Monday, April 30, 2012

In Memoriam: The Pre-ACL Bulls. A Guest Post by Kurt Scott.

Editor's Note:  The Diss is delighted to feature a guest post from Kurt Scott.  We wish it came under happier circumstances.  This is Kurt's first contribution to The Diss.  He is a lifelong fan of the Chicago Bulls.  You can follow him on Twitter here.


In the waning moments of the Bulls' first playoff game against the Sixers, Derrick Rose hopped into the lane, landing first on his right foot, followed by his left -- those familiar first steps in the choreography of his trademark twisting floater -- before his left knee buckled and he collapsed to the floor.

It looked serious.  Reggie Miller, working color on the broadcast, warned us that it probably was.  Only I didn't believe it, not because the injury didn't look nasty; in what's become one of the most cliched sports observations, the non-contact knee injury is about as worrisome as it gets.  Still, a season of watching D-Rose suffer injury after injury had taught us two things:

1.  Derrick Rose's body can't be trusted.  Certainly not in this condensed season.  As much as we want our boy to be an every-game horse like Durant, Westbrook or LeBron, he just isn't built for it.  And it's not just this year; Rose's oft-cited six missed games over his previous three seasons belies his history of dings, including but not limited to the ankle injury that slowed him for the first month of his sophomore campaign, a back injury in his third year, and a second ankle injury he suffered in last year's first-round series against Indiana, after which he never fully regained his explosion against the Hawks and Heat.

2.  He eventually works his way back.  The road to recovery is fraught with setbacks, missteps and second-guessing, but because Derrick is a warrior, he eventually gets there, and having the chance to watch him at his most brilliant makes it all worthwhile.

Which is why, for me, and I imagine most Bulls' fans, watching Derrick writhe on the baseline was more of a "here we go again" moment than anything else.  Derrick Rose injuries are annoying, not serious.  They mean rehab timetables that are constantly revised by the Bulls' brain-trust of coaches, trainers and front office personnel; they mean watching Rose labor to regain his conditioning and his confidence in his supernatural skills; they meant the possibility that we could -- *gasp* -- fall to the second seed; and perhaps worst of all, they mean angsty internal conversations wherein you remind yourself that it's grossly unfair to be frustrated with Rose himself, as no one feels more betrayed by his body than he does.

Well, we were indulging ourselves.  We know that now.  Rose's series of "minor" injuries didn't make him more immune to more serious "freak" injuries, of course, it only gave us a false sense of security about his ability to bounce back, like clockwork.  And now that he's facing a minimum rehab of six months, and the possibility that he'll never be the same athlete again, we're pushed into a new reality, one where we're far more afraid of what'll happen two, three years from now that what'll happen tomorrow.

But let's deal with the short term, first.

The Bulls' title run is over.  Obviously.  And if we're being honest with ourselves, it's going to be hard to watch them play in this series (or, God willing, the next one and the one after that) without being sad as shit.  It's a Catch-22: If the Bulls look awful in Rose's absence, that clearly sucks.  And if they beat the Sixers and give Boston and the Heat all they can handle before bowing out, it'll be hard to appreciate the accomplishment in its own light.  We'll instead be distracted by what could have been.  And maybe this is just me being cynical, but I expect "what could have been" to turn into "what could have been avoided."  In other words, more heat on Thibs for having left D-Rose in a game that was probably already in hand.

Look, here's what folks are overlooking: though we all know that Rose's body has been a ticking time bomb, the last thing, and I mean the last thing, the Bulls wanted to do was make Rose feel they were anything short of 1,000,000% confident that he could play hard and stay healthy.  It's the playoffs.  The Bulls were only going as far as a fine-tuned Rose, in body and mind, would take them.  And pulling him from the game when they were up 12, with 90 seconds left, would have sent one message: "You will not spend any more time on the court than is absolutely necessary, lest you bust your delicate ass." That's a little incongruous with their other message, which was, "We need you to lead us to the summit of professional basketball," no?  I'd say it is.

But anyways.  Blame games and dime store psychology aside, the title run is over.  For this year and maybe the next.  Maybe even beyond that, depending on how well Rose rehabs and/or modifies his game to his new athletic limitations (I just threw up a little bit in my mouth).  It absolutely goes without saying (though I'll proceed to say it) that Rose has earned almost infinite patience from the fans and the front office as he works his way back to what he was, or discovers what he now must be.  A torn ACL isn't the career-killer that it used to be, so a bit of positive thinking is in order, for as long as this is possible.

But staying invested in the Post-ACL Bulls will mean swallowing a few hard pills, some of which might go down easier if we embrace them now, before they're thrown in our collective faces.

1.  The NBA hype-machine will turn the page on Derrick Rose.  To some degree, it already has.  The echo chamber (TV analysts, bloggers, fan forums, the twitterati) have used Rose's 27 missed games in the regular season to give Chris Paul back his title as the league's best point guard, and anoint Durant as "the guy we like with the best chance to beat the guy we hate" (it was D-Rose this time last year).  It's a short-term memory league, and Rose's cache will suffer for it.  To quote the late great Guru, for the next couple seasons there'll be "no justice, just us", bulls fans, when it comes to recognizing Derrick's talents.

2.  Chicago will turn the page on the Bulls.  Every Chicagoan knows the Bulls are the hottest ticket in town...when the Cubs, Bears and Blackhawks (with their smaller but considerably more visible fan base) aren't rolling.  And now that Rose is out, expect the MLS team -- the whatever they're called -- to challenge as well, and for casual Bulls fans to go back to their default mode: ignoring basketball.

3.  You will be tempted to turn the page, as well.  Rehab is a hard process, even for those of us on the outside looking in.  Especially when there are so many vicarious fan opportunities out there, waving at us, batting come hither eyes.  The Grizzlies.  Now there's a sexy bandwagon.  Tony Allen's twitter feed is full of fun crazy talk and Zach Randolph has "heel cred."  The Thunder are so good, and yet so flawed, that rooting for them at this point doesn't feel like a total front-runner pick.  You can't go wrong with either of those if you're aiming to shift some of your well-wishing to a team with better prospects.

And then there are the offerings of life itself.  Family, lovers, pets, gardens, vacations, professional fulfillment, the Fire and Ice books, brunch.  Now that there's no guarantee that Rose or the Bulls will be supremely awesome soon or ever again, this feels like a moment to reinvest in those beautiful, tactile, and lovable elements in your life, some of which are capable of actually loving you back.

You could do that.  But it'd be a mistake.

Here's why: because jumping ship now would make you a chump.

