3.30.2010

Your Voice Will Be Heard

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It was bound to happen at some point. Although the final version of FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History doesn't even exist yet, it can now be pre-ordered on Amazon. I don't want it to look like we're trying to get you to buy anything blind. So here's my pitch: If you liked the Almanac, enjoy the prospect of NBA history, and are interested in writing that digs in a little deeper this time around, you'll enjoy Book #2.

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Too Good for Twitter



A lot of rad, fragmentary ABA footage, with Polish (I think) over it. This stuff never gets old, and I never feel silly for liking it so much.

NOTE: My brother in DoC Ken has pointed out that this is the doc Long Shots, which I've posted here (all four parts!) in the past. However, I like the Polish version better. Face it, old footage is better with no sound or music. The past is silent and scary.

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3.29.2010

Tfeht dna Evol

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I fell asleep and drooled on my keyboard and it made this. But for more serious writing, check out my latest FanHouse column on where the fuck these point guards came from.

Remember how Obama was elected President, and race no longer mattered in America? Here's some proof of that: West Virginia, coached by Bob Huggins, stocked with your usual Huggins players, is the latest underdog to inspire us all by taking the piss out of some uppity bunch of future lottery picks. Take that, John Wall. You were shut down, and while those lazy pros who would never heed a coach's scheme won't do it, West Virginia did. That's a mark of shame you'll bear forever. You couldn't take it to the limit, you are mortal, and your whole career will be a sham. DeMarcus Cousins, big dude, you can't handle the triple-team. But they won't throw that at you in the pros because they don't have the heart. Or too much ego. Those two are opposites.

Okay, let me stabilize myself, this boat is awfully rocky on the high seas of knowing what I need and want. West Virginia. What state says America more than that one? They've had the shit shot out of them for striking (I've seen Matewan for the acting!) and otherwise just die in the mines. But they keep on. Just like those Mountaineers. They refused to quit. You know why? Because they didn't need the NBA. They knew they might be playing the last game of their college careers. And since they were Huggins guys, they weren't getting a degree, either. Some might say "oh, they are just a bunch of wannabe NBA players, how can they be so noble?" The answer? They saw the light. They might as well be white people, the way they put Kentucky in their place. No way Ebanks declares this year, he's got unfinished business—and real men take care of business.

Coach Cal, shut the fuck up. Huggins made his team work, and drew up the X's and O's to make you sweat. Fucking Italian. Go back to Africa with your fucking team. I have to say, I never liked the Bearcats, or whatever the mascot of K-State is. But Huggin is the real deal. Appalachia is the heartland, just higher in the air. God's country. You lead a horse to water, but in the end, you need a real cowboy with his hands on the pump. Who was that black dude at the Tea Party rally? He was post-racial America. Go Mountaineers.

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3.27.2010

Invites for Frost

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I don't like what I'm hearing. Not from LeBron, who has boldly asserted that he could win the scoring title every year, but from the rest of us. No, it's not the case that any other player could top LeBron if both gunned all-out, Gervin/Thompson-style, each day of the night. You know why? Because unlike Durant or Melo, James has way more at his disposal. He could work the post, or just run up the court and through all defenders on every possession. Yes, it was a matter-of-fact statement, calm and hardly with the lurch of a braggart. At the same time, LeBron is differentiating himself from his peers. Hey, everybody, he has untapped potential still. He knows it, and if he totally broke out of a team system to go for numbers—which, incidentally, he is less likely to do than anyone on this short-list—amazing thing would happen. We used to know it, and now he's slipping it in himself. Going after him for it seems a waste of time, but at the same time, there is something chilling about this off-hand press release. Forget at your own peril.

I am about to say two things involving NBC's Pro Basketball Talk, both of which involve folks I consider e-pals. So no one think this is a mix-tape war. Kurt lead the "is this news?" charge on the LeBron front; to him, I say yes and no. In what order, I'm not sure. No, in that we should knew, but yes, in that he reminds us? Or yes, in that it he reminds us (and himself) what's still buried inside him, and no, after that it's a no-brainer. Let's move on. Krolik, whom some of you may remember from his contributions to this site, took poor Monta Ellis to task the same day for calling himself the third-best player in the league. First, I would like to thank John for bringing to my attention Rolling Stone's embrace of Durant. Of course, it all makes sense—KD, and the Thunder in general, are the most indie rock-friendly team in the league. They even took that from the Sonics' storied past. El ouch. As for the meat of the story, look, shouldn't Ellis be ignored even more forcefully than James? Let him have his fun. If you think he's the problem with the Warriors, you must have an undue amount of faith in the D-League.

