It’s that time of year again.  You know, that point in which NBA center Andrew Bynum’s name finds its way back into the headlines with a seemingly purposeful mission to smear the person and talents he once possessed.  For example…

Kobe’s grocery store insult.
The clothesline.
Bad knees.
Operator-error car trouble.
Bad hair day(s).
Bowling.
Crappy neighbors.

The list goes on and on, which brings us to the present.  Bynum,  a former All-Star and two-time NBA Champion has been suspended indefinitely by his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers for conduct detrimental to the team.

Gotta love how Bynum was able to sneak one last scandal in before 2014.  Kudos.  

Anyway, Yahoo Sports is reporting that a big issue with the 26-year-old is the fact that he just isn’t interested in playing basketball anymore.  The game isn’t his cup of tea, a notion those of us in L.A. who watched Bynum with the Lakers have considered for years.

The man who perhaps best understands this situation is Laker-legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  One of the best big men to ever play the game, Abdul-Jabbar coached Bynum from the time he was drafted by the Lakers right out of high school in 2005 until 2009, when the organization reduced the six-time NBA Champion’s role with the team

Abdul-Jabbar took to his Facebook page Sunday, addressing the situation surrounding his former pupil.

"I believe Andrew has always had the potential to help a team when he puts his heart into it. He just doesn’t seem to be consistent with his commitment to the game. That can lead to a lot of frustration for any team that has signed him.

"When I worked with Andrew I found him to be bright & hardworking but I think he got bored with the repetitive nature of working on basketball fundamentals day in and day out… but they are the keys to long term success.

"In my opinion Andrew is the type of person who walks to the beat of "a different drummer". So we won’t know the facts until Andrew decides to tell us what actually is the issue and shares his thoughts. @KAJ33"

This strikes a few chords.  Abdul-Jabbar had the reputation of beating to “a different drummer” for decades and like Bynum, hails from the East Coast.  While playing for the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar buried himself in books and literature while Bynum spent free time building computers in the home he shared with his mother. Both men were considered unconventional NBA players when it came to off-the-court personality.

A fundamental difference between the two is love for the game of basketball, which became apparent to Abdul-Jabbar while working with Bynum (and doing a damn fine job if I may editorialize).  

After Bynum was shipped to Philadelphia in the Lakers’ trade for Dwight Howard in 2012, Abdul-Jabbar told Lakers beat writer Mark Medina, “Andrew has been up and down on that issue [of commitment and winning]. There are times he wants to play, do a great job and he goes out and does it. Then there are other times where it seems like he’s not focused.”

Any professional athlete will tell you that without the proper incentives (enjoyment of the sport, public notoriety, and big-time paychecks, just to name a few), the strenuous physical and mental dedication to the craft just ain’t worth it.  

It appears that the benefits of being a professional basketball player are no longer worth the time and effort for Bynum.  For the sake of his teammates, fans, and Bynum himself, hopefully the still-young man will set his sights on a new, more enjoyable career that keeps him out of the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  

 

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The NBA season is fast-approaching as teams begin training camp in the coming days.  For one last hurrah, a few NBA players hit the red carpet at Greystone Manor in West Hollywood for the launch of the video game NBA2K14.  

The Western Conference’s Pacific division was well-represented at the event, where Pepper On Sports spoke with Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors), Nick Young (L.A. Lakers) and Ryan Hollins (L.A. Clippers).  

We discussed the controversy-ridden NCAA, wacky injury stories, players one would want as a coach, and how the old Celtics crew will fare in Brooklyn.

Here are some highlights.  

Does the NCAA needs an overhaul that would include compensation for athletes? 

Andre Iguodala:

"I think there will be major changes.  I flew under the radar in college so I’m pretty sure I didn’t make the NCAA too much money so I’m cool with them.  But as far as, especially the case with Ed O’Bannon, he’s kind of the one who pioneered the whole thing.  He did make the NCAA a whole lot of money and he didn’t quite reap the benefits and then he didn’t have that exciting of an NBA career afterwards, so you know, it’s very understandable.  Guys who are legends in college, and kind of taken advantage of.”

Editor’s Note: Despite his modesty, Andre was a fantastic player in college and made the NCAA plenty of dough.  

Nick Young:

"I think [players] should get a little bit [of monetary compensation], but USC, no, we’re legit.  We’re strictly by the book up there."

