Monday, June 6, 2005
More cowbell: Quick hits
By Bill Simmons
Starting this week, I'm sliding into a new schedule geared around my Page 2 columns, which will run regularly on Wednesdays and Fridays (and maybe even three times a week, depending on what's happening). I'm going to use the Cowbell space for smaller bits that don't fit in a column book reviews, thoughts on movies or TV shows, quick reactions to time-sensitive material, Celtics and Red Sox stuff and so on. But the majority of my time is going to be spent coming up with stuff for those Page 2 columns and my magazine column, which was the whole reason ESPN brought me back last spring in the first place. I'm also going to try to write a mailbag every 2-3 weeks, so much of the normal Cowbell fodder will end up in that mailbag, anyway.
My biggest problem with the Cowbell gimmick other than everyone on the planet has a blog now, so it's lost a little bit of its luster is that I keep getting carried away when I write them. The initial plan was for the postings to be quick hits (350-500 words) but I can never help myself. Like the Nash rant last week that ended up being 2,100 words and should have been its own column. In retrospect, I could have spent more time on it, honed it down, added some jokes and made it three times better. So it was a wasted opportunity. And that's happened like 20 times during the past few months.
Also, when you're rushing to get stuff up, you fall in the habit of throwing opinions out there without really thinking about them. For instance, I wrote last week that it was incredible that Shaq has won only one MVP if I wrote that in an actual column, I would have checked the voting, then gone through his seasons to make sure he got boned over two or three times. As it turned out, Page 2's David Schoenfield ended up pursuing that angle and came to the conclusion that Shaq had been treated fairly in the voting. After reading that column, I can't even disagree every year, either someone was better than him or he was victimized by circumstance (the '99 lockout happening in his prime, or missing 22 games in 1998, or even the media's being seduced by Iverson in 2001). The point is, I would have checked this out before I wrote it. And that's the biggest difference between writing a column and writing a blog you miss the little things and the postings are never as good as they should be.
If you fell in the habit of checking the page every day to see if something is coming up, we're going to do a much better job of alerting you when something other than those Wednesday/Friday columns is being posted. Just check the top right of the Sports Guy's World page for instance, if I have a Cowbell coming on Monday afternoon, we'll post something in the morning that says, "New Cowbell coming Monday afternoon." If I don't have another column coming until Wednesday, we'll post something on Monday that says, "New column coming Wednesday." Also, the New Intern will still be posting the Daily Links, we'll still have the Quote of the Day, and we might start running a few guest columns just for kicks.
So that's the plan starting this week. I'll be back with columns on Wednesday, Thursday (bonus this week) and Friday.
Some other quick things I wanted to mention:
• Denver reader Todd Ruff sums it up best: "After Friday night's Game 6, did Dirk officially become the Peyton Manning of the NBA?"
No question about it. Calling out Jason Terry at the end of regulation in Game 6, followed by the 0-for-5 in overtime ... I mean, the only thing we were missing was Dirk's stomping back to the bench with his chinstrap dangling from his face. What a jerk. And did anyone have less business calling out teammates than Nowitzki, who stunk offensively for a solid month and couldn't guard anyone? Who do you think was responsible for Shawn Marion's 38-16 performance in Game 6?
• Seattle reader Brendan Lloyd asks, "How about a vengeance scale update for Nash's performance against the Mavs? You can throw in Jerome James against the Kings too. Who knew that it only took throwing him out with his clothes in a plastic bag plus a contract year plus the national spotlight plus playing against a team with no big men for him to 'dominate'. And, has the term 'dominate' ever been used so loosely before?"
Excellent question. I think Nash's destruction of the Mavs was a solid 8.3 on the Vengeance Scale during those last three games, he played the point guard position as well as it's ever been played from an offensive standpoint. I'm downgrading his grade only because he wasn't bitter enough after the series. Even one caustic comment like, "I can understand why they let me go any time you can let an All-Star point guard leave and spend his money on Erick Dampier, you have to make that move" would have pushed that grade into the nines. As for James, he was like a 2.2 the Kings were terrible.
• Reader Rafe Bartholomew asks, "Don't you think Nash and the Suns' beating Dirk and the Mavs the same week as the new 'Star Wars' was released is incredible timing? It's hard not to see Nowitzki as a Vader in the making. He was already starting to snap at his teammates and if he had the Sith ability to crush throats with the Dark side of the Force, I think Jason Terry would have died with 5.7 left on the clock of Game 6. The way Nash played in the last few games of this series is basically the equivalent of chopping Dirk's legs off and leaving him in a flaming pile of lava. Now, Dirk's dark master Cuban will fit him with a pair of mechanical legs and teach him to hate the Good Guy Canadian who did this to him."
(Ummmmmm ... if you say so.)
• Rented "Ocean's Twelve" over the weekend. The first one was good-natured, well-done eye candy and ended up being surprisingly rewatchable on cable. The second one was incoherent, unfunny, self-referential, boring, ridiculous in fact, if I had to write a blurb for it on a movie poster, it would look like this:
"A train wreck that's almost unfathomably terrible!"
Bill Simmons, ESPN.com
• Lindsay Lohan on SNL this Saturday ... holy mackerel. She now looks like a lollipop. This is an American tragedy I even let out the audible gasp when I saw her walking out for the monologue. Speaking of SNL, they re-ran a 1976 classic at 3 a.m. hosted by Steve Martin, where he came out and gave one of the funniest monologues ever (the one where he plays the banjo and happily sings "Oh, murder, and death, and grief, and sorrow ... ), followed by the "Jeopardy 1999" skit that ranks among the 15-20 best ever (including the question, "Comedian whose career fizzled after leaving SNL" with the answer being "Chevy Chase," only Chase was in the skit and hadn't left the show yet). Thank God for TiVo.
• Three predictions for the week: The Spurs will sweep the Suns; the Korean guy will die on "Lost" this Wednesday; and Edgar Renteria will boot a ground ball within the next 72 hours.
• Final thought from Houston reader Thomas Pierrel: "Do you think anyone at TNT has thought about replacing the Magic Johnson Law & Order commercials with OJ? It would be really awesome."
Agreed. Back with a column on Wednesday.
Posted: May 23, 2005, at 3:43 p.m. ET
Six reasons why I really enjoyed the Spurs-Sonics series:
1. The Bruce Bowen-Ray Allen feud
Strangely riveting for some reason. They were like Esai Morales and Sean Penn in "Bad Boys," like the whole thing was leading to them fighting to the death in an empty stadium after the series ended. With the notable and fantastic exception of Robert Parish and Bill Laimbeer in the 1987 playoffs which led to Parish finally cold-cocking Laimbeer from behind in Game 5 have you ever seen a player regard another player with such contempt? Part of me was rooting for the Spurs to blow out Seattle in Game 6, just so Allen would finally haul off and punch Bowen in the face.
(Of course, ESPN blew it after Game 6, when they should have had a camera following Allen around to see how the final handshake played out. I love this stuff though. That's basketball! Sometimes, you're just going to end up playing against an annoying, touchy-feely, borderline cheap-shot guy who makes you want to punch him in the face. It's happened to all of us.)
2. The emergence of Manu Ginobili as an über-villain
I'm not sure how this happened or when it happened, but he's the winner of the "Guy You Love to Hate" award in the 2005 playoffs, isn't he? It starts with that cheesy haircut, which looks like he borrowed it from Andy Garcia right after the "Ocean's Twelve" press junket, capped off by the barely perceptible bald spot on the top of his head which you can see every time the Spurs bring the ball over midcourt. Then there's the flopping, which I can't even remember him doing that much until this Seattle series now he's like a World Cup soccer player. (Shouldn't there be fines for this stuff?) And then there's that whiny, martyr-like look on his face after somebody knocks him to the ground, vaguely reminiscent of the look on Daniel LaRusso's face after every cheap shot during the 1985 All-Valley Karate Championships. I can't stand him. I really can't. Which is a good thing, I think.
(Note: Part of the problem with this league since the early '90s was that there weren't enough talented players who made you not want to like them. Between Bowen and Ginobili, I was vehemently rooting for Seattle last night even though I didn't have any financial interest in the game. When's the last time that happened?)
3. Great crowds bring out the best in great teams
I know, I know
sounds like something Joe Theismann would say. But Seattle's crowd has to be the best in the league. In Games 3 and 4, I honestly feel like they won the game for the Sonics. In Game 6, the Spurs had to take it up a notch, then get the winning basket coming out of the 100-decibel timeout in the last 15 seconds. A botched assigment by Duncan ended up leading to a perfect drive-and-kick by Ginobili for a Duncan layup. Only four teams could have scored a hoop in that setting: Miami (with Dwyane Wade), Detroit (Richard Hamilton coming off a pick), Phoenix (the Steve Nash-Amare Stoudemire pick and roll) and the Spurs. Coincidentally, there's a 99.9 percent chance that's our Final Four.
4. Great coaching
I just don't think there's a smarter, better-prepared team than the Spurs they have an answer for every situation, like a perfect play coming out of a timeout for Robert Horry's dagger 3-pointer at 80-79 last night. Even in Game 3, they got a perfect shot coming out of that timeout with 3 seconds left (Duncan's little jump-hook over Vitaly Potapenko that he missed). And if something isn't working (like the fact that Ginobili should have been starting in this series), they always make the adjustment in time. I also think Nate McMillan was the most underrated coach this season his guys were always in the right spots, they could survive any injury, and you never saw his players (many of whom were limited) trying to do something they couldn't do. For lack of a better word, both teams always looked prepared. And that's all I'm asking for as a fan.
5. Danny Fortson
Remember Bull in "Fast Break"? (I know, way too many movie references already today.) The big white dude that Gabe Kaplan started with Swish, Hustler, Preacher and DC Dacey for Cadwallader State? If they re-made "Fast Break" now and frankly, why not? wouldn't Danny Fortson make a perfect Bull? You can't take your eyes off him when he's on the court. Uh-oh, Danny knocked someone down again. Uh-oh, Danny's rolling to the basket on a pick-and-roll, somebody's getting flattened. Uh-oh, Danny's going over somebody's back for this rebound. No wonder the refs keep whistling him for fouls. Why would you watch anyone else on the court? I'm going to miss ol' Danny.
Nobody ever writes about him, partly because it's all been said, partly because he has just enough Pete Sampras in him that people don't find him interesting enough. Personally, I think he's one of the most compelling athletes in sports a fierce competitor who also seems like the most thoughtful player in the league. Out of anyone, he's the one star player who I could see coaching 15 years from now.
For instance, there was a Grizzlies-Spurs game near the end of the season when Mike Miller made a game-winning 3, only Memphis' scorekeeper started the clock too early. So Mike Fratello and Gregg Popovich were talking at midcourt while the refs figured it out, and then Duncan came over, and you could see Fratello explaining what happened to Duncan, and then they were debating it back and forth, with Duncan's hand on Fratello's shoulder
it was just a goofy moment. Usually when these things happen, they show one of the benches and all the players have a "C'mon man, hurry this up, I'm supposed to be at the nightclub in 35 minutes" glow about them. But Duncan always seems interested in the little things, one of the qualities that makes him so special. Last night was the definitive Duncan game he starts out 1-for-14, keeps plugging away, and ends up carrying them down the stretch and making the winning basket.
Here's my point: There's no question at all absolutely none that we're watching the greatest power forward of all time. And you never hear anyone mention this.
Some other random NBA notes
• For whatever reason, I have been getting e-mails from readers saying stuff like, "Boy, Nash is really shoving it in your face this week, huh?" Not sure I understand this one: I'm the same guy who wrote a few years ago that Nash was one of the best 10 point guards of the past 25 years. You won't find a bigger advocate of the point guard position than me heck, I've even written entire columns about it. No matter what happens in the playoffs, the argument was whether Nash was the MVP of the regular season. I don't think he was. In the playoffs? Absolutely, unequivocally, he's been the most dominant player. Which is amazing.
On the surface, Nash's ascension doesn't make sense because NBA players usually peak around 27-28, not when they're 30 years old. His best playoff performance was three years ago, when he averaged a 19-8-4 over eight games (also when I wrote the line: "Mike Bibby made himself a lot of money with the way he abused Steve Nash in the final three games of the Mavs-Kings series" in a 2002 playoff column). In 20 games over 2003, he averaged a 16-7-4. If anything, he showed a penchant to wear down as the playoffs dragged along (especially defensively), like his back/body couldn't handle the rigors of a 100-game season.
So what's changed? Two things:
1. In retrospect, the Mavs weren't the right team for him, and here's why: Nash's greatest skill as a point guard is the way he orchestrates that pick-and-roll. He can turn the corner, dribble into the paint, then find the rolling big man at precisely the right time 99 times out of 100. In Dallas, he was running that play with Nowitzki, someone whose natural inclination is to step backwards so he can shoot an open 3. (You never see Nowitzki roll to the basket because he's clumsy and he doesn't like getting hit.) In Phoenix, Nash is running that play with (and I'm using caps here to emphasize this point) THE GREATEST ROLLER IN THE HISTORY OF PICK-AND-ROLLS: Stoudemire, who grabbed the title from Karl Malone and Shawn Kemp last November. No matter where you throw him the ball, Amare can catch it at full-steam and somehow get to the rim. Plus, Phoenix's 3-point shooters are better than anyone Nash ever played with, and all of them can run the floor with him. And if that's not enough, they stopped calling moving picks this season unless you happen to be a 7-foot-6 guy from China.
In a way, it's almost like "The Perfect Storm" for Nash: perfect supporting cast, perfect partner for his favorite play. That made him relatively unstoppable. And leads to
2. Nash's confidence has swelled to the point that he feels like he's unstoppable. And we watched the fruition of this evolution in the Dallas series, as Jason Terry has been petrified to guard him and Avery Johnson hasn't figured out yet that A.) someone needs to start knocking Nash down, and B.) Darrell Armstrong should be playing 20-25 minutes a game and pestering the living hell out of him. I would need to sit down and really think about this one, but Nash's Game 5 (the 34-12-13, where he controlled every nuance of the game) had to have ranked among the 10 greatest games in the history of the point guard position, right? How can you run a team better than that?
Here's my point: Because I took an anti-Nash stance for the MVP vote, that doesn't mean I can't appreciate what he's doing. If anything, I couldn't be more delighted about it. But extenuating circumstances with NBA stars are more underrated than people realize. For example, Larry Bird never had the chance to play with an athletic big man who attacked the rim (one of the reasons that Lenny Bias' untimely death was so frustrating seriously, how could anyone have stopped that pick-and-roll?). Ditto for Isiah Thomas, who had to tailor his game to accommodate half-court scorers like Vinnie Johnson and Adrian Dantley. Hakeem's entire career passed by without him playing with a single All-Star point guard who could have gotten him easy shots. And so on. Nash has been fantastic, but I guarantee he wakes up every morning thinking, "I can't believe I get to play with these guys today!"
• Reggie Miller's final game was special last night. I loved Larry Brown's 20-second timeout at the end so the Pistons could applaud him. Great player, great career, and you knew he would go down firing (that was the most predictable 27 points of all time last night). No current NBA player meant more to his city. I'm going to miss watching him.