Ellis isn't perfect, and his career is at loggerheads. But if an obviously talented, frustrated, and aimless still-young guard on a team built out of nonsense brags to a generally indifferent media, is he really going to war? Not to neglect my role as a member of the media, but come on, let's give Ellis a break. At least until we're all convinced that he's being given a chance to screw up convincingly. Neither his non "right way" play (either caps or quotations all the time, I thought), nor his inflated ego are tethered to reality. I don't know, maybe I'm underestimating all these call-ups. But this is a man floating through trauma. Do we really want to hold him accountable in the same way—even less so, maybe—than the game's best player? Ellis may deserve more grief than James, and is certainly empirically wrong in a slew of ways, but it's only LeBron James whose words have any meaning past the narrow context of "punk spews crap" headline.

Oh, and Amare hates T-Mac. Pass it on.

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3.26.2010

Burn Away All But Yourself

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While finishing up some stuff for the forthcoming blockbuster, FreeDarko Presents: The Incalculable Basketball Tale of Blue Wiggins and His Jittery Groves, I had a magical romance with the following sentence: "And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written". Say what? That's Exodus, if you couldn't tell, according to the mysterious ways of prose that govern the King James translation of the Bible.

I think I heard a "King James." Where's my puppets? Ha. Gotcha. We all know why LeBron has been stuck with the nickname "King James"—duh, it's his last name, and he's a king among men. Also, it's like "The Chosen One" (which somehow belongs to way too many lesser players, too), but isn't blasphemy or quite so arrogant. As in, it pertain to magical events in the time of the forefathers, and their forefathers' forefathers, and Jesus. Except King James isn't in the Bible, or of the Bible: He's dude who oversaw the translation so that it might be accessible to oh so many commoners. He didn't even do the actual work himself!

LeBron, in a glib attempt to make himself sound awesome while still mining some small strip of divinity, has ended up identifying with an administrator. To be fair, the original King James did do something; he may not have spearheaded the project of translation, but he helped dictated the guidelines that produced the definitive, and crappy-sounding, version we lived with for so many years. You can read about the fine details of it over at Wikipedia. What I learned: The Puritans had some problems with the Great Bible and Bishop's Bible, and James "gave the translators instructions intended to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its beliefs about an ordained clergy." Worse than a feckless administrator, or empty figurehead-ed name—King James was a bureaucrat!

Let me reiterate: I do not think for one second that LeBron or his handlers researched this nickname thoroughly. It's Biblical. It goes with James. Hell, yours truly employs it all the time. It just sounds good. Triumph of branding, Nike is evil . . . but more on that later. First, a few of King James's other accomplishments, as they may do a little to prop up—nay, even explain—a moniker that starts to squirm when strapped in the creepy dentist's chair that is Real History, by Real Concerned History Citizens, a white power hate band video show that airs on Animal Planet. Hosted by this guy:

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(Fair enough if you say I now sound like Bill Simmon chewing poison beetles, flipping through basic cable, and going to the movies once a week. We all have to change, we all become our parents, we all thereby face our demons and move on to making other people's lives' miserable. While, hopefully, we are lighter and more prosperous for it.)

King James was, in a word, amazing, and not in the Drew Barrymore sense. He got the Bible out to the whole wide world. Yes, the translation bears his name, but there's a reason that's the one we know: Subsequently, it was disseminated like no version before or since. Also, the King James Version made some very good but also, at the moment, supremely over-priced funky gospel LPs in the seventies. But I revert. The real King James was King James I, which I always consider a plus. He didn't dress up with a super hero alias or nom de drag when he took office. Or wait, that's just Popes. Monarchs just have a limited amount of names to choose from to begin with. In any case, Wikipedia again:

"James, the "Golden Age" of Elizabethan literature and drama continued, with writers such as William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, and Sir Francis Bacon contributing to a flourishing literary culture. James himself was a talented scholar, the author of works such as Daemonologie (1597), True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), and Basilikon Doron (1599). Sir Anthony Weldon claimed that James had been termed "the wisest fool in Christendom", an epithet associated with his character ever since."

