Djokavic is The Best. But is he The GOAT?

From die hard sports fans to casual sports observers, it can truly be said that we live in the best time in history to be watching tennis.  I myself was a casual fan who has sort of been forced into a more serious enthusiasm for the sport, based on the sheer historic greatness on display in the last decade.  On the women’s side we have witnessed the greatest of all time in Serena Williams (though arguing for a Steffi Graf is certainly a respectable position or I guess Margaret Court, who appears to have won 24 grand slam titles sometime before women’s suffrage I think.  But as great as Serena has been, the men’s game has been absurdly historic.  We have the three greatest players of all time at the same time.  The collective greatness of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokavic has basically snuffed out a later generation of tennis players. There is a generation of tennis players from age 28 to 40 who basically have no idea what winning a grand slam feels like unless they have a hook-up at Dennys.  It started with Federer who basically took over men’s tennis from the United States and then repeatedly snuffed out its heir apparent, Andy Roddick, who won the last U.S. men’s title in 2003. Federer won several titles from 2003-2007 basically unimpeded as the clear best player in the world.  But then he got company.

Rafael Nadal showed up and has basically called dibs on the French Open since 2006.  The only reason Federer ever won in France is because Nadal was eliminated before they could meet (Nadal is currently 40,999,987-2 at Roland Garros).  He has been a Spanish brick wall.  Some try to pigeonhole him as a one surface star, but he still has 6 non-French Open titles on his record.  And that includes the 2008 legendary Wimbledon match that turned me from a casual tennis fan into a more serious tennis fan.  Dubbed until yesterday as “The Greatest Match Ever Played” it was an epic that basically took the entirety of my hungover Sunday 11 years ago.  It represented Nadal beating the older Federer on his best surface and proving he was not just a clay specialist.  It looked like it might have been a passing of the torch, but it turned out to be more of a sharing of the torch.  From that day I became a huge Nadal fan.  I had wondered why he was always sneering and picking his butt, but that day I watched him exhibit such will and athletic talent that his grimacing and wedgies just seemed like eccentricities of a genius.  And I simply took for granted Federer’s talent and effortless excellence.


As the years went by I made sure not to miss any majors and continued to root hard for Nadal in a race to be the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT).  As he continued to pile up French Opens and the occasional other major, and Federer looked to be aging, I felt confident that Nadal might take the title.  He has a winning record against Federer (but to be fair a lot of that is on his clay kingdom – but they do count!).  But then Novak Djokavic showed up and the Magic and Larry of tennis may have met their Michael Jordan.

I don’t know when I became aware of Djokavic. To me and many fans he just felt like the dude who kept messing up Nadal and Federer’s title chase.  But I know when I became a big fan.  The 2015 U.S. Open.  The rowdy crowd was, like every crowd in tennis, rooting hard for Federer in the Finals.  Djokavic was the world #1 and seemed to take it as disrespect. He dropped the 2nd set, but then proceeded to beat Federer’s ass in the remaining two sets to take the title.  I have always liked athletes with bad tempers.  Perhaps because I was one.  But Djokavic seemed to take the title of “J-L’s favorite angry athlete” from Paul O’Neill (who is now MAGA so fu*k him – how do you win championships with Puerto Ricans and immigrants and then vote and support a racist xenophobe?).  I was so impressed with Djokavic’s performance that day and realized that he might be able to run roughshod over men’s tennis for the next decade with Nadal’s physicality taking a toll and Federer getting old.

Except it hasn’t been like that.  Djokavic’s entire career has been a fight against immortal Federer and unmovable Nadal.  And yet he was won 16 grand slams and counting, without a 4 year solo head start like Federer or a single dominant surface like Nadal.  So I think it is safe to say that Djokavic is the best player in the history of tennis.  He has at least 3 years of dominance left in him (at least physically) and has a winning record against both Federer and Nadal in his career.  And his performance yesterday, while not dominating, was as gutty a performance as I have ever seen.  Down two match points to Roger Federer with the whole crowd about to climax for Federer he pushed the game to deuce, won the game, forced a tiebreaker and turned Federer into Swiss Miss en route to another Wimbledon trophy.  But then I realized something.  Federer is the GOAT.

For background I liked Federer early on, but the grit and range of Nadal made me more awestruck. And later, the “fu*k you, pay me!” attitude of Djokavic seeking his own respect in a sport married to Federer was relatable and enjoyable to me.  But the common thread throughout this is the greatness of Federer.  He innovates, adapts, augments and enhances his game at every turn.  He has no weaknesses and makes the brilliant look routine.  No great moment in tennis seems to be able to occur without his presence or shadow.  (Full disclosure, for blogger integrity, years ago I dated a woman who was a huge Federer fan. In terms of my life she ranks somewhere between Trump and 9/11 so needless to say I used to take glee in Federer losses. But yesterday I felt like Federer’s performance AT ALMOST 38 YEARS OLD forced me to surrender any resentments (towards Federer)). He is the standard to which every player must measure themselves – numerically and stylistically.


This may be the unfortunate fate that awaits Djokavic. If I had to pick any player in history to win one match (not on clay) I would pick Djokavic. He has incredible, well-rounded talent, has been dubbed by John McEnroe the greatest returned in the history of the sport and has Federer’s 20 titles in his sights.  And yet, seeing Federer, even in defeat, I felt like I was watching the man who invented tennis. It’s a weird distinction, to say that the best player ever may not be the greatest, but the most important thing is that we all get to watch the three greatest tennis players of all time play.


Kevin Durant May Have Killed The NBA

Celebrating my 30th year as a Utah Jazz fan in 2017 (in exile in NYC for the whole time, like a hoops Roman Polanski) I began the 2016-17 season with deferred optimism. Last year (2015-16) the Jazz would have made the playoffs if they had not been the most injured team in the league. This year they had a contract year Gordon Hayward, an ever-improving Rudy Gobert and veteran additions of George Hill and Joe Johnson, so it was not hard to convince me that this was the year they finally became relevant again. They won 51 games, despite losing the most starters’ games to injury in the league.  They have a young core, a rabid fan base and a series win over the Clippers to give most of their players a first taste of playoff success.  And as of last night’s bitter defeat in Game 3 of the second round hope has been snuffed out. And it may have been snuffed out for the rest of the NBA for some time.

Kevin Durant – Possibly The Biggest Bitch in NBA History

I think I learned that I hated Durant for the first time last night.  I thought his decision to sign with Golden State was weak and anti-competitive (you get to an NBA Finals at 23, take the defending champs to 7 games – after BLOWING a series lead – and you decide to join your vanquisher instead of staying put?), but I did not really care that much.  I was more focused on the development of Utah and figured we would not be championship ready for a couple of seasons anyway.  But seeing the Jazz, who I think could have easily been the 3 seed this year if they had merely suffered the league average for injuries, make such strides so quickly made me feel more helpless as a fan much sooner than I expected.

And before I continue destroying Durant, I think some of the blame for his decision rests with the fans and the media in our age of easy markers of success and low attention span.  As a Jazz fan, and a 90s hoops fan of any good team without Michael Jordan on the roster, I felt many stinging defeats, but in retrospect I am happy to have rooted for a team that was competitive for 2 decades and elite for 4 or 5 years.  Malone and Stockton are among the game’s greatest players and losing to Jordan did not tear them down as much as it enhanced the legend of Jordan’s greatness.  However, with social media, the Internet and stupidity all playing a bigger role in our lives, the scrutiny and need for an easy token of “greatness” dominates sports’ conversations.  So after Lebron was crushed, but then redeemed for winning, by a fickle and hypocritical fan base, Durant probably looked and said “The only way for me to be legit is to win a title and the media and fans will forgive my cowardice if I win, just like they did for Lebron.”  Of course, there are critical differences (Lebron joined a 47 win team and had been in a purgatory of Cleveland – never bad enough with Lebron for elite draft picks, never enticing enough for free agents. He did not join one of the 5 greatest teams in NBA history that had just barely beat him), but I cannot say that fans and media are completely blameless in creating the atmosphere that made Durant choose Golden State.  But that said, his move to Golden State was the most cowardly and bloody coup since the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones (there will be more GOT analogies).

