You Will Be Slaughtered
Words from the janitor: Read the Works today, which includes one of the best things I've written on LeBron. For those of you who asked where the feed went, try here.
Neither Eric Freeman nor myself attended any media days. That doesn’t mean, however, that we aren’t NBA writers. Or really lazy, which might explain why we didn’t go the nearest team media day with our pants on fire and our hi-tops on. As luck would have it, we discovered -- thanks to none of our older, more distinguished colleagues -- that media day is a clearinghouse for laziness, an ode to it, a gigantic, seaweed-powered factory churning out bits of storyline for the benefit of writer laziness. The point of media day is to feed story idea to the, well, the media. And why not? It saves us work; the season is long; puff pieces make the world go ‘round; and really, is there any better explanation for the photos that came out of this week’s festivities.
Taking a scant bit of initiative, Eric and I have endeavored to get the jump on our more grizzled peers, read between lines, and lay claim to the stories that land someone -- maybe the player, maybe some scruffy reporter, maybe the two holding hands in a stockcar -- on ESPN in January, or maybe even as part of an ABC halftime segment. You see visual nonsense; we see messages telegraphed straight from the public relations office, just in code, a code of symbols and expressionistic cues that only a real journalist can latch onto and suck all the blood out of, drawing sustenance and meaning from it like a lamprey stuck in a picnic basket. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!
As far back as he can remember, Daniel Orton had trouble in school. The day he started the third-grade, Daniel lit an apple on fire, thinking it was a pencil. All he wanted to do was give it to his teach, old, blind Ms. Abernathy, to try and make her see again. That way, maybe this year would be easier. He struggled through high school, just barely qualifying for admission into Kentucky, and it was rumored, left after one sliver of a season off the bench because he was facing ineligibility.
However, Eric Bledsoe’s bum transcripts aren’t the only academic shocker to come to light in the House of Cal’s this summer. As it turns out, Orton tested at near-genius levels on all four major standardized tests, and learned that all along, he has been the victim not of poor schools, or an undiagnosed learning issue, but poor record-keeping. Vets like Rashard Lewis, who jumped straight from high school, have taken to calling Orton “The Wiz”; this offseason, he has started aggressively pursuing a degree at UCF, with an emphasis on science, math, and his favorite topic, physics. That apple? No longer a painful memory, this unassuming fruit is now a reminder of Sir Isaac Newton, also misunderstood as a child and very nearly burned at the stake before an apple set him free. Just don’t ask his more religious teammates in on the conversation, Orton jokes. (BS)
For the first five seasons of his career, Monta Ellis was an enigma, a talented scorer who often seemed uninterested in the rigors of defense and being his team’s leader. Now, a married man and NBA veteran, he has taken up the mantle and led his charges out of the wilderness. But few thought he would do so as the leader of a dystopic future world hell-bent on fighting off a coming alien invasion. At the bridge of his spaceship, he waits, ready to take on any extraterrestrials that look to penetrate our atmosphere. (EF)
As a player, Nick Van Exel was not someone you would have expected to take on a coaching role after his days on the court were over. Despite his penchant for late-game heroics, Van Exel was a bristly personality who often seemed disconnected from his teammates. With the Hawks, his methods have been far from conventional. But he has a secret weapon and conversation starter: the first pants ever to combine pleats and belt-loops. (EF)
Don Nelson is gone; long live Don Nelson. At least, coming into camp, that was the fear for some in the Golden State Warriors organization. After all, no man is as synonymous with the francise as the one they call Nellie; his up-tempo, experimental brand of ball, and eccentric behavior, are the closest it has ever come to a league-wide brand. But as with the couple in Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (including the clay-mation miniseries streamed on Welsh PPV), even the most passionate, rocky, relationships must come to an end. Coming into camp, though, new head coach Keith Smart wonder, and worried, how he could get his men to work past the charismatic rush -- and some would say, the beaten-puppy trauma -- of life under Nellie. What did their insides look like? How did they understand the sport of basketball? How, from chaos, can you start to mine order?