As noted above, casual appreciation of the Bulls is the name of the game in Chicago and throughout the Bulls diaspora, so it's not as if anyone would confront you for your chumpishness on the street, at the office or family gatherings (unless it's my family, in which case I will definitely tell you about yourself, cousin T).  In fact you'd probably have plenty of company: since Saturday afternoon, the ranks of Bulls  fans ready to look away from the wreckage, take up new hobbies like chess or paying bills on time, has probably swelled to epic proportions.  But that doesn't make it right.  You know it isn't right.  You know that while following professional sports teams -- that is, corporate entities whose employees wouldn't spit on you if you were on fire -- has to rate as one of the least constructive ways a person can spend their time, the only thing that transforms it into an empty calorie pursuit is deciding to care only when your team's chances of success are at their highest.  Bandwagoning, in other words.

After all, some of the most rabid fan-bases have been hardened by the worst disappointments.  The Blazers, the Knicks, the Jazz -- if you're reading this blog, you don't need a history lesson.  It's no coincidence that the hungriest fans aren't only the most underfed, but the ones who've been close enough to smell the meal, only to have it snatched away and fed to someone else or thrown by fate into the garbage disposal, time and time and time again.

If you consider these fan bases to be mature for their run-ins with crushing disappointment, Bulls fans, as a collective, are in their adolescence.  The Pistons-dominated late-'80's, which many of us weren't old enough to experience, were washed away by the Dynasty years.  The same can be said for the heartache over Jordan's broken foot, which caused him to miss nearly his entire second season; in his third year he came back even Jordan-er than before.  The post-dynasty Bulls (Eddy Curry, Tyson Chander, Eddie Robinson, Jalen Rose, Jamal Crawford and Mark Blount) were too awful to suffer over, and as scrappy as the Hinrich-Gordon teams were, few of us were under any illusion that they were missing a piece.

In other words, when we've had a taste of greatness, we've gorged ourselves on it.  And when we haven't, we'd known not to expect one.  Our outlook was simple, innocent: we've had our ups and downs, but things have been exactly what they appeared to be.

This is what makes this moment unique for Bulls fans.  It's the first time that we've had something truly excellent taken from us, maybe forever.  And it's where my biggest fear for the Post ACL Bulls era lies: we've never shown that we're capable of loving a team that is facing ruin.

Even if Rose comes back fully healthy, there will always be the specter of another crushing injury.  His style of play dictates that reality.  We know that now.  And who's to say what'll happen with Noah and Deng's also fragile healths, Boozer's descent into mediocrity, and Taj and Omer's upcoming contract negotiations in another year?  This will, in short, be a hard and downright scary team to love with all of its uncertainty.  To quote Melisandre, "the night is long and full of terrors."

(And to add her implied meaning, get ready for some disturbing shit to happen while we're chasing this throne, bitch.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Week That Was: Playoffs!

I often rip on the mainstream sports media. It seems like there are two or three guys doing the thinking, and everybody else can only repeat the same narrative. For instance, before the first round of the playoffs, ESPN had 15 "experts" pick the winners of each series. In 6 of the 8 series' all 15 of the "experts" picked the same team, and in the 7th series 14 of the 15 picked the same team to win. That leaves one series (Clippers vs. Memphis) where they were genuinely divided. Is there no original thought, or is nobody willing to go out on a limb and pick an upset? Last year a 5 and an 8 seed won in the first round; the year before a 5 and a 7 seed.

The playoffs are an especially bad time to be in the media echo chamber. Stay there long enough, and you might be convinced the Avery Bradley's emergence means that the Celtics are even money to make the NBA finals or that Carmelo can play LeBron to a standstill. With that in mind, I'd like to examine the media narratives for each of the four first round series' that were played today, and see how they held up.

The Bulls played very well when Derrick Rose was injured, and he's put up a few stinkers since he came back. It is unclear whether they will be able to reincorporate him into the team.

Rose did put up a 23/9/9, but he also only shot 39% with 5 turnovers. Given Philadelphia's overall anemic display, I was going to write that the jury is still out as to the Bulls identity. And then this happened, rendering this entire exercise moot.

The Bulls do have a few positives going for them. Rose only played 39 games this season, giving backups CJ Watson and John Lucas III plenty of run with the first team. Also, Philadelphia looks so bad. After starting the season 20-10 they finished it 15-21, and looked all out of sorts in game one, even with the Bulls not playing their best. I don't know if the Bulls have what it takes to go all the way without Rose, but they will certainly get past Philadelphia.

Narrative Verdict: Incomplete

Friday, April 27, 2012

Why Do I Care: The Fan as General Manager

I want to write an article about the drama between Derek Fisher, Billy Hunter and the National Basketball Players Association, but every time I scratch out a few paragraphs I abandon them. Here at The Diss., we are trying to write about sports a bit differently. We try to avoid having the same instant, reactionary and thick-headed analysis propagated by the majority of mainstream sports writing. While I want to write a kneejerk piece about how Derek Fisher is on a righteous if poorly articulated quest, the fact remains that I just don’t know what is going on, and don’t feel comfortable writing about who is right and who is wrong.

Of course, that doesn’t stop others from writing about the situation, and some of it has been quite good (I’d particularly point you do Adrian Wojnarowski and Rand Getlin’s excellent reporting or Jason Whitlock’s critique that the NBA really should be going better). Most compelling to me though, was a question Ethan Sherwood Strauss posted on Twitter:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wild Speculation and Outlandish Guesses: Managing Expectations

Over the next two weeks you'll see a bevy of boring posts breathlessly debating whether LBJ or Durant is the MVP, or decrying the All-Rookie 1st Team because Chandler Parsons isn't on it. Frankly, those are boring, so we'll leave it to other writers. Instead, we'd like to talk about expectations management. Specifically, which teams and players have either exceeded or failed to meet the expectations placed upon them at the beginning of the season.

Which player who is or at some point was a star, has most exceeded expectations this year?

Franklin Mieuli: Tim Duncan no doubt. After a few years of declining averages, this year his Per 36 Minutes numbers are right in-line with his career averages, which if you need reminding, led to four championships and a top 20 player of all time designation.

Omar Bagnied: It's gotta be Paul Pierce. He just dropped 43 on New York and has Boston at the 4-seed. Who had that before the All-Star break? Most of us thought Boston was going to fight for their playoff lives. It's especially impressive considering Ray Allen's been out.

John Reyes Nguyen: I'm gonna go with Steve Nash. He's 37, 2nd in the league in assist, and playing at a high level. Also playing a position where a players skill rapidly decline with age.

Andrew Snyder: I love to see the love for my teenage heart-throb Paul Pierce (what's up 2002 Eastern Conference Finals Losers Boston Celtics!), but I'm going to have to go with Sebastian Telfair.

Just kidding.

