Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

It's On

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

El Caballero del Santiago

Last night, New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes played in the 1,000th game of his career. The 28-year-old from Santiago in the Dominican notched four hits in a single game for the fourth time this season. He also scored three times and stole a base as the Mets routed the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Such a stat line is turning into a pedestrian night at the ballpark for this player whose churning legs propel him around the bases like one of those thin, streamlined Top Fuel dragsters that needs a parachute to stop before it bursts into flames.

Just outside Detroit's picturesque ballpark is a statue Tigers Hall of Famer Ty Cobb sliding, presumably into third. Widely considered the greatest ballplayer in the Deadball Era and arguably the most devastating non-power hitter that the game has ever seen, Cobb is a big enough deal that the one and only Tommy Lee jones portrayed him in a biopic. Such honors are not accorded to just any Texas Ranger sharing a house and learning life lessons with collegiate cheerleaders person.

Among Reyes' four hits was a triple in the fourth. It was his 98th career triple. The swipe was the 360th of his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other player with as many triples and stolen bases in his first 1,000 career games — since 1898, when the modern stolen base rule was enacted — was that very same Cobb, who had 106 triples and 391 steals.

Let's just take a moment to consider this fact: Jose Reyes, the very same player who becomes a free agent at the conclusion of this, thus-far, entertaining campaign, has begun his career with statistics that had previously only been achieved by Ty Fucking Cobb, the guy who earned the most Hall of Fame induction votes among the inaugural class to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

The signature image of Cobb - nicknamed the "Georgia Peach" in honor of his home and talent - is one of him recklessly tearing into third base with dirt flying and his spikes sharpened. According to Wikipedia, the Detroit Free Press (or the FREEP for those in the know) once referred to Cobb as "daring to the point of dementia." And, I'm pretty sure that the New York tabloids have said mostly the same about Reyes over the years. Fittingly, the increasingly recognizable freeze frame of Reyes is also one of him taking third like a flash flood. Except Reyes is coming, dirt still flying, arms extended and head first. Unlike the cantankerous Cobb, Reyes is joyful and effervescent in his play. He isn't trying to spike the third baseman to clear his path. Rather, he's going to pop up and throw his claw or whatever his celebratory hand gesture de jour is back to his wide-eyed teammates in the dugout. Cobb's critics didn't like him because they claimed he was a sonufabitch whereas Reyes' claim that he reminds them to much of their own overzealous and overconfident sons. Given the choice of head first or spikes first, I'd rather root for the smile.

For all his irrepressible athleticism and the deluge of base hits that got him to this point, I was particularly impressed by the patience Reyes showed in the final at-bat of his 1,000th game. I hope it points towards the player that Reyes will continue to become for whomever he plays the next 1,000 games of his career. With the Mets staked to a 13-2 lead in the 7th inning, Mets manager Terry Collins let Reyes take one last at-bat before pulling him from the game. With two singles, a double and a triple already scratched into our scorecards, he was one home run from the cycle. Collins only let him come to bat to try for that longball.

Reyes showed a modicum of patience by taking three balls that weren't particularly close to open the at-bat. Sitting 3-0 and sitting on the cycle, I'd have to think that he had the greenlight, or, at the very least, would be forgiven for running the red. But Reyes stood, bat on shoulder, and watched a strike come right down the middle. The count was 3-1 and it was clear that he was never, not even for a second, tempted to impulsively hack at that pitch. The next offering was another ball. Reyes took it, contentedly. He trotted down to first base with a wide smile on his face, where Ruben Tejada came in to pinch-run for him. That walk was Reyes' 26th of the season to go with the same number of strikeouts. In 2010, he notched just 31 in 133 games. I'd like to think that Mets' OBP-oriented brass took note of that at-bat.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Balancing the Books

After looking like an overmatched Minor League nine as they scuffled to a start the 2011 Major League season and then being stricken by injuries to middle-of-the-order bats Ike Davis and David Wright, the New York Metropolitans have scrambled their way back to mediocrity.

Once Gary Cohen officially put last night's 4-0 win over the Atlanta Braves in the books, the team's record was level at 34 wins and 34 losses. With a lineup stocked with players who began the season plying their trade for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, the Metsies have rebounded from that 5-13 start to post a winning record in May and a winning record so far into June. All told, they're 29-21 since that dismal start.

After years of strained relations between the fanbase and the team, these 2011 Mets have quietly become an easy team to root for because somewhere, somehow, the excitable Terry Collins has struck a chord in the Mets' own excitable boy: Jose Reyes. The team has taken on the demeanor of this unlikely pair and the result is an up-beat and relentless approach.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

No Slowing Speed Rey-cer

During the balmy, bright summers of yesteryear, when the sun showered a warm Technicolor-glow over every Big League diamond, baseball had a rough-hewn romance about it. Players were wide-eyed innocents who worked offseason jobs as carpenters and drank on the road with the newspapermen. Those sportswriters in turn treated ballplayers like heroes and had little interest in belittling or embarrassing them in the eyes of fans, who blissfully ignorant of advanced statistics treasure the RBI and the bunt. It was a simple time when the spitball was remembered fondly and the unruly, anything goes version of the game seems much closer at hand than the sterile, instant-replay iteration that exists today.

Back in the 1960s, as that era began to give way to this one, the Dodgers' Maury Wills was a terror on the basepaths, two-leggedly returning the stolen base to a place of prominence in the game. His 50 swipes in 1960 were the most by a player in season since the 1920s. Two seasons later, Wills stole an eye-popping 102 bags to break Ty Cobb's record of 96 set back in 1915. Those 102 stolen bases were more than any other entire team had to their credit in 1962.

Playing on a Los Angeles Dodgers team led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, Wills' speed often made the difference in low-scoring games. He was so feared that, opponents would do anything they could to slow him down. And I read (I believe in some coffee table book about the "greatest" ballplayers) that the rival San Francisco Giants had a particularly effective means of halting Wills progress between bases at Candlestick Park. As best I remember from whatever it was I read (ed note: that's a disclaimer in case it wasn't the Giants and was actually the Reds or some other NL club), they would soak down the infield dirt with water until it was just a muddy bog. While this bit of gamesmanship seems quaint in the context of a James Bond-era rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants it would likely seem out of place in today's game when a fleet of groundskeepers patrol the infield of each field at regular intervals throughout each contest. At least, that's what I used to think.

Entering last night's game in Atlanta, New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes has been playing at a level that has sent the opposition scrambling to the scrapbook for answers. To counter the effervescent, dreadlocked speedster, who has been indomitable at the plate and relentless on the basepaths, the Braves allegedly soaked down the infield just like teams used to do when Wills was coming to town.

After leading off the game with a single, Reyes slipped rounding first. He would struggle with his footing as Braves starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens repeatedly attempted to pick him off. Perhaps out of spite or perhaps because he can't help himself, Reyes took off for second base all the same. He would slide in safely and soon come around to score on a Carlos Beltran single to center. The hit, steal and run that sprung from that first at-bat was the opening salvo in a 3-hit, 2-steal, 2-run and 1-RBI night. With his Major League–best 34th multi-hit game on the ledger, Reyes continues to rate near the top of the game in nearly every offensive category other than home runs.

While the wet track bothered the umpire and was the subject of an official complaint by the Mets' front office, Reyes took the challenge in stride. "It was a little wet," he told reporters after the game. "I don't know if they did that on purpose. ... I don't care if it's wet or not, I'm going to try to steal anyway."


