Off to Vegas
Feb. 14, 2007 | feedback
Just two days away from the NBA's first All-Star weekend in Las Vegas, we're either headed for the greatest sports weekend of all time or the most disappointing sports weekend of all time. There's no in-between.
Here's what we know:
1. It's going to be one of the most crowded 72-hour stretches in Vegas history, thanks to All-Star weekend, Chinese New Year and a major fashion convention that will swallow up every taxi, hotel room and $25 blackjack table on Friday and Saturday nights. If you plan on gambling this weekend and don't have a ton of money, be prepared to re-enact Mikey's scene at the $100 table in "Swingers."
2. Every ovulating groupie within a 12-hour vicinity will be making the weekend drive to Vegas to hopefully get impregnated by an NBA player -- a list that includes every hooker, stripper and jock-sniffing female between 16 and 40 from Vegas, Reno, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, Phoenix and every city and town in the Los Angeles area. To its credit, the NBA is recommending that all players wear two condoms at once, even during the day and when they're sleeping.
3. Every celeb and wannabe celeb will descend on the city to party. (If you ever wanted to have Britney Spears puke on you, this is the weekend.) If you hope to hit the nightclub scene, you better be hanging with someone famous. And no, Marc Stein doesn't qualify. Ric Bucher ... maybe.
4. Not only is every heavy hitter with any association to the NBA (owners, minority owners, team execs, advertising and TV execs, etc.) heading to Vegas, all of them think they're attending the Slam Dunk Contest and Sunday's game ... even though the Thomas & Mack Center holds about 18,000 people and has only 30 luxury suites. As strange as this sounds, Saturday and Sunday could be two of the toughest tickets in recent sports history.
5. There are so many parties on Friday and Saturday night that it's legitimately impossible to keep track of everything. But here's the big question nobody has been able to answer ... how will everyone get around? Let's say you're at the Hard Rock on Friday night, and you want to get to the Palms. How are you getting a cab? Let's say you're a heavy hitter and hired a limo, which gives you something in common with the 25,000 other heavy hitters who thought they'd play it smart and hire a limo. Where are all these limos parking? Let's say you're one of the 100 million media members staying at the MGM Grand, and you head down to the lobby to wait in a cab line at 7 p.m. on Friday along with 100 other media members. When will you be actually getting in that cab? Tuesday? Wednesday?
I don't know the answer to any of these questions, much less how Vegas' airport (a notorious train wreck) will handle the onslaught of people coming in Thursday/Friday and leaving Monday morning. On a normal weekend, it takes 30-45 minutes to get a cab unless you can pay off a limo driver. How long will it take this weekend? Two hours? Three? On the bright side, Vegas had a year to prepare for every possible problem and desperately wants to prove its mettle as a potential NBA destination. So maybe the city figured all of this out. I am cautiously optimistic. Others are decidedly pessimistic. We will see.
Let's take a couple of Basketball Blog e-mails ...
Q: You're wrong about Chase Budinger. He's overhyped -- completely. Not to take anything away from him -- he's a nice player who plays within his limitations, good stroke when spotting up, freakish vertical leap. But he's got a ton of holes in his game, and good teams have been exploiting them all year. He's extremely slow laterally, which makes it very tough for him to create for himself and to play any semblance of defense (think Adam Morrison with even worse effort).
--Julian, Los Angeles
SG: A few people have e-mailed me similar thoughts. As I said last week, I'm throwing myself into college hoops and learning as I go along. ... In most of these cases, I'm posting my initial impressions with guys I'm seeing for the first or second time (like Alando Tucker, Mario Boggan, Budinger, etc.). So any feedback is exceedingly helpful. In Budinger's case, you're right, I was marveling at his offensive game and not concentrating on the defensive end. If he can't do anything on D, that makes him a better rebounding, more athletic version of Brent Barry as a pro. I'll throw some water on myself and watch him a few more times.
Q: What's the definition of a "whitewash"? (As in "They threw a whitewash at Gonzaga the entire second half.") Some sort of zone press? Please help. I need credibility with my kids!
--Jonathan L., Guilford, Conn.