But none of these things made me hate Kevin Durant.  No, it was not until late in Game 3 of the Warriors-Jazz series, when Durant cursed out the Jazz mascot, Bear, that I realized he was a bitch.  YOU (clap emoji) DONT (clap emoji) GET (clap emoji) TO (clap emoji) ACT (clap emoji) TOUGH (clap emoji) WHEN (clap emoji) YOU (clap emoji) BITCHED (clap emoji) OUT (clap emoji) AND (clap emoji) JOINED (clap emoji) THE (clap emoji) WARRIORS!

I’ll admit I was deeply frustrated that my Jazz squad had nullified Curry, Thompson (FYI – the only non-bitch superstar on the Warriors) and Draymond to bad games and the Warriors were able to rely on the Johnny Gil of their Shitty New Edition to drop 38 points.  But seeing Durant try to be a tough guy, a villain and an “assassin” has made me (I never thought I would say this) miss Kobe Bryant – who may have been a douche and a jerk, but never an anti-competitive turd.  Watching Durant emotionally flex felt like seeing Amazon do a touchdown dance in front of a neighborhood bookstore that was closing.

So is there any hope? Probably not.  I mean maybe Klay Thompson could leave and maybe the overall bitch-ass-ness of the team would force it to implode, but other than that I think we may be stuck with this squad for a while.  But if there are any chances for the rest of the league here they are (with a slight Utah bias showing on one):

Lebron.  Lebron may be the Jamie Lannister of the NBA at this point (how ironic that the King is best represented by the King Slayer).  The Decision was when he pushed a kid out of the window (boooo), but he then helped a giant, unappealing woman (Brienne of Tarth = Cleveland) and we all were fans again (yay).  Well with Durant and GS being Cersei and The Mountain (a bitch and a powerful monster tandem) it may be the King Slayer who will provide us the best chance to prevent a terrible dynasty.  And, by the way, if Lebron actually does beat this Warriors team in the Finals, I (clap emoji) DONT (clap emoji) CARE (clap emoji) ABOUT (clap emoji) MICHAEL (clap emoji) JORDAN’S (clap emoji) SIX (clap emoji) RINGS!  The GOAT title will have passed and I will not longer entertain other arguments… even when it is revealed that Lebron uses HGH for milk in his cereal.

Chris Paul to the Spurs (or if not, the Jazz).  Gregg Popovich is the only superstar in the NBA besides Lebron with a shot to stop the Warriors.  And getting Chris Paul would greatly enhance their competitiveness for the next few years while Paul can still deliver (he was outstanding against the Jazz).  The Spurs are the Patriots of the NBA, except their leaders don’t like Trump, so they are even better.  With Chris Paul taking over for Tony Parker they would immediately be a legit contender again, especially if Apple updates the Kawhi Leonard operating system for 2017-18.  But if the Spurs cannot get him I would argue that the Jazz could make a compelling argument.  They have a great defense, depth at each position (except center – maybe address that in this Summer’s draft) and with George Hill injury prone and not under contract a possible place for major upgrade. And only a few teams are better than the Jazz and almost all have the pG position filled – GSW, Cleveland, Houston (Harden), Spurs, Jazz.  So basically if the Spurs cannot get Paul I think it would be beneficial to the league, to CP3, the Jazz and my mental health for the Jazz to make a deal for CP3. The pitch the Jazz make is simple – “Right now Chris, you are in the Stockton, Payton, Nash category and unless you get a title you will never break into the Isaiah Thomas category.  We are your best (non-Spurs) shot at that. So what if Utah is boring – it is beautiful and we only want you for 3 years.”

JaVale McGee accidentally injures all the Warriors. Perhaps an athletic move gone awry (known henceforth as a “JaVale”) in practice leads JaVale to land on Curry and Draymond, ending their seasons (note – I have always been a McGee fan – athletic, plays hard, goofy -pure entertainment, and oddly admirable).

Prayer – It cannot be denied that the Golden State Warriors are an unholy creation.

LaVar Ball gets his son traded to the Warriors on Draft Night and all Hell breaks loose.  Now that would be awesome.

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Lebron is the Greatest, but Hakeem Already Did THIS…

I have spent the last 8 years of my hoops fan life calling Lebron the greatest player of all time. His combination of Magic Johnson skills, and a size and athleticism combination suggesting an evolutionary leap forward made it obvious to me.  And then for 4 years I wrote and podcasted his greatness to death post-The Decision, mainly because of the obviousness of his talent and the hypocrisy of non-Cleveland basketball fans who seemed to only express outrage at Lebron’s disloyalty because he was not disloyal with them (hi Knick fans).  So it is sort of bittersweet to see Lebron getting so much respect and credit now from people with low basketball IQs who could not fully appreciate Lebron’s greatness until they had 100% proof in the form of this year’s Finals run (a LOT of people on my Facebook feed qualify).  Was he not the greatest of all time last year when he played great, but was severely under-matched against a brilliant and hungry Spurs team? Well now everyone is back on the Lebron bandwagon more than ever before and it has forced me to point out a fact amidst this love fest narrative: Lebron may be doing something Michael Jordan never did (potentially winning a finals without a stud second banana), but what Lebron is doing is NOT unprecedented.  It happened in 1994 and was done by Hakeem Olajuwon.

In 1994 Hakeem Olajuwon took a team of journeymen and young, not yet developed talent on his back and carried them to a 7 game win over the Knicks (hi Knick fans) in the Finals.  He averaged 28 ppg, more than double the next best playoff average on his team. And let’s look at his roster:

  • Vernon Maxwell
  • Robert Horry (rookie year)
  • Kenny Smith
  • Otis Thorpe
  • Sam Cassell (rookie year)
  • Mario Elie

Wow – doesn’t that roster inspire fear???  Not one all star on the team. Not sure if Thorpe ever made an all star team and I was informed on social media this morning debating this point that Sam Cassell made one all star team… in 2004.  So the idea that no player has ever done what Lebron has done is plain false.  Sorry, I have defended him and love watching him play, but facts are facts.  And watching this finals aren’t the Cavs sort of displaying the same sort of unlikely heroes that the Rockets sort of did?  Granted both supporting casts benefit from playing with a top 10 all time player, but let’s look at it:

  • Dellavadova is playing as great as any role player in Finals history.  And it is not all because of Lebron. The man is on every lose ball like one of those annoying guys trying to impress the coach.
  • Tristan Thompson is rebounding like the spirit of Dennis Rodman is inside him
  • Timofey Mozgov is proving to be a competent center (Hi Knick fans). Not an all star, but solid in the post, able to hit clutch free throws (game 1) and a legitimate rim protector
  • JR Smith and Iman Shumpert (just to say hi Knick fans), but isnt JR Smith basically Vernon Maxwell?

My point is this: I freely admit that this Cavs supporting cast wouldn’t win 30 games without Lebron, but neither would that 1994 Rockets team.  So let’s enjoy Lebron’s run as potentially the greatest finals performance ever, but what he is doing is not completely unprecedented.  Hakeem may have operated int he shadow of Michael Jordan’s departure, but it is no reason to bury his legacy under the ascension of Lebron James.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on iTunes and/or STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe for free!

My Final Trip to the Derek Jeter Shopping Mall

Last night I went to what I assume will be my final Yankee game of this season (proud to say I have not yet paid for tickets in the new shopping mall known as Yankee Statdium) and witnessed a boring 4-3 loss to the Tampa Rays. On the plus side the weather was nice and it was definitely great to hang out with my extremely busy brother for a night.  Now I must preface the rest of the post that if you love the Yankees and/or Derek Jeter you will dismiss this as more “hating” by me or something close to verbal half-black on half-black crime, but what Yankee Stadium has become, and more specifically the Derek Jeter farewell industry, is disgusting.  I think the Yankees, Jeter and sports memorabilia pimp Brandon Steiner have turned a storied franchise into a shameless cash engine.

Anyone who has been to the new Yankee Stadium has to have noticed the exponential explosion of gift shops and space allocated to gift shops.  After the fifth inning I accompanied my brother to the gift shop for him to look for a trinket for his kids.  I gladly joined him because baseball is extremely boring. What was shocking was that the store was jam packed.  In the middle of a game the store was jam packed like a Black Friday sale was going on. That is when I realized that the new Yankee Stadium feels more like the Mall of America – a bunch of places to spend money, but instead of an amusement park in the center, an overpriced baseball team performs with accomplished mediocrity.  Contrast this with the open and beautiful feel of Citi Field where the game is always visible as you walk around the stadium and feels like the most important thing going on, which is sad since the Mets suck so bad, but at least the stadium’s heart is in the right place.

