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Monday, May 17, 2004
Updated: June 7, 6:23 PM ET
Simmons vs. Wiley

By Simmons & Wiley
Page 2

Editor's Note: It's been such an exciting second round of the NBA playoffs that Bill Simmons and Ralph Wiley just had to talk about all the action and controversies and even a few other things. With each other. See what they said in the first-ever "Simmons-Wiley All-Day Hoops Summit."

SIMMONS: 10:30 a.m. ET

Yo R-Dub,

Hope you and Rick Mahorn had a nice weekend together. Anyway, remember when Larry Brown slammed the Frank hiring and said that "They're basically saying that anyone can coach?" Well, after gorging myself on playoff hoops for the past week, I decided that he's right. Anyone can coach.

Maybe the fact that Don Nelson has been gainfully employed for the past 27 years -- career playoff record: 70-85 -- should have tipped us off. But look at some of the things we witnessed in the past 2 weeks:

San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have the look of "What do you mean we're not guarding the inbounds pass?"

1. Popovich not guarding the inbounds pass before the Fisher Shot. Cost them the season. It's a battle between "Not guarding the inbounds pass" neck and "Sliding into first base to beat out an infield hit" for the single dumbest running strategies in sports, isn't it?

2. Looking back, it took two full games for Phil Jackson to realize that ...

A) Maybe, just maybe, they should have been sending double- and triple-teams at Tim Duncan and daring the other Spurs to beat them. Wow, you think so? You'd rather have guys like Bowen and Turkoglu shooting over the best player in the league? The worst was hearing Doc Rivers complimenting him at the end of Game 3, like Jackson had discovered the cure for the Asian Bird Flu.

B) Maybe, just maybe, they should knock Tony Parker down on one of those unmolested forays to the basket and see how he responds, since he's from France and all.

C) Maybe, just maybe, having GP scoot under the screens on those pick-and-rolls wasn't the best idea after the 25th straight Parker 20-footer that went in.

3. What about Brown in the triple-OT game? By the time K-Mart and Collins fouled out, with J-Kidd basically limping around, the Pistons had an offensive advantage at all five positions! How do you not win that game with Scalabrine covering Williamson? Where was Mehmet Okur? Why not just double-team Jefferson and make Kidd beat you? For God's sake, Kidd was so banged up, he couldn't even beat the Vegas over-under for points and assists (24 1/2) in a 63-minute game.

(By the way, I've watched the three overtimes twice and still have no idea how the Nets won the game. This series shouldn't have gone past 5. Not with Kidd this banged up.)

4. Rick Adelman at the end of Game 2 ... my God. Some of the worst shot selection ever. The Kings' collapse in Game 3 wasn't much better. I wrote the joke "NBA Entertainment needs to release a DVD called 'Rick Adelman's Greatest Playoff Collapses'" two years ago. Now we have enough for two full DVDs and a third DVD of extras and deleted scenes.

5. We're now at Game 7 and Flip Saunders still hasn't figured out that C-Webb can't guard KG (or anyone) on the perimeter. Doesn't C-Webb's Verbal Kint limp tip things off? Or am I crazy?

And so on. At least you know where you stand with Lawrence Frank -- he just sits there with that terrified look on his face, like he just saw the Lynndie England porn tape. But have you seen a single coach in Round 2 that made you think, "Wow, that guy knows what the hell he's doing"? I mean, besides Ron Jeremy with the Heat?

Some other possible questions to bat back and forth:

  • Is Phil Jackson the most overrated coach of all time or the most underrated coach of all time? It's either one or the other, right? I'd love to delve into this.

    Anthony Peeler
    "Anthony, next time get KG a little more square in the a jaw."

  • Where does Anthony Peeler's elbow to KG's mug rank among the Memorable Moments of Violence in NBA Playoff History? I think I watched it about 430 times. It wasn't quite as fun as McHale's clothesline of Rambis, but still ... poor KG. I don't buy the whole "I can't retaliate" crap -- wouldn't you rather be suspended for Game 7 than have Anthony Peeler pull a William Ligue Jr. on you on national TV? Some MVP.

  • Why are European players so soft? Shouldn't this be like a 5-hour "Outside the Lines" show?

  • Why doesn't anyone kill the Spurs for screwing up a beautiful cap situation this summer? They could have ended up with anyone and settled for Mercer and Turkoglu, plus they helped the Kings get Miller. And did they keep the receipt on Rasho?

  • Duncan or KG?

  • Why haven't the Knicks retired Bernard's number yet?

  • Does Steve Kerr have a chance to be the best hoops analyst of all time?

  • Would you rather have Wade or Carmelo for the next 15 years?

  • Is Kobe's supernatural focus on these "Fly to Colorado, make an appearance at the rape trial, fly back to LA, drop 42 on the Spurs in a must-win" a little creepy or is it just me?

  • And most importantly, where did you stand on the "Sopranos" last night? Please don't give me the whole "it helped us understand Tony's psyche" crap. I'm tired of Tony's psyche. Especially when he's taking away PT from Christopher, Tony B and Vito the Gay Yankee Fan. I'm not killing them for trying something different -- it's just that there were three episodes left and they wasted one by going Sundance Festival on us. Besides, has there ever been an extended dream sequence that totally worked? It's the TV equivalent of deciding not to guard the inbounds pass.

    I'll discuss as many of these as you want. Just remember, I'm cranky in the mornings.

