Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Xavier McDaniel, I Presume..."

(Since the Knicks continue to surrender second half leads and lose games I figured that we're going to need to do something else with this space on occasion. With that in mind I've trekked through the wilds of the Internets to find the latest news on some of our long-lost Knicks from happier times.)

Though only a Knickerbocker for a short time (2003-2004), Dikembe Mutombo is someone that all of us know very well. The image of him laying beneath that hoop in Seattle, arms extended, clutching that basketball after his Nuggets upended the top-seeded Sonics is one of the iconic images for an entire generation of hoops fans. And, so is his finger-wag. I think the fact that he has moved around to so many teams (Nuggets, Hawks, Sixers, Nets, Knicks, Rockets) keeps him from being as beloved as he deserves. He is a 4-time Defensive Player of the Year, 8-time All Star and owner of the best Cookie Monster impression this side of Sesame Street. He is Hall of Famer on the court and perhaps the greatest humanitarian off the court that the NBA has ever seen. And, four years ago Isiah Thomas, that great evaluator of talent, told him that he was washed up and should hit the beach.

Fran Blinebury of the Houston Chronicle was talking with Dikembe about the fact that he is being honored by the NBA and the Rockets for his impressive career and the conversation veered towards the manner in which then-General Manager (but not yet coach) Isiah dismissed the veteran center's ability to contribute and traded him unceremoniously to the Chicago Bulls, for whom he would never play a minute. Mutombo explains to Blinebury in the Chronicle that it was Isiah's insulting words that drive him to excel still and that have made him able to step into the starting lineup the past two seasons when Yao has gone down with injury.

"It's still a wound... My wife and I still talk about it. It's still a bit sad to see the commissioner coming and all those people coming to celebrate the 17 years of my career and accomplishments and you look back and say that about (four) years ago, I had a guy tell me that I couldn't play basketball no more, to go to the beach and onto vacation. That's the same guy who's losing his job tomorrow. ... I never said nothing (to Thomas),' Mutombo said. 'The last time we played at the Garden (Jan. 9), my wife asked me to go shake his hand, to just forgive him. I went and shook his hand and I told him, 'On behalf of my wife, I want to shake your hand and I forgive you for everything you've done to me."

Dikembe is a deservedly proud man and he pulls no punches when he talks about Isiah. And, I love it. I'm glad that the only guy in the NBA that Isiah Thomas has successully motivated during his (soon to be over?!?!) tenure in New York is playing in Houston. I'm glad that Isiah shipped out the guy who led the league in blocked shots four times while his teams ranks last in that category by a country mile.

Wednesday's Starting Five

1. David West. The Teaneck, NJ native scored 35 points last night, grabbed 16 rebounds, snagged three steals, blocked two shots and notched one assist as the Hornets beat the Pacers in Indiana to go percentage points ahead of the Lakers for first place in the Western Conference. He scored 37 on the Celtics last weekend when the Hornets defeated them and 23 against the Rockets in another W for his club. He is as dominant and dependable big as you're going to find this side of Garnett and Stoudamire right now.

2. Chris Paul. Remember all that great stuff that David West has been doing lately? Well, this guy deserves some of the credit. His play at the point has helped West realize all that potential that he had coming out of Xavier in 2003 as the winner of the Oscar Robertson Trophy and the Adolph Rupp Trophy as the nation's best player. Chris Paul didn't do too poorly himself last night - 31 points, 14 assists and 3 steals - and deserves to win the MVP award this season and will only lose because Kobe is awarded for his body of work over several seasons. Paul makes his teammates better. Like All-Star better. Both Chandler and West are vastly improved due to his playmaking ability. He has made them every bit as formidable as Gasol and Bynum. In fact, he may make them better.

3. Manu Ginobli. He's so good at basketball that no one even mentions his eerie resemblance to Balki Bartokomos. The Argentinian wonder had 28 points last night to lead the Spurs in scoring as they topped the Magic. There are better basketball players in this league but I don't know if any of them are having better seasons. Well, except for Chris Paul.

4. Highlights. What a big night for every manner of Top-Ten highlights list. With real honest-to-goodness baseball back in our lives every highlight package on every sports program is infinitely better. Just slotting Jacoby Ellsbury's great catch between some hoops and hockey highlights made everything better.

5. Rich Harden. The A's pitcher tossed a gem this morning that few in Oakland saw. After all, these games start at 3 a.m. on the left coast. He struck out nine Red Sox over six innings and earned the win as the two teams split the series in Japan.

Benched. Alex Rodriguez. There is nothing as awkward as someone who wants to be liked so badly that they become altogether unlikeable. Except for A-Rod. Somehow he makes you feel even more uncomfortable than those people. He brings some calculating shininess with him that ups the evil quotient to match the desperation levels. It's almost sad how much he wants to be beloved and how often he is his own worst enemy. It's almost sad, but not quite. Not only has he been linked by truth-telling Jose Canseco to a steroids dealer but he also gave an interview to the Daily News the other day when he admitted that he wishes he would have signed with the Mets when had the chance. All in all, he heads into the 2008 season as much the lightening-Rod as he ever was.