. In last night's loss, it wasn't just that they had a chance to win with forty seconds left—to a man, they really didn't even seem to recognize that things had come down to the wire. Likewise, the dramatic dunks that Marion is wont to conjure up are much more significant for what they don't do; it's almost as if he, and the Suns fans, are mocking simplistic squads who depend on such cheap, primitive cues to get their offensive juices flowing. We've all heard every single announcer on earth point out that it's the three-pointer that really gets their home crowd inspired. Until yesterday, this sounded to me like the utmost curse of weakness and abstraction. Now, I'm convinced that it's proof of what the Suns are: a rational team in a fundamentally irrational sport.

So much of NBA ball rests on certain prized assumptions: control the boards, don't be afraid to penetrate, establish an offensive presence in the post, get stops to assert control of the game, clamp down in the final moments, get in your opponent's head, exploit mismatches to create points or opporunities for them, acknowledge positions, get to the line whenever possible, value the clock, etc. Most of these are either myth or depend on having like-minded foes on your plate. The Suns, however, simply could not give a fuck less about any of these. They play like a bunch of preschoolers on the soccer field, or a hoard of profligate gymnasts auditioning for a celebrity game of HORSE. Some commentors on here and friends over my phone have professed admiration for Phoenix's "elegance" and "crispness." Seriously though, I often feel like I'm watching a shootaround; there's only incidental attention paid to the defense and, even then, it's mostly only treated as an annoyance buried deep in Nash's/D'Antoni subconscious. Diaw and Marion ping-pong around the court at will, sometimes taking advantage of their ability to humble anyone on the floor, mostly just throwing up shots whenever they get a remotely clear look.

Is this such a bad thing, though? The Suns have, in essence, decided that the culture of basketball isn't worth their trouble. And from a Moneyball-ish perspective, it kind of isn't. Phoenix wins not against the odds, but because they just don't care about the distractions that make basketball, especially playoff basketball, what the gatekeepers of myth so prize it to be. It's not just that they're really fast or productive—the Suns aren't fast as a sign of utter determination, or productive as a way of blowing the opposition out of the water (as they were last year).

I hate having to do this, but I can't help but thinking that the Suns deconstruct the value of the time and space-related labels I began this post by talking about. They're redefining winning basketball without acknowledging that they're flying in the face of convention; small, fast, limited in what parts of the court they can hold down, full of "tweeners," in love with the three and unorthdox spacing, they never seem interested in proving their critics wrong by turning these "weaknesses" into "strengths" within the conventional framework of the game, making us recognize them as valid means to an accepted end. Instead, they go out and do their thing nightly, and leave it up to their baffled opponents to figure out if the rest of the Association should follow suit.

That said, they're still losing to Dallas in seven.


Dreams to remember

The reason I haven't jumped to my own defense is that I'm taking care of some other business, business that has rendered me semi-incapable of viewing or caring about the playoffs. It's called driving across Texas when you're sick and ending up somewhere that's about to slide into the Third World at any moment. I both fear and respect this open referendum on my awful influence, but would invite everyone to take into account what a trifle FreeDarko began as. Then again, I think we believed this stuff much more ardently before defending it on the regular suddenly became one of speaking's preconditions.

It's also all my fault for there being no McSweeney's this week. I have two semi-shitty drafts that probably should, at some point in the near future, be loosed upon the interwebs. For now, though, I wanted to chime in briefly on the central theme of one, which I believe someone already touched on in the comments: fuck Shaq. He clearly needs an HOF-caliber guard by his side to seriously contend, and I'd hardly call his dependance on Wade' budding internal megaphone "proving the Lakers wrong." Yes, he's older, and no, I'm not claiming that he's not decisively valuable to any serious effort to capture a title. But Kobe's proven he can compete without him (how impressive does that near-upset look now?), as did Wade in last year's playoffs. And scary as Shaq is/was, we forget so readily that Jordan, master of them all, was the unquestioned ruler of his team as a guard. That Shaq couldn't deal with first acknowledging an coequal partner in grown Kobe, and then taking on the 1-A role himself in LA, suggests that his ego is every bit as impractically monsterous and unwieldy as TS's.

Who's to say that, were Wade not such a stone gentleman, we wouldn't have seen an accelerated version of this scenario from the minute he touched down in Miami? Does anyone believe for a second that Wade only suddenly discovered his own greatness in the postseason? Or, rather, is it any coincidence that he did so sans Shaq? Centers always need guards to emerge victorious from the frays that count, but Shaq's good fortune to have been paired up with such absolute fucking studs has to compromise his apodictic standing in bedtime story version of the league's history.

The better Kobe or Wade gets, the more championships they win, the more Shaq's reputation suffers. We've been taught to understand centers in terms of the Wilt/Russell dichotomy: Wilt, the freak of nature whose sheer presence was his best ally and worst enemy, and Russell, the consummate winner whose play was the essence of those twelve zillion Celtics titles. As his two "sidekicks" continue to excel, Shaq seems to drift more and more toward Wilt: breathtaking component in a dynasty, but not the man who himself willed it to exist.

PS: I think we all know who the wild card is in this discussion.