SG: That's a running joke from my old Web site -- a "whitewash" happens when a team throws out five white players at the same time. You'll see it occasionally with smaller Division I schools but never with a big-time college and very rarely in the pros (San Antonio could make it happen this season by playing Udrih, Ginobili, Bonner, Oberto and Barry). The greatest whitewash of all time happened when the '86 Celtics played Bird, Walton, McHale, Danny Ainge and Scott Wedman at the same time -- the frontline was composed of Hall of Famers (and three members of the NBA's Top 50) while Wedman was a former All-Star and Ainge made the '88 All-Star Team. That will never be topped.
Q: The single dumbest thing you've written was about the five-foul rule in college. The pro game is 20 percent longer (48 minutes instead of 40) and hence the number of fouls to foul-out is six instead of five (also 20 percent more). If you watched more college ball, you would realize that rarely is five fouls a significant factor ... just like in the pros. But, just like the pros, on occasion people get in foul trouble and it does factor into the game. Simple solution, don't foul and you get to stay in the game.
--Ben W., Springfield, Va.
SG: Believe me, I understand the math. It's just too easy to pick up two fouls in the first few minutes of a college game. Every time I've watched OSU this season, the other team has attacked Oden and tried to get two quick fouls on him so they could knock him out of the game. Crap like that never happens in the pros -- it's a loophole that hurts the college game. If I were the commish of college hoops, I'd extend the game from 40 to 44 minutes (22-minute halves) and move to six fouls. Did we ever figure out why college games go for 40 minutes when pro games go for 48? The current setup allows for too many TV timeouts -- you could definitely pad each half with two extra minutes without losing anything. Probably makes too much sense.
Q: I was cruising through the channels last night and came across a program on Cinemax called "The Erotic Traveler." After watching for a few minutes I almost had a heart attack when I realized the naked chick dry humping was none other than Tonya Cooley, alum of the "Real World." So it seems the inevitable has happened in that Tonya was the first (but probably not last) Real Worlder to wind up in porn.
--Tyler, Greensboro, N.C.
SG: Near the end of last week, I started getting a steady stream of e-mails about this, with every reader using the same "I was cruising though the channels last night" excuse (yeah, right). It's nice to know that there's a definitive link between my readers and soft-core porn. Anyway, I did some investigating (the exact title of the show is "Erotic Traveler 2"), set my TiVo for Friday night's replay and -- wouldn't you know it? -- the reports were true! Not only does Tonya get naked and do the fake sex thing, she stars in the episode, does some acting (she's as bad as you'd think) and films multiple fake sex scenes. It's riveting and disturbing and creepy and everything else you can imagine. More importantly, the barrier has finally been busted down -- we're going to look back some day and realize that Tonya was the Jackie Robinson of the "reality stars breaking into soft-core porn" wave. So maybe her life did have some meaning.
Q: Like what you're doing with the basketball blog. Just wanted to let ya know that Steve Alford wore that outfit against Wisconsin on Saturday because it was "Coaches vs. Cancer" day in college basketball when all the coaches wear white tennis shoes. Alford and his staff didn't wear a suit on this day, so that's why they were wearing what you described.
--Kyle, Indianola, Iowa
SG: Thanks for the info. Surprised that wasn't mentioned during the game -- that seemed like relevant information, no?
Q: I grew up a Jewish Canadian kid. There are no sports heroes for Jewish Canadian kids. We have some American Jews (Shawn Green, Jay Fiedler, 2/3 of the Red Sox infield) and some Canadians (Nash, Morneau, the NHL) but I don't remember a successful Jewish Canadian athlete. The closest we ever had was Mathieu Schneider of the Montreal Canadians (who sounded Jewish but turned out to be neither Jewish nor Canadian -- his dad was Jewish and he grew up in the U.S.). That sucked. Anyway, Dan Shulman = Jew from Toronto. Love him. Thanks for giving him the props he deserves. We can all dream.
--Andy K., Toronto
SG: I just hope that e-mail inspires someone to launch a blog devoted to the greatest Jewish Canadian sports figures of all time.
Q: Will you please pass along the following message to your editors: "Nobody cares about John Amaechi! Stop shoving the story down our throats!" Thank you.
--David, Chapel Hill, N.C.
SG: Come on, you don't care that somebody played in the NBA for a few years, then announced he was gay well after the fact to make money and sell a book? I'm with LZ Granderson -- wake me up when somebody comes out while they're still playing a sport. Doing it after the fact is disingenuous. It's not 1989 anymore ... it's 2007, and like Mark Cuban said this week, any athlete who comes out while he's still playing will end up being a hero and making a ton of money from it. It's only a matter of time.
