Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Xavier McDaniel, I Presume?"

(Since the Knicks continue to surrender second half leads and lose games I figured that we need to do something else with this space on occasion. With that in mind I've trekked through the Internets to find the latest news on some of our long-lost Knicks from happier times.)
We might need to pass the hat around this week to help one of our favorites. Former Knick Latrell Sprewell isn't doing so hot during this almost-but-not-yet recession. I'm not sure if it was because of a subprime mortgage, a copiously jeweled chalice or a luxury seafaring vessel, but somehow the catalyst behind the team's run to the 1999 NBA Finals is strapped for cash. His home is up for foreclosure and he had to sell his yacht at auction to help pay off the million+ that he owes to creditors. 

Sprewell played 13 seasons in the NBA for the Warriors, the Knicks and the T-Wolves, his hometown club. He was a 4-time All-Star, but hehasn't played pro ball in a few years. He famously turned down a $21 million contract extension from the T-wolves during the '04-'05 season, quipping that he wanted more money because he "has a family to feed." Being broke, I hope at least the irony is appreciating at a better rate than whatever assets he still has. 

All jokes aside, this sucks. I like Spree and I wish he would have just gotten himself back in the league after getting his bluff called a few years ago. He was the beating heart of a Knicks team unsure of itself as Patrick's injuries mounted. He was just like Renaldo Balkman, except 1,007 times better at basketball. He could defend anyone in the game, he could run the floor, he had a sense of the moment and willingly played out of position for the good of the team.  A team that he led to the Finals. 

I don't know if it's really his choice to stay away from the game or if he just can't get a gig. And, if he can't get a gig, I wonder how much of that has to do with that whole choking thing. Either way, the best part about Sprewell appearing in the news is a reminder that he he had named his luxury yacht "Milwaukee's Best." And, yes, he is from Milwaukee. 

Stay classy, Spree.

"Then get me his non-union, Mexican equivalent!"-Mr. Burns

With word getting out that the end of the television writers' strike is imminent it was the perfect time for me to realize that the strike is really the best thing that has happened to me in a while. Well, except for my girlfriend and my job and my family and my friends and all that stuff. After all that, this strike has been pretty great to me. And, now it's just about over.

Although, for once I can say that I actually realized how good something was just before it was gone. That's probably better than realizing it after it's gone. I think. Anyway, my enjoyment of the strike became clear while sitting down for a few minutes of American Gladiators last night. In case you aren't totally aware, this show is terrible. Since almost as much ink has been spilled lamenting this fact as silicone has been used trying to feminize the female gladiator-esses, I won't belabor this point any further than to simply reiterate that this show is terrible. Just terrible. And I wanted to like it. I really did. But how can you?

I am indebted to the program nonetheless, though, as it was one of Wolf's catcalls that triggered my "I Love the Strike" epiphany. Wolf, in case you don't already know and loathe him, is the Gladiator composed of two parts White Goodman from Dodgeball, one part professional wrestler and three parts gay-biker-pinup. Not that there's anything wrong with that. He actually makes the weird, slick-backed and puffed Staten Island residing contestants seem almost like normal people. Almost.

But I digress, the writers' strike was a great thing (for me as a viewer) because it weened me off the plug-in drug that is TV and showed me that reality television is nothing but broadcast methadone. The strike has also made clear the differences between those people who will watch, and take seriously, just about anything that is put on the airwaves during primetime and those who won't. Those who are addicted to that sweet network nectar have blindly accepted such gems as Steroid Obstacle Course (the aforementioned Gladiator), Pick a Hand (Deal or No Deal) and Do I Have More STDs Than a 5th Grader (this might have actually been the name of that show...) while the rest of us have been forced, or rather allowed, to do something else with our weeknights. It has been a revelation.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not against television. I can get as absorbed in the cougar-trap related misadventures of Kim Bauer as the next guy but there are really only a handful of shows (The Office and 30 Rock among them) that I WANT to watch with any regularity (not counting re-runs of The Simpsons and Seinfeld which I do watch daily). For me, and I would guess for many, most of the television that I watch is television that I watched just because it was on in my living room. I've had dog-years stolen by My Name is Earl. Damn you Jason Lee!

Without situation comedies clogging the airwaves and sucking me or any of my housemates in, I've become much more selective about what I view and I've discovered that each night is full of competitive and compelling sporting events. In the past week (or so) I've had the privilege to catch these exciting games:

Indiana vs. Illinois: The background was super-frosh Eric Gordon's belated arrival on the campus of Illinois. He had originally comittted to Illinois before deciding to stay in his homestate for his one-year collegiate career. The foreground was a taught game in as lively an atmosphere as you're ever going to get from a studio audience. The Hoosiers stormed back from a double-digit second half deficit to win by 4 in overtime. Gordon had a phenomenal second half after being held in check, by the crowd, and the Illini, in the first half

Kansas State vs. Kansas: 1 undefeated team + 1 uber-talented one-and-done freshman + 1 one-sided "rivalry" = high drama and upseterrific television.

BC vs. BU Beanpot Semi-Final: Last Monday night featured a classic brawl between these two rival schools. Befitting the teams and the tourney, the game was decided in overtime.