ADDENDUM: This is wildly lame, and I like most of you am too busy watching an actual basketball game to bother with this. But I've decided that my initial post really doesn't make much sense without this long comment/response to a comment I left earlier today. Consider it FreeDarko's first-ever appendix, and please read it if the initial post led you to doubt the reason I live.

People: I know who Bob Cousy is. I know about Oscar/Alcindor. But with Shaq, it's been assumed that life as the franchise was the center's to lose. And remember, conventional wisdom doesn't merely hold that Shaq was one of the finest centers ever: he's on the short list for MOST DOMINANT BASKETBALL PLAYER ever. This is what's fuelled his identity in the league, and what he and others have used to mount the smear campaign against Kobe.

Cousy was a point guard and Russell wasn't an unstoppable offensive force. Robertson was old and had toned it way down by the time he hooked up with Alcindor. Wilt on the Lakers was looking to blend in. None of these involve an "absolutely unguardable big man" . . .with an absolutely unguardable off-guard taking the heat off of him.

I remember young Shaq, and i'm not really going to put Penny into this conversation. But for damn's sake, his legacy rests on his rings, and his role in the postseason has always been understood as "no way to gameplan for him, no way to guard him, nothing to do but sacrifice lives for the cause." Aren't these things as true of Wade or Kobe? Who's to say that they weren't when, because of Shaq's performance, they didn't explicitly dominate the ball as much?

Shaq is thought of as bigger than the team, which is a strange thing to say about someone who has a teammate nearly as good as him. And it makes it difficult to say whether this delusion was intended to stabilize the order of a team or keep his myth at its apex.


Non-expiring viola clause

Fittingly, I got hit with a backhoe of a head cold right as these Conference Finals snapped into place. So no immediate reaction post (I had none, anyway), and no sympathetic boasting first thing this morning. I come to you with one simple plea, and if you don't want to hear, you can press rewind.

Yesterday as I was driving through some rain, it finally dawned on me what I need from the NBA. Style is too precarious a calling card, while psychology runs the risk of seducing us away from the basketball aspect of it all. I'm not foresaking these two FreeDarko trademarks; merely observing that, as ways of life, they sometimes leave me feeling vulnerable and afraid. Vulnerable to too valid accusations, afraid that I can willfully neglect too much of the sport, or go too long without watching a game, because of the yoke of principle I've so sinlessly settled myself into.

All I want, all I've ever wanted, is to have some fun. This may sound strange, coming from a man whose blog has, in many ways, remade basketball fandom in the image of grad school. But I want to be clear here: the part of higher education that's ever affected me is the "scream at other smart people with some delightfully frivolous, outlandishly thoughtful ammo and realized that the joke is in the joy" aspect, not the "sit in the library and cook up something airtight, insular, and lifeless" deal. At the same time, I've always been repulsed by the martial, or at least militia-like, quality of so much sports watching. I don't feel love or positive happiness when (if) a Democrat takes down some scum of the earth Republican—spiteful pride, rage to conquer, and a vague sense of responsbility, but not the sense that something beautiful is being created before my very eyes. The worst thing about the whole "sports as war" conceit isn't that it's disrespectful to our troops (they really could care less), but that it reduces what should be a celebratory contest to the bottom line of grim domination.

(Tyra apparently just told a story about dropping a popsicle on the floor in front of Shaq, who encouraged her NOT to eat it).

And so, with this sizzling lasso in hand, I turn to the field of the remaining NBA Playoff entrants:

Pistons: not evil, but not much fun. Big Ben is a folk hero, Chauncey a soldier, Sheed's Sheed, but no one to make you smile on the court.

Heat: Wade is most def not fun, Shaq's pursuit of a Kobe-less title is the great downer that no one wants to talk about, the rest of that roster breathes "bummer."

Suns: The form of fun, but none of the vitality that made last year's squad such a monster of the heart. Maybe a little too perfect, maybe too crisply executed. . . I just doubt the presence of any real feeling. Nash has flashes, and if Barbosa and Diaw got a cognitive clue I could be into them. Watching them, though, it's all too basketball-y for me.

Dallas: Where it looks like my loyalties will rest for the next couple weeks, and not only because of Lady Shoals (who, incidentally, was nearly browbeaten into writing a post on Mavs fever because she knows things about Dallas that I never, ever will). Let's look at the breakdown, shall we:

-Dirk: Seven foot German who plays like an educated liquid giraffe.
-Jason Terry: Looks like an eighty year-old murder suspect
-Stackhouse: Epitomizes the Mavs' When We Were Kingz ethos, still makes a lot of the shots that he doesn't realize his body won't let him go for anymore
-The Little General: Says things like (loosely quoted): "fear doesn't even enter the equation. When we signed on for this, it didn't say 'only when the shots are falling' or 'when winning is easy.' This is what it's all about, the struggle, the hardship. We live for this. You're talking to a guy who got cut on Christmas day." I don't know why I find him positively irresistible, despite him being as Popped up and Spurred out as they come. Maybe it's the same way that white fundamentalists disgust me but I'm willing to at least tolerate black ones.
-Josh Howard: Four limbs taped to a hand grenade.
-Devin Harris: Tony Parker without the French or the stick shift.
-D-Diop: Those consecutive stops on Duncan were legendary.

