Thursday, April 26, 2007
Just a few notes today: Jason Kidd is good, Dwyane Wade is bad, Phoenix lights up the Lakers, and the compelling tale of Andrei Kirilenko.
- In ego news, my hit counter (which is found at the bottom of this page) tells me that 104 seperate people have visited this blog (totalling 264 hits) since I started telling people about it one month ago. As I've requested, the people I told seem to have told other people, and others have found me through search engines.
My hit counter also tells me that four people came here by total search engine mistake. And two of those idiots were looking for "Larry Birkhead." I'm just swelling with pride.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure that the counter reading is fake. Several times I've come on late at night, sometimes just an hour or two after midnight, to find out that someone has already visited my site that day, which... I just don't think so. Maybe, but no.
But, even without the four mistakes, I'm in triple digits. And even if they're mostly fake, at least nine or ten of them had to be real people. I'm not sure where this was going, but thanks, and I'll spare you any more of this crap until I'm at 1,000 visitors.
So, onto a few notes on the NBA playoffs.
- Jason Kidd was really, really great in the first game of the New Jersey-Toronto series, which is meaningless unless you frequent thesmokinggun.com or this blog. Yechh. Makes me want to take a shower.
- Staying in the East, Dwyane Wade, who is playing while still recovering from a dislocated shoulder, is playing a bit like Michael Jordan did -- when he was 40. If you watched the Heat lose games 1 and 2 in Chicago, you realized just how much of Wade's game last season was predicated on beating one player, taking one step in the lane, jumping as high and far as he could, and making it up from there. That fearlessness is noticeably absent right now.
When I saw Shaq in person in March, he looked fat. Right now he's playing fat. He won't play himself into shape in the next 15 games, so he's going to have to realize he's fat and play smart. On a side note, if you could've picked one player to blow up like an Earth Day Balloon (actual size) this year, it should've been Antoine Walker. But he actually looked quite sleak when I saw him, and that may mean a lot to them, because James Posey doesn't play basketball very well.
Now, for Wade fans, the dangerous thing is this: he seemed to play it passive for about 44 minutes in game 1. Then it was like he looked up at the scoreboard and thought, "Oh, God, we could still win this." At which point he pretty much did what he wanted: jumper, jumper, running jumper and a foul, incredble drive-and-almost-lose-it-and-dish to Udonis Haslem for a layup. Throw in a couple J-Williams 3-pointers, and Miami scored 13 points in three minutes and one second.
If you're keeping track, that's 16 points the entire third quarter (12 minutes), and then when they feel like it, 13 in three minutes.
The entire Heat team, Wade included, seems to have taken Shaq's "We can turn it on whenever" philosophy, which, if you have the young Shaq, seemed to work okay. If you have the old Shaq? It makes for a delicate situation.
And in Game 1, that house of cards fell through when Wade missed an ill-advised three that would have tied it with 11 seconds left. And by the way, taking, and missing that three was totally something that would have happened to Michael Jordan.
When he was 40.
Then the Heat got run out of the gym in Game 2, and it seemed clear that the entire second half they were thinking about a plane trip back to Miami. You could almost hear Gary Payton and Walker arguing over who would deal the first poker hand.
Until Wade is Wade again, they need to show up for, oh, how about 30 out of 48 minutes. And, assuming Luol Deng stops doing his Jerry "Yeah, that's me in the logo" West impression, I still see these Heat getting to the East finals.
- We switch now to the West, where I offer a brief thought on the Phoenix-LA series. I should say first that I love Phoenix, I have tried to play like Steve Nash before there was a Steve Nash, and my absent "MVP column," which would have been awful, would have eventually named Steve-O because he seems to make his teammates not just satisifed but actually happy.
When Kobe, Michael and Isaiah got their teams to play championship ball, they did so out of pure fear. Their role players were playing with someone so fierce, who wanted so badly to win, that if they were the jackass who stood in the way, it was not going to end well for them. It was not only possible, but likely, that if they screwed around they would be at least threatened, if not swung upon. (It's rumored that MJ hit two different teammates, including Steve Kerr, which, if you read my previous entry, would be, like, the 10th most interesting thing going on in Steve Kerr's bio.) Anyway, these dynasties ran on fear.
But Nash, like Wade last year, and Magic and Larry some time ago, seems to inspire his team through pure joy. Barbosa, Stoudemire, Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, even Marion -- who just strikes me as an odd fellow -- they all seem to have dropped the requisite tough guy attitude and are not ashamed about how much fun they're having. I'm not sure if it translates to a championship, maybe not yet... but it could, and I think they should be embraced for it.
