Police brutality and the road to the NBA championship

In anticipation of tonight’s NBA Finals tip-off, One-Bid Wonders’ Noah Perkins and I’m Sorry Mark Jackson’s Quinten Rosborough sat down and chopped it up to preview the Finals.

Noah Perkins, One-Bid Wonders – Pick: Golden State

Thirty-one years ago, in a club rumpus, David Thompson, the ‘Skywalker’, remembered in NBA lore a rung just below icon, was thrown down a flight of stairs at Studio 54. Of course, by 1984 Studio 54 had transitioned from Warhol and coke to Ron Jeremy and, well, lesser quality coke; explaining why one of the biggest fiends in NBA history might have been there in the first place. The knee injury effectively ended Thompson’s career, which had already bottomed out long before.

In the 50 years since Wilt Chamberlin popularized NBA players getting after it at the club, Thompson’s assault is the closest parallel to the NYPD beating of Thabo Sefolosha this past April.

To recap, Sefolosha suffered a leg fracture while out late in Manhattan, ending his season and any hopes that the Atlanta Hawks had of besting the Cavs. Without Thabo’s elite perimeter defense, Lebron was unchecked and could, in the words of Conan, “crush his enemies – see them driven before him and hear the lamentation of their women.”

Given police brutality rates and the general quality of New York City law enforcement, it was only a matter of time before a professional basketball playing Swiss national with no criminal record was flogged by cops at an active crime scene while not being suspected of any wrong doing.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert owes former mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg an eclectic floral arraignment for their impact on the current state of the NYC police department.

Coming from the Eastern Conference, and playing a weakened Hawks team, Cleveland’s path to the finals couldn’t have been made any easier.

Not that it matters. The odds of the Warriors losing the series are somewhere around Iman Shumpert winning a Grammy, Stephen Baldwin winning an Oscar and Roger Clinton winning a presidential election.

Simply put it’s not going to happen.

Golden State is the most complete team since the 96 Bulls. Over the course of Steph Curry’s lifetime maybe five teams have been better – Only definitively The ‘03 Spurs, ‘01 Lakers, and ‘96 Bulls.

The Warriors play the league’s best offense, and most efficient defense. They volume score without match, close out games and have depth not seen since before the merger. The team is deep enough to be afforded the luxury of having Brandon Rush and David Lee on the end of the bench. Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingtson, Festus Ezeli, Mo Speights and Leandro Barbosa make up a second unit capable of beating up on many teams starting five.

The Warriors’ all-to-often unheralded defense is anchored by an elite post defender (Andrew Bogut) an elite perimeter defender (Iggy) and Draymond Green, the runner up for Defensive Player of the Year.

Green is perhaps among the seven or eight most valuable components of any team in the NBA. Golden State only allows 97 points per 100 possessions when Draymond is on the floor. Not surprisingly, he closed the season near the top of the VORP (Value over replacement player) rankings, finishing the year as the second best screen-and-roll defender in the league.

Lest we forget about Bogut, the association’s second most highly rated post defender and rim protector.

Should I even talk about Steph Curry’s historic 3- point shooting?

In the year 2000, Reggie Miller set the previous playoff record with 58 threes made. Steph is on pace to nearly double that. For the full scope of how insane Curry has been – compare his performance in this year’s postseason to playoff snipers from around the basketball universe over the past 30 years:

NBA
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State (2015)
Projected threes hit: 103
Threes hit per game: 4.9
Shooting Percentage: 43.7%

2. Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers (2000)
Threes hit: 58
Threes hit per game: 2.6
Shooting Percentage: 39.5%

NCAA Division I
1. Glen Rice, Michigan (1989)
Threes hit: 27
Threes hit per game: 4.5
Shooting Percentage: 55.1%

2. Freddie Banks, UNLV (1987)
Threes hit: 26
Threes hit per game: 5.2
Shooting Percentage: 40%

Liga ACB (Top league Spain)
1. Mark Simpson (1992)
Threes hit: 42
Threes hit per game: 3
Shooting Percentage: 50.6%

2. Jordi Villacampa (1993)
Threes Hit: 40
Threes hit per game: 2.5
Shooting Percentage: 44.9%

Euroleague
1. Juan Carlos Navarro, FC Barcelona Regal (2013)
Threes hit: 23
Threes hit per game: 3.29
Shooting Percentage: 41.8%

2. Sergio Llull, Real Madrid (2013)
Threes hit: 18
Threes hit per game: 3.6
Shooting Percentage: 56.3%

I’d mention Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes but I’m worried about pulling a Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller.

The bottom line is this: The Cavs just don’t match up well with the Warriors. Golden State scores too much, takes away dribble penetration, makes you settle for bad shots and locks down the paint.

No disrespect to LeBron, but King James isn’t a good enough jump shooter to win this on his own.

Kevin Love is out, Kyrie Irving is hurt and J.R. Smith, the guy with the Yelawolf, ‘I knowingly or maybe (benefit of the doubt) unknowingly spread VD’ vibe, is their third option. Things are bleak enough that the team is talking about activating Anderson Varejao (dude hasn’t played a single game this entire season).

Who do you go to if LeBron can’t get going and J.R. is cold? Timofey Mozgov? Iman Shumpert with Klay Thompson defending him? What about defensively, who do you put on Steph? On Klay? Matthew Delevadova? How does David Blatt get the Smash Brothers out of rhythm?

It’s not like we haven’t already seen a supporting-cast-less Lebron fall in the finals before.

Warriors in six, winter is coming!

Quentin Rosborough, I’m Sorry Mark Jackson – Pick: Cleveland

First and foremost, I take offense to your bestowing of the nickname “The Smash Brothers” to an NBA duo that is not at least 50% Earl James “You Trying to Get the Pipe” Smith. He’s earned that title.

