Times, they are a-changin’ when it comes to sexuality in the United States. With every new generation comes increased acceptance of gays and lesbians as evidenced by nine states (and Washington DC) legalizing gay marriage.
Roy Hibbert became the latest high profile athlete to learn a hard lesson from this culture shift after the Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday. During the the televised post game press conference Hibbert used the homophobic slur “no homo.”
Hibbert also dropped a “motherf****r” in that press conference, which was aired (and bleeped) on TNT. The “MF” hardly raised an eyebrow (although the NBA will surely fine Hibbert for using the more traditional curse word…UPDATE: The NBA fined Hibbert $75,000 for his post-game remarks), but the gay slur had the social media world buzzing with comments and criticism of Hibbert’s word choice.
Shortly after the press conference, the Pacers big man tweeted Jason Collins, requesting a conversation with the recently-out NBA player. The tweet has since been deleted and Sunday, Hibbert released a statement through the clean-up crew… errr…Pacers, apologizing for his comment.
While speaking with Collins is a fine idea, Hibbert should strongly consider giving Kobe Bryant a call.
Remember when Bryant landed in hot water after yelling a gay slur (the other “F” word) at a referee back in 2011? Well, Bryant’s bank account remembers as he was fined $100,000 by the league. Bryant issued the obligatory apology and professed that his words didn’t reflect his personal views (just as Hibbert has done), but the L.A. Lakers superstar put his money where his mouth is in continuing to advocate for acceptance by making public service announcements, publicly supporting Jason Collins and even calling out a fan’s anti-gay language on twitter.
Heck, maybe Hibbert, Bryant and Tim Hardaway should hold an NBA “acceptance summit.”
In Hibbert’s statement, he apologized for using the “slang” term. Yes, certain words and phrases are ingrained in our heads from a young age (or even during adulthood) and removing them from our vocabulary can take time and practice. I don’t know about you guys, but after making a conscious decision at the age of 14 (and with my Mom’s insistence), I kicked “gay” and “retarded” out of my lexicon for good. Were there occasional slip-ups early on? Absolutely, but unlearning hurtful words ain’t that tough a task.
Not long ago, a tweet popped up on my timeline written by an athlete from one of the many teams I covered for work. In his tweet, said athlete used the word “gay” in the context of “bad” or “stupid.” I immediately texted him a mini-lecture, detailing why he should remove the tweet (for his own sake) and that he should strongly consider attempting to remove the word, in such context, from his vocabulary both publicly and privately.
He quickly texted me back saying “you know I didn’t mean it like that,” so I text-lectured a bit further. Within five minutes of posting, the tweet had disappeared. A few hours later, the athlete told me he had received instant blowback from several of his twitter followers, prompting him to delete the tweet. He told me that he agreed with my stance and that he would make an effort to stop using “gay” in a negative connotation. I haven’t seen or heard him use the word since.
This player is a guy with a wonderful personality and a big heart. He was quite young at the time and it was apparent that all he needed was someone to point out something that he hadn’t considered previously. I cut him some slack and tried to help him out a bit because I didn’t think he was anti-gay, and I believed he fell into the “even good people make mistakes” category.
The aforementioned athlete, Bryant, and Hibbert all claimed that their hurtful words did not align with their personal beliefs and that their intent didn’t come from a discriminatory place.
Unfortunately, that is of little consequence to the closeted gay teenager who reads a tweet from his favorite pro-athlete and feels his heart sink. As much as some public figures stray from the “role model” position, it doesn’t make their words any less far-reaching or diminish the power of their actions.
Intentions are practically meaningless in situations like these because emotional and physical responses are attached to certain words (like the “N” word) that historically, have been used in the vein of hate, violence and persecution.
Kobe Bryant turned a huge negative into an even greater positive with the steps he has taken since his on-court outburst in 2011. I’m guessing the driving force behind such a drastic turnaround is sincerity. Do I know for a fact that Bryant isn’t anti-gay? No I don’t, but I’d be shocked if he was faking it. If Hibbert truly has no issue with homosexuality, he should follow in Bryant’s footsteps.
At what point will influential public figures like Hibbert (and plenty of others) step out of their personal bubbles and learn from the mistakes made by their peers and predecessors? At what point do we stop making excuses for ourselves and learn to do the right thing without having to first, do something wrong?
Alrighty ballers, the fun is over.
