Monday, February 28, 2011

Knicks Swag At A Million

Shortly after signing a free-agent contract with the Knicks back in July, Amar'e Stoudemire sat down with Steve Serby of The Post to talk hoops and swag.

Q: Your definition of swagger?
A: Swagger is something that you are born with. Some folks can practice it. But on the basketball court, it’s really more so knowing that you’re good. When you know you’re a good player, your swag comes out and it takes you to a different level.

Q: You’ve always had it?
A: I have always had it. I was blessed to be a good basketball player at a young age, and the swag just kept growing from there

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your swag at now?
A: My swag is probably at 9.8 (laughs). Hopefully the city of New York will get my swag up to a 10.

Q: So the best is yet to come?
A: Absolutely the best is yet to come.

Last night, he wore this coat to the United Airlines Arena with the Knicks set to take on the Miami Heat on their turf.


Despite having just run an inbounds play for (gasp!) Bill Walker, who stepped on the baseline as he simultaneously tried to cut toward the rim and secure the pass, the Knicks were one stop away from a key win over the South Beach SuperFriends with 12 seconds remaining on the clock at FanUp Arena. Which, at least in the recent past, meant that the other team was about to add a clip their end-of-season highlight film by way of buzzer beater. Courtside fans likely readied their high-fiving hands as outlined in the most recent Fan Up Memorandum.

LeBron James, pounding the ball at the top of the key, surveyed the landscape and the closest roadblock. It was New Knickerbocker Carmelo Anthony, whose defending and perhaps lawn care abilities were recently belittled by a former coach in Denver. Flanking and backing up Anthony was 34-year-old Chauncey Billups, the aforementioned and nondescript Walker, long but light Shawne Williams and Amar'e Stoudemire. The only player on the floor for the Knicks that has ever been considered a plus defender was Billups, and he has been in the league since LBJ was in the sixth grade.

More or less the size of Willis Reed but possessing the speed and handle of much smaller, I could see why LeBron would've thought the path of least of resistance against this club was a straight line to the rim. And, to hear Amar'e Stoudemire tell it after the game, he could also see why James would've come down Main Street.

To his credit, Anthony managed to body the charging James off his beeline ever so slightly. James veered to his left so that he wasn't coming straight at the rim on his final approach. He was coming in from the left. And just as he got to the rack, loosing the ball from his grasp, Stoudemire came soaring in from the weak side to push the ball off course. Perhaps by Russelian design, the blocked shot dropped to Williams rather than landing in the fifth row. Fouls were committed and the Knicks iced the game from the line.

"I knew what he was going to do," Stoudemire said. "Even if he had gone up for a dunk I would have contested that shot. I have a few game-winning blocks in my career."

One game-saving blocked shot does not transmogrify these 'bockers into the Riley-era bruisers of my youth (and, neither do the uniforms), but this squad has shown itself capable of playing hard, energetic defense for stretches. After a poor first quarter when they surrendered 34 points, the Knicks held Miami to 17, 15 and 20 points, respectively, in the next three quarters. If you carry the one, that means that a team starring James, Dwyane Wade and #likeabosh scored just 35 points in the second half. Despite rumors to the contrary, this defense may be operational. It's a defense built on pridefulness (and Toney Douglas) rather than principles but it appears capable to work for spurts.

Monday Mudita

Bonus: USA vs Canada @ U-17 Concacaf Final

Double Bonus: Ronnie Still Got It

Monday Morning Schadenfreude

Friday, February 25, 2011

Carmelization: The Spoof

WWOD? Non Sequitir

Revolution in Wisconsin Edition

Gamma Squad has collected some of the nerdiest, awesomest protest signs from the rallies against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to quash unions in hopes bringing down the Berlin Wall.

Friday Foto

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Carmelization: The Debuts

By the time that MSG's Al Trautwig appeared on my television last night at 7:30 p.m. with droplets of sweat clinging to his expansive forehead and gleeful, caffeinated frenzy in his voice, all of the price tag fear, Isiah loathing, Tuscan regret and unbounded Stephen A. exuberance surrounding the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony was as relevant, yet hopefully less ill-omened, as the bon voyage bash for the Titanic at Southhampton, England on April 10, 1912.

Playoffs, ho! The good ship MeloMire is untethered from its moorings and loosed upon the high seas of the Atlantic Division.

I made a slight detour on my home from the office around 6:00 p.m. to walk by the the Garden, and the crowd out front was already swelling and roiling along Seventh Avenue. Scalpers dotted the crowd and potential buyers huddled around them like seagulls around a buoy at Rockaway Beach. By the time the players took the floor for pregame shootaround, the masses had flowed inside. Not only did they want to witness the debut of Anthony but they wanted to be a part of it. The crowd enveloped 'Melo with their cheers as soon as he stepped out of the tunnel. Soon, the JumboTron above the court played a welcome home video trumpeting his return to his roots. Variations of this advertorial would air during commercial breaks throughout the broadcast. My girlfriend thought they came off as desperate. I don't, but I can see where she's coming from as desperation, on all sides, has been a hallmark of this entire process.

As someone who grew up around here with dreams of playing for having season tickets for the Knicks, I am a sucker for players who want to cash their checks here. And, clearly, so were the better than 19,000 fans in the Garden when the brief homecoming video played before the introduction of the Knicks' revamped starting lineup. So urgent was the pregame atmosphere that there wasn't even time for Mike Breen to confirm that the the print of Walt Frazier's blazer was indeed some Tiger. Or to ask him about the matching boots.

From the video editors on staff at MSG who had to cut Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph out of the intro montage and the seamstresses removing the HARRINGTON nameplates from all those No. 7 jerseys to the fans who scrambled to buy secondary-market tickets and all the way through the newly-arrived players who'd hardly slept since the weekend, it was a whirlwind day that only gained any semblance of normalcy once the ball was tossed up at half court. At that point, it was just a basketball game. It wasn't a revolution. Or a debacle. It was basketball. And the Knicks had the two best players on the floor. And they had a calm, confident veteran point guard in Chauncey Billups behind the wheel.

