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Friday, April 12, 2002
Updated: July 14, 3:52 PM ET
'Rounders' and roundball, part 2

By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

If you're tuning in late, I'm handing out my 2001-02 NBA season awards in the form of quotes from the classic poker movie, "Rounders." Click here to go back and read Thursday's column with quotes Nos. 1-18.

Now, it's on to part 2 ...

Anthony Mason
The Anthony Mason trade derailed a promising Bucks team.
19. "No, 15 grand in five days, I can do that. I've gone on runs like that before."
To the Milwaukee Bucks ... who cornered themselves into the improbable position of missing the playoffs next week, partly because of injuries, partly because they squandered so many easy games during the first half of the season, and partly because the Anthony Mason trade was the worst possible move they could have made. Imagine the thought-process behind that one:

Hey, this guy's past his prime, he's a clubhouse cancer, he's too small to handle good power forwards, we won't be able to play run-and-gun with him because he's too slow, and he needs the ball running through him on offense, so we'll have to change our offensive scheme even though we almost made the NBA Finals last season. And we have to give up one of our clubhouse leaders (Scott Williams) to boot. Let's make the deal! Sounds like a winner!

20. "You know what cheers me up when I'm feeling (expletive)? Rolled up aces over kings. Check-raising stupid tourists and taking huge pots off of them. Playing all-night high-limit hold'em at the Taj, where the sand turns to gold. Stacks and towers of checks I can't even see over."
"(Expletive) it, let's go."
"Don't tease me."
"Let's play some (expletive) cards."

The most exciting "We're about to go gambling" exchange in movie history goes to the most exciting rookie of the season: Memphis' Pau Gasol, coming off one of the greatest seasons by any 21-or-under player in the history of professional basketball. Seriously, look it up. Seventeen and a half points a game, nine boards, 2,800-plus minutes, a sterling 52 percent shooting... and he's only 21? Comparable to KG, McGrady, Nowitzki, Magic and everyone else at the same age, right? And nobody ever mentions him. It's like he plays in a vacuum.

Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol had a terrific rookie season for Memphis -- even if nobody saw it.
(As for the above quote, that couldn't get me more fired up to gamble. It's not possible. I'm getting the shakes just re-reading it. Let's play some (expletive) cards. And that's quickly followed by a little guitar riff and a scene of them driving into Atlantic City. Just perfect. Have I mentioned that I love "Rounders"? For God's sake, let's play some (expletive) cards!)

21. "You keep grinding out that rent money, Joe. It's noble work you're doing."
To Clippers owner Donald Sterling ... instead of making an announcement that "I'm going to do everything I can to keep this nucleus intact for the next few years," Sterling remained silent, as usual. What happened next was inevitable: Guys stopped playing together, the potential free agents went for their own numbers ... and the team self-imploded during the second half of the season. They went from "Fresh And Hip" to "Everything You Ever Hated About The NBA." And within three years, everyone will be gone.

(So where does that leave me, a DirecTV addict and closet late-night Clippers fan? Needing a Token Western Conference Sleeper to follow, I hopped off the Clips bandwagon and hopped aboard the Sonics Express back in January. Something about GP and Peja Drobnjak running a pick-and-roll together, while Brent Barry looks on ... it just doesn't get much better than that. Does it get any better than the Drobber? I thoroughly enjoy his work.)

22. "You feelin' satisfied now, Teddy? Because I can go on busting you up all night."
The most incendiary quote of the movie goes to the most incendiary player in the league ... none other than Kenyon Martin, who doled out enough clotheslines, two-handed shoves and open-hand swings to make the Undertaker jealous. It's fun to have a bona-fide villain back in the league, isn't it? I wish I could buy stock in things like "Martin will do something dumb in the playoffs, get himself suspended and end up costing the Nets a playoff series."

John Malkovich, Matt Damon
How did Mike McD finally get the best of Teddy KGB? The Sports Guy says the answer is found in the cookie.
(And just for the record, that was the most improbable line in the movie: Mike McD winning 60 grand off the mad Russian, then trash-talking him after the match ended. For God's sake, the Russian mob kills people for breathing too loudly. I would have been more concerned about getting my money, not looking even remotely cross-eyed at anyone, grabbing Famke Jansen for a little celebratory game of strip poker, then heading right down to Home Depot so I could install a quadruple-lock on my apartment door. But that's just me.)