*Editor’s note:  Nick laughed as he mentioned USC…obviously.  Remember this, and this?  Nick certainly remembers the latter, as he and Mr. Mayo were teammates.  

Ryan Hollins:

"I’d love to see it.  It’s deserved.  I think you’d have a chance to eliminate a couple of kids leaving early, a couple of kids from going out and doing silly stuff to make ends meat, and just bringing real honesty to the game.  I was a scholarship athlete, my parents did okay, but I was broke in college.  I didn’t make enough to get by, you know?  You’re put in a very very tough situation so I’d love to see them you know at least get compensated enough to where these kids don’t want for much."

"Obviously you want a little spending money but just enough to cover your bills…simple necessities, you know?"

With Jacoby Jones and Nate Burleson’s injuries in mind, what is your strangest injury story?

Nick Young:

"I don’t think nothin’ can top being hit by a stripper. Nothin’ is topping that right now.  That’s one of a kind."

Jason Kidd went directly from playing to coaching.  If you had to choose one current NBA player to be your coach, who would you choose? 

Andre Iguodala:

"Probably Andre Miller, just because he passes me the ball more than anyone [lauhgs].  I’m pretty sure he could teach someone how to pass the ball to me.  No, but he’s a very smart basketball player and has a very high IQ and that’s why he’s been able to play so long at a high level and he’s going to be a very good coach once he gets the opportunity."

"He’s still  competing though, giving guys problems night in and night out so I think he probably has three more years left in him."

Nick Young:

"I’d probably have to say Jason Kidd…he’s like a coach, he’s been a coach out there on the court since he’s been playing."

How will your former Celtics teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce adjust to playing for Jason Kidd in Brooklyn?

Ryan Hollins:

"I think they’ll do great.  After playing with those guys, I don’t want to say that they don’t need a coach, but if there was players that would fit in with Jason Kidd in his first year, the type of player that he is and now growing into a head coaching role, it’s a perfect cast to throw together."

 

On that note, I’m ready for some basketball!!!

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The Los Angeles Lakers are considering an offer from the Orlando Magic that would send Dwight Howard to L.A. in exchange for Andrew Bynum, a source close to the situation tells PepperOnSports.com.

I know, I know.  You’ve heard it all before.  Here’s the fun part:

The source says the Lakers have informed one player that he might be part of the package deal and that he could be traded at any moment. 

The Lakers are “very interested” in acquiring Howard, according to the source. 

Depending on which hour you inquire about a Bynum-for-Howard swap dictates the type of news you’ll get regarding the topic, so your guess is as good as mine.  But as of Thursday afternoon pacific time, the Lakers front office phones were blazing hot with Howard chatter.   

Whether or not the trade happens, it sure is courteous of the Lakers to give players with trade-potential a heads up in hopes of making a tough transition smoother.  Stay classy, L.A. 

Follow me on twitter @Jackie_Pepper

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. 

Tonight’s Lakers  vs. Celtics game reminded me of college when I used to go watch a group of my guy friends play intramural flag football.  My girlfriends and I would cheer them on and sometimes go as far as making corny little signs, just to be supportive and make them feel good.  Most of these guys were athletes whose careers ended with a high school diploma while their competitive spirit long outlasted their physical ability.  I would always chuckle as the guys took flag football SO seriously, celebrating a good play like they won the Super Bowl and becoming furious with the smallest of failures.  Although way past their athletic prime, my buddies loved to compete and played every game like it meant the world to them.

That’s how tonight’s Lakers vs. Celtics game felt to me.  It was such a fun game and between the playoff-like atmosphere in the TD Garden and the close finish, the contest provided more than sufficient entertainment.  At the same time, it made me sad to see two teams, once powerhouses, just shells of their former selves. 

In 53 minutes of play, neither team made it to 90 points, both shooting around 39 percent from the field.  39 percent.  Yikes.  When the Lakers and Celtics were playing for titles in the latter part of the decade, each team had a strong presence down low (Perkins, Gasol and Bynum) and solid bench players; role players who were reliable and knew how to help their team.

If the Celtics can make it to the NBA Finals with Jermaine O’Neal starting at center without a legitimate backup, I’d be speechless…for once.  Ever.  Greg Stiemsa has potential, but he isn’t good enough right now and I don’t see Leon Powe walking through that door anytime soon.  The Lakers outscored the Celtics in the paint 46-38 which isn’t that impressive considering LA has such a huge size advantage over Boston.

