Vegas follow up
Mar. 2, 2007 | feedback
I hate writing a rebuttal to another writer's column. I hate it. These days on the Internet, people spend far too much time writing about other writers instead of just writing about sports. Pretty soon, there will be Web sites devoted to writers writing about writers who write about other writers. We're not headed in the right direction.
At the same time, I couldn't let Scoop Jackson's "Vegas wasn't that bad" column just fade away without disputing two crucial pieces of his argument:
Piece No. 1: Scoop's assertion that "only" 403 people were arrested during NBA All-Star Weekend, a number apparently obtained from Deputy Lt. E. Sterr Bunny of the Las Vegas Police Department. I don't think it's very smart to base the premise of a column around a leap of faith that Vegas police reported every single crime, mugging, brawl, assault, theft and indiscretion from that weekend (even the ones for which the perpetrators weren't caught). Besides, how many arrests can you have when there weren't enough cops in the first place? Almost all of the police were concentrated between Mandalay Bay and MGM, with everyone walking the other half of the Strip (from Bellagio to the Wynn) apparently expected to fend for themselves.
As Cavs beat writer Brian Windhorst pointed out this week, there was a lawlessness and lack of decency along the Strip almost defied description. (Hell, even some of the players were scared -- check out the comments from Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston in the Houston Chronicle.) Did those 403 "reported" arrests cover everyone who robbed cab drivers, menaced tourists in unpatrolled parking garages, pawed women's breasts, started fights in cab lines, skipped out on restaurant bills and everything else? In my opinion, no. Everything I witnessed and wrote about last week was backed up by scores of other writers and media people.
Seriously, does anyone believe Vegas would accurately report arrest figures when the city was using that weekend as an audition for an NBA franchise? Since when did Vegas become a bastion of integrity? It's Vegas! That's why we love the place -- because it's NOT a bastion of integrity, remember? I'm trusting the eyewitness accounts of people who were there -- friends, friends of friends, readers and other writers -- over a dubious arrest figure from a woefully unprepared city.
Piece No. 2: Scoop's insinuation that certain media members were intimidated by the blackness of the event and ended up stereotyping hip-hop culture with phrases like "The Hip-Hop Woodstock" (I wrote that one) and "The Black KKK" (Jason Whitlock wrote that one and, by the way, he's black). I found this interesting because Scoop wrote in his original All-Star column that (A) somebody joked at one of his dinners that their casino was "South Central," and (B) Vegas was a "four-day Freaknic [sic]."
The "South Central" reference needs no further explanation, although it was a terrible Glenn Plummer movie and that probably needs to be mentioned. "Freaknik" was started by African-American college students in Atlanta in the early '80s; they had a noble dream of turning Freaknik into an annual party weekend, almost like a Black Mardi Gras. And for a few years, they actually pulled it off. By the mid-'90s, the event became so overcrowded and dangerous that Atlanta cops legitimately couldn't police the crush of people, leading to negative press and a groundswell to disband the event that didn't fully take hold until a brutal rape in '99. That was the final straw for Freaknik.
Needless to say, comparing All-Star Weekend to Freaknik isn't the most flattering comparison. Scoop still made that connection Feb. 20. Eight days later, here's how Scoop started his Feb. 28 column:
- As the reports continue to flow from the activities during NBA All-Star Weekend, the rage begins to build.
Hip-Hop Woodstock. The Black KKK. Weekend leaves NBA with a black eye.
What? Seriously? For real?
As difficult as it is not to turn this generalization of the entire hip-hop culture into an issue of race, let's be honest, it is about nothing else.
The generalization of the entire hip-hop culture? Wait, wasn't this the same guy who compared All-Star Weekend to a four-day Freaknik? No wonder he ended his column with a "pot calling the kettle black" reference ... perhaps it was a Freudian slip.
Here's the sad thing: There was a good follow-up column that needed to be written about Vegas. The NBA was unfairly blamed for the general craziness of the weekend, with the Pacman Jones incident getting the most play ... like it was the NBA's fault that an NFL star caused the biggest riot of the weekend. The NBA didn't screw up; Vegas screwed up. The city failed to stack the Strip and the surrounding parts of the city with enough cops and security guards, and they made the mistake of hoping everyone would act appropriately.