How awesome is that? This guy really made it happen. But where is the creative agency of his own, or the transformative, that James needs other James to have when we bother to investigate the past? He did bring about major shifts in the way the King and Parliament got along, get embroiled in the 30 Years War, and have troubles with "The Spanish Match" (not a hooker) and "The Gunpowder Plot" (not an attempt to kill him with hazardous snuff). I hereby resolve that all future LeBron James exploits be branded with moments from this great monarch's career. W+K, are you out there? There's more, but I have to get on with my day. Fun fact: The period of his reign is referred to as either the Mirandian or Jacobean Era. Do not confuse the latter with more sinister times. Do, however, learn that "Jacob" is Hebrew for "James," with means I have to change my middle name to restore my birthright.

Still, nothing that really clicks with the commonplace sense of King James. Unless you like KJ1's refusal to break with the notion of divine monarchy. That's kind of the worst case for LeBron, no, or at least a really ugly tautology. You can feel free to repeal this pargraph and get back to eating your breakfast, suckers.

Here's a thought: You know how I always say that LeBron put Cleveland on the map as if it were a real market? Well guess what: We still know nothing about Cleveland, other than that it's the home of LeBron. Watch out, great King James I of England, you too can be adopted thus. Your career matters little, just that you were a king connected to the Bible. LeBron's attempt to, if not erase your accomplishments, then at least reduce them to a few faint themes (well, one), isn't stupid, it's corporate plunder. King James is dead; long live King James. Meet the new King James, same as the old King James, except in the ways that they have nothing in common, but that doesn't matter because the old one has his name on the Bible.

And LeBron will one day deserve his name on the basketball Bible. This type of shit happens every day. Don't worry, though. As demanded by Eric Freeman, George Hill still needs to answer for his "Madness of King George" nickname.

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(That photo scares me.)

SOME NOTABLE ADDITIONS: The first King James I took power early, but didn't actually get in charge for some time, which might mean something. Though it's not flattering. Also, a very important man tells me that certain undesirables and numerology "kooks" believe Shakespeare translated the King James Bible. But that still wouldn't make Shakespeare into King James.

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3.23.2010

A Fair Share of Rudiment

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Some very important corners of the web finally got around today to wondering about Jay-Z paying Dwyane Wade. The explanation has been laid out several places and now linked to where millions of eyes will catch the fever. So that's that. We all know what's up, drugs in the house and no tampering.

Howeeevs (long e), there have been radical developments since "NY State of Mind" stopped ringing in my ears. Namely, LeBron James switched his number from 23 to 6. So now, if Jeezy's paying LeBron prices, he's getting his for 6K a kilo. Not as good as Jay, but everyone knows that Hov is an old, washed-up liar, while Jeezy still occasionally shows up in court documents. Under his alias, Mr. Pickle and Fright, of course. But back to the matter at hand: So now, if the international cocaine market is, as I've always suspected, governed by NBA jersey numbers, then Jeezy is getting a really good deal himself.

That's only one layer of the mystery, as they say. Why would LeBron James go and do a favor for Jeezy, when Jay-Z has been been big brother since before Akron was more than a place from Greek mythology that someone got to visit? That's right, you guessed it: LeBron is going to the Hawks. I know that Jeezy isn't an owner yet, or officially, but how hard would it be for him to purchase a minority stake? Him going to the Hawks allows the coke price to drop for a part owner which means the financial picture for the franchise changes drastically in ways that means going way over the cap is no problem.

When it comes to the world of money and stuff, perception is stronger than reality. That's how a song, which is just a bunch of words, can actually have these real world implications. You know why? Because those lines are really memorable and "NYSOM" was a huge hit. So when deals get determined, it creeps in, insidiously. In the end, Jay's hit-making prowess may have destroyed the future of the Nets. I can't stand it anymore.

This may be tampering but it's also an NBA team funded by drug money. I don't even know where to start with that.

NOTE: THIS IS ALL FICTION.

NOTE: This is my really long and thoughtful piece about this year's tournament.

NOTE: This blog will be pumpin' out more when I'm done with book stuff, in like a week or so. Hopefully.

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3.18.2010

I Might Need Some Help

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Note: Put together quickly because I felt I had to.

I've never really been one to deify rock stars. Maybe that's because I've spent much of my grown listening years fucking with black music. James Brown's image was almost laughably self-conscious, Coltrane or Dolphy were more the monastic type, and with hip-hop, ego was refined into a DIY isotope. There's just not much room for Byron there, especially when the starting point involves Ringo Starr.