Amar'e netted the first Knicks bucket per usual. Shortly thereafter Carmelo's first basket in a Knicks uniform came as a putback after grabbing an offensive board. Bucks players were looking for a foul call, claiming he'd pushed off. Even better if he did. Hopefully this offensive board is a harbinger of things to come.

On the Knicks' next trip down the floor, Billups nailed a pull-up three in transition. From the moment he started pushing the ball, he was never not taking and never not making that shot. He owned that moment as wholly as Carmelo owned the night. He looked as easy and unencumbered as if he'd been playing at the park down the corner from his house. With his dish to Amar'e on the next play, it became abundantly clear that this trade was for Anthony and the 34-year-old Billups. There's a reason that both appeared at the pregame press conference. STAT converted that Billups pass into an old-fashioned three-point play. When he stepped to the line for that +1 shot, the crowd serenaded him with those familiar letters.




It was nice to hear that none of the hoopla, or the La La, surrounding Anthony has made fans forget who came (to get paid) first. At least, not yet. The pecking order was established. Fans are fickle enough that the order will be periodically reviewed and is always subject to change, but this is the starting point. I'd have a hard time believing it went unnoticed and I'd have to think that Anthony hasn't heard a teammate get that kind of love since perhaps Gerry McNamara at Syracuse.

As the new-look 'bockers fumbled their way over and around the sacrificial Bucks, it wasn't just the new arrivals making first impressions. With Mozgov shipped, Ronny Turiaf needed to show himself as a center capable of starting, middling and possibly even finishing a ballgame. Similarly, Shawne Williams was auditioning for a frontline role more indicative of his height than his ability to knock down the corner three. Of course, with Gallo gone, Williams also needs to show that he can make that shot when forced to hoist at a higher volume. Perhaps, most importantly, Toney Douglas flourished last night. His scoring punch replaced the contribution that Wilson Chandler had been reliably adding to the team's tally. More importantly, he looked ready to pick up the difference in minutes played between Felton and Billups. D'Antoni rode Felton hard out of the gate. Perhaps, too hard. With the older, slower Billups in the fold, Douglas is going to have to run the point on offense and on defense for this team for stretches in every game. As per usual, he was forcing play to the floor on defense. When he's on the court, he electrifies the DE-fence that the team is trying to build. This role becomes even more important without Felton and Chandler, two of the better/only perimeter defenders on the roster.

Some hot shooting from Keyon Dooling and John Salmons brought the Bucks close in the late stages as the Knicks played with scrimmage pace and fluidity and, to ensure we got the ending that we craved, Stoudemire fouled out down the stretch. At this point, Anthony delivered the win. He overcame his early misses and made good for those times he stopped the ball early in the shot clock. He scored 6 points in the last minute and change. With four more points coming from made free throws by Billups in the span it was over. As Billups iced the last two free throws with five seconds left, the crowd erupted into a Yankee Stadium–style Chawn-SEE Bill-Ups!! chant.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Carmelization: Spin Doctor Zhivago

The initial reaction across the Twitterverse to the Nets' acquisition of Deron Williams is probably best summed up this tweet from Akis Yerocostas (@Aykis16), the associate editor for Sactown Royalty:
Holy. Crap. So Prokhorov is basically a Russian evil genius now right? Gets NY to pay out the nose for Melo, then grabs D-Will, whose better
Or, by Anthony Leshinsky (trexxxN):
@freedarko Prokhorov v. Dolan is beyond riveting; one is playing chess, the other is hammering in crooked nails with a saxophone. #fb

From Mikhail Prokhorov's arrival on these shores in a platinum hoverhelijetskicopter built using ill-gotten KGB technology, he has made clear two goals for his ownership of the New Jersey Nets. First, he intends to win an NBA championship. Soon. Second, he inteneds to tweak Knicks owner Jimmy Dolan. Consistently.

Utilizing ornate in-person presntations featuring noted hip hop performers and (possibly) pint-sized giraffes, he has attempted to woo hooperstars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey in order to fulfill that first goal. Which would of course also satisfy the second. Despite feelings of front-runner tremendousness at various points in both courtships, LeBron signed a free-agent contract with the Miami Heat and Anthony was traded to Dolan's Knicks after refusing to sign his contract extension if shipped to New Jersey.

A few days before the Anthony trade was consumated, Prokhorov had packed up Jay Z and flew to Los Angeles to hard sell Anthony one last time during the All-Star break. Just as had been the case during his club's run at LBJ, the media was informed of the fruitfulness of the meeting:

“It was a fantastic meeting, trust me," Prokhorov told CNBC. “No words; live music, excellent atmosphere. We looked into each other’s eyes. Just real man talk.".

Just. Real. Man. Talk.

Having failed to convince Anthony to sign a contract extension if traded to Brick City, Proky managed to talk his way into a moral victory with a Tri-State press corps that has been so thoroughly burned by years of Dolan's Draconian media policies that they are ready to throw in their lot (and their columns) with anyone challenging him. Prokhorov dressed up the entire Anthony affair as a success for the Niets, insisting that his organization had “made a very good tactical decision to force (the) Knicks to pay as much as they can."

And, while I'm sure that the Nets front office was aware that pursuing Melo with all of the assets that they had acquired would raise the price for other teams looking to land the 26-year-old scorer, I would find it hard to believe that this was the main objective from day one. Or, did Proky fly to Los Angeles to sit wordlessly between Anthony and Jay-Z for the better part of an hour, just to ensure that Donnie Walsh included both Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari in the Knicks' deal for Anthony? Or was it all a ploy to exile fellow ex-patriot Timofey Mozgov to the Rockies? Perhaps there is some generations old blood feud between the Prokhorov and Mozgov clans dating back to disputed territories in the Crimea that changed hands in the aftermath of the Decembrist Revolt.