That being said, what the Suns don't do, what they choose not to do, is play a lot of defense.
120, 114, 116, 121, 124, 116, 122. Those numbers are points, points that Phoenix gave up this season without going to overtime, in games against Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, Minnesota, Golden State, and Memphis.
If I tried to reach players on some of those teams for comment (and I didn't), it would have been tough, because most of those guys can be found golfing for the next couple months.
And LA shows up with 98 and 87? You mean LA can't hang with them for a few quarters, then try and win a close one? Not only does Phoenix not seem disheartened when someone scores, they hardly seem to notice. And Kobe -- who would have gone down hard in that MVP entry, and may still -- can't listen to Phil Jackson and figure out how to get more than 87 points on this Phoenix "Look but don't touch" defense?
I'm about to waste a line here that should have come in its own entry, but there is no physical difference between MJ and Kobe, save MJ's extra inch of explosiveness and Kobe's extra inch of arm length, which obviously cancel out.
But the difference seems to be that, from about 26-35, Jordan got better and more efficient and smarter every year. And Kobe Bryant, 28, seems for the moment to be on that same curve, only he's moving in the opposite direction.
- And now, to Houston-Utah. Here's how you explain Andrei Kirilenko.
Blocked shots became an official stat in 1970, and until 2003, only 10 times in 33 years had a player finished a game with 5 or more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. (Also called a 5 x 5.) And of those 10, Hakeem Olajuwan had six. (By the way, six?)
And then, in 2003, at the age of 22, Andrei Kirilenko put up two 5 x 5s... IN - ONE - WEEK.
Kirilenko, who also notched a 5 x 5 last year seemed to be emerging as the best-on-the ball defender, and a rebounder-hustler type, and maybe about to join Duncan as a great player who could happily help his team win while scoring less than 10 points.
But right now Kirilenko is adrift. He played only 30 minutes per game this season, down from 40 last year. In Game 1 against Houston, that number shrank to 16. A few days ago, he teared-up a bit when the media was pressing him on his lack of playing time.
Charles Barkley then said this was inexcusable, that you can cry after you lose a big game. But this has never made sense to me. I lost plenty of games as a basketball player, and some of them I really cared about. Some of them cost me $20. But I never cried afterwards, because I never felt like there was something more I should have done, or that I had let my teammates down with my effort.
But to be a once-in-a-lifetime talent, just entering the prime of your career, finally playing with a skilled group, and have your coach decide the team is better without you?
I think that would have a lot of players asking major questions of themselves.
Now, let's examine the coach here. Jerry Sloan played 11 years, 10 of them with the then-expansion Chicago Bulls. He was a hard-nosed guard who never averaged 19 points a game. And when you're playing 35 minutes a game, and averaging only 10 points a game, as he once did... and let me mention that, to average 10 points a game for a whole season, that means sometimes you score 25 points, and some games you score two...
(Aside: sometimes I put things in italics, which would be me putting extra emphasis on them, like I would when talking. And sometimes I capitalize words, which should signify shouting, which is something I sometimes do, and which I fear I might do in the near future.)
... when you're not dishing out more than 3.5 assists per game in any of your 11 seasons... we can assume you are a greased cog in the machine, a hustler-defender-rebounder, a guy out there to do things that other guys can't or just won't do... the kind of guy whose competitive fire might have made him feel great personal indignity if a coach cut off his young career...
WELL SHIT, JERRY, DOES KIRILENKO REMIND YOU OF ANYONE?
Play him, Sloan. Play him 40 minutes a game. You played him 18 and then 16 minutes, and you lost twice. You don't even have to tell the public, or the team, that you were wrong, though we all know.
But you need to tell Andrei, who seems to have a sense of self and a fragile ego at this time, that you made a mistake. And then you need to play him. Or else you will lose in four or five games, you will set Andrei back five years, and reporters who know and like you will begin to wonder whether you're the best thing for Utah anymore.
Even your Mormon fans know that a jazz band needs a bass player.
Well, I've gone on too long, and I apologize, but other notes of consequence will have to wait. Sorry.
By the way, as for the teams I didn't mention, the Spurs' fourth, fifth, and sixth best players are Mike Finley, Brent Barry, and Robert Horry. They have the best top six in the NBA, bar none. They even got the quintessential "scare game," an ugly gaffe in Game 1 against Denver, and they looked like cold-blooded professionals in game 2. Until further notice, they're the team to beat.
I'll see you soon. Thanks.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Been a rough week.
Suddenly my big Imus blog or my big NBA preview didn't seem so big. I don't have a whole lot to say about what happened in Virginia, and I wouldn't expect you to want to hear it. I'm twenty, and this doesn't make much sense to me, and I don't think it will when I'm sixty. You can listen to FBI profilers or cops or whoever, and no one is going to explain what happened there.