That said, when A. and myself went to Memphis, we stopped to gawk at Chilton's childhood home, the building that was Ardent, and the former site of the Big Star grocery star. Oh, and a confession: as tacky as I found it when some coverage of Katrina concerned itself with the search for Chilton—unlike any number of other missing musicians, he was a transplant identified more with Memphis—I did feel something resembling concern. Can you be worried about indestructible pop royalty? Isn't that somehow beneath you, and them, if they're being given that special genius treatment?

When I heard that Alex Chilton had died, I grew sadder than usual. Not because the musical landscape has shifted, or an important voice has been silenced. Someone whose music has affected me considerably is gone. The least I can do is show a little grief.

If it weren't for those nagging Box Tops (the first rule of obits: critical acuity need not apply), today we'd be treated to nothing but paeans to #1 Record, Radio City, and Sister Lovers. Thank god for "The Letter"—it provides an easy hook for Chilton's historical importance, without having to delve into the shadow-genre of power pop, which Big Star pioneered as its own kind of atavism. That's where #1 Record hits the mark, and sparkles to this day. Pristine, deadly just beneath, and altogether formulaic—if more than capable of pushing at these strictures. That's the Chilton (and notably, the Bell) of the easy historical record. It's the first hour of the movie that will never get made, and for those in love with the pure power of pop music, well, that other iteration of "power pop" tells you all you need to know. There is something unmistakably chaste, even down to Chilton's teen-ish rawk and Bell's repression, that makes #1 Record an unmistakable document of a mastery of a form and therefore, godhead material. And, at the same time, one whose humility is well-meaning, if not altogether convincing.

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That's the inviolate Chilton, the one who makes perfect sense, the tear-jerker and rabble-rouser who lends himself to pop greatness. Then, things start to go bad. Bell leaves. Radio City, a rougher, less focused follow-up, jumbles up Chilton's riff-and-hook mojo. "O My Soul" and "Life is White" are jagged, rousing, neatly miserable, and at times incapable of reigning in their shards of melody. At the same time, "I'm in Love with A Girl" and "Morpha Too" are Chilton's two most plaintive, and plain-spoken, bits of songcraft from the entire Big Star period. Formally, the would-be pop god was in shambles, wandering in and out of his own countryside. And yet when Chilton sat down and essayed "I'm in Love," it was as if his ear for innocence was more vivid than ever. Lacking an outlet in songs, it was squirreled away into these fragments that were almost unbearable in their intensity. And, in retrospect, their fragility. Even if I'm fairly sure one was about dope.

Radio City, then, is the exact point at which Chilton's god-like powers begin to fail him, or at least come into conflict with the "damaged genius" modality that he carried until the end. With this record, though, you're struck by just how personal those highly-refined bits of pop remain. Things are starting to crumble, and yet Chilton wants to hang on to this pop essence. The meat is gone, but its bird-like bones keep fluttering. Chilton isn't in control of it, even though he's written it—he's chasing after it, hoping the swaggering, disjointed mess of "Daisy Glaze" isn't all he's left with.

Alex Chilton seems as stunned at Radio City as we are, especially its closing tracks. There's nothing noble in his crisis, nor in the original sound falling to pieces. Make no mistake, it's an undeniably awesome record, but one that ends with its author wondering how to hold onto himself, as well as what to make of the lurching, violent songs he's ended up with. It's not perfect, or beautifully tragic. Radio City is, in its inability to side with either pop perfect or art damage, is about as ordinarily human as it gets. Neither you nor I could have made it, but its displacement is undeniably accessible.

All of which brings us, predictably, to the bummer majesty of Sister Lovers. Actually, for a record so identified with drugs shot into the neck and utter professional collapse, there's plenty of brightness here. Yet it's atmospheric, awash in risk-taking, and impossible to place in time—a sense of loneliness and languor that sounds like Chilton dissolved and deconstructed. "Kangaroo" attempts to tell a boy/girl story. But notice how the line "I saw you staring out in space" lingers in the air, gets cross-cut by feedback and a crumbling guitar shop, may or not be about outer space, and renders "I" and "you" meaningless terms. This isn't a retreat into the avant-garde. For all its strangeness, Sister Lovers is mostly about Chilton trying to resolve the binary lurking at the close of Radio City.

