Thursday, March 29, 2012

Suit Shopping With Rip Hamilton

Rip Hamilton, 34-year-old professional basketball player, took his daily stroll though downtown Chicago. He noticed the little things; cracks in the pavement, children strapped to large backpacks on their way to school, and the fearless pigeons, ready for all challengers of their 5x5 sidewalk space. These pigeons reminded Rip of the vaunted Detroit defense he was a part of not too long ago. He missed those days but was anxious to get on with his new life in Chicago. Life, however, was unwilling to cooperate.

On beautiful days like these - 65 and clear skies - Rip did not mind walking a mile to his tailor. Walking allowed for him to rid his mind of the injury concerns that plagued his first season in Chicago and the pressure of being the final piece to a championship puzzle. Bulls fan who noticed Rip walking alone down the street would react differently. Some would ignore him all together as if to say, 'you aren't shit if you aren't playing.' Others would slyly pull out their iPhones and snap pictures. Some would be bold enough to ask for an autograph or to pose for a photo. Rip accommodated all requests, always with a smile. He enjoyed the banter and good-natured inquiries about his mask but withdrew when the conversation took its predictable turn.

"When are you coming back?" someone would inevitably ask.

"I don't know. I just don't know. Hopefully soon."

Truth be told, no one was more disappointed than Rip himself. He'd recommitted himself to basketball after spearheading a team-wide insurrection of then-Pistons coach John Kuester. Were his injuries the result of his past transgressions? Perhaps karma rearing its ugly head? He sure hoped not.

Rip escaped the mob as quick as he came and continued on to his favorite tailor's shop [name retracted]. He trusted Christopher for more than just fashion advice. Christopher to him was an honorable man with his best interests in mind. He valued Rip's friendship as much as his wallet and would occasionally delve into more personal matters such as Rip's marriage or his mental health. These conversations, albeit brief, were revealing and only strengthened the bond between the two. Christopher was Rip's only acquaintance allowed to call him Richard.

Rip swung open the door only to find Christopher, arms already perched on the counter. He had a sixth sense when it came to Rip's arrival.

"Richard! So great to see you."

"Good to see you too, my man."

"I read in the papers that you're finally able to lift you arm above you shoulder."

"Yeah, well I've been able to do that. We just have to make it look like I'm making progress. As of now, I'm still a game-time-decision."

Christopher knew what game-time decision meant.

"I have just the thing," he said as he went scampering to the back. 

Christopher came out with a grey suit, already tailored to Rip's exact measurements.

"This suit exudes confidence and class. It speaks to your ability, even at an advanced age, to remain fit and sexy. People will see you in this suit and think, 'That's a man who isn't letting his injury get him down. He'll be back in no time, better than ever! Ready to score all the baskets!'"

"Ok. I'll try it on."

"Stunning. Absolutely stunning."

"I'm not sure," Rip said with some hesitation. He felt very uncomfortable challenging Christopher's opinion. "It's not exactly what I'm looking for, ya know?"

"Sure. What are you trying to convey?"

"I'm trying to be on some High School Reunion shit. Like, 'Look at me Now'-type shit. We're playing Detroit on Friday. That's a big one for me. I spent seven years there and won a championship. I want to show them how good I'm doing now. Like I don't need them. I'm good, ya feel me?"

"I have just the thing."

Christopher rushed into the back for a second time and came out with another suit, this time in black. 

"This suit says, 'You can't tell me nothin'.' This is a suit typically reserved for red-carpet events. With this, you'll be the sharpest-dressed man in the room! Make sure to keep that wedding ring on! You will be the envy of Detroit and might even be offered the mayoral position on the spot. Bow ties are all the rage right now!"

"Hell yeah. Alright. I'ma get into this."


"Yep. This is it right here."

Rip pulled out his American Express black card and handed it to Christopher. He continued to look at himself in the mirror, admiring the fit. He had never looked this good in his life, he thought. Tayshaun Prince would surely be jealous of his situation. And the bow tie! Christopher really was a genius. Never in a million years would Rip have thought to wear a bow tie on the sideline and it absolutely worked. He was thankful for this suit. He was thankful for Christopher and his good fortune. He couldn't wait to bring it home and show his wife.

