Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dwight Howard and the League of (T)Hugs

This year's All-Star weekend seemed to mark a new era in the NBA. It seems as if every decade, the game reinvents itself. You had the Bird/Johnson era in the 80's; Jordan in the 90's; and then, well, whatever it was in the 00's. Players like Iverson and Marbury were recognized as the face of the NBA. Fairly or not, the NBA was perceived as the home of thugs and gangsters parading around the court with their big tattoos and poor fundamentals. But at the ASG, Iverson shaved off his cornrows, and Stephon Marbury wasn't even playing. Instead, the stage belonged to smiling, goofy Dwight Howard and his little buddy Nate Robinson. Dwyane Wade was busily trying to market his new band-aid (or whatever that monstrosity under his eye was). Chris Bosh was trying to establish an account on every Web 2.0 site known to man. The NBA had transitioned from surly thugs trying to keep it real and "street" to hugable, loveable stars who knew how to work the media and connect to an audience, right? Three cheers for the League of Hugs!

Not so fast! Just as the perception of the NBA as a shelter for thugs was wildly overblown (and racist, ahem), so today's perception of Lebron, Dwight, and Company as friendly giants is terribly mistaken. By any standard, Dwight Howard had a great play-off performance last night. He scored 24 points, grabbed 24 rebounds...and dished out one elbow right to the head of Samuel Dalembert, early in the game when the refs would be too intimidated by his star power to throw him out. Just look at this beauty:

A star has the right to dish out punishment as well as take it, and that's exactly what Dwight did. Dalembert was trying to send a physical message by pushing Dwight out of his established position. Dwight knew he could get away with an elbow, and did. It's not the type of footage that wins endorsements. It won't be used in the NBA Cares campaign, and the League of Hugs isn't proud of that moment. But as a fan, I'm frankly happy to see that some things never change, and that the play-offs still matter no matter how many marketing opportunities are available for a smile and a little camera showboating. I don't condone injuring other players, and quite honestly, if it was Dalembert doing it to Howard, he would have been ejected. But as a Cavs fan, I hope another friendly giant in Northeast Ohio was watching the game...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What if Greg Oden Breaks Out Now?

Trying something new:

It's a pretentious-sounding voice in very unpretentious surroundings, ha. Just having some fun with the new camera.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Love Is a Game: Does She Look Better in Your Favorite Team's Jersey?

I'd talk about the play-offs, but last night was a bit of a yawn-fest. It's not surprising that Utah got their league-ordained win at home, or that the Celtics pounded the Bulls after Bill Simmons' column tried to tell us that Rose, Noah, and Thomas were all peaking at once. I do have to admit, I'm surprised by the way the Mavs have pounded the Spurs, but it's a classic Spurs move to lose games big that they were going to have a tough time winning anyway. The Spurs will be back for Game 4, and are not done. That is a smart team.

So over at my Twitter account, I asked the men if they would want their girl to get dressed up wearing the outfit/jersey of their favorite team. I also asked the ladies if they felt they got more attention wearing their favorite team's outfit. When mentioning women in sports outfits, most people probably think of Mariah Carey's serenading of MJ in an NBA jersey dress:

On the one hand, it sounds like a dream come true for a guy, right? Sports and women combined, what could be better?! And it's better than them cheering for a rival team right?! (SFW, it's a commercial).

But on the other hand, isn't it kind of creepy to have her wearing the jersey of your favorite player? I like Lebron James because he's a great player for my favorite team. The last thing I want to think about when he's soaring to the hoop is "Ooh, Kelly looked SO amazing wearing his jersey last night!" Wouldn't it mess with your head after a while? And it seems the NBA agrees with me, to a certain extent. Looking at the Cavs Women's store, it looks like most of the clothes are rather sensible, like this:

On the other hand, the first three words of the ad are "You'll look cute", so perhaps sexiness and being desirable really is the goal for women wearing outfits representing their favorite team. What do you think? Men, would you want your girlfriend/wife wearing the outfits of your favorite team, or do you keep your sports and women separate? Women, do you feel you get more favorable attention when the shirt says "Cavs" instead of "Hollister"? Let me know.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who's the Next Play-off Surprise Star?

Every year, some bench players suddenly explode in a series for several games in a row. Sometimes, this is a young player who has a good match-up in the series; other times, we get to watch the true unveiling of a star. Some of my favorites over the years are how rookies Tayshaun Prince and Raja Bell turned out to be the keys to vital play-off wins for their teams.

This year, we have Glen Davis averaging 22 ppg (?!) in two games and Courtney Lee averaging 21 ppg to keep the Magic in the series against the surging Sixers. It's probable that those numbers will go down as both teams go on the road, but I think that those two players do indeed have match-up advantages in this series.

So who else do you think might make the jump? I have my eye on three players:
1. Roger Mason. He's hit some key shots this year already, and is averaging slightly higher than his regular season average in the play-offs. Look for him to become a weapon as Tony Parker's drives to the basket free him up for shots.
2. Rudy Fernandez. He closed the regular season on a hot streak, shooting over 50% from the field in 5 of his last 6 games and benefiting from extended minutes as Coach Nate rested his starters. After an awful Game 1 (3 points in 20 minutes), he had 11 points and 2 steals in Game 2. If he has a good series, I think the Blazers win.
3. Daequan Cook. After a hideous Game 1 (along with the rest of the Heat), he earned 34 minutes off the bench, and responded with 20 points, going 6-9 from 3-point land. The Hawks do not have good guards coming off the bench: Cook can take full advantage of this match-up if he stays patient and works to open spots on the floor.

