2.20.2008

Still, And Again, After All These Years



Thank god for the Science Channel's "Beyond T-Rex" and tranquilizers, because I'm having a rough internet day. You may not have noticed, but I am both a megalomaniac and really, really, insecure. So it's no fun for me to sit here and, on various sites, be called a "hipster jewboy" obsessed with Kobe's semen, a hack who doesn't know shit about Mike Brown, and a modern day White Negro. But now that I've settled down a little, I thought I'd spend a second on what matters: Lakers/Suns, tonight.

I couldn't be more stoked for this games. Nate Jones was at Lakers/Hawks last night, and told me that Kobe's swagger is out of this world (outdated rap reference on my part: -1 for DOWN), and Lamar Odom's typically wondrous stat line shows how valuable he still is (-1 for my inability to understand the triangle). I've said it before, but the Marion-less Suns seem oddly revitalized. Unburdened, maybe? Drinking the Shaq kool-aid? Regardless, I'd be counting down hours even if this weren't the unveiling of the Great Shaq Experiment.

I suspect we won't get a real feel for the New Suns tonight. Shaq will play a little, look out of joint and occasionally in the way, and leave a lot of people wondering if he's actually relevant. But he'll also provide some buzz, some intangibles, and yes, some physicality that, for the Suns, has so far been just about Amare's dunks. It may be an indirect, almost mystical effect, but he'll impact the feel of the game. While he's greatly diminished as a player, Shaq's still Shaq, and it's not like him to take a backseat. On the level of pure ego, O'Neal is all about his hustle (-1 for rote slang). That's annoyed me about him in the past, and there's certainly some opportunism going on here. But if Shaq can reassert himself as a force, even if it's just in a Willis Reed-like, one play that sets the parameters of meaning, way, I'll be wowed. Talk about myth as on-court style.



And because I secretly really just want every to get along (-1 for hackneyed reference to race relations), I'm also looking forward to this latest chapter in Shaq/Kobe. When they had their Bill Russell-brokered detente, there was a definite sense that distance played a major part. The Lakers weren't going anywhere, Kobe had his individual glory on lock, and Shaq had moved on in grand form (even if that was already slipping away). But suddenly, both are back in the spotlight, key to the still-unfolding championship picture.

Let's take a chance here: These are the two most important players in the Western Conference. Kobe's finally got the team to contend, and Shaq's expected, on a variety of levels, to take the Suns over the top. They're no longer direct rivals—no way Shaq gets an MVP vote, even if the Suns win every single game from here on out. And yet this makes whatever bad blood, or fraternal strife, is left all the more fascinating. It's no longer Shaq/Kobe, it's clearly Suns/Lakers. The two can't be directly compared any more, but this has given way to an even more intense—and more universal, and less tiring—rivalry. Both are older and wiser than before, and yet here's where their butting heads means more than ever.

This is where we'll see the real depth of feeling that binds and repels the two stars. Not in bitchy, gossip-fueled feuds that diverge from their relationship on the court, but bringing it all back to where their love/hate relationship started: On the court, where they were the two most important players in the NBA. Now, they've come full circle. They just happen to be on opposing teams this time around.

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25 Comments:

At 2/20/2008 4:01 PM, Blogger Brendan K. said...

The vaunted "truce" really always felt more like a media duck for both Shaq and Kobe than a bygones-being-bygones revelation. The Russell connection, the MLK symbolism- it was all way overplayed so as to seemingly give everybody an excuse to stop covering the professional "fued" of two guys who just, for whatever reasons, never really liked each other. Both needed the break- the Kobe-lead Lakers were still in the dumpster and Shaq was, for the first time ever, not The Man(TM) on his own winning team with that season's true ascendance of Wade.

Interesting then how both players, by the grace of their respective GMs, again have the chance to fight for ultimate bragging rights after... what? After sitting around and letting some fucked-up-crazy trades realign the Association's power structures in order to- seemingly almost randomly- put them both in serious contention again.

Love it. This could not have happened to two players I'd rather see this amped up again.*

*Exception: Allen Iverson- somebody please put Artest into a Nuggets uni and the scent of conference finals blood into the pool...