Three of the five bench players who played for the Celtics contributed 19 of Boston’s 87 total points, a near mirror-image of the Lakers bench which was responsible for 18 points between three of the four guys who played.  Most of LA’s bench points came late as the non-starters were practically invisible through the majority of the game.

There were some positives though.  Just like the good old days, it came down to Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce laying it all out on the line; no guts, no glory.  The Celtics captain played 48 minutes in which he scored 18 points, grabbed nine boards and logged seven assists, not to mention sinking a gorgeous jumper to give Boston a 1-point lead with under two minutes to play in overtime.  But it wasn’t enough.

Ray Allen, dropping 22 points and giving us a classic old school 1-on-1 defensive battle with Kobe - holding him to 27 points, well under his 30 points per game average - wasn’t enough either.  Kevin Garnett, once the heart and soul of the Celtics (and perhaps he still is in certain ways) had a miserable shooting night, going 6-23 and missing his last nine consecutive shots. 

The Lakers and Celtics are two of the oldest teams in the NBA so 17 fast break points for Boston (LA scored only six) is one positive to take away from a loss like this.  On the other hand, the free throw opportunities were heavily skewed in LA’s favor, as the Celtics were called for 21 personal fouls to the Lakers’ 12. 

Kobe, a master of drawing fouls, among other things, was superb in the second half, demoralizing Boston with plays like the one in the third quarter when he patiently waited down low, eventually spinning around three defenders for the bucket, followed by a shot right over Allen, who did as much as he could to prevent it.  

Pau Gasol, who has been in a funk since last season finally played the way he has for so many years, picking the right spots, rebounding, tipping and shooting his way to 25 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks, all on the same day as he was left off of the NBA All-Star roster. 

Also with something to prove (and hoping to avoid being traded) is Andrew Bynum who scored 16 points, blocked three shots and more importantly, hauled in 17 boards as he and Gasol combined for 31 rebounds.  Gasol and Bynum were responsible for critical blocks and deflections, Gasol winning the game for the Lakers as he blocked Ray Allen’s layup attempt as time expired in the extra period.

Interestingly, the Lakers are unmatched down low with Bynum and Gasol yet have been unable to find a way to get them the ball which has been a source of the team’s struggles.  It wasn’t pretty, but tonight, they figured it out.

I’m convinced Steve Blake is the key to the Lakers success.  Before he injured his ribs a few weeks ago, the Lakers point guard was playing the best basketball of his professional career.  Blake and Bryant seemed to be the only two Lakers who truly understood Mike Brown’s system (and Blake was actually hitting shots too) so when he went down, it looked like the glue holding the Lakers together had evaporated.  With Blake (not including tonight), the Lakers were 8-4.  Without him, the team found itself in deep trouble going 6-7.  While Blake was beyond rusty tonight, he helped his team get the job done down the stretch. 

As badly as we want this rivalry to be what it once was a few years ago, or what it has been at different points over the past several decades, it just doesn’t feel the same.  The competition is still there, but the level of play is not. 

Remember when Rondo and Bynum represented the future?  Now they are the present, which means some of the best players in hoops history will soon be a thing of the past.

The fact that these two teams were so cordial to each other on the court, conversing, helping each other up when someone hit the deck… perhaps that is their way of acknowledging that they aren’t what, or who they once were;  That they appreciated all of those ugly hard-fought battles and wish so badly to go back to that place in time. 

Whether it’s in the regular season or the playoffs, an all-star game or a charity game, or even a flag football game, we can always count on the fiercest form of competition between these two teams;  the kind that will forever be worth cheering for. 

 

After the lockout ended, remember how exciting basketball was in the first few days of the NBA season? Christmas day felt like the playoffs between the Knicks two-point win over the Celtics and the Bulls’ come-from-behind victory over the Lakers by a single point in L.A. as both games were intense and entertaining.  Heading into the season without a lengthy training camp, I anticipated ugly, discombobulated basketball but instead was pleasantly surprised as we were treated to some fantastic games.

Four weeks into the condensed 66-game NBA season, the enthusiasm seems to have worn off a bit and the rust is showing as many of the league’s teams are struggling to find consistency.  Teams are having issues with chemistry, several key players have sustained injuries and every team is playing at least one stretch of three games in three nights as well as four games in five, and even five games in six nights.  That’s a lot of games, and not a lot of quality practice time. 