During the pregame coverage of last night's opening round Gold Cup match between the United States and Guadeloupe, it seemed an inconvenience that DirecTV does not include Fox Soccer Channel in whatever basic cable package they beam onto my home via satellite. One the game kicked off, though, I hardly noticed the difference. My latent Spanish-speaking skills, honed over four years of high school and two of college, kept me vaguely aware of the commentary while the excellent HD picture and camera work of Telefutura really impressed.

When US forward Jozy Altidore launched a right-footed rocket in the top-corner of the Guadeloupe goal from distance there was no doubting that this Spanish-language station would be my Gold Cup channel of choice from here on out.

Altidore's second stellar score of the tournament provided the the only positive takeaway from a 1-0 victory that managed to be dispiriting while still sending the US Men's National team through into the second round.

Putting aside the point blank chance that US goalkeeper Tim Howard and virtually every member of the team yielded on an early corner kick, this game was marked by indefensible (and therefore easily defensed) misses by US players in front of goal, notably Clint Dempsey's lackadaisical squandering of a silver platter chance that could have killed off the game deep into the second half.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Promises in Flesh and Bravado

Just a few weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of basketball superstar LeBron James announcing that he would be taking his wealth of physical talents to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the 2011 NBA Finals concluded on the floor of American Airlines Arena in Miami. An impromptu stage was quickly erected by arena employees and NBA staff amidst the on-court celebration that erupted as the final whistle ended the championship series after six games. Delighted fans remained in the building, some crowding down into the lower bowl, to watch the trophy presentation. They cheered exuberantly as a team was awarded the Larry O'Brien Trophy by NBA Commissioner David Stern.

It was just the sort of scene that LBJ, Wade and Bosh had promised to a crowd of fans, many of whom were wearing freshly purchased Heat gear, when the trio was introduced in that arena shortly after all the contracts were signed last summer.

In his first public performance in a Heat jersey, James informed that crowd that he and his teammates would win several championships.

Well, one season down, one celebration on that same floor in Miami. Yes They Did?

False. It was, of course, the visiting Dallas Mavericks winning the championship in Miami. It was the Mavs' players, coaches and front office personnel being herded onto that makeshift stage on that floor in Miami. It was the vocal and shockingly large contingent of visiting Mavs fans that cheered from the stands (and likely found their seats in time for tip off) at American Airlines Arena, like so many road fans before them during the regular season. And it was Mark Cuban's team from Texas being presented with that championship trophy by his longtime foil, Commissioner Stern.

Back at that July 2010 pep rally turned title celebration, which occurred well before the new teammates had even soaked any of those jerseys the league was selling with a drop of sweat, the tag line was "Yes We Did." Past tense. James talked of the coming Heat dynasty like he'd traveled forward in time to 2015 and nabbed a copy of Gray's Sports Almanac. He reeled off the teams accomplishments as if they had already occurred. Past tense.

While the narcissistic Decision soured the public on James and his near-sighted retinue of overmatched courtiers, it was the self-congratulatory nature of the "Yes We Did" party that transferred all the LBJ hostility to the team as a whole. Who did they think they were? And did they really think that they could go take a shortcut to the championship that had eluded all-time greats like Patrick Ewing, Elgin Baylor and Charles Barkley?

Perhaps the sporting public was so offended by the pompous predictions because it actually seemed possible that this team - one that featured two of the top five players in the game (and a Bosh) - could laugh and backslap and fastbreak ally-oop its way to the top without the pain and turbulence that writers and fans want in their sporting dramas. And, to hear James explain it, the formation of the South Beach SuperFriends was going to remove the drama from the season altogether.

Now, I presume that the oligarchs of the Heat weren't the only NBA players confident that they were going to win a championship. I have no doubt that Kobe Bryant thought his Lakers were going to send Phil Jackson off into retirement with another three-peat. In Boston, Kevin Garnett likely believed that he'd scowl and curse and crotch punch his way to a second ring. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may have been convinced that the Oklahoma City Thunder were ready to ascend to the top of the heap as well.

But none of these men were counting off the titles that they claimed to be poised to win with a jovial self assurance that made their successes sound imminent and inevitable. Or, at least, if any other All-Stars were claiming that their winning the title was a fait accompli then they were doing it behind closed doors.

Behind several sets of closed doors, there was one player who did something that was in its own way every bit as brash as the Heat's Premature Title Elation. Shortly before the 2010-11 season began, during a preseason team-only gathering at teammate Deshawn Stevenson's house, Mavericks' sixth man Jason Terry had the Larry O'Brien Trophy tattooed on his arm.

While James chose to televise seemingly every aspect of his transition to Heat and the subsequent fanfare, most basketball fans managed not to learn about the ink on Terry's shooting arm until just the other day. And the first time that we heard about that tat was quickly followed by the time we heard the news that he'd admitted he would likely have it removed if Dallas didn't win it all.

The news that Terry could be subjecting himself to the pain of tattoo removal (in which they essentially "remove" it by burning it off and covering it with scar tissue) reminded me of the time when my brothers and I all got our first tattoos together. As we were discussing how the two older siblings would be paying for the youngest, I cautioned, "It's one thing to have tattoo money, but it's something else entirely to have tattoo removal money."

Of all the differences between the Mavericks and the Heat, the ways in which they went about stating their goals for the season may be the most representative. While LBJ boasted publicly and arrogantly about NBA titles as if they were appointments to be kept rather than accomplishments, Terry's tattoo pain was aspirational and came with consequences. He wanted that title so badly, having come up short in 2006. That tattoo was also inspirational to his collected teammates, most of whom know how painful and permanent a tattoo is.

Yeah, Terry's move was over the top, too. Pretty crazy, actually. But it was altogether different. Because it was private. And because the risks were always part of it. Regret and embarrassment loomed larger for Terry than they likely ever have for the self-anointed King James. He admitted that he was going to have that tattoo removed if his team lost, while LeBron's postgame comments about not hanging his head and that shot he took at the lives of the folks rooting against him made it pretty clear that he's not reevaluating much or accepting any consequences from his actions.

Terry's tattoo was a challenge to himself and to everyone in his locker room that they would experience every day. In the present tense. While the Heat were left wondering why that they had already "YES WE DID" never happened in the first place.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Boy Who Would Be Kingman

With New York Metropolitans patriarch Fred Wilpon bringing down a media firestorm upon his team with his (harsh but admirably candid and exasperated) comments to New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin, the team has found another story to, temporarily, take over the back pages of the tabloids: According to everyone, the cash-strapped Wilpons have sold a minority stake in the team for $200 million.

I'm not sure if this is the beginning of the end of the Wilpon's stewardship of the franchise or if it's the move that keeps them afloat until the Madoff mess can be settled. Regardless, for the first time in a longtime someone else owns a substantial piece of the Mets (the deal does not include SNY). That person is David Einhorn.

Back when the financial world was collapsing around in 2008, he famously called out the Lehman Brothers for being on death's door (when they were still claiming to be healthy as a Bear Sterns horse. He was right. In any case, it seems he's got a tendency to speak his mind in high-profile situations about other high-profile folks or entities. In other words, he probably loved the New Yorker story.

Just as important as his business acumen to many of the paying customers is that Einhorn was a Mets fan when he was a kid. There has been a widely circulated shot of him dressed up as sometime Met slugger Dave Kingman.

A hedge fund manager, Einhorn made his fortune short selling. I keep my money in a jar beneath my bed so I'm not entirely sure what that means. But I do have suspicion that he may be banking on the Wilpons failing and being able to take over the team himself at a depressed price. Again, he should fit in fine around here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who Sang For Davey Moore?

Davey Moore's father was the pastor at the Jesus Only church in Urbania, Ohio. The Jesus Only church was a Pentecostal group asserting the primacy of Jesus at the expense of the Trinitarian theology that was - and continues - to be the norm in Christianity. Rather than baptising in the name of "The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," Moore's father put all his faith in the Son.

