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Monday, May 16, 2005
Updated: June 21, 9:58 PM ET
More cowbell: Quick hits

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

• Spike TV just launched an entertaining new show called "The Rookies" (translation: camera crews following Emeka Okafor, Josh Smith, Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris since last June). Some good inside stuff here, most notably Okafor trying to stay awake in Charlotte on the day after the draft, as they shuttled him around to 40 different interviews. I also enjoyed how Harris' entire family moved to the Dallas area after he was drafted by the Mavs (imagine if they trade him this summer), or how he was wearing a J-Kidd/Mavs throwback jersey around (nothing like paying homage to the good old days, when they went 25-57 every year). But the highlight was Okafor's bombing at the Olympic Team practices and being (quietly) ridiculed on the sidelines by Richard Jefferson and Stephon Marbury, with Jefferson thinking Okafor was on the Magic, finding out he was on the Bobcats, then saying, "Oh, they [are] in trouble!" Ouch.

Just an enjoyable show all around. The big difference between this show and "Shaquille" (ESPN's pseudo-reality show about Shaq) is that "The Rookies" isn't afraid to make these guys look bad, whereas Shaq's production company handled his show, so it's not exactly the most candid glimpse. Look, here's Shaq handing out Christmas presents to little kids! Here's Shaq fighting cancer! Here's Shaq thwarting a liquor store robbery! With that said, I would still recommend TiVo-ing Shaq's show and fast-forwarding to all the parts with Shaq and Damon Jones (the single untapped comedy presence in any professional sport right now, and not just because he fathered Tina Thompson's baby this spring). We need more Damon Jones. At the very least, he should be hosting the "Real World/Road Rules Inferno" over Dave Mirra.

• For anyone between 30 and 40, I have to recommend "Hit Me Baby One More Time," NBC's "contest" between '80s/early-'90s musical acts that I referenced last week. It's an astonishing show. For instance, Arrested Development came out and sang a scorching "Tennessee" two weeks ago, leaving everyone with the same feeling – what the hell happened to these guys? Where did the wheels come off? (I will never figure out their premature demise or the demise of Living Colour. It defies all logic.) At the same time, you have stuff happening like poor Loverboy banging out "Working for the Weekend" with the (now headband-less) lead singer looking exactly like NBC horse racing correspondent Bob Neumeier, right down to his age. (In fact, it may have been Bob Neumeier. There's really no way to know.) And did I mention that Vanilla Ice performed last week? Just a riveting show all-around. Bravo reruns last week's show on Wednesday night, then NBC carries the new show Thursday, at 9 p.m. ET.

• I mentioned this yesterday, but let's mention it again: HBO's "Costas Now" is really good. I never liked Costas' play-by-play work (and that's an understatement), but he remains the best studio host of my lifetime and this is the perfect vehicle for him. In particular, the panel discussions are excellent – in Week One, John McEnroe was killing Charles Barkley for getting suckered in by MJ's friendship before the '93 Finals (an excellent point, by the way), only Johnny Mac wouldn't let it go because he's completely insane. It seemed like Barkley was one more barb away from punching him in the face, which would have been the best sports TV show moment since Jim Everett charged Jim Rome. There's always one moment like that on the show. And last week's piece about Payne Stewart's son and Lee Janzen was particularly good. Quality show all around.

(And speaking of HBO shows, they're rerunning the "Best of Real Sports" show this month, which is a must-watch for the piece about the greatest stud horse of all-time. There's comedy, there's high comedy and then there's the sight of Bernie Goldberg looking on as two horses are getting it on. They need to create a special Emmy category for moments like this.)

• A few weeks ago, I made the argument that "New York City in 1977" had more going on than any city ever. Little did I know that someone wrote a book about it called "Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx is Burning" by Jonathan Mahler and it's actually a breezy read. Much of it is centered around the '77 Yankees and Reggie Jackson; even though I knew just about everything, it was enjoyable to read it in a historical context. In 1977, Reggie was a cross between Terrell Owens, A-Rod and Kobe. You forget this now. Some good stuff in here though – I plowed through it in two sittings. Anyway, I decided that I'm recommending one book a week. It will be just like Oprah's Book Club, only without the screaming women.

• You have to check out Baseball Prospectus. When I first did, I thought I'd visit it once or twice. Now I find myself trickling over there every day. For fantasy purposes, it's invaluable. And some of the hard-core baseball stuff is positively enlightening – like Joe Sheehan's column today about how Washington's 37-27 record was more than a little deceiving. I love (repeat: love) Buster Olney's baseball blog on ESPN.com, consistently the best all-around column on our Web site. And Eric Karabell's fantasy blog is an everyday destination for me, with the unexpected bonus that he looks exactly like Ed Norton in "Primal Fear."