For any other weekend, that was a reasonably sound game plan. For a weekend in which the NBA All-Star Game was the THIRD biggest event behind Chinese New Year and the Fashion Convention? Not a good idea. If you owned a car and resided within driving distance of Vegas, you needed only to find a space in a garage and you were good to go for the weekend, even if you didn't have a place to sleep. Contrary to public belief, New Orleans won't be as chaotic an All-Star destination because the city will flood downtown with cops -- no way the Big Easy makes the same mistake as Vegas did -- and because out-of-towners won't be able to cruise into the city and park downtown without any trouble. Over everything else, that's where Vegas screwed up.
So who gets blamed? Naturally, the NBA. The league's fundamental issue has remained the same for four decades: It's a league of mostly black players marketing itself to a mostly white audience and a mostly white media. That delicate balance was the premise of David Halberstam's watershed sports book "The Breaks of the Game," which was published 25 years ago, back when MJ was playing for Carolina and Michael Jackson was on his second nose. Nothing has really changed. Just look at the way Iverson's credentials were belittled when Philly shopped him last December, or the comically skewed reaction to a Nuggets-Knicks brawl that wasn't one-tenth as violent as the Senators-Sabres brawl last week. Certain media members will always delight in sticking it to the NBA, with the underlying theme being, "Sorry, I just can't identify with those black guys."
I wish Scoop had tackled this subject, asking why some media members gleefully used All-Star Weekend as their latest excuse to crush the league. Instead, he played the race card, based his premise on a dubious statistic and came off misguided. Once upon a time, the late Ralph Wiley repeatedly proved an African-American sports columnist could write intelligently about racial issues without using his skin color as a crutch. After Ralph passed away three years ago, Scoop Jackson vowed to carry Ralph's torch on Page 2.
I just wish he'd brought that torch to Vegas.
Watched three college hoops games since my last report on Tuesday. Some scattered thoughts ...
I can't get over what's happening to Florida. Everyone keeps saying, "no, no, no, they'll be fine, they did this last year, they're just bored, they'll turn it on in March." Um ... have you watched these games? They're a mess. Maybe the LSU game was a mail-in job, but I thought the Gators were trying against Tennessee and still got their butts kicked. The more I watch them, the more I find myself wondering if they have the wrong mix of players. Their three low-post guys (Jo Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard) always seem to be getting in each other's way. Their guards have been exceptionally sloppy and haven't been making their threes. And Corey Brewer has been wildly disappointing on both ends -- especially on defense, where he fell asleep so many times against Tennessee that Dick Vitale called him out. I mean, when you get ripped by Dickie V, you know you're doing something wrong.
Comparing them to the other top teams, everyone else has a creator who can get a good shot (or get somebody else a good shot) when his team absolutely needs it. Texas has D.J. Augustin and Kevin Durant. OSU has Mike Conley. Wisconsin has Alando Tucker. UCLA has Darren Collison. Texas A&M has Acie Law IV. Carolina has Ty Lawson. Kansas has about 3-4 options depending on who's hot. And so on and so on. Well, who do the Gators have? Every time they need a basket, they pound the ball down low to Noah or Horford, the defense pounces on them with a double-team and there's no Plan B. Maybe this worked last year, but that's the thing -- it isn't last year anymore. It's exceedingly possible that last year's title can be explained like so: They were a good team that caught fire for two weeks during a particularly crappy year of college hoops. Anyway, I think they're in legitimate trouble.
One more Florida note: Noah is quietly playing himself out of the top 5. Nobody is wasting a top-5 pick on a more polished version of Mikki Moore. Not this year.
(The irony of ironies: Phoenix is sitting there with Atlanta's pick in the 6-7 range thinking, "Keep dropping! Keep dropping!" Stick him on a good team and he'll thrive. On a bad team? I'm not so sure anymore.)
UCLA fans are like Toronto Raptors fans: There are more of them than you'd ever think, they take every slight personally, and they'll absolutely keep sending angry e-mails to people like me until their team is given the credit they deserve. Even my accountant Tony (a UCLA fan) sent me a mean e-mail when I didn't mention the Bruins in Tuesday's column, telling me in no uncertain terms, "I'm going to butcher your taxes this April unless you write something." OK, he didn't say that. But he did tell me to move back to the East Coast if I was going to keep ignoring the Bruins. I was wounded.