I looked at this thing for a while, and it hurt me, and now I'm not looking. If you want information, it's out there, at every major news outlet in print, and some of it's very poignant. And now for my own good I'll turn back to Imus and the NBA and other stupid little things, if for no other reason than because they're not this.
So I'll go on with some notes, and then jump into the playoffs, maybe after everybody plays once. So, today, the incredible stories of Pacman Jones and Steve Kerr.
- I just paid my taxes online the other day, at which point I was charged $65 dollars for a $150 tax refund. I spent two or three hours doing it, and a handful of people at the IRS will have to do at least an hour or so of filing and paperwork, and you begin to see why we can't crunch the numbers on a national healthcare plan.
- I can't believe how smoothly this went over, but I can think back today, to the first time I heard about a gifted college defensive back named Chad Jones. The FIRST information I ever got about Chad Jones was that he would now be referred to full-time by his nickname, Pacman. And everyone seemed to be okay with this. Look, that kind of name-changing doesn't fly in Brazil.
Two years, four interceptions, four punt return touchdowns, and five, count 'em five arrests later, everyone knows Mr. Chad Jones. Once again, I'm working from paperwork that has not yet been ajudicated in the courts, so imagine that almost every sentence in the next few graphs starts with "Allegedly".
On February 22nd of this year, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published its report of the events that took place in a Vegas strip club during NBA All Star Weekend. The story says that Pacman Jones dropped hundreds of $1 bills on the stage at a club called Minxx. Then 40 strippers took to the stage and started picking up the money, which Jones had only wanted to be for "visual effect." Jones became very upset at what was going on, and somewhere in the confusion, a club promoter made off with a bag containing eighty one thousand dollars (81,000) dollars.
On a side note, I'm not sure what kind of calculators they have at the Review-Journal, but I believe in order to leave this amount of money on the stage, Jones would have dropped 81,000 $1 bills. So, perhaps someone is lying, and these were hundreds. Even if it was hundreds, that's 810 of them. Can you imagine? If you threw out the top and bottom five percent, that's probably three or four years of work for the average person.
Now, if you the reader have never "made it rain" at a strip club, let me tell you, the night usually gets pretty interesting.
For example on this night, a woman who came with Mr. Jones proceeded to fight a stripper, bite a bouncer, and then hit him in the head with a champagne bottle. Finally Jones and everyone he came with was cleared from the building. A few minutes later, a man pulled out a handgun and shot the same bouncer, another security guard, and a female bystander. The bystander and bouncer were injured, but they were incredibly lucky, and will be fine.
The security guard, Tom Urbanski, had one bullet damage his spine. He is, as of today, paralyzed from the waist down.
This case is going to go to trial, and Pacman does not look good here. If he's involved to the level that is alleged by the club owner, which of course I have no idea about, but if he is... Well, needless to say, it would be a shocking turn of events if something like this happened, and then an unrelated shooting took place with the same bouncer as a random target. Again, I'm not convicting anyone, but it's looking really, really bad for anyone sitting in that entire section of the club.
Mr. Jones has now been suspended one entire season for conduct detrimental to the National Football League. His case is up for review after 10 games, and he's already said he thinks his appeal will work and he'll be back as soon as possible. I've heard from someone - perhaps more well-informed than Mr. Pacman - that new NFL comissioner Roger Goodell hasn't even considered the Vegas thing in his current suspension.
But here's who I think should also look into suspending Jones: a jury of his peers.
He's been accused of three big-time bad things by this club owner. And again, I know nothing about what went on that night, but I fail to see what this man would stand to gain by lying, and I think the natural inclination of an owner is to side with the celebrity whenever possible, whenever they could stomach it, because it's good for business to be friends with celebs and have them coming to your club.
But the owner claims that 1) the shooter was sitting with Pacman, that 2)Pacman grabbed one of the strippers by the hair and slammed her head against the stage, and 3) that Mr. Jones, and this is the big one, that he allegedly threatened the bouncer's life.
If No. 1 is true, Jones should be called to give a deposition and testify under oath in a criminal trial, and I'm sure he will. If No. 2 is true, Pacman himself should stand trial for assault.
But No. 3? And if we find out that he said anything, at all, to the shooter? I would think, without looking it up, that those charges should look something like 10-to-life.
I'll wait and see how this is resolved before I pass really harsh judgment on this. But if Pacman, or anyone, likes to smoke a little dope on Sunday night, or hang out late, or run with his boys, or even get onstage and "make it rain" with a garbage-bag full of hundreds, I personally think that stuff is hardly my business.