You’ve had two months to remember how to play basketball, learn to play alongside your current teammates, and use the fact that you were without an organized off-season as an excuse for playing poorly. We all had fun watching the All-Star weekend festivities. We laughed, we cried (well, hopefully not, but I’m sure somebody did) and it seemed like the players enjoyed themselves (sans Kobe’s nose), whether they were in Orlando or relaxing elsewhere and taking advantage of the time off.
With all of that nonsense out of the way, it’s time to quit playing games and step up it up on the court. After nearly 40 games of the 66-game schedule played thus far, most teams have not impressed during this truncated season. The Bulls, Heat and Thunder are the cream of the crop, but there’s a significant drop-off after the top three. The difference isn’t necessarily in wins and losses, but in consistency.
Oklahoma City is fresh and fierce. These young bucks have finally honed that killer instinct mentality allowing them to demoralize the opponent and kick it in to high gear down the stretch if need be. I’m interested to see if the Thunder will lose any firepower once the playoffs start as teams with older rosters will benefit from the rest between games.
Miami is out of this world when all of the guys are healthy and have their heads screwed on straight. As most pundits said from day one (and I agree), it’s the Heat’s championship to lose. Aside from last night’s loss to Utah and the occasional slip-up, I’m curious to see if Miami can maintain the standard they’ve set for themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it all come crashing down at some point, but as usual, that would most likely come not in the regular season, but in the playoffs where it counts.
I think the Bulls are the most fun team in the league to watch (with the Timberwolves right behind them, believe it not) because they have blended fight and finesse together, creating a smooth yet edgy style of play. Obviously, if Derrick Rose suffers any relatively long-term injury, the team is in trouble, so lets all say our prayers at night that that doesn’t happen. For now let’s enjoy Rose, the great team around him and the sweet sounds of Tom Thibodeau screaming about defense from the sidelines.
As for the other 27 teams in the league, get your act together! I know it can’t be easy, going from couch potato to NBA player once the owners lifted the lockout, but you should be properly conditioned by now. If not, perhaps the coaches need to re-evaluate how they rest their players (see Greg Popovich in San Antonio).
The time is now to put aside any differences or bulging egos in the spirit of team sportsmanship and winning. Quit hogging the ball and pass it to the open man or someone with a higher shooting percentage than you. It won’t kill ya! I promise. Well, I guess that applies to everyone but LeBron. Sorry dude.
Sure, some teams aren’t even in the running to make it through April, but so what? That wouldn’t stop the Honey Badger from playing his butt off, would it? No. He don’t give a s*** about the playoffs! He just wants to kick ass and take names.
Charlotte, I KNOW you can win at least 12 games this season. Seriously. If not for your own pride, do it for the poor media that has to cover you and somehow find a different way to write about losing evert night. A few years ago, the Nets were on the brink of finishing the season with the worst record in modern NBA history and even they managed to escape that fate. Bobcats, you can do it!
All of the teams in playoff contention today are talented and worth watching, but the team that excites me the most here in the second half is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They are only two games out of the final playoff spot out West and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sneak in as the last few seeds could easily shuffle around several times before the post-season begins.
They remind me of the 1999-2001 Clippers teams that only won maybe 20-30 games a year, but were so fun to watch. Those teams had some wonderfully talented guys and decent role players too, they just never found a way to win together, but gave it one hell of a shot on most nights making their games very entertaining.
I love Kurt Rambis, but Rick Adelman seems to be a better fit for the TWolves, a team with an astounding six players who were Top 5 draft picks. With a coach who knows how to harvest talent, this team is a move or two away from a Thunder-like assent over the next few seasons. For now, I’ll watch Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams and a red hot Michael Beasley any night. Rubio is a highlight reel all on his own and once he has an NBA season or two under his belt, WATCH OUT.
Instead of watching players get injured and burned out, I’m hoping the rest of the NBA regular season is fruitful with skill, drama and competition. After all, that’s the way it should be.
"…coach is a stats guy. His background is video coordinator or whatever. So he’s all stats. But Ron Artest is all feel. He doesn’t understand that." - Metta World Peace on Mike Brown
Shots. Fired. Ron Ron the Rottweiler is BACK!
Watching the final minute of the Lakers game against the Raptors this afternoon, my inner-monologue read, “even if the Lakers pull this one out, they can’t be happy with this win. They need to either make some personnel moves or do some serious soul searching.”