I'm going to cheat and go with Brandon Bass - he wasn't ever a star player (except at LSU), but he's been a great fill in for KG at the 4 now that he's playing center for the Celtics.

Jacob Greenberg: The Big Ticket (remember when people called him that?). KG was written off after he was slow to return from a 2009 knee injury, but he's been playing better since the playoffs in 2010. His much publicized shift to the "5" has opened up the Celtics offense, and they haven't missed his defensive production. His 16 and 8 per night are his highest numbers in four seasons, and dude was Eastern Conference player of the week last week. Not bad for 35 (turning 36 during the playoffs).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jazz, Hornets, Bobcats Consummate Brash Post-Deadline Three-Way Trade

NEW ORLEANS: In a shocking post-deadline deal which could have serious playoff implications, rumors surfaced today that that the NBA franchises from Salt Lake City, New Orleans, and Charlotte had made a preliminary agreement  to a three-way trade of their Team Names, Logos, Uniforms, Trademarks, Corporate Staff, and other elements to be named later.

Reported new team logos were just released

Charlotte will re-acquire the Hornets moniker, which they last owned in 2002 before the team moved to New Orleans. Charlotte, which received the Bobcats as an expansion team shortly after the departure of the Hornets in 2004, will send that name to Utah. Finally, New Orleans, currently owned by "The Association," will re-acquire the Jazz name which they last held in 1979 before the team moved to Utah, taking their 1920's sounds to the Great Salt Lake and inspiring thousands of Utah/White/Jazz jokes for years to come.


Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans was one of the first to chime in on the proposed trade this morning, unable to contain his glee before details of the deal were made official. "Dixieland is back, baby," Landrieu cried from the steps of City Hall to a contingent of New Orleans Hornets Jazz fans who had rallied on the nearby plaza.

When reached for comment, players of the teams involved had mixed reactions to their "new" (and in some cases "old") names:

"As a huge Glen Rice, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues fan, this is really a special day for me," said rookie Bismack Biyombo. "I love the Hornets name, logo, and colors, plus lets be honest, I think after this year, Michael Jordan was just sick of us as the 'Bobcats,' so I'm happy for the fresh start."

C.J. Miles, fresh off the news that his team would now be known as the Utah Bobcats, had this to say to reporters at a press conference this afternoon: "Someone just told me they allow people to hunt bobcats in this state, and you change our team name to the Bobcats? Are you kidding me? Unbelievable!"

A Native Utah Bobcat


Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, and other pundits immediately declared the trade a victory for New Orleans and Charlotte re-acquiring their former franchise nicknames and the nostalgia there-in, and questioned Utah's acquisition of the 'Bobcat' name in the three-way deal.

Bayless chalked the trade up as a "total win" for David Stern, to whom he gave all of the credit: "I continue to be impressed by David Stern's reign over the City of New Orleans - first Chris Paul, now this! Unbelievable what Stern has done for New Orleans, just a masterstroke," cackled Bayless, seemingly unaware that his incendiary commentary would be picked up by every NBA blogger and their mother in the next few hours.

"Menage-a-trois! More like Menage-a-WRONG for Utah! What were they thinking?" Cowherd guffawed on ESPN Radio this morning.

Cowherd was quickly joined by Stephen A. Smith on the dial, who had a similar reaction to the trade:

"I get it. Utah has a huge Bobcat population in Yosemite, but this is a disgrace to the memory of not only John Stockton and Karl Malone, but also Jeff Hornacek and Greg Ostertag," fumed Stephen A, who clearly hadn't been adequately prepped by staff on the locations of famous American National Parks.

Brian T. Smith, the Utah Jazz Bobcats beat writer for the Salt Lake City Tribune, first reported details of the trade early last night. He speculated that the Utah franchise was aiming to make a splashy move while perched on the precipice of the playoffs before tonight's matchup with Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns with the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference on the line. However, Smith flat out disagreed with the trade.

"Who knows - maybe if the Ja-- Sorry, The Bobcats, wow that feels weird calling them that..." Smith paused, clearly flustered. "Why would we ever switch our name from the Jazz to the Bobcats? Did you see what Rudy Gay just said to them - they're so bad their not even allowed to trash talk in the league anymore!"

It remains to be seen if the other 27 team owners in the Association will approve the trade. Stranger things have happened in the 2011-2012 NBA Season...


This report was entirely fictional... and written 24 days late... or was it? 

Games of the Week: April 23-29, 2012.

If the NBA was high school (and sometimes it is), it'd be yearbook signing day.  There's only three days left in the regular season.  Fourteen teams will be starting their summer breaks on Friday.  The other sixteen will go to summer school (kinda, sorta, since at NBA High School, you want to go to summer school.  This isn't my best metaphor.  Don't worry about it.)

So, in this final Games of the Week for the 2011-2012 season, we're going to sign a few yearbooks.  I'm not a floozy when it comes to yearbook signing, so I'm only going to write to teams that I've enjoyed watching this season.  I'm gonna make those teams green, which is a great color.  The other ones can do whatever they do during the summer.  Eat crabgrass, probably.  I heard that the Detroit Pistons spend the entire summer at a glockenspiel camp in Delafield, Wisconsin.  What a bunch of losers.

Bust out those ballpoints, and crank up that Vitamin C!  Yearbooks!  Let's get to it.

Monday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies (5:00 PM PST)

Dear Cleveland Cavaliers,

Wow, I can't believe you just finished your second year since "You Know Who" moved to Miami (I know you're still a little bitter, so I won't mention his name).  You're doing well without him.  I have to say that you impressed me this year.  You've grown a lot.  Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson really look like legitimate pieces to build around, and they're only going to get better from here.  On the whole, you've played better than your 21-43 record implies.  Many of your games were quite close, and most people forget that you were firmly in playoff contention until Kyrie went down with a concussion.  But keep the faith!  You've got a lot of cap space, a nice draft pick, a stable front office, and an owner who gives more than a few shits.  Just keep doing what you're doing and soon you'll be at the top (or as close to the top as the Heat and Bulls let you be).  Stay cool, Cavvies!

Keep in touch!

Tuesday: Sacramento Kings at Oklahoma City Thunder (5:00 PM PST)

Hey Sacramento Kings,

Wow!  What a year, huh?  So much drama!  I really have to commend you  -- while your owners seem like doofuses, you made some pretty tasty lemonade from some pretty shitty lemons.  I didn't have much faith in your star players, your role players, your front office, your just didn't really look like there was a plan.  But you guys have really made the most of what you had.  It's been resourceful.  When you wisely got rid of Paul Westphal, you stayed in house and stuck with Keith Smart as head coach.  You've put trust in DeMarcus Cousins even though he's sometimes a bit of a knucklehead.  Jimmer looks a bit like a bust, but Isaiah Thomas was the steal of the draft.  Yeah, you've got to figure out what to do with Tyreke (you'll get a ton back for him, so that's good), and you've got to sort out that arena/relocation business, but you guys obviously can play through drama.  That's what I like about you.  A happy 21-43 is better than a crappy 21-43.  Good luck in the draft, and pray that the Maloofs sell the team soon.