Second, and erm… secondmost, yes the Golden State Warriors are good, damn good, and having finally faced a real playoff test in the James Harden’s Houston Rockets, are primed to establish themselves as one of the greatest teams in NBA History. Steph Curry has become everyone’s favorite player, Draymond Green has become everyone’s favorite trash-talker, and Klay Thompson, well…looks alot like Ben Savage.

Lets be real here. The Warriors look unstoppable, as they have all season, and I can’t blame anyone for thinking they’ll make light work of the Cavs on their way to one of the greatest playoff records of all time. But you know which other Warriors looked unstoppable? The Eden Hall Varsity Warriors. And we all know how that turned out.

Look, I’m not saying that the Bash Brothers are going to come out at halftime or anything, but stranger things have happened.

Like the Eden Hall Junior Varsity ducks however, LeBron James will be attempting to do the impossible against improbable odds; he is their Charlie Conway, David Blatt is their Gordon Bombay, and Matthew Dellavedova is their Greg Goldberg, metaphorically speaking that is. All I’m saying is it is not entirely outside of the the realm of the possibility that the Cavaliers shock the warriors and win LeBron James his third title in five years, and force the Warriors into a much-deserved name change.

Over-extended metaphors aside, the Warriors have a real problem they’ll need to address if they want to beat the Cavaliers, and his name is Harrison Barnes. Barnes can not guard LeBron James, particularly once LeBron decides to start operating in the post (which he most certainly will given that he’s ice cold from about everywhere else during the playoffs)

This leaves Steve Kerr in quite the the coaching conundrum then, once LeBron starts to take advantage of Harrison Barnes in the post, what does he do to slow him down? The smart money goes against the Warriors choosing to double team, because that will just lead to open 3s. The more likely option would be switching Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Draymond Green onto him, which would slow LeBron down to a certain extent, but would also make Barnes responsible for keeping Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson off the offensive glass, which as we’ve seen in the playoffs thus far, is quite the challenge. He’s averaging 11 boards per game over his last 10 appearances, and if he can put up those numbers against Pau Gasol and Paul Milsap, just imagine what he’ll do to the 209 lb Barnes.

LeBron James Playoff Shot Chart

For the first time in this years playoffs, the Golden State Warriors are going to find themselves on the wrong end of a mismatch; a mismatch that could just cost them a championship. Cavs in 6. Quack Quack motherf****r.

Heaven is a Playground — Making sense of the abomination that is Sin City Saints

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In middle school, the perfect “mental health day” (see: the official playbook for Jewish mothers) started with a bowl of chickarina soup, saltines on the side and reruns of The White Shadow on ESPN Classic — Ken Howard, with his rutty-faced New York-Irish good looks playing a retired Chicago Bull now coaching high school basketball in South Central Los Angeles. And by coaching, I mean combating the societal ills of 1970s L.A. one wayward teenager at a time.

Homosexuality, teen pregnancy, gangs, drugs and Italian kids nicknamed “Salami,” The White Shadow was like a grittier, less Jewish Welcome Back Kotter (although the team did have bench warmer named Goldstein). Fun fact, the growth of basketball in Turkey during the 80s has been largely attributed to the popularity of the show among the Turkish.

Wanting to enjoy the sense of wonderment that a young Hedo Turkoglu must have felt while throwing back handfuls of Lahmacun during episodes of The White Shadow, I spent most of Wednesday binge watching Yahoo’s newest creation: Sin City Saints. By episode three I felt nauseous; by episode six I prayed for the sweet release of death; by episode eight I experienced what I believe Hunter S. Thompson was describing when talking about “the edge.” (It’s generally a bad sign when Rick Fox turns in the strongest performance among a cast that otherwise features Tom Arnold, the chick who played Chief O’Brien’s wife on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the dude who was “The Wiz” on Seinfeld.)

Sin City Saints follows an expansion basketball team in Las Vegas (presumably in the NBA), with the main hijinks revolving around the tech billionaire owner, who is played by the Wikipedia page-less Andrew Santino. The owner, after running over the team’s star player and in jeopardy of losing his club via action from the league commissioner, enlists the help of a New York City based P.R. guru, played by Malin Akerman. Trying to pull off Tasha Yar hair and failing miserably, Akerman is probably the worst part of the show: Her effort is comparable to Rajon Rondo’s in Dallas, which is problematic because she isn’t that great of an actress to begin with. (Think Kaley Cuoco in The Big Bang Theory bad.)

Subplots include the team recruiting Chinese player Wu, who comes with his stereotypically overbearing, perfectionist Asian mother. Said Asian mother sleeping with the team’s star player (the one who was run over) ala Delonte West. The team signing retired player turned burger magnate Billy King, played by Baron Davis, who, unsurprisingly, is not a good actor. Serbian player Arthak bullying the offensively emasculated Asian assistant general manager, and the owners effort to secure taxpayer funding for a new stadium.

Over the course of season one’s entire 192 minutes I did not laugh, giggle, cackle, guffaw, snigger, chortle, chuckle or tee-haw once. The writing and direction (shame on you Fred Savage from the Wonder Years) were so bad they made Blue Mountain State look like Friday Night Lights. Sin City Saints so desperately wants to follow in the footsteps of an Arrested Development, but in the end comes off like every other bit of garbage on network television, sans the one-line witticisms.

Amazon Prime has Transparent, Netflix has House of Cards, and HBO Go has Game of Thrones; I dig that in its infancy Yahoo Screen has free content, but as long as it’s anchored by fecal matter-like Sin City Saints and a Donald Glover-Chevy Chase-less Community it will continue to rank somewhere below Crackle on the hierarchy of streaming platforms.

At least HBO has the NFL themed Ballers, premiering in June.

Heaven is a Playground — Kyle Korver: NBA MVP?