If you didn’t see the game, the Lakers had an 18-point lead over the Raptors in the first quarter of Sunday’s game in Toronto. LA was shooting 70 percent from the field and eight Lakers scored early. Everything was going right, but it slipped away shortly after as the Raptors chipped away until they grabbed their first lead of the game in the final two minutes as the Lakers needed a signature Kobe game-winner with 4.2 seconds left to escape the Air Canada Center with a 94-92 victory, if one can even call it a victory. Toronto was the Lakers’ last stop on a six-game road trip in which LA went 3-3.
I knew a game that ugly would lead to some sort of fall out, but I had no idea it would be public or that it would consist of Metta World Peace blasting head coach Mike Brown.
The forward formerly known as Ron Artest is a reporter’s dream in the sense that he is spontaneous to the point of dropping a gem of a quotation that can give you a story all on its own during a slow day. You never know what you’re going to get from World Peace, which is both good and bad I suppose.
I have blogged several times about the fact that I think a lot of the Lakers problems stem from the fact that most of the players seem to lack an understanding of whatever offensive system Brown - in his first season with LA - is trying to implement. Kobe Bryant and Steve Blake appeared to be the guys holding the offense together and when Blake went down with an injury, it all seemed to fall apart .
That said, World Peace really let his coach have it after the Raptors game. The following quotes are from CBSSports.com:
"I’m trying to win. And right now, coach is a stats guy. His background is video coordinator or whatever. So he’s all stats. But Ron Artest is all feel. He doesn’t understand that. Having me in (Thursday night’s Celtics) game at the end, he was worried about me shooting bad from the free throw line. And I was like, ‘I could care less because I’m gonna get a stop at the end of the game.’ He didn’t understand the rhythm that we had—me, Fish (Derek Fisher), Kobe (Bryant), Pau (Gasol) and Drew (Andrew Bynum). I’ve been through games where I would have two points, go 1 for 9 and we’d win. That’s what matters. Stats are for people who need stats."
WOW (By the way, there’s more…hang tight). Despite being totally unfair, the video coordinator line is classic. Sure, Brown began his career as an intern with the Nuggets before becoming Denver’s scout and video coordinator, but he did play four years of college basketball at Mesa Community College and the University of San Diego. We all have to start somewhere, right?
World Peace is understandably upset given the fact that the Lakers are struggling to stay in the top eight out west (they are currently sixth in the Western Conference with a 16-12 record, 5.5 games out of first place) and he is underperforming on a personal level, to say the least.
In his 12th NBA season, World Peace is averaging just over 22 minutes per game (33.8 min. is his career average) of offensively unproductive basketball in which he is shooting 31 percent from the field (and 16.4 percent from 3-point range) for a dismal 4.6 points per game along with 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists. World Peace’s numbers are down in every single category this season and his defense has been nothing to write home about either.
The fun didn’t stop with the comments above though. World Peace took his insults to the next level by dragging his former coach, the great Phil Jackson, into the mix. More from CBSSports.com:
"If I could count how many times another team went away from the best player when I was on him, I’ve got to be like No. 1 in the league. That’s not a stat, and coach doesn’t … you would have to play basketball to feel that. When Phil Jackson was here, that’s why I was in the game, because he understands that. Philly and Utah, I was on the bench because of stats. … I think he just has to get a better feel of the players."
I think World Peace is in need of a Zen Master, no matter what his or her name is. Perhaps World Peace needs to make a phone appointment with his psychiatrist because he let his emotions get the best of him today. While I appreciate his honesty, I can’t imagine this incident will help the Lakers as a team.
Most of the criticism Brown faced after accepting the job in LA was in regards to how he would be able to manage Kobe and the rest of an eclectic Lakers roster. Reports out of Cleveland painted a picture of LeBron James running the Cavaliers leaving other players resentful of James’ power and Brown’s lack of control over the team. This incident might prove to be Brown’s first real test as the Lakers head coach. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he handles the situation moving forward. Lord knows the flight from Toronto to LA is long enough to talk this one out over a drink and a few card games.
Friday’s game at Madison Square Garden was not the first time Jeremy Lin and the Lakers had crossed paths.
As an undrafted rookie out of Harvard, Jeremy Lin’s NBA options were limited, to say the least. After playing for the Dallas Mavericks’ Summer League team (and playing pretty well) in 2010, Lin’s hometown Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers each made him an offer. Playing for his home team and knowing he would have more of an opportunity to get playing time with the Warriors, Lin signed a two-year deal with Golden State, forgoing a chance to join the reigning NBA champion Lakers.