23. "I wasn't unlucky, I got outplayed. I got outplayed that time. But I know I'm good enough to sit at that table."
To this year's Bill Simmons All-Stars, a k a "Guys I Inexplicably Like That Haven't Hit the Big-Time Yet (And Maybe Never Will)":

Eduardo Najera (the Mavs always seem to play better when he's out there) ... Jamaal Magloire (strangely unstoppable at times) ... Marcus Fizer (could have a Corliss-type "Instant offense" effect on a contender some day) ... Andrei Kirilienko (all arms, legs & elbows, does all the little things) ... Michael Redd (could average 20-plus on a crappy team) ... Hedu Turkoglu (the poor man's Stojakovic) ... Drobnjak (the Drobber!) ... Richard Jefferson (always seems to be on the floor when it matters for N.J.) ... Zeljko Rebraca (actually draws double-teams from time to time) ... and MVP Ricky Davis (absolutely electric at times).

(Just for the record, whether Davis becomes a legitimate All-Star caliber player or "The Greatest Garbage Time Player of the Decade" remains to be seen, but at the very least, swapping Davis for a washed-up Chris Gatling was Pat Riley's worst move in years. You can't give up on talent like that for Chris Gatling, even if it's an NBA rule that Gatling must get traded every six months. Speaking of Miami ...)

PLAY A 'ROUND'
Feel like playing along? Just for fun, take these quotes from "Rounders" and match them to the NBA player or coach you think deserves them. Send your best offerings to Page 2, and we'll run a sampling of our readers' responses Monday.

1. "If you're too careful, you're whole life can become a (expletive) grind."

2. "We can't run from ourselves, our destiny chooses us."

3. "Put a guy like me in a game like that, and the cards don't even matter. I could play it blind."

4. "Man, you're fixin to go down hard. It almost seems like you want to."

5. "See what I'm saying? No foolin' around, it's highway time."

6. "You look like hell."
"Ah, well... you should have seen me yesterday."

7. "It hurts doesn't it? You can't be-leeeeve what fell. All your hopes down the (expletive) drain. Your fate is sitting right besides you. That ace could not have helped you."

8. "How come all your moves are smart and noble, and I'm always a piece of (expletive)?"

9. "Hey, at least you're rounding again. You're gonna thank me for that some day."

10. "The guy's a cheat. He always has been."

24. "Well, as my Uncle Les says, when the money's gone, it's time to move on. So enjoy it you secret handshake (expletive)."
To the Miami Heat ... an affront to everything I ever loved about basketball. Any team that spends $175 million on Eddie Jones and Brian Grant deserves such an ignominious fate. Good luck, goodbye, good riddance.

25. "This is beautiful ... welcome to the Chesterfield South."
My favorite throwaway line of the movie goes to my favorite throwaway developments of the NBA season. In order ...

A. An authentic Moochie Norris bobblehead doll graciously sent to me by the Rockets. I need to become famous enough to qualify for MTV Cribs, just so I can show this thing off. And here's my framed photo of Dr. J and Larry Bird choking one another ... and here's my framed poster of "Fast Break" ... and here's my authentic Moochie Norris bobblehead doll ... That would be a riveting show, wouldn't it?

B. Sports Illustrated's superb feature on NBA posses (from last week's issue), which included tidbits like, "Shaq pays a buddy just to make sure his car is started and there's good music playing whenever he's heading out." Mesmerizing stuff. Why somebody hasn't created an Osbournes-type show about an NBA posse is one of the great mysteries in life. I'm telling you, I should be running a TV network.

C. After years and years of screaming "Hey, ref!" or "Hey, (fill in the number)!" during Celtics games, I finally got fed up and had my buddy Sully find a list of every NBA referee's name and jersey number (Sully is like Red from "Shawshank" -- he's the guy who knows how to get things). So I printed out two copies -- one for me, one for the leather-lunged guy who sits one row behind me -- and we keep them in our wallets and bring them to every game. Now, instead of yelling, "Hey, 49, you suck!", we yell things like, "Hey, Stafford, you suck!" and "Hey, Crawford, you suck!" It's the little things in life, you know?