From April 1957 through in St. Patrick's Day 1960, the pastor's son certainly seemed infallible. He ran off an 18-fight undefeated streak as a boxer, picking up the Featherweight world title along the way by upsetting Hogan "Kid" Bassey in March 1959 in Los Angeles.

Just five decisions into his win streak in early 1958, Moore was described by Sports Illustrated boxing scribe Gilbert Rogin, in not entirely complimentary fashion, as “a chunky, clubfighter who punches solidly but does not always maintain the pace.” By the time he defeated Bassey the following year, Moore's profile had risen and his notices were much more favorable. Dubbed "the Springfield Rifle" for his place of residence and for his bullet-strong punches, boxing writers and fans gravitated toward Moore, the rare American excelling in the Featherweight division, where fighters cannot weigh more than 126 pounds.

During Moore's career, the division was populated mostly by Hispanic and European fighters. Bassey hailed from Nigeria, and was the country's first boxing champion. The polyglot composition of the Featherweight ranks had Moore traveling the world to find fights. Not one to duck an opponent, Moore had unseated Bassey with infected tonsils and a 101 degree fever. After granting Bassey a chance to regain the top spot in the Featherweight division, Moore successfully defended his title an additional four times (while taking and winning many non-title bouts along the way).

Moore won a title decision over Kazuo Takayama in Tokyo in 1960. He then knocked out Danny Valdez in the first round in Mexico to keep the crown in April 1960 in Los Angeles and before winning a unanimous decision over Takayama in a return to Tokyo later that year to keep the world title. After a pummeling left-right combination to the jaw left Takayama essentially out on his feet in the thirteenth, Moore eased up in the last two rounds with the triumph assured and his foe visibly dazed. In August 1962, Moore again put his championship on the line against Olli Maki in Helsinki, Finland (where he had participated in the 1952 Olympics). He stopped Maki by TKO with three knockdowns in the second round.

By the time that the 29-year-old Moore climbed through the ropes of the ring situated above the pitcher's mound at Dodger Stadium on March 21, 1963, he had amassed a career record of 59-6-1. The WBC and the WBA Featherweight titles were on the line back in Los Angeles as were world titles in two other weight classes. It was big night for boxing in one of America's newest sporting venues, which had opened up less than a year earlier in Chavez Ravine. The opening fight paired welterweight champ Emile Griffith against No. 1 contender Luis Rodriguez. Griffith had regained that title a year earlier in a match at Madison Square Garden in which he inflicted mortal injuries on his opponent, Benny Paret. The death of a prominent fighter in a prominent fight that was televised nationally on NBC brought down a firestorm of criticism on the sport, with many seeking to ban it altogether.

In the opening match of the tripleheader, Rodriguez relieved Griffith of the welterweight crown, to the delight of the largely Spanish-speaking crowd, some of whom were likely displaced as the Dodgers bought out Chavez Ravine residents in advance of building their new home. Up next, Moore and Ultimo "Sugar" Ramos, a Cuban fighter by way of Mexico, took center stage.

The 21-year-old challenger started timidly against the established champion but grew into the match to the delight of the partisan crowd. Moore rocked his younger pursuer in the second round with a combination of punches but the crowds chants of RA-MOS, RA-MOS seemed to keep his feet beneath him. Thanks to a rapid-fire left jab, Ramos loosened several of Moore's teeth and shattered his mouth guard. For his part, Moore's right hand would pummel Ramos, swelling one of his eyes. Ramos' assault culminated in the 10th round, when series of upper cuts forced Moore across the mat to the ropes on the center-field side of the ring. Once his retreat route was hemmed in by the ropes, Ramos landed a left hook that knocked Moore to the seat of his shorts. As he fell, his head snapped back against the lower rope. Referee George Latka quickly approached Moore and began his 10-count. The battered but proud champ was up by the time Latka reached three. He returned to his corner after the bell sounded the conclusion of the 10th round. Before the 11th began, Moore's manager Willie Ketchum signaled that his fighter was done for the night.

Fully under his own power, Moore trudged to his locker room, where he chatted amiably with the press. Aside from a bloodshot left eye, he hardly looked like a man who'd had to throw in the towel a full five rounds before the fight was scheduled to be over. Defeated but not deflated, Moore told reporters "I'll take the rematch, you better believe it. Look, you guys know that when I'm right nothing gets to me. Not nothing. I was off. That's it. plain and simple."

Moore would go on to laugh and joke with reporters: "Just like you writers, if you'd only admit it. Can't write a lick some days. Well, that was me tonight. I just wasn't up to my best."

To the press, the 5-foot-2 Moore may have sounded like an aging fighter trying to explain away his inevitable decline like so many fighters before and since. After all, Father Time remains undefeated in all weight classes. When those reporters rushed back to their ringside seats for the third bout of the evening, they may not have believed that Moore would regain his belt from Ramos, but they likely believed that they would be there to see him try. And they certainly didn't expect that he was about to die.

Shortly after Moore was left alone with Ketchum and sparring partner Ronnie Wilson, he began experiencing sharp headaches. He called for his manager. Moments later, he collapsed into a coma. Seventy-five hours after the fight he was dead at White Memorial Hospital. The cause of death was massive trauma to the brain stem, presumably suffered when the back of his head hit the bottom the rope in the 10th round.

California Governor Pat Brown seized on Moore's death to (again) call for the abolition of boxing. Even the Pope spoke out, proclaiming the sweet science was "contrary to natural principles." Of course, most people were convinced that boxing was actually too close to the sort of base and violent natural principles that English philosopher Thomas Hobbes laid out in Leviathan. One of the voices that rang out in the aftermath of Moore's death belonged to a young folk singer named Bob Dylan, who wrote and performed a song entitled "Who Killed Davey Moore?"

The song was never on any of Dylan's officially released albums during the 1960s but was an occasional part of his live act. When introducing it to a crowd in New York on Halloween 1964, Dylan, in prototypical ironic fashion, said:

"This a song about a boxer...
It's got nothing to do with boxing, it's just a song about a boxer really.
And, uh, it's not even having to do with a boxer, really.
It's got nothing to do with nothing.
But I fit all these words together...
that's all...
It's taken directly from the newspapers,
Nothing's been changed...
Except for the words."

The prominence of topical songs during the 1950s and '60s and in Dylan's early folk/protest work made such a subject far less unusual than it might seem from the distance of nearly 50 years. Because other than Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Machine and now of The Nightwatchman, I can't fathom any serious contemporary musician devoting an entire song (and space in their setlist) to asking "Who Killed Dave Duerson?"

"Who Killed Davey Moore?" by Bob Dylan:

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not I,” says the referee
“Don’t point your finger at me
I could’ve stopped it in the eighth
An’ maybe kept him from his fate
But the crowd would’ve booed, I’m sure
At not gettin’ their money’s worth
It’s too bad he had to go
But there was a pressure on me too, you know
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not us,” says the angry crowd
Whose screams filled the arena loud
“It’s too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight
We didn’t mean for him t’ meet his death
We just meant to see some sweat
There ain’t nothing wrong in that
It wasn’t us that made him fall
No, you can’t blame us at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says his manager
Puffing on a big cigar
“It’s hard to say, it’s hard to tell
I always thought that he was well
It’s too bad for his wife an’ kids he’s dead
But if he was sick, he should’ve said
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the gambling man
With his ticket stub still in his hand
“It wasn’t me that knocked him down
My hands never touched him none
I didn’t commit no ugly sin
Anyway, I put money on him to win
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the boxing writer
Pounding print on his old typewriter
Sayin’, “Boxing ain’t to blame
There’s just as much danger in a football game”
Sayin’, “Fistfighting is here to stay
It’s just the old American way
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist
Who came here from Cuba’s door
Where boxing ain’t allowed no more
“I hit him, yes, it’s true
But that’s what I am paid to do
Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill’
It was destiny, it was God’s will”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

(Happy 70th birthday, Bob)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Mudita

Friday, May 13, 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lakers Make Jet-Fueled Exit

(Or, perhaps, "Terry Slingshoots Lakers Out of Playoffs")

I was conflicted about constructing the headline for this post with "Lakers" being the subject. Because Kobe Bryant and Co. surely weren't the dominant nouns in Dallas yesterday. The Purple and Gold were throttled by the Mavericks, who were wrapping up a 4-0 sweep of the Phil Jackson-coached two-time defending champs. Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs were hungrier, deeper, classier and just flat-out better in every measurable way in Game 4.

