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Thursday, April 19, 2001
Updated: April 20, 3:14 PM ET
Hitting NBA below the belt

By Bill Simmons
Special to Page 2

With the NBA regular season winding to a close and the triumphant DVD release of the "Rocky" movies slated for Tuesday, we're killing two birds with one stone and paying tribute to the Rockys and to the NBA in the same column! Instead of handing out generic NBA awards, we're handing out actual quotes from one of the classic sports movies of all-time: "Rocky III."

Steve Nash, Jason Williams
Thank heavens for new blood, such as Steve Nash and the Mavs.
I always thought "Rocky III" was the most polished of all the Rockys, with the best storyline, the best performances, the best villain (a transcendent performance from Mr. T), the best theme (Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger") and three stunning plot twists (Mickey dying, Rocky getting knocked out and Apollo surfacing out of nowhere to train Rocky for the rematch). Heck, there's even a Frank Stallone cameo! Does it get any better than a Frank Stallone cameo?

And if that's not enough, Sly Stallone probably peaked in this movie -- he's alternately cheesy, hysterical, likable, ludicrous, inspiring, laughable and endearing, sometimes all at once. Has there ever been a Hollywood star quite like him? Of course not. But that's a story for another time.

Onto the awards ... 50 "Rocky III" quotes for the people and teams that stood out in the 2000-01 NBA season ...

(1) "Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!"
To the Kings, Mavs and Bucks ... it's about time some new blood entered the mix in May and June. The thought of another Heat-Knicks seven-game series just made me throw up in my mouth.

(2) "You call yourself a fighter. Prove it now."
To Jason Kidd ... he bounced back from that embarrassing domestic violence incident (and subsequent on-court funk) to slap together the best stretch of basketball of his career, averaging more than 20 points, 10 assists, six boards and 2.5 steals in the past two months. Now the Suns are the proverbial "Team Nobody Wants to Play In A Short Series" ... and Sacramento drew the short straw. Kings fans, beware.

(3) "Look at this place -- rats even have more pride than to be caught here."
To the Vancouver Grizzlies ... their home games were the most depressing events on TV that didn't involve either Steven Weber or Brian Dennehy; TV cameras were afraid to scan the stands just in case somebody was trying to hang themselves from a balcony railing. Thank God, it's over. Now can we fire the NBA executive who uttered the immortal words, "I have an idea! Let's put an expansion team in Vancouver!" That was the worst idea since "Rocky V."

(By the way, "Rocky V" never happened. You hear me? It never happened. For years, I've been hoping to get my revenge when they release the Rockys on DVD, and I'll finally get my chance next week. I'm going to purchase the 5-DVD set at Suncoast Video, immediately open the package, rip out the "Rocky V" DVD and smash it on the floor to smithereens as the stunned salespeople look on. Then I'm walking out. Can you put a price on a moment like that? I think not.)

(4) "What's your prediction for the fight?"
(5) "Prediction? Pain."

To the L.A. Lakers ... you just get the feeling that everything's leading to a playoff collapse and subsequent Kobe trade, don't you? It's almost a moot point.

(6) "Yeah. See that look in their eyes, Rock? When we fought, Rock, I trained hard but I didn't have that look in my eyes. You had it, you won. You gotta get that look back, Rock. Eye of the tiger, man. Eye of the tiger."
Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers have gotten that look back lately, that eye of the tiger.
To the Lakers again ... hey, stranger things have happened, right?

(Can you tell I'm totally perplexed by the Lakers right now? They're capable of anything. Let's just move on.)

(7) "You ain't so bad! You ain't so bad! You ain't nothin'!"
To the most overrated stars in the NBA this season ... Keith Van Horn (softer than Dirk Diggler after an all-night coke binge); Larry Hughes (38 percent shooting?); Joe Smith (the T-Wolves were better off sacrificing four No. 1s and avoiding Smith's $90 million extension); Tim Hardaway (all he can do is launch 3s); and Jason Williams (the MVP of the team -- he doesn't even play at crunch time).

(8) "You know who I am? You know who I am? I'm the man! I'm the man!"
To the most improved players of the 2000-01 season ... Shawn Marion (a small forward averaging nearly 11 boards a game?); Baron Davis (one year away from being unstoppable); Peja Stojakovic (do you realize he's the crunch-time go-to guy for a 56-win team?); Nazr Mohammed (made himself a lot of money over the past six weeks); Jason Terry (the rare "shooting guard trapped in a point guard's body" who actually made it in the NBA).