26. "Just walking back in here makes me queasy ... I feel like Buckner walking back into Shea."
The most depressing quote in the movie goes to the most depressed NBA player (and winner of the 2002 Willie Burton Award) ... Shane Battier. Forget that he was coming off four winning years and a title at Duke, only to land on a 20-win team in Memphis. In fact, let's pull a Hubie Brown here:

I'm Shane Battier. I could potentially be .... the BEST ... Nitty-Gritty Guy .... in the league. I take charges, I dive on the floor for loose balls, I get cheap tip-ins, I beat my guy down the floor for cheap lay-ups. And none of it matters, because I ended up on a team filled with me-first guys who DON'T play defense, who DON'T pass the ball, who DON'T play hard every night. In other words, they are WASTING my talents. They are WASTING my talents. You have to feel for this young man, don't you?

27. "Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in your first half-hour at the table, then you are the sucker."
Man, is there a better line than that? I wish I could go back in time and make that my senior yearbook quote instead of the lame passage from David Bowie's "Changes" that I used. What's the percentage of Americans who are wildly embarrassed by their senior yearbook quote right now? Like 75 percent? 80 percent?

Chris Webber
Folks, the Kings will not dethrone the Lakers with Chris Webber as their go-to guy.
Anyway, this one goes to ... everyone who thinks that the Kings might actually topple L.A. and advance to the 'Ship this season. Hey, I love watching the Kings as much as anyone -- they play a beautiful brand of basketball, they play with pizazz, they're even fun to root against because of all the yukking it up and full-body hugs.

But the fact remains, no team in my lifetime has won a championship without an unstoppable Go-To Guy. It just hasn't happened. The team game only brings you so far; when it matters -- when it truly matters -- you need someone who can throw everyone on his back and say, "You know what? I'm takin' care of bizzzzness." And then they do.

The Kings? They just don't have a guy like that, unless you're willing to take a leap of faith and tell me that Peja Stojakovic will develop into the next Jerry West some time between now and June. I've watched Chris Webber for more than a decade -- you can't advance to a championship with somebody shooting the same jump-hook off the front of the rim for two straight months. And it's too much to ask from Vlade Divac to carry them at crunch-time for that long of a stretch.

So basically, they're screwed unless Shaq's big toe flares up or Kobe gets kidnapped. These are the facts. As Mike McD once said, "The key to the game is playing the man, not the cards." Think about it. The cards might be lined up for Sacramento ... but that doesn't mean much when you're trading baskets with Shaq and Kobe.

And that reminds me ...

27a. "I'm laying this down, Teddy. Top two pair. It's a monster hand, I'm gonna lay that down."
To Phil Jackson ... does he ever get the urge to walk over to the visitor's bench and say that quote during the fourth quarter of a key game? Let's face it: You can talk about Shaq's toe, or the Spawn of Angry Kobe, or the shaky supporting cast, or the alleged lack of motivation ... but it just doesn't matter in the long run. As long as they have the best two players in the league, as long as those guys are relatively healthy and hungry, they're going to keep winning. Period.

THE COOKIE CRUMBLES
So what was Teddy KGB's "tell" that caused Mike McD to "lay down a monster" and turn things around during the climactic poker match? It took about four viewings before I finally figured this one out:

Every time Teddy was considering a big bet and had a good hand, he split an Oreo, contemplated the hand, and ate the Oreo. If he didn't have a good hand, he would split the Oreo and not eat it. So when Mike McD realized this was Teddy's tell -- when Teddy was holding onto a straight, raising the bet and eating Oreos -- he folded his hand before the bets ever escalated, even though he was holding two pair. And to cap it off, he turned the cards over, basically to show Teddy, "I know you have a good hand."

Why did he do this? As Mike McD said, "Normally I would have let Teddy keep eating those Oreos all night, but there wasn't enough time." Basically, it was a psychological tactic. He needed to rattle Teddy KGB and have him start doubting himself. How did the kid read me so easily? What else am I doing? And once you've gotten into somebody's head, you've won half the battle in poker.

Of course, the question remains: If Teddy was such a tremendous poker player, why couldn't he figure out that his Oreo-eating "tell" was so transparent? That might never be answered.

As for an explanation for why Mike McD said the above quote -- one of the great mysteries of "Rounders" -- check the accompanying sidebar box at right. And just for the record, every time I ever have a good hand in poker, I always feel like telling everyone else at the table, "I'm laying this down. It's a monster hand, I'm gonna lay that down.")