With the NBA Playoffs tipping off, our own Noah Perkins chopped it up with I’m Sorry Mark Jackson’s (imsorrymarkjackson.com) Quinten Roseborough to discuss who the rightful NBA MVP is — or, more accurately, Noah’s highly controversial opinion that it is Atlanta Hawks sniper Kyle Korver. Somehow, Matthew McConaughey is a lynchpin of the argument — give it a read:

Noah Perkins, One-Bid Wonders

I consider myself a well thought out person, one who is willing to listen to reason, and change my opinion when presented with contradictory facts and information. There are few exceptions to this however: Jenn Sterger framed Brett Favre; socks go well with sandals; Six Feet Under is the greatest show in the history of television; and Kyle Korver is the most valuable player in the league this season.

To be fair, as far as “ridiculous” NBA opinions go, I also think Draymond Green is a better player than Blake Griffin.

I’ve had these debates many times: Reactions generally range from the drunkenly violent to the more polite Ivy League-styled lets-ignore-that-guy-he’s-from-Yale type shunning.

What has never happened — what I cannot fathom happening — is someone actually agreeing with me. Which is hard to believe when you dig into the money-ball numbers — Draymond’s advanced stats eviscerate Griffin’s. Not wanting to put everyone to sleep, I will let readers judge for themselves here. For those too lazy to click the link, Draymond’s Value over Replacement Player (the advanced statisticians wet dream) places him at 9th overall in the league; Blake comes in at 19th.

Which brings me to Kyle Korver.

99.9-percent of white players fall into one of three categories: the intrinsically hilarious (think Paul porn-stache Mokeski, Brian fire-crotch Scalabrine, and the name Cherokee Parks); the grotesquely overrated (IE Kevin Love, or, dare I say Larry Bird); and the wildly underrated, pigeon-holed Tiny-Tims of the league (players like Korver and to a lesser extent J.J. Reddick).

Korver is only a smidge, or depending on how you look at it, a Metta World Peace penis-length away from shooting 50-50-90 (field goal, 3-point, and free throw percentage) on the year. Only one other player in NBA history – Steve Kerr — has done that.

I get it, the dude only averages 12 points a game, but that’s all he needs to, what his presence on the court does for the Hawks in terms of spacing the floor is how the team has managed the second best record in the NBA. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said it best: “he averages 13 points per game, right? But you go into the game and you have to treat him like he averages 30, or else it could be 30.”

Per 100 possessions, the Hawks average 110 points when Korver is on the court. Without him, that number drops to 95. During the Hawks 19 game win streak he shot something like 66 percent from 3-point land when a defender was within two feet of him. Remember how good Matthew McConaughey was in True Detective after years and years of mediocre romantic comedies? That’s the kind of career renaissance Kyle Korver is having at age 34 in his 11th NBA season.

The metric we all use to judge value is wins; players not on playoff teams are (unfairly) dismissed from the conversation, which is why I can omit Russell Westbrook. The Atlanta Hawks are the top seeded team from the Eastern Conference; general logic would then dictate that their most important player would be mentioned as an MVP candidate, right? The Warriors have an insanely deep team — swap Curry out for Shaun Livingston, and that’s still a solid playoff team.

I love Dennis Schroder — I love the fact that he is a German dude who reps the Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man look — but let’s be real: can you really see the Hawks led by Jeff Teague and Al Horford as more than the 7th seed without Kyle Korver?

Quinten Roseborough, I’m Sorry Mark Jackson

No. Kyle Korver is not the MVP.

That being said, I too am tired of the white basketball archetype: The crisp chest passes, the high free throw percentage, the protestant work ethic. It’s all a bit… trite.

For as long as I can remember, the game has always had players who have broken the alabaster mold — Gordon Hayward, Bob Sura, Jason Williams. Kyle Korver, however, a mold-breaker he is not.

Kyle Korver embodies every white basketball stereotype known to man, from his remarkable shooting touch to his sub-par athleticism, to his boyishly good looks. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if they remade White Men Can’t Jump with NBA players, Korver would be the unanimous first choice to play Billy Hoyle.

I digress, though. While Korver’s contributions to the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks are quite meaningful, he’s also probably not even the MVP of his own team. A team that with four selections was the most-represented during All-Star Weekend, and whose entire starting five was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month in January.

And yes, while he might be having a McConaughey-like return to NBA relevancy, what’s to say that this year’s playoffs won’t be the Nicolas Winding Refn-directed Lincoln ads that signal the end of any true McConaissance?

Let me put it this way, say Adam Silver were to put all active NBA players into a pool and had each team fill out their roster fantasy draft style, is there any chance Korver goes in the first round? No. So by law, he cannot be the MVP.

I do however, agree with your assessment of the other potential MVP candidates, but you’ve conveniently left one name out of your analysis. Let’s be real here, there is but one true MVP and his name is James Edward Harden Jr.: 27 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, and 6.9 assists per game. All with an improved effort on the defensive end, and the assistance of no additional All-Stars.

If we, the advanced statistics championing, mid-range jumper decrying, basketball writers are Dr. Frankenstein, then James Harden is our Monster; an allegory for our continued obsession with efficiency, the physical embodiment of our endless quest for statistical objectivity. Harden takes what we claim is empirically and veraciously “smart basketball” and turns it into a grotesque combination of drawn fouls, contested jump shots, and loose beard hairs.

But, like Frankenstein’s Monster, Harden’s game too is as awe-inspiring as it is brutally efficient. Over the course of the season, he has established himself as the league’s most well rounded offensive force, a player who from the triple threat, employs his endless collection of moves and counter-moves to render all defenses futile, all to the tune of a top 10 true shooting percentage and a top fifteen assist rate.

Heaven is a Playground — Levi Levine, Vince Carter, racism, and Rucker Park

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The most important basketball game in the sports history occurred on Feb. 19, 1948, when the embodiment of pointed white elbows, stiff horizontal movement, set shots and athletic goggles faced off against the “negro quint,” as they were dubbed by the Minneapolis Tribune.

On that day, basketball’s first dynasty, the Minneapolis Lakers, anchored by George Mikan, were upset, 61-59, by the all black Harlem Globetrotters in an exhibition game. The Globetrotters’ win eviscerated professional basketballs racial barrier, changed the style and content of the game forever and paved the way for every successive generation of ballplayers.