Because then I might believe that all the public machinations of the Nets' attempt for Anthony were done with goals other than actually obtaining Anthony.

But until more information about that Prokhorov-Mozgov blood feud comes to light, I'm going to assume that the Nets went after 'Melo, first and foremost, because they wanted 'Melo. Perhaps they wanted his fame as much as his game as they seek to forge a new brand, but they wanted him for themselves all the same because without locking up Anthony through his team's move to Brooklyn, Prokhorov was no closer to that first goal of winning a championship.

Yet, to his credit, Prokhorov did manage to make headway on that second goal despite his failure to land Anthony. Not only did he plant the idea in the fertile back pages that he was more responsible than the Nuggets' front office for the price the Knicks paid to land Anthony, but his staff pulled off a shocking trade for a different All-Star on the day of Anthony's debut at the Garden. The Nets shipped Derrick Favors, a very promising power forward prospect who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft; Devin Harris, an NBA All-Star at the point; and then a 2011 first-round pick to the Utah Jazz for Deron Williams, who is arguably the most talented point guard treading the boards in the entire Association. As a public relations excercise, the Williams trade was an immediate smash hit as the above tweets indicate. Most importantly, it caught the NBA twitterati off guard. After the torturous CAA-driven Melo and LeBron moves it seemed a tsunami of fresh air to have Williams' move come as a surprise.

The Russian knows how to play the back pages in a way that is flat-out Steinbrennerian. He sells his losses like victories and boasts risks into rewards. Nevertheless, it seems like this deal is as much about acquiring the spotlight on the day that Carmelo was introduced, as it is about the future. Because how does shipping Favors, Harris and a first-rounder look when Williams doesn't re-up when his contract runs out after 1+ seasons of losing in an empty building with Brook Lopez as his only running mate? At that point, will today's spike in relevance mean much in that fight for a title or against Dolan?

Despite that fact that both basketball aficionado camps - the efficiency-focused Hollinger disciples and the grizzled old-time bird dogs who trust eyes over algorithms - are in agreement that, in a vacuum, the superlative point guard is better than the high-volume scorer there is enough risk attached to the Nets deal that even the Wilpons would be suspicious if it yielded dividends. The Nets surrendered both players as well as one of the three draft picks that they would have given up for 'Melo for Williams. Which, at first, seems like a steal, but don't forget that they were requiring that Anthony sign an extension before that deal went down. Something that Williams didn't do. Which means that after about 100 regular-season games (and maybe 4-5 first-round playoff games NEXT year), this very talented gentleman can end the lease at his rented Edgewater condo and move on to any club that he chooses. Or even worse for the Nets, he can keep that condo and just take the ferry across the Hudson when he signs with the Knicks as a free agent.

Now, to be clear, I don't think that Williams is coming to New York. I think he's more likely to go home to Dallas or to go west to Los Angeles. But, I do think that he's at least as likely to leave as he is to stay at the end of next year while Carmelo and Amare will be together for several seasons. I also think that Prokhorov is unaware of how anonymous the Nets were before he planted his flag in the swamps of Jersey with another very respected point guard in Jason Kidd (who Williams could very well succeed in Dallas) at the helm. I think that he may have gotten so focused on his secondary goal of upstaging Dolan that he undermined his primary goal of winning a title. Or perhaps, all of this has to do with the aforementioned Prokhorov-Mozgov feud from the old country. Perhaps.

I guess, it's also possible that, as one area columnist decidedly not smitten with his new Russian overlord noted:
"To put it politely, with the possible exception of Sean Williams, the Russian gentleman is as ignorant as anyone we’ve ever encountered that had some connection – big or small – to the NBA."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Carmelization: Reading My Bros (and Cousin)

Since we've already heard what the professionals had to say about the deal that will hopefully never be known as the "Return of the Balk," I figured it was only appropriate that we heard what my younger brothers had to say.

Brother Middle: I'm bummed to see us lose a few guys I like alot but i feel it had to be done. I'm a little shocked/flabbergasted by this isiah involvement. Even if Walsh would have been more conservative I'm glad we got the deal done. We're in good position. How long do we keep D'antoni? I'd like a team that plays a little defense.

Brother Youngest: If Melo is hanging out with Ronnie then he is cool in my book.

Bonus Cousin Baller: Excited about the shakeup and think Billups is a winner, but not good for the system and should have PG and a Big be the stars so the pick and roll has the best two players. Interested to see how Carmelo as a ball reliant wing will work. We also have no frontcourt depth without Mozgov and no potential center for the future right now. Hate losing Gallo because I thought he was key in the rebuilding plan and developed an affinity toward him, but we did upgrade SF position and we don't need another. I agree we gave up a lot, but was necessary.

Carmelization: Reading the Pros

For the most part, there seem to be three reactions in the media to the Knicks' acquisition of Carmelo Anthony and other players in exchange for various starting players, insurance policies, draft picks, overweight, overpaid bench warmers and cash prizes.

1. Eucatastrophe. With lips stained bright blue from the Knickerberry kool-aid, these guys think the deal was a no-brainer regardless of the price.

2. We had to do it but, damn, that was expensive. The great unsilent majority of fans and commentators tend to be writing some variation on this theme. These folks want to be happy, but something just doesn't sit well ...

3. Bad men conspired to make a bad deal. We've got an unmitigated Isiah-hatched disaster on our hands. And we re-acquired Renaldo Balkman. Next you're going to tell me that Jared Jeffries coming back after the Rockets waive him. Wait, what?

GROUP ONE:'s Bill Simmons (via Twitter):
"In a 30-team league, the Knicks now have 2 of the 10 guys who started yesterday's All-Star Game. That deal was a no-brainer."

"Chandler/Gallo/Felton/Mozgov/No. 1 for Melo/Billups = totally fair deal. NYK cannot eff around here. Last available top-12 guy for 18 mths."

Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen:
I think it's a terrific deal for years to come.

ESPN NY's Ian O'Connor:
It's one of the best trades this team has made since Eddie Donovan acquired Dave DeBusschere in 1968.

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith:
"The people who run this franchise would have looked like buffoons for perpetuity had they not pulled the trigger and gotten Melo to Gotham City ... As for the players the Knicks lose, no disrespect, but who cares?"

Mike Lupica of the Daily News:
There have been only a handful of debuts such as this since the glory years for the Knicks. There was the night that Patrick Ewing officially became a Knick. There was the first time Pat Riley came out of the Knicks locker room and made the left turn and began to make the Knicks matter again. There was Amar'e Stoudemire's debut earlier this season. There have been some others. None bigger than this."


Sports Illustrated's Zach Lowe:
-They have improved in the big picture, but this team is still not close to competing against the Heat, Celtics, Bulls and Magic.

-My general take is that this is a fair deal ... New York is paying a heavy price, but it’s not as heavy as the James Dolan haters — and they are justified in their hate, for sure — might have you believe.

Ball Don't Lie's Kelly Dwyer:
Just enjoy this moment, New York. Because this moment doesn't promise anything beyond what it's already given you.

Dan Krieger at the Denver Post:
Everybody will declare victory because that's what everybody does after a trade, but all we know for sure is the end of the interminable Carmelo Anthony drama was a victory for Anthony, who got everything he wanted.


ESPN's John Hollinger:
"New York still gets its Melo-Stoudemire nucleus, but now lacks the supporting pieces to do anything important with that core."

Jemele Hill at ESPN:
"The New York Knicks just figured out a way to give up everything but the coasters for a borderline franchise player and still be a couple of years away from being ready to compete for an NBA championship."

Joey Litman at Straight Bangin':
More than anything, hurtling toward such an uncertain end is what casts the Anthony trade in the same negative light that has shone on the Knicks for years. After working with discipline and purpose to change Knick culture, cultivate opportunity, and repair horrific salary-cap damage, New York reverted to the bad habits which got it in trouble for so long.

Carmelization: The Moving Pieces

To New York:
Carmelo Anthony
Chauncey Billups
Shelden Williams
Anthony Carter
Renaldo Balkman
Corey Brewer

To Denver:
Danilo Gallinari
Wilson Chandler
Raymond Felton
Timofey Mozgov
2014 first-round draft pick (from NY)

To Minnesota:
Anthony Randolph
Eddy Curry
$3 million (from NY)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Mudita

NBA All-Star Weekend Edition

Rookies vs. Sophomores Game:

John Wall's Bounce-Pass Oop to Bake Griffin

DeJuan Blair Backboard Self-Oop

DeMarcus Cousins Returns Favor to Wall

Majetsic DeMarcus Slam

Slam Dunk Contest:

Serge Ibaka Gets His Doctorate

DeMar DeRozan Epic Slo-Mo Hi-Def Dunk

JaVale McGee's Swag is on a Million

Blake Superior Test Flies a Kia

The Game
Amar'e Midair Ally-Oop to Dwight Howard

Coast Coast with LBJ

Kobe: Most Valuable Flack

Kobe Wanted MVP Award Like Dolan Wanted 'Melo

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Love and Basketball

The Best Quotes from All-Star Saturday Night

On Love:
"I always say, shooting is like a good lady. It stays with you your whole life."
-Kenny Smith

"You know what your jumping ability is like? It's like those girls in the club, they're only with you when you're in the league."
-Kenny Smith

On The Best Scorer:
"I think Carmelo is the best flatout scorer in the NBA but [Kevin Durant] to me is second."
-Reggie Miller

"I would say it was Carmelo is the easiest, Lebron is the second and then [Kevin Durant] is the third best scorer in basketball."
-Kenny Smith

"In another year, [Durant]'s going to be the best player in basketball."
-Kenny Smith

"He better kill LeBron James then."
-Charles Barkley

On Scoring:
"Scoring is the easiest part of the game. Defense and rebounding are the two hardest part of the game."
-Charles Barkley

On Dunkers:
"I would say arguably the best in-game dunker in this league."
-Reggie Miller on Dominique Wilkins

"Well i think The guy to his left is. [Doctor J] is the greatest in-game dunker ever."
-Charles Barkley on Julius Erving

"No, I'm rolling with Vince Carter. C'mon Chuck."
-Dwight Howard

"Vince was a great dunker, but we'd have to disqualify him becuase he got shot once a game."
-Charles Barkley

On Love:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pride Comes Before the ... Break

After a sprained toe forced Amar'e Stoudemire to sit out the Knicks' road win over the Nets at the Rock on Saturday night, STAT returned to practice on Tuesday with strong words for his club's next opponent: the Atlanta Hawks.

The last time that the Knicks and Hawks linked arms on the dance floor a few weeks back, things got ugly in the waning moments as the Knicks three-point shooting enforcer Shawne Williams exchanged a few haymakers with Atlanta's Marvin Williams. During that game, Amar'e apparently took exception to some of the antics of Hawks pivot Al Horford.
"I told you before he doesn't want to see me, man. Horford, I watched him play in Florida and I've seen him play a few years in Atlanta. We have two different games. We'll see how it plays out [Wednesday].

"He feels good. His team was winning. He had a couple baskets. He hit a couple jump shots. But he felt good. He felt like he was doing something.

"But welcome to New York."
True to his words, the Knicks were less than cordial hosts last night as they powered their way to a 102-90 win. The home team was feisty, fiery and aggressive throughout the game. They repeatedly took the ball into the paint (and made a ton of floating runners once there) and committed a few hard fouls when the Hawks tried to do the same. Befitting their contentious stance, the Knicks donned Oakley-era throwback uniforms when they took the floor. All that was missing from their mid-1990s masque was the mustaches.