But if he's out with honest-to-God gangster types, and inciting a large incident, and people are getting shot... well when do you stop caring about Mr. Jones' recovery speed?
- I think I remember maybe hearing something about this a while ago, but I would've been very young. But I came across it again recently while I was wasting time at wikipedia.
Steve Kerr can now be found as the funniest color commentator, oh, maybe ever, when he works NBA games on TNT. He's insightful, he knows the game, and he doesn't let Marv Albert get away with anything. Should Barkley ever join Kerr in a broadcast booth, any third person you put on the air with them would soon be laughing so hard that he would take off his microphone and walk away from the scorer's table.
Steve retired as the NBA's best 3-point shooter of all-time, and that record could stand for a pretty long time, so that's something in his pocket. He also won five (5!) NBA championships, three in Chicago, and two in San Antonio. For all five of them Steve was a bit player, but a vital one. He hustled, he kept his stars happy, and he hit almost ALL of his open shots. Players like Steve are usually the difference between winning and not winning. And that seems to be the case, because Steve also reached a Final Four with Arizona. Steve also played 20-plus minutes per game on the 95-96 Chicago team that won 72 out of 82 games in the regular season and then went sweep, 4-1, sweep, then 4-2 in the Finals to win a championsip. Now that's winning.
In 1997, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Phil Jackson drew up a play for Michael Jordan with seconds remaining and Chicago down one in Salt Lake City, which was at the time the loudest building in the NBA. MJ, the greatest clutch shooter of all time, looked at Kerr, like he had John Paxson a few years earlier against Phoenix, and said something along the lines of, "Be ready."
Indeed, MJ passed to Kerr, who hit an NBA Finals-winning shot. Paxson did the same thing in '93, and MJ did it again in '98, but other than that, the group of people who can honestly say they hit the one shot that won an NBA championship is pretty exclusive.
A couple nights later, I was watching Leno (forgive me, I was 11 and I didn't know better) and Steve Kerr delivered the following line, unprompted: "We were in the huddle, and Mike turned to me and said, 'You know Steve, I'm not really comfortable taking these kind of shots. ' "
I'm sure there was a second half to this line, but it was killed when this immediately drew an outburst of surprised laughter from everyone, me included. This was an athlete delivering a line and getting a real laugh on Leno. Pretty cool.
Now, the information that I just rediscovered, and that I would like to share with you now, lies in the following stunner of a paragraph, which I have lifted and edited from wikipedia.
Steve is the son of Malcolm Kerr, an American academic who specialized in the Middle East. Kerr was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and spent much of his childhood in Lebanon and other Arab states, such as Egpy where he attended Cairo American College. He attended Palisades High School in Pacific Palisades, California. On January 18, 1984, Kerr saw his life drastically change when his father, who was then serving as president of the American University of Beirut, was assassinated by suspected militant nationalists in Lebanon.
Can you imagine the number of people, of all kinds, who have recognized Steve Kerr somewhere, approached him, and wanted to talk about something very different from basketball? I'm sure it's much smaller than the number who've said something about the shot in Utah, but to know that these two incredibly different lives belong to the same man is just incredible. To think that this is the same guy blogging - and pretty accurately - on Yahoo! Sports beneath a headshot that could be on the side of a bus in a real estate ad?
I'm pretty sure Steve's got a great book in him, and given the incredibly personal nature of the story, I'll be patient. And if he never decides to write it, that's okay, too. But if I ever meet Steve, we'll make fun of athletes for the first two drinks, and then I'll want to ask Steve about everything but basketball.
- I realize now that I wanted to write something that might take my own, and maybe your mind, off a tragic event, and I then proceeded to write about assassination, attempted murder, and taxes. I could hardly have screwed this up worse. Let me try and make up for it.
If you go to itunes.com, you can download iTunes, where you can then enter the iTunes store, where you can download all kinds of things (TV and radio shows, songs, movies). Almost all of the TV and radio shows are totally free and available for download at all times. They typically air with a single commercial before the show, and no other commercials throughout the program.
And so I will endorse the Tony Kornheiser radio show, which airs on Washington Post radio. Tony seems to have mastered balancing his massive ego with his neuroses, which is the battle that most sportswriters, bloggers, and, I suppose, adults are waging. The difference is Tony is funny like hardly no one else is. But more importantly, when something big actually happens, like happened a few days ago just hours from Tony's home, I find him to be one of the most reasoned and thoughtful people across almost all forms of media. He's a blowhard when it doesn't matter, and when it really matters, he's at his absolute best. It even seems that, when he's talking or interviewing someone, he sometimes stops and thinks, sometimes to the extent that there's silence on the air.