Anyway, I called an audible and TiVo'ed the UCLA game Thursday night. The reason I haven't been monitoring them is simple: the Pac-10 sucks. Don't let anyone tell you differently. For instance, Washington State's team looked like an intramural team of stoners who would give themselves a name like "The 420 All-Stars" -- they even had one starting forward with a scraggly beard who looked like he should have been hanging out on a street corner trying to sign people up for Greenpeace. UCLA is considerably better than anyone else in that conference. Which isn't really that interesting in the big scheme of things. That's why I didn't write about them yet.
Here's the most interesting thing about them in relation to last year's team: They lost Jordan Farmar to the Lakers and they're much better off. Why? Because Darren Collison gets to play all the time now. In Thursday night's road win, Collison was the dominant player on the court, even if his stats (7 points, 8 assists) didn't reflect it. He's an old-school point guard who controls every aspect of the game, never turns the ball over, never shows off, never even changes his expression, doesn't give a crap about shots and only cares about running his team. Needless to say, I love the guy -- his decision-making is freakishly good for college basketball. He always makes the right choice. He's steady. And those traits carry over to that entire team -- they're just one of those well-coached, well-oiled, well-run teams that never beats itself and makes opponents pay for every mistake.
After Tuesday's column, when I wrote the section that Texas A&M and Wisconsin were the only two blowout-proof teams in college basketball this season, some UCLA fans wondered why I didn't include the Bruins in that group. You know what? They're right. Nobody's blowing out UCLA. They're too smart and too good. Whether they have enough size to win a championship ... that's a whole other story. I say no.
(One more thing about Collison: Currently he's ranked No. 38 on Chad Ford's Top 100, 17 spots behind Acie Law IV. That's not a reflection of Chad -- he talks to GMs and scouts, gets a feel for what they're thinking, then makes his list accordingly. Which is fine. We already knew that NBA teams are dumb. I just know that Law and Collison will eventually be remembered as two of the better guards from this year's draft class. Too bad there's not a way to wager on this.)
I can't write coherently about this game, so allow me some disjointed paragraphs.
1. Out of the 10 most exciting basketball games I've seen this winter (college or pro), the Texas Longhorns and the Phoenix Suns were involved in nine of them. This particular one could have been No. 2 behind the Suns-Nets triple-OT game -- it had everything you'd ever want from a college hoops game. Well, except for Erin Andrews.
2. If Acie Law IV isn't one of the top 10 picks in this year's draft, I give up. He's like a cross between Damon Stoudamire (back when he still had his fastball) and Sam Cassell (in the testicles department), and if you didn't get goosebumps during the replay of him screaming "That's what I do! That's what I do!" at his teammates after draining one of his life-saver threes in Austin, I don't know what to tell you. You could go to war in the playoffs with this guy for the next decade.
3. It's no secret that Texas has become my favorite college hoops team; my man-crush on Durant has reached the point that I should probably remain at least 100 yards away from him at all times. So I finally fall for a college hoops team, and just my luck ... they have a crappy coach! It's like my destiny in life to root for poorly coached basketball teams. The way Rick Barnes butchers this team on a game-to-game basis is unconscionable. Seriously, did you SEE Wednesday night's game? What was your favorite bad coaching moment? Acie Law being repeatedly allowed to shoot game-tying threes from his favorite spots on the floor? Durant going 4-5 straight possessions in OT without touching the ball? D.J. Augustin being allowed to recklessly drive to the hoop again and again when he's playing with the most unstoppable college scorer in 40 years?
I asked this question a few weeks ago, and I'm asking it again now: How can you not run more plays for Kevin Durant? Post him up and he has 27 different ways to score. Curl him off picks and he makes 15-footers like they're layups. Spread the floor out, let him handle the ball at the top of the key and he can pull up and swish 25-footers over anyone. THE GUY IS A SURE THING!!!!!!!! Why are they giving him a degree of difficulty? Do they have plays in their playbook called "Durant stands frozen 25 feet from the basket while other guys dribble aimlessly" and "half-assed pick-and-roll that leads to nothing" and "Durant posts up while the point guards stare him down, then reverse the ball the other way?"