Logically, we want to attribute things like injury, sloppy play, lack of understanding of a coach’s scheme, etc. to the fact that teams are playing much more often than during a full, 82-game regular season therefor they must be tired, hurt and practice-deprived. 

I crunched some numbers and noticed that our conspiracy theories surrounding the shortened season could be off the mark.  Lets take the Lakers, for example.  Last season, the Lakers played 82 regular season games in 170 days over approximately 24.3 weeks.  If you break those numbers down, the Lakers played 3.37 games per week last season.  This year, the Lakers will play 66 games in 124 days over 17.7 weeks, thus playing 3.72 games per week.  That’s only about one third of a game more per week than last season.  I’m no statistician (although I took social statistics in college… it was dreadful) but I don’t think that figure is of any true significance. 

Basically, the number of games being played in this shortened time frame is proportional to the number of games played over a full-length season last year. 

There is a learning curve every season, especially through the first 20-30 games.  It usually takes teams a while to get their ducks in a row even when they have a full-length training camp and preseason.

Here’s where it gets tricky.  What about all of the back-to-back games?  Many have suggested that the back-to-back sets, and especially the back-to-back-to-back games would give younger teams an advantage because their youthful bodies can  bounce back quicker than the veteran players.

Guess what?  Age doesn’t seem to be a big factor when it comes to back-to-back games, at least not yet. 

Take a look at the five oldest teams in the league (Dallas being the eldest) and their records when it comes to wins and losses on zero days rest:

Blazers:     1-3
Suns:         1-2
Celtics:      1-2
Lakers:      3-3
Mavericks: 5-2 

Now lets look at how the five youngest teams in the league (Minnesota being the youngest) fared on zero days rest:

TWolves:    1-4
Wizards:     0-3
Kings:        3-3
Bobcats:     2-4
Thunder:    5-1

Again, I’m no math major but it doesn’t appear as though we can draw any correlation between age and wins/losses of games played on consecutive days.  Because it’s still early in this season, this could change down the road, but as of now, those young, fresh legs aren’t making much of a difference as wisdom and experience has proved tough as well.

What role could back-to-back games play over the duration of the season?  I’ll let you be the judge.

I looked at the schedules of four teams and compared them to last year in terms of how many times they played on consecutive nights (back-to-backs).  Below are the number of times the Clippers, Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks played on consecutive days/nights. 

                          2010-2011        2011-2012
Clippers                     23                    20                   
Celtics                       19                    19
Lakers                       15                    19
Mavericks                  17                    20

While the Celtics are playing exactly the same number of back-to-backs as last season, the other three teams are in a different boat.  The Lakers and Mavs will both play more back-to-backs this season with LA playing 26 percent more back-to-backs than last year and 18 percent more for Dallas.  Meanwhile the Clippers are playing 13 percent fewer back-to-back games than they played last season.  Lucky them!

This tidbit does seem significant.  It looks like the Lakers got lucky last season, as 15 back-to-backs is quite different from the Clippers down the hall who played 23 such sets.  Playing 26 percent more back-to-backs than in the previous year has to hurt, especially as the Lakers are the second oldest team in the NBA.  I would think it will catch up to them eventually, well, everyone but Kobe that is (unless his wrist actually falls off at some point), and I guess time will tell. 

I wonder if travel might be more of an issue than playing on consecutive nights, especially because plenty of the back-to-back scenarios involve travel.  Only eight teams have road records of .500 or better.  That’s pretty pathetic. 

At the end of the day, I think true talent will win out despite age, long flights, late nights and little rest between games.  As mentioned above, the condensed schedule isn’t really much tighter than a normal schedule.  Look at the league’s top two teams.  The Bulls are the 19th oldest team in the league, they are 12-3 overall (7-3 on the road) Derrick Rose is injured and they are 6-2 on zero days rest.  Conversely we have one of the league’s youngest teams in the Thunder who are also riding high at 12-3 overall (6-2 on the road) and 5-1 on zero days rest.  Both teams follow the trend that at this point in the season, age isn’t much of a factor and that back-to-back games haven’t proved detrimental just yet.  With more than two thirds of the season left to play, we have plenty of time to dissect and diagnose the failures of struggling teams. 