Stay cool,

PS See you in Seattle.  LOL JK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

Wednesday: New Orleans Hornets at Houston Rockets (5:00 PM PST)

Yo New Orleans Hornets!

Man, I can't believe we've gone to school together for so long, and I just noticed you this year!  I feel bad -- you're a really top-notch organization.  When you lost Chris Paul, I didn't expect much.  When Eric Gordon, the centerpiece in the CP3 trade, went down for most of the season, I expected even less.  But y'all proved me wrong.  In the face of adversity, with a roster bereft of athleticism and talent, you gave each team you played a run for its money.  Monty Williams seems like a fantastic coach.  All of your players played hard every single night, and dare I say, some pretty nondescript players became a lot better this year.  Greivis Vasquez, Gustavo Ayon, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith all had great seasons.  It's clear that even though your record doesn't reflect it, you have a winning organization.  I'm happy you got a new owner who will keep you guys around for a long time.  Stay classy.


Thursday: Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves (5:00 PM PST)

What up Minnesota Timberwolves,

From one totally popular dude to another: you became really, really cool this year.  I'm not sure what it was about you.  Well, yes I do: you used to stink.  You smelled really bad, in a losing a lot of games sort of way.  But I'm not sure what happened this year.  I think you lost some weight.  Did you?  You definitely got some new clothes, some new hipster glasses, a new beard.  For most of the year, you carried yourself with a fresh new swagger.  It helped that you had a hall of fame coach, a slick new point guard, and the greatest White American player since Larry Bird.  But I ain't hatin'.  You guys were a lot of fun.  It sucked when Rubio went down, but hey, we'll always have those memories.  I hope your favorable cap situation can mitigate the fact you have zero first round picks in this very, very deep draft.  I have a feeling you'll be okay.  Here's to the playoffs in 2013!


Thursday: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors (7:30 PM PST)

I'm not sure why I'm writing in your yearbook.  We've been dating for, like, 26 years.  This year was a tough year.  You promised me a lot at the beginning of the season.  I knew you weren't going to keep your promise, but I listened, because I always do.  Then -- surprise, surprise! -- you backtracked on your lofty proclamations, and started failing in embarrassing ways in order to keep your draft pick.  But you even failed at that.  After winning last night (against the Wolves, who are cool now, are you even paying attention???) you dropped your chances of keeping the pick considerably.  You even suck at sucking.  It's ridiculous.

But I still love you.  Your failings bring a strange sense of comfort at this point.  We've been together for so long, and I could never say goodbye to a high school sweetheart.  Even one that sucks at sucking.  And maybe you'll change?  I say that every year.  But maybe this next year you'll actually be different.

Don't let me down anymore.  Please.  Have a good summer.


Monday, April 23, 2012

The Week That Was: Ron Artest.

I know other stuff happened this week.  There's a power struggle in the player's union.  Dwight's done for the season.  But we need to talk about what happened at Staples Center today.  We need to talk about Metta World Peace.  I don't really feel comfortable calling him Metta World Peace -- more on that later -- so I hope you, and he, forgive me if I use his old, real name: Ron Artest.

When Ron Artest threw an elbow into James Harden's head, sending him immediately to the floor, and later to the locker room with an apparent concussion, I became sad.  I wasn't sad as a basketball fan.  Rather, I was sad as someone who makes a living working with people with mental disabilities.

I've worked with many types of people who manage disabilities over the last five years.  My 9-to-5 has me working with children with cognitive disabilities, mostly children on the autism spectrum.  However, I started as a vocational rehabilitation specialist, working with adults with serious and persistent mental illnesses.  Although Ron Artest has never been specific about what his diagnosis is (he has only said that he sees, or saw, a therapist), he has been an advocate for mental health awareness and education.  Many people have speculated that he has bipolar disorder, or at the very least, some sort of chemical imbalance or personality/mood disorder.  I have never talked to Ron Artest, so I won't speculate.  But today was different.  Today was especially shocking; I am worried about Ron Artest.  What happened today needs to be addressed as more than a flagrant foul, or a bench clearing brawl.  What happened today needs to be analyzed and considered carefully, because this wasn't the Malice in the Palace.  It was much, much more unsettling.

For a long time, both Artest and the media dichotomized both Ron Artest and his recovery from whichever mental illness he's managing.  Ron Artest was seen as insane, and liable to go off at any time, without warning or provocation.  Metta World Peace, on the other hand, was "zany" and "quirky" -- weird enough to laugh at, but not strange enough to create discomfort.  It was easy to forget about Ron Artest with Metta World Peace around, always making people laugh with his strangely timed references to the Queensbridge projects, or his videos about Afghan Women.  It was almost as if they were two different people.  Metta World Peace was zany, kind of like the Chuck E. Cheese mouse.  Ron Artest was crazy.

How false that dichotomy was. Today, on prime time television, in one of the biggest games of the year, the world learned that Metta World Peace was crazy too.  Immediately after the incident, ABC announcers Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy saw how vicious and deliberate Ron Artest's actions were, and they sadly, but sternly, eulogized the fall of a hero.  "That's disgraceful," Breen spat.  Van Gundy agreed.  "What's sad is the amount of progress World Peace had made," Van Gundy lamented, "I have to think that this undoes all of that.  It's really terrible."  In their minds, Metta World Peace had represented a person who had defeated their demons.  He was someone who had beat his disease, stabilized, and returned to being the lock down defender -- and zany personality -- that made the Lakers so entertaining to watch.  As a basketball fan, I loved Metta World Peace.  His decline in basketball skills, but ascension in overall wackiness was a joy to watch; a strange specimen of personality in a droll, commercialized league.  The league was a better place with Metta World Peace around.

However, as a mental health professional -- whatever that means -- I suspected Ron wasn't where he needed to be.  Even when he was "good", he was still manic.  When I worked with adults with mental illnesses, I was taught to emphasize achieving balance as a way to manage the diagnosis, and keep moving forward in productive, healthy way.  What I always suspected -- and fully realized after Artest threw the elbow today -- was that Ron's zaniness was just manic behavior under a different name.  One of the hallmark features of a mood disorder is attention-seeking behavior.  Does changing one's name, auctioning off championship rings, or giving strange, nonsensical press conferences really seem like the actions of a stabilized individual?  If we really think about it, can we say with confidence that Metta World Peace was any less unstable than Ron Artest who preceded him?  At this point, no.  Definitely not.