Nevertheless, the story, at least for today, is about the Lakers. Just like, I'm going to guess, that the back pages of the sports section in Gath and various other districts in Philistine were about the fallen Goliath rather than the victorious David after that famous upset victory.

Admittedly, it's a bit of a stretch to portray any assemblage of athletes bound together by Mark Cuban's purse strings as an underdog. Yet, I don't know many folks that were tapping Dallas to outlast Portland let alone unleash their brooms (to borrow a phrase from Stephen A. Smith) on a team featuring a reality television personality Lamar Odom.

IIf we are going to cast Dirk in the role of David here, then I'm going to go ahead and select Jason Terry to play the part of the slingshot. Or maybe Dirk is the slingshot and Terry is the handful of stones that David brought into battle. Or maybe Terry is the slingshot and the nine three-point shots that he hit in Game 4 are the stones. Or maybe all of these things are not these things unless you are stoned.

Regardless, Terry played an inspired ballgame.

Below are the game situations for each of Terry's nine made three-point shots. The scores indicate the state of the game before each made three-point shot (with post-shot score in parentheses).

First Quarter


Terry 3-point field goal breaks tie puts Dallas ahead, 22-19. The Mavs never relinquish the lead. (22-19)

Second Quarter


The opening score of the second period keeps late first quarter momentum rolling for Dallas, pushes lead to seven points, 30-23, to give Dallas just a bit of breathing room. 30-23)


With Lakers center Andrew Bynum scoring four quick points to hold the line for the visitors, Terry hits another three-point shot, pushing the lead to 10 points at 37-27. Traditionally time-out averse L.A. coach Phil Jackson use a full time-out to try to rally his troops. The American Airlines Center is hysterical. (37-27)


The Skeletal Steve Blake hit what seemed a pivotal three after the aforementioned timeout to raise the Lakers' flagging hopes. But less than a minute (and a J.J. Barea jumper) later, Terry knocks down another three to get the lead back into double digits. Another Lakers' run is snuffed before it can ignite. Phil Jackson calls a 20-second timeout. (42-30)


Buckets are traded between Terry's consecutive timeout-inducing three-point shots and this one as the margin maintains at a dozen, still the largest of the game thus far. Off a pass from Dirk, Terry shoots the Mavericks ahead by 15 points with just over seven minutes remaining in the first half. The rout is on. Shortly, Terry will assist on a Peja Stojakovic triple. The Lakers will take another full timeout. Rumors of their return to the court are highly exaggerated. (47-22)


After Peja briefly took control of the game from Terry, the Jet takes it back. Before this latest treble, he'd assisted on a bucket by Dirk and knocked down a two-pointer of his own. With just a tick past 30 seconds remaining in the half, Terry does his best to kill this game off before the intermission. (63-38)

Third Quarter


After Ron Artest reels off an inspired 7-2 run to open the second half, Terry stops the run before it can get too. (68-46)


And, on Dallas' next offensive possession, Terry leaves no doubt that the second half will only include more of the same. The Lakers call a full-timeout. (71-46)


With the Mavs' lead living healthily above 20 points, this Terry three-pointer puts them on the short road to a 30-point bulge with less than three minutes to play in the third. (81-54)

Fourth Quarter

Offense-first Jason Terry did not (need to) attempt a shot in the fourth quarter.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

¡Qué Buen 5 de Mayo!

If you needed an excuse to drink a post-work margarita or order takeout from that great Mexican place near your house then you'll be pleased to know today is Cinco de Mayo.

Little known fact, today is NOT actually the Mexican independence day (which is in September), rather it is anniversary of a victory over French soldiers in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. This battle only slowed down the French, though, who would occupy Mexico City just one year later. Moreover, Cinco de Mayo is not celebrated throughout Mexico. Although it is commemorated in the state of Puebla where the battle took place it is really an American holiday that spread from Southern California to tex-mex chain restaurants around the country. Americans took to the holiday because it brought together our disparate loves for salsa, pinatas and seeing the French lose at stuff.

(A version of this post originally ran in this space on May 5, 2008)

Jose Canseco, 1989 World Series

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

WWOD? Non-Sequtir

(image pulled from the awesome-as-a-dog-with-sunglasses TV blog Warming Glow)

Jeremy Scahill (author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army) has a fascinating look at the Black Ops force that took out Osama bin Laden posted over at The Nation's website. These details may only scratch the surface when it comes to SEAL Team Six, also known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, but it is the most that I've seen so far. To sum up: these guys wipe their asses with Chuck Norris' beard.

Since I learned the news from a text message from my brother, I've been absolutely riveted by the details of the attack on bin Laden's suburban fortress of sort-of solitude. From the way in which a courier was tracked to find this spot to the fact that the SEAL teams didn't lose a single soldier during the operation right through the burial at sea, to avoid creating a terrestrial shrine to the terrorist leader, it appears that President Obama and his intelligence and military advisers absolutely nailed every aspect of this thing.

To put President Obama's decisive use of these special forces to go after bin Laden in perspective, head over to The New Republic (by way of Longreads.com) for a detailed look at the way in which U.S. indecisiveness (not to mention too many resources being devoted to planning the Iraq invasion) squandered the first best chance to take bin Laden at Tora Bora in December 2001.

And, lastly, watch these clips from Monday night's episode of The Daily Show. Being not nearly as witty or articulate as Jon Stewart, I'll let his slightly-tempered glee stand in for my own reaction to the news that bin Laden was killed by American soldiers in a ninja-like attack orchestrated by President Obama.

Gaucho Still Got It

Monday, May 2, 2011

Better Know a Jets Draft Pick: Muhammad Wilkerson

Ever since the NFL Draft adopted its current Thursday through Sunday format, I've found it much harder to generate and/or maintain interest in the event (as a television program). With NBA playoff games airing daily this time of year and baseball a weeknight staple, I generally haven't caught the first night of the draft on television over the past few years which, of course, makes it's hard to muster enthusiasm to tune in to separate telecasts during the weekend when the name-brand talent is off the board. Given the current state of the NFL, I assume that the draft is much more profitable in this revamped state. Luckily for the teams, the importance of the draft in terms of roster construction is unchanged whether or not I find the it suitably packaged as television programming.

With several key free agents on both sides of the ball and a recent history of prioritizing quality over quantity in recent drafts, the New York Jets entered the 2011 Draft looking to stock the cupboard. They were especially needy in the defensive front seven and addressed that need with their first two selections. At No. 30 overall, the Jets drafted defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson out of Temple University. The Linden, NJ native stands 6 foot 4 inches and tips the scales around 315.