 
At 2/20/2008 4:06 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Artest should go to the Nuggets. Then we should contract the NBA down to just those 10 teams in the West that matter. Let's trade T-Mac for LeBron, and add Dwight Howard to Portland, to simulate Greg Oden, until Oden materializes for real. Everyone else (including KG) can exit stage left ... cool?

 
At 2/20/2008 4:23 PM, Blogger Nicholas said...

Bad day, Shoals? At least you don't still live in Houston.

I just hope Shaq's entire lower body doesn't disconnect from his torso like a worn out lego man.

It's a shame that Kobe isn't a center, then we would have a truly epic battle between the two friends/rivals (friendvals?) reminiscent of Hakeem/Ewing, or Reed/Chamberlain. Or that Shaq was a SG/SF so we could have another Bird v. Jordan or Magic v. Bird. In any case, tonight's game will most certainly have a playoff level intensity, and I'm just sad that I'll miss it (don't have cable).

 
At 2/20/2008 4:31 PM, Blogger The wondering Mind said...

It is my uninformed opinion that you do the dynamics of human relationships way better than you do commentaries on the confluence of pop culture and basketball. Not because you are not qualified or too "white Jew" to fully understand the true feel of the varying texture in the relevance of rap to black people but because you assign an incredible depth of thought to events that were probably reflexive reactions not organized messages. Your truth genius and why I return here again and again, is that you are able to find the near invisible ties that bind the randomness of human interaction, for example your piece on Kobe and Rip. You were able to illuminate the dance of two people whose rivalry is perpetual and private, the winner and loser is instantly disinterested in the result of the last struggle and will bled again for the current one, like it was the first time and the last time.

 
At 2/20/2008 4:51 PM, Blogger Leonardson Saratoga said...

yeah but doesn't depth of thought lend itself to...well...everything?

you can't really say that you can't assign depth to something just because it wasn't organized message. Some of the most intriguing thought comes from trying to assign meaning to something whose meaning is ambiguous/vast (like rap or pop culture)

 
At 2/20/2008 5:02 PM, Blogger jon faith said...

Frustrated, overwrought or dessicated -- your tirade for the last week has maitained its incendiary chops throughout and I have especially enjoyed the sociological perusal of the All-Star as species and its particular 2008 significance in the Aftermath.

 
At 2/20/2008 5:13 PM, Blogger Kaifa said...

I'm watching it even if it's at 3am over here. So for Nicholas, try raptorsnation.net for a live stream.

I just hope that PHX-LAL will happen in the playoffs with everybody on board. The last two series were already great, and of course Shaq-Kobe and also Shaq-Bynum adds a lot to that. But I have absolutely no idea how Amare and Gasol will match up with something at stake. Or Amare-Odom, for that matter.

 
At 2/20/2008 5:20 PM, Blogger The wondering Mind said...

Leonard,

True it is the search for meaning in obscure places that gave mankind religion but it is also true that people sometimes do stuff "just because...”, in a case like this I can argue that the true depth and meaning of Howard action was alien to him. A church raised uneducated 22 year old might not truly appreciate the dangers of tying his image to a song that advocating "super soaking and super manning" that ho, given the mainstream acceptance of the song.

 
At 2/20/2008 5:37 PM, Blogger gordon gartrelle said...

Tell me someone didn't really call you "Jewboy."

And "hack" is bullshit.

You all are definitely black fetishists, white negroes, whatever, but your hearts are in the right place and you produce insightful work, so who cares?

I'd say the hipster tag fits your devotees more than it does you all.

Oh yeah, Fuck The Lakers.

 
At 2/20/2008 5:40 PM, Blogger cian said...

+1 for answering your critics in an interesting and indirect way.

 
At 2/20/2008 6:20 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

Shoals, it's not all bad, you got some belated credit over on TrueHoop today. Don't let some homophobic racist over on HH sour your day (hopefully they didn't spoil Ep 58 for you over there, though it sounds like someone did, which is really unforgivable, IMO). And your response about the Cavs fans not letting an outside observer give his take was right on.

