Rescue from Elephant Island
PCA checking in, fresh off ten days of Summer League in Vegas and SLC. Both leagues have their charm, but the atmosphere at the Rocky Mountain Revue is amazing. The building seats 5,000 and it was packed to the gills an hour before tip off on Tuesday night in anticipation of Kevin Durant's RMR debut. Please note that the following photo was taken about twenty minutes before tip-off and the place is already overflowing with fans on their feet (Shoals's Note: Click on the photos and they'll become the size of the universe).
Tuesday's session at the Revue was spectacular. The evening involved a heart to heart with Robert Swift, a private conversation with the Frank and Scott Layden, and Ronnie Nunn inexplicably calling me "Hans" when he greeted me in the tunnel. And through it all, Kyrylo Fesenko was spinning Ukrainian maxims and aphorisms to the delight of any who would listen.
For all the craziness surrounding the Sonics -- with Durant and The Move and Carlisimo and Sam Presti, et al -- Robert Swift is the story. The guy has his hair prepped for a Botticelli sitting, three quarters of the way down his back in a pony tail. He's all tatted up and now rocking a lip ring, the first in the NBA since Rodman.
He's a quiet guy and very nice too; while we were talking, some older lady on the events staff came up to me and randomly asked me to introduce her "to this tall stranger". Swift and I were kind of confused and then I put a hand on his shoulder and said "um, this is Robert Swift, he's the center for the Sonics" and she replied with "well nice to meet you, you can call me Grandma." For real. Later I saw her offer him a five dollar bill because he couldn't find an ATM.
Increased temperature has been shown to facilitate acts of aggression, and the hot summer night got a crazy start when a fan wearing a Sonics jersey tried to rush the Seattle bus for an autograph and then cold clocked the security guy who tried to restrain him. The guy was eventually taken away in handcuffs crying. The altercation may have shaken up Durant because he was a little skittish after the game and was accompanied by two Jazz security guards the rest of the night. Or maybe he was just still processing this.
Durant didn’t disappoint on the court. Even when he misses he looks good. When he hits, it’s a thing of beauty, especially when it’s a last-second three point shot to end the first half that went down about five feet in front of me. He caught the ball in mid-air with one hand and lofted it up effortlessly from about thirty feet and banked it in. According to Wikipedia one of Durant’s nicknames is “The Second Coming.” I’m sure this is thrilling to all the Nike guys still walking in slow motion through deserted plane hangars in white jumpsuits. When I asked Frank Layden after the game what he thought of Durant he said “He’s the next George Gervin.” Which means, therefore, GEORGE GERVIN IS THE SAVIOR.
Earlier in the week I asked Morris Almond a few questions and mentioned his fine work on TrueHoop. I asked if he had plans to be a blogger along the lines of Gilbert Arenas. "I've gotta have Gilbert's game first" he said with a laugh. "I really enjoyed writing that for TrueHoop though; it's something I enjoy doing. I've been reading Henry's stuff on there for a long time, even before it was on ESPN, so I was happy to do it." After Tuesday's game Almond saw me in the locker room and told me he checked out FreeDarko and said "I love that stuff man, that's my kind of thing right there."
The trophy wives and girlfriends were out en masse, too. Luckily NBA TV was on that beat -- they had the WAG scene covered with some guy spending the whole game panning around the VIP section for hot video footage. It needs to be said, however, that the woman who is one of the marketing people for the Jazz and seems to be in charge of all the in-game promotions is absolutely showstopping. No one can pay attention to the game when she walks around.
The scene is much different in Vegas, but no good thing goes undiscovered, and The Vegas Summer League is no different. Gone are the halcyon days of half-empty gyms and $10 admission. The inclusion of Team China was no way to keep this thing under wraps either. Makes it harder for me to listen in on Vinny Del Negro deriding the sartorial decisions of low-paid scouts when I've got the entire Xinhua news service angling for a propaganda piece on our boy Yi. They know Wang Zhi Zhi is in the building right?
I did get to see a sedentary Nellie seemingly introduced for the first time to his own player, Marco Belinelli. This happened minutes after Belinelli dropped 37 points in his NBA-ish debut. I'm officially on the Belli bandwagon, by the way. He was the rock star in the building for the week, and that included the usual suspects of Oden/Durant/JianLian.
Apparently the non-plussed Nellie was saving the smiles for the beautiful people. This was the only other moment his expression and/or posture changed in the two-plus hours I sat behind him.
That Belinelli picture was fortuitous because I almost missed it while trying to chat up the multi-blackberried Mark Stein. You'll be pleased to hear that he saw my credentials and said “I've read FreeDarko once or twice; I have no idea what they're talking about half the time.” He's just like US!
In the meantime, I turned my attention to the Seattle contingency. Many of us wondered what Young Sam Presti was thinking when he brought in P.J. Carlisimo to run the Sonics. The answer came as I observed The Choke-ee taking in a game two rows down. A random young player from another team was standing in the aisle (in the standard issue uniform and backpack that all the players seem to wear when they aren't on the court) and recognized Seton Hall's finest and reached over three seats to offer some dap. To my surprise, Carlisimo executed an impressive exchange of handslaps and half hugs. It was a glimpse at an unexpected side to a complicated man.
Carlisimo also buys his own snacks at the arena, which I found oddly compelling.
Also always nice to see Ronnie Nunn. The guy is about the nicest person I've met in basketball, along with Julius Erving and Frank Layden. He even seemed to remember our legendary chat last summer at the Revue. He should be commended for his business casual attire in Vegas which counteracted the South Beach stylings of Ken Mauer, who was giving feedback to the refs in tight short shorts and taupe slides.
B.J. Armstrong was in SLC representing Acie Law and Sheldon Williams. The man is actually getting younger every year. Honestly, I had to ask around to make sure it wasn't Armstrong Jr. or something. He's done some nice writing in the past, so I offered him a guest post at FD. "I think my sense of humor is too dark" he said. I didn't have time to tell him that anyone who supports an organization like Seeds of Peace that puts together a line-up like this deserves our attention at all times.
I also had a nice chat with Aran Smith of nbadraft.net and heard all about his trip to Italy this Spring to cover the Euroleague draft. Mark my words, next year the New Black for NBA bloggers will be traveling to Europe for dispatches from the field. See you in Madrid.