(Of course, my mother is in town this week and she had this take on Reggie's career: "With all that money he's made, why won't he get his teeth fixed?")
• The most underrated subplot of the playoffs: Alonzo Mourning acting like an absolute jerk against the Nets and Wizards, showing up his opponents time and time again with the muscle flexing, the gratuitous fist pumps and everything else
and nobody calling him out because he's had so many health issues over the years. Really, having one kidney gives you the excuse to embarrass your opponents 10 times a game? I never got that memo. There isn't a bigger front-runner in sports, and he's in for a rude awakening against the Wallace Brothers. And just for the record, if there's any difference between Alonzo weaseling his way out of New Jersey and Toronto and what Vince Carter weaseling his way out of Toronto, please, fill me in.
• My predictions for the conference finals:
I have four questions. First, is Shaq healthy or not? They need a 22-11 from him to win the series. Anything less and they lose. Second, who guards Rip Hamilton in this series? If you put Wade on him and ask Wade to bring the ball up, he'll be dead by Game 4. If you put Eddie Jones on him, then there's a size mismatch with Wade guarding Tayshaun Prince although that might not be a bad thing because Detroit could get out of their offense trying to feed the ball to Tayshaun. Third, can Wade control these games (like he did against Washington and New Jersey) against superior defensive players like Prince and the Wallaces? And fourth, can Detroit beat a quality team like the Heat when they're still stuck in that "We don't play hard every game, only when we have something to prove" mentality?
Here's how I think the series unfolds: Miami blows out Detroit in Game 1. The Pistons respond with the upset in Game 2, then handle Miami easily in Game 3. Satisfied, they relax a little and Wade ends up dropping a 45-10-12 on them in Game 4, followed by a nail-biting Miami win in Game 5 as the Heat have a 75-9 free throw advantage thanks to referees Bennett Salvatore, Dick Bavetta and Earl Hebner. Back in the Palace at Game 6, Detroit blows them out again. And that sets up a super Game 7 for all the marbles.
Before the playoffs, I picked the Pistons, but I hadn't seen enough of Miami and didn't realize how good their bench was. Maybe they don't look good on paper, but they play well together, and that's all that matters. Now I'm thinking they can wear down Detroit over seven games (remember, the Pistons are playing their starters 40 minutes a game) and win a Game 7 because they have the best player on the court. And if that's not enough, it just feels like this spring is Wade's coming-out party, doesn't it?
Prediction: Miami in 7
Without getting my hopes too high I swear, I'm reining myself in given the contrasting styles and the personalities involved, this could be the most compelling playoff series in three years (since the Kings-Lakers series) and the most aesthetically pleasing series since the Chicago-Phoenix Finals in '93 (which was wildly entertaining to watch). And not since the 1998 Finals has there been a series where every neutral basketball fan will be supporting one team (in this case, the Suns), partly because of the way they play, partly because people are tired of the Spurs, partly because of the Ginobili-Bowen factor. Throw in Nash and the outrageous Stoudemire-Duncan matchup and I couldn't be more excited about this series. It's not possible.
Unfortunately, it looks like Joe Johnson isn't coming back any time soon he looks like somebody worked him over with a 2-by-4 and some brass knuckles which means they need Jimmy Jackson to come through for an entire series like he played in Game 5 against the Mavs. I don't see that one happening there's a reason he's been on 25 teams. I also think there's something to be said for the pedigree of each team. Only one Phoenix player has ever played in a series like this (Nash), whereas the Spurs are playoff-proven with everyone but Nazr Mohammed, Brent Barry, and that Beno guy who keeps bricking those 15-footers. Before the playoffs, I picked the Suns to make the Finals. Without Johnson, they don't have quite enough. I don't trust the Barbosas and McCartys in a series like this, and if they can't outshoot the Spurs, the Spurs will wear them down by doing the little things (offensive rebounds, flops for charges, back-breaking 3s and so on). Oh, well.
Prediction: San Antonio in 6
Posted: May 20, 2005, at 2:03 p.m. ET
I wasn't happy with yesterday's Steve Nash posting it was too long and I didn't have enough time to tinker with it. Should have waited a day before finishing it. Two points I forgot to mention:
1. During the 2002 season, Jason Kidd had a similar effect on the Nets taught them how to win, made them collectively unselfish, brought the best out of some flawed teammates, even took over games when it mattered. Not only did Kidd have a career year, they went from 26 wins to 52 wins and ended up making the NBA Finals, even though his supporting cast was far inferior to Nash's supporting cast this season. Would you rather play with Stoudemire, Marion, Johnson, Q and Jimmy Jackson, or with K-Mart, Van Horn, Kittles, Todd MacCullough and a young Richard Jefferson? Exactly. Anyway, Kidd finished second in the MVP balloting to Tim Duncan that season, who was a stronger candidate than anyone from this year's crop. It's just that I don't remember the media fawning over Jason Kidd in 2002 like they fawned over Steve Nash in 2005. Draw your own conclusions.
2. I didn't make this point clearly enough: In a normal season, Nash wouldn't have won the MVP. But this was like one of those Oscar years where there isn't one standout picture, so "Shakespeare In Love" ends up winning the award. Every candidate was flawed in some way. And since that was the case, it was easy for some voters to say, "Screw it, I'm voting for the white guy with the floppy hair!"
So that's that. Other random notes on a Wednesday afternoon...
• Three corrections from Monday's posting: A) "24" didn't rip off the real-time gimmick from "Snake Eyes" (Johnny Depp's "Nick of Time" actually came first); B) Rob Mariano didn't win "Survivor: All-Stars" (his fiancee Amber did); C) we didn't really name our baby "Janu" (that was a joke).
• For the past four years, I wanted to write a running diary of the "Michael Douglas and Friends" celebrity golf tournament which runs every July and just about redefines comedy as we know it and every year, something gets screwed up and it doesn't happen. When I mapped out a list of potential summer columns two weeks ago, "Michael Douglas and Friends: Running Diary" actually grabbed the No. 2 spot. So what happened? Unbeknownst to me, they moved the tournament up two months and it happened last weekend. According to a reader named Jeff, highlights included "Alice Cooper taunting Kenny G, James Woods shamelessly trying to hit on Teri Hatcher and Heather Locklear in a golf outfit." And that's not even including Haley Joel Osment exchanging an awkward high five with somebody. Just devastating news. Looks like we'll have to wait until 2006.
• Will Ferrell hosted "SNL" last weekend another sub-par show, with one good Weekend Update joke (Pat O'Brien's "You're So Bleeping Hot Sauce") and one decent sketch ("Celebrity Jeopardy," rehashed from the 400 times they did it when he was on the cast). There was one highlight, though during the first song of Queens of the Stone Age, Ferrell randomly came out dressed like Gene Frenkle and started banging the cowbell, which would have been the greatest marijuana moment of all-time if you were stoned watching the show. It seemed like the guys in the band requested it because none of them were even remotely phased plus, they were singing "Little Sister," a great song that actually has a recurring cowbell in it. Just a goofy, inspired moment that redeemed an entire season of crappiness.
• I missed it last night, but Britney's new TV show was apparently a train wreck of gargantuan proportions. In a good way. By all accounts, not only will the show end what was left of her career, but the odds of a Federline-Spears sex tape leaking onto the Internet have just been taken off the books in Vegas.
• Charles Barkley is right the Pacers were finished for good in Game 4. They simply ran out of steam. By the way, is there anything more secretly enjoyable than a garbage-time appearance from Darko? I mean, anything?
• Random cable movie recommendation: "Man On Fire" with Denzel Washington.
Quality action flick that's worth the two hours, especially for the chance to see Mark Anthony try to act. And while we're here, they have been replaying "The Verdict" lately (it's on AMC tonight), my favorite Boston movie of all time. So add that to your TiVo if you've never seen it. I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. And one more TV suggestion: "Jimmy Kimmel Live" has Hollywood Boulevard blocked off for an Audioslave performance on tonight's show.
• After watching the Red Sox play Oakland five times in the past week and a half, I'm ready to start popping Prozacs. Is there a more depressing team on the planet than Oakland? Every A's batter is hitting between .180 and .220. Poor Jason Kendall ... it looks like they're forcing him to live under a bridge between games. Barry Zito is feeling the pressure of a guy who's killing tens of thousands of roto teams across the country. Octavio Dotel looks like he's bringing his suitcase to the stadium every day in case they trade him. And so on. During last night's comeback by the Sox, it seems like 95 percent of the crowd was cheering for Boston. If they don't fire Ken Macha soon, they're going to find him hanging in the dugout within the next 3 days.
(What a bad situation. I think Michael Lewis needs to write a new prologue for "Moneyball" titled, "OK, maybe I was wrong.")
• Finally, here's my NBA prediction for tonight: I think the Mavs will win the next two games of the series, and only because Joe Johnson's loss is much bigger than people realize. Maybe it took Avery Johnson an extra game to realize this, but with Johnson missing, the Mavs can send an extra guy over to defend the Stoudemire/Nash pick-and-roll and only because they don't have to worry about Barbosa/Jackson/McCarty making an open 3. Phoenix's success was tied to the fact that all five starters can score or create shots for someone else. Now, that's not the case. I think they're done. Which stinks. Has anyone had more bad luck with more good teams than the Suns over the years? When will we see the Phoenix equivalent of Dan Shaughnessy writing "The Curse of Connie Hawkins"?
Posted: May 18, 2005, at 2:23 p.m. ET
I wanted to follow up on the Steve Nash/MVP issue today, if only because the race card emerged while I was away (an issue I have been writing about since my MVP column in April), when the Miami Herald's Dan LeBatard tackled it and ended up taking a beating from Charles Barkley, among others. Out of everything I read on the subject, Jason Whitlock's Page 2 column about Rex Chapman came the closest to echoing my thoughts, but I couldn't resist the chance to write them down myself.
There are three issues here, and none of them involve MVP voters choosing Nash over Shaq simply because one guy was white and the other was black.
Issue No. 1: The main reason people voted for Nash was a fundamentally flawed premise: The Suns won 29 games last year, they won 62 games this year, and because their fast-break offense revolves around Nash, and they struggled without him, that makes him the MVP.
Well, that's wrong. You can't compare this year's Suns team to last year's team Amare Stoudemire missed half the season, they traded Stephon Marbury at the midway point for prospects and picks and they didn't have Quentin Richardson or their revamped bench. That's why the 2004 Suns won 29 games. You have to compare them to the 2003 team that won 44 games and gave the Spurs everything they could handle in Round 1.
Both teams had Marion, although he's much more effective as a power forward because it keeps him near the basket. Both teams had Stoudemire and Joe Johnson, although they're twice as good as they were in 2003. Only the 2005 team had Q, a dramatic upgrade over the 2003 platoon of Penny Hardaway and Casey Jacobsen. Nash was obviously a better fit than Marbury in 2003, but Marbury played his best basketball in 2003 (22.3 ppg, 8.1 apg, 44 percent from the floor). So take that 44-win team from two years ago, make Stoudemire and Johnson twice as good, give them Q, give them the brainstorm to play Stoudemire and Marion as their bigs, give them a better bench, let them keep Marbury
and they probably win 55-60 games in the West. They would have been at least as good as the Mavs, right? That's why the whole, "They won 33 more games because of Nash!" argument was so patently absurd.
Now throw this in: Everyone assumes that Nash was the sole reason the Suns can play this fast-break style. Actually, it's a group effort. You can't play that style without Stoudemire (at the five) and Marion (at the four) surviving defensively one position above their natural positions. You also need lights-out 3-point shooters at the two or three spots, as we found out in Game 4 of the Dallas series (when Dallas realized that they only needed to double-team Stoudemire and leave Johnson's replacement open at all times). And you need athletic players who can handle the ball (with Johnson being the most underrated guy in this department few people realize how many little things he did for that team, although they're starting to figure it out now that he's gone). So to credit Nash alone for Phoenix's style is absurd. He's not playing any different than he did in Dallas. He just has a better supporting cast. In fact, Phoenix probably has four of the best 30 guys in the league, and Richardson is the best fifth starter other than Tayshaun Prince.
Again, how does this not factor into Nash's success? Just looking at this logically: He's a 30-year-old guy who made two All-Star teams in his entire career. At no point was he ever considered one of the best 20 guys in the league. Last summer, his team decided that he was replaceable enough that the most financially reckless owner in the league allowed him to leave with no compensation. So he signs with Phoenix and thrives offensively with a team more suited to his style, although it's not like the statistical leap was staggering or anything (he went from 14.5 to 15.5 ppg, 8.8 to 11.5 apg, 47 percent to 50 percent shooting, and his turnovers actually jumped from 209 to 245). Is that a career year, or a logical jump for someone who's playing with a better team?
Phoenix has four of the best 30 guys in the league. Dallas has one. Which team would you rather play for?
Issue No. 2: Did people vote for Nash because he was white?
In a roundabout way. The bottom line is that it's fun to root for Nash. He's running around like Tanner Boyle out there, has the floppy hair and the Energizer Bunny motor, makes those throwback plays (like the lefty hook over Nowitzki), makes his teammates better and always handles himself with class. Given the way he plays, and that he's a white star in a predominantly black league, he stands out more than anyone else on the court in any given game. Plus, he was the biggest new wrinkle in the league. Nobody wants to read "Wow, Shaq is still great!" columns. A "Steve Nash is fun to watch, why can't he be the MVP?" column is infinitely more interesting. So that's how it started and everything snowballed from there. Just for the record, the same thing would have happened if he looked like Earl Boykins. People are always going to gravitate towards an underdog. Always.
Because Shaq battled injuries during the second half of the season, and Dwyane Wade was so freaking good, there were just enough holes in the "Shaq for MVP" campaign that it opened the door for Nash, as well as a slew of "It's been such a delight to watch someone this unselfish who handles himself with so much class" columns, a nice way of saying, "I'm glad he's not one of those me-first guys with tons of tattoos who pounds his chest after every good play."
Well, why weren't there as many "It's been such a delight to watch someone this unselfish who handles himself with so much class" columns and features about Wade until this past week? Is it really breaking news to people that Dwyane Wade is a great player and a great guy? You didn't watch the 20-25 games that Wade took over at crunch-time during the season, or all the times he put Miami on his back with Shaq out? It took until after Round 2 of the playoffs for Wade to receive some long-overdue hype. Where was this stuff four months ago?
Here's the bottom line: Shaq's old team won 22 games less without him. Shaq's new team won 17 games more with him. If the Miami-L.A. trade never happened, the Lakers would have won between 55-60 games (like they always did) and Miami would have struggled to win 45-50. Also, Damon Jones wouldn't have signed there, and there's no way Dooling, Anderson, Laettner and Mourning would have taken massive paycuts. Why doesn't Shaq get credit for these things? How can someone so dominant end up winning one MVP over the past 13 years? You don't think there has been a bias against Shaq over the years? He's almost like the 12-year-old in Little League who's freakishly bigger than everyone else, so the other parents hate him and he ends up not making the All-Star team. And if you didn't vote for Shaq this year because you felt Wade was the best player on Miami, that's fine. But that leads to our next issue
Issue No. 3: How do you define an NBA MVP?