Lakers-Suns: To be honest I'm totally tired of the Shaq/Kobe feud, although the fact that it's crystallized into Lakers/Suns makes it more palatable I suppose. Really I'm just itching to see how Phoenix is going to work Shaq into their scheme of things and how Shaq in general is gonna look out there on the court. The realist in me says odds are he'll get a couple quick fouls and we won't really get the look at him that we're all hoping for (or the showdown ESPN is hoping for). Supposedly the Suns are only planning on playing Shaq for 20-25 minutes anyway, and with this being only his 5th game played since the day after Xmas, odds are good that even if he's healthy, he's gonna be rusty as hell and in poor game shape.

The way the Lakers are playing right now, and the way the Suns struggled against the last couple opponents they faced prior to the break, makes me think it's a possibility the Lakers could overwhelm the Suns tonight. Amare has really looked like he's a man out to prove something since Bynum flat out embarrassed him in the Xmas Day matchup, but Pau Gasol has more than held his own against Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson lately, so a matchup with Amare (once Shaq goes to the bench) should be an interesting one. Diaw and Odom are the wild cards in this game, if one of them steps up and plays above their head that could tip the balance.

 
At 2/20/2008 6:54 PM, Blogger ronald james davis said...

kurt put this up in his pre-game post at FB&G
From an interview with lamar odom on his personal website:

“We could change basketball here in America if we counted the hockey assist.”

that just struck me as interesting. especially coming from odom.

 
At 2/20/2008 6:58 PM, Blogger Louie Bones said...

Has there ever been a more difficult division to play in than the Southwest? Look at the records...

 
At 2/20/2008 8:17 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Like Shaq and Kobe with their hip and pinkie, respectively, you're at your best when a little nicked up.

 
At 2/21/2008 12:06 AM, Blogger rebar said...

watched the game, completely satisfied with the result, despite the amount of debt relief espn tried to shove down my throat.

kobe took apart phx (except for turnovers), shaq looked better than i thought he would (but in my opinion not that great), and hubie brown used the phrase "if you've been watching [insert team name] then you would know they've been [insert skill said team does well] really great"

i want ron artest on the nuggets so bad it hurts. if only so i can play as that team in nba live. artest + iverson > artest + cap'n jack?

 
At 2/21/2008 11:52 AM, Blogger Ghost Deini said...

I dont post very much, but i just dont know where else to go. DOESNT IT BOTHER ANYONE THAT DH DIDNT EVEN REALLY DUNK ON THAT SUPERMAN 'DUNK'? That rim was kryptonite or some shit.

 
At 2/21/2008 11:56 AM, Blogger Ghost Deini said...

Let me clarify. I would concede it's a great dunk if he threw it down into the rim because he was towering over it and simply CHOSE not to dunk. But looking at the replay, he was falling way short and got lucky his desperation bullet didnt hit the back of the rim and ricochet into the nosebleed seats.

 
At 2/21/2008 12:21 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

I agree whole-heartedly. Amare's last dunk last night was a much better version of the Superman dunk (he actually touched the rim) and it happened IN A GAME. I'm not sure why no one seems to be bothered by the fact that Howard didn't really dunk.

 
At 2/21/2008 1:16 PM, Blogger Ben & Melissa said...

I'm far from a DH apologist, but I thought the Superman dunk was awesome.

And no, he didn't dunk it, but let's face it - the dude didn't even pretend like he was jumping for distance. He jumped UP in the air, and while he came up "short" (no, he couldn't have reached the rim), his priority was obviously altitude. Do you really doubt that he could have dunked from there, seeing how much air he passed through in direct opposition to gravity?

Dude flew.

 
At 2/21/2008 1:41 PM, Blogger Ghost Deini said...

And i'm far from a basketball purist, but if he hadn't donned that ridiculous cape and done the entire thing with that wry million dollar smile on his face it would've just been a really dissapointing, still-born dunk.

Sure the dunk contest is about entertainment, but i cant get over the fact of how lame that dunk would've been without a leotard and piece of red cloth hanging off his back.

