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.


At 7/19/2007 4:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ronnie Nunn's wife was my english teacher in 10th grade. She's really eccentric and keeps most of the news clippings Ronnie's ever been in taped to a file cabinet near her desk. Their daughter is gorgeous.

This entry was awesome.

At 7/19/2007 5:49 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

Great stuff. Especially like the shots of Dorian Grey...er, B.J. Armstrong and PJ in the concession line.

Did you get a sense in Vegas of whether the front office types think Pierre Pierce can be anything more than a yearly training camp invite? It seemed like the one thing he can show he can do (take a lot of shots and make a decent portion of them) won't be an option if he finds his way onto a live roster.

At 7/19/2007 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. Any details on what Fesenko was telling reporters? Was he as good as early Yao when some of his interviews read like they were taken from a Zen book?

Two things I found and thought you guys might find interesting as well:

Marbury blogging, and I can't decide whether he's spinning out of control (with the crazy TV interview and all) or finally making sense.


And the second item is yet another story about Artest in Africa, but the bonus here is that Artest contradicts himself in almost every other sentence.


At 7/19/2007 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was an amazing post PCA sick insight.
I loved hearing about Almond since most of the NBA players you hear interviewed won't know about blogs but he loved FD, that's great.

At 7/19/2007 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

um, holy shit? that was awesome.
sports blogging for tibetan freedom, yo. tell xinhua to shove it.

At 7/19/2007 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic work, PCA. Thank you for adding a whole new, vast dimension to the already out of control awesomeness that is the various Summer Leagues. This is the tipping point-I don't care what it takes, next year I'm hitting up Vegas and SLC, before things get totally out of control with overexposure.

That Carlesimo photo is terrific. Seriously, the dude even brought one of his assistants with him so they could draw up some kind of complicated play to order the nachos and get then get them to Jeff Green in the corner for an open 3 out of the timeout. Notice how he has his hand over his mout to keep any of the crafty, treacherous concession stand workers or other people in line from reading his lips and selling his plays to Jerry Sloan. Pop doesn't raise no dumb kids.

kaifa: Stephon just wants to bring the Starbury movement to all the Italian children-it's all love. Also, I seem to recall Truwarrior saying he wanted to play in Europe at one point. How amazing would it be if Artest and Marbury BOTH decided to go play in Euro for NO REASON as like, the Crazy NYC Avengers, and spent their 30s destroying the fragile egos of 17 yr old NBA prospects and causing various international incidents, just b/c they could? I need to stop b/c that is some blow my mind Scanners-style shite. It would cause problems with God's plans for the Knicks, though.

At 7/19/2007 10:50 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Great post, PCA. Another classic.

Morris Almond is the first of probably a bunch of internet savvy young players... let's remember that sports blogging as only really taken off in the last couple of years... there will be more and more young players coming up with awareness of how the internet perceives them. And more players, like Greg Oden and Conley Jr, with real blogs that they write themselves.

And he has the best potential nickname of any of the other rookies - Mo Nuts (as chosen by Posting and Toasting).

At 7/19/2007 12:35 PM, Blogger the butler said...

I heard P.J. was trying to locate Terry Dehere...in order to hire him as his "snack man".

At 7/19/2007 1:04 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

Let me join the chorus congratulating PCA. Between this, Simmons' mag article and the Slate piece, I've decided that I absolutely have to make it to Vegas Summer League 08.

FreeDarko Pants Party next summer?

At 7/19/2007 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to be the crusher of buzzes, but the people got to know: the Emmy nominations were announced and The Wire got ni. Squadoosh. Friday Night Lights got like one and Rome was assed out too. This is some end of days shit.

Excellent piece, by the way. Durant is the new patron saint of affordable footwear.

At 7/19/2007 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: The Ernie Pyle of basketball travel reporting.

As is the case with the whole of the column, the notes on Sam Nunn were well taken.

Saw Nunn interviewed by the Knick broadcast team (including Walt Frazier as analyst)at half of one of the Knick Summer team games.

Nunn generously gave substantive information about the referee development program.

He was dignified, humble and gracious, all at the same time, particularily when recalling playing against Frazier in Knick preseason camps.