So while my illness lingers, I am at least relatively confident that, beyond any sober analysis or binding labels like "high scoring" or "running team," the Mavs can give me at least a little of what I've felt slipping away from my fan experience these past few weeks: the sense that I am watching something slightly wacky, possibly wonderful, and almost irrationally contagious. We haven't talked about the Mavs much in the past, maybe because their cast of characters isn't the most obviously fecund and their style of play won't blind you with its ramshackle elegance. Watching them take out the Spurs, though, I did begin to notice why people can get behind this team: plain and simple, they make the idea of winning a championship fun again.


Smoke, Meet Steam

First, sobs all around. We'll have to wait another year for The New NBA to dawn in earnest. That said, I'm driving around West Texas for most of next week, and gutting this road trip to suit the Eastern Conference Finals would have been, to say the least, an inconvenience for all those involved.

I'm starting in on this early, at the end of the third, because I'm getting a disgustingly ripe smack of deja vu right across the face. These Cavs have done something remarkable, but in a seven-game series against a legit contendor they were bound to get definitively exposed at some point. They managed three remarkable games of molten courage, including wresting away home court advantage and giving themselves two chances to eliminate everyone's stolid pick to win it all. It was only a matter of time, though, before they came back to earth with a vengeance; you could argue that it began when they failed to take advantage of the Pistons' mistakes on Friday, or something about momentum and home court. But today, you're really seeing what it comes down to. Just as there was no way that Kobe et al. could really have ever expected to slay the Suns (making their squandering of 3-1 more forgivable), the Cavs simply aren't as good as the Pistons. A freakish upset would've been nice, but that nagging, sinking feeling you felt all afternoon was the realization that your dreams of James/Wade were living on borrowed time.

(Maybe this will also put to rest the whole "Kobe quit" controversy, since Our Lord and Savior didn't exactly put up the most sparkling second half numbers.)

As much as I'd wanted this over on Friday, this series kind of had to go seven. If LeBron was going to pull this off and steal the crown away from the Association's reigning favorites, it had to be certifiable. No goofy four game win streak that could just be more evidence that the very rhythms of the universe, or at least Stern and ABC, favor LeBron and all those who graze about him. Seven hard-bitten games could leave no mistake that the winner deserved it, whoever it ended up as. I'm also sure that, in some way, the Pistons having to go seven helped them recapture their forgotten grip on the postseason, which many of us had feared (or hoped, for a variety of reasons) lost in the wake of Flip's Campaign for Change. I've thought a couple of times over this past week that the Pistons and Spurs play their best when asked to in no uncertain terms close things out, as if they've figured out that only the final quarter or the risk of hittin' the planks are worth their energy. That either makes them objectionably arrogant gamblers, pioneers of efficiency and game theory, or the biggest narrative teases in the history of the Association's second season.

Many have said this already, but I think it's abundantly clear now that LeBron will have his day. Would we rather see it pulled off as an improbable, slightly uncomfortable and undeserved, feat of circumstance, or witness him trundle into battle with the army of proud, sturdy chariots befitting his legend? I'm all for as much James as possible, but watching the rest of the Cavs throw up brick after brick hardly makes me feel like it's the right thing for me—or him—at present time. The Pistons are mortal, the Cavs capable of rising to the occasion, and LeBron the unquestioned future of this sport. In next season's playoffs, I want be sure that it's Bron and the Cavs' worth, not the Pistons' flaws and occasional hubris, that make it a series. Spending three hours waiting for reality to come crashing down is hardly what I'd call an enjoyable viewing experience, and remember, LeBron-as-lovable-underdog is never going to sit right with me. Overcoming the odds is one thing, but LeBron James and dumb luck just don't belong in the same sentence.


And such a princely structure!

First off, let me eternally apologize for any lives scarred by my curt behavior following the first of the two virtually identical games that showed on ESPN last night. I have made no secret of the fact that I want the Cavs to win as badly as I've ever wanted anything in my accumulated time on earth, solely because of the apocalyptic fever that would result from James/Wade. At least as far as I was concerned, the intrinsic truth of basketball relations would now lead things in that direction; yesterday afternoon, I had that same feeling as when I realize that I've passed over something titanic in a record shop, and have to endure the formality of waiting for it to open up the next day. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized: I most certainly do want the Pistons making it hard for the The Man Who Would Be. Contrary to what some of our commentors (is it "commentators?" is this an exclusively FreeDarko issue?) may think, I don't want the entire league to be overrun by players whose great acts give me tingles. In fact, our gospel of style and mowing attitude is meaningless without its great counter-weights; without a test of FD's empirical merit, we might as well just be advocating all out And1-dom.

For everything bad I have said about the Spurs, Pistons, who in these playoffs are seeming more than ever like Riverwalk Midwest, they sure do a lot to make my appreciation of this league beat a little faster. Without their vaguely diabolical need to taunt much of what I hold dear, it would mean nothing to believe as I do; without them standing tall as implacable monuments to sacrilege, the exploits of our brave upstarts would be nothing more than entitlement's feet upon cake. It's no accident that I rejoice in the Pistons' losing touch with their regular season zeal, and gladly welcome the Suns into the fold of villinary. I seek not to insult this great sport, but to ensure that the very finite bunch that I choose to elevate above all others can be matched by worthy opponents—entities that play backwards and set my teeth on edge, such that ideology is never merely incidental to the rendering of wins and losses. I don't shit on certain teams and athletes because I lack respect for them. No, it is because I seek to make them as indestructible as those to whom I feel attached. If my criticism of them strikes you as petty, I swing low not out of cowardice but to avoid damaging the perfect visage of hate I have fashioned for them to wear!!!!!