Since then, New York City has been the capital of the basketball universe, at the center of the NYC basketball scene is Rucker Park in Harlem. Growing up in the Polo Grounds housing projects overlooking Rucker Park, former Albany University star forward/enforcer Levi Levine was born and raised almost at the epicenter of basketball.

After a decorated college career in Albany in which he left his name across the Great Danes’ record books, Levine has embarked on nine-year career as a professional player and coach, suiting up in Germany, Ireland and Romania. I caught up with the New York City playground veteran to talk European racism, Rucker Park, Vinsanity, the good side of  AAU basketball and the impact of Harlem.

Noah Perkins: You’ve played professionally in both Germany and Romania, two countries who have poor reputations in terms of anti-Semitism, racism and equality. What has your experience been with racial discrimination in Europe?

Levi Levine: Germany is more civil than Americans think. They are fair people that do not trust easily but will open up everything to you when they see your true worth. I have had a few fights here in Germany back in the day, but nothing racial.

Romania, on the other hand, is a country that is about 20 years behind the western world, but harbor(s) some of the best people I have ever met. Even though a lot of older people have an old racist mentality, they barely act out on it, unless you are dating their daughter.

I had an incident in Romania When I went out to recharge my credit to call home. I walked up a dark alley to get to the 24 hour store and this guy sitting on a car says “hey [N-word] and grabbed my arm. I pulled my arm away and got ready to bust his face, as I did that another guy gets out of the car. At this point my New York instincts kicked in and I pull out my four finger long pocket knife. One guy sprays me with mace as I am fighting the other guy.

To make a long story short they ended up leaving after they saw I was going to hurt one of them, not to mention I was calling my teammates to come outside while I was fighting. I can say that was the only blatant racial situation I have encountered out here because believe it or not black people have been out here way longer than people think and many people were raised properly with love in their hearts.

On a basic human level, what is the grimiest thing you have seen since going overseas?

The craziest thing I’ve ever seen was out in Romania. Many Gypsies are known to cripple their kids at a young age so they can go on the streets and beg for money and one time I saw a man whose knees bent backwards instead of forwards and that freaked me out because that had to be purposely done.

How does pickup ball in New York City compare to Europe?

Pick up is different everywhere, it all depends on who you are playing with. NYC is definitely the toughest place to play because if there is no blood there is no foul.

I have been playing in an annual streetball tournament in Sibiu, Romania for the last three years and it is very tough, because many professionals participate in it, but overall it always depends on who you play with because some guys make too many foul calls or hack the whole time, but that is the same no matter where you play. So I think the difference between New York City and everywhere else is the quantity and the quality of the talent that we have; there aren’t many places that breed as much talent as New York does.

In terms of talent, what is the best court you have ever played at?

In terms of talent, Rucker Park is the best streetball court in the world, hands down.

How do you think a young Levi Levine and the four best players at Rucker Park on a given summer night would fare against the typical starting five in say Romania?

If I took four of my best guys, by position from New York City and put them up against a Romanian team we would thug them out. Simply because not many people in this world are built like New Yorkers are and they would have to have at least one Romanian on their team.

A lot of pickup players, especially the white boys, are intimidated off by courts like Rucker Park and the Cage, what is the typical reaction to white players at these parks?

It’s not really about color it’s about your game and heart. The older dudes run the courts in their hood so if you want to play with them you have to prove yourself.

When I was growing up, guys like “Alimoe” “Speedy” “Kareem Reeves” ”Master Rob” “Strickland” “The Future” “Skip to my Lou” Ran places like the Rucker and West 4th , but every hood has some place to play and if you have a name you can play anywhere, until then you must earn it by purely “busting ass.”

If you showed up in west 4th or Rucker Park you would have to know someone or get down with whoever has next and if you have heart you can try call next yourself but depending on where you are they will thug your next from you (take it away and make their team in your spot).

How has the New York City Streetball mentality benefited you professionally?

My New York City background has kept me relevant against a lot of guys over the years, not because of my reputation but because of how hard I always fought on the court. I grew up playing against guys like, Royal Ivey, Adrian “A whole lotta game” Walton, Charlie Villenueva, Randy Foye, Lenny Cooke, Andre Barrett, Ben Gordon, Julius Hodge and Keydran Clark, all guys that play NBA or High level Europe and that prepared me for every type of competition I would face in the future because those dudes were dead nice and some of them are still playing on very high levels. I had to persevere then and I am still, until this day, able to do my thing on the court, it just hurts more after.

I used to go to Pee Wee Kirkland’s basketball camp for about 2 years and he is a big reason for the fire inside of me, not because he made me better but because he ignored me and a lot of other kids until he thought I was relevant.

What is your craziest Rucker Park memory?

When Vince Carter came to the Rucker (summer, 1999).

My guy, and streetball legend Adrian “A Whole Lotta Game” Walton was set to match- up against Vince Carter that day. The rain site was in My AAU gym and a severe thunderstorm hit us so we had to forfeit our practice for the EBC games to take place. To my surprise Vince Carter walked into the gym. I was there for a normal practice when we are surprised to see that Vince Carter came to NYC to compete. We all sat down to witness one of the greatest streetball games ever.

Vince Carter caught an alley-oop windmill dunk on a fast break, something never seen before at that time, it made us go wild! The whole game was close because Adrian Walton took that game as a challenge and wanted to show everyone that he was NBA material. [Walton] hit at least six 3-pointers that game on Vince Carter and even though Carter’s team won the game and Vince blessed us with numerous dunks we had never seen before, Adrian Walton was representing Harlem in a major way, dropping 37-points to Vince Carter’s 29.

Vince may have won the war but Adrian Walton won the battle and in streetball that’s almost as good as winning the game. It was good to watch an NBA legend in action, live, but it felt better to see a friend, teammate and hood legend get buckets against a top NBA player!

I think it was Smush Parker who said something like the playground raised me second to my parents, growing up at the Polo Grounds you had Rucker Park right outside, is this something you can relate to?