Although Horford and Amar'e will be teammates on the Eastern Conference All-Star team at the weekend there was clearly no love lost between the pair as they each labored to dunk over the other throughout the game. Both had their moments, but Amar'e had more of them, finishing with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks while Horford had a (for him) pedestrian 12 points and 11 boards.

While the Hawks relied on three-point shots to keep them within hailing distance, the Knicks got production up and down the lineup, notably a stellar effort by Wilson Chandler off the bench. Still it was Stoudemire's ornery oratory from Tuesday that defined the performance. For once, the Knicks produced four quarters of prideful, pressing basketball. They didn't surrender a 30-point quarter or settle only for deep jumpers. They took the game to their opponents, all night long. Lionel Richie would have been proud. Needless to say, everyone in the Garden was. Fans even booed down a late "We Want Melo" chant emanating from the 400 level.

I watched the conclusion of this game with my grandfather. I turned to him and remarked, "This Amar'e guy is pretty good. Ain't he?"

"Yeah. He's special. And he wants to be here," he replied definitely.

Welcome to New York, indeed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Landry Fields: Everybody's Employee of the Month

Donning a pair of Clark Kent frames and the requisite red T-shirt Knicks rookie shooting guard Landry Fields recently attempted to sell Knickerbockers merchandise to shoppers at a local Modells Sporting Goods store, presumably in Westchester where Fields lives. Like Danny Woodhead before him, nobody recognizes Fields and nobody is particularly interested in buying a No. 6 jersey. Mild amounts of comedy ensue as Fields hams it up.

Having played the male lead in the eighth-grade play (largely thanks to owning several tie-dye shirts and being a convincing enough stoner), I'd like to think that I know a thing or two about acting chops. And by my estimation, Fields is a natural. A large part of his success in these improvisational scenes is his awareness of the folks around him and his willingness to just go for it. Not coincidentally, these same two attributes are evident in the hustling put-back play that has become Fields' trademark.

In other Modells viral advertising news, Philadelphia Eagles R&R man DeSean Jackson also appeared in a similar spot. Being DeSean Jackson, though, he was recognized pretty early, making everything a little less fun.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Knicks Worse Than Worst (Yet Have Beaten Best)

Before Week 11 of the NFL season kicked off, there was a graphic depicting the league's parity that appeared on nearly every website not showing exclusively pornography. It was first discovered at Reddit, but was such a hit that there were even bunnies posing with it on At least, I think that was one of the many animal-related emails that my girlfriend sent me that week in late November.

The chart formed a circle by placing each team to the left of a team it had previously beaten during the first 10 weeks of the season. It worked because every team had beaten a team that had beaten another team which had then beaten two friends and so on and so on.

For some reason, I thought of this chart last night when I heard that the Cleveland Cavaliers outlasted the Clippers in overtime to end their historic 26-game losing streak. I thought of it because the only reason that the Clippers' streak didn't stand at 37 games heading into that game was because they edged the Knicks in overtime on Dec. 18 to halt what was already a 10-game losing skid.

"We've been right there," shoot-first-ask-questions-later Cleveland point guard Mo Williams said after the game. "We showed our grit. We wanted to see some wins to start believing."

Coming off a disheartening, nationally-televised loss to the Miami Heat the night before that mid December visit to Cuyahoga County, the Knicks couldn't solidify various first half leads and allowed the home team to net two unanswered buckets in the final 45 seconds to force overtime. As so often seems to be the case, the team that forced the overtime is the team that won the overtime.

The members of the Cavaliers would not smile those winning smiles for nearly two months after that game because other teams, unlike the Knicks, transmuted their various first half leads into eventual margins of victory. Because other NBA teams greedily grab the low-hanging fruit during the arduous 82-game regular season. Not our 2010-2011 Knickerbockers, though. Their tastes in fruit are harder to unpack. They seem to crave the highest-hanging varieties without quite being able to consistently reach the branches from which they grow. Unless, Amar'e Stoudemire lets his teammates stand on his shoulders to reach.

I thought of that NFL chart last night because unpredictable teams like the New York Knicks are the key to the sort of parity that the NFL cultivates. The inconsistent Knicks would later beat those same South Beach SuperFriends that they lost to before losing to Cleveland. They would even rout the San Antonio Spurs, who came into that matchup with the best record in the NBA.

The Knicks can beat any team on any given night. But they can also lose to the Clippers who will in turn drop their next game to the Cavaliers, who, of course, hadn't tasted victory in the several weeks since they had been fortunate enough to tangle with the Knicks. When looking at such a series of results it's tempting to assume a transitive relationship between the teams: If Team A beat Team B and Team B then beat Team C then Team is also better than Team C.

But if the Knicks have been beaten by the Cavaliers and the Clippers and the Cavaliers then beat the Clippers then I think that would make the Knicks the 1962 Mets. Perhaps if the Carmelo trade doesn't go through the Knicks can use Eddy Curry's roster spot to sign Marvelous Marv Throneberry. He's got to have better hands than Mozgov. Or perhaps we can reanimate Casey Stengel to replace Mike D'Antoni on the sideline.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Old-Fashioned Clip Joint

It was such a crowded Hard Day's Night-esque mob scene pushing into Madison Square Garden from 7th Avenue last night that you'd have thought Justin Bieber was inside. Well, except for the pronounced lack of booing. The entryway coming into the box office area, flanked by the ramps leading to the A/B and C/D gate escalators, was packed tight enough that a family of sardines in from Massapequa, decked out in their tiny replica jerseys and foam tail fins, was all like, "Damn, son, you gotta be kidding me."

In hopes of circumventing the main bulk of the hoops-happy throng lodged just inside the phalanx of glass double doors, I moved straight in toward the ticket windows at the back of the foyer, before turning hard right toward the turnstiles for Gates C and D. There was a row of waist-high metal barricades separating the heaving crowd from the ticket windows and ahead of me were two foreign men wearing puffy, winter gear having a hard time with a powerfully built but decaying sexagenarian wearing the burgundy coat with dark green accents that marked him as MSG staff. It seemed that the tourists wanted access to a ticket window in order to purchase tickets for the game. They seemed to be speaking for a group of people with similar aspirations. All of these ticketless saps were mucking up my plan for skirting the crowd en route to the ticket scanners.