Rather than just trusting the Hair (Mel Kiper) and the Heir (Todd McShay) to tell me about Wilkerson and the rest of the newest Jets players, who were but a handful of the hundreds that they've studied over the past few months, I decided to contact Brian Dzenis, the Sports Editor of The Temple News, who has watched and covered Wilkerson for a lot longer than any talking head on television who we're likely to hear from this week. Dzenis came through in spades, answering a bunch of questions as he studied for finals and adding in some details that I hadn't come across anywhere else. For example: Against UCONN, Wilkerson caught a 3-yard pass on a fake punt play and didn't look too shabby doing it. Far and away, my favorite detail is that this defensive end wore a single digit number as part of the honor of being designated a "Temple Tough Guy" by a coach.

WWOD?: What was your initial reaction to hearing that the Jets had called for Wilkerson at No. 30?

Brian Dzenis: I'm not a huge mock draft guy, so I don't read into where players might go too much, but I certainly thought he deserved to be drafted in the first round.

WWOD?: Much of the pre-draft coverage of Wilkerson focused on his family and calm demeanor. Does that fit with the perception of Wilkerson on campus?

BD: Wilkerson is a very low-key, down to earth type of guy. In the two seasons I've covered the team, I never heard a peep about his character. He may not be the most exciting guy to talk to, but he works hard and his teammates and coaches respect him. He's a lot like his predecessors on the Temple D-line that have made it to the NFL, Terrance Knighton and Andre Neblett, they were quiet, but they always got the job done on the field.

WWOD?: Can you recall a particular game when it became clear that Mo was a bona fide NFL talent?

BD: The Penn State game this year certainly sticks out. Nine total tackles (four solo, five assisted) against a PSU O-line that gave him double teams multiple times is nothing to laugh at. His impact in a given game sometimes can't be measured on the box score, like when they played UCONN (and won), he didn't have a great game statistically, but the other guys around him on the D-line did because he could just take up so much space and create room for his teammates to make plays. He just always seems to find a way to make himself useful, whether it's the occasional multi-sack game or he'll just eat up double teams so his teammates can get to the quarterback/running back.

WWOD?: How many grains of salt, if any, should his stats and highlights be viewed given the level of MAC competition?

BD: I'm no fan of the MAC, but when he went up against Penn State and UCONN, two BCS schools, he handled himself pretty well. I think when evaluating him as a player, the thing that sticks out about him is that he's a 6-5, 300-plus pound guy who is FAST and is really consistent with his play. I imagine Rex Ryan was more impressed with his size/speed than the fact that he had three sacks in a game against Kent State.

WWOD?: Greatest on-field strength? Weakness?

BD: The guy wins nearly every one-on-one battle with offensive linemen and when he gets loose, he will end plays. I don't know how he'll adjust to being a defensive end in the NFL as opposed to a defensive tackle in college. I imagine there will be times when in NFL games, he'll be left on an island with a offensive tackle and that tackle will just get victimized by his speed. All the physical tools and work ethic is there, it's just a matter of how he'll pan out as a defensive end.

WWOD?: What's the story behind him wearing No. 9?

BD: When Al Golden was coach, he reserved the single-digit numbers for his "Temple Tough Guys," guys who exemplified Al Golden football, team values, etc. As for why he got No. 9 in particular, I have no idea.

WWOD?: On a scale of "It's a dream come true just to be in the NFL" to "We'll talk over Blue Hawaii cocktails before the Pro Bowl," how would estimate Wilkerson feels today?

BD: Definitely "It's a dream come true just to be in the NFL," He'll probably do his thing with the media when they first see him, but he likes to fade into the background and just let his play do the talking.

Gaudi's Lucious Sweet

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Foto

Thursday, April 28, 2011

NFL Conscription Night

With the most accomplished players in the National Football League embroiled in lawsuits with the monied men who sign their paychecks and even the rank and file barred from clocking in at the office, the entrance of a new crop of young players into the NFL seems less a celebratory affair than normal. Nevertheless, the cameras will roll tonight at Radio City Music Hall and lumbering linebackers, serpentine cornerbacks and even a charismatic, regulation-averse franchise quarterback will be awarded new zip codes and oversize No. 1 jerseys of varying shades. Even a red-headed signal caller will be embraced.

As a Jets fan, the annual NFL Draft had become a de facto April Fool's Day until General Manager Mike Trader Tannenbaum landed key contributors Darrelle Revis, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, David Harris, Dustin Keller, Shonn Greene, Matt Slauson and Mark Sanchez in recent seasons. The most notable blemish (much larger than Kyle Wilson) on Trader Mike's draft resume is the ghastly Vernon Gholston pick in 2008. Gholston would fit in nicely on this Gang Green lowlight reel.

Reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2010 has the Jets selecting at No. 30 tonight, seemingly precluding a Gholston-caliber blunder. Sports Illustrated's Don Banks has the Jets tapping Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor as the successor to oft-injured Kris Jenkins. Meanwhile, the readers at Tim Graham's AFC East blog over at the Worldwide Leader have Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed as the Jets' choice. Everyone, including the crack(ed) staff at WWOD? HQ, seems to agree the bolstering depth of the defensive front seven is the team's greatest need. Although Shaun Ellis was a north-south terror in the Divisional Round of the 2010 playoffs against the Patriots, the Jets defenders did struggle to individually generate a pass rush. Everything needed to be schemed to create mismatches and overloads because no one was consistently winning one-on-one matchups.

Given the Jets recent history of eschewing quantity for quality on draft night, it will be interesting to see if they move up over the next few days. I'd assume that they won't because the cupboard is getting rather bare. And we all know how Rex Ryan feels about bare cupboards.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fact Checking Stephen A. Smith

It's been more than two years since Ken Tremendous, Dak, Junior and the rest of the contributors at Fire Joe Morgan stopped scouring the sports media landscape for paeans to grit or attacks on reason. Sadly (for the rest of us), the success and stresses of their day jobs in the wider world had forced them to stop directing traffic at your local thoroughfare of debate, leaving us gridlocked, gawking at the latest roadside pile up of Bill Plaschke's mixed metaphors.

During the ensuing months, their methods have occasionally been applied by other practitioners, notably Drew Magary over at Kissing Suzy Kolber. FJM's titular muse has even been stripped of (or given up, depending on who you ask) his national platform for disseminating skepticism about the veracity of facts since the guys have closed up shop.

Perhaps in deference to its diminished capacity for nonsense and misplaced vitriol with Morgan no longer in the fold, the Worldwide Leader allowed Stephen A. Smith back onto its website not so long after the Hall of Fame second baseman was no longer calling ballgames. For those of you out there blissfully hard of hearing or otherwise unaware of this sports personality, Smith has alternately carved himself cozy and lucrative niches in print, radio and on the Interwebs over the past decade thanks in large part to the sheer force and volume of his ego and his inexhaustible supply of outrage.

Tireless and unchastened by setbacks, Smith is something of a marvel. If you didn't consume sports media and/or happened to be related to him then you'd likely be very impressed with how well he has done for himself and how many more famous people he knows than you. But if you consume sports media then it's likely you've come to loathe and/or mock Smith. In all three mediums, and under the employ of various media companies, Smith has eventually outstayed his welcome. He has left Philadelphia. He has left New York. He moved from South to North. He has gone from ESPN to FOX. And back again. He's even popped on MSNBC and in a feature film. In August 2005, at what looks to have been height of Smith's career, he was awarded a daily one-hour talk show. The show ran until January 2007, when it was cancelled due to low ratings and high levels of unintentional comedy. At his zenith, Smith was branching out from hoops, his area of expertise (read=contacts) and was offering opinions on other sports and even politics. Enter FJM.