(Hey, speaking of Most Improved, how 'bout Adrian's performance in "Rocky III"? She actually looked frisky at times, didn't she? It's safe to say that Talia Shire peaked in this movie. I don't even have a joke here.)

(9) "I'm gonna bust you up."
(10) "Go for it."

The most inspiring exchange in the movie goes to the most inspiring story of the season ... Paul "The Truth" Pierce, who was nearly stabbed to death last September and captured NBA "Player of the Month" honors five months later. No Celtics player since the Bird Era slapped together a better all-around season. Could the luck finally be changing in Boston after 14 years of "The Curse of Len Bias"?

(11) "You got your shot, now give me mine!"
To the Houston Rockets ... not only did they belong in the playoffs, but they could have given the Spurs a legitimate Round One scare if their guards caught fire. Put them in the East and they could have advanced to the Conference Finals with a few breaks. And just for the record, Rudy Tomjanovich gets my vote for Coach of the Year -- he loosened the reins, handed his offense over to Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis, relied on fast breaks and isolation drives and somehow chiseled out 45 wins in the impossibly tough West. How many coaches would have completely changed their style like that? Amazing job.

(12) "You wake up after a few years thinking you're a winner ... you're really a loser."
To the Knicks ... haven't they done enough damage to the NBA playoffs over the past few years? How many 81-78 games can one nation take? Is anyone remotely excited at the thought of the Knicks playing the Heat or the Sixers in another seven-game series, or Spike Lee, Matthew Modine and the Baldwin brothers cheering them on as LJ launches an off-balance 3 off the side of the backboard? Please, shoot me.

(13) "Whoa ... you move pretty fast for a big guy, you know that?"
Paul Pierce
Not just a token Boston mention, Paul Pierce's season was simply amazing.
To Dirk Nowitzki ... his inspired play this season actually inspired hazy memories of Larry Legend -- the arching jumper that never seemed to touch rim, the awkward running style, the creative open-court passing, even the cheesy blond 'do. Easily the most entertaining player on the most entertaining team in the league.

(14) "Seems like lately everybody wants to beat me up."
To Allen Iverson, the obvious choice for MVP this season ... he averaged more than 31 points a game on the best team in the East; more importantly, he absorbed an obscene amount of punishment during the season as NBA teams collectively decided, "Hey, let's pound him like a piece of veal every time he drives into the lane!" The fact that he even played 71 games was a miracle; if he makes it through two months of the playoffs, that will be even more astounding. Iverson's physical condition is absolutely, positively the X-factor of the playoffs this season. Teams will be trying to knock his tattoos off.

(15) "Don't give this sucker no statue, give him guts!"
To Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson, Vin Baker, Penny Hardaway, Matt Geiger and Shawn Kemp ... six guys who made a combined $55 million this season. I will now light myself on fire.

(16) "Deadddd meat."
To the Milwaukee Bucks ... SmallBall is fun and all, but those Battier-esque qualities (rebounds in traffic, timely charges, tip-ins, etc.) separate the men from the boys in May and June. You can't live and die by the jumper for two months.

(17) "I live alone. I train alone. I'll win the title alone."
To Stephon Marbury ... he and Kevin Garnett could have been the best tag-team since the Road Warriors; instead, Marbury pushed for a trade to Jersey so he could become The Man and play closer to his family. Even Jimmy Hoffa didn't disappear off the radar screen this fast. Honorable mention here to Jerry Stackhouse for his one-man, "I'm shooting 30 times a game and I've never been happier!" crusade to win the scoring title.

(By the way, ever notice the eerie similarities between Clubber Lang and Mike Tyson? It was like Mr. T was ripping off Tyson's gimmick before Iron Mike even got started. And what happened to Clubber Lang? Did that three-round loss in the Balboa rematch finish him off for good? Did he ever rally back after Rocky retired? Did Don King ever sign him up for a "Reclaim Your Pride" match with Ivan Drago? Alas, we'll never know ...)

(18) "Listen. (pause) It's quiet, isn't it?"
To all the Chicago Bulls fans ... has there been a more memorable bandwagon crash in sports history? Everybody off the bandwagon! You can still go out but you can't stay here! Everybody off! MJ's gone and he's not coming back, let's wrap it up! Everyone off! This thing's about to self-implode! You can trade in your Bulls jerseys and caps for Lakers and Kings merchandise! Everyone off! YOU NEED TO GET OFF NOW!

(19) "What do you think we'll do when it's all over?"
(20) "I dunno ... maybe join up with the circus."

