Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Loser's Metamorphosis

To the tune of Kafka's masterpiece, a Laker devotee undergoes a critical change.

As Shaun awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a loser fanatic. He was lying on his hard, mangled cot, unfurling his frame from underneath the slanted roof of his attic apartment in Santa Monica. His numerous Laker posters, ordered just after the Three-Peat, and which made up all of this 8 by 12 foot room’s decor, had only strange faces, in now unfamiliar colors.

Who are these players? he asked. It was no dream. His room, a regular bachelor flat, only it was double the rent, and half the size because it was Venice adjacent, lay quiet between the four familiar walls. Above the folding bed on which a hot plate was rested — Shaun was a consummate gourmand — hung the Jordan/Bryant head-to-head picture, which he had recently printed from a website and added to his basketball bookmarks. It showed Kobe Bean and MJ, with a measuring tape and the Larry O’Brien trophy between them, sitting upright and holding out their fists, huge ring-adorned knuckles, into which their whole team logos had vanished! Although when Shaun's eyes turned to Grantland and Deadspin — all he heard were bloggers clamoring over LA’s locker room melodrama on their podcasts, calling Dwight foul names — and it was depressing. How ‘bout watching Netflix for a while and forgetting all this nonsense, he thought, but it couldn’t happen, for he craved mocking Warrior fans, and Clipper fans, and perhaps, most desperate of all, Kings fans. But with Showtime losing every game, he could not troll their forums with snarky Zen Master quotes, and worse, they were mocking him.

Oh God, he thought, what an incorrigible team I love! Steve Nash stars in “The 40-Year-Old Point Guard”, this summer in 2-D color. Get Paul Rudd to play his lovable, elbowing sidekick Metta World Peace. In a humorously misguided comedy of errors. A gun-slingin’ duo traveling about, home game to road game, on a used bicycle gear and too little cartilage. Dear God. For the first time, he was hosting live chats for a losing team, and on top of that there was the constant stream of thrilled haters, the Chris Paul Jerseys from Pico to Ventura, the ESPN coverage, the casual Laker fans that were always “so hip” and sitting courtside. Conference Finals be damned! We are looking at an 8-seed, dude, honestly. He felt a slight urge to text White Sean, the Celtic fan who lived down the street; he could always lean on him for support; to identify that gut-wrenching feeling which was something he imagined must be common to Blazer fans, or New Yorkers: gross discontent. Two coaches in one season, neither of them good, and he could no longer understand why management was tampering with a tried-true formula, and so stopped supporting the mysterious rationale, instead surrendering to haters’ points immediately, because pretending he understood what was happening made a cold shiver run through him.

He clicked again into his Facebook page. This newsfeed, oh my god, can’t even deal. Every other article, Bryant frustrated, Nash injured, Howard tall. A man needs his Kobe-Bryant-Best-Ever-blog-post on occasion -- at least weekly. ‘Um, would you pass if you were that good??’ he fumed. For instance, when he checked his inbox after losses, everyone’s all ‘Y IS MIKE D’AnPHONY RUINING LAKERLAND’ and he's all: ‘Dude, how the EFF should I know? I don’t run a franchise, and by the looks of your ALL CAPS approach, neither should you’. But he did add, as an aside, that he'd be an excellent General Manager. Anyway, that might be a fun few weeks, yea/no? If he didn't have to cease contact with Laker staff because of the Buss surveillance “incident”, he'd have figured out and sent some solutions long ago; he'd have gone to Mitch Kupchak and told him exactly what he thought of him. The shock would knock his snifter off his desk! It's a bizarre way to build a championship team, too, this trading for old stars and circus-act centers, especially when they don’t do the whole winning part. Well, there's still hope, he thought; once we've gotten all these players off the books, and saved enough luxury tax money to start drafting young again-we'll be back on top. Just need to find that magical, once-a-generation 13th pick.

Friday, December 21, 2012

J.R. Smith, Reigning King of The Four Point Play

Jamal Crawford, of the Los Angeles Clippers, and formerly of the Atlanta Hawks, and formerly of the Golden State Warriors, and formerly of the New York Knicks, and formerly of the Chicago Bulls, is a top-level player. But he's never sniffed an All-NBA selection or won a 3-point title or even logged any minutes as an All-Star. He's never won a scoring title, an award his skills might suit. He has largely earned the reputation of a ballhog, or as they say in Brooklyn slang, a "nut." That's because he's always trying to get his.

Like a mutant who strayed from the gentle paws of Professor X into the denuding gaze of Magneto, during his years as a New York Knickerbocker, alongside the now-reformed (then-husky) Z-Bo, Crawford adopted bad habits by association. His 2012 revelation, that he had only practiced shooting, ostensibly, his main positive contribution to the game, the first time that summer, was more trite than nervy. Of course Jamal Crawford doesn't practice shooting. Why would he? His handle is bananas. You had me at "Crossover" Jamal. His natural form is definitely good enough for 25 points in a given game. Some people are, much to the dismay of the layman, ridiculously talented in proportion to their level of success. Classic underachievers.