The theory in this is transparent, and if you've all along believed me more concerned with hatred than goodness, it is because the two cleaveth not in my take on the the Assocation. As I prepare, sorely and wretchedly, for Sunday, I must consider the possibility that ultimate disappointment will but strengthen the joy within me.


Somebody Ought to Make an Effort Here

First off, if you haven’t yet read today’s earlier posts by DLIC and Burns please immediately scroll down and do so. I hate posting over them, but in a few hours the time to say this will have passed.

Now for some pleasantries before I indulge my inner-Mark Cuban. I spent the last week helping the kid sister move from Pomona College, which is, coincidentally, the first program ever helmed by Greg Popovich. I was without internet during this time, deprived of my beloved FreeDarko. I missed all of you.

This is where it gets ugly.

The Spurs will win tonight and they will win this series*. They will win because they have more grit and heart than the Mavericks. They will win because they are tough and the Mavs are not. I know that you’ve been led to believe otherwise. I know that you’ve been told that these Mavs are different than the old Mavs, but in the famed words of Papa Bear O’Reilly, “I’m not buying it.”

Four times in this series the Mavericks have possessed the ball in the final 15 seconds of the game in score or go home situations. In Game 1, Stackhouse panicked and got himself trapped in the corner before forcing up a shot that barely grazed the front of the rim. In Game 5, Jason Terry harmlessly lofted an air ball. These are the Mavs we’ve grown to know. The Mavs who collapse under pressure and forget that an intentionally missed free throw must at least draw iron. The Mavs who lose their composure and throw groin punches in key moments.

Unfortunately, you didn’t get a chance to see these Mavs when Games 3 and 4 hung in the balance. In Game 3 the Mavs were awarded 16 free throws, including the game winner, in the final six minutes. In Game 4 the Spurs held a two-point lead in the final 10 seconds. Presumably the Mavs would have to hit a big shot or at least attempt one, right? Nope. Dirk backed down Bowen and before he could even take a shot was awarded the free throws that sent the game into overtime. Bowen, aka Master Bruce, was showing his palms the entire time. I defy anyone to tell me this is a foul in the first quarter in December, much less in the last 10 seconds in May.

Perhaps this sounds like whining. Maybe it is, but I’ve read that whining breeds success. Besides, I tried to bite my tongue on this, I really did. But after Cuban and Avery insisted on playing the victim card in the wake of Game 5, I’m compelled to complain on behalf of my beloved Spurs since Pop refuses to. Cuban’s complaints about the JET suspension demonstrate a level of audacity not seen this side of the Bush administration, as the Mavs have been the beneficiary of every conceivable break in this series. To wit:

-Stern admitted the league made a mistake in scheduling the start of this series a mere 35 hours after the Spurs finished off the Kings in Sacramento. Think there’s any chance El Commish would’ve confessed this had the Spurs lost Game 1? Wouldn’t that be tantamount to admitting the league had given the Mavs a competitive advantage? And while the Spurs gutted that game out, they clearly had nothing left for Game 2 when the fresh, young Dallas legs ran them out in the series’ lone blow out (I had the misfortune of attending this game. On the bright side, I got to join 18,000 people in a “JAVIE SUCKS” chant, so I can at least cross that off my list of lifetime goals.)

-Dirk attempted 24 free throws in Game 3. Am I the only one who’s a little uneasy about a fade-away jump shooter getting to the line 24 times?

-The Spurs had to finish Game 3 without Duncan after Dirk stepped on his foot. In the final six minutes of the game the Mavericks made a whopping two field goals. Fortunately for them they also made 15 free throws during these final 6 minutes.

-The Spurs had to play the last 7 minutes (OT included) of Game 4 without Ginobili.

Admittedly, all of this would be irrelevant if Duncan is able to hit that hook at the end of regulation in Game 4. But that’s the point: baskets in the final ten seconds SHOULD be difficult. They should be earned, not gift-wrapped. We're surprised when Lebron is able to get layups in crunchtime. The ability to thrive in those fateful moments and produce hard fought buckets is what separates champs from contenders. Whistles should be swallowed for all but the most overt hack. And if you think this has anything to do with sheer Spur homerism, please recall that I also whole-heartedly supported the no-call when Bibby stripped Ginobili to set up Kev Mart’s memorable finish and that I complained about the cheap foul that set up Anthony Johnson’s game winning freebies in Game 1 of Nets-Pacers. The playoffs should be decided by the players, not by the refs, and most certainly not by Mark Cuban.

Now Cuban wants to claim that the poor Mavericks are being unfairly punished. Not only does he insist that Terry didn’t throw a punch despite the presence of conclusive video evidence to the contrary, but he claims the dastardly Finley delivered a “pile-driver” which prompted Terry’s non-punch. Somehow I missed Fin’s pile-driver. I also missed Ginobili’s guillotine leg drop and Bowen’s power bomb.