I work with autistic children as a behavior specialist in both school and home settings.  When a child presents challenging behavior -- either to their teachers or their parents -- I am called in to observe the child's behavior, assess a variety of factors, and come up with a plan to correct the behavior.  With every child who acts out, I try to find an antecedent -- the trigger that sets off the behavior.  Usually this is pretty easy to ascertain; overbearing parents, late bed-times, bad food before bed and non-preferred activities (usually homework) are often at play.  If I can identify an antecedent, it's much easier to craft a plan and start directly dealing with challenging behavior.

What makes the elbow today especially troubling -- and in my opinion, more troubling than even the infamous Malice in the Palace -- is that, as far as I can tell, there was no antecedent.  I felt for Artest at the Malice.  He was trying to stay out of it. He was attempting to calm down on the scorer's table when someone threw a full cup of soda at him.  As a result, he charged the stands.  It wasn't the right response to the act, but clearly there was something that triggered the behavior.  Ron Artest had every right to be mad.  He should've expressed his anger in a more constructive (and less destructive) way, but at least we knew what set him off.  Today, against James Harden, there was no apparent trigger.  There was no antecedent.  He dunked on Ibaka, celebrated for a few seconds, then wound up and clocked Harden with clear, malicious intent.  We have no idea what set him off.

So, what to do?  The NBA fan in me is livid.  Mike Breen was right when he said "[that] was not a basketball play."  Artest thinks that the NBA will suspend him for the first round of the playoffs.  This might be optimistic, seeing as how Artest has been suspended for over 100 games in his career.  David Stern does not take kindly to repeat offenders, and will make Artest feel his wrath.  More than that, Artest was the sole cause of a concussion, currently the most stigmatized and feared injury in professional sports.  I do not think that a 2012-2013 season ban is off the table.

However, as someone who works in mental health, I am torn.  For any other adult with a mental illness like Artest, I would question whether work is a healthy environment.  We often forget that when we are watching professional basketballers ball, we are watching men at work.  Their professional performances are judged by all, and most pronouncements are given by people who could never possibly understand the intricacies of the job.  This has to be stressful and anxiety producing.  For a person managing a mental illness, therapeutic activities that can create balance and proper perspective can be helpful.  Basketball may be therapeutic.  But basketball as a job?  Likely a different matter.

Artest needs time off and time away.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Artest would be eligible for disability while he takes time to treat a mental illness.  I'm not sure if that would fix anything.  But to me, a huge suspension, giant reprimand, and increased pressure to "get better" won't help.  Mental health is already criminalized.  Ron Artest shouldn't have to go from advocate to pariah because of an illness that is difficult to control, and impossible to fully cure.

And in the end, we must forgive. For I suspect Ron Artest experienced the event the same way we did -- disembodied, looking down from a third person view, horrified by an act committed by someone he didn't recognize.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fortunate Moments for Unfortunate Franchises: An Open Letter to Reggie Miller.

April 20, 2012

Dear Reggie Miller,

Hello.  My name is Jacob Greenberg.  I'm 26 and live in Seattle.  And I used to hate you.

Look, I'm sorry.  I don't mean to put it so bluntly.  But I used to hate you.  I didn't really have a choice.  Everyone hated you.  Everyone.  I was no different.  But I'm here to let you know that I'm sorry, and I was wrong.

I realize now that you were great at the wrong time.  I am a product of the Jordan generation, a child born and raised in a Jordan house.  You were one of a cast of super villains that would appear on NBC on Sunday, hellbent on defeating my beloved Chicago Bulls.  It would happen, too.  You'd beat them.  And when that'd happen, everyone in my home would boo and hiss you, your team, your far flung midwestern city, and your strange "Fieldhouse" filled with hickish looking fans.  The Pacers couldn't be loved in a Bulls house during the Reign of the G.O.A.T.  I mean, the man starred in a movie with Bugs Bunny, for heaven's sake.  There was no way you were going to win.

You were the quintessential super villain in the Jordan years; a veritable Snidely Whiplash to the NBA's Dudley Do Right.  Jordan's grace and athleticism stood in start contrast to your shiftiness and fecklessness.  While Jordan would lure opponents to sleep with his one-on-one moves, and cause defenses to collapse with his slashing, you would prowl the outside like a sniper, and charge through screens like a phalanx.  Both you and Jordan would square up your opponents from outside the arc, but while Jordan sized up his defender, you dressed yours down.  You'd swing your elbows to-and-fro, clearing space to make a move.  Sometimes you'd use a surprisingly quick first step to drive to the hoop, crash into some bodies, and flip the ball in the basket.  Most of the time, though, you'd make a lateral move, and hoist up a deep three, that right leg flailing in a bid for a foul.  You were unguardable.  You were unlovable.

However, as one of my crossover stars -- players whom I watched in both my fledgling and fully formed NBA fanhoods, and whose careers I observed from prime to pasture -- my opinion of you changed with age.  I'm not sure when it happened.  It might have been the 2000 Finals, when you bravely lead your Pacers into certain defeat against a surging Lakers team.  I was 15 at the time, struggling in high school and attempting to find an escape in professional basketball.  I identified with the Pacers that season -- a team filled with veterans that had figured out how to win despite a dearth of athletic talent.  You headlined a crew that featured Mark Jackson, Dale Davis, and Rik Smits.  It looked hopeless against the Lakers -- Shaq was out of his mind that year -- but no one told you guys that.  You didn't give a shit.  You took it to Kobe and made Rick Fox look the fool.  Neither you nor the Pacers cared that it was the Lakers.  If you suspected that this was your only chance to win a ring, you never let on to that fact.  I respected that.  I think we all did.  We certainly felt bad when you guys lost.

After that run, it seemed like the focus slowly turned to other younger Pacers.  Jalen Rose had a turn as Pacers franchise player.  After that, Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest got turns being the Pacers primary faces.  None of them could live up to you.  None of them even got close.  Jalen Rose wasn't that good at basketball without you -- a small forward in denial that he couldn't be the point guard he was in college.  Jermaine O'Neal turned out to be rickety and perishable.  Ron Artest's mental health issues came to the forefront in ugly ways.  No one could replicate your stage presence and skill set.  I realized that there was only going to be one Reggie, and that things were going to be very different when you were gone.  

During the last part of your career, the NBA became a much different place.  The Malice at the Palace marked the end of personality and performance in the NBA, and over time, displays of emotion were frowned upon (and often subject to fine).  Players like Malone and Payton got quieter as they got older, and guys like Steph Marbury, Antoine Walker and Steve Francis showed that brashness and bravado only took you as far as your own skills could (which is why Walker and Francis are both penniless).  In the wake of Reggie, we were left with LeBron, Melo, Dwayne and Dwight -- brand names that are, at times, more concerned about long term marketability off the court than creating a dramatic and memorable scene on the court.