Christopher approached Rip cautiously. " Umm, Richard. There's a problem."

"What is it?"

"Your credit card. It''s been declined."

"That can't be right."

"I thought the same thing. I tried multiple times and they all came back declined."

"Shit. Let me call these people up."

Rip spoke for an hour with a representative of American Express. She assured him they would resolve his problem, but there had been problems with many accounts nationwide. They were working on it, she promised in broken English. She gave him no guarantee as to when he would be able to use his card.

Rip knew what this meant. No suit, at least not today. "I don't know what to do, Christopher. I have no means of purchasing a suit for the game."

Christopher thought for a second and smiled. "Don't you see, Richard? This is a sign."

Rip looked at him bewildered.

"It's a sign. You must return to play against your former team on Friday."

"But it's been so long. I can't do this."

"You can, Richard. You can. Believe in yourself and you will make all the baskets!"

He knew Christopher was right. This was something he had to do. He had to prove he could play to the city of Chicago, his teammates, and most of all, himself. At that moment, the pain in his shoulder temporarily subsided. He thought of the pigeons and the current Bulls defense. And it dawned on him, he was home. Different city, but home nonetheless.

"I'll be here Sunday," Christopher reminded him. "Just in case."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Inside JaVale's Head

To call JaVale McGee a talented knucklehead would be as insensitive as it is correct. JaVale has quietly suffered through a very difficult period of his life in which he hears voices inside his head. These voices, while high-pitched and well-meaning, make it incredibly difficult for him to concentrate on a basketball court. His trade to Denver is thought to offer him a clean slate and hopefully an escape from his inner demons. Here are some examples of what JaVale had to go through in Washington.

Hi there! Face here! I'm making a sandwich! Do you want to help me make a sandwich? Great! Let's make a sandwich!

First, we need two pieces of bread. Now, two pieces of turkey to put on the bread. Do you like lettuce and tomato? I sure do! Let's pile on one piece of lettuce and one tomato slice! Almost done! A little bit of mayo to top it all off! 

Did you put your second piece of bread on top? Yay! We've made a sandwich. Let's eat here at Nick Jr.!

[makes trumpet noise with mouth]



* * *

Hi there! Face here! Oh no, JaVale, it's raining! I better come inside before I get all wet!


I think I'm developing a cold. I don't like being sick! I should have worn my rain jacket like my mother told me! Do you always listen to your mother?

I'm going to be a well-behaved boy from now on at Nick Jr.!

[makes trumpet noise with mouth]



* * *

Hi there! Face here! 

Knock Knock!

[Who's there?]


[Orange who?]

Orange ya glad you're watching Nick Jr. instead of that knock off Disney stuff?

[makes trumpet noise with mouth]



* * *

Hi there! Face here! Look who decided to stop by! It's Blue!

We are gonna play Blue's Clues. We are gonna play Blue's Clues. We are gonna solve Blue's Clues because we're really smart!

Do you want to help us find Blue's first clue, JaVale?

Ok, it's somewhere on the other side of the court. All you have to do is shoot a bad shot really quick and come running down to us on the other side. OK? Let's play, only on Nick Jr.!

[makes trumpet sound with mouth]



Sunday, March 25, 2012

Baby, Even The Losers Get Lucky Sometimes

CJ Watson: The play called for me to inbound the ball to Luol and get it back. I kind of stopped listening to Thibs in the huddle after that. Once I heard the ball was going to be in my hands I was good. My play, my time. The other guys didn't know it yet, but there was no way they were seeing the ball.

Luol Deng: Thibs drew up a nice little play in the huddle to get me rolling to the basket, with an option for an open jumper for either Kyle or Luke. CJ was to inbound the ball to me around the three point line and then come around to receive it back. Then it was my job to roll to the basket. If I was open, CJ would hit me. If not, it was up to him to create off the dribble. I thought it was pretty curious to hear "CJ" and "create" in the same sentence, but I trusted Thibs' vision.