With Smith back in print and writing about the Knicks, I've felt obligated to take matters, along with a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, into my own hands. Since Smith seems to have no fear of being fired, I propose something that might actually embarrass him: Fact Checking. Without further ado, welcome to the first installment of "Fact Checking Stephen A. Smith."

HED: There's no defense for Mike D'Antoni
DEK: Amid the wreckage of a first-round sweep, it's clear the Knicks need a new head coach

Byline: Stephen A. Smith

Source: ESPNNewYork.com

Now that the broomsticks have been unleashed and it has been emphatically established that the New York Knicks, for all their bluster and bloviating, are nothing more than an average franchise with an exorbitant payroll, it's time to move forward. To put legitimate pieces in place to preserve assets and eliminate liabilities.

For a man with no inside voice, who traffics exclusively in bluster and bloviation even after losing several high-profile jobs, I'm mildly surprised that Smith finds these qualities objectionable in another group just because they lost a playoff series. But I'm even more surprised to read "for all their bluster and bloviating" in regards to these 2010-2011 Knickerbockers. Who blustered? Who bloviated? Was Toney Douglas calling up WEEI in Boston to spread rumors about Delonte West having slept with Ray Allen's mom?

As best as I can tell, there was nobody wearing a Knicks uniform who was mouthing off before or during this series with Boston. For all the starpower of the new New York Knickerbockers, they haven't held any celebratory events in the vain vein of the Miami Heat. There were no guarantees. There were no ultimatums. No one even stated that it was personal. Is Smith confusing the Knicks with Rex Ryan's Jets? Could Smith have found Chauncey Billups' comment about the Knicks being a "tough out" this inflammatory? Perhaps he is conflating the chorus of barks from media members, like himself, surrounding the 'bockers since they returned to relevance over the past year with statements made by actual members of the team. In any case, we're off to an inauspicious start here as Smith is already imbuing the subjects of his story with attributes that suit his conclusion.

Also, the sentence fragment that concludes this opening paragraph makes me wonder if Smith is aware of how NBA front offices, especially the successful ones, spend the offseason. Had the Celtics not taken their brooms off their leashes(????) and allowed the Knicks to win one of those first two games before advancing to the second round would the Knicks not be putting legitimate pieces in place, preserving assets and eliminating liabilities? When Smith contends that circumstances have made it time for those activities isn't he just stating that the Knicks have entered the offseason? Or does assume that only losers have to worry such things? Does he know what RC Buford has been doing in San Antonio all these years?

It's true that the Knicks had an exorbitant payroll as they bottomed out in recent years, but Donnie Walsh took a can of gasoline and a box matches to the roster that Isiah Thomas had recklessly constructed. Several controlled burns later and the Knicks' 2010-2011 payroll of $67,327,114 ranked 16th out of 30. Without one of the top 10 earners in the league this season, the Knicks' salaries are closer to the cheapskate Sacramento Kings then they are to the high rolling (and title contending) Los Angeles Lakers at the top of the heap.

And after watching the Knicks' first-round loss to the Boston Celtics -- how they spent most of Easter weekend stinking up Madison Square Garden before a 36-year-old journeyman point guard nearly came to the rescue -- priority No. 1 is too obvious to ignore any longer: Mike D'Antoni has to go.

My dad suggested the same several times during my family's Easter Brunch. Please show your work, though, Mr. Smith unless you want to be relegated to Shit My Dad Says status.

It is not easy to call for the exodus of a coach who averaged 58 wins a season in his previous job, who is as kind and decent as they come. Nor does it seem fair to call for the head of a coach who, some would say, helped resurrect this franchise and made the Knicks relevant again. But when players are devoid of respect for a coach's basketball acumen, when the opposition laughs over the transparency of his game plan -- so much so that D'Antoni's players intimated they had instituted their own changes at halftime of a close-out game -- the need for a change simply cannot be denied.

In other words: What Smith is doing here is hard work. Not many journalists have the necessary fortitude to call for the jobs of decent, successful coaches. But, fear not readers, our scribe has been doing this since his college days at Winston Salem. The coach at WSU when Smith arrived on campus with college hoop dreams was the legendary Clarence "Big House" Gaines, who had already captured a Division II national championship and been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. As the door closed on his stillborn basketball career, Smith found his star on the rise in the student newspaper. The story that got everyone's attention? Smith calling for Gaines to resign or be removed from his post. Smith contended that the coach's flagging health was hurting the team and lobbied for the icon to be dumped.

Aside from his penchant for calling for coaches to be fired, you'll also notice that Smith always works in absolutes. Well, mostly. Sometimes he equivocates, but mostly things are must, always, never, now, impossible and obvious as described by Smith. Which, is why he asserts that his assertion about D'Antoni "simply cannot be denied." Really? Watch me.

The rare display of heart and guts the Knicks exhibited in the second half of Sunday's Game 4 didn't happen just because they started hitting shots and the Celtics suddenly forgot how to defend them. "We got tired of the way things were going," one player explained in the wee hours of Sunday night, long after everyone had departed from the Garden.

Considering Amar'e Stoudemire's standout game and the overall defensive effort in Game 1 and Carmelo and the Crickets nearly pulling off a shocker in Game 2, I find it a bit disingenuous to say describe the late rally in Game 4 as a "rare display of heart and guts." As the Yiddish saying goes, a half truth is a whole lie.

Smith seems to approach his written work as if it were being broadcast on AM radio. Knowing that he's filed columns via Blackberry, I wouldn't even be shocked if this were dictated and never revised. However, the ephemeral nature of talk radio allows high-volume half truths, recurring inconsistencies and outright exaggerations to flutter off into oblivion. As more and more journalists become talking heads on television and drive-time yakkers on the radio, the lines between these mediums are blurred and the work across all platforms tends toward the lowest common denominator.

"We walked in at halftime and said 'We can't go out this way.' We were pretty ticked off, especially at us not seeming to have any answers scheme-wise. We knew Boston knew everything we were going to do, how we were going to do it, so we needed to do something differently. We just couldn't keep going the way we were going."

Now, a quote like this shows the ace in Smith's hand: He's got access and contacts that the rest of us don't have. He's the Peter King of the NBA, regaling us with tales of his text messages with Allen Iverson. I don't doubt that this quote is at least paraphrased from a statement made by a player on the New York roster, but I also am not certain that Smith isn't using it somewhat out of context to further his point.

Clearly, Smith would like us to assume that the "we" used by the player does not include the coaching staff while the "us" does refer mostly to the coaching staff. He's also refusing to mention, for context, that the Celtics may have known what the Knicks were running because the team was thoroughly depleted by injuries to Billups and Stoudemire and the ineffectiveness of Landry Fields. Should D'Antoni have drawn up more plays for Jared Jeffries to keep the Celtics guessing?

As coach of the Knicks, D'Antoni deserves credit for inserting Anthony Carter into the game, allowing him to defend Rajon Rondo. He also deserves credit for allowing the team to go zone on occasion, for switching on shooters Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, with Carter serving as the catalyst. But if D'Antoni deserves credit for allowing those things to take place, he also harbors culpability for going a full game-and-a-half without a true point guard on the floor, for making little to no adjustments, for leaving the players to essentially decide for themselves at halftime Sunday that swinging back wouldn't entail just jacking up 3s inside of 10 seconds.

Buried in this counterproductive paragraph (insofar as it does more to disprove Smith's thesis than to show why the coach should be fired) is one valid point against D'Antoni. Perhaps it did take him too long to lean on Carter. To my untrained eye, Douglas seemed tentative from the moment that he picked up his first foul in Game 2. Every ill-advised and out of character backpedal on defense seemed rooted in his fear of fouling out with Billups in street clothes.