I realize now, Reggie, that you were the NBA's premier super villain.  You stayed in the same city your entire career, a small market team that constantly had to compete against larger markets, first in New York and Chicago, later in Philadelphia and Detroit.  All of your teammates adopted your personality -- stubborn, cold, calculated, hard pressed to give a fuck.  You stood down to no one, including players that were more marketable, and fans that weren't terribly knowledgable.  You won no championships, but really, that doesn't matter much.  Hell, Adam Morrison's won two championships.  I don't think they mean that much to him.

But most importantly -- you were an NBA super villain because of what you did on the court.  Your most famous moment -- "8 points in 9 seconds" -- elevated you into Valhalla, an NBA immortal deserving of the finest virgins in the Norse afterlife.  But that is only one of several moments that thrust you, willingly, into the role of dream-wrecker and playoff-ender.  Today's NBA super villains aren't villainous because of things they do on the court.  Rather, it's what they do off of it.  The Decisions.  The Demands.  The Deceptions.   These traits -- failures of a entrepreneur, not a professional basketball player -- vilify the individual.  Not brilliant displays of craftiness and closure.  That was your forte, Reggie.

Reggie, you never walked that walk.  You never talked that talk.  There was never going to be a decision of whether you left Indiana for a warmer climate, or whether you were going to join forces with rivals in other cities to create a superteam.  You wanted to break hearts in Indiana, to take no prisoners on your own.  I used to hate that.  Now I long for it.  As strange as it sounds, I long for more Reggie Millers.  

Begrudgingly, I admit: your career was a fortunate moment.

Congratulations on the Hall of Fame.

Sincerely yours,
Jacob Joseph Benjamin Greenberg

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wild Speculation and Outlandish Guesses: Tell Me How You Really Feel

Lately, everybody seems to be drinking on some Blake Griffin Haterade. Does he really flop that much, and is he that obnoxious? Does he have a future as a star player, or just a dude that dunks over some people? Tell me how you really feel.

Omar Bagnied: He exaggerates when he's hit sometimes. The dunk-faces and stare-downs are piling up and it's bad for his karma. It's a combination of the two that cultivate the contempt. He seems to lack maturity and, eventually, something has to give. While I don't want to see it happen, I do think someone is going to cheap shot the hell out of this guy if he doesn't stop. The longevity of his career will probably depend on how he responds. He has All-Star talent.

Jacob Greenberg: Yeah, Blake's stock has dropped this season. I'm not really sure why. I'm convinced it's due to the fact that he became a darling of both the NBA and interested endorsers without having (1) proven anything except that he can jump really high and fill the stat sheet, (2) a likable or interesting personality, in general. I don't buy "quirky Blake," a creation of Kia and the NBA. He's so corproratized and commercial-friendly that you can't really get a read on the guy. Maybe it'll change over time. And Omar, he's already taken a few cheap shots this season.

John Reyes-Nguyen: He does flop a lot. For a guy who's so aggressive offensively, he's pretty damn passive defensively. DeAndre Jordan is the same way. Bynum always has monster games against those two. Also Griffin's style of play isn't sustainable. Those hops won't last very long. Especially down low, it's very important to have skills and fundamentals, i.e. Tim Duncan who's still effective and he's 45 years old.

John Heydinger: While it seems that the Haterade is less quenching than a few weeks ago, the general malaise over Griffin has been undeniable. I think Blake suffers from two comparisons. First, let's remember that with the Chris Paul trade Blake immediately became the second fiddle on the Clippers. Even though Blake is still the "face" of the franchise - which just seems to be shorthand for an assumption about marketability - Chris Paul's game has a resonance with the aesthetics of beauty. While power (Griffin) is initially enticing and spectacular, true aesthetic resonance keeps giving back, thus Blake suffers in comparison. Second, the emergence of Kevin Love makes Blake's game feel a little tired and one-dimensional (see: power). Kevin Love is the best power forward in the game (LeBron and Durant, no matter how they are lined up, are not true 4s), a title that at this time last year seemed reserved for Griffin. With Paul in-town and Love making the leap, Blake's game already feels a bit like old news. (Note: perception is forged in the playoffs, stay tuned.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Games of the Meek: April 16-22, 2012.

Believe it or not: I don't like every single basketball team.  It's true.  I definitely equate watching some NBA teams to watching reruns of 7th Heaven, Jersey Shore or even public access television.  These teams are either too scripted, too dramatic, too bizarre or too terrible for my tastes, and I just try and avoid 'em.  But seeing as how this is the last full week of the regular season (strange, I know), I figure I ought to give these teams their due, tell you why these teams don't really hold my interest, and haphazardly explain the reasons I choose not to watch them.  These teams are bathed in red, the color of shame, since most of them, at most, got featured in one Game of the Week.

Perhaps if The Diss ever starts a cable access NBA basketball esoterica hour (guys! I just had an awesome idea), we'll name it The Color of Shame.  Anyways, we'd better just get to this.

Tuesday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Detroit Pistons (4:30 PM PST)

Simply put, these 22-38 Pistons make me sad. And frankly, a little mad.  When they were good, they scored like 80 points per game, and won on their oppressively stifling and unentertaining defense.  I hated watching them.  Now, their defense is middling (15th) and their offense is terrible (28th). The Palace of Auburn Hills is largely empty, and the championship days are long gone.  Tayshaun Prince, who once upon a time was the fifth best starter on a championship team, looks old and disinterested in just about everything.  The players they invested time and money in -- Ben Gordon, Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva, have all been disappointments.  I like Greg Monroe enough, and I've heard Brandon Knight is decent, but this team?  Going nowhere.  Fast.

Wednesday: Milwaukee Bucks at Washington Wizards (4:00 PM PST)

When asked about John Wall's sophomore struggles, Deron Williams instead offered the most nuanced assessment of the 2011-2012 Wizards: "He's had a tough cast down there.  I don't want to put anybody down but he's not playing with the smartest guys in the world.  That's tough man, that's tough.  They're not smart, I don't know.  I've been watching.  JaVale McGee was on the Not So Top 10, like, 50 times this year."  Well put, Deron (even though McGee's on the Nuggets now).  In the few Wizards games I've seen this season, I've rarely known who was on the court, and what the hell they were doing.  I recognize John Wall, but who are the other four guys?  Who are we building around, here?  Jordan Crawford?  Trevor Booker?  I'm confused.  One assumes Ted Leonsis fires deadbeat GM Ernie Grunfeld over the offseason, as well as Randy "Born to be Fired" Wittman.  As for everyone else on this team?  Eh, I don't know.  Let's see what the draft produces.