Carlos Boozer: Thibs is a great dude, man. His reputation as a hard ass couldn't be further from the truth. He loves all of his players, especially me. He just has a weird way of showing it. Like, for instance, he barely acknowledges I exist during a timeout. He'll glance at me real quick and then start swearing under his breath. [laughs] My job was basically to set a down screen for Kyle and then try not to get in the way. 'Think of yourself as a highly paid decoy' Thibs said. He's a funny guy.

Kyle Korver: I don't like the ball in these crunch time situations. I get nervous and my hands start to clam up. When my hands start to clam up, it's hard to get a good feel for the ball. Anyway, I saw CJ start to trend to his right, kind of getting himself into a tough situation. I ran from the corner up to the top of the key. I kept thinking 'Please don't give me the ball. Please don't give me the ball. Please don't give me the ball.' My hands felt like I'd dunked them in a tub of ice water and then I remembered it was CJ handling the ball. There was no way he was going to pass it to me, or anyone, for that matter. I was able to calm down and get myself together after that.

John Lucas III: I wanted the ball in my hands. I always do. I'm John Lucas. Why shouldn't I want the ball with the game on the line? Thibs relegated my to the baseline and gave CJ the opportunity to make a play, which is pretty shitty if you ask me. I've been in this league long enough to know that if you want something done, you have to do it yourself. If you're intent on taking a shot, you damn well better put it up when the ball is in your hands. There was a chance I would get a look, but with CJ making the decision, I knew the ball wasn't coming my way. I would have done the same thing if I was in his shoes so I can't really blame him.

CJ Watson: James Johnson switched on to me and I liked that match up. To tell you the truth, I hate the guy. He was always playing pranks with our toothbrushes on road trips last year. He's a real asshole. He's always jacked up to play us and was treating this game like Game 7 of the NBA Finals. I wanted to beat him with a nice crossover. I knew I could.

Luol Deng: Jose [Calderon] switched on to me when JJ picked up CJ. That turned out to be a pretty big development.

Carlos Boozer: I'm not eating without hot sauce.

Kyle Korver: I watched CJ attempt a fadeaway over JJ, who is like, five or six inches taller than him. I knew it wasn't going to end well. I even removed my mouthpiece thinking the game was over. 'We just lost to the Toronto Raptors,' I thought. 'Ain't that some shit.'

John Lucas III: CJ put that shot up and I couldn't believe he didn't float it more. I know he's a bit taller than I am, but c'mon man. You gotta throw that thing way up there and give it a chance. Come to think, if that was me, we would have lost the game. I would have at least hit the rim. John Lucas has never airballed a shot. [Editor's Note: CJ Watson's shot was partially blocked by James Johnson]


Luol Deng: God bless Jose Calderon. I have no idea what he was thinking. For some reason, he decided to jump backwards at put his hand up for the block like that was going to make a difference. He left me all alone to corral the rebound and I just let it go as fast as I could. I didn't even know if I got it off in time.

Kyle Korver: Pure elation. It's nice to get a win when you've already resigned yourself to a loss.

Carlos Boozer: You've seen me play. I enjoy celebrating athletic exploits whether I've taken part in them or not. I just started yelling 'Dunk that shit' because it felt right. I knew it didn't apply in that situation, but it still felt right.

John Lucas III: I found Luol and jumped on his shoulders. He didn't even feel me there, I don't think.

CJ Watson: I was extremely pleased with the way I was able to create and get our team the victory.

Coach Thibs: I spent our off days locked in a Motel 6 with nothing but a 2 liter bottle of mineral water and a large bag of Smartfood popcorn. Lesson learned. I won't be drawing up out-of-bounds plays in that sort of environment ever again.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bo Knows, What Exactly?

It's that time of the year again when I dedicate one post to Wisconsin men's basketball. Over the years I've come to enjoy their brand of basketball, much in the same way that others enjoy glaring at the mangled wreckage of a car accident or clicking on that YouTube video of a bear collapsing from a tree to a trampoline after taking a tranquilizer dart to the neck. I just can't look away. If every other year is any indication, this season is going to end badly, to the point where I'll feel embarrassed for even caring. Twenty percent shooting from the field, 48 total points, 15-point loss, nothing is off limits for the Badgers when it comes to losing an important game in spectacularly bad fashion. To use an NBA analogy, picture your team as a perennial 4 or 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. They finish every season with about 50 wins, either win in the first round of the playoffs (or put up a good fight losing), and then get smashed by a superior team in the second round. Every year. The consistency, lack of down years, consecutive playoff appearances is great, but your team is never a contender. This is the dilemma Badger fans, some of us anyway, struggle with every year; is it better to be a consistently good team or trade in some of those good years for down years if it means occasionally fielding a great team?