I always thought a few rules applied, in descending order:
A. Who was the most dominant player in the league?
Well, we didn't have one this season. So
B. What player had the biggest all-around impact on his team?
Without Shaq or Wade, Miami would have been a .500 team. I'm not sure you could say that about Nash (with Phoenix) and Nowitzki (with Dallas) because of their supporting casts. Cleveland and Philly would have been hardcore lottery teams without LeBron and Iverson, although Philly had a better season. Still, no candidate has really emerged yet.
C. Do any of the players have a gaping hole in their game that should prevent them from winning?
This is the rule that always kills Shaq. He struggles from the free throw line, and gets penalized by the "How can you vote him for an MVP when his team never goes to him at the end of games?" argument. But if you're using that rule for Shaq, you have to use it for Nash as well. He's an atrocious, atrocious defensive player, which is a much bigger problem than Shaq's free-throw shooting. Really, you can pick apart anyone's game Nowitzki doesn't make his teammates better, LeBron didn't take over enough, Iverson takes too many bad shots with the exception of Wade. I wouldn't change one thing about Dwyane Wade. But since he hasn't even remotely peaked as a player yet, I couldn't have voted for him this season. Bringing us to
D. When we look back at the season 10 years from now, which guys will stand out?
That's a little easier. Suddenly we're down to Shaq (his celebrated emergence as the most beloved player in the league); Nash (the symbol of a fan-friendly, freewheeling offensive style that has revived the NBA); and Iverson (maybe the toughest, most resilient athlete in any sport).
E. Just based on what we watched this season, if the six MVP candidates from the previous paragraph were sitting on the side of a pickup court, and two captains were choosing shirts and skins for a game to 11 with their respective lives depending on it, who would be the first player picked?
Well, that's easy: Shaq. There's no question. I would bet anything that 100 people out of 100 would take their chances with the big guy if their lives depended on it. Wade and LeBron would go Nos. 2 and 3 (although I'm not sure of the order). Iverson would go No. 4 because everyone would know that he would single-handedly destroy Nash if you picked Nash over him. And Nash would go fifth, one spot ahead of Nowitzki. I have no scientific way of proving this. But I refuse to believe that anyone in their right mind would choose Nash over those other four guys.
Anyway, three weeks before the season ended, I voted for Shaq, with Iverson second, Nowitzki third, LeBron fourth, Wade fifth and Nash seventh. By the end of the season, I would have changed it to this order: Iverson; Shaq; Wade; LeBron; Nash; Nowitzki, if only because I didn't give Nash enough credit the first time around, but more importantly, Iverson was simply amazing down the stretch (carrying a subpar team and playing 47-48 minutes a game to push them into the playoffs). He meant more to Philly than Shaq meant to Miami, if that makes sense. Under no circumstances would I have voted for Nash, who had a terrific season in the best possible situation for him. At the same time, only Future Hall of Famers should win the MVP Award, and the only way Steve Nash is making the Hall of Fame is if he's giving Nowitzki's induction speech.
One last note: Our friend Paul Shirley (a devout Nash/MVP-backer) e-mailed me with an excellent point about how valuable Nash was to the Suns, saying that Nash's unselfish, intense style was contagious to the rest of the team. Within a few weeks, everyone was playing that way and everyone was getting easy baskets, as though his unselfishness seeped into everyone else by osmosis. And that's a crucial point. I watched the same thing happen with the '86 Celtics. Bird and Walton were so gifted at finding open guys, that the gift eventually seeped into the other guys on the team, almost like when you're in a room with someone who's so funny, everyone else becomes a little funnier just by hanging out with him.
With the 2005 Suns, Nash's unselfishness raised everyone else's games, and it's something you can't measure with statistics. For anyone who ever cared about the point guard position, he's been a revelation. In fact, if they had an "Offensive Player of the Year" award, I would probably vote for Nash over anyone else.
But they don't.
Regardless, Shirley's point is enough to make me wish that I could redo my MVP ballot one more time: Iverson first, Shaq second, Nash third, Wade fourth. And since Nash is basically the equivalent of a DH in baseball, I couldn't stick him higher than third under any circumstances, whether he was black, white, blue or purple.
(And yes, Regis, that's my final answer.)
Posted: May 17, 2005, at 3:16 p.m. ET
Here's the upcoming schedule of postings: A daily dose of "Cowbell" for this week, followed by a return to a regular column schedule next week. My book is like Jason Voorhees (or even Robert Horry) every time I think it's done, it keeps coming back. So I'm stuck doing the double duty thing again for one final week.
Revisiting one point from the chat: I won't be one of those writers who becomes a father and starts writing about the baby all the time. I hate those people and so do you. We named her "Janu" and that's all you really need to know.
Speaking of Janu, I'm devoting today's space to the greatest reality game show of all-time: "Survivor." I hate writing blurbs like this because twice in the last two months (with "The Contender" and "Project Greenlight") a competing TV network grabbed a similar blurb from this space and ran it on their TV ads like I was Earl Dittman or Gene Shalit. If that happens again, I'm declaring war on the show that does it. I'm not a TV critic Stop blurbing me!!!! Plus, it makes my bosses angry I'm going to wake up one morning with the Dooze's head in my bed. Again, to anyone working for Mark Burnett Productions, please don't blurb anything from this post or I'm throwing a Molotov cocktail into your office building.
Glad we got that settled. Now, here are three reasons why "Survivor" is the greatest reality game show of all-time:
1. It created the "Voting one person off every week" gimmick. Everyone forgets this now because at least 20,000 shows have ripped it off (and the vast majority of them were terrible). But you could make a decent case that this was one of the six most influential TV gimmicks of the last 25 years, right up there with the single-camera/no laugh track sitcom ("Larry Sanders"); MTV cops ("Miami Vice"); the real-time drama ("24," which actually ripped off the idea from the Nic Cage flick "Snake Eyes," but whatever); and men who could turn into animals to solve crimes ("Manimal"
OK, that one didn't work).
2. Unlike just about every other reality format, it hasn't gotten remotely stale. Only "The Amazing Race," "Real World/Road Rules Challenge" and "7 Lives Exposed" can say that, and I don't think any of those shows are in "Survivor's" class (with the possible exception of the last one). Just look at what happened to "The Bachelor" this season they tried to mix things up and ended up accidentally turning it into "Elimidate." Poor Chris Harrison had the "Does anyone know if Extreme Makeover or Super Nanny is hiring?" face going from Episode 3 on.
3. Any show is going to have unsolvable flaws, especially a reality game show. But that's the crazy thing about "Survivor" the flaws work in favor of the show and make it more fun to watch. For instance, its three biggest flaws were in full bloom this season:
A. If you're fat, lazy, unathletic and uncoordinated, this works to your advantage because the others will stupidly keep you around (only because you're not a threat to win any immunities). Last season, Chris won the whole game by playing the fat-lazy-unathletic-uncoordinated card. This season, Katie finished second. I can't emphasize this strongly enough this drives me crazy. But in a good way. Like, I enjoy complaining about it. Seeing Katie waddle through challenges with a dumb grin on her face, going half-speed like Manny Ramirez during one of his "I don't feel like trying this week" funks, knowing she was a mortal lock for the Final Five since she was smart enough to align with the two strongest competitors
I mean, this drives me bonkers. I can't handle it. No show pushes my buttons like "Survivor" does. I think this is a good thing.
(Note: One change they could make without changing the game too much the person who finishes last in an immunity challenge has to vote for themselves at Tribal Council. There should be some penalty, don't you think?)
B. The Alpha Dog (aka, best provider, best leader, best immunity challenger and most honorable person) always gets voted off around the Final 6 or Final 7, and only because they make the fatal mistake of trusting the Fat Lazy Unathletic Uncoordinated Group and the Chicks (who invariably end up stabbing the Alpha Dog in the back and switching alliances on him) because they're too good to know any better. This season featured an Alpha Dog (Tom the Fireman) who was smart enough to see the proverbial back stab coming, so he orchestrated a brilliant Alliance Switch to break up this year's annoying pseudo couple (Gregg and Jenn) just as they were gaining control of the tribe. As a bonus, this made it 10 times more likely that Gregg and Jenn will have to leak an amateur sex tape to make money over the next 12 months. So really, everybody wins here.
C. The format of the game depends on one shortsighted moron back-stabbing one or more close friends to make the Final Two, always forgetting that this will come back to haunt them at the final Tribal Council, as they end up losing key votes and getting skewered by a barrage of personal attacks (which always makes for great TV). Without this person, the last three or four shows of the season will unquestionably stink. That's a pretty dangerous contingency for a show, don't you think? But every season, somebody steps up and plays the role of the Shortsighted Moron.
This year's volunteer was Ian, who would have won the contest if not for two crucial mistakes: 1.) choosing Tom over his buddy Katie on the car challenge, which allowed the three chicks to remain on the island together and question his integrity; 2.) telling Katie and Jenn that he would be voting Tom off before the next immunity challenge (like that wasn't getting back to Tom for God's sake, he was confiding in two chicks!!!!). If neither of those events happened, he would be a million dollars richer right now.
But here's another great thing about "Survivor:" Just when you think the game can't surprise you, it surprises you. After straddling an uncomfortable pole against Tom for six hours in the final immunity challenge, Ian turned down Tom's offer to go to the Final Two, waited another five hours, called Isiah Thomas on his cell phone for advice, then made the following deal with Tom: "I'll jump off right now if you forgive me for trying to stab you in the back, become my friend again and take Katie to the Final Two."
So here was Tom's choice: "Either I continue to straddle this pole, or I win a million dollars and pretend that I'll keep in touch with this dink after the show ends."
Needless to say, Tom took the deal and ended up winning the game. Still, this was fantastic TV. Who's dumber than Ian? Anybody? Who else would give up a million dollars for another man that they've known for five weeks? Didn't he watch the other episodes of "Survivor?" Did any of the winners remotely care that they lost the friendships of a few complete strangers? Isn't the goal of the game to get people to trust you, then stab them in the back? Ian ended up bowing out to keep his integrity, conveniently forgetting that he was a freaking reality game-show contestant! Just a wildly entertaining turn of events. Again, I love being driven crazy by this show, if that makes sense.
Four more notes and then I'm done:
1. I want to see another show where it's just Tom against Rob (the guy who won the first All-Stars contest and proposed to Amber) in the "Survivor All-Stars Who Always Sound A Little Bit Drunk" contest.
2. In last week's chat, I mentioned how Lindsay Lohan had joined the Jennifer Connelly All-Stars, for women who became frighteningly skinny and lost their best asset in the process (their chest). Well, here's another All-Star team for you: the Stephanie LaGrossa All-Stars, for women who look three times better when they haven't showered for a few days, haven't done their hair and aren't wearing any makeup. I actually dated someone like this in the mid-90's. Every time she wore makeup, she looked like a little kid who snuck into Mom's makeup drawer. Bizarre phenomenon. These are also the girls who look tremendous in baseball hats or football jerseys. There's no rhyme or reason to it.
3. Was anyone else bitterly disappointed that they abandoned the whole "Jeff Probst takes the final votes, hacks through the forest for seven hours, fends off two wild boars, puts together a two-seat airplane from scratch, then flies across the world and parachutes out of the plane, somehow landing right as the last 10 minutes of the final episode is starting" gimmick? Come on! That was a guaranteed mid-90s score on the Unintentional Comedy Scale every season! Why deprive us of this? I was hoping he was going to latch onto the back of a nuclear sub or something. No dice.
4. In the reunion special, Coby the Hairdresser's announcement that he adopted a baby and named her "Janu" had to have been one of the five or six funniest TV moments of the past 35 years. I keep imagining Coby's daughter asking her father 15 years from now, "Dad, why am I named Janu?" and Coby answering, "Honey, I named you after the deranged Vegas showgirl who appeared on that reality TV show with me, the one who weighed 80 pounds and looked like Medusa."
Posted: May 16, 2005, at 4:11 p.m. ET
Between the Celtics' getting crushed in Indiana and Stephenie's getting voted off in "Survivor," that ranked among my least favorite Thursday nights in awhile. On the bright side, I stayed up until 2 a.m. watching "Saturday Night Fever," which grabbed the No. 3 spot on my "Underrated Movies" list two years ago. Here's what I wrote at the time, in case you don't have access to it:
"Go figure, this breaks two of my guidelines: They made a sequel from it; and it was far too successful to be considered 'underrated,' at least in the traditional sense. Just hear me out. For one thing, Travolta gives the most underappreciated big-time performance since John Cazale (as Fredo) in 'Godfather 2.' I always thought actors should be judged by one crucial question: Could anyone else have pulled off the part of Tony Manero? You need the swagger, you need the Pacino looks, you need the Brooklyn toughness, and during those dance scenes, you need to take everyone for a ride. And even if you're a double instead of a home run, the movie dies.
"So Travolta comes in, nails the part, carries the movie on his back, makes the dance scenes part of the Pop Culture Pantheon, revives the Disco Era and sends it into another stratosphere, and spearheads the definitive period piece of the late '70s. Has there ever been a movie so closely identified with an era as "Fever" with the late '70s? And does any of this happen without Travolta? Of course not. That's why it made perfect sense when the Academy gave the "Best Actor" Oscar in 1977 to ... Richard Dreyfuss. For 'The Goodbye Girl.' I wish I were making this up.
"Of course, 'Fever' wasn't just about Travolta, or the Bee Gees, or those spectacular dance scenes that still hold up after all these years (and nobody hates dance scenes more than me). It somehow manages to be depressing and uplifting at the same time: Four losers in Brooklyn who won't amount to anything and they know this but they have this sanctuary on Saturday nights, a disco parlor, the one place they can shine. There's a wonderful movie in here. Everyone forgets this, just like they forget about Travolta. Now doesn't that sound like an underrated movie?"
I still feel the same way. If anything, I feel even more strongly about the movie because it's 28 years old and still holds up no small feat. Three things I noticed last night that I haven't mentioned before:
1. After seeing what's happened to Travolta over the last few years, it's funny to watch some of his older movies specifically this one and "Pulp Fiction," when he was still capable of playing characters and wasn't a complete parody of himself. I'm not sure why nobody has made a bigger deal of this, but he's probably the creepiest looking celebrity out there now he's got that giant, Bruce Bochy-like head, the weird fake hair and that crazy "Jim Nantz right after he's been introduced by Hootie Johnson" smile on his face. It's like he's gone crazy. In fact, I think Scientologists killed the real Travolta and replaced him with a cyborg. So when you see him in these older movies, it's enjoyable because you realize just how bizarre he is now. Like seeing Michael Jackson's "Off The Wall" video or something.
2. I defy you to find a better movie with a worse performance from a female lead in this case, Karen Lynn Gorney (yes, I had to look that up on IMDB), who played the sassy girl Travolta likes in the movie. She can't really dance, she's not that attractive and she's a lousy actress. Other than that, she was fantastic. But imagine if they had like a young Michelle Pfeiffer or Melanie Griffith in that role? The movie would have been maybe 20-percent better and it's still one of my 10-15 favorite movies ever.