All the brutality, and confusion, of the deceptively soft "Sister/Lovers" is Chilton trying to negotiate that inner conflict, albeit under the influence of huge quantities of morphine. There are fleeting bits here that, for all their visionary grandeur, are also fraught with something undeniably human. "Kangaroo" or "Holocaust" aren't archetypes, they're one man's struggle between pop simplicity and something far darker. Were it a perfect fusion, Chilton would be just another smarty-pants. But instead, we get some of the most high-stakes, and undeniably wrenching, music ever made by white people. At this point, Chilton has been a recording artist his whole adult life. Here, he struggles to hold it all together, totalize his experience, and just maybe, save himself. That's not faultless, or cartoon-ish, work of gods. Sister Lovers is an impossibly wrenching, revealing look at the dilemma of being Alex Chilton; the wall of pretense is, in Chilton's case, a lack of one. It could be any of us, just with different grist.

I don't think Alex Chilton is better, or greater, or more important than me. In fact, because of Sister Lovers, I think of him as more like me (or you) than other musicians. He just said it better, and cut deeper, than I ever could. And for that, I'll take some time to mourn. Not out of obligation or fear, but for his willingness to turn himself inside-out to such an extent that many were convinced he was hiding.

Alex1

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3.11.2010

Sam Cassell Gestures



Ken and Dan discuss the role of a crazy guy like Matt Barnes on a team like the Magic, also reflecting on past instances of living by page one of "the macho code" in order to succeed in the playoffs. Barnes’ intensity/recklessness also seems relevant now because of the “Winning Time” documentary from ESPN, the connection to which is nicely articulated by Dan Devine at Ball Don’t Lie.

Ken and Dan also discuss the media’s reaction to Iverson. Which is sad. Such is life.

To kick off the show, Ken does a little basketblogger outreach and tells the world about a few of our listeners who happen to have blogs or podcasts of their own. These projects are listed below. It would mean a great deal to the both Ken and Dan if you would give some of your fellow DOC listeners a chance to entertain you with their efforts . . . you just might discover your next favorite voice. Here’s the list:

Lend your ear:



The music from this episode:

* Auld Lang Syne - Glen Miller Orchestra
* Dirty Boulevard - Lou Reed
* Stranger Song - Leanord Cohen
* Smith and Jones Forever - Silver Jews

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3.04.2010

This Radio is On Fire



To start this episode, Ken and Dan provide some suggestions on how NBA fans can pass the month of March, and talk about Michael Jordan buying the Bobcats.

They are then joined by the new lead blogger at Yahoo!'s Ball Don't Lie, Trey Kerby. They talk a bit about his new job, and how he plans to keep the awesomeness rolling there at BDL.

They also talk about the Bulls, the greatness of Michael Jordan as a player, and come up with a new movie idea starring some unexpected NBA stars. In the process, they come up with a new phrase that they hope you'll all use from now on.

Really, it's your perfect post-trade-deadline, pre-playoffs, 20-games-left-in-the-season, early March NBA podcast. You can't not go wrong!

Be careful, it's hot:




Songs from the episode:

"I Got A Thing, You Got A Thing, Everybody Got A Thing" - Funkadelic
"The New" - J Dilla
"I'm New Here" - Gil-Scott Heron
"Greatest Man Alive (Man's Game Mix)" -Steinski
"One Two" - Cool Kids
"New Frontier" - Antipop Consortium
"Take A Rest" - Gang Starr

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3.02.2010

My Best Worst Friend



Had some kind of inexact deja vu as I read this story yesterday (emphasis added):
While Jordan declined to speak to reporters, he did plenty of talking on the court.

Needling Henderson relentlessly for being from Duke, the North Carolina product kept clanging jumpers off the rim as Henderson quickly won the first shooting game.

But then Jordan, wearing jeans and sneakers, started getting hot. He hit a free throw with his eyes closed to take the lead in the second game.

"What do you think, I just dunked my whole career?" Jordan asked Henderson after making a 3.

Henderson remained stone-faced when Jordan hit another outside jumper.

"You've got to miss eventually," Henderson told him.