At the center of the store, and by center I mean 60% of the store were dozens of shirts, hats, trinkets, used condoms and pubic hairs commemmorating Derek Jeter’s final season.  And then in the next store area a few sections over was the Brandon Steiner store with all sorts of manufactured memorabilia commemmorating Jeter’s career.  And all I could think was how shameless and hypocritical this whole charade was.  For a sport that keeps claiming to be based on nostalgia and creating memories and respect for tradition and history it seems that now this stadium only serves to force feed you manufactured memories and memorabilia, which of course negates the organic development of real history and nostalgia.

People will always praise Jeter as one of the guys who plays the game the right way.  However he was either a little jealous of all the fan fare Mariano Rivera got last year, or he saw dollar signs in his eyes like a cartoon villain, so he announced his retirement at the beginning of his final season.  Plus there had to have been a Yankee-Steiner-Jeter agreement to cash in on the tens of millions of additional dollars of merchadise “commemmorating” the occasion.  I always liked the way John Stockton, a first ballot NBA Hall of Famer, retired. He played his final season. Then he talked to his family and team management and announced his retirement.  No whoring. No self-serving farewell tour. No millions of dollars in merchandising.  And of course it is savvy business decision for Jeter (for a man with hundreds of millions of dollars already), but for a guy always hailed as a great ambassador of the game, it comes off as a shameless money grab.

Then there is the aforementioned explosion of intentionally generated memorabilia.  The whole point was that items gained prestige over time from their unforeseen value and/or personal attachment.  Now thanks to our culture and pimps like Brandon Steiner everything can become memorabilia.  Time and experience should determine the value and meaning of game items.  Someone might frame their ticket the last time they saw Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams, but now we have the Stadium and Steiner telling us that the 19 limited edition t-shirts, signed game jerseys that were never worn and 3 hat set with certificate of authenticity (yes this was offered on the big screen last night) are what we really need.  People often said of comedy that you will love it less when it becomes a business to you and that is sort of true to a certain extent.  Well, memorabilia loses most of its cache when you are instructing me what I need to experience sentimental feelings about an experience, instead of letting nostalgia occur naturally.

The there is Jeter the sports business icon.  Like his idol and business partner Michael Jordan, Jeter has always struck me as cold.  Jordan once famously said that “Republicans buy sneakers too” when he declined to endorse a candidate in North Carolina versus the bigoted Senator Jesse Helms.  Jordan operated with two things in mind – winning and Jordan, Inc. But he was so gifted and successful that we all applauded his accomplishments and never expected him to be a decent human being, as long as he was not a criminal.  I feel like the partnership of Jeter as Jordan brand’s #1 athlete endorsement is a perfect fit.  Jeter has never uttered a charismatic word in his life, he is aloof and is not afraid to whore his image of “playing the game the right way guy” into tens of millions of dollars of shameless merchandising.  But he won and that makes everything great, as long as you are not a criminal.  So congrats to the Yankees and Jeter for turning a hallowed space of baseball into a cheap shopping mall.  I just hope when Jeter gives his hook ups memorabilia bags that he doesn’t charge them since they are “Farewell to the Captain” gift bags.  That concludes this week hate session.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on iTunes and/or STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe for free!

The Case for Lebron James

I felt like last night’s blow out win by the Spurs over the Heat probably made many people feel the way I felt when Joffrey died on Game of Thrones. Sure it was good that his character ended, but you wanted a more satisfying and violent revenge, perhaps at the hands of one of the Stark children.  Perhaps that is what would have been better for Lebron haters.  Perhaps seeing him blow out both knees while being dunked on by Kawhi Leonard as his family was executed by a Dan Gilbert led death squad, like the Czar and his family during the Russian Revolution, would have been more satisfying end to the bizarre fixation that the country has with Lebron.   All of this is supposedly based on The Decision (which you all watched – you only seemed to turn righteous and pious once he didn’t choose your team, esecially you NY Knick fans) and the pep rally the Big Three had.  Really? So he lost in the Finals to the Mavericks, giving you the schadenfreude you needed, but then wins back to back titles against a young upstart (Thunder) and a great, respected veteran team (Spurs) and still all that pent up envy and resentment came spilling out after the “cramp game” four years later?  And now the world of ill informed, semi-literate sports fans whose hoops expertise often extends no further than NBA2K games  can finally declare Lebron as a much lesser player than everyone who has ever won a title.  His stats put him slightly ahead of Larry Bird (in 2 fewer seasons AND a career that started right out of high school, though Bird’s final few seasons were back-injury hampered so maybe that cancels out Lebron’s youth), his championships put him with Wilt Chamberlain and Isaiah Thomas’s careers and his overall career trajectory in terms of overall stats has no real equal at this age. So here are a few points I would like to make in defense of Lebron (it was nice having last year off, though I did love writing this right BEFORE his epic Game 6 against the Celtics in 2012):

Stop Calling Wade and Bosh Superstars

I know it is convenient to cite Bosh and Wade as superstars that Lebron ran to to get his titles, but that is not Raptor Chris Bosh and that is not 2006 Dwyane Wade playing out there.  If Lebron signed with a team that had Bill Russell and Michael Jordan on its roster would you say “Lebron’s a pussy who signed with 2 of the 5 greatest players of all time to win titles” or would you say “those old dudes ain’t doing shit for Lebron.”  Wade has allowed Lebron to carry a heavy load the last two years for him during the regular season in the name of him being healthy come playoff time.  The result has been a horrible playoffs last year leading into the Finals where Wade was admittedly solid and this year’s finals where Wade was horrific.

As for Bosh – he is a jump shooting small forward in a power forward’s body.  He was outplayed by anyone the Spurs put down low.  Legitimately Boris Diaw appeared to be a better player than Chris Bosh. Now are you willing to call Boris Diaw a “superstar?”  I didn’t think so.  That label has not applied to Wade or Bosh for a few years, but it sticks, because it is simply a tool to diminish Lebron’s standing as the great player of his day.

The Spurs Are a Great Team with a Great Coach – Better Than Any Team Michael Jordan Beat for A Title

Lost in this really has been the greatness of the Spurs.  Tim Duncan now has 5 titles.  He has won 4 with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, making them the only trio to win four titles since Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper and (I think) James Worthy.   But instead of viewing the Heat’s loss to them as a great achievement by the Spurs, it if offered as proof that “Lebron is not as good as Michael Jordan.” Two points here – one – if the first insult constantly hurled at a player, whose game and body have no resemblance to Michael Jordan, is to say “he is no Michael Jordan,” then you are obviously constantly comparing him to Michael Jordan and doing it for a reason.  Like if the UN is debating if genocide is occurring, my instinct is to say “if you are thinking about it, let’s just assume for safety sake that it is genocide.”  Similarly, if you are obsessing over a comparison between MJ and Lebron then just admit that his talent and unique brilliance is there and the comparison is worth talking about halfway through his career.

The second point is that  I do not think Michael Jordan ever beat a team as good as the Popovich Spurs.  Not to say he would not have. He had a better cast and a better coach than Lebron, as well as greatness that earns him the benefit of the doubt.  But no team MJ ever beat was as good as the Spurs.  The closest two teams I can think of are the Utah Jazz and the NY Knicks.  The Jazz were a system based team led by Hall of Famers that produced good play out of mediocre supporting cast members (an upper-middle class Spurs).  But they were never as good as the Spurs. Clearly.  The Knicks on the other hand played the Bulls tough with a rough style from a great coach, Pat Riley. But they never had more than 2 stars and Ewing was a low level superstar if you want to elevate him above simple “star” status.   So if you are going to say that losing in the Finals, as Lebron has done three times (to be fair he lost in the finals twice at an age younger than Michael Jordan’s 1st Finals appearance – don’t penalize him for being too good, too young), is clear and convincing evidence of Jordan’s superiority (as I have seen many people write) then be honest and realize that these Spurs much more resemble the Rockets that Jordan never played.  Except these Spurs are better than those Rockets as well.