3. The best thing about this movie? They could never remake it. How could you recreate the Disco Era, or Travolta's performance? That was like catching lightning in a bottle perfect actor, perfect story, perfect time. I can't remember if I ever wrote about this could have sworn it was in a mailbag once, but I couldn't find it but if you had to pick the most memorable year by a single city, wouldn't you go with New York in 1977? They had the Disco Era (glorified by "Fever"); Studio 54 and Plato's Retreat; Reggie and the '77 Yanks (capped off by his three-HR game in the World Series); the Son of Sam; Saturday Night Live's becoming a cultural phenomenon; the famous blackout; Times Square and the prime of the X-rated movie era; and the two best actors in the world (Pacino and DeNiro, both New Yorkers). Imagine living in Manhattan that year?
(Note: Spike Lee tried to capture this stuff in "Summer of Sam," and you're not going to believe this, but he failed miserably. I'm not sure you could get everything in a two-hour movie. I'm thinking it would be a much better TV show five people in their early 20s living in Manhattan that summer and doing drugs-disco-porn things with the Son of Sam looming over everything. Like you guys wouldn't watch that one.)
• The Pacers-Celtics series has reached the hideous point where I was actually rooting for Reggie Miller to stick it to Pierce/Davis/Allen in that second half the way he's playing reminds me of McHale's throwback performance in the '93 Hornets-Celtics series, after Reggie Lewis went down and McHale was forced to dip into the archives to save the series. And it would have happened had the referees called a foul when Dee Brown was basically shoved into the basket support on a wide-open alley-oop to win the game, one of the five most astounding non-calls of all-time.
Anyway, even as a Celtics fan, it's impossible not to admire what he's doing right now the gamesmanship (how dramatically he stomps over to the scorer's table and pounds that powder on his hands before free throws), his Svengali-like control over the referees (who have been openly helping him the last two games), and all his little tricks to get open (with the herky-jerky fake on Pierce, followed by the pullback 3 being the best). Just about every great athlete has one throwback performance in him before it finally ends, and Reggie was definitely great. He's also been the best player on the court for two straight games, which is the main reason Indy won both of those games.
As for the Celtics, it looks like I made the cardinal mistake of underestimating the coaching matchups, as well as the league's inevitable desire to make sure Indiana makes it to the next round. I don't think the NBA fixes games, but they have one trick that they use for situations like this when they want a home team to win the game, they invariably assign the worst referees possible to that game for two reasons: Bad referees have a tendency to get swayed by the home crowd, and bad referees never have the stones to make a tough call on the road. In a related story, I went to 35 Clippers games this year and kept a list of the referees in my pocket, which I also used to follow the referees for any televised games. And yes, the referees in the NBA as a whole have never been worse. But there were six referees that stuck out as being especially terrible. Here they are:
5. Tom Washington and Rodney Mott (tie) Two newer guys who were just gawd-awful. My dad described the new breed of refs like this: "They're all built like running backs, they're all incompetent, and they all blow the whistle one-two seconds late every time."
4. Luis Grillo He's been terrible for like 20 years.
3. Tommy Nunez He's been terrible for like 30 years.
2. Bennett Salvatore Always one of the worst, he took it to another level this season. If you see him on the court at the start of the game, get ready for about six technicals, two near-brawls and both coaches having to be restrained by their assistants at various times.
1. Violet Palmer Here's what I wrote about her four months ago: "During last week's Celtics game, the legendary Violet Palmer was involved, who deserves her own 'SportsCentury' at some point. Nobody has ever been worse at their job, in any vocation not even the people who work at Home Depot selling Christmas trees. When Violet started officiating a few years ago, she was so incompetent, players and coaches actually avoided arguing with her whenever she screwed up, they would always glance around helplessly, the same way you would if your puppy dropped a deuce on the living room carpet. But now she's been around for a few years and people are fed up. On Monday night, Doc Rivers was one bad Violet call away from ending up in a white Bronco with Al Cowlings. I love this stuff."
So why am I telling you this? Because last night's game featured two of my Worst Six Salvatore and Washington. And I don't think it was a coincidence. In a related story, the Pacers had a 38-17 free-throw advantage, the Boston coaches were practically having a colletive conniption on the bench, and there were nearly two bench-clearing brawls. I'm not saying that's why the Celtics lost not only are the Pacers playing better, they have a much better coach but the officials never gave the Celtics a chance, nearly lost control of the game and nearly ended up with another Artest-Wallace situation on their hands. We should expect better in the playoffs, shouldn't we?
• One more note about the Pacers-Celtics: In Game 2 on TNT, Rex Chapman kept accidentally calling James Jones "Jumaine Jones" and John Thompson kept calling Ricky Davis "Ricky Pierce," to the point that I made a message board post on SOSH saying, "The key to this game is Jumaine Jones shutting down Ricky Pierce" and everyone knew what I meant. That can't be topped, right? Well, in Game 3 on NBA TV, play-by-play guy Spiro Dedes didn't just call Jones "Jumaine Jones" for the entire game, and just called him "Jumaine" a few times, as in "Great defense by Jumaine!" I can't wait for the playoffs to start so we can get some real announcers for these games. Oh, wait a second.
• Funniest running subplot of the playoffs: Barkley and Kenny fighting themselves from making fun of Avery Johnson's voice at all times.
• Quick "Project Greenlight" question: When is SNL doing a skit about this show? They should do something where Chris Kattan comes back and plays Mr. Peepers again, only he's been chosen as this season's Project Greenlight director and he would just be running around and jumping on things and eating apples, and then it would cut to Chris Moore saying stuff like, "Mr. Peepers completely lost control on the set today" and "If this keeps up, I'll tell you right now, he's fired!"
(One more note for anyone watching: I always wondered why Krista Allen wasn't one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood, since she's more attractive than just about anyone out there. Now we know why. Good golly.)
• Predictions for the weekend: Phoenix and Miami sweep; Dallas ties up the Houston series; Sacramento, Denver and Philly win Game 3 and lose Game 4; Washington wins both games at home; Rick Carlisle outcoaches Doc Rivers; Nene and Nazr Mohammed get into a fight; Allen Iverson has one 48-point game in him; Mike Miller admits that, yes, he's trying to look like a porn star; Jermaine O'Neal becomes upset because someone has the gall to foul him; Damon Jones enjoys giving a press conference; Rick Adelman looks confused; Mark Cuban looks like he just woke up; Andres Nocioni takes a two-handed shove to the face by a Wizard to be named; Magic still loves the dead bodies; and I watch the new Patriots "3 Games to Glory III" DVD from NFL Films at least six times.
Posted: April 29, 2005, at 3:17 p.m. ET
Some random NBA thoughts on a Thursday morning ...
• After watching last night's Suns-Grizzlies game, I came to the conclusion that this whole "Steve Nash for MVP" thing is the dumbest argument in the history of basketball. How can anyone argue that Amare Stoudemire isn't the most important player on that team?
For instance, let's say you replaced Nash in Phoenix with Kirk Hinrich for the entire season. Would the Suns still be a top-five team? Of course they would. Even if you replaced him with Jason Williams or Tony Parker, they're still probably a top-five team they're just too loaded. But who could possibly fill Stoudemire's shoes on that team? Is there another athletic big man in the league who brings as much to the table? He's an absolute force of nature.
I just don't understand this whole thing. Seriously, I'm flummoxed. And why hasn't anyone written the "If Steve Nash were black, nobody would be mentioning him as an MVP candidate" column yet? If the late Ralph Wiley were still around, he and the Road Dogg would have had three 4,500-word conversations about this topic already. Do you honestly think Steve Nash would be considered a top-three MVP candidate if he looked like Baron Davis? Come on. He's not even the best player on his own team. This is crazy. I wish I could use the pseudonym "William X" on Page 2 and write an entire column about this.
• My favorite TNT commercial of the year: The one for "Law and Order" where Magic Johnson looks into the camera and says, "Nobody loves NBA playoff action more than me. But you know what I really miss? (Big smile) The dead bodies!" Highest of high comedy.
(Speaking of TNT, where do you think "The Closer" will rank on the list of the most distorted ratio for "Number of promos during March Madness or the NFL/MLB/NBA playoffs" versus "Number of times the show will actually air"? And yes, I'm pretty sure "Falcone" holds that record.)
• The biggest tragedy of the playoffs: That the Bulls can't compete against Miami in Round 2 with a full team. After seeing them beat the Clippers on an off night a few months ago, I thought they were looming as a legitimate sleeper in the East if only because of their backcourt and defense but when they lost Curry and Deng, I assumed they were cooked. Bad assumption. The Wizards finally went small with them last night and it didn't matter the Bulls had an answer for everything. Really good team. And nobody loves Curry and Deng more than me, but you know what I really miss? (Big smile) The dead bodies!!!
That reminds me: Some readers asked why I killed Doc Rivers for going small against Indy in Game 2 yet also killed Avery Johnson and Eddie Jordan for not going small in their respective series. Here's the difference: In the last two cases, Dallas and Washington were disadvantaged by the other team's going small they weren't able to exploit the size mismatch on the offensive end, and they couldn't handle the mismatch defensively. So they were going to lose the series if they didn't switch tactics. Jordan realized this before Game 2; Avery Johnson still hasn't realized it.
In Boston's case, Indiana went small simply because it didn't have enough good players to compete in a conventional way. The Pacers' only chance was to play their best five players (O'Neal, Jackson, Miller, Johnson and Jones) and hope Boston would be dumb enough to go small ... and Boston was dumb enough. For instance, the C's could have defended O'Neal with Al Jefferson, played Antoine on Jackson (who was playing hurt), Davis on Miller, Pierce on Jones and GP on Johnson a lineup that has been playing together for the past three months. Offensively, they could have posted up Jefferson or Walker, whomever O'Neal wasn't guarding a major mismatch for Indiana, which would have been forced to put Dale Davis or Jeff Foster back in the game. Instead, Doc went small and put the game in Indiana's hands. I'm not a betting man OK, that's a lie but I will wager anything that the next time Indiana goes small, the Celtics won't bite.
• I keep forgetting to mention this, but it's looking good for the 2007 NBA All-Star Game happening in Vegas. That's right, Vegas. I actually did the Tiger Woods fist pump reading about this for the first time.
• Two screwups in yesterday's Reggie Miller rant:
1. That the '95 team was the best Pacers team of the Reggie Era actually, the '98 team was the best team. That squad gave MJ and the Bulls everything they could handle that spring.
2. Forgot to include Gary Payton in the list of superstars and near-superstars from Reggie's era in his prime, GP played in nine All-Star Games, made first-team All-NBA twice and second-team All-NBA five times. Now he can't even guard Anthony Freaking Johnson on a high screen, so it's easy to forget these things.
Also, Eric "Toast" Marshall of Rollins College fame sent me an interesting e-mail about Reggie and the superstar thing: "I think it depends on your definition of the word superstar. He's been the marquee player for a good team for 17 years. That qualifies in my book. He has been a devastating player one who the entire other team has to be conscious of. Someone should do a study on the shooting percentage of the guy guarding Reggie in playoff games. I'll bet it's like 37 percent. That kind of work away from the ball is as valuable as being a great passer or great rebounder because it creates shots for everyone. Look at what Rip Hamilton did to the Lakers last year. Also, the Indiana offense benefited greatly by his movement without the ball. Many mediocre players were successful playing with Reggie. Name one significant player on the team who got better after leaving the Pacers (Best, Davis, etc). I think Hamilton had the same effect last year on players like Billups."
• Biggest surprise of the playoffs so far: Dirk Nowitzki's double no-show in Games 1 and 2, save for the tying shot with 10 seconds left in Game 2. And this goes back to the ridiculous "Is Nowitzki better than Bird?" discussion that was raging in Boston last month because Cedric Maxwell still hasn't forgiven Bird for green-lighting the Walton-Maxwell trade when Dirk's outside shot isn't falling, he doesn't have an effective low-post game as Plan B, he can't move down low and grab 20 rebounds, and he's not a good enough passer to create shots for other guys. In Bird's case, some of his best games transpired when his outside shot wasn't falling such as Game 4 of the '84 Finals or Game 7 of the Sixers-Celtics series in '81.
On a semi-related note, I think Game 3 is the biggest game of Dirk's career if he doesn't throw the Mavs on his back tonight, then he's just another soft European who couldn't hack it when it mattered, and everything that happened for him this season will have been rendered moot. Some pretty big stakes. And yes, I think the Mavs and Celtics will both win tonight.
(Note: If the Nets or Mavs fall way behind tonight, get ready for the first "Professional teams who came back from a 3-0 deficit" graphic of the playoffs!)
• Some random TV thoughts, just for the hell of it:
1. Is there anything more annoying than TV shows pretending they have a new episode, only it's one of those flashback episodes? I was screaming "[Bleep] you!" at the TV last night after sitting through the first five minutes of "Lost" and realizing it was a flashback show. What a cheap way to suck a second life out of your show it would be like me rerunning old columns on my "Sports Guy World" page and expecting people to read them again. OK, bad example.
2. We always hear about steroids testing in baseball when are they implementing steroids testing in the "Real World/Road Rules Inferno"? I think Abram's head did a 360 during Monday night's show. And what about the Miz? Is it possible to gain 100 pounds of muscle over the course of two years? Imagine if we found out that some of these guys were on steroids and the producers had to make an announcement like, "Because Landon tested positive for HGH last week, his record for 'Most meters shimmying uphill on a rope with a camera on his head' has been wiped off the books."
3. Before tonight's "Survivor" episode, three notes I've been meaning to mention. First, did you ever wonder what Vegas casino hired Janu as a showgirl? Did she answer an ad from the MGM that read "Wanted: Tall, gangly showgirl who looks like Medusa"? I need to know these things. Second, have you noticed that Katie is the first contestant in the history of the show who has actually managed to gain weight as the season rolls along? I think she's seducing cameramen for candy bars and we just haven't seen the footage yet. And third, as my buddy Jack-O pointed out during our weekly conversation when we spend an hour talking about bad TV shows and Sox-Yanks in lieu of anything substantive, do you think Jennifer the Nanny is thinking to herself as the show goes along, "Okay, I'm in the final eight, at the very least, I can leak a sex tape on the Internet and make some money that way ... OK, I'm in the final six, at the very least, that's a Maxim pictorial ... OK, I'm in the final four, possible Playboy cover from this point on ... "
(By the way, can I still write about these things after I'm the father of a baby girl? I can, right? You know what? Don't answer that.)
Posted: April 28, 2005, at 2:24 p.m. ET
We need to tackle Reggie Miller today, if only because I can't imagine anything worse than feuding with people in Indiana the same place that gave us Hickory High, Letterman and Bird. Here's how I described Reggie in yesterday's Cowbell:
"A memorable offensive player who also happens to be the most overrated 'superstar' of the past 20 years, but that's a whole other story."
Well, Pacers fans went crazy. And I understand why they love Reggie and it seemed like I was taking a shot at him. Actually, I was taking a shot at Kenny and Charles on "Inside the NBA," who kept throwing around the word "superstar" in their postgame discussion about Reggie and the Pacers on Monday night. Calling Reggie Miller a "superstar" is so ridiculous, I'm not even sure how to properly react. Just because the referees give someone "superstar" treatment doesn't make him a superstar. But since I enjoyed Reggie's career so much, I want to tackle this rationally.