Looking for a sports reporter?  I think I know of one…

The world would be a far less entertaining place without Dennis Rodman.  The former NBA rebound gobbler is known for pulling stunts and pushing the envelope.  From staging a personal sit-in on the court during a game to wearing a wedding dress to promote his book, Rodman has seemingly seen and done it all. 

But leave it to the creative mind of the five-time NBA champion to find yet another way to expand his career portfolio.

Rodman is launching a topless women’s basketball team to represent Headquarters Gentlemen’s Club, a New York strip club. The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year will coach the team, obviously. 

“I don’t know too many men that don’t like a good-looking woman running up and down around the court,” Rodman told the New York Post.

HA!  Amazing.  I guess it’s all good, as long as Rodman doesn’t name his team “Gold Club.”

We can’t give Rodman all of the creative credit for this business venture as he got the idea from former Atlanta Hawk Spud Webb who had helped rival strip club Rick’s Cabaret start a topless team.  According to the New York Post:

"[Rodman] launched his team effort after Rick’s Cabaret announced in November that it had formed Rick’s Basketball Association to cheer up forlorn NBA fans during the lockout. Teams popped up in several cities, but the league was disbanded when the lockout ended. Webb is now back at his regular job [running the NBA D-League team, Texas Legends]."

Rodman is such a piece of work, telling the Post, “You don’t have to have too much experience, just know how to throw the ball into the hole.”  Rodman says players must be at least 5-foot-10, but no word on whether or not there is a cup size requirement. 

Should this team get off the ground, have no fear when the ladies come on to the court clothed.  You’ll get your money’s worth.  “They’ll come out in a T-shirt or a tank top, but when the game starts, they’ll go topless,” said Rodman.

 
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. 

CELTICS

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. 

LAKERS

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.

   

Thanks to the groups of lawyers representing the NBA and its players, we were given the gift of the professional basketball this Christmas.  Opening day of the shortened 2011-2012 NBA season was no throw-away as each of the five games had something to positive offer as well as something to hate on.  In the spirit of Christmas, we present the naughty and nice of NBA’s opening day!

NAUGHTY

The Justin Beiber/NBA Holiday Promos:  Was the idea that the Beibs has the power to draw in the under 18 female viewers?  Surely, the NBA’s target audience was cringing while being force-fed spoonfuls of the talented teeny-bopper throughout the day.

Rajon Rondo, But In A Good way:  The Celtics guard stole the show for me (despite Carmelo Anthony’s performance) as many wondered if preseason trade rumors would distract Rondo and make his already questionable attitude worse.  If anything, Rondo did what the best competitors do as he excelled among controversy (real or perceived), picking apart the Knicks defense and dropping 31 points and 13 assists while logging five steals in Madison Square Garden.  While the Knicks escaped with a 106-104 win, Rondo’s performance was encouraging for a team playing without the injured Paul Pierce and boasting Jermaine O’Neal as the starting center.

Lamar Odom:  Adding insult to the injury of his new team being humiliated by the Heat, Lamar Odom got himself tossed out of his first game playing for the Dallas Mavericks.  Coincidently, the ejection was the second in as many games for Khloe’s husband dating back to last season when Odom was ejected in what would be the Lakers final playoff game after being swept by the Mavs in Dallas.  This time around, Lamar got tossed because he barked at the referee about a foul call in the third quarter, or as my Mom explained to my Dad, “he sassed the ref.”  Looks like L.O.’s track record in American Airlines Center could use a turn-around real soon. 

Dallas Mavericks: The reigning NBA Champion Mavericks were god awful in their season debut leaving a sellout crowd disappointed in Dallas as last season’s finals foe, the Miami Heat trounced the home team 105-94.  The game was nowhere near as close as the final score with the Heat leading by 35 points midway through the third quarter.  We’ll address the Heat in the “nice” section, but the Mavs, while still reigning champs, lost several vital pieces of the title-winning team, such as J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler.  The addition of Sixth Man Of The Year Lamar Odom is fantastic, but with Vince Carter and Delonte West also new to the roster, Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki and the gang have a lot of bonding to do in order to find the right team chemistry. 