Shaq, Rodman & Pippen

If you want to compare Kobe, MJ and Lebron on pure title numbers then let me ask you this – who would you pick 1st, 2nd and 3rd of these supporting stars:

1998-2004 Shaq and a loaf of bread

1995-1998 Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman

2012-2014 Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade

Lebron won 60+ games twice with Cleveland and made the NBA Finals with Anderson Verejao and Mo Williams as his two best mates (and the now fully exposed Mike Brown as coach – Lebron should also have Brown’s coach of the year award).  Kobe won his first 3 titles with the most dominant physical force in the NBA since Wilt Chamberlain.  Do you honestly think Lebron could not have won multiple titles in his first 7 years as a pro if he was playing with the Black Mountain (Game of Thrones reference and my preferred moniker for Shaq in his prime)? Do you think playing with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in mid 90s form – a glue-like defender and multi-skilled offensive player and a tenacious rebounder (someting sorely lacking from the Heat) would not have been better than a phsically and mentally defeated Wade and a jump shooting Euro big man in a dinosaur’s body named Bosh?  If your answer to the above question is Bosh and Wade then as Adam Carolla says “you’re either stupid or a liar.”

You don’t hate Lebron; you might just dislike yourself (plus he became “uppity”)

This year alone Lebron spoke out in the Trayvon Martin case and took an early stance against Donald Sterling.  This may seem meaningless (though he put more than a hashtag on the line when he did so), but it was a lot more than Kobe or MJ did with their clout at leading stars of the NBA.  Since The Decision Lebron has been a great ambassador of the game, a model citizen (at least in the ways we as fans could know) and a spectacular player on the court.  So why do we hate him?  Because we can never be him. And for a split second with The Decision, he let us all know that to our faces.  He changed jobs and it was ESPN’s highest rated program of the year. We change jobs – not even our Facebook friends really give a shit.  He is a physical marvel, a savvy business man and appears to have a happy family life.  In other words – he has it all nd he did not have to be in a Dove Soap natural beauty commercial to prove it.  But unlike Tim Duncan, Lebron made us feel a bit of shame and envy. What man wouldn’t want to go to warm climate, play ball with his friends and be a sports icon?

The rich irony I have observed over the last few years watching playoff games in bars surrounded by guys who work in finance calling Lebron James a “scumbag” or an “arrogant douche” would make me laugh if it was not so insidious.  Money manipulation and moving from their cities to bigger, cooler cities like NYC are both apparently noble pursuits, but when Lebron does it, he’s a villain.  As I have said before I felt bad for Cleveland when Lebron left. I like the city and I, like many sports fans can romanticize the homegrown talent connection to sports teams.  But what happened with Lebron was worse, and yes there is a racial component to this.  He was the good boy who stayed home, helped the town, knew his role was allowed to flourish and have praised heaped on him as long as he stayed that nice humble boy from the town.  But when he wanted to go the big city he got a little too “uppity.” I would have not made these references before, but the jealousy and rage of Lebron have lingered too long to be based on any rational reason.  NBA fans, including the rage filled white fans (according to a recent poll Lebron lost popularity among black and white fans, but has since become more popular with black fans, but is still not even at pre-The Decision levels of popularity with white fans), basically had the burden of being fans’ favorite house servant – giving us amazing feats of enjoyment with humble habits right in our living rooms and sports bars.  So of course the betrayal felt even worse when he became perceived as the league’s most brash field hand (even though neither was ever true, but that is how the perception was). If you are going to be better than most of America Lebron you better not let them know it.  Barry Bonds can be a jerk and disliked because he was always a jerk. BUT LEBRON – you made us think you were a good one – someone who would entertain us, but never make us jealous – and then you turn around and act like you are better?  That is unforgivable.  We would never let Allen Iverson in our home so we would never feel duped, but Lebron, you were the humble, hard working one!  Never again!

So let’s just hope if Kawhi Leonard’s career keeps up its star trajectory that he keeps his mouth shut for the rest of his career (which actually seems like a distinct possibility).

Great watching you play Lebron and I hope you make your haters eat shit next year.  And as it should be, the final words should be about the Spurs – great run, great team and led by a guy all of America can root for – a wife cheating, former teammate-wife banging, French point guard named Tony Parker. #AmericanRoleModel

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Why Lebron Will Never Please You

The question of who is the greatest basketball player of all time is not historically settled, by the very nature of History – people are always making it and adapting from and surpassing the past.  It is of little debate that at the present moment, by almost any standard one can apply that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.  He has the stats, championships, individual and team accolades and perhaps most importantly, a series indelible marks left upon the imaginations of millions of Americans.  Jerry West may be the logo of the NBA, but Michael Jordan is its most shining symbol of glory.  Others who have tried to lay claim to the throne have fallen short, most notably Kobe Bryant, the closest approximation to Jordan in style (if not in success) to the point that if Kobe could have killed Jordan on a boat, assumed his identity (along with press conference cadence, fadeaway jumper and gum chewing) and called himself The Talented Mr. Jordan, he might have.  But the danger in replicating a great is that no matter how great you are, unless you surpass the original in every way you can never be considered greater.  And this goes beyond stats and number of titles, but also the spirit of the legend.  Which is why I have found Lebron James so damn intriguing.

Lebron James, I have always said, is the only modern player with a chance to surpass Jordan (read the words haters – a chance – not a declared certainty or a present-day fact) because he is a different model.  Kobe challenged Jordan on Jordan’s turf. Lebron’s eventual legacy will challenge Jordan from a new template – a point guard mind- power forward body phenom.  He will never score as much as Kobe or MJ, but he impacts the game in a way I have never seen.  He is a defensive force and only Scottie Pippen has been as versatile a defender in my life.  What other player in NBA history goes chest-to-chest with Tim Duncan and rejects his post shot and then resumes guarding Tony Parker out on the perimeter?  Defensive player of the year Marc “Hodor” Gasol?

To watch the San Antonio defense you would think no one on the court exists except Lebron  They guard him with multiple players, a layered scheme and are only willing to concede the worst shot statistically in basketball – the 17-19 foot range jumper.  He is a gifted passer, a savant of the game and a physical freak, but he has only shown glimpses of an assassin’s mentality on the court and because Jordan set the framework and Kobe followed it, the fact that Lebron does not adhere to that model means in the hater/hoops-simpletons’ minds that he can never be as good or better than those who operate with that mindset.

And yet, Lebron is one game from winning his 2nd NBA title a year before Michael Jordan won his 2nd NBA title.  He has collected 3 triple doubles in his last 7 NBA Finals games.  He has thrived offensively in a league that, although not as physically dirty than the one Jordan played in and that Kobe began in, is much more sophisticated defensively and the statistics bear that out.  Better athletes, more zone defense and more complex stats and schemes make scoring a bigger chore in today’s NBA (not necessarily individually, but the game is a lot slower than in the 80s).  Am I in any way suggesting the MJ would not thrive in today’s NBA?  Of course not.  I think he would excel.  But this is more to defend Lebron.

Lebron is playing under a microscope that no other NBA player has ever played under.  Jordan felt the glare, but that was the glare of an adoring spotlight for most of  his career.  He was a Madison Avenue darling very early on and became the toast of the league for the second decade of his career.  Once MJ broke through, he was never questioned again, at least not pejoratively.  This has not been the case since Lebron won.  Lebron has had the spotlight, but much of it has come from the ever present 24 hour news cycle and the 200 foot troll of a magnifying glass known as social media.  Every game Lebron plays is not specific enough evidence of greatness or failure – he has every play dissected.  After willing the Heat back from the brink of destruction all 4th quarter in Game 6 last night, the instant reaction from haters was that Ray Allen had “bailed Lebron out” with his incredible three pointer.  What is Lebron Moses?  He gets to lead his team to the Promised Land, but not get to experience any of it?

The problem for Lebron is not that he is not talented or clutch or great.  He is all of those things.  The real problem for Lebron is that he is the greatest athletic specimen we have on the planet, other than perhaps Usain Bolt, and that shames a lot of the public.  See, we live in a society now where everyone’s opinions, thoughts, pictures and mundane activities are on display making us all feel like important celebrities in our individual, mundane circles.  Mediocrity has never been more famous and self-important and Lebron has been reminding us for the last three years that he is better than us.