By my count, Smith credits D'Antoni with four things in this graph while citing three errors. I'm going to absolve him of going a game-and-a-half without a true point guard on the floor because his true point guard was injured in the waning moments of Game 1 and the consensus was that Douglas was the point guard to run out against Rajon Rondo. He wasn't up to it. And perhaps D'Antoni took too long to accept that fact. But how do you write about that without even mentioning in passing that starting point guard was unavailable due to injury?

It seems like Smith is unaware that Games 1 and 2 took place. Almost.

Notwithstanding the tremendous effort displayed in Games 1 and 2, the New York Knicks cannot play defense, folks! Primarily because schematically it's never important, nor has it ever been a priority in D'Antoni's mind.

Well, Smith is aware of the pair of tightly contested games in Boston. He just isn't going to let them sway his opinions. So, notwithstanding those two games in the four game series when the Knicks held a higher-seeded championship contender to 87 points and 96 points, respectively, this team didn't defend at all! Except when they did. My glasses aren't orange-tinted enough for me to claim this a stout defensive team or even an average defensive team. They allowed 110.1 points per 100 possessions and the league average was 107.3 this season. That ranked them 22nd out of 30 clubs.

Points per 100 possessions (DRtg) is a much better tool than points allowed because it normalizes the pace. That hasn't stopped most columnists from lambasting D'Antoni's teams through the years as the worst defensive teams in the league. Smith is clearly working off that assumption. However, the numbers tell a slightly different story.

YearDRtgLeague RankLeague Average

Contrary to popular belief, D'Antoni's teams in Phoenix were not terrible on defense. They were mediocre and were about league average per 100 possessions the entire time that he was at the helm. This competency was masked by the pace at which they played, fastest in the league in his first two seasons and then third and fourth in the next two. The faster pace may have allowed the opponent more chances to score but D'Antoni's clubs defended those chances about as well as most teams while scoring much better than most. I find it hard to believe that most teams wouldn't sign up for a league average defense with a top 5 offense.

Also, Smith's use of "notwithstanding" makes me think of the scenes in Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby keeps beginning sentences by saying "With all due respect."

Mike D'Antoni's NBA teams have always excelled at the offensive end of the floor. He is an innovator on offense.

Yes, he is. Having conceded this point, Smith isn't going to trash his offense. Is he?

The same coach who's being paid $6 million per season here was out in Phoenix because he would not heed former Suns executive Steve Kerr's advice that he simply couldn't win a championship with his system. Fast-forward to three full seasons later and nothing has changed.

The same "former" Suns executive Steve Kerr that has been providing color commentary during these 2011 NBA playoffs rather than leading a team that aforementioned championship? Yup, that'd be the one. There is no doubt that Kerr's tenure was hamstrung slightly by cash-strapped Sun owner Robert Sarver but it seems like Smith might be rushing to credit the former sharpshooter as an authority on winning just because he presided over D'Antoni's exit from the desert.

I'm sure there are snarky Phil Jackson quotes that could have been employed here to much greater effect, but Smith isn't about to do research. That being said, I think many Knicks fans would like to see a de facto defensive coordinator added to the coaching staff.

There are high pick-and-rolls. There's Amare Stoudemire coming from the corner, getting the ball near the elbow, with everyone and their grandmother knowing that's exactly what is going to occur. Or there's Stoudemire coming from the low block to set screens -- except everyone knows he's getting the ball and that he's not going to set a screen. And intertwined with it all is the arrival of Carmelo Anthony, assigned to doing pretty much the same thing.

"We are easy to scout but tough to play against," John Wooden confessed to Time in 1974. "With Bill Walton in our lineup, our strategy is simple," Wooden explained. "You go to him until the opposing team stops it. Then you go to others. If you don't go to Walton, it's like using Babe Ruth in your lineup to bunt."

The Time article goes on to state that "The Wooden approach is, of course, more sophisticated than that; the Bruins always play within a well-rehearsed plan. On offense, Wooden's first love is the fast break, with Walton firing lead passes to his teammates streaking down the court to score before the opposition's defense can set up."

Sound familiar? After conceding D'Antoni's talents for offensive just a few sentences ago, it seems counterproductive for Smith to turn around and start taking shots at that aspect of his coaching. Perhaps, he meant to write "Notwithstanding D'Antoni's status as an offensive innovator..."

"Coach knows offense," one player explained. "It would be nice to set plays, control pace and not jack up shots just because you're open. But that's what Coach does. You could live with it if we played defense. But obviously, we haven't done that much. Good, bad or otherwise, all I can say is that I've never seen anything like this."

To me, this sounds like it might be Chauncey Billups, who is chummy enough with Smith to have appeared on Quite Frankly while it was on the air. Regardless of the source, Smith continues to take shots at the offense. To take issue with the quote itself, one could certainly argue pushing the tempo is controlling the pace and that D'Antoni's offense creates more open looks than the iso sets that one presumes would constitute the plays being suggested.

What team has a 6-foot-9, 230-pound player like Shawne Williams assigned to stand around and shoot 3s?

The answer to this question during the past two seasons was no one would have used him that way. Because nobody was using him in any way. Out of the NBA last year, Williams played just 15 games in 2008–09 for Indiana. Before he swiped the last spot on this Knicks' roster from Patrick Ewing Jr., Williams was an NBA washout with legal trouble and a bad reputation. During the season he played his way into the rotation and was briefly the most accurate three-point marksman in the league. He also added toughness to the defense, including a stellar effort on LeBron James in one of the Knicks' victories over the Heat.

Letting Williams play his way into the rotation from the bottom of the bench, seems to me an example of D'Antoni's flexibility more than anything else. Just a terrible choice to show that he's stubborn as far as I'm concerned. Talk about his refusal to use Eddy Curry or Stephon Marbury or the insistence of having Jared Jeffries on the floor for the final offensive possession of Game 2. How does a writer constructing a case for D'Antoni's dismissal based largely on the NYK-BOS series not mention Jeffries? Oh, wait, it's probably because Smith is notwithstanding Games 1 and 2.

What team has an athlete like Bill Walker, who's 6-6, 220, programmed to do the same?
See above. Having played sparingly in 1+ seasons in Boston and only in bursts in New York as trades and injuries have opened up playing time, I'd say there isn't exactly a book on best practices for Bill Walker. Again, Smith has chosen to call out a player that really isn't helpful in proving his point? Talk to me about the waiving of Corey Brewer if you're trying to show me that D'Antoni is unreasonable.

How can such a haphazard, frenetic brand of basketball -- you constantly hear D'Antoni screaming at players to shoot whenever open, no matter how much time is on the shot clock -- be permitted to continue when your $100 million franchise player just completed his ninth season? When Anthony, your other franchise player, just completed his eighth season? When both are signed for more than $80 million apiece over the next four seasons, yet based on the fatigue and injuries, neither looked as if he was physically conditioned to go another game in this series?

Just as important, what kind of players will you draft if this system remains in place? Knowing D'Antoni won't play guys who don't fit in?

Please just ignore the fact that Smith is now slamming D'Antoni's offensive acumen just a few graphs after heaping praise on it. Let's move on. So, if D'Antoni won't play guys who don't fit in then your drafting choice would seem straightforward. Draft guys that fit in. And who would that be?

1) Point guards with pace who can run the pick-and-roll.

2) Athletic Bigs that can get up and down and the floor to finish on the breaks that pacey point is initiating. Shot blocker preferred. And the ability to drop in a mid-range baseline jumper would be ideal but not required.

3) Hard-running wings who can keep opposing defense honest with ability to hit three.

Would it really be such a travesty to draft exclusively guys that fit this system?