For a team without a reliable point guard, watching Lin dominate several phases of the game had to be a painful reality check for the Lakers. Lin’s 38-point performance pushed the New York Knicks to a fourth consecutive win, trouncing the Lakers late for a 92-85 victory leaving LA’s coaches, management and fan base asking, “what if?”
Who knows how long the Linsanity will last in New York, but for now, it’s alive and well, boosting the importance of basketball for die-hard and casual fans alike while making a struggling Knicks team relevant once again. In his last four games (the latter three games being his only career starts in the NBA) Lin’s stats are straight silly as he has logged at least 20 points and seven assists per contest. In other words, Lin is EXACTLY the kind of player the Lakers need.
Of course, it’s way too early to proclaim Lin the next Chris Paul or Deron Williams, two of the league’s top point guards who are capable of running the offense while scoring at will, a rare breed indeed. Maybe it’s just a phase or a lucky streak, but after watching Lin play at Harvard while I was a reporter for Comcast SportsNet New England, I believe he is the real deal. He was good then, and he’s damn good now. Lin should help Amare Stoudemire get back on track when he returns to the team (death in the family) but I worry about what Lin’s fate will be once Carmelo Anthony heals from a groin injury and gets back on the court. Lin is not a selfish player who must score, but since he is capable of it, we’ve seen him put the Knicks on his back and carry them across the finish line; something none of the Knicks’ big names have succeeded in doing consistently this season.
The Lakers on the other hand, are offensively challenged, to say the least. LA has two seven-footers in the starting lineup, yet can’t find a way to consistently get the ball in the hands of Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol.
Trading Lamar Odom to the Mavericks and losing Chris Paul when NBA Commissioner David Stern vetoed LA’s trade with the Hornets served as a crushing combination, leaving a talented Lakers team depleted on the wing and at the point.
Steve Blake’s play early in the season was a pleasant surprise as the nine-year vet was the only Laker aside from Kobe who seemed to understand the new offense implemented by head coach Mike Brown, a hodgepodge of pick & roll and elements of the triangle offense. Blake was a suitable facilitator and even managed to score some nice baskets, helping the Lakers to a 8-4 record to start the season. After a rib injury sidelined Blake, the Lakers went 6-7 without their starting point guard before going 1-1 (versus the Celtics and Knicks respectively) after his recent return.
With an aging Derek Fisher and a half-healthy Steve Blake, the lakers are left with the green Darius Morris and rookie Andrew Goudelock to fill in at point guard. Shockingly, that isn’t working, thus forcing Kobe to officially do everything at once; score, facilitate, play floor-general, defend the opponent’s best player, cure cancer, end wars, etc. Kobe might be one of the best to ever play the game, but even he can’t win playing 5-on-1 night in and night out in the NBA.
Rumors have swirled about a possible Gasol-for-Rondo trade which would be perfect for the Lakers, but I don’t see what the Celtics would gain by losing their best player for an older power forward. Sure, Jermaine O’Neal isn’t cutting it as a starting center and Gasol can play the five quite well, but I don’t see that getting Boston any closer to a championship this season.
The Lakers could use Rondo or any solid point guard right now to help ease Kobe’s burden. In theory, the Lakers should never need to take a 3-point shot with Kobe, Gasol and Bynum on the floor. A good point guard should be able to get the ball to Kobe and allow him to cut to the basket, at worse, missing the shot but drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. This theoretical point guard knows where his teammates will be and can dump the ball down low, or find a guy with a passing lane in order to get Bynum and Gasol the touches they deserve. Sure, LA would most likely lose Gasol in a trade, but a point guard like Williams, Rondo, or even Lin is a dual threat in terms of scoring and assists, so it’s not as if the loss of a big man would kill the Lakers’ scoring ability (which is already lacking).
Instead of putting the ball in the paint, the Lakers have been forced to play a perimeter game that just isn’t working out. The Lakers are alone in dead last place, shooting a league-low 28 percent from 3-point land, averaging almost 17 long-range attempts per game and making good on only 4.7 of them. That’s ugly. Really ugly. Why would a team with Gasol and Bynum down low, Kobe and a physical Metta World Peace (in theory) need to jack up nearly 17 three-pointers a game? The Lakers offense has not figured out how to get the ball inside, even against poor defensive teams. The Lakers are tied for 20th in the league in scoring, averaging 92.7 points per game and have only hit the 100-point mark twice in their last 10 games.