We were OK when he was a nice kid from Ohio, toiling away, earnestly failing to achieve his profession’s highest goals.  But then he made THE DECISION.  I did not like it, but I got over it, mainly because I enjoy watching him play so much.  But what Lebron said is “watch me America – I am important and you will watch me.” And we did watch and then we hated him for showing us how much we cared and how shallow we all felt (THE DECISION was a huge ratings success).  We became champions of Cleveland’s dignity, even though many people watching were just hoping their team would be the one to break Cleveland’s heart (Hello Knicks and Bulls fans). Rather than apologize for our own hypocrisy we turned Lebron into a massive villain.

But don’t forget he was arrogant at a free pep rally fgor Heat fans!

And then he lost in the Finals to Dallas and it proved that he was being punished for his hubris and we could all feel good.  It was a text book case of schadenfreude.  We determined he deserved a comeuppance,  he got it and we delighted! Good riddance King James! Except rather than fade away into the Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter wing just outside of the NBA Hall of Fame for underachieving athletic freaks he bounced back and destroyed his rivals en route to his title in 2012.  Yes he played with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, but only a truly delusional hatred could ignore that Lebron was the Sun that the other Heat players revolved around.  And he never had that iconic moment in the NBA Finals last year because he destroyed the OKC Thunder so thoroughly.  So other than Boston Game 6 (and Indiana Game 3 if you paid attention), his 2012 playoffs did not give us Jordan over Ehlo or Jordan (shoving) shooting over Russel.  Another strike against Lebron!

So we arrived at 2013. The Heat win 66 games, 27 in a row and Lebron puts together the most or oneof the most efficient seasons in NBA History.  And then the playoffs happen and it appears that by the Pacers’ series Lebron is no longer part of a big three.  He is the Big One and is alternating between dragging his teammates and creating for them.  He single handedly vanquished a very tough and balanced Pacers team that specifically were strong where the Heat were weak.

And now the Finals.  Standing in Lebron’s way are a 4 time champion player and coach, a team with size and a team with a devastatingly good point guard – all weak spots for the Heat. And with some help, finally, Lebron is one game away from defeating the team that swept him when, like a Mozart of basketball, he took a terrible Cavs team to the Finals in 2007 with only his individual natural brilliance.  But now Lebron has mastered basketball.  Does that mean he is perfect? No.  Did Jordan shoot below 33% in the final game of the 1996 Finals?  Did Kobe go 6-24 in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals?  Yes and yes.  Does that diminish their legacies? No.  Yet Lebron for that he has accomplished before the age of 30 and the brilliance with which he plays is still having every dribble examined with heightened scrutiny.  So if he were to score 40 and go 15-15 from the field on Thursday, but Tony Parker hits a buzzer beater to win Game 7, this will somehow render Lebron’s admission to the upper elite of the sport null and void.  He cannot please these people because they want him to fail.  They need him to fail.

Lebron James has shown us that he is great. Greater at what he does than we will ever be at what we do.  He has also shown us that he knows he is great and better than us.  Not in a brash Terrell Owens sort of way where it feels cartoonish. Rather, Lebron was blessed by God, fate or nature with incredible potential for greatness.  He was not born Peter Parker or even Bruce Wayne – he was BORN as Spider Man and Batman. And what is worse is that he is fullfilling that great potential and enjoying it in beautiful Miami.  Lebron is better than us, knows it, but what really stings is that we could never be him.  No matter how hard we work and dedicate ourselves he was always going to be better. Kobe and MJ gritted their teeth, yelled at and in MJ’s case, punched, teammates – they had the gifts, but they also exhibited the grit that made us feel better about them being better.  Lebron is just enjoying a game he has mastered and fullfilling his promise, but with something closer to a child’s enjoyment than a mob boss’ ruthlessness.  And in an age where we all think we are so important and special he has shown us that we are not.  But that he is.

Good luck in Game 7 Lebron.  And get ready to hear “but MJ and Kobe threepeated” or “now Tracy mcGrady has as many titles as you” right after.   And then have a hearty laugh.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes. New Every Tuesday!

The End Of The Diet Jordan Era

Yesterday I experienced a joy from an NBA game that I had not felt since seeing Paul Millsap drop 46 points on the Miami Heat In November.  I watched Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers get torched by the Dallas Mavericks, effectively ending the Kobe Bryant, a/k/a Diet Jordan, era in the NBA.  The first joy was in seeing the Lakers lose badly.  If we cannot see video of Seal Team 6 invading Bin Laden’s compound, then I suppose seeing Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovich and Dirk Nowitzki (“an international coalition of the willing” if you will) destroy Kobe and Company is a good second best.  But the other part of the defeat that was so great was seeing the increasingly dirty and frustrated play of the Lakers as the game wound down.  First was Lamar Odom’s cheap shot on Dirk Nowitzki, a clear boiling over of the frustration of being the third Laker married to the third Kardashian (oddly, psychologists say that bronze medalists are often happier than silver medalists, but that wannabe Christian Bale, Scott, who is married to Kourtney, seems happier than Lamar).  Then there was Andrew Bynum’s mid air takedown of JJ Barea that will earn Bynum a suspension next season and a prescription of P90X, based on his jersey removal while leaving the court.  I was actually convinced that the game would end with Ron Artest running down the court on a fast break shooting Dallas Mavericks with a handgun like the opening scene in The Last Boy Scout.

Before analyzing the Kobe Era, a moment to reflect on Phil Jackson, the greatest coach of all time in professional sports (to never coach without 2 of the top 5 players in the NBA).  Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen never won without Phil Jackson.  They also entered their prime as basketball players as Phil Jackson showed up.  Ditto for LA.  Shaq, from 2000-2003, was the most dominant physical presence since Wilt Chamberlain and by the third title, Kobe had emerged as the best wing player in the NBA.  They also had Robert Horry, the most clutch role player in NBA history.   But by sheer volume of winning he has to be considered one of the greats.

But now onto the eulogy for the Kobe Bryant era because make no mistake, he is done being the top dog on a title team.  So if in the 2012-2013 season Kobe Bryant is playing with Chris Paul and Dwight Howard or some combination of star power like that, Michael Jordan’s legacy as the single greatest player/winner (all due respect to Bill Russell) is under no threat.  If Michael Jordan had joined the San Antonio Spurs instead of the Washington Wizards in his third career, those would have still been Tim Duncan-led titles.  But let’s not talk about Kobe’s inevitable and impossible quest to pass Michael Jordan.  Let us examine the Kobe era, which Kobe fans would have you believe spanned from 1999 until the day Kobe Bryant dies.  I would argue that, if I were generous, the Kobe Era int he NBA was from 2003 to 2009.  But whether you agree on these years or not, a reasonable person should agree that it is over now.

Kobe – The Early Years

Everyone knows about Lebron’s “Decision” but have people forgotten how Kobe refused to go to Charlotte and said he would only play for the LA Lakers?  Kobe fans like to mythologize or lie and pretend that teams “passed” on Kobe, but most teams were scared off by the threat of a petulant 18 year old to not sign with anyone besides the Lakers.  Lebron told Cleveland to fu*k off after 7 seasons.  Kobe told Charlotte to fu*k off on day 1.

Kobe – The Shaq Years

One of the keys to making the Shaq-Kobe alliance was Phil Jackson’s admission that he needed to handle Kobe with kid gloves for the early stage of his career.  That nursery school treatment of his fragile ego (ahem, I mean competitive fire) plus playing alongside the most physically dominant player since Wilt Chamberlain allowed Kobe to get three titles.  Shaq collected three Finals MVP trophies, deservingly so, but I will admit, that by the third title they had gone from 1, 2 to 1A, 1B.  But Kobe, like any Shakespearean or Disney villain, decided that after 4 straight trips to the NBA Finals it was time to make the Lakers decide between Shaq and Kobe (team first, right?).  So the Lakers picked wisely in the long run (I will admit) by sticking with the younger player less likely to pack on pounds.

The Kobe Only Years (a/k/a What Lebron took the Cavs to the Finals with in 2007)

2004-05 – 37-45 (missed playoffs, but beat a rape charge)

2005-06 45-37 (1st round loss to the Phoenix Suns)

Let’s not forget that the series against the Suns went 7 games and Kobe quit during the second half against the Suns (taking 3 shots the entire second half, apparently to prove that a shi*ty team would lose without it’s best player – very Jordan-esque).