    -- Simmons

    WILEY: 11 a.m. ET

    Yo Simba,

    Actually, we can dream sequence this blog. See how it works for us.

    OK, to start with, I've got just two things to say -- Jessica Alba and YEEEE-HA!

    Don't know who I was channeling there, but it definitely wasn't my boy Dogman, who lurks beneath the surface here. When I told him when we were going to throw down on the NBA in a ESPN.com Page 2 Weblog with Bill Simmons the Boston Sports Guy Himself, and I would call this activity "Simblogging," he started acting Peelerish.

    I will keep him restrained, but like the demon Pazuzu -- it wants no straps.

    This latest "Sopranos" episode, the Somebody's Got A Crush On Annette Bening And Frankly I Don't Blame Them episode, didn't bother me as much as the the one directed by Mike Figgis, the one before that. That one confused me much worse than the Dream Sequence/Annette episode did. I dozed off during the opening of Tony's Dream Weekend so I didn't see who wrote or directed it -- the writers on this show are abnormally good, they're like NBA players, sometimes they don't care about the Bow-Ups, Najera Plays and Mahorning their way into your psyche . They just want to slam it for the highlight reel.

    (By the way, McNasty Mahorn would start for the Wolves right now over the fossilized Ervin Johnson and Michael Olowokandi-puke. To borrow one of your phrases, I will not argue this. Tell me, why is it that whenever you write that, I think, "Yes you will"? And then I feel so ... used? So, Bill, would you like to go for Double Manipulation, where the scores can really change?)

    This "Sopranos" episode was like the NBA All-Star Game episode. Weird substitutions, Antony subbing for Finn at the dinner table, etc. Bringing back Ralphie and Puss and Annabella Sciorra for curtain calls. It was like one of those promos where they mix the characters from "Deadwood," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Six Feet Under." No real reason for it, means nothing in the larger context of the season (that I could tell) but very nice showing off. Frankly, any episode where a guy, let alone two, gets whacked is a good one. Let's not kid ourselves about the basic deep-down subconscious allure of the show. And anything's better than watching Aida Turturro punching out a soccer mom. What-da, get-da ... HBO has such an advantage. Because of the profanity ban, which will only get worse after Janet Jackson's Breastgate, writing on HBO can't help but be more realistic because they can write profanity and they can write sex. What else is there?

    Oh yeah, violence. Don't say that word too loud around Kevin Garnett.

    I am disappointed in KG -- just as you said you were disappointed in me by going with the Wolves over the Kings strictly because of him. Break down these Game 7s for me in your next post please, Mr. Sports Guy, Mr. Cheers, Mr. Bahstan Garden, Mr. Fenway Park Luxury Box. I have really seen the Wolves' flaws now. Ervin Johnson is all but fossilized, I swear Mahorn would be more useful. Olowokandi should be arrested and charged with a felony, grand theft larceny; stolen more money than Jim McIlvaine

    What's killing the Wolves is not having Troy Hudson, who might be the best second-rotation lead guard in the league, after the guy the Kings are missing, Bobby Jackson. What kills me that it doesn't matter who wins -- the Lakers will beat either one.

    And the only guy who could change that is shrinking-ass violet.

    Did you see that look on his face during the Peeler Incident? OK, he gets the shot to the gut and it knocks him to his (HBO dialogue alert) *&$#!# knees, and what does he $#!*!@*&! do? He gets this look on his face, this Gandolfini look, you know the look, and I'm thinking, "Oh-oh, this is perfect, this is when he becomes Wolverine."

    Instead, he became Hugh Jackman. The Broadway version.

    Summama*itch! He throws a little forearm shiver to Peeler's chest, then Peeler clocks him like he's Tarver and KG is Roy. KG backs up, mind you, with a look on his face like somebody just hit him with an ax handle. Which is basically what happened.

    You said he was a second banana, Sports Guy. I admit it. You said it.

    I didn't believe it. But you may be right. Which is the final blasphemy.

    As to your other observations:

  • Covering the inbounds pass in Lakers-Spurs Game 5 just means Kobe hits the winner instead of Fisher. I'm with Pop. I'd just as soon double and make somebody else beat me, but after watching that poodle Fisher do them in, hindsight covers the inbounds, sure. But would you have had the nerve to leave Kobe one-on-one in that sitchie? Not me.

  • As far as NBA and all coaches go, they're all overrated. I once asked Stephen A Smith's college coach, Bighouse Gaines, what's the secret to winning games? He said one word:

    "Personnel."

  • I say Detroit in 7, not because the Nets don't have the three best players. They do. But in a moment of clarity, or counter-intuition, I'm going with Detroit for the hell of it. And then I'm giving Larry Brown your address so he can drive-by Frank you.

  • Minnesota in 7, which will make Michelle Tafoya happy, but won't do anything about giving the Lakers the throttling they deserve for thinking they had a road map.

    Ding!

    (Damn -- he's throwing bombs already!)

    -- Wiley

    SIMMONS: 12:20 ET

    Yo R-Dub,

    My favorite part of last night's "Sopranos" was how they briefly brought back some of the old characters, just because the guy who plays Big Pussy was involved. I can't believe he was available! Can't you see him saying "Yeah, I'll do it ... umm ... this is gonna sound weird, but do you think you guys could pay me in cash?" It must kill him that Paulie Walnuts and Sylvio have been riding the gravy train for five straight years and he's relegated to casino appearances and soap opera cameos.