Growing up in the Polo Grounds, from what I can remember, was very hard for me because I was basically outside with my brother or by myself. When I was with my brother, I would watch games in the Rucker and play when I could, so that’s how it all began. I used to watch the games sometimes from my 29th floor window but when my brother was playing I was right there in Rucker Park watching.

I only lived in the Polo Grounds for the first 10 years of my life and it was hard, but having Rucker Park at my doorstep instilled that hunger for the game in me. I can definitely relate to what Smush said because I literally played ball every day, that’s all I knew existed until I went to prep school in Cheshire, Connecticut. If you didn’t play ball you was a thug and I knew nothing about that life so I chose ball over all.

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What is your reaction to the criticism of AAU basketball for taking kids away from playground ball? Do you think less time playing pickup weakens these kids’ games?

Spending less time playing in the streets can be a good thing because many kids do get killed or into altercations in these streets and AAU basketball takes them away from all of that, I know because it did that for me. Playing with the Gauchos taught me how to play organized, under the whistle basketball and gave me my first experience in Europe.

People should realize the good AAU does for their kids, I think you’re as strong or as weak as your coach lets you become and if you had a good coach it was better for you to play AAU because that would open up doors to colleges.

What does it mean for you to be from Harlem?

Being from Harlem means everything to me because I am a part of the culture and illustrious basketball history that we have and that says a lot.

Harlem has taught me how to survive in this crazy world; My swagger often deters a lot of negative energy from coming my way but it also brings negative, jealous hatred my way because you can almost tell where I am from by the way I walk and that makes some people mad. When I tell people that I am from Harlem, they either have a big love and respect for me because they often dream of New York or they hate me because they cannot be me. It may sound a bit cocky but many people want to be what they see on T.V. and New York has always been in the worlds view.

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Heaven is a Playground — Larry Sanders #420 and the nine worst people in the NBA

July 10, 2012

“What’s in the box”?

“Drugs,” The detective replied, indignantly stone-faced.

“Like cocaine?” I forced the words out. It felt like Tabasco Sauce was being directly applied to my heart. Of course I knew it wasn’t cocaine. Alone in the kitchen with a box of narcotics, I assessed my options as the police entered the house: Lawyer up or play dumb. To answer Dr. Dre’s question from The Watcher, I have no Tupac in me.

How convincingly naïve can I make myself appear?

”Please Mister Officer, I don’t know anything: I just graduated from college last month, I’m just a kid.” The genetic programming of suburban white-folks incarnate.

“Marijuana” he said, emotionless, sizing me up, most likely wondering if I could actually be this stupid. Here I was, front and center, playing the role of Anthony Collins in the Jerome Simpson drama.
Wrong place, wrong time.

My friend, for the sake of his identity, let’s just call him “Dumbass,” had a small quantity of pot shipped in the mail from California to Massachusetts. In hindsight, I was golden: The package didn’t have my name on it, I wasn’t on the lease of the home, and I wasn’t the one to greet the mailman.

No, that was all Dumbass.

Hi, federal postal worker, thanks for the drugs, have a great day!

Logic goes out the window when you are being threatened with a Class D felony and a one-to-five year prison sentence. Fortunately, that Dumbass is quite the mensch. There is something to be said about the people who take responsibility for their own stupidity.

We sat in a meadow for a while. I went to the gym, burned about 2,000 calories in what must have been the best work out of my life. By 10 p.m. I was on my sixth drink. By midnight I had texted every girl in my phonebook until one had finally agreed to come over, Unique Avocado. An otherwise meaningless day, whose only impact upon my life is that it has become one of my better “hey, remember that time” moments.

What did I learn? To be afraid.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where four 23-year-olds and a small quantity of marijuana calls for 10 detectives, but hey, federal law was knowingly broken, so I suppose it’s also difficult to create a victim.

The usage of weed in and out of itself is a victimless crime — we all know that. Why bother stating the obvious about how the enforcement of marijuana laws have been among the greater injustices in the history of this country.

The NBA has its own Dumbass. Well, to be fair the NBA has no shortage of dumbasses, but one dumbass stands out in the vastness of DUI’s, spousal abuse, sex offenses, handguns and occasional homicides: Milwaukee Bucks Center Larry Sanders.

For exercising his own harmless idiocy, Sanders was suspended for 12 games in January after testing positive a fourth time for marijuana. The suspension, which was officially ended on Feb. 11, cost Sanders a total of $1.2 million, and has raised questions regarding whether or not the Bucks talented but listless big man will be welcomed back by the team following the All-Star break. A buyout is reportedly on the table.

It’s rather ironic. Jason Kidd, the team’s head coach and convicted spousal abuser and drunk driver, can look down his nose at Sanders.

The dude likes getting high; most of the NBA does. Remember back in 2001 when Charles Oakley estimated that 60-percent of the league smokes pot? Similar to my Dumbass, I can’t defend Sanders as a victim: He has been caught breaking NBA policy on four separate occasions, of course he is going to be punished.

Yet I can’t help but to feel a kinship with him.

Look at the inconsistencies in the NBA’s disciplinary policy and tell me Sanders punishment fits his crime:

• 2014, Dante Cunningham, arrested on charges of domestic assault: no suspension, signed by the Pelicans three days later.

• 2013 Ty Lawson, arrested on charges of spousal abuse and property damage: no suspension.

• 2013 Jared Sullinger, arrested for domestic assault: no suspension.

• 2012 Metta World Peace, suspended seven games for elbowing James Harden in the head.

• 2012 Jordan Hill, arrested for domestic assault, pleads down to a misdemeanor charge: no suspension

• 2010 Lance Stephenson is charged with assault after pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs: no punishment.

• 2009 J.R. Smith, seven game suspension for reckless driving.

• 2007 Stephen Jackson, seven game suspension for firing a gun outside of a strip club.

• 2003 Rasheed Wallace, seven game suspension for threatening NBA official Tim Donaghy in a parking lot.