Q: I wanted to let you know that it's Brunswick School, not Brunswick Academy. Although all of us here love you, we'd appreciate it if you remembered the name of your alma mater.
--Bowen, Rye, N.Y.
SG: That may have been my greatest typo of all time. How could I screw the name up for my old high school, you ask? Well, having a little kid, losing sleep and hearing their TV shows in the background every day (Teletubbies, Elmo, etc.) slowly turns your brain to mush. It's that simple. You start screwing up names, mixing up facts, forgetting phone numbers and e-mails of your friends ... eventually, you screw up the name of your old high school in print and don't even realize what happened until somebody e-mails you. The lesson, as always: Stay single.
Q: This is what you wrote about Joakim Noah in your most recent blog: "He's a winner, he's always in the right place at the right time, he always makes the right decision on either end, he doesn't care about stats, he's immensely fun to play with and he makes 5-6 important plays per game that will not be reflected in the stats." Couldn't that exact, I mean EXACT, same thing have been said about Shane Battier in 2001? Do you still think Noah should be a top-four pick knowing that?
--Neil A. Johnson, Peoria, Ill.
SG: Hell yeah! What's wrong with Shane Battier? Is he not having a big enough impact on Houston's season for you? He's the most underrated Intangibles Guy in the entire league -- you can't measure him by stats, you can only measure him by watching the games and seeing all the little things he does from game to game. And he's a fantastic locker room guy. That's why I was such a big proponent of the Battier-for-Gay/Swift trade last summer. If you did the 2001 Draft over again (which was seriously loaded, by the way) and every team got a do-over for its pick, here's how the top 11 would go:
1. Wash -- Gilbert Arenas (No. 30 originally)
2. Clips -- Pau Gasol (3)
3. Atlanta -- Tony Parker (28)
4. Chicago -- Joe Johnson (10)
5. G-State -- Mehmet Okur (37)
6. Grizz -- Zach Randolph (19)
7. Jersey -- Eddy Curry (4)
8. Cleveland -- Shane Battier (6)
9. Detroit -- Jason Richardson (5)
10. Boston -- Gerald Wallace (25)
11. Boston -- Richard Jefferson (13)
So let's say Noah evolves into a more talented, big man's version of Battier ... why would this be a bad thing?
Q: In your recent college article, you said when "I'm running ESPN8." Well I'm reading your book right now, so it's taken me over a year and I just got halfway through, and in the book you wrote "... when I'm running ESPN6." So which is it, buddy?
--Andrew, Columbus, Ga.
SG: The joke used to be ESPN6 for years and years until I realized seven ESPN channels had quietly spawned (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, Classic, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes and ESPN360). That's why I changed it to ESPN8. By the way, I'd love to know what the record is for "longest someone will take to read my book from start to finish." Andrew from Columbus has to be the leader in the clubhouse right now -- 17 months and he's only halfway through? Can anyone top that pace?
Q: Thanks for the compliments about Santa Clara hoops. I was a senior there when "Little Stevie Nash" led them to the biggest victory in the history of the program, over Arizona in the tourney. Anyway, there's one factor affecting the Broncos you didn't mention -- the Dick Davey firing/retirement/uncomfortable, hastily organized farewell tour. Davey announced his retirement at the end of the season last week and, the thing is, nobody is sure why, especially given the team's success this season. Rumor is he was forced out and is not happy about it and the players are furious. They've publicly stated they're trying to win for him. This has all the makings of a huge March Cinderella story, complete with flashbacks to Davey's first tournament game (Arizona), Nash interview, and Jim Nantz waxing poetic about Davey's impact on generations of kids. I can just picture Davey in the locker room with the team in a huddle just prior to the WCC championship game, pausing before saying, "I love you guys." Classic.
--Paul Scott, Folson, Calif.
SG: Received a number of e-mails just like this one. You're right, this Santa Clara story fits every conceivable guideline for the Generic March Madness Cinderella Story. It's a foregone conclusion. They're going to beat Gonzaga to win the WCC, they're going to shock someone in Round 1 and Round 2, we'll see guys jumping up and down on the bench, and it's all leading to Nantz's gushing speech about Dick Davey on March 21 or 22. So many memories, so many lives touched, such an impact with this tiny college ... and now, a swan song in the Sweet 16. What a moment!