    One thing about the "Sopranos": Have you ever noticed how bad the supporting actors are? Like Tony's mistress getting burned last night ... that was porn movie-caliber acting. It's like they go out of their way to hire people who can't act -- Carmine Jr., Bobby Bacala, AJ, Meadow's boyfriend, etc. -- and then when someone like Buscemi comes on the screen, the difference is jolting. I never understood why they did it that way.

    I agree with you about HBO -- when they figure out the Emmys, I don't think the "Sopranos" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" should be considered with normal network shows. Imagine what Curb would have been like with network boundaries? Totally different show and half the episodes are probably unusable. The Sopranos could have still been good, but it would have obviously suffered. On the flip side, you stick a show like "According to Jim" on HBO and we would be talking about one of the great shows of the 21st century. OK, maybe not. But you know what I mean.

    Whoops, one more "Sopranos" thing: This is weird, but I always thought the best thing they could do is kill Tony off, either at the end of this season or at the beginning of next season. Sounds crazy, I know. But watching everyone deal with the ramifications, seeing who would rise from the abyss to take his power ... I just think that would be amazing. Plus, we wouldn't have to see any more scenes with him and Dr. Melfi, who may be a worse actress than AJ and Meadow's boyfriend combined. Good God is she brutal. It's weird, she was great in "Goodfellas" and even "Someone to Watch Over Me," then she made that crazy movie with Sean Connery where she tried to be sexy and her career never recovered. Now she always looks like she's been heavily sedated. I would have killed her off three seasons ago.

    Breaking down Game 7 of the T-Wolves-Kings ...

    Here's the thing: I bet on the Kings to win in six. 4-to-1 odds. If they don't choke away Game 2, it probably happens. You could argue that they could have won five of the six games in this series. They clearly have more talent. There's no question. Like you mentioned, the Hudson injury was an absolute murder for the T'wolves -- that would have given them someone to guard Bibby and free Cassell up to play off the ball and look like ET. I didn't think they had a bench -- one of the main reasons I bet the Kings -- but Hoiberg and Madsen really came through for them. (Let's hear it for the Caucasians!) So yes, I think the Kings are better, even with Peja battling cramps during this entire series.

    But Minny is so hard to predict for one reason: Cassell and/or Spree can carry them for an entire half. You don't know when it's happening, but when it does, they're pretty much unstoppable. Cassell beat Denver in Game 1. Spree beat them in Game 2. In the Minny series, Cassell won Game 3, Spree won Game 5. That means they've won six games in the playoffs, and KG only had to win two. (If KG and Duncan switched teams, and I don't mean that in the Vito Spadafore sense, you don't think Duncan's life would have been easier this season?) So if one of those guys gets going in Game 7, the Kings are done. Other than Bibby, they don't have anyone who can get hot and carry them for a game.

    But here's the mitigating factor: Minnesota's home crowd really hurts them. It's not that they don't make noise, or that they don't care about the team ... they've been burned enough times that they're turning into Red Sox fans at Fenway. It's almost like they want it too much. They get too nervous. It's palpable -- you can feel everyone thinking, "Oh, God, it's happening again." Remember how the Kings won Game 1 and nearly won Game 2 before Cassell saved the series? The crowd was terrified. I just think it's a dangerous atmosphere for a Game 7 -- as weird as this sounds, they would have been better off playing on the road.

    Then throw in the KG factor: This is the biggest game of his career, bar none. His history, until he proves otherwise, is that he tries too hard in big situations and ends up forcing too much (with the OT in Game 3 being a notable exception). If they lose this series, everything that happened for him this season has a giant asterisk next to it, and everyone will talk about how Peeler punked him out in Game 6, followed by him gagging in Game 7. You could argue that, for a single game, no NBA player has had more pressure on him since Karl Malone in Game 6 of the '98 Finals (and look what happened there).

    Yes, Minny can win this game even if KG goes Mailman on us, because of Spree and Cassell. But I can't shake the feeling that I was right about KG, that he's the "Greatest Second Banana of All Time." He's terrific, absolutely. He just can't singlehandedly rip out a team's heart like MJ or Kobe. And that's what you need in a Game 7. If it's close near the end, they'll be feeding Cassell or Spree. That's just the way it is. Of course, the Kings might not show up -- a 50 percent chance, considering who we're dealing with here -- and this will all be moot.

    Still, I'm going with the Kings. I just think the Wolves have too much pressure on them. Hope I'm wrong -- I like KG. Even if he let down his boys in Chicago for life by taking two steps back from AP.

    -- Simmons

    WILEY: 1 p.m.

    Yo Simba,

    BILLY CONN lands a three-punch combination. They clinch.

    CONN: You're in a fight tonight, Joe.

    LOUIS: I know it.

    * * * * *

    RE: Wolves-Kings. Damn. Mister Chain-Blue Lightning himself. You're good. You left nothing on the bone there. Wouldn't be surprised if either team won. Feel like if KG is MVP, he should step out of his skirt and find a way. Feel like if New Jersey, in the persons of K-Mart and the admittedly mentally improving Jeff, had any idea, and if Beaver Cleaver weren't coaching, they'd win, but I can't take Larry Frank over Larry Brown even though, as we've established, they're all overrated, except, of course, us.