It appears basketball’s governing body is more concerned with natural vegetation than it is with violence. My position can best be articulated by Sanders, who had this to say following his 2014 suspension for his third offense:

“It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me… I will deal with the consequences from it… It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it. I know what it is if I’m going to use it… In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived.. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.

“The stigma is that it’s illegal.”

Professional sports at their best are a vehicle for social reform. Fresh faced Adam Silver, with his progressive stance on gaming, his swift reaction to Donald Sterling and his promise for more punitive consequences to domestic violence represents a cause for optimism: more discipline for the Jeff Taylors of the basketball world, less for criminally clean recreational smokers.

In a moment of clear headedness I asked the detective interrogating me if he thought marijuana should be legalized. His response: It would make my job easier, but people are making money off of it.

What nonsensical hogwash.

Heaven is a Playground — Horrible bosses and the NBA trade deadline: eight bold predictions

Imagine the body of Mark Mangino combined with the intellect of Avery Johnson, the self-control of Bobby Knight, the obnoxiousness of Stan Van Gundy, the enthusiasm of Dick Vitale, the grime of Rick Pitino, the ability of Sidney Lowe and the sex appeal of Tyrone Hill.

Who is this worst of all worlds troglodyte?

Given his litigious nature and penchant for frivolous lawsuits, it’s probably best to avoid naming names. Because of his uncanny resemblance to Tim Burton and Danny DeVito’s Penguin from Batman Returns let’s call him Oswald or, for anatomic reasons, Cobblepot.

For the better part of the past seven months, Cobblepot had been my employer. Until this past week, I had been willing to overlook the low pay and late paychecks; the foot odor we were all subjected to on his barefoot days; his manipulative tactics; his health advice despite his morbid obesity; and that odd month when he decided to walk me home after work every day. Dude was obsessed with me, and not in the good Ryan Gosling in The Notebook kinda way. It was more of the garden variety Robin Williams in One Hour Photo type obsession.

Quitting never felt so good!

My road to Damascus moment happened when he proudly announced that my fiancé was replaceable because she didn’t get me a pair of headphones for Christmas.

What’s the point? The NBA trade deadline is less than two weeks away. Meaning, a number of players are soon going to be working for a new employer. Fathers are reunited with sons, spousal abusers are reunited with neck tattoos of lips, Louie Amundson has a job again, and the grass is always greener.

Here are eight bold predictions for the month of February:

We have not seen the last of Andray Blatche:

While not technically a trade prediction, Andray Blatche seems poised to return to the league after a five month stint in China. The man most famously known as the recipient of Gilbert Arenas shoe dookie, and for soliciting an undercover cop for boom-boom, has taken giant strides in maturity since competing for Gilas in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Blatche followed up his strong performance on the international stage by dominating the CBA. In China, Blatche averaged 32 points and 15 boards a game, while shooting 40 percent from behind the arc.

The Heat, Grizzlies, and Nets are all reportedly interested in the big man’s services. The Nets hold Blatche’s early bird rights, making them the favorites to acquire him. Although a reunion seems odd, given how dead-set GM Billy King was on Jettisoning Blatche over the summer. However, not much the Nets have done in the past few years has made much sense.

Jonas Jerebko will be moved:

Who, you may ask? It may come as a surprise, but the Swedish native, now in his sixth year, is the longest tenured player on the Detroit Pistons. A serviceable rotational player, Jerebko’s expiring contract and probable unwillingness to re-sign this offseason makes him expendable for the guard hungry Pistons, who have been linked to Mo Williams among others.

Mo Williams is going to South Beach:

Last month, the well-travelled veteran made headlines setting a Timberwolves franchise record scoring 52 points on 19-of-33 from the floor. Williams is currently playing on an easily moveable one year, $3.75 million contract. The rebuilding nine win Timberwolves have nothing to gain by holding on to the 33-year-old. The Heat have a need for a veteran point guard, and Norris Cole packaged with a draft pick makes a lot of sense for Minnesota.

Pablo Prigioni will be traded to Cleveland or Detroit, for some reason:

The dysfunctional Knicks have no use for a backup guard as old as Madison Square Garden. Thirty-seven-year-old Pablo Prigioni is only guaranteed $300,000 on his $1.7 million contract for next season, and a market exists for serviceable veteran guards. Taking minutes away from developing players Shane Larkin and Langston Galloway is silly. The Cavs and Pistons both need backcourt depth and aren’t going to give up much in return for the Argentine.

Ray Allen will stay retired:

Ray-Ray is going to be 40. Dude is probably in great shape and that shooting technique, similar to Ava Devine has only gotten silkier with age. The NBA’s best, Hawks and Warriors, and the closest sure thing Cavs have all expressed interest. Signing a multi-million dollar deal to play a couple minutes a game for a half season sounds ideal. But, I just can’t see Allen pulling a Clemens. He’s always had numerous off court ventures, and as a guy with a cemented legacy, what more does he have to prove? Expect to be shocked when Allen chooses retirement over return.

Lance Stephenson is going home:

Lance Stephenson has been the biggest disaster in Charlotte since natives KC and Jojo exposed themselves during their 2000 Jingle Ball Christmas concert. Since blowing in LBJ’s ear, Lance has managed 9 points per game while shooting 37 percent from the floor. The Hornets spent nearly $30 million on Stephenson this past offseason, and have seen little in the way of ROI. The Hornets want to cut bait on the recalcitrant swingman, and the Nets are the logical fit. Brooklyn desperately needs to shred the monster contracts of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.

The 24-year-old BK native, who earned the nicknames the “eighth grader” and “born ready” on the unforgiving black top of New York City is the perfect player for the Nets to build around long term. Stephenson’s disastrous season is an outlier. Let’s not forget what a monster he was in Indiana.

The Lakers don’t have enough to land Goran Dragic:

The Dragon is a beast. One of the league’s best volume scorers, and stuck in a crowded backcourt, Phoenix is likely to start fielding calls about Dragic’s availability. Expected to opt out of his deal this summer, the Suns may have no choice but to trade the talented guard, in the prime of his career. The Lakers have long made their interest known.