The Pau Gasol Years (2006-2009)

Kobe finally got an All Star big man to compliment him again (but fortunately not to overshadow him).  Three trips to the finals (with another memorable quit performance when Paul Pierce took Kobe’s will and the decisive Game 5 in 2008.  By the way that same year Lebron led Mo Williams and Anderson Verajao 7 games against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals).  But then Kobe took the title in 2009 and 2010, but taken in the context of 2011 there are a couple of reasons why I think the Kobe era (as individual best player) cannot be reasonably extended beyond the 2009 victory (even though I personally think it ended the year LeBron won his first MVP in 2008-09).

First, look at the box scores of the 2010 Finals.  Kobe averaged 28 pts per game on 40.5% FG shooting.  Meanwhile, Pau Gasol, who led the Lakers in minutes that series and had to do battle with Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins inside led the series in rebounding, blocked shots, was second on the Lakers in scoring and shot 48% from the field.  Not to mention that Kobe shot 6-24 from the field in the decisive Game 7.  Meanwhile Lebron, who was leading the squad of diabetically-fat Shaq & Co. had just had back-to-back Jordan-prime level seasons.  (Yes he got blasted from the playoffs by the Celtics and yes he appeared to quit on his team in the final game – making Kobe the 2-1 split decision winner in games quit), but based on many trips to Cleveland there really appeared to have been truth to the “Delonte West, or one of his personalities, fu*ked Lebron’s crazy mom” rumors.  Imagine Karl Malone had fu*ked Kobe’s wife in 2004 when he was “hunting little Mexican girls.”  I bet Kobe would have more than 2 quits under his belt.

But the Mavericks series that just ended really exposed the end of the Kobe era.  Admittedly his supporting cast played terribly.  But there was not even a fight.  The lesson – when Kobe has the supporting cast he can be a champion – this is true of any champion, so this is not a shot at Kobe.  But when Kobe has had underperforming supporting casts (2004-05, 05-06, 10-11) he lies down with the rest of his team.  He may get his stats, but unlike Magic Johnson or LeBron James, or obviously Michael Jordan, his stats do not necessarily make those around him better.

2009-Present – The Lebron James Era

I believe LeBron James is the most dominant player in the NBA and has been for the last three years.  The same way from 2000-2003 Shaq may not have been the “most skilled” player on his tea or the league, he was the single best player in the league during that span based on the simple criteria “no one can guard him or stop him.”  It cannot be understated how awful LeBron’s supporting cast was.  He took the equivalent of Kobe’s 2004-06 team (yes Smush Parker and Chris Mihm, but also Lamar Odom was on the team too) to an NBA Finals appearance and twice had the best regular season record in the league.  He left Cleveland ringless and in a poor fashion to say the least, but remove Kobe from the 2009/09 Lakers you have a 50 win playoff team (in case you doubt me from 2004 to 2006 Pau Gasol won between 45 and 50 games each year as the star for the Memphis Grizzlies).  Remove LeBron from a 66 win Cleveland Cavaliers team and you have… well you have the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now LeBron decided to take his talents to South Beach, probably for two reasons.  One is that many people refused to acknowledge his greatness without the currency of championships.  Fair enough I suppose.  The other is he wanted to play with his friends.  Sort of lame in the Michael Jordan model of champions.  But neither of these things stop LeBron from being the single most impressive force in the NBA today.  And for the next several years it will be his league, no matter who they give MVP trophies to.

To put it into James Bond terms – Michael Jordan is Sean Connery, Kobe Is Roger Moore and LeBron James is Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig (in Casino Royale only) combined.  And yes, I think we need to acknowledge Tim Duncan here as a 4 time champion so he is George Lazenby.

Why Kobe is Diet Jordan

With the passing of the Kobe Era I feel it is time for me to acknowledge something out of Kobe’s control.  He grew up in the shadow of the NBA’s greatest player, playing the same position as MJ.  If he played small forward, or point guard or power forward there would have been room for him to carve out his own image and transform the position.  But playing shooting guard he just played out as the greatest Michale Jordan cover band of all time.  For example, if someone was a Whitney Houston impersonator in Las Vegas, they would have to have incredible vocal talent.  But they would still not quite be Whitney Houston.  That is how I look at Kobe.  He is better than almost anyone in NBA history (but I would have him behind both Jordan and Lebron), but his comparison is to the greatest and he is wanting.  Fewer titles, fewer Finals MVPs, fewer regular season MVPs (I am making this comparison because they have had equal career totals – comparisons with LeBron on career statistical measures is not realistic yet) more games quit and lower career averages.  Plus, all his copycatting of MJ and most awfully the “Jaw Face” is far inferior to “the tongue.”

So Kobe had a great career and was the closest thing we had to Jordan since Jordan.   But LeBron is a new mold of player – a sort of genetic hybrid, evolutionary step forward of Karl Malone and Magic Johnson.  Kobe was a descendant of Jordan and a worthy heir, but not quite as good as the original.  That said, if Kobe’s Hall of Fame speech is a list of people he didn’t like I will start booing and chanting “MJ!”

But in case you forgot, there is one other reason Kobe can never be as great as Michael Jordan…

Can Skin Color Be An “Image Problem?” The NFL…

Yesterday on there was a poll asking, “which sports league is has the most damaged image?”  The poll results of over 60,000 respondents were as follows:

  • NHL (hockey) – 2%
  • MLB (baseball) – 6%
  • NBA (basketball) – 33%
  • NFL (football) – 60%

Now I agree that football must be number one, but the 33% that selected the NBA make me curious, especially when compared to the 6% that thought baseball had the worst image.  Baseball is of course the sport that has been/is rife with drug abuse and performance enhancement that prompted congressional hearings.  But perhaps people just don’t care that much anymore, but having your entire league called dirty would seem to be pretty damaging.  And it cannot hurt when 90% of your league is Latino and White (a/k/a not black).

Hockey can be dismissed as statistically insignificant since the only people who picked it had to have been hocky-only fans or people just goofing around.

That leaves the NFL and the NBA accounting for 93% of the image problems.  The NBA has had its image problems, but only two incidents stick out in the last decade – the Kobe Bryant rape allegations and the melee in Detroit a few years ago.  Both bad, but the Bryant allegations stemmed from a willing sexual partner, who went to his room and then alleged unwanted forms of sex.  If true, then Bryant is still a rapist, but there is a boatload of reasonable doubt there.  As for the melee in Detroit, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson are batsh*t crazy, but they were assaulted first (via soda cup).  And who can forget Jermain O’Neal’s sliding punch during that melee – it would have made Jackie Chan proud!

But that is really all that has made headlines for the NBA recently.  Sure 10 years ago there was the “Who’s My Daddy?” story in the NBA about paternity issues and that still is a major issue, but is it more prevalent than the NFL?  Other stories from the NBA recently have been aboutgreat superstars playing great basketball.  Allen Iverson struggling with alcohol addiction would probably seem sadder if did not look like people’s image of a gangbanger.

Now I am writing this not about the 40,000 people that answered that football was having the biggest image problem, but the 20,000 random visitors who picked the NBA.  How can you pick the NBA as having a worse image than the NFL (and with the recency effect I would expect these numbers are actually higher, given that the NFL has the more recent scandals, than they would be if the timing were equal)?  Here’s some “evidence”:

Who’s My Daddy

The reigning king of paternity is Travis Henry with 9 kids by 9 women by the age of 28. The New York Jets new cornerback  Antonio Cromartie had to get an advance on his salary to handle several alimony payments.  Even if the leagues have identical problems, the NFL’s have made the more recent headlines.  And while we are here, Tom Brady seemed to avoid any scrutiny for knocking up his girlfriend and then leaving her for a model.  I guess it’s cool if you are Tom Brady. Perhaps because Tom Brady is a ladies’ man.  If he were Donovan McNabb he might be “shirking his responsibilities.” Or maybe not, but that is just one case. Let’s continue looking at the total body of information.