"There's only ONE ticket left," the old usher crowed to the utter befuddlement of the gentlemen wanting to buy tickets. "We're all sold out, 'cept for one seat."

Inching past as this conversation was taking place, I couldn't help but ask where the last open seat in the Garden was located.

"We got one seat left in section 78," croaked the rock salt voiced MSG staffer, who was assuredly a bare-knuckle bruiser in his prime. I think that he would have liked nothing more than for the slight, swarthy looking fellow who wanted to buy tickets (and really wasn't grasping that this just wasn't going to happen) to become belligerent. Back in the waning days of the old Garden up on Eighth Avenue, I'd bet this fella gleefully spilled the blood of unruly patrons on 49th Street and was a wild-eyed, last-call terror at the bars in Hells Kitchen after his shift ended. I also assume that he gleefully cast his vote for Richard Nixon the fall after the Garden moved to its current home when it felt to him like the whole damn world seemed to be shifting under his feet.

Section 78 is located near the free-throw line behind the benches. It's just a few rows of folding chairs from the court and, I'd imagine, the tickets will easily run you a few hundred bucks. While waiting to have my $10 ticket for section 416 scanned, I was talking to the same friend who came with me on the night of LeBron James' first visit to the Mecca. We talked about that game. We talked about that play in the second half when LeBron drove straight down Broadway, rose and slammed it home just like he has so many times since. We talked about how we always talk about that dunk and how it let everyone in the place know that this man child from Akron was indeed as special as Sports Illustrated claimed. And we talked about how we were already having a much better night thus far on this night because on that night we'd had to ditch the car up near Columbus Circle and hoof it the rest of the way due to nightmarish gridlock that had started on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge.

Hoping to breeze up to the upper tank once through the turnstiles, we were greeted by stalled escalators in the C tower. Thankfully, as much-missed comedian Mitch Hedberg sagely said, "an escalator can never break: it can only become stairs." And as he predicted there was no "Out of Order" sign just a lot of folks double-timing it up the recently formed stairs.

The amperes of electricity coursing through the large crowd as they surged upward was thanks largely to the appearance of the Los Angeles Clippers' sort-of rookie Blake Griffin. He is nearly every bit the well-muscled physical specimen that James was in his first season. Except bigger and stronger and more powerful (but without that nearly-inimitable Magic Johnson court vision and that untrustworthy Isiah Thomas smile). His dunks are legion and already legendary.

Although Griffin had treaded the Garden boards during the 2008 Preseason NIT while at the University of Oklahoma (and I saw him dominate in the semifinal against UAB to the tune of 32 and 15), tonight was his first big boy game in the biggest room. Expectations were as high as those lobs that Baron Davis has been lofting to Griffin all season long in various littler rooms around the country.
Well you're in your little room
and you're working on something good
but if it's really good
you're gonna need a bigger room
and when you're in the bigger room
you might not know what to do
you might have to think of
how you got started in your little room
-The White Stripes
Despite the excitement generated by Griffin, this was a pro-Knicks crowd through and through. The second-year rookie was even booed the first time that he touched the ball, showing how far we've come from the dark days when visiting players were being serenaded with MVP chants (from out-of-town fans who had been able to buy tickets just before tip-off). That being said, everyone was hoping for a repeat of the first meeting between the two clubs when the Knicks won, 124-115 and Griffin went off for 44 points, 15 rebounds 7 assists and a handful of the most ferocious dunks of the decade. Yeah, a repeat of that would have suited all of us just fine. Well, everyone except for the Knicks' sometime starting center Timofey Mozgov, who was absolutely gulagged by Griffin last time. One particular full front assault was so severe and so instantly iconic that there is already artwork dedicated to it. The rise and slam was such a personal affront that the Moz wasn't just "posterized." The poor dude was illustrated.

Looking very much like a guy with something to prove, the Moz came out dunking mighty Russian Revenge Dunks in this game. He was snatching passes in the paint as if long-lost Soviet scientists or Vincent Price's character from Edward Scissorhands had replaced his wooden hands with supple hoopster hands with opposable thumbs. Perhaps more surprisingly, on the other side of the ball, it wasn't Griffin doing the damage rather it was little-heard-from third-year big man DeAndre Jordan. Strange days, indeed. Thanks to a put-back layup by Mozgov, the 'bockers closed out the a sizzling but steak-free first quarter with a 29-28 edge.

In the second quarter, two things happened. First, a flurry of made jump shots had me thinking about Ryan Gomes for the first time since his senior year at Providence. Second, the Clippers repeatedly knifed to the paint through the Knicks' hot-butter defense. Actually, using the "like a knife through hot butter" idiom overstates the intensity of the first half defending. Those hot knives usually come out the other end of that stick of butter with some sort of residue on them, some glistening delicious buttery goodness, whereas the Clippers were getting to the rack totally clean. They were cutting through the defense like knives through ... a void.

Thanks largely to Gomes and the home team's empty space defensive strategy, the Clippers blitzed the Knicks, 30-18, in the second. There were boos throughout 400 level as the teams headed off the floor for intermission. One frazzled fellow in Row H of section 415 was doing his best to instigate a "We Want MEL-LO" chant to no avail.

Able to pull only a solitary point closer in the third, the Knicks had a long way to climb in the final quarter. But climb they did, like fans up a broken escaltor. With Amar'e Stoudemire tethered to the bench due to foul trouble, his teammates went to a full-court press. They drove to the rim and they hit jumpers. Instrumental in this spurt was back-up point guard Toney Douglas. He piloted the press and added 10 quick points in the first half of the fourth quarter. After a Douglas three pointer pulled the Knicks within 99-94, Amar'e retook the floor. He scored on the next possession, pulling the home side within three points. For a few fleeting minutes he was just as unstoppable as he had been a few days earlier against Philly, scoring the Knicks' next eight points.