The tweet above, courtesy of former Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler, was more entertaining than anything that happened in Wisconsin's 60-57 victory over Vanderbilt in the round of 32. 'Boring' is the most popular adjective used to describe the Badgers and only the most defensive of fans would disagree. Which is why Cutler's tweet struck so many people as funny. Why Cutler, who even called a ref out by name, or anybody else would even care about a Wisconsin-Vanderbilt game is beyond the neutral observer. So what, they're playing to lose to Syracuse? This matters why? It matters because Wisconsin and Vanderbilt are two schools who can never reasonably expect to advance further than the Sweet 16. This was the national championship for both schools, and Cutler reacted accordingly.


Every year around tournament time another writer wants to schoomze up to Bo Ryan. They write about how he doesn't get the national recognition he deserves, his team's sparkling home record, and how quietly, he's one of the winningest coaches in college basketball. Ryan isn't mentioned with the Izzos, the Krzyzewskis, the Williams, and the Boeheims because he has had nowhere near the tournament success they have. In Ryan's 11 years with Wisconsin he has taken his team to the NCAA tournament every year. Remarkable when considering the history, or lack thereof, of this program. Five Round of 32 appearances, four Sweet 16s, one first round loss, and only one Elite 8. No Final Fours. Back to the same old question: does at least one guaranteed tournament win every year outweigh the fact Wisconsin is never able to make a deep tournament run? Some concede Wisconsin will never be a basketball powerhouse and are happy this program is having any success at all. Others aren't satisfied with being a great regular season team and a mediocre tournament team. And really, both sides can present convincing arguments. It does seem like cruel a joke, however, that Dick Bennett, Ryan's predecessor, coached for five up-and-down years, culminating in a Final Four appearance in 2000, his last full season on the bench.

So Wisconsin and Syracuse play tonight. Fab Melo is out. I have never seen Fab Melo play, but I don't underestimate what a loss to a key player can do to a team psychologically, even if said team is littered with talented players, as is the case with Syracuse. Wisconsin lost Brian Butch to an elbow injury before the 2007 tournament and completely unraveled. That team had Final Four talent and probably should have lost to 15-seed Texas A&M - Corpus Christi before succumbing to UNLV. Syracuse plays a 2-3 Zone and Wisconsin has five players on the floor at any given time that can shoot the three respectably. All five shooters are either hot or cold at the same time. Intrigue. We all know how difficult it is to rebound out of a zone and Syracuse certainly had their troubles against Kansas State. Should Wisconsin track down some offensive rebounds, they'll be able to drain even more time off the clock and limit Syracuse's possessions. Those will be the two keys to the game: Syracuse's rebounding and Wisconsin's three point-shooting. On paper, this looks like the best possible matchup and timing Wisconsin could have asked for to face a No. 1 seed. Davidson in 2008 and Butler last year looked like pretty favorable Sweet 16 matchups too. *runs head first into a brick wall*    

I'm the Badger fan on the side of the fence that expects them to do more. Part of this, I admit, is because I was not around during the dark years. I'd probably feel different if I'd watched them miss the tournament for 45! straight years. I don't particularly like college basketball and especially don't like 34-second possessions, but familiarity did not breed contempt in my case. Winning basketball games if more fun than Wisconsin's style of play and that is something I think all Badger fans have come to accept. There is a certain beauty to watching Bo Ryan's teams though. Five players playing without a set position, all five getting the most out of their abilities, taking care of the ball, rotating on defense perfectly, frustrating the hell out of more talented opposition, etc. The 'fun' things about this team are the fundamental aspects of the game that most fans either aren't aware of or pay no attention to. You'd convince yourself of the previous sentence too if Wisconsin was your alma mater.