Dwight Howard:  The Orlando Magic big man had a less than Super performance on Sunday as the Oklahoma City Thunder held Dwight Howard to only 11 points.  Thunder bigs Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed did most of the damage on Howard helping OKC to a 97-89 win.  Sure, it was an ugly team effort for the Magic as only three players scored in double figures, but as the leader of your team, trade talks or not, Howard needs to shoot better than 4-12 from the field (he’s 7 feet tall, c’mon now) in 38 minutes.  Howard grabbed 15 rebounds, so I’ll give him credit for that, but if nobody on the team can convert rebounds into points, why bother? Meanwhile Kevin Durant balled out, dropping 30 on Orlando in a solid overall team win by the Thunder at home.  By the way, if you folks haven’t checked out Kendrick Perkins on Twitter (he recently joined), you are missing out big time.  He is one of my favorite athletes I’ve covered as he is sweet, sincere and brutally honest.  Follow him on twitter for some good laughs and Perky knowledge bombs at @KendrickPerkins

Drunk Santa Harassing LeBron James:  A lovely man dressed as Santa Claus heckled LeBron James with an alcoholic beverage in hand as the Heatles star shot free throws during Miami’s shellacking of the Mavs.  Santa, clearly a Dallas homer, shouted to James, “What do you want from Santa? A ring?”  I would give this guy props if he had anything original to say to James, but not only was he boring, but his team was getting hammered which makes heckling a bit pointless.   

NICE

Carmelo Anthony:  On a day where the New York Knicks led by 17 points and trailed by 10 in the same game, Carmelo Anthony provided the only real consistency for the home team in MSG.  Anthony scored 20 of his 37 points in the second half and sunk two free throws which proved to be the game-winning points for the Knicks.  After trying to pull a Sprewell on former teammate Billy Walker after the game, Celtics big man Kevin Garnett told reporters, “They seem to have a little swag and confidence behind them.  It’s good for the city. It’s good for the Knicks. I’m going to see how consistent they are with that, but for the most part Carmelo played really well.”  When KG shows you love after you beat him, that is saying something.

Los Angeles Clippers Swagger:  There was no shortage of confidence among the Clippers starting lineup; Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul took the court at ORACLE Arena in Oakland beaming with pride and a sense of belonging as they faced the Golden State Warriors.  While the Clippers performance was far from perfect and the 105-86 win over the Warriors was closer than the score indicates, the Clipps season opener was encouraging as the guys demonstrated noticeable differences from Clippers past.  As an L.A. native and long time Clippers fan, I have never seen a Clippers team with this kind of swagger.  There was a time when a young run & gun  collection of guys like Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson and Lamar Odom got cocky after doubling their win total one year after a 15-win season.  Once Blake Griffin took off last season, the Clippers showed more and more confidence with each game they played, but this season, that positive attitude is on a different level.  Now watching the Clipp Joint play with legitimate energy and boldness from the opening tip (backed up by their play in the preseason and down the stretch vs. Golden State) until the final buzzer sounds is really refreshing. 

Miami Heat: Yes, it was only the first game of the season but it was important for the Heat to get off to a good start this year, especially given the time and place of their 2011-2012 debut.  Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra kept his team sequestered as the Mavericks unveiled their championship banner and celebrated last season’s finals win over Miami on the court before the game.  It was a small gesture that sent a strong message that their finals failure was in the past and it was time for the uber-talented Heat to start anew.  That they did as Miami scored at least 30 points in each of the first three quarters, and at one point, held a 35-point lead en route to smoking the Mavs 105-94.  LeBron James and Dwayne Wade scored 37 and 26 points respectively as the Heat finally got the better of the Mavs; at least for one game. 
 

NAUGHTY & NICE

The final minutes of the Bulls/Lakers game played out like a poetic Wagner opera, full of surprise, joy and heartache.  My eyes began to water and butterflies took over my stomach after Chicago’s defense forced a turnover resulting in a gorgeous Derrick Rose floater good for a one point Bulls lead with 4.8 seconds to play.  The beauty of DRose’s shot coupled with the anticipation of watching perhaps another Kobe Bryant game winning shot was a bit overwhelming for me on Day 1 of the NBA season. 

While the home team Lakers started strong despite a torn ligament in Kobe’s shooting wrist as well as being without  center Andrew Bynum (who is serving a four game suspension), L.A. let it all slip away in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.  The Bulls fell flat for a good chunk of the game, seemingly unable to hit air with the basketball or play anything resembling defense.  But that all changed when Chicago woke up as  Rose went down with 3:34 left to play after the league MVP took a shot to the head, care of teammate Luol Deng’s elbow, as he landed a pretty up & under for two points.  Rose hit the deck shortly after, and clutching his head, the Bulls took a timeout to make sure he was okay and had not received a concussion.  Rose stayed in the game and from that moment on, Chicago’s offense and defense were synchronized enough to dig them out of an 11-point hole and lead them to a one-point, 88-87 win over LA.