In December or January, an Amar'e run like this would have turned the tide. But not tonight. Not when Randy Foye matched STAT's eight points with eight of his own during that same stretch. Another candidate for a where-are-they-now? Big East edition, the former Villanova star, who nearly got his eye poked out on this court several years ago, caught fire down the stretch and extinguished the Knickerbocker comeback to the chagrin of everyone but the guy who really, really wanted to kickstart that "We Want Melo" chant. He got a lot more help in the final minute of the 116-108 loss. I even heard someone else offer to pay Wilson Chandler's airfare to Denver.

This game wasn't as advertised on any front. A very-near capacity crowd (unless some deep-pocked loner bought that single in 78) was lured into the Garden hoping to see a transcendent performance by Griffin and an appearance by a Knicks team that was serious about making the playoffs and holding off the ever-encroaching shadow of mediocrity. But we didn't see either of those things. And by the time that we were all getting wise to it, the ushers were starting to usher us toward the exits. As I descended the stairs, I had no doubt that bruising AARP member in his Nixon-era staff jacket at floor level was gleefully pushing disappointed folks out into the cold night with a bigger smile on his face than anyone outside the visitors' locker room.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gunners Holstered, Saving Bullets

Perhaps I'm cynical. Or perhaps I've just gone without health insurance for so many years that I'm terribly reluctant to accept the power of sickness over relatively young and fit men. Regardless of the reason, I don't think what's going around North London is the flu.

Arsenal stars Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie have informed their respective national teams that they are too ill to play in this coming weekend's international friendlies. Instead, they will stay in London ahead of a season-defining stretch for the Gunners.

As an Arsenal supporter, I hope these are red and white lies. I hope that both players are Ferris-full of energy and creativity with just a dash of mischief, and that they are passing on the rigors of mostly meaningless "friendlies" to further marshal their strength for a stretch run that will have them competing in four competitions. Alive for the Premiership title, the FA Cup, the Carling Cup and the Champions League, Arsenal need these two players fit if the club is to win silverware for the first time since the 2005 FA Cup triumph over Manchester United.

Long-departed striker Thierry Henry was the team's leading scorer during that '05 campaign with 33 goals, but he missed the Cup final due to injury. Since the Gunners hoisted that trophy (after edging Man U in penalties), Henry has gone from North London to winning titles with Barcelona in Spain and last month he was training in Waldwick, NJ for the upcoming MLS season. So, yeah, it's been a while.

If Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban owned in a European soccer club then he would be appalled by the fixture congestion. Players are pulled out of the club sides for national duty on the regular and even when the are under a club's control they are asked to play in all manner of cups on top of the league schedule. Cuban doesn't like international tournaments during the offseason and one would imagine that his players would routinely come down with whatever ailment currently bedevils these Gunners. Such a full schedule has been partially responsible for Arsenal's struggles in recent years (along with the refusal to splurge on a few durable and rugged central defenders) as players like Cesc and Van Persie have missed key games year after year.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Knickception: Episode 1

Scene 1: Exterior urban street, day

On a Saturday toward the end of his sixth year of grade school, a boy nabbed himself a forearm's length of fishing wire from the hardware store at the corner of 239th Street and Broadway. He'd clipped the piece off a long roll with a pair of stainless steal sheers he found on an seemingly untouched gardening display at the end of the narrow aisle and then tucked the wire up the right sleeve of the ill-fitting charcoal blazer that he wore every day to Catholic School. As he exited the store, the boy nodded as nonchalantly as he could seem at the wife of the owner as she swept the sidewalk out front. Her broom was a homemade besom broom rather than one of the push brooms for sale inside.

The gawky 12-year-old walked home briskly, but not too fast, limiting himself to just one look over his shoulder as he made his way through the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. He had never set foot in a boat, and his father's idea of fishing involved reaching around in a barrel full of icy water for the last cold Pabst, but that piece of fishing wire represented freedom. It's nine inches were the distance between his small life and the rest of the world.

When he got home, the boy slid off his well-oiled but penniless size 10.5 loafers and placed them in line with his grandfather's smaller dusty, cardboard soled oxfords just inside the front door of the clapboard row house. He walked on tipped toes down the darkened corridor, past the kitchen where his mother's ample posterior was sticking out from under the sink as she presumably dealt with another leak, to the bedroom he shared with two younger brothers. The youngest was sleeping fitfully in a a crib when he entered. Quieter still, the boy knelt at the side of his own bed and reached an arm under the mattress. He pulled out a cardboard cigar box which he had rescued from the trash on the day that his grandfather had moved in with them. His grandmother had just died, but the day seemed unusually festive.

The cigar box had a picture of the biblical character Samson on the front, whom he'd learned about in school. Inside was a pair of dice, an affectionate note he'd once gotten from a girl at school who had since moved to Long Island, a stack of baseball cards featuring local heroes like Joe Collins, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Joe DiMaggio and his favorite New York Yankee, pitcher Eddie Lopat who grew up in the Bronx and starred at nearby Clinton High School. Beneath all these possessions in that box was the object that had inspired him to break the law for the first time. To that point, the worst thing he had done was to covet the bicycle of his neighbor. The object that pushed him to crime was a round brass disc less than an inch in diameter. It was an IRT token he'd won off a schoolmate rolling that pair of dice in the corner of the classroom while his teacher, Sister Mary Clarence, scolded a student in the hallway for blaspheming Casey Stengel.