To Mike Dunleavy and Phil Jackson ... hopefully they'll end up in the same support group over the summer.

(21) "You know you got a big mouth, you know."
To Antoine Walker ... the most widely reviled player in the league and the odds-on favorite for "Player most likely to get his jaw broken before the end of his career." Not only has he never committed a foul in his life, he thrives on tweaking opposing players and coaches, referees, ball boys, you name it. And 'Toine wonders why he didn't make the All-Star Team. Honorable mention here to the completely, utterly insane Rasheed Wallace.

(22) "Mick? MICK!? Mick? A nuh-nuh ... a babdndnmdsh sdhshshs! Mick ... dgdgdgsgsg. Ahhhhhh ... ahyudgdgdgd ... please don't ... dhshshshaha ... we got more to do ... gdgsgsgah ARGGGGGGGH!!!! ARGHHHHHHHH!!!!! ARRRRRRRRRRHHHH!!!!!!"
The funniest moment of the movie -- Stallone gunning for the Best Actor Oscar and wailing incoherently after Mickey's death -- goes to the funniest person of the 2000-01 NBA season . . . none other than Charles Barkley, who turned TNT's postgame show into Must-See TV on Wednesdays and Thursdays. There were so many classic moments with Chuck, Ernie and Kenny that we don't have nearly enough space to list them all here. Good times ... good times.

(By the way, was there a more stunning turn of events in movie history than Mickey dying right after the first Lang-Balboa fight? Nineteen years later and I'm still blown away by this one. People in the movie theater were reeling when this happened; nobody saw it coming. Mick? Mick? Mick?)

(23) "Look at the tenseness in his face, the tautness in his body. Boy does he look serious right now!"
To NBC ... although most of the potential NBA Finals matchups are pretty favorable, there's always the possibility of a worst-case scenario Milwaukee-San Antonio small-market matchup with this potential promo: "ALLEN! DUNCAN! It's the NBA Finals on NBC!" Yikes.

(Personally, I'd promo it like this: "FERRY! PRZYBILLA! It's the NBA Finals on NBC!!!!" But that's just me.)

(24) "There is no tomorrow! There is no tomorrow!"
To the Utah Jazz ... you have to admire these guys, don't you? Stockton & Malone are a combined 115 years old and they missed three games between them; they also combined to average 34 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds a game and paced the Jazz to another 50-win season. They won't go away; they're like VD.

(25) "We gotta leave. I don't like these people."
To the much-maligned Juwan Howard ... he was never a reliable first option in Washington, but now he's a crucial member of Dallas' supporting cast. Think about it ... does any NBA team have a better "fourth-best player" than the Mavericks with Juwan? They're a legitimate playoff sleeper right now because of him. Special kudos to MJ and Mark Cuban for pulling off a trade that helped both teams (would you have ever imagined that those two guys could combine to pick an online roto team, much less an NBA trade that helped both teams?).


Time for a quick intermission...

It's the eye of the tiger
It's the thrill of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge of our rivals
And the last known survivor
Nnnnnnn bbbbb way in the night
And he's brrbrbrb ddd rbrbrbrbrb THE EYEEEEEE
Of the tiger....

(Or something like that...)


(26) "What the hell are you doing? What the hell are you doing?"
(27) "It's strategy, that's all. I know what I'm doing!"

To Isiah Thomas ... months after submarining the CBA, he nearly submarined the defending Eastern Conference champions -- no playoff team in recent memory looked as uninspired, listless and ill-prepared over the course of the regular season (although they finally showed a little life in April). Even the team huddles look awkward -- every time Isiah diagrams a play, Reggie Miller always has a "Does anyone know if the Lakers have any cap space this summer?" look on his face.

(Speaking of awkward, was there a more awkward moment in movie history than the climactic beach race between Apollo and Rocky -- those disturbing closeups of Rocky's flapping cheeks and Apollo's bulging shorts, followed by the post-race jumping/hugging/clapping celebration in the water when Rocky and Apollo showed a little too much affection for two grown men? I don't even want to talk about this anymore. Let's just move on.)

(28) "When this is over, a lot of folks are gonna owe you an engraved apology."
To the 76ers ... anyone questioning the Ratliff/Mutombo deal right now is completely insane. One guy's a power forward who blocks shots; the other guy is one of the three legitimate NBA centers on the planet. End of story.

(29) "Presidents retire. Generals retire. Horses retire. Man O' War retired. They put him out to stud. That's what you should do."
To Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon ... we could see the salad forks sticking out of their backs all season. Hopefully MJ and Barkley will take note -- sometimes you just need to know when it's time.