For the Lakers, they have to be pleased with the play of Kobe as well as Pau Gasol, despite the drama surrounding a failed trade that would’ve sent the Spaniard to Houston for Chris Paul.  Role players (aka guys you probably didn’t know existed) like Josh McRoberts, Devin Ebanks and Steve Blake were impressive in running Mike Brown’s new offense as well as variations of Phil Jackson’s old triangle.  The Lakers defense was also spectacular until the final minutes.  It is not encouraging for LA that they had the Bulls down in the dumps and couldn’t keep them there, at home, on opening day, with the Staples Center going crazy.

As for the Bulls, they struggled to shoot and rebound for much of the game, despite having scoring ability and being one of the league’s top rebounding teams last season.  The defense was non-existent which was shocking as the Bulls had the top defense in the league last season.  Despite a long rough patch in this one, the team managed to turn water into wine, pulling the win out of nowhere.  As usual, DRose did his part but Deng was also sensational, playing stellar defense down the stretch and scoring 21 points, second only to Rose’s 22 for the Bulls.   I think this young Bulls team started slow and just needed a while to realize the lockout truly is over, for real, and no, they weren’t playing in a charity game or Vegas league contest.  The Bulls are incredibly talented and fun to watch, thus I wouldn’t anticipate too many more slow starts like the one we witnessed against the Lakers on Christmas.  

               

The impeccable New York Post is on its “A” Game today.  First, the Post tells us about the parting gift Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter allegedly gives to his one night stands ( http://nyp.st/tmeHbE ).   Then, the Post followed up by dropping this classic Kardashian-related knowledge bomb.

After hearing of the proposed three-team trade that would’ve sent Lamar Odom from the L.A. Lakers to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for Chris Paul, the swingman tearfully told Stephen A. Smith that maybe his other job as a reality television star rubbed people the wrong way, perhaps prompting the Lakers to use him as trade bait. 

Have no fear Lamar, because your reality TV gig is no problem in Dallas where your new boss is interested in getting a taste of Hollywood! 

Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle welcomed Odom and his wifey with open arms telling the Dallas Morning News, “Khloe’s my favorite Kardashian.  She’s the coolest.”

Carlisle, who has a stiff upper lip on the court, said he would certainly appear on “Khloe & Lamar,” although E! isn’t exactly breaking down his door quite yet.

"I’ve never been one to rule anything out," said Carlisle. "I guess it would be a long shot to be asked."

One would expect this from Mavs owner Mark Cuban, but Carlisle? Really?  Who would’ve guessed?  A head coach since 2001 with the Pistons, Pacers and now Mavericks, the 52-year-old always seemed like one of the more serious NBA coaches, rarely cracking a smile on the sidelines.  Although after winning an NBA Championship and landing Odom after fearing him for the last 7 years in the Purple and Gold, this would be a good time to let loose.

I listened to Jim Rome interview Carlisle on his radio show during the playoffs last season and was surprised at how interesting and entertaining he was.  Good thing Carlisle has a sense of humor because surely he’ll need it if he intends to keep up with Khloe and Lamar. 

                             
The truth hurts sometimes, doesn’t it?  In excerpts from Shaquille O’Neal’s autobiography, “Shaq Uncut: My Story,” the Big Diesel plays a game of kiss and tell with his friends and foes from the hoops world through the years.

Deadspin released juicy excerpts about Shaq’s rocky relationship with Kobe Bryant and Pat Riley a few days ago ( http://deadspin.com/5854904/in-new-book-shaq-explains-how-kobes-sexual-assault-charges-destroyed-the-lakers ), and now hoopsworld.com has released the next batch of gossipy goodness from the book which hits stores November 15. 

Shaq and writer Jackie MacMullan take you inside the Cleveland Cavaliers film room where things got a bit testy between central characters LeBron James, Delonte West and head coach Mike Brown.  Shaq takes aim at James’ inability to bring his ‘A game’ when it matters, the fact that Coach Brown’s rules did not apply to James and that Brown, the new Lakers head coach, might have similar problems with Kobe Bryant.