    If you ran the Celtics, and Dogman ran the Knicks, who'd win faster? Who'd win more? Who'd get fired first? I like your new coach up in Beantown. But, as we've established, they're all overrated. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    If Doc says "that's a great foul," one more time, I'm going Kornheiser.

    A man needs a edge, and you've got one on me with your encyclopedic knowledge of prime-time sit-coms like "Friends," "O.C." and "According to Jim." What makes "Jim," so potentially special? One line please, or two, max, on that.

    There have been entire generations of sit-coms, popular sit-coms, that have come and "jumped the shark" and gone without my scrutiny. I'm thinking of "Everybody Loves Raymond," despite the sportswriter hook. I'm thinking that Damon Wayans vehicle whose name escapes me. I've never even seen these shows. Some of it may be lifestyle. When I was home raising my son, picking him up at baseball practice and making dinner -- hopefully, he'll have a few stories about me like the ones you have about your dad one day, and can make money somehow off telling them -- we watched the "Simpsons" without fail, rarely missed Frasier. But once he went off to college (he digs Chapelle; I think the Charlie Murphy/Rick James stuff''s hilarious, but that cancer-kid Make A Wish, let me dog you out on PlayStation was as funny as cyanide gas) that was it. Checked out Bernie Mac's show a time or two. I think it held me for three episodes. I don't know. Past that stage or something. If it isn't news, weather, sports, docs or TV movies or feature films, what is it worth?

    Reality shows. Please. Oh please.

    Likewise, I realize some people don't care for the NBA. Nothing there for them, they feel. NBA hoops to me is like jazz and thus not for everybody. Not even for most. But my question is, what really got you hooked to the point to where you became expert in the first place? Did the Bird Man do that for you? Is that why you protect him? Not that he needs the muscle. KG needs it. Bird didn't, and doesn't. The man's work stands for itself. He knows anything Batty Boy Rodman or Isiah or Spike say about him is just conversation. Hell, we're in the conversation bidness. Never mind.

    But no wonder many of your fans don't like it when you write about the NBA. They want you to write about them; your stories of your Vegas rides with your boys, their P.O.V., it's so relatable to them, it's like they finally have their perspective put forth in such a funny, knowing way -- a lot of them would rather be you than Roger Clemens.

    Well, no, scratch that, you'd rather be you than Roger Clemens; the rest would go for the gold, and, say, one-tenth of Texas. But they'd think about it, though.

    OK, quickly:

    Lorraine Bracco is rather one-note. God forbid she play somebody not from Brooklyn. She was convincing in her rape scenes and the aftermath, when was it, last season? Felt like to me her character was a device that caught on. A nice little break for her. "Goodfellas" and "Someone To Watch Over Me" definitely her high-water marks.

    Simba, are you nuts. They can't kill off Gandolfini's character. In the first place, he'd never find meaningful work again. Everybody's gonna be throwing bad roles at this guy, and he'll never find a role anywhere close to suitable. He was a character guy, a B character guy, who gave great sadistic face. That's what got him hired. Now I hear he's a real animal in life, raging already against the dying light. But we can say this and we can say that -- he makes that show. Kill him and the only time it's watchable after that is when he shows up in flashbacks (every episode).

    Are all Euros soft? I think Dirk is oblivious to everything except actual injury. The Germans like Boris Becker, they're tough, don't give a s***; they don't buy into any inferiority complex. I'm with you on Nellie. He found Dirk, then he hurt Dirk, I don't like it sometimes when the game becomes an endurance test. That's part of football -- if you can't guard 'em, beat 'em up, see if they like it. I guess it's part of hoop too.

    Duncan or KG. KG's body, Duncan's mind.

    Wade or Carmelo ... damn, you pick easy ones, don't you ... Wade ... Carmelo's body looks a little susceptible to fat to me. I'd take him though, in a pinch.

    But it doesn't matter. It's LeBron's show. Just a matter of time.

    Ding!

    -- Wiley

    SIMMONS: 1:45 ET

    Yo R-Dub,

    Thanks for the nice words, although I think Mahorn is crazy with jealously right now. By the way, in Friday's backrubber column, you neglected to mention how Mahorn intentionally and repeatedly stepped on McHale's broken foot during the '87 playoffs. Classy guy. Good role model for the kids. Although I miss the days when NBA players actually could hate one another and it was OK.

    You just like me because I enjoyed "Best Seat in the House" and actually own a copy of "Why Black People Have To Shout." That reminds me, you asked me in an e-mail last week why I'm against your boy Spike. It's quite simple, really. There are two reasons:

    1. His inexplicable need to discredit the Basketball Jesus, which has been going on for the past 20 years since he called him ugly in "She's Gotta Have It." Perpetuating the myth that Larry was a creation of the white media always seemed a little racist to me. Not only did the man win three straight MVPs in the mid-'80s (four straight if he hadn't gotten boned over in '87), he was revered by teammates and opponents alike. For God's sake, watch the X-Man tell his LB story in the "Larry Bird's Basketball Legend" video, or as I like to call it, "The Passion of the Christ." Anyway, I'd like to think fans would have loved the way he played whether he was black or white, and it's not like Magic was getting any less hype.

    2. Spike was damned close in "He Got Game." I mean, really, REALLY close. It was all there. And he threw in the interminable subplot with the hooker, and then the dopey ending with Denzel throwing the basketball over the prison wall, and that jazz soundtrack just kept droning on and on. And the window closed. That could have been the definitive movie on what basketball means to the black community, as well as the seedy relationship between colleges and gifted high school kids who come from nothing. And he's the only guy who could have made the movie. It still bugs me. Just the potential of the one-on-one game with Denzel and Ray Allen alone ... that's one of the best scenes in sports movie history. Alas.