The answer was easy: stacking. This centuries-old sport, favorted primarily by autistic kids (and Dutch people) and their weird dads, consists of piling up objects, in a set form, at a rapid pace. The demons of Don Nelson are exorcised, and youngsters like Stephen Curry learn that fast doesn’t necessarily mean chaotic, and that you can build yourself -- and your team -- back up without a return to plodding basics. Maybe it’s a sport for the wee ones, but as Curry put it, Nellie made us feel like kids in a bad way. This is the first step of the long journey home, to safety and security -- both on the court and in their minds. (BS)
In the 1998 film Patch Adams, Robin Williams heals sick people through the power of laughter. Fighting against an impersonal health-care system that treats human beings like cogs in a money-making machine, he turns an arsenal of funny voices and a giant vat of spaghetti into the best treatment this side of the MRI machine. For years, NBA defense has been defined by a similarly cold and angry calculus. But don’t tell that to the Clippers, whose regular team-wide hug sessions have brought a new sense of togetherness and the most surprisingly effective defensive rotations in the league. (EF)
Amar’e Stoudemire’s commitment to Jewish culture turned out to be short-lived. Once he learned what observing Shabbat actually meant and tasted gefilte fish for the first time, he realized that the world he saw in Israel was far different from that of his new home of New York City, where insecurity triumphs over strength. Yet all hope is not lost as Amar’e explores the world outside our borders. Impressed by Marion Cotillard’s performance in Inception, he attacked the world of French cinema with uncommon vigor this fall. Now, with the help of teammate Ronny Turiaf, he’s learning that French culture goes far beyond baguettes and brie. C’est la vie, indeed! (EF)
In the offseason, most NBA player return to the place that they really call home. It may be a small town in Missippi or Vermont where they were born, or a posh suburb of Atlanta where they have settled with their families. Maybe it’s rented Gulfstream, circling the globe, with occasional stops in Asia for sneaker promotion. For Miami Heat center Zydrunas Ilguaskas, better known as Big Z, that place is the mouth of hell, where he lives in the transplanted ruins of Count Dracula’s forbidden castle. The brotherhood of basketball is an enlightened one. It’s been years since Charles Barkley called Angola’s players “spear chuckers”. That, and the grueling journey endured by many pros from the former Eastern Bloc, explains why there haven’t been nearly enough Dracula jokes in this so-called global renaissance. I say, so what? Dracula was a great movie. If they’re going to talk that way, they should be ready for some good-natured ribbing. If you can dish it out, take it. If my daughter was a vampire, like in Let Me In (great flick!), I would probably send her to those parts to get in touch with her roots. But for now, come on. Vampires are the enemy. They take our blood. Don’t they deserve a little grief?
None of this matters to Ilguaskas. He arrived in the NBA abruptly because he turned into a bat and flew over to America. His early career injuries are largely attributable to a lack of healthy teammates that he could eat. With the Cavs, he siphoned off of the nutrient-rich bloodstream of LeBron James, and it kept him upright and effective. That, as much as any desire for a ring or friendship with LBJ, is why he followed him to Miami. Back home in hell, though, none of this matters to Ilguaskas. He can’t change who he is, nor does expect his teammates, or fans, to ever understand. But he’s sick, as they say, of living in the darkness. Big Z is ready to come into the light, and set the record straight on who he his, his past, and how you balance a castle already in shambles on exact point where one dimension ends and another begins (for obvious reasons, he can’t go all the way yet). Actually, given Ilguaskas’s unique set of concerns, maybe he wants us to come into the dark with him, since he likely wouldn’t want to be caught out in the light. Good luck convincing this reporter to chase down that lead! (BS)
On the court, fans know Steve Nash as one of the greatest distributors of his generation. He creates passing angles out of thing air with the skill of a well-trained wizard. But there’s a darker side to Nash that people rarely see. The man who seems all too willing on the court is much more selfish behind closed doors. To get a taste of his true personality, just watch him at the team’s post-game spread. And don’t look away, because that fruit plate might vanish before your eyes. (EF)
Robin Lopez has never struck anyone as a serious guy. With his Sideshow-Bob hair and love of comic books, he sometimes resembles a rowdy sixth-grader more than an adult. But behind that goofy exterior lies the mind of a scholar who, lest we forget, opted to spend two years at Stanford rather than a more typical basketball power like UCLA or Arizona. With the help of his twin brother Brook, Robin has created one of the hottest apps on the smart phone market. The next time you’re able to access your favorite childhood cartoons to pass the time on your morning commute, thank Phoenix’s shot-blocking center. (EF)
“Us .... us .... us ... us ... us ... and them .... them ... them ... them ... them ... them/But after all, we’re all just ordinary men” -- Pink Floyd, “Dark Side of the Moon”
(BREAKING CHARACTER: How fucking dumb is it that every single post-Syd Barrett Floyd record is, on some level, about Barrett, an idealized and romanticized version of Syd that at once celebrates and laments his descent into madness and the brilliance it wreaked along the way. But those assholes kicked him out! Blech. Okay, back to reporting.)
Growing up, Devin Harris always knew he was different. He didn’t get in trouble. He got good grades. His friends on his AAU team, the Wisconsin Blasters, had cousins in jail, problems getting admitted into school, and always got stopped by the cops. Devin just didn’t get it. He loved his Packers, tried to be a good son and better boyfriend, and went to the school of his dreams. He lived with two female friends, prompting rumors that he was a pimp, queer, soft, a mama’s boy, or indecisive. Devin laughed it off easily because to him, it all seemed so distant. Above all else, though, Devin knows the value of giving back to the community.