Read and enjoy, care of hoopsworld.com and the Chicago Tribune:

"Our coach, Mike Brown, was a nice guy, but he had to live on edge because nobody was supposed to be confrontational with LeBron. Nobody wanted him to leave Cleveland, so he was allowed to do whatever he wanted to do.

“I remember one day in a film session LeBron didn’t get back on defense after a missed shot. Mike Brown didn’t say anything about it. He went to the next clip and it was Mo Williams not getting back and Mike was saying, ‘Yo, Mo, we can’t have that. You’ve got to hustle a little more.’ So Delonte West is sitting there and he’s seen enough and he stands up and says, ‘Hold up, now. You can’t be pussyfooting around like that. Everyone has to be accountable for what they do, not just some us.’ Mike Brown said, ‘I know, Delonte. I know.’ Mike knew Delonte was right.

“I’m not sure if Kobe (Bryant) is going to listen to (new Lakers coach) Mike Brown. LeBron never really did.”

O’Neal also addresses James’ failure in the 2011 NBA Finals, comparing it to his infamous disappearing act in the 2010 playoffs against the Boston Celtics:

“There’s no question in Game 5 LeBron was kind of out of it… .  I always believed he could turn it on at any moment, but for some reason he didn’t. Not against the Celtics in 2010 and not against the Mavericks in 2011. It was weird. It’s one thing to be a passer, but you are supposed to be the One.

“I’m watching him play against Dallas, and they’re swinging the ball and they get him a perfect open look — and he’s kicking it to Mario Chalmers. Makes no sense. I told people, ‘It’s like Michael Jordan told me. Before you succeed, you must first fail.’ ”

For many years, I felt that LeBron James was crowned The Golden Child, receiving a free pass from the media enabling him to say and do things that other players couldn’t get away with.  When James stormed off the court, refusing to shake hands with the Orlando Magic after the Cavs were defeated in the 2009 playoffs, that was the first time I saw any media members publicly criticize James. 

Obviously, the flood gates opened with “The Decision” and people finally got to see that not-so-golden side of James.  One would think that at his age, after all that Shaq had dealt with through the years, LeBron would be the least of his concerns at that point in his career.  Clearly Shaq was still competitive, wanted to win and didn’t appreciate James getting special treatment. 

Especially with Jackie MacMullan behind it, this book is a must-read.  I’ll put it on the shelf next to my autographed copy of “Shaq Talks Back,” which I waited in line for a few hours to get signed by the big man when I was a teenager.  Those were the good old days! 

                               
Before he was The Logo, Jerry West was an abused child, a source of anguish that followed him throughout his storied basketball career.

In an interview to air Tuesday night on HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumble, the hall of famer’s description of his childhood was nightmarish, as West spoke of anger and low self esteem resulting from being beaten by his father.  In his memoir which hits stores Wednesday, West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life, West writes of his fathers beatings with a belt, saying, “It was brutal,” in the HBO interview. 

West spoke of eventually standing up to his father, keeping a shotgun under his bed for protection, and his father’s death in the sit-down interview. 

Currently an adviser to the Golden State Warriors, West told HBO that he gave up therapy, but takes Prozac and deals with the depression on his own.

Here’s what I found interesting.  According to USA Today, “West says his depression never bothered him as a player during 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers because he was so driven by a fear of failure. However, once the season ended, he would dwell on the defeats, including the Lakers’ six NBA Finals losses to the Boston Celtics.
"He wouldn’t speak for days at a time … It worried me," Karen West says, adding that "Jerry doesn’t say ‘I love you.’… Maybe once a year."

Sounds like the depression was there all along, it just manifested itself in different ways during various phases of West’s life. 

We hear all kinds of ‘rags to riches’ stories regarding pro athletes, as many come from tough upbringings and use their athletic abilities as a way out.  But I doubt most of us really think about just how deep and dark some motivations run.  Every athlete is competitive by nature, driving their success, but the pressure West apparently put on himself seems unbearable.


The good news is that West says he has improved since leaving his job as Lakers general manager 10 years ago.  He said, “I’m the luckiest person in the world.”  Hopefully coming clean with his past will be therapeutic for West, who should be commended for publicly discussing the taboo topics that have so deeply impacted his life. 


                   

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).