Thursday: LA Clippers at Phoenix Suns

In my mind, the Clippers are a less entertaining, more entitled version of the 2001-2002 Nets, a team I loved dearly. That team was led by a dynamic Hall of Fame point guard in his prime (Jason Kidd), a high-flying All Star power forward (Kenyon Martin), and a diverse group of offensively gifted role players (Keith Van Horn, Kerry Kittles, Lucious Harris, and Matt McCullogh).  That was a great team.  These Clippers also have a future Hall of Fame point guard (Chris Paul), an All Star power forward (Blake), and a bunch of quality offensive players (Randy Foye, Nick Young, Mo Williams).  But while that Nets team played free -- no one expected them to be good, let alone NBA finals good -- this team plays a tortured brand of "we were hyped as great, but we're really just okay" basketball.  Most of the offense seems to go through Blake for the first three quarters, which means a ton of free throws (and theatrics to go along with it).  If the game's still close in the fourth, CP3 just tries to take over, and often times succeeds.  But it's never interesting watching thirty six minutes of Blake trying to overpower his man, pouting when he fails, followed by twelve minutes of CP3 "dummy halfcourt offense until I take a shot" basketball.

Friday: Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks (4:00 PM PST)

I've been bored by the Hawks for a few years now. Haven't you?  This team really hasn't changed since 2008.  The only piece that's different is Jeff Teague, who has replaced Mike Bibby as the team's starting point guard (and right in time, too).  Sure, they've added Kirk Hinrich and Vlad Rad, but this team is still basically Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams doin' what they do.  And what they do is play sort of boring basketball in a half-filled arena.  Even their coach is basically the same.  They fired Mike Woodson and just promoted Larry Drew, his lead assistant to head coach to a lesser salary.  Now, apparently, those two don't talk anymore.  Classy.

Saturday: New Jersey Nets at Milwaukee Bucks (5:00 PM PST)

Watching Deron Williams play for the Nets is like watching a popular kid at a birthday party that they are attending against their will.  He goes through the motions, a sour look on his face the entire time.  It's the team's last season in East Rutherford before they move to their brand new building in Brooklyn. GM Billy King botched the trade deadline, missing out on Dwight Howard, and sending off their first round pick to Portland for Gerald Wallace, who really should be the third best player on any team.  Right now, he's looking like he's the closest thing to their franchise player once Deron bolts for Dallas, and Dwight Howard decides to give up basketball and just become a Disney character.

Sunday: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons (4:00 PM PST)

The Raptors frustrate me because they confirm that Euroball can never work in the NBA.  Thing is, I actually like the Raptors roster.  I've always enjoyed watching Jose Calderon run the point, and Andrea Bargnani presents this inside-outside skill set that sort of resembles what a decent Andre Blatche would look like.  But really, I can't name anyone else on that roster, except DeMar DeRozen, who still looks like a rookie.  Can we petition to get these guys into Euroleague?  They'd be happier.  The nation's best college team can take their place.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Week That Was: April 9-15, 2012.

FreeDarko week was fun.  Thanks to all that participated.  Now we've just got to get through two more weeks of mail-it-in basketball before we get to the good stuff.

On tap for this week: the beginning of the end in Sacramento, the expanding concussion debate, and flashbacks to 2000.  Let's get to it.

1.  "The City of Sacramento Deserves Better."

Quickly and inexplicably, the arena deal in Sacramento is dead.  The Kings, who but six weeks ago seemed certain to remain in Sacramento for the next twenty five seasons, seem almost destined to leave the Central Valley.

At this point in the debate, it's really hard to figure out what's actually going on, and why the Maloofs are so hell-bent on destroying an arena deal.  The City, represented by mayor Kevin Johnson, and Maloofs, who own the team, met this weekend in New York with David Stern and representatives from the NBA.  The meeting must not have been very productive, as both sides emerged stating the deal was dead, and that the other side was solely to blame.  The city contended that the Maloofs had never negotiated in good faith, and that their issue with the arena was based mostly on their lack of finances. In turn, the Maloofs accused the City of being inattentive when it came to fact-checking, and argued that Sacramento's economy could not support the funding of an arena. An economist hired by the Kings just recently argued that previously unconsidered factors would leave the Maloofs roughly $15 million short.  Now, that seems like small potatoes for an NBA owner, so the fact that they're attempting to kill the deal seems to speak to the Maloof's finances.  The Maloofs are taking a strange stance: balking at pre-development costs that they feel, as tenants, that they shouldn't have to cover, while at the same time, balking that they, as tenants, don't have a more influential role in the construction and funding of the arena.   In any case, both sides say they're done with each other.  George Maloof, who seems to be the ringleader of this operation, says he can't trust Kevin Johnson, and that he's done negotiating with him.

Well, Kevin Johnson's done, too.  The City won't negotiate with the Maloofs, so a downtown arena seems to be out of the question now.  As Tom Ziller points out, this puts the Maloofs exactly where they were two years ago: wanting a new building, but unwilling to fork over the cash to make it happen.  And seemingly, the fans are done with the Maloofs as well.  Many fans have canceled their season tickets for next season, despite the fact that they team with certainly be playing at Power Balance Pavillion in 2012-2013.  Reportedly, a loud chant of "Sell the team" rose from the crowd at the Blazers-Kings game in Sacto, where the Maloofs are doing their best Joe Lacob impression and making an ill-advised appearance in front of their restive customers.  And the Maloofs are buddying up with the Cowbell nation by having sheriff's deputies stationed around their luxury box.    This seems like a relationship that will last.  As Tom Ziller said in an excellent essay on SacTown Royalty, "nowhere is the only place left to go for the Maloofs." He's right.

Of course I will pay close attention to this story.  As a Northern Californian, I have always liked the Kings.  As an NBA fan residing in Seattle, and with an arena seemingly on the way, I am guiltily interested in these proceedings.  But I'm not looking forward to watching Kings basketball next season. I've watched last seasons of teams whose owners have alienated their fan bases before.  Seattle was a bitter place in 2007-2008 as Clay Bennett all but took the seats that fans sat in while watching their Sonics play one more tortured season in Key Arena.  The same went for Charlotte in 2001-2002, who refused to fund a new arena unless owner-turned-pariah George Shinn sold the team to someone else in town.  I have too many fond memories of Arco arena and the Sacramento Kings to watch that tragedy play out.  It would be far too sad.

Let's hope that the Maloofs realize that selling the team to an interested local buyer is the right thing to do for the city of Sacramento.  As Kevin Johnson aptly states: "the city of Sacramento deserves better."

2.  On toughness.

It's time to talk about concussions in the NBA.  In general, it's time to talk about working through sickness and injury.