Rape & Pillage

Ben Roethlisberger has turned out to be a possible serial rapist.  Even if he and Kobe did nothing wrong – what is more lacking in character from comparable stars – consensual sex in your room that goes too far, or banging drunk girls in bars while your bodyguards prevent the girl’s friends from entering?  You’re right – being black. (I am not defending Kobe, obviously).

Murder Was The Case That They Gave The NFL

Murderers – Ray Lewis, Rae Carruth, Donte Stallworth (this season) – one alleged, two convicted – all NFL.  And on a related, but lesser note – Dog killing – Michael Vick, the ASPCA’s Hitler.  I don’t think it is the same level as the things above, but let’s not pretend that it did not tarnish his image and the NFL’s a little.

Male Enhancement

Performance enhancing drugs – I only know that Rashard Lewis was suspended for an over the counter (allegedly) substance.  There have been a lot more Shawne Merrimans and Bill Romanowskis in the NFL.

Two Tickets To The Gun Show

Pac Man Jones – punches strippers in the face – his entourage paralyzes a bouncer at a club with a stray bullet – he is the poster boy for bad character in sports.  Marvin Harrison – gun incident.  The worst the NBA has had – Gilbert Arenas – who turned out to be the worst practical joker (or the best if you think like me).

So the NFL has the NBA trumped on felonies, paternity superstars, animal abuse and performance enhancement drugs, so the question is, what does the NBA have that the NFL doesn’t:

A higher percentage of black men. And those black men have lots of visible tattoos.  In the NFL the only black divas are the wide receivers, but in the NBA they are all divas, except for the occasional smart, hard working, scrappy white guys.

Give me a break.

Isn’t it clear that the 33% are either stupid or prejudiced?  This is the response I got on Facebook to that question:

So wait, nothing even resembling a majority number in a bullsh*t poll is supposed to make a statement about what people think about black people?
Travis Henry? Sheee-it Shawn Kemp invented that shit.
As far as I know, Ben Roethlisberger’s accusers aren’t fairing too well…and lastly, I actually happen to agree that football players in …
See MoreAmerica in a lot of cases are frakking animals (whte or black) and most hoopsters aren’t…buuuut football is a sport that has a much stronger team identity of hardworking guys who get paid SUBSTANTIALLY less than their NBA primadonna counterparts. This stix in the craw of the white people who might-MIGHT be responsible for this socalled 33%
Now I agree that the poll has no scientific merit, but I have no reason to believe that it is not an accurate snapshot of the average sports fan in America.  But the person who commentedhas always commented whenever  have made disparaging anti-Republican/Joe Lieberman comments so I am guessing his political leanings are to the right, even if not far right.  And this is instructive – look at the immediatetly defensive tone as if I was calling him out.  Some quick counters:
  • So if racism is not in a majority it is not worth calling out?
  • All People? – no just the 20,000+ average sports fans who see the NBA as a bigger image fu*k up than the NFL
  • “Hardworking team identity” – sounds like Hilary Clinton appealing to the Western PA voters in the 2008 primary
Now I am not casting any aspersions on the commenter, but I do feel the language of the debate is telling (after all he eventually agrees with part of my point that the NFL is worse than the NBA). And I understand not wanting race to be infused where it does not belong because it is such an inflammatory topic, but sometimes it has to be. For every Tawana Brawley there’s a Rodney King; for every Duke Lacrosse Team, there’s the four cops who shot Amadou Diallo.  Just because racism is damaging and touchy does not mean that it can’t be easy to see sometimes.
I honestly believe there is no way to say that the NBA has a bigger image problem than the NFL without being prejudiced or stupid.  Image is made by headlines and superstars.  The NBA has almost all black superstars.  The NFL has several white superstars and they are basically the front men for the band that is the NFL (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre).  Now the negative headlines are overwhelmingly with the NFL, but the well known white faces are overwhelmingly with the NFL as well (sorry Dirk Nowtizki and Steve Nash).  And apparently for 33% of sports fans (I’m willing to make that extrapolation, even though the poll does not probably reach more low income, non-computer having sports fans) the faces trump the crimes.
And if you asked me, is 33% of America at least a little racist, I’d probably answer yes, so the poll only shocked me because I thought sports fans would see beyond that in greater numbers.  But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – after all I sat next to a white  guy at a Steeler game last year who called an opposing team’s player a Nig*ger, all while wearing the jersey of a nig*er named Santonio Holmes.  I’d hate to see that guy at a basketball game, but I’m pretty sure how he would answer that ESPN poll.

Salt Lake City Thriller

Yesterday I was part of a magnificent game between the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Kevin Durant scored almost at will, but Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer also had great games.  With less than two seconds left in the game Deron Williams hit a game winning shot over two Thunder players to give the Jazz a one point lead.  What is quirky about this is that it occurred on the corresponding season game on my video game yesterday morning as I left for the airport.  Sometimes life imitates art and sometimes life imitates video games. (or another true example –  sometimes a hockey player that “dated” your ex scores a goal on you in NHL10).

The day did not start with good omens.  As I got on my Delta flight to Salt Lake City I observed an Indian family of four sitting in my row of three.  I had an aisle seat because my legs are a long, awkward nuisance and I cannot physically sit in the middle seat or a window seat unless absolutely necessary.  The family, whose English was limited, but whose baby’s screaming was proficient, looked at me with this look like the father in Blood Diamond who did not want to be separated from his family.  I just said, “I can’t switch seats with you because your seat is a window and I am a giant.”  So my trip to Hoops Mecca began with breaking up a family.

When I arrived in Utah I was blown away by the white landscape. And the snow capped mountains as well.  Seriously, the scenery was beautiful and there were actually more minorities than I expected. Granted, it had the diversity of a NYC law firm, but that was better than what I expected, which was the diversity of Friends.

Among the pre-game highlights were standing on the street named after John Stockton and seeing a sign that indicated that drinking was not illegal in Salt Lake City.  Expectations were getting obliterated by the minute!

I went to the arena around 6 pm (one hour before game time) to look around and to spend money in the gift shop like a crack addict in New Jack City.  There were also several groups, who apparently did not make the cut for halftime shows – a series of awkward child dancing routines.  I think everyone who knowingly shows up to pre-game early to watch this (that isn’t related to the kids or an unknowing out-of-towner) should be automatically registered on sex offender lists.

Something else I noticed was how many doors I held for people in Utah without getting a thank you.  Perhaps it’s a cultural thing or perhaps I have been too harsh on Manhattan as the King City of Rudeness.  Or maybe it was just a coincidence.

In the Energy Solutions Arena my seats were so close to the court that I could actually see concern on Paul Millsap’s face when he looked in my direction and saw me wearing his jersey.  His thought may have been – why is that grown man wearing my jersey? And why is he so big and not playing?

The pre-game warm-ups featured the Jazz mascot “Bear” who is a anthropomorphous bear who comes into the arena on a motorcycle to greet the Jazz starters.  It sounds weird, but it makes perfect sense for a team called the Utah Jazz.

When the game started I felt like I was at a Tea Party rally.  There were angry white people yelling things at black men they did not support that made no sense.  It seemed like at the beginning of the game the emotions ran much higher than rational thought.  Every call that was made against the Jazz drew jeers, no matter how right the call was.  And the young woman sitting next to me was literally overflowing with bad heckles – her best was shrieking that Russel Westbrook (pt guard for the Thunder) should call himself Westbrick!  The guys next to me were a little better because they kept calling Serge Ibaka (center for Thunder) Chewbakka (which I got laughs for when I did a decent Chewbacca impression).

The game was going well for the Jazz early, but Ibaka (ggggggggggggggg) helped keep the Thunder in the game.  At halftime the Jazz were actually down 1.

There various amounts of intermissions provided humor.  There were the dancers, who shook their breasts and asses with great vigor, but because they were dancing to oldies half the time I guess it is less dirty than other franchises who dance to Whitesnake and Timbaland.  It was around this time that I heard my first and only anti Obama comment from the people behind me.  That was 7 less than I expected.

There was also a brief acknowledgement of the Salt Lake City Bees who were either a minor league baseball team or a separatist militia. Oh wait – there were a couple of brown people with them.

I of course did yeoman’s work at the concession stand, but drew a “You don’t want cheese???” more incredulous than any I have ever received when I purchased some soft pretzel bites.