28. "I know all the reasons I shouldn't be here, but sometimes reasons don't matter."
For the strangest front office moves of the past season:

A. Phoenix became the first team in recent memory to make a "Playoff Run" deal and a "Youth Movement" deal during the same season, first acquiring veteran Bo Outlaw (and his mammoth contract), then dealing two veterans (Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers) for Joe Johnson and a first-round pick three months later. Can I get fries with that?

B. Sacramento moved Jon Barry to Detroit for The Artist Formerly Known As Mateen Cleaves, just to alleviate potential luxury tax worries. First of all, if you're worried about the luxury tax, don't sign C-Webb for $123 million when nobody else could even offer him $80 million. That's just moronic. Second, you should never, ever, ever, ever, EVER give away something for nothing. It's just bad business. And third, Jon Barry has been one of the best bench players in the league for three or four years running. Look what he did for Detroit this season! I don't get it.

C. The Celtics decided to take Denver's first-rounder last summer (No. 11 overall) when they could have rolled over the pick to 2002 (top three protected), 2003 (top one protected) or 2004 (totally unprotected). Would you rather have Kedrick Brown (231 minutes this season) or that Nuggets' pick right now?

(In fairness to Boston GM Chris Wallace, nobody knew that Antonio McDyess would injure his knee, Nick Van Exel would tank the season to force a trade, and the Nuggets would end up with the fourth-worst record in the league. But these were the Nuggets. Bad things happen when the Nuggets are involved; these guys make the Kennedys look lucky. Taking that pick in 2001 was the Sonny Corleone move; keeping it would have been the Michael Corleone/Red Auerbach move. Of course, I didn't write any of this at the time, so -- as usual -- I have no point.)

29. "Yes, he's going all in ... Johnny Chan, the master!"
To Tim Duncan ... the undisputed MVP of the 2001-02 season. Not only could Duncan top 3,200 minutes, 2,000 points, 1,000 boards, 300 assists and 200 blocks by season's end, but he carried the Spurs to a high playoff seed in the West, never missed a game, and had a greater effect on his teammates than anyone but Jason Kidd. Look at his supporting cast: Bruce Bowen, Antonio Daniels, Tony Parker, Malik Rose, Danny Ferry, Charles Smith, a past-his-prime David Robinson, a pretty-much-past-his-prime Steve Smith and a past-his-being-past-his-prime Terry Porter. That's a 56-win team?

Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan deserves the MVP award for the way he has carried the Spurs.
(And what about Johnny Chan's cameo in "Rounders"? Definitely measures up with Larry Bird in "Blue Chips," Dr. J in "Philadelphia," Xavier McDaniel in "Singles," Hulk Hogan in "Rocky III," and Bob Watson and Cesar Cedeno in "Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" as one of the watershed "Cameos by an sports figure playing themselves" in Hollywood history.)

30. "Verrrry aggressive. You're a new man. And you won't be pushed around."
One of my favorite Teddy KGB moments goes to my favorite unsung players from the 2002 season:

Ron Artest (terrific 2-guard defender, old-school intensity and a mean streak) ... Keon Clark (silky low-post moves, leaper, unstoppable at times) ... Pat Garrity (can't leave him open) ... Brent Barry (fills up the box score, shooting an astounding 51 percent) ... Al Harrington (threatening to make The Leap until he blew out his knee) ... Michael Redd (instant offense off the bench, deserves his own starting spot somewhere) ... and Corliss Williamson (crunch-time offense in the low-post for Detroit).

31. "You take this money, and you get yourself out of this trouble. You hear me? I know that you can."
The biggest reach in the movie -- Mike McD's law school professor loaning him 10 grand to set up the final poker scene -- goes to the biggest reach of the season ... the Detroit Pistons snaring the second seed in the East without a true center or a true point guard.

There isn't a more overplayed phrase in sports then "Who would have predicted that one before the season?", but seriously, I mean ... who would have predicted that before the season? A little hard work, teamwork, coaching and unselfishness goes a long way. They play well together. That's the best compliment you could hand a team. And if Rick Carlisle doesn't get "Coach of the Year," it's a disgrace.