When bad things happen, most people turn to someone for insight or logic or even just a cheap laugh. And for those of you dumb enough to have read me, I feel I owe it to you to refer you to Tony. Enjoy.
Be back soon, I promise.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
How good is(n't) he?
The Star asked an NBA scout whose parents chose to keep nameless to evaluate Mullen's strengths and weaknesses.
Vertical leap: 23 (might be metric)
Conditioning: No (has added two minutes to mile time since fifth grade)
Shooting: Atrocious. Shows no confidence, and with good reason. Uncanny ability to miss easy shots, especially late in games. Has not hit a jumper of distance since elementary school.
Ball-handling: Workable, but on steady decline since point guard days of youth. "I was closer to the ground then," Mullen explains.
Passing: Surprisingly proficient, probably due to the fact that most defenders decide to play 5-10 feet off him.
Rebounding: Hounds both offensive and defensive glass, but quickness and vertical problems keep numbers low.
If Mullen entered the NBA draft: I don't think anyone in the league wants a player anything like this at all. Unless his Terrets problem gets worse, in which case he might go first round to the Blazers.
It came up at 8:23 a.m. in the locker room before Gym one Tuesday. And again later at 2:26 p.m. in Government on Friday. Then at 10:45 p.m. on a Saturday night.
Each time the questions and answers were the same.
Yes, I’m trying out for the basketball team. And yes, it’s for the newspaper. That’s what I told them.
In fifth and sixth grade, I was on two of the worst basketball teams ever assembled. I will not name names, because some players still live in the Bismarck area. Others have since joined the witness protection program and/or been deported.
I’m not kidding. We were awful. We won about three games in two years. Two of them came against Richolt, a team whose point guard literally played with one hand.
And we had to grind those two out.
Buried somewhere are videotapes of this team dropping passes, airballing layups, and wandering aimlessly up and down the court, often unaware of which team had the ball.
As a hugely unselfish point guard with a good handle, I became the closest thing the teams had to a leader.
And I could really play.
I could take other players off the dribble with simple lookaways and ball fakes. And I did. Once I got past my defender, I usually looked for an open teammate.
The only problem was, my teammates divided most of their court time between looking for their parents in the crowd and retying their shoelaces. The open man rarely knew he was open.
Like I said, we lost a lot.
The coaches begged me to shoot more. In sixth grade my coach told me the only way he could see us winning was if I scored 20 points a game.
I wish I’d listened. Back then, I could score.
In the last two Y-ball seasons, I’ve score nine points. Total.
It’s called the look.
When a player is on the edge of making the team, he knows. So when he does something good—or bad—during open gym or the tryouts, his first instinct is to find head coach Rich Hovland.
Did he see that?
Did he just say something to [Ron] Wingenbach about it? About me?
For three weeks, Kenyon Wingenach, Mike Land, Jordan Engel and Adam Gabbert combine to not look once.
On fastbreaks, Winger tries to whip bounce passes through crowded defenses. Gabbert hoists 3-pointers at a dangerous clip, admitting later he knew he could get away with it because he was a senior. And Engel is his usual goofy, affable self on the court, often holding conversations with players during games, regardless of the score.
Land, the exception, plays every pick-up game like his family's groceries relied on it.
Land doesn’t lose a lot.
Not that those guys should have been looking. By the end of last year, each was in the starting lineup and playing big minutes. Each of them is a lock.
But it feels like someone threw water in my face when I see my friend Dana Roller looking. Once after cutting through the lane, getting a pass and finishing with a layup. Then again when he appears to get by his man, but dribbles off his foot out of bounds.
Both times, Hovland is not looking. But I am.
Through a series of driveway basketball one-on-one games, Dana has proved he is probably literally twice as good as me. And now he is fighting for a position on the team.
Shit, I think. If Dana’s on the edge, where does that put me?
How did it come to this?
What happened to me that turned me from an elementary school baller to dead meat at high school tryouts?
I’ll tell you what happened: middle school.
I’ll spare you the details, but I left Simle five inches taller, three years older and infinitely less valuable with the ball in my hands then when I came in.
Instead of a tall guard, I’d been used as a makeshift post player—on the B team. Results varied, but I was consistently the low scorer, even when I played a lot of minutes. Consequently, the number of touches I got dropped, too. I got a reputation as useless on the offensive end.
This theme pinnacled in ninth grade, when, during a practice scrimmage I found myself wide open from a foot behind the three-point line. My shot ricocheted off both sides of the rim and bounced out.