Here were the superstars from Reggie's era: MJ, Bird, Barkley, Magic, Isiah, Hakeem, Robinson, Mailman, Moses, Ewing, Shaq, Kobe, Iverson, Garnett and Duncan. Each of them was a mortal lock for the All-Star team in his prime, whereas there wasn't any point in Reggie's career when you could have anointed him one of the top two shooting guards in the league. For instance, check out the All-Star Game appearances and 1st/2nd-team All-NBA appearances for everyone on the aformentioned list (as well as Stockton, Pippen and Dominique):
**SUPERSTARS FROM REGGIE'S ERA**
Jordan All-Star (14) ... 1st-team (10) ... 2nd-team (1).
Bird All-Star (12) ... 1st-team (9) ... 2nd-team (2).
Magic All-Star (12) ... 1st-team (9) ... 2nd-team (1).
Hakeem All-Star (12) ... 1st-team (6) ... 2nd-team (3).
Barkley All-Star (12) ... 1st-team (5) ... 2nd-team (5).
Isiah All-Star (12) ... 1st-team (3) ... 2nd-team (2).
Moses All-Star (12) ... 1st-team (4) ... 2nd-team (4).
Robinson All-Star (10) ... 1st-team (4) ... 2nd-team (2).
Mailman All-Star (14) ... 1st-team (11) ... 2nd-team (2).
Ewing All-Star (11) ... 1st-team (1) ... 2nd-team (6).
Shaq All-Star (11) ... 1st-team (6) ... 2nd-team (2).
Stockton All-Star (10) ... 1st-team (2) ... 2nd-team (6).
Dominique All-Star (8) ... 1st-team (1) ... 2nd-team (4).
Pippen All-Star (7) ... 1st-team (3) ... 2nd-team (2).
**SUPERSTARS CURRENTLY IN THEIR PRIMES**
Kobe All-Star (6) ... 1st-team (3) ... 2nd-team (2).
Iverson All-Star (5) ... 1st-team (2) ... 2nd-team (3).
Garnett All-Star (7) ... 1st-team (3) ... 2nd-team (2).
Duncan All-Star (6) ... 1st-team (7) ... 2nd-team (0).
Miller All-Star (5) ... 1st-team (0) ... 2nd-team (0).
Does that mean he wasn't a great player? Of course not. Like Worthy, McHale, Dumars, DJ, Drexler, Pippen, Dominique and even Stockton, he cracked that class of "Guys Who Had Great Careers & Weren't Quite Franchise Players." Which isn't a bad thing. With MJ removed from the picture, Reggie would have been remembered as the premier clutch shooter of his era, a superb scorer who saved his best for last (making him a significant weapon on a good team). His flair for The Moment made him more fun to watch in big games than just about anyone else Reggie was the closest thing in the NBA to having a Hall of Fame baseball closer, someone who could absolutely become the crunch-time scorer on a top-four team (which Indiana was in '94, '95 and '00). If Indiana was protecting a lead in the final minute, you couldn't foul him because he was a mortal lock to drain both free throws. And nobody repeat: nobody received more ridiculous calls over the last 12 years, so the officials certainly enjoyed watching him.
But here's the thing: Superstars carry their teams on both ends of the floor, and superstars can affect games on nights when they can't make a shot. Reggie may have been a reliable scorer, but he was also a subpar defensive player who didn't rebound or create shots for other players, someone who needed to play in an offense constructed in a specific way so he could succeed. Since Reggie could never consistently beat good defenders off the dribble, the Pacers have always sprinted him around a series of picks almost like a mouse going through a maze to spring him for open shots. Their big men needed to keep setting those picks, their point guard needed to kill time on the top of the key waiting for him to get open ... basically, everyone else was tailoring their games to his game. And I'm not sure you can win a title that way.
In fairness to Reggie, he was always asked to do too much for his team. Unlike Stockton, McHale, Worthy, Drexler, DJ and Pippen, he never played with a teammate who was better than him, the biggest reason Indiana never won a title in his prime. Reggie also wins points for excelling over an exceptionally long period of time, and since he was such a unique player, it felt like he had more of a historical impact. The guy was an absolute assassin in the last three minutes nobody had bigger stones than him. He made enough game winners over the years that NBA TV ran a Reggie Mini-Marathon earlier this season. And he pretty much saved professional basketball in Indiana, which is why everyone loves him so much there.
Still, how do those things make him a superstar? In his prime, Reggie gave you 21 a night, with 3 rebounds, 3 assists and some thoroughly mediocre defense. During his best playoff run in 1995, he averaged 25.5 points over 17 games as the Pacers fell one game short of the Finals. In the 2000 playoffs, he averaged 24 points over 22 games as the Pacers lost to the Lakers in six. He was what he was a streaky shooting guard who scared the hell out of you when it mattered. On a very good team, he could be the difference between "45 wins and out in the first round" and "55 wins and playing in the conference finals." But that doesn't make him any different than Pippen, Drexler, Worthy or even Dennis Rodman.
Was Reggie Miller a great player? Absolutely. Did he have a great career? No question about it. Was he terrifying at the end of games? You betcha.
Then again, so was Andrew Toney ... and he wasn't a superstar, either.
Posted: April 27, 2005, at 4:03 p.m. ET
Note: I get to rant about the Celtics today. Doesn't happen often ... as I told you last summer, I would subject you to this only five or six times during the year. This is one of them.)
Last night's playoff games were intriguing because, in each case, a more talented team lost because its coach killed it. Unlike football or baseball, coaching usually doesn't play a dramatic role in the playoffs everyone is competent to some degree and other than the 2003 Pacers-Celtics series, I can't remember a recent series when a coach single-handedly killed his team. But there's a good chance it could happen twice in Round 1: Not just with Avery Johnson and the Mavs (the glaring example), but with Doc Rivers and the Celtics (the underrated example).
During the Celtics game, the announcers spent most of their time expounding on the courage of Jermaine O'Neal, the heart of the Pacers and the greatness of Reggie Miller a memorable offensive player who also happens to be the most overrated "superstar" of the past 20 years, but that's a whole other story and ignored the fact that Doc was coaching with both hands around his neck. I can't remember a Celtics coach getting worked like that since Chuck Daly had his way with K.C. Jones in the '88 Playoffs (although in that case, the Pistons had a better team).
This was like one of those March Madness games when a 15-seed squeezes out an upset over a 2-seed with four McDonald's All-Americans. Any college hoops fan could recognize what Indiana was doing: Slow everything down, limit the number of possessions, shoot more 3s than usual and call timeouts every time the other team showed signs of going on a roll. Rick Carlisle ended up controlling every second of the game, every nuance, and he ended up winning with a 39-year-old gunner with no other discernable skills, a center plucked off waivers two months ago, a star forward playing at 60 percent with an injured shoulder, a career backup point guard, and a completely insane swingman. That was the group that held the Celtics to four points over the last eight minutes of the game.
(Note: In case you didn't see it, the Celtics had a 75-68 lead with the ball and eight minutes to play, as well as a 76-70 lead with three minutes to play ... and somehow ended up losing, 82-79. I would tell you more, but I can't see out of my right eye after punching myself in the face 25 times last night.)
When bad coaching comes into play, I always use the Grady Little Corollary if I'm sitting at home screaming, "How the [bleep] can he not see this, what the [bleep] is he doing?????", then we're probably in trouble. For instance, Doc made the following mistakes over the course of Game 2:
1. In the first two or three minutes, you could see that the Celts were flat they kept turning the ball over and Indy kept making uncontested jumpers. Normally, coaches call a quick timeout when this happens. For some reason, Doc stood there and watched. Indy went up 7-2 on a Jackson 3. No timeout. 10-2 on another Jackson 3. No timeout. 13-2 on ANOTHER Jackson 3. No timeout. 19-9 on a Reggie 2. No timeout. When they went up 22-11, we were past the six-minute mark, so the first TV timeout would have been charged to the Celtics, anyway. Still, no timeout! I always wondered what it would be like if George Blaney ever coached an NBA playoff game. Now I know.
2. Everyone made a big deal about the Celtics bench making such a difference in Game 1. Well, guess how many minutes the bench guys who made the biggest difference (Al Jefferson and Marcus Banks) played in the second half of Game 2? One minute and 37 seconds. In fact, Jefferson (unstoppable on Saturday) was double-teamed every time he posted up in the first half and never saw A SINGLE SECOND in the second half. As for Banks, he blew one assignment and was never seen again, even though he's a better defensive player than Gary Payton, and even though the Pacers kept running the same high screen for Anthony Johnson (Anthony Johnson!!!) at the end of the game that GP couldn't stop. Meanwhile, Mark Blount kept chucking up 20-footers as the crowd booed, only he stayed in the game with no repercussions.
(Here's the thing about the young guys: Not only do they energize the game, they energize the crowd. When Big Al enters a home game, you can hear the happy rumbling even on television the crowd pulls for him more than any other Celtic. So why wouldn't you want to play that card during a choppy game with a nervous crowd? It's beyond inexplicable.)
3. Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker played the entire second half and predictably wore down in the fourth quarter one of the reasons the Celts scored four points in the last eight minutes of the game. Again, why? Why change the way you played all season? Where was the bench that outscored them 190-1 in Game 1? Was there any doubt that Pierce would run out of gas after a 17-point fourth quarter? Doc played for 13 years how does he miss this stuff?
4. Because Indy went small down the stretch, the C's trotted out a small lineup with Pierce, Davis, Payton, Walker and Delonte West for much of crunch time. According to 82games.com, those five guys were used so infrequently together, they didn't even crack the top 20 lineups used by the Celtics during the season. In fact, I can remember only one game when those five played together a home game against Minnesota. Which raises the obvious question: Why are you letting an inferior team dictate which lineups you're using during the biggest four minutes of the game? You got me.
5. It's the little stuff that Doc missed last night. For instance, coming out of a timeout at the three-minute mark, he could have inserted Jefferson and run a play for him. Who would have guarded him, James Jones? Stephen Jackson? Does Doc just not think of this stuff? And why think that Tony Allen could guard Reggie Miller in this series when A) Allen gets no respect from the refs; and B) Miller gets too much respect from the refs? Isn't that a recipe for disaster? Why not attack Miller defensively when he couldn't guard me at this point? There were a dozen moments like this. And has there ever been a more predictable team down the stretch? During the last five minutes, the Celts ran maybe 75 straight pick-and-rolls with 'Toine and Pierce while everyone else stood around. On the defensive end, Indiana kept running a high screen with Johnson and O'Neal that the Celtics couldn't stop because GP actually fossilized during the third quarter. It was like Groundhog Day. And the Celts never even thought to mix it up.
The frustrating thing was that Game 2 was a microcosm of the entire Celtics season. This Celtics team has been killed by the Little Things all year, especially in close games against well-coached teams. I kept picturing Carlisle and Larry Bird laughing after last night's game, as Carlisle said, "I told you, I told you that would happen" and Bird responded, "You were right, you were right." I'm not sure if we're headed for the NBA equivalent of a No. 15 toppling a No. 2 seed, but it sure seemed that way last night.
One more note, totally unrelated to Doc's hatchet job: If you like basketball at all, if you've ever cared about it, you need to catch one of these Mavs-Rockets games and see what Tracy McGrady is doing. He just submitted the two best all-around playoff performances by a non-big man since MJ. Seriously. Even when Kobe and Iverson were cruising during their playoff primes, it was always on their terms they involved their teammates to a certain degree, but only because they needed them, and they were never totally happy about it. In T-Mac's case, he's doing every possible thing to help his team win finding open shooters, guarding the other team's best guy, taking the game over when it matters, encouraging everyone else and it's been remarkable to watch. Now THIS is why I love basketball.
Posted: April 26, 2005, at 3:52 p.m. ET
What a TV weekend! I lost feeling in both butt cheeks by 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Some random thoughts before we get to the NBA stuff ...
• There's nothing quite like sitting through a six-hour draft by the way, six freaking hours??? waiting for your team to make the 32nd pick of the first round, and then Tagliabue strides to the podium (are his arms detachable?) and says, "The Patriots select ... Logan Mankins, guard, Fresno State." The best part was watching Kiper and Mortensen seem confused (because Mankins was considered a third-rounder on some boards), only they couldn't kill the pick because Belichick has won three Super Bowls in four years, so they had to do the "Well, he's definitely a Belichick-type player" routine. It's good to be the king.
• I think I speak for everyone here: It's nice to have nicknames like "Pacman" and "Cadillac" back in the loop.
• Goofiest interview: Cedric Benson after getting selected by the Bears. He was like one of those Counter-terrorist unit workers on "24" who gets swayed by the bad guys, then finds himself getting interrogated by Jack Bauer for three hours ... only the interview was live on ESPN and Suzy Kolber was playing the role of Jack. Was he scared because he knows running backs blow out their ACLs within 18 months of putting on a Bears uniform? Was he breaking down from all the "questions" about his character and off-field legal problems? Or did the Ricky comparisons finally drive him over the edge? I kept waiting for him to jump up, pull a gun on Suzy and scream, "All right, everybody stay calm and she won't get hurt!"
• Here's the thing that drives me crazy about the draft: It's safe to say that, unless the top QB is one of those Peyton Manning/David Carr-type prospects, it's a mistake to reach for a QB in the top five because there's a 50/50 chance he'll end up being a bust. But every April, somebody rolls the dice with a QB like Alex Smith. When you're picking in the top five can't miss territory shouldn't you be willing to bet your life that the guy should pan out? Would anyone bet their life on Smith making it? Why not just go for a sure thing? By that same token, how could someone like Mike Williams slip to 10th when everyone seems to agree that he would have had a monster year at USC last season? I can't believe how dumb some of these teams are.
• Goofiest remote site: When they cut to Minnesota's draft party and fans were dressed like Vikings and stuff. How has someone not made a mockumentary about Vikings fans yet? OK, honey, I'm heading to the draft party ... hey, do you know where my club and shield is?
(OK, enough about the draft ... )
• The Red Sox really need to stop feuding with the Devil Rays it's like the Gramercy Riffs driving down to Brooklyn to feud with the Orphans every spring. (Note: I think it drives Piniella crazy that two-thirds of the crowd roots for Boston every time they play in Tampa, so he offers guys $500 every time they hit a Boston batter.) With that said, when the benches empty twice and nobody plays the role of the "Crazy guy who escalates everything," it's just plain disappointing. I had $100 on 8-to-1 odds that Eduardo Perez would jump over nine guys to sucker punch somebody.
• You're not going to believe this, but thanks to the miracle of TiVo, I watched nearly all of the eight NBA playoff games. For gambling purposes, it's always good to watch the Game 1s so you can see how the styles clash. Then you act accordingly. Anyway, it was tough to take much away from Nets-Heat (Miami basically threw a no-hitter), Suns-Grizzlies (a sweep in the making), Pistons-Sixers (that game was all over the place) and Sonics-Kings (Seattle looks to be in good shape here, but you never know when Bibby and Mobley will start raining those 25-footers).
As for the other series ...