"That's what Cleveland said," replied Jordan, referring to his last-second shot for Chicago in 1989 to win a playoff series over the Cavaliers.
I once played HORSE with Michael Jordan. It was in the summer of 2008. My time in New York was winding down, and I could easily take an extra hour or two for lunch as necessary. You don't forget the details of playing basketball with the man who's done it better than anyone else, and I can recall vividly that fateful Wednesday in June

The day started like any other. I got up, got dressed, rode the subway, and went to work. I peeled off my sports coat as the office air conditioning replaced the uncomfortable humidity of a sweltering trip to midtown. My desk was overflowing with papers from various assignments I was in the midst of closing out. I sat down at my desk, leaned back in my chair, sighed a few times as I considered what I wanted to accomplish that day, and then undertook the arduous task of checking my email. Back then, I was still responsible for supervising some time-sensitive reports that had to go out early, and that meant a glut of email greeted me every morning, seven days a week.

I got through my email, I got some paperwork in order, I moved on to other administrivia, and suddenly it was 11:15. I got up for a cup of water and some small talk with a few office friends. As we were chatting, my right pant pocket started vibrating, so I reached in, pulled out my phone, and hit the talk button without really considering the caller ID.



"Is this that flaming f***ot Joey?" a baritone grumbled through the phone. "You there, you punk bitch?" I don't like the f-word, and I don't like being called a "punk bitch," but I couldn't stifle my smile because nothing had changed: Michael was on the phone. I excused myself from the conversation with my colleagues, and I ducked into a vacant conference room.

During the bright days of June, I like to work with the lights off because the sunlight is adequate and rooms stay cooler when light bulbs aren't burning. So I staggered into the relative dark of a conference room and sat down as though I didn't want anyone to know I was in there. Only after I'd taken a seat did I realize how off-balance--literally and figuratively--I was feeling. I didn't hear from Michael all that often because I didn't (and still don't) have the bankroll for Vegas, strip clubs get old quickly, my golf game needs work, and I have never really gotten along so well with Charles Oakley. I loved him as a player, but his Captain Surly routine and Mean Girls-like focus on being the gatekeeper of MJ's inner circle make him less than affable. I have ceded that territory to Oak, though it means I don't talk to MJ much.

I hadn't really said anything since answering the phone because Michael just kept going. "That's right, motherfucker, I'm in town, I'm heading to the gym later, and I'm looking to whoop someone's ass. You know you owe me one. You know it, bitch. So get your shit, leave that cute little job of yours for a few hours, and come meet me at the gym."



I "owed" him one only because to beat Michael at anything is to forever arouse his anger. You saw his Hall of Fame induction, right? My transgression, my horrible offense at Michael's expense, dated back to when we first met, in the Detroit airport during the summer of 2002. I was flying out to Colorado and MJ was going to Los Angeles. He'd been in Detroit for some kind of charity golf event at Oakland Hills Country Club. I was there because I was still a student at the University of Michigan and had to attend a wedding right before classes resumed. We were both flying Northwest and a patch of that violent, unpredictable summertime Midwest weather rolled through, grounding everyone for a few hours. I had accumulated enough frequent flyer miles to travel in style for a change, and I hit the rich-person concierge area to wait out the storm. I walked in and saw Michael sitting on a couch with one hand on a cigar, the one bearing his wedding ring on some woman's thigh, and his eyes burning a hole through the television.

I always knew that Michael had a gambling problem, but I didn't understand its full dimension until I sat down across from him and got roped into his lunacy as he indulged his famously competitive zeal. The sky doesn't usually turn from blue and sunny to black and foreboding over the course of three minutes, but that's what had happened on this day, and the television was tuned to the Weather Channel so that travelers could follow the storm and adjust their plans. I guess that Michael had told the woman he was clutching that he could predict the weather--as though Michael Jordan needs pickup schtick--and fixing to mount the illusion of scarcity, she bet him a drink and phone number that she could beat him at it. Obviously, that got Michael going, in pretty much every sense of that well-worn expression. As I plopped down on the leather couch, he and the woman had just begun, and they both seemed eager to share their game with a stranger who could admire it and maybe cough up some cash.

"Excuse me--would you like to play a game with myself and my friend here?" Michael asked me.

"I'm sorry? A game? What's the game?" I could barely get out my response as my mouth tightened up into a grin that obviated any need for the usual aren't-you-such-and-such-celebrity routine. Michael could tell instantly that I was intrigued, that I was in awe, and that I was in.