(Note: Karabell's blog also provided the funniest ESPN.com moment of 2005, when he was submitting live reports from the first-ever Fantasy Sports Conference in Las Vegas with the headline, "Vegas baby, Vegas!" Can you imagine a bunch of obsessive fantasy baseball maniacs hitting the tables for a weekend in Vegas? I kept picturing one of them getting a blackjack, doling out a few high-fives and screaming "I'm hotter than Javy Vasquez's WHIP right now!" Next year, either this entire conference needs to be televised, or somebody needs to invite me.)

• Finally, when the Sports Gal was in the last stages of her pregnancy and spending much of her time lying down and saying things like, "Kill me, just shoot me in the head," and "I feel like I have an alien living inside me," I rolled the dice with the first three seasons of "24" on DVD so we would have something regular to watch during the times when she wasn't groaning and speaking in tongues. Well, we banged out Season One in five days. I'm not even kidding. Then she had the kid midway through Season Two – at this point, we were obsessed enough that I brought my laptop to the hospital and we knocked out two episodes the night the kid was born. Again, I'm not even kidding. And within two more weeks, we finished Seasons Two and Three.

I guess I have three points here:

1. Not only is "24" one of the 10 greatest shows of all-time, I will never forgive myself for not watching it sooner. This is like my "Sopranos" debacle all over again. When people keep telling me to watch a show, I instinctively don't trust them and decide not to watch it. It's a real problem. I might need therapy or something.

2. Jack Bauer has officially entered my personal pantheon of Hollywood cops/federal agents, right up there with Sonny Crockett, Johnny Kelly, Kelly Garrett, "Pepper" Anderson, Phil Esterhaus and Brock Landers.

3. If somebody from Fox doesn't send me an advance copy of Season Four, I'm going to commit murder.

That's all for today. And by the way, I'm predicting Bennett Salvatore and Dick Bavetta tonight, as well as an 81-75 Pistons win.

Posted: June 14, 2005, at 4:14 p.m. ET


Here's what I don't understand about sports coverage in the 21st century: When one team is kicking butt, why does everyone concentrate on the losing team?

Take last night, for instance. San Antonio was in the process of dismantling the Pistons for the second straight game in the Finals. The Spurs are playing at the highest all-around level of any Finals team since the 2001 Lakers – there isn't a single thing they can't do on a basketball court. So what happened at halftime? The ABC guys spent much of their time wondering what was wrong with Detroit, culminating in Bill Walton's ranting, "They look like their minds and hearts are somewhere else … totally discombobulated," adding, "Somebody has to step up in the locker room and say something – does this team anymore believe in their coach?" Mike Tirico correctly pointed out that the Pistons won Game 7 on the road in Miami, so they probably weren't quitting on their coach six days later.

I'm not picking on Walton – everyone does this now. For whatever reason, if you're appearing on a radio or television show in which you have to express an opinion in a short amount of time, there's inherent pressure to make that opinion as strong as possible. So Walton was doing his job. And yes, this is one of the 500 reasons I would be terrible as a studio analyst, because Tirico would have thrown it to me and I would have said something like, "Wow, this Spurs team is something else, they're just better than the Pistons, we may as well stop this series right now and go home." And then everyone would have stared at me like I had three heads. Again, that's why you can't state the obvious on these shows. You have to come out firing with some sort of angle.

I just worry about the direction that we're headed in, that's all. The Spurs have the best two players in the series. They're impeccably coached. They feature one of the 15 best players of all time in his absolute prime. They play about as well together as any Finals team since the '92 Bulls. Isn't that the only story here? Shouldn't everyone be going crazy about this Spurs team? Shouldn't we be wondering about stuff like …

1. Where they rank among the all-time greats?
2. How you could possibly beat these guys?
3. Would Miami have done any better?
4. Do they need a sweep to cement their legacy as a top-10 team?
5. If Manu Ginobili finishes the series the way he started, does he have to be considered the most dominant all-around two-guard in the league (ahead of Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and everyone else)?
6. Where does Tim Duncan rank among the greatest players ever?

And so on?

I don't think there's any shame in the fact that the Pistons gritted their way to another Finals, even winning Game 7 on the road (one of the hardest things to accomplish in sports). They just don't have enough firepower – they're a six-man team that can succeed only at a certain pace. If you're going to criticize them for anything, maybe you question Ben Wallace's intensity since the Artest Melee – I don't think he's been the same guy – or the way they seemingly self-destruct after every bad call. If you want to get technical, maybe you question Larry Brown for benching any starter with two fouls in the first half when the drop off between the starters and the bench is dramatic, or for not posting up Rasheed Wallace on Duncan (trying to get Duncan in foul trouble) or Chauncey Billups on Parker/Beno Udrih (their only real mismatch with Tayshaun Prince struggling). But how could you say they're underachieving?