The New York Knicks need a coach -- not a system. Coaches smirk at the luxury of preparing a game plan against it. Even folks like Charles Barkley have characterized D'Antoni's refusal to recognize the futility of his ways as "pure stubbornness."

Smith is right insofar as he states that the Knicks need a coach. Every team has a coach. Even the Toronto Raptors. But very few teams have a coach with a system. And, last I checked, a bejeweled, creaking fellow by the name of Phil Jackson was lauded for his use of (Tex Winter's) the Triangle Offense. Pete Carrill worked out fine for Princeton with that aptly named "Princeton Offense."

But if "even folks like Charles Barkley" disagree then maybe I should reconsider. What? Even paid commentators with a vested interest in being controversial? Mild-mannered, thinks-before-he-speaks Sir Charles? For a guy that railed against the blustering and bloviating by guys that didn't win at the top of this story, Smith sure seems to give a lot of credence to what Chuck has to say. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching Barkley on TNT, but I'm not about to make any personnel decisions because of something he said.

This city will have plenty of time to debate the future of Donnie Walsh as the president of the franchise, and whether he should stay so he can hire former St. John's star and present ESPN/ABC analyst Mark Jackson -- or whether MSG chairman James Dolan should let Walsh go and offer the coaching job and all of the basketball operations to a man in the last year of his deal, who just finished beating up on the Knicks: Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

What's not open for debate is that it's time for D'Antoni to go.

So, let's get this straight: Smith believes Walsh's future is open to debate despite having turned over Isiah's roster and gotten Melo and STAT fitted for Knickerbocker blue. He also believes that D'Antoni's future is sealed because his team didn't have a better showing in a first round loss to a team that he'd picked to win in the first place. And that Mark Jackson, who has never coached basketball at any level professional or amateur should replace D'Antoni before he has even one entire season with his tandem superstars.

Like a lot of fans and sportswriters, Smith makes the "perfect" the enemy of the "much, much, much better." He's refusing to accept a team that is so much better than anything the Knicks have fielded in ages because it is not yet perfect. He also seems to be assuming that anything that replaces this "very good" will be perfect.

But how does firing D'Antoni look when the Knicks are forced to interview retreads and lifetime assistant coaches? How does it look when Doc Rivers decides to have another go with Boston or to take a year off to watch his son play college ball? If Smith could look further into the future than RIGHT NOW, he might realize the smart play (for those looking to jettison D'Antoni) is to allow him to coach out next season and then go after Rivers once his son is one-and-done at Duke. There's also the reality of the looming lockout to consider? Do you want to hire a new coach and then pay him for a lost season while you're still paying D'Antoni? Of course, I guess Smith wouldn't concern himself with details of this sort since he still thinks the Knicks have the league's highest payroll.

Lest we want Amare and Melo to expire a helluva lot quicker than their contracts will.

Did Smith just intimate that retaining D'Antoni is tantamount to murdering Amar'e and/or Melo? Yeah, I think he did. At least, he didn't use an exclamation point.

Monday Mudita

Contracts of Knickerbockers Past Edition

Friday, April 22, 2011

Listening to an Oak on Earth Day

Over at the LoHud Knicks blog, Jamie O'Grady talks with Knickerbocker legend, car wash mogul and my personal role model Charles Oakley about the 2011 playoffs, Patrick Ewing's future as a coach and the prospects of his former club. As per usual, Oak is unfiltered and unforgettable. Aside from his steadfast belief in his former frontcourt mate, Oak's description of the South Beach SuperFriends was the highlight of the interview.
They’ve got the tools to win it all, because of their two great wing players in Wade and LeBron.

It’s like a 747 flying overseas; when you have two pilots capable of flying the plane, one can take a break and the plane still gets where it has to go. And when you have a flight attendant like Chris Bosh, that can make for some swagger.

The thing is, if the Heat make the finals, I think they are going to win it all — point blank.

Good Friday Foto

The Black Jesus thrived for our sins.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dressing For Knicks-cess

It's the night before the first New York Knickerbockers playoff game at Madison Square since 2004 and I've got a pair of tickets staring up at me from desk. I'm pacing around the apartment like tomorrow's the first day of high school and I've just moved cross country from dingy North Jersey to a Southern California town where the local toughs learn karate instead of play normal sports.

I'm excited. Because the Knicks might win. I'm nervous. Because the Celtics might. I've got my lunch packed (two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a banana) and my first beer planned (from the stand across from the ticket windows in the LIRR station beneath the Garden). As best I can tell there is just one last thing to square before I try to fitfully sleep as I fret about spasming back muscles and knee blood.

What Knicks gear am I going to wear?

The J. Crew khaki pants that I wore to work today were unwashed and have been missing a button atop the zipper for more than a year. The fabric in the crotch and in the seat is thinning, but I will wear them until they tear. Same goes for the coffee chinos that I'll likely wear to work tomorrow. The remainder of my limited wardrobe of office clothes is in the same state of disrepair. I insist on wearing and re-wearing the same things over and over and am very reluctant to buy new clothes. This is especially true with pants. Because, don't you hate pants?

Work is a place that I attend five days a week, weekly, forever. Knicks games, on the other hand, are things that I could never attend more than 60 times per year and never have more than 35. Yet, my closet and dresser and home office are bursting at the seams with squirreled away Knicks gear as if there will be some circumstance that calls for me to dress solely in blue and orange or to sport the visage of Patrick Ewing at all times. While I admit that this is unlikely I've been amassing Sand Knit, Champion and Mitchell & Ness jerseys like my more successful and dapper friends collect wristwatches.

Hmm... a Knicks watch? I don't have one of those. I mean, I do have a few wristbands but nothing with moving parts. While I check eBay for anything like that, here's a look at the options I'm sifting through in advance of Game 3 tomorrow night.

The Kicks:


The Varsity Jacket: First up is a vintage varsity-style Knicks jacket. It has a dark blue wool body with white leather sleeves just like the one your dad wore when he was going down to Arnold's for a fountain soda. All patches and letters are sewn on and awesome. Easily the classiest choice of all that follows.

The Satin Bomber: Next up, we've got the choice of a new generation. This Starter jacket has a light blue suede body and bright orange leather(ish) sleeves. The patch sewn on the back is satin. Yes, suede and satin. Oh, and orange leather, too.

The Ex-Patrick: I lived in London in 2001. Some would say that I felt compelled to leave New York after the Knicks unceremoniously traded Patrick Ewing to the Seattle Supersonics. Those people would be wrong. I left the States to study at King's College for a year. Nevertheless, Patrick was on my mind. We were both strangers in strange lands that uncertain year. This olive military style coat was purchased at a thrift store up in Camden Town, a northwest London neighborhood full of thrift shops, record stores and flea markets. During many visits, the two best things I purchased were this coat and a bootleg of Nirvana's 1992 performance at the Reading Festival. It was on a cassette. I would eventually lose the cassette. But I managed to repatriate the coat. It originally had East German flags on the sleeves. I cut them off and sewed an American flag on one sleeve and a New York Knicks patch on the other. I later added the commemorative pin from the night that Patrick's No. 33 was retired at the Garden.

T-Shirts & Jerseys:

The Original: My fetish - and after showing you all of this stuff there really isn't much else I can call it - for Knicks gear began before I was 10 years old. Being the only child accompanying my grandfather, father and uncle to 'bockers battles at the Garden back in the late 1980s, there was usually someone with me who felt like spoiling me each time the souvenir stand unveiled a new t-shirt. Illustrations of the players were the big thing on the shirts at the time. This shirt depicting the 1988–89 Atlantic Division Champion Knickerbockers was one of my two favorites. It's a size small and there is a tag with name sewn into it.

I placed a shoe next to the shirt to offer some perspective.