Boston-Indiana: Usually after a Game 1 blowout, the losing team bounces back strong in Game 2. But the Pacers don't have the horses Boston has 10 of the best 13 players in this series, and since all five of their bench guys are better than Indiana's bench guys, Indiana's starters need to play 10-15 points better than Boston's starters just to compete in any particular game ... and that seems unlikely when A) Jermaine O'Neal is still nursing an injured shoulder, and B) Anthony Johnson and Dale Davis are two of the five starters. In fact, the only Boston player who played over his head in Game 1 was LaFrentz; Walker and Pierce were a combined 2-for-19 at one point in the third quarter. I just don't see this series being close. At all.
Denver-San Antonio: As predicted, the Spurs are in BIG trouble here Duncan clearly isn't 100 percent and the Nuggets looked like they absolutely believed they could and should win the series. I went from thinking "The Spurs will squeeze out a tough win in seven games" to thinking "I would be surprised if the Spurs won the series" within two hours. By the way, is it too early to think about Eva Longoria (Tony Parker's new babe) joining the Mia Hamm Hall of Fame for high-profile girlfriends who could potentially kill the careers of their mates?
Chicago-Washington: The Bulls needed an epic 48-minute, 25/18 performance from Andres Nocioni; an Andrew Toney Game from Ben Gordon; a complete meltdown from Gilbert Arenas (3 for 19); AND the second-worst coaching performance of the weekend (from Eddie Jordan) just to sneak out Game 1. Why didn't the Wizards go small to combat the Gordon-Hinrich-Duhon backcourt? We may never know. The biggest surprise was the Bulls' playing up-tempo, which seemed like it should have played right into Washington's hands ... except for the fact that there have been guys arrested for point shaving who were more effective than Arenas was in Game 1. Once he gets going, the Wizards will be fine in this series.
(One prediction: That 103-94 score will be the lowest-scoring game of the series. In fact, they combined for 190 shots, one less than the Memphis-Phoenix game and 27 more than Denver-San Antonio. This could end up being the most exciting series of the first round. And kudos to TNT for putting the Albert-Kerr team on this one hearing Albert say, "Here's Gordon ... YES!" brought back memories of the MJ Era.)
Dallas-Houston: The only real surprise for me. Houston played small for much of the game, playing Yao/Dikembe with T-Mac, Jon Barry/Ryan Bowen, Bobby Sura/Mike James and David Wesley. The appropriate response by Dallas would have been to go small with Nowitzki, Finley, Howard, Stackhouse and Terry, giving it an advantage at four of the five spots. Of course, Avery Johnson (I kept checking their bench to make sure Don Nelson still wasn't coaching them) stubbornly played Dampier 25 minutes, which was suicidal because A) it allowed Houston to guard Nowitzki with T-Mac (bad matchup for Dirk because he couldn't go by him), and B) Dirk had to run around on the defensive end trying to guard smaller shooters. Any time Dallas went small, it would climb back into the game. So why not just stick with it?
As I wrote on Friday, I thought Dallas would KILL Houston in this series. And it still might happen. Sometimes you see that happen in Game 1, when one team tries something so crazy, the other team just doesn't know how to respond like the Rockets' having Wesley guarding Stackhouse or deciding to leave shooters like Finley and Van Horn wide open. Still, if Dallas doesn't switch to a small lineup, if Nowitzki (who seemed soft and scared in Game 1) doesn't start playing like an MVP candidate again, and if T-Mac can really play 47 minutes a game/guard Nowitzki/run Houston's entire offense (he was MJ-esque in Game 1), the Mavs will absolutely get blown out of this series.
(With that said, I watched too many remarkable Nowitzki performances over the course of the season there's no way he could submit consecutive world-class stinkers at home. Dallas takes Game 2. Whether coaching costs it the series remains to be seen.)
Posted: April 25, 2005, at 3:32 p.m. ET
Here's another reason to root for the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs: Backup forward Paul Shirley has graciously agreed to answer questions from Sports Guy readers throughout the playoffs (I sent him a big batch two weeks ago). Today's question ...
How do you feel about the dance club atmosphere that is the NBA arena? The constant music playing during each possession must do one of two things for the players: 1) Get them energized for the upcoming possession (god forbid they do this without Snoop Dogg's help); 2) distract coaches trying to shout out sets and plays (due to the fact they are trying to hold themselves back from breaking out in a dance routine). Your thoughts. Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Brad S. Denver
Paul's answer: I just finished watching Local H put on a very decent show here in Phoenix, so answering a music question seems appropriate. By the way, anyone who read that first sentence and actually knows the band Local H has a much better music collection than anyone around him (or her).
I grew up in a small town in Kansas. We (kind of) had an NBA team the Kansas City Kings nearby until I was about 8 years old. As I had two younger brothers at the time, and as my parents did not want to hasten their departure from this earth via the child-rearing-induced stroke that would result from taking three boys to a basketball game, I never saw the Kings before they made their exodus to Sacramento. (Incidentally, I do not know the whole story behind that move, but who chose Sacramento? Had they not been there before? It's like the Topeka of California, which is by no means a term of endearment.) At any rate, because I had little access to nearby professional basketball outlets, my only exposure to the NBA was via television.
As I mentioned in my online journal on NBA.com, this consisted mainly of the Celtics because: 1) Larry Bird was God, and 2) Kareem was so strange looking, I was actually somewhat scared of him. I did not see an NBA game in person until I was in college, when my fellow Cyclones and I were taken to a Nuggets game because we had an extra day in Denver after a game in Boulder. Of course, that did not really count because it was the 1997 Nuggets. And they were playing the 1997 Mavericks. Not exactly a barn burner. I do remember that Chris Gatling was prominently involved, which could not have been a good sign. The first real NBA games I saw were ones in which I was participating (or, more accurately, was eligible to participate in). I was unprepared for what I saw.
Now that I have been in and out of the NBA for the last three years, I have introduced a fair number of NBA virgins to the game. (Most of my fellow Midwesterners are not generally too keen on the NBA. In fact, I have had people back home actually ask whether there are still games on television. The league really did itself some favors with those mid- to late-'90s crackdowns on offense.) When these people first see a game in person, they are amazed, just like I was at first. An NBA basketball game is an absolute circus and I mean that almost literally. The moments when there's nothing going on are rare, at best. Coaches routinely run out of things to say during timeouts, simply because they have been made so long, both by the demands of TV and by the intricacy of some of the in-game entertainment. It was not enough to have someone make a free-throw in 30 seconds. Now the poor guy has to roll down the court in an American Gladiators hamster ball, put on a uniform, and make 12 shots while the dance team participates in a full striptease. (OK, perhaps the last couple of aspects were slightly exaggerated but we can all imagine.)
Needless to say, I am not a huge fan of the constant barrage of really, really bad music that plays a big part in the whole spectacle. I was floored when, prior to a recent game in Sacramento, I found myself listening to Beck, Queens of the Stone Age, and Kings of Leon, back-to-back-to-back. Granted, it was long before tip-off, but I had not heard that many white people allowed to sing recorded music in an arena, under any circumstance, in a long time. Kudos to the DJ at Arco Arena for restoring my faith in humanity.
The disappointing thing about the music perpetrated on the rest of us is that someone must like it, or it would not get played. Everything in the carnival that is an NBA game is a reaction to fan preference. When I played in Spain, I was fortunate enough to get to watch a Champions League semifinal match between FC Barcelona and Juventus of Italy. (That would be soccer, people.) I was amazed at the lack of extraneous activity. No cheerleaders, no awful hip-hop, no T-shirt throws. It was a beautiful thing, not so much because of the lack of extra crap, but more because people were actually paying attention to the game. The entire crowd was locked in on the action. Because of it, I think they enjoyed the match more.
It could be that the powers that be do not give enough credit to NBA fans. Then again, maybe I give the average American too much credit. These are people, after all, who will actually cheer louder because an in-arena television screen displays: "NOISE!" I cannot believe everyone's vote counts the same every four years. It boils down to this: Until the fans reject it, the music played before, during and after the game will remain the same. I find it all absolutely cringe worthy. But I do my cringing on the inside. I don't want to ruin the aura in the big top.
Posted: April 22, 2005, at 2:58 p.m. ET
Quick thoughts on a Tuesday ...
• Monday Night Football is coming to ESPN! You want to talk about a company that's fired up right now! You want to talk about a group of executives that are just plain jazzed! I want to show you something ... watch George Bodenheimer's reaction when he finds out that ESPN is getting Monday Night Football for eight years ... here it comes ... watch this ... right here ... BAM! You think that guy isn't excited? You think he isn't fired up? I'm telling you right now, he is SOME KIND OF FIRED UP!
• We finally have a new Pope: Benedict XVI. Strange process. My buddy Gus kept waiting for the Vatican to announce that they were interviewing Chris Chambliss and Ray Sherman, just to fulfill the minority requirements.
• I was reading a USA Today article yesterday about how the Hawks clinched the worst record in the league, followed by the line, "Utah center Andrew Bogut is expected to be the first pick." Congratulations, Hawks fans! You just watched your team tank consecutive seasons so they could end up with Josh Childress and Andrew Bogut. They should play the theme from "M*A*S*H" when they're introducing Atlanta's starting lineup next year.
• My editor Philbrick points this out: During the NBA playoffs, it's going to be fun to root for one of the teams to go up 3-0, just so TNT will show the "Teams that have come back from 3-0 deficits in a playoff series" graphic. Good times!
• A Raptors fan who e-mailed me wanted to pursue a class-action suit against Vince Carter, which I joked about in my MVP column two weeks ago. So that got me thinking ... could something like that really happen? According to the legal counsel for Sports Guy's World (my buddy House, and no, he's not the guy who took the swipe at Sheffield), the Alexi Yashin case was dismissed after actually advancing a few levels, so there's no legal precedent. Also, when fans buy tickets, there's explicit language that basically tells the ticketholder that he's buying a bill of goods, almost like if you bought fruit at a flea market or something. So the fan angle is out.
House was more intrigued by the Raptors' side they're the ones who could argue that Vince gave less than his best effort, forcing them to trade him for less than he was worth. Two problems with that scenario: First, the way the NBA's collective bargaining agreement is set up, you can get away with just about anything and still get paid (like Sprewell choking his coach, or Vin Baker's showing up in rough shape for practices). And second, the Raptors didn't make any aggressive moves while Vince was still playing for them. For instance, they knew he was dogging it, especially this season why didn't they suspend him without pay? That was their biggest mistake. Vince signed a contract with them, he wasn't living up to it, and they didn't do anything about it ... eventually, they kowtowed and made a terrible trade that didn't even help this year's team. Terrible job by them from start to finish.
Anyway, Vince Carter is going to get away with this. I can't believe I'm the only person with a visible sports column who keeps bringing this up the way sports works now, we have all these "Who am I going to rip today?" writers out there who jump at the chance to rip anyone and anything. Well, why not Vince Carter? Who screwed over a larger group of fans more egregiously than he did? Where's the outrage about this? The guy had 81 freaking points in two games last weekend and the prevailing attitude seems to be, "Wow, it's great to have Vince back!" I'm confused.
(Also, a couple of readers have pointed this out: There's a decent chance that the Raptors-Cavs game Wednesday night could determine whether Vince and the Nets make the playoffs. Wouldn't it be funny if the Raps totally rolled over and lost by some crazy score, like 123-40, just to prove a point?)
Posted: April 19, 2005, at 3:08 p.m. ET
Let's play the THUMBS UP/THUMBS DOWN game for the weekend ...
THUMBS UP: For the great Tom Brady, who gamely hosted SNL on Saturday night and didn't do half-bad.
THUMBS DOWN: For the actual show, which could have been the worst SNL episode since the Janeane Garofalo Era. You know it's a crummy season when they can't even win with Tom Brady.
It's hard to determine what's the worst part about SNL these days -- the lack of star power, the lack of comedy, or Tina Fey and Amy Poehler giggling their way through Weekend Update like two teenagers who just did a round of Whip-Its -- but it's almost impossible to believe what's happened to this show since Will Ferrell left. I know SNL has always been cyclical (good for a couple of years, bad for a year or two, then good again), but the weird thing about this season is that they have some talented people in the cast (Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Kenan Thompson, even Fred Armisen). The biggest thing they're missing is a No. 1 starter (like Will Ferrell or Phil Hartman); there isn't one person on this cast who could ever headline his or her own movie someday. Still, the show shouldn't be this egregiously bad. Even 20 years ago with the Short-Guest-Crystal cast, the show was taking more chances than it does now (especially with taped pieces). How does that make sense? This never, never would have happened if Lorne Michaels was still alive.
THUMBS UP: For Manny Ramirez, who's finally getting into a groove. This is my fifth season watching him -- when Manny is about to catch fire, it always starts with a good at-bat in a close game (the walk he drew against Nomo on Friday night, leading to Ortiz's homer), followed by the breakout game (two homers and six RBI on Saturday), and suddenly he's in a groove for 10-12 games. I have no statistical evidence to back this up, but Boston's winning percentage during Manny Hot Streaks has to be like .800.
(Translation: Don't bet against the Sox this week.)
THUMBS DOWN: For Doc Rivers, looming as the potential albatross for this 2005 Celtics team this spring. For much of the season, I was giving him the benefit of the doubt as a game coach, thinking that maybe he was just trying to figure out his roster or something. Not anymore. He's just a bad game coach. On Friday night against Miami, when rookie Al Jefferson was killing the Heat and drawing double teams (13 points in six minutes in the fourth quarter), Doc could have gone offense-defense with Jefferson and Mark Blount in the final three minutes ... instead, he took out Al and put in Raef LaFrentz, who couldn't guard Shaq if you allowed him to use a chainsaw. Inevitably, Miami crawled back in the game and even took the lead before Pierce's eventual game-winner.
Then, with a second left, Doc ordered Pierce to miss his second FT (with the C's up by two), which was a first for me -- I've never seen something that dumb in an NBA game before. Forget about giving them a free chance to tie on an alley-oop or a foul; it's actually harder to miss a free throw than you think, and there was a decent chance Pierce could have missed the rim entirely, which would have been a violation. Unbelievable. Why not just make the FT and foul them before they can shoot a 3? Doc even admitted he screwed up after the game.
Bottom line: You know when you have a good coach, and you know when you have a shaky one. Not only is Doc Rivers shaky, he's going to kill the Celtics at some point this spring. Maybe even in Round One. Stay tuned.
THUMBS UP: I had dinner with Heather Graham on Saturday night.
THUMBS DOWN: She wasn't actually sitting at my table -- she was at the next table over. But that started a good argument between me and the Sports Gal, who decided that Graham "wasn't as pretty as she looks in movies; she's too skinny," then became outraged when I responded, "I don't know, she looks pretty damn good to me," and held a steak knife to my throat until I changed my mind. OK, I made that last part up. But this happens all the time -- I even wrote about it three years ago, the famous Shakira argument (I'd link to it, but the archives are down for the umpteenth time) -- where women decide that another woman can only be pretty to a certain degree, and if you think they're anything beyond that, they flip out (especially if they're pregnant). Why can't women accept the fact that they're not the ones who should be deciding which women are attractive to men? I want an answer.