The Lakers lost out on the Chris Paul sweepstakes. That’s okay. They may not be able to get Deron Williams or Rajon Rondo either, so how about good ol’ Jeremy Lin? He’s progressing at a fast pace, figuring out where his teammates will be and getting them the ball, plus, he is scoring at will. Lin doesn’t have much of an ego and I get the feeling he would be honored to play alongside of Kobe Bryant, thus having no problem giving up the ball. In his explosive performance Friday night, Lin exposed the Lakers biggest weakness; LA’s lack of Jeremy Lin, or a point guard like him.
Kobe Bryant Passes To Himself Off The Backboard, Hits The Jumper … Lakers vs. Rockets
Before the Celtics’ first victory of the season on Friday night, there was plenty of panic running up and down Causeway Street as Boston began the season with an 0-3 slump. Meanwhile a familiar foe was going through a similar situation out west as the Lakers lost their first two games of the season causing folks to practically crown the Clippers as the new kings of Los Angeles hoops.
Both Celtics and Lakers were missing a star player, not to mention a number of other factors contributing to their slow starts, so working with a sample size of less than five games, is it really fair to freak out just yet?
Yes and no.
No, because when you are missing a team captain in one case, and a starting center in another, the expectations should be lowered substantially. Yes, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said there would be no excuses for his team to start slow; losing Jeff Green to heart surgery right before the season, team captain Paul Pierce out with a bruised right heel… neither was an acceptable excuse for failure according to Rivers. Obviously, a coach can’t tell his or her team, “hey listen, we’re missing some key parts, so if we suck, well, no big deal. Nobody expects us to win anyway,” but losing to the Knicks, Heat and Hornets all within four days on the road shouldn’t really come as a shock.
The Knicks looked good in the opener, the Heat were forced to fend off a furious Celtics comeback and the Hornets have some great young talent thanks to the Chris Paul trade so I don’t think there is much shame in this particular 0-3 start.
Here’s where Celtics fans have the right to worry. Jermaine O’Neal is your starting center. Yikes. The big man finally got his act together dropping 19 points on the winless Pistons in Boston’s 96-85 victory over Detroit on Friday, but one good game doesn’t give me much confidence. In his 15th NBA season, O’Neal (who missed much of last season with injuries) only scored eight points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in the Celtics’ first three games combined. The guy is 6’11, c’mon! O’Neal’s backups are Chris Wilcox (who has missed two games with a bruised shoulder) and rookie Greg Stiemsma.
The good news is that Stiemsma, last year’s D-League Defensive Player Of The Year has a lot of potential. The 26-year-old was a standout in an otherwise awful game against the Hornets, with 6 blocks in about 20 minutes in his NBA debut. I heard good ol’ Tommy Heinsohn compliment Stiemsma a few times during the Celtics broadcast of the Pistons game during the rookie’s 16 minutes which comprised of 2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, one block, one steal and four fouls. While the stats seem small, Stiemsma’s presence was felt in a big way, which will only improve with time.
More good news/bad news …. Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett might be on the verge of dinosaur age by NBA standards, they all still have “it.” They are still fierce competitors with the physical abilities to win on a nightly basis. The shortened season is a double-edged sword for an older team as they benefit from playing fewer games overall, yet suffer a disadvantage of little rest between games. As a true master of this team, Rivers knows these cats well enough to pick the right games to rest each guy when they need it.
Then there’s Rajon Rondo getting ready to hit his prime, not to mention that trade rumor chip on his shoulder that will keep him intent on his proving his worth to Danny Ainge and anyone else who dares to doubt him.
Guards Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling will be nice role players for Boston as will forwards Brandon Bass and Sasha Pavlovic. But as with most things in life, it all comes back to the middle, or the center. Will the trio of O’Neal, Wilcox and Stiemsma be strong enough to fend off the likes of Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, Al Horford, and the entire Miami Heat throughout the whole, albeit shortened regular season? Can the Celtics rotation of Bigs truly compete with the size, strength, skill and experience of the top teams in the East at the 5 position? Time will tell, but I won’t get my hopes up.
Then there’s the defense. Losing a defensive mind Tom Thibodeau is a big deal and it showed last season. The defense is what made this team dangerous over the last few years. It is one thing to ask older players to produce offensively but it’s another to expect them to play as tenaciously on the other end of the floor. I think the younger players should do whatever they can defensively to compensate for what the Big 3 might lack at that end.
If the Celtics can find a way to stay rested and maximize the play of their big men, I think they’ll get back on track and be a legitimate factor in the East.