Anyone I missed?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mount Mutombo is Dormant, but not Forgotten

Forty-two years. 42, and still playing in the NBA. Truly, Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo was already something special just for his longevity. However, it looks like his career is finally over after a first-quarter collision with Greg Oden in Game 2 of the Rockets-Blazers series. (Yes, there's a certain comedy in the oldest NBA center being injured by the oldest-looking NBA center).

But sportfan, do you realize how many great moments Dikembe gave us? If his career is truly over, it's time to give thanks. Here's a count-down of my five favorite stories about Mutombo:
5. "Who Wants to Sex Mutombo?" There's an anecdote that claims that "Dikembe walked into a Georgetown bar one night [in the early '90s], and the entire place stopped to look at him. In response, Mutombo just yelled out, "WHO WANTS TO SEX MUTOMBO?!"
4. The Finger-Wag:

Dikembe's finger wag made blocking shots cool. Of course, it also was the first thing MJ and Shaq did after they dunked on Mutombo:

3. The Charity Work. How many NBA players can say they were invited to the State of the Union address? He took other NBA players with him to Africa, and built a hospital there. Remember, Dikembe originally went to Georgetown to study medicine. You can see the emotional impact the trip had on Jim Jackson and Marcus Camby early in this video.

2. The Sonics series. Who can forget this photo of Mutombo rolling around in joy after the Nuggets pulled the upset? It was the first upset of a #1 seed by a #8 seed in the play-offs.

1. The voice. Ah, that voice. Even if Dikembe is just bowling or eating, he's hilarious.

So hilarious, in fact, that his own teammates try to imitate him:

Dikembe Mutombo was a unique character in NBA history. He never quite got himself to the acclaim of a Shaq or Olajuwon, but he's the second-best shot-blocker of all time and played on winning team after winning team (Nuggets, Sonics, Sixers, and Rockets). I'll miss his intensity, his sense of humor, and his charitable nature. Thanks Dikembe! Here's a video that Youtube user thekurtman31 posted to say good-bye to Dikembe:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas: Unlikely Keys to Victory?

There's an interesting subplot to the Bulls-Celtics series I haven't heard discussed yet. Namely, former LSU teammates Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas are matched up against each other. And both players, who have been much maligned throughout their NBA careers, may actually be their team's key to victory.

First, let's talk about Glen Davis. Here's a guy who got lots of attention in college but seemed destined to flop in the pros. Most people most remember him for the nickname "Big Baby" or his crying on the bench when KG yelled at him. Type "Glen Davis" into Google Image Search, and the FIRST result you get is crying! What a terrible legacy to have. He also leads the league in awkward photos, like this one:

Not much of a legacy, right? But would you believe his scoring numbers in this series so far? 18 points in Game 1, 26 points in Game 2. Yes, I expect those numbers to fall once he leaves Boston, but I'm not so sure that 26 points in Game 2 was a complete coincidence. Be careful: it may not be over in Boston until the fat man sings.

Next, let's talk about Tyrus Thomas:

He'll forever be known as the guy who was traded for LaMarcus Aldridge. LaMarcus is a star in Portland, and Tyrus a star, to say the least. But his 16 points in Game 1 were crucial in stealing a game in Boston. His athleticism could give Davis and Perkins fits, and the penetration of Derek Rose should leave him open for some easy lay-ups and jams. But is he up to the challenge? The Bulls are not very well-equipped to take advantage of the absence of KG unless Tyrus has a big series. There'll be no nets to cut down without him.
Tyrus Thomas and me

Monday, April 20, 2009


Andre Igoudala's game-winning shot reminded me of one of my biggest pro basketball peeves. It's true that most of us block shots better with our dominant hand, our right. But when a baller is driving to his LEFT and is RIGHT-handed, it's very unlikely that he will fade to his left while shooting. So why, why does Hedo start by putting up his right hand to defend Iggy's shot? By the time he realizes he should be reaching with his left, it's too late. I see this happen at least once every year in the play-offs. Match your hand to the guy's dominant shooting hand already! You may lose some length, but you will be properly lined up to affect the shot.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NBA Playoffs: Would Allen Iverson Make a Difference?

I unfortunately did not get to watch all of yesterday's Cavs-Pistons game. But I have to ask the obvious question to start things off. Would the presence of a healthy, motivated Allen Iverson matter in this series?

During last year's play-offs, Detroit finally appeared to have compensated for a major weakness. I've stated for a long time that Detroit was most hampered by their lack of guards. Chauncey and Rip used to get worn down late in the play-offs, and this cost the Pistons several times. Finally, last year they had Rodney Stuckey starting to blossom in the play-offs.

However, Dumars saw fit to trade Chauncey away in the hopes of...well, I'm not sure, but I would guess salary cap flexibility and better developing Stuckey. Now, with AI's mysterious "back" ailment (or, perhaps more likely, lack of gastronomical fortitude and acute absence of his much ballyhooed heart, ahem), the Pistons are right back where they were in the last 5 years.

I look at that Pistons bench, and wonder where the scoring is going to come from now. Bynum, perhaps, but otherwise most of those bench players need help creating their shot. However, I'm not counting these Pistons out yet. Allen Iverson is a great player, but it seems like he disturbed that close-knit Pistons locker room. Sometimes teams will rally when they have fewer resources or have something to prove.

One more comment; WHAT HAPPENED TO TAYSHAUN?! Last year, he fell apart in the Boston series after two great series. He appears to be ready to repeat this year. He seems to have problems with physical scorers like James and Wade...that's to be expected when he's defending, but if he can't score either, the Pistons are in serious trouble.