    On the bright side, I liked his basketball book. And any celebrity who loves the NBA that much is redeemable in my book. So maybe we can work this out, if only for Bernard King's sake. I don't want to put him in the middle of this.

    You asked why I love the NBA so much, and if it bothers me that some of my readers don't want me to read those columns as much. My feeling was always this: if you write about something passionately enough, and you know what you're talking about, I think most people will want to keep reading no matter the subject. Sometimes you can go too far -- like John McPhee writing about rocks -- but I think there are enough diehards out there, as well as people following the NBA on a rudimentary level who could be coaxed into following it more. So that's always been my hope. I would rather write about something I love than write about something I don't follow.

    (Note: One of the biggest problems with the NBA is that there aren't enough quality writers involved. Think about baseball and all the wonderful writers that have tackled that sport -- Updike, Talese, Angell, Cramer, Halberstam, etc. -- along with the dozens and dozens of baseball books that come out every year. But the best NBA book ever was "Breaks of the Game," and that came out more than 20 years ago. In my case, I grew up reading Bob Ryan in the Globe -- his passion made me like basketball even more than I already did. He's always been the role model for me when writing about hoops, as well as for how to get away with a cheesy blazer and khaki pants that are two sizes too short on national TV.)

    The biggest obstacle for the NBA has always been the black-white thing -- marketing a league full of mostly black players to a country filled with mostly white people who can afford the tickets. This almost killed the league in the late-'70s (detailed extensively in "Breaks of the Game") and reared its head in the post-MJ Era (and I'm not counting the Wizards years, because they never happened). I always thought Iverson's career was a fascinating litmus test. Here's someone who was clearly the most exciting player in the league from post-MJ through 2002, but he also represented everything that Generic White America hates about the NBA: Tatts, cornrows, in-your-face, loose cannon, the background to match. And I'm not sure how this dilemma is solved.

    Yes, the NFL is the best product. Yes, baseball has the history. But I always feel like the NBA should be more popular than it is, and I think part of the reason is that enough quality people aren't writing about it. What other sport combines this much athleticism, drama and unintentional comedy? What other sport has Calvin Murphy's kids, Doctor J's sex tape, Mrs. Christie, Mark Cuban's Weblog, Barkley and Kenny making fun of Sam Cassell in code, the completely insane Ron Artest, J-Kidd trying to seduce the NBA trophy and everything else? Hot damn I love this game.

    One more thing: you asked me how I got hooked on the game. My dad used to carry me into games at the old Garden. We had one season ticket. Eventually we got two. I watched Cowens, Havlicek, Tiny and Bird in my formative years, read Bob Ryan every day and got to see Doc, Moses, Thompson, Gervin, McAdoo, Kareem and the Walton Blazers whenever they came through town. Won five titles by the time I was 16. 'Nuff said.

    -- Simmons

    WILEY: 3:05 ET

    OK -- we'll make it a double ceremony then -- you and Bird Man first (two tuxedos on the cake), then me and Mahorn. Except -- well, read the list of the Ten Hottest Honeys at the end of this note. That should explain it, at least on my part.

    I'm actually starting to like this back and forth. What's wrong with me?

    Oh, and don't look for that Christmas card from Lorraine Bracco. Or Gandolfini.

    You're correct about the passion for the subject overcoming a distant reader. That certainly can happen. I'll say this: Halberstam's book, "The Breaks Of The Game," has an epigram quoting O.J. SImpson, something about a TV announcer saying, "The only thing that counts is character," and O.J. jumping up, saying, "That's it! That's it!"

    You'll forgive me for taking the rest of the text with a grain of salt. I knew O.J.

    You make many points about the league that are right on -- I'll just add this: the magic of the play itself converts the purist, regardless of inconveniences like race. It's just like jazz. Almost everybody loves or at least likes music of some form. Just like everybody loves basketball in some form. But the highest form, the most complex form, the form exemplified by men who have given their lives over to the game, with predictably wondrous and disastrous results (is Miles Davis so different from Kobe?) is jazz. Or the NBA game. And some people care to hear it, and some people would much rather run it down, since they can neither understand or relate at that level.

    You obviously can. I bow in admiration.

    Stay tuned on the "He Got Game" thing. (Hint: "He Got Game 2.") The ending was, as you say, phantasmagoric, no doubt; as for the subplot, you can't get Milla Jovovich to co-star with Denzel then not use her -- in a manner of speaking of course.

    Spike and Bird compared to Rush Limbaugh (another e-mail bud) and McNabb would take up a ream of copy. A key there is that it's the character says the joke in the seminal "She's Gotta Have It." Same problem Twain had with Huck Finn. It's a 13-year-old narrator, not Twain. Twain has to try to make points through the characters. Same thing in "She's Gotta Have It." Actually, a black man, Jaime, the coolest of Nola's three suitors, first says, after Mars is going on about Bernard King, "You've got to admit, Larry Bird is the best player in the NBA." After all, the film was released in 1986, a Celtic year.