THUMBS UP: The WNBA draft, which was Saturday, used to be one of the funniest events of the year until they stopped showing the wide-angle camera shot of the girls walking onto the stage in high heels. But have you ever read a WNBA draft report card? It's entertaining to read the grades when you know nothing about the league -- even better than reading Chad Ford's 2003 and 2004 NBA draft report cards after the fact. For instance, ESPN.com's report card includes the revelation that Jia Perkins' draft stock dropped because she just gave birth (Shawn Kemp and Calvin Murphy were unavailable for comment), as well as my favorite quote of the weekend, "Some say the Sun were just a Margo Dydek away from winning the WNBA title last season." It's funny, I was just saying that last week.
THUMBS DOWN: For Vince Carter, who twisted the knife even further with Raptors fans in a phenomenal return to the city that already couldn't have hated him any more -- he ended up dropping 28 points in the second half of a Nets comeback win (then followed it up with a 43-and-11 yesterday against the Sixers). I know I keep writing about this, but Carter's resurgence during the season has to go down in the pantheon of "Worst things an athlete has ever done to a city." It's not as though he even had an offseason where they could have justified it with, "Well, he used the summer to get in crazy shape." Nope. He didn't try ... they traded him ... and now he's trying. I feel like he should be banned from the playoffs or something. Seriously.
THUMBS UP: For the demise of the Yankees. I agreed with everything Buster Olney wrote in Sunday's blog (which is always good, by the way): The Yankees look old, slow and listless. And now George is finally waking up from his coma. Hold onto your seats.
THUMBS DOWN: For the fact that no fantasy Web site has an engine to keep stats for the NBA Playoff League that me and my friend Sal wanted to start this week. Booooooooooooooooo.
THUMBS UP: For Jimmy Kimmel, who's hosting a contest online to find a new TV Watcher for his late night show. Basically, you get to live in L.A., watch 14 hours of TV a day and get paid for it.
THUMBS DOWN: For Jimmy Kimmel, who's trying to upstage my Intern Contest and didn't even warn me ahead of time. Would Craig Ferguson do something that sneaky? I think not.
(Whoops, I'm well past my 750-word limit. Until tomorrow.)
Posted: April 18, 2005, at 4:14 p.m. ET
Imagine if I gave you this scenario on Thursday morning ...
Gary Sheffield runs over to the RF corner at Fenway to scoop up a potential double along the wall. A probably drunken Boston fan in the first row pretends to go for the ball, reaches over and swipes Sheffield right in the mouth. Sheffield reacts by angrily giving the guy a two-handed shove, throwing the ball back to the infield, then turning around and heading toward the guy in the first row.
What do you think happens next?
A. Sheffield stops himself, shouts a few things at the guy, then security intervenes before anything else happens.
B. Sheffield drops the guy with one punch.
C. Sheffield punches the guy, enters the stands and clears out everyone in Section One like Swayze demolishing the Double Deuce in "Road House."
I would have bet my baseball card collection on "B" or "C." You couldn't ask for a crazier guy to be involved in this particular situation than Gary Sheffield this is the same guy who once punched out a pitcher on his own team who complained about his defense. It was like the setup for the Ron Artest Melee all over again. But that's the thing because the Artest thing happened six months ago, Sheffield had that in the back of his mind ... so he held off. And now we have to deal with a week of over-the-top coverage from reporters and columnists about the ramifications of player-fan violence at games, when the reality is that nothing really happened. I feel cheated if we have to endure this crap, at least Sheffield could have popped the guy and given us a Hall of Fame TV Night worthy of the Artest Melee.
When I was watching the game live, there was no doubt in my mind that the guy did it intentionally. Now people have been arguing about this in message boards and radio stations, debating whether the guy did it maliciously, and whether Sheffield has the right to react. I say "yes" and "yes." Normally, I hate arguing about those Arguments Du' Jour that get blown out of proportion only so people in the sports media who make a living overreacting to stuff like this have something to yelp about for two-three days. But in this case, I have something to say. I'm pro-Sheffield on this one, despite the fact that he plays for the Yankees. Here's my case:
1. Anyone who argues that "the Probably Drunk Guy was reaching for the ball and 'accidentally' swiped Sheffield" or "we shouldn't judge him because we don't know his intentions" also believes that the Pistons fan who threw the beer on Ron Artest was "just trying to throw his brew out." Come on. If you accidentally swiped a player reaching for a ball, wouldn't your natural reaction be to jump backwards or make some sort of "Whoops!" face? What Boston fan would be dumb enough to interfere with a potential two-RBI triple that was in play? And by the way, had he scooped the ball up, that whole section would have killed him because Ortiz (the eighth run) would have had to go back to third base..
Nope, Probably Drunk Guy was much more calculating he made it seem like a half-hearted swipe, didn't come within four feet of the ball, and if anything, he probably meant to get more of Sheffield's face than he did (from ESPN's replay of the camera located closer to home plate, you could see that he had no chance at the ball and clearly saw Sheffield coming). And when Sheffield came after him, there wasn't even 1/100th of a look on the guy's face like he felt any semblance of remorse. If anything, he was probably dying for Sheffield to come at him so he could take a punch and immediately call "Attorney Jim Sokolove" from those late-night commercials.
2. More importantly, anyone who has ever lived in Boston and attended baseball games, tailgated for Pats games, imbibed at bars, gone to local concerts and anything of that ilk has come across thousands and thousands of guys like the Probably Drunk Guy, your classic Boston "tough guy" with a little attitude to him. Believe me, I love these guys it's one of the random things I miss most about the city. These are the guys who scream "A-Rod, you suck!" during a moment of silence for Dick Radatz or taunt you good-naturedly as you're going for the eight-ball in a game of pool at the Irish Embassy. These are also the guys who would relish the chance to swipe Yankee players in the mouth during a Red Sox game and make it seem like it was an accident.
3. For anyone who says that Sheffield shouldn't have reacted, have you ever sat in right field at Fenway during a Yankee game? It's like a war zone out there the fans spend nine straight innings screaming insults and obscenities at whoever is playing RF for the Yanks. There's definitely an electricity in the air. It's definitely not a place you would feel 100-percent safe as an opposing player; and I guarantee you that Sheffield had these things in the back of his mind as he ran over to the corner to scoop up that baseball. When something did happen, he was reacting in a "Dammit, I KNEW something would happen!" way, not an "I can't believe someone just popped me in the mouth!" way.
I love when people get on their high horse and say, "You can't react like Sheffield did; you just can't." Really? You're putting yourself in the shoes of a guy who's just been taunted for eight innings, doesn't feel safe to begin with and just got popped in the mouth (and had a beer thrown on him) during a play? We saw a similar thing happen to Jermaine O'Neal after the Artest Melee, when he decked the portly fan who came running on the court to challenge Artest everyone judged O'Neal without putting themselves in his shoes, or wondering what it was like to be a Pacer that night when, for about five minutes there, it looked like they might have to fight their way out of the Palace to stay alive. The fact that O'Neal indisputably one of the nicest guys in the NBA, as well as one of the most thoughtful and articulate reacted that way tells you how frightening it was out there. And I'm sure Sheffield was frightened as well. He shouldn't be suspended, he shouldn't be fined, and that's that.
A few more notes while we're here:
• One goofy idea to stop fans from provoking players for good: On the tickets for every game, print something like, "During the game, if you reach onto the playing field and strike one of the players intentionally or unintentionally or if you throw any object at them, the players reserve the right to pummel the living crap out of you, with absolutely no legal ramifications."
• The security guard who jumped into the stands as Sheffield was yelling at Probably Drunk Guy has to win some sort of Security Guard of the Year Award. Fantastic job by him. Five seconds later and Sheffield is turning Section One into the Double Deuce. Actually, terrible job by that security guard why couldn't he have tripped?
• My personal highlight from last night: Calling my dad right after the Sheffield thing happened and having this exchange:
--Dad (sounding groggy): "Hello?"
--Me: "Did you just see that? I can't believe Sheffield actually showed restraint!"
--Dad (two-second pause, obviously just woke up): "Is it still 5-5?"
• Last night's incident overshadowed the most entertaining game of the series, an up-and-down battle highlighted by the Sox sticking it to Randy Johnson, Edgar Renteria finally making an impact in Boston, and home plate umpire Greg Gibson submitting the single-worst umpiring performance in the history of baseball. Gibson was so gawd-awful, he was immediately hired by David Stern to work the NBA playoffs this spring. I can't remember ever seeing a Red Sox manager step onto the field to argue balls and strikes, knowing he was going to be ejected as soon as he came out of the dugout ... but doing it, anyway. It was crazy. By the fifth inning, I was calling my buddy Jack-O (a Yankee fan) just to ask him, "Does Greg Gibson's salary count toward the Yankees's $200 million payroll?
• Last night's incident also played into something larger that's happening with this rivalry. The Red Sox keep pushing this Yankees team around, whether it's fans popping right fielders at Fenway, Jeter getting plunked in the helmet for the umpteenth time, Red Sox players calling out A-Rod during spring training, Varitek nailing A-Rod in the chops or whatever ... and the Yankees keep taking the high road and not sticking up for themselves. According to one of my editors, the Red Sox have plunked 68 Yankee batters since the start of the 2001 season (compared to just 36 Boston batters hit by Yankee pitchers), including a 5-2 advantage this season. Talking to my buddy last night, I joked how the way the Sox keep throwing at Jeter (intentional or unintentional) is vaguely reminscent of the way Cobra Kai kept going after Daniel-San, to the point I keep waiting for Mike Timlin to scream at him during batting practice, "What's the matter, Derek, Mommy not here to dress ya?"
"I'm so tired of taking the high road," Jack-O complained. "This team has no [euphemism for something that guys have that girls don't have]. We're a bunch of [euphemism for something that you could also call a group of cats]. Seriously, how many times does Jeter have to be hit? Even tonight, Ortiz is leaning right over the plate and the Unit doesn't even dust him off. I'm embarrassed to root for these guys."
That raises a larger question: Where the hell is Steinbrenner during all of this? Twenty years ago, if Rivera didn't throw at someone after Jeter got nailed in the helmet, he would have questioned Rivera's manhood AND fired the pitching coach. Now his team has been bullied for a solid year, with no repercussions, and we're only six months removed from the greatest choke job in sports history. I'm really starting to wonder if George is in a nursing home somewhere and nobody has broken the story yet.
Posted: April 15, 2005, at 1:16 p.m. ET
Having some major computer problems at my house, so today's update will be briefer than usual. Just a couple of notes:
• We're delaying the final round of the Intern Contest until early next week, for reasons that will make more sense when you see the final task (and remember that I'm dialing up through a 56K modem right now, so it would have taken me 20 hours to sift through the links). So stay tuned.
• Remember the "Win it for ... " Red Sox thread on the Sons of Sam Horn Web site, which I wrote about before Game 4 of the 2004 World Series? They turned it into a book called "Win It For...," with nearly all of the proceeds going to various charities. Pretty cool keepsake for Sox fans, and the book turned out great. You can order it through this link on Barnes and Noble's Web site. For some reason, you can only preorder it through Amazon.com right now.
• Speaking of charities, the Red Sox Foundation is throwing a banquet on Friday night in Manhattan -- 79 Madison Avenue (Madison Avenue and 28th Street) -- where the guest of honor will be the World Series Trophy. Tickets are $65, and you can absolutely have your picture taken with the trophy, so if you're a Sox fan stuck in New York and haven't seen the trophy yet, here's your chance. To purchase tickets, send an e-mail to Brian Corcoran at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about the charity and its relationship with the Red Sox owners, check its Web site at redsoxfoundation.org.
• One more charity/Red Sox note: For details on Gordon Edes' Hall of Fame Game Auction on May 23, click here. Proceeds go to the Jimmy Fund.
That's all for today. I swear, this space isn't turning into Joe Fitzgerald's old Boston Herald column where he would run a couple of quotes, plug some charities and then write things like "Cakes are cooking for Bob Lobel (58) and Kevin Mannix (62)." It's just been a busy few days and I'm about three more hours away from killing everyone at Comcast. All proceeds from those murders will go to charity.
New column coming tomorrow (hopefully), and then we'll be back here Monday.
Posted: April 14, 2005, at 1:23 p.m. ET
Tying up some loose ends on a Wednesday morning ...
• I screwed up something in yesterday's Red Sox column -- the part where I slammed Pedro for missing the ceremony. When I wrote that, I mistakenly thought that the Mets had an off-day and their home opener was on Tuesday, so I was horrified to read details from Monday's game on the airplane yesterday. Bad job by me, I should have checked to make sure. At the same time, not having Pedro even mentioned on Monday (or Cabrera, for that matter) seemed pretty strange. I thought one of the Red Sox owners should have given a brief speech thanking the fans for their support, then explaining that the team was indebted to the guys who couldn't be there -- an easy way to mention Pedro, Cabrera, Kapler and everyone else.
That reminds me, I can't believe the Red Sox had five months to think about what would happen and still screwed up three major things:
1. The order of the way they handed out the rings was insane -- why not take care of the less consequential guys first, then gradually build to a crescendo for the big guns? Why not introduce the bit players (Anastacio Martinez, Phil Seibel, etc.) all at once to save time? And wouldn't you rather introduce the Red Sox legends on hand over the freaking massage therapists? Most of the people at Fenway had no clue who was there -- for instance, it's 48 hours later and I still don't know if Freddie Lynn was there.
2. Not nearly enough highlights from last season. For every major player, I would have shown one memorable highlight of them on the scoreboard, followed by their introduction. An unbelievable missed opportunity there. How great would it have been to see Roberts' steal again, followed by him getting introduced?
3. The wildly untalented Terry Cashman singing that putrid Red Sox song as they raised the 2004 flag, which I think he wrote in a taxi on the way to the ballpark. "This is for Lynn, and Rice, and Yaz ... " Are you kidding me? That's the song he came up with? In the ballpark, people were glancing at each other in disbelief. I kept waiting for him to sing, "This is for my mortgage, now I get to pay it ... this is for groceries, now I get to buy them ... "
(Here's the thing that really gets me: James Taylor was there! James Taylor! You're telling me that he couldn't have sang something relevant, or even written something for the occasion? Do you think we will ever have another situation in life where Terry Cashman gets the nod over James Taylor?)
• Random Boston tidbit that may only interest me: Jose McIntyre's has a shuffleboard table now. Ever since I graduated from college, I've been waiting for a Boston bar to get a shuffleboard table ... then I move West and it happens. Three times more entertaining than playing pool in a bar. You have to believe me. Of course, I didn't find out about this until Monday afternoon, so I never ended up making it over there. Maybe next time.
(When I used to play at Sam's in Portchester, N.Y., my buddy Jim and I would show up at 9 p.m., get winners on the table and try to hold court all night ... which never happened because one of us would always get too drunk and we'd end up getting crushed by two of Those Guys -- you know, the guys who care a little too much about winning at shuffleboard on a Saturday night. We also lost any time Jim was matched up on his side of his table against an attractive girl -- he would immediately turn into Rick Ankiel. Anyway, we figured out a loop in the system -- since they handed out tickets behind the bar to determine who had next game as the night went along, we would get different people to go up and get us tickets so that we never went more than 3-4 games without playing. So we would have drunken revenge games against Those Guys, and if we beat them, it was like winning the Super Bowl. I'm telling you, much better than bar pool or Golden Tee.)
• Biggest win of the season for the Celtics last night. Anyone who says they can figure this team out is lying -- take some up-and-down players and give them a beyond-shaky game coach and anything's possible.