I'm going to be a cynic here and say that the reason Howard's jump was so ridiculously vertical was that he was aiming for an epic, monstrous throwdown but failed to get the horizontal distance he needed because he sacrificed so much of his explosiveness in the vert leap.

No doubt in my mind he could dunk from that distance 10 times out of 10 without blinking under any other circumstance.

 
At 2/21/2008 4:17 PM, Blogger Martin said...

I am late to the party but I'll in throw-in my take anyway. First off- I confess to being a closet fan of the long-running Shaq/Kobe soap opera. Granted, the feud is now old news and is also littered with details that have nothing to do with basketball- like lurid sex acts, snitching on teammates, fat jokes and fisticuffs during practice. Yes, just like everyone else I too am tired of that non-basketball b/s. However outside of the melodrama surrounding their relationship, what really draws me to the saga is the sad tale of wasted potential. Between the constant bickering, Shaq’s laziness, Kobe’s aloofness and Phil’s zen/hippyness that LAL team only managed to achieve its true potential for two months during its entire existence. This was during the team’s second championship run when LAL swept the more formidable western conference and ended with a dominating 16-1 playoff record that could just as easily have been 16-0. Everything else that we saw out of the Shaq/Kobe LAL was underachievement. Whenever I see Shaq and Kobe on the same court my mind always returns to same questions of what could-have, should-have, would-have been? And I can’t help but wonder if we shall ever again witness a team that has the best perimeter player in the league matched up with the best post player in the league? Just imagine a tandem of Lebron and Dwight Howard laying waste to the league-supermanning ho's and championship contenders alike?

But perhaps a greek tragedy-like downfall was the only way that story could ever end. Perhaps the Sporting gods will always cast a jaundiced eye on teams like the Shaq/Kobe LAL that are blessed with once-in-a-lifetime collections of talent. Just as the Sporting gods were inclined to smite the 2007/08 manifestation of Icarus in the NE Patriots for flying too close to the sun and succumbing to the intoxication of hubris and narcissism. Perhaps winning in sports is meant to follow the Jordanesque narrative of constantly overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges like ‘flu-stricken game 5’s against the Jazz’ or ‘snatching triumph in the face of a physical beat-down from the pistons’.

 
At 2/21/2008 7:09 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

I'm probably a Kobe apologist, but I can't help but chalk the Shaq/Kobe Laker under achievement up to Shaq's notorious laziness. They showed a graphic on the screen last night that I could not believe, and it said that Shaq was an 8-time 1st Team All NBA player. Only 8 times? Really, that's it? How is it Shaq never led the league in blocks or dunks at his size, and only was considered the league's best center 8 times?

Regarding the comment that we may never witness a team that has the league's best perimeter player and it's best interior player as teammates again, with a lot of the promise Andrew Bynum was showing earlier this year, we might see it again very soon. The dude was starting to put up a lot of 17 & 11 games before he went down, along with leading the league in FG%, and all that while he's only a week older than OJ Mayo. That Xmas game where he flat out embarrassed Amare was a pretty strong statement about how good he is. The ceiling could be high indeed for that kid.

 
At 2/22/2008 6:45 AM, Blogger Highrespectable said...

Simply insanity,absolutely interesting! http://www.spymac.com/details/?2345831

 
At 2/22/2008 11:00 AM, Blogger gordon gartrelle said...

First of all, how many of you all talking about how lame Howard's dunk was have ever even touched a regulation rim? You don't have to have 1st hand experience to criticize a performer, but damn. Perspective people. Check your tone.

And Shaq-Kobe was all about Kobe, even with Shaq's laziness. Kobe's a fucking hater...always will be. Remember last summer's FIBA tournament when Lebron went 11 of 11 from the field vs Uruguay, what did Kobe do in the midst of this? Feed the hot hand? Nope he proceeded to try to go one on one to get his shine. And this after everyone kept swearing that he is more mature, humble, and wise. He can't help himself; it's in his blood.

 
At 2/22/2008 11:55 AM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

Speaking of haters...

 

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