A punch is a punch is a punch. Especially when it’s a cock-punch.

And I’m absolutely convinced that this is something JET picked up from time spent with Bone Crusher.

Tonight, in a demonstration of true Dallas class, you’ll witness the entire American Airlines crowd booing Michael Finley. Finley, despite the eight good seasons he gave to Dallas and the significant role he played in turning perennial losers into constant contenders will be booed for two reasons. He will be booed because he was cut by a team he wanted to end his career with. He will be booed because his former teammate punched him in the sack.

Finley deserves better than this. He’s too solid, too professional, too Chicago.

I long ago came to terms with the fact that most of the media and the ENTIRE FUCKING BLOGOSPHERE hate the Spurs and continually root for their demise. Fine. Root for the Mavs. Root for another month of Mark Cuban making himself the center of attention. Root for a free throw exhibition, root for a German, root for Hasselhoff, root for cock-punching. But from the top of the Tower of the Americas, I proudly scream FREE MIKE FINLEY.

*Prediction null and void in the event that Javie, Joey Crawford or Jack Nies are involved.

He Is Here

Just yesterday, I alluded to my love/hate relationship with Sam Cassell, but after last night's post-game interview, he is solidified as one of my favorite players of all time. Before Mark Jones or whoever could get a word in to ask cliched questions about the play of Quinton Ross, the importance of a Game 7, "What did you do differently tonight," Sam yelled, "FIRST OF ALL, YOU GOTTA LOVE IT, BABY. YOU GOTTA LOVE IT." Like, everybody shut the fuck up for a second. Let's focus here. The Clippers, are going to play an important Game 7, and I'm taking time out to pause on that for just one second, in between countless shots of a bloated Billy Crystal and boring-ass soundbites from Raja Bell and Elton Brand about how they're finally getting time to shine on the big stage.

Sam Cassell is the most honest figure in the entire league. When the question about "What does Game 7 mean" came up, Sam again said, "YOU GOTTA LOVE IT BABY" and proceeded to tell dude that they were gonna have fun with it. Yes, that appeals to my most Benji sensibilities. Sam Cassell loves this game.

Not Too Weary to Throw the Hat Again

When the Pistons vanquished the mighty Lakers in 2004, I’d never been as happy for a team I didn’t particularly care to watch. A motley collection of players, all of whom had been written off at various points in their careers, wrestled the trophy away from the defending champs when many assumed that the finals served little purpose other than enabling ABC to fill their time slots with something other than Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place. While the Pistons’ victory affirmed the ravings of numerous crotchety old white men who pined for basketballs forgotten “right way,” it more significantly illustrated how a group of flawed individuals can work together to overcome their weaknesses and attain their highest goals. Yet as the Pistons seem to be abandoning the principles that made them so great in the first place, out west, the Mavericks are poised to rise like the 2004 champs, but in a far more entertaining way.

Like the Pistons, so many of the Mavericks are castaways, a collection of albatrosses shipped out from moribund franchises. Jerry Stackhouse embodied the spirit of selfishness and indifference towards team success in his disappointing days in DC; Jason Terry’s talent was overshadowed by his uselessness in leading the Hawks towards anywhere but irrelevance; in my first post to FD, I called Desagana Diop, “Jabba the Hut with legs”. Josh Howard, like Tayshaun Prince, was a celebrated college player that most thought would never amount to anything more than that. Even Dirk Nowitzki, a player that embodies both the promise of the Euro and empty promise of the Euro, was not long ago considered too soft and too limited defensively to ever lead a team to a championship. After dumping their celebrated big three (save for one critical piece), the Mavericks, much like the Pistons before them, gathered the sparest of spare parts, and fashioned a juggernaut.

The Pistons of today strut with arrogance and a sense of entitlement, carrying themselves as if they earned the title in January but the Mavericks walk the way of the Pistons of old. While writers would superimpose their own puritanical values on the Pistons, in 2004, they didn’t seem to be trying to embody or represent anything; they simply knew the gargantuan task ahead of them and achieved with quiet confidence, dignity, and single-minded determination. Similarly, the Mavericks understand the significance of each game in this series and how difficult and momentous it would be to finally overcome the Spurs along with their own personal demons. Yet if the Lakers ultimately rolled over for the Pistons in 2004, the Spurs have ceded nothing to the Mavericks. Nearly every possession of this series has featured two exceptionally talented teams playing to their strengths and at the peak of their respective games. While I certainly don’t consider myself a Spurs fan, only a fool would fail to see how good they are and what it takes to topple them. This series truly has been basketball, regardless of one’s aesthetic predispositions, at its highest level.