An underachiever reaches classic status when his demonstrable talent languishes so much that it works against his stated goals. When Dwight Howard injured his back compensating for a dearth of post moves with leap after bone-crunching leap, that was a Classic Underachiever's problem. Working at his up-under, hook shot or free throw shooting (pick one), might have saved Howard hundreds of games, but now...he'll never know.

Crawford makes hay of defenders, but has played as much defense in his life as George W. Bush has solved word problems. Watching Dwight Howard trot his sunken shoulders to the free throw line, Clyde Drexler described, is like watching Dwight Howard take a chemistry test. Praying for mediocrity. Fretting nullity. A bad scene. At the community theater. Either of these players could have made more of an impact with some conscious development of their given advantages. But they didn't. Somehow, I relate.

Crawford's Clippers are in the top 3 teams in scoring. This basketball journal is called The Four-Point Play. Jamal has 34 of them, most among active players. For better or worse, underachievers are good for unpredictable specks of flair across an otherwise uneven record. Perhaps the most confounding of the underachievers, and this year's TFPP Favorite Player, is Earl Junior. The folks round here call him J.R.

I believe if I were an NBA player, I would be J.R. Smith. That is to say, I have — not to mistake anything here — none of the talent he has at basketball. My step-back jumper is reliable out to 15 feet. I have done a 360-something on the court before, but it was not a dunk, and I hurt my knee awful. And I was playing against my homegirl (who beat me). But in life, I am the J.R. Smith of this writing game. I started out an All-America right out of high school, published my first articles at 20, ghost-wrote my first book around the same time and got a royalty check of six-pence for it. Then there were some lost years, like really smoky, hazy, blurry years of doing very little writing except once a year, when I'd pretend to write a script with a friend of mine. Then in 2008, something clicked. I knew I needed to write about basketball and about music and about culture. But I had lost so many years underachieving, I needed to rebuild the faith of an audience. I had to practice my step-back against tougher competition. I had to listen to my coaches. Play defense. I had to put writing over friendship, in some cases (still hard to do but I try). Before Earl Jr. got to the Knicks, I made jokes about him, while secretly longing for him to arrive here and don the blue and orange. If any city could clean him up, bring him closer to home, offer tough love and ridiculous praise for even his small successes, it would be New York. We have a way of throwing out the trash and keeping the recyclables.

J.R. Smith is having his best season in the NBA as a New York Knick, in this improbably serendipitous season. He's passionate, honest about his underachievement to this point, and playing his role, while adding some of those dramatic moments that make games eminently more watchable and truthful. So, J.R. if you're out there, writing a status message, or uploading a picture of your latest hotel visitor, I appreciate you. Even underachievers can be classics.

Steve Novak will ESKIMO KISS you for hitting that game winner, bro.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mike D'Antoni To Coach Lakers aka Kobe Bryant Resumes Coaching Lakers

Admittedly, I was wrong on this one. The moment I got the text about Mike Brown's firing from the Los Angeles Lakers, I smiled in relief. For Brown's sake.

The quiet tragedy of Brown's hire was Kobe Bryant's tacitly (but tactfully) leaked complaint to ESPN the morning after. Specifically, no one called Mamba about it. From that unnamed-source-revelation (*cough* Stephen A.) to the eventual termination of Mike Brown, was merely a countdown to the Walk of Shame.

Chronicling the Lakers since last ring, has been like watching Iran and North Korea post-2000: you know something crazy's about to happen, but you're not sure when or if nuclear destruction is involved. Not to mention the criminally insane dictator running the show.

So while my reply text to the L.A. devotee said just two words, "Phil time", I was dangerously overlooking the one person whose decision everything hinges on, the man so notorious he nicknamed himself.

At almost every stage of this young season, Mr. Bryant has declared, to anyone willing to listen, that he is the man on this team. He's definitely not a woman, first of all. He's definitely a singular, and not a plural. He=Man. Team=He=Man.

Dwight Howard brings the elite defense and post play that could vault us to the championship level? That's all fine and good, but it's MY TEAM.

Steve Nash, former rival, agrees to join forces with me and sort out that whole career-long passing-the-ball problem I had? Still my team though.

Mike Brown stinks. He's gotta go. Get Jeanie's boyfriend on the phone NOW!

But Kobe, his hips...they've permanently evaporated...

Has the meaning of NOW changed since this morning?

We hired Mike D'Antoni instead for less money.

He cool. I guess. Make sure you let him know the first twelve rows on the jet are reserved and that I expect his quarterly report on my desk first thing Monday.
One of the best effects of Michael Jordan's influence on Kobe is his unmitigated willingness to be an assh*le at the expense of his team. It makes for the most entertaining basketball season and washes away remaining Jordan idolatry by allowing the fans to see him and Kobe for what they really are.