As for the Celtics loathed rival, I would start with expressing concern over Kobe Bryant’s health, but after doing so over the last few years of bad knees, jacked up pinkies and whatever else, I have finally learned to accept the fact that injuries rarely hamper Bryant. He says his surgically repaired right knee is “as close to 100% as it’s going to get” after an offseason procedure in Germany, and despite a torn ligament in his right wrist, Bryant is shooting a career-best 48.1% from the field. True, the Lakers have only played four games this season, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Barring catastrophic injury, I expect Bryant to kick it up a notch on the heels of what many perceived was a “down year” for him on the court. Kobe has been less concerned with offense though as he says defense will be the bread and butter for this Lakers team. Even in L.A.’s losses to the Bulls and Kings, the team played stifling defense in stretches, but not consistently. That changed in the Lakers last two games against the Jazz and Knicks as the team really picked up its pick and roll defense and held both teams to under 33% shooting. If the Lakers can play the defense that Mike Brown and his staff have implemented on a consistent basis, their offense will come easily via the fastbreak, turnovers, and defensive rebounds.
Defensive rebounding shouldn’t be an issue for the Lakers with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol hanging out under the hoop. If Bynum can keep his head screwed on straight, the Lakers won’t need Dwight Howard this season. Every year, Bynum is proclaimed as the “key” to the season by coaches, teammates and the media. While he has showed flashes of brilliance, a combination of injuries and mental/emotional weakness has derailed what should be an all-star career going into his sixth NBA season.
I ran into Bynum at one of L.A.’s toughest workout spots over the summer and he looked fantastic, perhaps in the best physical shape of his NBA career. If he can stay disciplined and even-tempered, playing alongside Gasol will give the Lakers a lot to work with. As for Pau, remember how he got hammered after the Lakers lost to the Celtics in the finals back in 2008? “He’s soft,” “he sucks,” etc.? How did Gasol rebound from that criticism? He kicked ass and led the Lakers to back-to-back NBA titles. Gasol is now facing the same situation, and thus far, has responded accordingly. He has to prove himself once again and Gasol is already playing with a fire he lacked last season.
Now to Lamar Odom. Without bringing in an all-star player, Odom can only be replaced by committee which is what the Lakers are looking to do. Josh McRoberts and Devin Ebanks have both played surprisingly well thus far at the 3 and 4 and will do so with less pressure once Bynum returns from a four-game suspension today against the Nuggets. New addition Jason Kapono has made the most of his little playing time behind Kobe, and Steve Blake is not only facilitating but actually hitting his shots this season! Who knew?
The X-factor here is none other than Metta World Peace. Fitting, right? The artist formally known as Ron looked HORRENDOUS in the Lakers preseason games and regular season opener, in fact, I half-joked that he might get cut before the season started. He was slow, couldn’t run, certainly couldn’t jump and was unable to make a basket if you stood on the baseline waving cash in front of his face.
But with a new name (‘Metta,’ a Buddhist term meaning loving kindness) and a new outlook on life also comes a new job on the court. World Peace is filling Odom’s old shoes as the anchor of the Lakers second unit and is actually scoring points in doing so, 12.4ppg to be exact. While the 2004 Defensive Player Of The Year is known for what he does without the ball, the Lakers need him to produce offensively as well. Like Odom in years past, I think putting World Peace in the “bench leader” niche will give him just enough responsibility to feel accountable and important without the pressure and lofty expectations that come with being a starter.
With so many new and inexperienced players on the roster, not to mention a new head coach as well as overhauled systems both offensively and defensively, there will definitely be a learning curve for this Lakers team. Having said that, this specific group of guys (a few stars and several role players) reminds me of the kind of roster the Lakers had back in the Phil Jackson 3-peat days. The real concerns for the Lakers are heath (as it is with every team), consistency and just how big the learning curve might be in this truncated season.
Yes, the NBA and the NBPA are in a third day of mediation which is certainly a better sign than silence between the owners and players, but who knows when professional basketball will truly be back. In the mean time, I strongly suggest that hoops fans turn to hockey to fill the void. Here’s why.
When I asked a former coworker to teach me hockey, the first thing he said was, “just think of it as basketball on ice.” Huh??? Come to find out, he was kind of right.
Both sports are up and down, fast pace games involving both a transition game and a half court offense. The word “goal” appears on stat sheets of both and you can play zone or man on man. Hockey and basketball both feature, assists, passing, blocked shots, rebounds, deflections, players on the wing and a five minute overtime period. A face-off is a more complex version of the jump-ball. When comparing the NBA and NHL, both leagues have 30 teams that play an 82-game regular season with the top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs.