    Now Spike wrote that line too. Give him credit. But he played Mars in the movie, who, in character, and, frankly, in one of the funniest lines I ever heard in a sports movie: "The best? The best? He's the ugliest m&&$%@#r in the NBA!" Every audience roared, not because of insult, but the truth of it in the eyes of the speaker. Notice, Mars didn't dispute his skill. And Larry Bird would admit himself that he's not exactly Brad Pitt. Look at the whole scene. That's the film that let me know Spike was brilliant, and that I didn't want to work with him, but that I had to work with him. And an artist can't be brilliant in my mind unless he's universal. D.W. Griffith, for example, is not brilliant, I don't care how techincally proficient he was.

    Don't take my word. Ask Ed Norton about Spike if you ever get the chance.

    Life: All weird all the time, is what it comes down to. Repeating: take the Wolfmen in Game 7, if Flip benches Johnson and Kandi-puke and Trent, goes heavy jumbo with Madsen, quick with Hoiberg, Spree and the Fetus Formerly Known as the Space Baby From 2001: A Space Odyssey, Sam I Am Indeed ET. You say take the Kings. Fine. All Spree's gotta say is, "Say Peja, you remind me of Larry Bird." Game over.

    Of course, Spree won't think to do that, but still ...

    I'm also saying take the Pistons in that Game 7, even though I'm disappointed by the play of Curious George (aka Tayshaun Prince), who didn't go after a loose ball in the corner hard enough in the famous triple-OT game, and it cost them.

    Convinced the Nets are the only team left that can give the Lakers a game, let alone a series; they can match up Kobe with Jefferson, overmatch Mailman with K-Mart, ditto Jason Kidd over GP or Whoever, also known as Derek (Gone) Fishing.

    So who am I forgetting?

    The completely, forgettable irrevocably turgid Indiana Pacers, the Walking Belch. They are easily the most unwatchable team left. They make the Miami Heat look good. Ever seen a point guard who's game was less aesthetically pleasing that Jamaal Tinsley? He's horrible, in the Waltonesque sense of the world.

    At least Tinfoil's backup had the common courtesy to know he's a backup.

    I'm no big Ron Artest fan. As a forward, he's a great heavyweight contender. A classic bully ballplayer -- although I'd surely take him, just to keep the other team from having him, and then live with the impending team unrest. The thing that gets me about him is, that's him, it's not a tactic to help win a game. I don't get it, or him.

    I'm on record with Jermaine O'Neal. He's another frontrunner I'd take if I can get him, but I can't see him going over Shaq, the way Tim B. Dunkin did with that last shot in Game 5, before Fisher got lucky. Shaq said one lucky shot deserves another, but Duncan's shot was not luck. Only a handful of players could've even gotten that shot off against Shaq, let alone gotten if off on line while falling down and away.

    If Manu understood the ethos of the league a little better -- refs are rightly loathe to blow a whistle to call a foul of a guy defending a jumpshooter with the game on the line -- Manu might've pressed into Fisher a little more and they'd still be playing.

    But at the end of the day, the Lakers have Kobe. And Shaq.

    At their end of the day, the Pacers have Harrington and Bender, Foster, O'Neal, Reggie and Artest. A lot of guys, but still, that buttoned-down game Carlisle runs -- a perfect hire by the Pacers for the kind of lead-footed point guards they have. Walk it up. Screen down. Pin. Swing through. Crash. Set it up. Run it again. Grind.

    On Bernard King, he once almost decided to kill me. But he held off. True story. He started with the Utah Jazz, had some issues, moved on to the Warriors, where I happened to have him on the beats back, when. Tremendous, unstoppable one-on-one force of nature. Walking dunk. Did a piece on him, World Free and Just Barely Caring for The Sporting News, mentioning pint bottles and a police blotter. I didn't think it was a big deal. Apparently Bernard disagreed. Fortunately, I had Al "The Destroyer" Attles, then the Warriors' head coach, on my side. Kind of.

    Should Bernard's number be retired by the Knicks? If Ewing's is, King's should be.

    OK, let's get it started for real.

    Top 10 NBA Players (current)
    1. Kobe
    2. Duncan
    3. Shaq
    4. J-Kidd
    5. Garnett
    6. T-Mac
    7. Dirk
    8. K-Mart
    9. LeBron
    10. Yao

    Top 10 NBA Players (all time)
    1. Russell
    2. Jordan
    3. Magic
    4. Bird
    5. Chamberlain
    6. Oscar
    7. Duncan
    8. Kobe
    9. Shaq
    10. The Logo, West

    Top Three Movies (last 12 months)
    "City of God"
    "American Splendor"
    "Dirty Pretty Things"

    Top Three TV Shows (last 12 months)
    "The Apprentice "
    "CSI: Miami"
    "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy"

    Top Three Proposed TV Shows
    Omarosa Strikes Back (score by John Williams)
    CSI Wherever
    Queer Eye This!

    Top 10 Hottest Honeys
    1. Jessica Alba
    2. Jessica Alba in a wheelchair
    3. Halle Berry
    4. Halle Berry on rollerskates (They say she's crazy; I say, so? Enchances the experience.)
    5. Scarlett Johansson (If I can get the image of a lurking, hangdog Bill Murray licking his wounds out of my head.)
    6. Naomi Watts (Peter Jackson's dream girl, too, which gives us some pause; not that we can't compete with Peter Jackson. Have you seen Peter Jackson? It's Peter Jackson's money and influence and ability to cast Naomi Watts in "King Kong" that worries me.)
    7. Nona Gaye
    8. Any 18-year-old future female offspring of Jessica Alba
    9. Ditto Halle Berry
    10. Middle cheerleader from the "Let's Get It Started" Black Eyed Peas NBA promo.