While the swing offense is ideally suited to a 30-game regular season, it tends to be a hindrance in tournament play. The swing offense is built around milking the clock for about 30 seconds before finding an open shot. Sometimes there will be an open shot and sometimes Jordan Taylor will be one-on-one jacking up a fadeaway three. In the swing offense the only bad possession is a missed shot that doesn't take time off the clock. It is a system predicated on making less mistakes than your opponent (not turning the ball over, shooting a high percentage from the free throw line). The problem is, in a win-or-go-home tournament, there is no room for an off shooting night. An off shooting night gets a team sent home and it is almost impossible to put together six straight good shooting nights while running the swing offense. Maybe three or four, but not six. When that off night comes in the third or fourth game, Wisconsin is up against an opponent they can not afford to waste possessions against -- and wasting possessions is a big key to their success.

I can't look away. My fault and nobody else's.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Derrick Rose: Demigod or Child?

Click To Enlarge

Derrick Rose broke his week-long silence to the press yesterday. Not surprisingly, the topic of his 25K fine for criticizing the officials and his more vocal demeanor this season came up. From SLAM Online via ESPN:

'[The fans] still look at me as a little kid,' he said with a laugh. 'A little kid or ... I don't know how you would say it, like a demigod or something like that, where I can't say anything, man. For me to say something (about the officials), you know that I had to be thinking it. It's been four years; I was just frustrated at the time...'

You're probably thinking -- "little kid" and "demigod" -- those two things are nothing alike, and you'd be right.   They are nothing alike and serve as perfect foils for the complicated way Bulls fans view Rose. On the one hand, Rose will forever be thought of as the humble and shy Chicago kid who couldn't have looked more uncomfortable speaking to reporters. The kid who needs to be coddled and protected into adulthood the same way his brothers did for him growing up. Then there's Rose the basketball player who, seemingly every night, makes an impossibly difficult basketball move look routine. Sometimes these highlights aren't even basketball plays in the traditional sense because Rose is the only player who could pull them off. We watch in awe and believe wholeheartedly that he can accomplish whatever he wants to out there, often describing him in otherworldly terms. The thing about demigods is, they know they're badasses. They're going to show how much of a badass they are, and then remind the refs lest they forget.

Bulls fans are still trying to reconcile these two competing ideas of Rose. The 'humble superstar' is an appealing and novel idea, just not very realistic. With his maturation as a person and player, Rose acknowledges his inability to live up to his carefully crafted image -- an image he probably feels costs him some free throws because he's not in the ref's ear from the opening whistle.

In a rare instance where he didn't speak in cliches, Derrick Rose, in unintentionally hilarious fashion, gave us a glimpse into the life of a city and basketball team's favorite son. That is to say, those who can do no wrong usually want to do wrong once in a while. He's sick of hearing about his sheepish nature, and seeing as it is not a tangible basketball skill, we should be too.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Monta Ellis Is Going To Love Milwaukee

The Warriors have traded Monta Ellis, along with Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut and former-Warrior Stephen Jackson. As Bulls fans, we know none of these trades are going to involve our team, and thus, are left with rooting for the most potentially hilarious combinations for other teams. This deal fits the bill. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are going to be great for each other. They're going to take turns launching fadeaway 20-footers over 6'7 defenders. They're going to be responsible for a broken blood vessel on Scott Skiles' face the first minute they try to play defense together. They're even going to invent something -- a handshake or pregame celebration -- which no one besides them understands. Scott Skiles just had another brain aneurysm thinking about what hasn't happened yet.

Skiles, the one dwelling in the fiery pits of hell, is finally rid of his oft-injured center. He inherits Kwame Brown, another former no. 1 overall pick who shouldn't have been the no. 1 overall pick. Brown is also injured and likely out for the season, but unlike Bogut, is more effective while sitting on the bench. Epke Udoh figures to be the saving grace of this deal for Milwaukee. Pray for him.

MONTA: Yo Chuck, we did it! I've finally been traded. We getting the hell outta here. Contender! Say it with me.  Don't think I forgot about you, Chuck. I'm going to a contender and I'm taking you with me. You're going to be the biggest name security guard out there. They'll know our names, Chuck, in whichever big city we end up in.