When the Nets moved to Newark, that responsibility took on an entirely different tenor than it had when they played ... in a swamp, and ministered to alligators, rens, shopping malls, the memory of dead mobsters, and area schools with at least one black kid for the photo op. Newark, though, is a very different, a world Harris has never known. Teammate Terrence Williams compared it to Seattle’s “BD”, though he probably meant “CD”, where all the non-serial murders in Seattle occur even though, at this point, only four blocks of it aren’t gentrified. This season, Devin plans to finally cross that line, to discover that world that has seemed so close, yet so far away, throughout his charmed life as a star athlete. That is, unless he gets traded first. (BS)
The Orlando Magic once had a depth problem. With so many highly-paid players on the roster, it was often hard for Stan Van Gundy to find enough minutes to go around. Brandon Bass and several others who came (or came back) to Orlando expecting to be a contributor to a championship contender, languished on the bench. This team needed leadership badly, and it came from an unlikely source: swingman Mickael Pietrus. A man who once seemed like a replaceable role player is now an irreplaceable part of the Magic attack. With the guidance of this Frenchman, this team is finally making beautiful music together. (EF)
The Celtics always knew that signing Shaquille O’Neal would be a risk. With his outsized personality and need for attention, Shaq can often serve as The Big Distraction, particularly for a team that’s been all business for the past three seasons. He can contribute on the court, but it might not always be worth it. For proof, just look at the building rift between O’Neal and dimunitive guard Nate Robinson. The man who once made everyone laugh with his “Shrek and Donkey” nickname now sees his joke turf being invaded by one of the biggest pranksters in the NBA. This locker room may not be big enough for the both of them. (EF)
By now, you know Ben Wallace’s story. How he grew up on a tiny farm in an impoverished Southern state, where he passed him time building his muscles. He smashed things for work and play, and sometimes just to pass the time. He broke up old furniture for firewood, then smashed an old barn so his ten siblings could build a new living room set. The stories spread far and wide of the kid from the dirt road, whose mailbox came and went with the hounds, and his astounding muscle. When he first met Charles Oakley, it was because Oakley -- no stranger to big arms and outlandish boasts -- wanted to challenge this backwoods phenom to a lumberjack contest. He took one look at Wallace, sledgehammer in hand, and politely changed his tune. Oakley offered, instead, to make Ben into an NBA player.
It worked, but only because Ben kept hammering. He’s been hammering ever since. And now, as his career enters its twilight phase, Wallace is going back to his roots, the way we become more and more like babies as we age (no Benjamin Button), or start going to church the day we learn we’re going to die. Sheed had the championship belt, the perfect summation of what pro sports had made him, and vice-versa. Wallace, hanging on till the end like ol’ John Henry battling that steam machine, is bringing back the hammer like never before. Sometimes, you’ll see it in the locker room. Sometimes, by the bench. It’s not if Big Ben has a hammer, but when. Let’s just hope Ron Artest isn’t in the building. (BS)
The Heat’s Big Three earned their fair share of criticism this summer for the way they came together in Miami. Beyond that arrogance, though, was a need to be loved verging on the pathological. With that in mind, they’ve made a concerted effort to reach out to the community and show they know how to take a little criticism. That’s why they held the league’s first team roast last night, where everyone from superfan Jimmy Buffett to teammate Carlos Arroyo got their digs in at Miami’s most popular trio. Don’t miss the broadcast on ESPN next Sunday, because Mario Chalmers does a Chris Bosh impression that you have to see to believe. (EF)
Once upon a time, the Mavericks had amenities unrivaled by any other team in the NBA. Of course, that was before Mark Cuban lost all his money by giving it away on poorly conceived reality shows. These days, the scene in Dallas is quite grim. The franchise’s army of trainers has now been whittled down to one guy with a bottle of Tylenol and some tape. Personal DVD players have been replaced by a communal TV with no cable and a few bootleg Entourage DVDs. And the team’s personal chef? Well, Dirk Nowitzki tries to make spaetzle, but it just comes out as a doughy mush. (EF)
(NF note: I thought this was Dirk at an all-white party with a bottle of Hypno until I zoomed in. What a story that would have made!)
You might think that Carlos Boozer -- born and raised in Alaska, then sent to preppy Duke to ball -- would lean to the right politically. He went to play in Utah, after all. However, now that he’s in the free and open environs of Chicago, we’re getting to see real Carlos Boozer, a arch political satirist who, in one image, shrewdly suggests the cultural intersection of the Tea Party and the Village People. Who better to tackle these topics than Alaska’s fifth-most famous public figure, and a power forward often accused of being “soft”? TROPES FOR DAYS. (BS)
Mike Dunleavy has been ridiculed for many things, among them, looking like he was twelve. That’s why, for the last few months, he has been living in a strange, reverse-biodome, that sucks the life out of its victim and causes him to age faster than usual, at least on a superficial level. Hence the new set of wrinkles, which give him some gravitas in a way that muscles never did, and a look of perpetual horror that no longer suggests an unspoilt childhood growing up with an NBA journeyman. You can judge a black vet by his tats. For the white race, all they have is the stories their faces tell. (BS)
BREAKING: Anthony Randolph straddles scorer’s table to down a box of NERDS between interviews. What flavor? (BS)