(As for Martin Landau's law professor, the Unintentional Comedy Rating went through the roof for that scene: It was like a cross between "Rocky II" and "Yentl." Mike needs money, the professor likes him because Mike's talent for poker reminds him of how he fell in love with law back in 1875 ... so he decides to loan him 10 grand on the spot. Yup, that happens. But for Mike to get the money, he has to sit there and pretend he's interested in another one of the professor's stories about the time he nearly went into the Yeshiva back in 1875. I think I would have gotten up and left. You know what? I can't sit through another Yeshiva story; I'd rather get beaten up by the Russian mob. Thanks though.)

32. "He plays the part of a loser to perfection."
To the Juwan Howard All-Stars, dedicated to the Tweeners who put up big stats on crummy teams, make fantasy owners everywhere happy ... and pile up the losses. When you think about it, maybe their teams keep losing because these guys are playing big minutes, right? Anyway, here's the list:

Antawn Jamison (20 PPG, more negatives than positives) ... Danny Fortson (on pace to lose 1,000 games for his career; he's the anti-Red Auerbach) ... Jason Terry (the Sleepy Floyd of his generation) ... Kurt Thomas (a legitimate fantasy force on a team that loses by 12 points every night) ... sixth man Cuttino Mobley (scoring 21.5 a game, giving up 35 a game on the other end) ... and, of course, six-time MVP Juwan Howard (lighting it up again on a dreadful Denver team).

33. "Call me if you need a lawyer."
"I will. And I will."

Dammit ... I couldn't think of one for this. George Shinn? Ruben Patterson? I dunno. Give me a mulligan.

33. "So you were nowhere near a card game?"
"No. I was nowhere near a card game."

The biggest lie in the movie goes to the biggest lie of the season ... "Vince Carter is an NBA superstar." The Ewing Theory already weighed in on this one; after Vince elected to have season-ending knee surgery, the Raptors "inexplicably" rolled off nine consecutive wins and "suddenly" seem headed for the playoffs next week. Geez, I can't believe it. Now even Nike has pulled back, gearing its new spring hoops ad campaign around Paul "The Truth" Pierce. And you have to wonder if the Raptors would move Vince for the right price ... if there even is a right price.

34. "Just like the saying says: In the poker game of life, women are the rake. They are the (expletive) rake."
"What are you talking about? What saying?"
"I don't know. There oughta be one."

The best exchange of the movie goes to the best 15 players in the NBA this season:

Third team: Karl Malone, Peja Stojakovic, Ben Wallace, Gary Payton, Steve Nash

Edward Norton
Edward Norton's performance in "Rounders" proves that he's the finest actor under the age of 35 in Hollywood.
Second team: Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett

First team: Tracy McGrady (MVP runner-up), Jason Kidd, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan (MVP), Paul Pierce

(Classic Ed Norton in the above quote, by the way. Here's a guy who gave some of the most memorable mainstream performances of the past decade -- the crazy guy in "Primal Fear," the really crazy guy in "Fight Club," the neo-nazi in "American History X," and Worm in "Rounders" -- and yet nobody ever talks about him. Isn't Norton the finest American actor under 35 right now? Why doesn't anyone ever talk about him? This bugs the hell out of me. Let's just move on.)

35. "You're right, Teddy. That ace didn't help me. I flopped a nut straight."
To David Stern and the NBA in general ... could this season have gone any better? The new rules served their purposes to a tee (increasing scoring, jump-starting fast breaks, changing the tempo and giving NBA fans the best product we've seen in 10 years). Those phenomenal draft classes from '95 to '99 finally started hitting their collective prime. The Pistons and Celtics finally turned things around, giving the league two more marquee franchises for April and May. Three likable players (Pierce, Nowitzki and McGrady) emerged as legitimate superstars. And it promises to be the most competitive playoffs in recent memory.

And if that wasn't enough, MJ returned and pulled a Pink, gettin' this party starrrr-ted by playing 60 games, hooking himself up to the Juvenation Machine for two months, raising interest in the NBA, touching a whole new generation of fans, making everyone in the league a boatload of money ... and gracefully disappearing down the stretch (thanks to his aching knees). Now the New Guys take the reigns.

And I don't care if I'm the only sucker sitting at the table come playoff time. The NBA is still FANNNNNNNN-tastic. And I still love this game.

Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.