Hornets vs. Suns: This double-OT thriller, headlined by Chris Paul and Steve Nash, is the best basketball game I've watched all year. Both PGs were out-of-this-world and the game ended on buzzer-beating jumper by Peja in the second OT.

Last night, was no different. Well, except for the Gladiator interlude. But, after that I retired to another television to catch the Finals of the annual Beanpot tournament, pitting Boston College against Harvard. By the time the zamboni hit the ice after OT there had been 11 goals.

Once, the Eagles locked up that game over on NESN I headed back downstairs to join the last few momets of Kansas vs. Texas on ESPN. Kansas had the ball down by three with plenty of time left when I checked in. Of course, the Jayhawks went for the three-point shot rather than a quick two, though. Rush missed from the corner and the game spiraled from there. Another upset in conference play that really can't be considered too much of a surprise, just like Maryland over anyone in the ACC.

Further down the dial from the postgame coverage out of Austin was NBA TV and the beard-off between Baron Davis of the Warriors and DeShawn Stevenson of the Wizards. The game was out of hand early on with Washington jumping out by tens and dozens of points but the facial hair competition was heated throughout. Baron's beard is clearly more mature and distinguished while Stevenson's beard is clearly more aggressive and tenacious. It's hungry.

With my sporting-fill for one night I figured it was safe to head to bed, but within the time it takes to brush one's teeth Stephen Jackson had pulled the Warriors, by the hairs on Baron's chinny-chin-chin, right back into the game. And, they miraculously win going away! Now, that is a night of television. I don't care what NBC or ABC or QVC is going to roll-out, there is nothing that will stack up against this night hour-for-hour.

So, to sum up, last night gave me two electric basketball games and one overtime hockey thriller. And, though these games are ones that I would have been interested in pre-strike I doubt that I would have caught most of them. I woud likely have gotten home from work, forgotten that they were on and been absorbed by whatever "was on." I could have ended up watching House instead of the Beanpot. Can you imagine, missing that great game because some loopy patient forced House to make the toughest decision of his career?

However, with nothing "on" I have become more attuned to all the things I had been missing. All the things that had really been going on all along. So, in a way, I (and, maybe, you) have become like some sports-watching doppelganger for the superhero Daredevil, who after being blinded as youngster develops his other senses en route to a career as a famous crime-fighter. For me, the writers' strike is like the childhood accident and my awareness of all the great sports on television is like his ability to battle villians. The similarities are uncanny.

For example, tonight I know that I can watch Denver play Miami or Atlanta play Detroit, I can check out a Big Ten tilt between Michigan State and Purdue, or the SEC meeting between Kentucky and Vandy. Or, maybe, I'll see what games from this weekend are being replayed on FoxSoccer Channel. It would nice if the Arsenal/Blackburn game was on. If not, I can see what comes in the mail from Netflix. Hopefully, We Own the Night and Once, will be in the mailbox when I get home. One of those may be for Valentine's Day and the other may not.

Either way, I look forward to enjoying another night of choice and live-action before the sitcoms, dramedies and procedural cop shows take over again. I look forward to at least one more night of real, as opposed to "reality," drama and entertainment before the laugh tracks attack.

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. Stephen Jackson. Leading a monumental comeback against the Wiz, Action Jackson had 41 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter. A few punches to the face of a fan have made a lot of people overlook how good this guy is. He is as fierce a competitor as there is in the league today and he has a great sense of the moment. Just ask the Spurs about that 2003 championship that Jackson helped them win.

2. Nick Petrecki. The Boston College freshman defenseman skated onto the ice last night having never scored in a collegiate game. By the time he skated off he had netted two, including the OT winner in the Beanpot Final against Harvard. This game showcased the best of college hockey: up-and-down play, changing momentum, some officiating controversy and lots of goals. BC prevailed 6-5 in OT after toppling Boston University in OT last week to advance to the Final of the annual tournament that pits Boston's Big 4 hockey schools against one another.

3. Stan Van Gundy. The other VG called out his All-Star center last night after a dissapointing loss to the Cavs. Lamenting Dwight Howard's lack of focus during the postgame presser, Van Gundy said:
"To me, it's a matter of focus. His focus is on the offensive end -- he gets discouraged when he doesn't get the ball. I know the numbers prove that what we need him to focus on to win is defense and rebounding. But that's not what he wants to do right now, and so we've got a little bit of a conflict."
Personally, I love this. This is coaching. Van Gundy would go on to explain that the Magic have a dominant record whenever Howard blocks a certain, and very attainable, number of shots. He was using the media in a constructive way to motivate his player. Meanwhile, Isiah is telling passers-by in Midtown that Curry is a lock for MVP this season.

4. Larry Hughes. The "other guy" that needs to come through for Lebron to win a title this season had 40 points last night in a victory over the Magic. Is this a predictor of what we'll see in the postseason? Or, just the game Hughes needed to have in order to entice the Nets to take him in a deal sending Kidd to Cleveland?

5. Richard Zednick. He's the hockey player who got his throat slit the other night by a teammates skate. Thankfully, he is reportedly doing okay after surgery. That was a lot of blood on the ice...