• Shameless charity plug: Holy Cross grad Brian Oates is running Monday's Boston Marathon with a couple of buddies, all of whom are using the race to raise money for a non-profit group called Golf Fights Cancer. If you're interested in contributing or finding out more about the cause, check out the Web site at golffightscancer.org.
• We're having some problems with my ESPN e-mail accounts (translation: they filled up while I was away), so hold off on sending anything until we get it straightened out (translation: until we have time to sift through 2,000-plus e-mails). Also, for everyone asking why my Page 2 columns are split up over X amount of pages now -- if you don't like reading them that way, just click on the "SINGLE PAGE VIEW" link, located on the top right of the first page. It's that easy.
More coming tomorrow.
Posted: April 13, 2005, at 4:16 p.m. ET
Spectacular Masters. The thing I enjoyed was how Tiger jumped out to the seemingly insurmountable lead, then Chris DiMarco started chipping away and doing those DiMarco things working fast, reading putts even when it was Tiger's turn to putt, walking briskly by Tiger around the greens like he was literally trying to stay in Tiger's face.
Then Tiger started playing not to lose (save for the chip on 16), and his tee shots on 16, 17 and 18 were absolutely atrocious although the announcers conveniently avoided mentioning this for some reason. Only in the playoff hole did Tiger put three good shots in a row together. Throw those in with the chip on 16 and the way he played Sunday morning, and that was enough.
My dad made a good point: Whenever he's in a skins-type situation, Tiger always fends off Up-And-Comer X in the end, just like MJ's Bulls back in the day. Even though he has been in a drought of sorts, I'm not sure that quality ever goes away. Some people just have a knack for making those one or two plays/shots when it matters.
And yes, I watched the fourth round at my dad's house in Boston, just like old times.
Some other random thoughts ...
So lemme get this straight ... who sponsors Tiger again?
There isn't anything quite like The Masters on HDTV it's like watching a DVD of the tournament, only it's live. You can see everything better: the tee shots, the faces in the gallery, the greens, Tiger's wife ...
Nobody needs a fu manchu more than Vijay Singh.
Here's what happens when nobody under the age of 45 is allowed to broadcast a golf tournament: After Tiger's phenomenal "it's hanging, it's hanging ... it's good!" chip on 16, none of the announcers referenced the ending of "Caddyshack." Unbelievable.
My dad explaining why he flicked to the Red Sox game during one of those sappy Jack Nicklaus montages with "Forever Young" playing: "I'm tired of Jack; he's been retiring for 10 years."
(Of course, dad tried to turn up the volume for DiMarco's playoff-forcing putt on 18th, accidentally turned the channel and made us miss the putt. Much like the Golden Bear, it was sad to watch.)
My favorite Masters moment every year, other than the 100-year-old guys hitting from the tee on Tuesday and duck-hooking shots into spectators: When Hootie Johnson reads his speech off the cue cards right after the tournament ends, followed by Jim Nantz ambling into the picture with that crazed grin on his face, and then the two of them awkwardly conversing for 30 seconds like two family members killing time at a wedding. This should be spun off into its own show on The Golf Channel; they could have guests and everything.
All right, I'll ask: Why no Pat Summerall at The Masters? At the very least, couldn't he have done better than the British guy who used the word "enormous" every five minutes?
Quintessential Jim Nantz moment: When Tiger hit his approach on 18 as a siren went off in the background, followed by Nantz deadpanning, "The alarms were going off during his swing someone was trying to steal his green jacket." You could almost picture Rudy Martzke sitting in front of his TV thinking, "Should I write that one down? Nahhhhhhhh ..."
(Note: They should have a charity auction where you can play Golden Tee against your buddies at your favorite bar as Nantz announces the match and says Jim Nantz things all night. Wouldn't you pay, like, $500 for this? We have seen an incredible array of shots tonight. And speaking of shots, it's time for another visit from our old friend, Captain Morgan!)
Hey, DiMarco has now made the playoff of two majors: Can we get him better sponsors than Arcalex and Argent?
I loved when one of the CBS guys randomly told us that Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh settled Friday's dispute in the Champions locker room after Round 2. The Champions locker room? Is that like the club they had on SNL for people who hosted the show at least five times? Do you think Mike Weir hangs out there 24/7? Do they have better bathrobes than the normal locker rooms? I need answers on this stuff.
Word that should never be used during a golf tournament: "Courageous."
Finally, what's the rarest golfing moment: a hole in one, an albatross or a golfer successfully executing a high five with his caddie after making a crazy shot? I'd have to go with the high five.
P.S.: Beautiful weekend in Boston, beautiful day this morning. The stars have aligned for the apocalypse the 2004 World Champions banner goes up in Fenway today.
Posted: April 11, 2005, at 1:23 p.m. ET
Remember Suns forward Paul Shirley, who wrote an entertaining blog from a five-game road trip last month. Two weeks ago, I was trying to get him to write a guest mailbag and ended up sending a list of sample questions to a friend at the NBA, who sent them to the Suns ... randomly, Paul e-mailed me last night with answers to some of them. Here's the funny thing: He seemed disappointed by the questions, which admittedly weren't very good. I had just sent along 8-10 questions just so they would see what kinds of things the readers would be asking, never thinking he would answer them.
Anyway, I promised him a better batch of questions if you're interesting in e-mailing him, click on this link, fill out the form, send your question and we'll get it to him for a full-fledged mailbag on them (I may even join in for a couple of answers).
Here's a taste of what you can expect:
Q: "In your travels in the NBA so far, who gets the best groupies?"
Jason Quinn, Drexel University
Paul Shirley: Me. 1,229 and counting. Kidding, of course. I have received a significant amount of feedback regarding my recent online journal. (I realize that the accepted term is "blog," I tend to shy away from that word as it seems more appropriate as a surrogate for other words. For example, to avoid the rampant censorship, should I ever re-start the journal, I may attempt to introduce the word blog in situations such as the following: "The referee then turned to Bo Outlaw and said, 'Bo, shut your [blog]ging mouth. And quit [blog]ging dancing.'" Basically, I am nominating the word as a replacement for the antiquated *&^#• from the Beetle Bailey days of the 1950s.) I have completely lost my train of thought. Ah, yes, groupies.
I was going to mention the fact that many people have been surprised by my admission that I spend a fair amount of time during any game checking the crowd for attractive girls. I don't really understand why this is so shocking I am, after all, a 27-year-old male. What else would I be thinking about? My retirement plan? Good-looking women get my attention. That is just how it is. Along those same lines, I have done some research with regard to the groupie phenomenon. As a relatively na´ve soul originally from the thriving metropolis of Meriden, Kans. (pop. 700), I was intrigued, upon my entry into the NBA, by the fabled professional athlete groupie scene. I was under the impression that the NBA of my youth was a debauchery-fueled league and, while not interested in participation necessarily, was excited by the prospect of observing some of this behavior from afar. Imagine my surprise, then, when it was nowhere to be found. Instead of players sneaking surreptitiously to bathroom stalls, to emerge later with sniffles and traces of white powder on their upper lips, I found notices promoting pre-game chapel services. Instead of buxom blondes waiting at the hotel in each new city, I was faced with kids looking for autographs at 1:30 in the morning.
Obviously, all of this good behavior has been a bit of a disappointment. There is a reason, though. In today's NBA, a team will fly out of the city in which it has just played immediately following the game. This seriously cuts down on the instances of, "Hey, ballboy. See that girl with the great personality in the third row? Go get her number for me." (Just so we are all on the same page here ... Because we leave right after the game, there really is no time for the extracurriculars. These are not long-term relationships in the making; no one is planning ahead for the next time he is in town.) Now, that is not to say that these things do not go on. It is simply done much more discreetly. Groupie procurement, like Dell Computers, has become more efficient. There are fewer shots in the dark, and many more, shall we say, instant connections. I, for one, applaud the progression.
(See? That's the kind of stuff we'd be getting. So come up with some good questions, dammit. Again, here's the link.)
• One more note about the SGW site: We figured out a way to fit a poll on the bottom right, which we're going to update every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Suggestions for poll questions are always welcome.
• Three leftover comments from the Sox-Yankees series:
1. Obviously Rivera isn't finished. And out of those four consecutive blown saves, Game 4 of the ALCS was a walk-SB-seeing-eye single, Game 5 was entirely Flash Gordon's fault, and yesterday's game would have ended if A-Rod didn't choke on the DP grounder. Only Varitek's homer on Tuesday was a legitimate blown save. At the same time, this is starting to take on "Who's Your Daddy?" proportions now he's starting to get that "Why can't I beat these guys?" look to him. Seeing him taken out in the middle of an inning was like seeing Jason Voorhees get his head chopped off. If you're a Yankees fan, you have to be genuinely concerned about this, right?
2. For next week's series at Fenway, I thought Giambi's at-bat would be the highlight of the game now I'm 10 times more excited for Rivera warming up with the bleachers chanting "Who's your Daddy?" or "Who's Your Closer?"
3. Does anyone own the URL www.cabrerawouldamadethatplay.com yet? I will never get over this. It's bad enough that they pushed out a key member of the title team that everyone enjoyed watching for no real reason, but Renteria suddenly has the Jose Offerman body going he looks 10 pounds too heavy and much stiffer than he used to be. The Sports Gal (of all people) summed it up best on Tuesday: "Didn't we win the World Series with Cabrera? How can you do better than that?"
• Finally ...
(WARNING! WARNING! Guy in his 30s talking about a band who peaked 12 years ago!)
I saw U2 last night at the Staples Center and sent an e-mail to my friends about it before realizing I should have just posted it right here. Here's what I sent:
1. Bono is completely out of control. He's a rambling lunatic, not that he wasn't before, but now he's just plain nuts. Told a fantastic story about the Pope that was absolutely incoherent, followed by Bono pulling out some rosary beads that the Pope gave him and dramatically hanging them on the microphone. Had a speech about Africa where people were glancing at each other like "Do you understand this?" He's the best.
2. The stage was really cool speakers were over their heads, and there was a circular stage that went all the way around so Bono could prance around and do Bono things. Best part of the show: He pulled some hot chick on stage during "Mysterious Ways" like Springsteen with Courtney Cox only her friend (had to be a stripper) decided after a minute that she would jump up as well with her 44DDs, delighting the audience and terrifying Bono, who grabbed the other guy and ran away from her. The stripper followed them and they did a complete circle around the stage, followed by security going after the girl before Bono changed his mind and decided she could stay. Then she crawled on the ground and shook her butt at him during the end of the song, which actually worked. Bono ended it by saying, "Only in Los AN-ge-les!" He refuses to call it "L.A" by the way.
3. Bono dedicated "Running to Stand Still" a song about heroin users, if I remember correctly to the U.S. troops overseas. He also dedicated "One" a song about a relationship falling apart, if I remember correctly to the plight of Africans, even changing some of the lyrics. He's turning into the new Elton John. I kept waiting for him to change the lyrics of "Party Girl" to honor Princess Di.
4. Some random older stuff they played: "Electric Co," "New Year's Day," "New Song," even "The Ocean" a short song from "Boy" that most of the crowd didn't recognize. (I was DELIGHTED by this. I'm convinced they played "The Ocean" to see how many real fans were in the audience it was like they were saying, "All right, head count!") I thought "New Year's Day" was the best song of the night replete with The Edge playing the piano and guitar. It was really good. "Where the Streets Have No Name" was also top-notch. The crowd was 4X-5X more excited for anything from the '80s every time they started a newer song, everyone was trying to hide their disappointment, except for "Vertigo" and "Beautiful Day," which had all the pseudos in the crowd going crazy. They also did a really good job with "Zoo Station" and "The Fly," which were always underrated songs I think. They didn't play anything from "Unforgettable Fire" other than "Pride," which was downright indefensible since it's been 20 years.
(Note: Shouldn't they play "Unforgettable Fire" the song, not the album in every concert? Shouldn't this be mandatory? I always thought that was their greatest song other than "One Tree Hill," which they never play in concert, either. Go figure.)
5. Bono didn't call The Edge "The Edge" nearly enough for my liking. I also didn't like their choice to open the show "City of Blinding Lights" which was just a lame pick and didn't get the crowd properly fired up. They should have started with "Vertigo."
(Remind me to go as The Edge next Halloween. Easy costume dark jeans, a black T-shirt, a bandanna and a guitar.)
6. They played "Pride" and Bono went into his "Dr. King" routine he really has run out of things to say about MLK at this point and doesn't seem that interested in the first place. He needs to mix it up with this song and re-dedicate it to Abe Lincoln or something, so he can discuss the ramifications of slavery back in the 1860s. Or maybe Nelson Mandela.
7. LA was a goofy place to see a U2 show decked-out chicks, guys on their cellphones, different type of energy. Bono must hate coming here.
All in all, it was a solid time, although I felt old for most of it. One of these times, I want to see them have a concert where they strip away all the BS and just belt out some of their best songs "Running to Stand Still" was excellent and had a different vibe than most of the other songs they played, I wish they had gone in that direction. They desperately need to do an "Unplugged"-type concert before Bono loses his voice for good.
PS: New column coming on Friday. And on that note, I'm off to Boston.
Posted: April 7, 2005, at 3:59 p.m. EST
Secret Yankee Closer Election Set for April 8
Extensive Security Planned for Friday's Funeral
By BILL SIMMONS
THE BRONX (April 6) Major League Baseball on Wednesday set April 8 as the date for the historic start of the conclave to elect a successor to Mariano Rivera, as the Yankees made final arrangements for the funeral of a great career that is expected to draw millions of Yankee fans and world leaders to the Bronx.
The decision came after the future Hall of Famer blew his second save in as many days against the team's biggest rival, the World Champion Red Sox, giving up five runs in the ninth, getting battered like a rented mule and ignominiously getting removed from the game in the middle of the inning, the fourth consecutive time he has blown a save to the Red Sox dating back to the 2004 ALCS. Fans at Yankee Stadium even booed the great closer on his way back to the dugout, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Yankee fans are headed to hell.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman said the Yankees would be sequestered in the team offices in the early afternoon to start the decision process for the next closer. Candidates include Oakland's Octavio Dotel, Detroit's Ugueth Urbina, current set-up man Flash Gordon, Rick Ankiel and Charlie Sheen. The Yankees will continue to use Rivera from the bullpen, but only in blowouts and games where the lead or deficit is six runs or more.
If none of the candidates gets the required two-thirds majority after about 12 days, the Yankee brain trust may change procedure and elect the closer by simple majority. The date was set on the third hour of preparatory meetings of Yankee front office people who have converged on the Bronx ahead of Friday's funeral and burial of Rivera's career.
Fans continued to flock to Yankee Stadium after Wednesday's game, jamming up streets as they waited to pay their final respects to Rivera, who has been lying in state of shock since the Red Sox hammered him off the field for the second straight day. More than 200,000 Yankee fans will have filed solemnly by the pinstriped body by the end of Wednesday night, at a rate of about 15,000-18,000 people an hour in a nearly around-the-clock procession, according to calculations by the Yankee front office.
Posted: April 6, 2005, at 4:46 p.m. EST
• More Cowbell The Archive III
• 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.