One more note on this: On last Friday's "Costas Now" – a superb show, by the way – they had a fascinating panel discussion with Phil Simms, Tom Brokaw and Mark Cuban, who talked about the direction of radio and TV shows. Simms made a great point that I have written about before in some of my older Red Sox columns, but it's worth mentioning again: He wondered why everything had to be so black and white with sports shows now, why you have to choose a side and defend it to the death. As Simms pointed out (I'm paraphrasing), doesn't the answer to just about every one of these sports arguments lie somewhere between the two extremes?

Absolutely. And here's the bottom line after two games: The Spurs played a lousy first half in Game 1, then proceeded to run the Pistons out of their building during the next three halves. This happened because they have a better team, as well as the two best players in the series and home court advantage. That's why Vegas had them favored by six points in both of games.

Of course, if the Pistons win Game 3 – and I think they could – they will regain some of the momentum of the series and we'll finally have something to discuss. Until then, let's concentrate on the Spurs, a terrific basketball team that's peaking at the perfect time. If we can't do that, why are we even following sports in the first place?

Some other quick thoughts on Game 2:

• I thought I was the only one who noticed that the Pistons were introduced to Undertaker's music from the mid-90's in the WWF until I received a slew of e-mails about it. But if you're using that music, don't you have to get Jim Ross to announce Detroit's lineup? Starting at the one forward … wait a second … my God, that's Rasheed Wallace! And starting at the other forward … Good God, that's Tayshaun Prince!

• This just in: Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich are very good friends.

• ESPN Classic showed an NBA Finals Marathon all weekend – some great choices, by the way (Game 4 in '84, Game 6 in '93, Game 5 in '97, etc.) – which made me wonder about something as they were introducing the starting lineups last night: Can you imagine someone like Larry Bird playing nowadays and getting introduced to that techno/laser crap? He would have looked roughly 100-200 times more uncomfortable than Popovich does.

• Note to Al Michaels: You don't have to explain the "Five fouls in a quarter and you get to shoot free throws rule" to your audience just because it's the Finals, for the same reason you wouldn't say, "Just to be clear, each team gets four downs to try and advance the ball 10 yards," if you were announcing the Super Bowl.

• Speaking of Al, here was my favorite Michaels moment – when they showed Eva Longoria in the stands and he said, "Speaking of Tony (Parker), Eva Longoria – they say it's his girlfriend … pal, anyway…" You know deep down he was thinking, "I can't believe I have to bring this crap up, I'm Al Michaels! I did the 1980 Olympic hockey game!"

• Speaking of Eva, my favorite moment of Game 2: Michele Tafoya interviewing Longoria, then throwing it back to Al and Hubie with, "Guys, I was told very strictly before that interview that I was not allowed to ask about Tony Parker, so with respect to Eva, I did not."

(Here's what I would have done: Since Eva was talking about how she grew up rooting for the Spurs, my last question would have been, "If you could date anyone on the team, who would you pick?" She would have had to answer that, right?)

• Second-favorite moment of the game: In response to Carlos Arroyo's spraining his ankle in the final minute, followed by Duncan's coming off the Spurs bench to help him, the Sports Gal said, "Awwwwww, isn't that nice." Is there a more thoughtful superstar in sports than Duncan? When he writes an autobiography, it should just be called, "Awwwwww, Isn't That Nice!"

• If you missed it, ABC's halftime piece Sunday night about Bruce Bowen was excellent. Although I think it would be funnier if, instead of having Jamie Foxx narrate these things, ABC chose random celebrities who needed the work. Here's a look at the life of Bruce Bowen, narrated by former Family Ties star Michael Gross.

• One correction from the Game 1 diary: Apparently Coach K gives all the proceeds from those American Express commercials to charity. Great news from a charity standpoint, disappointing news from a comedy standpoint. I had at least 20 Coach K jokes left in me this month. Oh, well.

• A legitimate question: Since Robert Horry has been the third-best player in the series, and he's probably headed for Ring No. 6 … do we need to start thinking about him as a potential Hall of Famer? Clearly, he's been one of the more important team players of the last 35 years, right up there with Dennis Johnson, Michael Cooper, Dennis Rodman, Bobby Jones and everyone else. So why wouldn't we start recognizing these guys in the Hall of Fame? Couldn't we create a spot for indispensable team players who did all the Little Things over a prolonged period of time? Like their own little wing?

• Finally, in case you missed it, the WNBA ran a commercial during last night's game with their new slogan: "This is our game." I think they have just given up. Seriously, what the hell does that even mean? That's like if ESPN built a whole ad campaign for my column around the slogan "This is my column." I'm making it my mission in life to bring this league down before my daughter is old enough to watch a game and potentially talk me into getting season tickets.

I'm Bill Simmons and this is my column.

Posted: June 13, 2005, at 2:34 p.m. ET


More Cowbell – The Archive III
More Cowbell – The Archive II
More Cowbell – The Archive I

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.