The thought of Goran, Kobe and Swaggy P sharing the ball next season fills me with primal animal lust, but the reality is that the just Lakers don’t have enough to package in a trade for the Slovenian. Any deal the Lakers can put together is going to center around the marginal Jordan Hill and the wildly disappointing Jeremy Lin. There is a better chance of the Suns offering me a contract than dropping Goran for that haul. On a positive note, I’d expect the Lakers to go after Dragic hard this summer as a free agent.

Wilson Chandler will be moved to the Clippers or Trailblazers:

OKC brought in Dion Waiters, Memphis added Jeff Green, Houston Josh Smith, Dallas Rajon Rondo. The Western Conference is stacked and seemingly wide open. Wilson Chandler is the best player who will be moved to a team in the West prior to the trade deadline. With a manageable contract, and in the midst of one of his better seasons, the 27-year-old Chandler is going to be a sought after commodity. The Nuggets have been a colossal disappointment this year, and with their season all but over, they gain nothing by holding onto a player who will be looking to cash in on a long term deal in the near future.

Denver has made it clear that they won’t unload Chandler for less than a first rounder. The Clippers and Trail Blazers stand to be the greatest benefactors to the swingman’s services, and either team has the pieces to put together an attractive trade package. This one is a lock.

Heaven is a Playground — Saying goodbye to a good friend: The Downtown YMCA, San Diego

The final pilgrimage of the lunchtime ballers.
The final pilgrimage of the lunchtime ballers.

I imagine that when the lights went off, the Ghost of Pete Maravich came out to run ball-handling drills across the battered floorboards.

On Friday, Oct. 31, the Downtown YMCA of San Diego closed its doors for the final time. Where do all the old ballers go now? The guys with the pointed elbows, who represent the promise of full frontal locker room nudity after the game; what becomes of the aged, shirtless lawyer in the bandana who used his low center of gravity to throw hip-shot-box-outs, or the dude with the off-balance set shot always guzzling down Starbucks before playing? Do the hairy backed rage monsters and past their prime arguers find a new basketball playing community to call their own?

How could they? Many of them had been playing on this court since Hanson was a chart topper. Their eccentricities already accepted, perhaps even admired — If Jon the Weeble had slapped cross-eyed T in the face over a loose ball in any other basketball enclave he would have assuredly become the victim of an assault so vicious, only Jim Ross could narrate it. But at the Downtown Y, it was all part of the game.

Sure, there were better players — younger, and quicker — elsewhere, but why would I have ever wanted to play with them when I had the Downtown Y?

Opened in 1882, the gym, which shared the building with a café and hostel, had no frills, no new equipment, and at times no electricity. Smaller than a regulation court, and with a running track in the rafters taking away the possibility of corner threes, ambitious newbs often jacked shots up from Ray Allen territory, the ball ricocheting off of the track, followed by chants of “rookie” from court veterans.

At one time, there was a scoreboard, then a clock, and then in the end, games were timed by cell phone. Populated by a lot of lawyers, an ABA player, young transplants, and the unemployed, lunch-time games ignored the standard meritocracy, opting instead for a form of basketball socialism where winners couldn’t play more than two games in a row if guys were waiting — every game guaranteed an argument over what the score actually was.

The characters made this place special. There was Black Mo (presumably for Maurice), Indian Mo (presumably for Mohammed,) and Old Mo (Presumably for… Morris?). There was Jim the hack, with the surprisingly young wife, whose big Halloween joke was coming dressed as a referee; Cha, who reeked of menthol and was missing most of his front teeth. You liked everybody, but also kind of hated everyone simultaneously. Guys brought out the best of athletic competition in each other. Continue reading “Heaven is a Playground — Saying goodbye to a good friend: The Downtown YMCA, San Diego”

Heaven is a Playground — Rose Park 26th and O: Stacey Dash, the orthodox shul and Washington D.C.

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The shot goes up and rims out, spelling out H-O-R-S. The sun is down by now, it must be at least 8:45 p.m. The bats are out, feeding on the mosquitoes caught in the sticky Boston dog day air. Most everyone has gone home. Only the four of us remain: I’m 16, they’re all young in their own right, but through my lens 27 might as well be 65. If only everything could stay this simple.

Remember when the dad from 7th Heaven was all like: “There’s always going to be somebody who’ll try to take your dignity and self-esteem. Just never let them take your voice,”

And we were all like: “I wish Eric Camden was in my life; he’d know what to do when the foreign kid who sits next to me in 7th grade history starts drawing naked people again.”

Little did we know at the time that the dude who played Rev. Camden, Stephen Collins, was a serial child molester.

Of course, this all came out during my people’s High Holiday season — nothing spoils the kugel faster than the tarnishing of 90’s pop culture (I’ll never be able to enjoy Melissa Joan Hart and her wonky eye falling in love with Vince from Entourage in Drive Me Crazy again).

What’s next? Did the voice of Hey Arnold do something terrible back in the day?

Seemingly, if it’s not Ebola, the Ukraine, or Malaysian Airlines, it’s typecast, middling actors from 20-year-old crap sitcoms — the Stephen Collinses, Kirk Camerons, Victoria Jacksons and the Stacey Dashes — making the world a worse place. Movies like Clueless are supposed to take my mind off of the world, not remind me of how horrible it is. (Side note: Alicia Silverstone once fed her son via regurgitation, you know, like a mama bird. Side note two: Alicia Silverstone named said child Bear Blue Jarecki).

Basketball is how I make sense of things. Unfortunately, given the soul crushing nature of adulthood, run as of late has come few and far between.

At least I have the memories of anatomical oddities, head of broccoli eating homeless jump shooters and New York City trash talkers to keep me company while I sift through spread-sheets and navigate the high powered world of… honestly, I’m not even sure what my job title stands for.