Yet the Mavericks/Pistons similarities end there. The Mavericks succeed with a great offense and a defense that, though much improved, is still not something to be relied upon against the Spurs. However, the Mavs’ offense could not differ more from the beautiful controlled chaos of the Suns. Every Mavericks basket symbolizes nothing less than a slap in the face of “right way” basketball proponents. For years, players like Dirk, Terry, and Stack have been maligned for exhibiting characteristics like “playing me-first basketball” and “needing the ball to score.” Yet before us stands a real team constructed of the kind of players once thought to be incapable of existing within that paradigm. The essence of their teamwork lies not within their seamless functioning as one unit, but in their ability to take turns taking over the game. No one of these semistars can dominate a game in its entirety, but each one can carry the load for a short period of time and then exhaustedly pass the fate of the team to the next eager performer. Other Mavericks teams of similar construction have ultimately failed because their players cared more about shining than winning (see Walker, Antoine). This team differs because while each of its players can assume the mantle of “the man,” they know they can only succeed when they take turns with it.

In a way, this year’s Mavericks have become the true underdog story, in contrast to the Pistons of 2004. Many writers argued that, given the right environment, the Pistons’ core could win a title. That a crew of unselfish talents could win at the highest level is not beyond anyone’s reasoning capacity. Yet for a time, Stack, Terry, Diop, and Dampier represented everything wrong with the league, from selfishness to laziness. To see them succeed, and succeed as a team, shows us that there’s hope for every team and for every individual. For a long time, I despised Jerry Stackhouse for the way he played, but after years of bouncing from team to team as each one gave up on him, he seems to finally now understand how he can best help his team, and I can’t help but pull for and identify with him. I want him to succeed, so the same fool sportswriters won’t be able to say again, “I knew he couldn’t do it,” as if he hasn’t changed.

In my mind, the fact that this has been an offensively oriented series has made it so much more entertaining and exciting than any other. In any series with the Pistons, there’s a sense that possessions don’t matter as much; the Piston’s can usually assume if they don’t make a shot, they’ll simply make a defensive stop on the other end. Secondly, since defense is a team endeavor, there’s a kind of diffusion of responsibility among the individual players; since the whole team is accountable, there isn’t as much pressure on one given player.

The Mavericks know that they can never simply assume they’ll be able to stop the Spurs. Because of the nature of their offense, each possession requires a player to simply step up and take sole responsibility for what may be the difference between a win and a loss. In game four, Terry and Stack knew they had to score, knew the shots would be difficult, knew that if they missed, their team would fall and they’d be second guessed and criticized, and still hit shot after shot.

If we watch basketball in hopes of witnessing history or the repetition of biblical allegories, then look no further than Cavs-Pistons. Yet if we watch basketball in hopes of seeing the sport played at its best, where every player on the court faces seemingly overwhelming pressure of both the karmic and in-game variety, then keep the television on and go to work the next morning sleep deprived.


The tide's own weight

From JKR, a man reading FreeDarko in the fine city of Cleveland: the exact moment at which all the "fuck this Nike-engineered marketing campaign masquerading as higher truth" noise got hushed up. Check here for the blow-up.

And, in the interest of that equal airtime law, don't forget to check out DLIC's army against Varejao on McSweeney's.

Will Sell Myself for Tickets

I managed to work myself into a tizzy discussing the demerits of Anderson Varejao over at McSweeney's today. In sum, I guess it all just amounts to using AV as an outlet for a lot of my anger over the current state of The Association. In the second round, I am simply having a serious amount of difficulty choosing one team that I unabashedly like. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Cassell, but I hated his complete refusal to play defense during his last season with the Wolves. I am philosophically against the Spurs, but I can sympathize with Shoals, who said regarding last night's game, "That was the least Duncan ever annoyed me. He went for his." Cuban, I have a love-hate relationship with. The Suns without Amare give me that same uneasy feeling I had when Death Row started focusing on Tupac rather than Snoop/Dre. Like, don't forget who got you to this point.

Perhaps this is the exact complexity of emotion I was always yammering for. No clear favorites and no clear villains or heros. I guess this is how things go when you're hometown team fails to make the playoffs, and your second favorite team (the Bulls) get yoked in the first round.

As noted a couple times on this blog, I have my worries about Flip Saunders in the playoffs. I had no idea, however, that I should be THIS worried about the "offensive mastermind's" inability to grow a pair and send LeBron sprawling to the floor. I'm not Bron-bashing here. I'm referring to the fact that he has that MJ quality to him where guys on both teams are seriously just watching him, in awe, out of respect, waiting to see what he does next...and these momentary lapses from defenders contribute to his domination. Lebron aside, though...Flip: Get that monkey off your back. Get that tie out of your throat. Stop making Kevin McHale look good. You were given a starting five fastened from the divine credence of Krishna himself. You are in danger of becoming legendary for all the wrong reasons.


I had those fingers crossed

Fuck everything you heard from me. This whole time, coarsing through the noose of morass I've draped around this postseason, was this one central assumption: LeBron, for all his primacy, could not take out the Pistons. In fact, I hadn't even bothered until yesterday to insert that dazzling asterik: a possible Wade/James Conference Finals, which would be just about the most FreeDarko thing imaginable (since we value winning and all). I'm not flinching on my overall assessment of Wade, but I do know that their late-season tango this spring was up there with the most amazing two man duels I've had the privilege of assaying.