CHUCK: Umm about that...

MONTA: What is it? Where are we going, Chuck? LA? Chicago?

CHUCK: The location ain't important yo. We're going to a...a potential playoff team.

MONTA: [very serious now] Where are we going, Chuck?

CHUCK: Milwaukee.

MONTA: ....

CHUCK: You're going to play with Young Money and that James Franco-looking mother fucker.

Monta is going to love it there.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Jeremy Lin Q & A With Bob Dylan

"The Answer My Friend, Is Blowin' Lin The Wind."

What are your thoughts on Jeremy Lin, Bob? Linsanity. He's causing quite a stir in the States, we hear.

Linsanity? Linsanity? C'mon man. I don't know anything about a Linsanity, man. Would you ask The Beatles that question.? Well, would you?

I'm genuinely curious. The people in London have been fascinated by this story. We've never heard anything like it. Who would you liken Lin's rise to?

Jeremy Lin moved at his own speed, man. He rolled down the broad highway as the milkmen were sleeping. He built the machine too and by the time everyone figured it out they wanted to know his secret. And he was using the same tools that the artist before him neglected. It was more about what the free mind could see.

Many basketball fans have been skeptical of Lin's impressive numbers. Is there any way he can keep up this production?

Could Ezra Pound write couplets? Or better, would the blind man volunteer to scorch Ezra's lawn with his own rake. Men will chase the flashing lights in the distance, given the beauty of the light. Only to find out the light is the spark of the rifle and the rifle is the Bill of Rights.

How much of Linsanity can be attributed to his race? Does race play a factor in the way we perceive an athlete's ability to succeed?

Does it matter if the spaceship is Russian? Would you soak your father's boots in communist waters? The young virgin will unknowingly pick the poisonous flowers as the horrified audience looks on. It's all worthless, man. It's made up is what it is. We've all been fooled and the biggest dupes are those sitting alone in a dark room with the pillow over their heads.

Is Jeremy Lin really an underdog? He's been on an NBA roster the last two years and is an Ivy League graduate. His is not the typical profile of the down-and-out.

No one thought Fidel Castro could do it either. People want to see it one way and then are unable to see it the other. Age is a fixed race. Experience is cruise control. In Cambridge, do you think Jeremy Lin did what they always said? Take this test, take that one, and meet this recruiter, you'll need to know his name when you graduate. You'll need to drink the water without the sugar. He still found a way to hoist up 500 jump shots. The most difficult tests are the ones without a time limit.

What role has the media played in the shaping of Lin's narrative? What has this story revealed about the power of the media?

The downtrodden shake hands with the curious youth and are still not fit to wash the politician's hands. Rivers of blood appear red when your loved ones trudge through puddles to get to work. I'd leave with her but I'd also leave without her, not wanting to hurt her, of course. Judgement is bestowed upon everyone. It depends on whom you place the label of "God." Pass that man his umbrella. It's raining and he hasn't a jacket.

How would you characterize the American public's reaction to Lin?     

What else is there to write about, man. Who are you with anyway? You're just buying your time. Waiting for Time Magazine or the Washington Post to call.

You think lowly of me and my profession, I see. I'll have you know I work very hard at my craft. 

That very well may be, man. Don't let me deter you. You can be whatever you want to be. I believe you. You can conversate with Shakespeare in a New Orleans cafe while wearing a three-piece suit. I'm sure the deer and the antelope will be impressed with your stapler and your no. 2 pencil. Allen Ginsberg would hate you, man. Have you ever even known a real poet, man? A poet who recognizes the faulty logic of the moving sky?

Do you think Lin will ever be able to coexist with Amar'e and Carmelo?

Geese never fly alone. I've skimmed through the Bible, you know. I've thrown a baseball off the tallest building. I've shoveled dirty snow. Jeremy Lin needs the time and respect only present in his mind. He needs to find the elusive Allen wrench and tune the water clock. When he completes that everything should fall into place. He'll sing songs to the oak trees and pass the golden staff to his grandfather.