“Michael Mullen!” my coach shouted, loud enough to stop the scrimmage.
I’ve probably blocked out what he went on to say to me, but I figured out what the message was:
Don’t shoot from out there. Ever.
So I didn’t.
As usual, I was late getting to the Y. I don’t really face consequences getting there late, so I usually take my time.
But on a Saturday afternoon in August, I paid the price for my tardiness.
As soon as I got my shoes on, I was thrust into a line of guys already shooting for teams. Usually, shooting around only hurts my confidence. But I hadn’t touched a ball or set foot on a court in about four months.
Hadn’t hit a 3-pointer in over a year.
And I was next.
It felt like I was holding a baby. My hands change motions and positions on nearly every shot I take. And on this occasion, I could just feel how bad the shot was as I was taking it.
I did not just miss. I did not just miss the rim.
The airball I let go had dimension—I was about six inches short and off by a foot to the left. It looked like I was playing Battleship, just guessing at where the hoop was.
My next attempt was worse.
At open gym, when it came time to shoot for teams, I just went on the team with the last of the first six guys to make it.
“I’m just going to assume I was the last one,” I’d explain.
I never got any argument on this.
To prepare for the tryouts, I spent a long weekend in Washington D.C. sleeping about five hours a night.
This made me miss coach Hovland’s conditioning test—a brutal point-based assessment of your speed, strength, and stamina.
This was not good, especially considering I’d already missed the mandatory basketball meeting. After that, Hovland had said to Roller, “Mike isn’t taking this too seriously, is he?”
I found Hovland on Monday before tryouts started and apologized for missing his test. Then I asked if I could make it up. This is similar to requesting electric torture.
“Actually, Mike, I won’t consider you if you don’t do it,” he said.
It was decided I’d make it up with a couple of other guys whenever possible during the tryouts. Before I went to dress, I decided to clear something up.
“I just want you to know that I am taking this seriously,” I said. “I do want to make this team.”
This was not a lie. I was not trying out so I could write a newspaper story.
I wanted to play.
“All right, then,” Hovland said. “Let’s lace ‘em up and get out there.”
Earlier that day, I’d eaten lunch across the street at the gas station. There I found Roller, Wingenbach, and Luke Holden.
After we got pizzas and sat down, the conversation turned to basketball.
The three of them informed me that the tryouts were the hardest three days of practice all year.
“That’s so some guys who can’t take it quit,” Roller said.
I’ve spent most of my teenage years looking for that first roadblock—the first excuse to give up on something. But I wasn’t going to do it this time. I needed to make a commitment.
I was going to keep coming to basketball practice until Rich Hovland told me not to.
“So, what do we do today?” I asked. “How do tryouts work?”
“You get cut tomorrow,” Roller deadpanned.
At the time, this was laugh out loud, almost-spit-out-your-Mountain Dew funny. But two hours later, when Hovland opened up practice by saying four players would be cut the next day, I realized it could also be true.
Coach Hovland looked like he’d seen a ghost.
“You should see your face, Mike,” he said.
I realized the ghost was me.
Thanks to Wingenbach and Gabbert, who led the pack during conditioning, I’d just gone an extra sprint.
Extra, ha!—like I needed the six before it, or the twelve before those.
I was trying to convince Hovland to let me do the bench press part of my conditioning test. He told me I should take five minutes. It felt like five days wouldn’t have restored my strength.
But Hovland had said during practice that you needed to do something to make yourself stand out if you wanted to play.
And after an hour and a half of screwing up Hovland’s offense and defense, this was the best I could come up with.
You needed to put up 100 lbs. 30 times on a bench press. This sounded reasonable to me.
With Roller spotting and Kenyon and Hovland looking on, I did it—the 30th one coming up slow and uneven, but still making it. If Dana hadn’t helped me set the bar down, it might have separated my head from the rest of me.
I couldn’t have done 30 and one-eighth. But I did 30.
Hovland got a pencil and hand-wrote my name and score onto the chart.
At home I took somewhere between three and 10 Ibuprofen, wondering which part of my body they would go to first.
I sat two feet off the ground on the legless floral print couch in the basketball coaches’ office. Next to me was junior Tyler Kurtz. I remembered hearing someone say at open gym that he’d worked really hard during the offseason.
Rich Hovland sat across from us, rocking uneasily in his swivel chair.
“I wish this were easier,” he said. “I wish I could make this decision based on your personality or character. But with you two, that’s just not the case, because I know you’re both great guys.”
Here it comes.
“But I think that from comfortability and skills standpoint…”
I got cut at 5:36 on a Tuesday.
I felt numb.
Hovland’s gentle speech was a mere formality. In my case it wasn’t even necessary.