This was the most astounding playoff victory since Iverson briefly slew Goliath. Even if they'd lost, I'd probably be saying this, but under those circumstances, in that arena, against that team. . .I am not a very demonstrative man, and still I'm dragging my jawpiece around the floor as I pace the living room. Then again, it did come after almost as important an upset in the world of high-stakes televised competition:

In retrospect, I feel a little stupid having bled so much hyperbole over him in Round 1. Yes, those were inspired, aesthetically impeccable performances, the kind of thing you'd carve out of soap if you had a long, long time to think about a sport you would never see again. As I noted after the Cavs' second win, this LeBron looked much more like an actual basketball player in a supremely challenging situation, as opposed to the sport's life force running wild. However, watching James subtlely manufacture that win was one of the most transcendent feelings of my entire sports viewing life. He was rarely fancy, not glaringly determined, and more concerned with almost trivial variations on "the little things" than some sort of operatic arc. What that win meant, though, is more impressive than two thousands liters of scalding highlights. LeBron James, one man, is seriously going toe-to-toe with perhaps the best pure team since Jordan's Bulls. He has next to nothing on his side, yet props up his troops for one last ragged ride without any of the ceremony of Kobe's semi-triumphs. Most mind-blowing, though, is that I'm hardly incriminating Kobe—LeBron is just that next level when it comes to influencing the flow and shape of the action.

(I guess you can put this on the Pistons. They fell apart. Three times in a row? By a team built on the rock of balance and patience? Suddenly they're cocky and prone to sloppiness? Does this really seem more likely than LeBron changing the way we understand this entire season that's just transpired?)

Speculation is useless because, for once, LeBron has exceeded expectations and thrown a low-blow to the logic he's meant to embody. This was not the plan; this was not the script he'd been handed, the Jordan-like humbling at the hands of an anti-heroic bunch of walking nettles. At this point, thinking that LeBron is capable of pulling off absolutely anything is not cynicism or the sign of a sucker—it's proof that you've really, truly been watching the games.

For all of you who were deeply concerned about the state of my relationship with the NBA. . .I am still on the verge of tears and having the time of my life watching Mavs/Spurs. Silverbird accurately explained this as my "playoff conversion," meaning that anything I said before was the work of a troubled, aimless soul.

No such thing as losing, part 1

There’s a reason why Kobe’s appearance in TNT studios was announced as the undercard of tonight’s action, but at this point you probably don’t need to hear me explain why this is. Suffice to say that, even as LeBron hovers on the edge of the unthinkable, Kobe still remains the center of the NBA galaxy, alienating and feeding all others much like the sun itself.

So without further ado, here’s my blogging of Kobe’s studio time. More installments to follow, possibly:

7:06: He looks like Mister Rogers. I’m getting chills for the first time in weeks.
7:11: It’s amazing how much of a kid he still seems next to these guys. Very serious and precocious, but still a young one
7:12: Okay, the showdown.
7:12: Where’s Farrakhan at?
7:13: The scary thing is that he probably approached them about this. PR genius.
7:13: Unrepentant or oblivious? His life story.
7:14: Dude carries himself like he’s on the court even when he’s off it. Impressive or terrifying?
7:14: Does Kenny realize that he’s the real KEY to this show’s dynamic?
7:15: “There are certain teams you can demoralize by scoring a lot of points.” Psychological warfare. Only Kobe could do commentary and make it mostly a rare opportunity to see inside his recondite brain.
7:16: Charles likes him.
7:16: “That’s what the second half of my career is all about?” What a narrative schemer.
7:16: This is the least scripted he’s ever sounded.
7:17: They're definitely keeping themselves from gushing over LeBron. To not upstage Kobe? To not jinx this game at hand?
7:18: It is really, really scary when he gets rolling on the subject of basketball. He actually looks like he’s in a trance.

Until the next segment. . . .

The windows have walls

Time for another crack at the curious question of Clipperdom. I recognize that my last post on the subject might've seemed like just the latest in a long line of killjoys I've been cranking out this past week, but I think I've had a real breakthrough. I understand that the world loves a feel-good story, and that people in LA deserve a chance to experience this as much as anyone else (major cities LIVE for these shots at underdogdom). The tricky thing is, though, this whole stance assumes that the Clippers are as generic a success story as George Mason. This isn't some bunch of cast-offs carried aloft by fortune; as erratic as this franchise has been, there have been moments, there is some voice, and this current incarnation is a high point, not a fluke. Yes, Sterling probably should be shot. But that doesn't nullify what's come before this taste of the nectar, or vaporize its ability to affect the meaning of Clipper Fever. The reason I harped on the '01-'02 team is that, to me, this was a statement roster, one that struck a chord despite its competitive shortcomings. T. wisely invoked the Larry Brown teams, the existence of which alone negates this "non-team touched by heaven" condascension.

The more I think about it, the more this whole scenario exposes one of the major flaws of the Association: teams that don't win get the franchisa non grata treatment, from the front office, the media, casual observers, and even their own would-be fans. Only winning seems to unlock not only the right to significance, and only there do the scribes who record sentiment awaken and start juggling connections. That's why the Clippers playoff run can be so easily be appropriated—there's no burden of heritage to stand in the way of the novice. It's the difference between a Big 10 school catching fire in the tournament and some obscure pin-prick mounting the stead of victory; not only can anyone root for the Clippers, anyone in LA can claim that this all-purpose underdog is indicative of their own inner lovable loser. I'm as much for this League of Psychology crap as anyone I know, but it shouldn't be a League of Fan Wish Fulfillment. In 2003, Kevin of ClipperBlog gave us a perfectly pleasant survey of the emerging Clipper fan culture; contrast this with the bedlam we're now witnessing, in which everyone has decided out of the blue that their sentimental bent is all that's needed to tool up for Brand and Cassell.