He told me that I could buy into the game for whatever cash I had in my pocket--turned out to be $127. Small stakes for MJ, but nothing kills time like gambling, and Michael is an addict. No stakes are too small. In return for my cash collateral, I'd have a chance to win twice what I'd put up, and to exchange phone numbers with Michael and his lady friend. All I had to do was beat Michael and the woman at a series of prop bets that ranged all over, from how fast the storm was moving, to how cold it would be in Fort Lauderdale that night, to how much rain would fall in Ohio.

Over the next three hours, Michael, the woman, and I went back and forth, talking shit, getting drunk, and making outrageous bets about the most mundane and innocuous meteorology. When the clouds finally parted and planes began taking off again, I'd won 28 bets, I'd earned $254, I'd stored some random woman's number in my phone, and I'd become friends with Michael Jordan. Of course, he also stopped talking to me for 45 minutes after I properly predicted that the heat index in Mesa, AZ would hit 114 that Friday. He had said 113, and I was closest without going over (116 was the answer).

When I eventually landed in Colorado that night, I texted Michael that I'd enjoyed meeting him, and that he wouldn't believe the weather in Denver. He wrote back, "Eat a dick, motherfucker. I'll call you when I am next in town. I'm collecting my $254. GTG. Just left mile-high club." I assumed he was messing around, and that our paths would never cross again. He's Michael Jordan, and I'm me. But sure enough, about a year later, Michael got up with me in New York. He even cajoled me into buying him dinner just to stick it to me and because he could. From then on, we were friends.



I've never been forgiven for having had the temerity to win our bet in DTW, though, and when MJ called me to play ball that day a few years ago, I knew what was in store. The phone call alone was more than enough proof. What 45-year-old man unleashes a torrent of profanity and ignorance to entice his friends into playing basketball with him? This afternoon gym session with Michael was going to be the usual--he'd make shots, he'd make money, he'd make fun of everyone until he sensed he'd all but broken your spirit to live. Then he'd tell you to stop "being a bitch," and he'd suggest smoking cigars and meeting women. By 2008, Michael was divorced, so it wasn't as uncomfortable for me when we'd have a guys night. Tiger and Charles and Charles never seemed to care, and if they did, none of them ever said anything to Michael. Certainly not Tiger. Neither did I, but despite the way we met and everything I'd long assumed about him, I could never get past the cheating. By the time Michael and I played HORSE that June Wednesday, my guilt-by-association had gone away, and that made things easier.

As suddenly as he'd gotten on the call, he got off it. "Alright. 1:30 at the usual spot. Come ready, Joey. I'm gonna make it rain on your ass like you were Eric Smith." I hung up and walked out of the conference room. My friends had dispersed, so I returned to my desk without having to say anything. Though I've never lied about my friendship with Michael, I've also never been quick to bring it up. How can I possible explain to people that I am friends with one of the ten most famous people on the planet? With Michael Jordan?! Who would believe that? It sounds crazy, and it is. I am writing about it today only because this Gerald Henderson news has been making the rounds, and it's so funny that Michael just always does Michael.

Back at my desk, I quietly finished out some short-term assignments and emailed my boss that I had to run some errands and would be gone for a few hours. Around 12:30, I neatly stacked all of the outstanding paper still littering my workspace and headed out the door. As usual, the humidity outside was heavy, and it felt as though the air were filled with some viscous liquid that was inescapable. The subway only made it worse, and I was panting when I walked into my apartment. I quickly threw on my basketball gear and went back out. That day, I was going to play in my white-and-French-blue Jordan XIIs because they matched my blue Knicks shorts. Michael likes it when I show up in Knicks gear because it reminds him "of a career spent tea bagging Patrick." Who am I to deny Michael Jordan a basketball indulgence?



Another subway ride left me at the gym. Michael Jordan can't play at local parks or public centers, of course, so we always go to a private facility. I'd mention where, but Michael still hits this place on a regular basis, and I already have blown up his spot enough in this post.

I walked into the gym, and it was eerily quiet. The room was still and dry, permeated by a plastic smell given off by some new padding along the walls. Michael was lying on the floor stretching, and I didn't see anyone else around. He told me that Oak was on the way, and that a bunch of other guys were going to be joining up later. In the interim, though, he wanted to get warmed up. In classic Michael fashion, he cast himself as the magnanimous fellow making a generous gesture. "I'll tell you what--we'll play HORSE. That way you won't wanna go home crying too quickly. I know you can't dunk, but I've seen that scrawny ass of yours hit some shots." To be friends with Michael is to forever indulge his vanity and his inward focus, but his biting sense of humor and willingness to abandon judgment once you've earned his trust make him seductive all the same. He's the sort of person whom you can't quit very easily. The fleeting moments of fun always pull you back before his pettiness creates too large a void.