I can't handle it. Watching Texas screw up the Durant Era is like watching a guy spend three straight hours buying drinks and working it with a girl who already announced, "Sure, I'll sleep with you." In other words, WHY ARE YOU MAKING THIS HARD????? Seriously, I feel like Barnes should resign. He's overmatched. He's Dubya-esque. It's a disgrace. They're going to get bounced from the NCAA Tournament this month solely because Barnes has no idea how to get Durant the ball ... and even worse, doesn't seem to feel any pressing need to get Durant the ball. And since Durant is a good teammate, and he's not one of those guys who would scream at a teammate, "Look, get out of my way and give me the f---ing ball," we get to watch him stand around in close games while opposing coaches think to themselves, "Phew, I'm glad Rick Barnes is over there."
4. With the Durant-Oden battle, I keep coming back to the alpha dog thing. When Durant buried the 26-footer to seemingly put that game away in regulation in the last 12 seconds, didn't you KNOW that was going in? When he's shooting free throws in close games, aren't you shocked when he misses one? When he slapped the head of his teammate who airballed a jumper, wasn't that an MJ-esque moment or am I crazy?
I don't know how many times I need to write it, but I'm going to keep writing: Sometimes in life, you just know. Durant is going to become one of the most memorable NBA players of all time. I really believe that. In a weird way, it's almost better for him to get drafted behind Oden -- he'll have a chip on his shoulder for the rest of his career, and as we're seeing with the LeBron Era right now, that Shoulder Chip is much more important than we want to believe. And as I wrote on Tuesday, because of the questions surrounding Oden's wrist and how much it's affecting his play, NBA GMs are going to be terrified to pass Oden up in four months, simply because they won't be sure what they're passing up, so it's much safer just to take him.
Which made me realize something: In the 2007 Draft, you're better off with the second pick. Not only will you end up with Durant, you're getting Durant with a chip on his shoulder because he didn't go first. Now that, my friends, is winning the lottery.
1. Not to sound like Chris Farley, but remember the time my dad and I really wanted the Celtics to draft Brandon Roy because we both loved him in college and thought he was a can't-miss pro ... and then they gave the pick away for Bassy Telfair so they could save $20 million? Good times. Well, Seattle's Steve Kelley wrote a gushing feature over the weekend about Roy that I mailed to dad on Monday. Here was his response: "Just what I needed to start a Monday morning."
2. From Kent in Boston: "Did you see this Chris Russo rant regarding Pacman Jones in Vegas? Please watch the whole thing, it gets better as it goes on. Please also link it to your readers. You've never provided an actual link to Mike and the Mad Dog. This is a perfect example of Mad Dog's brilliance."
3. If you're a fan of crisp, well-done reporting, please read Michael O'Keefe's feature about Pacman Jones' Vegas incident from last Sunday's NY Daily News. Thought this was really well-done.
4. Numerous readers sent this one along: An astonishing feature about Spencer and Brody from "The Hills" in Details magazine It's incredible. It's unbelievable. It's life-altering. At this point, the only way their careers can end in a satisfying way is if the words "prison" and "rape" are involved.
5. Three worthy Kevin Durant pieces: Tim Cowlishaw's game column from the Texas A&M game, which was a really good deadline effort ... Andy Katz's feature about following Durant around on the day of that same game ... and Kevin Robbins' extended feature called "The Making of Kevin Durant."
6. The NBA.com guys were ticked that I never linked to their Dunkathon page, and rightly so ... it's awesome. My favorite section was the In-Game Dunks, which includes a dunk that sends Larry Legend absolutely SPRAWLING and immediately vaulted into my top 20. Please check that one out. It's No. 4 at the 1:19 mark.
7. Here's the DJ Tribute video that the Celtics ran before the Knicks game on Wednesday night. Thought this was really good. Although I will always associate that Green Day song with "Seinfeld."
8. Finally, Shawn from New York passed this one along: "Check out this guy's youtube videos. I've been watching them all afternoon. Most are short, but he has a ton of CBS intros to big NBA games from the 1980s -- ones from before Games 4 and 7 in the 1984 Finals, before Game 6 of the '85 Finals (ah, finally, sweet revenge for the Lakers), Game 2 of the Celtics-Bulls series in '86, and many many more. Plus he has many random old NBA ones that are also cool, and allowed me to remember a time when the greatest thrill in life was listening to Brent Musberger introduce an upcoming playoff game."
(Also: Do yourself a favor and check out the '83-84 season recap montage. Great highlights, great music. And it's always riveting to watch the '85 lottery -- although they chopped out the part where Stern froze the envelope. Hmmmmm.)