But there are stark differences as well. Ball vs. Puck, for starters. Hands vs. No Hands. Hockey plays six men on the ice while hoops is a true 5-on-5 game. Basketball is played in four 12 minute quarters while hockey is played in three 20 minute periods, and there is constant scoring on a basketball court while often the best hockey games involve very few goals scored.
If a regular season game remains tied after one 5 minute overtime period, hockey settles the score with a shootout where players go one-on-one against the opposing team’s goalie for the win. The NHL uses a points system (2 points for a win, 1 point for a loss in overtime or a shootout and no points for a loss in regulation) to rank its teams while the NBA uses a straight wins and loss record.
Once the playoffs begin, it truly is a new season for NHL teams as the lowly eight seed routinely beats the top dog in the first round. That is a rarely accomplished feat in the NBA, making the Stanley Cup Playoffs positively exciting and fascinating regardless of the matchups.
Then, there’s the fighting. If a basketball player as much as throws the basketball down at his feet after the whistle blows, thats a technical foul. Two of those, and you’re tossed from the game. Don’t even consider throwing a punch because if ya do, you’re looking at an ejection, suspension and fine. In hockey, you can throw off your gloves, go one-on-one (or engage in a brawl if you choose) and wrestle your opponent to the ground with your only punishment being the equivalent of a child’s “time out” on the playground. In fact, there’s usually one guy on each team whose primary objective is to strategically use fighting to benefit his team.
Basketball is considered a contact sport, as players do a bit of bumping down low, and perhaps get a tad physical setting screens, but the physical contact is minimal compared to hockey which is a collision sport. These guys throw their bodies into each other while traveling at high rates of speed, sometimes sending the opponent flying into the air resulting in a crash landing back on the ice. Players slam one another into the boards which makes for a dramatic in-game soundtrack. The physical exertion of both athletes is remarkable but between the padding, hitting, high speeds, and the skill level of skating, stick handling and shooting, hockey players take the cake. It’s the most physically demanding of the major American team sports.
If hockey is so fabulous, then why is it still not considered mainstream in America? Most kids in the U.S. grow up playing basketball in their driveways, neighborhoods and schoolyards. You don’t even need a real court to play and improvising is easy. The same cannot be said about ice hockey in many parts of the country which is why I think the popularity difference is so great. It’s harder to understand a sport you’ve never played and many Americans have never played hockey. I think that is the root of the problem.
The NBA is my first love. My unwavering affection for my hometown Lakers as a kid is what made me want to be a sports reporter. I grew up “liking” the Kings, but I didn’t understand hockey, therefor wasn’t a true fan. Once I moved to Boston, a place where hockey is king, and began covering the Bruins for work, I had to learn the sport real fast. The truth about hockey is that once you learn it, you can’t not love it. In the last two seasons, I found myself choosing to watch NHL games over NBA games at times, which shocked me.
The point is that if you are an NBA fan, you do have an equally enjoyable alternative during the lockout; it’s called hockey.
As if President Obama doesn’t have enough on his plate right now.
I’m sure he’s heard by now that a pro Italian basketball team is enlisting his help in convincing Kobe Bryant to sign a contract with Vitrus Bologna.
After weeks of reported negotiations between the Lakers guard and the Italian squad have failed to yield a signed contract, team president Claudio Sabatini has gone into desperation mode. Take a look at this fairly pathetic plea in the form of a letter sent by Sabatini to the White House and posted on the team website.
"Dear Mr. President,
We have a dream: to see Kobe Bryant playing for our Team Virtus Pallacanestro Bologna, the Italian town well known in the world as basket City. According to your wishes we hope that the Nba lockout will shortly stop but in the meanwhile let us have the chance to see at least for one game the great Kobe Bryant playing with our black and white jersey and be part of our history.”
Is this dude for real? First of all, if Sabatini purposely channeled his inner Martin Luther King Jr. with the “we have a dream” line, he should be ashamed of himself. Maybe this phraseology was purely coincidental, but if not, using a civil rights slogan in the same conversation as the struggle to sign a basketball player it is downright offensive.
Then there is the issue of President Obama using even one second of his day to think about Bryant playing overseas. Maybe he has more pressing matters to deal with. Has Mr. Sabatini heard anything about the U.S. economy lately? Unemployment, perhaps? The Los Angeles Times article on this story summed up President Obama’s possible interest in the issue, “of course, it wouldn’t really match Obama’s political interest to help outsource American jobs overseas just as he’s seeking approval of the American Jobs Act.” Love that. Witty and true.