In my mind, I’d already cut myself.
Hovland started tryouts saying to leave everything you had on the court.
“Whether you make it or not, walk with your head high,” Hovland said. “Take a chance.”
That’s exactly what I didn’t do. I shot maybe five times throughout open gym and tryouts. Got less than 10 rebounds. Usually as soon as I touched it I was looking to pass.
I never put myself all the way out there.
Because what if I did? What if I had played all-out, tried to score, and acted like I belonged…
What if I did all that, and still got cut? (And I would have.)
Then being cut might have hurt. And I couldn’t do that. I was too much of a coward.
I turned what was supposed to be an exercise in courage into another of my lame copouts.
This is not an excuse. This is an apology.
Coming soon, my big NBA thing on the playoffs, the MVP, etc. I figured I should wait until the season's done for that. Also, I'll talk about the terrifying Kevin Garnett situation and how wrong I was about the Timberwolves. Because that's what I want to be about here: accountability. If I get something right, I'll let it stand as such, and if it's wrong, I'll have to take another look at it.
Speaking of accountability, I'm going to write the requisite Don Imus blog. I must. But, and I'm pleading with you here, I promise I have a viewpoint you probably haven't heard anywhere yet. Really.
Now, a couple of endorsements.
- One, for Wikipedia. This seems to be a point of great contention among the learned peoples in this country, and almost no one falls in the middle. I'm coming out in support of it, if for no other reason than the sheer ambition and scope.
When they did a study last year, I was shocked to find out that Wikipedia was not a wide base of information coming from a small group of academics, cocaine addicts and mental patients. It was instead being generated by a huge number of people.
And now it's closing in on 2 million articles, just in English. Two million. It's an encyclopedia that is updated daily, and the variety of things on there... well, just hit the "random article" button some time, and you'll be shocked to find out what's on there.
I just did it, and was taken to a rather detailed account of Nureyev's life. And not Nureyev-as-in-the-Russian-dancer Nureyev. Nureyev the horse, which (who?) earned about $40,000 and sold for about $14 million. Nureyev, the mildly successful horse from the late 80's.
I know now that Nureyev sired at least 135 prizewinning horses, and I'm sure a number of other horses that just lived off dad's bankroll. And when you think about hundreds of children in around 20 years, we can assume Nureyev spent most of his adult life thinking, "Why the hell did they have me running around in circles when I was a kid? This is so much better."
The entry for the American Civil War on wikipedia runs 14,000 words long, and I think the footnotes number more than 80.
Think about it. The entire planet is writing a research paper. If nothing else, it's a nice thought.
Now, what bothers me about the site is the part that tells me to "sign up" with the promise of more security and anonymity. This does not mesh with my accountability policy.
So long as people are allowed to post on wikipedia under nicknames and with secure identities, the site will be in constant need of fixing. The good news is that it seems to happen. People point out inconsistencies, and opinions, and entries tend to get truer, and longer, and better-referenced as time goes on. But there's no need to protect anybody's identity.
Just who would have a valid reason for hiding who they are while making a wikipedia entry? I can only assume it would be someone posting with an agenda, and those kind of entries don't belong on the site. Now, wikipedia's only been around a few years, so we can assume that Nureyev (1971-1998) was not typing his own entry.
But if you consider that the damn horse has hundreds of kids and grandkids out there... at least one or two of them has to have internet access.
The pont is I never thought once about writing my blog under any other name than Mike Mullen. I don't plan to write anything if I don't want my name next to it.
Now, you can either contribute to wikipedia or stay away from it. But what you shouldn't do is try to discredit it.
If there are things that are important to you, if you value the integrity of certain people or things, then protect them by looking them up and helping to research and edit the page. Name, please.
By the way, here's what I would do if I was a college professor in journalism or research of some kind. I would walk into class on the first day, size everybody up, and point at one student.
"He/she is in charge," I'd say. "Your assignment, as a class, is to clean up the content of wikipedia.org to the fullest of your abilities. You will keep detailed notes and footnotes, including what the article said prior to and after your edits. I don't have office hours. I'll be back in April. Good luck."
And then I would take a few months and learn to golf.
- Now, a few sports notes and then I'll get out. Today's reason you should like soccer is John Terry/Peter Crouch, which sounds like two reasons, but they've united to become one super-reason.
I'll introduce these players like you don't know them, because you don't.
Terry is a talented and relentless defender who plays professionally in London for Chelsea. The team is in this season's title chase, and dominated the past two English seasons, mostly because of its defense. And since Terry is the heart of that defense, and England is the best league in the world, you can make the argument that he's the best defender in the world, and plenty of people do. And, though he looks dapper and seems friendly and talks with an English accent, he's got a bad temper, and he'll stare down anybody on the field, and his teammates' affection for him borders on admiration. (Translation: he's Brian Urlacher.)