(30) "What happened? How did everything that was so good get so bad?"
To the Seattle SuperSonics ... five years ago they were playing in the NBA Finals as the proverbial "Team on the Rise." Now they're a Lottery team stuck with the most overpaid player in the league (Vin Baker) and an aging point guard who doesn't want to be there anymore (Gary Payton). It happens that fast. And just for the record, this might have been Rocky's best line in the movie. Makes a fun senior yearbook quote for all you high schoolers out there.

(31) "Hey, Paulie, don't get mentally irregular here."
(32) "It's a free country."
(33) "Just don't get irregular, all right?"

To the Portland Trail Blazers ... their 2000-01 campaign ranks right up there in the Bad Chemistry Pantheon. My favorite part of the season was when they added Rod Strickland to the mix: "We don't have enough head cases here ... let's bring in a moody point guard who leads the league in DWIs! That'll work!"

(And how 'bout this Shawn Kemp thing? You mean a guy who gained 50 pounds over the past four seasons, missed practices and talked to himself on the court during games might have actually been on drugs? Seriously? You're kidding me!?)

(34) "You better get that bad look off your face before I knock it off."
To Charles Oakley ... even the pimps in those HBO Undercover shows don't slap around as many people as the OakMan did this season. He might need to cut down on the TBS viewings of "Road House."

(35) "And if I lose?"
(36) "Then you lose. But at least you lose with no excuses."

Tim Duncan
This year the Spurs have a healthy Tim Duncan and all the confidence in the world.
To the San Antonio Spurs ... remember, they won the NBA title in '99 and Tim Duncan missed the playoffs last spring with an injury. As far as they're concerned, the road to the NBA title still goes through them. And they're right. Great team, great chemistry, great superstar. Sounds good to me.

(37) "You gotta remember, you fight great, but I'm a great fighter."
To Kevin Garnett ... with the possible exception of Tracy McGrady, nobody did more for a crappy team (the T-Wolves had no business finishing 14 games above .500 in the West). But here's the real question -- in a league desperate for personable superstars, how come Team Stern hasn't taken full advantage of KG? With his personality, sense of humor and competitive spirit, isn't there some serious MJ Potential here? Doesn't Garnett give the NBA everything they were banking on from Shaq five years ago? Hey, I'm just asking ...

(38) "To all my love slaves out there: Thunder Lips is here. In the flesh, baby!"
To the unsung players you can't help but love ... Aaron McKie (the glue of a 56-win team); Steve Nash (the quintessential point guard); Mobley (instant offense, constant fun); Alvin Williams (makes an inordinate amount of big plays); Terry Porter (gave the Spurs some extra fire); and Lindsey Hunter (best third guard in the league).

(Just for the record, not only was that Thunderlips-Rocky match the best 10-minute sequence in any Rocky movie ever, it also altered the course of Hulk Hogan's career and changed the face of pro wrestling in the '80s. Warrants mentioning.)

(39) "Remember where you came from ... remember what it took to get here ... now it's your turn ... it's your turn ..."
To the LA Clippers, this year's feel-good team ... do you realize the Young Clips ripped off 31 wins in the West and finished the season on a respectable 18-18 tear? There's actually a foundation here, especially if Darius Miles keeps improving and they can hide Lamar Odom's bong next season. Too bad they're all fleeing the premises in two to three years.

(40) "Can he swim?"
(41) "With a name like Rock?"
The funniest exchange in the movie goes to the funniest new character of the NBA season ... Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban, a k a, "The One Guy David Stern Can't Break." I'm thoroughly enjoying the Mark Cuban Era. Hey, at least he cares, right? And you can't argue with the results -- 53 wins and the fifth seed in the West. And if you think anybody out West wants any part of the Mavs in a seven-game series, you're crazy.

(Just for the record, that slow-motion replay of Cuban running on the court to break up a fight during a home game was the absolute comedy highlight of the season. That needs to come out on a "Best of Mark Cuban" DVD, with deleted scenes and director's commentary from Cuban, Don Nelson and Nowitzki.)

(42) "Remember, when this is all over, you owe me a favor."
To Pat Riley and David Stern . . . is there another explanation for the way Miami was allowed to file for a trade exemption last November because Alonzo Mourning was "out for the year," allowing them to acquire Cedric Ceballos even though they were well over the cap ... and then they "miraculously" brought Mourning back for the final 15 games and the playoffs? And this makes sense ... how? Isn't this the same league that forced the Celtics to carry Reggie Lewis' salary on their cap for three extra years when he was freakin' dead?