But the biggest truth is that we’ve all played right into Sabatini’s hands with this publicity stunt. Clearly, President Obama has nothing to do with the situation. Sabatini’s letter to the President was the bait and we the media took it, just as he had planned.
We’re talking and tweeting about him, blogging about this letter and keeping Sabatini and his team relevant despite Bryant’s reluctance to officially agree to play in Italy. The problem now for Sabatini is that this method doesn’t match the target. Dealing with a career full of negative press, you can bet Bryant doesn’t want to be attached to this dog and pony show. I’m not sure that Sabatini’s letter to President Obama will hurt Vitrus Bologna’s chances of landing Bryant, but it certainly won’t help.
I’m a bit perturbed by the NHL’s decision not to punish Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds for “allegedly” yelling an anti-gay slur at Rangers forward Sean Avery in a preseason game a few nights ago.
Remember, Avery publicly supported the push to legalize gay marriage in New York a while back, becoming the first pro athlete (of a major North American team sport) to make a PSA about the issue. This guy has cojones of steel to do that in an environment where no active player has EVER come out of the closet, indicating just how taboo homosexuality still is in team sports.
After a league hearing with Simmonds on Tuesday, NHL senior VP Colin Campbell made a statement condemning racist/sexist/homophobic comments, yet said the league did not have enough evidence to punish Simmonds. What do you mean you don’t have enough evidence? One doesn’t even have to be able to read lips to clearly see Simmonds yell “f***ing f****t” in this video (watch it here… http://fitperez.com/2011-09-27-philadelphia-flyer-calls-sean-avery-a-gay-slur#.ToN5lpY090o ).
While you can’t see Avery in the video, since he told the media about the incident right after the game, I think it’s safe to put two and two together on this one. But no, the NHL didn’t do that, instead, turning the situation it into a game of “he said, he said,” with Avery coming out on the losing end.
When it comes to dating, my friend Melissa always says this about men: actions speak louder than words. The same rule must be applied here. Condemning a behavior then refusing to punish it sends a mixed message. We saw the NBA fine Kobe Bryant $100k for directing the other “F” word at a referee last season. Not only that, but Bryant went on a full media blitz apologizing all over the place and the NBA even made public service announcements about the issue.
Here’s what I think the real issue is. Remember when Charlie Villanueva accused Kevin Garnett of calling him a “cancer patient” while trash talking during an NBA game last season? I recall various players and media personalities say that whatever is said on the court between two players should stay there and not be subjected to outside scrutiny; the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” principle. Trash talking is just part of the game, no matter how nasty it gets. But I’m not buying it. If a white player called a black player the “N” word during a game, would that be acceptable because of where it was said? I think not.
This illusion of privacy or a sacred environment while playing a professional sport is just that; an illusion. Games are played in front of thousands of fans, not to mention millions of TV viewers. Close-ups, replays, and microphones are capable of capturing nearly every millisecond of a game on video. What a player does or says on the field is a public display open for interpretation, inspection, criticism and complaint by all those watching, thus team management and leagues must find a way to hold people accountable.
If your inner monologue is reading, “calm down, it’s sports. Politics don’t belong here,” you are fooling yourself. Sports has long been a platform for civil rights and social justice. Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
Not long ago, I saw an athlete tweet something to the effect of, do this, or else you’re gay. The second I read it, I texted the athlete, who is a young guy with thousands of followers, and suggested he delete the tweet immediately. A few minutes later, the tweet was gone, and shortly thereafter I got a text message from him saying, you know that’s not how I meant it. He also said that some of his twitter followers had tweeted him saying they were offended and were going to unfollow him. I went on to give him a motherly lecture via text, explaining that if that’s the case, you shouldn’t have said it. Say what you mean, and unless you mean homosexual, leave the word gay alone. He responded saying he understood, and that not only would he not use the world publicly, but he would try his best to eliminate it from his every day vocabulary.
Even though he is just one guy, the transformation has to start somewhere. That’s why the NBA fined Kobe. They started the trend that such language wouldn’t be tolerated on the court, which will hopefully serve as a deterrent and force players into the habit of thinking before speaking. I wish the NHL would’ve done the same.
P.S. Simmonds should just admit what he did, apologize for it and move on. People are willing to forgive those who admit their mistakes, but BSing and refusing to fess up is pretty weak and very disappointing (especially given what happened to him last Thursday in Ontario).