The second half turned a good game into what may have been the NBA Game of the Year to this point.  Deron Williams got filthy, CJ Miles alternated his play between Kobe Bryant, Dr. J and J-L Cauvin, solidifying him as unquestionably the most frustrating Jazz player. Carlos Boozer started dunking like a madman, but then Kevin Durant  happened.

Kevin Durant is my favorite player in the NBA not on the Utah Jazz.  He is built like Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, but has such an effortless and smooth game.  He will be the chief rival against LeBron’s James’ upcoming dominance because just as LeBron is so physically gifted, Durant has incredibly innate basketball gifts.

So the Durant show began and he just started pouring in points.  The game eventually was tied by Georgetown alum Jeff Green’s three pointer (as if the Law Center experience was not enough of a reason for me to hate G-Town) with 8 seconds left.

It was at this point that I noticed something odd – as legitimate passion and tension rose during the game:  the fans were not saying stupid stuff.  It seemed once they had to focus solely on exciting action they had no time to make inane and unfunny comments.  I grew to appreciate the crowd’s enthusiasm (though the Korver-to Millsap Jersey ration left some unfavorable in my mind – though I don’t begrudge the chicks for shrieking for Kyle Korver a/k/a Ashton Kutcher with a jumpshot).

In overtime the Jazz had the ball with five seconds left and the atmosphere was electric – just check my 3,898 Tweets during the game (  Boozer got the ball handed it off to Williams who nailed a jumper over two defenders with 1.1 seconds left.  (Please see that on my Twitter feed I wrote about the ending of my video game an hour before Williams re-played it in real life).  That was awesome.

Kevin Durant ended up missing a game winning shot thanks to CJ Miles gently slamming Durant’s forearm, but Durant was not going to get the call for a few reasons. One – Kevin Garnett had made a public and expensive complaint about Durant getting calls. Two – Durant over-dramatized the foul with leg flailing that only drew attention from the actual foul on his wrist.  Three – it did not happen on my video game.

So the Jazz finish up the J-L Jazz tour in dramatic fashion, giving me a 5-0 season at Jazz games.  It was a phenomenal trip and a phenomenal game.  Now I need my plane to leave already so I can play Utah vs. Houston before tonight’s game.  If it happens again I’m calling Hollywood about a sequel to the Gerard “My native accent always creeps in to any role I play” Butler “film” Gamer.

“Tackle That Nigger” & Other Sights and Sounds At…

I was one of the big believers that some of the intense criticism (not so much the criticism itself, but the tone and language and unwarranted passion of the criticism) of President Obama was based on race.  People spoke of the tenor of the national conversation becoming increasingly hostile and aggressive.  Well, fortunately football fans in Pittsburgh do need the nuance of political arguments because they are more than happy to simply blurt out rude and offensive slurs.  Let me take you on a tour of this past Sunday’s Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns game.

As I walked to Heinz field with my brother we observed several classy t-shirts. “Baltimore sucks, Cleveland swallows” was one such shirt that was clearly debasing the national conversation on football and city supremacy.  Another shirt, however, caught our attention.  It simply said “Burn the Brownies.”  We joked to each other that there could be a not-so-subtle racial tone to that shirt. 

In Pittsburgh, Brownies are a rival and a euphamistic slur.
In Pittsburgh, Brownies are a rival and a euphamistic slur.

Everything seemed pretty normal walking to the stadium.  Fat men in Steelerjerseys mocked other fat men wearing Cleveland Browns jerseys.  My brother andI were actually quite surprised at the absence of homophobic slurs that usually abound at professional sporting events.  Maybe this would be an extra classy day at Heinz Field.

After we took our seats we were quickly joined by three men in our row.  They were all approximately 6’1, 220 lbs of high school football and college drinking weight.  They looked like they were about 22 years old.  They spoke like they were from the antebellum south, both in content and accent.  Here is what happened.

Sidenote- Can anyone explain to me how trailer parker/redneck is a uniform accent throughout the country?  I have met trailer parkers/rednecks from places as different as Alabama, Colorado and Michigan, but they all seem to have the identical twang. Weird.

1st Quarter

Comment one from Billy Bob (that is what I will call their ring leader) came at the expense of a black man wearing a Browns jersey.  Billy Bob yelled at this man, (loud enough for close by people to hear, but not loud enough for the man to actually hear) “Sit down Brownie, and I don’t just mean your jersey.” I gave Billy Bob the benefit of the doubt – either he had seen the former FEMA director or he was trying to be intentionally provocativefor his friends’ benefit, which as a comic I could understand a little.   Nothing to get to worked up over.

This guy is a fat racist.
This guy is a fat racist.

2nd Quarter

Listening to fans at a football game is generally like being at Church – don’t expect tons of logical or scientific words to be uttered.  In the former it makes sense because it is predicated on faith.  However, I am amazed at how dumb football fans can be, despite honoring it andfollowing it like it’s a religion.  In this quarter Billy Bob went to get some beers from the concession stand.  However, he was taking his “Terrible Towel,” which his buddy, Cletus, wanted to continue waving.  As soon as it was clear Billy Bob was going to throw the towel I knew it would land on my head.   Four seconds later as I sipped my hot chocolate, a terrible towel landed on my head. 

This angered my brother more than it did me, but what happened afterwards was even more awful.  Cletus, in his drunken 81 IQ way explained to me in these exact words, “Oh man, I’m sorry.  He was trying to throw the towel at me and hit you in the head.”  Oh, thanks for clarifying that for me!  I would have never known that that is what happened, except for the fact that I saw Billy Bob throw a towel and felt it land on my head.  Moron.

Then Cletus, with a chance to star as lead idiot while Billy Bob got beers, turned and spilled his entire current beer on an 11 year old kid in front of him.  Moron.

This kid had a beer dumped on him by dumb, racist crew.
This kid had a beer dumped on him by dumb, racist crew.

3rd Quarter

This climax of this experience occurred during this quarter.  With the Cleveland Browns running the Wildcat offense with a black player playing the quarterback (I don’t know most of their players’ names because they suck – oh correction – they swallow according to the Pittsburgh area literature) the Browns began to make some good plays.  And then, after a particularly good play, Billy Bob uttered the words that ruined my day and possibly won Eastern Pennsylvania for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary against Barack Obama:

“Tackle That Nigger.”

This was one of those moments for me where time sort of stopped.  I felt like Zach Morris in Saved By The Bell where only I could speak or hear what was happening.  My thoughts were, in order:

1) I need to Tweet this (shameful, but very modern reaction)

2) Wait, did Billy Bob  just really say that?  And that loudly?

3) Why is no one looking around? Did anyone hear that?  Or are they ok with it?

4) Damn – I am sure this guy has little interaction with mixed race people, but even so, I am going to have hit up a tanning bed.  But he’d still be thinking it even if he was too embarrassed to say it.  I have had numerous experiences like this where white people have felt free to tell me all sorts of racist things because it was winter and they had no idea I was half black or half anything besides white.

5) Does Billy Bob realize that  he is wearing a Santonio Holmes jersey, who is quite black?  Or is this just emblematic of America’s tradition (diminishing, but still existent) of embracing blacks as entertainers only (even Obama had to brand himself as “cool”), while fearing, dehumanizing and/or denigrating blacks in other contexts.

My reaction was sort of dumbfounded and as I looked around, based on the composition of the immediate 5-6 rows (white, lots of rednecky accents) I did not think an argument, let alone a fight, would be advisable.  But hopefully my letter to the Steelers organization identifying the date and seat numbers will ensure that these guys have a tougher time getting into games and will have to just watch games from the Aryan Nation Father-Son Sunday Brunch.

4th Quarter

My brother and I sat with sort of a vomity look on our faces, not really enjoying the remainder of the game sitting in the KKK box. 

As I sit writing this now I am reminded that racism is alive and well in America.  However, I am just as annoyed with people who would read this, be disgusted and outraged by such overt racism, while reassuring themselves that they are not racist simply because they don’t speak the same language.  The people who did not even flinch when he said “Tackle That Nigger” are the bigger worry to me and there are a lot of them.  Perhaps I should have hit the guy or started something, but it felt like a useless reaction.  Not sure what I should have done exactly, but I wish I could of thought of something more satisfying than just “be pissed off.”

Of course all of this could have been averted if the Steelers tackling was better.