Crouch is... Crouch is Yao Ming, plain and simple. A big, giant (6-7) skinny creature, the Liverpool forward is not outrunning anybody, but outsmarting them and overmatching them with well-timed quickness and of course size. He's the easiest target in soccer. You just aim a little too high, and he's the only one with any shot at getting a head on it. But he's also shown the ability for incredibly athletic finishes, including a pair of overhead kicks this season. He also matches Yao in the gentle giant thing, and he's never anything less than friendly.
On February 24 and 25, respectively, Crouch and Terry each got kicked in the face while playing. Both were accidents, both players dipping a bit too low in an attempt to head the ball, both trying to nod it into the net for a goal. Crouch's incident left him with blood pouring from his nose, which was broken and would require surgery.
What's perhaps most interesting to you, the unknowing, is that Crouch's incident did not surprise me. This is a player who does something regularly that is so selfless and reckless, I've hardly ever seen anything like it. It goes like this: other team rolls ball back to its own goalie, who strides up to take a real whack at it, hard enough to send it sometimes 100 yards. And Crouchy, all 6-7 of him, runs right at the goalie, jumps, and throws, you know, HIS HEAD at the ball, which would probably be going 80 miles an hour at this point. He's willing to take a point-blank shot in the skull on the outside chance that it goes off his head, into the goal, and does not simaltaneously kill or maim him.
Peter Crouch, folks, missed a few weeks after a surgery on his nose, and came back with a great hat trick last weekend. And he's still throwing his head around like he doesn't need to take it home at night.
When Rob Hulse accidentally kicked Crouch in the face, it was one of the most stunning things I'd ever seen in sports. It was disgusting.
And what happened the following day to John Terry, during the Carling Cup Final, was so, so much worse.
Abou Diaby, a big, strong, talented midfielder for Arsenal (London's second-best team), appeared to kick as hard as he could in trying to clear the ball from a corner kick. But his foot, at full speed, hit John Terry square in the face in a way that... well, I saw it, I saw a replay, I never need to see it again and I will never be able to get it out of my head.
I will defer now to the ESPN.com Gamecast, which is a moment-by-moment account of current sporting events.
"Jesus. That was bad."
I swear it says that. It was that kind of thing.
John Terry, 27, is a national figure in England. He has a wife, and in May of last year she had twins.
In the 58th minute of a soccer match on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, John Terry dropped to the ground motionless and swallowed his tongue.
Take another crack at that last sentence. I can wait.
A few minutes later, Terry was being given oxygen and Diaby was in tears. Terry was stretchered off in a neckbrace.
Now, because of all the time spent on Terry's situation, the referee added 10 extra minutes to the contest, and because it was the final of a tournament, and because Chelsea won, the team was at the stadium for a while, longer than they normally would have been.
Before they had the time to leave the building, John Terry checked himself out of the hospital and came back to celebrate.
This happened on February 25, and on March 14, less than 20 days later, John Terry played all 90 minutes of Chelsea's game. Since March 14, he has played 630 out of 630 minutes, and Chelsea has won all seven of those games except one, which they tied. They've given up only four goals in these games, all of which are crucial for Chelsea.
I'm not trying to say that Peter Crouch's broken nose and recovery should make you love, or at least respect soccer players.
Nor should you respect soccer players just because John Terry took THAT kick and came back to the stadium, and to the field, so quickly.
But Petr Cech, the world-class goalie behind Terry, playing with a head-pad since January because in October of 2006 he took a knee that fractured his skull?
At some point as an American you will be at a bar, or in a coffeeshop, or in the line at a gas station, and someone will be talking about why soccer is not a sport, or at least not a real one, or at least not one for tough guys.
You don't have to say anything to this person, and really, don't waste your time. But you will know better.
All right, that'll do for today.
What follows is another re-post, this one from my days as a high school columnist. I tried out for the basketball team as a senior and wrote a giant column on it, which ran over a two-page spread. Really, it's enormous, and it is essentially my first draft. And that's the kind of thing you can do when you're a columnist and a co-editor of a high school paper. And I enjoyed that freedom so much, and it set me back so much as a writer, that you can now find me blogging on the prestigious internet.
This time, I don't have the final version on my laptop, so I'll at least be re-typing a lot of it, which is sort of like writing. Of course, I'd prefer not to retype it.
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.
Thanks for reading. If you haven't yet, scroll down and meet Bob Schulte.