With the retirement of Israeli superstar David Blu and the passing of Yom Kippur, my mind has been wandering back a few years to summer days spent in Washington D.C. — a trip highlighted by the former student body president of Columbia University chasing a pack of deer; unloading a stomach full of Eritrean food into the bathroom of a half-bar-half-bookstore; and playing a lot of ball at Rose Park on 26th and O street.

The first thing I noticed abut the court was that the majority of the players shared certain physical traits. They all kind of looked like they enjoyed washing the taste of Gefilte Fish out of their mouths with a tall glass of Manischewitz. I don’t have an answer for why Jews flocked to Rose Park — after all, it’s located in Georgetown, not Newton, Massachusetts.

Whatever the reason, it was like Tel Aviv East — to quote the aforementioned deer chaser “the whole orthodox shul definitely showed up.”

Playing there again six or so weeks later, the Ashkenazi were still out in full force. This Dude Donnie ran with us the first go round; upon our return, he was sitting in the same spot like we never left, rocking his Hebrew school basketball jersey — weekend warriors’ rep a lot of eclectic gear; that was the first time I ever saw a guy playing in rabbinical apparel.

The Boston crew plus Donnie ran the court that day, despite the blue-top soaking up the 90 degree D.C. heat. At the time I was a pastier, heavier, post operative, Peanut-Butter-Pie, as such my need for Central Air was far greater. Continue reading “Heaven is a Playground — Rose Park 26th and O: Stacey Dash, the orthodox shul and Washington D.C.”

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA World Cup 2014 — Human nature, Gilas Pilipinas and Andray Blatche’s redemption

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Human Nature is about as fickle as an 8-year-old boy chasing tumbleweeds through the backwoods of Georgia, or so I’m told.

Why are we so quick to judge and falsely label others, when we all know too well the feeling of having our insides ripped apart by the cattle prod of erroneous expectations?

I vividly remember my charter school basketball team playing a team with an Asian player. All game, on the bench, one of our guys called him “Yao” and “Soy Sauce.”

Given the level of disrespect hoisted upon us by bigger high schools, you would think we’d have developed an intrinsic appreciation for others not fitting the stereotype: They thought we sucked because we didn’t have our own gym; we thought he sucked because of our perception of Asians.

As the old New York City parable goes: The Italians beat up the Irish, so in turn the Irish beat up the Jews.

Remember when Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin’s then teammate, publicly ridiculed Lin’s potential contract extension as “ridiculous”? Or how about when an ESPN anchor referred to him as a “chink”? Or, what about Jason Whitlock playing the all too familiar Asian Men have a small endowment card? Ten years prior to “Linsanity,” Shaq said about a rookie Yao Ming, that he was going to drop step and put an elbow into his face. Around the same time, Chris Tucker went for the easy laugh in Rush Hour, hitting Jason Whitlock’s familiar punch line as an Asian dude’s towel came off.

These are just a few of the more visible examples of the perpetuating emasculation of Asian men. I’m probably guilty of it as well — most of us are.

Lets face it, despite outperforming every ethnic group in this country academically and socio-economically, Asians, especially Asian men, still get no respect in mainstream American society. It’s all mathletics, small dicks and hello kitty backpack jokes.

Which brings me to Gilas Pilipinas. I wonder how many players on the Philippine National Team have, at some point, suffered the same indignation as the kid I played against in High School? Continue reading “Heaven is a Playground: FIBA World Cup 2014 — Human nature, Gilas Pilipinas and Andray Blatche’s redemption”

Heaven is a Playground: I’m sorry, Senegal, I screwed up

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The passion Senegal plays with is why I love the game of basketball. What they have done thus far in the FIBA World Cup has been humanity reaffirming, touching and, above all, a tribute to everyone who has ever been marginalized or made to feel as less.

On some level, I understand why so many baseball players were taking (and continue to take) steroids: Every other player was doing it; not doing it meant getting squeezed out of the league, at least for the average player (for the Brian Roberts’s of the baseball world, juicing is human nature — it is not an ethical dilemma).

What I found unimaginably grating about the whole ordeal was the complete lack of accountability players were willing to take after they got caught. Instead of saying “everyone is doing it, If I didn’t I would lose my job,” all we got was a bunch of “I was young and stupid,” “I didn’t take steroids period… knowingly,” “I had a thyroid condition,” “It helps with my ADHD,” “I didn’t know what I was taking,” “I don’t know why I tested positive,” and a bunch of other bullshit (I’m looking at you, David Ortiz).

It was all meaningless white noise.

Power exists in a simple, “I screwed up; I wish I didn’t, but I did.”

So, with that sentiment, I would like to acknowledge my own mistake:

Senegal, I screwed up. I overlooked you as a team. I shouldn’t have, but I did. I am truly sorry. Watching you play has been a privilege and a pleasure.

In my preview, I wrote: If it weren’t for Senegal, Andray Blatche and his Filipino comrades would go winless.

While the statement turned out factually accurate, it doesn’t reflect the talent and heart both of these teams showed over the past week.

I then went on to say: This year the team’s sole NBA player is seven-footer Hamady N’Diaye of the Sacramento Kings. That is a completely false statement made in a moment of work-week induced laziness and lack of due diligence.

Minnesota Timberwolves Forward Gorgui Dieng has put the Senegalese team on his back, averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds a game. How did I manage to overlook him? For my money, he’s the tournament MVP.

Then there’s former D-league player Mohammed Faye, who has been a crunch time monster. What about the aforementioned N’Diaye? On a bad back the dude has dominated the paint defensively and put points on the board when he’s needed to.

Coming into this tournament, Senegal had not won an international game since 1998, before that you had to go back another 20 years for its only other win. By beating Puerto Rico, a country with a basketball pedigree and Croatia, one of the better teams competing in the World Cup, the country doubled it’s win total of the past near 40 years in two days.

Look at how improbable this run really is: Continue reading “Heaven is a Playground: I’m sorry, Senegal, I screwed up”