(Random thought: Was there a cooler ending in movie history then Apollo and Rocky lacing up the gloves for the impromptu, no-crowd exhibition? And how did Sly Stallone and Carl Weathers time those first punches so they arrived at the same time for the freeze-frame ending? Did the punches actually hurt when they landed? Did they pull them in time? Does anyone else think of this stuff?)

(43) "I pity the fool! I pity the fool!"
To the 2000 Rookie Class ... even Michael J. Fox's team in "Teen Wolf" wasn't this bad. Kenyon Martin looks like a taller Kenny "Sky" Walker, but with a limp. The league sent out a search party for Stromile Swift last week. Dermarr Johnson might need about 10 years of seasoning in the CBA. Joel Przybilla and Chris Mihm should be driven around in the back of a hearse. The Fizer-Crawford combo in Chicago brought back memories of Brad Sellers, Stacey King and Kyle Macy. "Moiso" is French for "coma." The list goes on and on ... only Mike Miller and Darius Miles looked remotely capable. Yikes.

(Has there ever been a season where David Stern announced, "You know what? We're not giving out a Rookie of the Year trophy this season. Next year's winner will get twotrophies!" This needs to happen.)

(44) "The hell with everybody."
(45) "Maybe it's the hell wit' you."

Vince Carter
Enjoy Vince Carter while you can, Toronto.
To Toronto Raptors fans ... I wish I could buy stock in things like "Sports Illustrated's 2002 NBA preview will have Michael Jordan and new Wizards free agent addition Vince Carter on the cover with the headline 'Air Apparent.' "

(46) "You can't win, Rock! This guy is a wrecking machine. And he's hungry."
To Tracy McGrady ... his emergence as a full-fledged superduperstar (at age 21, no less!) was the most startling, under-appreciated subplot of the season. Here's somebody who might win one to two playoff series by himself next month. You think Milwaukee wants any part of him next week? And how different would the playoff picture look right now if Grant Hill's ankle had cooperated this season?

(47) "Hey, woman. Hey, woman. Listen here, since your old man ain't got not heart, maybe you'd like to see a real man. I bet you stay up late every night dreaming you had a real man, don't you? Why don't you bring your pretty little self over to my apartment tonight, and I'll show you a real man."
My favorite scene in the movie to my favorite team of the season ... the Sacramento Kings, a real-life, old-fashioned basketball team with a superstar, good supporting players, a deep bench, good chemistry and the loudest crowd in the league. How can you not root for these guys? Don't underestimate the schedule they played this year -- loads of tough games against the other Western juggernauts, including two wars with San Antonio and a league-high 13 overtime games. If they meet up with the Lakers in Round Two, that might be the most interesting pre-Finals matchup in years.

(48) "Yeah I'm high now ... flying high now ... highhhhh ... highhhhhhhh!"
To the top 15 players in the league this season ...
  • Third Team: Paul Pierce, Gary Payton, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, David Robinson.
  • Second Team: Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone, Dikembe Mutombo.
  • First Team: Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Chris Webber, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal.

    (49) "I'm afraid! Wanna hear me say it? For the first time in my life, I'm afraid!"
    To Team Stern ... low TV ratings, empty seats, poor shooting, too many teams and a number of unappealing superstars led to the most significant rule change (allowing illegal defenses next season) since they added the three-point line in 1979. Of course, it never occurred to them that the removal of five teams from the league -- Golden State, Vancouver, Denver, Atlanta and New Jersey -- followed by a dispersal draft, would have improved the quality of play, rejuvenated fan interest, ignited rivalries, eliminated the five most depressing franchises in the league and deepened every team's talent pool by two players. That would have made too much sense.

    (At the very least, couldn't they merge those five teams into one franchise -- Goldenverlantancouversey -- stick them in Vegas and create some sort of glitzy uber-team? Is anyone with me on this? Anyone? Bueller?)

    (50) "You all parasites and leeches! Get out of here!"
    To me and the rest of the media ... let's face it, we're troublemakers. Leave it to the immortal Clubber Lang to sum it up best.

    For the past three years, Bill Simmons has been giving his irreverent take on the sports scene for his award-winning "Boston Sports Guy" site, which can be reached at www.sportsguy.net. He's currently working on Ivan Drago's unauthorized biography, "I Must Break You: The Life and Times of the Siberian Express."