There's been a few nasty ones the past few weeks.  Kyrie Irving missed a number of games after suffering a mild concussion in early February.  LeBron seemed to suffer one at the end of March, but didn't get tested, and didn't miss any games.  Two weeks ago Micheal Pietrus suffered a particularly nasty one which required a stretcher and an extended stay in the hospital.  Kevin Love took an elbow from JaVale McGee early last week, and hasn't played since. 

New rules in the CBA require additional tests before a player can return to the court. That's pretty good.  However, it seems that players still have a lot of control whether they take the tests or not.  After suffering what looked to be a concussion, LeBron chose to stay in the game.  After the game, in response to a question asking if he'd ever suffered a concussion, he responded that he was "too tough for that."  In a great TrueHoop post, Tom Haberstroh questions the Heat's players and staff's praise of LeBron's "gladiator-like" decision to stay in the game.  I echo his concern.  LeBron, of course, was lambasted for his bravado and lack of concern for his own body.  LeBron is lambasted for most things that he does these days.

While it is troubling that these head injuries occur, we shouldn't think that the glorification of perseverance through injury and sickness is unique only to professional sports.  I argue this is something all of us face everyday. In most of our jobs, we are discouraged from taking time off work in order to rest and recuperate.  Most of us are pressured to "play through the pain" in some form or fashion, and rarely does it end well.  LeBron may have shown troubling disregard for his health, but he was falling in line with the way we, as Americans, conceptualize being a good employee.  You're never too sick or hurt to go to work.

I'm glad the NBA cares about concussions.  It shows that workplaces can take a specific injury that can jeapordize one's future seriously, and offer quality care and support before making an employee go back to work.  This is something all of us would appreciate in our jobs.

3.  Return to the (Big) Fundamentals.

I watched a pretty decent Lakers/Mavs game today.  Kobe's been out with a busted shin, and been doing his best coach's impression on the bench (it's a pretty damn good impression too).  Lakers have gone 4-1 since he's been out.  Lakers won today's game 102-98.

It occurred to me that the Lakers, at this point, should honestly look more like the 2000 championship team rather than the 2009 or 2010 championship team.  That 2000 team was anchored by Shaquille O'Neal, supported by young Kobe, and complimented by well constructed cast of role players.  Bynum is dominant in the post, and capable of putting up big numbers if he gets his touches.  His 23 and 16 today lead the Lakers, and he's been averaging 22 points and 16.6 rebounds per game (he got 30 a few games ago) are Big Aristotle-esque.  Pau looks great as well, putting up about 23 and 11 since Kobe's been out.  Mike Brown's offense gives Pau a number of different looks in the high post and on the perimeter.  His two threes (one of which was assisted by a non-call from the ref) would not have been a part of a Phil Jackson game plan.

Can you imagine if Kobe decided to feed his big men and act like a typical shooting guard?  Just because Kobe can lead the league in scoring doesn't necessarily mean that he should.  Bynum and Gasol are younger, bigger, and more suited towards carrying the offensive burdens of the team.  Sessions has performed admirably as the Lakers starting point guard, and works well with Kobe in the backcourt.   Kobe's scoring can make up for the Lakers bench (the worst bench, statistically, in the league) at his age.  It'd be an interesting team.  I think it'd be a better team.  I have no stats to prove that, though.

Anyways, enjoy these Kobe-less games.  He's gonna want his shots when he gets back.

Friday, April 13, 2012

An Interview with Bethlehem Shoals.

Editor's Note: The Diss proudly presents an interview (well, an email exchange) with Nathaniel Friedman, aka Bethlehem Shoals.  Shoals was the founder of FreeDarko, the blog we have discussed in great detail this week.  After FD ended, he founded The Classical, an independent, collaborative sports website.  His work has also been featured in McSweeney's, AOL Fanhouse, GQ, Bleacher Report, Deadspin, SLAM, Sports Illustrated, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Columbia Journalism Review, among others.  He's also got a nice Tumblr, and two books.  This interview touches on the Lockout, the Chosen People, the Artist Formerly Known As Agent Zero, and of course, FreeDarko.  Let's get to it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Have Your Cake: Confessions of a Liberated Spurs Fan.

You’re here for FreeDarko week, aren’t you? 

When it closed its doors in early 2011 it was like getting neglected, thrown out alone and cold, except that out was a desert, cold was actually fire and brimstone, and neglected meant having to return to the unimaginative (though thoroughly informative) bloglands of Daily Dime, that blog, and maybe even a little bit of David Aldridge. You resigned yourself to getting some only once a week, Mondays, and hoping that Marc Stein had kind words for your team. Sure there were jaunts to the dark side like dimemag with their signature signoffs like, “And we’re out, like KG in the first round” and you even dabbled in Paul Shirely once or twice, it’s okay we’ve all been there. But wait, this isn’t 2003. KG’s a champion (and a bit nuts). Stein writes for this thing called TrueHoop. And there’s something called “podcasts.” Your commentary cup is full but like a vintage wine or a Manu Ginobili led fast break, you need more. And you want it now.

And I’m afraid I can’t help you there. I have an interesting relationship with FreeDarko: I didn’t read it reguarly, or its guide to history. But I did read Macrophenomenal. Multiple times, and each time I found it equally bizarre and mind blowing. You know those moments when you come across something so original and so well done that you instantly recognize it as genius? That’s Macrophenomenal. The ideas and interpretations and highfalutin language was the equivalent of handing a bottle of vodka to an alcoholic, 3- point opportunities to Antoine Walker, or crack to a baby. Luckily, I’m all three and couldn’t help but read it cover to cover. Who knew that Gilbert Arenas could take his talents to pen and paper? That you could definitively diagram the greatest power forward of all time and quantify the chaos unleashed when Gerald Wallace takes the floor. And when I learned to understand Lamar through observation of his facial expressions I knew it was bullshit and I didn’t care. That’s the greatest thing about FreeDarko. It doesn’t have to make sense to everyone. It just has to entertain.

Like this picture I saw today.

I wish I had read FreeDarko so I could be more than a liberated fan. It reminds me why I watch the game, that winning the ‘ship is not the end all, and that basketball is most compelling examined in the context of the players that play the game. It’s supposed to be fun. I like that Tim Duncan can be compared to a door stop and a helicopter carrying a whale and that not everything has to be seen as serious. Tracy McGrady isn’t 28 points, 8 rebounds, and one sleepy demeanor. He’s a monitor lizard. Duh.

Much like Allison I too wish I could join this diss-cussion in some meaningful way. But no one wants to hear about the Spurs and how we’ve been excellent for nearly two decades. Alas, it will not be. On behalf of The Diss and every contributor, welcome to FreeDarko week, enjoy your stay.