You want answers? You want positivity and a prescription for excellence? Look at the NFL. I'd say that, in large part, its monstrous success as a top-to-bottom league has been due to its recognition of all teams. Cities cherish their NFL franchises, no matter how sorry, and a combination of parity and the everyman-accesibility of football's visceral struggles mean that even the sorry Texans keep a hand on this city's organs. Fans don't only recognize that their teams have a past, present, and future unique to them—they find value in experience of participating in this up-and-down saga of conquest. They may be more nasty and guttural than most NBA devotees, but they're never abandoning their team or severing their self-hood from it. For better or worse, NFL teams are mirrors of the communities that house them, and gaining sudden admittance to the cabal of worship is no more likely than instant civic accpetance. I'm not entirely sure why the NBA is so resistant to, of incapable of, this, but the way the Clippers have been eaten up at home and abroad certainly proves the pitfalls of not discouraging it—and reveals one great gaping lack in the Association's order of things.

P.S.: Just to prove that my heart is always in the wrong place, the first time this semi-occurred to me was when, for no apparent reason, I decided to pray for the life of the Hawks.

UPDATE: This is exactly what I was trying to say.

In a move that will hopefully send some to heaven. . .

I have decided to dramatically alter my strategy for watching this round of the playoffs. It is true, my constant bemoaning, however principled, has become more than a wee bit insufferable. You hate reading it—try writing it!!!! I have high hopes for the next round, where, as DLIC pointed out, it will actually feel like every team is being tested. And naturally, LeBron's next discovery awaits us all. Still, to salvage what has undoubtedly been one of the low points of FreeDarko consumption and production, I will now invite you to enter the most saccharine folds of my personal life.

I love my live-in girlfriend very much. The only thing that ever causes problems in our relationship is that, as a creature of Dallas, she insists that any offspring we might one day have together will have to spend its early days in a Dallas Cowboys "onesy." I object to this for a number of reasons, and thus have made countless efforts to shift her primary allegiance over to her Dallas Mavericks. Her bizarre affinity for Avery Johnson has certainly made matters easier, and while Jamie may never mention FreeDarko on Cold Pizza, the debt I owe to him for posting this radical gem may be unrepayable. Put simply, every step like this makes it that much more likely that her one semi-serious sports preference will land on an NBA team, not a football franchise with a long track record of despicability and, for the last five years or so, unwatchability.

So tonight, I plan to sit down in front of the television not to uncork my by-now-predictable tide of rancor, but to fuel my relationship in an ultimately self-serving way. At the same time, I may gain some fascinating insight into all those things that our hyper-refined, and self-selecting, brand of basketball-watchdom tends to overlook. I mean back to the fandom womb, kidz. Who knows. . .come tomorrow, it may be her words of outright enthusiasm, not my pall of horror, that greets you upon blog lines's dawn.

The timely adventures of Andy Rooney's best son

I'm watching this Suns/Clippers game sail away on the soft feathers of enthrallment, and suddenly it hit me: while I'm indifferent to most of Round 2, the Clippers bandwagon just disgusts me. The revelation of the Clippers as the White Sox of the NBA, the rag-tag upstarts making moves in the nation's most hallowed basketball city, is nothing new. Let me take you back to a time when love ruled all, when a still-smoldering Vick Mackey attempted, on a hunch, to bribe a black cop with Clippers tickets. All of you now sweating your seats over the heady symbolic cramp that is Cassell and Co., I invite you to stare deep into the eye sockets of an long-forgotten ornament, to silently behold

Look, I know that the Clip Show, as we called it back then, never made the playoffs. That instead of being constructed around Elton Brand's good sense, it sometimes threatened to permanently deposit him out by the margins. I'll even concede that between Cassell's crotchety-ass fakes and Livingston's ability to make "point guard" appear like a raw, natural gift, we might be on the verge of seeing the NBA serpent chew off its own rattler. But don't ever, ever act like this Clipper momentum is building something from scratch, at least as far as pride and concatenated identity are concerned. This is grunge, The Chronic, Eddie Murphy, and Starbucks rolled into one—a valuable contribution, in many ways a superior one, but derivative in matters of the spirit. This double-overtime thriller won't let me sleep, and "Clippers in the Conference Finals" only burns until you remember what that team's done all year. If you're talking alternative civic consciousness, though, fuck this success. This bout came before the squeals came easy, before the Simmons, before the "is it really real?" compulsion.

If Clipper Nation means what it thinks it does, this is grassroots, underground bubbling up, type shit. And anyone with a respect for this process, which got them where they are today, needs to recognize for all eternity the glow that surrounded a certain star-crossed season of blood-strewn potential. History teaches us many things, so perhaps we could ask these newly energized fans to remember: Israel, she never turned her back on the European experience.