Freedarko can be pretty heavy on the NBA referees. That someone like Nunn is in authority goes a long way toward answering calls for systemic improvements.

Nunn also supported some of the older referees , citing the nature of NBA refereeing and the cumulative value of experience. (Joe Crawford was not one of the seasoned referees mentioned by name, however.)

At 7/19/2007 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: Apologies for mistakenly using the first name of a former Georgia US Senator/Democratic -militarist, having the same surname, in referring to Ronnie Nunn within the earlier comment on the high quality report above

At 7/19/2007 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Belinelli looks just like Frank Stallone.

At 7/19/2007 4:15 PM, Blogger Spencer said...

Padraig, I've been laughing all morning every time I read your comment. You nailed the Carlisimo Phenomena.

And Kaifa -- Fesenko has been a fan favorite. He got a standing ovation when he entered game 1 for the first time and had the place going nuts with a few blocks and some nice athleticism. I keep wanting to call him the Ukrainian Rik Smits, but I'm not sure that's quite accurate.

His English is actually very good, and he's been endearing himself to the locals with stories of telling his agent to help him find a $3000 dollar car and asking if he can take a walking tour of Salt Lake City. One of his youtube clips is labeled "Hilarious Fesenko Interview" or something like that, which really isn't hilarious at all. I think since he has such a stereotypical accent and he's big and self deprecating everyone gets a little giddy every time he talks.

The Marbury blogging and Artest in Africa are both amazing events and need to be treated with full posts. Hopefully Shoals or someone will take it on.

Along those lines, I did talk with former Jazz center Mike Brown (The Original Brown Bear) and he was telling me a bit about his foundation. There's a nice write up here:


Here's a snippet:

Brown's point is that American gang kids and war-torn children have more in common than they think. Both believe that they are the underclass, that they need guns to survive, and that they have no other options. And both are dying at an alarming rate.

Brown says when underprivileged kids from far-flung places are put together in a positive environment, something strange occurs. There's not more gang activity, but less.

The Browns are planning to take some American kids to Senegal next year. They are also encouraging the youths to become pen pals.

As for Pierre Pierce, I don't have much more insight that what was written here:


Lastly, I was hoping to track down Durant tonight to ask about the affordable shoes, etc, but it looks like he's already flown out to Vegas for the Team USA stuff.

At 7/19/2007 4:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PCA--you can ask Durant about The Wire too, because: Maryland.

OK I'll stop.

At 7/19/2007 5:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PCA, thanks for the details. As for Durant and the low-priced shoes, in one his blog posts Marbury wrote (or had written for him as some assume but he denies) that he approached Durant and Goodwin about joining the Starbury line. They decided otherwise with money probably being the deciding factor. But still Marbury seems to have had a deciding influence on Durant with him reportedly planning for a 60$ signature shoe.

Also, it'll be interesting to see how this NBA player blog phenomenon will develop this season. For the young guys like Oden or Conley it seems to come quite naturally (as a marketing strategy at least) to offer this window into their lives.

I'm not sure that one can call it a change of culture just yet, and of course a lot of this stuff might be heavily edited and commercially motivated. I'm all for players revealing more information about themselves than they've done in the typical interview settings. But while it adds a lot of intrigue in cases like Arenas', I'm wondering whether it might have the opposite effect for other players. Maybe sort of a demystification if you will, particularly when placing players in grander narratives.

At 7/19/2007 5:31 PM, Blogger Ben Q. Rock said...

Ken Mauer in short-shorts and slide sandals doesn't surprise me AT ALL. I wonder how many oil fields had to die for his stupid hair.

Buying your own snacks is FD.

At 7/19/2007 6:15 PM, Blogger Spencer said...

This is unrelated to anything but Darkofan's generous hat tip to the work of Ernie Pyle. I wasn't aware of him and just spent the last 45 minutes catching up. Fascinating life and words.


At 7/20/2007 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: A little hyperbole perhaps, PCA, but a complement was genuinely intended-- something about the attention to character and the enthusiasm for humanity encountered on the mission.

Thematically ( which this commentator does not pretend to fully grasp), you were on point too, the Summer League being almost 100% about potential.

At 4/13/2009 4:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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