The Interborough Rapid Transit had extended into the Bronx for his whole life, but just recently had the boy ventured up to the platform at the station at 241st and Broadway, just north of the hardware store and across from Van Cortland Park. Although the elevated tracks abruptly stopped in Riverdale, a map on the platform showed that passengers on the train could travel south across the river into Harlem and eventually Manhattan. One could even connect to other trains and go as far as Brooklyn and Queens, places he'd traveled to mostly for funerals and christenings. By taking that train it might even be possible to visit that girl who had moved out to Long Island after her father returned from the War.

Which is where the stolen goods came into it. After filing down the raised markings on the side of the coin that read GOOD FOR ONE FARE, he looped the fishing wire through the Y-shaped cutout in the center of the token, tying a small knot to keep the coin on his thin but strong string so that he could drop it into the coin slot on the IRT turnstile and then pull it back out so that he could re-use it for his next journey.

To be honest, he'd hardly noticed the mousy brunette before that note had landed near the inkwell at the top right edge of his desk two years earlier. And, it wasn't so much her that he missed as it was the notion that somebody was paying attention to him, that somebody was approving. Since she'd departed, the boy had endured an unwanted growth spurt which had initially left his confidence in tatters. Assuredly, no girl, mousy or otherwise, could be sweet on a skinny, beanpole like him. Especially one without a nice bicycle.

Eventually, though, his height helped him find another way to garner attention: basketball. Playing at first with a lace-up ball he'd found in a janitorial closet at school, he'd found his newfound height, although it embarrassed him in just about every other situation, made him nearly unstoppable in the gymnasium. Soon enough he was playing with seventh graders. Then eighth graders. His dexterity and fluidity slowly gained on his size as the winter thawed. Before long, he had been asked by some high school boys to play. It was the second Saturday afternoon in March when he first played with a about two dozen high school kids at a hoop tied up on a light post at Van Cortland Park. They were so much stronger than he was and pushed him around beneath the rim, but he could keep his dribble seemingly as long as he wanted. A group of boys whose parents could afford to send them to Fordham Prep adopted him as their point guard. Soon enough they were filling his head with stories about their own travels by bus and even train to play against the best players that New York City had to offer. If he kept improving, they said, maybe he too could play in such games.

The boy was immediately smitten. He returned to that makeshift court every Saturday morning whether he'd been explicitly invited or not. And by the last weekend in April he'd stolen that line of fishing wire. He also wanted to match his game against the lithe, artful blacks in Harlem, the stout, tenacious Jews on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the lean and mean Irish out in Brooklyn. He wanted to improve enough to make the basketball team at Fordham Preparatory School. And then he wanted to find a way out farther from Riverdale than a forearm's length of fishing wire and one IRT token could take him.

Decades later when he was approached while he thought he was eating the signature bone-in ribeye steak at Mo's in Indianapolis by NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver with the opportunity to travel places that he'd only dreamed of, literally, it took him just a moment to agree to the scheme. A short while later, when told he'd need to pick some sort of totem to carry at all times, he decided just as quickly.

Donnie Walsh's totem would be that jerry-rigged 1950s subway token.

Amar'e Carries Knicks After Walking With Them

With the Knicks having lost 10 of their last 14 games, an anonymous Knicks player was asked if he believes in Amar'e Stoudemire before the conclusion of the Knicks' home-and-away series with the Philadelphia 76ers:

One night I dreamed I was breaking down the court with Amar'e.
Many highlights from my season flashed across Gardenvision.
In each scene I noticed footprints on the court.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed
that during my slump,
when I was suffering from
anguish, sorrow or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.

So I said to the Amar'e,
"You promised me STAT,
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during
the most trying periods of my season
there have only been one
set of footprints on the court.
Why, when I needed you most,
you have not been there for me?"

Amar'e replied,
"The times when you have
seen only one set of footprints,
is when I carried you."

Game 1: There
In Friday night's game in Philadelphia, the Knicks saw a potential game-tying runner from Shawne Williams rim out at the buzzer. Shockingly, Williams, the league's most accurate long distance caller, passed on an open, corner three before cutting to the rack.

The 98-100 loss dropped the Knicks to 25-24 on the season and raised the 76ers to within two games of the 'bockers in the standings. Particularly disheartening was that the Sixers outscored the Knicks 27-16 in the fourth quarter to grab a game that was seemingly already secured by a solid Knicks' third quarter effort.

Heading into the final quarter all was well in blue and orange and Non-Star point guard Ray Felton had rediscovering the form that had everyone thinking he'd be named an All-Star for the first time in his career. However, an excruciating scoreless stretch, a few key buckets from Walking Dead extra Elton Brand, who may have officially earned recurring role status with a back-from-the-dead, 33 and 16 game, and that late Williams' miss gave the 76ers a message win.

The Message? "Objects in Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear."

Public perception of the Sixers and the Knicks may still be driven by their disparate starts to the season, but they are both on the same stretch of road from here until the postseason. The Sixers' dismal start is behind them. Just like the Knicks' November-into-December surge. And Philly is gaining.

After the road loss, Stoudemire told the assemblage of digital recorders held in front of his face, "We had a chance to win, we should have played with more energy. Once we came back and took the lead, we let down. We've done that before and we've got to correct it."

Game 2: And Back Again
And, boy, did he ever come correct in the Knicks' 117-103 revenge win yesterday. The performance delivered by Amar'e Stoudemire during the Super Sunday matinee is what franchise-caliber basketball players do: They step up and they carry their teams to must-have victories. They dominate. Stoudemire matched his season-high point total with 41, and he did it by making 17 of his 21 field goal attempts while going a perfect 7 for 7 from the free-throw line. This performance was so economical it could balance the US budget.

The Knicks posted three 30-point quarters in this game after being held to just 16 in the fourth quarter of their come-from-ahead loss two days earlier. A large part of the consistent effort was the ever-increasing production of Amar'e. He started strong and finished stronger: scoring 10 points in the first quarter, 9 in the second, 10 in the third and 12 in the fourth. And, perhaps in hopes of getting even stronger still, Amar'e hit the deck for a few push ups before stepping to the line late in the game.