    Top Three Hottie Hunks
    N/A

    Ding!

    -- Wiley

    SIMMONS: 4:30 ET

    Yo,

    The exact O.J. quote from Halberstam's book was "Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, and money has wings. The only thing that endures is character."

    It leads the book -- even before any of the actual text. O.J. mentions the quote to Al Cowlings. That's right, the same Al Cowlings of "This is AC, damit, you know who this is!!!!" fame. AC asks him where he heard it. And O.J. says he heard it one night while watching a hockey game in Buffalo ... and the quote "brought me right up out of my chair. I never forgot it."

    The book was written in 1982, unquestionably my favorite sports book of all time. And as time passed, eventually the book's first page became a perfect 100 on the Unintentional Comedy Scale. You couldn't make this stuff up. My favorite part was that O.J. was watching a hockey game when he heard the quote. He didn't mean to kill the NHL, it's just that he loved it too much.

    Speaking of O.J., our next back-and-forth thingie should be about the 10th anniversary of O.J. and Nicole next month. That was the best saga ever for a barely employed wanna-be sportswriter with tons of time on his hands ... I have dozens of opinions on this one, including a theory about what actually happened on that fateful night and a compare-and-contrast between Chris Darden's trial peformance and every playoff series involving Rick Adelman. By the way, the day before I flew back to Boston for my wedding, by a weird twist of fate, I had an errand in Brentwood and inadvertently drove by Nicole's old house on Bundy Drive. You know, the murder scene house. Hope this wasn't a bad omen for my marriage.

    On Minnesota ...

    I agree, Flip Saunders has lost his mind. Their best five is Madsen, KG, Spree, Cassell and either Hoiberg or Hassell, depending on whether Peja has the deer-in-the-headlights or not. The Olowokandi signing was awful. Gary Trent is awful. Ervin Johnson sucked 10 years ago (although his presence in the league always enabled me to crack up my dad at Celtics games with "Hey, Ervin, why the long face?" jokes). Yet Flip keeps trying out these guys who don't belong out there. Wally Z should NOT play in this series. He couldn't guard me. And if KG doesn't take at least 20 shots and 10 free throws in this game, something is seriously wrong.

    One more thing on KG: I took a quick fly through e-mails and some people seemed surprised that I thought KG should have punched Peeler. I don't think that at all. All he needed to do was either A) give him the old two-handed shove, or B) grab him by the neck like MJ did to Reggie Miller that time. Neither of those things would have gotten him kicked out of Game 7. But by taking two steps back and standing there he basically backed down. And your best player can't back down. Like when Kareem whistled that elbow by Larry Legend's head (Game 4, '84 Finals), what did The Man do? Got right in Kareem's balding, squinty, ninny-like mug and bitched him out. It's all about protecting territory in the playoffs, like what you wrote in the Mahorn column. And if KG couldn't stand up for himself, then someone else on the team should have done it for him. Now the Kings have the upper hand.

    On Pistons-Nets ...

    I think the Nets are done, regardless of what happens in Game 7. J-Kidd is running on fumes -- he's 50 percent of what he normally is. Frank is in over his head. K-Mart seems to be losing steam. Their only consistent go-to-guy is Jefferson, who's tailor-made for Ron Artest. It's like what Kenny Smith says -- it's all about the matchups. Miami was a tough matchup for Indy because their two best players (Odom and Wade) didn't play the same positions as Indy's best defenders (O'Neal and Artest). That's why I picked that series to go 7. But against Jersey, suddenly you have O'Neal on K-Mart and Artest on Jefferson, with Kidd too banged-up to take advantage of Tinsley (one of the classic "Jekyll and Hyde" guys of the past 20 years).

    The Pistons have the best team in the East. They should cruise to the Finals. They just have too many looks ... they can go big, they can go small, they can play fast or slow (I know, I know, I sound like Rollergirl praising Dirk Diggler in "Boogie Nights"). It's ridiculous that the Nets are still lurking in this series. The only weird thing is that playoff series almost always come down to one thing -- "Who's the best player?" -- and I'm not sure if that guy has even emerged in this series. Maybe it will happen on Thursday night. And yes, we have to wait until Thursday night. Nice job by the NBA of seizing the momentum of the past week.

    On Indiana-Miami ...

    I'm too blinded by my enjoyment of the Heat to think rationally about this series. If the NBA gods drew up a guard on paper just for me, just to make me happy, I think it would be Dwyane Wade. Doesn't matter where he plays, who's on the floor with him, what the situation is ... he just comes up big and makes everyone else look better. If I had to rank the guys from last year's draft, I'd have 'Bron 1st, Wade 2a, Melo 2b and Darko 4th, just because he's brought us so much comedy over the past year. Pistons fans realize they could have had 'Melo or Wade in this Nets series, right? I mean, they do realize that. Right?

    (By the way, I think Tayshaun is this decade's Derrick McKey -- just tantalizing enough to keep stringing everyone along, just enough of a drifter that he'll never be one of the best four players on a winning team. I'm not saying somebody couldn't win a title with him as the fifth wheel. Could happen. But you either come to play every night or you don't. He doesn't.)

    On Lakers-Spurs ...