You Know White People: Get Money, Don't Spend It

I know Spike LEEE gon' kill me, but lemme finish

Thus begins the era of Jeremy Lin and James Harden in Houston, two players who, for reasons of greed and mismanagement, were cast off after doing better than expected for their previous teams. In honor of lame, myopic white guys with too much money, The Four Point Play is naming this duo some variant of the great Black/Asian combos in history. Because as Wiz Khalifa once remarked, #BlackandYellow#BlackandYellow#BlackandYellow#BlackandYellow#BlackandYellow:

James Harden and Jeremy Lin Present

  • Chicken Wings & Fried Rice
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & kung fu
  • Rae Dawn Chong
  • Rush Hour
  • Tiger Woods y'all
  • The RZA
  • Hurry Up & Buy

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

David Stern's Farewell Bucket List

From the desk of David Stern:

A lotta speculation on the moneys I've made/
Honeys I've slayed/
How is he fareal?/
Is that n*gga really paid?

They ask me if I'm the greatest pro sports commissioner of all time? And I ask them, is an elephant d*ck ashy? Is Oprah's fridge door open?

Getting to the point here, gentleman, I tend to think the question answers itself. What I learned in my years leading the NBA's rise to pre-eminent league in our country, and then around the globe, is that I'm undoubtedly one of the smartest men a person could meet.

Yes, it's true I inherited a league that would soon be flush with star athletes like the world hadn't known, but I don't see Jerry Rice owning an NFL franchise. Or A-Rod selling sneakers to the Chinese. I gave Michael, Magic and Larry the keys to secret passageways that two of them still haven't used. The other one cured himself of humanity's most sinister plague.

Monday, October 22, 2012

NBA Preseason Predictions for the LOL In You

As a member of the basketball cognoscenti, and proud self-important fan, I use large chunks of my day to read articles about every storyline in the NBA. Most of it is fluff. So-and-so's baby moms is on Basketball Wives next season. What's-his-name put a booger in the Gatorade after practice. Star Player has a new skill to preview that's GOINGTOCHANGEHIZGAMESOMUCH OMG.

Sure, fine, the League changes in countless ways when no one's even playing. That's not even counting the trades, acquisitions, retirements. (Or in the Knicks case, the acquisition of retired players who are then traded.) In truth, the 2013 storylines were largely written when Miami won the championship, and everyone else ran to a silent corner to bereave the possibility of Other Champions once that group reached the top. But recently, the appearance of a story, the journalist's make-believe predictions of stories, and the plain absurdity of desired stories has replaced analysis entirely. The hoops world has split between the crude numbers people and the narrative-driven erstwhile fabulists. I count myself among the latter, though I have a closet existence as a stat junkie that only shows itself to women I date around November 1st. Hard to understand how a foggy-minded leaver of dishes can recite the 2002 NBA All-Defense 2nd Team without pause. Love you, babygirl. But don't you ever get caught sleeping on Eric Snow.

This year's browsing has produced some trite narratives worthy of repeating, if only to finally, and completely kill them dead. The authors of these stories will remain unnamed, but their premises shall be roundly ridiculed. And henceforth dismissed!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Other Prokorhov Short-Term Goals

From the annals of Russia's Most Interesting Man comes a fortuitous prediction. Mikhail Prokhorov, about as coy as the homecoming queen on prom night, is offering reporters a glimpse into his crystal ball. The Nets: from worst team in the league seven minutes ago to championship contender in 9 months.

And because anything is possible, he's even sketched out a plan on his lipstick-smudged cocktail napkin:
"For me there is only one place: No. 1," Prokhorov said. "And I'll do my best in order to reach a championship."
Later he added, curtsying and batting his lashes:
"I think it's the best arena in the world. I'm expecting a great rivalry with the Knicks."
Well played, Mikhail. Everyone needs goals, of course. And with petty millions to spend on silly ventures like becoming president of your homeland, Prokhorov's tycoon wish-list serves as an example to all bootstrap-pulling children of wealth that they, too, can do anything. Among his other short-term missions:
  • Invent flux capacitor. Visit to dinosaurs. Pick a fight with one.
  • Defeat Kobe Bryant in one-to-one basketball contest. Practice on Dirk.
  • Bury corpse of Jaroslav. Send ring finger to widow.
  • Complete purchase of Montserrat. Sell to China for DOUBLE!
  • Race helicopters with "Little Man" James Dolan across Atlantic.
  • Go to "Little Man" and his band jazz show. Sit in front and laugh SO loud.

Many of the remaining napkin scrawls from that Vodka-soaked evening were illegible, but the words "Little Man" and "Dolan" populated even the far ridges of that crumpled scroll.

Perhaps, with some convincing, Mr. Prokhorov might be in for a run as Brooklyn's mayor. Or its newest franchise restaurant dealer. Skyline's the limit.