Hoping above all else to not pull something, I stretched a little as Michael and I revved up the playfully adversarial banter. I can't talk shit about my basketball game to him for obvious reasons, so I always have to go elsewhere. I was gonna be on my knees; he was gonna be in a paternity suit. I had ruined my chance with some woman; he had ruined the Central Florida athletic department. I picked the wrong day to mess with him; he picked Kwame Brown. I couldn't get one letter off of him; he had letters S, T, and D to spare. Finally I was warmed up and ready to go.

The game started simply at the free-throw line. I got to shoot first, and I chose a spot from which I was confident. Establishing a rhythm, however it happens, is crucial when playing against Michael. Be it HORSE or a real game, you have to see yourself making a few shots if you're going to stay on the court. He answered, and he did it with his eyes closed. "That's some Mutombo shit right there, Joey!" Yes, we all remember.

Next, I walked over to the baseline and put down a 16 footer. Michael matched that, too. If it seems like I was choosing basic shots...it's because I was. As much fun as it would be to beat Michael Jordan at HORSE with an array of specialty shots and high-difficulty conversions, that's not really within the realm of possibility for a mediocre player who has spent most of his life doing things other than playing basketball. It's especially hard when playing against the greatest player of all time.



My game came unraveled after I missed my next shot, a three from the extended elbow on which I called bank. The ball did bank, only it caromed so hard off the backboard that it missed the rim and wound up back at half court on the other side of the floor. "Damn, Joey. That was uglier than my divorce settlement!" I told you that Michael can be fun. "Now we're gonna separate the men from the bitch-ass motherfuckers."

Michael walked underneath the basket, leaped out toward the back wall, spun in the air, and easily put the ball in the hoop after floating it over the backboard. Before I even tried, Michael was hooting at me, "Can't spell Hoey without an H." He was right, both grammatically and in a basketball sense. I got an H and fell on top of myself in the process. As I was getting up, Michael was strolling back toward midcourt, and he stopped one step from the line. Without turning back toward the basket on which we were shooting, he lofted the ball over his head with one hand, and it fell through the basket without hitting the rim. Then Michael shrugged at me and said, "That's what Portland saw when they didn't respect my J. I bet you didn't think I could do that." Really, this is what we're talking about?

I was quickly a HO. R and S came on the next two exchanges when I failed to make a three from my knees, and then when I saw the ball lip out after Michael insisted that I mimic his famous layup against the Lakers. If you're keeping track, I made my first two shots, missed my third, picked up four letters on the next four shots, and endured references to faded glory from 1991 and 1992, a full 17 and 16 years earlier. The sad thing is that Michael almost always talks about or somehow invokes these moments. Reading what he said to Gerald Henderson the other day compelled me to share this story because while Michael's post-career descent into a certain lowlife hedonism is well known, his enduring competitiveness and depressing inability to let go remain beyond tangible comprehension for most people. This is a man who wouldn't allow me to have water on the day of my Gerald Henderson experience until I was at HORSE. He explained, "Craig Hodges used to want water breaks, and look what happened to him."

Luckily for me, I am not too proud to cast my lot with someone like Craig--whom MJ and I once ran into on the street in Chicago; it was really awkward--and the sweet rapture came soon after I was at HORS. (Or, as Michael said, "Get that Pietrus-ass French 'HORS' shit out of here." A reference to an active player was actually encouraging, so I didn't even mind that it was an insult, and that as far as insults go, it was about as weak as anything Michael has ever summoned.) Michael's next shot was a straight ahead three, something I could convert. The charity was limited, though, because after I matched him, he returned to the spot from which I had missed a bank three and effortless executed a spinning fadeaway off the board. Game over. HORSE for me.

"That's the shot I hit to beat James Worthy after my first practice at UNC," Michael said. "I challenged him to a game of one-on-one, and I nailed that shot just to show him that I could. He said 'No way you hit this' as it was in the air. And after I put it down, I told him 'That's what Leroy Smith said to me.'"

As you can see, some things about Michael have never changed, and apparently, they never will.



(As you might not be able to see, this post is a work of fiction. But what does it say about Michael that it seems so believable? -- Ed.)

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