    You read the articles over the last two days and it's like the Spurs self-destructed and the Lakers dug deep and laid the smack down. Are you kidding me? Somebody makes a game-winning shot with under a half-second left maybe once every two years in the NBA. It never happens. You can't ask for a flukier loss than Game 5. I'm not saying it wasn't a great shot, but geez. If your season comes down to a fallaway heave by Derek Fisher from 20 feet with a hand in his face, you're probably taking those odds. The Spurs were the second-best team in the league -- nobody touches L.A. the rest of the way.

    Forgot to mention something: Kobe pretending to be exhausted at the end of Game 5 -- yet another homage to his idol MJ--- was almost comical. It was right up there with Agassi's coach telling him to fall down in Wimbledon. I loved Whitlock's column last week -- he was dead on. Don't expect us to feel bad for Kobe because he's flying back and forth to a trial that happened because he couldn't keep it in his pants. I feel bad for Rasheed and his plantar fascittis, Peja for his cramps, C-Webb and Kidd for their bum wheel, even GP for playing for a coach who's completely oblivious to his strengths (like posting up, or running the pick-and-roll with Malone). Maybe it's remarkable what Kobe accomplished this month, but there's nothing heroic about it ... if anything, it's a little creepy that he's so unaffected, don't you think?

    That brings up a good question that my friend Sarah brought up this weekend: Would Kobe be more stressed out right now if he did do it, or if he didn't do it? Think about it. I say he would be more stressed if he did do it, because if he didn't do it, then he would have some faith that the truth would eventually come out. But if he did do it, he'd be worried the whole time that the truth would eventually come out. It's an interesting argument, and certainly one more reason that the NBA is FANNNNNNN-tastic. I love this game!

    (Just kidding. Trying to lighten the mood.)

    Onto your challenge ...

    Top 10 NBA Players (current)
    1. Kobe
    2. Duncan
    3. Shaq
    4. KG
    5. Kidd (when healthy)
    6. T-Mac
    7. LeBron
    8. O'Neal
    9. Nowitzki
    10. Madsen

    Top 12 NBA Players (all time)
    1. Russell
    2. MJ
    3. Bird
    4. Magic
    5. Wilt
    6. Hakeem
    7. Moses
    8. Shaq
    9. Oscar
    10. Kobe
    11. Duncan
    12. Doc (ABA version)

    Top 3 Movies (last 12 months)
    There hasn't been one thing that I really liked. Seriously. Probably the closest to fulfilling my expectations was "Fast and the Furious 2."

    Top Five TV Shows (last 12 months)
    1. "Chappelle Show"
    2. "Real World/Road Rules Challenge"
    3a. "Curb"
    3b. "Sopranos"
    5a. "Survivor All-Stars"
    5b. "O.C."

    Top Three Proposed TV Shows
    1. The Magic Hour Returns!
    2. Black Bachelor
    3. The Surreal Life: All NBA Has-Been Edition (JR Rider, Chris Washburn, Vernon Maxwell, Calvin Murphy, etc.)

    Top 10 Hottest Honeys
    1. Jessica Alba
    2. Jennifer Aniston
    3. Lindsay Lohan (in a month)
    4. Jennifer Garner
    5. Brooke Burns
    6. Maria Menounos

    (Uh-oh, I'm being electroshocked by the Sports Gal ... gotta go ... this was fun!)

    -- Simmons

    WILEY: 5:20 ET

    Help! I've been Sports Guyed! Somebody call the SPCA!

    Good Honey-Dip list, except for Jennifer Aniston. She looks like she's got some potential "Why the long face?" action going there. Schwimmer must be contagious.

    You got Hakeem and Doc into your all-time NBA Top 10 and I didn't? What-da, get-da. Ohhhhh ... you had the Top 12. I see.

    For some reason, the emaciated bag of bones with the narcotic eyes called Jennifer Connolly does more for me than Jennifer Garner from the Church of Latter Day Julia Roberts. (By the way, O.J., who is now officially the human motif of this blog, went out with that side chick because she looked like Julia Roberts; can't remember the name, the girl he dated, the one who came to the L.A. jailhouse and removed her top for O.J. during the trial -- haven't heard that one? Then we must live to blog again).

    The Magic Hour Returns
    Black Bachelor (starring Eddie Griffin)
    The Surreal Life: All NBA Has-Been Edition

    I'm still laughing. However, the suits are not.

    The "Sopranos." Freaking No. 1 man. You know, I know it, the folks at home know it.

    You know who isn't stressed out? Mrs. Kobe. Her and that lawyer, the other Mrs. Kobe, from the Lollipop Guild.

    As for nobody touching L.A. the rest of the way, I fear you're right -- and that's four out of five, which means Kobe and Shaq are officially Pantheon material now. But I'd like to watch the Nets run with them at 100 percent, with the 1997 Zo at center.

    I'll settle for Detroit. But this plantain-and-rice foot injury or whatever 'Sheed's got, as I understand it, it won't go away in a week, and that means school's out.

    But ... Larry Brown loves it when you throw him under the truck like this. He fancies himself Indiana Jones, without the hat.

    When are the invitations going out for you and Dwyane Wade, and where are you registered?

    Yeah, any move but a backward move, KG. That's why, when you're accosted on the school yard, you have to fight back. Better to fight back that one day than to spend the rest of your life fighting every Tim, Dick and Thomas Jane who comes along.

    What, you mean we never got around to "Hoosiers"?

    Oh well. We go to a better place ...

    -- Simmons